30 May 2009

HR's new HQ

Summer break hung over my head like impending doom. When I left my job last summer there were only two weeks before school would be back in session for the fall. Those were a difficult two weeks working from home with tons of interruptions to get the scads of work done that I delayed until after my departure.

But I wasn't nearly as busy then as I am now.

I purposefully planned work around Christmas break while the kids would be home and they were gone over spring break-so no problems. I feared my sanity the most with the kids being out of school for the summer. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. With my "office" area and dining room being used as a basketball court for two very active kids and my ability to concentrate iffy at best, I knew I would have to do something to remain working from home. But what? The only rooms that you can close off on our main level are a bathroom and closet. Upstairs it was bedrooms and a bathroom. I'm not keen on working out of the bathroom, so our bedroom would have to do.

Now, what to work from? Being the frugal yet tasteful guy I am my first thought was to buy a desk that could become my little girl's. So we went shopping and I was shocked at how pitiful furniture is constructed these days.....which led us to an upscale furniture store in town and I realized we would be forking out over $300 for a decent desk. A decent white, with scalloped legs, little girl's desk. The price didn't bother me, but knowing that I would be buying myself a decent desk one day I thought why not just put that toward my own desk?

So then we landed on a very nice $1200 desk for me. It was perfect. The plan is to move back downstairs at the end of the summer and then over the course of the school year reconfigure our large entry room into an office and relocate there. So I would just be buying the desk in advance. My wife didn't like that.

So, late last night....two days into summer break and past due for office relocation....I had a thought. A very frugal thought. You see I found this large 2" thick x 22" wide x 7' long solid board when cleaning out our basement. It has a well worn top surface and edges and is stamped with a "10" on one side and a few square nails in it. I have no idea what it is or where it came from, but it appears nearly as old as our house-150 years. I also have an old wood crate in the barn and a salvaged chair from the truckstop. Add my bedside nightstand and throw a little stain on the crate and voila'...instant desk set.

I moved the computer and printer, router and modem and everything else I would need upstairs Saturday morning. Emptied the nightstand and it became my file and paper drawer. I have a couple of old cigar boxes from gramps that hold pens and paperclips in the top drawer. I've added a desktop pen holder that I've had since highschool and a strange bronze globe I picked up in college.

I'm thinking it's not too bad. It is definitely quieter, much, much quieter; I should be able to blog much better now too. While I doubt I'll bring clients up to my office, I do have a window I can look out of down on the world below...mostly into the stately old maple trees in our front yard. Our dog, Oscar, also seems to have relocated his favorite sleeping place to our bed next to me. If it gets too warm up here, as it does on the second level of this old house, I figure I can work in my underwear! I understand most men do their best thinking in the bathroom; I figure I'll give the bedroom a try....I figure I already do my best work here. Sorry, gotta remember to keep this G-rated.

Of course, as I type this the two little urchins have been playing around my feet and on the bed.

28 May 2009

Aunt Goldie

You know how folks speculate about having some long, lost rich uncle who bequeaths like a million dollars in their will to them? Well, for me, it was my Great, Great Aunt Goldie. She was my grandfather's aunt who moved to California during the 1930's and married well. She was the youngest sister to my great grandfather....their family hailed from the Rochester area.

California. Not a likely place for a Hoosier to end up, but some do. And some do very well. Aunt Goldie was one of those. She and her husband owned a hospital in Oceanside and from my understanding, whenever they drove back to Indiana...along Route 66 I'm sure....as it's been relayed to me, they always drove the best cars and wore the latest styles. Imagine that showing up on the family farm.

I vaguely remember visiting her once when we traveled to California. I remember she lived on the ocean, on a point, in a grand old Victorian-of course everything seems bigger when you're 5. I remember a couple of dogs following us down to the beach to collect shells. That's about it until she made one last trip back to Indiana at 96 years old. She died two years later. I hope I inherited those genes.

Aunt Goldie and Gramps in 1991

Her last trip "home", funny saying that since she lived in Oceanside for 60 years of her life, we had one last great reunion of all the extended family in Rochester. Imagine meeting your eighty year old grandfather's extended family. It was a houseful. They had one son, who retired to a ranch in Sheridan, Wyoming. Shoot, there goes the inheritance.

teary-eyed in Kimmell

Kimmell? You've never heard of Kimmell? The onion capitol of Indiana? Well, I don't know that it is....but it seems that onions are rooted deep in their history. While surveying the Lincoln Highway in Noble County I happened upon this little town, now bypassed by Highway 33.

There were several "onion barns" along the railroad crossing. I don't know that I had ever seen an onion barn, but with my affinity for vernacular or "local" architecture, they intrigued me. So did a number of other things. Such as this sweet looking ride.

And then, a few blocks from old highway 33, was Hitler Street. Hitler Street? You have to be kidding me. German churches across Indiana gave up sermons in their native tongue because of the evil guy and the folks in Kimmell didn't consider dropping "Hitler Street"?


I hate to say this, but I've been feeling rather uninspired lately. A sort of "blogger's block" I assume. But I do have many random and uninteresting things to write about....trying to make them entertaining is the trouble. So here goes nothin'.

I love auto-related nostalgia. Not so much the cars, but the roadside kinda stuff. I know of two remarkable, super-early auto garages and they are both in Elkhart County and both constructed in 1917. The first is in Goshen's downtown, along the old Lincoln Highway. Although someone screwed up the left bay, the building is still no less remarkable and designed in the Art Neuvo style. Can you find the date in the photo above?

The other is in Wakarusa, not too far down the road. Stylistically it is more reserved, but maintains more architectural integrity than Goshen's garage. I speculate they were constructed by the same builder. 1917....so, what, would maybe one out of every thirty families have a car?

Speaking of Wakarusa. Ask anyone in Northern Indiana where to get giant jellybeans and they'll say, "why, the Wakarusa Dime Store, of course!" For a tiny town dime store, I have to hand it to the promotional minds at the Wakarusa Dime Store. They found their niche, kept promoting the same message and reaped huge rewards. I mean, com'on, I live more than 30 minutes away and we make special trips just to buy jellybeans. Say it with me now, "you've got to be kidding me...that's not a jellybean! THAT'S a jellybean! Wakarusa Dime Store. Wakarusa."

And then there is the opposite of having a good marketing campaign. I think if the idea is to NOT celebrate this rather unremarkable location, then I think the folks in Marshall County are doing a splendid job. I wonder if many of them even know this marker exists. I've driven past it probably a thousand times and only recently it caught my attention. OK, Marshall County readers, can you identify where this historic marker is located? It's only been there for 70 years, although the pine tree referenced is long past gone.

23 May 2009

For what shall we be Remembered?

Generations past, those stories we have been told,
Of greatest generations who, without hesitation, perished
In order that we might be free,
To preserve the union,
And uphold our way of life
We remember from time to time, including this day.
Their sacrifices we honor.

But what will be said of us?
Our generation who, without thought, live
With no concern for future generations,
Waste our resources, indulge our greed
And create a hollow way of life.
We refuse reality, even this day.
Their way of life we reject.

I believe this,
We measure our resolve against our forefathers,
And reflect on their sacrifice as something uncommon.
But their lives were already given to selflessness,
Long before they laid them down.
What are we given to,
And for what shall we be remembered?

21 May 2009

if today was your last day

A couple of things have really hit me recently. The first of my nieces and nephews will be graduating from highschool this weekend. My wife and I had dinner with an old friend and his wife who was back celebrating his 20th highschool reunion at Culver Military Academy this past weekend.....I haven't gotten together with him in nearly that long. My wife keeps talking about how my daughter will need new skirts because they've mysteriously become too short. I mentor highschool guys who could be my sons. And, finally, realizing my son is getting old enough to take on young man kinda jobs-even at 8. 8! I remember 8. He's growing up way too fast.

But then, I'm growing up way too fast! 40! @#!*x#!

I was on my way home from a job on Monday and heard this song by Nickelback, "If Today was your Last Day". And that got me thinking what I had done with the last 40 years of my life. This is dangerous to do. I'm thankful for many of the relationships that have lasted through the years-20 years or more. I'm so thankful for my wife and kids.....I'm afraid I would be an empty, self-indulgent guy if it weren't for them. And I am really enjoying the developing relationships that I have in mentoring, officially or unofficially, younger guys in my life.

So what do I have from the last 40 years? Relationships. That's about it. I'm constantly confronted with things I "gave my life to, broken." Strange how little remains of the good stuff, but much remains of the relationships. I do have a handful of "accomplishments" from the last 10 years or so that I am blessed by God to have been a part of.

I look out from here, having just started out on my own, and just not sure where the road will lead. As well as God directed the storm which led me to this point of blessing, I still struggle with what my purpose is. Because as much as I love doing what I do, it seems the purpose is too temporal. God, I want more purpose.

If today were my last day.......I know I would see every interaction as a critical intersection, depart what little wisdom I have to my kids, never let go of my wife, call every person I could think of and let them know what they've meant to me.....and probably send out a great big hug and I love you to all my 178 friends on facebook.

How crazy that we don't see this as our purpose?

20 May 2009

Back Home Again in Rensselaer

While doing some photo-documentation in the small city of Rensselaer, Jasper County, recently, I happened upon an Indiana Historic Bureau Marker in their downtown, dedicated to native son, James Frederick Hanley. Who is Hanley you ask? I asked the same question. To my pleasant surprise, Hanley is responsible for the tune we Hoosiers love to sing "Back Home Again in Indiana".

For many years as a kid I thought this was our state song. We never sang "On the Banks of the Wabash". In fact, I'm not even sure if I had heard our state song until the last several years. And if you were to ask Hoosiers what our state song is, they would probably hum the Hanley tune.

Rensselaer has a charming little downtown with an impressive courthouse and a handful of brick streets surrounding the square. It is also home to St. Joseph's College, the Indian Normal School (Drexel Hall), and one of 36 WPA era post offices in Indiana remaining with a Public Works of Art Project mural in its lobby. More on each of these in future posts. For now, toe-tap along....."through the sycamores for me".

19 May 2009

bird (on the) brain

Bird Man asked how the Spring Bird Count went two weeks ago. I said lousy-the weather was terrible for watching fowl. Seems that if they were smart enough to not go out, I should be at least that smart and stay in.

This past week was another story though as we tied the record number of species we've seen in our neck of the woods/city. This includes at least one bird we've never had here before, the Rose Breasted Grosbeak, as well as a return visit from the Swainson's Thrush.

Here they are, for the record; 26 in all:

Swainson's Thrush
Rose Breasted Grosbeak, 2
Canada Goose, 3
Chipping Sparrow, 2
Goldfinch, 3
House Finch, 6
Robin, 5
Blue Jay, 2
Red Bellied Woodpecker
Mourning Dove, 2
Cardinal, 3
Downy Woodpecker, 2
Starling, 4 (the devil of God's bird creation)
Northern Goshawk
Chimney Swift, 6
Tufted Titmouse
House Sparrow, 2
Turkey Vulture
House Wren
Mallard, 2
White Breasted Nuthatch
Red-Wing Blackbird
Black-Capped Chickadee

We had a Yellow Rumped Warbler just the day before the count began, which stinks because we would have broken the old record. We also saw pairs of Orchard and Baltimore Orioles at my folks' house, which was pretty cool.

15 May 2009

the Daniels' slip and slide

At our weekly coffee clutch, my good friend who is well acquainted with the manufacturing industry from the owner's perspective, made this comment, "well, I'm going to have to eat crow...I'm upset with our governor"

Acknowledging this and thinking, yes, eventually all will become disillusioned with the Mitch phenomena, I inquired why. The newly frustrated said that he directed the republican legislature to pass the new unemployment tax on large industry. The very industry that needs to lead us out of the economic free-fall. This new legislation that was signed into law provides for extension to unemployment compensation. No doubt this is needed. But the rub on republicans and big industry is that now is NOT the time to add significant additional tax in Indiana. This friend called downstate to an inside source who commented that business doesn't vote, the unemployed do.

I told him he was missing the bigger story. We've seen how the governor's budget team woefully underestimated revenue, creating shortfalls to his sacred and well publicized miracle budget. My understanding is that the stimulus dollars coming from the federal government to states was to undergird funds such as the unemployment fund. At least this is what we were told the state would do. The real story? I think this recent tax increase on industry by republicans no less just goes to show you how in dire straights our state economy is. Remember when Daniels said we were the envy of our neighbors?

I believe that history will not be kind to Mitch Daniels. At least for those who can read history from an unbiased perspective. I believe that as his true colors continue to bleed through his well-funded publicity machine folks like my buddy will begin to understand that Daniels has been, and unfortunately will continue to be, bad for Indiana.

Speaking of true colors, while Daniels was basking in some good economic publicity in the devastated Elkhart job market he was questioned by a reporter about a veto he recently made regarding judge appointments vs. elections. Evidently this originated from Northern Indiana. Daniels made this comment "it all has to do with politics....I don't know how you people do things up here, er, uh, I mean some people do things, but that's not the way we do things. We're not political".

Nice slip there, Mitch. I think it's evident what he's always thought of Northern Indiana so I guess it should be no surprise that he said it. But I couldn't believe my ears, then thought, man, what a jack.... Just making a statement like that is political maneuvering. And if anyone has proven their political-speak abilities, it's Mitch.

14 May 2009

instinct strikes again!

And this time it was a baby snake the dog found by the barn. I can't say that I felt nearly as sorry for the snake as I did the baby squirrel. I'm just hoping the baby wandered INTO our yard rather than originating FROM our yard.

It too, rests in our small "pet" cemetery.

12 May 2009

a little bit Amish & a little bit rock-n-roll

Martin Hochstetler family, part in-part out of the Amish faith

Growing up near one of the largest Amish enclaves in the United States made me appreciate things like television, plumbing, and rock-n-roll. But I knew that somewhere, in the deepest recesses of family history, there must be some connection between the Amish and my grandparents.....with a name like Hochstetler, how could there not be? Well, that, and horse and buggies showed up at family reunions.

Hochstetler reunion at original c. 1850 homestead
My great grandfather, Stephen, top & center

When the genealogy bug bit I was just coming out of highschool and going into college. My grandmother gave me a book entitled "The Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler". The book, now almost 100 years old, was enormous and meticulously traced family after family to our single ancestral source, Jacob. Jacob emigrated to the American colonies with his family in 1736 from Switzerland, arriving in Pennsylvania aboard the ship "Harle". Jacob and a few other Amish settlers formed the first Amish settlement in the colonies in Berks County, PA. His family's story would go down in Pennsylvania history under the "Northkill Amish/Hochstetler Massacre" when in 1757 his wife, daughter and son were killed by a raiding band of Indians with another son taken captive. Their beliefs in non-violence prevented them from fighting back. The ancestral farm still exists and I visited it on a trip to Pennsylvania in 1993.

Old Samuel Hochstetler Farm: still Amish & still Hochstetlers

Just shy of 100 years later, Jacob's great grandson, Samuel, was part of a group of families to form the first Amish settlement in Indiana. Samuel came with his family about 1850 to the northeast corner of Marshall County, establishing a farm on Beech Road. This farm still exists as well. Samuel's son, Martin, left the Amish Church very late in life and his son, Stephen, was the first to marry outside of the church. Stephen was my great grandfather.

Martin Hochstetler Farm: still Amish & still Hochstetlers

A one room schoolhouse and cemetery were located just north of the farm which is where the family attended school and "Old" Samuel, as he was called, is buried. The Amish constructed a new school at this site and the old one, which was the longest continually used schoolhouse in Indiana, was moved to a nearby farm. The school was constructed in the late 1850's. If you've never seen an Amish cemetery, you should. The "plain people" apply their standards even in burial. Other branches of the family include Millers, Livengoods, Yoders and most recently, Mullet-the name of my Amish ancestors buried near Nappanee.

Borkholder Amish School & Cemetery, before it was moved

Amish Cemetery: Mullet ancestors buried here

Fortunately for me there was this break in the Amish faith. I guess. Although there are times when I long for a simpler life and suggest converting to my wife. I know many like to point out the inconsistencies with Amish folk, but I have to hand it to them, to continue any since of their culture in the face of everything modern is really quite remarkable.

My life, on the other hand, would be a never-ending rumspringer.

07 May 2009

Oscar Instinct

on a night hunt
I was hard at work this afternoon when my daughter walked in the house, back from the bus stop. I asked where her brother was, "outside, Dad", and within a few minutes he stuck his head in the door and said that our wiener dog Oscar was chewing on a dead squirrel in the back yard.

Oh great. I remember once having to pry a dead frog out the roof of his mouth and began reliving this in my head as I walked out the door. I found the dog hovering over a baby squirrel. A baby squirrel that was not dead, but was laying on its back and moving its front paw and opening and closing its mouth as if to say "save me".

I told the dog to back off and he immediately locked it in his jaws again. So I yelled at the dog and smacked his snout. I got him off the furry little critter, but clearly this was not a good thing as I had to explain to the kids that I might have to put it out of its misery. I felt sick to my stomach. It gasped a minute or two longer, then gave up the ghost. I buried it in our pet cemetery full of moles, birds, rabbits and the snakes from last year.

And as mad as I was at our dog for killing the baby squirrel that unfortunately wandered into our back, fenced in yard, I realized its just instinct for him. In fact, instinct that is reinforced by my own actions. You see, wiener dog has a small, stuffed squirrel about the same size as the deceased, that squeaks. I torment the dog with this and get him riled up about "getting the squeaky squirrel" throwing it and wrestling it out of his jaws.

He just happened to find a real one this time. I still felt awful as I gently shoveled the dirt over the shallow grave.

Trying to move God

Being out of the political arena I was taken off-guard when I heard that today was the National Day of Prayer. First, one of the young guys I mentor mentioned it last night, then it was followed up by Bird Man asking if I had attended the morning festivities. I had not.

Strange how it wasn't mentioned in our church. I did catch a comment about it on the radio today. Unfortunately, at least around here, the National Day of Prayer is an opportunity for politicians to dress up and appear, well, I guess spiritual. Face time really. I told Bird Man that while I used to go to the morning "prayer" breakfast when I first moved to river city, that over the years it took a decidedly political turn. My wife and I were on the mayor's prayer breakfast committee once when Homer Drew came to speak and more recently I introduced the guest speaker, Doc Bowen, a few years back. But when politicians (and mostly Republicans) started leaving their campaign literature on the breakfast tables and glad-handing in a line-up outside of the banquet center....well, it made me sick to my stomach. I mentioned it to one person and within hours got a call from a county commissioner complaining that he wasn't the only one....as if that made it ok. After my ouster I just didn't even bother to go.

Honestly, I can't see how this honors God, or petitions Him in any meaningful way anyway. In fact, I bet it kind of tees him off.....at least the way we do it here in Republicania County. There have been a few, meaningful and heartfelt prayers that have been offered. But, by and large, they are usually self-seeking and selfish prayers. And somehow we expect God to move because of this.....as if our once a year petition for the betterment of our nation and for God to instill wisdom in our elected officials is actually going to work.

It reminds me of how pagans try to coerce or con their gods into action with feudal sacrifices and empty words to a non-existent deity. No, I don't see God being moved by our National Day of Prayer at all.

What we really need is a National Day of Repentance. And I'm not talking about requiring non-Christians to repent....those folk who we self-righteous snobs think are the ones to blame for America's ills. I'm talking about the Christian Church in America falling flat on our faces and begging for forgiveness for really screwing up the message of Christ.

I think that might move God.

"if my people who are called by my name (called by His name: "Christ" followers, Christians) will humble (repent) themselves and pray, I will heal their land (America)"

05 May 2009

the one, true and only Hoosier-worthy pro-baseball team: the Cubs

I'm not much of a baseball fan. So I guess if the title of the post offends you, consider the source. But I can't honestly see myself routing for any baseball team other than the Chicago Cubs. This may be a generational, family thing. Grandad was a cubs fan, dad is a cubs fan and I guess that makes me a cubs fan. But part of the allure to the Chicago Cubs, at least to me, is Wrigley Field. Could there possibly be a better ballpark? You guys and your new-fangled ball fields lack the tradition and ambiance that only Wrigley offers these days....and hopefully, forever.

So when a buddy of mine was looking for some guys to go with him to a Cubs game-I thought, man, how cool would that be? I've never been to a Cubs game and at Wrigley no less! Alas, it just didn't seem like it would work with meetings and the craziness of the past few days. But on Saturday he was frantic and couldn't find a fourth, so, I said I was in.

And man am I glad I went. I had a blast. We bussed from Devry to the stadium which made things a snap and got cool free Cubs bags (which Josh was way more excited about than me). He also provided me with his old Cubs hat so that I would fit in. It was a little cold with the wind whipping up through the street right to the corner of the grandstands we were seated in. I called for my first hot dog just before the game started which left me holding my hat under my arm and two hot dogs in my hand while standing next to the dog vendor during the national anthem. I apparently made a fatal mistake in saying "grand slam" when all three bases were loaded....how was I supposed to know?

The drunks kept their revelry to a decent level. And I was so pumped about the 7th inning stretch....just imagining that Harry Carey was belting out "take me out to the ball game". And Wrigley! Man, it was great. My thesis year in architecture revolved around a downtown stadium design in Milwaukee for the Brewers-so we made a visit to Wrigley as the proto-type for how true neighborhood ballparks oughta be. Peter Eisenman, a famous contemporary architect, made this statement about modern ballparks....."if you don't have some impeded view of the field you have no understanding of the context in which you are in" and then spoke highly of the steel columns at Wrigley.

The game was a great one.....and thank God the Cubs won 4-2 against San Francisco. I always feel like I'm bad luck when I go to games and route on a team. And we ended the game with a roaring rendition of "Go Cubs Go". Almost spiritual.

Hopped on the bus back to the parking lot...although we lost half our four and had to wait. And let's just say Josh had a little trouble with waiting. Home by 1:30 a.m.. Very tired the next day. Awesome time though, thanks Josh!

weekend Hoosier Happenings

My wife left me again, this time alone with the kids, while she went to a children's ministry conference in Atlanta. It really was no problem and Colonel Sanders helped out too. Outside of a brief sleep with a frightened little 6 year old in her princess bed at 2:00 a.m. and nearly being late for the bus Friday morning-we did fine. Of course, there were little post-it notes left for me on the important stuff.
My folks offered to keep the kids Friday night because of a meeting I had the next day. We went mushroom hunting.....and had awesome luck compared to years past. And we inspected dad's newest addition to the field...a large waterfall at his enlarged pond. Actually pretty cool.
Saturday morning rolled around and I left with blogger Jim for Logansport for our official organizational meeting of the Michigan Road Historic Byway project. We were impressed with the turnout and realize that there is a great deal of momentum building for this project. We have solid representation and support from LaPorte County south to Carroll County now along the old Michigan Road. One more meeting this summer for the "northern alliance" before we begin to build the southern alliance this fall. Really, really cool stuff developing with this. And we ate at my new favorite spot in Logansport-the Whitehouse burger joint.

meeting of the Michigan Road Northern Alliance