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Sunday 22 November 2009

The weblog is on the move

I'm still here! But the weblog is moving.

The new location should be up and running soon. I intend to keep this site up, also; I don't expect to migrate the posts here to the new weblog, so you'll still have to come here for the historical perspective.

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 31 October 2009

Blue Licks

Sunset at Blue Licks Battleground State Park

Today we attended the annual meeting of the Kentucky Community Farm Alliance (CFA). The CFA is a curious amalgam of people interested in the viability of family farms. The core of the group lobbies legislators in Frankfort for legislation friendly to family farms, including getting more family farm food in school cafeterias. Along the way they have picked up proponents of other objectives, including local food and organic food advocates, and those working to provide food to the "food insecure" (i.e. those who have trouble affording their groceries). Lately they have been promoting "Community Supported Agriculture", or CSA, a sort of adopt-a-farmer program where two or three dozen people buy "shares" in a farmer's projected harvest. They pay the farmer at the beginning of the season and get their share of his crop each week, be it good or bad. This shifts some of the risk from the farmer to the eater, providing some small scale farmers enough economic security for them to stay in the farming business. This same model is also used by charities that want to provide fresh produce to the “food-insecure”. I'm not sure how this model would scale over time.

The conference was held at Kentucky's Blue Licks Battleground State Park. Blue Licks was the site of a salty spring which attracted mammals for thousands of years (not sure where the “Blue” part of the name came from). Woolly mammoths trod a path from the Ohio River to Blue Licks, a trail later followed by the buffalo. Early settlers came here to make salt, and the followed the same trail, or “buffalo trace”. A skirmish late in the Revolutionary War gave it the “battlefield” part of its name. In 1782 the British were still harassing settlements in Kentucky and elsewhere. When Daniel Boone, Trigg, and their men showed up at one of these besieged settlements that summer, they found that the British had slipped out the night before, headed for Blue Licks. Boone and company followed them to the river crossing just before the Licks. The British and their Indian compatriots had already crossed over and taken a position on the high ground above the Licks and the river. After some debate, Boone and the other Kentucky officers decided that they had come this far and they might as well attack.

Now you might think that crossing a river to charge uphill against an entrenched enemy that outnumbers you is not be the smartest idea, and you would be correct. The Kentuckians were ambushed. Daniel Boone's son Israel was shot and killed in front of him. Seventy Kentuckians were felled during the short battle and subsequent retreat. It was the last battle of the Revolutionary War.

Much later, in the nineteenth century, enterprising businessmen sought to capitalize on the supposed health benefits of the water from the Blue Licks spring. It was sold in bottles, and eventually a five hundred room hotel was built to serve the well-to-do who came to partake of the waters in person. The hotel burned down and about a hundred years ago, after who knows how many tens of thousands of years, the spring dried up. One of the property heirs or leinholders donated the land as a state park and here we were.

Conrad showing his support for local family farmers

But none of this was discussed during the CFA meeting. We did have an absolutely delicious lunch of local food, locally prepared: potatoes, tomatoes, collard greens, buffalo stew, apple cobbler, biscuits and corn bread.

There was a fun “food quiz” during lunch – see how you do on a few of the questions that we were posed (hover your mouse to the right of the question to see the answer):

  • A donkey's eyes are positioned so that it can see ? at all times. All four feet
  • Which farm animal's eyes have rectangular pupils? Goats
  • There are about how many kernels on each ear of corn? 600
  • The Ancient Egyptians thought that the God of agriculture, Osiris, taught humans how to make ? Beer
  • In 1970, US broccoli consumption was a half a pound per person. Today, the average person in the United States eats how much broccoli a year?4 1/2 pounds
  • A group of twelve cows is referred to as a ?Flink
  • How long did the longest recorded chicken flight last?13 seconds

Sunday morning I awoke early and walked up to see the monument to the Kentuckians who died in battle that day so long ago. A friend of mine who is a Civil War buff told me that you have to go to the site of a battle to really understand what happened there - “You gotta walk the ground” he always said. And indeed it was an experience to walk the path that woolly mammoths and British soldiers and Daniel Boone walked, and see the ravines where the Indians laid in wait for the hapless Americans. It reminded me of the time that I visited Washington-on-the-Brazos in Texas and walked the very same road that Davy Crockett did on his trip to the Alamo. His first and last trip, as it turned out.

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 17 October 2009

Chili Champions

As part of their annual volunteer appreciation event, the Kentucky Humane Society sponsored a chili cookoff today. CVH and I entered a huge bowl of chili, and won the competition! To be sure, CVH provided the expertise, but she said some of the credit belonged to the quality of the cumin that she used; it was Penzey's cumin (I guess I should put a paid link in here!). The most important thing, though, is to know your audience. You have to give the judges what they're going to want if you expect to win, of course.

Categories: News from Louisville

Iceberg Dead Ahead!

CVH's Titanic Ticket

We went to the farmer's market this morning, and it was cold enough that we thought that we might have to dodge icebergs. This particular market has announced that it is going to be open "year 'round", and a lot of farmers had indeed gotten up in the cold and the dark to bring their wares into town. We were able to get potatoes and a some of the very last of the corn and tomatoes (snif), as well as local buffalo from the Kentucky Bison Company. We'll see what happens when there is snow on the ground.

After the market we went to the Louisville Science Center and saw the exhibit of Titanic artifacts. Everybody gets a "ticket" upon entering the exhibit with the name of an actual passenger, so you can see what sort of accomodations you would have enjoyed and if you would have survived the disaster. CVH was lucky enough to get Dorothy Gibson, a famous actress traveling first class. She escaped in lifeboat 7. I got a second class male who didn't make it. I am now 0 for 2 at Titanic exhibits.

The company that puts on the exhibits, RMS Titanic Inc, has five or six of these exhibitions touring the world at any given time. The one here in Louisville is one of the smaller exhibitions, but it still had a good representative selection of artifacts on display. Unlike the last exhibit I went to, however, this one did not have a gift shop; there were only a couple of Titanic related items for sale. Not sure why that would be so.

Categories: News from Louisville

Thursday 08 October 2009

A Day at Churchill Downs

Today was the annual Louisville Computer Security Conference and it was held at Churchill Downs. They were taking out a few horses and running them around when I got there. Disney had announced that they would be filming a movie about Secretariat at the Downs all week, but we found out that they had wrapped up early and left the day before. So I didn't make it onto the screen with John Malkovich.

Churchill Downs was a surprisingly nice place to have a conference; a good audio system, (relatively) comfortable chairs, good staff, and plenty of video monitors. About the only complaint I had was that there were no clocks whatsoever.

Categories: News from Louisville

Sunday 04 October 2009

The original objective was to drain the swamp

Have you ever looked at twenty-one pounds of produce stacked up on the kitchen counter? "Now what?" is a real question. So far I have two gallons of eggplant pasta sauce simmering on the cooktop. And that barely made a dent in the eggplant pile. Looks like I'll have to sponsor a caponata festival or something.

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 03 October 2009

The last flash?

Perhaps the garden senses that summer is over and the first frost is soon around the corner. In any event, it has certainly put out a burst of fruits this week. I've harvested over twenty-one pounds of okra, green red and yellow peppers, banana peppers, jalapenos, and eggplant the last two days.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with all of this bounty. Two gallons of eggplant pasta sauce only makes a rather small dent in this harvest.

Categories: News from Louisville

Friday 18 September 2009

The Niña and the Pinta

This week a couple of small boats came sailing up the Ohio River to downtown Louisville, and I went to see them after work. They are replicas of the the Niña and the Pinta, Columbus' favorite rides to China. The Niña was built by hand (i.e. no power tools) for the Columbus quincentennial and was used in the movie 1492.

These boats are of the extra-sturdy construction that you find in the absence of proper engineering (in vessels that didn't sink anyway), and I can believe that the originals made muliple voyages across the Atlantic. However, according to the crew's website, travel conditions were possibly even worse than air travel today:

Life on board the Niña in 1492 was not for the light hearted. When the Niña left on any of her three voyages to the New World, her cargo hold was full of provisions, water, armaments. There were live animals ranging from horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. The four-legged animals were suspended in slings as the rolling motion of the vessel would have easily broken their legs.

Needless to say, there was little room below decks for the 27 or so crew to sleep or cook. Cooking was done in a fire box located on decks in the bow of the ship. Sleeping was on the deck and was always uncomfortable as the ship was so loaded with cargo, her decks were always awash. A lucky few could sleep on the poop deck or find a coil of rope to sleep on to keep them off the deck a foot or so.

Life on board improved dramatically when the Niña reached the New World. New fruits and vegetables were discovered which helped to eliminate scurvy and most importantly, the Indians slept in hammocks which the Spanish crew immediately used in their travels.

Categories: News from Louisville

Sunday 13 September 2009

An evening at the Bernheim Forest

Last night our local "tree museum" and nature center, the Bernheim Forest and Arboretum, held an end-of-summer party after sundown. The new arboretum director is from California and apparently wants to do something different than the usual "save the spotted fern cricket" thing.

Local artists floated fire in the lake and created "found" sculptures. I watched a group of percussionists playing African drums. The local astronomical society set up telescopes to observe Jupiter and other heavenly bodies. There was a person dressed up as some sort of giant bug (cockroach?) while wandering through the crowd. There was a candle labyrinth. The pathway around the lake was dimly lit by tiki torches and solar lights and it gets rather dark indeed out there once the sun goes down. I looked up and the sky seemed to have been sprinkled with salt.

One crowd pleaser was a set of short films projected on a sheet on the woods that showed a woman in a body sock filmed in silhouette as she bent over and assumed an image of an insect. Then the film was sped up as she moved her arms and legs in an insect-like motion. This was accompanied to great effect by an actual insect sound track so that it appeared she was making buzzing and chirping noises.

Categories: News from Louisville

Sunday 23 August 2009

A cool day in August

A Canadian cold front came through yesterday, lowering temperatures and humidity levels. And although it didn't seem to blow in any health care reform, it did bring in something else. It's difficult to describe or define it, but it is a definite feeling. It reminded me of going back to school in the fall.

Perhaps there's something they do up there in Canada in the summer and fall that puts an aroma in the air that gets carried here on such fronts. A pollen or something. Something that doesn't happen in the winter (the last thing that you are reminded of when these fronts come through in January is autumn).

This hint of fall does perk one up, at least initially, as fall is a nice time of year here (when you're not raking up the neighbor's leaves out of your yard). Yet I find that after a few moments this hint of fall starts to turn into a spectre of winter, reminding me that we don't live in the Sun Belt anymore. Well, you can't have it both ways, unless, I suppose, you live in San Diego.

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 18 July 2009

La Grange

A cool front came through, leaving us with a comfortable, albeit cloudy, day. I wanted to go see something new; CVH wanted to go to the farmer's market. So we decided to go to the farmer's market in Oldham County. I had heard that LaGrange (the county seat) had a quaint downtown and, on Saturday mornings, a farmer's market.

First, though, CVH wanted to do some agritourism, and she found a goat farm on the internet. The web page said "stop by and see our goats". It was a nice country drive to waaay out in the country where the farm was. After only one missed turn (thanks to 911, all roads now have names, and most have signs), we finally found the farm. With a locked gate and "For Sale" sign. The farm is gone, but its web page lives on...

Big R's

So we headed down to LaGrange, right smack into a huge crowd, and barely got in and parked before they shut down the roads. Turns out today was "Oldham County Day", and downtown LaGrange is filled with booths and people waiting for the annual parade. "They made absolutely no mention of this on their website," CVH maintained. But what the heck, we stayed for the parade, and I learned that there are an awful lot of antique tractor enthusiasts in Oldham County. And judging by the number of fire engines that were in the parade, if you own a house in Oldham County, I wouldn't suggest that it catch on fire on Oldham County Day. We can recommend Big R's Barbecue Shack. Excellent, very smoky pig at a downright cheap price.

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 11 July 2009

Victorian Gardens

We took in the 16th annual Old Louisville Garden Tour today. Old Louisville is a large Victorian era neighborhood, supposedly the largest in the country, full of these beautiful ornate mansions that look like incredible money pits. They have surprisingly large backyards, given that they were built prior to the infroduction of the automobiles. Perhaps that because these houses domiciled the wealthy a hundred years ago, as they do today, and they probably owned their own horses and needed room for them.

Our favorite garden, however, was probably the most modest one on the tour. The wooden fence was covered in flowers including lavender, lilac, lilies, peonies, roses, irises, tulips and daffodils. There was a crepe myrtle as nice as any I saw down south. A delicious vegetable garden, including a peach tree! You can see in the picture that one side of the garden is shaded by a large warehouse, but they were still getting great results in that shade. Wonder how they do that?

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 04 July 2009

The Bounty

The garden is starting to deliver some dividends. One of the cucumber plants has given up the ghost, the romaine and arugula and cilantro and parsley are a thing of the past, the melons never materialized, and the tomatoes go green but not red, but the squash and eggplant and peppers are still going strong. This is a small part of what we harvested from the garden this morning. (The handmade Longaberger basket was not included in the previously disclosed cost of the garden.)

The Giant Zucchini

And maybe I should have entered this gigantic zucchini in the state fair competition.

Categories: News from Louisville

Sunday 28 June 2009

Muhammad Ali Center

We visited the Muhammad Ali Center today. It's partly a civic center, but mostly a museum dedicated to Ali's life and times. Three floors of exhibits tell a biographical tale about Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, from his starting training at the age of 12, through defeating Sonny Liston (that guy was huge), conversion to Islam, refusing Army service, returning to claim the heavyweight title again and again, up to his many charitable and philanthropic efforts that he's currently involved in. It's an interesting place. He's a guy who certainly has a lot to say about himself.

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 27 June 2009

Hike for Hosparus

This morning I participated in the "Hike for Hosparus", a fundraiser in our neighborhood for the local hospice provider (Louisville is small; there is only one).

It was hot. Unusually so for Louisville. But still the turnout was impressive; several hundred people for a organization that most people, I would guess, would rather not think about.

Categories: News from Louisville

Thursday 25 June 2009

C. E. Cheese vs. The Science Center

If you tell a four year old that you are going to take her to Chuck E. Cheese's, you can be sure that they will make absolutely certain that you do not forget or forsake your pledge. So this morning we decamped early (it opens at 9), and trekked to Mr Charles' establishment, armed with the coupons that we got for joining his "club" (note to grandparents doing this for the first time: signing up on the internet will get you a substantial discount). Dining options are limited, but I will have to say that they are one of the very few restuarants in Louisville to have a perfect Health Department score of 100, so eating there is safer than you would probably think.

GC1 had a lot of fun and met Chuck in person; for me there were more familiar games to play: air hockey, skeeball, a couple of video car racing games, and one "shooter" video game that did not involve firing a gun and killing something. In this game you handle a firehose and try to rescue the Mayor, who is trapped in a burning building. Seems he was addressing a campaign fundraiser when the transformer in the basement overheated and burst into flames. I'm afraid I was unable to complete the rescue.

The atmosphere at this establishment stuck me as manic, much more so than its predecessor, Showbiz Pizza Place. It seemed much louder, and I certainly don't remember seeing raunchy music videos being remade in an attempt to make them appropriate for preschoolers - they're still raunchy and send the wrong signal. They've taken the old Showbiz slogan - Where a Kid Can Be a Kid - and bent it all out of shape. I read about how they have to drug up elementary school kids to control them in class, and if this place is any indication as to what they're getting outside of school, then I'm not at all surprised.

The "Eyeball" Museum

Contrast this to the Louisville Science Center. We drove there later in the afternoon, and CVH warned me that the visit might be a short one, since GC1 was so worn out she might be about to fall asleep. This concerned me slightly, as the Science Center isn't exactly cheap and I didn't want to be leaving after fifteen minutes (although to be fair, it cost no more than the morning at Chuck E. Cheese's did). Yet here was a place where a Kid could truly be a Kid, and with the kind of imaginative stimulation that builds brains, not turn them to mush. GC1 made "bubble art", played with an array of water hoses and toys, helped me build a Archimedean arch, flew a jet while CVH and I relaxed in its first class cabin, listened to bird and whale song, and in general acted like a kid, but in a more constructive and intelligent way. She was completely energized by the Science Center and we stayed until closing time and she was quite upset to have to leave; later she kept saying that she wanted to return to the "eyeball" museum. Verdict: Skip Chuck E. Cheese's.

Categories: News from Louisville

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Kentucky Down Under

We all piled into the station wagon today and took a trip down to the Kentucky Outback, aka Kentucky Down Under. CVH had been wanting to take the grandchild there for sometime now, and now was the time.

Kentucky Down Under is one of many attractions around Mammoth Cave National Park. “Attractions” being a euphemism for “tourist trap”, of course, but this one was really pretty nice for the ten-and-under set, who wouldn't notice any of the cheesiness. And there was quite a nice educational aspect to the park; they did a good job of explaining the animals and geography.

The first attraction we saw was one of funnest: you went into a cage of brightly colored parakeets with parakeet food and let the birds fly around you and land on you. This is really more fun than it sounds and I enjoyed the bright colors swirling through the air.

Then we went to the reptile show, where GC1 got to pet a blue-tongued skink, and Spot the Snake (so named because of the brightly colored spots on his body).

The Rainbow Lorikeet

After a walk through the bird garden to hear the Kookaburra laugh and to marvel at the Rainbow Lorikeet, we unpacked and ate our picnic lunch.

The Picnic Moocher

I would recommend taking your own lunch, as the dining options on site are otherwise rather limited. However, be aware that you will probably be visited by the resident avian panhandler, seen here on top of our picnic table.

CVH descending the cave

Following lunch, we toured the cave.

It's a nice cave, just the right size – not too long to be tiresome, but long enough to see a wide variety of cave formations. It's not so big that you feel like you're in the Astrodome, but not so small that you're having to squeeze around all the time and can't really see anything. It's nice and intimate. We all liked it.

Then there was a lecture on non-native species in Australia, from European felons to rabbits to sheep and dogs, and all the trouble they caused. A nice lesson in environmental ecology, backed by solid evidence from the Australian experience.

After the lecture, we went to pet some of the Australian animals. The kangaroo, of course, and an emu. CVH enjoyed the kangaroo; so found it surprisingly soft and smooth.

GC1's father was bad about putting his arm in front of her; I can't tell you how many pictures I have like this one.

With some coaching, however, they became quite a pair of models.

A walk around the nature trail, and then we went into the woolshed to see the varieties of sheep that are popular in Australia. The guide told us that there were several sheep farms Down Under of over a million acres, the largest being about the size of Rhode Island. They demonstrated how to “sit” a sheep and then brought in a dairy cow. CVH, having grown up around dairy farms, encouraged us to give milking a try, but warned us to pay attention to her and back away quickly from the rear of the cow if she warned us to. GC1 and I both went up and milked the cow, and on our way back to our seats heard CVH call “Run!” I turned to look, not unlike Lot's wife, just as the cow let loose. I was very lucky that day and escaped unscathed, but apparently CVH had learned that lesson the hard way somewhere along the line; indeed, the fragrant emission covered a much larger area that you would think if you hadn't ever witnessed such an explosive event before.

I'd recommend Kentucky Down Under to groups with kids in the pre-K to third grade. I would suggest that you wait until the I-65 construction area is complete, as it will delay you from forty-five minutes to much more.

Categories: News from Louisville

Tuesday 23 June 2009

The Water Park

Today we got up and GC1 was told that she was going to the water park. Now I knew that none of the pools in this area open until the afternoon, but apparently no one else did. I did not see this as a problem, since we could just go to the big playground downtown, have a picnic lunch, and then go to the water park. So when GC1 said that she was ready to go to the water park, I told her that the water park was closed and that we would go to the playground park first, then visit the water park in the afternoon. That elicited a loud statement to the effect that she wanted to go to the water park. I repeated that the water park wasn't open yet. In addition, I noted that the playground park has a water spray pool, and she can play there. She indicated, rather intently, that she wasn't particularly interested in the spray pool, and was clearly upset that she WASN'T GOING TO THE WATER PARK RIGHT NOW.

"You certainly handled that well," my wife told me. "Now go get the play pool and set it up in the back yard."

Fortunately for me, that seemed to do the trick, and even evoked a happy smile.

After lunch, we did make it to the water park, where she had a lot of fun. She really wanted to go on the water slide, but wasn't quite tall enough according to the sign at the entrance. So her father took her up anyway, and when the guard asked if she was tall enough, he said "Oh, yeah." She flew down the water slide into the pool again and again and again. This child is fearless; there is no way you would have gotten me up that high when I was her age (or even three or four years later), much less gotten me to slide down a 105-foot slide by myself. I just hope she loses some of that fearlessness before she gets her driver's licence.

Categories: News from Louisville

Monday 22 June 2009

Zoo Story

At the Zoo

The kids came for a visit, and wanted to go to the zoo. Since I had just been there a couple of days earlier, I felt I was in a pretty good position to show them around. And since we continue to suffer under a stultifying heat wave (yes, after all those years in Texas I thought I was pretty tough when it came to hot weather but this one was getting even me down), I suggested that we go there first thing in the morning. Well, first thing in the morning we were watching it pour down rain from thunderstorms (morning thunderstorms in the summer? It doesn't normally do that), so we switched to Plan B and headed to the Puzzle's Fun Dome. This is really a pretty nice and affordable place to spend a rainy morning. They only charge for kids, not adults, which was a good deal for us as we only had one kid. GC1 enjoyed the Inflatables, especially the slide, which was much higher than I would have ever climbed at her age. The child is fearless. I hope she gets over some of that before she gets her driver's licence. The grown-ups busied themselves in the arcade. There was only one video game of the type that I remembered: “Dino Dash” (you bang a button as fast as you can to get your dinosaur to the finish line first), but it was fun. Most of the games were little more than slot machines – you drop in a coin and the number of tickets that you win depends on where it falls. They did have Skee-Ball and one particularly interesting device which consisted of a pad and a series of chase lights. The lights were supposed to represent a jump rope and you were to jump up when the light approached the ground. I learned that I am very poorly equipped to play jump rope. Nonetheless, by the time we had played all of our 100 tokens, we had enough tickets for GC1 to get a large bag of trinkets. It must be noted that much of the credit goes to Son's knowledge of how to beat one certain game (ah, misspent youth).

Watching the elephant show

The carousel

After lunch, the skies had cleared, but of course all the rain left us with a relative humidity of about 112%. We went to the zoo anyway. It was hot. GC1 had a wonderful time. She and her dad watched the elephant show. And rode the carousel.

Categories: News from Louisville

Saturday 20 June 2009

A Walk Around The Zoo

The Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana had their annual fund raising walk at the Louisville Zoo this morning. It was a hot, muggy morning. I've been on a lot of fund raising 5Ks in my time, but this is the first one that was held at a zoo. It's really a clever idea – you get into the zoo early, walk around and see all the animals, and it brings out a lot of families. (I did get to meet the Executive Director of the Foundation, and she did admit that the zoo fees cut into the amount raised, but they have so much momentum built up over the years around the event that they would hate to move it.)

"Scotty" and mom

Despite the heat, a lot of the animals were up and about. The baby elephant was a big hit. It's momma was stretching her trunk out over the fence and peeling branches off a small tree to eat. The youngster would then stick his trunk up and try to yank some of the greenery out of his mother's mouth. Usually this was unsuccessful, but occasionally he did get a hunk, much to the delight of the audience gathered around.

Another interesting sight was the lion exhibit and the giraffe exhibit. They are right next to each other, and while the giraffe was feeding, the lion laid there and stared at it. And stared. And stared and stared and stared. That's gotta hurt.

Categories: News from Louisville