Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part Two

So without further ado, this was the first draft kicked back to us by the architect. It essentially bumps out the house four feet so that the new wall for the kitchen would be flush with the exterior walls of the house and then bump out two areas on each side another four feet beyond that. The roof would be extended out over everything creating a smaller version of the covered porch that we currently have.

Our entryway is then turned 90 degrees for feng shui purposes and the hallway widened to five feet to allow guests to enter without our having to back up. The bumpout on the left would be for our pantry but would also be a future laundry room when if we decided to ever move it from the basement or use that as a selling point. Our sink and cooktop remain roughly in the same locations but the refrigerator and double ovens move. The refrigerator is shown on the left wall and the double ovens on the right wall below the cooktop and vent hood. The microwave is shown mounted underneath the cabinets to the right of the sink.

My initial impression is that the island in the middle is too big and needs to be slimmed down to add more walking room and moved towards the new china hutch location. I'm also thinking about getting rid of the double oven in favor of a slide in electric oven with gas cooktop so we can have the best of both worlds. I would then move the microwave away from the sink over to the location of the double ovens and perhaps replace it with a microwave/convection oven that they have these days for those rare occasions where two ovens would be nice. Since there is a garage to the left of the refrigerator shown on the left, I would inset the wall to allow for the refrigerator to be flush with the cabinets.

For reference to whomever is reading this, our dining room is off picture at the top left and our living room off picture at the top right. The hallway leading to the right goes to our bedroom areas. I just received this about an hour ago and have spent most of that time writing the previous post and this. I think I will digest this for a couple days and then respond to the architect for the next round. As always, you are welcome to add your thoughts as well although I will have probably already communicated with the architect by then but perhaps we can incorporate changes into round three.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part One

I thought I would kick off this series of posts that I will eventually be making on this subject unless other circumstances intervene. Above is our current kitchen layout that I drew using some software I bought online several years ago. Back then I was mulling the possibilities and wanted to put it out on paper. I'll walk you through what you are viewing. The rectangular somewhat outlined in purple is the outside walls of our house though the roof line continues over that area creating a porch. The porch has a poured concrete surface that I assume is anchored on the front by a footing. Our basement foundation walls follow the purple line. (Please forgive my colorblindness if it is actually blue.)

Problem one we have with the layout is the entryway shown on the right. It is very narrow requiring one to squeeze tightly against the wall to allow a guest to enter so that you can graciously shut the door behind them. Instead we usually walk backwards to the kitchen entryway and then go back and shut the door behind guests if they haven't already closed the door. It also faces a T-intersection in the street out front which according to my wife is just bad feng shui.

Although adequate in size, our kitchen in the center has a serious flaw and that is the entry points. The refrigerator on the right when open, blocks off one entry point and the double wall oven labeled U302490 above equally closes down the left entryway. Both points are narrow enough that when we had to replace our refrigerator, we had to special order it just to fit through the wider doorway on the right.

Other issues that are serious flaws but which we hope to correct is the pantry space. Currently, the only pantry space is a small floor to ceiling cabinet on the right side of the refrigerator. Most of our dry good occupy that space and most of our canned goods are in the basement, a long ways away. The microwave (not shown) is situated right above the cooktop on the right. Because the door opens from the right, it means that someone can't use the microwave while someone else is using the cooktop. It also means that when using large canning vessels which I do a lot of in the summer months, I have to put the jars into the canner and then slide it under the microwave to process and similar when emptying it. I need more vertical space between the stove top and the bottom of the microwave or better yet, move the microwave to an entirely different location.

Finally, By the time we have our can opener, spice rack, toaster, food processor, rice dispenser, coffee pot, container of stirring utensils, salt and pepper grinder and a few other things I'm probably forgetting sitting on the counter top, there is very limited room for anything else such as making pie crusts or sitting a warm pot while cooking something else.

So how to fix all these things? My first thought was to look over at the space to the left which is what one would call a breakfast nook these days. It would be cozy for two people to breakfast there but with two kids and a live-in mother-in-law, it would be cozy in more ways than one! The simple plan would just eliminate the breakfast nook and expand into that space. Currently it houses our china hutch and a catchall buffet table that we bought at an auction years ago. It also houses our shoes, my daughter's backpacks and sometimes stray coats because not shown is an entry door from the garage which is past the wall on the left.

If we expanded that way, we would get a decent sized kitchen, but would gain just a little counter space since one wall is still occupied by our china hutch and it wouldn't solve the narrow entryway or bad feng shui problems. It also wouldn't allow for a kitchen island which is probably one of the bigger selling points for remodeled kitchens and a place where we are guaranteed to have room to work on food that isn't cluttered up by kitchen accessories.

So I started looking about expanding out to the bottom of the above drawing. That presented it's own challenges to me. First, any plumbing expansion in that direction would end up outside our foundation walls and insulated envelope meaning I would at minimum have to create some sort of crawlspace to access and insulate that space. To get that deep, one would already be pouring 2/3rds of a basement so going ahead and expanding the basement footprint as well is probably going to be the best solution however, digging all that out, attaching it to the existing structure and making sure the loads are distributed were all things I wasn't sure I could handle. That is when we decided that if we were going to get serious, we needed to hire someone to help us out on that aspect. Stay tuned on the next post for the first draft of that.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Shedding Weight

At our previous house, we held the occasional garage sale but not very often just because of the work involved. We did take advantage of a program where once a year, residents were allowed to pile just about anything they wanted to rid themselves along the curb and the city would come, pick it up and dispose of it free of charge. The best part is that you had a week grace period from when you could start piling it up before the city came to haul it away. This allowed people to wander the street and cart off some of your "trash" before it made to the landfill. Most times, our modest pile of stuff would be 90% gone before the city ever came to haul the few remaining items away. It was one of those win-win situations.

Our current town doesn't do this so we have to either hold more garage sales or haul it to the dump and pay tipping fees. Fortunately, our neighbors across the street and down a ways love to hold an annual garage sale every spring and we all combine our resources from labor, advertising fees to household stuff we are wishing to remove from our houses. We took full advantage of that this year.

We spent a week combing through our basement and sorting through all our storage shelves for items which we will probably never use again due to aging, changing desires, or most recently inheritances from grandparents downsizing to fit in a one bedroom apartment. Believe it or not, we still had boxes full of stuff from our move into this house five years ago! This past year, several major retail players in our community have closed up shop leaving only one major household player left. So unfortunately in an effort to organize our lives, I had to go to Walmart and buy a van load of clear plastic storage totes. We're still in the process of getting everything organized into those totes but we are rid of the last of the moving boxes which means we can see what we have left.

Between all the stuff we've been saving up for a couple years and all the stuff "gifted" me by others, I had a van load of stuff to haul across the street to the garage sale. I ended up working around 10 hours over two days manning the booth and wheeling and dealing with people to offload everything and in the end, I only had to haul back two garbage bags of clothes and a brass/glass fireplace door set given to me by my parents to sale. The clothes we kept simply because most of them were gently used kids clothes that we will gift to others who want them. The fireplace door I would have sold cheaply to anyone who had an interest but not one person expressed interest. Years ago I won one in an auction while just bidding on a fire poker set and sold it later on Ebay for over $300 profit so I'm guessing I will do something similar with this one.

We got a sizable check for all our stuff but more importantly to me, I can now walk through our storage room without walking around a pile of stuff destined for a garage sale and soon what remains will be organized in clear plastic totes (thanks to whomever Walmart bullied to make so cheap) on the shelves with some room to spare. It's hard to put a price on empty space in a home.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Johnny Mixed Hardwood Seed

I love trees. I've probably planted somewhere in the order of several thousand of them in my career thus far thanks in large part to helping my parents plant them on odd parcels of land in their holdings. When I bought my first house, I didn't consider my ability to plant trees before we had an accepted offer and suffered for many years because that house had electrical wires running along two of the property lines and a road for a third. With only a quarter acre of land and a huge mature maple and pin oak trees, there just wasn't much for options. I planted a sour cherry tree and that was it.

Our next house I made sure to consider if I could plant trees before we made an offer and ended up with a house that sits on a couple acres of land. Up until a half dozen years before we had bought it, most of it had been timber but a previous occupant had pushed out most of the undergrowth on top of the knobs leaving behind only the mature trees. The problem with this was that they were mature and nearing the end of their life cycle. I've had to remove nearly 40 of them during the five years we have lived here and there are probably a dozen more that are in various stages of decline that I will have to remove in the next five years.

However, I'm thrilled because it has allowed me to plant some more diverse trees than just the oaks, maples and black cherries that I have. I took advantage of the arbor day society to get a dozen trees sent to me along with four old fashioned lilac bushes like those that we used to have on the old farm. I grew those twigs in pots on my deck for six months and then planted them in the fall and I had thought all but one had survived over the course of the two years they've been in the ground. One down in the ditch had been eaten by a rabbit or some such creature and had been missing a couple years. The remaining trees finally grew a little bit last summer and this year have been really making progress. Even the lilacs which have looked like twigs with a few leaves for two years have now started growing upwards and to my delight this spring, multiplying!

Despite several trees being of the colorful flowering variety, my wife has wanted some more color among them and somewhere found a couple of pretty pathetic looking red Japanese maples that she bought. I would much rather plant native trees but a happy wife is a happy life so this morning I got them planted. It isn't as simple as just digging a hole and sticking them in here in deer-thick-as-thieves country. I planted them, fertilized them, mulched them, pounded steel fence posts around them and caged them in with heavy gauge chicken wire to keep the deer at bay until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, this means that our house is surrounded by nearly twenty trees fenced in individual cages. Kind of like a maximum security prison for trees!

When I started planting those two Japanese maples, I only had three fence posts but thought I would go down and rob the posts and wire of the tree that I planted two years ago that got eaten off. However when I got down to the bottom of the ditch between our two knobs where I planted it, I found that it had grown up from the stump and was starting to look pretty healthy. So I ended up making another trip to the hardware store for a few more fence posts to finish the job. Now I have two Japanese immigrants added to my collection of prisoners. If only I wasn't red/green colorblind to see them turn colors this fall. (Teaser Alert: More about this last sentence in a future post.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Slightly Broken

For those following this ongoing story, my mom had another MRI last week and I'm happy to report there are no changes. It isn't classified as remission, nor will it ever be, but it isn't growing and I'll take that any day of the week. My mom has been under tremendous stress these past couple weeks with spring planting season in full swing and knowing her life might be turned completely upside down the next MRI. I think this stress causes issues in the damaged parts of her brain and as a result, I see my mom as slightly broken.

It took me a long time to fully understand. When the brain cancer was first diagnosed and subsequently removed, it was described as being done in a way to minimal disturb nearby healthy living brain tissue. This leads you to believe that nothing inside will really be affected. But in reality, that tumor invaded and killed healthy cells well before it was detected and removed. The removal was in affect, removing past healthy brain tissue that is now dead along with some still healthy tissue as they removed as much of the tumor as they could.

After surgery and radiation, I still saw my old mom I have always known. I still see that mom the majority of the time. But as time goes by, I start seeing what was broken. Some sort of filter was removed that allows my mom to be much more aggressive than normal at times. Sometimes it also manifests as delayed decision making. Yet other times it leads to some confusion. I'm not positive since I don't see these manifest every time I'm around or even all that often, but I suspect they happen when she is feeling stressed. Something about her brain dealing with stress is causing her to do or not do things that she normally would.

Even before this diagnosis, my brother and I have been subtly suggesting that our parents should retire and enjoy life while the farming empire they have built continues to support them. After the diagnosis, we stepped it up a notch encouraging them and helping them to understand that if they cash rent out their land, they will have more money to support themselves than they will know what to do with. My dad is already under Medicare and my mom will be eligible in two and a half years so medical bills shouldn't be the issue. They have slowed down some, hiring out some of the spraying, fertilizing and even some of the fall harvest. But it isn't enough to prevent stress. My brother has been up helping with the spring planting for the last couple weeks and finally my parents have admitted that they probably shouldn't have even attempted farming this year and that they do think full retirement is going to happen after the fall harvest. My brother and I are thrilled.

I'm hoping that without the stress, my mom will live a healthier remainder of her life and perhaps even make a serious attempt at crossing off some items on her bucket list at a more rapid pace. I think it will do my dad a world of good as well. They have worked hard for this day and my father will hopefully be the first in a long line of "Abbey's" to retire and not just work until he dies. But first there is still slightly more than half of spring planting season left and another harvest to get through this fall. I plan on enjoying it since it might be my last.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Obamacare vs. Trumpcare

A highly political title for this post and I promise I will tread lightly so not to offend people who are sensitive on this topic. But please read on.

When my mother-in-law was in the process of moving to our country to live with us, we were shopping for health insurance to cover her while visiting. It was expensive but readily available at dozens of insurance companies that did business in our state. However, at the same time, Obamacare was passed which I felt was a good thing for us personally but that it wasn't going to solve the problem of high healthcare costs. So instead of buying insurance privately, which wasn't allowed anymore in her case, we were forced to go through Obamacare which I again stress, was a good thing for us personally. We had problems along with millions of others during the initial rollout but that was to be expected and eventually we got to select between over a dozen plans. My mother-in-law was fully insured for a little over $400/month, about half what we were going to have to pay had Obamacare not been passed. Because we were footing the bill and she was working, there were no government subsidies and we had to pay every penny. I wasn't surprised.

The following year the number of insurance plans to choose from decreased from a dozen to about six and the premiums went up to $600/month. Year number three the premiums went up to $800/month and we only had a single plan to choose the only company that sold insurance for our county. The state still had two other insurers but they each only covered certain regions. This year is year four and the premiums are now over $1000+/month and there is only one insurer for the entire state (the other two quit after last year) and the remaining insurer has announced that they probably won't be offering health insurance next year. The local news says that there won't be a single health insurer in our state next year to provide health insurance for those privately buying it. We will be in an "insurance blackout." I have yet found an answer to what an insurance blackout is or what it will mean to my mother-in-law this fall when it is time to re-enroll her into an insurance plan.

On a daily basis I'm inundated with stories of people whose lives have been saved by Obamacare. I rarely hear stories of people being priced out of the market and haven't heard a single story about what happens when all the insurance companies stop selling insurance because they can't afford to follow the rules of Obamacare.

Now they are designing Trumpcare.

The first go around sounded like a disaster waiting to happen and I for one was extremely glad it didn't get support enough to pass. Anything this broken, and yes Obamacare is broken, can't be fixed overnight. It takes lots of careful though and analysis and frankly, I don't think either political party is capable of either of those things these days. Lately with the passage of a bill in the house and as I write this, 13 men working on a bill in the senate, I'm not hopeful. None of the proposed legislation that I have seen specifically addresses the issue of insurance companies refusing to sell insurance privately because it isn't profitable, and yes I think they need to earn a profit just like any other business. The only glimmer of light that I can see is that any plan that replaces or fixes Obamacare will change the business model enough insurance companies will once again be able to sell insurance and make some sort of profit while those of us buying can afford it. Still nobody has attempted to fix the initial problem.

The initial problem was the skyrocketing cost of healthcare. Obamacare didn't address it, only shift who pays for it. Trumpcare hasn't addressed it that I've seen, only shift the burden of who pays for it back closer to the way it was before Obamacare.

I think that we are going to have to accept that we can't insure everybody exactly the same because we all are different and have different needs. I for example, don't need pregnancy coverage but would probably elect to have prostate coverage. Some of us are going to have to pay more than others because some of us have different health needs than others. I would fully expect my mom with brain cancer would have to pay more for insurance than a recent college graduate track star. It makes sense. To force both to pay the same only insures that the track star is paying for something they will never need for years to come and that my mom will probably get substandard care because she makes insurance companies lose money. The one idea for reducing the initial problem of skyrocketing healthcare by eliminating borders and thus forcing insurance companies to compete on a national scale doesn't ever seem to gain traction.

I'm extremely frustrated right now because I'm caught in the middle. One side won't admit their plan is broken and the other side is trying to replace it with something that has less thought put in it than your typical elementary science project. My Facebook newsfeed is full of posts that are nothing more than fear mongering (on both sides) and have little truth if any in them. I just wish we could all be honest with ourselves for awhile, put party pride aside and have a real discussion on how we can fix healthcare which has been broken for my entire lifetime and only made worse as the years have gone by.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The BIG Project

I haven't had lots of projects to share on this blog for some time mostly because we've been floating around the idea of the BIG project. Back when we were looking to move, we had a list of requirements for our next house but had a very hard time finding them. With one young child and another on the way, we needed three bedrooms on the main floor. So many houses these days have a master bedroom on one floor and the rest of the bedrooms on the other. Coming from a house with a large kitchen, we also wanted our next house to have a large kitchen. We also had a budget. Those three criteria were pretty much all we had but turned out to be impossible to find. We ended up settling on this house which had three bedrooms on the same floor and met our budget but had a small kitchen.

The kitchen is reasonable unless you live in a family where both people like to cook and make things from scratch. The space isn't too bad but by the time we have all the gadgets we use weekly distributed on the counters, there isn't enough counter space to actually do preparations. Our kitchen is also weird that the entrance by the main door is blocked whenever someone has the refrigerator door open and the other entrance closer to the garage is blocked every time the oven door is open. So if you have two people cooking, there is a good chance that one is waiting on the other to either get through with the oven or the refrigerator before you can enter or exit the kitchen. We also have a breakfast nook right next to our kitchen that never gets used other than as a mudroom when you come in through the garage area.

We've talked about fixing these deficiencies but several things have always held us up. When we bought this house, it was right at the bottom of the last recession and the housing market in our area has been on life support. Finally after nearly a decade, it is has gotten off life support and has been moved from intensive care into a private suite. Maybe in a few years it might get sent home but seeing that we live in rural Iowa where the population has been in constant decline for the last century, I'm not holding my breath.

We've always had other things to fix which we have felt were a bigger priority than the kitchen. We've fixed up the exterior of our house turning it from the worst looking house on the street to one of the best, albeit still the smallest. This included new siding, new concrete driveway, new sidewalk, new paint and lots of landscaping. Inside, I have gone through all the bedrooms, basement and communal living spaces and remodeled them with the exception of the kitchen, the hall bathroom and the flooring. The hall bathroom although a bit dated is still functional and with two kids that use that as their main bathroom, will probably wait until they are older or perhaps gone from the house. The floors I'm waiting on doing all at once since we want to do hardwood flooring throughout the house. That leaves the kitchen.

I used to have access to some of the most sophisticated software for drawing up floorplans through my last job. But as time has gone by, software has changed and I no longer "work" for a living, I don't have any working software to use. So last year I bought some cheap software for home design online and played around with it for while laying out my ideas. The problem I ran into is that I found in order to make a kitchen that is functional for our lives, it would involve some major structural issues that I don't think I'm qualified to solve. I will go more into that at a future time but for now, we decided we needed someone more qualified to help us solve those issues so we hired an architect.

We met with the architect a few weeks ago and kicked off the project. He will be designing things and giving us a set of plans which I can then use to hire out some of the work and do the rest myself. I doubt we will be able to get started this year but our hope is to have enough of the work done that we can perhaps start early next year. I'm excited, scared and sometimes not even sure I believe yet that the time has come for this last BIG project. Only the future will tell.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bad boy, bad boy, what you goin' do when they come for you?

When you are moving and looking for houses, there are many things to consider. Is the house in good shape, is the neighborhood nice, and even if it is in a good school district. However, one that slipped my attention is where my kids would get onto the school bus. As we would later find out, it was at the street corner a hundred yards down our street where it intersects a more heavily trafficked (though still sparse compared to many) street. The other street is one of two roads leading to the entrance of a community college. Even this wouldn't have caused me to worry had I thought about it but as it turned out, the bus stops on the opposite side of the street and about 50 yards ahead is a blind hill blocking the view of oncoming traffic of seeing the bus and kids crossing the street to get on the bus. The speed limit was only 25 mph (now 35 mph, see below) and still plenty of room left at that speed to see the bus, react and slow down. However, cars regularly go zipping by at 50 mph and that makes things much tighter in terms of reaction times and stopping distances.

So over the years I have walked with my daughter every day out to the bus stop and have taught her to not only wait for the bus driver to signal her it is clear, but to listen for oncoming traffic. If she hears a car comes, she waits until it crests the hill and gets stopped. For the first couple years, we would have three or four cars a year drive by the stopped schoolbus with its stop arm extended and my daughter and I standing feet away. I tried taking a picture with my cellphone but by the time I got it out, got the app open and it focused, the car was too far for the phone to make out the license plate. I eventually got to the point where if a car seemed like it was going to run the stop sign on the bus, I would whip out my phone and point it at them. This always got them to hit the brakes hard, that is until today.

I've complained to the school bus company (independent contractor hired by the school) trying to get them to switch the route so my daughter can be picked up on our street which has very little traffic at all but haven't gotten any results. Last year our city purchased a "speed car" which takes photos of speeding cars and mails the owners tickets. I volunteered for the car to be parked right in my yard looking up at the blind hill where cars are regularly going 25 mph over the posted speed limit and causing some of this problem. The officer was sympathetic to the situation but for reasons he never would explain, he wouldn't park it there. I got the sense that they wanted to avoid the perception of a "speed trap" with the public. Instead they parked it on the other side of the hill where people can see it a half mile away and slow down while passing it and get back up to speed by the time they crest the hill. In the process of talking with the officer in a followup call, he noted that the speed limit at our intersection going west is 35 mph and going east only 25 mph and that he would correct that. That turned out to make both east and west speed limits 35 mph which has just increased the speed of the traffic.

So this morning the bus stopped and put out it's stop arm with lights on it and across the front of the bus and my daughter and I were standing eight feet away on the opposite side of the street. We both heard the sound of tires moving across the pavement at a high speed and looked up to the blind hill. A black pickup truck crested and although slowing down wasn't slowing down to the point where I thought he was going to stop. I whipped out my cellphone and pointed it at him and still he kept coming. Fortunately, cellphone technologies have changed. Now even with a lock screen, I can swipe up and get the camera app. Despite working fast, my first photo just barely caught the truck on the way past the bus but clearly showed the stop arm out and the lights on. Unfortunately the license was too blurry to read with certainty. However, I had the presence of mind to click a second picture as the truck sped off that clearly got the truck, make, model and license plate along with just the tail portion of the school bus. Thank god for modern technology with auto focus.

I have called the proper authorities giving them all the pertinent information along with the photos and the driver will be receiving a $400+ fine according to the police for their hurry to save one single minute that it takes for my daughter to get on the school bus. I really hope they learn their lesson.

However, all this has got me to thinking that perhaps it would just be easier if I had some sort of rig that held a Go-Pro camera that took continuous video in the direction I was facing. I don't know if they focus fast or well enough to work in this situation or not but since it would be on all the time, it might get them well before they reach the school bus and perhaps a longer time afterwards while getting the necessary proof in between those times.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Ignorance Overheard

I dislike helicopter parenting. We used to live next door to an extreme version and with four kids, that mother was in her car going in and out of her driveway all evening long and all week long. It wasn't unusual to see her drive by ten times in a few short hours spent enjoying the evening on our back deck. So when my wife wanted to sign up our kids for gymnastics without them every asking to join, I was against it. But my wife has a stubborn streak a mile wide, (slightly narrower than mine!) and went ahead and signed them up. However after seeing how much my daughters have enjoyed going there, I've softened up a bit on the decision and now think it was probably the right one despite it meaning one more trip downtown one evening a week.

I haven't grown to like being the only male person at practices. My wife and mother-in-law took turns for most of the winter but this spring my mother-in-law has been overseas and my wife can only take them two times a month. By default, I am left with the remaining times a month. The parents aren't allowed back in the practice areas and are forced to sit in a lobby waiting area. With one child practicing starting at six and the other starting at 6:45, I have to wait for an hour and a half until the second one finishes. It the younger one was a bit older, I could probably leave her to own devices but I think age four is too young for her to sit for forty-five minutes waiting for her class by herself in a waiting room. I generally bring a book to read but often times I find myself drawn into the conversation of the women all around me. You can tell they aren't used to a male being there and sometimes forget completely only to realize it belatedly and go back to censuring their conversations. However, sometimes I think they think I'm too engrossed it my book to overhear and resume.

I won't bore you with their talk because frankly, it bores me. I'm a guy I guess. But I did overhear one story that just struck me hard because it relates to politics and ignorance of our laws.

The lady sitting right next to me (I'll call Sarah) had been going on for quite awhile with the lady sitting next to her about how she is thinking about giving up on bringing her two kids to the activity center where they teach gymnastics, tumbling, cheer, dance and a multitude of other similar activities. Sarah said that between her two girls, they had 30 costumes this year that she had to buy for all their competitions and she couldn't afford it anymore.

Sarah took a pause to eat some of her takeout Chinese and then went off on a long tangent about crab rangoons with her neighbor for awhile and I started to fade back into my book when I heard the name Donald Trump which brought my ears back into the conversation.

Sarah was saying how much she likes Trump and how he is going to save the working people like herself. Case in point, she said, his new tax plan will reduce my taxes from 35% to 15%. She said that she and her husband had tried figuring out how much that would save them every year and figured up that she would be able to afford those 30 costumes.

It really irks me that people don't understand our tax system at all. I think that it largely why it is so broken to begin with. First of all, if she truly is paying 35% of her income in taxes, then she must be earning between $413,000 to $467,000 per year as a married person filing jointly. I'll go out on a limb and guess that she probably isn't earning anywhere near that amount if she is having trouble buying 30 costumes for her two children. I would go out farther on the limb and say she is probably one of the 45% of Americans who pay no taxes at all. (Roughly half of those have no income and the other half get more tax breaks than owed taxes.)

Secondly, part of the tax proposal is to eliminate almost all deductions so in her case, assuming she is among the crowd that earns money but gets all her taxes back as credits, she would probably go from not paying any federal taxes to owing 15% of her income (lowest proposed tax bracket) to the government making her less likely to afford those 30 costumes per year.

Partly why I say our tax system is broken is due to situations exactly like this, too many people I talk to have no clue what or how a progressive tax system works. The also don't understand the difference between income and investment taxes. They throw out catch phrases like Warren Buffet pays less taxes than his secretary which is blatantly false. What they don't understand is that Warren invests his money in the stock market like I do and ANYBODY can, which has risk involved. As a result, those gains are not taxed the same as regular income. Anyone can invest in the stock market including Warren Buffet's secretary and pay those same taxes but they don't. It isn't a loophole for the rich but is a loophole for the people educated in investing and taxes. Warren Buffet earned $487,000 as a salary last year which means not only did he pay more in taxes than his secretary, but he also paid a higher percentage on his salaried income. As you can see from the range listed above, his salary falls into the highest tax bracket which pays 39.6% in taxes. However, when you lump in Warren's salary to the rest of his long term gains from investing which was almost $11 million dollars in 2015, it is paltry which is why his effective (or average) tax RATE is less than his secretary. He still paid nearly $2 million dollars in taxes, several magnitudes more money than his secretary paid.

I hope one day our tax code will be simplified to the point that almost everyone understands how our tax system works. But until then, we are leaving ourselves open to people getting into office by leading people to believe something that simply isn't true. In this case, I'm guessing Sarah might not have been so favorable towards Trump if she knew that he was proposing to raise her taxes by 15% and not lower it by 20% at she thinks.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wild Horses

I'm still working on scanning my grandparents loose photos and albums in my spare time. Quite a number of the photos taken during my mom's childhood show a couple horses during the time my grandparents lived on a farm. My grandfather is a very practical man who didn't spend a cent unless it was absolutely necessary so it surprised me that he had bought his two kids horses.

I had the chance to ask my mom about this and asked first if Grandpa had bought horses for her and her younger brother. She replied that he had and then after a long pause, replied that looking back at it now, she is surprised that he would ever do such a thing.

A bit of time passes and then I asked my mom what happened to the horses after my grandparents moved back to the city in northern Iowa leaving my mom behind newly married and pregnant with me. She said he sold them... and then she elaborated a bit.

My mom told me that one of the horse had learned how to pull up on the handle of the water spigot near the watering trough in their pen. This infuriated my grandfather so much that while my mom and younger brother were away at school, he rounded up both horses and sold them at the local livestock auction. My mom didn't find out until she got home that night what had happened and by then, it was too late.

Almost simultaneously, we both said, "Now that is something that Grandpa would do."

Monday, May 8, 2017

Solid Gold

While visiting my grandparents, we got to talking about my great great grandparents whom I've researched quite a bit and whom I feel I know pretty well though I never met them. They lived in a town with digitized newspapers and left lots of paperwork behind for me to follow. So I was thrown for a loop when my grandfather mentioned that they had divorced at one point and remarried and that he has the watch my 2nd great grandfather gave my 2nd great grandmother as a 2nd wedding present. I was intrigued.

Never having held such an old pocket watch, I really didn't know how to even open it. My grandparents thought that it required pulling gently on the stem, turning it and other suggestions, none of which got it to open. Later that evening when I went home, I looked up videos online and found that most likely the way to open it was to push down on the stem while pushing on a little tab near a seam. On my next visit, we were able to successfully open the watch.

The engraving inside says it is a solid 14k gold Keystone watch and lists the serial number. I figured there would be several websites out there that would allow me to take this information and look up an approximate manufacture date so that I could then figure out when the second marriage was. However, I really haven't been able to locate such a site. I have found that this is the second highest quality watch (of nearly 18 different levels) that this company made and was probably made around the early 1900's but not a closer date.

It really is a gorgeous piece and if someday I am fortunate enough to inherit it, I think I would see if there is someone out there that could get it in working order. As pristine looking as it is on the outside, I'm guessing it might not take much to get it in working order again.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Mushroom Madness

Abandoned road
The madness is over, mushroom hunters have returned from the woods, removed all the ticks and burrs, eaten all their precious mushrooms and have returned to some resemblance of sanity. Me included. I wasn't sure how mushroom season would go this year after and unbelievably mild and thus very dry winter. Going into April, we had cracks in our yard a foot deep and probably the warmest February in history had caused undergrowth to spring up much earlier than normal.

Murder scene
Although reports started coming in about people finding lots of mushrooms on river bottoms, they are generally a week earlier than we can find them in our brushy ditches and wooded areas that I typically hunt. The following week, I wasn't able to mushroom hunt due to other obligations but my parents went and found not a one in our normal locations. A week later, the girls and I were able to go down while my wife was at a conference and spend a day looking at the tale end of the season. (Mushroom season is about two weeks long and then it is over for the year.)

Deer skull at the murder scene
We had some issues with mushroom poachers this year for the first time in awhile and so our regular spots were pilfered even though they weren't producing many mushrooms as normal this year. So we tried some new territory including the old road at the top of this post that is actually on the state line and is the border of one of our farms. My oldest daughter found a half bag full, my dad found a half bag full but I found nothing. I blame the fact that I had to take it easy since my four year old was walking with me but still, I didn't find a thing.

Kissing trees
After several hours, we dropped the girls at home with my mom and my dad and I headed out to do some more serious hunting. This time I had no excuses and after another hour, my dad had a half bag full and I had none. I was starting to believe that this would be the first year I could remember where I hadn't found a single mushroom. That is when I found that golden morel growing literally six inches from the base of a recently deceased elm tree. I wasn't going to be skunked but it would be the only mushroom I would find this year.

Abandoned shoe, perhaps from a mushroom poacher?

Fortunately, a family friend had stopped by earlier and had found lots of mushrooms along river bottoms and larger timbered area, neither of which we have access too, and gave up some of their surplus. My parents kept those and I got to take home my one and all the other mushrooms found by my dad and my oldest daughter so I ended up with around three pounds of  morel mushrooms. I've been eating on them for a week and by the time I finish, I will have had enough to get me through until next year. At that point, the madness will set in again and I will be scarce around my blog for a couple weeks.

A mess of morels battered in some flour, cornmeal, Parmesan cheese and some spices and then lightly fried.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Pickled Eggs

Normally after Easter is over, I eat a lot of deviled eggs and egg/tuna salad sandwiches to use up all the hard boiled eggs that my two girls decorate for Easter. However, with my grandparents living across town, they brought enough deviled eggs to feed an army to our Easter Sunday family get together and they left most of them behind. When hard boiling eggs for decorating, some always crack and I ended up with enough cracked ones to make a double batch of egg/tuna salad sandwich spread BEFORE Easter. So a couple days after Easter was over and I was all egged out, I still had two dozen hard boiled eggs sitting in our refrigerator.

After some thought, I remembered my younger bar frequenting days and the large jars of pickled eggs that sat on the shelf in back. Back then, it had always seemed kind of disgusting but the more I thought about it, the more I thought pickle and hard boiled eggs should taste kind of good. I mean I always put hard boiled eggs and chopped up pickles in my egg/tuna salad sandwich spread and I love that taste.  I decided to try it out so I peeled all those hard boiled eggs, stuck them in three quart jars with lots of chopped up onions and pickled them.

I finally cracked one open yesterday and tried my first ever pickled egg and I must say, they were quite tasty. Despite using a spicy pickling mix, they weren't as spicy or pickle tasting as I had imagined but it was definitely in the flavor profile. I'm hoping as time goes by, the pickle and spice will come through a little stronger but overall, its not bad. It's also a lot better than eating deviled eggs and egg/tuna salad sandwiches for a month straight.

QOTD: I know some people only eat egg salad sandwiches and some only eat tuna salad sandwiches that contain no eggs. Are the others like me that always combine tuna and eggs in their "salad" sandwich spread? I have always thought it was the best of both worlds.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Another Gold Nugget

In my last post I mentioned finding pictures of three of my 3 times great grandparents but only showed two. The third one I found Clementine Carr Smith shown at the bottom of the post who is married to Abraham Smith seen above. The above photo is scanned out of a country history book that I read many years ago however, also included in my grandparents photo is the original that was used for the history book. Next to the original of Abraham were the next two pictures.

Possibly Frank Smith, son of Abraham and Clementine Carr Smith
 The size, coloring, style of the above photo and the below photo are identical. They were next to each other. Yet the above photo was unlabeled while the below photo was labeled as being my 3rd great grandmother Clementine. I asked my Grandparents and they couldn't identify it the first time around but the second time when my grandfather was more alert, he identified it as their son Frank Smith, who is my great great grandfather. I plan to dig up some more photos of him and do a comparison before I put it down as certainty.

Clementine Carr Smith