Archive - 2013

October 2nd

Elvis freaks out Aunt Olla


Aunt Olla looks with trepidation on Elvis, the nursing home's resident dog. Usually prone to wandering around the entire Hilton about fifteen minutes behind the snack cart, today Elvis came in to Olla's room, laid down and would not leave. 

"This is just plain weird," Aunt Olla said, fully aware of the many tales of nursing home animals snuggling up to residents just before they die. "I don't like it at all." 

Olla floated several theories. Was Elvis abused at home? Unlikely, since Olla knows Elvis's owner and she's a good person. Is Elvis about to die himself? Could be. He has a weird look in his eye. 

Or, more to the point: 

"Does this mean I am going to die?" Aunt Olive said, not entirely in jest. 

Aunt Olla is still revelling in the cards and flowers she received for her 102nd birthday. Several of the cards were unopened, so we opened them today. She read every word. Carefully. The flowers from her sister-in-law and family in Reno were particularly appreciated. 

One card contained a $5 bill, which I thought was nice. 

"Isn't it amazing how tight people can be?" Olla sneered in disgust. Most of the cards, of course, contained no money at all, and Olive was fine with those. But somebody throws in a fiver? Man, they're tight! 

Aunt Olla's leg still hurts. It is likely a pinched nerve. She is on hydrochodone, a narcotic, which eases the pain. It also tends to mess with reality a bit. 

I only invited a handful of people to the party and almost all of them came. That didn't prevent Olla from wondering today why certain others weren't there. Were they mad at her for something she said? I could not impress upon her that they didn't even know about the party because I figured too many people there would just confuse her. "Well, there's a feud," she confided in me, uninterested in my more benign explanations.

Michelle, who cares for Bunny, Olla's boyfriend, stopped in to visit. Olla was right on it. She knew Michelle and she knew she took care of Bunny and she said, "You have to bring Bunny in sometime soon. We never see each other!" Bunny had sent Olla a nice card for her birthday. 

Aunt Olla has her birthday cards setting on a shelf. I grabbed them to read through them. In the midst was one which seemed out of place. "To my wife on our anniversary." It was signed "Bill," and dated 1954. I showed it to Olla and asked for an explanation. "Oh, that was my first husband. So nice of him to send a card!" 

As far as I know, she only had one husband and his name was Doc. But it might have been Bill, for Doc was a nickname. Where the card came from, I can only guess. But there it sat, right amongst all of the birthday cards from last week. 

Doc passed away in the late 1960s. 

That's just plain weird.



The effects on the innocent

Here is a letter from a man serving in Afghanistan in a non-military role. He will not be paid during the shut-down, but he will be expected to work. Worse is the message we send when we accept the notion that all government workers are leeches and all government work is unnecessary.  

The absurd shut-down is unnecessary, but it is also unpatriotic. And crazy. Let's hope it is the last gasp of the hideous monster which arose out of hate, the Tea Party. 

Here is a good summary

Obamacare, which was originally a Republican plan, is the law of the land. Congress legally must fund it. That game is over. 

Attempts to ruin the faith and credit of the United States in a pout over losing an election--or two--are treasonous acts of vandalism. 

September 30th


The Republican cuckoo-birds are going to shut down the government tonight and think its a great party. This will be fine and dandy until the Medicare checks stop coming to their guillible supporters. Medicare. Social Security. Veterans benefits. All of it stops because the Republicans in the House want to repeal a law on the books as a condition for paying the bills. They are nuts. They are bad for the country. And they must be defeated. Fully and finally. 

September 29th

Aunt Olla turns 102


We held a small celebration at the new Fair Meadow Assisted Living, which is attached to the Fertile Hilton. Aunt Olla was in fine form and drank in every minute of it. Three of her schoolkids were able to come. All three are in their upper eighties. 


September 28th

Rainy fall day

We must have had nearly two inches of rain in the past twenty-four hours. It was one of those fall weather patterns where a bunch of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico comes north and meets a cool front from Canada. 

The rain is welcome for the long-term. 

Tomorrow, we are celebrating Aunt Olla's 102nd birthday with a small party at the new assisted living attached to the Fertile Hilton. I will have pictures and commentary sometime during the week. 

However, the big news today is that brother Joe and his bride Kae found hundreds upon hundreds of edible Shaggy Cap mushrooms in our yard. I went and got a few today, cooked them up with chicken and perslane and had a great meal. 

I am reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Read it if you can. We are being killed by processed food. The facts are incontravertible. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other problems which are prevalent in the USA but absent elsewhere are directly caused by our food supply. If you think this is nuts, go do some research. Our diets are what are making this nation fat and unhealthy, pure and simple. And our diets are planned by corporate entities who have no interest in our health. 

A handful of easy hints which are undebatable: 

•Eat grass fed beef, pork, lamb and chicken. 

•Don't ever drink pop

•Grow your own whenever possible

•Pay extra for local foods

•Pay extra for locally grown meat

Do I sound like some sort of hippie? 


If you buy the processed crap at the supermarket, you are basically eating petroleum mixed with corn, maybe run through a sick cow who needs antibiotics because it gets sick on an all-corn diet, a cow who, when it gets slaughtered at 18 months of age, has a liver full of abscesses from eating an unnatural diet of corn, cow blood and antibiotics. 

Our food supply is really sick, don't you doubt it for a moment. 


September 27th

Vancouver to home

Busy day. Awoke before dawn in Vancouver and started the liturgy of getting home. Pack. Starbucks. Check out of hotel. Rush to the airport in morning traffic. Today it was raining, in more typical Vancouver fashion. Turn in the rental car. I forgot to fill the gas, so they got me over the barrel on that one. The nice man who took the car charged me 1/2 of what they usually would for not filling before returning the car. Printing boarding passes. Security. Boarding. Flight. Get to Winnipeg. Collect baggage. Pay for parking. Weave through Winnipeg to find the Pembina Highway south. Endure the staged arrogance of border patrol. "Why Vancouver? What sort of conference was this? Why are you interested in this? Who owns this car?"  

I will have completely nostalgic memories of Vancouver. What a cozy, beautiful city. 

And, it is good to be home. 

September 26th


Took a drive today up to Whistler, BC, 100 K north of Vancouver, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The drive was spectacular. I never realized that only 50 miles north of Vancouver there are mountain peaks with snowcover year round, even what looked to be some glaciers. Very impressive.

The road from Vancouver to Whistler is Canada 99, which in this stretch is known as the Sea-to-Sky highway. At one point, an inlet of the ocean stretches out in front of a range of snow-capped mountains. It is scenery I didn't know existed this close to the coast. 

Whistler itself is a typical ski-town in summertime. Lots of very determined 20-somethings with their toys--bikes, skateboards, hiking gear, bungee cords, the whole gamut--ready to tackle nature. It is almost comical. 

The Olympic village is very large.

I prefer the marine scenery back at sea level. 

Just outside the Vancouver harbor to the west of downtown, dozens of huge cargo ships sit waiting their turn in the harbor underneath the Lion's Gate bridge, Vancouver's equivalent of the Golden Gate. Every now and then, one toots its horn, which I think would deafen an entire small town if it were ever done from the top of the water tower. The echo goes for miles and miles. 

This is a graceful city, an unhurried city. People wait until the walk signal before crossing, even if no cars are coming. People are friendly and generally kind in a more outgoing manner than you find in Minneapolis. 

One difference: Although marijuana remains illegal in Canada, it is smoked openly on the streets of Vancouver, and there were pro-legalization advertisements on the sides of the city buses. City buses driving around festooned with huge pot leaves! 

And the world turns. 



Spending a couple of days in the wonderful city of Vancouver at a conference. 

Vancouver is surrounded by mountains and water, so the city fathers and mothers decided in the 1950s to build up, not out. The downtown is full of skyscrapers, a la Hong Kong, and because of the population density, the streets are lively and full of people, a la New York. Due to Canada's membership in the Commonwealth, immigration from former British colonies is relatively easy into Canada and Vancouver is a cosmopolitan mix of accents and languages. 

I am on the 31st floor of a hotel overlooking the busy harbor. All night long they load container ships. Oil tankers come in and out of the harbor. During the day, helicopters and airplanes take off from the harbor every few minutes. It is bustling. 

The conference was a one-day affair on oil and gas. I was offered a ticket, so I went. Fascinating. Various companies presented on their plans for the next few years. 

What is going on that has people buzzing is a huge new discovery of natural gas in northern Alberta which isn't so far from the Pacific coast. Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan see it as a possible source. Right now, there is no way to get the gas over the hump to the coast, but there are no fewer than six pipelines, perhaps more, in the works. When the gas gets to the Pacific, it will be lowered in temperature to -160 F, put on ships, and taken to Asia. It appears as thought $80 billion is about to be spent in the area. It is called the British Columbia LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) buildout. 

In seven hours, I got quite an education. Here are some interesting bits of trivia: 

•It costs $400,000 to use the Panama canal for one ship. 

•A Hong Kong outfit has been contracted to build a second canal through Nicaragua. 

•Australia did a huge buildout to get gas to Asia, but contrary to what you might think, Australia is farther from Japan and China than BC. That extra day-and-a-half of shipping adds enough expense to the gas to give BC gas a competitive edge. 

•The massive amounts of natural gas found in Texas have no cost-effective way to get to the Asian market. 

Many companies presented, from drillers for gas, to pipeline builders, to crane operators, to tunnel drillers, to makers of fracking chemicals. Each company president had his schtick well-organized. They are story-tellers, too. The education came in the contradictions between their stories, or in the differing philosophies of business. These were sharp cookies, the sharpest of which was Ray Smith, CEO of Bellatrix Exploration, the fastest growing company in Western Canada. He had a gold watch on his wrist the size of a donut. Before and after his speech, which was a rapid-fire, no-notes, no-holds-barred explication of his own brilliance, the woman next to me said, "I am going to buy his stock, but I won't be having him over for dinner!" 

These guys aren't interested in becoming millionaires. They are after their first billion. To get there, however, they have to be the best in their fields. 

Other discoveries: 

•Pipelines develop leaks often. Repairing them is routine. Cleaning up the contaminated soil happens every day. 

•When oil and gas are removed from three miles down the hole, the empty space fills with salt water. I never figured out if that comes from the ocean or what. But that water corrodes the pipes rapidly, requiring maintainance, more maintainance (and chemicals) as the well ages. 

•Gas and oil pumped from three miles down comes out hot. The heat causes the pipeline to expand in length one meter per kilometer. That is a lot. A huge problem for pipeline builders is allowing for that expansion. That problem is not solved, although there are many partial solutions.

•Saudi Arabian wells can produce 20,000 barrels per day without going horizontal. To replace one Saudi well as a source, we will have to drill up to 50 horizontal wells. 

•The gas and oil is in layers. Many layers. Five to seven layers. Once one layer gets figured out, that is the only one you hear about. However, as one layer dries up (in twenty years) they will simply move to the other layers. There is so much gas and oil down there, most of which isn't even being talked about yet. 




September 23rd


Renato Mateus, a student from Brazil who spent several months working at the nursery while living with Lance and I in the house, passed away this week two months after being burned horribly in a collision with a gas truck. Lance tells the story and shows our memories better.  

September 22nd

Are you coming with?

Here is an Atlantic article on an Upper Midwest linguistic peculiarity. 

And another, from the same series, on Sioux Falls. If you have been through Sioux Falls, I think you'll agree that it is so vigorous that it is almost getting too crowded. I avoid staying there on the way to Arizona as it is a hassle to make a left turn.