Monday, November 20, 2017

Julien Dubuque

South of town, there is a bluff overlooking the Mississippi river where the namesake of the town is burned underneath a castle rampart looking monument. He bought land from the Indians to mine lead here until his death. He was buried by his Indian neighbors who must have thought highly of him and the monument was built by those European settlers who arrived much later.

Beneath the bluff on a small ledge between it and the river, train tracks pass by and we were fortunate to see a train pulling into town while standing on the edge. When it passed underneath, I could have taken a couple steps and a big jump and rode the thing back into town. Instead I watched it and drove our car back so I wouldn't have to return later to get it.

Back in the day, Dubuque was a big port along the Mississippi and to this day, barges still ply the river by it during warmer months. During the winter it is closed to barge traffic this far north. Chilled to the bone, we headed back into town and checked into our room for the night.

Later we went out for supper at a place known for their farm-to-table cuisine. I ordered some elk meatballs and spicy curry topped with kimchi. It was as good as it looks. One of the things I like about these sorts of restaurants is that they usually have a very open menu. They didn't have a kids menu but when asked what they wanted to eat, our kids said they would like a cheese pizza. Despite not being on the menu, a cheese pizza was whisked to our table fifteen minutes later and our kids were happy campers.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Mini Vacation

Since the schools were out of session for two days before a weekend, we decided to take a mini-vacation of sorts to an old river town along the Mississippi River that we have stopped at a few times over the years but never spent the night. As it turned out, a friend of mine later scheduled a wedding reception there for friends and family during the time we were going to be there so we could kill two birds with one stone.

On the way there, our travels took us near a monastery for Trappist monks known for making caskets out of timber on their land. Visitors are welcome and so we stopped for a look see. The caskets, urns, and other wood products were very beautiful. We also sat in on their noon day prayers before lunch and despite how heavenly the baked bread smelled from their adjacent cafeteria, we weren't invited to join them. But we did find a brochure advertising a lunch and learn where we can tour their actual woodshop and also eat lunch with them. Another trip perhaps.

We ate a late lunch a little beyond our intended destination at a famous cafe that has burned down twice in the past decade. It is famous because despite it being in a town with a total population of 64 residents, they and others have pitched in to rebuild it both times to maintain it social meeting place status. The food was good but nothing to write home about.

Back in our destination town, we made a beeline for their "elevator" that is used to haul residents from the bluff area above the river to the downtown area next to the river. It was extremely cold and windy so we didn't tarry too long up on top. Instead, we spent some time in the heated shops at the base of the elevator looking around. When we tired of that, we headed off for our last destination of the day before seeking out our hotel.

View from the top

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Side Trip

As we were returning back to the farm from our hedgeball collecting trip, we came upon a county project replacing an old bridge along one of our gravel roads. The bridge has been old and rickety since I could form memories and in fact, we haven't hauled any grain across it for just that reason for over three decades. The grounds up the hill and on the left (and more recently the lower right too) that we farm, we've had to haul the grain completely around the "block", a trip of three miles just to avoid crossing over that bridge. It just couldn't support the weight of larger modern equipment.

So the very year my parents are retiring and most likely not going to farm the lands on the other side of this bridge, the county evidently decided it was time to fix that problem and replace the bridge with a large metal culvert. They had it in place and covered with clay and dirt but hadn't yet put the gravel on top. We stopped by to check it out and I took a few pictures. The people most likely to rent this land from my parents will be hauling all their grain to the west away from the culvert so at best, this culvert will receive light automobile traffic.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Easy Money

I have a friend whom I have written about here in the past (he is an undocumented immigrant) who due to his status is always taking side hustles to earn income. Besides doing odd jobs for other families, including carpentry work, he also scraps metal, cleans and probably about twenty other jobs. His phrase for all this is that it is easy money. (On an unrelated note, he always tries to pay taxes on his money but due to his status, is always rejected.)

Anyway, while helping my parents haul corn down a nearby 1/2 mile stretch of highway, I saw several pickup loads of hedgeballs heading west. The balls are the fruits of the Osage Orange tree which are native to small areas in the south. During Roosevelt's WPA projects, hundreds of thousands of those were planted as windbreaks all throughout the midwest and to this day continue to grow though as farmers push them out to clear fence rows, their numbers are rapidly dwindling. We have several farms where the hedge rows still exist, all on the Iowa/Missouri border and the ground is full of hedgeballs.

A fellow about 10 miles up the road has turned hedgeballs into a cottage industry of sorts. Some scientist discovered that the oil from their seeds is very useful in makeup products and so the fellow up the row started extracting this oil. In less than a couple years, he outgrew his garage and put up a huge metal building. He has outgrown that one and almost finished putting up another one twice the size. He pays by the pound and people from neighboring counties are now loading up hedgeballs and hauling them over to be turned into oil used in makeup.

After seeing several loads of these going down the highway, I thought this might be a great opportunity to teach my kids about money. The first lesson is that money isn't free and effort must be put forth to obtain it. In this case, the hedgeballs are worth $0.10 per pound delivered. So my dad and I along with the two girls spent an afternoon picking up hedgeballs until we had filled up the bed of the pickup. Unfortunately, the scales were open and the fellow doing the processing was gone for a few days so I'll have to wait for a total on how much they were worth.

This money will be split between my two daughters. I hope to take 50% of their cuts and put it into their savings account which I have earmarked as spending money during their college years. The other 50% they will be able to spend freely and hopefully learn the value of that money they worked hard for.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Gone on Vacation

Due to the craziness this year and the fact that my grandparents no longer live in Florida, we weren't sure if we would get a long vacation in over the holidays like we normally do. So we decided to cram in a small mini-vacation during the two days our kids have off from school due to parent/teachers conferences.

We decided on a small river town that we have visited once before briefly and really enjoyed. It is far enough away we don't want to return home everyday but close enough that it will only take us a couple hours to get too. We rented some rooms in two different motels and were looking forward to it.

Then out of the blue, a close friend of mine who got married over in Thailand where he was working for a couple years for a company that bought out the company we both used to work for. We couldn't make the wedding but told him we would definitely make the reception when he got back stateside. Well we got notice that it was taking place the very same weekend we had planned for our mini-vacation. But the heavens were smiling upon us because it happened to be in his hometown, the very town we were taking our mini-vacation at and also was happening the very same weekend.

So, as you read this, we are off on our mini-vacation and meeting up with my friend at his wedding reception as well. I will catch up on all your blogs upon my return and I'm sure have a few stories to blog about.