Sunday, June 22, 2008

Eli, Jane: Garden Stuff

These are Eli's plants: a pumpkin vine and an "India Lily," planted from a tuber. They are close together because we'd given up on the pumpkin when we got the tubers, and planted one right where we'd planted the pumpkin! When the pumpkin came up, we decided to leave both of them there.

I bought this trellis for my clematis vines. They told me to buy it . . . vines are such weird plants; they almost seem to have brains. These were growing away from the stakes I'd place for them, toward the tree and the old laundry post, but they needed something smaller to wrap around. So I bought them a trellis. I think Jackman will bloom later this summer! It has lots of buds.
Ken put together two planters for me when he was here in May. Here's one. The plants are millet (tall purple), lantana, sweet potato, and coleus. I love it! In front is Eli's banana plant.
These plants have the sunny spot on our property: on the 2nd floor deck. They seem to like it. There are 2 tomato plants, a pepper, and some basil.
Look at the nice little pepper on this one already!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Robbie: Game Maker

Eli and I have been working on a game using Game Maker (download here) called Mario Bros. Basic. The objective of the game is to make up as many silly and tedious levels as possible. Here are some screenshots.
This is the first level.

Here is the "wet basement" level. You can see by the fireballs that we still have a few bugs.

Here is a level demonstrating the use of "fire blocks"

When we "finish" we will post it on yoyo games and I will write a notification.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jane: Baking with Mom

It's just about cherry season here in Iowa, and the boys and I picked a couple of handfuls, enough to make cherry muffins.

The recipe's my Mom's. I love baking and cooking from her recipes. It reminds me of her; I can almost picture her hands pitting those cherries.

Here's the recipe:

Sour Cherry Spice Muffins
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. shortening
Cream together.
Add 2 eggs and 1/2 c. sour milk (1/2 c. milk with 1/2 T. vinegar).
In a separate bowl, mix 2 c. flour, 1 t. baking power, 1 t. cinnamon, 1 t. ground cloves, 1/2 t. salt.
Stir dry into wet.
Fold in 1 1/2 c. pitted sour cherries.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
Makes 15 muffins.
No, we don't own a cherry tree. We pick them at the boys' elementary school, where 2 large, fruitful cherry trees are completely ignored this time of year, except by us and the birds.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Robbie, Jane: Downtown Cedar Rapids

We went downtown on our bikes again this evening, as we have been doing for a while. But this time we got farther than 7th St. where the police had cordoned the flooded area off. Now you can get all the way downtown. The water seems to be out of all the streets, thank goodness.

We don't have pictures this time; maybe tomorrow we'll take some.

You can see the water line from the flood on the buildings. Down on 1st St., it's about 10 feet high. This is where the library is.

We rode up to the library and looked in the windows. Sad sights inside. All books except for the ones on the top shelves got ruined.

The Y's pool is filled with water--but not the chlorinated kind. The stinky floodwater kind. Servicemaster workers were already working on cleaning everything--they'd torn out the doors and taken out the tables and desks in the entry area.

A couple blocks down, the little wine/beer store, Benz, had a high water mark at about 4 feet. The young people who own it/work there were taking out damaged stuff and had a pile of stuff in the parking lot.

Some trees and signs were bent over from the force of the flood. Some of the signs had snapped out of the ground. The heavy metal fence along 1st street was bent over by the force of the flood.

People were down there with generators and pumps, cleaning stuff out. It'll take a long time to get it cleaned up; clear, cool, dry weather this week will certainly help matters a lot.

Jane, Robbie: Trip to Dubuque

We figured this was a good time to get out of town. Dubuque is experiencing NO flooding, so we went there. We headed to the Mississippi River Museum which kept us entertained for about 2 1/2 hours!
These huge things were steam generators. Dubuque used to be a boat-building town.
Robbie and his buddy Mark Twain.
Robbie and Eli driving remote-control boats.
Here are the boats!
Thirteen turtles sitting on a log.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jane: Garden News

The boys have some flood pictures to post, but I'm going to write about something different: my garden.

For a while, I've been wanting to get rid of a bittersweet vine in the garden bed right outside my back door. It's not particularly attractive, and apparently, it's an invasive species--its offspring are popping up all over the yard! It was growing on an old laundry pole, so I needed something else viney to cover that up.

I decided to replace it with clematis. I bought two kinds: the traditional dark violet Jackmanii, which blooms in early summer:

and sweet autumn clematis, which is white, fragrant, and blooms in fall.

I left a dead bittersweet vine for them to climb on, and bought a couple of very tall stakes, too. I may need more in terms of a trellis.

I wish I had a before picture, but here's "after."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Robbie: Flood of 2008

This morning, we went to Coralville to help with sandbags. Here are some of the pictures.

On the way back we took some pictures of the submerged Cedar Rapids downtown. this shows just how hight the water is and dwarfs 1993.

There used to be three bridges across the river but now they are totally submerged. The railway bridges had hopper cars filled with rocks on them to weight them down but one of the bridges collapsed and somewhat dammed up the river. Many a building including the Library are up to their windows in water and the water treatment building doesn't work because it is submerged. The Alliant Energy tower, which is the emergency power station, is rendered useless because it is under about six feet of water so there has to be a door-to-door survey on who has power and who doesn't.

Because of the water treatment building being useless, the city is running on 25% as much water as normal and that means that you need to restrict water use by not taking showers (or short ones.)

The crest of the flood was expected on Tuesday, then today (Friday) but it is not expected when downtown will be drained and power is out "indefinitely" in the ares that can't be reached.

In one of my earlier posts I put, "will it be like 1993? only time will tell." The answer: no it was far, far worse.

The Rain It Raineth Every Day

We're having record flooding in Eastern Iowa this year. We live out of the flood plain, so it hasn't affected us, except that the city is running short of water, so we have to be careful about water use (showers, washing dishes, flushing toilets, e.g.) Until this declaration, which came yesterday, the flood seemed rather unreal, especially in those rare moments when it isn't raining. I was at Coe Wednesday afternoon when the Sun came out, and it was still out when I rode home. People were going about their daily business, kids were riding bikes and playing in their yards, with no indication that a mile and a half away there was utter chaos.

Yesterday I went down to Iowa City with my friends Paul and Marty, and Marty's son Alosha, to see if we could help. We spent a couple hours on a sandbag line in the Idylwild subdivision, off Dubuque Street in the northern part of the city. Basically I took a sandbag from one person and handed it to the person on the other side of me; the person at the end of the line added it to the wall that was supposed to protect the subdivision from the rising waters. The bags weren't heavy at first, but got heavier as the time wore on. About 1:45, the people in charge of the effort gathered us all around and announced, to our amazement, that the newest projections were that the waters would rise much higher than previously expected, and much higher than the wall we had nearly finished. Ergo, abandon the wall and move to higher ground to try to protect something else.

At that point we four moved to Paul's mother's condo, where we helped her move her belongings from the first floor to the second. Paul's two brothers and some family friends helped, too.

More later... just got an emergency call from a downtown church. Must go!

Jane: Floods in Iowa

We are experiencing a historical circumstance here in Cedar Rapids: a flood, such as hasn't been seen in 500 years.

Iowa has gotten a lot of rain over the past few months. And after a wet, snowy winter, the rivers have gotten higher and higher. As they flow downstream, they have been flooding one town after another: Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and now Cedar Rapids.

In the picture above, you can see our city hall, which is on an island in the middle of the Cedar River. The bridges over the river, three of them, are completely submerged. Off to the left of the picture is the public library, which is on 1st street (facing the river), and which is also in the flood waters. It makes my stomach hurt to think of that--all those books I haven't read yet! There's a book on reserve for me; I can picture exactly where it is. It's hard to picture someplace you know and love--being inundated by muddy water.

Our house is high and dry. No water, even in our basement. I am glad of that at least.

There's not much we can do here now except wait for the water to fall; after that, maybe we can help somewhere.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Eli: Yugoslavian money

I got this banknote off of ebay .as you can see it is from Yugoslavia (Jugoslavia).

Jane: How much is this banknote worth?

Eli: 50 Billion dinara, which is about 1/10th of a cent.

Jane: Oh my gosh! Why is worth so little? It's so beautiful!

Eli: They had mega-hyperinflation.

Jane: When is this from?

Eli: 1993.

Jane: It's not Yugoslavia anymore, is it?

Eli: Now it is: Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo. It used to be bigger than that before 1990.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jane: Book Journals

A few years ago, I started recording a list of books I'd read in the back of my journal. Then I stopped keeping a journal, but I kept up my list.

When my mom died, we found a spiral journal in a desk at their house. It was her book journal, with a list of books she'd read. Her list was dated (month and year when she read each book), and each title had a 1-2 sentence description of the book.

My siblings gave me the notebook--a treasure. I've enjoyed looking over it, and have gotten some ideas for "what to read next" from my mom's descriptions.

I also got inspired to keep my own book journal. Now I record title, author, and a 1-2 sentence description of each book I read. My journal's on the left in the picture; Mom's is on the right.

I finished a book last night, and this is what I wrote:

The Voyage of the Narwhal, by Andrea Barrett. Naturalist Erasmus Darwin Wells explores the arctic on a ship which meets with extreme circumstances. 19th c. romantic views of the Arctic is destroyed.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bruce: National Trails Day

Saturday, June 7, was National Trails Day. The Linn County Trails Association, of which I am a member, sponsored a "progressive breakfast" along the Cedar River Trail that runs through Cedar Rapids.

I went out early on Saturday morning to reach the Sokol Park station just after 8. It was sunny and not humid, for a change. Sandy Colton and Ben Dukes were handing out granola bars and water and bananas. It surprised me how many people were riding by, not knowing what was going on, because (a) I didn't realize that many people used The Trail early on Saturday morning, (b) obviously none of them were LCTA members or else they would have known about the breakfast. Someone stopped, and we took her name and e-mail to send her membership info. I was the only one with a pen handy, so I got to trot out my "an educator always carries a pen" story for the hundredth time.

A mile or so north and I was at the Greene Square Park station, which had more people there and more stuff, including coffee and cookies from Brewed Awakenings, and oatmeal in various forms from Quaker Oats. Cedar Rapids City Council member Tom Podzimek was among those staffing the station, ebulliently promoting the event to anyone within earshot, which turned out to be a lot of people. Not only does "earshot of Tom" cover a good deal of territory, but a lot of people were downtown for the first Farmer's Market of the season. "I love this city!" shouted Tom to a young mom pushing a kid in a stroller. "Want some free food? It's from the Trails Association!"

Two more miles got me to McLeod Run Park for the third and final station. They had bagels from Panera, and more bananas, although having had two bananas already I thought I'd done my potassium for the day. I did have a bagel, though. I wonder what my net calorie intake/expenditure was for this hike? Anyway, I got a chance to talk to Ron McGraw, who is LCTA's legislative liaison, and who knows more than anyone else about the status of future trails. Apparently they expect to break ground next year on the CeMar trail, which eventually will connect The Trail (just north of Coe College) to the Marion Parks trail.By now it was starting to get humid again, and McLeod Park was getting buggy, including biting flies. Time to scoot home, which I did. In all I rode about 8 miles, injested about 10,000 calories (maybe an exaggeration), and chatted with numerous fellow trail users.

Conclusions: (1) Trails are public goods. I don't think you can prove the existence of public goods, but the public certainly acts as though the trail is a public good. (2) The temptation to free ride is enormous. Iowa Public Radio estimates that 8 percent of their listeners are members; from my observations Saturday I would say that sounds about right for the LCTA too. The incentives to free ride are obvious. We need to publicize the group, like we did Saturday, and maybe turn the screws of guilt.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Robbie: Mega Storm

1825 hours. Outside of local Hiawatha Pizza ranch.
When the conditions are right, it will all go wrong!

This is the story of driving back from Pizza Ranch in Hiawatha. It begins with the TV showing a huge storm front heading our way. When we leave the building to get to the car, the wind blows rain in sheets and you are blown around like a leaf. After we got in the car, we could hear the rain pounding down on the roof and see the water misting off of the streets. The sky is a dreary grey and you can hardly see thirty feet. As we drove past a Wendy's restaurant, I noticed that the sign had been shattered and there were people picking up the debris. Luckily for them, it was plastic. There were several reports of funnel clouds and tornadoes but none of them were aimed for us.

as you can see from the picture, the cloud mass swiped across the already saturated midwest giving this nagging thought to the residents' minds; "Will this be like 1993?" Only time will tell.

Robbie: Mushrooms

Here is a picture of one of the many mushrooms we found in our backyard. It is the biggest, standing 6 1/2 inches tall.We are not entirely sure what kind of mushroom it is but it will probably be back
We also found some small cluster mushrooms all over the yard, Inky caps, some 2 1/2 inch tall yellow mushrooms, and some poisonous Death Caps

Friday, June 6, 2008

Robbie: Indiana Jones Spoof

My friend Nick Rosek is planning a spoof on the movie Indiana Jones and the kingdom of the cystal skull and here is a hyperlink to the page.
There will be more information provided when the filming starts.

Jane: A Book I Liked, A Book I Didn't Like

"What's that book about?" said Eli. I was reading The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

"It's about a family whose daughter's friend, a 13-year old girl, mysteriously drowns in their pool," I say. He looks puzzled. "It's about a family in a very stressful situation. Everyone--the mom, the dad, the neighbors, the daughter--everyone deals with this tragedy differently. I like those kinds of books."

Everyone in the story, especially the mother, who's the main character, learns something about families and loyalty, wealth and poverty, art and hobbies in this book. The author doesn't flinch from putting her characters into tough situations. The writing's compelling and lively. I might have to find more by the author.

I thought this book, An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England would be fun. The main character has just served jail time for burning down Emily Dickenson's house, and has gotten fan mail from people who want him to burn down other authors' homes.

Sounds fun--black humor, literary slant . . . but the writing was meandering and the main character wasn't compelling--actually none of the characters were. Parts made me laugh, but I kept skimming pages to find those enjoyable sections. I actually quit reading before I finished the book, and that doesn't happen too often.

Jane: Useless things to do with Yarn

I love to Do Things With Yarn: crochet and knit. Sometimes I make useful things, like hats, scarves, or shawls.

Sometimes, like this week, I decide to make something useless . . . and fun. Like this crochet Totoro.
I got the idea from a book I found at the library, Mr. Funky's Super Wonderful Crochet by Narumi Ogawa. The book is filled with amigurumi patterns: for crocheting dolls and little animals. They're Japanese, so they look like Hello Kitty and various cutesy anime.
I altered the Hamster pattern to make this Totoro. We love Totoro in our house.

I might make the Hello Kitty one next.