This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Some highlights from 2012

In the past year I have had over 200 posts (a real slowdown from 2009 when I had over 500). It is always fun to look back over the past year for some highlights. Of course, what one person considers important another may consider unimportant, but here were some of the things that I either spent a lot of time watching or I had a lot of fun watching/doing.

The sewer project to the Interstate was one of the big construction projects of the year. My best post on it was in February.  Another substantial utility project was the ongoing renovation of the water treatment plant, but because most of the work was inside, I never did get a post that I really liked.

In summer and fall I checked progress on the pedestrian bridge project and the re-roofing of the court house nearly every day and I mentioned both may times. I was there when the bridge was finally placed. Late in the year there were quite a few posts about the construction of the new Tractor Supply store.

There were three open houses that were noteworthy. In June the public was invited to see the new wing of the Jasper County Hospital. In July there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the Pig Adventure that will open north of Rensselaer in 2013. It was one of those events I would never have attended if not for this blog. And in August there was an open house for the new primary school. That opening meant the closing of the Monnett School, which was also the subject of several posts and promises to provide material for more posts in 2013.

If I wanted to include something from the college, it would probably be the wind farm excursion I took in September even though that is in White County, not Jasper.

Are there things that happened in Rensselaer that should make this list? The Rensselaer Republican usually publishes their lists of key events from the year and it will be a lot different from this summary.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Closings and Openings

Today is the last day for Fashion Bug. There were three racks of clothing left in the store, and you can see two of them in the picture below.
Most of the store was totally empty. While I was there people were taking racks out of the store--they probably sold those too.
After paying my respects to Fashion Bug, I headed north and noticed a new sign at Potawatomi Park. (My spell checker wants to spell it Pottawatomie.) Snow was falling--we are on the northern edge of a major winter storm. It will not be known as the Day-After-Christmas Storm of 2012 because the weather people have started naming major winter storms. This one is called Euclid. We are expected to get only a couple inches. Indianapolis may get a foot.
I was headed to a new business that I had noticed on Christmas morning when I had stopped to watch city workers digging to repair a water line break on the corner of McKinley and Merritt. As I watched them I kept thinking, "What a miserable way to spend Christmas morning."
There is a new auto dealership in what had been the Chrysler dealership. I stopped in to see what I could learn about them.
The business is called Family Auto Sales and it will sell late model used cars. Though the business is new to Rensselaer (Friday was the first day they were open because that is when they got the license to be a car dealer), they are not new to the area. The business is owned by the people who own the Ford Dealership in Watseka, IL and also a used-car business in Gilman, Il.
I asked if they could sell new Fords from the Wakseka dealership and was told that they could not. They would like to eventually get a Ford dealership in Rensselaer but there are major hurdles to overcome to make that possible. Right now they are only selling cars and not servicing them so most of the building is not being used. They would like to work with the AutoWorks people who used to be the repair service for Heuring Ford.

The manager was very friendly. He lives in Lake Village, which he did not think a bad commute.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Have a Merry Christmas

At least four of Rensselaer's churches have creche scenes in front of them. Below is that of the First Christian Church.
 Below is St. Augustine's.
 St. Luke's Lutheran Church has one.
 As does Trinity United Methodist Church.
I may have missed a few.

Have a Merry Christmas. There is very little on anyone's calendar and I suspect that the next two weeks will be slow news weeks with little to write about. But you never know--I start many weeks with no idea of what I can write about and then things happen.

Update: The Assembly of God church on Clark Street also has one.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A white Christmas?

After a night of howling winds that sounded as if they wanted to rip the storm windows off the house, we woke up to a winter wonderland. The wind has died down a bit and we only got a little snow. I doubt it will last until Christmas, but it may.
There are slippery patches here and there, so if you walk, be careful.

Today is the solstice. Days will now start getting longer rather than shorter.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Snow bird adventures (Part 3)

I want to finish the recounting of my snowbird adventures with a few more pictures and comments, mostly about shore leave. The cruise we were on had two stops, Key West and Cozumel in Mexico. The stop at Key West was fairly short and a few pictures from it were included in Part 1.

One of my biggest complaints about the cruise experience is that the cruise ship had no information on what to do ashore other than the trips and tours that they were selling. If you did not want to spend money with them, they did not want to help you. They did not even have maps of the cities at which they were stopping. Some in our large group had done their homework and knew what they wanted to do. I was not among them. I did no planning at all for this trip--I left that to others. That was a mistake. If I ever again go on a cruise, I will do some research to find what is available in the places the ship stops.

Below is a picture of our ship, Carnival Imagination. Though it is a huge ship, it is one of the smaller ships in the Carnival fleet. It was built in 1995, and the newer ships are considerably bigger. Wikipedia has a lot of information about all the cruise lines, including Carnival. Compared to a large modern cruise ship, the ill-fated Titanic was quite small.
Here is same ship from almost the same location but a few hours later.
To get from the boat to the shore, one had to walk down the pier through a shop owned by the Carnival. It sold alcohol, which the passengers could buy but which they could not take back to their cabins, cigarettes, and jewelry. And then one was in Mexico. (The alcohol that people bought ashore was held for them until they disembarked.)
You might wonder why the emphasis on alcohol and cigarettes. Without U.S. taxes, they were much cheaper in Mexico. However, there were limitations on how much a person could bring back through customs. I think it was only one carton of cigarettes, but several bottles of alcohol. I never did figure out why jewelry was popular. Are there special taxes on jewelry?
Beyond the Carnival store was a small shopping area that Carnival probably also controlled. There were guys in front of most of the stores hawking the wares. Some street musicians were playing for tips in front of a nativity scene with a background of palm trees.

One of the stores had a map of the island. Cozumel is a bit south of Cancun. It has an international airport and there were fairly frequent flights into it. Some of the Carnival-sponsored trips took people to the mainland for adventures, and there was a car ferry that made regular trips. Several of our group had made plans to hire a taxi to go to the Parque Chankanab and snorkel, and they had a good time, seeing lots of fish and coral.
I walked along the road toward the main part of town, frustrated by the fact that there was no free and easy access to the beach anywhere along the route. However, before I got to my destination, it began to rain and I turned around. By the time I got back to the ship, I was completely soaked.
The ship was scheduled to depart at 10pm and all the passengers were supposed to be back on board by 9:30. A lot of them maximized their time ashore, as the lines after 9:00 were quite long.
The next day was spent at sea. The sunset was beautiful.
We arrived back in Miami early Friday morning. There were two ways you could leave the ship. If you carried your bags, you would leave when your deck was called. If you tagged your bags, they were picked up the night before and you would leave when your tag number was called. Below you can see the hallway with tagged bags. There were 2000 people leaving the ship, and it took less than two hours to have them all disembark. The cruise line wants them off fast because that afternoon they would be boarding a new set of passengers, setting sail for the Bahamas late in the day.
Probably the cheapest way to take a cruise is to fly in the morning of departure, take a taxi to the ship (I was told that the Carnival shuttle was actually more expensive than a taxi), and when leaving, schedule a flight on the same day that the ship returned to port. We did not do that. We came two days early so we could have adventures before the cruise and left the morning after docking. That substantially increased our expenses. The cost of the cruise itself plus the automatic gratuities are only part of the expense. The costs of getting to and from the ship can easily cost as much. And then there is the spending that people do while on the ship, which for some people is probably as big as the other two together.

On Saturday we got up before sunrise and took a free motel shuttle (actually, it was not free--it was part of the price of the room) to the airport. I got a window seat, anticipating watching the country pass below me. However, we almost immediately rose above the clouds. When we were over Northern Indiana, I looked out the window to search for Rensselaer, and the picture below shows what I could see.
 We landed, retrieved our luggage and car, and drove away from Midway Airport. Less than an hour later we were back again in Indiana.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Construction update 12-18-2012

The biggest change I missed while I was on my snow bird adventure was the start of construction on the duplex at Clark and Vine. The walls are up, the roof is mostly on, and a new sidewalk has been poured.
 A bit to the north a building that had had an open end for weeks and that I thought was getting ready for demolition has a new front.
 And a bit to the south, there is work that probably is related to the 69K electrical line that has been installed from the Melville substation to the power plant.
 The court house roof is not quite finished, but trucks are taking away equipment and supplies from the construction compound where the old jail used to stand.
 The bright copper strips stand out. In a few years they will turn greenish and be much less noticeable.
 The Tractor Supply building is getting an entry-way roof, and the parking lot has a layer of asphalt.
The Louck medical building appears to be complete on the outside.

 I do not think I have a recent picture of the building trades house on Vine. It is almost complete on the outside and the students were busy on the inside.
It is good to be working inside. The weather forecast for Thursday is for falling temperatures and a taste of real winter.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Snow bird adventures (part 2)

As mentioned yesterday, I was recently in Florida on a snowbird adventure. The main part of that adventure was four days on a cruise ship. I had never been on a cruise ship before and did not know what to expect.

We left from the Port of Miami, where cruising is big business. If you are a veteran of cruise ship trips, you probably will recognize the distinctive stack as that of the Carnival line.
We opted for a room with a window because it did not cost too much more than an interior room without a window. Cost was important in many decisions, especially on when to go. The weeks in early December are a down time for the cruise business and hence it is a time when prices are discounted. Also influencing price is the deck. The higher up on the ship, the more the room costs. An advantage of a higher deck is that they disembark the ship before the lower decks and supposedly the view is better. I rather enjoyed our view close to the water.
For the really great deals for cruises, you need to live in Florida. The cruise lines offer special deals to Floridians to fill empty rooms.

Every day there was towel art in our room. One of the programs on the ship was an introduction to making these creations from towels. I went, but my elephant did not look nearly as nice as this one.
I was very impressed with the courtesy and service of the staff. They came from 49 countries. I tried to read name tags to see where staff was from, but the tags were hard to read unless you were really close. Many seemed to come from Southeast Asia, especially the Philippines and Indonesia. There were also quite a few from Eastern Europe, especially Romania. We learned that they serve six months with two months off. They do not come back to the same cruise ship when they return but rotate through the ships and the ports. An advantage of that would be that there is a Carnival culture among workers, not different work cultures on each ship.

Before we left port some of our group enjoyed the water slides at the back of the ship. It was warm and the wind was light. Unfortunately, those conditions were never repeated. The next couple days were cooler even though we were further south, and especially the last day was very windy.
People do not go on cruises to stay in their rooms, but to get out on the deck and enjoy the sun.
There was a small salt-water pool in the middle of the upper deck. It was not big enough to swim in, but there were usually people in it. There were always people in the hot tubs. Carnival encourages a party atmosphere and behind the pool is a stage where a variety of programs were held, usually with loud music.
One thing that surprised me was the amount of selling that was part of the cruise experience. Food is included in the ticket price, but not alcohol or soft drinks. Passengers cannot bring alcohol on board and if you try to disguise it as water, the people at the security screening can tell if it is water or booze by shaking it and observing the bubbles. There is also a casino on board that operates only when the ship is in international waters. Because we were part of a large group, our interactions with other passengers were limited, but one of the people we met somewhere told us that the payout on the shipboard slots was not as good as payout on casino slots.

I never could get a good shot of the atrium area, which had lots of colorful lights. On the first evening out the entertainment staff staged a snowfall in the atrium and that is what the people along the sides are watching. Snow was created by bubble machines. They spit out little bits of foam that floated slowly to the floor. If you look carefully, you can see some of it in the picture below.
There were comedy acts in the evening, but after going to one, I decided they were a waste of time. On the two evenings we were not in port, there were shows featuring two singers and twelve dancers. They were entertaining, especially if you got a seat right up front. There were programs for children and some of them greatly enjoyed the programs and the interactions with other kids. Of course the parents also enjoyed kid camp because it freed them up to do other things.

The focus of the cruise for many, however, was food. The food was excellent as was the service. The presentation of food items was what you see on the Food Network, not what you see at home. I was not the only one who took pictures of food.
There is really nothing all that special with the fruit, but it certainly is displayed nicely.
One of the people we met at breakfast had attended the chef's table (it's pricey) the night before and was eager to share what he had learned. There are almost 100 cooks on the ship, and over half the staff (900+) is in some way or other there to provide or serve food. Cooking for the staff is at least as challenging as cooking for the tourists because of the diversity of the diets that they have. The staff must not get food of the same quality because when there is food that is prepared and not claimed, it is set out in the employee lounge where it disappears quickly. The ship carries an extra three-day supply of food that weighs 14 tons, and the scraps of uneaten food are ground up and dumped overboard to feed the fish.

There were several options for dining. You could go to the formal dining rooms and get served, or you could go to several buffet lines and get pretty much the same food. Though there was always food available, the choice was limited to pizza and ice cream late at night. The ice cream machine (which did not dispense real ice cream, but soft serve and frozen yogurt) was always popular.
One member of our group impressed some other passengers by making milk shakes from the soft serve and chocolate milk. Four parts soft serve and one part milk stirred vigorously resulted in a credible milk shake.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snow bird adventures (Part 1)

Every year many older Rensselaerians pack up and head south, usually to Florida, Texas, or Arizona. Last week I joined the flock, heading to Florida. I had never been to Florida before, so I enjoyed the trip, learned a lot from it, and took a ton of pictures. Because so many Rensselaer residents have some Florida connection, I thought I might be able to squeeze a few posts from the experience that would not completely violate the main focus of this blog.

The trip was arranged by one of my sons, who did a lot of planning. We flew from Midway to Fort Lauderdale on December 8. Taking the shuttle to the motel, we found these strange birds walking around on the lawn. I think they are some kind of Ibis. 
 Most of the birds we saw were not birds I see in Indiana, and few Indiana birds were evident in south Florida. The one big exception were the turkey vultures. There were quite a few of them.

The day after arriving we took an excursion to Everglades National Park. The wetlands form a very sharp boundary to the urban area. Dense development does not fade away as it does in the Midwest, but it abruptly ends and wilderness begins, much like what you see around Las Vegas. We visited Shark Valley, which has a paved loop trail about 15 miles long. I asked the ranger at the visitors center why it was called Shark Valley since there was neither a valley nor sharks. She told me that there was in fact a valley because land twenty miles to the east and twenty miles to the west was several feet higher, forcing water to flow between these heights to eventually join the Shark River. That river got its name because bull sharks occasionally swim in and breed. I probably should not have asked about the valley part--after all, we live near the Kankakee Valley.

About half of our group biked seven miles to a viewing tower. When we got there we found a strange bird sitting near the top. It is an anhinga, which dives to catch fish. (Desert Survivor says this is a cormorant and she knows Florida birds far better than I do. There wee anhingasa along the trail, but this is not one of them.) Its feathers are not waterproofed, so it spends lots of time drying out between dives. It was remarkable unperturbed by people walking next to it. In the background you can see the flat, almost featureless grasslands of the Everglades.
The charismatic megafauna of Shark Valley were not the birds or sharks, but the American alligator. There were many of them sunning quite near the visitors' center and they seemed not to be at all concerned by the many bikers who peddled by.
 Certainly much of the appeal of south Florida is its endless summer. There were flowers blooming in the swamps.
 A month or so ago the documentary "Everglades of the North" played on the Lakeshore Public Television. If you missed it, you can order the DVD, or perhaps you can find it at the library. For more info, here is the website. It tells the story of the Kankakee swamp that covered much of northern Newton and Jasper Counties before the wetlands were ditched and drained.

The next day we had some time to spend on the beach of Miami Beach. I was struck by how similar the coloring of the various birds was. On the left is some kind of sandpiper and on the right is a seagull. (In the middle is a pigeon, but probably not a migrant from the north). Gray, white, and black seem to dominate the coloring of the water and shore birds.
 The gulls are aggressive scavengers. In the photo below they have found a breakfast plate abandoned outside, and even though there were people within feet, some of them dared to land and grab the food. They were joined by crows, which were slightly smaller than the gulls, and also by a much smaller bird that I do not recognize.
 In Key West I found another familiar bird, a chicken. Chickens are feral on Key West and it is illegal to harm or harass them. They apparently descended from fighting chickens brought to the island by Cubans and then released when cock fighting became illegal.
To remind visitors from the north that winter stays away from Key West, some kind of tree was flowering.

One of the things that caught my attention in Key West were the pedicabs. I wonder if there would be a market for pedicab rides in Rensselaer.
This is long enough for one post. When I find time, I will continue with a second part of my snowbird adventures.