Friday, January 31, 2014


Along with bald eagles, the river near my house and more specifically the open water below the dam attracts thousands of Canada Geese during the winter months. They spend their days hanging out on the ice near the main channel and catching fish for food. On our walk a couple weeks ago, there were thousands of them enjoying the nice day. I noticed that when resting, many only have one leg on the ice at a time and the other one is tucked up underneath. I suppose they trade off now and then to keep their limbs from freezing?

I love looking at river ice because unlike ice in lakes, it seems to form into many shapes and colors that I find appealing. It reminds me a bit of the image of earth from space.

There were thousands of geese all up and down the river and with my telephoto lens, the only lens I had that day, it was hard to show the shear numbers of them. They were everywhere!

This is what I would call an 'artsy fartsy' picture I took along the walk of some old milkweed along the river. I've always thought that when I am older and unable to get around as easily that I would turn some of these pictures into actual works of art either through painting, drawing or simply printing them.

The river here isn't too deep. I would guess that at this time of the year it is probably less than four feet deep on average. During the spring when it is wetter, that probably increases nearer to ten feet deep and more. One of the things that always fascinates me when I get to look in the water when it is shallow is the riverbed. Here in Iowa, I always expect to see a river bottom full of mud since dirt is everywhere and rock outcroppings are rare. But the river bottom is paved in cobblestones.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fly Like an Eagle

Back when the Bald Eagle was chosen as our national symbol over the Wild Turkey, there were over 100,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states. By 1905, there wasn't a single nesting pair in the state of Iowa and perhaps only 4000 bald eagles left in existence.  The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was passed in 1940 to help turn those numbers around and in 1978 the Endangered Species Act also included the Bald Eagle.

It was 1977 when Iowa finally hosted the first nesting pair of Bald Eagles in almost 70 years. So when I tell you that in my youth, seeing eagles was almost so rare that when you finally saw your first one, you remembered that experience. My first time happened along the Mississippi river when my parents loaded us up in the car in the very early 1980's and drove all that way to spend the day eagle watching. I saw two or three bald eagles that day a long ways away and through a telescope.

Since that time, Bald Eagles have been a tremendous success story and now if I want to see one, I just have to go down to the river a mile from my house and look up in the trees. There are so many that I can even get quite close to them and get some decent pictures. Such was the case two weeks ago when one of those rare warm sunny days in mid-January occurred and we like so many other people decided to get out of the house for awhile and go for a walk. Along the river trail we came across this family of eagles. There was two adult bald eagles and two immature bald eagles whose white head feathers were just starting to show themselves. I should also mention that the river trail we walked on was right below a dam which keeps the river open year round while the rest of it downstream is frozen over.

I tried to get them all in one picture but one of the immature eagles refused to sit on the same side of the tree as the others and the only lens I had was a telephoto lens. Normally this wouldn't be a problem but because I was so close to the eagles, my field of view just wasn't big enough with it. It was a nice problem to have. I also spent some time trying to catch a good eagle in flight picture but the best I could come up with is the slightly blurry one below. The rest were really blurry or didn't show the spread wing look I was trying to capture. The ultimate shot I had hoped to get was of one catching a fish and although they flew around looking quite a bit, I never saw one catch a fish while I was there.

Monday, January 27, 2014

No Idea

I don't remember taking this photo but I know that I must have because it is on a roll of film that I had developed back in 2004 and just recently scanned the negatives into my computer. There were two photos of this house sandwiched between Easter and my wedding so it was probably taken in spring of 2004. Other than that I have no other facts.

Looking at it now, I know why it attracted me. The arrangement of the windows and door along with the dilapidated condition make me see a house that is screaming.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Better Late Than Never

I forgot that I had pictures from my trip on my other camera and only recently cleaned them out. While most of them were of my family, there were a few photos that I thought I would post here. I like this one because it contains a few palm trees, a novelty to me living in the Midwest, sea oats, the ocean and the pier. I guess saying that, they are all a novelty to me. We have hardwood trees, grain oats, some ponds and perhaps a dock. While all beautiful in their own right, it just isn't the same.

You could tell a rental house from a house where people lived all year by the condition of the dune and sea oats out front. On all the rentals, the dunes were chopped up by constant walking back and forth and the sea oats were sparse and didn't look very lush. Right next door to our rental the dune was intact and the sea oats very lush because the owners no doubt walked on an elevated board walk designed to protect the dune and possibly their home from flooding in case of a storm surge. We always respect the dunes in front of whatever rental we use by staying on the marked path and not straying until we get to the beach. The rental house on the other side wasn't so lucky as the occupants were always thrashing around on the dune and cutting into it deeper while ripping out sea oats blocking their view.

I didn't  remove any sea oats to take pictures while seated on our patio which is how I ended up with a picture of a pelican that looked like this. I don't recall seeing pelicans on our other trips but I saw lots of them this trip. They loved to skim inches above the water a couple dozen feet out from the shore catching some sort of air rebound off the water surface. I was always amazed at how they never dipped into the water by accident. This one soared up off the water and I snapped this picture right before he did a header into the water and caught a fish. By the time I got standing to snap a clear picture he was already gone.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lumpia Shanghai

This post is for Kimberly over at Framboise Manor who has requested this countless times in various subtle threats. Anyone else is welcome to it if they have never had one of these things. These 'stick things' as my American friends sometime refer to them are called lumpia shanghai which is similar to the more familiar spring roll except these are mostly made from meat. The picture above are some that I was frying up for consumption.

The recipe varies from batch to batch but loosely I follow this one:

1 lb of ground pork
1 egg yolk (save whites for later)
1 cup of chopped carrots (in food processor)
1 bulb garlic minced
1 half yellow onion minced
1 bag of shrimp, peeled, deveined and minced
1 dollop of soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
25 spring roll wrappers

Mix all the ingredients together except for the egg whites and let it rest for a bit on the counter to let the flavor mingle.  Lately I have been experimenting with using other spices to create a spicier version with good results.

I included a picture of the brand of spring roll wrappers I like to use because I have found that most spring roll wrappers stink. They are hard to work with, don't freeze well if you stock up on them like we do whenever we are in the urban jungle, don't brown properly when fried and just aren't as crisp. After several months of experimenting with side by side batches, this brand is clearly the best I have found on all fronts. I pull a bag out from the freezer about a half hour before I need them. For best results, I start at one corner and work the edge of each sheet all the way around and then gently separate it from rest. Sometimes it is hard to get them separated into individual sheets so I will pull two off together and then separate them using the above method. Because they are flimsier than when on a whole stack of sheets, they seem to separate easier. It is just not something I can describe well but with experimentation, I recon anyone can figure out a way that works best for them.

The first step once you have separated a sheet it to lay it like a diamond on your work surface. I use a dinner plate.

Get some of your mixture and put it about where shown on the wrapper in a line about the size of  your little finger. Sometimes I replace the center meat mixture with a whole shrimp instead of mincing it and incorporating it throughout so that you get a shrimp surprise in the middle. Most of the time however it is just easier to toss all the veggies and shrimp in the food processor and mince them all together before adding to the ground pork.

Tuck over the flap and roll making sure to keep it as tight as possible without air pockets. This is the mistake I see most often when others make it and you end up with lumpia that are loose and don't stay together well when frying. This then leads to greasy lumpia. So I make sure to work out any air pockets and keep it tightly rolled.

Fold in the sides like an envelope.

Continue rolling while keeping it as tight as possible. Brush the last exposed flap of spring roll wrapper with your egg white.

Finish rolling.

I usually make a double or triple batch of the recipe above and freeze the rest for later consumption. They freeze well and if you thaw them out a day in advance, the fry up well and I can't tell the difference between them and freshly made ones. With the extras that I plan to freeze, I stick them on a cookie sheet and arrange them so they aren't touching and put the pan in the freezer.

After a half hour or an hour when they are firm to the touch, I gather up a dozen and stick them in a ziplock freezer bag and them put them back in the freezer. This works well since they are so labor intensive to make and I can just make a big batch of them once and have them to eat for several months afterwards. Currently I have about six dozen of them in the freezer just waiting to be fried up.

I just put about half an inch of vegetable oil in the bottom of a skillet and get it hot. Don't get it too hot or they wrappers will blacken before the insides are done. I just fry them for two or three minutes on each side until the shells are nicely browned. The bubbles in the oil start making a different noise when the lumpia are properly cooked. This takes experience to know but I sometimes stick an instant read thermometer in the end of one of the first batch just to make sure that everything reached a safe temperature.

So there you have it, lumpia shanghai made the way my Filipino relatives taught me.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Hodge Podge for $1000

In the final post about my Florida vacation, I thought I would post two pictures that really didn't fit with the theme of the other posts. In this picture you can see the nearest of two piers that our rented house was located between. This one was probably slightly less than a mile down the shore and the other one was closer to three miles in the other direction. I hiked to the one seen here one morning when I didn't have enough time for a longer walk with the intention of walking out on it. I discovered however upon arriving to it that you had to pay for the privilege of walking upon it. I decided that I didn't really care one way or another whether I walked upon it other than perhaps getting a few pictures for my blog so I opted to take the free option and walk on the sand underneath it.

Although it was warm compared to back home in Iowa, it was still too cold for me to wander around shoe-less or wade in the water. My daughters on the other hand were keen to do both for forty minutes or so until even they had to go back inside to warm up. My oldest daughter loved digging holes in the sand beneath the waveline and sitting in them as the waves washed over her. I froze just watching her. The youngest one didn't care much for the wading but loved sitting in the sand and running her fingers and toes through it. When I took the above photo, all I could think about are those little sugar coated donut holes that you can sometimes find.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Washed Up

Although I have never stepped on one, I know people to have so I always watch where I'm walking along the shore for dead jellyfish which can be found quite often.  They look nothing like the majestic creatures they appear to be when alive and in water. Dead and onshore they are just piles of smelly slime that stink up your shoes.

I don't know what plant this leaf is from but it reminded me of my desire to someday give scuba diving a try. I would like to see all these creatures in their native habitat rather than how they look after washed ashore.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


I couldn't resist taking a picture of this leg lying in the sand.

Although I never got a picture of them, I did notice for the first time a large number of sea birds along the shore that were missing portions or all of their feet. One poor bird was missing both of his legs below the 'knee' joints but seemed to get along just fine albeit a bit slow compared to his peers. I don't know why so many birds are missing portions of their legs but I'm guessing some fish or other creature below finds them irresistible and bites them off. It was common enough that if I stood and looked at a flock of twenty or so birds, I could usually find one or two of them missing limbs. Other than the initial discomfort of losing them, the birds seemed fine without them. The ones I saw missing limbs seemed well fed and healthy.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Storm On the Horizon

On two of the days I was on the Gulf of Mexico, there were storms off shore looming but never seemed to make it to where I was staying. The rain seemed to dry up right before reaching the shore here during the day though it would make it to shore perhaps 50 miles to the west. At night, something would change and the rains would come before it receded back off shore in the early hours of the morning.

As a result, we had lots of big waves (I would guess around eight feet tall out a ways from shore) for most of the stay with two days at the end with nary a breaking wave to be seen. I saw several paddle surfers out and about in the waves having fun. As someone who grew up in the heartland and who never saw an ocean until nearly twenty, I have to confess the ocean intimidates me. The one time I went swimming in the ocean during a summer in the Philippines, all I could think about were jellyfish and sharks. At that time, the waves were barely a foot tall and the one time I went underwater the salt water made me gag and wretch. It just didn't feel natural at all and so I am envious when I see those out in it and very at ease.

I suppose now that I am older and wiser my experience would be much different and hopefully much better but I haven't been swimming in the ocean since that one time ten years ago. The couple handful of times I've been near one in the intervening years, it has been to cold to swim in the ocean or I was there for business and not pleasure.

On an unrelated note since I have posted several panoramic photos so far, I had problems taking them when the brightest part of the picture was to my left. The reason for this was because the panoramic photo software told me to start at the left and sweep to the right to take the picture and the light was metered at the beginning. After trying unsuccessfully to take a picture of the sunrise that I posted on here a couple posts ago, I found the by turning my camera upside down I could defeat this limitation but then would need to rectify an upside down picture with software later on. On the final day of my trip, I accidentally hit the arrow showing my which way to sweep the camera to take the picture and found out that it can reverse itself just fine without having to hold the phone upside down. I ended up taking lots of panoramic photos of the beach because it just seems the proper way to capture the feeling.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Looking At My Feet

After mining for shells a couple years ago, I haven't really done more shell picking these last two years. Once you find large perfect conditioned shells by the bucket load, it is hard to go back to picking small shells along the shore. Never-the-less, I am still fascinated at looking at them after they wash ashore. Because the skies were cloudy most of the time, I found myself looking at my feet more than I had on previous trips. I noticed several things which I am posting here. The first discovery is that shells tended to wash up in groups at certain points on the beach and not evenly distributed along it. After doing a bit of research, I think this is due to beach cusps which is far too technical for me to understand enough to explain here. Google it if you desire. But basically I think it causes area of larger particles of sand and shell to get deposited in areas of the beach and finer sand in other areas.

All along the beach where the water met the sand, these black particles would be left behind showing how far the last wave had traveled up the sand before receding. At first I didn't pay much attention to it but later after talking to a local, I think I now know what they are. The first trip I made to the gulf was eight months after the BP oil spill disaster in the gulf and I found several of what I thought were tar balls. On the next two trips I still found them but perhaps to my imagination, thought there weren't as many. This time I learned that they weren't tar balls at all. Instead they are balls of peat from the ocean floor and when I break them up I can see many layers to them. I think the above black particles are all bits and pieces of peat that washed up onto the white sand.

I have always felt the attraction to sand 'gardens' that you sometimes see portrayed in the movies at Buddhist monasteries or in Japan. I'm not sure if they actually have them in real life but if they do, I can understand why. For me, seeing the ever changing patterns in the sand it quite calming. I can sit for hours and watch the sand come and go along the shore creating new patterns. I found the above pattern one morning while walking and am not sure how it formed.

Most of the time when the waves receded, the beach would be full of smooth sand with overlapping lines where one wave stopped. Walking along the beach in this area is such a treat. The waves continually wipe the 'slate' clean so to speak giving me the illusion that I am the first. Unlike further up the beach where the sand it pocked by hundreds if not thousands of beach goers walking too and fro, the edge up next to the water if untrammeled and smooth. The water settles the sand grains down tight making it firmer to walk on which doesn't hurt either. On this trip it got me to thinking about a nice trip. It would be nice to put on a pack and just see how far one could hike around the country via the sandy shore. For rivers or streams that cross my path I would have to wade or have some sort of inflatable boat to take with me. I'm not sure what I would do about camping at night because I'm not sure of the legalities of sleeping on the sand especially in populated areas.

I'm not positive on what is being shown in this last picture but I have a theory. After watching a fascinating video on crabs molting on YouTube, I think these tubular things are probably pieces of the molted legs that have broken up and washed ashore in clumps. I briefly considered that they might be some sort of sea worms but they are hollow and irregularly broken into pieces. Perhaps some plant life? If anyone knows for sure, please leave me a comment.

I'm not sure what causes this to happen but I suspect it has something to due with high tide and perhaps wave action as well. Our first night there these sand 'cliffs' twelve to twenty-four inches high were formed along the beach for two miles in either direction from our house and probably went further had I walked further. For the rest of our stay, the waves never got any further up the beach and as the air dried out the cliffs of sand, they slumped off and disappeared under the feet of beach walkers.

The riffles were actually still under water in an area along shore where the waves were blocked by a shallow sandbar a little farther out and the wash from the waves traveled along horizontal to the shore over this part of the sand until they found an opening to drain back into the ocean. In sections of the sand, it was riddles full of miniature volcanoes that my biologist brother said were made by crawdads burying themselves. I dug out a couple with my shoe but never found any of them. I'm guessing they were too small and my shoe to blunt of an instrument for the task.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


We have been renting beach houses during our times in Florida because it seems that they are in plentiful supply and are big enough for four families to congregate without being on top of each other all the time. Our normal house that we rented got rented out from under our noses so we had to choose new digs this year and while it was adequate, it wasn't nearly as nice as the previous one. The one advantage is that it was about six miles further west down the beach and not so near the large condos which gave it a more private beach setting.

On the one day we did see the sun, I was able to grab this photo of the sunrise. By mid afternoon, the clouds rolled in again and that was the last we would see of the sun until about halfway back to Iowa. The stretch of beach we occupy during our stay is on a little hump of Florida that sticks out into the gulf so that the coastline actually runs southeast to northwest. This means the sun actually rises slightly inland from my perspective and sets over the ocean in the evening and thus providing beautiful scenes to photograph when clouds are not expected.

So while I never got to see the sun actually set over a beer during this trip, I did spend my share of time watching where it would set while sipping a beer and imaging how beautiful it would have looked. It is relaxing and that is the reason I love going down there. Someday I have this dream of renting a house for a couple months in a row during a slightly warmer period along the coast when it still isn't killing busy and perhaps writing a book while looking out over the ocean. It just seems like the right thing to do.

Monday, January 6, 2014

I'm Already Back

This was my fourth year in a row I have made the long drive down to the panhandle of Florida to spend some time along the white sand beaches along the gulf coast. We started these trips as a way to spend some time with my grandparents who are getting along in years and only have a limited amount left. After nearly 20 years of traveling the continent in a recreational vehicle, they finally sold it and decided they were done traveling. Meeting them 'near' their Florida home (they live nine hours away in the same state!) was a way to compromise a meeting. They would drive nine hours and the rest of us, except for my brother who lives in Alabama, would drive 18 hours to spend the holidays with them. It worked out well for three years.

This year, two days before we were all slated to start heading south, they decided they didn't want to come. We tried convincing them otherwise, including offering to spend another 18 hours roundtrip to pick them up once we got there. They were having nothing of it this time. So we spent our time with out the family patriarchs there but still had a pretty decent time.

For the first time in all our trips down to this strip of sand along the gulf coast, we only saw the sun for part of one day our entire stay. For all the rest of the days, what you see above is what we saw. I did miss my evenings sitting on the patio, sipping a beer and watching the sun go down but I did enjoy the warm weather compared to the below deep freeze levels back home. I spent lots of time walking along the beach, enjoying time with my extended family, reading and lots of eating. I call it a success.

Next year we will probably have to start a new tradition of going someplace else since we have to rent these houses a year in advance and we aren't going to drive all that way for the sake of my grandparents if they aren't going to show up again. Possibly we will choose someplace in the middle, yet still far enough south to get a break from the cold winters up here.

Stay tuned for a couple rambling posts on my time in Florida along with one on lumpia making (especially for Kimberly) in the upcoming week or too. I will also slowly try to get caught up on everyone's blog and see what I missed while I was gone.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Trip Down the Grand Canyon

To all who find this post, I compiled it much later after writing all these posts linked below and back dated it so that I was published in my blog archives. After numerous requests of people interested in reading about my dory trip down the Grand Canyon, I thought reading these older posts would be the easiest way. There is so much to say about the trip and I want you to hear it all and so by compiling all these links more or less in order into one post, it means I only have to send out one link to this post to allow someone else to read all the previous posts. Unfortunately, most of my pictures have the links broken by acquisitions of photo storage sites, with the exception of the last four blog posts which were written some time after the rest. I still have all the pictures, but I'm not interested in relinking them all into the correct posts again. Trust me, they were beautiful.
the Blog Author

The Dream In the Beginning: Part One
The Dream In the Beginning: Part Two
Grand Canyon Logistics: The Trip
Grand Canyon Logistics: Camp Life
Day One
Day Two On the River
Day Two In Camp
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five: Climbing Nankoweap Butte
Day Six: Another Day In Paradise
Day Seven: Big Water and a Small Camp
Day Seven: The Beginning of Emotional Scarring
Day Eight: Big Water
Day Eight: Alive Below Crystal
Day Nine: The Long Walk
Day Ten: Elves Chasm
Day Ten: Bath Time
Day Eleven: A Fine Day
Day Twelve: Thunder River/Deer Creek Traverse
Day Thirteen: Finding My Inner Little Boy
Day Fourteen: Mooney Falls
Day Fifteen: Alive Below Lava!
Day Sixteen: BETRAYAL... again
Day Seventeen: Offloading Before The End Arrives
Day Eighteen: My Betrayal
Day Nineteen: In Mourning
The Aftermath
Catching a Ringtail CatAction
The View From the Bottom
Camp Life