high country materials

April 9, 2009

High Country Materials opened last weekend in the True Value shopping center.  High Country stocks and sells all manner of rock, sand, slag, and soil, including road base, decorative rock, and rail road ties.

Doug Branch, High Country owner, grew up in the valley but moved away for a while.  He came back five years ago and began paving driveways and trucking.  He noticed that anybody that wanted any work done had to order the materials from far away.  “I saw a need and decided to do something about it,” he offers.

High Country had a great opening weekend, in spite of the snow.  “We had a bunch of new customers this weekend, we had a lot of fun,” Doug explained.

Most material is in stock, and many more items can be ordered.  High country keeps regular hours, posted on their sign, plus will make appointments for other times.  All material can be delivered, or feel free to pick it up yourself.  High Country can be reached at 251-6027.

This article originally appeared in the April 8, 2009, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.

the value of books

April 4, 2009

Reading is priceless.  Books can take you anywhere – to new lands or new planets, in the past, present, or future.  You can experience more adventures than possible in real life alone.  Try sailing the seven seas, or exploring the center of the earth, or navigating the intricacies of Martian society.  Conjure up spells, ferret out unknown truths, or simply discover our own historical past.

I have run into variations on this idea countless times.  Every time someone is extolling the virtues of books, something like the above quote will come out.  Recently I heard it again in the movie Inkheart.  (A great movie.  See it.)

I too am a lover of books, and of reading.  But I shudder every time I hear books beatified in this way.  It seems escapist, overly entertainment-oriented, and artsy-fartsy, all at the same time.  The purpose of reading isn’t so you can get away and have fun in la-la land.  These things are secondary to the real purpose of reading.  There is much more value in reading than travelling and having fun experiences.

  • From Frodo (Lord of the Rings) I learned the importance of diligence and a sense of mission.
  • From Ben Franklin I learned how far a person can go when given so little in life.
  • From John Grisham I learned the importance of being able to spin a good yarn.  And the futility of trying to live outside the law.
  • From John Carter (A Princess of Mars) I learned the value of superhuman strength and devastatingly good looks.
  • From Hester Prynne and Arther Dimmesdale (The Scarlet Letter) I learned the importance of staying within sexual norms.
  • From Mr. Wickham (Pride and Prejudice) I learned the value of social skills and norms and the danger inherent in transgressing them.
  • From Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo) I learned how gratifying revenge can be, and how hollow.
  • From Jason Stevens (The Ultimate Gift) I learned that it’s not about me.  Nothing is about me.  And the sooner I can grasp that truth, the easier things will go for me.
  • From Stephen King I learned the value of following my imagination where ever it leads.
  • From Laura Ingalls Wilder I learned the vital importance of a strong family surrounding me, and the value of providing a strong family to surround my kids.

I could go on, but I hope my point is starting to emerge.  The value of reading is not in travelling to exotic lands.  The value in reading is how the story affects me.  How am I different – better even – for having read that story?  I have lived the lives of many people, just in the short amount of reading I’ve done.  I’ve learned something from all these lives, and I can apply these things to my own situation.

In short, I am a better person (I hope) because of the experiences in these books.  I do not have to make all the mistakes these characters have made, because, in a sense, I have already made them.  I can see the damage those mistakes have caused.  I can see the immediate and future effects of decisions those characters have made, and I can use that knowledge when I come to a similar decision point in my own life.

The fact that I got to travel to exotic lands is just icing on the cake.

This article originally appeared in the April 1, 2009, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.

district 70 considering four-day school week

March 18, 2009

The Board of School District 70 is considering moving the district to a four-day week.  The four-day week will help alleviate a budget deficit caused, in part, by a sharp decline in student enrollment.

The District 70 budget has to be approved by the end of June each year, but enrollment numbers, on which the budget is based, aren’t known until October.  This past year, the unexpected decline in enrollment helped create a $4.5 million budget deficit.  The school board is required by state law to balance the budget every year, so the board is looking at some seemingly drastic measures to bring that deficit back down to earth.

Moving to a four-day week would also mean extending the school day.  Students would be in school from 8:00 AM to 3:45 PM, approximately.  Fall break would go away, and Christmas break would be shortened to two weeks.  These changes would allow to district to provide the state-mandated number of instructional hours, in spite of the shortened week.

All of these changes would help trim expenses in a number of ways.

  • Transportation and food service costs would be significantly reduced, as buses and kitchens would only operate four days instead of five.
  • Teacher absences, which are expensive due to hiring substitutes, would significantly drop off.  Teachers would be able to schedule their non-school related appointments on the week day that would now be available.
  • Student absences would also drop off, as doctor appointments and family weekend trips could now be scheduled on the extra day.

The school board is also expecting to trim costs through staff attrition.  Due to declining enrollment, the district has approximately thirty extra staff members, and many of these will be retiring in the next two years.

The board insists that, although they must make decisions to balance the budget in the very near future, they have not yet made a decision regarding the four day week.  They welcome all comments from constituents, and encourage any concerned parent to contact the board.

This article originally appeared in the March 18, 2009, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.


March 18, 2009

Before we moved to the Greenhorn Valley, we were between homes for a couple months.  So we rented two storage units and moved all our stuff into them.  On the day we went to move out of them, we discovered one of the locks had been busted.  We looked around and noticed that many of the locks on the other units had also been busted.  We threw open the door with the busted lock and noticed immediately that the TV was missing.  Several of the boxes were ripped open.

How can I describe the feeling at that particular moment?

Panic.  What do we do, what do we do?  Do we call the police?  Is the guy still around?  Can I stop him from getting away?  Let me at him.

Anger.  THIS IS MY STUFF!  You can’t have it!  I paid for that lock and I rented this room and you can’t have it!

Horror.  How much is missing?  Is anything  damaged?  How bad is it?  I think I’m going to be sick.

Violation.  Somebody has invaded my private space and rifled through my stuff.  More of me is known than I wanted to be known.  How can I redeem that and get my privacy back?

In the end all we lost was the TV and its remote (that’s what they were looking for in the boxes).  Although I’m happy the damage was as light as it was, it still took a long time to sort through all those feelings.  And I still can’t quite figure out what they were thinking.  It wasn’t one of the new, flat TVs, it was an old tube-type TV.  I can’t believe they wanted it.  Is there a black market for ten-year old technology?

So we suffered a material loss.  The TV that we spent money on was gone, and we were going to have to spend more money to get a new one.  Also, the lock was gone.  Of course, it was a cheap lock.  We learned to always get the tamper proof locks whenever we’ll be locking things up out of our sight.

And we suffered an emotional loss.  We had to deal with all of these feelings, feelings that arose in a heartbeat, but took a long, long time to beat down.  I’m starting to see that the psychological damage that people sue for is actually a real thing.

I don’t expect this column will be read by many would-be thieves.  But maybe the economy is bad enough you’re no longer above such actions.  Please consider that there is a lot more than money or possessions at stake.  What would be your response if someone broke in stole your stuff?

This article originally appeared in the March 18, 2009, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.


March 17, 2009

We haven’t had a lot of snow this winter.  Experts are predicting a dry summer.  Dry spells aren’t any fun.  You water as much as necessary to keep things alive, but you don’t water everything because water is limited and expensive, and you don’t want to waste it.  What lessons can a drought teach us about our finances, in a time when we feel like our money is drying up?

Water what’s necessary

Just as you provide water to your best plants or trees during a drought, you’ll need to do some careful watering of your money, too.  You want to make sure you’re paying all your bills.  Don’t neglect to pay for the electricity, water, gas, and phones.  Food is fairly important; make sure there’s always some of it to put on the table.  You also need to keep up with basic maintenance on your home and car.  Repairs that seem expensive now might break the bank later, after you’ve allowed them to get worse.

Don’t water everything

On the other hand, there are some things that don’t make sense to spend money on right now.  Now is probably not the best time to sign up for cable or satellite TV.  You may not need the best new cell phone or the best new laptop.  A new car or an addition on the house also don’t make sense if you have other goals that are more important, or if you’re worrying about running out of money.

Once we’re through this financial drought, times will be better.  It may take us a while; it might be this year, or it might be many years from now.  Keep being sensible about spending, keep searching for a job, don’t leave a job without another one lined up.  Keep the dinners out and the new iPhones to a minimum.  And imagine the green garden waiting for us on the other side!

This article originally appeared in the March 11, 2009, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.


March 6, 2009

Here’s a cool idea for getting by in a down economy: bartering.  If you’re like me, the last time you thought about bartering was in the ancient middle east unit in world history class in high school.  But don’t write it off just yet; there are a lot of advantages to bartering.

You don’t have to be the best at everything

If you’re really good at handy-man type repairs, you could trade it for some computer work.  If you have a freezer full of beef, you could trade some of it for lawn work.  If you’re fluent in French, you could teach someone else in exchange for car repairs.  If there is something you can do, you can probably trade it for something you suck at.  If you have something, you can probably trade it for something you don’t have.

No sales tax

Quick math problem: at 6%, how much sales tax would you have to pay on that one-hour French lesson?  None, right?  Just about any good or service you buy in a store or through a service provider will require that you pay sales tax.  But with bartering, no money has changed hands, so there isn’t anything to tax.  The more you barter, the more sales tax you don’t pay.  This is not true with regard to income tax, however.  You are legally required to report bartering activity to the IRS.

Strengthened relationships

The benefit to bartering that is the most difficult to quantify is the effect on the relationship between the two parties.  And being difficult to measure makes the benefit immeasurable.  If you’re known as the guy that can get a dead car running in the middle of winter, people will want to keep you around.  If you’re known as the guy that can thaw a frozen computer and retrieve thousands of dollars in invoices, people will be glad to get to know you.  These kinds of bonds help to form a tight support network that is difficult to fall through.

So think about things you can do or make, or things you have stockpiled, that other people might want.  You may find yourself saving some coin, and also becoming an integral member of the community.

This article originally appeared in the March 4, 2009, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.

how to give more

March 2, 2009

In these tight economic times, giving can be extremely hard to do.  You need every penny you bring in.  How can you afford to give anything, since it will require you to give up something?

While this dilemma is one that more and more people are facing lately, it should be noted that, if you’re not facing this dilemma, you’re not really giving.  Whoa!  What do I mean by that?  If you’re a giver, but you give out of your excess, giving doesn’t really affect you or impact you in any meaningful way.  If you have money to pay all your bills, have some fun, invest for retirement, and invest for your children’s education, and you still have enough left to give some away, how much does that gift mean to you?  It doesn’t represent a sacrifice of anything on your part.  You haven’t really given anything of yourself.

On the other hand, if money is tight at your house, but you choose to give some anyway, you are giving up something else you may have wanted.  Maybe you can’t eat out as much, or maybe it takes longer to save for your down payment, or maybe you have to wait until next month to get the car fixed.  If you give in the midst of these circumstances, your gift represents an actual sacrifice.  You have to give up something real and immediate in order to give.  If you keep this up for any length of time, you’ll also have to wrestle with personal, philosophical, and theological issues, and wrestling with these things will make you more human, more genuine.

Have you ever been presented with a real need, perhaps someone seriously hurting, but you don’t have any way to give?  You want to be ready to give at a moment’s notice, not be stranded with nothing available.  The trick is to decide beforehand how much you are going to give.  Every payday, set that amount aside in an envelope under the mattress.  Then, when you hear of someone with a need, you won’t have to struggle with how you’re going to come up with a gift.  Just go to the envelope and grab some cash.

You can also put $20 in a back corner of your wallet that you never go to, just so it’s there when you need it.

Use whatever tricks will make you more generous.  But don’t miss the opportunity to give.

This article originally appeared in the February 25, 2009, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.