Friday, October 29, 2010

A Fine Whiskey Called Ted

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about Ted lately. For those who don't know from my past entries on Ted, he was my golden retriever/yellow lab mix dog I had as a youth. He came into my life as a abandoned stray about one year of age and had previously been shot in the rear hip. I never knew if he had been shot because he was supposed to be a hunting dog and was gun shy (as has been known to happen) or if his being gun shy was a result of being shot but whatever the case, he was man's best friend or in my case, boy's best friend instead of a hunting dog.

As a result of his emergence into my thoughts recently and my daughter's love of me telling her stories, I have been telling her stories of Ted which only bring up more memories. She loves them and it has helped me broach the subjects of sickness, death and heaven, things that she has been experiencing lately in the form of her favorite godmother who has been in the hospital and on life support for the last two months. Up until recently, we thought death was the eventual outcome and thus I have been preparing my daughter but she has now shown tremendous improvement in the last week and so maybe my daughter's knowledge of death can remain just a story associated with Ted for now.

Although Ted died in the spring due to complications from medicine he took to alleviate the arthritis pains from being shot as a puppy, I mostly remember him in the fall when the weather is like it has been, sunny and cool. Being Halloween is almost upon us and pumpkins are everywhere, they also remind me of one of my favorite pictures of Ted in the photo at the top of this post. On that day, we were harvesting pumpkins on a sunny but cold and breezy day and Ted being the smart dog that he was, chose to remain in the old farm pickup where the sun radiating in through the windows had it nice and toasty. There he napped on one of the pumpkins that was laying in the seat for some reason I can no longer remember.

Perhaps the memory of Ted which I liken to a fine whiskey that gets better and smoother with age, has been caused by my own physical ailments. Like Ted, I was injured in my youth and as a result have a bum knee that is some years better than others. After a several years of normalcy, it has been plaguing me off and on this year. Also like Ted, there are medicines which take away the pain but are not good for long term use. Ted lost his life when his medicine eventually destroyed his liver. I'm hoping that isn't the way I depart this world but if it were, I would understand. Giving that medicine to Ted I knew it would eventually get him in the end but it turned seven years full of pain and suffering into seven good years free to do whatever he wanted. In human years that is like 49 years. If I live the next 49 years pain free and able to do whatever I want, I will be a happy camper when I cash out my chips.

Ted has been dead now for almost 20 years now and still it feels like last week. I'm sure if I thought about it hard enough I could even smell him and sense his head between my hands as I gave him a good scratch behind the ears. I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to say goodbye to him as he lay out in the green spring grass slowly dying but still thumping his tail in appreciation and looking up at me with his eyes. When he died an hour later, we buried him 40 yards away at the base of an old tree where I visit him now and then. There is no marker but I don't mind. I have the memory and after nearly 20 years of mellowing in the barrel of my mind, it is as smooth as ever. There was no finer dog.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

BBQ of Another Flavor

In my efforts to remain a diverse individual in both thought and actions, we opted to stop in at a tiny little building in the urban jungle that advertised itself as a Chinese BBQ place. It was 6:30 on a Saturday night and there was not another car in the parking lot which wasn't a good sign but we decided to go in anyway. What you see above is probably a third of the entire store. To the right was a Buddha statue and a cash register and behind me and my cellphone (explains the lackluster photo) was one table which I assume was just for waiting customers since our food was put in Styrofoam containers and stashed in a plastic bag before it was handed to us. When my wife asked, they said they serve take out only.

Like most good BBQ places, their menu was straight forward and was hung on the back wall just out of the frame of this picture. Half of it was things in Chinese that I had no idea and the other half was in English. It said in entirety, "Duck, Pork and Chicken" with an option of rice and a price after each one. We got one of each, with rice of course and being there really wasn't a place to eat it in the store nor drinks to wash it down, we drove back home.

The duck which my wife got was okay but a tad on the chewy side I thought. The pork which I got was by itself a little dry and not very flavorful but when dipped in the spicy sauce packed along with every meal it was really good. I gobbled down every bite. My daughter, ever the food critic wouldn't touch the chicken preferring to just stick with the rice but I tasted a bit and it was much like the pork, tasteless unless dipped in the spicy sauce.

Although the experience of having your meat hacked off the hanging display and chopped up right before your eyes was neat and reminded me a lot of the Philippines, I doubt that I will revisit this store very often. If I do, I think I will try coming back around lunch time when I'm guessing their meat was first done and before it dries out from hanging up all afternoon under a heat lamp. Perhaps they would just sell me a bottle of their spicy sauce.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Capital Closeup

The above picture is the toe of my shoe courtesy of my daughter who had the camera and still loves her closeup shots. Not really knowing how to work that into a post of its own, I just thought I would tack it onto the front of this one.

I thought I would include the above picture as part of my protest against the brutal campaigning going on right now. An upside down American flag is a sign of distress but it just happened to be oriented that way as I was taking a picture of the capital dome of Iowa from the inside. We have a cheese ball for a governor, at least for another couple months assuming he gets beat here next week as all the polls show by a cheese ball we had as a former governor, but at least we have a top notch capital. Our taxpayer dollars at work.

The State House of Representatives wasn't in session but ironically the same amount of work was getting done as when they are actually in session. I'm guessing they can't get anything done because they are too busy looking up at the ceiling. Another examples of our taxpayer dollars at work.

Last but not least, a model of the U.S.S. Iowa which always fascinates me. I have always loved looking at large, realistic models that someone has obviously invested a significant portion of their life, building.  This particular model is probably about fifteen feet long so it wasn't something that you could do on the dining room table in the evenings, at least not unless you were still a bachelor. Back when I was a bachelor, my kitchen table was nothing more than a horizontal filing system. The lazy boy was my dining room furniture of choice.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Los Laureles Menu

This blog post is entirely self serving. After having ordered takeout from memory from the best Mexican restaurant in Iowa a time or two because we didn't have a menu, I asked the last time we were in there if I could get a copy of their menu because I could find no copies of it online. They didn't have any hard copies either. So I asked the man if I could take a picture of the menu under the glass by the cash register and he just shrugged so I snapped away. Now because I am also a bit lazy, I don't want to write all this down and print out my own menu so I'm just posting it here so at least I can pull up the menu anytime I want. So when I order tongue tacos, which are superb by the way, I don't have to remember the Spanish word for tongue.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wiener Schnitzel Art and 15-Year Old Scotch Whiskey

What you see above it a gift given to me by a couple Germans who stopped by our place for five days. For some reason, it didn't get opened on the first night but it did on the subsequent four nights. I must say, it was one of the better thank-you-for-letting-us-crash-at-your-place-for-a-few-nights gifts I have ever received. I haven't been to Germany and have only met a few native Germans over the years so it was a real treat. She was the maid-of-honor at our wedding and he was her newly pronounced fiance and we already have a wedding invitation to their wedding in Germany sometime in the first part of the year 2012. I can't wait.

It was an excellent five days though we didn't do anything terribly exciting. We took them on our standard tours, turned them loose for a day at a German village that still functions much the same way it did 100 years ago while we did other necessary things and even took them up to the urban jungle for a day to show them the best Mexican food in our fair state. We played several games of Mexican Train along with some whiskey drinks and even better, they cooked for us one evening making wiener schnitzel art and something else I can't pronounce but was essentially fried potatoes with bacon bits in it. (Art after the schnitzel means it was made from pork instead of the normal veal.) All I have to say is it is a good thing to eat like a German. For their part, they ate some of my turkey burgers and made-from-scratch pizza and pronounced it good to eat American.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wild and Scenic Missouri River: Part 7

Warning: Extreme eye candy below!

I thought I would end my series of posts on this trip with some pictures that I find to be eye candy. I apologize in advance for the smudges on some of the slides. But here is a post of a day of scenery along the river.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Finding Out One of My Designs Is Doing Well

As some of you may know, I am a mechanical engineer with an emphasis in design.  For the first third of my career I did mostly machine design which is a side that the consuming public rarely sees. I would design the machines that made the product that the public saw. Then due to a tech bubble that collapsed followed closely by 9/11, I found myself out of work and looking into a new line of work. I was fortunate and was able to hook up with a company that specialized in custom product engineering for anyone who walked in our doors with money and an idea. My first project there was to design an entire plant that made concrete culverts for a client in southwest United States. It was huge in scope and kept me busy for over a year and a half. Afterwards, I took on a number of smaller projects and clients that ranged from a RV manufacturer, forestry equipment manufacturer and right at the end of my time at that company, a entrepreneur who had a great idea (I thought anyway) for a product that he wanted to market to the likes of Walmart. I worked with the guy over several months turning his napkin sketches into an actual design, tweaking it here and there until he was satisfied. I sourced manufacturers for his various components and did a costing analysis for his design but just couldn't get the unit price down to where he felt it needed to be to sell at places like Walmart. I never got to see a fully functional model outside of a computer monitor. We gave him all our data and he went on his merry way. I assumed that it would never see the light of day due to the costs involved.

I hadn't thought about him until a few days ago when a co-worker was talking about a design he did for someone that never panned out and this design came back to me. I mentioned it to my co-worker and he thought it sounded like a good idea too and wondered why it never flew. So on a whim, I Googled the idea that the guy had and found several different manufacturers of similar things. Then one caught my eye. It was exactly like the one I had designed eight years ago. Even better, the name of the company and the president were the same as the one I had dealt with so I knew without a doubt that it was my design. It is way cool to see a creation of yours out in the world and someone making money off of it.

I decided to dig a little deeper and eventually turned up an article about his company (which he started with this idea back in 2002) and his idea which made no mention of myself or the company I worked for but I guess I'm not surprised. We were paid to do a job, not take part in the glory and evidently we did our job well enough where in 2008 he expanded his business into a barn and in 2009 he already had five full time employees. Still, it is exciting to learn that someone is doing well off with one of my designs and even if I'm the only one who knows about it besides you my readers. Perhaps one day I will have a good idea of my own that I can turn into a business like this one.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wild and Scenic Missouri River: Part 6

Most of my posts on this trip have fallen into the scenic designation unless you count remoteness as wild. We saw lots of birds from eagles to herons along the river and even saw a spectacular dogfight between two fighter planes/birds complete with barrel rolls and lots of flares happening right over our head at a close proximity. Here is a sequence of pictures showing the wild part of the designation. We saw quite a few bighorn sheep but this was as close as we got the entire trip. These appear to be a ram, two ewes and a yearling.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Total Carnage In the Night

It was 3:30 A.M. when the sound of a chair being thrown through a window right beside my head woke me up from my slumber. I heard a loud bang followed by the implosion of glass shattering all over the place.

"What the f$#k was that?" I groggily ask before my mind started to kick into gear. "Little Abbey are you alright?" I started shouting over and over again as I ran towards her room thinking the worst.

That is when I heard, "I'm alright daddy," coming from the direction of the bed I just left.

"What the...?", I said as I turned around and saw that a groggy Little Abbey must have crawled into my bed sometime during the night. That was a relief because now everyone was accounted for except for whoever made one of my windows implode. I told Little Abbey to stay in bed and crept across the hall into her room throwing on the lights and looking for a shattered window. All windows were intact. So I grabbed her toy guitar as a makeshift club and it immediately started belting into some tune. I quickly hit the off button and proceeded through the house repeating the same process over and over. Hold the club/toy guitar over my head ready to swing and feel around the corner for the light switch hoping to surprise the intruder and perhaps get a swing in before they got me. Every room I found the windows intact and everything in its place. The last room was the same way so I rechecked thinking perhaps that it was only one pane of a double paned window that broke and also looked outside to see if perhaps a car crash had occurred or a neighbor was having a house broke into. I completed my second search and again everything appeared normal.

Was I imagining things? I've been through this twice before with a love struck teenager (a blog post which I can't seem to find anymore) and my wife's shower razor caddy but with those I hadn't known what the noise was and this time it was most definitely glass breaking and somewhere really close to my bed. As I made my way back up to the bedroom to make sure Little Abbey was still doing okay, I happened to notice the hall bathroom (the only room without a window) didn't have a working nightlight which we keep in there for Little Abbey's occasional middle of the night visit. I flicked on the light switch and had to grab the door frame, partially in shock and partially to prevent my momentum from carrying me into the bathroom. It was pure carnage in there.

The very large beveled glass mirror above the sink had evidently come loose from its moorings and shattered into thousands of pieces all over the bathroom with pieces in the sink, toilet, shower and every inch of floor space. There was one large chunk impaled into the flooring right at the base of the toilet and several gash marks in the sink woodwork and the wooden steps we keep in there for Little Abbey to reach the sink. The mystery was solved and fortunately nobody was in the bathroom at the time.

I called Little Abbey out of the bedroom and asked if she wanted to see what had caused all the noise in hopes of relieving any fears she might have. She dutifully looked over the scene and said, "Daddy, I wasn't scared." I'm glad she wasn't as I carefully pried my fingers from her toy guitar still clutched at my side. Knowing that sleep would be a long time coming and still worrying that myself or Little Abbey might forget and walk into the carnage of the room, I grabbed the broom, dustpan and a five-gallon bucket from the garage and proceeded to clean it all up. Sleep was still a long time coming for me but my daughter had fallen back asleep even before I had it all picked up. What I would give to have all that innocence back.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wild and Scenic Missouri River: Part 5

Work and home got away from me and I didn't realize that I hadn't added text to this post until it was posted and then, it took several hours before blogger would allow me to add this splurb. There really wasn't much to say about the pictures anyway other than they were in "The Breaks" part of the river and that the picture below is of 'Hole In the Wall' which is a famous formation along the river. If I remember right from the graffiti in the actual hole which you can climb up too, people have been visiting it for a long, long time.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Birds and the Bees

We had a good friend of ours who was also the maid of honor at our wedding visit us for a few days. Before her visit, I was preparing our daughter by telling her that a friend would be coming to stay with us for a few days. That was when we had the following conversation.

Me: (She) was at your Mommy and Daddy's wedding?

LA: Right before you made me?

Me: Well... yes, we were married before we made you.

LA: And then I grew in Mommy's tummy?

Me: Yep, you grew in Mommy's tummy.

LA: And then I got out and became human?

Me: Yep, you got out and grew up. (Deliberately ignoring the human part of the comment for the time being.

LA: Yeh!

Me: (Breathing a sigh of relief that this is all the farther we have to go down this path for today.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wild and Scenic Missouri River: Part 4

Like a lot of places I used to go to quite often in my youth, I'm sure places like this stretch of the river are much more crowded these days. Outdoor adventures like paddling 150 miles of a wild and scenic river are much more in fashion these days and in the name of money, we cater to the people making it easier to get to these places. As a result or more people being able to enjoy such delights, more people who don't understand or don't appreciate them also show up.

I am reminded of my trips to the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming where we used to spend two weeks and see nary another soul. On our last trip in 1994, not only were the people thick but black bears had gone from being non-existent to being a pest. Due to the hordes of people, most who didn't know even the most basic methods for preventing a bear from eating their food, the bears were well fed. All the people we met that trip were fortunately on their way out with their vacation cut short due to lack of food because they had forgotten the basics such as hanging the food bag especially after cooking greasy meats over a large fire that could be smelled for miles downwind. Though I wanted to actually see a black bear up close and saw lots of prints, I saw no bear that trip. Only lots of people fleeing them.

But in 1993 when I did this trip, this stretch of the river wasn't well known and we never saw another soul during our float. We saw a few signs here and there but were impressed with how pristine area were, including areas that I'm sure got heavier traffic. If I went to Neat's Coulée today that I blogged about in my last post, I would expect to see lots of graffiti, old fire rings and other scars upon the land. Back when we did this trip, we saw none of those things.

Which brings me to the picture below of a famous rock structure called the Eye of the Needle which I blogged about here over five years ago. It was a delicate rock structure that was formed by millions of years of blowing dirt and has stood their like a sentinel for tens of thousands of years since. It is quite visible from the river and an easy hike to reach and probably tens of thousands of people have visited over the years. Yet with easier accessibility encouraged by ourselves to give everyone "their right" to see such things, brought along a new breed of people who don't treasure such wonders as you or I might. One night, probably under the influence of alcohol, someone kicked down the Eye of the Needle and threw the rocks into the river below.