Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I'm Already Gone


I've gone south for the holidays and I'm not coming back until next year. I plan to be spending a lot of time watching the sunset and perhaps drink a beer or too. I'll let you know how it went when I get back... if I come back. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my blogging family!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Siri


Those of you with Apple iphones will recognize that symbol as the way to get in touch with Siri, the automated iphone assistant. It is very much like the bat symbol Commissioner Gordon used to get in touch with Batman but way more powerful. When Gordon turned on the torchlight sending the symbol into the heavens, he had to wait for Batman to show up before asking his question. With Siri, all I have to do is press the button, ask my question and a second later it is answered or a link with the answer shown to me. Pretty nifty.

Although I have Siri on my phone, I don't use her nearly as often as I should. Mostly I guess I just forget about her which is okay because she doesn't mind at all. If I were to forget about my wife's birthday on the other hand, you might find what is left of my hide out back! Still I do use Siri now and then when I think of her. Just last night my wife was commenting on Jewel's boobs which were front and center on the television show Sing-off back for the fourth season. I thought they were definitely done and pressed the Siri button on my phone and told her "Jewel boob job." Siri must have been a little confused because she asked me if I meant Jewel bl@#job...

Back to a family friendly blog if it isn't already too late. My two daughters have discovered Siri and love asking questions though I am a bit afraid that the 7 year old may lose some of her innocence if she keeps it up. Just the other day I heard her ask where babies come from! Fortunately, the iPad she asked it on is locked and needs a password to see the answers and I think I will keep it that way for now.

Even the 1 year old is familiar with Siri. For several weeks now if someone leaves an iPad on the floor, she will go over to it, turn it on, press the Siri button and talk into the speaker. However in all of Apple's wisdom, nobody programmed it for baby gibberish and so Siri often acts confused. The 1 year old doesn't seem to mind and just keeps pressing the button and talking. I think she just like to hear Siri's voice respond. I've been trying to capture a video of this happening but so far have been unable to do so. Everytime I pull my camera out, the 1 year old decides that it is more interesting than Siri and stops.

I am amazed at this technology and its uses if only I wouldn't forget about it. I am however making a mental note that when it is time for the birds and the bees talk to unlock the iPad and just tell my daughter to ask Siri about it. I'm sure whatever she finds on the web will be well informed...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Honeymoon


This is a recently scanned in picture from our honeymoon almost ten years ago. Some people go to resorts in tropical locations but we opted for a cabin in the woods about three miles up the trail from where this picture was taken. To take this picture we were perched on a narrow ledge about 300 feet up a sheer bluff above the Buffalo River in northwest Arkansas. Whenever I think of northwest Arkansas, this is the picture in my mind. I can sit on this ledge or rock for hours overlooking 'my kingdom' and have done so. I have also explored about every inch of what you see down below.

The next picture I think was taken during a hike down one of the nearby tributaries of the Buffalo River. This creek descends about a mile in elevation in about a mile of horizontal distance and is a beautiful place. Back during my youth, it was almost unknown to all but a few locals but by the time of our honeymoon, the word was starting to get out and though we didn't see anyone, the trail was very defined. I think this was the last time we went down this creek and hopefully when our daughters are old enough to make the trip, we will go down it again.


For reference, this picture encompasses about 80 vertical feet of fall.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some Like It Hot

 

Yesterday as I was frying up a batch of lumpia (sorry Kimberly but I forgot to take pictures of the actual making of it to post with the recipe) and was captivated by the pattern of the heating oil and snapped a couple pictures. Since I didn't have anything better to post about, I thought I would post those.

Lumpia is a lot of work to make and thus doesn't get made often. I suppose that is why when I make it for any get together it is a big hit. It may also be due to the fact that I make the shanghai version (with meat) and that my rolls are made tightly about the diameter of a finger. They fry up quickly that way and with so many layers of wrapper around the outside, the inside doesn't get logged down in grease.

Lately I have been trying to figure out a way of making the making of lumpia easier to do so that we can enjoy it more often. The easiest solution is just to make more lumpia when you have everything out and ready and preserve it until you are ready to eat it. So the time before last I did an experiment that turned out very well and have now employed that at full scale.

Now when I make lumpia, I make double and triple batches of it depending on time available. All told it takes me about 45 minutes a batch to make and a batch makes about two dozen lumpia rolls. Once I have them rolled up, I place them spaced apart on a cookie sheet and freeze them for about a half hour so they won't stick together anymore. I then put a dozen or so in a quart freezer bag and put them in the deep freeze. The night before I need any I just place the bags in the refrigerator to thaw out. Because I froze them partially separated on a cookie sheet, the remain unstuck together. I heat up some oil and cook them just like normal. You can't tell any difference between them and fresh cooked.

So the lumpia pictured below, were some I made over a month ago when I was making a batch for my youngest daughter's birthday. My mother-in-law wanted to take some to a potluck to impress some of her friends and so I pulled a couple bags out of the freezer the night before and sent her to her meeting with two dozen hot lumpia. They were a big hit. The next time I make some, I promise to take some pictures and post about the process for those who have expressed interest in the past.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Obamacare

I've always had mixed feelings about Obamacare since it became law. A big part of me knows that anything that our government runs will be done incompetently, will cost the American taxpayer lots of money and will generally do the job far worse than the private industry. But another part of me has seen the effects of the private industry on the people around me in regards to pre-existing conditions and spiraling cost for those who must buy their insurance privately. Obamacare, right or wrong, has addressed some of those issues so it isn't all for nought. Still it is just rolling out and already, some of the things I predicted are coming true. Employers no longer have as much incentive to offer healthcare and are dropping people from their rolls and putting them on the taxpayer roll. Also, to make the books balances, people who want simple (thus cheap) coverage must now pay for things that they will never use such as maternity benefits for men. Now thousands of people will have to pay more for things they will never use to help reduce costs for those who do need it.

A recent poll came out showing that the majority of American's now dislike Obamacare. However, the majority of Americans still think we should fix it rather than scrap it. I guess I'm in the majority of both groups finally after being in the minority of both those groups for the last couple years. I was just ahead of my time!

Personally Obamacare has effected me to a greater extent than I would have ever guessed. My mom is one of those people who were forced to loose her insurance once Obamacare rolled out. Being self employed, she has to buy hers and nobody would insure her anymore due to pre-existing conditions pretty typical of those nearing retirement age. Like it or not, she has to sign up for Obamacare. Also, my mother-in-law recently immigrated to this country and because she is retired, she has no healthcare what-so-ever over here. Our plan was that she would fly back to her home country where she is insured once a year for wellness checks and that we would get some sort of catastrophic policy over here in case something bad happened. Well part of Obamacare says that now we much buy a full policy or she faced getting fined yearly.

So when the website opened up three months ago, I and thousands of others tried to jump through the hurdles to sign up for some sort of Obamacare policy. I think in the first three weeks, I created a half dozen accounts until I was finally able to completely create one that would work. The first five would get hung up and error out and those errors would forever be linked to the account making it unusable. About a month into the process, I finally started step one which is to see if my mother-in-law qualifies for financial assistance. You can't begin to shop for a policy until this question is addressed. After two weeks of trying to answer the questions and get to the end, I finally gave up. The website just kept hanging up and erring out. I started yet another new account and redid the application a second time, this time getting to a point where I had to send in proof of my mother-in-law's immigration status. We waited three weeks before finally getting a response to finish the rest of the application which we did only to have it error out on the final signature page. The error simply stated that the system wasn't working but would be again in 24 hours.

After a week of going through the entire application every single time (because it still doesn't allow you to only visit the parts that need work), I was still getting the same error and called the helpline. They went through the entire application on their end (a very laborious process) and got the same error. Their solution was to wait a week and try again. I did this and still got the same error and finally called the helpline yet again.

Once again the operator took me through the entire application and got the same error. So her solution was to delete everything and do it all yet again. Finally last week, three months into the process, I successfully got through the first hurdle and found out the my mother-in-law doesn't qualify for federal financial assistance, a fact that I knew going into it. According to them, she is eligible for Medicaid but according to the Medicaid site she isn't. Right now I am in some sort of waiting pattern waiting for a call from Medicaid that I was told would come in a day or two. I'm not holding my breath.

So far in the state of Iowa which uses the federal website for signing up for Obamacare, only 750 people have successfully signed up for some sort of insurance. My mother-in-law is still not one of them after three months of trying on a daily basis to do so. So when you see someone on television saying that the Obamacare website is 'fixed' and now working, don't believe them. The truth is that a few people are just getting lucky.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Big Chief


While out doing some errands, I came across this scene, one of which I have encountered dozens of times before but never knew quite how to deal with it. How do you photograph an eight foot tall statue lying in repose on a pellet set on the floor. I've taken several pictures last year of this same statue but because it was impossible to get above the thing, none of them really gave the statue justice. But now I happen to have an app on my phone for taking panoramic photos and I thought that perhaps this time I might accomplish something.  I held the phone as high as I could to get as much of the statue in the frame and then walked along the thing trying to hold the phone steady to capture the above picture. Not too shabby.

Shortly after we signed the purchase agreement for our current home two summers ago, a huge windstorm pushed through the area knocking down lots of trees and this statue which used to reside on top of the county courthouse. The last time I saw the statue up close, it was corroded and coming apart at the seams and looked almost unsalvageable. Local organizations coughed up the funds and found the right talent and now the statue is looking in pretty good condition. The local paper had an article a couple weeks ago about an attempt to re-install the statue in it's rightful position but the receptacle that it slides into was badly corroded and also in bad shape. They decided to do things right and fix that first and so now the statue is 'sleeping' in the county courthouse awaiting the day when he can go back on top.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Colors


Looking back, one of the things that took me by surprise were the colors. I had expected to see lots of earth tones when heading into a large desert ecosystem but was surprised at the color everywhere. Being in the bottom of a canyon, I hadn't expected to see much of the sunrise or sunset but instead every morning and evening we were treated to spectacular sunrises and sunsets that took hours to fade away. Light seemed to bounce this way and that and just when you thought the best part was over, another area would begin to shine like a diamond in the ruff. This picture didn't scan the best from the negative but it gives you a sense of the colors and how vivid they could become.


Even as we hiked during the bright sunlight washed out part of the day, there were always rocks and flowers competing for our attention. The rocks came in all colors of the rainbow and occasionally when the color was some boring earth tone, rainbow colored fungus would adorn its surfaces. Many times I found myself feeling like Charlie inside the Chocolate Factory, not knowing where to look or what magnificent thing would show itself next.


When packing for the trip, I brought along 25 rolls of film thinking that I would fill only half of them mostly with shots of the canyons and the river. Instead I filled them all and more than half were of flowers. They were everywhere, even in placed you would expect anything to be able to grow such as in a crack of a large slab of black schist rock.


Even the springs and streams in the various side canyons came in a rainbow of colors. It felt as if one only had to stop, breath, and look around to see something worth taking a picture. I had to force myself at times to put down my camera and just live in the moment for awhile. At the above waterfalls we hike too and climbed up using a rope, I made myself sit by the running water for an hour and just soak in the beauty. It worked well because even today nearly 14 years later, I just have to look at this picture and concentrate a bit and I feel as if I am right back there again.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Camp Life


Most of the time we were off the river by early afternoon at the latest. Because we were on the extended version of the trip, we weren't in hurry. Also because many of the passengers became so engrossed in the trip and living for the moment, we didn't care if we ever reached the end. Once we pulled our boats in, there was a flurry of activity. All the passengers would pitch in to help unload the baggage rafts and anything needed for the evening that might be stowed in one of the dory boats. Then everyone would grab their personal bags and scramble off into the surrounding sand and rocks to set up a tent and mark their territory. Everyone that is except for myself and the crew. The crew slept on their boats at night and thus didn't need to mark their turf. I chose to sleep outside or under an overhanging rock if opportunity provided itself and never once set my tent up during the trip. I did have to take it down once because another passenger set it up while I was on a hike because he thought it might rain.

After the rest of the passengers went scurrying into the rocks to set up their tents, I often helped the two cook ladies set up the kitchen. Once that was done and the crew were off doing their own things, I would often wander up a nearby canyon or rocky hill to get away from camp and relax. At this particular campsite, I scrambled up to a bench where I found two of the younger crew guys that I got along well with. We sat up there for a couple hours mostly just drinking a few beers and watching the 'ants' scurry about camp this way and that.

Eventually we would hike back down to camp for dinner and then after the rest of the clients retreated to their tents and turf, I would sit by the campfire and chew the fat with the crew who thought much like me on things. As the night wore on, the crew would start to retire to their boats and more often than not, I would become the last person by the fire. I would give the coals a stir, walk down to the beach where my gear still lay, grab my sleeping bag and find some place among the sand, rocks, brush and scorpions to unroll it and fall asleep. (The latter was one of the reasons I left my sleeping bag rolled up until I was ready to crawl into it.)

I think because I wanted to make the most of the trip, I was often up at first light with the two cooks. I would fetch some cooking water for them and stir up the fire and enjoy a hot beverage while watching breakfast cook and the other clients stumble in from their tents. After breakfast there would be another flurry of activity at everyone else scrambled to pack all their gear and haul it back to the boats. Since the only thing I had to pack was my sleeping bag, my stuff had already resumed its place on the beach near the baggage raft long before breakfast. During this time, I would help break down the kitchen for the cooks and then often find a nearby secluded spot to right and watch the river until everyone was ready to go.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The View From the Bottom


When one goes to the Grand Canyon in the traditional sense, i.e. traveling along the south rim, they are treated to wide open views of the canyon and glimpses of the river. When you float down the river, for the most part you see sheer rock walls on either side of you that allow you to only see a few hundred yards and that is it. It seemed like much of our days were spent shivering in the shadows of the walls much of the morning followed by a few hours of direct sunlight to warm you up and then cook you well done followed by a couple hours in the afternoon where you could cool down once again in the shadows.

Because I took the extended version of the trip, we spent lots of time hiking up and away from the river to see great views. Occasionally like in the above picture, the canyon would open up a bit and allow some great views while floating on the river. I'm guessing this is one of those I took shivering in the morning shadows looking back at the sun slowly rising up to meet us.

Unlike what people might think, there are large portions of the river like what you see above where it is flat and calm. We drifted a lot, rowed some more to stay warm in the mornings or against headwinds funneling up the canyon, but mostly just floated letting the current carry us along. Depending on your boat mates for the day, you might spend a portion having pleasant conversations of this or that. Other times you just drifted along in silence letting the world unfold before you and disappear behind you. I carried my journal with me in a waterproof ammo box and would sometimes jot my thoughts down or draw a quick sketch of the canyon as I saw it. After about the first week, I became so attuned to life in the canyon that even views like this one wouldn't even remind me that there was life beyond 'my' canyon.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Action


This photo sums up what I feel about this time between Thanksgiving and the New Year. There is a lot going on and sometimes all one can do is hang on and brace yourself for the ride. I'm not a bah humbug type of person with the holidays but I do like to lay low a bit and let some of the obnoxious parts pass me by.


These pictures are all ones that I took on my Grand Canyon river trip in the spring of 2000. They first three were all probably taken while we were scouting rapids. We would pull over and the people maneuvering the boats would discuss things over about lines and waves and such since the river was ever changing. After that, they would discuss the order of the boats going through the rapids. If you were in the first boat, you nervously walked back to the boat knowing full well you were now a guinea pig for the other three boats and you were lucky to get a picture of the latter boats running the rapids from far below.


However if you were in one of the last boats, we would linger along the shore and take some action shots of the first boats running the rapids. The previous three give you some sense of how large the water is on the Colorado river even though these rapids weren't nearly some of the biggest or worst. The raft shown above was our baggage raft and was around 20 feet long to give you some sense of scale. It allowed the wooden dory boats that the passengers rode in to be light enough that we could put ourselves in sportier parts of the rapids without being sluggish from the weight.


I took along a waterproof camera hoping to get action shots from the river but that didn't happen for the most part. Any really big rapids that we were running, I was 100% focused on the waves and throwing my weight around to one side or the other to keep the tiny dory boat upright. This required both hands to hold myself into the boat and not go for a swim. In the picture above, we came to one of the smaller unnamed rapids with a wave train at the end with some small 8 to 10 feet waves that we just surfed on through. This freed up one of my hands to take some action shots of running a rapids, one of the better ones shown above.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Pair of Pardoned Turkeys and an Opossum In a Tree


I know the above picture would have been more appropriate this past Thursday but like millions of people in America, I decided to stay home and be with my family instead of trying to lose the meaning of Christmas. This meant I was doing the things that families should be doing instead of spending time sitting in front of a computer. I smoked a turkey for our feast and took photos of two that lived to see another year. Actually there were four of them but I was taking the picture through the window and the best one (which is marginal at best) only showed two birds.

Later after our feed, we decided to walk off the turkey by partaking of another family tradition, the search for our Christmas tree. Because for the last handful of years we have been going down to Florida right after Christmas to spend time with my grandparents who only have a few Christmas' left in this world, we get our tree up early because we generally take it down early before we leave. Because we like to be environmentally friendly when possible and love the smell, we harvest red cedar trees for our Christmas trees and leave the plastic ones out of the landfill and avoid the mass produced ones they sell outside of box stores. The red cedar smells heavenly in the house and here is the big secret, add a small bottle of food coloring to the first can of water you give it and it turns a bright Christmas green color in about 24 to 48 hours.

Trying to make this long story shorter, while looking for our red cedar tree, we haven't to come across the below scene. I've always thought opossums looked kind of prehistoric especially when they open their mouth wide and show their teeth at you. This guy didn't do that but he certainly was a little perturbed that we came along and disturbed his nap. He did graciously allow me to take a few pictures of him so I walked away and let him resume his nap.