Saturday, March 27, 2010

Final: Butler 63, Kansas State 56

The Butler Bulldogs are going home to Indianapolis to play in the Final Four next weekend! When the game ended today, I laughed and cried at the same time. I've been this happy and excited before, but it has been a while.

In 2006, George Mason University made the Final Four, the last so-called "mid-major" school to do so. If you look up George Mason, you'll note that they have 32,000 students, and are the largest university in Virginia. Butler has 4,500 students, give or take, and is not the largest university in Indianapolis. There are at least 13 universities in Indiana with larger enrollments than Butler.

But as the old saying goes, It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.

Butler will play either Tennessee or Michigan State in a semifinal on Saturday. On Monday, April 5th, the winner of the Butler game will face West Virginia, Duke, or Baylor. As Butler forward Gordon Hayward said, "We aren't satisfied just to be in the tournament. We figure somebody has to win it, and it might as well be us."

Well said, Gordon. GO BULLDOGS!

Friday, March 26, 2010


During our walk around Pike Place Market on Monday morning, Sally and I ducked into Starbucks across from the market entrance for coffee with our Russian pastries. We don't always choose Starbucks, but the only alternative we could find nearby was "Seattle's Best", which I find really isn't.

Anyway, as we ordered our coffee a cheery faux-barista asked if we'd like to try coffee from their Clover machine. Perhaps you've not heard about the Clover. It's the automated press type machine that sells for $11,000, and which Starbucks exec Howard Schultz "discovered" on an east coast trip. It turned out that the Clover was manufactured in Ballard, WA, just across town from Starbucks headquarters. Schultz liked the coffee so much that he bought the Clover company, much to the dismay of non-Starbucks coffee shops who promptly stopped using their Clovers in protest.

Well, I couldn't pass up a steaming sample of the beverage at the heart of this brew-ha-ha, and so I requested something in a Sumatran vein. As the baristette brewed my cup, she explained that, unlike a French press in which the water is on the grounds for 4 minutes, the Clover brew extraction process lasts just 30 seconds. Sally mentioned that it sounded like our Presso. It was then that it hit me: I've been in Clover all along!

Our morning coffee (and afternoon and sometimes evening) is brewed in a Presso machine that Evan originally discovered. Manufactured in Canada, it is now sold through All-Clad on Amazon for $119. True, I have to create the pressure for pulling the hot water through the grounds manually, rather than it being automated. And true, it's pressure from above rather than suction from below that accomplishes the process. But in both cases boiling water is drawn through grounds in a process lasting about 30 seconds. One process is automated on an $11,000 machine at Starbucks in selected locations, and the other is manual on a $119 machine in my kitchen.

Pretty good coffee in both instances. In contrast though, mine is practically priceless.

Final: Butler 63, Syracuse 59

I'm really happy for the kids and coaches from Butler who are having this storybook experience: Undefeated in Conference play, Conference Tournament Champions, 23 wins in a row, and their first trip to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament. A win over Kansas State and a trip to the Final Four, in Indianapolis no less, seems too much to hope for. Yet these kids have already exceeded everyone's expectations, except their own. Apparently that speaks volumes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Around the House

After our weekend away and meetings at the church yesterday, I was ready to do my domestic male thing today. Fixed breakfast for Sally and I, getting her off to work on her bike by 6 a.m.
I worked on the replacement top bracket for the bike rack, and got it installed. I rode to the post office with the tax returns for Sal's mother's estate, vacuumed the main rooms, and did three loads of laundry.

The most notable aspect of the laundry task was that this is the OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE OUTDOOR DRYING SEASON. We've actually dried a duffel bag and a camera case outside in the past few days, but those were just preseason events. This is opening day!

I hung out two loads of laundry, which is about as much as will dry this time of year, when the temperature is still moderate and the sun low in the sky. Still, its early for outdoor drying. I noted that I blogged on the same subject on April 16th last year. What a difference a warm winter makes!

The second most notable aspect of the laundry task was my ill-advised inclusion of my black Dockers with the other dark clothes. The problem wasn't the color, but rather, the fabric. These Dockers collect pet hair unlike any slacks I've ever worn. I can get pet hair on them by looking up the word "dog" in a dictionary. By the time I wore them home from work yesterday and sat down a few minutes, they were totally bedecked... festooned even. I tried to shake off the hair, and brushed the slacks as well. Finally I decided that they would have to be donated, as I can't wear them with so much hair on them, and am not planning to donate the dogs this week. I thought I'd better wash them before donating them, so into the laundry they went. Big mistake.

Well, at least the pet hair on all our other dark clothing is clean. And thanks to the opening of outdoor drying season, it even smells April... er.... March fresh.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quick Trip

Sally and I took a quick trip to Seattle on Sunday, returning yesterday evening. Along the way we visited Megan in Kennewick, Sal's Aunt Margie in Bothell, and had dinner with Sal's nieces Tracy and Tricia in Seattle. In planning the trip I had originally looked at lodging choices out in the suburbs near Margie. Eventually I decided to approach things as I would planning a trip to Amsterdam or Auckland, where I'd never choose a hotel on the outskirts of town. We opted to stay at the Mediterranean Inn on Queen Anne Avenue, adjacent to Seattle Center. It was a great choice.

Our hotel afforded us the chance to walk to an Irish pub for a beer, to walk to Pagliacci Pizza for dinner, and to walk to Pike Place Market yesterday morning for a look see, Russian pastries, and interesting shopping, sights and sounds. The cinnamon and cardamom braids from Piroshky's Bakery were among the best ever. We'd do it again, in a caffeine-addled, jittery Seattle minute.

By the time we arrived back in Spokane last night we were feeling the pain of our quick, busy trip. Sally had a headache and I had a sore throat, so we made an early evening of it. Given Sally's work schedule, that isn't too unusual anyway.

Spring is here, at least according to the calendar. It wasn't difficult to accept the fact while walking about on the westside, given the sight of blossoming trees, and the displays of daffodils and tulips at Pike Place, doubtlessly from the Skagit Valley we used to call home. Spring will come to Spokane as well, and will find us ready and willing for its arrival.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Final: Butler is Graduation Rate Champion

Thirty minutes after the end of Butler's game against Murray State the university sent an email touting the Bulldogs' win. In that same email it was announced that Butler is already the tournament champion, if the winner were determined by federal graduation rates. Here is a link for the graduation version of the tournament bracket.

Final: Butler 54, Murray State 52

In the Sweet 16 for the third time in eight years! Next up, a date with the winner of tomorrow's game between Gonzaga and #1 seed Syracuse.

Connectivity: Success!

Just a quick update.... I did some of my own diagnostics, and decided that the problem was the six-year-old modem. I called Comcast, and they suggested I swap it out. I did so this morning, and installed the replacement. YES!!!

I can watch internet news videos now! The Little Boy Who Cried Slow Connection Speed is justified at last!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Connectivity Addendum

At Evan's urging I did a bandwidth test this evening. It confirmed my suspicions, as I measured a paltry 93.9 kbps, which is pretty fast, for dial-up. Unfortunately, I'm paying for lightning fast, high speed cable internet. I've emailed my ISP for advice, since they won't ever answer the phone.

Other suggestions for an ISP?


The primary focus of my morning has been struggling with the computer. For some reason our download speeds, never all that great, have declined to dial-up levels. It is no longer possible to watch video feeds, even of news stories and the like. Please note that this is not a wireless issue -- our iMac is connected by ethernet to the cable modem. My best guess is that so many subscribers have now been added to our neighborhood cable line that everything has turned to molasses. I used to notice declines in speed at certain, high-volume times of the day. Now it's constant.

I'm not sure what my options are. Qwest does not support DSL in our neighborhood, and I have no experience or knowledge of wireless or satellite providers. If anyone knows anything about this, I'd welcome your feedback at

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Final: Butler 77, UTEP 59

Butler faces Murray State on Saturday. You know I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hinkle Fieldhouse

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament begins tomorrow. It's a bittersweet time, promising three weeks of action, upsets, Cinderellas, and drama, followed by the tedium of baseball season. For the fourth year in a row, my beloved Butler Bulldogs will be in the tournament. Given their outstanding season (28-4, 18-0 in conference, 20 wins in a row) the 'Dogs have been given a "5 seed" in the first round of the tournament, where they will face a really good UTEP team (Texas-El Paso).

Part of the allure of Butler basketball is the old Hinkle Fieldhouse where they play their games. There's a great article in today's New York Times about it. For a link, click Here. My earliest memory of the fieldhouse dates to 1966 when I attended a game between Butler and the University of Michigan Wolverines. Butler was an unknown, and Michigan, featuring All-American Cazzie Russell, was ranked 2nd in the nation. My brothers and I sat near a professor from Michigan who spent the entire pre-game waxing eloquent about how powerful the Wolverines were, and how sad it was that little Butler was about to be humiliated by them. He said it really wasn't fair that such a mismatch had even been scheduled.

A couple hours later my brothers and I shook the hand of a devastated Michigan professor who had watched his Goliath get taken apart by the tiny Bulldogs. That story had been lived out many times before in that wonderful old barn, and continues to be lived out today.

I don't know how Butler will do tomorrow. UTEP is tough, and these are mostly 19-20 year old kids who are playing. It's also amazing what crazy bounces you can get out of a perfectly round ball. But no matter. I'm proud of them. Proud of the season they've had, but more so proud because, like at many small schools, Butler basketball is actually played by college students who attend classes, and who graduate with real degrees at a rate as high as any school in the nation. Real college students who play basketball too! Like the Hinkle Fieldhouse, that's little more than a tottering old keepsake. And a good one.

Go Dogs!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Need a Bike Rack?

My family members will tell you that I am a trifle reactive when it comes to poor customer service. OK, maybe a rather large trifle. Our latest venture has been the purchase of a new family cellphone plan from a national provider. The vendor at Costco was helpful in hooking us up with a plan and in selling us phones, but there was never any mention of exactly how much we would end up paying each month. The basic plan price is in writing, but the surcharges, fees, and taxes aren't detailed until you get that first bill. Ouch.

Well, given my consistent contact with companies that seem interested in making a buck as quickly as possible, I must tell you about my bike rack experience.

We bought a really nice bike rack the summer before last. It's a Softride Dura 4, which fits on the trailer hitch, and swings down to allow us access through the rear hatch of the Subaru Forester. It carries four adult bikes, and is really well designed and solidly built.

I broke it.

I was in a hurry this morning. As I pushed one of the rack arms into the unit, the pin that was supposed to lock the arm in place instead jammed, resulting in the housing breaking. I didn't figure that out until this afternoon when I was fixing a flat.

Anyway, I can still use the rack, but only by securing that arm with a nut and bolt, which makes the rack less versatile. So I emailed the manufacturer to see if I could obtain a replacement part. Rich from Softride called me, asked what was going on, and then took my address. He said he'd ship a top plate to me. I protested that it was not a flaw in the part, and that I had broken it, but he insisted that he'd send the replacement without charge.

What a great company. Since they won't take my money, all I can do is tell everyone I know to buy their products. You can see their line of bike racks at You probably need a good bike rack anyway. If you don't ride a bike, you probably should. And if you don't ever plan on biking, buy a Softride rack anyway. You can use it to dry clothes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pi Day

Those of you who frequent Google are already aware that today's date, expressed in the form 3.14, is also a rough approximation of the mathematical constant pi. Thus it's Pi Day. Perhaps you are also aware that 3.14 is Einstein's birthday. Cool.

Pi Day also affords an opportunity for me to lob another grenade at supernatural theism, which posits the existence of a divine being beyond the natural realm who takes a keen interest in the affairs of humans, especially those involving expressions of absolute fealty toward this being, and also any activities or thoughts pertaining to sex.

Pretty much everything we need to know about this being was dictated to our ancestors two or three thousand years ago, which really takes the pressure off of us needing to learn anything about life since those revelations occurred.

So happy birthday, Albert, but you needn't have bothered. Everything we really needed to know was already revealed long before you came onto the scene. Unless, of course, God decided that it was time that we learned about matter and energy, and so revealed it to you so you could pass it along to us. If so, next time, skip all the mathematical proofs and just introduce your ideas with "Thus says the Lord...."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Daylight Shifting Time

Have you ever wondered what we're supposed to be "saving" during the annual, Springtime assault on our chronometers? My skepticism about DST has its roots in my Hoosier heritage. The State of Indiana resisted the imposition of the time change for generations, in part because it confused the livestock. I'm surprised PETA hasn't taken up the banner. Indiana has since given in, joining the Eastern Time Zone, confirming all Sally's suspicions as to my origins.

Daylight Saving Time (not, "Savings" by the way) first came onto the scene in New Zealand in 1895, when an entomologist named George Vernon Hudson wrote a paper proposing the change so he'd have more hours of sunlight to collect bugs on summer afternoons after he got home from his day job. The idea didn't take hold in the northern hemisphere at that time, probably because Hudson proposed that the change take effect at the beginning of summer in New Zealand, in October, which though true, mightily confused the livestock in Indiana.

Englishman William Willett independently took up the cause in 1905 when on a morning horseback ride he noticed that many Londoners slept throughout a significant portion of the summer daylight hours. He probably had just left home after yelling at his lazy kids to get out of bed, and noticed that everyone else, save himself, was still abed as well. I imagine Willett riding about on his horse like a latter day Paul Revere, yelling "Daylight's a-Wastin'!" This cry was later taken up by my father-in-law, but that's a story for another day.

Like the "Clear Skies Initiative", "Healthy Forests Initiative", and "No Child Left Behind Act" of the Bush administration, the phrase "Daylight Saving Time" is an intentionally deceptive misnomer. We aren't saving anything. The real basis for DST is shifting the hours of daylight, so that there are less morning hours for our children to sleep away after a difficult night watching anime on-line, and more hours of afternoon and evening daylight for adult pursuits such as golf (William Willett's favorite diversion), or bug collecting.

So be sure and move the hands of the clock forward at or around 2:00 a.m. overnight. That is, if you can find any clocks that have hands. And then tell the kids to turn off the TV, computer, video game console, Wii, and lights in the den, and get to bed for goodness sake! These actions will actually save energy, in contrast to all studies of the results of DST. Tell the kids to get to bed, but don't yell. We don't want to disturb the livestock.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Swiss Steak

Did you know that the "Swiss" in Swiss Steak is derived from an English term for the process of smoothing cloth between sets of rollers? In the case of steak, swissing refers to flattening or tenderizing the meat by pounding or cubing before it is cooked.

I didn't swiss any steaks yesterday. Rather I put the browned meat in the crockpot atop potatoes, onions, and sliced carrots, and poured diced tomatoes and tomato sauce over the whole concoction. Seven hours later we had a wonderful dinner featuring tender meat, perfectly cooked veggies, and a rich tomato gravy.

Did you know that umami, the term for the fifth taste (in addition to sweet, sour, salt, and bitter) is derived from Japanese, where the word means, literally, deliciousness?

We had Swiss Steak for supper again tonight, after walking the dogs and taking a quick trip to the grocery store. We were lucky to get our walk in before the afternoon mist became heavier and more steady. Not much more to write about at present. We're awaiting Spring's arrival, and how better to wait than with a bowl of slow-cooked deliciousness, a hunk of good bread, and a glass of amber ale? OK, OK, we had some ice cream, too. I guess that was better.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Evan and Angie finished their first, fourteen-hour day on the road last night in Gillette, Wyoming. It turned out that Gillette is nearly halfway from Spokane to Omaha. Of course, there isn't much competition for that designation in that part of the country.

Gillette has a warm spot in my heart, and not just because of it's role as the "Pronghorn Capital of North America". Sally and I met in Gillette in the summer of 1976. Sally was the environmental engineer for Carter Mining Company, and I was there for a summer internship to do youth ministry with the Presbyterian Church. Neither one of us had a good work experience, yet some great people, wide open western landscape, and the beginning of our relationship made it all worthwhile.

Several of the stories we collected in Gillette involved the quality of the water, or lack thereof. One of my favorites was the experience of going to a grocery store, and pausing in the aisle where bars of soap were displayed. As I pondered the choices, an older woman walked up and asked, "Are you new in town?" When I nodded, she pointed at several brands of soap. "That one works, or that one. Don't bother with the others." It turned out there was so much mineral content in the water that only certain kinds of soap would lather, even a little bit. I remember thinking, "So that's what's meant by, 'She knows her soap.'"

So here's to Gillette, Wyoming. I wish that any who pass that way to have the kind of happiness that Sally and I have had in the years since we found each other there. Enjoy the conical buttes, the abundant Pronghorn, and the salt-of-the-Earth people.

But don't drink the water.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I wasn't speechless this morning as Evan and Angie pulled out of the driveway to begin their journey to Omaha. I did manage to squeak, "Call us from Idaho."

We have been empty nesters before, as the kids went off to school and work in their various directions, but this time feels different. Always before we had the expectation that the semester would come to an end, and that someone would be on their way back home. This morning I realized that "home" will likely be elsewhere for our brood, and that their being with us in the future will consist of occasional visits, rather than lengthy stays.

Even as we freely shed our tears this morning, Sally and I were thankful that we're so close to Evan and Angie, Erin, and Megan, that such partings are difficult. Not all families offer space where people can feel "at home", and where love, laughter, and tears are so freely shed.

There's so much more that could be said on this subject -- the quote from Gibran on "Children" comes to mind -- but I don't think it's really necessary. It's enough to say that, though our nest is empty, our hearts, most assuredly, are not.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Giving Tree

The variety of human experience and perspective never ceases to amaze and occasionally confound me. Yesterday morning I read one of my favorite stories, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, as the "Story for All Ages" at church. Following the service I was confronted by an angry woman who said that she "and many others" were deeply offended that I had read such a book, given it's "sick, sick, sick" portrayal of unhealthy relationships.


I certainly understand that there are people in this world who abuse others, and who would use any tool available, including a children's book, to reinforce their efforts to subjugate women. How 'bout we blame the oppressors, rather than the book?

In my interpretation of The Giving Tree, we are all "the boy", standing on the shoulders of others who have paved the way for us, sacrificed for us, died for us. We eat the flesh of slain animals, pull vegetables out of the ground and stew their roots, slice trees into planks to build our abodes, chip other trees to be cooked into paper.... the list goes on and on. The truth of our existence, dating back to the first cells that discovered it was easier to eat another cell than to process nutrients directly, is that life consumes life. Do your best to wash your hands of it, but you are still implicated. You are a user! And so am I.

What is left to "the boy" who portrays our existence is to respond to existence by either taking life's gifts for granted or becoming deeply, eternally grateful. The grateful response includes giving thanks for what is taken (as with the Native American tradition of giving thanks for the animal's sacrificing itself for the life of the tribe), minimizing our impact, using nothing unnecessarily, and planting trees and gardens for those who will assume our taking ways in generations to come. Eventually we discover that our destiny is to become food for others, and we make choices as to how we respond to that awareness.

There are other possible interpretations of this classic tale. It could be about parenting. It could be about God. And yes, if you associate yourself exclusively with "the tree", rather than seeing yourself as "the boy", it could be part of a plot to force you into subservience.

Let me be clear. Sacrifice that is compelled isn't sacrifice, but rather slavery. However, neither is chosen service the equivalent of involuntary servitude. I'm grateful to have a story which gives rise to thoughtful consideration of these varying perspectives.

The book could be twisted and misinterpreted though. We'd better burn it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Yesterday marked Sally and my 33rd wedding anniversary. For the most part we did what we normally do on a Tuesday -- I fixed her oatmeal and coffee, and she went to work. Given the nice weather forecast, Sally rode her bike downtown, and then Evan and I rode down to meet her for the ride home.

Our anniversary celebration was dinner at Clinkerdagger in Spokane, accompanied by Evan. We have tried several other "nice" restaurants in town for such events, usually coming away less than satisfied. At one we were diverted to the basement bar where they "served the same menu", ostensibly so fogies like us would not interfere with the beautiful people facade of the restaurant.

In other instances we have been totally ignored by wait staff, or served food that was remarkably pedestrian for the price. In the latter case, we once made the mistake of offering an honest opinion about our meal when asked by a waiter. That occasioned a scene not unlike Monty Python's dirty fork sketch.

Last night featured no such theatrics. I called for a reservation and was asked if it was for a special occasion. Given our affirmative response we were seated in an area with a lovely view of the river and downtown, adjacent to some other parties celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. The waiter was helpful and courteous, the food was exceptional, and they even threw in a complimentary crème brûlée.

Evan's presence was both helpful (he was our designated driver) and typical for our anniversary celebrations. For our twenty-fifth anniversary, Sally and I considered a number of possible ways of celebrating before independently deciding what we most cherished was the opportunity to have dinner with our kids. Eight years later, we still enjoy having each and all of our kids with us at any opportunity. To have been together for so long and still have such love for each other and for our kids is a great blessing, and one which I do not take for granted.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Happy Birthday, Cayenne!

March 2nd is the day our family has designated as Cayenne's birthday. It's easy to remember because it's also Sally and my wedding anniversary. More on that later.

The first information that we have about Cayenne is that she was picked up by Animal Control and received by the Whatcom Humane Society on September 26, 1998. She weighed about 40 pounds and had a rope collar, but no identification. She went unclaimed, and so was put up for adoption.

Cayenne didn't attract much attention, in part because she didn't demand it. In retrospect I'm guessing she was pretty much overwhelmed by the entire experience. The most notable aspects of her being were her mismatched eyes and incredibly soft coat.

Though I worked at the shelter during those days, we weren't looking for an animal to adopt, at least not at first. It's hard not to take ALL the animals home. I remember telling Sally about a yellow Lab I really liked, in part because of the similarity to our older dog, Sandy. Sally visited the shelter, but became enamored by the skinny red pup with mismatched eyes instead of the Lab.

We adopted Cayenne on November 13, 1998. I have long felt badly that she spent so much time at the shelter, right under my nose, without my taking her home sooner. Once we got together, Cayenne claimed a considerable share of our attention, and a bigger piece of our hearts. I won't go into the stories today, other than to say that anyone who ever doubts the full consciousness and deep intelligence of non-human critters has really missed out. We've given Cayenne a home, true, but she has provided us with so much more.

Cayenne's ripping and tearing days are behind her, both in regards to her considerable foot speed and capacity for destruction. These days she finds putting weight on all four legs to be a challenge. Frankly, owing to issues with her early care and development, we never expected she would live this long. The dog that once climbed a six-foot gate to get into the living room now struggles to make it up the stairs from the basement. But she's hanging in there.

So here's to Cayenne. We don't know how many more birthdays she'll see, but then, that's true for us all, isn't it? And in the final analysis, the value of life can't be measured by mere quantity, but rather by the quality of our relationships, experiences, and love given and received. By those standards, Cayenne has had quite a run. Quite a run, indeed. Happy birthday, girl.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Take a Hike

Last summer, Sally and I had a tree expert talk to us about "dead-wooding" the large Ponderosa Pine in the front yard. The process would involve cutting out dead limbs and damaged areas to open up the crown and improve both the health and the appearance of the tree. Our neighbor, Ron, came over while we were talking with the expert, and quickly surmised that we pretty much like trees, and especially big ones. Later, Ron showed me an old newspaper article about the largest Ponderosa Pine in eastern Washington, and asked me if I'd like to hike to it some time.

Last week we finally took that hike. Evan accompanied us as we drove a ways southeast of town and turned onto progressively smaller roads before departing the car and hitting the trail. The tree did not disappoint. More than 17 feet in circumference at chest height, it is a true forest giant. As I have reminded several people in the last week, nothing we will attempt in our lives will be as difficult or unlikely as what that tree has done just to remain where it is.

As we drove back home, Ron pointed to a number of granite outcroppings called "Big Rock", just northwest of Valleyford, off the Palouse Highway. Another hiking possibility took shape.

This morning Ron, Evan, Sally and I packed lunches, cameras, and water bottles and headed for Big Rock. We spent about three hours hiking up to the monoliths, clamoring up and down some of their most accessible faces, enjoying a beautiful spring day by ourselves, 10 or 20 minutes from 400,000 people who don't seem to realize that such beauty exists in our back yard.

It was a fantastic day. Much better than my customary perch on a chair with a cat and a computer for company. Wherever you live, my guess is there's someplace lovely close by. Why not take a hike?