Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another Family History Post

Sunset at Arie den Boer Aboreteum

Not very often, you run across a family in the ancestral tree that is easier than others to research simply because the research has already been done. This is the case for the Cowles line of my family tree. I've researched a bit back to my 4th and 5th great grandfathers in this line but it really starts with John Cowles, my tenth great grandfather, who came over here in 1634 settling in what would become Farmington, Connecticut.

John Cowles, though a farmer, was politically and religiously well to do having served as the town constable along with various other political positions and also was described as "one of the pillars of the Congregational Church" that was organized 13 Oct 1652. He also served on the jury of the famous witchcraft trial of Nathanial Greensmith and his wife Rebecca and perhaps as a conflict of interest, was the appraiser for the estate of Nathanial after his execution.

His son Samuel Cowles, grandson Joseph Cowles, great grandson Samuel Cowles and great great grandson Samuel Cowles were all active in the church and community in Connecticut during the early colonial years. But it wasn't until John Cowles 3rd great grandson Noah Cowles that I am able to add a little depth to this story.

Noah Cowles was born 17 Oct 1759 in Torrington, Connecticut where he lived a good portion of his life. Like his father Samuel who fought in defense of Fort William Henry in the French and Indian War and later as an ensign during the Lexington Alarm of April 1775 in the Revolutionary War, Noah was destined to be a military man. He enlisted as a volunteer in the Revolutionary Army in May of 1776 under Captain lacy of Col. Herman Swift's regiment of the Connecticut State troops. He marched from Norfolk, Conn to Bennington, Vt., Whitehall and Mount Independence where he joined the arm and remained there until September 1, 1776. At that time, with permission of his officers he enlisted as a marine on board a galley called the Washington commanded by Captain Thatcher and Lieutenant Gould on Lake Champlain. There under General Benedict Arnold in the famous Battle of Valcour Island, his ship was pursued up the lake and eventually captured by the British. Noah and all on board became prisoners of war. He remained as such until April 1781 when he was exchanged and after being paroled, returned to Norfolk, Conn.

Soon after his parole, he married Olive Mills, became one of the first deacons in the Kensington Congregational Church and started a family. Not content to take over his father Samuel's potash company or gristmill, he decided that the west was calling him. Along with his son and my 4th great grandfather Salmon, Noah Cowles walked on foot to Ashtabula County in Ohio in 1800 to the present city of Austinburg with other home seekers from Norfolk. There they erected cabins, walked back to Connecticut, gathered up the ox team and the rest of the family and walked back again to Ohio, a 500-mile journey done three times over.

Noah's son Salmon was described as "5 feet 8 inches in height and spare of build and showed his Yankee lineage by always asking questions." Nothing was said of his father's restless gene which he undoubtedly inherited since Salmon soon set off by flat boat down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers all the way to New Orleans where he became a teacher. He eventually came back home and would marry a lady by the name of Polly Miner who some credit as the first white child born where the city of Rochester, Ohio now stands. Though he started a family, settling down wasn't part of the plan and two years after marriage, he was on the road again to Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. There he entered college and graduated in 1818, then went to Steubenville, Ohio where he began the study of divinity with Rev. Dr. Jennings. In 1820 he moved to Hagerstown and began the ministry in the Presbyterian Church. Never one to be tied down, he was there for one year before accepting a call to Crabapple Church in Belmont county Ohio where he remained for eight years. While there, he was one of the first incorporators, trustee and the first president of Franklin College at New Athens, Harrison co., Ohio in 1824-5. Soon after in 1826, his eighth child and my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Trimble Cowles was born. Young Joseph soon realized what kind of family he had been brought into for a mere five years later in 1831, Salmon Cowles and his family moved to Stillwater, Ohio and then in October of 1840, moved to Iowa Territory. There, he preached a couple tours of duty at the O.S. Presbyterian Church in West Point, Iowa, which is the oldest Presbyterian church organization in the state, was also the first brick church in Iowa and the first brick building in West point. While the original church doesn't stand, the "new" one that Rev. Salmon Cowles helped build in the 1860's still stands to this day. Several other Presbyterian churches, including one in Oskaloosa, were started up by Rev. Salmon Cowles and he rode a lengthy circuit five to six times a year to preach at many more. Salmon Cowles, described with kindness and a good word for everyone, he lived and died universally loved and respected by a wide circle of friends, died 25 Mar 1869 at the family homestead near West Point, Iowa. His son Joseph Trimble Cowles would migrate up to the Morning Sun area in Louisa County, which I have spoken of before on this blog. The name of that town just attracts me like a moth to a flame. One of Joseph's daughters, my 2nd great grandmother would marry into the another branch of my family tree from that area and thus end the Cowles branch of my tree.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TSA Institutes New Underwear Procedures

Desert Rat here just back from an overseas on sabbatical to my home of non-desert-like Iowa and an international flight. I have breaking news for you, that is only four days old! Due to some idiot who tried to blow up his underpants with something other than intestinal gases, we are now required to place all underwear in those grey tubs along with our shoes, extra clothes, bags, metallic objects and generally everything you have on you for further screening. If your underwear is found to contain substances that are explosive in nature and of course aren't edible, you will be in big trouble.

Fortunately during the flight, we are still able to access our computers, handheld devices such as cellphones and PDA's, and even GPS units. With these devices and a window seat, you can still pin point your general location though you can no longer access the in-flight entertainment unit which shows a rough representation of your location thanks to further TSA restrictions. You can know where you are at any time but they are forbidden from telling you. One caveat, grab your GPS device more than one hour from landing because now, you can't stand up or even go to the bathroom to rearrange your explosive underpants in that last hour before landing. Nope. If you want to blow up an airplane, you are just going to have to do it sometime in those other 15 hours you have in your overseas flight from Chicago to Japan or similar overseas flight. It might be tight, especially if you've put on a lot of weight since buying that explosive new teddy that you might be wearing under that pantsuit but the law is the law. I say might be because after checking it in the grey tub, I'm not sure how many will be brave enough to put back on their underwear as we now do with our shoes, belts, coats, metallic objects, etc.

If you are contemplating flying international and your name is on the naughty list that they compile the even naughtier list from which prevents you from flying all together, don't worry, it doesn't matter anyway. You can still fly, explosive underpants and all, EVEN if you pay cash for a one-way international flight with no luggage. Rather than fix that problem, our government is just going to keep instituting more rules that make you scratch your head like outlawing bottled water. Oh wait, they already did that one. Maybe outlawing blankets, coats, pillows or anything covering your lap during the last hour of flight. Oh wait, they just did that one too. You must now hold all objects, including carry-on items stowed under the seat in front of you over your head the entire last hour of the flight so that the attendants can plainly see your crotch at all times. So I close by reminding you to pack in the explosives in your unmentionables after you check it in the grey tubs and before that last hour of flight. Happy travels!

Desert Rat

Monday, December 28, 2009

Smith Cemetery

During my genealogical explorations, many of my relatives spanning three generations ended up being buried in Smith Cemetery in rural Clinton county Iowa. One rainy day, my daughter and I decided to track it down using GPS coordinates that I obtained from a couple verbal descriptions of its locations and following along on Google Earth. Since the family cemetery was in the middle of a field and not along the road, it was not visible to wayward travelers and using GPS coordinates was my only shot, if they were in fact correct.

As I got close, I came upon a farm with some historical looking buildings on one side of the road and a gate to a farm field on the other. The GPS told me to turn into the farm field but before I did, I paused to look over the farm and noticed two words painted on the side of an old barn. Smith Farm. I knew I was in the right location. I turned into the gateway to the field and drove up and over a hill on a grass strip bordering it and came to my destination, the Smith family cemetery pictured above.

Unlike many family cemeteries of this age and one I would visit just an hour later and a mile down the road, this one was still being maintained. In fact, many of the original gravestones had been replaced with newer ones right beside them. Since it was a small cemetery and not one documented by the Iowa Gravestone Project, I quickly photographed all the stones so that I could later enter it into the system for other future researchers to find. Among those photographed were one set of 3rd great grandparents, two sets of 4th great grandparents and my 5th great grandmother. The two sets of 4th great grandparents are the beginning of a small loop in my family tree that I blogged about earlier. I have also blogged about my 3rd great grandfather and his journey to Iowa in this post as well.

As my daughter ran around, I paused at each grave comparing what was written on the stone with my book of research that I take with me and also just to hold a silent conversation with that person or persons buried beneath. I also took time to gaze around me at the terrain on what was certainly fertile ground in the day and the old farmstead that I had driven by at the bottom of the hill and next to the river flowed in the bottoms below. It was a good place to raise family which is why I suppose three generations died there and two more generations grew up there and are buried nearby.

I visited another cemetery down the road a mile that was an offshoot of this line and where another 5th great grandparent is buried. I was hoping to find out information about his wife whom I only know as Rebecca since she wasn't listed in the burial records. Unfortunately, the tombstones were in such a bad state of decay that I could only read two of the dozen or so there and neither of them were the Peter Thomas I was looking for. Fortunately, a month ago someone wrote me an email from an inquiry I had made on a board about his wife letting me know she was actually buried halfway across the state in Greene county though there still was no more information on her maiden name or ancestry. That email prompted me to search my blog archives only to realize I had never blogged about this trip as I had planned. Better late than never I suppose.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Arie den Boer Aboreteum - Firebird Tree

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The One About the Apocalypse, a Quick Wedding and a Gratuitous Sunset Picture

Sunset at Arie den Boer Aboreteum

The morning of my brother's wedding, we awoke to a world coated in white. I had so looked forward to going south to the land of warm sunshine during our winter and instead found myself in the first snow in Alabama since 1993. There was maybe a quarter inch of the stuff and it was gone before I was through with my shower and out the door but I still found it funny. The rest of the day I heard stories of the "big snowstorm" and how people had been worried enough to drive to the store in their four wheel drive vehicle to stock up on supplies just in case it lingered. I wondered what they would have thought had they experienced a foot of the stuff with 50 mph winds less than five days later like I did. Probably they would have assumed hell had frozen over and the apocalypse had come.

I've been to a lot of weddings but this was the first wedding I had been 'in' since my uncles wedding back when I was barely out of diapers. Needless to say since I was going to be standing the entire time, I was hoping for a short wedding ceremony. Though the ceremony wasn't until 3:30, a half hour after the start of the Alabama-Auburn game I learned, we had to be there at one o'clock for the taking of pictures. Two hours later when the pictures were done, I was more than ready to enjoy the comforts of the pew before the ceremony but alas it was not to be. I had to get the ring to hand to my brother and some last minute instructions before showing up my position just outside the side door of the chapel ten minutes before show time. Fortunately, the actually ceremony once we entered the chapel was all of five minutes long and that included the two minutes it took for the bride to walk down the aisle. Short and sweet was an understatement but suited me just fine. My wife was a little put out because our old digital camera couldn't get focused in time for the traditional kissing the bride shot. She was able to get two or three shots before that of the actual ceremony before the buzzer sounded and I found myself trailing the two bride's maids up the aisle.

After it was all said and done, we loaded up the vehicles and drove back to the newly wed couple's house for a dinner of BBQ and conversation. One more item of note was that one family showed up about twenty minutes late to the ceremony and found the doors already locked. It was that quick!

Programming Note: I am on vacation from now until January 4th. I am planning on being close to home the entire time but may not make it onto blogger as often as normal so bear with me if I don't answer comments or leave them on your blog quite as often as normal. I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Trip to the Deep South in Greece

While I didn't get a leisurely trip back from the Deep South, I did take a leisurely trip down there. We drove pretty easy the first day and made it as far as Nashville before we stopped for the night at only 4 pm. We checked out a couple BBQ joints for lunch along the way then again for supper in Nashville but neither had that elusive Holy Grail of BBQ. At the lunch one, I did have my first BBQ sandwich with coleslaw on it since that appears everywhere once you get down south. It had an interesting taste and wasn't all that bad but I still prefer just meat and sauce on mine.

The next morning, we decided to kill the morning in Nashville before continuing on our way to our only obligation of the day, which was the traditional evening before the wedding dinner with both families. With only three or so hours left to drive, we decided to stay until noon. To allow the Nashville rush hour to simmer and get out of the hospital, we walked around downtown in the music city area seeing the Country Music Television headquarters and the former home of the Grand Old Opry, the Ryman Center. It was early and none of these things were open and it was too cold to linger so we drove to Greece and saw the Parthenon.

Well actually we visited the only full-scale replica of the Parthenon in the world that happened to be located in Nashville. Unlike the 2000 plus year old Parthenon that sits on top of the Acropolis, this one is just a young pup at a little over 100 years old and instead of marble, built out of cast concrete. But other than that, it is a faithful reproduction in every other way. Underneath the Parthenon, there is a museum on the building of both structures along with the requisite gift shop but in the main chamber you can't help but say wow when you see the full-scale forty-one feet ten inch high replica of the goddess war, Athena originally made by Phidias. Back in the 5th century BC., it was hailed as a masterpiece. It was also neat to see the winged goddess of victory Nike (in Athena's outstretched right hand), in a context other than tennis shoes. We arrived there just as it opened and had it too ourselves for a few minutes and for the next couple hours as we walked around, there were always crowds standing in front of her. I think it set me back $9 for my family to enter and it was worth every penny.

Looking Down the Outside

Lions head in the large 20+ foot tall 1+ foot thick bronze doors

Athena herself

The only surviving sculpture of myself and the Mrs.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Dollhouse

I've mentioned before that I'm building a dollhouse for my daughter mostly due to the exorbitant costs of buying them. Most that I have seen cost several hundred dollars and are cheap plastic or flimsy thin wood affairs. Neither of those options appealed to me and so I started searching the web for plans. I was instantly rewarded with thousands of hits for dollhouse plans, all of which wanted money or kits that fell into the exorbitant cost for flimsy thin wood category. So I decided that I would just make it up as I went.

I had a couple third sheets of quarter inch plywood from some project that I no longer remember. Perhaps they are one of the gifts left behind by the previous owner. From these, I decided on how big I could make my dollhouse and settled on 1/12th scale. In other words, one inch of the dollhouse would equal one foot of a real house thus making things easy to layout. I settled on a design of a two-story house with a hinged front door and a hinged half of a roof to give access to 'attic' space.

Since I only have a contractor type table saw that allows me to rip things only 12 inches wide or less and for a two story house at 1/12th scale I was looking at 16 inches, I just cut out the pieces with my jigsaw using a wider flush cut blade. I just glued the pieces together and held them in place with clamps and duct tape until the glue had set. I divided the floors into rooms by gluing in interior walls with glue and more clamps cutting doors in the lower floor. I figured the upstairs would just be bedrooms and a bathroom and didn't need doors since the entire front wall hinged out anyway.

I ripped some thin pieces of plywood 1/4" wide to glue to the walls to give me something to glue the second and attic floor too. The only thing in these first two pictures that I had to buy so far were the small brass plated hinges which I picked up for something like $3 for a set of four at a woodworking shop in the urban jungle.

I had been mulling over what to do for shingles but in the end, took the easy way out. While picking up some dollhouse furniture that would take me years to make, I saw that you could buy bags of precut shingles and picked up two of them. I spent an afternoon gluing them on with my daughter's help and after it had dried, applied some leftover stain that I had lying around. I had a glue drip that I didn't notice and couldn't get cleaned up due to the roughness of the shingles, which accounts for the lighter spots that you can see. Stain doesn't penetrate wood glues but perhaps it just adds character.

I'm still debating on what to do on the outside. I think I could just paint it and it would look great but I've been thinking of ripping thin scraps of wood that I have lying around and making some siding. I also haven't thought two much about windows or doors but may someday do something about that. Like I mentioned previously, my aim is to just have it playable by Christmas. I'm hoping my daughter and I can work on it in the year to come.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Hessian House Hell

My wife has been after me for a long time to go eat at the Hessian House near the heart of the Urban Jungle and I have gotten good at coming up with reasons not too. It was located in the heart of the downtown party district and fighting the crowds or driving around in vast circles looking for parking was never one of my strong suits. However, a month ago, I finally ran out of excuses and we stopped by to eat on a Saturday evening.

I love German restaurants and use to eat at one as a bachelor up in Minnesota. They always had good food, nice German girls waiting the tables and usually a dance floor of polka music in another room or downstairs. This one had only one of the three.

We shuffled into the door ahead of two large crowds of people and were all standing inside the door waiting to be seated in a crowded restaurant. The waitress finally came around and just said we could seat ourselves wherever we could find a seat. The race was on. We blinked and were skunked at getting a table. As we walked back towards the door, we noticed a little alcove off to the side of the door with two tiny tables that seat two people each. There was a couple in one of the tables but the other one was empty. We claimed it but immediately had one problem, it had two chairs and with Little Abbey, there were three of us. I started wandering through the restaurant asking other high tables with empty chairs if they were being used but kept getting told that they were. I felt like that kid walking towards the back of the school bus always being told that the seat was "taken." Skunked, I finally walked back resigned to eating my dinner with large sack of squirming flour on my lap when the couple next to us said that we could have one of their chairs.

Just about then, the waitress finally made her presence asking if we would like a high chair. That would be great and would leave the couple with their two chairs. However, she came back with the smalled highchair I have ever seen. It would have looked small next to a regular table much less a high table and had Little Abbey been able to fit in it (she couldn't), her head would have been a full two feet below our table. The other couple left so we quickly did take them up on their chair.

During all this, the polka music kicked in. When I use the term kick, I mean it literally felt like someone was kicking your head in time with the music it was that loud. My old Skilsaw table saw in my garage is so loud, I always wear earmuffs to protect my ears when using it and this polka music was louder than it. You literally had to put your mouth into an ear and shout to be heard.

I was a little disappointed with the menu seeing that only one item, the goulash (is that German?) came with any spaezle. I am rather quite fond of it and remembered previous German restaurant menus being full of spaezle. Finally I noticed that the sandwich selection had a choice of sides that included spaezle so I ordered the Bismark. I also ordered food for Little Abbey and specifically asked for it to be brought out first because I knew it would be screaming hot and she was wining hungry already. It came out with our food screaming hot so that I had to spend the first fifteen minutes of my meal ripping nuclear hot chicken tenders apart and blowing on them while my food became barely lukewarm.

The food was good but Little Abbey accidentally spilled her water, I was thirsty and sipped the three ounces of diet coke out of the ice filled glass within seconds after our food was brought and we never saw the waitress again until much later when I flagged her down to get a bill. So the three of us made do with the ice filled glass with a little splash of water that my wife received. You would have thought that she could see our pained polka induced expressions sitting there for fifteen minutes after all food had been consumed would be a hint to ask if we needed anything more or at least to bring a bill.

Though not the fault of the Hessian House, my story gets even worse. After the couple squeezed into the tiny alcove left just as we were finally getting seated, a solitary girl claimed the table. Then ten minutes later, seven drunk friends from the bar came over to join her at the little table for two with only one chair. For the rest of my dinner because Little Abbey and Mrs. Abbey were seated at the ends and me in the aisle, I had elbows liberally thrown into my neck and shoulders as they all packed the aisle yelling at each other. During brief paused in the coma inducing polka, they yelled about glass boots of beer consumed in the past and not being able to tell the waitress their order until they finished updating their status on Facebook with their cellphones.

Finally after I finally got the waitress over to our table to drop off the bill, we scrambled out the door leaving. The noise from our urban jungle, like all cities of size that never sleep, was blissfully quiet compared to the hellish world we had just left. Needless to say, I don't think I will be going back there anytime soon unless on a weekday afternoon after the normal lunchtime hours, and then, only if I don't see our same waitress working there.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Benjamin Franklin: A Biography

by Ronald W. Clark

Having read four presidential biographies in my journey to read them all, I needed a break. Initially I thought I might take a break from biographies but in perusing my bookcase of unread books, I opted for a biography on Benjamin Franklin. Although not as well written as the biography on John Adams, it was none-the-less a good book and easy to read unlike the last biography I read on James Madison. Following is my review of this biography by Ronald W. Clark.

Benjamin Franklin was born Jan 17, 1706, the fifteenth child and tenth son of a large family. His father was a candle and soap maker and as often was the case in large families with many sons to inherit a small business, Josiah Franklin enlisted young Benjamin into school to eventually become a clergyman. However, Benjamin wasn't keen on this idea and evidently his father not persistent and at age of ten, he dropped out of school permanently and joined his father for a couple years before beginning an apprenticeship with his older brother James, a printer and editor of the first truly independent newspaper of the colonies, The New-England Courant.

Soon, we see the first glimpses of Benjamin's true talents when after being refused to be published in his brother's newspaper, he writes under a pseudonym and becomes the talk of the town. His brother not to be outdone also gets into a bit of a scrap for libel against the Penn government and is forced to give up ownership of the paper to Benjamin though it is in name only. James and Benjamin didn't get along well but I suspect James saw the value that Benjamin brought to the newspaper and partly did this to keep Benjamin around but it wasn't to be. Under the cover of night, Benjamin left his apprenticeship without permission, thus becoming a fugitive, and ran away to Philadelphia.

He sought work there as a printer and eventually got hooked up with the Governor of Pennsylvania Sir William Keith who sent Benjamin to London to acquire equipment to set up Benjamin's own newspaper but not before he proposed to Deborah Read. Reads mother denied his request of marriage and thus probably helped Benjamin readily decide to go to London on behalf of Keith. However, all Governor Keith sent were letters asking for credit, which Benjamin belatedly learned were no good to the business people of London. Benjamin stayed for a couple years anyway cultivating a love for Europe that would stay with him the rest of his life.

Back in Philadelphia at age 21, Franklin became a clerk and bookkeepers for a local businessman and in his spare time created the first volunteer firefighting company and the first subscription library where members pooled their books for the benefit of the others. The businessman soon died and Franklin returned to being a printer but this time setting up a printing house of his own and soon started a newspaper called the Pennsylvania Gazette. About this same time, he again established a relationship with Deborah Read who had married a man by the name of John Rogers who took the dowry and fled to Barbados to avoid debts and prosecution. Since Read was legally not able to remarry due to bigamy laws, Franklin and Read established a common-law marriage on September 1, 1730.

A non-traditional marriage was par for the course with Franklin since he also had an illegitimate son named William from an unknown mother who not surprisingly would go on to have an illegitimate son of his own. Deborah took in William with Benjamin and they would have two children, Francis Folger Franklin who soon died of smallpox and Sarah Franklin who eventually married Richard Bache and cared for Benjamin in his old age.

About this time, Benjamin had a famous meeting with an ancestor of mine (some have surmised by proximity and name though I have yet to prove) by the name of Cotton Mather. Benjamin's brother James had gotten into a verbal war over inoculation against smallpox when Benjamin was an apprentice. James Franklin had felt it wrong to believe fighting a disease with the disease could work and Cotton Mather believed that it did work and even inoculated his own children, one of who nearly died though as we all now know, probably do to the procedure and not the theory. Later when Benjamin was an established printer, he met with Cotton Mather again and as he was leaving, ran into a low beam. Cotton Mather is credited as having said, "You are young and have the world before you; stoop as you go through it and you will miss many hard thumps," advise Benjamin Franklin carried to his grave.

In 1733, Franklin began to publish the famous Poor Richard's Almanac under another of his many pseudonyms, a book full of hundreds of famous saying still in use today such as the misquoted "A penny saved is a penny earned" which was in reality, "a penny saved is twopence dear." This book along with the newspaper and now several printing businesses soon brought wealth to Franklin and he decided to retire by hiring someone to run the day-to-day operations. Never one to sit around, he focused his energies into the sciences and soon had numerous creations to his name including the lightening rod, glass armonica, Franklin stove, bifocal glasses and the flexible urinary catheter. He always felt that people enjoyed great advantages from the inventions of others and thus never patented any of his. He also furthered understanding in such phenomenon as the Atlantic Ocean Gulf Stream, prevailing winds, and refrigeration.

Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society, which was a gathering of scientific minded men to discuss discoveries and theories. During this time, Franklin became one of the leading scientists in the field of electricity and as we all learned in grade school, was the first person to prove that lightening was electricity with a kite and a key. However the kite was never struck by lightening as popularly imagined but rather extracted the electricity from the storm clouds. As an engineer with quite a bit of science background, I was very impressed at how simple Franklin's tests were but yet how much information he gathered.

Eventually Benjamin gravitated towards politics becoming a councilman, a Justice of the Peace, elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly and appointed Deputy Postmaster General of North America where he did a major reform of the postal system that was largely overshadowed by his later diplomatic services. As always he filled his spare time by establishing the first hospital in what would become the United States and organized the Pennsylvania Militia.

In 1757, Benjamin Franklin was sent to England to protest the political influence of the Penn family and try to get their charter revoked so that Pennsylvania could become similar to the other colonies. The Penn’s had a penchant for advocating taxes to pay for things within their colony just as long as their land was excluded from the tax rosters, something that didn't sit well with Franklin and the other colonists. Although his mission to England failed, Franklin began to develop his diplomatic skills in earnest.

Despite his common-law marriage to Deborah Read, I don't think Franklin found family life appealing and found reason after reason to continue what was to be a brief stay in England into one that lasted six years. When he did come home, he spent much of his time embroiled in the defense of the colony from an Indian uprising and the continuing feuding with the Penn’s until he left a year later again for England and again to protest against the Penn Charter. However, events beginning with the infamous Stamp Act would quickly change his mission. He would stay there for the next eleven years until some letters that he leaked to the American press in a scandal called the Hutchinson Letters would cause him to flee London to avoid arrest. By the time he reached home, his common-law wife Deborah had been dead not quite five months.

Perhaps with his common-law wife dead and his Tory supporting son now a disgrace and in jail, Franklin no longer had ties to remain home and willingly became a commissioner to France a year later and stayed there for the next nine years. Now an old man at 79, Franklin remained true to his past habit of never sitting still and became involved with the Constitutional Convention, finished writing his autobiography and was elected sixth President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, a position analogous to the modern day Governor

Franklin died on April 17, 1790 at the age of 84. In his will, Franklin bequeathed $4,400 to each his native city of Boston and his home of Philadelphia to be held in trust and gather interest for the next 200 years. His hope was that the astronomical sum of money would be spent on impossibly elaborate utopian projects. The Philadelphia trust, used in mortgage loans were in 1990 was worth $2 million and is given out in the form of scholarships for local high school students. The Boston trust was worth $5 million in 1990 and was used to establish and fund the Franklin Institute of Boston. Benjamin Franklin's desired epitaph in 1728 at age 22 was:

The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Racing the Apocalypse/Perfect Storm/White Hell

As you have probably gathered from my recent spurt of commenting, I did indeed make it back… barely. So I'll start with the end first and perhaps write about the earlier part of my recent trip later when I get caught up at work and home.

My brother was flying out of Atlanta early Monday morning for his honeymoon and asked if we wanted to join him and his new bride Sunday night in Atlanta for a night out. We agreed and left Sunday morning leaving them to pack while we explored downtown Atlanta and got caught up in a horrible traffic jam by the stadium where some event has recently gotten over. Our aim had been Centennial Park, site of the former Olympics venue in Atlanta, and it was only after driving around that we finally found parking. We walked around until we were good and frozen before going to pick up my brother and bride at their hotel and went out to eat at the Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse. The food was excellent and so was the show though Little Abbey got a little gun shy after the initial pyrotechnic display of what happens to oil on a hot piece of iron when ignited.

The next morning being the dutiful husband that I am, we found ourselves outside a cake decorating superstore waiting for them to open so that the Mrs could load up on hard to find supplies. That is when we learned about the Perfect Storm heading for Iowa with forecasts of a foot of snow and blizzard conditions. Our leisurely drive back to Iowa over the next few days suddenly turned into a thirteen and a half hour driving marathon as we tried to beat the weather home. We crossed the Iowa border just as the snow began to fly and forty five minutes later were safe and sound at home but physically exhausted. I'm not sure how sitting for that long in a car does that to a person but it does, no question about it. We poured an already asleep Little Abbey into her bed and leaving everything in the car, went to bed ourselves.

The next morning, four inches of snow were on the ground and more fell throughout the day, into the night and throughout Wednesday as well. The only difference was that Wednesday had howling 50 mph winds to accompany the snow. In total, we ended up with nearly a foot of snow while the other three feet or so ended up somewhere a lot closer to the east coast than Iowa. We had a little freezing rain among all of that snow which meant that the road plow through chair sized boulders of snow across the end of my driveway and piled up four feet high. It took me three hours using a maul and a shovel to clear that and the twenty other feet of my driveway only to repeat the shoveling Thursday morning in minus 3 degree temperatures (minus 21 with windchill) to clear away the drifts so the Mrs could drive to work. If it hadn't been for that cellphone call Monday morning, I have a feeling that I would still be somewhere in southern Illinois waiting this out in a motel.

Since the roads won't likely improve enough before today for me to risk driving to the Urban Jungle, I'm probably stuck here this weekend and will most likely enjoy a good portion of it in front of a roaring fire working on a dollhouse for a little girl's Christmas present.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Little Abbey Update

Although Little Abbey had been better about it the further she got past the age of three, she still had her share of meltdowns when it was time to go to bed and she wasn't ready to go to bed. If it wasn't a crying match, it would be ten additional trips to help her go to the bathroom for the third time, get her a drink of water, help her find a favorite stuffed animal that she can't and won't sleep without, pickup up a dropped pillow, etc. She was getting to the point where she could drag out going to bed for nearly an hour. I was more than tired of this phase.

Then one evening, we went through our normal routine of reading a book, saying our prayers with a kiss and a hug and I told her that she could quietly play in her room until she got tired as long as she shut her own light out. She eagerly hopped onto the floor and began to quietly play. Not five minutes later, the light went out and she fell asleep without complaints. From that day on for the last three months or so, this has been our new bedtime routine. Perhaps the longest she has stayed up has been fifteen minutes but the large majority of nights it has been less than five. She initially tried pushing the new rules by asking me to go with her to the bathroom but I gently told her that she is big enough she can go by herself and she does, without complaints. I have re-obtained my hour or two of ME-TIME, a most important chunk of time in the life of a parent, back again for use in finishing up some household chores or reading.

One morning while going downstairs to head towards daycare, Little Abbey walked down the seven stairs chanting, "cuatro, cinco, cuatro, cinco, cuatro, cinco, seis!" Although I do know Spanish, or more correctly, once knew Spanish, I certainly haven't taught her how to count in the language. I'm pretty sure the pre-school didn't teach her nor the daycare so that only leaves one logical culprit, Dora the Explorer. I'm still not sure how she learned how to use her mother's iPod Touch better than I do, her tech savvy dad.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bravo! Cucina Italiana

In the urban jungle a few weekends ago, we found ourselves near this restaurant and decided to stop in for lunch. The food was good and the service top notch but that isn't the purpose of this post. What I wish to blog about was something that I haven't seen at any restaurant ever.

As the parent of a three year old, I start to notice how restaurants cater to the smallest among us. There are a few restaurants that we just don't go too often because trying to get a three year old in and out for a meal is just more difficult than we want to attempt. Most seem to fall back to the standard three crayon and a place mat theme but for a three year old who just isn't into coloring and can't read the place mat yet, those keep her attention for about three nanoseconds. If the service is decent, we can usually keep her attention by doing word games or talking about the day until the food is served but in instances where the service is slow, it can be a real challenge.

So when we walked into Bravo! Cucina Italiana on the west side of the Urban Jungle, I wasn't surprised when we got the standard three crayon pack and the place mat. However, I was really surprised when our waiter set down a small plate with some bread dough and told us that our daughter could make something with it and they would later bake it for her. Our daughter really enjoyed playing with the dough and eventually with my help, we made a replicate of her Mama and gave it to the waiter to bake while we ate our meal.

On a side note, another pet peeve of mine is when ordering a kid's meal, they bring it out molten hot along with my food. I then get the pleasure of spending the next ten minutes blowing on my daughter's food until it is cold while my food gets cold almost as fast. But to a three year old, waiting isn't in their vocabulary and if I'm not blowing, their food isn't getting cold. So it was with pleasant surprise that when our food arrived, my daughter's meal had obviously been cooked first and was only luke warm. I only had to cut it up before she could dig in.

We had our leftover boxed up, bill payed and were just finishing up the last of the dessert when the waiter brought out the baked creation my daughter had created. I had forgotten about it and from his apologetic tone, he had too. But so had my daughter so it wasn't any problem. When she saw the baked Mama that we had created, she was enthralled and took great pleasure in eating Mama's head and legs off. However, since her main food had been allowed to cool down ahead of time, she had eaten a good portion and wasn't hungry enough to eat the rest of Mama. That went into the box with the rest of the food for later. So if you have kids and want to go out to eat at a kid friendly place that doesn't involve a guy named Chuck or cheese that will also satisfy your adult needs, I suggest Bravo! Cucina Italiana on the west side of the Urban Jungle of Des Moines.

Friday, December 4, 2009


One of the perks of having a second place to live in the urban jungle is that we are close to kid friendly things such as the zoo and can justify buying a season membership. We bought one during the middle of this summer and have already been to the zoo a half dozen times. Little Abbey really enjoys the zoo and loved this part which had an aquarium with a large fish that looked very much like Nemo and these mesmerizing jellyfish. However, to get to this part you have to go through a darkened area of a rain forest complete with thunder and lightening. Little Abbey didn't like that part and still refers to this building as the scary house and refused to go into it even if she has to miss out on seeing Nemo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Posh Courtyard

Scene from the hotel courtyard that I stayed in for two nights on my business trip to California this past summer. (I really need to clean the pictures out my camera more often.) The work that I was doing was very manual and very dirty and I would feel out of place walking through this very posh courtyard at the end of the day to get to my room. But after a shower and some clean clothes, it was very nice to enjoy.

And partly because my camera is now empty, I'm off starting tomorrow to attend a wedding in Alabama this weekend and likely will fill it up again. My posts will continue coming but it might explain my lack of answering or leaving comments. I'll be back towards the middle of next week.