Friday, March 27, 2009

Will I live long enough to use a 60-tube pack of toothpaste?

There are many folks, if given the slightest opening in conversation, who will rail against the evils of super retailers like Costco, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target etc, for hours on end. They put small businesses out of business, they ruin the older downtown areas of our cities, they sell foreign junk at low prices, basically, if turned loose inside your city limits, they will kill your town.

There is an amount of truth to these arguments; small businesses cannot compete against the buying power of a super retailer. Retail giants like Wal-Mart and Costco have a competitive price advantage before the product hits the shelves simply because they buy in tremendous volume and receive a discount from the manufacture. A discount they can use to their advantage when they set their prices. They do take shoppers away from traditional shopping areas. New developments offer larger parking areas and larger square footage opportunities for these stores and that is what they need, space, and lots of it. It would be almost impossible trying to carve out a place in a downtown setting for a super retailer, and the price per square foot would be prohibitive.

I have lived in Yolo County long enough to remember businesses with great customer service, like Cranston's Hardware on Main Street. I also remember stores with less than stellar service and high prices in the downtown area. I miss having a true hardware store like Cranston's, where the guy behind the counter had actually rebuilt a pneumatic screen door closer, and would sell you the right parts and explain how to fix it. I'm not so impressed with the slacked-jawed look of the kid at the local home center who wouldn't know a pneumatic screen door closer if you hit him in the head with one.

There are family owned businesses in Woodland that still offer good service, and I try to shop there first. I will pay a little more for customer service and product knowledge, but if I get the same slacked-jawed look to my question, why bother? I hate to see the closed storefronts downtown, and I would love to have a vibrant downtown in Woodland, I’m just not sure the best way to go about it.

Setting aside that argument for a moment, I would like to point out a not so obvious evil of big box stores, especially the warehouse stores; overbuying.

Before Costco was Costco, we knew them in the Sacramento area as Price Club. Our family's name for it was the $200 club. It was almost impossible to return from Price Club without spending at least $200. This was back when spending $100 at a grocery store was a rare occurrence. The large quantities of goods you purchased at these stores made you feel as though you were running the kitchen for an NFL training camp or a logging mill.

I like bacon, but do I really need 6 pounds of it? I need ketchup, but where am I going to store a one-gallon container of it? Do I have buy laundry detergent in a 5-gallon bucket? Do I need to buy a hay-bale sized bundle of socks? Will I live long enough to use a 60 tube pack of toothpaste?

Judging by the success of these stores, the answer to these questions is yes. I found a place to put the laundry soap, and after shopping at Costco for a while, we bought an extra freezer for the garage to store the extra five packs of bacon, the 800-packs of chicken nuggets and so on.

A good marketing plan for Costco might be to sell energy efficient freezers right at the entrance of the store. Now you can stock up in the frozen food isle because you have a place to put it. Better yet, Costco could give you the freezer and charge you a monthly service fee, say $5 a month on a three-year contract. The $180 bucks would probably pay for the freezer and just think of the extra revenue in frozen food sales.

I should go into Marketing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sometimes its rough being a dad.

A friend sent this to me. Sums up my parenting experience very well.

Cup of Tea.

One day my mother was out and my dad was in charge of me. I was maybe 2 1/2 years old and had just recovered from an accident. Someone had given me a little 'tea set' as a get-well gift and it was one of my favorite toys. Daddy was in the living room engrossed in the evening news when I brought Daddy a little cup of 'tea', which was just water. After several cups of tea and lots of praise for such yummy tea, my Mom came home. My Dad made her wait in the living room to watch me bring him a cup of tea, because it was 'just the cutest thing!'

My Mom waited, and sure enough, here I come down the hall with a cup of tea for Daddy and she watches him drink it up.

Then she says, (as only a mother would know... :) "Did it ever occur to you that the only place she can reach to get water is the toilet?"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cloud watching, and other important things.

I love springtime, but I also love the fall. Between those two, spring looses in a photo finish, mainly because of hunting season. However, spring has a unique hold on me.

The grass in the hills is a lush green, the tree buds are opening to the world and the fresh young chutes of wild flowers reach ever upward. Even the sunshine seems more inviting in the spring than any other time of year. A flannel shirt or light jacket in the morning gives way to shirt sleeves in the afternoon. The storms that bring in the rain, scrub the sky to bright blue.

As a kid, I used to spend hours laying back on the damp grass and watching the white, billowing clouds as they split apart and rejoin to form their unlimited shapes. Any time a kid can be outside and take in the wonders of nature, it is time well spent.

Springtime is also a time of renewal and new life. The wobbly legs of newborn calves, foals and lambs try to gain a steady hold on the soft ground. The frequent hunting trips of the red-tailed hawk in my back yard tell me a new hawk may soon be testing its wings. New gosling, ducklings and chicks are everywhere out at the ranch, just as it should be.

The sounds of kids playing and the unmistakable ping of an aluminum bat connecting with a baseball is another sign spring has arrived. Little League signups are posted in town along with the ones for soccer teams. Springtime is for kids, and for the kid in all of us.

The first beautiful weekend starts me planning all kinds of outings. Outings I never find the time to do. When it's sunny and 70 degrees outside, it feels as though spring will last forever. Soon all those picnics out at the ranch and field trips with the kids that I meant to take seem a little less appealing as the temperature climbs into the 90s and closer to the century mark. I still have my wish list, and this year, I may just find a way to check a few of them off.

I have yet to see Yosemite. Go figure. I have seen Yellowstone twice and its three states away. One of the most beautiful and scenic places our planet has to offer is 4 hours away, and I have not taken the time to see it with my own eyes. I would also like to have an overnight picnic in the hills somewhere this spring. Nothing too fancy, just the family and a few friends, a good meal and watching the campfire burn down to a bed of glowing coals while we talk and enjoy the cool night air.

Granted it's not a very sophisticated list. I'm not asking for a train ride through the wine country or an outdoor symphony in Golden Gate Park, these are just simple outings that I hope would be something our family will enjoy together. It seems these days we are all pulled in different directions. My son and I will do one thing while my wife and daughter do something else. I really want to spend time together doing something we all will enjoy. Our children are growing up so fast, I feel like I have missed so many chances already. This year will be different.

I will keep you posted.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lighten up Francis

I guess I will get the hate mail flowing with this, but here it goes anyway.

Lighten up on Barack Obama, at least for the Special Olympics bowling comment.

I know that for those who have a special needs child or relative, the President's comment could make you feel very angry, mildly upset or even evoke a chuckle. The people who have demanded the President apologize are not satisfied, they want his hide nailed to the barn door for this.

While some of the outrage has come from the President's critics, much has come from the left. The Politically Correct police are out in full force, just waiting to be offended by something, or in some cases, by anything.

Was the comment insensitive towards disabled or special needs citizens? Sure it was, if you want to be. Was is mean spirited? Absolutely not. I will guarantee the Obama administration will sign more business crippling legislation for the ADA lobby than any other President has, but that doesn't matter right now. The professionally outraged lobby will beat the administration over the head with this comment ever chance they can.

If only he would offend middle-aged, fat, white, evangelical males.....

Maybe I could get a bail out?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Behind the mock outrage, the truth comes to the surface.

For all of you outraged at the AIG executive bonuses, please turn your anger towards the Democrat who wrote those bonuses into the stimulus bill. Here is a hint, its the same guy who took 103,000 in political contributions from AIG in the last election.

In a dramatic reversal Wednesday, Sen. Chris Dodd confessed to adding language to a spending cap in the stimulus bill last month that specifically excluded executive bonuses included in contracts signed before the bill's passage. Dodd, D-Conn., told FOX News that Treasury officials forced him to make the change. "As many know, the administration was, among others, not happy with the language. They wanted some modifications to it," he said. "They came to us, our staff, and asked for changes, and the changes at the time did not seem that obnoxious or onerous."

Now aint' that a coincidence? His phone number in DC is (202) 224-2823, give him a call and explain why maybe he should be taxed at 90% for the AIG "bonus" he took.

Boy, I can almost feel the Hope and Change.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Obama in spending 2 trillion dollars of our children's money and all I got was this t-shirt.

Those of us here in California have seen this movie, and it doesn't have a happy ending. When Governor Schwarzenegger came into office, the state government was 30 or so billion in the hole. Instead of cutting spending, we were told by the folks under the dome we would make a "one time fix." The state would borrow this huge sum of money by selling California bonds, and they promised to reign in the spending. Yea, right.

The Legislature didn't slow the growth of government spending, in fact, they actually increased spending every year since. The foundation was laid; spend more than you have, borrow from tomorrow what you can't pay for today, and congratulate yourself on your sound financial judgment.

This "one time" fix resembles the checks you receive in the mail from your credit card company. If you are behind on your bills and can't pay your credit card balances, all you do is sign this check and presto, you can pay off the credit cards. After all, the initial interest rate is 0% for the first 3 months.

This brings us to the first rule about holes. When you are in one, stop digging.

Instead of reviewing your spending, finding ways to spend smarter and better, you find a way to keep doing what you are doing, and then spend a little more. As we are learning this year, we can't keep borrowing indefinitely. California's bond rating has plummeted. Even if we can find people willing to buy our bonds, the state's credit rating is so poor, we will have to pay out much higher rates to sell these bonds. Like the example above, state government borrowed money to pay off the credit card bills, and then ran the credit card balances back up to the limit.

If California were a family, we would be getting that knock on the door from the sheriff being served with eviction papers.

On the national scene, we are seeing these same "fixes" by President Obama and the democratically controlled Congress, only on a much, much larger scale. The difference is, Washington owns a printing press.

Nations like China, who own around 25% of our nation's debt, are getting nervous. The safe bet American bonds once were, are becoming less appealing to foreign investors. The sheer amount of money being borrowed and printed right now, has given rise to the threat of rapid inflation in the near future. That may be part of the administration's plan, if money is worth less, the old debt can be paid back sooner. The only problem with that strategy is it puts the screws to people on a fixed income.

The huge number of baby boomers retiring, and those already counting on Social Security checks to pay the bills, will be hit hard. The price for everything they buy, from food to electricity, will sharply increase while their income will stay the flat.

So, what is the answer? I wish I knew for a certainty. However, spending trillions of dollars, and then coming back to ask for a trillion more, is not the answer.

In the next few weeks, we will see Congress ask for another staggering sum of money to buy up toxic assets from the mortgage-backed securities mess that started this financial meltdown. I am not a fan of government intervention in the free market, but this is one I actually agree with. The sub-prime mortgage mess is the chief culprit in our current economic woes. To start the credit markets lending money again, and for private capitol to flood back into the market, these toxic assets must be taken off the books. My concern is the same politicians who created the crisis, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and others, will be heading the effort to fix it.

The banking bill will not be the last of it, get ready for "Son of Stimulus 2." Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are writing up another stimulus bill before the panic fades. If a trillion dollars in pork barrel spending and earmarks is good for the economy, another trillion must be better, right? These spending sprees in the name of stimulus could actually slow and even stop, our economic recovery. I suggest doing a little reading on FDR's new deal. Read about how government intervention into the economy stretched the depression out for years longer than it should have. You probably didn't learn this in school, but the facts are indisputable.

This economy will turn around. Americans didn't forget how to work, we didn't forget how to innovate, build, and chase after our dreams. We have just forgotten that we can't spend our way to prosperity. Hard work, building up your savings, delaying gratification, the things that built this country, still work.

The only thing that can stand in the way of American people is the American government.

We must learn our lessons from this crisis and start demanding our government live within its means, while we lead by example.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Light blogging

I haven't been blogging as much lately for several reasons. First, I have given into the darkside and joined Facebook. I'm having a great time finding people I went to school with, as well as friends. I was never impressed with Myspace, way too much junk, music blaring at you, flashing pics, and there was so much crap on the sites that it took three minutes to load the page. Facebook is simple, user friendly and a great way to connect with folks you may not have seen in years.

The second reason is my schedule has been crazy and I needed a break. Too many meeting, too many tasks, emails, lists, things to do.

As great as modern marvels of technologies like Facebook are, there is still no replacement for face to face interaction between human beings.

Case in point, I went a poker game last night. After watching the level of my poker-change-mug drop the last few games, I filled it back up last night. That last straight-flush helped out in a big way, sorry Barney.

This time I am going to hide my poker mug away from the thieving fingers of my son. He has been using it as an mini-ATM for lunch money. I had to dig to the bottom to find any quarters!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Butter! No, its Chiffon.

For anyone born before 1970, you may know the television commercial with Mother Nature sitting in a rocking chair, surrounded by woodland creatures, eating what she thinks is a buttered muffin. When she discovers she has been fooled by margarine, she exclaims, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." There is a loud crackle of thunder and you immediately realize the folly in trying to trick her.

All of which brings us to the Capay Valley Almond Festival. Since 1915, the festival has taken place on the last Sunday in February. The festival coincides with the almond tree blossoms. Rain or shine, the "Almond Festival" as it is know by the locals, is a tradition. As it is with most traditions, change comes with more than a little resistance.

This year was typical almond festival weather; the last Sunday in February was filled with rain, and lots of it. The locals, who were not buying into the new festival date, crowded into the Capay Junction to keep the tradition alive. I know because I was one of them. While I applaud their stiffed neck response to moving the date, I am inclined to believe this is a win-win proposition. Follow along with me.

You can hold a party on the traditional Sunday, and if the weather is nice, you can laugh at the folks who moved the festival date. If it pours that day and its nice two weeks later, you have enjoyed both days. It is a win-win situation, at least for a decade or so. With each passing year, the last Sunday in February will lose a little of its luster. Ultimately, it will fall the way of Washington's Birthday.

Do not get me started on President's day; I have a few choice words on taking Washington and Lincoln's birthday and reducing them to a generic holiday. If there were ever two Americans to celebrate, I can't think any better. But I digress.

The main problem, as I see it, is the almond trees will have finished blooming by March 15. The whole idea of the Almond Festival is to see the valley in its full glory. This past weekend was a wonderful time to experience the Valley. The white almond blossoms, the lush green grass on the hillside, the soft fragrance of spring in the air, the "NO PRISON IN MADISON" signs along Highway 16, it was just perfect.

If you have a few hours of free time this Sunday, take a trip up the Capay Valley. The Almond Festival is a great time, food everywhere, kid’s games, car chows, Harleys and the beauty of the Valley.

If you come in early, Esparto's FFA chapter will have a Pancake breakfast at the High School gym, then head up for live music at the Capay Junction, more food and a craft fair at the Guinda Western Grange Hall and a trip to the festival is not complete unless you have at least one of the Famous Rumsey Ribs.

If you are new to the area and have never driven up the Capay Valley, this is a great time to see it, even if some of the blossoms have already fallen to the ground.

Well, you know what she says, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

And now for something completely different

Having been up to my eyeballs in politics for the past few weeks, I am taking a night off to write about, well I am not sure. Think of this as free-form jazz or string of consciousness writing, or just plain rambling.

I have cut out most of the sugar and carbs from my diet for 6 months; I have lost 40 pounds, but I might have to do bodily harm to someone if I don't have pancakes soon.

I am getting better at guitar because of my bass playing, learning the fretboard takes time you know. I am finding country songs much easier to play than rock and metal. My daughter caught me playing Taylor Swift the other day because it's an easy song. I don't even like Taylor Swift, she looks like she needs some cheesecake.

The rain has been great but I could use a break to spray the weeds in my ditches and around the barn. This weekend may give me the chance.

Do you ever wonder why there is such dispairty in the meaning of the word 'clean' between parents and children? As in, "is your room clean?"

The 'new and improved' Capay Valley Almond Blossom Festival is coming to our area on March 15th. The almond festival has been the last Sunday in February since anyone can remember, but it seems people smarter than I am feel the need to move the date, even though the blossoms are falling to the ground as I write this. Progress? I'm not so sure.

I want a motorcycle. There, I said it, and I feel much better now. Chuckle if you will, but back in the day, I used to ride everywhere on my Katana 750. I am way too old for a 'crotch rocket' now, but cruising around on a Harley would be cool. I may just sell my 76' CJ-7 Jeep and see if I can find a screaming deal.

Toaster ovens suck.

I am making headway on the pile of books by my bedside. With my Bible Study reading and all the different meetings I have been attending, I haven't had much time to finish 'An Army at Dawn." It's the story of the African campaign in WWII. It's a great book, I have to finish it. Then it's on to 'Wild at Heart' a men's ministry book. I still have 'Andrew Jackson- American Lion' to read, but my friend Dan has it right now.

It is time to go shooting. I have spent a few rainy days reloading pistol ammunition this winter and it's about time to make some noise and smell the gunpowder burning. I may ask my neighbor if I can take a 5 gallon bucket of his oranges laying on the ground under the trees and head up to my friend's ranch. Rolling oranges down hill and shooting them with a 44 magnum is great fun. If this seems odd to you, don't worry, its a guy thing. If you are a guy and this doesn't sound appealing, you should worry. Email me and we will schedule an intervention, guys should like to doing guy things. Blowing the crap out of oranges with large caliber pistols is in the top three percentile of 'guy things.'

Speaking of bedsides, that is where I am heading.
Goodnight, and God bless Yolo County.

Substitute post

I have written, edited, rewritten and edited several posts in the last two or three days without publishing any of them. Don't look for a my piece on the paper this week, I didn't send one in.

I know what I want to say, I just can't decide weather to say it. You know, like your mother told you, "if you can't say anything nice..."

It's not that I don't want to offend anyone, I offend people on a regular basis, I just don't think the people who need to understand what I am saying are up to it at this point. They need a little more time to soak in what is happening right now.

I always save my drafts so I can come back to them, and in time I may.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Well, and then there is this

My cat was hyper, so I put it inside a bong......

I am not sure what this says about our society, whatever it is, it isn't positive.