Monday, June 30, 2008

Moving is a Bitch!

Well, I've been at my new blogging home for a couple of months now. It's recent enough that I remember starting this blog, but far enough in the past that I don't remember exactly how long I've been here. I'm still in the process of moving posts from my old location to this one, and I hit a milestone today... my 2005 entries are completed. When I decided to move my stuff, instead of simply cutting over, I had over 600 blog entries... that's a lot of shit to sift through. Early on, I was reading every entry, making sure that names and faces were obliterated, and making sure that I preserved anything and everything that meant something to me. This quickly became a painstaking process... hell, if I did six per day, that would take me over three months! Since then, I've become less selective, less thorough and less meticulous. I'm not migrating stuff each day. I'm not reading each entry word-for-word, I'm much more willing to ditch an entry as unnecessary, and I'm not as picky about changing each name,. After all, this blog is still private, and those of you who read it all know the names of the key players. I will though, change names and faces before taking this thing public again. It's nice to be done with 2005, but I've still got over 300 entries to browse and edit.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

...At Least in Some of It

A couple of days ago, I said that what I've been witnessing is restoring my faith in humanity... at least some of it. As time passes though, I'm beginning to witness stupid human tricks. There have been a couple of reported cases of looting... primarily bars being relieved of their alcohol supply, and my ex is back to some of her old tricks.

My ex's birthday was not too long ago. On her birthday, she text messaged my younger daughter, saying "Hey, I'm going to come by and we'll go to dinner." The ex did this on my custody night, without asking me first, and to top it off, she ended up flaking out on my daughter. As the pickup time approached, my daughter phoned her mom. Here's a summary of the conversation I heard (my daughter's side).

(In an excited voice) "Hi mommy. When are you coming to get me."

(Long pause) "What you mean we're not going."

(Tears start flowing) "Bye."

Later on, the ex calls again... this time it was to flake out of her custody time the next evening, saying that she had to work. Again, she calls the kid. So my daughter was doubly crushed. Her mom calls with a 'surprise' dinner, and then flakes out on it. The kid is upset, but consoles herself by saying, "hey, that's okay, I'll get to see her tomorrow." Then mom calls up and flakes out on that night, because she had to work.

A few days later, she calls again and says "Hey kid, I'm coming to pick you up." For those of you who are keeping score, you may remember that the ex doesn't have a car, and was evicted from her home about six months ago. She's been staying at a friend's house since then. But I'm digressing...

"Mommy, did you get a car?"

"No, it's a surprise," she replied. As you can imagine, the kid's all worked up. After all, mom's got a surprise for her. The surprise? She showed up with her backup boyfriend and a new hairdo.

I call him backup boyfriend because every time the ex is between boyfriends, they start dating for a little while... just long enough for the younger daughter to become re-attached to him. And he's just enough of a doormat that he continues to let this happen.

Yep... this woman's a peach. She disses my little girl twice, and then announces a surprise... the surprise is arriving with backup boyfriend and a new hairdo. She can't pay rent. She can't afford a car, but she's damned sure going to afford her hair.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Updated Pictures

This is the same photo stream, but I've added over 50 more pictures since originally posting the photo stream. I plan to do a short before-and-after sometime down the road, but for now, you may want to check out the last 50-odd pics on this slideshow.

Check it out...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Restoring My Faith...

The flood waters are quickly receding, and the citizens are rapidly commencing with cleaning up our community. As soon as I found out that people were being allowed back into their own homes, I grabbed my work gloves, jumped on my bicycle, and headed to a friend's parents' house.

That in and of itself is kind of funny. They hadn't seen me for so long, that they didn't recognize me. Even after I sat and talked to them for a bit, they didn't realize who I was until I came out and told them. (They didn't recognize me because of my beard.) Once we got past the "Holy cow, I didn't recognize you," I offered my assistance, which they gratefully accepted.

We started out with me taking pictures of the house for insurance purposes. They bought some disposable cameras, but I offered to take pics with my digital camera and burn the photos to CD for their insurance. We took about 30 shots through the day.

Their house has an unfinished basement (which the family patriarch affectionately calls "the dungeon"), and there was no damage to the first or second floors. So basically they only lost a few appliances there... water heater, washer and dryer, deep freezer...

Their garage didn't fare so well, and they had two cars that were mostly submerged. We spent the next several hours dumping shit on the curb. They profusely thanked me several times during the process, saying that if I hadn't been there, they'd still be looking at the garage wondering where to begin. With my assistance, we cleared out the garage in a few hours.

The highlight of my day was that some of the memorabilia survived the flood. Their wedding photo and his military records were wet, but looked good. There were a lot of photos and old clothes that didn't make it, but most of the pictures were duplicates. Overall, they didn't lose nearly as much as others.

After finishing up there, I drove around some, taking more pictures, which will be posted in a couple of days. I have a few more shots to take. Walking around and observing was beyond words, but I will try to describe it anyway.

One thing that can't be photographed or explained is the smell. The odor is a combination of swamp water and garbage dump. And there's a constant haze of putrid dirt that you can see, smell and taste. My immune system has been working overtime in attempting to keep me healthy.

People are going into their houses as soon as they're allowed, and they all seem to finish the first phase of clean-up the same day. If one family finishes early, they help their neighbors. It's an unspoken agreement. The recipients are thankful, and the helpers are glad to assist.

The streets are cleared of debris (dirt, driftwood and so forth) almost as quickly as the streets are accessible. The trash is being picked up at an incredible rate. Everyone -- EVERYONE -- is working like nothing I've ever seen. Those who have lost their homes are tolerant of photographers, understanding that we're not doing this just out of some sick sense of voyeurism, but it's our way of recording it.

The trash, despite the pace of clean-up, still lines streets, several feet high, as far as you can see on some streets. As I drove around town, I saw semi trailers full of food, water and clothing, trucked in from across the nation. It's humbling and emotional to see the support we've received -- from the nation and from the neighbors.

I'm going to paraphrase something my neighbor heard from a reporter...
Nobody needed to be rescued from the rooftops. Nobody was on TV crying, saying 'The Federal Government needs to bail us out.' Things were calm and orderly. The only signs of anger and disorder were from people who were not allowed into their homes quickly enough. They want to start putting their lives together themselves.

We're willing to accept assistance, but we don't expect it. What I'm witnessing today is restoring my faith in humanity... at least in part of it. It's so changed my perspective, that I will continue offering my assistance to my community for as long as I can. This weekend, I plan to help at that corner store I mentioned in a post the other day.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Link to the Pictures

Here's a link to the pictures on Flickr.

...A Drop to Drink

As the river started receding, the city has managed to bring more water purification stations online. We're now at 50% water capacity, and water restrictions are loosening up a bit. We are now allowed to wash clothes and dishes, shower, etc. every other day. Again, it's a small price compared to those who've lost everything.

On Saturday, the day before the restrictions were loosened, the local news media went around to laundromats, shaming customers and business owners who were selfishly using -- wasting -- dozens of gallons of water.

One woman said something along the lines of "I've got three kids I need to take care of." Yeah, these kids need clean clothes.

One laundromat owner said "There was a woman from Palo (the town that was 100% evacuated) who did 21 loads of laundry and she blessed me." Hey, think whatever you need to think, as long as you keep the money rolling in, and you can sleep at night.

Like I said, this is bringing out the best and the worst in people.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rain Shower

We had another rain storm cell pop up out of nowhere. In Cedar Rapids, it wasn't a major storm... just enough to catch a little rainwater in buckets, and for me to take a rain shower. Yes, I grabbed a bar of soap, stood out in the rain, and took a brief shower. The rain was a little too gentle and brief for a thorough shower. I've still got a little soap film on me, but I feel fresher than I did before my rain shower.

The Best and the Worst

My mailman and I were talking yesterday about all of this flooding, and I think he summed it up best. It brings out the best and the worst in people...

Seeing the masses of people volunteering by sandbagging, moving books, giving blood and so on really restores my faith in humanity. I'm still glad that I didn't volunteer for the sandbagging, because the river topped it all, but know this... I will help with the clean-up.

On the other side of the coin... a couple of days ago, a group of us went to the boat slips... boat houses, "garages" for house boats, and so forth. It's a neat little area. Rather, it was a neat little area. You see, the boat houses (in many cases, were) connected to a concrete peninsula with iron rods. This allowed the slips to float, but also kept them firmly in place. As the water rose, the boats couldn't freely rise with the water because of the iron rods. They tilted at precarious angles, which allowed the flotation to pop out from under the structures, causing them to tilt further... repeat ad nauseum.

Many of the boat houses finally broke free and floated downstream. There are about a dozen boats and boat houses that have collected in front of a bridge downstream. But I'm digressing, big time. I was talking about the worst of people...

It just so happened that we were in the right place at the right time, and we saw a boat house break free and begin it's trip downstream. And there was a boat tied to each side of it. My younger daughter said "That's funny." Of course she meant funny-strange, not funny-ha-ha.

This woman standing next to us said "You think that's funny!?! Maybe you need to go somewhere else!"

"Lay off her, she's a kid," I demanded.

"Some of us have property out there," she bitched.

What I thought... what I wanted to say... was "Oh yeah, well most of us aren't rich enough to have property out here, so pardon my lack of sympathy." What I actually said was "Leave her alone. She's a kid." Apparently my increased sternness worked, because she shut her yap.

There was another woman close by, who handled the impending loss of property with a different attitude. She was talking with her husband about her boat house, and the neighbors. She talked with me a bit, displaying none of the sour attitude of the bitch from earlier.

As we left, our neighbor (who was on this trek with us) said that she knew the bitch, and that yes, she was like that all the time. The neighbor said "I felt like saying there are people that have lost their homes, and you're crying about this?"

We've lost all but one of our water treatment plants in town, so we're only supposed to use water for drinking. No clothes washing, no showers, and so forth. When this was announced, there was a small rush of people going out to buy paper plates, sterile wipes and bottled water. The overwhelming sentiment was that everyone wanted to do their small part to help.

But people have differing definitions of "sacrifice." My daughter was pissed when I told her that she could wash her hair every other day... but then again, she's a teenager. And I can't in good faith completely ban everyone from showers for two weeks. I figure a two to three minute shower every three days or so will be good... and we'll save the water in the tub for use flushing our toilets.

And then again, one of this daughter's friends overheard a conversation between her mom and a friend...

The mom: "... took a quick shower this morning."

The mom's friend: "You shouldn't do that! We're on water restriction! We could lose all of our water! But I took one too."

Like I said, the best and the worst.

I'm catching up, but there's more story to come... and don't forget the photos.

Friday, June 13, 2008

We're Okay, but My City is Trashed

This is like nothing I've ever imagined or experienced. If you've watched the news at all in the last few days, you know that Cedar Rapids, Iowa has been hit hard by flooding. Cedar Rapids is where I live. When I moved my blog, I originally decided to erase my name, my wife and kids' names, and where I live, because I don't want this new blog tied to me in the future. I'm going to keep my family's names out of it, but the flooding has caused me to go ahead and disclose my location.

When the flood was predicted, there was murmuring that we might match the flood levels we saw in 1993... the worst year in memory and the second worst year on record. Knowing that it would be bad, the city took as many precautionary measures as we could... sandbagging, precautionary newscasts, voluntary evacuations, and so forth.

On Wednesday, I toured the downtown area, watching with interest as the water rose to levels I've never seen before, and I wasn't the only one. I knew enough to walk, because traffic was already snarled due to re-routing. I took pictures and observed the low-lying areas that were already accumulating water. As a casual observer, I noticed a strange duality... the people working to save their businesses, and the throngs of onlookers who seemed to carry on in an almost carnival-like atmosphere.

I went to some of the low-lying residential areas and took pictures of the water rising on homes... everyone else was interested in the city... I wanted to see the neighborhoods.

When we woke up the next day, the enormity of the situation struck home. We collectively saw the news reports, showing all of the downtown bridges covered in water. It was beyond our imagination, and the entire city went silent, saying "Oh shit!" It's like watching a friend fall down... you laugh at first over the friend being a klutz, but your whole attitude changed once you realize that he's seriously hurt... it's that feeling, on a colossal level.

The homes I took pictures of the day before, swimming in a few inches of water, were completely submerged by the next morning. Each person in my house knows at least one person who has lost their home to the flood.

On Wednesday, while I was doing my sightseeing, I stopped at my corner gas station. It's a locally-owned business, and I know many of the employees and other patrons. They had just finished sandbagging the place.

"Do you really think the water is going to get this high," I distinctly remember asking?

"I hope not," one of the newer employees responded. "I live next door," he continued, as he packed up the store's belongings. "We'll be closing at 6:00 PM tonight, and the store will be empty until the flood's passed."

When I woke up the next morning, the flood water had gone six blocks past my corner store. I can't get close enough to verify with my own eyes, but I'm pretty sure that water is up to the roof on that store.

Even after realizing just how bad the flooding has become, I needed to see it firsthand, in order to put things in perspective... I saw stop signs blocks away from the river... actually, I saw where they should have been.

I want to say this again... I'm okay. My family's okay. We're 100% dry, we've got electricity, and we've got drinking water. No showers for the next few days, but that's a small price to pay compared to others. As the water drops, I will be volunteering with the clean-up efforts, and as promised yesterday, I will post pictures. The thing is, the pictures don't come close to doing justice to what I'm witnessing.

This story isn't finished. More to follow...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

We're Okay

Yeah, we're in the flooding areas. In fact, it looks like this is going to be the 500 year flood. But we're all in an area high enough that we're not directly impacted... other than all of the re-routed traffic. My friends and extended family are all okay too. I've been out taking some pics and will post them in a few days.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Random Notes

Several months ago, a classmate of my younger daughter was diagnosed with bone cancer. I didn't know him very well, but my wife is acquainted with him, and my daughter loves him to death. She was understandably upset over the boy's life and death struggle. After the usual therapy, the boy was given the choice of saving the leg or amputation. The upside to saving the leg was that he'd have two legs to walk on. The downside was that the leg would be so weak that he'd be unable to run and play the way a boy of his age should be able to. The kid chose amputation... just above the knee. The surgery was a couple of months ago, and he seems to have come through with flying colors. In fact, his friends and family seem to be more traumatized by the amputation than the kid was.

After the amputation, people found out that it would cost about $70,000 for a prosthetic leg that would allow him to play like a normal kid. Friends, family and the school system rallied around the lad, holding a benefit for him at the school yesterday. Hundreds of people showed up. Food, merchandise and time was donated... the benefit was like nothing I've ever seen, and it actually chokes me up a bit when I think about how much support this young man received. The school's gymnasium was loaded with items donated for a silent auction, including a football autographed by the Green Bay Packers, an authentic jersey autographed by Joe Namath, "date night" packages sponsored by local restaurants, bowling alleys, movie theaters and so forth, massages donated by local licensed massage therapists, bicycles, and more. There was a small carnival, with one of the teachers volunteering for the dunk tank, a band... it was incredible. I don't know for sure how much was raised, but I'm willing to bet that it was well over $10,000.

Toward the end of the benefit, the guest of honor spoke briefly. He said "I could thank you guys all night long. You rock." He never lost his composure, and was smiling during the whole event... especially when he dunked the aforementioned teacher. The same teacher played guitar with the boy's younger brother, bringing rounds of applause from everyone within earshot. I still choke up a bit when I think of the outpouring of love this young man so rightfully received, and I hope that it helps him turn into the fine adult I foresee him becoming.

During the benefit, I ran into a guy I used to work with at my last job. He said that he noticed I was no longer there and asked about the circumstances surrounding my departure. We didn't get into details, but I acknowledged that I left under less-than-ideal conditions. He responded with something that really made me smile. "It seems that all of the good people are pushed out." I liked the guy, and his comment more than adequately told that he liked me and respected my character. Since he's a union steward at the company, I will extrapolate and allow myself to believe that the other union folks felt similar. That means more to me than the respect of the co-workers in the office.

On a completely unrelated note, I purchased a new monitor a few days ago. Ditching my colossal old 19" Sony Trinitron CRT, I bought a 22" widescreen LCD, made by HANNspree. I was a bit hesitant at first, but I saw the device at Best Buy, and when I saw that it had HDMI outputs (which would work perfectly with my Dell laptop) I figured I'd give it a whirl. I'm happy with the purchase... especially when I watch DVDs on my laptop. I recommend it.

Speaking of the laptop... Sunny, you asked me to give you a follow-up, and let you know if I still like it after I've had it for a while. I am. It's a great bang for the buck, much faster than my old PC, and Vista is far more stable than I expected it would be.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


As far as I'm concerned, the misadventures are what really makes a trip. Look, anyone can say "I went camping." Few, however, can say "I saw a guy catch a fish when he dumped his canoe." (Yes, I saw that happen some years back.) The trips provide you with a few new experiences and some fond memories, but it's the unexpected twists that give you the stories you can tell and tell again for years to come.

This year's trip has two unexpected twists...

As I've said many, many times, we've got some experience when it comes to these trips. We've camped in the snow, the rain, hail... you name it and we've probably camped through it. It was our third day of the trip, and our second day on the river when we arrived in this small river town. We had a five-block portage, so we could get around a pair of dams in town. Fortunately, Boogie bought a pair of canoe wheels, which saved us a lot of time and untold amounts of physical exertion. Wheeling these canoes down main street in small town America is a story itself. Folks were accustomed to the occasional watercraft being carried through town, but this appeared to be something new. We got a couple of inquisitive looks over that. This isn't the main story though.

Almost immediately upon arriving in town, folks started asking us if we planned to stay in town for the night. There was some bad weather on the way, and people were expressing concern over the prospect of us being on the water during the approaching storm. Since we've seen it all, we really didn't give this much thought. Rather, we didn't think much about it until we passed the fire station. When the firemen cautioned us, we took it to heart.

We had one set of wheels, and three canoes. This means that we took three separate trips. Each trip up and back, someone warned us about the weather and encouraged us to stay in town. One guy even offered to help us portage our canoes. (We politely declined, because we had the wheels. Why ask him to carry stuff when we can let the wheels carry the load for us?) One of the firemen offered to ferry us to a nearby campsite, and many people said that we should stay at one of the local bed and breakfasts.

We just finished portaging the third canoe, when the rain began to fall. It came suddenly and relentlessly. Fortunately, the downstream end of the portage was in a small park, and we high-tailed it to a picnic shelter while we pondered our next move. Realizing that the rain would be around for a while, we also understood that we wouldn't be able to build a fire, so we decided to eat at the local pizza joint.

After a couple of days on the river, I know that we appeared, shall we say, well-traveled. Despite our rough appearance, the lady of the establishment was courteous and friendly. In addition to the friendly reception we received from our waitress, the gentleman of the business brought us all a laugh through his wry sense of humor. Setting a votive candle on our table, he said “I heard you’re camping. I figured I’d bring you some fire, because this is the only fire you’re getting tonight.” We all got a good laugh out of the joke. In addition to the friendly, full-service accommodations of J-N-J Pizza, I will also say that the food was great! Delivering a fine pizza with fresh crust, and generously covered with tasty toppings, this small town establishment could definitely show the larger chains a thing or two about making a pie.

Once we finished our evening meal, we headed back to the park. I proposed simply setting up the tent up under the shelter and riding out the storm. G-man liked the idea, but Boogie said that he was going to check out the bed and breakfast. He dropped in, got the pricing and came back... $150 for the night. That was a little out of my budget, and G-man was determined to stay with his gear, but Boogie decided to splurge. He stayed at the B&B, while we toughed it out in the tent (with a little booze to help keep us company). About an hour after the tent was up, the rain stopped, and the rest of the evening was quiet and peaceful. Here's a pic of the tent, taken the next morning.

Speaking of the next morning, many people stopped by and asked us how our evening went. One guy, who lived across the street, asked us if we'd had breakfast yet. I suspect he was going to offer us some food, but we'd already eaten. I was so impressed by the friendliness of this town that I wrote an editorial to their local newspaper.

Our next misadventure was a couple of days later. When we reached the takeout point, we discovered that the aforementioned rain storm washed out the takeout ramp. As we sunk knee-deep in mud, we quickly realized there was no way that we'd be able to get our canoes up the ramp. Fortunately, I have a pick-up truck. I backed the truck partway down the ramp, and we tied a canoe to the truck with the rope. Since the canoes are flat-bottomed, they easily slid over the mud, and we had the canoes over the mudslide in no time. Here's a shot of G-man and Boogie at the takeout.

This trip will definitely give us a couple of stories to tell for many years. If you're interested, you can see a slideshow of our trip here. You can also see a YouTube video I made here.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Back to Basics

Our "back to basics" trip was a lot of fun, with a few implications. No pop-up camper meant no homesteading, which prevented us from taking a lot of creature comforts. We also went with the knowledge that we may end up struggling to find a suitable campsite. There were many times in the past where we spent the night on the edge of a farmer's field, sharing our space with cattle.

We were fortunate this year. There were several sandbars along the way, and with the recent flooding, each sandbar had plenty of wood to burn. The wood, being bleached by weeks or months on the sandbar, was very dry and burned very quickly. This was a mixed blessing. It quickly gave us coals for cooking, but the coals didn't last very long. We had to stoke the fire during the cooking process. It wasn't optimal, but it worked. And it was certainly better than not having any wood at all.

We saw an odd mix of man and nature on the river too. We saw more eagles than we've seen on any previous trip. And they seemed to be somewhat accustomed to man's presence, because they let us get very close as well. In one case, the eagle simply stayed in its perch and watched us. It never flew away. In another case, we saw three sitting in a single tree. But we also saw more junk on this river than on others. We didn't go a single day without seeing old tires, farm implements and even abandoned cars somewhere along the river.

Despite man's diligent attempt do destroy the environment of the river though, nature was resilient. In addition to the eagles, we also ran across a huge frog breeding ground. As a frequent camper, I am accustomed to the sound of frogs singing at dusk. But I have never heard so many frogs singing in the middle of the day, and I have never, ever, ever actually seen so many in one place. It was also definitely mating season. It was interesting to witness all of those males waiting for their turn to have at the females (who were waaaay bigger than the males), and it was amusing to see males go at it. One male would jump on another, and I could almost see them both saying "Hey, you're not a chick" as they leaped away from each other in disgust. They weren't particularly picky what they jumped though. I saw them go for rocks, and one even went for my boot. For a moment, I almost thought they were horny toads. (Sorry for the bad pun.)

In addition to the eagles and frogs, we saw a bat flying around in the middle of the day!

While I mention the man made stuff, I should note that it wasn't all bad. There was an old motor mill, made in the mid 1800s that seemed to fit in very well with the surroundings.
That's all for today. Tune in for the next installment, when I talk about our misadventures.