Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Coffee and Alaska

There are three or four neccesities for people settling a new frontier: sugar, salt, flour, bacon (or some kind of preserves animal protein) and coffee. OK, coffee is on the list because it is or was, always included in supplies for explorers, settlers, soldiers, sailors, etc., when they set out to conquer the unknown or the known, fight the elments or other men. Coffee is neccesary for the proper function of society, especially the success of the industrial revolution and the winning of wars.

Anchorage, Alaska, as it turns out, is the Coffee Drinking Capital of the US. Move over Seattle; you are not even close!

Here is an article about the affect of comodities on the state of the world, coffee being one of the more important ones. I donot share many of his sentiments, but his description of the development of the global economy around coffee and other comodities is pretty good.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Walk in the Rain

"…and it’s raining out," came the shout through the closing door as she walked out of the house in only her shirt and jeans in the persistent drizzle that typified October. It was raining, technically, but not really raining. After all, she had grown up in rainy Ketchikan and it never bothered her. Besides, going out without a coat in the got her mother upset, didn’t it?

She walked down the twenty-two steps to the street and turned left. Don’t look back, she thought. She smiled and walked faster; her old sneakers already starting to soak up the rain puddles that she stepped in on purpose. Headstrong was what her grandmother called her when neither she nor her mother thought she could hear. “But she's a little girl!” her mother would answer.

Little girl indeed, she was fifteen, almost sixteen and knew how to take care of herself. It took only about twenty minutes to walk to her friend Susan's house, so she wouldn’t be too wet when she got there. She had to step to the side of the narrow road a couple of times when cars came by and one of them splashed her jeans with water and mud. She yelled after the car, swearing just to hear herself swear. She walked faster, her arms crossed over her chest to keep herself warm as she went.

Finally she arrived at Susan's house, knocking at the door and waiting for a response. It seemed like forever, but finally Susan came to the door.

"Oh, I was waiting for you," she said. "My cousin and her baby are over and my mom said I can't have any company after my deficiency in math. Sorry."

She had walked all the way from home in the damn rain, and she couldn't go in?

"Oh, Ok, I'll just go home then,” she said, smiling a fake smile.

"You're getting wet you know," Susan said, looking at her meaningfully, her brows knit.

She only grimaced as the door closed; some friend, she thought as she turned away, see if I help her with homework again.

For a moment she stood under the cover of the porch, out of the increasing drizzle. She didn't want to go home and admit to her mother that she had made a mistake. Where could she go? Cassie lived another six blocks away. Cassie lived with her grandmother and they were always home in the evening. Dark was coming quickly and the wind was now picking up. If she was going to be going anywhere else she had better get going.

Arms still wrapped tightly about her she made her way down another street, then down some steep, slippery steps to the next street and down another three blocks to the old one story frame house Cassie shared with her grandmother. There were no lights and the old beat up Datsun that her grandmother drove was not in the driveway. She knocked hard and long, but no one was there. Trying the door she opened it a little.

The sound of the loud, angry dog was right there in her face and she barely closed the door before it got out. She thought she had screamed a little, too, but was not sure. Boomer was Cassie's father's dog and did not like strangers. It particularly did not like strangers who entered the house when the owner was not there. She had completely forgotten about the dog, which Cassie and her grandmother were taking care of. Her heart was beating hard now, pounding in her chest and she felt like crying. Where the heck was she, anyway, she wondered, looking up and down the darkening street for any sign of her. Now she was most of a mile away from home, and the rain had soaked her shirt completely through. Her pants were sopping wet half way to her knees and her shoes squished when she walked.

Home suddenly felt very good. But, could she just walk home like this? She had to, she decided, setting off up the hill, then turning onto the long set of steps. Halfway up was a dark patch of rain-soaked wood. In the dimming light she could not see very well at all and stepped on it wrong, twisting her ankle. As she tried to regain her balance she fell against the railing and it broke, sending her falling in the wet, prickly bushes, her knee hitting a rock under them as she landed. It was not a long fall, but it scared her, and her knee exploded in pain. She started to cry as she laid there, the rain now coming down harder. Her ankle was twisted, she would feel it. Painfully, still crying, she examined herself and decided nothing important had been broken. It hurt, though, to put weight on her ankle and she had a hard time climbing out of the wet, slippery weeds onto the walkway. She looked down at herself and found that she was covered with dirt and bits of vegetation. Tears now ran freely, mixing with the dirt and rain on her face.

Pulling herself together as well as she could she stumbled up the walkway toward the street she needed to reach, each step painful. She was not making the kind of time she had on the way down and now it was raining harder and the wind was whipping past her, driving the rain into her face. It seemed like forever before she made it to her street, her legs trembling and her body shaking from the cold and frustration of the last half an hour.

As she turned onto the street a large, over sized pickup drove by, going too fast, hitting the large mud puddle that had gathered there at the foot of the street where the drain always clogged, splashing her from head to toe with the muddy, dirty water. The truck did not even slow down as she wailed after it in the rain. She sat on the curb then and sobbed, wanting nothing more than her mother at that moment, the warm house and her room that she always said was too small.

With an effort she stood and started up the street. One foot moved in front of another, water now running down her back and into her wet, sagging jeans, so wet they threatened to slide off her narrow hips from the weight. She tugged at them and continued. It was nearly full dark now and lights were coming on. There, fifty yards ahead, was the light of their living room, with the curtains open to reveal the light above her mother's chair. She stumbled and nearly fell as She started again, her dragging pants leg tripping her.

The steps seemed a hundred feet tall as she climbed them and finally reached the door and safety. She turned the knob and stopped. Locked; her mother had locked the door. That was it, the final straw in this terrible evening and she began to sob and pound listlessly on the door. It was no more than a moment, but seemed a century for the wet, soggy girl when it opened and her mother appeared, her face a picture of worry and then shock as she saw the state he daughter had returned in.

"Oh, my God! What has happened to you?"

"I.. I'm sorry mama.. I… I fell."

"Oh dear, come in here and get out of those clothes."

She was inside then and her mother had her undressed in seconds, wrapped in a blanket and into the bathroom where she drew a hot bath. Every scrape and bump had to be examined and treated; her hair washed and brushed by her mother. She sniffled and snuffled through it all, not saying a word, and for some reason her mother knew that she wanted to just be quiet for a while. Finally she was in her nightgown and a robe and ensconced on the couch with a cup of tea, a fire burning in the fireplace.

Her mother sat there, looking at her, worry and love in her eyes. She almost winced at the pain she saw their. It hurt her more than any scrape she had received.

"Can you tell me what happened?'

"I was stupid. I thought it would be better somewhere else. I walked to Susan's and she couldn't let me in… Cassie wasn't home and her dog scared me and I fell on the steps and then in the weeds and a truck almost hit me…" Her voice trailed off and she sniffled a little, frowning.

Her mother smiled a little at her grimace.

"You know, home isn’t so bad after all," she finally said, looking at her mother as though she had been gone a long time.

"Welcome home dear," her mother said, tears in her eyes, as the rain pattered against the window pane and the firelight flickered.

New Google Docs and Spreadsheets now available

If you need to be able to write on the go, collaborate with coworkers or friends, using Google docs and spreadsheets looks like a pretty good deal, considering that it is free. There is also a commercial version. I just used the Document application to write an assignment for my Creative Writing class and it worked like a charm. I tried to post it to this blog, but for some reason it will not work, but I can still cut and paste.
All you need to have to use this service is a Google ID. From your Google home page you click on More by the Search feature at the top and then Even More and you will get an entire list of Google services and applications. I have not had time to try more, but I can say that it is impressive. The functionality of the spreadsheet looks pretty impressive, too!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cats and Rain

Alice walked out of her condo and into the garden and stoppedin the center of the small lawn. It was mid-morning and the sun had just started to appear in the back yard, highlighting the white carnations that graced the west end of the yard. She smiled and looked around, surveying her handiwork. Petunias, roses, carnations, azaleas and other flowers grew around the borders of the tidy back yard, with a bird bath in the center, surrounded by its own small flower bed. A bench under a trellis was on the left, a shelter place when she wanted to read in the afternoon.

Right now there was work to do. She was nearing eighty, but was still capable of taking care of the small yard, even mowing the lawn when it was needed. Against the wall of her townhouse was a small garden shed, which she opened and pulled gloves, a hat and a weeding trowel and small shovel from. She wore old gray sweat pants, an old, paint stained shirt and short, rubber boots. Her eyes behind her thick glasses were still bright and clear, though her step had slowed and her back bent. At one time she had been considered tall but age had shrunk her frame considerably.

Today her project was the weeding of the small bed of petunias that surrounded the bird bath in the center of the yard. Picking up the knee pad from where it lay on the step she walked out and slowly prepared for work, putting the knee pad down and then her tools before getting down on all fours. She hummed as she worked, talking in a low, sing-song voice the small plants that produced the bright, multicolored blossoms. She worked her way around the perimeter of the bed until she was half way around without pausing.

Taking a break she sat back on her heals, looking around.

In the corner of the yard a large white cat jumped down from the fence between the yards and froze, looking at her.

"Shoo!" she called out, waving her arm at the cat. She did not mind cats, had had her share of them over the years, but this one seemed to think her garden was his private bathroom. She did not know how she knew it was male, but the arrogance with which it treated her an the world around it made her certain it was one.

"Go poop in your own yard, you big lug!" she yelled.

The cat did not move, only stared at her. Struggling, she rose to her feet as fast as she could and
advanced on the cat.

"Get out of here!" she yelled.

The cat finally seemed to make a decision and with a few quick bounds was over the fence and gone.

Alice was breathless as she stood there, hand on her chest.

"Stupid cat," she said.

A man's face appeared at the top of the fence at that moment.

"Why are you chasing my cat?" he asked.

"He was in my yard. He thinks it is his bathroom. It kills my plants!"

"Well, he means no harm."

"Let him kill you plants, then."

The man snorted.

"As if one little cat can do that much harm."

"I am sure that there are smaller lions in Africa," she said. "Just keep him at home, would you? Now, I have to get back to my weeding before it gets too hot out to work. Goodbye!"
With that she turned back to her work, not paying attention to whether the man's face disappeared or not.

John picked up Leo and stroked his soft, white fur. The cat purred and rubbed his head against his master's chin.

"Did that mean lady scare you?" he asked, scratching the cat behind his ears.

The cat meowed his in his small voice and looked up at him with his large golden eyes.

"Well, you will just have to leave her plants alone, mister, or she will chase you again."

He carried the cat into the house and began his weekend chores of washing clothes, paying bills and the rest, leaving the glass door open for air as he did. He would close it when the sun got too hot and turn on the air conditioner, but for now he liked the light breeze that blew in.

Alice worked on the flower bed until she was done, though she was tired and a little sweaty. She knew it was good for her. Many of the friends she had at the Senior Center were able to do little more than get out of a chair and make it to the bathroom without assistance. She was proud of her independence and strength. Rising, she put her tools and gloves away, only then noticing the dark clouds that were crowding the sun. It looked and smelt like rain.

Good thing I got all that done, she thought to herself as she brushed some dirt from her sleeve. She carefully put her tools and gloves away. Taking another look at her garden she smiled and walked into the condo, leaving her back door open for air.

The storm came suddenly, the lightning flashing and the thunder rattling the windows as it passed by. John and Alice both looked up, reacting to the sudden sound. John remembered he had not got the paper in and opened the door just as the lightning hit the tall tree in the back of the house with a loud crack.

Leo, not one to take such things lightly, ran out of the house as John turned and looked, not seeing the white streak as he departed. Alice, who was just finishing a light lunch, was shaken and upset, walked out back to see the tree in her neighbor's yard smoking and split. The smell of ozone and burnt wood filled the air as the rain came down hard, hissing as it hit the hot spot on the tree, sending up steam. It had been a close one, she thought. Lucky no one was hurt. Shaking her head she turned and walked back into the condo, closing the sliding door now. She busied herself with folding some wash and tidying up the kitchen to keep her mind off the storm until it had passed.

John went out back and surveyed the damage, getting his camera to take a picture of it. He wondered if his insurance company would pay for the tree.

As the thunder receded Alice decided to get the paper and the mail. Putting on her sweatshirt and a hat she opened the door and walked down the short walk to the road, gathering the electric bill, a solicitation for funds for African orphans and the daily paper. Opening the door she was looking at the front page as Leo, confused and scared by the lightning and thunder, ran into her house.

John returned to the house, closing the sliding door and calling for Leo. Where was that cat?
He started looking, under the couch, the bed, the chair. No Leo.

Alice walked into the living room, putting the bill in the basket she used for such things and sat down at the table to sip on her cold coffee while she read the paper.

Half an hour later John was frantic looking for Leo. Where had he gone? He walked into the yard, looking around, calling for Leo. The cat almost always responded to his calls, but this time there was no Leo.

Alice got up and lay on the couch, putting the comforter over her, ready for her afternoon nap. She had just started to doze when a weight landed on her legs and she screamed, kicking at the thing that had landed on her. The large, white cat literally flew from the couch, landing in the middle of the room, eyes wide, tail fluffed up, ears back.

"You! How in the world did you get in here?" she asked the cat. Of course, it did not respond, instead moved carefully as far as it could from her, keeping its eyes on her, obviously scared and confused. Where had its master gone? What was this woman doing her?

Sighing, she got up and walked to the sliding door, opening it for the cat to run out of. The cat stared at her, not moving, unwilling to trust the woman.

"Oh, for Pete's sake," she said, hands on her hips. "I suppose I will have to talk to that man next door to get you out of here."

She found her sweatshirt and hat, then went to the front door, opening it. Now the cat moved, running out the door in a white streak and running across the road in front of the townhouses and into the bushes, narrowly avoiding a car. She jumped and almost fell over as the cat ran between her legs. Shaken, she stood there and looked after it, actually feeling a little sorry for it. The lightning strike had scared her, so why not the cat. Shrugging, she almost closed the door when it occurred to her to tell the man where his cat was.

She rang the bell and waited.

The door jerked open and there stood the man, towering over her.

"Oh, you. I'm busy," he said, starting to close the door.

"But your cat,,," she started.

"I'll keep him out of your yard," he said, "now I have to go."

"But, he..." she started, breathless.

John almost closed the door, then turned back to her.

"He what?"

"Ran across the road. He somehow got in my house and when I was coming to get you he ran out."

"Across the road?" he asked, his eyes going across the busy road.


He immediately reached to one side and grabbed a jacket an put it on as it was still raining.
Leaving the door open he started across the road.

"Be careful, a car will hit you and it won't do you or your cat any good at all!" she shouted.

"Oh, yeah, I guess so,"he said, stopping at the curb.

She walked down to where he stood at her best pace and looked left and right with him.

"You coming too?" he asked. looking at her.

"Yes, I feel some responsibility for letting him out. He was scared, by the lightning I would think."

"He hates thunder and lightning. I should have closed the door."

The traffic thinned and they crossed the four lanes, John taking her arm as they crossed. He started calling and she looked. It should not be that hard to find a white cat in all this green, she thought. There as a narrow green belt between the road and the parking lot and he went right while she went left. She had not gone far when she found the cat, huddled under a bush, staring at her.

"Ah, there you are, you rascal," she said in a quiet voice. "Here he is!" she called to John.

He walked quickly to her, almost running.

"Leo! You crazy cat," he said, walking slowly up to the cat and bending to stroke it, then pick it up.

Alice watched as the large, balding man took the cat tenderly into his arms and stroked its fur and head. The cat responded instantly, recognizing its owner, rubbing its head under the man's chin. There were tears in the man's eyes. Suddenly she realized how important this animal was to her neighbor and was very glad she had done what she had.

"Come on, Leo, let's go home," he said, smiling. "And, I can't thank you enough," he said to her.

"Only too happy to help."

"Lets get home."

The unlikely trio made their way across the road, John holding Leo carefully so he could not jump out of his arms, entering John's house and closing the door on the rain.

"Would you like some coffee?" he asked her, putting Leo down in the living room. The cat looked
around, walking in the intruder and rubbed against her legs.

"He never does that," he said. "He does not like strangers."

"Well, I guess I'm not a stranger any more."

"I guess not," he said, smiling at the old woman. Alice smiled back, thinking that Leo may not be all that bad for her plants after all if she make him his own little bed to use for his business. The cat purred and jumped on his master's lap, curling into a ball.

At home (Part 3)

“Have a nice walk?”

“Umhm…” she mumbled.


“Unhuh, ate some stew. There is more.”

He nodded and left. She could hear him in the kitchen and waited for a while before getting up and going out to the kitchen. She could hear the click of Sport’s claws on the kitchen table and his quiet admonition to the dog, who usually tried to see what was on the table.

Her slippers were by her chair in the den and she slipped into them before joining him in the kitchen. He was eating the last of the stew, drinking a beer and looking at the newspaper.

She got a beer out and opened it as he looked up.

“You have a good day?” she asked.

He shrugged. “It was ok.”

She sat down, petting Sport as he lay his head in her lap.

“Sport had a good day, didn’t you, old boy?”

His tail was wagging and hitting the counter.

“He likes the beach,” she said.

“Always did,” her husband said.

He noted a few of the issues in the paper, the death of a local businessman and terrorist strikes in the Middle East, trying to draw her into conversation. It didn’t work

“Sometimes I wonder if you don’t love that dog more than me,” he said.

She looked at him, then at the dog.

“How is Sylvia?”

He stiffened.

“This isn’t about her.”

“It isn’t? I think it is. At least it is if you want to me my husband, my real husband. The dog is loyal. He would die for me. He won’t run off with another bitch just because things aren’t perfect or my ass gets a little big.”

“I never said…”

“No, you never did, Loren, you never said anything. David never said anything, either, but he really doesn’t love me either.”

“I thought that was over,” he said, putting the paper down and looking at her. He took a long drink of his beer, as she thought.

“It is. It was, but he wanted to talk. Same bullshit as ever, all words and no action, as usual. Now, Sylvia, she took action, didn’t she?”

He was a little pale.

“You saw her didn’t you?”

“Just coffee. She came by the office.”

She sat there, stroking the don’s head, her blood singing in her ears, but the dog’s warm love kept her together as she looked at nothing. Another lie, another promise broken, an agreement shattered, she thought, but she had done the same thing.

He finished the beer and took the dishes to the sink.

“OK, you can have her. I’m done,” she said.


“No, I am finished with all the lies. David lied, you lie, I lie. Everyone but Sport lies, you know that? He is the only one I can really trust.” She did not look at him, but looked at the dog.

After a moment of silence he turned and opened the refrigerator and took out another beer.

“I’ll move my clothes into the back bedroom,” he said.

“You do that,” she said, a tear running down her cheek as he left the room. The dog looked after him, then to her, whining a little in the back of his throat as he looked at her.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Encounter on the Beach (Part Two)

He cleared his throat, looking around.

“You wanted to talk,” she said, her voice cracking a little.

“Uh, yeah, I did,” said, looking down at the sand.


“Like you don’t know,”

She laughed at him, making the dog stop and look at her.

He grimaced and turned toward the water, taking several steps, turning his back to her, looking at the choppy, gray water for a moment.

“So talk,” she said, waving her arm as she said it, looking down at her feet, kicking a shell with the toe of her boot. He turned to her and began to talk.

She had heard it all before, how he loved and respected her, how she filled his life, what they had in common, how much he needed her. Men, she thought, all about them, how about what she got out of their “relationship” or didn’t? Would he leave his wife for her? Never, and she knew that. Then he brought up her trip to Florida the month before and how much it had hurt him that she had not invited him along.

“I told you why. You agreed it wasn’t a good idea.”

“Only because you said you needed your space. I didn’t know you would be with him…”

“Because I knew you would react like this. He’s my husband. And I don’t have to explain what I do with him to you, of all people.”

The man looked at her for a moment, then turned and walked quickly back to the car, his head down, his feet digging into the sand as he tried to walk faster than he could in his dress shoes, slipping. The dog ran up to him, a stick in his mouth, almost tripping him as he neared his car. He kicked at the dog, which avoided the kick and ran toward the woman, who was now looking out at the water again and had not witnessed the little scene by the car.

“Men are worse than nothing, you know that sport?” she asked the dog, who barked at her, looking at the stick and back to her.

She bent and grabbed it, throwing it into the distance as the dog raced after it, sand flying as he ran.

The other car started and departed with a squeal of tires.

The woman walked down the beach, the dog cavorting around her as she walked, her head down hands in her coat pockets, ignoring the ringing of the cell phone in her pocket. She found a large log in a sheltered cover and sat on the sane with her back against it. The dog took a break, flopping down beside her and chewing on the stick. Here out of the wind it was almost warm and they both dozed for a while, drowsed by the sound of the waves.

It was over an hour before the cell phone rang again. She dog’s head came up and he looked at her as she took it from her pocket and looked at it. She answered it.

“Hello there,” she said. The dog nuzzled her other hand and she stroked his proffered head as she listened to the caller.

“Taking Sport for a walk,” she said. “I heard it, just didn’t want to talk to anyone right then.”

“No, I did not know it was you.”

She listened.

“OK,” she said finally, closing the phone and sighing, petting the dog for a few moments before levering herself to her feet. The sand tired her out and the dog insisted on exploring and stopping several times to relieve itself and drink from pools of rain water above the high tide line. He did not like salt water at all, except for swimming. She knew she would have to wash him down when they got home. It was farther back than she remembered, the wind had picked up and the rain started by the time they got back to the safety of the car. The dog, as her husband had predicted, got in the back seat and promptly covered it with sand. She smiled at the happy look on the dog’s face and lolling tongue as she started the car and backed out. Her stomach growled as she pulled onto the highway.

It was about a half an hour drive to get her home and on the way she turned on the stereo, playing music she could sing to. The dog climbed over the seats and sat in the passenger seat, looking out the window at the passing scenery. He patted his head and he smiled at her

On arriving at home she left the dog in the fenced back yard to eat something and went inside, slipping out of her coat and rubbing her arms as she pulled leftovers out of the refrigerator and heated them, along with tea. She sat at the table, her boots in a pile by the door, her coat on a chair as she ate a hearty serving of beef stew, rolls and salad, more than she had eaten in some time.

She slipped out of her sweater an riding pants and into a pair of heavy sweats before going out and using the warm water from the utility tub in the garage to quickly wash down Sport, who seemed to like it. Using an old blanket she rubbed him dry and let him in the house, where he made a bee line for his comfortable dog bed and was asleep in a moment.

Leaving her things where they were she followed suit, throwing the afghan on the couch in the den over her legs she fell into a deep sleep. That was where she was when her husband closed the back door and she woke in the dark, the sun having gone down since she lay down. Turning on the light he found her looking up at him, her eyes half open and hair askew.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Encounter on the Beach (Part One)

The woman stepped over the parking barrier and onto the sand of the beach, watching as the dog ran into the surf. She could hear her husband warn her. If you let that damn dog out at the beach he will run all over and get wet and full of sand and track it into the car. Smiling, she looked out at the water, the front of her black rain coat open, her white sweater stark against its blackness, savoring the feeling of the wind on her face, smelling the sea. Her long legs were sheathed in riding togs and tall, black boots. Long, black hair flew in the wind as she stood there; erect and stiff-backed in the gusty spring wind.

Her eyes were hidden dark glasses, her lips, full and red, had set in a frown, set off by the pallor of her clear skin. The dog ran into the water and out, and then chased some seagulls around for a while before rolling on something he found at the high tide line some way down the beach.

Her cell phone rang. Once, twice, three times, then stopped. She ignored it.

Another car pulled into the parking lot, a black sport car with tinted windows, and pulled into a space several down from her white Mercedes. She did not turn to look, but continued to stare at the water. The dog stopped and looked at the car and the man who got out, then was distracted by a seagull, which he chased into the water, barking and snapping at the bird’s tail feathers. The car door closed and she turned and walked away, slowly, her long legs stiff as she walked slow, carefully placed and measured steps away.

The man walked toward her, wearing a raincoat not unlike hers, his short, sandy hair riffled by the breeze as he neared her. The coat was closed and tied, his white shirt and blue tie showing at the top, his pants a charcoal gray. He was tall, with the walk of an athlete, his mouth set in a grimace as sand slipped under his dress shoes and got into them. His blue eyes flashed as he watched the dog run in the water, and then turned back to the woman as she walked away.

She stopped as he neared and turned to face him, her legs spread shoulder width apart, and her shoulders squared, head up and attention on the man who now stopped short several yards away, uncertain whether to get closer to her.

“Hello,” he said.

She did not answer, her eyes meeting his, her expression unreadable.