Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My Ancestral Tree On a Slow Simmer

I grew up in an old two story farmhouse that had seven bedrooms, four of which where on the ground floor. Since there were only four of us in my family and my parents shared a room, there really wasn't a need for the upstairs and it was shut off and used for storage. As a child on slow weekend afternoons, I used to go up into the 'attic' as we called it and snoop around through all the boxes of stuff. I was probably around nine years old when I found it.

'It' was a piece of plywood board that had been varnished and attached to the front were a half dozen pages. The first page had a family tree, or branch if you will, of the Abbey clan up through the male ancestors. It went back to my third great grandfather. Although not a blood descendent of the Abbey's, I instantly realized for the first time at how many people influenced who I was and yet I knew nothing of them. At the time, I still had all my grandparents alive and two great grandparents but beyond that, I didn't know any.

My great uncle had been the one to do the genealogical work on the Abbey clan and according to the story because he was long dead before I knew him, he had been obsessed with genealogy. He spent decades tracking down various branches of the family tree. Perhaps it is this time commitment that scared me away from genealogy until a couple decades later when I was bitten by the bug for the second time. When I was bitten by the bug, I turned to the computer.

Computers revolutionized many aspects of our lives to great extent but they completely flipped the genealogy world over. I found a few sites and within about a half hour, I had been able to recreate the genealogical journey that had taken my great uncle over twenty years. I could visit courthouse records thousands of miles away without ever leaving my chair. I could see every federal census without going to some library in the state capital and sorting through reels of microfilm. I was awed and my family tree started filling in… fast.

Life interrupted me and I put my genealogy research on the back burner. Actually in the refrigerator would be a more correct saying. Recently, I have taken it out and but it on the back burner where it simmers and when I have a few minutes of 'free' time, I see if I can search out somebody else. Two of these people were the parents of my great grandmother Ramie who nobody seemed to remember and whose death I blogged about awhile ago. They were the last of my 16 great-great grandparents that I had not yet identified. I finally did yesterday and will blog more about that in the near future.

For now, my family tree is slowly growing and is up to 181 direct ancestors. I used to keep track of all my ancestral relatives including brothers of direct ancestors and their offspring but my database was up to almost 10,000 people and it was getting very confusing keeping track of everyone. So I started a new database and decided to just focus on my direct ancestors. They are after all, the ones involved in creating me.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ted and the Steak Dinner

My dog Ted was a free range dog, the only kind that should be legally allowed in my opinion. Back before his arthritis from being shot had really started to set in, he spent his days roaming destinations unknown to us, leaving in the morning and coming back in the evening… sometimes. Sometimes he came back with nothing other than a tongue hanging out of his mouth in need of water, other times with assorted scrapes, cuts and bleedings wounds and once with something quite unexpected.

My parents were on a vegetarian kick at one point and a good steak was scarcer around our farm than a nun at a bachelor party. Back in those days, I went to great efforts to get some meat in my diet and how this comes into play with this story you will soon see.

During a nice late summer day as the temperatures were falling with an approaching harvest, I was out helping my dad in the shop preparing some equipment. Because of the still fairly mild temperatures, the big sliding shop doors were open to allow the breeze to blow by. It was a glorious day. Shortly before lunch, when I happened to glance outside, I saw something in our neighbor's field coming towards us. As it got closer, I saw that it was Ted but he had something white on his head. He disappeared when he came to the fencerow as he found some ditch to crawl underneath the lower strands of wire and a couple minutes later trotted back into view. In his mouth I could now plainly see a white paper package of sorts.

Ted trotted just inside the doors of the shop, lay down, and proceeded to carefully unwrap his white package by gingerly tearing off strips of white paper. Next he pulled off a piece of plastic letting it blow further into the show on the breeze and finally I could see exactly what it was he found. There on the shop floor were two of the nicest and largest T-bone steaks I had ever seen. I could only watch with envy as Ted proceeded to wolf down the meat and spend the remaining time before we went to lunch gnawing on the bones. Later as I was eating my vegetable stew while he sunned himself contentedly on the front lawn, I wondered were he had found those steaks and wondered if maybe I found them they would still be good.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Little Abbey Update 8

It's been awhile (over a month) since I have done a Little Abbey update so here is the latest and greatest in no particular order.

It seemed like only last week I was complaining about how she didn't seem inclined to sit up and just preferred to lie on her back. Well now the opposite is true. The only time she ever lays down without complaint is bedtime. She spends her day sitting on the floor playing with her toys or standing in her saucer playing with other toys. If you try to lay her down on her back for reasons other than changing a diaper, she immediately rolls over onto her stomach and then complains because she wants to see her toys from higher up. I assume trying to put a diaper on her anymore is harder than putting one on a full-grown crocodile. Never tried it before on a croc but how hard can that be?

Little Abbey loves her toys but just like adults with their toys, she bores of them quickly. You can give her an old toy and she will play with it for a couple minutes before moving onto the next old toy or you can give her a new toy that will keep her entertained for a half hour or more before it then become just another old toy. The new toy she really likes now is the television remote that is bright silver with blue buttons. Darned if she hasn't already figured out how to change the channels or decrease the volume, always at the most inopportune times.
Weather Guy: A massive storm system is going to pummel your city back to the ice age beginning approximately at (click)...

Shopping Channel Guy:… for only three easy payments of 19.99 but that's not all!

Me: (frantically grabs the remove upsetting Little Abbey who has by then grown quite attached to it and change back to the news)

Weather Guy: Now back to you Jim.
Besides interrupting the weather, Little Abbey really likes to jump and bounce around in her saucer, shrieking and causing a general ruckus. But I don't complain since she loves to stand in it and can even stand outside of it as long as she hangs onto something. She's nowhere close to crawling it seems or even getting from her belly to her hands and knees but she seems close to going for a run around the house. I'm still praying for a crawling stage so I can ease into the baby mobility thing gradually.

She can say dada and mama but I know they are more just random sounds to her and not associated with anything. The only word I can say for sure she associates to something is her own name. Say her name and she instantly turns around to look at you. Call her by anyone of my nicknames and she ignores me. I'm sure I will get more of that later on in life even when I call her by her given name.

Besides dada and mama, communication in general is developing in leaps and bounds as she is making her wants and desires known through various grunts, squeals and other sounds. Her I'm hungry sound or a serious of short whines is very distinct from her 'you took my favorite remote control away' cry or her 'I'm cranky but I don't want to nap' cry. I can't seem to learn my wife's language very fast but I'm sure picking up Little Abbey's language at a rapid clip.

She has outgrown everything. Her legs protrude from her car seat but we have no choice but to stuff them back in until she is a year old according to the law. We have a slipcover over the top to help insulate her from the cold and she loves nothing better than to spend her minutes in the car kicking and pulling at it. I used to tuck important papers, records or checks under it to give to whomever at our destination but she has figured out how to find them and loves to chew on them. Giving your daycare provider a soggy chewed on check is slightly embarrassing. Among other things she has also outgrown in her bathtub. The first bath we gave her after she came home from the hospital, she looked so small in it and left unattended, like she might sink and drown. Now she overhangs it and you are hard pressed to reach your hand down between her and the tub to get enough water to wet her.

One reason why Little Abbey may be losing fascination with her toys is her increased awareness of her surroundings. She constantly tracks us throughout the house and knows that when we disappear through one doorway, we are likely to appear in another instead of the original one we went through. I know this because when I peak around the corner, she will already be intently peering in my direction. She also drops toys out of sight and spends time leaning this way and that to try and find them again where as before, they were literally out of sight, out of mind. Now that she is more mobile, things just out of her reach fascinate her to the point of frustration and I find myself hiding them instead.

In the first months, my wife and I could rarely enjoy a casual meal because Little Abbey always needed attention. Inevitably, one of us would gobble the food down and take care of her while the other one ate at a more leisurely pace. Then came the quite months where Little Abbey was content to amuse herself in her highchair while we ate. I thought those months would be forever but alas, it was not to be. Now Little Abbey has developed a fascination in what we eat. She will then throw a fit until she gets some of that or one of us feeds her some of her foods that we make just for her. Either way, I find myself feeding her a spoonful and then hurriedly trying to get a bite myself before she can get it swallowed and whines for more.

When Little Abbey eats our food, she is a bottomless pit and will eat for as long as you want to feed her. Once during a visit by my brother, he cooked us some delicious fish with crawfish sauce served over spicy yellow rice. Little Abbey developed a liking for the spicy yellow rice and proceeded to eat vast quantities of it while absolutely refusing her pureed peaches, which under normal circumstances are her favorite. Soon her cheeks were a bright red from the spices and I think she would have continued eating if we hadn't all been tired of sitting at the table ourselves. There were no 'repercussions' thankfully from her spicy rice eating and since then we have taken to given her more than just pureed bland food. She eats it all with no complaints.

We told the pediatrician at her last checkup that she would occasionally imbibe in a bottle during the middle of the night, especially after something traumatic like vaccinations had occurred. He recommended not feeding her in the middle of the night anymore and just giving her a pacifier instead. I expected a gradual weaning of the bottle or at least several nights of a crying child wanting to eat but Little Abbey went cold turkey. She hasn't had a bottle in the middle of the night since.

Occasionally she cries out do to bad dreams, what a baby dreams about that is bad I have no idea, and I will put her pacifier back in only to watch her fall back to sleep immediately. I go back to bed and do the same. It is easier on me when I can pacifier while still half asleep and be back in bed in less than a minute versus the fifteen-minute routine that it takes to heat up and feed her a bottle. Much much better in the sleep department of the Abbey household.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


I'll be the first to admit that sometimes diplomacy and going through the proper channels doesn't work. Sometimes you just have to take actions into your own hands. A while ago on my friend Mike's blog, he got to talking about noisy neighbors and it brought back memories of when I lived in an apartment.

I had lived in quiet peace for almost a year and a half when the new downstairs neighbor moved in. He evidently worked the nightshift somewhere and didn't get home until a little after midnight judging from the loud music that started playing every night and booming through the un-insulated floor between us. I confronted him a time or two asking him if he could please refrain from playing his music so loud in the middle of the night when most of the world was sleeping. He would always say that he could barely hear it in his apartment and suggest that I was just being overly sensitive.

So when that channel didn't work, I tried another channel, the apartment manager. I called them once but by the time they arrived he had gone to bed and they couldn't hear any music. I became the crank upstairs who was hearing things I'm sure. So the next time I let them listen to it over the phone. They confronted the guy and called it a night. That lasted for about a week before things began to go back to the way they were. It was getting to the point where I couldn't even hear my alarm clock radio over the sound of the music down below. I complained again. This time after confronting the downstairs guy, the manager came up and said that though they have gotten complaints from his other neighbor, there wasn't much they could do legally unless he was violating the noise ordinance. So the next time I called the police who came and talked to him and then me. Once again though he had reduced the volume before the law had arrived, (phone tap perhaps) and the law told me that his music wasn't really all that loud and certainly didn't violate the sound ordinance.

I was out of options and frustrated so I turned to the computer and signed up my neighbor for all sorts of junk mail lists and within a week, the postal carrier was starting to leave stacks of his mail alongside the mailbox for him to deal with when he got off work. I decided that was only punishing the mailman and was thinking of how I could deal with this when the light bulb went off in my head.

I headed off to the store and bought a 100 feet roll of speaker wire that I divided into two parts and drilling a little hole from my stereo into my bedroom, covertly installed it where the casual inspection wouldn't spot it. Then I hooked up my speakers and shoved them under my bed face down. Being an engineer, I built an insulating box of cardboard, styrofoam, rubber and airspace that helped contain the sound but not to my satisfaction as I found out during one test while he was still away at work. You see, I didn't want to disturb my neighbors because then I would be as bad as him. So, being an outdoorsman, I grabbed all my foam sleeping pads, thermal clothes and sleeping bags and stuffed them all around the speakers under my bed. The next test proved most satisfactory so I cleaned up my mess and hooked a smaller pair of speakers that I also had to my stereo, except to the B speaker jack so again, a casual inspection wouldn't turn up anything unusual. Now all I had to do was wait.

A couple days later, the moment arrived. At midnight, booming noises filled my apartment and woke me up from a very peaceful sleep. I tossed and turned until the music went off and then slept until my alarm went off at 5:30. Then casually on my way to the bathroom for the morning ritual, I cranked the volume on my stereo, switched to my A speakers buried underneath my bed in a soundless cocoon and hit the power button. The floor began to vibrate but hardly a whisper could be heard. Less than five minutes later as I was brushing my teeth, my downstairs neighbor was knocking on the door.

I opened the door and obviously saw that he had been in a deep sleep by his tousled hair, rumbled robe and puffy eyes. I had to force myself to not start laughing and listen for him to state his business as if I didn't know. Looking a little puzzled since he could barely hear any music coming from my stereo, he asked if I could turn my music down because he was trying to sleep. A wide grin now could no longer be suppressed as I said that I could barely hear the music as it was and that he must be overly sensitive. I went on to say that living in close proximity to your neighbors meant giving them respect. I said that if he continued to disrespect me, he had better start learning how to sleep with loud music drumming through the thin un-insulated recesses between our apartments.

In the six months that remained before I got another job and moved out of the apartment, I never heard another sound from his apartment. The mailman still brought his junk mail in by the sackfull and left it. I guess that prank was a gift that kept on giving.