Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Bucket List is Shorter!

Last night we slept on a goosedown comforter on the floor of Dan's very nice condo in Omaha. It's our second couchsurfing event of our trip. Art and I were both surprised not to be sore today.

We drove to Qwest Center in downtown Omaha. We arrived at 7:30, an hour before the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting was scheduled to start, but already the parking lot was full and people were streaming from other lots. We found a parking lot half a mile from the stadium and were glad for it!

The event was just as I'd hoped. After an introductory film, Warren Buffett and his business partner Charlie Munger were seated at a table in front of the stadium. From the third-tier seats we watched them on large screens and didn't feel like we missed anything. Three reporters were seated near them: one from Fortune, one from the New York Times, and one from CNBC. Each reporter had been receiving emails from shareholders over the prior three weeks, with questions from the shareholder, which were asked of Buffett and Munger during the five-hour question and answer session. Additionally, 13 microphones had been set up throughout the arena, and lottery-winning shareholders asked their questions. The two men answered 60 questions ranging from those about the recent firing of David Sokol for "insider trading", business plans for Berkshire Hathaway, and other aspects of the current economic situation.

Art and I stayed for the entire session, including the 45-minute shareholder meeting afterwards. Art says it was much more interesting than he had anticipated. Warren Buffett is a good teacher and a lively, humorous speaker. Charlie Munger is an extremely knowlegeable, though terse, responder. Art and I both learned a lot.

Five years ago my mother gave me some money as a gift. I bought two shares of Berkshire Hathaway B stock; I'd admired Buffett for years and wanted to participate in his company. At that time, a share of A stock was $97,000 and a share of B stock was $3,000. Last year the B stock split 50 to 1, so we now have 100 shares. I think we've gotten about a 35 percent gain since we bought our shares. Berkshire doesn't distribute dividends, but reinvests profits. If a shareholder wants cash from their investment, they can sell shares.

We're very glad we decided to attend this meeting in Omaha, and to be able to cross an item off my bucket list, "To hear Warren Buffett speak."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Three more road trip days

Wednesday, was another 500-mile drive - from Caldwell, Idaho to Rock Springs, Wyoming via Pocatello and backroads. I love it when there's no traffic. And the scenery was varied and interesting, from snowy mountains to a volcanic caldera to stark buttes, all under an enormous bowl of sky. For many miles the roadbed paralleled railroad tracks. I think the tracks were there first, laid down along the most practical routes. We saw herons, cattle, sheep, horses, antelope, and a small terrier carrying a dead animal almost as large as itself up a rural driveway. I drove the whole way today. Sometimes it's easier. Art wakes up early in the morning and takes a couple of naps during the day. I'd rather be driving when he takes the naps!

Rock Springs has been a coal mining town for a long time, but I learned from the waitress at the White Mountain Mining Restaurant and Saloon that Halliburton has come into town for gas and oil drilling. She says the town is growing, but some people coming in for the work from other places "don't show respect", so she's not sure how she feels about the growth. Our server at dinner says, "The LIBARY is haunted. It was built on top of a graveyard and some spirits must not be resting in peace, because the books move."

Thursday we drove from Rock Springs to Sutherland, Nebraska. We stayed at a Couchsurfing destination - a couple hosted us for the night. We've hosted at home also - it's an economical way to travel, and usually the people are interesting. Mark and Muriel took us out to her grandparents' homestead in the Sand Hills, which they're restoring as a summer cabin. Muriel's grandfather was 40 when he brought his 16-year-old bride from town to the homestead which had no running water or electricity. Apparently he had "purchased his bride for a wagon and a team of horses". No city lights out there, and no noise at all, except for animal calls.

Today we took the old road, highway 30, from Grand Island to Omaha. We've had sunshine so far, but today was cloudy and very windy. I fought a sidewind for 200 miles. Our host tonight says this weather is quite unusual for Omaha. It's lovely to be out of the Pacific Northwest rain, but I've noticed my lips have been chapped ever since Idaho and it's been windy nearly every day. I'm glad to have experienced this. After a few weeks of rain, any other climate looks good to me, but I'm now grateful that we don't have much wind at home.

We get up early tomorrow so we can drive into the city and get a seat for the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You can hear the whistle blow

Five hundred miles we drove today - actually 510, counting the offramp we missed on the freeway out of Ellensburg which took ten miles to correct. Brier, Washington to Caldwell, Idaho. The sun came out as soon as we got through the Cascades. Blue skies, mostly, with big puffy clouds, and a few showers along the way. We did see half a dozen freight trains.

This is my first road trip with Art. So far we're laughing more than we do at home, being silly. Like pointing out "see-through bridges" (when you're approaching an underpass you can see through it to the other side). I do most of the driving. Today's scenery was big valleys and huge hills - like God's laundry, I thought - mostly greening out. Lots of vineyards and farms and highway fences keeping things like tumbleweeds from blowing onto the freeway. A good first day on the road.

Our first destination is Omaha, where we'll attend the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting and I'll get to hear Warren Buffett speak (he's on my bucket list). Then about six days of family research in Iowa and Nebraska. Then six days in the Badlands/Black Hills area of South Dakota before we head for home.

As we unlocked the door to our motel room tonight, I could hear a small dog barking inside the door next door. I went to the lobby and asked for another room because I knew the noise would be a distraction. The lobby lady said this is a pet-friendly hotel, which I hadn't known. We probably would have stayed elsewhere if we had since Art is allergic to dogs and, even if they clean extra after pets stay, he's likely to react to dander left behind anyway.

She said the most interesting pet she encountered was last winter, when a guy turned up after dark, exhausted, with 20 guinea pigs. Apparently he traveled around showing them. The lobby lady said ordinarily the motel charges $5 extra per animal, but that night she and the guy stacked all the guinea pig cages on a cart and he was only charged for one animal. I'm sure our cat Larisa would hate to travel with us. She's happy to be at home with her paid companion.

We're in the Mountain Time Zone already.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Three Orphans

My mother passed away in 2008, and for some reason, lately, I've been miffed that before her passing she didn't have a little talk in which she said, "Linda, I've been thinking. I should have done some things differently when you were growing up, and I'm sorry for that." Instead, she just faded and then died.

I'm considering where she came from.

Samuel Thompson Wallace was born in Pennsylvania in 1841. By the age of eight he was orphaned, and he spent the remainder of his childhood in the household of Mr. Harnish, a farmer. He joined the Union army during the Civil War and, after it ended, relocated to Iowa. He married Mary Catherine Moore, of Maryland. The couple lived in Iowa for 20 years and then moved to western Nebraska. They had 13 children of whom about eight survived to adulthood.

Samuel and Mary Catherine's youngest child was Ethel Rebecca. She was born in 1894 when her mother was 46 years old, and her mother died when Ethel was three weeks old. Within the first few years of Ethel's life she was sent to live with her oldest sister Irene and Irene's husband Ned.

When Ethel was a teenager she eloped with her suitor Myron McNeal. From all accounts these two were deeply in love with each other. They had three children. When the children were 16, 9 and 2, Myron suffered a ruptured appendix and died at age 43. Ethel took to her bed and, nine years later, died of "a broken heart" - or perhaps an overdose of medication. Her daughter Marjorie, then 18, found her body.

Marjorie married a military man. She told her daughter she knew the military would always take care of her. She would be safe.

Marjorie was my mother, orphaned at 18. Ethel was my grandmother who lost her mother at three weeks and was raised by a sibling. Samuel was my great grandfather, orphaned at eight.

I'm curious about these people. Family history on my mother's side is sparse. Next Tuesday Art and I leave on a three-week road trip to the midwest. I'll spend two or three days in Iowa at the historical/genealogical museum in Toledo, the Tama County seat. The volunteers there are expecting me. I'm taking all I know about my great grandparents and hoping I'll learn more. Then I'll spend two or three days in Nebraska at the historical/genealogical museum in Gordon, where my great grandparents lived and where they're buried. The volunteer there is expecting me as well.

When I get home from this road trip, I hope I'll have a fuller understanding of these people in the generations before mine. Three orphans. Maybe no one was supportive, encouraging and loving. Maybe none of them learned how to do that for their own children. May they all rest in peace.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blog for my Husband

Art wants me to write this story.

We have a designer cat named Larisa. She's a hypoallergenic Siberian Forest cat, a former breeding queen, seven years old. She came to live with us two years ago this June, after bearing five litters of kittens for her previous owner. When she moved in, she wouldn't let us touch her for 62 days. Even as she adjusted to us, I wondered if she felt at home or whether she thought she was just visiting.

Last night I got my answer.

Art and I came home from a day at a Habitat build, and Larisa didn't come to the door to greet us as she usually does. An hour later neither of us had seen her, so I went looking. She was behind a chair in the spare bedroom, barely moving. I thought she was sick, but her food dish was empty. I called her to me. She moved to the other side of the chair. I came out into the living area and waited. Visions of a large vet bill and a delayed road trip floated through my mind.

Larisa appeared half an hour later, but she was very jumpy. She startled at any sound. I wondered if there had been a thunderstorm while we were gone. She finally found a spot near Art for a nap, but it was near his feet rather than at any accustomed places.

Then Art looked up from his paper and saw a strange cat in the hallway. We had a visitor!

He got the broom and chased the stranger into the spare room where it hid under the bed. Larisa watched the action from the hallway. Fifteen minutes later the spare cat tore out of the guestroom, and, hissing, Larisa chased it across the house and out the back door into the night.

Ten minutes later our Larisa was back. She went to her food dish and ate what I'd put out. Then she lay by the back door, guarding the entrance, until we went to bed.

I guess she feels at home now. And apparently there's no room for another cat in this household.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Back alley musings

I'm an optimist usually, but occasionally I lapse into gloominess. It's almost always because I future trip into the back alleys of worst-case scenarios.

This time it's because of my blood pressure. For two years I'd been taking a med, lisinopril, worked fine for my bp but caused me to cough. I went off it in December and have been working with my doc to find another effective med. The first two he prescribed didn't do the job. So I wandered into the back alley of "I'll never find a med that works, and I'll have to go back to the old one and cough all the time. Or I could lose 40 pounds and maybe not need the med, but I'll start the diet tomorrow, only I won't. " And as long as I'm in that back alley, I think about my husband Art, whose blood pressure is also too high, and he's working with the doctor also, but he's not rigidly compliant about monitoring his blood pressure or taking his meds or having the lab test done to check his potassium levels, so it's more likely I'll be either a widow or the wife of an invalid, and that will mean money issues. Bag lady stuff, you know.

Such a useful train of thought! When I get stuck there, I know what needs to be done. I connect with friends, reach out to someone in need, and get some exercise. So far, I haven't done any of those things. Maybe I need to wallow from time to time to remember how much fun it isn't.

The latest med, a beta blocker, has brought my bp down to a nice level. But it also makes me tired and a little anxious. Or maybe my back-alley pondering is the culprit, or the touch of something I've had all weekend, or our trip to Santa Fe with its attendant family issues - or all of the above.

Better get out there and take a walk.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Navigating on the Road

I do the driving when Art and I are out of town. I don't think he likes driving on unfamiliar roads, and he thinks I want control. Whatever the reason, I drive.

Before I leave home I print out MapQuest instructions for every combination of destinations I can think of. I put the addresses in the Maps app on my iPad. I forgot to do both those things in Houston last month and we got very lost. I'd try to figure out the next turn, and Art would tell me his opinion, and I'd choose one, and sometimes it was right and sometimes not. When I was right Art was silent, and when I wasn't he told me I never listen to him. I have always thought of myself as having a pretty good sense of direction and of Art as being a not very good navigator. I think Art sees me as wanting to make all the decisions. At least that's what he tells me, with his voice raised, in moments of supreme frustration on the road.

This week we're in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we've had an especially hard time getting along in the car. So yesterday I said, "Okay. For the rest of this trip I will do exactly what you say when I'm driving." Our first challenge was going to a family meal at China Star Restaurant, with our grandson Alex in the back seat. Alex knows how to get to China Star, and he was telling me how to get there, but I was listening only to Art. That's how we ended up on a dead-end dirt road two blocks behind China Star. Then today, he told me to get in the left lane, and I did, and he said, "Well, this isn't the right street." Which I already knew, but I was listening to him. He got us to the destination without a cross word to me.

Today we decided to take a geocaching scavenger hunt around Santa Fe. It's a two-mile course visiting the landmarks in the old city. When we got to the GPS rental place I said, "Art, will you please learn how to use the GPS?" So the guy taught it to him rather than me. For the next two hours, Art was on a mission to get to all eight destinations. He walked several feet ahead of me as he scoped out the streets around us. We took several wrong turns. I was silent, because Art was the navigator. Again, no cross words were spoken between us pertaining to navigation.

I've heard the question, "Would you rather be right or be happy?" I'm learning, in the area of getting around by car and on foot in a strange city, it's better to be happy that Art is in charge of the navigation. He gets it right most of the time, and when he doesn't we just spend a few extra minutes picking up the trail again. It doesn't matter whether I knew how to get there or not.

We've learned a lot in our explorations of the area in the last week. But my biggest lesson has been to not think and to let Art figure out where we're going. It's easier on both of us that way.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

New Mexico Grandchild

Our grandson Alex is being raised by his maternal grandparents in a double-wide mobile home on the south end of Santa Fe. His mom died four years ago and his dad, Art's son, lives in Oklahoma and doesn't keep in close contact with Alex. His Santa Fe home is a busy one; he has a half-brother Dylan, a half-sister Kristen and a two-year-old nephew, Evan, sharing living quarters. Alex is a friendly, talkative kid, and we can tell his other grandparents are providing him with love, security, and life values that will serve him well.

Art and I last saw Alex three years ago when we came for a weekend visit. This time we decided to stay a little longer, and his grandmother Anita agreed we could have him with us for the weekend. Alex wasn't too sure whether he wanted to do that, but we assured him that he could go home any time he wanted to. So far, he's been here 24 hours. He's thrilled to have his own room, a desk chair that swivels, use of my iPad, and the choice of what we'll have for dinner. Within an hour of his arrival he had set up his XBox in the sunroom. I hope we can figure out how to get the TV put back the way it was before his arrival!

Today we went to Pecos National Historical Park, about a 35-minute drive from our house. We took the 1.25-mile walk around the excavated site of Native pueblos and Spanish-imposed mission church. Alex took pictures with Art's camera. The trail was paved; we told him he could go ahead as long as he could hear us when we called. He stayed fairly close by most of the time. He and Art descended the ladders of two kivas to explore their subterranean interiors. We had a picnic lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, Fritos, bananas, and fresh coconut. We lingered until Alex told us his legs were tired.

Alex calls his other grandparents every few hours to tell them what he's been doing. Right now he is bored and missing his neighborhood friends. He's accustomed to a busy, noisy household, which ours isn't. He's having a reasonably good time, I think, but I expect any minute for him to tell me he wants to go home. And that will be okay. We've made arrangements to have dinner on Monday night with his whole other family.

Of our five grandchildren, four of them will be at some phase of 11 years old this summer. We see them all from time to time, and they like visiting us, but we're not part of their daily lives. I talk to other grandmas and some of them babysit daily for their grandkids or fly off to visit them every couple of months. Art and I haven't done that. Maybe it's because the last of our eight blended children is still in his early 20s, so life with kids - even those who only visit on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other weekend - isn't far in the distant past. Or maybe we're just not the day-to-day grandparent type. I hope there are other grandparents like us. We love the kids, like being around them, and are fine to see them go as we get back to our normally scheduled lives.

This blog entry was sent by email to budsmom1.[secretword]