What I did on my summer vacation…and then some

It’s been a crazy week.

This time last week I was anticipating my flight out of Cedar Rapids after severe storms (which included heavy rain) threatened my departure. After many hours on the plane and a layover in Atlanta, we landed in Charleston. The first thing I noticed as I stepped out into the street was the overwhelming heaviness of the humidity.

Being from Iowan, I know humidity, but this was much worse.  I had a headache the entire time I was there, but I refused to let it bother me. I had way too much sightseeing to do.

We had an awesome tour guide while we were there, who showed us all the great sights. Jeff’s son, Keith, who is in the Navy, is stationed at Goose Creek. He and his wife, Sara, live in Charleston and were more than happy to show us around.

dolphin

I’m pretty sure this was a dolphin, and not a shark. However, I wasn’t going to take a chance and get too close.

The first thing we did was visit his base. He took us to the swamp where we looked for “gators,” and stopped at the pier to watch a dolphin hunt for his lunch.

We decided to head downtown, “because that’s where all the excitement is,” according to Keith.

We decided to take a carriage tour around the town and had to kill a little time, so we went to the market; three blocks of pure tourist heaven.    I chose a few knick knacks for the kids and took in the culture. I realized that 99 percent of the people shopping were tourists, just like me, and my mind began to wander about where they were from, what their story was.

We boarded the carriage, along with several other people, and began the hour-long trek through the downtown area. Our guide, Bill, was extremely informative about the history of Charleston, and pointed out many of the highlights.

My favorite landmark was a house that was rumored to be owned by Robert E. Lee’s grandson. We looked up and saw an elderly gentleman standing on the veranda looking out over the harbor. Could this be him?

Could this be Robert E. Lee's grandson?

Could this be Robert E. Lee’s grandson?

We saw a lot of other sites, including Rainbow Row, which got its name because the group of houses had been in danger of being torn down many years ago. However, one woman decided to buy one of the houses, and then fixed it up, encouraging others to do the same. They painted the houses different colors and that’s how the street got its  name. (They also saved the houses, too!)

Bill pointed out many mansions that were worth several million dollars.  He told us stories about the people who once inhabited these homes and I wondered what it must have been like.

It was hard to imagine what Charleston was like during the Civil War, the kind of life the people lived, the culture that was so different from my own.

After the tour, we stopped at a local restaurant for dinner and ended the evening visiting with Jeff’s family.

Keith and Sara wanted us to see the Angel Oak Tree. This tree is said to be the oldest tree in the country and is on John’s Island. However, because of a sudden downpour on the island, the road washed out, which forced us to turn around and go back to the main road.

Once we were back in Charleston, the skies cleared up, the sun came out and we decided to head to the beach, where we picked up shells and enjoyed the waves.

Our vacation was over almost as soon as it had begun and we returned to the airport Monday morning to make the flight home. It was short and sweet, but very memorable.

Two days later, I was on my way to Des Moines to see Fleetwood Mac, the best musical group since the Beatles (in my book, anyway). My oldest daughter had bought me a ticket for my birthday in April, and the day had come when I would finally get to see them face to face….kind of.

Our seats were near the top of Wells Fargo Arena, but I didn’t care. I was in the same room with Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVey. The group’s album “Rumours” has been a favorite of mine since “Gold Dust Woman,”  “Dreams,” and “Go your own Way,”  top  the music charts.

They were late getting started, but once they did, the music was outstanding and the visuals that accompanied their songs was “trippy” as my daughter put it, but I prefer “awesome!”

Nearly 40 years after they put out their first album, Fleetwood Mac still has it, but then, I don’t think they ever lost it. For those of us who appreciate classic rock, anyway, Fleetwood Mac will never go out of style.

It’s been an interesting week, to say the least, but oh, so worth it. As I wrote in my earlier blog,  I am ready to take on whatever adventures come my way this summer…and then some.

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Yea for summer!

Summer officially begins tomorrow.

My own little web creation-A summer day at the lake, maybe Lake McBride in Solon,  or Pleasant Creek outside Palo, both favorite summer spots.

My own little web creation-A summer day at the lake, maybe Lake McBride in Solon, or Pleasant Creek outside Palo, both favorite summer spots.

Hooray for the picnics, the beaches, and the bugs! 

OK, so forget the bugs…if you can. Let’s turn our attention to the fairs, the swimming pools and the bike rides instead!

Those of us who live in Iowa are extremely blessed because we can appreciate summer much more than someone who lives in Florida or California.

Why? Because we have the pleasure of changing seasons. We can be assured that after months of bitter cold and blowing snow, warmer temperatures are bound to come…sooner or later.

Spring took its sweet time this year. It rained more than we would have liked (much different from last year’s drought!) and flooding threatened those closest to the Cedar and Iowa rivers, but not nearly what it was five years ago when historic flooding affected the area.

So…yea for summer!

Bring on the county fairs and garage sales and let’s not waste one minute of it!

On my agenda for the next few months includes a couple of family reunions, a trip to Adventureland with my kids and grandkids, and kayaking on the Wapsipinicon (as soon as the river goes down).

I might even go to the Iowa State Fair at the end of August and try my first deep-fried Milky Way or some other food-on-a-stick.

Of course, there will be the baseball games, where I will cheer on the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and trips to the local swimming pools or the beach with the grandkids. I also have to find time to stain the deck and the picnic table in the backyard and finish painting the garage.

Then there’s the never-ending yard work…

Whew…

Hooray for summer?

Of course!

It won’t be long before the seasons change again so I’m going to enjoy my summer while I can.

A belated Father’s Day gift

My dad was a good father. He worked hard to take care of his family. He overcame obstacles in life that might have turned an ordinary person into a cynical disaster.

My father, Tom Meis, who died in September 2008.

My father, Tom Meis, who died in September 2008.

But my dad was not ordinary. He was exceptional. And he spent his entire life proving it.

Like most fathers, my dad taught me many lessons about life. He taught me to treat others as I would like to be treated, to try to see the good in people, and to take good care of my car.

But most of all, he taught me how to love.

My dad was my hero. He was quiet, friendly, and funny. He was dedicated, loyal, and a little stubborn. He didn’t care what others thought of him, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because everyone who met him, loved him.

We didn’t have much money and life in our house was always chaotic, but my dad was a firm believer in Faith, in Hope, and in “keeping peace in the family.”

My dad always encouraged me to do my best. Whether it was being a good parent, doing my best at work, or just dealing with people, he shared his wisdom without preaching.

I inherited a few of his traits and talents, and the lessons he taught me only enhanced what was already there. His talent for writing, his compassion, his desire to help others; these are all a part of him, at the very core of who he was.

Several months ago, I wrote about a manuscript I found that belonged to my dad. The hundreds of pages aren’t in any specific order and it’s been difficult trying to make time to read it.

I later found out that the manuscript was therapy for my dad. He had his knee replaced in the ’90s and spent his hours typing up his life story. I was thrilled that I was able to find most of the pieces of this puzzle but a little ashamed that I haven’t picked it up and looked at it since.

There is always the “I’ll do it tomorrow, this weekend, next month….”

As I pulled the box out of the closet this morning, it occurred to me that the best gift I could give my father this year would be to finish what he started, to be able to show the world the hidden talent my father possessed.

The following is an excerpt from my dad’s manuscript, a scene he remembers from his childhood:

“Another sound recorded on my relatively unblemished memory was the old Jewish junk man who made frequent trips down our alley with his horse and wagon in the summertime. His horse wore an old hat with holes cut out for its ears.

Long before I could hear the creak of groaning wheels and soft clomp-clump of hooves in soft alley ashes, the warm summer air carried to me Mr. Golad’s sad, low litany of monotony:

‘Rags? Old rags,’ Old Golad intoned. ‘Rags…old rags…’

And I waited for the magnificent parade to lurch slowly past our place.

Sometimes the trio paused-horse, wagon, and Mr. Golad-and I could see both horse and human were in state of semi-siesta. The junk man comfortable in the shade of the umbrella; horse content to occasionally startle a fly with that fantastic control of its skin muscles. Until the old man clucked gently and the wagon creaked along down the alley toward 16th Street; until the warm summer air covered up his unforgettable song:

‘Rags.  Rags? Old raaa-a-a-a-ags….’

I would listen for a long time before it would evaporate into silence. Or perhaps it would simply blend with the burr of a bee and my attention would turn to this busy bug invading some unsuspecting blossom.”

This just might be the greatest gift I could ever give my father.

Well, that, and the love only a daughter could give.

Children’s books spark the imagination

Writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak’s birthday was yesterday. He would have been 85 if he were alive today. He died last May, leaving behind a legacy that will live on for generations to come.

Harriet the Spy book cover (borrowed from wikipedia)

Harriet the Spy (wikipedia)

As a tribute, Google used the image of one of Sendak’s most memorable characters (Max, from “Where the Wild Things Are”) to represent its logo for the day. Just a reminder that he was a spark that sent millions of us on a wild adventure.

I loved Maurice Sedak’s work.  His distinct style of characters stirred my imagination as a child and prompted me to interject myself into the stories I read.

I could relate with Max, about the pressures of being a kid, being sent to bed without any dinner, vowing to my parents that “they’d be sorry when I was gone.”

I sailed the boat with Max to a different land, not really afraid, but a little apprehensive about what would greet us there, and tried to imagine what wonderful venture awaited us.

And when we returned from the land far away, we found hot soup waiting for us, and well, we just knew that everything was going to be OK.

Other books had the same effect on me.

“Harriet the Spy” gave me the idea of keeping a journal, not necessarily about other people, but just  to record my thoughts and try to make sense out of them.  I learned what an “egg cream” was, though I never had a desire to try one. I could relate to Harriet, how it felt being ignored by the other kids, feeling like an outsider.

I wondered what it would be like to be Harriet, the only child, growing up in a big house, being taken care of by a nanny. I let my imagination run wild, but was glad to come back  to my big, loud, loving family.

There were so many books, and so little time. I spent hours reading everything and anything. The “Little House” books were among my favorites, and I couldn’t wait to read the next book in the series.

“Encyclopedia Brown” and the “Great Brain,” and “Ramona and Beezus” were also favorites.

Each story, each character, was unique and I became lost in a world much different from my own. I didn’t read to escape. I read to explore and to imagine, beyond my wildest dreams. I became a part of it, and it a part of me. And when it was finished, I searched for other books that challenged my imagination and stretched to the ends of the Earth and back.

I still love browsing thorough the children’s section of the book stores and libraries, hoping to find copies of the books I used to read. Many of them have long since been replaced by modern versions of the same story, and it’s a bit sad to think that they might be long gone.

At least I still have my memory… and a little imagination.

Genetically modified food has its pros and cons

A few decades ago, the world applauded at the idea that someday we would have the ability to stop world hunger.  Scientists said food could be manufactured at a fraction of the cost and millions would be fed.

Researchers have been able to combine oranges and kiwis and turn strawberries blue, thanks to bio-engineering. (Borrowed from classroomclipart.com)

Researchers have been able to combine oranges and kiwis and turn strawberries blue, thanks to bio-engineering. (Borrowed from classroomclipart.com)

But now that we have technology, many people are against the idea.

Some say it’s unnatural and upsetting the balance of nature. Others believe scientists are playing God and that certain cancers and gastro problems are caused by some of  the foods we eat.

We can’t deny that many of the foods found on store shelves have been altered in some way. Hydrogenated soybean oil and MSG are among the “food stuffs” that are in many of the products bought daily at the local market.

Farmers have stated they don’t want to use genetically modified seeds for their crops but just recently wheat found in a farmer’s field in Oregon that was genetically altered. How can we be sure that the food we consume is what we believe it to be?

(See this article about Monsanto, one of the world’s biggest seed companies.)

Researchers report that food that is genetically modified  lasts longer on the store shelves and in our homes. It can be raised or grown in laboratories and even cloned.  It has helped alleviate hunger throughout the world. That part can’t be denied.

Those who think genetically modified food is a bad idea have been fighting to get a bill passed that would require all companies to label their food as “genetically modified.” These companies don’t want this to happen, and some politicians have been more than happy to vote no on the bill because the profits the companies generate are in the millions.

So what do we do? Feed the world and look past the effects it might have on consumers, or push for the law that gives Americans a choice about what they eat?

Why can’t we have both? Requiring companies to label food that has been genetically modified should have been mandatory all along. How is this different from packages of cigarettes or bottles of alcohol? The world has a right to know what they are eating.

I am a label reader and care about what I put into my body. If I can’t read an ingredient on a food label, I don’t buy it.

Maybe that’s what the food companies are most afraid of; consumers who have knowledge about what they are consuming. I suppose if they did know, many of the companies would go bankrupt.

Climate change responsible for increase in allergy symptoms

USA Today reported a few days ago that people who have seasonal allergies are suffering more these days. A doctor in Chicago has been studying the rise in pollen counts for the past year and said he is startled by the results.

Pollen counts have been  on the rise since 1996.

Pollen counts have been on the rise since 1996.

The doctor said that the reason the pollen counts are rising is because of the increased productions of plants, which could be because of the rise in Co2 emissions.

More plants, more pollen. It’s that simple.

But while the increased production of more plants seems like a good thing, according to the article in USA Today, “Though some plants grow more food or flowers as a result, more pollen can spell trouble. Doctors say it’s contributing to a rise in seasonal hay fever and allergic asthma in the USA, where the pollen season has lengthened up to 16 days since 1995. If carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase, they expect allergic conditions probably will worsen, adding to the discomfort of allergy suffers as well as swelling U.S. health care costs.”

Some people still refuse to believe that CO2 emissions are causing a greenhouse effect on our planet, which, in turn, is causing erratic weather patterns and other factors harmful to the Earth’s atmosphere.

This latest article just adds proof to the theory that we need to integrate cleaner energy into our everyday lives more rapidly than we are, and eventually phase CO2 emissions out entirely before we cause irreversible damage to our planet.

What will it take to stop us from polluting our atmosphere with harmful and toxic gases? Isn’t the increasingly extreme weather-the tornadoes, droughts, blizzards, hurricanes-enough to show us that we are sending our world into a tailspin that not end well in our favor?

The article pointed out something else that affects the way we live, something that most people didn’t think of.  Not only will it make us pay the price with our health, but with our wallets, as well.

As I have said before, we have to work together to find a solution. Many of us recycle, and that’s a good start, but it will require dedication to stick with the plan.