Category Archives: Random Thoughts

The Ballad of Pearly Sue

It was just four notes that did it; my mind skipped a track from Shenandoah to The Ballad of Pearly Sue!

Four notes:  a variation on the theme of Shenandoah and a repeated motif in Pearly Sue!

Though I’ve been practicing the transcription of Keith Jarrett’s Shenandoah performance for months, this four-note passage took me on a crazy incongruous path this morning. Shenandoah is a wistful and mournful piece, which I play while visualizing the cobbled streets of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and the agony that the Civil War brought there.  Pearly Sue, though, is an upbeat and  joyful expression of life and the self-determination of strong women everywhere. Those four notes triggered a neuron or two and suddenly I was singing a somewhat obscure song of joy, that I hadn’t heard in ten years!

Susannah McCorkle wrote and performed The Ballad of Pearly Sue in 1989:  six years after Sally Ride blasted off in a rocket ship.   It is an exuberant performance and a  marvelous telling of the empowerment of women.   It speaks of the strong women in my life and the hope that each of us may chart our own path.    It makes me smile, laugh and cry.

What about you?

A once in a lifetime recipe

Chocolate Custard

Left-over hot chocolate from your Christmas Piano Recital

Crack some eggs into a bowl
Beat the eggs.
Pour some left over hot chocolate into the bowl
Stir it all together.
Think: that could probably use some vanilla
Add vanilla
Think: you probably didn’t use enough eggs
Add eggs
Butter a baking dish that’s big enough.
Pour your stuff into the baking dish.
Turn the oven on to 325.
Think: I see no reason for that to preheat
Put your stuff in the oven
Set the timer for 40 minutes
Go do some stuff and forget about it.
Realize later that you have no idea when the timer went off.
Take your stuff out of the oven

My mother taught me how to cook. Three rules apply here:

  • If you have leftovers, you can make something good out of it.
  • If you use good ingredients, it will be good.
  • Custard is good.

This does call to mind hundreds and hundreds of pounds of government surplus rice delivered to Raymond High School when Mom was the head cook there.  She said,

“I just couldn’t cook enough rice.  And those kids didn’t like it much, either. Then one day I was making mashed potatoes and I thought, ‘What difference would it make if I put a few pounds of cooked rice in that?’. You know, no one knew the difference, and they were pretty good mashed potatoes. I sure got rid of that rice.”

Electrified Thoughts

Recently, my friend Terry Greene posted this evocative photo work on Facebook.   This piece grabbed hold of my very core,  and brought memories flooding forth.   For me,  this  is a completely natural response. The raw power of electricity is as  much a part of my upbringing as huckleberry pancakes and bread rising in a sunny window.

Photo work of Terry L Greene

My dad, Harvey McGuire, began his work at Pacific County Public Utility District  in 1938, and retired from his work there in 1978.  For the most of those 40 years he was the “meterman”, responsible for testing, repair, and calibration of the thousands of meters of the PUD.    But Pacific County PUD was a small operation, and Dad was also a radio technician and a transformer rebuilder.  During storm emergencies, he  worked along side the line crew for whom he had the deepest respect.   I came to know at an early age that linemen were brave,  robust, and knowledgeable workers.  I also knew that they were among the friendliest people on earth, because any day could be “bring your kid to work day” at the PUD of that era. The photo below is from Pacific County PUD of the 1960s.  I  believe that pictured here among the 13 kilo-volt lines are Wayne Patrick and Shorty Remington.  There were no overweight linemen!

Linemen of Pacific County PUD 1960s

The meter room of  the PUD, was a natural gathering place for the friendly folks who worked there, and I enjoyed being a part of the place.   Arriving there at 4:15 was a good thing, and I could score a ride home with Dad at the 4:30 quitting time.   At that time of day the line crew was coming in, and I could  listen in to the events of their day, and enjoy the status of visiting kid.

This photo may not evoke a smell memory for you, so use your imagination.  It is a rich mixture  of tobacco, solder rosin, transformer oil,  and ozone.  Enjoy it.

Harvey McGuire tells a joke to an unidentified friend in the meter room of Pacific County PUD

Given all this exposure to electro-magnetic radiation I was drawn to it like an iron spike is drawn to a magnet. It’s little wonder that I’d become a ham radio operator in my late high school years. This photo of 1971 shows Dad and me in the bucket truck of the PUD. As the photo was snapped, we had just completed installing a cubical quad antenna for the 20 meter ham band on a small tower atop the garage at home. It was another electrifying experience. Obviously, at the time, Pacific County PUD wasn’t just a “bring your kid to work” company. Sometimes it was a “bring a truck home to install an antenna” kind of company.

Duane and Harvey McGuire installing an antenna – 1971

Nine years later would find me employed as an “energy conservation specialist” at Grant County PUD, as I began a 10 year career there. As it worked out, Harvey Guy McGuire and Duane Harvey McGuire spent 50 years fully charged in the electric utility industry.

I left Grant County PUD in 1990, but when electricity flows in your veins, it doesn’t seem to leave. It’s only natural that when photo-electric generation became cost effective, I’d have my own generating station. This is the 8.3 kilo-watt installation on my shop building at home in Clinton, Utah.

Solar array on the shop in Clinton Utah 2018


It is spring. Daffodils should be here.  But I am waiting and watching, as my daffodils are moving slowly (like me).   It’s not every spring that I wait and watch as I do this year, but … well … I must admit … I planted some daffodils last fall in a wildly optimistic moment.  And I love daffodils.

The act of planting daffodils is uncharacteristic for me.  That is perhaps mostly attributable to the good and reasonably predictable patterns of a long marriage.   Terri loves her hours in the garden, and I have an easy out.  But out front, there was this ugly bush bordering our neighbor’s place.  I thought I could do some good in the earth, and while Terri takes care of a third-acre, I could take care of ten square feet.   Plus, I didn’t like that bush, Terri didn’t like that bush, and the new neighbors didn’t like that bush.

That last part was inferred from a conversation:

“Is this bush on your property or on ours?”
“Oh, I think it’s kind of on both, but looking at the fence line, I’d say it’s mostly on our side.”
“Oh.  I was thinking maybe I should pull it out. ”

I’m pretty good at inferences, aren’t I?  So last fall, armed with pruners, shovels, and picks I went to work on that bush.  I sweat a lot, cussed a little, and generally lived in the moment.   But the last of that bush was not budging.   Fortunately my neighbor, Ben, came over with all of his wonderful, youthful, brute strength. While I was in the shop looking for a longer lever, he whispered to that bush and yanked out the last of it.

I had a plan, and desperately wanted to act before time, weeds, or thoughts of landscaping cloth intervened.   I turned the plan into action, and returned from Lowes with pounds of bulbs:  daffodils, tulips, and crocuses.  Within a few days all were planted to their prescribed depth and the new bed was covered with a thick mulch of grass clippings.   And so I wait.  But not much longer.  Today, gratification is arriving:

I come by this love of daffodils honestly.  During my youth in Western Washington, daffodils were everywhere.  In lawns until the first mowing, along roadsides, and even in flowerbeds!  Among my favorites were those that popped up at the base of the family tree (that is to say the phenomenal cherry tree in the east yard of 933 Crescent Street).   This picture from 1963 is a little late for daffodils,  but if you squint, you may see the leaves.

Daffodils are my quintessential image of Spring. Of rebirth, and of Easter. I lay claim to a rich Christian heritage whose foundation was centered at Raymond Washington’s First Methodist Church. For one who was (and is) a Doubting Thomas, my richest experience of Easter  is of daffodils.  In the 1960s Raymond’s MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship), with major support from Bill Morgan and parents, gathered thousands of daffodils in the week before Easter, so that on Easter morning we could display our symbol of the Resurrection outside the church. It was an amazing symbol, and an equally amazing  experience.

Easter 1964: Raymond First Methodist cross of thousands of daffodils


I do love daffodils!  Easter was early this year, and that would have been good for the traditional Easter cross of daffodils.   There would have been lots of daffodils for harvesting in yards, along roadsides, and under cherry trees.   Though the tradition of this cross is past, I’m certain that the daffodils brought joy wherever they popped up.


I haven’t shaved in a week. It’s bugging me, and it will bug me more tomorrow.  And I don’t want to shave! So I was thinking about finding a barbershop.  I could lay back in that chair with a warm, steaming towel wrapped around my face. I could anticipate warm lather on my old face while listening to my barber strop the straight razor on the leather strop attached to his well-worn chair.  All the while he would continue to tell stories of his latest steelhead catch. Oops. Return to present. They don’t offer that service at Great Clips.

Mike McCartney, at 3rd and Duryea in Raymond Washington, was my barber from 1959, thereabouts to 1974. I’m sure of the 1974, because he cut my hair the day before I was married. And by the way, I can report as fact that Mr. McCartney adapted well to the hairstyles of the 70’s because when I got home, my Mom said, “It doesn’t look like he cut much off!”  Whatever … I got what I paid for.

Evidence of Mom’s assertion


But back to the barbershop.   The shop was right next door to Orville Ekman’s shoe repair shop. It was  somewhat smaller than your average Great Clips, and the configuration was much different.  Mr. McCartney’s “workstation”, the barber chair, was situated in the shop window by the entry door, where he could greet customers by name as they came in, rather than rushing off and yelling “welcome to Great Clips … did you check in online? ”  No one checked in online.  No discount coupons were offered, only folks from out-of-town left tips, and only cash was accepted.

On alternate Saturday mornings, Mom would drop me off at the barbershop.  Those were busy days at the barbershop, and you could certainly count on six to ten men and boys to be ahead of you.  If I was done by the time Mom was done with shopping, I’d have a ride home.  Otherwise, “I could walk”.    The time spent in the barbershop really wasn’t a problem though.  It was part of my education.  There was a fair assortment of well-worn comic books, and an excellent collection of magazines, for instance, “Argosy”, and “Field and Stream”.  So one could read.   Or one could pretend to read while listening to the more adult conversation.  It was pretty basic stuff, like hunting and fishing, where I learned about gun safety.  No.  Actually at the time it was called hunting safety.  Guns were just a part of hunting. Of course other topics did include road repair, recent floods, and the city council (if none of those men were in the shop at the time).  Fast cars, high school football,  bad reffing, and recent brawls were also fair game.  Once in a while the conversation did migrate to more bawdy topics, where Mr. McCartney might become the referee, and say, “Umm, little ears are present”.  So I didn’t learn much on those topics, but nonetheless it was a significant portion of sex education in the 1960s.

A fair representation of Mr. McCartney’s chair

At about age 12, or when the first pimples appeared, I got Mike McCartney’s upgraded, adult service. The razor was stropped, the hot lather was dispensed, and Mr. McCartney shaved my neck and sideburns with care and a flourish. I must say, I valued every time. In the subsequent dozen years, he only nicked me once, and it was worth it!

As you might infer, I rather miss the barbershop. So as I was sitting here on this Sunday and considering an option to Great Clips, I did a little Googling, and found that right here in suburbia is “Archie’s Barbershop”, with service available tomorrow. Wow. And Archie offers full-shave straight razor service for $20. I was surprised and impressed. Scrolling down a bit further, I found the picture showing Archie as young, Asian, and female. Was I expecting Archie Bunker? I don’t think I’ll find a copy of “Field and Stream” in the shop, do you? But I think I’m ready for a nice, close shave. Hello, Archie.

Life at Steed Pond

My morning walk often passes by Steed Pond. It’s a small bit of nature amidst my suburban neighborhood. This spring, I’ve taken to more walks, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see what’s living there, or at least passing by for the catch of the day.
2016-05-11 06.11.01
This morning four American White Pelicans were fishing there, along with a couple of Double Crested Cormorants and the usual ducks. The pelicans migrate to areas near Salt Lake each spring, and depart for southern destinations in the fall. In years past, I had been amazed to see them on the water at a golf course, but this week was the first sighting within a half mile of home.

I was pleased to see the pelicans, but had to wonder what they were finding to eat. A bit of Google research reveals that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources annually stocks the pond with rainbow trout. It turns out they are a tasty treat for pelicans. And I don’t think they are respecting the limit of 2 per day!

DWR reports that this year they’ve planted 2807 rainbow trout in Steed Pond. These trout have had an average length of 11 inches. Examining the bill of the pelicans, I’d say the trout are a right-sized snack. It’s fun to watch them fishing.


This morning, I got up at 5:20 am, then went downstairs to practice jazz improv for an hour at the piano.   I then moved into hunter-gatherer mode, and walked a mile to Maverik to get a quart of milk for the morning cereal.   On the way home at 7:30 I heard:


Yes, Reveille was playing on the huge loudspeakers of Hill Air Force Base – two miles away.  What a sweet sound, from a distance!   Now the distance is not just two miles.  Also the distance from that place is one year, since one year ago I left my half-time work at HAFB to become the full-time piano technician.   I like hearing Reveille from that distance.

It is a distance of one year with no regrets.  Just a more centered and joy-filled life.

Horseback riding

I still haven’t gone horseback riding. If I had a bucket list, surely I’d have to put it on my bucket list. I know that for a modest fee, I can find several venues within a few miles where a caring person can put me on a gentle horse and take me for a ride. I think about that from time to time, but I do fail to act.

Cousin Jim says that we are “first generation off the farm”. I find that to be an interesting label, for what it says about our place in history and the conditions of our upbringing. We had strong fathers. Very strong fathers, who developed their characters in a very rough life.

Harvey McGuire, my dad, didn’t say much about how rough life had been for him. But gradually, over the years of my youth some glimpses of the rugged life of the 20’s did emerge. It was during a trip to Pacific County Fair in 1960, when I was maybe 8 years old, that I began to ask some serious questions about who my father was in the pre-existance! While with Dad in the middle of the midway, a horse had become spooked, and the young girl who was leading him had lost control. The horse was rearing up and creating real danger for all around. The crowd was scattering, as Dad placed very firm hands on my shoulders – as only he could – and said “YOU STAY RIGHT HERE!”. He then walked up to that wild horse, grabbed the reins and calmed him. I’d like to think he whispered something sweet to that horse, but I actually think that he smacked the horse in the side of the head as he whispered.

I was absolutely awestruck. Here I was with the father I had known for 8 years, a man who had never even commented on the nature of horses. A man, that as far as I knew, had never even touched a horse. And he was taking control of a horse gone wild! It turns out that I knew nothing of my father. He asked the girl where the horse belonged, he led the horse to its stall at the horse barn and settled it in. All I could do was to follow in pure wonderment.

As I learned, back on the farm there had been about a dozen horses. To add some income to the subsistence farming, Edwin McGuire, my grandfather, operated a pack horse operation leading hunters into the Cascade mountains. As a youth, and as the oldest of 5 children much of the labor of caring for those horses fell on Dad. He never commented on the beauty of horses. He was not enamored by horses as the teenage girls were in my neighborhood. No. He actually actually disliked the animals and wanted nothing to do with them. He told me the stories later. When cousins would come over, he’d get on his bicycle and escape the farm, so that he wouldn’t “be saddled” with all the work of caring for the horses so that cousins could ride!

But still, I want to ride a horse. Maybe this spring. Before it gets too warm. Or maybe this fall, before it gets too cold. It would be nice to touch my heritage in that physical way.

By the way, I’ve never seen a picture of Dad anywhere near a horse, so it is fitting that my favorite picture of Mom and Dad shows him enjoying his sweetheart and his preferred mode of transportation.

LaRue Henkel and Harvey McGuire — 1936(?)

New Tech meets Old Tech

I’m a technologist.  And sometimes I have more fun with old technology than new technology.  For seven or eight years we’ve been without a landline phone, and that works pretty well — until the owner of the phone is upstairs and the phone is downstairs.  In an effort to expand our phone availability, I went looking for new technology, and found the bluetooth gateways for cell phones can be pretty cool!  The device shown below, connects to the wired phone lines in the house, and when one or both of our smart phones are nearby with bluetooth on,  all the phones in the house ring.

That worked out well, and I wired some more phone jacks in the house. We now have three wired phones. But when I built the shop, I didn’t wire it for phone. Well it’s wired now, and enter old technology:

The shop has a phone! I value the old power equipment that I have and operate in the shop, and I thought it fitting to have a phone of the same vintage. This particular phone is the Western Electric “space saver” model, from the 1940s. And today it is working again and ringing when I’m home and you call my cell phone! I found this one on eBay, and it was the exact model I sought, because it is the same model that hung on the wall of the kitchen in Raymond when I was a tot. It was replaced with a white plastic wall phone that had a dialer! Our phone number was 278R. When you picked up the phone to call first you checked to see if the party line was free, then the operator would say, “Number, please”. So at this point the shop phone is incoming only. It has a dial tone, but no dialer. Ryan has suggested that the ultimate marriage of old tech and new tech would be to hook it up to a PBX server which would say “Number, please”, and then using voice recognition, would — well dial the number!