Friday, September 30, 2011

Inked

Well it finally happened. After numerous interviews, the same number of job offers, lots of consideration, soul searching and what have you, my wife has inked a contract and will officially be working at a regional hospital in the area by the end of summer next year. Although she is already a doctor, she will at last walk around in a white uniform that just says doctor instead of resident doctor. It is her dream come true and I'm proud of her.

But it does mean some changes will be in order. Although she doesn't need to live within any proximity to the hospital, when she is on call, she has to be within fifteen minutes of the hospital at all times. That means that if she wants to go home during that time, our being about 25 minutes away puts it out of range. They provide nice little hard beds in a small room for just such an occasion but it doesn't beat sleeping in your own bed if you have the option. Secondly, there is a nice Catholic school in that town that we would like to enroll our daughter in that is renown for cranking out top notch students. Finally, I am ready for a change in location. All this means that our house will likely be for sale soon if not already by the time you read this.

Since we have a lot of equity in in our house and not much left to pay for it, plus it being a buyers market right now, we've decided to sell our house first and then try to find a temporary house to buy close to my wife's work. I say temporary because our next planned step will be to buy some land where I can live out a dream of mine, building our own house. I'm so excited that I just can't believe that we are finally making progress towards living this dream. My hope is to use the equity in our current house to purchase the temporary house and within a few years, finish paying it off so that we are debt free. Then we will accumulate money to go towards building our dream house on a cash only basis. Once that is done, I would like to consider my second dream of 'retiring' and starting up my boat building business.

That is well into the future and right now there are a lot of things on my plate that need my immediate attention. Since we really don't need to move until late summer and even then, we really don't need to move if we just resign the fact that once a week my wife will have to sleep at the hospital, I have decided to try selling our current house by myself. We bought it privately without realtors involved and it was pretty painless so I would like to try selling it especially when it means I could save myself 6% commission fees. I am also going to list it with a 'make me move' price which is quite a bit higher than I would actually accept. I think I have a 50/50 chance of getting a bite even at the higher price which is about smack dab in the middle of the prime market here in town. We have hundreds of houses for sale in town but they are either at the low end or the high end. Anything in the middle, the price I'm pricing our house at, doesn't stay on the market for very long. Not to mention that I live in a highly desirable part of town in one of the cheaper houses of the area. Hopefully all this translates into an offer meeting my 'make me move' price.

If we get it, I then will have around 90 days to vacate the premises. We've already looked at quite a few houses in the new area that meet our requirements but just don't 'speak' to us. When we bought our current house, it 'spoke' to us as soon as we saw it and less than six hours later we had a signed offer on it. We didn't get that same feeling on these other houses but being they would hopefully be just temporary, I would be willing to give them a try. All of these houses are currently vacant and have been on the market for awhile so we could probably close on one and move in within the 90 days. That is plan A. Plan B would be to perhaps rent if we couldn't get a price acceptable to us on those houses and couldn't find another one that we like. If we find a place but can't close on it in time to move directly from house to house, well then we would have to go to Plan C which would involve living our of a hotel room for a few weeks, not something I want to consider but would do over living in a cardboard box.

So the ball is most definitely rolling and despite all the work this will require of me outside of my day job, I'm looking forward to it. Now if I can just get someone to give me the 'make me move' price...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Real, Honest to God Books

As a couple of you may know or remember, I grew up into adulthood without a television. The first television I ever had in the same building where I slept at night was in college in the early 90s and it belonged to my roommate. I bought my first television in the mid 90's and still have it as a matter fact though it is relegated to living in a small apartment deep in the urban jungle with the full intention of never returning. It was a suicide mission of sorts that I sent it on but I'm okay with that. It was replaced with one of those new LCD flat screen models. But this post isn't about television. It is about books.

Most people ask the same question when they hear the above factoid, "What did you do with your spare time?" Besides living on a farm and working to sundown when not in school, I usually answer that I read. But that is really an understatement if you don't know the full scope. Beginning at age 8, I got an exception to the local library's policy of only checking out 7 books at any one time. Because they knew how much we read and how far we lived from the library, we were able to check out a paper grocery sack of books at a time which lasted us for around two weeks. As you can imagine, I eventually read the entire library and got a special library card to a larger library in a neighboring county. I worked on it diligently until I graduated and moved to college and probably read a good 50% of all its books.

In college, it felt wrong to read for pleasure instead of for class so I mostly just read the new releases of my favorite authors and kept to my class text books the rest of the time. When I graduated from college, I returned to my old ways but slowed down a bit. First, the libraries had gone from catering to people want to read books and switched over to movies, music and bytes as their preferred media to stock. Now I walk into a library and see shelves of books that I have read, reference type books and little else beyond the occasional new release that is never there because there is a waiting list a year long. I basically have given up going to libraries unless I am looking at reference books. Second, I started to find quality television programming that got my attention and filled my thirst for knowledge. Shows on the History Channel, Discovery and PBS started filling that craving I had that always attracted me to non-fiction books. I still get through books though now it takes me a month instead of an evening to finish one.

An unread book on my shelf feels the same to me as having money in the bank. It guarantees a future of entertainment and enlightenment. When I pick up a book and open that first page, it is like stepping onto an airplane destined for some exotic locale or sitting down with the author in a quiet restaurant and hearing about their experiences first hand. Although I am not a highlighter or a margin scribbler, I am constantly flipping back and forth through pages looking at the maps or pictures being referenced or on occasion, turning on the computer to fill in an area not addressed. When I finish the book, there is a moment of satisfaction followed by a longer moment of sadness that the book didn't continue in some never ending story. The most notable example of the latter was back in my fiction reading days when I read Alex Haley's 'Roots'. 

It should be no surprise then that perhaps one of my favorite places to go to are book stores where it was my four large built-in book shelves times 10 or 50 or even 100. So many books, so little time in life. When libraries began to fail me, I would hit auctions and garage sales where I could pick up used books for pennies on the dollar but for every one of those where I found books that I liked, there were ten others full of romance novels or westerns or other genres pumped out for the masses without a lot of thought put into the content. So I graduated to buying books at half priced bookstores where I could get that grocery sack of books for $20 or the small independent book store where the owner would order any book I would like or off the top of his head list five other books I would like knowing I liked the last one I bought. Sadly, those stores were driven out by behemoth box bookstores that were beginning to make an entrance.

I wasn't too sad at the time because those big box bookstores carried tens of thousands of books. I was happy and could walk out with lots of new reading material but the price went up by double and gone was the service. I was willing to make that trade and did but after I had made the switch, they did too only a lot more subtle. First is was the appearance of CD's being sold but more non-book related stuff ranging from games to even stuffed toys began to appear displacing shelves of books that once stood there. Then coffee shops began to open in corners and more shelves of books vanished. Magazines and computer software came along displacing more shelves. Now you can walk into a big box bookstore and perhaps only a third of the floor space is devoted to books and of that third, large portions are taken over by self help, cookbooks, [insert name here] for dummies, etc., what I call the soft side of literature. If you aren't into romance, westerns, serials, etc., you are left with perhaps a half dozen shelves of books that interest you and those are only the newest releases that fit on the shelf because you have to special order any book that is now considered 'classic' and worse, I find myself scanning those shelves for the books I HAVE NOT yet read and not finding many. 

The bookstores have deserted their core constituents and are ultimately paying the price. Borders is no longer at the end of this month. Those that remain, aggressively try to sell anything but books. If you have walked into a Barnes & Noble, you can see what I mean. Only a few independent bookstores remain and those are few and far between. Right now, the only option seems to join the electronic book reader club and "rent" those books in the form of bytes. Yes you technically can buy them and own them forever but you could also do that with Betamax, Laserdisc, cassette and VCR tapes. These have all been in my lifetime so I would bet lots of money that those of you with a collection of books on your Kindle or Nook won't be able to read them in another decade or so after having been replaced by the next big thing. I have a shelf of books that I re-read from time to time and have owned some of them several decades and I wasn't the original owner. Not to mention that a Kindle or Nook full of downloaded books doesn't have the same feel as a bookshelf of books. It is sterile, requires electricity or proximity too it at all times and is fragile. I would bet there hasn't been an e-reader on top of Mt. Everest but there has been many books and in fact, two of them are buried at the summit

I'm not sure where the future of books lies but I suspect they will always be around in the 'hardcopy' format. Media formats have come and gone by the dozens but books have been around for centuries. I suspect that the large box bookstores, that claim to sell books will sell less of them and more of other stuff that they now sell, a la Amazon dot com, and the hardcopy bookstores will come again in their original format, small shops well stocked with books and nary a coffee counter or music rack to be seen. I will be there waiting and hunting for that next book to take me on an enlightening adventure.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Global Warming

National Snow & Ice Data Center

I've been called a liberal and I've been called a right-winger over the years. I always pegged it to being to far towards the center and thus left or right of the extremists giving me those labels. Regardless of the labels, I have always believed global warming as a fact. I just don't see how you can't believe it with the reams of data available including the graph at the top that I just found thanks to an article on CNN reporting that the arctic ice is at the second lowest level ever and when the final data is taken next month, could perhaps even be the lowest level. If you average it out, we lose and have lost 9.3% of ice ever decade since satellite records have been taken.

Now I haven't pegged global warming on man yet but if I had to bet, I would say that we are perhaps in a natural global warming cycle as has occurred throughout the eons and man is exacerbating the problem as we tend to do. In fact man may even be helping to prevent us from frying by slowing down global warming. Regardless of the fault, global warming is happening and we are going to be forced to deal with it. If it were me, I wouldn't be buying ocean front property as an investment to pass onto my kids. If I were looking for investment property to pass on to my descendants, I would start looking around 69 meters above see level.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Miscellaneous of Madison County


At the end of all these posts, I ended up with a handful of pictures that really didn't fit in anywhere else but I still wanted to put in a post so here they all are in one. The above picture was in the city park of Winterset right near one of the covered bridges whose railings can be seen in the background. Old snarly trees always seem to speak to me because I have a lot of pictures of them.


The bridge in the park was spanning a nicely mowed shallow ditch so I could inspect the underside of the bridge and see some of the original wooden dowels.


For lunch we tried to locate a few places that had sounded good on the internet but evidently were no longer in business. So grasping at straws, we drove back to a little shack of a restaurant that had a lot of local cars parked around it, always a good sign. Rudy's did have some decent food but what caught my attention was that they had 'happy fries' as well as french fries on the menu. Our daughter got the happy fries which turned out to be what you see above. She had a good time eating them and leaving the eyes for last. She was happy but I don't think the fry was.


A device that was in the museum that doctors supposedly used to charge up the capacitors and give patients shocks to 'liven' up sore muscles. Liven up indeed!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Other Things of Madison County


These days, when people mention Madison county you most likely think of the covered bridges. If you mention the county seat of Madison county, Winterset, which came to a man in a dream and can't be found as a town name anywhere else in the world, you probably draw a blank unless you are Iowan and then you probably think John Wayne. Marion Robert Morrison, later Marion Mitchell Morrison, later John Wayne was born here in 1907 and spent less than four years of his life before moving onto California where he lived, became famous, died and was buried. But we Iowans cling to those few years.


Although I like the 'Duke' and have seen many of his movies, I wasn't a big enough fan to spend the $12 it would have cost me to visit his birth home that judging from the outside, was all of 400 square feet of real estate. Instead, we walked around to the back yard to have a look around and eventually went into the gift shop seen in the background in the adjoining lot. I'm not sure why I snapped this picture of the old pump in the Morrison's backyard but it called to me and I obliged.


I'm guessing this wasn't the outhouse ever used by John Wayne but it was back behind the house. I'm guessing this was in a joining lot that used to have a house but had long ago been razed so they could fashion a little seating area for folks visiting the house. The outhouse and walkway were probably added later in the fashion of 1907 as was the rest of the house according to the literature in the gift shop.


Never the less, my daughter had to go check it out as she does any restroom where ever we go.


We didn't come to see this fountain nor did we even know it was here. But it was on the grounds of the Historical Center in front of the mansion seen below.


The Bevington-Kaser Mansion built in 1856 sits on top of a hill overlooking Winterset. Charles Bevington built it there upon returning from the California goldrush though I haven't seen word that his wealth came from California gold. The last occupant of the house June Kaser who was a historical society president, donated the house and grounds to the historical society who built a museum on the grounds and transferred old buildings from all over Madison county to the site for preservation. But all this information came from their website and not from the lady who gave us the tour of the mansion. When I asked her who owned the house originally, she didn't even know. In fact, if it weren't for some laminated cards held together with a large silver ring, she didn't know anything and she only half heartedly mumbled a few words off of each card as we entered each of the nine rooms. I suspect she wasn't too thrilled about being there for some reason. Now the rest of the historical society members over at the museum were very nice and went out of their way to fill me in on details but the lady who gave us the tour of the mansion was a piece of work.


This was the 'outhouse' behind the mansion and definitely one of the most luxurious ones I have ever seen. Besides spots for three individuals at once, it also had...


... heat and...

... a urinal. So I guess technically it could hold four people at once though I suppose it was plenty cozy with only two people.


Normally I just love historical museums so we paid full fare admission for both the mansion and the museum ($10) and went to both. The mansion was disappointing mostly because of our tour guide and sadly the museum was also disappointing. It was more of a collection of a few families things that had been passed down through the years and didn't really have anything on the history of the area. If you were interested in period dress, a pencil collection and a huge rock collection, this is the place to go but if you are interested in local history, find someplace else. Despite this bad sounding review, there were a few things that caught my interest, one of them being the big Buick above. I can just picture myself driving that with a long black trench coat and a black fedora.


If this were the view you were seeing while standing in the road of this Buick speeding towards you, might as well kiss your ass goodbye.


The museum also had a corner with a large collections of medicine and some posters seen above and below.



There were about a dozen outbuildings on the site that were most likely moved there from throughout the area for preservation. There was a post office, law office, gas station, black smith, train depot, mercantile and more. They begged to be explored but sadly were all padlocked so all you could do was walk around and look in the windows. Since the museum and mansion were open, I'm not sure why they were locked. Perhaps they only open them up for special occasions. I think the picture above was of the corner of an old post office.


When we pulled into the place, my daughter shouted that she saw a deer. I thought she was referring to this tin one but she actually was looking at the flesh and blood variety over in another direction.


The deer in the preceding picture was grazing in the pasture of this horse which obviously made the farmer upset.


Normally I see old barns with more red wood than stone but in this case, the opposite was true. Since the owner of the mansion was wealthy enough for the mansion, a luxury outhouse and four thousand acres of land, I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that he needed a stone barn on the property. After walking around looking at all the locked buildings, we finally decided that we got our $10 worth and left to finish our covered bridge tour in the rain which had started again.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Silhouettes of Madison County


Standing inside Roseman Covered Bridge, trapped by the pouring rains outside, I started noticing how when at the far end of the bridge, the light at the other end seemed straight out of the movies beckoning me to heaven.


Then my daughter anxious to depart started running back and forth from one end of the bridge to the other and back again disappearing briefly into that light and coming right back out of it towards me. That gave me an idea.


Angels appeared to me...


The end result was a picture that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Poverty Looks Nice To Me


Listening to the nightly news this past Tuesday, I was flabbergasted to see their news segment on poverty after a new report showed that poverty levels increased for the fourth year in a row and there are more people in poverty now than ever before since records tracking it began in 1959. Over forty-six million Americans or 15% of the population now live in poverty. To emphasis their point, they interviewed the Anareese and Angel Hidalgo family from Florida who are now living in 'poverty'.

According to the video report where these screen captures were taken, the Hidalgos lost their job a year ago and now the four of them are living on $189 a week while their house is being foreclosed upon.  Here is a family who has a very nice house, nice appliances and designer decorations, all of which are much better than my own and my income is nowhere near the poverty level.

All I can see is a family who spent WELL BEYOND their means to live a lifestyle not supported by their income when they had it and now that they don't, they burnt through their $40,000 savings and their house is being foreclosed upon.  Cry me a river. Around here we call that paying the piper.

The questions that should have been asked to the Hidalgo family are: how on earth did they blow through $40,000 in less than a year when they both knew they didn't have a source of income and if they wanted to live the lifestyle they were living which is their right, why didn't they have an appropriate level of money in their savings account to support it when the economy got tough AS IT DOES ON A FAIRLY REGULAR CYCLE? The Hidalgo family are not the face of poverty, they are the face of stupidity.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Graffiti of Madison County


The covered bridges were neat to see with all their history, especially the three that were still in their original locations on the back roads of Madison county. But I have to admit, they all looked almost identical in the way they were built and after seeing one, there wasn't a lot to do at the rest other than to photograph their locations to document that you had been there. I suppose that is why people resort to graffiti in their effort to document their visit to the bridges. The heavy interior planks were scarred with old words and initials that had been carved into the over the years and weathered until they were virtually unreadable. So in order to stem the removal of wood to carve initials, the care takers of the bridges had lined the first eight or ten feet of each bridge's interior walls at each entrance with smooth wooden boards that they then painted white to encourage people to leave their mark their in a non-destructive manner. Judging by the dates, I would guess that every year before the covered bridge festival in October, they were repainted to allow more people to leave their mark. It seemed to work well. So after taking my pictures and looking out over the creeks and watching the rain, really the only thing to do was to read the graffiti and see what people had to say. There were hundreds of unoriginal '[name] was here' and 'for a good time call...' but there were a few that caught my eye and they are posted below:














Monday, September 12, 2011

The Bridges and Rain of Madison County

Due to my wife being on call on Sunday of Labor Day which means she worked from early Sunday morning straight through to mid-Monday morning, we spent the weekend up in the Urban Jungle and had Saturday free to do something. We decided a day trip was in order and finally after all this time, we decided to head to Madison county and see those covered bridges that Clint Eastwood made so famous in the movie which I have yet to see or the book by Robert Waller I have yet to read. Unfortunately, Saturday rained on us off an on all day with periods of heavy down pours and even the off times still producing a light mist so none of the pictures are the greatest.


The first one we saw was Hogback which we had to ourselves. It was built in 1884 and is 97 feet long. As I would later learn, it is in its original position, a trait shared with only two other of the five remaining bridges where were among 19 that once graced this county. The bridge is named after the limestone ridge that forms the west side of the valley.


The next bridge we arrived at during a heavy downpour of rain was Cedar. It was the only bridge that you could actually drive across and I was actually leery to drive across a bridge originally built in 1883. But I needn't have worried because the Cedar bridge was actually burnt by an arsonist in September of 2002 and this was a replica. Not only was it a replica but it is actually 1.3 miles east of where it was originally located. For those who have have read the book it is the bridge where Francesca meets Robert to take some pictures. Because it was raining and close to a main road which meant that it got more traffic than many of the others, we just drove across pausing only to take this picture and drove on to the next one.


The Cutler-Donahoe covered bridge can be found in a city park in Winterset which obviously was not its original location. It was built in 1870 and originally located near Bevington, Iowa which straddles both Madison and Warren counties. I'm assuming this bridge was on the Madison side of the county line but wouldn't place money on it. It is the only hyphenated bridge of the six.


Lightening was snapping through the sky when we pulled up to the Roseman covered bridge and I had just enough time to hustle down the river bank to snap this picture before the rain came down in buckets. We ended up spending lots of time on this bridge waiting out the rain and taking shadow pictures which I will probably make the subject of another post. The Roseman bridge was built in 1883 and is said to be haunted because in 1892 two sheriff's posses trapped a county jail escapee in the bridge. Legend says that the man cried out, rose up straight through the roof of the bridge and disappeared. I didn't see any ghosts during our extended time there. It is the second of three bridges that are in their original location and was the main bridge seen in the movie. I guess since it had been recently renovated before the movie, crews were sent down to 'age' the bridge for the movie and then 'un-age' it afterwards.


Because it was pouring rain, we drove back into Winterset for an early lunch and to cross a few more non-bridge site seeing items off our list before returning to our covered bridge tour. The next bridge was Holliwell and was built in 1880. At 122 feet long, it is the longest of the covered bridges remaining in Madison county and is built over the Middle river and remains at it's original location. I should mention that the biggest reason these bridges 'moved' was that although they were good for horse drawn vehicles and even today's gas powered vehicles one at a time, they were hard for farmers to drive through with tractors and equipment. So lots of pressure was put on the county to move these bridges which they did to three of them. The other three all had a bypass built around them complete with modern concrete bridge for the farmers to use and allow the covered bridges to remain unmolested.


The last bridge located very near I-35 was the Imes covered bridge which was built in 1870 and is the oldest of the surviving Madison county covered bridges. This bridge began life over the Middle river near Patterson but was moved in 1887 to a spot over Clinton Creek. Where it is now is over some no name ravine on the east side of St. Charles.


The insides of all these bridges were built with massive timbers which is exactly why they were covered bridges to begin with. The locals found it much easier and less expensive to build and maintain roofs over the bridges than to replace all those massive timbers every few years due to natural weathering. I suspect the sidewalls to all the bridges kept the horses focused on the road ahead instead of what was underneath them. Whatever the reasons, the walls and roofs had done their jobs because I could still see original wood doweling holding the boards together throughout the bridges.