Monday, April 29, 2013

Priceless!

We had a social obligation in the town where I formerly lived and worked so we left a bit early to eat supper at one of our favorite restaurants. We had eaten our salad and were waiting for the main course when in the door came the president of the company I used to work for. He asked the waitress if the table in back was ready for everyone and then I knew that this meal was to be a special one for me.

Some readers may recall that I was part owner of the company and when my boss (also an owner) retired, he left behind a void and an opportunity to fill. Various department heads, including my boss weren't getting along and as a result, they were effecting business. When asked how to fix this, I suggested that we hire someone to be over all the departments and 'force' people to work together instead of against each other. That happened and I was happy. During one of the many meetings with this new person and the president of our division, we were asked many things at how to make moral better. As the senior person in our department, I voiced what everyone in my group thought. We needed to do something about the pay raises. Yes we received extremely generous stock allotments that we can't touch without big tax penalties until we retire but our pay raises weren't keeping up with inflation. Not even close. Despite getting stellar remarks in my annual reviews, my worst pay raises in my career all coincided with the years I have worked for this company. The new guy and the president of our division all nodded and agreed and then a week later told me that we were restructuring and I didn't have a job anymore.

After getting through the shock of it, I was glad to walk out. Thanks to getting in at the right time, my stocks will fund my retirement and then some. As our company had grown and profited, the family feel to it had also changed. When I started we were all family and looked after one another. When I left, the owners who did most of the 'grunt' work were treated as commodities to shuffle around as the executive owners saw fit. Stress was everywhere and it wasn't 'fun' anymore. My wife and I had been talking about me leaving for a few years to try starting up my own business and to also look after our youngest daughter after she was born. Despite talking about it, I never could voluntarily quit the golden egg when I knew if I stayed just anther handful of years, that not only my retirement would be guaranteed but my daughter's college education and even their retirements as well. But the decision was made for me and I've been the happiest and most stress free I have been in years.

Which brings me back to the restaurant and the string of division presidents, the overall president and the board of directors who started walking in the door and right by my table where I could see them (and vice versa) coming towards me from thirty feet away. I made a point to call them each by name, shake hands and exchange pleasantries. Some probably still don't know that I don't work there anymore but I'm sure most knew. As fate would have it, I was talking with the old overall president when I first started and is now chairman of the board and another board member who had been my bosses boss when I first worked there, when the president of my division came in the door and started walking towards me. The same man who saw that I was walked out the door when I frankly told him his pay raises stank. He started a bit when he saw me talking with his 'bosses' and in a very friendly manner, turned around and walked back to the restrooms. I wasn't about to let him get off easy so when he came out of the bathroom, I made sure to hail him as he tried to walk by. He immediately got all flushed and briefly returned my pleasantries before excusing himself and walking by to his seat.

That, as they say, was PRICELESS! It was an opportunity to show that not only did his trying to stick it to me not work, but I was happy not to be working there anymore. I am out of the rat race and loving it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

You've gotta be kidding!


Firewood stacked....check.

Grass green... check.

Flowers blooming... check.

Shrubbery buds a popping... check.

Lawnmower battery charged and ready to go... check.

Garden hoses hooked up... check.

Annuals planted... check.

Rain gauge hung up for the first time since moving here... check.

Look outside and see snow falling... what the heck!?

Fortunately it was fleeting at best and was all gone within seconds of it starting. The snow consisted of the biggest, wettest flakes I have ever seen in my life. Some were about the size of half of a dollar bill. I tried to snap several pictures but by the time I got a reference laid down next to a flake, it was half melted away. So I just settled for the picture you see above and you will have to take my word for it. And to think May is only four days away!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Stacked!


Above is a not very good picture of my wood pile in its infant stages that my brother and I created out of sixteen dead trees living in my yard last fall. I know I had a much better picture somewhere but darned if I can find it. So you will have to trust me when I say that the pile was much much bigger.

I kept putting it off and putting it off last winter because who wants to split wood in the blowing cold. I did go out there one day before the arrival of Baby Abbey, still suffering the affects of a cold, and attempted to split wood thinking that it would speed up my recovery to get the heart rate pumping and muscles aching. That lasted all of about ten minutes before I decided to wait until I got better or spring, which ever came last. Spring ended up coming last.

I toyed with the idea of splitting all that wood by hand figuring it would take me all of a weekend or perhaps a couple weekends. But I ended up calling a rental place and for $35 including tax, I could rent a wood splitter and do it in about three and a half hours which is what it took me. I must say, for that price, I wouldn't have done it any other way. So after a few hours of splitting and a few more hours of hauling it under the deck and stacking, below is my efforts.


By my calculations, I ended up with about a cord and a half of wood. The stack is 4 feet deep by 7 feet wide by 7 feet tall. Since I only burn wood recreationally on cold winter weekends, I probably have enough wood to get me by for two or three years. That is assuming of course that I get the fireplace fixed. Right now, I have an awesome brick fireplace that was brutally savaged so that the previous owners could stick in a gas insert. I need to see if someone with more know how than I, can either re-masonry it back to snuff or savage it some more to put a wood burning insert in it like I had at my old house. I suppose worst case for effort and cost is to just tear everything out and start again. But this is spring and I feel like I have the luxury of time and more important projects to get done first so procrastination is the word for right now.

On the plus side, when I cut down all those trees last fall, I needed a place to pile the wood until I got it split and opting against creating a dirt void in the lawn, I piled it over the fire pit and surrounding stone work. While that prevented a dirt void in the lawn, it also prevented me from using the fire pit. Fortunately with the wood split and neatly stacked, I now have a fire pit. Now I can go out and by that hog or small steer, set up the spit and slow roast it over the coals all day and have a huge party later that night. Or I can buy a package of brats, shove them on the end of my roasting sticks and have a 'weenie' roast with my family. I'm guessing the latter will win out.

On a final note, I'm happy to see that my entire lawn turned green with the spring rains we have been getting. Last year, from about August onward, it was dead brown in color and since I had never seen grass so dead so early, I kind of wondered if we would have anything besides weeds this year. Although I'm sure we will have weeds, we will have some grass at least for a little while. Despite the spring rains, we are still something like 10 inches in the hole for rain over the last 16 months or so and they are predicting another scorching dry summer for us this year. Already I think I have three more trees that are dead or dying and that is before they are showing signs of leafing out. I guess if they die and I am forced to chop them up, I may have to get a steer to burn through all that wood.


Monday, April 22, 2013

In the News On Today

A little over a week ago, our fair town made the Today show in a segment called Immigration In America. The reason our town made the news, is that in 1990, we had little diversity in our town and now 23 years later, we have the fastest growing Hispanic population in our country. Most of it can be contributed to a large meat packing plant that actively began recruiting them but once the core population was established, it became self substaining and then some. In fact, where every town in a 100 mile radius is losing population to large urban centers, our town has remained steady and even gained a little here and there.

One of the benefits for me is that for the first time since high school, I actually have an excuse to practice my three years of studying the Spanish language. Boy am I rusty. Part of it is because I learned Spain Spanish and not Mexico Spanish but the biggest reason for being rusty is that somehow 20 years passed between then and now.

Another good thing is that we have more Mexican restaurants in this town than you can shake a stick at. Even better, they are authentic Mexican food and not the Americanized version that you find everywhere else. Just the other day my wife and I ate at a new to us restaurant and my wife had tongue tacos and I must say after nibbling a bit of hers, they were to die for. Before that, we ate at a burrito show that can best be described as Mexican burritos meets Subway. You start at one end choosing your tortilla, mine being a jalepeno tortilla that was awesome. You then move down the line choosing your ingredients of meat, veggies and sauces. By the time I was done, my burrito was about three inches in diameter and almost more than I could handle. It wasn't gourmet by any means but it was pretty delicious.

On the way back from the taco place, we decided to stop by a Mexican grocery store ran by an acquaintance of mine that I had recently met. Like most Filipino stores that I am familiar with, his store was small and had a little bit of everything. I've been on the hunt to make the perfect Arroz Con Pollo (vegetables with chicken) since I ate the tastiest version I've had in my life at yet another Mexican restaurant here in town. Last time my version of Spanish rice needed lots of work and though I bought some Mexican type cheese, it didn't melt smoothly and came out in clumps and strings. I found some new cheese at the Mexican grocery store that was almost reduced to a fine powder. I hope it works out better. We were also looking for a local source for rice and though this store did carry our type of rice, they only had five pound bags. We go through a 50 pound bag every nine months or so they didn't have enough in stock to meet our needs.

I belong to a fraternal order which every other chapter I have visited, is poorly attended and mostly old white men. When I switched my membership over to this town, it did have a few more younger white men but has recently seen an explosion of young Hispanic men. Unlike their older white counterparts, they are ambitious and truly want to do good deeds through the order. Since many of them don't have driver's licenses, I took a van load up to a larger town north of here a few weekends ago to get their second and third degrees out of the possible four. I had a great time trying out my limited Spanish and they were probably relieved since only one of the five spoke enough English to get by. The others only knew maybe a handful of two word sentences and that was it.

A few of the ones I have met, were born here in the U.S. to Mexican immigrants or brought here as babies. A few were more recent arrivals. Not knowing legal status and not really wanting to know at this point, I was hesitant to talk immigration politics with this group but the one that spoke the most English brought it up and we talked for a bit about it. I look forward to expanding my knowledge on the subject from their point of view in the upcoming months or years but I think from our brief discussion that we both feel the current system is broke and needs to be fixed for modern times.

So to sum things up, I grew up in a white community without exposure to other cultures and that continued for most of the first 30 years of my life. Then I moved to a town that held a cult university with people from all over the globe that comprised almost 20% of the population. After getting used to the cult, it was nice to enjoy the diversity that they brought. Then I moved to this town just featured on the Today Show, which has an 11% population of Hispanics and growing. Although I miss the Indian, Middle East, French and Asian influences seen around the other town, it is nice to see the Hispanic influence taking root here. And besides, the other town is only 20 miles away so I can visit it as needed to get my other ethnic fixes.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rain!

After two day of rain, heavy at times, we received 5.3 inches of the stuff which I'm sure will do wonders at pulling us out of the drought for a time. Unfortunately we were about ten inches short to start with and I'm guessing much of the rain we got ran off and headed into the streams and rivers but at least the moisture levels in the top soil are full for now giving us a good start for spring.

My temporary patch in the roof to fix a leak last fall held up and the house remained dry which was nice. But the rain came down so hard, for so long, that our drainage under our driveway couldn't funnel it away fast enough and it ran over our driveway and off the side of the hill carving out a lot of dirt with it. I'm going to have to fix that problem sooner rather than later or in a few years, it will start undermining my driveway and taking it down the steep hill too.

The grass went from brown to full on bright green and if I stand still long enough I can see it grow. Since our temperatures are still in the low 40's right now, I can't imagine what it would look like if the temperatures climbed up to our historical average of low 60's. It would probably grow right over you if you took a nap on it. After spending half a day clearing the yard of debris mostly consisting of dead branches that have fallen from the trees all winter, I see I need to go out and spend another couple hours doing it again. The accompanying winds with the rain really prunes the trees of their deadwood! I have no shortage of kindling for fires around here.

Now if we can get a three week break with warm temperatures to get the soil temps up and the crops planted, the rains can continue well into the summer and give the farmers a break for a change. After four of the wettest years on record followed by one of the dryest on record, we need a break. Just give us an average year for a change!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Popcorn Ceilings


After I finished up the kitchen project, I moved onto the main upstairs bathroom and quickly hammered out that project. There wasn't a lot to do there to fix it up. I patched holes in the drywall, gave it a coat of paint and because I like the painted kitchen cabinets so much, I painted the vanity in the bathroom as well. What once was a dark windowless room is a much brighter and still windowless room. I choose my battles.

Skipping the master bathroom for now, the last upstairs room left to be touched, I turned my sights on the downstairs. The downstairs makes the upstairs before I started look like a ritzy joint. The downstairs is really rough and is going to need a lot of work. First on my list was to fix up perhaps the best room of all of them downstairs for guests. It was rough but it was also a bedroom so there isn't a lot that you can do besides fix the holes in the drywall and paint them. So I carefully laid down plastic and began to paint the ceiling which the previous painter had done a piss poor job of doing. I could see the color of the previous two coats of paint.

I made it clear across the room and was just painting the last few feet when a chunk of the popcorn ceiling delaminated and fell to the floor. All my life I have lived in houses with popcorn ceilings and though I would never do one by choice, I have come to accept them. Because they catch cobwebs easily, you are forever sweeping them with brooms. If you every have to do a repair to an area, it is impossible to match up the pattern of the popcorn so it will forever look like you have a patched ceiling. Finally, if you get a little carried away and say touch the ceiling with a football being casually passed around, you can knock off pieces of the popcorn which not only make a mess of the floor but leave specs of unpainted surface beneath showing like a huge zit.

Because only a tiny chunk has fallen out of the ceiling, I gingerly tried to paint over it with the roller but every time the roller passed over, more and more popcorn just peeled off the ceiling until there was at least a square foot missing. Disgusted I quit and decided to mull things over. I suspect that the entire ceiling in that area is just clinging on due to a poor adhesion problem during the initial spraying. Any attempts to patch it will just result in future misery. Another plan could involve just scraping all the popcorn off the ceiling. If there is poor adhesion to begin with, this might be easier than expected. The bad part is that I already applied a gallon of paint and starting over means a gallon of primer and then another gallon of paint. My worry is that if the popcorn is adhered tightly on most of the ceiling, I may end up destroying the ceiling to the point where I have to start over completely and well... that would suck. So right now I'm taking a break and mulling things over a bit.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Smokin'


As I am want to do most years with the first bought of mild temperatures a couple of weekends ago, I declared it smokin' day. I kicked it off a week earlier by digging out the two turkeys in my freezer that I had bought on sale the week after Thanksgiving. They slowly defrosted in the refrigerator all week long which is a pain in the rear when you are trying to store all your daily food items along side them. But finally the day of smokin' arrived and I was at last able to take them out and prep them for the positions of honor, rack one and rack two in my smoker.

This time around I used mesquite chips for the smoke creatin' part of the day. You can buy them in small bags and for not much money, especially when considering the amount of work I would have to do to create chips of my own. It also allows me to use more exotic woods that I don't have access on a daily basis such as mesquite and my favorite, apple.

I have a gas fired smoker which I like the best of all the smokers I have used in the past. With gas, I can set the temperature I desire and not worry about having to go out every few minutes to make sure it isn't getting too hot or too cold. Pretty much all I have to do is go out about once an hour or so to put some fresh chips into the smoke chamber to ensure enough of that smokin' taste that I like.

Those two turkeys, one for me and one for my parents to supply them with turkey sandwiches during the planting season, took about four and a half hours to smoke. The salmon (not pictured), which I did on the spur of the moment after the turkeys were done and I saw I had another hopper full of chips left, took about an hour with the smoker turned down as low as it would go.

When the turkeys cool, I'll carve them up because smoked turkey is always best cold for some reason. The salmon we may just snack on or make into some sort of dip and eat with crackers or do both.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Little Bit Creepy

When blogger came up with their new spam filter, I turned off my word verification feature. It has worked well and I don't think but perhaps a handful of spam has gotten through in the last year. For those who still rely on the old verification feature, I have noticed something slightly disturbing to me for some reason. Instead of trying to figure out two words, you are left with figuring out a word and some numbers in a photo. Those numbers are clearly ones that homeowners have put up on the side of their house because in most of them you can see siding and even trim around nearby doors, etc. I'm guessing Google caught these pictures with their vehicles that are going around mapping all our streets with Street View and they have some devious plan to use all this data to better map the location of houses. Rather than having an army doing this on their doll, they are having us using blogger do it for them. I guess time will tell.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It Was Right There All the Time


What you are looking at above is the gravestone for my 2nd great grandfather John Henry Baker. Now I've know it was there for over a half dozen years and I've visited it several times on my stop to Greenwood Cemetery where it is located in an attempt to unravel the mysteries of his father who may be a Baker and may be a Chicken, all of which I have blogged about many times in the past. So I have always known it was there since I found it and that isn't the reason for the title of this post.

I've been putting together a research journal of sorts by collecting all the information I have on this family in one convenient place. For some reason, though having it on a computer makes it organized, I find that I miss things when reviewing it. Like the saying goes, I get lost in the forest because of the trees. Case in point, I have repeatedly told the story of how my 2nd great grandfather's first wife (my 2nd great grandmother) died early in her life and was buried by her parents. John Henry then soon after married his nanny helping him with the children who gasp, had been married several times, once to a fellow and then to that fellow's father and then possibly a third time. It was even enough of a scandal to make the evening newspaper. My family claims that when John died, he was buried clear on the opposite side of the graveyard as his first wife because his former in-laws wouldn't allow him to be buried with their daughter.

All these years, he has been off by his lonesome, or so I thought until the other day when I ran across the picture below. I'm not sure why I took it showing the grave next to him but I suspect I recognized the last name and couldn't remember how I knew it so I took the picture to review later and find out. So it sat on my computer with thousands of other pictures lost in the forest. I ran across it again preparing my research journal and figured out who the name belonged too. It belonged to the husband of John Henry's older sister. Leslie Hedglin also died young in their marriage and by the time John Henry died eight years later, his older sister and Leslie Hedglin's former wife had remarried. I'm guessing she figured she didn't need the spot next to her first husband anymore and thus John Henry Baker found his home on the opposite side of the cemetery as his first wife. He isn't alone... if you count being next to your former-brother-in-law as company.

On a side note, both John's older sister and his second scandal making wife are also buried in the same cemetery next to their second and fifth husbands respectively.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Mini Vacation


As I mentioned in the last post, we decided to take a bit of a mini-vacation to a nearby lake in our part of Iowa that though I have lived most of my life within a few hours of it, I had never seen it before. In fact, it is less than an hour's drive from where we currently live so I couldn't take not knowing any longer. In the picture above, I ran out of road signaling our arrival to the lake. Because we had brought along a picnic lunch of sorts, we sat in the car eating our lunch and enjoying the view.


The lake itself was constructed in 1971 to control flooding but in more recent years provides drinking water for a big part of Southeast Iowa. Ironically in the early 90's when we had one of those epic floods, not only did the water almost over top the lake dam, it almost destroyed the water main located just downstream of the spillway carrying the drinking water from the lake to all those people in my part of the state.


Our mini vacation was timed to coincide with our daughter's spring break which evidently is different from most other schools in the area. We also took our mini vacation during the middle of the week to avoid the traffic on the weekends. As a result, we had the entire lake to ourselves on our vacation. The only time we saw other people were back at the hotel along the shoreline and even those were few and far between. We spent a day driving the back roads and circling the entire lake. We took every road that led to its shoreline and dozens of secluded coves where wildlife abounded. It was like our own private avian viewing.


Because it was still frozen in the coves, the boats weren't out an about so we had lots of time to leisurely study the birds through my telephoto lens on the camera. At one point I came across and large group of some hawks fishing but could never get a decent picture of them

In the final photo down below, I was driving along a secluded road when a group of deer started crossing the road right in front of me. I rolled down the window of the car, grabbed my camera which unfortunately had the telephoto lens and just pressed the trigger a few times without being able to aim or focus. The reason being were the deer were much too close for that lens. It seems whenever I take my other lenses with me, I always have the wrong one on the camera when I need to take a quick photo. Fortunately for me, one of the pictures that I took turned out to be fairly focused and caught the deer in stride.

Here in our part of Iowa, whitetail deer are considered pests because there are so many of them that they destroy crops and lots of vehicles that try to drive over them as they cross the road without warning. Hunters kill more of them in our part of the state every year than in any part of our country and still their populations are booming. Still, I like photographing them more than killing them though I do get someone who is the opposite to fill my freezer with one every year.


Friday, April 5, 2013

The Slowest Dining Experience In the World

A couple weeks ago we decided to get out of dodge for a week and spent some time elsewhere. Because we have a four month old baby that needs to tag along, we decided we really didn't want to go far so we toured a resort that was built out in the middle of nowhere some years back at taxpayer expense. It fit the bill for us and we had a good time, especially our eldest daughter who spent about four hours a night swimming in the swim park. I would alternate soaking in the hot tub and reading a good book so I was happy too.

One evening, we decided to look for food elsewhere in neighboring towns and stumbled across a little place called the Brick Road Brewery and Eatery. Actually we found a place called Fat Annie's first but upon opening the door and see it was home to a handful of drunk old men and smelled terrible, we turned and left. The Brick Road however seemed inviting and along with the bar, there were five tables along the back wall, two of them occupied. So we grabbed a seat in one of the empty ones and ordered some food.

Shortly after our waitress took our order, two more groups came in and sat at the remaining two tables. A third group wound up setting at the bar. It was then that I noticed that everyone seemed to be waiting for food. There were were three girls working the place. One running the bar, another the grill and the third was doing the waitressing and talking with the other two girls in-between.

About a half hour after we ordered, food was brought out to one of the tables that had been seated when we arrived. I thought perhaps the grill had been cold and things had to get heated up and now that they had, the food would be coming out at a faster pace. Alas that was not the case. Twenty minutes later, the second table that had been before us got their food just as the first table to get their food was paying their bill and heading out the door. Finally we got our food about twenty minutes later as the second group was paying up and heading out the door. Although I was disappointed about having to wait an hour and ten minutes to get the food, it was really good food.

Still it made me wonder why they even have five tables if the fastest they can get things off the grill was one table eating food at a time. By the time we left, there all the stables were still full of people waiting for their food. I'm guessing I was back finishing up my hot tub soak by the time all those people had finally paid and left.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sally Rand


When I was at my great Uncle's funeral last fall, a young lady spoke at his eulogy about some conversations she had taped with him. After the funeral I talked to her a bit and it sounded like she had transcripts that she made from those conversations and she shared some of them especially about his war experience with her students. Due to her evidently busy schedule as a teacher, she is just now getting them sent to me and the first one had some interesting conversation. They were actually audio files so I had to transcribe them for what I used below in this post.

The young teacher was asking him questions about his musical interests when my uncle kind of went on a side tangent as follows below.

Keith: It was during the Depression and that was 1929 when the big Depression was. I always joked about the fact that my folks took me to see Sally Rand. Now Sally Rand was a stripper at the time but she didn't really strip. It looked like she was stripping. But she would dance with pans and she would dance with balloons and she would dance... but she actually as I understand it... she didn't actually take off her clothes. She wore skin tight...  Well people when they hear that they think why did your folks take you to see Sally Rand? They thought it was an evil influence but I was just fascinated by it.

I didn't know who Sally Rand was and had to Google her to find out more. Reading it Wikipedia entry it seems like she had many run ins with the law for her simulated nudity which went against the morals of the time. It seems kind of funny that my great grandfather and great grandmother would take their sons and go see a show of that caliber. Although I didn't see any pictures of her with pans, she is well known for her dance with feathers seen above and also with a giant balloon which is probably what my uncle was referring too.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting side to my uncle and great grandparent's life and thought I would share it here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A New Photo To Fill in the Gap


This photo that I recently found among my great uncle's personal effects ranks up there among my favorite old photos. In it, it shows my great uncle as a baby being held in my great grandfather's arms while Lassie, the family dog looks on. I have many pictures of my great grandfather Victor and have posted a few of them in old posts. I guess because he and his wife Grace were still alive when I was old enough to remember them that they hold a special spot in my heart. But of the many pictures, I only have a few of young Victor between his World War I career and when his sons were already grown men.

Victor lost all his money in the Great Depression when the bank it was deposited in went belly up. In fact, he was in Texas when news first reached him of the banks imminent demise and he frantically called his wife back in Chicago to withdraw their money before it happened. Unfortunately his wife was in the hospital and in labor with the imminent birth of my grandfather. He came back home a broke man and had to begin his life all over. Perhaps that explains why there are few photographs of that era. By the time he was successful again, my great Uncle was off in World War II and my grandfather was in high school.

This picture was before all of that however. My great grandfather was trying his hand at farming and his first son has been born earlier that summer. Times were good and the Great Depression was still seven years away.