Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Puppy: 6 Months Later

Right before I got a dog my mother told me that pet owners have less stress and live longer.

At times with Winston, that seems impossible.  Right now he's making noises like he might barf.  All this week he's woken me up at 4 to go to the bathroom (better than the alternative).  I come home, and he's chewed the deck.  He knows he's not supposed to do it.  I know this because as soon as I open the door he starts his guilt walk, a low, scooting waddle like a ferret on rohypnol.  Or like a cobra trying to charm me.  So I look around for what he did wrong, find the chewed wood, and take him over there for some firm "No!"-ing.  

Now dog people might tell me won't know what I'm talking about if I didn't catch him in the act.  But Winston is smart, I think he knows.  Or at least has some idea.  Now he gives me puppy dog eyes, head cocked to one side, tail wagging.  He wants forgiveness.  I pet him and all is well.

Now scratch my belly!

People say labs are people pleasers, and that side of Winston becomes more apparent each day.    He attends my every move, to the point of annoyance.  Sometimes I just watch him watch me.  In all things he wants to make me happy.  Not being able to do what I ask stresses him out, like when I tried to teach him roll over.  He pawed here and there, snorted and turned in circles.  But once he did, he jumped for joy seeing how happy I was.

The bottom line with Winston is this: I clean up a lot of his poop, and I'm sure glad I have him.  He eats my deck, but he loves me unconditionally.  All in all, I'm probably getting the better end of the deal.

Though I'm 29, this is the first time in my life I've been the sole provider for any living thing bigger than a gold fish.  Yes I had dogs and cats growing up, but my mom took care of those.  I've never had a pet since then.  No kids either.  And though he is just a dog, Winston has helped me understand a little better the meaning of unconditional love.

I never intended for this blog to be about dogs.  I've looked through blogger, it seems like every other blog is dedicated to some four legged creature.  When I started this blog I was in the middle of starting a teaching career and running a non-profit.  It was about social change, changing the world, etc etc.  And now, about Winston pooping on deck.  There is probably some significance to that, but I am too tired to find it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Prosper: You Be the Banker

Personal finance has always been a passion of mine.  In another life, I'd be an accountant.

One investment service I really enjoy is Prosper.  Assuming you're first out of debt and already saving for retirement, you probably want to start making whatever money you have left work for you.  The stock market can be complicated and confusing, especially for small investors like myself.  Prosper fills a niche for people like me by letting me make informed investments cheaply. 

Prosper is peer-to-peer funding, essentially replacing banks with everyday people.  You can browse loan applications, and choose to fund loans for as much or as little as you like.  So someone taking out a $7,000 loan might have hundreds of people chipping into fund it.

Prosper gives you a nice financial snapshot of the people attempting to take out the loan.  You can see their credit history, their stated income, whether they have any accounts in default, etc.  Just like in the banking industry, some loans are riskier than others, but the rate of interest they pay is much higher.  For example:

Candidate A has good credit and is likely to repay the loan.  You can fund his loan at 8%.

Candidate B has terrible credit and there is nothing in his credit history to make you believe he will pay you back.  You can fund his loan at 30%.  High risk, high reward.

I've done really well with the website over the years, returning over 11%.  I've funded well over 75 loans.  While some have gone into default, most have been repaid.

My rules are simple:

1.)  Never invest more than $50 in one loan.  My standard investment is $25.  If I really like the application, I will invest $50.
2.)  Know who your're investing in and never fund someone who doesn't fill completely fill out the financial profile.  There is an option for loan candidates to state why they are a good candidate for the loan.  Many people answer this thoughtfully and thoroughly.  Some just skip it.  Most of my defaults fall into the later category.  If they didn't take the time or effort to share their story when asking for your money, then they aren't worth funding. 

3.)  To ensure you follow rule number two, skip the autoinvest option. 

Best of all, the customer service is very easy to work with.  They have a laid back West Coast vibe.  Today I needed to update my bank info.  I called in, pressed the option I needed, and was immediately connected with a guy who sounded like he drinks Chai tea and rides his bike to work.  He took my info and got my bank account linked in about a minute, and I was able to make a transfer as soon as I got off the phone.  Easy peasy.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Good Day Illuminates the Importance of the Little Things

Upon arriving at the beach yesterday Winston did two things:

1.)  Urinated into the freshwater stream, upstream of the large pool where a number of children played.

2.)  Ran and pooped in the ocean.

I was unaware he had done the later until it was too late.  Turds bobbing in the surf make slippery targets for my poop bags, so we moved down the beach.  Winston hates the ocean.  It scares him.  Little by little I coaxed him in, until he finally made the plunge and swam.  Onlookers cheered.

Winston, my girlfriend and I had gone to the beach to clam.  Evidently the recent super moon had resulted in historically low tides.  The Siletz Bay was nearly drained at low tide, and we could walk out into the middle of the muddy bottom.  I brought a shovel but didn't need it, we were able to pull clams out with our hands.  Winston bull charged around the muddy flat excitedly, stopping to dig with us now and then.  We quickly limited.  There's a bucket soaking in my garage now that will soon become chowder.

On the way home we broke out of the cloudy Oregon Coast Range and into the Willamette Valley.  The late sun lit up Mt. Hood like a beacon.  It shined brighter than I had ever seen.

I think often about how to best live my life.  I know it is short.  I know I only get one shot.  I struggle to find the balance between leisure and work, both of which make me happy in the right amounts.  I am coming to believe as much as anything, the key to a happy life is finding pleasure in the little moments.  My dog swimming in the ocean for the first time.  My girlfriend's delight at digging out her first clams.  Mt. Hood lit like a torch.  Those small moments pepper every day, it's just up to us whether we choose to enjoy them.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Buying Second Hand and the Craigslist Crazies

Craigslist provides an excellent platform for acquiring things second hand.  My cars, roommates, and some furniture come from the site.

I am a firm believer in buying second hand.  First and foremost, it is significantly cheaper than retail.  My couch and love seat cost $90 at a garage sale, and I've had them for 4 years.  I bought a pair of glass end tables for $20.  A skill saw for $10  And I just wrote about all the insanely cheap stuff I got at the Woodburn Auction.

As for cars, I would never buy from a dealer.  You probably pay 20-50% more when you shop at a dealership than just buying straight from the owner.  Check out your own car's private party versus retail value on to see what I'm talking about.

I've developed a habit of immediately trying to resell things I bought cheap on Craigslist things.  You must always list them high, because people will always offer less.  Those end tables?  Listed them for $40, sold them for $30.  And an old cedar bench I sanded and stained went for $40 (full price).  Its not really about the money, I just like the wheeling and dealing.

While Craigslist provides a wide open market to buy and sell your things, its also home to scammers and weirdos.  The Craigslist Crazies.  Scammers are a humorous nuisance.  Their just-not-quite-right English, followed by an offer to buy via PayPal telltale signs of impending fraud.  Take this text, received last night:

"Hi, How are you;

Just I am asking you about a car in craglist website; is it still available or not!!


When listing a car, you'll get a few emails and texts from people who say they will pay full price for the "item", sight unseen, and then ask for my PayPal account number.  Sometimes I text them ridiculous things for fun, but usually just ignore them.  For the experts on messing with scammers, check out the people at 

Then there are the people who make you feel slightly uncomfortable.  Like the fellow who called, speaking in an Indian accent from a Pennsylvania area code (I'm in Oregon).  He offered me $1500 less than I was asking on my car.  When I refused, he kept saying "Please sir, help me out.  Please sir, help me."  He then offered to trade cars with me.  He would not get off the line.  The whole thing felt odd and I eventually hung up on him.  Dealing with strangers it's important to trust your intuition.

If you're willing to look, and willing to own something slightly less than perfect, second hand can't be beat.  It's even worth putting up with the crazies.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Woodburn Auction Yard: The Old West Meets Arabian Bazaar

A fellow teacher invited me to check out the Woodburn Auction Yard, which opens every Tuesday.  Here the old west meets Arabian bazaar.  Auctioneers sing.  Cows bellow.  People herd. 

People bidding on... junk.

Everything from the exotic to the mundane can be bought here.  And possibly the you'll find the exotic disguised as the mundane.  The vague sense you might strike it rich combines with cowboy hats, dust and animals to makes you feel like a prospector in the Old West.  That box here an oil well, that lot here a gold seam.  Is that signed picture of P. Diddy authentic or a print?  It's in a box with 10 other pictures and you can buy them all for $5.

Five or more auctions happen simultaneously.  Livestock, nursery plants, outdoor equipment, and the general auction.  Two auctioneers, miked up on movable ladders, work separate ends of a large warehouse filled with everything our capitalist, consumer society produces.  Paintings. Stuffed animals.  Shotgun shells.  A Βowflex system (went for $20).   Boxes of books.  Boxes of wires.  Chairs.  Sofas.  Clothes.  Trinkets.  Knicknacks.

This child riding a tricycle was subject to a fierce bidding war.

The bidding goes by "lot", typically nine or so boxes lumped together.  The auctioneer starts at $5 for "choice" first pick of the boxes.  Up the bidding goes, until supply meets demand and the box is sold.  First choice went anywhere from $10 to $25.  Then the bidding begins again.   By the end you can snag a box for $2 to $3.  When no one wants to buy the remaining boxes, they lump what's left into one big lot.  One gentlemen, for purposes unknown but presumably creepy, walked away with four boxes of stuffed animals for $2.
All this could be yours for just $5

Most interestingly, the place is a veritable melting pot of the peoples who populate the Mid-Willamette valley.   The Rancher Grandpa predominates.  Old men with sun beaten faces wearing blue jeans, plaid shirts, and lots of suspenders, gather around farm gear.  They bear an uncanny resemblance to my own grandpa who ranches cattle in Washington.  I resist the urge to hug them. 

There are Russian Old Believers, distinguished by their beards or long, silky dresses. Outside a tall German Apostolic woman, head covered, speaks in Spanish to her Ηispanic husband.  Two kids in Carhart gear, make a mess all over themselves with their chew while peacocking by some fishing gear.  

My friend loses a box of old Nintendo gear to a young man who only speaks Spanish.  I bid to $5 on three sealed cigar boxes, but lose to a farmer who goes $6.  A crowd gathers as he opens the boxes: empty.

I end up buying three hanging baskets of flowers for $23.  I paid $10 each for the first two, then got wise and snagged the last one for $3.  I get a brand new Topsy Turvy to hang a tomato plant in for $4, and an old Pendleton Woolen Mills blanket for $2.  My last purchase is  a box of board games for $6.  I wanted the Trivial Pursuit inside, but I get numerous about ten other games also, including two "adult" games that I'm afraid to touch.

All said and done I spent $35.  And it was a lot of fun.  A great way to spend a few hours on a Tuesday.  I'm definitely going back.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fast Food Vices: Everybody Has One

I am health conscious and take pride in being fit and active.  I love to eat healthy and feel tangibly better when I do. I know fast food is bad for me.

Yet Wendy's has an irresistible hold over me.  Wendy's is my fast food vice.  The one place I can't drive by without stopping.  For my mom, it's Burgerville (an infinitely more sustainable choice).  If you are an American, you probably have one too.  If you are not, read on as you will better understand my people.

Wendy's got me young.  It was one of the few fast food options in the town where I grew up.  And before the bacon craze got big, Wendy's had the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger for only 99 cents.  Let me be clear:  this burger is insanely good.  The lettuce, the tomato, the mayonnaise all work perfectly.  And their bacon has improved considerably from the flimsy translucent slices of my youth.

My addiction.  Yours is probably worse!

I will go to great lengths to eat this burger.  I once stopped a dead sprint to make kick-off at an Oregon Ducks game because I ran past a Wendy's advertising new applewood smoked bacon.  I still don't even know exactly what that means, but I had eat one.  My buddy was not so pleased.

Fortunately for my waistline, I don't live near a Wendy's.  I pass one roughly every two weeks.  It's not even a question now if I stop or not.  I order:

1 Junior Bacon Cheese Burger $1.59
1 Value Frosty $.99
1 4 Piece Chicken Nugget with Honey Mustard Sauce $.99

$3.57 later, I'm in heaven.  A little slice of my childhood.  What's your Fast Food Vice?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Weekend Idea: Adult Tree House

Tree houses lose their magic as you grow older.  You get bigger, they get smaller.  Dizzying heights turn into short drops.  Tree houses are for kids.

I was less than excited when a seventh grader invited me to his birthday party last Saturday, which he said was in a tree house.  Not wanting to say no, I drove an hour and a half to arrive at Tree to Tree Adventure Park, near Gaston, Oregon.

And wow.  This place is insanely fun and intensely scary.  It is not your normal tree house.  Think of it more as an obstacle course anywhere from 25 to 60 feet off the ground.  If you are scared of heights like I am, you will find yourself sweating and clammy try to navigate the course 60 feet off the ground.  

Our party did the Aerial Course (there is also a zip line tour).  They harness you up, and run you through a beginner course teaching how to use your "lobster claws," the things that save your life when you inevitably fall.

Then, just as the name says, you spend your time going from tree to tree.  Or trying to.  There are six different, and progressively difficult courses.  The obstacles are called "elements", the majority of which are  wobbly beams and tightropes, with varying amounts of things to hold onto.  Each element does have a guide wire above you, that you're clipped into, but they encourage you not to use it if possible.  The courses also include zip lines.  

Up in the trees, fear is powerful.  Feats I could have done easily on the ground became nearly impossible in the sky.  Still I managed the early courses relatively well, but the fifth course "Red" shook me.  By the time we graduated to the final course, ominously labeled "Black," I got the sense that whoever designed it did so to purposefully and sadistically break my spirit.  I spent the majority of it clutching the guide wire and praying.  

The worst single obstacle was jumping from one platform to another, 60 feet off the ground, with nothing to hold onto.  No beams, no ropes, just my courage.  Which sadly failed.  I held the guide wire and awkwardly stepped across the chasm using my abnormally long legs.  My seventh grade companions made the leap with little to no hesitation.

Pictured:  Easy elements

The course requires faith.  Faith in the equipment.  I know its all rated to thousands of pounds, but still its just little strips of metal and cloth.   I would hate to be the one guy in a million who has his harness break.  And its hard for me not to think about that when I'm putting my life entirely in its hands.

I was I was glad to be done, but unsatisfied with myself.  I'll go back soon and challenge myself a little more.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Winston's Fathers Day Gift

On a walk, Winston started pooping in someone's lawn.  So I drug him to a field across the street, and holding his leash he began his poop spins.

Suddenly, my phone buzzed.  Answering the text I didn't even notice it.  Slowly I became aware of the faintest sensation of something on my foot.  Something barely noticeable, as if it had been heated to near body temperature.  I looked down and saw it.  A turd.  On my foot.

Triumphant, Winston walked the rest of the way home with his head held high.  

Then he taunted me with this face.
Next time it'll be more than your foot!

Don't Forget Me

Teaching you see a lot of faces come and go.  I wish I could say I remember all my kids, but I don't.  Students stick to you by varying degrees, just like you have middle school teachers you can remember, and those you can't.

A fifth grade girl I taught this year will stick.  Sweet and quiet, we shared an interest in the Walking Dead.  She gave a Walking Dead dog tag even.  It hangs from my rear view mirror.

She had a very kind heart, and always brought snacks to share with the class.  But she had every kind of food allergy available it seemed, and couldn't eat many of the same treats she brought.

Once she brought the entire class Jolly Ranchers, but to me she gave a pepperoni stick.  Yum.  But then, about halfway through class she came up to me and said, "I can't eat the Jolly Ranchers, can I have the pepperoni stick back?"  Then I sent her to detention.  Not really, I gave her the stick back.

But what she did last will stick with me.  Her family is moving away this summer.  She made a note for everyone in her class and her teachers that says:

When she handed it to me she said, "don't forget me."  Most kids her age are uncomplicated and genuine, but she especially so.  Emotion was laid bare is powerful, and in this case, touching.  She didn't try to hide it, or laugh it off.  She was sad that she was leaving, and she didn't want the people that she cared about to forget her.  She wants to know that she mattered, and her time spent here mattered.

I can't say how many times I've felt the same at a goodbye.  I comfort myself by rationalizing that if I wasn't sad about leaving, it wasn't worth my time.  My head understands that but my heart doesn't.  Change is the only constant, and on some level I think that is intrinsically sad.

There have been moments in my life, that I wish could last forever.  But they can't.  And I won't forget her.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Happiness is Ham

Winston found a piece of ham on the playground.  He is eating it beside me as I type.  A number of large chunks have fallen out of his mouth, but he is oblivious and blissful.

Winston is my 6 month old yellow lab.  He grows at an amazing rate, and is still not half his full grown size.  He can sit, shake, and lay down.  I'm trying to teach him to roll over.  We have a sequence:

"Sit!"  He sits and wags his tail.

"Lie Down!"  He lies down and wags his tail.

"Roll over!"  His ears go back and he looks at me, confused and worried.

So I roll him over, praise him lots like he did it on his own.  He wags his tail!  And we repeat.  We did too much today and he promptly barfed when he was finished.  Luckily he at the barf back up.

So far he hasn't destroyed anything by chewing.  If he gets lonely, the only thing he tears up are magazines I leave out.  The first one he got was the Sports Illustrated swimsuit addition.  While disappointed he does have good taste.

I have learned to read his language and moods a little bit.  Jumps-while annoying-mean he his happy.  Bring the leash or chuck-it out and he starts bounding.  When he has to poop he begins sniffing the ground.  Slowly at first, then faster and faster.  What he is sniffing for I don't know.  When he does find a spot with an appropriate scent for his poop, he then starts whirling around and around like a helicopter, tail kinked and in the air.  Poop circles are a tell tale sign Winston has been there.

Monday, June 10, 2013


The logic of life and time can be suffocating.  Each moment only happens once.  Each day you can never get back.  

I distinctly remember passing the bigger kids in the hall in 3rd grade and saying, "I wish I was a middle schooler!" 

I remember in 6th grade standing on my lawn thinking, "Someday I'll be 20."

Those milestones then seemed impossibly over the horizon.  I know milestones that seem distant now will come.

The present is so powerful, it buries people, memories, friends, songs, and places from the past.  But when triggered, the nostalgia is so powerful in my chest it feels like something is trying to claw out.  There is something very sad in the knowledge, what was will never be.  Sometimes the sadness is beautiful.  Sometimes it is frightening.

In happier moments I embrace change.  The day to day of life is good.  But it is all just borrowed time.  Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Verizon and Ancient Rome: Who we are and who we will be

We are responsible for the world we live in.

The recent revelation that the U.S. government is tracking data on every phone call made through the Verizon network was a wake up call to me.  I don't want to live in a world where my privacy is sacrificed for security.  I don't want a government with the power to collect data on me without me knowing.  And if I want to change, I have to do something about it.  So I will.

If we are responsible for the world we live in, that is doubly true for American citizens.  Our Founding Fathers fought and died to give us a country where our voice counts.  What we make of that is up to us.

Take ancient Rome.

Few picture Rome as a place of virtue.  What comes to mind is the opposite.  The city of Rome, filthy and opulent.  Christians devoured by animals.  Slaves slaughtering each other to cheers in the Colosseum.  Debauchery.  Treachery.  Betrayal.  Collapse.

Funny thing is, the Romans saw themselves as a virtuous people.  They even give us the word "virtus."  The ideal Roman was courageous, loyal, trustworthy and modest.  Not unlike Jefferson's ideal American, he was a hardworking and thrifty farmer.  Romans in the public sphere were expected to uphold these virtues.  The most successful Emperors cloaked themselves outwardly in Roman virtue, and their short comings were tolerated. Failing to do so, even for an Emperor,  meant disgrace if not death.

The ideal Roman:  Cinncinatus.  With Rome under threat the Senate sought one man to give dictatorial powers to until the crisis passed (this being before the time of Emperors).  Cinncinatus was the obvious choice.  Delegates arrived to his farm to find him the working in the field.  Asked to serve, Cinncinatus called for his wife to bring him his toga.  He returned to Rome, led the army and routed the enemy.   16 days later he resigned his dictatorial powers and went back to his farm.  He was a hero to George Washington who sought to set a similar example by resigning after two terms.

Contrast that with  Didius Julianus, the Emperor who bought the throne at auction.  He was booed and jeered by the public and Senate alike during his short reign for his greed..  Two months later he was killed in his palace.

Furthermore, the Romans were fiercely proud of their Republic.  Rome was a place with rule of law.  Decisions were made by elected representatives.Power was divided into different branches.  Our government is so closely modeled after theirs.

Rome.  A country with a strong sense of its own virtues.  A government founded on limited power, rule of law and representation of its people.  One Republic, Under God(s).

Then something happened.  The Republic fell, and was replaced with an Empire.  The trapping of the Republic remained, but only as window dressing.  The dream that was the Republic of Rome was dead.

How?  The simple answer:  A COUNTRY IS ONLY AS GOOD AS ITS PEOPLE.  All the ideals of virtue and Republic meant nothing if its people were not willing to live them.  The Republic died not because a blood thirsty man took power by force, but because that man, Julius Caesar, was so beloved by the people that the Senate was forced to appoint him Dictator for Life.

The Romans made their own bed.  Each individual chose in their own way to kill the Republic.  Those that supported Caesar.  And those that did nothing are just as responsible.

The same holds true for America.  Our ideals are great.  Our great documents are goose-bump inspiring. But ultimately they mean nothing if we don't live them out.  We make the world we live in, whether you want to realize it or not.  You can bury your head in the sand.  But that is still a choice to abdicate your rights to those more ambitious.  You had better hope they are ambitious for good.

America is too quiet.  Too apathetic.  Too consumed by our bank statements and pocketbooks and too unaware of the bigger picture.  Or, too willing to believe that one person's voice doesn't matter.  That is wrong.  They all matter.

And your choices, your votes (or lack thereof), where you spend your dollars, that all matters.

As for the Verizon scandal, I will write my representatives and voice my displeasure on social media.  I will not support Barack Obama again.  I will support candidates Democrat, Republican, or any other party, that support protecting my Constitutional rights.   I will fight and be heard the way the Founding Fathers intended me too.

You will make this world better, or you will make this world worse.  If you do nothing, that is a choice too. You had better hope that those who making the world better outnumber those making it worse.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Portland to Seattle on the Train

My first trip on the train was as a little boy.  My dad took me from Portland to Pasadena to see the Ducks play in the Rose Bowl.  We got a sleeper car.  My dad broke out caviar to celebrate our journey.  I didn't want to eat fish eggs.  Gross.  But he made me.  And then I got a bad ear infection going over the mountain passes.   

I don't remember much else about the trip other than finding myself in a hospital with some lady sticking pointy stuff in my ear over and over.  The game was a feverish blur.  I don't even know if we rode the train back or not.

I do remember my dad complaining then and ever since about the service and cleanliness.

So 18 years later I gave them another chance.  Took a trip to Seattle the past weekend and opted for Amtrak instead of driving.  Loved it.  

It was affordable, $66 round trip.  Could have been cheaper had I booked earlier.  Saved on gas.  Saved on parking in Seattle, which was $30+ at our hotel.
It was quick.  It took about 3 hours and 30 minutes.  About the same as driving, if not less.

It was fun.  I ate.  I drank.  I got up and walked around.  I looked out the window. 

It was clean.  Quick.  Convenient.  Easy.  I want to do it again.   Trains aren't popular here like they are in Europe, but if my experience was indicative of Amtrak's new standards, that will change.