Tuesday, December 15, 2009

In search of the Holy Grail . . . of cycling jackets

I'm an avid cyclist, doing long Saturday recreational rides, and often commuting to work. Living in the beautiful, cycling-friendly Pacific Northwest also means I need some rain and cold protection while riding. I've been on a long quest to find the optimum cycling jacket, which would have the following characteristics:

1. Rainproof
2. Wind protection
3. Breathes well, so you don't overheat and sweat too much underneath
4. Light/bright color for visibility (but not too wild)
5. Reasonably priced, or at least available at deep discount somehow

The most difficult item for me has been #3. There have been a number of nice jackets I have tried that just leave me soaked inside after moderate exercise, including expensive GoreTex models. I have an old, low-tech jacket that is perfect for #3, but provides no rain protection and very little wind protection. Still, on a cool, dry day it works well.

But for those wet or cold days the best I've been able to do is use a fairly expensive, hi-tech jacket with pit zips. I recently bought a Mountain Hardware jacket at the Columbia employee store which is probably the best so far of all the jackets I have tried ($185 cost was half of retail!!). Yesterday I picked up another Mountain Hardware jacket at that store which is a very lightweight shell, but since it has no pit zips I was pretty skeptical about adequate breathability. I tried it today on my wet commute to work and I was actually pretty pleased with it. I may have found a good jacket for cool, wet days, or days with risk of wet and I can just stuff this little jacket into my back jersey pocket. I'll have Suzanne put it under the Christmas tree for me (along with several other "toys" I have procured for myself, but that is worthy of another blog post).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Riding in the cold

Last month I wrote a post about riding my bike home from work in the dark. My current adventure is commuting on my bike in cold weather. We are having a cold spell this week. My car reported 18 degrees this evening--I'm sure the lowest it has ever registered (in the 2+ years I have owned it).

I was up for the challenge and decided to ride every day this week (no snow in the forecast). Yesterday there was a cold east wind, which provided a fun tailwind on the ride to work, so it went just fine. But I knew the ride home would be a bit grim. It was in the 20's, and who knows what the wind chill factor was. My face froze pretty quickly. My hands took a while, through two layers of gloves, but they got pretty cold. And my toes. With the headwind my ride was about 40 minutes. But I made it!

Today may have been a bit colder, but not so much wind. Tomorrow should be colder still. What fun!

I know--those of you who live in colder climes are thinking I'm a wuss!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Busy day

Well, I shouldn't have gloated about how well tithing settlement went last week. Today was hectic, beginning with Sunday School time, when I was bombarded with people who needed something from me, plus three interviews. I had hoped to go into the Primary for a bishopric message to the children, but just didn't make it (at least to the Junior Primary--I did for the Senior Primary).

Then I mistakenly allowed a PPI to go 15 minutes over, forgetting I had another appointment before starting tithing settlement sessions at 2:00, so right off the bat I was 20 minutes behind. There were no breaks in the schedule so I just plowed away, and was only five minutes behind towards the end.

But, once again, I felt sustained and energetic, even on fast Sunday (someone brought me food but I had to set it aside). After coming home around 4:30 I helped Daniel fix dinner, then I was able to rest a bit.

So cold and windy today, but no snow. But it still reminds me of our magical snow week (or two) last year this month.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What a difference a month makes

Here is the picture I posted at the beginning of November showing the fabulous fall colors looking out the window at my work.

And here is the same view yesterday.

Colors are pretty much gone. And there is a fog about to settle in. It is that time of year. Of course, we do get nice sunny days from time to time. But I confess I kind of enjoy the fog. Just gives a cozy, quiet feeling. I even rode my bike home in it yesterday. I have a new bike light that shines very brightly, so riding at night is markedly improved for me.

By the way, I was successful posting to my blog every day in November (thank you, Bridget, for the challenge). I'm not sure how regular I will be in December, we'll see.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tithing settlement

We had our first tithing settlement session today (Sunday) for 2009, my fourth year as bishop. The clerks and my counselors divide up the sessions to share the load, but I am there for each session, for the entire session. And these come on the tail end of long Sundays (without a break), or after a full day of work on weeknights. It would be reasonable to assume I do not look forward to it, and it is a hard thing to do, physically and emotionally. But this assumption would be wrong. This is one of those counterintuitive things, like paying tithing itself.

Today about an hour or so into the session, one new family in our ward arrived at their appointed time and was pleasantly surprised to be ushered right into my office, that we were running right on time. I could see how his family, with five small children, would be inconvenienced by delays. I run on six minute intervals, so ten families per hour. The family comes in, I briefly review their callings to see if everything is okay, then we review tithing status for each member, I thank the family for their contributions of money and time, thank them for all their service in the ward, and read my annual "tithing scripture" (Ether 12:4 this year) and bear short testimony. I do not engage in additional discussions, but do take notes for any follow up interviews that might be needed. I don't count or reconcile any additional contributions--my counselor and clerks do that (or my "elves", as I refer to them).

Last year we had two Sundays that were snowed out, where church was cancelled (extremely rare here in Oregon). We had the unique experience of doing "house calls" for tithing settlement, so we could salvage as much of the session schedule as we could. What a memorable time that was, driving around with my counselor in deep snow and visiting homes.

I'm sure this is one example where I am strengthened and sustained in my service. I find I am energetic and upbeat the entire session. I am humbled and awed by the good people in my ward, and feel it a unique blessing to sit amongst them in this capacity. After I am released I know this will be one experience I will miss, and will look back on fondly.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Things change

Friday there were only a couple of stores I wanted to go to to pick up sale items. I went to Michael's to buy some picture frames and matt for putting together some more temple pictures that we give as gifts (see photo above). It has been four or five years since my last such purchase at Michael's, and I was dismayed to find they no longer carry the particular frame I always buy. In fact, there were hardly any frames at the size I needed (12X16). And they changed matt companies so they didn't have my colors. Bummer.
I then swung over to the Oroweat bread outlet store, and for the second time in a row they didn't have my favorite Country Wheat bread. When I asked the checkout lady she informed me they have discontinued that kind of bread. Oh, I was so disappointed as I loved it. Back to plain old whole wheat (or "black bread" as Daniel calls it).
This reminds me of another great disappointment. For years I loved Tillamook Ice Cream, and rejoiced that they persisted in selling the full 2 quarts while other brands dropped to 1.75 quarts. A couple of years ago we were visiting the Tillamook Cheese Factory and I was telling the manager there how much I liked their ice cream and was so glad they sold 2 quarts. She got a strange look on her face, then confessed they were also switching to 1.75 quarts. Their marketing types said it was by "customer demand". Yeah, right. Well, at least they are still 1.75 quarts, and I see Dreyers is now 1.5 quarts.
Things change, and you just have to roll with it. In fact, I found a different frame (white, instead of gold) which I'm excited about and may be an upgrade for my temple picture. It costs twice as much, but with the 60% off sale, and further 20% off total purchase, we did just fine buying eight of them today (Saturday).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The miracle of birth

I was fortunate to be present at the birth of each of my five children.

Our first, Blair, was born in Provo, UT, and after a long and difficult labor, and after being sent home after our first trip to the hospital. How discouraging that was. But what a thrill to be new parents!

Daniel came five weeks early in Ridgecrest, CA. I was at work and my home teacher found me during lunch and told me to rush to the hospital, that Suzanne was in labor and delivery was imminent. (We didn't have cell phones in those days.) I didn't think this was possible and figured it would be a false alarm. When I arrived at the hospital they led me right into the room where Daniel had just been born and the doctors were working frantically to get him breathing (which he did, but what a scare!).

Bridget threatened to come early (Boise, ID), so Suzanne was confined to bed the final few weeks. When Suzanne went into labor I said "let's go!". Good thing we wasted no time because it was a wild rush to the hospital (I don't recall how many red lights I ran)--it was all Suzanne could do to hold off giving birth in the car. She delivered just a few minutes after getting to her room.

Teresa came a couple of weeks early, if I remember right (Portland, OR). We knew by now not to dilly dally once labor started, so we avoided the wild drive to the hospital, but she was still born not long after getting there. I think Teresa may have been our first ultrasound, and the doctor thought she was a boy, but we felt she would be a girl and were glad.

Steven was at risk of being born quickly, so the doctor arranged to induce right about the due date. Just a normal early morning drive to the hospital, and Steven arrived later that morning (Portland, OR).

There is nothing like the euphoria you feel after a newborn arrives in your family. It is one of the top wonders of the world.

Friday, November 27, 2009


The Vietnam War dominated my generation growing up. I knew a couple of young men who were drafted and went to war. I knew only vaguely one who was killed in the war. My older brother, Barry, joined the Air Force at this time. As I graduated from high school I was concerned about the draft. The government instituted a lottery system about this time, so I was anxious to learn what my number would be. The system drew lots based on birthday, so there were numbers from 1 to 365, with the lower numbers being first to go.

I was exploring my options, including signing up for the National Guard or Reserves. As I recall, I even took a test to start down that road. I don't recall the exact situation with college or missionary deferments, but they must have been in jeopardy for me to be so worried.

Well, my number was drawn, and it was 348! I felt so relieved and lucky. The deal was that you were only exposed to the draft for one year, so I went ahead and listed myself as 1-A and eligible for the draft, even at school and on my mission for that year, so I could get it out of the way. My year passed and I was scott free. It was about this time that the draft started slowing down, anyway. But the number 348 will always be emblazoned in my memory.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve

There are a few predictable magical times each year. Christmas eve is obviously one of them, as well as Christmas morning. Thanksgiving eve is another, at least for me.

Each year I look forward to the extra time off work with the extended weekend. The Wednesday workday itself has a little tingle to it, as people are in a pleasant mood, and the numbers, already diminished due to people taking vacation days, thin out further as the day progresses. I can remember several times (at Sequent in particular) when I felt like one of the few left in the building at the end of a full day (or a bit longer, as the work may have required). Things are so quiet, and when you leave for the parking lot it is dark and peaceful outside.

Often there are weekend projects to look forward to. At HP at least a couple of times I brought a computer home to play games on. This was before the days of PC's, so a computer at home was a novelty, though the games were very rudimentary. Sometimes Suzanne and I had wallpaper projects in store. Sometimes we would have shopping plans for early morning black Friday, or a visit to the temple. I often organized extended tennis play for Friday, or a bike ride, or a run. Sometimes we have taken trips--a couple of times to Boise to visit the Juhasz family, or Teresa. We have hosted family (I remember Barry's family visiting us in Meridian, and the snow storm when they left) or friends.

Today will be a bit different. Suzanne is incapacitated with her foot surgery recovery, so we are having a simpler Thanksgiving. Blair will cook the turkey and each of us will have other food preparation assignments, but nothing will be elaborate.

But, as with each Thanksgiving, we are so mindful of our countless blessings. What a wonderful life we lead! And I wish all you readers a marvelous Thanksgiving as well.

Thanksgiving 2008

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ideal age?

Suzanne, Steven, and I were discussing this evening what the ideal age would be.

A child has the advantage of innocence, minimal world concerns, toys and games for play, and, perhaps, an awareness of continual growth and improvement. But, lots of negatives, too.

As a teenager I so much looked forward to age 16 when I could get a license to drive a car. Not a bad age, but also too many negatives with the teen years.

Early twenties, a full time mission under my belt, a bride, a newborn son. But college years were tough and stressful.

New college graduate, (relatively) lucrative job, beginnings of a family. Definitely a fun and rewarding age, mid-twenties. Perhaps near optimum physical body. And a sharp mind capable of learning and comprehending quickly. But in retrospect, later years were better.

I specifically remember talking to my mother when I was about 32 and remarking that this was the best period in my life. Strong, healthy, good career, wonderful young family. A definite candidate for the ideal age.

Forties weren't bad at all. Age wise it seemed like I should be starting to feel old, but health, vigor, energy, activity, mental acuity--all still very good. A notch below thirties to be sure, but offset by maturity, stability, wisdom, self confidence, financial means and security, and really interesting family activities with older children. In my case, I may have been more physically fit, due to ambitious cycling. I think forties were the best so far.

At age 50 I definitely felt like I should be feeling detrimental effects of aging. But I honestly felt like this could be the ideal time in my life, for many of the same reasons as listed above for the forties, but even more so. I was still very active physically and felt so happy and fulfilled, and excited about life. My mother warned me that after age 50, which is still a very good age, that I would definitely start experiencing a downhill trend.

Now I am 57, and my mother was right. The slow decline in mental acuity, eyesight, and physical abilities and ailments are becoming more pronounced. Though I remain very active playing tennis and riding my bike, I no longer run and my athletic skills are in decline. Still, 57 is not a bad age at all, due to further increases in all those positive attributes mentioned above.

Looking ahead, I anticipate late 50's and 60's will be more of the same trend, and these will be good years, too, with the added bonus of increased discretionary time and (hopefully) increased financial means.

I don't know, tough call. I think, in my case, I will vote for age 50. Does that surprise you? It is a good compromise of reasonable mental and physical abilities with all the bonuses of knowledge, wisdom, experience, self confidence, judgment, etc.

What do you think the optimum age is?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My earliest memory

When your family has home movies of when you were a child it can be difficult to separate real memories from what you have seen in the movies. I'm not sure which of my foggy memories would be the earliest but I can at least pinpoint the timeframe of one.

I was born in California but moved to Germany when I was about 6 months old as my father was stationed there in the Air Force. About a year later we moved to England, then when I was about 3 we moved back to the states. My parents tell me I was very concerned about leaving England because I was worried there wouldn't be Grape Nuts Flakes breakfast cereal in the USA.

My memory is of being in some public place, and running up and down a gradual ramp or incline. The consensus is that this was at a restaurant or airport during our trip back to the USA. It is a happy memory, and an activity that is characteristic of a small child.

What is your earliest memory, and is it a pleasant one?

By the way, the picture above is of Wendie and Barry, my two older siblings, and me, presumably around 3 or 4 years old.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Daniel wanted a dog. Daniel always wanted a dog. Dad (me) didn't want a dog, and would never get one. But in late 1990 somehow we bought a black Lab puppy at the pet store (Daniel used to love going in that store all the time). I guess it was Daniel's Christmas present, but it ended up being a family project. Daniel named her Roxie. We sometimes referred to her as Roxorg--I believe some variation of a comic book monster--I don't recall the exact origin. We would sing "Roxanne...Roxanne".

Roxie did all the usual puppy things, like chewing up everything in sight, pooping on the floor, jumping all over visitors, and barking all night. But we all loved her. We would go to the pet store and buy her toys, food, and other things.

Roxie was an exceptionally stupid dog, if good natured and hyper. We wondered why we bothered buying her the premium dog food when she didn't mind eating her own feces in the back yard. When we had the choke chain around her neck she never seemed to figure out that obedience and restraint would avoid the choking sensation. We tried and tried to train her (sit, heel, stay), with very little success. We would try to play fetch with a ball, but she would play keep-away after bringing the ball back to you so you had trouble getting it back to throw again. Someone told me that's why you don't buy just any dog at a pet store.

I (mostly) enjoyed taking Roxie on runs with me (with a leash, of course--otherwise she would run wild). At the beginning she would run ahead of me, straining on the leash in all her enthusiasm, then tire at the end and I would be dragging her to keep up. One night I took a risk and let her run with me without a leash. She mostly stayed in the general area with me, but upon arriving back home she would not go into our fenced backyard where she normally stayed. I commanded and coaxed and bribed and tricked -- nothing worked. In exasperation I finally gave up and went to bed. Roxie must have had a wild night, because the next morning she had gathered up a number of random shoes from the neighborhood. How embarrassing. We placed them on the curb so the neighbors would find them. Roxie slept all the next day.

After three or four years we finally decided to find a new home for Roxie. Ironically, the very day the prospective new owners were going to check her out Roxie got loose in the front yard, and, in her trademark unruly fashion, would not come back when we called or coaxed. She ran out into the busy street near our home and was struck by a car. What a sad day that was, as we took her to the vet and, due to severe injuries, they put her to sleep. Daniel and I were by Roxie's side as she breathed her last, and I confess I shed a few tears, as much for Daniel as for her.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wild ride to the hospital

Taking Suzanne to surgery Friday morning and hanging out at the hospital reminded me of another trip we made earlier this year.

During our kitchen remodel Suzanne was working hard painting and staining the cabinets. We brought in some Chinese food for dinner and worked on into the evening (or at least she did--I was downstairs on the computer). About 9PM I heard a soft voice call "Craig, can you come up here?". I sat bolt upright. There was something alarming about the voice. I came upstairs and Suzanne was lying on the floor in significant discomfort. Her face was ashen colored, she had pains in her chest and arms, was clammy, and I don't remember what else. Her mother died of a heart attack in her 60's and this had all the classical symptoms. I asked if I should call 911 and she said let's just drive to the emergency room.

I quickly helped her into the car and drove very fast the 5 miles to the hospital. I only had to run one red light. I pulled up to the emergency room curb, jumped out, announced to the staff I thought my wife was having a heart attack, and rushed back out with a wheelchair.

They took her right into a cell and hooked her up to machines and a doctor checked her out. Her skin still had no color and symptoms persisted. They gave her oxygen and ran the usual tests. Gradually her color returned and the symptoms subsided.

To make a long story short, she spent the night at the hospital as a precaution but her heart tested out just fine. One theory was that the Chinese food caused it (acid reflux), another that the paint fumes did. But for a few hours there we were quite alarmed, and we count our blessings more readily these days.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Just snip snip

This morning I took Suzanne to the hospital for scheduled elective surgery on her foot. So she will be on crutches for a few weeks, and today I am pampering her. This reminds me of an experience I had with elective surgery.

A few years ago I was sitting in Sunday School class when a man near me was dozing off. I teased him after class saying he might have snored out loud and embarrassed himself. He laughed and said that was no problem, as he had a simple operation (uvulectomy) that took care of any snoring problem. I asked more about it and he said it was a simple procedure, just snip snip, and a sore throat for a couple of weeks.

Wow, I wanted to pursue this! As I've aged I've become more self-conscious about my snoring. I had some medical savings account money to use or lose so about Dec. 30 I went to the doctor and had it done. I told Suzanne it was her Christmas present.

For starters, the doctor gave me a prescription for pain killers, and I thought I was manly enough not to need that. I could handle a little sore throat for a week or so. I was wrong. That night or the next day I picked up the pills. It was so painful to eat for two weeks or more I lost a bunch of weight. I used this over the counter sore throat spray to temporarily deaden the pain so I could get some food down, or when the pain just got too bad. (I ate lots of brown rice during this period, so whenever I eat brown rice I associate it with this time period.)

About two weeks or so later I was sill in great discomfort and getting discouraged. I asked the same man about it and he said "yeah, the pain was awful for a few weeks, and now my snoring is coming back." What!!?? I wanted to strangle him.

Well, eventually it healed, and the snoring is improved, though not eliminated. One side effect is that food and drink can more easily slip down my throat and gag me if I'm not careful. Was it worth it? I don't know. Perhaps. I should let Suzanne answer that. The snoring never bothered me. :-)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jack and Lee Rock Band

I was going to write a post about "where were you when when such and such famous event happened", like when Pres. Kennedy was shot (grade school lunch room), or man first walked on the moon (working at McDonald's), or when the World Trade Center collapsed (still in bed). I may still write that post someday, but today I'm taking a fun little detour.

You may recall that Lee Harvey Oswald (who most people believe shot JFK, though not the conspiracy theorists) was fatally shot himself by Jack Ruby while in police custody. Here is the famous photograph of that event.

I hope this isn't too disrespectful, but here is another perspective on that famous event. Enjoy.

The end.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More frugality

I used to marvel at my mother for the effort she expended to save coupons and buy Raisin Nut Bran cereal for 25 or 50 cents per box. She had so many boxes stored in her closet, and I recall eating a bowl while visiting once and sensing they might be a little stale. Indeed, the expiration date on the box was just about due. Still, that was my favorite cereal at the time, but was a rare treat since I had to pay upwards of $4 for a box in my store.

I evolved to liking Wheat Chex cereal the best, and was really proud of myself once when finding the Safeway brand clone of Wheat Chex on sale for $1 per box (I think Wheat Chex was about $4). We stocked up and bought 20 boxes, as I recall, and thought that was a huge haul.

But they were consumed quickly enough, then earlier this year we stumbled upon Wheat Chex on sale for about $1.80 at Winco. Then we discovered that some boxes included a coupon for $3 off when buying 3 boxes. Needless to say, I made two or three trips to Winco and sorted through the boxes to make sure I bought ones with the coupon attached. The net result was over 50 boxes purchased at 80 cents each, and 20 or so extra coupons for future use.

I thought this supply would last a year. But when you eat a bowl and a half each morning it is surprising how quickly you go through a box. A month ago we were running out, and our coupons were about to expire. Each trip to Winco we would check the Chex for sales, but no luck. Finally, we just used most of our coupons and bought a bunch more at $3.42 (net $2.42).

Then last week we saw them on sale for $2.38 so I rounded up about 10 coupons we hadn't used and hoped Winco wouldn't mind if they were a couple of weeks beyond expiration. And they accepted them!

But here is the real bonus--I hadn't noticed that a few of the new boxes had a new $3 coupon that expires a year from now! So, another trip back to Winco to buy more boxes with more coupons. What fun!! So now we have a stash of a dozen coupons for the next sale after we use up this supply.

Okay, so am I pathetic or what?

Climbing Mt. Hood

Sorry for the third hiking/climbing post in recent days, but I'm on a roll.

I already told about my inspiration to climb mountains in a previous post. Perhaps the most ambitious climbing adventure was ten years ago when my oldest son, Blair, and I decided to climb Mt. Hood, the highest peak in Oregon. While a number of people have perished on Mt. Hood in climbing accidents over the years, I figured that thousands climb it each year, and if we did our research and preparations, and were careful, we would be okay (even without a guide or going with an experienced group).

We rented ice axes, crampons, and boots from REI and headed to Timberline at around 4500 ft. elevation to start our climb to 11,249 ft. just after midnight. It is recommended to climb at night so you can summit soon after dawn while the snow is still firm and debris won't fall on you. I found the hardest thing about the climb was mental--specifically climbing all night in the dark. Even though it was July and pleasant weather, there was a breeze blowing down the mountain off the snow and it was quite cold. We rested perhaps an hour about half way up and we felt rather discouraged and tired. But we kept going.

It got steeper and more precarious towards the top, but once we started seeing light in the eastern sky our spirits rose and we were doing fine. Just below the summit is the Hogsback, and the Bergschrund (a deep crevasse you have to hike around and jump over).

We used the ice axe to plant with each step so we always had stable footing on the very steep final section. Just don't look down, keep moving, and don't think about it too much (I'm very afraid of heights!). Then, the exhilaration of reaching the summit!

We could see all the prominent NW Cascade peaks up and down the range. We could see Portland to the west. Then there was the long slog back down the mountain, and the tiredness from no sleep and hard climbing settled in.

Ever since I have not looked at Mt. Hood the same. I see the majestic peak towering in the eastern horizon and contemplate standing there on the top.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Obsessive behavior

I will admit to a character trait that can be both positive and negative in its consequences. I am prone to becoming almost totally consumed with something that I sink my teeth into. When this happens, I can tune out most other things and concentrate intensely. Let me give some examples.

At college I was working on a major computer lab project (designing and constructing an electronic calculator from discrete digital parts). I was so engaged that sleeping and eating became a nuisance and I worked all day and all through the night on it. I don't recall that there was a particular deadline driving the behavior. I was just consumed by it.

At college (and since) I tend to perform better when the heat is on and I immerse myself totally in an assignment (working like a madman the day and night before something is due, rather than sanely over multiple days).

I can be mulling something over in my head and become largely oblivious to conversations or events around me. This can come across as rude when I seemingly ignore or am unresponsive to those around me.

When I planted our grass lawns at our new house in Idaho I was obsessed with them. That's all I wanted to talk about at the dinner table. Each day I would observe how the grass blades were growing, how to water it, what the weeds were doing, etc.

I love troubleshooting problems. This has been a great plus in my engineering career, as various product development efforts have had significant bug finding and fixing activity. When I'm hot on the trail of troubleshooting it is hard to break free and go home to dinner. This has yielded significant job satisfaction for me, as well as contributions (and rewards).

Last week I did a bunch of research and decided to upgrade our computers at home to Windows 7. Once again, it was heads down doing research, installation, and troubleshooting, and all other life activities became a nuisance.

I think a downside is that I don't multitask very well. When multiple things enter my brain I tend to latch onto one and drive it hard.

I'm sure I'm not unique with these qualities. I see them in my father, and I'm sure I have passed them onto my children to some degree. I suspect males are more apt to be this way than females (Suzanne reminds me often she can't afford this behavior when there are kids around to watch over).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Half Dome -- Reprise

About ten years ago I read the gripping and harrowing account "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer, which chronicles the experience of a couple of climbing teams during their ill fated attempt to climb Mt. Everest. In some strange way, in spite of the descriptions of death, injury, and intense sufferings, this inspired me to climb some mountains, including Mt. St. Helens, South Sister, Mt. Hood, and, in a reprise of my teen experience, Half Dome.

We were having a family reunion of sorts at Yosemite, and each visit there we always planned some hiking excursion. I convinced my brothers, Glade and Kevin, to join me in a hike/climb of Half Dome. We knew it would be a long day, and we wanted to avoid the Saturday crowds, so we camped in Yosemite valley and were on the trail at dawn. Of course, in the fresh, cool morning with the excitement of adventure fueling our legs the early part of the climb was very enjoyable. To avoid the rubbery legs problems of a steep descent, we chose to climb the steep stairway of the Mist Trail, with plans to descend the regular trail down the waterfall area.

I thought I was prepared for the fearful view of the cables up the final side of the dome, but, as with my first climb of Half Dome, I was terrified looking up the steep route. But, I knew I could do it and pressed on. The trick is to keep moving and don't look down. (My palms are getting sweaty right now just thinking abou it!) Here is a picture of my brothers coming up the final section of the cables.

It is a dramatic view on top.

We were glad for our early start, as the cables were so crowded as we worked our way down.

It is such a long hike, and we were so tired coming down. But we made it, and all in one piece!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Be Still My Soul

Oh my goodness. Saturday morning I sat down at the computer to update my check register and pay some bills. I did a search on youtube and pulled up some BYU Men's Choir music to listen to in the background. It was like a thunderbolt had hit. I couldn't do anything on the computer and my attention was fully riveted to the choir singing this hymn. Chills ran up and down my spine.

Fasten your safety belts and enjoy!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Half Dome

Growing up in Southern California our family would often vacation at Yosemite National Park, which has to be one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on earth. We particularly liked all the great trails and hikes to marvelous destinations, like Nevada Falls, Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan. And the most memorable of all--Half Dome.

When I was about 14 years old my older brother, Barry, and I decided to tackle the 15 mile (round trip) hike. It starts at the valley floor (about 4000 ft. elevation), climbs up past Vernal and Nevada Falls, around the back side of Half Dome, then up the far side to the top, at 8800 ft. As I recall, we took the regular trail up and did just fine all the way up to the far side of the dome, where there is a steep switchback trail up the side of a smaller dome. Once you get there, you encounter a small flat area with a full view of the final ascent up the steep slope.

I distinctly remember looking at the seemingly vertical slope and feeling such dismay, and thinking there was no way I could climb that. Even though there are cables to hold on to, and wood slats to stand on, it just looked terrifying. We stopped to rest, ate our lunch, and contemplated our situation. I guess we got our courage up because we took to the cables. Once there it didn't seem as bad, as long as you kept moving and didn't look down. Once on top it was a glorious sensation of accomplishment and a scenic view.

Traversing down the cables was a bit frightful, as was the switchback trail down the dome. As we worked our way further down the trail we were getting tired, of course, and worried that daylight was slipping away. So we took the shorter "Mist Trail", with steep steps down the waterfall area. What misery that was to our legs! We finally walked into our camp after sunset, exhausted but feeling so proud. The next day our legs were so tired and sore we could barely walk. But what a fantastic memory to reflect on all these years!

Stay tuned for Half Dome, Part II.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Grapes of Wrath

I recently finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, a powerful fictional account of a down on their luck Great Depression era family relocating from Oklahoma to California, and trying unsuccessfully to make a living there. It is powerful in the sense that it is an engaging story and well written by a talented author. And also because it is gut wrenching to contemplate the impossibly difficult living circumstances of the Joad family. It is strong social commentary, pitting the wealthy and established (which are very negatively portrayed) against the indigent (who are the "good guys"). Steinbeck surely has a political agenda writing the book, and is persuasive in his literary means.

I read this book many years ago, but was motivated to read it again as Steven will likely be reading it for his English class.

One measure of a good book is when it leaves you thinking about it for days afterwards, which this one does. Of course, it doesn't help that there is no resolution at the end of the book--it kind of just ends when things are about at their worst. While Steinbeck does provide some glimpses as to what motivated the Californians in their cruel treatment of the Okies, the portrayal is largely one-sided, with the Okies on higher moral ground. Things are rarely so black and white in real life, and of course there were helpful and magnanimous locals, as well as scoundrels among the real Okies. These were very hard times and the nation hadn't figured out how to solve the many tough economic problems. (In fact, we still haven't.)

Growing up mostly in California I also took an interest in the historical setting. My mother grew up in California during this time and I want to ask her what things were like during the Depression, and whether she was aware of the "Okies" pouring into the state. I also wonder how things ultimately turned out for all these newcomers--did they settle permanently? Are their descendants a significant portion of the population, and doing much better financially? (I guess I'm looking for closure to the book.)

I'm currently reading a non-fiction book on a related topic--"The Worst Hard Time", by Timothy Egan. This is an account of the Dust Bowl area, and the difficulties faced in the 1930's by those who settled the southern High Plains of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, especially those who stuck it out (as opposed to those who fled to California, for instance). A very interesting read so far.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I have a dream

Okay, sorry for the slightly misleading title, but the subject today is dream themes. You know, like the exam dream. Which, after all these years since high school and college, I still dream variations of fairly often. The classic one is that you haven't attended a class all semester, or read the textbook, and it is time for the final. A variation might be that you can't find where the classroom is. And I have dreamed other variations, which don't have a school setting. For instance, being late or unprepared for sacrament meeting. I wonder if exam dreams are largely exclusive to those who attended college. Anybody?

Another common theme I have is being in public wearing pajamas or underwear (or less). A recent variation of this for me is being on the stand at church (un)dressed in this way.

Some dreams are based on real physical symptoms, like a toothache or body aches. Or the most common for me is having a full bladder and being unable to find a functional toilet. Or finding one, but getting no relief (thank goodness!). I often find the toilet is stopped up, or the plumbing isn't functional, or it is in an open public place (related to the underwear dream above?).

I think everyone has the dream of trying to run away from something, but the legs are lethargic.

Does anyone else laugh out loud while dreaming? I think I used to do this more often.

Not many people seem to have my favorite dream, where I can fly like Superman. Actually, I float rather than fly, but it is such a wonderful sensation and I love it when I dream that.

My most nightmarish dream places me in the midst of atomic warfare. Planes are flying overhead, and atomic bombs are going off on the horizon. I wonder if this is due to my childhood emotional scars when we had atomic bomb drills at school, hiding under our desks. (What were they thinking!?)

So, who is with me on these dreams? What common ones have I left out?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Better than I deserve

How many of you know who Dave Ramsey is, have read his books, or listen to him on the radio? He comes on a local AM station in Portland every evening from 7 to 10PM and I enjoy listening (other than the heavy dose of advertisements). His MO is frugal money management, avoiding/getting out of debt, and living Christlike lives. While I don't agree 100% with all he says (he is fanatical about no debt, except maybe for a home, and never using a credit card, even if you pay it off each billing) I'm generally on board with him.

Some of his sayings:

"Better than I deserve" (when asked how he is)
"Debt is dumb, cash is king."
"The paid off home mortgage replaces the BMW as the status symbol of choice."
"Rice and beans, beans and rice."
"Never see the inside of a restaurant unless you work there."
"Live like nobody else now so you can live like nobody else later."
"If it's not in writing it didn't happen."
"If a debt collector is opening his mouth he is lying."

I admit that listening to his show and hearing his advice to callers helps me with some of the financial counseling I do as bishop.

You can check him out at www.daveramsey.com.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reading books on the go

A year and a half ago I somehow got the idea that I could listen to books on CD or mp3. I think the first book was John Adams, by David McCullough (a fantastic inspirational book, by the way), which I took on a trip to California. I would checkout audio books on CD or mp3 from the library and download them into my mp3 player. It was amazing how quickly I could read/listen to a book. I would listen driving the car, while working in the yard, riding my bike, or just relaxing. It is funny--I associate certain books with doing certain things ("Escape" by Carolyn Jessop reminds me of building a block retaining wall, "Teacher Man" by Frank McCourt of a business trip to Colorado, "Shiloh" by Shelby Foote of demolishing our kitchen, "Hunger Games" of being sick with a bad cold and sleeping downstairs, etc.).

I have "read" more books the past 18 months than any similar period in my life, I'm sure. I read over 30 last year, and 36 so far this year. The vast majority of these have been audio books, and the majority of those non-fiction.

On another post or two I'll have to give some book reviews and recommendations.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Role models

When I was growing up I was a big time Dodger fan. I went to some of their games, collected their baseball cards, and had favorite players on the team. There was much greater roster continuity back then, with the same players staying with teams year after year, especially the stars.

I used to watch Home Run Derby on TV. All the big baseball stars of the day appeared on the show and engaged in normal, if campy, conversation with the announcer. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, etc. It was a different time, and you didn't see distasteful swagger from these players on that show.

While still a Dodger fan today, I would be hard pressed any given year to name two or three Dodger players. In fact, it is easy to become disillusioned with professional sports when we hear so much of greed, cheating, criminal activity, and just general selfishness and bad behavior. It is appalling to consider the bad role models too many professional athletes present.

I read a news item recently that remarked how awful Michael Jordan's acceptance speech was upon his induction into the basketball hall of fame. So I found it on youtube and watched all 26 minutes of a largely self-centered account of his career, with various digs at other people along the way. What a shame that the greatest basketball player of all time couldn't show more grace and gratitude in a big moment such as this.

Out of curiosity I watched the speeches of John Stockton and David Robinson, also inducted into the HOF. What a contrast! Each came across as grateful and humble, and talked about and to their wives and each of their several children. David Robinson played basketball for Navy, and was the top pro pick, I believe, yet remained true to his military obligation and served his active duty time before going pro. Right away you knew he was somebody special. At the conclusion of his speech he acknowledged the influence of Christ in his life, and pretty much bore his testimony of the Saviour. I admit it brought tears to my eyes. Here is a link to his seven minute speech.

Yes, there are good role models out there in pro sports.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pot of Gold

It was a momentous decision in early 1984 when I was presented with an opportunity to join a start up technology company in Oregon (Sequent Computer). I don't know which was harder--leaving a great job at a great company (HP), or leaving our home, friends, and ward, all of which we loved. But I had passed up a similar opportunity a couple of years earlier and it had nagged at me a bit. So, long story short, we packed up our young family of five and moved from Meridian, ID, to Beaverton, OR.

Besides the adventure and potential satisfaction of working at a startup, there is the chance to make a lot of money on stock and options. This is (or was) the most common way for normal engineers to strike it rich, so to speak. For example, upon joining the company I was able to buy 10,000 shares of company stock at 25 cents per share. I accumulated more shares and options to purchase shares as time went on.

Of course, two things need to happen to make money on the stock. First, the company needs to do well so the market gives the stock a good valuation, and the company needs to go public so you have liquidity and can sell the shares.

Those first several years I looked forward so much to the company going public. It was an exciting prospect. But a definite downside -- and this is the theme of this post -- is that there is risk of looking so much to future prospects that you forget to enjoy today. I would think "four years from now we will be rich, and can do and buy so many things--then I will be truly happy."

In spring 1987 we went public, got a good valuation, and there was a big company party to celebrate. But I couldn't "cash in and become happy" yet because there was a six month wait before restricted shares like mine could be sold. I worried and fretted about the stock market, and was disappointed when the market crashed in October that year, and our stock price plummeted. The next several years the stock price would fluctuate up and down, depending on company results and market conditions. And it seemed my spirits fluctuated right alongside.

I was at Sequent for 16 years, then another two years with IBM upon their purchase of the company. Things didn't work out so well and most people got laid off, including me, in 2002.

Looking back on all this I can say we were very fortunate to have made a good deal of money on Sequent stock over the years. We were able to pay off our house and diversify investments. We have gone on some nice trips as a couple and a family. But, for the most part, it didn't really change our lives all that much. So, a lot of hype and anticipation that was overblown a bit.

We did find our pot of gold, though. We love living where we do in the Pacific Northwest. We had two more wonderful children and raised all five kids here. We live in the best ward, have great schools, and have cultivated interests and hobbies, and given service. Our wealth is measured not by our bank and stock statements, but by our wonderful living circumstances and precious memories.

I try to catch myself when, in big or small ways, I think I'll be happier after such and such at some time in the future. I try to remember to count my blessings and enjoy each day.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Frugality to the max

About the time Suzanne and I got married, our respective mothers were comparing notes on how each of us was so careful and frugal with money. I have to say we have been very fortunate in our marriage all these years as money disagreements have been rare. And I will readily concede that, tight as I am, Suzanne whips me soundly in this regard. She is a precious and rare jewel of a wife in this regard. (But what's with all that hoarding of various clusters of cash in our closet? :-)

Sometimes this trait can border on the ridiculus. For example, not long out of college (but earning an engineer's salary) I built a paper tray out of scrap wood left over from some project. It is hideous, though functional. And I still use it today, over 30 years later! (See photo.)

In later years I have splurged selectively on some nice things, such as my BMW automobile. But I do get a kick out of parking my nice car outside the bread outlet store and paying pennies on the dollar for several loaves.

And there is always the thrill of the hunt for bargains. Like the time I scored a $2000 Hickey Freeman suit for under $300 at Nordstrom Rack. (See photo.)

I inherited my frugality from my mother, and I'm sure she has always been so proud of this attribute of mine. Perhaps her proudest moment took place when I was visiting once and was dressed to go out and play some tennis. The topic of conversation was how expensive special purpose clothing can be, and she happened to turn to me and ask what I had spent on my clothes. I looked down and said the t-shirt was free (got it at Comdex), the shorts were hand-me-down running shorts from my son, the socks were from a cheap Costco 6-pack, and my tennis shoes were free in the sense that I wore out the previous pair within the 6 month warranty and got these for no charge. I think even she was stunned that I spent maybe $1.50 on this outfit, and then she beamed with satisfaction.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Instant home improvement project

Our home is 25 years old and this year we did a significant remodel of our kitchen (Suzanne is now the happiest woman in the world!). In the process we noticed our attic insulation (blown in fibreglass) was sketchy in many places and was due for an upgrade to help combat our ever increasing electric bill. "One of these days I'll get around to it", I thought.

A couple of weeks ago I had Friday off work and around mid-morning I thought I'd swing by Home Depot and do some investigative work on attic insluation. For one thing, I wanted to know if this could be a DIY project, or one I should hire out, and what the cost might be. A helpful employee there explained the options and instilled confidence that I could do the job myself in 90 minutes. Whoa! He also showed me a website to apply for an energy credit that would cover most of my cost. Bonus!

I quickly rearranged my busy calendar for the day (which consisted of calling Suzanne and bagging our lunch date, and recruiting her as helper) and got right to it. The project juices were flowing, and there is nothing like the immediate satisfaction of finishing the same day.

Buying all the stuff, renting the blower, transporting all to my house, and doing prep work in the attic probably consumed three hours, so I was already double the estimated project duration and hadn't blown in an ounce of material yet. But once that started things went very smoothly. It was a strange sensation up in the attic with flashlights, goggles and mask, and insulation material blowing out 10 or 15 feet from the hose. As the material trickled down in the darkness I had the definite sensation of being outside during an evening snowfall. So it was rather soothing in that respect. Suzanne and Daniel kept at work down below stuffing each of the 15 insulation bags into the blower. After about two hours we finished, packed everything up, returned the rented blower, ate a late dinner, and took great satisfaction in completing the project ourselves, one that was still some indeterminate time in the future only that morning.

We spent $400 on materials, the rental was free (with insulation purchase), and the energy credit figures to be $325. This project may pay for itself in one winter. I like it!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Murder in the neighborhood

It was three years ago this month that we were awakened about 6AM with the persistent loud noise of helicopters and airplanes flying low overhead. Our first thought was "what the heck", why don't they quit flying overhead, and don't they have any respect for people trying to sleep? Later that morning we came to find out there had been a triple homicide in a neighborhood home just around two corners from us. How spooky is that!

It was particularly sad, as a mother and two teenaged sons were the victims, and one son was an acquaintance of our son (took the same bus to school). We thought it odd that the police were reassuring saying there was no lingering danger in the neighborhood, seeing they didn't have a suspect identified or anything.

About three weeks later the police arrested a suspect and the news media reported the sordid details, including the motive. Turns out the victim's husband was having an affair with the suspect's wife, and the suspect struck back by killing the innocent mother and kids. They traced cell phone records to place the suspect near the crime scene at the time of the murders, and also a few hours later when the husband returned. (I don't know why he didn't just kill the husband instead of or in addition to.)

Detectives and forensic experts were at the home for many days after the murder. There was a large quantity of flowers and other memorabilia piled on the yard from all the classmates and friends mourning the victims. For many months the house fell into disrepair, with several back fence sections collapsing. Finally, someone fixed the fence and cleaned up some things, but I believe the house remains vacant still (house photo above). It is sobering to drive by the house nearly every day and be reminded of the tragedy.

Here is a link with some of the official information on the case. The trial hasn't been scheduled yet, to my knowledge. Perhaps someday an accomplished crime author will write a book about the case.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Driving a stick

I learned how to drive a manual transmission (a 60's VW bug and an early 50's Chevy?) when I was 16. Most of the cars I have owned over the years have had manual transmissions. There is something very enjoyable about manually shifting up and down the gears when driving.

About two years ago I was doing some serious used car shopping for a charity case with a disadvantaged family in our ward. I scoured craigslist for economical cars and test drove quite a few. I got a pretty good feel for value and market conditions, and when I came upon a particular '94 Altima I saw a bargain. But it had a manual transmission and wasn't suitable for this family, so I bought it myself (see photo).

I paid a friend to do some needed front axle work, then fixed a few things myself (trunk water leak, power antenna, tachometer, front brake pads). I found some great barely used winter tires on alloy rims on craigslist. I washed, waxed, and cleaned it all up. I changed the oil and put in synthetic Mobil-1. There is immense satisfaction to be had in fixing and improving something yourself.

Steven was learning to drive so I taught him how to drive a stick with the "new" Altima. We started in the church parking lot, moved on to Oak Hills neighborhood, then an industrial park to practice with the clutch on hills (oh, the burning clutch smells!), and finally loops around Springville/185th/Germantown/Kaiser. So many engine stalls along the way. There is a nasty steep uphill terminating at a stop sign (185th/Germantown). With a car coming up behind I believe once I told Steven to just continue a right turn without stopping. Another time I had him stop and I jumped out quickly to continue the drive uphill with a car behind us.

What a great vanishing skill it is to be able to drive a stick. I was so proud of Steven's acquired competence, and even more so when he took his driving test using the Altima with a manual transmission. What instructor wouldn't be amazed and impressed with such a feat!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Riding in the dark

I have been a bicycling enthusiast for many years, going back to when I was a child. I got really serious about 20 years ago, doing centuries and week long tours. I was in the best shape of my life. For a number of years there I also ran for conditioning, but a few years ago I grew weary of all the aches, pains, and nagging injuries that running seemed to provoke. So I decided to step up my cycling again (to replace running), and included a regimen of commuting to work.

After joining Intel almost five years ago my commute distance increased to eight miles each way. Though long, the route was very conducive to cycling (I love Portland, reputedly the most bicycling friendly city in the USA!) so I set a goal to commute by bike at least 50% of the time. I exceeded that goal through the summer and fall, but with darkness setting in for November commutes home I balked. I had never ridden at night, but did some research and bought lights, fenders, and reflective clothing, and just kept on commuting. It was a big success! And I love how it makes me feel.

Well, with the loss of DST, this week is the start of my night riding season. I put fresh batteries in my lights, dusted off my reflective vest, bought some reflective decals at the bike shop, and cleaned my clear lensed eyewear. I often feel I am more visible to cars with my flashing lights than I am in daylight. Yesterday was such an enjoyable night ride home. No wind, pleasant low 50’s temperature. There is something magical about riding at night. For one thing you feel like you are going so fast! (I noticed the same sensation running at night vs. day.)

I included a picture of my commute bike with lights on and fenders.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fall at Intel

Here is the view looking west from my building at work. Gorgeous autumn day with reds, oranges, yellows, and shades of green.
All the above was sent from my iPhone, which I used to take the photo. For some reason the photo didn't transfer so I had to edit it and add using my desktop PC. If I can get this method to work then I have a convenient way to add a "cheap" blog post on a day when I'm too busy. :-)
Never fear, though. Since I'm new to blogging I have lots of pent up topics I can post on. Maybe I'll write them all up in advance and serialize them with posts each day.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

First blog post

I'm inspired by the blogs of my daughters, so I'm accepting the challenge of writing a blog post each day in November.

By the way, I spent maybe 30 milliseconds deciding on a title for my blog, and it isn't "A. Craig Walker's Blog". It is "A Craig Walker's Blog", a significant difference. In other words, it isn't "The Craig Walker's Blog" just "A Craig Walker's Blog".

Today was stake conference for the Cedar Mill Oregon Stake. Our ward was assigned the 10AM session at the stake center. The high point of the conference for me was sitting together with my youngest son. I won't dwell on the reason for us sitting together at the back, namely that he was slow getting up and dealing with a sore toe so I remained behind to go with him (Suzanne and "on time" Daniel left without us). We arrived quite late. In fact, so late the parking lot was full so we parked up the street at Five Oaks School. It was a nice, sunny day, so other than being late it was a pleasant little walk. Anyway, I didn't let any of that bother me, but enjoyed the conference and counted my blessings as I contemplated the fundamental goodness of each of my children, and was pleased to be sitting with Steven (http://steven-walker.blogspot.com).