Wednesday, August 30, 2017

In Search Of Monarchs ... And A Spark

It's been one hundred and forty days since I walked off the Appalachian Trail (AT).  It has been one hundred and forty days since I last hiked.  This is the longest period without hiking since I started in earnest in 2007.  Today I went for a short hike in search for monarch butterflies and the spark I feel when I hit the trail.

Late summer wildflowers.
I headed to Hitchcock Nature Reserve thinking my re-entry into hiking should not be an urban one but one in nature.  I was out of shape, as I expected I would be, but it was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  The hike was a short one with a few steep, but short, hill climbs including the Angel Dead End trail which I'd seen but never climbed until today.

Angel Dead End Trail.
Every year the monarch butterflies migrate through the area.  I have seen dozens of monarchs along the trails in Hitchcock Nature Reserve during this time of year.  I posted about them in 2011.  I've seen the largest numbers along Westridge trail.  I hiked to the spot and found nothing.  Not one Monarch.  I only saw three non-monarch butterflies along the entire hike.  Not sure where they are.  The weird weather and heat we have had this summer may have shifted the migration path/timing.  Very disappointing.

Hmmm ... This reminds me of something.
As for the spark ... there was no spark.  The weather was beautiful, the late summer flowers were blooming, the birds were singing, and the sun was sparkling off the dew but the feeling I used to get when I was out on the trail just wasn't there.  I guess my failed AT attempt did more damage than I thought.  I'm not going to give up.  I want to regain that spark but it may take a few more hikes to relight the fire.

Total Distance: 3.09 Miles (4.97 km)
Total Time: 1 hours 24 minutes
Total Elevation Up: 504.5 ft (153.7 m)
Total Elevation Down: 507.0 ft (154.5 m)

Map of my Hitchcock Nature Reserve hike.
Pictures of Hitchcock Nature Reserve I've taken over the years, including a few from this hike, can be found in my 2008-2017 Hitchcock Nature Reserve Google Photos album.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Curling Night In America

The Olympic Curling Trials are going to be held in Omaha this November.  We purchased tickets for them as soon as we could.  I've been interested in curling since, I think, the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.  The Wife and I even participated in an amateur curling tournament in Sioux City, IA for four years in a row.  We never really were any good at it and I lost interest in participating after 2014.  I am still interested in curling though and I am looking forward to watching the trials.

USA Men's team throwing a stone.
Included in the trials tickets were tickets for Curling Night in America which will air on NBCSN. Taping of the event took place last week.

USA Women's team throwing a stone.
I decided to attend a few of the sessions (there were nine sessions total over three days) and decided on Thursday afternoon, Friday afternoon, and, with the Wife, Saturday night.  Each session showcased four matches involving Men's, Women's, and mix double teams from four countries (USA, Japan, China, and Scotland).

USA Men's team sweeping.
It was interesting to watch in person.  The rules are easy to understand and it's a sport that looks like anyone could do (though it is harder than it looks).  The audience was full of both newbies and people in the know and a lot of good information was shared in the stands as we watched the action on the sheets.

The flags of the four participating teams.
In the end Team USA won on overall points.  USA Women's team and mixed doubles also won their individual categories.  Men's team was won by Japan.  They also announced that this iteration of Curling Night in America had record attendance.  This caught me by surprise since I thought the stands were a bit sparse.  Anyway, I'm proud of Omaha for representing.  I'm guessing the trials in November will have more record crowds.

Team USA - overall winner.
Curling Night in America will air on NBCSN on the 10th of October.  Watch for me and the Wife!

Photographs can be seen in my 2017-08 Curling Night In America Google Photos album.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book: J.D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy"

I heard about J.D. Vance and his book "Hillbilly Elegy" on CNN.  He was invited to discuss how the 'President' had won the election and the disaffection of the working class and working poor of appalachia.  It heard rave reviews so I decided to give it a read.

I had to wait a while to read it because there were so many people with a hold on the book at the library.  I finally got it and dove in and was promptly disappointed.  The line under the title is "A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis." This is a bit misleading.  95% or more of the book is a memoir of the author's family with only a tiny fraction of the book about the 'Culture in Crisis' that I was more interested in.

As a memoir the book is fine.  I wish the author had dove deeper into how the working class had become disaffected and how this changed how they saw their country and government.  To be fair this book was written before the last election so he had no way of knowing what was coming.  I expect he would have written a different book entirely after the election results.

I gave this book three stars on Goodreads mainly because my expectations hadn't matched the book.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dark Skies Over Homestead

Safety First - Glasses for
observing solar eclipses
Yesterday I drove down to Beatrice, NE home of Homestead National Monument.  This was also one of the many official NASA observation points for the total Solar Eclipse of 2017.

I left home at 4:00am and drove to the Gage County fairgrounds where I parked my car and took a shuttle bus to Homestead.

I arrived before most of the concessions were open.  I sat down in one  the chairs that we set up around a main stage.  While I waited food and shopping concessions opened and I had the luck to watch Bill Nye (the Science Guy) answering questions on live TV.  I was sitting maybe ten feet from where he was standing.  I'm not a huge Bill Nye fan but I do respect what he is trying to do (educate the public in science) and I might have been a bit star struck.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
It was around 7:00am and nothing would really start astronomically speaking until 11:30am.  In the meantime, on the main stage, a folk singer performed (including playing "Moon River" on a handsaw), a NASA scientist gave an explanation of what to expect and what exactly was a solar eclipse, and a PBS band played songs from "Ready, Jet Go".  As you may have guessed, most of the events and entertainment were kid-centric.  Fortunately a guy from Texas struck up an adult conversation with me and we killed the hours talking.

The day's weather had started out relatively clear with only wispy clouds but as the events proceeded heavy clouds moved in and we experienced on and off showers.  While I was a bit disappointed I really felt sorry for all the people who drove many hours to get here.  There were even people from Britain and France.

As the eclipse started the clouds thinned a bit and we got our first view on the sun missing a chunk.  This peek didn't last long before the clouds thickened again.

When the sun disappeared behind the clouds everyone headed for the food trucks.  The lines were so long I decided just to eat the snacks I'd packed just in case.  I did have a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcake at 9:00am before the lines formed and it felt wrong eating it so early in the morning but it was very tasty.  I bought a magnet for our collection and, from the US Post Office van, a cool sheet of color changing eclipse stamps.

As we approached totality, when the moon would completely cover the sun, I checked the National Weather Service kiosk where they had a live radar feed.  Weatherwise it wasn't looking good so I slowly made my way to the shuttle bus stop.  Right when totality occurred the clouds thinned again and gave us an awesome view of the ring of fire.  The sky darkened like a sunset on all horizons.  The crowds cheered and we all stared in awe of a total solar eclipse.

Totality.
(A slightly zoomed version can be seen here)
When totality ended I jumped on the shuttle bus and headed for the car.  Despite being on that first bus it still took over four hours (normally an hour and a half drive) to get back home via the clogged back roads of Nebraska.  There had been 8,000 - 12,000 people at Homestead and they said there were over 400,000 people along the area of totality in Nebraska.  They all seemed to return home at the same time.

All it all it was a pretty cool day.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Finally! We Have Our Counter Back!

For the past week a contractor has been remodeling our kitchen.  This consisted of ripping out the Formica countertop and replacing it with granite, sanding down and refinishing all the cabinets, replace the sink and faucet, and adding pulls to all the cabinet doors and drawers.

It took me a couple days (off and on) to empty out all the stuff in our cabinets and drawers in preparation for the work.  It's amazing how much 'stuff' you can have in a relatively small space.

During this last week I have learned how much I use the kitchen countertop.  Making lunch in the bathroom can not be sanitary.  It definitely was not fun.

Now comes the chore of wiping out the cabinets and drawers, dusting off and moving all the 'stuff' back into said cabinets and drawers, and cleaning all the dust that has seemed to have settled everywhere in the house.  That is my Friday ... and some of the weekend I would imagine.

Oh ... and the kitchen looks awesome!

P.S.  Sadly I did not take pictures.  I'm slipping in my old age.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Photo Moving Update

As I mentioned back in July I was planning to move all my blog pictures from Flickr to Google Photos.  I'm making progress having completed two of the three phases of the move.

Phase One was downloading the pictures from Flickr.  This didn't take too long.  I had to download each album separately but it took only six days after I started to finish downloading the three hundred and twenty-one albums.  Actually it was only four days since I did not download while we entertained the Best Man and Matron Of Honor.

Phase Two consisted of the unzipping of the files, renaming of the pictures, and the uploading of pictures to Google Photos.  This took a bit longer.  Unzipping the files was a couple clicks for each album.  Some of the renaming was easy since I could rename a files in bulk but some of the albums required each picture to have a unique name.  One such album had over three hundred pictures ... each with an unique name that had to be entered one at a time.  Uploading was easy with only a few tweaks to picture dates to insure the photos were in the correct order.  In all, this phase took fifteen days with only a day or two in there when I took breaks.

Now I start Phase Three.  I now go through my thousand plus posts and relink all the pictures.  This could take awhile.

One thing I've notice as I was uploading the pictures was how fun it was to look at all the pictures I've taken and posted over the past eleven years.  As a matter of fact my eleven year blogging anniversary is next week.   It will be interesting to reread all my posts and, probably, correct some of the thousands of spelling errors.  A nice long walk down memory lane.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Book: Kate McCahill's "Patagonia Road"

My latest read is a return to the travelogue.  Kate McCahill's "Patagonia Road" chronicles a journey following another traveller's journey - kind of meta really.  The author loosely follows Paul Theroux's "The Old Patagonian Express" which documents his travels through Central and South America by train.  McCahill forgoes the train travelling mostly by bus instead.

Her year long travels start in Guatemala where I lived for nine years.  It was fun to recognize some of the names and places she visited.

She continues on through El Salvador, Nicaragua, (after a jump by airplane) Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.  While she does visit the capital cities she spends most of her time in smaller cities, towns, and villages where it is easier to meet the real people and experience real culture of the region. She also spends time learning Spanish and teaching English along the way.  She gives herself time to steep in the local culture, something that I admire but I rarely get a chance to do.

Intertwined with the travel stories is the author's personal stories. I found these parts to be distracting.  I was more interested in what she was experiencing and learning.  Fortunately the personal stuff is a smaller portion of the book.

I enjoyed this book.  I enjoyed recognizing places in Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru that I've visited.  The book hooked into my sense of nostalgia and my interest in travel.  I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  It definitely was an interesting read.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Last Batch (???)

Back in May I posted a picture of a Dove on a nest in our backyard.  Since that picture was posted there have been three clutches of eggs on that nest.  The second and third round had two eggs each.  I suspect the first also had two but I'm not sure since I never saw the newborns out of the nest.

Yesterday the last two newborn doves left the nest and, to the consternation of Iago, decided to take a long rest on our deck. I eventually had to shoo the little devils so that Iago wouldn't blow a vein.

The last of the doves ... I think.
There was at least one other nest in our area located in our neighbor's gutter which, I think, had a couple clutches as well.

Yesterday I counted six or seven doves flying around our backyard.  I'm pretty sure there are more hidden in the trees near our house.  This is new.  We've always had a pair of doves that visit our yard but never this many.  It has been a very productive summer this year.