Friday, July 31, 2015

Forgotten Barns: Part 7

I think this is my new favorite barn. I spotted it several weeks ago as we took the back roads to someplace we were heading and I've been jonesing to go back ever since and grab a few photos of it. It brings chills to me at how beautiful it must have been in its prime and tears that it is simply being allowed to fall apart and fall down. I would love to crawl up into the upper stories and check out what the view out those windows must be like.

From this angle you can see that it is actually two barns, with the other one, probably the one closest to the road, being added later and matched to the first one. Unlike many barns, it is still on an occupied homestead so I'm guessing it's fate is simply a money issue for the occupants. I can't blame them because it is a lot of area to reshingle and repaint to keep it in good shape. If it sat on my property, I think I would go broke trying to do just that because a barn that beautiful deserves to be saved.

Although parts of Iowa is fairly flat, it still doesn't mean you have views, especially in summer. A lot of times all you see is corn and sky which makes it hard to spot barns off in the distance. I came across the scene below which most certainly had a barn once upon a time but now just has the stub of a feed silo and an old windmill. Though there was a slight breeze, the windmill was silent, most likely rusted in place for the rest of its natural life.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Clouds, Rains and Bridges

It's been a wet year. It hasn't been the constant rains like what we saw in the spring and summer of 1993 when most of our state was under water. Instead it has just been frequent rains to keep everything soupy. I've got a pile of scraps from my gutted out office that I threw out on the downstairs patio thinking I would back our van down there to more easily load them to get rid of it and they are still sitting there three months later. At this rate, I may have to wait until the first hard freeze to get down there with the van.

All this rain has meant that we've had lots of clouds in the sky, particularly around sunset. I took this picture a month or so ago but just now cleaned out the memory chip on my camera and 'found' it again. I thought it worthy of posting on here. It also explains the picture below here in the City of Bridges. One of the main bridges in town was shut down for a summer of replacing the deck. The prior two summers the river had constantly been deep enough that you could walk clear across it and maybe splash your ankles only at the deepest part. The summer long project is now nearing it's second anniversary and the way things are going this year, it may see it's third anniversary. Earlier this spring they contractors doing the work were published in the local newspaper saying that they were certain to get work done this summer since nothing remaining depended on water levels. As the months wore on and no work was being done at all, they finally backtracked to say that they still had work to do on the under parts before replacing the deck and that they had hoped the water would go down enough for them to get that part finished. It hasn't and they were about lynched at the city council meeting. So for now, we remain a city of bridges, minus one.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Blew Out My Flip Flop

But unlike Jimmy, I didn't do it stepping on a pop top. No. I evidently did it while sitting at a table. I went to move my feet just a little and felt a weird sensation in my left sandal. When I bent down to closer inspect it, my heart fell when I saw the sole separation. Not only because this will be the third pair of shoes I've replaced this month, but because these were my Teva sandals and the longest pair of anything that goes on my feet that I've owned and worn regularly.

It started out when my regular tennis shoes split the fabric near the toe of one of the shoes. They were probably only a couple years old but that seems par for the course anymore. They just don't make shoes to last very long. Then literally the week after I bought a replacement pair, my dress shoes lost their sole eerily similar to my Teva sandals. I bought a replacement for them on Saturday and then on Monday this happened.

According to the sole of my Teva sandals, they are 25 years old. They've been with me on many trips to the mountains where they were used to fjord mountain streams while staying solidly attached to my feet. They've been on numerous hikes where the conditions range from rocky to wet and muddy. I've floated down many a stream in a canoe with them hanging over the sides tempting big fish. Best of all, every summer for 25 years they have been my go to shoe for casual living.

I decided that I wanted a pair just like them but when I fired up the computer, that model has sadly been discontinued, probably a couple decades ago. I could find only a few pictures and links to web pages saying they no longer carry them in stock. I could find many other types of Teva sandals but all had gone to strictly Velcro which is you ever use for long periods of time in a river environment, means you and your Teva may soon be parted. It also means that getting in and out of your sandal means undoing and redoing a velcro strap which doesn't wear nearly as many cycles as the plastic buckles that were on my Teva sandals.

After much looking, I finally found one model that although it had Velcro straps for adjusting fit, it had one buckle around the front of your ankle for easy in and out access so you aren't wearing out the Velcro. I'm not sure how well they will do in river situations should one arise in the future but I'm hoping since the Velcro will hopefully still be in good condition since I will use the one buckle, that it will be able to stay closed and remain on my foot. I'm expecting that Teva, live everybody else, has cheapened their product so that I will never get them to last nearly as long as my previous pair. Such a shame.

Friday, July 24, 2015


Juan and I have been friends for three years now. We are close to the same age and are in the same fraternal organization. When I needed help siding my house, he was the first person I called to give me a hand. He is one of the hardest working people I know and though he struggles to gain a foothold in life, you'll never catch him without a smile, willing to give you a handshake or even the shirt off his back. Yet according to Donald Trump, he is a rapist, murderer or drug dealer.

Juan has lived in the United States for the last 25 years illegally. Seeking to remove himself from a troubled childhood and no really good long term prospects in life due to his parents divorce and living with aging grandparents, Juan walked to the United States at the age of 20. Back then, the corner between southwestern California and northwestern Mexico near Tijuana had a fence that ended at the beach. Juan simply walked the beach north into the United States and had an Aunt living in L.A. pick him up. He lived in L.A. for while and I believe a few other places before settling in rural Southeast Iowa, which is home to a large Hispanic population due to a large meat packing plant that actively recruits their ethnic group. I'm sure they are actively recruited because they in large are hard workers and willing to work for low pay. To them, just being able to live here and have a stable job where they can send the majority of their pay home is living the dream.

The catch to all this is that Juan came here illegally and is living here illegally. Because he doesn't have papers, he can't take chances driving long distances for risk of being caught. He has tried paying taxes every year he has been here and has requested a pin number from the IRS so that he can pay taxes but they never follow up to his requests. He went home once ten years ago to visit his parents and siblings whom he hadn't seen for 15 years. His father was ailing in health and Juan wanted to stay a bit longer but his father told him to go back to the U.S. where he could live a better life than he had. They told him it was no longer safe to cross the border so their goodbyes were forever. Juan sneaked back across the border into the U.S. for the last time and his father died two weeks later.

Juan can't get a drivers license, can't pay taxes and can't apply for loans. He would love to own a home one day and religiously saves up for it but for him, 100% down is the only route. He has enough saved up to buy a really small run down house but his fiance would like something better so he continues to save up even more. Until then, he lives cheerfully in a run down trailer in an overcrowded trailer park making do with what he has. His one hope is that his fiance, legally here, recently obtained her greencard and is on the route to citizenship some five years down the road. Currently however, there is still no route to obtaining a greencard for himself. If she were to obtain her citizenship five years down the road, they could marry and Juan could apply for citizenship but under current laws, he would have to first serve a ten year penalty for being here illegally and spend that penalty back in Mexico. His brothers are simply shrimp fishermen having divided up his father's business and there is no room to support Juan for those ten years. This is ignoring the fact that he would be 50 when he started serving the penalty and 60 before he was eligible for citizenship. By that time, his productive years would be well behind him.

I have dealt with the immigration system and I know it is broke. We want people like Juan here in our country and yet there is no way to let him in even though he is already here. Under the current occupant, he isn't being forced to leave but he is still shamed and kept with a foot on his neck holding him down. He is paying his way through this world and is not a burden on anyone and would like to contribute thousands of dollars in taxes towards the betterment of our society and being told no. Now we have politicians on the television telling Juan that he is a rapist at best. It's sad. On the way to a meeting a few nights ago, Juan and I were talking about the best way for him to be allowed "in" legally. He doesn't expect to be handed U.S. Citizenship and is not even requesting that he be given a greencard so he can be classified as a permanent resident and thus eligible for a social security number. All Juan would like is something saying that he can live here legally, a way to pay taxes and a path towards getting a greencard so that the Trumps in the world can verify that he is not a rapist, murderer or drug peddler. I'm in complete agreement and if given that opportunity, I would sign my name and honor on Juan's behalf to vouch for him.

I don't think the Juan's of the world should be given a free ticket to citizenship. I think we should check their status in society before giving them their greencard and I think they should prove that they have been productive citizens during their time here illegally. I'm sure there are rapists, murderers and drug peddlers among their ranks as there are among our ranks. But given a route to be here illegally would allow us to ferret those out and send them back home or make their ranks small enough (compared to the vast numbers of people here illegally good and bad now) to make them easier to find and send packing. It seems so simple until you have carbon based organisms with bad hairdos like Trump making horribly untrue statements and seeing masses of people nodding in agreement. I'm guessing they have never met someone like Juan.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It Means Nothing!

I still remember the first time I heard them as if it was only yesterday. I was hanging out with a group of guys on a Friday night with nothing really planned and someone said we should go down to the Lounge to hear this new group playing. I had only been down to the Lounge during the daytime where I sometimes got a bread bowl with soup on a cold winter's day between classes but never during the evening when it turned into a bar. It was small and perhaps could only seat about twenty or thirty people and hold maybe another forty more at best so I wasn't expecting much.

When we walked in, it was noisy and smoky, two things I don't deal well with but the band was taking the stage and they played a couple songs but I really wasn't listening to hard. I was mostly just trying to survive and act entertained for my friends benefit. Then they played their third song. I fairly certain they didn't say this was a cover song but at the time, they had a lot of cover songs so it was probably just assumed. The song they played was Angel From Montgomery, a song written and sung by John Prine. They had my attention.

The Nadas were a college band and from that moment on, I caught them every chance I could. Mostly they played to bar crowds around town and it seemed like it was always the same couple dozen of us that were at their concerts but eventually the bars were becoming packed. By the time I graduated, they were getting big enough to start traveling to other towns. Eventually they became big enough that they came to central Minnesota where I was living and working at the time and I convinced a bunch of my friends to go seem them. I later moved to a river town back in Iowa where they frequented a bar across the river and I could go see them once a month or so.

Now I'm back in rural southeast Iowa and though they can play venues all over the continental states, they don't come to these parts. So it has been awhile since I have seen them in person though I still buy their albums as they become available. I am always puzzled as to why they haven't become "famous"? I'm guessing they were just behind the times and their music doesn't speak to the current generations who drive the music industry. It is sad in this way but in another way, it is like having my own private band. I love their music and yet whenever I am on the road, especially outside of central Iowa, I rarely find anyone who has ever heard of them.

Monday, July 20, 2015

An Evening With John Prine

I don't ever think I have asked my father how he became a fan of John Prine and I probably should ask that question someday. Growing up though I always associated good times and happy feelings to my father putting on a John Prine record and singing and dancing with my mom on the living room carpet. Perhaps because I was in school most of the year and we had other obligations on most Saturdays but to this day, I always associate John Prine music to Sunday afternoons. To this day, I still get the urge to throw a John Prine CD on summer Sunday afternoons and when I do, I'm always happy.

I remember getting my first cassette tape when I was in high school when I traded a friend for his Dukes of Hazzard soundtrack cassette. Shortly after that I inherited a car from my parents when I got my license and it only had an 8-track player so I spent my efforts finding those ancient relics. When I moved to college, I joined one of those cassette clubs a couple times where I got about ten or eleven cassettes for free when I purchased one or two at regular price. About the time I filled up my cassette case with about 30 tapes, CD's came into the mainstream and I switched over to them.

I think it was the permanence of CD's, when compared to records or cassettes anyway, that made me purchase my father a John Prine CD for one of his birthdays. He liked it though it never sounded the same as the records which is how his mind and my mind associated to Prine. I think it was at this time, something clicked and I suddenly GOT Prine's music. I started buying some of his albums and pretty soon I had them all.

Being in college, I was plugged into the concert scene and could obtain tickets pretty easily. I got to see lots of concerts but one day I noticed that John Prine was going to be playing at the college theater, a much smaller venue than all the other concerts I had been too. I asked my parents if they would like to come up but they couldn't so I ended up going by myself. As it turned out, I was the youngest person in that room by at least a couple decades. Leo Kottke opened up the concert and played Vaseline Machine Gun. He also told a story of a man who watched his wife and children grow old and move on while he rotted away in a prison unbeknownst to them right across the street. The song about that story brought me to tears. I also became a Kottke fan that night.

When John's turn came, he strode up on stage with a cigarette and a bottle of beer and I remember thinking he looked ancient at the time. Once his concert had started however, I was lost in a trance and cared not of how young I was compared to the others in the hall or how old John looked. I just loved his music and unlike a CD, hearing it live gave me the same satisfaction as listening to it on my dad's old record player. After the final encore, the crowd filed out but I stayed in my seat to savor the moment for awhile longer.

Actually I had another motive in mind. Several months ago I was thinking about something to give my father for his birthday and I thought it would be nice to give a newly released John Prine Anthology album to him and that it would be even better signed by the man himself. After doing some research, I read on some obscure forum that John will often meet with fans after the concert in his dressing room, no passes necessary. I thought it sounded too good to be true but after the last people filed out and the roadies were well on their way to breaking down the set on stage, I got up and walked around to the side of the stage that I had seen John disappear too. There was a door there and a few people standing outside it. I joined them and we stood there for about 20 minutes when a security guy came up to us and asked what we were doing. I nervously said that I had heard that John meets with his fans after the concert and I had an album cover I would like him to autograph. The security guy said that was cool but asked us to stand down the hallway around the corner until John was ready. We shuffled off and waited.

Probably 10 minutes later, another guy came and got us and ushered us into John's dressing room. John was sitting there in a chair with a fresh beer and a cigarette and gestured for us to come over to him. We all did and were able to spend about 20 minutes talking with the man and getting things signed. The other people had John sign his autograph on some random scraps of papers or playbills. When I pulled two CD album covers out of my jacket pocket for him to sign, a murmur of wistfulness went through the other fans. John seemed to really like the initiative and while the others got autographs, he personalized both of mine. He signed one for my father and one for me, which I still have to this day.

His self titled album remains my favorite to this day mostly because it was the one my father used to play on sunny Sunday afternoons when he was having a good day and dance with my mom on the living room floor. I also like Souvenirs because John sings some of his classics in a now much older voice that is scratched with time and reminds me more of an old well played record. Most of the other albums I would play selected songs that resonated with me from time to time until smart phones and their ability to function as a personal music device came along. Now I have my own John Prine playlists that I can listen too, especially on sunny Sunday afternoons when I'm feeling good.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Bat Cave

Bat Cave Exit
I have a healthy respect for caves. What I mean when I say that, is the entire time I'm in one, all I can do is imagine one collapsing and being trapped in the dark for the rest of my life which would be about 30 days assuming I didn't die from bat guano contaminated water first. So when we decided to set off to prove that both caves were connected, I didn't make the vote a unanimous yes.

In a part of northwestern Arkansas that I consider a second home to me, there is a creek in a valley of the Buffalo River that has eroded a side valley down into one of the most spectacular hikes in the midwest. The creek falls over several thousand feet in less than a mile and the hike consists of several spectacular waterfalls, a place where the creek has eroded a hole into a rock wall blocking it's path and of course, the bat caves. One was right above a large waterfall and descended into the rock at a good clip as far as I had ventured inside it in the past. The lower cave was just downstream of the base of the waterfall and due to the difficulty of getting to it from below, I had never explored it, especially when water was flowing from the entrance making the rocks slippery as ice.

We had heard rumors that both caves were connected but didn't know if they were passable by human or just water. The four of us decided in a 3-1 vote, to see once and for all if a human could make the journey. The problem was we only had two flashlights between the four of us which made navigating the pitch blackness of the cave particularly difficult. We entered the upper cave and descended a series of downward pitches over steep rock with the lead and rear persons holding the flashlights. I being third in line, sometimes had a flashlight showing me where to step and many times was left walking on the memory of where a nice solid rock had appeared to be.

Eventually the cave began to level out but the walking became harder because the floor was replaced with a stream of moving water. Picking out rocks to get across the water was becoming harder to do. At one point, we were deciding whether to just splash through a section that looked about six inches deep when someone decided to test the depth with a walking stick. It sank down the full four feet of its height and never did hit bottom. The water was just so clear that it gave the illusion of being shallow. We ended up putting our backs to one wall and feet to the other and shuffling over that section, not caring to test how deep it actually was.

Shortly after we got past that section, the first flashlight died and we were down to just one flashlight. We shut it off and stood in the darkness discussing options. Should we start hiking back now or continue on. We judged that the remaining flashlight didn't have enough juice to make it all the way back meaning depending how far we got, we would have to find our way out in complete blackness. We didn't know how much further we had to go to reach the lower entrance or even for sure that the way we were going lead to it for sure. Finally, we decided that we had to take the chance to proceed on for just a few more minutes to see if we could see some light at the end of the tunnel so to speak.

We went another three or four minutes when the remaining flashlight began to dim. We quickly shut it off to conserve energy to get us over the difficult obstacles on the way back like the shuffle over the water and scaling the vertical pitches. Fortunately, when our eyes adjusted, we could see the faint glow of light coming from the direction we had been heading. The lower entrance, we hoped. We turned on the flashlight and a few minutes later we were standing at the entrance of the poor slide photo I took years ago at the top of this post. Only this time there was a cascade of water flowing out of the entrance making is slippery as ice and still twenty feet up from the creek bed below.

At this point, we were still very much in trouble. We didn't have the light to safely make it back to the upper cave entrance and there was no safe way of getting out of the cave. If a broken bone should happen from a slip and a fall, there wouldn't be any helicopter rescue down in the gorge we were in. It would require some of us to hike out, still a half day of effort from where we were and get help which wouldn't probably happen until the same time on the following day. Then it would be a group effort to carry the hurt person down the gorge to where it leveled out enough to get a helicopter hoist in, which due to the steepness, might require another day of effort.

We did have a rope so we tied it to a rock inside the cave and one at a time, we hugged the cliff on the left side of the opening and shuffled from one narrow ledge to another until we came to a large boulder below which we could drop down too and climb the rest of the way down. The rope was just long enough that we could get to the boulder drop before it ran out. Fortunately, all four of us made it down safely and we were able to make our way down to the Buffalo River and shortly there after our vehicle home.

That was the last time I ventured through the bat cave and although it would have been by my choice, other forces intervened. Even though there was a sign posted in the upper entrance listing the months of the year when going into the cave was forbidden so not to disturb the endangered bats that made it a home, and which we always obeyed, others apparently didn't. The park service fashioned a heavy iron gate with a padlocked door to close up the upper entrance all year round.

The last time I was there was over a decade ago on my honeymoon. I was back in the area six months after the birth or our oldest daughter but since it really isn't wise to take babies on such a rugged hike, we never made it down the creek. Since then life and another daughter have intervened but this year, nine years after my last visit to that neck of the woods, we may make it down there. I don't know if we will make it down that creek or not but if we do, I won't be taking the bat cave route even if the door is flung wide open.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

One Journey Home

Author Walking Among the Trees
My parents finally got on their bicycles and road out of the campground with a handful of friends with them. They were on their second bicycle ride across the United States and would go on to do it a third time with a fourth going north to south for good measure. But for me, I was in my third year of college and beginning to think about that big wide world that awaited me when I graduated in another couple years. No I didn't add wrong, I was on the five and a half year plan. Back to my point, I was in my early 20's, was leaving my parents behind in southern California and was tasked with driving their car back to their farm in Iowa. I also had a week left of winter break before the spring semester began. What to do first?

We (my younger brother and soon to be college freshman was with me) started off by heading north to the hills above Los Angeles where a great aunt and uncle who doted on us lived in a mansion. They had done well over the years and lived in a huge house in the hills and most importantly growing up, had sent up whatever present for our birthday or Christmas that we requested, no matter what the cost. Since they were estranged from the rest of the family and had no children of their own, they doted us with money and promised us a large inheritance when they departed life. It made since in my financial strapped college position to stay in good graces with them and so we stopped by for a visit. As it turned out when they died a couple years later, having estranged siblings trumped a will and I ended up with an afghan and a box of used pencils.

A couple hours later we headed north to a small town outside of Giant Sequoia National Park where we camped for the night in a motel run by a small middle east man. I don't know about you but after a long day on the road, when I first check into a motel the first thing I do is kick off the shoes and lay down in the bed for a few minutes. I did just that and made the comment that the bed felt like it was a mattress laying on concrete. My brother lifted the cover of his bed and said, that is exactly what it was. It was in fact a pad of cinder blocks that had been cemented together into a large pad with a piece of thin plywood on top of that to protect the thin mattress resting on top. Later we discovered a shower stall also made of cinder blocks to complete the motif. We spent the rest of the evening watching the television that got three fuzzy channels and occasionally threw shoes at the mice that we saw scampering across the room. We made sure to tie up our bags to the fire sprinkler pipe in the bathroom with our shoelaces to keep them from being ransacked by rodents while we slept. We were living it large for the $29.99 we spent for the room.

The next day we drove up the mountain to the part and because it was New Year's Day, we had the place to ourselves. We spent the morning walking around craning our heads to the sky trying to comprehend the size of the trees. I was impressed with the sequoia trees and still think of them in terms as how many rooms of my house could fit in the footprint of one trunk. But what impressed me most were the size of some of the other trees trying to grow in between the sequoia trees. I saw trees that grew back in Iowa that were nearly eight feet in diameter that were dwarfed by the sequoia trees but were nearly three times bigger than anything I had ever seen in my life. My brother and I climbed up on top of a fallen sequoia tree only with the help of some crusted snow that was probably deeper than I am tall and we ate our lunch while marveling at those giant trees. Finally voices far off towards the few paths that had been cleared of snow signaled other people were arriving and it was our time to go. We walked back to my parent's SUV and drove back down the mountain stopping only to steal a sugar pine cone twice the size of my head as a trophy.

We spent one more evening in another seedy motel in southwestern Utah though this one actually had a real box spring under the mattress and no mice to share occupancy. On the third day, we did something I have regretted ever since. We drove straight through the day and night to our college dorm choosing to save money instead of visit more places along the way. I have been back to many of the areas we drove through over the years to see what I missed but have yet to make it to southeastern Utah, a place I have wanted to visit ever since. We did witness a high speed car chase somewhere in western Nebraska at dark thirty at night when a car followed by three police chasers went past us at a speed that made our eighty miles an hour (15 mph over the speed limit) seem like we were out for a Sunday cruise. It took them awhile to catch the guy in the fleeing car. I know this because we drove for another 15 minutes at a sedate 65mph before coming across the overturned car with police officers crouched down behind car doors with guns drawn. Needless to say, we didn't stop to see the ending.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Secret Agent Man

I've had two prior run-ins with the secret service before today but never have I had them right outside my front door. News SUV and news SUV have goon driving by after being cleared by the secret service man who evidently gets a gray suit during summer. In about half an hour, former first lady, former United States Senator and former Secretary of State will be escorted by on her way to a private meeting with some of my neighbors. Being registered a republican, I'm guessing I am not on the invite list even though I voted for her husband not once, but twice.

My first run-in with the secret service occurred during college when I was making my way towards the student union to grab a bite to eat and hit the books for awhile in-between classes. I was walking head down lost in thought when I saw a pair of shiny expensive shoes standing in front of me and a voice asking if they could help me. I noticed that he was dressed in a black suit with opaque sunglasses but still it didn't hit me as I told him my plans. He simply replied, "No you're not" and left it at that. About that time, I noticed some guys with machine guns scattered discretely around the area and remembered that President Clinton was visiting campus that day. I made other plans.

My second time was more intentional. At that time, I was living at my previous home and for some reason, it was a magnet for presidential candidates running for office. I went and saw several of them speak including the current occupant who at that time was running for president the first time and had recently made news for having secrete service protection even before he got elected. The agents walked in front of the current occupant as he made his way down the roped off path shaking hands, including that of my own but not before the agent thoroughly looked me over to see if I posed a threat.

I thought two times was probably my limit but recently I got to meet them for my third time as Hillary Clinton came to visit my neighbors four houses down. I'm friendly with those neighbors but haven't really spent a lot of time with them. I think she is a retired school teacher and he is a lawyer here in town in the same law firm with whom I compete with one of his partners in a biannual charity trivia event. I got a typed up letter in the mail just the evening before she arrived from those neighbors stating what is up and apologizing for any interruptions in my life. Since the road block is beyond my driveway, it really hasn't been for an inconvenience though I think I will probably skip my walk up the cul-de-sac until afterwards. I have a feeling I wouldn't get very far.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Art of Negotiating

I like dickering on car prices, my wife not so much. Every time she goes into a deal she gets nervous that I'm going to get taken for a ride and comes out amazed at how hard I was on the salesperson. Hard is her term and not mine. I just try to get the best price while still giving the other guy some money to be made as well.

When we test drove the RAV4, we of course had to go through the what would it take to get you in this car today spiel. I threw out a price that was slightly north of insulting and was surprised when the inexperienced saleslady (been on the job for a week) took it to her manager. She came back and asked if that was our budget and in which case they had some nice used vehicles we could look at, just north of insulting us. I told her that was my not having done any research price and that if it wasn't feasible, we would just go and do some research. Of course she called us several times over the next couple weeks as I was doing my research.

The last new vehicle I bought nearly nine years ago, our trip vehicle with wheels still functioning, things were a lot different. Back then, I simply went onto Consumer Reports website and for $20+ got a report that detailed what the dealer paid for the vehicle and all the options for both the front end of the deal and the back. It was simply math to see how much money the dealer stood to be made. Unfortunately the internet changed all that. Now the dealers moved all their incentives to the back end of the deal so they aren't readily apparent. In fact, the best I could do was several sites that listed what others paid for the same vehicle in our area, though many of those had flaws because they didn't allow you to select options or trim models. So after lots of research, the best I could find was not much help.

While my wife was at work, I made a trip to the local dealer where we test drove one and made a better offer. It was still well below what others had paid for it but my goal was not to buy the vehicle but get a sense for how much they would come down. I told the lady firsthand that my budget was X amount of dollars and I wouldn't go a penny over. After several trips to her manager, she came down four times in price while I didn't raise a cent before we finally came to a stalemate and she realized I was serious. I countered by adding another $500 to my 'budget' and after a couple more trips to the manager, she came back and said we were within $1000 of a deal with the options I wanted. If I didn't want the options we could make a deal. I told her I wanted the options for my budget plus $900 price or I would walk and go to another dealer down the road. She hemmed and hawed, went back to her manager but in the end, let me walk out the door over the $100 difference trying to warn me that the deal wouldn't be as good if I came back.

I had done some internet shopping beforehand and knew that a dealer had promised me a deal that was my was my budgeted price but since I was going to trade in a vehicle, nothing could be finalized until they saw it in person. If he would give me that price, we would save $400 plus the cost of all the options we wanted but I knew he would beat me up on how bad the CR-V was in real life even though I described all its flaws. So that weekend, we drove up the the urban jungle and gave the keys over to be inspected. Like I predicted, when he came back he started going on about how he had fought with his manager about the value of our trade-in but they were going to have to value it at $500 less than what he had thought. I told him I understood but I think we could still do a deal if he would sell us the RAV4 for my budget plus the $500 bucks as long as it had all the options we had wanted (and he had told us was included in the internet deal) plus the optional remote starter package with the upgraded remote that can start the car from a quarter mile away. He came back and we shook hands. Negotiating was done, hopefully for a long, long time until the wheels of another car fall off... or come close.

Over the years, the best vehicle I've owned when figured out cost per mile driven is my current daily driver which I bought brand new 18 years ago. A close second was my first used car that I bought and drove until the wheels fell off. Until this RAV4, I've only got three other data points in my life's experience but the worst one was most definitely the CR-V which is now out of the picture and our vacation van which is almost fully depreciated out but still has a lot of life left and is very reliable so it may eventually end up in the better buy column. I wish I could say buying a new vehicle or buying a used vehicle was the best route to go but I can't because it just varies on how reliable the vehicle is and what I paid for it. It's a large check to write for a new vehicle these days, about $250% more than I paid for my first new vehicle 18 years ago, but we've pretty much been saving up for it for a decade.

But most importantly, the wife is happy and as you all know, if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Buying and Selling

One thing is consistent with me when it comes to vehicles, I usually drive them until the wheels fall off. In fact, my first car I ever had, the wheels literally rusted off. The only thing holding them in place was the drive shaft and gravity. The second car I ever owned, I still have because the wheels haven't fallen off. It is eighteen years old which is pretty long in the tooth for vehicles that get driven fairly often but it is in good shape and no rust so it continues to be my vehicle.

My wife on the other hand has always wanted a new vehicle for her daily driver. I bought her a beater car when she first learned to drive which she used to dispatch a deer and a fox as well as the side of the garage. When she went through her residency and needed something a bit more reliable and with all wheel drive so she could get to work in all kinds of weather, day or night, we sold it and I bought a used CR-V off of eBay. It worked out well and we loved it to death. It could literally go anywhere while the rest of our vehicles slipped around. However, it's time was nearing. It has rust cancer developing all throughout the body. It has numerous check engine light warnings which I trouble shot as best as I could but without sinking a lot of money into it, they were going to keep coming back periodically. More troublesome to me, it started hemorrhaging oil. I think most of it was coming from a blown oil filter gasket which I fixed with an oil change but it looked like some of it might have been coming from the heads. A month ago we decided that the wheels weren't off yet but it was only a matter of time for a fifteen year old car and so we pulled the plug. We traded it off for the brand spanking new RAV4 seen above.

We still needed something with all wheel drive for my wife to get to work even in the worst of weather plus something with enough room for our family of four/five. Having been loyal to Honda, I would have liked to get another CR-V but they are having issues with the 2015 models doing more shaking than an old man holding a cup of soup in a deli. We test drove an Escape but in the end, my wife had her heart set on the RAV4. My first car, the one that the wheel eventually fell off after about 250,000 miles, was a Toyota and I've driven a couple others owned by my parents and brother for a time so I was familiar with the brand. So when my wife expressed her desire to own one, I started doing my homework. More on that in the next post.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Roof Update

We had a toad strangler this evening as we sometimes say in these parts for a brief very intense rainstorm. My patch job held. I can sleep easier.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Up On a Roof

With all the rain we have been getting this spring, I'm surprised it took me this long to discover the leak. Looking back, I guess a lot of our rain has come at night or while I was busy doing other things. Also, as far as leaks go, this one was one of the better varieties because the leak was occurring on the outside of the house and not inside.

This spring when we were finishing up siding the house, we were ending up with the chimney. The problem was that when the previous occupants re-shingled the house about four years ago, they incorrectly flashed between the chimney and the roof. The pulled the shingles off and then put new shingles over the flashing instead of under it or woven in between the shingles. So water running down the chimney should shed itself on top of the shingles was now being funneled to the underneath side of the shingles. I'm guessing it was out of laziness because they didn't want to pop off the siding to do the job right and decided instead to just tar the heck out of the joint to prevent water from penetrating. I know this because I've been up in the attic and haven't seen in prior water damage in this area.

Flash forward to our residing job this spring and the two guys I hired to help me out in completing the job were siding this area while my wife and I were on vacation. When I got home, the chimney was sided and I guess I never thought to check the work to make sure it was up to my standards. So a few days ago when we were getting an heavy morning rain while I was sitting in the easy chair eight feet away from the nearby window, I noticed something wasn't right when there was a stream of water running down the window pane. This window sits up tight underneath a two feet overhang and shouldn't have any streams of water running down it other than what gets blown there by the wind and on this day, the rain was coming straight down.

So I got up and walked out in the rain on the deck to where I could peer above the window and I could see water running down the siding all the way up to where it intersected with the soffit. It was hard to tell but it looked like all the water was running down the outside of the siding and was coming from the soffit. Immediately it crossed my mind that something must be leaking where the chimney intersect with the roof just above this area but walking out on the roof during a thunderstorm doesn't come highly recommended. The next day was Sunday and we had a reunion to attend so it was a couple days before I got up on the roof.

The guys who helped me had cut through the tar to remove the old siding and resided the chimney but were evidently counting on the flashing to have been correctly installed to shed the water on top of the shingles. They obviously ignored all the tar on the shingles around the joint which say a different story. Fortunately I had a couple caulking tubes of shingle tar that I used to put a bead of tar to fill up this intersection. That will hold for the time being. For a longer solution, I need to grab a bucket of tar to fill in the dip between my new bead of tar and the mound of old tar six inches away to funnel the water away from the chimney instead of up next to the bead I just applied. A permanent solution is to re-shingle the house which since they shingles are only about four years old, doesn't really make a lot of sense if I can 'fix' the problem with some tar. The shingle job in other areas of the roof was done incorrectly and badly so I will have to do it sooner rather than later but I hope to get another handful of years out of the roof before then.

Now that I have it fixed, there isn't rain in the forecast for the next several days which is good because we don't need anymore right now but leaves me to ponder whether or not I fixed the problem or not. I imagine the next hard rain won't be until three in the morning so I'll have to set my alarm clock and spend the wee hours of the morning out on the deck with a flashlight checking to make sure the problem has been fixed.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Child Behavioral Modification Therapist... Again

Last week we started off the summer by sending my mother-in-law back overseas. Long time readers know that my mother-in-law retired several years ago and is attempting to become a United States Citizen but in order to do so, she has to spend the majority of five consecutive years here. Fortunately we have a walkout basement that I fixed up with her own little suite so we can get some separation when needed. It also helps to have someone else who can look after our daughters to allow me to get some bigger projects done around the house.

However she does have grandchildren back in the Philippines that need to see Grandma from time to time so she goes home to spend their summer break with them. This means I am back to being a stay at home dad or Child Behavioral Modification Therapist as I like to tell people when they ask. Nobody ever gets that joke until I let them in on my secret.

Our youngest is now approaching three years old with which comes a longer attention span so I am able to get larger and larger projects done without having to be with her constantly. It also helps that big sister is nine now and a big help with looking after her sister. I have tremendously enjoyed this extra time with my daughters that until a few years ago, I never could spend with them. I am able to play a board game with the oldest while the youngest is napping and I can play with the youngest while the oldest is doing her daily reading and piano lessons.

One drawback is that I don't get as much me time for the next couple months. I normally did my computer reading first thing in the morning before starting with my various projects. Now that I'm the one getting the girls going at the start of the day and trying to cram in smaller projects here and there, my computer stuff gets shoved to the late evening after they are in bed. As a result, I find that I'm too tired from time to time to check my blog list or even post something on my blog. Rest assured that I still care about your blog and this fall when my mother-in-law gets back in the States, I should be more active on here once again.