Friday, July 31, 2009

Rain, Ice and Rock: Revisited

[I am gone for business for a couple weeks so my blog is on autopilot. Here is a repost of some early writings way back when...]

All the world's sound had been reduced to the pitter patter of the falling rain slapping the rocks at my feet. I was dry under the sandstone overhang but the air's chill was slowly starting to creep in around my body's perimeter and I knew that soon I would have to start the long hike back to keep warm, but for now I was content to sit where I was and watch the icicles forming on the overhang. The trees nearby groan in the cold wind with their icy burdens but the rocks are holding strong.... for now. Soon the sun would come out and release the bond that joins ice to rock, sending them crashing into the void below to perish in the cold emerald green waters of the Buffalo River while the rock lives to fight another day, another rain. I too, hope to be here another day and watch another battle between rain, ice and rock.

-Ed
January 1, 2005

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey


I became a William Least Heat-Moon (real name William Lewis Trogdon) fan by reading Blue Highways and then later Riverhorse. Then I tried reading PrairyErth (written between those two books) but ended up giving up halfway through and giving the book away. So when I saw this book on the shelf in the bookstore with a gift certificate shortly to expire burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to gamble and blow it on this book. Though it turned out to be well worth the points spent, I guess I'm glad that I didn't fork over the money myself.

I was disappointed that this book wasn't a travelogue as Blue Highways and Riverhorse but rather a series of stories from road trips with very little about the journey. The stories were good and I enjoyed reading them but I was disappointed to not learn more about the journey itself.

Another disappointing thing in this book is that Heat-Moon seems to be self absorbed with every page and evidently gets great satisfaction from using obscure words that require many trips to the dictionary. I am impressed with his vocabulary but what happened to the everyman's language he used in the classic Blue Highways? Having to stop four or five times a page to look up words distracted me greatly from enjoying the book. Sometimes he took great pains to rearrange sentence structure so that they must be read several times to understand. More than once, I would get to the bottom of a page and realize that I had just mentally slipped off into Neverland and had to reread it to get the meaning. The odd thing about this trait is that in all the audio interviews that I have heard, he does not speak at all like he writes in the Roads to Quoz. What he wrote was most definitely intentional and thus why I think he unnecessarily goes out of his way to do so.

On the plus side, I have always been impressed with Heat-Moon's ability to write about something mundane and turn it into a good story. As he wrote on p. 431, "It was one of those places a visitor will later describe with a sentence beginning, it was one of those places." He can sniff out and find a story where no story exists and do it with ease. Roads to Quoz is no exception where he writes stories about the meaning of quoz, a man who pleasures old women for money to build a kids school, following the Ouachita River valley, riding bicycles on abandoned railroad tracks, pickle pie, the murder of William Grayson, an artist named Indigo Rocket and many more. As always the stories, when he doesn't get too sidetracked which happens more and more often, are fascinating and slices of Americana.

Overall, it was a good book and I enjoyed the stories but I was disappointed that it wasn't a travelogue as the title suggested and was definitely not impressed with Heat-Moon's attempt to astound me with his vocabulary and grammar. It is a book I would recommend only if you are a lover of stories Americana and even then I would recommend you keep a dictionary handy.

In case you were curious (as I most definitely am):

Pickle Pie
5 eggs
2 c. sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp lemon extract
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 c + 2 Tbsp light cream
1/8 c melted butter
12 oz. Sweet pickles, drained & ground
2 pie shells

Beat eggs and sugar until lemon colored and thick, beat in spices, extract, cornstarch, cream and butter. Stir pickles into mixture and pour into two pie shells. Bake at 350° for 60 to 75 minutes or until knife comes out clean.

Monday, July 27, 2009

My old car now has a LOT more character.

Cars are very utilitarian to me. If they get me from point A to B and back, I'm a happy camper. Thus I don't invest a lot of emotion when owning a car. However, I still hate to see my car get scratched or dented. I know every scratch or dent on my car down to the accidentally letting a used bit of carpet rub against the hood scratching the clear coat or to when one of my friends pulled beside me in a parking lot and the wind blew their door into mine caving it in slightly. There are a few more character marks but after almost eleven years of service, there are surprisingly few and none that can be seen from any distance. That is until last week.

As I buckled my daughter into her seat, she picked up the garage door opener and opened the door for me as she does everyday. She loves doing it and it gives her something to do so I just let her keep it in the little plastic holder on the side of her seat. I heard the garage door open as I got into my seat and buckled up. With the car started, I glanced in the mirrors to verify that the door was open and there wasn't something behind me such as a garbage truck, newspaper delivery girl, etc and seeing nothing, proceeded to back out of the garage.

A huge screeching sound made me stop and I immediately knew what happened. My daughter must have inadvertently pressed the button on the remote twice and thus opened up the garage door only halfway before stopping it, just high enough that I couldn't see it in any mirror. I paused for a second to decide what to do. I didn't want to continue backing up or go forward lest I do more damage and if I pressed the remote button again it normally would go down on the third press. I decided on the latter but was ready to press the button again if needed but the door went up, I remembered the entrapment sensors on the bottom and decided they must have tripped causing the door to go up instead of down. With the garage door up and the car out of the garage, I finally got out to inspect the damage.

The top of my car isn't a pretty sight. Although it didn't permanently dent any of the metal, it does look like someone took a fine toothed metal comb and raked it across half of my roof putting scores of scratches through the clear coat and quite a few into the base coat. The garage door however was unharmed. The realistic side of me was happy that the garage door was unharmed because that would have been expensive to fix. My eleven-year-old car on the other hand isn't ever going to be fixed since I haven't had collision insurance on it in more than a handful of years and even if I had, I probably wouldn't want to pay the deductible. More character marks and lots of them.

Back in the car my daughter sensed something wrong and asked, "Is the garage door okay daddy?" Yes. "Is your car okay daddy?" It will be okay so you don't have to worry about it. When we got to daycare I had to lift her up so she could see all the scratches and she asked, "Does your car need washed daddy?" Yes it does but it won't fix scratches. I explained to her that it was an old car and didn't really matter and she was satisfied with that. I'm just glad that it wasn't to our newer vehicle that is still scratch less. Those first scratches are always the most painful.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Great Rubber Band Wars

Unemployed and fresh off of September 11th with almost no savings, I was desperate for a job in a market that wasn't hiring. So when a contract engineering firm operating out of a little strip mall offered me a job, I took it. After starting, I found out that I was literally the only engineer in the entire engineering firm. The other eight employees were all trade school drafters with no engineering experience that had been acting as engineers and I suspect not very successfully which is why I was hired. My boss had an engineering degree but was a drunk who rarely showed up at the office and so for all purposes, I was THE engineer.

As a contract engineering firm, we designed whatever anybody with money who walked in our doors wanted us to design which ranged the gamut from baby gates to concrete culvert manufacturing plants. I enjoyed the variety but hated the down time that inevitably occurred in-between paying jobs. Being an engineer, I used our expensive CAD software for doing what is probably equivalent to doodling. I would design little things that might make my life easier in the future or perhaps be my key to riches and fame should I sell a billion of them. None of those things ever panned out… yet, but there is always still hope.

Where I was leading with all this is that during the downtimes, those in our office without engineering experience would often get restless and turn to other pursuits, namely shooting rubber bands at each other. With the boss out getting drunk, there wasn't anybody to stop them and they took advantage of those waging great wars through the building. I for the most part, being quite a bit older than the rest and preferring to do my electronic doodling, didn't take part but would occasionally get nailed by a stray shot. I would pile up the "spent" ammo in a little pile and on a rare occasion turn around and expend it at the shooter as fast as I could. However, with just fingers, I could only get off a few shots before the target was either out of range or behind cover.

Then one weekend while perusing some garage sales in the area, I found it, it being a revolving rubber band machine gun that could hold up to a hundred rubber bands at once and could shoot all hundred rubber bands with one crank of a handle, say it a couple seconds. It was made cheaply of wood and set me back all of ten dollars but it was worth every penny spent. One evening, I carefully stretched a hundred rubber bands over the big barrel shaped frame and loaded it into a small black duffle bag.

I waited until one Friday when my boss had been gone on another bender for the last couple days and was unlikely to be at work and the natives were likely to be restless. I walked into my desk, set the duffle under it and proceeded to go to work doodling. Back then, people carrying duffle bags into work were not looked upon suspiciously so nobody said a word. Several hours later, the rubber band war started and the normal main instigator tried to entice me into the war by pegging me in the back of the head with a rubber band.

I bend down as to pick up the rubber band but instead unzipped the duffle bag, grabbed the grip with one hand and the handle with the other. As I straightened up and swung the machine gun in his direction, I could see a puzzled expression appear on his face and just as I started to turn the handle, change to one of surprise. In a few seconds, it was all over. Small red welts were appearing on his face and upper torso, his glasses were slightly askew and he was sitting dazed in a pile of spent rubber bands. Everyone else was laughing hysterically at what had befallen their comrade.

I would like to say that was the end of the rubber band wars but it wasn't. I took my prize home to reload it but one of the cheap wooden struts snapped and I ended up tossing the whole thing away. It would have been expected anyway and the element of surprise lost. I still got pegged with the occasional rubber band and my boss still continued to go on benders. Finally two years almost to the day, I finally was able to find another engineering job and gave my resignation notice. A week later, my boss's boss who worked in another office eighty miles away, finally got tired of my boss's benders and fired him. Had I stayed a week longer, assuming the loss of me wasn't part of the reason my boss got fired, I might have made it to manager. It was probably just as well since manager material probably never brings rubber band machine guns to work in small black duffle bags.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pompous Ass or Racism?

Imagine that there is a knock at the door and you answer it. An officer of the law is there and asks you to "step out onto the porch and speak with me."

You reply, "No, I will not."

The officer then identifies himself as 'Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge Police' and that he was 'investigating a report of a break in progress' at your residence.

You proceed to open the door and exclaim, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?"

Digest this actual conversation for a minute. Does it sound like the homeowner has a huge chip on his shoulder because it certainly does to me? Nowhere in this conversation is the mention of race until the homeowner is asked to answer a few questions to clear up reports of a home invasion in progress. Instead of being thankful that you have neighbors concerned enough to call the police when they suspect someone is breaking into your house, you immediately claim that the police are here and wanting to question you only because you are a black man. Absurd. The neighbor called because they saw someone try to enter the front door and then walk around to the back door. The person then entered the back door and enlisted help from the driver of the car to force open the front door. Believe you me, if someone sees that happening at my house in the dark of night, I would want him or her to call the police.

I have no doubt that Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a pompous ass with a chip on his shoulder and he isn't afraid to let everyone know it as he most recently did. He, along with a whole host of black who's who in America, are now ranting through the media that the white police officers were racially discriminating against him despite the fact that one of the three officers in the now famous picture of him in handcuffs screaming and acting in a very undignified manner is black. He wasn't arrested for breaking into his own home even after the officer had to ask him numerous times for identification. He was arrested for disorderly conduct for "loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space" as well anyone verbally assaulting an officer is prone to have done to them if they keep it up long enough. This wasn't about racism at all but was about someone who is the self-ordained elite versus the rest of us.

I think the real tragedy in this situation is that the Cambridge Police Department caved in so quickly and dismissed the charges on this pompous ass that went out of his way to make their lives miserable. Last night, the current occupant said in a speech about this affair that, "I don't know all the facts," before proceeding to say, "the Cambridge police acted stupidly." I'm sure glad we have a president that weighs all the facts before making a judgement.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Waterfront Market

After the big wreck I wrote about in the previous post, we made it to the Waterfront Market intent on getting some great seafood. It had been ranked the number one seafood place in the city from 1993 through 1999 and then evidently some competition arrived because their next wins were in 2001 and then 2003 before the wall of certificates became eerily bare.

For a Saturday evening, the place was humming which was a good sign but I later suspect that it was self-induced. We were told a fifteen minute wait by the seating hostess but as we sat there, I continued to see lots of open tables available while she fiddles with her hair and doodled on a piece of paper. Every once in awhile she would grab a set of menus and seat another group in one of those empty tables almost as if she was going off some timer and not the number of empty tables available. Twenty minutes later, we were finally seated at a table which by my count, had been available AND SET for almost fifteen minutes.

I won't bore you with too many details other than we had very good service which I gauge by the server kept bringing me refills of my drink without me having to ask. I ordered some Hurricane Shimp served over pasta while my wife ordered crabcakes and some of the best clam chowder I have ever tasted. We were both mystified over my shrimp pasta which the best I can describe it tasted like the spice was based off something in the mint family, an odd combination with shrimp and pasta. It didn't taste terrible but it just didn't taste really great either.

Once complaint that I have always had in eating shrimp pasta in joints like this is that the establishment leaves the shell tail still on the shrimp for presentation purposes which leaves me with a delimma on how to properly eat them. Do I cut off the shell and thus half of the shrimp meat and leave it on my plate, try to pull the shell off using the fork and spoon risking that I might fling the shrimp across the room, or pick up the sauce covered shrimp in my hands and peel it with my fingers, wiping the sauce over the fine linen napkins? I have always opted for the latter one but never felt right doing so in a fine dining establishment but darn if I was going to leave half of the shrimp behind nor was I going to risk flinging it at the table next door. The Waterfront Market, which though it did have a market in one part of it wasn't anywhere near any water, did have one thing going for it. They completely peeled the shrimp in my pasta therefore taking away the difficult decision on how to properly eat it.

Overall, the clam chowder was excellent, according to my wife the crabcakes if those are your cup of tea were also excellent, the bread was crusty, warm and served with real butter and they had kids meals. I would just stay away from the mint spiced Hurricane Shrimp served over the chef's choice of pasta. It was just kind of odd tasting.

Monday, July 20, 2009

911 Virgin

I am getting closer to having been on this planet for almost four decades. I've been all over this country and even done a healthy dose of traveling the world and with all this experience, I have never witnessed an accident first hand. I've heard the bangs, the crashes, and have been there to see the steam still rising and the trickle of automotive vital fluids still crossing the pavement but never the witness, until last weekend.

We were in the big city on our way across town via the freeway to eat at a new-to-us seafood place that supposedly had great reviews when it happened. As I often like to do whenever I am traveling a four lanes of freeway in the depths of the urban jungle, I was in the slow lane doing the speed limit and letting the natives speed past me in the other three lanes doing their high speed ballet of swerving around each other in the various lanes. A particular knot of cars had just gone rushing past me when the accident happened.

A silver Toyota in the middle of the knot suddenly swerved violently towards the concrete barrier in the center of the road. The drive locked up the brakes, smoke rolling from the tires as a dozen cars between myself and the Toyota all started checking up and swerving to avoid the car. The car over corrected and was suddenly swerving in my line then over correcting and back swerving in the fast lanes. Finally, the driver lost all sense of control and was doing lazy circles down the middle of the highway before finally with most of his speed now scrubbed off by the tires, smashed into the metal guardrail barricade in the slow lane.

Through all of this, I think my words were, "holy shit" as I braked and glanced in the rearview mirror to ensure I wasn't going to become a part of this as Mrs. Abbey screamed and Little Abbey continues to play with her plastic dinosaur safely belted up in her carseat. A white pickup in front of me pulled right behind the wrecked Toyota and I pulled directly in front of it and we both turned on our emergency flashers as everyone else sped on their way. In hind sight, we were both not from the city and all the others I guess were locals and had been there seen that.

My wife the doctor hopped out of the car to check on the occupants of the other car while I flipped open my cell and did something I had never done before, dialed 911. I had heard enough hysterical calls with the operator trying to get information to get responders on their way so I resolved to be calm and very descriptive. So when the 911 operators asked me to state my emergency I responded calmly, "I just witnessed a vehicle accident on I-235 in the westbound lanes just east of Exit 4 about a hundred yards. The vehicle spun in traffic and slammed pretty hard against the guardrail."

So I was a little taken back when the lady asked me where exit four was. I thought these people not only had the capability of triangulating on a cell phone signal but that our phone automatically routed us to the local 911 station so misunderstanding what she was asking me, I told her the name of the city. She corrected me and asked what road exit four was. Now all I had was a big green sign pointing right saying exit four so I really didn't know. But I turned off the direction finding function of our GPS and turned it to map mode so that it told me what exit I was approaching and told the lady. She told me to hang on while she transferred me to police.

The police answered and once again I went through the process down to trying to explain where exit four was on I-235. Once again I was transferred to a different police department and once again I went through trying to explain to the police where exit four was. How any sort of emergency response unit can operate without a map showing the exit numbers of the local freeway system is beyond me but evidently this city does. This third transfer seemed to have gotten me to the proper authorities because after figuring out where exit 4 was, they proceeded to ask me the make of the car in the accident, number of occupants and if anyone was hurt. By this time, the occupants were out of the car and walking around the side of the road looking very shaken but intact. The police took down my cell number and told me to stay where I was until they arrived.

Ten minutes later, they finally did and I walked down to give me statement of what I had seen which wasn't much. However, the police wasn't really interested in that. The guy driving the wrecked car said that he had been cut off by a black car but that car hadn't stopped. The officer said that since there was no public damage to the guardrail, there wasn't much he could do unless the black car stopped in and admitted to the incident. He wasn't even interested in what I or the driver of the white pickup had to say so we got back into our vehichles and while the car blocked traffic, we all got back underway. The funny thing about everything was that the Pakastani couple driving the wrecked car were actually driving a rental car. Their car had been involved in a wreck just the week before. I was sure glad I wasn't going to have to explain that one to my insurance.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Commando 450

Our shower at home leaves a lot to be desired. The city that we live in and particularly the area, for some reason does not have good water pressure. If for some reason, some other appliance that utilized water is being used at the time of the shower, you barely get a dribble. In good times when you have the water supply to yourself, you get enough water to get clean but never a manly flow. By that, I mean a shower that skips the soap and just peels the outer layer of skin off your body. One that will pin you to the back wall of the shower or perhaps knock you clean out of it like the Commando 450 does in that Seinfeld episode.

So it was with great surprise that I turned on the shower head up at our apartment in the city and was pinned back against the wall. I count myself extremely fortunate that the shower head had been pointed straight towards the back wall so I didn't lose an eye or perhaps lower where more valuable stuff is located. I was so surprised by the force that the intial cold blast of dregs left in the pipes from the previous shower didn't even faze me. I fought my way back to the front of the shower and knocked the nozzle to the side to give me a chance to evaluate the situation.

I'm six foot two inches tall and for some reason, the shower head on the standard shower seems to be five feet at best. Now with a normal flow shower head, I just stoop over to wash my hair and other parts above five feet. At home, I even eliminated this by adding an extension that made our shower head closer to six and a half feet. However, turning the Commando 450 nozzle down so that the fire hose spray lands somewhere in the tub opens up sensitive vital organs to being cleaned plumb off the body they were attached. Aiming it up above the sensitive areas means that I have to stand in the blast or it will hit the back wall and flood the bathroom with the resulting spray. After much trial and error, the only solution I could find was to turn it to the tiled side so that it doesn't spray out of the shower and doesn't hit any vital organs. I am left with sticking in parts of my body one at a time and even then they come out red from the force applied.

Perhaps even worse is that the spray coming out of the Commando 450 is of such volume, it overwelms the normal sized drain in the bottom of the tub. I can take a shower of under five minutes and the water is already part way up my shin, my ankles long since submerged. In fact, I calculate that if I didn't finish the shower in about ten minutes or less, it would completely fill the tub and spill over the sides. I don't take long showers so this doesn't bother me too much but it does kind of bother me to have to stand in a pool of my own filth that I just sluiced off my body while I am trying to get clean. I thought I might just stand in their after I had turned off the water and give my feet a quick rinse once the drain caught up but that seems like an eternity.

In the end, I have decided that as manly as the Commando 450 showerhead is, I just can't hack it. I am planning on stopping by a hardware store to see if I can get another one of those extension type heads so that I don't have to stoop. With the pressure we have at the apartment, the direct downward flow that is quite a bit more dispersed should feel quite nice, especially on the sensitive areas.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What does a Kindle smell like?

One of the greatest feelings in my world is opening a brand new book for the first time followed closely by the feeling of looking at my rather large collection of unread books and pondering which one I would like to read next. One action takes place before the order but I guess feelings have no order. Opening up the book with the crisp new pages and the unmistakable odor wafting up, every bit as identifiable as that of a new car, just has no equal.

Dust jackets on hardcover books just never made sense. I gather they are to keep the dust and dirt off the hardcover to protect them but if I had my druthers, I would rather the dust jacket look better. It is after all the one you see first and we all know first impressions are everything. I've bought many a book by its cover and later discovered I judged wrong but I still continue doing so because what other choice do I have short of sitting down and reading the book in the store. So I always begin a new book by taking off the dust jacket and placing it in the bedroom nightstand drawer to prevent dirt and dust from destroying it and not worry about the inevitable dirt stains that always seem to find their way to books that I am reading.

Books have been obsolete since shortly after Al Gore invented the Internet. I have tried reading several books over the Internet but have never made it more than a chapter or so into them. It just isn't the same. A computer is ones and zeros and stark white backgrounds that needs lots and lots of batteries, charging, or backlighting just to read them. Books can be read just as easily laying in bed, reclined in that easy chair by a nice warm fire, or during takeoff on a flight when all your electronics must be shut off. There is something comforting about closing a book and checking how much I have read by gauging my bookmarks progress from the front to back cover, something that I can't do with a Kindle. I'm sure it has electronic bookmarks and tells how many pages are read out of how many total but a picture is worth a thousand words. Besides, what would I do with my old leather bookmark with the hand painted words faded into obscurity that I received as a gift so many years ago? I used to go through bookmarks pretty fast and thus resorted to using a Kleenex but I haven't lost my leather one. You tend to pay more attention to treasured items.

Once you finish with your electronic copy of the book you are reading, where does it go? Do you file it away on some electronic bookshelf to gather electronic dust? I like to collect my books, especially the good ones where I judged the cover correctly, and reread them from time to time. I can also write my name on the inside of the cover and loan it out to family and friends so that they may get enjoyment from them as well. Something that I probably couldn't do with an electronic copy due to copyright infringement.

Those books with expired copyrights that are written in text that no computer can decipher, our now being deciphered by you and I and put on the web for all to read. Did you know this? Some kid created a program that he sold to various websites that uses pictures of words a computer program couldn't automatically translate as authentication codes to prevent spammers, much like blogger does. There was a problem verifying that what we typed in as a "translation" was correct if the computer couldn't understand the word to begin with so his program has you translate two words, one known by the computer and one unknown from some book. As a results, hundreds of thousands of books have been automatically translated onto the web by you and I as we type in those silly codes to show those websites we are a spambot. I don't think I can be annoyed by this loss of two or three seconds of my time any longer. It's for humanity.

Will humanity evolve, as predicted, to permanently forego paper books and become a true paperless society? Will a Kindle become as ubiquitous as Kleenex or toilet paper? It took society nearly a hundred years to pay for toilet paper when the Sears and Roebuck catalog that came in the mail was free, true story. I hope not. I so enjoy that smell of a new book and the crisp new pages, something that the sterile plastic of a Kindle could never provide. Besides, how can I judge a book by its cover if it has no cover?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Come Hike With Me: Indian Creek


For the more adventuresome hiker, someone who is not afraid to get dirty or hike a rugged sometimes non-existent trail, my all time favorite hike down Indian Creek fits the bill. Indian Creek starts high up on Mount Sherman in the Buffalo River National Park and winds through a steep canyon down to the Buffalo River itself. In all my years, I have mostly hiked this from Mount Sherman to the river and only once from the river up. Though technically more difficult (it is always more difficult going down than up) it is much easier on the lungs. The large majority of people and descriptions of this hike that I have found start from the river and go up… part way. Here is a complete rundown of the hike from top to bottom.

To access the top, you have to head northeast out of Ponca, Arkansas on U.S. Highway 74 and drive past the "town" of Low Gap. Past that around several bends, there is a dirt two track that leads north off the highway across a small pond dam and down into the trees. Though I have driven my little Honda Civic down to a clearing/parking area, it is extremely difficult to avoid getting high centered in the huge ruts that have washed out the road. I recommend a high centered vehicle such as a truck or parking up close to the highway and hoofing it in.

From the parking lot, I generally just start hiking down hill until I am gradually pulled by gravity into the Indian Creek canyon. When I first started going on this hike, the first part was extremely technical as you climbed down several areas where the creek has created large vertical drops from overhanging rock shelves. Not only was it kind of spooky but also it was very unsafe. Over the years, a trail has been formed that contours the east side of the creek for a ways before it drops down a very steep but not very dangerous nose down into the creek. I think the last time I hiked this, it had been extended further to a side drainage that was even easier to climb down and you entered the main channel right by one of the largest sycamore trees I have ever seen.

There is no trail once you enter the creek bottom because the easiest way is to hike around and over house-sized boulders lodged there. You wind your way down until a sheer rock face blocks the flow except for a large funnel shaped hole at the bottom leading through it. This is the Eye of the Needle. I have always wanted to "thread" the needle but it is too steep to do so without rope and so I take the alternate route which is a steep, root pulling, boot slipping scramble up and around this formation. At the top before you start down the other side, you can climb another thirty feet up directly above the "eye" where you have a commanding view of the valley below. I have spent many an hour sitting there eating lunch, contemplating the world and perhaps grabbing a little nap.
Above the Eye of the Needle

The backside of the Eye of the Needle is every bit as steep as it was climbing up. I prefer to sit down on one boot with another boot stuck at in front of me and commence and controlled slide grabbing onto anything I can to steady myself. Others choose to just plant their behind in the dirt and slide with all four appendages being utilized for control. Once down, I generally hike back upstream a short ways to the base of the Eye of the Needle and look back where I had been. It seems a shame to do all that vertical gain and then loss just to go around forty feet of slick rock.
Below the Eye of the Needle

The next formation you will come to if you don't miss it is the Bat Cave. If you do miss it, you will almost immediately be rim rocked by a 40 or 50 foot vertical drop and know that you've gone too far. For many years, you could hike down into it during certain months of the year when gray bats weren't weaning offspring. However, I have heard that it is now permanently closed all year long, as the gray bats are an endangered species. For a decade and a half, I would climb down in this cave as far as I could see and then climb back out. One trip, I thought to take a flashlight for a more thorough exploration and discovered that the cave is actually a tunnel that comes out of the Arkansas Cave (thus named for the shape of the opening) opening further downstream.

Bat Cave Entrance


Arkansas Cave Entrance (at the other end of the tunnel)

Since the "trail" through the caves is no longer an option and a rather larger vertical drops blocks all those that can't fly, the only option is to backtrack up the creek from the Bat Cave opening and find a trail contouring the bluff on river left. This trail contours around a bend to what has been named the Crawl Through. The Crawl Through is essentially that, a place where you can crawl through a natural arch in the bluff and into a large rock overhang. As you can see from the picture, you have to traverse some pretty narrow rock ledges at the edge of the overhang to get to a spot where you can climb back down into the creek bed. This climb is another steep hang on to anything you can hike down with the last 15 vertical feet ending at a little sheer cliff. This is the technical part about going down for you can't see where to put your feet. Fortunately there is a nice sized sapling that grows from an intermediate ledge about 5 or 6 feet below the rim and you can grab onto that and lower yourself down to the intermediate ledge. From there, you can grab onto its roots for some nice solid handholds and lean back to see where you need to put your feet to lower yourself down the rest of the way.

Again you allow gravity to carry you downhill until you get rim rocked once again. During really dry weather, you can hike in slots carved by the creek and pass by this obstacle but when the creek is flowing, the only option is to backtrack once again upstream looking for a trail on river left. This trail will take you up and around a 100 feet sheer bluff and down a nose downstream of the bluff back to the creek bed. Be forewarned though that this trail makes the Goat Trail that I described in an earlier post look like a freeway. Fortunately, it is among lots of vegetation that you can hang on to maintain your balance but keep track of where you place those feet.

Back where you rejoin the creek, you can hike back upstream a ways to a nice slick rock section of the creek where there are plenty of nice places to relax to the gurgle of passing water and perhaps nap some of the day away. At this point, the rest of the journey downstream is pretty easy and in the recent decade has a pretty well defined path that avoids the loose rocks of the streambed. You will eventually meet up with the Buffalo River Trail that you can follow to Kyle's Landing, one of the few access points along the Buffalo River. There is a little offshoot trail along here that leads down to the bank of the Buffalo directly across Gray Rock Rapids. Back in the day, Gray Rock Rapids was one of the most feared rapids on the river and I personally witnessed it eat many boats. I myself, a pretty good boater, got close enough to kiss it a time or two if I hadn't been too busy paddling for my life. However, a big flood has flushed out the inside of the bend by the rapids turning it into not much more than a riffle that even a novice can navigate. This is generally where I take my third and last nap of the day dreaming of the good old days.

A few hundred yards away, you walk into the campground at Kyle's Landing where you have conveniently paid someone (used to be $20) to have your vehicle shuttled there and waiting. You did remember to do that didn't you? If not, it is a long steep hike back up to the top of the canyon. This hike is an all day hike by the time you arrange for your shuttle, drive to the top of the canyon, hike the canyon napping along the way, and the long drive back up the mountain.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Political Mish Mash

Why is so much breath wasted on Sarah Palin? The latest polls show that seven out of ten Republicans would vote for her. Is this a vote for her or that two of the leading contenders have recently been outed as having marital affairs and there isn't much of a choice? Sarah Palin's speaking ability makes George Bush seem like a Shakespearean poet! Not to mention, she seems to have the political ethics of a Chicago mobster that just found several cases of fine booze packed in wads of cash. If that is the best that the Republican Party can drag up in the next three years, I think I will probably attending the democratic caucus instead.

*****

Did anyone else see those clips of Putin on the news a few days ago? One clip showed him visiting a grocery store and commenting on the high prices. The storeowner immediately said they were going down tomorrow. Another clip showed a factory owner who had just laid off all his workers because he went bankrupt. Putin slid over a contract, tossed him a pen and told him to sign it. The contract stated that he would rehire every worker back tomorrow. When I look into Putin's eyes, it scares the heck out of me. I would not want to see what goes on behind closed doors with that guy. He would probably make Saddam Hussein seem like saint material.

*****

I didn't vote for the current occupant because I knew he would be very hard on my wallet. It seems as if that guy has no limits to the amount of money he is willing to spend. Cash for clunkers? But all that money pales in comparison to what it might cost each of us to bail out California, the biggest spending state in our nation.

*****

Years ago, a very vocal faction of our community wanted to build a huge civic center for the local arts. Problem was, we are only a town of less than 10,000 and only a small fraction of those are interested in cultural things that occur inside a civic center. In other words, the audience that would support such an endeavor is very limited. We had a small amphitheater built in vacant warehouse that worked just dandy and I often went there. However, it seemed to me as if the same 50 to 80 people showed up time after time and so I was a little bit leery, along with thousands of other citizens, that we could support such a place. Never fear the vocal faction said, it would be build from all private money with over a $1 million in a slush fund just in case. It was approved. The city stepped in and donated land and cleared it all at taxpayer expense, doubly so since the new structure was made tax exempt. They ran out of money building the massive structure and received grants from the state, i.e. more of my tax dollars, to finish it. Less than two years ago it opened up and has lost massive amounts of money ever since. Now they want the city to take it over or for the county to designate tax revenue to be used for its up keep. Part of the problem is we could never afford it even when times were good and we certainly can't afford it now. The other part is that they charge admission of around $40 per person to see a show when I used to see the ones out in the vacant warehouse for $5 and that included a drink and a cookie. I'm voting to let it go bankrupt and default back to the bank that lent them the money.

*****

Evidently, governments down the line learn from example from those further up the line. Unemployment is high in our town and many factories have lain off hundreds of people. Those of us still employed have received, unpaid time off, pay decreases or at best, no pay increases. We scrapped plans to build a new multi million-dollar school because nobody would buy the bonds to finance it. Yet, our city officials have given themselves raises upwards of 5% and our teachers even more, some of them getting bonuses of $5000. This after a big to do when the state warned our school system that we were overspending and needed to cut back. This after they rammed a one cent tax increase down our throats during an off-election cycle after it had been handily voted down three times previously. I don't think they have listened and I don't think they are listening still.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

City Ruminations


Since I've been spending a lot more time recently at our apartment in the Big City (population around half a million), I've noticed something. Noise. I don't know if it is the farm boy in me that is used to a silence that makes even a small town person weep with anxiety or if it is the current small town side of me but noise is ever present in the Big City.

For instance, whenever we are out and about driving down the road with our windows up and air conditioner on full blast, we are constantly assaulted by the booming base of passing a donk and even those too poor to make their vehicle into a donk but rich enough to afford some custom audio equipment. The only custom stereo that I have bought and put in a car replaced the eight-track stereo in the car and then only when it quit working. I also bought speakers for the very same car but only after the standard issue speakers quit working and those were some little jobbies that slipped underneath the front seats. All my other vehicles have had very satisfactory sounds systems in them and could be heard without disturbing those in cars three vehicles ahead of me at a stop light. One car that we sat by at a stoplight was so old and the base so overwhelming that all I could marvel at was the undertone of rattles from the various pieces of cars. The boom of the base was followed by a metallic vibration of all the other parts of the car. I wondered how many bolts were falling out from vibrations never imagined by engineers.

My most recent stay in the Big City for four days happened to coincide with the 80/35 music festival with one of the venues being just five scant blocks away. So for about twelve hours of the day, our line of sight apartment was assaulted by various artists late into the night. So although the temperatures were unseasonably cool, we spent the who weekend running the air conditioner just because the fan on it would make a Harley owner weep with envy. At least it was a steady noise with no beat.

Perhaps most disturbing to me is just the complete lack of silence. I can't shut off the air conditioner in the apartment even with no music festival going on and hear absolute silence. I definitely can't be anywhere outside and here silence. There is always noise, so much that I'm guessing those that haven't experienced different, don't even realize it. To them it is probably like a white noise. To me it is just noise.

Despite the noise, I am enjoying this experience and the chance it is giving me to explore the Big City in small chunks of time. Mostly it has been culinary experiences so far but as we grow more comfortable and have less settling in to do, I'm sure we will be exploring other aspects as well.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Come Hike With Me: Big Bluff/Jim Bluff Traverse


When I want to take someone on a classic hike in one of my favorite places in the Midwest, the Buffalo River National Park, I will take them on what I have termed the Big Bluff/Jim Bluff Traverse. It's big on beauty and something that someone in half way decent shape can do albeit at a slower pace than someone in better shape.

The hike normally begins at the Center Point trailhead up the mountain from the small town of Ponca, Arkansas and directly across the road from where Fire Tower Road (locals pronounce it Far Tar Road) T's into the main highway. From there, it is almost all downhill, at least until you want to return. The trail itself mostly follows an old road that inhabitants to the area used before the area was turned into a Wild and Scenic designated park. The road itself was blocked off and for the last forty years it has been a foot trail. It winds down the mountain and eventually down to a pass where you have two options. You can see this trail marked in red from the upper left of the picture above to where it branches. The ex-road/trail continues on due east dropping off one side of the pass and there is a little single-track trail dropping off the south side. I normally drop off the south side in the direction of Big Bluff on what is locally known as the Goat Trail.

The Goat Trail receives its name due to the steepness and exposure you will find on this trail. Within a couple hundred yards, a vertical face hems you in to the east and a vertical drop of around 300 feet just a few paces to the west. With a good jump, you could perhaps make one bounce and end up in the river below sure to feed the fish population with what remains of your mortal body. About this time, you come to an alcove in the rocks where the ancient river eroded a layer of softer rock and thus left the Goat Trail. The alcove is generally my first stopping point on the tour after having walked about three and a half miles downhill at this point. You get a nice commanding view to the west, both upstream and downstream of the river. If you are lucky, you can sometimes glimpse some of the local elk or deer populations using the old river trails to cross the stream below.

Continuing on south along the Goat Trail from the alcove, things narrow up fast. Soon, there are several places where the trail narrows down to about three feet wide. You definitely want to mind where your feet are being placed and hug the cliff during this portion. After about 50 or so feet of this, the trail slowly begins to open up and you find yourself contouring around to the nose on the southeast side of Big Bluff. I generally follow the trail down the nose a short distance and then head due east as I have marked on the above map. The trail itself winds off to the west and down to the river at the base of the bluff but there isn't much to see except a hard bushwhack through tangled river debris so I take my shortcut.

The big caveat to the shortcut is that you must find a specific spot or you will end up rim rocked with no way down but to backtrack up and around. But at one spot along the 20-foot ledge or rock that stretches around the backside of Big Bluff, a chunk of the ledge has slumped off away from the rim a couple feet. Over the years, gravity, rain and dirt has silted in this crack creating a natural ramp. I call this feature Abbey's Crack. Holding your backpack above your head, you can turn sideways and shuffle down this ramp to the forest below. From there, it is a short though bramble filled hike down to the flood plain where you come across the remains of an old farmhouse. When I first pioneered this route, the house stood and you could go inside. It has long ago collapsed and is quickly being consumed by the surrounding flora but still obvious to the passerby. Below the house you quickly come to another trail that follows the river bottoms and is mostly used by horse packers. You follow it north until where it crosses the Buffalo River and then staying on the same side, bushwhack through an open forest to Jim Bluff.

Jim Bluff is a bench of layered rock that butts up against a deep pool on the Buffalo and is overhung by a huge shelf of rock. I don't know who Jim is/was but someone has painted that name on two of the larger flat rocks that have fallen from the overhanging portion onto the shelf portion. Years ago, there used to be a cable tied to a tree on top of the overhanging shelf that allowed people to swing out over the deep pool and release yourself at what seemed an absurdly high distance above the surface of the water. Probably for legality reasons, it was long ago removed. The Abbey's can sometimes be found there during the dog days of summer swimming and trying to soak up generally as much water as possible.

I have several memories of this place that I will quickly share. On one of my first trips to Jim Bluff when my dog Ted was along, he misjudged the crystal clear water for being shallow and attempted to run across it. He was quickly submerged and I can vividly remember him below water still running and a stream of bubbles coming out of his nostrils. Fortunately he was able to reach the far side in the swift moving current and after finding a shallower spot further downstream, able to swim back across. The second memory was hiking down one winter day and soaking in the south facing exposure that acts just like an oven when I found a tomato plant growing in a crack of the rocks with one ripe tomato, probably grown from a seed dropped from a sandwich of a passerby. I picked that tomato and ate it later in a sandwich of my own and think of that every time I am down there. The last remembrance happened on a hike down there one winter morning to find huge, sometimes twenty feet long, icicles clinging to the overhang. I think I about died and went to heaven chucking rock after rock up at them and listening to the resulting boom of a ton of ice shattering upon the rocks below echoing up and down the canyon.

On the northeast side of the bluff, there is a straight up rock scramble up and around the backside of the bluff where you rejoin the trail that led down from the previously mentioned saddle had you kept walking east instead of south. You can follow it a couple hundred yards on downhill to another cabin that is remarkably well preserved and former home of one of the last occupants in what is now that park. It has a beautiful view, a large orchard and rich river bottomland so I can see what attracted the former occupants. From there you can hike onto the largest waterfall between the Appallation and the Rocky Mountains but that is a through hike so we turn around and head back up the trail to the Center Point Trailhead 4.5 miles away. Round trip, this hike it about ten miles and can be done in an easy short day. It is a spectacular hike during leaf color or generally any nice sunny winter day when highs reach into the 50's.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Story Behind the National Anthem

[Reposted from my archives. Happy birthday America!]



The Story Behind The National Anthem
By an unknown speaker

There was a lawyer once. His name was Francis Scott Key. He penned a song that I'm sure you're aware of. You've seen it; it's in most hymnals throughout our churches. It's called the National Anthem. It is our song as an American.

We go, however, to a ballgame; we stand in our church services and we sing the words to that song and they float over our minds and our lips and we don't even realize what we're singing. Most of us have memorized it as a child. But we've never really thought about what it means. Let me tell you a story.

Francis Scott Key was a lawyer in Baltimore. The colonies were engaged in vicious conflict with the mother country, Britain. Because of this conflict (and the protractiveness of it), they had accumulated prisoners on both sides. The American colonies had prisoners and the British had prisoners. And the American Government initiated a move. They went to the British and said let us negotiate for the release of these prisoners. They said, "We want to send a man out to discuss this with you." They were holding the American prisoners in boats about a thousand yards offshore. And they said, "We want to send a man by the name of Francis Scott Key. He will come out and negotiate to see if we can make a mutual exchange."

On the appointed day, in a rowboat, he went out to this boat and he negotiated with the British Officials. And they reached a conclusion that men could be exchanged on a one-for-one basis.

Francis Scott Key, Jubilant with the fact that he'd been successful, went down below in the boats and what he'd found was a cargo hold full of humanity. Men.

And he said, "Men, I've got news for you tonight, you're free!" He said, "Tonight I have negotiated successfully your return to the colonies." He said, "You'll be taken out of this boat, out of this filth, out of your chains."

As he went back up on board to arrange for their passage to the shore, the admiral came and he said, "We have a slight problem." He said, "We will still honor our commitment to release these men, but it'll be merely academic after tonight. It won't matter."
Francis Scott Key said, "What do you mean?"

He said, "Well Mr. Key, tonight, we have laid an ultimatum upon the colonies. Your people will either capitulate and lay down the colors of that flag that you think so much of, or -- you see that fort right over there -- Fort Henry?" He said, "We're going to remove it from the face of the earth."

[Key] said, "How are you going to do that?" [The admiral] said, "If you will, scan the horizon of the sea." As [Key] looked, he could see hundreds of little dots. And [The admiral] said, "That's the entire British war fleet." He said, "All of the gun power; all of the armament is being called upon to demolish that fort. [The fleet] will be here within striking distance in a matter of about two and a half hours." He said, "The war is over; these men would be free anyway." [Key] said, "You can't shell that fort!" He said, "That's a large fort." He said, "It's full of women and children." He said, "It's predominantly not a military fort."

[The Admiral] said, "Don't worry about it. They said we've left them a 'way out'"

[Key] said, "What's that?"

[The Admiral] said, "Do you see that flag way up there on the rampart?" He said, "We have told them that if they will lower that flag, the shelling will stop immediately...and we'll know that they've surrendered...and you'll now be under British rule."

Francis Scott Key went down below and told the men what was about to happen. And they said, "How many ships?", and he said, "Hundreds." The ships got closer. Francis Scott Key went back up on top and he said, "Men, I'll shout down to you what's going on as we watch."

As twilight began to fall.and as the hays hung over the oceans as it does at sunset, suddenly the British war fleet unleashed.

Bam!

He said, "The sounds were deafening." He said, "There were so many guns, there were no reliefs." He said, "It was absolutely impossible to talk or hear." He said, "Suddenly, the sky, although dark, was suddenly lit." And he says from down below, all he could hear, the men, the prisoners saying was, "Tell us where the flag is. What have they done with the flag? Is the flag still flying over the rampart? Tell us!"

One hour. Two hours. Three hours into the shelling. Every time the bomb would explode and it would be close to the flag, they could see the flag in the illuminated red glare of that bomb, and Francis Scott Key would report down to the men below, "It's still up! It's not down!" The admiral came, and he said, "Your people are insane." He said, "What's the matter with them?" He said, "Don't they understand this is an impossible situation?"

Francis Scott Key said he remembered what George Washington had said. He said, "The thing that sets the American Christian apart from all other people in the world is he will die on his feet before he'll live on his knees."

The Admiral said, "We have now instructed all of the guns to focus on the rampart to take that flag down." He said, "We don't understand something. Our reconnaissance tells us that that flag has been hit directly...again...and again...and again, and yet it's still flying. We don't understand that." "But", he said; "now we're about to bring every gun, for the next three hours, to bear on that point."
Francis Scott Key said the barrage was unmerciful. All that he could hear...was the men down below...praying. The prayer: "God keep that flag flying...where we last saw it."

Sunrise came. [Key] said there was a heavy mist hanging over the land, but the rampart was tall enough...there stood the flag...completely nondescript...in shreds. The flagpole itself was at a crazy angle. But the flag was still at the top. Francis Scott Key (went aboard and) immediately went into Fort Henry to see what had happened. And what he'd found had happened was that that flagpole and that flag had suffered repetitious direct hits...and when it had fallen...that men, fathers...who knew what it meant for that flag to be on the ground...although knowing that all of the British guns were trained on it, walked over and held it up...humanly...until they died. Their bodies were removed and others took their place. Francis Scott Key said what held that flagpole in place at that unusual angle...were patriots' bodies.

He penned the song.

"Oh say, can you see...by the dawn's early light...what so proudly we hailed...at the twilight's last gleaming...for the rocket's red glare...the bombs bursting in air...gave proof through the night...that the flag was still there! Oh say, does that star spangled banner yet (fly and) wave...for the land of the free...and the home of the brave." The debt was demanded. The price...it was paid.

(Actual lyrics)
The Star Spangled Banner
O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O'er the ramparts we watch'd were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
'Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto - "In God is our trust,"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Little Abbey: Bruised, Cut and Testing Boundaries

It's been awhile since the last Little Abbey update so I've decided to address that problem and per usual, in no particular order:

Although you get used to diapers, it is particularly freeing to be done with them for the most part. We declared her officially potty-trained back at the end of March and she is even if she has had a few accidents along the way. Most of those I attribute to clothing that is fastened in such a way that Little Abbey can't undo it herself. It is freeing to go somewhere and not have a bag full of diapers or extra clothes to tote along. We still put a diaper on her at night to prevent a bed linen change a 2 a.m. but only perhaps one time out of seven will it be wet in the morning. One of the new developments is that she doesn't like us to be in the bathroom when she uses it. She will put her seat adapter onto the throne, order us out, close the door and lock it. When she is done, she reverses everything and then calls me up to wipe her butt. At least I know she is becoming self-conscious yet. We bid farewell to the bodily wastes and send it on it's way with goodbyes. It really is touching.

While Little Abbey may not be self-conscious yet about using the bathroom, she is self-conscious about her clothing and if you don't watch her, she will change several times a day. Mostly it is with panties and a preference towards those with Elmo on them. Some days she will switch what she has on for ones with Elmo and other days it will be for ones without. She will also at times declare a pair of shorts or a shirt as itchy and change into another shirt, no matter if the new shirt is one that she had declared itchy last week. I pray that she isn't becoming some sort of fashion diva.

For her birthday, she received not one but three laptop computers for kids that work on various aspects of learning letters, numbers, their order, phonics, spelling, etc. Since then, she has immediately picked up her numbers to the point where she can almost count to twenty now without mistakes. Before her birthday, she had little interest in numbers at all. Now she can hold up fingers for any number up to five with five meaning a lot. How old are you? She will hold up three fingers by holding the other two down with her other hand. How many pieces of bread do you want? She will hold up two fingers by holding down three fingers. How many pieces of candy do you want? She holds up all five fingers and says "lots!" She still gets just one but I can't blame the girl for trying.

Little Abbey's biggest form of entertainment is just helping us at whatever we are doing. So much so that I unloaded her room of five bags full of toys that she never plays with and she still hasn't noticed. If I am making pizza, she wants to help. If Mrs. Abbey is watering plants, she gets her little plastic teapot and helps out. When we were moving into our apartment in the city, we always had to give a light object to Little Abbey to help carry up the three flights of stairs. She went up and down those three flights at least twenty times on afternoon and still had plenty of energy in reserve where as I was about whipped. Many times I have initially tried to decline her request by asking where such and such toy was as a stall tactic, but I always catch myself and let her help out. I am always grateful to do so and to witness the joy of helping to spread sauce over some pizza dough.

They always say "Terrible Twos" in a child's life but I'm pretty certain it actually is "Terrible Threes." Little Abbey is really big into testing her boundaries these days. Last week, it took me an hour and a half to get through her normally twenty minute going to bed routine. It started out with her refusing to brush her teeth and then getting upset that I brushed my teeth without waiting for her. We went through several timeouts before she agreed to brush her teeth. Then it was refusal to get into her jammies and then refusal to go to bed and then refusal to go to sleep, etc. By the end of the hour and a half, I was so tired, I think I ended up falling asleep before she did. But like any successful marriage, you learn to pick and choose your battles to make it work. For example, we came home last week and she refused to get out of the car even though it was killing hot in the garage. Rather than risk a tantrum that might drag on for hours, I told her she is welcome to stay out in the car as long as she wanted and went inside. I of course left the garage door slightly ajar so she could open it and checked on her ever couple minutes because I certainly didn't want her to overheat but she came in on her own within about four minutes. It's all about testing my boundaries.

Another negative part of this age is mealtime. Little Abbey, again trying to test boundaries, mostly refuses to eat whatever we give her. She will maybe eat one bite and then it is off to go play or jump around on the couch. Eventually she will request something to eat that is not on the menu or something odd like a slice of bread. We have tried the old tactic of if you don't finish your supper you can't have any dessert but for the most part, she doesn't respond to that. Sometimes she even refuses to eat a dessert when given to her because she doesn't know what it is. I never force her to taste these because it leaves more for me. We have gotten to the point where we just leave her plate out on the table and when she gets hungry enough and denied for other foods, she will eventually go back to the table and eat her food even if it is now nearly the next mealtime. The bad part of this is when we go on trips and she doesn't eat her lunch. Then an hour later she can make your life miserable until you find some food for her to consume almost always not as nutritious as the lunch she passed up on. We have compensated by taking along a cooler full of fruits and other snacks for these times as well as eating at places where we can take her food "to go", i.e. no buffets and with finger food type kids meals. Eventually there will come a day when we all sit down for a meal and then after the dishes are cleared we won't have to think about food for the next five or six hours. However, I think that is still a ways into my future.

On a final note, the stage of injuries is starting to gear up to bigger scales. Perhaps a month ago we decided to walk uptown one evening for some ice cream and though I took the off-road stroller along just in case, Little Abbey walked all the way there and all but the last hundred yards home. She would have made it home but in a careless moment running down the sidewalk, she tripped and skinned both her knees pretty good. After we got her home and doctored up, it was so funny that she refused to walk the rest of the evening (when she thought about it) and asked to be carried with both legs stuck straight out and wide apart so her owie wouldn't rub against anything. She might forget for a few seconds as she walked across the living room to pick up a toy but then it would be tears again as she cried for me to carry her somewhere. A couple weeks ago, she apparently got stung or bitten by something right above her eye at an outdoor party. For several days, her eye was swollen shut and she looked like she was fresh from a boxing match. It certainly drew lots of stares while we were around town. For the most part she was okay and acted like nothing was wrong until she happened to catch a glimpse of herself in the mirror. This past weekend was perhaps the worst episode yet. She ran out the door into the garage and tripped, hitting the bumper of my car face first. When we picked her up to sooth her wounds, her mouth was full of blood, which really freaked us out for a few seconds. Back in the kitchen cleaning her up we quickly saw that all teeth were in tact and she had punctured her lip with one of them. The bleeding was quickly stopped but her lip has swollen up and is now scabbed over so once again, she looks like she has been beaten upon. Fortunately it hasn't seemed to bother her much and doesn't look like it will get infected. Although I know I will have to deal with worse in the future, I am most definitely not ready for them. Seeing your child's blood and not freaking out is a very difficult thing to do.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Roku

I happened to stumble upon this little gem that I am about to tell you about recently. I think it is the future in watching movies at home and is so slick, that I want to give it a shout out. It is called Roku.

I have been a member of Netflix for several years and have enjoyed it tremendously. I get movies mailed to me at home where I can watch them without all the noise and distractions and whenever the time suits me best, i.e. after Little Abbey has been tucked into bed. I have always enjoyed movies and Netflix has allowed me to pursue the enjoyment on a much larger scale than I had previously been able to and much much cheaper. For the cost of a single movie ticket, I can watch on average four to five movies at home. It is great. My only complaint about it is occasionally a DVD arrives in the mail broken or otherwise unplayable and I have to send it back and get another copy resent. I think in three years, I've had it happen four times so it doesn't happen too often.

I never thought it could get any better until I stumbled upon Roku. Roku is a box that you plug into your television that can be wired or as in my case, wirelessly connect to the internet and your personal Netflix account. At the touch of a button, I can watch any movie that I have added to my movie que at any time, as often as I like and anywhere in the world. Even that really didn't hit me until I started digging into it a little more.

Now that we have an apartment in the city for Mrs. Abbey to use during residency when it is too late or she too tired to make it back home, I plan on spending some time up there with Little Abbey while she is at work. There are lots of things to do around the city and I certainly do plan to take advantage of them all but there are times when I need to relax and a three year old doesn't understand this. Renting or buying kids movies is expensive and they often like to watch the same favorite one over and over, something I don't like to do. With my old Netflix account, we did rent children’s movies from time to time but in order for us to get an adult oriented movie, we had to send it back and wait a few days. With Roku, I have a dozen kid’s movies in my que that Little Abbey can watch unlimited times and whenever the mood suits her. When she is done, I can instantly watch an adult movie without having to wait for mail transit times.

Also due to our second place of residence, if I wanted to take one of our DVDS's with me to watch there, I would also have to take a DVD player or buy a second one. For much less cost, I decided to purchase the Roku player, which is also much much smaller to haul around, and just take it. It takes a few seconds to plug into the television, automatically connects up to the apartments free wireless internet service and we are watching a movie.

If you are tired or watching movies, you can watch entire seasons of television shows that range anywhere from Dora The Explorer or my personal favorites on PBS like Histories Mysteries or multitudes of documentaries on various subjects. In other words, if there isn't anything on, there is always something on with Roku. We don't watch much television these days but since this service is already included in my month subscription fee of $8.99 to Netflix though I did have to make a one time cash outlay for the box, when we do want to watch something, our options are now almost limitless and our chances of finding something we want to see are excellent.

Finally, there aren't any scratched or broken DVD's every to worry about. Every movie in the system is a saved flawless copy than can't get scratched and it automatically picks the correct format for your television, (i.e. 4:3, letterbox, HD, etc.). The software in the Roku remembers where you are on any number of DVD's that you are currently watching so when Little Abbey watches Dora, it jumps right to the fourth episode on season two where she left off, that long documentary that I'm watching is also saved right where I left off along with the very cheesy first two part episode of the A-Team which I just had to check out since I missed it as a kid with no television. I'm kind of doubting I will even start episode three but hey, it is there and waiting should I ever want too. Best of all, if I want to pause it I can, if I want to rewind it because I missed something I can, and if I deem it not worthy, I can stop it at anytime and not feel cheated since it is already included in my monthly fee that I felt without Roku was a great deal.

In short, it is the new version of sliced bread and what I feel is the future of entertainment.