Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Cousin Kinda Day

Today cousin Dawn and her youngest daughter Ciara came to putz around taking pictures. I thought I'd take them down where I took one of my all time favorite shots ... at Eagle Bluffs Conservation area by the Missouri river. Of course, when I took that shot, it was evening and later in the summer. Still, I thought there might be more wildlife around.

We saw a snake, a bunch of buzzards, a deer.... that was about it out there. Some snapping turtles, and a rusted out water heater in Perche Creek. Broke for lunch at Taco Bell.

After lunch went to campus and went around the Francis Quadrangle, where I discussed some finer Constitutional points with Thomas Jefferson (we were pretty much in agreement on most things, for sure). And Ciara shared a seat at the Shack with Beetle Bailey. You might even call it a hot seat, since the bronze had been sitting in the sun all morning and early afternoon.

Watching a lanky 13 year old girl turning cartwheels in the grass can make you feel a little old. But it was nice to see the energy all the same.

And then we wandered up to Shelter Gardens where there were flowers, trees, water features, and the old school house before heading back to the ranch. Nothing spectacular, shooting-wise, but some pretty pictures and a little camera-raderie. Nice day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mothers Day

Friday was Mother's birthday (Vicki's mom ... when I use the term "Mother" as a proper name, I'm typically referring to her. Mom refers to my mom, typically, unless it's clear by context.)

Anyway, Mother turned 90 Friday, and Vicki wanted to do something special so we went to Churchill's. Churchill's is probably the finest restaurant in Columbia. There may be one or two with as good food and service, but this all that with a traditional formal atmosphere.

Brian and Kristin and Kevin and his new girlfriend Marken were there. It was our first time meeting Marken.

Let me just say that she won't have any trouble keeping up. :-)

She and Brian were ribbing each other all through dinner in contrast to the live harp music in the background. It was a great dinner. I hope Mother enjoyed it. I think she did. We all had a good time.

Marken reminds me of the kind of friends our family had growing up. She's very cute, a real people person, a pitcher-inner, and a chronic joker. There aren't too many people I have to really pay attention to to keep up. And she slipped a few by me as well.

Kevin brought his Guitar Hero game with his Hendrix and Les Paul fake guitar controllers and set it up. I never was any good at that game. It's not really like playing the guitar at all. But it does look like fun. If you're not keeping up the instruments and the song start to go off key and get out of synch.... pretty funny.

Saturday Kristin, Brian, and I went out to Strawberry Hill Farms and bought a bunch of vegetable and flowering plants. Then Kristin had to work, and Brian went back to work. Nana Vicki babysat Trenton. And of course I couldn't let her have all the fun after I got back from Strawberry Hill. So when he wasn't napping I played with him. Actually, I was trying to get a few things done while he was napping and completely forgot he was in our room and woke him up. Bad me.

We headed over to Brian and Kristin's saturday evening for a visit and so everyone could see their new place. Kevin and Brian and I started putting their new grill together, but when we got to the part where you "punch" out the parts so you can attach the side smoker box... let's just say they wouldn't "punch". "Dent" would be a much better description. I ran home and got my drill, rubber mallett, and dremmel tool with cutter wheel. Drilled the holes, and started to cut the eye-shaped hole for the box with the dremmel, but the dremmel crapped out. I think the brushes wore out. It was their time, I guess. Couldn't have picked the next day, could it?

So we were stuck. Kevin and Marken went to meet Ken for dinner. Eventually we went home.

Because Mothers Day there were plans to go over there in the morning and do brunch. I mixed up the separate wet and dry waffle ingredients the night before. We got sausages. And eggs. And I got 3 dusty rose roses to represent each mother.

Only I didn't have a vase.

Fortunately, I happen to be Martha Stewart's red-necked cousin Marvin. Marvin Stewart, yessir. I got a clear beer bottle ... Landshark Lager ... and peeled the labels off and cleaned it. Then went to the closet and got some red cellophane-type wrapping "paper" ... kind of transparent, but not too transparent, and wrapped the beer bottle loosely in it with the edges frayed out near the top of the bottle and a red rubber band to hold it all in. I thought it looked pretty good, and nobody complained.

I'll have a new line at K-Mart by the end of the year.

We decended upon their house about 10:45 am and Brian and I took over the kitchen duties, occasionally shooing Kristin and Vicki away. Cooked the sausages, whipped up the scrambled eggs, mixed up the waffle stuff and started cranking waffles out. And we all got to sit down at pretty much the same time. It was a nice breakfast.

Marken and Kevin took to cleaning the kitchen afterwards, occasionally shooing Kristin and Vicki out. They couldn't help themselves.

Brian and I went out with my jigsaw and a metal-cutting blade and cut out the rest of the grill cut out, put the rest of it together, and started some charcoal to "cure" the iron grates and interior of the grill with vegetable oil and heat. The process was to take 4 hours, and they wanted to grill for Grandma Jean for dinner.

I ran around the yard playing airplane with Trenton (Trenton was the airplane), and we looked at leaves and wind chimes and flowers and then I took him for a stroll. After which it was pretty much nap time and Nana Vicki took him and got him to sleep. She's very good at that.

Then Kristin, Marken, and I planted vegetables, but Kevin and Marken needed to get back to St. Louis. So we didn't finish.

Uncharacteristically (and sadly), I didn't get a single picture taken. Too busy, I guess.

We went home, Kevin and Marken left. I suddenly realized I was completely beat. I didn't think I'd worked that hard, but my head and body disagreed. I slept for a couple of hours. Vicki was watching movies downstairs. Mother was checking her emails (She's 90. Checking emails. Cool!)

And I slept like a log that night.

Rode in Monday. Got home. Got the chainsaw out and cut up the tree that fell in Friday Night's storm into chimnea sized pieces.

Tonight Mother took us to dinner for her last night here. Brian's taking her back home tomorrow.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Rain Rain

Well, we certainly can't complain about not enough rain this spring. This latest bout started last night. The Williams' came over to drop off their little mini roto-tiller for me to use to dig up my little 8x8 garden... but that won't be happening for a while now. Anyway, we watched last night's episode of Supernatural ... a show we got into a while back. Not sure I like some of where it's going philosophy-wise. We'll see how they resolve it all next season

I heard something falling -- I thought something in the living room -- after we went to bed last night after it had been raining and hailing pretty hard. I almost got up to look. Almost. Well ... this morning I saw that what was left of the big dead locust tree in the back yard fell into the yard. looks like it fell on the electric fence (which isn't on yet) around the garden. I was going to tear it down when I go to dig out & replace the soil anyway. So I have a little chainsaw project now as well.

I did get some grass planted out front last week, and this rain ought to help seal the deal germination-wise.

And I plan on taking Kristin et al to Strawberry Hill Farms tomorrow to get some veggies for the raised beds in their yard.

Brian and Kristin moved in to a great new house, their first as homeowners ... while we were in North Carolina. We were back for enough time to help them finish up. We went over there for a little Cinco de Mayo (and why is it again we now celebrate Mexican Independence day here? Is it to remind Mexican illegal aliens that they do have their own soveriegn country they could patch up? Inquiring minds want to know). I suppose it's a good excuse to have a party. Who doesn't like margaritas and mariachi bands?

We did drop by there last night with the Williams' to show them the new house, and Brian was there with Trenton. It's so sad to see him cry when we leave. We weren't there long enough for him I guess. But the look on his face and the sad cry ... just breaks your heart. But I could see him through the door after we got into the car and he seemed happy being fed by daddy. It's probably harder on us than it really is on him.

Tonight we're going out to Churchills for mom-in-law's 90th birthday. Probably the nicest restaurant in Columbia. Kevin will be coming in for it as well. I think there will be 7 of us for dinner. Making it to 90 deserves a big too-doo.

I'm continuing to try to ride my bike in to work at least 3 days a week, weather and errands permitting. I got my three in Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday this week. Good thing, too, because the radar looks menacing today. I'd call that a wash.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Road Trip (Part II)

On the way down to North Carolina, we stopped at Berea, KY because Mom was reminiscing about going down with her sister Fern with their spouses to visit her sister Ruth down in Atlanta years ago. It's known for Berea College, geared toward low-income students. There are a lot of crafts in the area, and Mom remembered a nice dress shop at which she said she and Fern almost always bought something. Nice hotel and restaurant. The town had a lovely, quiet feel to it.

We went to the tourist center and to a nearby craft-type store, where I picked up a kalimba (thumb-harp) and some Mint Juleep Elixir (I guess you can sell drink mixes in a dry town even if you have to purchase your liquor elsewhere). Vicki and mom also bought a few things, but we headed on down the road to Mt. Vernon where we had overnight reservations.

We ended up eating at "Jean's" family restaurant. Talk about the local flavor. Very small building. Mostly locals inside. Plain tables. No music. No nonsense. It smelled like fried chicken and bacon ... the walls were probably permeated with it. But the food was good, and the price was right, and it was just a few miles down the highway from the motel. We slept and pushed on in the morning to Jim & Carol's (the trip I chronicled in the last post that went over Joe Brown Highway).

We got to Jim & Carol's about 2 in the afternoon. Their cabin is lovely. Not too big, but a couple of guest bedrooms, a large front deck, and a gazebo as a deck extension. It's on a walkout basement. Jim & Carol like to eat outside when the weather permits. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's nice. They do that in Nevada as well. That's what the gazebo is for.

I think they have 9 acres NW of Murphy, NC. We walked around and looked at all the spring flowers and the foliage leafing out.

They took us to some of their favorite haunts, including the Moose Hollow Trading Company in Murphy where they had all kinds of home decor tailored to cabins, from old fashioned signs to furniture to some pretty unique taxidermy. They also took us to a family style restaurant in Georgia they like (Smith's?) and to Mercier's Orchard & Restaurant ... where they have awesome individual fried pies. I used to get the ... Dolly Madison ones when I was in high school. I loved the blueberry ones, so naturally I had to try theirs. It was very good. As was their blackberry. We drove around quite a bit but mostly we were there for the visiting and the sight-seeing was extra.

I brough my guitar along this time and kinda plucked it while people played games and worked on puzzles. I've never been much into that, but I enjoy watching other people do it. I was sucked in to the puzzle eventually, but for the most part the rest of the crew put it together out on the deck over a couple of days. I think a very good time was had by all.

Carol was a concert pianist and still plays for pleasure, and she played us a few tunes. Mom was quite the pianist herself back in the day and she played some, too. Guess you can't get Vicki to do it anymore. I've heard she used to be pretty good, but it's been over 40 years.

Their place is beautiful, overlooking Hanging Dog Creek, and just up the road (like 300 yards) from a Cherokee Indian Reservation. You can hear the creek, which is about 150 yards away from the house, and the sunlight sparkles on it all morning as it ripples and bounces over the rocks at it's shallow depth. The cabin is at 1600 feet, but the nearby mountaintops peak out at over 2000 so there's plenty of drama in the landscape. They have some neighbors, a few of whom they know through their Nevada connections.

Jim told us the story of Hanging Dog Creek and how it got its name. There's a story of a Cherokee village that was facing starvation due to a crop failure. Only one hunter in the village was able to find game that year thanks to his faithful hunting dong. "Deer Killer" and his dog were hunting one day and had spent the entire winter day chasing the deer through the forest trying to get positioned for a clean shot. Finally, he took his shot but the shot failed to kill the deer. It ran through a creek and they gave chase, but the dog got stuck in a mass of debris in the creek. Deer Killer jumped into the icy creek and freed the dog, saving it from drowning, and the two continued their chase. They finally tracked the deer down, and when the deer meat was served, the dog was invited into the teepee to eat with the people, which was unusual. The villagers took to calling the creek Hanging Dog Creek. Neat story.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Road Trip (Part I)

Well, we just got back from our great adventure out east, where I grabbed another state for the list of States I've Been In (if just barely) ... North Carolina.

Everyone thinks "oh, the beach". Well ... no. We were about as far away from the beach as you could be and still be in North Carolina. Which was fine. The Smokey Mountains are pretty. Especially when you get to stay in a nice cabin with family. Who are also friends.

We went up to Fort Wayne on the 23rd to pick up Vicki's mom, then head down to North Carolina to visit Vicki's cousin Jim and his wife Carol in their new cabin for a few days, and head back here for Mothers Day and her birthday.

That's ... probably a 1600-1700 mile triangle. Maybe more.

It was the maiden voyage (significant voyage) for the Garmin Nuvi 260, and I programmed in our various destinations as "favorites" before we left. We took two days to get from Fort Wayne to Murphy, via Mt. Vernon KY. Later we would take another two to get from Murphy to home, mostly to keep from wearing mother out.

The trip was a pretty one, with the subtle variations in the shades of green in the new spring leaves on the trees. They were not yet thick enough to block out sunlight shining through them, lighting them up like fiber optic ornamentals, while framing the redbuds and dogwoods which were in full bloom the whole way.

I made on variation in our route to Murphy by getting off of I-75 about 15 miles early to get on the TN 68 scenic route. Vicki looked at the atlas map where there was a stretch of road on our route going off of 68 that was made up of two thin lines instead of one solid line (up to Unaka, NC)... and asked "Is that a road???? I figured if it was on such a non-detailed map at that scale, it must be fine. (Their cabin is around the Hanging Dog Mountain symbol. Click on the map for a larger view.)

"Serena" (that's the GPS - the name associated with the female british accented voice) directed me to bear left onto County Road 618, a gravel road... which I dutifly did. It had us driving something around 6 or10 miles and then turn right on Joe Brown Highway. So I wasn't too concerned as the road became less gravel and then more dirt ... and then more leaves than dirt. Still, there were a few vehicles coming the other way that didn't appear to be logging trucks. I grew up driving gravel roads. We pressed on. I could sense skepticism from my passengers, so I tried to keep the converstion light. It was pretty. We were literally driving through the woods, going over an Appalachian ridge. In a couple of places chunks of mountain protruded from the road, but it was nothing we couldn't handle in a Taurus at 20 mph. Plus the road got better once we crossed into North Carolina - though there was no marker on the road. Only the GPS clued me in on that event. And finally, after twisting and turning on what is easily the most twisty, turney road I've ever driven (or likely ever will -- I'm not sure how one could be more curvy) .... we got down to the place where we we were to turn right onto Joe Brown Highway.

It didn't look any different. Of course, with a monicre like "Highway" ... I assumed it would be paved. So, I had to riff for about another 10 miles at 25 mph to keep everything light. Turns out that whole road on the map above from where we left 68 down to Murphy is the "Joe Brown Highway" - or the Old Unico Turnpike.

Eventually we got to some paved roads and before we knew it we were dumped out right at our destination, Jim and Carol's cabin as promised.

And it did cut out quite a bit of time in the end. May have saved us an hour. Plus we got some pretty scenery and a story to tell.

And it's late so I'll finish this later.