Saturday, March 31, 2012


I bought Magic Jack for $259, two set-ups for two phones in my house. Since I’m away so much and not using my long distance service at home, though paying a hefty price to AT&T for half the year I’m not home, I reasoned this would be a good alternative. Free long distance from anywhere in the world, take it with you, use it on your cell, oh the wonders it claimed. Sets up in seconds, you see a picture of a phone as above. Their promotion implies that once you buy the device, it is yours and you will have free long distance forever as long as the equipment works. Not so.
I tried to return it. There is no phone number for this company except the one in ads selling Magic Jack. No customer service number. On their website I found a  live chat line and I quickly  learned  they would not be taking it back. I decided to make the best my own poor choice. Before I did, I went on-line and found 577 complaints lodged against the company for fraud.  Other complaints I read,  besides no phone number, is difficulty reaching the company, and one that particularly nettles unhappy customers, the chat line operatives will simply disconnect and abandon you when and if they can’t fix a technical problem.
I registered. I got an activation number emailed to me.  I could not make a local nor long distance call on my phone once hooked up to Magic Jack.
Back to the chat line. Forewarned, I decided to photograph my entire chat . When the first technician couldn’t help me, I got a second technician named Maya.

She tested all the equipment, and then my drivers on the computer. All were working. Then,  suddenly Maya disappeared. My last reply on the bottom of the screen that I tried to send three times brought the  message, you are not currently in a chat session. I gave it the benefit of a doubt and thought it could be an accidental disconnect.

I went back on the chat line and one question into the session, Martin was gone as well. The line was still open and I waited and waited and waited.  The last message I tried to send after complaining about the long wait, could not be sent.
There is nothing  magic about Magic Jack except their limited liability company’s fraudulent and misleading business practices that magically make them a lot of money at the expense of unwary customers.

Friday, March 30, 2012


The day before yesterday, I was delivered two Warriors T-shirts and two souvenir basketballs for tonight’s game with the NETS at the Oracle Arena in Oakland. I’d like someone to use the free tickets, so, anyone local, who wants them, call me. I’m in the phone book.  I hate to see these box suite tickets go to waste. I tried to give them to an Oakland friend, but he wasn’t interested. I didn’t think about anyone around me until this morning. Anyway, here they are for the asking.

The reason I got them is because Mark Danenhower, of The Solar Company, was selected as the solar installer for the Warriors practice facility and he has invited his former customers to a free game to celebrate. It is a huge contract and no one is more deserving than Mark.

Mark was a building contractor and solar was a newish enterprise  in 2003. He took the classes, signed up with the state, and got started. It was a tough change. Solar was expensive.   I got bids from two other installers. Neither one got up on my roof and measured it and checked to see where the roof trusses were located, like Mark did. They did everything on paper.  Since I had five brothers, a son, and a nephew  in the construction trades, I knew instantly I was in good hands with Mark.

I asked him how many installations he had done and he could have told me any number.  It was under five. I checked out everything, his insurance, the vendors he bought his panels from, I got ratings on the panels. He checked out tops on everything. I had faith in him and he used me many times for a reference after that.

I can attest to the fact that solar pays for itself. The price of PG&E continues to rise, but my electricity is practically free.  My installation took place late in 2004, my first bill was late in 2005. PG&E charges approximately 6.00  a month to read my meter. And, as I’ve purchased new electrical devices, electronics, mostly,  and a hot tub, etc. my use has gone up. My bill for a year, including meter fees was  178.41 in 2005.  It was 141.38 in 2008. It was 178.81 in 2010, my highest bill so far.
I did a video for our local Public Access Television Station entitled, “I Am My Own Power Company” , and I believe the statistics that show we could cut our carbon footprint in half  if  just 5% of buildings used solar. I’m so pleased with the fact our new jail being built in Calaveras County includes solar. I prodded the new Mark Twain St. Joseph’s hospital to include solar when it was built several years ago.  What a wasted opportunity. They did not. We have one solar winery in county and many homes. If our local government would require all government buildings to use solar, what a difference it could make in our taxes.
Mark Danenhower only does solar now. He is available at 877.607.6527.   I don’t often promote businesses;  I’ve certainly trashed a few in this blog.  But, I’m proud to endorse

Thursday, March 29, 2012


There was a time when mail was delivered to “letter boxes”, fancy or plain.

In fact, your letter box could simply be a slot in your door. But, if you are going to have a “mail slot” why not make it interesting?

This box is on a long stretch of road where the house is hidden. The owner gives directions by his mail box. You can’t miss it because it makes a statement.

Maybe you like engines.

If you are a farmer, what do you do with all that old farm equipment?

If you know how to weld, you can show off yours skill. The chain operates like a solid post.

At first glance, you wouldn’t know this is a mail box. But, you can see the regulation metal box merely covered by the wood carvers art.

Regulation often thwarts innovation. In Louisiana, no such regulations exist. Just like the good old days, anything that  is accessible and identified as such, and bingo, you’ve got a mail box.

This mailbox sits atop the address. Six ten Norris St. in McCook, Nebraska.

This apparatus has a stick figure at the top commanding the works, which looks like old mining equipment, maybe. Technically a newspaper box. Mail too, I suspect, if I just knew where to look.
This mail box makes a BIG statement.  Located on Martha’s Vineyard, I suspect it holds mail for several residents. But the best are those that make personal statements and make you wonder who lives there because you know right away, it has gotta be somebody interesting.
If you want to see my mailbox collection, click on this address:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Bill Foster was an indomitable spirit. I believe everyone loved him because he always had a smile on his face and he calmly refused to die. He unreasonably wouldn’t die when every indicator of “death is near” came to him over and over  in different guises.  He held on to  life even though it offered him limited mobility and comfort. No one beats the system, and my friend, Bill Foster died March 20th.  This picture is from his 75th birthday party that I blogged last year. You can meet Bill there at this address:
I, like most people I know, dislike funerals. I am so grateful that celebrations of life are more common than funerals and his family’s  request for a celebration of life, was to wear colorful, fun clothes.

His grandson, Cameron, managed to fit into his grandfather’s some other era golf clothes with the pants tucked into the socks. His son Steve, wore his father’s polyester suit of orange checks and tried to fill his father’s shoes.  He did a good job, of it , too.

And no one ever expected Bill to do things like anybody else. He wanted to be a married man again. He had asked Linda Strangio to marry him. She finally gave in to that request and they were married 15 days before he died. He smiled all through the ceremony. And he died a happy man.

I met Bill Foster because of my friend Bill Foster (above). I went to an Arts Council summer music event in Arnold about five years ago, and was looking for a place to put my blanket on the grass in the park. My friend Barbara invited me to join them. I said, thanks but I was waiting for my friend Bill Foster.  She said, “Oh, I know him, he used to be my insurance agent in Dublin.”  I said, no, my friend Bill Foster is a retired cop.  That happened three times that day and I decided, I’ve gotta meet this guy. Bill Foster the cop got me in touch with Bill Foster the insurance agent, and I joined a number of his friends who helped bandage his legs. (He needed bandages changed three times a day at that point.)

Bill and his wife, June were at the celebration of life as well. Bill (cop) always called Bill (agent), sonny, because he is slightly older than he was. They lived in the same town, golfed on the same course, were constantly getting each others mail, or the wrong chart at a doctor’s appointment, and phone messages meant for the “other” Bill Foster. The opportunities for humor were many, and Bill exploited them at the celebration of life. I am lucky to have had two great friends named Bill Foster. One here and one I’ll never forget.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I get “fun” emails about the differences in today and yesteryear. Yesteryear is always portrayed as the idyllic life compared to today. To be sure, the past has much good stuff to remember, but check out these punishments for school kids. The graphics are marvelous, the punishments suggest kids were to be seen not heard. Obviously no one taught them much about socializing properly. It doesn’t say what they used as a lash. Not that it matters, they probably got treated more harshly at home.

Teachers were also expected to toe the line by rigid societal standards. Marriage for female teachers was unseemly conduct but not for men, of course. If you married, you had to quit your job. Not so long ago, either. I interviewed an “old maid” school teacher from Angels Camp, Bessie McGuiness,  in the 1980′s. She affirmed that it was so, you could not marry, nor even be caught courting if you were a school teacher. The phrase “old maid school teacher” was the rule of the day.

And, a man’s honesty could be questioned if he got shaved in a barber shop. Must be where all the  politicians hung out. You wouldn’t want your teacher to be tainted. And people are against unions?  A 25 cent raise after five years of employment? Could any of us have made economic progress under such authoritarian rules?
And a hundred years ago animal control in Oakland, California, was pretty simple. Boys (not girls) got 25 cents for each cat skin, and 50 cents for each dog skin, they brought in to the back door of the city hall. Gross!
One hundred and thirty-five years ago, came this report from a local newspaper:  “We have just learned that one of our mountaineers last winter, while fishing through a hole in the ice, caught a trout so large it could not be brought through the orifice. The fisherman gently played with his fish and with one hand, took out his Bowie knife and chopped ice with the other and enlarged the hole. Then, with a skillful jerk, he brought out a dead cat with a brick tied to its neck.” 
It was meant to be humorous and it was.  Just another common form of animal control.
“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.”   Horace Walpole,  (1717-1797)  A truer reflection of the past than the nostalgic emails I get.  History is fascinating, and often a brutal read.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Personal letter writing is becoming rare as we use our computers. My mother had a huge correspondence and always found a fun or appropriate quote to put at the bottom of each letter.
“The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”  unk.

“A useless life is an early death.”    Von Goethe

“Pick out a girl for me, I’m on the marry.”   Walter Knight to his brother.

“After love,  book collecting is the most exhilarating sport of all.”   A. Rosenbach

“Politicians beware. Words have a longer life than deeds.”    And….Truth may be stranger than fiction , but is never as strange as lies.”    unk.

“Good judgement comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgement.”  Rita Mae Brown

“The best time to plant an oak tree was 25 years ago. The second best time is today.”   James Carville

“The happiest life  is that which constantly exercises and educates what is best in us.”    Hamerton

A weekend is synonymous with fun or time off, even when you are retired.   Monday morning is synonymous with back to work.  Neglected paperwork and appointments take center stage today.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


It amazes me how much paperwork an ordinary person must sift through. Whenever I return to Murphys, I go through junk mail, mail stuff back to advertisers and ask to be removed from their mailing list. I  like to think I can handle everything from the road, but, it isn’t possible. I receive  e-bills that I can pay from the road, but I never return home without finding a billing error of some type, it seems. Karen talked me into abandoning my “job” and going to lunch at Alchemy with her and Julie. They serve an exquisite bloody mary tomato soup, with a touch of horseradish. Great salads, good beer and wine. Sweet potato fries with a chipolte sauce. Hmmmm. It was all good and much better than doing paperwork.

Karen and Julie wanted to go shopping. I took one look in at a newsprint jacket and decided I’d rather get back to a light, fun read I’d started for my Saturday afternoon,  Natalya, God’s Messenger by Magda Bogin.  And, I invited everybody for a girls night out.

I made tortilla soup to go along with the movie by the same name. Only my tortilla soup I’m sure didn’t taste anything like the soup in the movie. I forgot to take pictures, we were having so much fun. Neighbor Jan brought this Girls Night Out jar and we decided to make it a tradition. Whenever we get together, we shall bring the jar to the next person’s house. Inside the  jar is a deck of poker cards and pennies for betting.  Jan loves poker. I love girls night out.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


We're a small town with big town ideas, thanks to the Croshaw family that owns an independent grocery in Murphys and Angels Camp. They invited Niman Ranch meats,  Clover Farms Dairy Products, Knudsen Juices , and all things natural and organic to open the closest thing the Mother Lode has to a Trader Joes and Whole Foods Market in one store.

A Niman Ranch representative was cooking up apple gouda cheese pork sausage, chorizo and other organically certified meats for everyone to sample. The Niman Ranch networks with 650 independent farmers and ranchers who raise hogs, cattle, lamb and poultry according to strict animal handling protocols and environmentally sustainable practices; many are 2nd and 3rd generation family farmers.

I quit eating pork and beef for the most part a long time ago. I eat a hamburger twice a year;  corned beef for St. Patricks, and an occasional slice of ham. Now, I don't have to feel guilty about it. It was never that I didn't like it. It was always about the horrible way meat is raised and handled, and all the antibiotics and hormones in our meat. Don't know if you heard they are going to let "pink slime" back into the school lunch program. That's the offal of the butchering process doused with ammonia to kill the bacteria, then rinsed, ground, and put into your hamburger products. Its what they normally use for dog food.  Arrgh!

Besides this gorgeous selection of organic fresh vegetables, there are salad dressings, oils, vinegar, condiments, frozen foods, canned everything, cereals, nut butters and flours and dry bulk foods in bins.

Want spices?  You can measure out small quantities into a plastic bag, just like in a whole foods store.

This man was handing out samples of his home made salsa, already established locally in a neighboring county for several years. His family makes fresh, homemade fire roasted salsas, with nothing in it but vegetables, vinegar and salt.

And here are candy bars that boast seven ingredients, like chocolate, butter, cream, sugar, coconut, etc, no xanthum gum, sucrose, glossigens, waxlujhoywewr, higiebogthen, and ten other things you cannot spell or pronounce.

A fantastic spread of falafal, dips, humus, goat and other cheeses, berries, grapes, strawberries, eggplant, stuffed grape leaves, hmmm, the carrots tasted like those we grew as kids. Naturally sweet and tender. Yum!

I wanna try and honest-to-god hot dog with real pickle relish and mustard on a bun that doesn't stick to the roof of your mouth.

Your grocery bills could be a bit higher, but your medical bills will be smaller. The more we support sustainable, wholesome foods, the more competitive the price will become. So, come to the grand opening this weekend, take advantage of the specials and the coupons they are handing out, and make healthy choices for yourself and your kids whenever you can.

Friday, March 23, 2012


When I moved to California I discovered Tamales, a Mexican specialty,  often reserved for holidays, wedding anniversaries, birthdays and festivals of one type or another. Now you can buy already prepared masa, the fine corn meal flour that is blended with broth, seasonings and  shortening of some type.  The masa is spread thinly onto corn leaves, then  all is folded over a delicious filling that can vary by what part of Mexico you come from. A specialty food is often defined by how difficult the dish is to make, thus made only on special occasions. Tamales are a lot of work and require a lengthy steaming. Many Mexican restaurants don’t even serve tamales. I’ve sampled  tamales over the years that didn’t live up to those made by my high school best friend, Kathy Romero’s family. The search has been on-going.  Those on the plate above were sold to me by a woman named Hope who brings them to her friends at the Moose Club in San Xaviar.  At once,  I knew I had found the right thing. Moist cornmeal, slightly spicy, with an olive in each one. Hope learned from her grandmother how to make beef and chicken tamales that are delicious, melt in your mouth.  In 2009, Jim and I found  a woman in Yuma who made the same wonderful tamales. When we returned this year,  she had  moved on. They are a delectable work of art.

Another Moose Club member, Paul, the evening before we left, brought me a dozen of his grandmother’s tamales. They are fresh corn, chili-cheese tamales. I had never tasted anything quite like them. They were sweet like a desert with a slight tang of spice in the chili with the cheese.  The cornmeal was very tender and moist.  The result delicious as they were different.  Specialty dishes are as special as the families that make them. To get a good tamale, you have to “know somebody.”
While I was partaking of the local tamales in Arizona, my youngest son and daughter visited  friends, Norma and Jose  Tapia and got a lesson in tamale making. I can tell what will be on the Christmas menu this year. What a delight to learn a skill Norma and Hope both learned from their grandmothers. (I hope they saved one for me.)

We had been in the O’odham territory for a couple of weeks where I have seen drawings or pictures of the Indians harvesting cactus fruits. It made me wonder what the cactus fruits taste like. I like to taste new foods and when my opportunity came I tried the fruit from a barrel cactus.

It has a sticky moist texture and  tastes like lemon with an after taste of bell pepper when you bite into it raw. The seeds are very tiny and hard and have little taste when crunched individually. I could see cactus flowers  making a nice addition to any dish using lemon or bell pepper. As a fruit out of hand, they qualify as good. Possibly jucier if I’d picked it earlier in the season.   A survivalist at heart, I like  to learn about edible wild plants.   It made a nice addition to my salad and I regretted not picking several.  The next flower I meet, I’ll cook with it.
We moved on to New Mexico, and I returned to Murphys as I do each year for tax season and to catch up with things at home.  Being a foodie, I revel in  tasting new foods.  I’ve tasted burro meat burritos, two excellent tamales, and a cactus fruit on this trip from mid January to mid March.  No matter where you travel, you find good food. Sampling  area specialties is one of the joys  traveling.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


When I arrived at the jail yesterday, the first change I noticed was a new solar array spread along the hillside above the jail.  New Sheriff Ahern is young and modern, and as a solar advocate, I was delighted to see this.

A second array, also new, inside the jail fencing.

When I arrived at 9:30, a maintenance person was walking the roof which is also covered by solar panels. It was the biggest installation of solar in the United States when it was built in 1985.  I expect the people of Alameda County are proud and grateful for the savings in taxes they realize from solar technology.

Volunteer Bud Harlan showed Ron Heinsma, a retired deputy sheriff visitor for the day,  a piece of equipment retired to the archive. Never used, in fact. The electrified shield was designed and purchased to go into a cell and  remove a recalcitrant prisoner who decided he didn't want to go to court that day and was ready to put up a fight.  Years ago, an officer went into a cell with a mattress to get someone out. This device delivers a stunning shock. It flashes blue lights and sizzles and scares the fight out of a recalcitrant, and thus, it has never been used against a man.  Officers use pepper spray in the jail and deputies have to endure pepper spray themselves, during training, before they can use it against an inmate.

Also new since my last visit was a beautifully tooled holster, gloves and spurs belonging to an old-time posse member. Alameda County's Posse was made up of ranchers and others who owned horses, to aid the sheriff in finding  lost people, or escapees or evidence, or getting to difficult areas in the foothills. They were deputized by the sheriff and assisted as volunteers without pay. They no longer use the posse for police work.  The Posse is still considered an auxiliary unit to the department. Members  wear badges,  have a presence at the county fair and parade,  and at one time did fund-raising for community events associated with the sheriff's office.   Our last Sheriff to be a posse member in uniform was Sheriff Frank Madigan.

New President, Bill Rhodes, has made many positive changes to the archive and for those who have visited, it is worth a another visit to see them. The non-profit group, the Alameda County Archive Association, is raising funds to rebuild the old guard shack we rescued and donations are needed and can be sent to: ACSO, 4043 Crest Ct., Pleasanton, CA 94588.  Any amount, no matter how small, is appreciated.
The guard shack in the old days was considered an outdoor assignment. It had no electricity in the early years of Santa Rita, and the officer had nothing but the stars and limited space in which to move while he struggled to stay warm and awake to make sure no one escaped the "prison farm".  Prison farms in the 1940's and 50's, were the  newest innovation in jails. Santa Rita had a hog ranch, raised cattle, and produced their own food in a truck garden. At one time Santa Rita was considered the best rehabilitation center in the nation and was viewed by other states and countries as the way to handle criminals.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


When I started travel blogging, I neglected old haunts and activities. The Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs Archive Association is a powerful pull for me and I was grateful to be home in time for the March meeting. Instead of comptometers, teletypes and adding machines,  we have electronic gadgets of superior performance that replace them. The jail I knew was a friendly place instead of a lock down prison as it is today. Much has changed. One officer told me:  “This place is probably safer for both officer and inmate, but it has no soul.”
I’m  going to cite some simple facts about incarceration today just as food for thought.
The United States has earned the distinction of being the world’s largest jailer, ahead of China and Russia. With 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
We have well over 2 million people in prison. Two million people not working, not supporting their children and living off the taxpayers for their room, board, and medical care.  And, they are enduring mandatory longer sentences so we will be caring for them much longer than any danger they can present to society. We also render them “non citizens” who cannot participate in our democracy, who because of stigma, can no longer work or be productive without draconian effort if and when they do get out.
Mandatory sentencing, War on Drugs, Tough On Crime, Three Strikes Your Out, all political sound bites turned into hard legislation, have done little to protect the public. We now have overcrowded prisons burdening taxpayers.
White Americans commit crimes at the same rates as people of color. Biased enforcement and sentencing make a disproportionate number of Blacks and Latinos pay the price.  One in nine young black men (age 20-34) is behind bars.
Nearly half of all state prisoners are locked up for nonviolent offenses. We are seeing a resurgence of debtors prisons. Thousands of people are jailed because they are two poor to pay fines for traffic tickets or other misdemeanors.
The U.S. Prison population rose by 700% from 1970-2005, outpacing the general population rate and the crime rate.
Spending on incarceration in 2007 was $44 billion rising 127% from 1987.   In that same period of time spending on education rose 21%.
Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo, as promised, has implications far beyond the fate of men detained in prison. Indefinite detention is an erosion in our personal liberties, and our American values.
I don’t pretend to know the answer. I know it alarms me.

Monday, March 19, 2012


A glance out my kitchen deck revealed four inches of snow. I quickly retreated to hot tea and toast. It will melt off  by 10 a.m. I guessed.  Huh!  It snowed all day. With mail yet to sort through, I had plenty to keep me busy.

Periodically through the day, I went outside to admire the beauty of it. Wouldn't want to fill a whole season with the stuff, but it has its glory.

It got thicker and thicker as the day wore on. Then it would melt a bit and start over.

The scene out the bedroom side of the house was irresistible. (Click to enlarge)

The contrast of snow and moss on that old tree of mine.  Not many opportunities to see that happen.

My woodpile wore the frosting. No matter.  I couldn't use the wood anyway since my chimney needs cleaning and the chimney sweep didn't answer my phone call.  It was a beautiful, quiet, Sunday, and as I walked inside, I dropped my new camera with the lens open and broke it.  I have a temporary back-up camera, but I'm sad about my little Canon Elph. What a sweet little camera.  I'm in the snow while Jim endured a wind storm. I know a family that moved from Southern California because too many sunny days without contrast is boring.  It's never boring here.