Wednesday, November 29, 2017

One Last Project

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Leather Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Julien Dubuque

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Mini Vacation

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

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

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

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

View from the top

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Side Trip

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Easy Money

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Gone on Vacation

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Finished Too

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

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

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

Monday, November 6, 2017


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

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

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

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

String Orchestra

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Secret Project

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

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

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