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


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.

Friday, July 7, 2017


Photo courtesy of Google Street View

Like most towns, our town hasn't uniformly grown and prospered over the years. Big box stores came to other sides of town and set up their stores which caused those sides to develop and leaving many areas to slowly wither away and rot. Recent trends have sought to reverse that and the inner parts of town are slowly being improved again and perhaps not coincidentally, the big box stores have closed their doors and are leaving behind large empty concrete parking lots and run down box store structures. Still, there are parts of our town that have spent many years withering and may never recover from the years of neglect.

My wife's office moved to a new location on the edge of one such blighted district which coincidentally houses one of our favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants just a few blocks away. It is the orange building you see crammed in-between two much larger buildings and it only about 10 by 40 feet in dimension. In that space they cram a bathroom, kitchen, counter and about a half dozen tables. It is cozy to say the least but due to it's look, location, etc., we have never had to wait for a table.

It serves up El Salvadorian food that is best described as home cooked comfort food. It is what I would consider very basic but very tasty. Most people driving by would take a look at the place and keep on driving because it looks like a dive on the outside. Those that do open the door and peek in might turn around and walk away because it looks like a dive on the inside as well. Everything in it is well used and run down. The simple menu consists of black and white photos printed off on a printer and taped to one wall. The other wall is full of handwritten Hispanic ads looking to sell something. But the tables, walls and floors are always clean and being somewhat of an adventurous eater, I have always walked in and sat down anyway. I haven't been disappointed.

Coincidentally, it is beside another of my new favorite stores that makes fresh tortillas daily. I was okay all my life eating those plastic wrapped tortillas out of our local grocery store that were made in some factory somewhere and are all very uniform in size and shape. That was until I ate a warm tortilla that was literally less than an hour old. Suddenly what I had been eating tasted closer to what cardboard tastes like than what a tortilla should taste like. Now we just pop in whenever and buy a dozen fresh and generally still warm tortillas when necessary and if they ever close up shop, I will probably never be able to force down one from a grocery store again.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Missing Photo

Hard to believe but six years ago, I wrote a blog post about a car wreck that my great grandfather survived. He is seen above standing by the car afterwards. To recap the story in case you don't want to go back and read it through the link and to include some new information, my great grandfather was driving back home through some country roads. Back then, none of them had stop signs and so when you came to an intersection, you employed "country stop" rules. Those essentially stated that if two vehicles were approaching an intersection at the same time, the car to the right had the right-of-way. According to my grandfather, my great grandfather thus had the right-of-way and proceeded through the unmarked intersection.

The other person was not familiar with these rules and also proceeded and thus ended up broadsiding my great grandfather's Studebaker on the driver's side. The impact and lack of seat belts sent my grandfather flying across the car so hard that the weight of his body and head buckled the passenger door outward. The impact was hard enough that later that evening my grandfather fell into a coma and they had to drill holes in his skull to save his life. He survived and thus I suspect the reason for the picture above which was found in my great uncle's photos that I scanned after his death.

One of the photos in the previous post showed the passenger door from the outside and you could see it was buckled but other than the story of the coma, I didn't fully appreciate the force of the impact until now. Among my grandfather's photos, brother to my great uncle mentioned above, I found another photograph that I had never seen before and is shown below. There it is very obvious where my great grandfather hit and the dent in the steel door frame is severe enough for me to understand how hard he hit. I'm guessing I could take a hammer and hit that door frame squarely with all my might and not do as much damage.

Fortunately my great grandfather survived that wreck and another one later on in life. It had always just been a story but I found photos of it among my grandparent's possessions and I will be writing up a post on that wreck in the near future. Fortunately with both wrecks, my grandfather was already born so had my great grandfather not survived either wreck, there is still a chance that I would still be here but I'm guessing the stories would have already been lost to time.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Story Behind The National Anthem

[Reposted from my archives. Happy birthday America!]

The Story Behind The National Anthem
By an unknown speaker

There was a lawyer once. His name was Francis Scott Key. He penned a song that I'm sure you're aware of. You've seen it; it's in most hymnals throughout our churches. It's called the National Anthem. It is our song as an American.

We go, however, to a ballgame; we stand in our church services and we sing the words to that song and they float over our minds and our lips and we don't even realize what we're singing. Most of us have memorized it as a child. But we've never really thought about what it means. Let me tell you a story.

Francis Scott Key was a lawyer in Baltimore. The colonies were engaged in vicious conflict with the mother country, Britain. Because of this conflict (and the protractiveness of it), they had accumulated prisoners on both sides. The American colonies had prisoners and the British had prisoners. And the American Government initiated a move. They went to the British and said let us negotiate for the release of these prisoners. They said, "We want to send a man out to discuss this with you." They were holding the American prisoners in boats about a thousand yards offshore. And they said, "We want to send a man by the name of Francis Scott Key. He will come out and negotiate to see if we can make a mutual exchange."

On the appointed day, in a rowboat, he went out to this boat and he negotiated with the British Officials. And they reached a conclusion that men could be exchanged on a one-for-one basis.

Francis Scott Key, Jubilant with the fact that he'd been successful, went down below in the boats and what he'd found was a cargo hold full of humanity. Men.

And he said, "Men, I've got news for you tonight, you're free!" He said, "Tonight I have negotiated successfully your return to the colonies." He said, "You'll be taken out of this boat, out of this filth, out of your chains."

As he went back up on board to arrange for their passage to the shore, the admiral came and he said, "We have a slight problem." He said, "We will still honor our commitment to release these men, but it'll be merely academic after tonight. It won't matter."
Francis Scott Key said, "What do you mean?"

He said, "Well Mr. Key, tonight, we have laid an ultimatum upon the colonies. Your people will either capitulate and lay down the colors of that flag that you think so much of, or -- you see that fort right over there -- Fort Henry?" He said, "We're going to remove it from the face of the earth."

[Key] said, "How are you going to do that?" [The admiral] said, "If you will, scan the horizon of the sea." As [Key] looked, he could see hundreds of little dots. And [The admiral] said, "That's the entire British war fleet." He said, "All of the gun power; all of the armament is being called upon to demolish that fort. [The fleet] will be here within striking distance in a matter of about two and a half hours." He said, "The war is over; these men would be free anyway." [Key] said, "You can't shell that fort!" He said, "That's a large fort." He said, "It's full of women and children." He said, "It's predominantly not a military fort."

[The Admiral] said, "Don't worry about it. They said we've left them a 'way out'"

[Key] said, "What's that?"

[The Admiral] said, "Do you see that flag way up there on the rampart?" He said, "We have told them that if they will lower that flag, the shelling will stop immediately...and we'll know that they've surrendered...and you'll now be under British rule."

Francis Scott Key went down below and told the men what was about to happen. And they said, "How many ships?", and he said, "Hundreds." The ships got closer. Francis Scott Key went back up on top and he said, "Men, I'll shout down to you what's going on as we watch."

As twilight began to fall.and as the hays hung over the oceans as it does at sunset, suddenly the British war fleet unleashed.


He said, "The sounds were deafening." He said, "There were so many guns, there were no reliefs." He said, "It was absolutely impossible to talk or hear." He said, "Suddenly, the sky, although dark, was suddenly lit." And he says from down below, all he could hear, the men, the prisoners saying was, "Tell us where the flag is. What have they done with the flag? Is the flag still flying over the rampart? Tell us!"

One hour. Two hours. Three hours into the shelling. Every time the bomb would explode and it would be close to the flag, they could see the flag in the illuminated red glare of that bomb, and Francis Scott Key would report down to the men below, "It's still up! It's not down!" The admiral came, and he said, "Your people are insane." He said, "What's the matter with them?" He said, "Don't they understand this is an impossible situation?"

Francis Scott Key said he remembered what George Washington had said. He said, "The thing that sets the American Christian apart from all other people in the world is he will die on his feet before he'll live on his knees."

The Admiral said, "We have now instructed all of the guns to focus on the rampart to take that flag down." He said, "We don't understand something. Our reconnaissance tells us that that flag has been hit directly...again...and again...and again, and yet it's still flying. We don't understand that." "But", he said; "now we're about to bring every gun, for the next three hours, to bear on that point."
Francis Scott Key said the barrage was unmerciful. All that he could hear...was the men down below...praying. The prayer: "God keep that flag flying...where we last saw it."

Sunrise came. [Key] said there was a heavy mist hanging over the land, but the rampart was tall enough...there stood the flag...completely shreds. The flagpole itself was at a crazy angle. But the flag was still at the top. Francis Scott Key (went aboard and) immediately went into Fort Henry to see what had happened. And what he'd found had happened was that that flagpole and that flag had suffered repetitious direct hits...and when it had fallen...that men, fathers...who knew what it meant for that flag to be on the ground...although knowing that all of the British guns were trained on it, walked over and held it up...humanly...until they died. Their bodies were removed and others took their place. Francis Scott Key said what held that flagpole in place at that unusual angle...were patriots' bodies.

He penned the song.

"Oh say, can you the dawn's early light...what so proudly we the twilight's last gleaming...for the rocket's red glare...the bombs bursting in air...gave proof through the night...that the flag was still there! Oh say, does that star spangled banner yet (fly and) wave...for the land of the free...and the home of the brave." The debt was demanded. The was paid.

(Actual lyrics)
The Star Spangled Banner
O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O'er the ramparts we watch'd were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
'Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto - "In God is our trust,"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part Eight

Back before we made an offer on this house, I took a bunch of pictures so that we could refer to them when we were discussing the pros and cons of all the houses. We naively thought that we would actually have a choice. In reality, we looked at a long list of houses that were run down or needed lots of work, some more than others. When we looked at this, it seemed to have good bones but hadn't been updated since it was built nearly 45 years prior. It really hadn't been maintained either. We hated the way it looked in front and the kitchen was tiny compared to the house we were leaving. The "Cons" column was really long and there was only two items listed under "Pros", one being the good bones. The second item which tipped the scale for us was that this was the crappiest house in a really nice neighborhood. You just can't go wrong buying that!

We did some interior work right away and then fixed the driveway and front landscaping. If you recall, the garage side of the house, left third on the top picture, had settled several inches after it had been built due to the fill on that side. I jacked up the house and got things releveled out and poured. We moved the sidewalk out several feet which allowed up to put some better landscaping out front which looks totally different from this picture taken in the dead of winter after we did the landscaping a few months earlier. Everything has grown and filled in now. This is a picture I took of the newly installed siding out front looking at the inset area which is our kitchen. Much cleaner looking than the original picture and by removing all the fake posts, the house appears much bigger than it actually is. In our neighborhood, the next smallest house is probably twice the size of ours and most are three to four times bigger! Though much better, the curb appeal for our house was still lacking.

Behold an rendering of what our front might look like when all is said and done. The front porch definitely adds a lot of interest to the front of the house and the modest bump out will provide us with the larger kitchen while not size-ably changing the square footage of our house. (We are adding a mere 140 square feet of space.) Although not likely to be used by me since it is in front of the house, I will also cross another thing I have coveted for my entire life, a covered porch. I might reconsider though once all is completed and a nice hammock chair dangles from the ceiling invitingly.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A New Favorite Picture

After scanning some more pictures that my grandparents found, I have finally been able to spend some time organizing and processing some of them. For processing, I mostly just straighten them up, crop off the borders and adjust the contrast a bit to account for many years of degrading in a box. This has to be my favorite of them all.

The blurry fellow on the left who evidently couldn't sit still for the picture is my grandfather, the same one that just moved up from Florida into a retirement facility here in town. Guessing that he might be ten or so at the time of this picture, that would place it sometime in the late 1930's. Going clockwise, the next fellow is my great uncle (grandpa's brother) who died a few years ago and whom I have written about on this blog quite often. Next to him is my second great grandmother who owned the watch that I recently blogged about after remarrying her husband for the second time. She is also the painter of a picture that now adorns the wall above our piano and is of her family's journey to America and shipwreck off the coast of Maine in the 1700's. The family survived the shipwreck and thus I exist, one of many close calls found in my family tree.

Next to her is my great grandmother who lived long enough that I have many many great memories of her. She taught me how to gamble among other things. Her husband sits at the far end of the table and is my great grandfather. Although I have memories of him as well, they are all after his stroke robbed him of his ability to walk and talk. My memories of him are mostly of the nursing home and the green gumdrops that he loved to eat.

The next lady is my great grandfather's sister and is someone who is shrouded in the mysteries that my grandparents seem to weave. My grandparents aren't trying to lie but they don't always get the facts right with their stories. In fact, they are often flat out wrong. She died three years after my great grandfather but I have no memories of her. According to my grandparents, she remarried five times (said with great disdain) though I can only find records of three. I think from the pictures and records I have seen, she left home at an early age to live, marry (at least three times) and die out west away from the rest of the family and this rubbed some in the family the wrong way. I have written about her traveling as a single lady by ship to distant shores so she must have been an adventurous sort, which also clashes with many of my conservative family.

Next to her is husband number two according to my records. Next to him is my 2nd great grandfather who was the son of my immigrant ancestor on this line in my family tree. His father came from Germany and learned the leather goods trade and was at one point, a rival to Ulysses Grant in the same trade and same town for a number of years. He had a large family here in the states but an epidemic would take five of his children and his wife in the space of three months just leaving behind my 2nd great grandfather and one brother, yet another brush of my existence in my family tree.

I love this picture because it has three generations of my ancestors all in one spot and clearly shows them in prosperous happy times. It is also special because my link to this picture is still alive and living across town which gives it a deeper connection to me than it otherwise would. It will be a picture that I treasure and hope to pass on to my grandkids someday providing them with a personal link to it as well.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Can't Buy a Rain

We can't seem to buy a rain here. I'm not sure where that phrase comes from but it is one in situations like ours. All spring and summer long, storm after storm has approached our town only to split and go on either side or peter out on the edge of town. You can literally go about 5 miles north and they have plenty of moisture. To the south is dry but not nearly as dry as we are since they have gotten several rains that we haven't. At the last check, we were down 3.5 inches below normal just for this month.

Last week my trees that I planted two years ago were starting to suffer so I showed them mercy by carrying each of them a five gallon bucket full of water. Those that have seen my lawn, know that it is almost straight up and down so lugging two buckets full of water back and forth is quite taxing work. But an hour after I poured the water around the trees, they had perked up again so I know they were thanking me.

This week, we had three chances for storms. In fact, it was so serious looking that we have been under a flood watch the entire time. Storm one came raging across the plains and petered out just as it hit town leaving behind slightly less than 0.1 inch of rain. We have cracks in our lawn going down more than a foot deep and the top inch is nothing more than powder. When you get so little rain, the top quarter inch soaks it up entirely and then evaporates under the sun less than a couple hours later.

Last night we thought perhaps we might be the problem and with the kids off with my parents for the week, we set off for the urban jungle for a sushi fix. We got to the urban jungle right before the skies cut loose. It rained so hard and so much that cars were bobbing in the streets and then it hailed on them for good measure. We had driven our van which got pounded several weeks ago by two inch hail so the hail so I wasn't much worried about anymore dents. We just went about our shopping and eating sushi. I kept checking the radar map though and saw that there were yellows and reds above where we live for better part of forty minutes so I was hopeful that we finally got a measurable amount of rain.

A couple hours later we pulled into the driveway in the dark and I could swear that it hadn't rained but I knew better. I had seen the radar map. I went out onto the deck and turned over the rain gauge. Only a few pieces of dry dirt fell out of the bottom. I'm not sure how we didn't get any rain out of that storm. Perhaps someone stood over my gauge with an umbrella and we secretly got some.

Today has been a week since I last poured five gallons of water around each of my 21 trees and they now need some more. The last two storms were our best chances for rain for the next ten days. There is a slight chance this afternoon but it isn't supposed to be near the amounts of the previous storms. The rest of the state is talking about flooding and I think we are about to have one of the worst dry periods I can remember. We can't buy a rain.

For the record, the last measurable rain we had was 0.5 inches on May 26th. We were already dry before then.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part Seven

Well the design phase is wrapping up and soon I expect to write a check for an expensive few sheets of paper. But at the end of the day, I think it was worth every penny and even the few stitches in my head, but more on that later. Above is very close to what we've been envisioning with the exception of some of the cabinet doors vs. drawers and whatever those blue monstrosities hanging from the ceiling are. I suppose they are supposed to be pendant lights but royal blue?

Per our discussion, the architect stepped up to the plate and brought a structural engineer down to our house to check out how exactly we plan on doing the basement to support the extension on the kitchen. As I suspected, it was a bit more complex than what I had imagined and I think the architect was surprised as well. But now I understand what needs to be done so when it comes time to be doing the work myself or hiring it done, I know what to look for. I will also sleep easy at night knowing that it will be done right.

While crawling up in the attic with the structural guy looking to see if the column on the porch was decorative or load bearing (we suspect load bearing but he will do calculations to be sure), I rubbed my bare noggin up against a rusty roofing nail poking through the sheathing. Normally I would have been wearing a protective cap but he had been in a hurry and so I was in a hurry and didn't go inside to grab it.  At the time, it felt like a mere scratch but when I got down to two feet on firm ground, I saw blood had soaked into the band of my headlamp and soon after in the mirror I saw a pretty good dried stream of it down the front of my face. I cleaned up and it wasn't bleeding anymore so I carried on until they left.

My wife looked at it afterwards and immediately said I needed stitches. It was almost five in the afternoon so I knew I was looking at hours sitting in an emergency room to get stitched up. Fortunately my wife pulled a string and got me in to see one of her colleagues at the end of his very busy day and he stitched me up. I now owe him a case of his favorite beer, which as he said was non-taxable portion of his salary, and I will of course pay what my insurance doesn't cover, which was the taxable portion of his salary! Worth every penny! I also got a tetanus booster for good measure.

We will be waiting for our completed package and then I will begin what I expect will be the long process of finding contractors for some of the structural stuff, pricing it out and getting things scheduled. I fully expect at this point, we probably won't break ground until spring at the earliest but we'll see. I would love to do everything myself but at the end of the day I know that I have to balance time without a kitchen, everything else that goes on around us regardless of our house projects, etc. I still hope to do much of the interior work myself and some of the exterior when feasible but time will tell. This project has already invaded my dreams at night and I've found the only way to stop that is to start.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Another Link to the Past

The little girl in this picture is my great grandmother, the one who taught me how to gamble for nickels in my early teens. Until recently, I had never seen a picture of her younger than her mid 80's when most of my memories with her were formed. Here she is as a little girl with her parents and older brother posing for a picture. Her parents were also second cousins, something that I blogged about some time ago and I often wonder if they even knew that. Both of their lines combine into one line giving me two fewer 5th great grandparents than one would normally have. If my math is correct, I only have 126 5th great grandparents instead of the normal 128.

These lines/line are also my sole southern family that moved north during the lead up to the civil war. The rest of my ancestors were on the north side of the line to start with. For reasons unknown to me, my 5th great grandfather, great grandfather to the two adults in this picture, never made it to Iowa. In fact, I don't know where he is buried though I'm guessing it is somewhere near where they lived in Virginia. My 5th great grandmother however did make it to Iowa and is buried on a hill overlooking a tributary that feeds into the Mississippi river on the east side of the state. I have been to her grave in a family cemetery full of her descendants that also overlooks a farm still in the family to this day.

The one thing I haven't been able to figure out thus far is what my 2nd great grandfather is holding in his hand. It sort of looks like a newspaper that has been creased and rolled up in the opposite direction. I don't think it could be a hat. Whatever it is does give him a sort of distinguished look.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part Six

I can't believe I have written six posts on this subject and we are nowhere near breaking ground at this point. I guess I tend to write posts about what is on the front of my mind and this has been occupying so much of it lately. After smoothing things over with the architect, he proceeded to create a more detailed plan. We've been scouring the internet looking for pictures of design examples that we are interested in. We've also been rethinking aspects of this whole project.

Initially we were thinking about the pantry being plumbed so it could be a future upstairs laundry when we get old. However, the more we talk about it, the more we think we may go ahead and start with it being a part laundry, part pantry, part mudroom. Since really all we care about this point is identifying the space and potential uses, we want to make sure things fit. At the end of the day, I hope to be doing all the inside remodeling so we can make it however we want at that point. For now, we rotated the washer and dryer so you won't see the backs of them through the window and allow whomever is doing laundry a chance to look outside and see where they would rather be!

We've also been flirting with the idea of where the boundaries of the basement addition will go too. The architect suggested all the way out under the porch which would be a huge additional space but I know it would probably triple the costs for that portion of the project as well. For now, we are going to extend the basement out to the front edges of the bumpouts which will create a room roughly 10 feet wide by 23 feet long. I think we will mostly use that space as a work area/storage area for household maintenance items/canvas painting area. We used to do the latter on a wall in the office area but once we remodeled that and put a floor down that we don't want drips on, we haven't had a place for painting.

The plan for now is that the rendering fellow has an opening this weekend and so perhaps sometime next week, I should have some better renderings of how things will look from the ground and with eyes instead of way up in the air and a healthy dose of imagination.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Salt of the Earth Revisited

Two years ago I wrote a blog post about my great grandfather having to work in the salt mine during World War II when the able bodied miners were off fighting a war. Recently while scanning some of my grandparents pictures, I found a series of them taken from the salt mine and thought I would post a few of the more interesting ones.

Caves make me nervous and I've never really enjoyed being inside them though that hasn't stopped me. I just scramble along in the dark never really able to focus on the cave instead of being trapped in one forever. Still if opportunity arises and someday I'm standing outside of the Hutchinson Salt mine which is a tourist attraction to this day, I would jump at the chance to descend and see where my great grandfather worked for a couple years. I'm sure the experience was enough to not take his normal salesman job for granted once the war was over.

From the pictures, it appears as if the process was to saw the underneath side of the open face of the mine with a big saw which gives a smooth floor to operate upon with all the rest of the machine. They then used a jack hammering machine seen in the top photo to bust it into large "rocks" of salt. They then had a machine that swept all the chunks off the floor and conveyed them up into another conveyor cart which is what you see above. That car drove from the spur to the main shaft where the rail cars ran and dumped the salt into another conveyor that deposited them into the rail cars to be removed to the surface, see below.

At the surface the salt was dumped into various grinders to reduce it to power and processed to remove impurities. I don't know if Carey (the name back then) or Hutchinson (the current name) ever packaged and sold salt or if they just saw the raw salt in bulk quantities. From what my grandfather remembers, the salt my great grandfather sold was more industrial salts and not table salts for food. I'm sure if I ever went on the tour, I would learn much more and so I have a note to do so the next time I'm in Kansas, even if I will be nervous as heck the entire time I'm below the surface.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Kitchen Removel: Part Five

About three years ago, we started along this very path that we are journeying along now but with a different architecture firm. Living in rural America, there is only one home architecture firm within a 100 mile radius to choose from and so we chose them. We had a great first meeting and were promised that things would start happening right away. Six months went by without a word and eventually we were notified that they had gotten busy and it would be another six months before they could get back to our project. A year goes by at that point (18 months total since the start) before we receive another email asking if we were still interested. Thoroughly disgusted by their lack of communication thus far, we politely said no thanks and left this dream of ours on the back burner for another year until present day.

Flash forward to present time, my wife's office is moving to a new building and through inquiring at the architecture firm that designed the new building, she got the name of a past management person who was now doing home design projects as a hobby in retirement. He lived of course 100+ miles away but was willing to come down and meet with us on our project. Our first meeting went well and we explained what we were looking for. In essence, we had a layout in mind but needed someone to help us with all the structural design work and who was capable of providing us with a complete set of plans that we could hand out to various people or follow ourselves to build the addition we wanted. Everybody seemed in agreement and following a month of tying up loose ends, the architect was ready to start on our project.

We did lots of communicating back and forth (a huge improvement over the first firm) to firm up what we had in mind for the interior and exterior details and then he proceeded to send us several revisions of the layouts I have shown in previous posts. However, in the second batch of prints, he mentioned that he would have someone else do more detailed renderings of the exterior layouts, I assumed in his included hourly rate we were paying him.

Then the third batch of drawings arrived with another email stating that he wanted to get everything laid out in the interior how we wanted before he handed it over to the exterior rendering fellow in order to save us money, i.e. we would be paying someone else for that work whom we hadn't met previously or even knew. I had made a few prior suggestions for cabinetry in the prior batch and in this communication he said that his software couldn't do that much detail work and that we would have to bring that up with whomever was going to design the interior cabinetry layout.

So at this point, he had only provided us with rough interior layouts using software that I already own and starting with a rough layout I had already created and was evidently planning to pass on or tell us to go elsewhere for the rest of the design work on our own dime. Not one word has been spoken on the structural details which is what I was most interested in to begin with. So I sent him an email saying we needed to take a step back and discuss what the deliverables were on this project and what we had expected would be provided after the first meeting. He agreed to call us to discuss this the following evening.

The call started off tense on his part because I think he thought we were firing him. We explained our concerns and he addressed them appropriately. He explained that while he wasn't able to address structure issues due to his licensing, he would contact the appropriate people and would include that information in our packet. He addressed the cabinetry by explaining that he would have sizes nailed down and locations but at the end of the day, whomever we selected for making/purchasing the cabinetry would identify all the specific details to make it functional to our needs. He said that from his past experiences of designing 30 or so kitchen remodels, he has always been told that he has supplied too much information to the contractors rather than not enough. The outside rendering is being done by a trusted former employee of his that does it as a part time gig and is only about two or three hours of work.

Although we are still going to have to pay two to three other groups to finish this process, the overall budget he quoted was still well within what we were expecting so at the end of the day I'm okay with it. My fears have been calmed somewhat and we are proceeding again with the design process. It's a reminder that when money is flowing only one way, that communication is key to ensure both parties remain happy.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part Four

In my last post, I mentioned that we were pretty happy with the interior layout but felt like the entrance would look too much like an entrance to a cave. After hours looking for inspiration and finding none because the most common entrance in a ranch style home is through a front porch that is open on three sides, I thought up of a brilliant solution. Add on a front porch that is open on three sides!

It would be a covered porch with pillars and a decorative railing and would mesh well with our current sidewalk shown on the left side. The only drawback is perhaps the amount of light that will reach the two kitchen windows, even though the view won't change. We have deep overhangs now and only in the heart of winter so we ever get direct sunlight through those windows. I don't think it is much of a concern to us at the end of the day. We also might entertain the judicious use of some light tubes to funnel natural light into the kitchen through the roof which I think would be better anyway.

Just as things were progressing nicely with the new design, a problem arose which we weren't expecting. But I will save that for another post. Instead I will close with an interior rendering of what the concept will look like though no colors or materials have been chosen at this point. It is more just a visual representation of the spacing of things.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part Three

So here was the first revision based upon our feedback. We made a number of changes compared to our previous revision.  Starting at the stop by the stairs, we got rid of the offset doorway from the hallway leading towards the right and the bedroom area. Instead we aligned the doorways to give a clear sight line and creates a blank wall for the hutch to sit again. It meant that we had to give up two cabinets but since we still have twice as many cabinets as in our kitchen now, I think we will still be able to fit everything in with room to spare.

On the right wall, gone are the double ovens and in the same space is an overhead microwave which will be next to our combination gas cooktop/electric oven. By moving the microwave to that wall, we are able to fit two windows into the south wall above the sink to let more light into the kitchen.

On the left wall, we moved the refrigerator up against the pantry and made it cabinet depth to give a clean line and to eliminate the tiny nook formed when it was 12 inches further north. The island has been reduced in size to give four feet wide aisles on all sides and half the cabinets underneath removed to create a seating area with two or three short stools. Not too noticeable but something that bugged me until fixed, the end cabinets on the east and west walls are in line now creating a more symmetric horseshoe shape.

We also bumped out the two bump outs that will form the new entry and pantry two more feet. The more we stare at things, we think we might not wait to have an upstairs laundry and instead might create a dual pantry/laundry area. At first I was a bit hesitant but after searching online, it appears quite common these days. as a bonus, it will make the new basement room two feet wider (10 feet total) which will open up options on its use. Right now I'm pushing for a basement work/project room of sorts.

We are pretty happy with this interior layout though we still want one more change. We want bookshelves on either end of the island for cookbooks of which we have many. That is a pretty easy change I think.

With things looking pretty firm for the interior, we started focusing on the exterior and quickly ran into problems. With the two bumpouts and deep covered porch, how does one style it so it doesn't look like the entrance to a cave? I spent hours and hours looking at pictures online trying to find something that sparked my interest but for ranch houses, the most common entrance is through a porch open on three sides, not a covered porch enclosed on three sides like what we have. After struggling with the concept for several days, I finally figured out how to fix the "cave entrance" problem. More on that in another post.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Salt and Pep

While visiting my grandparents recently, they handed me another stack of photos that they found, most being in the really old range of 100 or more years old. I've been scanning them and when I have a chance to go back and process everything, I hope to post some of them on here. Among them however was a much more recent 15 page pamphlet entitled Salt and Pep with my great grandfather on the cover. He was the son of a merchant who worked in the grocery store business and the grandson of this line's immigrant ancestor who was a merchant in the leather goods business. Somehow, my great grandfather opted to step out of the merchant lifestyle and became a farmer after his return from World War I. He bought a series of farms, each one leveraged by the previous one, which even in good times is a house of cards just waiting to fall.

While the Roaring 20's was so named for the economic boom times going on, it was a period of falling farm prices followed by the huge stock market crash in 1929. My great uncle was born in 1922 at the start of the farmland price decline and my great grandfather was so leveraged that he soon lost everything, including all the farms. For the next seven years, he led a nomadic lifestyle at best trying to find and hold down various jobs mostly as a traveling salesperson. Eventually he found a stable career working for the Carey Salt company as a traveling salesperson and in 1929, my grandfather was born.

My grandfather has often told me he was born right as the stock market crashed and that his father, my great grandfather, had called from on the road urging my great grandmother to sell all their stocks before they became worthless. However she was in the hospital giving birth to my grandfather at the time and they lost everything for a second time. While it may be true that they lost everything for a second time, my grandfather was born a full month and a half before the stock market crash.

Regardless of the truth of the details, my grandfather insists (and I believe) that the reason my great grandparents only had two children at a time when many had a dozen, was due to them losing everything they had not once but twice.

Salt and Pep is apparently a pamphlet put out by the Carey Salt company as a safety reminder slash company bulletin board.  It was interesting to read the pamphlet and all the antidotes on safety for a pretty hazardous occupation (mining salt) liberally scattered throughout. It is even evident on the cover description which reads as follows:

On this month's cover is pictures [Vic], Territory Salesman for the Carey Salt Company in the Omaha District. Vic is pictured here landing a 20-pound fighting northern pike from the Canadian waters. Vic took no chance on this big one getting away as the big hand hook through the pike's mouth indicates. Yes, he played it safe, but the big fish was a "sucker" for an unsafe condition. You, too, have a choice when on the water, or in the water - either play it safe, or end up like this 20-pound pike did. Nice going, Vic. Is this a record?

Friday, June 9, 2017

First Responder by Default

An event over Memorial Day really shook me up a bit. I participated in a mass out at the local cemetery affiliated with my religion and then went down to the club for some coffee, donuts and a bit of socialization. I spent quite awhile socializing while I downed my donut and juice but eventually the people I was talking too had to leave. The other tables were all lost in their group conversations however the manager of the club was sitting all by himself.

The manager of the club is kind of an odd duck. His wife died a handful of years ago and he has kind of went downhill since. His personal appearance is what I would consider a bit wild and disheveled in appearance, he definitely never pursued higher education or even graduated high in his class and one doesn't have to do much when having a conversation with him because he does most of the talking. Most of the others avoid him but over the years I've found him to be quite affable despite his appearance and quirks and I have made a point of befriending him. On this Memorial Day, he looked like he really needed a friend so I sat down at his table and struck up a conversation.

Axel, (not his real name) recently lost his car to a fire that began as he was driving it. It burnt clear to the ground and due to his financial position in life, he didn't have any insurance on the car nor does he have the money to replace it. We talked about trying to find another car he could afford to replace it when he started become withdrawn (totally not his style) and pale. I finally asked if he was feeling okay to which he replied no. He said his chest was really hurting him.

Axel is not really what I would consider a healthy person. After his wife died he had immersed  himself into drinking and has always been a smoker. Judging on what I have seen being around him as one of his employers to run our club, his diet is also quiet lacking and mostly consists of drive thru food or junk food found at the local gas station or pub. So when he said he was having chest pains, my thought immediately turned to a possible heart attack in process.

I immediately offered to drive him to the emergency room but he was wouldn't have anything to do with it since he said he didn't have insurance and couldn't afford it. He got up and decided to go to the restroom and I knew I had to wait to make sure he didn't keel over in there. After ten minutes I was just about ready to go check on him when Axel came out and sat back down. Immediately he started saying his lower back and neck were hurting along with his shoulder. I asked him if he wanted me to call 911 and again he refused.

Within a minute, he announced that he was getting down on his hands and knees and I got up and started around the table but before I got around, he was already on the floor and was crying out 'help me' over and over. I pulled out my cellphone and called 911. About that time that I hung up with them, others noticed what was happening and immediately rushed over. Axel was still consciousness but was in obvious pain that was still spasming. Within three minutes, first responders from the fire station were coming in and took over the situation. The ambulance arrived a couple minutes later while we were dragging tables and chairs out of the way for a stretcher to get in with ease.

In the end, they had to muscle Axel off the floor and onto the stretcher and after some questions to me about what had led up to this event thus far, they were out the door and gone. I stayed behind to clean up the club and lock it up and then went home myself. Later towards evening, I figured that Axel would be stabilized by now and called to find out his room number so I could go see how he was doing since he didn't really have much in the way of family around. They didn't have any record of him. I figured the options at that point were that he had been transferred to another facility or morgue or had been discharged. I called another board member and they had just been informed that he was back home and was resting.

The next morning, I swung by the club and saw the back door was slightly ajar so I went in and found Axel sitting in the very seat he had been sitting in the night before. He definitely looked alive and much better than when I had last seen him the day before. I learned that he had an acute gastritis attach and not a heat attack. That sounded much better to me than what I had been fearing. I was also happy to learn that when he said he didn't have insurance the day before, he meant that all the paperwork had burned up in his car fire and that he was still insured through the ACA. He may also be insured through worker's comp through the club but not being an insurance expert, I don't know for sure. Regardless, Axel was back at work and looking a lot better. Still, since it was the first such episode where I've called 911 for a specific individual, (I've called it for a traffic accident I witnessed once on an interstate), I find I'm still shook up a bit as I write this. I'm glad that I was there and able to help him since he has no recollection of the event after coming out of the restroom. It could have been a lot worse.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Proof Positive

It wasn't but a few weeks ago that I was writing on here about my grandfather telling my that my 2nd great grandparents had been divorced and remarried at one point and hence the second wedding gift was a gold watch I was holding in my hand. You can read about that HERE. I had hoped to get a date of manufacture of the watch by finding the serial number but I wasn't able to narrow it down any. I figured it was another question that was permanently lost to history.

I have an online tree that I check now and then in hopes of new information popping up. It will provide me with hints of information that might pertain to my family and invites me to check them out. However, it find way more hints than I can possibly ever check so I pretty much limit myself to those pertaining to the current generation through my 3rd great grandparents and to anyone I am currently researching beyond that. So when I noticed a hint next to my 2nd great grandfather's name, I clicked it to see what it might contain.

It turned out to be a birth certificate for my great grandfather. It wasn't very remarkable but it did list my 2nd great grandfather's middle name as Washington, not William which is has said on every other document I have. It through me for a bit of a loop so I started reviewing all the documents I had on my 2nd great grandfather when I noticed I had two marriage certificates for him and my 2nd great grandmother and they were both different. They were dated 35 years apart!

I had made a notation on the second marriage certificate questioning if the dates on it were incorrect but then at the bottom, I noticed the clerk had written this message at the bottom:
P.S. After the parties were gone I noticed the answer to 8 and 15 as being both one. It seems to me the groom who filled out the above in pencil did not rightly comprehend the answers. If either party were married before , this marriage was the second.
Questions 8 and 15 asked "the number" of this marriage. In different, heavier script than the rest of the application, someone has written "Second. Remarried". So in other words, I guess the story is true that my 2nd great grandparents were divorced and remarried and my 2nd great grandfather had mistakenly written down "one" since he was remarrying the same person. I found it interesting to see there was some confusion over this and that it was still causing confusion nearly 92 years later. But now I have an answer to when their second marriage occurred.

28 September 1925

Monday, June 5, 2017

The River

I wrote about our spring river boating trip HERE but I never got around to cleaning out my SLR memory card until just the other day and I found these two pictures that I thought I would share. This stretch of the river has always been one of my favorites due to the long uninterrupted stretch of cliffs that bound the river as it curves. There are many places along the river with bluffs, some three or four times as tall as these, but none in as long of a stretch or quite as beautiful in my opinion. It was a perfect spot for an early snack break on the huge gravel bar on the other side of the river.

Near this spot on around the corner on the other side of the river and a bit upstream is Bee Bluff named after a giant honeycomb found there in the 1850's. After years of watching bees fly in and out of a hole in the bluff, in 1916 some locals decided they wanted some of that honey and devised a plan to kill the bees with burning sulfer and then open up the hole with dynamite. Honey came streaming down the cliff but several hundred pounds remain attached to the face. The two locals climbed up again and lowered bucket after bucket of honeycomb down to the waiting crowd but when they were done, the spectators had run off with all the honey leaving them with none.

Friday, June 2, 2017

No Longer Little Abbey

My longest readers (all one or perhaps two of them) will know that Little Abbey refers to my oldest daughter. When she was born, I marveled about her and fatherhood and just baby development in a series of posts entitled Little Abbey Updates. It seems like just yesterday and yet, she just graduated from elementary school, turned 11 years old and got her first pair of glasses all a few days ago. I thought in honor of that occasion, I would do an update reminiscent of old.

I remember dreaming about the day my daughter would start talking and telling me what she needed/wanted so I didn't have to guess amid the tears and hollers. Then she started talking and I wished she would just play quietly and let me have some peace for a few minutes. These days I find myself engaged in all sorts of conversations with my daughter and I enjoy them to the point I treasure them. I just love seeing her mind develop by the types of questions she asks. I feel like she has matured to the point that I know what kinds of things interest her deeply and which things are simply part of a passing fad. I suspect as she approaches and enters the teen years, all things dad might start becoming "uncool" so I'm really treasuring these talks while they are occurring and hoping that in doing so, she will always feel comfortable telling me anything.

My daughter is making the transition from elementary school to middle school which varies a bit from my youth and even other districts. Here, 6th graders are treated the same as those in 7th and 8th grades and housed in the same building although in their own wing. We attended open house of sorts for parents a week ago and got her schedule, met her teachers and checked out the class rooms. They have placed my daughter in an advanced math class that will stuff both 6th and 7th grade math into one year so that by the time she reaches high school she can take some advanced math if desired. The is also taking a special stem class for the advanced sciences which is more to her desire than advanced math. She will also take part in the talented and gifted program as well although we won't know for sure until August. One of my dreams of raising kids as intelligent or better yet, more so than me is being realized and I couldn't be happier. Also like me, my daughter is already counting the days until the first day of middle school when the ink on her 5th grade diploma hasn't even dried yet.

Another sign that she isn't so little anymore is that she has her first pair of glasses. I wear glasses and my wife just got her first pair of progressive glasses, so we pretty much knew the chances would be high that my oldest daughter would also wear glasses someday. Though she hasn't displayed signs of needing them, we took her for a checkup when we went to get ours and found out that she is right on the border where she needs them for nearsightedness. At first she was sad at the news but cheered up when she got to pick out a pair from the racks of frames. After much debate, she picked the perfect pair much to the delight of her mom and dad and they sent out the order. The next day she went to school and saw that every girl in her class that wears glasses (and that is all of them) had a different style than she selected. She came home and was in tears. We had a long talk about always following sheep and that sometimes it is better to do your own thing and eventually she went back to excited. She now wears them occasionally when she needs clear vision of things far away and is happy with them.

Summer break is upon us now and it is far from the quiet summers of working on the farm I spent in my youth. My daughter already has one week of learning hand bells and two weeks of learning the violin in a boot camp type setting scheduled plus a week spent with my parents for swimming lessons and another week doing community service with my parents by cleaning up rivers in our state from trash and debris. She also has two all day sessions scheduled at the local community college to learn advanced science and another subject which I have forgotten off the top of my head. The summer is certain to fly by from my perspective.

I'm happy as a father that she has turned out so well thus far and since I still have one that will be starting 4 year old preschool this fall, I probably won't be sad at the loss of childhood just yet since I have another way to get that fix. However, as she is starting to blossom into womanhood, I pretty sure I'm still not ready for all the things that brings yet and won't be for several more years, perhaps never. When she was younger I was always wishing phases in her life would hurry up and arrive. Now I'm hollering for them to stop!