Monday, January 31, 2011

Being a Tiger Dad

With so much in the news and blogs about some Tiger Mom, I thought I would write a post about parenting. Over the years, I have had a lot of time to reflect on parenting and how effective it was. My first parenting experiences came from the hands of my parents raising me and a younger brother. Looking back, they gave me a lot of freedom to do things and to make my own mistakes but they also were masters at choosing their battles and knowing the right time to step in and nip things in the bud. So when I found out that I was going to become a parent, I knew I wanted to model myself after them. I also decided that I was going to never spank my child.

Spanking is a form of discipline that seems rooted in fear. I am bigger than you and I will hurt you if you disobey me. It just never seemed like the proper attitude to take towards discipline. My parents spanked me on occasion, probably less than a half dozen times my whole life, but enough to get a taste of it. While I don't think I carry any scars, psychological or physical from those spankings and I still love my parents, I just still feel that making someone fear you if they do wrong is not the right way to go. I also didn't want to become like 90% of the parents around me. So many times I see kids running around acting horribly and parents shouting idle threats at them. The kids rarely listen and if they do, only for seconds before continuing to do what they were doing. Occasionally the rare parent steps up and will discipline the offending child by giving them a timeout, verbally dressing them down or spanking them, but rarely does the punishment stick. The kids quickly realize that the punishment is fleeting and go right back to what they were doing. With this in mind, I became a parent and found a way to avoid these pitfalls.

The first lesson I imposed upon my daughter is that tantrums are not acceptable behavior. If she has a melt down, she has two choices, to stop or to go to her room and only a few seconds before I decide for her. At first, I ended up choosing and to her room she would go and I would shut the door behind her. She quickly learned that she could immediately get up and open the door to make sure we heard her displeasure and since her door didn't have a lock, it forced me to stand and hold the knob from turning. It was very hard at first standing there listening to your daughter cry and scream but it got easier. I don't mean that I became insensitive to 'locking' my daughter in her room but rather it took a lot less time for her to calm down or better yet, she began choosing to not have a tantrum in the first place.

This works great at home but the first downfall I see among other parents is what happens on the road. The child is smart and knows that parents are hesitant to discipline their children in public and thus knows he can get away with misbehavior. I see parents resorting to idle threats of when we get back home but from the look and behavior of the child, everyone can tell they are idle threats. My daughter tried this several times when she was younger but she found out she had the same two choices, stop or go to the car, stand outside our of earshot from everyone else, or some suitable place where she wouldn't disturb the peace of everyone else. That meant that by necessity I was in for some real head pounding moments listening to her scream in the back of a car while I sat up front waiting for her to give in but it drove home the point that no matter where we were, at home or on the road, tantrums were not acceptable.

Like tantrums, getting your child to do something you request, can be challenging. Children are smarter than we give them credit for and are constantly pressing the boundaries to see what they can get away with. A coworker of mine had a son whom I have had the displeasure of meeting more than once outside of work. Every time, the evening is filled with the parents repeatedly asking their son to do or not do some action followed by him disobeying. I have solved that problem by only giving my daughter one chance before disciplinarian actions are taken. Initially I started the backwards count from three after letting her know exactly what the disciplinarian action I would be taking if I reached one. She let me get down to one several times to check that boundary only to see me carry through with the action. It didn't take but a handful of times before I only had to say the word three and she would jump into action. Eventually she progressed to the point where now all I have to do is ask and she obeys. I love being in a group of parents and children where the parents are constantly yelling at their kids it is time to go only to repeat it again minutes later when their child still has not come. I just have to tell my daughter it is time to go and she comes immediately. She can voice her displeasure and does so but she comes without me repeating myself. Occasionally though she still chooses to be stubborn and forces me to start counting and lately will even wait until the last possible moment. I have solved that by shaking things up a bit and not giving her the three second count down. I ask her to do something and then disciplinarian actions occur immediately if action hasn't occurred.

Before I come across sounding like an authoritarian always disciplining my child, let me explain a concept in which I sincerely believe in. I choose my battles. For example, when she was younger and still to this day, she is not allowed to go closer than the crack in the driveway to the road. This of course is for her safety and the peace of mind of drivers going by and seeing a child running down the driveway towards the road. She is not allowed to violate this space or playtime is over and we are going inside. This is a battle that I will always fight because it is for her safety. However, if she requests that I adjust the temperature of her bath water for the tenth time so that it is precisely the temperature she wants, I generally give in. I could draw the line and pour the water luke warm water over her head to wash her hair while she screams that it is too hot or too cold but at the end of the day, I just would rather give her a bath while she is happy. I know that if I get her riled up about the water temperature, she will stay riled up for the next three things and drag this ordeal out for the next hour because she is stubborn and can. It just isn't worth the battle. I let her win a few battles and I win a few battles and we both stay happy. I just won't tell her that I win all the battles that are important.

Another big tool in my arsenal is to use positive discipline and the most effective one right now in an ever changing tool kit is to race. Our conversation will generally go like this:

Me: Put on your shoes it is time to go.

Daughter: I don't want to go.

Me: I'll race you! (in my most positive upbeat attitude)

At that point she will race to get her shoes on faster than me and I always deliberately let her win. (Again, I'm choosing my battles.) I carry on this in almost every aspect of life from combing hair to picking up toys. I'll clean the dishes while you pick up your toys and we will see who gets done first. It is positive and it works. If I were to simply demand that she put her shoes on and then go to harsher tactics, I'm creating a bluff that she may call is she gets smart to it. If she doesn't get her shoes on, what am I going to tell her? She can't come with me? She has to go without shoes? Both aren't options the majority of the time so  rather get myself in a situation where I have to backtrack on my disciplinary action, I choose to  use the positive route. Other positive 'carrots' to dangle in front of them is a favorite treat, playing their favorite game, or numerous others that I come across in our daily lives and make a mental note of to use to my advantage later.

Another thing that I use in my tool kit to discipline my child is loss of privileges or items she holds dear. If she doesn't carry through with a request, I tell her I will take a item she holds dear and keep it. This is an ever changing list of things as she grows in and out favor of various objects. Right now her favorite object if the board game Chutes & Ladders which you know from my previous post is no favorite of mine and thus a win-win situation should she lose it. She has lost the game only twice since I've starting using it as the discipline and in both cases, it has required very good behavior, quite a bit of time usually on the order of a day or two, and an apology to get it back. Sometimes I have to add a couple more items to it if she is on a stubborn streak and it takes upwards of a week to get them all back.

Looking back at the past four and a half years, I think I have started off well. My daughter is well behaved among other children and after the initial trying the boundaries phases, won't make me repeat myself or count down very often. But that doesn't mean that disciplining has stopped altogether because it hasn't. My daughter is smart and like a game of chess, she is always trying to find ways to outsmart her old man. Right now her favorite tactic is to push the boundaries when my wife is home. Since my wife isn't here everyday at least for the next seventeen months, my daughter will often try to get away with things. Battles that I let my daughter win such as the temperature of her bath water are ones that my wife doesn't. As a result, my daughter often gets into tantrums only when my wife is at home. I for the most part try to stay removed because at the end of the day, my daughter needs to respect all adults, not just me, and especially her mother. She has to learn that no two people are alike. It is also a learning experience for my wife because she was disciplined in a completely different manner as a child than myself or how I have disciplined our daughter. She too needs to learn the concept of choosing her own battles lest every thing becomes a battle.

So those are my tips on being a Tiger Dad to my daughter. It may not be the best way but it is the best way I've found and when I compare the results against other kids and myself when I was a kid, I know my daughter is on the right track. She is absolutely no questions asked a daddy's girl so I know that I'm not too strict and when other parents ask me my secret to parenting when seeing my well behaved daughter among their unruly brood, I just smile and tell them that I just be a parent to my daughter. It is the toughest job I have ever had and yet the most gratifying. I wouldn't change it for any other job in the world.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Fortune Unlike Any Other

My wife being under the weather this past weekend and with nothing really to eat in the fridge, I did what any good husband would do. I picked up some takeout Chinese. In our town, we have two Chinese places to choose from, one that serves really good food and one that has a really cheap takeout buffet price. When ordering off the menu, we always go to the one that serves the good food but when we get takeout buffet, the quality of mass quantities of food sitting over heaters for undetermined lengths of time equalizes the taste a bit and so we go on price. For $8.55, I can load up an 8" x 8" x 3" Styrofoam container with as much food as it can hold plus get another round Styrofoam cup that I can fill with soup, desert, or even more food. The place with the good menu food charges by the pound for their takeout buffet.

Like almost everything else in life, with a cheap price comes trade-offs. While the other place has a very friendly wait staff that makes you feel right at home, the cheap buffet place has a wait staff that makes me want to crawl over the counter and poke their eyes out with a pair of wooden chopsticks every time I do business in the place. I could fill weeks of blog posts on stories from this place but I won't, unless provoked. This time wasn't bad other than the kid who took my money and handed me a Styrofoam box and cup acted about as disinterested in living as a living human being could. After he tossed the containers onto the counter, he trudged back towards the kitchen with the soles of his feet never leaving the floor and disappeared. Had I wanted a pair of chopsticks or complimentary fortune cookies, I would have been out of luck. Since I wanted some fortune cookies and I really don't care what they think of me since I don't like them, I simply reached over the empty counter and helped myself to some before heading to the buffet to load up my containers.

Call me frugal but rice that has been sitting in a pot on a buffet line is never very good and besides, it takes up a lot of room in those Styrofoam boxes so I always put rice in the cooker at home so it is hot, fresh and waiting for me when I get back and allows me to fit even more food in those boxes. So with the boxes loaded up, my wife and I enjoyed a nice dinner for two with plenty of leftovers, which at long last brings me to the point of this blog. The next day as I was packing my lunch for work, I saw one of those fortune cookies sitting on our table and threw it in my lunch bucket. Later at work, I couldn't help but laugh when I finally read the fortune:

What the heck kind of fortune is that? Did it mean 'illegal' alien or one of the green kind with tentacles and ten eyes? Also, how can they possibly be any more vague by adding 'of some sort?"  Most fortunes always seem to tell you something that will make you feel happy or at least makes you wish it would come true. I'm not sure either would be true no matter what kind of alien of some sort appeared before me. Even trying out the 'in bed' theory of adding those two words to the end of the fortune made me feel less than comfortable about my fortune. Any theories?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guaranteed Not To Snow

For most of my life, I never shoveled snow to do anything other than build a snow fort or to clear the ice for some fishing. Our driveway on the farm is an eighth of a mile long and would take well into summer to clear if by hand from just one snow storm so we generally used a tractor with a blade or just drove everywhere in the four wheel drive pickup. In college, I pretty much only used a car when going to and from the farm because it was just too much work so I didn't much worry about shoveling either. It was a beater so as long as there was gas in the tank, I would just forward and reverse my way out of any pile of snow pushed up by the grader of the parking lots and find a clearer space to park when I returned.

Post college when I moved up to the far north to a place I affectionally refer to as the frozen tundra, I still never shoveled. I was smart and for ten extra dollars a month, rented a garage at the site of my apartment and would do so at my next rented digs further south. Finally I would move back close to the land of my roots where the snow is definitely shallower during winter and the shoveling began. I again had an apartment and a garage but due to a neighbor who parked his car in the center of the space between his garage and mine all the time, the grader of the parking lots could never clear my driveway. Thus I was forced to shovel on occasion to get my car out from the garage. I always made sure to shovel all my snow to my neighbors car and bury it to show my displeasure. It made me feel better anyway. But more often than not, if I could just bore my car out of the garage, I did so and just let the snow pack down into a glacier like pack of ice that would finally melt away sometime during the dog days of late summer.

Then I got civilized. I got married and bought a house and suddenly we had 'friends' whom we had to invite over in the blizzard like conditions of winter. That meant that I had to be a man and shovel my driveway so that no one would fall down and get hurt. I always thought that was just a cliche but one day when I hadn't gotten out yet to clear the snow (read my wife hadn't nagged me into doing it yet), we had an unexpected visitor who pulled up, got out of their car and fell grabbing onto the antenna of my car for support. Needless to say she didn't sue and I had to go buy a replacement antenna from a junkyard to replace the old one. Life went on.

Then the past two years arrived where we seemed to get six inch snows of the wettest most densest kind like fireworks on the fourth of July. I would spend a couple hours clearing away the snow, sit down in my easy chair to rest my aching back only to see the beginnings of another six inches beginning to fall. Then when I had gotten that cleared, the darn snow plow would come roaring by leaving a huge drift of icy snow at the end of the drive that if left untouched for more than a few seconds would turn into the consistency of granite. After two back breaking seasons, I finally said enough and bought a snow blower. There are two types of snowblowers that I have seen. There is the one my uphill neighbor has which is a little squat thing that pukes snow out of the chute and evidently requires a long handle from an old broom which he rams down the throat of the thing every six inches. There is also the one my downhill neighbor has that throws snow as far as a man can see and could easily consume a two foot deep pile of snow as an appetizer. So I shelled out the extra money and went for the latter.

Now it won't snow. I mean we have gotten regular snows of up to a half of an inch and one five incher of powdery snow but nothing that would make the weakest of backs ache. I could probably skip behind a shovel and clear the driveway in seconds with breath and back strength to spare if I so desired. So now I am always asking myself, do I shovel off the 1/4 inch pounding we received over night or do I fire up the snowblower and look like a total wuss out there blowing the snow off with a machine designed to eat through ice and beg for more? What I wouldn't give for a twenty inches of the finest, heaviest snow that mother nature could provide.

Monday, January 24, 2011

To Filet or Fillet, That Is the Question

One recent cold and snowy evening with no food worth eating to be found in the fridge, we decided to use one of our gift certificates and eat at the most upscale place in town. It is located at the top of a long flight of stairs in the back of a bar on the ground floor and I'm not sure if the change in elevation or the cold air fogging my glasses but when we got to the top and saw the special board, it listed a filet on a puff pastry with choice of potato and a vegetable medley. We were soon seated and after perusing the evening menu from which I've eaten many tasty dishes over the years, my mind returned to the special board and visions of a beautiful fish fillet served on a puff pastry filled my head. So I ordered it and when the waitress asked me how I wanted my filet, it took a few seconds for my head to register what had gone wrong.

I've only had one filet mignon in my entire life and it was outstanding. But it was in the very early post marriage days when we had cash in our pockets, no house, kids, bills, etc and we were out to take the world by the horns. It also set me back a Ulysses S. Grant for two of them. Now I love good food but I have a hard time shelling out 25 to 35% of my weekly grocery bill for one of them especially when all food... well comes out in the end if you know what I mean. I also have pride and that put me in a pickle. Do I back down and change my mind to something more reasonably priced (I'm assuming at this point since I haven't even seen the price for the special) or damn the torpedoes full speed ahead? Medium rare I told the waitress.

It was an outstanding experience and every bite seemed to melt in my mouth. But it still caused me to wince when paying and my bill after the gift card had been deducted still came up to more than I normally cough up for a meal on the town for our family of three. It was a hard price to pay to learn the difference between a filet and a fillet especially for a southeast Iowa third place finisher in the 1988 regional spelling bee.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chutes and F%&$@! Ladders

*Warning: this post contains some salty language*

Being a single dad four days of the week, I get a lot of playing time with my daughter. For the longest time, she was mostly interested in pretend playing with a varied assortment of dolls and plastic figurines. She had her favorite six or so that she always played with but I always get stuck with one plastic figurine of the boy named Hansel out of the fairy tale. After awhile, my wife and I took to joking about getting 'Hanseled' every time my daughter would walk up and throw him on my lap and say, "lets play!" My daughter took it to heart and now comes up and throws Hansel on my lap and announces, "you've been hanseled." She definitely knows how to get me to play with her.

Gradually I have been trying to get her into something else that I can enjoy more and that is board games. Though not a board game in the classic sense, I got her first started playing Cooties. She took to it immediately but because they only manufacture stuff with cheap plastic crap, the pieces never would stay together and she would get frustrated. I solved 80% of the frustration by super gluing the body and head pieces into one unit and the remainder of the frustration I avoid by always taking the pieces that don't fit well. Grandma got her Candy Land which she always plays when down on the farm but I needed something to transfer her too up at our house. So I got UNO.

My daughter likes playing UNO with all the colors and numbers and soon got the gist of the game. It was fun seeing her develop from simply playing the first card that matched either in number or color to some more strategic plays like playing strings of 'Draw Two' cards and to stacking the deck with 'Draw Four' wild cards when I'm not in the room. I quickly learned that the concept of 'cheating' is born in us.

But the real subject of this post and a board game that I got in conjunction with UNO is Chutes and Ladders. It didn't start off as a favorite of my daughters because it was a little too complex. It took her a long while to figure out the board and in which direction you need to move after you have spun the spinner. If you aren't familiar with the board, it is simply a board with 100 squares in rows of ten with no defined path other than numbers that increase up the board in a zig zag fashion. To a four year old who can only count to sixteen before getting confused, it is confusing. But I eventually showed her how to master which way to go and we were off. There is no strategy to this game based only on luck and an ability to spin the spinner so it probably shouldn't have surprised me that she learned to cheat at this game more quickly by spinning multiple times until she got a big number or do little flicks that didn't go all the way around to achieve the same result. I put an end to that by saying you only get one spin and it must go all the way around and after some pouting, she was back playing. Most recently, she has learned to see into the future by counting squares to a desirable landing spot and wishing for them when she spins. It melts my heart to see that which is really necessary when at times I am overcome with an incredible urge to tear up the board into tiny bits and burn the little plastic and cardboard game pieces.

I have come to loathe the numbers 48 and 49. Those two spaces are the tops of two side by side chutes that send the person landing on them sliding all the way back to the early rows of the board. Because the spinner only has six places, you have at most a thirty-three percent chance of landing on them and yet I hit those bastards every single time while my daughter skips right over them. Last night I hit them six times in a row! What really gets me is that in researching for this post, most older pictures of this board game have them chutes starting from squares 47 and 49 with a safe space in-between them but in my new version of this game, some sick f&$@ decided that he would put them together. He had better hope that I never find out his name!

While I'm hitting spaces 48 and 49 one hundred percent of the time, my daughter has her own issues. She gets way to the top and either wins or hits number 87 which also sends the lander going way back to the beginning. The difference is that she gets to travel the whole length of the board in-between times while I just go in an endless f@#&!$@# loop consisting of three rows. Another difference is that most of the time she skips right over it and wins.

Last night however was one of those nights where I had just landed on either 48 or 49 for the sixth consecutive time and my daughter had rode down the chute beginning at 87 for the third time when I decided to do the unthinkable. When I got to square 46 and of course spun a three meaning I was destined for endless f#$%$@# loop number seven, I cheated. I casually counted on to square number 50 and told my daughter it was her turn. She never noticed. She also never noticed when many turns later when of course I had to spin that exact f!@#$!% number that would land me on the mother of all slides starting at number 87 and I skipped on to number 88. At this point the game had been going on for 45 minutes and I was most definitely about to lose my cool. I cheated again on space 95 and 98 and finally 'won' the game by landing on space 100. My daughter gracefully said, "oh man," giving my the obligatory high five and began putting the game away to move onto something else. I just concentrated on taking deep breaths.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Templeton Rye

How did I come about owning not one but two bottles of Al Copone's whiskey of choice? How did I get a two bottles that were the center of a bootlegging empire? Legend has it that even after Copone was sent to Alcatraz, a few bottles of this stuff made its way to prisoner AZ-85. How did I score two bottles of what was then known as the "Good Stuff" because of its smooth finish when they stopped producing it shortly after the demise of prohibition? Good questions all.

Two men, both of whose ancestors were involved in the original Templeton Rye decided to bring the spirit back to life and after obtaining the original recipe and a distillery here in Iowa, bottled up their first batch of 68 barrels in 2006. I can't find out what happened to those 68 barrels or if they were even sold but what I do know was that the "Good Stuff" was so good and in such demand, that they ramped up production and in 2010, the first batch of 3000 cases came online. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to score a bottle.

Perhaps I should first elaborate on why it is so hard to score a bottle of Templeton Rye here in Iowa. Although the distillery obtained legal licensing to sell it on location in Templeton, Iowa, they have for now declined until customers all over the state are satisfied. Instead by state law, they must sell their product directly to the state where it is then sold and distributed by the state to private distributors. They state believes in equal opportunity and thus, with only 3000 cases and probably ten times that number of distributors, most places didn't even get more than a few bottles. All those same places with whom I checked, were lucky to get a case and had hundreds of people on the waiting list. Still with 80% of all they whiskey sold here in Iowa and the remainder in New York City, San Francisco and the state of Illinois, my best odds of getting it remained close to home and as my grandfather would say, those odds were slim to none.

So I bid my time and waited for the 2011 allocation, which actually runs from December 1, 2010 to December 1, 2011 and has been called batch number four. Batch number four is comprised of 20,000 cases which according to recent census figures means that there was one case for every 150 people here in our state to fight over.  Not good odds but certainly better but the difference being this time I had a game plan. I went back to my roots.

I grew up in one of the most rural parts of this state where we are the only county in Iowa without a stoplight or a fast food restaurant. We have one grocery store and it is a twenty mile drive to get to it. But they sell spirits and I know the owner and so shortly after Batch 4 was transferred into state's custody, I asked the owner of the store back home if he would request for a case of Templeton Rye. He had never heard of it but promised just the same to try and get me a case on my promise that I would buy the whole thing if he couldn't get it sold. I figured with 20,000 cases and at least five times that many stores asking for it that it was still a shot in the dark and I had pretty much forgotten about it until January 7th when the brother of the store owner told me that my whiskey had arrived.

I hadn't asked him how many bottles were in a case which probably I should have since I had promised to buy the whole case if he couldn't sell them. When he told me six I was somewhat relieved but still felt I should help find buyers just in case. I asked the first person I saw whom I thought might be interested and they said they weren't but gave me the names of three other people who were. Five minutes later, I had two of the bottles and the other four were also sold. There were four happy customers and one store owner who said he wished he had ordered several more cases.

So I decided to try bottle 248 from barrel 83 and set aside bottle 273 from barrel 80 for the time being. I've seen bottles of Batch 4 on Ebay going for twice what I paid for it so perhaps it might be an investment. Of course I'm referring to an investment into my future self as I sip it by a nice roaring fire and watch it snow outside. By the way, it is real smooth going down with a kick on the back nine. It is now my favorite domestic whiskey.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Human Nature and Pepsi

I suppose it is just human nature that someone with a bottle of Pepsi sitting around an animal is going to get the idea of giving the cola to the animal to see what the animal thinks. This picture found in my grandparent's slides which I am gradually scanning into digital format for my parents depicts my grandfather moments after having that very same thought. I'm not a 'Horse Whisperer' by any means but if I were to sleep at a Holiday Inn Express tomorrow, I would say that the horse enjoyed the drink.

I am not immune to such thoughts and distinctly remember intently looking at my daughter's facial expression as she took her first sip of Pepsi. Although I don't remember the actual expression, I'm sure I was amused followed closely by thoughts of how I am going to prevent her from wanting a sip of my Pepsi from here on out. I've been pretty unsuccessful at preventing her sipping my Pepsi whenever I have one but I'm still trying to keep her from wanting more than a sip until she is much older and I've been successful in that endeavor.

Back before a wife, kids and everything else that goes with responsibility, I was just a boy with a dog who was thirsty and an ice cold pop in my hands. We were working on a construction project and after rummaging around, I found a lid off of something and poured a little Pepsi onto it for my dog Ted to lap up which he obediently did. He would get three or four licks in before his tongue would start tingling causing him to pause a second or two which he spent wisely licking his chops and whiskers for any beads of that amber nectar of the gods that he was now hopelessly addicted too. Thus began his long downward spirals into the depths of Pepsi addiction.

Soon it became common practice during our breaks on the construction crew to 'ante up' by pouring a little bit of our Pepsi into Ted's bowl which somehow made its way up to the construction site. By the time everyone had given him some of their Pepsi, Ted would have as much or more than any one of us did. I fully suspect that is why we gradually transitioned from the 10-ounce bottles up to the 16-ounce ones. I also suspect that my brother became an aficionado of Mt. Dew which we soon discovered that Ted didn't like. Ted didn't get the luxury of a long life but I also suspect that had he lived a normal life expectancy for a dog, he would probably have had a two or three bottle a day habit by the end.

For a few years after Ted died, you could still get 16-ounce bottles of Pepsi though they were quickly going the way of the 8-track and soon to follow cassette tape. I don't think I ever drank a bottle of Pepsi during those few years without thinking of Ted slurping up his share. Perhaps it was the transition of Pepsi from bottles to tin cans that tainted it to the point it never tasted the same, my transition from the full strength stuff to the diet version, or just the natural transition of life as the years pass us by but the memories of Ted drinking Pepsi left me until I saw the picture above. I am/was positive that I once blogged about Ted's Pepsi addiction once before but I certainly can't find the evidence so I am righting a wrong by doing so now. Perhaps one day before I cash in my chips, I will take one of my antique 8-ounce hourglass bottles full of that amber cola off the dusty shelf of the farmhouse, pop the top, and pour the whole bottle of it over Ted's grave and give him his first whole bottle, perhaps two of them so that he could at least get up to the standards we had before they faded away altogether.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Load Out

"The sea was angry that day my friends, like an old man trying to return soup at a deli!" -George Castanza from Seinfeld: The Marine Biologist

It is always hard to get a sense of scale when taking pictures and videos but the waves in the video above were nearly eight feet tall from trough to crest. For two days, we watched those waves crash onto shore and listened to them lull us to sleep. I happened to mention that had it been warmer, they would have been fun to play in the ocean among them but my brother who is more experienced than I in the ways of the ocean said that they would have been fun until the first one pounded me into the sea floor and then as I stood there coughing up water and trying to recover another one would come in and repeat the pounding. After that, I was content just to watch them come in. On the last full day, someone even brought out a surfboard and I thought I would get so see that in real life but evidently the waves weren't the right kind. They almost always broke immediately after forming. I did get to witness some kids skim boarding and another guy fly the kite portion of a kite surfing outfit.  He got drug around on the sand a lot but it wasn't as impressive as it would have been had he a board strapped to his feet and was jumping off the crests of those waves.

In retrospect, the rough seas was a fitting end to the vacation and gave me the motivation to go north to my home in Iowa. It was still sunny when we loaded up the van, stopped in at a seafood marked to buy some fresh yellow fin tuna and crab cakes to take back home, and headed north. We got as far as the northwest corner of Alabama when we found ourselves in the middle of a violent thunderstorm that we found out the next morning had been full of tornadoes and had torn up parts of Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi. The next day was largely overcast and as we crept north, the temperatures seemed to plummet colder with every stop. We had left the coast in shirt sleeves and with the air conditioner on and ended up wearing jackets by southern Missouri and were downright shivering when we got home. I guess it was better than stepping off a direct flight and experiencing it all at once. It was a good trip and I would like to do it again someday. Next time however, I will cough up the extra 30% it would have cost us to rent the condo for an entire month instead of just one week. I would end up with a whole week of blog posts about the sunset instead of just one!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gone Fishing

So I am a guy and I'm by the ocean with time on my hands. It shouldn't be a surprise when I tell you that one day we rented a boat and went deep sea fishing, the first time I have ever been on a boat in an ocean. When I was younger, I had no fear and went on any of the fair rides or could read in a moving car for hours on end without repercussions. Then as I got older, things started to change. I couldn't read as long in a moving car, sitting in the back of buses and cargo vans left me feeling a little green and once a few years back, I came darn close to feeding the fish while riding a large car ferry boat across lake Michigan. I finally came to admit that I get sea sick. So when this offer came along, I couldn't refuse but took precautions by taking some Dramamine. Now as I was taking it, others in my family were also taking a version of it called Bonine which is supposed to be longer acting and non-drowsy and teasing me, who is very susceptible to anything that causes drowsiness, that I would sleep through the whole trip. Well the joke ended up on them but more about that later.

We showed up to a very quiet dock a few minutes before the agreed upon time and after walking up and down docks, making a phone call and then following the sound of a large engine warming up on a chilly morning, we found our ride for the day. I have omitted many pictures and the name of the boat for reasons clear later in this post but it was large one capable of holding twelve passengers and the captain and first mate were two of the nicest people on this earth. Seconds after we were aboard, the ropes were cast off and we were cruising through a myriad of docks and boats seen in the two preceding pictures. Once we cleared the breakwater, the throttles were opened up and we were soon cruising at a good clip on a very beautiful day. About forty-five minutes later, we idled down over our fishing spot for the day about nine miles from shore and directly over a large 400 feet long hull of a World War II era boat that had been sunk there years ago for fishing habitat in about fifty to seventy feet of water. We were given a few seconds of instructions and at the sound of the boat's horn, we dropped our lines in the water.

The poles and gear that we used can be seen below. The men used the heavier duty white ones and the ladies used the black ones. The gear was a large lead sinker that probably weighed several pounds with a few feet of line tied off to a simple spiral shaped hook. Our bait for the day was seven to nine inch herring and a smaller six inch cigar fish. We were told to let the line spool out as fast as possible until we hit bottom, engage the crank gears and reel in about ten cranks worth of line. I was the first one in the water and within seconds was leaning back reeling in a large red snapper. The first mate would unhook the fish for me, check to make sure its air bladder wasn't full of air, in which case he would make a small puncture in it so that the fish could rapidly descend back to its home depths, hook on another herring and I would repeat the process. For a period of forty-five minutes, I and five other people with poles, probably pulled in a fish or an empty line once a minute. I pulled in so many heavy fighting fish that after forty-five minutes, my back began to ache and my left forearm was cramping up. I handed off the pole and was forced to take a break. When my muscles went from being on fire to a dull ache, I would grab back onto the pole and go again for another period of time cranking in fish. Unfortunately, the red snapper weren't in season and that is mostly what we caught though we did catch a few black grouper, one of which met legal limits to keep.

Another fish that we caught a lot of were dolphins. As far as I can tell, the four dolphins found us in the harbor and followed us from there to the fishing spot nine miles out. It was neat to see wild dolphins and I tried in vain to take a picture for the sole purpose of posting on this blog but they were hard to catch on pixels. But all my fuzzy warm feelings of them soon disappeared when we started reeling in fish. They would wait until one was on a line and being helplessly hauled to the surface and swallow him. On the other end of the line, our pole would suddenly be yanked down against the railing and it was all we could do to hang onto it. Then one of two things would happen, the dolphin would either yank the fish we had caught off the hook or we would yank the fish from the mouth of the dolphin. But that's not all. As we reeled in pound after pound of beautiful and expensive to buy red snapper that we couldn't keep because it was out of season and had to throw back into the water, the dolphins would be waiting and probably half the time would get to eat the snapper anyway. Initially I thought that after a couple fish the dolphins would have full bellies and swim off but if anything, they kept getting more daring and eating more fish as the morning wore on. By the end of our fishing experience, I would have been willing to harpoon the suckers just so I could fish in peace.

I spent the ride out to our fishing spots and much of the time when I was resting my aching back and arms talking with the captain and the first mate. Like almost everyone on the front lines of something regulated by the government, in this case the red snapper fishing, they thought the government was doing a piss poor job. They said twenty years ago catching one red snapper a week was unheard of and we probably pulled in over one hundred of them in two hours. During the few months when red snapper is legal to keep, the limit is two per person per day so they said that they could catch their limit in eight minutes and head home, a colossal waste of gas. It reminded me a lot of the whitetail deer situation here in Iowa. Meanwhile, black grouper used to be a plentiful fish twenty years ago but overfishing and large limits have reduced their numbers to the point where they hardly catch them anymore. The captain said the government asked their opinions on numbers of species of fish but rarely did anything until after it was too late. I have no doubt that there is another side to this argument but I can certainly see the need to let the states regulate the fish on a smaller scale than the federal government.

So despite the presence of the Coast Guard who we saw a couple times during our trip, it didn't really shock me when we finally put away our rods and were heading back and I saw a bucket with three or four of the smaller red snappers we caught still up on the deck of the boat. When we were all back inside and the boat was throttled up and moving towards shore, the first mate gave one last look around to make sure the Coast Guard wasn't around and quickly filleted out the red snapper. They were chunked up, sprinkled with some Greek seasoning and put on a paper plate and steamed in the microwave for four minutes. Four plates full of red snapper, which they referred to as our shore lunch, were served up and devoured by us on the ride back into the breakwater area. That lightly seasoned red snapper steamed in the microwave was the best seafood I have ever had in my life times ten. It just doesn't get better than that and I have a feeling that I would have kept eating until I foundered but with nine people enjoying it just as much as I was, we ran out before that could happen. The captain said off hand that we had probably eaten $200 worth of red snapper had we purchased it on shore.

When we got back into the docks, the first mate cleaned out the one grouper that had been a keeper and put it in a large Ziplock bag for the ride home and after thanking them, we left for home. The Dramamine I had taken had long since worn off and all the adrenaline from catching all those fish had counteracted any drowsiness effects so I was feeling raring to go except for my aching back and forearms. All those that had taken the longer lasting Bonine however, were looking pretty drugged and very sluggish and spent most of the afternoon napping it off. In the end, I probably would have been okay without any at all as it was a perfectly calm day when we were out on the water, the last calm day we would see for the rest of the week. The next two days were very windy and eight foot waves crashed on the beach so I imagine it would have been pretty rough out nine miles from shore. But had the call went out, I would have gone out rough seas or not just for another taste of that fresh red snapper.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Life's a Beach

On the same tone as my last post on sunsets, I was equally fascinated by the ever changing sand on the beach during my trip south. On the first day there, the beach was miles of what you see in the pictures above and below, miniaturized models of erosion. There were sea shells washed ashore all up and down the beach. In fact, the first morning when I woke up and took my first pre-sunrise walk along the beach, I ended up coming back to the condo with all my pockets stuffed full of all kinds of shells and sand dollars. I figured that it I kept up that pace, I would have a grocery shack full of shells by the end of my stay. But that was the last time I saw that many large shells in one place. I tried at low tide, just after high tide and both of those in combination with the eight feet waves crashing ashore on the last two days and never found very many. I would generally come back with just a handful of shells to add to my collection.

Back to the original topic of this post, the changing shoreline was fascinating. Sometimes there would be a ridge of sand pushed up with a steep slope into the ocean and an area behind where pools of ocean water would collect and edge out little mini rivers to drain back into the ocean. To walk that kind of beach, you could walk between the ridge and the pools during low tide and even during higher tides as long as you were prepared to jump across the pool of water should a large wave wash ashore. Soon, that ridge disappeared all together and was replaces with an expansive shallow sloped shoreline full of hard packed sand that was almost like walking on a paved road. Sometimes the sand would be fairly firm to walk on but would squeak when you walked on it giving me the impression I was treading on cheese curds. Other times the wet sand wouldn't stick to my shoes and still other times it stuck to my shoes like Edina clay.

One thing is for certain, that fine powdery white sand got into everything and I still have some of it that spilled onto the surface of my flat surface stove top from drying my shell collection in a colander that I haven't yet brought myself to sweep up. I should because I'm sure I could find more of it in the recesses of our luggage now back in the storage closet down in the basement if I really looked hard enough. It was a beautiful sand, except when on the last morning there before we started back when it jammed up the lens on my small point and shoot camera. When I got back to Iowa and successfully downloaded the pictures from the camera, I tried beating the lens against my palm to knock out the sand but with no success. Looking at a camera that was a little over a year old and now destined for the scrap heap, I took to hitting the lens on the edge of the desk. White sand started sprinkling the surface of the desk. I kept at it hitting it harder and harder until eventually the lens started functioning again and I ended up with a small pile of that white sand on the desk which I did sweep up. The camera appears to be no worse for the wear.

On a side note, along with shells that first morning on the beach, I found one of those things seen in the picture above. I thought it looked like what I thought a discarded breast implant might look had it washed ashore which is why I took the picture. I surmised it might actually be a jellyfish and soon saw dozens washed ashore that morning. They were so thick that once when I wasn't paying attention, I stepped on one in my shoes and almost went down on one knee when my foot slid out from underneath me. That shoe still has a distinct sea smell to it. I never saw another jellyfish my entire stay except for one freshly washed up one on my last morning walk that still had its tentacles intact.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Christmas On Panama City Beach Florida

Earlier this year while a hole in the Caribbean ocean remained unplugged and spewing oil, there was lots of news coverage of people along the coast complaining that all the tourists were staying away. So my brother and I hatched the idea of perhaps doing our part to contribute to this depressed economy and perhaps save ourselves some bucks by getting a good deal. My brother did most of the legwork but eventually we settled on the place with the twin dormers you see in the picture above. The price was excellent, it was right on the beach as you can see, and the stars aligned so my entire family were available and willing to travel to it. So we booked it.

Panama City Beach is evidently a big spring break destination but while we were there it was largely deserted.  There were large (I presume) time share rental buildings up and down the beach but judging from the few people coming from them during my stay, they too were largely deserted. Of the beach houses in-between, only the one immediately to the right of ours in the picture above had people in it. It was perfect for my want-to-be-away-from-all-the-riff-raff tastes.

This left plenty of beach for me to entertain myself on with plenty of breathing room all around. The picture above was about as crowded as it ever got. During my entire trip, I pretty much stuck to the same schedule. I would get up before dawn and as the sky began to light up, I would go for a walk on the beach. After breakfast I would go for another. I would take Little Abbey out for a play session in the sand in late morning. The afternoon would be spent catching up on reading or other things followed by another play session in the sand with Little Abbey and another long walk right before sunset. I got some miles in walking on that fine white sand.

One thing that really impressed me about the beach was how clean it was. All along the beach you could find those blue barrels scattered out at regular intervals and people would toss their trash in them for a tractor and wagon to drive by and pick up now and then. It worked well. I found very little man made trash during my time on that beach or my long walks up and down it. Finally, when I wasn't walking along the beach or sitting on the deck not seen in the picture above, looking down upon the beach, I was inside and this was the view from my bedroom window. It was a rough life but someone had to do it!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Being in landlocked Iowa, about as far away from any ocean as one can get from an ocean, I don't get to see sunsets over water. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen a sunset over something bigger than a lake more than can be counted on one finger. I've seen lots of sunsets on the farm but it just isn't quite the same. Even those sunsets were now over a decade in the past due to my recent habit of residing in small towns. There are always buildings, trees, and in my current case, even the crest of a hill in the way of sunset unless I physically am driving outside of town in a car. What I'm trying to say is that it just isn't the same, period.

So I guess it should be no surprise that I was at waters edge everyday I was on vacation watching the sun go down and with my camera in hand to record the event. One had to be very quick because like anyone who is heading home after a long day of work, the sun doesn't mess around in getting below the horizon. It seemed as if I could get a handful of shots every night and it was already gone.

I did get up everyday early enough to take a walk before anyone else was on the beach which also allowed me to see the sunrise too but since it occurred between two large time share high rises and behind a bunch of trees, at least from my perspective, I didn't take any pictures. In fact, I didn't even give it much attention.

So after five spectacular sunsets, all that I was able to witness before heading north again, I have determined that if I ever obtain some ocean front property to call home someday, I would probably be found everyday without fail watching the sunrise or sunset and would ultimately end up with several gigabytes of pictures very similar to the ones seen on this post today. But since I am cheap and have a thing about investing money in places that get wiped off the map every now and then by mother nature, I may just have to invest in some sort of web camera mounted on the property of someone who doesn't have the same convictions as I. Know of anyone?

Monday, January 3, 2011

All I Want For Christmas Is a Box

Time to unwrap all her presents: minutes
Cost of wrapping materials: $12
Time spent wrapping said present: hours
Favorite toy of the year: one cardboard box

Go figure!

Blog Note: I made it back from my foray to the oil ravaged and largely deserted gulf coast intact and much refreshed. Stay tune for several upcoming posts on the subject.