Monday, November 29, 2010

Looking at My Future

As long time readers know, I like to verify and investigate things using what I believe is one of the best tools at my disposal, Google. When I meet someone new, I often will type their name into Google to see what comes up. Most of the time it is nothing or rather a vast array of hits of people with the same name so that it makes it impossible to disseminate any information on the person I was interested in. Occasionally I find little tidbits of information about the person that provides a little bit of background of their life. Some people might call this cyber stalking but I never repeat my search once I've done one and I don't use the information for any sort of gain. In fact, I mostly forget about it. It probably is a fine line but I think I fall on the right side of it.

To be equal opportunity, I often do what is called an 'ego search' and see what information is out there about myself. Fortunately, though my name isn't common, with a third of a billion people in this country, it crops up often enough that I'm one of those people you can't find anything about unless you already know what you are looking for. I have always been a believer in using a pseudonym when creating internet accounts to minimize floating cyber information and it has done exactly that.

While doing genealogy work, I often follow-up any records search with a Google search because it is surprising how well it works even on dead ancestors. One evening while doing just this, nothing new that I already didn't know popped up but it got me thinking along a different track. I was working on my direct paternal lineage and I got to wondering what information was out there on my father.

Now you might think that I know way more information than Google does on my own father but I don't. My parents were divorced when I was six years old and in the intervening thirty plus years, I've only seen my father once and that was when I was six and a half years old. It's been awhile. I don't regret this fact and in a way, I think it was best especially after having seen other kids of divorced parents struggle with the situation. I just had a mom and got on with my life. She remarried a couple years later and that man has been my father in every aspect of my life except genetics. I am blessed.

But I don't know anything about my real father except for his name, where he lives (20 miles from where I grew up and only about 50 miles away now) and a few hazy memories of him when he was in his early 20's. So I Googled his name. It was as most names are, lost in a sea of cyber clutter and didn't yield any results. However by adding the town where he lives into the search string, I was presented with several pages of results pertaining to him. Perhaps even more interesting to me, there were at least a dozen pictures of him all pertaining to an organization that he is active in.

My father is only 19 years older than I am and the pictures, all within the last five years, are most likely what I will look like in twenty years and hence, the title of this post. It certainly wasn't how I pictured myself to look like but it isn't a terrible fate. I see an older man who is much wiser now, hardened a bit by the elements and work, always wearing a hat so I'm assuming he is much further down the path to baldness than I am, and with a nice looking mustache. I also see a stranger who looks nothing like the man in my thirty-some year old memories.

I have always known that he eventually remarried and a few years ago after my paternal grandfather died, I re-established contact with my paternal grandmother and during the course of our contact learned that I had a half sister from that marriage. I also learned that he married a third time but has no kids from his current wife. I've never known that name of my half sister or even where she lives. I suppose I could ask my paternal grandmother but it might be one of those things where my half sister might not know that she has two half brothers and really, there probably isn't a lot to gain from contact since our connecting link is an estranged father.

I not sure how I feel about all this which is partly why I'm blogging about it. Sometimes seeing what I've written helps me figure out what I'm thinking. Seeing a picture of my father for the first time in 30+ years only solidifies that we really are just genetically related strangers. Beyond that I'm not sure. Perhaps this whole thing is like a poker game. Right now the call is to me and there hasn't been a raise yet so I'll probably just knock and see what everyone else does first.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Taking a Break

Although I am staying in the general vicinity of my home next week, I've run into an unusual situation. I have nothing in my backlog of posts and nothing on tap. I blame a rather hectic work schedule, no time off in the last couple months, and being burnt out on politics after a brutal campaign season. So I am taking a week of blogging vacation to compose myself and get my act together. See you towards the end of this month.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Life and Times of John Kuck

John Kuck, my third great grandfather was born 5 Dec 1836 in Adolphsdorf in the Kingdom of Hanover, a tiny hamlet in the marshes, 14 miles northeast of Bremen, Germany. According to local historians, John came from a long line of farmers going back at least six generations that lived and farmed those marshes. John was the third oldest son of the seven sons and one daughter of Hinrich Kuck and Anna Gerken.

Perhaps it was the political instability or the series of prolonged crop failures in the region but for one reason or another, John and at least two of his brothers immigrated to America. John was the first to arrive on 15 Aug 1853 in the port of Baltimore aboard the boat Arnold Boninger. Interestingly enough, his biography in county history books said he went to school and then farmed until he arrived on the shores of America at age 16 but the ship log lists his occupation as a baker. Whatever the case, I can't imagine what it felt like leaving your family behind and moving to a new country with just the clothes on your back. When I was at age 16, I thought it was the end of the world when my parents just didn't hand over the keys to the family car and say it was mine for the using.

John, after eight weeks at sea, penniless and alone, set off first for Wheeling, Virginia where he rested up for two months and then traveled a ways down the Ohio river to Marietta, Ohio. Marietta was a boom town and the first settled town west or north of the Ohio river. At the time John Kuck arrived, it had nearly ten churches, two public libraries, a college, two private academies, two dozen stores and upwards of 3000 people. John giving up any farming or baking roots he might have, apprenticed into the harness maker's trade until he reached the age of 20.  

I guess John either didn't have the capital or wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life because when he left Marrietta at age twenty, his next stop was as a partner in a general merchandise store in Le Sueur, Minnesota. Perhaps he saved up money or found his calling but a year later in 1858, John settled in Galena, Illinois which had a large German population on the Mississippi river and worked as a harness maker supporting the huge local lead mine industry. 

While in Galena, John met my third great grandmother Mary Meyer, a Swiss immigrant and on June 1, 1860 they were married. Perhaps John needed to escape his in-laws or his nomadic nature got the better of him but a few months later, John and Mary packed up and headed up the Mississippi river to Lansing, Iowa where he set up his own harness shop.  His first two kids Anna born March 3, 1861 and Henry Lincoln born December 1, 1862 (named after his grandfather and newly elected President Abraham Lincoln) would join the family in Lansing before he again got on his traveling shoes and in 1864, traveled to Charles City, Iowa and again set up his harness shop.

There John finally put away his traveling shoes and found peace and soon after Lydia on March 11, 1866, George on December 14, 1868, Emma on October 29, 1869, Edward sometime in 1870 and John Jr.on January 3, 1873 were born into his family. However, the peace was not to last. A diphtheria epidemic that had been ranging across the plains for a couple years struck Charles City in 1878 and soon, the Kuck household was down with it. Seventeen year old Anna would succumb to it on the 11th of October followed by Emma on the 21rst of December, Edward on the 28th of December, Lydia on the 1rst of January, John Jr. on the 3rd of January and finally mother Mary on the 30th of May. A young vibrant immigrant family of nine people had been reduced to just three. Forty-two year old John and 17 year old son Henry and 10 year old son George were on their own. I'm not sure how any of them survived the ordeal.

Perhaps they made it through the loss of most of their family by the arrival of 23 year old Elizabeth Brandau into their lives.  She married John the following year on April 22, 1880 and settled into the family. Young Henry and George worked in their father's harness shop but soon after his father remarried, Henry would leave home and eventually become a notable saddle maker living in The Dalles, Oregon. I've found saddles of his up for auction for upwards of $1000 each. George would continue working with his father eventually opening up a leather goods store for a few years and then spending the rest of his life as a merchant over a variety of stores ranging from implements to groceries in nearby Rockford, Iowa.

Life for John began to smooth out a bit and soon three more children joined his family. Bertha in 1881, Clara in 1883 and Paul in 1888. These three children still remain largely mysterious to me because all research into them has led to dead ends. John would become a respected citizen of the town serving on the city council, becoming a prominent member of the Republican party, was an active in prohibitionist and one of the first members of the German Methodist Episcopal Church.

On 1 November 1916 at the age of 79, John died and was buried alongside his wife and children. The large monument on the left side of the picture below is the family gravestone with all the names and dates inscribed upon it. The eight smaller stones behind it are the actual grave markers for John, wives Mary and Elizabeth and the five children who died of diphtheria. Later when Elizabeth died, she would be buried on the other side of John and as you can see in the picture below, her gravestone is just a bit closer to John's gravestone than Mary and all the other equally spaced stones. I guess jealousy follows us even into death.

One side note on the picture above. When I found it among my grandfather's stuff, it was said to be a picture of John, wife Mary, son George and one of their other kids. I'm not sure which one is George. Actually I can probably rule out the older child as George since he was 10 years old when his mother died assuming the lady is his mother. If George is the younger one and around 3 years of age, that would make the older son Henry nine  years old at the time. I would guess that the older boy is probably 14 or 15 at the time of the photo. To top it off, I'm not sure if the young child in the picture is that of a boy or a girl. It seems as if mislabeling pictures is a habit in my family.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Can't Find the Purple Things

It was dark-thirty in the morning and I pull myself from the fog of sleep to hear my sobbing daughter standing by my bed saying daddy over and over. Like a good father I immediately jolted upright in bed and asked her what was wrong. I suspected she was in great pain, had some horrible dream, really missed her mother or something similar.

"I can't find the purple things." she said.


"I can't find the purple things." she said again.

Not knowing what she was referring too but knowing that if I didn't comfort her soon, this could go on and on, I told her to crawl in bed with me and we would find them in the morning. She did, quickly quited down, and soon slipped out and walked back to her room where she says she is more comfortable. I fell back into my deep slumber.

When morning broke and I went to wake up my daughter, she looked up at me and told me in an excited voice that she had found her purple things and pulled down her pajama bottoms to show me a purple short thing that she wore yesterday with a purple mini-skirt outfit. Last night when we had been changing into her pajamas, she had asked me if she could wear it under her pajama pants and I had agreed. I had forgotten about it and evidently she had too until dark-thirty in the morning.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Breaker Breaker Good Buddy, Got Your Ears On

While at a garage sale that turned out to be at the place of an acquaintance, we ended up with some stuff that we really didn't want. When I saw that nothing even remotely interested me, I tried joking about not realizing he was a huge Richard Marks fan as I rummaged through a box of old cassettes to get me off the hook for buying something but even then, it still didn't feel right.  So feeling awkward, we picked up on thing for our daughter and immediately had a half dozen more things thrust into our hands that she would 'like'. Fortunately, they were all labeled for ten cents or so and our total bill came to only sixty-five cents. I gave a buck and told them to keep the change for their five year old son's candy fund.

One of those unwanted items was a pair of Diego walkie talkies, one of which had a broken antenna. I certainly wasn't optimistic that they would work at all. But when we got home, my daughter and I started playing with them and they worked as far as transmitting voices back and forth though some of the extra features were finicky. Later, while the wife and I were doing a bit of yard work, my daughter and the neighbor girls were playing with the walkie talkies and soon found out that they could hear local truck traffic chatter with them. I thought it was all fun and games until I happened to walk by as one of the neighbor girls was having a conversation with some trucker who hailed from South Dakota. I knew right then that I wasn't too thrilled with the thought of my four year old daughter or the nine year old neighbor girl for that matter having a conversation with some long haul trucker from South Dakota. After the novelty wears off, I'm certain that toy might end up swimming with the fishes wearing a pair of concrete galoshes if you know what I mean.

The whole thing however, brought back lots of fond memories. Growing up on a farm in the 70's and 80's, most communication was done with Citizen's Band (CB) radios. Our channel was 33, our neighbor's channel was 21 and I believe most truckers 'had their ears on' channel 19. When parental communication was reliably non-existent, I would sometimes tune into channel 21 to talk with the twin boys who were the only other two boys in my class of eight students, and we would pass away the time talking about everything under the sun. If they weren't 'online' at the time, I sometimes would turn the squelch back so that I could hear most distant conversations and listen in. It could be quite entertaining.

Sometimes while taking long road trips, we would often have a CB in the vehicle to pass the time away and to be alerted if there were any 'smokies' in a one hundred mile radius. At a young age I learned about the heartache of breaking up as one trucker who evidently was heading the same way we were tried to pawn off an engagement ring to what seemed like every trucker heading the other way. I also learned that even truckers were sensitive to being made fun of as two truckers once arranged a fight at the next exit because one of them was talking on a 'cheap mother fucking Japanese radio' and the other man disagreed. Despite my suddenly new found need to pee at the next exit, my father just kept on driving as I looked out the window looking for the fight.

Like so many things, the CB radio has largely become a relic in our area due to the farm crisis of the 80's. As more farms disappeared, the distance between them grew and bordered on being out of range for communication. Two-way radios with private channels became cheaper and soon the CB's disappeared from our tractors and replaced with a unit that held one channel and one channel only. Although my parents still have their two way radios, even those are on their way of the CB and are being replaced by cell phones. It makes me quite nostalgic which is why I spent a fair bit of time this weekend talking over a walkie talkie to my daughter and teaching her CB-speak. She now ends her sentences with the word 'over' and asks if I 'have my ears on' to see if I'm on the other end of the line. I'm not sure what the preschool teacher will say when she asks my daughter if she did something and she replies 10-4.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Zube Tube

I remember the first time I saw one of these things it was at a friend's house in the suburbs of Chicago. While upstairs, a weird almost cosmic sounding sound started emanating throughout the house and after tracking it down, we found our friend in the basement with a Zube Tube. It is a simple toy that consists of a thick cardboard tube with two plastic cups inset into each end and a light spring connecting them. There is also a hole cut into one end allowing the user to pluck the spring to create some cosmic-like sounds. You can also hold it and shake it like you are about to throw a spear which causes it to make yet another eerie sound. Finally you can talk into one end of it transmitting your voice through the spring to the other end creating very ghostly sounds. Best of all, it requires no batteries or instructions to operate and there was no assembly required.

After playing around with it at my friends house, I noticed that it was made in Fairfield, Iowa, a town not 40 miles from where I grew up. Flash forward 30 years, I found one of these in mint condition at an auction in said town and was trying to rationalize how much I was going to spend to obtain such a significant part of my childhood but when it went up for sale, I ended up getting it and a huge pile of crap for only fifty cents. I carefully cradled my treasure into my arms until my daughter walked up and said she wanted to play with my toy. Tearfully I gave it up to her and it now resides somewhere in the clutter of her bedroom, probably never to see the light of day for another 30 years. At least it was cheap.

Monday, November 8, 2010

TSA: Here We Go Again

Let's recap:

Nineteen young males of middle eastern decent commandeered four planes using sharp objects and flew them into three buildings and a field. As a result, the TSA begins to screen for everything to sharp box cutters to nail clippers.

Young males of middle eastern decent plan to smuggle explosive liquids onto planes and were foiled before they could but the TSA couldn't accept that success and forced all passengers to surrender everything from bottled water to hair gels forcing passengers to buy over priced drinks on the airplanes or post security convenience stores. Breast milk and lighter fluid are still allowed.

A young male of middle eastern decent tried to blow up his shoes. As a result, the TSA mandates all shoes must be removed and scanned separately.

A young male of middle eastern decent tried to blow up his underwear. As a result, the TSA starts implementing scanners that can see our naked bodies and if we refuse, we now must be subject to 'enhanced pat downs' which included cupping your crotch with the front of their hand.

A young male of middle eastern  decent tried to blow up several planes by packing toner cartridges of a couple laser printers full of explosives. The TSA is still trying to figure out how they are going to prevent this from happening but I'm guessing it will result in them taking away our ability to mail anything by plane. The slow trans-ocean boat will still probably be an option.

Now a young Asian male got aboard a plane wearing a Caucasian old man mask. Though he wasn't planning on killing anyone and was instead seeking asylum, I'm assuming the TSA will feel it a huge security threat and implement a "pinch test" to ensure our skin is real and not silicone. I'm not sure what a Hollywood star will do in this situation.

On a larger note, our TSA is quickly becoming the joke of the world. In fact other countries are starting to refuse to do all the screenings requested of TSA for all inbound passengers. I'm guessing real terrorists are sitting in some dark cave coming up with the next way they can get TSA to further choke the convenience of flying by inconveniencing 99.999% of all passengers just to catch the 0.001% up to no good to the point that  we just give up and start riding a carts pulled by donkeys.

If the TSA really wants to be effective, here is my three step plan.

1. Anybody who buys tickets in advance, the largest percentage of passengers, has their names submitted for background checks. If they pass, they get the quick route through security going through a minimal of checks. The minority remainder gets a little bit more scrutiny. See step two.

2. Profile people. People who have no documentation of their plans, who buy their tickets last minute and one way with cash, are young middle eastern males, or otherwise seem nervous or dangerous, get a more thorough examination.

3. Limit the number of carry-on items and enforce size limitations so that any smuggled on explosive material is in small quantities and much easier to detect.

Israel uses this plan and hasn't had a breach in decades. We have the tightest security in the world and we haven't had a breach in over a week. Why? Because we spend all our time looking for materials that might be made into a weapon instead of looking for people who could turn just about anything into a weapon to be used against us. It's that saying, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." Until we start using a little bit of common sense, we are just clogging up the system to make it even easier for the 0.001% of people who want to harm us or just make us ride in donkey drawn carts to do so.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Bump In the Day Is Much Better Than a Bump In the Night

My house has evidently decided that this is the year to let loose a bit and fall apart. Remember just a month ago when I was posting about a renegade mirror that leapt to it's death in my bathroom at some ungodly hour in the morning? Well it scared the heck out of me largely because it was at such an ungodly hour and I was sound asleep. So when it sounded as if someone just drove through my garage door one evening around six, I just calmly got up and looked out the window to see who had. What I didn't know was that my ordeal was just beginning.

After checking off the list of things that could have caused such a noise such as a car driving through the garage door, every single gutter falling off the house at the same time and a spot F5 tornado removing the garage from the face of this world, I set off checking into the finer details. It didn't take me long to figure out that one of the two springs that assist lifting the garage door had given up the ghost and came all unwound, literally. I pressed the garage door button only to see that the door would lift just a few inches before stopping again. No problem, I thought. I will just disengage it from the automatic opener tomorrow morning and would soon be on my was to a meeting in a neighboring state that I had scheduled.

The next morning came and I made sure I had the proper house key to unlock the front door should the garage door re-engage itself to the track when I lowered it again after getting my car out. My daughter asked how I was going to get the car out and I showed her that I could just pull this rope to disengage it from the track and then lift here. After the garage door got stuck only six inches from the floor, I told her after checking to make sure I had indeed disengaged it from the track that I just had to put more muscle into it. Then I proceeded to start yanking on the door for all I was worth but not making any progress. I was stuck.

I called a couple people to let them know that I might be running a bit late and then proceeded to analyze the problem. It being that the one good spring was cocking the door sideways as soon as it started going up causing it to jam in the tracks and no amount of lifting or timing could convince it to do otherwise. I then thought about cutting the cable from the good spring to the door but from the sound the other spring had made, I wasn't sure I wanted to be in the same room when it happened. I perhaps could have changed clothes, got out my tools and loosened the good spring so that I could get out but I was already late for my meeting and didn't want to make myself any later.  So I did the only thing I could, I called the local garage door repairman at home waking him up and pleaded my case.

He showed up fifteen minutes later and said he would have me out in five minutes and on my way. A half hour later he said he would need to go back to get more tools and parts. At that point I was way late for where I had to go and after stuffing some cash in his hand for wakening him up at an ungodly hour, asked him to just fix it while I was gone. A coworker came to pick me up, take me to the daycare and an hour late, I left for my appointment. Fortunately with light traffic and no cops, we made it a respectable fifteen minutes late.

The repairman good to his word, had the door fixed when I got home late that evening and had even serviced the door greasing it at all its dozens of bearings and joints. Now instead of hearing a creaking garage door rise up when I press the button, all I hear is the humming of a motor which makes me think it has stalled out for some reason and only looking at the door rising up will calm my fears. So the lesson I learned from all this is to mold an explosive charge with a remote detonator and place in each spring so if one breaks, you can blow the other one from the safety of another room and retrieve your vehicle out of the garage.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Voting Out Three Members of the Iowa Supreme Court Was the Right Thing To Do

A little over a year and a half ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts on the divisive topic of gay marriage. The first post was more general thoughts on the subject and the second post outlined why our supreme court justices who made this decision were legislating instead of doing their jobs and interpreting the constitution of Iowa which stated specifically that marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman. Because they were legislating instead of interpreting, the people of Iowa decided to take action.

In Iowa, we vote every election on whether we wish to retain our judges with a simple yes or no vote. If a simple majority of the people vote no, the judge is removed from office. This has never happened since this procedure was implemented in the 1960’s. Iowa made history this past Tuesday by voting out of office all three of our Supreme Court Justices who were up for a retention vote and who legislated about gay marriage.

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus came to our town right before the election telling everyone who would listen that a vote to not retain our justices, including her, would be a vote against Iowa process for appointing and retaining judges. Of course, it obviously does nothing close to that. In fact, by voting out Chief Justice Ternus and two or her fellow justices, we have strengthened our process by showing that yes, if they choose to legislate instead of doing their duties of strictly interpreting the Iowa constitution, we can and will vote their kiesters out of office.

In case you the reader haven’t reread the above two links and think I am just an angry and homophobic, please understand that my opinion on this subject has nothing to do with gay marriage at all. As I said in the previous post, it doesn’t affect me in the slightest. My beef with this and why I voted no on retaining those three supreme court justices is because they were legislating from the bench pure and simple. If they get away with legislating on this issue, what other future issue that would affect me will they legislate on?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Politics: Heading In the Wrong Direction

We are headed in the wrong direction if voting in today’s election is about getting a particular party to a certain number of members in one or both houses to make blocking or passing legislation easier.

We are headed in the wrong direction if voting in today’s election is about getting one particular party in power to control redistricting to make getting re-elected in the future even easier.

We are headed in the wrong direction if voting in today’s election is more about retribution than what the other party will bring to the table.

We are heading in the wrong direction if voting in today’s election is about which candidate seems like the lesser of two evils.

We are heading in the wrong direction if you have not seen one advertisement extolling why you should vote for one candidate and have only seen advertisements on why you shouldn’t vote for the other candidate.

We are heading in the wrong direction if voting in today’s election is because one candidate has made voting for the other candidate a referendum on a third person’s agenda.

We are heading in the wrong direction if voting in today’s election makes you want to check the ‘None of the Above’ box and at least in this state, you don’t have that option.

We are heading in the wrong direction if candidates spend more time trying to increase another candidates ‘negativity rating’ with television ads than laying out their stance on the issues.

We are heading in the wrong direction when candidates need ‘well oiled machines’ to get people out for the vote instead of people who just care enough to go vote on their own accord.

We are heading in the wrong direction when you are excited that this day has arrived more to end the insanity than for what it means to your future.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Clown Farts

This year we finally deemed that our daughter was old enough to go trick-or-treating for the first time. She did enjoy handing out candy to costumed people knocking on our door in previous years but I felt that she needed to experience the other side of things. Okay, the truth is I needed a chocolate fix. So we dressed her up as a clown and set out.

Things didn't go well. I had to hold her hand and do all the talking at every house we stopped at. At one house where the occupant handing out candy had put on a scary old man mask, I even had to bridge the distance between her and him and grab a candy while never letting go of her hand clutched tightly onto mine. Try as I might, I couldn't get her to say trick-or-treat or thank-you at any house. I was beginning to think I should have dressed her up as a mime. We hit up the handful of people we knew and a few more nearby their houses and called it a night. Although she has been on a candy high for a couple days already from other candy given to her by well meaning adults, she now has enough candy to continue her sugar high for another couple weeks. I'm even figuring on that full sized snickers bar disappearing the next time she falls asleep.

The title? Oh yeah. While my wife was applying clown make-up on my daughter, she let rip a rather loud and long fart. She smiled as all clowns do I suppose and announced that it was a "clown fart!"