Friday, December 29, 2017

Clayton Folkerts

Clayton Folkerts was born in Iowa in 1897, the same years as my great grandmother Grace. He was a self-taught extremely gifted mechanic and was building airplanes by the time he was 19 years old. Although my grandfather claimed he "invented" the timing mechanism for firing a machine gun through the front prop, I'm pretty sure that part is pure fiction. Clayton did work with an Iowa based aerospace company after World War I ended and maybe had a hand in perfecting the mechanism. He was famous for his radical designs and is credited with building the first monocoupe. By 1928, 90% of all light airplanes sold were monocoupes. Also known is that Charles Lindbergh was one of Clayton's most famous customers.

In the 1930's through the 1950's, Clayton's airplanes dominated the world of speed flying and won/set numerous records. It is documented that when World War II began, Clayton was a project manager in the development of trainers and gliders used during the war. After the war, Clayton returned to Iowa, retired and lived a quiet life until his death in 1964.

He didn't get married until later in life and married someone named Florence Fontaine whom both my grandparents claimed to be a cousin to my great grandmother Grace. I can find very little on the internet about Florence but was able to find a number of records on her using my genealogy resources. It appears from the age of 11 when I picked up her trail until she met and married Clayton, she was an orphan and moved around a lot. My grandparents gave me what they thought was her surname and although there is a Florence in that line, my ancestor Florence was 19 years younger and didn't live in any of the places Florence Fontaine or Clayton Folkerts did. I was pretty convinced that if Florence Fontaine is related, it is more distant than a first cousin.

The next time I saw my grandparents, I questioned them about how Florence Fontaine was related to my great grandmother Grace and told them that she apparently was orphaned at an early age. That seemed to spark their memories that she may have just grown up with my great grandmother Grace. Although they may have, it would be between the census records taken every ten years because according to them, Florence Fontaine was never in Iowa until after the war when Clayton Folkerts retired and moved back there. Then she lived a handful of miles away from my great grandparents and this is the time my grandparents can remember visiting them.

Whatever the truth is, the Folkerts and my great grandparents became good friends and when Florence died in 1982 without any heirs, she left a sum of $30,000 to my great grandmother who used those funds to buy a condo in a retirement community that gave her great joy until she passed away. As I suspected, there was some truth in what my grandparents told me and it definitely is an interesting story but I may never know it all. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Close Calls

My grandfather posing with his airplane
Another interesting story that came from my grandfather was about his airplane, actually his half of the airplane. After he learned to fly, he and another person each bought half of an airplane which they shared. Eventually family life and the high cost of fuel made my grandfather decide to give up his share of the airplane and the other owner, Hadley Caster bought my grandfather out.

Less than two years later, Hadley Caster who was using the plane to spray crops crashed and killed himself in the plane. My grandfather only learned of it by seeing a funeral notice in the paper and going to the funeral. My grandfather said Hadley's widow mentioned that Hadley had been complaining about a sticking aileron the day before and suspected that is what caused the crash. Being a single person accident, I'm guessing there was no formal investigation back in those days.

Years later soon after my grandfather retired, a friend of his who had a license offered to take him up in his plane. It was at a small rural airport with no formal control tower. Instead pilots just used a common channel to warn others there of their intentions. The airport had two runways that made a giant X and there were two or three planes lined up at the end of the one heading into the wind waiting their turn to take off. My grandfather's friend didn't want to wait and so announced over the radio that he would be taking off on the intersecting runway. The problem was that later, they discovered his radio wasn't working and so nobody heard them.

My grandfather's friend took off at the same time another pilot on the intersecting runway was taking off. Fortunately the other pilot saw the problem in the nick of time and had enough horsepower to jerk the plane to the side barely missing the plane my grandfather was riding shotgun in. My grandfather said they were close enough to hitting he could see the face of every single passenger in the other plane looking at him while my grandfather's friend continued on unknowing at how close he had just come to death.

My grandfather said he never flew in an airplane again until this spring when we flew him back to Iowa to where he and my grandmother now live.

Using google-foo and my subscription to some newspaper archives, I've tried teasing out the article on Hadley Caster's death but have been unsuccessful thus far. There are lots of articles listing spray planes that crashed and killed the pilot but rarely do they name the pilots.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas

Our red cedar Christmas tree in 1981

Looking back through all the old pictures, I found this picture of our decorated red cedar Christmas tree from 1981 in our old farmhouse where we used to live. It was in pretty rough shape and all my doctoring of the photo using photo editing software could only produce this image which is quite dark. Still it shows the wood paneling that was through the old farmhouse and the picture of the two cartoonish lions up on the wall that I had forgotten about. It brings back lots of memories.

Merry Christmas to all my friends in blog land!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Seeking the Truth

Recently I decided to try my tape recording technique that I have been using on my grandma with my grandpa. My grandfather used to fly airplanes and his father used to be an airplane mechanic in World War I so I brought up the subject. We started with my great grandfather's experience with planes which was pretty limited. When he got to France, he was picked to take a plane up with problems to diagnose them but my great grandfather's best friend ended up in it for reasons lost to time. Long story short, the best friend crashed and was killed and my great grandfather decided to never fly. Instead he focused on being an airplane mechanic during the war.

According to my grandfather, my great grandfather was friends with someone by the name of Clayton Falkirk who invented the timing mechanism that allowed machine guns to be fired between the blades of the airplanes during World War I. Clayton was a aerospace engineer for an airplane company that came up with this idea. Much later when Clayton died, he left my great grandmother (my great grandfather had died a few years earlier) a sum of money to the tune of $30,000, a substantial amount of money back then. That money allowed my great grandmother to buy a condo near my grandparents where she lived out most of her remaining years in comfort. According to my grandparents, Clayton was the spouse of a cousin to my great grandmother.

I had heard the story of a "cousin" giving my great grandmother a large sum of money which she used for buying the condo but never heard who this person was or the story of the timing mechanism for airplane machine guns. I thought this would make a great story to investigate and flesh out but alas, I have been able to confirm not a single thing about it.

A quick search shows that he was not the inventor of the timing mechanism though oddly enough their is a Anthony Falkirk involved on the side of Germany. However, from experience, their is usually truth buried in what my grandparents tell me and I'm guessing that Clayton was indeed probably an engineer for an aerospace company here in the U.S. during World War I and probably indeed had a hand in the development of the U.S. version of the timing gear. I'm sure he is probably the spouse of a cousin as my grandfather said but whether it be a close or distant cousin is up in the air.

I'm not sure how I will proceed from here. I might poke around the first cousins to my great grandmother looking for someone named Clayton Falkirk or similar and go from there.


What a difference typing in the correct name makes. I should have been typing in Clayton Folkerts. He is quite well known for building racing airplanes after he returned from the war but I still have yet to find anything that ties him in with the timing mechanism for the machine gun. Also, little is known about his wife Florence Fontaine (supposedly a cousin to my great grandmother). I can find records of her living with others from ages 11 on up but no record of her parents. What I can find is that they lived in the town my grandfather said they were from and where he visited them as a young man. Their death dates also match the timeline. Now if I can just find out the relationship.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Sorry for the poor quality of picture but I took it with my phone through a window. If you look close, there is probably a dozen of around twenty turkeys that I recently saw walking across our lawn in the closing weeks before Christmas. As I watched them do their thing, I couldn't help but remember them doing the same thing last year or the year before. By same thing, I mean brazenly coming out after Thanksgiving. It is like they know the danger of disappearing to someone's table is over for the time being so they can come out in the open. The way the strut, they always appear to be pretty cocky about the situation.

For some reason, probably due to some sort of update, my phone has taken to trying to correct photos based off what is in them. It automatically tilts my photo to make my lawn look level (which it is far from) and makes the house across the holler look like it slopes downhill. I find myself having to go in and manually retilt them to make everything look okay. Since this picture was destined for blogger, I didn't bother.

Another thing you won't notice is that I'm missing a tree in the background. The missing tree stood directly behind the caged tree sprout in the center of the photo. It was actually about five feet back into the brush line so you can't see the stump. That was the dead black cherry tree that I cut down for the burl. We've had a disease going around here for about five years now that is decimating any red oak or black cherry tree in a stressed condition. Since both those trees are among my favorites for their longevity, hardiness and ease of caring for in your lawn (i.e. don't shed a lot of branches), I'm sad to see them go. It's allowing the maples to thrive, among them the silver maples which I hate because they are kind of a junky tree to keep in a yard that you mow.

One non-photo related subject is just an update on my grandmother who fell on Thanksgiving day and broke her hip. I took her to see the Orthopedic doctor and he said she can walk on it now as tolerated as long as she uses a walker. My grandmother practically jumped out of the wheelchair and it has been gathering dust since. Another two or three weeks and the walker can gather dust as well. I'm pretty happy about getting some of my "free" time back again.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Burl Dreams

Soon after we moved into our current house, I noticed a black cherry tree down in our ditch that had a large burl growing on it about twenty feet in the air. Though the base of the tree was only a little over a foot in diameter, the burl was almost twice that at the thickest point. But it was a young tree so I never thought I would get to see what the wood inside the burl looked like.

Three years ago, the tree started dying and two years ago it did die. However, it was leaning in the wrong direction for me to easily cut it down with a chainsaw and so I opted to wait until my brother was around before cutting it down. My brother works for the Forestry Department and is well certified to run a chainsaw. Last year, my brother spent all his time with me helping my father bring in the crops while my mom was undergoing radiation treatments so neither of us had time for trees. Finally, this year the stars aligned and we cut down the tree last week.

I'm glad I had my brother because it took some specialized cuts and use of many wedges to get the tree to fall in a safe direction and even then we still had to fight the thick undergrowth to get at the wood. The top part of the tree too far dead to be of much value and it was only half way down that we started getting into solid wood. The burl itself was a little farther gone than I had hoped it would be but I think still salvageable. So we cut it off and loaded the rest of the wood into my father's pickup for my brother to take back to the farm for the wood stove.

As you can see, the burl is sitting in my garage for the moment and I have an appointment on Friday with someone who is willing to cut it up.  It's like staring at a Christmas present and not knowing what is inside. I'm hoping to find highly figured cherry wood that would be beautiful in all kinds of projects but you just never know until it is cut open. Stay tuned and I will let you know what I find out.

Friday, December 15, 2017


Since I tend to blog unfiltered with the exception that I change some names or places just to remain somewhat anonymous, I end up with a lot of things hanging in the air so I thought I would just create an update post.

My mom is still cancer "free" as of this post. Everything says that little bits and pieces probably remain but they just don't show up on imaging and aren't growing. Her strength has for the most part come back now that her chemo is over with and so has her mental faculties. I read about how much that poison she took to kill the cancer could effect other processes but until you see it in person, I don't think one can fully understand.

My grandmother is healing up fast and will probably be released from the acute rehab wing of the nursing home sometime next week. She will still have to use a wheel chair for another few weeks until the hip bone is allowed to fully heal but she can get up and out of it at will and just hop around using one foot to get to where she needs to be. Although I will still probably make daily trips for the time being to check on both her and my grandpa, they won't be as long as they are now. I spend about three hours a day attending to them which for the most part just involved listening to them talk since being in their own separate cocoon worlds has probably been the most difficult part of this process after nearly 70 years of marriage. Getting a couple hours back in an already very busy life is huge.

The bookcase project got put on hold and I fear it may remain that way until spring. Ever the optimist, I did take an hour to go pick up a few more boards at the local Amish sawmill to finish the project if time and weather (of the warmish kind) permit. With only a week and some change left to go until Christmas, I will probably put all projects aside and focus on family things. If I can't work on the bookcase, I have one more bathroom I wish to gut and redo in this house so I may do that over the winter months.

As soon as Thanksgiving was over, my grandparents both got struck with a cold and my kids came down with a stomach virus in the days afterwards. It wasn't only them but the entire state was having issues. As I nursed all of them back to health, I felt like a doomed man awaiting my execution. Yet days came and went and I avoided it. Now everyone has been healthy for a week and until yesterday, I thought I had won the lottery of health. But yesterday the sneezes and runny nose came on with a vengeance and today my sinus cavities are plugged and my throat sore. I take comfort only that I don't have the stomach virus too. Knock on wood.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

It Smells Like Christmas

[I wrote this a couple weeks ago with intentions of sending it to the local newspaper and never followed up so I'm posting it here.]

It may have been because we were living through the farm crisis of the 80’s. It may have been because my parents have always been frugal. It may have been because they grow plentifully around the family farm. It may be because of all three that we have always liberated a red cedar tree from its earthy toil to become our family Christmas tree. This year was no different.

We drove down to my parent’s farm on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon and spent a few moments discussing various potential red cedar trees that had been spotted from the combine during fall harvest or while driving along the miles of back country gravel roads between our farms. Most were too big, some grown into a fence or lopsided and were ruled out. Eventually we decide on some potential trees that might suit our Christmas tradition needs and headed out.

Growing up with a little brother and two parents with differing opinions, we seldom unanimously decided on the perfect red cedar Christmas tree. As expected with a group of four, we often ended up in a two-two tie of which tree to cut down. Because we never had a coin between us to flip, this always led to the glove flip to break the tie. Thumb up or thumb down, I’m sure there is a statistical advantage to one of those sides.

We arrived at the previously discussed trees and this year, unlike most, we decide fairly quickly which tree is the perfect tree to take home. With five passengers in our minivan, adding a red cedar tree makes for a tight fit so I tie a rope to the tree and truss it up, pulling it into a more compact bundle. As we stood there investigating the growth rings to figure out the tree was probably nine or ten years old, my oldest caught a whiff of that cedar smell and commented, “It smells like Christmas.” My daughter had just summed up our family tradition in one sentence. 

With the tree home, we get it put into the tree stand and watered, adding a generous amount of food coloring to take out any reddish hues that are there and turning it into a beautiful green Christmas tree. Tomorrow the needles besides being green, will be soft and supple again and we will begin the decorating. For the next few weeks, that glorious red cedar smell will be every present in our house. It will truly smell like Christmas.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Lifting the Fog

Although my grandma is getting better everyday, but I can see the toll being put on her by living in an acute rehab wing of a nursing home. She is surrounded by elderly people, mostly ladies, in various states of dementia. I think just being alone for much of the day when I or my mom aren't visiting her is causing her to fog up a bit. She has kept telling me a handful of stories pertinent to her immediate daily life over and over and over for the last two weeks.

Today however, I stumbled across perhaps a solution. Somehow we got to talking about her mom who had also been in a nursing home for many years of her life. At first she was with my great grandfather in a nursing home as he succumbed to cancer of the remaining lobe of his lung. The other half had been removed years earlier due to the same cancer. Then my great grandmother got hit by a train and ended back into a nursing home.  She eventually got her strength back and left the nursing home to rotate among the four siblings of my grandma for a month at a time. But eventually Parkinson's took over to the point where she couldn't get around easy enough and had to return to a nursing home for the remaining years of her life.

But as we talked about my great grandmother, the fog lifted from my grandmother and she was back to normal again. We had so much fun talking about it that she mentioned at the end of the conversation that we should talk about such things again the next time. So I think from now on I'm going to record our conversations and probe family history matters for the next week or two until my grandmother can be released to go back to her own apartment. It will be a win win situation for both of us.

05 Sep 1954 Waterloo Daily Courier

Friday, December 8, 2017

Call Me Mr. Unicorn No More

My transformation into a unicorn began probably two or three years ago, probably while rubbing sunscreen onto my forehead. Right in the center of my ever increasing forehead, I felt a small hard bump. Being married to a doctor, I asked her right away if it is something I need to get checked out but she said she wasn't worried. Periodically over the next three years as the bump began to get bigger I would repeat my question only to get the same answer.

Sometime earlier this year, it had grown enough that it was noticeable to other people such as my mom who notice such things. I even started getting an irritated red hue on the skin above the horn (my term for it). I asked my wife one last time if she was concerned fully prepared to fire her and go get a second opinion but this time she said I should get it checked out and even made an appointment for me to see a plastic surgeon!

"But it is just a horn."

"Yes but I don't want your face to be horribly disfigured."

"I can't help it that I was born that way."

"Correction, I don't want it any worse."

So I went to see the plastic surgeon and as surgeons tend to do he shouted, "Off with the unicorn horn!" He really didn't shout but like I expected, he was all for removing it and seeing just what he was working with. He did promise me a whiskey IV if I behaved. I signed on the dotted line.

The day of the surgery, my first in over 25 years, I showed up and was amazed at how much things had changed. Gone were the gowns showing butt cracks and long waits in said gowns among the general population. Instead I was ushered into a private room where I could put on the gown that showed the sides of my thighs instead of my butt crack. From there however, I was plumbed up to IV's, (he lied, there was no whiskey) and whisked into the operating theater and transferred to the slab which seemed more comfortable than I remembered.

Within seconds the lights started swirling about and going dim. The theater show was about to start!

I was only sedated and not under general anesthesia but I'm sensitive to it anyway and slept through the entire procedure except for one part, the actual removal of the unicorn horn! The actually took a hammer and chisel and although I couldn't feel anything, I could sense the impacts forcing my head to the right with every hit. Fortunately for the power of sedation, I didn't care one bit and fell back asleep before they started to drill to remove any subsurface cells that were causing this bone to grow.

Sometime between the operating theater and the recovery room, I popped wide awake and fully aware. Seconds later my wife was being ushered in and maybe less than an hour later I was walking out the doors with a ugly looking "gunshot" wound to my forehead. I was no longer a unicorn.

As I right this a week later, the wound while still visible is showing signs of healing and scabbing over. According to the doctor I have a few more days and then the sutures will fall off on their own and once the scab falls off, I will have a red scar, that will fade to white and after a year fade away into the wrinkles of my forehead.

Being a good surgeon, they tested my horn and found that it was truly just a bone and nothing to worry about. I'm sure my wife wanted to tell me that she had been right all along but she graciously refrained. Good beside manners and all. I guess I could have let it continue to grow and joined the circus sideshow as Mr. Unicorn but those dreams have been dashed. Still, I have gotten great joy telling all those who have inquired about what caused my wound that I woke up with a third eye, decided that just wouldn't do and poked it out with a chopstick.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Feeling Old

This past weekend, a colleague of my wife invited us to his house for an after office party party. We attended the official office party first and then slipped out and went to his house on the sly since only the "cool" office workers and their spouses were invited to the after party. It felt great to be cool again.

My wife's colleague is about ten years my junior but when you get above the halfway point of life expectancy, ten years doesn't seem like that much. But when we entered the house, I immediately felt the difference. There were a bunch of young-uns probably twenty years my junior playing beer pong and flippy-cup when we entered the door. My wife and I were by far the oldest people at that point.

We stood around watching the young kids having fun until eventually some others our age and even a number of people much older showed up and we all retired to a side room to sit and enjoy our beverages over conversation while listening to the young people play their games to guzzle their drinks.

Occasionally they would come to our room asking for volunteers for their beer games but none of us budged. We were enjoying our conversation and nursing our drinks along at a social rate. Eventually we started making excuses to leave, most involving getting up early or checking in on the kids. As we drove home, I couldn't help but remember those days when I was one of the young-uns in the other room. Though they made me feel old, I still don't think I would trade a single day next week for a week of being that young again and playing beer games.

Monday, December 4, 2017


Thank goodness Blogger allows me to write stuff and set it up to be posted at a future time or my blog would have been awfully silent in the week after Thanksgiving. Here's the story why.

Thanksgiving this year was down on the family farm with my family, my parents and my grandparents in attendance. I smoked a turkey as tradition dictates a couple days ahead of time this year due to my weather concerns on my normal day before routine. We baked rolls and pies, our other obligations, loaded up the car and drove down on the morning of the feast.

All was well and we ate our share and then our share for later that evening and boxed up leftovers so we would get our share well into the next week. We visited with one another until my grandparents decided it was time to get going so that they could be home well before dark and we could get on with the second part of our Thanksgiving tradition, the harvest of a red cedar from its earthly toil to become our Christmas tree.

My 88 year old grandfather can shuffle with the aid of a cane but it stooped over and has very bad depth perception due to ongoing macular degneration in his eyes. To get in or out of my parents house, there are three steps to negotiate and so we all took up our posts, some below, some above to help guide my grandfather safely down the steps. Nobody wants him to fall because it would be broken bones or instant death and neither would be good on Thanksgiving day. My grandfather safely made it down and my dad was guiding him towards the car.

I headed back inside to gather up some things for my grandmother who was coming along behind. Although my grandmother is 84, she gets around like someone much much younger so none of us were worried as she negotiated the steps. However she turned at the last second to say something to me, forgot about the steps and ended up going head first down them and landing on her side on the concrete landing below. Fortunately with plenty of family and a doctor in the house, she was in good hands and after getting her senses, we gently stood her up. She couldn't put any weight on one of her legs and we all suspected a broken hip.

Long story made a bit shorter, she got a ride to the ER on Thanksgiving day when most are comatose from tryptophan laced turkey in our car where she was found to have a non-displaced fracture of the hip. Being the caregiver to my grandfather, we now had to grandparents in need of taking care. My grandmother spent three days in the hospital and was transferred to an acute rehab nursing home across the parking lot from their apartment in the independent living section. I've been making daily trips to take care of my grandfather in his apartment and taking him for visits to my grandmother while my mom has been taking care of my grandmother. Once we got them all in one facility separated by some long hallways and a parking lot, we are starting to alternate days.

Right now it is looking like another couple weeks for my grandmother to get kicked out of the nursing home back into her apartment and then another four weeks or so before she is allowed to put any weight on her hip and leg lest her fracture turn into a displaced fracture which would require surgery and months upon months of healing. Sprinkle that with two kids who came down with the stomach bug one after another followed by a bad cold that has been traveling around and I've been pretty busy to say the least.

We did sneak down to the farm a few days later and liberated a small red cedar tree from its earthly toil and it now sits in our house awaiting for decoration when the kids (and we parents) are healthy enough to do it together. My grandmother, a self-described tough old bird, is healing now and the prognosis of many years of quality life still in her future. However, she will now have an escort when she navigates stairs from now on whether she likes it or not.

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Little of This, A Little of That

A few weeks back, my father called me to say someone at his church had asked him to join a 7-mile run up in the Urban Jungle and now he wanted to know if my wife or I were interested. Although it was only a week away, we didn't have any particular plans for that weekend so my wife was immediately game. I was up on the fence until I did some research. I've had two knee surgeries removing cartilage from one knee so I try to avoid impact sports that can cause me pain and swelling discomfort, running being one of them. However my research showed that this was an off-road fun run through fields, streams and muddy ditches and it looked like lots of people walked the entire course. I decided to join in the fun.

It rained the night before and the morning of the race was very cold "limiting" the participants to only a couple thousand! The first four miles went by pretty fast and was mostly spent walking through fields, gravel roads and a few paths through wooded areas. Everyone, including me, were starting to find their pace and we were spread out nicely. Then the stream crossings began.

These were small streams only a few yards wide but over the thirty plus years of holding this event, the crossing were pretty horrible. They were pretty much drop-offs of several feet to get into the stream and the same on the other side. Fortunately there were usually some handy ropes or trees to allow you to pull yourself out the other side. That was the easy part. The hard part was that the next hundred yards or so of trail after a stream crossing was invariably muddy and uphill. Duck walking to escape the stream bottoms was very tiring indeed.

By the time I reached the finish two hours after I started, I my legs were jelly and I felt completely spent. Still I felt pretty good about finishing until the next day. Though I wore shoes that I have worn walking for hundreds of miles, I still managed to bang up the ends of my second toes on each foot. Two days later my "knuckle" on my large toe on my left foot started swelling up a bit and as I write this two days later, still felt a bit like I fractured something in it. Not sure what I did wading through those creeks and mud for seven miles but I definitely managed to do some damage.

I didn't want to head my post with this photo for obvious reasons but the two gentlemen whom need no pointing out, were nearby to me for almost the entire seven miles... unfortunately. I finished a few people behind the cowboy and the bearded man finished somewhere behind me.


Hobbling through the grocery store on my gimpy foot, I ran across a guy who looked familiar but I just couldn't place. He came up to me and asked if I lived on such and such street and that he had done some electrical work for me over the years. I immediately remembered who he was. He shook my hand and told me he wanted to thank me for the referrals he has gotten from me this past year. I have never had that happen before but told him that since he always did great work for me, I was happy to pass his name along to others. I love it when good deeds come back around again.


To catch you up to speed on a previous post, the load of hedge balls turned out to weight 2520 lbs so my daughters split $252 between them. My dad brought the money up one evening in the form of $1 bills which he scattered all over our living room to the delight of our daughters who had never seen so much money in one place. After they picked it all up and counted it, I took it and deposited half in their savings accounts for when they are older and exchanged the other half to larger bills to spend as they wish. They were very happy to have experienced this money lesson.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

One Last Project

With at least a couple weeks of fair weather predicted before winter got too cold and with "experts" predicting a warmer than normal winter for us this year, I thought I would squeeze one more garage project in before I quit for the winter. I don't have a heated garage so it gets quite nippy in there during the core winter months.

On a visit with my grandparents now residing in a senior living facility here in town, my grandmother asked her if I could build her a bookshelf for the corner of her living room to display some pictures and knick knacks on. I've been pressing this same person for over half a year to decide where she wants all her pictures hung up on the walls and she always tells me she hasn't made up her mind. So when she requested something outright, I immediately said yes.

The corner had a light on one wall and an outlet on another so there wasn't really room to squeeze a traditional bookcase on either wall. So I have gone out of the box a bit and come up with my own design for a true corner bookcase. Above (and below) are pictures of the carcass being glued together. Next I will put a face frame and moldings around the front edges of it. The horizontal grooves in the picture (will be vertical grooves when I stand it up) will hold tracks that allow pins put in for adjustable shelving.

Because it will stand in the corner, the angles are 45 degrees which has made creative clamping a necessity. I'm not sure how I am going to attach the face frame yet to the carcass but I am currently thinking about experimenting with pocket screw joinery which is designed for 90 degree angles, not 45.

I'm making it out of cherry due to the success of my apothecary chest and how well it finished. I will include some more posts when I make some progress on this but between birthdays in the family and then Thanksgiving, I may be pushing cold weather before I make much more.

Monday, November 27, 2017


Back when I graduated college, I went to work for a place that was as far away from Iowa as I could get. It was located in central Minnesota. It was a rapidly growing company full of young people my age who were single and full of energy. I quickly bonded with a group of like minded individuals and we spent the next six years do all sorts of things that I look back on fondly to this day.

But time always changes things. The rapidly growing company stagnated and started laying off thousands of workers. My friends started getting married and moving away to start families. I started looking for other opportunities myself but whenever I found a company I liked, it was full of people a lot older than me, usually already talking about grandkids, and I was hard pressed to give up all the fun I had with my current young friends, even if some of them were getting married and moving away. Eventually the decision was made for me when I was let go in the sixth round of layoffs. The company of nearly 10,000 employees when I joined was down to 3000 employees and in the sixth round of layoffs, reduced themselves to 1500 employees.

I wasn't too worried and thought I would just get another job in the area so I could stay with my group of friends but two weeks later some terrorists would fly planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and my destiny changed forever. Nobody was hiring for the longest time and eventually the only job I could find was hundreds of miles away back in Iowa working for a man who was more interested in getting drunk than managing a business. I put in two years there hoping he would get fired and I would replace him but it never happened so I found another job and gave my resignation. Two weeks later they finally fired my old boss. My new job was as part owner of a small growing business and although I was still the youngest one there, we soon hired many more people my age and I had a new group of friends to do stuff with.

Seventeen years had gone by since the last time my Minnesota group of friends had really gotten together and after we had already planned our trip to Dubuque, one of those friends, my closest friend in the group, announced he was having a wedding reception the very same weekend there. He had gotten married in Thailand earlier in the year (he still worked for the remains of the original company which had been bought out by a Japanese company and merged with a factory in Thailand) and now that they were back in the States, he wanted to introduce his wife to his friends and family.

The night before the reception, the remains of our group gathered in the hotel restaurant and had a reunion of sorts. We were all married or divorced and all had kids. Yet the old chemistry was still there. We spent the evening remembering old times and catching up on each others lives since. I've never had so much fun.  The following day, we all attended the wedding reception and took up where we had left off the previous evening. Eventually my kids were bored of the museum across the street where they were remaining occupied so we had to leave and head back home, our trip now over.

It was a good mini-vacation but even better, it was a good mini-reunion of sorts with my old gang. Now that my kids are older, we are going to have to plan our next mini-vacation up in central Minnesota and try to get together with my gang again.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Leather Wars

Grant has been in the military for quite some time when he came back to Galena to live and work with his younger brothers in the family leather business. Grant worked there from April 1860 until he went to join the Civil War in 1861. So after visiting his home, we set off to find the store downtown where it still stands.

My 3rd great grandfather also came from Ohio where the Grant family was from and moved to Galena in 1858 where he was in the leather business until 1860 when he moved to Iowa. He was a Methodist, along with the Grant family, and so I am fairly certain that he knew the Grants quite well. I don't have an exact date of when my 3rd great grandfather left for Iowa in 1860 so I'll never know for sure if he met Ulysses Grant or not but I like to think he did.

So it was kind of relieving to me so see that the Grant Leather store is now a sock boutique. I don't know where my 3rd great grandfather's leather store was in Galena but his store still stands in Iowa though it is now a bar. Much more manly than a sock boutique!

We popped into another place for lunch and were surprised to see Filipino Adobo on the chalk board menu. When we inquired about it the waitress said it was the special for tonight but later came back and said she would give us some to try out and review since it was the first time it was being prepared for the public.  Presentation wise it looked good and the chicken was excellent. However, the rice served with the meal was terrible. It was mushy and bland. When we asked the young waitress (who was Filipino and only been here in the States for a few months) what kind of rice they used, she asked the chef and returned to say that it was something called Uncle Ben's. She had no idea of what that referred to but sadly I knew. We gave our honest review of getting some real rice and a rice cooker instead of making instant rice. I wonder if they listened.

Weird statue near the restrooms in the restaurant. Kind of Doctor Suess like.

For our final stop of the day, we stopped in at the Galena Museum which touted itself as the largest Grant collection in the world. It did have the original oil painting seen above that is in just about every textbook on the subject of the Civil War. It was a whopping 9 feet tall by 12 feet wide so just that mass alone probably made the claim of the largest Grant collection true. The museum itself was interesting but was mostly a period collection of artifacts from the time Grant lived in Galena and not so much on Grant himself. It did have a cigar and a boot he owned. Perhaps the most interesting thing to me was an actual mineshaft in the back of the building that miners used to extract tons of lead ore from before it was finally closed in the early 1900's. Made me ponder what was beneath the floor I was standing on.

After viewing the life size picture of Grant, the curator started turning off the lights signalling our overstayed welcome so we headed back to Dubuque for an evening with some old colleagues of mine.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Trying to share my passion of history, I couldn't pass up a side trip into Illinois to stop at a home where Ulysses S. Grant spent quite a bit of his life residing. My daughter had done a research project on him a year before so was quite eager to see this place.

It was an interesting tour though a bit short on facts about Grant's life or presidency. It mostly stuck to information about the rooms themselves. One fascinating fact was that more than 90% of all the furnishings belonged to Grant and were used by him when he lived in this house. The house and furnishings were gifts to him when he returned from the Civil War and when he later moved to New York post presidency, he kept the house as his legal residence for a time and then passed it off to his children. They in turn gave it to the city which later gave it to the government to preserve, along with all the contents.

I'm guessing either to the cold or it being a weekday, the other buildings on the site were all closed down but I did get a picture of a wooden sculpture of Grant. My family has ties to Grant so we were interested to see their family leather goods store downtown which is where we headed too next.

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.