Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Trip - Out of Touch

We got to Seeley Lake, Montana, on Saturday night, and we've been out of touch with the rest of the world since. Both my mom and I have Cingular (now AT&T) cell phones, but Cingular hasn't seen fit to put up any cell towers around here. This area has Verizon service, and they're not on speaking terms with Cingular.

Without Cingular, I can't get to the internet either, so we've been incommunicado, and it's been making me crazy.

We went to church Sunday at the church my mom used to attend before she moved down to Texas. Everyone was thrilled to see her again, and they're nice to me too. We're parked in front of the pastor's house.

He got us all set up with our water and electric hookups and helped us figure out the complicated water system in the motorhome. Most RVs have very simple water hookups. You plug the hose into the spout that says, "City Water System," or to fill up the fresh water tank, you plug it into the other spout, which says, "Fresh Water Tank."

But not on our fancy motorhome. Ours has one spout and a bunch of pipes with valves, and if you want to fill up the fresh water tank, you have to open one of the valves (or maybe two), but the diagram in the owner's manual doesn't match the actual pipes and valves that stare us in the face. So we had to punt.

And this was important, because there was a foul smell coming from the water that was in the "fresh" water tank, so we needed to drain it. It took a long time to probably figure out the right combination of open and closed valves to get the water drained so it stopped smelling bad and started being wonderful Montana water. I think we got it.

And then this morning, my mom got hold of the RV dealer she knows in Missoula and asked about the hot water heater (which we had some trouble figuring out), and he said we drain that by opening the hot water faucets inside the motorhome and keep them running until the water stops smelling like sulfer, so we did that, and now I think all our water-stink problems may be over.

But all of this is to say that we've been out of touch with the rest of the world for days, and now we're momentarily back (in Missoula for the afternoon). I've got posts ready to go with some of the other things we've been up to, and I'll post them with the proper dates for when they would have been posted if only we had the internet working at the right time.

We may be out of touch for a while again, because we're going back into the Cingular-Free-Zone for a while longer.

Update (08/01/2007):

Two new posts below...

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Trip - Free At Last

Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!

My final exam for Medical Terminology is over! Done. Completed. And I did pretty well.

The spring in my step and the song in my heart are springier and songier than ever. I'm on vacation now!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Trip - The Golden Spike

In the 1800s, when the transcontinental railroad was being built, they started on the west coast and headed eastward, and at the same time they started near the Mississippi River and headed westward. Where the two construction efforts met was in the very northern part of Utah. That's where they nailed down the last link of the rails to the last of the railroad ties in a ceremony that culminated with the hammering of the Golden Spike.

The National Park Service operates the Golden Spike Naitonal Monument at the site. On another of my executive decisions, we went there, 25 miles off the highway through peaceful farmland, including a detour on a gravel and dirt road, with a couple hefty hills to climb.

They have the two steam locomotives, restored and beautifully painted, on display.

Each train has a platform behind it, where you can climb to look inside the engineer's compartment. But there's no climbing on the trains themselves. A special railroad tie marks the spot where the final tie joined the East with the West.

The Visitor's Center has maps of the route and some glass cases showing the life of the laborers and the work they did. Most of the workers heading west were Irish, and most of the ones heading east were Chinese, and the displays reflect the differences. The also show newspaper articles and signs recognizing milestones in the construction.

The Golden Spike itself is not at the momument. It was brought personally to the ceremony by Leland Stanford (of Stanford University), and he took it back with him after the ceremony. It's on display at Stanford.

We looked at the trains, and then my mom went back to the Visitor's Center to watch the 20-minute video, while I stayed outside and took lots of artsy photos of the locomotives. I absolutely love my new camera!

Going 25 miles off the highway seemed like a long way to go for an unknown, but the minute we pulled up to the parking lot there and saw the two trains in the distance, we knew we had made the right decision.

The Trip - Observations of Utah

Utah is a different state from most of the other states in the country, because of its founding by the Mormons in the mid-1800s. The influence is still there, though not completely.

A friend of mine is Mormon, and she grew up in Utah. We've talked sometimes about the cultural differences between Utah and California, one of which is the question of modesty in clothing for women. Her son recently got married, and she had trouble finding a modest mother-of-the-groom formal dress. All the bride's magazines have strapless or spaghetti-strap bodices, many of which were low-cut. Not the thing at all for a Mormom family wedding. Or for anybody who believes that cleavage is best saved for the privacy of the bedroom and not to be hung out for display like a rack of meat.

So when my mom and I stopped at a grocery store in southern Utah, I looked around to see if women were dressed more modestly than elsewhere. A lot of them were, but then that's not really fair to say, since I wasn't looking at women's fashions in Nevada or California. But at the Utah Wal-Mart, lots of women had their upper arms and cleavage covered up. One woman (it was close to 100 degrees outside) was wearing a long-sleeve shirt under a denim jumper shaped like a burlap sack. Modesty doesn't have to mean frumpy, but nobody had informed this woman yet.

And there were a lot of pregnant women with little kids too, but then at my church there are a lot of pregnant women with young kids. So my stereotypes may be showing. But not completely, because there were billboards advertising large houses:

"Eight kids. All girls. 120 pairs of shoes." And then it had the name of the home builder, which I forget. So there must still be something to the image of Utah having large families.

And there was one other thing that was more a reminder to me of the days when I worked at the headquarters of a fast-food chain. I worked in IT, supporting their accounting and other software. There was one program that was set to blow up (causing the oncall support person to get paged) if any of the stores reported zero sales for a non-holiday day. After all, even on a horrible sales day, there should be at least one soft drink or one food item sold. A store reporting no sales could be revealing a potential absconder with company funds.

But my first July that I worked there, I got called because the program blew up. I called the woman in the Accounting department who knew about this stuff, and she asked me if the store was in Utah. I looked it up, and it was. So she told me not to worry about it, to keep the processing going, because Utah had their own state holiday that some of their stores were closed for. My friend told me later that it's Utah's Founders Day.

As we drove toward Salt Lake City, I saw a billboard that said, "Kick off your 24th." The town we were driving through was holding a rodeo from the 21st to the 24th. I smiled, because I knew that just a couple days before, somebody at HQ had been paged because a Utah store reported no sales.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Trip - Calico Ghost Town

We only got as far as Barstow last night, after a much later start than we wanted. But part of the delay was getting the tail light on the tow dolly replaced, because we didn't have a left turn signal. It was worth the effort.

Shortly after we left Barstow this morning, I saw the sign for Calico Ghost Town, which I've seen every time I've traveled to Las Vegas and back. I've never gone there, though I've always wanted to, so I made the executive decision, and we went.

Calico is a restored mining town, a little touristy but not overly much. It's $6 per person to get in (dogs are welcome), and there are nominal fees for some of the extras, like visiting the Mystery House or panning for gold.

In July, it's hot in Calico, a hundred degrees or more, and we craved the shade and the air-conditioned interiors of the shops. Scooter was a good sport, but we all got tuckered out from the heat. Here's my mom, with Scooter, savoring a cold bottle of sarsaparilla.

I left them there to rest, while I explored up the hill with the camera. At the Sweet Shoppe, they were selling Scorpion Candy.

The lady in the shoppe said her teenage son had eaten one (the poisonous stingers are removed before placing the rest of the scorpion in the candy), not quite on a dare but for the bravado effect. And she said last week a man came in and bought one to eat, but he apparently eats a lot of strange things. Personally, I took a picture and otherwise left all the scorpions alone.

Calico has a lot to offer photographers with an eye for relics that have forgotten how long ago they saw better days. Broken-down wagons and buggies, burned walls, and weathered wood almost beg for black-and-white. And who am I to refuse?

We didn't see everything. It was too hot, and Scooter needed some water and some rest, so we headed back to the motorhome and the road north toward Las Vegas.

And somewhere in Nevada, on a lonely stretch of road, we stopped to buy something to drink at a gas station. These were their prices.

Nobody was at the gas pumps.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Trip - About Ready to Go

I have a spring in my step and a song in my heart. For two reasons.

First, my kids just got back from Germany tonight, and they stopped here to visit before going back to their dad's house for some sleep before they go to work tomorrow morning (they haven't learned yet that people need an extra day to recover from jet lag).

Second, we've been in California two weeks now, and we're just about ready to head out for Montana. We've spent most of the time getting the house ready. I finally located a handyman who came and did the work I needed--the things I couldn't do myself. And today the junk haulers came and took away the junk that the previous owners had left for me behind the shed (lumber and an engine block), plus a couple things I had that weren't worth salvaging but were too big for the garbage can.

We've cleaned and sorted and hung curtains and weeded and planted. And we took Scooter to the vet's (ear infection, plus enlarged heart with fluid on his lungs--it's déjà vu all over again after Abby).

Today I left a message for the realtor to let him know that the house should be ready tomorrow to get the sign out front and be put in the MLS. We were finishing up getting the inside to look as much like a model home as we can with my stuff. And I still need to weed-eater the yard and then plant some flowers in the now-weed-free front dirt. We'll do that in the morning with the agapanthus plants (4) and the lobelia (4 six-packs) I bought.

But the realtor called to say he had a woman who wanted to look at houses today, and he would call later to let us know when he'd bring her over. So we went into more of a frenzy trying to get the finishing touches finished. We got stuff boxed up and stored away, cleaned and mopped and ready, except the yard. I even hosed out the garbage cans, which appear to have been used while I was gone as a nursery for some baby possums (this from my daughter's friend, who said the babies were so cute, she fed them), including the deposits of fecal material which reeked. The garbage cans smell better now.

Then the realtor called and said the woman flaked on him, and he'll try to bring her tomorrow, which will be fine, because we need to leave in the morning sometime after rush hour. And the house now looks fabulous on the inside, so the realtor scare was worth the panic.

All that to say that sometime tomorrow we leave for Las Vegas, where we'll spend the night. If you're there and want to get together with us for a meal or coffee (or tea) Tuesday evening or Wednesday, send me an email at skyepuppy77-at-yahoo-dot-com. I'd love to meet more of my readers.

Dems in Congress Working for Terrorists

That's what it boils down to when both houses of Congress defeat the John Doe amendment, along party lines. Michelle Malkin covered it Thursday (yes, I'm a little late on this one, but it's important), including the Senate roll on the vote.

Malkin quotes Audrey Hudson from the Washington Times:

Congressional Democrats today failed to include a provision in homeland security legislation that would protect the public from being sued for reporting suspicious behavior that may lead to a terrorist attack, according to House Republican leaders.

“This is a slap in the face of good citizens who do their patriotic duty and come forward, and it caves in to radical Islamists,” said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

And she quotes Brian Preston at Hot Air:

[The Dems] scuttled this amendment in committee in a way that makes them difficult to track down individually. That’s sneaky but it’s how Washington often works. Rep. Bennie Thompson is the most likely culprit, but it’s unlikely that he’s flying solo here.

Senate Republicans, not being able to get this essential piece of legislation in the homeland security bill, where it belongs, tried adding the John Doe Amendment to the education bill, but because the bill and amendment are about different governmental arenas, the amendment needed 60 votes to be included in the education bill, which is expected to pass. The amendment only got 57 votes.

Why would the Democrats so blatantly side with the terrorists?

It's baffling to me. It's inexplicable. Unless the Democrats have become so infused with one concept that they can see no other: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And the only enemy the Democrats can see is President Bush.

That's the only thing that is even in the realm of making sense, even though it's unthinkable. But if that's the case, the Congressional Democrats have made themselves the enemy of the American people.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


I've been tagged by Charlie at Another Think for some randomness. Here are the rules:

  • Let others know who tagged you.
  • Post 8 random facts about yourself.
  • Post these rules.
  • Tag 8 others to continue the meme.

It's a little hard to know what to post, since I've divulged quite a lot of random, uselss information about myself before, but here goes:

1. As a young adult, I had a two-day temporary job handing out samples of cigarettes in downtown Los Angeles, where the winos and Bible screamers hang around.

2. When I was in kindergarten, my mom got a call from my teacher one day, asking why I wasn't in school. I had left the house on time, so my mom started walking to school and found me distracted by all the things there were to look at along the way. She escorted me to school.

3. When I was in high school in Montana, and Polak jokes were all the rage, we always substituted "North Dakotan" for "Polak" (How many North Dakotans does it take to screw in a light bulb...?).

4. I once gave up chocolate for about four or five months for religious reasons (not for Lent--I've never been a Catholic). During that time, I rediscovered the joys of other flavors that I had always passed by, things like Good N Plenty, and berry syrup poured over the really high-quality vanilla ice cream.

5. I was in Blue Birds and Camp Fire Girls as a kid, not Brownies and Girl Scouts.

6. My favorite job was working for an airline in the IT department. We had a bunch of kooks working there, but I loved what I did.

7. I was the victim of identity theft 22 years ago, long before they had a name for it (I found out about it right after I went on maternity leave with my son). They called it true-person fraud at the time. The FBI was on the case--mine was only one of the more than a dozen names the Fraud Lady used--but I never learned if they caught her.

8. When I was a Drama major in college, fresh out of high school, the nervouse energy in the Drama department was so pervasive that I tried smoking a cigarette to be like everyone else. The first inhalation of smoke burned my throat so much, I never did that again.

And now I tag:

All I Can Stands
Wordsmith from Nantucket

Friday, July 20, 2007

Perverse Pleasures

My friend the astrophysics major has a lefty friend (LF) who argues politics with her and sometimes with me too. For LF, lefty politics is his big passion, and when people disagree with him, he can get apoplectic. It's really fun to watch.

Every once in a while, I see something that I know will set LF off. And to be honest, LF isn't anywhere near as deranged as Code Pink and other lefty extremist groups. It gives me great pleasure when I see these things and imagine the screaming.

When my mom and I were having first-motorhome trouble in Texas, we went to Wal-Mart to get jumper cables and flashlights, and when we got to the sporting goods department and rounded a corner, there in front of us was a large group of locked display cases with all kinds of rifles, shotguns, and other weaponry.

It was Texas. It was beautiful. And the first thing I thought of was how horrified the lefties would be if they saw it, and that thought gave me pleasure. So I stood there, looking at the guns and savoring the whole thing.

Today has given me a new moment of such a perverse pleasure. The AP reported today that President Bush will be undergoing a colonoscopy tomorrow. That's not the thing of beauty, though.

President Bush will have a colonoscopy Saturday and temporarily hand presidential powers to Vice President Dick Cheney, the White House said.

I'm not really sure why, but the people on the left who suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS) seem to be even more deranged by Dick Cheney. The ones who are serious about impeaching Bush are careful to call for Cheney's impeachment first, so he can't take the Presidency after Bush is thrown out in disgrace. So the idea of Cheney being the leader of the free world, even for only a few hours, has got to be more than they can take.

Some days give gifts beyond what you can think or imagine.

Update (July 21, 2007, 8:20pm):

Life as we know it was not destroyed by Vice President Cheney's being in charge. The AP reported today that President Bush is back after the successful removal of five polyps.

Nothing occurred during the 2 hours and 5 minutes of the transfer that required Cheney to take official action, [White House spokesman Scott] Stanzel said.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Feinstein Gets It About Ramos and Compean

I haven't really blogged about former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. I've just referred to them here and there. Their case is a tough one to understand, tough enough that the Senate held hearings recently to try to do just that.

WorldNetDaily has been following the story for some time, and they reported Tuesday about Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chaired the hearings.

After presiding over a Senate hearing today, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has decided to ask President Bush to commute the sentences of former U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, an aide for the California Democrat told WND.

Following the Senate judiciary committee's examination of the controversial prosecution, according to Gerber, the senator said "it became very clear the sentences did not match the crime."

Ramos and Compean are serving 11- and 12-year prison sentences, respectively, after a jury convicted them of violating federal gun laws and covering up the shooting of a drug smuggler as he fled back to Mexico after driving across the border with 742 pounds of marijuana. U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton's office gave the smuggler, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, immunity to serve as the government's star witness and testify against the border agents.

Feinstein concluded the hearing today with a vow to look further into why prosecutors charged the men under section 924(c) of the U.S. code, which requires a 10-year sentence for using or carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.

Feinstein, during questioning of Sutton, argued the statute did not apply to Ramos and Compean in their pursuit of a drug smuggler at the Mexican border, because there was no underlying crime.

Gerber told WND that Feinstein has concluded the use of 924(c) was "prosecutorial overreach."

When conditions get so obvious that even one of California's senators (granted, the less stupid one) can recognize the injustice, you know it's bad. And when previous pleading with the President by Republican lawmakers on Ramos and Compean's behalf has had no effect, you know the President has a tin ear on border issues.

Let's hope Sen. Feinstein can finally get through to President Bush, and get these Border Patrol agents out of prison.

For more background on the case, the WND article has plenty of links to "Previous Stories" for you to choose from.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Trip - Lingering in California

Sunday afternoon I opened the refrigerator to get out the creamer for my tea, and I saw our nighttime dessert (chocolate-covered fruit from Trader Joe's--the red and blue ones are already gone), and I wanted some right then. Bad sign.

I shut the door and told my mom that I'm stressed.

Saturday, I'd signed up with a realtor. I had talked to two of them. The first guy, recommended by the association management, turned out to be a newbie who didn't look at the house much, talked too much about himself (non-real-estate related), worked for a company that I'd heard bad things about (but I'd heard them from a cranky person, so I was giving him the benefit of the doubt), and wanted me to set the price I wanted to get so he could add his commission on top of that. Okaaaayyy....

The second one looked at all the rooms, looked around the outside, showed me comps, talked about percentage commissions like a normal realtor, and generally came across as a professional. Silly me, but I liked that, so I signed with him. But we agreed the house wasn't ready to hit the market yet. I still had repairs to get done and stuff to move into the storage unit and curtains to hang--all the stuff I didn't get finished when I left for Texas in June. He said he'd refrain from putting the house in the MLS or putting on the lockbox and the sign out front until I gave him the go-ahead, and he'd help out any way he could.

Then, over the weekend, I got an email from my Medical Terminology instructor saying she hadn't noticed earlier which date I had scheduled for proctoring my final exam, but August 6th was too late and I would have to reschedule for around August 1st. And that meant I needed to finish up my remaining chapters more quickly.

And we were scheduled to leave Monday to head up the coast. I kept trying to figure out how I'd get everything done at the house when we were out of town, but I wasn't coming up with any answers. The need to do the impossible was more than I was ready for, and it triggered that particular brand of wanting to eat snacks that makes me feel it in my muscles like the tightness from making a fist.

By now I know how to recognize it, which is why I told my mom I'm stressed. She asked me some questions, like my dad would have, and when I answered her, she suggested that we stay here and finish getting the house ready for the sign to go up. That thought hadn't occurred to me.

I spent Sunday afternoon and evening working on Medical Terminology, then yesterday some friends from church with a minivan helped me take the bigger stuff I can't fit in my car over to storage, and we got started spiffing up the house.

There's still more to do, the biggest of which is to get a handyman to call me back and come over to replace the shower door and bathroom light fixtures. I can manage all the rest.

My Medical Terminology is rescheduled for July 30th, so we have to leave town in time to get to Kalispell, Montana by the day before. That's our deadline, and it means replanning the trip around the West. We'll head up the I-15 for Montana, stopping to see my ex-husband's dad and stepmom in Las Vegas and my ex's youngest sister in Idaho on the way. Then in between my final and my mom's high school reunion on August 11th, we can visit Montana friends and one of my mom's friends just over the border in North Dakota. And go to Glacier National Park.

After the reunion, we'll go to Spokane (visit more friends) and the Seattle area (plus Victoria, in Canada), and come down the coast.

That's the plan right now. I like it, because I'm not tempted to eat my desserts at the wrong time of the day.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Drinking Problem

I have a drinking problem, and it reared its ugly head today. Unexpectedly. Uncontrollably.

I was minding my own business, having a cup of tea, when the problem hit: I forgot to stop breathing when I needed to swallow. You'd think by now that I'd have the process down pat, but obviously not. A mouthful of tea, a drop of it in my lungs, and I was facing my computer. Yes, the danger was great.

My lungs tried to cough, my lips tried to stay shut, and my tongue tried to swallow even more. I won't go into any more detail than that, other than to say that by the time the danger had passed, I had to wipe a little tea off the keyboard. And I think, for the first time I can remember, I snorted some tea through my nose.

Such is the shame of my drinking problem. Don't let it happen to you.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Jobs Illegals Won't Do

Fox News reported Friday about farm workers in Colorado. Here is the entire article:

For generations, farmers in southern Colorado have depended on immigrant labor to work their fields.

But the new immigration laws in Colorado are some of the toughest in the nation, and now illegal immigrants are hesitant to come to the Centennial State.

Farmers say only half the normal number of migrant workers appeared this year, going instead to states like New Mexico and Arizona, where the laws are not so strict.

But the soil in Colorado still has to be tilled, and the seeds have to be planted, and somebody has to be in the fields to harvest the crops so that the onions, peppers and melons don't rot in the ground.

So the state came up with a plan to replace the illegal immigrants with workers from a different kind of home: inmates from colorado's overcrowded prison system.

"It's not a cure for our immigration problem, but it's something that we can turn to and maybe get us through these times until legislation gets these laws in order…." Said Joe Pisciotta, an onion farmer who now has women from a local prison working in his fields.

"I've got to get my crops out. Tha'ts my livelihood and I've got to think about that first."

At first the farmers were concerned that the prisoners wouldn't work as hard as the illegal immigrants they are replacing. They also had concerns about having the prisoners around their families.

But only low-risk prisoners are allowed to work in the fields; sex offenders and inmates sentenced to life without parole are not permitted to participate in the program. And the prisoners are constantly supervised by a prison guard.

The farmers pay the Department of Corrections $9.60 per hour per inmate, most of which goes toward paying for the guards, transportation and lunch. The inmates themselves earn $4 a day, which is nearly seven times the 60 cents a day they can earn in prison. And the money they earn will be waiting for them once they've finished serving their sentences.

The work proved so hard, many of the women dropped out quickly. But most of those who have toughed it out say it's well worth it.

"It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life, said Kaedra, a drug offender who is working in Pisciotta's onion field.

"One of the cabbage fields … they were just little tiny plants and now they're big huge cabbage, and now we're getting ready to harvest them. And...we're actually pretty excited about it...and I wasn't expecting to feel that way."

As for the pay, Kaedra said: "I make $4 a day. For us, that's a lot."

Though some farmers were skeptical at first that the inmates could do the work, everyone now seems to be satisfied with the program. Twice the number of farms have asked the prison to provide workers this fall for the harvest.

This story is good news for many reasons. First, pro-business amnesty proponents like to declare that illegals are necessary, especially for migrant farm work. Illegal labor has been cheap and easy to get, which made it seem irreplaceable, but Colorado has shown that there are other options.

For the people who like to claim that the deportation of illegals is impossible, this shows that self-deportation will take care of a lot of the illegals when the work gets too risky or too hard to find. They'll go where they believe their chances of finding work is better, or they'll stay home. If employer sanctions are strengthened throughout the country, fewer illegal workers will come.

And it also shows that farmers will do what they need to do, in order to get the crops in. The state of Colorado is to be commended for coming up with this program. It's what states should be doing--helping their businesses and citizens find solutions that will keep the state's economy strong.

But more than all these things, this is a story of hope. The prisoners, like Kaedra, are learning the kind of values they may have been missing in their lives. They're discovering the rewards of hard work, the joy of watching a garden grow and produce something worth eating. They've seen the value of delayed gratification, and they'll have a small (but bigger than it would have been) nest-egg waiting for them when they leave prison.

These women have been given the gift of accomplishment, a sense of pride over what they've done, instead of shame over their failures. They've been given an opportunity to participate in something worthwhile that can build their self-respect and maybe--just maybe--help them stay out of trouble when they get back out among us.

On the immigration question, instead of throwing our hands in the air and saying there's nothing we can do but let all the illegals stay, we need to look for better answers. Colorado has done just that, and it's a win all the way around.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

More Squirrel News

Not only are squirrels allegedly being used as spies, they're also being used as archaeologists. CBS-13 reported yesterday on a squirrel's archaeological discovery.

ROSEVILLE An amazing discovery has been unearthed in Placer County [California]. Amazing because of its historical significance....and amazing because of how it was found. Archaeologists did not carefully unearth the 8,000 to 10,000 year old artifact, but it appears some curious squirrels dug it up.

"You can see where little tiny flakes have been knocked off to sharpen this or to give it a certain shape." explained Cultural Interpreter Rick Adams who stumbled upon the unearthed artifact along the Maidu Nature Trail. It's a carefully carved tool or ceremonial object. Experts say it appears to be partially volcanic and may have originated in the Rancho Murietta area about 20 miles from where it was discovered.

"We only find what the squirrels are giving us right now. And that's Okay. We don't want to dig." said Park Specialist Chuck Kritzon.

While the officials running the Maidu Center know there are probably more artifacts in the park, it is illegal for humans to dig them up on the protected land.

So that's where the squirrels come in. Maybe not on purpose, but you can bet there's going to be some spying on the squirrels' activity in Placer County. We can't begin to know what new discoveries the rodents will unearth in the future.

Iran Arrests Spy Squirrels

Photo credit: AP

Ynet News (Israel) reported yesterday that Iranian intelligence officials have arrested 14 squirrels (not pictured here) for being spies of the West.

"In recent weeks, intelligence operatives have arrested 14 squirrels within Iran's borders," state-sponsored news agency IRNA reported. "The squirrels were carrying spy gear of foreign agencies, and were stopped before they could act, thanks to the alertness of our intelligence services."

Iranian police commander Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moqadam confirmed the report, saying that a number of squirrels had been caught bearing foreign spy gear within Iran's borders.

Recently, Iran has increased its efforts in combating espionage by the West. The use of rodents has not been documented in the past.

I figured the government uses whatever methods it thinks will work. The Navy uses dolphins. Lots of agencies use sniffer-dogs. But the CIA has been very effective at keeping its Secret Spy Squirrel program (SSS), well, a secret. I never knew.

Leave it to the crack Iranian intelligence operatives to sniff out the secret.

How we got the squrrels trained to cross the Iranian border, wearing all of their elaborate spy-gear, is amazing. But then, if a squirrel can learn to water ski, I guess squirrels can learn to to work for God and Country and even put their lives on the line.

Just don't let PETA find out what we've been doing with these brave rodents.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Trip - Dead Sea Scrolls

We took a trip down to Balboa Park in San Diego yesterday, to see the Dead Sea Scrolls on exhibit at the Natural History Museum. My mom and I stopped on the way to pick up my friend, the astrophysics major, who had been hoping to find someone to go with. Apparently, she was hoping for us.

In the line where you wait to be admitted, they have some side-by-side photos of Israel and San Diego County, showing how the two places are almost the same in terms of climate and terrain. The Dead Sea vs. the Salton Sea. The Israeli coastline vs. the Torrey Pines coastline. Israel's mountaintops vs. Mt. Laguna. We guessed them right, especially the mountains, because snow on the mountains is not normal in San Diego.

Inside, the exhibit shows what the area is like, with beautiful photos of the animals, the plants, the mineral deposits of the Dead Sea--even an explanation of how different the Dead Sea's salts are from the ocean's salt. They have graphics showing the different empires that ruled over the Middle East, they show excavations from Qumran, and they give context to the time period of the discovery of the scrolls--the British Mandate and the UN Partition.

A couple things bothered me about the wording of the various signs, the first of which was the use of BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) instead of BC and AD for the dates. They explained that the way we grew up dating things was the Christian way, and we wouldn't want to exclude anyone's religion, so CE and before are much nicer to everyone. Except, I'd like to know what event is supposed to mark the beginning of the Common Era, if it's not the advent of Jesus. After all, Judaism has its own method of counting the years. And so do Islam and Hinduism and all the rest. So they're using Christian dating, but they're just pretending that they're not, and that really annoyed me.

Then, in the part about the history of 1947 - 1948, when the scrolls were discovered and offered for sale, the sign said that Israel found itself in the midst of turmoil and war, as if somehow Israel just spontaneously combusted into a war that was nobody's fault. They didn't mention that Israel was attacked by multiple nations, just something to the effect that Israelis woke up in the morning and looked outside to check the weather, only to find that it was raining bullets. Very odd, but what can you do?

But those were very minor points in a wonderful exhibit. At the end were the pieces of the scrolls in a room with low lighting to help preserve them. Israel's antiquities department only allows the scroll fragments to be on display for three months, so midway through the six-month exhibition in San Diego, the scroll fragments will be replaced by another set. I imagine the beginning of the exhibit will remain the same.

The fragments on display included sections of Isaiah, Job, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, as well as writings about the rules of living in the Essene community at Qumran. Some of them are badly faded as a result of the poor preservation methods (cellophane tape) used by the original purchasers of the scrolls. But others are still legible (provided you read Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek). One of them, a piece from Isaiah, shows different darknesses of ink so you can see each time the scribe dipped his pen into the inkwell.

The thing that has struck me about the Dead Sea Scrolls over the years is the timing of their discovery. For over two thousand years, they lay secreted away from the world. But now, in our increasingly secular age, during a time when even Christian seminaries question the reliability of the Bible and its faithful translation, these ancient manuscripts have so much to say. They tell us that very little error has crept into our Scripture in the past two millenia, and what changes have been discovered are not significant.

The example given in the exhibit is that of Goliath, the giant that David brought down with a sling and a stone. Our translations say Goliath was 9-1/2 feet tall, but the Dead Sea Scrolls have him at 6-1/2 feet tall--it's tall even now, but still would have have seemed taller to the people in David's time. This isn't a difference in theology, though, just a detail.

I have to believe that God guided the hand of the teenage Arab shepherd as he threw stones into a cave at Qumran. For a faith community about to be plagued with doubts and battered from outside and from within about the truth of God's Word, the discovery couldn't have come at a better time. His Word hasn't changed, and we have proof to assure us of that.

Who knows but that the Dead Sea Scrolls were preserved for such a time as this.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Trip - Back in California

We got back to my house last night.

Sunday we made good time in the new motorhome. No matter how hot it got outside, the engine temperature held steady. We crossed the western half of New Mexico and a lot of Arizona, and we were working on getting to Casa Grande for the night. But somewhere west of Tucson, some guy in a truck motioned to me that we had a flat tire.

I pulled over to the side of the road, got out and looked at all the tires on the motorhome, the tow dolly, and my car. Nothing was flat. One tire was a little low, so we continued on and pulled off at the next exit with a gas station to put more air back in that tire. But when I got out at the gas station, the tire was now flat. When I put air in it, it just hissed back at me.

We called AAA, turned on the generator, and sat at the dining table in air-conditioned comfort to eat a snack of cherries and yogurt while we waited for help. When the tow truck driver came, he said we'd be OK to drive to his shop, which was just on the other side of the highway.

We waited inside the mini-convenience store while the guys did their work outside in the heat. They replaced the valve stem on the tire, which was bad, and when they tried to put air in the tire to get it back up to 80 psi, it blew up on the inside at only 40 psi. They came in and asked us where the spare was.

Spare? What spare? When we bought the motorhome, they gave us a tour of all the gadgets and buttons and hoses and gizmos in all the compartments, but neither of us remembered being shown a spare tire. So the guys at the shop looked all over, even on the roof, and couldn't find one. They even called up the sales guy from the RV dealer (we had his business card) and asked him if he knew if there was a spare. But he said he was just a sales guy and had no idea.

Now, normally this repair shop has tires our size in stock, but Sunday they were out. So they called over to their other shop, and they had exactly one. The guys told us this in an apologetic way, as though one wasn't enough, but that's all we needed. So the man from the other shop a half hour away drove the tire over, and they got it installed and filled up without exploding, but by this time it was already dark.

There was an RV Resort (not just an RV Park, mind you) a mile down the service road, so that's where we went. At the security booth, the man asked if there were any adults under the age of 30 with us, because this RV Resort was 55+, and they'd forgive me for being underage, as long as my mom did the registering.

When she registered (I stayed with Scooter in the motorhome), the man warned her to watch out for snakes in the morning. (Oh joy!) But it sounded like nighttime was safe enough, so we got set up and bunked for the night.

In the morning, this is the view that greeted us. It's Picacho Peak, in Arizona, and it has its own state park with lots of hiking.

My mom noticed before I did (my eyes were on the ground, watching for snakes) that nobody was in those other RVs. The wheels were all covered, the hatches battened down, and there wasn't another soul in sight, besides us and the caretakers. And this is the reason why (the thermometer came with the motorhome):

Nobody in their right mind vacations in Arizona in July. They certainly don't climb up to the top of Picacho Peak when it's almost 110 degrees outside. We certainly didn't. We headed west without hiking and without seeing any snakes.

Still in Arizona, we stopped at a rest area to have some lunch. The signs at this rest area were a different breed from all the other rest areas we've visited, so I took a couple pictures.

We did not notice any bees while we were there, for which I am thankful.

And we were sure to keep all our livestock securely inside the motorhome. No unloading of livestock for us, no sir! Though we did take Scooter outside so he could mark some territory, but I don't think that's what they had in mind.

But we're home now, trying to clear up enough loose ends (like getting a realtor to call me back, so I can get my house officially up for sale) that we can leave for our tour of the Pacific Coast and the Northwest soon, hopefully Saturday. We'd really like to have a chance to do some sightseeing. We've had enough of car repair places and driving to get miles put behind us. It would be nice to be able to slow down and enjoy the places we go.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Trip - Out of Texas

We are in New Mexico. At long last. I think we may have set the record for how long it takes to get out of Texas when you're really trying.

Monday, we left Cisco, expecting to arrive in California no later than Thursday, when we'd have a chance to see my kids before they left Friday for a two-week trip to Germany together. (I really hope they don't kill each other. I told them before they left--especially my son, who inherited my stubborn streak--to be nice to each other.)

California by Thursday didn't happen.

At the RV Park and Service Center, one of the guests, who works on pipeline construction and plays with Ford engines for fun, came over and pulled the engine apart. He tested the thermostat and said it looked OK, unless it had been stuck and his test jarred it loose. Then he checked the radiator cap to be sure it wasn't bad. And he checked for water in the oil, but there was just oil in the oil, to our great relief. And in the morning, the service center guy tightened up a few things, ran the engine for a while, and it stayed at 190 the way it should. So we headed for El Paso proper, keeping an eye on the temperature gauge.

Within 8 miles, the engine was hot again. We waited in a parking lot for it to cool, took the car off the dolly, so there'd be less strain on the motorhome, and tried to find a repair place to look at it. One shop sent us to an RV dealer/service place by the Texas/New Mexico border, and we nursed the motorhome there, making several cool-down stops along the way.

That shop took the engine apart, checked things, replaced the thermostat, and tightened everything down. It took all day, and while we waited, we saw a used motorhome on the lot that called to us like a siren-song we tried to resist.

When the repairs were done, they said there was one more thing that could be the problem, if the new thermostat didn't fix it, and to come back in the morning (that would be Friday) if it still got hot. Which it did on the way to the RV Park where we spent the night.

So we went back Friday morning to have them replace the fan clutch, and the siren-song got louder and more insistent. By afternoon, my mom gave in to the call, and started the paperwork tempest that allowed her to trade in the problem child for the newer, hopefully more reliable motorhome, seen here in, yes, New Mexico:

They didn't finish the paperwork until Saturday, so we had one more night in the old motorhome. After the fan clutch replacement, the engine held its temperature at 180 very nicely. But on the way back to the RV dealer, the transmission started acting wrong, so we were very relieved to be relieved of the burden of the old motorhome (pictured here).

But there was a good side to all the problems. At each place we stopped with trouble, whether it was because the battery didn't have the oomph it needed to start the engine after a short stop at a rest area (that happened quite a bit), or because of the overheating, there was always somebody ready to help us ladies in distress. We have thanked God when the engine started, and we've thanked Him when it didn't but someone was on hand to help us. In all of it God has been faithful to us.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Oliver Stone Rejected by Iran

WorldNetDaily reported July 2, 2007, that Iran rejected Oliver Stone's request to make a documentary about President Ahmadinejad.

Mahdi Kalhor told Iran's Fars news agency he understands, however, why Stone would want to do the movie, because Ahmadinejad – who has threatened to destroy Israel – "is an appealing figure in the world and the Americans always look for what can return their investment."

"While it is true that Oliver Stone is considered to be among the opposition in the U.S., the opposition is still part of the Great Satan," he said.

"We believe that the American cinema system is devoid of all culture and art and is only used as a device," Kalhor said. "In the last two years, the global arrogance (the U.S. and Britain) has made a lot of effort to portray their own image of Ahmadinejad, not the one which exists in reality. Hollywood and other Zionist media react to phenomena they don't like through different processes."

Stone, in turn, has responded to the rejection, as reported in WorldNetDaily yesterday.

I've been called a lot of things, but never a 'Great Satan,'" the director said in a statement.

Maybe not to his face.

True to form, though, Oliver Stone did not waste an opportunity to slam President Bush.

"I wish the Iranian people well, and I only hope their experience with an inept, rigid ideologue president goes better than ours."

The Castro-loving, America-hating director will just have to find other dictators to glorify on the silver screen. Maybe Pol Pot will be a good choice for Stone. He was a man of the people with a charming smile, and he's too dead to tell Oliver Stone "No."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Trip - Broken Down Again

I'm starting to think our entire year of travel will be spent broken down somewhere in Texas. Right now, we're in an RV Park and Service Center just outside El Paso, because the engine overheated when we stopped at a rest area. It got hot enough to boil the water in the radiator overflow container, which spit coolant into a long, yellow-green puddle on the parking lot.

A nice man came and helped us figure out the best way to help the engine cool down, and then we started off down the road with my eye frequently on the temperature needle. It crept up close to the boiling point again, so I took the next exit and pulled into the only gas station. My mom asked there if someone could help us, and one of the locals led us to his house, where he filled up our almost-empty overflow container from his garden hose.

Here's a picture of where the container is (green arrow pointing to the cap). I have no idea how they expect anyone to fill it up with antifreeze. Even if we opened the engine cover inside the motorhome, I don't see how we could reach it. And I'm not about to try siphoning antifreeze through a hose. Nope. The motorhome's coolant supply is going to be garden-hose water from now on, unless a professional does the job.

After the guy filled us up, the temperature held steady for a while, and then it began creeping up again. My mom found the RV Park with built-in service center in the Good Sam Club directory, so we came here. But they said the service center is closed for Fourth of July and won't open until tomorrow morning at 8:00. But they were having a birthday party for Tony, and we were more than welcome to join them and have some food. We did. Even Scooter, who got water and plenty of attention.

My mom is starting to say things like, "I'm tempted to trade this one in for a different one." I wouldn't blame her, but I don't know how serious she is. It's that same question anyone has with a troublesome engine: What if this is the last thing that's wrong and then it runs great?

Every now and then, life becomes nothing more than a crap shoot, and this is one of those times. The problem is, my mom and I aren't gamblers. So I don't know what will happen, beyond having the service center look at the motorhome tomorrow.

The Trip - West and Central Texas

(Written July 3, 2007, 8:30pm - No internet available then, so it's posted now)

We got to Roy's this afternoon, and had a happy reunion with him and his wife. Then we pulled the car off the tow dolly, and headed to Dairy Queen while Roy started working on the dashboard air conditioning.

All the rain around Cisco didn't get into West Texas, where it was over 100 degrees. My mom and I had some ice cream decadence, but Scooter had to wait in the car with the windows partially down. We brought him a small bowl of ice cream when we finished ours, which he devoured like a dog. Then we went back to Roy's to wait in his office. It felt like our home away from home. My mom and I crocheted, and Scooter slept off his overindulgence.

It's different in West Texas than around Cisco, where my mom and sister live. West Texas is dry, with pale scrub brush for long distances, dotted (in some places, spattered) with oil pumps. It reminds me of the scene near the beginning of Glory Road, when the old assistant coach is driving three of the new basketball recruits back to El Paso on a bus. He announces proudly, "West Texas. God's country." And one of the recruits replies, "If this is God's country, He must not want any neighbors."

Most of God's neighbors in West Texas seem to be in the oil business or something related to it, twice removed. And if the people here appreciate the beauty around them, it's because they're able to see past the obvious. Sure, it's easy to find beauty in Western Montana or the Pacific coastline, but it takes patience and an open heart to recognize a common spirit in the scrappy plants that have fought against the hot extremes of nature and not only won but sometimes even managed to bloom.

In Central Texas (they call it Big Country), the landscape is prettier to the eye. The plants are the right color green, not pale like their western cousins, and there are more of them. Wildflowers grow everywhere along the roads, tall and profuse.

Once you get outside of town (which doesn't take very long), fields stretch to the horizon. The trees are a little lower than in other parts of the country, but they're still trees, not oversized bushes. I drove up to Breckenridge to pick up a prescription, a thunderstorm flashing bolts of lightning to the ground off to the left, but the thunder never reached the car. The fields along the way looked like farmland, with farm-style houses, but other than a quarter-mile stretch of three-foot high corn growing along both sides of the road, I didn't see much of anything that looked like crops. It might be good ranchland, but there were no cows. I just couldn't say from observation what that part of Texas does with its wide-open land.

But I'm starting to like it there. Small town life is growing on me. People are different in Cisco than in California. People don't go out for lunch after church very much. They go home or to a family member's house to have a big meal. There are only a few restaurants in town, and when my mom and I realized we didn't have any food for breakfast yesterday, we headed to the one restaurant that serves breakfast, only to find a sign on the front door saying she was on vacation and would be back July 6th. We ended up at Sonic Burger, because Dairy Queen and Subway don't serve breakfast, and those three are the only fast food chains in town. But that's the way it goes in places like Cisco.

At my mom's church, the people are friendly. They ask me where I'm from, and when I say, "California," they usually have some connection with the state. One of the two former motorcycle-gang members--now born-again Christians---is from Sacramento and was the head of a chapter of Hell's Angels in Southern California for a while. A senior lady tells me she lived in Bishop, and she still misses the mountains and tall trees back there, but she doesn't say what brought her to Cisco, and she's been in Texas long enough to sound like one of their own. They welcome me, though, and the few that I met on previous trips here greet me as an old friend.

The biggest practical difference between Cisco and California is that in Cisco, you take your car to a place named by the owner's first name. You take it to Stan's or Ed's or Howard's, depending on what needs to be fixed, and sometimes they'll come to your house to look things over. People know these guys, and they know each one will either fix your car right or tell you where you should take it to get it fixed.

But not in California. There, you wouldn't dream of taking your car to a place with a man's first name, not without making sure several of your friends take their cars there and recommend the place highly, and even then you would hesitate. In California, too many businesses can operate for a long time without being any good at what they do or by charging outrageous prices. But in a small town, word gets around quickly about whether the new guy is any good or not.

It's been relaxing being in Texas, and while I'm tempted to chalk it up to small-town atmosphere, it probably has more to do with not having to go to work every day. Some days I've had to devote to studying--I've finished all the work now for my two 8-week online classes, and I have five more chapters (with quizzes) to finish by mid-July for Medical Terminology. But other than that, I haven't had anything to do that was more stressful than making sure I got ready for church on time.

No, wait. Driving the motorhome (with my car being towed) at night in the rain through a construction zone was scary. And when semis with the box-trailers pass us on the highway with two lanes in each direction, their displaced air tries to push the motorhome to the shoulder as the cab goes by, and then the tail of the trailer tries to suck us back toward the center line.

We've had to learn how to handle the passing trucks, but I still white-knuckle when it's my turn to drive. And we have to plan where to park whenever we stop somewhere, because we absolutely, positively must not back up--ever--when the dolly and car are being towed.

Some of the things in the motorhome don't work quite right, but we're adjusting. And Scooter is doing well. His place whenever he goes for a ride is riding shotgun or sitting in Shotgun's lap. The motorhome is no different for him. With Scooter in your lap, you can't do much besides reading a book or looking around, but that's just fine. The crocheting and the laptop can wait their turn.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Trip - Back on the Road

This is Scooter waiting patiently in the house while my mom and I loaded the motorhome. We left this afternoon and stopped just outside Big Spring, Texas, where we're staying in an actual RV Park. We're still learning the ropes with the motorhome--what works, what doesn't--and trying to decide which things are important enough to get fixed somewhere and which ones to live with for a while.

Our neighbors here at the RV Park have been nice enough to try to help us out with a few little glitches, answering our questions about how the motorhome works (or should work). I'm glad they didn't look down their noses at us for being such rank beginners.

Tomorrow we'll stop at Roy's shop and let him fill up the dashboard air conditioner with Freon. He didn't have time to do that last week, so he told us to come back when we're heading his way again. I'm looking forward to seeing him and his wife again. They're such wonderful people.

Bush Commutes Scooter Libby's Sentence

The AP reported today that President Bush commuted the prison portion of Scooter Libby's sentence. It's about time.

President Bush spared former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby from a 2 1/2-year prison term in the CIA leak investigation Monday, delivering a political thunderbolt in the highly charged criminal case. Bush said the sentence was just too harsh.

Bush's move came just five hours after a federal appeals panel ruled that Libby could not delay his prison term. That meant Libby was likely to have to report soon, and it put new pressure on the president, who had been sidestepping calls by Libby's allies to pardon Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff.

Bush's decision enraged Democrats and cheered conservatives — though some of the latter wished Bush had granted a full pardon.

"Libby's conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq war," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush's decision showed the president "condones criminal conduct."

No, condoning criminal conduct is what Democrats do.

On the last day of our vacation in West Texas, my mom, my sister, and I had dinner at Pizza Hut, where the placemats had games for kids to play. We played them. One of the games was several questions to discuss, and the question that I noticed was the President for a Day question. What would you do in your one day as President?

Of course, Build the Fence came to mind, but there's not much a president can do about that in only one day. So my answer was that I'd pardon Scooter Libby (President Bush did half of that today), and then I'd pardon Border Patrol agents Compean and Ramos, who are in prison for doing their jobs. And I'd pardon any other Border Patrol agents suffering similar fates, especially if their imprisonments came as a result of U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton.

I'm just glad President Bush finally took a few minutes to do at least some of what he should have done well before now.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Michael Chertoff on the Dead Immigration Bill

WorldNetDaily reported today on Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff's comments about the immigration bill. He's not too pleased.

Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff is blasting the U.S. Senate for failing to pass an immigration bill, and claims the federal government doesn't have the ability to enforce laws when it comes to illegals working in America.

"We're going to continue to enforce the law. It's going to be tough," Michael Chertoff said. "We don't really have the ability to enforce the law with respect to illegal work in this country in a way that's truly effective."

Chertoff said Senate opponents deprived his department of the ability to ensure stricter enforcement by requiring companies to enter in a system to check their employees' work status.

"That would be the single greatest additional weapon we could use if we're serious about tackling this problem," he said. "I wish we had some of the tools that were left on the floor of the Senate when they abandoned the bill last week, but we will do what we have to do with the resources we have at our disposal."

He is absolutely right in that one detail, but he's wrong that the immigration-fiasco legislation was the right vehicle.

One of the tools that our country needs is "the ability to ensure stricter enforcement by requiring companies to enter in a system to check their employees' work status." Chertoff calls it "the single greatest additional weapon we could use."

But we don't need to legalize 12 million illegal aliens to get that weapon. Congress can draft a bill that only does this one thing: requires employers to check their employees' work status. They should include penalties as well--stiff ones--for non-compliance.

Last year, Congress passed a bill that called for building over 700 miles of border fence. They should get it done. On our side of the border, please.

Build the fence.

Secure the border.

Punish employers of illegals.

Process the legal immigrants.

When these four things are in place and functioning, then we can talk about what to do next.