Monday, June 1, 2009

Grandma turns 87

It's hard to believe my grandmother just turned 87. We all went to my parents house for lunch to celebrate. What do you get an 87 year old woman who has everything she could want you ask...well a Walgreens gift card of course. She loves Walgreens and now maybe she'll get some of those digital photos printed from the camera we gave her for Christmas. My grandmother has longevity in her family and overall is in good health. She'll no doubt be around to celebrate many more. That's her blowing out the candles with my mom in the background.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Restaurant Review--Old City House Inn & Restaurant

We were in St. Augustine for a short while yesterday to do some shopping at one of the outlet malls and we decided to have lunch while there. We checked on to see what kind of gift certificates they had available. We found several for lunch that were normally $3 for a $10 certificate. We had a promo code though for a whopping 80% off the cost so were were able to get several different certificates for 60 cents each. What a deal. Makes trying a new place a bit less scary. Check the site for your area and prices.

We chose to go to the Old City House Inn and Restaurant and I think we made a wise choice. Despite the city being VERY busy we walked right in. Parking was on-site which was a blessing. The Inn is located on Cordova St. so it is near the main tourist areas but located far enough away as to not be really noisy. We were greeted promptly and sat immediately. The room was nice, well lit, clean, and had soft music in the background. While not an extensive menu it was quite varied and looks like it changes daily. Chris ordered the hummus plate which included several slices of what appeared to be homemade bread (the waitress did not know and did not find out for us), a red pepper, and a small green salad. She enjoyed it and was unable to finish it all. I ordered the jalapeno cheddar burger. It was a huge half pound burger that was cooked to perfection. I have taken to ordering burgers medium since a medium well burger means well to burned at most places. Medium usually gets me a well done burger but not this time. Like I said they cooked it perfectly. The slices of pepper on top gave it a good amount of additional flavor. The burger came with a mound of french fries. I was stuffed afterwards.

The bill came to about $20 including tip after the gift certificate. Not cheap by any means ($30 for two for lunch without alcohol) but the food was great, the surroundings wonderful, and it was nice to not be crowded out with all the holiday foot traffic. Based upon this visit I can easily recommend dining here and can see why it is award winning.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

All the rain cancels canoeing outing

For those that know me you probably realize the area I live in has been hit with massive amounts of rain this week. So far the estimates for my area are nearly 20 inches with some areas in the county nearing 30 inches in just under a weeks time.

We have been very lucky in that we haven't experienced any REAL flooding. Our backyard is about 1/2 underwater with some being up to about a foot deep. Our yard slopes off to the back left and so that is the worst area of course. It's not near the house and unless we have days and days of more solid rain I'm not concerned. The front yard is safe as well. The yard slopes down toward the road and forms a little ditch. It's a pain to mow the grass but keeps us dry. Many in the county are nowhere near as lucky and have water standing in their homes. Along I-95 on my way into work there are cow pastures that are solid water as far as you can see. Allegedly parts of Daytona International Speedway are underwater as well though of course they won't let anybody in to officially see and they are denying problems.

Well I'll thank the heavens the worst so far for us is we have had to cancel a canoeing outing this weekend. We were going to go with a couple of friends to Cracker Creek Canoeing on Spruce Creek. Chris and I went a couple weeks ago and walked around and had a good time. The photo to the left is Eganulti (a Native American word for "house by the water") built in 1907 by James Gamble of Proctor and Gamble fame. This house, a citrus packing house, and a "Snow White Cottage" are all on property. There are also walking trails that we didn't take since it was about 90 degrees when we were there. While the canoeing of course costs it was free to walk around the grounds. The buildings were closed and there are paid tours you can take. Despite not going in any buildings it was still a fun hour or so. Now it's just a matter of rescheduling!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Restaurant Review--Stonewood Grill

Okay so in some peoples eyes having a cat and two dogs doesn't really qualify as deserving a Mother's Day gift. I would disagree. That being said we had dinner last night at Stonewood Grill . One word comes to mind: Excellent! That goes for both the food and the service.

We decided against ordering an appetizer but the warm sourdough bread with fresh butter was more than enough. We did each order a salad. I had a half ceasar salad and my wife had a half tomato and mozzarella salad. Both were quite large and very tasty. For our entrees Chris had the pot roast with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. I ordered the shrimp and scallop skewer with creamy corn risotto. Both were delicious though I might give the edge to the pot roast. If you like seafood though you won't go wrong. We were too full to order dessert but the temptation was there.

This is really a special occasion type restaurant with steaks running near $30. If you go all out with appetizer, entree, dessert, and drinks you are looking at serious money. Fortunately we had a gift certificate I won in a silent auction at work and also a coupon from their complimentary magazine Casual Flavors . Our bill still came to around $25 with tip but well worth it. The atmosphere is nice and like I said the service was excellent. If you get a chance to go I would say don't miss out!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Central Florida Zoo

I recently had a chance to go to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford . I hadn't been there in several years and to be honest I probably won't be returning for several more.

Zoos are usually a lot of fun and you get to see animals you'd never see in real life. While there are some of these type animals there overall the zoo is lacking. I suppose the big draw are the pair of asian elephants. On the day I was there there was a "Behind the scenes encounter with the elephants". Of course this would have cost an extra $9.50. We passed. On display also were a cheetah, a couple of kangaroos, a pair of clouded leopards, and your normal basic assortment of alligators, spider monkeys, various birds, and a herpetarium. There is also the obligatory nature walk and petting zoo for kids.

My biggest problem is the zoo seems very very dated. Zoos have evolved try to give the animals larger more natural spaces. The well being of the animal is a prime concern. This is not to say that the CFZ does not care for it's animals. However the phrase "like a caged animal" seems pretty apppropriate here. The zoo appears to have major space issues with little room to expand. It also seems to be on the flight path for the Sanford airport as we heard several large planes going by.

The zoo is also not overburdened by food and souvenir shops. I suppose this can be considered a blessing in some ways especially if you have just been to Disney or Universal Studios but if the day is hot it's nice to not have to walk half way around the park to get a soda or bottle of water. The lone gift shop we noticed is woefully inadequate in it's offerings. Basic items such as postcards (a staple of any tourist location) and pins (has anyone from the zoo been to other parks and seen the popularity of pins?) are missing. The clothing assortment was poor and much of the merchandise looked like it had been there for quite a while. The zoo is definitely missing out here.

We had a buy one get one coupon for admission. This is certainly the way to go here though the gate fee is reasonable. We spent about 2-3 hours and had thouroughly covered everything despite an on again off again rain. If you can find a coupon of some kind it's not too bad. If you have time however you can find many better zoos in Florida. Zoo information can be found at their website

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Disney Hollywood Studios Passholder Muppet Event

On Sunday, March 7 Disney's Hollywood Studios held a special event for a limited number of annual passholders. This event dealt with the Muppets. Since there is a muppet attraction at the park this made perfect sense.

The special guest speaker for the event was Dave Goelz. While not a household name his characters are beloved by millions. He is better known as the voice of Gonzo, Dr. Bunson Honeydew and many more. Goelz is a puppet designer and performer who has been nominated for multiple emmy awards winning in 1978 for Outstanding Comedy, Variety, or Music series. He has worked with The Jim Henson Company since the early 1970's. You may read more about him here: or here

What was interesting about this talk was the brief history of Jim Henson and the muppets that was given. Henson started out with brief appearances on shows such as The Tonight Show, The Today Show and others starting the mid 1950's. He helped produce brief ads with his characters for use during the mandatory station identification breaks. We also got to see how many of the gags used on The Muppet Show in the 1970's were really older skits that had been used many times. Near the end as the q&a session started Goelz brought out his buddy Gonzo to help answer questions. The questions ranged from adults asking about what it was like to work with Jim Henson--Goelz had nothing but positives and seemed to truely still miss him to children asking Gonzo what he is--I guess Gonzo is just well Gonzo. When asked about future projects Goelz was somewhat evasive but did say there are many things in the works including a possible Halloween special.
As a special bonus at the end we were all allowed to have our picture taken with Mr. Goelz and Gonzo. Mr. Goelz was polite to everyone, talked to each group and was sure to thank us for coming. He seemed to be appreciative that we loved his work. I'm hoping Disney offers more events like this in the future.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Round-Trip to Deadsville Book Review

This slim volume, 146 pages, follows author Tim Matson as he attempts to stare down his fear of death. Along the way he realizes it's life that is scary and that death is much easier.

We get to tag along as Matson meets up with the "underworld" of death and dying. We start with a trip to the coffin maker, a man who makes custom coffins by hand. This includes his son's coffin after his tragic suicide. The coffin maker called it part of the healing process. We also get to meet the gravedigger, the stone carver, the lawyer, the crusader, the florist, the cremator, and others who deal in death for a living. Each chapter is brief but offers interesting insights.

As we learn, Matson decides death is easy: "The fear of death I was hoping to overcome was part of a larger fear that had crept up on me, a fear of life. It was the weight of fifty years of hard living, booze, divorce, and dreams that would never come true." (page 139)

After all is said and done Matson decides to be cremated and signs up with the cremator he meets along the way. Matson eventually makes the acquaintance of a wood turner who creates an urn to hold Matson's ashes. Matson gets a lesson in wood turning and gets an urn all for "A fifty dollar bill. That's what I charge for a half-day training workshop." (page 144)

Overall this is a quick and fun read despite what could be a depressing topic. This is something we have all no doubt thought about and if you haven't you will. Let's face it we all pass on at some point. We just have to decide what will happen to us after the inevitable. If we don't somebody else will. Just one small issue for me...First is the use of titles only rather than naming names. It just kind of got to me after a short while constantly reading about "the undertaker" or whatever. Not really a big issue I suppose.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Turnbull Palace Foundation

Here's a quick, fun stop in downtown New Smyrna Beaach. Located near the river are the foundation remains of the Turnbull Palace. The giant cocquinqa structure was begun in 1770 but was never finished as the New Smyrna colony disintigrated in 1777. The foundation was used for several structures several of which were destroyed by indians and now is a tourist spot. Located in downtown New Smyrna Beach, FL the grounds are free and can take anywhere from maybe 5 minutes to half an hour. Take U.S. 1 south to Canal Street and turn left. Take Canal to Riverside and turn left and you will drive by the park. Not worth a special trip but well worth seeing if you are in the area.

In case you are wondering the cute one in the photo at the top is my dog Finley. He's not even a year yet and weighs 73 pounds.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Gospel Side of Elvis--Book Review

Joe Moscheo spent time with Elvis both professionally and as a friend. As a member of The Imperials Moscheo sang backup to Elvis for four years. With that you might expect some more insight than what is given here. In The Gospel Side of Elvis Moscheo gives a fairly sanitized view of the King. We should really expect that since Priscilla Presley wrote the foreward to the book.

Moscheo may be a good singer but he is not a writer and this book could have been much better had the publisher employed a ghost writer and maybe a better editor. The writing style comes off amatuerish and repetitive at times. We hear over and over about Elvis gathering folks around a piano and singing gospel songs after his concerts. Interesting but why did he do this? We learn a bit about Elvis's upbringing and how maybe that influenced him but as far as delving deeply into Elvis's interest in gospel music this is lacking. The gospel albums he issued are very briefly discussed but Moscheo should have researched the recording of them and what went in to them and why certain songs were recorded. Elvis won his Grammy awards for his gospel music but this was just glossed over rather than any in depth research done as to why.

While those with an interest in everything Elvis will want to read this account from a person with up close ties those who want more answers will need to wait for a more authoritative work to come out on the subject. In the mean time anyone interested hearing the gospel music of Elvis should start with Amazing Grace His Greatest Sacred Performances.

In Honored Glory-Arlington Cemetery

There are few places on the earth as moving as Arlington National Cemetery. I was lucky enough to visit there last March and hope to return again soon. There's just too much to do in a day. That being said a good place to start learning about the cemetery is Philip Bigler's wonderful little book In Honored Glory Arlington National Cemetery The Final Post.

In a quickly read 151 pages Bigler gives us a brief overview of Arlington. He touches on its history. For instance how many average Americans know Arlington House was the home of Robert E. Lee? The history of how this wonderful land became a cemetery is covered as are many of the major burial locations. From the space shuttle memorials to the Kennedy brothers, to the failed Iran hostage rescue, to the tomb of the unknowns (from which the book takes its title), to the current war on terror Bigler quickly covers it. The book contains many b/w photos, a listing of famous burials and locations, a trascription of the John F. Kennedy gravesite inscription, eligibility requirements, a listing of headstone symbols, a bibliography, and index.

While I give this book a very high recommendation I must admit it left me wanting more. The book however is only meant as an overview or introduction and in that regard it succeeds on all levels.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The South to Posterity--early Confederate writing defines historiography as the body of literature dealing with historical matters. Douglas Southall Freeman deals with early Confederate historiography is his work The South to Posterity An Introduction to the Writing of Confederate History. First published in 1939 in many ways this work seems outdated based upon the mountains of research that has been published since. That being said Freeman is considered one of the gods of Civil War writing considering his legendary 4 volume biography of Robert E. Lee for which he was award a Pulitzer Prize and his equally masterful 3 volume work Lee's Lieutenants. Not a Civil War buff check out Freeman's massive 7 volume biography on George Washington. Freeman knows his sources and we would be foolish to not pay attention to what he says.

Freeman was writing in a time before many of the great standards of Civil War literature were available. Much of what he deals with are accounts from those who were on the battlefields. It is from these first hand accounts that much of later written history is derived. For those of us with an interest in Confederate history we should search out these titles that are recommended. Many are available as relatively cheap reprints or for free at a local library. Of course what could beat owning your own set of Official Records which clocks in at a mere 128 volumes and nearly 14,000 pages.

Freeman was ahead of his time in many ways. His writing is clear and easy unlike some scholarly work that is dull and difficult. He realized the value of women's writing and the morale building it did to soldiers. He understood the importance of these letters and how it depicted life at home. He feared few of these letters survived. While most did not many more have surfaced than he believed. Freeman also included a chapter on what he felt had yet to be written. This includes several subjects he felt deserved more writing and also biographies that were needed.

This is certainly only a starting point for those of us interested in the Civil War and Confederate history in particular. Of course that is why the word "introduction" is in the title. As for me I'm in search of reading copies of the R. E. Lee A Biography series.

Avoid holiday disasters--Funny stuff

I received this little book for Christmas and while it does have some practical advice it is really just funny. The book is The Worst-Case Scneario Survival Handbook:Holidays. There are several books in this series and if this one is any indication they might all be worth checking out if you can find them cheaply or at the library. Some examples of practical advice are How to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew, How to put out a grease fire, How to treat food poisoning, and How to untangle Christmas tree lights. Funny ones include How to fend off a charging reindeer, How to repurpose a fruitcake (think doorstop or maybe use it as a dumbell during your next workout), How to treat a tongue stuck to a pole, How to climb down a chimney or rescue someone caught in a chimney, or learn how to wrap a gift when you don't have wrapping paper or tape (use post it notes, aluminum foil and maybe some chewing gum).

160 plus pages of fun. Don't believe me? You will if you ever have to deal with a runaway parade balloon or have to stop a runaway one horse open slegih or want to silence carolers at your door.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Smyrna Beach Sugar Mill

Located just off Highway 44 in New Smyrna Beach are the remains of the Cruger-dePeyester Sugar Mill. The remains of the mill date to the 1830's. What is left is mostly some coquina walls and a couple small pieces of machinery the rest having been carted off either to the Dunlawton Sugar Mill just north in Port Orange or taken away by those dealing in scrap metal. There are some interpretive signs but no literature for the visitor to take with them. According to one of the signs during the 1890's a story in the Atlantic Monthly hypothesized that these were the remains of a chapel. Some even suggested that Christopher Columbus had been in the area. Of course these were just romantic dreams.

According to the signs sugar cane was made in the following fashion: 1) A steam powered cane crusher extracted juice 2) The juice was then heated until it thickened and then ladeled into cooling troughs 3) The crystalized sugar was then packed in barrels to dry in a storage room called the purgery. 4) Once dry it was ready for sale.

Also on property is a short and rather disapointing nature trail. Plan on the walk taking about 5 minutes at most and don't get your hopes up for seeing anything too interesting. The property also has some picnic tables and facilities. It would be a nice area to have a picnic lunch. Overall if you stop to see the ruins plan on spending no more than half an hour. The park is free and closes at dusk.