Sunday, November 7, 2010

Two major hikes

I have been trying to get into a little better shape.... one not quite as round! As luck would have it, I live in the Rocky Mountains and a good hike is only a few minutes away. I did two pretty awesome (for me, anyway) hikes this past summer.

One hike was to Elkhorn Peak. Here I am at the summit... a measly 9,422 feet! LOL This hike took Joe and I all day to do. The pedometer on my cell phone clocked the hike as 11.9 miles from start to finish, and we felt every step of those eleven miles the next day! It was a pretty intense uphill battle, then rock hopping over those boulders you see in the background to reach the top.

The small ghost town of Elkhorn can be seen here as a few white buildings just behind the rocks. That is just about where we started hiking from!!

Now I know that there are hikers out there that could bag this summit in only a few hours, but neither Joe nor I are one of them! As major hikes go, this one ranks up in the top three that we have accomplished. The other two would be the Highline Trail and Quartz Lake-- both in Glacier National Park. The 12-mile Hanging Garden trail near York, MT (Vigilante Campground is the trail head) was a bitch, too, so I better include it for posterity!

A few weeks after hiking Ellkhorn, we chose to tackle a closer to home and lower elevation peak. We hiked to the two highest points in the Scratchgravel Hills. These photos were taken just down from the summit at an elevation of about 5100ft. This is the view from the top looking North:
It is a nice view of the "Sleeping Giant". Can you pick him out? One other item of note-- I can see my house from here!! LOL The road that is very visible is Green Meadow Drive and that is the road I live off of. Not very green, but hey! That is how Montana can be in late August. Here is a photo looking South-East, down onto Helena from the same spot:

From this vantage point, you can see Elkhorn Peak. It is the highest point in the blue mountains that are across the back of the photo.
You can also see some of the damage from the Mountain Bark Beetle. That is what is killing the pine trees in the foreground. There are some areas that the kill is much worse killing the trees on entire mountains. Dead forests don't just look bad, they are dangerous too. One careless smoker or campfire, or even a lightening strike could cause a devistating fire that would burn hot and fast. For this reason, the forest service and parks departments are teaming up with local volunteers to cut down the dead trees and donate the wood to LIEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program). LIEAP then doles out cut cords of wood as a heat source for their clients who have fireplaces or wood stoves as a main heating source at no cost. With a cord of wood selling for $150-$250, this program is going to help out many low income families this winter.
With winter fast approaching, I don't think I will have the chance to do much more hiking over the next few months. I did buy a Wii and the Wii Fit and I plan on using it while it is cold outside. I don't want to just sit around and loose the little bit of ground I have gained (or lost, really!) trying to get into better shape. I hope to be able to go cross-country skiing this winter, too. I didn't even go once last winter!! It is something I really enjoy, just didn't have the time while working. One thing I have alot of since being unemployed is time!
Gonna go watch the first snow storm blow through the valley now....and hope it drops more than just a dusting of the white stuff--
Another update soon!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Canyon Ferry Lake

With awesome weather for October, Joe and i decided to take a drive around the lake. It's a bit hazy, but the temp's are in the low 80's. Geese are flocking overhead as I am typing this. What am awesome fall day!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Missouri River

Palace rock near the tiny town of Dearborn.

The Missouri River

Palace rock near the tiny town of Dearborn.

Prettier than a rainbow!

Some of the canning I have on my shelves: Mango Salsa, Pickled Beets, Confetti Pepper jelly (this is really pretty... red, yellow, and orange pepper cut into tiny pieces float in the jelly), Red-Hot Pears (also called Imperial Pears because they get thier color and cinnamon flavor from Red-Hots candy which are also called Imperials), D'anjou pears in light syrup, "Hot" dill pickle chunks (with peppers and red-pepper flakes to create a little heat), and garlic dill pickles.
This is not even close to all that I have made this year! More photos to come...!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A few images from my latest trip to Washington

Bright Flowers for sale at Pike Street Market; Seattle, WA.

I have been pretty active these past few months. I have gone to Washington twice, climbed a 9422 foot mountain, took a trip up to Kalispell and Glacier National Park (over Labor Day weekend and it snowed!) where we took a boat tour of Two Medicine Lake, drove up to the Canadian boarder on the east side of the park, finally saw Chief Mountain, saw Running Eagle Falls, saw two bears (black, technically, but one was a beautiful cinnamon color), saw an awesome exhibit about DaVinci at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, met many new friends through Geo-Woodstock and other Geocaching events, grew a garden that looks great, but produced poorly (bad year for many gardeners, I hear), and learned how to can-- aka, "Put -Up" or "Preserve"-- many types of foods.

On the household side of things, Krystle moved out, then back in... my new computer FINALLY arrived (!!)... and Joe, who has been suffering with a hernia for two years, finally had to go in for emergency surgery last week and I was the only person in the area who could take care of him.

All that, and more! We have our business plan submitted to MBAC/SBA and they have been helping us try to get the shop open. Congress says there is money to loan for start-ups, but the banks are all saying "NO!". It's been a long process, but someday we will be able to move ahead on this.

Here are a couple more photos. Many more to come.

How can you go to the Pike Street Market and not take This photo?!!

Snoqualmie Falls; Snoqualmie, Washington...the second time I have been to this spot this year (July 1-5, and Sept 11th).
(Check out the very top of the falls...there are large earth movers up there (yes, that smudge of yellow on the far bank)! I framed them in on purpose for perspective on the size of the waterfall!)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Red Rock Lake, Glacier National Park

I don't remember the mountain's name. I'll look it up and post it when I get home. This is is the Swiftcurrent Valley, Glacier National Park.

Swiftcurrent Valley, Glacier National Park.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Times are a-changing here!

Hey There! Remember me? Yeah, it's been awhile so I thought I would drop in and visit for awhile. Catching up may take awhile, so go grab a cup of coffee, a soda, or adult beverage (depending on your preference and time of day) and lets chat for a bit.

I wish I could say that the little over two months that I have been absent from my Blog have been filled with wonder, adventure and excitement. Not even close! Depression, anxiety, and fear of the unknown future?... Yep! Why such a bleak outlook from a normally upbeat and happy-go-lucky person?
Wellllll...... I managed to get myself laid-off from my job at the cell phone place. Laid off is better than being fired, but that instant you find out you will not be employed is quite the shock! I would have blogged about the situation, but my computer here at home is dying a slow and painful death. Sometimes, like today, it allows me to connect to the wireless and for the most part behaves. Usually, though, it won't connect or the screen flashes on and off whenever the CPU needs to "think". The poor thing is 9 years old and I have updated it as much as I can (more RAM, better video card, a DVD player/burner, and a 200 gig hard drive that my old processor can only read as 131 gig). It was "state of the art" when I got it as a Christmas present... Windows XP was just released and the Intel Pentium 3 1200MHz processor with 512MB of RAM (updated size, not original RAM) and 20 GB hard drive was blazing fast for it's time. But today that 20GB drive is dedicated to ONLY operating system and driver files and those use up 16GB of space!! The other drive is for photos, games, music, and the files that support my scanner, printer, iPod, cell phone backup files, downloads... and everything else! Oh yeah... another thing... the cooling fan has died, too! It sure made a racket when it was going out, so the silence is great but I hate to do much on the poor computer for fear of over heating it and loosing everything.
There is a ray of sunshine in my computer future, though. Back in October I ordered a new one, and a new laptop, too. Total for both was only about $500 and a Lay-a-Way plan was available. I had, at the time, thought I could easily pay that off in two or three months, but situations have changed and now I am only able to pay the minimum monthly payment of $50 ($25 on each). Slowly, but surely, I WILL have a new computer!
Enough computer talk! On to the Life and Times of Lil 'ol Me...
This requires going back to mid-November, just after my last post. (Special Fx quys, do that Wayne's Word wavy picture thing and Doodeedoodoo Doodeedoodoo sound now).
There are a few things happening... the owner of the shop I work(ed) at is not stocking the store with needed merchandise, he has abandoned the work on the hair salon next door and immersed himself into a pyramid scheme business, and he is not listening to our business needs.
Also, my trusty Rav-4 is showing signs of its 175000 miles. I have decided to trade it in for a newer vehicle. The weeks before Thanksgiving I have test-driven a number of vehicles, ruling out the Jeep Liberty (didn't feel stable in windy conditions), the Dodge Caliber (just didn't like it), and numerous other used cars with one mechanical problem or another. I thought I had time to be picky! Friday, the 13th of November (coincidence?) the Rav died on my home to Helena from Great one of the few cell phone dead areas (of course!). Verdict? Engine is about to throw a rod. Nice. I need another vehicle ASAP. Joe let me borrow his Jeep so I could get around the next week, and I stopped at a small used car lot that I had purchased a car from a few years earlier. There was a 1999 Subaru Legacy in perfect condition on the lot and in my price range. I took it for a drive and was disappointed to discover the over-drive in the automatic transmission was not engaging correctly. I returned to the lot, and the salesman said their shop would check out the problem the next day. As it turned out, their repairman couldn't fix it and the owner of the small lot took the Subaru to the local Subaru dealership's shop to have the repair work done... at no additional cost to me if I still wanted it. A CarFax report showed perfect scores, and the previous owner had taken it to their local Subaru dealer for all repairs and oil changes so those were reflected as well. This was IT! The cherry I had been searching for! I had even been pre-approved for the loan through a local Credit Union with no payments due (except the $1000 down) until Jan. 1st. The salesman even let me split the down payment into two installments, one on the day I signed the papers... the next mid-December.
Life Was Good Again!
Payday was Nov. 18th, papers signed and a $500 check written on the 19th (another post-dated for mid-December). Monday, the 23rd I met with my banker and finalized the loan there, and picked up my new-to-me Subaru Legacy on Wednesday the 25th.. the day before Thanksgiving. The wait was because the dealership's shop had to order in parts to fix the tranny, and my deal (in writing) with the salesman and the bank was I could back out of the sale if the transmission was not fixed to my liking. It was fixed perfect! I love the car! Yea Me!!
Meanwhile, the shelves at work were beginning to look sparse. As a person knowledgeable in business practices (accounting, balance sheets, taxes, yadda-yadda-yadda) I knew we were making decent profits and there was no reason for the lack of inventory. The day after Thanksgiving (biggest shopping day of the year) we could have done twice the business if we had the product. Of course, the owner would not explain himself to us.
Saturday Nov 28th I checked my bank balance like I do every Saturday just in case I forgot to deduct a debit card purchase in my register. My jaw literally dropped! I was over $1000.00 overdrawn! What the Hell? How could that have happened? It only took a moment to see that my previous weeks paycheck had "bounced". I was LIVID! I called my store owner on both of his cell phones. I called his assistant on his cell phone. I had to leave messages on all three. That just pissed me off even more! I sent text messages to all three phones. Not 10 minutes later ( I was still figuring out the over-draft fees. If there was a happy moment in all of this, it was the realization that the $500 check to the car dealer was NOT one of the ones returned NSF!) the owner called me back all sappy-sorry and tried to convince me that he had no clue the business account was bone dry. He promised to have it "taken care of" first thing Monday morning. Now, I could understand this if the business was not making money. I knew better. The business account should have had over $15,000 in it from just the month of November-- especially since he was spending next to nothing on inventory! I also knew that Bob, the store owner, always carried at least $1000 in cash (or more) in his wallet at any given time. Covering my staggering overdrawn (to me, anyways) account was only "chump-change" to him.
On Monday, Nov. 30th my banker and Bob's banker fixed my account by noon. My banker suggested I not make any transactions until Wednesday, if possible, to make sure nothing was "hanging out there somewhere". I actually ended up two dollars ahead!
Tuesday was December first. Our gross sales for November were calculated and sent to the main office. Joe and I had been given a "Sales Incentive Bonus Program" in October and we were excited to see that we had pushed sales, even with low inventory, into a bracket in which we were to both receive a little over $400 in bonus pay. A few hours later, an e-mail from the office stated that the bonus was to be paid out of NET sales and that our bonus was to only be $100 each. They had previously paid out on Gross sales, so this was changing the terms of a signed contract, which clearly states Gross sales in numerous places. I sent the office a FAX telling them this, along with a copy of the contract we had signed in October.
This got me a phone call from Bob. I was still sore about the bounced paycheck, now the sudden change in the bonus, on top of the lack of him doing his job at keeping our store stocked. I did not yell. I did not curse. We talked for over an hour and he kept trying to throw excuses my way and I countered each of them with informed answers (like how much he paid out in wages and federal wage taxes; power and heat; what little inventory he did purchase; etc). I told him he was mismanaging the store and the money it brought in. I asked him why he was throwing away a awesomely profitable business in these woeful economic times. He said I didn't know what I was talking about. I asked him to prove me wrong.
His answer was to Lay me off as of close of business that day. He couldn't fire me for voicing my opinions, thoughts, and quoting figures. He knew if he did, I'd have been at the state Wage and Labor Board with a winnable case against him. With the bounced paycheck, he could say that the business just couldn't support two employees so he had to let me go.
Yeah, I brought it on myself. I guess I wasn't really shocked.
My only thoughts at the time as I was cleaning out three years of personal accumulations was how was I going to cover that post-dated $500 check for the Subaru, the insurance, and registration fees?
I knew I could get onto the Unemployment roles so I wouldn't be totally broke, but I knew Unemployment would not give me enough to cover these expenses, as well as the first payment to the bank due on January first.
For some reason, later that evening (Dec 1st), Joe decided to text message the situation to our mutual friend, Vicki. At 7am the next morning Joe gets a call from Vicki's roommate with information for me.... Vicki works for the State of Montana, Department of Health and Human Services which at that moment were currently hiring temporary data entry workers to handle the onslaught of H1N1 vaccination records that needed to be entered into the statewide immunization database. I called Vicki, and she told me which temp agency to register with, and to tell them that I was specifically requested for the position.
I thanked her, showered and left Great Falls (where I had stayed the night because I was to stressed to drive home) arriving in Helena about 11am. My first stop was to the Unemployment office for information on how to file, what I would expect to get, etc. Next stop, the temp agency.
I filled out their forms, told them I was requested for the DPHHS H1N1 position, and that I could start right away. In the parking lot I called Vicki and told her I was registered. Within the hour, a woman named Becki phoned and asked me when I wanted to start, what hours I was willing to work, and informed me that the pay was to be $11.00 per hour. We agreed on the next morning (Thursday, Dec 3rd) to start and I have been there full time since. I looked at the clock (in the dash of my new Subaru!) and it said 2pm. I had been unemployed for a total of 20 hours! Not bad for a state with a 8.5% unemployment rate (and a national average of 10.1% unemployment).

I was told the job was to be anywhere from 6-10 weeks. That would have put me working until mid-Feb, but I was recently informed we still have enough work to take us into mid-March. I am still looking for an actual full time permanent job and if I don't have one by the time this temp one ends I will still have Unemployment to fall back on. The local office estimates I will make the equivalent of $8 to $8.50 an hour on Unemployment and I am not required to take a job that pays less than $10/hour.

Other future plans? When this job ends, or between jobs... whichever happens first; I plan to attend some of the free or low cost classes that are offered here in Helena on how to start my own business, apply for grants, and how to write a business plan to present to the banks for business funding. My thoughts are to open a cell phone repair & resale shop similar to the one I was just laid off from. Joe said he is "in", too, and with our combined knowledge we know we can make it work. We have "acquired" the actual sales numbers from the past two years showing the growth potential is phenomenal. Bob could have made half a million dollars this year if he would have just listened to us and kept the store stocked. Word of mouth was generating half of our new customers. Repeat customers provided at least half of our revenue. Word on the street gave us excellent reviews. For some reason, Bob has chosen to throw away his best money making venture and is placing a ton of his money into a "get rich quick" pyramid scheme that most of us know better than to even look twice at.
What a fool, but I aim to take what he is throwing away!
Wish me luck.......
There it is, in a nutshell. Yes, there are stories behind the events, and I would have enjoyed telling them, but this is long enough already! I do hope to visit again soon... and don't expect to stay away for another 2 months! So much will be happening that I really will need to write about it... even if just to keep things straight in my own mind!
I hope everyone is well, and appologies to those of you whom I followed regulary and have not been able to lately. It's been a roller coaster ride and I don't see it smoothing out any time soon!
Well, my coffee cup is empty, the dog wants out, and I really should get a shower! Its been good catching up, but I really must get on with the day---