Friday, July 29, 2016

No Longer As Free St. Louis

On the way back north from Dallas, we had to swing by St. Louis because there has always been so much free stuff there to enjoy. Our first stop was the zoo which although we've always had to pay for parking, the entrance to the zoo is free and it is probably the best free zoo in the United States though in the heat, many of the animals were tucked away in shady alcoves away from eyes. However, they have blocked off the children's part of the zoo unless you pay a admission to get into that part. Fortunately they do have it open for the first hour so we hit that up first while it was still free though it means walking clear across the zoo with children who don't necessarily understand why we are passing so many interesting things that they want to see while we are there.

The second free stop that we liked to visit was the Anheuser Busch Brewery. They offer a free tour that takes about an hour and a half and you got a free beer at the end that you could choose from several varieties. Well they still offer a free tour but it covers only a fraction of the buildings you got to see before and you get a free sip of light beer. The tour we used to take now costs $15 or $10 per person depending on which parts you want to see. In fact, there are now five or six different tours offered, all of which cost money except for the severely reduced free tour that took about half an hour.

Don't get me wrong, if you haven't been there, the abbreviated tour is still worth going on but if you've been there in the past on the much longer free tour, it isn't worth dropping by anymore. Our tour guide did let us sneak over to the old school house which now houses a museum but we had to race through it in less than 10 minutes do he could get back to the next group going on the micro free tour.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Welcome To Dallas

We spent several days in Dallas enjoying a mini family reunion for my wife's side of the family. One evening looking to do a little shopping to avoid the heat, I dropped some passengers off at the front of a store and was pulling away to go park the van when someone floored it in reverse from a parking space as I was driving by. There was a huge bang and the van shook despite the fact that I was only doing maybe 3 miles per hour at the time.

We got out to look at the damage and I was relieved to see that there had been no body damage. The lady who had backed out had a bumper hitch on and it had destroyed our hubcap and put a huge hole in the tire but that was it. The lady immediately set into us about how recklessly fast we must have been driving since she didn't see us (or the twelve plus feet of van that passed behind her before she hit the last three foot part of it.) My uncle-in-law, who lives in Dallas, ran interference with her loud vocal assault while my brother-in-law and I changed the tire in the 100+ degree heat without the proper jack tools. We ended up using a seat locking lever to jack up the van by hand which took us over twenty minutes and wore blisters on both of our hands.

My uncle tried to exchange information and the woman was quick to give over her insurance information but wouldn't let us see her drivers license. So I had my uncle call the police while we were dealing with the tire and just about the time we finished they showed up. The lady went sprinting for the car so she could get her story in first but by some twist of fate, that turned out to be the backup car and the officer doing the investigating came up to me first. As it turned out, in Texas, if there isn't a $1000 worth of damage, there is nothing the police will do. However, they did force the lady to hand over her driver's license which led us to the discovery that she wasn't driving her own vehicle and was driving a 'friends' vehicle.

With the help of the police, we 'exchanged' information and went on our way. It cost me about $130 to replace the tire which leaves me in a quandary. Most of me wants to file a claim against her for her loud obnoxious thirty minute verbal assault that we endured while changing the tire. As I recently found out from my wife's incident, insurance companies almost always find the person backing up to be liable and I do believe this lady was liable. However, despite someone doing an illegal turn across three lanes of traffic and ramming my wife's car, the insurance company made us liable for 20% since my wife had just backed out of the space. In my recent incident where someone ran a red light trying to turn in front of me and lost, their insurance company is also trying to find me 20% liable since I didn't 'see' them. That claim is going to litigation by my insurance company. According to my insurance company a relatively new law that had nothing to do with finding fault in auto collisions has been interpreted by courts as if two vehicles are moving, both share some fault in every accident no matter what happened. Insurance companies are taking full advantage to reduce the payouts of their poor driving clients. My dilemma is do I risk getting dinging on my insurance premiums if I file a claim and am found 20% responsible for a third time in two months? Fortunately my insurance guy understands and I think he will send a letter with the receipts to the owner of the car's insurance company and see how they respond. Depending on their response will determine whether the claim get filed or I'm out the $130 but still intact (maybe) insurance premiums. Oh joy.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Stops Along the Way

A tour of Iowa isn't complete without a stop at Adventureland. I don't know how long it has been around but I do know I've been going there for 40 years and though most of the rides have changed, the ferris wheel is still there. The other favorite of mine the Log Ride was finally ripped out last year but not before my daughters got to experience it.

In recent times, they have doubled the size and added a water park so we decided it would be a good time to spend a day cooling off before we started our long driving journey. The kids really enjoyed it though we all lost each other a time or two among all the slides and water features. Eventually though we got everyone found and it was a quiet drive home because I was the only one awake, a sure sign that fun had been had.

A couple days later we began our Midwest tour driving south towards our first stop in Kansas City. One of the free places we like to stop to stretch our legs and which is still free to the public is the Federal Reserve Bank located there. They have a nice museum about how money is made, handles and adjusted as well as a place where you can see them processing money. In short, in ten minutes you can be within inches of more money than your parents, you and your children will ever see in their lifetimes combined. They also have a display showing almost every single coin every made in our country's history which even if you aren't a coin collector and I'm not, it is way cool to see.

With ten people and being on the road for over a week, we decided to reduce our expenditures and so we forewent our normal stop of eating some Korean BBQ that we normally feast on when in Kansas City. Instead we walked across the street and ate a picnic lunch in the shade at a war memorial park. Well fed and legs stretched, we continued south to our next destination which was a mini family reunion in Dallas, Texas.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Doesn't Take Shit From Anyone

Smack dab in the middle of our tour of the Bridges of Madison County is the town of Winterset and the birthplace of John Wayne. We have always stopped to visit the gift shop/museum in the neighboring house to enjoy the air conditioning and to look at the John Wayne memorabilia part way through our bridges tour. You couldn't beat the price since it was free though it costs money to actually go in the house which I have never done.

Since our last visit, they razed several other nearby houses and built a gift shop/museum and tore down the old one. They promised lots more memorabilia so I was looking forward to visiting it. However once we got inside, we saw the gift shop had been reduced to a tiny fraction of what the old gift shop used to sell though it now took up about ten times the space which was nice since you could now move freely about. However, all the memorabilia had been moved behind closed doors and they were charging $15 per person to see it. Seeing that I was with 9 other people who really could care less about John Wayne, I couldn't see paying $150 to go into the museum. I was disappointed to say the least and since I am almost always with people, I will probably never stop back unless I come with some John Wayne enthusiasts. Sadly, I found out that many other free museums and such that I frequent are disappearing fast but more on that in later posts.

We walked around the gift shop until everyone had cooled off from the hot muggy weather outside and then we walked over to his house and took the obligatory pictures in front with the sign and got on the road to see the remaining Bridges of Madison county. We were happy and it still didn't cost us a dime.

[A word of explanation on the title of this post: A guy walks into the store to buy some toilet paper and the clerk showed him some Charmin toilet paper 4-roll pack for $10. The guy wanted something cheaper so the clerk showed him some cheaper stuff that came in an 8-pack for $10. Still wanting cheaper toilet paper, the clerk showed him the generic stuff that came in a 16-pack for only $5. The guy paid, took his toilet paper and went home. The next day he returned to the store and told the clerk that the toilet paper must be John Wayne toilet paper. The clerk puzzled asked him why. The fellow said it was rough and tough and (see post title).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Writing On the Wall

As I have written about before, the Bridges of Madison county have painted a portion of each of their six covered bridges white to allow graffiti to happen in hopes of discouraging people from writing on the bare wood sections. People are ignorant and assholes and still write everywhere but those who are respectful of these bridges and treasure them, limit themselves to the white washed areas that get repainted periodically.

I have visited the bridges many times over the years despite never having seen the movie or read the book about them. I keep coming back because I am fascinated with the graffiti. If you look back in my archives, I probably have a dozen posts on this subject alone. I've always regretted not bringing a marker along to leave "my mark" but this time I remembered and brought a handful to pass out among my extended family. They had a blast leaving messages for others to read.

I left a few of my own but for the most part I walked along taking pictures of the messages others felt important enough to write down. Most are dull and expected but here and there something grabs my attention. This post is a collection of those images.

This last one is my youngest daughter's attempt at leaving her mark and she chose the railing out front. I really liked the fact that she even drew a stick figure.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Bridges of Madison County

Another trip we like to take people on who visit us is the Bridges of Madison County/John Wayne tour, both of which happen in Madison County around the county seat of Winterset. Although the bridges are beautiful and I enjoy taking pictures, perhaps the most entertaining part is reading what people have written on them. On a portion of each bridge, caretakers have painted over some of the timbers in white paint and encourage people to leave their mark. They are then painted over each year and the process goes on. This year for the first time ever, I remembered to pack a few sharpies so that I could leave my mark along with my guests. More of that in another post. For now, here are the rest of the Bridges of Madison County. Since most were taken in panoramic mode to get the entire bridge in one "frame", I only put the reduced sized pictures on here to save time.

Friday, July 15, 2016

American Gothic

When taking people on the "local" tour to give them a flavor of the area, we usually stop in at the American Gothic house seen above. It was the backdrop for the world famous Grant Wood picture of the same name of a dentist holding a pitchfork standing next to a dour looking sister of Wood. It is theorized that Grant Wood thought it was very pretentious to have such an ornate Gothic window in such a small farm house which is why he painted a farmer with a pitchfork in a suit coat and overalls standing in front.

I've been through the museum nearby many many times and although it has a generally history of the painting, Grant Wood and his sister Nan, it also always has a selection of painting parodies. I've seen the former enough to just skip and head straight for the parodies. This time, there were several sculpture parodies of the famous couple.

In the left of this picture, you can see a bulletin board full of sent in parodies of the painting. The museum has a collection of outfits and pitchforks so that you can dress like the couple in the painting and stand in front of the house and photograph yourself. I have done so many times but have never felt like sending it in to the museum but evidently I am in a minority judging from the multitudes of pictures covering the rest of the wall.

My favorite of them all showing another Grant Wood painting in the reflection of the farmer's glasses.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Continuing the Jet Lag Breaking Tour

Before continuing on to my family farm for lunch and winding our way back home, we stopped at a second old river town that is now mostly a historical area. All the old buildings are now shops or museums and the old bridge is now open to foot traffic only. Back in my youth, I remember riding in the backseat of my parent's car as we drove across this bridge. By the time I was of driving age, I believe it was closed to vehicles and a couple decades ago it was restored enough to allow people to walk across it. Since then I have been on it scores of times and have more computer memory than I care to admit tied up with photos of the bridge.

Looking towards the other side of the bridge where the town of Vernon used to be. It is now nothing more than a handful of houses scattered through the trees seen in the background.

Some of the original bridge decking which as you can see, isn't in very good shape. I wouldn't want to stand on any of it. Fortunately they have built and elevated walkway above the original decking that is sound enough to walk on and preserved the original decking.

They just don't make bridges like this anymore.

The rusty ironwork always grabs my attention.

Heading back to where I started and to visit the shops. Three of my favorites are an old antique shop in the General Store where I bought a book on building model ships, another shop for displaying local artist's work, and one called Iron and Lace where the husband/wife owners make forged iron works and pottery using Queen Anne's Lace for pattern design. If I ever win the lottery, I will buy out their inventory immediately.

I've been to this town more times than I can count and yet I never noticed this in a tree along a sidewalk. In fact, I didn't notice it this time until my niece pointed it out.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Journey Begins

I'm sure there will be some who disagree, but in my limited experience, Filipinos are all about instant gratification which makes it hard for them to kick jet lag. When I fly halfway across the world, as tired as I am, I force myself to stay away during daylight hours and sleep at night. Usually it only takes a few days to acclimatize my body to the new reality and I'm good to go. The Filipinos that I hang out with will fall asleep whenever the urge to strikes and it generally takes them two to three weeks to acclimatize to the new time zone at their pace. So I combat this by giving them one day free and then plan an action packed day where they have neither the time or the place to nap and force them into our time zone. Thus on the second day my brother-in-law's family were here, we set out in the van above which we rented so we could all ride together where ever we may go.

The key to curing jet lag is to not give them a time or place to sleep so we took them to nearby sites where I grew up. First we went to an old river town along the river, the first of a couple we stopped at.

I've shown this one before but this is an old mill that is now probably one of the only fine dining options in our county. Their smoked and brined pork chops are heavenly along with all their food. We didn't stop to eat there on this day but I did take a picture.

It was a fine day and while we adults were walking around taking pictures and stretching our legs, the kids were having a ball in the nearby playground.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

No News Is Good News

My mom was discharged temporarily from the hospital on the 4th of July and I hauled my brother-in-law and his family and my mother-in-law to the airport a couple days later and sent them flying away to the other side of the world... a comfortable distance. We have gotten our house back the way it once was and the silence of having ONLY two young children is deafening to say the least!

An update though on my mom. Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes. We still don't know much other than my mom has a small mass in the back side of her brain that controls motor functions. It is classified as low grade which means it is slow growing and all the dyes they inject into the brain during scans doesn't cause it to light up as most cancers will. That all is good news but they don't exactly know what it is and so there are two options. One is wait and see. The problem with this is that almost all low grade masses eventually turn into high grade or fast growing masses and damage, possibly irreversible kinds, can happen if not caught quickly enough. Option two is to go in for a biopsy to see what they are dealing with and if the right kind, remove some of it manually. Of course this if full of all kinds of risks that one can imagine but it would allow them to tailor therapy to cure/manage whatever mass she has and if they remove some, it buys time. All of this has been scheduled for six days from now.

For now, mom is fully "normal" and going about her life though she is no longer allowed to drive and won't be allowed for at least six months. This will really put a damper on my parents farming operation in which my mom not only drives a combine and tractors but drives almost daily for other reasons. I'm not sure what we are going to do yet but I know we will get by. For me, the most important thing is to identify this mass and figure out how to get rid of it while it is asleep and possibly non-cancerous.

With my mother-in-law gone, my projects on the house have slowed down. Thus far, I am still playing catch up with everything that continued to happen while I was gone for three weeks tooling around the Midwest. I am finally starting to catch up but I have a bit more to do. Once I get caught up on that, my mom goes back in for a biopsy and a minimum of a couple more days in the hospital post procedure for monitoring and then, just maybe, life will get back to normal. That is my hope anyway and I'm sticking too it.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Back But Busy

I'm writing this in a hospital killing time but don't expect to really get time to do much blogging yet for another week or more. I was on the tail end of our journey around the middle part of this country showing my brother-in-law and his family their first sights of a country outside of the Philippines and having a mini-family reunion with some his cousins and uncles who have already immigrated here. We had just made the decision to head up to Chicago for a day or two when I got the call, my mom had a stroke and was being lifeflighted to a regional trama center.

My mom is the healthiest person I know. She rides her bicycle religiously for an hour everyday plus has ridden clean across this country not once but four separate times. Seven years ago she had a heart attack which turned out to be a very rare kind called a SCAD. Essentially a blood vessel in her heart developed a split in it and the body reacts by clotting the area and thus giving itself a bigger problem. Fortunately for my mom, there was no permanent damage done. During that time they examined her arteries and they were clean as a whistle and way above average for someone her age. So hearing that she was having a stroke caused by a blockage in her brain was a shock in more ways than one.

Due to a thunderstorm, my mom never got lifeflighted and instead was taken by ambulance however had a seizure in route. They had to pull over to the side of the road, get that under control and then proceed to the nearest hospital to make sure she didn't have a brain bleed that they missed especially since they had her on a clot buster to remove the stroke causing clot. She didn't have a bleed and so eventually proceeded onto the trama center where I had by that time driven from Illinois to meet her there.

As first, she had a slight droop on the left side of her face and slurred words and I feared the worst however after several hours in the ER and then the ICU, all that went away. By the following day, mom was back to normal and the doctors were confused. Test upon test was ordered and here I am three days later keeping my mom company while they figure out what was wrong. So far, they have ruled out a stroke completely which was good but now they are focusing on the reasons a healthy person her age had a seizure which usually means there is something else wrong. Of course words gets out clickly in rural Iowa so now she is entertaining friends while I'm chilling here in the visitor lounge which turns out to have internet access.

My brother-in-law and his family are still here but fortunately they have been really gratious about letting me slip out to be with my mom and give my dad a break so he can drive back to the farm and keep things operating smoothly. Hopefully when my brother-in-law and family leave here in a few more days, my mom will have gotten through with all her tests and we can proceed with fixing whatever caused the seizure from the comfortable confines of our own homes instead of the hospital setting. (She is now in a private room in the general population which is far better than the busy ICU area!) Another plus is that my mother-in-law who lives with us is flying back with her son to stay back home for a few months before returning this fall. I won't get much done on the house but it will be nice to have just us and the kids for awhile.

When all this gets worked out, I hope to get back to blogging. I have some stories worked up in my head to write down here eventually and I can't wait to find out what everyone has been doing. Later.