Monday, September 18, 2017

WHEN not IF

As I followed the fellow swerving onto the shoulder and across the center line driving 15 miles under the speed limit which was only 35 mph, it seemed like an excessive amount of caution for a mid afternoon drive across town with the kids still in school and most people still at work. I had an epiphany of sorts. Two decades ago, I would have assumed the fellow had an all night bender and was drunk driving. It wasn't a rare event but it didn't happen too often. I remember a time when I followed a fellow five miles who kept swerving from one ditch to the other ditch. Lucky for him they were very shallow ditches and we met no oncoming traffic on his way into town where he finally made it up a side street. These days, I would have called on my cellphone and had the police waiting for him upon his arrival.

Times have certainly changed. The swerving and very slowly driving fellow I was following wasn't drunk. I knew that because I could see the cellphone held up to his ear the entire way into downtown. By my count, he committed four traffic violations by failing to use his turn signal and caused one other driver to slam on their brakes hard when he started to proceed from a stop sign into the path of an oncoming car. He also figured it out and hit his brakes three feet into the intersection.

On my way back to the edge of town, I fell in behind another car also driving slowly and failing to use any turn signals because, you guessed it, I could see the phone held up to their ear. Up ahead, a car was coming down a side street, drove through the stop sign by ten feet and ended up with her bumper two feet into our lane. The car ahead of me still yakking on their cellphone never noticed. I however did and slowed down because there was oncoming traffic and it was a tight squeeze now that my lane had been reduced by two feet. As I slowly went by, the young lady in the car was looking towards the direction I was heading and of course talking on a cellphone. Just as I was directly in front of her, she hit the gas and started going, assuming without looking that I was already past her. I wasn't. I saw the car coming out of my peripheral vision and hit the gas while she finally saw me blocking her entire windshield and hit the brakes. I waited for impact but it never came. She must have missed me by inches.

What gets me is that I see this kind of thing DAILY. It isn't a rare event like seeing a drunk driver of decades past. The streets have become a jungle. Our state finally took a stand enacting a new law this summer than bans texting or use of social media while driving but unfortunately doesn't ban the use of calling or talking to someone while driving. It worries me because there isn't a lot I can do to defend myself. I already assume that anyone at an intersection can turn in any direction because most people don't use turn signals, impaired by cellphones or not. The only way I can prepare is to make sure I have good insurance to take care of me WHEN someone yakking on a cellphone plows into me, not IF. I often wish people used more common sense and this is another one of those cases.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Dam


I live in a small rural town sometimes referred to as the City of Bridges since the city straddles the river in my blog header and there are 4 traffic bridges, one pedestrian bridge, one railroad bridge and one maintenance bridge above a dam that crosses between the sides. As I walked along the river the other day, I noticed that the latter bridge was being worked on or more accurately, some of the dam gates that control water levels was being worked on. As a result, the pool above the dam seen above was probably a good 12 to 15 feet below normal and the river was essentially freely flowing under the gates instead of over the top.

I've lived near this dam my entire life and I can't recall a time when I've been able to see the river freely flowing or the intakes to the hydro electric plant below. It made me want to grab a kayak and float that section of the river although I may have been shouted at. I probably certain I would have had to duck to get underneath the opened gates as well. Alas I settled for just taking some pictures and watching the work on the gates for awhile before continuing my walk.


Bonus feature: Below is a film clip from my great grandfather's film collection showing this very dam under construction almost 70 years ago.

video

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Just when you've heard it all....

While waiting for kitchen quotes to roll in, which is like waiting for pigs to fly, I got a message from a neighbor up the street saying she is moving and wants to sell her house. Would we be interested? We've actually really liked her house since we moved into this neighborhood and have been in it several times. We've joked that perhaps we might buy it to ourselves if she ever decided to sell. Although it still doesn't have a kitchen like what we want, it does have other things that interest us and I think we could get the kitchen we desire much easier and without any additions. 

It is assessed higher in value than ours by around what I thought might be the cost of adding onto our kitchen. I asked her what she wants for her house and she promised to get back to me after thinking about it. (I don't think she thought we would be interested and caught her by surprise.) Perhaps if the price comes back to something affordable, perhaps we might end up just changing houses instead of adding on.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bank Bistro


Perhaps a year ago, we saw this restaurant showcased on a local PBS show about ingredients that are grown around our state. We made a note to visit it sometime and then forgot about it until recently when we saw it once again on the same show. Since it happened to be a holiday weekend, we called and they were open so we made reservations and hit the road.


It was only an hour and a half drive, about the same as driving to the urban jungle, so we didn't mind. The town itself is largely dead town with only residential places showing any life. There was a gas station and post office but other than that, everything but the bank was boarded up and deserted, including the silos above. They just grabbed my fancy so I had to take a picture. If this were a thriving town, I might have made an offer on them and turned them into a unique mansion.


The two partners of this restaurant bought a bank and literally turned it into a restaurant, leaving all the bank details in place. There are only maybe a dozen small tables in the entire place so seating was very limited and it filled up immediately upon opening which made be extremely glad for our reservation.


The concept of this restaurant amazed me. It was essentially served tapas on steroids family style. So instead of getting little appetizers, you got enough to go around the table but still served tapas style, i.e. they came as they were ready and not all at once. As a result, they might make up three or four meat and cheese platters seen above and send them out to three different tables and then start working on the next round. Their menu only had about twelve items to choose from so the chances of having multiple orders of each item were high. My favorite on this platter was the spice meat on the lower right with the wedge of mustard seed laced cheese right next to it with one of the pickled red tomato looking peppers all on toasted bread. One of the more unusual but very tasty things on the platter was the pinkish pile in the upper left. It was feta cheese creamed together with beets. I had never thought to do something like that but man it was out of the world good. The little squares of fruit pate were also unique and tasty.


Our first dish was actually lamb ka-bobs with a tomato sauce served with toasted points and a cucumber sauce. It was so delicious that we forgot to take a picture. Above, our third dish was shrimp scampy that we spooned up onto our toasted bread pieces and ate. It tasted as good as it looks.


Our final dish was the dish shown on our local PBS show that got us interested in going to this place, pork belly tacos with pickled red onions on top among other things. They were great as well but definitely not as much of a delight to my taste buds as the meat and cheese platter which we mainly just ordered for the kids but they refused to touch. In the end, they mostly just ate the toasted bread while the rest of us at everything else.

It was worth the stop and we now have another place to stop on date night. The only problem is that there is nothing here to do after eating except drive back home or onto another destination.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mini Project


This past spring, I was cleaning up my shop and found a scrap of fir lumber from some previous project and decided to make something from it. I looked online awhile and finally settled on some airplanes for my girls to play with. I had intended it to be a summer project for them where they could spend some scorching hot day inside painting them and then more hours/days playing with them. However, other pressing projects and eventually the scorching hot weather itself drove me out of the garage and into the house.

Now that the cool mornings and seasonable afternoons have come back to our area, I have been able to spend more time out in the garage and in-between other projects, I did some work here and there and finally finished them, at least as far as I'm going to work on them. The finishing part will be left up to my daughters to complete as they desire.

The fir was miserable to work with for some of the intricate details. The plane on the right splintered badly when I went to drill out the holes for the engine cylinders to the point it was unusable. I tried two more times on scrap pieces of wood before getting a successful one and then cut off the nose of the plane and glued the scrap on. Once painted, it won't be noticeable anyway.

The planes are based off Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis plane. I had fun working on them and it was challenging figuring out how to drill off-perpendicular holes on it with my limited tools. I ended up using a good chunk of the fir making jigs as I did making the planes. However now that fall has arrived, they are hiding out in my garage until perhaps Christmas time unless they get found first.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part 10

When I last wrote something on this project, we were still trying to make contact with contractors. Eventually we made contact with four of them and they all agreed to quote the project and get right back to us. Two months later I hadn't heard a word from any of them. So I spent another morning trying to contact them all again and see what the progress was.

Contractor One said a buddy's house burnt down and so he had been working on that right now but will get to our quote soon. (Reading between the lines, we are not important to him and he will get back to us when he has nothing better to do.)

Contractor Two didn't answer the phone so I left a detailed message which has promptly been ignored.

Contractor Three answered but said they aren't doing remodeling right now and are thinking about getting out of the remodeling business. They will keep our project on their list if they make a decision about which way to go. (Reading between the lines, they will go which ever way pays the best and currently home additions aren't paying the best.) I'm puzzled why they even came out and took a copy of the plans if they weren't interested in doing additions. Even more troubling, this one was my favorite of all that I talked too.

Contractor Four didn't answer the phone so I left a detailed message which has promptly been ignored.

Contractor Five was contacted a couple months back and was interested in quoting the project and promised to call right back when he got to his office. He never called back and my phone message a couple weeks later has been ignored for the last six weeks. (Reading between the lines, he wasn't really interested but couldn't tell me so.)

So I am at a loss right now of what to do other than wait and keep making the occasional phone call. to the three contractors who haven't yet said no, but only one of which has responded to tell me his buddy was more important. These five comprise all the contractors in town (and surrounding area) that do more than just odd job kind of work.

I have always heard for any major project you are supposed to get at least three quotes. My past experiences and my current experience all lead me to believe you are lucky if you can get one. What a sad state of affairs.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Alice In Wonderland


I suppose every small city has one of these but ours has a children's play group that puts on performances a few times a year. The only requirement besides being talented is that you must be younger than 16 to perform. This fall, the production was Alice In Wonderland and it was definitely the best of the ones we have seen. The lines are all spot on memorized and the acting skills were excellent, even for adults. This was also one of the larger productions as there were probably close to 100 kids acting in this play. Of those, I probably knew a good dozen of them by name and I'm sure I would recognize even more of them without their costumes and makeup on. My oldest daughter now wants to join the group so perhaps the next time, she will be up on stage.

My wife and I use to go to all the plays until we started having and raising kids and then we only went to a select few. Now our girls are getting old enough to sit still for an entire performance and enjoy the show. More so than I can say for some adults. Rant follows:

Why is it that those that sit in the middle of long auditorium rows are the ones that have to get up and leave the most often. This was a two hour play with a 15 minute intermission in the middle so it was more like two fifty minute chunks. Still, one lady (whom I know) had to get up and leave no fewer than five times in those two hours and of course return which meant ten passes through 50 feet of people trying not to step on toes, spill food or drinks.. Assuming she had a legitimate reason for doing so, with open seating, why hadn't she sat on the end? When the show ended, she immediately started rushing down the aisle pushing past people until she got to my back. I of course was standing and politely waiting for those people between me and the end of the row to exit before I follow. She started tapping me on the shoulder saying she needed to go but my only recourse was to sit down in a seat to let her by but that would only gain her one spot since everyone between me and the end of the row was standing and slowly making our way out. So I ended up just ignoring her and kept on standing so she was forced to wait her turn. We got to the end of the aisle and turned towards the exit and she immediately started pushing past people from behind in her haste to make it to the exit but kept getting caught behind others and much to my delight, I still made it out of the theater before her and didn't rudely push anybody. Turned out she only wanted to take a picture of her daughter who was in the play (playing a background flower) but since all the actors/actresses were standing in a long line outside, anybody who wanted to do so could at their leisure.

Other than that one blemish, it was a great experience.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Fly Iowa


Every year our state picks a town for an event which gathers together plane enthusiasts for a weekend and this year, our humble little town was chosen. My house is only a couple miles from the airport as the crow flies so it has been a busy weekend looking up at the sky. Although we still aren't getting any rain, the skies have been overcast due to the hurricane further south which has been creating overcast skies. The air show portion of the event kicked off with skydivers, some carrying smoke generators and one carrying the American flag. All made it look easy when landing but I'm sure it isn't nearly so.


I've never been to an airshow so when the first plane took off, rolled sideways and went "sliding" down the runway as seen above, I was mightily impressed and very glad my feet were firmly planted on the ground.
 

Later, the same pilot would fly upside down and cut a string with his tail that four people on the ground were holding vertical at the end of 20 feet long poles.


Then he came back and cut one only ten feet high with his wing in another power slide move. I still have a hard time breathing just looking at the picture.


It's hard to convey motion of an airplane with a picture, which is why I'm sure they use the smoke generators during their performance. Still, with hundreds of pictures, the ones that convey the most motion are the ones in which you can see from the smoke trail they changed direction.


During the entire performance of this bi-plane, he never flew in a straight level line until he was coming in for the final landing. I would be thoroughly dizzy and probably puking if I was riding with him in the passenger seat.


There were other bi-planes and single winged/single engine planes but once you've seen one, you've seen them all. I guess there is only so much a plane can do. Still it was worth watching and eventually a twin engine, twin smoke generating plane flew at the end of the show.


Like the others, the most impressive pictures were of it changing directions....


... which it did frequently.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

School

Well the day is finally at my doorstep. My oldest daughter started middle school last week and seems to be thriving. My youngest will be starting half day preschool later this week. This means, drum roll please, that for the first time in nearly five years, I will have no kids around in the house in the afternoon, every afternoon. Next year, it will be all day everyday. That means I might have to start coming up with big plans on what to do with my life other than raising two daughters. Fortunately I still have another year to think it over.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Canning

For the second year in a row after three other failed years, we have a bumper crop of tomatoes. Last year I put up about four years worth of tomato juice, sauce, chunks, salsa and paste. I hadn't planned on canning anymore tomatoes but with a bumper crop of tomatoes of outstanding flavor compared to normal, I just couldn't waste the opportunity. So I decided to try something new and make spaghetti sauce.

Normally I just open up jars of sauce and paste, add the other ingredients and spices, cook for awhile and call it good. But that still adds up to a couple hours of time from start to finish and my daughters love pasta and sauce. So I thought that if I did all that and canned it ready to go so all it needed to be was heated up, it would save a lot of time in my future. So that is what I did.

I ended up with four five-gallon buckets full of tomatoes and one full of onions and green peppers. It took me two days but I ended up with about 20 quarts and 20 pints of spaghetti sauce that probably rivals any that I have ever made before. That will hopefully be enough to last a couple years.

There are probably another dozen five-gallon buckets worth of green tomatoes on the vine. I'm not sure what I will do with them if anything. More than likely I will probably just give them away. It's a nice problem to have after several years without.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Total Darkness

Photo of the eclipse off my television
Like millions of others around our country, my oldest daughter and I loaded up the van and set forth south towards the path of totality on Monday. Fortunately for us, it was only a two and a half hour drive to the northern edge of the path of totality and living in rural America with two major cities on either side of the state attracting hordes, traffic was light in the middle part. Having factored that into our drive time, that meant we had a couple hours to kill before the start of the show.

Before we had left that morning, I had checked the forecast and it wasn't very good. At home where a 95% eclipse might be seen, it was threatening rain and clouded over and was forecasted to be that way until 45 minutes after the total eclipse. If we went south the the path of totality, it was clear and sunny but a storm was making its way with predicted arrival time of 15 minutes before the start of the total eclipse. To me it seemed like a hopeless situation either way and I warned my daughter that no matter what we decided, we probably weren't going to get a peek at the total eclipse. The weather forecasters were predicting the storm was slowing down meaning arrival and departure times might be later on so we opted to go south to the path of totality. Even if it was cloudy, we still would be able to experience total darkness in the middle of the day.

We stopped at a town on the northern edge of the path of totality to eat an early lunch and look at the latest weather forecast to see if we should head further into the path to increase our chances of a cloudless event. By chance, a friend of mine made contact and it turned out he was only a few blocks away at a house in town and his daughter was a friend of my daughter. So we decided to head over there for a bit and re-evaluate things. Long story shorter, the cloud cover was going to obscure the event for us no matter where we went and we really didn't have enough time to outrun it so we ended up just staying there.

We did get a view of the initial stages of the partial eclipse before the clouds blocked our view so it wasn't for not and we did get to experience 59 seconds of total darkness at 1:12 in the afternoon. It was enough to get all the crickets and frogs to make noise and make the hair on my arms stand up a bit. But all too soon it was over with and we were heading back north through rain. As it turned out, those back home had the clouds thin out enough that they were able to witness the peak of the eclipse (95%) and the back part of the partial eclipse. They also didn't get a drop of rain.

I did tape the eclipse on television so my daughter could still see what it might have looked like in other places. All if not lost however for on April 8, 2024, another total eclipse will pass near our cabin in Arkansas and up through Illinois so we will have another chance at seeing one in our lifetime.
My view of the eclipse about ten minutes before the total eclipse

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

It's So Dry That...


We finally had a measurable rain event, our first since sometime in May. We got 0.25" of rain which soaked into the top 0.125" of topsoil and evaporated away the next day. We are now almost 11" short of rain this year and including our extremely dry fall and winter last year, over 20" short since the start of 2016.  It's hard to imagine that we are nearly two feet short of water but then when you look at the river, it really isn't so hard. This same river has been high for the last three years, so high that a six month project to fix one of the bridges in this photo turned into a three year project. They finally finished it this year now that the river is low enough to finish but they haven't removed all their piles of rock left in the middle of the stream under the bridge.


I'm not a big fisherman, though I do love to fish now and then, to know what these dehydrated fish are lying here in the dirt about fifteen feet above current water levels. They do look like prehistoric beasts.


Now that the river almost doesn't exist anymore but in puddles, one can see all kinds of debris in the river bed from an old skateboard in the lower part of the picture to a pile of steel cables in the upper part of the picture. Someone should clean those up but since this is right below a hydroelectric dam that could potentially flood this area in seconds, it won't be me.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Using Leftovers


Believe it or not, I dug all those pavers used above out of the ditch on the other side of our driveway when I was doing that project. I thought it was a shame to let someone else's hard earned money that they paid for those things to go to waste so I built a little planting bed around the mailbox and near my reinforced entrance to the culvert that goes under my driveway. It is just way too dry to actually plant anything there but perhaps next year things will be different.

As you can see, the invasive grass along the road still has some green to it while the grass on the rest of our lawn looks like that in the lower left part of the picture above. Since our street for 100 yards or so drains down into our yard (and through my recently repaired culvert entrance) due to no curbs, we get a lot of seeds of various sorts from up the hill. My neighbor, a multi-millionaire, pays lots of money for some gardeners to spray, pull and eradicate those weeds. I have adopted a live and let live policy with mine.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Where Dreams Are Made


It's funny sometimes how we lose appreciation for things. Years ago when riding Ragbrai (Registers Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), we were in a theater in some little town along the route cooling off and taking in a movie. It just so happened that Field of Dreams was playing and when they got to the line, "Is this heaven? No it's Iowa." the roof of that theater almost lifted off from the volume of the cheers. It was a moment that has stuck with me all these years.

Now nearly thirty years later, on our trip to Dyersville, my wife wanted to stop by the movie site for that movie and see the ball field. I admit I was reluctant since it really had no value to me other than being in the movie but we made the trip over there and I guess I wasn't disappointed. It was a beautiful day and even though it was in the middle of the week, there were still a couple dozen people poking around the site and even a few that were playing catch with their sons just like in the movie. Thirty years later and the movie still has a lot of power over others.

We walked around the ball diamond, took the obligatory photos of all of us coming out of the cornfield in the outfield as in the movie and ate a picnic snack of sorts underneath some shade trees near the house and also in the movie. I read about the storied and somewhat checkered past of the field and the owners of the land. Even as recent as two years ago there has been attempts to change the surrounding area to cash in on the power of that movie.

At the end of the day, there isn't a lot to do at the site other than reminence scenes of the movie. There is a defunct gift shop just off left field (leftover from owner feuds of yesteryear)  and another in the driveway of the house from the movie. It wasn't a walk in shop and there was a long line standing there in the blazing sun waiting so I never went over to check it out.

A couple evenings later when we were home again, I rented the movie online and we watched it again, me for the umpteenth time and others for the first time. I must say, it was a masterfully done movie and still holds up all these years later.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Toys!

One of many many rows and displays of farm toys
I saw my blogger post feed that I usually keep stocked was running low of future posts so I started looking through my camera roll on my phone and found these pictures that I forgot to post. These were from another mini-vacation we did this summer. This time we drove to Dyersville, home of the National Farm Toy Museum. I have known about it all my life but just never stopped and finally I did. There are tens of thousands of farm toys on display and if I were younger and could crawl around for hours on my hands and knees again, I would have been in heaven with all these toys to play with. They had displays from many many other brands but growing up John Deere, I just had to take a picture of one of the many display cases holding some of their farm toys.


In another room, there were lots of scale models of farms all the way from the late 1800's to modern times. This one is one of my favorites because it reminded me of my childhood. I helped build a dollhouse from scratch for my oldest daughter years ago and really enjoyed that project even if she preferred her prefab plastic dollhouse she got from Grandma instead. So I could really see myself doing something like this someday just because I enjoy it. The detail amazes me.


Another hobby that I could see myself doing that combines my love of wood working with toys, making scale model wooden toys. I don't know how many hours are involved in these models but it was more than I have at the moment.


We spent a couple hours at the museum checking out all the displays and one of the better features was a kid's room tucked into a room upstairs. It had lots of farm toys for kids to play with and keep them entertained while us adults looked at the other "toys"!

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Reveal and the Art of the Deal


There it is in all's glory, a 2017 Toyota Sienna. We've swung the pendulum from three Honda's in our household to two Toyotas and one Honda. I still like Honda but the nearest dealer is an hour and a half drive away and the nearest Toyota dealer is about 2 miles as the crow flies. I also don't like the little swoop Honda put in their rear window design a few years back.

When buying a new vehicle these days, the rage is to send out dozens of emails to make dealers "compete" with each other. I have a good friend who sales cars for a living and another that owns a car dealership. I'll give anyone reading a hint. The "best" price quoted via email is about $500 to $1000 more than the "best" price quoted to a person sitting in the dealership. Their reasoning is simple. It is much easier to negotiate with someone sitting in front of you than trying to attract one of the thousand email quote requests that get sent to you into the dealership. As the old saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush... or in this case probably a thousand.

Still I like to do my homework so I not only looked at the price ranges of the model and options I wanted but the same model without options. I also looked online at dealers within 150 miles and see what they were advertising those models and options for. With that information written down on a piece of paper, I called up my friend the car salesman and set up an appointment. I also previously discussed our max price with my wife so she wouldn't be surprised later.

When I sat down in his office and casually laid my piece of paper on the desk with all my writing so that it was sideways to both of us. As I had hoped, I could see him eyeing it while we were chit chatting about various options. He now new what I was expecting for a price range. Since they didn't have any of that model on the lot at this time as they were making room for the 2018 models to be released later this year, he had to search his computer to find the one I wanted. When he found one without any options, he gave me a price which coincidentally was right at the median point of the previously research price range they were selling for in my area according to several websites.

I said I would pay the low range value which turned out to be about $700 less than his first quote but that I also wanted a couple options valued in their pricing guide at about $1000, plus rust, paint and upholstery protection which was another $700 all included in that value for $700 less than he quoted. This is why I always price out the model without options and then add them later for no added dollars to give me leverage rather than starting out with all the options included. So all told, my offer was valued at $2400 less than the one he initially quoted but the actual dollar figure only went down $700. He did the old "go-and-see-the-manager" routine and came back asking for another $200 which I agreed to and shook his hand. According to the websites, the price I paid was in the "excellent deal" column though purchasing it at the end of a model year and having a $2500 cashback incentive going on really helped out.

I normally shy away from their rust, paint and upholstery protection stuff but he told me that it came with a five year guarantee. If anything stains, rusts or peels in the next five years, they will make it like new again. With two kids and another totaled out van with very stained floor and seats, I thought it was probably worth the $700 gamble. The only problem is that the fumes are horribly noxious and overpowers the new car scent that I always enjoyed but knew in the back of my mind that they were noxious as well. As of writing this, we've only had the vehicle for 24 hours so I'm hoping that the odor goes away fast.

To celebrate blowing a big wad of cash, we went out to eat and blew another much much smaller wad of cash. It just made sense!  Since it has been ten years since I purchased a new vehicle (that I mainly drive), I'm having to learn a lot on how to work all the controls. I'm also excited for winter now since we have two vehicles now with AWD for when the roads get bad, assuming we get some precipitation again.

Friday, August 11, 2017

What the Heck... Answered

So as I mentioned in my previous post, our minivan got hammered by 2" diameter hail two weeks after I cancelled comprehensive insurance on it only to learn a couple months later that it never had been cancelled. I called the insurance company to start a claim to help me make up my mind if it is worth it to fix up the damage so that it looks nice for the next five years or so before we trade it in, especially since I would only have to pay my $750 deductible to do so.

The insurance company told me to go ahead and get an estimate on the damage and so I did and it came out to $3200! Holy smokes! So I forwarded on the estimate to the insurance company and they caught their breath as well and set up an appointment for their estimator to take a look at things. He showed up this morning and after a thorough inspection said that the estimate I got was low and should be nearly $4000! The van is only worth $5000 in the condition it was before the hail storm.

So long story short, they consider it totaled. Fixing up the hail damage is a moot point because I won't get enough money back to fix the thing. They will give me $5000 but I would have to buy it back for $3000, what they think it is worth in an auction setting meaning I can keep the van and a cool $2000 in my pockets. Or, I can pocket $5000 but then someone in a tow truck will come and pick up my van never to be seen again and of course, I would have to replace it. What to do, what to do?

We really love the minivan and it is our main family vehicle but at ten years old already, it won't last the other 14 years we need it too until our kids have flown the nest. So on one hand, it might make sense to get another one for those remaining 14 years. On the other hand, we could drive it as is though I still need to put another $1500 in repairs scheduled in a couple weeks and probably get another five years out of it or more. I would end up with an extra $500 ($2000 they gave me minus the $1500 in repairs) in my pocket but a van that I really can't easily sell due to it being totaled.

After much discussion, I think we finally settled on taking the $5000+ settlement and saying goodbye to it which means we have to buy another one. In my younger days when I drove a lot of junked out cars for pennies, I wouldn't go this route but we've been fortunate and I have two kids now who depend on me so I think it makes sense. We went out and test drove a vehicle which is the only one in the category with All Wheel Drive which I consider a must these days and really liked it. Today as I write this I'm doing research on what I should pay for it. Tomorrow if all goes well, I will go negotiate a final price for one.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I'm Not Going to Miss You

One of the greats... and one that I'll miss.


Monday, August 7, 2017

What the Heck?

Once a year, I get a call from my insurance agent asking to set up an appointment to review my insurance and verify that it still meets our needs. It is also the time that he tries to persuade me to buy more insurance products that I don't want which I dislike. However, I put up with that because I do make chances to our insurance coverage from time to time.

Case in point, at our last meeting I was fairly fresh from the experience of having someone run a red light and hit me head on. Fortunately it was at low speed but it still did several thousand dollars worth of damage to our minivan. During that process I discovered that the blue book value for our minivan was only around $5000. Now that it has been in the shop three times to repair damages inflicted upon it by other drivers, I'm sure $5000 would be pretty optimistic even if we still love the vehicle. But it didn't seem worth it to be shelling out for comprehensive insurance on it anymore. So when I had my last meeting with the insurance agent, I told him to cancel comprehensive on the minivan and just retain liability insurance.

Two weeks later we got caught out on the open road in a hail storm dropping two inch diameter frozen slush balls on us and it turned our minivan into a golf ball. I felt fortunate that it didn't break the windshield. Needless to say, since I had just canceled comprehensive I was a little miffed at my misfortune but since I don't mind driving a beat up vehicle, I got over it quickly. It just add character and prevents people in new shiny cars from parking so close to me in parking lot situations.

Now a month and a half later, I got my annual bill for my home and auto insurance premiums and realized that I still had comprehensive insurance. My agent had dropped the ball and not cancelled it. I called him up and explained the situation. He was understanding and said that since he dropped the ball, I could cancel it back to our meeting and get refunded the money OR I could go ahead and get the hail damage fixed and THEN cancel the comprehensive part of the insurance again and be prorated back to the day after the hailstorm.

I still have $750 in deductible that I would have to cover so I have to decide if it would be worth it to me. I've scheduled an auto body shop to give me a repair quote to perhaps swing my mind one way or the other. Since I realistically hope to have another five or six years of driving the minivan before getting another one (it's only ten years old), it might be worth it to pop for the repair. Who knows, they may even just total the thing and I might get another one sooner. But I don't like dwelling on decisions like that until I know all the facts and I still have to wait a week or two before I get all the facts back.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Working In the Trenches


Since I have started to neaten up the other side of the culvert going under our driveway, I thought it was a good time to do something about the uphill side of the culvert. When we purchased this property, it was just a leaf choked hole in the lawn about the side of a dinner plate. The leafs did a great job of diverting the water up and over the top of our driveway and was eroding the hill on the back side. One of my first orders of business was to pour a concrete driveway that was about six inches higher to prevent water from flowing over it and eroding the hill on the back side.

As a result, the dinner sized plate leaf choked hole became a small pond. I cleaned out the leaves which allowed water to erode the entrance into a hole the size of which I could almost sleep inside. This was mostly done over the last couple years when we have been getting rain but this year due to the drought going on, it hasn't been a problem. But in hopes of someday getting some more rain again, I decided to tackle it one cloudy morning before we were to go under a flash flood watch in the evening due to a forecasted 3 inch per hour rain for several hours! Of course we didn't get a drop of rain.

I had to soak down the area with water to soften it up enough that I could dig out the hole a bit up near the entrance to the culvert and then mixed up two bags of concrete and dumped into the hole. I smoothed it around but realized I didn't have enough concrete so I hurried to the store for another bag which after mixed and added, made it come out to what it looks like above. It was really hard to get any pictures with perspective but that is a 12 inch diameter culvert and is about 12 inches below the "surface" of the ground at that point.

Now that I have that problem solved, I've been thinking of using some of the salvaged pavers that I found in the ditch on the other side of the driveway to create some sort of landscaping bed around our mailbox. I'm not sure if I'm going to wait for a rain at this point or go the old soak the night before and dig the next morning routine.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hoover

Birth home of Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa

I've probably driven by the birthplace of our 31rst president of the United States dozens of times but only recently stopped for the first time. Herbert Hoover is the only president born in Iowa though he spent most of his childhood outside of the state. Like other more recent presidents, he inherited a presidency followed almost immediately by a economic collapse, in his case the Great Depression. While it wasn't his fault, he inherited the blame and thus has been maligned as president until recent decades. So with that in mind, we made a special trip up to visit the historical site.

My first thought when we stepped out of the car was that there was a puddle in the parking lot. It's been over two months since I have seen an actual puddle of water so it was kind of a neat sight. We also discovered that the grounds in this part of Iowa were soft and squishy compared to the concrete ones full of cracks 18" deep that we have back home.

It was a quite day at the historical site and there were only a handful of other groups floating around so it felt like we mostly had it to ourselves. We stopped in at the museum which was interesting but not really informative as far as Hoover goes. There were lots of trinkets from around the world due to his pre-presidential life of travels as a mining engineer and humanitarian problem solver. By far the most informative thing was a 20 something minute long movie that we watched first. Still I wouldn't go so far as to say it wasn't worth the stop because it most certainly was. I picked up a book in the gift shop to fill in the rest of Hoovers story later at my leisure.

Mask made of Hoover's face when he was still very much alive
After we toured the museum, we went up the nearby hill to visit his grave site which was immaculate and very beautiful. I think perhaps it was his Quaker beliefs that led to him having a simple tombstone that simply had his name on it and no mention of his stature in life. It was also neat that through a clearing in the trees and over a quarter mile away, one could see his boyhood home so although he spent lots of time out west and east (along with other sides of the globe) he still ended up close to his beginning. Although I probably won't be president and thus can't dictate a specific spot to be buried in, I do hope someday to have a part of me in a local countryside cemetery a mile from where my parents currently live and a half mile from where I grew up.

A couple death facts about Hoover. At the time of his death, he had the longest retirement of any president only having been surpassed in more "recent" times by Jimmy Carter in 2012. Hoover was also the second longest living president at the time (second to John Adams) but has since been surpassed by four other more recent presidents. (Ford, Carter, Regan, and H. W Bush

After visiting his burial spot, the third presidential burial spot I have visited in a little over a year's time, we walked towards the historic part of town to visit his birth home seen above and other building preserved that were around during Bert's boyhood. We found a nice winery next to the historic site so we stopped in for a taste test and a platter of crackers, meat and cheeses to sample. There were lots of other nearby interesting shops but it was an extremely hot day with high humidity and we didn't feel we had the strength to swim through the unconditioned shops to investigate so we instead went back through the historic site to our vehicle and headed home.



Bert and Lou Hoover's Burial Site

Monday, July 31, 2017

That's All Folks

When we first moved into this community and attended church that first weekend, by random chance, we sat right behind Ab. He was a kindly gentleman who always greeted us warmly and shook our hands after church while saying, "That's all folks!" I suppose that was why we just continued to sit in that seat right behind him every Sunday all these years.

A few years ago, I attended a presentation by a Vietnamese prisoner of war who spent six years as such along with John McCain. Ab happened to sit right next to me and I got to talking to him. He told me that he used to run a fire equipment supply business here in town. Being familiar with businesses, I asked if it was A B S (saying the letters individually) and he said, yes but it was acutally called Ab's. When he retired and sold the business, the new owners took out the apostrophe. A light bulb clicked in my head. I asked him what Ab was short for since I had never heard someone named Ab. He told me when he was a kid, people called him Lil' Abner and the name just stuck. Later I would learn his Christian name was James.

I learned his real name when our local paper published an article about him a couple years ago. He had served during World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He went on to serve a couple decades in the military before retiring. That was the sum of his experiences listed in the article. Last night I learned that as his boat made its way to France, it had been sunk and while many of his compatriots had drowned, he bobbed alone in the English Channel all night until he was picked up the next day with other survivors. According to relatives, he always claimed he wore out half his body low crawling clear across France, Belgium and half of Germany. Somewhere in France he and his partner became separated and had to spend a night in a fox hole away from the rest of their comrades one evening. They took turns watching and Ab said he was awakened to the sound of his partner firing his gun into the night. When his partner stopped, Ab asked him what happened and his partner told Ab that he had heard some rustling in some nearby trees and when he asked who Mickey Mantle was and then asked who Babe Ruth was, nobody answered so he shot. The next morning Ab and his partner were looking in the trees for the sound and found a shot up wild pig. Ab made the remark that was that and they should get back to the troops. His partner grabbed his knife and said not before I grab something for breakfast!

Ab was like that. He was always full of stories and jokes. Sometimes you never knew which one he happened to be telling. I can't remember a single memory where he isn't smiling.

After my grandparents moved to town into a retired community for the aging, I learned that Ab lived in an assisted care unit across the parking lot. His wife who had died a few months before we moved to town and sat behind Ab for the first time in church, had died slowly from lung cancer and after her death, Ab had stayed behind in their unit. Since he could walk fairly well with the aid of a walker, I'm not sure how he swung it but he did.  I often thought about stopping over and chatting with him awhile after seeing my grandparents but I either had my kids along, had an errand to run or was otherwise busy. The one time I stopped over, Ab was out and about. Other than church and the one time I saw him outside of church, I was never able to connect up with Ab.

Ab died at age 92 earlier this week and I am part of the honor guard that will see him off today, the hottest day of the year. (Forecast is for 101 degrees with a heat index up around 118 degrees.) I'm doing a lot of hydrating as I type this before I suit up and head out. I'll miss Ab's presence every Sunday and ponder who will be the regular person to take his pew. In my eyes, it will be a big pew to fill. And when his graveside service is over, I plan to say the same words that Ab always said to me every Sunday (among others) as we were talking and filing towards the exits.

"That's all folks."

Friday, July 28, 2017

Phase One Perhaps


The more I look at this photo the more I think this is just a good start instead of a end. Unfortunately this was a spur of the moment type project and I hadn't really thought things out. Things such as that the retaining wall bricks would be delivered during the hottest time of the year here. We hadn't had any measurable rain since way back in May so the ground is pretty much like concrete only not as smooth or pleasant to walk on. As such, it required watering the night before to make the next six inches soft enough to dynamite out of the way. It was pretty brutal but I persevered and finished the retaining wall around the lilac bushes.

In the process of clearing away the old pile of pavers that someone before me hap-hazzardly tried to create a much smaller version of what I did, I realized that I have quite a few of them. I was going to restack them as sort of wing walls on either side of the culvert pipe which is hidden behind that pile of stones and make it look more organized instead of a dump for unwanted stones. However, there is enough of them, I may try to put in a little bed around my mailbox or someplace similar. The soil in the yard on the other end of the culvert that runs under my driveway however is washing out, back when we used to get rain, and I think I want to stop that by putting in some sort of concrete cone around it to funnel water in and leave the soil behind. I want to do that first before any retaining wall project nearby.

However the more I look at the photo above, the more ideas come to me. I can easily imagine another retaining wall further down the slope that rises up to the same level as the base of the one I just completed with a four to five foot wide flat bench inbetween to plant some things. I envisioned using some of the larger stones all around to fashion some sort of channel and waterfall for the rain runoff if we ever get anymore of it. I envision an oasis of sorts when more frequent rains are falling. I have learned my lesson though and don't think I will start another wall just yet. I think I will at least wait until more seasonable weather arrives later this fall or longer if we don't get some more rain.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

It's One Year Anniversary

This years as June slipped into July, my mom passed her one year anniversary of her diagnosis of anaplasic astrocytoma grade 3 brain cancer. It. Since I haven't seen any cards or t-shirts saying that, I just gave her a hug and said congratulations. She knew exactly what I meant.

The MRI's continue to come in every couple months showing no new growth of IT. I can always tell when an MRI is coming up because my mom becomes stressed and when stressed, she exhibits non-typical behaviors that only came about as a result of IT. It took me a long time to realize that when somebody scoops out a golf ball sized part of your brain and then nukes some more of it with high doses of radiation, those cells aren't coming back, for better or worse. As time passes, the non-typical behaviors seem to be reduced to the point I don't think other than my immediate family, anyone would even know but they are there. The brain is a marvelous object and seems to be able to rewire itself with time.

When the MRI has been completed and results reported, life is back to normal and even better than normal. So much relief at knowing IT hasn't come back yet and there is still time to do things. Slowly but surely we have been making plans to cross off items on my mom's bucket list of life. As you read this, she will be off in Ireland and then England on a bicycling adventure with my dad and another couple. I can't wait to hear about their adventure when she returns.

Fear of IT never goes away though. Almost to the day that my mom felt like she was having a stroke which led to IT being diagnosed, we did a spur of the moment trip to an urban jungle up north. The last similar trip we took last year was interrupted by a phone call saying my mom was being life-flighted to a hospital. This trip was also interrupted by a phone call saying my mom was on her way to the emergency room. Immediately fear grips me thinking that perhaps this is the beginning of the end that I know is coming. Despite being bone weary from hours on the road, we drop the kids and mother-in-law off at home and keep on driving to the large hospital where she was transferred too. Long hours were spent keeping her company in the emergency room and trying to avoid the elephant in the room and eventually we drove back home for the evening only knowing what it wasn't. In the end, everything was ruled out and she was sent home the following day with guesses that what occurred might have resulted from a past surgical procedure long ago. Still, the fear of IT never quite goes away.

My mom is still taking chemotherapy and will continue to do so for at least one year after she started it which means until late fall this year. Although she doesn't like the thought of swallowing poison pills, she seems to get along fine with them and as long as those clean MRI's keep rolling in, it just seems like the right thing to do. At some point during her treatments, they did a DNA sequencing on IT and found that the version my mom has responds well to chemo which is why they went from six months to a year.  Although it responds well, it isn't a cure and IT won't go away. We weren't really surprised since in the beginning before radiation even started they told us that chemo might continue for the rest of my mom's life. Of course it wasn't until much later that I grasped that they might be saying that because perhaps her life wouldn't be very long. They don't say that anymore which I hope means that they feel my mom's life will be longer than the chemo treatments. It's those little things that we grasp for hope. Hope is a wonderful thing.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Rest of the Story


Last week I was blogging about a project that I'm working on to level out a bed for my lilac bushes I planted at the end of the drive and also straighten up what I refer to as the trash heap for pavers around the drain pipe that carries water underneath my driveway. I forgot to take a before picture but I think it is pretty obvious when you see this picture what it looked like before even though I'm already underway with the project.

My aim is to continue with the retaining wall and replace the loose pavers over the top of the drain tile before ending the wall. All the loose pavers I'm thinking about recycling and creating some sort of wing walls on either side and making perhaps a couple of ledges to neaten the who thing up so that it looks planned instead of a trash dump.

Finally I need to mulch the lilacs and rethink my deer protection system for them. This is the first year they have started propagating through their root system and I suspect next year the will start propagating underneath their caged boundaries increasing their chances of getting munched on or mowed off. I've read that deer won't eat lilac bushes but the deer around here already eat a number of things, especially on dry years like this one, that the internet says they won't touch. I'm not ready to chance it just yet. I may put one big fence around them for a few more years until they are more established and then perhaps I might see how things go.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part Nine

Contractors.

I knew this would be a difficult step. Every time I deal with someone in the service industry is seems like a difficult step these days compared to years gone by. I'm not sure why it is. Changing societal demands or changing ethics perhaps? Whatever it is, when my wife demanded that I needed to get at least four quotes for our kitchen addition project, I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.

I dutifully got the names of four contractors in our area that I've heard good things about and made the phone calls one morning. In two instances, I was able to speak with a live person who promised to pass on my request to someone who would call me back. In the other two cases I am forced to leave a message with the promise that someone would call me right back.

A week goes by.

Finally I get a call back from the contractor I thought would most likely call me back. He happens to live on the next hill over from us and I know his kids and wife fairly well since the kids sometimes ride the bus with my daughter. I had never met him though personally other than to wave whenever he drives by and I happen to be out in the yard doing something. We met and he seemed like a really nice fellow and after showing him the project promised me he would get back to me in a few weeks with a quote.

Another week goes by.

I finally get another call from the company I most likely think we will choose since they come highly recommended by absolutely everyone. They set up an appointment for the following week and then don't show up. I call back and get apologies and it is rescheduled for Thursday evening of that same week. Thursday morning they call me up saying they really don't want to quote it since it will be six months out and want me to call them back in a couple months. I tell them that I'm okay with the timeline and if we have to adjust prices in six months that will be fine but I would really like someone to at least give me a rough quote so we can see if we are in the same ballpark and get on a waiting list which I doubt will ever be shorter than six months. He reluctantly agrees to these terms and tells me he will be there at six. At five o'clock, I get a call from the secretary saying that a family emergency happened and that they would have to call me back on Friday to reschedule. The call never comes.

Immediately I want to interpret that they just aren't interested in the project and move on. In fact, I fully figured they would never call back. But after a weekend to cool my jets, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and call back the following Monday. He immediately apologized upon hearing my name and scheduled a meeting for the following day. This time he did show up and he seems like an excellent fellow to help with this project. I think we would click well and they would do a great job. He promised to get back to me in a few weeks with a quote and offered several more apologies for the previous two meetings he missed.

That brings me up to now. The remaining two companies I called have yet to call back. I have since called a fifth company that somebody else recommended highly and spoke with the owner who promised to call me back later that week to set up an appointment. Two weeks have passed and he still hasn't called either. I fully suspect that two quotes will be all I will get, assuming both of them deliver quotes in a few weeks as promised.

This is why I laugh every time someone says to get four or more quotes. It just never seems to work that way. Based on my average, I would expect to have to call at least ten companies to get four quotes back. And it doesn't seem limited to the construction trades either. I have the same problem trying to get a repairman to call back, a heating and air conditioning person to show up, or really anybody in the service trade.

The good news is that from what the two contractors had hinted at for costs seem to be well within our budget even if we hire them to do everything and not just the outside work as I initially desired. It might mean that I will have to work on another project altogether while they do a turnkey job. Time will tell.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Working From the Neck Down


Like a fool, I forgot to take a picture before this project got started so here is one that is five years old before I re-leveled the garage side of the house, resided the house, installed a new garage door and re-poured the buckled and broken asphalt driveway with a level concrete one. To take this photo, I am standing along the edge of the street that runs in front of our house though you can't really see it in the photo other than the beginning of the gravel shoulder on the right border.

Several years ago after many of these trees had been cut down due to death loss, I repopulated by planting new trees. As part of the package deal from the arbor day society, I got to pick out four shrubs for "free" to go along with my donation and the ten trees. Having grown up on an old farm with some old fashioned lilac bushes, I selected lilacs. I planted them near the end of our driveway where it meets the road out front, right next to the top of the ditch you see running through the middle of the photo.

The reason I planted them there is because when we poured the new driveway, I back filled with some beautiful black river bottom dirt and it was an easy place to stick them. However, there are several problems with this arrangement. Now that it is bone dry and I'm trying to water them enough by hand to stay alive, it is hard to saturate the surrounding area. The water has a tendency to flow on down into the ditch below. The other thing I dislike is that the ground from the driveway to the ditch is so steep, you can't even walk up it. The third thing I dislike and can't really be seen in this photo is that the pipe underneath our driveway to the head of the ditch has a jumble of landscape pavers that someone tried to stack years ago to make it look nice but they have all fallen over and look like a trash pit for old pavers.

Ideally, I would like to create a rock berm along the entire driveway to create a nice flat area on top and a more gentle area next to the ditch that can all be mowed using a riding lawnmower instead of hand mowing it with a weed eater with one hand and hanging onto something to keep from sliding down the embankment with the other. But that would cost a lot of money and require use of equipment I don't own for marginal gain. So I have started doing something halfway in-between.

In the mornings when it is still cool out, I have been working on installing a smaller retaining wall partway down the slope mostly concentrating on the area at the end of my driveway around my lilac bushed and the trash pit for old pavers that is the outlet for the drainage pipe underneath our driveway. I soak the dust the night before to get some moisture into the soil I am working with and then level out, the ground and stack a few more rows of retaining wall blocks before back filling with some gravel and dirt and moving on toward the street and soaking it for the next day's work. It has been slow back breaking work and by nine or ten, it is so humid and hot that I have to quit for the day and do other things.

I will try to grab a better picture to show you with the work halfway completed to give you a better idea what I'm talking about in another post.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Living In Technicolor


I've always been partially colorblind though I never knew it until I was almost into my teen years. I was sitting on my grandparents screened in back porch and everyone was discussing how many apples were in the tree and I couldn't see a single one. If I stared, I could see the occasional outline of an apple but I couldn't distinguish the red from the green at a distance.

I've learned to live with it over the years. I deal with the questions of "What color is this?" but for the most part always give the correct answer. I know what color of tan looks like a light shade of green to you. I also know what color of reddish brown leaves looks a brilliant red on a maple in the fall. I know the colors but just can't see them in the same way.

I think I first saw it on the evening news when they showed a clip of a man trying on glasses meant to help the colorblind see colors as the rest of the world. The man broke down in tears seeing colors for the first time. Since then the internet has been flooded with videos of similar reactions among other colorblind folk. I took the online test for one company and it said that maybe their glasses could help me but it wasn't guaranteed. My type (and there are many types) of colorblindness was only partially helped based on past experiences. I mulled it over awhile and waited until this spring after my eye appointment and correction change before finally biting the bullet and ordering a pair of the glasses.

I suppose thanks to the clips on the news and internet, they were overwhelmed with orders and I was told to expect them in 5 to 6 weeks. At six weeks, I called to check on the status of the order but was always put into a digital answering machine and told to leave a message so they could call back. They never did the first, second or third time I left a message. I searched online for a way to contact them in another form but their site was mysteriously void of contact information other than the one number that always went to voicemail. Fortunately, I looked back through my emails and saw that the "lab" had sent me an email shortly after placing my order asking for my prescription. So I responded back with a polite email at the beginning of week 9 stating that unless I heard back by the end of the week I would be filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The next morning they emailed back to say my glasses were completed and in the mail, no mention of the lack of response up to this point.

A few days later they arrived and I put them on. It wasn't an overwhelming response and I didn't break down in tears. It did however partially work. I immediately noticed that the siding of my house wasn't a shade of greenish tan but a brownish tan. I could also spot rose blossoms among the mass of green bushes on the back side of the house. But mostly it just made colors that I could sort of tell much more vivid in color. I googled color blind tests and pulled up many images like the one above. For the most part, I still can't see what is in the above image or any of the others that I can't see without the glasses. But on the images where I can just make out something without the glasses, I can see the images much more clearly.

So it appears that while it doesn't cure my form of partial colorblindness, it can correct some of the affects and make colors appear more natural. I've been wearing them and seeing shades of colors on things that I have been misidentifying for many years. Although I probably won't wear them all the time since they are sunglasses, I do plan to wear them when I am out and about and am excited to see some leaf color in the fall where I know I've always been deficient.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Deaf Row


A few weeks ago we did a quick trip up north to the land I always refer to as the frozen tundra, a.k.a. Minnesota. Some friends of ours were house sitting for one of their kids and were looking for some company. They even offered us beds for the night so to repay them for their kindness, we took them to the basilica in town.

This was my first trip to the basilica as well and being new to it, we wanted to grab some seats up front to really soak in the view during mass. Having gone to church most of my life and generally sitting in the same pew week after week, I couldn't help but wonder who we had displaced with our seats. There were lots of people ogling us as we were definitely strangers but I never got a sense that any of them had been displaced so I never found the answer to that question.

Because we didn't know traffic patterns, location or even the parking situation, we got to the church almost forty minutes early and had our choice of seats. We could have sat in the front row had we wanted but come on, who sits in the front row?! Instead, we sat in a pew that was politely behind the first two front rows in case anyone who needs to sit up front could. Soon, those people would fill up both those two rows in front of us.

Let me take a step back to say that living out in rural America, I don't often see people with certain disabilities. I think it is mostly because the distances involved are just two much for people with disabilities that want to remain independent. I was probably 30 years old before I saw my first totally deaf couple sitting and watching our local fireworks show and signing to each other. That was also my last time until we attended mass at the basilica.

For you see, the front two rows were eventually filled by a few dozen deaf people and in front of them was a sign language interpreter who kept them informed during the mass. I found that I was fascinated by watching them excitedly converse with one another without making a single sound. Hands were flying everywhere at a fast clip! I even saw them "ask" questions to the interpreter who would "answer" back in a flurry of gestures. It was quite the experience and not the one I was expecting when we decided to attend mass at the basilica.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Pre-Reunion BBQ

Pork ribs one hour in the smoker
 A few weeks back, we had a pre-reunion get together. With my grandparents back "home" to their native state, we decided to host the big family reunion for my grandmother's side of the family. It was a Saturday noon event so most could come and return home the same day. However, my uncle and his family were coming the night before and staying in a motel in town and so we thought it would be nice to have a private dinner for just our immediate family the night before the reunion. The independent living facility where my grandparents live have a room downstairs that people can "rent" with lots of tables and chairs so that bigger parties than can fit in the standard tiny apartments can be held. We decided that it would be better for all 13 of us to just meet there instead of trying to cram everyone into our house, the only alternative besides eating out in a restaurant which is daunting on a Friday evening. The rent is free as long as we clean up after ourselves so the price was right.

We opted for the room at the independent facility and I was volunteered to provide pork ribs, corn and lemonade. Others are bringing cornbread, potato salad and desert. Because it was supposed to perhaps rain that day, I decided to get a jump start on the ribs and smoke them the day before and just finish them off on the grill before the party. I'm glad I did because it ended up taking about six hours just to smoke them.

We normally just cook ribs inside in our oven for a few hours but as hot as it has been, I really didn't want to do that. Plus, I've learned over the years that smoked meats always taste better on the following day than hot out of the smoker. My smoker is gas fueled which means I have quite a bit of control on it so I put it down to simmer never letting the temperature get over 220 degrees to prolong the cooking as much as possible. Never having smoked them before, I didn't know how long it would take and it ended up taking about six hours for them to reach between 190 and 200 degrees. They are technically done at around 145 degrees, but with ribs, you want higher temperatures to melt the collagen which will actually make them more tender and moist.

Below you can see the finished product off the smoker and it is all I can do to not rip off a rib and start chewing into the meaty goodness while it cools. Tomorrow I will remove them from the refrigerator and let them come up to room temperature before quickly charring them on the grill with some of our secret BBQ sauce. It really isn't a secret but being a local company to our state, I find not many people know about it until after they try some of my ribs and taste how incredible it tastes. I have eaten a lot of BBQ all over the U.S. and it is by far my favorite.

Pork ribs removed from the smoker six hours later

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Big Wreck


I've heard several times that my great grandfather was moving down to Florida upon his retirement and while hauling a trailer full of possessions had a huge wreck that destroyed the car, the trailer and many of their possessions. According to my grandparents, the axle on the car broke which caused the wreck. Up until I found this series of photos in my grandparents possession, I had imagined a trailer more like a U-Haul but now I see it was actually a camping trailer.

Other than the fact that it happened in Florida somewhere, I don't know any of the details of the wreck other than my grandparents said a good many things were stolen by those who stopped by after the wreck and before my great grandparents could gather it all up. In the above picture, my great grandmother is the lady on the right of the two ladies talking on the far left of the picture. She appears in good shape physically and since my great grandfather was out taking pictures, he must have survived such a violent wreck largely unhurt as well.

My grandfather has always said that after the Studebaker wreck I blogged about recently, they took seat belts seriously and ordered kits to bolt them to the frames of all their vehicles, even when they didn't come with them standard. I wonder if this is an early case of seat belts saving lives.

I've mentioned this before but my great grandparents had to hire most of the furniture shipped via truck to Florida because they couldn't fit it in the trailer that they were pulling. I've been told much of the furniture was really expensive antiques passed down through the previous two generations of my family. However, the truck was somehow "lost" and never arrived. It has never been "found" either. So my great grandparents started their retirement in Florida with only the contents of the trailer that had been rolled scattering stuff all over the side of the interstate.