Monday, August 30, 2010

Minneopa Falls

Minneopa Falls 1998

Minneopa Falls is located near Mankato, Minnesota and was only a two and a half hour drive from where I lived during my stint in the frozen tundra. Despite the proximity, I was only able to visit it once during those six years. I'm not sure why other than there always seemed like another waterfall that I had to visit. During this visit, a recent rain had turned the normally sparkling waters into a turbid brown color.

Above Minneopa Falls 1998

Friday, August 27, 2010

Slowly Unraveling Identities

Remember when I blogged about some pictures of my Baker ancestors not too long ago? There was the below picture which I definitely thought was my 2nd great grandfather John Henry Baker and his second wife Katie Byrel Stevens not long before he died. Now after the Baker family reunion which I attended a week ago, I am left unsure of almost everything I thought I knew, including the identity of the man in the picture below.

One of my commenters agreed with me that the picture of the man labeled below as John Henry Baker was not the same as the one above because of the ears. I theorized that the man below was actually the first husband of Katie and not my ancestor. However, when I showed the picture at the family reunion, all the grandchildren of John Henry Baker said that it was him and pointed me to the picture at the top of this post as proof. My first thought on seeing the picture at the head of this post was that he certainly passed on his ears to all his male children including my great grandfather Charles Baker who was seated to John Henry Baker's left. In case people are confused, John Henry is the older fellow with protruding ears seated in the middle left of the picture. So now the picture below which I said was most likely not my 2nd great grandfather John is almost certainly him and the picture of the guy above who I thought was him is most certainly not him.

Which brings me to this next picture. When John Henry Baker would marry his second wife, he was 45 and she was 35 years of age. These oval pictures are obviously wedding pictures and they don't look old enough to me. But two of Katie's granddaughter's swore that the below picture was Katie and the above picture was John. Almost in the same breath, they would flip through the album on the table to older pictures of Katie which I have posted on here and say that was how they remembered her before she died when they were eight and six years of age. They also swear that the picture below this one of the woman holding the child is also definitely Katie too. In my previous post, a couple people agreed with my assessment that these two aren't the same women. Perhaps it is just this one is not a very good photo/lighting conditions. I'm up in the air on it still.

You will have to take my word for it since I don't have any of the other pictures of Katie scanned into my computer but this picture below is most certainly she. The other pictures I have document her throughout her life and are unmistakably the same person as this lady holding the baby. I all the pictures, she has either a healthy tan or darker skin tone, not seen in the picture above.

Back to the picture up at the top of this post. My grandma easily identified her father out of the picture sitting to John Henry Baker's left and quickly rattled off the names of the others. The older children in the picture are all from his first wife Blanch McKee but I have forgotten the names already. (I have been promised that I will get a written transcription of who is who soon.) The younger children in the picture are the children he had with his second wife. All told, he had eleven children with two wives and the second wife brought four children from her first marriage into the union so their were 15 children all told. It made for a lively reunion though for a genealogist such as myself, it was just as confusing as this family has been for me to research.


A few days after I had written this post but before I had published it, I received another photograph of my 2nd great grandfather John Henry Baker with his first wife and my 2nd great grandmother Blanche Jessie McKee, the first picture I have ever seen of her. Any suspicions that the oval picture of the lady above being her are now completely gone as the one of her in the picture below looks unmistakably different. This time, my great grandfather Charles Joseph Baker is seated in John Henry's lap and the other two are his older sisters Frances Ellen and Margarite Blanche.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gooseberry Falls

Gooseberry Falls 1998

A couple years ago I bought my parents a slide scanner. They have dozens, perhaps upwards of 50 trays of slides that they have taken or inherited from my father's parents over the years. They were having a hard time keeping their current slide projector with a vertical tray system going since the default these days is the much more reliable horizontal tray system. They were looking at the option of buying a new projector and 50 trays to transfer pictures from one system to another or as they are currently doing, nothing. I came up with an alternative solution of a slide scanner that they could scan their slides onto their computer hard drive and thus enter the 21rst century in technology. Flash forward a couple of years and other than a couple individual slides, they have yet to scan them into their computer. The reason as anyone who has done it knows, is slide scanning it a long and laborious process.

Having gotten in on the tail end of the slide phase in photography, I ended up with about three trays of slides of my own and though I have a projector of the horizontal kind, I am too lazy to set it and the screen up just to watch three trays of slides. So I had the ulterior motive of buying a slide scanner for my parents and borrowing it after they got all their slides scanned. After two years of waiting, I came to the realization that just wasn't going to happen unless I did it myself. So I borrowed the slide scanner, a good start of their trays (six trays of approximately 100 slides each), and set it up at my place to do it for them.

I suspected that when I start scanning their slides, I am going to be lost down memory lane so I began by scanning in my 400+ slides ranging from the mid 90's to the early 00's when I shot my last roll of slide film. Two of those pictures are shown on this post and are of Gooseberry Falls on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. I have always had a thing for photographing water and waterfalls and probably have 100 pictures of one of those two things. Yes nearly 25% of my slides if you are doing the math. I will probably be posting them on my blog in the future even if they have nothing to do with the subject at hand.

Below Gooseberry Falls 1998

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Voice of Shaggy and a Foul Mouthed DJ

The Internet is an amazing thing. The other day I was half listening to the Scooby-Doo movie that my daughter was watching and I thought to myself, you know Shaggy sounds an awful lot like Kamal Amin Kasum. Actually, I thought Shaggy sounded an awful lot like Casey Kasum but when I Googled it, I found out that Casey was just short for Kamal Amin. But that is the whole point. Prior to the Internet, I would have left it at the thought that Shaggy sounded like Casey Kasum but with the Internet, I was able to confirm that he indeed was in a matter of minutes. But as happens most of the time when I Google an answer, I get an information overload of stuff that never crossed my mind. I didn't know Casey was born to Lebanese Druze parents and was actually named Kamal Amin. I still don't know who the Druze were because I didn't Google that part. I instead got caught up that Casey is quite notorious for several profanity laced tirades on YouTube. One is when he was doing one of his famous song dedications and it was for a dead dog after an up-tempo song and lets say Casey had a hard time making the transition. Up until that moment when I initiated the Google search, I only knew Casey as that wonderful unique voice behind American Top 40 and Casey's Top 40 countdowns. If you had asked me, I would have said he was some older white guy who perhaps smoked in his youth. Now, all I am going to remember him as is some foul mouth son of Lebanese-Druze ancestry who can't stop using the F-bomb during a dedication for a dead dog and the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo. And to bring this short post of nothing important full circle, did you know that Scooby's proposed name was Too Much? Google does.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Waking Up In Mexican Heaven

Bad cellphone picture of a chimichanga at Los Laureles

My love of trying new places to eat has certainly had its share of set backs as witnessed in Wednesday's blog post but it has also found little places of food heaven. Although I seem to write mostly about my hunt for the perfect BBQ, my favorite food genre is Mexican. In our little rural town where I reside, our standby restaurant is a Mexican place that serves decent food. It certainly has a lot to be desired but it is good cheap food.

I have eaten at perhaps hundreds of various Mexican restaurants over the years and there is one thing that can usually help identify the quality of the place and rule out easily 95% of the other restaurants as being your average everyday ordinary Mexican restaurant. Order something with the word beef in it such as a beef chimichanga, enchilada or burrito and see if what is served you is nothing more than hamburger or actual shredded beef. If it is hamburger, you are eating at an everyday ordinary Mexican restaurant that is like 95% of all of them out there. For me, it is best described as going to McDonalds. If you eat at one of them, you know exactly how the food is going to taste at all of them.

But if you are like me and don't want to eat at McDonalds, then read the following. On a tip, we pulled into a hard to find Mexican restaurant in what is probably described as the Little Mexico of the urban jungle where we have an apartment. The place in question was named Los Laureles which is unlike any other named Mexican restaurant I have dined at which was a good sign. The restaurant itself is a small cozy place with a half dozen booths and perhaps a few more tables. The first time there, I order beef enchiladas and was blown away. Not only were they made from shredded beef chunks, but the cheese was a consistency that can only be found in authentic Mexican restaurants. I was in heaven.

Still I bided my time until we could make a return trip just to verify that I hadn't gotten lucky and ordered the one thing off the menu that was good. The second time around I order a beef chimichanga (normally I stick with chicken at the run of the mill Mexican places) and the first bite assured me that I had actually found Mexican heaven. It was outstanding. It was three times as tasty as any chimichanga that I have had the privilege of eating in my life. My wife ordered a chili relleno and two pork tacos. The chili relleno while very good, was a bit soupy for out tastes but the tacos were outstanding. Only after I tasted them did she tell me that they were actually pork tongue tacos but I honestly don't think that would have stopped me from sampling them. You can get them in a variety of flavors. They looked and smelled so delicious and their taste certainly confirmed it.

Last but certainly not least, the meal begins like any Mexican restaurant with chips and salsa but instead of the watery salsa that most serve you, Los Laureles gives you three different versions of three different heats with spoons to encourage mixing. Since my wife and daughter like the mild version, that left me with the two hotter bowls to eat and I did so with pleasure until the chips ran out.

I mostly give you a review of the adult foods that my wife and I eat but this time, I had to include the chicken tenders and french fries that my daughter chose to eat. Like almost all restaurants, they came boiling hot so that my wife and I are forced to spend the next ten minutes burning our fingers as we blew on them to cool them down to a temperature our daughter could handle. Why they don't allow them time to cool down before serving I'll never know. I was raving about how good my chimichanga was when I asked my daughter if her chicken tenders was good. "They're okay daddy," she replied. Pressing on, I asked her where the best chicken tenders she has ever eaten were at. "McDonalds."

So if you can avoid the kid's meal section of the menu, Los Laureles is the best Mexican restaurant I have ever eaten at and it will continue to get my business in the foreseeable future. Send me an email if you happen to be going through town and would like an address. You won't be disappointed.

Bad cellphone picture of tacos at Los Laureles

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Muslims, Mosques and Fear: Part Two

I really would like to believe that the only reason that critics of the plan to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero are critical of it is because of the insensitivity to 9/11 survivors. But the realist in me thinks that the main reason is that no one wants a mosque in their neighborhood. A quick search of the internet shows that this is most likely the case more often than we would like to admit. You can find people protesting mosques being built in many cities a long way from 'Ground Zero':

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spicy Dali

Long time readers might remember of past times when I have blogged about my misadventures with spicy foods. It seems as if I have had my share but I chalk it down as something that comes with the territory. Here in the United States were things are almost universally bland when it comes to spices, it is difficult sometimes to decipher the amount of heat that something has when dining in a restaurant. One person's version of spicy can be my version of just getting started. Or in the case I am about to relate, one person's spicy can slowly burn my internal organs like an underground coal mine fire for the next day.

While out and about in the urban jungle picking up a new pair of shoes for me to take advantage of the sales tax holiday in effect then, we decided to try a new place to eat. P.F. Changs is a chain Chinese restaurant but not one that I have tried and since one was near, it seemed like a good time to try it. As always in such a situation, I have a hard time deciding what to eat from the menu. Do I try their version of a meal I am familiar with so I can compare with past versions or do I go with something new.

I went back and forth between the sesame chicken, the shrimp with garlic sauce, both of which I've had many times before and a dish called Dali Chicken which was advertised as spicy chicken and potatoes served with stir-fried peppers with rice. As you already know, the Dali chicken won out and when the waitress came to take our orders, I told her my choice.

"Are you sure you want the Dali chicken because it is spicy?" I thought this question over because I've heard it so many times. Nine times out of ten, their version of spicy is just getting started for me and since our waitress was an very hefty lady who looked more of a fried chicken and biscuits every morning for breakfast kind of person and not a connoisseur of spicy foods, I decided to proceed and told her that I like my food spicy. "Are you sure because it is the spiciest dish we serve?" Although this second round of questioning was starting to worry me, there was no backing out now because I had my honor to uphold. Bring it on.

So twenty minutes later, it was laid upon my table and I knew I was in trouble. The peppers that it had been stir-fried in and which I had assumed would be some mild bell-like pepper turned out to be hot chili peppers. In fact, at least half of the food on the plate before me consisted of handfuls of little red hot chili peppers, the other half being a few slices of potato and chicken. I wishfully and a little too late, thought that perhaps these were a mild form of chili pepper that I'm not familiar with but one bite was enough to confirm that they were indeed the form of chili pepper I was familiar with. The food burned all the way down.

Fortunately, after the first half dozen bites or so, my tongue was tingling enough from the heat that tasting anything was pretty much out of the question. Another half dozen bites and my tongue, inner cheeks and lips were all thoroughly Novocaine numb. I finished eating the chicken and potatoes leaving behind a plate half full of red chillies making me feel that my mom would be displeased because I didn't clean my plate. But one of the things I like about Asian heat or any spicy dishes made with chili peppers is that the heat is not a lasting heat and quickly dissipates leaving behind a freshness. So when we got back to our urban apartment, my wife asked if I wanted any Tums and I assured her that I was back to normal and felt find.

I woke up in the dark throws of early morning with my mouth on fire. I quickly forced some saliva production and swallowed, getting my mouth back to a normal state. I was just wondering if I indeed had a sour stomach when it happened again and I belched. Instantly, the gaseous vapor coming out of my mouth caused an intense burning sensation on my tongue, cheeks and lips. This was getting serious. I got up to rinse my mouth out and went back to bed and eventually drifted back to sleep thinking the worst was over.

When morning arose and the regular movement came, I suddenly felt as if I had a burning log jammed up my nether regions, or more accurately, coming out. It was all I could do to stifle a scream so not to wake up my still sleeping daughter and worry my wife in the living room. I had only once felt a similar sensation a decade earlier with a run in of Dave's Ultimate Insanity sauce and in that case, 12 hours after having the entire right side of my face go numb and on my way home, I had screamed in the confines of a cinder block restroom on the back side of gas station somewhere along a desolate stretch of I-90 in southern Minnesota. Back then, I bought a few more bottle of Dave's Ultimate Insanity sauce to pass out but myself have sworn to never touch a drop of it again. I have now sworn to also abstain from P.F. Changs Dali Chicken. But like I said, it comes with the territory.

The picture of the Dali Chicken at the head of the post is not mine but one pilfered from the internet and said to be taken of P.F. Changs Dali Chicken. My version had no vegetables other than the two or three handfuls of red chillies that came with it. Now I wonder if perhaps I had acted too manly in my love of spicy foods to the waitress and she decided to cut me down a notch. It worked.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Muslims, Mosques and Fear

Mr. Sherman has a good post on the subject of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero and I encourage all to read that first but all the comments to his blog got me to thinking. To those who feel that the mosque located a block and a half from ground zero is not in good taste, please answer the following questions.

1. How many blocks away from the former World Trade center would it be acceptable to build a mosque and remain in good taste?

2. How many years after September 11, 2001 must 'Ground Zero' and the blocks encompassed in your answer to question 1 remain off limits to any new mosques?

3. How many blocks away from the site of the former Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma should Catholics (Timothy McVeigh's religion) be prohibited from building new churches and for how many years after April 19, 1995 should they not do so to be in good taste?

4. How many blocks away from Pearl Harbor should Buddhist temples (largest Japanese religion) be prohibited from being built and for how long after December 7, 1941?

5. When do we realize that not all Buddhists want to bomb ships, not all Catholics want to bomb government buildings and not all Muslims want to fly planes into tall buildings?

I think our Current Occupant should have kept his mouth shut on this issue because it is a local issue and not one that concerns the general welfare of this country. In doing so, like he did in the Henry Louis Gates Jr. affair, he only opened up a huge can of worms. But he did and we now debate the consequences. I think this should have been an example of our greatness by saying that we welcome Muslims (or any faith) to build their building with a prayer room even if they wanted to do it across the street from 'ground zero' and not a block and a half away. We could have shown the world, that we aren't like those extremists who try to lump Americans into one giant group of evil. But instead we showed that we aren't too much different than everyone else by lumping everyday Muslims and Taliban extremists into the same category.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Welfare System Called Your Local Public Library

As our nation progresses even deeper into a socialist society where we depend on our government to take care of us, this sign I found shouldn't have surprised me. After all, you can now go to your local library to surf the web, rent movies, rent CD's, attend meetings, read the latest Hollywood gossip magazine and evidently, borrow some fishing gear. Gone are the days when people actually go to the library to read books. Yet my jaw almost hit the book in my hand when I saw the above sign.

At the Macomb library where this sign was found, the tiny room with three computers was packed with people surfing the web or waiting in line while I went over to the card catalog that was relegated to a corner of the room with a thick layer of dust on top of it. Upstairs where the books were, the place was deserted and I had the entire top two floors to myself during my stay. The only people I saw were those surfing the internet or checking out the videos when I went to the bottom floor to use the card catalog.

My own local library, though it doesn't loan out fishing equipment yet as far as I know, has emptied itself of books and now gives well over three-fourths of the space for movies, computers, displays, daycare center and Hollywood gossip magazines. There is perhaps only three rows of actual books and of those, 80% are fictional romance or westerns. It has completely turned itself into a welfare outlet for the poor who can't afford to surf the internet at home, rent a movie at the local video outlet that is almost completely dead, subscribe to a magazine or newspaper most of which are also dying, look after their children while they are surfing the internet or display the wares of the local starving artists. Instead, they rely on those of us who pay the lions share of taxes to support their habits which evidently don't include reading books. Perhaps when the libraries loan out Kindles they will once again take up reading if only trashy romance novels. I'm not going to hold my breath.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Spending a Day in Colchester

Road to Colchester

I know a lot about the middle of my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Baker's life but know little about his beginning and end. So on a whim, I decided to spend a day closer to his beginning in an attempt to decipher some of his past. I hopped in the car and drove to Colchester, Illinois.

I have no official record that Joseph Baker ever resided in Colchester during the time that he was there from the late 1860's to the early 1870's, not even a census record. All I have are two obituaries of two of his kids who mentioned being born in the town. Birth records for 1869 and 1870 when Joseph's two children Frances Ellen and 2nd great grandfather John Henry were born do not exist as did most birth records across the nation pre-1880 when it became law. My hope was to dig through non-transcribed records such as deeds, naturalization, marriage and tax records in hopes of finding the anchor tying to the area and perhaps get some insight as to where they came from.

I first went to the regional records archive in nearby Macomb and thanks to a very helpful young lady named Heather, was soon flipping through books 140 years old. I started with the deeds hoping that perhaps Joseph bought and eventually sold some property but came up empty. I wasn't surprised since he only lived in the area a few years and knowing the history of the area, probably never did more than rent. Even when he finally made it to Iowa, he was listed as a farmhand two years before he mysteriously died at age 35. I did find a John H. Baker, too old to be my 2nd great grandfather John Henry Baker who was obviously an influential person in the area and bought several dozen properties between the years of 1861 and 1879. There were also numerous records for a Jonathan, William and Lewis Baker during that same time period so perhaps my Joseph came over with his family and settled in the area. Perhaps John H. Baker is Joseph's father and the person Joseph named his son and my 2nd great grandfather John Henry after. All questions that I would like to get answered someday as time permits.

I've written earlier about Joseph Baker being a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and tracking down his Iowa membership record only to find that it said, "Index Only," which I have taken to mean he was a member elsewhere. Seeing that he lived in western Illinois in the years after the Civil War, I had hoped that perhaps he had joined there and they might have a record. Although Heather was able to locate several Civil War record indexes for the area, she was unable to get any other GAR records other than a roster of the dead for the local area. Since my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Baker died several hundred miles away, it wasn't surprising that he wasn't listed.

Since Joseph Baker was an immigrant, I checked out the naturalization records but found none. I also looked into tax records, marriage records and a few more misc. records but found no record pertaining to him or his family. Perhaps that is explained by the history of the town of Colchester which I read up on my next stop at the local library.

Colchester was largely a boom town largely populated by British immigrants who came in the mid 1850's to the area to mine the plentiful coal nearby. The coal had been mined for a couple decades previously but it wasn't until the railroad came to town that it really took off. These "colliers", the British term for coal miners in England, found that they could mine coal for more profit and in safer conditions than they could back in their native country and so arrived in droves. Soon the Civil War interrupted things and the coal business grew stagnate while many of the young men were fighting down south.

It is said, that the mining men of Colchester played an important part in the surrender of Vicksburg in 1863 during the Civil War. The Confederate Fort Hill was so protected that the north lost many lives trying to capture it without success. So the Colchester miners were enlisted to dig a tunnel underneath the fort and blow it up. On June 25th, Fort Hill was indeed blown up though not very successful as the explosion caused a protective ridge to form right behind a depression that offered shelter for the Confederate soldiers. So the miners were sent back in to dig another tunnel and on July 1rst, Fort Hill was blown up successfully this time and three days later on July 4th, the Confederates surrendered. General McPherson personally congratulated the miners for their efforts and awarded them a new suit of clothes and a furlough as soon as possible. The mining men of Colchester would continue on fighting in more battles such as Shiloh and many would not return.

Upon those that could return, the coal business again thrived but several strikes and the depression in the mid 1870's caused the price of coal to be depressed forcing many in town to leave. My Joseph Baker was one of those who left and headed northwest into northeast Iowa where his descendents would live until the time of my grandmother and they left for the warmer climates of southeast Iowa.

I drove onto Colchester where I ate lunch at a corner cafe and tried to imagine life 140 years ago there. The railroad still goes through town and still carries coal but doesn't stop to pick up any local coal. Like many modern rural towns, it seemed depressed with more businesses boarded up than were open. Other than a couple of the older churches and a few buildings in the older part of town, most of the Colchester that my 3rd great grandfather Joseph knew has been torn down. I spent some time walking around hoping that I crossed his path a time or two and reluctantly headed home as the rain began to fall. Colchester may have been a dead end in tracing my ancestry of the Baker line but at least I got a sense of what the life of Joseph may have been like.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Smokin' On the Back Deck

My brother, ever the person who didn't put much thought into birthday gifts to me, struck gold one year when out of the blue, I got a smoker instead of the normal t-shirt or trinket from some road side stand where he had been smoke jumping that summer. My first thought was the sheer size of the beast and indeed, the first few things I smoked always had plenty of room to move around. But as I grew older, wiser and a bit more lazy to drag the setup from the garage to the back deck and spend half a day attending to its appetite for soaked wood chips, I go whole hog so to speak when smoking. I've found that smoked meats store very well in the freezer and that flavor stays just as intense when eaten, even if a year later. So when I decided to smoke some meat for sandwiches to take to work earlier this year, I smoked a lot of meat. What you see above are one enormous turkey, one jumbo pork loin split in half to fit, and two chickens. What you see below are the same as I pulled the pork loins off at their peak of doneness at 160 degrees. All three birds were stuck in the smoker without any pretreatment at all. The pork loin, which is my favorite for lunch meat, has been rubbed with olive oil and rubbed liberally with Old Bay canjun seasoning. When eaten cold on a sandwich, you get a very nice smoky flavor followed by a slight kick of heat. It really can't be beat. This go around I used mesquite chips which I soaked until they sank and then put them in that little black container over the flame to create the smoke. My favorite is apple but I was fresh out. The pan above holds water to keep everything moist and to catch the drippings.

As you read this, I have a smoked chicken sandwich calling my name in the break room at work. I can't wait. Until they invent smelling and tasting apps for blogger, you will just have to be content with the visual app posted below.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Living a High Life

I'm wary about joining any sort of club on the premise of earning points. It seems like I never earn enough points fast enough to collect. I used to have one of those subway cards but when I went to collect my free sub, they had increased the number of stamps you needed. I eventually collected the additional stamp for my free sub and got another card which I eventually filled out only to be told that they no longer had that deal. The local oil changing place had a deal where if you paid for ten oil changes, you got one free. I live and work in the same town and my family lives 40 miles away. I don't exactly put on a lot of miles. Three years later when I went to collect my free oil change, they no longer honored the deal. The list goes on and on.

But I keep trying despite all the past failures because it doesn't cost me any extra to participate and just once I think I might collect something from them. So five or six years ago, I signed up for a mileage program for a national airline that I use when flying back and forth to the Philippines. Not enough mind you to ever get a perk such as an upgrade because the few days I fly are never days when they apply. Just enough to keep my playing along. Well as luck would have it, that airline would never have the best airfares or times to get me to fly on them again and I received a notice that I had 16,000 miles that I needed to cash out or lose them.

Having a credit card that earns points that I can apply towards gift certificates at a multitude of stores, restaurants and subscriptions to magazines that I actually use, I thought this would be the case. I was wrong. I couldn't get gift cards to stores but I could shop at the airlines store. I could select any of the 13 magazines that they offer but I don't have a desire to read any of them. I could also trade them in for gift certificates on The catch here is that there were only about six restaurants in the whole state of Iowa that participated and the only one close enough for me to consider using happened to be right here in my town, at one of the most expensive places to eat.

The food there has always been outstanding and I've blogged about some it before. But the price is on the steep side and so we don't go there often. I thought about cashing out all my miles for certificates to this place but in the fine print is says that you have to spend $37 in order to use a $25 gift certificate and that is before they tack on a mandatory 18% gratiutity. So at bare minimum, I'm stuck with a bill for $17 plus tip if what we order is exactly $37. The once or twice we have been there for dinner in the seven years we've lived here, the average bill is more like $50 so I'm looking at $25 plus tip, the cost of eating about anywhere else in town.

But the food is good and the service is top notch. Recently using another certificate that I got for a different reason to the same place, they made a special order plate just for our daughter since they don't offer kids means and they brought it immediately, even before we had our own appetizers so that she was almost done eating before we got our food. That allowed us to almost have time to enjoy our meal instead of shoveling food in between times when our daughter needs some sort of assistance with her meal. They fill up our water frequently and without being flagged which is another good service thing that seems to be lost most everywhere else we go and they never make mistakes. We recently ate at a place over in Illinois where the fellow waiting on us forgot our fries with our meal after we had corrected him once when he repeated it wrong upon our initial ordering. He apologized and ten minutes later, brought out fries for my wife's meal but not for mine. I finally told him to just forget it since we were about done with our meals anyway and just remove it from our bill.

So I splurged and used 3000 of our airline miles for $125 worth of $25 gift certificates to the restaurant in town. I suspect we will be eating dinner there a little more often in the upcoming couple years. That still left me with 13,000 miles to burn which could have gotten me $625 worth of gift certificates to the place but their menu isn't that deep, nor my pockets for the extra $17 plus tip. So instead after going through their extensive airline shopping catalog, I burned 12,750 points on a vacuum cleaner for the apartment in the urban jungle so we don't have to keep lugging our heavy antique back and forth. It's one of those fancy smancy bagless models. Like I said, we're living the high life, just not in first class of some airplane as I had initially hoped so many years ago when I signed up for their frequent flyer miles.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Vacation From Blogging

I'm around but I'm not sure due to schedule and a mini-vacation or two, if and when I could blog so I'm just announcing that I'm on blogging vacation this week. I'm sure I will stop by your blogs but no sense on wasting a trip to my blog until next week when normal blogging activities will resume.