Archive for the 'Passing Thoughts' Category

Cash for Clunkers: Money For A New Gas Guzzler?

August 7th, 2009

Isn’t this a nice looking truck? It’s big, bold and in my view, kind of neat.  It’s a 1993 Ford F-250 with a 7.3 liter Turbo Diesel engine, 5-speed manual transmission and four-wheel drive.  I’ve had it for 16 years now, and it’s only got around 125,000 miles on it with lots of memories along the way.  It’s low miles mostly because it was stored for a few years at different times while I was deployed in the navy.  Lots of mileage and engine wear to go on it still.

The “Big Black Truck” as we call it only gets about 15 miles to the gallon of diesel fuel no matter what you do with it. And yes, it belches out black, diesel smoke when you start it… and smells to high heaven (which to an old aviator smells pretty good).  But it’s a load carrying, tow-hauling machine and I’ve driven it all over the country.  For me it was my ride… the truck I enjoyed driving to work and taking trips with.  The miles it does have on it have taken me to some pretty cool places.  I’ve towed boats for salmon fishing in the Pacific,  had it hill-climbing while camping and hunting in the rugged Cascade and Okanogan ranges in the northwest, and the same throughout the midwest. That truck has tooled through mountains in Oregon and California, high and low deserts in the southwest, and just about everywhere in between there and Missouri.  It’s a comfortable highway cruiser too, albeit a little costly these days for fuel.



As I grew older though, somehow that dang truck became stiffer and stiffer.  Or so it seemed. The ride is pretty rough, and the clutch on the truck is about five times as stiff as one in a passenger car.  And as nice as it is when it’s truckin’ along the interstate,  it’s plain hell to drive in traffic, shifting up and down constantly.  But that granny gear in 1st can climb a hill like you wouldn’t believe! 

It does need a little work… I should fix the loose ignition switch, maybe a new fuel filter assembly, new glow plugs and/or fuel injection pump to make starting easier and a few other odds and ends (and yes, I just finished replacing the window and side mirror on the driver’s side- grrr!).  But its only had a couple of real maintenance issues in it’s entire 16-year lifespan– the clutch gave up the ghost once and a serpentine belt broke once. 

It still starts and runs like a top- a little stiff on the roads, but that’s how they’re built.  Actually rides a lot smoother with about 5,000 pounds in the back.  But I mostly use it around the property and to hold diesel fuel in a tank in the back- otherwise it doesn’t get a whole lot of use.  The Blue Book value of this truck in good condition is between $2000 and $3000 bucks.  Less for trade-in, maybe a little more at retail.    Seems crazy since it runs so well and is such a great tow vehicle, and it’s worth a lot more than that to me. 

When the new “Cash for Clunkers” laws came up this year I thought maybe it was time to do something with it, and that I could get a decent down-payment towards a higher mileage vehicle (decent meaning $4,500 bucks to me).   After all, we’re helping the auto industry, the economy and the environment by getting these big, smoky, pollutin’ trucks off the road, right?  Lots of advertisements these days are touting how “Cash for Clunkers” is good for the country and the environment because people want higher mileage vehicles and this is the way to get them. 

I was one of those people.  Was is the operative word because as I recently found out, under the Cash for Clunkers regulations, my truck does not qualify to be traded in for any kind of vehicle except another truck (or van or SUV that gets really low mileage)!  Why?  Because it is listed as a Category 3 truck, which the lawmakers defined as a vehicle with a GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) between 8,500 lbs and 10,000 lbs.  My nice old truck has a GVWR of 8,800 pounds.   Which means that I am only eligible for a $3,500 credit to purchase another truck, van or SUV (Category 2 or 3).

So there you have it.  Under Cash for Clunkers, infused today with another 2 Billion dollars,  if I want to take the government’s, taxpayers money- I have to purchase another vehicle with terrible gas mileage.   Now why do you suppose they wrote the laws like that?   I have no desire to spend $20,000 to $40,000 or more for another truck or SUV that’s going to get around 15 miles to the gallon, just like the one I have.   I was really thinking about a little car that would cost a third of that and get around 40 mpg. That might just have helped our family and the environment a little, right?   

Statement from President Obama after the Senate vote today:  “Now, more American consumers will have the chance to purchase newer, more fuel efficient cars and the American economy will continue to get a much-needed boost. ‘Cash for Clunkers’ has been a proven success: the initial transactions are generating a more than 50% increase in fuel economy; they are generating $700 to $1000 in annual savings for consumers in reduced gas costs alone; and they are getting the oldest, dirtiest and most air polluting trucks and SUVs off the road for good…”  

Perhaps the Cash for Clunkers program does  get a few old gas guzzlers off the road.  But I would offer to you that it’s not that significant.  The CARS program rules only include required mpg increases of from 5 to 10 miles per gallon to make most vehicles eligible for the credits.  I guess that’s something.   But in my case for example, there isn’t any required mpg increase to trade in my truck… just a requirement that I buy another gas-guzzling truck! 

In my view the program is simply a government redistribution of taxpayer’s dollars with an intent to stimulate the economy (automakers, jobs, dealers, etc) for a short while.    

Is this the smartest use of our tax dollars?   According to our legislators, right now it apparently is. Probably because the program is so popular.  I would submit that most of the people trading in cars under this program were going to do so anyway at some point (eventually I’m sure I will too).   In this case, the government is simply giving money to people to do something they would have done anyway, trying to give a boost to the economy.  

Seems to me it would be simpler if we just expanded offering incentives in the way of tax credits for vehicles with higher mileage.  That way the credits would be available to everyone.

In my case I think I’ll just hang on to my ‘ole truck for a while.  Maybe it’ll actually increase in value over time.   Besides, I’m probably helping the environment more simply by not driving it very much.

To read more about Cash for Clunkers, there’s a host of other opinions and news stories on the subject.

Moments of Beauty and Contrast

July 28th, 2009

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow them.”        – Louisa May Alcott


Our travels often bring us special moments. Through miles of storm and cloud, the day can change so quickly. The beauty of the sky and sunlight streaming through darkness fills our hearts with joy and peace.  At these times it is easier to be awakened to the contrast, and to remember the constants of life beyond the storms- this is but a temporary place.  We breathe deeply, remembering the same contrasts, constants and transitions in our own lives.   And we move on.

Morning Thoughts in the Garden

June 14th, 2009

It really feels like summer with the warmer and humid weather.  Finally a good bit of sun for the garden to really take off.   I’m more excited by the day to see the vegetables growing.  Some may wonder, “Can you really be excited simply by watching a garden grow?”  To which I say, most assuredly, yes. It’s like God is present all around you with the beauty of the moment, day, season… It’s an enjoyment or appreciation perhaps, but to see food grow from seed where none grew before is almost magical.  And it represents other things too… hope, simplicity, tangible results of effort, even saving a few dollars here and there.  And it’s fun to remember how much you can actually do at home.



The hollyhocks are in bloom too- these grew on a couple of stalks last year, but now there are three times that many growing very tall- reaching past six feet.


Everything is starting to produce, so now it’s a matter of keeping the weeds down and the bugs away from the goodies.  In another experiment I’m going to try training cucumbers (below middle) on a wire fence.



I supported the top of the fence because cukes can get somewhat heavy, but we just don’t have a lot of room for them to spread out.  If you’ve grown cucumbers before you know they could take over the whole garden if you let them!


The sugar and snow peas are finally here and even the beets look halfway decent with the tops filling out.   The beets don’t seem to get very large though, and I’m wondering if that’s because our soil is too compacted? I didn’t till this year, but instead topdressed the rows with a couple inches of mulch and organic compost.  Much of that probably washed off in the rain.  Perhaps I’ll do the same next year, but only after tilling the row to loosen it up.


That may also be better for our potatoes (above). They’ve come along really well, but the soil is pretty thick.  Some of you professional potato growers have figured out that loose mulch works very well and makes  harvesting that much easier.  Maybe we’ll try that next year too.



This morning I went out to pick some of the peas- they grow so fast once they get going!  Fortunately the spring has been cool and wet, but I don’t know how long our pea harvest will be.  This will be the first big week for them.  Last year we grew beans that lasted almost all summer.  But I enjoy peas so much more than beans!  Maybe we’ll plant them again in September for a fall harvest?  Never tried that before.





On a different note in recent gardening news, a lot of folks are worried about looming passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875).    While the idea and intent make sense in terms of safer foods for everyone, some organizations (here with comments) and people (here and here) believe small farm and livestock operations, organic gardening, farmer’s markets, and even backyard gardens could all be affected negatively by government regulations run amok over time.   In some areas of the blogosphere the subject nearly incites panic.

With all due respect to our most principled and esteemed lawyer friends :),  I find one of the comments to the Slow Food USA Blog posting from April 10th particularly appropriate:

“The fact that Rep. DeLauro is “shocked” that people have taken notice of her piece of ambiguous and questionable legislation should be a wake up for our nation that our politicrats are expecting us to continue being sheep. There is nothing wrong with the American public demanding greater transparency and a much more well-defined bill to be set on Obama’s desk once the legislative process is complete.  When politician’s don’t hear from anyone but corporate lobbyists, lawyers, and special interest groups is when the legislative process goes awry.  Kudos to the radicals and the misinformed public for asking questions and demanding clarification…if even they are “inflammatory”, “hysterical”, or “misguided”. ”   Glenn Grossman

After a little reading and practical reasoning however, the fears don’t appear to be justified.   But fears are borne from lack of clarity and/or transparency of intention.   There are simply too many questions left unanswered and that’s where the concern arises.     I have to say I’m squarely in the camp that opposes bigger government intruding into our lives.  Meaning I don’t enjoy seeing more government… more regulations… more laws to juggle and comply with and obey.  I don’t believe the government can protect us from all evils, including ourselves, nor should it attempt to.   But hey, the folks on capitol hill just want to do what’s best for us, right?  I have visions of FDA inspectors running around looking for ways to justify their existence…


Here at home the leaves on the trees are becoming that deep summer green once again.  It’s nice to see shade, and places where dappled sunlight falls through the trees.  Somehow it brings thoughts of quiet afternoons or exploring places not seen.


While I walked around early this morning I saw that the heron was back again.  It had an even bigger fish in its bill as it flew away.  I just shook my head…  the dogs wandered around with me, looking for the rabbit that haunts the garden.


Old man basset hound tells the yellow lab  “Woo…woo…wooooo… this is my spot!”  How about those ears!?


Flowers, Birds and Clunker Money

June 10th, 2009

My goodness, the rain just keeps on coming.  Someone asked me recently what I was doing financially these days with investing.  I said I’ve been saving for a rainy day, the only problem is that its been raining for over a month and I’m out of money…

We’re due for some warmer, sunnier days and I know they’ll come.  I really do appreciate the cooler weather for getting work accomplished, but the bugs and weeds have gone crazy.  I think the birds thrive on the moisture at this time of year because insects are so abundant.   Its fun to watch flycatchers and bluebirds chase insects around beneath the trees.  And the flowers love the rain too- this hydrangea is showing off.


Nesting birds are really busy everywhere it seems.  I was excited to see my first Baltimore Oriole nest high in an oak tree on the hillside overlooking the pond.  I had seen the female oriole around for a couple of weeks, and one bright morning the nest just stood out in the sunlight, hanging pensile near the top of the oak tree.    I went out early and waited for over a half hour to try and get a photo of an oriole together near the nest.   The nest would move and shake but the oriole would not appear… so I went out a second day and finally the oriole made it’s way back to the nest in a secretive fashion.  I captured a shot with the bird nearby, but it went in and out of that nest so quickly!


The garden has shown  a few surprises this year as well.  We have many dill plants that have grown as volunteers from letting plants go to seed in previous years.  One plant is growing near the base of a Saint Francis statue, with a little friend happily munching on it. 


The caterpillar is the larval stage of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly, fairly common in our region.  We’ve got enough dill around, so I enjoy watching these guys.  But I’m on the lookout for tomato hornworms- they can tear down a tomato plant in a matter of days, and that’s my sauce for the next year.

For some more exciting news I saw a flying fish today!  I was out early checking on the bees, and saw a heron catch a really big bluegill.   I started down the hill to chase it away, and it took off across the pond with the fish flopping in its bill the whole way.  It was kind of funny looking, but I was miffed.  Those bluegill are prized for catching with the boy!  And if they’re too big to swallow, the heron just drops ’em on the bank and goes for more.  Practical bird, huh?  There’s lots of smaller bass and I suppose the heron eats some of those too.  But man that gangly bird has been around every morning lately- I wonder how many pounds of fish it eats in a month!? 

I wandered back into the garden (I just love strolling around the vegetables!)  and I thought of how such a few seeds can become such a grand harvest with a little steady attention.   Then I looked over the fence at my 16 year old diesel farm truck and remembered it needed a little attention too.  Well farm truck is a bit of an exaggeration since we really aren’t farmers.  Unless you count a hundred thousand bees as livestock, which the Department of Agriculture actually does.  But no, we’re just a small family living in the country.  Down the road there’s a real dairy farm and a hog farm, and after talking with the dairyman about his mornings, I’m pretty thankful for mine.

But I digress… I was going to say something about that old 3/4 ton truck, eventually.  Yesterday the Cash for Clunkers plan passed in the House, and now it’s on to the Senate and presumably the President.  On the surface it sounds like a great idea.  But looking a little deeper it’s just another basket of taxpayers dollars in an effort to support the auto industry.  Which I have mixed feelings about.  I’m not a fan of government largesse and program development, especially when it seems like we’re playing Wheel of Fortune with so much money these days.  But I know there are real folks out there whose jobs and livelihoods depend on the auto industry- and I would like to support them.  We’ve given disappearing billions to the financial industry, what’s a few more to help workers that actually create something?


With the Cash for Clunkers plan, that old truck sitting out back might actually be worth something.  It served its purpose enjoyably over many years, and I still had ambitious plans for it.  Somehow I don’t remember what those were.   We don’t really use it much anymore except to hold fuel, and maybe it would be more useful if I traded it in on something that gets better mileage.  It gets all of about 14-15 mpg.  Who can argue with a handsome rebate from Uncle Sam?  Maybe I could think of it as a rebate of taxes paid and feel better.  Gas prices are heading up again too, so that could be just the excuse I need.  Let’s see, more rationalization…  the truck is really hard to start because the glow plugs need replaced and the fuel filter assembly needs fixed too.    Instead of a big ‘ole truck, I might just have $4500 parked on gravel by the garden!

Of course that still means car payments for something else, and that old paid-for truck has a lot of memories going for it.  Still runs and looks pretty good too, at least once you get it started.  There’s something about driving down the road in an older truck, and seeing people look admiringly at it, sharing memories of years past.   Clunker or not, I really like that old truck.

Remember the Fireflies

May 28th, 2009

The last week of school for our 2nd grader.  It’s been a busy time, and a rainy one too.  But it looks like the sun may finally be coming out for a few days tomorrow.   But the magic of late May includes fireflies!  We saw great numbers of lightning bugs come out for their annual twinkling festival a few days ago.  I awoke past midnight the other night and it was like some dazzling array of fairies dancing over the fields- sparkling and twinkling everywhere.


Like clockwork too the young boy dreamed of a chance to go catch a few.  He wanted to stay up late then, but it was too late for a school night.  We waited until last night, with today his last, half-day of school.  At dusk last night we head out searching and didn’t see any at first.  Finally one appeared before us, flashing its luminous signal to others of its kind. 

“There’s one!” I yell, and I try to grab it as it flies higher and over some rose bushes just out of reach.  “I see it!” he yells, and with a singular intent that made my heart swell the boy locked his eyes on that firefly and gave chase with cup and lid in hand.

With complete abandon he sailed over the rose bushes at a full run toward the patio and made one great, flying leap higher than I’ve ever seen- and bam!  He captured that firely right in his cup!   My jaw dropped open as he landed, and turned around triumphant, with a great smile on his face.  “I got it!” he says with glee.  I tell him I’ve never seen him jump so high and we exchange big high fives.  As if that’s not enough, another firefly appears a few feet away and he turns and quickly grabs it barehanded in mid-air. 

Later that evening he fell asleep looking at his two new friends as they flashed and glowed near his bed.  He lets them go in the morning, but they bring such joy and magic to our lives each year. 

And I’ve got visions of my son leaping over challenges in life, intent on achieving his goals.  I know it won’t always be that simple.  He’s reaching the age of measuring “self” and has begun to wonder about the larger world around him.  I hope he remembers the fireflies.

Using MS Word to Write Blog Posts

February 22nd, 2009

I’m trying a new experiment today, using the “blog post” function inherent to MS Word 7.0.  This is not the same thing as “copying” and “pasting” from Word- it’s a new capability, and doesn’t insert a plethora (did I just use that word?!) of extra HTML markup that clutters the post code.   Practically speaking, it’s not too different than logging in to your blog platform and using the administration tools built into it. But Word does offer greater flexibility such as using my 19 inch widescreen monitor with a much larger screen size to type/write on, manipulate images, etc. Using WordPress I have to constantly “re-size” the text editor to fit images and such. But with Word, you can maximize it to full screen size just like typing any document offline. I should note that I’m not using the latest WordPress evolution, so other users may have different opinions. It should also be noted that Word’s blog post capability can be used with Blogger, Windows Live, TypePad and other platforms too.

I like the fact that the Word software has made it pretty simple to set up your “accounts” for publishing, offering the ability to publish right away, or as a draft. Which means if you’re using a computer without internet access, you can finish a post and save it for later publication as well. I like that feature in terms of the idea of bringing a laptop with me while traveling and publishing later when internet access is available. Sure you could always do that when writing in Notepad or another text editor, and then “copying” and “pasting” text to your blog platform- but with MS Word you can save all your formatting and image placement too, and simply post right away once you have internet access again.

Sunset while camping

Last year for example, we took a two-week trip camping around the Midwest and didn’t have internet access very often. I remember typing a few posts in advance as a rough draft, but then had to scramble quickly to finish, edit, format and publish the article when we finally had internet access before moving on. So with this ability I can have it ready to go in advance, and upload it quickly at my convenience when we get internet access again. If you’re only typing text without images it may not matter to you though.

Realistically I’m not sure if I’ll use the “blog post” function within Word very often- I like having the functions within WordPress available while writing new posts, and changing your writing habits isn’t easy sometimes! There is one other thing although it doesn’t happen very often- I have lost several posts while trying to publish them after spending an hour or two writing them. That’s a big “Aaarrrghh!” moment.  WordPress has a great “autosave” feature that works pretty well, but sometimes you can still lose a post and writing it up offline in Word may prevent that from happening. It’s nice to have options and other ways to do things. 

So how did it work out?  Well, I first published this as a draft, and it turns out that my pictures didn’t show up- I had to go into WordPress and reload them.  I may not have set it up properly so I’ll try again.  Also I found that Word inserted a backslash wherever a single or double quotation exists.  That’s not helpful… so I’ll see if there’s anything I can do to change that.  Otherwise it seems to work just fine- does anyone else have user feedback on Word’s blog post capability?

By the way, I’m excited that the little shrub, or smallish tree, in the middle of the picture below is growing bigger this year. 

Do you know what it is? 

Winter flora

Moments at Home

February 9th, 2009

Sometimes I forget to share the quiet life we lead on this modest page.  But then again, that may be a good thing because it means we are staying busy.  The weekend turned wonderfully warm, as is today, and we accomplished some chores that were long awaiting our interest.   Okay, maybe interest is too strong a word, but at least our care.  

The ice has almost completely melted from the pond, giving way to waves and ripples in the breeze.  I never tire of watching the water.  It speaks to something within, I know not what.  And reminds me of the sea that I spent much of my life upon in years past.  I often wonder how long we’ll be here, and where we might go next.  For myself I hope it is somewhere with a view, and perhaps to share the borders between land and water- maybe the sea again.   For now I feel privileged to share nature’s beauty here in this place we call home. 

As the ice melted this morning a curious bullseye remained floating in the middle of the pond.  If I thought I could reach it I may have thrown a rock. ( Oh! I just saw a bee fly by the porch window… )

Ice bullseye on the pond 

Wandering along the treeline the other day I found some long forgotten fence wire protruding from a large white oak tree.  Pablo writes of such things often, finding them hidden throughout his woodlands.  I was surprised not to notice this one before, and hopefully the tree will continue to grow despite the wounds of time.   Maybe I’ll take a set of wire cutters to remove most of it, yet put a tag on the end.  A woodcutter many years hence might be injured trying to cut the wood if encountering the metal wire with a chainsaw. 

Fence wire protruding from tree

It makes me wonder who put the fencewire there so long ago, and how big the tree was at the time.   I think of the years of my life in terms of the tree’s life, and I feel humbled.   And it makes me think of what interesting times we live in.  The strong warm breezes and sunshine of today will soon give way to thunderstorms and rain.  But the sun will come out again. 

The weather so often feels like a reflection of our lives, or vice versa, and the tumult we see across the globe.  I know it’s only because now we can know so much, so quickly- instead of the small, insulated world outside our door, we see of so many other human events taking place.  I think of the tragedy of the fires in Australia right now, wishing I could help, and of other events on a smaller scale. 

I’ve traveled to many of these places and somehow even though I’ve spent months coursing across the vast Pacific and other oceans, I know that the moments unfolding far, far away are no different than the moments that unfold outside my window…   At its essence, “there” is no different than “here.”   But we humanize, or dehumanize the moment as the case may be.  And I’m very thankful that I’m “here.”

And so we look to home and taking care of life around us.  Often it is all we can, or should, do.   Today, I’ll continue working on that long, unfolding list of projects and humble doings.   And try to enjoy the peace of the world as it is now, here, in this place.   I hear the song of a male cardinal near the treetop saying “I’m here! Lets make this tree our home! It’s almost time for spring!”  And in the distance a redtail hawk soars and calls with the same yearning. 

It will soon be cold again.  But that’s okay, because winter is slowly giving way and I can already feel spring coming.  It always comes.

More Than Words

January 8th, 2009

What else can be said about a beautiful sunset?  It’s an experience, peaceful and calming…  moments lived and remembered along with the sunsets of our past.   Words are not enough. 

Winter sunset in Missouri

Benumbed, Biting and Bitter

December 22nd, 2008

Cold that is.  Other fitting synonyms might include glacial and piercing.  Saw 3 degrees this morning, and we’ll go below zero tonight.  Okay, not as cold as you guys are seeing up north, but it’s pretty darn cold for around here!  I’m not sure I could tell the difference between 10 degrees either way- it’s just cold.  The northwest has a huge snowstorm, and the northeast is getting one too.  If it’s going to be this cold I’d like to see some of that snow, but it doesn’t look like we will.  So how does this fit into the whole global warming schema?  Beats me, but right or wrong, I’m sure there’s a rationale for it somewhere. 

I can’t remember the pond being frozen so much in December, but it sure is neat with the reflections.  I wonder what the little circles or rough spots are scattered around the surface? 

Frozen pond reflections in Missouri

The news mentioned that if we get a few more “hundredths” of an inch of moisture this week, it may become the official wettest year in recorded history for Missouri.  That and December may be the coldest month on record in decades.   Isn’t it amazing how the birds and other wildlife can handle the cold?  I topped off the feeders today and they gathered around to enjoy the buffet. 

The windows on the porch were frosted this morning too- first time I’ve seen that really.  And I was looking out at the garden, thinking about topdressing and some clean up, more thoughts of spring creeping in.  Then I took a quick walk around outside, smiling at the futility of such thoughts with the hard “crunch” of frozen ground.  What better way to celebrate the beginning of winter? 

Frosty windows in sub-zero cold

Second Sunday, and Who Throws a Shoe?!

December 15th, 2008

Reeallly cold out there today… around 10 degrees F.  And after a weekend of temps near 50 degrees?!  I’m sure it’s a lot colder for our friends to the north.  But with the storm last night we have a bunch of ice and most of the schools are closed.  “Yipee!” say the kids.  So it feels like a second Sunday, at least for some folks. 

By now you’ve noticed that since yesterday we’ve been treated to video after video of the Iraqi jerk who decided to throw his shoes at President Bush.  Okay, it’s a little funny to watch as well.  But I thought the President was awesome- he ducked the first one, and stood back up as if to say- “Oh yeah?!  Let me see what you’ve got dude- bring it on!”  And his sense of humor afterwards was great to see.   So I thought I would share one of today’s viral videos… none other than Austin Powers asking the perfect question, “Who throws a shoe?! Honestly…”

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