Sunday, December 25, 2011

Time of Gratitude

We have a small group that gathers at our home for Christmas:  four adults, two teen-agers.  Instead of buying and giving gifts, we each have an amount of money  ($100 for adults, $50 for teens) that we donate to someone in need (a charity, a rescue group, a person, the choice is left to the giver). 

On Christmas Eve, rather than tearing into a pile of presents, we gather in the living room and take turns sharing our selection with the group:  who we chose and why.  We've done this for the last four years, and none of us would consider doing anything differently.

My daughter included the following poem with her gift this year.

Be Thankful

Be thankful that you don't already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don't know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because it they give you opportunity for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you're tired and weary
Because it means you've made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.

Skagit Leeks will return on January 2 ... (1-2-12) 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Stories

My wonderful dentist, Dr. Kobylnyk at Burlington Family Dentistry, is a storyteller ... which has become a lost art.  He shared two stories with me this month.  His version of the first one, embellished as he went, was better than the copy I snagged off the Internet.  But the second one is exactly as he related it to me.

We at Skagit Leeks wish you Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa.  My assistant Gwynehefar (or Guinevere), decked out in her Holiday finery and pictured below, hopes you enjoy both stories.
"How the Little Angel Got on Top of the Christmas Tree"
(the author is unknown, but the story is known worldwide)

When four of Santa's elves got sick, the trainee elves did not produce toys as fast as the regular ones, and Santa began to feel the Pre-Christmas pressure.

Then Mrs. Claus told Santa her mother was coming to visit, which stressed Santa even more.

When he went to harness the reindeer, he found that three of them were about to give birth and two others had jumped the fence and were out, Heaven knows where.

By now Santa was in a bad mood.  He began to load the sleigh, but one of the floorboards cracked, the toy bag fell to the ground and all the toys were scattered ...

Seriously frustrated, Santa went into the house for a cup of apple cider and a shot of rum.  When he went to the cupboard, he discovered the elves had drunk all the cider and hidden the liquor.  In his frustration, he accidentally dropped the cider jug, and it broke into hundreds of little glass pieces all over the kitchen floor.  He went to get the broom and found the mice had eaten all the straw off the end of the broom.

Just then the doorbell rang, our highly irritated Santa marched to the door, yanked it open, and there stood a little angel with a great big gorgeous Christmas tree.

The angel said very cheerfully, "Merry Christmas, Santa.  Isn't this a lovely day?  I have a beautiful tree for you.  Where would you like me to stick it"?

The second story, a touching tale entitled "The Tablecloth" follows if you want to "Read More."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lady of the Slough Pot Roast

This is the perfect dish for a cold winter's night when you've been busy preparing for Holiday Company.  Plus it smells delightful while happily cooking in the oven.

See the Recipe HERE

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pretty in PINK

In the early 2000s Victoria's Secret launched a new line of garments - PINK - designed to appeal to the college set.  College co-eds, as it turned out, were not wildly crazy about having the big PINK letters on the duds they wore.

So, some clever marketing manager at Victoria's Secret decided to aim for a younger crowd:  girls in high school.  They were surprisingly delighted that, while the older high school girls felt ambivalent about the clothing line, it caught on like wild fire with "tweens" (kids between the ages of 9 and 12) and young teens.

The PINK line is now amazingly popular and successful.  They even have their own segment on the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show televised annually in late November.

Since I am guilty of purchasing items from that line for Teen 1 and Teen 2, a PINK flyer (complete with $10 off gift star for in-store purchases only) hits my mailbox each November.  Making that first purchase a couple of years ago, for such young girls, in a store filled with products designed for seduction was difficult.  But ... it was on their Christmas list ... so what can you do?  Insist on buying something with a camouflage motif at an outdoor store?

It does say something about the direction and priorities of our society when a commercial enterprise, such as Victoria's Secret, employs this particular marketing strategy to entice girls to want their PINK products.  Presumably their subsequent intent is to provide these young customers with a sample of the "look" they should aspire to when they're older by including the following image in their PINK flyer sent to all previous customers:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

PANDAS: not always cute

The first image that pops into our mind when we see or hear the word "PANDAS" is the adorable black and white bear that is native to China.

PANDAS also means something completely different and has nothing to do with "cute."  PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcus) is the name of a condition that affects many children.  Little is known about the condition except that it normally appears following a child's bout with "strep" -- the bacteria we've all heard of before.

For the kids who have this kind of experience with a "strep" infection, it is a whole different kind of experience.  Described by kids and parents alike as a nightmare, it is one that may plague them for the rest of their lives.

These kids have a sudden onset of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) symptoms, such as tics, panic attacks, and a long list of often terrifying symptoms and experiences.

Since the onset of PANDAS is so sudden, few parents have a clue what has happened to their otherwise sweet tempered child.  Unfortunately few doctors understand this condition, are able to recognize its presence, or know how to treat it.

One of our granddaughters has PANDAS, acquired from a strep infection she got seven years ago.  We've watched her mother's tenacity in trying desperately to understand and learn more about what is going on with her daughter, who -- prior to the first sudden display of symptoms -- was funny, easy-going, and a sweet regular kid.  She is still all of those things, but she's also been through a kind of hell we can only imagine.  She was just twelve.

One of the few books on this subject, which is easy and fascinating to read is:  Saving Sammy by Beth Alison Maloney, who writes about the terrifying journey she made with her own son.

If you have any child in your family, or know of any child who has experienced the sudden onset of OCD symptoms -- and no one seems to have a clue about the cause or the treatment -- please tell them about this book, which is available on-line or can be purchased or ordered at a local book store.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Porta-Potties Leek Tax Dollars

Today the intrepid Skagit Leeks team visited some local Porta-Potties.  Why would we do this distasteful task?  To keep taxpayers informed on how dollars are spent, and how "honest" elected officials, agency people, and county/state employees are when reporting "accomplishments."

This particular report concerns Skagit County, but is relevant to any county in any state.  It pays to keep a close watch on those folks who handle our money:  for clean water activities or windmills or bridges to nowhere.

Here, the Clean Samish Initiative (CSI) is shelling out our tax dollars for Porta-Potties to the tune of $95.50 a month for weekly maintenance on each one CSI has installed.  We've been told the number of installations will "continue to be enhanced."  The sites were apparently selected for the benefit of fishermen, bikers, walkers, or ... anyone who happens to notice them.

The amount of pollution they've prevented is undoubtedly HUGE since people fish in the Samish River during August, September and October.  And only a few brave souls bike or go on long treks around here when it's cold or wet.
Here's a picture of the sign plastered onto the sides of all these Porta-Potties, crediting CSI and the member organizations responsible.

Everyone associated with this Clean Samish Initiative -- whether elected or employed -- is incorrectly reporting on their successes when it comes to these receptacles of human waste.  They're counting ones that have been in place for years -- some bolted onto cement slabs -- and were situated and paid for by other (non-CSI) organizations.

So this is a deception on so many levels:  few people use these things (so most are a waste of funds), and it's misleading at best for CSI folks to take credit for all the ones installed by someone else.  This project has already spent half of the nearly-one-million-dollar EPA Grant money they received.  Are members so desperate to show results they would stoop this low?

The person(s) in the CSI Group who inflated the number of Porta-Potties credited to the CSI effort should be identified and reined in before everyone on the team suffers from a loss of credibility.  These misleading accomplishments were referenced four times in the colorful CSI Newsletter coming soon to thousands of mailboxes belonging to residents of the Samish Watershed.

Our three Commissioners - Wesen, Dillon, and Dahlstedt - are quoted as saying, "In recent months, we have installed waste facilities for ... humans within the Samish watershed ..."  Do any of them know exactly how many CSI installed?  Skagit Leeks suggests they validate their sources before quoting accomplishments in widely distributed colorful newsletters.

In the same publication, Dan Berentson writes about the success of action agenda item #7 (out of 10):  "Provide sani-cans for recreationalists in the Samish Basin.  This action item has been completed and will continue to be enhanced.  17 pet waste stations and 12 portable toilets have been installed."  Well, sure they have, Dan, but when and by whom?
This one's located by the Edison Slough where no one fishes.  The CSI folks removed three others, just across the bridge from here, that were temporarily installed behind locked gates.  Those three were accessible only by fisherman who paid big bucks to fish on that particular stretch of the river.  Believe me ... there's more!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday Cheer

December is an interesting month, sitting at the end of the year like a bookend.  For most of us, regardless of our nationalities or religious beliefs, it's a month of indulgence.

We eat too much, drink too much, spend too much money on family and friends.  More often than not, the recipients of our generosity either didn't need the gift, or groan (inwardly) at the thought of:  Now, where do I put this!?

Open houses and holiday parties abound, sporting tables laden with yummy things to eat, all stuffed with calories while lacking in nutritional value.  It's rare that anyone even bothers with fruit plates anymore.  And if there's a platter of cut veggies, you can bet there's some sort of Mayo and/or sour cream concoction into which we may dip those healthy veggies.

We attended a delightful Open House last Saturday night in a home decorated like the ultimate Christmas vision.  In addition to a table covered with tantalizing appetizers, there was also a dessert bar.  This year two platters sat side by side:  one carefully stacked with tiny cream puffs, the other artfully arranged with bite-sized squares of Nanaimo bars.

A group of people hovered in a semi-circle around this delectable display of sweetness, pretending to be interested in what another guest was saying.  But we all knew what they were doing:  watching and counting and keeping track of the rate at which these sweet morsels were disappearing.

Retail store sound systems blare Holiday music; shelves are crammed with must-have merchandise; the whole place decked out with tinsel, ornaments, and blinking lights.  "Buy, buy, buy" ... is the message we are blasted with inside the store.  "Give, give, give" is the one that assaults us as we haul our purchases past the bell ringers with those incessant bells and their big red pots filled with donated dollars.

It's usually cold here in December, often with snow or ice on the ground.  We wake to frosty mornings where grass and driveways are white and steps are slippery.  And we end the month with credit card balances bulging with expenditures for things people didn't need.  Then we're left with having to find a place to put all the stuff we didn't need.

All the while ... music is playing, bells are ringing, snow is falling, cars are slip-sliding on the roads, and the numbers on our scale creep upward with the bounty of Holiday Cheer we have consumed.  Be sure to "Read more" for two great Holiday recipes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ecology Hammers Samish River Polluters

A press release came out today from the Department of Ecology's Bellingham Office entitled:

  "Cattle ranchers fined for Samish River pollution."

It basically said that two owners of livestock in the Samish Watershed were fined $14,000 each for "... failing to keep livestock waste from polluting waterways that flow into the Samish River or to Samish Bay."

"At both locations, rainwater that contacts manure flows directly into ditches that flow to the Samish River or to Samish Bay."

That should get their attention! 

Of course there's a chance the two landowners will appeal the penalties to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.  That's what they usually do.  Let's hope that Board, funded by taxpayer dollars, lives up to the "Pollution Control" part of their title.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Unexpected Gifts

(Note to 1st. time blog readers.  There were 3 separate posts published today.  After reading a few paragraphs of "Unexpected Gifts" there will be a note to "Read More."  If you're interested in reading the rest of the story, simply click on the words "Read More;" otherwise you may go on to the next post.  If you do click on "Read More" to finish reading "Unexpected Gifts" then simply hit the back arrow so you can read the next post, which is "Acronym Gang Holds Taxpayers Hostage."  The third topic published today is "No Xmas Bonus in Your Tax Bill.")

Unexpected Gifts

Grandparents and grandchildren are a special group.  That relationship we have with the grandkid(s) is different from the one we had with our kid(s).  Mostly it's an album of special moments with images forever imprinted on our minds and hearts.  Many of the remembered moments are made up of "first times."

The first time we saw or held these little people; when they first spoke to us and what they said; first cookies made or decorated; first dishes washed, with the kid standing on a chair and water all over the floor.  For some there are birthdays or holidays that stand out in our mind; for others, a secret we were told in absolute confidence.

The list is long and varied; each of us has different memories.  What they all have in common is that we, the grandparent, did or gave something to that special little person in our life.  It was our gift that brought the biggest smile.  It was our arrival that caused them to come running over to fling their arms around our neck.  It was the stuffed animal we spent so much time making or selecting that secured the treasured spot on the recipient's bed.

And then, one day, without any warning, and before we're ready, something happens.  They grow up.  They know things we don't (especially electronic things such as ipads and smartphones).  They're reading books we've never heard of or have long forgotten.  They have opinions on issues that surprise us.

And they bestow upon us gifts we don't expect.  Not gifts they made or bought, but gifts that come from the people they are growing up to be.  This happened to me - twice - in the last couple of weeks.  I'm still basking in the glow of the pleasure it gives me when it replays in my mind, so of course there is more to this story.

Acronym Gang Holds Taxpayers Hostage

You want less cow poop in the Samish River?  You want to keep Samish Bay open?  Maybe even get the bay re-classified back to where it was before we started spending your money?  Then it'll cost ya' even more!

Skagit Leeks learned that Skagit County and the Acronym Gang (CSI, PIC, EPA, DOE, DOH, CD, SCEA) have gotten another big wad of our taxpayer dollars.  Looks like now it will be close to another half a million bucks of our money the Environmental Protection Agency handed over to the State Department of Health.

And just look at the results they've gotten with the millions of taxpayer dollars they've already spent over the past three years!  Less than 100 Fecal Coliform units/100 ml of water is safe for people like us.  (Those would be the blue symbols.  See any of those on this map?)  Even yellow dots wouldn't be quite so frightening.  Instead ... look below to see what we get.

Hey!  How about just having the landowners put diapers on the cows?  That's a lot cheaper than $480,000 of our money.  Then all those dollars could be spent on more critical areas:  re-hiring teachers, feeding kids who go to bed hungry at night, keeping the elderly warm and safe.

It's not even clear how they plan to spend that money.  The December 10 Skagit Valley Herald reported, "The $480,000 ... will help hire another full-time staff member in the county Health Department ... "

And yet, an actual copy of the proposal submitted by Skagit County stated that all additional personnel hired with these new funds will be added to Public Works and Planning.

So we at Skagit Leeks ask:  Who's on First?

No Xmas Bonus in Your Tax Bill

Did the assessed value of your property on this year's tax statement go down?  Are you thinking your taxes will too?  Well ... don't count your ... oh, you know.

So far, all that's hatched are more problems at the Assessor's Office:  shady hiring practices, missed revenue for the coffers from new construction values not counted or included in the 2010 Property Valuation, a cobbled up Strategic Plan, and an Assessor's Data Base riddled with mistakes.

We at Skagit Leeks have started hearing innuendos from those at the helm of Skagit County that it might be time for the Assessor to make a graceful exit so he can spend more time with family.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Roots and Wings

As we make our way through this maze called life, we rely on two things endowed to us during our childhood:  roots and wings.  Our roots included family, places we grew up, friends we had when we were young.  Our wings enabled us to grow and develop and evolve into the people we are today.

Kids in my day didn't care where a friend lived or the socioeconomic place the parents held in the community.  What mattered was your friend loved to play Monopoly until 3:00 a.m., and was the only one who understood why reading The Count of Monte Cristo under the covers at night, with a flashlight, was more important than sleeping.

I had a special friend like that in junior high, and spent much time at her house which was bigger than mine and more fun.  One day we devoted hours writing a screen play for "The King and I" which we performed for her mother, who was ill and spent much time resting in her bed.  The memory of that performance is so clear in my mind.  Her mom applauded our efforts and we basked in that momentary glow of approval.

The summer before high school we drifted apart, and after our freshman year she went away to private school while I stayed behind and slogged along with everyone else.  The years went by and we lost touch as so often happens when you're kids.

If you've ever had a special friend like this from years ago, and wish you could find and re-connect with each other, read more of the story.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Skagit Assessor Still Leeking Like a Sieve

(Leek 1):  According to a reliable source, Assessor Don Munks hired R. C. Cavazos to serve as Deputy Assessor without the advice from any of the people assigned to the selection committee.  Munks' choice was apparently a surprise to everyone!

(Leek 2):  In response to questions submitted to the Assessor about the required 5-Person Open Space Advisory Committee, Don Munks does not know if Skagit County has one, who's on it, or when they met last.  This committee is a legislative requirement.  The Department of Revenue wrote on page 8 in their Review of the Current Use Program:  "Skagit County has an active advisory committee." So we at Skagit Leeks suggest that Mr. Munks seek help from our three Commissioners by asking them:  (1)  Who's on the committee?  (2)  What are they supposed to do?  (3)  When do they meet?

(Leek 3):  On December 2, we received a copy of the Assessor's Strategic Plan, and would best describe it as being "a day late and a dollar short."  Or, to be more specific, 11 days late and reading more like a "core dump of Wes Hagen's brain."

(The following definition is offered by Skagit Leeks:  Simply put, the purpose of a strategic plan is to clarify the overall purpose and desired results of an organization, and how those results will be achieved.)

Here are two examples from the Skagit County Assessor's Strategic Plan:

(1)  From page 2 (about computer system issues):  "Knowledge of both these programs is limited in Skagit County and not supported by Skagit County's IS department.  Efforts began in June, but the technical knowledge required to set up Crystal Reports proved too great.  Assistance from Clark County on Access vaporized when they bogged down in the testing of Phase II of PACS."

(2)  From page 6 (about Commercial Appeal Processing):  "At the end of 2009 there were over one billion dollars in disputed value.  The at-risk value represented by the largest 30 appeals exceeded one million tax dollars."


Skagit County taxpayers might want to pay close attention to their tax statements in February 2012.  If our Assessor does not understand what a Strategic Plan is ... what else might he not understand about the job he was elected to perform?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Clean Samish Initiative Boondoggle Continues to Fleece Taxpayers

If Yosemite Sam peered into our pretty Samish River during a rain storm, we'd hear his gravelly voice point out, "That's poop flowin' in that thar river."  And he'd be right!  It's mostly cow poop from landowners who are allowed by county ordinances to erect their fences along the very edge of the banks of all local waterways.

We're in the third year of a big, expensive effort to clean up the mess.  And yet, when it rains around here ... the poop still flows.

CSI (yup, just like the TV show) uses expensive DNA testing to calculate how the poop from field mice stacks up against that of livestock.  The answer doesn't seem like rocket science to us at Skagit Leeks.

This clean-up project got close to $1 Million in grant money from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), because polluting the water is supposed to be a violation of the Federal "Clean Water Act."

That million bucks wasn't enough to fund the legions out there dipping and testing and educating recalcitrant farmers.  So our Commissioners have added even more, a big chunk of the $1 Million taxpayers fork over annually for the Clean Water Tax.

But even that wasn't enough to fund this bungled project.  Skagit Leeks learned today from a reliable source that the CSI team has asked the State Health Department for yet another grant worth an additional $480,978!

"Ooh-ee!"  Yosemite Sam would exclaim.  "That's a lotta' dough to throw at cow poop in the water when teachers are bein' laid off and kids are goin' hungry."  We think Sam would be ashamed of those with their hands out asking for money that will just flow down that river along with all that poop.