Tuesday, July 31, 2018



This e-mail was sent from my iPhone, so please excuse any brevity or inadvertent auto corrections.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Icelandic Dairy

First a disclaimer, I didn't get paid anything for writing this post--I just really enjoyed skyr and wanted to write about it.

I've been reading Jared Diamond's book Collapse for a while now.  With kids I don't get to read as much as I used to and thus books take me longer to get through.  It is a very interesting read.

I read Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel a number of years ago and really enjoyed it.  Instead of dealing with the rise and spread of societies, Collapse concerns itself with the collapse of societies.  One of the groups covered in the book are the Viking societies of the Northern Atlantic.

It is fascinating to read how the Viking societies from Scandinavia adapted to the different islands they voyaged to and settled, including the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands, Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and Vineland.  As I was reading I came across a mention of a unique product called skyr.

I grabbed my phone and opened up Wikipedia to discover exactly what skyr was.  Apparently it died out in Scandanavia, but has been made in Iceland for hundreds of years and may have been made in Greenland as well during the 450 years the Vikings colonized the island.

I've always enjoyed yogurt and a number of other dairy products so I figured it was worth checking out.  Once there I discovered that skyr was still being made today and was available commercially.  Apparently the American brand siggi's, made by Icelander Siggi Hilmarsson who immigrated to the United States.  According to siggi's website:

Skyr is the traditional yogurt of Iceland that has been made for over 1,000 years. It is a strained non-fat yogurt. It is made by incubating skim milk with live active cultures. Then the whey, the water naturally found in milk, is strained away to make for a much thicker, creamier and concentrated yogurt. It takes four times the milk to make one cup of siggi’s compared to regular yogurt.

The next time I went to our local Kroger store I decided to see if I could find any siggi's skyr.

 It wasn't hard to find at all and even had a prominent sign.

I picked up a single container just to see if I would like it.  I've always enjoyed fruit and dairy so I decided on raspberry.

Skyr is definitely thicker than typical American yogurt.  I could pick up a spoonful, turn the spoon upside down, and not have any fall off the spoon even when I held it like that for over half a minute.

There are a minimum of ingredients and sugar is rather low on the list if you're concerned about that.  The taste is definitely different than other yogurts, but I rather enjoyed it.

The labeling was also quite interesting.  In order to make it more easily recyclable each cup has a removable paper liner--but this also provides more space for text, so you can see a short history of the company on the inside of each liner.

As I said above I didn't get paid anything for this post, I just happened to really enjoy this product and wanted to write about it.

As I was researching this post I also happened to find a TED talk by Jared Diamond that covers the topic of his book Collapse, so if you're interested but don't want to read the book you can check out this video.


PS And if you want to try your own siggi's I found a coupon on their website.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Fort Matanzas

Twice now we have tried to visit Fort Matanzas and been unable to do so.  Four years ago when we visited Florida in 2014 we drove by on our way to Orlando after visiting Castillo de San Marcos.  As the fort was built to protect the southern approaches to the Castillo it isn't that far away, and well positioned along the toll-free route to the Orlando area.  The fort itself is located on an island, across an inlet from the main highway in the area, so you have to take a ferry over to the fort itself in order to tour the grounds.

However, during our visit in 2014  a storm was rolling in and so the ferry from the visitor center to the fort wasn't running.

In 2018 it was a more serious and long-term issue that kept the ferry from running.  When Hurricane Irma swept through the area in the fall of 2017 it caused quite a bit of damage.  The website explains that "Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to the visitor center ferry dock making it unsafe for visitors. Repairs to the dock will take some time. Both ferry boats are still afloat, but also received some damage. Park staff are patiently working with contractors to arrange a time to finish repairs and resume tours to Fort Matanzas."

Someday I really want to visit the fort itself, but for now we just had to content ourselves with a tour of the small visitor center/gift shop and a walk on the trails.

 These massive trees cover much of the parking lot and provided a great place for the girls to run around and get some energy out.

 The visitor center/gift shop building isn't large (and actually much of it isn't open to the public).

 Out front you can see an excellent explanation of the damage caused by Irma.

 I remembered this display from the last time we visited.  It shows how the arches in the fortification were constructed using temporary wooden supports.
 This model shows the fort as it would have appeared in 1743.

Here you can see a description of the movements and battles that gave the area its name.  French colonists from Fort Caroline were massacred around this spot, leading to its naming of Matanzas, which is Spanish for massacre or slaughter.

 You can just see a glimpse of the fort across the water in this shot.

 The nature trail is not long at all and winds through beautiful woods.

Daniel was quite comfortable being carried along the trail.

 The girls enjoyed running.

 I even managed to find some flowers.

Before we left the girls climbed in the trees and I managed to grab this adorable picture.

All of the rest of the pictures from our brief stop can be found in this album.


Friday, February 23, 2018

Castillo de San Marcos - Part II

The last time we visited Castillo de San Marcos one of the highlights of the experience for me was watching the cannon firing demonstration.

Historic demonstrations are always interesting, and especially when gunpowder is involved.  The events happen quite regularly at the Castillo and both times I've seen it quite a crowd is present--apparently I'm not the only one that enjoys it.

We first thought that the demonstration would be after the time we planned to be gone, but then I discovered that this was in error and we would have time to watch.  Therefore while Amy stayed on ground level with the baby I took the girls up the stairs to find a good place to watch, though in the meantime we explored the ramparts.

The view is fantastic from atop the battlements.

This is the St. Charles Bastion and was the location where sentries were posted to watch the bay.  According to the exhibit signage in 1740 a sentry rang the bell "whenever he saw a puff of smoke from enemy cannon across the bay.  It was the signal for prayer.  Only two men in the fort were killed during the 27-day bombardment."

These cannons are the ones fired during the demonstrations--if you look carefully you can see the ends of the barrels are covered to keep them dry.

This was the northern defense line that the Spanish built after the English attack on St. Augustine in 1702.  The other sides of the fort were then protected by water and marsh (see more).

The sign explains that this bastion was found to be three feet too low by a new engineer inspecting the construction in 1682, but thankfully the error was corrected over the next few years.  The entire construction period lasted from 1672 through 1696.

Here you can see more of the reconstructed outer defenses--as well as a couple costumed interpreters walking towards the Castillo.

 There really is quite a bit of area inside the fort, all nicely visible from atop the walls.

The staircase is quite large and able to accommodate quite a few people coming up or down if you're only considering modern visitors.  I can only imagine what it would be like during a siege (see below).

The girls enjoyed looking over the walls at the areas that were low enough for them to see over.

This is St. Peter's Bastion.  "During Queen Anne's War (1702) English siege trenches came 'within a pistol shot' of this point.  English ships blockaded the harbor and 500 soldiers and Indians took the town.  The Castillo offered the only safety, so 200 Spanish soldiers and 1300 civilians crowded into its protective walls.  On Christmas the English were reinforced, but when Spanish ships from [Havana] arrived the next day, the English burned the town and marched back to Charleston."
~from exhibit signage

If you haven't noticed already there are quite a number of cannons sprinkled throughout the Castillo.  The park's website includes a document listing all of the guns and their provenance.

 Waiting for the artillery demonstration to begin.

The costumed interpreter on the far left was the one who led the drill, but first the uniformed ranger gave an explanation of the process.  I captured the below videos on one phone while taking photographs with my other device.  While the resolution is high I couldn't always hold it perfectly steady and occasionally one of the girls jostled my arms.

After the instructions the actual demonstration began--all conducted in old Spanish of course.

By taking a burst of shots from my phone I was able to grab this process of the firing showing the flames shooting out.

 After the artillery demonstration it was definitely time to leave, so we headed to the car to fix lunch and drive south.

 Of course I head to check out the sea-side of the fort and there I found even more cannon!  According to the sign these date from when the Americans took control of the Castillo and renamed it Fort Marion (after the Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" from the Revolution).  They filled in a portion of the moat and installed "modern" artillery.

 I couldn't resist a few parting shots of the Castillo.

It was only our second visit to the city and the fort, but I certainly hope it won't be our last.

All of the pictures in these two blog posts (and many more) can be found in this album.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Castillo de San Marcos - Part I

Castillo de San Marcos was the first repeat fortification we visited on this trip as we had visited when we came through St. Augustine during our 2014 trip to Florida.

"The Castillo de San Marcos is unique in North American architecture. As the only extant 17th century military construction in the country and the oldest masonry fortress in the United States it is a prime example of the "bastion system" of fortification, the culmination of hundreds of years of military defense engineering.

It is also unique for the material used in its construction. The Castillo is one of only two fortifications in the world built out of a semi-rare form of limestone called coquina (The other is Fort Matanzas National Monument 14 miles south)

The fortress itself is both a product of and evidence to the multitude of forces both political and technological that created the competition for empire during the colonial era. But above all the Castillo is an enduring legacy of the craftsmanship and skill of the engineers, artisans and labourers who built it."
~from Castillo de San Marcos website, Architecture & Construction

 After parking in the nearby city lot you can get a great view of the fort as you walk towards the ticketing building.

 I've really been enjoying taking panoramic and 360° pictures of the various sites we have visited.

 The Spanish flag is quite distinctive and makes for a great photo opportunity above the old stone walls.

You also can't go wrong with a view of the corner of the fort that includes palm trees in the background.

The entrance to the fort was doubly protected by the walls and an outlying revetment (the ravelin) that protected the area of the drawbridge.

This is an overhead view of the ravelin.

The normal walkway into the fort was being reconstructed so a construction walkway was located directly next to the area for visitors to use.

Here is a better view of the temporary walkway from atop the walls.

This recreated coat of arms in the ravelin appears to be the same as the one over the entrance to the fort itself--which isn't original either, but at least looks much older.  I first assumed that it was the Kingdom of Spain's coat of arms at the time of the fort's construction, but instead it appears to be the coat of arms of Castille-León, a country subsumed into a unified Spain under Isabella and Ferdinand, who completed the Reconquista in 1492.

 After crossing over the temporary bridge you pass through this main entrance into the interior of the fort.

The inside of the fort wasn't too busy, allowing me to grab this shot with a minimum of people in the frame of view.

The interior walls of the fort are pockmarked by many doors and windows.  The National Park Service has turned many of these into exhibit areas including a large number of explanatory signs as well as a few artifacts.

 Inside the fort's room are a number of exhibits about the history of the fort and the area.  I like the style of the display that used different flags to illustrate the different eras.

 Obviously the fort and the region began their history post-colonization as Spanish.  I found it quite appropriate that the signage was printed in both English and Spanish.

 The British took control of the Florida colonies at the end of the French and Indian War.

 As a reward for helping the Americans in the Revolution the Spanish came back into Florida and took control of their former colony.

Spanish control of the peninsula finally ended when the American government persuaded Spain to sell the region in 1821.

This case contains a set of wooden doors that Army engineers built in 1821 when they took over control of the fort from Spain.  The doors were used for almost 150 years and were only removed from use in the 1950s.

The walls of the fort are made out of coquina, a rare limestone found on nearby islands.  The word is Spanish and means "tiny shell" and is a quite apt description of the stone's composition.  Over 150 million pounds were quarried for the fortifications.  Interestingly enough while the porous stone appears to be weak it is actually stronger versus canon fire as it absorbs cannon balls instead of splintering.  This block was available for people to touch.

This is the original coat of arms removed in the mid twentieth century for preservation.

If you look carefully at this wall you can the outline of a doorway that was blocked up many years go due to changing needs for the fortification.

"Large amounts of food were a vital necessity to the Castillo.  Enough had to be kept on hand to survive a siege, which could last up to three months.  Dried supplies stored here, such as rice, cassava, beans, flour, oil, and salted beef were added to fresh local foods such as fish, game, vegetables, and fruit to feed the soldiers and townspeople."
~from exhibit signage

This shattered 18-pounder cannon was found in the fort's moat, but was determined that it had been on the walls during the 1702 siege.  Its explosion caused several casualties.

 Next to the parade ground I started looking at a display of an old cannon when Amy pointed out this little critter.  After I took several pictures I realized that he looked like he was trapped between the rope and the ring on the post.

 After I moved the rope the small lizard moved fairly quickly down the rope.  Eventually he scurried away.

 The girls thought that the lizard had somehow scrambled down a tiny hole in one of the flagstones.

After I heard that the cannon firing would start before too long I headed up the stairs with the girls to explore the upper level of the fortification--but more about that in the next post.