Friday, April 30, 2010

Urban Progress Report


I took these pictures a little over a week ago before we got all the rain that knocked the blooms off of the redbud tree. I have two of them and I really enjoy them every spring... at least when we don't get a late frost that kills the blooms before they flower.

Sour Cherry Fruit

Finally proof that my sour cherry tree can pollinate itself and that the late freezes of the last few years have been the reason for lack of cherries. I know I won't have enough for a pie yet but I might get a couple handfuls of cherries if I can beat the birds to them later this year.


This is my first attempt at raising garlic in my tiny garden here in town. It is growing well so far and since it doesn't take much room to grow quite a bit of cloves, it will probably be a yearly item for my garden.


Tomatoes are also a yearly item in my garden and between those eight plants and the garlic, take up my entire garden this year. I do have a small raised bed strawberry patch but it can't compete with the weeds and so I'm not going to show it. Because of the shade that I have, my tomato plants are always spindly and don't have a lot of leaves but usually provide enough for me to put up a couple dozen quarts of tomato sauce for chili, spaghetti sauce and what not. It certainly isn't very economical if you count what my time is worth and cost of supplies but it tastes good and keeps me from more expensive hobbies. This picture (along with the one of the garlic) is probably a couple weeks old and shortly after I planted them. They look better now.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Morel Madness Has Been Temporarily Cured

Morels In the Wild

As the title and above picture suggests, I was able to get out in the cold and rainy weather this weekend and find several good messes of morels. They were mostly larger yellow morels and scattered about randomly which both suggest that the season is about over with before it really every got started. We did find a few grey morels but they had all been up awhile from the looks of them. We might get some sunshine towards the middle of this week so perhaps there will be another batch pop up but I'm guessing by this weekend, which I'm already booked for other things, it probably the last weekend to find them.

We went to three of our favorite hunting grounds and all told came away with three gallon sized plastic bags full of cleaned mushrooms for our efforts, one of which amounted to my share. Due to the earlier spate of warm weather, the undergrowth is really starting to take off and earlier than normal so by next week, the only mushrooms you will be able to see are those you stub your toe on. You can spend all day in one spot moving the grasses back and forth trying to find them but it isn't worth the effort. Instead, we usually go back to identified "Mushroom Machines" where we have already found some and just search the undergrowth in that area.

My "Competition" Picking Some Lonely Morels

All told, I probably walked a half dozen miles of terrain searching for those tasty fungi. At the first spot we went too, everyone encouraged Little Abbey to look for mushrooms in a particular area so she "found" all the mushrooms there. She walked for a good half mile picking "lonely" mushrooms and putting them with their "family" in the bag. For someone who weighs in at 35 pounds, she sure lugged a lot of mushrooms for a long ways before she tired out and I carried her back on my shoulders. She never did let me carry the bag of mushrooms or even trade it for my empty bag. They learn so quickly!

Part of the Haul Taking a Bath

While she gave that batch a mushrooms a bath and took a nap, my father, brother and I went out for round two and found two more bags full. By the time we quit for the evening, it was cold, windy and a mist was beginning to fall. We gave up and went home where we feasted on sauteed mushrooms and fresh asparagus soup, what they would call a 'zero-mile' meal even if I had to walk five miles to pick some of it. But as you can see in the picture of my share, I have several more meals of them coming and I only have to walk from the refrigerator, to the stove, to the table to enjoy them. Life is good.

My Share of the Haul

Asparagus soup

2 T. butter
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 lg. onion, chopped
2 lbs. asparagus, cut into pieces
2 1/2 c. chicken broth
1/2 t salt
1/4 t black pepper

Brown mushrooms in 1 T of butter. Remove from pan. Heat remaining 1 T. butter in same pan and caramelize onion. Puree onion, asparagus, chicken broth and salt in food processor. Return to pot with mushrooms and pepper.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Train Ride!

As you can probably surmise from the title and the picture above, I got to spend a morning riding Amtrak's California Zephr as part of a field trip my daughter's preschool class recently took. Thirty children ages 3 and 4 along with thirty adults piled onto a big yellow school bus for a thirty minute ride to the nearest station west of town, waited for the east bound train for over an hour and a half due to it being late, rode the actual train for forty minutes to the next stop, rushed to the potty as we were coming into our destination town so that my daughter wouldn't have an accident on the tracks, then rode the school bus thirty minutes west back to our home town.

The train I would have liked to have been riding. As you can tell, lots of other kids would like to have ridden it and by the time our train arrived an hour and a half later, all the dust and grease on the front end of this train had been cleaned off to a shiny polish.

My daughter at the helm of the camera was ready for lunch before we even got on the train.

She didn't spend much time looking out the windows during the ride.

One of my daughter's pictures again. She is still absorbed on the micro level. These holes are the ventilation grate cover under her shoes in the picture above.

The lock knob to the tray on the seat back in front of her. She probably unlocked and lowered her tray a good thousand times in the forty-five minutes we were on the train. Fortunately, the seat in front was empty.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A World Where Things Last for Generations

As an engineer, possibly the single thing that rubs me the wrong way the most is how disposable our society has become in the purchase of consumable goods. In our attempt to save a buck, catered to us by such giants as Walmart, we have forced manufacturing into cutting every last cent out of what we buy so that instead of lasting lifetimes, these things last a small finite amount of time before it ends up in a landfill and we buy a replacement. Two examples have recently have recently affected me though I see much more than that on a regular basis.

Case One: After filling up my little plastic gas can with lawn mowing gas for the season, I put on the lid and tightened it up only to have it crack. Now the straight plastic spout that I use to get gas into my lawnmower with it ending all over the driveway is functionally useless. I went to the local hardware stores to find a replacement cap only to learn two things. First, my two-inch opening in the gas can is no longer the standard and all I can find are caps for 1-1/2 inch openings. Two, they have done away with the simple straw like hollow tube to go with these gizmos with safety locks to prevent accidental spillage that are just full of small plastic moving parts. That hollow straw tube with the friction fit cap that I currently have works perfectly and I've never had the occasion to store my gas can upside down where leaks became an issue. I have no doubt that if I could buy one of those new fangled gas can lids that it would last all of a year or two before breaking. But what gets my dander up even further is that this gas can of mine, made entirely from plastic, is all of maybe ten years old. My father has gas cans that he inherited from his father that are entirely out of metal and though dented and scraped up, are still working some 60 years after they were built! I want to buy such a gas can but can't find one anywhere. I'm just going to have to hit up the farm auctions and see if I can pick one up somewhere sometime in the future.

Case Two: I have probably destroyed a good half dozen ice cream scoops in the last half dozen years. I first had a solid metal one but the plating started peeling off of it and lord knows what was in the inner metal part that was now unprotected. I then had a variety of those scoops with mechanisms to clean the ice cream out from inside the round scoop. They always ended up with the moving mechanism failing in various ways. Finally I found one with a more robust version of the moving mechanism only to have the molded plastic handle that appeared glued onto the metal tang break off. Meanwhile, my mom still uses the same flat iron solid metal scoop with bolted on wooden handle that she probably inherited from her mother and I don't think I could break it with a ten pound sledge hammer, an anvil and a thermos full of some caffeinated drink.

I mentioned this on another blog not too long ago but if someone could come up with a store that only makes/retails stuff that is made to last generations instead of years, even if it costs three times the price, you would have me as a loyal customer for my lifetime. Plastic would be absolutely outlawed.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Daddy's Turn With the Camera

Because my daughter is turning into quite the shutterbug, it is hard for me to wrestle the camera away from her to take some pictures of my own. But I did a couple of weeks ago and here are some of the pictures that I took.

This is my sour cherry tree in bloom. I love sour cherries because they make the best cherry pies and after scouring numerous nurseries, I finally found one. I planted it in my backyard several years ago where it has been pruned a couple times by the neighbor kids using it as home plate. Other than the first year, it has not produced one cherry. The one we had at our original farm and the one at my parent's farm are both single trees so I assumed they were self pollinating. I suspect the real culprit may have been late freezes the last couple years. This is also the first year in a long time I can ever remember seeing it bloom.

One of my two redbud trees beginning to bloom. Since the blooms never happened last year due to an untimely frost, it will be the first time in awhile I have seen them. I just love these trees and only wish I had a dogwood to go with them.

Some of my wife's flowers. I am really poor at flower identification so I can't really tell you anything about it other than I find it pretty.

The first word that my daughter learned how to spell and the word she first spelled with alphabet blocks after years of building towers with them.

What I believe is a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker that was up in a ridge vent of the barn down on my parent's farm banging his brains out in his attempt to get outside instead of simply flying down and out the open barn doors. He was really making quite a racket while my daughter was flying her kite on a fine Easter day.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mushrooms Not of the Morel Kind

The signs were good. It had been warm, we had some moisture and though a little on the early side, rumors of morel finds were flashing across the coconut phone. So Little Abbey and I set off down the back roads to the family farm in search of that elusive but very tasty spore the morel.

The entire forty mile journey down to the farm we found scenes like the one above, cars pulled off to the side of the road or just off in farm field entrances. The vehicles all shared one common feature, the air of having been abandoned, their owners no where to be found. Morel season here in Iowa or as I like to call it, the Mushroom Madness is in full swing which means that during the daylight hours, the streets of all rural towns, the homes of all our rural residents are abandoned. Many a stranger has come across this and automatically assumed that they arrived many years after an epidemic of some sort must have wiped every human off the face of this world. I know I would if there was nary a soul to be seen and scores of abandoned vehicles lining the roads.

We picked up Grandma and after saying hello to Grandpa who was planting corn, we drove down to our favorite spot. I could tell you where but then I would have to kill you and that really hurts blog readership so I'll just leave it at that. We promptly abandoned our car and marched off into the woods, never to be scene again to passersby, at least until we returned.

Inside the trees, the ground was perfect for morels. It has a spongy feeling of plenty of past moisture and just the right amount of grass, plants, and shrubbery growing over it. All signs pointed to a bumper crop just waiting to be found. I could practically smell them. We slowly worked our way towards our spore hunting grounds with heads down scanning for new areas. The tree tops could have been a neon orange and we wouldn't have notices. Occasionally I did glance around to keep tabs on my bearings towards the next Mushroom Machine. For new people to my blog, a Mushroom Machine is a recently deceased elm tree which produces a chemical in its death throes that spurs the production of morel mushrooms in such numbers, one can quickly be overwhelmed. I once found a small grove of these trees and found a site that I hope to see again someday but probably never will, a forest floor paved in morels as far as I could see. It took me several hours of picking all the while giggling like a little school girl and furtively glancing over my shoulder from time to time looking for someone who might spot me which would force me to murder them to keep the secret, before I finally picked the last mushroom and started hauling all my sacks, coats, shirt made into a bag, etc. out to the vehicle to take them home. It was a day which I will fondly remember here on this blog about every couple years or so.

But back to this past weekend. I wandered time and again past the prime breeding grounds of morel mushrooms and more than one mushroom machine and saw nary a mushroom. In fact, it took a full hour of searching before I found the first mushroom and it wasn't of the morel kind. See the picture below. I'm disappointed. I'm starving for a morel sandwich. Worst of all, the forecast is calling for a lack of precipitation and cooler temperatures which may put the kabosh on mushroom season. Even worse, next weekend is not looking like I will get a chance to head out to the timber with all the other residents of southeast Iowa. I feel a sick day during the middle of the week coming on. Oh yeah, I got the mushroom madness is a big, spongy, slightly earth flavored but really good fried with a bit of Parmesan cheese kind of way...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Big Boy Rules

On March 31, 2004, the newspapers were screaming with headlines about a company called Blackwater who had four employees working in Iraq that were killed, burned and strung up on a bridge in Fallujah. For many, perhaps even myself, it was my first exposure to what is probably most accurately termed a parallel war in Iraq. Our current occupant of the White House at the time, in his rush to invade another country before the evidence for biological weapons built from a house of cards collapsed, left our military woefully underpowered to provide even the most basic of support to the soldiers on the front line. Almost immediately, private contractors from all over the globe would enter the country to fill that void for various reasons. Many were ex-military people who just couldn't depressurize to living back in the states after various tours of duty, others were people who smelled the money that could be made and still others were escaping pasts in the U.S. from spousal abuse, drunk driving convictions, fraud, and many other charges.

This diverse group of people joined one of hundreds of private security firms doing everything from escorting food convoys to protecting our own military on missions. They were paid by our government and paid extremely well though were left to their own devices in obtaining vehicles and weapons. In the beginning, the preferred civilian SUV's brought over themselves and bought their weapons off of the black market. These days, they manufactured their own armored vehicles and ship in high tech weapons by the ship load. Until only a couple of years ago, they didn't fall under United States laws, military laws or Iraqi laws. In fact, they really didn't have any laws at all. These mercenaries for hire which now outnumber our own military had their own set of "laws" that they fought under called, "Big Boy Rules."

Steve Fainaru's book, "Big Boy Rules: America's Mercenaries Fighting In Iraq," is a haunting book that does a number of things. It follows a particularly tough time in Fainaru's life when his brother was facing a prison sentence for not revealing his sources in the Barry Bonds drug scandal and his father was dying from terminal cancer. The book also follows the life of John Cote, a young man who served his country honorably through 9/11 and the initial invasion of Iraq but just couldn't settle down and return to the life he had once led. Fainaru follows Cotes return to Iraq as a mercenary for hire and eventually his capture and death in Basra. Most importantly, this book goes inside this parallel war detailing the many abuses that were bound to happen when the rule of law is the one that you make up on the go and the people working for you are not screened in any way.

For me it was a wake up call in many ways. First, I hadn't realized how many thousands of mercenaries were over in Iraq fighting this war with no training but with billions of dollars of money flowing from our government. Second, this book graphically details some of the atrocities of war, that never make it back to the mainstream media where weak hearted people would surely have put a stop to this war long ago had they read about them. It paints a vivid picture of the true costs of war which is much more than the billions of dollars that we read about in the newspapers and the thousands of dead soldiers, the death toll that doesn't include the thousands of mercenaries that have died doing the dirty work our military can't do. Finally, this book shows the future of war in which as standing armies are further dwindled down, a new private army which perhaps conveniently isn't governed by military or any other form of law, fills the void and revolutionizes war much like guerrilla warfare changed precise military formations.

This book worked so well for me because it told this story in a very humanizing way through the story of John Cote and through the death of Fainaru's father. By putting a human face on a very inhuman activity, it sinks deep to the bone. I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Daughter With My Camera: Take Two

Yet another picture taken by the hands of my daughter. I almost deleted it on the camera but didn't. When I downloaded it to the computer and took a closer look, I began to appreciate the picture more and more. Now, I wish that I had the skills to take such a neat picture.

Here are some more pictures from her perspective:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Urban Jungle Architecture

One of the interesting things about spending more time in the urban jungle is going on walks. Of my time spent so far in rural Iowa, I have seen all the sites countless times and really only notice the things that change, i.e. seasons and remodeling projects to houses along the way. In the urban jungle, I have more of a selection of routes and being still new to the area, have yet to fully see everything along the routes I have repeated. But these two houses really stand out because of their castle-like appearances. The one below is still being renovated but could be an extraordinary house if completed in a similar fashion as the house above. In both cases, I couldn't tell you what the houses across the street or next door look like simply because these two houses capture all my focus every time I walk by. I wouldn't be surprised to walk by someday and see a moat around one of them.

Friday, April 9, 2010

August 28, 1908: Waterloo, Iowa

While figuring out a date for some background research in the previous posting, I got to scanning the rest of the articles on that particular page of the newspaper on August 28, 1908. It was amazing to me how much news was packed onto one page of the newspaper. I decided to clip a few of the many articles out for a blog posting on the subject.

I have been called thick headed but I think this boy is in the running for having an even thicker head.

I wonder what the writers of this article would think of today's society with nude images all over the internet, television and movies.


A failed canal that might have put us on the map right there next to the Erie Canal with perhaps a song about us to boot.

Again, I think they would be shocked to learn in modern times, not only do we not prosecute elopers, but we don't even arrest them if they are with another married person. We just put them on afternoon shock talk shows.

Sensationalism at its finest.

Yep, the offspring of this person are still alive and writing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Life of Ira Ackerson: World's Most Unluckiest Man

My 2nd great grandfather Ira Ackerson was unlucky. There is no other way to explain it. From a book of family lore written by my great grandmother, I suspected as much with some of the stories but recently while looking for information about him through old newspapers, I ran across several articles that only confirmed it.

Ira Ackerson came into this world on June 7, 1873 in New Hartford, Iowa. He was the first of seven children born to Joseph Ackerson and Lucy May Card, pictured front and center in the picture above. Both the Ackerson's and the Card's came from the New York area but the Ackerson's via several generations in Ohio and the Card's via a brief layover in Wisconsin. That is Ira in the back row on the left in the photo above standing next to siblings Edith Deliah and William. In the front row to the left of Lucy is Julie Maude and to the right of Joseph is Lizzie May, James Allen and Emma Jane.

Sometime prior to 1895, Ira married Byrd "Birdie" Bertha Ingalls. I haven't done any research on her mostly because she isn't my 2nd great grandmother. Seven years after they were married and three children later, she evidently ran away with another man leaving him and the kids behind. The book written by my great grandmother simply stated that she ran away.

24 Jul 1903

Ira was the son of a doctor though he himself was a blue collar worker. However, Ira evidently had enough money to hire a young housekeeper by the name of Maria Buchholz, daughter of Frederick Buchholz, the last ancestor to immigrate to the United States. I mention his name because four years later, my 2nd great grandfather married Maria and bore him four more children including my great grandmother.

14 May 1907
But then my 2nd great grandfather's lack of luck really began to take hold. What follows are a string of articles from local newspapers and written accounts from my great grandmother's journal detailing his clumsiness.

28 Aug 1908

While living in Charles City, IA, a team of horses Ira was driving started up suddenly and Ira fell against the side of the wagon and fractured his neck.

12 Aug 1917

While they were living in Cedar Falls, Ira and son Clarence were in an auto accident and Ira fractured his neck a second time. When he recovered from the second accident, he couldn't turn his head to the side anymore.

25 Aug 1925

Ira's lack of luck eventually got the better of him and on March 9, 1952, he died at home due to kidney trouble.

Monday, April 5, 2010


When my wife's on call and I'm trapped in an apartment in the Urban Jungle due to weather, my daughter and I go through a lot of board games. I try to buy her ones that teach her how to count, know colors, practice her coordination, etc, but others I buy from my memories of childhood. One of those memories involve the game Cooties which we seem to play quite often. Other than teaching my daughter how to match up a die to a board to see what item for her Cootie she gets, it isn't really educational but she likes it and so we play it. My only complaint is that the bodies and heads are all injection molded plastic and not made for repeated assembling and disassembling. A little supper glue, something I keep well stocked with a three year old around, to attach the halves together and the heads permanently to the body fixed that problem. It also means we no longer have to role a two before we can start getting accessories attached and thus shortens the game a bit. Another plus when it is the fourth time playing the game in a single day.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Pictorial Journey Through My Daughter's Eyes

I've found that giving your digital camera to your three year old daughter is a good thing. 1. It doesn't cost you anything to develop the pictures and believe me, a three year old can take a lot of pictures in a short space of time. 2. It keeps a bored three years old on a rainy day occupied. 3. I find it very interesting to sort through the resulting pictures and see what things my daughter finds interesting enough to snap its picture. Besides the hundreds of pictures of myself and my wife, which tells me we must be good parents in our daughter's eyes, it seems as if she spends much of her time still looking down.