Friday, October 30, 2015

Mostly Fixed


Somewhere I have heard that a skilled carpenter is someone who still makes mistakes but is able to hide them so no one will every notice. Above is the "mistake" I tried to describe to you in my last post. While using a flush cut router bit to trim the veneer to the exact size of the box, the bearing that rides on the wood below and sets the distance froze up. It still set the distant correctly but instead of just moving at the speed of the router, it was moving thousands of rpm at the speed of the bit and essentially burned the wood. I was able to sand it out on the flat parts of the boards but on the corners, where the wood is thin, it burnt a divot into the material that no amount of sanding would remove.

I had been planning on putting one-quarter inch accent strips around the perimeter of the box but I would have to increase that to an inch wide from the top to cover the burn mark. I slept on the decision and sometime during the night, it came to me. The accent strips were also going to be on the vertical corners which would more than cover the burn marks. The next day I confirmed that it would and in essence, my mistake would be hidden from everyone else... except those that read this blog anyway.

I rabbited all my edges and filled them in with some dark kamagong wood that I still have from my last trip to the Philippines. As you can see in the photo below, all that is holding them on is some glue and tape. Tomorrow I plan to remove the tape and since I left all the accent strips slightly proud of the surface, I have to carefully sand it flush on the top being careful not to burn through my veneer. The sides I can probably just use power sanders since they are roughly one-half inch thick and in no danger of burning through to unsightly inner layers.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Better Box Alternative


I have built a lot of wooden boxes over the years for various things and their size usually dictates their materials. If they are small enough, I can use solid wood of various types present in my local big box store. If they are large however, I'm usually constrained to oak or birch because that is what types the cabinet grade plywood come in. If I want a larger box out of walnut or in this case mahogany, I'm out of luck. However, I recently came across an article in a magazine about making a humidor using veneer construction that would allow me to have some middle ground.

What you see above is the box I built using solid mahogany for all the side pieces and some 1/2 plywood for the top (seen in the photo) and the bottom. To the left is a piece of mahogany veneer which I got online a lot cheaper than it would have been to purchase solid mahogany. I've never used veneer so I had to read up on how best to attach it or what kinds it buys since it comes in everything from self stick to just a sheet of thin wood which is what I bought.


I just took regular wood glue and applied a thin coat to both the top of the box and the bottom side of the sheet of veneer. Once it was applied evenly, I let it set up about 30 minutes until it was almost dry to the touch. This allows me to flip over the veneer and position it easily where I wanted to go. Once I had it positioned, I took a hot iron and using a paper sack to prevent any glue from ruining my wife's good iron, I applied heat to the veneer. The heat helps for the adhesion between the veneer and the top of the plywood and then cure it to form a tight bond. After the veneer had bonded and all the air bubbles worked out, I let it set up and then trimmed the overhanging edges with a router and flush cut bit.

I was pleased with my veneer job but unfortunately, I had a problem not related to my new found method of applying it. While using the router, my bit which has a bearing that rides against the wood to keep the bit flush had the bearing seize up. I was almost all the way around before I noticed and because the bearing was now spinning at high speeds instead of rolling gently, it left a scorched black mark clear around my new box. I could sand most of it out but in every corner it actually burnt out the wood where it was thin leaving indentations. It is hard to explain and I don't have a picture but I will take one later.


I am planning to put thin inset banding around all the edges to define the box and give it some character as well as hide the edge of the veneer and I think I can modify it to make it wide enough to cover up my burn marks. I'll have to play around with it a bit and see how it looks. If not, I'll have to putty the indentations left and sand it but those are always visible since they have no wood grain in putty. I also need to invest in better quality router bits so that this doesn't happen again.

Once I get the box all prettied up on the outside, my plan is to cut the lid from the rest of it on the tablesaw, pretty up the inside and install hardware and finish to it. More on all of that in future posts as time allows. I'm mostly going to use this project as a time filler when I'm not working on more pressing projects.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Picnic Lunch


Since my final day of helping out on the farm fell on a Saturday, my wife was off work and was looking forward to a trip down to the farm to pick some apples for preserving. We all thought it would be nice to have a picnic lunch, something we haven't done in a long time. When I was a young boy, I remember having a picnic lunch everyday in the fields. My grandma would bring out a basket full of a hot lunch like fried chicken and mashed potatoes and a pie for lunch. We would spread out a blanket and sit down in the shade to eat a leisurely lunch  and perhaps talk for an hour before going back to work.

Back then however, farms were much smaller and there was more time to get the necessary work done. The farm crisis of the 80's bankrupted many farms and the numerous small farms were absorbed by those who were able to survive the crisis. Economies changed as well and it became necessary to farm more land to be efficient enough to make a profit as equipment got more expensive. These days, it takes 6 to 8 weeks of practically non-stop work to get the crops shelled and in the storage bins and taking an extra hour off for lunch adds up to almost an additional week of work over that time. It is a week we can't afford and so lunch is mostly ate from the cabs of the tractors and combines while we continue on with our work.

Thus a picnic lunch is something that is rare but much appreciated after over a month of eating in a bouncing cab while juggling levers, wheels and throttles. We all powered down and had a leisurely lunch of pizza, salad and apple crisp made from the very apples my wife picked from the tree earlier. It wasn't fried chicken and mashed potatoes but my wife had two kids and her mother in tow and it is an hour drive from our kitchen to this particular field so picking up takeout pizza was a compromise of sorts. We arranged the food in the rear of my wife's SUV and sat down in the shade among the cornstalks and had a fine lunch.  All present thought we should make time to do this more often, but not too often.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Farm Scenes


When I'm hauling in grain from the fields, I generally don't have time to stop and smell the roses. By the time I get the empty wagons I just brought back situated near the combine so that the catch wagon can efficiently empty and get back to the combine before it is full again and yet not too close to be in the way of the combine, there are wagons already full ready to be hauled back home. I unhook one, hook up to the next and take off again. However, at the beginning of the day when we all convoy out to the field, I have a few minutes while the combine is shelling enough corn to fill the first wagon up and I sometimes take this time to hop off the tractor and take a few photos with my camera phone. In this post I have attached a few of the better ones that I took

Above is a photo of an unusual grain bin I have never seen before. It is actually on a farm that my parents bought last fall when the original deal to another person fell through. The other person who wanted to buy it couldn't get the financing and there were just a few days left before the owners (inheritors after the owner died) needed money and were looking for someone who could do a cash deal. My parents could and did. This is why this grain bin was new to me though it has obviously been around for awhile. This grain bin was oblong and had an opening in the middle so you could drive through and load up a wagon with whatever was being stored in there, most likely cattle feed.


One of my secret guilty pleasures is to lie down in a corn field on a clear blue sky day. I love to listen to the rustle of the corn stalks and see them waving in the clear blue sky. It is very relaxing. Unfortunately, I only seem to get a minute or two and then it is back to work or getting out of the way of a combine coming towards my "bed". Below is another shot in the middle of the corn field showing the space between two rows of corn and a sea of corn beyond. This particular field was making 200 bushels of corn per acres which was really good for our area of the world with poor soil type.


On day four of helping my parents, we were nearing the end of getting the final "long haul" field done and weren't working quite as hard. More on that in another post. We finished and by the time I got the last wagon hauled in, got the tractor fueled and put away and got in my car, I had about 45 minutes of daylight left. My wife and kids had been down to pick apples from the orchard earlier but ran out of time to get pears which were over in an old orchard on another farm my parents own. I grabbed a few sacks and drove over there to pick some pears from a gigantic pear tree that was absolutely loaded full of pears. It stands probably 40 feet tall and as you can see below, full of pears. I picked three grocery sacks full from just the lower branches but had to be careful. If I shook the tree to hard pulling off a pear, four more pears from up above would fall like baseballs around me. I wish I had a hard hat on but I didn't and so I was constantly dodging falling pears. With the last of the sun now below the horizon, I loaded up my pears and drove home.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Harvest

Hauling tractor and wagons

I got the call from my parents asking if I would be available to help them for a few days down on the farm. I checked my calendar and it was clear for a few days, so I packed a lunch and headed down to the farm. My parents were on the downside of the harvest and were down to the last handful of fields though among that handful were two fields that are the farthest away from the core farm. What that means on a year like this year when the corn was particularly good was that we had a lot of corn to move a long ways to get it stored away for the season. The first field was about a five mile haul and the the second field was closer but still about a four mile haul. Both fields were about 120 acres in size which means that it takes a full two days of harvesting to get them done.

My mom generally runs the combine and a full time hired hand that works for my parents works the catch wagon. His job is to follow my mom around the field and when the combine is full, to keep pace beside her so she can unload without stopping. This speeds up the harvest process considerably and keeps one of the most expensive pieces of equipment running constantly and thus most efficiently. Once a couple combine loads have been caught in the catch wagon, my parent's hired hand will unload it in the wagons that are parked nearby. My job is to keep those wagons close at hand and yet not in the way. When they are full, I hook up to them and pull them from the fields five miles down the road to where the grain bins that we store the grain in are located.

Combine unloading into catch wagon "on the go"
Because my dad generally has more knowledge on what bins the grain goes into and how many wagons are needed to fill up each bin, etc, he usually unloads the wagons I bring in while I take the empties back out to the field for filling. On a long haul such as these two fields, it takes me longer to take the empties out and return with full wagons than it does for my dad to empty the wagons in the bins so he will generally start out with the empties and meet me somewhere on the road coming back with full wagons and we will switch tractors. I will then take his tractor and empty wagons back to the field while he takes my tractor and full wagons back to the bins. With a four person crew, this process works pretty well and keeps us working efficiently.
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It took us two full days of working from dawn to past sunset to get all the corn cut and hauled in from the first field five miles away. The next day we started in on the field that was four miles away, in the complete opposite direction of our core farm and made a good dent. Although my parents had only asked for three days, I volunteered a fourth day to finish that field which we did with about 45 minutes of daylight to spare.

Although not physically demanding most of the time, hauling in grain does take a fair bit of mental focus. You are hauling in very heavy loads over gravel roads so you have to work the shifter, clutch and brakes carefully to prevent yourself from ending up in a ditch buried under tons of metal and grain. Despite the mental focus it takes, it does allow me to cleanse my mind for awhile as I concentrate on the job at hand and forget about the rest of my life for awhile.

Catch wagon emptying load into traveling wagons. I'm always impressed at how well my camera phone works taking photos directly into the sunlight.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Trelli


As fall disappears way to fast, I have been hurriedly trying to finish up on my outside projects. I had plans to rehab the deck, but with cold temperatures already upon us and a brother-in-law and family coming to visit us next summer with their bedroom/my office still gutted, I had to abandon the deck until next year. My wife wanted a windmill/vine climbing trellis for her birthday and being a doting husband, I indulged her as you can see on the right side of the photo. Later she decided that it wasn't enough and that I should build her a trellis which you can see on the left side of the photo.

Actually, it was two trellises, and not trelli as I originally hoped and put in the title of this post. One was for us and one is to be a birthday present to my mom who has wanted one for years and my dad is not someone who makes or buys things like that. So after I got both built, my wife decided it looked better than the windmill and wanted the second trellis, the one I build for my mom, for herself in place of the windmill. I stood it up there but it looked too small so it will still go to my mom for her birthday. However, it meant that I had to build a third trellis and I had to hustle.

My parents are full bore into harvest and need help hauling in grain from their farthest fields for a few days and I'm heading down happy to oblige. However, with my schedule, it meant that I only had two and a half days to get the new trellis built. I got it built in one day and painted in the next day and a half. However, I ran out of time to get it put up before heading down to the farm for half a week so for now, it just sits where it finished drying in my garage. It is the same height as the one seen above but only has an extra vertical piece added to each side to widen it a bit. I think my wife has great plans to get some climbing roses to plant underneath both trelli/trellises.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Making My Planer New Again


I've always wanted a planer for various projects and a number of years ago, finally cashed in some chips and purchased the one you see above only without the table. I used it to make my work bench out of Douglas fir that I blogged about a couple years back. Without it, I would never be able to do large scale projects like that. It worked beautifully and my workbench turned out nice as a result.

Since then, I've used it a number of times but the last few attempts have been lessons in frustration. The darn thing just wouldn't feed the lumber through which means I was having to push or pull it through. This is not only hard on your fingers and arms, but it results in uneven planing of the boards and there would be divots in spots that I would then have to spend time sanding out. The last time this happened, I did some research and found out that when it was cold out, the rubber feed rollers got hard and then slipped, not grabbing the wood and feeding it through. Since it was indeed cold out at the time, I applied a space heater to warm things up and it got better but still required pressure to get the boards to slide through.

On a new project I'm working on, I needed to plane some boards down to 1/2", 3/8" and 1/4" thickness starting from 3/4" stock and when I put the first board in on a nice 72 degree day, it wouldn't budge no matter how hard I pushed. Thinking whatever drives the feeding rollers had broke, I cranked the thing all the way up and turned it on. The rollers still turned but I noticed that they were coated in grit and dirt. I took some mineral spirits I had handy and with a rag, cleaned all the grit off the rollers. While I was at it, I grabbed a bottle of liquid bees wax and polished the metal feed trays that the wood rides against to make the surface more slick.

I turned on the machine and the lumber glided through on its own like it did the first time I used the thing. Just as I was gloating to myself, the crank handle that adjusts the height fell off onto the floor. A quick look showed that a screw had come loose but there was no sign of the screw anywhere. Since I had remembered that the handle had felt pretty loose when I first set it up, I assumed that it had lost its screw a previous time I had used it and the handle just not fell off the shaft.

I randomly tried a handful of extra screws that I collect from various projects but of course none of them were the correct size. I pulled out the manual for the machine but it didn't have a parts diagram and the instructions only said to put the handle on followed by the screw and tighten it with a screwdriver with no size listed. Back in the day, my choices would have been to haul the entire machine into a store and try screws until I found the correct size or I could take my best guess and buy a variety of screws hoping that I had the correct one among them. Fortunately in modern times, I typed the model number into Google and within about a minute had a exploded part diagram and the size of the screw I needed. A quick trip to the hardware store and $0.52 later, I had the handle installed started in planing the pieces for my project.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It's All Good, Even If We're Now Broke

Marrying someone of a different nationality means marrying into a different culture. Things aren't going to be your cookie cutter Midwestern life all the time. Fortunately, I was open to those sorts of things and have gotten used to them for the most part.

After my wife's mother retired from work, she wanted to travel some and spend more time in the United States. She initially tried for a ten year multi-entry visa and was denied two times before she was accepted on the third try which happened to be when the current occupant of the Whitehouse was elected. Being plugged into the visa coconut telegraph so to speak, word was getting back that most people we knew who had been denied before were also being granted multi-entry visas so I'm pretty sure it was due to what they call a policy shift.

Fast forward seven more years and the current occupant is going to be replaced one way or the other and the next occupant of the Whitehouse may shift policy back to the way it was. So we decided that we needed to have my wife's brother and his wife and kids apply for a visa while the getting was good so to speak. This meant we had to send a large amount of money to them to pay for all the paperwork and interviews which we did. A couple weeks ago they completed all the paperwork and interviews and were granted a ten year multiple entry visa into the United States... on their first try.

That means we are officially broke.

Because the Philippines is a poor country and though my brother-in-law is probably considered middle class over there, it is still not enough money to fly him, his wife and three kids halfway around the world on vacation. So we will have to pony up the money to get them over here. It will be there first trip outside of their native country and fortunately, they aren't coming until next summer so we still have some time to save up our pennies until then to help finance this expedition.

I'm glad that my brother-in-law is coming over to see his sister and visit our country. I explain all the time how expensive it is to live here when he wonders why we aren't super rich since we earn ten times more money than he does. I can only do so much explaining but judging on my mother-in-law's experiences, they quickly see how things work over here and understand. We aren't the land of milk and honey but we still have opportunity if you want to put in the effort.

They will be visiting us for three weeks next summer and I'm guessing this might eventually lead to answering the question of whether or not they want to move permanently to the United States. Up until now, I have gotten the sense they don't want too but from their excitement of being granted visas, I'm not so sure anymore. The only thing I know for sure is that for a few weeks next year, our household will go from five occupants to ten and possibly twelve if my wife's two aunts come over as I'm sure they are want to do.

It's all good.

Monday, October 12, 2015

At Last... Peace Freedom

It is funny how the mind works. I find myself thinking about blog posting material all the time but many times I forget about it before I ever get words to computer screen. Sometimes, I look back for a post that I'm sure I wrote and darn if I can't find it. I'm not sure if it never got written or if the search mechanism in blogger is just so poor I can't find it. Whatever the case is, I might as well start from the beginning and if you've read it in a past post that I can't seem to find, bear with me.

I grew up on a farm with a couple big dogs. However they were mostly seen and rarely heard. In the years since I left the farm, it seems as if every neighbor I've ever had owns small yipping dogs. The first house we bought, had neighbors on both sides with small yipping dogs. Every time I stepped into my backyard, both dogs would continuously bark at me during my entire stay out there making it a less than pleasurable experience. During the spring and fall months, we would often have our windows open at night to take advantage of some free air conditioning only to have to suffer through dogs barking at every leaf rustle in the night.

So when we were looking to move, one of our requirements was to move to an area where the houses were much further apart and hopefully there weren't neighbors with small yipping dogs. We thought we had bought just such a place when a few days after moving in we were greeted by a small yipping dog every time we went outside. To add insult to injury, these neighbors didn't heed the leash laws in our town and allowed their dog to freely roam our property and everyone who lived nearby. This wasn't so bad except for the presents one finds when walking through your yard or the particular shrub that smells like a port-a-potty on a hot summer day after a full day of use.

We could have complained to the neighbors but I know they would have been the type to take it personally and we decided to just live with it and pretend we like their dog. Besides, it was an older dog and we figured it wouldn't live much longer and then we would have peace again. Two years went by and this past spring (I think), their small yipping dog disappeared. It was quiet in our neighborhood and I could wander out in my own yard for hours on end and not have a small yipping dog following me around barking it head off. After few days of this of this, I saw the neighbor lady and inquired about her dog. She told me that it had been sick and wandered off during a bad storm and she was afraid for the worst. I told her I hoped that he would be found but privately jumped for joy that the dog may be gone for good. Another few days go by and then one day I'm outside and see what passed for a dog that has been dragged around the block and beaten with a stick for awhile laying out in front of their house. The dog had found his way back home half dead.

Our neighbors nursed him back to health and the small yipping dog eventually returned to terrorize the neighborhood. However, a few weeks ago I started seeing less of him again. One day while out working on my front porch, the neighbor lady asked me to keep my eye open for her dog. He had been deathly sick for a couple weeks and had an appointment to go see some specialty animal hospital 100 miles away the next day. However, her husband had seen fit to let the dog out the night before and they haven't seen him since. She was obviously upset with her husband and told me she just knew her dog was now lying dead in the woods somewhere. I told her I would walk my woods at the base of the hill and make sure her dog wasn't down there but privately, I was once again hopeful that the small yipping dog was going to yip no more.

I never found the dog and when we walk around the neighborhood, I keep my eyes peeled into the woods along the road but haven't seen him. Two weeks have passed and the one time the lady spoke with my wife, she was still convinced that her dog was lying dead somewhere in the woods and the husband really doesn't seen too concerned. Whatever the case, I am holding out hope that the dog doesn't return. Since they are an older couple that spend most of their winters down south and have to hire someone to look after their dog while they are away traveling, I'm hoping they decide that this dog was their last. I like my new found peace freedom.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Everyone Is Missing the Real Problem


I waited a bit to blog about the recent mass shooting at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon until emotions leveled off a bit. Every time one of these happens, social and television media is full of opinions of those who either blame guns or think more guns are the answer to stopping mass shootings. Instead of blaming guns, I blame the parenting of these young boys for what has happened.

Chris Harper-Mercer had six guns on his person and another eight more at home when he carried out his rampage. He had long term mental illness issues and lived with his mother.

Dylan Roof had a website full of racist postings, at least one handgun and an automatic rifle. He too had a history of mental issues and lived with his stepmother.

Adam Lanza had two semi-automatic handguns, a rifle and a shotgun with him and three more rifles and 1400 rounds of ammunition in a gun safe in his bedroom where he lived with his mother whom he also killed. He too had significant mental issues.

Dylan Klebold had a blog full of posts of hate about society. He carried a semi-automatic handgun and a sawed off shotgun shotgun along with two 20 pound propane bombs. At home where he lived with his parents were 99 more bombs already assembled and more guns.  Klebold suffered from depression and his cohort in crime Eric Harris was a diagnosed psychopath.

These are just a few shooters of mass murders off the top of my head all of whom share some commonalities. They all had mental illness, all lived at home, and all had an arsenal of weapons. What kind of parent finds it acceptable to allow their child who has a mental illness to stockpile all these weapons? Several of the parents not only knew about their child's stockpile of weapons but blatantly encouraged them to get them. Unknown are the multitude of slightly older children no longer living at home who also had a stockpile of weapons and whether or not their parents knew of them.

I'm not sure what the solution is here since in my opinion, the parents of these shooters also suffered from mental issues if they thought their children with diagnosed mental issues were okay to stockpile weapons and ammunition. I do know that all this talk about guns being to blame or the solution to these mass shootings is not the right answer.

Another issue I would like to discuss that is on this topic is that we also need to stop clouding the issue. After all these mass shootings occur, the media pushes out an unbelievable amount of data showing how many people more people die here in the United States than other nations. Even our president got on board with this last one. Not one single one actually used a more meaningful statistic of comparing our per capita homicide rate with the per capita homicide rate of other countries. If you do that, due to the large population difference between the United States and most nations, the United States falls far down on that list. Gasp. We are actually more likely to be gunned down in other countries than our own. Who has the problem? My answer is the media and the people who believe the dribble they force feed the general population.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Formally Eating


Whenever you move to a new town, it takes time to meet new people with whom you enjoy socializing. About a year and a half after we moved to this area, we were invited to a formal dinner party hosted by one of my wife's work colleagues. We had lots of good food, drink and best of all to me, great intelligent conversations. However, I learned in a round about way that we were merely some replacements for a couple whom had moved away.

Years ago, five couples had decided that they wanted to host three or four formal dinners a year. When it became your turn, everyone would go to your house where you would serve them a formal dinner. Guests often times would be asked to bring appetizers or side dishes according to the desires of the host. It usually is a long affair lasting three or four hours. After the couple moved away, I think they invited several other couples to their dinners, including my wife and I to one, to try us out and see how we blended with their group. About a couple months ago, we were formally invited to join their group and we accepted.

There was one major problem though which we had to remedy. Many people when they get married get china sets as a wedding gift. Having gotten married later in life and wanting a low key wedding, we skipped this step. We eat off a set of mixed and matched dinnerware that is chipped, stained and well loved but would probably be embarrassing for a formal dinner party, not to mention that we don't even have enough of it to cover ten people.

I'm know a little about a lot of things but my knowledge base was completely blank when it came to formal dinnerware. We researched around and I even did some asking on an online forum that I am a member on and eventually bought the set that you see above. They are made from Noritake and look too good to eat off but alas, we will when it becomes our turn to host the formal dinner party.

I was a bit nervous about ordering china online knowing that it would be delivered via UPS trucks which are anything but a smooth ride but it got good reviews for being well packed and so we took a chance. Since we needed a minimum of 10 pieces of everything plus a couple in reserve, I ended up ordering two 8-setting boxes of the stuff which was cheaper than ordering one box of 8-settings and ordering pieces individually. Both boxes arrived last week and after spending a couple hours unpacking them, they were very well packaged, we only had two casualties. One salad plate was literally in pieces and one dinner plate had a huge ding in the metal banding.

I called up the online company and they offered to send me a label so I could ship the box back for free to get replaced. When I expressed my doubtfulness that I could get everything back into a box and have it survive the journey back, they offered to just ship me another full box and let me swap out the pieces and then ship it back for free. It sounds ludicrous to go to all that expense and effort instead of just shipping me two plates but that is what it will be. I'm sure it is cheaper than having someone custom box up and ship two plates.

Since we were formally invited to join this group, we had to miss the last party due to one of our daughters getting sick the day of the party and we really couldn't or shouldn't pawn her off to someone in that condition. The next party is slated for November at one of the other couple's house and I am looking forward to another fun evening. I'm not sure at this point when it will be our turn but I do know that I'm going to have to step up my game a bit when it comes to cooking and presenting a gourmet meal to these folks.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Wild Blue and My Maturing Alcohol Tastes


I've never been much of a drinker. In high school, I wasn't cool enough to get invited to the beer parties which is probably just as well since they were often busted by the local law. In college, I lived off campus in an apartment with my younger brother and a friend of his when I was of legal drinking age and although we did occasionally have parties where alcohol was consumed, they were rare and we never got drunk. We were more into just socializing and having good conversation over a few beers.

When I was off on my own, I eventually fell into a crowd of young 20 somethings like myself who had no debts because we owned very little and lots of time. We found ourselves at the bars most evenings and though this was the period I drank the most, I was one of the few people who rarely got drunk. It wasn't some morality issue for me. Instead, it was simply because I disliked the bitterness associated with beer and couldn't see forcing something down that I didn't enjoy, not to mention paying good money for. When I got married, priorities changed plus I moved a couple times so my drinking buddies were far away. My wife was more into wine but they like beer, didn't taste good to me either. I could choke a glass down to be social but I certainly didn't enjoy it enough to ask for another.

Lately however, things are beginning to change. Several years ago, my younger brother introduced me to a beer called Wild Blue which I actually like. It is a sweet beer with no bitterness. My wife who isn't a beer drinker likes it too so we now stock it in the house so we can share a beer after the kids are in bed a time or two a week. A couple weeks ago, we stopped in at a local winery that we had never visited and they had a couple sweet red wines open for tasting and I really enjoyed them. My wife made the bruschetta that I posted about in an earlier post and we consumed them along with an entire bottle of wine, something I had never done in my entire life.

Back in my younger days, when my friends were having their bitter beers, I would join in by having mixed drinks, usually Jack Daniels and Coke. The Jack Daniels certainly wasn't any better tasting than the bitterness of the beer but after a few sips, I would never notice anymore where I could taste the bitterness in the beer all evening long. I had largely given hard liqueur up until an overseas friend of ours brought me a fine bottle of Scotch as a gift and we drank it in the evenings. Although he preferred his neat, I found that I really enjoyed it over lots of ice. When we moved this last time, our neighbor turned out to like nice Scotch served over lots of ice so we get along pretty well when ever we get together.

For someone who rarely drinks, all this drinking makes me feel like kind of a lush though I know I don't even drink the recommended amounts by those wanting to improve heart health. I'm actually starting to crave a drink in the evenings after the kids are in bed and sanity returns to the house while the wife and I are relaxing in the living room. Perhaps I'm just maturing into someone who enjoys finer things in life or perhaps I'm turning into those wine snobs I can't stand listening to at parties. I hope I never turn into the latter.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fast Times At Valley High


I grew up in rural Iowa and spent most of my primary education during or after the farm crisis which drove many of the rural residents into the cities. As a result, our schools were small and our class sizes even smaller. When many people find out that I graduated high school with only seven other people in my class (and yes all of us did graduate), they often ask if I went to a one room school house. I of course didn't, but the three story brick building that housed our 6th through 12th grades, had plenty of room for the 70 to 80 students plus staff.

My parents attended the same school back when class sizes were closer to 50 in size and even back then, it was considered a small enough school that there was always talk of closing it and merging it with neighboring county wide school districts. (The town I grew up near is right on the border between two counties.) As I attended school there years later, there was always talk of merging with neighboring districts but it never happened. Finally though it did happen and the school was torn down in 2006 and the lot sold, ironically to a boy who rode my school bus when I was a junior and senior in school and he was in kindergarten and first grade.

Last year, I discovered there was a Facebook group for graduates of that high school and I joined. Going through past posts, I found these two pictures shown here. The first one above is almost how I remember my time during school. The seniors used the lockers at the far end of the balcony though in my day, they were full length lockers and not as many of them as in this photo. Since we only used eight of them, the rest went to juniors and everyone else had lockers up on the third floor. Since I rode a rural bus, I got to school early so that the buses could do the town routes. With lots of time to kill, I would toss my bag in the locker and sit/lean on the railing in front of the double doors with the exit sign over the top. From that position, I could see everything going on and talk to people as they arrived to school. Eventually others would join us and in the minutes before classes started, pretty much all the upper classmen (9th through 12th grades) would be standing/leaning on the railing in groups talking about whatever. The 6th through 8th graders all had to stay in their classrooms.

The picture below is of the same area during the initial stages of deconstruction of the school. I'm guessing they must have knocked the roof in before taking this picture. It's kind of sad to see someplace you still could probably navigate blindfolded even after all these years torn apart and in a state of disrepair. Up until I saw these pictures, the school had been there and then one day it wasn't. It was kind of like tearing off a bandaid fast, a brief but quickly fading pain. Pictures of the demolition are more like pulling off the bandaid slowly.