Monday, February 28, 2011

King - Kong

Henry and Barbara King
I've spent about 40 years trying to figure out where I came from.

I know the biological part, I did well in science subjects in school.

What I didn't know was who came before us that got us to this country, how they got to the town where we lived, and why they didn't amass a fortune to leave to me so I could spend my days pasting stamps into albums.

And the "King-Kong" reference in the blog title has nothing to do with on!

As part of a social sciences class in college, I embarked on a genealogical project that soon came to a stop when my grandmother (the only grandparent alive at the time I started working on this) couldn't remember much about her parents or siblings.

Her inability to come up with facts wasn't due to dementia or Alzheimer's...she just never paid attention.  As the youngest of 11 children, she was busy trying to keep up with the crowd and was much more interested in having fun.

She also wasn't hearing many of the family stories.  Some of her older brothers and sisters had married and moved out of the house before she started grade school.  There was that big of an age difference from eldest to youngest and her brothers wanted their own farms and her sisters married.

Before I go on, note to my boys here: they moved out!

My grandmother did remember that her father was in the Civil War, that he was brought to this country from Germany as a child, by his parents, and that he fell off a wagon in his latter years.

Nothing to do with drinking, he actually tumbled off a farm wagon and seriously injured himself.  That spill did him in and ended any possibility of anyone else finding out how he got to America or who his parents and their families were.

Another problem, as my grandmother started talking about her childhood?  Her father's name was Henry and she had two brothers named Henry.

Henry, the first son with that name, died young and when the next boy was born he became Henry.  People do that sometimes.  So, when I asked about Henry, depending upon which Henry she thought I was talking about, I could take quite a trip around the family tree, wondering why one day Henry was in the Civil War and the next day Henry had died before he was 10.  No, Henry lived to be an adult, got married and lived on the farm.  Henry the father or Henry the son? Yes.  Turns out those facts are correct for both, same farm, just different years for each of them.

The other issue that had to be dealt with was the change in the family surname from there, Germany, to here, New York.

In Germany, the family name was Koenig.  In America, King.

Now, it so happens that Koenig is German for King, but it wasn't until I saw a recent document that I may have gotten a clue that the name was changed for them, rather than they going to the English version.

For years, I searched for immigration records.  I looked at Koenig and King records for over a generation.  I searched via mail, filling out countless forms and, when it became available, on-line.  Searching ship manifests, going on the basis that Henry traveled with his family, as a  young boy.  I came up with his parent's names early on, Andrew and Elizabeth, but couldn't even get a hook with that.

Then, I found a census record that indicated Henry came over from Germany in 1845...he would have been about 5 years old.  That fit with the family story and I set off to search records with that new information.

Try as I might, no Andrew and Elizabeth, with Henry in tow, Keonig or King.  I pressed on.

The other day, somewhat frustrated, I decided to go through any ship's manifest I could find coming out of Germany where the last name started with "K", with an Andrew, Elizabeth and Henry and was struck still when I saw Andrew Kong.  1845.  From Germany.  Wife Elizabeth and son Henry, aged 4, with a sister, Marianna, aged 3.  Henry had a sister just two years younger...we knew her as Mary.  And Henry would have turned 5 just three weeks after landing in New York City.

I was able to print out the record and check it against the manifest that was replicated and found "Andrew Koenig."  The person who transcribed it for storage had changed Koenig to Kong.

Perhaps, as they gave their names for the manifest, they Koenig, the clerk said, "Kong," they heard "King," and here we are 165 years later living the lives of Kings!

Henry's father, Andrew, had a farm (go ahead, e-i-e-i-o), and then Henry had one that he left to his son Henry, who then sold it off when he had no one to take it over.

They were sustenance farmers, pretty much using up stuff and, apparently, the money on-the-go, and we were left with stories.

Some stories were funny, like the one about how my grandmother and her sister, as young girls about aged 8 and 10, had put chicken manure in the cider barrel and then watched her father, older brothers and uncle drink heartily from it one hot summer day!  They weren't feeling too well the next day.

Others were tragic.  In a day before penicillin, her brother was racing through a field in his bare feet and ran a Goldenrod stalk up into his foot.  He developed an infection and died from lockjaw.

I think that some who search their family histories are hoping to strike gold.  I wonder if Andrew and Elizabeth, who boarded the boat in Bremen in the summer of 1845, with their two children, Henry and Marianna (aged 4 and 3), thought that they were going to America to find gold.  It seems they had intentions of doing well.

Another family story was that Andrew and his family were on their way to California to become beer and wine makers.

Andrew had brought yeast from Germany with him to start the process.

But, once they landed in New York City, while the manifest checker called them Kings and they must have thought they had really made it, they had to turn over what monies they had to pay for the items they brought with them.

Finding they couldn't pay the freight to get to the West Coast, they found their way to upstate New York where friends beckoned them, hearing that their dream of barrels of beer and vineyards was dashed and that they were penniless from having to pay out what they had at the duty port.

Upstate, they did what they knew from the homeland and took up farming.

The Koenigs became the Kings, though the immigration agent called them "Kong."  They gave up their fermentation dreams, due to having to leave their cash at the piers in New York City.  It turns out, twas duty killed the yeast!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crampon, Crampoff

My wife thinks we should go outdoors for some exercise on any day that she's home from work.

It's a good thing.  At times, we'll walk down the road by our house, about a mile round trip.

Other times it's the rail trail (which is really cross country skiing in the winter and walking in non-snowy weather, mostly flat, level surfaces), or a more serious hike at the Mohonk Preserve or Minnewaska State Park.

The Preserve and Park have all sorts of walking/hiking/climbing venues.  You can check out their offerings below, both have multiple recreational offerings:

The most strenuous of activities at the parks, I think, is Rock Climbing.  Permits are required for that adventure.  But, you won't find me dangling from a cliff, unless my wife has something to do with it.  I am always surprised when I see climbers scaling up ice covered precipices; don't they know that the ice is just hanging there, too?

Anyway, there is a fee for hiking, but my wife has an Empire State Park pass and a Mohonk Preserve pass, both of which she purchases annually, so we can go ad infinitum...any time she gets the urge to move, we both move.

This time of year, ice is an additional factor to consider, on top of walking up and down hills, and we were prepared for the fact that various trails may be off limits to hikers.  Some trails are saved for cross country skiers and others are closed, just plain dangerous.  A small slip could result in a trip down the mountain in a matter of seconds, and one that you won't make again.

For our recent expedition, my wife suggested that we go to Minnewaska and just take a short, straight, level walk that would be an easy outing.  She also suggested that we put on our crampons, to ensure that we'd not slip on any ice or snow we encountered, even though we were going to be on an "easy" trail.

Crampons are devices that one attaches to hiking footwear to increase the possibility of not slipping.  Some are simple devices with metal coils that surround the boot; some have multiple long daggers that dig into ice a half inch or more.   Ours are of the less defensive type, so off we went.

We arrived at the parking lot in short order, put on our crampons, and set off for what was to be a "let's take it easy, level walk."

Within seconds I noted something that I remembered, putting together thoughts from geography and physics classes.

We were walking downhill.

As I pondered this action, I seemed to remember that in order to get back to the parking lot an "uphill" would be involved.

On the other hand, I have seen those drawings where you can keep walking down and end up up!

I thought maybe my wife had found one of those natural phenomenon and wasn't about to start complaining.

It was a bit icy, so I concentrated on not falling down.  I concentrated on not falling for quite a while.  In fact, I don't remember seeing anything but snow.  Not taking my eye off my step for seemingly miles, I'm wondering how many bear, snow rabbits or bald eagles I missed running nearby or flying over me!

We continued to go down and down the slope.

The crampons were doing their job and, along with sinking a foot or two into snowbanks as I was trying to avoid icy patches, I made it to what turned out to be a gorge at the bottom of this "easy level walk."

It was pretty to look at, once I stopped and didn't have to focus on my feet.

The path followed a creek, as did we, and soon we realized that we weren't where we thought we were.

We did have a map, we always take a map, but the color coded patches of paint on the trees for the red trail weren't there so we decided to go back the way we came so as not to get entirely lost.

You may remember that I mentioned, just a few paragraphs ago, that we started the "level" hike by heading downhill.

Turns out that stairway illusion of always going down and ending up doesn't work in our little world of physics.  No, gravity and geography took over and we started up...and went up...and up...not realizing how far down we had gone.

The picture below most likely represents the area where one of my crampons came off.

I didn't realize it at the time, but one of them gave up!  I was trudging, as best I could, to keep up with my mountain-goat-like wife (and I mean that in a good way, she can hike with the best), but one foot or the other was punching through the snow and sinking feet down as we traversed a trail that many had not taken.

Had others gone before us, it would have been worn a bit better for us, but being the explorers that we are we took the straight path, directly up the hill, to get back to the car before the sun set!

As we huffed and puffed to the car, coats and scarves hanging from our bodies half pulled off due to heat exhaustion, I reached down to remove the crampons and then saw that my left one was gone.  Fleetingly, and we're talking nanoseconds here, I actually thought of going back a bit to look for it.  Thankfully, lack of oxygen and the sudden realization that the universe had handed me "the excuse" for not hiking on winter trails prevented me from going more than two feet from the car.

I looked at my wife as she said, "Just throw those crampons in the back of the car," and said, "One is gone!  The snow ate it!"  I expressed my sorrow that due to the fact that my crampon was gone, I was mostly likely sidelined for the winter.  Next time we wanted to take such a hike, I'd have to tell her, "Sorry, no can do, crampoff."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wearing My Heart On My Sleeve

While I am a traditional and sentimental sort of guy, the title of this post relates to a literal transaction of the day.

Before I go on, if you're reading this on Valentine's Day before 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, please don't tell my wife about this as she hasn't seen what I've been up to today!  She'll be surprised later!

This all started when my wife and I decided that we would not buy Valentine's gifts for each other this year.

When you have love, what else do you need?

Maybe you need a card, and if you didn't order yours from Wendy out in California, like the one pictured here, maybe you could contact her (see her website by clicking on her name in the "Paul's Friends" column on the right) and perhaps she can make you a "Belated Valentine's Day" card...hmmmmm...."I forgot you were my Valentine?"  Maybe not exactly that line...we'll think some more on that.

In the meantime, if you're a guy and you're married, or in any relationship for that matter, you need to pay attention to the "no exchange" agreement when it comes up.  I guarantee you'll hear it during your lifetime.

Whatever you do, don't follow through with this commitment to saving a few bucks.  It's a trap!

While you're thinking, "Great, can save some money and time," she's thinking, "Let's see what he really thinks of me!"

And, it doesn't apply just to Valentine's may hear this offer at other times of the year, but do not, I repeat, do not sit back and do nothing.  If you have to weave grass blades together, do something.

Today, I found myself in the position of not being able to get to the store (my son had to borrow my car and, as you remember, we live hours away from any sort of civilization).  My heart was pounding.

Yes, part celebratory due to the love holiday, but mostly fear of not having anything on hand when "My Valentine" hits the doorway after work.

I count on the universe for answers, a lot, and it came to me.

I could make something and for some strange reason (maybe too much Merlot last night) I thought meringue.

Weird?  Yes.  Successful?  Well, the process is simple and I think I turned out a good gift...we'll see what happens when my wife sees these later.

I took a simple meringue recipe, sugar and egg whites with vanilla, mixed it up, put the mix in a pastry bag and squeezed out heart shaped cookies on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

While they were baking, I made a chocolate glaze that would harden over them and found a tube of red icing in the back of the cupboard to add color to the finished goods.

About two hours later, I ended up with enough to gift everyone in the house!

The part about not having anything for each other?

This morning, guess what was waiting for me on the kitchen table?  A card from my wife!

See, the set up!

I pressed on.

Part of the process was fun for me, too.

As an artist, I get to "paint" things and did that by drizzling the melted chocolate mixture over the baking sheets holding the cookies.

While the chocolate was setting, I took that tube of red icing and just made some heart-like designs to finish them off.

What will be waiting for her when she returns from work...a card and a gift!


I'll probably rack up about 50 points for this one (you get more points if you do this stuff and it's not a holiday)!

She'll see that I do care and I do remember.

Then, she'll ask me why my sweatshirt sleeves are all messy and crumby.

I can tell her that because of her I am wearing my heart on my sleeve for her.

Actually, she'll know that the crumbs are from the half dozen heart cookies that I ate during the day.

Hey, you know what they say!  You can't truly love anyone else unless you love yourself.

Happy Valentine's Day to my wife, to everyone else, and to me!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

So, When Does The Relaxtion Part Start?

Our most recent weekend jaunt was to that mecca of Massachusetts, the town named after either some family by the name of Belcher, or in reference to the effect a local eatery had on its townspeople.  I haven't Googled that one, yet, so I'm left with that mystery.  We went to "get-away" for a couple of days and relax.

Just a bit off the beaten track, Belchertown is home to my brother and his wife, and a whole bunch of other people whom we don't know.

About three hours from our home, it's a scenic ride up the New York State Thruway where you can spot all sorts of nature and interesting items, before you turn "Down East" and head for the Massachusetts Turnpike.

To be honest, while the Thruway provides a straight shot towards our destination, most of the nature is lying on the side of the road and the "interesting scenic items" viewed are those things that people hide in their backyards.  Constant comment from my wife, "I wouldn't want to live with the Thruway in my backyard."  I remind her that we don't have it there and most of these people didn't choose it either, it was sort of put there after they moved in. 
This trip, my wife wanted the passenger seat so she could relax a bit, too, and look at all of the flora and fauna that dot the landscape and I was fine with that.

Lately, as she drives around and spots an eagle at 5,000 feet or a hawk swooping down on scattering prey in the field, her hand on the wheel moves in the direction of her glance and we end up either in the median or find ourselves drifting off the shoulder.

Not that it makes me too nervous...I just know we'll get more life out of the tires if we can avoid the concrete barriers we scrape along as she squints skyward.  If the shaking of the car from the concrete bumps doesn't get her attention, I gently remind her, "ROAD!!!"

Having her as an "upfront-backseat-driver" has its perils, too.  On the way up, later in the afternoon, she was taking in the sunset and would instruct me to, "Look at that sunset!"  I couldn't as I was driving and noted, "The sunset is behind us."  "You have to look at it," she responds.  As I strain to look like I'm turning my head, I coo, "Oh, beautiful." It's bad enough that I can't turn my head on a dime, like an owl, but doing so at 65 miles per hour has its downside.  I silently apologize to the guy behind me who's wondering if he should call 911 and report someone swerving in the lane in front of him.

"You didn't look," she shoots back.  "No, but I am alive and I thought you wanted to relax?"

"LOOK," she screamed, forcing me to slam on the brakes!  "A Blue Jay," she exclaimed!

I've told her a hundred times that shouting and using one word directions usually indicates trouble..."Look!...Stop!...Help!," you know, emergencies.  And guess what, I've seen Blue Jays before...we have a family of them that clean out our bird feeder daily!  Blood pressure rising.

So, then she reverted to the pointing.  That's the part where I'm driving along calmly and then, all of a sudden, her arm swings in front of my face, blocking my view, "A crow...see it?"

Having seen thousands of crows over my lifetime I'm safe in saying, "Yes," to get her to retract her appendage, as I was now trying to find the road.  Should she question me, I'm confident I could give a good description of a crow.

Anywho, we end up in Belchertown and she's amazed.  "Look at that," she says!  "What," says I?  "Snow, so much snow."  Yeah, I missed seeing that.  It's only EVERYWHERE.  I left it snow blowing, no shoveling, no wet boots and gloves for the weekend.

My brother's place is out in the country.  They have birds and animals there, too.   Now that I'm out of the car and relaxing in a chair in the living room, one would think that we could avoid the happenings out of doors.  Nope.  My wife is looking out the window, cooing and awing, seemingly filled with amazement and wonder.

"Come here," she says gently (with the full meaning of a military commander), "Look at this."

I climb out of the overstuffed chair, where I was RELAXING.  "What," I ask as I approach the window, expecting to see a flamingo or some exotic fur covered vermin.  "Squirrels, playing with each other," she says eyes almost misty. 

I look at her like she's on some sort of medication.  "Those squirrels," I ask, "The ones that look like the three thousand that we have in our back yard?"  I ask my brother if he has any Pepto-Bismol.

"Don't sit down," her next instructions.  "Look at that over!"

"The chickadees," I query?  "They look familiar...probably left the flock of two hundred that were perched on our deck this morning and hitched a ride on our car!"

She responds with, "You just don't get it, you don't enjoy nature."

"I do enjoy nature, but show me a lion or a giraffe or something new.  I just don't get excited about seeing birds and animals that we see in our backyard every day all day long!"  I head back to the chair to continue my resting project.

 Then, my brother on whom I was counting for support steps up, "Didn't you see the giraffe down the road when you drove onto our road?"


My wife is agog!  "Oh, yes, let's do that!"

"That will be relaxing," I note.  I get "that look" and remember that everyone has their own definition of relaxation and this past weekend it was not to be compared to mine.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Up On The Roof

News from today, between snow and ice storms.

Much like winters long ago, the snow keeps piling up all over the place, including on the roof! 

I get a little anxious when I can start measuring it in feet instead of inches.

What to do?  I know better than to try to go up there and shovel it off...I know, put one of my sons up on the roof with a shovel.  He's young and so much more flexible than I, should he catapult off the peak!

While I tended to the driveway and walkways, Matt climbed to the top of the place and pushed a whole bunch of the stuff earthwards!  This picture he took, upper right, is looking down at the back deck.  That's our Christmas tree, still standing up outdoors.  Each year we move the tree out in phases.  Phase III is "place on deck and hang bird seed cones on it."  Phase I and II of tree "move-out" have to do with having to be told several times to "get that tree out of here."

Anyway, once again I forgot to hook up the outside stereo system, so I didn't have this tune to accompany Matt while he was struggling to stay put on a 30 degree, ice laden slant, but you can listen to the music here, while you check out pictures below...and I thought as he was moving about on the roof moving snow that had blown about up there that it was ironic that the group that sang this was "The Drifters!"

Here's a pic of Matt standing on the ladder with a roof rake.

Nice try, but very energy draining as you push and pull while trying to balance on a metal ladder in a sleet storm.

I know, as I tried this for two minutes before I handed the rake off to Matt.

He did a pretty good job of getting the edges, but with a forecast of 10-12 more inches of the stuff, I wanted to clear a bunch off the whole roof.

His idea, put on a pair of Crampons and get right to the slopes!  When I saw the gear he was putting on his feet, with half inch steel points, I immediately imagined hundreds of cuts in the shingles and protested!  "Can't you just take off your boots?  You'll have better traction with your bare feet!"  He gave me a funny look and settled for my pair of Crampons that had nail-like daggers!

I held the ladder! 

I'm like OSHA, safety first!  And as long as I was on the ground, I knew I was safe.

The picture on the right is what Matt saw "up there."

The picture below is what I saw, down here!  That's because I was checking my email and got a message from Seal Beach, California!

I can multi-task!

Back to the snow and the roof, Matt did a great job...clearing both the front and back roofs.

And, he managed to get on and off the roof using the ladder.

Due to his efforts, there were some four and five feet snow piles next to the house to soften the blow, but he ran around up there like a mountain goat and I think he enjoyed it.

Every time I had instructions for him, shovel this way, do this not that, he would smile and say, "Sorry, can't hear you!" 

Just like the song, something good about being up on the roof!