Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Decorations

Julie and I have been married for eight years and this is the first Christmas that we've been home. Last year we were in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Three years ago Amsterdam. Other years included San Francisco, Buffalo, Amarillo, San Diego and Kentucky.

Cherry Tomatoes.
Red Cherry Tomatoes. (Larger version)

Because we normally travel we don't decorate. We have some Christmas decorations but they remain stored in boxes. This year our decorations are flowers -- Hibiscus, Geranium, Petunia, Kalanchoe and the red bracts of Crown of Thorns as well as red cherry tomaotes.

Petunia. We had this plant on our deck all summer. In the fall we cut it back and it has flourished. (Larger version)

Next winter I think I'll try to include more flowering plants.

We bought a geranium at the end of the season and it continues to bloom. It will be interesting to see how long it will live. In the background is a Roma tomato and a bell pepper that has yet to turn red. We picked red peppers earlier this week. (Larger version)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Morning Walk

Walking to the national forest fence.
Walking to the national forest fence at the foot of hill in the distance. The temperature was about 30 degrees and there was no breeze -- a perfect morning for a walk. (Larger version)

Abandaoned tree.
Along the way we passed some trees that someone had cut along the road. Evidently they cut a few limbs off this Pinyon and decided it wasn't what they wanted. (Larger version)

Snow covered peaks.
The snow covered peaks are about 20 miles away. (Larger version)

Historical litter.
The soldered seams on this historical litter indicates they have been here for many years. (Larger version)

Historical road.
This road is no longer used. It appears on 1908 maps. (Larger version)

National forest boundary.
The national forest boundary. Normally, this is the point at which we turn back toward home. (Larger version)

Forest boundary sign.
The forest boundary sign on the left post at the gap in the fence. (Larger version)

Historical grafitti.
Scratched on a rusty sign on the right post is historical grafitti. The date is 1933. (Larger version)

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Never Enjoyed School

I never enjoyed school.

Kindergarten was an option but it was not free and I was spared incarceration for a year. A few days prior to first grade my mother took me to the school for a physical exam. We were segregated into girls and boys and stripped down to underwear. An old grey headed doctor did an exam in a hallway that included the indignity of pulling down that one last vestige of modesty. I looked down the hallway and saw the girls and was somewhat relieved that only one girl was looking in my direction. Given this beginning, it shouldn't be surprising that on the first day of class I went kicking and screaming, literally.

We lived on a street across from a river and rail road tracks. One day a hobo came to the back door asking for food. My mother told him to wait outside while she fixed a quart of coffee in a glass milk bottle, fried eggs and prepared some other items for him. She gave them to him and told him not to come back again. On another warm day I watched a car stall on the tracks with a train approaching. Two elderly couples got out of the car and moved to safety as the train hit the back of the car and knocked it off the tracks. The excitement never ended. A work crew replaced a pole along the street. The hole for the anchor cable to keep the pole from leaning was dug by hand by two shirtless men. During the two days they worked they came to the house with a canvas bag to get drinking water. I think my distaste for school was related to the regimentation and the knowledge that I was missing the excitement at home.

First grade was half-days. I went in the mornings and walked. The school was located on the far side of the tracks and river. The main street had a crossing guard (. an older student wearing a white belt) and there was a bridge that spanned both the river and the tracks so safety was never an issue. How far was it? I don't remember. A few blocks, maybe a mile. What I do remember was small store along the way that sold penny candy. I knew to buy, pay and buy more to avoid tax. Buy nine cents worth and it cost nine cents. Buy ten cents work and it was eleven cents. I didn't need first grade to teach me math and finance but one day I was careless. I placed my order and had miscounted so I paid a penny tax. I made sure that never happened again.

Third Grade.
Third grade class photo. I'm in the back right below the teachers elbow wering a black shirt and glasses. (Larger version)

Over the years I went to eight school buildings in three states including a one room school where one teacher taught eight grades. There were four of us in the fourth grade. My sister was in the second grade, the largest class. There were two gender segregated entrances into the one room. Girls used one entrance and boys used another. That didn't make sense to me then nor does it make sense now.

I made mediocre grades in school but with distinction. I have the distinction of being the only student to fail all eight senior book reports and the only student to fail the senior term paper. As a junior I scored highest on a competitive math exam and won the award that normally was awarded to a senior.

As a senior I won a state regents scholarship. The senior English teacher personally congratulated each winner then turned to me and said simply, "well, congratulations anyway". On the last day of school I arrived home and found my mother crying. The senior English teacher had phoned her and told her I wouldn't graduate because I was going to fail English. In my senior year I could have failed every class with the exception of English. I had enough credits to graduate but has to pass English. I sat down that night and tried to study. After about 30 minutes I quit. It didn't interest me. In the end I received a grade of 70, the minimum passing grade. Did I earn it or did the teacher give me a get-out-of-jail-free card. I don't know.

Class Night.
Class night photo with my mother and father. (Larger version)

I could write more about bad choices, my lack of motivation and my regrets. There are three major things I would change if I had the opportunity to live my life again. My education is one of the three.

It's ironic. My mother had ten years of education and my father had eight years. He went to the eighth grade two years in hopes of bus service to the high school. It never happened and he went to work in the coal mines. In contrast I had a free ride, all expenses paid, but wasted it.

I never enjoyed school until I became an adult. In the end I earned three degrees and paid cash, no scholarships, no grants. I believe in education. I've been on a college or university campus for the last 34 years and can't imagine working in another environment.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Fun Begins

I went out a few minutes ago and the sun was shining, the snow was glistening and wind was kicking snow into the air. I decided to get my camera but before I could get back to the office a dark cloud obscured the sun and snow filled the sky.

When I got back to the office I found this email:
Northern Arizona University's Flagstaff campus will close today, Dec. 18, 2008, because of severe weather conditions.

The original notification of a two-hour delay has been changed to a campus closure.
Looks like my Christmas holiday begins now!

Morning Beauty

The campus closed yesterday afternoon at 3 PM. I checked the weather at 4:30 this morning and it appeared we would have work. About 6:15 as I was driving in I heard the news that the campus is opening at 10 AM.

No problem! The quiet beauty of the morning was mine to enjoy. I took these photos as I walked to my office.

Clock and snow.
Clock and snow. (Larger version)

Tree and snow.
Tree and snow. (Larger version)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snowy Day at Work

Yesterday didn't go as planned. I started the engine to get the first load of water and it was missing on one cylinder. In October I replaced the plug wires because a wood rat had chewed two wires. I discovered he had returned. We go to the landfill once a year in June with the trash so I know I can find one of the old wires in a trash can. That seems like a better solution than spending another $45 for a new set. However, I took the easy way out and used electrical tape to make a temporary fix. Now, I need to make a permanent fix and teach this furry little critter to respect my property.

Plug wire destroyed by a wood rat.
Plug wire destroyed by a wood rat. (Larger version)

I didn't get the first load of water. The temperature was about 31 degrees and it appears the water line was frozen which is a first. I've gotten water when it was down near zero. I waited until the afternoon and got four loads without problem. The fifth load was a bust. It took my money but did nothing. It happened that two employees where leaving about that time. They tried to fix the system but couldn't get it working. No problem. I have enough water for a few weeks.

View out my office window.
View out my office window. A science lab building on the left, a residence hall on the right and construction in the distance. The large blue item behind the brick wall is a generator to support the science lab in case of power failure. The larger version makes the window screen less visible. (Larger version)

On the trip to work the radio forecast gave a chance of another 20 inches of snow today, tonight and tomorrow. Tomorrow is my last day of work until January 4. I'd like to work but if the University offices are closed I'll have a longer vacation. Today I'm the only one in the office. My co-workers opted to work from home. I can do this but like to separate home from work.

My workspace.
My workspace. On the wall are two posters of Guadalupe Mountains National Park that I brought with me from Texas. Good memories! (Larger version)

Flagstaff's weather forecast:
This Afternoon: Snow. The snow could be heavy at times. High near 37. East southeast wind around 9 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Total daytime snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.

Tonight: Rain and snow, becoming all snow after 11pm. The rain and snow could be heavy at times. Low around 27. South wind 6 to 9 mph increasing to between 17 and 20 mph. Winds could gust as high as 23 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 6 to 10 inches possible.

Thursday: Snow, mainly before 11am. The snow could be heavy at times. High near 32. Southwest wind between 16 and 20 mph, with gusts as high as 31 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches possible.

Forecast at home:
This Afternoon: Rain. High near 41. Northeast wind at 7 mph becoming south southeast. Chance of precipitation is 80%.

Tonight: Rain. Snow level 6500 feet. Low around 33. Calm wind becoming south southwest between 10 and 13 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%.

Thursday: Snow, mainly before 11am. High near 38. Southwest wind between 14 and 18 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 2 inches possible.

Map of Flagstaff and home.
Map of Flagstaff and home. About 18 air miles and 1400 feet lower elevation make a significant change in the weather. (Larger version)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow Day!

Work was cancelled today due to snow!

Flagstaff got several inches of snow; we got almost nothing.

Snow on the hill.
Snow on the hill behind my house. (Larger version)

Today I'll feed the birds, fill the cistern, layout our spring garden, take a walk, finish an article I've started, clean/organize my shed, watch the cats sleep and enjoy a "snow day".

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Black and White Memories

About 18 years ago I drove to Ft Leonard Wood, Missouri to pick up my son. He had spent the previous winter in two training sessions and was looking forward to 30 days at home before going to Korea for 13 months.

I had some time to wait while he finished a few items so I asked "Would you like pictures of anything? I'll take them for you while I wait." His response didn't surprise me "No. I just want out of this damned place!"

He had an attitude that I had experienced 20-some years earlier and understood well. While I waited I drove around and took photos of things that I knew he would remember with a different attitude in the future. A few years passed and it happened. I watched with pleasure as the flipped through the photos, smiled or laughed and began reminiscing about experiences and friends. Occasionally father does know best.

Recently I received a box of photos that my mother had collected over the years. As I looked at each photo I tried to recall names and guess at the date the photo was taken. I looked at one picture of coal miners knowing that an uncle was one of the young men. I can no longer identify him. My memories are fading.

My sisters asked my mother to identify the photos but her response was "After I'm gone no one will care." She was mistaken. One or both of my sisters attempted repeatedly to video tape her as she talked about her youth, her family and her memories of our father. For some reason she always found an excuse to object. I don't know of any videos or sound recordings.

Mother and Father.
My mother and father circa mid 1930's. This may be one of the earliest photos of them. (Larger version)

My father died in the spring. The following Christmas I brought my mother to my house and she spent a month with us. It was the best time I ever spent with her. She talked about things I had never heard -- like the story of how she hid her clothes before meeting my father for a secret marriage. I have only good memories of that visit. There should have been more but they never happened.

Anyway, for my children I hope to pass on a few photos and a few memories. More importantly, I hope to pass on some character, some values and some knowledge with the hope that they will pick through them cautiously and critically to find the good and reject the bad.

A note of serious caution. Don't trust my memories. Dates, names, places and details may be inaccurate. Best to check them for accuracy. Age is robbing me of too many good memories.

Funeral of an uncle.
Funeral of an uncle. My father is holding me on the back row, left side. This may be my earliest memory. I remember my father holding me as he stood in front of his brother's open casket. This memory was probably reinforced by the fact that we passed the family cemetery each time we visited my grandmother. About five years later around memorial day my grandmother asked an older cousin to clean a path to the grave. He didn't know which grave but I said, "I know. I'll show you." It was the second and last time I went to the grave. My grandmother is the woman sitting with her hand to her cheek. To her right is her father who lived to be 99. The photo was taken in front of a house my father built but never lived in. WWII ended those plans. (Larger version)

So, whether you want them or not, over the next few posts you will get photos and stories from the past.

Remember, occasionally father does know best. I trust this is one of those rare times.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's Almost Official

Next week I will become officially old.

It's not age that makes a person old nor is it an attitude. It's a value system and an annoying little habit. I don't think I'm the only person who find this trait annoying. The trait or habit is being too frugal and always wanting to talk about a bargain.

"Look at my new tool. I got it at Save-A-Little for only $3. Charge-a-Lot has them for $10,000 but I got a bargain. I went shopping for one and . . . blah, blah, blah."


For the last several years I've bought an annual national parks pass. Last year I paid $80 for the pass. Next week I will qualify for a lifetime national parks pass for only $10. On my birthday to get my pass I plan on taking off from work early and driving to . . . blah, blah, blah.

See, I'll be officially old.

I'll be old enough to collect social security but I'm not interested. I want a lifetime national parks pass for only $10!

Seriously, I've been looking forward to this for about a year. I don't remember it but I must have talked about it last March when my sister visited. Yesterday I received a birthday card with a $10 bill. What the heck? We don't do gifts. I read the card and she said it was for the pass.

Now I have an even longer boring story. "Yep, I got a free lifetime national parks pass. That's right free. You see, my sister . . . blah, blah, blah."

This is exciting. Life just keeps getting better.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


I'm restless.

I began my first regular job at age 12. I was a paperboy. Seven days a week, 365 days a year, I and my dog delivered newspapers before the sun came up, before breakfast, before going to school. I have only good memories about this job.

About the same time I began seasonal farm work. I picked strawberries, tomatoes and grapes. As I got older I trimmed and tied grapes, drove and replaced vineyard posts, stretched and stapled wire. At times the work was monotonous. Grapes were trimmed and the vineyards prepared during the dormant season which meant some days of cloudy skies, below freezing temperatures, wind and snow. Heavy mittens with a free index finger helped but the stinging cold found it's way to fingers that hurt. Still, I have good memories.

Before I got old enough to drive I talked my father into buying a lawn mower for me. I found a few yards to mow as a means of earning money. I wonder if I ever repaid him? I can't remember.

I've had more short-term, part-time jobs than I can remember. I've also had four extended full-time jobs. Most of my adult life I've worked on salary. There was a two year period in the early 1970's when I punched a time card while working at a Ford stamping plant -- an extremely well paid drudgery job with almost no good memoires.

Today, I have a good job, an excellent well-paid, stable job. I work in a safe and comfortable environment. I work with good people. I have the kind of job that most people want.

But, I'm restless. I don't want safe and comfortable. I want to be out in the weather with a job that leaves me physically tired but feeling alive.

Why am I feeling this way? Most of my adult life I'm been in positions where I was in charge. One of the attractions of my current job is than I'm not in charge, I don't have a staff to supervise and I can leave at the end of the day without lingering responsibility. Am I restless because I'm not as invested in my job as in previous positions?

Is it because I'm getting older and the importance of physical active has increased? Or, is it the winter with less sunlight and less opportunity to be outside during free time so I'm operating on a sunshine deficit?

The bottom line is I don't know why I'm restless. What I do know is that it's cold, cloudy and there's a slight chance of rain. I'm going to cut firewood. If I'm lucky, I'll get chilled, damp with rain and fatigued. I'll come home feeling content.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Admiration and Respect

I ordered a cup of coffee and went in search of a volume of poems by Mary Oliver. The book was gone so I browsed other selections and found Our World which gives a glimpse into the shared life of Mary Oliver and her partner Molly Malone Cook who died in 2005. Poems and prose by Mary are interlaced with photography by Molly. I read the entire book in one sitting and was left feeling alive, enriched, connected, grateful, motivated and optimistic.

I've been intrigued by Mary Oliver's poetry written after Molly's death. It seems there's a vein of grief, love and faith that adds a new depth to her writing. I admire and respect her humanity and the relationship she had with Molly.