Thursday, December 27, 2007

The King of Ping Pong

Mrs. Abbey, Little Abbey and I spent Christmas day on the farm. It was a simple celebration just like we always have. Brother Abbey with his broken leg couldn't make it up here to Iowa so he spent his Christmas at his girlfriend's house putting together a folding ping pong table for her two children. That note certainly brought back lots of happy memories.

For Christmas one year, my brother and I received a ping pong table as a gift. It had belonged to our grandfather but since he didn't play anymore, he gave it to our father who somehow snuck it in while we were sleeping. After all the other presents were opened, we proceeded to carry it up to one of the unheated bedrooms on the second story of the old seven bedroom farmhouse we lived in at the time but couldn't get the single table surface up the stairs. After much debate, measuring and cutting once, we carried two halves up and soon had it ready to go.

My father taught us the rules and then proceeded to slaughter us every time we played, often games ending early under the skunk rules of 7 to 0 or 14 to 1. When he tired, my brother and I would spend the rest of the day playing marathon sessions against each other. Years passed and we gradually got better. The room had about two feet to spare on each end of the table before the wall and the sides a scant foot. The walls started showing signs of our exertions with a few holes appearing from stray paddles or a foot stuck through while stretching for a ball. Then when we were older, the day came when first my brother and then I started beating our father in games.

When I entered high school, the Physical Education class had a quarter during the winter months where ping pong was taught. We would play round robin style against everyone in class a few different times and then had a tournament. My very first game, a male classmate of mine served the ball in a slow lob and I spike it back at him leaving a bruise on his abdomen where the ping pong ball hit after hitting his side. He was then gun shy and I handedly slaughter him. Coach saw that and I was forced for the rest of the quarter to play left handed or against him. I usually opted to play him but hated to because of his extreme English he placed on the ball but could still always beat him. The tournament between all the classes eventually came and without much surprise I was crowned the king of ping pong.

For three years I was king until my senior year of high school when my brother and I were in the finals. To this day I remember the crowds of people standing all around that table set up in the middle of the gym with still more people hanging off the balcony watching as my brother and I battled the ping pong battle to end all battles. Alas I would like to say I won but my brother was the victor. He had always been better and I had known it would be inevitable when he got to high school but I was still sad to let the crown pass on.

Throughout college, I occasionally me the guy in the bar who thought he was king of ping pong and after much trash talking, I would offer a friendly wager over a game. I happened to know a ping pong table in one of the dorm rec rooms that mostly gathered dust and soon I would be walking away with a few more dollars in my pocket. It wasn't until I was several years out of college that I finally made a wager with a friend whom I just discovered played ping pong that I had to pay out. In my prime I could have beat him but years of playing just once a year had taken the toll and after a long battle that went into overtime, I got beat.

A half decade has gone by and I haven't held a paddle or even thought about it until Christmas morning and my brother's phone call. I asked him if he would have mercy or slaughter them from the beginning as our father had. He said he would show no mercy even if he had to sit in a chair with his broken leg cradled out in front of him. The crown is still being passed on.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Donald

I work with a man named Donald who is a fascinating study of how we grow up in the environment provided us. Given a different environment than what we had, we would all probably grow up to be very different people. I've never seen Donald's parents or where he grew up but then again, I'm not sure I would want too.

Donald is different. He is forty years old, never been married and chalk full of interesting quirks. One of his more interesting tics is his loud hiccup. He will hiccup once in awhile with a single hiccup so loud that everyone in the office can hear it and then he will be silent. I often wonder if his lungs still remain in their proper places after such an incident. Another tick is that he is forever scratching his ears. One would think that this is something that you do silently in the privacy of your own office and nobody would know but not Donald. He scratched his ears like a dog so that you can hear this thwak thwak thwak sound every time his hand goes by his ear. It is loud enough that probably half the people in our office can hear him scratch which probably averages to a handful of times a day.

When if comes to food, Donald is king. People sometimes bring food to the office and leave it in the break room downstairs. Don will stop in there to check when he gets to work, at least once in the morning, right before he leaves for lunch, right after lunch, in mid afternoon and on his way home. How do I know this? Because he told me so. We consider him our early snack warning device because when he finds food, he will walk around to all our offices showing us his plate of food and letting us know that it is down in the break room. His seriousness at office food is so strong, that we will sometimes tease him when by talking about the imaginary crock-pot of little smokies or box of donuts in the break room when we know he is within hearing range. He will immediately head down to the break room to check it out only to find nothing. Which means when someone brings food in after he has checked it, we can also eat it in front of him and he won't believe that there is any in the break room believing we are pulling his leg. He will agonize over this for ten minutes or so before his stomach overrides his brain and he goes down anyway.

Not only does Donald go down to the break room often, he gets lots of food. On one memorable instance, I brought a cake that my wife had made to work. I put it on the break room table and went upstairs. Once there, I remembered I had forgot to leave the knife so I went back. There was Don just putting a slab of cake onto his plate that he had cut out with the handle of a plastic fork. That wasn't unexpected but what was unexpected was seeing that his one piece totaled 1/4th of the entire cake. Don is not bashful with food. When people bring holiday food to work, most of us browse and get a sample here and there. Don will pile a plate heaping full, unmindful that 60 or 70 other people might want to have some, and then go back several times during the day.

One day I asked him what he eats at home since I had seen him load up a heaping plateful the day before to take home after work. He says he eats frozen TV dinners on weekdays and then eats boiled chicken on weekends. I guess I couldn't blame him after that for loading up on food here.

Another tidbit that I am about to relay, I thought I had blogged about once before but can't find it so I will mention it again. Our office is attached to a factory overflowing with men who let me just say, can be unmerciful at times if they find out something embarrassing about you. One day last year, a couple of the more unmerciful ones were talking about seeing the movie 40-Year Old Virgin when Donald walked up. They asked him if he had seen the movie and his comment was no, but that he would be one the following year and then he walked off. The factory workers were speechless, something I have never ever seen since, for a full minute just looking at each other before they fell on the floor laughing. For months afterwards, that story was told over and over throughout the plant.

Donald likes to build model cars as a hobby but says he doesn't get much chance because he has too many chores to do at home. His tiny one bedroom house can't require more than ten minutes to clean from top to bottom but I am afraid to ask how come his chores take so long. He vacations only with his parents and older sister, also unmarried, and never goes out anywhere at night. The only trips he talks about making after work are to the grocery store to stock up on frozen TV dinners and to the movie theaters within a 50 mile radius. He is perhaps the most knowledgeable person I know on children's movies, which scares me quite a bit as well. He is definitely a unique individual and someday I would love to see the environment he grew up in to produce such a personality…. from a distance.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Little Abbey Sweets

A week ago, I was in the mood for some sugar cookies in various holiday shapes and smothered in powdered sugar frosting so I made some. I've found that unless you are quick about eating them and by quick I mean snarfing them down in 1.2 seconds or less, Little Abbey will see you and demand one. Most things it would take her ten minutes to eat through something that size but with the cookies it takes her about 10 seconds and she wants another one.

My wife had a little ornate glass container with a heavy sealed glass lid full of holiday Hershey's Kisses that is on the cedar chest in our great room. It is used only for decoration and we really don't eat out of that container. Little Abbey figured our yesterday how to get it open and came walking into the kitchen to show mom her chocolate treasure that she had in her hands before she popped it in her mouth and started dancing around. Ten minutes later she repeated the same thing, managing to get the tinfoil wrapping off somehow and again popping it into her mouth. Mrs. Abbey decided to curtail this before it could get blown out of proportion and hid the container when Little Abbey wasn't looking. Ten minutes later you could here this whining coming from the great room as someone discovered her sugar fix had been taken away.

Mrs. Abbey made some chocolate cookies a Little Abbey could sense that something was up. They were put on a piece of wax paper on top of the counter to cool and we went into the living room. About ten minutes later we here this scraping across the floor as Little Abbey pushed a small ladder that vertically challenged Mrs. Abbey sometimes used to get into upper cupboards, clear across the room and right up next to the counter. Little Abbey then climbed up the ladder until she could see the cookies and that is when we caught her and gave her the evil eye. She reluctantly climbed back down the ladder but went back several times to check on them the rest of the evening.

So we've learned that although a few months ago Little Abbey really didn't seem to care for sweets, those taste buds have now developed and she craves them. We try to counteract this recent development by keeping a bowl of fruit in sight and it has worked to some extent. Little Abbey goes through a couple bananas a day sometimes plus part of an apple or maybe an orange. But she can point out exactly where every sweet in the house is located even if it is out of reach, out of sight and under lock and key.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Little Abbey at 18 Months

After eighteen months of writing Little Abbey updates, my mind is having a more difficult time in differentiating the past from the present. So many new things, lots of them subtle many of them not, that I had a hard time remembering if she has been able to do that for two weeks or two months. I fear that I might start repeating myself at times so much so that I offer up the warning, if I have previously mentioned it, just skip ahead. So in no particular order.

Little Abbey understands a large amount of words though she speaks just a handful of them that two scientific minded parents can understand. Gradually we have started figuring out that the babble she says does bear some resemblance to the word banana or doll. But she does understand more of what I say to her than what I can of what she says to me. For example, if I ask her to help me load the dishwasher, she carries me stuff to put into it, closes the soap door lid after I had added some, pushes the tray into the machine and closes the door. If mom asks her for the newspaper, she will go to the door where I have put the paper on my way to work, retrieve it and bring it back. We have even been working with her so that when we tell her to wash her face or blow her nose, she will get the appropriate item, i.e. napkin or kleenex, use it and then throw it away. She almost always gets are verbal commands right these days but occasionally she makes a mistake. Last week, we asked her to go get her broom, a small miniature version we bought a while ago, to help us sweep the floors. She went off into the other rooms and eventually came back with her push trike that we have called her vroom-vroom. I can understand her confusion.

Other things Little Abbey has learned to do without being asked. Whenever she spots a piece of kleenex or other debris lying around, she will pick it up and throw it away. After she has been changed, she will throw away her diaper too. If we are putting on our shoes getting ready to go somewhere, she will go get whatever pair of shoes she wants to wear and put them on too. If we don't get ready to go fast enough to suit our tastes, she will go stand by the door and let us know!

As Geri mentioned in her blog, at this stage of life they are just perfectly proportioned. Not to thin, not to chubby and so full of character that I can't help but see her as a mini adult. There is no longer any sign of the baby that once slept in my arms over a year and a half ago in the hospital.

Little Abbey has mastered her utensils enough where she feeds herself all the time now. We set down a bowl of whatever we are eating in front of her and let her go to town. Sometimes it takes her a little longer when we are having something like spaghetti but with a little help with her left hand, she manages. She has twelve teeth in now, 8 fronts and 4 molars, and is working on her two lower canines now. With all that biting power, she loves eating apples now along with her other favorite bananas, as long as we get the apple started for her. We have found that apples take her so long to eat, that they are guaranteed to keep her occupied for at least an hour. Imagine, a babysitter that grows on trees!

Speaking of babysitting, my wife and I were sitting in our great room enjoying a fire with a candle burning on the cedar chest between us. We don't normally use them down where Little Abbey can reach them, but we did on this day and for the most part, Little Abbey had ignored it other than to stare at it for a few minutes when first lit. So it was shocking when my wife's frantic shouting of fire while slapping at Little Abbey's hands roused me from the book I was reading. I thought Little Abbey had started her clothes on fire but my wife started dancing on the floor still shouting fire. I leapt out of the chair and rushed around the chest to see a burning kleenex ineffectually being stamped on by my wife's tiny feet. So I put my big feet to work and stamped it out within seconds. Evidently, Little Abbey had found a kleenex, held it on the candle setting it on fire, and tried showing her accomplishment to mom. My wife had slapped it out of her hand and started screaming. Fortunately, Little Abbey wasn't burned, the hardwood floor wasn't scorched and judging by Little Abbey's reaction as she hunkered out of the way watching her parents jump on the fire, I don't think she will do it again anytime soon. Even if she wants to she won't get a chance, as all lit candles will be well out of her reach in the future.

Little Abbey seems to be well into the mimicking stage. When my wife is painting, Little Abbey is creating works of art with watercolors and washable markers. When mom is baking, Little Abbey sits on the counter and helps her stir or add ingredients, often times dipping in a finger for a taste… or four. When taking a bath, she helps by pouring water from a glass over herself to rinse off. When sweeping a floor, she 'helps' with her broom. Little Abbey and I have this mimic game going that keeps getting more complex. She will come up to me and stick a finger in her mouth. I will do the same with mine. She will them move her hand onto her mouth and then move it back and forth to create her war whoop and I will do the same. On we go doing everything from patting our stomachs to lifting both feet high into the air. It is funny when we have done this game for a while and she runs out of ideas for my to mimic. She will pause and you can see those wheels in her head turning for a few seconds before she comes back with something, most of the time just repeating something occasionally with something new, like sticking her finger up her nose. I am forced to comply.

I don't remember how long ago I modified her crib so that she can get in and out on her own but she loves it. In the mornings, she will just get up, open her bedroom door and come into our room to check on us. On the weekends, when I am there, she will hand me my glasses, fetch my slippers and do about anything to get me to get up. My wife tells me that occasionally when she gets up too early and my wife wants a little more sleep, she simply ignores her efforts and she will either go back to her bed to lie down for awhile longer or find something to play with until my wife wakes up like mommies makeup or a roll of toilet paper. We haven't heard a tear in the morning in ages. It is also nice for taking naps so that she can just come downstairs when she wakes up and saves us having to go fetch her. We thought this might make it hard for Little Abbey to stay in bed at night when we put her to bed despite her wishes. But she seems to know that it is bedtime and stays there even though she will put on a show of protest stating that she would rather be playing downstairs.

I could go on but this post is already too long so I will close with one of Little Abbey's specialties now… the flying kiss. Mmmmmmmmm-ah (the sound effect that goes along with it.)

Oh Christmas Tree

Christmas officially began in our household this past Sunday with the trimming of the tree. Because of the Saturday ice storms and a visit by some friends, we didn't get started driving down to the family farm until Sunday afternoon. The wind was at times gusty and getting stronger while the temperature was falling. I had tried calling my parents to see if they wanted to get their tree at the same time but had only gotten their answering machine. We stopped by the house when we got down there and they were still gone so we set off by ourselves.

Our Christmas tree plot is an old corner of pastureland that had been neglected by the previous tenants. Red cedar trees have grown up here and there, most to big to mow with a brush cutter and clearing it really serves little purpose since it isn't worth farming. This is the third year we have gotten our tree from there and each time, we hunt around and find the perfect shaped tree but think that there isn't another tree worth going to get next year. Yet when next year rolls around, one of the trees deemed to small from the previous year turns out to be just right and perfectly shaped. The cycle continues and probably will for some time to come.

We bundled up Little Abbey in her all terrain stroller and I scrambled up the steep ditch careful not to let her tip. When we made it to the top of the bank, we hadn't walked but fifteen or twenty feet when we found a nice tree. We might have cut it down had we walked around for fifteen minutes first looking at others but since we hadn't been out of the car more than a few minutes, we made a mental note of the location, right by the car, and continued on. Clear on the far side of the patch beneath the pond where we found ourselves ten minutes later was another lovely specimen. This one actually had two trunks that forked about a foot up from the ground and made it appear more dense than normal. It looked great. I would have opted still for the first tree but the wind was howling and already I was starting to feel the cold. Little Abbey seemed fine in her bundle of clothes but I had not dressed as warmly. We made the decision to get this one and I cut it down with the handsaw.

I drug it the 100 yards back to the road and walked another 100 yards back to the van to drive it closer. Almost fifteen minutes after we started, we had the tree loaded up and were heading back to the farm feeling chilled to the bone. My parents still weren't home when we got back so Mrs. Abbey put the finishing touches on a fruit tart to leave behind as payment while I talked with some deer hunters that were heading back into the woods on this opening weekend of first season. Just as we were leaving, my parents pulled in and we talked for an hour and let Little Abbey stretch her legs awhile and get spoiled by grandma's stash of gummy bears.

The 50-minute drive home was pleasant with our eight-foot tall cedar smelling tree even if it lacked the little string to hang to the rearview mirror. We ate a bit of supper and then got to work setting up the tree and trimming it while the Christmas music played in the background and a nice fire burned in the fireplace. The green food coloring that I added to the first pot of water will green it up nicely and the aroma of cedar will fill that part of the house for the next month. It's a simple tree, but the price was right and it is tradition in our family. Going out and buying one at the store just wouldn't seem like Christmas.

Friday, November 30, 2007

It Didn't Smell Like Teen Spirit

Not knowing where we wanted to go, having any map or directions of any kind and no plan other than to find some southern cooked supper and a bed, we drove along the interstate until we reached the Canal Street exit. For some reason, Canal Street stuck in my head as being important and near the French Quarter so I listened to my mind. My guts on the other hand were singing a different tune with the cramping which had got progressively worse as the day wore on.

It wasn't what I had expected. All along Canal Street, there were lots of restaurants and bars but always surrounded by gangs of sour looking individuals that appeared to be looking for a fight or some 'easy money'. People were sleeping on the streets, others urinating in not so darkened corners and I guessed that if I were to exit the van, I might last a block before my wallet became lighter or my heart stopped pumping. We kept going. We drove to the end of Canal Street hoping it would get better but it never did. We were disappointed and hungry. I figured I had a half hour before I needed my next stop.

So we drove back the way we came and found a nice Motel 6 in the sane looking suburbs and holed up for the night. We did drive down the road until we found a little hole in the wall that served Cajun food and Chinese food, mostly because the two cooks were Cajun and Chinese descent. I ordered up a catfish and shrimp po'boy that was excellent.

The next day, we retraced our steps to Canal Street that had completely changed with daylight. All the bums and street fighters were gone and the only traffic was the occasional business person or tourist. We drove down the length of Bourbon Street looking for a place to stop but the French Quarter appears to only open up in the afternoons for the evening crowd. We ended up parking near the French Market area and taking a stroll around, starting by walking along the dike holding back the Mississippi river.

It was a beautiful day and I was fascinated watching the big ships make their way around the bend heading toward the ocean. The architecture down below us in the French Market was beautiful and the city seemed impossibly clean. I was in love with the city. Only when we headed towards the French Quarter did my tune change. My wife took the steps leading down the dike to the street and I pushing Little Abbey in a stroller took the wheel chair ramp. As soon as the ramp got away from the steps, it started reeking so bad of urine that my eyes began to water and I started coughing the smell out of my lungs. I literally ran down the ramp and back into the street where the air was cleaner.

The entire morning would be characterized by things of beauty and then near any little alcove or even just a planting on the street, this incredibly strong smell of piss as if millions who had passed by before me had used it as a urinal. It was disgusting and we definitely tried to avoid touching anything.

We eventually found a couple shops open that we looked into and even a park at the Square Cathedral that smelled clean if you stayed towards the open center where we sat to soak up the city while Little Abbey ran around. We probably could have spent the rest of the day, especially since my intestinal problems had cleared up during the evening, but we wanted to get back up to my brothers place. We walked back to our van, steering wide berths around the many piss smelling alcoves and sidewalk plantings and left New Orleans.

Our plan had been to find an authentic Cajun place for breakfast but nothing was open and once on the interstate, it looked like a crapshoot at the exits. So we drove into the state of Mississippi a ways and pulled off at a nice sized town and drove several miles away from the road and the fast food joints. We eventually found this little dive looking place which if it weren't for my wife's insistence, I would have passed by. Inside, it was immaculately clean and the service was outstanding, the best of the trip. I had a southern breakfast complete with grits that was outstanding.

After we left, we debated on whether or not to buy some fresh shrimp from a nearby roadside stand but since the menu for the night was planned already, we were cooking, we opted against it. Besides, we had it on pretty good authority that we would get our fill of fresh shrimp in two days. We drove back through the millions of acres of tree plantations, nary a cotton field to be seen and called it a day. We had finally seen the Crescent City, smelled it and will probably never go back.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Crescent City via Waveland

On Monday morning, Little Abbey woke up crabby and kept crying almost non-stop. We later found out that she wasn't getting enough sleep due to her increased size and smallness of her crib and that was causing her crankiness. I was suffering a second bout of intestinal cramping since my arrival that I later diagnosed as the local water since every time I had bottled water I was fine and both of my parents had suffered from the same thing. With all this going on, I wasn't enthused about going anywhere but being cramped up in a house with an invalid, a crying baby and someone visiting the bathroom at frequent intervals was driving my parents crazy so we made the decision to hit the road.

We drove south to Mobile, Alabama and then wound our way along the coast to Waveland, Mississippi. The reason for this destination was two fold. Waveland was perhaps the worst hit town due to the winds of hurricane Katrina and my parents had done some humanitarian work there and I wanted to give them an update on the progress. So we drove through town, parked on a vacant house lot next to the beach and played in the sand for a while.

Waveland and other towns along the coast have pretty much cleaned themselves up from the destruction. Broken trees have been cut up and burned, broken houses bulldozed down and hauled off, and the major businesses have returned. But signs of the hurricane are everywhere. Seventy-five percent of the lots are vacant, most with For Sale signs stuck in them. Lots of small businesses remain boarded up and many city streets are still nothing more than two track roads in the sandy soil. Although there was some city utility work going on as new lines were buried, there wasn't a lot of construction going on. Those who could rebuilt, and it appears that those who couldn't, never came back. I think I saw one McDonald's, that viral company that invades everything, being built and that was it. Outside of town the signs are still readily available in thousands of acres of shattered trees and barricaded highways that evidently lead to nowhere now.

However, on the beach with your back to the destruction, everything was as it should be. The sun was shining, green foamy waves from the Gulf of Mexico were lapping along the shore and we were soaking it all in. Little Abbey didn't like the sand because she kept sinking in to far for her tastes as she walked. When we brought her down to the firmer sand next to the water, she didn't like the waves and always kept one of us between her and them as we combed the beach for a few shells to keep as souvenirs. Had the temperatures been higher than the mid-fifties, I may have kicked off my shoes and waded around for awhile but the thought of all the sharp objects washed out of Waveland several years ago and buried in the surf kept me out as well.

We drove on to New Orleans having passed across two major bridge structures, the one across St. Louis Bay before Waveland, Mississippi that had been widely shown on the evening news after it collapsed from the hurricane and which now had been completely rebuilt, and the bridge across Lake Pontchartrain which seems to be getting another bridge built next to the two already there in use. Just as we reached the outskirts of the Crescent City, the last of the sun slipped below the horizon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Final Hike

For the three years that my brother has lived in Alabama, all I've had was a street address that was quite ordinary. So it was with surprise that in the last few hundred yards of my directions to his place, I had to turn into a country club. My brother lived in a country club? He did indeed however, it wasn't like any country club I have ever been too.

First, there were not lots of nice houses set back from nicely paved streets and surrounded by lush lawns. Instead there were only a few very widely spaced houses that were for the most part, just ordinary houses ranging from your modern ranch to a log cabin to a small shanty. The houses were mostly in small clearings cut from the pines and hardwoods surrounding them and the lawns were mostly pine needles and rocks with a few clumps of grass sticking up here and there. The community had a few feeder roads that were roughly paved and hard to push a stroller on with smaller two-track gravel roads with weeds growing in the center leading to most of the houses. Yes, there were even lots of cars up on blocks and junkyard dogs roaming this country club. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that country clubs of the south are a lot different than those of the north. You can whip a rebel in a war but you can't refine them.

The first morning we were there, we spent much of it cleaning puke out of the van, off car seats and doing laundry. Not a pleasant task. So when the opportunity came later when my parents asked if I wanted to go for a walk, I jumped at the chance. I was standing there ready in tennis shoes when they finally asked if I was going to get ready. Sensing I had erred in my belief that we were going for a walk down relatively flat trails, I found out that we were going for one of our more normal hikes. Properly attired in leather hiking boots and with a couple bottles of water, we set out for Horn Mountain in the Talladega National forest.

My brother has done a lot of work there to establish habitat for an almost extinct woodpecker that prefers old growth forest. So as we hiked along, we got to inspect some of his handy work. He has been credited with finding one of the oldest stands of long leaf pine in the state and we walked by the stand. I have a picture of it but haven't had the time to process it yet but will hopefully post it on my blog later. We hiked for several hours enjoying the beautiful weather. It would be the last hike I would go on over the next six days.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Road Out

We woke up early on Saturday morning and quickly loaded the van while Little Abbey continued to sleep. Just as we got the last of our things loaded, Little Abbey appeared at the head of the stairs crying. I assumed she had wakened from a bad dream but when my wife got closer we discovered the real reason. She had thrown up during the night and was wearing last nights dinner of macaroni and cheese. Since we had cleaned out the refrigerator, all Little Abbey had to eat was that and she ate it with gusto, in fact eating as much as she typically does for three meals. So when we found it all over her and her bed, we decided she had simply over eaten and was fine. We took care of the bedding, got her cleaned up and into her car seat and took off south while Little Abbey ate breakfast.

We had gone perhaps a hundred miles when it happened again and Little Abbey threw up. She was happy, talkative and fine one minute and the next she is mewing like a sick kitten and then throws up her cheerios and milk. My wife having suspected what was coming had her cupped hands waiting to catch it all while I tried to focus on the road and not the sounds coming from the back.

When you have planned something for so long, I think your brain shuts down the better judgment part of the cortex and allows your flimsy reasoning to lead. We decided that her stomach was still probably a little upset and she needed to take just little amounts of food and liquid to let it settle down. Forty minutes later, my wife was staring at that food in the palms of her hands in a half digested form. By this time we knew the truth that Little Abbey wasn't well. But since she was bubbly and happy in-between times, we decided to keep on going stopping now and then to grab more napkins and to get more clothes for her out of her bag in the back.

After the third incident, things appeared to settle down and when we stopped for a late lunch, Little Abbey successfully kept her food down. We had already made the decision by her second incident to head straight for my brother's house in Alabama instead of the long way via New Orleans and the coast. So despite her being back to normal, we were already committed and kept on plugging away at the miles. Kentucky and Tennessee went by and suddenly I found myself in Alabama. Though it was dark and we had been delayed quite a bit for Little Abbey's incidents and for a traffic accident south of Nashville that plugged the Interstate for about forty minutes, we were within spitting distance and decided to go for it. Nearly 14 hours after we started, we pulled into my brother's place.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Kickball and Sorels

Being born in the fall means either starting kindergarten having just turned five or just turned six and my parents chose the latter. Being older than my classmates combined with my genetic code that said I was tall, I was like most tall and gangly kids, not very athletic. Thus I was usually near the last picked for the recess kickball games. But I didn't mind because I enjoyed the game just the same. Besides the unathletic issue, another sore spot were the huge rubber sorels my mother made me wear in cold weather. They were bulky and certainly not geared towards running so when morning recess came, I went from near the last to dead last when being chosen for teams.

Our team lost the flip and was outfield first and the sorels lived up to expectations by causing me to be slow in retrieving the ball. When we finally got our three outs, I knew without a word that I was going to be the bottom of the lineup so my turn to kick didn't come until late during the recess period in the third inning. The ball was rolled and I kicked it squarely with the hard-rubberized toe of the sorel on my right foot. The ball took off like a rocket, soaring way over the heads of the outfielders that had cheated up on their positions when it was my turn to kick. The ball finally started on a downward trajectory and gave one bounce before disappearing over the hill where it rolled clear to the bottom and into the yard of a house across the street well over a hundred and fifty yards from home plate. Despite my slow lurching gate caused by the heavy boots, I had more than enough time to circle the bases and complete a homerun before the ball was retrieved.

Since we usually kept the same teams for the rest of the day so when my turn came at lunch, everyone was excited to see a repeat performers. The outfielders now cheated backwards, tried in vain to cover the gap that the ball headed for but narrowly missed it and I had my second home run. At afternoon recess, it was clear that I wasn't going to get another turn before the bell rang so a couple of my teammates disappeared before it was their turn to kick so that I had to move up in the batting order to fill in. The third time, the first, second and third base players were also dropping back in the deep outfield in an attempt to stop my then becoming inevitable homerun. The ball was rolled and I misfired kicking the ball so it went sailing down the third base line before slicing hard to the left and out-of-bounds. I ran like I never ran before and due to an overthrow at third base, I was still able to get my third and final homerun of the day.

I would like to say I was picked higher up in the pecking order from then on but sadly that wasn't the case. Others started bring one sorel from home to use as a kicking boot, putting it on unlaced only when their turn was to kick. As their foots momentum carried forward after the ball had been kick, the boot would go flying allowing them to run with one tennis shoe on one foot and just a sock on the other. Eventually we got tired of chasing the balls and having huge scoring games that we decide to either ban the use of sorels or lengthen the bases. The former one out and I had to bring a separate pair of tennis shoes to school if I wanted to play. Of course, I was still near the last to be picked.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Miss Independent

Little Abbey has an independent streak in her a mile wide and thus obvious for me to see. She could just be lifted up on the couch with her favorite book for me to read but she always has to climb up herself. This is just one example but there are many more. So one day, I decided I would give her some of that independence that she is always looking for. I decided I would convert her crib into a daybed.

Her crib is just a cheap model given to me by my mother and not a family heirloom so I knew I could modify it some without destroying it so that we could possibly sell it later at a garage sell. This is important because even with the mattress in the lowest setting, it wasn't low enough for Little Abbey to get back into bed. She is remarkably brave at getting off tall things but unless she can get her knee over the edge, she can't get back in. So with my cordless screwdriver, some drill bits and some miscellaneous screws, I set off for her room one sunny Saturday afternoon.

I had to work around two more restrictions in where I could lower the mattress frame and thus the mattress. The mattress needed to be high enough that there wasn't a gap between the bottom of the rails and the mattress creating a choking hazard and I could drill in where the side rails butted the front rails because they blocked the hardware. But I was able to find a location where the mattress ended up about fourteen inches off the floor and soon had it installed.

The side railing originally could slide up and down but because of its height, wouldn't allow her to get in with it slid all the way down so I just removed it and the hardware it attached to. I ended up with a crib that had a low mattress and only three sides to it. Little Abbey immediately spent the next couple hours jumping in and out of bed with a look of sheer delight on her face. I knew I had done the right thing until later that night. About a couple of hours after Little Abbey went to bed, we heard a soft thump over the monitor and then a cry and we immediately knew she had fallen out of bed. We put her back in thinking she would realize her new boundaries but it happened again later. In fact, it happened a couple more times before we finally just blocked the opening with some cardboard boxes for the rest of the evening. Mind you, no children were hurt in this endeavor.

The next day, I hit upon a solution to this problem not willing to give up that happy smile of her new found independence. I put the sliding rail back on but slid it over about sixteen inches so that it overlapped the bed on one end and left a sixteen-inch gap on the other. I easily could screw the one end to the head of the bed but wasn't so sure what to do with the other end near the gap to make it solid and not a hazard. Finally I found that if I screwed a 1/2 PVC pipe U-clamp to the backside and threaded an adjustable pipe clamp through that and around the mattress support frame, I could lock it on tight. All I was left were the sharpish ends of the railing that might pose a hazard if she knocked them hard in the middle of the night. We looked around for some soft padding to put around it and quickly hit upon a solution… diapers.

Little Abbey excitedly tried out her knew bed and that night when she remained all night in her bed, we knew we had a winner. For the first week, she would get up and stand in the middle of her room crying until we said her name from the comfort of our bed across the hall and then she would come running. Eventually she learned that she could come over at anytime and has been happy ever since. Only recently she has learned that she can come over anytime she wants, meaning very early so we have started closing her door. Now she will quietly play with her things if she wakes up early until we open up the door. She loves it. We love it. She now has some more of the independence she craves. I'm doomed in another dozen years or so.

Friday, November 2, 2007

A Day In My Eyes: Little Abbey at 17 Months

When I wake up in the mornings, it depends on what time I wake up on what I do. If I wake up really early and it is still dark, I just hang out in bed until I hear mommy or daddy make some sound and then I get out of bed by myself and go running into their room. If it is light out already, I just go directly there. Sometimes I would get confused and cry in the middle of the room while holding my bear blankie but now that I'm a big girl at 18 months, that rarely happens anymore.

If it is the weekend when daddy can sleep in, I go to his side of the bed first because he will always lift me up to snuggle and play on the covers in-between them. But on the weekends, I have to run all the way around to the other side. Mommy always laughs because she can just see the top of my head bouncing up and down around the edge of the bed as I run over there. Mommy sometimes just watch me read books and play on the floor from the warmth of the covers but eventually she lets me romp on the bed too.

Eventually I start to get hungry and we all go downstairs. Mommy and daddy can walk down the stairs upright but every time I have tried, I have fallen down them so I still prefer to go backwards. I don't mind because I can go just as fast even pulling a blanket, stuffed toy and whatever else I bring from my bedroom downstairs.

Breakfast is usually oatmeal, cereal, fruit, leftover waffles that daddy made or a combination of them. I really love my oatmeal and even cereal if I get cheerios. Right now they are trying to feed me some rice crispies and I don't like them as much.

When breakfast is over I get to go play for a while. Right now my favorite toy is a little plastic scooter that my parents found at a garage sale. It looks brand new and must have cost a fortune but my parents just say it cost fifty cents whatever that means. I like to go scooting around the house and occasionally put my feet up in the holders and have someone give me a big push. It even has a basket on front to store my blocks and socks when I don't feel like wearing them.

Depending on what mom is doing for the day, I can tell whether I am get to stay home all day or go to Mrs. Z's house. I like staying home but going to Mrs. Z's house a few times a week is a special treat because I get to play with lots of other kids my age and learn new things from them. Today mommy is getting me dressed up in clothes and not letting me play in my pajamas so I know I'm going to Mrs. Z's. I help her out by going to fetch a pair of shoes when she asks and even try putting them on myself. Then I grab my bag and meet her out in the garage where I hop into my blue stroller with big tires for the walk, at least for mommy, over to Mrs. Z's house. As soon as she sets me down, I'm off to find the other kids and get started on playing.

In the afternoon, daddy and mommy come and get me with the blue stroller again but because it has been so nice lately they take the long way home. Sometimes they walk around town pushing me for thirty minutes or more and they have to walk 15 minutes just to get to Mrs. Z's place first! I like riding in the blue stroller staring off at the world around me and watching the leaves fall from the tree. Sometimes I even practice my counting to five but I keep forgetting four and sometimes three. My favorite is to say five, which I shout.

When we get home, I usually have a snack while telling about my day to dad as he sits on the floor with me. Then I play with my toys until one of my parents starts to make supper. Then I like to go into the kitchen and play in the cupboards and drawers to see what kind of mischief I can get into. I really like the metal tongs for some reason but I will always be fond of the Tupperware drawer where I am constantly unstacking and stacking all the different shaped plastic containers.

The evening is always my time to play. Daddy will read me any book that I bring to him. My favorites are the Hungry Caterpillar where I get to count with him, the Yakkity Yak book and the Animal Picture book. I used to really love a Popup Bugeyes Alphabet book but because I ripped off or destroyed most of the popups, I don't like it so much anymore.

When it gets late and I start getting tired I let mommy and daddy know. I sit more still and let my eyelids sink lower over my eyes. Eventually I tell them I'm ready for bed and start climbing the stairs. First we go to the bathroom where I brush my teeth and take a bath if it is bath day. I really love my baths and wish everyday were bath day. After I get my teeth brushed, mommy or daddy will lift me up to the sink where I rinse it out, perhaps do some more brushing and then tap it out on the edge. Then I head to the bedroom where I get changed into my pajamas. Once again, I will go find a book or two to be read to me and then I walk over to my bed, find my bear blanket, crawl onto it in bed and lay down. Mommy and daddy will cover me up with a warm blanket, say my prayers for me, kiss me good night and turn off the light. It's dark in my room but I'm not scared because I'm a big girl now and can just get out whenever I want and go across the hall to their bedroom. But like I said, I'm a big girl now and I only do that in the morning when it is time for them to get up anyway.

Hope you all enjoyed one of my days!

Little Abbey

Friday, October 26, 2007

Not Forgotten: An Addendum

I find it kind of ironic that I know enough about my great grandfather Victor that I can write four blog posts of his life and yet I knew my great grandmother Grace well and yet know very little about her past. Mostly it is because I don't have a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings from which to glean those little details that fill in the decade between the census reports. Even the census reports have been difficult as her maiden name is a very common one and tracing her ancestors has proved extremely difficult. So as an addendum to the writings on my great grandfather Victor, here is what I know about his wife, my great grandmother Grace.

Grace Viola was born in Iowa on September 15, 1897 and from 1900 until she was married, lived in Clinton, Iowa. I suspect that was where she was born but have no documentation to prove it. I do know that her father was Frank Isaac who was also born in Iowa but whose parents were both from Virginia. Grace's mother Annetta Jane is also listed as being born in Iowa but where she comes from is somewhat of a mystery to me. On the three census reports in 1900, 1910 and 1920 that I have on her lists her father as coming from Ohio, Virginia and Indiana and her mother from Virginia in all three cases. I suspect that I know who they are and that Virginia is where her father was born but have nothing more than a hunch for proof.

Grace went to the same college as Victor before the war so I suspect that is where they met and since they were married within a couple months of his return, where they dated. They had two children, my grandfather and my great uncle, whom I should blog about sometime and lived most of their lives in Rockford and Cedar Falls. This is where there is a great huge gaping blank in my knowledge of her life.

My personal memories of my grandmother Grace as I called her, begin when they moved up north from Florida after Victor had his several massive strokes. We always enjoyed seeing her because she would play cards with us for money (nickels) for hours on end when everyone else was busy doing other things. Although she was in her mid to late 80's at the time, she got around well and never really seemed that old to me.

After Victor died, she stayed for a while in her apartment near my grandparents before moving herself up to Albert Lea, Minnesota where she had an apartment in an assisted living community. She had a kitchenette to do some cooking but could go downstairs and enjoy a dinner prepared for her too. The building was probably ten stories tall and housed hundreds in similar conditions so she always had a group of friends to play games with and socialize. She lived there for a couple years before her heart stopped on January 13, 1989.

I went to the second funeral of my life and once again had to endure being herded past the coffin by my grandmother to see how "beautiful" Grace's corpse was. Afterwards, we moved her belongings out of the apartment into a rental truck and drove back across the snowy ground to Iowa and my grandparent’s house. All told, I probably have seven years worth of memories of her and they were mostly around playing Thirty-One for nickels. Not much to go on but all that I have

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Exploring My Family Tree: Not Forgotten - Part Three

On the fifth attempt on August 9, 1917, Victor was finally accepted for service in the 106th Aero Repair Squadron at Des Moines. He procured a waiver from Washington, D.C., and was sworn in on August 15th in Denver, Colorado and sent to Kelly Field, Texas. He remained there, I presume for basic training until October 28th when he was transferred to Garden City, New York and shortly there after a multi-stop trip overseas that finally landed him at Liverpool, England on Christmas morning and France four days later. He spent much of the next year between Camp De Coetquidan which was 45 miles inland from St. Nazaire and Camp Neucon where the 1rst and 4th aero observation schools were maintained.

I suppose whatever prevented him from joining the military the first four attempts prevented Victor from seeing the front lines much to his dismay. In a letter home he wrote, "It makes a fellow rather restless when he reads of what the boys are doing at the front and what they are putting up with and then to think that I have been over here almost a year and every time I move they send me farther from the front and every day the front is getting farther from me. I guess the only way I will ever be able to see the front will be to put in a request for a pass to Berlin. It would be as easy as trying to get there as a combatant."

As winter approached, Victor mused in letters that he should be on the first boats home since he was near a port but time and time again he was left behind. He requested that his parents "write encouraging letters if you have to stretch your imagination and the truth to do it, as circumstances alter cases and anything is fair in war." Victor spent another Christmas overseas and voiced his displeasure in a poem written to the local newspaper back home.

As the Boys "Over There" View It
An Answer to Mr. Taft

There is gloom, despair and sadness in the A.E.F. today,
For Taft, "The Obese Tribune," has had his little say;
"Empty all the training camps, let the last called go home,
But keep the real crusaders far across the briny foam.
Let them shoulder pick and shovel for a couple short years more,
They are easy marks, these heroes, and they surely won't get sore.
Let their mothers, wives and sweethearts wait, of men we have a plenty,
And, besides, it might go hard with us along in nineteen twenty."
And so rambled along like that, it certainly is amusing,
To hear a former president his hero friends abusing;
For well he knows the yearnings of a heart so far from home,
Or else he's positively dense and ratty in the dome.
We signed for the "duration" and not two years aft;
And if you think it is proper, why come over, Mr. Taft.
There is lots of room for statesmen now: the soldier's done his part,
This is our solemn answer: this is the men's retort.
So prove you're truly human, Bill, and start right now to pack,
So you can help out over here, and let the boys go back.

Exploring My Family Tree: Not Forgotten - Part Four

Sometime in the spring of 1919, he finally made it home and soon after, married my great grandmother Grace Viola in Grand Mound, Iowa at noon on June 18, 1919. Later the same evening the newlyweds left on a honeymoon to Chicago and wouldn't return home until August 1rst to the cottage they would call home on Wildwood farm near Rockford, Iowa owned by my great great grandfather. There they would farm for only a few years before moving to Cedar Falls, Iowa.

They lived in Cedar Falls for almost the next forty years. My great grandfather worked as a traveling salesman for Carey Salt Company of Hutchinson, Kansas. He and Grace would raise two sons and see them into the world before retiring in 1960 and moving to Fort Myers, Florida. Up until recently, I had thought my great grandfather had had Alzheimer’s disease because I remember him not knowing who I was during our visits to him in a nursing home. But I learned from my grandmother that he actually had several massive strokes sometime in the late 70's or early 80's that caused his memory loss. When my great grandmother Grace could no longer take care of him, my grandparents went down to Florida, packed up their stuff and moved them to Iowa. My grandfather was put in the Good Samaritan Center where my memories of him begin. What I wouldn't give to relive just one of those visits today now that I'm older. On a Sunday morning three years after the move north on January 27, 1985, he died.

His funeral was the first funeral I had ever been too and I remember my great grandmother Grace taking my brother and I up to see Victor and show us how natural he looked. He wasn't even close to natural looking and I think there began the root of what later grew into my distaste for funerals and my desire to remember the dead in my memories instead of the open casket. I prefer to remember him as a strapping young man full of life and energy holding up perhaps one of the largest fish I had ever seen at the time next to a beautiful young lady in a boat. I like the memory of green gumdrops too.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Exploring My Family Tree: Not Forgotten - Part Two

Victor very well could have led a short life, leaving me little to write about. One example is when his mother went out to pick some wild plums and left 2-year old Victor in the buggy. When she returned the buggy was gone and only after a frantic search did she find it over a mile away with Victor sitting up and laughing with glee at his mother. Later as a youth, Victor was badly bruised and narrowly escaped more serious injury after falling off the tongue of a strawstacker while hitching a ride through town. Even in college he suffered a close call and badly burned his right hand in a chemical explosion in a laboratory where he was heating some potassium chlorate. But he survived and lived to continue a lineage that now goes through me. I wonder had I known what I do now, if his hand still bore the scars of the lab explosion.

I know from newspaper clippings that Victor was active in the Boy scouts and was part of the "Panther Patrol". At the time of one clipping, his rank was above Tenderfoot since he is listed as giving the test to other scouts hoping to achieve that rank.

I don't know much of Victor's teenage years. I do know that at age 14 in 1910, he was still living at home, could speak, read and write English according to the U.S. Census. But in a few short years, life as everyone know it changed when the Great War, the War to End All Wars, World War I broke out. Once out of school and at the age of 19, Victor registered for the military. (The only signature I have for him is at the bottom of this application.) For unknown reasons, perhaps because of the burns on his hand, he unsuccessfully attempted to join the military. I do know that while trying to get into the military he continued on with his education by attending Cornell College at Mt. Vernon and worked as a clerk in his father's boot, shoe and harness making business.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Exploring My Family Tree: Not Forgotten - Part One

"Here is the human biography in a nutshell. Born, welcomed, caressed, cried, fed, grew, amused, reared, studied, examined, graduated, in love, engaged, married, quarreled, reclined, suffered, deserted, sick, dead, mourned, buried and forgotten." -author unknown

I knew my great grandfather Victor but I never knew him. With the exception of his son who is still living at 80+ years of age, I perhaps now know more about him than anybody else and upon my death, would make the last three words of the above saying come true, buried and forgotten. Perhaps this is the reason why I have religiously written a journal at home and why I have taken up blogging in more recent years. I don't want to be forgotten and I don't want those who made me whom I am today to be forgotten, so I write it down for someone someday to find and remember.

Up until a couple years ago when I got into genealogy, I knew nothing of my great grandfather Victor other than from my memories of his time in a nursing home and his love of green gumdrops which I wrote about earlier this year. However, recently while talking with my grandmother I learned some new things about him and discovered at least one thing that I had "remembered" that wasn't true. So I set out to rediscover my great grandfather Victor and to learn about a man I never really knew. The story I have written is comprised from what my grandmother told me, what census data and other online sources have told me and what faded newspaper clippings saved by my great great grandmother have told me.

Victor was born on Saturday, December 7, 1895 in Rockford, Iowa, son of a leather goods maker who was the son of a German immigrant saddle maker. An unknown author listed his birth in the paper with the following words, "That the boy may grow up and meet the expectations of his proud and happy parents, is our wish."

Victor was brought up in a comfortable life paid for by his father's business of making boots, shoes and harnesses. Big social events, parties occurred on a fairly frequent schedule and were always well documented in the local papers. Though cars were still mystery to most people, Victor and his family made many trips out west to such exotic places like Arizona and California, also well documented for the local papers.

-Letter from Arizona by Hattie Moore Strait

…My last vision of Master (Victor) was a plump, squirming bundle of white embroidery in arms; he is now a bright little man, with a sweet, round face - the picture of his charming mother. It was with regret that I learned they were en route to California and were booked for the early morning train next day. The memory of that brief visit remains, and the pleasure derived thereby, convinces me that I am not yet weaned from the home of my childhood as I vaguely supposed was the case.


They even had some run-ins with Indians though by that time they were on reservations and the run-in was deliberate during a visit to the Indian school. Times and attitudes were much different as my great great grandmother demonstrates in a letter she wrote from California that said, "…It surely seems that Uncle Sam is doing grand work in educating those ignorant people."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Stories of Iowaville: Crooked Hardware

Bill Crooked has a hardware store up the street from Thomas Grocery and Jake's Barber Shop. It was one of those shops that had a little of everything tucked away on some shelf and if he didn't have it, he could get it in a few days. Those stores for the most part have long been replaced by big box stores that have a lot of a few common items. One holdout in the town where I currently live exists and I think of Crooked Hardware every time I go into that place which is as often as I can.

I don't have many memories of Crooked Hardware but I do have a couple of Bill the owner. I remember one windy day while my grandfather loafed down the street at the scales, I wandered over to the hardware store and Bill showed me how to fly a kite with a fishing pole. It was your average plastic kite with a wooden dowel spanning the center and the line connected it up to a fishing pole. Although you still had to launch it the old fashion way of paying out some line and running, once it was in the air, letting out or reeling in more line was as easy as pulling in a big fish. It was the coolest thing in kite flying I had ever seen at the time.

The remaining memory is like so many memories of other stores of that era in that when you shopped at Crooked's place, you had to stop and loaf for a while. (I'm not sure if loafing is a well-defined term outside of this area but it means to stop and gossip usually while enjoying a soda pop with a small group of people.) There weren't any chairs to loaf on so we mostly stood bellied up to the counter while Bill sat inside the horseshoe shaped counter in the one and only chair. I mostly remember being bored of the typical weather and farm talk and always begged my grandfather for a penny to put in the model outhouse that held a mousetrap hidden inside and would explode apart upon dropping the penny in the slot on top. There was a stencil near the slot on top that said, "Do not put coins in here." Perfect bait for a young boy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stories of Iowaville: Jake the Barber

Jake the barber's lonely daughter
Went down to her daddy's shop
She plugged herself to a barber pole
And took a little off the top

-Living In the Future by John Prine



I was shaking like a leaf when I sat down in the chair and the cord was cinched tight around my neck. The green folds of plastic draped across my legs like a cape worn on the wrong side. Jake spun the chair around so that I was facing the mirror, eyed me up and proceeded to cut my hair with a very sharp pair of shears. I kept an eye on my ears wondering if that would be the last time I saw them whole.

Jake the barber of Iowaville, had a small shack built onto a vacant lot just north of Thomas Grocery where an old building had been removed, well before my time on earth had begun. A beauty shop would move into a building up the street several years later but at the time of this memory, Jake was the only game in town and would be so for many more years until he hung up his shears and retired.

Rumor had it that Jake had clipped off part of someone's ear once upon a time and so I was scared that a similar fate would befall me. When Jake started trimming the hair around my ears, I'm sure a large corner fence post swayed more in a light breeze than I did. Finished, he pulled out a little round whiskbroom and swept the hair from my neck in a motion that tickled just a little. I thought he was finished but he pulled a glass bottle containing some green thick liquid from a shelf and poured a little in his hands before massaging it into my scalp. The liquid had a medicine smell and made my eyes burn and water just a bit. He untied my cape and wiping my eyes, I staggered out to the sidewalk to wait for my mom to pay.

On the ride home, my mom complained of the stink from the green gel and rolled all the windows down. Once home, I was ordered into the bath to get rid of the foul smelling stuff and then again later before bedtime when she determined that it still smelled. To a young boy, two showers and being forced to sit still while someone cut your hair was akin to torture. I begged my mom to cut my hair instead of Jake but she always forced me to go anyway. However, she would always insist that Jake leave off the green gel when the haircut was finished. I finally convinced my mom to let me go to the beauty shop up the street when I was about a freshman in high school and got a buzz cut. When my mom saw that, she decided that she could save the money by doing it herself and that was the way it was until I left home and set out on my own.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Chicago Journals: End of the Line

While waiting for the opening of the Museum of Art, we took pictures of an old man on a Segway and one abstract art picture on the outside of the museum. I'll leave it up to you to determine what the picture is about but it was taken by Mrs. Abbey. The museum finally opened, we paid our dues and wandered the halls. Several exhibits including the American Gothic were closed for renovations so we couldn't see that one but there was a lot to see. For me, art is art and can be seen by walking by at a slow pace without reading who did it or learn more about the specific piece. I appreciate it but not as much as most of the people there. So it took me perhaps a little over an hour to see the entire museum until I got to the miniature exhibit.

The miniature exhibit was a room consisting of dozens of scale model houses built in exquisite detail right down to the crown molding and chandeliers. Each model house was behind an opaque wall with a glass window allowing you to see into just one room. I passed several of these windows thinking they were scale model rooms until I happened to look out of a doorway in one of these rooms and see another room with a grand staircase going up to a second floor out of view. In the second room which I could only see through a scale model doorway I could see yet another door and yet another room beyond. There was an entire house and yet I could see only a small portion through the tiny viewing window.

As I went through the display, every house was like this with only one room immediately visible and a hole other world that could be seen through doors and windows. The detail was breath taking and I was awed. My wife and I probably spent half of our time at the museum touring this one room of miniature houses. For the life of me, I don't know why I never took a picture of one of these models but when I got home and downloaded all of the pictures from the trip, that portion was without record. But thanks to Google and the internet, the three pictures posted below can be found along with many more if you go to the Thorne Collection online.

When we left the Art Museum, we had a couple hours left before our scheduled departure time so we decided to walk back to Union Station and stop for some lunch at a café that we could surely find along the way. However since it was officially lunchtime in Chicago, this proved more difficult than imagined but we eventually succeeded. I got my standard Patty Melt sandwich that I use as my personal taste gauge on all new restaurants. It ranked about a 4 or 5 on the ten-point scale. However, my wife got some ravioli cooked in a red sauce that was absolutely horrible. Fortunately they had plenty of bread to fill up on.

Deciding our luck in Chicago had run out, we hoofed it back to Union Station, got our bags from the locker and headed down to the train level. Unlike the stop near where we live that was at an old time depot, Union Station looked more like an airport. Like an airport, we were treated as cattle and herded around and stopped frequently to allow those in first class to board first. But we finally boarded and pulled out of the station on schedule. The ride home went smoothly thanks to the entertainment provided by the Train Talkers and Train Walkers and we pulled into our station only a few minutes late. As we waited for the train to pull away so we could cross the tracks to our waiting car, I couldn't help but wish the trip would have lasted a little longer

Monday, October 15, 2007

Life Changing Events

I had just gotten home Friday afternoon when my wife answered the phones. I could hear my mom in a wavering voice saying things like broken ribs, crushed ankle and suddenly fear washed over me. I raced for the other phone and soon learned that my little brother had fallen off a grain bin while on vacation at the family farm and was pretty banged up and about to be transferred from the regional hospital to the University Hospital. I knew it was bad and my blood ran cold. We called the Mrs. Z (daycare lady) and asked if she could look after Little Abbey for the night. She said yes and so I quickly took Little Abbey back over there. Seconds later Mrs. Abbey and I were heading north to the university.

We beat my brother to the emergency room but were soon reunited. It was the first time I had seen him since Christmas last year and he was lying on the rolling cart in obvious pain. Lots of pain. I tried to take his mind off things by making jokes about not being able to find good help these days and flying but he couldn't really listen through the fog of his pain. They kept injecting him with morphine but evidently it didn't have an effect on him and it was only a couple hours into it when they tried another drug that worked better, only slightly.

After numerous x-rays we finally learned the extent of his injuries. He didn't have any broken ribs but his right wrist had a hairline fracture. The lower end of his left leg had been shattered into 10 or 15 little pieces and shoved down through his ankle. It looked horrific and had he been a horse, they would have taken him out back and shot him. But fortunately he was in America and the best doctor in the world was on call and was going to do a surgery that he pioneered to fix him. We waited. Finally early Saturday morning, they said the surgery would be put off until later that morning at seven and wheeled my brother off to a room upstairs. My parents went with him but I couldn't.

His girlfriend was scheduled to arrive at the airport in the afternoon and someone had to go pick her up. I volunteered. So I went home and slept until time to leave and went to pick her up. All during my three-hour drive to the airport, I kept hearing via my wife's cellphone that the surgery kept getting bumped and would possibly not occur until Monday, which just infuriated me. My brother was in tremendous pain and I felt like we were young again and I would do anything I had to protect him. I was his big brother after all. But just a few minutes from the airport, I got the call that after three and a half hours of surgery, he was out and in recovery.

Later that evening in tow with his girlfriend, I arrived at the hospital and saw my brother again. They had put two bolts into his heel bone and two bolts into his leg bone well above the break. In-between the bolts, they had attached a rod with a turnbuckle and had stretched his leg in surgery. Because all his muscles and tendons had still been attached, the many shattered pieces had resumed their normal positions and looking at the new x-ray, I couldn't believe that I was looking at the same leg I had seen earlier. It truly was a pioneering procedure and will probably save him from a life of being crippled. In fact, other than some early arthritis in that joint, the prognosis is a full recovery.

Broken bones take about two weeks before they begin to heal. So the doctors still may lengthen the rod to get the bones positioned just right and decide sometime today if he needs another surgery to maybe screw on one of the larger pieces. If not, he will probably be discharged later this week with no cast on the leg other than the rod, turnbuckle and screws and the cast on his arm. He won't be able to walk on it for up to six months and it may take two years for complete recovery. So Saturday evening as I was heading home well after dark, my mind was on a happy high knowing things might end up just all right after all.

I pulled on the divided four-lane freeway and headed south. About ten minutes into my journey as I was slowly passing someone with my cruise set and evidently their cruise set just a fraction below mine, I saw some lights ahead appear over a hill. In the next four seconds, I spent probably three of those seconds looking at those lights and thinking they were headed right for me not comprehending the situation. Finally at the last second, I locked up my brakes, swerved in behind the vehicle I had been passing that miraculously didn't hit the brakes too and sealed my fate, before the car went flying north on the wrong side of the divided highway. I had been a second from death, no more. I was scared. Behind me on the busy evening traffic, cars were swerving all over to avoid the two red ember taillights that disappeared over the next hill still going the speed limit of 65 mph.

After I regained my senses, it still took me a half hour to understand what had happened. By that time, calling 911 on the cellphone right beside me was probably out of the question. So I drove home, hugged my wife, told her I loved her, tucked in Little Abbey and gave thanks to God that both Abbey brothers were still alive and kicking for another day. Life can change so fast.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Chicago Journals: Bad Trees and Jesus

On the final day, we decided to sleep in but being accustomed to waking up early, still ended up at the Cumberland Gap train station at the same time as the previous day. We caught the Blueline train downtown this time riding all the way to Clinton Ave. station and walking the few blocks to Union Station where we would catch the California Zephyr back home later in the day. We stashed our bags in a rental locker and caught a bus towards Michigan Avenue.

I followed along on my map and when we were one block away from the Chicago Museum of Art, we hopped off and walked the rest of the way. Getting around in this town using mass transportation is just so easy. The museum was closed and wouldn't open for another couple hours so decided to head for Millennium Park. However, I misread the map that I had brought along and we set out south. I thought the pink square was the art museum and instead it was a symbol of a painting. But I quickly realized my mistake and we walked back north enjoying the large park.

At Millennium park, we stopped at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the BP Bridge, Cloud Gate which we referred to as the silver bean, and Crown Fountain. I also saw Jesus and took his picture walking on water along with some trees that evidently had been bad and were now behind bars. We finally arrived back at the steps of the Museum of Art and sat as a crowd gathered for the opening of the doors fifteen minutes later.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Chicago Journals: La Filipiniana

My wife got home a half hour after I did and after freshening up, we headed back to the Cumberland Gap train station, this time heading to the lower level where the buses stopped. According to my map, around a half dozen buses terminated their route there and one of them was headed out to a mall in Niles where La Filipiniana was located. The buses showed up within minutes of our arrival and soon we were headed north through suburban Chicago.

If you ever want to find a certifiable crazy person, all you have to do is hop on to buses in some large city. It never takes too many bus rides to find one and this time, we found one on our very first trip. A lady sitting up in the front seat was chatting away with the bus driver while he nodded his head and drove. She started off telling him that she was fluent in about twenty different languages including Tagalog (my wife's native language) and other ones spanning the globe. However, the only one I ever heard her speak in was English.

She then went on to talk about the problems with every race probably offending everyone except the white Caucasians on the bus and those she merely embarrassed with her rantings. She had death threats against her by the Russian Mafia and the Chicago Crips. She explained to the black bus driver why blacks didn't fit in with society. Although there were several Indian looking people on the bus, she went off on Pakistani's and two immediately swiveled to look at her. I guess that is one way of telling the nationalities apart. She asked to get off between two stops and the bus driver immediately complied while the rest of us occupants gave a silent sigh of relief.

The only thing we knew about La Filipiniana was what we had read in a review that Geri linked to on her blog a long time ago. So when we walked into the large nicely decorated restaurant and only one other family was there, I began to worry a little. The Filipina waitress immediately came over with glasses of tobig (Tagalog for water) and menus. My wife, looking for something she doesn't make at home and can't get at nearby restaurants settled on Crispy Pata, the leg of a pig from hoof midway up to the "elbow" joint that has been boiled, battered and fried. I settled on Pork & Shrimp Pancit Miki, sautéed vegetables and shrimp served with thicker Chinese style noodles instead of more traditional rice noodles. As an appetizer, we got Siopau, a pork, and sausage mixture with a slice of duck egg steamed in a bun and served with a sweet sauce. It was all quickly delivered to our table and very delicious. By the time we finished, a third group of Filipinos had been seated in the restaurant so business was picking up. I'm guessing on weekends, this place would be full but on a Wednesday evening, light crowds are to be expected.

Though people weren't eating, strings of Filipinos were going inside the business right next door the entire time we were in La Filipiniana. That business turned out to be a Filipino grocery store that we checked out after we were done. I would have guessed that a store of that nature in urban Chicago would be large and well stocked but we found that our local store in rural Iowa had twice as much to choose from. We bought some coconut buns (the Tagalog names eludes me) and went off on our way.

We had gotten off the bus when we had spotted the restaurant but had to catch a different later running bus in order to make it back home since our first bus stopped running after 6:00 in the evening. That bus stopped in front of JC Penney’s at the mall. Since La Filipiniana was at a mall, I had assumed they were one and the same but now standing with full stomachs on the sidewalk, I wasn't so sure. Upon inspecting my map a little closer, I saw that there was another mall down the street a ways, how far, I wasn't sure. So we walked across the parking lot and started down the sidewalk when suddenly the same bus on the route we had initially ridden was coming towards us. I thought maybe it was returning to where ever they park at night since it was now 6:15 but it slowed down and stopped when we waved our hands. We were off towards the hotel and there was no crazy person to entertain us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chicago Journals: Marshall Field's Museum

When I walked into the Fields Museum, I was the first one there and I know this because they were unlocking the doors as I arrived. I paid over twelve dollars for the privilege of setting foot inside the doors and although I probably got my money's worth, I have been to a lot better museums for a lot less money. Not to mention the fact that only later did I discover that I had to pay even more money to see the exhibit on Darwin and other special exhibits, which I ended up skipping.

After paying my admission, I took the obligatory photo of Sue, the only thing I remembered from my first trip her 25 years ago, and then headed off to see the Ancient Americas exhibit which happened to be the first one I came too. Instantly I was disappointed, as there seemed to be more emphasis on large dumbed down signs than informative exhibits. In fact, the most informative part of the exhibit was little alcoves where film clips were played on infinite loops on various parts of ancient American culture. Over the course of the day, I stopped and watched these clips in various exhibits and never once had anyone else stop and join me, all preferring to trudge on past without even a passing glance. Who can blame them really? Why pay all that money for something to watch something that they could easily show on PBS?

All told, I spent over a couple hours in the Americas exhibit and knew that I was going to have to step up the pace if I wanted to see the rest of the museum exhibits. So I started picking the ones that most interested me starting next with the one on Ancient Egypt and working my way down the pecking order. About halfway through the Egypt exhibit just after seeing 23 mummies on display, my feet were crying out for a rest so I thought I would look for some secluded corner to sit down and perhaps catch up on my journal writing. I walked around two corners and much to my shock, found myself standing at the entrance to McDonald's in the middle of a museum. Perhaps the mummies dined a lot on Big Macs and thus explained why they are so well preserved. Although not my ideal choice, I selected a seat in the back and wrote.

Rested up, I tackled the rest of the museum but it was loosing my interest fast. Plagues of children had descended into the museum and were running everywhere through the exhibits and making lots of noise. It hit me that Fields along with other museums have changed over to cater to children, the very segment of our population who gain the least from going there. I think one girl summed it up best when she rushed by me at the end of one exhibit exclaiming to her friend, "they told me it would take an hour and a half to see this exhibit and it only took me five minutes!" There was a very small museum compared to the Field's Museum that I used to go to a few times a year where I used to live in eastern Iowa. It only cost me a couple bucks to get in and was geared towards adults with in depth displays and none of the trinket penny molding machines or gift shops on the premises. The kids still ran through it just like at Fields but I as an adult got a lot more from it. I remember seeing the exhibit on Antarctic exploration and leaving just in awe. Nothing awed me at Fields.

Finally after being trampled by yet another herd of wild children, I decided I had my fill and started looking for the exit. I came across a plastic dinosaur-molding machine that spit out a plastic version of Sue if I fed it $1.50 in quarters. Deciding that I could at least salvage my trip by getting something for Little Abbey, I plugged my quarters and watched it make me a dinosaur. When I pulled it out, I was dismayed to see that my version of Sue the dinosaur had no head. I thought about just throwing it away and consider it a lesson learned but by then I wanted to get something back from a museum that had cheated me. I asked young man at a tiny gift shop where I could get a refund and he directed me to the main gift shop. I went into the cavernous gift shop that took up more room than a full sized basketball court to hock overpriced crap to swarms of children and finally found someone who traded in my headless Sue for one with a head. Evidently that machine never works, so they make a bunch to swap out. No word on why they didn't unplug it or put an out of order sign on it.

With my anatomically correct dinosaur, I staggered out the door and into the 'fresh' Chicago air. I had planned to walk back downtown using the Sears Tower as my landmark and take a look at "The Rookery's" Frank Lloyd Wright designed atrium but decided against it. I didn't know exactly where it was and I just didn't have the energy anymore. So I walked back to the intersection but crossed only one side of it this time betting that their would be a entrance on this side of the street to the mass transit system station on Roosevelt. I was right. I reversed my steps and finally ended up back at the hotel room around four to wait for my wife to get home from her test. We had dinner plans that night and I couldn't wait.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Chicago Journals: The Journey Downtown

We were up in the darkness getting ready for the long day ahead and eating our hard earned pizza from the night before. My wife was about to take her final test for her medical license and I was planning how I was going to kill the next eight or so hours. Despite the fun day ahead for me, my heart just couldn't get into it while knowing my wife had to spend it in some cramped high rise taking a test. At least not yet.

The CTA Blueline stops at a station just a block north from the hotel and the testing building was a block further north of the train station. So in theory, it should only be a couple blocks to walk. However when we walked it the night before, it was a slightly different story. The exit from the train station is behind a parking ramp on the opposite side of the road from the hotel. After walking around the parking ramp up to the road with the hotel literally just a hundred feet away, we found that we would have to cross six lanes of a heavily traffic filled road to get to the hotel. Looking north, the bridge and cloverleaf interchange of the Kennedy expressway loomed and didn't appear to offer any crossing opportunities. Looking south, about three blocks away was a stoplight that intersected with another six-lane road. Now in my limited experiences in Chicago, crossing major thoroughfares even with stoplights is an exercise in faith. Who is going to give first, me or the 2500-pound taxi barreling around the corner? So we stood along the edge of the road and when a gap in traffic appeared, we made a mad dash to the median and scrambled over the bare dirt to the edge to wait for another gap in the remaining three lanes. Fortunately it hadn't rained in awhile so the dirt was solid but had it rained, we would have been in a big messy situation. After awhile, another gap appeared and we completed out dash.

So this morning with my wife all dressed up, we decided to be lazy instead and use the complementary hotel shuttle to take my wife to her test building. I hitched a ride along with her and walked her up to the sixth floor testing center and wished her luck. Back out in the parking lot, I merely had to walk across the parking lot to a pedestrian walkway that crossed high above the Kennedy Expressway and to the train station. Within seconds, I was whizzing my way downtown.

Two major observations seemed to reach out and slap me while riding the transit. The first is seeing the people on either side of the train (running down the median of the expressway) sitting in ten lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic stopped. Some were applying makeup, shaving, talking on a cellphone or reading a newspaper but the large majority sat there slumped in their seats staring dejectedly out their windshield at the car parking a couple feet in front of them. All this while the train whisked us downtown at a brisk pace. Why the transit system should be hurting for passengers or money is beyond me. The second observation had to do with the occupants of my transit car. Everyone in my car were either looking out the nearest window in a thousand mile stare, staring out their lap or staring at a book. Nobody smiled or made eye contact with other passengers.

When I was in college and rode the transit system there, everyone always seemed to make eye contact and it wasn't unusual to strike up a conversation with someone. This seemed in stark contrast with my fellow riders now. Even the two gang bangers in the car weren't menacing other people with their stares, instead preferring to pull their wool caps and hoods over their heads and slump down in their seats despite the 90 degree temperatures. Do gang bangers have no sweat glands? So for the entire journey downtown, I was free to people watch as nobody was looking back at me. I had brought my boomer bag that I used in my college days along with me, which helped me to fit in since almost everyone else had one of those or a briefcase. But most everyone else were dressed in suits, khakis or colored pants and I was the sole person in faded blue jeans. However, since everyone kept their eyes focused on their laps, I don't think anyone noticed.

I had decided to visit the Marshall Field's Museum first but had to first transfer to the Orangeline when I got downtown on the loop. Since the transfer point was at the start of the loop and the train was now packed with people heading for their jobs, it took a little doing to reach the door and off the train but I managed. As I typically do when in a strange mass transit system, I followed the locals since I assumed they know more than me. This time it didn't work out and I was found myself back up on street level with no signs in sight pointing me to where I needed to go to catch the Orangeline train. I walked awhile on the crowded sidewalks but got spooked since I didn't have a map for this area and went back down into the subway and paid another toll with my unlimited 3-day vacation pass. Back on the train platform, all signs were painted in blue pointing towards the street where I had just been or the Thompson Center, no idea what it was. I walked down the platform contemplating my options when I saw a CTA official in a shack in the middle of the platform. I told the lady that I was looking for the Orangeline and she simply pointed towards the direction of the signs for the Thompson Center. So I walked clear to the other end of the platform.

Once there, I entered into a huge atrium with escalators running here and there and doors heading out to destinations unknown. But one lone orange sign with an airplane and an arrow pointing up one escalator caught my eye and since it was shoulder to shoulder with people walking, I followed it blindly. After heading up at least two more escalators, down lots of hallways and through several doors, I finally found myself on a platform full of orange signs. With some breathing room, I found an empty corner and pulled out my map seeing that the airplane probably designated Midway airport and that was the very direction I was headed on the Orangeline train. So when the train appeared a few minutes later heading to Midway, I hopped on and headed out.

Sitting in the car orienting myself on the map, I realized my mistake. The Blueline train is mostly under or on the ground while most of the other trains are elevated above the streets. Realizing that, I should have known that any transfer from the Blueline to any other train was going to involve some elevation gain, a piece of knowledge that came in useful the rest of my trip. By the time I worked this all out and felt confident again, my stop arrived and I found myself on Roosevelt Avenue a few blocks west of the Field's Museum. Although the sun was out, amidst skyscrapers blocking all but the sky directly overhead, I had no idea which way was east was unless I could orient myself with the streets or the Sears Tower, which wasn't visible at the moment. However, if I looked to my left all I could see were more tall buildings and to the right, a few more buildings and then lots of sky. Assuming that plethora of sky to be over Lake Michigan, I headed that direction and saw from the intersecting streets that I had chose correctly.

The only remaining obstacle was to cross over another major intersection with six lanes of traffic in all directions, but because they had one of the corners (the one right across from the Field's Museum) blocked off and labeled as do not cross here, I saw that I was going to have to cross three sides of the intersection. Even though there were traffic officials blowing their whistles and waving orange sticks at the traffic, they seemed to ignore me all together so when I got the little green walking guy across the street showing, I kept my eyes peeled and started across. Traffic seemed to stop inches short of me and I made me way across. I then did it a second time. Once across, now diagonal of where I started, I saw signs directing me down through an underpass to reach the Field's Museum instead of across at street level. Despite it being the long way around, I gladly took it and soon found myself on the steps of the Museum.

Chicago Journals: Dealing With the CTA

Before our trip, I used Google Earth and Google extensively to plan our trip. Using Google, I found out the train schedule and the address where it arrives in Chicago. In Google Earth, I visited layers to find out where the mass transit lines ran and where the stops were located. I even used layers to search for various sites that I might want to visit or places that we might want to eat. Because we wanted to make this a vehicle free vacation of sorts, I visited the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) website in order to glean hints on how traveling via their system, something I have never done before, might be.

From what I read, many of the train stations were unmanned or only manned during regular hours and not likely to have someone around after 8:00 in the evening when we had been planning on catching the train to our hotel. Although the literature said that most stations had machines to dispense transit cards, there system sounded confusing. I had to buy the card first for $5 and then add money to it as needed with either a credit card or cash. If I chose the cash, I had to always put more money on it with cash. If I chose credit card, I could only add more money online. Since I wanted to avoid computers and relying on moneychangers or having proper change with me when necessary might cause problems, neither option was particularly attractive to me.

So I searched and found an online site where CTA sold precharged cards. Most of the cards required a minimum amount of $20, which meant ten rides at $2 per use plus a $5 card fee for a total of $25 per card. Though still cheaper than parking a vehicle for three days, I had hoped for a better option. Finally after searching for awhile, I settled on buying a ten pack of single use cards for $17.50 figuring that if by some chance we both used up 10 rides on the transit, we would be familiar enough with the system to add some more to a card.

About three weeks before our trip the cards arrived in the mail and while we were inspecting them, my wife noticed that there was an expiration date on the back of each card that read July 1, 2005. So I called up CTA and learned that the cards were not valid and that I needed to get replacement cards. I was transferred to the extension of a man who of course wasn't in his office. I tried calling several times hoping to reach someone who was actually in the office answering the phones but all roads seemed to lead to this man and he wasn't picking up. During one of my spells on hold, the background music gave way to a cheerful electronic voice stating that fares would be rising in a couple days and that they were sorry for the inconvenience. So when I got a human voice, I asked that should I somehow get to speak to a real live human and get some replacement cards sent to me, would they be valid after the rate hike? She said that I would have to add $0.25 to every card in order to use them. For reasons mentioned above, this sounded like something I wanted to avoid. I finally ended up at the man not answering his phone and left a message.

Not knowing how long it would take to get this resolved, I went back to the drawing board and started searching the internet. This time by chance, I took a different route and found a CTA website that sold vacation passes in various durations good for unlimited rides on trains or buses during the entire duration. I bought two 3-day vacation passes for $12 each that started keeping track of the time only after I had used it the first time. We used these passes during our 3-day stay in Chicago and never had a bit of trouble with them and I would highly recommend them to others. However if you are going to Chicago often enough, I recommend buying the heavier duty card for $5 and charging it online with your credit card. Our cards were flimsy and wouldn't last long in a pocket or wallet.

My story doesn't end there. Several days after leaving my phone message and buying the vacation passes, I heard back from the man who doesn't answer his phone. I explained my situation for the 40th time and he said that he would have replacement passes mailed priority overnight. When I told him that I had already purchased replacements due to my impending vacation departure time, he said that I could just get a refund. I told him that would be nice and we parted ways. Yet my story doesn't end there either. After getting back from our vacation, I received yet another call from the man who never answered the phone asking me to send back the expired cards in order to get my refund. Cards that I had simply tossed into the trash after receiving my 3-day vacation passes.

I called him back yet again, surprising he answered the phone, and explained the situation and inquired why they wanted expired cards back, especially when I had already read the ten serial numbers off the back previously when they wanted to verify that they were indeed expired? After beating around the bush for a while, he finally agreed that he would go ahead and process my refund if I would just fax him some form. I said that this was the 21rst century and I didn't have a fax. Finally he agreed that if I send an email stating my case to his email address and that would be sufficient. Then he said he didn't have departmental email and that I would have to send the email to his yahoo account. I haven't got my credit card statement back yet to determine if I have successfully got a refund or not but I have to wonder what kind of outfit this CTA is and why they only seem to have about four employees?

Despite the hassles, buying the cards online in advance I feel was a very smart move. They were easy to move and being unlimited uses within a three-day period, I got my money's worth. I once even had to pay the same fare again because I mistakenly walked out on the street looking for my transfer and had to pay to get back in. But that is another story for another day.