Monday, September 29, 2014


As you can see, the last section of our driveway has been poured. They still have to strip the forms and cut relief joints in it but the hard part is done. It is also the beginning of a countdown because I have a week while that final section is curing before I can drive across it and my wife will be wanting to put the vehicles back into the garage. Since the garage was empty, I am putting the time to good use and painting it inside top to bottom. Hopefully I can wrap that up in the next couple days and then start building my workbench and my wife's gardening bench so that I can start moving stuff back into place. Once that is done, then I need to get cracking on the landscaping because that is going to be a lot of days getting intimate with a wheelbarrow and shovel.

There was a little controversy in pouring that last final section. I had wanted to pour up to the edge of the road leaving the concrete a bit higher and then fill in the huge potholes and crumbling edge of the old asphalt road with hotpatch. This would help to create a bit of a gutter for the water to run past my driveway to the head of the draw off to the left and not over top of my driveway as it has before. We also thought that it would be easier for the city to match up to it some point in the future when/if they ever fix our road. Well the city inspector which must by law inspect the right-of-way portion of the pour before it is poured to insure it meets city code put the kabosh on that plan. Instead, we had to pick an arbitrary point in the road, cut their asphalt away and pour our concrete flush to the road. That way when they come back in the future to put a new layer of asphalt on the road, they can slop it over the top of my new concrete and recreate the same problem I had before. Sometime I just have to wonder what they were thinking. Also, their asphalt road falls off about three inches from where we meet with it flush to where it tapers off at the edge of the road two feet away. This leaves a three inch lip of exposed concrete that can potentially be hit by a road plow in winter. About the only thing I can do to prevent that is to slop some hotpatch in the corners but it will just flake off in a year or two at best. In the two years I've live here I've never seen the road plow get that close to the edge of the road but there is always a first time.

Finally, while sitting on the deck one evening enjoying life, I pointed my phone camera upwards for a change. The clouds kept changing so eventually I went inside and got the SLR and took more pictures but I haven't yet downloaded them. Perhaps sometime in the future I can post a few of them if they turn out nice.

Friday, September 26, 2014

I hate popcorn!

I pretty sure I have said how much I hate popcorn ceiling on this blog. I did my first popcorn removal on a small bedroom downstairs a couple years ago and it was a slow and very laborious process. With a large garage full of popcorn on the ceiling, I wasn't keen to do this process on four times the area. But I'm getting ahead of myself a bit.

After jacking up the sagging corner of the house and getting the drywall back in place and mudded, it looked so nice that I hated the rest of the walls full of holes and defects. So I mudded them as well so that they were looking nice however on one side of the garage, the side I jacked up, the intersection between the wall and the ceiling had suffered damage to the drywall tape so I worked on fixing that. All the while I kept glancing over at the popcorn ceiling thinking that there had to be a better way.

That evening I caught part of a home improvement show that I don't normally watch on television. The premise is that a couple buys a fixer upper house and the couple showing it to them fix is up into their dream home. The buying couple commented (with dread) on how the house was full of popcorn ceilings (my thoughts too) but the host cheerily said that it was easy to scrape off the popcorn leaving behind enough that it still was a slightly textured ceiling and then paint over it. I was intrigued. My first and only attempt had scraped it down completely to the drywall and that last little bit was always the hardest without gouging into the drywall paper.

I scraped a small corner of the garage with a small putty knife and most of the popcorn came off really easily leaving behind a lightly textured amount stuck to the ceiling. I thought if I got a bigger scraping device, that doing the entire garage wouldn't be so bad. After looking around a bit, I found a popcorn scraper at the local home improvement store and spent a morning scraping the ceiling. It went okay but I had problems. Some places I would scrape off the popcorn leaving behind the lightly textured surface I was looking for and other places I would scrape all the way down to the drywall without any trying. The result I knew would be some areas with texture and some smooth. I tried hand scraping those areas with texture to just make everything smooth but ran into the problem I had from my first attempt a couple years ago in the basement bedroom. At this point I made the decision it was just a garage ceiling and that was just going to be the way it was.

The next day I started painting the ceiling and immediately ran into problems. As the paint went on, big flakes of the remaining texture flaked off. The more I tried to paint the more flakes came off turning the entire thing into an ugly mess. So I stopped, cried and decided I was going to do something else the rest of the day. That night as often happens, it came to me in my dreams that if wet paint made the remaining texture flake off so easily, maybe applying water with a paint roller would do so as well. On my previous attempt in the basement I had squirted it with water from a hand held weed sprayer but it just didn't let the water really soak into the popcorn base well enough to be effective. I filled a five gallon bucket with water, attached a paint roller to my extension handle and applied water directly to the ceiling as if painting it. I then climbed up a ladder with my widest putty knife in hand and scraped. The texture base came off easily and in putty knife wide sheets. I ended up rolling water onto a 4 x 8 feet area of popcorn texture base and then scraping the area which I could do with just two moves of my ladder. About two and a half hours later the entire ceiling was done and best of all, because the texture came off easier, I had very few dings and gouges in the ceiling that I had to repair. It looks a thousand times better and I'm pleased with the result. Best of all, I now have a pretty good method for doing the rest of the popcorn ceilings in our house when the time for doing them is right.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Trees and Turkeys... Oh Deer

The new sidewalk has been poured, the garage floor has been poured, the driveway is almost all poured and the first of our landscaping efforts has taken place. We got our trees planted in the front yard. From right to left is our expensive serviceberry tree which got us the free installation, northstar sour cherry, red delicious apple and mcintosh apple. Hopefully someday they will provide a screen from oncoming traffic coming up the hill as well as fruit and pretty blooms in the springtime.

I took this and the remaining pictures one Sunday morning when it seemed like the wildlife was bumping into each other using our backyard as their expressway. This was one of the does on the lookout for her yearling fawn who was grazing contentedly nearby.

This year we have seen a flock of turkeys almost all summer long on a daily basis. It comprises of four or five females and about twenty young turkeys who are almost adults at this point. They make their way across our yard pecking up bugs and things. The young turkeys even play a bit chasing and attacking each other.

They always stretch out in a line forty or fifty feet long which makes getting a good picture of them hard. If I go for getting numbers in a single frame, they are far off and not impressive. If I zoom in to get a good look, I don't get the numbers. I got a compromise shot here where I got quite a few as they bunched up on their hike across my yard. Down at the far end of the ridge, my neighbor who lives there is a well known photographer in this area and he also photographs this same flock of turkeys. Between myself and my neighbor, these turkeys probably think we are the paparazzi.

The day after posting the first picture, the very same day I took the picture of the deer and the turkeys, they made me wish I had shot them with a gun instead of camera. Before I could get my fencing up, they trimmed my three fruit trees severely. I'm not sure if they will live but I'm hoping that they still have enough to root out before going dormant and then next spring, they will leave out. When I noticed this I was sick in my stomach. Had I not has a party going on Saturday afternoon and evening, I should have installed the fence then. Sunday afternoon I could have spent the time fencing instead of taking my oldest to see a movie she had been pining for a month to see. I didn't. I kept telling myself that all the deer use the backyard and wouldn't see these trees in the front yard. I was wrong and I paid the price. The only bit of good news was that they didn't touch the expensive service berry tree. All they ate were the cheap(er) fruit trees. I guess they filled up too much on them before they got to the service berry tree.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How Fast Can a Grasshopper Go?

About 30 mph hours before he slid off my windshield. I took this picture while returning the bottle jacks from my garage jacking project. It is not often in Iowa in mid September that you see such green grass, corn and soybeans. In fact, I can't ever remember it looking this green in my lifetime this late in the year.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Moving Out

I took a picture of the progress of work on the outside of our garage so that you can see where the sidewalk now meets up with our driveway. It also shows the garage door sitting nice and level with the the far left side of the garage jacked up two and a half inches. It also shows the gutter downspout on the right side of the photo feeds into a pipe that I buried underneath the cement and hooks up to the downspout on the left side of the garage which runs underground to the ditch behind the trees in the far left background.

Unfortunately due to many inches of rain, work on finishing the driveway is on hold until things dry out. I'm taking this opportunity to work on the inside of the garage. I did some electrical outlet work while I had some of the drywall off to jack up the garage. I installed new drywall, mudded and taped it and am in the process of sanding it down and doing some touch up work as needed. Drywall is really cheap and fairly easy to do yourself with a minimal of tools but it certainly is a time consuming process. Before I paint the drywall however, I think I am going to experiment on the garage ceiling which has the dreaded popcorn texture. Our entire house is full of the stuff and I hate it because it traps cobwebs and you are forever sweeping the ceiling and then sweeping the floor to clean up the popcorn texture that fell off while you were removing the cobwebs. A couple years ago I removed the popcorn in the mother-in-law suite I remodeled downstairs but sprayed it with water, waited and scraped it off with a putty knife. It was a laborious process that took forever. Since then I have heard that you can scrape it dry and end up with a 'textured' surface that looks pretty good painted. I tried a small patch with a putty knife and it looked okay but I don't want to do an entire two and a half bay garage ceiling ten feet up with just a putty knife. I found a popcorn scraper at the home improvement store that does a 12 inch swatch at a time and attaches to a broom or mop handle. It was reasonably priced so I'm going to give it a go. It also has a place to attach garbage bags to it to contain the worst of the mess. If the garage ends up looking decent and it wasn't a lot of work, I might end up doing more popcorn removal throughout the rest of the house.

Not a very good picture but all I had was my cellphone with me and the target started moving before I could get the picture taken. We have a doe and a yearling along with another doe and twin yearlings that live in our ditch. I see them just about every evening munching away at our lawn. I have also seen three turkeys and about twenty offspring roaming about several times a week in the same place pecking at bugs and things as they walk through. I haven't yet tired of them. I haven't seen the fox or its kit from last year yet this year. They perhaps moved on or went back to where they normally roamed before giving birth. Or the could still be there and I haven't seen them because foxes are pretty skittish around humans especially ones making lots of noise working on nearby garage and driveway projects.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All Jacked Up

I had every intention of leaving my settled corner of the garage alone. Once I leveled out the garage door to my new level garage floor, I went out and looked at the door from the outside. Basically I transferred the out of level problem from the bottom to the top of the door and to me, it appeared to be even more noticeable. But jacking up the garage seemed like a major enterprise that I wasn't inclined to tackle just now. So I called it a night and went to bed. In the wee hours of the morning I woke up and got to thinking about jacking up that corner of the garage using bottle jacks. Suddenly the expense seemed minimal and I had a fairly clear idea of what I needed to do to get it done. The time to do it was now before I tackle the siding which I knew would be problematic trying to get it straight on a sagging corner of the garage. With the garage empty and another week and a half of pouring concrete and letting it curing ahead of me before I could pull a car in, it seemed like this was the time to do any jacking. I told my wife and with the sun not yet up over the horizon, I drove down to the farm to nab several of my dad's bottle jacks and then got to work ripping off a few lower feet of drywall on the sagging side. I got lost in the project so the above picture just shows what everything looked like when I was done and shows the bottle jack I used.

I used a sawsall to cut the toenailed studs from the sill plate and then ran it along to cut any nails from the sheathing that made it into the sill plate. I then screwed some 2 x 4's along the studs so that I had something to jack against and then put the jack sitting half on the sill plate and half on a scrap end of 2 x 4 and jacked. I learned a couple things pretty quickly. The garage was way heavier than I thought and 2 x 4 material wasn't enough. I ended up splitting the 2 x 4 into shrapnel. I ended up screwing two more rows of 2 x 4's, which was all I had, above the one I had put on previously which you can see in the first picture. Although the bottom 2 x 4 still bulged and cracked, it held together and after a couple hours of frustratingly trying to arrange jacks here and there to get things lifted up evenly, I finally succeeded. I ended up needing two and a half inches of shims on the lowest corner, which meant a full thickness 2 x 4 and one ripped down to an inch thick on top of that. I slid those in place and then tapered it down as I worked back towards where the garage stem walls hadn't settled. I set everything back down and after measuring, the garage door opening was now perfectly square. I screwed everything down. On a side note the mass of wires above are my incoming hard wire phone lines which aren't even used except to keep continuity in the system. My phone service actually ties into those lines in the basement using a local cable company's coaxial cable.

I had previously adjusted the garage door to my level floor before this procedure and you can see it here. By looking at the top horizontal metal piece and the door frame, you can see how uneven it was due to the settled corner. After I got done cleaning up from my jacking procedure, my door was once again not sitting square to the level floor. I adjusted that but the door still was jamming up and not closing properly. Tired and aching, I gave up and went in to cool off and watch a movie. Two advil later I started feeling like giving it another shot. I discovered that the outside door jam trim that I had removed to jack up the one side and nailed back in place was interfering with the door thickness and ten minutes later had it adjusted properly. My garage door now functions and best of all, it actually looks good in the opening. Still left to do is to temporarily flash along the concrete stem walls where my sill plate is now exposed in the low corner. This will keep things vermin and water tight until I tackle the siding. I also need to replace the drywall I tore out. I priced out a new, much, much, much lighter, much more insulated door to replace this one. It may not look like it but this door is on its last legs. I've screwed and patched it together a dozen times but all the wood is splitting and falling apart faster than I can keep it together. Now that I have a nice square opening, putting in a new door and getting it to look nice from the outside should be a breeze.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Plum Slammed

The concrete in the garage has been poured. The slab is nice and level though in the picture above you can see how the stem walls resting on the footer dive down into the concrete where that corner of the garage sunk 3 inches after they built the house. Isolation joints have been cut so that when the concrete cracks, and all concrete cracks, it will break along those lines instead of random patterns. The door you see leads out to the back yard and hasn't been used once since we bought the place. It eats up a corner that can be better utilized so it is going away. When I tackle the siding project I plan to stud in the bay and side over it. As you might be able to tell, it no longer fits in the opening anyway since the concrete in that area was about six inches lower than the rest. I'm going to screw it shut so that it is weather tight for now and some full length cabinetry will be going in that corner for storing stuff relatively dust free when I do my wood working projects. Now that the slab is complete and I can't park cars on it for a week or so until it fully cures, I'm going to use this time to do some repainting and organize things more efficiently. The above picture shows a half bay that is beside our parked cars and my work area. You can also see the new surface mount outlets I installed to replace the one outlet I had in the area. I just hate spending all my working time plugging and unplugging things so this way I can keep everything plugged in and ready to go when I need it, once I get my new workbench built.

This is the opposite side of the garage where my wife parks her car and where she has a potting bench. I also store some ladders, hand tools and my rack of clamps. I plan to put her stuff back over there and rework it a bit so it is a bit more organized. One of my old open shelves that is going to be replaced with closed shelving will go over here to store pots, extra soil and mulch that doesn't much matter if it builds up a layer of dust on over time.

So what's with the title? That is an expression my brother who has spent his post collegiate career in the deep south uses when he is completely worn out. After the garage floor was poured and while they were starting on the driveway, I used that time to correct something that has always bugged me. Our house has four downspouts that funnel rainwater from the roof to lower areas of the land. Three of the corners have the downspouts funneling water into underground piping that runs down to the bottom of the hill. The fourth downspout which is located towards the side of the house that slopes toward the house, just adds to the problem and keeps our front lawn kind of swampy during wet years. The best way to fix that problem would be to dig a trench from one side of the driveway to the other side and down the hill. Up until recently, this was a problem with a blacktop driveway blocking me. When the concrete guys removed the asphalt, I hustled in there and dug a trench so I could lay some pipe to connect the front downspout to the underground pipe that carries the water from the rear downspout. Because I didn't want to inconvenience them, I had to hustle. I dug like a madman and got everything plumbed and back filled the ends that weren't underneath the driveway so when they concrete guys showed up for the day, all they had to do was dump some gravel in the trench under the new driveway and proceed with their day. I was so utterly spent that I actually had to sit down and rest a spell in the shade for five minutes between trips to put my tools away in the basement or risk perhaps passing out. It didn't help that it was one of the hottest days of the year so far and nearly 100% humidity. All I could think while sitting in the shade was that I was plum slammed. I eventually made it back up to the garage for the last of my tools and called it a day just 15 minutes before the concrete guys showed up. So now there are two reasons why I will probably sleep better tonight.

Friday, September 12, 2014

All Broken Up

The hard part of the garage floor has been completed thanks to a jackhammer. If you can look closely, you can see that there was a little bit of chicken wire embedded in the bottom of the concrete. It was way too little and poorly placed which is why I find myself here today blogging about it. My advice to homeowners, if you are going to pour concrete, do it right the first time and say someone in the future from having to redo it.

On the other hand, I had guessed that there wasn't a footer poured in the garage door opening as their should have been which is the reason it heaved there and forced me to use several inch shims to seal the gaps between the door and the floor. I was wrong. There was a footer and it appears intact. After doing some measuring with the laser level the contractor had, I'm pretty sure I know what happened now. On that corner of the garage, they had built it over about three or four feet of fill judging from the landscape. That was 40 years ago. Since then, that corner of the house which comprises just the garage has sank about 3 inches. The rest of the house and other side of the garage is as level as can be but lasers don't lie and that worst corner of the garage sank probably soon after they built it. That along with some improperly compacted fill under the slab caused all the problems. I can take care of the fill and compact it correctly but there isn't much I can do about the sunk corner of the garage short of jacking it up and leveling out the concrete. Since it is only the garage and doesn't affect anything else though, I'm inclined to just leave it alone. The only real affect on the structure is that the garage door header is slightly lower in that corner. In the future when I replace the garage door, I'll have to decide if it is something I want to fix or not.

In other news, our local nursery was having a special on trees. If you purchased one tree over $100, they would plant it and every other tree you bought, no matter what the price, for no labor charge. The only additional charge is what we have to spend for materials such as fertilizer, mulch and stakes. It was a pretty good deal so we ended up buying a serviceberry tree which was the one that cost over $100 but was nearly 10 feet tall. We also got three fruit trees, a McIntosh and Red Delicious Apple and also a Northstar sour cherry tree. I have a particular weakness for sour cherries which make the best pies on earth. We are going to put the three fruit trees in front of our house to kind of break up the view. Right now, those coming up the side street look right into our kitchen and dining room windows. In the future they will be looking at our fruit trees. The serviceberry tree is going out behind the house where we can look out and see it lovely spring blooms from our other dining room window and also the living room windows.  The best part of all this is that they come with a two year warranty so if they die, we get another tree to replace them with and a new warranty. After cutting down over two dozen dead trees on our property in the last two years, it will be nice to see some new trees in their places.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Something Concrete

At about the same time we made the decision to do some concrete work, the weather changed from raining once a week to nearly every day. Needless to say, it has been slow going on our landscaping project but it is still proceeding a bit at a time. Above you can see the forms for the new sidewalk going in. It will act as a barricade to prevent water from running from our front lawn up next to the house. The new landscaping will slope the soil from the house towards the sidewalk. This should keep things nice and dry for the foreseeable future.

Finally we were able to get the sidewalk poured in between the rains. We ended it short of the driveway for the time being until we get that fixed the way we want it at the elevation we want it. Then we can pour the rest so that it matches up appropriately. This time around, we also used rebar in the sidewalk, something the previous occupants didn't do so if the sidewalk moves, it moves as one and isn't all cattywampus.  I still need to clean up along the sidewalk and backfill with soil but probably won't do that for awhile yet.

So before I can pour the remainder of the sidewalk, I need to pour the driveway. Before I pour the driveway, I need to pour the garage floor. Above and below are some photos showing why I need to do something about it. The garage floor slab appears to be a total afterthought to who ever had it poured. Judging by how far it has heaved in adjacent chunks (up to three inches in places), they didn't use any reinforcement. They also didn't cut any break joints in the slab so when it broke as all concrete does, the cracks form a maze across the floor. They also didn't use any isolation joints where the slab meets the footing so when the floor heaved, it caught the perimeter footing breaking the slab up even more and in the corner seen above, broke the footing. Not only are the various chunks of concrete heaved in relation to each other, the entire slab has heaved to that the center of the slab it four to five inches higher than the sides which means the garage door fits like crap. All this I plan to fix by tearing out this mess and redoing it properly.

I am going to start by digging down to good soil and back filling with gravel that will be packed down well. Around the perimeter there will be an isolation joint to prevent catching on the perimeter footing should it heave in the future. A footer below frost line where the garage door opening is will prevent that part from heaving at all. If it should heave, the entire slab will be reinforced with rerod so that it doesn't move in relation to each other. Finally, regular break joints will be cut in the concrete so that it will break (and all concrete does) in an orderly fashion where I want it to break.

In preparation for doing the concrete work, I emptied out the garage which was no easy feat. It amazed me how much I had in there and now that it is all out, I'm going to take this opportunity to do a little more organizational work as I put it all back in to free up some space and make things less cluttered. Of course once I got everything out, some of it in the elements, it has rained almost continuously. Murphy's Law I suppose.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Year of the Landscaping

I finally took a picture giving you a lay of the land. What you have is a lawn that slopes toward the house where it is absorbed into the ground and some of it channeled around the east side of the house seen in this photo or across our driveway and into the deep ditch beyond. It wasn't an ideal situation. The other thing that we wanted to fix was our front step. To step onto our porch from the sidewalk was about a thirteen inch step up. Okay for me but not for mother-in-laws or grandparents with bad knees who must scale it. About three weeks ago, I was simply going to pour a step in the middle to make it easier but it didn't solve the drainage problems. So we took out the old sidewalk and are preparing the area for a new one.

The new sidewalk will be higher which will create a barrier for water running back down the slope at least on the western three-fourths of the house. The eastern fourth will still have to run around the east side of the house but I plan to help it along by regrading up near the house, installing a flower bed with some sort of barrier to help funnel the water away from the house. Before all of this, our basement has always been dry but I would like to keep it this way by solving problems before they occur at less convenient times. The new step up onto our porch will be a measly four inches which should be much easier on the knees. Right now we are just waiting for a dry spate of weather so that we can actually do the pouring of the concrete. I'm not going to complain because the crops look absolutely perfect here. I suspect people will be getting near to 300 bushel per acre yields in areas with better dirt than we have here in this area. Still, I'm sure we will see at least 240 to 250 bushel per acre here which is unheard.

While the concrete fellow was here, I asked him if he would be interested in quoting pouring our driveway seen above. It is asphalt that has buckled, cracked, heaved and shattered and grows a pretty good crop of grass during the summer. It is a hard surface that keeps the cars out of the mud on years like this year but it really is an eye sore. It also was not pitched correctly the first time so water from the street and the uphill 60+ acres, runs down along the street edge into our driveway, part of the way back up towards the garage and then off over the edge of the ravine causing a huge gully to form. The top soil from along our driveway is slowly being carried away down the hill and I really don't want to part with it.

Our garage on the other hand also has problems. The concrete was poured on not well packed soil and without any reinforcing. As a result it is severely heaved and broken into a dozen plates. It is like a miniature version of earth tectonics. Plates floating and crashing into each other forming pressure ridges and such. When we first moved into this house, I had to shim the sides of the garage door by three inches so that it sealed up against the concrete and made a mouse proof barrier to keep vermin out. This winter, it heaved some more and I could probably shim it another six inches on the outsides just so the garage door seals across to the middle point where the actual door still touches the concrete. So I had the concrete quote that mess as well hoping I could get a mass discount.

We had already agreed to doing the sidewalk and when he came back with a quote for the garage and driveway, it was a little more than I wanted to pay. Right now I am focused on residing the house and figure that if push came to shove, a well sided house would bring better returns than a nice driveway and garage floor if we should have to sell it in the short term. I told the concrete guy that it was outside of my budget and that we would rater get our house sided first and see what money we have left over before finishing the driveway and garage. I put a line out there and wanted to see if he would bite. Almost immediately, he told me that the quote he gave me was a rough quote and that he would do a better calculation to see if he could come closer to our budget. The next day he came down to only $500 more than what I told him our budget was so we shook hands and are getting them done as well.

Since he is here already along with lots of his tools, he would like to start on the garage sooner rather than later so for the last two days, I have been spending my mornings cleaning out the garage. The large power tools too heavy to be moved down to the basement, I am moving inside next to our kitchen area where we have a breakfast nook that we use only to store incoming mail and such on. Anything water resistant for several weeks it going on the backside of the garage and away from view of the road in case thieves get tempted. The water sensitive stuff and high dollar power tools are getting carried a wheelbarrow full at a time around the back of the house and schlepped into the basement. Other low dollar and not as water resistant/rust resistant as the other things is being carried under the deck and some of it covered in plastic. I still have a couple more days left before they will be here to tear into my garage floor and I'm still on pace to get the rest of the items out. This time of year usually give us pretty stable weather and in most years it is usually hot and dry. I'm hoping now that most of my garage is now outside and scattered around, that at least the stable weather holds up. Otherwise our neighbors might end up with lots of items scattered across their lawns.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Getting My Just Desserts

I'm not sure how that expression came into being but it means that I got was was coming to me because of my actions. Let me set the scene.

I was in the grocery store picking up a few basics and heading towards the checkout lines. For some odd reason, three of the four lines in operation had people backed up three carts out the end of the aisle. Rarely do I see this kind of traffic at this grocery store but then again, I rarely come right over the lunch hour. However, one lane only had one person in it and he was handing cash over to the clerk. I headed towards that line.

Just before I got there, a lady waiting to checkout two lines over saw the situation too and started backing out of her line to get in line where I was heading. I could have paused and let her ahead of me. But I only had a few things in my cart compared to her cart full of prepackaged junk foods which usually signals welfare cards and longer waits so I took an extra long step and cut her off at the pass. I pretended like I never even saw her and started putting my groceries onto the conveyor belt. That was when my 'just dessert' started kicking in.

I noticed the old fellow paying for his groceries had one arm in a sling and judging by the fumbling, it was his dominate arm. As I waited, he kept fumbling in this pocket, that pocket, back to the billfold and into a pocket again as he tried to make exact change for his bill. As someone who almost always uses credit, I have long since gave up trying to pay for things with exact change because it takes too long and I don't have the patience. This time however, I waited patiently for five minutes as he and the clerk swapped bills and coins until he finally came up with a combination that gave him a bill which took him about two minutes to tuck into his wallet with his one non-dominate hand. Finally he moved out of the aisle so that the clerk could start ringing me out.

Immediately I knew that my 'just desserts' were going to keep on coming. She moved as a glacial crawl. In the time that it took her to ring up about a half dozen items, most clerks would have rang up an entire shopping cart full of stuff. The lady that I had prevented from getting in front of me was already paying her bill at another checkout line. I still had another dozen things to get rang up! With about six items left to ring up and I was probably ten minutes into the process at this point, the clerk turned and started bagging the dozen things she had already rang up. It took her nearly 40 seconds to a minute to pick up each item, swing it over to the plastic bag, place it inside, arrange it just so and swing back to pick up a second item. Another five minutes click off the clock.

The lady behind me who came up a couple minutes after I first got in line started cursing under her breath and I couldn't help but feel her pain. She already had most of the contents of her cart on the conveyor belt behind my items and as they say about the pig and breakfast, she was committed. I was just about ready to tell the clerk that I would bag if she would finish ringing up my items when a bagger finally came over and finished bagging up the remaining items as she resumed scanning the last six items on the belt. In about 15 seconds, he had not only bagged the remaining items, had loaded the bags into my cart and was waiting for her to finish scanning the last five items remaining. I suddenly understood why he ran off to help other checkout lines.

Finally 20 minutes into my checkout experience that usually lasts only about five minutes tops for a full grocery cart full of groceries, I was able to swipe my credit card and get the heck out of dodge. But not before I committed Karen's name and face to memory so that I will never step foot in her aisle again. In the time it took to ring up my 18 items, each of the other lines had probably checked out six people with full carts. She literally has no business being in a grocery store. Perhaps she was only there to deliver my 'just desserts'.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Manila Bombing Photos from 1945

Manila Hotel 1945
The day before I received the records made by my Uncle during World War II that I blogged about in my previous post, my wife received the following pictures from one of her clients who inherited them from a relative that also fought in the war. They didn't know what to do with them but since they were all of Manila in 1945 after America retook the city from the Japanese and my wife was born in the Philippines, they thought she should have them. Because they are in essence, priceless objects of history, I am scanning them and posting them here for anyone who should search and come upon them.

Manila Central Post Office
Because I am not all that familiar with Manila and most of these buildings no longer survive, their names or functions were lost too me. Fortunately, the internet is such a powerful tool and with a search, I was able to turn up the names of all but one of the buildings photographed. This picture was the easiest one to identify because there are hundreds of pictures of the Central Post Office online. It was one standing building in a field of leveled buildings which made it a dynamic shot.

Great Eastern Hotel in center background
All these pictures appear to be taken from the Pasig river that runs through Manila and can be seen in several of the pictures. I suspect the soldier or person who took them was riding on a boat navigating the river and thus had a front row seat of the devastation that remained.

Unknown building
This is the one photo I was unable to identify. It looks similar to the presidential palace along the Pasig river but isn't. Perhaps it was part of the complex. If anyone can positively identify this building, please let me know.

Side entrance of Santo Tomas University
Of the pictures I was able to identify, this one was the hardest. I found lots of pictures that looked close but weren't the same. It turned out most of the photos were of the front entrance to Santo Tomas University and this picture was taken of a side entrance.

Santo Domingo Church
This picture was the easiest to identify thanks to the Aduana sign on the tower at the far right of the picture.

Also along withe pictures was this folded up proclamation issued by General Douglas MacArthur in 1945. You can smell how old this piece of paper is. I'm sure thousands of copies were made of this and put up all around Manila the day he returned but I suspect that few survive. This one has many creases from being folded up but is in remarkably great shape. I'm not sure what I should do with it so for now, it is folded back up and tucked in a safe place with the pictures.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pepsi Cola Records

 On their way back to their home in the south, my grandparents stopped by for an evening at our home. My grandparents are getting frail in their age and I'm gently trying to explore their pasts whenever I get the chance. Part of the reason for this is the death of my great uncle a couple years ago. He was always a favorite uncle of mine growing up as a child but as a child, such topics such as his youth or his military career weren't really of interest to me. By the time they were of interest, I had moved out of home and was living my life elsewhere and thus went for nearly a decade without seeing him. Finally one day for a half hour almost a decade ago, the stars aligned and I was able to talk to him as an adult and ask him so many questions. Time went by so quickly and before I knew it, we both were heading back to our respective homes half a country apart.

I stopped in to his home several years later when we passed through town on our way out east but by then his memory was failing and he lapsed in and out of lucidity. Two years, his mind turned off for good and there would be no more opportunities to ask him all the questions that I wanted. But life has a way of throwing curve balls at you.

My great Uncle had a record collection that just can't be imagined. He bought the top 5 albums of the week according to the Billboard Top 100, every week, from before World War II until his death a couple years ago. His collection of records filled the largest U-haul truck they rent three rows deep. Many people, including me would have loved to keep the collection intact but none of us had the room nor the money it would take to do such a collection justice. In the end, my Uncle inherited them, sold off what he could and gave away the rest.

Out of the blue, a man contacted my grandparents asking if they were related to someone named Victor. He was my great grandfather and the father of my great Uncle. My grandparents said they were and he told them that he had come across some records that my great Uncle had made and mailed to his parents. They were found among the records he had bought and he would like to return them. Both my grandparents and uncle tried playing the records but they were too damaged too play. They had numerous checks across them and one had a large crack that pushed up a large ridge across the grooves on the playing surface. Knowing that I am sort of the keeper of the family genealogy flame, they offered them to me before throwing them away.

I of course said yes though I had no way of playing them and knew of no one who could. They were made by my great Uncle and thus should be kept for no other reason than they meant something too him. I researched them a bit and found out the Pepsi Cola had given G.I.'s returning or preparing for war overseas a chance to record records to send back home. My uncle had done so twice. In doing that research, I came across a company by the name of King Tet Productions in San Diego, California who specialized in digitizing old records and other forms of media into contemporary formats. I called up the guy and he told me he has been getting quite a few of these Pepsi Cola records as World War II veterans die off and relatives inherit them. He couldn't promise me anything but for $24 which included return shipping, it was worth a shot.

Literally about four days later, the records returned back to my house along with a CD with two tracks, one track for each record. Although a bit scratchy, both files were audible and soon the voice of my great Uncle at age 20 and heading off to war filled my office at home. It was a joy. For two minutes, I listened to both tracks and got just a little bit more incite to a great Uncle I knew well and yet knew so little about.

My Great Uncle around the same age when he made the two records