Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Picking Avocados

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana
-- I heard this from Peggy Kass in Marin County

I picked avocados in Downey, California. It was Sunday morning, I was invited by Q to visit his home in Downey. He had told me many times about his wonderful avocado tree. And he had brought guacamole to the backyard BBQ on Saturday.

Everybody raved that it was the world's best guacamole, but Q said that's easy -- you just make it with very good avocados.

Like the kind that grows on his tree in Downey, which is southeast of downtown Los Angeles, and just east of the San Gabriel River.

You have to get used to these local rivers, which run in a trickle between concrete banks. They are real rivers that drain real watersheds -- you can't get too snobby about this if you come from a wetter climate.

We crossed the San Gabriel River. We could have waded, but we drove across on the 105 freeway, which is much easier.

Downey is a big town, over 100,000 people -- this is somewhere, but it's just not trendy. Downey is square, I think that's fair. People live in Downey because they like it here. The streets are quiet and spacious. You hear birds singing. And you can grow avocados and oranges in your backyard.

It gets hot in the summer, well into the nineties, because it's away from the ocean. And the smog settles in too, so that you can't see the San Gabriel Mountains to the north.

The heat has always been there, but you can get comfortable with it if you are intelligent. Q's house is stucco, which stays cool, and he has super-insulated windows, with drapes and shades. So he says, "We don't use AC, we just keep the windows closed until mid-afternoon, and it stays cool inside."

The air is still in the morning, but the onshore breeze begins most afternoons for a little cooling.

And there's the avocado tree, planted by intelligent people on the southside of Q's house, to give fruit and shade.

It's a big tree, we picked over one hundred, using a basket pole. This was the end of the season. The tree is harvested from September to March -- six months of abundance.

In April the fruit is gone, but flowers bloom and new small fruit grows through the summer, and the harvest begins again in the next September.

Persea americana is the scientific name for avocado. The fruit is picked rock hard. It does not ripen on the tree. Q said to let them drop to the ground and they won't bruise. He showed me some scalded spots, some brown rough spots, from fruit grown on the south side of the tree -- "The skin is burned by the sun on the south side of the tree but the insides are good."

I stay on the Westside when I am in Los Angeles --- super trendy, super expensive and near the beach. Everybody is rushing around hoping they won't miss out on the latest thing. It's kind of cool on the Westside. I mean, look at me -- I'm cool. That's why I'm on the Westside.

But Downey is beyond all trends, it is "trendscendental," a kind of higher realm. I didn't pick up a conservative right-wing vibe either. The right wing tends to be further south, down in Orange County. No, Downey is just kind of square, that's why I liked it there.

California grows more than 60,000 acres of avocados, and most of those acres are in San Diego County. The most abundant variety is the Hass. "All Hass avocado trees are descended from a single 'mother tree' that was raised by a mail carrier named Rudolph Hass, in La Habra Heights, California," according to Wikipedia.

Q's tree is the Fuerte variety. "Fuerte is a Mexican Guatemalan cross originating in the Mexican state of Puebla. The Fuerte earned its name, which means strong in Spanish, after it withstood a severe frost in California in 1913. Hardy to 26°F. Medium-sized pear-shaped fruit with a green leathery skin, easy to peel. Creamy flesh of mild and rich flavour. Oil 18%. The skin ripens green."

Friendly Korean Grocery Store Owners. Many Korean immigrants own small grocery stores on the West Coast, working long hours with grim faces. But they are learning how to be friendly, learning how to smile and greet their customers -- because that's a good thing, because that's the way we do it in America, and because it's good for business.

You may not have noticed this change, but I have been in friendly contact with Korean store owners for some years now. I have patiently worked with them, teaching them how to smile and say hello. This effort has begun to pay off. So, I ask you to join in this movement -- the next time you encounter a Korean store owner, give him a warm smile and a friendly hello -- his response might be very tentative, but you have to start somewhere.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Friday, March 26, 2010

Buying Bottled Water is Dumb

Buying Bottled Water is Dumb

Most of the people who read Frog Hospital are happy about the new health care bill, but some readers are very much displeased.

Most readers think that climate change is a serious problem that we need to deal with, but some do not.

Or the deficit is a problem, or the war in Afghanistan -- there are so many debatable questions.

But can anybody in their right mind, from any political persuasion, declare that the bottled water industry is doing the world a favor?

It's unanimous -- drinking bottled water is dumb and wasteful.

So, good, we all agree on something. Then we can all agree to avoid and abstain from this product. Tap water is better.

Big LA and Little LA. Wednesday morning I was in LaConner. I took the bus to SeaTac Airport, got on a plane and flew to LAX, took the free airport shuttle to the Metro bus stop, and then got on the Number Three bus which goes down Lincoln Blvd. to Venice. I got off the bus at California Avenue and walked four blocks to my sister's house.

So now I am in big LA. It is the time of year for cool morning fog and afternoon sun. There is a riot of green grass and wildflowers in the hills because of substantial winter rains.

I will be here a week or longer. I have a horticultural project -- involving patios and scented geraniums. I also have a literary project -- involving a reading from the manuscript of my about-to-be-published book. There going to love Frog Hospital in Los Angeles.

The Reagan Revolution. Evidence abounds in Venice neighborhoods -- thirty years of Reaganism has produced extremes of wealth and poverty. Tattered homeless people snuggle in dirty sleeping bags on the sidewalk in front of homes that cost more than a million dollars. Drivers of BMWs and Jaguars float past panhandlers at the intersections, And everybody gets what they deserve.

But it didn't used to be that way, and it doesn't need to be that way.

The Los Angeles Times Worships President Obama. In a book review, prominently displayed on the front of the LATimes website, we read, "The President is an unflappable Zen master with a belly full of audacity. Hard work, endurance and civility are inherent in his personality."

That's just one sentence -- the whole review is an unmitigated adoration of Obama -- it was like reading about the Great Leader in North Korea. It's really shameful to read this gushing prose in such a prominent and respected newspaper. I say this as a very strong supporter of President Obama, who is far better served by objective reporting.

Opt In and Opt Out.
Frog Hospital has an "opt out" format. This is quite unfortunate because there are always a few people who end up on our mailing list even if they did not choose to be on it.

It pains me greatly to send Frog Hospital to people who do not really wish to read it, but advanced technical ignorance has prevented me from implementing a solution, which is to become an "opt in" newsletter. My apologies if I have clogged your Inbox.

Spring Subscription Drive.
Many thanks to those readers who have sent in checks. Your dollars are greatly appreciated. But there is still time -- the spring drive is not over. You can support Frog Hospital by writing a check for $25 made out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner WA, 98257. Or you can go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay $25 with the PayPal button. Thanks a bunch.

T-shirts still on sale. Frog Hospital t-shirts are almost sold out, but we are ordering another batch. Call or write for details.

Frog Hospital, the book, will be printed very soon.

Writing Something New. I'm doing final corrections from the proofreader today. It's a wrap. Aware as I am of its many flaws, the book goes out into the world now. Then I will be flogging it here and there at bookstores and other venues, But book-writing is the real fun and I'm looking forward to working on something new.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Health Care Now

It's been great political drama these past few days as the Health Care vote comes down to the wire on Sunday. I'm predicting it will pass the House. Of course, I'm biased -- I support this bill, which is a long overdue reform.

I don't know why the Democrats couldn't get it passed last summer. The extended process has been maddening and I stopped paying attention lest I tear at my hair.

But now I'm at the edge of my seat -- go team! pass that bill!

The Dismal New York Times.
These people depress me. Nothing good ever gets done without an uplifting spirit, but the New York Times is a newspaper that has lost its soul.

This week, David Brooks, the conservative in the house, wrote a column titled The Broken Society -- I was assaulted by this headline over my morning coffee. Sure, Brooks made a few good points about disturbing social trends, but it left me feeling down. We don't live in a "broken society." The NYTimes staff needs to take a walk in the park.

The Problem of Unemployment is Easily Solved.
Congress can create tens of thousands of new jobs with a simple change in the law, a law that could be written double-spaced on one side of a page. Ban self-service gas pumping nationwide, like they do in Oregon.

Dramatically simple, completely fair and the cost of the extra service is neatly spread across all consumers of gasoline.

But it's too easy -- won't happen.

Eugene Owens of Venice, California, may be credited with a new concept, "funderemployment."
He is an academic librarian, the job he is qualified for, but, there being no work in that field for him right now, he toils at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on the Promenade in Santa Monica. It's fun working there he says, hence "funderemployment."

Toyota is a Bum

I'm not talking about the recall of cars with faulty gas pedals. That is just a bunch of bad publicity. Toyota makes a pretty good car. But this factory closing in California is really mean. Toyota has sold millions of cars in the Golden State, and California drivers were among the first to be willing to try a "Japanese" car back when most people thought they were only cheap imports.

So how does Toyota repay this loyal support -- by closing their California factory and laying off more than 4,000 workers. Toyota is a bum.


No Need for a Bike Lane on Maple Street. What is this, free money? The town of LaConner can build a bike lane on the eastside of Maple Street and the federal government will pay for most of it. This is not free. This is a wasteful project. Maple Street has a perfectly good sidewalk on the west side, which cyclists can use. Besides that, the cars should drive slowly and be watching out for bike riders and pedestrians, and sheriff has ways to remind people of that.

But there's no need to waste government dollars on more pavement, even for something as noble as a bike lane. Pavement is forever, as the farm preservationists say, and Frog Hospital strongly opposes the extension of concrete or asphalt on the precious earth of the Skagit Valley.

No Need for Dredging Swinomish Channel in LaConner. Swinomish Channel, a tidal slough, has been dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers on a regular basis since 1892. But I think it's time for the government to stop spending so much money on something that isn't necessary. All you have to do is wait for high tide.

Besides that, who needs big boats? LaConner could make itself the small boat capital of Puget Sound -- building and selling rowboats, canoes and kayaks, staging races, leading maritime tours, teaching classes, carving oars, designing better boats, and publishing books and magazines on the value and utility of small boats.

Don't dredge the channel. Save Money. Wait for High Tide.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Friday, March 12, 2010

Can a Corporation be a Mensch?

Can a Corporation be a Mensch?

Bank of America to End Debit Overdraft Fees
In a move that could bring an end to the $40 cup of coffee, Bank of America said on Tuesday that it was doing away with overdraft fees on purchases made with debit cards, a decision that could cost the bank tens of millions a year in revenue and put pressure on other banks to do the same. -- from the NYTimes.

Yes, a corporation can be a mensch -- meaning a "stand-up guy" or a person of honor and integrity like when you do the right thing. In this case, the Bank of America removed the hateful fee that has punished millions of people who, admittedly, were stupid enough to let their balance go below zero.

Corporations are legally considered to be persons, which has perpetuated all manner of abuse, but in this case, when a giant banking concern acts like a human being -- I'm all for it. I'm sure the bank's motives are not entirely selfless, but I will take it at face value, and this news has put a big smile on my face.

I'm getting tired of Facebook. I have more than 900 friends but my attention span has been shattered into tiny pieces. I think I will just leave it alone for a while and read a book.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
This is an old-fashioned book about a young girl who grows up in the tenements of Brooklyn one hundred years ago. That's what I'm reading -- beats wasting my time on Facebook.

St. Matthew Passion.
But I like the Internet. Right now I'm listening to the St. Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach. The entire work is on YouTube. I'm listening to it as I write today's letter.

God Doesn't Want Me to Collect Unemployment.
I don't often get specific message from God. But when I applied for unemployment compensation last week, I heard a mighty voice calling to me, saying, "Fred, you have to go back to work now."

To put it another way, my claim has run into bureaucratic difficulties, and I so loathe wasting my time on this kind of paperwork, that I would rather go back to my old job at the hospital.

This is a job that I can't seem to get rid of -- as a nursing aide for disruptive and difficult patients in the medical unit -- looking after patients who are unable to behave, like they want to climb out of bed and go home, and I get to spend hours and hours with them saying things like, "Mr. Jorgenson, you have to stay in bed. You're sick. If you try to get out of bed, you'll fall down and hurt yourself. We can't let you do that."

That's the job. Apparently, despite the large number of people who are out of work, the hospital cannot find anybody who will take my place. They refuse to lay me off. So I can't collect unemployment, and I have to go back to work now, because I need the money.

It could be worse. But I wish it was better.

Farm Stories.
I have also been writing farm stories for the LaConner Weekly News -- our vastly improved local newspaper, co-published by Cindy Vest and Sandy Stokes. I have written stores about our local crops, one crop at a time -- potatoes, peas, dairies, cabbage seeds, and tulips.

My next story will be called "Plowing 101." I chose this topic because pretty soon the farmers will be out in the fields turning over the soil. They will likely be starting early this year because the weather has been mild. But they get going out there and it's like an invasion. It's powerful. They just keep working and working from first light until darkest night, to get it all done.

Well, there is lot more to plowing than you might first expect. It's more complicated than just climbing on a tractor and riding it back and forth across the field. So I will be explaining some of the basics of plowing in my next story.

These farm stories will soon be available at Frog Hospital, but for right now, you need to get a copy of the LaConner Weekly News.

The Muse in Conway. I went to the Muse in Conway for the Open Mike night on Wednesday. It costs $5 to get in. There were some very talented musicians playing, and they have an excellent sound system. It's very cozy too. I'm going back next week to read an excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book.
The excerpt is called "The Scars on Her Face."

Feeling Connected. I enjoy writing this newsletter, because I feel connected to many people when I do it. I imagine people in different parts of the country seeing this pop into their Inbox. This is a good thing, but if you have not written back to me in a while, I'm always glad to get a short note.

The Frog Hospital T-shirts
are ready to be shipped. This year when you sign up for a $25 subscription to Frog Hospital, you get a FREE T-shirt, no charge for shipping.

Write a check for $25 made out to Fred Owens. Mail it to Box 1292 LaConner, WA 98257. I will send one XL t-shirt to the return address, unless you want another size.

Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay $25 on the PayPal button -- but then you need to send me an email with the mailing address.

This is not too complicated, and it's a really cool T-shirt. I had it designed by Alexander Kramer, an up and coming artist in LaConner.

The Frog Hospital book will be coming out later this spring. There will also be a book deal, but right now it's the T-shirt deal.

Thank you for your support.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The T-shirts are ready

The Frog Hospital T-shirts are ready, but first we go to the New York Times website and just read the headlines:

U.S. Aiding Somalia in Its Plan to Retake Its Capital

Great, let's help everybody, we can do it all. Fix Haiti, then Yemen, don't forget Detroit and New Orleans, and then rebuild Pakistan. No problem too great or small, we can do it all.

Or here's a better idea. Let's send the Tea Party people over to Somalia. They would just love it there -- no government, no laws, and no taxes. All you need is a generator, several drums of gasoline, a couple of cell phones, two or three dozen AK-47s, and some four-wheel drive pickups -- and you can set yourself up as a warlord. Lots of peasants in the neighborhood -- good for exacting tribute. It's the purest kind of freedom.

Art News

John Simon died. He was a wonderful artist. Many hundreds of people came to his show in Edison last night. This was an unusual situation. John had been battling cancer for several years, and seeming to be all right, and turning out some very impressive work.

That's why the art show was planned. But he took a turn for the worse last week. He went down pretty fast and he died.

But they still had the show planned -- all the paintings hung and ready to be viewed. So everybody came to celebrate his life and his work. Much love for this fine artist.

Joel Brock went to Los Angeles. I don't know how to make a graceful transition from John Simon's entire life to Joel Brock's less significant trip, so forgive me.

Joel Brock is showing new work at the Cygnus Gallery in LaConner. He has been in Los Angeles, painting the light. This was a surprise to me because all the work I've seen of his has been done in the Skagit Valley.

But there at the Cygnus gallery was Brock's painting of a house in Los Angeles. It was instantly recognizable. I just loved it. But then I love Los Angeles.

Charlie Krafft. Charlie's work is kind of unusual. I won't describe it, but you can find it on Google, just type in Krafft with two f's.

I visited his studio/home on Beacon Hill last week. He fixed me some coffee and then went back to work on his ceramics. We talked while he worked. Charlie has some very strong creative energy, and it was very stimulating just to be talking with him while he worked.

The Museum of Northwest Art has a show of women's lingerie. This is an attempt to restore the erotic potential of downtown LaConner. Sexual expression of any kind has been banned for decades in this town. No dancing. No suggestive hip movement. No fooling around. It has been so dull in LaConner, you could fall asleep on a bench. But a showing of women's ... you know ... is good for the imagination, it livens things up a bit.

That's the art news.

The Flower Report. The daffodils were three weeks early, but a low pressure area is moving in and and bringing back winter weather, so the tulips are not going to come on so fast.

Dating Disaster. This event deserves expansive coverage, but I have to skim over it. I dined at the Lemon Grass, a Vietnamese restaurant in Seattle, with a Lovely Lass.

You could write a book about everything I did wrong. I started out with nervous twitching, then compounded the error by trying to explain the nervous twitching, then motor-mouthing a monologue with surprising emotional intensity -- like, if I showed her I could do handsprings then she might like me.

It was really too much, but there was an underlying sincerity to my effort. I can't explain it any other way.

The Frog Hospital T-shirts are ready to be shipped. This year when you sign up for a $25 subscription to Frog Hospital, you get a FREE T-shirt, no charge for shipping.

Write a check for $25 made out to Fred Owens. Mail it to Box 1292 LaConner, WA 98257. I will send one XL t-shirt to the return address, unless you want another size.

Or pay $25 on the PayPal button -- but then you need to send me an email with the mailing address.

This is not too complicated, and it's a really cool T-shirt. I had it designed by Alexander Kramer, an up and coming artist in LaConner.

The Frog Hospital book will be coming out later this spring. There will also be a book deal, but right now it's the T-shirt deal.

Thank you for your support.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257