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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Saturday, July 30, 2005


My Neighbors have been bugging me for this recipe. I started with a recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook, and "de-naturalized" it. This is the best food I know for a hot day.



1 large can tomato juice
1 small minced onion
1 can (16 oz) chopped tomatoes and juice
1 minced green pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 large or 2 small cloves crushed garlic
1 diced cucumber
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
2 tbsps wine vinegar
1 tsp tarragon
1 tsp basil
pinch of ground cumin
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley
3 dashes of Tabasco sauce
2 tbsps olive oil
salt & pepper taste (tomato products are usually salty enough)

Combine and chill at least 2 hours. You can puree if you like.
I recommend chunky Style.

Pioneers and Lunch

The trip to Mt Judah was a success. The weather was good, and the base and the summit were both full of wildflowers. A flock of about twenty tiger swallowtail butterflies dropped by while we were at the summit. Unbelievable! Bad news: I won't be able to post photos until I use the rest of the film in my camera. Good news: by then, I will have pictures of the redwood forest. The woes of being behind the curve in technology.

Near the summit, we ran into a wheezing elderhostel group. It looked like some of them wished they chose a flatter vacation spot. At the summit we used my historical map to spot several passes used by pioneers in the 1840s and the gold rush 49ers as well. We walked through Cold Stream pass on the way up, and along the lip of roller pass on the way down. I can’t even imagine how they pulled wagons through that area, especially after dragging themselves across the prarie and desert from Council Bluffs. It is a tough enough walk without carrying all our worldly belongings. Early California was definitely not for wimps.

At the summit, we had lunch, but we decided to have our peanut butter sandwiches instead of the somewhat gamey looking elderhostelers. Bah-ding!

Yesterday I had lunch with a prospective and former employer, and things look very likely there. More about that as things progress. I could use a more substantial role in the workforce, and this would move to working during the day, rather than in the evenings. I find I miss a lot of opportunities to do almost anything with other people outside of work since I have been working nights. Maybe if I get and hold this job for a while, I'll buy a digital camera. I saw a poster in a store that said shopping is patriotic.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why A Hike is a Big Deal to Me

In my own little world, tomorrow’s trip to Mount Judah is a big deal.

First, let’s talk about history:

When I first visited Sacramento while getting to know Kathleen, I really wanted to drive up and see the Donner area. Lake Tahoe has never captured my imagination in the same way. The terrain and history of that area has always fascinated me. Starting with the early 1840’s stories of the Stephens and Donner party each trying to figure out a way to get over this difficult range (Stephens 1, Donner 0). Followed by a few year’s worth of settlers in the late 1840's, and the gold rush in 1849. In these short years, the parties found cold stream and roller passes, which are higher than Donner pass, but easier for parties to go through. The relatively short hike to Mount Judah’s summit goes through cold stream pass and roller pass. Until the late 1990s, the trail also went through Donner Pass. However, the trailhead was moved in about 2000 to allow Sugarbowl Ski Area to add a new slope. To be fair to Sugarbowl, they built a good alternate trail to replace the closed trail.

Later in the 19th Century comes the Union Pacific, the first transcontinental railway in North America. After a survey of the sierra range, lead by engineer Theodore Judah, the railroad also chose the Donner Pass area as the best crossing. So did the builders of Interstate 80. I think it’s amazing that a few scouts found the same pass as the railroad’s and interstate’s studies.

You can stand on the summit with a map and look down on all this history.

Now, let’s get personal:

For Several years Kathleen and I made sure to have one or two hikes in the mountains. Mount Judah is our favorite because it was our first mountain hike, and the first time I (Mr. Wisconsin) had climbed to a real summit, with a name, a view, and everything!

The last time we went up Mount Judah was our last outing before my major surgery and the sickness that followed. We knew it might be our last chance when we went up on July fifth 2003. I had to eat about 3000 calories of extra food just to make it up the hill.

About a month or two after surgery, as I was beginning to realize that I was not going to spring back to my former state of health, I used some guided imagery CDs to try to get better. When you are desperate, you’ll do almost anything. The CD asked the user to imagine a nice place, where you’d go if you could. I always went back to Mount Judah. As my health continued to not improve, I dropped that routine, since it just made me feel bad that I didn’t really believe I would ever get healthy enough to go up the mountain again.

Well, that’s not what happened. My life may not be perfect, I may not feel great, but I am going back up the mountain!

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Monday, July 25, 2005

All About Crap Jobs

From the Idler website,

A series of essays written by intelligent people subjected to moronic jobs can be found in Crap Jobs of the U K . Some of these descriptions killed me.

How can you resist short essays that begin like this: "A summer job working at a local mental hospital was supposed to be a bag of laughs. I had envisioned chatting therapeutically to slightly confused older folk over soothing cups of tea, but no. "

Or how about endings like this: "Having heard reports that I'd been 'dancing round the ward with a corpse' and now finding me sprawled across it in the morgue, I was immediately asked to leave. I have never been so glad to be sacked."

I highly recommend this collection, as well as most of The Idler . Now, why could that be. . .

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I’m done reading, time to go outside

Yes, I finished Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince early last week. I didn’t write about it in the blog for fear of exposing readers to spoilers. Now it’s time to wait for the next book. No use musing over questions like, who is RAB (Remulus Black?), Is Snape really the half-blood prince? (recall the book was from before Snape’s time. Could it be you know who?) Blah blah blah, you can go on for ever this way, but let’s remember, it will all come out however Rawlings decides.

Today has been a pretty productive Monday. Cleaned house, exercised at the health club, did some household business, made a batch of gazpacho that should hold out through the week. It’ll be another hot week, with highs around 100 degrees. Best of all, I have planned a good hike in the sierras with a friend and his new 15 year old ward and nephew. Our hike will include Mount Judah's Summit, and maybe Donner summit, too. Summits are good for you. A Disneyland-like experience for more sentient beings. Not to overlook that the high’s are only in the low 80s in the mountains.

On Saturday we took a walk by the American River. I scrounged some good wild raspberries, and we ran into some interesting human residents of the parkway. When I ride my bike, I never talk to anyone with more than a couple of words as I speed by. They didn’t have a lot to say anyway. We had a pleasant walk, even though we didn’t see any great sights. It’s just great to get out by the river and in the woods.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

2:00 Friday afternoon

Sitting at the Coffee Shop

Written at 2:00 Friday afternoon.

I decided to come out here since I hadn’t gotten out of the house yet today. I slept poorly last night, the usual sore stomach plus some. I haven’t slept well for a few nights, maybe its time to use one of Dr’s magic pills. Often, I use the pills once, and then I’ll sleep normally thereafter. In any event, I felt pretty crummy this morning. It was the first time I remember not finding the energy to get up before Kathleen left for work. I had vivid dreams while I slept in this morning. I dreamt Blue Funk wanted hire me back half-time, but I was too tired to get out of bed and get to work. I finally got up, but then the dream was over. I still felt crummy, so I moped around for the rest of the morning. At about 11:00, one of our sprinkler pumps started spraying like Buckingham Fountain. I reset the sprinkler timer so that pump won’t be activated, and left a message with Dave, our mow and blow and sprinkler guy. He hasn’t called back yet.

That, pathetic as it may be, is my life so far today. After this moment, I will go to the grocery and buy London broil on sale and some taters to cook on the grill, so we can have meat and potatoes around for a few days.

So far, no one is responding to my feeble efforts to contact the world of work. Ah, another day of reprieve from the stresses of the world of employment.

Seated at a table near me are two talkative fat women with high voices and inane dialogue. Think huge talking white fish wearing shorts and matching tops. They are bitching about the lousy service at some hotel they visited. Something about dirty rooms and massage service not being timely. I’d kill myself and a bus full of kids before I’d want to give one of those cows a massage! The fatter of the two just said she’d like to be able to get TV on her PC, you know, for important things like September 11 and the Simpson trial. I am at risk of succumbing to the intense exposure to stupid radiation. I need to move operations inside.

Back indoors, I left the dirty hotel ladies out on the terrace. I was hoping this place has the New and Review (SNR), Sacramento’s weekly newspaper, but I don’t see it. One of my math students is a high school Junior from Redding. Her parents just moved to a suburb so white and conservative, I have never even seen a Mexican there. She likes indie music, which certainly isn’t found anywhere in the suburbs. Sacramento’s far suburbs are about the most boring suburbs I have ever seen in my life. Nothing but square miles of houses with box stores on the big intersections. I was hoping I could find SNR for her, since it’s full of ads for indie stores, which are almost all in Midtown or downtown. Alas, I am sure she’ll figure it out on her own, or she’ll spend the rest of her life in Rocklin watching TV and amassing debt, as is they way of her suburb and its moneyed hillbilly residents.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Going to the Dogs (and Cats)

I have stopped working volunteer at the SPCA here. There have been some goofy management initiatives, including management spying on volunteers and accusing them of besmirching the SPCA’s name on the internet, (Oh Rick, if you are reading this, go get a real job), that makes the SPCA now a poison environment in my humble opinion.

I am told the SPCA has been destroying, as a matter of policy, animals that have been cared for by volunteers. Who wants to volunteer their time to socialize and train an animal that will be killed by autocratic order, rather than put in someone’s home? Unfortunately, this will further erode care for those few animals the management doesn’t choose to kill.

I think the Sacramento’s SPCA’s future may be moving more in the direction of a kill and kill and kill shelter, rather than simply a kill shelter. Over time I think the verifiable difference between the SPCA and local government animal control is thinning. Maybe in the interim I should find some other place to save the world.

That’s the truth and I’m sticking to it

I can’t believe it, he finally did something

I finally did something. I sent an introductory email and my resume to a likely local actuarial employer. Now time will tell what happens. I thought I would wait to see what kind of response I get before I do the same for other possible employers. I am using this guy as a beta test.

I have come to the realization that my tutoring job will always be evenings, and will always rob me of opportunities to do things I want to do with other people, so I may as well look for well paid work that I can do daytime.

In the same vein, I sat down to think yesterday, and realized I have fallen into somewhat of a funk, which is no place to be. The wife has even noticed that I am getting uncomfortably grouchy and curmudgeon like. I decided the way to get out of this is to act like I am trying to do something, rather than just hang out. I promised myself I would make these contacts in the way of looking for better work, and I promised myself to structure my weekdays more, so no more morning showers at 1:30 or 2:00 PM.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Attack of the Mary Kaye Realtors

(My Apologies to Berke Blethed)

Sitting at the table next to mine are three middle aged women in shorts and sleeveless tops and pancake makeup (think muttons in lambs clothing) talking about real estate. In Sacramento, it seems like casual real estate agency has replaced Mary Kaye as the employment of choice for well heeled Suburban wives. Hopefully, they’ll never take up math tutoring. When the real estate market here stagnates, I wonder if they’ll gravitate toward Mary Kaye, Amway, Herbalife, and Bee Pollen. I can hardly wait. One of them talks really loud and a little shrill, and she talks about 80% of the time, although they are a group of three. Maybe I should start loudly talking to myself about the international cantaloupe and oversized pickup truck conspiracy. If the talker’s nice to me, maybe I’ll offer her a chance to get in at the ground floor. Then again, maybe not.

Now the staff is loudly clanking tableware from lunch. The lunch rush here doesn’t fade until between 2:00 and 3:00. The food must be pretty good, since it ain’t cheap. In any event, the coffee and atmosphere is great. The two barristas are flirting shamelessly. The entire staff dresses in all black, even when it’s 107 degrees outside. Is that cool or what? I should probably leave pretty soon, but it looks really hot outside.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Continuous Bifocals. .. Homofocals. . . Metrofocals?

I started wearing my new bifocals yesterday, and they are working out pretty well. The only weird thing is that, if I look through the wrong part of the lenses, everything around the edges of my field of vision starts to get blurry and melt. It’s kind of like the feelings I remember experiencing while waiting for a Grateful Dead concert to start, except I’m not convinced the people sitting near me are conspiring to take over the world by cornering the cantaloupe and oversized pickup truck markets. Thank goodness for that.

I can surely see distance better than I could with my old glasses. I think it’ll take a little while to grow accustomed to the close-up vision, and the continuous nature of the correction. I found a fun game to play: I can hold a book almost up to my nose, tilt my head up until it’s in focus. Then I can slowly move the book away, while carefully lowering my chin to keep the book consistently in focus. I am easily entertained.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

What’s All This About Property Rights?

In the barrage of response to the Supreme Court’s recent decision about eminent domain, I’ve been seeing and hearing lots of discussion about the rights of ownership of real property (i. e., land).

The decision, in a nutshell, expands Government eminent domain rights to seize land when a Governmental unit believes the land can be put to an alternative use that somehow better serves the public. Some legal scholars believe this will allow local Governments to take (with compensation) privately owned lands to build a shopping mall or a Wal-Mart, if the improvement will generate more local sales tax revenue.

What I have found most interesting about peoples’ response to this decision is the underlying beliefs about property rights that are revealed. One individual who often writes “crank” letters to the Sacramento Bee complains that the Government’s right to condemn property for property tax non-payment is against “God’s intent”. It seems a lot of people believe that once an individual purchases real estate, the property should remain with individual’s heirs for eternity. Isn’t that the paradigm of European feudalism? I guess what I view as just lies somewhere between the Supremes’ decision and feudalism.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Stiff Upper Lips Are Good For Something

Over the last week or so, my hopes for mankind have been rekindled by the collective behavior of the British in the aftermath of getting whacked by terrorists. From what I am seeing, it looks like we in the US have a lot to learn from these Island-dwelling fog eaters.

I spend much of 1991 and 1992 working in London for a British company. One of the major impressions the British made upon me is the high value they place on determination and cool-headedness. It seems their entire nation has kept their head in the throws of their recent terrorist attacks. No one in Parliament is telling us that history as we know it has ended. I’ll be watching to see if they continue dealing with their mess in a sane manner. How the heck did these people let Tony “Bride of Bushenstein” Blair ever get them into Iraq?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

100 Degrees of Lassitude

The temperature is about 100 degrees now, working its way up to about 106 by 5 or 6 PM today. Summer has been very mild up to the recent few days, but now we’re talking about beating Sacramento’s all-time record of 9 days for consecutive days over 100 degrees. Today is day 3, and I have had enough already. The nights here are cool and pleasant most of the time, but not with temperatures like these.

This weather makes me lazy (OK, OK, lazier than usual). I have been escaping to public spaces’ air conditioning. I am at a coffee shop right now, with my notebook PC. As the old song goes, “I’m in love with the modern world. . . Road Runner once. . . “ I started the week with great plans, but at least I have gone to the health club 4 times (great AC).

I probably should’ve contacted some people in a local risk management firm via email, but I just was too lazy. I put that on my list for Monday. I don’t know how I can explain to anybody what type of work I want to do, when I can’t even explain it to myself. Maybe what I want is more work without a jerk boss. I’d be able to figure that out after an interview. Motivation is low right now.
This weekend, we’re going to the movies. I want to see Batman, and maybe Star Wars on Sunday. Nowhere is as cold as a movie theater, but you can melt walking across the massive parking lots.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Today Monday, Tomorrow the Redwoods

Monday is my day for house cleaning in the morning, with usually not a lot happening in the afternoon. Today’s afternoon excitement is feeling the weather warm up. High of 100 today, possibly 106 tomorrow. Well, we really haven’t had any terribly hot weather yet this summer. All good things must come to an end. Maybe I’ll make gazpacho tomorrow. Nothing is as good in hot weather.

Partially in reaction to the heat, Kathleen and I decided we’ll go to Arcata in Humbolt County for a long weekend in mid-August. That’s the far northern California coast, near Redwoods National Forest. Truly a cool, misty and beautiful place. The woods look like “Jurassic Park”, which was filmed there. We made the hotel reservation today. I prefer hotel rather than camping since it rains all the time there. Ah, just the thought of rain feels good right now. We plan to drive up Thursday afternoon and evening, spend Friday and Saturday in the woods, and drive home Sunday. The main points I am interested in, Patrick’s Point and Prairie Creek State Parks are about 50 miles north of Arcata. Several years ago, I camped at Patrick’s point with a friend. In its cold and primitive way, these woods are perhaps the most beautiful I have seen. Beautiful misty beaches, coastal bluffs, fern gulleys, and redwood forests. I promise I’ll actually take pictures and get them on the blog. It always takes a little longer for me, since I may be the world’s last blogger to use a camera with actual film. Well, that’s one of the costs I pay for my casual relationship to the world of work.

Here's a photo from my last visit to Prairie Creek. I was overfilled to bursting with what John Muir called "natural beauty bread".

An interesting aside about the twin cities of Eureka and Arcata; Formerly lumber towns, the major source of income for these towns and surrounding regions appears to be large scale marijuana farming. Hiking guides warn us to keep on the trail, since wandering onto someone’s “farm” on State or Federal land can prove fatal. The other big deal in Arcata is California State University Humboldt. This school is the world capital of white guys in dreadlocks who call each other “duuuuude”. The student body is from all over the state, representing a higher than average economic background and desire to get to what’s real, like y’know. None of that linear crud for these deep thinking young Americans. Raving, as well as Poi and other flaming object twirling is big up there.

The last time I visited I spent some delightful time with my friend’s brother and his girlfriend. His brother works as a police officer in Arcata, and is involved in running a winery. The girlfriend is a former forest ranger, and went along for some of our hikes. Best of all, when the cold rain fell, we quickly packed up camp and moved to their house. We spent the rest of the weekend eating good food, tasting fine wine, and hearing great stories from the world of law enforcement rather than shivering by the campsite. Hopefully we will be able to see these two while in town.

My work life (or nearly complete lack thereof) continues to provide a source of angst for me. Maybe that’s not too bad, given my proneness to inaction in this area, and I recall my work life gave me a lot of angst when I was fully employed as well. If I never actually do anything about it, what harm can it possibly cause? Put that in your cigar and smoke it, Sigmund.

On the home front, our neighbors from New Orleans invited us for a shrimp boil at the end of this month. Regional food has invaded our once peaceful neighborhood. Now it is inevitable, we’ll have to have everybody over for brats late summer or early fall. NFL games are on the tube so early here (even the Sunday late game ends at about 3:00) so they will be spared the tribal Packers’ game. I noticed local grocery stores have started carrying Johnsonville brats. That, and sourdough hard rolls should form the perfect bridge between California and Wisconsin cuisine. My apologies to Alice Waters. Brats make me sad because you can’t drink beer after brats have been boiled in it. I actually haven’t tried this, but I believe it’s true. At least the onions are delicious. I haven’t thought about side dishes, whether to go with traditional greasy potato salad, or do something lighter like gazpacho, which the neighbor ladies love. I am definitely not doing cream puffs for desert.

Quick political note: It appears Carl Rove outed that CIA operative, thus spake Rove’s attorney yesterday. Chalk up another one for America’s leading crime family. I may not have lived my life perfectly, but, goshdarnit, I never exposed a CIA spy.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Day for Musing and Brooding

The weather is beautiful today, but I had to postpone my plans for working in the back yard, thanks to my neighbor who’s over watering flooded our yard this morning. I can get it done tomorrow.

So I am spending the day hanging out. I went into the neighbor’s back yard and turned off the water, ordered a new and better recorder, talked to a headhunter, practiced clarinet and recorder, and looked at my lawnmower. That’s all the achievement to record for today. I had a leisurely cup of coffee at a local joint this morning, enjoyed sitting on their patio along with several neighborhood idlers and their dogs. Although I enjoy days like today, on these days my mind wanders about what other things I might do with my time. When a headhunter from a major actuarial meat marketer called today, I agreed to send her my resume, after talking a bit about where I am and what I can do. If I am serious, I should simply write letters and call the few possible actuarial employers in the area. It seems like I never get that serious. The main allure of being involved in actuarial work is the pay level and the prestige, not to mention I think I’m pretty good at it. The downside is spending time dealing with members of that dreaded species, Homo Corperatus Jerkus. Really, I tell myself, just contacting people wouldn’t hurt. Besides, I might get a free lunch or two out of the deal.

Last night I dreamed about growing more tumors in the pancreas. That is not comforting. A few years before I came up with my tumor, I had similar dreams. I am even willing to think about actuarial work to get my mind out of that gutter.

I just finished “Standing in the Rainbow” by Fannie Flagg. Four Stars (****). Her telling of the history of several citizens of a small Missouri town is gripping and charming. The work was somewhat in the style of Garrison Keiller’s lake Woebegone stories, without Keiller’s moodiness or woman-hating. This was a book I couldn’t put down. It included life stories of characters such as the old veteran grumps that were everywhere in the 70’s and on, a politician with some similarities to George Wallace, Gospel Singers, and other typical small town eccentrics. The book focused on the 1940’s and 1950’s, but followed the characters through to the early 1990s.

My AARP membership card arrived yesterday. I can’t wait to flash it at restaurants and accuse anyone who charges me the standard price with blatant age discrimination. How much fun is that?

At work, some parents have complained that we aren’t assigning enough homework. My students have a different opinion, but he who pays the piper calls the tune. So, I doubled all homework assignments this week. The goal is about 100 minutes per week. I have mostly younger kids in summer school so we are working on exciting topics like adding and multiplying fractions and mixed numbers. In reality, the most important work is teaching the students how and when to focus on a task.

We had a great 4th of July. I invited the crazy neighbors over for BBQ chicken, Gazpacho, Kathleen’s old family recipe potato salad, and the obligatory apple pie. They brought over a lot of cool fireworks. The underlying theme of our conversation involved interjecting, “WHY DO YOU HATE FREEDOM?” whenever anyone said anything thoughtful. A good time and a lot of beer was had by all. Hey, ever notice how those two often go together. Hmmmmm.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Getting to the Point

Hot weather in Sacramento and my own need to behave like a more fit person drove us take a 10-mile hike in Tomales Point in the Point Reyes National Shoreline. We were immediately rewarded with a high temperature near 70 degrees, versus about 100 in Sacramento, not to mention the absence of smog at the coast. The hike was beautiful. You can see a good slideshow of the hike at Slides from Tomales Point hike. Jim Herd took the same hike in 2004, and this link presents his excellent photographs.

The point is a preserve for wild elk, and is home to many interesting birds. We saw an Osprey carrying a large fish, a few goldfinch, pelicans, and several cormorants. We watched several sea lions playing in the tide’s incoming waves as we had our sandwiches at the end of the point. Beautiful flowering plants border the trail for the entire hike, including lupines, poppies, thistle, and dozens of other wildflowers that remain nameless to me. The hike included several small hills (would be called huge mountains in my ancestral homeland of Wisconsin) and hundreds of vistas of the Pacific coast and Tomales bay. Any Geology mavens out there might like to know that Tomales point is where the San Andreas Fault leaves the Continent. The point today is about 20 feet further out in the ocean than it was in 1906, before the big earthquake. If the next "big one" struck during our visit, I'm sure we too would be at least 20 feet further out in the ocean.

On a more personal note, it felt great taking a robust hike like a normal healthy person.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Indignities of Aging

“Now, these changes to your prescription will take care of your distance, let me show you how your close up vision will be.” “The reading sample looks pretty fuzzy”, I innocently admitted. “I can fix that”, said the eye doctor, “I’ll write you a prescription for continuous bifocals. You’ll find them comfortable and easy to use.”

Yikes! Bifocals! Coming within the next two weeks.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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