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Iowa.

We haven’t had much in the way of sun in these parts of the last week or two. There’s a little bit of sun peeking through the clouds today, but the sky still feels quite heavy. I find it oppressive. I’m ready for blue skies, puffy clouds, pleasant breezes and warm sunshine.

In 2004 I drove from our home in Central New York to Emmetsburg, Iowa for a work-related training class. That week was my first time in Iowa and I instantly fell in love with the landscape. The folks in Emmetsburg seemed quite friendly and I felt like I could open my arms wide without bumping into neighbors or trees or a suburban housing development. I was keenly aware that I was visiting tornado country as evidenced by cautionary signs and sirens and the like. The sunshine was warm, the sky had puffy clouds and the atmosphere felt hospitable.


Image from miss604.com

One of the things I love about the Iowa countryside is that you’d see a group of trees with a house, maybe a barn or two and other evidence of that spot being a residence. That little bit of land would be surrounded by farm land. The nearest neighbor appeared to be a mile or so away. The drive into town was on purpose. Though I have little evidence to support this, the vibe just seemed friendlier. A little slower. A lot less hectic. Simpler.

Perhaps I’m ready for a Green Acres experience.

The company I work for has a large presence in Iowa; I could easily move to the state and keep my current gig. The issue is that I have little to no hope that I would ever convince Earl to move to The Hawkeye State. A couple of years ago when we drove across part of the state along US Route 20, I told him how much I would enjoy living in Iowa and he didn’t seem to share the sentiment.

Perhaps another visit is in order.

My daydreaming about relocation is spurred on by the development of the land adjacent to ours at home; more trees have come down in the past 48 hours and now there’s digging and such going on. The activity seems to indicate that something is going to be built there soon. I find this a little suffocating.

I just want to open my arms wide and enjoy the sunshine without hitting a neighbor in the nose.

Fourth.

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Today several people have said to me, “May the Fourth Be With You”. While I was tempted to reply, “and also with you”, on each occasion, I opted to show my true allegiance with “Live Long and Prosper”.

I’m not much of a Star Wars fan. I haven’t seen the latest installment of that machine. Honestly, I’ll probably opt out of the latest installment of Star Trek as well, as the reboots don’t really seem to be in the spirit of Roddenberry’s “Star Trek”.

Earl and I are currently sitting in the local Barnes and Noble, which is pronounced “Barnes and Nobles” in these parts. This utterly wrong pronunciation was most likely inspired by the mispronunciation of Ames as “Ameses”. It was easier to just say “Westons”, even though they closed.

I’m digressing.

It’s the fourth of May and to celebrate reading and books, Barnes and Noble has an R2-D2 running around the Nook corner chattering away in something that only an Android phone can understand. Every once in a while a child screams in delight, another child smells like they’re dumping in the diaper, but by God, May The Fourth Be With You.

I don’t even know what May The Fourth Be With You means. Do they say that in the English speaking countries in Europe, where they most likely say it’s the Fourth of May? Does Canada say the fourth of May or May 4th? If you think about it, the European style makes sense because the word order is hierarchical: date, month, year. The date is the smallest time unit, followed by the month, followed by the year.

I like orderly things like that.

There is a man wearing a fedora working on a PC. He is running Windows 7 and I know this because I can see his PC on the network. I was going to leave him a love note on his desktop praising his chapeau of choice but I decided I didn’t want to flip him out and have him lose his cool. The fedora keeps him chilled looking.

Earl is trying to watch a video clip by holding the speakers of his iPhone up to his ear. I think it makes it harder to see the screen that way but to each his own.

Perhaps R2-D2 can bring over some headphones.

Building.

We have several acres of wooded area behind our house. Our patio looks out over the woods. Our kitchen window looks out over the woods. When I sit at the kitchen table, I look out over the woods. I like looking at the woods.

Over the past week or so our neighbors (two houses over) have been cutting down trees and doing a lot of work out in their portion of the woods. This morning I became a little bit alarmed when I realized it looked like they were prepping the land to build something. The area they have cleared is large enough for a decent sized McMansion. If my suspicions come true, the kitchen table will look out over some woods and the back of a McMansion.

I am not amused, not amused at all.

Now, we live in a good sized house that was built in the latter half of the 1990s. It sits on two acres of property that isn’t nearly as roomy as our old homestead of 38 acres but I can deal because I can see out into the woods. If the house was located on one of those McMansiony streets, I’m sure our home would have no issue with fitting into the McMansion crowd.

In all honesty, I have no reason to complain about someone building out in the woods because our house is situated behind our neighbors’ house, and when they look out their kitchen window they most likely see our house. And for the first several years of living here, I felt bad about that, because I felt like we were intruding on their space. The only saving grace was that our neighbors are friendly and I can see out into the woods behind our house.

I can not fathom why anyone would want to live in row of McMansions. I have wondered over the years what would possess a young couple to dream about living in a row of homes in a cheaply built house that wasn’t exactly like but well coordinated with the houses around it. These McMansion rows are different than the post-WWII suburban housing developments; at least back then there were trees, the roads had curves to them and there was some semblance of character to said developed area, but lately folks in these parts have been building straight rows with every house lined up perfectly in some sort of Stepford Synchronization.

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All that’s missing in that photo is matching mini-vans in assorted drab hues.

I couldn’t find anything in the local Town Board Meeting minutes that would indicate that there is something major in the way of construction going on in the woods, but it really looks like we are going to have something nearby and whatever springs up in the woods is going to be an impediment to the view of the woods that I thoroughly enjoy.

Until I can determine what’s going up back there I’m going to have to do my best Mrs. Kravitz impersonation and keep an eye on the progress.

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Equal Opportunity.

So I am fascinated by Art Deco-ish architecture that was used for some school buildings built around World War II. This is an extension of my interest in master clock systems. There just seemed to be so much more attention to details back then; many of these school buildings are still standing and holding their own against the tests of time.

When Earl and I are out for a drive I’ll occasionally spot a school of this era and I’m curious as to what kind of clocks they had back in the day, as most likely the classroom clocks have since been replaced by plastic junk of some sort. I’ll look up these schools in classmates.com and gander through yearbooks trying to see if the camera captured a clock in one of the photos. The clocks I collect, made by The Standard Electric Time Company, are easy to spot with the numbers and hands used in the design of the clock.

I was going through a 1967 yearbook from a school in the Finger Lakes when I ran into a club I had never seen before. I’ve been going through old yearbooks for many years, but before tonight I had never seen a photo for “Boys Homemaking Club”.

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Since it was the mid 1960s I always assumed that any sort of Homemaking Club would be left to the girls and ladies of the class, after all, when a woman appeared on a game show of that era, Allen Ludden would ask, “And what does your husband do?” Times were different back then.

Or were they? I’m now going to go through more of these yearbooks to see how many years the “Boys Homemaking Class” endured in this school. I’ve never seen a club of this nature but I think it’s a wonderful thing.

Earth Day.

On today, Earth Day, spend some time with nature: in the woods, at the beach or visit your local park.

I’m listening to birds sing, water falling through a creek and the rustle of leaves as an animal makes his or her way through the brush.

Taking a moment to visit nature makes me appreciate our planet. It should never be taken for granted. We are merely a visitor and we should do our best to make it better than when we arrived.

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Planning.

The other day, when I wasn’t feeling well and was trying to get my bearings back while lying in bed, I watched the original EPCOT video as narrated by Walt Disney in 1966.

I had never seen the video in its entirety but I had seen some snippets in the Walt Disney exhibit at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I found watching the entire video to be quite fascinating as I have a very strong admiration for Walt Disney’s ability to foresee “a future”. While there are elements of the original vision in the Epcot we know today, EPCOT was to be a planned city, designed to very detailed specifications. Cars and other motor traffic would have been pushed to parameters and underground. Innovative public transportation would have been the norm; the People Mover at Magic Kingdom and the Monorail would have been key in moving the folks at EPCOT about the city.

As an almost Civil Engineer, I am thoroughly fascinated by the hub and spoke concept, especially as it was depicted in such a geometric design. Automobiles would not have encountered traffic lights as the design of the roadways would have incorporated roundabouts and non-conflicting intersections.

I love the idea of more people walking and less people driving. The only thing that I didn’t really agree with was the climate controlled aspect; I’m a sucker for fresh air.

I think Walt had some great ideas with this original concept of EPCOT and it’s unfortunate that more of our urban renewal projects in the United States don’t share his vision. A lot of what we do seems to be patch up jobs or addendum so to existing city layouts. Wouldn’t it be something if folks got together and built a new city from the ground up today?

The only thing that comes to mind as being remotely close to Walt’s vision is the “Spaceship” being built on the Apple Campus in California. I am anxious to visit that someday. I think we need a lot more in the way of forward thinking people in the world.

When we visit Disneyworld I’ll often comment that Epcot is my favorite of the theme parks. While it isn’t what Walt originally intended, I do like the awareness, educational and social components of the theme park. I feel like while all of Disneyworld is designed for families to have fun and to lose themselves in their vacation, Epcot has the added bonus of bringing just a touch of education to the experience.

It’s not the same as living in a well designed, ultra-high tech city, but at least it’s a start.

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In Sickness and In Health.

I have lost six pounds since Saturday. I wish I could say the weight loss is due to hard work, careful eating and determination, but the reality is I’ve had some sort of issue with my stomach that made me curse any food whatsoever. Quite frankly it had been over 20 years since I had last vomited, but my this weekend through last night has confirmed all of my plumbing designed for that purpose works just fine.

Earl was kind enough to hold back my hair Sunday morning during one of my spells. Actually, since I have no hair, he just kept a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

I have no fever, no chills or any feeling of malaise other than the unsettled stomach and the food exiting my body from various orifices at an alarming rate, so I ruled out any sort of flu or anything of the sort. I feel fine other than the queasiness, which has subsided considerably in the last 12-14 hours. Unfortunately, Earl is now showing the same symptoms as of last night. He stayed home from work today, a rarity for him, and I am doing my best to take care of him while still fighting an occasional queasy stomach and working from my home office.

Getting sick in the manner has helped me reevaluate my eating habits and health in general and I’ve made a couple of adjustments to my diet. Contrary to my tendency to make broad, sweeping changes to my life, I’ve committed to give up a couple of things through the end of April in an effort to make it a habit. I’ll reevaluate how I feel at the end of the month and go from there. Small changes make a bigger difference, especially when they stick as intended.

I really wish I could figure out where this ailment came from but I guess it will remain a mystery for the time being. In the meanwhile, I hope Earl doesn’t suffer with it as long as I did. Even 48 to 72 hours is much too long.

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20.

Twenty years ago today Earl and I had our first official date. Much of our time together was spent driving through the mountains of Vermont in my little cherry-red 1994 Hyundai Excel. During that ride I knew that I was sitting next to someone that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, no further questions needed. We shared secrets, we got to know each other a little bit and about halfway through the ride, Earl felt comfortable enough to put his hand on my knee for the very first time. I can still remember the happy tingles that shot up through my body like it happened only yesterday.

We are both a couple of decades older, the Hyundai Excel is long gone and we still enjoy trips through Vermont from time to time. The most important outcome of that day, 20 years ago, is that I began the journey with the man that I knew was my soul mate. No questions asked, no hesitation necessary.

It was just meant to be.

Environmental Ambience.

The mall management companies in our neck of the woods have spent the past several years removing the water features and other nature related scenery from our shopping malls. The majority of this ambience has been replaced with IKEA like furniture and carpeting all arranged at a jaunty angle.

They’re missing the boat.

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While in Greenville, S.C. for work I stay at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Greenville. Like many other Hyatt hotels, there’s quite a bit in the way of waterfalls, multi-level landings, glass walls, plants, trees and other environmentally suggestive bric-a-brac around the place.

I find the effect to be quite pleasant.

One of the hardest things about living in Upstate New York (other than the urban decay, taxes, fleeing industrial ventures and stifling government) is the weather. The malls of the 1970s and 1980s had an atmosphere that made you want to be inside because it reminded you of that pleasant outdoor feeling. Fountains. Trees. Mulch. You can’t find that in the middle of December in the Lake Ontario Snowbelt but you certainly could find it at Penn Can Mall. Today? Carpeting and furniture.

Big whoop.

We often talk about the fact that Americans sit on their ass and do nothing recreational anymore. Walking around the mall isn’t the same as running the Boston Marathon but at least it’s movement. Give people a reason to move. Revive the pleasant atmosphere of a waterfall. Let Midge and Marge sit next to a statue with water shooting out of its naval as they sip their Starbucks and play Canasta.

Why can’t we have pleasant indoor scenery anymore? Life was never meant to be sterile with carpeting set at a jaunty angle.