Wednesday, April 30, 2008

They Tried Charging For Parking But the Entertainment Was Free

We pulled out of the parking garage a little before five o'clock to head to the hotel and I was worried about getting caught in rush hour. Instead, we made excellent time and were barely two miles away from our hotel when we pulled off of the interstate onto the major road that runs by Midway airport. Gridlock. It had taken us just minutes to cover the previous 15 miles but took an hour and a half to cover the last two miles. I won't bore you with those details.

I checked into the hotel and had to have a lengthy discussion with them. They advertised free parking but wanted to charge me $10/night for the privilege. I had to show them the advertisement, which I'm glad I brought with me, to receive $10 off my bill. At that point, I was tempted to just throw away the advertisement but didn't and was thankful again the next morning when my bill was slipped under the door with the $10 fee added back on. I probably wouldn't have cared except that the reason I chose them over three other nearby exactly priced hotels was because they were the only one of the four that advertised free parking.

After getting the room keys, we decided to just walk across the parking lot to eat at a TGI Fridays. Normally I eat as the Romans when in Rome but the traffic was still bumper to bumper ruling out driving and threatening rain ruled out walking. Just as we got back to our vehicle to grab our bags and head up to the room, we heard a loud bang right behind us.

A cherry red Grand Prix had just slammed into the back of a cherry red Chevy Blazer. (At least they didn't have to worry about the other's paint on each other's bumpers.) The Grand Prix now had a radiator pushed back about a third of the way to the passenger compartment and the Blazer, well lets just say that from where I was standing 40 feet away, didn't even appear to have a scratch. The Grand Prix guy got out, staggered around a bit looking at the damage while bleeding superficially from a cut in his forehead where he slammed the windshield and then sat back in his car. The Blazer guy then got out, looked at the damage, put on a jacket and stood there. Neither even glanced at the other nor said a word.

Traffic kept on rolling past and just as I started to feel guilty about not going over to help out which would have meant climbing a ten foot tall iron spike fence or running half a block away to the entrance and running back again, I heard the sirens coming. In about 2 minutes tops from the sound of the collision, two police cars, a fire truck and an ambulance were there. In my neck of the woods, that kind of saving power takes a good forty minutes to arrive. At that point, we went up to our room, which as luck would have it, was overlooking the scene of the accident. It would take two hours before everything was cleaned up and back to normal.

I really don't have a point to this story other than to fill you in on our entertainment for the night. I guess if I was to pull out some nugget of wisdom, I would say don't buy a Grand Prix because it was pretty much totaled in what was probably a less than 25 mph collision. But then the engineer in me would probably say that it did what it was supposed to do, i.e. crumpling, to protect the occupant who escaped with minor bleeding. So just take it as a story to fill you in on our entertainment for the night.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Millennium Park: Take Two

Friday was a good time to leave for parts unknown. A storm was hurtling towards us and for the most part, we stayed out ahead of it all the way to Chicago. First on our agenda was another visit to Millennium Park for myself and a first visit for my MIL. I had scouted out parking and had found a convenient parking garage directly underneath the park. My Garmin 200W GPS system led me right to it and we parked the car just after twelve noon.

My wife wanted to eat a picnic lunch that we had brought with us in the car but I suggested taking it to eat in the park above ground. So we loaded up our backpack and stroller and headed up, only to have it start pouring rain the second we stepped out the door. However it only lasted for a brief 30 seconds or so and then was gone for the rest of the day.

We immediately got kicked out of the seating in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion as we were eating our lunch so we had to move a few feet away to a wooden bench which evidently satisfied the security guard who mosied on away. Evidently they hadn't read the rules of the park posted on their website that state, "While in the park, please respect the rights of others by allowing free and open access to all areas of the park at all times."

Our seating in the other "free and open access area" happened to be by those trees in another "free and open access area" that were still locked up in some sort of maximum-security prison. Evidently they are serving life in the slammer. I wanted to offer them a bite of my sandwich but those security cameras were blinking their red eyes at me and I didn't want to end up in the joint too.


After lunch, we walked across the BP Bridge and down to the inland seashore on Lake Michigan. There we turned our attention and feet north to the highlight of my wife's day and the dreaded scourge of mine called Navy Pier. It is basically a condensed amusement part/tourist trap/shopping mall built on a pier made of concrete. It was crowded. We walked around a bit taking in the commotion and eventually bought an overpriced ticket for Little Abbey to ride the Merry-go-Round. She protested as we tried to put her on the thing and then threw and even bigger fit when we tried to take her off 30 seconds later at the end of the ride. Now every time she seems a Merry-go-Round, which has been surprisingly often, she points longingly towards it as we go by.

None to soon, we walked back to Millennium Park and to Crown Fountain where we kicked back and watched all the teenyboppers on tour make asses of themselves in the water. Little Abbey joined another fellow her age in the water and spent some time splashing it around but at least she had the sense to keep herself dry, which the teenyboppers didn't. I'm guessing they had a cool rest of the day as the temps, although pleasant in dry clothing, would definitely have felt chilly in wet multiplied by a strong wind that pushed through the Windy City on that day. As the evening began to wane, we walked back to the parking garage under the park, wandered around until we found where we were supposed to pay before returning to our car as so many signs admonished us but never told us where, and headed off to our hotel somewhere out by Midway airport. That part of the journey shall be told on a different day.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Little Abbey Goes 'Shrooming'

Sunday was a beautiful warm day with temperatures in the upper 70's so we drove down to my parent's farm for lunch after church. After the dishes were all put away, I was having a hard time sitting there in the couch and staying awake. Finally my father asked if we would like to go hunt for some mushrooms and I jumped at the chance to get outside, to get my heart pumping and hopefully to wake up. Of course my mom volunteered to stay home with Little Abbey but I said we had brought our all terrain stroller that we bought at a garage sale for five bucks and that we could all go if she wanted too. That is exactly what happened.

We drove up the rode to our super secret spot where we always find a lot of mushrooms, loaded ourselves with our mushroom sacks and put Little Abbey in the stroller. As we walked down to the draw where the mushrooms grow like dewdrops on a cool fall morning, Little Abbey seemed like she was fighting sleep as well. She just sat almost comatose in her stroller. As we entered the woods, I knelt down and asked if she wanted out and she all but jumped out of the stroller and was off.

I gave her a stick to push aside weeds or other plants that might obscure a mushroom from vision and soon L.A. was imitating us by swatting the ground now and then as she walked. At times she had a hard time tripping over sticks, getting hemmed in by falling or thick brush or coming to little cuts in the earth that she couldn't cross. All in all, she just loved going mushrooming with us and I know in a couple more years, she is going to be succumbing to the madness just like the rest of us.

Speaking of which, the rest of us didn't have any luck. Just from experience and knowing how things look during the prime of the 'shrooming' season, it was just a little too early, barely. I'm guessing that during this week, perhaps even now, the first gray morels are popping up. But do to the rain and overcast skies, it might be closer to the end of the week. By next week, the season will be in full swing and I am going to be in a place where mushrooms don't grow. More on that later. So for now, I am praying that the warm 80 degree weather stays away for the time being because nothing ends a 'shrooming' season like 80+ degree temperatures for a couple days in a row. I'm hoping for sunshine and low 70's for the next couple weeks.

Friday, April 18, 2008

With a Name Like Bertram...

As some of my old readers know and some of the newer ones are discovering, I'm a genealogy buff but I've only become later in life. It started with my grandmother giving my mom articles clipped out and preserved in a scrapbook by my great great grandmother. As a favor to both of them, I carefully digitally scanned in all the clipping, pictures, letters etc to preserve them. In the course of doing that I was bitten by the genealogy bug and began a quest to discover my origins. In the heady days of my genealogy beginning, I was discovering the names and stories of new direct ancestors at the rate of several per day. Now that I'm well along my journey and records are harder to find, that has slowed down to only one or two per month and slowing down rapidly. Soon I will probably be lucky to find a new set of relatives per year. This year, I have changed my game just slightly by documenting what I already know. I've started off by collecting all the supporting documentation on my grandparents through 2G grandparents and am working through the 32 biological 3G grandparents and 16 adoptive 3G grandparents. I'm about halfway through them.

As I have been going through my list of 3G grandparents and documenting what documentation I have on each of them, I came to another one of those family tree dead ends. I now know and have verified the names of all my 3G grandparents but many of them are dead ends, meaning I can't trace them before they were married to locate their parents, my 4G grandparents. Edwin McKee was one of them. Off and on for over a year, I kept coming back to him but the records I had on him were slim. I had in the 1900 Census in Iowa and an 1885 Census in Kansas. Although I knew he was born around 1857 in Iowa, I couldn't find him in the 1860, 1870 or 1880 censuses. I could find lots of McKee's for sure, but no Edwins'.

A while ago, I decided to try a different tact and try finding his wife. Most often during that time, the wives remarried soon and thus would be impossible for me to find. But this time I found her in the 1905 Iowa Census with their kids but she was listed as widowed so I knew Edwin died sometime between 1900 and 1905. A search of the Iowa Cemetery Records during that time frame listed many McKee's but no Edwin. Stumped, I started looking at every name listed between those years in the general vicinity of where they lived and found a B. E. McKee listed. Both had 1857 for birth dates and B.E. McKee died in 1901 which also fits but what does B. stand for. I felt on the verge of a break through but couldn’t quite find the smoking gun.

Then last week I finally did. I started trying to find earlier records of his wife, Ella J. whose parents I didn't know either and whose early census records have also remained hidden. I had casually tried before without success but with the usage of wildcard characters, found her again listed as Ellenor. (Previously I had been searching for Ella, who wasn't spelled the same.) In quick order, I found her in 1880 with her daughter, my 2G-grandmother Blanche but no Edwin. I still haven't found out where he was in 1880. But because Ella was staying with her parents at the time, the Smiths, I did have her parents and a place to look for earlier records. Next I found the 1870 record of her as a 14 year old and her name listed as Ella. I also found the 1860 census when she was 4.

Since she was living in the same town of Albion in 1870 and 1880, between which she got married and now had a 3-year-old daughter, I surmised that Edwin must have been living nearby too. I did a search of McKee's of his age in that township and turned up only one, a Bertram McKee. Was that the 'B' in the cemetery record of B.E. McKee? Since I also had the names of Bertram's parents, I went back and located the 1860 record where he was listed as Bertram E. McKee. All the information of the places where his parents were born matched and the names of his siblings as well. I finally had my smoking gun. I also suspect I know why he chose to go through life using his middle name of Edwin. With a first name like Bertram, who wouldn't?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Fishing Story

The next morning after my near disastrous experience on Mt. Hooker, I decided to do something a little less risky and every bit as much fun. I loaded up my daypack and set out up the drainage full of little cascades and pools until I reached the natural dam that forms Baptiste Lake. The large lake is nestled near the base of the shear vertical wall of Mt. Hooker that makes it such a distinctive landmark and even has a small glacier (or at least did) at the far end.

I put together my fly rod, tied on a fly and began searching for fish. Seeing them was no problem because the water was completely crystal clear. At one point, I climbed a big rock hanging out over the lake and looked into the water. The bottom seemed just below the surface and yet when I dropped a pebble, I watched it tumble and turn over and over for many seconds before coming to a rest. I estimated that I could see at least forty feet straight down through the water. I fished for a couple hours as I spotted them. With clear waters like that, no sense wetting your dry fly without a fish in sight. But I had to be careful because if I could see the fish, they could see me and often did, darting a way at the last second. This lake probably gets fished quite a bit so it was no surprise that the fish were skittish and over the few hours that I fished, I only hooked a couple but on my barbless hooks that I use for easy release, they both got away before I landed them.

Enjoying the day, I found some shade underneath some scrub brushed among some big rocks along shore. Well above tree line where I was makes the sun very intense at times and the last thing I wanted to do was to fight sunburn for the rest of the trip. I pulled out a book and began reading the day away, stopping occasionally for a nap or some food. Late in the afternoon, I saw a figure crest a small rise between Baptiste Lake and the face of Mt. Hooker and walk up to an inlet stream about a hundred yards away. After the man had washed up in the lake and ate his lunch, I walked over to exchange pleasantries. He had just crossed over the pass (that I had ran down yesterday in the hail storm) humping 150 pounds of climbing gear that he and a climbing partner were going to use to climb the face of Mt. Hooker. He would make another trip over and back for the rest of his gear tomorrow but tonight he was just going to catch a fish for supper and go to sleep.

Although there I was standing with a fly rod and this guy had nothing but the clothes on his back and an empty plastic baggie that had once contained his lunch, I refrained from asking him how. I didn't have to wonder long because he soon excused himself and walked up the little feeder stream a dozen yards, lay down on his belly and scooted up to the edge where the grass was overhanging the bank. He draped his arm over the bank and submerged it elbow deep in the icy cold water. Perhaps ten minutes went by when suddenly he jerked up hauling a nice three-pound cutthroat trout out by the gills. He pulled a pocket knife from his pocket and within about a minute, a gutted and cleaned fish was glistening on the grass. He shook my hand, picked up the fish and headed over the little rise towards the base of Mt. Hooker. I grabbed my stuff and headed back towards camp, duly impressed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Coming Down From Hooker In a Toad Strangler

Lightening was popping but still several seconds separated from the accompanying volley of thunder but at 10,000 plus feet, I was in no way feeling comforted about that. I had fortunately made it past the friction slab part of the decent where two 1000 plus feet vertical drop-offs were separated by a severely tilting five feet wide slab of granite before the rain drops began to fall. The friction slab was technically not that difficult because your boots would stick right to it allowing you to walk up or down. However, the mental aspect was daunting because one slip and a couple feet later you would be flying. Trying to do that in the rain wouldn't have helped the mental aspect of it. The rain was falling in a real toad strangler, as Pablo would say soon after I passed the friction slab and was hustling down the mountain as fast as possible. At about 10,000 feet, the gentle slope gives way to a nearly vertical slope consisting mostly of rocks and a few clumps of grass gripping tenuously here and there. The clouds were now very dark and ugly, the temperatures were dropping faster than a rock and I was sweating bullets out of fear and exertion.

Earlier that day, I had left from camp at a relatively late four in the morning and after five hours had reached the summit. It was a cloudless warm day and as I ate my breakfast of fruit, nuts and chocolate, the sun seemed to bore holes right through my skin. For an hour or so, I wrote in my journals and lounged like a lizard. Then I did something that I shouldn't have done, I closed my eyelids to check for holes. Well into the afternoon, I woke up still bathed in sunlight but ominous clouds were over the horizon and moving my way fast. As quickly as I could, I had slung my daypack on and was scrambling down the summit and across a mile or two wide flat mesa on top of Mt. Hooker. I knew I was going to be real close to being in serious trouble.

I started down the nearly vertical slope and immediately slipped and fell deeply bruising my hip and leaving me something to remember the trip by for a couple weeks beyond. More carefully, I kept going trying to hang onto what I could while looking over my shoulder for the next step. My legs started shaking with the exertion and I knew I was close to my limit by the time I finally reached the saddle pass and started almost running down the maintained trail along its flank. Several brief periods of hail would hit me every time I thought I should slow down, and give me some new energy with marble sized shots to my upper torso and head. Finally about three hours after I set out, the rain began to pass just as I made it to camp and fell into my tent steaming in moisture and body heat. I learned a valuable lesson that day and one I am not soon to forget.

Monday, April 14, 2008

She's Got That Spinning Feeling

After all the guests had gone on Sunday, Little Abbey was still wound up and started spinning in circles in the middle of the living room floor. When she stopped, she swayed to and fro and even staggered a few steps. A smile of joy came to her face and she started spinning again, obviously enjoying that dizzy feeling. I figured it would end with one sick to the stomach little girl or a bruised head but fortunately it was neither. After five minutes of spinning, she finally had enough and moved on to something else.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Backstories

R. Sherman made a comment the other day that I would like to post here. He said, "Genealogical research can sometimes produce those interesting tidbits, yet the backstories are usually left to our imagination." He is right of course and it is those backstories that I do occasionally find that keep me interested in pursing my genealogy hobby. One of the first backstories that I ever found concerned my 3G grandfather John and his wife Mary.

I first found documentation of my ancestors in the 1860 Federal Census literally a week after they were married. By the 1870 Federal Census, they had five children and John's brother and his wife living under their roof. The children were Anna age 9, Henry L. age 7, Ritta age 5, George W. age 3 and Emma age 8 months. Ten years later in 1880, John was remarried to a new wife named Lizzie, 21 and only two of his children Henry and George remained. Although divorce was extremely rare in those days, it did cross my mind that perhaps that had happened since the three females were missing along with their mother. It wasn't until later when looking through a scrapbook created by my 2G grandmother and wife of George W. did I learn the backstory and truly how horrible life could be back in those days. Here is the article posted in its entirety:

Died. In Charles City, May 31, 1879, of paralytic convulsions, Mary, Wife of John Kuck, aged 42 years 4 months 23 days. It is said, "Afflictions never come singly." On the 14th day of December 1878, John Kuck lost one child; by the 3d day of January following, four more had been taken, all by the same fatal disease. And now comes the reaper, and takes his companion. The death of the children undoubtedly had much to do with Mrs. Kuck's illness, as it seemed to weigh heavily upon her mind. Mrs. Kuck was a practical Christian, having been a member of the German M.E. Church for 25 years. She has left a devoted husband and two sons, Henry and George. The funeral was held Sunday at 3. P.M. in the M.E. church. It is a singular coincidence that just nineteen years before, on the same day and hour, this couple were married in Galena, Illinois. The funeral was very largely attended, over 75 teams falling into the procession.

So two more children whose names I may never know were born and died along with the three girls and my 3G grandmother Mary, all in the space of half a year. Why, is perhaps another backstory that I will never know yet I have my hunches. In 1878, the Mississippi River valley was having an epidemic of Yellow Fever and estimates of 20,000 people died. I can't find any reports of it reaching as far north as Galena but I suppose it was possible. I imagine my 3G grandmother Mary took care of her daughters while husband and sons were working in their harness and saddle shop and thus the highly contagious and deadly virus spread amongst themselves. George would survive and grow quite prosperous as a businessman here in Iowa. His brother, my 2G uncle Henry, would later move out west to The Dalles, Oregon and become a famous saddle maker whose saddles can still be bought on eBay for quite high prices and are pictured in many history books on saddles.

Furthuring my ancestral lineage search, I at long last found the boat my 3G grandfather John immigrated from Germany to the United States on a few months ago. He arrived in early January of 1853. His wife Mary would immigrate from Switzerland around the same time though I am still searching for her record on occasion when I get some free time. Currently I am trying to track down their marriage license to see if I can find any useful information on her family or origins. John and Mary are the last of my 3G grandparent ancestors to immigrate to the Unites States. Just about all my other lines that I have traced came in the 1600's.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Feeling the "Madness" Coming On

It's getting close to that time of year again. In previous years as you can see here, here, here and here, this is the week or two before the madness strikes me and everyone else in this part of the country. Homes become deserted, American Idol is not blaring from televisions, and suddenly the backwoods are filled with people walking around stooped over. Already I can feel the itch and the seemingly insatiable hunger deep in my belly as I eye the weather reports. Next week, possibly a week and a half from now, I will be totally consumed with the Morel Mushroom Madness.

This year, like many throughout the Midwest, we've had rains a plenty which bodes well for a bumper crop of the dirt growing little sponges of spore. Today is cold and rainy and feels more like a late fall rain than a mid spring one. But the weather forecast is promising almost seventy degrees next week. All I need to figure out now is what to do with the mother-in-law who arrives next Thursday. Asking her to overnight at the airport while I hunt for spores is probably not the best way to endear her. But perhaps if I can work it in such a way, explain that while I go out into the dark deep woods among the snakes and poison ivy, she could help by watching Little Abbey, just perhaps this all might work out to my advantage.

Yesterday, the first token article on the Morel Mushroom Madness hit the state rag and even a seasoned 'shrooming' vet such as myself, learned some new things. Evidently, if you find a spot with 500 or more mushroom, usually under a Mushroom Machine (see past blogs on that), you are supposed to do a dance and eat dirt. The dance is obvious as long as you don't trample mushrooms but the eating dirt part threw me until I read that it really meant kissing these obviously hallowed grounds that produced such numbers of sporey goodness. They also talked about the latest craze of drive by 'shrooming' where you drive around the country roads looking for dead elm trees growing in the right-of-ways. People talk about bagging more than one hundred pounds of mushrooms in an outing. Local mushrooms sometimes sell for $50 per pound, wet, so those who don't eat them can make some pretty decent money.

I prefer to eat my profits, sometimes sautéed in a little garlic and butter, sometimes diced up in an omelet or whatever happens to be cooking on the stove, but largely dipped in a little bit of flour and fried crispy. I've been known to take fried mushroom sandwiches to work for lunch, just mushrooms and bread and nothing else. I'm a purist in that way and just love the earthy flavor. We will fry up a pound or two every night for a few weeks until the season ends. If we are lucky, we'll have a few left over that we can dehydrate and save for occasional use during the rest of the year but not often are we that lucky. By the end of the very short season, we will have digested so many, that most are content to go without for a while. Mercifully, the Morel Mushroom Madness fades, the backs straighten up, people return home and a few flick on American Idol to see who is still standing.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Let Me Get This Straight

John Henry Wemple was my great great great grandfather and was born in 1839, son of Henry Benjamin Wemple. John had an older sister Caroline Wemple who figures in later in this story. John married my great great great grandmother Melissa Pritchard in 1867 on her birthday, December 25th. They lived happily (I'm guessing) for ten years until at the ripe old age of 37, my 3G grandfather John died. My 3G grandmother Melissa married two years later to a man by the name of Wells Alcott Curtis. This meant nothing to me until I just happened to notice that he was married once before to a woman by the name of Caroline Wemple, John's older sister who also tied an untimely death.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Teenage Little Abbey Already!

Ah yes, those dreaded rebellious years of the early teens have come almost a dozen years early to the Abbey household. On Monday, Little Abbey ignored the lights and the sounds of me rummaging through her clothes to pick out an outfit for her to wear. She slept through me carrying everything into our room where I usually dress her on the bed while we watch the morning headlines. She bitterly complained when I tried to pick her up and carry her into our room, telling me in no uncertain terms, "NO!……. GO!" and somewhat pointing in the general vicinity of the doorway. I would have loved to but she doesn't yet understand that in order for daddy to get paid, he must get to work on time and thus, she needs to get to daycare on time too.

She complained during dressing that she was tired and at points, I felt like I was trying to put a shirt on a pissed off crocodile but eventually she relaxed and allowed me to dress her. With that task complete, I put her on the floor where her normal routine is to turn the news off and shut the hutch doors but on that day, she made a break for it and went running for her bedroom and flopping on her bed. Once again, I had to get her out of bed despite the protests.

I followed her downstairs where she protested getting her shoes on and her jacket. She tried to make a break for the stairs and her bedroom but this time it was half hearted and I cut her off at the past. Finally as we exited into the garage from the great room and she saw that we were taking my little black Honda Civic to daycare, she was happy.

During the winter when every morning meant a half hour of scraping the car outside in the cold before leaving, I opted for driving our minivan. However, now that spring is back, we have switched back over to the Civic, which Little Abbey loves. Her car seat is now in the passenger seat right next to me which she loves because she can see me and sits high enough she can see out all the windows and point out the passing babies and cars that she sees. Although it isn't recommended for children less than 5 years of age to sit in the front seat, I compromise on the short three blocks to daycare at less than 25 miles per hour. If we are going across town or further and at higher speeds, it is in the back seat she goes which in a Honda Civic coupe and a guy who is a few inches over six feet, requires an extreme contortion act to do. Hence why she rides in the front booster seat now that she can't fit in her cradle with the easy one click base that remains behind attached to the rear seat.

So in conclusion, she loves to sleep in now, with the exception of weekends and loves to ride in daddy's little coupe. If she asks for the keys tomorrow, I wouldn't be surprised. After all, the teenage years have come early to the Abbey household.

Monday, April 7, 2008

My Stretch Limo Ride With Charlton Heston

Dennis was the president of the Government of the Student Body or GSB for short. I had been introduced to him by another mutual friend who knew my love of debate would make me great friends with Dennis. Together, we often spent hours in-between classes debating everything under the sun and since he was definitely a lot more conservative than me, we had lots to talk about. In fact, I credit Dennis for teaching me the art of debate and forgoing the all to common tactic of just throwing out catch phrases that seems to have taken over most people's sense of debate these days. He taught me to stay on topic and go over it point by point until you had a mass of points in your favor. If you didn't and yet agreed on the points, then you had the wrong belief.

Anyway, one day Dennis as part of his duties, had to go pick up someone at the local airport and asked if I wanted to go along. I wasn't too keen on going to meet some stranger but he said a stretch limo was involved and being a farm boy from rural Iowa who had never ridden in any limo much less a stretch one, I said yes. Dennis wouldn't tell me whom we were picking up so when Moses got out of the private jet and started walking towards us, I was shocked. I hadn't yet seen Charlton Heston in other films such as Ben-Hur or the Ten Commandments so I just knew him as Moses.

We shook hands, climbed into the limo and drove off for the quick ten-minute ride to where ever he had been heading. Dennis of course made pleasantries with Charlton but I was tongue-tied. I did get the sense that although Charlton seemed to be a nice guy, he had a sharp tongue when need be. When we got to the speaking engagement, I bid my goodbye while Dennis and Charlton went inside.

Since then, I have seen the Ten Commandments and parts of Ben-Hur, something that I need to see in its entirety someday soon, along with Planet of the Apes, The Greatest Show On Earth and other movies. I followed Charlton's non-Hollywood life as he transformed from a human rights crusader to the head of the National Rifle Association. Though I have always been a supporter of our right to bear arms, I have never been a fan of the NRA and his "From my cold dead hands" comment kind of through me off of his shining star for the rest of his life that ended this past Saturday. Still, I wish he God speed and can't help but wonder if God and Charlton are sitting down watching Ten Commandments about right now and having a good chuckle over it.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Story That Stands Like A Dam

As a design engineer, I truly appreciate the marvel of building something that has never been built before, even massive dams like the Glen Canyon Dam at the base of Glen Canyon. But ever since I read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey and The Place No One Knew by Eliot Porter and David Brower, I have been mortified at what was given up for so little. Through the years I have read many books that had mentioned the struggle over the building of the Glen Canyon Dam but had never read something really in depth. So when Sage mentioned The Story That Stands Like a Dam by Russell Martin, I bought a used copy cheaply off the internet.

I really enjoyed the book and reading the "rest of the story" behind the fight for and against the dam. That fight was the birth of environmentalism as it is today. It also gave worth to the environment and thus was something to protect and utilize. However all this came at a price and the price was Glen Canyon. Someday, I would like to make a trip out there to see what is left and what has been newly exposed. Perhaps someday, I might even get to see the large majority again if things continue as they are today.

Here are some facts and figures about the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. The maximum level (full pool) of Lake Powell is 3700 feet above see level and was first reached June 22, 1980, 17 years after the reservoir first began filling in 1963. Currently the level is 3589.77 feet above see level or 110.23 feet below full pool. This is 44.4% of capacity of the reservoir. The last time the reservoir was at its current elevation in 1970, it took 10 years to fill up completely. However, times have changed and many experts now think it will never fill up completely again.

This is for several reasons. When Lake Powell was filled up the first time, all the downstream and upstream reservoirs were at full capacity. This time around all the downstream and upstream reservoirs are way below capacity meaning they all need to be filled. Meanwhile, treaties have required a larger percentage of the water must be given to Mexican. Finally more water is being consumed all the time to feed the cities in the deserts and at the current growth rates, we will need more water per year to supply Mexico and our cities in the deserts than the Colorado river has. Meaning with less water coming in than going out, the impounded lakes behind these dams will dry up completely.

Glen Canyon Dam was specifically created for two purposes. One was to regulate the water supply for the downstream reservoir of Lake Mead and to generate electricity. The Glen Canyon Dam generates 451 megawatts on average per year, which is less than 1% of the power on the Western Power Grid, which always keeps an excess power capacity of 20% on hand. With the low water conditions of Lake Powell, the power generating ability is greatly reduced and will be reduced further as the water goes down and the silting reduced the capacity further.

One could make the case for keeping Lake Powell strictly for the tourism aspect since in the golden days of the 80's when the lake was full, millions visited every year. However, low levels have closed all but a few of the access points. Tourism is well down. Meanwhile the tourism of the undammed portion of the Grand Canyon, which hardly existed when the dam was built, surpasses the numbers of Lake Powell even in the best of times. People have come to see the value of the constantly renewable resource called Mother Nature over temporary ones like Lake Powell.

The Glen Canyon Dam was built to last a thousand years but even the experts say another 150 to 300 is all it has due to siltation assuming the demand doesn't exceed supply and the costs associated with producing the measly 451 megawatts doesn't become too much of a burden on the American taxpayer to continue. (Energy from the dam is costs 2.5 times higher per watt than energy from other sources already and is subsidized by the taxpayer.) With all these factors included, the odds of the dam being decommissioned in my lifetime are dramatically increasing. I can't wait.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What He Didn't Have

The FBI arrested a man yesterday trying to sneak bomb making materials in his baggage. Included were two concealed galvanized pipes, end caps, two containers of BBs, batteries and some bomb-making literature. Surprisingly, he didn't have any containers of gels or liquids that were not in a quart sized clear plastic baggie, no containers of more than three ounces, no nipple rings, nothing hidden in his penny loafers, no bottles of water that he bought on the wrong side of security, no baby formula, and nothing in that belt buckle that held up his pants.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Little Abbey at 22 Months

Little Abbey is now 22 months and going on 5 years old. Who would have thought that someone could grow a streak of independence in them at such a young age? Recently she asserted her independence by refusing to sit in the booster seat that we have been using since she refused to sit in her highchair many many months ago. So now she just kneels on our regular kitchen chairs and eats her meals happily. It is nice because it is one less thing that we have to worry about bringing when going for a visit somewhere but it is also another mess to clean up every evening. Sure she could wear a bib and that would make cleanup easier but she refuses to wear one of those unless I wear one of those. Though I have been known to need one at times, they don't make them large enough for my neck and so she goes without. We tried forcing her to eat with a bib and to eat on her booster seat but she has a stubborn streak that to date runs far deeper than my will power to listen to her scream and throw a fit. We went a whole week once and finally I gave up. How much worse can the terrible twos be?

Despite the stubborn independent streak, she is a good-natured kid and rarely cries or complains. In fact, she mostly just laughs and makes me laugh. A few weeks ago while I was tuning in to hear the final answer of Jeopardy, she started dancing to the theme music while the players wrote down their questions. But it wasn't any ordinary dance; it was evidently her Jeopardy dance. She puts both hands on her knees and then proceeds to spin around in circles, occasionally stopping to jump up in the air and yell, "Hey!” Since I usually do the jitterbug during the music, I have no idea where she learned it. Seriously, I don't know where she learned it since the last time I danced was probably back in the 80's.

A long time ago, I lowered her crib frame and removed a railing so that she could get in and out of her crib at will. She absolutely loved it but the first night she fell out like three or four times causing us to get up and put her back in bed until we finally blocked her in with big cardboard boxes. The next night I put the railing back on in such a way that it blocked all but a narrow opening and all was well in the world again. Last week, we decided to give it another try and we took the railing back off so that the entire side of the bed was once again open. Twice, I have found her in the morning with her legs dangling over the edge but not once has she fallen that I've heard. We are one more step closer to just getting her an adult bed, which definitely won't be until after she is completely potty trained at the earliest.

The freedom to get in and out of bed when she pleases suits her independence streak well. At first, she got up a little early to suit my taste but lately she has shown that indefinite ability to sleep that I've seen in some teens. On weekdays, I have to wake her up to get her dressed and over to daycare before my workday starts. On weekends, she sleeps in to six o'clock or so and then plays quietly until we get up. I can live with that. She can't quite yet work doorknobs though she can figure out the lever ones that we have throughout the house. Since her room has a knob, we make sure the door clicks when we close it at night to prevent breakout attempts Little Abbey would most surely try. She seems to be a night owl, which is a trait she certainly didn't get from me. After she has given up thoughts on escape, climbed back into bed and fallen asleep, I usually tuck her in again and leave the door slightly ajar so she can leave at will in the morning. This arrangement has worked out well.