Thursday, March 26, 2009

Alex the Infomercial

Alex and I have become good Southerners since we both moved to Jacksonville. The big ritual in this area is the weekend barbecue. It seems people in the South have taken cooking meat over an open flame to high art and I have to admit that when done right it does taste quite good.

Smoking versus grilling

The next step above barbecuing is smoking the meat over a slow cook flame. You can go high end and use one of those very expensive outdoor grills or traditional like us and use one of those heavy cast iron barrel smokers (there is a big dispute over which is better). Smoking the meat gives it the flavor of the wood you use and the slow cooking process makes the meat juicy and fall from the bone. Like I said, it is a Southern tradition and whole weekends can revolve around preparing to barbecue.

The Russian Barbecue King

Despite the fact he is Russian, Alex has become quite good at barbecuing with his own secret recipes and procedures. We love the smoker because there are all these steps involved in getting the flame just right: selecting the wood (oak is good but hickory is better), placing the firewood and coals in just the right manner to get the fire started, and finally fighting with the fire to keep the flame going to produce the right temperature (I secretly think Alex has a bit of pyromania because no simple flame is good enough).

A couple of weekends ago while barbecuing I did a video clip that bordered on the ridiculous and thought I would give you a look at "Alex the infomercial"

So... now that we have all that oak wood from the tree trimming we can go into summer fully prepared to burn down the neighborhood. And now that you have seen the show, send us $10.99!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

If I were You I'd Go back...

Just to let you know that Alex and I have real lives and not every weekend is a photo adventure... Last weekend Alex had a work project and agreed to work the entire weekend to complete it. I was left to my own devices and decided to do some work around the yard.

There is a section of the backyard that sits under a huge oak tree from my neighbor’s yard that I have been looking at for a long time. I say that because the tree has over grown so much that it looks like the evil forest in the Wizard of Oz. You know, the one Dorothy and the gang enter to get to the witch and encounter the sign that says: "If I were You I'd go back.." The time alone gave me the push I needed to finally tackle it. The great and powerful Google has allowed you to click on each photo to see the full detail.

The tools of the trade

I have come to appreciate why guys spend so much time in hardware stores after I bought the house (I previously had a condo). Once you have struggled with a task and then someone gives you a tool that cuts the time in half you understand that the right tool can reduce any job to light duty. So, the first task was to lay out the tools: Ladder - check; chainsaw - check; reciprocating saw - check; and finally lots of courage because I am afraid of heights.

Mounting the ladder

I know it sounds funny but as I mounted the ladder and got that funny feeling in my stomach that I get when I have reached my height limit, I thought about my post on fear. It kept me going as I went higher and higher to cut the first branch.

A Bold Move

The first branch went so well I did a little calculation and rather than cutting this huge branch bit by bit I figured one bold move should do the trick and the branch would fall on my side of the fence. A well placed cut and down the huge branch came. But, there was some miscalculation and a portion of the fence was destroyed.

However, light instantly flowed through the area. And, we now had a good bit of oak to cure and use for barbeques later this summer.

The entire adventure was very instructive in that I faced my fears. And that section of the backyard now looks so welcoming I have to think of a project to make use of the extra bit of ground I now have… that is after I go to Lowes and replace the fence!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Butterfly Pre-quel

The response was so positive to "Butterflies Are Free" that I have borrowed from Star Wars and did a Pre-quel of pictures taken before the previous pictures and a small video.

Many of you seemed amazed that there is such a thing as a butterfly museum so I am displaying the poster on the outside of the building. It illustrates that there is actually science involved in maintaining the museum.

The Rainforest Museum is part of the Natural History Museum. Just before the rainforest entrance is this fossel and an artificial display of butterflies.

The display of butterflies leads you down what seems like a tunnel and over to the entrance. I felt like I was following winged bread crumbs.

Once inside the rainforest, there is always the cheeky tourist named Alex blocking your shot...

These zebra butterflies seemed more interested in hanging out with each other than diving for the easy meal of sugar found in the fruit and bananas put out by staff.

I loved this particular shot because it gives an indication of just how true to life the rainforest appears. This plant has grown up through a boulder.

And to finally share a bit of the degree of relaxation you experience I have included a short video. The sound of the flowing water and the sight of the butterflies almost forces you to slow down and just enjoy. And so, I hope you will...Enjoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Butterflies are Free

Thank you all for being so patient over this last week. I had a hectic time doing a number of seminars and the blogs have suffered as a result. But never fear... I am back on track and there is a wonderful treat in store. It all started with me reading an article in the New York Times about a rainforest museum in Gainesville, Florida.

Only in Florida

I showed Alex the article and he too was excited to make the trip and take some photos. But, he raised the issue that dare not speak it's name: The ordeal to get there. The trip from Jacksonville to Gainesville involves having to go through two small towns that have little source of revenue and "strictly enforce" the speed limit. Don't believe me? Check out the photo below.

It seems the speed limits were so "strictly enforced" that AAA paid for signs to warn travelors. We made it through ticket free and arrived at the rainforest museum full of anticipation. And, our anticipation was amply rewarded.

the Rainforest Museum

The moment you walk into the museum you are overwhelmed with the sight of a wall of examples of the butterflies you will encounter once you enter the rainforest. This picture does not do justice to the sight.

After viewing the hundreds and hundreds of butterflies you can't wait to get inside and see them first hand. You walk through the door and experience a blast of air which prevents the butterflies flying out and you are instantly transported into the rainforest...

Butterflies are everywhere and you feel yourself instantly calm. It is a beautiful sight.

In addition to the butterflies there are birds that inhabit the facility. I shot these guys having a late lunch.

The museum workers put out fruit and bananas for the butterflies and they willingly fly from station to station to grab a bite of sugar.

And, it is not just the butterflies that are strange and wonderful but also the foliage. Flowers and many unusual trees are abundant.

One I found particularly unusual is this thorn tree. I never was able to find the official name for it but learned it occurs in parts of South America and Asia.

It was so fearsome I took a close up to give you an idea of just how sharp the thorns are.

But back to the butterflies

There were all kinds and I will just add a few more of the hundreds we saw...

We hated to leave but realized we once again had t0 endure the ordeal of those two cities that "strictly enforce" the speed limit on our trip back to Jacksonville. But, I hope these pictures have allowed you to enjoy the rainforest visit as much as we did.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sherlock Holmes and The Two Detectives...

I sometimes think that we are a little odd (me and Alex) with our constant wandering in search of adventure. I say that because we never seem to meet a stranger and think that everyone has a story to tell as long as you are willing to take the time to listen. I personally subscribe to the theory that life is lived between two doors. You open the first door and start walking... and then you reach the other door and life ends. I really believe that is true, and I have resolved that as long as I am walking between those two doors it makes sense look around a bit, and if possible take a picture.

That said, I am overjoyed to be able to invite you to view one of my favorite passions. I love mysteries, but not just any kind of mystery. The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes kind of mystery. I am a sucker for Holmes and never tire of reading the Sherlock Holmes Anthology or watching a Holmes movie. And, if you add the mindset of Holmes himself it is more than exciting. He is a walking brain that is only happy when he is struggling to put it to use.

You can therefore imagine my excitement roaming around Springfield when we discovered the Karpeles Manuscript Museum and learned their current exhibit was “The Detective (Sherlock Holmes), The Detective Scholar (Dorothy Sayers) and The Spy (James Bond). Right here in Jacksonville were copies of their original manuscripts. We simply had to go...!

To add to the adventure we were going to do a little handwriting analysis of the writers. We did some research on the subject because pressure and slant tell you a lot about a person. We were now ready to take off and dig into the psyche of..."The Detective!"

Deep stuff huh...?!

The museum... no long lines or crowds even though admission is free. Back to our being odd, because we welcomed the solitary aspect and viewed this as opportunity for us to roam around and ask questions. Crowds mean competition and it was apparent we would have none.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes)

Conan Doyle as a medical student was the assistant to Doctor Joseph Bell and it is widely believed that Bell was the person who inspired the character Sherlock Holmes. In a strange twist you could almost say Conan Doyle was actually Watson observing Bell.

Let's first view the handwriting of Dr. Bell. There appears to be deep pressure but not as much slant except for his "t's"

Conan Doyle's script on the other hand does not seem that different from Dr. Bell's except that there is not as much pressure.

Funny, but what actually got me started down this handwriting analysis rabbit hole is that Conan Doyle frequently received suggestions from readers about things he could use in the Holmes series, and one reader suggested having Holmes analyze someone's handwriting to solve a case. Conan Doyle corresponded frequently with the reader to understand the concept of handwriting analysis but abruptly stopped when the reader one day made the mistake of analyzing Conan Doyle's.

Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey)

Dorothy Sayers strokes appear to exert moderate pressure and also have a slightly more right slant.

Ian Fleming (James Bond)

Ian Fleming's notes from "You only live Twice" seem to have pressure but not nearly as much as Dr. Bell's, and yet a lot more flair than Sayers.

I'll leave it to you to dig deeper into how each of them is different but we asked tons of questions. The caretaker could see he had some willing snoopers and gave us the grand tour of other exhibits not currently on display. The next three photos are part of our tour.

And then a friend of the caretaker came by to help him close. He had a guitar, and right in the middle of the building was a stage with a piano. Alex could not resist and offered to play a few songs with him while I sat in the balcony.

Would you like to hear them play? Of course you would...

We closed the afternoon convinced that we learned a lot and also accepted that yes we truly are odd, but in a pleasant sort of way...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Our Own Private Pergola Spring

Spring will not come fast enough after such a hard winter. Ok, I've become spoiled living in Florida after moving from Colorado, but for Florida it was a hard winter! So I got the idea to bring Spring to you by highlighting a project from last Summer.

It all started with a picture... I stumbled upon a picture of a pergola that looked so inviting it became an obsession that haunted me day and night. Having one would be my oasis, my hideaway, my retreat from all the pressures of the day.

I wanted to turn this:

Into this:

I don't think I told you but my friends tell me that I am cheap, I call it frugal, but either way I don't part with a dollar easily. That said, I almost had a heart attack when the workman told me the cost to have a pergola built. But I refused to be denied, and decided to build one myself!

Did I also mention that I have never built anything? But, hope springs eternal (no pun intended) and I did what I always do: I went to the library and read everything I could on building a patio pergola. Fool that I am, I was now ready to tackle the home improvement store Lowes to begin purchasing the wood and setting up the foundation. I will give Lowes a lot of credit. They provided lots of guidance and cleared up a good deal of confusion from my reading.

This part looks simple but you have no idea the work required to get to this point. I had to dig six holes, that seemed like they went to China, and then pour the concrete that would support the posts. Doing this in July didn't help either. But, I patted myself on the back after getting it done.

Next, I got the idea to put in railing for extra seating and the thing really began to take shape. So much so, I bought a few flowers and set them where they would be when the project was finished. Ahead of the process I know, but pushing myself to the point of being able to plant those flowers was the thing that kept me going.

I never realized how difficult painting could be. I tried doing it by hand until my arm almost fell off. Another trip to Lowes and bought a small paint gun. What took hours by hand was done in fewer hours with the paint gun. Isn't technology wonderful!

Next came the lattice on top and it was now coming into shape. Cue the James Brown music "Take me home Maceo!"

I regret that I don't have any photos of the pergola right after the concrete was poured. I say that because as soon as the required time the workman suggested had expired (yes..., I don't do concrete and parted with the dollars) I threw on the table and chairs.

I even put in lights so we could sit out under the stars late into the night...

And, remember those plants...?

And now I have this...

and this

Knowing what I now know and all the work that was involved... I would do it all again! But, I will admit it helped that I didn't know ! So, Spring may not be here just yet but looking at those photos made me feel a lot better...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What's Left of Me...

Tuesday was my birthday and I took a moment to just reflect on the fact that I am once again another year older.

I look in the mirror and it is still me, a little less robust around the gills but still me, and I wonder where the years went.

A moment of reflection and I am ready to keep going...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Memories are made of This...

After a long and hectic week, I could not wait to head out and take some photos. We decided to shift gears and try some small museums. Because of that decision, we ended up meeting some very wonderful people and learning a lot about the history of Jacksonville.

We selected the Museum of Southern History and arrived at what on the outside looked a little unassuming.

But once inside, the place was filled with all kinds of historical items from the Civil War and pictures that highlighted events during the war here in Jacksonville. Of course, there were the usual exhibits of generals from the Confederacy...

But, the two men who help maintain the museum gave us a personalized guided tour that made the place ten times more exciting. They pointed out the importance of particular battles laid out on mock terrain with trees, troups and houses...

They put a human face on the uniforms by describing which units each uniform represented. As I looked first at the uniforms and then the pictures of the soldiers it made me realize here was someone's husband, brother, son, or uncle who may or may not have returned from the war. Click the photo of the pictures and look closely at the faces, they all seem so young...

They pointed out pictures of a group of black slaves who fought for the South. They may have been slaves but from the pictures they wore their uniforms proudly.

Strange, but war causes men to become creative in ways they would not imagine in peace time. Below is a picture of a small submarine created by Southern soldiers during the war. It probably held only two or three men, but it worked!

One of the men described how this flag was believed to have been draped over Lincoln's casket and in the rush to complete it the number of stars that could be seen on each side got reversed. It's yellowed with age but there is something solemn about it.

The same can be said for the Confederate flag. It survived the battle of Olustee and they pointed out the holes that were from bullets and not age.

Another very interesting fact they pointed out was the paddle boat, The Maple Leaf, that was sunk near what is now the area of town called Mandarin. The inscription on the painting reads: "The Maple Leaf... last port of call Jacksonville Florida April 1, 1864." The boat still rests somewhere off the Mandarin point.

We talked and talked about all the history we have photographed in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Alex mentioned Boone Hall Plantation, and they were very familiar with the farm. I mentioned taking some pictures of Confederate Park near Springfield and one of the men's faces lit up when I mentioned it. He asked if I saw the plaque their museum had dedicated to the 1914 Confederate Veterans Reunion that sits in the park and I had to answer "no." There was a brief moment of disappointment in his face that made me feel a little ashamed. It seemed Alex and I had been so focused on how the park used to look, we had not taken the time to view the plaque and read the history of the park itself.

As we parted I told them I would feature the museum on my blog and mention the fact they were so nice. They made jokes about that but they really were, so much so that Alex and I drove downtown to the park to read the plaque in the photo below...