Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Movie Review - Ghost Town

Yesterday was a rainy sort of indoor day and with time on our hands, we decided to go to a movie. Selected was "Ghost Town" starring Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear, sort of a "Topper" meets "The Sixth Sense". We had never seen Gervais in anything, having acquired his fame in British TV as writer, director, producer and actor (most notably the original "The Office" show).

We were pleasantly surprised that we really loved the movie! Gervais plays an antisocial dentist, Bertram Pincus, who likes nothing better than a patient with a mouth full of cotton so he doesn't have to talk to anyone. He dies, but is revived during a medical proceedure and finds he can see ghosts who have unfinished business with the living, and hilarity ensues. Gervais has the ability of being funny without trying to be funny and combined with the personality tics of the downright rude Pincus the movie is elevated above normal romantic comedy fare.

Besides the great Gervais, Kinnear is ok, Tea Leoni is very good, but Kristin Wiig steals the show in the couple too-short scenes where she appears. We rate it a "9 out of 10". Now in it's second week of release, it likely won't be around long as the fall blockbusters come in, but definately do check it out!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Didn't Try the Cheese Curds...

We've finished off our Dodgeville trip - had a great time with Dave and Joan! To finish the coverage of the weekend, after staying up till 3am Saturday morning, we slept in a little and had brunch at a very nice cafe a few blocks from their house in downtown Dodgeville (yes, we walked!).

We took the scenic route (where we startled the flock of turkeys shown here) for the dozen miles down towards Mineral Point, an early center of industry in 1800s southwestern Wisconsin because of the lead mines there. In fact, the reason the U of Wisconsin's sports team is called the Badgers is after the miners digging into the hillsides. Anyway, in the last decade or two, Mineral Point has turned into a very nice artist's community with galleries, shops and restaurants built into the hillsides. Featured heavily are the original buildings built out of the native limestone - just beautiful! It turns out that it was "Cornish Days", named for the Cornish mining community that moved from the Cornwall area of England. While we didn't partake of any of the festivities, all the galleries and shops were open late, which we did take advantage of... Interestingly, it resembles the mining town of Bisbee in southern Arizona - dying mining town (copper in Bisbee's case), taken over by former hippies and artists. There was really some nice art, one of my favorites was a stained glass mosaic artist at one of them...

We had an early dinner at Brewery Creek - an old converted warehouse (again, spectacular old limestone building) serving beer brewed on site with a nice selection of food from burgers to seafood. We had been there before a couple years ago and wanted to return, in fact, Melinda wore her t-shirt she had gotten there, and had some jealous looks from waitresses because they are no longer available!

We had a small star party schedule scheduled for a group up in the state park north of town, so rushed off to that, though it was mostly clouded out and most had left. It cleared up after sunset and we observed for an hour or two, though it wasn't as good of observing conditions as the night before. Returning to Dave and Joan's for a late night DVD and popcorn, Dave and I stayed up till 1am trying to make a movie out of some night exposures with Mac software... We left town about 10am Sunday, pulling into a house full of cats glad to see us about 3 hours later. The astronomy group from Dodgeville is headed to Yerkes Observatory next Saturday, and I may join them, since it is only an hour north of us here in St Charles...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Its Full Of Stars!

Dean blogging from Dodgeville, Wisonsin visiting friends David and Joan Oesper here! Had an uneventful trip up - took some curvy backroads to get here and still had a travel time of just over 3 hours. Lots of cows, horses and the beginnings of fall colors.

It was a busy schedule - a quick walk to a waterfall in Governor Dodge State Park, dinner at a chinese restaurant, astronomy club meeting (with pie! - celebrating their second anniversary), then a short trip out of town to an observatory David and friends put together.

Empire Ranch Observatory is carved out of a farmers cornfield about 15 miles south of town and has nice skies. There were avout 15 observers looking through the 10" scope they have in the dome, as well as some big binoculars, smaller scopes and lots of green laser pointers. The picture shows one of the green beams pointed skyward, with the big dipper just over the dome, Polaris at the top of the picture, and constellations Hercules and Corona Borealis to the left. After a return about midnight, we got back to David and Joan's and sat thru the recorded first presidential candidate debate. We finally got to bed about 3am...

The state park is worthy of note - it is really in a pretty area with hills and canyons with running streams. This area wasn't glaciated during the last ice age and the landscape and rocks are significantly different from just the couple hundred miles distance to the Chicago area. Interesting though, many of the plants were familiar to what we've been observing in the local forest preserve. We pointed out some of the mushrooms we documented a few days ago and the berry clusters of the pitcher plant. The falls were not running a lot, but was fun to hike along the burbling brook. I believe we return here again saturday night for a public star party.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Visitors and more!

We had visitors today - one from near - some from far! The "near visitor" was our dear Carolyn. I had errands to do in town and thought that maybe she'd like to be 'sprung out' of her house for a while. If you recall in previous posts, Carolyn had a stroke while in Europe - that was 8 weeks ago. She's doing great, but still not allowed to drive. She is usually such a busy, on the go, person that the sitting around gets a little old for her. Also, I'm used to having lunch or breakfast with her once a week. So, I gave her a call and picked her up to come here for lunch! It was fun to have her here for a while before taking her back home. She was to be part of a shopping trip to see the wedding gown her granddaughter (newly engaged - congrats Sabrina!) has picked out. I'm sure they had a fun afternoon!

Our other visitors were from afar - Tucson to be exact! Thom and Twila Peck came by to visit on their way from Midway airport to Geneva (the next town South of here). This weekend is Thom's 40th high school reunion, they are in town to enjoy the festivities and visit with family. Thom and Twila have not been here, to our house, before. It was fun showing them our little corner of paradise!

We are going to visit our friends in Dodgeville, Wisconsin this weekend - David and Joan Oesper. Dean knows them from Iowa college days. We visited them two years ago, and are looking forward to seeing them this weekend. We will attend their local astronomy club meeting tomorrow night. Saturday night we will be a part of a public star party event - given for adoptive parents and their children. It should be fun! I'm hoping the weather will stay nice for us. I'm also hoping to take my telescope along, to use for observing. It hasn't been out of the box in quite a while!

I'm sure we'll have new pictures to post on Sunday night - so tune in again then!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Fungus Among Us

With all our recent rains, we are getting a nice crop of mushrooms of an amazing variety. We are not tempted to try to identify edible varieties, but I'm just amazed at the range of structures. Like the butterflies I photographed a month ago, I've found that identification is difficult too, so mostly these are presented with a short description for your viewing pleasure. All were photographed within 30 yards of the house here in St Charles.

These little guys were only seen once in a shady area. I don't know if the reddish color and splitting of the cap is an indication of them just being "past their prime" of if they are normally this color.

These fellows extend over quite an area, almost turning the ground white in some spots. They do not last long, however, just a day or two (as with most mushrooms), turning brown quickly.

This giant puffball is from my stay here 2 summers ago. They are edible, but so huge we were hesitant. The Internet guide said to fry up quarter-inch-thick slices in butter... This was the biggest I saw this summer (or since) - over 10" diameter!

This assemblage has individual mushrooms that look like common toadstools, but I've never seen them in a hi-rise structure like this.

These were growing out of a stump (again, in the shade) that we use for holding some flower pots. They have nice color and structure...

I just took these this morning, down where our lawn was flooded by the recent river rising. I'm working on a daily photo sequence showing the trees changing color (something to look forward to!) and happened to see this in the dewy grass. The heads were less than an inch in diameter and were gone this afternoon when I went back looking for them.

These Bird's Nest mushrooms were seen away from the house down on a trail in the forest preserve near here. Growing on the downed branch of a tree, I didn't notice till after taking the photo that there is a slug checking out one on the left...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Asteroid Ketelsen???

In my life as an amateur astronomer, I've received a number of awards, mostly for my efforts in public outreach for restarting and continuing the Grand Canyon Star Party for 18 years. Foremost among these is likely the Las Cumbres Award of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, a professional society of astronomers. In addition, The Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association has awarded me the Bart Bok award, as well as a service award both for the Canyon event and for my efforts as president of that organization.

My most recent honor is to have an asteroid named for me! Not really a prize, or award, per se, it is mostly a function of who you know! The story starts about a year and a half ago - friends Tom and Jennifer Polakis from Phoenix were spending time in Tucson with friends and asked for a tour of the Mirror Lab where I work. No problem there, I'm glad to show off the Lab to interested parties and do it all the time. This time, their friends were David Healy and Jeff Medkeff - David owns an observatory near Sierra Vista which mostly runs automatically looking for comets and asteroids. Jeff writes the software for taking and reducing the data automatically while unattended. Anyway, the tour was given and thanks to Tom and Jennifer, we have photos!

In particular, the last two are shown here, over the remains of pizza at Zachary's in Tucson. The first shows Jeff, Tom and David Healy, the second shows my friend Roger Ceragioli, Jennifer and me on the right (talking to Melinda, so she is kind of in it too!). David discovers asteroids all the time, and if observed enough for a preliminary orbit and followed for at least 1 trip around the sun, the asteroid receives a permanent number and the discoverer has an opportunity to name them. This particular trip, he had 4 up for naming, 3 of which he named for Roger (133528 Ceragioli), Jennifer(146268 Jennipolakis), and me (124075 Ketelsen). Tom wasn't ignored - he had a low-numbered asteroid already (4078 Polakis). Asteroid numbers are assigned sequentially from number 1 Ceres, discovered in 1801. Automated discoveries have catalogued tens of thousands of these in recent years. "My" asteroid is currently in the constellation Capricornus and is above the horizon low in the south early evenings blazing away at 21st magnitude - perhaps recordable (but not visible) with a 24" telescope and state-of-the-art digital camera... It orbits the sun every 5.37 years between Mars and Jupiter - a pretty tiny rock in the big solar system, but it carries the Ketelsen name!

Sadly, Jeff Medkeff was diagnosed with liver cancer this last spring and died on 3 August. I did not know him well, but was reminded of him while retelling this story - it was the first of 2 instances I spent time with him and was quite impressed. We spent another day with him on a birding trip at Whitewater Draw in southeastern Arizona a few days later. Here he is on the left with Jenn and Tom. His website is still up, and paints a portrait of an interesting and amazing young man, who at 40 years of age, left us much too soon!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ketelsen Reunion 2008

Today Melinda and I made the 3 hour trip to DeWitt, IA in central Clinton County. It is sort of "ground zero" of the Selma and Thomas Ketelsen clan, which my dad Alva was born into. Thomas and Selma had 14 kids over a 25 year period, 11 of which lived to adulthood. As long as I can remember we've had an annual get-together, but while the family has grown, they have also dispersed over the country, so while there are 6 generations and hundreds of offspring, there were only about 65 total attending today. Most if not all of Selma's 12 kids had representatives, my siblings having nearly the best attendance with 4 of 6 there. Mostly it was a chance to see and catch up with relatives you only see once a year or a lot less, depending on how often you show up! It was also another chance to sample some of the best home cooking you can run across - and why there aren't many skinny Ketelsens!

The pics are of sibs, nieces and nephews. First are Jeff and Sandy Kreinbring, still newlyweds after 3 and a half years. They are fierce Cubs fans (who clinched the NL Central yesterday!), so we talked a lot about that. They couldn't stay long because they had a volleyball tournament tonight, but it was great to see them - we only saw Jeff and Sandy once this summer, at our wedding in June.

Next up is niece Sarah and her mom Kathy. We see sister Kathy pretty frequently, but Sarah, a schoolteacher in North Liberty is a busy girl and it was only the second time to see her this summer too. You can see some of the beautiful grounds where the reunion was held in the background - Grace Lutheran Church Camp near DeWitt.

One of the highlights of this meeting was the family tree that Carole Eberhart had put together. I think everyone who saw it learned something new about the family. Complete with dates of birth, death, marriages, and descendant children, it is an imposing work, with something like over 500 names in the work. I, for one, didn't know my paternal grandfather was born in Germany (he died in the 30's). Anyhow, in this photo, sisters Linda and Kathy pour over the listings.

Finally, my great niece Alivia was a ball of fire, one of the highlights was when she grabbed a pair of the brownies I had brought and was playing with them like blocks... They were edible, really! Here she is showing off her new pierced earrings. Reports are that she stuck out her bottom lip, but didn't cry during the piercings.

Interestingly, there were 2 relatives missing because they travelled to the Cubs game today in Chicago, but they (a cousin and step-sister) didn't know the other was going!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Barn Sale!

For months now, this weekend has been on our schedule - the Saint Peter's barn Sale! No, we are not in the market for barns, but rather, it is one of the shopping highlights of the year. All donations of goods (furniture, TVs, appliances, clothes, books - you name it) that have been donated to the catholic church is moved to the Kane County fairgrounds and priced to move! Last year, Melinda had seen a brand new washer-drier set for $50, so we were looking to upgrade our appliances with something like that, as well as a refrigerator and electric stove if available. The sale starts at 9am and Melinda worked till 7:30, but she wanted me in line before that. I met Melinda's sister Maj just after 7am and were relatively early in the line. The pictures show Melinda and Maj enjoying a little caffeine in the front of the line, and some of the lines forming just before sales started. The line to get in for furniture and appliances was well over 50 meters long behind us!

Alas, there were no refrigerators, only one well-used electric stove, and the washer-drier sets were also well used, so nothing from our must-have list was available, but still interesting housewares and antique items to look thru. We got another cat carrier for $5, some Tupperware items, and I got a golf driver for $2 (probably the weakest part of my game, though haven't played in years with the paralysis in my left hand - will see if I can still swing a club). The big-ticket item Melinda got was a 3-speed bike for $40 that she plans to bring to Tucson. All in all, a few hour's worth of entertainment and a car full of knick-knacks all for under $70.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

One step closer...

The past couple of days has brought me one step closer to being ready to make our Fall move to Tucson. I sent off my application for an Arizona Nursing license yesterday (first time I've had to do that!). The process seems like it should be pretty easy, except there are very specific instructions about how to fill out the form and how to attach required attachments (including how to tape things down, when to use a stapler, etc). While reading the 10 pages of instructions (seriously!) I kept envisioning a Nurse Ratched character staring at me, saying, "Wrong order of papers! No license for you!" They require, additionally, a form filled out by the Illinois license people that includes my State Board test scores from 1979! I am just anxious enough about this to go through my papers - find my original letter saying I passed the exams - and check to see if my test scores were "high enough"! Of course, they were, but the mere fact that this process is causing me to do this - 30 years after the fact - tells a lot! After double checking all parts of all forms that I filled out - and enclosing the checks for fees - I now have to wait to receive a fingerprint card from Arizona. That will be the next step in securing the license. I think that means that I should be careful not to sand my fingerprints off during continued house projects, between now and then! Since the license project is underway - I can now turn my attention to "job search". I have filled out an online application for a traveling Nurse agency, and have heard back from them already (literally about 10 minutes after submitting the online application). I would imagine that I'll be talking to them today sometime, on the phone. I heard about this agency from a couple of different Nurses, and thought it would be a good place to start. We'll see what they say! Ever since I graduated from Nursing school (way back in '78) people have said to me, "Oh! You can get a job anywhere!" We'll see if that holds true! I've worked at the same hospital, in the same department, since the day after I graduated from Nursing school! Needless to say, leaving the hospital is a lot like leaving home - but something that I'm ready for.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More Astro Images from the Past...

With all the cloudy/rainy weather we've had lately, it makes me wax nostalgic for those clear, Arizona skies, and reminds me too that I've got images that have never been properly reduced. Generally, it seems, for every 6 hours you spend under the stars, you almost need that same amount of time or more to properly handle the exposures.

What needs doing? Well with electronic sensors, for every exposure, say 4 minutes, there is noise that builds up on the detector, even if the shutter wasn't open. This "dark current" needs to be measured for every pixel on the detector (easier than it sounds). My Canon camera has a "noise correction" feature that takes a "dark" after the object exposure and subtracts it in-camera. Also, no matter how perfect your optics, the light will fall off in the corners of the frame, and this "flat fielding" needs to be done to all the exposures - I use short exposures of the twilight sky to correct for illumination. And generally the last thing I do is stack exposures - noise and bright objects in the field of view limit the exposure to a few minutes, but if you take multiple exposures, you can stack them to reduce the noise and get the effect of a single longer exposure. A little fine-tuning of the brightness and contrast in photoshop "stretches" out the detail so it can be seen.

These exposures are all from 3/4 September, 2007 when I went out near the base of Kitt Peak to take some images with my Celestron 14", Hyperstar and Canon 20Da. The Hyperstar optical system allows the sizeable telescope to take in a relatively wide-angle view of the sky a couple degrees across, yet with a F/ratio of 1.9, makes for some short exposures - that's a good thing! Short exposures reduce the number of trailed images caused by mount tracking errors.

My first object was called NGC 7023 - the Iris nebula. I had never looked for it before, but had seen some stunning images of it. I was surprised to find how bright it was - seems to me I should have seen this before in some of our dark-sky observing sessions. The brief exposures show how the inner part of the nebula could remind one of its namesake flower. More interestingly (to me, anyway), was the dark nebula extending upwards. It reminded me very much of the recently posted shot of the cocoon nebula (click here ) . I suspect the 2 objects, composed of gas and dust, are indeed very similar, with the massive bright blue star providing the basic color of the Iris Nebula being the main difference). Note in the wider field, there is an abundance of dark, obscuring clouds throughout the image - needs more exposure to allow more stretching of the details!

Also that night, I took a series of exposures of a dark nebula in the constellation Ophiuchus. Called B72, it's nickname is the Snake Nebula. Very difficult to see visually, it is relatively easy to photograph. These dark, dust clouds are only visible because they block the light from the more distant star clouds of our galaxy.

I also got the chance to do a few "snapshots", just to see how an object will look with the setup I'm using. Usually I don't bother to find guide stars for tracking, just hope the mount will do ok for a 60 second exposure or so... I grabbed 2-60 second exposures of the nearby bright galaxy M32, and also the Helix Nebula. M32, also called the Andromeda galaxy, is a big bright galaxy a mere 2.2 million light years away. It is also the farthest you can see with your naked eye if you get to a dark sky! In the photo you can spot the two small companion galaxies it sports, just like our own Milky Way Galaxy with the 2 Magellanic Clouds. The Andromeda Galaxy is bigger than our own, but similarly has a spiral structure, and contains clouds of dust and stars in it's makeup. The Helix Nebula is a nearby "planetary" nebula - so called because early discoveries of these resembled the blue-green disks of the outer planets Uranus and Neptune. These objects result from an evolved star - as it runs out of hydrogen fuel, it blows off part of it's mass into a shell of gas as the remnant star collapses into a white dwarf (still visible in the center...). Eventually I hope to get back to these objects to collect more data for better exposures... And working with the computerized images will have to do until getting back to those Arizona skies in a couple months!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Last of the Flood...

The river is down a good foot from yesterday, so I think it will quickly drop back to reasonable levels. Unfortunately most all of our neighbors have flooded basements. We don't have a basement, so one less thing to worry about. All this stuff about rain and flooding is getting boring, so I pledge this is my last posting that deals with flooding!

But till next time, I know a lot of you can't visualize how close the river is to our house, especially now with it running a couple feet high. Well this picture shows what we see outside our sunroom window. At it's peak height, the edge of the Fox came to about 20 feet of the house. Likely still a foot or two vertically to reach the foundation, but still uncomfortably close. The scary thing is that it came up so fast - really, just a day's rain, though 6" or 8" is a lot in anyone's book (nearly a year's worth in Tucson!).

We mentioned a post or two ago about the last time the river left it's banks in June. We had fish trapped in our yard's low spot and herons going for the easy catch. Sure enough, we've spotted a few big fish in the yard already, though they may not be trapped yet... And this morning I caught a heron walking thru looking at the crop, though by the time I got out my scope, I only caught his backside as he headed for the basketball court.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I can see clearly now....

What a difference a day makes! The rain stopped Sunday afternoon, much to our delight, though they predicted light showers through the evening hours. By sunset we could see movement of fish out in the yard (as we've had before when there's been flooding), and by nightfall there were some breaks in the clouds showing. For unknown reasons, I'm not sleeping well tonight - so am up in the wee hours and noticed a bright light shining through one of the windows in the peak of the living room. It was the full moon! We haven't seen the sun or moon in several days, so it was a welcome sight tonight! In fact, it's bright enough outside to see the reflection of the trees from across the river - in our yard! Looking at the radar, it appears to be clear skies for several days to come. Saint Charles actually was mentioned on The Weather Channel as being one of the places getting too much rain (9.98" in town - 10" in our neighborhood) over the past three days. Living on the river is beautiful, but when we're watching the waters rise it can be a little anxiety producing.

With the rain and bad weather the local squirrels have been cut short on their acorn gathering, and I took pity on them by filling the feeders full of sunflower seeds. Usually I get aggravated by the squirrels pilfering the food meant for the birds. Not at the moment though. They have been eating non-stop, while the chipmunks have been hoarding it in their cheeks to take back to their nests (probably under our house). The birds have been very active at the feeders, as well. We had 8 Goldfinches, several Sparrows, a Nuthatch, a couple of Black Capped Chickadees, and a male Cardinal at the feeders yesterday! All of those birds stay around here all winter, so they're not stocking up for a long flight - they were just feeding well since some of their feeding areas were cut off by the flood. I don't think we saw more than 2 Goldfinches together at any given time all summer, so to see 8 of them at the feeder at the same time was a treat! Between the birds, the squirrels, and the chipmunks, we had a very busy yard yesterday. We've even been seeing "Bruce", our local Woodchuck, on a daily basis. We both agree that he seems to be gaining weight. He is storing up for his long nap, though.

Dean worked on his telescope mirror yesterday, also! He will have to blog about it - but he's building a telescope for us to keep here. He has the laundry room set up as his "polishing lab" at the moment. I've never seen this process - other than the 8.4 m mirrors being polished at Steward when Dean was working there. It's really exciting to see it being done by hand vs. by machine! Unfortunately we don't have a better space for him to set up. He's making do though, and is doing a fine job of it! He will need to tell the specifics of the telescope that he is making, and I know that he has pictures to post, as well.

I think I'll try to get some snooze time now. Thanks for keeping me company during my sleepless night!

Singin' in the rain....

We've made it through the night without having to wear life jackets! It seemed to have stopped raining for a part of the night, but is back at it this morning. Dean took a picture this morning and we could see that the water had receded about 2" over night - which is good! However, it will be rising more today (but we still have that extra 2" to fill in first). It's quite unsettling to look out our bedroom window and see water instead of lawn. This is the same amount of flooding we had on the day that we bought the house, last summer. The water didn't come in then, and we're hoping for the same luck this time. I've also been thinking about the people who live downstream of here. There are some homes that are, literally, right on the river bank. I'm sure they are flooded, even if they have "sea walls". The people across the river from us have a "sea wall" that their boat is floating above right now. With the attention of the weather media focused on Ike for the past few days, we haven't heard much about what is going on in Northern Illinois. Maybe now that Ike is moving up through the mid-west we'll see more of what's happening here. The current prediction is for a few inches of rain, at least. I wonder if the life jackets, out in the shed, will fit the kitties?....

UPDATE: The rain has just stopped, radar shows no more to our west - in fact, regional radar shows whats left of Ike's eye has zipped past us and is in the Detroit area! The Fox has peaked, and is down about 4" from what this shows the peak at about 1800 yesterday. The radar map of total rainfall is current, showing we've had about 10" the last few days. Still to come - the obligatory shots of us catching trapped fish in the yard, or better yet - shots of herons catching them!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Fine Day for Ducks!

Of course, now that the weekend has arrived (Melinda's long, 4-days off), the rain has arrived - rain that has not relented in 24 hours. At the moment (9am Saturday) it is raining about as hard as it ever has, resulting in "Lake Ketelsen" to form again between our house and the Fox River. Radar pictures show the end might be in sight in a few hours, but also show that to date, we're on the edge of having received 6" of rain. Anyway, all this rain is from a tropical depression from the Pacific that reached down to western Mexico yesterday. Today, of course, Hurricane Ike is blasting Texas and is poised to add moisture here tomorrow night into Monday, so I suspect Lake Ketelsen and the Fox will increase in size dramatically! Stay tuned!

UPDATE: It has continued to rain hard and 4 hours later the yard looks like this! I think the total rise in the river is about 10" or less, but with the shallow slope of the yard, the increase in area looks impressive. I do think the river is officially out of it's banks! The good news, if any, is that there is a lot less rain falling upstream in Wisconsin, so flooding will hopefully not be long-lived. The neighbor kids were out wading in the yard - I don't think the umbrellas keep you too dry when you are knee deep in water! Displayed is our current rainfall total as of 1300 - over 8"!

The rain let up for a while, but now we're getting bands of showers again. During the time that it was mostly stopped, Dean noticed that one of the canoes was floating freely. This particular canoe was over half full of water, so we didn't think it would go anywhere - considering the waterfilled weight of the canoe. We were wrong! Dean noticed it, and we felt that we really did need to get out there and "save" the canoe! This was about the time the sun had already set - so we were faced with this task in partial darkness. We put on our shorts, our sandals, joined hands, and waded out into the flooded yard. After managing to get the canoe tipped over and onto one of the racks, Dean noted that the sail boat was also off the racks, and not tethered down! We managed to get that moved around and "beached" up on top of the row of canoes. We both agreed that the camp should give us a canoe for having saving saved two boats! While this update would have been better if we had some pictures to go with it, we didn't have the extra hands to make that happen. I guess that qualifies as our "good deed" for the day! We'll post some current pictures in the morning - who knows how high the water will be by then - yep, I'm more than a little worried...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

No Johnsons 'Round Here!

Over a year ago, in a burst of creativity, Melinda decorated and installed her new mailbox with an astronomical theme. Returning from the Grand Canyon Star Party, she used planets and stars, as well as some terrestrial landmarks and telescope outlines as well. Interestingly, since it's installation, the mailman always gently stands the mail leaning to one side, as if approving of the change...

Anyway, with the coming nuptials, she had used the hyphenated version with her maiden name, but now, with the wedding behind us, and her driver's and nursing licenses changed to her married name, it was time to change the mailbox as well. So yesterday the artist modified her piece, and will allow it to bake in the sun for a day or two to add some glossier paint and some stars to match the rest of the mailbox.

One note - the astronomers among you may notice the "coathanger" asterism near the trees in the lower left. This pattern is seen in the sky in binoculars near the base of the northern cross in the constellation Vulpecula.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More Signs of Fall...

It has been a great summer in the Chicago area. Conversations with friends in Tucson usually lean towards "Yea, it is hot here, but I wouldn't be able to stand the Midwest humidity". While it can get nasty, like I said last week, our high temperature for the entire summer has been 93F on 2 occasions, and it has been in the 70s a lot! The last few nights have fallen into the mid 40s, and we admit it, we've been using the furnace since Monday nite!

There are other signs of fall too - of course, the sun sets an hour and a half earlier than a month ago, and I've already mentioned how some of the trees near here have started turning too. At this point, only maples and some of the bushy undergrowth plants have started to change, but there is the start of color. Nearly each walk down the bike path along the Fox River reveals a few more signs of foliage or wildlife changes. I mentioned to the Forest Preserve staff I've not seen any orioles lately - "gone south" was their reply... Then a few days ago suddenly we had flocks of Canadian Geese feeding on the grounds here. I haven't seen this much geese activity since 2 years ago when you couldn't walk across the yard without them taking flight. You can here them flying too, calling to the groups on the ground as they gather to fatten up before heading south. Tucson really doesn't have seasons other than "dry", "winter rainy" and "summer rainy", so I'm looking forward to taking in all the changes here as fall arrives!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Today's Walk in the Woods

Before my workout today, I stopped at Tekakwitha Forest Preserve to ask the staff there about some plants I had photographed (more on that later...). Anyway, my buddy the black squirrel greeted me as he sometimes does. First spotted about a month ago he is very striking - absolutely black, which is sort of shocking after seeing all the greys and reds we have around here. This guy is very camera-shy, in fact until today he only appears when I am NOT carrying the camera. His activity was quite interesting - he was jumping up in the tree branches, at first appearance rather randomly, but then with time you could figure out he was following each branch out from the trunk, then repeating on another branch until he came storming down the tree with an acorn about half the size of his head! Obviously he was after the tree-borne fruit, not the ones that had fallen already. This shot has him as he crossed the access path to the FP visitor center, then he paused to give me a glance before disappearing into the undergrowth.

A little google search shows that the black squirrels are genetic color variants of the usual grey squirrel, and are quite common in some locations (there are even white squirrels with no pigment!). I've certainly not seen them around here except this fellow whose territory extends to (or includes) the parking lot of the Forest Preserve.

I felt like I had bagged a rare jungle beast as I headed onward to the visitor center. The reason for my trip was to identify the fruit cluster I had imaged a couple days before. Bright red, it really stands out in the still-green undergrowth. There are a few of them around, mostly with wilted yellowed leaves, but this one still had the oversized leaves with it to help identify it. The staff figured it out quickly - it is the berry cluster of Jack-in-the-Pulpit (also known as Indian Turnip), whose flower I had never seen thru this season, but I'll keep an eye out for it next summer.

This evening, and in fact, the next day or two there is a planetary conjunction in the western sky. The bright planet Venus is getting higher in the sky, and from earth's perspective, appears very close to the innermost planet Mercury, and Mars, which is about as far from the earth as it can get right now... Down here in the Fox River valley, we have trees on our western horizon that obscures perhaps the lower 5 degrees of sky, so I wasn't sure we could catch the conjunction, though we had briefly seen Venus recent evenings. Sure enough, Venus was easily spotted, but set below our treeline before the sky grew dark enough to allow seeing Mercury or Mars. The latter two planets will quickly pass from the evening sky, but Venus will be visible thru the winter and be a brilliant "Christmas Star" this holiday season. Look for it in the west!