We are back at work again after a one week rest. It’s a simple gig that we have already scored before and it is not going to last very long, but hey, You have to take things as they come. Anyway, I have been struggling to fold something, ANYTHING! for the better part of a month now. Many of my things have been expiring off my Etsy shop now and the shelves are filled with old origami. But Lucky for me! I have found that I can make room and find homes for my old stuff at ACT. I guess I just don’t have the heart to throw anything away, myself. Anyway, I have been working on some simple things. Best to start small and familiar, right? So Some Origami Frogs on Leaves…..We shall see how they turn out. Now that I have more space on my shelves, I may get the folding bug back in me to re-fill it. We shall see….
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Saturday, February 22, 2014
How do you salvage a planned mini-vacation when the weather decides to sucker-punch you? This is the question Cheryl and I asked ourselves Thursday night just before the worst blizzard of the year hits Minneapolis Minnesota. Plan “A” The Cowardly choice……Cancel. This is tough, because the hotel room was already booked at a good price and we were locked in. Plus, we had been planning this Ikea Trip for a while after the Chicago one. We even canceled another trip in favor of this one. So…..Plan “B” Wait until the storm blows over and they cancel the warnings. Essentially we leave several hours later than planned and let the snow plows do their job while we get an extra hour of sleep. This sounds doable….
It was all great…Until we hit the Minnesota Border! Suddenly, what were clear dry roads became ice, slush bombs. Traffic slowed to a crawl…but the sun was out. The plows were out as well, but their impact was too little too late in most cases. Most of the damage was done and the road crews were scrambling to catch up.
I have never actually seen a jack-knifed truck with my own eyes. I have seen pictures and videos…but never actual trucks on the very roads I was travelling on. Friday changed all of that! Not only was it the first time. It was also the second, third and fourth! I have never seen so many trucks in the ditch before. Even in Michigan, where the snow is blinding, there are many cars and SUV’s that slip off, but it is rare that you see a big truck. I always thought they were invulnerable to white-outs and slushy roads. I never knew what kind of roads were even possible to cause big trucks to lose control like this.
While parked on the highway ( one of several times) I opened the door and tried to step on the road to see what the traction was like. It was one of those slimy covered ice moments. The SUPER slippery type. I could hardly believe we were driving 20 miles per hour on that stuff most of the day. At several points during the trip, we were forced to detour around either an accident or extreme road conditions. On the southbound side, they closed the road completely for several miles! The Snow Drifts were about 8 feet tall ( judging by the top of the front end loader that was employed to remove it. ) The drifts had completely blocked off the highway! According to the weather channel, there were only 25 MPH winds blowing the powdered snow around. But it was enough with the ice and the drifts to cause major problems.
What started out as a 6 hour trip ended up taking 10 hours! By the time we realized that the situation was grave, it was too late….we were closer to our destination than home and the southbound highway was closed off. We were forced to press on. Our Friday plans were shot but we still had the hotel and a bit of Saturday morning we could still possibly salvage.
Very interesting place! If you like pin-ups, Gothic modern art, Pink, real roses, AND donuts…this place is for you! I have always been fond of the “pin-up” art form. A harken back to the nose art on WWII bombers. Some of them were a bit “racy” but still tasteful enough for the artful eye…
The donuts are all hand made from scratch…and you can tell. They are Rich! Heavy full flavored……and Eccentric! Cheryl just had to try the Bacon Chocolate donut. It was quite good! The bacon and maple icing was also wonderful…reminded me of eating pancakes with maple syrup with a side of bacon. I had the Raspberry filled and lemon Cheesecake. I would have liked to try them all, but there was the time, weather, and they were quite satisfying….( i.e. filling) Check out the interior shots of the place!
After that, we headed to Ikea…the original destination for this mini adventure. It was odd, because we suddenly had this time limit on things and uncertainty on how well the roads were fairing. We did not get any furniture this time, but Cheryl had here eye on some knickknacks and I wanted a new lap desk ( which I’m typing on right now, as a matter of fact!) I also did not want to drive home in those conditions with any large items crammed either inside the car or tied to the roof.
In the end, we managed to find a few light moments were we could take a break and catch a little bit of the local color. Airplanes, Vikings, and Dinos are sometimes easily overlooked when you blow through the state at 65 MPH on the interstate. Unless you have to fuel up or take a bathroom break.
We managed to arrive home alive…and in the initially predicted 6 hours of drive time. I never thought I would be so happy to be back in Iowa…..Upon crossing the Iowa border, the roads LITERALLY became clear, dry and AWESOME! We could see an ARMY of snow plows scrapping and salting every last bit of the ice off the roads. I’m sure Minnesota’s crews were spread out all over the state, whereas Iowa only had to worry about the top northern most part. Either way, we were able to catch up some time on the clear roads and settle my turbulent adrenaline system.
While driving there, I rode the roller coaster of emotions… from fear, to anger, to sheer exhaustion and disappointment. I was so thoroughly zapped that I actually felt a “zen” wash over me as we dined at the restaurant next to the hotel. We were able to play in the pool and watch a little cable TV before retiring for the evening to our room. By this morning, the roads were noticeably more improved, but still sloppy. I’m still wondering if it was all worth it….I guess new experiences are like that. You never know if you are in for a good time, bad time, or both. I’m sure a vacation where everything goes smoothly is a rare beast, but it is only possible if you actually risk leaving your comfortable living room and actually set foot outside to find out. I actually thought of all of those times I would go fishing with my Dad. We would often get skunked, wet, sunburned, lost, or break or lose something valuable in our endeavors to find fish. But every now and then, we would actually find a moment and catch a major haul of fish…..and then brag and reminisce about that “one time” were the Perch were ravenous, the Bluegills were on the beds, or the Brown Trout were crammed into the warm waters of Frankfort. You never find those moments if you never get out on the lake.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
The other night, I was thinking about this age old saying,” Cheaters never win” . It’s a nice little saying we tell ourselves whenever we try our best and come up short while someone else takes a shortcut and is victorious. This saying really bugs me for some reason and the more I thought about it, the more I started thinking that that saying possibly has a few flaws. Now, I’m not talking about fidelity in anyone's marriage ( I looked this up on Bing only to see that that is what everyone thinks “cheating” is about) I’m taking about taking a shortcut during a test, fixing a machine without proper tools, winning a war through deception and lies rather than brute force….You may see where I’m going here.
First, I am the worlds WORST cheater! I’ve never been successful I was always either caught by my teacher or failed to copy the proper material. I eventually gave up and concluded that I was an just going to have to be happy being average. I remember the first time I was caught cheating on a pop quiz in grade school. We were supposed to correct our own quiz and I decided that my answers were “close enough”. The teacher did not feel the same way, though. And I ended up writing the same sentence over and over again ( I think about 100 times) I still remember it! “I will not cheat because cheating is stealing and a SIN against God!” That is correct. I went to a Christian school, so in addition to breaking the 7th commandment, I was also on my way to HELL! BURNING! DAMNATION!
The funny thing about it was that, even as a Child, I could not see how I was “stealing” from anyone. I did not copy anyone’s answers. My grades did not effect anyone else in the class because there was never a curve on a quiz. Who really was hurt here? The teacher? He was the one who GAVE us the information to begin with. Me? Well, If stealing from myself was going to get me into trouble. I would give myself a pass! Looking back at that whole scenario with my “adult” eyes, I still fail to see who was harmed by my “generous” interpretation on the quiz answers. In fact, I can’t even remember what information was even on MOST of those quizzes. Why was I forced to even memorize such trivia?
Moving on to high school, I decided to take each grade that I earned as just how things are. I was always a little disappointed that I never made Honor Roll when almost everyone else in my class did. There was an incentive! Make the Honor Roll and you could get out of 2 study halls! It mattered not to me, I was happy with a “B” average and getting out of just one. It was years later at my high school reunion when I discovered that all those “Best and Brightest” Most-Likely-To-Succeed students were very good at cheating on tests and assignments. Despite this, they were in good paying careers living the American Dream ( You know, 2.5 kids, dog, house, 2 cars, vacation home, Etc.
In the end, is the saying really true? Do cheaters NEVER win? Do we tell children this so they will “work hard” and “do what we tell them” rather than thinking for themselves and coming up with new and better ways to do things and give themselves an advantage. Let’s look at some examples.
Restaurants serve up delicious “home cooked” meals every day to thousands of people. However, they Cheat by either thawing out pre-made pies, soups, and breads that they did not actually make themselves. Is this Cheating? Or advanced planning. I’m sure Betty Crocker does not make all of those cake mixes herself. And I KNOW there are people who feel that selling out to the corporate “MAN” is a cheat. But are those people who sell out not successful?
We live in the age of Google, Bing, And Wikipedia. Just about every question you have can be looked up with the touch of a button. Those people who have hand held devices at their disposal can seem like the smartest person in the room with this resource. Are they “cheating” with this tool they have. It gives them an unfair advantage when compared to people who have to rely on their brain for details, dates and trivial answers. Even simple math equations can become twisted in ones mind. For this reason someone developed a calculator to help out with simple tables, charts and equations. To save time. To help them remember. To “cheat”, if you will.
Here in Iowa, we have Amish people who still work their fields using technology from the 1800’s. While they may look at a field of 1000 acres as “impossible” without a vast labor force, a farmer with a tractor and hybrid seeds can plow and plant fields this size in a short amount of time with only the tractor to maintain. Is he “cheating” because he is using the modern day technology of 2014 to his advantage?
Every time a student is asked to do a report on a subject, and goes to the library, does he not “steal” the research and ideas of published experts in that field. You might say that credit is given through work cited footnotes or end notes. But who really discovered the wheel or invented fire? Does everything have to be credited to someone who has come before, no matter how trivial? Music artist “barrow” bars and lyrics from other artist and composers all the time, putting their own unique spin on things. Are they Cheating? Money changes hands is some cases, in the form of royalties only if it is a HIT. But where is the line drawn when someone builds upon the ideas of others to come up with their own unique idea. A Better idea!
Of coarse, the problem with relying on technology for every day things is that we quickly become dependant on our “ knowledge crutch” Why learn anything like history or numbers when we have wikipedia and quickbooks? Inevitably, batteries die and handhelds break and the people who depend on these items must either purchase an new crutch, or learn to live without one. And, as with many thing in life, experience in the best teacher that can not be reasoned with.
In the Army, we had a saying: If you ain’t cheatin’ you Ain’t Tryin’. I actually see the value in that saying. As soldiers, we were often encouraged to figure out a better way to do things. To “ think on your feet” . There is little honor in running blindly into the enemies best defenses only to get killed. We were encouraged to find the weakness, not play fair, to Cheat the enemy out of his hard fought victory. Sure Drill instructors would ensure we could shoot straight and pass the physical exams. But they would offer advice on how to “game the system” to better your marksmanship score, PT score, or EIB exam. If you struggled at a certain subject, go ahead and blow them off, but make up for it in the times or scores of other events/targets. Was this Cheating? I do not think so. They are there to make sure you survive WAR while being able to carry out your mission. They say all is fair in love and war. In war, there is a victor and a loser. It does not matter how you achieve your title.
I could continue, but this is getting rather long. In the end I conclude that society does not want people to cheat, take short cuts or steal ideas. They do, however, want winners, Fast service, and Better ways of doing things. Seagulls are perfectly capable of catching their own fish out of the ocean, but they find it easier to steal food form the puffin, or eat garbage thrown out by humans. By human standards, this is shameful! But by Mother Nature’s standards, this is a successful strategy that has added to the growth of seagull populations around the globe. There is more to cheating that the simple Good Vs Evil standard our teachers want to indoctrinate into us as small children. As an adult, I see many more shades of gray in most topics these days. And sometimes the “hard work” of success is not going to be the intense labor of studying or physical pain. It might be using the God given brain to figure out an easier way to do things.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Cheryl had plans for us on Valentines day. No fancy restaurants, no movie, no dancing. Just a nice day at home with Champaign, candles and chocolate covered strawberries! It was nice! I even got to cook up some Alaskan Crab Legs with the bamboo steamer! Cheryl was reading in one of her magazines about the 5 reasons not to go out for Valentines day. I actually agree with most of them. It only took a brief moment at the HyVee Flower department to see all of the other “loser” men trying to buy last minute flowers for their significant other to see the value in advanced planning and non-conformity to prescribed social holidays. I guess it is a safely net for some guys who can point out to their wives that they, at the very least, purchase flowers for valentines day. But really? Is that the “BEST” you can do? I really liked how these guys were so clueless they did not even know that you are supposed to buy only ONE type of flower ( ROSES!) in only three acceptable colors: RED ( best!) Pink ( runner up if red is all out) and yellow( Friendship! Not the best, but better than white or orange. Be Prepared to be “misunderstood”)
Another reason the article suggested to not dine out was that the food at restaurants tends to be overrated on valentines day. I agree. I actually think I can make a better meal that looks better, costs less and taste far better than any food made by “professionals” in the cooking field.
Other than that, Our neighbors are playing loud music upstairs and it is driving me crazy as I am finding it a challenge to type even the simplest of phrases. This new turn of events has forced Cheryl into thinking we seriously have to move sooner rather than later. It is exciting when we look at places we could move to, and thinking about what it will take to make that happen. She has been working on her new items for the shop and trying to figure out how we can make the stockings work even better for us this next Christmas. We shall see how things turn out.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
It was not very long, but we finished the Foreign Service Writing project yesterday. Only about a week, which is normal I guess. In the end, this will be the last time ACT scores it. I’m not sure if they are fazing it out or if another company bid on it. ( Pearson perhaps.) In any case, it was short and sweet and over in just the right amount of time for us I guess we will have an English scoring gig coming up in a few weeks.
In the mean time, it is back to stockings, origami and key rings. Cheryl managed to sell five key rings the first three days they were up. She was very happy. It would be way too cool if they managed to help us through the dry desert of summer. We shall keep our fingers crossed.
Other than that, we have been braving the sub-zero temps the last 5 days. -20 for a couple of days there! I guess it will be warming up this next week and I can’t wait. I guess I’m not used to the cold like I once was in Alaska. Funny how we change of over the years.
So, that’s it! Not much else going on in our otherwise boring lives. We Do have an IKEA trip coming up next week and perhaps I will have more to blog about then, Until then, have a great week!
Saturday, February 8, 2014
It is rather cold here in Iowa this year. I have not been here long enough to gauge things, but I have been told by natives that this has been “exceptionally cold” for Iowa. Never the less, we continue to do our walks in the negative temperatures and blowing snow. Even after work! Yes we managed to qualify for the Foreign service project and it is almost half way through. They never seem to be very long projects anyway. However, we have been invited to score the English Quality Core later this month. YEAH!
The “Job” as we call it, forces us to have to actually “work” during a serious piece of time during our day. This means that there simply is not much of our time left over to actually do the things WE want to do. This includes the walks, which have been getting later and later as the day progresses and we try to squeeze as much time out of the job as we can. I actually like walking in the dark. Fewer cars and less wind. The temperatures could be a little warmer, but they never are very toasty in the middle of the day anyway. We simply have to wait for the weekend if we want to walk during the day.
In the mean time, we witnessed a rather odd phenomenon during our walk today. ROBINS! You know, the birds the symbolize spring in Michigan? There are Dozens of them in out neighbors yard! At first I couldn’t believe it and when I told Cheryl, she thought I was crazy. SO I decided to acquire photographic proof! I snapped a few shots of them hanging out in what I think is a crab apple tree. It’s too bad my camera does not have a telescopic lens, and that most of the bird flew away every time I tried to get too close, ( like under the tree!) But I managed to get a few on film and actually fix photo a decent shot.
Hopefully the weather will get warmer. Today was one of those “BAD” days where everything was off a little bit. Blowing snow that blinds you, rude people in the stores, buying the wrong things only to realize it when you get home. things like that. Worst of all is my inability to fold anything! I HATE those days! Hopefully tomorrow will be better as we are not planning on going to Iowa City so we can stay home and relax. Perhaps I will even manage to get an origami to work out…we shall see
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Having lost my desire to blog lately, I must take steps to find at least something blog-worthy to muse about. Our day to day routine will be coming to a halt here for about a week as ACT has offered us another “dying” writing assessment. Namely: Foreign Service. I guess this is the last year they will be offering it to the government or foreign agents, service people and ambassadors. I guess it should almost be a given that James Bond and Shirley Temple can write a cohesive thought BEFORE they get the job. So the Government has decided to limit this one of its MANY redundancies, and as a result ACT is out one more project. And Cheryl and I ( and all the other “regular” scorers at ACT) are out another paying gig. Ah well….there are always field tests..( fingers crossed!) Or ….”Other” things….
Other than that I have been firing up the embroidery machine to tackle another project of my own. Embroidery on a T-shirt! It is MUCH more difficult than I had first imagined. The stretchy fabric makes for a challenge with many pitfalls along the way. Fabric ripping, thread breaking, misalignment of the font. Skipped thread, and catastrophic machine failures were all in the mix for this one. I never knew that the Felt was such a dream in comparison!
In the end, I managed to get two T-shirts to work out….sort of. And, with a suggestion by Cheryl, An Apron! The apron was a canvass fabric and took the embroidery MUCH easier. I also think it Looks the best. Now all that is left is for the final party to think the same. We shall see.
You may be thinking that all that effort and difficulty with limited success would be a bad thing. But ALAS….. the problems I experienced could have happened during the height of the stocking season…..and that would have been bad. Better to figure out how to solve these problems with a sound mind and open ended time limit well in advance of that time. Christmas time is crazy enough as it is. Cheryl panicked this year and purchased me another sewing machine simply because my button set up failed and it took me a day to figure out the problem. Anyway. I hope our week long project is a good one at ACT. And I hope I will find the motivation to blog more often in the upcoming months. We shall see..