Saturday, March 31, 2007

Spring Has Sprung Indeed

I fired up the lawn mower and changed the oil. Sounds simple, but like many chores around the homestead it was anything but simple. First, the mower wouldn't start, the battery was low, so I had to push it over to the shop and put the battery charger on it. Finally got it to start and let it run awhile to warm the oil up. Then I had to remove the grass catcher to get to the oil plug. The grass catcher is a strange thing that allows you to dump the grass clippings in a pile on the back of the estate...I don't have an estate, and have to haul my clippings to a friend's place and give the clippings to the horses next door. The whole apparatus attaches to the back of the mower with a large plate that the basket hooks to so that it can pivot to empty the grass. The plate didn't want to come loose, but after an hour and some determined tugging and grunting it came loose. Draining the oil was then a snap, except that it did not drain into the bucket I had placed under it and instead ran onto the ground. For once I had been smart enough to place so that any spilled oil would go onto the ground instead of onto the floor of the shop. It was fairly easy to shovel up the oiled soil (or soiled oil or perhaps oil soiled soil?) and put it into the garbage. By this time it was lunch time so I quit for a while. After lunch it was nap time so I didn't get back to it until about 3 pm. I mowed Our yard and neighbor Paul's yard and took to clippings over to Char's. The horses came running, but it was such nasty looking stuff that I just put it in the compost heap rather than giving it to them. They were not happy, but I pointed out that they have several months of grass clippings to look forward to. I had planned to start Paul's pump and mine as well so we could get some water on the yards, but the mower took so long that I didn't have time to do it. Maybe Monday after taxes.

By the way, if you would like help with your taxes, check out the local AARP Tax Aid program in your area. There is a cadre of well trained volunteers who will do your taxes for free and in many sites e-file them as well. They are trained to do the usual returns and won't do business returns or those complicated returns involving capital gains (losses). Check them out, our little group will do around 600+ returns before we quit on April 15.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Portland, Oregon

Jean and I made a trip to Portland this past weekend. We don't get there too often since it's 400 miles away. We lived there in the late 50's and early 60's while I was going to school. It's amazing how it has changed in just 40 years or so! We stayed at the Mark Spencer Hotel which is on SW 11th and Stark. It is a very nice place with very friendly staff. I would recommend it to you if you ever get to Portland. It's close to downtown and right next to the Pearl District, which is a good example of urban renewal. Instead of tearing down all of the old buildings and starting new (which they did in SW Portland 40 years ago) they just recycled the old buildings into new uses. The old National Guard Armory, which looks like an old castle, is now a performing arts theater. Our grand daughter lives in a new set of apartments built across the street from the old RR car barns, which now supply parking for those working in the city. She can ride the light rail or walk to anyplace she wants to go, has no need of a car. The Pearl District is filled will art galleries and little shops and has become a fun place to go. When we lived in Portland, that area was to be avoided, it was the skid road section of town. My only concern is where did the folks who used to live down there go? It was even seedier than the section we lived in , but the rents were really cheap. Those elderly folks living on Social Security can't afford the rents in the Pearl now. Where did they put them? The homeless folks live in tent villages or under the bridges, but I can't see someone in their 70's surviving very long in that environment. I've never seen anything in The Oregonian about low cost housing for the elderly. That's the downside of gentrification. The people who used to live there can't afford it any more. The downtown core is now a really people friendly place now, but I hurt for those forced out.

Here is a picture of one of the canes that Paul and I make. This is a short one, for someone around 5 feet tall. We can make them for taller folks too. I just happened to be out of the longer ones. Once Paul gets the bark off I can have one ready in a couple of days. It takes a day for each coat of Spar Varnish to dry. I have tried to show some of the character and grain of the wood in the first two pictures. The last picture is the overall look of the cane.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Assorted Musings

I have been away from the computer for a while. I went to my adopted grand-daughter's graduation from college. She graduated from the Art Institute of Portland (Oregon) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Computer Computer Game Design. When I got my Bachelor's degree the desk top computer had yet to be invented, in fact in the summer of 1965 while attending Summer School at NDSU in Fargo I got to see my first desktop computer while on a field trip to the Control Data factory in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was a computer that they had been able to shrink to the size of an office desk. (If you didn't count the air-conditioning needed to keep all those relays and transistors cool) I suspect that its computing power was a little less than the TI 30 scientific calculator of today. Times have certainly changed. As a part of the graduation, each graduate participated in a portfolio showing at the Art Institute. Most of the portfolios were on CD Roms and displayed on TV screens. I was amazed at the creativity of the students. Their computer graphics displayed a level of sophistication that was not being done anywhere at the time of their birth. Now, nearly all graphics and design are being done on computers, and these kids will be right in the middle of that. At any rate, I was very proud of Kelly who graduated in 3 years by going straight through without any summer breaks. She also worked part time to help pay for her expenses. And, to top it off, she already has a job designing characters for video games, in fact she already has her name as one of the creators of a game currently on the market. I forgot the name of the game, anything beyond solitaire is out of my league.

I have added a link to another Blog, "23 Acres of Dirt". She sent me a very nice e-mail thanking me for my musings. It's nice to know that someone reads this stuff that I spew forth every day or so. She's the first person outside of my family who has aknowledged reading me. This is so different from writing sermons, with preaching, you at least know that there are people in the pews whom. you have a chance of reaching. Maybe I should get one of those counter things, but that could be devastating if the numbers are really low. Oh well, I am writing to put my thoughts on the page, not for an audience. Its really such a crap-shoot to find a blog by just surfing, there are so many of them. I do bookmark the ones I like. I like 23 Acres of Dirt.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

More Spring

Well, the cycle has started. I put fertilizer on my lawn today, that will make it grow, which means I'll have to mow it and water it, then mow and water, then ... I really don't mind mowing the lawn, especially since I got the riding mower. I do the neighbor's lawn too, he's in his 80's and doesn't get around very well. It almost kills him that he can't do the things he used to do. He has worked all his life doing one thing or another, and inactivity is not his cup of tea.

We are making canes out of sagebrush, his job is to peel the bark off the sagebrush that we collect. It is quite a job because there are all sorts of cracks and divots that the bark grows into and is somewhat difficult to get out. He does a great job and the canes look great ... unfortunately, they they don't sell. People like the look of them, but they figure they can make one themselves. So, we just give them away for gifts. My daughter has one that she uses where she lives in Massachusetts and says that she gets all sorts of favorable comments about it. Sagebrush has a wonderful grain and the inner layer of the bark is yellow/gold that just glows when covered with varnish. I guess that I will have to post a photo of one of our canes. Who knows, maybe we will start an on-line cane business. Just $19.95 plus shipping and handling, and if you order now we will include a sagebrush medallion at no extra cost.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Spring, and a young man's thoughts turn to love, but an old fart's thoughts turn to cleaning the flower beds. I think it's that time of the year. I got out my shorts today and wore them for the first time in 2007! Nearly froze to death...maybe 57 degrees is a little too cold even for a fat man. I did get some of the flower beds cleaned out and made an inventory of dead rose bushes. I lost several this winter, it wasn't really cold, but it got down to about 5 degrees and stayed there for a couple of weeks. I had some roses that were showing signs of stress last fall and they died. I am slowly learning how to grow roses thanks mostly to Paul, my next door neighbor. He worked in test plots in California for a number of years and knows how to take care of them. This is a picture of one of my roses that I took last summer.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Sunset in Eastern Oregon

One of the neat things about living in Eastern Oregon is the fabulous sunsets. I often go across the street to the High School parking lot and take pictures of the sunsets. This one was taken in July just before a thunder storm passed through. As you can see the sky was fantastic. Digital cameras are a boon too, you can see what you have immediately, and take more if needed. Of course, you can take a bundle of pictures and cull out the poor ones. Just make sure you have a lot of memory on your computer, because it's hard to remove pictures once you've seen them. Summer is best because in the winter the sun is too far south and the sunsets are hidden by the horizon. Come see sometime.

Sunday, March 4, 2007


The Oregonian newspaper (Portland, OR) recently published a series of articles about new teachers leaving the profession. The article was pushing the idea thatthe State Legislature fund a Mentor program for beginning teachers. They pointed out, and rightly so, that the beginning teacher is thrown into the classroom without any support or supervision. I remember my first few years of teaching, the stress was unbelievable. It didn't seem like I had enough time to do all that was required of me. I took work home every night and had little time for my new family. Fortunately, my wife was super supportive and helped as much as she could. I stuck it out and stayed in the same school for 34 years, plus 9 more as a substitute. It is a tough few years for beginners. The newspaper article correctly identified the problems the new teacher faces and stated that the new teacher could really use the support of a mentor. I applaud the Oregonian's attempt to help the young educator. I also applaud it for attempting to stop the exodus of well qualified teachers from the profession.

However, I find it ironic that a few years ago the same newspaper ran a series of "expose'" articles on how much it cost school districts to pay teachers and the fringe benefits they received. The paper attacked teachers as money hungry dolts who didn't care at all about their students. The Oregonian thoroughly demonized teachers and the teaching profession in general. Teachers and the dreaded teacher's union the OEA/NEA were blamed for everything from poor student scores to global warming. I wonder where the beginning teachers got the idea that they had no support? So now we should worry about the teacher drain? It would be great if the media quit their attacks on educators and started showing the care that the great majority of teachers have for their students. Who knows, it just might help slow the teacher turnover.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Oregon's Measure 37

I have been amused about the the amount of ink devoted the the Ballot Measure 37 question. Did the voters really know what thy were voting for? Hell no! When do the voters ever know what they're voting for? Many of the folks I talk to base their vote on the looks of the candidate or some 10 second sound bite. Say the current law is unfair and you've got their vote. After all we have to be fair and let people do whatever they want.

If you want to see what the lack of land use planning looks like take a look at the Boise, Idaho area. Housing developments are eating up about 40 acres of prime farm ground a day. Nearly all of the farm ground between Boise and Caldwell(about 25 miles)has been covered with housing.

I have two solutions for the current clamor to allow people to build on the farm ground they have held for years. First, make them pay the difference in property taxes between land zoned for exclusive farm use and land zoned for development. In other words, if they want to value their property at $100,000 per acre or more, then have them pay their taxes on that value for the entire time they have held the property instead of the special tax rate on farm property. My second solution is more nasty. I propose putting a chicken ranch next to any Measure 37 developments. You can grow a lot of chickens on 20 acres, and those long low sheds holding 40,000 chickens each are really rather attractive. Either that or a 7,000 head dairy farm.

One of the complaints I read about in the Boise paper is that the farmers baling hay in the middle of the night to get the dew on the alfalfa to make the hay more palatable to cattle, disturbs the sleep of the folks who wanted to build in the country.

Few laws are fair, somebody is going to be put out by laws and rules made for the majority and even more so by laws made to protect minorities. That's life! Get over it folks! What worked when fewer than a million people lived in Oregon doesn't work when 2 million plus live in the Portland Metro area. Don't even get me started on the lumber companies who took out all the good trees and then shut down their mills and now want to ensure that no trees will grow back by building homes in the forest.