Thursday, July 31, 2008


I finally got the photos downloaded off my camera yesterday, so thought it was about time to wrapup RAGBRAI with some images. Melinda posted the pics of the buffet line when we stayed with our hosts between Iowa City and North Liberty. Dean and Maggie live out in the woods in a very small development (15 homes) adjacent to the Coralville Reservoir. It was only a month ago that daily torrential rains filled the reservoir and flooded Iowa City and other towns in the Iowa River valley.
After the pasta feed, our hosts offered us a boat ride around the lake. As we walked the 300 yards to the docks, I spied a couple deer and snapped a shot - it wasn't until afterwards that I zoomed in and saw the doe in the photo too.
Maggie pointed out the high-water line that the reservoir reached before the spillway was finally reached. The boat owners had to move their tie-offs daily as the levels rose to be able to maintain control of their craft. As we descended the hill to the docks, Maggie stayed at that high-water line and remains visible in the shot from below... Host Dean indicated that the deepest part of the reservoir is about 30 feet, and apparently the water level rose about that much as well, so the reservoir volume increased by many times. An article in the 17 July Daily Iowan quoted data from the Corps of Engineers indicating storage went from about 30,000 acre-ft in March to 550,000 acre-ft in mid-June, an increase in storage volume of about 20 times!

The last picture from thursday shows a few of our team on the boat. From the right we have Mike, Denise, Denise's daughter (visiting from IC), Joanna, and Brad. The boatride was great, though it was darkening quickly. We toured the public access area, the dam and spillway area and a couple coves, scaring up a number of herons in the process.
Friday we pushed on to Tipton where we stayed in the yard of a friend of my sister Kathy. She came to visit for a bit when she got off work, and when she finally headed home, I toured the small town and took a couple photos.
Tipton has a population of about 5,000, so adding 15,000 plus people for an overnight is quite the deal. The town seemed quite organized, however, with many campgrounds scattered thru town. This one is at the middle school and is typical of a RAGBRAI camp. Usually there are showers available in the school's locker room and there are port-a-johns (called Kybos on RAGBRAI) available close by.
Another necessity - food is usually available from vendors that follow the ride, as well as local merchants that are nearly overwhelmed by the crush of hungry bikers. Pictured is one of the local churches serving lasagna with a huge line waiting to get in. Most churches like this eventually run out of food - a bit upsetting if you've been standing in line for a long time, but good for the moneymaking activities of the congregation.

And while Kathy told me about this, I wasn't sure I believed her until I saw the sign - a beef sundae! There are many food specialities alive and well on RAGBRAI, including the "walking taco" (bag of doritos with ground beef, lettuce and cheese mixed in), any of a number of meats on a stick, and Mr Pork Chop sells you a half pound pork chop with a napkin, but it was my first exposure to a pit beef sundae!
Saturday the riders pushed on to LeClair, a small town on the Mississippi. In addition of throwing in 12,000+ riders and their support vehicles, the town is right next to the I-80 bridge across the river and they've recently discovered some cracks in the steelwork, closing down a lane in each direction. So it literally took me nearly 2 hours to get the last 3 miles into town and to a place to meet the bikes coming in. But eventually the riders all came in, and Melinda found me as well (how did we get along without cellphones?).
It was a nice week - we missed much of the hot, humid weather that can make the ride really miserable. But it isn't as much fun for the support drivers, and after 3 years, I think my term is about up. I dont think I can go back to riding because of the usual hot weather, so I may be retiring from RAGBRAI too. Plus it is a different event from years past - many of the memorable old-timers are missing - John Lowry died a few years ago, John Hill had a stroke 2 years ago (though he did make it down to visit us on thursday!). Harold, Norb, Mike and Jo have all dropped out from the ride and I miss them all. We'll see how much of an attraction I feel in february when they announce the route for July '09!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Newly added fav blog...

We had to add the Rex Paker blog to our "Blogs we read" list, as we do read his every day. As you may or may not know, we do the NYT Crossword puzzle on a daily basis. That doesn't mean that we always do it well...but we always try, and have seen our skills improving over the past couple of years! However, Rex Parker's blog not only gives the solution to the daily puzzle, but it rates the puzzle as well as comments on every clue and answer! Some of his comments are enough to make sure that you remember them the next time they crop up (yesterday featured a You Tube video illustrating the word: ennui). It's an entertaining, helpful, and informative blog - check it out if you are so inclined!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday already?!

Dean is currently on the phone with our friend Roger (in Vancouver), coordinating our trips to Columbia, SC in October. Roger is going there to take measurements on some antique telescopes, we're meeting him there so we can visit with our mother-in-law Betty and enjoy the South Carolina Fall colors.

Dean was just telling Roger that "we don't have any plans this weekend" - but I have assured him that "we do". There are projects on the house that are screaming to be done. I'm hoping we can get into some of those projects on the weekend and maybe make a little dent in them. One of our little projects will be changing the mortise lock on the kitchen door. When we were in Clinton, IA this past weekend we stopped by an old fashioned "general store" that is still in business in the heart of downtown Clinton. We've gone past it several times, and each time I've said, "I want to go in there sometime!" We stopped in on Saturday, meeting the proprietor - Steve. Steve has bits of this and that, old and new, antique and utilitarian. Some things are priced at "antique store prices", but other things are very reasonably priced. When I was searching for a new mortise lock for the sun room door (this past Spring) I was unsuccessful in finding something "new" and had to have one built out of parts from several non-working ones. Steve, however, had several mortise locks with skeleton keys "new in the package"! Granted, no one has used locks like these on their homes in 50 years or so - but when you are wanting to replace one it's nice to find some place that carries them still. Needless to say, I bought one for the kitchen door - and hopefully we'll get that installed this coming weekend. Steve's store is also the place to go when looking for any poster of The Three Stooges, Elvis, or The Beatles - as well as oil lamp parts, aluminum screen tacks, cast iron pots and pans, and marbles. He has a bit of everything, and will keep you up to date on the latest baseball score while you browse! I also have my eye on an old pedestal sink there, but haven't measured the space in our bathroom to see if it will actually fit. That's for another trip to Clinton!

Another activity we're talking about for this weekend is a trip to watch the Kane County Cougars (the local baseball farm team for the Oakland A's). Dean has never been to a Cougar game. They're great fun, and very family oriented. One of my favorite Cougars games memories was witnessing one of our doctors catching a "bean ball" on a Saturday night, several years ago. Ouch! Saturday will feature the game, sky divers, and fireworks after the game (win or lose)! Summertime is baseball time, and what better way to spend a hot August night than cheering on the local farm team!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday's ramblings...

I picked Dean up from RAGBRAI on Saturday in Le Claire, IA. What a madhouse that place was! Imagine well over 10,000 bicycles making their way through this small town , on their way to the river to "dip a tire"! There was traffic everywhere, as the pickups for the riders were all converging there also! It seems that everyone enjoyed their week, but were glad that it was the last day - for now.

In order for us to drive to Clinton, we had to cross back over into Illinois and travel North on the East side of the river. We arrived at Uncle John and Aunt Judy's around 3pm, and had a great time visiting with Randy and family (he had run in the Bix run in Davenport that morning, along with his son - finishing the 7K in just under an hour - way to go Randy!). Kathy was able to make it to the party, as was brother Brian and niece Cejae; brother Jim and Karen, and Breanna and Brennan. It's always fun to see the family and get together! We only stayed until 6:30pm or so, as Dean was tired - I was way past tired - and we had a 2 1/2 hour drive home to look forward to. We arrived home around 9pm (by the time we stopped for gas, etc) and it was nice to get home and relax!

Sunday I caught up on my sleep, and then we went grocery shopping (normal everyday stuff). Today Dean mowed the lawn, and I did "camper check-in" for the last week of camp. Hard to believe that summer camp session is closing already!

Dean will be downloading his pics soon, and then he'll get back on here and share them. He has some great pics from the week, including pictures of some deer that they saw at the Coralville Reservoir during an evening boat excursion.

More later...!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday stuff

I haven't talked to Dean, yet, tonight - but have busily preparing for him to come home. It seems there is always laundry to finish up, or dishes to do! I think the cats are fixing food when I'm not home, and perhaps using more than their allotted number of towels.

I'm having trouble getting my weather program to load, but it seems that the last night/day of RAGBRAI could be looking at some rain. I hope it's nothing that will put a damper on everyone's fun!

Tomorrow will be a drive to Le Clair, IA to pick up Dean, and then onto Uncle John and Aunt Judy's for the reunion they have planned (due to their son and his family being home to visit from Boston).

As some of you know we have been very concerned with Carolyn's health this week, as she has suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while in Kosovo on a mission trip. We are hearing encouraging news from there, however, and she will be transported via medi-vac to the American Hospital, in Paris, on Sunday. Her daughter and son-in-law will be leaving on Sunday, to join her in Paris. All continued prayers for her are greatly appreciated.

News on the cat front is that they seem to be doing better at getting along! Yahoo!! I actually saw Atticus give Marley a little kiss on the nose this morning! Marley is coming to the living room doorway to eat now (that is a great improvement on his part), and I haven't heard any low rumbling growls from anyone today! Sugar Pants is so easy going - he now climbs up on my lap when I'm on the computer and goes to sleep. He's also figured out that I'm the one with the control over the treats, and he really can put on a sad little face and cry when he wants to. It will be easier to give them all the attention that they need when Dean gets home. I think that they're all doing very well, and it hasn't even been a month yet!

I think I'll let Dean do the next post, when he gets home. I would guess you're getting tired of reading what I have to say for now!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thursday RAGBRAI update!

I've just had an email with some pictures from Dean! Here's what he says about today's events:

"It was a cold, wet day for the riders - high was only 69 and rained off and on on them. So they were glad the 76 mile day was over. They said the stands selling cold drinks went with no customers, while those selling hot food and coffee had long lines. We are all camping in the yard tonight, hoping my setup will be warm enough. Wishing I brought long pants and long-sleeve t-shirt. Host Dean is lighting a fire right now, so will go join them!"

The pictures Dean has sent are of the dinner spread from the hosts, and two of the riders filling their plates.

Dean says that there is lasagna, salad, and "more brownies that you can shake a stick at"! I hope their weather improves. It won't be much fun dunking their front tires in the Mississippi on Saturday if they're still having rain! I will be talking to Dean tonight, yet.

I'm glad I took that nap last evening. The hospital had me go to work at 3am. It seems we're having a 'baby-boom' of sorts. Of course, in helping out, I've lost my night off for the week - and won't be off again until Saturday night. But, I was glad to help out. There are so many times when we need help at night, and it's hard to find people to come "join the party". Since I did get some sleep last night, I cut back the sleep today so that I could get some chores done around here this afternoon and evening. Tomorrow morning I will have to stay over, at work, to get recertified in the Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP). Not fun, but required. It's always something, isn't it?

Wow, that lasagna sounds really good about now....wish I were in North Liberty to join them! Tomorrow they are nearing the end of RAGBRAI, and will be heading for Tipton, IA. During that portion of the trip they will pass through sister Kathy's town of Bennett! She will visit with Dean in Tipton after she gets off of work. That's an extra bonus! We haven't seen the family since we got married, so it will be fun to visit with them on Saturday when I pick Dean up!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Update from RAGBRAI

I just talked to Dean before he turned off his phone for the night in Tama-Toledo, Iowa. He turns the phone off every night to conserve battery power. The Toads are staying in a communal camping/vacant lot tonight. That means porta-potties instead of regular bathrooms to use, and no private home shower to use. Tomorrow, however, they are going to North Liberty and will have a private yard to stay in - and hosts that are cooking for them! That is always a welcomed treat!

I have volunteered to be "on-call" for the hospital tonight, from 3am-7am. I'm now thinking that I must have had a very weak moment at work to have signed up for that slot! So rather than continue writing now, I think I will take a shower and then get a nap in case that they call me to come in to work.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The latest bird pic, etc...

It never fails to amaze me, living in "the woods". While sitting in the sun room just now I noticed a nearly full grown, fledgling Robin sitting on the bush near the window. I took a picture or two through the window, and then decided to try sneaking up on it (outside) to get it's picture. This picture was taken while I was standing about 10 inches away from the little guy - as was the picture listed in the right hand sidebar! He sat and stared at me, not even being the least bit concerned. No doubt, his mother was somewhere nearby so I did my best to not disturb him. The gold finches were at the feeder again tonight, as well. There is no sneaking up on them, you have to get their picture through the glass or not at all.

Today's RAGBRAI news from Dean is that they all slept well last night, and he had arrived in Ames shortly before I talked to him this morning. The weather seems to be improving for the next day or so, and they should be enjoying some drier, cooler, air tonight. The band "Styx" is playing a RAGBRAI concert there tonight.

One of life's little lessons were learned here tonight. "Don't paint your fingernails a bright color without checking to see if you have polish remover, first." I guess I'll take a trip to Walgreens to pick up a new bottle of remover before it gets too late. Go figure.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Is this heaven? It's Iowa.

While many people would groan at the thought of driving across Iowa twice in a weekend, I actually looked forward to it. Iowa is flattish, in parts, but mostly gently rolling hills. The word 'pastoral' sprang to mind at every turn of the highway. You see, it's in driving through the state that you get a better feeling of what America is all about. The miles and miles of corn and soybean fields, growing to feed our families, feed our livestock, feed our world. Iowa is a state of many wonders. We found this out in the handouts they gave us at a rest stop along the way (along with a map and a key ring that says "Iowa is life changing"). The state bird is the goldfinch. State tree: the mighty oak. State flower: wild rose. Famous people from Iowa: Dean Ketelsen, John Wayne, James Van Allen (oddly he wasn't on the list they gave us), Mamie Eisenhower, Bob Feller, Herbert Hoover, Grant Wood, Bix Biederbeck, the list goes on! What it doesn't tell you on the list is that this is the heartland of America. This is where you can buy ethanol for you car, this is where your food is coming from. Iowans are hardworking, honest, people. They work honest, they play honest, and they love honest - straight from the heart. Traveling from the Mississippi to the Missouri and back again I was reminded of this, as I saw each farm along the way. The corn rustling in the wind; the soybeans gently waving; the Black-eyed Susan's watching us roll past on the highway - all saying 'this is Iowa'. In the movie, "The Field of Dreams", Ray's father answers back to the title of this entry with "Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven." I don't think he was far off the mark.

The Vist in Omaha

As promised, here are pictures from our visit in Omaha! We visited with our sister-in-law, Marsha (my brother's wife), niece Robyn, and nephew Tres! The five of us went to "Old Chicago" for dinner (we don't have "Old Chicago" in the Chicago area, oddly enough), and enjoyed having dinner together and visiting on Friday evening. Tres' girlfriend, Amber, wasn't able to join us; I missed the chance to see her this trip. After dinner, Tres had to go to work (he's a DJ and was working at a sushi bar that night) but Robyn came back to Marsha's with us. We sat out on the deck until after dark, talking and enjoying breathing the same air together. It was nice to have a happy meeting there, as our last time of sitting on the deck talking was after Dick's funeral.

Saturday, Robyn came over to Marsha's and the four of us went for the best deal in Chinese food I've ever seen! There's a little restaurant in Papillion, NE named "Mings". They have excellent food at 1960's prices! I think that will be my favorite restaurant there from now on! After lunch we went back to the house and just enjoyed sitting outside, and visiting some more. When you're with family you can't spend enough time in their presence. Every time I see them I try to memorize every feature, every mannerism, every little detail about them - in hopes that I will never forget those dear moments spent together. Robyn is a student of graphic arts, and a long time semi-professional photographer. She and Dean enjoyed "talking shop", and I think we have convinced her to join us for the Grand Canyon Star Party in '09! During the Star Party talk, Marsha popped up with "Maybe you'd like to have Dick's telescope!" I had no idea that Dick ever had a telescope! She has graciously given that to us. It's a very interesting little scope that is made of brass, with a built in brass tripod. There aren't any markings on it, to tell us who made it, and it makes me think that it was probably made as a nautical telescope - though Dick used it to look at the stars from time to time. It's quite decorative! I wish we had a clear night when we were there, so we could have taken a peek through it. Robyn was only able to visit with us until she had to leave for work, but we'll see her again, soon I hope!
Sunday morning, Marsha and I went through pictures of ours that I brought home with me. We also went through some other things that Dick had, and I brought home a couple of mementos that had belonged to our father, and Grandfather. Sometimes, when we are perhaps feeling a bit 'lost' in the world, it's nice to have tangible pieces of our history to touch and remind us that we are a part of time immemorial.
I have talked to Dean this morning! He called from Coon Rapids, IA. We have been there for the Iowa Star Party, so it's a 'favorite town' for us! He reports that they were all awakened at 2am by the local police - alerting the campers that severe weather was in the area and to take cover. The Toads went into the house of their hosts, and all watched the weather reports until 3am, when the storms had passed and they returned to their tents in the yard. No injuries or losses are reported. He said that he had trouble returning to sleep after that, so he was pretty tired when he called me. This is a long day for the riders, over 80 miles today, before reaching Jefferson, IA. I admire their drive to do this ride!
I think it's time for me to catch a bit of a nap, too. I was up much later than planned last night (I get used to having Dean here and then it's hard to sleep when he's not here), and have work to return to tonight! More later....

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Just an added bit...

Dean and I are constantly trying to figure out how some of the bloggers do the wonderful things that they do on their blogs....keeping with that, I've finally figured out how to put the U-Tube video of "Where in the hell is Matt?" on here (scroll to the bottom of the page, please). If we find one that we like better, then we might replace Matt with something else. At this time, however, we can't watch his video without smiling, getting chills, and feeling more than a little choked up! on the video and watch it!

Home from the short trip...

I made it home from the weekend trip, this evening, about 9pm. It was a fast weekend, but I'm so glad we made the visit to Omaha. I haven't even downloaded pictures, yet, that will come tomorrow (I'm sleepy!). I delivered Dean to Missouri Valley in a timely fashion on Saturday evening, and his team was there and happy to see him! Counting us, there are three newlyweds in the group this year! Amazing! It was fun for me to see the ones who were at the camp when we arrived, and I look forward to seeing the rest of the Toads next Saturday when they arrive in Le Clair, on the banks of the Mississippi! There were some pretty big storms that swept through that area on Saturday night. Missouri Valley and all of the RAGBRAI folk were, fortunately, spared. I talked to Dean before he crawled in his tent that night and he said that there was a lot of lightening but no rain. Today, after leaving Omaha I stopped to have lunch with him in Harlan, IA - the first overnight stop for the ride. He said that they never did get any rain last night. Tonight he reports that the sky is clear and he could see Jupiter! I hope they have great weather all week, though I would imagine that they would enjoy a bit cooler and less humid weather.

I came home to four cats with bad attitudes. There didn't seem to be any major wounds on anyone, but they're all growling at each other. Hopefully it was just from being left in the house alone so much the past few days. The neighbor came in and fed them, of course - but I would imagine that she didn't get into the "kitty integration" thing with them much. It was a different 'pet sitter' this time, as their usual "Nanny" wasn't available this weekend. It should be a wild and furry week around here, with only me being the Ref for their squabbles!

Time for me to settle in, kick off the shoes, and get some sleep. The pictures will be downloaded and posted tomorrow!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Off to Omaha and the start of RAGBRAI

No pictures to post tonight, though Dean was able to take some lovely photos of a deer he encountered on the bike trail today. Nope, instead, we are packing and getting ready to head out tomorrow morning! Tomorrow we will hit the road for Omaha, NE to spend a day visiting with sister-in-law Marsha, and niece Robyn (and maybe even nephew Tres). On the way we will stop in Iowa City to have lunch with one of Dean's friends there. On Saturday we will visit with the family a bit more before taking Dean to the starting town of RAGBRAI - Missouri Valley, IA - to join up with the Toddville Toads. He'll camp with them on Saturday night so that they can get an early start out of there on Sunday morning. I'll stay in Omaha one more night, visiting with Marsha and Robyn before returning to St. Charles on Sunday.

In preparation for this trip (we're taking the Jeep for this one) I needed to get the a/c fixed on the Jeep, as it hadn't worked for the past year. What was hoped to be a simple fix was (of course) anything but. Mucho dinero later, we have a cold car to drive this weekend. Car problems/repairs just frustrate me to no end. Frustrated or not, it was repair the car or get a new one. I opted to repair.

So, we're off in the early morning! I'll post more when I get home! Have a good weekend!

More Kitties!

Time to round out the coverage of the little ones. These are the cats who travelled with us from Tucson. The orange tabby at top is Marley, and our grey and white is Sugar Pants.
The trip with the cats went quite well. Last year I made the road trip from Tucson to Chicago(just under 1800 miles) with Hopper who spent most of the time riding shotgun in the front seat of the van with me. It went particularly well, I thought, because as a kitten Hopper (an Iowa kitten) made the trip with me before. This time with cats whose only travel experience was to the vet, I was pretty nervous, but they did great. My hints is to have them in their cages. I've seen people suggest they stay in the cage, but I would think that a little cruel for a multi-day trip. Of course, in the van, there was plenty of space for them to move around as well, and they also had access to food and water and a literbox, none of which we saw them use while we were in motion. After 45 minutes or so on the road we turned them out. Marley immediately looked for a hiding place, but Sugar Pants stayed in his cage. With time they wandered out, but really didn't enjoy looking out the window - the world moves a little to fast for them while in motion. But since both of these were truly lapcats, they came out for some attention and reassurance. Whenever we stopped for gas or snacks, we made sure they were in their cages so there was no chance of losing them in the wilderness somewhere. We stayed at Motel 6, who is pet friendly, where they ate and used the "facilities" thru the night. Marley was still mostly comfortable under the bed, but wasn't in a panic about it. In November we return to Tucson with 4 - now THAT may be an adventure!
Marley is about 10 years old. We got him as a kitten when we got Hannah - always seems to work best when introducing kittens to get 2 the same age so the young ones have someone to bond with while all the older cats are picking on them! I had brought Hannah back from Iowa, and at the time my wife Vicki was volunteering with an animal foster group. Marley came to her attention because he was ill - his fosterhome had a flea infestation and had been overmedicated with fleapowder for some time to the point he could hardly walk. So Vicki rescued him from his foster home and became part of our household. He is quite shy round strangers, but he is loving towards his owners - he sleeps next to me most nights and will take his turn on my lap watching TV at night. His only bad habit is that he "playfully" bites, sometimes not so playfully. I'm trying to discourage it, but he has done it for a long time, so I'm likely helpless. Probably my favorite cat - always nice to have a pet that wants to spend time with you!
Sugar Pants walked up to the house as a feral cat. Likely not a true feral as he tamed down quite quickly as he ate dry food in front of our house when he showed up about 4 years ago. He is a beautiful cat, and I couldn't come up with a name, then my housemate Erica started calling him Sugar Pants, so that is how the name came to be - blame her! Also friendly and outgoing, and also politely waits till your lap is empty before coming to get undivided attention. He also occasionally sleeps with me, but has the rather unpleasant habit of reaching out his paw and touching your face just as you are falling asleep. Sugar Pants is likely the first cat that will come up to visitors and say hi, so a little unusual in that respect.
Both these guys are friendly and don't start any quarrels in Tucson, so I thought they would do well in St Charles, but Melinda's two are definately picking on them. Sugar Pants is doing best, but Marley is quick to flee a confrontation, so Annie especially has been dominating him and making sure he mostly stays under the bed! It has only been 2 weeks so they'll learn to get along - Melinda's two will need friends when they move to Tucson!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Meet the kiddies!

Time for you to meet our kids! Dean will profile the Arizona kids soon - today I'm profiling the
St. Charles kids.
The upper picture is Atticus, he is the baby of the family. He was born in March of 2006, and was a tiny bundle of fun when I adopted him at 6 weeks of age. He's a Maine Coon mix (I've had a long affair with Maine Coon's, and can't get enough of them), and has some of the best characteristics of the breed (great tail, long body, loving personality). He's not the smartest of the group - but he has such a sweet, loving disposition!
The middle picture is Annie. Annie is a rescue kitty from Portage, Wisconsin. I found her in the ads on the computer - and fell in love with her bushiness! She was a feral in the beginning of her life, and lived in foster care for 6 months. She was still pretty wild when she came home with me, but has become "the lap robe" most of the time. Annie also has more than a little Maine Coon in her, and has the most amazing ear tufts! On humid days she has a look of an exotic, Asiatic lily - with her long curly ear tufts that stand up and curl around her ears. She is a very vain little girl, and loves admiring her looks in the mirror. She's a diva, there's no way around it! She's also very talkative, mostly in a little squeak of a voice. Shortly after she came here to live I was watching a musical on television with my sister. Annie laid on the couch between us, squeaking and talking through the entire movie! She definitely likes the sound of her voice. She tends to be shy, and hides out when "strangers" are around; however, if you spend any time here at all she quickly wants to get to know you!
The lower picture is one from this morning - "the dead cats". I can't help but wonder what Annie and Atticus were doing all night to make them so tired this morning! Both cats love watching the birds from the sunroom windows, and will chatter at the birds - in an attempt to talk to them. Both are getting used to having two of their Tucson brothers here, and the hissing and growling are decreasing a little more every day. Annie tends to be more of a bully at times, and we have had long talks about how she will be happy to have friends when we travel to Tucson in the Fall.
Dean will add in the Tucson kids pics, and tell you about them, soon!
Later~ Melinda

Monday, July 14, 2008

Astronomy in Illinois?

Our astro-geek friends ask us about the observing conditions from our "Illinois Estate". The short answer is that I switch to birding in the summers! Compare the images above for the long answer.

The above images are from the DMSP (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program) satellite's views of the earth, which also approximate the sky brightness or light pollution from various locations on the earth. The top image is of the Chicago area against the shores of Lake Michigan, with alternative "white islands" caused by Milwaukee to the north, Madison, WI to the west of Milwaukee and Rockford between Madison and Chicago. The cross in the center marks the location of Peck Farm Park, a county park about 10 miles from our place in St Charles, where, in fact, the Fox Valley Astronomers actually holds observing sessions.

The lower image is of the Tucson area with Phoenix to the NW and Nogales on the mexican border to the south. The small crosses mark observing locations - either permanent private or public observatories, or even just observing sites. They are from a website called the "Clear Sky Clock", which predicts clouds and seeing conditions for a 48 hour window for customizeable locations:

The two maps appear quite different for a number of reasons. The primary difference is due to population density - there are more people as well as more people/square mile in the Midwest. Also, in the desert Southwest, away from the population centers, you literally find little to nothing in the way of civilization, including lights. Add lower elevations, higher humidity and unshielded "security" lights common thru the Midwest and you get more scattering of the lights that are there.

In addition, Tucson is "dimmer" than similar cities of it's size because it has been a leader in developing lighting codes to limit light pollution because of the national observatory an hour SW of town. As a result, from my house in Tucson just a few miles north of the University of Arizona I can still see the Milky Way when the humidity is low. There is no chance of seeing the same thing from St Charles, where only the brightest constellations are visible.

I'm spoiled by the Arizona skies - an hour's drive will get you to just about the darkest skies possible (visible as black in the Arizona image above). Note that in the Illinois image, there is no blue you can drive to in 2 hours (from map center to the edge), let alone black area with the darkest skies. And yet another bonus, the Midwest has those mosquito thingies that make careful examination thru an eyepiece a difficult endeavor. We won't even talk about the temperatures it can reach in the wintertime - mostly because I'll be headed off to Tucson by November, where even a frigid night barely gets below freezing in southern Arizona.

So while I admire those midwestern astronomers who overcome adversity, I'll switch to birdwatching during those summer months!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cottage in the Woods...

Thought we'd tell you a little bit about our place in the woods. "Ketelsen Estate East" is on the grounds of Riverwoods Christian Center - a church camp for disadvantaged kids in the Fox River Valley. Located on 85 acres of mostly-wooded property, it lies on the east banks of the Fox River about 4.5 miles north of St Charles.

It is a spectacular location - there is little to no traffic except for the camp, though there is considerably more river traffic - boats pulling skiers, canoes, houseboats and jetskis, especially on weekends. Camp is in session for about 2.5 months of the summer, though there is low-level activity at the camp year round. So there are up to 100 kids and counsellors on the grounds any given summer week, most activity away from the private residences. But mostly it is a quiet, serene location with considerable wildlife in the non-camp seasons.

There are 3 private residences occupied by people not affiliated with the camp, including Melinda and me. In these cases, the house is owned by the occupants, and there is a land lease agreement with the camp. In all these cases, the leases expire in 2050 (end of the 100 year lease period), and the houses revert to camp property. It made getting our mortgage a little strange last year, since the house will essentially have no commercial value at the end of the land lease about the time we are turning 95... BTW, we bought our cottage from one of the other residents - Elaine, who came to own 2 of the residences after the passing of her son Tim a few years ago. Melinda rented our cottage from her for over a year about the time we became a couple, and about the time we were ready to buy she decided to sell and we reached a deal!

The 85 acre parcel of land was originally purchased by Louis Canfield, of Chicago, in the 1920's. The only building on the property at that time was an old tavern with inn in the upstairs area. Mr. Canfield had that building converted into a "summer home" for he and his wife. He had four children, who were independant at that time, and had four cottages built; one for each child and their families. When his children had no interest in "going to the country" for weekends, or summer holidays, Canfield donated all of the property, as well as the buildings to the Advent Christian Church. We own one of the original cottages built by Canfield, with the year of building being 1930. At this time, two of the cottages have been demolished. The old tavern was turned into a dining hall for the camp - though that is slated for demolition, as is the other remaining cottage. Once those buildings are gone, we will own the only original building on the property. There are numerous books on the history of the Fox Valley area, specifically the St. Charles area. It seems that owning property along the river "in the country" was the height of society in the 1920's, and we are fortunate in owning a piece of that history!

Of course, with owning a piece of 'local history' comes the actual trials of owning a house built in the 1930's. The house was originally built as a summer house, and then winterized and turned into a year around residence. Since 1930 every resident has had their own ideas of how to repair problems, remodel, and renovate the house. Some of those renovations included linoleum glued to the original wainscoting in the kitchen - covered by peel and stick floor tiles - covered with vinyl wallpaper! Other "repair"s include putting up acoustic tile ceilings - to cover/hide 80 year old insulation and rotted support beams in the roof. The list can go on for days! However, doors that had been stuck shut for years are now in working order, and the sunroom (which had never had window trim) is trimmed out to match the rest of the house! With the task of renovation comes the opportunity to add the touches that make this cottage the home that we want it to be (slate tiled hearth, etc.). I'm thinking that we're going to be really good with window glazing by the time the house is done - as this little place has 23 windows that need to be reglazed! Oh my gosh! There's so much to do - why am I sitting here at the computer! I'll let Dean finish this!...

So that is a short description of our little piece of paradise and how it came to be and be ours. The beauty of the place is quite striking - and the reason we held our wedding here in June!

Friday, July 11, 2008


In the week before and after the wedding we saw at least one of these guys every day - assumed to be a nesting pair here at Riverwoods somewhere. This shot was taken with a conventional 200mm telephoto that I had with me on the wedding trip, not the small telescope I normally use for birding. They visited our bird feeder or flew past our sunroom window daily. The local Audobon society even published our sighting, noting they are uncommon in the area:

However since our return a week ago we've seen no sign of them - no casual sightings, nor have they shown themselves in my amblings around the Riverwoods camp here. Granted, camp opened the week after our wedding and a horde of running, yelling kids might have shifted their territory away from the immediate area. But we do miss them in their absence!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

July 10th...

Today would be my brother's 62nd birthday. That is, if he had not passed away in February'08. Dick has the honor, like those passing before him, of being frozen in time; unlike those of us who live and continue to age year after year. We will all remember Dick as he looked at age 61, never getting grayer, never becoming a stooped over old man; but always as the salt & peppered haired, lean and tall, handsome man that he became.
Dick was the quintessential sportsman. Whatever he set his mind to doing, he did at a level above anyone else. Learn to golf? He had a hole in one under his belt. Learn to shoot bow and arrow? He was the Nebraska state champ. Hunt with bow and arrow? He bear hunted in that manner. So, while the above picture is a bit outdated (1985), this is how we will always remember Dick. Fly fishing in a stream in Alaska, or hunting elk in Colorado with Uncle Phil, or maybe making bookmarks out of snake skins (that he had caught and skinned, of course) when he was 10 years old. Most importantly, however, we will remember him and cherish our memories until the day when we are too, frozen in time.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Visit To Rookies

Melinda's day off, so we are treating ourselves to dinner at Rookies - likely our favorite sports bar in St Charles. There is a Cubs game tonight so we got there early, meeting our friend Carolyn before she heads out to Kosovo this weekend to help with a medical mission there.

Rookies is great - a true Chicago sports bar - sports pages are hung over the urinals so that even when "taking care of business" you can keep up with the Cubs and Sox. And a few times a year they have "Dollar Burgers" - a half pound burger for a buck. Granted, with fries and cheese its up to $3, but two of those and couple premium pints of beer and you are still out of there for less than $15 for two...

Anyhow, Dollar Burgers were here in May and June, so are gone for now (we thought it was our wedding they were celebrating!), but rumored to return in September. While I didn't make it to the gym for a workout, I had a good bike ride today, so had no guilt at all about a burger (w/barbeque sauce, cheddar cheese and jalapenos)and fries. Melinda went for a rack of ribs and a salad, and I had more than my share of a pitcher of "Rookies Red". YUM!

The Cubbies had fought to a 1-1 tie against theReds by the time we left - are up 4-1 while posting this from home. Those Cubs are hot!

Dancing Fool?

While I consider myself somewhat savy as to what is currently popular in tody's culture (while at the same time proudly proclaiming I've never seen an episode of "American Idol") yesterday's New York Times <> exposed us to the world of Matt Harding and a phenomenon I've never witnessed.

Matt is evidently into his 3rd generation of "dance videos". What makes it interesting is not Matt's dancing (NYT calls him "doughy-looking" and a "doofus") but the locales and locals who join in - from Timbuktu (the real one in Africa) to "The Bean" in Chicago, from Antarctica to Nellis Air Force Base, where he "dances" in zero-g on the "vomit comet". Part of the attraction is Matt's consistency in step and meter, and largely for the exhuberance of the kids and locals who join in goofy lockstep with him.

While I can count my annual visits to Youtube on my fingers, Matt has convinced me to stop by more often for gems like these. If you have the bandwidth, you've got to watch it in "high quality"!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Boids, Boids, and more Boids!


Dean here with his first blog entry... Today we did name-changing chores! Melinda and I went to the courthouse to get copies of the wedding license, then over to the DMV for getting her new name on her drivers license. The day flew by with all the driving we had to do, but stopped by the bank also and opened a joint account with the money we got as gifts from the wedding. So we're starting to get that official business done - man I'm telling you - guys have it easy as far as that name-changing goes!

Got back to Riverwoods and Melinda was due to "volunter" her services as nurse and check-in new campers. I had been hoping to swing by the gym and get a workout in (my official full-time job this summer is improving my health, so was supposed to start today), but with all the above running around, decided for a walk down by the river with camera and telephoto optics. It had been a beautiful day - clear sky, warm and breezy. I suspected it was too breezy for birding - they tend to stay in the tree interiors when windy, but hey, it was really a workout disguised as a birding expedition.

Turned out great - it really was too windy to catch my favorites (Cedar Waxwings - though I did see some later, but far away and against the setting sun), but I saw something better! Back on what I recall was my first wak down to the river, almost exactly 2 years ago, I saw and photographed something that turned out to be a Green Heron. That was also the last time I saw one until today. I was almost to my turn-around point and I saw two sitting on a downed tree branch. They look to be juveniles from the markings, can't say if they are a mating pair, but it was a pleasant surprise to see them. Unfortunately I had to shoot thru some branches to get them - but at least I had the right lens this time and it will leave room for improvement next time! I ended up seeing what I suspected were these flying south along the river a half hour later as I walked back.

Then to top it off, I saw a big yellow bird I've never seen before, and luckily was able to image it too. Getting out the bird book, it turned out to be a female Baltimore Oriole. I'd seen a couple males - one right at Melinda's feeder, but don't recall seeing the bright yellow female (male is mostly orange). So a successful walk indeed tonight!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

GCSP Notes '08

I was so busy with recounting the trip to Illinois that I didn't include much about the GCSP 'o8! It was spectacular! I feel so fortunate to have been able to be involved with it these past three years! How many people can say that they call the Grand Canyon home for a week - unless they work and live there?
The weather was perfect - being in the 80's during the day, and the 40's at night. Each day I would say, "eewww....clouds!", and Dean would assure me, "They'll go away", and of course he was right, every day! It was pretty breezy most of the nights, but we were still able to put Saturn on display (always a favorite!), as well as Jupiter and his moons for all to admire. Between those objects we looked at star clusters, galaxies, nebulae, and usually had a satellite or two to ooh and ahh at every evening. The crowds seems a little less this year, but the people who were there just loved the experience! Dean received an email today, from a woman and her husband from France who were among the public this year! She wanted to thank the Astronomers for the opportunity and experience! After the first year of attending, I have to admit, you become an "oh wow!" junkie! You crave the chance to show someone something that they've never had the chance to see before! We talked to people from England, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain, China, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and also from nearly every state in the US! I brushed up on my astronomy skills, learning something new every night, as well! I was really excited that I found the Ring Nebula four nights in a row - without help! That's a first for me!

The nightly Astronomy talks went really well, with some new presenters this year. We averaged 200-300 people attending the talk every evening. Of course, the best talk of the week was the night that Dean presented his slides and talk. This was his last "official talk" as the organizer of the GCSP (the above pic). The Rangers, Marker Marshall and Chuck Wahler, made sure to give Dean public thanks and credit for the dynasty he has created there. They also presented him with an "official National Park Service" fleece pullover, and a certificate of appreciation. The group of participating astronomers presented him with a signed long sleeve GCSP '08 t-shirt (which they all signed) on the last day, as well. What great friends he has developed through the years!
I think our next adventure will be sharing a small container of "Chunky Monkey" while we watch a movie tonight...and continue to teach kitties manners (no hissing!). More later!

The trip to Illinois!

We've made it home to St. Charles, IL; as of Saturday afternoon! We spent the first night in Tucumcari, New Mexico after a long afternoon and evening on the road. Day two brought us through the panhandle of Texas, where we stopped and took pictures of Cadillac Ranch (see the pic to the left), and then drove through Oklahoma and arrived in Riverton, Kansas at 9pm. We stayed with my Aunt Erna Geisler there, until 4pm on July 4th. It was the highlight of the trip for me. Visiting with her was like visiting with my mom. She and Uncle Phil were our "alternate parents", and their kids were our "brothers and sisters" too. Getting out of the car, hearing the cicadas singing, smelling the mixture of green and Spring River....I could hear the sound of my mom's laughter coming from the kitchen, mixed with Aunt Erna's, as they fixed dinner for all 8 of us kids... Daddy and Uncle Phil coming up the stairs from the dock with the day's catch ready for cleaning... It was a bitter sweet visit in those aspects, but still the highlight for me. Cousins Danny, Rosie, and Dixie (and her husband John), came to see us there - as well as Rosie's son, Tyler - and her Grandson, Chandler. The house was full of laughter and activity! Aunt Erna's health is precarious at this point, but she loved having us there, and loved reminiscing about our families and the wonderful times we had together. God Bless that woman! It was hard leaving her on Friday, but we did. We stopped in Fenton, Missouri to get gas - about 4 miles from the house were I grew up. We didn't take a side trip to see the house, as we wanted to get through St. Louis before the holiday traffic became impossible. We made it to Springfield, IL on Friday night. Saturday, we had an easy 200 mile drive to St. Charles and home! We were fortunate in not having bad weather at any point on our trip, and no difficulties with driving. The kitties did great along the way (they are now trying to integrate with Annie and Atticus - who aren't all that amused by having new kitties in the house), without getting car sick or missing the litter box even once!
Since being home, Dean's cold is improving - mine is still raging, and a few days behind his. I'm back to work Monday night, no matter what, however. I've figured out how to let Dean post on this blog as well, so I'm sure he will be adding to it now too! We may even need to create a new one for his pictures! If we do, we'll put a link here to point you to that blog!
More later....

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Heading Northeast...

Today's the day! Dean just went to get more water for the aquarium (just cleaned it and it needs to be refilled), and then we are ready to hit the road! Of course, he's still suffering with his cold (terrible cough), and being his "dutiful wife" I didn't want him to suffer alone. I started with the sore throat, slight fever, and cough last evening! It should be a great trip!

I think the kitties know "something is up", as Marley is hiding out somewhere. Sugarpants is snoozing on the couch, so he will be easy to corral into a carrier for the road. We'll get to see what it's like to travel with two cats in the van - which will prepare us for traveling with four cats in the van, come the end of October/beginning of November!

Our friends, Bill and Mary Loftquist, left yesterday for Iceland for a few months! I can't imagine what a trip that will be! We wish them safe travels!

Our last evening in Tucson included packing (of course), and then a visit to Valerie's house. I did a minor fix on her ceiling fixture in the dining room; then it was off to "On The Border" with Valerie, with Jane joining us there!

Our Jason is ready for 4 months of taking care of the cats and the house - with his girlfriend Anna returning from a trip to France last evening.

I'm thinking our next posting will be from the shores of the Fox River, when we arrive in St. Charles in a few days!

Happy July 4th everyone!