Wednesday, November 30, 2005

To Blatherskite or Not To Blatherskite

What a question. Of course I'm going to blatherskite!

First off, fantasy football. I'm finally recovering and am back in sixth place. Carl remains in third place. We both won our games last week. Only two more weeks until the playoffs!

Secondly, as has been somewhat widely discussed, I've been looking for a job. However, after consulting with some incredibly wise friends on a blog MOAT, I've come to the conclusion that maybe I don't have enough current education to get a wonderful work-from-home job. So this morning I called Kirkwood Community College's Office of Counseling, and they've enrolled me in a free workshop designed to help me figure out what kind of "career" I can chase and if I need to go back to school or not. Weird, huh? 42 years old and going back to school with a bunch of 18 and 19 year olds. After the workshop I have an appointment to meet with the counselor who's running the workshop to discuss the results of my workshop tests.

Now, I know what you're thinking: after two and a half years of struggling with Carl's advanced education, why would I want to go back to school? Simple. I graduated from college 18 years ago, and my degree has become pretty much obsolete. Plus, I feel the need to generate some income around here, because after 9 years of living in Atkins, the house needs a little work and we can't afford to do improvements on just Carl's salary. On top of that, our medical bills this year put us in kind of a hole, and although we've gotten out of the hole, there's no guarantee we won't fall back in unless there's money in savings to plug the hole. So I need to find a way to make some money while still being available for the girls, and the only way I can do that is with the right kind of education. Therefore, I might go back to school. Can't you just see me, sitting in class, my salt-and-pepper greying hair standing out amongst the zit-encrusted faces of kids barely out of high school? Me, in my dowdy jeans and sweatshirt, seated next to some kid dressed in black with multiple piercings throughout his/her face? I can kinda-sorta see it. Can't you?

Oh, come on. Use your imagination!

Friday, November 18, 2005

A Unique Experience

First of all, I must preface my experience by telling you that the reason today was photography day is that Hannah won Student Of The Month honors for Mrs. Mattison's class. I figured, since I had the cameras with me I'd run the photography errands I'd been wanting to run since last August. And now, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story...

I love turn-of-the-century Midwestern architecture. I'd love to buy and restore a great big 100 year old frame farmhouse like the one my brother-in-law Loren and his family have on the home place in South Dakota. I also love the old flat-roofed brick buildings common to most Midwestern small towns. Nearby, in Garrison and Belle Plaine, are some beautiful examples of this style of building: brick facades, some of which have large stones installed on the front onto which have been carved names and/or dates. Having visited both Belle Plaine and Garrison over the summer, I vowed that, once the weather got cooler, I would go back and take some pictures. Well, it almost got too cool, but today was the day. After Hannah's awards ceremony, I drove out to these towns and got photos.

Garrison was pretty ho-hum. The town's population is around 350, and I don't think it's growing. I don't see any new housing, but there are alot of old, decrepit and abandoned buildings. Garrison used to be home to the Old Creamery Theatre, a place where a theatre troupe used to put on plays and musicals, but after a while the building became too expensive to fix so the troupe moved to Amana. The old creamery (which was a cannery before it was a creamery) is collapsing on itself. No, I didn't take pictures of that building. But I did get pictures of the old mercantile, the abandoned bank, a doctor's building turned into apartments, and the town library.

After Garrison I went down to Belle Plaine. That's a pretty lively town still: it used to be a railroad hub, and a major east-west line of the Union Pacific still goes through it. (Garrison had train service once, but they abandoned Garrison long ago. Now that railbed is the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.) Anyway. So I went around downtown Belle Plaine, snapping photos, then I went to the old train depot which is directly behind the old downtown. (Makes sense, doesn't it?) I pulled up in a gravel parking lot and started photographing the side of the depot that faced the downtown. It has a neat bump-out like a half-tower sticking out of it, and the fact that it's run down and unused is a shame. But as I was taking pictures, I heard a train whistle in the distance. I was about to get in my truck when the three sets of crossing signals around me starting ringing, and the rails starting buzzing. It was a really high-pitched buzzing, and it mesmerized me for a second. Then the train came around the bend and man oh man are those things loud up close! I was still standing next to my truck, staring up at this huge train (its entire cargo was coal, and they were heading east) when I realized "Hey, if this stupid thing derails, I'll get buried in coal!" so I went around to the back side of my truck and waited the train out. I never realized the strange sounds a passing train makes. Besides the expected clickety-clack, it also hisses, buzzes, grunts and squeals. Once the train passed I got back into my truck and drove around to the street side of the depot and finished taking pictures. But I wish I could've put my hand on the rails when they were buzzing to see what that felt like. No, I have no desire to be run over by a diesel locomotive, but I wonder what that sensation would be like (touching the rails, that is).

So once the photo card was filled up I headed home, still thinking about the train and lamenting the history that was lost when the trains stopped providing services to the small towns. Places like Garrison and Atkins lost their train service altogether, and towns like Belle Plaine still get freighters, but there's no passenger service. Once in a while the freighters stop in Belle Plaine to fill grain hoppers at the elevator, but otherwise they just go barreling through, taking their cargo to who-knows-where. The songs about the trains puffing smoke and taking people back to their loved ones at home echo on the wind when the engines blow their whistles, but then the train is gone and the echoes fade. We satisfy our wanderlusts behind the wheel of a car or in the seat of an airplane, but hardly ever from a passenger railcar. That's a part of Americana that's pretty much gone unless you're lucky enough to live near one of those scenic railroads, the ones that take people on short range trips several times per day. I've been on those. They're fun...

...that Golden Rocket's gonna blow my blues away...

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Here's the latest news to make you snooze:

1) I didn't get the cook's job, so I'm back looking again.

2) Tuesday's snowfall amounted to about 1/4", and none of it stuck to the driveway, so I haven't had to use the snowthrower yet. But it's ready to go when I need it.

3) My muscles were really sore yesterday, a result of two days worth of crawling around on my garage floor working on my tractor. I'm a little better today, but I still have some pretty sore spots.

4) I bought Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson yesterday at the school's book fair, and I'm already more than 3/4 way through it. There are places where you can tell that Dave Barry wrote that particular section. It's not a book I'd let Mary read, but I think I'll loan it to Hannah once she's done with The Chronicles of Narnia.

5) I took the girls clothes shopping yesterday. Mary had already outgrown the snowboots I'd bought her earlier this fall (she never had the chance to wear them) so I returned them and got her a larger pair - ladies size 6 boots. And she's only 8 years old! And Hannah had outgrown her old snowpants, so I bought her a new pair, size XL (14-16). Next year she'll be getting her clothes from the Juniors' department. Her shoe size is ladies size 9. Sheesh!

6) I took Judah to the vet today for a checkup and shots, and discovered that he has some sort of intestinal parasite. Now he has to be on drugs for 10 days. Yippee - force feeding worm pills to a 100 pound dog. Time to break out the sliced cheese!

That's it. That's all I got for now. TMI? Maybe. But you read it, didn't you?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Let It Snow!

No, I mean it. I'm ready for the snow. Why do I say that, you ask? Because (take a deep breath) I installed a snow thrower on the front of my garden tractor AND IT WORKS!!! Unfortunately, I inherited Dad's brag gene, and since this is my blog, I shall now regale you with the tale of my mechanical prowess.

Before I start, a little background. I bought the snow thrower back in September, and I bought manuals for the thrower, the mower deck and the roto-tiller in October (I bought the tiller in October, too). I just love eBay, don't you? Anyway, so yesterday I started the task by removing the mower deck and storing it under the camper. Then I went through the snow thrower manual, figuring out what parts I still needed, and called Five Seasons in Keystone to see what they had. They had everything I needed, so this morning I went and picked up my stuff. Then I set in to work.

First, I had to get the chute to turn, so I pulled it off, greased it, and put it back. Then I replaced the old drive belt. No problem. Just look at the manual and do what it says. Next I had to install the lift arm system, and this is where I ran in to my first problem. I'd forgotten to buy the hardware to attach the pivot, but I managed to find a suitable bolt in Carl's bins of stuff. I had to call Carl to get advice on what kind of nut/washer set to use, but after that I was good to go. Then I had to attach the main lift arm to both the lift lever and the pivot, and I hit problem #2. The yoke on the end of my lift rod was missing. So it was back to Keystone to get that part, then back home. Once the lift arm was attached (both ends) it was time to attach the thrower unit itself on the front of the tractor. It was heavy, but I used a concrete block to help hold the unit up, and I got it to attach. One of the spring-loaded pins didn't want to fall back all the way into place, but I convinced it to stay put with a hammer and a piece of re-rod. WHACK!! After I got the thrower on the tractor I had to attach the short lift arm from the tractor to the thrower, no problem. However, attaching the belt to the tractor was another story. First, the insides of my tractor didn't look at all like the picture, so I called Keystone for help. Apparently, since I have an electric PTO switch, my tractor won't look like the picture, and the guy I was talking to told me how to get the belt on the PTO drive. This was not easy: I had to pull the belt tensioner up to get the belt over the PTO pulley, and the tensioner was stuck fast. I had to remove the belt cover (again) and lube up the tensioner's moving parts, then whack the tensioner with a hammer until it came loose. It did, and I got the belt on, then I replaced the PTO cover and the belt cover. Whew! I had to take a break right about then to get the girls at the bus stop. Usually I don't make a big deal of it, but by this time (3:20 PM) it was snowing cats, dogs and elephants and I don't like to make the girls walk home in such weather, so I drove my truck down to get them. Once I got home I worked on attaching the chute control rod to the tractor. This had its own little hitch: I didn't have a screw to attach the rod to the tractor, so I started digging around in Carl's stuff looking for one. I was having trouble, so I mooched a screw from the PTO cover and used it to hold the chute rod to the tractor. Then I managed to find a screw that fit where the old PTO cover screw was. For some reason, the screw I found would only fit the hole on the PTO cover and not in the hole to attach the chute rod. Weird. So now everything is attached, and the last thing to do is make adjustments. The thrower goes up and down OK, no adjustments there. But then I took the cover off the chain drive only to find that the chain was too slack. So I had to loosen the bolts on the countershaft, realign it, and tighten everything back up.

Now for the big test. I didn't want to start the tractor in the garage, so I had to turn it around and get it outside. I put Hannah in the driver's seat and had her steer while I pushed. Once we were outside I started up the tractor, and with Hannah standing in the driveway I flipped the PTO switch. And viola!! The auger turned, and the thrower started tossing leaves and trash out through the chute. TA-DA! Carl will have to do a couple things: adjust the cables on the chute so it will turn, and attach the tire chains, but the worst of the work is done.

I must admit, I had help. This may sound weird, but I really believe God helped me out. He made the directions clear in my mind; He showed me where to find needed parts; He gave me the strength to lift and push and tug and force parts into place; and He gave me the ideas I needed to fix the problems I encountered that weren't covered by the manual. So I can't really say that I did this project on my own. I had the best kind of help possible. And now I'm ready for the snow. Bring it on! And God knew that I needed an ego boost because my fantasy football team is in last place.

Thanks, God!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Veterans' Day

This is my dad, Robert Hentrich, Sr. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1951 to 1955. He was an Aviation Storekeeper 2nd Class and was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. He was assigned to the VR-31 until November of '53 when he was assigned to the USS Iowa. He had the National Defense Service medal and a good conduct medal. He married my Mom in 1954 and after he was discharged they went to Ames, Iowa where Daddy attended Iowa State University on the GI Bill. He got a degree in mechanical engineering and, after a series of jobs in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he went to work for John Deere in Moline, Illinois, where he worked for over 25 years. (I think - I'm not sure how long). Anyway. He and Mom raised four (fairly normal) kids, of which I am the youngest. In his retirement he became involved in the fight to save the USS Iowa from the scrap heap. He worked on their newsletter and he and Mom often traveled to their conventions. It was when Dad was having trouble with the newsletter that the family got one of our first hints that maybe all was not well with Dad, and in 2001 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. My Mom sold their farm and they moved to town in 2002, and now Dad resides in a pretty nice residential facility in Davenport. Yeah, I know, that's really rather sad. But even though Daddy wasn't a perfect father (not by a long shot) he was still a good man. He worked hard and was respected by his co-workers. He was a genius, and I'd go into detail but then the blog would be so long that it would never post. He was a solid Christian and passed his faith on to his kids, and I am grateful for that. What more can I say? This is my Dad; veteran, engineer, farmer, auto mechanic and carpenter, and I miss him.

Please pass the Kleenex.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Election Day Blatherskite

First I'll get the football update out of the way. I won, Carl lost. He's third, and I'm ninth in the rankings. However, I'm fourth in overall points. Doesn't matter much, but it's the only consolation I can cling to.

Today is Election Day, so after noon I put Judah on his leash and we walked to the fire station to vote. I only had to vote for the mayor and 5 councilpersons, so I did. Judah and I had a nice walk on the way to and from the fire station. We took the "scenic route" through the rail trails - I let Judah off the leash so he could run. When we got to the fire station I tied his leash to a tree and went inside. The ladies running the poll all knew me (and the dog) so they were very understanding when I didn't stay long. You know, that's what's nice about living in a small town. Everyone knows you and no one cares if you tie your dog to the firehouse tree, provided the dog behaves himself. And everyone knows Judah is well behaved, especially for his size. And since it was such a nice day I spent the rest of the afternoon out in the garden, tearing out the support fences I built for the tomatoes and peppers. I also moved the wooden gate from the old compost pit to the garden. Now it will be easier for me to get into the garden and refill the bird feeders. Seeing as how its November and it will soon get very cold (and snowy?) I figured I'd better prepare for the birds now. I only wish Carl was home to put up the Christmas lights.

And speaking of Christmas, I know lots of people who put up their lights now so as to avoid freezing themselves later on. This makes perfect sense. I mean, they do wait until after Thanksgiving to light them up. What doesn't make sense is WMT-FM radio playing Christmas music already. And not just one or two songs interspersed with their regular format -- no, its Christmas music all the time!! I first heard it Monday when I took the girls to their dentist appointment. The receptionists had the radio on when we walked in, and we couldn't believe it. I suggested calling the radio station and lodging a group protest. They all laughed, but just changed the station instead. But I mean, it's bad enough that stores have Christmas displays up before Halloween. But it's completely ludicrous to have Christmas music playing on the radio before Thanksgiving. Sheesh!

Meanwhile, in other news, I have a job interview with the Vinton-Shellsburg school district Thursday at 2:15. Since I think Mom already told everyone, it's for a cook's job. Yes, me, the person who hates to cook taking a job as a lunch-room lady. Please pray that I get this job. It would be perfect. I'd be home for the girls both before and after school, and since V-S's schedule is pretty much the same as Benton's, I'll be on vacation at the same time as the girls, too. I don't think it pays much, but even a little extra per week would go a long way toward paying off the money we owe towards Carl's surgery. So please pray for me.

And pass the beans.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Little Stinkers

Well, here they are! Hannah and Mary, winners of the Group Costume Contest at the Atkins Community Club Halloween party. Yes, those are skunk costumes. And the really, well, cute thing is, the girls could "spray" people. They each had a can of compressed air in the pouch-pockets of their sweatshirts, and the cans were attached to tubes that ran from their pockets, through the belts that held up their tails, and out from under their tails. All they had to do was press the can nozzle and PSSSST!! It's a good thing there's an engineer in the house to design these things.

And speaking of the engineer and things that stink, HE is in second place in our fantasy football league, while I languish in last place. The worst of it is, points-wise, I'm fifth. I don't know how I managed that, but it's true. It's also very frustrating.

I'd write more, but my one and only craft show of the year starts tonight and I have painting to finish. And BTW, the girls won $25. They're richer than me.