Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Behind the Iron Curtain, Part 2

Continued from yesterday's post--we had just checked into the Hotel Europa in downtown Kosice, Slovakia.

We slept uneventfully that evening after using the hotel's community showers, which we had all to ourselves (as it seemed there weren't many customers there that November evening). The next morning I awoke early and anxious to explore, so I headed out on foot to explore downtown Kosice and to get some Slovak currency. It was a brisk November morning, pedestrians moving quickly to their destinations. And all so exciting and exotic.

We then walked over to the train station to buy my train ticket to Austria (the language barrier was problematic), and then to a travel office to buy Suzanne's plane flight to Bratislava two days later, where she could then take a bus across the border to Vienna to meet me. Finally, we took a bus to the Hertz office and picked up our rental car.

Leaving Kosice we were struck by the extensive blocks of large concrete apartments ringing the city, a certain product of the Communist regime and architecture. But we found the road system surprisingly good vs. what we expected, and tolerable traffic. We drove to Kalusa to check our accommodations for the night. Here we had more luck communicating, as the receptionist spoke German, as did I. This was a resort area so German tourists were common. Still, the place was rather vacant--no tourists in November.

We continued on to Poruba, one of Suzanne's ancestral villages. We stopped at the church and looked around. An elderly babushka approached us, and Suzanne managed to communicate the name of her great grandmother, and the lady walked us to her distant cousin's home.

Poruba Greek Catholic Church.

Typical village street scene.

We were welcomed most graciously by these distant relatives, language barrier and all. It was clear they lived a harder life than us, as our peers had the physical appearance of our parents' generation. Fortunately, one of the younger cousins spoke some English, so we got by.

The younger generation was just starting to learn English, whereas the older generation learned Russian, since their country was allied to Russia. And German was also spoken here and there, much more so than English.

We then drove through more villages to sightsee, coming right near the border with Ukraine. We stopped at the train station to scope out where I would need to catch my 5AM train the next morning. Good thing we did because it was difficult to find, and a stranger had to help us out. In the process I was unable to start our car. Turns out the theft prevention system had locked out the ignition somehow, but we got it going after a bit of a scare.

That evening we drove to Humenne to visit relatives on Suzanne's grandfather's side. Once again the people were so welcoming and gracious, and Suzanne was invited to spend the following two nights with them so she wouldn't be alone at the hotel. Her cousins continued to be wonderfully gracious hosts the next two days.

We had a horrible abbreviated sleep that night, as some neighbors to the hotel were having some kind of party, and there was loud music playing until the wee hours. We arose around 4AM for my trip to the train station and, to our horror, all the doors exiting the hotel were locked. Fortunately, the receptionist awoke and let us out. What would people do in case of fire?

I had a long 11 hour train ride across Slovakia. It was interesting seeing all the people, villages, and scenery as it passed by. It seems all the train passengers, as well as plane passengers, or pretty much anyone else in the country had a bad case of body odor. Do they not have deodorant, we wondered. Or just different standards of hygiene. I did see remnants of the old Communist system. For instance, each train station I passed had old or shabby looking guys in uniform standing on the platform, as in this moving shot.

Crossing the former Iron Curtain border into Austria was like night vs. day. The train compartment was immaculate and modern, the employees spiffy, and English spoken everywhere.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Behind the Iron Curtain

I grew up in the midst of the Cold War. All my life the Soviet Union was portrayed as our dire enemy, and we were constantly threatened with nuclear annihilation. Indeed, the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 was a terrifying event, even for a fifth grader. We had drills at school where we would duck under our desks in the event of nuclear attack. Many people built underground bomb shelters in their yards.

Here is an example of the terrifying images we contemplated.

Even the space race was an offshoot of the Cold War, with the USSR achieving many firsts with Sputnik and the first man in space. The US was very motivated to be first to put a man on the moon to prove to ourselves and the world that we were better than the Russians.

My father was career Air Force, so I lived on military bases growing up and was exposed to the drills and the culture. My older brother also joined the Air Force and made it a career. The Cold War had a huge impact on me and my family.

The Iron Curtain separated the Soviet allied countries in eastern Europe from our allies in the free countries of western Europe. I served my mission in West Germany, and my brother was stationed in West Germany in the Air Force. It was hard to imagine the difficult circumstances that must have existed behind the Iron Curtain--a different world than our own.

Around 1990 we won the Cold War, as the Berlin Wall came down, the Communist regimes fell in Russia and most of its allies, and relatively unrestricted travel became possible all through Europe. It was a scant seven years later (1997) that Suzanne and I ventured a trip behind the former Iron Curtain to Slovakia to visit her distant cousins and the land of her father's ancestors. This was the far eastern part of Slovakia, not the relatively progressive Czech Republic with Prague, nor Hungary with Budapest, nor even Bratislava in the western part of the country. But the further backwaters in the east up against the border with the Ukraine.

Neither of us were novices to overseas travel, but we viewed this trip with a sense of apprehension, as well as adventure. Things got off to a rocky start when our flight out of Portland was cancelled and we had to scramble to alter our reservations for flights and hotels in Slovakia. This was before pervasive internet so we're talking long distance telephone conversations with Slovaks who may or may not speak English. We flew into Kosice in the far east of Slovakia, landing 11PM or so.

Here is the Kosice airport terminal.

We walked out of the small terminal not knowing what to expect, and encountered a taxi, which took us to the city center and dropped us off around the block from our intended hotel. There we were, alone near midnight on a dark street in a very foreign place, nobody around, much less an English speaker, and not sure if we had a confirmed reservation at the hotel.

We walked into the Hotel Europa, went upstairs to a lobby, which was full of cigarette smoke and two uniformed men sitting on the couch (policemen?). Speaking to the attendant in patches of English and German we checked in and went to our room, which was ancient and spartan. The shared bathroom was down the hall. We had most definitely entered a different world.

To be continued...

Monday, November 28, 2011


Despite the title, this post won't be about clothing, toys, or other such items. Rather, how much of our physical attributes, character, and personality do we inherit from our parents? And how much is learned or acquired?

It is obvious that looks, hair color, eye color, stature, health propensities, and other physiological traits are inherited. I and some of my siblings and children have always had a keen sense of smell, for example. This is not always a good thing, as evidenced by the frequent squabbles between my two younger brothers growing up when one couldn't stand the smell of the other's feet when they were in the same room. My son Daniel is ultra sensitive to lotion and perfume smells, which was a point of contention with his two younger sisters (nicknamed by him as losh1 (short for lotion) and losh2). My younger brother could even smell light vs. dark ("PU it's dark in here!" was the famous quote in our family). It was fascinating to learn my Walker cousins also have a keen sense of smell, which I discovered on a trip to Texas to visit them. So I assume this is passed down from my father.

Another trait I suspect comes from inheritance is a clean hands fetish I suffer from. For example, I can't stand the greasy hands resulting from eating chicken by hand, and I will get up from the table and wash them in the middle of a meal after doing so. Eating tacos is similar. If I eat a peach or orange by hand I suffer from the byproduct of sticky hands until I can wash them. My younger brother (who seems to have inherited all these things in extreme) would wash his hands for minutes several times per day. Perhaps he still does. If there is any task involving dirt or grime, such as working on a car or bike, or in the yard, I prefer to wear gloves if I can.

It would seem intelligence is inherited to some degree, though life experiences and application must affect it. Same with athletic ability, which will have an innate component as well as application. Language and accent I suspect are more learned traits. What about personality traits? What about our capacity for faith, or desire to do good? Different children in the same family can be so different.

I suspect controlled conditions have been observed where siblings, or better yet twins, have been raised in different families and environments, though I don't know the findings.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Let there be night

"Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." This quote is attributed to Ben Franklin. Clearly, Ben was not a night person. I am.

General wisdom has it that rising early is the preferred practice. "The early bird gets the worm" goes the saying. I admit there are a number of benefits to rising early. I love the quiet morning hours, and the magic of the dawn and rising sun. You can beat the traffic on your commute (though it seems these days you must be exceptionally early to accomplish this). It is satisfying to have a productive early morning and feel by, say, 10 o'clock you have accomplished so much. The morning isn't so rushed and stressful if you give it an early start.

A couple of days ago I arose at 5AM to hit a couple of black Friday sales. It was a novel break in my normal routine, and I did snag some desired sale items (the early bird did get the worm!). I had a leisurely breakfast and did accomplish so much by noon. But to do this every day? Not me.

What about the other side of the coin?

I've decided my body wants to run on a 25 hour day. We should come off of daylight savings time every day of the year. In general, I don't want to go to bed yet when I know I should. My mind is active and there are things to do.

Evenings, especially late evenings, are quiet with minimal outside distractions. My mother, who is also a night person, knows to call me after 10PM because I will be home and wide awake. Except that late evening is my favorite time to play tennis--often until nearly 11PM. Easier to get courts and play longer with the reduced demand. For stores that stay open until 9PM I prefer evening shopping and less traffic. Going to work later and coming home later is another strategy for avoiding traffic. Speaking of work, I find most of my colleagues work a later schedule, so things often don't heat up until afternoon so it is difficult to leave before 5PM anyway. The internet is open 24 hours, so research, shopping, and work are all available on my computer at home. My most productive, quiet, and personal time seems to come after 9PM. That's when my body and mind seem to hum.

Which makes waking early troublesome. On days when, by choice, necessity, or otherwise, I rise early after going to bed late I can feel dragging all day, especially during sedentary activities. I can get a slight stiff neck and headache. My ideal morning activity is to lie in bed for some time and just think. Some would say I am being lazy, but my mind is working while my body rests a bit longer.

I think the ideal solution is this. Rise early, reap all those benefits from doing so, take a nap in the middle of the day, and enjoy the late evening as well. The only way to accomplish this, though, is to move to a culture where this is the norm, or retire from regular full time employment.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Late to the Harry Potter Party

While the whole world was in a Harry Potter frenzy for seven plus years, lining up at midnight for book and movie releases, I was pretty much on the sidelines. I wasn't attracted to the fantasy story about wizards and witches. I never read a book and don't think I ever watched a movie from start to finish, even though others in the house were watching them on DVD.

Then a few months ago I noted how some people were expressing sorrow that the saga was coming to an end, with the release of the HP 7.2 movie, and there was no more HP to look forward to. I was thinking I was in a unique position in that I had all seven books (and movies) as virgin territory. I needed some new audio books to listen to, so I jumped in.

Firstly, the enjoyment of an audio book is heavily influenced by the skill of the narrator, and I'm glad to say the HP book narrator was exceptional. He maintained wide, yet consistent accents and tones for the many characters.

Books 1 and 2 were about what I expected, novel and interesting, but not terribly engaging for me. They seemed like children's or adolescents' stories. But book 3 ratcheted up a notch, and things accelerated more from there. It was no longer just a story for youth, as good guys and bad guys alike started taking on shades of gray. Most notably, Dumbledore, Harry's father, and Harry himself made mistakes and wrong choices, while Snape became increasingly interesting and multi-dimensional. And good guys started getting killed.

So now I have finished all the books, and watched all the movies except 7.2. I could say the same about the movies as the books, as far as their maturing as they progressed. Movie 6 in particular I thought was very, very good, even separate from the integral HP story thread.

In addition to everything else, I was intrigued with the Snape story, and was anxious to see how it would be resolved. I decided he must be a good guy, though a shade of gray (of course).

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed the books and am glad I read them. But am I sad they are at an end? Mostly not. I distinctly felt during Book 7 that the mini-plots seemed to be rehashes, and it was time to resolve the larger story. I am still looking forward to movie 7.2, though.

Friday, November 25, 2011

North to Alaska!

One of the highlights and most pleasant memories of my life was our family vacation to Alaska in July 1996. We (Craig, Suzanne, Daniel, Bridget, Teresa, Steven) flew to Anchorage and rented an RV.

We drove through the interior of Alaska, up to Denali National Park. We took a long ride on the park bus, seeing wildlife and views of Mt. McKinley. Teresa had a memorable experience opening the bathroom door on someone by mistake. We all still laugh about that.

We continued on to Fairbanks to an RV park which had pervasive signs "5 MPH, love Sarah". Teresa and I took an Arctic Circle tour, flying to an airfield above the Circle, and riding in a tour van all the way back to Fairbanks. It was so exotic.

The Alaska pipeline.

We walked across the Yukon River bridge at one rest stop.

We got home from the tour after 1AM and it was still rather light outside.

Alaska is so huge! The vistas, the distances--everything.

We drove back down to the Kenai Peninsula, visiting some glaciers and Homer. Teresa was enamored with sled dogs, so she and Steven went for a ride.

We turned in the RV back in Anchorage and went sightseeing downtown. Daniel had a major seizure, resulting in an ambulance ride to the hospital. They gave him some medicines to take, which made him groggy and somewhat ill for the next couple of days.

We flew to Juneau and took the ferry to Skagway. Daniel won a prize for the most gambling winnings.

We continued on the Alaska ferry system over to Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, and back to Juneau. It was like a poor man's cruise of the Inside Passage. On one ferry we had a four berth cabin, a three berth in another, and none on a third. Steven ran into a cable on one ferry, knocking him down. The crew saw it happen and the captain gave him a tour of the bridge and a complimentary hat, and let him blow the horn coming into port, so the minor injury was worth it.

Back in Juneau we chartered an ice field tour in an airplane. It was a rare sunny day in Juneau--the scenery was breathtaking. Bridget and I went for a run up a trail out of Juneau, and I went to an all-you-can-eat salmon bake.

I loved everything about this three week vacation. It was exotic and adventuresome. All four kids were so well behaved the whole time. The RV was wonderful, and the ideal way to traverse the interior, stopping about anywhere for the night. We had the Beach Boys music playing in the RV. The ferry trips were interesting, as were all the destinations.

I often think I'd like to go back to Alaska and try to relive those experiences. Sadly, I know it wouldn't be the same. It would lack that first time adventure, and our small children wouldn't be with us. But the memories remain precious.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tennis anyone?

Playing tennis is one of my favorite pastimes. I recall my tennis origins playing with my dad and brother in Fallon, NV, when I was in 4th grade. I'm sure I did more chasing balls around the court than hitting rallies, but there it is.

In high school I was very active in basketball and numerous intramural sports. There was a core group of us, maybe six or seven, who were always engaging in some sport activity or other together after school. It was the spring of our sophomore year we started playing some tennis, and continued through summer. We had the tennis bug.

Our junior year when basketball season finished we went out for the school tennis team, which had already started practices and set up a ladder. We had to start at the bottom and work our way up with challenge matches. The first few matches we played JV and continued improving. By the end of the season I got up to #3 varsity singles, and most of my buddies also made varsity. We played all the time that following summer on the outdoor courts in Riverside, CA., often under lights. There were great courts at UCR and RCC.

We all switched from basketball to tennis focus for our senior year, and I played #1 singles. I never had a formal lesson--completely self taught and improved through constant practice play with my buddies. I was far outclassed by some of my opponents, who clearly had formal training and years of experience, but I held my own and finished the season winning about half my matches. Our team also finished with a winning record in CBL standings, the best record the school ever had. I credit the group of us former basketball players for this result.

I played recreational tennis in college, entering intramural tournaments (and winning one). But then pretty much didn't pick up a racquet again for twenty years. Too busy with work, family, and playing softball, basketball, and soccer, and riding my bike.

In summer 1995 at a family reunion I played some tennis with my cousin and I instantly caught the tennis bug again. I couldn't play enough and joined Sunset Athletic Club. They have indoor courts (tennis is an indoor sport in the Pacific NW), organized practice play, tournaments, and leagues. I engaged in all these and my game improved quite a bit. Eventually I took on the responsibility of team captain, organizing practice and match play.

And that brings us to the present day. I still love the game and play two or three times per week, singles and doubles. What a fun and healthy lifelong sport!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Backpacking Rookie

I have long enjoyed ambitious hikes and mountain climbs, but was never motivated to backpack and spend the night on the trail. I guess I felt like hiking was so much more enjoyable without carrying the heavy load on my back the whole way, and spending a sleep deprived night in the wilds.

Suzanne has done an annual three day backpacking trip with her lady friends the last few years, and this year it grabbed my imagination. So she and I did a short trial backpacking overnight trip at the coast, and, even though we got rained on, I thought it was great. We managed to get two more backpacking trips in before the weather turned, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. Suzanne wrote a great blog post about our most ambitious one, including photos of the spectacular trail here.

Sure, it's more work to carry the pack, but sleeping in the tent in the wilds is actually a plus. By spending the night (or nights) on the trail you can venture further. And what's not to like about the quiet outdoors the evening and early morning? The dinner meal cooked over our portable stove is absolutely delicious. And there is that powerful sense of satisfaction and accomplishment for being self sufficient out there on your own. It's also a real plus that this is something Suzanne and I really enjoy, and can do together. And a blessing that we have the physical capacity and the beautiful Pacific Northwest in our backyard.

We can't wait for spring to get back on the backpacking trail!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bishop: Epilogue

It has been five months since I was released as bishop, after serving the anticipated five years. I kept a journal the entire time, recording many of the precious experiences. Here is my final journal entry, written about two months after release:

I was released as bishop on June 26. It was a hard day emotionally, second only to the day I was sustained. I feared I wouldn’t be able to keep my emotions in check, and I had to tread carefully sharing my testimony. But I held up pretty well, and it was a joyous day as much as a sad one. Bishop Bill Young was called—I don’t know of a more angelic man, and good with people, especially the youth. I spent a couple of hours with him this afternoon briefing him on various items. He must feel even more overwhelmed than I did, since he is a convert.

I was subsequently called to teach the Marriage and Family Relations Sunday School class. What a delight that is. I find myself so “free and easy” at church these days, and enjoy sitting with my wife in the chapel. I do find myself gravitating towards my counselors, Br. Bay and Br. Atack, in the hall or at gatherings. In some ways I feel like a recently returned missionary who isn’t used to being separated from his companions. I miss some things, and have to sit on my hands at sacrament meeting sometimes thinking this or that needs to be done, or done differently.

I enjoyed testimony meeting today, and felt strong emotions when A. C. was awarded his Duty to God, and when Sis. xx bore testimony about her long road back to the Church. I had visited her a few times over the years and worked with her to petition the First Presidency to cancel her sealing and to feel the power of the atonement in her way back. It is heartwarming and satisfying to know I have had some impact in my years of service. Sis. Emmett remarked in her testimony that we love this new bishopric, just as we loved the previous one. Each is right for the time they serve. And I feel the same way.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Autumn Hikes and Scenery

I am mesmerized by and love the striking fall foliage. Once again, here is a recent view outside the west window at work. I am often arrested by the view from this window on my frequent traverse to my lab.

Suzanne and I have driven the ten minutes to Washington Park for some recent short hikes. A few years ago we hiked in this trail network and got somewhat lost amongst all the crisscross trails. Here is a photo of a posted map:

And here are some photos from hiking there last Saturday:

I can't get over the bright red trees, and love the mix of colors all around.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bicycle commuting

I have enjoyed riding a bicycle since a young child. I recall riding my bike to school in 6th grade, riding to Little League baseball practice, riding it on my paper route, riding to class at BYU, riding in my last mission city, riding it for a BYU bicycling PE class, and commuting to work at my first job in China Lake. I always enjoyed the exercise, the thrill of going fast under my own power, and the economy of that mode of travel. On my mission I liked it because we could go anywhere, anytime, without dependency on the bus schedule.

After moving to Oregon I started commuting by bicycle off and on again, and my employer (Sequent) was only 2.5 miles distant. After starting at Intel, I went back to the car for a while, since it was 8 miles, but then decided I might as well use the commute time for exercise (and economy), as I was ramping down my running regimen due to too many aches and pains.

I set a goal to ride at least twice per week, year round. In fact, I circle all the dates I bike commute on my calendar at work (sorry for the garish color):

I've been averaging decidedly better than twice per week. Sometimes I will go several weeks on end without driving my car to work. Winter is more challenging, of course, with the colder, wetter weather, and the dark ride home. But if you have the clothing and the lighting, and the mental fortitude, it works out fine. This will be my 7th winter of commuting to Intel.

If it is particularly stormy, with wind or ice/snow, then I avoid cycling, due to the safety factor. Riding in the wet is not much fun, makes the bike messy, and increases wear and tear, so sometimes I opt out. I've blogged previously about riding with the temperature in the teens. And about the inconvenience of getting a flat tire.

But in the end I feel very good about myself for cycle commuting, and enjoy the physical and mental benefits.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Wonders of Technology

I suppose in their day the telegraph and telephone were technology marvels that brought the world closer together. But today I'm in awe of what technology can do, and the infrastructure to bring it into our daily lives.

We have children and grandchildren spread across the world, yet we are able to stay close and in touch via email, text messages, facebook, blogs, and video chats. As an extreme example, Bridget and family live 12 time zones away in Dubai, yet we still feel a part of their lives due to technology.

Thursday evening (Friday morning there, their Sabbath) we connected into their live internet broadcast for the Sharjah Ward sacrament meeting, since it was the annual Primary Children's program. It was a wonderful program, as they always are, and we saw Miriam and Magdalena take part, as well as Bridget. I was so tickled the entire time, and just in awe of the whole possibility. Here is a short clip I recorded of Miriam giving her message.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ghost of Halloween Past

We weren't big on Halloween decorations this year. Daniel made the best contribution, having carved a pumpkin while at Emily's house. We put it out on the porch and lit a candle in it for Halloween night.

And we left it on the porch.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, two weeks later I think the pumpkin has taken on a rather terrifying look, don't you?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Shed

As part of our landscaping overhaul this summer, we considered ways to store and organize our outdoor items. The side yard in particular had all our winter tires stacked up, our garage was cluttered with wood and tools, and it was a pain to have to back the car out every time we accessed our lawn mower.

At first we thought we could build a long and narrow shed for the side yard, but ruled that out quickly. We shopped around for shed kits and pre-built sheds, finally deciding on a 12' by 8' shed kit from Costco. We saved a bundle of money, particularly compared to having one built.

The kit was delivered and it sat a few weeks while my cycling injuries healed some more and we decided where to put it. Sadly, we had to use some of our garden space as that was the best option.

Then there was the underestimated job of preparing a foundation on the sloping ground. We used landscape timbers for borders and then gravel for the foundation.

We hauled the kit materials around from the garage to the side backyard as we needed them, following the kit directions.

Walls going up.

Got greatly appreciated help from Blair, Emily, and the kiddies.

It turned out to be quite the consuming project for about four weeks. Used all our spare time weeknights and Saturdays, working until all daylight was gone. There were numerous trips to Home Depot for random supplementary materials, most notably paint, roofing, and replacement lumber for warped pieces. I felt like I was feeding a habit.

Once we had the roof on the kiddies decided to sleep overnight in it, but lost their resolve before going to sleep.

I put our garden tools in it, the lawnmower, winter tires, garden chemicals, paint, propane bottles, and various lumber. It served to clean up our yard and clear out our garage admirably. We are very proud of it, and it was an extremely satisfying project.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Billions served

The summer after I turned 16 I got my first hourly job working at McDonald's on University Ave. in Riverside, CA. It was summer of 1968. I needed the money to buy a car and a stereo. I bought a blue 1961(?) Pontiac Tempest for $200, but that could be another post. I earned $1.25 per hour. Minimum wage was $1.45, but they docked $.20 for the food we were permitted to eat.

If I remember correctly, fries were $.18, burgers .20, and milk shakes .25. They had double burgers and fish fillet, as well. The Big Mac was introduced while I worked there, starting at .49 or .55. There was a counter on the sign showing how many millions of burgers McDonald's had served--in the hundreds of millions, I believe.

Our store looked a lot like this one:

When I started there we cooked french fries from scratch, meaning we hauled up 100 pound sacks of potatoes from the basement, peeled them in a large peeler machine, sliced them into long shapes in another machine, then thoroughly washed them by hand in a large sink. We had to get excess starch out of them, or they would be sticky and gooey fries. Then we would blanch them in a pot of cooking oil and have them staged in metal baskets ready for the final frying. I'm sure all these manual steps led to inconsistencies in product. While I worked there we started using frozen fries. Much simpler and more consistent.

New hires started out working in the grill area, and worked their way up to the counter, which was generally thought of as more desirable work. After a time, though, I decided I preferred the grill, and soon became a top notch hamburger cooker. We would cook in 12 patty batches, and could get as many as 60 down at once during lunch or dinner rush. I loved the rushes and the satisfaction of putting out the burgers quickly and efficiently. The lead would call out how many to put cheese on, or if a special was needed like no onions. "Cheese on 6" might be the shout. If we heard "peanut butter on three" it meant a cute girl was at the counter at register #3. Sometimes someone would call out peanut butter, everyone would look, and there would be a weird looking old lady there, and we'd all laugh. Needless to say, we had an all male workforce for the most part.

By my second summer in 1969 I had significant seniority, and was working full time or longer. I had the responsibility to open the store, so I'd arrive a few hours before opening, clean and set everything up, and be part of a skeleton crew until more workers arrived for the lunch rush. If they were in a pinch I might stay through the dinner rush for extra hours. I don't recall that we got time and a half, and it might even have been illegal since I was under 18. By then I was earning $1.45/hour. Other times I had the responsibility to close the store. The newer workers would typically get short shifts for just lunch or just dinner.

I feel like I learned some valuable life skills working at McDonald's. Being a responsible employee and showing up reliably and on time, an hour's pay for an hour's work, customer satisfaction, feeling satisfaction in hard work and seeing the fruits of labor, how to work more quickly and efficiently, how to cook (burgers, at least), how to mop floors and clean, etc.

In the fall of 1969 I finally quit my job. I think I was a little burned out and felt like the pay was too low. But mostly I was starting my senior year and didn't want to miss out on so many experiences by working nights and weekends. I wonder, though, how many thousands of burgers I contributed to the billions McDonald's has racked up now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


My favorite computer games these days are FreeCell and Sudoku. I have both on my iPhone and play them when I have a few minutes to kill.

Suzanne has been a regular crossword puzzle solver, and each day she tackles the puzzle in the newspaper. I was never interested until late last year I must have joined her in figuring out a few clues. I immediately saw the value in finding an iPhone app that would let you fill in the letters you knew and search for dictionary words. Upon installing it I began to supplement her efforts, referring to my iPhone as my "brain". I also use wikipedia on my iPhone to solve clues. Usually, I would tackle the puzzle after she filled out everything she could.

Here is a book we use, as well as the daily paper.

When Suzanne went out of town a few days last December I took a big step in trying to do the whole puzzle myself. Suzanne is such a wiz at it I didn't have much confidence. I would snap a picture of the puzzle and email it to her, and she would contribute answers via text or email back. We solved each day's puzzle and it was lots of fun and satisfying. When she went into the hospital for gall bladder surgery I bought her a book of puzzles to work on.

Now it is a regular activity for us, often solving a puzzle together. I still think she is so very good at it, and I tease her saying she is so smart. I still enjoy utilizing my "brain" to solve clues. Sometimes we'll polish off the newspaper puzzle before I head to work. Other times I'll help finish one after work where she got stuck. As often as not, though, she'll have filled it all in.

This is a fun little trifle we are able to work on together.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ta da!

Here is our new front yard, showing the paver walkway.

And the front rock retaining wall.

The pathway leading from front to side yard.

Side yard pathway and steps.

Back patio, including steps to sliding door.

And the back block retaining wall that we did ourselves.

We are quite pleased with the result!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hired help, and a new yard

There has been a growing list of ambitious yard projects on my list of things to do the past few years. It finally took my cycling injuries to force the issue this year, realizing that I wasn't going to be tackling any this summer. So we took the difficult (for us) course of hiring contractors. We got bids from three and the project got underway in June.

Our back deck was the first to go. It was just too much trouble to maintain and was having some issues.

We took out the junipers and rock wall in the front, and removed the grass on the steepest portion.

We decided on pavers for a front walkway, side yard, and back patio.

Here's the new front wall under construction.

We also removed the landscape timbers in our back yard and built a block retaining wall ourselves. And we built a backyard shed.

Stay tuned for the finished product!