Monday, June 30, 2008

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night ..."

Looking for information on my 4G grandfather Seneca Hubbard, I was quite surprised when a search pulled up some Executive Documents published by the 35th Congress House of Representatives. I'm always on the lookout for connections to former presidents but so far have only made one connection (unverified by myself) as the 12th cousin of George Washington. When I finally found out why my grandfather Seneca was listed, I knew there wouldn't be a presidential connection this time but I thought it pretty interesting just the same. I have posted it below in its entirety:

Contracts for Carrying the Mails

Route No. 1288

From Perry to East Aurora, 36 miles, and back, six times a week to Warsaw, and tri-weekly the residue.

Bidders' Names/Sum per annum
Andrews & Keeney…$1095, two-horse carriage to Warsaw; horse residue.
Artemas B. Walker…$1050
Orville J. Crawford…$974
Francis Warner…$950, one-horse carriage.
William L. Knapp….$950, two-horse carriage to Warsaw; residue horse.
Edwin G. Havens…$898, one-horse coach
Havens & Warner… $845, one horse, coach
Seneca Hubbard… $795, one-horse carriage. Accepted April 25, 1857.
Edwin G. Havens… $793, in lieu of former bid. No Guaranty.
John H. Hudson, (after time)… $789

Contract made with Seneca Hubbard, dated April 25, 1857, at $795 per annum. Leave Perry daily, except Sunday, at 6 a.m.; arrive at Warsaw by 8 a.m. Leave Warsaw Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, at 7 a.m.; arrive at East Aurora by 5 p.m. Leave East Aurora Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 6 a.m.; arrive at Warsaw by 4 p.m., and at Perry daily, except Sunday, by 6 p.m.

Executive Documents printed by order of the House of Representatives during the First Session of the Thirty-Fifth Congress, 1857-58.

At first glance, I thought of Illinois because all these towns exist there. Perry is close to Warsaw but Aurora was clear across the state and impossible to get to in ten hours back then by horse and carriage. Besides, what was he doing in Illinois when he spent his entire life (I thought) in the census records of the town of Wales in Erie County, New York? So I pulled up a map of New York and sure enough, East Aurora is in Erie County and Warsaw and Perry are in the neighboring county to the east within an easy days ride by horse and carriage.

The description of Seneca's route if taken literally doesn't make much sense but I'm guessing he would start off in Perry on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and end up that evening in East Aurora. The next days he would go the opposite direction ending up in Perry so that everyone along the route received mail every other day. I just can't figure out a way for him to be in Perry daily as stated.

So my 4G grandfather worked almost 70 hours a week not counting hitching up the horse or bedding it down for the night, six days a week, 52 weeks a year. It's a wonder he had any children.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Pirate Coast

On a business trip to Indiana quite a while ago, my coworker eager to show me how well his Garmin works, asked me to name any place I wanted to go one evening as we were looking to kill time before heading to our motel room. I told him I wanted to find a bookstore. Well the Garmin did indeed find a couple bookstores that had already closed doors or were out of businesses but my coworker was a man on a mission. So I found myself at about twenty to ten in the evening and twenty minutes before closing, in front of a largely lit up Borders bookstore. We went in.

These big box stores have racks upon racks of fictitious works, self help books, maps, travel guides, music, computer games, hobby books, etc. but if you want to find a non-fiction book, you are relegated to two small sections, autobiographies and history. I chose the latter and headed over to it. As I was perusing the small shelf containing the non-fiction history books, one in particular caught my eye. On the cover it had a picture of a scimitar and some gold coins with the word Pirate printed in gold letters. I picked it up and saw that it was The Pirate Coast by Richard Zacks. I was intrigued as I haven't read much on the subject or pirates and so running out of time, I paid for the book and left with my impatiently waiting coworker who hates books.

It ended up on my shelf unread for a time and then I pulled it out when my mother-in-law came only to get about one or two pages read at a whack before heading off to do some chore. Needless to say, it took me awhile to get started. But immediately I was caught up in the story that was not at all what I expected. It starts off with Yussif Karamanli, second in line to the throne of Bashaw, killing his older brother and sending his younger brother Hamet into exile. Soon a shipload of American sailors got stuck on the middle of a reef out in the harbor of Tripoli and end up Barbary slaves. Thus the star of the book William Eaton enters the story.

William Eaton is a disgraced former consul to nearby Tunis and he seeks to regain his name and get some money to repay some a debt that never got repaid by our government. So with President Jefferson's blessing, he sets off with a small fledgling group of marines on the nations first foreign covert operations mission to track down exiled brother Hamet Karamanli and overtake his older brother Yussif, now the Bashaw of Tripoli and take his throne. His journey takes him through the middle of a war going on in Egypt and requires a trek through the deserts of north Africa that almost kills Eaton and his men numerous times as he leads a ragtag army of a handful of Christian soldiers and a group of rebellious Muslims. They end their march by sacking the second largest city of Derna. It was the first time the American flag had been planted on foreign soil.

But victory was short lived. Eaton and Hamet's small army was surrounded by the army of those loyal to the Bashaw of Tripoli and a stalemate began. Eaton held off the attacking army while waiting for reinforcements to arrive when they were supposed to have already been there. Little did he know that Jefferson had authorized a plan B that called for a man by the name of Tobias Lear to negotiate with the Bashaw directly and pay him off for the release of the American soldier slaves who by this time had been so for almost eighteen months. Lear appears to be a spineless individual and caves in on almost every demand of the Bashaw and signs a peace treaty that releases the soldiers for a large sum of money. Eaton is told to desert Hamet and Derna and leave in the dead of the night. Eaton ends up taking Hamet with him and dropping him off to spend the remainder of his life in Exile before heading back to America to get the support for Hamet that he felt Hamet deserved and was promised.

Eaton gets on Jefferson's bad side by not lying about the outcome (financial payoff) of the war with Tripoli and thus sets off a four-year battle of the legislature for Eaton to get reimbursed for his expenses and to get support for Hamet whom he felt had been used as an "instrument" and then deserted. Eaton eventually gets both but becomes a drunk in doing so and dies at the early age of 47. But Eaton left behind a legacy that is still strong today. He turned a ragtag bunch of drunks into the modern day Marine Corp who still honor him today with their Marines' Hymn. Here is the first verse:

From the halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Little Abbey Update: She Doesn't Joke Around... Yet

I bought Little Abbey a shiny red metal tricycle for her birthday despite the warnings. All the literature said it was a three-year-old skill. Countless people on the web said the tricycles tipped over easily and didn't fit their two-year-old child. One person even complained that the bike can partially assembled and the directions were step by step so they had to take everything apart to make sure they had been assembled correctly. However, Little Abbey has continued to top the scales of the growth chart and it as tall as all her three-year-old peers so I went ahead and bought it.

I gave the tricycle to her a couple weeks out of boredom one afternoon. Yes it had been partially assembled in the box but unlike the other reviewers, I figured that the factory had probably done a good job assembling them right and didn't bother to take them apart first. With little prompting, Little Abbey gladly jumped up on the seat and could reach the pedals but didn't know how to pedal them. I wasn't surprised because pedaling isn't an inherited trait we know straight from the womb. Instead she mostly shuffled around with her toes pushing off from the floor.

A couple weeks later at her actual birthday, she could actually pedal a half revolution forward and another half revolution backward but still preferred to shuffle around with her toes. A couple weeks after her birthday and she started pedaling it one evening like she had been doing it all her life. Now a week after she began pedaling, she is learning how to ride on the back deck and other tricks. It's amazing how fast they learn when given the tools to do so.

For over eighteen months, Little Abbey never spoke words or at least I didn't understand them. Then slowly she began to pick them up here or there or at least I began to understand what she wanted. Then a language explosion happened several months before her birthday and continues onto this day. We went from picking up handfuls of words a day to speaking multiword sentences it seems almost over night. I want out is perhaps one of her favorites. She loves to go out on the back deck and play, go on walks with us, or just go for a ride in the car wherever we may be heading.

She has also turned into a little fashionista. No longer can we just pick out her clothes and put them on. She has to pick out the ones and will refuse to wear any that she doesn't like. For the clothes, this hasn't been too much of a problem since she has better taste than me but it does sometime remain a problem when it comes to shoes. She has a pair of pink Crocs that have become her favorite even it they don't match her outfit. I guess in that way she is like me. Comfort it king.

I know I've said this before but I'll say it again. This stage in Little Abbey's life is my favorite by far. I've also resigned myself that I'll keep saying that for a while, probably until about age 14 when I no longer am cool and am treated like a leper. But for now, she oozes personality and we have a basic vocabulary to communicate back and fourth so it makes for a really fun time. The facial expressions grow more rich everyday and I can tell she has done something wrong merely by seeing her guilty look or tell when she is about to run across the room and jump on me by her mischievous grin. One day she asked for juice so I got down a glass, filled it with juice, walked back to the living room and acted like I was going to drink it myself. The look on her face as it went from anticipation to deep sadness was amazing. She doesn't take joking very well. But as soon as I gave the glass of juice to her, it went back to the look that I was the worlds greatest dad. That's a look that is hard to beat.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Iowa Floods 2008: Part Four

The floods of 2008 have passed through my immediate surroundings and headed on downstream. Although my county was unscathed and my home county received light damage, others weren't so lucky. Oakville is under water, every single square inch. Because it was a small town of some 400 plus individuals, it has effectively been wiped off the face of the map. Columbus Junction, where the two rivers so much in the news, the Iowa and Cedar Rivers meet, has flood 80% of the homes and over 50% of the businesses. How does one recover from that? There is a gas station that I used to frequent on my way to and from the airport because it always seemed to have cheaper gas than those stations nearer the bigger freeways. Only the tip of the roof now pokes out from the water.

Things wouldn't be so bad if it was just water but it isn't just water. It is a toxic stew of fuel, chemicals, sewage and lord knows what else that has been swept into it along the way. It is an environmental disaster. If you have ever walked in a flooded house after one of these, you would quickly see what I mean. Left behind is a thick sludge that covers every horizontal surface sometimes measured in units of feet thick. The smell is a combination of rotten fish, stagnate water, and sewage and would cause a horse to gag. It has seeped into every nook and crevice and is impossible to clean. Your only option is to gut the house down to the studs and rebuild and that is if the water was there for a very brief period of time. Many of these houses will be under water for a month or two! In those cases, a bulldozer is the only option.

Our local news is filled with images of sobbing owners who are finding out that normal home insurance doesn't cover floods when you live on a flood plain. These images are meant to tug at your heart strings even thought they brought it on themselves with their ignorance of the facts. All manners of events cause the destruction of houses everyday and never make the news because the people who owned them were smart enough to insure them. But maybe the joke is on these smart people as ultimately they are indirectly the ones that have to bail out these ignorant ones whenever the government throws money around after a natural disaster. Now these ignorant people will rebuild again and the cycle will again repeat as it has done for all time.

Repeat they will because we have created a monster out of a calm river. The river for hundreds of thousands of years has meandered and created vast flood plains for excess water in floods to be stored and absorbed. In effect, floods of past were localized and minimal. But humanity has encroached upon these flood plains and in our never ceasing efforts to conquer all that they can, have built levees to hold back the water. This works well until a year like we've been having. The water has been coming down faster than our now channelized rivers can carry it away and you have the recipe for disaster. But now, the flooding is worse because your source the river is now ten feet higher thanks to the levees. Houses that would have received inches of water are now ten feet under. The levees meant to prevent water from exiting the river also prevent water from entering it again creating huge ponds that take months to drain and dry out. Everyone laughed at New Orleans for building a city surrounded by an ocean held back by levees and in reality, those along these rivers are no different.

All this water now flooding Iowa is being dumped into the Mississippi and it barreling downstream. Gulfport, Illinois and Burlington, Iowa were the first to feel the wrath when levees fail. There will be many, many more. The corps of engineers is estimating that 14 places between here and St. Louis will have their levees overtopped by up to a foot of water unless something is done. All the levees that I have read about so far failing have done so when the water was still a foot below the crest of the levee just due to the pressure alone. These 14 places between here and St. Louis have not a chance in hell of preventing the levees from bursting. No word yet on what the river will do further downstream. The only guarantee will be that the death zone in the Gulf of Mexico is sure to get a lot larger this year thanks to the toxic brew in the water.

For the third time in my life, I have witnessed a major flood. Every time has been worse than the one before it and after every flood, work has been done on the levees to make them stronger and higher so that it will never happen again. More dams have been created to control the floods. More people build houses and live lives in places that they shouldn't. I've seen two 100-year floods and now a 500-year flood and I'm not that old. I'm willing to bet I will still not be that old when the next one hits.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Iowa Floods 2008: Part Three

Saturday we took the day off and monitored the situation via the constant coverage, none of which looked good. On Sunday, we drove down to the farm for father's day in another what is becoming typical heavy downpour. As I drove across the Des Moines, it was past the flood stage but not yet in the town. Because it was raining and miserable out, I just kept on driving. On the way back, we went another route but as you can see by the picture above, the water was over the road. I probably could have driven through this first overflow but I knew that the bridge just a quarter mile past was even lower and there was no chance of driving over it. So I ended up driving all the way back and going the same way I had come down.

The sun was out by this time so we stopped to join the crowd of people in the local city park taking pictures and talking about the flood. Back in '93, the water was another couple feet deeper than it is now however, this is a different drainage to the one that Iowa City and Cedar Rapids sits along. This one was bad, but still not as bad as '93 and we also had the advantage of having lots of time to prepare this time around, which can make all the difference in the world. Sometime on Monday, the river crested. We wait to see the extent of the damage.

Also Monday, I finally was able to Google news of our friend’s apartment complex in Iowa City. It was flooded according to the news but pictures show mostly the parking lots and low spots in the grassy commons area. That was Saturday and around the time of the crest of the flood. I hope this bodes as good news but six inches isn't much insurance and the timing of the photos could be off. I guess I'm still waiting to see but it would be very nice if they remained dry.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Iowa Floods 2008: Part Two

As I walked up to the apartment of my friends, there were four clear plastic bags of kids toys on the sidewalk out front and nothing more. I grabbed those and stuffed them into the small spaces around the middle seat that I had folded to utilize the space as best as I could since I fully expected to stuff every nook and cranny with their belongings as were everyone else in the complex. So when I walked back to the apartment, went inside and asked what's next only to be told that was all, I was dumbstruck.

The husband told me they had talked to a janitor of the complex and he said the forecast was that the water would only reach the parking lot out front. I stepped outside to gauge the distance and saw that there was all of maybe six inches of rise between the parking lot and their doorsill. Thinking back at how Cedar Rapids, despite knowing how high the water was going to be and having days to protect itself was still overwhelmed when it came, I told the husband that if it were me, I would get everything I could out of his apartment starting with the most valuable and working down. He went on about how insurance would cover this and I countered by asking if he specifically had very expensive flood insurance because normal insurance doesn't cover floods when you live in the 500-year flood plain as he did. He didn't know. I went on to say that getting anything reimbursed from insurance may take years of negotiations with the burden of proof on him to show that what he had was as valuable to the insurance company as what it was to him. Finally he relented a bit and we carried out the stereo electronics and computer. Again they balked at saving more and again I politely tried to persuade them to take more. I at least got them to take their pictures, some books and some of their small electrical appliances in the kitchen. In the end, I had probably about a fourth of what I could have hauled and finally gave up on trying to persuade them to take more. It was their stuff and it wasn't worth ruining a friendship over if they really didn't want to take it. Perhaps they had some insurance scam in mind. I don't know.

They decided to go back to Pennsylvania where the husband works to wait out the flood so I secretly was happy that I wasn't going to have to share my house with them for a couple weeks, at least not yet. If they do indeed get flooded, it will take some time to find new digs especially since thousands of other people who were flooded out will be looking as well. That means they might end up living at our place and commuting but I'll cross that bridge when I get there and enjoy the time I have. We promised to give them information on their apartments as we came across it and wished them well.

Since all roads east and the direction of Pennsylvania were closed, they headed south to out run the flood to a river crossing and we drove on into town to do some shopping and perhaps get a bite to eat. As expected, the 'Strip' as it was called was practically deserted because one end of it was under six feet of water and heading our way. The stores were open and we did our shopping and used up a gift certificate at Red Lobster with other flood refugees with no place to go. The trip out of town was quick though the inbound traffic of moving vans, trucks, etc was still bumper to bumper. It was on that trip home that I learned about Tim Russert. For the second time that day, I was dumbstruck.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Iowa Floods 2008: Part One

Thursday started off pretty good for me. It was the last day that my mother-in-law would be staying with us and the very next morning I was taking off work to drive her to the airport. I have to say that already I miss her and the care that she doted on Little Abbey which freed me to get a lot of things done that I had wanted to do. But I was also looking forward to getting back into my routine and having just a little more peace and quiet around our household. I was mentally counting down the hours and creating lists out on our back deck to make sure everyone got up in time for our very early departure when Mrs. Abbey leaned out to give me the bad news. Some friends of ours who live in Iowa City were under a mandatory evacuation and had no place to stay. Could the wife and child come live with us for the next two weeks? Um… yes…. I would love to have them.

So Thursday night ended up being pretty chaotic with my humble household having swelled from three to seven people. I doubled up the breakfast the next morning and was still able to get the Abbey clan out in the van and ready to head to the airport. Our friends we left with a key and told them to make themselves at home. We planned to meet them in Iowa City a little bit later and see what we could rescue from their apartment if it hadn't already been flooded too badly.

We hurtled north and only slowed a bit as we went around Iowa City on the freeway to do a bit of rubbernecking. Fortunately for the flow of traffic, there isn't a lot to see on the freeway as it is on high ground and on the opposite side of a hill from the Iowa River that was playing havoc on the other side. We entered the interstate and crossed the head of Coralville Lake that impounds the Iowa River and suddenly I was sobered up with reality. The reality being that the water in the lake normally fifteen or more feet below the roadway was now less than a foot away. I had been joking about using my canoe previously in a blog entry but now I see that I was way closer to the truth than I had thought. About that time I heard that Interstate 80, one of the major interstates that crosses the country and runs along the north side of Iowa City was closed to traffic. The alternative route was on the road we were now on and about to flood itself.

We got Mrs. Abbey' mother dropped off at the airport and sat around for an hour to give her company before she had to go through security and catch her flight. As soon as she was out of sight, we headed off for the van and headed south hoping that the water hadn't yet gone over the road. It hadn't. But it was just inches from doing so. An hour later, we learned it was closed and that the detour if you were heading from Iowa to Illinois involved a 150-mile detour up through Cedar Falls, a town where the floodwaters had already been and receded.

Our choices into Iowa City from the freeway were limited as all but two of the exits were closed due to flooding. We chose the Melrose exit since it is less than a half-mile from the exit to their apartment and got off the freeway. Immediately we were in gridlock traffic as far as the eye could see heading into Iowa City. There were lots of vans, SUV's and panel trucks. Obviously we weren't the only ones thinking about getting out while the getting was good. A half mile and an hour or so later, we pulled into the apartment complex which was still dry but a flurry of activity as people were loading up everything to the kitchen sink, and parked. I folded down seats in the van to maximize the cargo capacity and got ready to start carrying heavy objects. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mouth Watering Recipes

Cleaning out my list of topics to blog about, I came across a promise to post some recipes. So with out any further ado, here they are:

Chicken Teriyaki
Since I learned this recipe, it has been a favorite of ours and all our friends. We usually end up serving it whenever we have guests. It is ridiculously easy to make and takes only about 30 minutes from start to finish, which is a plus.

1 cup Soy sauce 1 cup
1 cup Mirin or water
Couple cloves garlic (I'm like Emerill. You can never have too much garlic.)
1 Tbsp fresh ginger grated. (You can buy this by your potatoes and onions at the grocery store. Simple peel what you need, cut off a 3/4-inch cube of it and grate it. Store the rest just like you would potatoes for later use.)
Cornstarch couple tablespoons

The rest: chicken thighs with the skin (this is very important to have the skin)

The hardest part is deboning the chicken thighs but it is really easy if you know the secret. Place the thigh on the cutting board skin side down and feel the bone. It runs in the interior of the thigh. With a sharp knife, slide it down each side of the thighbone but don't cut all the way through the thigh. Just deep enough so that the tip is slightly deeper than the bone. Pick up the thigh and fold the thigh so that you can slide the knife underneath the center of the bone and cut towards the end. Repeat the other direction. The end with the cartilage will usually have some remaining after this procedure and will have to be trimmed out. When you are done you have a boneless thigh. The next time I make this and think about it, I will take some pictures of this process and post it as it is really simple to do but difficult to explain. You can always just do the recipe with the bone in but it just makes this more professional looking without the bone if serving to guests. Once you have the chicken deboned, flip is skin side up and slash the skin in a few places. This allows the air to circulate under it and provides a nice crispy skin that gives good texture to the final product and helps keep the chicken moist. I usually line a cookie sheet with tin foil to make for an easy cleanup and then set some cooling racks inside to keep the chicken out of the grease drippings. Place the chicken skin side up and season with salt and pepper. With your oven on the highest broil setting, place the pan on the upper rack. Broil the chicken for about 7 to 8 minutes and then rotate the pan, not the chicken, 180 degrees. Broil another 7 to 8 minutes. The tips of parts of the thighs will start to blacken and the rest will turn a nice golden brown. Cook until the inner temperature is about 170 degrees.

Mince the garlic and grate the ginger into a pan. Add the soy sauce and mirin. Since mirin is hard to find in local grocery stores, I have used plain old water with good results but if you can get mirin from an ethnic food store, it adds some great tastes. Turn on heat and get the sauce boiling. Mix some water into the cornstarch and add to the pot. Stir until it thickens to desired consistency adding more cornstarch slurry as necessary. Place the chicken on a platter skin side up and pour the teriyaki sauce over it reserving extra for the table. Serve over rice.

Smoked Pork Loin
I got a smoker from my brother for my birthday and this was my first attempt at smoking anything. It was so easy and tasty, I'm just counting the days until I can smoke something else.

One large pork loin (I bought a 15 pounder this last time)
Olive oil
Old Bay Seasoning (this is a southern spice but I can find even up here in Yankee country)
Apple jelly
Wood chips of your particular flavor

Soak wood chips overnight in water. Oil the pork loin well and then sprinkle with the Old Bay Seasoning. I probably used a good cup of the spice for the whole pork loin. It gives the edge of the pork loin slices a nice kick that goes well with the sweetness of the jelly and the smokiness of the wood. After you have given the loin a good rub down to work the spices in, wrap it in plastic and marinate it in the fridge overnight. Get your smoker going with the chips and put in your loin. My smoker runs at 200 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit depending on outside temperatures. I usually checked on it once every hour to hour and a half to take its internal temperature, change out the wood chips and baste it liberally with the apple jelly. I whipped the jelly ahead of time with a wire whip to make it easy to spread onto the loin. Repeat this process until an internal temperature of 150 to 160 degrees has been reached. Any higher than that and the pork loin just gets dry. At this point I tent it up in some aluminum foil on the counter while I get the oven up to temperature on the broil setting. I then untent the loin, baste one last time with the jelly, and stick it in the broiler for a few minutes to caramelize the top nicely. Let set for ten minutes or so, slice up and serve. As with most smoked things I eat, they are good at this point but ten times better the next day after cooling in the fridge. I ate cold smoked pork loin sandwiches the rest of the week after doing this and would have done so for another few more weeks if I hadn't run out. It was outstanding. Too bad I sent most of the leftovers home with my parents and other guests at the birthday party.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Come Hell or High Water

Here in Iowaville and really the entire state of Iowa, talk of '93 is dying down in a bad way. 1993 was the year in which a flood of biblical proportions flooded much of the state. I say the talk is dying down in a bad way is because we are surpassing the levels of that flood by three and four feet and that was before the six plus inches of rain that fell at the upper end of these river basins last night with more falling as I write this. Almost half of the counties in Iowa have been declared disaster areas.

All the spillways are overtopping some by several feet. The large majority of towns around me has been forced to evacuate to higher ground. Along the Des Moines, Ottumwa, Selma, Douds, Keosauqua, Bentonsport, Bonaparte, Farmington and on down to the Mississippi are flooded. Further up state on the Cedar, large cities like Cedar Rapids and Iowa City have evacuated back to the 500-year flood lines and beyond. Already people are saying that this flood will set THE record which is way back in the 1820's sometime and way before the dams were around. THE record was never supposed to be broken again or at least that was what the Corp of Engineers promised with the building of the dams.

Travel is difficult if not impossible around here which makes me scared. Almost all the roads around here cross rivers every few miles and most are underwater creating basically a series of islands in landlocked SE Iowa. I'm scared because my mother-in-law has been staying with me for the last two months and flies out of here tomorrow. I've probably said before that come hell or high water, she is going to make it to that plane on time. Well high water has definitely come and I've got the canoe loaded up already.

Thousands of people have shown up to sandbag but it is mostly a futile task. The levee systems that were built to channel the water are being overtopped meaning you have to stack your sandbags high to protect yourself from the onslaught and there just isn't enough sandbags to do that. Had the corp of engineers not built levees along the entire stretch of river leaving bottom ground available to flood and relieve the pressure, this wouldn't have happened but it has. Problem is, the lesson learned in '93 was to build the levees higher which further compounds the problem for those further downstream. Up in Iowa City, businesses asked employees to go sandbag for whatever their regular wages were. Despite hordes turning up, they weren't keeping up and began paying people on top of what they earned to volunteer. With six inches of rain falling upstream, I think it is all for not.

Waterloo Flood Video:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Damn Dams

We had the worst winter in a long time last year and now this spring is going into the record books as well. We've had many more tornados than normal including the first EF5 tornado we've seen in 30 years. The EF5 almost completely wiped out the town of Parkersburg, where some of my ancestors came from, and took 8 lives, all of whom were properly tucked away in their basement. Along with the increase in tornadoes we've also gotten rain, lots of it.

This spring reminds me a lot of the one we had back in '93 when the rain melted the winter snows and then kept at it for months on end. That year I played farmer for my parents who were bicycling across the United States with a bunch of other people and I didn't even get into the fields until late June. This year, farmers were able to get into the fields for a week and a half before the rains but have been patiently waiting ever since for them to stop. June is almost a third over already.

Everywhere is flooding right now which brings me to the point of this post. Years ago, the government decided to take pity on those who live near flood plains and control the river with large dams. The dams were supposed to collect water in such times as this spring and gradually release them in times of dryer weather. This worked fine on paper but didn't take into account human nature. Human nature says there is this manmade large lake nearby and wouldn't it be great to build a house on its shore. A little later they think, wouldn't it be nice to have a dock and a boat to enjoy this lake. Then it is complaining to the dam governing agency that the lake it too low to enjoy recreationally. The lake eventually gets turned into a recreational lake instead of a flood control lake. The rains come, the government gets caught with their pants down and now they are forced to release waters at such a rate that they are intentionally flooding those who live downstream. It just doesn't make sense.

Don't get me wrong, I don't pity those who voluntarily chose to live or build in a flood plain any more than those who choose to live in hurricane zones. My beef is that we destroyed beautiful rivers and ecosystems with a plug of concrete all for the sake of controlling flooding and now it is useless against even that. Back in '93 when this same scenario played out, the government told us that the dams were designed to hold back 500-year floods and that the '93 flood only happens once in a thousand years. It's happening again right now, surpassing the '93 flood in some areas and it is only been 15 years. I can't wait to hear what they give as an excuse this time.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Under the Banner of Heaven In the Mall of America

One of our final stops of our mini-vacation in Minneapolis was at the Mall of America. I'm not much of a shopper to begin with and get claustrophobic in crowds so you can imagine this wasn't high on my list of things to do but my mother-in-law and wife were all gung ho for it. I decided to make lemonade out of the lemon called the Mall of America and get some reading done. So we split up with the girls going their own way and me going mine with a promise to meat up in the north food court a few hours later.

I decided getting a thick newspaper or magazine that wouldn't cost me too many pesos was my first priority. I walked around for fifteen or so minutes trying to find a store that might have either and wasn't having any luck. So I found a map showing the stores and finally found a bookstore that seemed promising. The only drawback was it was about far away on the opposite side of the largest mall in America as you could get. So after fifteen more minutes of jostling through the crowd, going down escalators and stairs and crossing vast expanses of tile, I finally found myself in front of Borders. I spent fifteen more minutes looking around the store for a newspaper without having any luck. I settled for a magazine but couldn't find any on the shelf that I felt would entertain me for the two plus hours I still had to kill. In fact nothing looked even remotely interesting. So I searched for books on genealogy, something I had never thought about before but again drew a big fat zero. I looked through my normal sections of books and found lots but didn't want to fork over that many pesos for a couple hours entertainment and then a spot on my to read pile where it would collect dust for a year until I got to it again.

I was at this point getting desperate and was looking at the humor section for a collection of comics when I saw a discount rack. There in the very corner was a book that stuck out at me. It was called "Under the Banner of Heaven" by one of my favorite authors Jon Krakauer. It stuck out because it was recently recommended by Sage as a book that will give a more unbiased look at the Mormon faith and history than those they sold at Nauvoo, Illinois. I grabbed a copy and after paying for it, made the long walk back up all the steps, escalators, along the miles of tiled halls crowded with people to our appointed meeting spot and still had an hour and a half left to kill.

I started the book and it hasn't disappointed so far. I've learned all kinds of stuff that I hadn't been familiar with and been amazed at what Krakauer predicted that has since come true such as Warren Jeffs’s assumption of a particular radical group of FLDS. My only problem was the Table Nazi who kept trying to rearrange the tables to line up into two long tables instead of individual tables with four chairs. I liked the arrangement they were in so you didn't have to sit right next to a group of tattooed and pierced kids fighting over a cane. The Table Nazi would come trotting over as soon as anyone who was sitting in a non-conforming table left and drag it into it's approximate position. Because my table was off into a corner near the railing where I could see down upon the two floors beneath me and up to the one overhead, the Table Nazi ended up boxing me in with his other tables so that when it came time to leave, I had to shove some of his newly placed tables out of line just to get out. His constant shuffling of tables was quite distracting as were the kids arguing over the cane. Still I got through a chunk of the book before the girls showed up tired and ready to leave. When I got home, I added the book to my pile, cheating it ahead of several others that I've been wanting to read so that as soon as I finish the 3 or 4 books that I'm currently reading, it will be next.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Eating In Joe's Garage

Another culinary surprise that we found during our time up in Minneapolis was a little bar/restaurant called Joe's Garage. It was located just across the freeway from the Sculpture Garden and could be reached by crossing a very interesting bridge that also doubled as a work of art. I admit that I had a tip about it being in this place from a fellow coworker who had used to live up there or I wouldn't have known about it otherwise. It just seemed to be on the corner of a block next to a park in the middle of nowhere, not where you would typically find a restaurant.

We sat upstairs on the rooftop patio and placed our orders. I opted for the Turkey "Bruschetta" which oddly enough was listed under the Burgers part of the menu. It was listed as a slab of turkey, basil pesto, tomato and parmesan on a garlic toasted ciabatta bun. Definitely not something that is on my food radar but once again, my coworker had vouched that it was the best thing there and if he would eat something like that and still be a man's man, so could I. I'm glad I did because it was outstanding. If given the choice, I might even opt for it over a mushroom, bacon, cheeseburger anyday. Unlike my previously written experience with the Torta Cubana, this one was sized just right and I felt like I could still walk without waddling after we were done.

Our waitress did forget to bring out our appetizers and also Little Abbey's applejuice that came with her meal. I mentioned it when we were mostly done so that they could just take it off our bill. The waitress offered to bring us the appetizer but since we all had enough to eat already we declined though said she could still bring the applejuice as long as it was in a to-go cup. She did and then offered to buy us a desert and we had to politely say no several times before she brought us the bill with 10% deducted off of it. She was really worried about her mistake which was a refreshing surprise compared to most of my recent experiences where the wait staff seemed indifferent to everything. We had plenty to eat and the food was excellent so even though we had a few things forgotten that we probably shouldn't have ordered anyway, I give the place high marks. She got my standard tip for good service and left for the walk back to our vehicle in the cool evening breeze.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Torta Cubana: Everything But the Kitchen Sink

It came with mayo, melted cheese, pickled jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tomato, onions, avocado, eggs, beans, bacon, sliced hotdog, smoked ham and milanesa (a slice of breaded fried beef) all in a huge bun. In short, it appeared to have everything but the kitchen sink. It was huge and it was called a Torta Cubana, which I mistakenly thought meant it was a Cuban sandwich. I now realize after some research that it is basically Spanish for a sandwich with everything.

With paint, a mix of everything produced a muddy brown that looks very unappealing. However, when you toss all these ingredients together, it was like biting into a rainbow of flavors. I eagerly dug into my sandwich and got about 3/4ths of the first half down before I started feeling full. I should have quite but I kept going and polished off the first half of the sandwich. The girls were still picking away at their meals so as I waited, I kept thinking about that rainbow of taste sitting right there in front of me and grabbing pieces of it here and there. Before too long, I had the bun off and was eating individual layers savoring the tastes as individuals. By the time the girls finished, all that was left of my Torta Cubana was a bun and piles of miscellaneous condiments. I was in pain.

We had found this sandwich and a myriad of other ethnic foods at the Global Market in Minneapolis. We had been expecting a market where raw ingredients and cultural trinkets were sold in multitudes of small shops lining small tree lined streets. Instead, there was one large building in a block of smaller less prosperous looking businesses such as a beer & cigarette shop and seedy looking loan stores. The ground floor of the large building was crammed full of various fast food versions of countries from around the world with a few stands selling cheap trinkets that I'm sure were made in China. There appeared no logic to the arrangement of what went where and it was a maze. After we had received our food, we ended up walking down various aisles and dead ends before finding an alcove with a few tables that were empty.

Although the food was excellent and I would stop there again for the food, the overall experience was a disappointment and the only one of the trip. I would just plan on getting your food to go and driving to some park to enjoy it. I would suggest walking to a park to be environmentally friendly but in that neighborhood, I wouldn't want to linger, especially after nightfall.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Six Months Later, Little Abbey Turns Two

The refrigerator is crammed full of food meaning I won't have to cook for a week, there is still wrapping paper here and there, and the remains of a cake is still on the kitchen counter. Little Abbey turned two years old on Sunday.

Per Filipino requirements, it meant that Thursday through Sunday morning was spent rearranging the entire house and all its furniture therein. It also meant that my wife disappeared for a couple days where she lived in the cooler environment of the basement to decorate an elaborate birthday cake for Little Abbey. I even got in on the labor by smoking about 15 pounds of pork loin and cooking about 15 pounds of teriyaki chicken. It was my first attempt at smoking anything and I must say that the pork loin was outstanding and by far the best I've ever tasted. It was spicy on the exterior, had a nice smoky flavor deep into the perimeter and was very moist. I'm having cold smoked pork loin sandwiches the rest of the week and I couldn't be happier. The teriyaki chicken is a standby of mine that I've perfected over the years and everyone loves. It is easy to do and I will try to post the recipes on here in the future. We also had pancit, several other Filipino dishes, a huge garden salad just picked by my parents from their garden hours earlier, potatoes and of course the cake.

Little Abbey was her normal self at such affairs. Very self reserved and clingy for the first hour or so and then towards the end, running around with the other kids yelling at the top of her lungs and bouncing off the furniture and people. I had hoped that she would be able to ride her tricycle by Sunday to show it off but she still prefers to push off using the floor. She can do about half a revolution in each direction with the pedals but that's it so far. I know it is supposed to be a three years old skill but I can still dream can't I?

She has undergone the language explosion that most of her peers went through several months back. Everyday seems to be a new word that I can understand and at least ten more that I can't. It has taken a new mindset for me to realize that when she is standing at a door shouting wa-wa that she wants to show me water and not just babbling. My engineering trained mind is just not cut out for this kind of thing, which makes me wonder if she was on time language wise all the time and I'm just now understanding.

Little Abbey has already developed a fashion sense and is very adamant about what she wants to wear from clothes down to shoes. One evening I came home to find her running around in a crushed velvet dress that she has for special occasions. She evidently decided that was what she wanted to wear that day and told my MIL that in no uncertain terms. She definitely has favorite shoes but is forever swapping the out all day long. She may be wearing a pair of flip-flops in the morning but by afternoon she will be wearing her black dress shoes after trading them in for her boots. She loves shoes!

The one drawback to her getting older is that she has already learned extortion. She has my MIL wrapped around her little finger and is always getting what she wants from her. One day I came home and found that all she had drank the entire day was apple juice because my MIL said she didn't like the milk. I took away Little Abbey's juice and gave her milk. After about two minutes of crying, she reluctantly began drinking her milk. Another day I came home to find her directing my MIL to where the marshmallow stash was so that my MIL would get her one. I wasn't aware that we even had a marshmallow stash at all. On Sunday after all the festivities were over and done with, Little Abbey threw a tantrum over something we never could figure out. All she had to do was lay down on the floor and start crying, with no tears mind you, and MIL would drop everything and come running over. We finally had to tell her to stay seated and let Little Abbey cry it out. Finally after that, Little Abbey figured out her jig was up and went back to her normal self a few minutes later. For now. I'm sure once Mrs. Abbey and I are at work, all bets are off.

So Little Abbey has officially reached the terrible twos but like the season summer, she was officially there in the hearts and minds of all those around her months earlier. Her age now officially ends in the monthly increments and becomes easier to calculate fractions like two and a half. I will probably officially stop writing about her once a month but don't fret, I will still keep all you my readers informed as she goes through life teaching me a thing or two. Stay tuned.