Wednesday, August 30, 2017

School

Well the day is finally at my doorstep. My oldest daughter started middle school last week and seems to be thriving. My youngest will be starting half day preschool later this week. This means, drum roll please, that for the first time in nearly five years, I will have no kids around in the house in the afternoon, every afternoon. Next year, it will be all day everyday. That means I might have to start coming up with big plans on what to do with my life other than raising two daughters. Fortunately I still have another year to think it over.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Canning

For the second year in a row after three other failed years, we have a bumper crop of tomatoes. Last year I put up about four years worth of tomato juice, sauce, chunks, salsa and paste. I hadn't planned on canning anymore tomatoes but with a bumper crop of tomatoes of outstanding flavor compared to normal, I just couldn't waste the opportunity. So I decided to try something new and make spaghetti sauce.

Normally I just open up jars of sauce and paste, add the other ingredients and spices, cook for awhile and call it good. But that still adds up to a couple hours of time from start to finish and my daughters love pasta and sauce. So I thought that if I did all that and canned it ready to go so all it needed to be was heated up, it would save a lot of time in my future. So that is what I did.

I ended up with four five-gallon buckets full of tomatoes and one full of onions and green peppers. It took me two days but I ended up with about 20 quarts and 20 pints of spaghetti sauce that probably rivals any that I have ever made before. That will hopefully be enough to last a couple years.

There are probably another dozen five-gallon buckets worth of green tomatoes on the vine. I'm not sure what I will do with them if anything. More than likely I will probably just give them away. It's a nice problem to have after several years without.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Total Darkness

Photo of the eclipse off my television
Like millions of others around our country, my oldest daughter and I loaded up the van and set forth south towards the path of totality on Monday. Fortunately for us, it was only a two and a half hour drive to the northern edge of the path of totality and living in rural America with two major cities on either side of the state attracting hordes, traffic was light in the middle part. Having factored that into our drive time, that meant we had a couple hours to kill before the start of the show.

Before we had left that morning, I had checked the forecast and it wasn't very good. At home where a 95% eclipse might be seen, it was threatening rain and clouded over and was forecasted to be that way until 45 minutes after the total eclipse. If we went south the the path of totality, it was clear and sunny but a storm was making its way with predicted arrival time of 15 minutes before the start of the total eclipse. To me it seemed like a hopeless situation either way and I warned my daughter that no matter what we decided, we probably weren't going to get a peek at the total eclipse. The weather forecasters were predicting the storm was slowing down meaning arrival and departure times might be later on so we opted to go south to the path of totality. Even if it was cloudy, we still would be able to experience total darkness in the middle of the day.

We stopped at a town on the northern edge of the path of totality to eat an early lunch and look at the latest weather forecast to see if we should head further into the path to increase our chances of a cloudless event. By chance, a friend of mine made contact and it turned out he was only a few blocks away at a house in town and his daughter was a friend of my daughter. So we decided to head over there for a bit and re-evaluate things. Long story shorter, the cloud cover was going to obscure the event for us no matter where we went and we really didn't have enough time to outrun it so we ended up just staying there.

We did get a view of the initial stages of the partial eclipse before the clouds blocked our view so it wasn't for not and we did get to experience 59 seconds of total darkness at 1:12 in the afternoon. It was enough to get all the crickets and frogs to make noise and make the hair on my arms stand up a bit. But all too soon it was over with and we were heading back north through rain. As it turned out, those back home had the clouds thin out enough that they were able to witness the peak of the eclipse (95%) and the back part of the partial eclipse. They also didn't get a drop of rain.

I did tape the eclipse on television so my daughter could still see what it might have looked like in other places. All if not lost however for on April 8, 2024, another total eclipse will pass near our cabin in Arkansas and up through Illinois so we will have another chance at seeing one in our lifetime.
My view of the eclipse about ten minutes before the total eclipse

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

It's So Dry That...


We finally had a measurable rain event, our first since sometime in May. We got 0.25" of rain which soaked into the top 0.125" of topsoil and evaporated away the next day. We are now almost 11" short of rain this year and including our extremely dry fall and winter last year, over 20" short since the start of 2016.  It's hard to imagine that we are nearly two feet short of water but then when you look at the river, it really isn't so hard. This same river has been high for the last three years, so high that a six month project to fix one of the bridges in this photo turned into a three year project. They finally finished it this year now that the river is low enough to finish but they haven't removed all their piles of rock left in the middle of the stream under the bridge.


I'm not a big fisherman, though I do love to fish now and then, to know what these dehydrated fish are lying here in the dirt about fifteen feet above current water levels. They do look like prehistoric beasts.


Now that the river almost doesn't exist anymore but in puddles, one can see all kinds of debris in the river bed from an old skateboard in the lower part of the picture to a pile of steel cables in the upper part of the picture. Someone should clean those up but since this is right below a hydroelectric dam that could potentially flood this area in seconds, it won't be me.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Using Leftovers


Believe it or not, I dug all those pavers used above out of the ditch on the other side of our driveway when I was doing that project. I thought it was a shame to let someone else's hard earned money that they paid for those things to go to waste so I built a little planting bed around the mailbox and near my reinforced entrance to the culvert that goes under my driveway. It is just way too dry to actually plant anything there but perhaps next year things will be different.

As you can see, the invasive grass along the road still has some green to it while the grass on the rest of our lawn looks like that in the lower left part of the picture above. Since our street for 100 yards or so drains down into our yard (and through my recently repaired culvert entrance) due to no curbs, we get a lot of seeds of various sorts from up the hill. My neighbor, a multi-millionaire, pays lots of money for some gardeners to spray, pull and eradicate those weeds. I have adopted a live and let live policy with mine.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Where Dreams Are Made


It's funny sometimes how we lose appreciation for things. Years ago when riding Ragbrai (Registers Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), we were in a theater in some little town along the route cooling off and taking in a movie. It just so happened that Field of Dreams was playing and when they got to the line, "Is this heaven? No it's Iowa." the roof of that theater almost lifted off from the volume of the cheers. It was a moment that has stuck with me all these years.

Now nearly thirty years later, on our trip to Dyersville, my wife wanted to stop by the movie site for that movie and see the ball field. I admit I was reluctant since it really had no value to me other than being in the movie but we made the trip over there and I guess I wasn't disappointed. It was a beautiful day and even though it was in the middle of the week, there were still a couple dozen people poking around the site and even a few that were playing catch with their sons just like in the movie. Thirty years later and the movie still has a lot of power over others.

We walked around the ball diamond, took the obligatory photos of all of us coming out of the cornfield in the outfield as in the movie and ate a picnic snack of sorts underneath some shade trees near the house and also in the movie. I read about the storied and somewhat checkered past of the field and the owners of the land. Even as recent as two years ago there has been attempts to change the surrounding area to cash in on the power of that movie.

At the end of the day, there isn't a lot to do at the site other than reminence scenes of the movie. There is a defunct gift shop just off left field (leftover from owner feuds of yesteryear)  and another in the driveway of the house from the movie. It wasn't a walk in shop and there was a long line standing there in the blazing sun waiting so I never went over to check it out.

A couple evenings later when we were home again, I rented the movie online and we watched it again, me for the umpteenth time and others for the first time. I must say, it was a masterfully done movie and still holds up all these years later.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Toys!

One of many many rows and displays of farm toys
I saw my blogger post feed that I usually keep stocked was running low of future posts so I started looking through my camera roll on my phone and found these pictures that I forgot to post. These were from another mini-vacation we did this summer. This time we drove to Dyersville, home of the National Farm Toy Museum. I have known about it all my life but just never stopped and finally I did. There are tens of thousands of farm toys on display and if I were younger and could crawl around for hours on my hands and knees again, I would have been in heaven with all these toys to play with. They had displays from many many other brands but growing up John Deere, I just had to take a picture of one of the many display cases holding some of their farm toys.


In another room, there were lots of scale models of farms all the way from the late 1800's to modern times. This one is one of my favorites because it reminded me of my childhood. I helped build a dollhouse from scratch for my oldest daughter years ago and really enjoyed that project even if she preferred her prefab plastic dollhouse she got from Grandma instead. So I could really see myself doing something like this someday just because I enjoy it. The detail amazes me.


Another hobby that I could see myself doing that combines my love of wood working with toys, making scale model wooden toys. I don't know how many hours are involved in these models but it was more than I have at the moment.


We spent a couple hours at the museum checking out all the displays and one of the better features was a kid's room tucked into a room upstairs. It had lots of farm toys for kids to play with and keep them entertained while us adults looked at the other "toys"!

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Reveal and the Art of the Deal


There it is in all's glory, a 2017 Toyota Sienna. We've swung the pendulum from three Honda's in our household to two Toyotas and one Honda. I still like Honda but the nearest dealer is an hour and a half drive away and the nearest Toyota dealer is about 2 miles as the crow flies. I also don't like the little swoop Honda put in their rear window design a few years back.

When buying a new vehicle these days, the rage is to send out dozens of emails to make dealers "compete" with each other. I have a good friend who sales cars for a living and another that owns a car dealership. I'll give anyone reading a hint. The "best" price quoted via email is about $500 to $1000 more than the "best" price quoted to a person sitting in the dealership. Their reasoning is simple. It is much easier to negotiate with someone sitting in front of you than trying to attract one of the thousand email quote requests that get sent to you into the dealership. As the old saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush... or in this case probably a thousand.

Still I like to do my homework so I not only looked at the price ranges of the model and options I wanted but the same model without options. I also looked online at dealers within 150 miles and see what they were advertising those models and options for. With that information written down on a piece of paper, I called up my friend the car salesman and set up an appointment. I also previously discussed our max price with my wife so she wouldn't be surprised later.

When I sat down in his office and casually laid my piece of paper on the desk with all my writing so that it was sideways to both of us. As I had hoped, I could see him eyeing it while we were chit chatting about various options. He now new what I was expecting for a price range. Since they didn't have any of that model on the lot at this time as they were making room for the 2018 models to be released later this year, he had to search his computer to find the one I wanted. When he found one without any options, he gave me a price which coincidentally was right at the median point of the previously research price range they were selling for in my area according to several websites.

I said I would pay the low range value which turned out to be about $700 less than his first quote but that I also wanted a couple options valued in their pricing guide at about $1000, plus rust, paint and upholstery protection which was another $700 all included in that value for $700 less than he quoted. This is why I always price out the model without options and then add them later for no added dollars to give me leverage rather than starting out with all the options included. So all told, my offer was valued at $2400 less than the one he initially quoted but the actual dollar figure only went down $700. He did the old "go-and-see-the-manager" routine and came back asking for another $200 which I agreed to and shook his hand. According to the websites, the price I paid was in the "excellent deal" column though purchasing it at the end of a model year and having a $2500 cashback incentive going on really helped out.

I normally shy away from their rust, paint and upholstery protection stuff but he told me that it came with a five year guarantee. If anything stains, rusts or peels in the next five years, they will make it like new again. With two kids and another totaled out van with very stained floor and seats, I thought it was probably worth the $700 gamble. The only problem is that the fumes are horribly noxious and overpowers the new car scent that I always enjoyed but knew in the back of my mind that they were noxious as well. As of writing this, we've only had the vehicle for 24 hours so I'm hoping that the odor goes away fast.

To celebrate blowing a big wad of cash, we went out to eat and blew another much much smaller wad of cash. It just made sense!  Since it has been ten years since I purchased a new vehicle (that I mainly drive), I'm having to learn a lot on how to work all the controls. I'm also excited for winter now since we have two vehicles now with AWD for when the roads get bad, assuming we get some precipitation again.

Friday, August 11, 2017

What the Heck... Answered

So as I mentioned in my previous post, our minivan got hammered by 2" diameter hail two weeks after I cancelled comprehensive insurance on it only to learn a couple months later that it never had been cancelled. I called the insurance company to start a claim to help me make up my mind if it is worth it to fix up the damage so that it looks nice for the next five years or so before we trade it in, especially since I would only have to pay my $750 deductible to do so.

The insurance company told me to go ahead and get an estimate on the damage and so I did and it came out to $3200! Holy smokes! So I forwarded on the estimate to the insurance company and they caught their breath as well and set up an appointment for their estimator to take a look at things. He showed up this morning and after a thorough inspection said that the estimate I got was low and should be nearly $4000! The van is only worth $5000 in the condition it was before the hail storm.

So long story short, they consider it totaled. Fixing up the hail damage is a moot point because I won't get enough money back to fix the thing. They will give me $5000 but I would have to buy it back for $3000, what they think it is worth in an auction setting meaning I can keep the van and a cool $2000 in my pockets. Or, I can pocket $5000 but then someone in a tow truck will come and pick up my van never to be seen again and of course, I would have to replace it. What to do, what to do?

We really love the minivan and it is our main family vehicle but at ten years old already, it won't last the other 14 years we need it too until our kids have flown the nest. So on one hand, it might make sense to get another one for those remaining 14 years. On the other hand, we could drive it as is though I still need to put another $1500 in repairs scheduled in a couple weeks and probably get another five years out of it or more. I would end up with an extra $500 ($2000 they gave me minus the $1500 in repairs) in my pocket but a van that I really can't easily sell due to it being totaled.

After much discussion, I think we finally settled on taking the $5000+ settlement and saying goodbye to it which means we have to buy another one. In my younger days when I drove a lot of junked out cars for pennies, I wouldn't go this route but we've been fortunate and I have two kids now who depend on me so I think it makes sense. We went out and test drove a vehicle which is the only one in the category with All Wheel Drive which I consider a must these days and really liked it. Today as I write this I'm doing research on what I should pay for it. Tomorrow if all goes well, I will go negotiate a final price for one.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I'm Not Going to Miss You

One of the greats... and one that I'll miss.


Monday, August 7, 2017

What the Heck?

Once a year, I get a call from my insurance agent asking to set up an appointment to review my insurance and verify that it still meets our needs. It is also the time that he tries to persuade me to buy more insurance products that I don't want which I dislike. However, I put up with that because I do make chances to our insurance coverage from time to time.

Case in point, at our last meeting I was fairly fresh from the experience of having someone run a red light and hit me head on. Fortunately it was at low speed but it still did several thousand dollars worth of damage to our minivan. During that process I discovered that the blue book value for our minivan was only around $5000. Now that it has been in the shop three times to repair damages inflicted upon it by other drivers, I'm sure $5000 would be pretty optimistic even if we still love the vehicle. But it didn't seem worth it to be shelling out for comprehensive insurance on it anymore. So when I had my last meeting with the insurance agent, I told him to cancel comprehensive on the minivan and just retain liability insurance.

Two weeks later we got caught out on the open road in a hail storm dropping two inch diameter frozen slush balls on us and it turned our minivan into a golf ball. I felt fortunate that it didn't break the windshield. Needless to say, since I had just canceled comprehensive I was a little miffed at my misfortune but since I don't mind driving a beat up vehicle, I got over it quickly. It just add character and prevents people in new shiny cars from parking so close to me in parking lot situations.

Now a month and a half later, I got my annual bill for my home and auto insurance premiums and realized that I still had comprehensive insurance. My agent had dropped the ball and not cancelled it. I called him up and explained the situation. He was understanding and said that since he dropped the ball, I could cancel it back to our meeting and get refunded the money OR I could go ahead and get the hail damage fixed and THEN cancel the comprehensive part of the insurance again and be prorated back to the day after the hailstorm.

I still have $750 in deductible that I would have to cover so I have to decide if it would be worth it to me. I've scheduled an auto body shop to give me a repair quote to perhaps swing my mind one way or the other. Since I realistically hope to have another five or six years of driving the minivan before getting another one (it's only ten years old), it might be worth it to pop for the repair. Who knows, they may even just total the thing and I might get another one sooner. But I don't like dwelling on decisions like that until I know all the facts and I still have to wait a week or two before I get all the facts back.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Working In the Trenches


Since I have started to neaten up the other side of the culvert going under our driveway, I thought it was a good time to do something about the uphill side of the culvert. When we purchased this property, it was just a leaf choked hole in the lawn about the side of a dinner plate. The leafs did a great job of diverting the water up and over the top of our driveway and was eroding the hill on the back side. One of my first orders of business was to pour a concrete driveway that was about six inches higher to prevent water from flowing over it and eroding the hill on the back side.

As a result, the dinner sized plate leaf choked hole became a small pond. I cleaned out the leaves which allowed water to erode the entrance into a hole the size of which I could almost sleep inside. This was mostly done over the last couple years when we have been getting rain but this year due to the drought going on, it hasn't been a problem. But in hopes of someday getting some more rain again, I decided to tackle it one cloudy morning before we were to go under a flash flood watch in the evening due to a forecasted 3 inch per hour rain for several hours! Of course we didn't get a drop of rain.

I had to soak down the area with water to soften it up enough that I could dig out the hole a bit up near the entrance to the culvert and then mixed up two bags of concrete and dumped into the hole. I smoothed it around but realized I didn't have enough concrete so I hurried to the store for another bag which after mixed and added, made it come out to what it looks like above. It was really hard to get any pictures with perspective but that is a 12 inch diameter culvert and is about 12 inches below the "surface" of the ground at that point.

Now that I have that problem solved, I've been thinking of using some of the salvaged pavers that I found in the ditch on the other side of the driveway to create some sort of landscaping bed around our mailbox. I'm not sure if I'm going to wait for a rain at this point or go the old soak the night before and dig the next morning routine.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hoover

Birth home of Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa

I've probably driven by the birthplace of our 31rst president of the United States dozens of times but only recently stopped for the first time. Herbert Hoover is the only president born in Iowa though he spent most of his childhood outside of the state. Like other more recent presidents, he inherited a presidency followed almost immediately by a economic collapse, in his case the Great Depression. While it wasn't his fault, he inherited the blame and thus has been maligned as president until recent decades. So with that in mind, we made a special trip up to visit the historical site.

My first thought when we stepped out of the car was that there was a puddle in the parking lot. It's been over two months since I have seen an actual puddle of water so it was kind of a neat sight. We also discovered that the grounds in this part of Iowa were soft and squishy compared to the concrete ones full of cracks 18" deep that we have back home.

It was a quite day at the historical site and there were only a handful of other groups floating around so it felt like we mostly had it to ourselves. We stopped in at the museum which was interesting but not really informative as far as Hoover goes. There were lots of trinkets from around the world due to his pre-presidential life of travels as a mining engineer and humanitarian problem solver. By far the most informative thing was a 20 something minute long movie that we watched first. Still I wouldn't go so far as to say it wasn't worth the stop because it most certainly was. I picked up a book in the gift shop to fill in the rest of Hoovers story later at my leisure.

Mask made of Hoover's face when he was still very much alive
After we toured the museum, we went up the nearby hill to visit his grave site which was immaculate and very beautiful. I think perhaps it was his Quaker beliefs that led to him having a simple tombstone that simply had his name on it and no mention of his stature in life. It was also neat that through a clearing in the trees and over a quarter mile away, one could see his boyhood home so although he spent lots of time out west and east (along with other sides of the globe) he still ended up close to his beginning. Although I probably won't be president and thus can't dictate a specific spot to be buried in, I do hope someday to have a part of me in a local countryside cemetery a mile from where my parents currently live and a half mile from where I grew up.

A couple death facts about Hoover. At the time of his death, he had the longest retirement of any president only having been surpassed in more "recent" times by Jimmy Carter in 2012. Hoover was also the second longest living president at the time (second to John Adams) but has since been surpassed by four other more recent presidents. (Ford, Carter, Regan, and H. W Bush

After visiting his burial spot, the third presidential burial spot I have visited in a little over a year's time, we walked towards the historic part of town to visit his birth home seen above and other building preserved that were around during Bert's boyhood. We found a nice winery next to the historic site so we stopped in for a taste test and a platter of crackers, meat and cheeses to sample. There were lots of other nearby interesting shops but it was an extremely hot day with high humidity and we didn't feel we had the strength to swim through the unconditioned shops to investigate so we instead went back through the historic site to our vehicle and headed home.



Bert and Lou Hoover's Burial Site