Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas Tree Shopping, 2012

DSC00238a by acraigwalker
It was a bit wet this year, but here is the crew that went to the Furrow Farm yesterday.


Delicious hot chocolate!
The stockings hung with care.


Expert tree decoration.

And a few videos of the experience:


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Agony of Spinning

Friday morning I got up at 7:30, and remarked to my still sleeping wife "I'm going to go suffer for 45 minutes".  I was heading to a spinning class at Sunset Athletic Club.

For those who don't know what "spinning" is, it is an exercise class where you work out on a stationary bicycle, varying the resistance and pedaling pace according to the commands of the instructor, and with accompanying energetic music.  You'll do intervals, sustained "climbing", high RPM pedaling, in and out of the saddle--until the sweat is dripping onto the floor all around you.  When the instructor barks "30 more seconds, come on, push it!", the clock seems to stand still as you push hard and try to hang on for what seems like eternity.

Normally, I will ride a real bike in the real world, up into the hills near my house, for a fantastic and invigorating workout in the great outdoors.  But when it is wet or stormy outside, I head for SAC on Friday morning for my torture session.  One way or another, it seems I need to get my exercise "fix" in order to feel good about myself and enjoy the day.  Why else would I get up early just to go torture myself?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Perspective on 9/11

It has been over a decade since Sept. 11, 2001, an event that changed so much in our world.  I have read a number of books about the Middle East, Islam, al-Qaeda, and the war against terrorism.  I'm currently reading "Manhunt:  The Ten Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad", by Peter Bergen.  It has caused me to reflect on bin Laden's imprint on our world and upon history.

Those of us in the West would be inclined to view the tragedy of 9/11 as not unlike that of Pearl Harbor in 1941.  The Japanese experienced a profound victory, but at the cost of awakening a giant that ultimately destroyed their war machine and brought down their government.  We brought down the Taliban in Afghanistan, the safe haven for al-Qaeda and militant Islam.  We dismantled and neutralized al-Qaeda, eventually finding and killing bin Laden himself, as well as many of his lieutenants.

Bin Laden didn't achieve his stated objectives in his war on the United States and the 9/11 attacks, namely the removal of American troops from Muslim lands, the fall of American puppet states in various Arab countries, and the destruction of the U.S. economy and power in the world.  On the contrary, Americans are awakened and united against the militant Islamic threat, there are many more American soldiers in the Middle East, and al-Qaeda itself has been decimated.

Yet, I'm sure that in the minds of many, especially in the poorer Islamic world, bin Laden is viewed as a great martyr, someone who stood up to the great Satan and struck with success.  He has inspired many thousands, perhaps millions, to take up his cause to one extent or another.

I myself have a great distaste for bin Laden, and those like him.  I place him in the same ranks with Hitler and Stalin, who has brought untold misery and hate into the world.  I fail to see how the world, or anyone in it, is better off for his being here.  I grant that he has made an imprint upon history, but a very ugly one indeed.

Friday, November 30, 2012

My evolving views on the Middle East

Until recent years I've always had a staunchly pro-Israeli view on the Middle East.  These were influenced by:

1.  My belief in the Bible, that the Jews are a chosen people, and Palestine is their homeland
2.  Israel is an underdog amidst a sea of hostile Arab countries
3.  Arabs played unfairly with airline hijackings, Olympic village killings, suicide bombings, terrorist tactics
4.  Cultural, political, and economic alignment between Israel and USA
5.  Jews deserved a break after the Holocaust

As I've read a number of books about the Middle East, traveled there, and as my daughter and her family live there, my views have changed to be much more even-handed.  I no longer give Israel a free pass on any action or policy, nor do I believe Israel's interests are always in America's best interests.

This last point is made clearly in a landmark (for me) book that I read, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy", by Mearsheimer and Walt.  The book makes a strong case showing the disproportionate influence the Jewish and Israeli lobby has on legislative, economic, and foreign policy with regards to Israel and the Middle East.  The obvious negative result for the United States is the prevailing view in Arab and Muslim countries of that unfair alignment, and subsequent suspicion and hatred it provokes.  In short, it makes our dealings with these countries and people very difficult, and is a significant factor in the growth of radical and militant Islam in those countries.

When we visited Syria we always heard "welcome to Syria", and "we love Americans but hate your government", and "be sure to tell everyone we are not all terrorists".  In fact, we found the Syrian people to be delightful -- honest, friendly, God fearing, and family-friendly.  Islam is a wonderful influence in the lives of the great majority of the population.  I am greatly saddened by the Civil War turmoil that rages there today.

I do believe Israel deserves the right to a Jewish state, and should be protected from those powers that openly advocate her annihilation.  But I also believe Israel is in the wrong with her West Bank settlements and general treatment of the Palestinian people.  I think Israel should withdraw to her 1966 borders as part of a general peace plan.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


The first trophy I recall receiving was for my participation in Little League baseball, when I was 9 or 11 years old.  It wasn't for being the first place team, or the star player.  Every boy got one, which I think I felt was a little odd.  But I valued it nevertheless, and it made me feel important.

Over the years I have accumulated a fair number of trophies and other awards--baseball, softball, basketball, table tennis, cycling, tennis, running, academics, work contributions, church service, Boy Scouts, etc.  I was always pleased to get the trophy or award, and it helped focus the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, at least for a while.  For the most part, the trophies and plaques became more of a clutter and nuisance, rather than anything that was displayed--gathering dust, bunched up on a high closet shelf. 

It seems increasingly that the awards became more practical.  Like the prized BYU intramural champion t-shirt, or the tennis mouse pad, or the Chevy's Run mug, or any number of hats, or digital clock.  One award was a gift certificate for Starbucks, so I have enjoyed several cups of hot chocolate.  At least these could be used and enjoyed.

To help with the trophy clutter problem, without discarding the memory entirely, we took to removing the engraved plate and giving the bare trophy to D.I.  I still have way too many shirts and hats, so some of them just had to go. A shirt has to be particularly memorable to be a keeper.

Here is a sampling of some--a Chevy's mug I use all the time, a softball trophy from my top closet shelf, an engraved plate from a table tennis trophy, cycling distance awards from my bedroom wall, the BYU shirt from my drawer, and a softball champions hat I keep in the closet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I confess.  I like ketchup.  And I add it to lots of foods.  Suzanne says nobody...NOBODY....puts ketchup on a taco.  But I do.  Hot dogs?  Of course.  Hamburgers?  Certainly.  Spaghetti?  When left to my own devices, yes.  Meatloaf?  Absolutely.  French Fries?  Fish filet?  You guessed it.

I don't recall the origins of my ketchup likings.  Certainly by the time of my mission I was adding ketchup to any number of our meager missionary recipes.  It never occurred to me that I was in any way unusual in this regard.  There are countless foods I don't add ketchup to.  Such as breakfast cereal, or vegetables, or ice cream.  I mean, come on.  Those would be unusual.  Maybe an indication of mental instability.

So, there you have it.  If I knew how to do one of those online voting things I'd see how my readers are divided on this.  But no matter, I'm secure in my tastes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Home Grown Lemonade

I have a tradition of bringing home frozen lemon juice from my annual March visits to So. California.  My folks have a lemon tree in their backyard and there is plenty of lemon juice to spare that time of year.  It is a treat to bring it home and make lemonade from home grown lemons.  I save it for special occasions, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, or other festive family events.

My mom loads available plastic jars with the juice, then freezes it.  We put the frozen jars in plastic bags for further protection against leaks, and pack with my airline luggage.  So far, luggage inspectors haven't questioned me about the contents, even after 9/11 security crackdowns.  And they are still frozen when I arrive home.

I'm down to only three jars at present, since I didn't carry any home this year (bag was full with a ham radio, and I felt it was pushing my luck to include unknown frozen liquid in my carry-on).  We had some for Thanksgiving, and will use a jar for Christmas.  So we'll be okay.

We laugh about the "Natural Fiber Therapy, Bulk-Forming Laxative" jars that I often use.  Glad a luggage inspector hasn't questioned me about it.  Or maybe they were too embarrassed to.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for being delicious lemon juice providers!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Happy Trails

Some years ago my parents bought into the Thousand Trails campgrounds system.  After the upfront cost, and annual dues, they could stay at any campground nationwide for no charge.

When my folks would come up for a visit we would sometimes visit or stay with them at Cape Kiwanda, or other locations on the Oregon Coast.  On other random trips we stayed at these campgrounds, such as Comdex at Las Vegas one year, and several overnights during our 1998 trip back east.  The first photo is our nice cabin in Virginia, the next the not as nice trailer in Illinois.

Since 1996 each year I have stayed a few days at the Thousand Trails near Palm Springs while attending the tennis tournament in Indian Wells in March.  Usually I stay in a tent while my folks stay in their trailer or RV.  Others come, too, and we have family mini-reunions.

In recent years we kids have had a benefit where we could book sites at Thousand Trails and stay, without our parents having to come along.  Our family has stayed a number of times at our favorite site at Cape Kiwanda, near Pacific City, OR.

We have also camped at Sunriver Thousand Trails near Bend, OR, a few times.

We are glad our parents have been able to share their membership with us, as we have really enjoyed staying at these campgrounds.  The facilities and activities are nice, and locations compelling.  Thanks Mom and Dad!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Autumn Beauty

Both spring and fall have such interesting colors all around--I love it.  Fall colors are often accompanied by a still, muted, soothing environment--overcast, damp, windless, even foggy.

To follow up on my earlier posts about the ideal camera, I did end up upgrading to the Sony NEX-6 camera.  I decided against replacing my DSLR, and went the mirrorless approach instead, essentially merging my two cameras into one (I sold my NEX-3 on craigslist for a good price).

Here are a few random photos just from my yard which I took on Thanksgiving and Saturday.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Work Commute

I commute to work on my bicycle year round.  I drive a car on an exception basis, such as when there is a bad storm, or ice, or I have other errands to do during the day.  My commute is 8 miles each way, and takes me about 35 minutes, on average.  Driving a car with no traffic might be 15 or 20 minutes--other days up to 30 minutes.

My motivations are saving fuel and other car expenses, saving the environment, good physical exercise, and mental health (feeling of accomplishment, and time to think or listen to an audio book).

Commuting by bicycle has its roots for me when I rode to school, perhaps some in 2nd grade, but certainly 6th through 9th grades.  On my mission in Germany my favorite mode of transportation was bicycle (only in my last city, otherwise trams and buses).  At BYU I rode my bike to school, and often to work at NWC in China Lake, CA.  I didn't in Meridian at HP--narrow, high speed roads, for one thing.  But at Sequent I did quite often, and again at RLX.

When I started at Intel I was a little intimidated by the longer commute (8 miles), but within a few months of starting there I had determined it wasn't a bad commute at all, and set a goal to average twice per week.  I've done much better than that these past 7+ years.  I've even kept a calendar log of days I have ridden my bike to work.

Earlier this week I brought a camera to document my route.  It was a rather rainy day, but I was dressed for it with my booties, rain pants, waterproof jacket, and waterproof gloves.

I start out on a short, uphill stretch before turning soon into quiet neighborhoods.

About three miles in I take a path under the freeway to emerge on Evergreen Parkway.  After heavy rains this path will sometimes flood, necessitating my detour around a longer route.
This day the flooding was as bad as I've ever seen it.  Sometimes I can ride through it, but not when this deep.
The past month they have been doing construction on the path, requiring an inconvenient detour.

I ride on Evergreen Parkway about four miles.  It is a major street, but with a substantial bike lane.

Evergreen curves around the Hillsboro Airport runway, then I turn left just ahead.  I was glad when they changed the strict, dedicated left turn signal to a blinking yellow (effectively a yield, and a boon to cyclists who don't trip the sensor to change the light).

This last stretch is a rare narrow road on my commute, but doesn't last long before I turn left into the parking lot.

I lock my bike to a covered rack just outside my building lobby (Jones Farm #5).  It is usually crowded with locked bikes, but not on this rainy day.

And there you have it.  The incremental added time required vs. driving a car is, I think, very well spent.