Sunday, January 30, 2011

At the Mall (Again)

Twice within a week.

I took two nine year old girls, a soon-to-be eleven year old girl and a one soon-to-be twelve year old girl to the Mall today. Shopping. After having not set foot in a Mall for years, I now have done it twice in one week. This is a pattern that, I hope, will stop soon.

I let the two older girls wander off to explore the Mall. Good Concow children; they rarely visit the artificial consumeristic world of the Indoor Mall. Kylie wanted her haircut. Did that (quite short). One of Kylie's friends came back with a pair of artificial fangs. She likes them. Makes her teeth look big.

I took the two smaller ones on an exploration of J.C. Penney, Foot locker and a bunch of other places looking for shoes. Boots, really. Jazzy finally settled on a pair of psychedelic slip on sneakers at Vans. Bought them.

I was proud of Kylie when she told her friends we should eat at "In and Out" burgers: "They have fresh food, not frozen like those other restaurants---and they try to get the food from local suppliers", she said. Good girl. And so Taco Bell (or Taco Smell, as we call it) was canned---and the fresh burger place was what was chosen. Burgers, Fries, Shakes for all!

We had fun riding the escalator up, then around and through the household furnishings of J.C. Penney, only to ride the escalator down again. Repeat six times.

A security guard looked at me with a quizzical look on his face on about our fifth trip.

So was it a lot of walking? Yes. Try following two enthusiastic nine year olds at the Mall. They act like Sailors on Liberty.

An idea: Malls should have a place where you can stop and get a shot of something strong (whiskey, tequila) while shopping. It'd make the whole experience a bit more pleasant. Locate them right next to the Orange Julius or the Sbarro.

But it was a good day. A day to be savored.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Living Like A Trustfunder...

Just a dog walk today. Weather colder. We lit the wood stove and had the thing burning all day. I'm getting used to not working. I would have made a fine Trustfunder...

Friday, January 28, 2011


Woke up, turned on the TV only to find that Egypt is in open revolt. I watched the images for awhile--amazed at the protesters pushing towards lines of billy club wielding security forces. You have to feel pretty strongly about something to stand up to men with clubs and shields, and, I'm sure, more fire power to come. I had to turn the TV off when it was announced the Army was mobilized.

Time for a tranquil walk.

The dogs and I headed out to make the rounds of our Ridge. Still T-shirt weather here. The sun gracing us with its presence. When I get beyond the smaller parcels, I let the dogs romp. They run and chase each other, fully enjoying their ability to move about. Movement. A simple joy. Like the dogs, we are creatures who must roam about. It's in our DNA. It makes us happy. Show me a person who can't move and I'll show you an unhappy person.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Splitting Wood and Arianna

A neighbor dropped by today with his gasoline powered wood splitter. I wasn't about to tell him not to split our wood (despite having romantic visions of splitting the wood myself with human power). I helped out for a bit before the pain from this healing-quite-slowly rib told me it was time to head inside and watch Chris Matthews. Priorities.

So, thanks to the kindness of a neighbor, we have more than enough wood split to last us through the winter. Not that we need it now. We've had about the nicest January that I can remember. Sunny and warm. T-shirt weather. Great to be outside.

And I finished Arianna Huffington's Third World America. When Arianna talks on the pundit shows on TV, I can never understand a word she says. She speaks with a thick Greek accent. Reading her, I can understand her points. As for the book? Lots of research from a Liberal perspective; fairly harsh on Obama (with justification). The book is about the decline of the middle class, a category we cling to up here at this mountain homestead. With success (so far).

I've never read a book by Arianna Huffington before. I've always been rather turned off by her involvement, chronicled in the Doonesbury cartoons, with a group called the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness. Their leader is a guy by the name of John-Roger; a typical California New Age Woo Woo group with a charismatic leader who lives an extravagant lifestyle while his followers are encouraged to tithe to his church. However, they are mostly harmless, quite similar to Eckankar (John-Roger studied with Eckankar, and seems to have borrowed much of their cosmology).

My problem with all these New Agey, Astro-projection and other worldly spirituality is that it leads to neglecting this Earthly plane that really is our home. As Thoreau said: "One world at a time". Exactly.

I also have a hard time with a Guru who drives a Lexxus. I like my Gurus poor. Ordinary. Lower middle class. Nothing pisses me off more than a religious leader who has an investment portfolio the size of New Hampshire, a house larger than a State Park and a car that costs more than what the average RN earns in two years.

Back to the book. A good read. And I have more admiration for her Huffington Post, which seems to be increasing its influence.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

With Che' at the Mall

Joni had some doctoring to do in Yuba City today, so I went along for the entertainment value. While Joni filled out forms and did the obligatory waiting, I took a walk to the Mall.

Yuba City and its sister city, Marysville, has not done very well over the last few years. They have amongst the highest unemployment rates in California. They also have a stratospheric housing foreclosure rate. These two cities are an hour from Sacramento, so during the housing boom, scads of really, really ugly houses were built by shabby builders--selling the houses at (what was then) an affordable half million dollars a piece. Our State Representative, Minority Whip and yoko climate change denier (author of Prop 23), Dan Logue, made his money with his real estate business that sold these ugly cookie cutters to unfortunate people that were told that "housing values never go down".

The bottom fell out of the economy and Dan Logue moved forty miles north to Chico. He is one of the few people left with a steady job, taking State benefits, while regaling state regulations and plotting ways to debunk science.

But I digress.

I haven't stepped foot in a mall in years. This mall is smallish as far as malls go; just three department stores connected by the obligatory corridors of consumption. I didn't recognize many of the stores. The place was empty.

A few Goth teenagers bandied about (Goths make me nervous). A few of the Goths mixed with, what must be a rural Sacramento Valley phenomena: teenagers in wrangler jeans and wearing cowboy hats (cowboys make me nervous too).

Let's explore this place.

As I said, the stores were mostly unfamiliar. They seemed to be catering to mostly teenagers. Obey Propaganda T-shirt stores and other trinket selling places of teenagerdom. Spencers (a store I remembered from my youth) was still selling Beatles Posters. Yes! But they also were selling some very risque lingerie. This was an innovation that I don't remember Spensers selling thirty years ago.

You can tell that this country is slipping into barbarism by the absence of bookstores in malls. The Yuba City Mall doesn't have a bookstore in it; I don't believe this is because of Amazon. Nope. I just don't think people read anymore.

Not convinced we are slipping into barbarism yet? Here's another hint: the Yuba City Mall has a Yuba City Police Officer Station located within it. Is this meant to deter the Goth Teenagers hanging around, looking like they might pull out an Uzi at any minute? Or is crime so common now that the Mall is the perfect place to report a break in, while you head off to a shop to replace the item stolen? I don't know; I don't like it.

I stopped at a T-shirt store. Most of the T-Shirts were promoting gang type items: NorCal (which must be a gang) and Biker themes.

When I was in Costa Rica last January, I had some time to kill in a market in Buenes Aires. I wanted to buy a Che' Guevara T-shirt there, cause, well, I was in Latin America and it seemed to be the thing to do. I did find one, but had too difficult of a time trying to figure out how to wrangle for the shirt. Plus a drunken guy was following me and I didn't feel like accessing my money belt. So I didn't buy it.

At the T-shirt store in Yuba City, they were selling a Che' T-shirt. I bought it. Seemed fitting somehow. Why?

Because malls have become such empty places (literally and figuratively) that a bit of Revolutionary Fervor just might be the remedy. Yes, Che' promoted violence. But, at the same time, he has now reached almost Sainthood status. And Latin America has benefited from their leftward turn. Literacy rates are up; life expectancy is up; hunger is down; in short, there has been a vast improvement in the lives of poor people in Central and South America where experiments in socialism have taken root. The people are benefiting with almost no recognition of the fact in the United States.

I'll wear my T-shirt with pride.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Nothing to Envy

Gosh darn it, it just couldn't be nicer here in northern California. I put on a t-shirt and dusted off some hiking shorts and took the dogs out for a walk today. Sun shining; must be in the lower 70's. Joy!

I took a book out of the library the other day: Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives In North Korea by Barbara Demick (2009; Spiegel and Grau) . The austere cover got my attention. North Korea is a closed, weird society. It is hard to get good information about this place. The author, who covered the Korean peninsula for the Los Angeles Times, interviews six defectors from North Korea about their lives over the last twenty years.

In case you haven't heard the news (and judging by the socialistic phobia of the Tea Partiers, some haven't): The Soviet Union collapsed in 91, ushering in an era of change within their former satellites. Only Cuba and North Korea attempted to maintain some form of Industrial Socialism--with North Korea being the more Stalinist of the two hold outs. Cuba, I've read about how they made the transition away from having a benevolent host. North Korea, I didn't know so much about.

Oh, back in the 90's, I heard about the famine in North Korea. This book tells the story of what it was like for a common person to live through those awful years. I couldn't put the book down. The characters are every day folks who lived within a crazy regime that makes everyone dust the pictures of the Two Kim's once a day. In fact, you have to have one whole wall of your apartment devoted to the hero worship of the "Great Leader" and the "Dear Leader". Secret police make unannounced visits to your home to make sure your tidiness extends to the photos.

Repressive. And also a bit telling for us should we ever lose access to cheap oil.

When the Soviet Union fell--all the sweetheart deals also went away: no more cheap oil. Industry stopped. Industrial agriculture (North Korea is the last country on earth that still has "collective farms") had vastly reduced production. The weather also took a toll and crops failed.

And the Communist government fiddled their own propaganda as the people starved to death. Estimates range from 600,000 t0 2.5 million people died. One of the people profiled was a teacher, who watched in sorrow as her class was reduced from 55 elementary students to 15. Environmentally, every last bit of wild meat was consumed by a starving population. The frog population was decimated.

Books written about defectors can be shrill propaganda pieces. This book is not. I highly recommend it. The stories rattled me. No amount of commitment to ideological fervor should make a country suffer like North Korea did in the 90's. If it ain't working: change it. I hope the North Korean people, somehow, are able to toss off the yolk of 70 years of brainwashing and totalitarianism, and experience freedom and justice someday.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Road Trip?

Another beautiful day. High 60's. Sunny. This has been a delightful January. Took a short walk before going to the doctor to fill out disability and "leave of absence" forms. Got more drugs too.

I miss being able to post a photo or two. Time to get the old dinosaur Gateway fixed. I'm also thinking about buying a laptop, as I'll be taking a road trip in the next week or two. I'd like to be able to post photos along the way. And I'm thinking of looking for Ed Abbey's house in Tucson. Might have to drop by the memorial for Gabby too.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Surprises Around the Bend

I like my brother. He is a good, sober Lutheran Pastor without any of my personality defects. He has lived a stable life on the Tundra that is northern Minnesota. He represents some of the better aspects of my genetic stock. Smart, stable, conservative values, decent voice, plays the guitar well, creative.

A book arrived in the mail from said stable brother. Surprises Around the Bend: 50 adventurous walkers. Published by a Lutheran Publisher (Augsburg Press) and written by a Pastor, Richard Hasler. I read half of the thing last night. Essentially, it is an entreaty to get Lutherans off their butts and onto the hiking paths and sidewalks. Hasler encourages people to walk by providing short summaries of the lives of 50 famous folks who liked to walk. In order to live up to its Lutheran Publishing standards, there are "thoughts to ponder" and "prayers" at the of each vignette. Pastors like to do that, you know: ponder and pray.

Some of the "famous walkers": Carl Jung, Robert Frost, Charles Dickens, Thoreau (of course), Muir (of course), Dorothy Day, Emily Bronte, Abe Lincoln, Soren Kierkegaard (wouldn't be Lutheran without him) and many others. Martin Luther wasn't listed. Nor Ed Abbey. Other than Thoreau and Muir, modern Enviros weren't included. I guess we need not tell Lutherans about those walkers. That'd be dangerous.

Never the less, the book got me out the door this morning. And Hasler has done something I've thought about doing: write about those who had the wonderful habit of taking a daily walk.

Joni and I took a walk on this magnificent day: temperature in the high 60's, sunny with a slight breeze. Dogs frolicking.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Good Weather Wasted

This has been a wonderful January. And I've done pretty much nothing. Through the years, I've learned that the best way to heal a rib is to do nothing to aggravate it. No lifting. No pushing. No pulling. No stretching. No straining. Best thing to do is to read a book or watch TV.

I don't even walk the dogs. They pull too hard on the leash when they spy a squirrel or pick up the scent of something interesting.

The hardest part about a rib injury is sleeping. The pain wakes you up every couple of hours. There is no way to lie on your side. I don't know if you've ever tried to sleep with a dagger in your ribs.

Still, it is hard to do nothing amongst such great weather. I go outside and enjoy the sun. But right now, my job is to do nothing for three weeks.

We are off to a slow start for this year.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Meds, Dishwashers and Conveniences

Sunny today. Warm. Thermometer in the 60's. I gobbled down some ibuprofen (vitamin I) with a dash of vicodin and headed out. Abbey, having just been spayed yesterday, took some tramadol and joined me. Joni, back hurting, took some naprosyn, and trammeled with the wounded ones. Angel (the yellow lab) was the only unmedicated mammal on the walk today.

Dogs and humans took a slow, leisurely walk through the woods. Joni and I talked about just how cushy life has become since we got the wood stove. It almost takes the sport out of winter. Gone are the two or three sleeping bags that nestled us into bed. Yes, we have to get up every couple of hours to stoke the fire. A fun ritual. We get to watch the flames dance; last night, I went outside and heard the wind blowing through the Ponderosas. I came into a house that was warm and softly lit by the flames. People pay good money to have an experience like that.

Canines and Hominids walked for two hours. Came home and sat in the sun, admiring our house made of mud. Joni gathered some firewood.

Thoreau wrote something to the effect of: "Most conveniences I've found are not such". Something like that. And, as with most issues of simple living, he's right.

For example, the dishwasher. These ugly, rectangular, space taking pieces of excessive modernity have destroyed the perfectly wonderful family activity of cleaning up after ourselves. Dishwashing is a good, wholesome activity. A fine benediction to a family meal (but most families don't know what that is anymore anyway). Add the ritual of heating the water up for the dishwashing on the stove and you have a good hour-long time of amusement and discussion.

And it gets your hands really clean.

Time savers? Who cares for that? What we need are activities that luxuriously extend our time on the planet. A time of no distractions. A time when we can be a creature and not a cog in some economic flywheel. Taking a walk with your spouse on a sunny day? Good. Eating dinner together and washing the dishes afterwards? Good.

Driving to the mall in order to ease our loneliness and use our plastic? Bad. Going to the drive thru and devouring a McBurger that was flash frozen in some plant thousands of miles away and heated up in McDonald's microwave while we sit in the car and argue about which radio station to listen to? Bad.

How to live? How to simply live? How to live simply? Good questions, best answered with a wood fire and a glass of vino in hand.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Neighbors, Obama and Wood

Sitting next to my wonderful wood stove, flames glimmering, watching Obama give one of the most compassionate and inspiring speeches I have ever heard--I can't help but be a bit soft hearted. You'd have to have a heart of stone to be concerned about Obama's birth place, or his supposed socialism, after hearing Obama give such a heart felt, real and humbling memorial.

Obama's Presidency has been way under-rated up until today. Today we saw what Obama's Presidency is about. In contrast, John Boehner went to a fund raising cocktail party back in Washington rather than accept the invitation to appear as a united country in Tucson, Arizona.

Obama won the 2012 election tonight.

I'm off work for five to six weeks. I'll be on disability and won't be let back on the unit until my rib is healed. Some young neighbors who live down the road, brought their chain saw over to dispatch some more wood for us (in addition to some wood we have that is wet). This young couple wanted us to have some drier wood, so they came over to help. Tomorrow they are going to bring their wood splitter over so that I don't have to split the new dry wood with a broken rib.

Isn't this what life is about? Helping each other? The State will help me out with disability pay until I can resume my job; the neighbors helped out because they knew our wood supply was wet and could use some drier wood (and they knew I had a fractured rib).

That is the spirit of Liberalism: making the path easier for all of us. Working together. Obama displayed that Liberal vision at its very, very best tonight. Hasn't anybody else noticed just how classy the guy is? Taking the scorn from folks who call him a Kenyan and much, much worse.

I'm proud of him.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The 7th Rib...

My ribs and I went to Paradise today to visit the doctor. I explained my history to the MD. I explained how my friend had hugged me, squeezed me and lifted me off the ground. I explained all the snapping sounds when this happened.

The doctor, who introduced himself as "Brian", smiled and quipped that my football career "is probably over". So we had the x-rays done only to show what I had expected: A fractured 7th rib. He wrote a note for me to be on "light duty" at work and also provided a script for my favorite opiates and muscle relaxers. If you are gonna have a broken rib, it is best done while in a medicated fog.

Since my job doesn't recognize a "light duty" status, I could be off work for six weeks.

Afterwards, I wandered the shelves of my favorite used bookstore. Splurged on buying a two dollar copy of "The Snow Leopard" by Peter Matthiessen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wood Piles and Arizona

My outside time: walking to the wood pile to get a log for the fire. I should be at work, but am home nursing this squished rib.

Which gives me time to watch all the events in Arizona. Liberals blame the hyperbole of Sarah Palin (with some justification) regarding the actions of this psychotic kid who took so many decent people's lives. I agree to an extent.

But the real tragedy of the situation is that this kid was sick. Probably schizophrenic. And all those folks who could have stepped in to get this kid some help didn't step in. His parents didn't. His school (which expelled him until he got a psychiatric examination) didn't. The cops who took him out of class didn't. His friends who watched him deteriorate didn't.

Schizophrenics have their first break, usually, between the ages of 18 to 25. I've seen hundreds of these cases now. I also have never seen a first break where cannabis wasn't involved. True in this case too.

Maybe the blessing out of this situation will be two-fold: The nasty, violent hyperbole of different political worldviews might simmer down; and maybe we will learn to intervene when a kid gets sick.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Been laid up all week. While in San Francisco last Wednesday, a muscle bound, weight lifter friend whom I haven't seen for a year--as a way of macho testosterone greeting-- decided to corral me and lift me up. He grabbed me around the ribs, squeezed as hard as he could and hoisted me up.

Pop! Pop! Pop!

My ribs are vulnerable; been broken multiple times, always work related--- wrestling with agitated clients. The first time I broke them was in a "take down" back in the 90's. I reinjured them in another take down a year later. Then I broke them again attempting to subdue a patient back in 2007.

So I've been trying to be immobile. Yes, it is tough to lie in the Lazy Boy. Somebody has to do it. These injuries usually take a month to heal. This episode seems a bit worse though (Joni says I always say that when I hurt my ribs).

We are off to a shaky start for the year...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Two Sunny Days...

A second sunny day today.

Off to Calistoga for coffee and a walk through a vineyard. Tomorrow I'm taking the ferry to San Francisco to meet with a few partners in crime (mostly cynical psychiatric nurses looking to blow off steam) to take a walk through the city. Of course, lunch will be involved. And a few beverages on the boat, fresh oysters at Hog Island and probably a few hours of reverie spent at Jack Kerouac's old hang out: Vesuvius.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Drove across a snowy landscape to get to the Napa Valley yesterday. The cold continues. Awake early this morning for a walk in beautiful downtown Calistoga. Coffee from the local roastery in hand.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Third Year?

Yeah, why not.

It snowed here this morning. Got up to a couple of inches which still graces the ground, although slushier, as I type this. Spent part of the day outside attempting to split some wood. This is a thing I'm gonna have to improve at (and part of the reason why I bought this cabin in the first place).

Even with temps in the low 20's--the cabin remains warm. 63 degrees is plenty warm. Downright balmy. Anything above that seems decadently too warm. Hot.

So let's think a bit about this year? What to accomplish? What goals to obtain. Here are a few thoughts, in no apparent order:

1. See a California Condor.

2. Take a 100 plus mile solo backpacking trip.

3. Climb Halfdome (Larry, you hear me?).

4. Do the segment of the PCT between Truckee and Hwy 70.

5. Bright Angel Trail--and maybe rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon.

6. Walk from my house to Magalia, up and over Sawmill Peak.

7. Visit Ed Abbey's fire lookout in Lassen National Park. Ed wrote 75% of Desert Solitaire there back in 1967.

And a couple of other goals for the year:

1. Finish this damned house!

2. Take a trip back to Minnesota.

3. Don't eat in a restaurant that doesn't have a knife in its kitchen. No corporate microwaved tasteless Burger King, Chilli's, Applebees, McDonalds or any other chain. Let all the restaurants I eat in have a grill, fresh food and workers who actually cut things up with a knife.

That about does it. Other goals will be improvised along the way. And thanks for dropping by.