Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I'm Already Gone


I've gone south for the holidays and I'm not coming back until next year. I plan to be spending a lot of time watching the sunset and perhaps drink a beer or too. I'll let you know how it went when I get back... if I come back. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my blogging family!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Siri


Those of you with Apple iphones will recognize that symbol as the way to get in touch with Siri, the automated iphone assistant. It is very much like the bat symbol Commissioner Gordon used to get in touch with Batman but way more powerful. When Gordon turned on the torchlight sending the symbol into the heavens, he had to wait for Batman to show up before asking his question. With Siri, all I have to do is press the button, ask my question and a second later it is answered or a link with the answer shown to me. Pretty nifty.

Although I have Siri on my phone, I don't use her nearly as often as I should. Mostly I guess I just forget about her which is okay because she doesn't mind at all. If I were to forget about my wife's birthday on the other hand, you might find what is left of my hide out back! Still I do use Siri now and then when I think of her. Just last night my wife was commenting on Jewel's boobs which were front and center on the television show Sing-off back for the fourth season. I thought they were definitely done and pressed the Siri button on my phone and told her "Jewel boob job." Siri must have been a little confused because she asked me if I meant Jewel bl@#job...

Back to a family friendly blog if it isn't already too late. My two daughters have discovered Siri and love asking questions though I am a bit afraid that the 7 year old may lose some of her innocence if she keeps it up. Just the other day I heard her ask where babies come from! Fortunately, the iPad she asked it on is locked and needs a password to see the answers and I think I will keep it that way for now.

Even the 1 year old is familiar with Siri. For several weeks now if someone leaves an iPad on the floor, she will go over to it, turn it on, press the Siri button and talk into the speaker. However in all of Apple's wisdom, nobody programmed it for baby gibberish and so Siri often acts confused. The 1 year old doesn't seem to mind and just keeps pressing the button and talking. I think she just like to hear Siri's voice respond. I've been trying to capture a video of this happening but so far have been unable to do so. Everytime I pull my camera out, the 1 year old decides that it is more interesting than Siri and stops.

I am amazed at this technology and its uses if only I wouldn't forget about it. I am however making a mental note that when it is time for the birds and the bees talk to unlock the iPad and just tell my daughter to ask Siri about it. I'm sure whatever she finds on the web will be well informed...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Honeymoon


This is a recently scanned in picture from our honeymoon almost ten years ago. Some people go to resorts in tropical locations but we opted for a cabin in the woods about three miles up the trail from where this picture was taken. To take this picture we were perched on a narrow ledge about 300 feet up a sheer bluff above the Buffalo River in northwest Arkansas. Whenever I think of northwest Arkansas, this is the picture in my mind. I can sit on this ledge or rock for hours overlooking 'my kingdom' and have done so. I have also explored about every inch of what you see down below.

The next picture I think was taken during a hike down one of the nearby tributaries of the Buffalo River. This creek descends about a mile in elevation in about a mile of horizontal distance and is a beautiful place. Back during my youth, it was almost unknown to all but a few locals but by the time of our honeymoon, the word was starting to get out and though we didn't see anyone, the trail was very defined. I think this was the last time we went down this creek and hopefully when our daughters are old enough to make the trip, we will go down it again.


For reference, this picture encompasses about 80 vertical feet of fall.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some Like It Hot

 

Yesterday as I was frying up a batch of lumpia (sorry Kimberly but I forgot to take pictures of the actual making of it to post with the recipe) and was captivated by the pattern of the heating oil and snapped a couple pictures. Since I didn't have anything better to post about, I thought I would post those.

Lumpia is a lot of work to make and thus doesn't get made often. I suppose that is why when I make it for any get together it is a big hit. It may also be due to the fact that I make the shanghai version (with meat) and that my rolls are made tightly about the diameter of a finger. They fry up quickly that way and with so many layers of wrapper around the outside, the inside doesn't get logged down in grease.

Lately I have been trying to figure out a way of making the making of lumpia easier to do so that we can enjoy it more often. The easiest solution is just to make more lumpia when you have everything out and ready and preserve it until you are ready to eat it. So the time before last I did an experiment that turned out very well and have now employed that at full scale.

Now when I make lumpia, I make double and triple batches of it depending on time available. All told it takes me about 45 minutes a batch to make and a batch makes about two dozen lumpia rolls. Once I have them rolled up, I place them spaced apart on a cookie sheet and freeze them for about a half hour so they won't stick together anymore. I then put a dozen or so in a quart freezer bag and put them in the deep freeze. The night before I need any I just place the bags in the refrigerator to thaw out. Because I froze them partially separated on a cookie sheet, the remain unstuck together. I heat up some oil and cook them just like normal. You can't tell any difference between them and fresh cooked.

So the lumpia pictured below, were some I made over a month ago when I was making a batch for my youngest daughter's birthday. My mother-in-law wanted to take some to a potluck to impress some of her friends and so I pulled a couple bags out of the freezer the night before and sent her to her meeting with two dozen hot lumpia. They were a big hit. The next time I make some, I promise to take some pictures and post about the process for those who have expressed interest in the past.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Obamacare

I've always had mixed feelings about Obamacare since it became law. A big part of me knows that anything that our government runs will be done incompetently, will cost the American taxpayer lots of money and will generally do the job far worse than the private industry. But another part of me has seen the effects of the private industry on the people around me in regards to pre-existing conditions and spiraling cost for those who must buy their insurance privately. Obamacare, right or wrong, has addressed some of those issues so it isn't all for nought. Still it is just rolling out and already, some of the things I predicted are coming true. Employers no longer have as much incentive to offer healthcare and are dropping people from their rolls and putting them on the taxpayer roll. Also, to make the books balances, people who want simple (thus cheap) coverage must now pay for things that they will never use such as maternity benefits for men. Now thousands of people will have to pay more for things they will never use to help reduce costs for those who do need it.

A recent poll came out showing that the majority of American's now dislike Obamacare. However, the majority of Americans still think we should fix it rather than scrap it. I guess I'm in the majority of both groups finally after being in the minority of both those groups for the last couple years. I was just ahead of my time!

Personally Obamacare has effected me to a greater extent than I would have ever guessed. My mom is one of those people who were forced to loose her insurance once Obamacare rolled out. Being self employed, she has to buy hers and nobody would insure her anymore due to pre-existing conditions pretty typical of those nearing retirement age. Like it or not, she has to sign up for Obamacare. Also, my mother-in-law recently immigrated to this country and because she is retired, she has no healthcare what-so-ever over here. Our plan was that she would fly back to her home country where she is insured once a year for wellness checks and that we would get some sort of catastrophic policy over here in case something bad happened. Well part of Obamacare says that now we much buy a full policy or she faced getting fined yearly.

So when the website opened up three months ago, I and thousands of others tried to jump through the hurdles to sign up for some sort of Obamacare policy. I think in the first three weeks, I created a half dozen accounts until I was finally able to completely create one that would work. The first five would get hung up and error out and those errors would forever be linked to the account making it unusable. About a month into the process, I finally started step one which is to see if my mother-in-law qualifies for financial assistance. You can't begin to shop for a policy until this question is addressed. After two weeks of trying to answer the questions and get to the end, I finally gave up. The website just kept hanging up and erring out. I started yet another new account and redid the application a second time, this time getting to a point where I had to send in proof of my mother-in-law's immigration status. We waited three weeks before finally getting a response to finish the rest of the application which we did only to have it error out on the final signature page. The error simply stated that the system wasn't working but would be again in 24 hours.

After a week of going through the entire application every single time (because it still doesn't allow you to only visit the parts that need work), I was still getting the same error and called the helpline. They went through the entire application on their end (a very laborious process) and got the same error. Their solution was to wait a week and try again. I did this and still got the same error and finally called the helpline yet again.

Once again the operator took me through the entire application and got the same error. So her solution was to delete everything and do it all yet again. Finally last week, three months into the process, I successfully got through the first hurdle and found out the my mother-in-law doesn't qualify for federal financial assistance, a fact that I knew going into it. According to them, she is eligible for Medicaid but according to the Medicaid site she isn't. Right now I am in some sort of waiting pattern waiting for a call from Medicaid that I was told would come in a day or two. I'm not holding my breath.

So far in the state of Iowa which uses the federal website for signing up for Obamacare, only 750 people have successfully signed up for some sort of insurance. My mother-in-law is still not one of them after three months of trying on a daily basis to do so. So when you see someone on television saying that the Obamacare website is 'fixed' and now working, don't believe them. The truth is that a few people are just getting lucky.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Big Chief


While out doing some errands, I came across this scene, one of which I have encountered dozens of times before but never knew quite how to deal with it. How do you photograph an eight foot tall statue lying in repose on a pellet set on the floor. I've taken several pictures last year of this same statue but because it was impossible to get above the thing, none of them really gave the statue justice. But now I happen to have an app on my phone for taking panoramic photos and I thought that perhaps this time I might accomplish something.  I held the phone as high as I could to get as much of the statue in the frame and then walked along the thing trying to hold the phone steady to capture the above picture. Not too shabby.

Shortly after we signed the purchase agreement for our current home two summers ago, a huge windstorm pushed through the area knocking down lots of trees and this statue which used to reside on top of the county courthouse. The last time I saw the statue up close, it was corroded and coming apart at the seams and looked almost unsalvageable. Local organizations coughed up the funds and found the right talent and now the statue is looking in pretty good condition. The local paper had an article a couple weeks ago about an attempt to re-install the statue in it's rightful position but the receptacle that it slides into was badly corroded and also in bad shape. They decided to do things right and fix that first and so now the statue is 'sleeping' in the county courthouse awaiting the day when he can go back on top.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Colors


Looking back, one of the things that took me by surprise were the colors. I had expected to see lots of earth tones when heading into a large desert ecosystem but was surprised at the color everywhere. Being in the bottom of a canyon, I hadn't expected to see much of the sunrise or sunset but instead every morning and evening we were treated to spectacular sunrises and sunsets that took hours to fade away. Light seemed to bounce this way and that and just when you thought the best part was over, another area would begin to shine like a diamond in the ruff. This picture didn't scan the best from the negative but it gives you a sense of the colors and how vivid they could become.


Even as we hiked during the bright sunlight washed out part of the day, there were always rocks and flowers competing for our attention. The rocks came in all colors of the rainbow and occasionally when the color was some boring earth tone, rainbow colored fungus would adorn its surfaces. Many times I found myself feeling like Charlie inside the Chocolate Factory, not knowing where to look or what magnificent thing would show itself next.


When packing for the trip, I brought along 25 rolls of film thinking that I would fill only half of them mostly with shots of the canyons and the river. Instead I filled them all and more than half were of flowers. They were everywhere, even in placed you would expect anything to be able to grow such as in a crack of a large slab of black schist rock.


Even the springs and streams in the various side canyons came in a rainbow of colors. It felt as if one only had to stop, breath, and look around to see something worth taking a picture. I had to force myself at times to put down my camera and just live in the moment for awhile. At the above waterfalls we hike too and climbed up using a rope, I made myself sit by the running water for an hour and just soak in the beauty. It worked well because even today nearly 14 years later, I just have to look at this picture and concentrate a bit and I feel as if I am right back there again.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Camp Life


Most of the time we were off the river by early afternoon at the latest. Because we were on the extended version of the trip, we weren't in hurry. Also because many of the passengers became so engrossed in the trip and living for the moment, we didn't care if we ever reached the end. Once we pulled our boats in, there was a flurry of activity. All the passengers would pitch in to help unload the baggage rafts and anything needed for the evening that might be stowed in one of the dory boats. Then everyone would grab their personal bags and scramble off into the surrounding sand and rocks to set up a tent and mark their territory. Everyone that is except for myself and the crew. The crew slept on their boats at night and thus didn't need to mark their turf. I chose to sleep outside or under an overhanging rock if opportunity provided itself and never once set my tent up during the trip. I did have to take it down once because another passenger set it up while I was on a hike because he thought it might rain.

After the rest of the passengers went scurrying into the rocks to set up their tents, I often helped the two cook ladies set up the kitchen. Once that was done and the crew were off doing their own things, I would often wander up a nearby canyon or rocky hill to get away from camp and relax. At this particular campsite, I scrambled up to a bench where I found two of the younger crew guys that I got along well with. We sat up there for a couple hours mostly just drinking a few beers and watching the 'ants' scurry about camp this way and that.

Eventually we would hike back down to camp for dinner and then after the rest of the clients retreated to their tents and turf, I would sit by the campfire and chew the fat with the crew who thought much like me on things. As the night wore on, the crew would start to retire to their boats and more often than not, I would become the last person by the fire. I would give the coals a stir, walk down to the beach where my gear still lay, grab my sleeping bag and find some place among the sand, rocks, brush and scorpions to unroll it and fall asleep. (The latter was one of the reasons I left my sleeping bag rolled up until I was ready to crawl into it.)

I think because I wanted to make the most of the trip, I was often up at first light with the two cooks. I would fetch some cooking water for them and stir up the fire and enjoy a hot beverage while watching breakfast cook and the other clients stumble in from their tents. After breakfast there would be another flurry of activity at everyone else scrambled to pack all their gear and haul it back to the boats. Since the only thing I had to pack was my sleeping bag, my stuff had already resumed its place on the beach near the baggage raft long before breakfast. During this time, I would help break down the kitchen for the cooks and then often find a nearby secluded spot to right and watch the river until everyone was ready to go.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The View From the Bottom


When one goes to the Grand Canyon in the traditional sense, i.e. traveling along the south rim, they are treated to wide open views of the canyon and glimpses of the river. When you float down the river, for the most part you see sheer rock walls on either side of you that allow you to only see a few hundred yards and that is it. It seemed like much of our days were spent shivering in the shadows of the walls much of the morning followed by a few hours of direct sunlight to warm you up and then cook you well done followed by a couple hours in the afternoon where you could cool down once again in the shadows.

Because I took the extended version of the trip, we spent lots of time hiking up and away from the river to see great views. Occasionally like in the above picture, the canyon would open up a bit and allow some great views while floating on the river. I'm guessing this is one of those I took shivering in the morning shadows looking back at the sun slowly rising up to meet us.

Unlike what people might think, there are large portions of the river like what you see above where it is flat and calm. We drifted a lot, rowed some more to stay warm in the mornings or against headwinds funneling up the canyon, but mostly just floated letting the current carry us along. Depending on your boat mates for the day, you might spend a portion having pleasant conversations of this or that. Other times you just drifted along in silence letting the world unfold before you and disappear behind you. I carried my journal with me in a waterproof ammo box and would sometimes jot my thoughts down or draw a quick sketch of the canyon as I saw it. After about the first week, I became so attuned to life in the canyon that even views like this one wouldn't even remind me that there was life beyond 'my' canyon.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Action


This photo sums up what I feel about this time between Thanksgiving and the New Year. There is a lot going on and sometimes all one can do is hang on and brace yourself for the ride. I'm not a bah humbug type of person with the holidays but I do like to lay low a bit and let some of the obnoxious parts pass me by.


These pictures are all ones that I took on my Grand Canyon river trip in the spring of 2000. They first three were all probably taken while we were scouting rapids. We would pull over and the people maneuvering the boats would discuss things over about lines and waves and such since the river was ever changing. After that, they would discuss the order of the boats going through the rapids. If you were in the first boat, you nervously walked back to the boat knowing full well you were now a guinea pig for the other three boats and you were lucky to get a picture of the latter boats running the rapids from far below.


However if you were in one of the last boats, we would linger along the shore and take some action shots of the first boats running the rapids. The previous three give you some sense of how large the water is on the Colorado river even though these rapids weren't nearly some of the biggest or worst. The raft shown above was our baggage raft and was around 20 feet long to give you some sense of scale. It allowed the wooden dory boats that the passengers rode in to be light enough that we could put ourselves in sportier parts of the rapids without being sluggish from the weight.


I took along a waterproof camera hoping to get action shots from the river but that didn't happen for the most part. Any really big rapids that we were running, I was 100% focused on the waves and throwing my weight around to one side or the other to keep the tiny dory boat upright. This required both hands to hold myself into the boat and not go for a swim. In the picture above, we came to one of the smaller unnamed rapids with a wave train at the end with some small 8 to 10 feet waves that we just surfed on through. This freed up one of my hands to take some action shots of running a rapids, one of the better ones shown above.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Pair of Pardoned Turkeys and an Opossum In a Tree


I know the above picture would have been more appropriate this past Thursday but like millions of people in America, I decided to stay home and be with my family instead of trying to lose the meaning of Christmas. This meant I was doing the things that families should be doing instead of spending time sitting in front of a computer. I smoked a turkey for our feast and took photos of two that lived to see another year. Actually there were four of them but I was taking the picture through the window and the best one (which is marginal at best) only showed two birds.

Later after our feed, we decided to walk off the turkey by partaking of another family tradition, the search for our Christmas tree. Because for the last handful of years we have been going down to Florida right after Christmas to spend time with my grandparents who only have a few Christmas' left in this world, we get our tree up early because we generally take it down early before we leave. Because we like to be environmentally friendly when possible and love the smell, we harvest red cedar trees for our Christmas trees and leave the plastic ones out of the landfill and avoid the mass produced ones they sell outside of box stores. The red cedar smells heavenly in the house and here is the big secret, add a small bottle of food coloring to the first can of water you give it and it turns a bright Christmas green color in about 24 to 48 hours.

Trying to make this long story shorter, while looking for our red cedar tree, we haven't to come across the below scene. I've always thought opossums looked kind of prehistoric especially when they open their mouth wide and show their teeth at you. This guy didn't do that but he certainly was a little perturbed that we came along and disturbed his nap. He did graciously allow me to take a few pictures of him so I walked away and let him resume his nap.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Scanning Negatives


I finished scanning the pile of slides that I have been working on intermittently since about two years ago. Although I love seeing them again in a format easier to view, it was a lot of work getting them into a digital format. I thought that would be the end of it but when digging out the scanner box recently while cleaning out our office, I came across an attachment for the scanner to scan in negatives.

For awhile between the age of slides and I obtained my first digital camera, a space of probably over a decade, I put everything on prints. Although prints were easier to view, I found that I viewed them less often than I did the slides. The biggest reason is because they stayed in the envelopes that I got back from the developer and were never organized to weed out the bad ones.

My trip down the Grand Canyon in the spring of 2000 was the exception to the rule though because that trip meant so much to me. I carefully organized the photos and labeled the back of them as to what part of the canyon there were taken only to have the ink on the back of the photo smudge onto the one below it. I also gave away my copy of some of the prints to friends I met on the trip. The result was that I ended up with a smaller stack of ink smudged prints that I never looked at.

Finally thirteen years later, I have found the solution to my problem with the negative scanner. I am beginning the process of scanning in all the negatives so that I have digital copies of all the pictures in their pristine condition and I hope to once again arrange them and make them into some sort of album that I can once again look through easily and share with others.  Modern technology is just wonderful.

The above picture was taken early on in the trip when I hiked up this steep canyon behind camp one afternoon when we stopped fairly early. It was an extremely steep hike and I ended it on top of this large flat boulder about 100 feet below the band of cliffs that prevent people from climbing up or down the side canyons in the area. The reason I stopped short of my goal was that this boulder which probably weighed several tons shifted when I stepped on the downhill edge of it and I figured that was far enough. Any further and I might accidentally send some huge boulder bouncing down the canyon and through camp and I would be persona non grata for the rest of the trip.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Life For a Fallen Giant


In a city cemetery down the road from my place, a giant old oak tree succumbed to oak wilt like many of my trees have done. I have split my trees up for firewood but the city got a grant from a local historical organization and decided to do something different. They had a ten foot tall civil war solider carved into what remained of the stump. I stopped by the other day and couldn't resist taking a few pictures of it. According to the newspaper it was around 250 years old. I'm guessing the big one that I had removed next to my house last year was a little younger at about 200 years old.

I couldn't resist playing around with my panoramic feature on my new phone. I still like it but wish I was on some sort of moving trolley so that the whole picture didn't appear hinged at the middle. Funny thing though is that while taking this panoramic photo of the civil war soldier, I notice for the first time the fellow to the left of him in the distance that had an entire cannon mounted upright on his tombstone. (You can see it sticking up in the air!) I didn't have time on this trip but sometime soon I am going to have to walk over and see who he is. He must have some sort of military background I'm guessing and I'm sure there is an interesting story behind his grave.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Home


I found this picture of the farm house where I grew up in recently while scanning some old slides. I lived in this farmhouse until I was probably 12 or 13 years old and have many fond memories of it. The enclosed porch on the left side of the photo is where I recently blogged about my dog Pepsi habit. The open porch on the right has two doors entering into the house, the nearer one to the office and the far one to my younger brother's bedroom. On the gable end facing the camera, the upper window was in the room where our ping pong  table resided. There was probably only a foot of space on each side of the table and maybe two feet on each end before one hit the wall so I learned to play ping pong up close to the table, a trait that served me well in future years in ping pong tournaments.

This farmhouse has seven bedrooms though there were only my parents, younger brother and I. For the most part, the upper story was closed off all year round. If we wanted to go to one of the two storage rooms or ping pong room during the cold months of winter, we donned jackets and gloves. We heated the house with a wood stove during the winter and cooled it with box fans in the summer so it just made sense to keep near the core.

After my grandfather died, we moved a mile north to his farm because all the grain bins, equipment sheds and such were over there and it was more centrally located. My parents rented out this house for a few years but as rentals go in rural areas, the renters never took care of the place. Eventually it started to come apart at the seams and it was bulldozed in and set on fire. Now if you drive by all you see is a grassy area where it and the outbuildings once stood and a few of the old trees. The driveway doesn't even appear to be there but is under all the grass and weeds. Every once in awhile when I have the time, I like to drive over there and sit in the driveway envisioning the photo at the top of this post and remembering my childhood.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Kingdom of the Spiders


A while back we got to talking about scary movies at the family supper table and I was regaling everyone with stories of some that I had seen in my youth. Actually I was boring my daughter and my wife had never seen any of them. I like scary movies though there were two in particular that were disturbing enough for my young mind that I had nightmares about them after seeing them. The worst one was the girl with no mouth from Twilight Zone the Movie. It took me many nights before I could finally rid her image from my brain.

The other one was one about tarantulas taking over a town but darn if I could remember the name of it. I finally gave up and hit google but all I could find was one about tarantulas in a plane. Finally I decided that perhaps it didn't have tarantula in the title and searched for spider movies. At last I found the title Kingdom of the Spiders starring William Shatner. Had I even remembered he was in it would have made finding it much easier but since I was probably only five or six at the time, Shatner didn't mean anything to me. Still doesn't for that matter!

Once I found the name, I also found the movie on Youtube and just watched it again for the first time in three and a half decades. Although it is very formulaic, it was still enjoyable to see the movie that haunted many a dream when I was a child. Still, it didn't haunt as many dreams as the face of the girl below!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lay of the Land


With my new found toy, I can finally take a picture that more accurately shows the lay of my property, something I have found impossible with my other cameras. My problem was that I could never get enough area in the field of view to provide reference for the topography.

In this picture the morning after our first snow flurry, I stood on the highest point of the property right by the corner of my garage and shot a panoramic photo. Starting on the left hand side, you can see the nose of my oldest and most beloved cars because it was the first new car I ever purchased. The side street that we live on runs along the ridge in the left corner of the photo. My property begins at the road and drops off slightly to a fairly level small bench where I've thought if we live here long enough, I might build a small shop over there. Below the bench the ground drops off steeply into the 'big ditch' that starts at the very left side of the photo and runs to about the center of it.

The thicker area of trees in the background of the photo is left as a screen of sorts to shield our property from the main road that runs behind them. It is effective in the summer and gives us the illusion of being totally secluded. During the winter months when the leaves our off, you can see the road and the neighbor's house across the valley but it still doesn't feel like living in a fishbowl like our other house did.

As the land rises up in the middle of the photo is levels off onto a large bench on the right side of the photo. There you can see some of the pipes from the septic system and that stack of wood is a 'tower' built by my oldest daughter with the leftover scraps from my log ripping project in our outdoor firepit ready to be burned the next time we have a fire. On the far right of the picture is the beginning of a concrete retaining wall that holds back the dirt next to the house so that we can have a walk-out basement.

Behind me is the house and a large front lawn between it and the side street that continues away from the main road at a diagonal following the ridge top and forming our slice of this world into a large triangle.

I have a lot of future plans to develop what you can see in this picture. Where the slope is the steepest next to the driveway and where my front lawn drains into the 'big ditch', I would like to build a retaining wall to allow easier mowing since right now it has to be done by weed eater and even then it is hard to stay standing on the slope without sliding down. All the water from up the street runs down through that big ditch and it is eroding at a pretty fast clip. I would like to get some large boulders and rocks to line the bottom of it to slow down the erosion and give it a more aesthetic appeal.

On the large bench at the right of the photo I would like to build a garden in another year or two when the littlest is old enough to allow me the time to actually get outside and garden. We would also like to move the firepit from the flattest and nicest part of our lawn off towards the slope down to the big ditch where it is out of the way and on terrain we probably wouldn't use for anything else. I would like to plant a few fruit trees and some spring blossoming trees like redbuds, etc. along the perimeter of our property to provide more screening and to give it some more appeal in early spring until the leaves come in.

That is pretty much the dime tour or my backyard. Hope you enjoyed the tour.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Swimming Lessons


On a recent overcast day with a cold wind blowing, we were facing a day indoors sheltering from the elements or doing something else. We chose to do something else and piled into our vehicle and hit the road. Our first priority was lunch at a favorite place that is in an old mill built along the river and situated just off screen to the right in the view of my header picture at the top of the blog. It is a good place to eat but also a good place to pick up a gift certificate for a birthday coming up.

With bellies full and birthday shopping done, we decided a drive through a nearby state park was in order. It was past leaf color time and most of the leaves were on the ground anyway but it is a nice little park with some trails for hiking along the river that we have frequented over the years. On the backside of the hills along the river lies the lake in the above picture. It is the place where I learned to swim as a youth and holds lots of memories.

These days public pools are everywhere and thus children like my daughter learn to swim in clean sanitized conditions. My daughter was amazed to learn that I learned to swim in the same lake where fish, snakes, turtles and other critters also lived. Back then, it was my only choice. During the summer, I would board a school bus for the half hour ride here along with hordes of other rural kids and we would spend half a day at the beach seen in the background waiting for our level of swimming lesson classes to be called. If I remember right there were four levels and classes were around 45 minutes long. So if you were a beginner or an lifeguard level, you had almost three hours of time to kill before your lesson or after it.

One of my frequent ways to kill time was to hit the snack shack up on top of the hill for some goodies and then to walk around the entire lake on the trail. If I walked at a good clip and didn't dilly dally too long I could make it around in about a half hour. But with the woods full of things to look at, I'm guessing I mostly took about an hour to walk around the trail in my flip flops and swim trunks. Once the youngest daughter gets a bit more mobile, I hope to take everyone around that trail one more time for old times sake.

Near the parking lot and boat ramp next to the dam, stands an old gnarled tree that always captures my attention. It is a fine tree and I couldn't resist taking yet another photograph of it.


Friday, November 15, 2013

My New Favorite Thing


I have tried panoramic photography many times in the past. Most of the time, probably 95% of the time, I take a series of photos with my camera, download them and then they gather electron dust on my hard drive. The other 5% of the time, I attempt to cut and paste them together with the software that came with my computer but they never turn out. Most of the time it is because I don't have software to do this automatically. I have to go by eye which is cumbersome and doesn't always work out. I suppose I could buy software that does it for me but because it is something I don't need very often, I can't ever seem to justify the expense.

Last week I upgraded my phone. My old phone was finally starting to break down and buttons weren't always working. Also, the way they bill those things, you sign a contract for two years to pay back the phone. At the end of the two years when the phone is completely paid for, one would assume the price would go down to reflect that but one would be assuming incorrectly. I even offered to buy the phone outright to get a cheaper rate but they wouldn't have anything of it. So since I am tied to paying for a phone that is already paid for, I might as well get a new phone when I am eligible.

All this is simply to tell you that my new phone has a panoramic setting on it. I simply start on the left side of where I want my photo to begin, hit the button and slowly swing the phone to my right using the horizontal line they provide as reference to keep the picture level. When I reach the right side of the area I want to photograph, I hit the button and the entire picture is complete. The above picture was my first panoramic photo I took using the new phone and its software. It was my second attempt. The first attempt I didn't pay attention to the arrow and tried to scan from right to left and only ended up with two fragmentary pictures at both ends.

I should tell you a little about the picture itself. What it shows is is the area of the big bend in the river shown in my header photo at the very bottom of the bend. It is known as Ely's Ford and is where the Mormons crossed on their way from Nauvoo, Illinois to their new home now known as Salt Lake City, Utah. The leaders of the church on the initial trip actually crossed at other points in the county but the majority of Mormons whom followed behind crossed right here. Right at the ford is a little park where one can picnic on a nice day and following the river around the bend to the northeast is a nice trail that I have hiked many times to the county seat also seen in the header picture. With young kids, I haven't hiked the trail in several years and this day was too cold to take the little one out for long so I just took a picture and enjoyed the view for awhile. In another year or two, when our youngest is more self dependent, I plan to make that hike once again. But until then, I have a new toy on my phone that I need to do more experimenting with.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Young Mozart


I haven't done an update post on Baby Abbey in awhile so I thought I should remedy that situation since she is nearly a year old. Time flies when you are having fun and I must say, the second baby was a lot more fun than the first. Don't get me wrong, I love Little Abbey and enjoyed her babyhood too but I guess I was always on edge that I wasn't doing things right or I was spending a lot of time learning about parenting as I went. This time around with Baby Abbey, I am much more relaxed so I guess that translate into having more fun. After Little Abbey graduated from diapers and reached a stage where she didn't need so much effort to raise on a daily basis, I often wondered how people had two or three children at a time in diapers. Now after having a second one, I understand. As parents, the first baby trained us on how to do things and what things worked so when the next one comes, we are old pros at it.

Baby Abbey is growing teeth, babbling and furniture cruising. Developmentally she is about three months earlier on about everything than Little Abbey was. I'm guessing Little Abbey's hard entrance into the world along with 10 day hospital stay had something to do with that. I though Little Abbey might be walking outright by now and she is close but just not quite there. She has now weaned herself from the wife despite our best intentions and so now she just eats what we eat and washes it down with formula milk.

Probably the best thing I love to see is how Baby Abbey reacts when her sister Little Abbey gets off the school bus in the afternoon. It is clear that even though we have nurtured and cared for Baby Abbey for the first year of her life, her life revolves around big sister. Fortunately, Little Abbey at age seven now, adores her little sister.

Now that the basement family room area is fixed up with the bookshelves and fireplace, we spend a lot more time downstairs and Baby Abbey is enjoying the opportunity to explore more world. In the photo above, she also shows that she can play the piano just like her big sister can.

Now that I have the opportunity to spend more time at home with this baby, I get to experience all the things first hand now and really see her as she grows and develops more and more personality. I missed a lot of that with Little Abbey and I regret that all the time. This time I am making amends and I wouldn't change things for the world.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tree Killer


After completing the autopsy on two of my dead oak trees, i.e. cutting and splitting them up for firewood, I really couldn't find anything that I thought might of killed the tree. In the upper branches where there were some hollows created by old limbs that blew off in storms, I found some ants and other critters in sections of the tree but in the main trunk, they were solid throughout.

Solid except for some areas like what you see in the above picture. The wood as a round would look solid throughout but when I was splitting it, sometimes it would split through areas like above where you see the yellow honeycombed stuff that was hard to the touch. I'm not sure what I am looking at and perhaps someone out there might know. In the entire tree, I came across maybe a dozen sections of wood with this stuff in it and the picture above was the worst of the lot. It is almost like a layer of wood inside the trunk formed differently.

So as of now, the cause of death is yet undetermined but not in vain. I have enjoyed many good fires already with wood from last year's tree deaths and when this wood gets seasoned more, I will enjoy it too.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Another House... More Garage Door Problems


Long time readers will probably remember me blogging about several problems I had with the piece of junk garage door that we had on our old house. I had hoped that selling that house would make it someone elses problem but unfortunately, the garage door in the house we moved to is only worse.

Coming back from trick-or-treating (though it is only treating these days) with the oldest daughter, I pressed the garage door opener button in the car only to see the garage door open about a foot and stop. This has happened twice before since I moved into this house so I knew what to do. Fortunately my wife was home at the time so I could go in through the front door instead of squirming though the mud (after two solid days of rain) to get under the door.

The garage door is a solid wood door probably installed when the house was built nearly fifty years ago. It is a beast in the weight department and has also seen its better days. On both previous times the garage door hasn't opened, one of the solid wood panels has split causing the wheels that ride in the track to bind. I have fixed them by scabbing on another piece of wood with screws to get by. I say get by because we plan to add on a new garage to the house and turn the existing garage into more living space and I don't want to put a new or even install a used garage door when I'm only going to have to tear it out a year from now.

Unfortunately when I got into the garage, I quickly determined that a split door panel wasn't the problem. I also ruled out it being a door sensor problem too. Everything looked fine but the garage door would only open up about a foot and then act as if it was bound up and stop. When I manually disconnected it from the drive chain, I could move it freely (but with a lot of effort as the door weights a ton) so I couldn't find what was binding it. So after a couple hours of trying to figure out what was wrong, I decided to call a professional.

He took one look at it and saw the problem which is why I suppose he is a professional. The springs were way undersized. Not only did it make it hard to lift the door manually, but it also overloads the motor causing it to shut off after raising the door a foot. To fix the problem it was going to set me back $300 for properly sized springs or the alternative was spending $1000 on a new door to fix our non-standard door opening only to tear it out a year from now when I build a new garage with standard door openings. So I agreed to the new springs option.

As the professional was measuring and weighing to size correct springs, that was when I noticed the writing on the wall beneath the springs in the above photo. As it turned out, it was the correct spring size that someone had probably written there after replacing them 23 years ago. Unfortunately someone put in a new door opening system more recently before we bought the place and the guy who did so not only did the job extremely cheaply (according to the professional) but he put on extremely undersized springs purchased from the local box store.

The new properly sized springs are installed and are actually the ones in the photo above. They were twice as long and the wire gauge was much thicker. Now instead of grabbing on with both hands and heaving with about 75% of my available strength to press the garage door overhead and then hold it there while groping for a stick to prop underneath it, I can easily open it with one hand and it stays up by itself. As  you can see in the photo, I scratched out the old date and put the new date underneath so if the addition plans fall through and we end up selling the house to someone else first, perhaps they might have some better information that I did.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Walking the Sloughs


Continuing with our walk along the river in my last post, we also walked along the sloughs of the old river system that was cut off after the river was straightened and "improved." It was peaceful and beautiful though all my photos are flawed due to an unnoticed raindrop I picked up along the way.

As we were walking on the paved trail, there were plenty of squirrels to be seen but this one below was extremely aggressive in seeking food from me. In this picture he is only about three feet away from me as I crouched down to take his picture. With the trail following the slough on one side and a large park on the other, I have no doubt that this fellow is used to eating well from the hands of humans.


It took some doing but I finally scared him enough for him to scamper up a nearby tree. Still he kept an eye out on me in case I changed my mind.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Bridge City


As I stated in a post a couple weeks ago, I have lived around the river pictured above nearly all my life. But with my last move a year and a half ago, I now live the closest to it I ever have at about two miles up on a ridge near the river. My goal is to eventually live on or within view of the river before I retire from this life.

The town we live on the edge of carries the nickname Bridge City for the reason you see above. Being a town that straddles both sides of the river, by necessity it needs quite a few bridges. In the picture above, I am standing on an old railroad bridge now converted to a pedestrian walkway. Upstream you can see two bridges, a dam and another bridge. Not seen is yet another railroad bridge upstream and another vehicle bridge behind me as I was taking this picture. The picture at the end of the post shows the old train bridge that was my vantage point for taking the first picture.

As I mentioned, we have lived here a year and a half but on this gloomy day that was occasionally spitting rain, this was our first time to walk along the trails along the river. I'm not sure why we haven't done so earlier but I can make a couple excuses. I didn't know they were as extensive or as scenic as they were until recently and it requires a drive just to reach a trail head to get onto it.  Now that I've realized that the drive was well worth it, I will have to walk it more often and in better weather.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Deadwood


Two years of drought have taken a toll on my trees and above is number 26 that I have cut down. Actually I just completed cutting down number 25 and 26 but didn't take a picture of number 25. I have three more within the mowed boundaries (many more in the unmowed portion) that are about three quarters dead and probably won't leaf out next year but I'm leaving them up for now since I have more than enough firewood to get me through this year.

This tree was a pretty good sized tree about 20 inches in diameter at the base and leaning over the gorge dividing the halves of my property. Because I am not a technical chainsaw person by any stretch of the imagination, I enlisted the help of my brother who is an expert in the field. We ended up felling the tree up the gorge to the left in this picture using a well placed notch and some wedges. It didn't take long to cut up the tree but was a chore since we were always scrambling along the 45 degree slope and also it took two people to keep the rounds from rolling down into the ditch when each cut was completed.

Because I have plenty of firewood, I decided I would try something different and saved a four foot section of the trunk along with a couple longer sections about 18 inches in length. The two shorter sections I later used my chainsaw to cut into large squares that are going to become some rustic plant stands near my fireplace. The longer section I wanted to try to saw some planks out of for another project or two perhaps.

Cutting the two plant stand rounds into squares went relatively easily but cutting planks out of a log using nothing but a chainsaw was pretty tough work. I only have a 16 inch bar on my saw so it wouldn't even go all the way through the 20 inch diameter trunk. I ripped the section in half fairly cleanly and then sawed each half into quarters. I wanted all the oak to be quarter sawn so the quarters I planned to cut from one edge and then the other to alternate them to get that effect. The problem was that without a ripping chain for the saw, getting two cuts roughly parallel was nearly impossible. I managed to cut several planks out of two of the quarters before my chain was as dull as a butter knife.

When I had bought the saw last fall, I hadn't bought something to sharpen the chains with thinking that I would do so later but I haven't yet done that. So I got out my second spare chain and put it on the saw. Five minutes later the chain came off the sprocket. I tried putting the chain back on but a couple of the rivets in the links were frozen up for some reason and the chain appeared to have gotten really hot. Also, the chain wouldn't slide into the bar in a dozen different places. Suspecting that I had a big problem, I quite for the evening and went inside.

The next morning, I took the saw apart to clean the oil ports but they seemed to be functioning quite fine. I lubricated the chain and rotated the links around the rivets that seemed stiff and got them to work again normally. On closer inspection of the chain, I was that when the chain came off, the drive gear had burred the inside parts of the chain that seats in the groove of the bar which is why I couldn't get it back on. I took my dremel tool to it to file off the burrs and that problem was solved. I also read the instruction manual for the first time and found out why the chain had fallen off to begin with. With any new chain, they recommend only running for a minute or two before retightening it and repeating for several times until the chain is broke in and stretched out. I like a dummy had assumed chain didn't stretch.

With the chainsaw back up and running, I decided I had enough of trying to freehand planks from a tree with a crosscut chain and just hacked the two remaining quarters into fireplace lengths. I was able to successfully smooth out two of my slabs from the day before into 2" thick boards about 12" wide and 4 feet long using my planer, jointer and tablesaw. The rest was two warped or not parallel enough to even come close to being useable and were kicked outside to become firewood. If I ever try this again, I am going to get one of those devices you can connect to your chainsaw bar to turn it into a portable sawmill of sorts and also get a ripping chain.


Burning some of the debris the next day before all the leaves fall turning everything into a fire hazard.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Men At Work


First I apologize for the quality of the photo taken through a screen window but I was afraid if I stepped out onto the front stoop, I would scare them all away. Since we moved into this place a year and a half ago, the power has gone out about a half dozen times. Once was due to a big tree that fell across the lines along the main road and pulled several blocks of them down. Another was due to a squirrel who thought he would replace the line fuse. The rest have happened at odd hours of the day due to a line buried in my front yard that evidently has seen its better days.

They tried rerouting the electricity for our street by switching it at the node box where everyone is standing but that didn't work out either so they hooked it up to the faulty line under my yard and said they would be back to fix it later. Several months pass and in a flurry of activity, all the utility companies showed up to mark their lines under my yard. As it turns out, the water, gas, phone and cable all run along with the electrical line. I figured once it was flagged and painted they would be out shortly to complete the work but as it turned out it was three weeks, a few showers and two lawn mowings later that they finally returned. By then all the paint had long ago been destroyed so the crews just sat around waiting for all the utility companies to come out and remark everything again.

They used a directional underground boring tool and buried a 200 yard long stretch of tubing that will hold the new electrical line. They only cut the cable and gas lines in doing so. What you see is them responding to the latter one. Eventually they got a fire extinguisher out of the truck and let me know what had happened after they had shut off gas service for the entire street. The got both lines repaired and even relit my water heater for me.

That was all two weeks ago. Today they finally showed up to install a new pole at the corner where the electrical cable goes from being underground to above ground. I'm guessing that is all they will get done today and it will probably be several weeks before they string the new line and actually make the connections. It would be nice if they get this done before winter so we don't have to worry about losing electricity while gone on vacation.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bridge Affair


The title of my blog is Riverbend Journal for a couple reasons. I have kept a journal for over 20 years, my father has kept a journal for over 40 years and my grandfather kept one for nearly 50 years. All these journals have for the most part, been written around the river that you see in my header picture which flows diagonally through the county I grew up in, forming a big bend in the center of it. The county I now live in is also bisected by the same river. The picture above is of that river and if you look in my header picture, this spot is in the lower right corner. As you can also see, the river is pretty low as it has been all summer due to the on going drought.


I love the old steel bridges over this river which are becoming fewer and fewer as the years go by. Five years ago there were three of them in the county and now there are only two left. The one in this post is the only one you can actually cross and it is closed to all but foot traffic. I remember driving across this when I was just a young boy but as soon as they got the new modern bridge built on the other side of town which you can see in the picture below, this one was shut down to vehicles.


This is my favorite of the two steel bridges and I like this part of the county. If I had to pick a place to retire for the rest of my life, it would be somewhere on the river bluffs in this part of the county. But as you can see, the bridge is in pretty rough shape. One of these years I suspect that I will show up at one end and find it closed to foot traffic as well. The railings are buckled in many places and the decking is falling into the river. The center part of the bridge where they replaced the old decking with new steel and lumber to hold up those who walk across it is in good shape but it is just a small part of what makes a bridge safe to walk across.


Someday I would like to build some boats for a hobby/make some money and I've always thought I would use this river to sail them down to the Mississippi river downstream to various clients. As you can see from the sandbars and rock riffles, I would only be able to do so in the early spring these last couple years. On the bright side however, that would give me 10 months to build them without delivery interruptions. What you see in the picture above is some of that original decking that is now missing.


I had the opportunity to visit this bridge which shares my love in the middle of October during the fall festival that all the villages along the river in this county hold every year. While my wife, mother-in-law and youngest daughter were checking out the art being sold along the riverbank, my oldest daughter and I walked across the bridge and admired the view. It was beautiful. As the above picture suggested, we didn't climb on the railing though I did spend some time leaning on it and watch the water flow by.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Harvest


This year the corn harvest has been wrapped up early and though it was a dry second half of the year, the record coolness to the summer saved the corn and it was a pretty good year. Most years however, corn harvest is still in full swing right now.

This picture taken in my early teens shows me running the tractor as I was unloading my father in the combine "on the go" as we referred to it. It was a necessity in fields like this one where the rows stretched on forever and a combine couldn't make it clear through the field without overflowing. In this picture, the hedge row in the background was right on the Missouri - Iowa border and the other end of the field was a half mile north.

When my father was full in the combine, he would signal me unless I already knew from the repetition of the rest of the field already cut where and when he would need to unload. As he approached the designated spot, I would start the tractor and let it warm up a bit. Then as he neared, I would put the tractor in gear and inch forward until the tractor was straddling the proper rows so that the combine auger would dump the grain in the center of the wagon. On a hill, I would have to learn to cheat one way or the other to compensate so that the grain always fell in the center of the wagon from side to side.

As he overtook me, I would throttle up the tractor sending a belch of black diesel smoke into the sky as the John Deere 4020 strained to get the wagons up to speed. Once I had reasonably matched the combines speed and the auger was centered front to back over the wagon needing filling, I would stop adjusting the throttle and let my father do the fine speed adjustments to keep the grain in the center of the wagon. As it reached the top of the wagon, my father would ease forwards and back to make sure as much grain as possible was emptied into the wagon to not waste time or fuel hauling it from the field to the grain bin. Occasionally if we reached softer ground, headed up a steep hill, or other terrain variations, the engine in my tractor wouldn't be able to keep the wagons in the correct speed range the combine needed to efficiently harvest the grain so I always had to keep an eye out for hand signals from my father to speed up or slow down accordingly.

When he had filled the wagons or at least emptied the tank of the combine, I would peel off to the side to avoid being hit by the chopped up corn stalks being shot out the back of the combine and head back to the next fill point or pull the wagons to the end of the field where I dropped them off for someone to haul back to the farm and unload while I hooked onto some more empty wagons. In a bad year and we were close to the farm, I might have enough time to just haul them into the farm and unload them myself while someone else was hauling empties back to the field and catching the grain on the go.

These days things are much the same and yet much different. The combines have gotten bigger and can hold more grain before needing to unload. Now we instead of many small wagons that are much harder to fill without spilling grain, it is caught in a very large catch wagon that has its own auger to unload the grain in smaller wagons that stay parked along the edge of the field. These wagons of course are much larger than the ones in the photo above but much smaller than the large catch wagon. By not pulling full wagons with road tires through the field, the soil isn't compacted nearly as much and the large catch wagon uses large wide tires to help lesson the compaction even more. The large catch wagon is also easier to fill from the combine on the go which increases the speed of harvest overall. The full wagons are still pulled from the field to the farm and unloaded into grain bins much the same way we have always done. The old 4020 in the picture above is still used to run augers and occasionally pull a single wagon up to the auger but that is rarer since the wagons are much bigger and hold much more corn than those two little wagons did back then.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Pepsi Junkie


I have blogged about my dog Ted many times over the years and I'm fairly certain that I've relayed this story before but I doubt that a picture has ever been used to reinforce it and so with the discovery of this picture, I tell it again.

Ted was dumped over at my grandfather's farm most likely by a hunter who wasn't too happy about him being gun shy and have his a parting shot in his rear hip as a going away present. Although he recovered from his wounds and lived a decade longer, that buckshot ended up killing him just the same.

Later in my teens, my parents got into the hog business and we spent a summer building a farrowing building at the end of our lane. Every afternoon we would have a Pepsi break in the shade to relax for a few minutes and cool down. Pepsi never tasted better than it did in cold glass bottles and that is still true today.

I don't know how it started or who exactly started it but one of us poured some Pepsi in a bowl for Ted to drink and register a reaction. To our amusement, he would drink a few laps of it, wrinkle his lips and smack his tongue at the fizz and then drink some more. Had we known what was to come, we would never had done so but we did and we lived with the consequences there rest of Ted's life.

It didn't take long before Ted would bring his bowl to every Pepsi break on the farm and he would not leave you alone until you had contributed a portion of your pop to his bowl. Every single one of us. By the time we made our contribution, he probably had more in his bowl than any of us had in our bottles. He would then lay down by his bowl and lap it all up, pausing for a few seconds here and there to let the fizz effect dissipate.

We all drank Pepsi in the beginning but my father and younger brother eventually switched over to Mountain Dew. Although they wouldn't admit it, I am sure it was because Ted never liked Mountain Dew and thus they never had to contribute any of their pop when drinking it.

Eventually the farrowing building was built and the Pepsi breaks became more infrequent but Ted never got over his habit. If we did have a Pepsi break outside when he was around, he was sure to find a container to bring over to get his share. He even learned how to hold the bottle in his mouth and drink directly from it so if a container wasn't handy, he would just hound us until we gave him the last few swallows from the bottle.

After Ted died from the medicine we gave him to relieve the arthritis pains in his rear hip from the old gunshot wound, I rarely could drink a bottle of Pepsi outside without thinking of him and pouring the last swallow onto the ground in his memory. Eventually they quit making bottles and sometime when I was in college, I was forced into drinking it from a can. I'm not sure how Ted would have managed the cans but I'm guessing he would have figured something out.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pumpkins


Every year about this time, my mind turns to those orange pumpkins and of my youth. I'm not sure how old I was when the birth of a pumpkin grower began but judging from this picture (I'm the tall one on the right), I must have been around ten or eleven. That was the year we planted several hills of pumpkins for Halloween and had a bumper crop which is displayed on either side of our driveway. As you can see, we were very proud of our crop of pumpkins.

Not needing that many pumpkins, we loaded them up into the family truck and sold them 30 miles down the road at the 'local' grocery store for a hundred dollars. I have rarely felt so rich as I did back them with fifty of those dollars burning a hole in my pocket. Most importantly, the grocery store promised they would buy pumpkins from us next year if we raised them and thus began my first business, one that would pay my way through six years of college and set me on a debt free track for the rest of my life.

My younger brother and I grew that business, with some help from our parents, from selling pumpkins to the local store by the pickup truck load to selling to St. Louis and Chicago by the semi-load. It was a lot of work, mostly in the coolness of fall, but a labor of love. Even after we got big, we still kept our local roots and sold them every year at the local fall festival for a song compared to what you paid for them at the grocery stores. We even carried them to your car with a smile even it you were parked a half mile away on the bluff above the river bottom.

College intervened and our pumpkin business closed up shop with the fall crop of '91. My younger brother and I both moved away from the farm though I still bought a pumpkin every fall from a local farmer if I could find one to carve and display for Halloween. After I moved back to southeast Iowa and nearer my parent's farm, they started growing a few hills of pumpkins in their garden for my daughter to pick her pumpkin. It is one of the greatest joys in my life to see the joy in her eyes as she wanders the patch. When there is a bumper year and my parents have more pumpkins than they know what to do with, we will load up our van and turn into a pumpkin fairy of sorts dropping off pumpkins on the doorsteps of friends who have children who will appreciate them. This year due to the dry summer and below average yield, that won't happen.

One of these days when/if grandchildren start entering my life, I am going to have to start raising a patch of my own again. Orange gold. The building blocks of two farm boys from southeast Iowa.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Jesse James: The Banjoist


As a child, my parents taught me the art of whitewater boating and we often headed south into the wilds of northwest Arkansas to practice the craft on the Buffalo and Mulberry rivers. On one foray to the Mulberry river, we struck up a conversation with the person doing a car shuttle for us and ended up becoming friends with him for awhile. He would let us camp out on his property near the overflow of his lake where we could be lulled to sleep by the gurgling of spring fed waters. In the morning we would top off our water at one of the springs above the pond and head off again for another round of paddling.

One evening, our friend introduced us to a neighbor up the road, a man by the name of Jesse James. Jesse was an old timer to the parts and lived in a little ramshackle of a house surrounded by what most would call junk. I'm not sure what Jesse did or had done for a living but I saw what he did for subsistence. Out back was a bulldozer he had built from his junkyard and used at neighbors' request. He carved wooden chains from 20 feet logs of timber and a pocket knife. He also built banjos from the same junkyard and played them. Pretty much he could build anything out of anything, a good talent to have.

The evening we visited him, his wife and one son were there, a partial set of teeth between the three, and they offered to play us some music. It was an experience I'll never forget. At one point, Jesse asked if we wanted to see a trick and he began playing the banjo, made from an old pressure cooker, behind his back in the picture shown above. Eventually I must have grown tired and Jesse's son noticed for he asked me if I wanted him to play something more modern like a Hank William's song. Yes, that was an experience I'll never forget.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Burning Comfort


Man has been around fire for thousands of years and for good reason. It provides warmth, it can make food tastier, it can be used as a tool and perhaps most importantly, it provides comfort. I can't think of a single time when I have sat down in front of a fire and not felt comfort. When you are sitting staring into the embers of a fire, all things on the periphery fade to black.

As a young boy, my parents would take my brother and I down to some bottom grounds with a fairly large tract of woods and we would go camping for an evening. There they taught me the art of building a good fire. These were training missions for our longer two week backpacking trips into the mountains of the west or canoeing trips down various rivers. I took great pride in digging a fire pit, building fires with one match on the first day and from old embers subsequent days and finally disguising the pit so you would never know I had been there.

Sitting around the fire, one felt free to talk without repercussion. You bared your soul and others listened. You reminisced about the good times, talked about politics and the current world and pondered the future. You laughed, talked and drifted into long periods of comfortable silence. Then the fire did the talking with a snap, crackle and pop.

With plenty of firewood and a fire pit left by a previous owner, I have built several fires outside and positioned myself near in a nice folding canvas chair. I have't done so nearly as often as I should but as often as needed to sooth my soul. After the others have left, I like to linger for another hour or so watching the fire burn down into a bed of glowing embers and let my mind wander or be silently, deliciously blank. During these times, I have not a care in the world. I am comfortable.