In early spring of 2007 I decided to quit my job, sell my house along with nearly everything else that I owned, and to live out of my car while traveling the country. These are my stories (and pictures) of life on the road.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Memory

Got an extra 1/2 hour? If so do yourself a favor and listen to "A Christmas Memory", read by Truman Capote. You can find an audio link on this page-

The link is on the right side under "Audio" and you'll need to have Real Player installed to listen to it.

If that doesn't work for you or if you'd rather read it yourself you can find the whole short story here-

I heard this play on NPR today on the way to my grandparent's house for Christmas. I was lucky to have only missed a few lines in the beginning and kept good reception for the whole thing. After just a couple minutes I was completely caught up in the story and enjoyed it thoroughly. As I pulled off the highway onto my grandparents road I was forced to pull over and wait about 5 minutes until the story was finished.

There are a lot of stories about how you should enjoy the little things instead of the material things for Christmas, but none have resounded in me quite like this one. I do hope the audio version works for you as I think Truman's reading adds a lot to it.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Prairie Story

The prairies of the upper midwest used to stretch to the horizon, as far as the eye could see. No rocks, no hills, no trees, and few lakes, rivers, or streams. The grass would grow higher then a man's head and with no visual markers for a guide the early travelers through the prairie had difficulties keeping a straight line. I've heard that they used to sit a couple kids on back of the last wagon to watch a 200 foot section of rope being towed through the grass. If the rope started to curve that meant they were starting to veer off course and the kids would give a holler.

Things aren't that way anymore. While there still aren't any rocks or hills the prairies are long gone, along with the buffalo that used to roam them; they've been replaced with fields and cattle pastures. I'm sure there are still some native sections of prairie somewhere in the area that have never seen a plow, cow, or herbicide; but I don't know where they are and if they exist they can't be very big. What we do have though is land that the state has bought and turned back into pseudo prairie. I've never been a hunter but I'm sure that they're to thank for this land. If it wasn't for the pheasant and deer hunters paying the state for the right to hunt the money never would have been spent to reclaim these lands and to try and turn them back into prairies. I doubt the main purpose of these lands is for prairie reclamation, but rather to give the deer and pheasants a good place to live so hunters can shoot them every fall. Yeah, it sounds kinda bad, but really I think it works out best for all involved, deer and pheasants included.

North of Estherville there are quite a few of these public lands and about 5 or 6 years ago I started exploring them. I'd always driven past them and seen signs for them but I'd never thought of walking them. Once I did though I found something I hadn't experienced hiking anywhere else in the area and they turned into some of my favorite hiking areas. In particular a largish tract NW of town where four such adjoining areas have been bought one at a time that now let you walk for miles through uninterrupted prairie.

On the northern edge is small little Ringham Habitat. It's a really small section and the only one that actually tries to be something. It has wide, mowed trails around it leading to the star attraction, a few indian burial mounds in the back near the Burr Oak trees that begin growing as the land drops away to the river. The other areas to the south are Crim Savannah and Anderson Prairie. They have no trails, attractions, self guided signs, or anything else to try and accommodate you other then a small, roped off, grass parking area. If you continue walking east on the southern side of Anderson Prairie you'll reach the oak trees that follow the river and you'll find a trail through them. If you follow this trail you'll come out of the woods in about 1/2 mile and be in a separate section of Anderson Prairie that can be also accessed by N26 just north of town.

When I woke up this morning I found myself thinking about the prairie and how I wished it was spring time so I could get out and enjoy it. Then I decided that I didn't need to wait for spring to go out and enjoy it; I'd take Rudy and we'd go today. While the prairie is usually much more interesting in the spring and summer it can also be a pretty neat place in the winter with a nice covering of white snow. There are an amazing number of animals that live in the prairie but you usually never see any sign of them because of all the grass. That changes in the winter though with snow on the ground; even the smallest critter leaves tracks behind as a record of it's presence.

We arrived a little before 2:00 on a surprisingly warm (around 30) and relatively calm day with winds blowing up to a little over 10 mph. One thing about the prairie is that there's no place to hide and the wind can just about drive you nuts, and that's on a good day. On a bad day it can make it so bitterly cold you can't stand to keep your eyes open. Today was a better then a good day.

We pulled into the parking area for Anderson prairie and from the car tracks it was obvious some other people had been around in the last week or so since the snow. As we started walking into the prairie we were following a couple other sets of footprints when I realized that I'd never seen anyone on the prairie that wasn't hunting. I see tracks in the snow from people I assume are out hunting early/late and I see people walking through the prairies during hunting season (when I avoid them). But I've never before seen someone just out enjoying themselves; they don't know what they're missing.

In the winter with snow on the ground it's plain to see these prairies aren't virgin. It's easy to spot the 2 rut trail the maintenance trucks use when they need to do something on the prairie and you can see that the grass even seems to be growing in rows, just like crops. I don't know why exactly it looks like that; though I assume they planted it with a machine when first turning it back into a prairie and while the grass is growing on its own everywhere it's still thickest where it was originally seeded.

We climbed up on a small, rolling hill for a better look of the area and found tracks running everywhere. On top of the hill, following two neighboring “rows”, looked to be a pair of coyote tracks. We followed the tracks for a while as they crossed rabbit and mouse tracks and as they went down one small hill and up the next, always staying in their row. I could almost see the pair loping through the darkness at a steady gate, hoping to scare up some game. I'm sure if I would have followed the tracks they would have led to the woods bordering the river about a 3/4 mile away.

Instead we turned north to follow the prairie the long way. After a short distance we came across a set of rabbit tracks which were soon joined by a set of canine tracks. It's possible they could have been the tracks of someone else who had their dog out, but I like to think it was another coyote. I followed them for a while before they went into thicker grass and I was further thrown off track by Rudy following them as well, ahead of me of course.

I also came across the trail of what I think was a kangaroo rat. They looked like they were made by only 2 feet (always right next to each other) and a tail lightly dragging behind. I can remember seeing them on TV as a kid and thinking they looked so cool. Then one night when I was probably 8 or 9, returning from fishing with my dad, I swore I saw one hop across a gravel road in our headlights. My dad didn't see it and I don't think he quite believe me, and I wasn't so sure I believed myself either; I didn't think we had them around here. It wasn't until fairly recently that I discovered that actually we do have kangaroo rats in the area but since they live the prairie and are mainly nocturnal they're not generally seen. The tracks that I saw today was the first time I'd seen any sign of them since my brief siting as a kid. It made me happy.

We continued walking to the north into Crim Savannah where we picked up a small creek, next to which the state had cut down some very large trees in the last couple years and left them laying there. While it kind of seems like a shame, on the other hand there aren't supposed to be trees on the prairie. We followed the creek down across a small valley it had either cut over the years or had opportunistically decided to follow as a path of least resistance. We went back up the other side and walked to the edge of the line of Burr Oak tress where we could look down the mostly frozen river below us. Rudy walked around, sniffing about, while I just stood there for a while and enjoyed whatever it was I was enjoying.

We'd walked quite a ways by then through the snow and we were both ready to head back. We picked up a well worn path the deer had made right next to the tree line and followed it back towards the car. We followed the tracks up a steep slope, where judging by all the skid tracks and spots where it looked like deer fell down, that they'd had a tough time getting traction on the hard, icy snow.

Over the prairie, in the deep blue sky, hung a perfect looking 1/2 moon. I stood looking at it and when I looked down it seemed that Rudy was watching it intently as well. I don't know just what exactly was going on in his mind but he seemed a little unnerved by it. He wouldn't take his eyes away from it for very long and started growling a little at it. I've never seen him pay any attention at all to the moon before; maybe it was the first time he'd ever actually noticed it. Once we started walking again he managed to put the demon in the sky out of his mind and went back to sniffing the holes in the grass. By the time we got back to the car the sun was hanging pretty low in the sky, casting long shadows from the tall grasses and making odd patterns in the lightly drifted snow.

I don't really know why I enjoy walking in the prairie so much. It's generally not very exciting and because you can see for miles ahead of you there aren't any surprises waiting around the corner. I suppose it's mostly about being alone and feeling like you've been transported back in time a little. It's not too hard to stand in just the right spot and imagine that instead of a bunch of cattle just on the other side of that hill that the prairie keeps rolling on for miles. While I don't think I could explain it there's just something peaceful about being out on the prairie on a warm, calm day.

As the winter turns into spring, summer, and fall I'll try to keep you updated on the prairie and how it progresses through the year. It's quite an amazing transformation and I'm usually astounded but what I see when I actually take the time to look.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Take a Step Back

In the couple days since I've made this post I've received some excellent and varied responses; both here and on a forum that I frequent. I really appreciate everyones input and it's left me with plenty to think about.

One of the things I was reminded of by a couple people is that a job isn't everything and there's much more to life then that. Funny how me of all people would forget that since it's been my motto the last few years.

I think the thing that's got me a little but frustrated right now is that for the last few years my plan has been to just live my life how I wanted and to do what I want. If I feel like moving then move. If I feel like living out of my car for 6 months and traveling the country then live out of my car and travel the country for 6 months. If I feel like having a different job then get a different job.

But right now I'm not doing what I want to do and unfortunately there isn't anything that I actually want to do right now. So that's got me in an awkward feeling position where I want to do something but I can't seem to make myself take the plunge. Perhaps because I know I'm prone to changing my mind and life direction on a whim I'm reluctant to devote large portions of time/money on something that I think I might want to do only to end up abandoning it later. I also don't want to just sit around waiting for something to come along that I actually want to do only to find myself broke when it shows up.

ACK! I gotta quit over thinking this!

This morning started like most other mornings over the last month. My dog woke me up because he was hungry at about 7:30. I told him to shut up and laid in bed for another 15 minutes because it was really comfy before I broke down, fed him, and let him outside. There's no going back to sleep for me then so it was onto the computer to check my e-mail, research things I might want to do, check forum postings, and to generally just kill the morning.

Around 8:30 or so I came across an excellent response to my blog post on a photography forum that I belong to. It was like a wake up call for me and really stopped me in my tracks and made me think. I went upstairs and had a couple bowls of cereal while I contemplated things. Then the dog, cat, and myself stood in the warm sun coming through the window for about 10 minutes to think a little longer. Never had I been so motivated not to do anything!

Instead of heading back downstairs to the computer for the rest of the morning I grabbed my camera gear and my dog and headed out the door. The first stop was the grocery store to pick up a loaf of bread. On the way past the deli I noticed some good looking chocolate pie in the display and thought, “why not”! I got myself a piece of pie and found an empty booth were I enjoyed my mid-morning snack and read about a robot heckling Bill Clinton and found out that Blossom is 32 years old. Then we stopped by the shop to see what my dad and sister were up to and then out to Ft. Defiance state park for a hike. I brought along my macro lens and tripod so I could continue a little project I started last winter of photographing ice formations on the edge of the water. Me and Rudy both had a good time, he even did a little swimming (I never said he was smart).

I came back to the house, wrote this, and now I'm getting ready to head out the door to drive to Lakefield and hang out with Sarah. We'll eat some food, drink some wine, smuggle Rudy into her apartment (Shhhh!) and start watching season three of The Office. I'll crash on the floor and then we'll get up early and go for a hike before she goes to work if we're ambitious; or we might be lazy and just drink hot chocolate instead.

I don't need to stinkin' career; at least not now anyway. I'm gonna keep my options open and my bills low; maybe I'll pick up some little rinky dink job to make a little money, who knows!

I'm almost 30 years old, unemployed, and living in my mom's basement. Life is good!!

Thanks Jorn.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tough Choices

Things continue to move along at a snails pace here in Estherville and I can't seem to break out of it. I'm getting bored and would like to go back to work but I don't have a clue what I want to do. I'm sort of stuck in a funk where I want to do something but I just can't quite motivate myself to get started.

I've actually enjoyed helping out at the shop now and again and I considered going back there on a more permanent basis if for no other reason then to make some easy money. Most of the work I've been doing has just been diagnostic work, which I enjoy; but last week I went in two days in a row and was doing more general repair work along with the diagnostics. The work wasn't bad but it didn't take me long to remember why I had to leave in the first place. I was really surprised on the second day how quickly my attitude took a dive into the toilet and soon I found myself cursing under my breath at every vehicle I was working on. By noon it was apparent that coming back to work for anything other then just “pinch hitting” wasn't going to be an option.

So that's left me wondering just what I am going to do to try and earn a living. My options are limitless but I don't know where to start. It seems like every week I come up with some idea on something that I think might be fun but the more I think about it the more I realize that they're not what I really want to do either. Man, making decisions sucks!

One thing I have been thinking about pretty seriously is trying to turn photography into a for-profit venture. For years people have asked me if that was something I wanted to do for a living but up until now I've never had a real desire to turn it into a career; or at least into a money generating hobby. The fear is that once it turns into a “job” it will suck all the fun out of it. The upswing would be not only that I'd still enjoy it but that it would stimulate my creativity and give me a whole new passion for it.

I've been doing some research and have been talking to some local studios to see if they need an assistant so I can get a look behind the scenes before I just dive in. Unfortunately this is a really slow time of year for them and they don't need much help. I do get to help out with a large wedding towards the end of the month though and I'm looking forward to that.

Although it's something that I want to try I worry a little bit that I keep dragging my heels. If it was something I really wanted wouldn't I be pushing myself a little harder? The other side of the coin to that is that I don't just want to rush into something that big unprepared and pay for my recklessness later.

Should I take my time, do my research, find a “mentor” to work with, and slowly enter a career in professional photography? This seems like the safe choice and the responsible choice. But is it the right choice? Doing things like studying and researching are good and all but they're no substitute for actually doing. Plus there aren't a whole lot of choices around here when it comes to finding a mentor either.

Or should I just toss away my inhibitions and dive in head first; forcing myself to learn as I go along? There's bound to be mistakes made this way but I'm sure it would also be a much steeper learning curve. Being lazy and not getting anything done all day wouldn't be an option because people would be depending on me to get something done.

If I wait a while I can work on my photography and get some experience not only behind the lens but behind the counter (so to speak) as well while working with professionals in the area. Spring will be the beginning of their busy season and I shouldn't have a problem finding someplace to help out. Hopefully the experience I gain from that would make it an easy transition to go out on my own.

On the other hand that's still a long ways away and what am I going to do until then? If I waited until after summer to start doing photography as a career then I'd be starting out during the slow time of the year.

If I were to "just go for it” now then by the time spring came around I'd have learned some valuable lessons in the school of hard knocks and I'd know what works for me and how I'd want to run my own photography business; and just in time for the busy season.

Or maybe this isn't what I really want to do at all and next week I'll be thinking about something completely different.

I know that all I have to do is actually commit to it personally and then a little switch in my brain will flip. After that most of the nervousness and apprehension will be gone and I'll just do what needs to be done. That's a tough commitment to make though. Funds are dropping though and something will need to be done soon.

Decisions, decisions........

I'd also like to pose a question to all of you out there reading the blog-

What if you could be 20 years old again with the option of taking any career path that you wanted? You've retained all the knowledge that you've gained from your years in the work force and now you can put that to use on a blank canvas. The only thing holding you back would be your desire and determination.

So what would you do?

Would you take the same career path that you took in real life?

Would you have the determination to pursue your dream career no matter how much hard work, time, and money it took to achieve it?

Would you know what you wanted to do?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An Otis and Margaret Update

In case you missed it after posting about Otis Ray and Margaret (wife of Otis Ray) my dad did a quick Google search and left this in the comments section-

I did a little digging, if you google Oak Hill Cemetery Estherville you will come up with a registery for the cemetery with all it's guests listed by alphabet.

They have Mrs. Woodyard listed, she is shown to have passed on in 1981. She is listed as the wife of Otis Ray.

Now why isn't her name Ray? And is she buried somewhere else in the cemetary, or did they just not bother to chisel in her date of death?

That got me to do a little digging of my own and while I didn't find much I did come across a 4 year old post on a genealogy website asking for information about Otis Ray and Margaret. She didn't really get any but I dropped her an e-mail directing her to my blog thinking she might enjoy the pictures of the head stones and the stories about them. I got an e-mail back a little while later saying that she was indeed happy to get the e-mail and she included a little more information about Otis Ray and Margaret. She also included her “story of their life”-

I LOVE to turn me computer on and find a totally unexpected, but great
genealogical-related email- thanks so much.

Ok I've look at the picture of the head stones and several comments -
Otis wasn't born in 1864-he was born in 1884, so he was only 4 years
older than Margaret. But I have, since my post, learned that Otis Ray
married Margaret Skaggs -and later married Richard J. Woodyard?
Margaret Woodyard died in 1981, and her stone looks fairly new, so .....

I think Margaret Skaggs married Otis Ray in 1918 - they didn't have much
but they loved each other and tried to scratch out a life together. In
their seventh year of marriage, Otis contracted influenza and died.
Margaret tried to move on and married in the Woodyard family, a marriage
that provided her with a secure life, a quiet life, but one without
passion. And as she moved through her life, she grew old, alone again
after Richard died. So when she died at age 92, her last instructions
were, 'don't bury me with the Woodyards, bury me beside Otis, and make
sure the stone makes it clear that I was OTIS's wife....

How's that?? Diana

That's great!

Diana is also right about Otis' date of birth. I took a closer look at the picture and he was indeed born in 1884 and not 1864 like I said. Some moss and lichens appear to have camouflaged that part of the stone making that “8” look like a “6” on initial inspection.

Thanks to everyone who responded with comments and their own take on the life of Otis Ray and Margaret. On one hand it would be fun to find out the real story but it's probably nowhere near as entertaining as making something up.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Matter of Perspective

A few weeks ago, not long after getting back from my trip, I was driving around town and looking to get some exercise. I took a turn that led me up a steep hill on the edge of town to Oak Hill Cemetery. This is the neatest cemetery we have in town and contains the grave of some of the towns founders, including Esther Ridley, who the town (Estherville) was named after.

As I was walking through the cemetery I came across a couple graves that I'd seen a few years previous and that I'd taken a 4X5 polaroid of. I couldn't remember where that print was off hand and figured since I was armed with a camera that I'd take another shot of it. Just in case you can't read the head stones the one on the left says-


The one on the right reads-


What's the first thing that comes to your mind after looking at those two head stones? What circumstance did your mind jump to?

The first time I saw them I found it sad. Poor Otis Ray, nearly 25 years the elder of his wife, probably bought the plots which gave him piece of mind knowing that although he'd likely die long before her that one day she'd lie beside him again. For some reason though that didn't happen and now they were separated forever.

Then I started to wonder why she wasn't lying next to Otis Ray in the ground. I mean, judging from the dates on her head stone she'd be in the Guinness Book of World Records if she was still actually alive, so I think we can rule that option out.

Maybe Otis was an overbearing brute who suckered her into marrying him at a young age and forced her to grow up faster then she wanted. Otis could have been a paranoid and controlling husband who wouldn't let his pretty young wife out of his site for fear she might not come back. Before he died he made sure to buy the adjoining burial plots, his last attempt at controlling her fate. When he finally kicked off she was free for the first time in her life. After the initial shock and pseudo-mourning wore off she spread her wings and flew. Far, far away from the tiny town of Estherville and out to find her dreams. She traveled the world and went to see all the things that Otis would never have done, going wherever the winds blew her. When she died she asked to be cremated and her ashes were spread from one of those new fangled flying contraptions far over the ocean.

I suppose another option could be that Margaret was madly in love with Otis Ray and after his death she never really could come to terms with it. They'd never had much money and after paying to bury Otis and purchasing the adjoining plot there was no money left. She'd never had a job in her life and didn't know what to do. Maybe she was poverty stricken the rest of her life and forced to move in with relatives back on the East coast who she barely knew. She'd always been a little off in the head and it only got worse after Otis was gone. She didn't talk much to anybody and no one really knew about her previous life in Iowa with Otis. As she lay on her death bed the doctor couldn't make heads or tails of what she was mumbling; something about a berry and two people named Otis and Esther, neither of whom he'd ever heard of in the area. He gave her something for the pain and she slipped off to sleep for good. Three days later she was buried in a cemetery with no one else she knew. Only a few people came to the service and no one cried.

Or maybe Otis and Margaret had a happy life. They loved each other dearly and she cared for him as he got sick, right up until the day he died. She mourned for him deeply and she didn't think she'd ever recover from his death. She resined herself to being alone and miserable for the rest of her life. Gradually though her spirits began to rise and she ventured back out into the world. She became reacquainted with old friends and made new ones easily. She'd never been able to imagine life without Otis and two years after his death, though she still missed him greatly, she was surprised to find that she was truly happy.

She continued on with her life and found new things to live for. In a couple more years she met a man while volunteering at the church clothing drive. He was about her age and all day long they kept stealing glances at each other. They bumped into each other a few more times over the summer and one night at the Elk's club he asked her to dance. She felt very awkward at first but halfway through the song she relaxed and it felt good to be held in a mans arm's again. They began dating and after a year he asked her to marry him. She accepted and within 6 months they were married. They bought a small house just outside of town with a nice big porch and swing. They were too old to have children so it was up to them to keep each other entertained. It seemed the older they got the younger they felt. She'd chase him around the yard with the hose while watering the newly planted flowers in the spring and he'd sneak up and scare her while she was cooking in the kitchen.

While Margaret never forgot about Otis Ray she realized that that wasn't her life anymore. That she'd moved on and her new life was out here at the acreage with Brett. They both lived long and healthy lives, never leaving each others side for very long. When they were in their late 80's Brett passed away in the middle of the night unexpectedly; two months later Margaret followed him. They're buried in adjoining plots in a small cemetery in the country not far from their house, on the other side of town from Otis.

After leaving Otis' grave I continued walking around and saw something odd sticking out from under a couple leaves. I kicked back a couple of the dead oak leaves to reveal the corner of a grave; the rest was buried under the dirt. I began scraping the dirt off from the top and then went about digging all the dirt out of the lettering with a stick.

When I was done I found the head stone of Mary Ellen Sewcll - Age 7. I looked at the surrounding graves but found none of her family; she was the only one there. Seems sad, doesn't it? But is it? Is it really so sad to think about parents coming to terms with their loss and moving on with life; doing what they needed to do and being happy once again; even if it meant moving away from the child they were leaving behind?

And what does it really matter anyway? If you're a religious person then Otis, Margaret, and Brett are all up in heaven the best of friends. Well, unless Otis really was a butt head, which would mean he suffered a different fate. Mary Ellen was re-united with her parents and they're a big happy family again. They can barely remember the short time they spent on earth and the grief that they once felt. It was a small price to pay for what they have now.

And if you're not a religious person then there are just a bunch of dead, non-feeling, non-caring bodies lying in the ground that don't know or care what you do after they die.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Christmas Spirit

So it's Christmas time once again. Time to be bombarded by ads for things we don't need, time to hit the malls, and time to max out those credit cards!

Let me start out by saying right now that I'm not a religious person. Sometimes I feel a little bit weird celebrating a holiday that means so much to so many other people when it doesn't really mean anything to me. My reason for continuing to celebrate though is that it's one of the few times a year nearly the entire family gets together and the only time that I get to see some of them.

When I was a kid I used to enjoy Christmas and could “get into the spirit” so to speak; but really I think that was mostly due to the presents. As I grew older I began to almost dread the arrival of Christmas. Within a week of Thanksgiving I'm sick of most of the Christmas songs and every year the remakes and “funny” Christmas songs just seem to get worse and worse.

Every year I put off buying presents because I'm waiting until I think of “just the right gift” for so and so. The right gift never comes to me though and invariably I find myself wandering some big-box store with glossed over eyes as I stand shoulder to shoulder with a thousand other shoppers. I walk up and down each isle five times not seeing anything that my dad would actually want or use. In the end I find something to spend $100 on that I think he might decide he likes, even though he never knew he had a desire to own one. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't. The whole time I'm doing this I'm feeling bad because I know that other people are being put through the exact same thing trying to find a gift for me.

The other option is that the gift recipient gives me a list of the items they would like me to purchase for them. Gee, that's a gift straight from the heart. I have a hard time making up lists for other people, if there was something I needed or wanted badly then I've already bought it for myself. How can I tell someone else what I want if I couldn't go into the store myself and find something that I wanted.

There is one person out there though who loves every present that you buy, both large and small. They're never disappointed no matter what you buy, wrap up, and stick under the tree. That person is the one who owns the retail store or manufacturer and they're the ones behind this whole mess. They're the ones that start Christmas earlier and earlier every year. They're the ones that market you needless things while convincing you it's a necessity. They're the ones that tell you that the only way to know that someone actually loves you is if they spend a lot of money on your present. They're the ones that cause millions and millions of people to spend money that they don't have every year just trying to prove their affection for everyone else. They're the ones that want you to believe that that is the true spirit of Christmas.

For me last year was my breaking point. I didn't enjoy the months leading up to Christmas and I didn't really enjoy Christmas either. I can't remember any of the gifts that I gave and can only remember a couple that I got; they were given to me because they were on my “list”. I watched everyone else open most of their gifts while feigning a smile and a trying to sound enthusiastic when they said “thank you”. Never before had I been quite so disenchanted with Christmas and I think what really drove it home was when our whole family went to the bowling alley for a couple hours. We were the only ones there and we took up 4 or 5 lanes. There were contests for high and low scores (I won low score, thank you very much) and we all had a blast. A couple years before that we'd made up a Jeopardy game and all the questions/answers were about each other. Another year we got ahold of a Karaoke machine and set it up in the basement.

Those are the things that I remember, not the presents. Those memories will stick with me longer then any enjoyment I'd get out of someone's gift; and they were free. No matter what your reasons for celebrating Christmas I think we can all agree that it's things like that that best exemplify the Christmas spirit.

When Christmas was over last year I decided that I wasn't going to buy people presents for holidays or their birthdays anymore; and I told them that I didn't expect them to buy anything for me either. Instead I decided that I'd get them something when I felt like it. If I saw something that I thought my sister would like then I'd buy it for her; it would be more of a gift from the heart then buying something just for the sake of buying it.

So far I'm liking this new philosophy and for the first time in years am actually looking forward to Christmas; it helps though that I don't watch TV anymore so I don't have to put up with all the holiday ads. Today my aunt sent out an e-mail about how the gift exchange will work this year. We always draw names, two names per person. It's usually one “big” and one “little” gift, but this year it's going to be done a little bit differently. One of the gifts will be a book, preferably a book that you think will mean something to the recipient or that will tell them a little something about the giver. I really like that idea and at first regretted that I'd opted out of the gift giving. Then I remembered that I hadn't opted out of the gift giving at all, just the receiving. I can get something for anyone that I want; and I probably will.

Let me say in closing that I don't think gift giving in and of itself is a bad thing; as long as it's done from the heart. I find that giving a gift that's truly come from the heart is better then any gift I could possibly receive. Also, receiving a gift from someone who gave it from their heart is an amazing experience as well. It makes you realize just how meaningless all other gifts really are. If you want to give gifts on Christmas then that's great, but don't do it just to do it; make them count, make them from the heart.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Spending Thanksgiving at the Hospital

So the trip is winding down and nearing an end. Just a couple more posts and we'll (hopefully) be back home safe and sound. When we were preparing to leave for the trip I knew we'd be gone over Thanksgiving and I started giving some thought to what we'd do for a Thanksgiving day meal. I put out some feelers for anyone who wanted to let us join their family celebration but unfortunately I don't really know anyone in Montana; or at least not close to where we'd be anyway.

We left Bozeman and headed north on Wednesday not knowing where we'd get our Thanksgiving meal the following day. We knew that if we went all the way to Great Falls we'd probably find something that was open but I didn't really want my Thanksgiving meal to come from a restaurant; and besides, Great Falls was about an hour or more out of the way. We were headed to the Lewis and Clark National forest to do some snowshoeing and White Sulphur Springs was the last town of any size at all that we'd be in for the next couple days. It was right on the edge of the National Forest.

Things were looking grim on the food front but as we were driving through town scoping things out I spotted their small hospital and pulled over. I was hoping that their small town hospital worked like our small town hospital back home in Estherville. Since they have patients over the holidays the cafeteria always cooks a Thanksgiving day meal for everyone; and back home the cafeteria is open to the public and actually serves some pretty good food. As a matter of fact my mother and her parents get together every Thanksgiving to eat at the Hospital cafeteria.

I walked into the hospital/medical clinic not knowing where I was going and after getting directions from a couple different people I found myself in their small cafeteria. It was pretty small and probably couldn't seat over 20 people but it was something. I stood at the counter a few moments before I was noticed by a group of women standing in back of the kitchen. They were busy trying to figure out how the solve the crisis of the moment; their water wasn't working.

One of the ladies broke from the group and walked forward to help me. I explained that Sarah and I would be in the area the next couple days and asked if their Thanksgiving meal was open to the public. She looked a bit confused by the request and turned to the lady that was obviously in charge of the kitchen for help. I asked my question again and was told “We'll have plenty of extra food, come on down. It will be $3.50”.

I left very happy knowing that we had someplace to eat for Thanksgiving and that it would probably be better then anything we could find at some restaurant that happened to be open. With that problem solved we drove up into the mountains to do some snowshoeing. We spent that night in the Ranger Station parking lot before waking up early, driving around to do some site seeing, and getting in some more snowshoeing. We'd intentionally skipped breakfast and by the time we got back into town at 12:30 had worked up quite and appetite.

We changed into the nicest clothes that we had with us (which weren't that nice) and walked into the Hospital cafeteria for our meal not quite knowing what to expect. There were about eight or so elderly people at a long table who looked like they might be permanent residents. One of the nurses was helping them to eat. We stood at the small counter a minute or so before the same woman that I'd talked to the day before came around the corner to serve us. She seemed happy that we'd actually showed up and told us that there was good news, it turns out the meal was actually free! I thought that $3.50 was amazingly cheap, but free was just incredible.

We still didn't know just what we were getting for a meal as she pulled out a couple plates and started filling them with food. Our eyes kept getting bigger and our stomachs started growling louder as she started piling on green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, turkey, gravy, stuffing, deviled eggs and cranberry sauce. After handing us our plates piled high with food she said their was also fruit salad and pie for dessert and that she'd bring them out to us at the table. I thought she meant there was a choice between pie and fruit salad but we were pleasantly surprised when in a couple minutes she walked out with two bowls of fruit salad and two servings of pumpkin pie.

Not only were we served a full on Thanksgiving meal for free but it all tasted fantastic too! I think we ate the whole meal with big grins on our faces, we couldn't believe our good fortune. We savored every bite and by the time we finished we were both stuffed. We sat at the table a few minutes longer before we got up and gave thanks once more to the cook staff who were now seated and eating after serving themselves last. We put our dirty trays of food on the counter along with a $5 bill.

We left completely satisfied and headed north to begin our trek back home. We had the best intentions of getting in another snowshoe outing but by the time we got to the trailhead neither of us had the ambition. Instead we continued driving until we arrived in Winnett, MT later that evening. The first day we left on this trip we were listening to The Splendid Table on NPR and caught a short segment about the Kozy Korner Cafe located in Winnett. We heard stories of nearly 1 inch think pancakes served with excellent ham. We found Winnett on the map and planned right then that sometime on the trip we'd find a way to stop in to try it for ourselves.

After sleeping that evening in a church parking lot we got up and walked into the Kozy Korner Cafe. Winnett was a small town that couldn't have had many over 400 people in it and the Kozy Korner Cafe was exactly the kind of café you expect to see in a town like this. Unfortunately even though it's the type of café you expect in such a town it's rarely the type of café that you actually get.

When we walked in to the café we found about 8 tables on one side of the room and an open kitchen taking up the other side; there was no door or even a wall to separate the kitchen from the dining area. Their was only one other customer sitting at a table and drinking a cup of coffee. It looked like a husband and wife in their 60's who owned the place and a lady that looked like she could have been one of their mothers was in the kitchen making pie crusts from scratch. The husband seated us and took our order. He then took it to the kitchen where his wife cooked it up for us.

As we waited for our food we heard typical small town café conversations as more customers showed up. We saw the typical small café decorations on the walls and heard the husband joking with his wife to hurry up the orders because "the young'uns over there were starving". All of it seemed like any other small town café I'd been in except for the multiple plaques on the wall for “Best Pie in Montana” and the article clipped out of Gourmet Magazine all about the Kozy Korner Cafe. This place was the real deal and the last of a dying breed. I'm often frustrated when I go to small, local cafes and restaurants hoping for some good home cooked food only to find bland, frozen, and prepackaged food. It was refreshing to see someone who still did it the way that it should be done, and that they were also getting some recognition for it.

Our food arrived and the pancakes were just as big as advertised. They took up the whole plate and were close to 3/4 inch thick. I won't say they were the best pancakes I've ever had but they were pretty darn good and the hunk of ham it was served with was great. I really wanted to try some of that pie and thought about getting a slice even though it was 7:30 in the morning, but I mustered up all my self control and held off.

I'll guarantee you though that the next time I'm driving through Montana I'll plan my route to take me past the Kozy Korner Cafe around noon (they close at 3:00) and that at the end of the meal you'll find a big home made slice of pie on my plate. I'll let you know how it tastes.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I don't have a lot of time for this one so I'll try to keep it short and let the pictures do some of the talking.

We woke up in Bozeman to about 5 inches of snow, got all cleaned up, and headed downtown to do some shopping. Sarah was looking for a pair of light hiking boots and I was looking for a set of snowshoes. We were both successful. After that we headed towards the mountains to find the place where Sarah was interviewing for a job. We found it without a problem and still had a couple hours to kill so we drove a litter farther up the road to try out the new snowshoes; thankfully Sarah had brought hers along.

We found about 8 inches of fresh powder up in the mountains and a nice trail to hike down. It was cold but we were dressed for it and we couldn't have asked for it be much more perfect. Just after starting the hike we spotted a Great Gray Owl who let us admire him a while before flying off so he could hunt in peace. We finished up the hike and Sarah changed for her interview. It went well and they'd be silly not to offer her the job. Sarah will just need to decide if it's the job she wants and if she wants to move to Montana.

It's getting really cold up here at night and every night we wear more and more clothes to bed. Last night it dropped down to -7 F overnight but we were surprisingly comfortable. We're in White Sulphur Springs, Montana and have been spending the last couple days seeing the sites and doing some more snowshoeing. The snow is even heavier up here and yesterday we were snowshoeing at the top of the pass in about 14 inches of fresh powder. We were the first ones to break the trail.

We ran into some free range cattle on a forest access road and Sarah said one of them looked like me, she said he had a similar facial hair. She's nuts, I don't see any resemblance.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

First Taste of Winter

Although we haven't had the greatest weather since I got back to Iowa at least we haven't had any snow. Actually, now that I think about it I think I would have taken snow over the dreary, windy weather we have had. As I was packing up the van Saturday morning so Sarah I could take off for her job interview in Montana I was surprised to walk outside and find it snowing heavily. Other then a few random flakes the week before it was the first real falling snow of the year. It only lasted about 15 minutes and there was no accumulation but it was a reminder that winter was on the way and that we were living on borrowed time.

Late in the morning I pulled out of Estherville and headed to Lakefield to pick up Sarah. There we loaded up the rest of her stuff in the van and managed to get most of it packed out of the way. Knowing that we'd be driving into the mountains on this trip we also packed the small shovel that she kept in the trunk of her car, just in case. We were both kind of anxious to get out west so we didn't waste any time and hopped aboard I-90 to carry us through South Dakota.

South Dakota isn't the most interesting state to drive through and by the time we reached the Badlands it was almost dark, though it was only 4:00pm. We weren't ready to quit driving for the night though so after stopping in Wall to bum a free wireless connection at Super 8 we continued on through the dark. By the time we reached Rapid City near the Wyoming border we were ready to be done driving for the day. We did some shopping at Scheel's and grabbed some vegetables at a grocery store. We weren't quite ready for bed yet so instead we pulled out the laptop, connected it to the stereo in the van, and watched a few episodes of The Office before crawling in back of the van, me on my cot and Sarah on a mountain of Thermarests, for our night's sleep. I gotta say it felt really good to be sleeping in the van again.

We woke in the morning and continued on our journey to the west. We took a look at the map and decided we'd drive to the Bighorn National Forest where we'd stop to stretch our legs by taking a hike. As we got closer to the Bighorn National Forest we could see mountains appearing on the horizon and they were covered in snow. We'd been steadily gaining altitude all day long, culminating in a 9500+ foot pass in the Bighorns. There looked to be pretty fresh snow on the ground but thankfully the roads were clear. We found a small road that led back into the woods and followed it until we found a good place to park.

There was about 1-2 inches of snow on the road and we were both kind of excited to be in the snow. In her exuberance Sarah decided to wear her gaiters, which led to me making fun of her for wearing gators in less then 2 inches of snow. Once we got back into the woods though I had to eat those words as the snow was piled considerably higher and while I somehow managed not to get any in my boots I did get some wet pant legs and wished I had my gaiters on as well. It was a short hike but a nice break from driving. It felt great to be back in the mountains again.

We hadn't known for sure which route we'd take to get to Bozeman but now looking at the map we found that if we stayed on Hwy. 16 we could go right through Yellowstone and then straight north to Bozeman. We continued driving through the dark (which starts at 4:30) and when we got to Cody we found signs saying that Hwy. 16 through Yellowstone was closed for the season. Luckily we just hopped on Hwy. 296 North from Cody which would bring us to Hwy. 212, which went through the northern part of Yellowstone and that I knew was kept open all year.

It was still surprisingly warm in Cody at over 50 degrees. Once we left though we started climbing steadily on our way to Yellowstone. Once we turned onto Hwy. 212 West things started to get a little bit dicey. It started with a little bit of slush on the road and then it started snowing a little bit. The higher we climbed the harder it was snowing and the more snow was on the road. No plows had come out yet and soon we were traveling through one set of ruts in the snow. The snow on the road was about 6 inches deep and was dragging on the bottom of the van the whole way. The temperature had dropped into the low 30's and it just kept getting worse. I thought for sure we were going to get stuck in one spot but somehow managed to get through it. We were hoping that if we could just get to Yellowstone that we might find the roads clear but once the road started going downhill again we had to rethink the situation. We were afraid that if we started going down that we'd never be able to go back uphill if we were forced back. Instead we decided we decided to take the easy route and turn back, which would take is downhill and out of the snow. It only took a couple miles of driving until the snow was pretty much gone and we reached a trailhead parking lot to sleep for the night.

We woke in the morning just before the sunrise to find ourselves surrounded by mountains. It hadn't snowed anymore at our elevation but once we hit the road back to Yellowstone we also found that the plow hadn't been out yet and that the road wasn't in much better shape then the night before. There was no way we were turning back though and amazingly enough we made it to Cooke City. From Cooke City it was all downhill (literally) and on the other side of town we found the road clear the rest of the way to the park. The farther back downhill we went the better it got and by the time we reached the park there wasn't any snow to be seen, except on the surrounding mountains.

The park was nearly deserted and it was a nice drive. We could stop wherever and whenever we wanted without having to worry about anyone else. We stopped for about 5 minutes as a heard of buffalo crossed the road. They didn't look so tough from the other side of the windshield. It looked like mostly females with their young from the previous spring. We'd grabbed a map at the deserted park entrance and found every other road except the one we were on through the far north end of the park was closed for the season. When we got to Tower Junction though we stopped at the barricaded road and decided to hike to tower falls, only about 2 1/2 miles away.

It was actually a great time to be at the park and I enjoyed it a lot more then when I came through earlier this spring at the beginning of the tourist season. We had a nice leisurely hike down the road and other then one park ranger and two people on bicycles we didn't see another soul. We had the entire road and every tourist attraction to ourselves, which made us feel very un-tourist like. While on the way to the falls we passed a group of about four buffalo lazing around in the woods next to the road. It's a very different experience walking past them on foot with no vehicle for protection and made us feel extra cool.

Although it was very windy we were mostly walking through the woods which blocked most of it and made for a pretty enjoyable hike. The sun played peak-a-boo through the clouds the entire way to the falls and we got some great views. As soon as we started back from the falls though the sun went behind the clouds for good and it started spitting snow and sleet. It never got very bad while we were walking but it made for a different view on the way back to the van. We finished our short drive through the park with a short stop at the Mammoth Hot Springs before continuing north to Bozeman.

Leaving Yellowstone that evening was a very similar to the experience of arriving at the park that morning. That morning we'd driven through snow and bad road conditions until we got about 5 miles from the park. Now that evening we ran into snow and bad road conditions about 5 miles north of the park when leaving. I didn't expect it to to last very long but started to get a little nervous when we noticed the vehicles we were meeting that were coming from the north covered in snow. It started snowing harder but the roads were only wet. We nervously watched as the temperature dropped below 32 degrees and the road started to ice over. Soon we were down about 40 MPH in heavy snow. It was a slow drive to Livingston, MT where we'd catch the interstate the rest of the way to Bozeman. I was confident that once we hit the interstate we'd be in good shape since surely it would be better then the highway we'd been on.

It didn't start out too bad but quickly got worse as we gained more altitude. The interstate went from snow covered to ice covered and many trucks were pulled over on the side of the interstate putting on chains. Once while climbing the pass I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the car following 100 feet behind us turn sideways and go into the ditch. It wasn't until the next day that I was informed that the pass between Livingston and Bozeman is notorious for its winter conditions and at times has to be shut down because of strong winds making it impassable for trucks.

Thankfully we made it to Bozeman in one piece and after doing a little exploring around town we were able to meet up with relatives of one of Sarah's friends who would give us a place to sleep that night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Who's that girl?

After my last blog post about Sarah and I coming out this way (Montana) for her job interview Danny left a comment asking just who Sarah was-

If you're going to introduce another person in your travels would you please describe your relationship with Sarah. Have you guys been buddies since you were 2 years old or something like that? I'm sorry if I'm asking something that's too personal, but you're the guy putting up the blog and I don't have a program for this show.

I guess I didn't realize that I never properly introduced her here and that Danny likely isn't the only person wondering just who she is. So let me clue everyone in.

To start with I suppose I should back up a little bit to before I met Sarah. Before I met Sarah I dated Lilly for nearly 8 years. I was very happy with Lilly but in the end I got my heart broken and went through a really tough time. During that tough time I was introduced to the theatre (by Lilly's mother, Edith) and I was surprised to find out that I actually enjoyed it, which I never would have guessed. It gave me something to do during the winter other then sitting around my house feeling sorry for myself. It felt good to get out and meet new people. During the second play that I was involved in, Lost in Yonkers, one of those new people was Sarah.

It seems to take a couple weeks for the cast to get to know each other and loosen up a little bit, but once that happened Sarah and I hit it off. We found we had many similar interests and that we both liked to get outside to hike and explore. It was nearing spring time and there were a few times when we hustled through rehearsal as quick as we could so we could go hiking or kayaking. We had a great time hanging out with each other and I was happier then I'd been in quite a while. Since Lilly left Sarah was the first person I had any feelings towards and it did wonders for helping me break out my my funk.

After the play was over we started dating. Sarah had grown up just south of Minneapolis and had only been in the area about a year so she was still pretty unfamiliar with it. We spent a lot of time that summer kayaking the local lakes/rivers, hiking, taking trips to Sioux Falls and just having a good time. Sarah hadn't really met anyone from the area yet either so this was an important friendship to both of us and I think that we both cherished it As good as it was though I still didn't really feel like I was ready for a serious relationship yet; I just couldn't get into it like I should have been. As scary as it was to put the friendship on the line we decided to call off the dating and to try and remain friends.

It seems that everyone tries this and that it never works; in fact it hadn't worked for Lilly and I up to that point in time and we'd given it our all. It's a common theme in sitcoms, movies, and soap operas but we decided to give it a go anyway. It was a bit awkward at first but the longer we stuck it out the better it got. In the end I think it was probably the best thing we could have done. There was no longer any reason to put on any false fronts for the other or to make sure you made a good impression. It took away all the pressure of dating and really allowed us to get to know each other.

It's been over a year now since we tried this little experiment and I think it's worked out great so far. I'd be lying if I said there weren't times I questioned the wisdom of the decision and thought I was crazy to just be her friend; but in the grand scheme of things I know it's the right thing. I hope we both do.

We still hang out with each other all the time and I consider her my best friend. When I left this spring for my big adventure it was the thought of not being able to hang out with Sarah that gave me the biggest pause. She was the hardest person for me to say goodbye to and she was the person I was happiest to see when it was time to head home.

And now I'm typing this post in the parking lot of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Service just outside Bozeman, Montana while Sarah is interviewing at the Montana Outdoor Science School just next door. As much as I'd hate to see her go I hope that if it turns out to be the job that she wants that she gets it and loves it. Besides, it will give me a good excuse to come to the mountains of Montana now and then.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lookout Bozeman....

Man, I gotta start writing more again. Now that I have something to do other then just sitting in my van all day (and night) long I find myself putting off writing to do other things. Things have been going well on the home front since my return though and it's been good to see people I know again. After returning from my big adventure I'm surprised how many people know who I am and what I did but I don't have a clue who they are. I guess that's nothing real new though, I've always been terrible with names.

I honestly don't know what I've been doing with all my time. Somehow I've been managing to stay mostly busy during the day but when the day is over I don't know what I really did. I've been filling in at the shop now and then when they have some tough diagnostic problems or if they're short handed for a day. It's kind of nice just going in once in a while and I actually enjoy it. I think most of that is because I know I don't have to come back the next morning and because working for a day is a break from the norm. Just like when you're working everyday you relish your days off because it's something different.

The really good news is that I went to see a local bone and joint doctor and he said he doesn't think surgery will be required for my knee. That the ACL tear is small enough that building up strength in my leg/knee and wearing a brace during more strenuous activities will give me the support that I need. While the thought of avoiding major knee surgery is nice I'm also a little bit apprehensive. I pretty much had my mind made up to just have surgery and (hopefully) be done with it. I knew that surgery wouldn't be a necessity but with my activity levels thought it would probably be best. The only way I'll really know if my knee is strong enough to do whatever I want to do is if it never fails again, which is something I'm really hoping for because it hurts really bad when it dislocates. I definitely don't want it to fail again someday when I'm by myself 2 days back in the mountains somewhere. Hopefully everything will work out all right though and it will sure be nice not having the spend the money on the surgery.

I'll be giving my knee a good test over the next week or so though because today Sarah and I will be leaving for Montana for about a week. Sarah has a job interview out there and instead of doing it over the phone she asked if I'd like to go to Montana with her so she can do it in person and see what the area is like. Since life has been so stressful lately I figured I could really use a vacation so I took her up on it. The last couple days I've been getting the van and cleaned out, repacked, and re-organzied for double occupancy. We'll be heading to the Bozeman area and I'm sure there will be a stop in Yellowstone too. We're hoping for good weather but either way I'm sure we'll have a great time.

We'll be in Montana over Thanksgiving so if anyone in the area reading this wants a couple extra dinner guests next Thursday we'd be happy to accept your offer. I promise we won't stink.

I'll have my laptop and cameras with me so you can expect some more updates from the road. I'm looking forward to doing some traveling with someone for a change.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The other day my uncle Larry and his wife Nancy came for a short visit from their home in southern California. I hadn't seen either of them in a long time and it was fun to talk to them again. Whenever Larry comes back he always goes all out when preparing a meal for the family and this time was no exception. He cooked up a delicious prime rib, sweet potatoes, rice pilaf, and peas with green beans, and glazed carrots. It's probably hard to believe but it tasted even better then it looks in the pictures. I arrived at the perfect time since the food was almost ready to be removed from the oven and the wine was just beginning to be poured. It was fun to sit around the table eating and joking with family.

I'd brought my camera along to perhaps take a few pictures and after the meal it was decided that we'd take a family picture of everyone gathered around my grandfather. As I was setting up my camera and light I admit that I was feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing. I think everyone there knew, my grandfather included, that the main reason for taking the picture is because it would probably be the last time this group would ever be together. You see, his health has been declining lately and I don't think anyone has any illusions of him making a recovery from this one. It will be a nice picture to have but the whole thing felt a little awkward to me.

I normally bring a camera or two to family gatherings but I rarely take any pictures. When I really feel like taking pictures is when I can divorce myself from whatever activity is going on; but I guess when family gets together I feel like I'd rather just enjoy myself and be part of the action. I don't know why I'm that way but I guess I just am. I usually regret not taking pictures at family events but even that doesn't seem to be enough motivation for me to take them the next time.

However, about 3 or 4 years ago on Thanksgiving I pulled out a camera and took a few pictures. For the camera geeks that read this blog it was a Russian made Iskra 6X6 folder made, I believe, in the 60's. I bet the person who made it never would have guessed that in 40+ years it would find it's way to rural Iowa.

Anyway, I was having a good time taking pictures and everyone was in great spirits. Later in the evening when people were about ready to head home I noticed my grandfather sitting in his chair and holding the hand of my grandmother, who was standing next to him while carrying on a conversation with someone sitting at the table.

When I was growing up I don't remember seeing any such displays of affection; but now as they're getting older it's quite common to see them sitting close to each other and holding hands whenever they're near. I've noticed that with other elderly couples as well and it seems to be a common theme. It's kind of like everything goes full circle and I wonder if the feelings are similar to what they had when they first fell in love so many years ago; feelings that were perhaps lost or dulled a little in the middle of their lives, only to return again in old age. Instead of looking at someone through the dopey, love struck eyes of a teenager you look at them through wise, knowing eyes that see everything that's happened in the last 50+ years together and that also know what's likely to happen in the next few years.

I wonder if a 90 year old man/woman feels that same thing when they look at their husband/wife as they did when they were in their teens and their love was still new. That aching feeling when you realize how much that person means to you and the terrifying thought of what life would be like without them. I experienced those feelings in my early 20's and I'll consider myself very lucky if I can feel them again when Im 90.

I took a picture of my grandparents holding hands that night and I'm glad that I did. That night Leukemia and Alzheimer's were still a little ways off in the future and no one was thinking that perhaps this would be the last time they'd see their father or mother. Or that it might be the last time they could be next to each other, holding hands, surrounded by the family that they created.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Back to the Grindstone

Today was a pretty big day for me, I was up at 7 am, which in itself isn't very unusual, but I was at work by 8; which hasn't happened in a long time (it rarely happened even when I did have a regular job). My dad called me up yesterday to say he had to take my grandfather to the hospital today and asked if I could come in and cover for him. I tried to make it sound like it was really cramping my style but I was actually kind of looking forward to it. As much fun as it is not doing anything it's nice to feel productive once in a while.

I got to work and found a pretty good list of problem vehicles awaiting my attention, especially considering I'd be helping to cover the phone and front desk when Audrey was out. I like showing up to work and having a lot on my plate, that's how I work best. I hate it when there are only a couple things scheduled and other jobs just trickle in through the day.

If you're interested here's a rundown of what I did today- (if you're not interested at least pretend like you are for my sake)

1: Diagnose shifting problems and MIL on '97 F-150. Found a shorted shift solenoid and forgot to order parts (hope you weren't planning on getting that one done tomorrow, Dad) :-)

2: '98 Chevy K2500 - Diagnose/replace inner door handle, diagnose and repair bad ground connection behind glove box for no blower motor, clean/adjust throttle plates (sticking), and replaced leaky thermostat that I noticed while doing the throttle plates.

3: '94 Escort - Replace blower motor resistor and new pigtails (that means connector with wire ends - the old ones melted). Found out after splicing wires that the dealer sent the old style connector and new style resistor so they won't plug into each other. Ordered correct (I hope) parts.

4: '98 Tahoe - Diagnose MIL, poor mileage, and rough running. Found 8 codes stored, 5 of which were being caused by the severely ruptured fuel pressure regulator (also cause of running and mileage complaints), 2 were caused by faulty O2 sensor heaters (sold all 4 since the other two weren't much better), and the last one was caused by a bad thermostat. The vehicle actually hydro locked in the bay after cycling the key a few times. For the non-automotive people reading this that means that the leaking fuel pressure regulator (which was leaking raw fuel into the engine) leaked so much fuel into one cylinder that when the piston came up on the compression stroke the engine stopped moving, since you can't compress a liquid.

5: '97 F-150 - Removed dash and replaced heater core and heater hoses. Flushed the coffee out of the cooling system and put pretty green coolant back in its place.

6: Got approval for repairs on the Tahoe. Removed plenum, replaced regulator, replaced thermostat, removed plugs, turned over engine to expel gas in the cylinders, and installed new plugs. Ran out of time for the day and figured I'll let my dad finish it up tomorrow with the plug wires, O2 sensors, and changing the gas soaked oil.

All in all I actually had a pretty fun day. I don't think I'm ready to do it all day every day; but it might be nice for a once in a while type of thing.

Other big news to report is that Wednesday was my sister Audrey's birthday, she turned the big 2-8! I asked if she wanted to go out for dinner and she said that yes, she would like to go out to the mexican restaurant, but only on the condition that I promised not to tell them that it was her birthday. I had no intention of telling them that it was her birthday since I wouldn't want to be put through that humiliation myself and I like to abide by the golden rule. But seeing as how she told me not to tell them and seeing as how I really don't like people telling me what to do I simply had no choice.

She was a good sport about it though and she got a free dessert so it wasn't all bad. I actually think she secretly enjoyed it. After dinner it was back to my mom's house for cake (carrot), ice cream (vanilla), and presents (I didn't care about them, they weren't for me) with my grandparents, one of my cousins and her boyfriend.

A wonderful time was had by all.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Going once, Going twice,.....

This past weekend I was looking for something to do so I got up bright on early on Saturday morning and drove up to Fairmont (about 40 minutes away) for an auction. I don't go to a whole lot of auctions anymore but they can be a fun diversion for a while and I thought that maybe I could get a good deal on something that I could resell on EBAY to make a little money.

I remember when I first started going to auctions about ten years ago that I never left without buying something; which wasn't always the best thing to do since I didn't really need or even want most of it and it really starts to accumulate. But what are you supposed to do when there are 3 big flats all selling for $1!? Surely there must be something in there that I can make use of. Wow, look at that! A great big framed picture of flowers (with a mirror frame no less!) is selling for $2! Surely it must be worth that!

And so it went back then, my house began to fill up with junk that I didn't, nor anyone else for that matter, have any desire to own. Eventually I started to get control of the situation and quit buying stuff unless I actually wanted/needed. This took a lot of the fun out of auctions because it was then that I started to realize there wasn't anything at them that I actually wanted/needed. I'd still go check one out now and then but generally didn't stay for more then a few minutes. When I left town and sold my house this spring I was simply amazed at how much stuff I had; most of it had come from auctions at one time or another. I'm really glad I was able to quit when I did.

Now that I'd been out of town all summer/fall though I'd missed almost the entire auction season so I felt it was only right that I attend a couple. Besides, like I said earlier, there was potential profit by finding a good deal on something just to resell it. The auction was at the armory building and even though it started at 8:30am the place was pretty full when I showed up at 8:00 to check things out. I made a walk around the items and made a little list of stuff I might be interested in. Then I got back in my car, drove to a free wi-fi connection, and did some quick research before heading back to the auction.

I knew my stuff wouldn't be selling for a while so I took my time. When I walked back in the door the 1st item was interested in was being auctioned off; a used KitchenAid Professional 6 quart mixer. These are the best of the best and sell for pretty good money used (not to mention new). I figured that if I could pick it up for $150 or so that could make about $50 selling it on EBAY. The bidding was up to about $115 when I walked in the door and it soon shot over my limit of $150, then it went over $200, $250, $300, and before I knew it it had sold for about $350. Holy crap, you can get a brand new one for that much and this one looked like it was missing an accessory or two!

Over the next few hours I watched as the items I'd marked as interesting one by one sold for more money then they were worth (to me or anyone on EBAY anyway). Sometimes auctions just go that way and I find it fascinating how much people will pay for some things while at other auctions fantastic deals abound. Maybe I could do a research project to determine the factors that make for these two types of auctions. If I could figure that out I could get great deals at one and then resell them for a huge profit at the other kind.

While I was waiting and killing time I got a little hungry so I picked up a Sloppy Joe and Special K bar at the lunch stand that was working the auction. As is nearly always the case it was run by nice old ladies who I joked and made quick friends with. It was their excellent recommendation that made me decide on the Special K bar over a chocolate chip bar. I think it was a good recommendation as the Special K bar was fantastic.

Around noon my final items that I was interested came up for sale. I'd been frustrated all morning watching stuff go too high and I guess I got a little carried away. I convinced myself the items were in nicer condition then they actually were and that the Ebay gods would smile on me, allowing me to get top dollar out of them. I paid my absolute top dollar for all three items that I bought and if I'm lucky I'll break even, though it's more likely I'll lose a few bucks on the whole deal. Oh well, at least I've got it out of my system now.

As I was walking out the door I stopped at the lunch booth for one more sloppy joe. When it was served I found it had about twice as much meat as the first one; at least the auction wasn't a total bust.

My other big event of the weekend was that while I was out for a walk I ran across another herd of cattle; though these seemed to have the opposite reaction upon seeing me as the crew I met the other day. I was walking down the road when I caught some motion out of the corner of my eye. When I looked I was surprised to see a small herd of cattle running out of the trees toward me. They stopped about 75 feet from the fence and stared at me with intense interest. I snapped a few shots and then started walking down to the fence to get a little closer to them. As soon as I started walking towards the fence the whole herd started to run towards me again until we met at the fence. They were very inquisitive and I had to be careful not to get nose prints on my camera lens when I stuck it through the fence. When it was time to go they trotted along the fence line next to me a ways before heading back into the middle of the field.

It was kinda sad to think about the fate of these curious and friendly guys and gals. I'm glad I ate my sloppy joes the day before and not the day after.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Above should be an embedded Flickr slide show I want to try out, it should work fine without any actions by you. Let me know if anyone has problems viewing it though. You should have options of stopping, speeding up, viewing file information, etc. if you move the mouse over the slide show or click the image. The actual Flickr set with the cows is here.

You've reached the end of the page but that's not the end of the stories. If you want to read more (and who wouldn't!?) then click on the archive links to the right hand side of the page. They're listed by month; the adventure starts in May.

The February archives aren't actually from this trip but are previous adventures I've had, which are worth reading as well.