Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sand Castle Building 101: The Drip Castle

During our stay at Panama City Beach, Son-in-Law and I managed to create two sand castles. The first was sort of a test model, to work out our technique. The second was much more elaborate, complete with moat, outer wall, and multiple turrets. We were using the drip castle technique, rather than the artsy sand sculpture method. Our royal sand abodes came out more Disney-esque instead of Windsor-esque.

Now, I've always considered the drip method sort of ghetto. It doesn't take much skill - just a steady hand, a little patience, and the ability to endure sand and salt water in - ahem - uncomfortable places. It's perfect for those of us who are sculpturally-challenged.

If you're heading to the beach any time soon and want to leave (however briefly) your architectural mark near the surf, here's a Drip Castles For Dummies (though you are certainly no dummy):

  1. Choose your property. Take stock of current tides. It's no good staking out something in the deep soft sand or too close to the water. There's a sweet spot near the water where the sand is nice and damp, but not too drippy. You'll know it when you see it.
  2. Round? Square? Other? Decide the basic shape of your castle. Our first one was round; the second, square. Hexagon works, too.
  3. Scoop out your moat. A moat helps as waves encroach on your turf (is sand turf?) and protects your creation until high tide.
  4. Do you want a battlement wall around your castle? If so, start building up a wall, packing the sand as you build (you'll cover it with drips later). Be sure to leave a nice opening on one side so that you can work on the main building.
  5. Start building up your castle with packed sand. We use a bucket to load in the sand. Give it the shape you want.
  6. Now for the drip part. If you're close enough to the water, you only have to dig down a little way to hit the water you can use to help with the dripping. If not, fill a bucket about 3/4 full with water, then add sand. Yeah, you'll have to make lots of water-totin' trips.
  7. Grab a handful of wet sand from your bucket and let it drip over the packed sand. Drip it over the whole thing. Then start creating towers and turrets. The sand has to be really wet to build up delicate spires. It's easy-peasy, once you get the hang of it.
  8. If you've built a wall around your castle, cover it with drips, too. And add shells or seaweed to decorate.
That's all there is to it. People were really impressed with the results, and we were pleased with our morning's work. And remember, you'll always knock one tower down as you create another, and/or destroy a wing when you step wrong or spill a bucket of water. But that's the fun. Creating. Re-creating.

A sand castle is a magical thing, indeed. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Just a day at the beach

It's been years since I've had a week at the beach. Work, family obligations (all good), and non-beach destinations have gotten me out of town over the years, but five full days at the beach hasn't happened since Kate was little. But this week I'm tagging along with daughter, son-in-law, and GrandBoy to Panama City Beach on Florida's panhandle.

The weather's gorgeous. The water's fine (a little cold at first, but it doesn't take long to get used to it). Lovely sea breezes. White sand. No BP oil residue on the beach or in the water. We're staying in a friend's beachfront condo, so we have a beautiful view of the sand, surf, and pools. In short: bliss.

When I was growing up, we used to travel down here and stay at Russell's Court, a quintessential 1950's motor court (an old fashioned word for motel). It was perfect for families: a couple of big rooms, lots of beds and fold-out couches, and a kitchen of course, because folks cooked on vacation. It was right on the beach and had a small pool. I suspect Russell's Court is no more; a condo probably sits on the land that once welcomed my crazy family to the beach.

Another Panama City Beach attraction missing in action is the Miracle Strip, a big amusement part across from the beach. I have many fond MS memories from family vacations, a summer youth trip, and a visit Kate and I made down here when she was 5 or 6 years old. There's a tiny replica of the grander version at Pier Park. A merry-go-round, balloon ride, and butterfly house have kept GrandBoy happy in the late afternoon. A tilt-a-whirl and scrambler have amused the adults.

Days are spent sitting in the sand, listening to the surf, building sand castles, reading a book via Kindle, napping, swimming - well, you get the picture. Not a bad way to spend the last few days of my sixth decade and my first couple of days as a 60-year-old.

Having a great time. Wish you were here?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wonders of the Week

It's Friday. With the week in my rear-view mirror and a cocktail in hand, I'm pondering all the wonders of the past seven days. Here are my top three, in no particular order:

I wonder when I'll hit the 20-article monthly limit on the New York Times website. I appreciate that newspapers need to find new sources of revenue in this digital age, but I think the NYT price points are too high. I'd be willing to fork over, say, $5.99/month, but not $14-$34/month. Yikes! I also wonder if a 20-article limit is enough to feed my NYT addiction.

I wonder why public buildings with double doors often keep one locked. Shouldn't all doors be unlocked and accessible during business, church, and banking hours? This is not only a wonder, but a frustration as well, since I invariably try to pull or push open the one that's locked. Well, 50-50 chance on that, right?

I wonder if it's the end of the daytime soap opera as we know it. I haven't watched them in years since I'm not home during the day, but with the demise of All My Children and One Life To Live, I suspect the remaining few are not long for this world. It's all talk shows and reality TV now. You'll have to tune in to telenovelas on Univision if you want good stories from here on out.

If you figure those out, do let me know. Of course, I have a week at the beach ahead of me to sort things out. Unless something else wonder-ful comes along.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Not the New 30

Someone on the Today Show commented that "60 is the new 30." Oh, really? Tell that to my left shoulder, my right elbow, and both of my knees. Unless something magical happens at 12:00:00 next Thursday morning, I suspect that 60 is - at best - the new 45.

While I do think 40-50-60 looks a lot younger today than when my grandparents were hitting those milestones, at some point you just have to acknowledge the ravages of time on your joints, hair, face, and upper arms. And some ravages happen earlier than others. Factor in whether or not you've inherited good genes, lived a healthy lifestyle, and are blessed with plain dumb luck, and, well, there you have what things will be like for your slide down the big hill of life.

Would I want to be 30 again? Mmm, I don't think so. As fabulous as I was way back then, I've always felt that life gets a little better every day - more fun, additional insights, new relationships. So, yeah, it's a trade-off: young, skinny, supple joints vs. new ways to laugh, experience, and love. Not that I have a choice, but I'll cast my lot with choice #2.

So keep your Botox, collagen, and butt lifts. Sixty is not the new 30. But it is the new 60. Creaky joints and saggy skin notwithstanding, I'm hanging on for all the adventures, laughs, stories, and love ahead.

And I'll let you know if the Birthday Fairy turns me into a 30-year-old next week.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Footprints on the sands of cement

My conference hotel in California shared the block with Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Yesterday afternoon I managed to elbow my way through a herd of distressingly dressed tourists to capture a few images of the footprints of the famous.

Most are just footprints, hand prints, autographs, and date, but a few show the personality of the star - like Jimmy Durante's nose or a few musical notes written out by Bing Crosby.

For my little pictorial diary, I avoided the nouveau stars and stuck with the ones who have some longevity of reputation. Funny thing, though. I think most of the folks skipping over the stones didn't recognize the majority of names etched into the cement squares. (They're obviously not fans of Turner Classic Movies.)

Now, there seems to be some dispute on exactly how the custom of playing in cement got started. Was it Norma Talmadge? A forecourt workman? Sid Grauman himself? Well, whatever ignited the tradition, it's been popular thing to do over the past 80+ years. And quite the honor. Helen Mirren is the latest to leave her mani-pedi in front of the pagoda-esque establishment (March 2011).

I assume the shoes are ruined after leaving their impressions at Grauman's. What do you think?