Monday, July 31, 2017

That's All Folks

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's all folks."

Friday, July 28, 2017

Phase One Perhaps

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

It's One Year Anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Rest of the Story

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

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

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part Nine


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

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

A week goes by.

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

Another week goes by.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Working From the Neck Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Living In Technicolor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

Deaf Row

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Pre-Reunion BBQ

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

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

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

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

Pork ribs removed from the smoker six hours later

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Big Wreck

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 7, 2017


Photo courtesy of Google Street View

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Missing Photo

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Story Behind The National Anthem

[Reposted from my archives. Happy birthday America!]

The Story Behind The National Anthem
By an unknown speaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

He penned the song.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part Eight

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

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

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