Sep 25, 2012

Hero of small town America

Uncharacteristically, I watched a lot of the London Olympics. Catalyzed by the success of the British bike racing team at the Tour de France, I was curious to see how they would do at the Olympics in their home country. Thanks to a free app, I was able to watch many events live on my iPad. Here is the view of my breakfast table one day, with three cyber devices operating simultaneously.
Doing email on my laptop, watching live swimming on my iPad, following on-location OlympicsTweets from a local guy on my smartypants phone. And eating.

Normally I don't watch people throwing odd-shaped, heavy and/or pointed objects, jumping over things, or running very fast in circles. But a local guy, Ashton Eaton, was competing in the decathlon, and was a favorite to win. Not that I know Ashton, but he seemed like such a nice kid, and sure enough, he won. Bend went Ashton Eaton crazy, before, during and after the games. A huge crowd gathered at a downtown theatre to watch the final decathlon events live on the big screen. School reader boards, tee shirt stores, dry cleaners, grocery stores and sandwich shops boasted signs saying 'Bend Loves Ashton Eaton'. And after the games were over and all the appearances on national tv, someone here in town came up with the idea of having a welcome home parade for Ashton.

For various reasons, Bend is the home of a number of other past Olympians, many of whom participated in nordic skiing, but also in track & field and other events. They too were invited to join the parade, with a few short speeches planned for the end of the parade route.

My sweetheart and I couldn't resist being part of such a hero's welcome, and along with several thousand other people, we walked downtown Sunday afternoon to watch the parade. I don't know when I've seen this many people downtown, certainly not for the annual Christmas parade or the 4th of July parade

First there were policemen on motorcycles,
followed by a bunch of people wearing military uniforms and twirling guns.
Some really nice signs
then a bright red bus, borrowed for the occasion from a new company that gives tours of our town.
Hmmm, I wonder who's in the bus? Aha! The old fart Dixieland band - excellent
Before moving to Bend, Ashton lived the first 6 years of his life in the small town of LaPine, 35 miles south of here. LaPineans are as proud of Ashton as the Bendonians, so they had a vehicle of their own in the parade.
This being very small town America, next we had
Next came the past Olympians, many of them wearing the various USA uniforms from the Olympics year they attended, with a few Special Olympics and Paralympians for good measure.
You have to have some of these
and some of these
and at last,
not riding on a float or the back of a fancy convertible, but just walking down the street in jeans and a tee shirt, with his Olympic gold medal around his neck, waving to the crowd, smiling and jumping up and down with pleasure,
sorry it's blurry, but he was so sweet, waving and holding up his medal.
At the end of the parade, he waded through the huge crowd and vaulted up onto the dais below the theatre marquee
politely listened to a speeches by local officials
and a short speech by his mom
Then he spoke briefly, saying how thankful he was to have grown up in this community, and he said something like "this (the gold medal) was for you". He truly seems to be a sweet, humble person. In an interview afterward, both he and his mother expressed amazement at how many people turned out for the parade. "Wow" was what they said to each other when the parade started.
Then -- wait for it -- the mayor gave him the key to the city!
The huge crowd listened and cheered
A sea of faces
After that, Ashton hopped down from the platform, a path was cleared down the middle of the street for a couple of blocks, and he led an informal 'run' of the littlest kids, down and back. We left to grab lunch, but apparently the line for autographs afterward stretched for many blocks, and people waited patiently and cheerily to talk with him.
There's something about the Olympics, isn't there? It's not a world championship or, for the vast majority of the athletes, even the medalists, it doesn't lead to a lucrative career in sports or monetary payback or endorsements. 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 years later, Olympians look back and most of them, having gone on to live quite ordinary lives in many cases, must reflect that in the end, they did it for themselves.

Sep 19, 2012

Smoky days

The forests of the arid Western US have a fire-based ecology. Fires are a normal part of the forest regeneration process, and without all of us pesky humans, naturally occurring wildfires would be no big deal as far as Mother Nature is concerned. But we WILL build our homes and cities in and around the forests, and thus fires like the Pole Creek fire, 6 miles west of Sisters OR is a very big deal.
This fire started 11 days ago, high in the mountains of the Central Oregon Cascades. By this morning it has grown to over 17,000 acres and is reported as 20% contained. Smoke moves in choking waves over various communities, depending on wind direction. Yesterday I took these shots of the smoke, rolling into town from the fire to the northwest of us. The sun was just setting, a red, flattened ball over the mountain skyline (which was invisible through the murk), but I didn't catch a photo because I was driving.
Here is one of the waves, coming in low and backlit by the sun.

Here you can see another cloud higher up, through the lower level smoke.
The sky was beautiful in a majestic but sobering way.

Of course Bend isn't getting the worst of it, as we are 20 miles or so away from the fire. Towns and folks on ranches closer to the fire are really having a tough time. Here is a cool photo from NASA, showing the Pole Creek fire and other big fires currently burning around the West:

Our normally fabulous warm, clear, sunny fall days are now a bit of a curse, as there is just about zero chance of rain for weeks and weeks. So we check the wind direction before setting out into the woods for a bike ride, hike or just a walk around the neighborhood, and try to spend as little time outdoors, breathing smoke, as we can. Readers, please think rain (but not lightning).

Aug 30, 2012

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansa...... no - wait, we ARE in Kansas!

Toto, Toto -- wake up! We're in Kansas! And dude, it's flaaaaaat.

And the roads are straight....

and long

although there are trees

and oil wells

and other roadside entertainment, including such wonders as:

including my all-time personal favorite

Every town has at least one of these

and one of these

which usually has attached to it one of these (tornado warning sirens)

The last and most surprising roadside sight was probably this, on the rear bumper of yes, a car with a Kansas license plate. I want one.

Jul 13, 2012

These declining times

I am attempting to sneak this wee blog post back into the months-long stream of blogging slackness, in hopes no one will notice I left the bride and groom hanging in pre-nuptial tension. I will return and get them married, I promise. That long-delayed post has been waiting in the wings of 'must do it right, no time to do it now, will do it later' procrastinativeness for 2 months now. Sorry, Andy and Ros!

In the meantime, I will slip in a brief commentary on what my MIL would label a sign of 'these declining times'. Here is a recent purchase from the hardware store:

Just a common sprinkler, known in our household as a 'kachinga', for the sound it makes as it shoots out jets of water, interrupted by a little bar thingy. Common as dirt, its design and function simple yet effective for basic watering of lawn or a large garden area. This one came on a cardboard card, attached with a simple yet fiendlishly difficult-to-cut zippie tie, and out of curiosity I looked at the back of the card for the instructions.

Now for the declining times part. Instead of instructions for hose diameter or a reminder to make sure the gasket was included, or even 'attach to hose', I found this information.

* easily repair existing sprinklers
* waters up to 85' (26 m) diameter circle

Good to know I can use it to repair an existing sprinkler, though I don't have one -- that's why I bought this one. The diameter of water output is good too. I notice they put the pesky metric measurement in parentheses -- a nod to the stubbornness of the American public which refuses to use the metric system, and good for us, too, I say.

But then come the weird cautions:

1. Intended for outdoor use only.

Huh. Damn, I was planning to set it up in the living room......?

2. Severe electrical shock could result if water is sprayed into outlets or sources of electrical current.

Bummer again. There goes my plan to shoot the sprinkler into my electric sockets around the place.

3. Do not use water over 115 F (46 C).

There goes my last plan to water my garden with scalding hot water -- presumably to kill it.

Though the sprinkler itself is made in China (where else), the company is obviously in the good old, litigious US of A. This reminds me of the last time we bought a new washing machine, 20 or so years ago. The same corporate mindset of protecting itself against the possibility of all kinds of frivolous lawsuits apparently made it necessary for the warning, painted on the enamel underside of the lid, against filling the washer with gasoline.

It's hard to imagine anyone doing such a thing, but it must have happened, and maybe Whirlpool or GE got sued because they hadn't imagined anyone would try such a thing. Declining times, indeed. Still, I will probably take my boring, unimaginative self out and hook up the sprinkler to a boring old hose and water the yard in the time-honored way -- with cold water, outdoors, away from the house (and all potential electrocutional hazards). Let's hope it works.

May 20, 2012

Wedding at Kailzie Gardens

We did come to Scotland for a wedding, after all. Though with me, and especially with my mountain-bike-mad sweetheart, it doesn't take much of an excuse to head for a place that has always felt like home to me, from our first sight of it 40 years ago. In the past 10 years, largely due to the pioneering efforts of our equally MB-mad friends in the Borders, Scotland has arrived on the world stage as a mountain biking heaven. Put it all together: a wedding, friends, mountain bike trails, hills to walk, trees, tea and cakes, lots of sheep and the odd garden, and it was a must-do.

Plane tickets were bought last July. Dinner invitations began coming in for our stay. The Best Man was recruited. My sweetheart, at age 61, bought his first suit ever.

Belatedly, I realized that I too would need some new garment of the posh frock variety. Plaid flannel shirts and elastic waist gardening jeans weren't going to cut it. Found just the thing in Ashland a month ago, opting for the middle-aged, dignified look rather than bright spring floral print. Sorry, no photo, you'll have to use your imagination. In the end it was a good choice, because the weather was cold and my outfit afforded lots of room for layers of fine woolen undergarments to fend off the frisky spring weather.

Friday, the day we arrived, having left The Stupids (we hoped) back in the States, was wedding prep day for the Best Man. While I and our friends Ben and Serena settled into our flat, he and the groom set out to decorate the Burgh Hall on Peebles High Street for the reception and ceilidh.
Buildings of various ages surround a courtyard, with the Hall itself in the back. Here's the cenotaph for World War I soldiers:

The manly lads soon had it looking festive:

Andy and Ros had decided on a 'cakes' theme for table arrangements.

Find your name on the list under the photo of a delicious dessert,

then match it to the centerpiece on one of the tables inside:

They are big on 'cakes' (catchall term for sweets, pudding, dessert) in Scotland.

After a lovely dinner with the groom's family, we crashed into bed. The wedding day dawned sunny and clear ...... but as usual in Scotland, the clouds soon moved in and small wettish objects began to fall from the sky. Some were white. Uh oh. Undaunted, we headed to the outdoor wedding site with the groom and his brothers, to put up signs for the wedding.

Kailzie Gardens is a lovely private estate garden that is open to the public. Here is a photo taken in high summer.
Imagine it without the flowers, the leaves on deciduous trees, and sunshine. Erm.

The groom and best man got the rings sorted

and more things checked off the list
At the bottom of the list someone (?) had added:
____ Get married
____ Live happily ever after.

That was it. The tent was set up, the hall was ready, the weather was changing its mind every few minutes, and the cast and crew retired to their chambers for lunch and the donning of wedding apparel!