Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Last weekend was one filled with some hard labor.

While Michelle, assisted by her sister, Rachel, lined cabinets in the kitchen, I took to landscaping the yard.

OK, let's be more truthful: I took to hacking away at the jungle that is our yard. We have a big, L-shaped plot in our fair little town. If you look at our place on Google Maps, you can make out our house – barely – but all you see is a mass of green to the north and to the west. That double lot, my friends, is ours. Currently, it's a mess, a cacophony of nature let loose to compete with itself. Someday, it'll be a lot of space for our boys to romp and roam. But for that to happen, some order needed to be restored.

So, armed with loppers and two handsaws, I got to it. It may seem against my nature (pun intended) to relish chopping down trees and clearing vegetation, but it's also sound ecology, in my book, to make way for species that are valued (to us, admittedly) and to get rid of those that are less so. So, yes, it is modification, stamping our imprint on the land, but the fact is this lot has been remade many times already, and we can create something that is good for our children, for us, and for birds, bees and other critters.

Luckily, we have a lot of really good stuff in our large yards. Two soaring evergreen trees in front. Two mature oak trees on the side and in the back. A maple tree. Blackberry bushes. Vines of grapes. A cherry tree in the back. More trees of other kinds. Some wild grasses. Nice variety. My goal, then, was not to engage in some clear cutting, but to let what we have breathe and thrive.

Here's what I was working with:

Back yard before

Back yard after

Side yard before

Side yard after

Do you see a difference? I must admit it doesn't seem as dramatic in pictures as it does in reality. The back yard looks like it's been leveled, which isn't quite accurate. Here's the back yard, as seen from the street:

You can barely see the scraped-away, newly mowed grass in the middle and back of the lot. Most of the trees in this picture will stay, which offers some measure of seclusion and a nice bit of woody diversity to the yard. We're getting there.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mourning and Prayer

I had planned to write about all the home improvements we did this weekend and to show pictures of progress on our grounds. But that'll need to wait, for I learned today of something far more important.

The head men's basketball coach at Southwest Minnesota State lost a son in an awful head-on collision this past weekend. It's the second family tragedy to befall this family in a year.

The story is here.

I don't know Coach Bigler, but I mourn with him and his family, and my prayers are with them. It just underlines so starkly how capricious and fragile life can be, how so much is beyond our control, no matter how much we think we have it all buttoned down and figured out.

Southwest Minnesota State is in the same conference, the Northern Sun, that my brother-in-law Matt joined when he was named last week as the head coach of Minot State University in North Dakota. Matt reported on his Twitter account that he visited Bigler, and that the coach was in good spirits despite his injuries and his loss.

You can join the conversation via Twitter at #PrayforBigs.

We hope and pray for a speedy recovery.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Beaver Man

We've got a fair amount of house work to do this weekend, so I'll make this a quick one. My brother-in-law, Matt Murken, has a new job.

On Wednesday, he was named head men's basketball coach at Minot State University, in North Dakota.

The move is a wise one; MS elevated itself to NCAA Division II status this summer and entered a conference called the Northern Sun. Matt is familiar with both, from his tenure at Wayne State, in Nebraska.

Congratulations, Matt. You done good.

True to his nature, Matt played this one pretty close to the vest. Three weeks ago, he was helping me fell a big tree and didn't even mention the position. Then again, the position wasn't even open at that time. It only opened less than two weeks ago, and Matt apparently pounced on the opportunity. Good for him.

So, now he's a Beaver, and so are we.

The neat thing about this is Minot State has several games in the general area where we live, so there's a good chance I'll finally see his team play. By general, I mean within a 6-7-hour drive, which is doable, because most games are on weekends. I am really excited to watch basketball live and root hard for a team in which I'm fully invested!

So, although it sounds strange – GO BEAVERS!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Invasion of the Flower People

The title says it all: We're being invaded today by Flower People.

For weeks, Michelle's mother and sister have been preparing for this day. Each morning – often before anyone in our family has risen – they pop off into their expansive gardens for some tending. Each evening, after a day of work and following a quick dinner, they're back in the gardens, working until sundown, which can be as late 9 p.m.

Why do they do it? Well, it's to prepare for the visit by the regional day lily society, of course.

Yes, the Murken ladies are one of only four stops on this year's "Dazzling Daylilies of Cedar Valley" tour. It's a big honor to have your grounds – and the day lilies in them – to be chosen as a destination.

The club's organizers made the right choice, in my book. The Murken gardens are indeed fabulous, and that's coming from someone who could barely tell the difference between a day lily and a dandelion. The flowers are a riot of colors and all are meticulously cared for. They stand in row upon row, in plot among plot, over four acres of the Murken property. That's a lot of day lilies, folks. 700, in fact.

Here's an excerpt for how the club described the Murken garden in a brochure for the tourgoers:

"Sharon's luscious city/country garden now features cultivars from many hybridizers, with favorites from Karol Emmerich and Jack Carpenter. Keep an eye out for 'Shocking,' an orienpet lilium that provides an astonishing display among the day lilies."

I have no idea what they're talking about.

But the 50 or so people from Iowa and as far away as North Dakota who disembarked from the coach-style tour bus sure did. Around 8:30 this morning (almost an hour later than expected), they disgorged on to the Murken property and descended upon the breakfast tables that Michelle's mother and sister had prepared.

After bagels, fruit and muffins, coffee and juice, the day lillians strolled through the Murken gardens, discussing the varietals, taking close-up pictures of individual flowers and amusing themselves in general. Several took an interest in watching Nathaniel and I engage in a mock sword fight with sticks. 

About an hour later, a call went out, and the group ambled up the lane and back on to the bus, which, thankfully, did not attempt to maneuver its way fully down the meandering drive. And off the tour went to the next destination.

Another crew comes later today.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Boy & His Boots


You just gotta love that photo.

Looks like our second child has entered the "Elmo Luv" phase of life.

Nathaniel loved Elmo for a long time. Elmo books, Elmo dolls, Elmo television programs, Elmo songs. If it was Elmo, it was prized. He still does love Elmo in some ways. But he never cared for the Elmo booties. Whenever we'd try to put them on him, he'd thrash around, resisting. The very few times we did get them on his feet, he'd immediately tear them off and throw them to the ground in disgust.

We figured those boots would be a dead ringer, entirely coveted by Natty Lou. But no. Isaiah, however, can't get enough of them. He points and grunts for the Elmo boots when he wakes up in the morning. He points and grunts for the Elmo boots when he wakes up from nap during the day. He points and grunts for the Elmo boots at night. He wants them on his little, chubby feet, all the time.

It will be interesting to find out whether his affection for the Elmo boots will extend to other Elmo merchandise. If it does, a lot of money is going to Elmo and his creators.

But while we may be poorer, we know Isaiah will be happy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Cousin Returns

A major, and I mean, major, reason why we moved to Iowa was to be closer to at least one side of our families. While most of my family is spread out, Michelle's family is geographically pretty close together. That meant Iowa.

We knew this move would be good for our children – and for us. In fewer than three months, Nathaniel and Isaiah have been to Grandma's several times now, they've seen their uncle Matt at least three times, and they see their Mimi and Aunt Rachel daily, as we're living with them while our new house gets made habitable.

Tonight, our boys will see their cousin again, too.

Nathaniel and Isaiah have three older cousins courtesy of my sister and their Uncle Rob. My sister had children earlier, and I had mine later, so there is a significant age gap. Amazingly, despite differences in age and many other things, my sister's children are wonderful around Nathaniel and Isaiah and even seem to like being with them. Soon, though, they will have better things to do. I understand that.

The cousin who arrives tonight is right in the middle, age-wise, to our two boys. Her name is Kenley, and they've all gotten to know each other quite well. Barring any unforeseen developments, they will see each other regularly. They will grow up together. Their bonds will strengthen. I expect they will become quite close, like best friends.

Kenley and her parents – Michelle's brother Ryan and sister-in-law Jonie – live in Nebraska. State next door. We've seen them three times already, I think, and this visit will be the fourth. The last time we got together, we all went to the zoo in Omaha and spent the night in Lincoln. While I attended a conference, Michelle and the boys returned to Ryan, Jonie and Kenley's home, and the cousins palled around even more.

Nathaniel and Kenley at the Omaha Zoo

Isaiah and Kenley at the Hastings children's museum

The time before that, we traveled to their home to celebrate Kenley's second birthday. One of my fondest memories from that weekend was watching Kenley and Nathaniel sitting at a children's picnic table, jabbering away at each other as they socked down hamburgers and fruit. They looked like old friends, catching up.

Maybe they are. But surely they are making memories and solidifying a familial bond.

Beginning tomorrow, there will be more of that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Day with Daddy

Ever since we arrived in Iowa, and that was about 2 1/2 months ago, Michelle has been with the boys 24/7. It's enough to wear out the sturdiest, most constitutionally strong individual.

Despite generous support from her mother and sister, Michelle is at wit's end most days when I return from work. She's a little less patient with the children, her voice is a little more shrill, and she has a bit of a feral look in her eyes. I should know what I'm describing, because I've been there, too.

In short, like any caring, conscientious parent, Michelle needs a break from time to time. But with our lives a bit dysfunctional with a new house that needs fixing and living with her family in the interim, it's been hard to get that respite.

I wish I could say that I had this great idea to give her some relief. But the fact is one Sunday about a month ago, relief was pretty much thrown at me. Michelle needed her time, and that meant I needed to find some time with the boys, by myself.

I like being with my children. I like it a lot. But I admit I don't jump at the opportunity to watch over them for a day, because it's hard to keep them occupied for that long. Necessity, meet desperation. Desperation, meet creative thinking. Creative thinking, meet Grandma.

Grandma is what we did my first time (in Iowa, that is) of full-day watching. I packed those kids in the car, and off we went to Grandma's farm, about an hour away. Going to Grandma's serves two purposes: One is instant assistance with the boys, and from someone who adores the little buggers, to boot. Two, is there is always yummy food, and plenty of it. Fat, happy and assisted. What's not to like?

The second time daddy day care occurred, I took the boys to Davenport. The main impetus, I sheepishly admit, is I read that the local Chick Fil-A had a 50s-themed party, and there'd be ice cream and activities. I'll take a serving of planned activities, please. After that, I had only a vague idea what we'd do and still most of the day lay ahead of me. Thankfully, there is a fair amount to do in Davenport. We went to a dinosaur museum with an Imax theater, where we watched a documentary (with scientists!) about tornadoes. (I got to eat popcorn, thus making my day complete.) Then, we went t the city's botanical gardens, which, to me, seemed more like a park, albeit a very nice one. The children swung, ran and played, and we even witnessed a wedding at a giant fountain. Despite the random planning, this, too, was a good day.

The third Sunday I had the children, we had bought our home in Mt. Vernon. That meant we had closed, and thus were poor. So, the activities remained local. I took the boys to a playground, we tromped around downtown, ordered a Hawaiian pizza and lemonade and walked around the Cornell College campus, where the boys made piles of leaves and picked up sticks (bless them in their simplicity). Before I knew it, five hours had passed by the time we walked to the house.

Last weekend, I went for the big enchilada. For some time, I've been intrigued by Palisades Kepler, a state park just four miles from Mt. V. Would it have real natural beauty or would it be more of an exaggerated preserve? We are in Iowa, after all, and – nothing against my adopted state – but I really wasn't sure what I'd get.

We got ready to go. Water? Check. Fruit for a snack? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Baby backpack? Check. Shoes, not flip flops? Check. Children? Check.

Then, I got a little ambitious. Hot dog buns, hot dogs, charcoal briquettes, Gatorade, yogurt. Packed.

We were ready to meet Mr. Kepler.

Kepler State Park is beautiful. Quite. You enter on a narrow road amidst a dense thicket of trees, the canopies shading the road. Soon, you are winding around, a peaceful forest surrounding you. There are hiking trails left and right, camp sites, picnic areas, meadows, gorges. The road ends as it snakes along the Cedar River, and that's where we alighted. I loaded Isaiah into the backpack and off we went on a hike. Nathaniel immediately picked up some sticks, waving them around like light sabres, reflecting his current obsession with Star Wars. The trail hugged a rise along the river, opening up gorgeous views of the lazily flowing waters, with 40-foot bluffs as the backdrop on the opposite bank. A couple drifted in a boat, fishing. A boy walked on the bank with his dog. The birds chirped. The trees swayed in the breeze. Peaceful.

We all enjoyed our little hike, returned to our site and feasted on hot dogs, blueberries and Gatorade. After we ate, the boys ran around in the grass, and Nathaniel searched for Nicholas the bunny, from the Richard Scarry book, wondering aloud why he had failed to join us for lunch.

Hot yet happy, we returned home, and I put the boys down for a nap. I thought about how much fun we'd had, and how simple it all was – and how fulfilling. Truly, I can't wait when the boys are a little older, and I can take them camping.

At Kepler, of course.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Act Like A Grownup"

The last couple of posts have been pretty heavy, so let's go a little lighter here.

This evening, I was playing with Isaiah, mildly play wrestling with him on the floor – one of my favorite things to do with the boys. As we rolled around, I'd grab a foot, smell the underside, and then say "Stinky!" Isaiah would giggle, roll, and proffer another foot.

Nathaniel, busily eating dessert, chimed in with something or other. So, I began teasing him, telling that his feet were stinky, too. He vigorously protested my assertion, which egged me on to do it more.

"Stinky Feet Tanny!" I began calling him.

Protests from Nathaniel.

"Stinky Feet Tanny!" I said again. And again.

Natty Lou was getting more and more upset. And, me, ever the child, couldn't stop.

Finally, Nathaniel sighed and said firmly, "Daddy, you're being a baby." He paused, then added, almost under his breath, "Act like a grownup."


Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Heat Returns

Here in Iowa, we just emerged from an 8-day stretch when the daytime temperatures exceeded 95 degrees each day. The heat index on several of those days topped 100, easy. It was damn hot.

The sizzler broke last week, and temperatures regressed to seasonal averages of mid-80s for a few days. It felt downright refreshing.

That respite has ended. Today, the heat has returned, and it will be with us for at least a few days. Temps will reach the high 90s, according to the National Weather Service, and with a southerly wind bringing moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, the heat index on those days almost surely will be north of 100º. Again.

Iowa gets hot in the summer, of that there is no doubt. And it's not unusual for the thermometer to register in the 90s – or even the high 90s. But generally that occurs in August, Iowans tell me, and it's a wave or two, and that's it. Already, though, we had a prolonged heat wave that began in June and now one that's ripening this month.

I think about the onset of heat, the drought in Iowa – on pace to be the worst in more than two decades, the epic drought in Texas last year, the wildfires ravaging New Mexico, Colorado, California and other areas of the western U.S., and I wonder how anyone – and I mean anyone – doubts global warming.

At this point, you just have to be plain ignorant to disbelieve that our country is baking, and that we have put her in the oven. I'm tired of listening to folks who willfully ignore evidence, as if they were grade-school children afraid of getting cooties.

The facts, please:

• The average temperature across the contiguous United States for the first six months of this year has been the warmest on record — and by a considerable sum — dating back to 1895, according to a monthly report released Monday by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

• The past 12 months (July 2011 to June 2012 ) have been the warmest on record for the mainland United States, according to NOAA. During that period, the nation averaged a temperature of 56.0 degrees, 3.2 degrees higher than the long-term average. According to the report, every single state in the contiguous US except for Washington saw warmer-than-average temperatures during this time period.

• This decade, and the decade prior (meaning the entire 21st century) has been the hottest decades in the instrumental temperature record. From NOAA: "Including 2011, all eleven years of the 21st century so far (2001-2011) rank among the 13 warmest in the 132-year period of record. Only one year during the 20th century, 1998, was warmer than 2011."

Now, we know that climate is about trends, over longish time spans, whereas weather is tracking what happens day to day, or week to week. Weather, in other words, is a subset of climate, a blink of an eye compared to a night's sleep. And while the points above don't necessarily prove the U.S. is getting hotter, it and the other accumulating phenomena do show the trend is going that way, and that the probability for extraordinary happenings – be they floods, drought, heat, tornadoes, hurricanes, ice melting on glaciers and in the Arctic, etc. – is increasing. Unfortunately, this falls right in line with what climate scientists have forecast. And it will get worse, their models show.

If that doesn't grab you, then let's just consider the basic science and go from there:

We know there are a host of natural variables that have influenced the Earth's climate since the planet's formation. As you may know, these include: changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun, the tilt of its axis, its "wobble," the intensity of the sun, the amount of CO2 in the oceans and/or the atmosphere, volcanic eruptions, impacts from meteors, global wind patterns, circulation in the ocean, regional phenomena such as El Nino and La Nina, etc. The effects of some variables are pretty well known; the effects of others not so. Climate scientists also are studying how each variable works, and how (or whether) they work in tandem is still being studied. The bottom line is the Earth's climate is incredibly complex and mysterious. There is a lot to learn.

That said, there is a lot that we do know. Climate scientists have been able to tease out the most pronounced natural variables that influence the Earth's climate with great clarity. Those biggies include the effects of eccentricity, precession, axial tilt and the sun's intensity. For example, the advent of Ice Ages that you reference (and relatively warm periods between them called interglacials) are caused primarily by the Milankovitch cycle, which is governed by some of these processes I cited earlier in this paragraph. The elevated CO2 that marked the dinosaurs' reign (and other periods in the Earth's history) were caused by natural factors, such as volcanism or a meteor impact.
These natural variables continue to influence our planet's climate, no question. And the scientific models take all of them into account. The reason why they are predictive models, and not fool-proof analyses, is that we don't know fully the extent that these variables influence climate. But the models are getting better, and thus, more accurate at predicting changes. In fact, they have accurately predicted the warming that we are seeing in the Arctic, the drought that is frying the American Southwest, etc.

What none of the models can account for is that natural variables alone have caused the changes to climate that we have witnessed since the Industrial Revolution and that we are seeing today. And that's where the rubber meets the road. Something else is causing these changes, beyond the natural influences. And that something is us. It's our burning of fossil fuels that is increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2, as I am sure you know, warms the air. That fact is indisputable. And that's a good thing, for without CO2 and other greenhouse gases, our little planet would be far too cold to support human life. But there's such a thing as too much of a good thing, and that's what is happening now. We have put our planet in the oven and are slowly baking it.

The cost of ignoring global warming and our role in it has become too high to deny any longer. The cost of doing nothing to prevent drastic changes to our planet's climate has become too high to stand idle. Even if all those climate scientists and all those models are wrong, wouldn't you feel better if we did something in the face of what appears to be a calamity on the horizon than if we did nothing?

Well, wouldn't you?

Saturday, July 14, 2012


We didn't expect much from today, but we ended up getting a whole lot.

This weekend is Heritage Days in our newly adopted town, Mount Vernon. It's the biggest event of the year. The main street is cordoned off for several blocks, and the festival is marked with music, a carnival, various activities for children and a parade. As newcomers, we are more fixated on our house than goings on in town. Those times will come later. So, we started our day moving a carload of belongings to the house. As we were standing in our yard mulling what to do next, a next-door neighbor came by and introduced herself. And her next-door neighbor came over, too. And then a family of four, our other next-door neighbor, stopped by. Soon, we had 10 people standing around, introducing themselves and chitchatting about life in our town.

One of our neighbors loaned us their stroller, so we could stuff the ever-hefty Isaiah, instead of carrying him downtown to all the fun. Other offered to watch our children whenever we needed to work on the house. And they said come on over whenever the children want to cool off. (We have no central A/C for now. It's pretty much a requirement here; window units don't cut it.)

Later, as I was sweeping the front porch, our neighbor from across the street stopped by and invited us to a lawn party they were having.

And this is where it gets more interesting.

That party was to start at 4:30. About an hour before, Michelle had taken Isaiah home to put him down for a much-needed nap. Nathaniel stayed with me. Around 4:30 I asked Nathaniel whether he wanted to go across the street to the party (with a bouncy house, a major draw) or walk to the petting zoo. To my mild surprise, he chose the petting zoo, so away he went. He went, he saw, he petted, he played, he ran, he tired. And we walked home.

Surprisingly, Natty Lou was holding it together quite nicely. He was tired, to be sure, but he wasn't spazzy or anything, so we decided to cross the street to our neighbor's party. In less than a minute, Nathaniel was gone, deep into bouncy house rapture and making new friends. I sat down with neighbors for a nice chat. At some point, Jeff, the host, came by and asked us if we were hungry. I figured I should get some chow in my little boy's tummy, so I followed him to the porch. He offered me a tour of the house, and I accepted. As we walked upstairs, Jeff saw some friends, said hello, and told them to make their way down and our of the house. He then turned me, and nonchalantly said,

"I'm going to propose to my girlfriend this evening."

I looked at him, mouth agape. It took a few beats for it to sink in.

"Well, why are we standing here, you giving me a tour," I finally said. "Let's get out of here!"

And so he did, and we did. And, within minutes of us exiting the house, Jeff was on one knee, proposing to Sara.

You don't get that every day.

Not from friends. And certainly not from new neighbors.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Big, Bad Banks

If you ever had faith in big banks, my guess is that your belief has been shaken. At least it should be.

There are three stories about big banks in today's news. And each is about deception, greed and selfishness.

Let's start with JP Morgan. That big, bad bank has been caught in a cover up to hide risky activity by its traders. Traders playing with other people's money. Traders with no regard for the people whose money they were entrusted to handle safely. Money that at least some clients  had earned and planned would carry them into retirement, home payments, children's education and financial security generally. JP Morgan has no idea how much of its clients' money it has lost; the latest estimates are $7 billion.

$7 billion. That's 70,000 clients investing $100,000. Or 35,000 clients investing $200,000. Either way, it's a lot of people whose money has been lost.

On to Barclays. That big, bad bank attempted to manipulate the cushy loan rates that bank use to lend to each other, known as the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR. Now, that sounds pretty innocuous, like one bank trying to con the others. Like someone conning his family and friends. But make no mistake: This is price fixing and market manipulation, and we all pay a price for such misdeeds – such as through big, bad banks passing on their losses to others (i.e. consumers). And, if Barclays tries to con its kin, how do you think it regards regular people?

Saving the best for the last: All of the big banks. Today, I read that big banks are reinvigorating their efforts to foreclose on homeowners who have fallen behind on their loans. According to an Associated Press story, "The increase in foreclosure starts comes as banks make up for time lost last year as the mortgage-lending industry grappled with allegations that it had processed foreclosures without verifying documents."

In other words, banks are redoubling their efforts to throw the very people out of their homes to whom they extended easy credit and for whom they failed to examine their ability to pay for the credit extended to them, and for whom they tried already to kick out of their homes illegally. Banks are making homeowners the scapegoats for their own giddy, greedy, reckless pursuit of money. It's like someone robbing a store and then getting paid for the heist, rather than thrown in jail.

And you wonder why we remain in the mess that we're in.

I don't wonder at all. I have no doubt. It's those big, bad banks.

And yet they still get away with it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lovely town, Mount Vernon.

Last weekend was one filled with some hard work, as we try to get our new home in move-in and livable condition. Unlike our home in Bristol, we are getting others to do some of the major projects for us, such as refinishing floors and walls. It's a combination of "been there, done that" and having two little children who make it hard to carve out the time to do the work.

Or, maybe we're a little lazier.

Other jobs are beyond our scope: Installing central A/C (a prerequisite in Iowa, where we just endured an 8-day spell of temps above 95º), adding to the electrical system and installing a system to rid the home of a mysterious, possible cancer-causing called radon that is prevalent in Iowa and few other places.

But we have cut down some trees, including one pretty big one. And that's what this post will be about, despite my lede.

On to that tree: We believe it was a red cedar tree, a 25- to 30-footer that had the unfortunate plight of having grown right next to our front porch. So, it was brushing right up against our house. Worse, it was dwarfed by a fir tree that is easily 100-feet tall. a real monster, that one. I call it "Pisa," because it leans, it's stately, and it's clearly pretty old.

Anyway, the yew tree needed to go, and Michelle's brother, Matt, and I decided to do it ourselves.

Just call us the lumberjacks.

Last Friday, after I got off work, Matt and I got to work. Matt roped a loop about a third of the way up the tree and we hooked the other end of the rope to the back of a pickup truck. Then we broke out the chainsaw and went to town. The base of the tree is about 11/2 feet to 2 feet thick, and yet we thought we'd fell it in no time. We cut a notch and then sliced away at the sides, expecting the tree to weaken quickly and be ready to go down.

We started at 5:30 p.m. 6:30, 7:30, 8:30. The tree remained upright. In fact, it showed no sign of budging. It was getting dark, and we were starting to wonder whether we'd have to leave it there and take our chances. Meanwhile, the neighborhood had taken quite a bit of interest in our labors. Some walked nearby, pretending to be on a regular evening stroll. Others simply stood in their lawns and gaped. One man rode by in a canary yellow vintage car and asked us, in no mean spirit, what company were we from.

"Brother & Brother," I replied.

He didn't seem amused.

Neither did the neighbors. Not only were we subjecting them to the whine of the chainsaw in the middle of the evening, but there was morbid fascination coursing through the hood that these yahoos from Rhode Island just may cause a tree to fall on that house they just bought.

I must admit that thought crossed my mind, too.

But we were too deep to turn back. So, we mounted one final push. Matt sawed, and I gunned the pickup truck, getting that rope as taut as possible without snapping it. Suddenly, the tree moved, like a slipped disk in your back. Matt sawed again, and I pulled the rope taut again. It slipped again. Another saw and snap! that baby crashed to the ground, right where we had planned (and hoped) it would.

Here's the result, with Iowa's newest lumberjack.

Here's the debris field from the tree.

And a gratuitous shot of me.

Now, we have designs on that 100-footer.

We're not that crazy!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I guess Independence Day is as good a time as any to restart blogging. Freedom, liberty and the inalienable right to jot down thoughts.

And I've got a lot of them, for there have been a ton of changes for myself and our family.

For one, you may notice the heading for this blog has changed. That's because my job has changed, as well as the location. 

To be brief (since all family knows this already): We live in Iowa, and I am coordinating research coverage and communications for the University of Iowa in Iowa City. More on all this another time.

We have a new home. We will live in Mt. Vernon, a college town of about 4,500 that reminds us very much of Bristol, the beautiful, bayside Rhode Island town from which we moved. Granted, Mt. V. doesn't have the water, but it's eminently livable, with a small, viable, cozy downtown within blocks of our house. It is home to Cornell College, a well-regarded higher-education institution plopped on a hill. Its campus is just three blocks from our new home. For us, it's such a huge quality of life benefit to be able to walk to so many places – from the college to town hall to the library to the coffee shop. We are eager to make Mt. V. our home – we hope for a very long time.

Our house is an 1895 Victorian, like a grand old painting that's been left neglected in a closet. In other words, it has beauty, but it will take some restoration for its original grandeur to be revealed. Even more simply, it's a fixer upper, from the floors to the screened back porch and the overgrown yard. 

I sort of swore to myself that after extensively renovating our home in Bristol, built in 1900, that I wouldn't entertain such work again, especially with two young boys in tow. But when Michelle and I saw this place, and toured the town, we decided to go for it, restoration and all. 

I will save my groans for another time.

Another thing that will take some acclimatization is the weather. For days on end, the temperature has been in the 90s, hot and humid. The heat index today, tomorrow and Friday is around 107 degrees. It's oppressive, it's awful, it sucks the life out of you. Which brings me full circle to July 4th. Normally, we would be lining a street in fair Bristol, taking in the nation's longest running July 4th parade and ensconcing ourselves at our very good friends, the St. Angelos, eating stuffies, having some drinks and laughs and watching home-fired fireworks. We miss that, and we miss our friends.

We hope to make some new ones in our new town.