Friday, June 29, 2012

WDM, IA - How Much is Your Mother Worth?

        Many years ago when my Father was alive, he and my Mother used to collect what are known as Royal Doulton Character Jugs, which they just called Toby Jugs. They had started collecting these when they were stationed in Panama during WWII and slowly the collection had grown like bunnies and they had over 300 by the late 1980’s. They had a plate rail all along the upper wall of the living room and dining room in their home where they displayed these and other objects they had collected. Obviously the plate rail held only so many and my parents kept the rest in a storage room in the basement. Gary and I lived out in New England for 17 years and when we came home for Christmas, one of my tasks became taking last year’s Tobies down, packing them into the storage room and putting up the ones my Father wanted to display for the coming year.

        He never seemed to put away one of them, called the Fortune Teller, only asking me to dust it. Well, that was ok since it was my favorite: it looked like my Mother. I asked him once why he never put that one away.

        ‘Oh’, he said, ‘That’s my favorite.’


        ‘Why?’ I pursued.

        ‘Because it looks like your Mother.’

        Now, below I’ve put a picture of my Mother when she had a pretty severe pixie haircut, a style popular in the 60’s. Luckily, she didn’t always look like that. I’ve also put a later picture of her here with a softer hair style. However, the Fortune Teller, with its black hair in a pixie haircut reminded both my Father and me of my Mother in the 60’s.
        Now, here is a picture of the Fortune Teller. See the resemblance? What a kindly, understanding face. Well, it’s not a complete likeness but both my Father and thought so.
Time has past, both my parents have died and I now have the Toby Jug collection. Gary and I sold all but 71 of them several years ago before we moved into our current home. We obviously kept some of our favorites, the Fortune Teller first among them. Now, it is time to sell the rest and I verified the list that Gary had put together when we sold the previous batch and sent it off to several dealers for bids. I kept the Fortune Teller aside - we’re still keeping that one.

        As I was looking dealer websites to see to whom I should e-mail the list, what should I see but this. And, check that price, $439.95. Of course, that’s the sell price, way above the buy price. And, certainly, that’s the most expensive one in the lot. Personally, I’d be happy to get that for the whole lot of 70.
And, while I’m on the story of my mother, I have a funny story. When my Mother died, we had her cremated and, during the process, the funeral director asked my brother, Jack, and me if we would like a small token urn with a small amount of her ashes. Well, after a bit of thought, we both said yes and you can see my small token urn on the top shelf of a bookcase we have on the lower level of our home. Note that she is surrounded by some of the pieces in her beloved Toby Jugs collection. How appropriate.
But, here’s the funny story. In 2008, we headed south for our first year of snowbirding and were in Corpus Christi in January of 2009 at the local aquarium. Here we received a call from Cathy and Tom, my sister and brother-in-law, telling us that a pipe had burst in our lower level and that water had gotten all over the floor. They had scrambled around and removed most of what we had down there to other areas of the house, had boxed lots of it and had gotten a company to come in to take care of the mess. We hurried home, found not much to do and headed on back to Texas, figuring we’d take care of it when we got back in May.

In May, we were back and sorting through all of our things. All of a sudden I had a horrible thought: where is the small token urn with my Mother in it? Holy Toledo, where’s my Mother? We scrambled through all the boxes, through all the stuff that Cathy and Tom had taken upstairs and finally found the urn all nicely packed away in the bottom of one of the boxes. Cathy and Tom, of course, had no idea that they had stowed the urn and we all had a good laugh when we told them.

So, what’s your Mother worth? Mine is worth $439.95 and I’ve got the ad from Amazon to prove it. You know I’m kidding here, my mother meant the world to me but, by the time I was ready to tell her, she had Alzheimer’s and didn’t even know who I was. I was too late.

WDM, IA - Planning

        These are the days when I stare at maps wondering where we want to go for the winter and how we want to get there. I spread a map of the US in front of me on the desk, draw imaginary lines, get out my travel books, look at the map again, redraw the line, review the long list of places I’ve read about that we might want to see, and dream.

        In a perfect world, there would be an infinite set of possibilities. We drew a map once with Iowa in the center and arrows pointing out in all directions signifying that we could go anywhere from Iowa. I once joked that Iowa was in the middle of nowhere and the center of everything. However, because we are here in the center of everything in the summer, our set of possible locations for our winter travels becomes much smaller. If our goal is to stay warm, and it surely is, then we must head south. So, I look south for possible locations to light and draw lines to them. So far, the lines have taken us into the Desert Southwest. Here we’ve learned that we love to hike, something we never knew before.

As I draw my lines, I remember a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Wonderland:

        ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I might go from here.’

        ‘That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat

        ‘I don’t much care where ---’ said Alice

        ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

        ‘---so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

        ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

And, Gary and I are like Alice: our goal is ‘somewhere’, preferably somewhere we haven’t been before. Our line this year will take us through Albuquerque and Santa Fe to Mesa, AZ, over to Palm Springs and then, who knows where. Somehow we plan to get over to Louisiana and Alabama and head north back to West Des Moines from there.

Once I choose the route, the detail work begins: finding campgrounds, adding up the mileage, plotting days and weeks on the calendar, all the little details that go into the trip itself.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

WDM, IA - If It's June, It's the Art Festival

When the last week of June rolls around, we join Cathy and Tom and head off to the Art Festival in downtown Des Moines. Friday was absolutely gorgeous weather but Saturday, the day we planned to go, was supposed to be spotty showers after 2. So, we might need a Plan B. We began with breakfast at the Drake Diner, a local institution, where we thought we’d decide where to go: to the Festival which is outside or to the Alternative Art Show which is inside at the Iowa State Fair Grounds. Since we all had umbrellas, we decided on the outdoor Art Festival.

The Festival was as lively as ever and the crowds were thick. Usually we go on a Friday night, the scoping out night, and don’t see many buyers but today we saw quite a few carrying bags with art in them. Actually, the Des Moines is one of the top ten in the US for money. Who’d ever guess this? We have bought art in the past but we’ve got so much in the house now that we don’t need any more. So we wander sometimes admiring the art and sometimes wondering what the artist was trying to get across.

There is always a section for art students in Des Moines schools to show their art. Last year, our grand-niece had a piece there. Today, we saw this one by a second grader. Isn’t this amazing? You heard me right, second grade.
Here are Tom and Gary waiting for me to get the picture taken so they can wander on.
Some find art wherever they go.
Clouds rolled in but we had our umbrellas and were enjoying the show.
Then we found another kind of show to ogle at: classic cars. The Art Festival is held in downtown Des Moines in the Sculpture Garden. Across the street is an old car showroom that has been refurbished for showing classic cars. And, what a load of cars they had, many different models, many different styles and ooh - la - la, the prices. Here is a $95,000 classic ‘Vette which we all wanted to drive but satisfied ourselves with standing near it for a picture.
After drooling over the cars in the showroom, we strolled outside and found this little model. Any one got a ladder to get in to this little baby? Looks like a great off-rading vehicle for our winter travels.
The Art Festival has lots of free shows and we stopped to see the acrobats. Very limber and lithe. Can you do this? I strained 3 muscles just watching.
Finally, we headed on home but first we stopped at TCBY near our home. They have the best fudge mocha almond and the best blueberries and cream. Terrible choice to have to make. But, they’ve got that covered. When you order a ‘small’ you get two scoops. Thus, you can get a small with one scoop of blueberries and cream and a scoop of mucha fudge almond. What a treat. Perfect weather, great art show, delicious ice cream and the best company. What more could I ask for?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

WDM, IA - A Lot About a Little

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I haven’t written as much this last month as I usually do. Well, firstly we’ve been a bit busy and secondly - we’re home in Des Moines and the adventures run more along the lines of getting our semi-annual dental visits rather than off-roading to a trail in the mountains. Now, be honest, how many of you really want to hear about our trip to the dentist? None? Well, neither do I. Reading about a trip to the dentist is slightly more boring than actually going. But, writing about a trip to the dentist strains every creative bone I have. Just how much can you say about a trip to the dentist?

I will say that we have lined up all of our appointments for these 3 months that we plan to be home. Gary has been to his dermatologist and his bone doctor and gotten a clean bill of health. We hit the dentist today and all we came out with were 2 toothbrushes, 2 flosses and 2 toothpaste boxes. No cavities, no crowns, no little cracks - nothing, nada, nil. And, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

I have a mammogram and a colonoscopy scheduled and we both have eye and doctor visits scheduled. Oh, yeah, I just threw that colonoscopy in there to see if you were really awake. Yep, I’ve not indulged in ths pleasant extracurricular activity since the year 2000 and it’s my time. I am so excited. I picked up my empty gallon jug at the pharmacy yesterday and can’t wait to fill it full and drink all that ‘sweet tasting’ liquid in the requisite time. My sister-in-law tells me that NONE of the flavors mask the actual contents. The appointment is at 7:30 am so I’ve got to get up at 3:30 am and drink some more. The worst thing is that I can’t have any solid food after 5:00 pm on a Sunday and my appointment isn’t until 7:30 Tuesday.

Here’s the sweet thing: I also got my brother to schedule an appointment. Ha, Ha. Any day I can schedule my bro for a colonoscopy is a good day. Actually a friend of his has been urging him to get one but we’ve been waiting on that. The new health bill allows him preventative screenings and tests and this falls under that. So, he’s getting one done.

I also took a 6-hour class in digital photography held at a local Junior College. I got there 5 minutes early but later than the other 4 in the class. They had taken the 4 seats in front so my view was like this.

I saw the backs of everyone’s heads for 6 hours. An ok class but I thought it could be ever so much better if we could actually have taken some photos rather than listen to him the whole time.

One day we went to Costco and were leaving right about 12:30. Of course they have you leave right by their food area. Do they have huge pictures of their offerings? You betcha and that Mixed Berry Sunday looked mighty tempting. At $1.65, it was even financially appealing and a bargain I couldn’t pass up. Especially after I had seen several others walk past me spooning the berries and ice cream in with a silly grin on their faces. Come on, I have only so much will power. And here it is. You can’t see the other spoon there but, trust me on this, I couldn’t eat this all alone and Gary made the ultimate sacrifice and ate his share.
However, as I was doing more crunches, push-ups and and leg lifts, etc. than I usually do later in the afternoon, that early sundae looked less appealing.

We’re still emptying our back storeroom and finding things like these.
We had 6 of these cassette holders which hold 30 cassettes each. How much work is represented here? Now I just download into the computer. How easy is this? And the sound is so much better than that copied onto tape.

We’ve also been up to Fort Dodge 3 times. No rest for the wicked. Gary’s father, Lug, likes to give us a little gift for the ride home and his choice this year is raisins. He gets these at Walmart and he swears that the new container is much smaller than the old one. Well, we happened to have one of the old containers at home (we can only eat raisins so fast) and he was right - note the size difference: the one on the left is the new container, taller but much narrower and 4 ounces less. Do you think that the new price is 4 ounces less? Not a chance.
Also note that both of these are still unopened - we’re still working on the first one he gave us. We also bought some craisins in the meantime (at Costco - the usual Costco size - at least 50 lb bag).

Though Iowa is in a drought just as is much of the rest of the US, we did have rain for 2 days. The first day, it came down so fast that we could hardly see across the street at time. Of course, Gary wanted to check the gutters and here he is also checking on the gutters and some other running water.

And, no, we had no leaves in our gutters. Meanwhile, note the bricks around the hostas. Those are holding down the netting I’ve got over them to prevent the bunnies from enjoying the buffet I’ve put out for them. I don’t know which looks worse: bricks in the landscaping or nude hostas but bricks are cheaper than replacing hostas which we had to do. Here I am digging the holes to plant the new ones before we put the netting on.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

WDM, IA - Great Pacific Garbage Patch - the World's Biggest 'Landfill'

So, how many of you have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

And why is the world’s largest landfill actually in the Pacific Ocean?

Well, I didn’t know the answers to these questions until I looked into landfills after our tour yesterday. And, you can get an eyeful by typing ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ into Google. It a great swirling mass of plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic toys, plastic anything that can be found in the middle of the Pacific between America and Japan, north of Hawaii. There is another one growing in the Atlantic. Here’s a picture from a website called Mother Nature Network showing where this garbage patch swirls in the convergence zone amonst the Pacific currents.
How big is it? Well, no one really knows since much of it is beneath the surface but the estimates are as big as Texas or as big as France. One group, called the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition, from the Scripps Institute traveled 1000 miles alongside it. How would you like to be a scientist canoeing in this? When I think of canoeing, I think of clear waters in a river. Certainly not this. 
It has been estimated that over a million sea-birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement.

The world produces 300 billion pounds of plastic each year, about 10% ends up in the ocean, through runoff, dumping overboard from ships and large scows dumping waste whosesale. 70% of this eventually sinks beneath the surface. Because it is right below the surface and hard to see from above, satellites can’t get a real hold on it to estimate with any accuracty how large this garbage patch is. Not even Google. Here’s a picture from under it showing some of its components while the next picture is a boat leaving a wake as it maneuvers through the Garbage Patch.

Plastic doesn't decompose or compost. The plastic that is sitting in the ocean right now will NEVER go away. It slowly breaks down into smaller and smaller particles until it is consumed by small fish and birds. Remember the food chain? One organism consumes the plastic, then a larger organism consumes the smaller one, and then an even larger organism consumes that one, until you get to the top of the food chain. That's us - we're at the top of the food chain. Do you want mustard and ketchup with that plastic?

But there are also other problems:

        birds feed on plastic and starve because they have no room in their stomachs for real food.

        turtles and large fish get caught in it and die

        it emits toxins into our atmosphere.

Yechh. We have heard recently about the debris washing ashore from the tsunami in Japan but it pales incomparison to this large swirling mass of garbage.

Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about this garbage which is already out there but keeping it from getting larger is well within our ability to accomplish.

Let’s keep recycling and only dump into landfills like the one we toured earlier this month.

WDM, IA - Cataracts

No, that doesn’t refer to us - no cataracts here yet. Actually, Gary’s father, Lug, at the ripe old age of 89 is having cataract surgery on both eyes this spring. His vision has been getting progressively worse what with the glaucoma he’s already fighting and now with cataracts in both eyes. His left eye is his worse eye and he will admit that he can’t see much of anything out of that one. That makes his right eye his good eye.

He’s always said that he was not going to have any surgery on his eyes but, when the doctor said that he would not certify Lug for driving, it made him take notice and he signed up for the surgery. He had the surgery done on his left eye first while we were still traveling this spring and Cathy, Gary’s sister, took him in along with Barb, his girlfriend. Cathy took pictures on her I Phone and continually sent us updates so we could follow along with them throughout the day. His second surgery was today and we got up to Fort Dodge about 8:45 for his 9:30 appointment. Barb met us at the hospital and we all sat down to wait.
Soon, a nurse come out and Lug was escorted to his own personal ‘waiting room’ where he changed into a gown and waited some more. We all were able to wait with him there. We could tell that Lug was getting antsy but there’s no hurrying the doctors since they have 12 other antsy patients ahead of him.

I had called my brother to tell him we were in town and he came over to visit. This gave me an opportunity to give him the family picture album that I had made for him. I’ve had several family pictures framed for him but I had the bulk of the pictures from our parents’ photo albums. All I did was put them all into a computer album and print off the pages, but it did take some time compiling them all and arranging them on the pages. He seemed pretty pleased to get it and admitted later that he had teared up seeing all the pictures. Some he had never seen.
Finally Lug had his surgery about noon, came out and had to wait some more for the ok to leave. Gary meanwhile took pictures on his I Phone and sent them to his sisters with updates on the progress.
At 1:45 or so, the nurse told him that he could put on his regular clothes and, when he had, we 4 tried to make a break for it and head for lunch. Oops, the route out ran right past the nurses’ station (I’m sure it was planned that way) and she hustled us back telling us we couldn’t leave just yet but that Lug had to get some further instruction. Feeling like criminals, we scurried back to his waiting room, the nurse came along, gave him his instructions and now, at 2:00 we could leave.

Lug was understandably hungry since he hadn’t eaten since 5:00 p.m. yesterday. After lunch we took Lug home and started to leave. Lug said, ‘I’m going to check my mail.’

‘Good-bye, Dad,’ Gary said as we walked out the door. Oops, Lug came to the door and waved us off, thanking us for coming. He’s had a long nerve-wracking day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

WDM, IA - 'Stuff'

Today, the temps approached 98 with a ‘feels like’ temperature of 102 degrees. It looked to us as if it was a day to walk in the mall. Well, actually, it looked like that to me as I lay awake at 6:45, 15 minutes before the alarm was to go off. When the alarm awoke Gary, I murmured the dreaded phrase: ‘I have a plan.’ Enough to make Big Gar pull the pillow over his head. Too late.

Breakfast then off to the mall for our 4 mile walk. Walking 4 miles gets a bit boring when you do it every day. There are only so many different ways we can get the 4 miles in around our home and we walk the same blocks day after day sometimes clockwise and sometimes counter-clockwise. Well, walking in the mall in infinitely more boring. But, on a day like today, it was infinitely more comfortable than walking outside.

Coffee after the walk and, though Panera at one end of the mall sounded delicious, we chose Barnes and Noble, where there was less temptation and more to read as we drank our coffee. We also spoke with the Barista with whom we've spoken before. Interesting character: gave up his corporate job to work part time at B&N where he is now the coffee shop manager. He says he has ADD and to focus he keeps lists of things like: US lighthouses, US National Parks, counties of the US that he has visited, etc. He hitch-hiked across the US more than once in his youth and that's where he began to 'collect' the counties he had been through. He says there are 1600 counties in the US and he has been to 1400. He even belongs to a Club which meets annually, this year in Des Moines. He was the one who told me about the 'stamps' you can get in the National Parks, which I do at every NP managed site. I don't think I'll hit all 1600 counties. 

Finally, we drove over to Costco to buy a few things. And, of course, one thing leads to another and we walked out with a shopping cart partially full. Now the problem with Costco is: if you buy it, you’ve got to find a place in the refrigerator or freezer to put it. That’s the challenge: especially for two people. We will eat it all but it might take a day or two.

Meanwhile, back at home, we have decided that we have too many ‘things’ in our house: electronics, tools, clothing, kitchen stuff. Our home is filled and, as we have learned over the last 4 years that we have been traveling, we need only what we can carry in the RV. We need nothing else. If we can live without something for 9 months as we travel, I’ll bet that we can live without it forever. Thus, our goal for this summer is not only to get some work done on the house but to empty it of everything we don’t need, which is considerable. I want to look into each drawer in our home and see - nothing.


We’ve got an old desktop computer with its huge hard drive, an old laptop which died on a vacation several years ago, old CD’s with their cases, an old amplifier, old wires, cords, old discs with their jewel cases, you name it technologically, we’ve got it. We’ve even got about 100 cassette tapes which we spent hours compiling. And, right now, none of this stuff is being used. It’s just being stored in the back storage room. First we think my brother will be able to use some of it. But, here’s the trick: Best Buy will take it all. They’ve got bins for some of the stuff but will take the computers, etc. out back. They strip all that is valuable out of it and then dump the rest in the appropiate PC location. All for free. Sweet.

Gary began in our small storage closet in the lower level. He’s emptied most of these old electronics and is ready to begin our trek to Best Buy. But first he took a few nostalgic pictures. Remember all these things? Luckily we had tossed the 8-track tapes a while back or you’d think we were really troglodytes. As it is, we’re just old. Printers, scanners, old laptops, old TV’s of varying sizes, old desktop computers with their towers. All old, all unused and all taking up space.


See those items on the bookshelf in back of the computer? Those are Royal Doulton Character Jugs or more commonly known as Toby Jugs. My mother had a collection of about 400 of them and, before we moved, we sold about 330 of them. Now - we want to see the final 70. Obviously to a dealer. This is not easy to do since those people who collected Toby Jugs, or anything for that matter, are in our parents generation. How many of you collect anything: stamps, coins, plates, Toby Jugs, Precious Moments, whatever? My parents thought they had a pretty valuable collection but, price is determined by demand and there is less and less demand every year. I’ve sent out 4 e-mails to 4 different companies who sell these with a list of the jogs we have and am waiting to hear which, if any, might want to buy them.


One of my goals is to empty my closet of everything I’m not currently wearing. Now, most of this is work clothing: I’m retired, do I need all of the 8 wool work suits? How many occasions will I find in the near future to wear these. How many trails will I be able to wear these wool pants on? I certainly could be the best dressed hiker but the itch would drive me wild. And, yes, both Gary and I keep a suit in the RV for any occasion which might call for a suit. And what about all those wool sweaters I’ve got? I haven’t worn them in 4 years - in fact, I haven’t seen them in 4 years. I’ve got them packed into the cedar chest which I got from my mother-in-law which I haven’t opened since we started RV’ing.

But, let’s face it: all of this clothing belongs to a 66-year old, 110 lb, stodgy woman. Who is going to want any of this? My sister-in-law had no trouble selling her work clothes in a yard sale because they were so chic and modern. Me, I probably can’t give mine away.


Then the kitchen. How many cookie pans do I need? But what will we do with all the Elizabeth pattern stoneware that we got at our wedding and afterwards? We’ve got lots of good dishes: my mother insisted that I have good china so that I could invite my boss over for dinner. She lived in a different generation: does anyone do that these days? And, who at Goodwill wants stoneware?

If we can live quite comfortably with what we carry in the RV, why do we need all this stuff? Beats me.

Looks like Goodwill, friends and relatives and Craig’s List will be hearing from us this summer. Anything to keep it out of the landfills. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

WDM, IA - Walking for Hearts

It was a bright glorious sunny Iowa day and we had all gathered at the State Capitol for the annual Heart Association Walk. We used to do lots of walks when we lived in Des Moines and were attuned to what was going on. However, as we travel, we can’t find out about walks very easily and miss them. Today, we had heard on the evening news about the heart walk and decided to join it. We were going to walk today anyway, why not walk for a good cause?

The walk was at the Capitol and we were going to walk down one street about 2 miles and up another back to the Capitol.
As we drew closer to the site, we could see people streaming in, lots of families, lots of company groups in their matching t-shirts and lots of individuals and couples. The excitement and energy are palpable. Everyone is milling around, eating, talking, visiting the booths and enjoying the wonderful weather. They had dummies on the sidewalks there to practice CPR, the announcer was leading us all in stretching exercises and the emcee was giving his spiel. Finally it was time and we were off, all of us. The group must have spread down 5 or 6 blocks.
We enjoy the walks immensely but then we see something like this and it really strikes home why we are walking. There were many groups walking for someone in particular but this person was only 15 years old when he died. It just tears at my heart. We then realize that we are not just two out for a walk in the park but part of a much larger undertaking.
When we were all done, there were sandwiches, yogurt, bananas, ice cream, and other things to eat while the band played.

When we got home, we shut the garage door. Later, Gary went out to do some yard work, opened the garage door, heard some grinding, some popping and finally a cable snapped and the door ground to a halt, half way up. Oops. See that cable - looks pretty loose, doesn’t it. Not looking good.
Now, let me explain something about the garage doors in our development - they weigh about 400 lbs. Not possible you say. Not practical either. However, because our development was supposed to have ’style’ the builder put wooden boards all over the doors in a pattern to match the siding. That’s why each section of the 4 sections weighs about 100 lbs - they are covered with wood.
The car is inside, it is Saturday, we can’t lift the door nor can we get it down. Now what? Well, my Gary is not just a stud muffin, he’s pretty ingenious.
We were able to raise it enough to get the car out by using the motor. Luckily, because we tried lifting it and got nowhere. 400 lbs. is 400 lbs. is 400 lbs. However, when we began to lower it, the cable wrapped around the bar held it tight at about shoulder level. Gary started thinking - I could see the cogs turning. Here’s the scheme.

First he had to disconnect the cables from the door so the door would ride freely down the track to the bottom. This done, he cut 2 2x4’s long enough to hold the garage door up when wedged in at either end. You can see these in the picture above. Then he unhooked the cable. Now the door, all 400 lbs, is riding freely and held up by the 2x4”s. Then he pulled the one on the right side and cut it 5” shorter than the one still holding the door on the left side. We then wedged the shorter one on the right hand side, pulled out the one on the left hand side and, using all the strength he had, he lowered it slowly to the shorter 2x4. He then cut this one about 10” shorter and we wedged it into the left hand side, pulled the one on the right hand side and lowered the door to the new level. OK, 10” and we’ve spent 30 minutes doing it. Looks like a long night. Slowly but surely he cut new ones, put them in and pulled the longer ones and we were able to lower the door about 5” with each new board.

At 2’ from the bottom, it got more difficult to use our strength to lower the door 5” and he had to rig up a lever system using the cut pieces of the 2x4’s. Precarious it definitely was but it it failed and the door fell, it had only 2 feet to go. 3 more cuts of the 2x4’s and we had the garage door down. Whew.

Of course it is Saturday night so we’ll have to wait until Monday to call to get it fixed but at least he car is out.

Now, it’s 7:30 and time for dinner.

Friday, June 8, 2012

WDM, IA - Landfill to Prairie

We began the day at Panera: I indulged in the bear claw while Gary had 2 bagels. Now, that’s usually not a problem but, as the day wore on, it began to look as if it were a big mistake.

Big Adventure today. Usually, we adventure when we travel but sometimes we realize that there is lots to see here in Des Moines and today we’re on our way to the . . .

        TA DA!!!

Metro Waste Authority’s Landfill. Well now, you say, who ever wants to go to a landfill? But Gary, I and the other 25 or so on our tour, all thought that the landfill would be a great trip. Unfortunately, the kids on the trip who wanted to see the ‘TRUCKS’ were destined to be disappointed. We didn’t see many trucks and those we did see were about a mile away.

We all gathered at a Junior High parking lot, checked in with the tour guide and waited - and waited - and waited for the bus to come. Hmm. Seems there must have been a problem with the schedule but finally a bus rolled into view and the tour was on.
We headed further out of town to a beautiful rolling hill section east of Des Moines where we turned off the road to the Metro Waste Authority.

The facility covers 1800 acres of land with about 500 being used for landfill space. To this one facility is brought 18% of the states waste. Remember how we used to take stuff to the city dump? I remember trips to the dump in Hampstead, NH where we lived in the late 1980’s. We’d take larger things there and toss them into the pile of trash there. We could see bulldozers there flattening it all and pushing it in to the large pit. Yecch.

Well, we’re all much smarter now and have a much greater awareness of what all that trash does to our environment, to our groundwater and to our air. Dumps have been replaced by landfills. Did you know that garbage in a landfill does not decompose? Firstly, much of it is stuff that doesn’t really decompose easily - like metal, glass and plastic. Secondly, in a landfill It just gets compacted and covered. In Des Moines, they dig a pit about 110’ deep, smooth it over even taking out larger rocks by hand so the bottom is completely smooth and won’t break the liner. They used to line the pit with 2’ of very compacted clay but now they line it with - get this - a liner, a thin layer of a very hard stiff plastic. Our tour guide passed around a piece of this for us to examine.
Interestingly enough, my niece, April worked for a company based in Minneapolis that actually planned landfills. She planned and oversaw one in Carroll and one in South Dakota that I remember. I wish I had visited her when she was working in Carroll and had seen what she did with all her explanation.

In the observation area is a diagram of how a landfill is filled, with the liner on the bottom, the smooshed trash and the liner on the top. The long tube going through it is for the methane which is monitored and collected.
The Metro Waste Authority here in Des Moines serves 16 communities by taking in 2000 tons or garbage per day at their landfill which is about 20 miles outside of town. All those trucks which roll through our neighborhoods early in the morning take the garbage to a transfer center and unload it into a larger semi which can take the garbage from 3 trucks. Then the trucks rumble through some more neighborhoods while the semi takes the garbage to the landfill. Saves time, gas and the roads. And this little minuet is repeated time and time again.

The bottom of the semis is a rolling floor, like the grocery counter where you put your groceries. That way the garbage just rolls out into the pits. Is this more than you wanted to know about garbage? After the garbage is dumped, the bulldozers roll over and over it, smashing it as flat as they can get it. At the end of the day, it is all covered with dirt, all ready for the next days layer. When the pit is filled, another liner is placed on top to cover the pit. And dirt on top of that so that now, it looks like some beautiful rolling hills, covered with grasses.
There we were, all of us in the tour, standing on top of a gently rolling hill that looked just like any rolling hill in Iowa but it was Pit #1 which had been filled and covered. And, get this, it is the highest spot in Polk County.
There’s lots more to the story but I’m thinking that you’ve heard all you really want to hear about garbage and landfills. It was a neat tour and I’m glad we went to see how all this is handled in Des Moines.

Now, while I’m on landfills, here’s a neat poster we saw in a museum in San Diego. It describes the harm coming from all those plastic bottles that everyone carries. Gary and I try not to use plastic bottles. We actually have our own water bottles which we wash and fill from tap water and our backpacks have bladders in them to carry water.
We arrived back at the school about noon and, since we were so close we decided to visit the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and Tallgrass Prairie. Since it is a national site, we had picked up our Senior National Park pass several years ago but just breezed in and out. Today, we decided to give the park its due and spend some time.

The Visitor Center had lots of good exhibits on native prairies which used to cover the whole of Iowa and vast parts of 13 other states in the Midwest. Prairie grasses have exceptionally deep roots (as you can see in the picture below) and because the grasses above ground burned every now and then, the soil became incredibly rich, some of the richest in the world. Thus, it was exceptionally desirable for the farmers as they moved west to settle. And, there went the prairies, about 99% succumbed to the plow. They are now working to restore over 8000 acres of Iowa’s native tallgrass prairie and oak savannah.
Try to imagine being a farmer in Iowa trying to uproot the prairie grasses with their extensive root system so that you can plant your corn. That would be some task.

There was a lot about how the native bison on the prairie and how they are working to restore a herd. The bison were integral to the growth of native grasses in the prairie. Their hide carried seeds to many areas, when they wallowed in the mud, the seeds came off in the dirt there and when they ate they often got grass seeds in their mouths which eventually were deposited on to the prairie with a bit of fertilizer. I always enjoy hearing how all parts of nature work together to form a whole.

There were extensive exhibits showing native flora and fauna also. However, the best way to see many examples of this is to walk the trails in the park. That’s right down our alley. On our walk we saw the buffalo herd that lives here, native birds and many prairie grasses and flowers. It was a beautiful stroll on a beautiful day.


It was an interesting day from the landfill to prairie restoration.

We had not planned to be gone so long today. Our goal was the landfill tour and then home for the afternoon. Thus, I had not taken any extra food, no protein bars, no fruit, no sandwiches, nada, zilch, nil. And, hey, remember that BIG NUTRITIOUS breakfast? Well, then the inevitable adventure creep and were we ever hungry along about 1:00, at 2:00 I could feel the hunger pangs, and at 3:00 I could hear the grumbles. Finally, at 3:30 when we left Neal Smith, we made a beeline for the nearest fast food stop to quiet the growling in our tummies. Now, fast food is not our favorite thing but Burger King has a good salad for $1.59. It’s larger than you might think, has 2, count them 2, grape tomatoes, croutons and variety of greens. Imagine that. And I thought all they sold were burgers, fries and chicken tenders.

Now it’s time to get home for dinner.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

WDM, IA - Up the Tree

Today, we looked out on the little robins and - voila - one is gone, one is standing on a rafter about 2’ from where the nest is, probably wondering how it got there and one, more babyish looking robin is perched on the edge of the now abandoned nest peering around. The look I’m getting in the second picture is certainly accusatory. He must think that I’m responsible for the empty nest. It is all my fault. With that body - do you think this robin is ready to fly? Fly? I think a belly flop onto our patio is more likely.

I walked upstairs and, when I returned, I noticed the nest was empty. And there it was up in a tree, wondering what to do next.