Sunday, August 31, 2008

Project Progress!

We jumped on our weekend project first thing - at the break of midday - hey, it is sunday, after all! I made a run for some tile spacers in the morning and Melinda set up her new favorite power tool - a wet tile saw! We quickly finished trimming out the remaining tiles and took a quick lunch break.

With the afternoon Cubs game on in the background (they ended up losing to Philadelphia), we troweled on the adhesive and put the tiles back on the way we had trimmed it out in the morning. The only problem we had was that the slate tiles have some significant thickness differences, but it is what it is... The grout will take up some of the difference, but still, some are quite a bit higher than others. We ended up with something like 2 6X6" tiles left, so not many left to choose from! Mostly we chose and positioned tile with the prettiest colors and patterns, and the resultant hearth looks stunning, if we say so ourselves!

Of course, the Southwest is the center of mexican tile decor, and seeing how straightforward this was, Melinda has thoughts of tilework in the kitchen, bathrooms, and what the heck, the rest of the floors there that aren't already tiled... This project will see grout in a couple days, trim the carpet back, and we can file this project finished - back to window glazing for the labor day holiday tomorrow!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday's project...surprise!

We just can't pass up the opportunity (and time block) to really get some work done on this place! This, being my weekend off, is the perfect time block to make a dent in the list of things being done. While some projects are necessary - need to keep the rain out, need to make sure the house is a little easier to heat and cool; some projects need to be done just for the sake of fun and decor! We've been hard at the window glazing thing for a while, and are nearly done with the windows in the sunroom. Dean will freely admit that even though we're getting good at that job, "It's still not fun." Today we started a "fun job"!

I have wanted to pull out the carpeting in front of the fireplace, and install a slate hearth, since I moved into this house in February '06. I had even peeled back a small section in front of the fireplace, to see what was under the carpeting - to my delight I found a cement "hearth" that would make the perfect underlayment for slate tile. That's where the project has been for over two years. Aaahh....but not any longer! Today we managed to get into it enough to reach the 'point of no return' (the point where you are committed to doing the job because you can no longer repair what you have done!). Here is a nice little "before" shot that Dean took. The cats, Annie and Atticus, are wondering what Mom and Dad are up to this time, needless to say. But, this is how the carpeting looks in front of the fireplace - or I should say "how it looked". I had picked up the slate tiles this past Spring, with the plan of doing this job this year. Of course, to cut slate tiles you have to use a diamond blade/wet saw - which I didn't own. After much procrastinating we found one at Menard's on sale for a reasonable price which I bought this past week. Having never used a wet saw I had no idea of what to expect. Of course, Dean has a vast experience in using wet saws so he was the "pro" on this job! Before getting to the cutting stage, however, we had to peel back more of the carpeting to expose the area around the cement base for the hearth. Anyone who has been in earshot of me, in the past couple of years, knows how I have been whining about wanting hardwood flooring in this house. As we peeled back the carpet, and then the padding from the area around the fireplace imagine my surprise to uncover hardwood floor!!! We had no idea what was under there, and I was certain that it was plywood we would find! Before getting too excited -- we don't know what kind of condition the entire room of wood flooring is in, and we can't very easily find out at this time. The room would have to be emptied of all furniture - and then there's the question of the condition of the subfloor (as the room does have a definite slope to it) -- the list of concerns go on and on. I hadn't planned on putting hardwood in the living room, though it gives me a bit of 'hope' for what may be under the carpeting in the bedrooms. At this point in time, we will be content to know that it's under there and available for our consideration in the future. From what we have seen, the entire room would have to be sanded (the floor that is, not the walls), and then finished. Not a project to be taken lightly! After our amazing discovery we continued with our prep work for the slate hearth. Finally the hour arrived to fire up the wet saw and give it a go! WOW!!! I mean, really, WOW!!! Dean cut the first couple of tiles, and then I took my turn at giving it a go. It was like cutting butter with a hot knife! As I told Dean, "I see a lot of tile in our future! This saw is going to Tucson with us!" We have most of the tiles laid out, but more to cut and fit in place around the little tricky bits - which we will work on tomorrow before we put the adhesive down. This is how it's looking at the moment. Tomorrow we should have more pictures, and more progress!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Impressive In Their Own Way...

With the advent of digital imaging, it is easy to take lots of pictures and throw out most of them. Though I have a nice camera (Canon 20Da and XSi), I don't have the expensive autofocus, image stabilized lenses that cost as much as a good used car. Mostly for birds I use a small Meade 80mm telescope that cost about $500 with a monopod to help steady the exposure. Precise focus is almost always a guess, but as I said, take lots and throw out almost as many... And with the new cameras, you can take bursts of several exposures per second.

Anyway, sometimes interesting things happen and while not what you were really after, the result is intriguing. The case in point here is when the birds I'm stalking take off and are aerial blurs with a beauty all their own. Not the photo I wanted, but too cool to discard... Pictured top to bottom is a Cedar Waxwing, Red-Headed Woodpecker, and a Hairy Woodpecker (top one with the Meade, bottom 2 with a 200mm zoom).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Daily edits...

While I don't tend to post much, especially during the week, I am involved in the routine editing and layout of our page. It's with those edits, this evening, that Dean has cast his vote to remove the "Dancing Matt" video from the bottom of the page. I could only agree to that if I could include a link to "Where in the Hell is Matt?" somewhere else on the page. I still enjoy watching the video and hope that you have watched it more than once yourself. The link to the video is in the right hand bar, under the topic of "Links we enjoy and use" - so take 5 minutes and give it a watch, if you haven't done so lately. It's always a warm fuzzy for your soul!

Dean's Cocoon nebula picture is great today, isn't it?! I like his photography more than I what I see on APOD on any given day - but then I may be a bit biased. I have to give him great kudos in figuring out an html question that we've both been having! We are learning so much, and improving our computer skills, with this blog. Who knew it would be so much fun!

Fuzzies in the Night!

After seeing yesterday's Astronomy Picture of the day (click here - realize it is 7.5 hours exposure with a 20" telescope!), it reminded me I had taken a sequence of images of the same field with my 14" telescope last fall (in fact, nearly a year ago on 9 September of '07). But somehow, I had saved the images in the camera's lowest resolution, so I never went back to analyse the images, thinking they wouldn't be any good. Anyhow, realizing that my recent pictures of the Big Dipper are the only astronomical images I've talked about recently, I just now finished stacking the 20 exposures I had taken (about 50 minutes of total exposure, and the same length of dark exposures).

The Cocoon Nebula is a glowing cloud of mostly hydrogen gas, illuminated to flourescence by the hot, blue stars that are forming from the raw materials of the cloud. This particular object lies at the end of a long, thin dark nebula - you can see it silhouetted against the background of more distant stars, but is not lit up directly. I've never seen this object directly through a telescope, though the long, linear dark nebula can be spotted in binoculars against the clouds of Milky Way stars...

Taking these sorts of images seems to have dominated my astronomical interests the last few years, and it seems strange to be away from it for so long - though only whle I'm in Illinois - too much light pollution and hassles to pursue it here. In addition, I didn't really bring any of the equipment up from Arizona... Anyway, most of these objects are very faint, but obviously very photogenic, so to properly record them, you need to take long exposures, then combine many exposures to reduce the electronic noise that the individual exposures contain. On a long night, you might be able to do only a few objects with good results. I have pretty basic equipment (no computerized go-to), so first I need to find the faint fellow and align the camera how I want it, find a guide star (my mount doesn't track well enough for exposures thru a telescope longer than 30 seconds or so), then set up the camera for a sequence of exposures. Once you start the exposures, then you can relax and do some binocular or other observing - as long as the autoguider keeps the guide star centered. All this is after typically driving an hour or more, and spending about that length of time setting up the gear. So it really is a lot of work to do all this, but it is also quite rewarding capturing some of the amazing spectacles of the night sky. Keep an eye out - there will be a lot more in the fall and winter when we get back to Arizona!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Dipper...

A week ago I posted a shot of the Big Dipper (part of the constellation Ursa Major) over the Fox River illuminated by the full moon (post from 21 August). With the added light pollution of the moon, however, the dipper could hardly be seen. So I went out again night before last and tried again without the moon and it can be seen much easier.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of light pollution in the area - folks here don't get much exposure to full-cutoff lighting, so don't see the benefit. In addition, the higher population density (a LOT more lights) and higher humidity levels than I'm used to scatter more light into the sky...

Interestingly, you can spot what looks light 2 separate light glows, center and to the right of the shot. You can also note that the color looks different. I'll make a trip and confirm it someday, but the lights in the center are from a commercial development zone along Randall Road about 6 miles from here - likely metal-halide lighting - bluer in color than the high-pressure sodium lighting of the glow to the right from the town of Elgin and South Elgin about 5 miles away. Clicking on the image and looking at the full sized version makes the Big Dipper stand out more easily. Taken with the Canon XSi, 30 seconds with a 10-22 zoom set to 14mm@F/3.5.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Floaties and Fuzzies

While I usually image macroscopic objects presented to me (birds, events, people, astronomical objects), this weekend I had a few "mini" objects of attention. At the reunion at my Aunt Velma's farm sunday, they had an apple tree where the fruit was, shall I say, a bit past ripe. The tree was the center of a huge cluster of butterflies feeding off the soft flesh of the apples. Suitably distracted, I was able to get quite close to them and try imaging them. There were at least 4 types, but these two were a little less shy. I went on-line in an attempt to identify them but found it difficult at best.

My new camera (Canon XSi) has "live view" which shows the live image on screen, so you can hold the camera at arm's length and yet compose and assure good focus before pushing the button. It really works great for these sort of objects.

Similarly, a little earlier that afternoon, one of the youngsters found a fuzzy caterpillar (actually 2 of them) and I got a couple shots off on that pair, plus another I saw the next morning in St Charles. This is the time of year that you see these, so will keep an eye out - these are certinly interesting specimens...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Remembering the Past - Arlo/Alva Reunion

Yesterday we held what has recently become an annual tradition - the Arlo/Alva reunion. As we were growing up in eastern Iowa, it seemed our family's 6 kids (of Alva and Janice) spent nearly every weekend with the family of Uncle Arlo and Aunt Velma and their 7 kids. That is a boatload of memories when combined with camping trips, seemingly hundreds of birthday parties, running the "Weenie Wagon" at farm sales, friday night fish fries at the town tavern, and on and on. While the Ketelsen Reunion for the entire clan has been held the 3rd sunday in September forever, for the last 4 or 5 years, remaining matriarch Velma has called our two families together out to her farm near Sabula, Iowa. Time once again to dust off the tradional family recipes and have a picnic feast!

We had a good turnout this year - while it can be confusing when all the kids of the kids come (I recall Velma has something like 60-some grandkids and great-grandkids!) all the siblings were there save 2 of Velma's and my sister Sheri, who moved to Texas just a year ago. It was such a spectacular day - a beautiful blue sky and temps in the mid-70s! Velma had the buffet in her basement and we ate in the garage after losing some of her big shade trees in the back yard, but later we gathered in the shade to digest our lunch and catch up. Pictured are my brother Jim's daughter Breanna chatting with Velma, then her brother Brennan join her for a more formal portrait with their great-aunt. Besides a shot of the buffet line, there is also a shot of my sisters Linda (standing) and Kathy with brother Brian, with Kathy's husband Rich on the left.

A few miles to the north on our way back to eastern Illinois, we paused to take the quintessential image of a farm and the red barns. Back in the day of the family farm, this was what pretty much what all farms looked like. You might have had a few hundred head of hogs in one building, 100 head of cattle in another, with the lofts full of hay for wintertime feed. But with profit margins so thin and the flight of families to the cities, it really is a lost way of life that pretty only exists any more in memories - still strongly residing in our memories since our families all lived through it...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We haven't forgotten to blog!

We haven't forgotten to blog, we've just been so busy! Dean will write later (or tomorrow) and include pictures.

Saturday night we had dinner with cousins Lisa and Dan Miller (Melinda's cousin) at their home in Villa Park, IL. Lisa and Dan are always fun, and it was great to spend a casual evening with them! Lisa made killer burgers (a great Paula Deen recipe that she found that included cheese mixed in with the meat), different (but good) potato salad, and sweet corn (with Dan's own concoction of olive oil and secret spices mixed in). To top off the meal we had ice cream with a choice of sauces! They have a traditional Chicago bungalow, built in the 1920's - and it resonates charm, coziness, and comfort! They have maximized the assets of the house - uncovering hardwood floors, adding lighting to fit the period of the home, and furnishing with family - as well as purchased - antiques. I could live there forever. Lisa and I were born one day apart, and we are alike in so many ways. Lisa and Dan both have intense music and theatrical backgrounds - and have many plays, musicals, and singing groups "under their belts". They are always a joy to visit with, and we look forward to them coming out to our house for dinner soon! I can't forget to add a note about Lisa and Dan's dogs - a herding dog named Harlequin (Quin) who is so sweet and loves to be near; and a schnauzer/Chihuahua mix - Natasha (Tasha) who is more cat than dog. She loves being fussed over, and loves pleasing everyone! She also is quite the redecorator - rearranging the pillows on the couch while we ate dinner in the dining room!

Today we went to the Arlo/Alva Ketelsen families reunion. I will let Dean blog about that! Needless to say, we ate well today too! We had perfect weather, and a great time, as we always do!

This was a weekend with family, which is always the best way to spend a weekend!

Friday, August 22, 2008


I was awakened in the middle of my sleep to the sound of chain saws, a short while ago. Most things don't awaken me, but they "sounded close". Sure enough, a local tree service was 30 feet in front of the house, taking down the trees that "we" have lost this summer. A month or so ago, the big old tree that was the second from our house (heading towards the river) broke off about 10 feet above the ground. The center seemed to be rotted (noted after it had fallen), and there were lots of little Japanese beetles on the leaves. That was the first tree they took down today. I was awake in time to watch them "take down" the second of the trees - a beautiful, ancient, Willow that had split in half. Willows have such grace, such style - they're the Audrey Hepburn of the trees (she was willowy, right?). Very sadly, this tree (which had split, partially, in years past) had to go, so I stood and watched as the final cut was made - and the beautiful old lady fell to the ground with a giant ccrraackkkk. Aside from losing the beauty of these two trees, we are losing a significant source of shade for our house. It's sad to see them go! The "bright side" is that we have a clearer view of the night sky to the West now. That might work well for setting up the telescope in the front yard.

After watching the doing's in the front yard, I thought I heard a noise in the back yard...! The gas company had been doing some work yesterday, and they were back - digging up the back yard to bury the newly improved gas line. They had said, yesterday, that they would be burying the new line today - but of course, I forgot. I didn't realize that meant that they would have a giant trenching thingy in the back yard, however. Wow, do they work fast! They had that done in no time, and the work for this part of the line is done!

With any luck at all I'll be able to get a little more sleep, now that "the show's over" around here!

First Sign of Fall!

While we've been starting to see the first signs of fall color on the maple trees in the area, the first true sign of fall is when the Wheaton College crew team brings their sculls out to the grounds at Riverwoods. The camp lets them store their gear here fall and spring, and a few years ago they modified the dock at the camp to facilitate putting these long craft into the Fox River for practice. The sculls disappear when they have their meets - the river here has too much weekend recreational traffic for that. But they appeared today - fall is in the air!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Close to Home

In a few of our recent posts, Melinda told about our "busy work" of reglazing the windows in our sunroom - or as they call them in Arizona, the "Arizona room" (usually a room that is an enclosed carport or added-on room that doesn't have AC or heat...). Anyway, most of these wood-framed windows have missing and cracked glazing, and it needs replacement before cold weather arrives. It is very labor-intensive. While the cracked stuff comes out pretty easily, the putty in reasonable condition has to be chiseled out and replaced. Unfortunately, in the process, we've fractured a few panes as well, so we are seeing all sides of replacing glazing and glass... We've found our respective skillsets... Melinda is good at the patient digging out of the old putty and smoothing out new glazing, I'm good at breaking window panes, applying new glazing from the tubes, and cleanup after the new stuff sets up overnight. We've been working at it an hour or two every day, and I think we're over half done with the sunroom.

A couple years ago when I spent my first summer here, I don't think there was a time when I didn't go down near the river and see herons and egrets. Sometimes you would see over a half dozen at a time, fishing in the then-low river. The river has been deeper since and this year they have been positively scarce, so it is a real surprise when you look out and see them walking slowly along the bank looking for fish. I "caught" this one a few days ago thru our window looking past the canoes of the camp. Back in June, we watched one in our then-flooded yard catch a 15" long carp and seemingly impossibly swallow the thing before flying off - I wish I had my camera handy then!

Last week with the bright moon in the sky we had some pretty clear nights and I walked out and took a couple time exposures of the river. Here you can see the big dipper over the Fox, barely made out from the light dome from Elgin to the north. Will try it again in a few days with the moon gone to see if it stands out any more. This is a 20 second exposure with the 10-22mm zoom with the XSi. Be sure to click on the imge to see the full-scale image.

Thursday stuff...

It's Thursday morning and Dean is off to the gym for his daily workout! I'm a bit lazier (a bit??), and am opting to stay home and work on windows after I finish here. We managed to crack four windows while reglazing, so far. I'm going to work on getting the cracked windows out and the new ones in place. It's a pitfall working with glass, it cracks easier that thought.

Today is the first day that it looks like we could get some rain, in over a week! I'm hoping it will pour! I love having flowers and plants outside - but I hate watering them. It seems like we should have enough rain to take care of that.

Since I had last night off, today is one of our "let's go to the movies!" days. We're taking our dear Carolyn along with us this afternoon, too! She's making excellent progress in her recovery from her stroke, and at this point you would not know that she had one - unless you know her well! She's stil having some double vision, which makes it impossible for her to drive. We'll pick her up from her salon appointment, and then off to the movies we shall go! We're really wanting to see the new Woody Allen movie - but the time won't work well for us today. Instead we'll be seeing "Tropic Thunder", which has gotten some very good reviews. We have a few other movies on our lists of "I want to see that!" - so we have lots to see in the near future.
It seems like I should be adding some pictures in here - though all of the recent pictures are on Dean's computer! Given that I don't have anything nearly entertaining that I've taken recently, here's a picture from my archive - of sorts. It's actually a picture my father took after he returned home from the South Pacific (WW2). He brought home a grass skirt, from "the islands", for his niece - Tish. It's a favorite picture of mine - so here it is to share!
I should get busy on that glass. I would hate for Dean to get back home and I'm still sitting at the computer! I'm sure we'll post our review of the movie when we get home!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

And the survey says......!

Have you noticed the little "poll" on the right side bar of the page? I put that there this morning to see if we can figure out how many people are reading our blog (just for fun)! Each time we add information, or make edits, our little counter at the bottom of the page includes us in the count of 'hits' on the page - but we'd like to know (me more than Dean) how many 'hits' are from our family, friends, and others. There's no need to vote in the poll more than once. The poll will be there for a week, so if you think of it, cast a vote!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chicago Air & Water Show

Our big adventure sunday was to take in the 50th Chicago Air and Water Show. It is a popular event, hyped every day in the local media, kicked off in grand style friday when Chicago's own Bill Murray (of SNL and Hollywood fame) made a tandem parachute jump that even garnered national media attention.

While we live about 40 miles from downtown Chicago, we are not regulars. In fact, in the last 3 summers this was our 5th trip to "downtown". There is certainly a vibrancy and loads of attractions, but there is also loads of traffic and people and it is expensive - gas is high ($4.05 as I write this), parking is high ($18/hour!), those attractions are high as well. This time, as last, we took advantage of the Metra train system - unlimited weekend use for only $5. But once you start the public transportation, you are stuck with buses, walking or cabs...

My friend Janis is working downtown, so the plan was to meet her mid-morning. We caught the 8:40 train and it took about an hour to get us to the Ogilvie hub downtown, and we got in line for a free "shopping" trolley that took us to within a couple blocks of Janis' hotel. We were able to tell upon arrival at the train station that everyone and their brother were headed in, carrying lawnchairs and coolers, so it was going to be crowded! We walked a couple more blocks down to the lakeside and joined the throngs of people there. Actually, we headed down the bikepath and sat on the edge of the seawall for a little patch of turf, and awaited the planes.

We were a bit disappointed in the show. The displays were a little slow-paced, perhaps every 20 minutes a new plane doing flybys or acrobatics. Now granted, a B-1 bomber making a few high-speed flybys or an F-18 doing acrobatics is really impressive, but the jets alternated with prop squadrons, then a tanker made a few passes with some F-16s, then some more acrobatics, and that was about 2 hours... It was great to hang out and catch up with Janis, but taken in by itself, I wanted more... I'm a little spoiled by the air shows at DM Air Force Base in Tucson where you can wander among the static displays on the ground while catching the show overhead and THAT was exciting! For all the planes we saw, other than the fact that these were full size and made full-scale noises, the visual impact was nearly matched by the RC jet air show we saw west of town on saturday!

So about 2:30 we took off walking, our goal being the pizza mecca Pizzeria Uno, the unofficial birthplace of Chicago-style, thick crust pizza. Melinda and I had been there last winter, and I was up for a repeat visit. This time the wait for a seat wasn't 90 minutes, they sat us right away and our pizza, reported to take 45 minutes to cook, came a couple minutes after our appetizer arrived (mmmm, squid!). It was all good, and we left in plenty of time to walk and wait for the trolleyride back to the train (while glimpsing the Blue Angels performing down the City canyons). The train was PACKED - I'm not sure there was an empty seat left. Thankfully we were back in the countryside of St Charles by about 6pm. I feel a little more comfortable on the train and getting around with public transport, and it is certainly less stressfull than driving yourself. We'll have to wait and see what the next attraction will be that sucks us into the City.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tractors and Trucks and Jets, Oh My!

While at brunch yesterday, Melinda spotted a sign for "Elburn Days", which was runing this weekend. Elburn is a small town, population about 5,000 about 10 miles west of us. Looking on their website, we found that today (saturday) was the tractor pull, and since Melinda had never been to one, we decided to go take in the small-town festival.

We arrived about 11:30, about 30 minutes after the listed start time, but they were just getting under way. Even though near midday, we found parking about 100 yards from the action, so not huge crowds. They had a midway with a number of rides, a few carnival games to "test your skill", some local fundraising booths like dunking tanks, and lots of food - none of it particularly healthy - concentrated in the pork food group!

Heading first for the tractor pull, we watched some of the "modifieds" - tractors that have never seen the cornfield side of a fence, oftentimes rated over a thousand horsepower. Realize this is close to 10 times more than when new from the factory! The vehicles pull a sledge with a moving weight - the further you move down the track, the more the weight moves forward, increasing the drag. The sledge also contains a safety cutoff if the vehicle veers off track and a precision odometer to measure how far down the track it has gone. Some of the contests are won or lost by tenths of a foot and the distance is read out to a hundredth of a foot.

The "pulls" assault the ear as well as the eye - motors scream and spew smoke as progress is made down the track. Even though maxium speeds are about 20 mph, drivers wear special jackets, helmets, and the engine compartments are enclosed to contain flying engine parts should catastrophic failures occur. I've seen some radical machines in the past (jet-powered and multiple-engined machines), but this being a small event and perhaps because of competition from other fairs, there were not a huge number of entries, in fact, there were a lot more trucks pulling than tractors. Still a lot of fun while staying within a half hour drive of home.

After tiring of the competion, we headed for the midway and supported the sponsoring Lion's Club by eating at their food stand - a soda and pork chop sandwich - it was great! We then toured the rides, exhibits and crafts booths. I ended up buying some framed and matted pressed flowers and autumnal leaves. We left midafternoon, headed back towards the big city.

I had noticed on the way out to Elburn that we passed the field of the Fox Valley Aero Club - a radio-controlled model airplane group. Today they had model jets flying, and we stopped on the way back to St Charles. The astronomy club in Tucson shares an observing site with a model airplane group west of Tucson, but I had never seen the jets that occasionally fly there. They are quite incredible - accurate to the smallest detail, complete with retractible landing gear, both airspeed brakes as well as wheel brakes - and true jet power flying at incredible speeds. I have no clue what the cost of some of these are, but there was one with a "for sale" sign on it that had been rebuilt professionally after a crash, listed for $7,000. The most amazing demonstration for me was an F-18
model well over 6 feet long pictured here. While certainly well out of my price range, they were fun to watch and I may look for them in the future.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Long weekend - Friday

I don't make much of an appearance on here during the work week, so Dean told me "You need to blog this morning!"

It was a busy week at work, and I'm glad to be off a few days! Our friend, Carolyn, is home from the hospital and I've been stopping by to visit her in the morning on my way home from work. She's doing so much better since being at home (of course).

Today, I think I'll work on more windows. We haven't worked on in them in a week or more, and it's oddly fun to chip away the old glazing (much like peeling a sunburn). Since we have to replace some panes of glass, we have measurements to take for those, etc.

Sunday we have plans to go to the Chicago Air & Water Show. I've never been to it, so it will be a first for both of us! Living in the Chicago suburbs for most of my life you would think that I would have spent more time in Chicago. But, like most people out in "the boonies", we just don't take the time to "go downtown".

Sitting in the sun room while using the computer provides some interesting views, on occasion. Just now was such an occasion! We see hummingbirds in this area from time to time, but since we don't have feeders out they are definitely little surprises when we do see them. A female Ruby-throated hummer has just been feeding on the flowers near
the cars, and in front of the house. Of course, Dean always has a camera ready to go and he quickly handed me one with a zoom lens at the ready. I think these are the two best of the lot ~

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Melinda and I were on a walk down to the river a week ago today and were surprised to find ducklings! It seemed awfully late in the season for us to be having newborns, unless they raise multiple broods per season... No mention of that in our bird book. These are mallards, the most common duck in North America, but are awfully cute with the babies. It was actually difficult to get a shot with more than one of them with their heads out of the water as they fed off the shallow river bottom. It was also interesting to note the water beading up and running past their bodies (click on the image for a closeup). They obviously got cold eventually - on our return trip they were out of the water getting warm underneath mom.

A postscript: I saw this same female tonight, a week later - the babies have grown a lot the last 7 days and all eight pictured this session are still with us!

That same walk we saw a tree full of what we believe are Eastern Kingbirds, feeding on insects near the water with swallows and waxwings. Here, a fledgling makes the universal signal for "feed me", and an adult comes up and oblidges with a mouthfull of bugs - yummy!
These shots were all taken shortly before sunset, so the colors are muted significantly. I used the Canon XSi and the Meade 80mm APO triplet (480mm focal length) and a monopod.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kitty Update

It is a rare computer session when Sugarpants doesn't come spend some one-on-one time with us. Here he is checking Melinda's e-mails for spelling errors, and comments that our blog "doesn't include enough kitty news".
Actually, the cats we brought up with us from Arizona were my lap cats, and their behavior has changed in subtle ways. After 6 weeks Marley is still not getting along with Melinda's 2 cats and allows himself to be chased into the guest room where he spends a lot of time under the bed. When we are around, however, he is very comfortable hanging out with us and is always within our reach on the sofa during TV-time. So he is our living room lap cat... Sugarpants mostly hangs out in the sunroom ("computer room") and kitchen and bonds with us in those areas. He gets along fine with Annie and Atticus, but still has his part of the house where he hangs out. Neither of Melinda's two are lap cats, though Annie sometimes "passes thru" and says hi - she is quite the talker - really the only one who uses her voice on a regular basis... Atticus is your standard cat and mostly only pays attention to you when it is feeding time!

The photo also shows a little more of our view from the sunroom - looking out at the grounds of the church camp here where we live, with the Fox River about 50 yards away.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Melinda's Excellent Weekend!

We usually note our weekends as "long" (when Melinda has thursday thru monday off) or "short" when she only gets off saturday. This weekend was "short", but man, did we squeeze in a lot of activities!

Today was one of those rare summer days when it is cool and dry, normally after a cold front passes. Here it is, still early August and the high was in the low to mid 70s! Just a spectacular blue sky spotted by a few puffy clouds.

Melinda works graveyard at the local hospital, so arrived home saturday (yesterday) morning, lying down for a nap about 10am. I woke her at 2:30pm for the first event - a surprise 30th anniversary for my sister Linda and her husband Lauren. Dinner is at 6pm, but it is a 2.5 hour drive, so we plan to be on the road at 3:30. With local gas prices right at $3.99, we travel west to DeKalb and get enough gas to get us to Iowa (DeKalb is in the next county west, so is only $3.85 without local county taxes). Headed west, we drove through some squall lines, but had an uneventful trip and made it to Clinton right on time, gas at $3.45!

Linda and Lauren have 3 kids - Marsha, Mallory and Mitchell who conspired for this surprise party. And sure enough, the guests of honor hadn't a clue when they walked in and found 30 friends and relatives. Always nice when that happens, but more often than not the word gets out. The food was fabulous - a private, mostly pasta buffet at Rastrelli's - you couldn't have asked for a better meal or venue.

Appearances of note were a couple of Velmas of my father's generation or earlier. Great aunt Velma Brandenburg is pictured here with my sisters Linda and Kathy. And I'm photographed with my aunt Velma Ketelsen. Both live independently and drove themselves to the party tonight. My great niece Mya, normally pretty shy and reserved, did really well, or at least, didn't avoid me like she usually does. Here she is shown surgically removing the frosting from her cake.

After gassing up in Iowa, we head back for St Charles, finally hitting the road about 2130 under the light of a first quarter moon low in the south not far from brilliant Jupiter. Making excellent time, we get home in only 2 hours and watch a few minutes of live olympic coverage (with the 12 hour time difference) before going to sleep.

First thing in the morning (7:30 for us) we are up and out the door by 8:15 because Melinda has promised to "have breakfast" with Carolyn, who is in the hospital here after suffering a stroke a few weeks ago while on a medical mission to Kosovo. After a week in Paris she finally made it to Illinois late last week where she continues to recover. Thankfully she did not need surgery, nor did she suffer any debilitating effects save some short-term memory issues. So we spent a few hours with her and Melinda helped her take her first shower since Paris.

Leaving the hospital about noon, we headed to American Science and Surplus and browsed the fun stuff they have there (everything from Flying Screaming Monkeys to fake eyeballs to slip in your friend's drink). After another stop at Borders bookstore, we decide to head to the local movie theater and see what we can see. We go to see Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D. The movie is pretty hokey, but the 3-D effect is really amazing. Reading Ebert's reviews later, he hated the "murky 3-D picture", but at our screen, it was great!
Finally, 4pm on Sunday we head home to get Melinda a nap before she returns to work at 10. She calls Carolyn's daughter Anne to check in and compare notes on her friend. Anne says - "Oh, we're cruising past your place in our boat, want to go for a ride?" Five minutes later we are dockside watching them pull up. They have a nice pontoon boat, and have another couple with 2 young girls along. So we cruise the river for nearly 2 hours watching boaters and jet-skiers ply the Fox, including Anne's husband Pete, who gets his out also giving each of the small girls a ride. While we live on the river and see these boats every day, it is the first time we've been on the river on a private craft - it was a lot of fun! And while we've always wondered exactly how deep the river is near us, we found out - there was a ring of boats anchored near the river center for a beer party, and it was about waist deep on those on the water!

So finally sunday night at a little after 6pm, Melinda goes back for a little pre-work nap, but man, it has been a busy 28 hours!