Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kervansaray Night Club

Among the pictures in the box, I stumbled across this photo of my great uncle sitting in a nightclub in Turkey with a belly dancer. Noted on the back of the picture my uncle had written that they preferred to be called exotic dancers instead of belly dancers. I'm not sure whom he wrote that message for. Although my uncle was married for a brief period of time before becoming a widower, this picture just seems so out of character for him. He seems like a regular man. It makes me smile.

This picture brought back a lot of memories of my uncle that I had forgotten. I remember him taking several trips overseas over the years and telling us of some of the places he had been too. Unfortunately at the time I was in my youth and didn't care about such things. Now I see pictures of belly dancers in Turkey and camels in Egypt and I wish he were here still for me to listen to his stories again.

I think most of the trips he went on were total package trips through his church. My uncle had absolutely no common sense (at least in the part of his life that I knew him) and wouldn't have been able of planning and going on a trip to a foreign country. He also spent his meager pensions on his hoarding so didn't have a lot of money. I'm sure with his church group, probably seen around him in the photo, they lovingly kept him on a leash, guided him around and made sure he stuck to a strict budget.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Blue Line of Shame

I can't believe how the time has flown but Baby Abbey turned two months old two weeks ago. She is doing good and is about on the same track as her sister as far as sleeping through the night. Hopefully by the time she turns three month, she will be sleeping through the night like her sister.

Mrs. Abbey is back to work so I am officially a Child Behavioral Modification Therapist also known as the stay-at-home-dad. I must say that I've been enjoying my new roll. When Little Abbey was born, I was allowed only three days off from work and because she was in the hospital for ten days, I used them all up there. So when we got home, it was immediately back to work for me and seeing her only for a few hours in the evening, most of those when she was sleeping. As a result, I missed a lot of her as a baby. With Baby Abbey, I am correcting that huge injustice.

She is still in the stage where after a bottle and some interaction, she likes to take a nap which gives me an hour of time to work on something around the house for two or three hours a day. I'm getting pretty good at cramming that hour with useful work. I'm still working on the kitchen cabinet repainting project but I'm seeing the end of it finally. I am completely done with all the upper cabinets and about two thirds done with the lower cabinets. I love the new look and can't wait until it is completed.

Little Abbey is enjoying life with Baby Abbey and is a big help when she gets home after school. It is fun seeing her relive her babyhood through her younger sister. I'm always telling her factoids about when she was a baby and this time instead of just getting a bored look, she is genuinely interested. New diapers these days have a yellow line inbedded in the them that turns blue when wet. I was telling Little Abbey that this was a new technology and that we just had to manually check when she was a baby. Now we just have to look to see if there is a 'blue line of shame.' That last comment caught on and now it is thrown about quite a bit in our household.

It is funny how many phrases we have come up with referring to Baby Abbey. Little Abbey once said that Baby Abbey had her bright eyes on once when she was awake and wide eyed. That one stuck and it used often. Back in the day when Little Abbey was a baby on car rides, my wife and I would often say that the eagle had landed when she fell asleep on the way to where we were going. It was always nice when that happened because it gave us a chance to talk without interruptions every four seconds. On our way back from the urban jungle last weekend, both eagles landed and we brought out that phrase again for the first time in perhaps three years. It brought back memories.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Creepy Santa Claus

When I get a chance, I have been going through a large box of some of my great uncle's things. I wrote about him last fall when he passed away and have written about him several times in this blog's past. Although most of my family doesn't see a whole lot of value in them with the exception of my mom, I have really enjoyed sifting through the stuff. It gives me insight into my great uncle's youth and turns up nuggets of information that I never knew. I will probably post some more about that in the upcoming weeks or months as I get is scanned into my computer and backed up automatically to some great server farm in the sky.

The above photo is one that I found that I thought was blog-worthy. (As you probably know, it doesn't take much to make it onto my blog!) The picture shows my grandfather and a very creepy Santa Claus. My grandfather obviously looks worried standing next to Santa and I can't say I blame him. It looks like some sort of evil gnome that decided to put on a Santa suit.

My mom has a similar Santa though with a much nicer face to it that she received as a child and I think it may have belonged to my great grandmother at one time. I guess those Santa's were a product of the time. My oldest daughter used to find my mom's Santa disturbing and wouldn't go near the thing. Had she seen the one in this picture, she probably would still be scarred and hating Santa!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Blast Off

I admit, if I didn't have better things to do and I still had my three suitcases full of them, I would still play with Legos. They are like the coolest presents I ever got as a kid and minute for dollar, were the most economical presents I had as a child. If I close my eyes, I can still conjure up the sounds of my fingers dragging through the pile looking for that illusive piece to complete my latest creation.

So when it comes to Christmas (and birthdays), I give my daughter a box of Legos not for her enjoyment but for mine.  I love watching her put things together using her imagination and it gives me an excuse to play with Legos again under the guise of playing with my daughter. I have given her probably half a dozen boxes over the last few years and like me, she really loves to play with them, but she still doesn't have the accumulation that I had as a kid. We, I mean she, uses too many of one type of Lego brick in the first creation that the second creation suffers. So this year I decided to forgo some other possible presents and give her a BIG box of Legos. Never mind they were for ages 16+ according to the side of the box.

After we got back from Florida and got the little one baptized  I cleaned off the end of the table and we spent a week putting what you saw above together. On probably half of the endeavor, I would find the pieces required for the next step and she would put it together, occasionally needing guidance. For the other half, she would find some of the pieces and watch as I put the things together. We both had a lot of fun and it certainly made evenings fly by in our household for a week.

After we got it together, she played with it a bit and then it hit me, she has no earthly idea what a space shuttle was. So together we went onto youtube and watched several videos of the space shuttles taking off and heading off to space. She thought that was the neatest thing ever and has gotten more mileage out of that set than many of her other sets that have houses or fire stations. Hopefully however, the most mileage is yet to come after the space shuttle has been disassembled and added to the rest of the loose legos so she can spend hours building something out of her imagination. Or perhaps while she is off at school, the little one is down for a nap and my wife off at work, I can...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Florida Vacation Wrap-up

Although I took lots of pictures, mostly of sunsets and family, I find that there isn't much to say about the week down in Florida. It was time spent mostly with the family enjoying each other and the beachfront. But there are a few things I guess I could mention.

Last year if you recall, I spent lots of time mining for shells with my daughter and grandfather. They had just rebuilt the beach, in fact were finishing up for three of the five days we were there, and pumped a huge load of shells from the depths of the ocean to the beach and buried them in the sand. I have never found such large beautiful shells as I did last year. This year I did dig down with the toes of my shoes off and on the whole week but never found a single shell buried underneath. Then on the last full day there, I saw some locals digging with shovels only about twenty feet away from where I had been digging the year before. I walked up and talked with them a bit and it turned out they were mining for shells and did so about once a week. I learned from them that the hurricane that blew offshore last spring had buried the shells under ten inches of new sand which is why I couldn't find them. They had many nice specimens but their pay streak didn't seem near as rich as the one I have discovered the year before. Still, it brought back lots of good memories.

Since we had a baby this year, we opted out from going on our offshore fishing trip. The others in our extended family took a break too. Fortunately for my wife and I, my brother offered to take his niece along with his two kids for trips to a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum and bowling one evening which gave the kids something more entertaining than playing card games which the adults typical do for entertainment.

For some reason, I come from a family that thinks eating at Long John Silvers is living on the edge of the culinary world. I was that way for a large portion of my life until one evening while living in Minnesota, a girl that I knew invited me out for sushi as kind of a dare. I went and loved the experience. From that point on, I decided that when in Rome, do as the Romans do and to eat what the Romans eat. It hasn't failed me. I have taken some of my culinary experiences and tried to foist them on my parents but with little success. They did enjoy the Vietnamese restaurant I took them too in the urban jungle once when they were up there although they ordered the tamest stuff on the menu, but I'm not sure they would walk into a sushi place without being forced physically.

The last two times we made the trip down to Florida, we have all gone to a nice seafood restaurant one evening mostly due to the prodding of my wife and I. Both times, my family has mostly ordered such local delicacies as fried chicken strips and those hard to find frenched fries while I try things like oysters and freshly caught fish. This year, my wife and I decided to get down to our beach side rental house first and in time for lunch so we could get our fill of fresh seafood before the rest of the family got there. We found a nice oyster bar and had some heavenly baked oysters and I had the special of seafood gumbo which was also all that. We didn't bring up eating at a seafood place this year and not surprisingly, nobody else did either. I think if we continue to go back, my wife and I will have to maybe go down a day or two early next year to cram in even more fresh seafood.

It probably won't surprise you but we decided to try and bring some back this year. So we scoped out a few places and on the evening before we were to leave, we set out with freezer chest in tow to load up on fresh seafood. I'm not sure why I had such a brain fart but after hitting up the second place, I realized that for fresh seafood, we were eight hours too late. I blame it on being New Year's Day and my telling myself nobody would be open early but the truth is I was just expecting it to be like a northern grocery store where they keep putting out new stuff all day long. But the stuff up north is never fresh which is why I realized too late that they didn't do it that way down south. Once it was gone for the day it was gone. We did pick up a few stuffed crabs and some tuna and salmon dip to take back north with us.  All was delicious but the tuna dip was outstanding. Next time I go back, I'm dedicating a portion of our freezer just to bring back more of that tuna dip!

My route down there in the past has taken me to my brother's place in northeast Alabama for the nightly stop. It saves on the motel bill since he doesn't charge and puts up close enough to the beach to make it there in good time the next day. But it is slightly out of the way and adds another couple hours to the total journey. Along the way though, another person whom I know through her blog Edifice Rex, lives. Last year when I went by, I was sharing a ride with my parents and thought it might be awkward stopping at someone's house whom I only know through blogging when my parents don't even know I have a blog. I thought it would just lead to a lot of unwanted discussion so I didn't stop. This year I had every intention to stop and say hi but unfortunately we left the day after a major storm swept through the area between here and there. Part way there I heard the radio say that the interstate coming up ahead was treacherous as best and to stay away. So I took a more westerly route skirting the worst of the weather and thus put me out of the way for stopping to say hey to Edifice Rex.  Maybe next year.

The entire reason we got started going down to this particular stretch of beach in the Florida panhandle three years ago was because my grandparents who live in central Florida were starting to get frail in their old age and probably didn't have a lot of time left on this earth. In fact, last year they gave up coming north for the summer as they have done for the last fifteen or more years. So we felt it best to start seeing them more often to cram in good times before that happens and since they don't come north in the winter, it meant we must go south. I thought it would continue to be that way until they simply couldn't make the six hour drive to the beach and then we might just end up in motels near their house. However this trip they were talking about buying a condo or house up here in Iowa to stay out perhaps part of the year. They didn't say so but I got the impression that they might also be preparing for the end game and finding a place where they can stay permanently close to their two children, my mom and uncle, when they aren't physically able to live by themselves anymore. Time will tell and I hope for everyone's sake, they still have quite a bit left to spend.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Anatomy of a Sunset: Take Two

Not sure what causes all the streaking in the sky but at full zoom the colors are just breath taking.

Ship on the horizon heading out into the sunset.

This was a lucky shot because I was zoomed all the way out with my 300 mm lens and happened to be starting to squeeze the shutter when this bird flew by.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This and That

Lots of condos all up and down the beach. Fortunately not so many down where we stay near the bay.

Trying out my 300 mm zoom lens from my 35 mm film camera to see if it works on my new digital camera.

Same lens but on a moving copter overhead. I'm amazed that I was able to get such a focused shot without a tripod.

Our beach house, the same one we rented two years ago. With four families and all their kids, it is just about perfectly sized. The first year we stayed behind the second floor windows on the upper left. This year with a 6 week old baby, we opted to stay behind the windows on the lower left so we didn't have to do a million trips up the steps to change diapers.

Just a speck on the horizon with my 70 mm lens but clearly a sport boat with my 300 mm lens.

Morning on the beach

I spied these two taking pictures of themselves and the sunset featured in my last post.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Anatomy of a Sunset

I'm not sure what one is expected to do when on a southwest facing sandy beach next to the ocean in the evenings, but I find myself gravitating to the sunsets. In my neck of the woods, I rarely see sunsets because they happen behind hills and trees and are less than spectacular. Mostly they just progress to a lack of light sometimes with a hint of something spectacular that is just out of sight.

On the beach, I have an unobstructed view and a front row seat and I saw all but one sunset during my stay. The one sunset I missed I was on a mission to buy some fresh seafood to haul back in a freezer chest back to Iowa and sadly came up mostly empty handed. Well I did score some smoked tuna dip that was about as close to heavenly tasting as I've ever found but I digress.

I thought I would do a series post on the second best sunset that I saw during my stay on that beach. I will do another post with the best sunset a bit later.

Libations for enjoying the sunset. It was my first encounter with Wild Blue but won't be the last.

Sunset progressing nicely. Even better, my brother brought me a refill.

Two 8% beers and suddenly I'm beginning to focus on the macro around me. Above is the deck railing.

Here I broke out my 300 mm lens from my old film camera. It fits my new digital camera but the photos come out slightly washed out.

The colors just amazed me.

As the light fades, I switch back to my 70 mm lens and come back to the world around me. This was the last picture I took though it would be much longer before I entered back into the lighted beach house.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chopping Board Update

One last post before getting to tales of my recent vacation. While dumping the vacation posts onto my hard drive, I found this picture that I had taken of the butcher block surface/very large cutting board I made and blogged about earlier this fall. Since I completed it, I have done nothing but wipe it down occasionally with a damp rag to rid it of food debris. I love having a large ample space to use with our knives which I keep razor sharp. It is such a job for food prepping. What you see above is most of the prep for a meal which we were fixing for my mom's birthday. We had roasted cauliflower with a fennel & onion stuffed pork loin.

The Goncalo Alves wood with just mineral oil finish has held up very well. If you look closely, there are a few slight indentations made by knives in the sweet spot where we do most of our chopping but nothing that a light sanding and five minutes couldn't eliminate. However it is not worth the effort at this point and will only be something I do when I see a lot more wear.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sledding On the Farm

That small speck in the right track of the road way off in the distance is my father and oldest daughter sledding on Christmas morning. This was her first real sledding experience.

Back in the day, there were a few places that my brother and I went for sledding. The first place was down our gravel road aways to a spot we called Floyd's hill. An old farmer named Floyd lived at the top of it for years before passing away and eventually my parents bought their farm from their son after Floyd's wife passed away. The challenge to sledding on Floyd's hill was that there were only a few select days a year when there was enough snow over the gravel to sled down the hill before the road grader came along and destroyed things.

Another place we would sled was across the valley on the backside of Floyd's hill. There a pasture used to exist that had a nice hill with a generous runout at the bottom before one reached the crick. Once when we had an ice layer over the snow pack, the generous runout wasn't so generous and my brother and I shot over the bank down into the crick doing a ender with the sled into the fortunately thick ice. We didn't break anything and we certainly had a tale to tell. This hill was also the spot where I lost 90% of the skin from my wrist to my elbow on the underside of my arm. I hit a cowpie that launched me from the sled onto the ice surface where it literally skinned me. Fortunately the scars have faded over the years so only a few very faint ones are still visible near my right wrist.

The last place that we often visited was a hill along what was called the Old Fairgrounds Road. The District Agricultural Society used to hold their fairs there from 1881 to 1923 but now only a few know of its existence. Now it is mostly just a Level B access dirt road that hunters use while hunting the nearby river bottoms that you can see in the background of the picture at the head of this post. Around that curve at the bottom of the hill at the creek, there is a low water crossing which can get kind of exciting during heavy rains.

Although I don't have any horror stories of sledding on this hill, my brother did have a doosy one year. The road was iced over and was humped in the middle so that the sled always wanted to slide toward the deep ditches on either side. On the run downhill, my brother's sled started turning sideways on the ice and right before he went into the ditch, he hit a large dirt clod broadside. He reminded me of the ski jumper they used to show on ABC's agony of defeat video before sporting events as he flipped and turned through the air. He hit the ground hard and face first and got a mouthful of dirt and snow. 

My daughter hasn't heard most of these stories and I probably will refrain from telling them to her until she is older. As it was, she was plenty scared of her first real downhill sledding and wouldn't go by herself. On my last run with her, she actually started screaming because we were going too fast though I'm pretty sure it was pretty slow by the standards of my youth. Christmas morning here had a stiff north wind and the slope in the above picture was north facing so we were all soon chilled to the bone and called it a day. Besides, we had to get back in time to take down our Christmas tree and pack for our trip the very next day down to Florida. More about that in upcoming posts.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Bigger Sneak Peak

Slowly but surely I am getting there with my kitchen makeover. This is pretty much how it looked like before I left for Florida. Half the cabinets on the other side were missing doors and their carcasses primed white but only this side of the kitchen is finished. We cleaned it up and staged it a bit for a photo shoot. Unfortunately the kitchen is small enough that I can't quite get it all in the photo in a head on shot.

When we bought this place, the refrigerator in the house was a decrepit leaky mess that had seen its better days so when we made our offer, we declined to include it. So we had to buy another refrigerator and we got the one you see above. Our previous refrigerator, which we sold to the buyer of our old house on their request, had French style upper doors and a lower drawer freezer and we really liked that layout so wanted a similar one. Though I was opposed to an ice and water dispenser in the door due to the more moving parts to go wrong, my wife out voted me on it and we got one with those. I must say I like them and use them often but then again, they both still work for now. Also, it does free up freezer space by not having a fifth of it taken up by an ice maker. My only complaint on the refrigerator is that the finish is hard to keep clean and in order to do an effective job, you need special cleaners instead of just soap and water.

This house had double wall ovens and a cook surface instead of a conventional stove. I must say I absolutely love the wall mounted ovens for ease of use and by not having the oven below the cook surface, we can put our pans right below where we use them for easy access. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be hard pressed to go back to that way in the future.

The little alcove if full of of gifts to my wife over the years. The stand mixer was one of the first ones and she had put that thing to good use. It is on its third set of gears that I have rebuilt with over the years. The brass salt and pepper grinders were a fairly recent anniversary gift and the Le Crueset pans are ones that I have bought or picked up at auctions over the years. We love cooking with enamel coated cast iron. In fact, my wife just got her fourth one this Christmas because Santa felt she had been a really good girl this year putting up with all the challenges we've had.

Now that I'm back from Florida, it is full speed ahead on the kitchen before my wife goes back to work and then it will be as fast as I can go during naps by Baby Abbey. That or perhaps I will just learn to paint with her in some sort of sling around me. Either way, it won't be quite as fast as I would like.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Little Excitement

Back before we left for the beaches of the Gulf, there was this blizzard that blew through the midwest and made lots of news, especially when it got out East. We didn't get a lot of snow but we did get a lot of high winds which made me glad that the last of our dead trees had been removed just three days prior. All in all, the remaining trees did remarkably well and we just lost a few limbs and one small tree way down at the bottom of the hill. It was only six inches in diameter but 60 feet high and nary a limb until you got to the last 10 feet or so. I haven't been down to inspect the damage but I suspect there was some trunk defect where it broke.

While it was going on, I was sitting in my easy chair enjoying the warmth of shelter when I heard a loud boom like a canon being shot off directly behind my house. Of course the electricity went out immediately. Then it started coming back on when another boom but the kabosh on it. This repeated four more times, enough time for me to almost make it to the window to see who was shooting off a canon in a snow storm when the noise stopped and the electricity stayed off for good.

It didn't take too long to see what happened as you can tell in the pictures below. The neighbor across the highway from our property had spent all fall thinning out his trees next to the highway but one of the largest specimens he had left intact had fallen down onto the electrical wires. The weight of the tree pulled the wire snapping off several post up the hill. The wires never broke but did short out and thus the canon like booms I heard. We were without electricity for half a day before they got everything fixed. While I enjoyed the quite time reading by candlelight, it did reinforce my desire to get the fireplace functional so that I do have a separate source of heat.

Neighbor's Tree Across the Highway From Us
Broken Poles Up the Hill
As a bonus for my entertainment I guess, in the midst of the storm before we lost power, a car ended up in our yard. Well technically it is the city right-a-way but since I have to maintain it, I consider it mine. The car was fortunate that it still had the rear wheel up on the side of the road. If it had continued, it could have gone another twenty-five feet or so to the bottom of the ditch and perhaps struck a tree. By the time I saw the accident, the cop was already there so I didn't go outside in the weather to offer any assistance.