Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas one and all

I hope this holiday finds you happy and well and enjoying special times with family or friends. I will be spending the day with members of my family.

Sorry, I haven't been around much lately, but as I'm sure everyone is experiencing, it's been a busy time of year.

I hope your holiday is busy in a good way!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Welcome winter, we've been waiting

Winter has official begun! Yippee!

My favorite thing about winter is that once winter begins the days start getting longer again. I'm not quite sure why that matters to me so much, because sometimes I swear I'm part vampire and don't fully come to live until after sundown, no matter the season. But the reduced hours of daylight in the fall and winter months sap my energy, my spirit.

Now that winter has officially begun, that means spring is coming.

And starting now, the days will start getting just a little bit longer, day by day.

I'll consider that the season's Christmas gift to me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Time for a cool change

The other day I was in a motel gift shop in Las Vegas. The town is obviously gearing up for the annual influx of new year's revelers coming to town. Among the trash and trinkets were a variety of souvenirs touting Las Vegas 2008. I won't be joining the Sin City celebrants, but seeing the souvenirs got me to thinking and I realize I need to come up with my own, personal and special way to say goodbye (and good riddance) to 2007 and hello to the new year.

When I was young, my friends and I used to try to figure out how old we would be when the year 2000 arrived. It seems so far off back then. And we'd in in our 30s! Ancient by middle-school standards. Now, 2000 seems so long ago, with 2008 just around the corner.

I have been been a big fan of 2007, so I won't be shedding any tears over it's departure. Maybe just tears of disappointment about wasting another year of my life sitting still. I'm not saying it's been an awful year or anything. It's just been, in a word, dull. Or the way I've lived it has been dull.

I've never been one for making resolutions for the new year, but this year I may make an exception. I haven't quite settled on the wording of what that resolution might be, but I want something to look forward to, something to strive for with the turning of the calendar page. I don't know what 2008 will bring, but it has to be better than this. I need to make it better than this.

Do people still make new year's resolutions? If so, will you resolve to do something better/different in the coming year? What might that be, if it's not too personal to share? I'm not looking to borrow someone else's resolution, but I would be curious to know what folks in the blogosphere aspire to in 2008. Maybe your motivation will inspire me, and others, to reach higher and farther in our goals of self-betterment.

If you have any suggestion about how (or where) to celebrate the new year (particularly if it's in the Salem-Portland area), I am open to stealing a good idea there outright. Or just tell me how you plan to spend the new year. I can't remember what I did last year, which tells you how memorable that was. Maybe that was the problem, I didn't kick the year off right and the whole year suffered.

Perhaps that's my first resolution right there.

I resolve to ring in the new year with a little flash (or at least some fun) for 2008.

That's one resolution down.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Maybe this means the Terrible Twos are over

I knew it was coming up, but wasn't really thinking about it. But when I checked the date after work, I realized the date had already past -- the third-year anniversary of Digital Fishwrap.

It's not like it's one of the most significant dates on my calendar. There are holidays and birthdays and other people's anniversaries that are far more important. But if I were to be completely honest with myself, the start of this blog has been a significant factor in my life.

The blog got me writing again. It got me exploring feelings, even under the guise of ignoring them. I have enjoyed the exercise and ignored the obligation in turns. I've needed the release and needed the breaks too.

I was proud to write daily posts (sans Thanksgiving) for Novembers National Blog Posting Month. And I'm a little ashamed I've only written 6 (now 7) posts in the first 18 (now 19) days of this months. And I'm flat out disappointed that my Technorati rating has plummeted to a 1, even as I've gotten better at making posts and exploring new topics. I tell myself this was never about having a popular blog, but the very nature of a blog is to be public and get some feedback -- some interaction -- from other people. The problem is, I don't play the blogging game very well. I don't check other blogs sites religiously, like I once did, and leave comments on their posts to interact with them (and secretly hoping they would come check out my blog too and become regular readers).

So I guess I can live with the low ranking. Hell, I can even take it off the site completely I suppose (and just may). In the span of three years, there have been a lot of changes to the blog, including changes in jobs, cities and aspirations. It's not what it once was. It's more. And less.

Like a first love, it's special to me in a way no other web venture could be and like that first loved it has been a source of disappointment and unfulfilled potential due to naivete.

This blog is me, for better or worse, and I'm woven through it, as are all of you who take the time to read and especially those of you who have taken the time to comment.

I never really expected this experiment to last this long. It was a momentary diversion and a way to dabble into new and ever-changing technology. And now the moment has lasted three years.

Last year I didn't make note of the anniversary. I had no posts for the month of December at all. But two years ago I noted some of my favorite posts from my first year. Those are still probably among my favorites. The posts have been more infrequent in the last two years, but in honor of the third anniversary of Digital Fishwrap, here are dozen more posts I am proud of:

Parenting by MSN Messenger
An intimate birthday gift from Sheryl Crow
Now I do have to thump on Lance Armstrong
Do you think these guys vote?
My brown-eyed girl
I didn't shave my head for this
Oregon: Come for the natural beauty, stay for the majority Caucasian population
Prom corsages, birthday candles and hazard lights
They eat their young, and not so young
Grandma, I'm coming home
Life is decidedly not fair
Today, God cut the apron strings

Thanks for sharing part of the anniversary week here at the Fishwrap. And to other bloggers out there, thanks for being brave enough to share your opinions on issues and your experiences with others. And for those of you listed in the Blogroll in particular, thanks for sharing so much of yourselves with me over the years and inspiring me to want to be not just a better writer, but a better person.

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's hard to fulfill unexpressed holiday wishes

So, is everyone ready for Christmas? I'm certainly not. I haven't even started my shopping. Fortunately, I only going to get gifts for immediate family this year. That's all that -- and probably more than -- I can afford.

I am not one of those people that's good at shopping for others. I need specific gift wish list ideas. If I have pre-approved options to choose from, I then feel a little more comfortable venturing off the list for some secondary gift of my own choosing, because at least I know I have something the recipient will like.

I sort of miss the days when my daughter was younger. There were distinct phases that provided gift ideas. There was a Disney princesses phase, a Barbie phase and a Harry Potter phase. There were years when all I needed were sizes and I could even feel comfortable and confident selecting clothes.

Now my daughter is 16. When we go clothes shopping now, my contribution is providing transportation and one -- or more -- credit cards.

I do know the stores she likes, or think I do, but knowing the fickle nature of teen tastes, maybe that has changed too. So, I supposed I could go the gift card route. While I love the practicality of that, it seems a tad impersonal for the person I most enjoy buying for doing things for.

I am far worse at buying things for my parents and brothers. I could chock it up to being out of the house for so many years, but I never knew what to get them when I lived with all of them either. And my dad is the hardest to shop for of all.

But buying gifts for my daughter, which has been so much fun over the years, has gotten me past the dread of gift buying/giving. I can, and sometimes do, actually enjoy gift buying sometimes. Of course, I find many more things that I think would be fun to receive as gift than things I'm sure will be good gifts for those I love. And my parents and I are so bad about admitting the things we want as gifts. When one of us ask, "So, what you do want for Christmas, the inevitable answer is always, "Oh, nothing." Or that other old chestnut, "I don't need anything."

But the thing with gifts, and a truly great gift (especially for adults) is not getting something you need, but getting something you want. We tend to buy ourselves the things we really need. What we don't tend to do is buy things we would like to have, if we had a little extra money to splurge on a little something for ourselves. That's a good gift. Why can't my parents (or me for that matter) provide a few hints at things that they would like?

The bad thing is, now my daughter is getting more coy when asked what she would like for Christmas. She used to be pretty good about putting a wish list together (and then providing me with a copy, which is pretty key to the whole success of the list). Apparently she inherited the "nothing" response gene, and it's kicked in at adolescence.

Poor kid, she inherited the freakiest things from my family. Fortunately, the looks she gets from her mother's side of the family.

So, I still need to get my shopping started, but I'm fairly confident my days of waiting until Christmas Eve to even start are behind me -- I think. We'll know for sure in the next few days.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Playing hooky

Hey folks, I'm gonna be away from computers for the week. So you all behave yourselves. And if you can't, let me know where I can read all the details.

Have a good week.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Grief's hidden treasures


Sorry I haven't been around for a couple of days. As you may glean from my last post, I've had some personal, family stuff to deal with the last couple of days.

Unfortunately, I'm not going to make it back to my grandmother's funeral. As I was starting to write that previous sentence, I was tempted to write that I "can't make it," but the truth of the matter is it came down to a choice and I have to own that. It was an agonizing choice, made in consultation with my parents and based on their advice and after talking to my uncle. But ultimately, the choice, and whatever personal, emotional consequences it brings, is mine.

I went back and forth so many times, checking prices and talking on phones and driving myself crazy. Wanting to do the right thing for my mom, the right thing by my family. I don't know what the right thing is, but I know I feel better finally knowing what I'm doing and no longer chasing my tail.

Life is hard. Sometimes life is sad. And for some of us, life goes on.

In the oddest of ways, I have been enjoying the grieving process. Not that I enjoy the sadness or the pain. But I am remembering a lot of great things about my grandmother and reliving a lot of happy times. I'm smiling with tears in my eyes. I'm allowing myself to grieve, whereas in the past, I have suppressed my grief, only to have it reemerge months or years later in a shocking flurry.

Something came to me last night shortly after I crawled into bed about my grandmother, something that shocked and delighted me. I remembered that my grandmother had a little electric organ sitting next to her front door. Usually it was difficult to get her to slow down long enough to sit down and play it. But when she did, it was a special treat. And I flashed on a memory of my grandmother, sitting at her organ and playing "Silent Night."

Maybe that's why "Silent Night" is my favorite Christmas song. It was the one song I longed to play as I began to develop meager piano/organ playing skills.

I had completely forgotten about that organ or my grandmother playing it. Something I now know about myself, and the fabric of who I am, that I didn't know was hidden behind that little corner of my mind.

It's been a pleasant journey of discovery, remembering my grandmother as the vibrant, vital woman you shape my live in ways I may never know or realize. It makes me glad that I can remember so many things about her from happier times and that my memories need not be dominated by seeing her in her final, cruel decline. I'm glad there are so many good things that I've remembered already and will welcome any more revelations that come.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The impact of tragedy proportional to proximity

Entire communities of my neighbors in Oregon and Washington have been under water this week. Lives, homes and business have been devastated just weeks before Christmas. Power and phone service is still out in many places.

Given the ordeal so many are having to face, I'm fortunate to have a place to live that's warm and dry. For many, a sense of normalcy is weeks, maybe months away and who knows how many lives will be changed forever.

Yet, I can't get out of my own head. I'm wrapped up in my own, seemingly petty and insignificant issues.

I've been agonizing about how or whether to attend my grandmother's funeral half a continent away. I've decided countless times to go and to not go. I think I'm sure that I won't be going. Time and money are just too short, but those seem like such shallow reasons not to go. My parents are actually advising me not to go, which confuses, more than clarifies, the situation.

I want to be there. Not for my grandmother. Funerals aren't for deceased, they are ceremonies for the living to grieve and mourn. I thought my mom would want the support, but if what she says is true, my presence may potentially do more harm than good.

So, I'm not going. I'm sure this time.

I think.

I just don't feel good about the fact that at this point in my life I'm not in a position to do this one thing. It's a small thing, or should be, but it's become so huge somehow.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Today, God cut the apron strings

My mom called this morning. My mom never calls. And she called me while I was at work no less. Usually, I figure if mom is calling there is news, generally bad news. But today I figured she was calling with details about a family trip we have scheduled for next week.

It wasn't about the trip. It was news -- sad news.

My grandmother -- her mother -- died this morning. In recent years my grandmother has spent time living with my uncle and aunt in Nevada and my parents in Eastern Oregon. When I lived in Southern California and grandma moved to Henderson, just outside of Las Vegas, I made a point of going to visit her there. She moved to Oregon about a year before I moved back to the state, and since I've been back I have tried to make a point of going home when I can to spend some time with her. I never knew when the next visit might be the last. But I knew our last visit earlier this month would likely be the last. And, sadly, it was.

Unfortunately, now I don't know if I will be able to make it back for her funeral. Timing and finances are conspiring against it. Mom isn't expecting my father, brothers or me to be there, but I really would like to be there. Not to say goodbye to my grandmother. I got to do that a few weeks ago, even if it wasn't a storybook farewell. But more than 30 years have spent far from my childhood home and family. These days, it seems the only time our far-flung family gets together is for someone's funeral. I haven't seen my mom's sister and her husband and most of my cousins on my mom's side of the family since my aunt's funeral 15-17 years ago. And I hold out a little home that I might get to see my uncle's oldest kids, who I have rarely seen since about second grade -- except for two funerals.

I guess as I get older, as my parents get older, I seek some stronger connection to family. Maybe it's because my daughter is getting older too. I hope that someday maybe she will want some stronger connection to my side of the family. I hope she will want to know more about where she comes from. But I realize now I don't have a good understanding of where I come from to even be able to answer those potential questions from her. Most of my knowledge and understanding of my family is filtered through the partially opaque veil of time and memories of issues seen through the flawed vision of a child.

It's times like these I wish I was a better writer. Better at describing my grandmother and the people close to me. I am much more practiced at telling other people's stories. I feel so inept at capturing the essence of the people close to me or even my feelings about them.

It was difficult to see my grandmother in recent years, leading a sedentary life, spending her hours in a glider-rocker in my parents living room. She was always so active and vibrant. It was virtually impossible to catch my grandmother standing or sitting still for long when I was a child.
She was always out tending to the chickens in the chicken coop -- feeding the chicks, gathering eggs. Although I never witnessed the act myself, I also heard her in later years talk about butchering the chickens herself too.

Grandma always kept a large garden -- corn, squash, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, snap beans, peas. The garden was a source of produce during the summer months. My grandfather would seemingly eat cucumbers and watermelon and corn on the cob with every meal while the vegetables were in season. And from grandma's abundant harvest she would can her own veggies in a big, rattling, chattering, steaming canner that created a hell of a racket that could be heard all throughout my grandparent's little house. She worked magic with that canner, turning cucumbers into the best dill pickles on the planned. I never cared much for other home-canned vegetables, like canned tomatoes, or the sauerkraut. But I could never get enough of grandma's pickles. There was also a little adventure involved in trying to get the right pickle out of the jar. To this day, a bite of a good dill pickle reminds me of grandma and her kitchen, but even a good pickle isn't quite good enough.

But grandma's signature dish, at least to us grandkids, was her homemade noodles. We used to beg grandma to make noodles on virtually every visit or family gathering. If we were really good, and grandma had time, we would be rewarded with her special dish. One of my favorite things was to sneak into the kitchen and steal some of the raw noodles from grandma's cutting board. She would roll out dough to just the right thickness and cut the dough into thin strips with a large knife. I don't know what she put into the dough or the broth, but the noodles were sliced heaven. It's been many, many years since I had grandma's noodles. But my uncle now carries on the noodle-making tradition in the family. My grandmother was a good cook and my uncle inherited that from her. That's a gene my mother did not inherit.

I was looking through some family photos my grandmother gave me that had belonged to my aunt. The pictures are in a photo album that belonged to my aunt and grandma gave them to me after my aunt's funeral about 15 years ago. I realized as I was looking through the photos that I never saw my grandmother wear anything but a dress. In one of the photos in the album, my grandparents are standing outside with my mom's oldest sister and brother in-law and their oldest son. Grandma is wearing a white apron over her dress. That's how I remember my grandmother, in a dress that extended below her knee with an apron over it. She wore the apron in the kitchen. She would collect eggs from the chicken coop by holding the bottom of her apron up to make a basket to carry the day's layings in.

The chickens she kept used to scare me as a small boy. They would come after you and peck you in the pen, so I avoided going in there. That was the adult chickens. I used to love the chicks every spring. Grandma used to bring chicks into the house every spring. Perhaps that was to keep them warm, or perhaps it allow us grandkids to see them when we were visiting. Who knows how many hours were spent watching those little chick, giving them names, watching them interact and holding the fuzzy-feathered, chirping chicks in our hands. They were so cute, but the adult chickens were so ugly and mean. But I used to enjoy helping grandma gather the eggs out of the chicken coop. I remember when I was finally old enough to be sent out to the hen house to gather eggs all on my own.

Grandma was always an imposing presence. She was not an overtly affectionate person or a hugger, a trait my mom and I did inherit, and one I'm still trying to grow out of. Of course my father's family was much the same. It's something I attribute to the German-Midwest heritage. But she put her love and affection into caring for her family, growing and preparing hearty meals and spending untold hours in the garden, hen house and kitchen.

I hope somehow the stars align and I get an opportunity to share memories with family and friends, to learn the things I missed about her and her life before I was born, or after our family moved so far from grandma's house and the years before she became the small, frail woman with a failing memory.

A few years ago, before her memory started slipping, I used to ask her about the family to learn things I didn't know about our family. But in recent years, she was remembering things wrong. The answers to questions could not be relied upon to be true or accurate.

It was hard to see grandma in decline. The last time I saw her was extremely difficult. But today, on the day she left us, I choose to celebrate the simple, yet special, memories I have of better times. I am glad my daughter got to meet her. I wish she got to know her as the vibrant woman I remember. I'm not sure if my daughter will remember much about that visit, but I wanted her to know her other great-grandmother and I hope she got at least some glimpse of what made my grandmother great to me.

I miss you grandma.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Beavers bound for Emerald Bowl

The Oregon State Beavers will play in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco on Dec. 28 against the Maryland Terrapins.

The hopes of qualifying for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego didn't pan out as earlier today the Arizona State Sun Devils got the bid to play in that bowl.

The Ducks will head to that exotic locale of El Paso for the Sun Bowl against South Florida.

Where would you rather go for a holiday bowl, the Bay Area or El Paso, Texas?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Beavers capture enemy territory in Autzen

I give credit to the Ducks. They brought more offense than I expected and made the Civil War Game a battle worthy of the long and intense rivalry that's now lasted for 111 games. It took two overtimes for the Beavers to win and snap a 10-year streak of the home teams winning.

Bravo Beavs and kudos to the wounded Ducks for making it a great contest.

Go Beavs!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Daredevil soars with the angels

We shared the same birthday, but I didn't know that as a kid. If I had known then, it probably would have made me admire him even more.

When Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel was on TV, it was huge. Bigger than the Super Bowl or World Series to me. I never pictured myself competing in those venues. But when Evel Knievel, dressed in star-spangled leather, soared over the top of cars, or trucks or buses, my spirit soared with him.

Yes, he had some spectacular crashes over the years, but he never let those failures beat him. He always came back to attempt something more daring, more spectacular.

My favorite toy (or toys) in grade school were this Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle set. It included a poseable action figure you could put on the bike in a variety of poses. You could stand him on the seat, attach one or both hands to the handlebars, hang him off the side -- you name it -- for a variety of trick-riding poses.

In the toy set I had, the bike was a chopper. When I first got the chopper, I have to admit I was disappointed because it did not look as authentic as the motorcycles Knievel actually used for his daredevil stunts. But I grew to love that toy, and it did look cooler than the original stunt cycle.

Also in the collection was a motor home, known as a "Scramble Van," that you could load up the bike in and put a ramp on the back to jump the motorcycle over. The bike was powered by sliding it backward into a hand-cranked launcher that would whine with a psuedo engine sound. My friends and I would crank that sucker just as hard and fast as our skinny little arms would allow to make the Knievel action figure and bike jump as high and as far as we could. We'd run that thing indoors, outdoors, wherever and whenever we could. I don't even know how many hours or years were spent soaring over obstacles with Evel Knievel.

As I got older, I traded the toy bike for an actual bicycle. And of course, my friends and I would make ramps out of slaps of wood, dirt, whatever we could, to jump as high and as far as we could. A few years later the bicycle was replaced with a motorcycle and more jumps.

There were a few spectacular crashes on the bike, and the motorcycle, and an untold number of near misses. Perhaps it was the naivette of youth that didn't allow me to think a crash could be potentially fatal, and maybe that was fueled by watching Evel Knievel survive many spectacular crashes on bigger motorcycles and bigger ramps over bigger obstacles than my friends and I ever tried to conquer. But the reality of potential pain was always there. That was a known potential consequence, one experienced from time to time. But facing up to the fear and overcoming it, was part of the thrill.

There was nothing like the momentary weightless feeling at the peak of a jump, but you couldn't relish in it too long, because the pull of gravity would bring the ground racing back toward you in a huge hurry. And that euphoric feeling could be wiped out instantly if you felt the bike coming down at an odd angle. It sucked when you wrenched too hard on the handlebars and got the front tire too high above the back, because then you would start flipping over backwards. But more terrifying, if that was at all possible, was coming down nose first, landing on the front tire first and flipping over handlebars and landing in front of the bike.

The toys from my youth are gone. I haven't owned or even ridden a motorcycle in years. But one of my prized possessions from those days is a photo of me a neighbor from down the road who I sometimes road with. It's a picture of my on my motorcycle, flying through the air -- frozen at the peak of the jump, the background blurred behind me. I'm wearing my dad's old green Marine Corps jacket and flying high.

My daredevil days were probably pretty tame compared to the lunacy you can see of some of the street riders these days screaming down the asphalt backwards or upside down, or even the motocross riders who hang off the back of their biked and let go in midair. But thanks to my friends and Evel Knievel, I got to experience some thrills, chills and spills and live to tell the tale.
I was sad to read about Evel Knievel's death today. I knew he had been in failing health for many years, but it doesn't make it any easier to lose a childhood hero.

R.I.P. Mr. Knievel, and thanks for the ride.

Fork the Ducks

Received via e-mail today from a fellow Oregon State Beaver fan:

Q: Why did University of Oregon head football coach Mike Bellotti make his players start eating their Wheaties straight out of the box?

A: Because the Ducks choke whenever they get near bowls!

I wish I knew who to credit for the joke and the accompanying graphic, because they are great.

Tomorrow is Civil War Saturday. Go Beavs!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I need a little less blogging and a lot more skinny dipping

Wow, I can't believe that November is almost over already. I don't know about you, but I'm not ready for December and Christmas. I am living in denial about it actually. If I close my eyes and pretend it's not happening, maybe it will all go away for a while. Slow down the world, I need a little more time.

Now that I've got that off my chest, I'm actually feeling pretty good about the fact that I've had a post every day this month, except for one day, which was Thanksgiving day. And I managed to do all that, even though I was sick for about a week. Given the fact that my posting has been pretty sporadic for most of this year and the year, before, I'm pretty proud of that. My posts this month account for nearly a third of my posts for the entire year. That, I'm not too proud of. But maybe I've got that turned around now.

I've also spent untold hours trying to add labels to some of my older posts so they are more easy to find by topic, should anyone ever want to do that. I learned that I post an awful lot about the weather, like I'm some sort of amateur meteorologist or something. There is a certain irony to the fact that I have so many posts about blogging, like I'm some sort of expert on that, but have been such a pathetic blogger, this month aside. I've still got about 100 posts to label, so I'm going to keep working on that. And I'm going to try to write fewer posts about blogging.

Not counting this post of course.

Yea, there are way too many posts about blogging and the weather, and not nearly enough about skinny dipping.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Three questions

I was having trouble coming up with a blog topic for today, so I opted to seek out a meme.

This comes from the blog DailyThree.

1. What temperature do you consider to be "cold" or when you would need to wear warm clothes?

Anything below 60 degrees is cold for me, but that makes me sound like a wimp. Certainly anything below 50 gets cold. And any temperature where you can see your breath gets into the frickin' cold category

2. What is a typical winter like in your area? What are the average temps this time of year?

Winter here is typically rainy and chilly. (Although the news today was of snow falling in the higher elevations near Portland and through the mountain passes) Compared to most parts of the country, the winters are pretty mild. Average daytime temps (off the top of my head, not looking at actual weather norms) is probably somewhere in the 50s, with nighttime lows in the the 40s or upper 30. Of course all that goes out the window when the skies are clear, and temperatures can dip down below freezing at night.

3. If you live in a cooler climate, what is it that you enjoy most about it? Why do you choose to remain living there? If you live in a warmer climate, have you ever visited places that were seasonably cold? What did you like or dislike about it?

To be honest, I don't really care for the climate, but the weather here does make this a beautiful place when the sun shines and the skies are clear. The lush greenery of the evergreen trees makes a lovely contrast with the blue skies and snow-capped mountains in the winter time. Even the fall foliage, which is mostly gone now, is picturesque. I don't live here for the climate. I live here for my family and for my job. But I lived 10 years in Southern California, 5 in Palm Springs, where the winter daytime temperature can reach 70, or close to it. Now that was a climate I loved and a place I would live again for the climate alone.

I hope wherever you are when you are reading this, you are surrounded by comfort and warmth.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Oregon's new Second City

I was reading this blog post today from blog called "Beaver Boundary" congratulating the city of Eugene for reclaiming its spot as Oregon's second largest city from the state's capital city of Salem, according to population estimates by Portland State University. According to PSU's preliminary estimates, Eugene had 153,690 residents on July 1 and Salem had 151,895.

"Kudos to the people of Eugene, who have once again saved the state of
Oregon from relative embarrassment by reclaiming its status as the
second-largest city from Salem. The populations of each city hover around
150,000, and the vibrantly crunchy Emerald City has just recently outpaced the
drab and dull Cherry City in growth. ... Even if you prefer Salem for cultural or provincial reasons, you may root for a faster-growing Eugene if your politics are left-of-center. Of course, Eugene is a liberal haven that almost always supports Democrats ...."

Forgive me, but the cultural factors are hugely important. Liberals maybe be well practices at talking a good game about issues like appreciation of other cultures, but it's not quite the same thing as true cultural/ethnic/racial diversity.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2003 population estimates, Oregon is 86.6 percent white. Salem is slightly more diverse than the state as a whole at 83.1 percent white. Portland, the state's largest city is not surprisingly more diverse than the state average at 77.9 percent white. Eugene, that bastion of liberalism, is less diverse than the state as a whole with 88.1 percent of the city's residents defined as white.

Portland's ethnic diversity comes from Latinos (6.8 percent) blacks (6.6 percent) and Asians (6.3 percent). Salem's diversity is largely because of the Latinos (14.6 percent) and 7.9 percent who report "other" ethnicity. Other races represented are Asians (2.4 percent), American Indian or native Alaskan (1.5 percent) and black (1.3 percent).

Latinos are also the largest minority in Eugene at a whopping 5 percent. The next largest group is Asian at 3.6 percent, 2.2 percent "other" races and 1.3 percent black.

White men, of which I am one, can be very empathetic or sympathetic to women and minorities, but it doesn't mean we can truly identify with the issues that are important to them. In order to have a diversity of views and ideas representing the cultural views of the state's residents and slowly growing minority population, Oregonians need to make sure minorities are at the table where and when decisions are made. This is growing increasingly important for Latinos in Oregon, as the largest minority group in the state at 8 percent of the overall population. This doesn't qualify as direct evidence, but I suspect the 2003 estimate of Salem's population being just about 15 percent Latino is low. If you want to see the future of the city, just look at the faces of the children getting on school buses any weekday morning in the city. That number will continue to rise in Salem and cities large and small throughout the state. Like it or not, immigration reform or not, the Latino train is on the roll.

As the father of a teenage daughter who has Latino heritage on her mother's side of the family, I want to make sure there are people who will not only hear her voice but seek out her and her family's opinions on the issues shaping the future of this state. Better yet, I want her and her family providing some of the leadership on those issue.

One other thing about which I would remind residents of Portland, Eugene, Salem -- or whatever city who want to play the population numbers game -- is that if you live by the numbers, you may get overwhelmed by them. The face of Oregon, whether liberal or conservative, is getting browner by the day. If Portland State's 2007 population estimate is accurate (3,745,455 Oregonians statewide) and Latinos still make up at least 8 percent of the population (and that number is probably low), then that means there are about 300,000 Latinos in the state. That's roughly equivalent to the populations of Eugene and Salem combined or more than half the population of Portland.

Oregon's new second largest community, by shear numbers, is populated by people with brown eyes and brown hair, amigos.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dressed for battle

When the state of Oregon joined the Union in 1859, the United States were becoming disunited and on the nation was rapidly heading toward civil war, the conflict forever known as the Civil War.

Oregon signed on as a Union anti-slavery state and opposed to freed slaves moving in too, for that matter. You can decide for yourself how far the state's residents have evolved on that point for yourself. Given the sentiments of the time, it may not be surprising to know that there was also an active pro-secession movement in the state at the time, and one of the most high profile demonstrations of that occurred in Eugene, that bastion of liberalism and Birkenstock.

In "modern" Oregon, the Civil War has a different connotation. This is Civil War Week, the week when one of the oldest college football rivalries in the nation will play out for the 111th time as the University of Oregon and Oregon State University battle it out on the gridiron for state bragging rights for another season. Why the game is known as the Civil War, I have no clue. Other than one school is "north" and the other one is "south" on Oregon's Highway 99. It's not exactly the Mason-Dixon Line though.

I'm a proud alumnus of the "North" school, Oregon State. A few weeks ago, when the University of Oregon Ducks were ranked No. 2 in the nation with Heisman trophy-candidate Dennis Dixon running the high-powered offense, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Ducks would kick Beaver ass.

Then Dixon got hurt and all dreams Oregon playing in a national title game collapsed to the turf with him, as did the Ducks' high-powered offense.

So, now, even though the Ducks are still favored in the game, the Beavers are looking like they could break the string of the home team winning every Civil War since 1997. It's by no means a lock, but optimism runs high in Beaver Nation.

So, in honor of the occasion, I am feeling the need for some OSU apparel, of which I have a virtually none, except hats. So, I made a long overdue trip to the Beaver Fan Shop at Keizer Station today after work. I picked up a few T-shirts to show my team pride, and a couple of items commemorating the OSU baseball teams' back-to-back national championships (which were on sale).

I came home beaming with Beaver pride, and envy for all the cool gear I liked but couldn't afford. But I find myself bothered by the ongoing reference to the states premier college football game as the Civil War game. The game has a long, proud (sometimes dubious) history. But the Civil War, in reference to the 1860s conflict, is not something we need to associate our college traditions with. Yes, Oregon is largely divided by those who align themselves primarily with Beaver Nation or the Duck Blind. We mostly live in harmony, save for one weekend a year. The Civil War was deadly divisive and wounds still run deep. Oregon played but a small part in that bloody conflict. Many communities in the East and South have histories tied to the Civil War, but Oregon was not on the frontlines of that battle.

And let's face it, Oregon is still a largely Caucasian state with plenty of unresolved issues connected to race and ethnicity. Must we keep fighting and losing the war of racial justice? How did the game come to be known as the Civil War Game? There are plenty of people out there calling for schools to stop using Native American names as school mascots, why aren't some of those people lined up to oppose the use of a war of separation and slavery to commemorate a college sports contest?

It's time to find a new name for Oregon's intrastate football rivalry. For the 112th game, it needs a new moniker. Washington has the Apple Cup, Stanford and Cal have the Big Game, Arizona and Arizona State have the Duel in the Desert. We need a new name.

I'm sort of partial to the Beaver State Bowl.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Small things

Today marked a return to normalcy. The day was marked by the normal Sunday routines of watching football and doing laundry. OK, maybe it wasn't a completely normal Sunday, as there was no beer drinking while watching football.

I'm feeling pretty well healed, but thought that my body didn't need to be abused in that manner today. Nothing exciting. But after being sick so so long and not having TV for more than a week, the small things are feeling pretty good.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gifts from the family

The family has returned from their holiday festivities and my pet-sitting duties have ended. I've turned over the leashes and am now left alone in my apartment. I think I'm going to miss the cuddly company.

Perhaps I read too much into it, but it was almost as if the critters knew our time was short today. The cats kept close to me today, taking turns napping on my lap or next to me on the couch. Or maybe they were just cold and taking advantage of my body heat. I choose to think they were sensing something unseen, like the way animals are reported to sense earthquakes before they are felt by people.

That's the wonderful thing about pets. Humans imbue them with emotions and characteristics that we hope they are displaying. I'm going to miss my furry friends until out next visit, no matter how long or short it may be.

It was also good to see my daughter today too, and hear about some of the things happening in her life. The details of boys, school, family and the events of Thanksgiving I missed out on.

I also got a bit of "payment" for my pet sitting. My daughter's mom and her partner gave me an extra TV they had that they don't really use anymore, so now I have access again to television, just in time for NFL football on Sunday! So, I may not have warm furry bodies to cuddle up with, but at least I have a new electronic companion for company.

The gift of time with my family's pets, my family and the generosity of the family leaves me feeling very warm on a chilly night. The calendar may have said Thursday was Thanksgiving. But for me, today I have even more reasons to be thankful.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Nurse, what a hairy face you have

I am beginning to feel like I'm finally on the mend. The cold or flu or whatever it was seems to finally be in retreat. I'm no longer living from dose to dose of cold medication. After days of getting by on the nourishment of one meal and glass after glass of orange juice and water, I am finally getting my appetite back.

I didn't exactly have a traditional Thanksgiving, but after days of not eating, the decadent bowl of chicken soup I consumed, and mounds of crackers, hit the spot quite well.

I also finally got some nursing care, so to speak. Actually, I ended up playing nurse for family pets. Because I was not up to traveling to a family gathering for the holiday, I got some company from my daughter's pets -- two dogs and three cats.

One of the cats, a rather elderly male, is suffering from diabetes and now requires insulin shots. So, after days of medicating myself, I also got to medicate a cat.

I hate needles, and even though the needle wasn't going into me, I felt ill-prepared, and a bit squeamish about sticking a needle in another living creature. But overall, the cat probably handled the whole ordeal with less stress and discomfort than I felt.

I wasn't too thrilled with playing nurse, but in reality I think I got more care than I gave. After spending the better part of several days wrapped up alone in bed, it was nice to have the company. With so many critters, they all took turns cuddling up to make me feel needed and loved and warm. And they are all pretty much lazy as hell, wanted to do not much more than nap all the time, so we got along famously.

They were a little hairier than the nurses I had envisioned, but I appreciated the cuddly pampering none the less.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I didn't mean to clean

Perhaps I managed to sleep through it for a while, but immediately upon waking this morning I noticed a high-pitched, mechanical "chirp" outside my bedroom door. The intermittent sound was the annoying call of a dead battery in the smoke detector.

OK, I admit I didn't do the whole safety thing that fire departments advise when you set your clocks for the time change, where you also change your smoke detector battery. Not this fall. Not earlier this spring. Not ever in this apartment. That battery has been in there since virtually my first day in this apartment more than two years ago. But I'll come back to that.

So, in my groggy first-awakening state, I made the most rational decision I could deduce at the time. I crawled back in bed and pulled the covers up over my ears. That definitely didn't solve the problem. The blanket did not block the sound. If anything it seemed as if the chirping was happening inside my scull. I thought briefly that if I had a thin stick, maybe I could go in through my ear and make that sound stop. Something prevented me from trying that, but it sure wasn't any form of rational, cognitive thought process.

So I got back up.

Maybe I should stop the sound at the source, rather than inside my head.

I decided to scavenge a battery out of my answering machine. I knew that battery was fresh because I just put it in there a few weeks ago after canceling voice mail service on my phone and dragging my old answering machine out of mothballs.

So, using a kitchen chair, I fumble around with the smoke detector and unfasten it from the ceiling mount. So far so good. But I can't get a very good look at it because the electrical wires running to it are still connected and keep me from pulling it down to eye level. I twist the thing around, scanning it from side to side, front to back, apparently looking for some big arrow or something or bold directions on how to open the thing. In my groggy state -- attributed to just waking up, cold medication hangover and the lingering effects of the bug that's been kicking my butt -- I see nothing. There is no way to open the damn thing. None.

So I put it back, climb down and wonder what to do next. So, I decide to call the apartment manager's office and see if they can send a maintenance person to either fix it or show me how to fix it. But of course when I call the office wasn't yet open, so I left a message on their answering machine/voice mail.

Then I look around the living room and kitchen and see evidence of my poor housekeeping skills strewn all about the room, spilling off the coffee table, overflowing the garbage can and collecting in the sink.

If company is coming, I need to tidy up, I thought, and set about doing just that. Obviously, I was still not fully awake, because when thoughts of house cleaning occur to my conscious mind, I sit down on the coach, put my feet up and wait until those thoughts pass. It usually only takes a few moments. Particularly if the TV is on and the remote is handy. But the TV is still broken, so my procrastination device of choice was not available.

So after an hour or so of tidying, I was content that the place no longer looked like a rat's next. Just a bachelor's apartment which hadn't been cleaned in a few weeks. The perfect look I was going for.

All that physical exertion, besides bringing on a coughing fit, also severed to wake my up and get my brain functioning. I remembered that when I first started moving stuff into the apartment the smoke detector was chirping. I told the office about it, since I figured it was their problem and something not working in my new apartment. But a day or two later, when I was moving in and planning to spend the night in the place for the first time, the detector was still chirping. I didn't remember how I figured out how to open the thing, but I knew I replaced the battery in there, because I remember the office staff telling me they still needed to send someone to check it out even though I told them they took to long and didn't need to send someone anymore.

So I knew it could be done. I knew I could do it, because I had done it before. So, being more fully awake, I took another crack and the annoying safety device in the hall. And this time, I could clearly see the battery cover door. But the door was blocked by the plastic housing the electric wires from the ceiling went into. Well, obviously, that housing must detach I thought. Where was that logic and reasoning skill an hour earlier, when I really needed it, before I was forced to clean! So, I squeezed the plastic housing on each side, and sure enough, the sized retracted and pulled free from the device. Then I was able to easily access the battery.

In a few minuted I had swapped out the battery and put the device back up on the ceiling.

This adventure proved a few of my long-held theories.

1. I am not a morning person.
2. My brain doesn't function correctly when I'm sick. In technical terms, it's know as feeling ooogie and blah, or having a brain cloud.
3. Housework really can be avoided if you are willing to work hard enough at it.

Well, I'm hoping the worse of the brain clouds, nasal congestion, coughing fits and other assorted ickiness, which need not be divulged here, are soon to be behind me (especially the undivulged ickiness).

Here's to hoping you are suffering no brain clouds or other ickiness for the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sick of being sick

I thought I would be feeling better by now, but no such luck. There are points in the day where I feel almost human under the full bliss of the cold medication, and then soon after I start hacking and coughing so much that I end up pulling bronchial matter off my teeth.

I'm so tired of this.

I'm sure I've prolonged things by trying to work this week, which I should not have done. I know that now. If I'm not feeling better in the morning I won't make that mistake again. I spent part of my evening getting a stern lecture about how poor of a job I am doing taking care of myself from the nurse in the family. Maybe my post on Friday seeking a nurse is backfiring on me. Be careful what you wish for, indeed. That wasn't in the script.

Thanksgiving dinner is beginning to look like it will consist of a bowl of soup and a glass of orange juice with a side order of DayQuil.

Oh crap, I just re-read my Friday post and I used the side order of cold medication line there. God, I'm repeating myself. I blame fever.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Kid, can't you see I'm trying to be pissed off here?

I strongly suspect this cold I'm suffering through may be more than a cold. I fully expected to be getting better by today, which didn't happen. If anything, it may be getting worse. The hacking cough and raw throat are an added joy compounding the overall misery.

I have very little patience when I'm sick. I can be a very patient man, but times like these take it out of me. On my way home from work I swung by a bank to hit an ATM to get some cash for things like cold medication and food. When I pulled up to the drive-through ATM there was already a car sitting in front of the machine. I didn't think much about it, until I realized the attention of the chick in the car (yes, I said chick, get over it). was directed more toward her passenger seat than out the window.

So I started paying more attention to what was going on in front of me. After several moments I realized that she had not once had her hand out the window and in contact with the machine. As I caught a glimpse of her in her rear-view mirror, it looked like she had a cell phone cradled under her chin. Several more minutes passed before I could see her licking the sticky flap of a deposit envelop. Apparently whatever banking transaction she was conducting was exceedingly complex and took telephone instructions. Of course, my reaction was, "That's what the teller windows inside the bank are for BITCH!"

About that time, the cutest little girl pops her head up over the back seat and looks at me out the rear window of the car and smiles the most disarming smile.

I smiled back.

Cute kids do it to me every time.

I was tired, cranky, feeling awful and impatient. I wanted to be pissed at the person keeping me from getting potent cold medication. I was enjoying been angry! Then the cute kid smiled at me.

I really should not be allowed out among the public when I'm ill.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wrapped in a comforter and still uncomfortable

Spending the weekend home alone and sick, without even a television for company makes me realize how much I rely on the television as a surrogate for socialization.

I didn't get to hang out with my regular Sunday friends like Terry, Howie and Jimmy and Bob, Cris, Al and John, not to mention Faith. And the day has not been complete since I didn't get to cap it by spending quality time with my Brothers & Sisters.

Today, my closest companions have been a glass of orange juice, a box of cold medicine and the comforter on my bed.

Cold comfort, that.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is there life without television?

As my friend Gene pointed out in his comment on my previous post, being down with a cold is a great time for feeling sorry for yourself. I am doing my best to elevate that to a high art today -- in between naps.

I didn't have the most restful sleep last night, as my coughing and stuffy nose woke me up several times through the night, but I did manage to spend about 12 straight hours in bed. When I did finally get out of bed, I still wasn't feeling hungry even though I had skipped dinner last night. So I settled in on the couch for a long day curled up under a blanket and watching college football. But when I hit the button on the remote to fire up the boob tube, I was only greeted by a mocking silence. The TV is dead.

It's the second TV to die on me in the last year. The little second-hand TV I had in the bedroom died some month back. Now the one in the living room gave up the ghost too. As if being sick was not enough reason to feel sorry for myself, the prospect of enduring days of illness at home with no television left me completely depressed. With a congested head, I can't think clearly, but I'm not sure what to do about this latest development. Buying a new TV is decidedly not in the budget right now. So rather than spending money I don't have on a new television I may just cancel my cable service and try living without any TV at all for a while. I could certainly do with one less bill a month. But I am afraid that with no TV at home I will end up spending more money outside the house.

So I'm not sure what to do. I am hoping that once this fog that's enveloped my head lifts, a course will become clearer. But in the meantime, I spent the day today listening to about 8 hours of radio including the pre- and post-game shows from my beloved Oregon State Beavers football game. I would have much rather watched the game, but as it was, it gave me the opportunity to stay up on the game and sleep off and on throughout the afternoon. Fortunately, the Beavers won in spectacular fashion, or the day would have been pretty much a complete loss.

If anyone has an extra television they are willing to sell cheap, let me know. Otherwise, I may be getting quite well acquainted with staring out the window for the next several months.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nurse wanted: Inquire within

I'm coming down with a cold. I started the day feeling fine, but this one came on fast. And it's already feeling like it's going to be a nasty one. Hopefully, it's not the deadly one.

OK, maybe that's a bit melodramatic. But I get that way when I'm sick.

Most of the time I'm fairly well adapted to being single. Not that it's always great and not that I always like it, but I'm used to it. But there are times when I realize that as social creatures, people just aren't built to be alone. Sometimes we need someone to look after us, pamper us. Protect us. Reassure us. Reassure me that I will get better, served up on a silver try with a glass of juice to wash it down and a side of cold medication to clear the head. Oh, and tissues -- lots of them.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Looking for the good in goodbye

I got a call tonight from my mom. She and my dad are back home, with my uncle in tow. They got back from Nebraska today, where they took my grandmother. They got her checked out by a doctor who confirmed that my grandma is suffering from dementia. The doctor said it's not Alzheimer's disease. They also got her admitted to a nursing facility.

But before she moved into her new home, an amazing thing happened while they were all staying at my aunt's house. Mom said my grandmother, who has been virtually confined to a wheelchair for weeks now, was up and walking around with the aid of her walker. She even negotiated two small stairs with the help of my uncles and her walkers.

But that seeming rejuvenation aside, taking my grandmother back to the community that has been her home for so much of her live was obviously a difficult chore for all of them. It was a somber task, including a visit to a funeral home to make decisions and final arrangements for the inevitable end to this sad saga. I got some of the details by phone today. They left sometime yesterday, and between the three of them they drove straight through and arrived home today.

Mom was tired from the dramatic ordeal and the long drive. But she also returned confident that she and her siblings did the right thing for their mother, as difficult as it was. She is pleased that she is getting appropriate medical care.

If relief is audible, it was that I heard in her voice.

I am sad that I probably won't be seeing my grandmother again in this life, and our goodbye was not the sort I would have scripted for her, me or my family. But I am relieved that she finally got a doctor to pay attention to more than the your physical pains, pulse, blood pressure and bones. There is a stoic reassurance in the diagnosis and an offer of care and therapy. The medical professional think they can actually help her get better physically and emotionally before the unstoppable eventual decline.

No, this was not a good situation. This was not good for any of the people involved. But it seems better. Sometimes better just has to be enough.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Just a pinch between your cheek and gum for pure potential cancer

As I sit down to write this, it is a mere few minutes away from the start of Thursday, Nov. 15, the date set aside by the American Cancer Society for their 31st Great American Smokeout.

In the past, I have attempted to kick my particular tobacco habit -- chewing tobacco -- during the Smokeout with some degree of success for the day, and subsequent days, But, obviously, I haven't kicked the habit.

I chronicled some of my struggle with demon nicotine when I tried quitting starting with the Smokeout two years ago.

The best success I've had with two previous attempts to quit chewing involved using nicotine gum. Unfortunately, the quit smoking aid is quite a bit more expensive than my $6 cans of shredded cancer-causing agent.

I would like to give it another try. But I'm not sure I'm up for joining the Smokeout this year by spitting out my chaw. My budget certainly isn't. I'm not sure if my willpower is either.

In fact, this weekend, when I was on my little road trip, I actually had a cigarette craving. So I picked up a pack of cigarettes. My car still smells like smoke.

Unfortunately, I'm still craving a cigarette.

I think if I was going to join the Smokeout this year I would know it by now. I'm just not sure. But to all of you out there who do your best to avoid tobacco today, I offer you my praise and congratulations. You are doing a great thing for yourself and your family. I know how difficult it can be to do without that crutch that has been a constant companion though good and bad times.

Tobacco, she's a sadistic mistress, but she's nothing if not loyal. She's always calling. Always beckoning. Always wanting your time and attention. That doesn't mean she deserves our loyalty, no matter how loudly she demands it!

Let me know if you kick the bitch to the curb.

Oh, wow, there was just a Nicorette commercial on TV. Is that supposed to be a hint?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is there such a thing as a macro micro?

Depending on your perspective, the news today that Widmer Brothers Brewing and Red Hook Brewery are merging may be either a cause for a prost or a reason for microbrew aficionados to drown their sorrows.

I was fortunate to come of age and develop a taste for beer, particularly Pacific Northwest microbrews, in the 1980s. I don't remember the first time I had a Red Hook ale or a Widmer Hefeweizen, but its (fortunately) quite difficult to find a bar in the Northwest that doesn't have a Red Hook or Widmer beer on tap. The only exceptions might be bars and restaurants that brew their own beer.

When I moved to the California's Mojave Desert in 1995, I loved the place, but found it to indeed be a sparse landscape virtually devoid of microbrewed liquid refreshment. California may be seen as a trendsetter on many things, but it was sadly behind the times in the microbrew revolution. It was as if the distributors' beer trucks ran out of gas when they reached Bakersfield.

It took the better part of a decade for Southern California to catch up with what Portland and Seattle had known for 20 years, that breweries like Red Hook and Widmer made fuller-bodied, more flavorful beer than that domestic piss-water pilsner rotting tastebuds by national breweries. Actually, the Northwest's heritage as a beer making and drinking region stretches back much further than the rediscovery that exploded in the 1980s.

But are Widmer and Red Hook (or perhaps I should say Craft Brews Alliance) now becoming victim to their own success? Will the new bigger company become a big brewery just like those to which the separate companies were formed to be an alternative?

To be honest, I've never cared much for Red Hook's signature ale. I am a fan of Widmer's Hefeweizen and Drop Top Amber Ale and Snowplow Milk Stout. They also used to make a Black Bier, which I was very fond of and still look periodically to see if it is available as a seasonal beer at least.

I have no intention to stop buying Widmer-labeled beers -- as long as their maintain their finely crafted taste. If it goes the way of Henry Weinhard's Blue Boar Ale, which doesn't taste the same as I remember from my college days when it was a regular resident of my refrigerator. Maybe my taste buds have changed. But I am convinced that Weinhard's Ale does not taste the same -- doesn't taste as good -- as it did when Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Co. was a real brewery, not just an affiliate of conglomerate SABMiller.

I know in the world of business, growth is imperative. If Red Hook and Widmer had not grown as fledgling breweries, they would not have survived. If that growth had not occurred I would not have been able to find my beloved Hefeweizen in my favorite Southern California bars and eateries for my last few years in California. Growth is often good. Bigger is quite often better. I certainly hope it will be in this case. It may still be good, even great, beer. But I don't think it the beers are correctly classified as microbrews anymore (Check out the comments on the Beervana blog).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Put some twang in my thang and crank it up!

Since I spent nearly 8 hours on the road this weekend, driving between my current home here in Salem to my childhood home in Bum-Fuck-Egypt Eastern Oregon, I had a lot of time to kill, so used it to listen to some podcast episodes that have been piling up in my iPod.

I listen to songs on shuffle a lot, so I was in the mood for something different. And different I got. I while back, before a trip I took in the spring to Southern California, I discovered a podcast called the Outlaw Punk Cowboys Show.

The Outlaw Punk Cowboy show is rock with twang, it's country with a kick. It's stuff from up-and-coming or alternative artists, ones you don't hear on mainstream Top 40 Country radio.

I can't say I always like all the music the host, Bubba, includes on the show, but I like being exposed to new music. It sort of reminds me of when I lived in Southern California and used to get to hear live country/rock acts at some of the clubs in the Mojave Desert and Palm Springs area. One of my favorite country bands was a group called American Made. That band probably has too much of a straight-forward traditional country sound to ever make the Outlaw Punk playlist, but I enjoyed their musicianship and that they would play a fair amount of their own original music in their shows, in addition to keeping the dance floor packed with covers of hit country tunes.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I haven't listened to much country radio because if you listen for more than a few hours, you hear the same songs over and over. There just aren't enough new country songs released throughout the year to always keep the sound fresh. That's what makes the music on the Outlaw Punk show so fun, because it's fresh, at least to me. It's not the same old songs I've heard a million times. And it's music that tends to the raw, powerful and blunt. Artists playing for their art, not just to be popular. If you are up for a little kick-ass music, and aren't afraid to hear a little twang once in a while, you might want to check it out. Bubba rambles a little too much and thinks he's a little funnier than he really is, but he has some eclectic and interesting taste in the music he chooses to share. But in between his ramblings is some fun music.

I added a list of podcasts I like to the ol' Fishwrapper. Some are music. At least one is video. And some are just fun, or funny, especially for anyone with a slightly warped sense of humor. Check 'em out if you like, and share any interesting podcast you find out there that I can check out.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Life is decidedly not fair

My mom often used to say it during those times I was complaining about the seeming inequities of life as perceived by my then childish mind and screaming that she wasn't being fair. "Life is not fair," she would say. I didn't understand what that meant then. I thought I learned what that meant in the years since. But I had no idea what that really meant until today.

A person should not have to outlive their mental faculties and physical capabilities. Children should not have to commit a parent to a nursing home against their will.

My parents and my uncle, who flew in from out of state, set out this morning to take my grandmother back to her former home state of Nebraska, to try to get her in to see her former doctors and to be closer to other family members and amid familiar surroundings for the final sad chapter of her life. They had to grudgingly admit that they are no longer able to care for their mother.

Hour to hour, minute to minute, she doesn't know who the people are that are around her, not even her own children. She sometimes masks the unfamiliarity by refusing to use people's names. She can be chatty and friendly, but the conversations are non-specific. She shows the cracks in the mental armor when asked specific questions or in other subtle ways.

Last night she was confused and scared, thinking that "her people" had dropped her off and hadn't come to take her home, even though we, her family, were gathered around her. She did not know who we were and it wasn't completely clear that she knew who she was.

This morning, she was lucid, and even chipper for a while. But when talk came of preparing to leave for their long journey, she got very upset and said she didn't want to go. She wanted to stay with her family. She knew she had been living there for years and said "This is my home."

She calmed down after a while and seemed downright chipper even. But when the time came for them to leave, she grew very agitated and upset.

"I don't want to go to Nebraska... This is my home... I want to stay with my family."

In turns my father and uncle tried to explain to her why they were doing what they were doing. They tried using reason to explain the unreasonable behavior she had been exhibiting. But she was beyond reason.

"You are killing me. You are killing me. Oh, no. Please, God no. ... God won't allow this to happen. He won't let you get away with this."

Amid the tears -- hers, theirs and our -- my dad and uncle pleaded with her to get into the wheelchair. She cried all the way to the car and once we got her into the car. I sat with her, my arm around her, while the final preparations were made, the last few items were placed in the car. It seemed such an empty gesture, but all I really could come up with to try to let her know that amid her pain and anguish that she was loved. I held things together until it was time for the final goodbyes.

As I got out of the van so my mom could slide in, I hugged my mother goodbye and held her as she sobbed. I told her it was going to be OK, though I had no conviction it would ever be OK again for any of us.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Put the front runners on the back burner

I consider myself a news junky, but I am so not paying any attention to the "campaigns" for president. The fricking general election is still a year away. I don't know what I'm doing for Thanksgiving yet, let alone who I will vote for next November.

I'm not happy with the development that so many states are pushing their primaries up so early next year. As a former Californian, I certainly understand why the nation's most populous state would want to be a player in the presidential primaries. But there is a this domino effect with every state out there wanting to get to the front of the line.

It is an odd irony that a nation with such a short attention span has now created a 2-year presidential campaign. But somehow I doubt I am the only person not yet paying any attention to presidential politics. Wake me up a little before the party conventions. Maybe by then I will care.

Friday, November 09, 2007

No small wonders

Did you see Kellie Pickler's performance Wednesday night on the Country Music Association awards on ABC? It had to be the most dramatic live performance I've ever seen.

Her music video for the song, while nice and very polished, lacks the power and raw emotion of her live performance.

I am not an American Idol watcher, so I have not known why Kellie Pickler was since her appearance on there. I've heard the name, but couldn't have picked her out of a photo lineup before seeing Wednesday's performance. And I guess I've been off the country music bandwagon for a while. Even the best country music stations seem to play too much of the same songs over and over. I got bored with the radio airplay, not the genre of music. So I guess I've missed Miss Pickler's songs out there.

I will definitely be adding the song she sang on the CMAs, "I Wonder" to my personal music collection.

The song resonates with me, and scared the crap out of me, probaby because I have missed so much of my daughter's life. I too wonder about the things she wonders about. Does she wonder why I haven't always been there? What questions may she have for me?

I hope that simple word -- forgiveness -- is something my daughter is able to do.

I'm not ashamed to say the tears streaming down Kellie Pickler's face during her CMA performance were matched in volume by my own. The words she sang were obviously not just lyrics to a song. They were the story of a life, real and raw, painful and yet proud.

Good Morning America did a nice job covering the story behind the song and Pickler's emotional CMA performance.

Bravo young lady. Thanks for letting me cry right along with you, as a flawed parent who wonders too.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sometimes you just need a woman in your life

I need to rent a wife. No, not for THAT, but if THAT was part of the package, I wouldn't object.

No, I need some new clothes, and I need a shopping consultant. OK, maybe I don't need to rent a wife, maybe I just need a stylist. But a stylist sounds so, well, so not me. OK, so I've never been married so, maybe having a wife, rented or otherwise, isn't me either.

But I could use some help in picking out some new clothes. as much as anything, I need someone to make me try on the clothes I'm shopping for and someone to give me a candid opinion if things don't fit correctly.

I know what types of clothes I like and want, I just hate shopping and take a lot of shortcuts in the shopping process, I may try on one pair of slack or one shirt and then grab other clothes the same size, even if they are made by a different manufacturer, which may mean they won't fit the same.

Also, something odd overcomes me when I'm in a fitting room. I tend to go with slacks that are too long. I think it comes down to a fear of getting slacks that are too short and I'll end up parading around like the floodwaters are about to flow over the tops of my shoes. Jeans that are a bit too long works OK. Slacks that drag on the ground -- not such a good look.

Of course, wearing thread-bare shirts with worn-out collars and cuffs is not a good look either. Fortunately, I take full advantage of casual Fridays and wear jeans one day a week because I don't have slacks to span 5 days.

It's time for new clothes.

Maybe I can post an ad a rent-a-wife on craigslist.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Grandma, I'm comin' home

It's only about a four-hour drive, but I have a feeling the next time I make it it's going to seem a whole lot longer.

This weekend I will probably be driving to my parent's house to say goodbye to my grandmother, a woman so important to my early life and who now I don't know nearly as well as I should. Worse yet, she usually doesn't know me at all when I do see her. At 93, her memory and her body are failing her. On one of my last visits my mom asked my grandmother if she had said hello to me and grandma said, "Oh, no one introduced us."

When I spend time with my grandmother, I will talk with her about whatever she wants to talk about. Her memories now aren't her own. The stories she tells are vivid and filled with drama, but they are no more based in fact than an elaborate work of fiction. The repetition of her tales gives the illusion they must be true, but the wiring of her brain has shorted out, connecting disparate facts in a mad jumble. She doesn't know where she is and often doesn't know who the people are she lives with, specifically her daughter -- my mother.

It's been very difficult on my mom to see her mother deteriorating and to be a stranger to her own mom.

In addition to the memory problems, there is pain that makes for sleepless nights for everyone in the house, particularly mom and grandma. The doctor recommended that my mom and her siblings consider putting their mother in a nursing home to provide a level of care they can no longer provide in the home. Grandma was in a nursing home several years ago but hated it, so my uncle moved her from Nebraska to his home in Nevada. She didn't like it there either. So my parents took her in. She isn't happy there either.

Her world has gotten very small. My old bedroom is now hers. With the aid of a walker, she would make the short trip from her bed to a glider rocker in the living room where she would spend her waking hours and take her meals. Then back to her room. Her view of the outside world is limited to a large picture window in the living room and a television stationed across a wide expanse of carpet. Since my last visit just two months ago, the walker is no longer enough to manage even that short trip and she needs the help of a wheelchair to make it.

But in spite of her limited mobility she's getting ready to make an extended trip. My parents are planning to take my grandmother back to Nebraska, perhaps as early as next week. So, I am going to make a little road trip myself of about 250 miles to see her while she is still close by.

I know that it's likely to be the last time I see her in this life. She may not know me, but I want to see her and spend a little time with her. I want to look for a few signs of the vital, robust larger-than-life figure I knew in my youth peaking out of the tiny, frail frame my grandmother now inhabits.

As a small child, a visit to grandma and grandpa's house was a Sunday ritual broken when my parents moved my brothers and me to Oregon shortly before my 8th birthday. Our family was divided, living on opposite ends of the Oregon Trail. Return trips to the Cornhusker State have been very few and far between. My last three visits to Nebraska were for funerals -- my mother's father, then her sister and most recently for one of my father's brothers.

I'm not looking forward to my next trip back there. I can't say I'm really looking forward to the trip to my parents' home either. But I would rather see my grandmother now, with what life she has left, than have our next meeting involve an even longer trip and her in a fancy box.

A couple of summer's ago I took my daughter to her first, and probably only, meeting with her great-grandmother. Much of my time with my daughter is spent with her mother's side of the family. But I wanted her to see a little more of my family. I wanted her to have an opportunity for some sort of memory with my grandmother and a bit more exposure to the other part of her heritage. I wish she would have got to know my grandparents, my grandmother and my late grandfather. But maybe that's because I wish I got to know them more and spend more time with them and with my father's parents, who both died when I was young.

So, my attempt to blog every day this month may come to a screeching halt this weekend. I may be on the road and not have an opportunity to post to the Fishwrap. I've enjoyed trying to get back into the writing groove again. But this weekend I will have something more pressing and important to do that will take priority.

Hang in there grandma, I'm coming home. I'll get there just as quick as I can. We'll both be home real soon.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Of course I'm an elections official, I have a plastic storage tub ballot box, don't I?

I never got around to mailing in my ballot, so I had to take it to an official drop-off location in order to ensure my vote was tallied today. In this age of concerns about identity fraud and the sanctity of the ballot box, Oregon's system is a joke.

For one thing, the ballot envelope you have to return has your name and address on the outside and it also requires you to sign the outside of the envelope. So any mail thief could not only know where I live but have my signature to begin their forgery practice on.

But what really got me was the lunacy of a system where you drive down the street, pull up to strangers on a street corner and hand them a ballot inside the aforementioned envelop so they can slip it into a plastic tub you could buy at any department store with a whole cut in the front that has a piece of paper taped to the front of it, which designates it's official status as a "ballot box."

As I was driving away from the drop off station next to the of the Marion County Courthouse I realized I didn't even see if my ballot make it into the box. All I saw was the man I handed the ballot envelope to who passed my vital vote to another man, who happened to be standing closer to the allegedly secure ballot box.

Yea, there's no prospects for voter fraud anywhere in Oregon's election system.

None what so over.

I so have (no) faith my vote was properly counted.

And I didn't even get a damn sticker.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A decidedly darker day

So, what happened to all that daylight time we saved? Shouldn't we have enough banked, with interest, so that we could spend a little now and people who leave work at 5 p.m. wouldn't have to endure driving home after sunset? Obviously they are not up to the task.

Today was the first workday following the time change and it appeared to me that workday commuters here in Salem seemed to be having extraordinary difficulty negotiating the twilight drive. Idiots were out in abundance at every intersection. People trying to pull out and cross traffic in rush hour. Even business parking lots were filled with impatient morons trying to get five more feet in an all-fired hurry.

It was as if the dimming light turned every driver into a dimwit. Pedestrians weren't any brighter, as I saw about four people standing in the middle of a narrow residential street, in the apparent aftermath of a fender-bender, running the risk of being run-down by drivers who could not see them on the dark street.

How long will it be before daylight saving time returns? I need as much light as possible to see the idiots coming at me from all directions in what should be a simple 4-mile commute.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sleeping away a chance at riches

I was supposed to play in a second round of an online poker tournament yesterday. I had been looking forward to it all week. In addition to boasting about it on this blog, I had even told some friends and coworkers about it.

But what did I do when tournament day arrived?

I slept through the start of the tournament.

I though the tournament was starting in the afternoon. It trying to convert East Coast military time to normal West Coast time, I got the time wrong. So, by the time I got up and got online to check how much time I had before the tournament started I found out the tournament had already started and I was not able to get in.

I messed it up.

Yes, I am a moron. I'm learning to come to grips with my stupidity.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Time is short

OK, I'm running out of time for a post today, so I will keep this short. I messed up on my poker tournament today. Details to come.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Where's my sticker, damn it?

It's almost Election Day here in Oregon, but I'm not a big fan of our state's vote-by-mail elections. I voted in my first election in this state when I was 18. I remember the pride of registering to vote and in going to the polls to cast my first ballot. I've felt that same pride many times since then.

When I was a California resident, it was common to get a sticker on Election Day that read "I Voted" with an American flag on them. Corny perhaps, but I was always proud to earn my sticker for practicing my right to vote. I even liked the electronic voting machines that have been so controversial. Preferred them actually to the little punch cards famous for hanging chads.

But I don't get that same feeling of pride voting by mail. It's rather an empty feeling dropping a ballot in a mailbox. The only time I felt anything even close to the voting experience was the one time I didn't mail my ballot in and had to drop it off at a county office on Election Day.

I still haven't mailed in my ballot for the Nov. 6 election. In fact I haven't even opened the election envelop. I guess I'll have to drop it off again. If there is going to be a system where you don't have to go to a polling place to cast a ballot, I'd just as soon vote online instead of having to vote by mail. I can't remember the last time I mailed anything. I don't even know what the cost of a stamp is now, because I don't mail anything. I still have stamps from whatever the postal rate was two rate increases ago. I just don't mail anything. I don't need to. I pay my bills electronically. If I write a letter, I sent it electronically.

In the digital age, voting by mail is sort of like foregoing use of your cell phone to call someone and sending a telegram via Western Union. I suppose you can still do it, but why?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Is it possible to suck and Blo at the same time?

In honor of National Blog Posting Month (and because I'm far too lame to attempt to participate in National Novel Writing Month) I am going to attempt for 31 straight days to make at least one blog post every day.

Given the fact that prior to this post I have only written 62 posts all frickin' year, that may be a bit overly optimistic. But I have been attempting to put a little starch back into the DigiWrapper, which has been crumpled up and tossed into a corner for far too long.

This may just be the motivation I need to get off my asterisk and get typing again.

So let the blogging begin -- for better or worse -- as part of November's National Blog Posting Month, aka NaBloPMo. Yea, it's probably Blo all right, but what the fuck else is there to do in November?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The haunting

I stopped off on my way to work for a cup of coffee and an Egg McMuffin and Ron's place and was perplexed for a bit by the young woman who handed me my Caffeine McCholesterol.

I instantly recognized the item hanging around her neck as a stethoscope. My brain was not so quick to figure out why the woman in drivethru might also potentially ask me to turn my head and cough. I just figured that maybe she was working two jobs and forgot to leave the medical instrument in the car after working graveyard at the hospital before working the breakfast shift at McDonalds.

It wasn't until I was driving away that I realized that today was Halloween and the woman in the drivethru window was wearing a costume.

Later in the day I ended up staying late at work, which was fine with me because it might mean I could miss the trick-or-treat rush. As I told someone today, I don't shop for myself, I sure as hell ain't buying stuff to give away to other people's kids. Unfortunately, when I got home, a small squad of costumed candy bandits was knocking at the door in the apartment before mine. I made sure to take my sweet time getting out of the car until the little letches walked well away from the entrance to my abode before I made my break for it.

I didn't even bother to turn on the light when I got inside, but headed for the back room furthest away from the front door. And that's where I found myself for the rest of the evening, hiding out in a back room of my apartment, cowering in a corner. My annual Halloween haunting vexed me yet again. Now it's the midnight hour and the incessant knocking has finally stopped.

Suddenly I have a craving for a Snickers bar.

And the blues play on

I don't visit bars as much as I did back in my 20s, or even my 30s, but there is something unbeatable about just the right bar.

Sometime I have a craving for a neighborhood hangout, a little hole in the wall spot where the bartenders and waitresses know your order and have your drink waiting for you by the time you reach your bar stool.

Other times, I have a craving for a sports bar, a place to hang out and grab a burger and a beer while watching a game.

But on some occasions, I really want a place with some high energy, a place that buzzes with electricity from the patrons and a band playing life music. In the months after I moved to Salem, whenever I would ask people I met where was the best place to go for nightlife in town, one of the names that inevitably cropped up was Lefty's Pizzeria and Blues Club.

It was my kind of joint, fitting many of my favorite tastes for food (pizza), beer (microbrews) and music -- in this case, blues.

Blues as been a favorite musical genre since college. Anyone with a taste for blues will tell you, there is nothing like hearing blues live, because like the music it inspired, jazz, musicians improvise during a performance, giving even classic blues songs their own fingerprint.

Unfortunately, I have not had listened to a lot of live blues. But now, living back in the Pacific Northwest, it seemed like I would get more opportunities to do so. Portland has a vibrant and respected blues scene and plays hose every year to the Waterfront Blues Festival. As I came to learn, Lefty's was considered by many one of the best blues venues for live music in the Northwest.

In my early explorations as an iPod owner, I discovered a podcast based out of Portland that talked about the Portland and Northwest blues scene and featured music from artists based here, or who have some connection to Portland and the Pacific Northwest. The podcast, PDX Bluescast, became an immediate favorite.

Sadly, the PDX Bluescast has not had a new episode in over a year now. And now this month came word that Lefty's had closed.

But the blues itself does not die. Just as the legends of the genre eventually pass on, the music itself is passed down to new generations of musicians. And fortunately, I have found a new place to satisfy my thirst for blues, but this one's based a little farther south -- south of the equator and across the Pacific to be precise. My new home for the blues, and the new podcast I turn to for a mix of classic blues and emerging voices is the Salty Dog Blues N Roots Podcast from Melbourne, Australia.

So thanks, Salty, for satisfying that craving, both salty and sweet, tangy and twangy, like a slice of pizza with pepperoni and pineapple and a liberal dose of Tabasco.

RIP Lefty's and the PDX Bluescast. You are missed, but we can all take comfort in the fact that the blues plays on.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Getting hosed

I noticed the change on my way home from work. The sign on the Shell gas station reader board spelled out the bad news. Gas is over $3 a gallon.

The reason it jumped out at me is because when I drove to work this morning I made note of the price on the same sign at the same gas station. The price, on the day the price of a barrel of oil closed at a record high over $93.50, also went up about 7 cents a gallon at one local gas station.

It was a telling sign, just one of many illustrating that ordinary Americans are pretty well screwed. I don't expect a return to economic giddiness anytime soon. Wall Street may be waiting for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates this week so they can go on pretending a recession can be avoided, but ordinary Americans won't benefit from a little rate cut from the fed. The costs of too many of the things we need to get through our daily lives are going higher, not lower. Gas prices are up. Energy prices are up. Credit card interest rates are up. And God help anyone who is the the same boat so many of my family and friends who are first-time home buyers with an adjustable rate mortgage, which has also gone through the roof. I don't think the failed mortgage/credit/housing crisis is nearing its end, I fear it is only getting warmed up.

Bend over Americans a big financial dildo is taking aim at your backsides. And if you think anyone brought the lube, you are in for a painful surprise.

I'll show you mine if you show me yours

I'm nothing if not a follower. I've followed the crowd onto the poker craze bandwagon. I haven't become a fanatic about it, but I do occasionally enjoy watching television coverage of professional poker tournaments and play poker now and again online. I even checked out one of the local poker leagues in town once, but haven't made it back to play anymore live games. I like to play the game but am not willing, or able, to put real money where my cards are. At least not yet.

I am among the most amateur of amateurs. But I have won a couple of qualifying tournaments on Bravo TVs Celebrity Poker site. But when you when a qualifying tournament, like I did recently, you are prohibited from playing in their tournament again until the championship tournament, which is in January or something.

So, I signed up with a free online poker website, PokerStars.com, to play there. I signed up earlier today to play in a qualifying tournament for a tournament in the Bahamas. I didn't really expect much out of it, but a way to spend some time and perhaps learn a little more about the game from competing against other people -- across the web if not across the table.

The top 200 finishers qualify for the next round, but the tournament allowed 10,000 to register. So I didn't have any delusions of qualifying, but I hoped to finish "in the money," which required a finish of 1,250th or higher.

After a few hours of playing, I found myself still "sitting" at a virtual table with a stack of digital chips. And I made it into the money. Then I revised my goals to finish higher in the money. And then, eventually the top 200 was within reach. Then, there I was. In the top 200. And still playing.

I eventually made it to the final table of 10. Then the top 5.

I did not, however, win the tournament. But I did finish second. Second out of 10,000. Pretty fucking cool, if I say so myself!

So who else do you tell about an amazing finish in a virtual tournament, but your virtual friends on a blog.

In honor of the finish, here are 10 songs about (sort of about) poker/gambling/cards from my iPod.

Ride Gambler Ride -- Randy Newman
Viva Las Vegas -- ZZ Top
Ace in the Hole -- George Strait
From a Jack to a King -- Ricky Van Shelton
Aces -- Suzy Bogguss
Luck of the Draw -- Bonnie Raitt
Ace Up Your Pretty Sleeve -- Vince Gill
Desperado -- The Eagles
Good Run of Bad Luck -- Clint Black
Viva Las Vegas -- Elvis Presley

The End Debt Daily paper.li