Wednesday, July 18, 2018


I happen to read Ron Chernow's book on Hamilton before it became a best selling play. Although interesting and I learned a lot about a person who was prominent among those whom we consider our founding fathers, I wasn't blown away by the book. It could have easily been 300 pages shorter (or more) and been a much better book.

Eventually the Miranda play came to Broadway and was a smash hit. Ever since I heard about it, I've been green with envy those I have known who have been in New York and seen the play. So when I heard that it was coming to my humble state, I knew I had to try and get tickets to it.

When tickets went on sale, I immediately registered online and was assigned a "spot inline" with a promise that they would email me when I had ten minutes left before my spot in line would be in front where I could purchase tickets. To hedge my bets, I repeatedly hit redial on my phone trying to call in to their phone sellers for the next two hours before I had to leave on other business. I never once got into the phone system.

Four hours later when I had pretty much given up hope, I got an email saying I was near the front of the "line". Long story short, there were nearly two dozen shows and all but two were sold out but behold, the one I was interested in still had tickets, albeit only premium tickets. I sucked it up, typed in my credit card and bought the limit of four tickets. Ouch!

You weren't allowed to select actual seats, those were chosen for you. So when I got my tickets and saw that the row number was MM, I was a little bit pissed since the theater seats go from A to Z and then continue on from AA to PP. There were only three rows behind me for PREMIUM seats! But the die was cast and I figured it was better than nothing.

After some discussion, we decided to sell the other two tickets to some friends of ours who were a couple and have been for years but are not married. A week before the performance I sent them a text just to remind them I had their tickets and that is where the AWKWARD began. They evidently were/are breaking up and I had texted both of them at the same time. The man responded first saying he was definitely going with us along with his mother. Huh? That is when my wife texted the lady and found out the splitsville situation. We had been planning a day of it with this couple and were planning on eating at a fancy restaurant afterwards. Now it would be a couple, a friend and his mom.

We were already committed at that point so we pushed on and saw the play. AWESOME! OUTSTANDING! BAR SETTING EXPERIENCE!, all in capital letters come to mind. I've been listening to the soundtrack for days afterwards and still dreaming of that experience. The seats though in the rear of the theater were adequate and though it would have been nice to have been closer to actually see facial expressions, it really wasn't necessary for me to thoroughly enjoy the play. Afterwards, my wife and I got in the souvenir line and essentially big our accompanying "couple" a good night while we waiting to get a souvenir hat.

We then went to a restaurant my wife has been jonesing to go to for a long time. We knew we didn't have reservations but we've always been able to get into places like that before by going a bit early and it was only five o'clock when we walked into an almost deserted Baru66. Evidently they take their reservations seriously and the waitress later told us that on Saturday, if you don't call by the previous Monday, you don't get in. Fortunately they let us set at a small table for two on the waiting bar side of the divide. I thought we would get poor service eating in the bar (always seems to be the case anyway) but the service was stellar and the food were the same capitalized words above for the play. The actual chef in puffy white hat and french accent even came out not once but twice to greet us and inquire about our dining experience which thrilled my wife to no end. So I will just post the pictures of our three course meal as some eye candy to this post.

Wife's appetizer of pan seared scallops with peach chutney, cornbread and a citrus vinaigrette

My appetizer of Ahi tuna crudo with yuzu vinaigrette and ginger

Wife's entree of roasted duck breast with cherry-port-thyme jubilee sauce and potato-herb pancake

My entree of wild caught halibut pan seared fillet, lobster bisque and saffron pommes parisienne

My wife's dessert of lavander creme brulee

My dessert of rhubarb-strawberry panna cotta with a roasted rhubarb-strawberryelderflower sorbet

At the end, they brought this with the check and it wasn't on their menu. The ramekins contained some sort of raspberry cream and the dough chunk was like a mini fried donut. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Mom Update

It's been awhile so I thought I would do another quick update. As I write this, my mom has just completed another Avastin infusion and is on her second dose of the chemo drug. The latter she takes orally and then monitors her blood counts for the next six to eight weeks to see when she can take the next pill. She did start losing her hair again so in a preemptive strike cut it short like mine and as hot as it has been this summer, I don't think she is regretting that decision.

The last MRI she took a month ago showed that while the tumor was still present, it hadn't grown much and as a result, most of the swelling that had been impairing her functions has gone away. This was as expected since the infusion and chemo are specifically to slow down the blood flow to the tumor which in turn, limits its growth and gives her brain time to heal. It is doing its job. However it doesn't really make me feel any better knowing that it isn't an attempt to fight it even though I know it is the right decision for my mom. Everyone makes a big deal out of "fighting" cancer but in my experience, it is more like playing a board game with set rules and due to random factors outside of your control, how it ends up can be different every time. In my mom's case, it is late in the game and she knows she can't win but it making an effort to enjoy the experience. It is enough but sometimes it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Although I went with my mom to her last MRI, I didn't go with her for the last infusion a couple weeks ago. I wish I had. Her oncology doctor mentioned trying her on the immunotherapy drug again, the one which had so much promise. With my mom's genetic mutation, it was supposed to have a 40% chance of outright sending her into remission and a 70% chance of significantly reducing the tumor. My mom ended up being in the 30% group where it didn't affect her at all and according to my mom repeating what her oncologist told her, made her brain swell so badly. The oncologist wants to start her back on the immunotherapy drug after she has had the standard six courses of her current chemo drug. This too is confusing since with six to eight weeks between doses and it has been averaging right at eight weeks, she still has approximately twenty-eight weeks before that can happen. If what we were told earlier is correct, she only has four to sixteen more weeks left to live on average. So for now I/we are just biding our time to the next time she sees her oncologist and gets her next MRI, (less than two weeks from when you will read this) and hopefully with my presence, we should get some more clear answers.

Functionally, my mom is doing outstanding. To almost everyone outside her immediate family, she appears normal and is normal if you don't know what is growing inside her brain. To me, she is the mom I've always known though just a little more absentminded on occasion. One could easily peg it up as just the aging process if it weren't for the fact that she is only 63 years old. She still rides her bicycle around 20 miles a day, which at one point the oncologist had told her that is she rides her bicycle again, it would be a tandem one and not a single. He also recommended that we take her license away which we did but has since given it back. So from my perspective, things are going better than I had hoped and we are much further into the year than I thought we would make it on the cold February day when we got the bad news.

Since before the cancer diagnosis, my family has been planning on a trip to the Philippines sometime late this year and the plan was always for my brother and his family along with my parents to join us. Soon we will be buying plane tickets to make that possible. As of right now, my mom is still raring to go and I hope to make that happen. If she does, that means she will have lived enough to see 64 and to have crossed off every single item on her bucket list except one. The one she hasn't crossed off was to boat down the Grand Canyon which she was supposed to have done this spring until the re-occurrence of the cancer forced her to cancel the trip. Perhaps if we get through the trip to the Philippines, we can work on making that one come true as well.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Food Porn

Fried dill pickles appetizer
 The son of my daughter's godmother, I guess that would make him my daughter's godbrother, was being ordained a priest and after his ordination, we decided to look for a place to cool our heels and get some good food. A quick google search located a farm to table restaurant with great reviews and so we decided to give it a try.

Really there was no doubt since every single farm to table restaurant I've eaten at has had excellent food and the presentation of it is definitely something outside of the scope of average food found here in the rural Midwest. It was outstanding and if we ever go back to that area, I'm sure we will hit this place again.

On to more pictures of food:

My entree, a cheese steak sandwich unlike any other I have ever eaten

My side of french fries which my kids consumed. The one I had was excellent.

My wife's entree was almost as tall as she is. It was a Korean BBQ sandwich.

S'more Pie for dessert. I could only eat one bite as I was full from my sandwich.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Meeting a Sojourner

Nearly three weeks ago, I saw that a fellow blogger that I have followed since 2005 or thereabouts, was in St. Louis, not to far from where I live. A few days later he posted that he was in Iowa City, close enough for rural southeast Iowa to be considered my backyard though it is about an hour and a half drive from my home. So I sent a shout out via Facebook and eventually we agreed to meet at a small Mexican restaurant between where he was staying and where I lived. As I drove towards our meeting place, I wasn't quite sure what I would say or how meeting someone I have known for 13 years but have never met in person would be like.

With the exception of one person who got me started in blogging and used to read my blog, I have mostly remained anonymous with my blog. I guess I just like it that way. In the beginning, it was because it allowed me the freedom to say some things that others that knew me might not like to hear. Then I got married and had children and it became partly about just protecting them from things that I have said. These days it is mostly just habit that I still loosely keep my blogging identity anonymous, even though many of my readers know my real identity through other social media platforms.

It turned out I had a lot in common with Sage as he used to refer to himself. He has a southern accent and drinks unsweetened tea. I don't have a southern accent and drink diet colas. He is a minister, I'm not. Seriously though, he has been writing in journals for much of his life as have I. He is well read as I am sometimes classified. He loves boating and just being outdoors as do I. When I walked up to him in the park across from the Mexican restaurant, there wasn't much of a pause in the conversation for the next couple hours as we gabbed about this and that. It was a lot of fun.

As I drove back home, I pondered that it probably shouldn't be surprising that we had a great time. After all, just the act of blogging, at least long term anyway, probably assures that we would have similar personalities and I probably would get along well with all those that frequently read my blog or leave comments. It made me think that perhaps I should reach out more often to those in my area of the world. I know for sure that if I'm ever in the vicinity of his state, I will definitely have to repay the favor and stop by for a visit.

Thanks for the lunch Sage/Jeff. Stop back anytime.

Monday, July 9, 2018


I'm only on my third cell phone since there were such things. I started off with a dumb flip phone but then jumped into the smart phone world with an iPhone 4 which served me well. However, with the passage of years, the buttons started wearing out and it was getting harder and harder to use so I finally upgraded it to the iPhone 6s which I've had ever since. The buttons on it have continued to work almost flawlessly which is mostly why I've kept it around even though they are already up to iPhone X's. But the battery life on my smart phone was really poor and getting worse rapidly. If I just looked at it wrong, it would drop 10% in the battery life and once it got to below 40%, I had literally minutes to plug it in before it went dead. It was to the point that everywhere I went in the house, I always ended up with my phone plugged in.

So when I heard that there was some sort of flaw with the iPhone 6s batteries that effected their lives and that Apple was replacing them for parts cost only for this year only, I knew I had to make an appointment to get mine replace. That turned out to be no easy task. You could only do so by going through several menus on the phone to schedule an appointment. The scheduler app would only display the upcoming seven days and generally, you were lucky if when you got to that point, if there was one or two openings left on day seven.

My schedule is more flexible that my wife and she too has an iphone 6s that needed a new battery. So there was only one afternoon a week in which she is able to get off work in time to make it to the nearest Apple store 110 miles away. After several weeks of not being able to get a time that will work and several months of our schedules just not allowing it, the stars aligned and we got back to back appointments one Wednesday afternoon seven days in the future.

It was my first experience to an Apple store and it was a culture shock for me. It was like being on a new car lot because you couldn't take a step in the store without three or four people with green store shirts racing up to you to see if what you needed. Everything was organized on basic long wooden tables and nothing had prices on them. I guess if you have to ask how much they cost you can't afford them.

When I told them about my appointment, I was escorted to a group of blocks in the middle of the store. Even our bar stools in this part of the country have backs on them which are wonderful for support but evidently Apple doesn't believe them necessary. Crouching on my block like an adult in a kindergarten sized chair, the Apple rep pulled up a block and started typing and scrolling through our phones a mile a minute for a half hour before he finally had us sign on the dotted line and took our phone through the only door on the far wall.

We wandered back an hour and forty-five minutes later as told and sat on the blocks. We watched others as they got their phones, laptops, watches, etc. back and left and we watched the reps play zone defense so they could catch other would be perusers before they could actually peruse. Finally thirty minutes late in a show that appeared to work like clockwork, I finally asked one of the reps when our phones would be done and he told me that they were. We just had to check in and go stand by the wireless headphone display (with no prices) which also happened to be by the sole white door in the wall. Sure enough a rep came bounding out with our phones and after scanning my credit card, gave them back to us.

The new battery is nice. I can go an entire day now, probably two if I wanted to stretch things without charging it. I can listen to music on my morning walks without having to charge it upon my return in case I get calls later in the morning. It is like having a new phone once again. So I'm hopeful that it will get me through until at least the iPhone 16 or so before I have to upgrade. By then, they will probably be the same size as magazines.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Visiting Ancestors On the Way Home

As we turned back towards home, we drove through an area where my Chicken ancestors had lived for a time after they immigrated from England. However as their kids married and moved away after the Civil War and my 4th great grandmother died, the family kind of disintegrated. My 4th great grandfather remarried and moved to South Dakota where he proved up on some land and died years later. I have been out there and visited his grave on my way out to the Black Hills. I have never however visited the grave of my 4th great grandmother who was the only one who was buried in that part of SW Wisconsin. So I did that.

The cemetery was a small one and very neglected with time and it took a few passes before I finally located a tombstone with the Chicken surname on it underneath the pine and leaf litter. I think this is actually a daughter's tombstone that died in childhood and not that of my 4th great grandmother but I'm sure she is buried right next to here.

We continued on south to the area where my 3rd great grandfather John Kuck whom I've been blogging about a lot recently immigrated too, lived and died. I've visited his grave before but it has been several years so we stopped once more just to pay our respects. (For a brief reminder, five of his seven children and wife died in the space of a few months and they are all buried in a row there.) After visiting the graves, we ate lunch, walked in the cold wind and rain to check out a suspension bridge over a very flooded river and continued on towards home.

When we got tired of driving, we stopped for supper at another farm-to-table restaurant that has been on our bucket list and it didn't disappoint either. Above are some sweet potato cakes with a spicy sauce on top. Below is a chicken and avocado salad that my wife enjoyed. I had the best cuban sandwich I have ever eaten in my life but it wasn't nearly as photogenic and I didn't take a picture. Had I know it would be the best cuban sandwich I have ever eaten, I would have taken a picture anyway but you know what they say about hindsight. For those in the area of Grinnel, definitely stop in at the Prairie Canary for some good eats.

Stomachs full and well rested, we finally set our GPS for home. It turned out to be a successful mini-vacation and I'm glad that we got kicked out of Chicago by the traffic.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Same Town, New Stops

We drove eat to Madison, a place we have visited before but always seem to come back. We ate supper at a Peruvian restaurant that was pretty good and then hunkered down for the evening in a motel. The next morning, we spent quite a bit of time just walking around visiting another local church, the fabulous farmers market and other sights. We finally took a break to eat lunch at a farm-to-table restaurant right next to the capital building called Graze. It was fabulous! Perhaps because they are farm-to-table and thus local or perhaps because they are the rage, I have never eaten at one that wasn't outstanding in the taste and presentation department. Above was an appetizer of dill deviled eggs.

I had a local version of bibimbap that has local ground sausage instead of seafood, local veggies and was served on a crispy potato fritter instead of crispy rice. It was heavenly.

We went to the local university where we attempted to find a science museum for our oldest daughter but it was in the process of moving so instead we visited a geology and paleontology museum which we had to ourselves.

I though the exhibits there were more like works of art than actual artifacts.

After the museum, we found a place on campus where students made and ran their own ice cream shop using university owned cows. All proceeds from the ice cream (which was delicious) went to fund the experiment for future students.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Off Course

After stopping at Oz park in Chicago, we drove to Chinatown and after walking around, ate a light early supper of dim sum there, something we have wanted to do since the previous time a handful of years earlier. However, we were quickly overwhelmed with the traffic in Chicago which seems to have only gotten much worse since our previous visits. We were spending more time driving through heavy traffic which made us tense instead of relaxing so we made an audible and drove north to Milwaukee. The next morning we decided to get our karma back in line and visited St. Josaphat's Basilica which was pretty grand as far as churches go.

Art was everywhere you looked and I spent quite awhile sitting in a pew just looking. I could feel the tension leaving my body and started to relax.

Even in the basement of the church, where another complete church resided, it was beautiful. Above is a boxcar organ named because it came via boxcar completely assembled and ready to play. I would have loved to bang out a few notes on the thing but refrained.

After letting the kids burn off some steam at the local children's museum and since we were in Milwaukee, home of a large German enclave, we had to get some German food for a late lunch. The first place we stopped at was closed due to a appliance malfunction in their kitchen and the next couple were closed since it was well past the traditional lunch time but we finally found one near the outskirts of town in a nice little pub that was open.

We learned on the way to the pub selling German food that we were only a few blocks from a major brewery so after a late lunch, we walked off the potatoes and sausages by taking a tour of Miller Brewery. As far as brewery tours goes, Anheuser Busch in St. Louis has the superior one by far. Instead of eight or nine stops at Anheuser, this one only had four. But where Miller won the day is at the end of the tour. Instead of the two small shot sized samples Anheuser gives you, they give you a flight of three different beers. However, we didn't partake because we had decided to gravitate further to the west so we skipped the last stop and hit the road again.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Off to Oz

Our first stop was to walk off the Jollibee food at Oz park. It seems like your average urban area park except for four large statues featuring characters from the movie The Wizard of Oz. There were lots of people out and about for a Monday afternoon, mostly non-working parents with kids and teenage lovers. We walked around "bagging" pictures of the statues and then let the kids burn off some steam at a playground for awhile.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Seeds of Vacation

Boxes stuffed in with seating for five
 My wife had a week of vacation coming up and due to a longer more involved vacation coming up later this year, we really didn't have a destination in mind for this one. We did have four balikbayan boxes that needed to be dropped off in Chicago though so thus a seed for our vacation was planted.

Balikbayan boxes are specific to Filipinos in the U.S. They are essentially flat rate boxes that can be filled with whatever you can stuff in them and they are shipped (as in on a boat) to the Philippines where they generally will arrive three to four months later. The term balikbayan translated means a Filipino who has been living overseas for some time. Since we are planning on arriving in person in six months, we filled these boxes with gifts to hand out to our extended family over there and wanted to get them on a ship so that they are there waiting when we arrive.

The other seed for our trip was to eat at Jollibee which is a chain restaurant very popular in the Philippines. I describe it as the "McDonalds" of the Philippines. It is a place that sales cheap fast food and the closest location to where we live happens to be in the same town where we mail our balikbayan boxes, Chicago. So after dropping off our boxes, we headed to Jollibee where you can buy a Chicken Joy which is the equivalent of a happy meal and consists of a piece of fried chicken, spaghetti and a cake of rice with a side of gravy. It has never appealed to me American tastes I guess to get fast food spaghetti so I generally get their version of a hamburger which is relegated to a tiny corner of the menu for specialty (and presumably not often sold) items.

After a late lunch at Jollibee, we really didn't have anything specific planned for the next several days. I had made a list of offbeat or unusual things to see or do in or around Chicago from the Atlas Obscura website so we could avoid the other places we've been to many times over across the years. So we hopped in the van with now much more available space and headed into the throat of Chicago.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Apologies For My Absence

You may have guessed it from my lack of comments that I slipped out of the state on vacation and forgot to stop my blog from automatically posting more posts while I was gone. I'm usually very good at those kinds of things but we had a family party at our house right before leaving and it just slipped my mind.

Anyway, if you left comments last week, I answered them. None were really seeking an answer so it is okay not to check. Likewise, I will hopefully get caught up on all your blogs this coming week and write a few more posts to automatically post in the near future since my backlog of posts are now almost depleted.

Friday, June 22, 2018

John Kuck Dies At May Hospital

I took a brief trip up to our urban jungle which has a historical center that carries thousand of newspapers on microfilm from across our state. According to its records, it had the newspaper where my three times great grandparents lived from the early 1860's onward. I had hoped to search the paper during the time of the diphtheria epidemic that killed my three times great grandmother Mary and five of her seven children in the space of three months. I have copies of the death notices already, but wanted to read the "around town" section to see who was coming and going in hopes that it might mention Mary's parents visiting. This is important because I don't know the names of Mary's parents. It was a long shot but it became a much longer shot when I got there and they were missing the decade of microfilm that covered that period of time.

I started reading the microfilm from 15 years earlier when they just arrived in town but at that period of time, there was very little written about the comings and goings of its residents. I did find that John took an add in the newspaper for a month advertising his new saddle and harness shop so that was sort of interesting. But I knew I probably wasn't going to find anything else of use to me so I skipped onto later decades which were also hit or miss if they were there. In the end, I did find an obituary for John Kuck which is unusual in itself. Very few people had as large of a write-up as he received which shows his stature and wealth in the community.

The one clue that it did offer about my three times great grandmother Mary is that it stated she immigrated "some time after her husband". I've never been able to track down an immigration record for her because Mary Meyer was a somewhat common name so perhaps I might be able to use this information to my advantage someday. For now however, I can cross this exercise off my to-do list at least until someday when I can get up to northeast Iowa and spend some time.

It also said that my three times great grandfather had married a third time which was news to me. This might explain why precious few photographs or relics of my three times great grandfather exists among those who descended from his first two wives.

To create something google searchable, here is the transcript of the above article.

John Kuck Dies At May Hospital

John Kuck was born near the city of Bremen, in the Kingdom of Prussia, Germany, December 5th, 1836, and died at Charles City, November 1st, 1916, hence was 79 years, 10 months and 26 days old at the time of death.

Deceased was the son of Henry and Anna (Gerken) Kuck and was one of a family of eight children of which he was the third son. He attended school in his native land until he was sixteen years old and then sailed for America alone. Landing at Baltimore after having been at sea eight weeks, he went to Wheeling, West Virginia, and a few weeks later to Marietta, Ohio, where he apprenticed himself to a harness maker which trade he learned thoroughly. After completing his trade he went to Le Sure, Minn., where he engaged in merchandising for a year and then went to Galena, Ill., where he worked at his trade until 1860, when he moved to Lansing, Iowa, and engaged in the saddlery business until 1864, when he came to Charles City and established a harness and saddlery business. He was very successful and accumulated quite a fortune which he later invested in the Charles City Water Power Co., then operating the old mill which was destroyed by fire in about 1905.

June 1rst, 1860, Mr. Kuck was united in marriage with Miss Mary Meyer of Galena, Ill. The latter was a native of Switzerland and had come to this country some time after her husband. The surviving children of the seven born to them are Henry L. of The Dalles, Oregon and George W. of Rockford, Iowa. May 30, 1879, Mrs. Kuck died and April 22, 1880, Mr Kuck was wed to Miss Lizzie Brandon of this city to which union three children were born, namely Clara, now a teacher in the schools at Great Falls, Mont., Bertha, the wife of Frank Nash of Montrose, Montana, and Paul, a resident of Osage. Mrs. Kuck died some four years ago, and July 1911, Mr. Kuck wed Mrs. Blank who survives.

John Kuck was one of the best of citizens and during his active business life took a leading part in city affairs. He was one of the organizers of the German Methodist church in this city and always active in denominational affairs. In the death of Mr. Kuck the city loses one of its oldest and most highly respected citizens. Death was due to the ravishes of old age, no pronounced disease having developed. The funeral date has not yet been fixed but will probably not be until Saturday.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Along the Way

With the girls off for a week with their grandmother, there wasn't any excuses and so one overcast morning I set off on my walk which is normally a four and a half mile loop through town. Not far into my route is this building which is in the process of being torn down. It was the hospital here in town for many decades up until about 40 years ago when a newer facility was built on another side of town. This remained as offices for a time but eventually closed and has sat vacant for at least 25 years now.

Much effort was made to try and find a buyer who would convert it into non-rent controlled apartments which are severely lacking in our community and eventually a company from the urban jungle said yes. However after several years of no communication, they came back and said they couldn't make the numbers work. There was just too much lead, asbestos and interior work that could never be paid for unless rent was so high no one would be able to afford it. The only solution was to tear it down.

So for the last month, they have  been removing all the windows (and trim) along with lots of panels and such that I assume are full of asbestos. When that it done they will level the building and build the area up with row houses and unattached single homes that they will sell to the public.

A very fuzzy picture that I took with my cellphone panoramic feature but it shows the weird cloud formation that was forming above my head. I had been seeing it for awhile but was always in an area with tall trees and it wasn't until I got to the new hospital parking lot did the view open up enough so I could capture it. It sort of reminds me of those sci-fi movies as the alien ships are pulling into our atmosphere to dock and raise havoc among us humans. I was hoping it would pour and make me soaked to the bone since we are so dry here for the second year in a row but alas, only a few drops fell as it passed by. Perhaps the aliens thought it was just too dry here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Down and Out

There is nothing like a trip among the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of our teeming shore, the homeless and the tempest-tossed to make one understand just how well they have it. And so it began with a simple letter to my mother-in-law from her insurance provider telling her that since she is eligible for medicare, they aren't going to pay as much anymore.

My mother-in-law is in the process of immigrating from the Philippines to our country which is a long drawn out process that we actually began almost 14 years ago. It involved petitioning her which in simple terms means we have to pledge our very souls to the U.S. government that we would not let her become a burden on society and that we had the wealth to live up to that promise. Once that was complete, we filled our reams of paperwork proving who she was and her reasons for immigrating to eventually be given permanent resident status. This status really means you have no rights other than the right to stay in our country. You can't vote, can't hold office, can't get any benefits, etc. but you can work and pay taxes. However, if you live here for five straight years and aren't a burden to society, you can apply for citizenship. So after calling the toll free medicare phone number, wading through dozens of touch tone menus and waiting for hours, I finally got hold of a representative (who was extremely nice) who told us that the reason we got that letter in the mail is because my mother-in-law's stay in our country was about to break the five year waiting period and thus since she could be eligible for citizenship if she desires (and she does), she is now eligible for Medicare. Because she has absolutely no income and has never earned income in this country, she isn't eligible for subsidies but even paying full fare, it is a savings of four figures per MONTH! All we needed to do was head down to the local Social Security office and apply. We jumped in the car and ten minutes later were sitting in the waiting room full of the above mentioned people.

We hadn't anticipated a lengthy wait so had really nothing to do except sit there and pretend not to hear the mentally handicapped fellow tell the same store over and over for over an hour at a voice reserved for encouraging your child from across the baseball field to get the ball. If he wasn't talking, you were listening to the multitude of problems people were explaining to the single agent manning the window. One poor fellow obviously missing a leg, was trying to get disability since he hasn't had a job or wife since March and had no more money to buy any food. He wasn't a native speaker of English so it took awhile for the agent to explain that he needed proof that he was disabled before they could process their benefits. This process repeated itself for two and a half hours as we waited for our number to be called and with the knowledge that there were still three or four people ahead of us. After hearing a fellow come in with an appointment time and getting promptly seen in a back room, we got up, got the number for this local office from the security guard and headed home thinking we would make an appointment for next week and avoid more hours of waiting. After another half hour of phone menus and muzak, I got someone in an office clear across the country to tell me the next available appointment was two months away! I took the appointment but we resolved to return to the office the next morning before they opened so that we would be first inline.

My mother-in-law, being filipino, means that she can never be early or even on time to anything ever. So the 20 minutes early that we had planned ended up being only three minutes early and there were half a dozen cars already there. One in particular was parked across three spaces and partially up on the sidewalk right in front of the door and guarded by a tall thin lady who looked very strung out on drugs, complete with ample needle marks following the veins up both arms. We hopped out of our vehicle and got inline behind another waiting lady who told us that we were number three since and the lady (pointed to the meth-head) was number one. Based upon yesterday's experience, I still figured that was about an hour to an hour and twenty minute wait which wasn't too bad.

The meth lady was called first and wanted to sign up for her benefits "as was her right" but soon realized upon questioning by the agent that she first needed to prove her identity. She first said she didn't have a license and when the agent asked for another form of identification, she changed to she was robbed the night before, and on and on for the next ten minutes. She finally stumbled away telling the rest of us in general that she was going to walk up to the DMV (a mile down a very busy highway) to get her license and would be right back to finish up. Fortunately the agent wasn't waiting for her and the lady in front of us was called. She was trying to get her "sister's" SSN because she wasn't able to come to the office herself. The agent said he would certainly mail it to her at the address in the file but couldn't tell the lady the number or the address for security reasons. That led to fifteen minutes of arguing and pleading before she gave up and stormed out of the office. Finally our turn.

Sure we could sign up said the agent and left to get someone. Two minutes later he came back to say no one was available and that he would make us an appointment. After clicking on the keyboard, he said the first available time was already scheduled by us, two months down the road. Disappointed by the efficiency or lack there of the office, we thanked him and went back home and our now resigned to paying at least two more months of four figure plus health care premiums before we see our healthcare costs go down.

As we drove home, we passed the strung out meth-head lady about an eighth of a mile from the Social Security office. She looked confused and staggered out into the intersection. I immediately tensed and was figuring out if I wanted to risk my life to run out there and pull her out of traffic but the cars were all stopped and waiting her out (typical of rural Iowa) and she eventually made it safely back to the gravel shoulder and continued her journey to the DMV in hopes that she would get her drivers license reissued so she could get her benefits "as was her right." I suspect if she made it, she would be disappointed to learn that these days she must show several proofs of identity in order to get a driver's license. I'm guessing those were also stolen the night before.

Friday, June 15, 2018

And the Winner Was...

As I suspected it would be in a rural very poor area of our state, the crowd was the largest I have ever seen for an eating contest. Our small town has an institution where they make loose meat sandwiches and not much else. When you go in and order, you just list your condiments on your sandwich because it is assumed you are getting a sandwich. Years ago when I was young, they wanted to tear down the building to build a parking ramp that to this day, really isn't needed. There was such an uproar in the community that they ended up building the parking ramp on top of the restaurant and thus it has remained there today, in an alley, underneath a parking ramp and invisible to the world that has never eaten there.

Someone in town got the idea to promote our town and our little institution of a restaurant by having an eating contest. The record was 15 canteens (that is what the loose meat sandwiches are called) in one hour. Amazingly, a few phonecalls later and the organization that holds the hotdog eating contest out east accepted the challenge and professional eaters from all over the country were on their way to our little town.

I was reminded of a professional wrestling event by all the grandstanding of the competitors. They whipped the crowd into a fury introducing everyone trying to drag it out since the actual event itself would only last 10 minutes. There was lots of elbowing, shoving, yelling, all by a people in the crowd as they jostled to get the best picture.

My daughters had sat down right in front where there was no room for anyone else to block their view and after getting elbowed or blocked one too many times, I shuffled through the mob and sat right behind my daughters so that I could take pictures over their heads without blocking anyone's view or them blocking mine. Later a large lady kept walking up and standing right by the right side of me (I'm sitting on the ground mind you) blocking dozens of people behind her whom were also sitting, just so she could get the perfect shot. Shouts and yells from the people behind her were not registered. Finally I tapped her on her knee and when she looked down I politely suggested she should listen to the people behind her who promptly started yelling at her to sit down or move. She finally did the latter.

As it turned out, I was sitting right next to the father of one of the "local" eaters from a town south of here. There were about five or six local eaters and the same number of professionals but I was still impressed with this father's son beat two of the professional eaters and came in fourth. His father was proud.

The event itself only lasted ten minutes and thus went by in a blink of an eye. Those two fellows sitting in the bottom left of this picture kept tripping over all the kids sitting on the sidewalk as ran back and fourth taking "live video" for their channels. I was disgusted with them more than the event itself which was pretty disgusting. But I figured this would be the only time I would ever see "professional" eaters and thus I found myself watching the event.

This lady fascinated me. The was thin, attractive and all dolled up when she came onto the stage and then was by far the messiest eater of them all. There was no manners or being lady like when it came to cramming food down her gullet. I do give her props because she ties for 5th place with another professional, right behind the previously mentioned local eater. But other than practice canteens the day before, this was her first time where most of us in the area have been eating them for decades if not lifetimes.

Although they were billed as being the real canteens, they were extremely slimmed down versions of them. I generally eat two of them and if I came in really hungry, I could probably consume three though I have never tried that. So 15 in an hour blows my mind.

In the end, the tall drink of water ranked 6th in the world and came in 1st at our event, seen hoisting the trophy and the prize check, ate 18-1/2 canteens in 10 minutes, a record I think will surely stand locally for the rest of my life or until the next time they hold this eating contest with the likes of Joey Chestnut who is ranked number one in the world.