Friday, March 29, 2013

Slide of Death

While scanning in a few more pictures found recently among my recently deceased great uncle's belongings, I stumbled across two pictures that brought back a memory from my youth that I probably hadn't thought about in thirty years. They reminded me of the Slide of Death!

The Slide of Death is seen in great detail in the photo above. It was built out of an old emergency fire exit slide off a school building as was popular back in the day. These days all you see are fire escape stairways that wind down. Anyway, the slide was built on an already fairly steep hillside and as you can see, the upper end was a good twenty feet from the ground. All in all, when you slid down the highly ass polished surface of the tube, you got a really good head of steam going by the time you hit the exit.

That is why I had to include the picture at the bottom of this post. Although you came out of the pipe not far off the ground, you were heading upwards and away and if you really tossed yourself down the beginning of the slide, you could fly a full dozen feet out the end of the pipe before hitting the ground. You can see this by the large bare dirt area that extends well beyond the end of the tube.

My first few times down the slide as a young boy while visiting my grandparents in Forest City, Iowa, I took it pretty easy. But after I got the hang of controlling my body as I flew through the air at the bottom, I gradually put more effort into it. It wasn't long before my brother and I were having contests to see who could jump the farthest from the end of the slide. It is a wonder we didn't break a bone.

Which brings me to my next point. I'm guessing that slide is long gone and we would probably never see another one like it especially on school grounds where that one was located. I mean someone could *gasp* get hurt and sue the school for building such an unsafe contraption. Fortunately for me, I lived during a time when kids ran wild in the back seats of moving cars and jumping from slides wasn't just acceptable, it was encouraged by grandparents anxious to let two young boys burn off some steam before heading back to their house.

P.S. The people in the pictures are my uncle, aunt and my only two cousins from this side of the family.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

10 Year Anniversary

Last week was the ten year anniversary. When we first began, it was supposed to be a short period that we would be together. It was supposed to be an in an out thing. People told us that it was a matter of my life and death to accept things even though we later found out that there was no life and death issue involved. I was told that it probably wouldn't cost me a dime because the other group has lots of assets that we could use to finance the whole operation. In reality it cost billions. Last week was the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war.

Back then, I got into a debate on another blog about the war saying that I wasn't in favor of it. My view didn't win too many fans. I said I didn't believe in the WMD theory that the Occupant at the time was trying to sell. To me, it seemed like he was grabbing at straws to convince us to support the war. Our country was never in danger even if they had WMD's but we certainly were if we went in. But my biggest reason for being against the war was that if Saddam was removed, the long repressed Shia majority would come to power and exact their revenge. They would be every bit as ruthless as the dictator they replaced. We would be getting in the middle of a centuries old religious war.

Sadly, I was right. Although we are officially out of Iraq, they are still in the middle of a religious civil war with thousands dying. Have we brought democracy to Iraq? Maybe. Are they better off because of the democracy? I would say no. More people are dying on a daily basis now than under Saddam. Entire neighborhoods are being vacated if you happen to be the minority religion. Those who could scrape up the money have already left for other countries. We sacrificed thousands of young lives and maimed many thousands more for this. We have saddled ourselves with hundreds of billions of debt for this because Wolfowitz was wrong about us being able to pay for the war with Iraq's assets. I don't think we are any safer because of the war and I think one could make a convincing argument that we are less safe.

I certainly hope that if nothing else, this will be used as a lesson for eternity to never go into another country unless we truly know what we are getting into and have a defined plan for how we will get ourselves out. We had neither and after ten years, it still is painfully obvious.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Baby Abbey Update

Has over four months gone by already? I can't believe it but generally my calendar doesn't lie. Before I know it, 18 years will have passed and I will be missing these days when the house was noisy with the chatter of children.

Baby Abbey is growing fast and has more than doubled her weight which explains the hernia I feel that I am developing every time I lift her car seat in and out of the car. I have twice had to adjust her straps which seem to be shrinking and getting more snug upon her. I have a belt made of the same material I think.

Fortunately she was just like her sister and by three months of age, she was sleeping through the night. Just a few days ago, she did a thirteen hour stretch in bed with nary a peep. Both me and the Mrs. checked on her a couple times to make sure she was still breathing and she was. Since most of our peers say their children never slept through the night until they were nearly a year old and both of ours have done it by three months, I'm not sure what to think. Either we are doing something to our children that most people aren't or we are damn lucky. Whatever the reason, I except it with the gladness of the well rested!

Baby Abbey went through a period of babbling a couple weeks back and then went back to being mute or just making a moaning noise in the back of her throat. I'm not sure why she gave up babbling but I'm sure it is only a matter of time until she gets it back. Just last week she giggled a few times at her older sister showing her Gangnam Style dance moves. Already I find myself anticipating listening to her voice and knowing that there will come a day when I will wonder if she is ever silent, just like I did with her sister.

Also just like her sister, Baby Abbey was initiated early to the world of sickness and contract the RSV virus. For a time there we had to medicate her on steroids, nasal decongestant and whatever they nebulize her with. It certainly cleared her up just like her sister. After her sister was over the RSV virus, she was and still is a very healthy kid so I hope Baby Abbey takes after her in that way too.

Although they are similar in so many ways, they are also different here and there.  Little Abbey lost all her hair immediately after birth and didn't get a decent stand to grow back until nearly a year old. Baby Abbey was born with a full set and continues to keep it and grow it out. Already Little Abbey is saying her sister needs a haircut. Little Abbey mostly spend her days sleeping on her back, so much so that she developed a flat spot on the back of her head for a time. Baby Abbey only takes small catnaps during the day and prefers to be in a sitting position whenever possible. She spends quite a bit of time during the day sitting on my knee and looking out at the world. She is certainly an observant baby.

I have certainly enjoyed spending time with Baby Abbey and watching her grow and develop right before my eyes. I missed a lot with Little Abbey when I only saw her for about an hour awake in the evenings before she went to bed. The rest of the time she was always asleep. I am fortunate to be in this position and right now, I wouldn't trade it for the world. Now I must go and change a diaper which my nose tells me was recently filled up.

Friday, March 22, 2013

To Those Silent Blogs

One of my greatest joys is opening up my blog to see a handful of bloggers have written a new post moving their blog name to the top of my reading list. It means that I will learn something, laugh, nod knowingly and just plain enjoy myself for the time it takes me to read and sometimes comment on their post. It also gives me a few minutes or more of pleasure later when I check back to see if a response has been given. That is why when I find a blog I like, I add it to the reading list widget so that I know automatically when a new post has been posted. But after awhile, my reading list gets quite long and the updated blogs get fewer and further apart. Eventually I suspect something is wrong and do an audit on all the blogs that I have linked to in my sidebar.

Going through my blog reading list, I sound several blogs that no longer exist and their links now lead me to that website that buys up all defunct websites. It was a sad affair to have to remove those links knowing that they won't be back.

Then there are the handful of bloggers that still have sites but haven't updated them, one of them for a couple of years. One of them I know was going through a personal problem and wrote me back to let me know that they would get back to blogging when times were easier. I hope they have even if they haven't taken up blogging again.

Two bloggers that I knew were getting along in years and just stopped writing. I always fear the worse for those type of situations and think blogger should come up with some sort of fail safe mechanism. We could write our own eulogy of sorts and it stays in draft form until a set amount of time passes when we don't login into blogger and it publishes itself to say goodbye to everyone. That way we aren't left wondering if the worst has happened.

Two more bloggers aren't that old and have mysteriously stopped posting for reasons unknown. What tragedy has happened in their lives?

A few blogs were kind enough to warn people that they were going to stop blogging. I always keep them around because if it is on my list, I really enjoy reading it and perhaps one day they will come back to the blogging fold. A couple have but sadly, a couple more that have stayed true to their word.

It is funny that these people whom I only know by words written on a screen have become a kind of family to me. Enough that I miss them when they aren't there anymore. For all those I have deleted their defunct links, I hope you come back to blogging again sometime. For those who mysteriously just stopped with blogs still up on the web, I hope you are still among the land of the living. If not, send me a sign from the other side so I can finally remove your link too.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gouty Oak Twig Gall

One of the reasons we liked the house that we moved to last summer was because it sat on two acres of land with lots of trees. Unfortunately, we had many really wet years in a row followed by a very prolonged and intense drought. As a result, the trees in the area have been heavily stressed to the point it is really taken a toll. Last summer after we moved in and I had a chance to look around, I noticed a number of trees that were dead and last fall I cut them all down, all sixteen of them. Since then, I had four others too close to the house for me to safely remove also cut down.

Although there are still lots of trees remaining on the property, many of the ones are trees that are not very good specimens. Because they were not cared for and selectively harvested, many of the ones that remain are spindly trees with lots of crooks and weak spots along the main trunks. Others are just trees that are mature to the point that they are literally on the remaining years of their life. Sadly, a few of the better specimens of trees are losing patches of bark and I fear that when summer rolls around, I am going to find yet more dead trees that I need to remove.

Most of our trees are in the back and side yards of the house and the front yard only contains one tree, a fairly solid looking oak tree that is very scraggly in the bottom reaches of it. For some reason, I never thought to ID the oak to see what type it is but I'm fairly certain that it isn't among the black or red oaks that I am familiar with and grow abundantly around here. When it leafs out this spring, I will classify it further.

Because it is kind of scraggly and has lots of dead undergrowth in the bottom part of the tree, there were lots of debris on the ground and on a warm day last week, I decided I would rake it up in-between sessions of teaching my daughter how to ride a bike without training wheels. While raking, I found all kind of woody 'balls' about the size of large golf balls littering the ground. Finally I had the idea to look up now that the leaves on the tree have mostly been blown off and saw that the balls were scattered throughout the tree. I had no idea what they were.

I picked one up and it is what you see in the picture up top. After doing some research, I have tentatively identified it as Gouty Oak Twig Gall. It is the home of a wasp and if found in significant quantities, can kill the tree. Most of the pictures that I have seen of trees labeled as 'infested' show clusters of these galls on branches causing them to droop down. Fortunately, my tree only has then dotted throughout the structure like nuts on a walnut tree late in winter. The only way to save the tree is to cut the growths out when they are just starting to develop and prevent full blown infestation or throw chemicals out it during very specific stages of insect development. Neither are very practical on a tree that is 50 or 60 feet tall.

So I guess it is wait and see on the oak tree. As for the rest, I need to start selecting some better specimens of trees and planting them in my now thinning woods and return them to their once glorious state. Top on my list are some trees for an orchard which I have always wanted. I would like to plant a few pin oak trees which have got to be one of my favorites as far as shade, sturdiness and lack of maintenance in the spring such as picking up sticks. Also on my list though not a tree is that I have a hankering for planting some lilac bushes like what my parents had at the old farm when I was growing up. Those things always smelled so good in spring.

Monday, March 18, 2013

My Retirement

Although I liked being an engineer and loved working around other engineers, it certainly wasn't a particularly gratifying job. It was a job that I was good at and that I enjoyed at times when I was knee deep in a new design. But there were lots of time shuffling paperwork and the ever present office politics that I disliked and could easily do without. So although I was happy enough in my job, I always knew that it wasn't something I wanted to do any longer than I really had too. My goal was to work hard, save up money until I could retire to do those things that I want to do that make me happy all the time and get out.

One of my main goals upon reaching 'retirement' is to start my own business based upon one of my many hobbies that I love to do. I will be my own boss, work at my own pace and above all, work at something that is more gratifying than being just an engineering asset for someone else. Now that I have gotten out of the nine to five crowd, I hope to pursue this goal after I get my youngest daughter off to school.

Some of these hobbies that I wish to explore would be boat building, something I enjoy tremendously and utilized my engineering skills. I also wish to build my own dream house someday when the time is right. I only want to build it once so I need to figure out where I want to spend the rest of my life living before I pursue this dream. I may also explore a custom engineering business model since I worked as an asset for such a firm and enjoyed it tremendously except for the alcoholic I had for a boss. Other things I would like to pursue but not in a business sense are photography, genealogy, woodworking and writing. These are all things I love to do even if I am not particularly gifted at them, but just don't have the time to spend.

Another goal of retirement for me is to address that nagging statement that I find myself saying on many of my vacations. I love this place and would like to explore it more if only I had more vacation time. For me, a week is way to short to fully experience an area. The best vacation of my life which can be found in detail in my blog archives is when I took a month off to explore the depths of the Grand Canyon. The trip itself on the water was only three weeks long and was so relaxing but even on that trip I could have easily doubled or tripled the time and never got bored. Not only is there lots of places to explore here in the States, but I have always wanted to go to a foreign country for two or three months, rent a flat, and explore the town, countryside and culture at my leisure. All this takes time which is at a premium when working for the man.

Some things that I would like to do in retirement are based more upon money than time. Because I save and buy practical cars all the time, I would like to just once, have a frivolous vehicle. It would be a classic muscle car with a big engine, two doors, go way fast and burn through fuel at a fast rate. My house, the one that I want to build, will be larger than I really need. I won't have any more rooms but they will definitely be bigger. I would also like to give a lot of it away to those causes I think are worthy and whom I already give some money too.

But most of all, I just want to wake up in the morning and decide what I want to do with my day.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Different Types of People

One of the most powerful books in terms of influence on my life was The Millionaire Next Door. In that book it hammered home some key points that I never forgot. Most millionaires are business owners. They don't work for 'the man' in other words. Also, most millionaires live fairly frugal lives when compared to those you see living out in Hollywood and appear regularly on television. Most millionaires drive mass produced cars, shop at JC Penney and wear a simple Timex.

I have seen a statistic many times over the years that shocks me everytime I hear it. Take any 100 people from a population and 1 of them will be rich in their lifetime. Four more will be financially independent in their lifetimes. Ninety-five of those people will reach retirement and be unable to self-substain the lifestyle of which they were unaccustomed. This blows my mind. So many people I know simply plan on living off their social security check or perhaps a small pension for the remainder of their lives instead of taking their new found time and doing all those things that they never had time for while working.

So like I alluded to in the last post, I decided that wasn't going to be me at an early age. Unfortunately for me, I didn't have any plan on how to accomplish being wealthy or at least financially independent other than saving lots of my paycheck and investing it. Fortunately for me, although I may not have invested it as wisely as I could or should have, I was still far better off than those who didn't save anything. This brings me to the point of this post and a fundamental thing emphasized by Bogleheads. There are three types of people financially speaking and I fortunately fall into the right category.

Borrowers - This group of people never save. They live for today. Borrowers will live in large houses, drive new cars, wear the latest fashions and never pay cash for anything. Instead, they financed their house for little or nothing down, lease or make payments on their cards and pay the minimum every month on their credit card debt. They likely have taken a home equity loan so that they could purchase even more stuff that they couldn't afford on their credit cards. They have built what they have on a house of cards.

Consumers - These people are more responsible than the borrowers but still don't save anything. They don't accumulate large credit card debt and even pay it off promptly every month. However every month, the look at their paychecks and they spend every penny on what they can afford. They find themselves lots of time not paying cash for large purchases but asking a key question, what can I afford. They have lots of debt payments going out each month taking up large portions of their paychecks so that they can drive their cars and watch their large screen televisions at night. They have heard about things like 401k's and Roth IRA's but are willing to pass them up and the 'free money' benefits because there are two many things that they need to buy still.

Keepers - As you can probably guess, this is the group I fall into. We are people who max out 401k's and Roth IRA's religiously and learn to live with what we have left. Although they often have debt, they believe debt is never good and strive to get out of debt. They forgo the larger house for a smaller one that fits better in their budget. They drive older or cheaper cars than their neighbors preferring cash over style. They have credit cards and use them just as often but only as a convenience and pay them off promptly every month. They have the same income as the Borrowers and Consumers but are statistically more likely to retire early and with money to meet or exceed their currently lifestyle. They aren't paupers. They wear nice clothes, eat at nice restaurants and take nice vacations. They spend all their money just like the Borrowers and Consumers. But they spend it all after they have maxed out their retirement accounts.

Most of my friends fall into the Consumer category for some reason. I know lots of Borrowers but because their lifestyle is so different than mine, I don't often find them falling in the friends list. But I know lots of Consumers because they are the biggest group of people. Most of them put enough money into a 401k plan to get the 'free money' in the form of employer match but they don't seem to realize that they didn't start early enough and the bare minimum is nowhere near enough to substain their lifestyle upon retirement. They work until 65 years of age when they can get their social security and pension, quickly blow through their savings in their 401k plan and then spend the rest of their life sitting at home watching television and eating out at the local restaurant on Friday evenings. I do have a few friends who are Keepers like me and we often spend time talking about ways to save money but the majority of our time is spent talking about retiring as early as possible and living a lifestyle that we currently are or even perhaps better than we are for the rest of our hopefully long lives. If our lives are short, then perhaps our children will use the money to get a leg up in life.

Now after only 13 years of socking away money, I know that I have enough money to life my current lifestyle after I reach 65 years of age at the current value of my investments. Fortunately those investments still have 25 more years to mature and grow meaning I will be able to live an even better lifestyle or withdraw some of the money early to retire before 65 years of age. So I still plan on being a Keeper for the foreseeable future and moving that date even closer to my current age. My time of living for today is drawing ever nearer!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Critical Mass

When I graduated from college and started my first job, I began putting part of my paycheck into a retirement account so that someday I could retire. At the time it seemed like such a foreign thing to me that I really paid it no mind which was good because it didn't grow very fast. As the years went by and I changed jobs, I kept up the habit putting away the maximum amount that I could every year into pre-tax retirement accounts but I soon realized that it just didn't grow fast enough that I would ever be able to retire early which was my real goal in the first place. It seemed that I would have to invest more for that to happen.

About a dozen years ago, I opened up a Roth-IRA which allowed me to invest an additional amount of money after it had already been taxed and has the benefit of growing tax free. I religiously set that money aside and maxed it out every year but because it has low limits on what you could contribute, I knew that it probably wouldn't help me reach my goal either.

Perhaps I should say here that my goal isn't very high. It is simply that I want to reach a point of critical mass where I have enough savings saved up that I can stop working and live out my life with the same yearly income (plus inflation) that I was used too. The sooner that point happened, the better.

Flash forward to my last job where I happened into a company where I became part owner and received substantial amounts of stock as compensation. I should clarify that I didn't receive the stock because I was someone who had a golden parachute but rather the company was a type S Corporation which means they can avoid paying all federal taxes if they give all profits to the owners in the form of stock. The stock owners would then pay the taxes when they retire and start withdrawing that money. I started at the company when it was small and it grew into a large conglomerate of companies over a period of a half dozen years. When I left the company last summer, I had a substantial amount of stock that will gradually be cashed out over the next five years and moved into more traditional retirement accounts.

Yesterday I received our last years earnings statement which told me that my share price had increased 41% last year alone. This is after a 10 year run where it has averaged 25% a year! This is outstanding in the returns world. It also bumped me over that magical number that I always said I needed to retire with when I reach retirement age. I reached what I call critical mass and that makes me very happy. The one caveat is that in order to touch that money penalty free, I have three options.

Option one is that I wait until I turn 67 when I can withdraw the money penalty free and just pay my normal taxes on it. Option two is a little used thing called a 72(t) which allows me to set up early payments penalty free as long as I follow formulas based off life expectancy that ensures I don't short change myself and become an early ward of the state. This formula prevents me from retiring right this minute because my life expectancy is too long and the payments would be too small. Option three, and the option that I will most likely proceed with for now, is to continue our saving for those days between X and age 67 where X is a sliding target depending on the amount of savings.

One thing I am working on and which I will probably be blogging about more in the future is teaching myself how to invest this money as I get cashed out over the next five years. Up until a couple years ago, I would have just given it to my financial adviser, given him his percentage cut and not worried about it. However, I happened to learn about a group of people called Bogleheads who follow the principles set forth by Jack Bogle who was the founder of Vanguard. I read two of their books about investing and retirement that opened my eyes to a lot of things. Namely that when you don't pay someone to manage your money, you can screw up quite a bit and still come out ahead. So my spring reading list now includes rereading those books and getting a plan down on paper ahead of August when I receive my first installment of cashed out stocks. Exciting times for sure.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Kitchen Update: So Soon?!

Well after writing that last post on the kitchen revamp project, I searched and found some full extension wire slideouts for cabinets that fit our pantry almost perfectly. When installed, there would be about 1/8 of an inch on each side and an inch in the far back that would be empty space. Considering these were off the shelf items, I thought that wasn't bad and ordered four of them, one for each shelf.

The first two came last Wednesday in a large box and on the following day, I installed them into the pantry. The final two showed up a few days later, shipped from the same place? The install of the racks is really easy. I just set it in place, mark the holes, drill some pilot holes and screw the thing in place. Before that happened though, I had a bit of work to do. The shelving already inside the cabinet wasn't fastened into place and were actually a series of three eight inch boards per shelf. Because the slideouts I bought were full extension, I had to attach the shelves in permanently so that the who works didn't tip when the basket was pulled all the way out. Fortunately I had some proper sized screws and was able to screw them to the cleats that held them at the correct height.

Once I had the slideouts installed, I sorted through the stuff that had been on the shelf and culled a bunch of stuff that was well beyond expiration dates labeled on them. I've eaten some canned goods beyond the expiration date before but some of the cans were five years beyond. I'm not that hungry for a case of botulism! Once I had the remainder of stuff put back, I couldn't believe I had waited so long to do this project. It makes such a huge difference on ones ability to find things and more importantly, know what you have in your pantry. Because we couldn't find anything easily, we often just bought something as we needed it which while guaranteeing you won't have to worry about expiration dates, isn't really conducive to stocking up on stuff that you use often when it is on sale.

So now we once again have a functioning pantry which probably holds more staples than the wide but shallow pantry cabinet we had at our last house. Both my wife and I are happy enough with the results, we have almost decided that we don't want to do anything more to the kitchen or even add onto it. Instead, we would rather put money and time into other rooms of the house or even better yet, save it for a rainy day.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Big Kitchen Reveal

When I started this project, I certainly didn't think it would take this long to do. After all, I was just painting the cabinets. But space constraints played a bigger part than I had anticipated. There is only so much deconstruction and construction you can do in a working kitchen. As it were, I commandeered about half of the downstairs living room to turn it into an environmentally controlled paint station. Another big factor was that being a stay at home dad with a 3-1/2 month old does limit time spent on such project. I generally had a few hours a day that I could work on it in really fast spurts. But since I wasn't planning on going anywhere soon, I had the time to do a long project like that.

What you saw at the top was the before picture taken as we were looking at the house for the second time with the previous owner's stuff still in place. The next picture is the finished picture after my wife guided me in 'staging' the kitchen. All the normal debris like half loaves of bread, that squash ready to be cooked someday, the sink strainer for wet dishes, the reminders stuck on the refrigerator were all moved off to the side to give you the impression that our kitchen is out of the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. It isn't. I do love the way everything came out and it has a much brighter fresher appearance than it did before. Eventually we hope to redo the kitchen but this buys us several years or more before we will do that project.

Again this is how it looked with the former occupant's stuff in place. It was nice but the dark wood just gives it a dark cave like appearance, even during the middle of the day when the sunlight was shining in. Also, the dark colored wood doors with paneled centers just dated the entire kitchen back to when the cabinets were custom built in place as they were finishing up the inside of the house.

Below when you see the after picture, again I am just hit on how light and fresh the place feels again. I'm glad that I decided to tackle this project and it went so well, that I think I am going to paint the wood cabinetry in the bathrooms as well. Looking back, the best decision I made however was to really investigate the hardware. After measuring one of the old hinges and doing lots of research, I found a company that made a hinge that was a direct replacement for the old ones. They weren't the same company or style but all the hole patterns were the same. This meant that I had six fewer holes on the doors and four on the cabinet frames that I had to patch, sand and redrill. This was a huge time saver and allowed me to hang the doors without worrying about how true or aligned they were to each other. To save some money and because we also liked them, we chose to get our handles from the same company. We went from a pull knob at the base of the door to an actual handle on the side of the door so I had to patch and sand those holes and redrill new ones. Drilling the new holes wasn't hard but I struggled a bit to find a location that I felt worked for all the different sizes of doors throughout the kitchen so I could have some uniformity. I think it worked out.

Anyway, that is all for this project. I may see if I can get some sort of organizer slideout for our very tiny pantry sandwiched between the refrigerator and the doorway in the top two pictures. It is only about a foot wide but two and a half feet deep. Not very handy for finding what you need. The next room I am going to tackle is the hallway bathroom. Nothing too serious there besides a paint job and moving some accessories to different places.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Iowaville:Wes the Whistler

The day I first met Wes the Whistler, I actually heard his whistle before I saw him. I was just a young boy and my mom and I had driven into town with a few pairs of shoes to take to a cobbler to fix. Wes was that cobbler.

We pulled up to a well maintained two story house surrounded by eight foot hedges and as I opened my car door, I heard the whistling. It was coming from inside the hedges and was almost hypnotic. Even as an eight year old boy with accompanying attention span, I probably could have stood there and listened to him for hours. I followed my mom along the hedge to a gap with a fence and she knocked on the wooden gate set there. Wes hailed us and told us to come right in.

Wes was an older man whom I later learned was a retired banker. His hobby of cobbling shoes before retirement now continued to keep him active after retirement and even back then, he was the last of a dying breed. Walking into his house basement, I was instantly overwhelmed with the smell of old leather and rubber soles. Along an old well used workbench was an assortment of tools the likes of which I had never seen nor will I probably ever see them again. He resoled our shoes and off we went.

Over the years, I would see or rather hear Wes around town and at events. To this day, he is the only person I have ever met who just loved to whistle for the sheer joy of it. Walking down the street or sitting on the bleacher at a local ball game, he was always whistling songs. 

I'm not sure what ever happened to Wes the Whistler of my memories. In my memory, his memory just kind of grays out and disappears when I was a teenager so I suspected he died but when I googled him, I found that he died a couple years after I left for college. Part of his disappearance was probably our fault since we switched to buying shoes that were easier to dispose of rather than be resoled. Perhaps another part was that as I got older, his whistling made less of an impression on me. However, if there existed a CD of his whistling, I bet I could pop it in and enjoy it even more than I did as a young kid. I did learn from his wife's obituary which is where I learned of Wess's death, that he has three children, one named Wes Jr. living in the town I live in now. I'll have to keep my ears open to see if I hear anyone whistling for the pure joy of it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Blizzard That Sort of Was

After dissing the last blizzard, I thought I should provide an update post on the blizzard that his my part of the woods the following week. The weather forecasters told us the night before that it was for the most part going to miss us and maybe just give us a dusting of snow. It began the next morning and would snow continuously for the next 72 hours leaving behind about a foot of snow. Just goes to show that you are better off not planning for anything told to you by a weather guy.

It was a slow snow for sure and that is why it was only sort of a blizzard. Although it snowed continuously, there were times during the heat of the day when the temperatures were warm enough that the snow was melting as fast as it came down. In fact, when the snow stopped, the only place we had a foot of snow was on the shady part of our deck on the north side of the house. The rest of the areas only had about five or six inches of snow.

The entire time the roads were warm enough that there was no snow accumulation on them but the local school system has cancelled school three days in a row after dismissing the students early the day the storm started (two hours after school would have gotten out normally). On Friday when my oldest went back to school, it was snowing again and the roads were as slick as they had been all week? I'm surviving that experience of having both girls home during the week for the better part of a week though it was a struggle to get any meaningful work done. I have finished painting the kitchen cabinets and got things put back together so then I am calling that project done! Pictures are coming soon.

As I right this post, the snow finally stopped this morning and I cleaned the driveway and sidewalk for the second time of any snow. We are fortunate that my wife only works 4-1/2 days and today is her 1/2 day off so I may get in another round of sledding with the older daughter this afternoon. It may be our last chance for the year. Since the weather forecasters are calling for another blizzard tomorrow for our area, I'm sure this will be the last time this year.

Friday, March 1, 2013

My Pope

I was born without religion, at least in the sense that my parents didn't practice any religion. Through a babysitter, my first experience with the church was with the baptist faith. Eventually when my mom remarried, we started going to a methodist church on a somewhat regular basis and that continued through high school. In college, I never went to church and that carried on for a time after I left for my first job. After a few years though, I began to hunger for something more meaningful and began attending a lutheran church mostly because I knew several people who already went there. After a year or so, I took steps and joined the lutheran church.

About that time I left that job and moved to another state. There was another lutheran church in that town but it wasn't the same feeling without knowing anybody and so I found myself only attending rarely. Eventually I met and married a Catholic woman and though I was resistant to converting at first, the more I attended church with her, the more comforting I felt with the church. In the fall of 2005, I made the commitment and joined the Catholic church which was headed by Pope Benedict XVI. Although I grew up knowing who Pope John Paul II was, I wasn't attached to him because I wasn't attached to the church. In a sense, Pope Benedict has been pope my entire Catholic life thus far.

So it was with a sense of sadness that I watched him abdicate his powers yesterday and leave for a life of seclusion. It was shocking that this all happened in the first place. It wasn't shocking that he was the first pope to abdicate in 600 years but for me, it was shocking that a man who lead 25% of the world's population would voluntarily give up power. I guess that goes to show that he truly was a messenger for god and not for himself. I think it very admirable that he did abdicate when he felt he was unable to carry out his duties to make way for someone younger and more able.

Now begins a period of uncertainty as no one yet knows when the conclave to elect a new pope will begin. I suspect it will happen sooner than the traditional 15 to 20 days of waiting since all the cardinals who will do the electing are already at the Vatican and we are in the midst of Lent when leadership is desired. Like many people, I hope for a more progressive pope to tackle the problems within the Catholic church of sexual abuse and birth control. However since Benedict His Holiness elected 67 of the 117 cardinals voting, it is not likely that any changes to be made will be large. I suspect it will happen with time like most things.

So 'my pope' is now gone and more than likely I will never see him again. Like most Catholics, I will pray for the cardinals now in hopes that they will elect the best cardinal to lead our church into the future.