Sunday, August 13, 2017

Do the Funky Chicken

We added to our flock of chickens this spring with three chicks; one White Barred Plymouth Rock and two Ameraucanas, the breed that was derived from the blue egg laying Araucanas. They spent the spring and early summer in our garage with the normal chick accoutrements: a heat lamp, a thermometer to make sure they stayed at the right temperature, food to scatter all over the cage and water to scatter the food in.

The three progressed nicely, with the White Barred Plymouth Rock leading the pack in height and overall size. We thought she may have been a day or two older than the Ameraucanas, one of which was now distinctly more brown while the other was more black in color.

The chickens eventually moved from the small cage in the garage to the new hen house and run built just for them. Once fully mature, they could be integrated into the existing flock, but until they sized up it was to their benefit to keep them separated from the older girls.

We tossed around names and finally settled on MacHenna (the mostly brown Ameraucana), Beatrix Clucker (the mostly black Ameraucana) and Gertrude (the White Barred Plymouth Rock). Gertrude continued to be the big chicken on campus, but since the White Barred Plymouth Rock is a popular dual-purpose chicken (laying or meat) with a long, broad body and a moderately deep breast, the fact that she towered over her bunk-mates didn't worry us...much.

The chicks, purchased at a local store, were all supposed to be all hens. Chicken sexing is an art, and people who do this as a profession can command up to several thousand dollars per day. Some breeds are easy to sex: males hatch out a different color than females. For most breeds, sexers look at the size and shape of their wing feathers or peek inside their "vent" to see barely visible tell-tale signs. Maybe TMI, but that's how it works.

Despite collecting big bucks for their work, these professionals are not 100% accurate; as they say in the chick sexing business, "roosters happen." What sounded like a few small crows erupted from Gertrude, but still we pressed on, waiting to see what happened. When we actually witnessed a crow from her, I mean his lips, I mean beak, well, that settled that. Gertrude became Gordon and we worked on finding him a new home.

I started with Craigslist and a typical (for me, anyway) posting, which was flagged for removal. Of course, no one could tell me exactly why it was flagged, so I was left to reach out to the forums for guidance. One responder told me I should have posted in a different category, while another told me that yet a different category was the right one. Still another said I needed to decide if Gordon was a pet or available for eating, as it would make a difference on what category to use. I explained we had a "don't ask, don't tell" re-homing policy, as who am I to tell someone what they can or can't do with a chicken? This is America, for crying out loud.

Another said my ad was too long while yet another indicated that discussing the local municipal code that says it is unlawful to keep or maintain a rooster in the city limits was inappropriate. I brought up the municipal code to bring context to needing a new home for Gordon before the neighbors began to complain or "the man" came to get him. And how can a mere 370 words of an entertaining chicken story be too long?

Should I have flagged the garage sale add that included "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" because it didn't indicate that was copyrighted material? What about the ads that spell pallet incorrectly? Or the guy giving away bees that took up residence in his patio...can you give away something you don't own?

Cindy contacted the original source of the chicks and they were happy to take Gordon to their ranch where he can presumably live out his life having a great time with lots of hens, so that part of the story has ended. Being flagged on Craigslist...that's gonna take a while to get over.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Overpowered by Funk

Santa Barbarians have watched the evolution of the Funk Zone from the low rent warehouse district to a hip neighborhood gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. The area covers about 10 square blocks, stretching form the Pacific Ocean to Highway 101, bounded on one end by State Street and Garden Street on the other.

An industrial and light-manufacturing area in the years after World War II, it was bypassed by development since the 1960s and became a collection of neglected commercial buildings. An arts culture grew in the area over the last thirty years, similar to Georgetown in Seattle or the Alberta district in Portland. Powered by multiple wine and beer tasting rooms, restaurants, a distillery, shops, galleries and within walking distance to the Harbor, Stearn’s Wharf and the State Street retail shops, more than 80% of all Santa Barbara visitors pass through the Funk Zone.

Before it was funky, it was home to many business. Oreana Winery is in the old Bob Woolever’s Tire Shop building. The Lark sits on the site of the historic Santa Barbara Fish Market building, once housing Castagnola Brothers, a fish-processing warehouse built in the 1920s. The rustic sign from the non-existent Divers Den hangs at the refurbished Municipal Winemakers, a reminder of the past where many, my sister among them,  took swimming lessons. I went with my grandfther to Roesers Feed & Mill to get feed for the chickens before it became The Feed Store restaurant, memorialized by the tall building at the ocean end of Gray Avenue, which now houses a gym and fitness center.

Everything changes. It's inevitable, as change is the only constant in the universe. Buildings go up, buildings come down. In between, they house different people, different business, different ideas. Moving forward, never back, waiting for the next iteration. Some day the Funk Zone will become something different, and another group of people will provide an altered perspective on the past and the present, remembering what used to be.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Wondrous Stories

I've written about radio shows now and again. Some have been there for years and we expect they always will remain. They become intertwined in the fabric of our reality. Like a companion, these familar voices on the radio, tell stories, keep me updated on their lives, their doings, their musings.

Then, one day, they are gone. The show is cancelled, the host retires, they pass away. In the words of Stuart McLean, we find ourselves "standing in the kitchen of our life, surrounded by the ones we love, and feeling empty, and alone, and sad, and lost for words, because one of our loved ones, who should be there, is missing."

Stuart passed away this week. A consumiate storyteller, beloved by Canadians and those of us who became Canadians when we listened to him, we hung on to his famaliar voice as it flowed effortlessly while the story was told, with pauses and inflections we came to expect and love. As the audience, we sat by, thoroughly involved in the telling. In the best radio tradition, a listener's imagination fills in all the blanks. Prose and masterful narration help us develop those spaces in between.

I was one of the millions of listeners who tuned in weekly for whatever awaited us: eclectic music (much of which now fills my music library), The Story Exchange, the trials and tribulations of Dave (the owner of the world’s smallest record store…where the motto is “We May Not be Big But We are Small”), his wife Morley and his children Stephanie and Sam. I count myself fortunate to be among the thousands that saw The Vinyl Cafe live on stage, bringing all the radio magic to small venues.

Many of the stories were hilarous tellings of Dave’s antics, such as finding himself trapped in the sewers, riding a bicycle on top of a moving car, cooking a Christmas turkey or being mistaken for a patient when visiting a friend in the hospital. An equal amount were stories about memories and traditions, such as Dave remembering his father and passing that memory on to Sam, or Dave and Morley’s ninety-year old neighbour Eugene wanting to taste rosemary honey again, a flavor from his youth in Italy, or about the death of the family dog. I can't tell you how many times I have heard "Morte d'Arthur," but I do know I cry every time. I already know how it ends, but much like "Charlotte's Web" it still pulls at the heart each and every time. They are always good, healthy tears and I finish more happy then when I started.

Like many, when I read Stuart's words it is his voice I hear in my head. Some of my best writing also plays in my imagination with Stuart's voice, as I like to think it worthy of his reading it out loud.

"Dave...knew he had told them before. He knew what he was doing. You have to tell stories over and over. It is the creation of myth. The only road to immortality."

And so, we tell these stories again and again. Because, in the end, we're all stories.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I Will Not Take These Things For Granted

Flowers in the garden
The cool side of the pillow
Laughter in the hall
Opposable thumbs
Children in the park
Having a good hair day
Music in the bedroom
Waking up before the alarm clock
Singing by the fire
Running through the forest
The feeling of new socks
Standing in the wind
Making someone smile
Religious liberty
Free speech
The first thing each of my ancestors saw when they came to the United States

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Call Me

I found a cell phone while geocaching last week. Grass was growing up and around it, so the phone had been in place for at least a few days. Wet and non-responsive, I didn't try to charge it, knowing that water and electricity don't mix well. The next logical choice was to post to the lost and found section on Craiglist.

Found Samsung Phone

lost a Samsumg phone
found a Samsumg phone
want it back
want to give it to you
want to know if it still works
don't know; it is fully discharged and may be wet inside
need to identify it
want to make sure it belongs to you
must tell me the color of the case
know the color of the case
must tell me the carrier
know the carrier, since it is on the back of the phone
must tell me approximately where I found it
know where I found it
must have a good story as to how it was left where I found it
enjoy a good story
must tell me the story
will listen intently
must tell me the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow
know these things, you know.

You weren't expecting anything different from me, were you?

One person lost their phone at Wilmington Ave and 111th Street, at the crossroads of Watts and Imperial Gardens, which is in Los Angeles, a scant 105 miles from where I found ths phone. They were desperate (and admitted it), but it wasn't their phone.

Another told me she was a good wife and chauffeured her husband and three of his friends from bar to bar to celebrate one of their birthdays. Intoxication kicked in during the multiple stops at some local watering holes and her spouse lost his phone. She was able to provide information about swallows, including that "a 5 ounce bird cannot carry a one pound coconut." While I gave her exra points for complete answers, it wasn't her husband's phone.

A third explained he had lost his phone at the beach during a crazy surf trip led by his novice surfer girlfriend, her longtime friend visiting from out of town, his roommate and her boyfriend. In summary, a dog was rescued from the surf, a large set wave broke outside of the three surfing ladies and one was struck in the eye by her board requiring a hurried trip to the emergency room for five stitches to the brow, leaving our protagonist to clean up the beach, which is when the phone was misplaced. He wanted more specifics on the origin of the swallow ("would this be one of the many local North American swallows or one of the more exotic Eurasian or African varieties?) understanding the importance of the question. Unfortunately I didn't have his phone either.

After poking at the phone enough I realized it had a removable back cover, giving me access to a micro SD card that contained pictures, including one of a driver's license. I plan on taking the phone to the address on the license this weekend and hopefully complete its journey.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Who Wears These Shoes?

During my most recent trip to the Pacific Northwest I spent some time in Fred Meyer, because that's what PNW ex-pats do. Where else can you buy a loaf of fresh baked bread, a pair of jeans and parts to fix your toilet at 10:00 pm on any given night of the week. Freddy's is just that kind of store.

As I browsed the aisles I came upon the shoe department, and there they were: the plain black shoes I wore for years while living in the PWN. Not stylish, not fashionable and certainly not trendy, there were workhorse shoes that lasted a long time and took the abuse of walking indoors and out, in good weather and bad, all while still looking like they did when they came out of the box.

My best friend in Medford called them bus driver shoes, as they were what the school bus driver wore when we were kids. She wore them as well, another aspect of our shared history, sense of humor and fashion sense.

I picked up a box of the appropriate sized shoes and sat down to try them on. The fit like a glove, and I let out a small exclaim of happiness, finding a long lost friend and ensuring I would not need to shop elsewhere for shoes that might be trendy or fashionable. After all, us bus driver shoe wearers need to stick together.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer Wine

Let me tell you a story.

A story of friends, through thick and thin, through decades and distance, through love and life. We started together, added and subtracted from our number, and moved apart with the ebb and flow of careers, celebrations and circumstances.

A story of coming together more often than drifting apart. A story of parades and floats, of wine and festivals, of the elastic bond that keeps us together.

A story of tears and laughter.  A story of our personal time machines, where memories take us backward in time and dreams propel us forward.

This year, two events collide on one day. During the Soltice Parade, look for the TARDIS, complete with The Doctor atop the structure. If you have an extra bottle of water, find the small slit in the side about eye level and press the bottle through, and clap when it goes by.

Later that afternoon, we'll be enjoying the peacful surrounds of the Museum of Natural History, complete with wine and food. We will regale each other with stories of our lives since we last saw each other, catch up with our rapidly moving present and plan for the future that awaits us.

Once again I am fortunate to be one with the group: meeting at the appointed side street for final assembly, eventually making our way up State Street with the parade, then heading for Mission Canyon and an afternoon of more fun and companionship. As with last year, I can tell my compatriots in crime, my longest lasting friends, my past and future companions, that I love each and every one of them myself. 

Let me tell you a story. Because, in the end, we're all stories. And we are making it a good one.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Infinite Potential

The story of this house begins like most. At one point it was an empty piece of land at the edge of a rise. Above the reaches of a lagoon that filled with a combination of high tides and rain, it was a logical place to put a street, safe from the ravages of water. Eventually a house was built upon it the lot, but was lost to time, possibly a fire. It then became a large garden, providing an immigrant family with fresh vegetables.

Eventually another house rose on the site of the original, crafted by my grandfather and father. The first renters were family friends. When they moved out, my parents, with my sister and me in tow, moved in. We would walk to the market down the street for bread and submarine sandwiches and to the one around the corner for candy and ice cream during the summer. I see my grandfather's handiwork in things like a pocket door between two rooms where a conventional door would have always been in the way. I see the improvements my father made, such as removing a wall to make a more open kitchen.

Over the years it was a home full of stories, of joy and sadness, of history. Small in stature, it is bigger on the inside, holding memories enough for many lifetimes. It contains futures that were never lived, days that should have been that never were, an infinity of unlived days for every day we lived.

Much like where it started, the house is again a rental. We welcome a new family into our corner of the world, and hope they will be as happy there as my family had been.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Door Into Summer

Summer Solstice is upon us again. While I miss the over 17 hours of daylight the longest day of the year afforded to us in Bellingham, I don't miss the lack of light at the conversely short Winter Solstice. Both in Santa Barbara, as Goldilocks would say, are just right.

Known by many names, such as Midsummer, St. John’s Eve and Litha, what matters most is the sun is at its full strength, which is traditionally a day to make wishes and then let them go. As I've said before, the parade is just that: a wish made on a summer day, visualized in may colors and dimensions, arising from the heart and soul.

The Summer Solstice parade in Santa Barbara is, on one hand, the most artistically creative event during the year. On the other, it is the most outrageous one as well. Every June,
you you are invited to check your adulthood at the door and celebrate summer.

The heart of downtown Santa Barbara is transformed from the Spanish-style business district into an explosion of color and music filled with illusions and imagery, creativity on steroids, beating back the "June Gloom" that can envelope the area.

This year, look for a shuttle craft from Star Trek TOS complete with Spock atop the structure. If you have an extra bottle of water, find the small slit in the side about eye level and press the bottle through, and clap when it goes by.

Once again I am fortunate to be one with the float, meeting at the appointed side street and eventually making our way up State Street. As with last year, I can tell my compatriots in crime that love each and every one of them myself. 

Today, as with many days, we will go with the flow and let life take us where it chooses...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I Can See For Miles

The sunrise lit the sky on fire, shades of orange, red and crimson playing upon the blue of the sky and the white of the wispy clouds. It was a perfect backdrop for a Sunday morning of geocaching and I ascended into the mountains behind Santa Barbara in search of hidden treasures.

As it sometimes happens with geocaching, everything I tried to find was elusive, hiding itself from my peering eyes, coming up empty time and time again.  I continued to search, but to no avail.  I looked around to get my bearings and that's when I saw the directional sign for La Cumbre Peak.

As a teenager, La Cumbre Peak was a common destination. Sometimes we would drive the winding road in the darkness to beat the sunrise and watch it come over the mountains; in winter it was typically the closest snow to Santa Barbara, and while there wasn't much it served the purpose for snowballs and the occasional snow person.  Other times it was an escape from the June gloom, rising up and breaking through the fog, looking out onto an ocean of puffy white.

I took the road less traveled and headed up the winding road, remembering some of the curves like I had driven them yesterday.  The road to the peak itself was closed, so I walked the last quarter of a mile, heading to the top.  Not another person or vehicle in sight, I wandered along the potholed road among the pines, maples, manzanita and chaparral. I sat near the inactive fire lookout tower, closed since the early 1980s, void of windows and personnel.  I looked as far as the my eyes could take me; the view of the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara and Goleta, the Santa Ynez Mountains and Gibraltar Reservoir are breathtaking.

Aristotle said that memory is neither perception nor conception, but a state or affection of one of these, conditioned by lapse of time. Today, like all those years ago, I was as far away from home as I could be and yet still see the city of my birth, alone in the present, connected to the past and wondering what the future would bring.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Father And Son

It has been said that an era is truly known only when it is over.  The life of any individual, marked by its distinctive characters and events, may not make the history books, but it was significant nevertheless for those of us who lived it.

My father passed away the other day.  He is no longer burdened by his physical body and the limitations of age, having been freed from that vessel to be one with the universe.  A good friend of mine said he remembered my Dad as kind, warm and genuine; truer words were never said about him.

For my Dad, the act of living was about being the best person that he could be, having friends that loved and appreciated him, and loving his family more than anything that life had to offer him.

He taught me to fish, to select quality tools, and to just be thankful.

He always listened to people, never left anyone out and had a real passion for serving his community. This 

translated into years of volunteer service.  He was well known and respected in the local community, serving his employer, his heritage and his faith. 

He was a very caring and compassionate person, putting the needs of others before his own.  My father fulfilled obligations willingly; his word was his bond, and everyone knew it.

He was self-made and self-reliant. His skill with tools that could fashion wood, brick, tile, stone or cement allowed him to engage the world as a man who would mold these resources rather than be molded by them.

He has always been a constant in my life, giving me advice and encouraging me to be my best.  For that, and for more than I can ever remember and record, I will be eternally thankful.

As we pack up our emotions and memories, take another road to another place and write that next chapter, this finale is symbolic of how things change and evolve, how life goes on despite leaving things on the side of the road, how the future is now.

Today we celebrate the sacrifices he made to his commitment to making the world a better place.  Dad, you did good; you did real good.

Jim Tabacchi, December 16, 1937 - September 28, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Breeze

Daniel Defoe, in his 1726 book The Political History of the Devil, penned that the only constants in life are death and taxes. Some 2200 years before Defoe, Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek philosopher, was known for his doctrine of change being a constant in the universe.

The Earth is thought to have been formed about 4.6 billion years ago by collisions in the giant disc-shaped cloud of material that also formed the Sun. The solstices have been constants for this solar system longer than anything we can even imagine, the grand reminder that we are but travelers on this pale blue dot that circles the sun.

Astronomically, the summer solstice, more commonly known as the first day of summer, arrived today at 03:51 a.m. EDT, precisely what the Earth's axial tilt is most inclined toward the sun, at the degree of 23° 26', its most extreme.

Summer solstice is here. Once again, the heart of downtown Santa Barbara is transformed from the Spanish-style business district into an explosion of color and music filled with illusions and imagery, creativity on steroids, beating back the "June Gloom" that can envelope the area.

This year, look for a Monopoly hotel complete with Rich "Uncle" Pennybags atop the chimney. If you have an extra bottle of water, find the small slit in the side about eye level and press the bottle through, and clap when it goes by.

By the fates I have returned to the float fold, meeting at the appointed side street to assemble our entry and eventually make our way up State Street. This time, I can tell my compatriots in crime that love each and every one of them myself.  

Today, as with many days, my past meets my future, and I, much like the parade, will go with the flow.

My friends, we've come home.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Goodbye My Friend

Time marches on, years pass, people move in and out of our lives. Some are old, some are young, but all are called to that next evolutionary step, the afterlife, the world to come, whatever you believe.

The passing of a friend in your age group causes you to ponder life a little differently. Part of us dies with them, as friends carry small pieces of each other wherever they go. A friend of mine I had not seen in over five years passed away died recently, causing those past memories and shared pieces to rush to the surface. At a former employer where a group of us were born in 1961, we shared membership in "Club 61" and the common bond of age, musical tastes, workplace experiences, friends. With her passing, another connection to the past, a potential future presence, a constant, is gone.

As the dust of my WMS Czarina returns to the earth, I am reminded we witness birth and deaths many times, and that both are a secret of nature not for us to fully understand.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Spinning Wheel

When we moved to Medford, OR in August of 1990, Southern California became a place to visit and from where people came to visit us.  Seven hundred or so miles, 10 or so hours of hard driving and the desire to bridge that gap separated Southern Oregon from Southern California.  Another move took us to Washington State in 2009, adding another 500 miles and 8 hours to the distance that divided the familial landscape.

What goes up must come down... 
Here we are, twenty-three years later, back where we started.  Closer to family than we have been in nearly a quarter century, a December without the remotest posssibility of snow and blue skies instead of is good.

We've been Medfordites and Bellinghamsters, Oregonians and Washingtonians.  We proudly reclaim the demonym of Californians and add Santa Barbarians to the entire household.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Popular music today lacks vocal harmony. Take a look at the Top 20 for this week and let me know when you find a song with harmonies.  I'll wait, no hurry.

Is this disappearing as a talent?  Is it because much of the popular acts these days are solo and it is difficult to do harmony by yourself?  Or is it because it is a lot of work?

A 2012 study by researchers at the

Spanish National Research Council indicated that contemporary popular music has grown loud, predictable, and simpler than ever.  The study found that, since the 1950s, there has been a decrease in the diversity of chords in a given song and in the number of novel transitions, or musical pathways, between them. While it is true that pop songs tend to be far more limited in their harmonic vocabularies when compared to a classical symphony, past decades saw more inventive ways of linking their harmonies together than we hear now.

The Beatles and The Beach Boys knew how to harmonize, and did it well.  The Eagles, especially in "Seven Bridges Road" where the vocals just jump out and grab you from the start.  Fortunately, groups like The Civil Wars, The Rescues, Beirut, The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons are just a few that keep harmonies alive.  How Alison Krauss managed to wrap her harmonies around Robert Plant's voice on the Raising Sand album still amazes me.

More harmony, less noise...isn't that what we all really want in our lives?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The First Years

As of late I have been inexorably drawn to the television series "The Paper Chase".  Perhaps it is because I know the next steps in our life will be difficult and I harken to, in retrospect at least, what was a simpler time.  Those next steps (going to college) would, of course, be hard ones.  

Taking classes in auditoriums filled with students made a high school class of twenty-five look like a study group.  No one was looking over your shoulder to see how you were fairing, in some classes there were no familiar faces and your fellow classmates were likely among the best of the best; these things and many others caused me stay up late at night wondering what I had managed to get myself into. Tack on moving away from home and it still amazes me more of us didn't turn tail after the first week.

Looking back on those times from an aged and experienced point of view make them seem much more uncomplicated and easier.  As the reality of our current situation continues to unfold, moving to a new location and starting a new job seem hard.

We've moved many times before and I have had numerous first days at work.  Still, the future is always much more turbulent than the past, as we can gaze behind us to past events with experience and a sense of calm, knowing no matter how bleak things looked at that moment in time that things turn out the way they are going to, regardless of the amount of hand wringing or pacing or worrying we invested in the situation.

Some future version of myself will look back at this time and ask why I was even concerned.  Until then I will work the "all shall be well" mantra and remember that one day I will be saying, "Hey look, we've come through..."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mother Nature's Son

We had been living in Washington State for only a few weeks when we saw them. A doe and two fawns, slowly crossing our backyard, gracefully jumping over the four foot fence as if it were four inches. The dog didn't know what to make of them, and the cats, while intrigued that potential prey had come to them, were smart enough to give them a wide berth. 

The deer continue to grace our presence, with forays into the field next door. We were headed to a garage sales the other day and drove past a few deer making themselves home in someone's front yard.  They aren't the only animals to arrive on our doorstep.  Brown and black squirrels use the fence line as a superhighway, moving from yard to yard in search of stores for winter. Rabbits have recently appeared, eating grasses and wild flowers in the adjacent open field.

As I sat at the desk in our home office late one night, I heard a noise at the pet door. Without my glasses I could see a greyish figure through the glass door and figured it was one of our cats on the way back in for the night.  The pet door opened all the way and the dining room light illuminated what was the face of a raccoon. I surprised it as much as it surprised me, and it retreated to the safety of the yard. As I arose from the desk to get a better view, the raccoon also stood on its hind legs and waved its arms in the air, making itself appear larger and trying to scare me off. Safely behind the glass door, I stood my ground, letting the raccoon know it didn't scare me (as long as it stayed on the other side of the door, of course).

I will not miss the 168 days a year with precipitation, nor will I shed a tear for the 208 days with cloud cover. And while both contribute to the shadowy forest dripping with moss and ferns and the almost ever-present green of the area, it is the few weeks of perfect summer weather and the menagerie of wildlife that was right outside our door that will tip the scales of my memory in favor of living here.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dry Spell

I can't remember the last time I saw rain.  It hasn't been years, or even months at this point.  When you live in a place where three days in a row without rain is the exception to the rule, you tend to expect precipitation; when it doesn't materialize, one day melds into the next, time stands still and the last time you needed an umbrella is a fading memory. 

In what are unusual times here in the Great North Wet, days without rain are certainly welcome.  A lack of sprinklers means that most lawns go from green to gold.  If you are trying to sell your house (as we are), you water the lawn by hand to keep the lush verdant appearance.  The flowers are thriving in the relative warmth, the trees increase their height and the roses bloom and bloom again, all the recipients of long days of sunshine.

The azure sky is book-ended by the pastel colors of dawn and dusk. Too soon it will rain and the normal rotation of clouds with small glimpses of blue sky will return. As the year continues, we will pack away summer for another rotation around the sun.  For the moment, we enjoy it being here, making vitamin D  and taking in all that summer can supply.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

From Where I Stand

The future seems far away for so long, and then it hits you like a dope slap.

My last full day with Sargento was June 10.  I made a few trips into the office during that week, including a goodbye lunch for the Plant Manager, so that stretched it until June 14. I was paid through the end of the month, so (in my mind, anyway) maybe my official last day was June 30.  In early July I still had corporate e-mail access, making it easy to continue to believe I was still tied to my friends and associates in WI and elsewhere.

It was going to happen eventually, and it came sooner than later.  Earlier this week my access was revoked and I could no longer sign on to the external portal.  I continued to deny my true separation from what, with little doubt, was the best company I have ever had the privilege to work for.

There is no denying it anymore.  The electronic thread, tenuous at best, was finally broken.

Time will fly, each week/month/year moving faster than the last. We might stay in touch, but it far is more likely we will move on, the tide of life drifting us apart both in distance and time.

A while back I wrote that an era is truly known only when it is over. This period of time, marked by its distinctive characters and events, may not make the history books, but it was significant nevertheless for those of us who lived it.

The future seems so far away for so long...


Saturday, June 22, 2013

One Summer Dream

Yesterday was Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.  In Bellingham, the sun rose at 5:07:06 am and set that evening at 9:16:53 pm, for a grand total of 16hrs 09min 47sec of full daylight. If you count civil twilight which begins at 4:24 am and ends at 9:58 pm, the daylight hours stretch out to 17 hours 34 min.

As I have said before, summer doesn't really start until the solstice parade in Santa Barbara is complete. Then, and only then, is summer finally at our doorstep.

If you are watching the parade, look for something that resembles giant colon, or perhaps a wedge of cheese or maybe a cube...only they know for sure.  If you have an extra bottle of water, find the small slit in the side about eye level and press the bottle through (they'll thank you for it, trust me). Clap when they go by and tell them I love each and every one of them.

I dream of Santa Barbara, my family and friends who are there, the times of my life spent there and the times yet to be.  Where our next stop will be is still unknown, but today, as with many days, my past meets my future, and I, much like the parade, will go with the flow. 

In the future I hope to travel further north and experience the never-ending day associated with the far north.  Until then, I relish in the extra minutes of daylight and firmly plant those memories of in my mind, waiting for a day with less light to remember them by.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

On, Wisconsin!

Wisconsin is the home of Earth Day founder and US Senator Gaylord Nelson, Sierra Club founder John Muir, the Green Bay Packers, the Wisconsin Badgers, 29 methane digesters, the kringle (a butter-rich, tender-crusted Danish pastry filled with nuts or fruits, formed into giant ring and topped with a sugar glaze), and The Rock in the House.

More importantly, it is the home of the brandy old-fashioned.  Every bartender there knows the drill: a bar spoon of sugar, three dashes of Angostura bitters, a lightly muddled slice of orange, a slug of brandy, lots and lots of ice, a splash of soda and, of course, a bright red maraschino cherry. It is a pity more bartenders across the country don't know how to make a good old-fashioned.

Most importantly, it is the home of Sargento, a company that truly believes their most valuable asset is their employees.  I was recently in Wisconsin for what will likely be my last visit as a Sargento employee. My time was split between the three plants, so I had the opportunity to see the facilities, the people that make them great, and the rolling countryside one more time.

My heartfelt thanks go out to Janet, Jim, Cory, Erika, Jane, Heather, Julie, Gary, Donna, Cheryl and everyone else in Quality Systems for making me feel at home.  I hope our paths cross again.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Lately I've Let Things Slide

The month of May has come and gone.  What looked like a long time in the future, time enough at last to accomplish many things, is now the past.  

May lasted as long as it should have, from a calendar sense of time, but it appeared to speed by, defying my wish that it linger and allow me to embrace the boundless possibilities that existed.

Decommissioning the plant was in front of us; now it is almost completely behind us.  I wanted more time to absorb those subtle images that will frame my memories, allowing them to linger in my mind.  Instead I find myself fussing over the past and the future, pressing myself toward reality by concentrating only on the present, wondering what will be next.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The End of Everything Known

For months we waited, wondering when the final day of manufacturing would occur. We wanted the day to be fixed, to know when it was going to happen, to be able to move on with our lives.

The announcement of the date was met with sighs of relief and some cheers. No longer were we adrift on a sea of endless waiting...we knew when the ship would come into dock, when the voyage would end.

As days tend to do, the last day of manufacturing arrived with little fanfare or procession. Stories were shared, tears were shed, handshakes and hugs occurred again and again and again. Some were moving east, some were staying, others were going elsewhere...somewhere.

Those of us who are left will decommission the plant, removing items that signified our time here. Much like the ocean waves remodeling the sand and removing any sign of the castles that once graced the beach, when we are done there will be no physical sign we were ever there.

It has been said that an era is truly known only when it is over. As we pack up our emotions and memories, take another road to another place and write that next chapter, this finale is symbolic of how things change and evolve, how life goes on despite leaving things on the side of the road, how the future is now. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dreams Where I Am Sleeping

Space is the final frontier.  NASA has assembled an inspirational video with the intent of getting more people interested in the subject matter.  The clip speaks to the reasons why mankind explores and how we lay the foundation for future journeys by what we do now.  You can view the 2:36 version at

As a federal agency, NASA cannot legally purchase broadcast time for this video.  Mountains have not deterred climbers, oceans have not stopped sailors and gravity has not stopped astronauts.

Fans of "Veronica Mars" recently funded a movie version of the former TV series through a website called Kickstarter.  To get the movie made, series creator Rob Thomas had to raise $2 million. That goal was reached in under 12 hours.  When all was said and done, a total of 91,585 backers contributed $5,702,153.  To make a movie.  About a TV series.  That was cancelled. 

You can be part of a fundraising effort to place the NASA video "We Are The Explorers" as a trailer to the upcoming "Star Trek: Into Darkness" on as many screens as possible.  I may not be a fan of the 
J.J. Abrams re-boot of my beloved Star Trek, but plenty of people are and will see the movie.  What better way to inspire us to greatness by fanning the flames of space exploration with people who are already enticed by it?

The effort has been tremendously successful so far.  "We Are The Explorers" will air on 50 screens across the nation for the first 8 weeks of  the run of "Star Trek: Into Darkness" as an edited 30 second piece.  The campaign is now working to hit a goal that will enable them to put the trailer in at least one theater in every state in the USA for two weeks.

Get on board at

NASA today, Starfleet tommorow.  As Carl Sagan said, we are capable of greatness.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Light My Fire

Barbecue.  In the United States, the origins of barbecue trace back thousands of years to Native Americans cooking in buried pits, including the tribes of California. When the territory became Spanish Las Californias and then Mexican Alta California in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Missions and ranchos of California had large cattle herds, primarily for hides and tallow.  Large pit barbecues cooked the remaining meat when the culling and leather tanning season came to an end.  The outdoor cooking tradition continued in the early days of California statehood for fiestas, becoming popular across the country in various shapes and forms.

Barbecue in my family meant chicken, pork ribs and/or beef tri-tip.  With only one cut per side of beef, for decades the tri-tip found itself cut into cubes for soup meat or ground into hamburger. When butchers carved their own beef it didn't make sense to try and market one of something.  With institutionalized beef packing,  the tri-tip became a staple for the grill.  Once an overlooked piece of meat , it is relatively inexpensive, flavorful and a favorite among those who have tried it.
For decades, the big draw for tri-tip was California.  With expatriate Californians came the pull of the tri-tip, and now it can be found in many areas of the country.  The tapered shape makes it an ideal cut of meat to produce a range of doneness from medium in the center to well done at the narrow tip.

Barbecue is the story of a social institution, acting as powerful social magnets, drawing people together.  Cindy and I were in Santa Barbara last weekend to celebrate my sister's 50th birthday with family, friends and barbecue.  The chicken and ribs were wonderful, but it was the tri-tip that drew me back to the serving table.

Spring has sprung here in the Great North Wet, and like the natives we have learned to take advantage of a sunny day.  I snuck in some grilling yesterday, and yes, it was a tri-tip.  While our family footprint here is smaller than in Southern California, we nevertheless gathered around the table, gave thanks for our meal and enjoyed each others company.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

My sister gets the blame for many things that happened during our childhood.  Better known as "The Agitator", it was her goal in life to get me in trouble. As previously discussed, she would agitate and aggravate and torment me to no end, until all that poking and prodding resulted in her having an imprint of my hand somewhere on her body, which would then result in me getting yelled at from the front seat by our parents, leaving a smirk on the face of Little Miss Innocent that required removal with another well-placed hand imprint and the cycle would replay itself over and over.

She continues in her ways to this day.  Julie is completely and irrevocably to blame for getting me hooked on geocaching. Like a drug dealer, she told me about how fun it was. She even took me on one when I visited her recently; just the two of us, she found the geocache in short order and made it look sooooooo easy. She made it seem it was socially acceptable by taking me in a group to look for caches. It seemed okay...other people did it.  I became hooked, and then she cut me off, told me I would have to get my own phone app and log my own finds.

Some of the puzzles are impossible to figure out. The other day I stood in the rain in a parking lot looking for a geocache, just trying to find one to satisfy my cravings. I leave work early or reschedule appointments to allow for geocaching, justifying that it helps me relax and provides exercise. I have even logged a cache when I really didn’t find it myself, just so I could run up my total count. I have been questioned by security patrols and received many strange looks from people around me as I stand and rock back and forth wondering what evil person hid a needle in a haystack.

I made Cindy go with me yesterday and talked Laura and Bryan into going today. I'll need another fix by tomorrow, so I'm scoping out possible finds right now. Now I survive by hanging out with other addicts, trading secrets and looking for that next big score.

I blame my sister. Perhaps I can learn to forgive her once I complete the Geocachers Anonymous program.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Telephone Line

March 3 marks the birthday of Alexander Graham Bell in 1847, a scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with inventing the first practical telephone. Bell's father, grandfather, and brother were associated with work on elocution and speech, and his mother and wife were deaf.  Bell's work was influenced by his family, and his research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices, eventually culminating in Bell being awarded the first US patent for the telephone in 1876.

March 3 also marks the day in 1885 when Bell established the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, which we know today as AT&T Corporation.  This company maintained what they referred to as a natural monopoly on telephone service in the United States; this meant one firm could better serve the public than two or more.  For much of its history, AT&T and its Bell System functioned as a legally sanctioned, regulated monopoly. The fundamental principle, formulated by AT&T president Theodore Vail in 1907, was the nature of the technology would operate most efficiently as a monopoly providing universal service.  Classic examples of regulated monopolies include the utility industry and the telecommunications industry, which are subject to governmental price control.

It has been said that nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky, and such was the fate for Ma Bell.  In 1974 the U.S. Department of Justice brought an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T, which eventually led to the 1982 breakup of the Bell system into the regional holding companies, or Baby Bells.  Those have come and gone, changed names and been folded and reshaped numerous times.

What does remain, however, is our attachment to the telephone.  Whether it is corded or cordless, comes through copper wire, cables or microwaves, we want to be connected.  Was I walking around with a personal cell phone 20 years ago?  Nope.  Can I imagine not having one now?  Yes, but why would I want that, as the benefits definitely outweigh the costs.  According to Pew Research Center surveys, cellphone ownership among American adults is around 88%.

Numerous other inventions marked Bell's later life, including groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils and aeronautics.  He became one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society in 1888, and has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history.  Still, in retrospect, Bell considered the telephone, easily his most famous invention, an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study.  He knew then, as we try to remember today, that eliminating distraction is the best way to complete our work.

But enough of this...time to get back to the approximately 3,000 advertisements I will see today, not to mention the 5,000 distractions caused by constantly checking messages from phones, emails, IM’s, wall posts, tweets and more.  This is progress, right?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Smile A Little Smile For Me

Today marks the end of Random Acts of Kindness Week (February 11 – 17). According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, RAK Week encourages people to go above and beyond to make others feel special.

I would argue that we should not need a special week to be reminded to do acts of kindness.  Still, a nudge every now and then can't hurt.  Today, we'll concentrate on smiling.

Smiles are contagious. Smile at someone and they tend to smile too, effectively passing all of the benefits of a smile to the other person. The gift that keeps on giving, a smile is an amazing thing. Other people feel good when they see you smile, and studies have shown that smiling on a regular basis can reduce stress, boost your mood, reduce blood pressure and improve your overall well-being. There is a fascinating TED Talks presentation by Ron Gutman on the power of smiling.  According to Gutman, one smile produces the equivalent brain stimulation as eating 2,000 bars of chocolate, or receiving $25,000 in cash.

Premeditated acts of meanness just aren't good for anyone; smile and make a difference.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

That'll Be The Day

"It was already snowing at Minneapolis, and the general forecast for the area along the intended route indicated deteriorating weather conditions." So begins the Civil Aeronautics Board investigators report six months after the crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "the Big Bopper" Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson in the early hours of February 3, 1959.

On February 2, 1959, the Winter Dance Party tour was eleven days into a scheduled twenty-four performances.  The distance between events had not been fully considered when scheduling the performances, so many hours were spent on a bus not properly equipped for the weather. The heating system broke down shortly after the tour began, flu spread rapidly among the rest of the performers and Holly's drummer suffered severely frostbitten feet.

Holly chartered a plane for his band to fly to Moorhead, MN, the next stop on the tour.  Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Paradise Lost by John Milton and The Inferno by Dante Alighieri both speak to innocence lost.  Don McLean's 1971 single "American Pie" expresses another metaphor for the loss of innocence, turning the death of Buddy Holly and the plane crash into moment when the United States lost its last bit of innocence.

Still, it was not, as McLean wrote, the Day the Music Died.  Britain devoured Holly records faster than the record company could produce them. Demo tapes, previously unreleased recording sessions, whatever Decca had to sell, all shot up the British charts and turned Holly into one of the forefathers of the British Invasion that would strike America five years later. John Lennon and George Harrison learned to play guitar in part by listening to Buddy Holly records. Holly presented the model for many bands that came after: write your own songs, two guitars, a bass and drums. The fledgling Beatles, as the Quarry Men, recorded Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” as their first official tune before renaming themselves with a nod to Holly’s band, the Crickets. The first Rolling Stones' single released in the US was cover of Holly's "Not Fade Away."

In 1959, not even the musical pioneers themselves were certain that rock ’n’ roll would survive much into the 1960s, whether before or after the Day the Music Died.  Seems silly today, as we look back across the years, to have doubted the insistent beat of the music would sustained a global movement.  The beat does go on.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Magical Mystery Tour

It is a story as old as time.  You meet, slightly wary of the unknown, but the uneasiness wears off and you are hooked.  You are inseparable, spend all your available time together, and think about the experience when you are alone.  Life goes on, things change, your interest diverges, and in the blink of an eye a quarter of a century has passed.  Then one day, you stumble upon your old friend, and it is as if no time has passed whatsoever. 

This may not so easy for those of us with greying hair or a few extra wrinkles.  It is, however, much simpler for a computer program, because, well, no time has passed. 

That's right.  It is pitch dark and I am likely to be eaten by a grue.

One of the items that came with my Associated Student fees at UC Davis (go Ags!) was access to the mainframe computer.  Each quarter provided a certain number of hours of computer time.  Keep in mind this was in the days of punch cards, CRTs and Commodore 64, so mainframe access was the 1983 version of leading edge gaming computers like the CyberPower Black Pearl or the Velocity Raptor Signature Edition.  Just without graphics, sound, a mouse or a few dozen other things.

At that time, UCD had Unix machines in a cluster.  Each was named after one of the Marx Brothers: Chico, Groucho, Harpo and Zeppo (Gummo and Mannie were apparently less computer savvy).  Logging onto Groucho (or one of his brothers) would take us to a games area, filled with the wonders of interactive typing.

The first game we found was Zork, one of the earliest interactive fiction computer games.  The authors were members of the MIT Dynamic Modelling Group, the forebears of a company named Infocom that brought forth numerous games before being bought up by Activision.  Zork was a single player game, so it was just you and the challenge of the dungeon. 

Zork created a wondrous, magical realm, a feast for the imagination.  You have stumbled upon the ancient ruins of a vast empire lying far underground.  There are strange rooms to explore, a temple where some prayers are answered, a coal mine, a river with a waterfall and the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

And all through typing, much like this:

The Troll Room
This is a small room with passages to the east and south and a forbidding hole leading west. Bloodstains and deep scratches (perhaps made by an axe) mar the walls. A nasty-looking troll, brandishing a bloody axe, blocks all passages out of the room.

Your sword has begun to glow very brightly.
The troll swings his axe, but it misses.

>swing sword
The troll swings, you parry, but the force of his blow knocks your sword away.

>get sword

The troll hits you with a glancing blow, and you are momentarily stunned.

>kill troll with sword
You charge, but the troll jumps nimbly aside.
The axe gets you right in the side. Ouch!

>kill troll with sword
The troll is staggered, and drops to his knees.
The troll slowly regains his feet.

>kill troll with sword
The fatal blow strikes the troll square in the heart: He dies.
Almost as soon as the troll breathes his last breath, a cloud of sinister black fog envelops him, and when the fog lifts, the carcass has disappeared. Your sword is no longer glowing.

In the days before graphics, computer games enticed players with a well-turned phrase, delighting players with clever writing and tearing their hair out with difficult puzzles.  Rightly so, the creators of Zork will be honored this February with a Pioneer Award at the D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Summit, an annual multi-day gathering of video game executives.  Perhaps by then I will have remembered how to enter the crypt and finish the game.