Monday, October 12, 2015

At Last... Peace Freedom

It is funny how the mind works. I find myself thinking about blog posting material all the time but many times I forget about it before I ever get words to computer screen. Sometimes, I look back for a post that I'm sure I wrote and darn if I can't find it. I'm not sure if it never got written or if the search mechanism in blogger is just so poor I can't find it. Whatever the case is, I might as well start from the beginning and if you've read it in a past post that I can't seem to find, bear with me.

I grew up on a farm with a couple big dogs. However they were mostly seen and rarely heard. In the years since I left the farm, it seems as if every neighbor I've ever had owns small yipping dogs. The first house we bought, had neighbors on both sides with small yipping dogs. Every time I stepped into my backyard, both dogs would continuously bark at me during my entire stay out there making it a less than pleasurable experience. During the spring and fall months, we would often have our windows open at night to take advantage of some free air conditioning only to have to suffer through dogs barking at every leaf rustle in the night.

So when we were looking to move, one of our requirements was to move to an area where the houses were much further apart and hopefully there weren't neighbors with small yipping dogs. We thought we had bought just such a place when a few days after moving in we were greeted by a small yipping dog every time we went outside. To add insult to injury, these neighbors didn't heed the leash laws in our town and allowed their dog to freely roam our property and everyone who lived nearby. This wasn't so bad except for the presents one finds when walking through your yard or the particular shrub that smells like a port-a-potty on a hot summer day after a full day of use.

We could have complained to the neighbors but I know they would have been the type to take it personally and we decided to just live with it and pretend we like their dog. Besides, it was an older dog and we figured it wouldn't live much longer and then we would have peace again. Two years went by and this past spring (I think), their small yipping dog disappeared. It was quiet in our neighborhood and I could wander out in my own yard for hours on end and not have a small yipping dog following me around barking it head off. After few days of this of this, I saw the neighbor lady and inquired about her dog. She told me that it had been sick and wandered off during a bad storm and she was afraid for the worst. I told her I hoped that he would be found but privately jumped for joy that the dog may be gone for good. Another few days go by and then one day I'm outside and see what passed for a dog that has been dragged around the block and beaten with a stick for awhile laying out in front of their house. The dog had found his way back home half dead.

Our neighbors nursed him back to health and the small yipping dog eventually returned to terrorize the neighborhood. However, a few weeks ago I started seeing less of him again. One day while out working on my front porch, the neighbor lady asked me to keep my eye open for her dog. He had been deathly sick for a couple weeks and had an appointment to go see some specialty animal hospital 100 miles away the next day. However, her husband had seen fit to let the dog out the night before and they haven't seen him since. She was obviously upset with her husband and told me she just knew her dog was now lying dead in the woods somewhere. I told her I would walk my woods at the base of the hill and make sure her dog wasn't down there but privately, I was once again hopeful that the small yipping dog was going to yip no more.

I never found the dog and when we walk around the neighborhood, I keep my eyes peeled into the woods along the road but haven't seen him. Two weeks have passed and the one time the lady spoke with my wife, she was still convinced that her dog was lying dead somewhere in the woods and the husband really doesn't seen too concerned. Whatever the case, I am holding out hope that the dog doesn't return. Since they are an older couple that spend most of their winters down south and have to hire someone to look after their dog while they are away traveling, I'm hoping they decide that this dog was their last. I like my new found peace freedom.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Everyone Is Missing the Real Problem

I waited a bit to blog about the recent mass shooting at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon until emotions leveled off a bit. Every time one of these happens, social and television media is full of opinions of those who either blame guns or think more guns are the answer to stopping mass shootings. Instead of blaming guns, I blame the parenting of these young boys for what has happened.

Chris Harper-Mercer had six guns on his person and another eight more at home when he carried out his rampage. He had long term mental illness issues and lived with his mother.

Dylan Roof had a website full of racist postings, at least one handgun and an automatic rifle. He too had a history of mental issues and lived with his stepmother.

Adam Lanza had two semi-automatic handguns, a rifle and a shotgun with him and three more rifles and 1400 rounds of ammunition in a gun safe in his bedroom where he lived with his mother whom he also killed. He too had significant mental issues.

Dylan Klebold had a blog full of posts of hate about society. He carried a semi-automatic handgun and a sawed off shotgun shotgun along with two 20 pound propane bombs. At home where he lived with his parents were 99 more bombs already assembled and more guns.  Klebold suffered from depression and his cohort in crime Eric Harris was a diagnosed psychopath.

These are just a few shooters of mass murders off the top of my head all of whom share some commonalities. They all had mental illness, all lived at home, and all had an arsenal of weapons. What kind of parent finds it acceptable to allow their child who has a mental illness to stockpile all these weapons? Several of the parents not only knew about their child's stockpile of weapons but blatantly encouraged them to get them. Unknown are the multitude of slightly older children no longer living at home who also had a stockpile of weapons and whether or not their parents knew of them.

I'm not sure what the solution is here since in my opinion, the parents of these shooters also suffered from mental issues if they thought their children with diagnosed mental issues were okay to stockpile weapons and ammunition. I do know that all this talk about guns being to blame or the solution to these mass shootings is not the right answer.

Another issue I would like to discuss that is on this topic is that we also need to stop clouding the issue. After all these mass shootings occur, the media pushes out an unbelievable amount of data showing how many people more people die here in the United States than other nations. Even our president got on board with this last one. Not one single one actually used a more meaningful statistic of comparing our per capita homicide rate with the per capita homicide rate of other countries. If you do that, due to the large population difference between the United States and most nations, the United States falls far down on that list. Gasp. We are actually more likely to be gunned down in other countries than our own. Who has the problem? My answer is the media and the people who believe the dribble they force feed the general population.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Formally Eating

Whenever you move to a new town, it takes time to meet new people with whom you enjoy socializing. About a year and a half after we moved to this area, we were invited to a formal dinner party hosted by one of my wife's work colleagues. We had lots of good food, drink and best of all to me, great intelligent conversations. However, I learned in a round about way that we were merely some replacements for a couple whom had moved away.

Years ago, five couples had decided that they wanted to host three or four formal dinners a year. When it became your turn, everyone would go to your house where you would serve them a formal dinner. Guests often times would be asked to bring appetizers or side dishes according to the desires of the host. It usually is a long affair lasting three or four hours. After the couple moved away, I think they invited several other couples to their dinners, including my wife and I to one, to try us out and see how we blended with their group. About a couple months ago, we were formally invited to join their group and we accepted.

There was one major problem though which we had to remedy. Many people when they get married get china sets as a wedding gift. Having gotten married later in life and wanting a low key wedding, we skipped this step. We eat off a set of mixed and matched dinnerware that is chipped, stained and well loved but would probably be embarrassing for a formal dinner party, not to mention that we don't even have enough of it to cover ten people.

I'm know a little about a lot of things but my knowledge base was completely blank when it came to formal dinnerware. We researched around and I even did some asking on an online forum that I am a member on and eventually bought the set that you see above. They are made from Noritake and look too good to eat off but alas, we will when it becomes our turn to host the formal dinner party.

I was a bit nervous about ordering china online knowing that it would be delivered via UPS trucks which are anything but a smooth ride but it got good reviews for being well packed and so we took a chance. Since we needed a minimum of 10 pieces of everything plus a couple in reserve, I ended up ordering two 8-setting boxes of the stuff which was cheaper than ordering one box of 8-settings and ordering pieces individually. Both boxes arrived last week and after spending a couple hours unpacking them, they were very well packaged, we only had two casualties. One salad plate was literally in pieces and one dinner plate had a huge ding in the metal banding.

I called up the online company and they offered to send me a label so I could ship the box back for free to get replaced. When I expressed my doubtfulness that I could get everything back into a box and have it survive the journey back, they offered to just ship me another full box and let me swap out the pieces and then ship it back for free. It sounds ludicrous to go to all that expense and effort instead of just shipping me two plates but that is what it will be. I'm sure it is cheaper than having someone custom box up and ship two plates.

Since we were formally invited to join this group, we had to miss the last party due to one of our daughters getting sick the day of the party and we really couldn't or shouldn't pawn her off to someone in that condition. The next party is slated for November at one of the other couple's house and I am looking forward to another fun evening. I'm not sure at this point when it will be our turn but I do know that I'm going to have to step up my game a bit when it comes to cooking and presenting a gourmet meal to these folks.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Wild Blue and My Maturing Alcohol Tastes

I've never been much of a drinker. In high school, I wasn't cool enough to get invited to the beer parties which is probably just as well since they were often busted by the local law. In college, I lived off campus in an apartment with my younger brother and a friend of his when I was of legal drinking age and although we did occasionally have parties where alcohol was consumed, they were rare and we never got drunk. We were more into just socializing and having good conversation over a few beers.

When I was off on my own, I eventually fell into a crowd of young 20 somethings like myself who had no debts because we owned very little and lots of time. We found ourselves at the bars most evenings and though this was the period I drank the most, I was one of the few people who rarely got drunk. It wasn't some morality issue for me. Instead, it was simply because I disliked the bitterness associated with beer and couldn't see forcing something down that I didn't enjoy, not to mention paying good money for. When I got married, priorities changed plus I moved a couple times so my drinking buddies were far away. My wife was more into wine but they like beer, didn't taste good to me either. I could choke a glass down to be social but I certainly didn't enjoy it enough to ask for another.

Lately however, things are beginning to change. Several years ago, my younger brother introduced me to a beer called Wild Blue which I actually like. It is a sweet beer with no bitterness. My wife who isn't a beer drinker likes it too so we now stock it in the house so we can share a beer after the kids are in bed a time or two a week. A couple weeks ago, we stopped in at a local winery that we had never visited and they had a couple sweet red wines open for tasting and I really enjoyed them. My wife made the bruschetta that I posted about in an earlier post and we consumed them along with an entire bottle of wine, something I had never done in my entire life.

Back in my younger days, when my friends were having their bitter beers, I would join in by having mixed drinks, usually Jack Daniels and Coke. The Jack Daniels certainly wasn't any better tasting than the bitterness of the beer but after a few sips, I would never notice anymore where I could taste the bitterness in the beer all evening long. I had largely given hard liqueur up until an overseas friend of ours brought me a fine bottle of Scotch as a gift and we drank it in the evenings. Although he preferred his neat, I found that I really enjoyed it over lots of ice. When we moved this last time, our neighbor turned out to like nice Scotch served over lots of ice so we get along pretty well when ever we get together.

For someone who rarely drinks, all this drinking makes me feel like kind of a lush though I know I don't even drink the recommended amounts by those wanting to improve heart health. I'm actually starting to crave a drink in the evenings after the kids are in bed and sanity returns to the house while the wife and I are relaxing in the living room. Perhaps I'm just maturing into someone who enjoys finer things in life or perhaps I'm turning into those wine snobs I can't stand listening to at parties. I hope I never turn into the latter.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fast Times At Valley High

I grew up in rural Iowa and spent most of my primary education during or after the farm crisis which drove many of the rural residents into the cities. As a result, our schools were small and our class sizes even smaller. When many people find out that I graduated high school with only seven other people in my class (and yes all of us did graduate), they often ask if I went to a one room school house. I of course didn't, but the three story brick building that housed our 6th through 12th grades, had plenty of room for the 70 to 80 students plus staff.

My parents attended the same school back when class sizes were closer to 50 in size and even back then, it was considered a small enough school that there was always talk of closing it and merging it with neighboring county wide school districts. (The town I grew up near is right on the border between two counties.) As I attended school there years later, there was always talk of merging with neighboring districts but it never happened. Finally though it did happen and the school was torn down in 2006 and the lot sold, ironically to a boy who rode my school bus when I was a junior and senior in school and he was in kindergarten and first grade.

Last year, I discovered there was a Facebook group for graduates of that high school and I joined. Going through past posts, I found these two pictures shown here. The first one above is almost how I remember my time during school. The seniors used the lockers at the far end of the balcony though in my day, they were full length lockers and not as many of them as in this photo. Since we only used eight of them, the rest went to juniors and everyone else had lockers up on the third floor. Since I rode a rural bus, I got to school early so that the buses could do the town routes. With lots of time to kill, I would toss my bag in the locker and sit/lean on the railing in front of the double doors with the exit sign over the top. From that position, I could see everything going on and talk to people as they arrived to school. Eventually others would join us and in the minutes before classes started, pretty much all the upper classmen (9th through 12th grades) would be standing/leaning on the railing in groups talking about whatever. The 6th through 8th graders all had to stay in their classrooms.

The picture below is of the same area during the initial stages of deconstruction of the school. I'm guessing they must have knocked the roof in before taking this picture. It's kind of sad to see someplace you still could probably navigate blindfolded even after all these years torn apart and in a state of disrepair. Up until I saw these pictures, the school had been there and then one day it wasn't. It was kind of like tearing off a bandaid fast, a brief but quickly fading pain. Pictures of the demolition are more like pulling off the bandaid slowly.