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.

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.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A real Blow Hard

Even though I never forgot my least favorite thing about Iowa the whole time I was traveling for some reason I was still surprised by it when I got back.

What is it you ask?

The Wind

Every since I was a kid it's been the bane of my existence. When I wanted to play baseball/football/basketball it was always there to take some of the fun away; and don't even get me started on how it ruined many a potential fishing expedition. Any time I plan something to do outside the first step in the morning is usually checking the weather report so see what the wind will be doing since it has such a large effect on what I do.

Want to go kayaking or fishing? Better see what direction the wind is coming from so you can choose a protected lake/shoreline so you're not battling 3o mph winds and white caps.

Want to go hiking? Better see how hard the wind is blowing because it's not much fun on the open prairie when all you can hear is the roar of the wind in your ears.

I must have gotten spoiled while traveling around this summer because, while there was the odd windy day, everyplace I went had calm winds for the most part; it was fantastic! I always appreciated it though, always remembered that it wasn't like that in Iowa. So why did I seem to be taken by surprise when I came back home and found that everyday is windy?

I guess in my mind I remember the best things about fall; and one of those is the late fall days we get now and then. The leaves have fallen off all the trees and are crunchy under foot. There's a crispness in the air, the sun is shining, the sky is a deep rich blue, the air is clearer then you can imagine, and there's not a breath of wind. Those are my favorite days of the year. Even though the temperature may only be in the 40's it still feels nice and warm in the sun and the lakes take on a glassy look you very rarely see around here. They're made all the more special because you know that it's entirely possible that within a day or two there could be snow on the ground and a day like that won't return for another year.

Unfortunately we haven't had one of those days since I've been back; but I'm still waiting and still hoping. Sometimes the wind gets me down and keeps me from going out and enjoying the freakishly warm weather for this time of year; but other times I take the affront personally and vow not to let my foe keep me locked in doors. I drag out my wind block hat and jacket and go face the brunt of it.

The other day was such a day. I didn't really know where I was going when I left town, I just started walking from the house. I wasn't too far north of town when I decided to hop on the railroad tracks. I always like walking the tracks, it gives you a different perspective of things you've seen a thousand times and it brings back memories of the hundreds of miles I walked on the tracks as a kid.

Anyone who's walked along railroad tracks has played the game of seeing how long you can walk on a rail before falling off. I've never been all that great at it and with my knee still in a tender condition I wasn't about to try my luck that day. But as I was walking I noticed that people don't seem to be the only ones who get pleasure from walking the rail; in the dust were the foot prints of a possum dawdling it's way down the rail. He seemed to have pretty good success too.

It turned out to be a nice walk, despite the wind. I scared up a couple deer and even a coyote. On the other side of a small ravine from me I could see some cattle in their pasture. It was tough to see them through the thick trees but a couple of them saw me walking down the tracks as well. While cattle usually seem to be content by staring at a passersby with an unconcerned stare these cattle started to get restless by my presence. The few that actually saw me started to get a little jittery and this spread to the rest of the heard. Soon mass hysteria had broken out and after walking just a little farther down the tracks and past the ravine the whole herd came tearing out of their pasture headed for home with panic in their eyes. I always find the site of running cattle entertaining so I enjoyed the little spectacle.

After a couple miles on the tracks I turned around and followed them all the way back in through town, which brought me over the old trestle that crosses the river running through town. It was always off limits growing up and only the bad kids would walk across it. I guess now I am one of those bad kids because I didn't think twice about using the shortcut and admiring the view from the top.

And now this morning starts a new day. Looking out the window I see the one tree left that's still clinging to most of it's yellow and now browning leaves. The sky is blue, sun is shining and the leaves in the tree look pretty calm. Maybe this will be the day.

Or maybe not, I just checked the weather and winds today are supposed to be 15-25mph. Starting tonight and all through tomorrow they're supposed to increase to 25-35 with gusts over 40 mph. Looks like I better get my hike in early today. I think if I go to Ft. Defiance I can use the woods and ravine to mostly stay out of it.....

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Happy Halloween!

It's been fun seeing friends and having people to hang out with since being home and I'm glad I made it back before Halloween. The day after I returned home I headed over to Spirit Lake for a Halloween party at my friend Joe's place. He's got a great group of friends who always come up with some incredible costumes and are always a blast to hang out with. Plus it's a pot luck type of deal with snacks so there's always TONS to eat. Since I'd just gotten back the day before I didn't feel like finding a costume so I had to be the party pooper. Actually, I tried to tell them that I dressed up as someone that had a job, I mean after all, I did take a shower and put on a clean shirt that day...which is more then I could say for the whole last week. Sarah said I still looked like a bum though.

Last night Sarah, Joren, and I all headed over to Spencer to see a play, The Woman in Black. Unfortunately they didn't have a real big turn out but it was a good show and we had fun. I still hadn't found myself a costume and Joren was kind enough to offer the use of his Roman gladiator costume. I tried it on when we got to the theatre but found it was pretty short and the only way to keep my underwear from showing would be to take them off, which would have led to a host of other problems. Thankfully Joren and Sarah were dressed up though and their costumes were good enough to make up for the lack of mine. They even took 1st and 2nd place in the costume contest at the theatre! Sarah won four free tickets and Joren one six blank pieces of paper.

Even though it was a Wednesday night none of us were ready to go home yet. We were having a great time in the car on the drive back and when we hit Spirit Lake for whatever reason we thought it was be a good idea to hit the strip club. Neither Sarah or I had ever been to a strip club before and Joren hadn't in a loooong time. We were all a little hesitant and none of us really wanted to see naked women dancing around but we thought it would be fun anyway. It gotta say it was kind of weird walking in with a scarecrow on one side and a nun on the other.

Apparently the fact that it was a Wednesday over ruled the fact that it was Halloween because the place was dead. There was only a handful of people milling about and not many seemed too interested in what was going on onstage. The women on stage weren't very attractive and didn't have much stage presence. They were all wearing the same super high heeled clear plastic shoes with flashing lights inside them and most of them could hardly walk in them. Any sexiness of the shoes was offset (and then some) by watching the women clumsily move around while holding onto the wall to keep from falling over. I have a hard time seeing what's supposed to be so erotic about the whole thing. Not that I'd built up any great mystique about strip clubs in my head but any that I did have were wiped clean soon after walking in the door. I had to keep on eye on Joren since he kept saying he was going to buy me a lap dance. I think I finally convinced him that I wasn't just saying I didn't want a lap dance but that I really didn't want one. Still, it was fun. We had a couple drinks and played a couple games of pool before moving onto another bar for a couple more games of pool.

Sarah was driving by this point and I was surprised when she suddenly took a turn and pulled us up in front of the other strip club in the area. By this point all our inhibitions were out the window and I think we all felt pretty good about hitting two strip clubs in one evening. We were curious to see if there was a difference in the clientele or the dancers. When we walked in we found even fewer people in this club. Besides one guy and gal shooting pool I think we were the only ones there. I'm pretty sure the gal he was shooting pool was one of the strippers too. My tip off was that as we made our way to the dart board she walked past Joren and I while saying, “hey, you guys are cuuute”. I've never heard that from a strange woman before so I can only assume she wanted money.

After about 5 minutes we gave up trying to figure out how to set up multiple players on the dart board and just started taking turns chucking darts at it. The strippers were no dummies; they realized they weren't going to get any money out of us or anyone else in the club so they just sat around. I will say that they were better looking then the strippers at the other club, but maybe that's just because they had their clothes on.

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.