Monday, January 30, 2012

Trip Back to Iowa - part 2

Well, as you recall I was leaving Rembrandt and heading the 4 miles to my parents farm.  As I drive along, I remember the countless trips I have made on this blacktop road.  Bike riding, walking, jogging, and of course by car, all with some purpose in mind, even if it was just to enjoy the great country air.  I used to love riding my bike into Rembrandt and beyond, exploring the wide open space.  As I come to the four way stop I notice the old "Ness" place on the corner.  (Ness is the name of the family that lived there).  Mrs. Ness has since passed away and Harold has moved into town.  The place has set empty for quite a few years as one can see if you take more than a glance at the two story house.  It is beginning to cave in as the old wooden frame begins to rot.  The grove is now over grown with trees and grass and the only building on the place which seems to be standing up to time is the brick barn that anchors it. Even this grand building with a little closer look is showing signs of aging with the roof and doors in need of some tender loving care.  There are lots of abandoned farms in the Midwest as farms continue to get larger and there are less and less family farms.  I turn the corner to the right and am able to see my parents home at the top of the small incline.  The pealing white barn with only a little paint left is front and center as it looks out over the slight valley filled with brown drying corn stalks.  As I drive closer the other buildings begin to emerge from behind the trees and the barn.  An old corn crib that has not seen use in many years  followed by a hog barn where dad helped us kids raise calves.  The yard is finished off by a machine shed filled with old wagons and stuff,  a chicken coop that dad has converted to a shop with a small green house and a garage that is in no means attached to the house as it sits a good 30 feet from the front door. ( which can be brutal in the winter months)   I pull onto the driveway and can finally see the house peeking through the row of evergreens that haven't really changed much in the past thirty-five years.

  It is great to be home and I am anxious to get into the house to see mom and dad.  As I walk towards the white two story structure with olive green trim, I see the large garden just beyond the clothes line, which my father continues to enjoy on a good summer day.   Traditionally he has had bountiful harvests of green beans, beats, potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, carrots, lettuce, peas, onions, cauliflower, dill, strawberries, zucchini, acorn squash, radishes, cucumbers, watermelon, asparagus, and on occasion as kids we would even plant things such as peanuts and sunflowers.  During the summer months we often had great dinners with fresh vegetables from the garden and mom would spend countless hours freezing and canning this produce in order for us to enjoy it into the colder fall and winter months.   Today I can appreciate just what that was and how unique it was for my family growing up.  My dad continues to enjoy gardenning and has a small self service stand along the road for anyone passing by who would like to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

I open the door and am greeted by my parents.  We spend the next few minutes catching up and talking about things going on in the community.  I always love being at home and spending good quality time with my parents.  We hang out and do the usual - eat dinner - watch TV -and talk.  Soon it is time for bed and upon arising the next day,  I am off again as my plans are to head to Sioux City, Iowa to visit my cousins who have recently lost their mom to cancer.  Living such a distance away
from Iowa,  I was not able to find an affordable ticket to come back then so the next best thing is to find time to visit on my own now.  After I eat breakfast,  have the usual chit chat with my parents, I am off again down the blacktop roads of Iowa.  Weaving in and out of the slow moving tractors and other vehicles tending to the fields.  It is a beautiful drive as the puffy white clouds in sunny blue skies are prominent again today.
The road I travel is pretty familiar to me as trips to Sioux City for visiting my mom's family who lived there when we were growing up  and my dad's sister's family which I am visiting today.  Not to mention the occasional excursion for a little shopping as the largest metropolitan area within a two hour drive.   As I drive through the small towns along the way,
 I realize I know little about them.  Like in Brazil,  each little community has their signs welcoming you with recognition of a speciality they have to offer.  Whether it is their annual celebration or a claim to fame,  each of these small towns are rich with their own history and story.  I have not paid much attention to them in the past but my recent travels in Brazil have made a positive change in my observation to details and desire to know more.  I will have to spend some time looking at the history of  these little towns in Iowa.

The single lane highway soon splits and doubles the number of lanes going in each direction as I near the city.   The landscape becomes hilly in this part of Iowa so you can no longer see for miles.  When the timing is right and you are close enough to the city,  a large water tower poised on a hilltop can be seen to your right.  It was this water tower that my family would search for on our journeys as it is located in the Morningside neighborhood,  just blocks from my aunt and uncles home.   It always meant that this long 1 1/2 hour journey was about to end.  Today, I think about how things have changed as that 1 1/2 hours does not seem so long anymore.  I  begin to think of some great memories of my aunt Grace's life and the Bits-n-Pieces   (link to blog with poem Bit-n-Pieces)  she has left with me.  Her life was like her name and I am soon pulling into the short driveway in front of the ranch style home.  I am greeting by my uncle and
cousins and we sit down around the table like old times to catch up a little before heading to lunch.  The afternoon is spent remembering and talking about life and soon it is time for them to head back to their work or families and for me to head on to my next destination.   I am heading the short hour drive to Sioux Falls, SD - where I lived for ten years or so.  I am looking forward to visting more friends, reflecting and just spending time with me... to be continued...

Inside my parent's barn! I love this photo!

The old Corn Crib
Another photo Inside my parent's barn.

Even old windmills with no blades remind me of Iowa!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trip back to Iowa -- part 1

It is October and I am planning to head back to my home state of Iowa to celebrate my parents birthdays and see my family.  I prepare for the visit like any other visit - purchase a plane ticket - rent a car - pack according to Midwestern weather- and soon I am ready to make the journey.  My flight this time is to Minneapolis, Minnesota, as it won the battle with Omaha, Kansas City and Sioux Falls for the least expensive ticket and car rental this time, so my plans are all set. On travel day with bags packed,  I am ready to head to Jackson Hartsfield International Airport.  A short cab and Marta (train) ride and I will be there rather quickly so I leave about 2 1/2 hours before my flight.  Arriving at the airport and breezing through security I get to my gate in plenty of time.   I begin to watch people of all ages and sizes hurry by as they obviously have a destination.  Some of them weighed down with a few pieces of overstuffed carry on luggage, obviously trying to save the current checked bag fee.  Others with children in arms attempting to keep them entertained, which often includes a bribe or two.  Then there are yet others with a small computer case and a cell phone attached to their ear.  All with travel plans to take them to an adventure whether it is ordinary or extra ordinary. 
My flight begins to board and soon we are departing the gate,  speeding down the runway, and finally lift off which is actually about 15 minutes early.  Once we reach the appropriate altitude,  I pull out my Ipad and begin working on some of my apps I had downloaded.  The flight seems to take no time and just as soon as we are finished with our beverage and snack it is time to land.  I have not checked any luggage as it is a short trip home and so off to the rental car counter I head.  As I scurry through the terminal I once again notice all the different people hurrying about.  The volume of people does not seem to falter as I near the tunnel that leads travelers to the rental car train.  After a short line and the regular jibber jabber at the counter,  I am in my car and driving across interstate 494 toward 35 beginning my four hour drive to mom and dads. The day could not be more perfect for the drive.  Blue sunny skies filled with white fluffy clouds.  It makes me realize what I miss about this part of the country.  All the blue skies.  It is simply breath taking, and the white puffs add an element of intrigue.  I drive along and spot a windmill, which quickly reminds me of my dad and begins my journey down memory lane.  Growing up, when my family would drive any distance, we would often start playing " The Alphabet Game".  As the car drives along, all participants start scouring signs looking for the letters of the alphabet in order.  They would proceed to yell out the letters as  they locate them on billboards and signs along the road side.  Of course the usual Q and K are harder to find but eventually one is found and the game continues until someone reaches Z.  Another popular passer of time would be: "I see something you don't see" where we would take turns describing something we could see and everyone else would try and guess what it was.  My dad's favorite thing to see would be tall and dark and blows in the wind.  (A Windmill)  I will always associate windmills with my father and playing that game.  With their use for obtaining water no longer needed,  I must say traditional windmills are harder and harder to spot.  Most people don't take the time or money to keep them operational.  There are new windmills that dot the earth in this area of the country and I see many on my drive today.  They the large white ones with three blades which generate energy from the wind that blows across the plains.  These large turbines have been increasing in numbers over the past ten years in Iowa and Minnesota.  They are not as rustic as the old windmills and I would have to give them a futuristic or artistic description. I am sure they are someone's favorite thing to describe when playing the car game mentioned above.

After about 2 1/2 hours of driving I see some blinking lights in the distance so I slow down. There is flag man directing traffic and I have to wait for a minute.   It is obvious that there has been an accident on the curve ahead as several cars and people have gathered in the area.  Finally my turn comes and as I drive by I see a truck overturned in the ditch.  I begin to think how your day can change in the blink of an eye.  We often rush through our day, never hesitating to think about those small details which if we miscalculate a little could change the rest of our day or even lives.  This trucker obviously was taking the curve a little too fast for the load he was carrying and rolled the truck.  I drive by slowly as people are scampering about to get things back to normal.  

Soon I cross into the state of Iowa and honestly it is not that much different then Minnesota with its fields of corn ready for harvest and round hay bails occationally along its straight roads.  As I am driving thought this area I begin a journey of a different sort.  I start to think about growing up here and memories start racing in. I am not far from the "Lakes" region and visions of summer days spent at Lake Okaboji with cousins and friends begin playing in my head. Way too many to list, but all contributing to the person I have become.  Further down the road I come to Spencer, with the Clay County Fair held once a year and a movie theater where my friends and I would often come to see the latest release if we did not head to Storm Lake.  It was like most carefree childhoods, with lots of things going on in the little local bubble I had created.  How far I had come since then now living in Brazil and traveling throughout the world.  I knew those places existed back then, but I had no idea I would ever be where I am today or experiencing the life I have lived. 

Now back to the present day and my journey with empty soy bean fields and corn fields ready to harvest lining the road as I travel a little less then an hour.   The drive takes me through the town of Sioux Rapids where I attend high school.  I turn down the main street  and besides a few name changes or store changes it is pretty much how I remember it.  At the end of the street is the public swimming pool where I attended swimming lessons in the summer and after a couple of turns I am cruising by where the high school used to stand.    The school district has built a new school at the edge of town and all that remains of the old three story brick building is the gymnasium which is utilized for community activities.  Sports, choir, swing choir, theater, speech, were all a part of my experience here at SR-R high as being a Cougar meant a lot to us then.  As I begin to leave town,  I think of the 35 people I graduated with and wondered what they are up to.  Where their adventures have taken them.  I have not kept up with many from my class, except for finding them on Facebook the past couple of years.  It has been nice to reconnect and see their journeys.   Once I hit the outskirts of Sioux Rapids I decide to take a small detour instead of going the direct route home.  The detour will take me to my  "home town" of Rembrandt, Iowa.  Past more fields down highway 71, I soon come to the sign stating "ONE REMBRANDT USA" accompanied by invitations to worship at the two local churches.  I turn and drive the short distance off the highway into the little town.  The memories come rolling back as I drive past the Methodist church on the right where some of my friends attended and we shared vacation bible school.  Turning right down the street just past the church, with the little town park on my left I come to the church I grew up in "Our Saviour's Lutheran Church".  The building has not changed much but the passing of  time is marked by the two large trees in the front yard that were not even there when I was young.   I reminisce about Sunday School,  Bible School, Confirmation, Luther League, and all the other activities I participated in.  The church was a cornerstone in my growing up.  There were two girls from my school class that grew up with me at the church as well and we all participated in many of the same things.  I continue down the street past the old parsonage  where one of these two friends lived as she was the pastor's daughter.  At the end of the street only two blocks further,  two more classmates lived with their families.   I have not spoken to them since high school and briefly wonder what they are up to.  So many years spent together yet now it has been so long. I turn left to head around
the block and back towards downtown.  Arriving at the main street, it has not changed much since my last visit but compared to when I was growing up it has lost a few businesses.  Hondo's lawn equipment which used to occupy the buildings on the right  has moved to Sioux Rapids and now sits vacant.  The convenient store on the adjacent corner no longer sales gas or grocery items.   A restaurant has opened  on the other corner where a little grocery store was when I was in elementary and middle school.  It was a candy stop on our journey from school to confirmation classes at the church every Thursday afternoon.  The First National Bank of Rembrandt where I opened my first bank account still  anchors the remaining corner of downtown.  There are only a few other buildings remaining on main street and this past year, the post office has battled to stay open.  I am not sure what was decided in that battle.  Further down the old theater sits,  the building reminds me of the Haunted Houses created here every October to celebrate Halloween. Today I believe the building is a storage facility for a local seed company and they have not had a Haunted House there for many years.   My eyes cross the street to the library which continues to lend books out to anyone with a library card.   Like most rural towns in the United States, Rembrandt is holding on tightly for survival.  No major housing developments here and it is more common for a store to be closing then opening.  I continue driving down the street to where the old school used to stand.  It also has been demolished except for the gymnasium which now holds a local auctioneer  company.  I remember grades K through 6th in the old brick building and remember planting trees along the street out front in 5th grade.  Today those trees are huge and gracefully line the street I am driving down.  I recollect starting Kindergarten with 13 people in my class.  All but one of us graduated together 12 years later.  (wow 12 years does not seem very long today when back then it seemed like forever) .  It was Rembrandt Consolidated School then and at the end of my 5th grade, the school consolidated with neighboring Sioux Rapids to become Sioux Rapids- Rembrandt.  At that time our class of 13 (we had lost one of the original classmates but gained a new one)  was the largest in the school which graduated 8 seniors that year.  Yes,  "Eight is Enough" was the last graduating class of Rembrandt Consolidated School's theme.  I would spend 6th grade with the original 13 and adding another 23 from Sioux Rapids making our class the new largest class in the school with 36 pupils.  After 6th grade we started attending middle school in Sioux Rapids, only 15 minutes away and as these memories float through my thoughts,  it is time to turn right heading out the country road leaving Rembrandt for my parents farm 4 miles away... (to be continued) ...

(click hear to read part 2)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dragon*Con 2011

It's a great Saturday morning and I actually award myself by sleeping in until 9:30.  Upon rolling out of bed,  showering, eating a little breakfast,  I realize it is the weekend of Dragon Con and if I want to go to their annual parade,  I must get ready quickly.  The sun is shining outside so the decision to see a parade I have not seen prior is easy.  I post a note on facebook asking if there is anyone going or anyone who would like to join me but after getting ready and 45 minutes with no responses, I decide I must head downtown or be extremely late for the parade.  I should have done the facebook post earlier in the week but really did not want to commit so I guess I will go solo.

What is Dragon Con?  Well it is the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe!  People from all over the world converge on Atlanta in the fall to profess their love of fantasy and many dress up in costume while the rest of us come to observe.  There are festivities all week long and on Saturday morning they hold a parade where convention participants can dress in costume and  be a part of the procession showing off their passion and creativity.

I arrive downtown and decide to pay the small fee to park as it is now 10:10 and it starts at 10:00.  A short walk and I am on Peachtree street amongst the thousands of people who have gathered on this beautiful morning.  Some of the observers are in costumes and some are in street clothes like me.  There are a lot of kids amongst the crowd attempting to see their favorite fictional characters come waltzing down the street. When I arrive the parade
has already started and the curbs along Peachtree Street are packed with people and I have a hard time seeing what is going on. I walk about 5 blocks down the street and it is all the same,  completely full of people with their cameras and video recorders.  I am sure all are grateful they arrived earlier and the weather has turned out to be gorgeous. 

Finally I position myself behind some people and begin to observe and enjoy the festivities through the small gap in the crowd.  At this time wishing I would have arrived a little earlier and been in the front row but for this year, behind the crowd will have to do.  I hate when people push their way in when I am front and center so I will refrain from doing this myself and just hang out where I am at enjoying it the best I can.

Parade participation is open to anyone attending the conference and this year around 3,100 people marched in the parade.  Characters like Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, Batman, Superman, Wonder women, Men in Black, were all represented.  Many of them multiple times.  Heck I am sure I saw at least 7 versions of the Ghostbusters and at least 3 Back to the Future time machines.  It is obvious the convention attracts people who enjoy all elements of fiction and not just space like I had previously
envisioned.  Even the Disney Princess were represented in the parade.  Some of the partakers obviously spend some money on their outfits while others just added a little make up to make the flight of imagination come true.
There were several groups of people banded together by common themes.  Obvious to onlookers,  these are organizations which promote the following of fiction and when you could read the banners they touted,  it was easy to tell they were from different cities, proud of their participation.   I wondered at times how much energy it must take to get 10-20 people all dressed in correlating costumes to march on such a grand scale.  But then again they all seem to be having a wonderful time roll playing their particular genre.  Groups of people like Pirates of the Caribbean, Zombieland, Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, Transformers,  where all represented in small and large groups throughout the morning. 

 The procession is a great opportunity to people watch, and listening to those around me talk about the different characters they saw was enjoyable.  Kids getting excited when they spot their favorite super hero or other fictional character, gamers finding some character they had fought on a video game, or just an older person remembering their younger years represented by a movie character or two.  Often the people around me identified characters like they should be main stream knowledge and I had no idea who they were.  It was truly an enjoyable morning and soon the
final participant was strolling down the street.  It was a float of sorts with death like characters shooting smoke hoops through the morning air.  The shooting of the smoke hoops made loud noises and I was impressed with the creativity of the float even though I had no context of the characters.  This last of the parade passed by and it was time to head home again knowing that I would love to come back and see more of what Dragon Con has to offer.   


Enjoy the rest of my photos! Can you identify all the characters?