Monday, June 29, 2009

Bicycle! Bicycle! I Want to Ride My Bicycle!

For her third birthday, Little Abbey got a bicycle similar to the one shown above from her grandparents. At first when I saw it, I thought that her grandparents would be very disappointed when Little Abbey would be too scared to ride on it. I'm her father and I obviously know her better than anyone else. I was wrong for the most part.

When we first hooked it up to Grandpa's bicycle on the farm, she didn't want to get on it at first but with me holding onto her, she finally relented. Grandpa started riding slowly with me holding on to her and walking alongside while she gripped the handlebars tightly. After the first 50 yards, I slowly took my hands off but Little Abbey insisted I keep walking beside her. After 100 yards, I eased behind her and stopped and they kept on riding. Two miles later they returned and Little Abbey was breathless with excitement and chattering away.

Since then, she's ridden well over twenty miles behind my bicycle and loving it. She has gotten so confident that I hear her ringing the bell on her handle bar when we are going down hill and I think she should be hanging on with both hands. I still brake so that we don't get going too terribly fast, she always has her helmet on and even a pair of bicycling gloves and shorts to protect her but I still worry that she may fall off so I scold her to hang on with both hands. Sometimes she says "ok daddy" and other times she just rings the bell in answer. I can't help but smile.

She has blocks attached to the pedals so that she can reach them but she still isn't too much into pedaling just yet. Mostly she just coasts along checking out the scenery and saying "wheeeeee" every time we go downhill. We've been working up on the amount of time and distance we are out so not to overtire her. At first we just picked her up from daycare and rode home but now we are up to last night where we road four miles of trail around the perimeter of town. She has enjoyed it so much and asks to go riding so often that I have a feeling that her own bicycle with training wheels won't be as far off as I thought it might.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lost In Translation


I had a chance to eat at A'Dong's Vietnamese Restaurant again in the city where Mrs. Abbey is currently doing her residency a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the meal I ordered didn't come with the excellent spicy lemon dipping sauce like the previous one I ordered had but it was every bit as good. I also paid close attention trying to find the name for the lemon dipping sauce so that I might find a recipe on how to make it but it was simply labeled as A'Dong's Lemon Sauce thus giving me no clues. Perhaps I'll run into a native of Vietnam and get the scoop from them on what is in that stuff.

This time around I ordered a shrimp and vegetable dish stir-fried in some spices. It was excellent. I did make a note to never order number twenty-one shown in the not-so-good-camera-phone-picture above.

*****************************************


The sounder of the words, "Here's Johnny" has died but I didn't lose any sleep. I guess it was before my time. Those old playboy pictures of Farrah Fawcett that a former classmate showed me in the privacy of his locker door shadow have been brought back to my mind with her death and makes me realize that yes, everyone grows old, even her. But still she really wasn't in my time frame either due to lack of television exposure. However, last night when I learned Michael Jackson was dead, that hit closer to home. Even now as I listen to his best album of all time, Thriller, it is hard to believe he is gone. Back in those days, he was normal but as we all know, somewhere he got Lost in Translation so I thought I would add this as a memorial of sorts to the end of this post.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Life On the Farm


It has felt at times that it has been raining non-stop all year. Of course it hasn't been non-stop but to a farmer with crops to get in the ground it might as well be because the next rain comes just as the ground is beginning to dry out from the previous one. I would also say that this has been an unusual year except for the fact that it has been exactly like last year so far. So in an effort to prevent my parents from moving into my basement, I have been helping them by doing odd jobs that need to be done while they focus on getting the crop into the ground during the brief minutes between ground dry enough to work and the next approaching rainstorm.

On this particular weekend, a month of weekends ago, I headed down to the farm fully expecting to run some large piece of tillage equipment in a tractor with a cab and thus have a controlled environment and listen to some interesting discussions on NPR. Instead, I found myself on an open tractor with a rotary hoe breaking up the crust from a previous heavy downpour so that the corn planted underneath could reach the surface. It is a very dusty job and with no radio so I pretty much had to live in my head.

Living in one's head is a nice thing to do now and then and after spending a full day doing so, I almost wish I had the opportunity to do it more often. I did some thinking about the future and what is in it for me but mostly I just let my mind wander as it pleased and enjoyed the mental show. If someone ever figures out a way to create some sort of mental log, it would have been very interesting to see it later however, the big brother applications from such a thing would have me probably running for the hills should one be invented.

When I finished hoeing at the end of the day, I had covered around 120 acres, I was covered in a thick layer of dirt from head to toe, my teeth were gritty but I was happy. I fueled up the tractor, spoke to my mom over a piece of fresh homemade strawberry shortcake and drove home thought the dark. I got home just in time to read a story to Little Abbey and tuck her to bed. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day


What you are looking at is three-fourths of a giagantic patty melt that my wife and daughter made me for father's day. Am I loved or what? I have always love patty melt hamburgers with the rye bread, onions, cheese and beef and have gauged a restaurant on how well they make theirs. The new smoke free bar (thank you again Iowa) just down the road makes one mean patty melt. The Drake Diner in Des Moines, well known for their food makes a lousy patty melt and thus why I am not likely to ever go back. People in Des Moines obviously have inferior taste buds if they put up with that slop they call a patty melt. Don't worry, I barely was able to choke down half of that patty melt in the above picture, all of it homemade. My wife and daughter ate another fourth which leaves me with the final fourth today for lunch. In case I failed to mention it at the beginning of this post, I am one loved father!

Friday, June 19, 2009

There Must Be Gold In That There Hill!

Earlier this week, we were driving around wasting gas, something we rarely do, seeing what there was to see when we spotted the faded for sale sign almost completely obscured by the grass along the side of the road. The tract of land was thirteen and a half acres with trees around three of the four sides and a nice big hill right in the middle with a two-track gravel path winding from the road to the top of the hill. We drove to the top of the hill and found the view outstanding. There was a nice flat spot on top to build a nice little house and barn, you had plenty of trees around you with some open ground that although unfarmable, could probably make a nice pasture. It was close to the town where I work and seemed like a perfect place to call home someday in the future.

I am not in the market for land to build a home and won't be until sometime in the future when my wife's career has stabilized. But since the sign as so old and faded and the economy still in the dumps, I thought I might call them up to see if there was a deal to be had. If the price was right, we might be able to scrape together the money and just own the land as an investment with perhaps the intention to build on it someday. My wife scraped the grass from the sign, wrote down the number and we went home.

The next day, I used my cyber snooping skills to find out the owner of the land but it was a name I didn't recognize. I did discover that on the backside of the hill was a large section of land that had been bought up and was being turned into a subdivision of houses. I suspected that the owner of the land on the side of the hill I was interested in was probably trying to cash in on this development but I didn't know how right my suspicions had been until I received a phone mail from the guy later on in the day. I was told that it was for sale, the site was 13.5 acres and although he was entertaining any offers, he was asking $185,000 for the land.

Golly gee, only $13,703.70 per acre! What a deal. Maybe if he had been asking $3000 per acre which is what prime farmland in this area goes for or $2000 an acre which is what good timberland with recreational possibilities goes for, neither of which this land comes close to qualifying for, I might have called him back and made him an offer in my price range but this guy was so far off on a different planet, I didn't even waste my time. The development on the backside of the hill had the fortune only to sell a few high priced lots before the economy bubble burst and the other lots are on the market for about $5000 per acre and have remained unsold for over a year now. Perhaps in five years or so when we are ready to make our move, I'll go pick up the rotting remains of that guys sign and give him another call if I can make out the phone number and see what he is down too in price. That or perhaps I'll just offer to give him any gold that he obviously thinks is under the surface if he would sell it at a reasonable price.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Waging War With the Aid of a Nazi


The other week I happened to be out in lawn when the Lawn Nazi appeared and we accidently made eye contact. I could either salute him or say some words so I chose the latter. We made some strained polite conversation for a few seconds and then he mentioned that my lawn was looking pretty good. I made the comment that in the wet weather we have been having, almost every lawn looks good and went on to say that I was battling ants.

I have had ants in my backyard since I bought the place. I have normally just laid down a protective barrier of chemicals around the entrances to the back of the house and that has kept them at bay. They build up their colony and I mow it down when I mow the lawn. It was a plutonic relationship until this spring when either they started taking steroids or were experiencing a population boom or both. Their ant hill in the backyard went from dinner plate size to table size almost overnight to the point where it killed all the grass in the area and was mounded up so high I couldn't mow over it. Worse, another colony started up in the front lawn and quickly built two colonies several feet in diameter also killing the grass. Even worse yet, the protective barrier of chemicals around the doors seemed to have no effect on the creatures and they began to invade the house. For only the third time in my life, I declared war on a living species of animals.

I used up my inventory of talc-like powders that were in the garage but the ants merely stood up on their rear set of legs, laughed at me and ate the powder like candy. Thinking it was just out-of-date since it had been in my garage for five years, I bought two new cans of the stuff, one of each flavor sold. This time they didn't just laugh but ran over and kicked dirt on my shoes in spite. I was out in my lawn contemplating lighting them on fire when I saw the Lawn Nazi.

When I mentioned my ant problems to him, the Lawn Nazi's eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning that found a whole room full of presents after he thought everything was over. He quickly bent down to cut the stray weed by the utility pole that he couldn't get with his push mower and ushered me into his garage where he pulled out not one but four different cans of various ant powders. He also went inside his house and brought back three different types of ant baits and traps that he recommended. I told him that if I used any more powder on the ants they were going to beat me up for being a pest and that the baits worked well inside the house but I wanted to stop them before they got that far. So he gave me a list of pellets that he was currently out of and sent me off to the store.

I bought the pellets and dutifully sprinkled them over the affected areas and in-between my house and those areas. I watered them in and waited. A week later the anthill expansions were put on hold and when I disturbed the top of the mounds, a few hundred ants (as opposed to the thousands before) staggered out of the ground holding their stomachs with all four arms and generally cursing my lack of morals. But this was war and I did what anyone would do in a war in which you now had the upper hand after being whooped up upon for so long, I ground them under the heel of my boot and spread more pellets upon them. Now a week later, I am happy to report there they appear gone for good and I have won a complete victory. I'm just not sure if it was the pellets or the trail of honey that went across the street to the Lawn Nazi's lawn.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Extremely Intense


Intense would be the word of choice if given only one word to describe it but it was really more like extremely intense. Do you remember those storm scenes from episodes of Little House on the prairie where the lightening seemed to strike continuously? Well this was at least twice as bad and the worst I have ever witnessed in my life. I witnessed it in bed in the wee hours of night wondering if the layers of drywall, wood, insulation, shingles and steel above me would be enough protection from a direct strike. I was afraid to even get out of bed to look out the open window for fear of being struck through it. I rode it out cowered under the covers watching the ceiling fan and reassuring Little Abbey whenever she stirred.

During the worst of it that lasted around twenty minutes, I was counting around forty strikes a minute with around a half dozen or so every minute having no discernable time gap between the flash and boom. You could hear the crackling sizzle at the lightening streaked through the sky and a few times I thought I could hear explosions after the explosion of thunder. Twice, every hair on my body stood up right before a particularly loud strike. I pondered if I would know if my house took a direct hit besides the obvious smell of smoke or a brief bit of pain before I turned into ash. Many times my fan that was in the window would slow way down right after a strike from I assume a power surge (you would have thought it would have sped up) and the answering machine and other electrical stuff downstairs would beep but everything kept right on ticking.

During the worst of it, Little Abbey sat bolt upright in bed and then laid back down and pulled the blankets over her head. Mrs. Abbey was away for the evening at our apartment and so I had let Little Abbey hop into bed and as it turned out, it was a good night to do so and probably saved me a couple trips to her room to reassure her that the world wasn't ending. In the morning when she woke up, the first thing she said was, "Daddy, the rains done." The second thing she said was, "I'm not scared daddy." Bless her little heart.

The most extemely intense part of the lightening last for about twenty minutes but seemed to take a lifetime. However lightening continued to strike uncomfortably close for a couple more hours before dwindling away. Five hours later as I was getting ready for work, lightening was still lighting up the eastern horizon. Sadly, the rain fell in buckets almost non-stop all night meaning that the farmers in the area might not get any beans in the ground at all.

Friday, June 12, 2009

John Adams



George Washington is most undoubtedly considered the father of our country. Thomas Jefferson is most undoubtedly considered the father of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams should most undoubtedly be considered the father of our government and one of the most brilliant thinkers of all our founding fathers.

For my second book of my goal to read a biography on each of our American presidents, I dug into the hefty 750+ page volume written by David McCullough on John Adams.
When I started the biography on George Washington, I at least knew some of the events of his life before, during and after his presidency but with Adams, I knew nothing except that he had been our first vice president and second president of the United States. Adams isn't on Mt. Rushmore, he doesn't have any memorials in Washington D.C., that I know of, and we don't celebrate his birthday as a national holiday. After reading this book, I wonder why since in my opinion, he did more for our country than Washington ever did.

Where Washington had a minimum of education, Adams was very well educated for his time having gone to Harvard as a student, taught there as a professor, and being a voracious reader. Like many American presidents, he began his career as a lawyer and owned a very successful practice in his hometown of Braintree, Massachusetts and what later became known as Quincy, Massachusetts. He was known far and wide as being a lawyer of uncommon skills and when he argued the defense of some British soldiers accused of murder during the unpopular time during the lead up to the Revolutionary War, he sealed his character as one of uncommon integrity.

During the First Continental Congress, Washington was known for his silence. Adams on the other hand was known for his speeches as both the First and Second Continental Congresses. Adams was "not graceful nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent, "but spoke "with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats," said Thomas Jefferson. In the darkest hours of July 1rst, 1776 when the fate of our country rested squarely on John Adam's shoulders and his ability to refute John Dickinson's appeal against premature separation from Britain, Adam's speech for independence reignited the fires that led to the unanimous vote for independence from Britain. New Jersey delegate Richard Stockton would say Adams was "the Atlas" of the hour, "the man to whom the country is most indebted for the great measure of independency.... He it was who sustained the debate, and by the force of his reasoning demonstrated not only for the justice, but the expediency of the measure."

Perhaps no man sacrificed more to his country than Adams. He spent many years as a member of the continental congress and in various committees that kept him away from home. When that job was almost complete he was elected ambassador to France and sent over seas in the middle of the Revolutionary War. With family and children left behind, he served his country as an ambassador to several countries for the better part of ten years with only the last couple together with wife. A decade later when he came home, it was to a country five years removed from a war for independence and with a fledging government that he was instrumental in designing now preparing for the first elections. Soon, he found himself yet again serving his country this time as the elected Vice President of the United States and later as President. In all, he spent most of his life as a public servant and the greater part away from his family.

Although Adams wasn't in favor of a hereditary monarchy, he was in favor of a strong executive branch and thus was often misunderstood by many of his peers on this subject. His tenure at Vice President started off rocky due to his opinions on several subjects like titles for the President and whether or not a national bank was needed that could be misconstrued as someone in favor of a monarchy and earned him many scathing reviews in newspapers and making him unpopular to many. Combine this with a plot by Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist like Adams, to have certain states not vote for him so as to give Washington the clear majority in the first election meaning Adams came in second and thus elected as a vice president with a slim lead over his competitors, he was not very popular to many during his first term as vice president. Though these reviews, untrue statements and the first election plot which he found out wounded Adams deeply, he never publically showed it and eventually he emerged during the second elections and decidedly came in second and securing a second term.

I have read and posted George's Washington's farewell speech on this blog before where Washington talked about the dangers of a two party system. I had always assumed that perhaps many years or decades went by before his prophecy became true. I was surprised to learn that it only lasted for three elections, the first two happening before the speech was written. John Adams was elected the second president of the United States though by a 3 vote margin and thus kicked off the "either with us or against us" mentality that cropped up again so strongly in our last president. Adams did several brilliant things such as starting up a Navy which was instrumental in him being able to negotiate peace with France when nearly everyone in this country wanted war, one that we would have surely lost and thus ended our country as a brief footnote in the world's history as a republic that failed.

Though classified as a Federalist, he was ostracized by Alexander Hamilton and his own party for not being Federalist enough and by Jefferson, his Vice President and the rest of the members of the Republican Party. Hamilton and Jefferson both worked tirelessly during Adam's first term to tear him down every chance they got. Adams was extremely wounded by Jefferson who served with Adams as an ambassador for many years and became really good friends with him. Adams tried to stay out of party politics but to no avail and was defeated by Jefferson and Aaron Burr who tied in votes, in the fourth presidential election.

After his defeat, Adams went back to his farm at Quincy and retired from politics to be a farmer and to be there for his kids. One died of alcoholism; another of breast cancer and a third fell from the graces of society and his law practice to become an alcoholic as well. Only John Quincy Adams, his first son, would remain alive and on tract and eventually would become our sixth president. Eventually in their old ages after both were retired from politics, Jefferson and Adams would once again become good friends though they never would see each other again due to their ages and the distances between Monticello and Stoneyfarm. Their bond as being two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence still alive became stronger than any political differences they may have had. In the end, they both died on July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day of the signing and our country lost two of its biggest patriots.

Although this tome was hefty and difficult at times to maintain my interest while reading, it was well worth the read if broken up so it wasn't read all in one sitting. I broke it up with other books here and there which allowed me to keep my interest and absorb the information better. I have a couple more books on my reading list before I get to the third presidential biography on Thomas Jefferson but I'm looking forward to it. I may also take a break to read a biography on Benjamin Franklin who played prominently in the lives of Adams and Jefferson. So many books, so little time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Crop Failure

My grandfather had a saying, "Seed your wild oats on Saturday and pray for a crop failure on Sunday." I never turned out to be that kind of kid but my most recent seeding, navy beans in this case, were an utter failure even if there were no prayers involved.

I think the biggest culprit in their failure was bad seed to begin with. From what I dug up, only one in five seeds ever germinated. Another culprit was that the wet weather and my hectic schedule meant that they got planted in fairly wet conditions, wetter than I normally would even consider planting them. The final straw that broke the camel's back was that because I had lots of good leaf mulch from last fall on my garden but not enough space to rake it back when planting the rows, it collapsed back over the rows with every little breeze and rain we got. I dug them out a few times but I just couldn't keep up. When I dug them out again last night, the few seeds that had sprouted had sprouts nearly five inches long that had been futively looking for light but unable to get above the leaves. The poor little guys just never stood a chance.

So rather than just live with a poor stand that will give me perhaps a double handful of beans in the end, I am going to go to plan B and pick up some tomato and pepper plants on my way home tonight and stick them in the ground. It's better than nothing but dang, I had my heart set on some navy bean soup this winter.

As Ron from Hickory Hills always does, I hope I have learned a valuable lesson from this failure and next year will be better. My learned lesson is that while the leaf mulch is good, I can't store all of it on my tiny garden over winter. It doesn't dry out fast enough in the spring and I have no place to move it when planting. So this fall, I think I will bag it up and put in in the shed until spring and the plants are already up before redepositing it on the garden. Now if plan B works out....

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Tree


For as long as I have known about it, I have always referring to it as The Tree always using capital letters. I don't know why I am so captivated by The Tree but for the last six years, I have. It is on a small county blacktop road that I drive on my way down to the family farm and is situated off a corner so that when you are heading towards the farm, you see it a quarter mile away. On the way home from the farm, it isn't as noticeable since it is off the west side of the road and most of your focus is on the sharp corner you are about to enter.

The Tree has always calls out my name when I pass it by. It beckons me to lie in the tall grasses underneath its shady branches during summer. In spring and fall it asks me to slow down and admire the beauty. In the winter, its skeleton really catches my attention and always looks so cold and lonely. It The Tree were my tree, I would spend lots of time beneath its branches watching the world pass me by. But The Tree belongs to someone else, who I don't know, and so I just drive by and admire it.

I've been driving by it for twenty years though it never grabbed my attention until I moved back into the area six years ago. Why I don't know. Perhaps it moved into the area Lord of the Rings like about then too. If I had a dollar every time I have driven by it wishing I had brought a camera with me or have thought I would stop if I didn't have to be down at the farm or if my daughter wasn't napping and I didn't want to disturb her or for any number of reasons, I would have a good size pile of money sitting before me.
A month ago as I was heading home, seeing The Tree and having my normal regrets about not having a camera, I realized that I had a cellphone with a camera in my pocket, I didn't need to be down to the farm right away and I was all by my lonesome. So I turned around, drove back, and there by the side of the road, I parked my car and snapped a picture from my cellphone. The sky was overcast and the lighting was all wrong but it was the first picture I have ever taken of The Tree. If they ever figure out how to create trees from pictures someday, I am going to be the first in line to order this one.

Friday, June 5, 2009

To the Other Side of Chinatown

The Moring Commute In Chicago

Due to the late evening before, we weren't in any hurry to get going in the morning, which is why we ended up on the Kennedy Expressway in rush hour with the view you see above. On previous trips to Chicago, we have either been there on a weekend or had ridden the excellent mass transit system but with Little Abbey and Aunt-in-law in tow, I didn't want to hassle with it just for the one day we were planning on touring the town. From the Blueline train, the expressway had absolutely looked like you could waste a lifetime in one morning but out in it wasn't really terrible. We were able to cruise along around 30 miles per hour so that it took us most of an hour to get from our hotel to our first destination of the day and one of my favorites, Millennium Park.

This is probably my fourth trip to the park and I have yet to tire of it. My aunt-in-law had never been there so even if I had been tired of it, we would have gone not to mention Little Abbey's love of playing in the water at Crown Plaza. So we walked around, visited the usual places, watched Little Abbey play in the water at Crown Plaza and took many of the normal pictures I have taken in the past. Those are:

The BP Bridge


Cloudgate and the only view of the city skyline I never tire of seeing


The trees in jail though this time it was open so I could walk inside their enclosure where there weren't as many iron bars but a moat instead. I still haven't figured out why they keep the trees behind bars and moats. They must have done something very bad.

Our next and final stop for the day would be a place new to me, Chinatown. I remembered seeing it listed on several maps and also pointed out at the top of the Sears tower so I figured it must be worthy of seeing. My Garmin GPS whisked us from Millennium Park and to a parking lot right outside the main gate in no time. Our first priority was lunch so we walked through the gate and headed deep within Chinatown trying to decipher what restaurant looked good.

Chinatown's Main Gate

I don't recall the name of the place where we ate but it had the word Café in the title and was off the beaten path enough that it didn't have tourists (i.e. non-Chinese people) in it and it was the stroke of noon. So we sat down next to the window where we could keep an eye on things and soon a waitress stopped and asked if we wanted dim sum.

Chinese not being one of the languages I understand, even at a word or two level, I mistakenly thought she was asking us if we wanted an appetizer. I thought why not since we were in Chinatown after all and said yes but she immediately disappeared without asking what appetizer we wanted. It struck me as kind of odd but hey, I'm not Chinese so who am I to judge. Soon she came back wheeling a cart full of bamboo baskets steaming away and one at a time took their lids off, held it up for us to see, and said something that I think was, "Do you want?"

Soon we had a few baskets on the lazy susan device in the center of the table and were eating our appetizers. It was only after she came back with another cart full of different foods in steaming baskets did I first suspect that dim sum was actually a Chinese version of our buffet and that we were actually in the midst of the one and only course to the meal. However, we were game and kept nodding our assent to baskets that looked good and soon had amassed quite a collection of steaming bamboo containers. The food was fabulous and I enjoyed it however I was starting to ponder how much something like this was going to cost.

Some dim sum


More dim sum


There were no prices on anything or at least not in a language I could understand and each time the waitress dropped off something at our table she made a mark on the bill. But as you can see below, it still didn't give me a clue as to how much this was going to lighten my wallet when all was said and done. Did vertical marks cost less than horizontal marks? It was only as I was writing this post and studying the picture did I figure it out and see that the prices were marked down below according to size and the sizes were listed to the left of the marks they made but how anyone could tell what constituted small, medium, large and extra-large since all the containers were the same size is still a mystery to me.

The Bill

But at the time, it was still a mystery so when it came time to ring up the bill, I figured I was either going to be pleasantly surprised or horrified. The waitress struggled a bit, making more scratches and finally just gave up and said $20 only in a question-like tone of voice. For four people who were still a bit hungry from yesterday's famine, it was a steal even by rural Iowa standards. We paid up and hit the sidewalks again.

We did some shopping here and there looking for some food items not found easily in rural Iowa and I bought a few trinkets for Little Abbey to keep her entertained. One of the items surprisingly had a sticker on it informing me that it had been made in Pakistan that struck me as a little ironic in the heart of Chinatown. After a while, perhaps because the dim sum meal was weighing us down or the warm sun was slowing us down, we decided the time had come to head back to our vehicle. Though we had several more things on our list of things to see, my aunt-in-law declared that she had seen enough and wanted to go home. So towards the freeways slightly before rush hour, if there is ever such a thing in Chicago, we went and headed towards home making a stop once for a stroll to stretch our legs along a river in a shady park in a town somewhere between Chicago and home.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Just Across Town From the Botanical Garden

I've always been fascinated by bonsai

The vacation I took two weeks ago was a much needed one but it wasn't a true vacation either. Due to a sour economy, the co-owners of my company decided that rather lay more people off, that we would all take a week of unpaid leave. For the people like me who are prodigious savers but never have enough vacation time to use, it ended up being a pretty good deal. Even for those who felt that they couldn't go a week without pay, it was better than having no job at all. So I looked at the time off as a freebie and felt I didn't necessarily have to use it as well as I might have if I were actually burning paid vacation days.

This worked out well since an aunt-in-law from the Philippines was in the country and wanted to visit us from her current location in Virginia but was not confident to fly alone and have to make a connecting flight in one of the world's largest airports. There just aren't any direct flights from the boonies where I live except to the major hub north, east and south of us. So I forked over the money for a one-way ticket for my aunt-in-law to fly from Virginia to Chicago and since she also had expressed interest in seeing Chicago, we would kill two birds with one stone.

So on a Tuesday afternoon two weeks ago, I found myself in Chicago with my aunt-in-law, wife and daughter and wondering what we could do in Chicago at 5:30 in the afternoon. We decided to see the Chicago Botanic Garden which we had never seen before. The admission is free which is hard to beat but the parking was $20 so they still got their money from you but it was well worth every penny. We stayed there for a couple hours strolling around and seeing the sights. I would have stayed longer and watch the sun set but my aunt-in-law had some friends in town who wanted to see her and called to let us know they were waiting at the entrance.

After introductions, R & T invited us to supper at their house, which they said was just 45 minutes across town northwest of the Botanical Garden. Since we were staying in a motel out by O'Hare and it was 45 minutes west of where we were, I thought this would work out great. We could just bop on over there and eat supper and be only minutes away from our hotel room. I was wrong.

R told me to just follow him but I was leery about following anybody across Chicago and being able to stay with them so I asked for his address just in case I happened to lose him. I didn't end up losing him but I did type his address into my GPS while following him and was dismayed to see that it said it would take us an hour and fifteen minutes to reach his place putting us there at nearly 8:30, a long time to wait for supper when you hadn't eaten since 11:30. However, nearly an hour into the journey when R kept going straight when my GPS said to go right, another thirty minutes was added onto the GPS when I followed R's route. We drove forever and eventually ended up at their house an hour and a half after we left and quite away out of even the suburbs of Chicago. Later when I looked up Woodstock on the map, we ended up only a mile or two from Wisconsin!

I had great plans for our supper that night. I had planned on eating at one of several local restaurants in the Chicago that were highly recommended and not something I could get back home because that is how I roll. So when our hosts in Woodstock served us pizza that had been delivered and evidently setting around for an hour or so, my taste buds were a little disappointed. Because the brother of T and his family also showed up, there were eleven mouths to feed and only two barely warm, very soggy, medium sized pizzas to eat from, it was also a light meal after having gone almost ten hours without eating. I suppose in the end it worked out all right since I wasn't planning on any physical activity afterwards other than driving the hour it took us to get from Woodstock to our motel on the northwest outskirts of Chicago, my idea of the "other side of town."

Endless flowers


Colorful blossoms


Inviting water features

Monday, June 1, 2009

Expanding My Comfort Zone: Part 2

The seller has put an unknown reserve bid on the vehicle and the way eBay works is that you put in your maximum amount you pay and with a reserve bid it does one of two things. If your maximum bid is higher than the reserve bid, eBay places your bid right at the reserve bid, turns off the reserve bid notification and then will increase your bid should someone else bid higher than the reserve bid up to your maximum bid. If your maximum bid is lower than the reserve bid, it will just increment the starting bid by a set amount of dollars but leave the reserve bid notification in place. If someone else bids higher than you but lower that the reserve, your bid will increase by the set amount until your maximum has been reached and you have been out bid. It is done this way so that if the reserve bid has not been met but there has been at least one bid, the seller can reserve the right to call the highest bidder and still sell it to them below the reserve bid.

So I entered my maximum bid and a second later found out that it had met the reserve bid but barely. My stomach sank. I was officially on the hook for the CR-V should no one top my bid and it was as advertised. I let that sink in for a bit but soon gathered my wits back up and got to thinking that since I had met the reserve by only a couple dollars, should someone place another bid in the minimum increment of $100, I would be outbid. I hated the thought of losing the bid just because I was short a few dollars. So despite my wife's persistence that I not pay anything more, I entered a maximum bid of $102 above the bid that I currently had placed and was top bidder. I figured that if a person entered a bid in the next increment of $100, I would still have a bid $2 higher. A more savvy person might enter a last minute bid of $101 thinking that I had another bid waiting for just $100. But then I realized that my math was wrong and that if someone else entered a bid for $100 over what the current bid was now, I would have to go $200 plus to top it. So I entered a third maximum bid of $205.73 should that happen. The last remaining minutes clicked by and nobody else bid on the item and so I ended up winning the auction with my initial bid after all. Oh crap. What have I done?

The auction ended on a Thursday afternoon and suddenly my already full weekend got a little more full with an 11-hour roundtrip drive to Chicago and back. However, when I called the seller to arrange details, he said he lived near the airport and could pick me up if I so desired. I checked the airline prices on Friday and ended up buying a one-way ticket to O'Hare on Saturday morning for just $70, less than I could possibly drive it and much, much faster. So I called him back to take him up on the offer, arranged for insurance and a cashiers check and was winging it through the sky less than a day later.

The guy picked me up and about an hour later after kicking the tires, starting it up without any undesired noises and driving it around, I was driving the CR-V back home. It hadn't had any floor mats in it and I assumed they hadn't been as immaculate as the rest of the interior and tossed and it didn't have a manual but both of those could be had cheaply. I did notice on the way home that the clock on the dash didn't work and the multi-disc CD player advertised was only a single disc but I don't think that would have stopped me had I looked at it in the traditional way. I replaced the clock with one from a wrecked CR-V at the local salvage yard for a song and we don't really listen to more than one CD at a time in a car and changing them once every hour when on a long distance drive isn't really that undesirable when you are bored anyway. So I just voiced my displeasure when I rated the transaction later on eBay so that other may know that it could happen to them and happily settled into life with a new-to-us vehicle.

The next day after I got home I left for a week on business but when I got back, I set to work selling my wife's old car via the local papers and the same day I placed the ad, it was gone. Overall it has been a pleasant experience and I would do it again should the opportunity arise in the future. My wife got her dream car down to the color and year, and has fallen in love with it. Although it is a SUV and against my convictions, she is the one who is driving it and it makes her happy. As the saying goes, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."