Friday, May 30, 2008

Citizen Abbey

Immigration officers always seem to be a grumpy lot with only a few exceptions. After spending the last four years with my wife in and out of immigration offices, I can see why. The huddled, the tired, the poor all seem to be ill prepared and can communicate in English in only snippets of sentences and with great difficulty.

When Mrs. Abbey began her journey through the immigration system, I did lots of research on the Internet and it seemed as if most people hired lawyers to get them through. Lawyers are great when necessary but cost a lot of money (and are probably worth every cent in one of those necessary events) and so I wasn't really keen on forking over all that dough just to fill out forms. So I undertook the task myself and with one exception where I sent a check with a form and they required money order even though check was listed as being acceptable, I made it through easily. So easily that in an online forum that I used to belong too, I would recommend that people save their money and do it themselves. Even someone with a basic eighth grade education could read the forms, fill it out and attach the required information. I've since switched my tune.

The large majority of immigrants coming into the offices have very little understanding of the world they live in. Some examples. A relative of my wife was recently denied her citizenship because she came to America on a Visa and would leave the country for more than six months at a time to go back home, a no no that is repeated often throughout all the forms. Another person I know came here on a work Visa and then did not work for her employer for one single day. That too as one might guess, is not acceptable. Most of the immigrants I saw could not read forms and left out specific information that was asked for and so get put into a bureaucratic limbo until it gets fixed. A chap yesterday walked into the immigration office that deals solely with citizenship and wanted to get an extension for his foreign passport that expires on the first of June, two days away! Not only is there a separate office for that and has nothing to do with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, but also he waited until he had three days to get his problem fixed. Most doubtedly, he will be in the country illegally and his chances of getting citizenship have now greatly diminished.

For Mrs. Abbey, the decision to become a citizen was a no-brainer. She comes from the Philippines, which allows dual citizenship so she can have the best of both worlds. She can travel with the freedom of an American and not need to apply for Visas and can vote but still own land in the Philippines, which I will never be able to do without getting my Filipino citizenship. Even then, I'm not sure I could since I wasn't native born.

So we made it to our appointment on time, sat around for fifteen minutes waiting and listening to the problems of the other would-be citizens, and then my wife's name was called. By this time I was extremely confident that compared to everyone else, she was a shoo in and sure enough, ten minutes later she walked out a conditional citizen of the United States. All that remains is the formality of swearing an oath to the country in one of those ceremonies you see on television from time to time. That should happen sometime in the next couple months. At that time, she can apply for the most cherished and sacred rights guaranteed to a United States Citizen, the right to vote.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Solving a Mystery and Proving Some Family Lore

This past Memorial Day, my wife, Little Abbey, mother-in-law and I set out to explore some of the sights of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Having worked and lived near there for over five years, I was already familiar with it but wanted to take the trip anyway for two reasons. The first reason was to explore some of the lesser known or not as popular attractions that I have skipped for various reasons. The second was that the trip led me past several graveyards of buried ancestors and would allow me to visit them on a day we chose to memorialize the dead.

On the way up, I stopped once again at Riverside Cemetery in Charles City to visit with my 3G grandfather John whom I tried to find several years ago and wrote about in this blog entry. With the help of my newly obtained map, I found his grave without problems and had a short visit. I thought again of the backstory that I wrote about more recently and seeing the five small tombstones of the children. You hear about how hard it is on parents who lose one child and this guy lost five AND a wife all within a couple months. Yet he continues on with life, eventually remarried and had three more kids.

We drove down the road to another cemetery also named Riverside and situated on the same river where I got to visit the graves of one of John's surviving children, his wife and her parents, another set of my 3G grandparents. Once again my GPS unit led me there flawlessly but finding the gravestones in an immense graveyard is another matter. Fortunately my legwork had narrowed it down to one of a dozen blocks but not a row or lot number. But as we were wandering around, a lady drove up and asked if she could help me find someone. I asked if she had been the person to speak to me earlier over the phone and indeed she had. Seconds later I was standing at the gravestones. Although I would have found it eventually, she shortened the effort and more importantly, gave me a mystery to boot.

She said that in researching the location for this family of my 3G and 2G grandparents, she came across another lot registered to the same family but in the original part of the cemetery. There were four graves in this lot assigned to the names of a S. Cogswell, Mrs. Leigh, Martha L & Fred B. She had S. Cogswell of dying in 1893 & other than that, could offer little more information. After getting home and researching my notes, I'm about 95% confident that S. Cogswell is none other than Simeon Cogswell, my 4G grandfather. I had known that Simeon had moved from New York to Rockford in his later years and disappeared off records after 1890 but had forgotten this fact while standing in the cemetery. I also had forgotten that Simeon had almost a dozen children over the years, one named Frederick and another Marshal. Since Martha L. is just an interpretation of what is written in very worn lettering on the gravestone, it very well could have been Marshal instead of MarthaL. Mrs. Leigh I'm guessing is a married daughter, which one, I don't know. No word on Rebecca Bush his wife. It was my first 4G grandparents I had a chance of meeting and it was a terrific find. So far it is the closest I've gotten to my distant cousins Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

On our return journey home on Monday, I cancelled the idea of visiting a cemetery in Parkersburg, Iowa where another ancestor is buried since it had been wiped off the face of the map by a mile wide tornado the day before and was most likely closed to outside traffic. But my trusty GPS had another one in Cedar Falls to visit as a backup if only the office was open to help me narrow down my search. It was and I got to visit the graves of 2 sets of 2G grandparents and 2 sets of 3G grandparents along with confirming some family lore. My 2G grandfather John had remarried after his first wife and my 2G grandmother had died. He evidently upset his in-laws by paying for a divorce of another married lady and marrying her so soon after their daughter's death all of which I not to long ago wrote about. So they told him that they had no room in their burial plot where his wife and their daughter had been buried and he was forced to be buried all by his lonesome elsewhere. I did indeed find this to be the case. John's father is even buried one plot behind John's wife but John is half a cemetery away.

My system is working flawlessly and already I have made good progress on the "known" locations of my ancestors. I have dutifully taken a picture of their stones, made a map and mapped the actual GPS coordinates so that future genealogists, who share my ancestors and interest, can be told within feet of where the grave is located.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Finding a Black Sheep

Sometimes you just luck out and in this case I did. I was going through my 4G relatives searching for information but taking a different tact than I have so far. Up until this point, I have been going through one generation at a time finding out all I can about my ancestors before moving onto the next generation. It allows me to do things in an orderly manner so that I don't skip anything. This worked fine through my 3G grandparents is not well suited to earlier generations. The reason being is that earlier than 1850, Federal Census records only listed the name of the head of household and then just check marks for children or other dependents that fell into age ranges. It makes it almost impossible to guarantee that the person with the same name as your ancestor is actually your ancestor. But there is still other ways.

Back around the time Census records were filling in more information, it was common for people to write large volumes on family genealogy. Finding these volumes is easy but cost excessive amounts of money to obtain. A few volumes are in collections in libraries and a few are in online collections. In the particular case of the "Boggs" (not actual surname) family, I struck gold and found an online source that goes back to the time of my 9G grandfather John Boggs, one of the first settlers in this country. There is a lot of information there, some which I will probably write about in the future.

But a question arose as I was sifting through this that I decided to quickly look into. Was my ex-neighbor Paul Boggs part of this lineage and thus a distant cousin to me? If you remember, Paul was a family friend and neighbor who molested his daughter over a seven-year period and tore our community apart into lots of little pieces. Due to the request of his wife, our family and the entire community will no longer communicate with him. But the pieces of her family are shattered and are already showing up in the next generation and will perhaps continue to plague future generations. It is a horrible story to even think about.

So I pulled up a family tree of someone who had mapped out the various generations of the Boggs family from my 4G grandfather down, and sure enough, Paul's father is on that list meaning I am a distant cousin and my 4G grandfather Salmon is the closet shared relative. I suppose every family has some black sheep but that is one BLACK sheep to have. My main interest has been in finding my direct ancestors and not cousins so I will feel no guilt in not even connecting that link to my tree. What a small world.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

At Long Last, the First Notch In My Genealogy Belt

This weekend in an effort to put my new GPS system to the test in regards to genealogy, we took the "scenic" route to a nearby town to do some shopping. We ended up NE of the town of Martinsburg where my 3G grandparents were buried and the closest to where I currently live. It was a church cemetery so even though I didn't know where within the cemetery they were buried, I was hoping it would be small enough to find them anyway. I did but I was lucky.

The GPS led us right to the church and cemetery located on a small gravel road in a gentle valley in an otherwise perfectly flat plain as far as the eye could see in any direction. As we pulled up, Little Abbey was asleep so I was turning the vehicle around to face the other direction to give her some shade to sleep in while we looked when I saw their headstone. It was located only about 50 feet from the road and under a large cedar tree. You couldn't miss it.

I know very little about David Monohon other than he and his wife both were born in Indiana but moved to Iowa in the early 19th century where they spent their lives on a farm near Martinsburg. David was a Civil War Veteran who fought for the Union in the 35th Iowa Infantry, Company F. According to lore, he was wounded and spent time in a POW camp where he supposedly chopped off a toe for reasons now lost to memory. He used to tell his grandkids that he used to eat black ants while a POW and that they tasted like picked. His brothers lived short lives, one run over by a wagonload of wood in San Diego, another killed in the Civil War and another killed on the Milwaukee Railroad. Perhaps that is why David Monohon supposedly got drunk one night and tried to knock the engine off the track. However, David outlived them all living to the ripe old age of 81years only survived by his wife who died a dozen years later.

This was my second attempt at finding the grave of one of my 3G grandparents and my only successful attempt so far. Eventually, perhaps soon, I hope to add to this list. Now however, kneeling at their grave I'm not sure how I should feel. I feel elated having found a part of me that until recently in my life, I never knew existed. I feel sorrow that I can never get closer to someone directly responsible for bringing me into this world than the six feet between us and 150 years. I wonder what it would be like to teleport back through time and just have an hour to talk with David and Lucy and even then, what would we talk about? Most likely, I would just sip lemonade on a wide porch of their farmhouse and keep an eye on my 2G grandmother Rosa as she played out front with her siblings.

Monday, May 19, 2008

LOST!

I shouldered my pack and started down the trail that skirted around the lake. On the west side of the lake, the trail immediately started up a steep and extremely washed out mountain pass. I took my time, pacing my breathing and myself but still could feel the burn in my legs as I plugged along up the trail. Finally after three hours of climbing, I was at the apex of the pass. As I looked down into the valley below, I could see the lake that I remembered seeing on the map and knew that the trail went towards it. I took a drink of water and gladly headed down the trail towards it.

About halfway down the mountain pass, the trail began to grow faint and eventually disappeared into a tangle of trees blown down in some windstorm. I bushwhacked around the pile looking for the trail to pick up again and couldn't find it. I pulled out my map again verifying that the trail did hike down towards the lake and pushed on. I had planned an eight-mile day the first day and had only gone two or three when an hour later I knew something was wrong. I was at the shore of the lake and could still find no signs of the trail. I was officially lost on day one of my 14 day backpacking trip and the weather was about ready to cut loose into a thunderstorm. I set down my pack, oriented my map on the ground with my compass, anchored it with rocks and studied where I had gone wrong.

After about ten minutes of tracing the route I should have taken with the visions of what I had seen, I finally found it. In my haste at the top of the pass, I hadn't noticed that the map showed the trail turning to the south and heading up higher onto the ridge before turning back to the west. I had immediately gone off the west side and stumbled down to a lake, but not the one that I had wanted. I had wanted to use my arms to help ease the packs load from my unconditioned hip bones so had began the hike with the map in my pocket. Normally I would have folded the map so that it only showed the section where I was at and stowed it in a waterproof plastic bag that I always kept in my hand so to follow along at all times. Now I was sitting here in the pouring rain with a tough choice. Do I hike all the way back up to the summit of the pass and figure out where I had gone wrong or bushwhack through about a mile of terrain until I crossed the trail that I knew was now somewhere to the south of me. I chose the latter.

It was already mid afternoon when I set out and immediately ran into countless tangled piles of trees blown down in some horrific and recent storm. Many had leaves that were still green. I had to push my way through, around and over them all the while trying to follow a bearing that would cross the trail. It was hot steamy work in the humidity following the rain and everything was extremely slippery from the moisture. It was late in the day when I finally stumbled out onto the trail, wet and exhausted. I hiked to the lake I thought I had been originally hiking towards and half as far as I had planned on hiking and called it a day. As I reflected on the day, I realized that I had started off with the wrong attitude and now had been set straight by Mother Nature that I was in her house and I had to play by her rules. I had to respect her rules or it was going to cost me. Fortunately my first lesson only cost me time and energy and not the ultimate price that it easily could have had I not been able to read a map that I should have been reading in the beginning.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Taking My Genealogy Obsession To the Next Level

I know what you are thinking. If I am already obsessed with genealogy and I think that it pretty clear so how could I take it to the next level? I accidentally stumbled on a way.

Several times in the past few months, I have taken trips, business and personal, that has taken me past the general vicinity of a graveyard that has some genealogical interest to me. The problem has been that I hadn't realized it until after I left the house and I didn't know the address or the information that I needed to look for at that particular place. In the case of cemeteries, I often didn't even have an address for them so finding them is very difficult. I needed a way to take this list along with me and tell me how to get to the place in question when I realize I am near. Enter the world of technology.

As I expressed in this blog entry, I wanted to purchase a Garmin Nuvi GPS navigation device and I did so before my mother-in-law arrived opting for the Garmin Nuvi 200W. It allows me to enter both addresses and coordinates to various locations and save them in a favorites folder. The drawback to this is that your favorites folder gets very cluttered and hard to search going down a highway at 70 mph and you can only give a simple description up to twenty-some characters long. Entering a list of coordinates and the twenty-some character descriptions through their menus can be very time consuming to do. Plus, their system only lets me enter known coordinates and so far, nobody that I have found has compiled a list of coordinates to cemeteries, probably because most of the people interested in such a list are already there and six feet down.

So I turn to a free program on the Internet called Google Earth. Once I know the general vicinity of the graveyard in question, I track it down using satellite technology and find out the coordinates. Because I can input these coordinates into my GPS, I was now confident that I could find the cemetery but still needed a way to write down some notes that would help my locate the graves such as name, section and row. When you have over a thousand ancestors that you are tracking down and many have lived in Iowa since it was a state, it becomes hard to remember which one was where. So once again I turned to the Internet where I found a wealth of knowledge of others wanting to do the same thing but for different reasons. Soon I learned that I could create my own custom Points of Interest (POI) file where I can list up to 256 characters of information, plenty for my purposes. A few minutes of typing, a quick download onto the GPS via a USB cable and now I have my own Genealogical Global Positioning System or as I'm referring to it now, a GGPS. Yes, I have now gone to the next level.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Nauvoo Revisited: Mormonism-lite

Last fall, my wife and I visited Nauvoo, Illinois where we visited the historic Joseph Smith site. We picked up some literature and since we were too late for the official tour, went on a self-led tour of the site. This past weekend with MIL in tow, we stopped by again and paid our $2 per head to go on the official tour.

Our first stop was the official visitors building where we attended a fifteen-minute showing of the history of Nauvoo and the Mormons. I must say, it was kind of Mormonism-lite. They glossed over a lot of Joseph Smith Jr's background such as the gold transcriptions from God that he based his Book of Mormon from or his shady dealings like creating a bank to pay off his debts from building a temple after Jesus, Moses, Elijas, Elias and numerous angles told him too in a series of dreams while living in Pennsylvania. In fact, the short film never even mentioned Pennsylvania at all. It was a very sanitized version.

The tour then departed and we revisited his old house, his new house called "The Mansion" and his general store that he ran. This time, we were even led into his old house and "The Mansion" but I can't say that anything exciting was learned. It was nice to hear someone talk about Joseph's life even it was the lite version. At the end of the tour when we ended up in the old meetinghouse above the general store, I decided to try and raise some hackles.

I asked for our tour guide Kevin to talk a little about Brigham Young whom up until this point, had never even been mentioned by name. He briefly told about how there was no tension between Brigham and Joseph Smith III and that they really split on good terms, Brigham going to Utah and Joseph III remaining behind. I couldn't resist and made the comment that since they were on such good terms, the church in Utah and the one now headquartered in Independence, Missouri were one and the same. Still Kevin just smiled and said that they were different but only because 100 years of being apart had gradually made them so. There was one other couple, visiting from Salt Lake City and wearing official church nametags that had been on the tour with us and I could see that they really didn't want to listen to this so I stopped at that point and let Kevin have the last word.

I looked again briefly over the books on sale about Joseph Smith but once again declined. I really would like to get a book on him but I would like to find one from an independent source and not one recommended by the keepers of the Joseph Smith historic site that is obviously sanitized heavily.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tricycle! Tricycle! I want to ride my Tricycle!

I took everyone's advice, some after the fact, and gave Little Abbey her tricycle this weekend after doing some assembly. With almost no encouragement, she climbed right up onto the seat and was happy as a June bug. With some encouragement, she would scoot all the way forward on the seat and was just able to reach the pedals. I'm still working on getting her to actually peddle. For now, she just straddles it and goes rolling all over the house by shuffling her feet. She is very happy. I'm waiting for a while before letting her take it outside where the concrete is much harder and more abrasive to skin. She hasn't tipped it over yet but that day is coming, it is just a matter of win.

After much procrastination, I finally uploaded pictures off my digital camera. Actually with all the video footage I took during my last business trip and recent trip to Chicago, the 1-gigabyte memory card was full and forced my hand. I will post a few of the pictures as chances arise and I can find something to say about them. Perhaps even a blurry shot of Little Abbey looking away from the camera for those dedicated fans of them.

Monday, May 5, 2008

MORELS!

That first bite was heavenly. The next dozen were too. I started out with the bottom half of a large onion hamburger bun, grilled Angus beef, a slice a cheese, a large pile of morel mushrooms sautéed in a little butter, and topped it with the other half of the bun. Delicious.

Saturday I had to pick my brother up at the airport and run him down to the farm for the week. After his horrible accident last fall where he shattered his lower leg and ankle into well over 50 fragments, it was great to see him walking again, even if he walked like his bad leg had fallen asleep in the airplane. He was walking and that is all that matters to me. But his plane was late and we decided to stop for lunch at a tiny town along the river road of the Mississippi where the best burgers in the world could be found. By the time we got home, it was growing late so we just talked with the parents for a few minutes and I left for my home but not before they gave me a small plastic bag with a small mess or gray morels they had found on Wednesday.

Sunday after church, I brought the girls and we drove down to the farm for a family meal and of course, mushroom hunting. Within perhaps two seconds of stepping into the wooded draw, the shouts of found mushrooms were being heard so I knew it was going to be a good year. Mrs. Abbey won the prize, which is nothing more than honor, of finding the first morel. I was pushing Little Abbey in her all terrain strollers through the woods over sticks, logs, and such so I was greatly handicapped. None-the-less, I was still able to find a small mess around a dead elm tree before we exited and drove over to another draw that we hunt.

There, for the first time in perhaps fifteen years, we didn't find any morels under the large silver maple at the head of the draw. We never understood why they grew there in the first place but it was sad not to find them. Down the draw aways with Little Abbey being pushed around by Grandpa, I found a prime elm that was newly dead and the bark hadn't even started to peel off. At the base, I found morels and lots of them. A mushroom machine! As far as mushroom machines go, it was on the light end of the spectrum but I still found around twenty or so morels scattered out here and there.

On around the corner, I headed for my other favorite spot there. It is a gradual north facing slope down by the creek populated with knee high buck brush that for another unexplained reason to me, always seems to produce big lunkers of morel mushrooms. There aren't any trees in this area, dead elm or otherwise in this area. There are two more spots along the draw that are exactly like this in my eyes, north facing, no trees, knee high buck brush and they don't produce morels. Only this one does. I stepped just a couple steps into the buck brush and saw a morel, then another, and another, and so on. I walked the entire twenty feet stopping repeatedly to pick another specimen and then turned around and walked back.

Being partially green colorblind, finding morels is harder for me than others and I often miss a few. So it was no shock when I quickly found another half dozen, including one that would take the family prize, again just honor, for finding the biggest one, a yellow morel topping the charts at a mere five inches tall. I've found some before that were around 12 inches tall so they do get much bigger but this is still early in the season for yellows, and in a few days, I'm sure there will be larger ones being found everywhere.

Twenty minutes later, I had my bag completely full of mushrooms. It is a mesh bag that is tailored for morel mushrooms to allow the 100 spores per centimeter in a morel, fall out onto the ground as the air gently dries the mushroom and ensure that future years will produce large crops. Whenever I see an elm tree still not dying from the elm disease that afflicts most of the United States, I always swirl my bag through the air around the base a few times making sure it gets a good dose of morel spores. Hopefully when the Dutch elm disease takes over in a few years, the spores will feed on the release of toxins from the roots of the dying tree and produce a Mushroom Machine!

We still had several places left to go but my brother was already pushing his leg to the max and our bags were full so we went home. After the loot was cleaned and divided, we ended up taking around three pounds of packed mushrooms home with us. That should be enough to last us for the rest of the week if we eat on them every evening. I sautéed the first handful in some butter and would have added garlic if we hadn't been out. They topped our hamburgers as I mentioned at the beginning of this post and were delicious. At last, morel season is here!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Little Abbey At 23 Months

Little Abbey is a couple days past 23 months. By tradition, it is the last time she will be so many months of age when asked how old. For the next year, she will simply be two, perhaps two and a half if we stretch it. I suspect the reason is mostly due to the poor math skills of adults and how long it would take us to figure how old a child is if they were 57 months old. It is way easier to just say almost 5 years old. Everyone knows how old almost five is.

The past couple weeks have been great for Little Abbey. Grandma from the Philippines has been spoiling her rotten and it shows. When at the daycare, she got diapers rashes now and then. Nothing that was bad but it always seemed like we had to be on top of it to prevent them from getting to the painful stage, which is no fun. With my MIL, she hasn't had one rash. So I suspect with a house full of other children, Little Abbey doesn't get changed quite so often. I don't really blame Mrs. Z but just know that it is the fact of life that when you have seven kids, each one doesn't get as much attention as one child by itself. I'm hoping that by the end of my MIL's stay, Little Abbey will be well on her way to being potty trained. She is showing signs by letting us know immediately AFTER she has done something and even tells us what she has done. We are working on trying to get to the next stage where she lets us know BEFORE.

Every month seems to be so much different from the last as far as personality and character goes. I don't know how to describe it other than she is just so full of personality now, that what she was like at six months seems like a shell devoid of most life. Yet back then, comparing six months to four months was the same way. I find myself quite enthralled with this progression and marvel at the miracle of human life and how we develop. Although I have experienced it with my own childhood, this is the first time I have witnessed it.

We have officially phased into spelling words in our house, as Little Abbey understands more than we would sometimes like. She loves baths so much that a mere mention of the words makes all her clothes come off and she streaks off to the bathroom. At that time you have two choices, give her a bath or undergo a huge temper tantrum. Same way with the words "lets go" meaning we are going somewhere. If you aren't ready within thirty seconds after saying those words, another tantrum ensues because you were two slow. Bear is another word.

Bear is a small bear shaped blanket with a stuff bear head at the appropriate spot made out of this really silky thread material to simulate actual bear fur. My mom made it as a present for her and she has become attached to it. I've trained Little Abbey that she must leave it at home whenever we go somewhere but at home she more than likely has it close by. At night, she has to have it to go to bed. Just a few nights ago, Bear had to be washed and due to other things, hadn't yet been tossed in the dryer by the time Little Abbey was in bed. I told my wife that she is just going to have to cry it out tonight and perhaps wean herself from bear but after ten minutes of listening to her scream and sob the name Bear over and over, I gave in. I grabbed bear out of the washing machine still damp but not wringing wet and gave it to her. Within minutes she was asleep and I went in and removed it from her bed. As Geri said on her blog not to long ago, you have to pick and choose your battles.

Little Abbey really loves her plastic push scooters that she has in our house and regularly rolls around on them. So when I got to thinking about her upcoming 2nd birthday, I knew exactly what I wanted to get her. I bought a retro Roadmaster dual decked red metal tricycle. It came last week in a box and has been sitting unopened in the great room. I'm going through the internal battle now of should I put it together and give it to her early or wait for one more month. She is still too young to grasp what a birthday means and this is probably the last year for that. So giving it to her early probably won't mean a thing to her and allow her to ride it in the nice spring weather before it gets too hot. But yet part of me, a very small part, thinks I should wait. I've waited a week already simply because I haven't had the time and this weekend is not looking good for time either. I don't know what will happen when I do get an hour to spare.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What Passes For a Zoo in Chicago?

Although the skies were clear on Saturday, the temperatures were chilly. When I walked out to the vehicle to restock the ice chest with ice, it was a balmy 34 degrees with a stiff breeze. Later as we sat in our vehicle with the heater on waiting for the ten o'clock opening of the Brookfield Zoo, I wasn't so sure it was a good idea. In our group was my MIL, a Filipina straight from the island and much warmer temperatures. We dug around and found a couple blankets that we keep in there, dusted them off and decided to give the zoo a try.

We had already paid $8 to park our vehicle and it cost me another $33 to get the three adults into the zoo and Little Abbey got in free. As zoos go, this one kind of disappointed me. About a third of the exhibits were closed to visitors and it seemed as if half of the remaining inhabitants had mysterious disappeared because both their outdoor and indoor cages were empty, many being cleaned. It seemed like we mostly walked from one empty cage to another. We were able to locate one lion and one tiger, two of Little Abbey's favorite animals but I think she was too scared of seeing them in real life to issue her standard growl when she sees a picture of one.

Another gripe that I had about our day at the zoo was the cost of food. It was outrageously high! So high, that having a five-dollar bill in your pocket felt just like a penny in a grocery store. Fortunately, we had smuggled quite a bit of snacks in Little Abbey's stroller so we munched on those and ate after we left the park. My final gripe is that you weren't allowed to take strollers into most buildings that were handicap accessible. So we had to unload the stroller every time we went into the building and of course, the exit to the exhibit was on the other side of the building so dad had to walk around every single time to fetch the stroller to proceed onto the next exhibit. In all, I probably tripled the miles of my wife and her mother just fetching the stroller.

As we were walking out, my wife and MIL went inside a store to check out high priced baubles, a lady approached me to fill out a survey, which I did with great satisfaction. I even wrote on the back. I had been under the impression that Brookfield Zoo was one of the tops in the nation but it had nothing on our humble little zoo here in Iowa and paled compared to the one we saw in Omaha Nebraska during the middle of winter after my wife got her greencard. If I had to do it over again, I would have saved my money and gone to the free Lincoln Park Zoo.

P.S. The weather warmed up considerably by late morning and it was a beautiful day to visit the zoo had we been able to find one.