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Showing posts from October, 2008

The Unexpected Rain Show

Friday, October 31, 2008 -- near Warsaw, MO.

I heard a low rumbling... off in the distance. What was that?

It was 6:30am and I was just starting to stir from a good nights sleep. Then I heard it again. It's thunder. But it can't be thunder -- there was no prediction for rain. What the heck?

I hopped out of bed, fired up the internet router, turned on my computer, and made coffee while everything booted up. There's definitely lightning off to the west and there's definitely a storm out there, regardless of what the weather service predicted.

A few minutes later, with fresh hot coffee in hand, I was on the Weather Underground website (the site I default to for weather information) and, sure enough, there's one little line of showers, barely visible on the national map, right there in the middle of Missouri. There's not another radar echo from another drop of rain anywhere for a thousand miles around. But we are lucky enough to be in the one little spot of sporty weat…

Southward to Missouri

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 -- near Warsaw, MO.

We've been lingering in the North for a long time because autumn in the Midwest is our favorite time of the year. But now that November is almost here, it's time to start moving South. On Tuesday, yesterday, we pulled our jacks, pointed the nose of the bus-house southward, left Iowa, and ended up in another Corps. of Engineers Campground on the Harry Truman Reservoir near Warsaw in Central Missouri. It was an almost 300 mile drive... a long one for us. But we found another great COE park near Warsaw, MO.

We like the solitude and peacefulness of this place so much we may extend our stay for a few more days. We'll see.

T

Exploring for Ancestors

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008 -- Winterset, IA

On Monday, yesterday, we drove over to Indianola, IA., to meet up with one of my cousins, Kevin, a contemporary of mine, who is the grandson of a sister of my grandfather. I'll pause here for a few seconds while that sinks in.

(Pause.)

Kevin grew up in Melcher, IA., just a few miles from Bauer, IA. where my ancestors settled in the early 1870's. Not only has he lived here in the area all his life, he's also done a lot of research and genealogical work of his own. He's a walking family-tree encyclopedia; he knows where all the bodies are buried and most of the stories about them. We couldn't have had a better tour-guide for the day.

The last time I was in this area I was 4 years old. In 1955, my Mom and Dad, Grandmother and Grandfather, my younger brother and I... we all loaded into Dad's Plymouth and set out on the biggest trip I'd ever been on. From Beaver Dam, it was a two day ordeal on two lane roads to cover the 30…

The Iowa Statehouse

Monday, October 27, 2008 -- Winterset, IA

The "exploration for the day" on Sunday was the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines. One of the multiple themes of our travels these days is to see as many of the statehouses as we can. They're full of history, usually very ornate and rich with art and symbolism, and there's an aura or feeling of importance, orderliness, and solidness -- after all, it's the place our state laws are proposed, legislated, and adjudicated.

The Iowa Statehouse is the only Capitol in the United States that has 5 domes. The main dome rises 275 feet above the first floor of the rotunda and it's exterior is covered in gold leaf -- thin sheets of pure gold. Because the gold is so thin, it must be replaced every 30 years or so. It was last done in 1998.

Interesting factoid: 250,000 sheets of gold leaf would form a stack only 1 inch high. So while you might think it'd take tens of millions of dollars to cover a dome this size with pure go…

Small Towns & Covered Bridges

Sunday, October 26, 2008 -- Winterset, IA

Living in Winterset is easy and comfortable. To me it feels like a different country compared to trying to survive in a big city, as we did for so long. I know, Winterset is in the middle of Iowa, which is the middle of America, and in many ways most Americans, who live in big metroplexes and along the coasts, probably consider it a foreign country too. The great middle of the United States is often the brunt of jokes, is considered boring, and not "with it". But as I've aged and have re-oriented my values, I like the simpler life of places like this. People have few pretensions, they're friendlier, come across as more genuine, and seem to be more about enjoying what they have rather than worrying about something they don't have. The pace of life seems more natural, at least to me.

The other day we needed a few grocery items. Winterset's only grocery store is a nice sized Fareway Store situated, not out in a strip mall …

Musings from the Road

Sunday, October 26, 2008 -- camped in Winterset, IA

I've read the past few days that the credit crisis is easing and banks are starting to give loans again. Now that the economy looks like it's heading for the dumpster, the stock market is down 40%, and unemployment is rising fast -- the real trick may be to find someone who wants a loan.

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Not only is the stock market down almost half, but plain old gasoline is almost half the price it was just a few months ago. How do investors in new energy technologies view this? Why would anyone invest in a new energy idea when the price off the old one is so volatile? How do you predict a return on your investment?

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On November 5th, with any luck, we'll know who the next President will be. Once all the spending on campaign ads ends, there will have to be an impact on the economy. Is it possible to just stop almost a billion dollars of campaign spending and NOT have an impact on the economy?

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If the majority of people …

Winterset, IA -- The Home of John Wayne

Thursday morning, October 23, 2008 -- Winterset, IA

Winterset is the County Seat of Madison County Iowa. Only about 30 miles southwest of Des Moines, this small town of abut 5,000 people is an example of what I imagine as an ideal place to live. It's a great combination of small and intimate -- large enough to have it's own school system, grocery store, restaurants, and services, and small enough to be free of congestion, crowds, crime, and hype. If a person needs the amenities of a larger city, Des Moines is just a half hour drive away. According to the last census, it's barely growing (+1.6%) so people have come to adapt to a steady-state environment. Everyone we've run into is open and friendly. As with most small places we've experienced it's the norm to wave at people that you see along the way.

We arrived at the City Park Campground here in Winterset early Tuesday afternoon. Dar handled the driving chores today from jacks-up to jacks-down. The weather was g…

Herbert Hoover From West Branch, IA

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 -- near Iowa City, IA

Yesterday, Monday, we pulled up the jacks and left Grant River COE near Potosi and pointed the nose of the bus-house southwestward. US Hwy 151 was our route for most of the journey to our next stop -- Colony Country Campground just north of Iowa City, only 112 miles away. This will be a short one night stop as we're squeezed between our desire to see the Herbert Hoover Historic Site and Museum (part of our "Dead Presidents" Tour) and the reality of the weather later this week, which is projected to be really crummy from Tuesday night through Friday. Checking our list of things to explore, there much more to do around Des Moines (I know... who'd 'a thunk!) so if we're going to be someplace for a few days with poor weather, the Des Moines area would be our preference.

Once at Colony Country, we unhooked the car, backed into a suitable site, locked up the bus-house, and immediately drove off to West Branch, IA, the h…

A Sunday Drive in the Country

Monday, October 20, 2008 -- Potosi, WI

Yesterday, Sunday, we drove a loop from Potosi, through Dickeyville, across the river into Dubuque, up the Great River Road on the Iowa side to Balltown, then to a ferry crossing the Mississippi from Turkey River, IA to Cassville, WI, and finally back to Potosi. It was a warm sunny day -- just right for that last autumn drive to see fall colors in their full glory.

The ridges and valleys of the driftless area take some getting used to. Both sides of the river are full of them. As you travel, the car's motor is straining, struggling, shifting gears, and smokin' to climb the steep grades, or it's brakes are white hot and smokin' to keep your speed in check as you're coming down to the 35mph curve at the bottom. Sometimes not the most pleasant drive, like when you've got a loaded dump-truck three feet behind your rear bumper on a steep downgrade. During the last year or more we've driven through much of the western USA and …

The National Brewery Museum

Monday, October 20, 2008 -- Potosi, WI

From the earliest days of settlement in America, brewing beer was a common and highly valued skill that most wives possessed... right up there with cooking. Because stream and ground water was often unsafe to drink, brewing beer was a way of producing a drinkable liquid that was safe and contained natural preservatives. The fact that it contained alcohol and made one feel good may have been a convenient side-effect. Benjamin Franklin once said "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to have a good time".

As immigration increased and communities formed, commercial breweries popped up in almost every town and village, especially those of German heritage. The area of Wisconsin where Dar and I grew up was a classic example. In Beaver Dam and almost every surrounding small town, there was at least one brewery to meet the demand of people who considered a couple'o beers after a full day of work nearly a right. Dar's Mom remembers …

Grant River COE Campground

Monday, October 20, 2008 -- Grant River COE near Potosi

During most of our recent stay in Dodgeville, at Tom's Campground, we were parked next to a fifth-wheel trailer that was closed up and un-occupied. But in the evening of our last night the neighbors came "home" and early the next morning, before we had a chance to meet them, they left.

A little later that same morning we left and headed to the Grant River Corps of Engineers campground on the Mississippi River near Potosi, WI. Imagine my surprise when we found that our new neighbors where, in fact, these very same neighbors from Dodgeville. They were camping with another couple and were celebrating their 37th anniversary. During our 4 day stay at Grant River we got to know them as we shared evening campfires and enjoyed man-made desserts (various delicacies made with no female assistance). Ed, Judy, George, and Jan... we really enjoyed getting to know you. I hope we'll run into you again... "down the road"…

The House On The Rock

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Thursday, October 16, 2008 -- near Dodgeville, WI

Just north of Dodgeville along highway 23 there are a series of ridges and valleys that have formed over the millenia as water, flowing toward the Wisconsin River, differentially eroded away layers of sandstone and limestone that make up the underlying ground around here. The softer material washes away and the harder material remains as steep-sided hills and a few rocky spires -- tall, thin rock columns -- that rise from the valley floor.

In 1945 a man by the name of Alex Jordan started building a Japanese House on top of the 450' tall Deer Shelter Rock, one of those rocky spires. A quiet, reclusive man, Jordan's idea was for this structure to be a retreat -- a place to get away. But as his project grew and people heard about this unusual thing, they'd come by to see what was going on. The story goes that he started charging people a dollar to tour through the small structure way up there on top the rock, as a means to offse…

Taliesin and Frank Lloyd Wright

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 -- near Dodgeville, WI

This past Monday Dar and I visited Taliesin, the Southwestern Wisconsin summer home of Frank Lloyd Wright and his school of architecture. Despite his having died almost 50 years ago, the grounds, buildings, and school are still administered by The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the work of the famous architect and advancing the principles of organic architecture. I was somewhat surprised to find that there's still an active community of students and mentors, including a number who live in the original Taliesin complex. There are a series of other buildings on the almost 600 acre grounds including homes, farm buildings, and the school itself. The setting, amidst the hills and rolling terrain along the Wisconsin River is idyllic. Even though both Dar and I were born and raised in Wisconsin neither of us had been here before.

During the last 35 years of his life, from the early 1930's until his deat…

We're Off...

Monday, October 13, 2008 -- near Dodgeville, WI

Yesterday, Sunday, we left the Beaver Dam area and set off on the next leg of our journey. Mom & Dad Hoch came out to the farm to see us off and came along on a little drive to a small nearby county park campground where we dumped our holding tanks. Back at the farm we hooked up the toad, hugged, said goodbyes, and we were off.

We drove only about 100 miles into the un-glaciated southwester portion of Wisconsin near Dodgeville. I've always liked this part of the State because of the more dramatic landscape. We found a small campground that could take our bus-house and selected a site on top a hill with nice views of the surrounding countryside. Our intention is to explore the area and a few local attractions that we remember from visits many years ago. The next few days are supposed to be somewhat rainy so there should also be time to use the internet to scout-out the path ahead.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to our family in Beaver Dam for…

What a Difference a Year Makes

Tuesday, October 7, 2008 -- still in Beaver Dam, WI

This is the week that we'll begin our trek southward for the winter. Along about Thursday or Friday we should have things wrapped up here and start the next chapter of our sabbatical.

One year ago this week, the stock markets in the USA were hitting all-time highs and everyone was feeling reasonably confident in the future. The Dow Jones Industrials Index was well over 14,000 as other broader market indices were hitting their own highs. Oil was getting expensive but gasoline was selling for about $2.70 per gallon. Housing was slowing down but the common perception was that this was only a normal, cyclical correction and was probably healthy for the economy as a whole.

This week stock markets all over the world have taken a beating. The Dow is around 10,000 -- an almost 30% drop from just one year ago. (Think of that... a 30% drop requires a 40% gain just to get back to the same place. Under normal market conditions how long does it …

Cool and the Crisis

Wednesday, October 1, 2008 -- Still near Beaver Dam.

The 40f degree outside temp that greeted us this morning, while very fall-like, crisp, and appealing, is providing a little more urgency for us to wrap up business here and start our trek south. The woods here are still primarily green with only a few blotches of color to suggest it's October. Where is the color this year? The area was flooded with water in June, but since then it's been fairly normal. It has been warmer than normal (up until today), but temperature isn't supposed to have much of an effect on fall color. I'll have to check with my brother the hortoculturalist (who has actually studied this phenomenon during his graduate studies) and report back at a later date.

Both Dar and I got a clean bill of health from the medical establishment this week. Now we're waiting for eyeglasses and contact lenses to arrive. We've been in the upper Midwest for three months now and while we truly enjoy being close …