Sunday, December 13

To Sleep, To Sleep

This cleansing tide streaks the afternoon birches,
And they might sing with joy in June.
But there they stand, winterized and ready for bed ---
Red-yellow remnants shuddering slowly, silently.

Misting and drenching both as this minute passes,
The sunny shower sings alone.
Some branches stir in silent gratitude
And promise a resounding overture come spring.

To sleep, to sleep.
To dream, to dream.

Saturday, December 12


A rainy morning found us traveling down I-5 to Lathrop to meet friends for breakfast at the Country Kitchen. Then we drove down to Union Road and turned south, braving the downpour and an unfamiliar street. We were going to surprise Angel with a visit to Bass Pro Shops in Manteca. She'd been there before, but was excited about seeing the Christmas decorations and mass hubbub.

My hunting days ended long ago, and I don't have enough fishing gear to hook any mercury-laden river fare. Killing just never got into my blood over the long term.

Monday, December 7

Freeze Out

California's moniker, The Sunshine State, was tarnished today as the snow clouds moved in and dumped tons of the white stuff across valleys, hills and mountains. I don't know who took this picture or who the coffee drinker is. It was among 500 that had been uploaded to the KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento website.

I had expected a dusting here in Stockton in the early a.m. and got out of bed to check about 6:00. Nothing, just rain --- or so I thought. Had I turned on a light to see better outside I would have seen a spattering of floating flakes mixed with the rain. Driving to work with white floaties illuminated in the headlights was pretty cool --- literally. It was freezing outside, but not cold enough to have the snow stick.

At work, we kept checking outside to see the short-lived spectacle, but the snow show stopped about 8:00. Thankful for the memories, the rest of the day was filled with news stories about the foothills east of Sacramento, where over 60,000 people were without power, multiple wrecks were taking place, schools were closed and folks didn't make it to work. A real mess for most.

But the kids were marking it as the best day of the year so far!

Friday, December 4

Lighting Your City Christmas Tree, Or Not!

Picture from The Modesto Bee, Brian Ramsay photographer.

Now this is a choice example of city bureaucracy: Local officials decide to trim the budget and save $3000 by not adding Christmas tree lights to the city tree at Modesto Centre Plaza. That's okay, but they failed to tell the City Council (or the Council misinterpreted a memo) and advertising for the lighting ceremony was printed and distributed as usual.

Saturday evening was scheduled for the event. People sang Christmas carols. Citizens gathered round along with the City Council members. Someone threw the switch, but nothing happened. Well, something happened, all right: it was a caught-with-your-pants-down moment for the those folks responsible for the snafu.

You can read about the excitement here.

Saturday, November 28

The Answer, My Friend . . .

We wanted to take more bird pictures today at Cosumnes River Wildlife Preserve just north of us. A Sacramento photography blog said their group was going to be there this morning at 9:00. After making an 8:00 appointment for a tire rotation, we ate breakfast and drove up a little after 10:00 --- with the wind blowing out of the north at a sustained 40 mph! This is about the worst valley wind I've ever driven in an the car didn't appreciate it, either. Driving by the preserve on the freeway, we could see the flooded fields east of us. All of them had surf-size whitecaps that forced the few visiting ducks and geese to the southern shore of each pond.

A few varieties tried to brave flight and scooted right along with the wind, but when they turned around, the best they could do at altitude was barely maintain their position. Very entertaining.

There wasn't a photographer in sight at the main parking lot and viewing area. Wonder what Plan B was. Ours was to head back to Woodbridge Road and try to find some Sandhill Cranes. These pictures show you what it was like driving out to find them.

We've seen the peat dirt blow west of Stockton before, but this was amazing. Getting out of the car to take pictures was like being back in college in El Paso during a windstorm, with the sand pelting my face and the wind almost knocking me over. I don't do well with even the slightest breeze in the winter because of a left eye that enjoys tearing up, sometimes both. Then it's almost impossible to take a picture. Oh, well.

These poor newly planted trees were experiencing their first shock treatment after a warm and uneventful summer and fall. They'll survive and be stronger for it. I feel a 'moral of the story' coming on, but will spare you the all-to-familiar equation.

This road sign actually flapped violently in the wind, so I set my shutter speed at 1/20 of a second to get some movement. Almost fell over twice while trying to shoot it. Thankfully, no one drove by while I was standing at the edge of the little two lane road, or I wouldn't be writing this right now.

This turned out to be my absolutely worst photo outing to date. We drove back to the freeway and passed a gathering of cranes in a field. But it was too late. The damage had been done, and there was little possibility of redemption.

Friday, November 27

The Wonderhood

There is local color, and then there is LOCAL COLOR! The dreariness of this time of year is offset by the glorious glow of reds and oranges, yellows and golds. The city has planted so many Chinese Pistache trees, our neighborhood actually takes on a artistic warmth along the streets. The mundane is transformed into a wonderland --- at least for a few weeks.

Our junior college landscaping has its niches of fall colors here and there, too. Head to your local school and see what you can find before all the leaves fall.

Let's not forget to add "the beauty of God's creation" to our Thanksgiving list. Happy Thanksgiving to all and to all a good night!

Thursday, November 26

Tons to Run

It takes awhile to run over 300,000 folded continuous forms for Fireman's Fund. It's a Premium Rejection Notice that ships to Dallas. They must process a lot of rejections since we repeat this form a few times a year.

The bulk of what we run goes to our Sacramento plant where they print and mail 'shell' masters that are distributed to a State funded health program. Guess I better not tell you its name. Yesterday, I cut and boxed over 2 tons of one job, and it still has to go back on the press to finish the 1,000,000 ordered. We've run out of paper until next Thursday! Guess I shouldn't tell you that either!

I'm not complaining, especially since my Kaiser health insurance premium is going up over $100 per month next year. I need all the overtime I can get.

Monday, November 16

Hobby Hobos on the Beach

Saturday's photo op at Santa Cruz with Don rewarded both of us with some keepers. Most of the photographers on the beach were shooting Canons with big, fast (and heavy) lenses, while Don sported his new Nikon D300 with kit lens and me with the oldie but goodie Nikon D70 and kit lens with polarizer. No tripods for us (left them in the trunk), but I don't really think they're necessary when you're not planning on making large prints and use a fast shutter speed and wide angle lens setting.

Don took this photo below of me. I included a few shots of other photographers to tell the story of their enthusiasm and camaraderie on this beach of opportunity. There were dozens of people taking pictures, but I never saw anyone upset because someone was goofing up their shot. Must be a hobby for very patient people.

I also took my Nikon N5005 film camera with a 24-70 zoom to get rid of some old film and be able to get a little wider view than the 28mm on my digital camera lens. This is the first time I've done this, and it proved to be a simple proposition and worked fine. One on my neck and the other on my shoulder.

Don also took this next shot of tide pool tourists out on the point north of the beach we were on. Great shot, Don. Simple, well-composed and tells a story. Thanks, Don, for sending it to me. We'll get together again soon for another exciting excursion into the world of shutterbugging.

Thursday, November 12

Findings and Recommendations

This week's Internal Audit, corporate's twice-a-year, three-day (longer in some facilities), let's-see-your-dirty-underwear series of meetings ended today with the inevitable list of Findings and Recommendations projected on the conference room wall. Roberta and I are the sole management representatives for this grueling necessity. Thankfully, each interrogation has been extremely understanding --- no waterboarding here, just a lot of blank stares and word-groping on my part as the questions about the Environmental Management System (ISO-14001), the Quality Management System (ISO-9001; 2008) and Safety Management documents/procedures/training/objectives, etc. demand more than a little familiarity with the subjects.

Our questioneer, Chuck, is a most congenial guy --- friendly, a smiler, personal, super-detailed, knowledgeable, and stone-turner nonpariel. He's the perfect choice for helping us navigate the sea of source material that has to be fished from filing cabinets, binders, Sharepoint and a failing memory bank. Thanks, Chuck, for smoothing out the rough edges.

Friday, November 6

Blow Out

I didn't really try to unlight the candles with a single breath. Angel was using my camera to take pictures and could hardly hold it up with two hands, let alone find the shutter release and zoom easily. So slow motion posing was the order for the evening.

The beginning of this 63rd year of borrowed time is another reminder of the inevitable slide toward that final year when I'll do this 'blow out the candles' thing for the last time. Most things will be for the last time that year. So until then, I'll enjoy the ritual and give thanks for the hands and hearts that make this day so special.

Yes, I was the life of the party. Mr. Entertainment. Chief Goof-off and Cake-lover. King of Ooh and Ahh.

Thanks to everyone who said happy birthday in different ways. Love is that God-given gift that no one should miss --- especially if you're a curmudgeon like me.

Friday, October 30

TV Dinner Delight

Boy, those were the days in Paso Robles! We were so poor, we thought TV dinners were like going to a restaurant. Rare and delicious! Guess our normal fare of hamburger, potatoes and string beans was a lot cheaper. Or maybe the freezer didn't work too well. Can't remember.

Grandma Skinner in San Luis was a great cook, but liked to treat herself (and us kids) with these Swanson delights. I don't remember where we ate them, though. Could have been in the kitchen nook. Maybe on the dining room table. I doubt if she would have trusted us in the living room watching TV. Even with TV trays, we would have made a mess of things and never heard the end of it.

So enamored with this new invention and being very creative in the practical things of life, she would wash the dinner tins (aluminum to you perfectionists) and re-use them. Her chest freezer would be amply supplied with these customized, foil-covered meals, each labeled with its scrumptuous ingredients in a nice cursive. Selecting your dinner was like treasure hunting at the North Pole!

Saturday, October 24

Color and Cousins

The Salinas River is transformed from green to yellow gold during the fall. We had just driven by King City on the way home when I looked back and saw these trees. The car came to a quick stop as big rigs and cars flew by. I trekked to the fence line and climbed up to get a few shots of color. Nothing striking, but a lasting record of something that takes place each year along this long strand of willow and cottonwood trees.

Visiting cousins is always fun since we grew up so close together. Larry lives in Paso Robles and hopes to move back to Kansas soon. There's another cousin in Kansas that I've never met personally, but she writes regularly, versing me about her very busy life on their farm, two recently married daughters and church life. Wonderfully refreshing, considering our city-bound existence here in Stockton. Don't know that we'll ever meet in this life. Kansas is so . . . so . . . far away, Toto.

Thursday, October 22

San Miguel Mission Statement

I was never a fan of heading north of Paso Robles to the little dusty town of San Miguel, where the world famous California mission has attracted tourists for decades. Growing up just 7 miles away, going to church at 17th and Oak Street, only visiting a relatives that lived there a few times, and hearing nothing but jokes about it --- a mission visit wasn't on the agenda. When the photography bug bit in about 1969, it still wasn't. Too dusty, dirty and Catholic.

The 2003 6.5 earthquake so distressed the sanctuary, visitors were prohibited entry. But after a long retrofit, it has been reopened. The grounds are still dusty, but the main building recreates a visual history worth seeing.

Thanks to sister, Ginnie, for suggesting my second visit in two years.

Be sure to take a camera and a good dose of creativity if you ever stop and have a look.

Monday, October 19

Taking the Little Creek to Cambria

Wow! There's nothing like visiting the same old places over and over! That's pretty much what we do when we vacation in the Paso Robles area. It's fun to scout new horizons, but the old haunts are still filled with a 'first visit' flavor. Guess you can appreciate them more as the years roll by.

I don't like downtown Cambria. Sorry, folks. Why do I want to look at things I can't afford to buy and don't have the talent to make? Thankfully, I'm not prone to covetousness in these artsy/craftsy nooks. The Bible labels covetousness equal to idolatry. Heavy. Being a cheapskate helps.

But I do relish the flora, fauna and geology of the area - au naturel.

Thursday, October 15

Pioneer Day Marathon

This year's crop of Paso Robles Pioneer Day Parade pictures is in the middle of the harvest. You'll soon see all the color and smiles forthwith. Hang in there, friends. (Pictures are now online)

Monday, October 5

Getting Paid What You're Worth

Our city has a few gems in its special places to visit. The Haggin Museum in Victory Park is one of them. It is Stockton's record of local history, but equally emphasizes quintessential artwork. The currently featured exhibit is a large collection of National Park plein-air paintings, not a few crafted by locals like Gil Dellinger and Ray Roberts.

Over a dozen Plein-Air Painters of America were invited to paint and sell their work this last Saturday. They set up their tripods, tables and easels in and around the museum to capture their versions of the grounds and exhibits. Each participant seemed to enjoy talking to inquisitive purveyors while plying their trade. All the works would be sold around noon.

It was amazing to see real artists at work, transforming a blank canvas or piece of paper into a treasured art piece while you watched. Their years of practice made it look too easy, like anyone could do it. Yeah, right.

Doing something well means doing something often. After 40 years of running machines, I probably make it look pretty easy, too. All of us are artists in our own right when it comes to doing stuff. Do you do a great job mowing the lawn? You're an artist. Is your kitchen immaculate after you clean it up? You're an artist!

Unfortunately, we just don't get paid the per hour wages these oil and pastel people get. Some were asking over $2000 for a little 8x10 with a $2 frame that only took two hours to finish! Yes, that's $1000 per hour --- a little more than you're making cleaning that bathroom!

But money isn't everything. It's the knowledge that you're doing a job well that pays the most. If someone doesn't want to pay what you're worth, that's their problem!

Check out the morning's pictures here

Tuesday, September 29

Go Carts on Moss Avenue

Back in the day, you used to actually make your own personal flying machine. But this one came with four wheels that never got off the ground. We creatively attached them to a slotted 2x4 with a big hole in the middle for a shiney new bolt (or an old one if you were poor like us). This front axle would sport a rope rein and swivel perfectly. You had to count on it to steer you away from any deadly obstacles. Of course, if you ran into something solid like a curb or car, the warranty would be voided immediately.

Wheels and axles were cannibalized from old doll buggies or beat up wagons. The floorboard and sides were made from just about anything that was 12" wide, flat, and could be nailed together. Any opened pint of paint was enough to add class to your custom cruiser, but most of us couldn't wait for the paint to dry before that first run and opted for that natural look.

Paso Robles was the perfect town to test drive your newly designed go-cart. Plenty of hills and little traffic assured hours of pain-free racing. And when the cart-bug bit a whole neighborhood, it was race time on Moss Avenue!

Move over, Jeff Gordon!

Monday, September 21

Avila Beach in the 1930's

My father, Don Skinner, grew up off of South Broad Street in San Luis Obispo. Born in 1921 to a hard-working Union Oil man from Templeton and a doting mother from Tennessee, he and his younger sister, Margaret, would become part of the greatest generation of kids who experienced relative innocence before the horrors of WWII re-defined their view of the world.

Avila Beach in the 30's offered a great getaway from the somewhat bustling burg of SLO. Picnics, swimming, trying to get a suntan and people-watching were the main fare. Take your best friend and just have fun --- all encouraged, financed and supervised by your parents. I doubt if he enjoyed that last point as he entered the hormone crazed teen years.

Dad was a great model builder, trumpet player, Boy Scout, swimmer and track star. Oh, then there was the lady's man image that I don't need to detail.

And all of this brings me to the real reason for this blog. I need your help in identifying the homemade board stuck in the sand behind my dad. The year is probably 1938 since Grumpy was a big screen star that year. Was this board used to ride the waves or water-skim on the shore? I really doubt it was used for surfing as most boards at that time were extremely long and heavy. [But later research information from the SLO Tribune's David Middlecamp has debunked this ignorant theory! Thanks, David]

Gary Lynch has told me this much about it: "It is a very common design/shape seen on the beaches of So Cal starting approximately after the turn of the last century (1900). It is a take off of early Hawaiian shapes and used in abundant numbers both in private ownership and rental concessions at many of the most visited beaches in So Cal and other areas of the USA." Gary lives in Templeton and is the author of Tom Blake: The Uncommon Journey of a Pioneer Waterman.

Tom Wegener Surfboards website labels this board style as a Hawaiian Alaia. Yes, it is still used on the waves!

You could also share any vintage beach and surfing stories, pictures and SLO area trivia for my readers. Thanks!

Sunday, September 20

Sunday Sermon

There's a powerful passage in St. Paul's letter to the church in Rome that says something I used to vehemently deny. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness supress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." Romans 1:18-20

My reason had been disabled by my unwillingness to admit (and therefore acknowledge and listen to) the existence of God. Paul goes on to say, "they exchanged the truth about God for a lie" in verse 23. For me, truth was something I was making up for myself along the way, like, "If it feels good, do it," and "If it doesn't hurt anyone else, it's okay," and "I'm the captain of my own ship."

Then one day the lie was exchanged for the truth. The Bible became a living letter. The Lord Jesus Christ stopped me in my tracks and said, "follow me." What a fool I had been!

Listen to C.H. Spurgeon's comment on God's revelation of Himself in nature: "Flowers, what are they? They are but the thoughts of God solidified—God’s beautiful thoughts put into shape. Storms, what are they? They are God’s terrible thoughts written out that we may read them. Thunders, what are they? They are God’s powerful emotions just opened out that men may hear them. The world is the materializing of God’s thoughts, for the world is a thought in God’s eyes. He made it first from a thought that came from His own mighty mind and everything in the majestic temple that He has made has meaning! From Vol. 50, Sermon 2896.

God has spoken twice: in nature and in His Word. Are you listening?

Sunday, September 13

September Visit To True Tennessee

Tennessee is neither for the impressionist painter, earringed pirates, nor frumpless foo foos. It is real America, real rural America with real rural residents whose roots extend back to a time when the simple life ruled the forests of the Cumberland Plateau, Sequatchie Valley and the Appalachian Mountains.

Big city life is closer to the almost-all-American pulse, but the smaller the town, the truer reflection of the historical character, values and architecture can be seen. A modern world defines this cultural phenomenon as backward, backwoodsy, and hicksvillean. It derides any mention of its simplistic beauty. It fails to appreciate its depth of character and laughs at all things red-necked.

I feel a bit guilty for snapping this picture without getting to know the man first. A little unfair to him --- and you as the viewers, who are right now thinking biased thoughts of who he might be, has he ever been out of Pikeville, and what color corn-cob pipe does he smoke? Sorry.

See all the pictures here: Dave Skinner Photography

Friday, September 4

Little Brother

Angel's little half-bro is definitely looking the part of a Limas. Like father, like son and daughter.

Thursday, September 3

A Wowie-Zowie Dinner

Sometimes originality pays big dividends, as proven by Barb's out-of-the-blue Crocktipzini. Here's how to treat yourself to an easy, pleasy dinner, especially if you like to dip your bread in the savory juices!


* 1 1/2 lb. Tri-Tip steak strips, about 1 to 1 1/2 inch wide
* 1 - 14.5 oz can S & W stewed tomatoes, Mexican Recipe (style)
* 2 - small 5" fresh zucchini
* Seasoned pepper
* Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb seasoning

How to:

In a 4 qt. crock pot, put steak strips, stewed tomatoes cut up, 1 teaspoon seasoned pepper.
Sprinkle Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb seasoning to taste (about 1 1/2 teaspoon).
Cook on low for 8-9 hours. Add sliced or quartered pieces of zucchini for the last hour only.

Pretty easy for you super-cooks out there. Warning: This is all it will take to make them ask for more and beg you for the recipe to put on their blog!

Sunday, August 30

First Time Champs

I'm watching the last out of the last inning of the Little League World Series and the Blue Bombers from Chula Vista, CA just pitched the final strike to win the game and championship with a score of 6 - 3. Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) was narrowly squeezed out by a better California defensive team that had some late inning hits by their key players. Click here for details.

There so much more emotion and excitement in Little League than the majors. These kids don't hold anything back, especially their tears when they lose a big one. And the crowd/family support is phenomenal.

The U.S. now enjoys five straight championships, in spite of the 75+ other nations that enter the competition. The largest organized sport in America, some 2.5 million kids (boys and girls) participate in our favorite pastime.

Many of us boys played with our 12 year-old peers back in the day. We learned teamwork, throwing and hitting skills, and a lot of humility. We've hopefully forgiven all the bad coaches who belittled us, team mates who didn't like us, and parents who never saw us play.

We'll keep those memories for a long time. But toss the bad ones and just hold onto the good ones.

Saturday, August 22

Rusting Out

Thanks to bruxelles5 Photography for this reminder that due to the physical law of entropy, all things that can rust WILL rust eventually, given the right circumstances. That pristine new set of wheels you bought back in 1960 just isn't the same car 50 years later, even if you've done your best to keep it spit polished.

Just as glaring is the degenerative aura taken on by your face in the mirror as the years add up.

We're all rusting out, like an old car, soon ready for the scrap heap after the engine shuts down and the battery dies.

And you can bet there will be no Cash for Clunkers Program for any of us.

Friday, August 21

Minor Invasion

A little flock of even littler bushtits landed in the birch trees outside the dining room window after dinner. These diminutives flitter, flutter and add some acrobatics to their feeding routine. They'll stick to the side of a tree looking for insects and spiders or hang upside down examining the back of leaves.

My 200mm lens is hardly the best bet when shooting through this window. And with midget birds in trees, manual focusing is a must. I've done it enough to know you have to take 50 pictures to get 5 that are close to being in focus. There's also the fun of gently sliding your long lens between the open wood shutters without scaring the little guys, although when they came through the last time, I was able to get withing 5 feet of them in the backyard without spooking them.

So if someone would like to get me a new Nikon D90 and a fast f2.8 long zoom lens, they will be amply rewarded with some truly wonderful birdy pictures!

Jesus tells us, "Therefore, I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" Matthew 6:25-26.

"Therefore do not worry , saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." Matthew 6:31-34

Lord, increase our faith!

Thursday, August 13

Striking It Rich!

This year's rains and less than a little pruning resulted in an over-abundance of grapes. What a surprise, because there's normally next to nothing. Angel was wowed, too.

We took bags full to our class at church last Sunday and got rid of the first pick. We bagged another 15 or 20 lbs. today of Thompson and Flames. Not the biggest, but pretty sweet. Perfect for snacks at work and a refreshing change when you need a drink.

Sometimes there are rewards for doing nothing and letting God do the work.