Railroad in Washington


Off the side of the interstate we spotted an old steam engine.  Turns out it is a working railroad that carries passengers on the weekends to places unknown to us, since the depot was closed when we stopped by.  Click on the image for a few more shots.


Bike Tree


We drove onto the ferry this morning and rode over to Vashon Island.  We drove 15 minutes or so  on a two lane road through town and arrived at a corner restaurant.  Behind the restaurant we walked into the woods and found this bike in a tree.  Click to see more images and the story behind it.

Lyden WA

Lynden dutch-006

Lynden is a small town north of Seattle that has a distinct dutch influence.  The facades of many of the buildings, from McDonalds to Main Street, are designed to suggest Amsterdam.  One of the best times to visit is early spring when the tulips are out.  Click on the image for a few more pictures around town.

For many people, gathering possessions is just the stuff of life

Read this is in the LA Times today …

By Mary MacVean

We cherish things and accumulate them. We move them from shelf to shelf, and from home to home. The federal government estimates that a quarter of Americans with two-car garages don’t use them for automobiles. Even those without a permanent home carry their stuff around with them.

We like to shop, own, trade or give away. Things matter to us, for reasons practical and emotional.

“Our possessions all have magical qualities. Many, if not most, of the things we keep have an essence that goes beyond the physical character of the object,” says Randy Frost, a professor at Smith College, in Northampton, Mass., who has studied and written about hoarding and is the author of “Stuff.”

A stroll through the Sunday flea market outside Fairfax High School provides a catalog of some of those magical objects: varsity letter jackets, rotary phones, typewriters, fur blankets, old ties and cowboy boots. Butterflies pinned to cardboard and framed. A crystal Eiffel Tower. A blue guitar.

Vendors collect stuff to sell to people, who often resell the stuff all over again.

“This market has the best eclectic stuff — a collection of people’s things that are old,” says LaNell Petersen, shopping on a recent weekend with her sisters. She likes the hunt for something she believes is more valuable than its price.

Consider these statistics cited by professional organizer Regina Lark: The average U.S. household has 300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards. U.S. children make up 3.7% of children on the planet but have 47% of all toys and children’s books.

So why can’t we let go? And what are the implications of our reluctance to pare down, our inability to get organized?

The notion that things don’t matter is rubbish, the experts say. They matter for many reasons: keeping up with the Joneses, recalling departed loved ones, even objective value — like the 17th century Dutch painting that is among many objects of desire in Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch.”

Our things can give us a sense of security, connection to the past, to the people we love.

“When you go home in the evening after work, you go in your house and you feel comfort because you have your stuff,” Frost says.

But that security may be a crutch too, “a sort of public artificial mask,” says Andrew Mellen, a professional organizer and author of “Unstuff Your Life.” “Full bookshelves say, ‘I’m well-read. I have lots of books.’ But really, you just buy books. Is your home an accurate external reflection of you?”

Lark had bookcases full of the books she used to earn a doctorate in history. When she downsized to an apartment, she looked at the volumes and came to the conclusion that they represented her accomplishment, her intelligence. As she decided what to keep, “I had to ask myself a lot of questions. Who am I without these books? What will people think of me? Getting rid of them, am I less smart?”

Finally, she passed them on to a younger doctoral student and says she’s happier for it.

But there’s no single prescription: “One person is happy living in a sparsely furnished yurt,” says Gretchen Rubin, who devoted a chapter of her book “Happier at Home” to assessing her possessions, “while another person is happy adding to a collection of fine porcelain. There’s no one right way.”

“I don’t think stuff is inherently wrong or bad,” Mellen says, “but if things have become obstacles to your happiness, that’s a problem.”

Figuring out what to discard and being able to actually toss stuff is crucial to an ordered, happy life, experts say.

“I am impressed by the degree to which outer order controls inner calm,” says Rubin. She recalls the friend who told her, “‘I cleaned out my fridge, and now I can change careers.'”

Among our keepsake possessions, photos have their own “symbolic weight,” prompting people to save even pictures of people they no longer remember, Rubin says.

Eventually many of them end up in the trash — unless Mark Kologi gets his hands on them. For 17 years now, artists in need of inspiration and all sorts of other people have found their way to his flea market stall to root through bins of miscellaneous snapshots, most of which sell for 50 cents apiece. He estimates he’s sold millions over the years. “They don’t belong in the garbage,” he says.

Some have been bought by Luiso Berdejo, who was inspired to make the film “Violet” by one picture. In the film, a young man falls in love with a woman he sees in a photo from that stall and sets out to find her.

As Berdejo talks, another customer encourages a friend to “just reach in and pull one out.” You never know where it might lead.


Tom’s Tomato Soup

Found this on The Splendid Table on public radio.  Good soup with some heat.

  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced (adjust this based on your taste for onions)
  • 1.5 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife and peeled (or minced garlic)
  • 2.5 cups canned whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (or half and half)
  • 1 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano or 1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar

1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan and saute the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, water, cream, salt, red pepper flakes, celery seed, oregano, and sugar. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat and puree in batches in the container of a blender. Return the soup to the pot and reheat to a simmer, seasoning to taste with more salt and pepper.

Frequent Tests Can Enhance College Learning

From the New York Times — November 20, 2013 (edited for length)


Grading college students on quizzes given at the beginning of every class, rather than on midterms or a final exam, increases both attendance and overall performance, scientists reported Wednesday.

Psychologists have known for almost a century that altering the timing of tests can affect performance. In the past decade, they have shown that taking a test — say, writing down all you can remember from a studied prose passage — can deepen the memory of that passage better than further study.

On the first day of their Psych 301 course in fall 2011, James W. Pennebaker and Samuel D. Gosling — who have taught it jointly for years — instructed all 901 students to bring a laptop to class, if they had one (they all did).

The students then learned why: They would be taking a short quiz in each subsequent class on their computer. The quizzes would be short and personalized — seven questions that the entire class would answer, and one tailored to each student, usually a question from another quiz that he or she got wrong.

In place of a final exam, grades were based on cumulative quiz scores.

The questions “weren’t impossible, as long as you did the reading and paid attention in class, but there were definitely some ‘thinkers,” said one student.

By the end of the course the class had outperformed a previous Psych 301 class of 935 students that used midterm exams — scoring 10 percent higher on a subset of 17 questions that appeared on both classes’ tests. The quizzed group also got slightly higher grades, the study found.

By forcing the students to stay current in the reading and pay attention in class, the quizzes also taught them a fundamental lesson about how to study, the authors said.

In the middle of the semester, attendance usually averages about 60 percent, Dr. Pennebaker said, adding: “In this quiz class it was 90 percent. If you know you’ve got a quiz, you have to show up.”

Better pictures

There’s are a couple of very basic concepts for effective landscape photography:

  • Include in your images something close, something far and something that suggests infinity. Look for patterns: colors, textures, shapes.
  •   Remember, it’s all about the light, where it’s coming from, and the angle of view.

Grocery Store Germs

Before you get to the grocery store think about what you eat at a restaurant.  One inspector I know eats only dishes that are cooked at a high temperature–nothing from the salad bar (a metropolis for bacteria)–as an attempt to reduce the germs he eats.

A couple of things to keep in mind when visiting the grocery store–from an old grocery store veteran.

1.  Always wipe the handle of the grocery cart with an antiseptic wipe.  Tests reveal that over 50% of the cart handles have traces of fecal matter.

2.  Don’t buy fresh products from the deli that are sliced, cut, wrapped or otherwise handled by the workers.  Listeria bacteria lives for several days on slicers, counters, metal, wood and plastic surfaces.  Few deli work area are cleaned adequately to remove the bacteria.  Better to purchase prepackaged meats, cheeses, etc.  That is no guarantee the product is germ-free but the chance of the product being tainted is reduced.

3.  After purchasing produce at the store wipe it dry–or better yet, wash and dry the produce–as soon as you can.  Two reasons why:  a) the surface of the produce may have dirt, bacteria, fertilizer–who know what that might contain–that is unhealthy.  b) the moisture on the surface of the produce accelerates spoilage.  Keep the product dry and it will last longer.  People knowledgeable about shelf-life use produce they buy within 3 days after purchase because it’s hard to know how long ago the product was harvested.

4.  Glance at the floor under display cases when you get a chance.  If it’s dirty under the cases the store may have other problems, like they are not cleaning visible surfaces adequately or the debris under the cases might be food for rodents!

Broken Hip New Hip

When I fell and broke my hip I was riding a Raleigh bike.

It was Raleigh mountain bike, aluminum frame, large frame, hard tail—no rear suspension.  Rockshox (the brand) on the front fork, 1.75 inch knobby tires and caliper brakes.  I bought it new in 1995 and rode it maybe 200 miles in 10 years.

The bike came with platform pedals that I replaced with clipless pedals.  The term, clipless pedal, is misleading until one knows how the term came about.  Sheldon Brown, the bike guru, offers a good explanation. (http://sheldonbrown.com/).

Sheldon  Brown says that up until the late ’80s, the choice for pedals was between plain pedals or pedals with toe clips and straps. As the next generation of  pedals came along with a way to secure the bike shoe to the pedal without the clip, the “clipless” pedal name stuck, even though it is sometimes confusing to newcomers.

“Clipless pedals (think: no toe clip) use a cleat which is bolted to the bottom of the shoe. When the rider steps on the pedal with the cleat, the cleat locks into the pedal mechanism, and is held firmly in place (similar to ski boots and bindings.)

“With most clipless pedal systems, the foot is disengaged by twisting the heel outward.”

The clipless style I used was SPD, which stands for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics.  SPD pedals were introduced in 1993. Separate cleats mount to the bike shoes. Once clipped in, turning the foot outward releases the shoe.

With new clipless pedals and wearing shoes with cleats, I mounted the bike next to a concrete curb and practiced tilting the ball of the foot downward and forward and pushed the cleat on the ball of the shoe into the pedal mechanism and pushed forward to secure the cleat to the pedal.  Then I twisted my heel outward and pulled up with the ball of my foot to release the cleat from the pedal mechanism.  I figured a dozen or so reps would be enough to try releasing while riding the bike.

I rode around our neighborhood, rolling toward a stop sign.  I twisted my heel and pulled up and backward to release my foot from the pedal.   Then I tipped the bike and dropped my newly released foot to brace myself as I stopped.  It seemed to work just fine.  I rode around the block and came to a stop sign.   As the bike slowed I tipped the bike and began to move my foot to brace myself–forgetting my feet were clipped to the bike pedals.  The bike stopped, I paused and tipped over, banging my elbow and hip.  No permanent damage.

After moving to our present home a few years later I began riding again, both on paved roads in the country and on sandy dirt roads around our house set amongst the sage brush.  I talked with several seasoned bike riders who explained the added power from riding clipless so I installed SPD-style clipless pedals and bought me shoes to match the clips.  They explained that without the shoe being fastened to the pedal all the power to propel the bike comes from the down stroke using the quadriceps, the four prevailing muscles on the front of the thigh.  By fastening the shoe to the pedal power can be applied in the downward stroke and the upward stroke, that is pulling the pedal up with the hamstrings, the three muscles behind the thigh, and the gluteus maximus, or butt muscle.

So I traded my platform pedals for clipless pedals on my mountain bike.  I practiced clipping and unclipping dozens of times sitting on the bike leaning against the wall of our garage.  I rode around a local parking lot and practiced unclipping and stopping.  But the release action was not a habit and that’s why I fell when the bike slowed to a stop riding up the embankment of the new road.  Mentally I knew I was clipped in, but my reaction time was too slow and the release movement was too slow.

So, laying in the hospital with a broken hip, I told the doctor to go ahead and replace it.

Broken Hip and Clipless Pedals

I was lying in the dirt, my head was downhill, my legs up the embankment.  It was August 28, 2010.  The intense pain in my hip was filling my body but I kept thinking that if I could just relax and rest for a few minutes the pain would ease and I would get up and walk my bike back home.

Rolling my head across the dirt I could see the edge of the roadway.  It was a new road crossing a wide open expanse of sage brush, chamisa brush and jack rabbits.  The new road began four miles away in a small subdivision, crossed a couple of arroyos and open desert, then connected to the road to the city dump three miles the other direction.  The new road was not yet open to the public so it was empty—no traffic.

I rolled my head the other way and looked uphill.  My bicycle was laying uphill from me, just beyond my feet.  I remember riding up the sandy incline of the new road, my bike shoes clipped to the bike pedals. The bike slowed to a stop.  I tried to twist my foot and unclip but I just tipped downhill, landing on my hip and shoulder.  Intense pain came instantly.

When I looked across the slope scattered with sage and chamisa I noticed movement in the brush.  The outline of a dog lopped along the horizon.  Except it wasn’t a dog.  It was a coyote.  I rested my head.  The pain was getting stronger.  I looked again.  A coyote appeared again on the hill, much closer to me this time.  He lopped across the hill and disappeared.  Do coyotes attack humans, I thought.  I felt uneasy as the coyote disappeared over the outline of the chamisa. Then I remembered what a local told me about coyotes.  They don’t hunt alone, they mate for life and they hunt in pairs.  Did I just see the same coyote circling me? Or was the second coyote the mate?

I felt the urge to move somewhere safer.

Raising my arms I pushed my hands against the soft sand and pushed–pulling my hips and legs up the hill toward the road. I raised again, pulling my body up the slope, motivated by visions of coyotes hunting me down.  Within 5 minutes I was at the edge of the asphalt.  The pain was excruciating.  I scanned to sage brush for coyotes but saw none.

A few minutes later I heard a car in the distance.  I raised my hand and listened as the engine slowed– a pickup stopped on the road near me.  An older guy in Levis and an old shirt got out and asked if I needed help.  He said he was out looking for his stray horse and he used the new road for a better view of the desert.  After a brief conversation, he grabbed me under the arms, lifted me onto the truck seat and put my bike in the truck bed.  With his cell phone, I called my wife and told her briefly what happened and that I was getting a ride home.

15 bumpy minutes later, we met my wife at our house, they got me into her car, put the bike in the garage and she drove me 20 minutes to the hospital.

Laying in the emergency room after x-rays were taken, the doctor told me the hip was broken at the neck—The head of the femur was separated from the femur itself and I had two choices:  Leave the joint alone, lay still for 6 months, let the bone heal then start intensive physical therapy to regain lost strength from no activity.   Or, he could insert a cap in the pelvic bone and a 4 inch pin with a new head into the femur.  He called it a total hip replacement, aka Total Hip.  I could be walking a week, physical therapy for 6 weeks and back to normal in 6 to 12 weeks.  I chose the new hip and rehab rather than 6 months of rest.

But it didn’t take that long—it took much longer.