Saturday, December 5, 2009

Saturday, 5 December -- Tree's up and snow's down

We got the Christmas tree out yesterday and got it up. It's not decorated yet, but with all 750 of the pre-lit bulbs, it almost looks as if it is. It's one of those hinged-branch trees, so we put it in the stand and all the branches fell into place except the top section which we had to manipulate by hand.

Snow last night, about 1/2 inch, but the scanner was SOOO busy this morning with reports of accidents all over the place. People still drive (as they do in Maine) like it's July, only down here the roads are narrow, people laugh at speed limits (55 on the narrow, curvy country roads), and nearly everyone has a cell phone attached to his or her ear. Danville called out the salt AFTER the snow turned to ice, and after 7 cars went off the Bypass (US-150/127)!

But it's all gone now except in the shady areas like in back of the house, and even most of that is barely hanging on. The birds must have realized it was snow because they were all over the feeders. Our dark-eyed juncos are back -- they summer in northern Canada and winter here. They look like little gray birds dipped in white chocolate -- at least that's what the cat thinks when he sits on the window sill trying to get at them. They just laugh at him...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday, 24 Nov - Finishing The Garden

The gardens now should be done for the year. Barry planted an Asian pear tree and a cherry tree, plus daffodil bulbs (photo) near the Cleveland pear. Note the new bed between the pear and the lilac -- the cherry is in the middle, and the rest will be flowers. No more mowing between trees for that part of the garden.

The straw is over the strawberries, the last of the beets have been harvested (and eaten already), and chard is STILL growing. We'll be eating fresh chard all winter!

Gotta love it!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday, 9 November - Barry and the coupons

Now this isn't for everyone, it takes time and effort, and lots of people have the will but not the ability. But if you can do it, it's great.

Barry discovered the use of coupons in an organized way a short time ago. Now we had used coupons occasionally before, but this time it's serious.

He and I (well, mostly he) haunt the coupon websites and print out coupons on items that we'd normally buy anyway. Yesterday, I bought copies of the Danville and Lexington papers JUST for the coupons and sales fliers.

Well, today was a red-letter day:

Wal-Mart, Campbell's soup, and Betty Crocker au-gratin potatoes, both on sale. Regular retail was about $5.00. He paid $.70! Plus he p@ssed off one of the floor associates because the computer-printed coupons wouldn't scan and she had to get off her @ss to go to customer service to check it out. We're probably not the first Wal-Mart customers to use computer-printed coupons, so they should have KNOWN how to deal with them -- key in the numbers. That simple.

Kroger's, with coupons and sales, we got $34 dollars of groceries for $18. They handled the coupons just fine. Jessica, you're a sweetheart.

CVS, two bottles of brand name glucosamine/chondroitin, regularly $60. On sale, buy one get one free plus a $7 coupon. Final price $24.

All in all, today, we bought $99, paid $43, saved $56, an all on items we either need or will need!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday, November 7 - Catching Up

Catching Up

Sometimes "Blogger" can be such a pain when posting pictures that I don't bother. Then I get a pang of guilt and try it again. Let's see how this works today.

Catching everyone up on what's going on down here, so this blog post is a total mish-mash of TicTacToe, Irises and'll see...

1. October 18, we had our first official frost. You can see that wherever the sun shone, the frost disappeared almost immediately, but I love this shot of our front lawn about 9AM (it didn't get light until 8 this time of year).

2. October 21, we went up to Frankfort, Versailles, and ended up at Keeneland in Lexington. This is what greets visitors as they drive onto the race track grounds. Unfortunately, what Kentucky is MOST famous for may not last much longer. Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia and now Ohio all have casino gambling, and one person in the Kentucky General Assembly has blocked Kentucky from even CONSIDERING casinos because he personally doesn't believe in gambling. Thus, many of the Kentucky horsemen who want to race in Ohio, where the purses will be larger than Kentucky, may well move their operations to Ohio, since in many races, horses must be BRED in Ohio to race there. So this photo in another 10 years may be a Super Wal-Mart or a condominium development because of basically ONE person. Can we learn to say, "Lexington, FORMER Horse Capital of the World"?

3. October 25, In the driveway. Just got this shot of a number of jet contrails. We're along the flight path from New York to Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit to Florida, and other major routes, but this shot was just too much. Now if a local pilot could do "X" and "O" on the squares ...

4. October 29, Eastern Kentucky. We were hoping to get here this year, and we did make it, though not for as long as we had planned. We also missed the peak foliage by about a week, but the day was nonetheless beautiful, sunny and in the 60s and low 70s. We headed to Lexington, then to Winchester and the Mountain Parkway for about 40 miles. Then we turned south on KY-15 which connects Jackson (Breathitt County) and Hazard (Perry County).

The area is mountainous with little flat land anywhere, so everything seems built on hills. Jackson, KY, is in a valley formed by a branch of the Kentucky River.

Panbowl (or Pan Bowl) Lake (right) is a beautifully tranquil oxbow lake formed from a former channel of the Kentucky River -- we MUST get over here next summer to canoe.

Mountaintop removal is a less expensive way to mine coal, and it's the hot topic here in the east. On the one hand, it does damage the environment; on the other hand, it does provide jobs in the part of the Commonwealth that can most use them. When the top of the mountain is removed it creates flat land -- and we saw housing developments and even a shopping center on what WAS a mountain maybe 20 years ago. The controversy continues.

Whenever roads are built or widened in this part of the state, the construction must bore and blast into the hills. So nearly everywhere, scenes like this are common. In this part of the state, one can often see black coal-like veins among the tan or gray limestone.

5. October 30, Our Back Yard. Well actually, out in front of the house, looking down the Old Salt River Road -- yeah, that WAS a road, and technically it still IS. The foliage here is about a week later than eastern Kentucky, and though it wasn't as stunning as last year, it was nice, nonetheless. Sort of reminded me of Maine.

6. November 1, Our Last Bell Pepper! Yeah, this little fellow hitch-hiked his way into the petunia window box, so we let him grow. But today, we noticed he was beginning to rot just a bit, so it was time to pick him. To keep him from the frost, we moved him to the back of my truck under the cap; to keep him warm I moved the truck out into the sun during the day. What I'll do to keep that little pepper growing. By the way, his little brother is in Barry's bedroom (along with 3 lemon trees, some cilantro, basil, oregano, an orange tree, and I forget what else), and we're hoping to be picking fresh bell peppers for Christmas.

7. November 5, Bird Feeder -- notice how green the lawn still is and how much foliage is still left on the trees. By the way, the plants behind the feeders are swiss chard -- I think it's a perennial here, because Barry planted those last year. No need to pick and freeze because we'll be eating fresh chard in January apparently.

Today, I needed to redo the upright "T"s for the raspberry bed, and had mentioned to Barry that some of the birds here prefer a flat feeder. So I went out and built one. It's nothing too fancy, but maybe they'll like it. Not sure we should keep it on the table because of the westerly winds that could blow the whole thing over into Garrard County, so we'll see where it ends up.

8. November 6, Lazy Cat. Need I say more? When Barry is sitting in this chair, Ramses comes up to him and stares. "I want my chair" he's thinking. At about 10 p.m., he comes over to Barry's computer chair, stretches out, looks up, meows, and reminds Barry that it's bedtime. If Barry ignores him, he comes over to me and does the same thing. He's awake maybe 2 hours a day, 15 minutes for morning feeding, 15 minutes for evening feeding, and maybe 90 minutes the rest of the day for various extremely tiring pursuits such as rolling over on the floor, stretching, looking out the windows, or yawning. He spends most of the day on his back, and when he's not on his back, he sits there with his front paws crossed staring at us.

9. November 7, Raspberries. It was sunny and in the low 70s today, and we were able to work outside in t-shirts. Sorry Maine friends, but that's the way it is I guess.

Back in the summer, we put in some uprights to hold the raspberries upright but they weren't wide enough, and the had begun working their way out of the ground. So today was the day to install the new ones I made Wednesday. We got some SAKRETE, mixed it up, and set the posts in. We should be able to string the wire on Monday. Notice (1) the raspberries are still ripening; and (2) that Barry is working in a t-shirt, and today IS November 7 for goodness' sake!

We have a second raspberry bed too, this one made of raspberries we brought down from Maine. They, the Maine blueberries, strawberries, bridal wreath, hostas, campanula, rose and others LOVE it here as much as we do.

While he was retrieving the electric cord from our work Barry had me take this picture. Yes, it's an iris blooming -- the SECOND bloom this year. The carnations are still flowering, and some roses in the neighborhood still have flowers on them, though I think "Mother's Rose" has called it quits for this year, though she's still green. Roots down here grow all winter because even a severe freeze only goes down a couple of inches in the coldest of January or February days. In fact many people plant trees and shrubs in October and November!

When we came in, we both had to change into shorts -- the sun was beating in the south windows so strongly, it was nearly 80 inside. I wish we could bottle days like these and take them out in January, or send them up to our friends and family in Maine who don't like snow and cold and winter.

OK, enough writing; now to see if this will all upload to Blogger -- worked 90 minutes with the "new, improved" editor. Heck with it. Back to the old "imperfect pain in the butt but at least it still works" editor. If you're reading it, I succeeded.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day 4 - October 10, CHICAGO, The Windy City!

Day 4 - October 10, CHICAGO, The Windy City!

CHICAGO!  Never thought I'd get here.  But I did.  Barry bought tickets on AMTRAK for my birthday, so at about 8 AM, we

boarded the train in Milwaukee at the airport for the 2 hour trip to Chicago.  I had been on the "Downeaster" from Portland to Boston with Maureen in June 2007, but other than that, had not been on a train since 1954.  Barry hadn't been on one since maybe 1956.  So just the fact that we were taking the train was a thrill.

We pulled into Union Station, right downtown, along the south branch of the Chicago River.  When we exited, our first goal was the Sears Tower (not called that any more, but it'll take years before Chicagoans get used to the new name, if ever.  It's the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

We waited in line to take the elevator up 1300 feet to the Skydeck, from which vantage point we could see Illinois, Indiana and part of Wisconsin.  The weather was chilly (about 42 degrees) and windy -- well it WAS Chicago, the "Windy City" and now we knew why it was called that.

The elevator went up nearly 100 floors in less than a minute, yet we barely felt we were moving.  Our ears popped, and when we got out of the elevator, the view was totally fantastic.  To the south, we could see to Gary, Indiana; to the north, we could nearly see all the way to Milwaukee.  But the highlight for me was looking DOWN on the very tall John Hancock Tower -- the black building in the center of the photo.

After we left the Sears Tower, we walked east then north toward the Hard Rock CafĂ© which was one of our goals.  On the way we passed
(1) "The El", the elevated railroad which goes in a rounded square around downtown -- hence downtown is nicknamed "The Loop";

(2) the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (no samples of money given out -- darn);

(3)  the Chicago Board of Trade (where commodity prices from pork bellies to oil are set, and whose actions have an effect on every single person in the country who buys anything at any time;

(4) an outdoor stabile (as opposed to mobile) by Alexander Calder called The Flamingo;

(5) another outdoor sculpture simply called The Picasso;

(6) the Chicago River looking toward Lake Michigan.

When we arrived at the Hard Rock, it was lunch time, but we were planning to have Chicago Deep Dish Pizza shortly, so we only had a local ale there.  Of course, we bought the Hard Rock T-shirts (got a closet full of those now but STILL don't have Indianapolis).

While there, we got a call from Barry's son.  Seems one of his friends was in Chicago, only a few blocks from us, so we went over to the ESPN restaurant, and enjoyed his company for awhile, before we walked to Lou Malnati's Pizza Shop for what was billed as the best Chicago Deep Dish Pizza.

It was very good, thick crust, deep dish, loads of topping, and quite a treat.

On the way back to Union Station, we flew through the Merchandise Mart (formerly Marshall-Fields Department Store), the largest store in the world in terms of floor space.  It's 25 stories tall, and has been a fixture in Chicago since the 1930s.

Walking back to the train station, we simply enjoyed the architecture, including this building which is built on a curve in the street, and so is built IN a curve.

Many people in Chicago, in addition to taking "The Loop" also take the Chicago Water Taxi -- probably quite unique in American cities.  Wish we had the time to try that, but that's for another, warmer, day.

We arrived back in Milwaukee shortly after sunset, having had a great day in the US's third largest city, and a relaxing train ride, with no parking or traffic hassles.  What a way to travel!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday, 17 October - Cold, rain, not what I moved here for!

Yeah, I know my friends in Maine will call me a whiner when I'm complaining about 40-45 degree temperatures in mid to late October, but even the local weather personnel have pointed out that the past 5-6 days of barely above 50 temps has been the longest, coldest stretch of weather in October since records have been kept.  The cold and damp have put a hold on about everything.  Though we haven't yet had a frost (that may come tonight), it's difficult to work outside when it's so wet.  So we've found things to do inside!

1.  Spice cake.  This was going to be like heaven.  Unfortunately, I left out the sugar.  Figured they were candidates for the trash, but come to think of it, split, buttered and grilled, they'll be great as a side with soups or stews, other items even.  After all, they ARE more like biscuits than cake!  So maybe that wasn't such a bad accident after all.

2.  Rice.  Barry cooked a super load of rice so we'd have leftovers for other dishes.  Several years ago, I borrowed Maureen's rice steamer, and liked it so well I wouldn't give it back -- had to buy her a newer, larger one.  Good deal for both of us though.  Anyway, we had rice for dinner.  Then Barry made rice pudding with some, and right now, the rest is in a fried rice.  Three meals for about $.75 of rice ain't bad at all!

3.  Squash cookies.  Yup, we have a ton of squash in the freezer, and more out in the carport, so I had to do SOMETHING with the stuff.  I found a great recipe, and when the cookies came out of the oven, Barry had the idea to put cream-cheese frosting between them.  Squash Whoopie Pies!  They're in the freezer now, and will be individually wrapped once frozen.

So, even though we can't really work outside, we've been up to interesting things anyway.  Next up, squash pie, apple pie, and that spice cake -- different recipe and I WILL remember to add sugar!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 3 - The "Domes", Cheese, Brats, and renewing an old friendship.

DAY 3 - October 9, The "Domes", Cheese, Brats, and renewing an old friendship.
The day was cold and rainy, so we figured it was a good day to spend touring indoors. We had seen "The Domes" listed as a tourist attraction, so we decided to take a visit. "The Domes" is a county park, built on the site of a hundred-year-old sunken garden. There are three domes, one which houses tropical plants, one of desert plants, and the "show" dome, whose exhibits change seasonally. We entered the Tropical Dome, and were immediately transported back into the Mexican jungle from our trip to Cancun. The heat and humidity were a welcome change from the cold, dreary weather outside, and immediately, we were greeted by a bright orange bird (too fast to get a picture). Everywhere we turned there were plants that were familiar to us as indoor house plants, and as tropical trees. We have a pothos plant in the kitchen which looks SO spleeny compared to this giant crawling up and around a waterfall. We saw palms, golden shrimp plants, grapefruit, cinnamon and pepper, dozens and dozens of beautiful plants which make me want to convert the back deck into a heated glass conservatory!

The Desert Dome was chilly, as deserts can be, and it was loaded with all kinds of cactus, including the woolly torch cactus -- yes, it's actually woolly! Many succulents and other plants, like aloe and agave grew profusely. Who says a desert is devoid of life -- just got to know where to look! The third dome was a collection of summer garden flowers which was nice. We suspect that soon it'll be converted into a winter garden, or maybe Christmas.

Our next stop was the Milwaukee Brat House, but we were early, so we also stopped at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. They had foam rubber "cheese-heads", cheese neckties, cheese stetson hats (see cow photo), cheese bow-ties -- after all, the Green Bay Packers (football) play only 100 miles north of Milwaukee, and cheese is a favored product of "The Dairy State" -- and yes, there IS a town called "Land of Lakes". We got a cheese education first class -- Q:-Why don't you make macaroni and cheese with cheddar more than 2 years old? A:-It doesn't melt well. Q:-Why can't you buy old-fashioned "rat cheese" any more? A:-It is aged at a temperature too high to be approved by food and drug authorities today, though I suspect many farmers make it any just for their own use. Q:-Does Wisconsin produce parmesan, romano or havarti? A:- Duh=is this "The Dairy State?"

We bought some great souvenirs here -- a round cheese box, a shot glass shaped like a cow's udder, and a t-shirt that says "CHZHEAD". Oh yeah, and about $30 of cheese -- they DO have mail order and the prices are very reasonable for very good cheese.

We still had time, so we stopped at the Spice House, where our sinuses were cleared out instantly with all the flavorful aromas of the hundreds of spices and combinations on sale. We tried one, the Mitchell Street Steak Seasoning. Smell this and think "kielbasa"! Can't wait to get a good steak or hamburger to try it out. They're VERY reasonable, have an online catalog, and their print catalog is an education in spices by itself. No computers on the counter -- they hand-write receipts, and they have an old-fashioned cash register -- the kind that "dings" ("It's a little lumpy, but it rings")!

Anyway, back to the brat house ... we had researched this place and wanted to try the brats boiled in beer on a pretzel roll. Another really important aspect of this place was that we were going to meet a former student -- I have over 400 "friends" on Facebook who are former students; in fact the most over-used phrase in my life, so Barry says, is "former student." Anyway, we met David about 1 p.m. I haven't seen him since about 1983, but I recognized him instantly. We renewed old acquaintances, reminisced a bit, and in general, had a great time. The beer here is served 2 mugs at a time -- saves time and effort in ordering a second... and the brat is served on a soft pretzel roll -- oh I'd LOVE to get hold of some of those here in Kentucky!

Kohl's, our favorite store, began in Brookfield, a suburb of Milwaukee, so we absolutely had to make a pilgrimage there. Bought a few items, saved 15% -- though you gotta be suspicious when everything is 15% off all the time. Well anyway, we like Kohl's and are VERY thankful there's not one any closer than 25 miles away!

Days 1 and 2 - Quick Trip to Milwaukee

DAY 1 - October 7, Louisville to Minneapolis then backtracking to Milwaukee.

We took off from Louisville about 12:30 EDT on Wednesday, 7 October. The first leg of our flight was to Minneapolis, about 600 miles away, but we didn't realize until just a few days before we left, that we'd probably be flying over Gary, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, and near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, our final destination. Well, it wasn't just NEAR Milwaukee, we could see OUR MOTEL as we flew over it, and another 300 miles beyond it! Yup, in the picture, find the airport and look just to the left of it. That's our motel!

Anyway, we DID get to see Minneapolis-St Paul from the air, and got our usual t-shirt, shot glass and refrigerator magnet at the Minneapolis airport. Leaving from there, we got some nice views of the "Twin Cities" and the Mississippi River. Flying over Milwaukee, about 90 minutes later, we came in from the north along Lake Michigan, and could see the breakwaters and the marina, but didn't realize at the time that we were flying directly over one of our goals, the Milwaukee Art Museum (more on that for Day 2). We landed just fine, got our rental car, found the motel, and ate dinner at the Lake City Restaurant and Lounge, at the Best Western, just walking distance up South Howell St. Very good food, reasonable (though not cheap) prices, and a very friendly bartender all helped welcome us to Milwaukee. We enjoyed the pasta buffet -- choose 4-5 ingredients, 3 sauces, several types of pasta -- it was VERY good!

DAY 2 - October 8, The Milwaukee Art Museum and Miller Valley

We researched what to see and do in Milwaukee -- the Internet is a fantastic resource for that. Our two main goals for today were the Milwaukee Art Museum and the home of the Miller Brewing Company, "Miller Valley."

The MAM's latest addition in 2001, is probably the signature buildings of Milwaukee. It is designed like the prow of an ocean liner, and the glass ceiling has a covering over it that slowly opens, like a butterfly opening its wings. It's quite the tourist attraction, even on this windy, nearly-raining day. It takes about 3 minutes to completely open, and it's quite dramatic to watch. The portion of the addition facing Lake Michigan is dramatic, as well -- both from the outside and the inside. It's so modern-looking, one wonders if it the building itself is a sculpture or a mobile, a work of art in itself. The foyer, the lobby, the galleries, and even the underground parking garage are all of the same design -- only time I've ever taken a picture of a parking garage!

Inside, we spent nearly four hours wandering from room to room, from ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman art, through the Renaissance and the Masters, to impressionists and abstract modernists.

My main goal, however, was the extensive collection of Georgia O'Keeffe paintings. Two of my favorites are here ... Gray and Brown Leaves, 1929, and Poppies, 1950. As I pointed out artist after artist to Barry, sharing with him what I knew, it was like being a teacher all over again. GREAT! I just hope I didn't bore him. I also pointed out all the American artists who painted partly in Maine, including Marsden Hartley, who was born in Lewiston.

After leaving the museum, we went to another main tourist attraction, the Miller Brewing Company, and did the beer tour (with three free samples at the end). It's in an area of Milwaukee known as "Miller Valley" because of the extent of the operation, the number of buildings, and the influence of the brewery on the area. The tour itself was disappointing, as much of the factory was being maintained, and we didn't really get to see the millions of bottles and cans of Miller Lite going through the motions. In the brew house, we saw the large kettles for making beer, but again, we just looked at them, inert as they were. At the end of the tour, the three samples confirmed to me now why I prefer local microbreweries. Years ago, I bought a six-pack of Miller Lite (it was cheap) to put in the garden to attract slugs. Today, I realized that was a good move. The Miller Lite tasted like water; then we sampled Miller Genuine Draft -- which had an aluminum can or keg aftertaste to it. The third beer (don't remember the brand) was a lime-flavored, cloudy batch which was OK, but not really to my liking. Oh well, we did the tourist thing, and that was why we were there in Milwaukee!

After doing the beer thing, we hustled over to the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, where I played the 5c machines. Barry, big spender that he is, played the $.25 machines. I guess I'm the cheaper of the two of us. Anyway, the Casino was located in the warehouse district, kind of run-down neighborhood, nestled between the railroad tracks and the Menominee River. It's interesting that Native Americans now use casinos to "get even" ... well, we made the Potawatomi Tribe $15 richer, but had a good time anyway!

For dinner, we went once more to the Lake City Restaurant and Lounge...their meatloaf soup (doesn't sound that good but...) was excellent, much like a hearty beef stew. Barry had a Reuben sandwich and I had a turkey cordon bleu wrap. We didn't finish either, so breakfast the next morning was great!