Monday, November 20, 2017

Julien Dubuque

South of town, there is a bluff overlooking the Mississippi river where the namesake of the town is burned underneath a castle rampart looking monument. He bought land from the Indians to mine lead here until his death. He was buried by his Indian neighbors who must have thought highly of him and the monument was built by those European settlers who arrived much later.

Beneath the bluff on a small ledge between it and the river, train tracks pass by and we were fortunate to see a train pulling into town while standing on the edge. When it passed underneath, I could have taken a couple steps and a big jump and rode the thing back into town. Instead I watched it and drove our car back so I wouldn't have to return later to get it.

Back in the day, Dubuque was a big port along the Mississippi and to this day, barges still ply the river by it during warmer months. During the winter it is closed to barge traffic this far north. Chilled to the bone, we headed back into town and checked into our room for the night.

Later we went out for supper at a place known for their farm-to-table cuisine. I ordered some elk meatballs and spicy curry topped with kimchi. It was as good as it looks. One of the things I like about these sorts of restaurants is that they usually have a very open menu. They didn't have a kids menu but when asked what they wanted to eat, our kids said they would like a cheese pizza. Despite not being on the menu, a cheese pizza was whisked to our table fifteen minutes later and our kids were happy campers.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Mini Vacation

Since the schools were out of session for two days before a weekend, we decided to take a mini-vacation of sorts to an old river town along the Mississippi River that we have stopped at a few times over the years but never spent the night. As it turned out, a friend of mine later scheduled a wedding reception there for friends and family during the time we were going to be there so we could kill two birds with one stone.

On the way there, our travels took us near a monastery for Trappist monks known for making caskets out of timber on their land. Visitors are welcome and so we stopped for a look see. The caskets, urns, and other wood products were very beautiful. We also sat in on their noon day prayers before lunch and despite how heavenly the baked bread smelled from their adjacent cafeteria, we weren't invited to join them. But we did find a brochure advertising a lunch and learn where we can tour their actual woodshop and also eat lunch with them. Another trip perhaps.

We ate a late lunch a little beyond our intended destination at a famous cafe that has burned down twice in the past decade. It is famous because despite it being in a town with a total population of 64 residents, they and others have pitched in to rebuild it both times to maintain it social meeting place status. The food was good but nothing to write home about.

Back in our destination town, we made a beeline for their "elevator" that is used to haul residents from the bluff area above the river to the downtown area next to the river. It was extremely cold and windy so we didn't tarry too long up on top. Instead, we spent some time in the heated shops at the base of the elevator looking around. When we tired of that, we headed off for our last destination of the day before seeking out our hotel.

View from the top

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Side Trip

As we were returning back to the farm from our hedgeball collecting trip, we came upon a county project replacing an old bridge along one of our gravel roads. The bridge has been old and rickety since I could form memories and in fact, we haven't hauled any grain across it for just that reason for over three decades. The grounds up the hill and on the left (and more recently the lower right too) that we farm, we've had to haul the grain completely around the "block", a trip of three miles just to avoid crossing over that bridge. It just couldn't support the weight of larger modern equipment.

So the very year my parents are retiring and most likely not going to farm the lands on the other side of this bridge, the county evidently decided it was time to fix that problem and replace the bridge with a large metal culvert. They had it in place and covered with clay and dirt but hadn't yet put the gravel on top. We stopped by to check it out and I took a few pictures. The people most likely to rent this land from my parents will be hauling all their grain to the west away from the culvert so at best, this culvert will receive light automobile traffic.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Easy Money

I have a friend whom I have written about here in the past (he is an undocumented immigrant) who due to his status is always taking side hustles to earn income. Besides doing odd jobs for other families, including carpentry work, he also scraps metal, cleans and probably about twenty other jobs. His phrase for all this is that it is easy money. (On an unrelated note, he always tries to pay taxes on his money but due to his status, is always rejected.)

Anyway, while helping my parents haul corn down a nearby 1/2 mile stretch of highway, I saw several pickup loads of hedgeballs heading west. The balls are the fruits of the Osage Orange tree which are native to small areas in the south. During Roosevelt's WPA projects, hundreds of thousands of those were planted as windbreaks all throughout the midwest and to this day continue to grow though as farmers push them out to clear fence rows, their numbers are rapidly dwindling. We have several farms where the hedge rows still exist, all on the Iowa/Missouri border and the ground is full of hedgeballs.

A fellow about 10 miles up the road has turned hedgeballs into a cottage industry of sorts. Some scientist discovered that the oil from their seeds is very useful in makeup products and so the fellow up the row started extracting this oil. In less than a couple years, he outgrew his garage and put up a huge metal building. He has outgrown that one and almost finished putting up another one twice the size. He pays by the pound and people from neighboring counties are now loading up hedgeballs and hauling them over to be turned into oil used in makeup.

After seeing several loads of these going down the highway, I thought this might be a great opportunity to teach my kids about money. The first lesson is that money isn't free and effort must be put forth to obtain it. In this case, the hedgeballs are worth $0.10 per pound delivered. So my dad and I along with the two girls spent an afternoon picking up hedgeballs until we had filled up the bed of the pickup. Unfortunately, the scales were open and the fellow doing the processing was gone for a few days so I'll have to wait for a total on how much they were worth.

This money will be split between my two daughters. I hope to take 50% of their cuts and put it into their savings account which I have earmarked as spending money during their college years. The other 50% they will be able to spend freely and hopefully learn the value of that money they worked hard for.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Gone on Vacation

Due to the craziness this year and the fact that my grandparents no longer live in Florida, we weren't sure if we would get a long vacation in over the holidays like we normally do. So we decided to cram in a small mini-vacation during the two days our kids have off from school due to parent/teachers conferences.

We decided on a small river town that we have visited once before briefly and really enjoyed. It is far enough away we don't want to return home everyday but close enough that it will only take us a couple hours to get too. We rented some rooms in two different motels and were looking forward to it.

Then out of the blue, a close friend of mine who got married over in Thailand where he was working for a couple years for a company that bought out the company we both used to work for. We couldn't make the wedding but told him we would definitely make the reception when he got back stateside. Well we got notice that it was taking place the very same weekend we had planned for our mini-vacation. But the heavens were smiling upon us because it happened to be in his hometown, the very town we were taking our mini-vacation at and also was happening the very same weekend.

So, as you read this, we are off on our mini-vacation and meeting up with my friend at his wedding reception as well. I will catch up on all your blogs upon my return and I'm sure have a few stories to blog about.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Finished Too

As promised, I am posting pictures from the project I hinted about last week. Over the years we've accumulated a collection of rickety plant stands that I have spent lots of time repairing and tightening over they years. They were all made for tiny little pots and since our plants are much older (the oldest one is my age, given to my mom at my birth), they are in much larger pots. One day many months ago while flipping through some magazines looking for inspiration, I "saw" them and decided to fix that problem once and for all.

I built a set of four plant stands out of oak with a decorative piece of ceramic floor tile inlaid into the top to hold up a bit better to accidental spills and pot scrapes. It turned out to take way more time than I had figured because all the legs are splayed out at 4 degrees in two different directions to give stability which means almost nothing on them was an easy straight cut. I used oak since I had quite a bit of it leftover from several previous projects that were about the right size.

For finish, I've been trying to get away from stains and varnishes to more natural, easier to apply things. For these, I tried out some Danish Tongue Oil which I was fairly pleased with. I also applied a paste finishing wax to the top surface to help waterproof it a bit even though all the pots have water overflow containers underneath them.

Monday, November 6, 2017


Harvest has now been finished and fall dirt work has begun to prep the fields for a quicker start next spring. I thought I would post a few more pictures from my last weekend of helping in the fields, this time with the last few acres of corn left to harvest. This field is one of the farthest away so it requires a long haul. On a good year, it requires three people hauling full time and still slowly falling behind but this year myself and my father we able quite easily keep up with just the two of us.

This is the view from my office and I must say, one that I find hard to beat.

Objects in the rear view mirrors are cleaner than they appear. It is so dry, I'm not sure where the mud splatters came from but someone evidently found some mud this year.

The catch wagon filling up my wagons for the long haul through the gravel roads to the grain bins where the grain will be dried and stored until sold. Back in my youth, hooking and unhooking wagons meant lots of trips outside the tractor and being exposed to all the dust you see flying in the air. These days with quick hitches, I never have to leave the tractor (in the field) unless I want to take a picture or something so I don't have to worry about breathing in all that dust.

Friday, November 3, 2017

String Orchestra

Our oldest daughter has been taking piano lessons for a few years now and is quite advanced. She has finished the entire series of piano lesson books meaning she presumably knows all there is to teach about how to play a piano and from now into the future, will just be tackling more difficult pieces. However as we were looking over her transition from gradeschool to middleschool, we encouraged her to pick up another instrument.

Pianos are great but are mostly stationary instruments. But perhaps the main reason for me was that those students who played a string instrument were grouped together in the school system in different groups that those who don't play instruments. I'm sure there are bullies and misbehaving violin and cello players all over the world but their numbers are such that the chances of one being in my daughter's grouping was low. Since there aren't a lot of orchestra players compared to the overall population of the school, one did slip through and made it into my daughter's grouping before he was suspended from school and moved to another group.

Besides the benefits of getting our daughter into a "preferred" grouping whose day schedule includes orchestra practice, my daughter just wanted to learn another instrument. Knowing this was coming and that everyone seen above but my daughter and two other students from her private school had been playing their instruments for over a year, we signed my daughter up for a string boot camp of sorts. She spent two weeks this summer learning to play a year's worth of violin. It paid off and I believe she is probably an above average player in the orchestra and perhaps someday she will make first chair where I can see her. She is in the above picture but all you can see are her legs from the knees down.

This was their first of four concerts that they will do throughout the year. I was highly impressed at how good they sounded and extremely impressed with how good they will apparently sound when in high school when the high school orchestra played later on in the evening. I'm glad my daughter made this choice and as a plus I wasn't counting on, she is still continuing her piano lessons as well. I wish I had her music talent. (I played the drums when I was her age but stopped upon graduation.)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Secret Project

In the garage during free time, I'm crossing off another one of my bucket list of woodworking items. It involved making some jigs (seen above) to help make repetitive work easier and repeatable.

I have spent the last several weeks cutting out various parts and putting all the features into them before stacking onto my workbench. It is a lot of work without much to show at that point but last week I finally got to the assembly stage and put all those parts into assemblies and later glues everything together. I have some tile to cut (that I'm using in part of my creation) and some final sanding to do and then I will be ready for the finishing process. I'm expecting that to take awhile with all the nooks and crannies I have to contend with.

In the end, I hope to have two sets of something that should serve us well for the rest of our lives. I'll tell you what those will be and show you the finished results in another later post.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hallow's Eve

Among other casualties of the extremely dry summer were the pumpkins this year. Back when I raised pumpkins for a living, the last year I raised them was also a drought year and coincidentally, the only year I lost money in all the years that I raised them. Unlike back then, there are more varieties that are more drought resistant than others and so my parents planted some of those along with the regular ones. Of all the pumpkins they planted, we had exactly four that were salvageable and all four were of a super big squash variety. The two we didn't carve were about 100 pounds bigger than these too. These were the runts of the litter and the one on the right was too malformed to even stand up on end.

This year, my youngest really got into the jack o'lantern making experience and besides pulling out all the guts of the pumpkin (the first time for that) she came up with her own design. Hers is the one on the right and she was quite pleased with how "scary" it looks.

My oldest, spent a half hour drawing various designs all over her pumpkin trying to achieve scary but in the end, thinks her pumpkin look only cute. I enjoyed watching them work and I did my part by cutting out the various parts to the best of my ability. One advantage to working off a variety of squash, the skin was quite soft compared to the standard pumpkin flesh which made carving a bit easier.

Tomorrow is trick or treat and both girls are excited to go out and get candy. The youngest is dressed up as Princess Lea and is super cute. She has already gained much attention with her costume including prominently displayed in our local newspaper after winning a costume contest. The other one is dressed as Rey from the latest Star Wars episode and whom I think we will find out this Christmas is the daughter of Luke Skywalker. My wife and I attended a costume party earlier and I went as Willy Wonka (the Wilder one and not the Depp one which I didn't even know existed until mentioned to me) and my wife went as one of my Oompa Loompas.

Happy Halloween to everyone!

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Day of Celebration

The day before I went down to the farm to help with soybean harvest, my mom finished taking her last pill of a year long chemotherapy treatment. Other than occasional MRI checkups now and then, we hope that her experience with brain cancer is over with. We celebrated with some hugs.

My mom has always been an active and healthy individual. She has taken care of herself all these years. So it was kind of a kick in the pants to have to swallow poisonous pills because that option is better than the other option which was basically death. Those pills were taken for five days straight with 28 days off in-between the next round, continuously for a year. The start of every five days of swallowing poison would be uneventful but by the end of the five days, my mom would be reduced to sleeping all day on the living room couch, something very hard for me to witness. However, two days after she finished that round, she would be back up again and another day or two later would be "normal" again until the next round began.

I don't know what her future will be. I try to remain balanced with what science says and what my hopes and prayers want. Science says that there is still another three and three quarter years left of life on average (and by average in the cancer industry, they mean that 50% of the people are still alive). The majority of experiences seem to say that once it comes back the second time, days are numbered. Only a rare few are able to beat it back a second time. Yet I read about numerous other cases where other people are still alive and kicking 15 years after their initial diagnosis.

So I try to focus on the positives and pray that my mom is one of those that gets 15 years or even better, dies of old age naturally. I watched a movie the other night called "A Monster Calls" about a young boy dealing with his mother dying from cancer. Although I am four decades older, I still can feel a lot of what he is going through and it rubbed my emotions raw many times.

I savor our time together.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Harvest Time

This year I haven't been able to help my parents bring in the crops as often as I would like. Most of that is because I am not needed compared to last year where my mom was finishing up radiation at this time. I also have a preschool child that needs a ride to and from preschool every weekday. But I finally made it out one sunny and very windy Saturday to help with soybean harvest already in progress.

This year was a weird one. Not only was it deathly dry all summer long, but now that the weather is back to normal patterns, the soybeans still have green stems and lots of leaves while the beans themselves are dry. They are also very short due to the drought. All this combines into making them hard to harvest. Fortunately, my parents farm is a tier of counties south of where I live so they got a few more rains (still considered to be in a moderate drought versus the extreme drought classification where I live) than us so their soybeans are better than those near me. The yield is about half of what it was last year which was a bumper crop. I would classify this just bordering the poor range for yield.

Last year I ran the catch wagon so that the combine never has to stop which makes harvest a bit faster. However that requires a bit of a learning curve every year and since I wasn't working everyday, I let the hired hand who had been running it continue to do so while I hauled the soybeans to the farm and augered them into a grain bin. The tractor in this picture was the one I completely rewired to a 12V system last fall/winter and blogged about quite a bit. We call it Ol' Dave after the person who owned it before us. (That person died in a tragic accident and his young daughters sold it to us along with part of his farm.)

Back in my youth, we had fixed augers which meant one had to pull up to the auger just right and know how to back up wagons with ease. These days my parents have augers with articulating joints that swing out under the wagon which means I just have to get close and rarely have to do any backing. For the most part, it isn't a very hard job but I say that as someone who has been doing it off and on for four decades.

Every once in awhile I make a trip up to the top of the bin to make sure the grain spreader is spreading the grain evenly throughout the bin and to see how full the bin was getting. When I took this picture, this was the last wagon I would be able to fit in this grain bin and all the others for the day were stored in another one. I enjoyed my day and hope to get another couple more in before the end of harvest.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ignorance Must Be Bliss

While waiting to pick up my mother-in-law from a hair appointment, my youngest and I swung into a nearby ice cream shop for a treat. It is a local institution that has been around since before I was born and thus it doesn't have such modern amenities as a big parking lot. The parking lot has parking perpendicular to the building on one side and about a lane and a half of room on the other half for cars to enter and exit parking spots. On the far side just off the parking lot are a row of tables and benches to enjoy your ice cream before driving home. I tell you this to set up the story I will now relay to you.

A beat-up minivan that has obviously been in several fairly violent collisions, to the point that the rear hatch had a padlock screwed to it to keep it closed and prevent people from stealing the van, pulled into the parking lot and parked about three feet from the row of benches where my daughter and I were consuming our ice cream. I thought the occupants were going to get ice cream and leave right away and thus the reason for their laziness of not walking the extra ten feet had they parked in a parking spot. However, after getting their ice cream they sat in their van and leisurely ate it.

Other cars came and went having to squeeze between their van and the row of parked cars or wait until a car squeezed by so they could squeeze by heading in the other direction. My vehicle was essentially blocked in by this minivan because I didn't think there was enough space to back out and get it turned in any direction without hitting the cars parked on either side of me or the minivan parked about ten feet behind my car. So we waited, and we waited, and we waited.

The occupants of the minivan, a man and woman in their upper 50's rolled down their windows and the man stuck his feet out the passenger side window. They were there for the long haul evidently. My vehicle has a backup camera so I figured that I might just be able to squeeze back and if I jockeyed it back and forth, I might escape. So we got in the vehicle and started slowly backing up.

Now modern backup cameras are quite good and even have several reference lines on them to tell the driver just how close you really are to something. Mine has a red line letting me know when I am within a foot of something though the resolution is good enough I could get within an inch and stop without touching. I was about half way out of my parking space when the lady sitting in the minivan started honking. I was probably at that point five feet away from her bumper. I stopped, raised my hand acknowledging that I knew she was there and proceeded to back up further. She kept on repeatedly honking. I still had a couple more feet to go. I paused and then very slowly kept backing up and then she just laid on her horn in one continuous beep.

At this point I was getting quite hot around the collar as she kept up her honking and everyone else in the parking lot turned around to see what was going on. I got within about six inches of her bumper and pulled forward until I couldn't go any further towards the car parked next to me. I backed up again cranking the wheel and again earned another continuous beep. I pulled forward a second time and still couldn't quite make it out, I backed up for a third continuous beep. Finally I was able to clear the car parked next to me and the minivan blocking the other lane in the parking lot. Since I was now heading the wrong way, I turned around and drove right by the lady in the minivan.

I rolled down my window.

"Ma'am, thanks for your honking but I have a rear-view camera in my car and knew how close I was without your blaring it at me. Perhaps if you had parked in a parking spot like every other person did, this whole thing could have been avoided."

She replied, "Kiss my ass."

It is times like this I wonder what the world is coming too.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Run Forrest Run!

My home county was having their annual fall celebration recently where all the little towns and villages get together and throw a party of sorts. There is some entertainment but mostly it is just a bunch of vendors selling junk and trinkets and places open up that are normally closed. I've been attending this event since its former incarnation thirty plus years ago as a craft festival where people came from far and wide to sell their homemade wares, in my case pumpkins and gourds. This year, we opted to do something a bit different and began our day as a family in the 10k/5k fun walk event. My wife was wanting to attempt running 10k for the first time, my dad wasn't sure he could still run 10k after all these years and my oldest daughter wanted to run her second 5k. I opted for walking on the fun walk since the run was on pavement and I wasn't sure my knees would hold out.

There were only about thirty people entered in all the races/walks and everyone took off as one. I opted to really push myself walking and averaged around 13.5 minutes per mile for the two mile fun walk. When I finished, the first of the 3k runners were already back. I chatted with my mom for awhile waiting for my oldest daughter to finish. However, one of the 3k runners that I had actually passed walking finally came walking back and I knew something was wrong. So my mom and I set off down the course looking for her. I got back to the one mile walk turn around which was only a half mile from the 3k turn around and still no sight of my daughter. I suspected that she had missed her turn around and was now running the 10k route and instead of encouragement, she might need a lift, so for the second time, while my mom continued on, I returned back to the start/finish line (having done the 2 mile fun run twice) and got in our car and drove down the route. (We are low key here, the road that the run/walk was on never was shut down to traffic.) I finally found my daughter, with my wife, about a mile from the finish line. My daughter had indeed gotten confused and ended up running to the 10k turnaround and wanted to finish the race. I picked up my mom and we returned to the finish line to inform the judges to what happened and wait for them to arrive. They did a short while later.

Although my daughter was signed up for a 5k, the judges scored her for the 10k and as a result, she won first place in the female under 14 category of which she was the only one entered. Lots of people came up to congratulate her accomplishment and I couldn't help think of the football scene in the movie Forrest Gump. My dad, scored first place in the male 65 and older category of which he was the only one entered. My wife finished her first 10k run and though she didn't get a medal, she finished and that was enough for her. We celebrated by driving on into town for lunch and then some of of walked the trinket stands while others headed for the farm where we all met up later for a visit before calling it a day.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Nuclear Option

After pouring the concrete "ground squirrel barrier" mentioned in my last post, I sat outside waiting for the concrete to dry which I can attest is half as fun as watching its quicker cousin paint dry. With no sign of the squirrel, I went into the garage just a few feet away and did some work. I peeked out an hour later to see the squirrel digging away at my freshly poured concrete. He saw me and dove into the drainpipe and disappeared. I grabbed the nearby garden hose and poured many gallons of water in after him. I smoothed the marks out of the concrete and put a spray nozzle on the hose and sat outside some more waiting for him to come back. He did and I hit him with a stream of accelerated water throwing him backwards several feet before he secured his footing and scampered away. Surely that would keep him away for the rest of the day.

An hour later he was back digging at the concrete which had set enough that he wasn't making progress but just marring the finish. I sprayed at him but didn't score a direct hit this time. I loaded up Amazon on my smart phone and bought a nuke in the form of a pump action pellet handgun. I think the ground squirrel sensed he had crossed the line because the next day, I didn't see any signs of him. The following day, thanks to my Prime account, my pellet gun arrived and still no sign of him. The third day however, was a day that would change both of our lives.

As our oldest got on the bus, I saw fresh digging in front of my concrete plug. He hadn't made any progress forward but the hole was about eight inches deep. I filled in in and got the pellet gun out. I threw a pop can out about 20 feet, took aim and fired. The pop can flipped across the lawn so I figured my aim might be good enough for a ground squirrel about half that size if I took careful aim. I put out a lawn chair about 10 feet from the former hole (the squirrel had been letting me get that close in the past before taking off), sat down and waited... and waited... and waited. The squirrel wasn't anywhere. So I went inside to take care of some desk work and an hour later came back out. The hole had been cleared back out down to a depth of a foot. Flames of hatred shot from my eyes and ears.

Worried that I might not be able to hit something so small and knowing the squirrel was onto me, I made a cardboard box target and loaded a pellet. With careful aim, I hit it about a half inch from the center at 20 feet out. I put the box away and hid behind my car 20 feet away from the hole (I had filled in yet again) and waited... and waited... and waited. Still no squirrel. I got up and walked around the house and then down to the ditch at the bottom of the hill when I finally found him. He was sitting on a large brush pile of all the sticks I pick up out of our lawn. He was up on top where he could no doubt have seen me in my chair and hiding behind my car. I slowly eased up to him but at 20 feet, he started getting nervous so I stopped.

I pulled the pellet gun out of my jacket, took careful aim and squeezed the trigger. The ground squirrel flipped up in the air a bit and then raced into the brush pile. Not sure if I hit him or just scared him and not wanting to leave him wounded, I dug around but never found him. The brush pile is really large so it was kind of like looking for a needle in the haystack anyway. I put the gun back in the garage, set up a mole trap over his former hole just in case and called it a day. I haven't seen him since and it has been over a week now. I hope I missed and he moved on. If not, he will get a cremation here shortly when I burn my pile of sticks.

Monday, October 16, 2017


One of the things I dislike about modern social media is you don't often hear about failures. Everyone writes posts about the things that went right and neglect to post about the ones that were complete failures, like my last attempt to curtail the ground squirrel from digging under my driveway.

Actually in all honesty, he hadn't yet gotten underneath my previous barrier and back underneath my driveway but it was only a matter of time judging by the new pile of gravel thrown out in my yard a few mornings back. Due to the lay of the land, he had discovered that if he came in from the left side of the above picture and squeeze in between the drain pipe and my previous concrete plug, he could bypass my effort to stop him with a little more effort on his part.

I discovered his handiwork on our way to a concert and as I was backing out of the garage, the little devil had the balls to stand up on top of my previous concrete plug and give me the eyeball. I gave him the evil eye right back for a minute until the other occupants in the vehicle urged me to progress towards the concert.

This time around, I dug a foot deeper all around my previous plug and mixed up and poured four bags of concrete versus the single one I poured before. In the process, I noticed a hole next to every single raspberry plant in our bed along that side of the house and by probing with a spade, discovered massive burrows more than 24 inches deep underneath every one. I stirred up the soil with my spade, compressed them with my foot and filled them in. I had wanted to put river rock instead of mulch in those beds back when we created them but gave in to my other half who wanted mulch. Since the raspberry bushes have mostly been destroyed, I'm going to try and bring that issue to a vote again soon in hopes of eliminating this problem once and for all.

I've also been doing some research on a pellet gun if the problem persists.

Friday, October 13, 2017


Although I don't collect antiques per se, I am fascinated by them. The two that have fascinated me the most are antique roll top desks and apothecary chests. The latter fascinates me having all these small drawers at which to tuck thinks into for storage. The former because I just like a desk with everything handy and a top which slides down to provide security and hide everything from view when not in use. I have a set of plans to build a roll top desk someday but I really don't have a place to put one so for now, it rests in a filing cabinet. However, a couple months ago I came upon plans for a small apothecary chest. It wasn't as big as I would have liked but it was a nice tabletop size and it might be good to experiment on a small version before messing up a large version. So about a month ago, I bought the lumber at a local Amish run sawmill and began.

It was my first time to use cherry for a project. I like oak, mahogany, and walnut but just never had the opportunity to use cherry. I also wanted to try a couple different finishing techniques to see if I can improve upon what I consider the weakest part of my woodworking game.  Working with cherry turned out to be easy enough to do and I had no major problems. I did build the drawer bodies out of cheaper poplar wood which I had plenty of problems with using a router. It seemed extremely prone to chip out where ever the router left the piece no matter what I used to prevent it from happening. As a result, I cut about 25% more blanks than I needed and still had to cut some more later and even then ended up using some I wasn't happy with to get enough parts to build the drawers. Fortunately, I was able to put most of the defects facing down or back on the drawers where they aren't really seen.

For finish, I just used boiled linseed oil thinned down with paint thinner and applied with a rag. I absolutely loved that. It was super easy to apply and came out a nice rich color. Always before I have used various stains and varnishes but never seem to get the depth of color I'm looking for. This worked great. Lots of people use spray on shellacs/laquers for the shell coat on wood projects. I don't have a sprayer and have never really thought the rattle-can shellacs aged very nice. The paintable ones work well but I only have the option to buy one gallon at a time. I've used polyurethane in the past but struggle with it. It dries so slow that it sags and runs if you are not careful, dries a lot slower and requires sanding between coats. But when completed, it provides and extremely hard and durable coat which will last forever. So when debating what to use, I found a small can of wipe on polyurethane with much faster dry times.

I really loved using it. It dried quickly, at least when it wasn't humid outside, and since it was in such a thin layer due to application with a rag, it didn't tend to run and sag. Also, because it dried quicker, it didn't get as much dust mites in it which meant it was much easier to sand. I just hand sanded with some 220 grit between coats and after the final coat wet sanded with some 600 grit. I then buffed it with some paste wax I had lying around. I'm very pleased.

This is a project I've always wanted to do but don't have any plans for it really. I'm just going to set it on a small buffet sideboard table we have in our living room for now and let time tell me what to use it for. Right now I'm thinking about moving the batteries out of our kitchen junk drawer into it and maybe a few other odds and ends. If I can't find a use for it inside, then I can always move it back out to the garage and store nuts and bolts type stuff in it since I never have enough small containers for those sorts of things.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fall Colors

I have always loved spring and fall and if you ask me my favorite, I'm sure I always reply according to which one arrives next. Currently my answer to that question is certainly fall. It is a period of beautiful sunny, dry, cool weather between the scorching dryness of summer and the frigid coldness of winter. It is a time of gathering in the crops that we (farmers) have nurtured all year long in hopes of enough to sustain us through next year. (Won't be the case this year which is why we save in times of good.) It is a time of family. All summer long we've been spread out with activities that are winding down and now we are approaching the season where we celebrate togetherness.

In that spirit, we loaded up the bicycles, laced on the tennis shoes and went for a bicycle ride/walk along the levee. My wife and oldest went for a bicycle ride. Since I don't ride so much these days, I don't enjoy the butt soreness that comes from lack of riding and I much prefer to walk, so I went for a brisk walk. My youngest rode her bicycle with training wills along side my mother-in-law who walks along too but at a much much slower pace. Everyone is happy.

The bridge on the right has been over three years in the repairing, for an initial summer long project. Due to high water, it took almost two years to resurface the top before it could finally open to traffic. They still had work to do on the piers below but high water last year prevented any work at all from being done. This year with the low water, they have been working on the piers starting on the side of the river I took this photo from and gradually working back to the other side removing their temporary access road as they go. They are down to their last few piers and then we can view upon the river without construction equipment in view, the first time in over three years.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Battle of Wills (Escalation of War)

No I am not referring to the leaders of North Korea and our Current Occupant. Rather I am referring to the war closer to home, in fact, right next to and underneath my home. It all started this summer when I noticed a few ground squirrels living in the rose garden in the back of our house. Though they were digging holes into the ground underneath them, they weren't hurting them so I adopted a live and let live policy. However during the recent picnic I discovered that one had evidently chewed through a perimeter drain tile that comes through a retaining wall that wings out from the house and was bring lots of clay out and piling on my lawn. My worry is that instead of water draining through the tile, it would now go through the dug holes next to the foundation and cause problems. I set some mole traps near the holes and eventually took care of the problem. Or so I thought.

I filled in those holes all around the rose garden and they haven't been dug out. Instead, another one has taken to digging out underneath where my concrete driveway meets the garage. Now it isn't as critical of an area but again, they were digging out copious amounts of gravel and dirt which leaves the driveway unsupported and eventually can break creating a pothole. I flooded the ground squirrel out with a water hose and filled the hole back in with gravel thinking he would move on. That didn't work. I set the mole traps again. He was smarter and dug around the sides of it. I filled it in and placed concrete bricks on top of the area. He dug under or around those. I did a better job of putting the bricks in and still the guy kept digging around them.

So I escalated the war and spent five bucks for a bag of concrete and after digging a huge hole so that I could shove as much of the gravel back underneath the slab, I plugged the entire area to a depth of a foot with concrete. I'm not sure what will happen next but if I had a smallish version of a nuclear bomb, I might do some test explosions to let him know I'm serious!

P.S. I had secretly hoped I had entombed the ground squirrel underneath my driveway but the next day when I went out to check if my plug of concrete worked, I saw the scene below. He is still around somewhere but as of a week after writing this, he isn't burrowed underneath my driveway and that was my goal.

Friday, October 6, 2017

More Clamps

With the toilet problem hopefully fixed for the time being, I went back to what I would rather be doing. Working on my project in the garage. I got the last of my drawer parts cut to size and all the details put on them and glued them up. I then put the bottom trim piece of the cabinet and clamped it up. See below. When the glue sets, I will have to glue and clamp the top trip piece on, attach the back panel and then sand everything. Once complete I will have to finish the project, attach hardware and it will be done.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Embracing the Throne

During our recent huge rain event, my mother-in-law told me that there was water in the bathroom. Since we had copious amounts of water falling, I took alarm and hustled down there but found not a drop of water. I figured it was some accidentally spilled water from the bathtub or something and promptly forgot about it.

A week later, she complained again that there was a leak somewhere and the rug surrounding the toilet was soaked. This time with a clue, I flushed the commode and instantly saw water pouring out from where it meets the floor. Sigh. I knew I had to spend quality time with my arms wrapped around a toilet and I really don't enjoy that position.

I checked the flange bolts and one was loose which briefly gave me hope that perhaps it would tighten down and solve that problem but a few wrench turns later I could see that it was pulling up through the plastic flange. Back when I remodeled that bathroom, the plastic flange that the toilet bolts to had been beat up but I had repaired it and the bolts had held when I tightened it. So now I knew I was going to have to pull the toilet at this point and replace/fix the flange again.

I shut the water off and disconnected the supply line only to discover that despite the valve being off, water was still trickling through. Those supply valves are extremely cheap and always do that with time so I wasn't surprised. I would be more surprised if one person made one that would last a lifetime but apparently nobody does that these days judging from the selection at hardware stores. So I quickly reconnected it to the toilet and headed to the hardware store.

I found a flange reinforcement ring made out of metal to fix what I suspected was the problem, got an extra thick wax ring, a new piece of crap supply valve and some concrete screws. Back home I turned off the water main and got the new supply valve in place so I could actually disconnect the supply from the toilet without water going everywhere. I pulled the toilet and saw the problem causing the leak. The flange had failed allowing the toilet to wiggle and over time the wax ring creating the seal had failed. So I drilled and screwed the reinforcement metal flange into the concrete floor, thankfully there was a concrete floor under this one, and soon had the toilet set in place again. However, there was no compressing wax down feeling so I lifted the toilet off again and saw that the extra thick wax ring lacked being thick enough by about a quarter of an inch.

Another trip to the store for a thin wax ring to stack on top and I was back in business. I set the toilet back on, this time feeling the wax compress creating a seal and started tightening the bolts. I have done this probably a dozen times in my life and I've always heard not to over tighten them or you could crack the porcelain. That is why they have plastic washers that cup and distort to give you an idea of when it is tight enough. For the first time, this didn't happen and I heard a loud pop just as I was giving it that last turn and a large chunk of the porcelain broke off. Crap.

Fortunately, the part that the bolt washer attaches to was still attached to the toilet so what broke off was largely cosmetic. I hooked up the supply line, another plastic piece of crap that I had bought earlier to the tank and turned on the water. It started dripping so I kept tightening until the plastic threads stripped and then water dribbled out at a faster clip. Fortunately the cheap supply valve worked when I turned it back off and made the third trip to town for a new supply line from a different store (and of much better quality I pleasantly discovered) and some epoxy to stick the broken piece of flange back together.

Back home, I successfully put the new supply line on and tested things. No leaks! I epoxied the broken piece of porcelain back on poking my finger so there was smears of blood everywhere as I hurried to smooth the epoxy before it dried. Finally I got everything fixed, the bleeding stopped and the blood wiped up.

I'm hoping that this will last for awhile but with the broken piece, I'm not holding my breath. Despite the epoxy, I know that at some point another piece of porcelain around the bolt this time might break off now that it has been compromised and this whole ordeal might repeat. However when that does, I will now have a working supply valve, supply line, reinforced metal flange and know that besides a new toilet I will need an extra thick was ring and a thin one as well. Now I have to go take a long hot shower to make me feel clean again after spending two thirds of a day hugging a toilet.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Fireball Run

It's not everyday you see a Maclaren in the poorest county of the state.

I've heard of the Cannonball Run and have seen the comedy movie of the same name but when I heard Fireball Run is coming to town, I honest didn't have any idea what it was about. As I soon found out, it is a television show by Amazon (didn't know they produced original programming either) filmed in real time and is about a cross country adventure to bring awareness to missing children.

I'm not sure how much of a heads up is given to towns along the way but I only found out through contacts within the city about two weeks before its arrival and saw the first advertisement for it about a week later. There was a push to pick up trash and spiff up the central park location where they were to meet and food trucks were allowed to park along the street to sell food.

Unfortunately for me, I was busy and couldn't make it until the last half hour of the scheduled two hour event so I probably missed some of the cars. I did see a Lamborghini but didn't get a picture because it was mobbed by people looking at it and frankly, I've seen a couple before during my travels. I hadn't seen a Maclaren (above picture) before nor have I seen the time machine from Back to the Future (below). The fellow driving it even had the long white hair of Doc Brown. All the other remaining teams still hanging around (40 teams total I was told) were driving rather ordinary vehicles covered in decals.

It was a nice distraction on my way to return library books for my oldest and to pick up parts for my next project which I was dreading. Next time.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Blessed With Good Timing

I'm not sure why, but my backlog of posting material has dried up and I had to hunt for a picture on my phone to have something to write about. I guess with school in session, oldest in a new school and the youngest in preschool part of the day, I've just been busy with family, and that is a good thing.

We did take another foodie road trip this past weekend to a restaurant half the state away from us which we have seen featured a couple of times on our local PBS station. I think I wrote about it on here earlier when we attempted to eat at it last time only to find the town was having a festival in progress and the restaurant was closed for the duration. Although the selections here were fairly typical of a local American restaurant, it was mostly prepared with local ingredients. There were lots of burger type meals but I ended up selecting the lamb and feta tacos with yogurt sauce. Very delicious.

I don't recall having written about this before but our family is blessed with good timing. I can't add up the number of times we have arrived somewhere only to have hordes show up after us forming long lines. This was no exception. We got there after one (they close at two) thinking we would avoid the noontime rush. We did and there were only a few other tables occupied when we entered. By the time we received our food, every table was occupied and others were ordering food to go. I don't know why or where this blessing of timing came from but I have never regretted it for a second.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

They Will Survive

Years ago I remember coming to this place with my grandfather. We stood in line outside, then after a bit inside and eventually we filed to a spot along one of the side walls behind an occupied stool at the horseshoe shaped counter. (There are probably only sixteen stools total in the entire place.) When you finally get a seat, the waitress gives you a glass of water and a spoon and asks for your order. You tell her the toppings because they only served one thing, loose meat sandwiches. My favorite order was mustard, onion with cheese. They slathered the toppings on the buns before handing them off to the lady manning the steamer. She would toss spoonfuls of meat between the buns, wrap it in wax paper and hand it to you. You consumed it, cleaned up the droppings with the spoon and ordered your next one. When you went to pay, all you had to do was tell them how many canteens you ate and if you had a piece of pie with it. Because of the business model, the average person is probably in there for less than 10 minutes which means they can serve a lot of people over a lunch hour.

Years later the city wanted to tear down the Canteen to creating a parking garage. Residents had a fit so they ended up building the parking garage around the business. Now you walk through the parking garage or up the alley to get to it, that is until recently. Years later, the city is now embracing this business tucked away underneath a parking garage in an alley and are going to beautify the alley with paved walkways, landscaping and lighting. To do that they are digging up the alley and replacing all the plumbing underneath first. When i walked by on this particular day, they were right in front of the Canteen and the only way to access it was the narrow band of concrete left right in front of the building and guarded by a plastic net. Make one misstep and it was another 10 feet or so to the bottom of the pit they were digging.

I love places like this and hope that it will be there for my children to provide my future grandchildren with the same experience I went through. The only thing that has changed in the last 40 years is a few of the ladies that run it. Mind you though that not all of them have changed, just aged!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Get Your Clamp On

I was working on a project of making a miniature version of an apothecary chest and had a particularly hard time getting everything pressed together nicely as it had been during the dry assembly process. I think partly it was because there were so many pieces that I got them mixed up at some point and between the time I cut the joints, dry assembled the thing, took it apart and then started gluing it, all the moisture from the rains made the properly sized joints a bit snug. As a result, the front didn't end up as flush as I would like it to be which means I will have to do more sanding than planned but I think it will be alright. It also meant that I needed a lot of clamps to get everything pulled in tightly.

Fortunately over the years I have collected a fair number of bar clamps at auctions and garage sales and used probably 2/3rds of them just on this one operation. When I was done, it reminded me a bit of a porcupine and was a reminder that one can never have too many clamps when building stuff out of wood.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Getting Hit Below the Belt

The forecast for yesterday morning was for scattered thunderstorms to pass over us without much accumulation of rain. I don't have enough fingers to count up the times this year that has been the forecast and we have received not a drop of rain. But due to a sick child during the early morning hours, I had plenty of time to hear the rain falling and at times really hard to know we were getting a pretty significant rainfall. We received an inch of rain last week, the first such amount of rain since May 1rst this spring. But this sounded like more. I was guessing two inches but it was still too dark to see the rain gauge.

It is too late for the crops and has been for a long time. Farmers around here have already been in the corn fields for a week, an unheard of early start thanks to the premature death of their crops. Early yield tests are showing corn has been making 30 to 50 bushels per acre. Compare that to last year when corn was producing 240 to 260 bushels per acre. Right now, it is just about harvesting what little there is to reduce the amount of planting expenses that went into it this spring. In just about every other facet of life, is someone was told that they would only get 12% of their salary for the entire year, it would be utter devastation. For farmers, it is the facts of life and not only due you take that 88% reduction in your salary, but you double down and put in another crop next year.

Although it was still raining yesterday morning when I couldn't wait any longer, I went out in my bare feet to check the rain gauge. Being lazy and not wanting to have to clean my glasses, I left them inside as well. When I got over to the rain gauge I was dumbfounded because I couldn't see the water line at all. There wasn't a single drop of rain in that thing! I figured it must have cracked and touched the glass tube only to have some water slosh off the top. I had been wrong. It wasn't empty but was clear full and running over. It's only a 3" rain gauge but that has been the first time in years, perhaps a decade that we've gotten that much (how much I still don't know yet) rain in one storm.

As I surveyed my yard in the early dawn light, I could see a puddle of water, the first puddle I have seen all year and what a gorgeous sight it was. All those cracks that extended down 18" were now sealed up and the dirt had swelled and filled in the huge cracks along the sidewalk and driveway. Water was actually flowing through my reinforced entrance to my driveway culvert (worked like a charm!) and was flowing out the bottom of my newly installed retaining wall and all the way down to the ditch by the road in the bottom of the valley. Another thing I haven't seen happen since last year sometime.

While it was nice knowing that we are finally getting some rain which is a start, (we were over 20" short since last fall) to perhaps see us over winter, it was a real gut punch for the farmers. Not only do they have minimal crops to harvest, but if this keeps up, they will have to destroy their fields to get what little they have out. When you mud out a crop (named for the wheels of the equipment digging deep muddy furrows into the field), it compacts the soil and it takes two to three years to undo the damage which is a further reduced yield in those tire tracks.

Hopefully this storm isn't a sign of a trend that will continue the rest of the fall. There is still plenty of time for harvest if our typical dry fall starts today and run for the next six or seven weeks. Then the pre-winter rains can come and soak the ground really good for next spring and we can start over again. We'll just have to wait and see since obviously the weatherman can't be trusted.

(Since I wrote this yesterday, I have learned that we got somewhere between 5-1/2" and 6" of rain. A sign of how dry it was; an hour later I was working out in my lawn and the ground was still firm to walk on.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Living With Bats

I love watching bats at night fly around in the evening twilight catching all those bugs that would otherwise try and suck my blood. This year, the bug problem hasn't been a problem so they have no water in which to breed in. Also related there aren't any birds around either since water is not to be found anywhere close by. But back to bats and my love for them, WHEN they aren't flying inside my house.

Three days ago, I had one of my spells where no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get to sleep. I got up and tried this and that and kept returning to bed only to watch the clock roll past one, two, three, four and five. As it rolled past five, I could feel my body finally wearing out and sleep descending on me. I knew I had to get up shortly but even a little over an hour and a half of sleep might be the difference between barely functional to totally crazy. As sleep enveloped me, I jumped three feet out of bed to the bloody murder screams coming from both of my daughters. Thinking some deranged lunatic was chasing them down the hall with a long knife, I hustled out of the bedroom and quickly ascertained that it was a deranged lunatic but a blood thirsty bat that was going to suck the life out of them.

I shushed them down, shut all the doors I could and spent an hour doing a sweep of the house but could find no bat. I bid anymore sleep an evening and suffered through the rest of the day. That evening we had a party to go to and took our oldest daughter with us while the youngest stayed home with my mother-in-law. When we got home late, I found the tennis racket that I still keep just for this occasion had moved but everyone was in bed and there were no signs of the bat. I learned the following day they had seen it again but it was still nowhere to be found.

My oldest looked up somewhere on line that they can only live 24 hours without food or water so I assumed that I would only find a bat carcass sometime in the future at this point. I didn't see him the rest of the day and we put the girls to bed that night with assurances that the bat was long since dead. The oldest closed her door just in case but the littlest one wasn't so sure. A half hour later as my wife and I were enjoying a peaceful evening, the littlest one came running out saying she had seen the bat. I assured her it was just her imagination and she cuddled with my wife on the couch. Our plan was to wait for her to fall asleep and transfer her to her bed. Fifteen minutes go buy when all of a sudden I see a bat come up the stairway, circle through the living, dining and kitchen  before diving back downstairs. Unfortunately the little one saw it too.

I did another fruitless search for the creature but he wasn't flying around and with a 1001 nooks and crannies to hide in, I gave up and just shut all the doors in the house hoping that I could get him trapped in one room where I might deal with him. The little one of course wouldn't be sleeping in her room that night so we made a pile of blankets beside our bed and she slept there only after she verified that the door was locked.

Day three dawns and life was progressing through morning almost towards noon when I heard the bloody murder scream again. This time I spotted the bat right outside my office inside the basement flying this way and that. I grabbed my tennis racket, opened up the basement walkout door and tried to shoo the thing outside. It instead crawled behind a framed picture on the wall. I took the picture off and again tried to shoo it around but it crawled into my bookcase. I shoo'd it out of the bookcase and I could see that getting it outside was a lost cause. I started taking swings and on the fifth or sixth attempt (those things never fly in straight lines), I clipped it enough that it landed on the floor.

The funny thing about bats is that they can't take off from a floor. They don't have enough power or lift to do so which is why they roost on ceilings or in places up high. So now I had a bat scrambling across the floor seeking shelter and the thought of four screaming girls who are afraid of them causing havock to my life until the poor thing finally died of starvation or thirst. So I did the only thing I could think of in the second or two I had left before it crawled into someplace I couldn't extract him. I put the poor guy out of his misery.

The young one immediately came down to see the bat up close and I took a picture of it to show the oldest as evidence that it is no longer among the living. Both were satisfied that it is gone and the days of cries of fear whenever they had to walk down the hallway or fetch something downstairs are over with, for now. We used to get the occasional bat at our old house and I had thought this was the first one we had here in the five years that we lived here but my oldest reminded me that we had one when we first moved here and I faintly remember that episode. So if the law of averages works out, I probably have another three to five years of peace again before the next bat enters my life.

Monday, September 18, 2017


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


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.

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.