Friday, July 22, 2011

The Continuing Whirlwind of Home Improvement!

The wedding (last post) was the item that drove our schedule for this visit, but was not the main task to accomplish.  Living in an 80 year old structure, there is always something that needs doing, and we've literally been stripping the place down with some major rebuilds as our time permits.  This last winter was the last straw when the leaky roof started dripping on our new wood floors!  Time for a new roof!

But before we could do that, other repairs had to be made.  As we go through room-by-room making improvements, we've been having a carpenter replace or strengthen roof joists as we pull down ceilings to add insulation.  With the roofers scheduled for mid-July, we had 2 rooms left to pull down ceilings and replace lumber - the kitchen and guest room.  Fortunately, we have a sister-in-law that is part-time contractor for us, and makes time to work on our home improvement projects when we're out of town.  It is like having elves coming in while we're away to do the work!  Maj tore down the ceilings, removed what insulation there was, and allowed the carpenter to make the roofing upgrades from below.  He also added fascia at the ends of the rafters to attach rain gutters.  Maj also got us estimates for the roofers and identified with whom she was most comfortable.

So our first order of business after the wedding was to paint the fascia before roofing and gutters blocked them.  Good weather held, and 2 coats in 2 days got the job behind us and allowed us to move inside.  Seen here is the ceiling, now removed, with the rafters strengthened.  Maj left some of the work to us - first order was removal of the drywall, then the old insulation before running wiring for new outlets, switches and a ceiling fan.  Fortunately, Melinda has gotten a lot of experience in wiring this place, and is an old hand with this sort of thing.  We also ran a video line for a TV that will eventually be installed in the room too.

And with that work, new insulation was installed.  The latest picture this morning shows that installation.  The girls are working on the ceiling fan this afternoon and it will be pretty much complete and ready for new wall and ceiling treatments, which will likely continue into next trip.  Unless the elves show up again in our absence...

(Melinda's comment!) So that no one thinks that Dean is a slacker in all of this, we have been keeping him fairly busy at work also!  A few years ago Dean and I reglazed the windows in the sunroom (of this house).  He showed tremendous talent for that task, and of course is a 'natural' when working with glass.  Our guest room has three windows - all in need of serious work.  Dean has spent the past week (while Maj and I were having fun playing with electricity and such) scraping, replacing glass, and reglazing the windows...let's see.... 3 windows with 4 panes in each... he's been busy!  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It Has Been A Whirlwind!

We've been at "Ketelsen East" for 2 weeks now, yet, only a couple posts.  No good excuse other than we've been busy!  Between family and friend time, and work on the house, there just aren't enough hours in the day.  I'm endeavoring to do better at bringing the blog up to date!
The big reason for coming up in July was for niece Sarah's wedding!  I look for almost any excuse to go to Iowa City, and the wedding was literally next door to the apartment where I lived for several years while finishing my upperclass coursework.  Melinda and I got to visit a few of the old haunts - tipped a beer over pizza (not literally!) at The Sanctuary, and had breakfast at The Hamburg Inn No. 2.  Don't forget we had our cat Scruffy with us, but mostly, he was happy staying at the room at Motel 6.

The wedding was great, but the reception...  It was held at a place 10 miles outside town called "The Celebration Barn".  A round domed barn, it was built for such celebrations, and while a search shows there are unhappy neighbors, it is a spectacular venue.  Besides the structure itself, milled from trees on the property, and various arches and native limestone structures, it is in a beautiful wooded area in rolling hills.  The surroundings, and of course, major life-events like this invite group photos, and besides various wedding party groups, my brothers and sisters had a group photo taken too.  I also took one of my brother and his wife taking shots of their kids.  Don't ask me why, but I liked the composition, even though you can't see the grownup's faces!

Yes, I've got a camera and took lots of photos, but there was also a professional working the event, so I stayed out of the way.  Given how our family is with pictures, I'm surprised I was about the only one with a camera!  While there were about 300 guests, the caterers were nearly invisible.  A buffet line appeared and we helped ourselves.  With the huge venue, it was difficult to show it properly - shown here is a panorama put together with 3 photos showing the interior!

Of course, part of the joy of events and get-togethers like this is catching up with relatives, especially the youngsters.  Stars of this event for me was my great niece Alivia, and also 3 month old great niece Claire.  Shown here is Alivia chasing bubbles in the Barn's amphitheater, and baby Claire being held by niece (and bride) Sarah taken the next morning at the brunch/presents opening.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Have Scruff, Will Travel

This trip to Illinois presented us with a challenge.  Our cat, Scruffy, has been plagued with more severe health problems lately.  He already has a 'laundry list' of health issues, which our cat-sitter (Jason) is more than capable of handling.  Scruffy is now needing more medications, more frequently, than he has in the past.  We decided that leaving Jason to care for him (and the other 9, plus working full time) wasn't exactly 'fair'.  We also decided that we didn't want to leave Scruffy locked in a steel cage at the Vet's for three weeks.  The most viable option was to take Scruff on the adventure of his life!

We brought Annie on vacation with us last summer, so we've flown with a cat before.  We weren't sure how Scruffy would handle the traveling, but we had to give it a shot.  Unfortunately, we don't have pictures of Scruffy in his carrier on the plane.  Between security and a full plane, it wasn't very realistic to take his picture while he was stowed under the seat in front of us.  He tolerated all of that extremely well, however!  From the Security people to the Flight Attendants, we received compliments on "how well behaved" Scuffy was...usually with them saying, "He must be used to traveling!"  NOT.  We were proud of him!

One of our concerns with bringing Scruffy on this trip is his blindness and how he would tolerate being in a totally new environment with unfamiliar smells.  He's been pretty timid in his exploration of the house.  He seems to be finding favorite hiding spots, and (fortunately) his litter box.  Just as we were giving him a chance to settle in here in St. Charles, we changed his routine again.  Our niece, Sarah, got married in Iowa City this past weekend and we loaded up Scruffy and headed off to Iowa!  After a three hour ride we arrived at Motel 6 (a totally pet friendly chain) and checked in for the weekend.  At least there was just the two rooms for Scruffy to explore, and he adapted there pretty quickly.  So quickly in fact, he managed to squirm his way up onto the bed while we slept - snuggling between us for the night!

We didn't take Scruffy to the wedding, he was safe and comfortable in the motel room with plenty of food, water, and "This Old House" on the television to keep him company in our absence.  Today, however, there was a brunch/lunch for the family and friends while the new Mr. and Mrs. Farnsworth opened their wedding gifts.  We did take Scruffy with us today - as we were leaving to come home from the gathering.  The site was the same as the reception the evening before - a beautiful venue called "The Celebration Barn".  It's in a remote area, surrounded by grassy lawn, stone architecture, and a pond.  We couldn't resist the urge to take Scruffy outdoors for pictures, and for his very first walk in grass!  Grand-Niece Alivia, was close at hand to pet him and reassure him that all was safe and "okay".

After a nice visit with the family, we (again) loaded Scruffy in the car and traveled home to St. Charles.  The only adverse effect I've noticed is that he has not been drinking as much water as he should be.  Tonight's "menu" for him included a bowl of tuna water (drained from Bumble Bee tuna).  No cat can resist that, and it's a great way to get fluids into him.  He's had a nice long hide behind the couch, no doubt he's tired of having mom and dad hovering over him for the past few days.

Scruffy is becoming a very well traveled kitty for a little hobo that showed up at our door a few years ago!  Oh if cats could talk!.....

Friday, July 8, 2011

Change of Venue!

As an amateur nature watcher, Tucson has been in the doldrums this Spring. With nothing but traces of rain since last October (!), it has been a bad season for even spotting any Arizona insects, and cactus blooming season seamed ultra-brief by anyone's standards - blink and they were dried up husks!
But Wednesday we arrived in Illinois for a visit and man, what a difference! There are seemingly infinite shades of green, and even a short walk no more than 40 yards from the house brought a host of photo subjects. First up was a huge Queen Anne's Lace plant growing among some shrubbery where we park. The white flower was about the largest I've seen - over 8 inches diameter. While circling for alternate views, I spotted a Candy Striped Leafhopper, resting under one of the buds. I've come to love these guys combining several featuring a face only a mother could love with an outlandish color scheme. Whenever I spot one (or more), I waste lots of time taking pics!

Our house here has flowers around it. Most every house in the Midwest does. There is a huge business in nearly every major parking lot in selling bedding plants. It seems almost a get-rich scheme with the growers - pay your bucks every season for annuals that only live out the growing season, then repeat next year. There is also an abundance of perennials that come up every year on their own - a much better deal if you ask me! But those blooming seasons for tulips, iris, peony seem much too short, and we missed all of those in the 3 months since we've been here. But the lilys! They were just starting to get active our last trip, but they are still abundant now and will continue to bloom through the summer, not only in yards, but almost as a pest weed along roadside ditches as well. We've always had them growing up in Iowa and now you see some spectacular color combinations. This closeup was taken yards from our house of a standard Tiger Lily...

There are some great stands of milkweed this year. I love to search them out and inspect them closely because of the colonies they support. Besides the Monarch Butterfly, which feeds on them exclusively, there are also Milkweed Beetles and Milkweed Bugs. At first I didn't spot much, then found this old soldier, who had evidently been through a few battles as he was missing a front leg, as well as some weirdnesses on his feet! He might well have survived the last winter as he is too old to have been born recently. According to the Wiki entry on Milkweek Bug, winter survivors come out and mate when the plants are large enough to provide shelter... No signs of eggs or babies yet - will have to explore the prairie sections of our local nature preserve as our stay progresses. Meanwhile, I finally did spot another bug, this one not missing any parts that I could see.
We're on the road for the weekend, but stay tuned for more entries!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More Time-Lapse Movies!

Of course, one of the points of the Grand Canyon Star Party is to have fun as well as do astronomy outreach to the public, but I also had some background projects to work on. Somehow, I've gotten the urge to get into time lapse imaging, in particular with night time images. I've posted some fixed tripod shots before, and linked them on Youtube to make watching them as easy as possible. But I was after something a little new to add some pizazz!

The answer came in a little telescope mount that was passed on to me by David and Elinor Levine. The scope is a little 5" that is mostly utilized visually on an altazimuth tripod mount, so the little wedge and fork is mostly unused. I made a little mounting plate for the fork so it would hold a camera. This time of year, the Summer Milky Way rises in the SE just after dark and transits about local Midnight. By shooting with a wide angle lens, and tracking slowly along the horizon with the stars, it would stay in view for the entire length of the sequence!

The third night of the star party, I finally got the chance to try it. With Melinda holding down the public with the 14" view of Saturn, I disappeared for a while to set up the tripod, tracking fork, car battery, inverter to run the fork, and a external power supply for the camera to prevent a dying battery from ruining a long sequence. Using the Canon XSi camera and Nikon 16mm at F/2.8 during twilight, I shot a image every 45 seconds, initially only a tenth of a second long, but as it got darker, the exposures got up to 40 seconds. I kept a watch on the histogram display to keep the exposure background right during the twilight times - once it was dark, it just went for the 40 seconds. After moonrise, and as folks started putting up their scopes, I stopped and reviewed the images - looked about right! It wasn't until a couple days later in Tucson that I saw how spectacular they were! The clip posted on Youtube doesn't even have levels adjusted - straight out of the camera!

The first frame just shows the Milky Way starting to show through the twilight as hundreds of people descended on the telescope field behind the Grand Canyon's visitor center. The second shot shows it in full darkness, and an astronomer's green laser points out an object for a visitor. Note that these individual frames have been contrast adjusted, while the Youtube video has not... I was able to get another sequence our last night on Tuesday, but wasn't able to get an early start, so this one with the Milky Way forming out of the twilight is by far my favorite.

A few days later upon our return to Tucson, I wanted to try an alternative version against the domes of Kitt Peak National Observatory. I'd previously scouted out a location, and arrived just as the sun was setting. Shortly after setting up all the gear, I started again and again caught the spectacular Summer Milky Way forming out of the twilight, this time with observatory telescopes in the foreground. This particular frame also shows a few orthographic clouds forming near the peak, but they soon dissipate. This sequence went for 6 hours, again till moonrise about 2:00am. The Youtube link is here. Again, someday, I'll go through the hundreds of images and push the contrast some... Until then you will have to enjoy these versions!

Monday, July 4, 2011

They Say A River Runs Through It!

While it is general knowledge that the Grand Canyon was formed by the Colorado River, 90% of tourist photos of the Canyon do not show the river itself! In some overlooks the River, at the bottom an an "inner gorge", is invisible, in other places, it may be visible through views afforded by side canyons. The view at left here is from Yaki Point, and while the inner gorge is visible, the river is not.

A few miles to the west, at Yavapai Point, the traditional home of the star party we've spent countless hours showing visitors, not only the stars at night, but the Canyon during the day to get their attention. The Colorado can be seen at 2 spots, this image through a small telescope shows "Phantom Ranch Beach" where river rafters put in to change crews or stop for a meal. It also shows the terminus of the South Kaibab Trail and the suspension bridge where hikers and mules cross the Colorado River. This little spot of the river was a popular telescopic view from the rim where you could usually see hikers or boaters and get a little sense of scale. Note the pair of hikers on the trail just above the river rafts... This is the standard view from the Grand Canyon Village area - no or very spotty views of the Colorado.

Twenty miles to the east is a little different. Out near Desert View, the Colorado comes down from Utah to the north and makes the big turn to the west. The small tributary of the Little Colorado joins in from the east, and the Canyon is much more open, making for easy river viewing. The panorama shot shown here at left is from Lippan Point, a high viewpoint with excellent horizons a couple miles west of Desert View. While viewing the river through my little telescope (480mm F/6 Meade APO lens), I was on the lookout for raft trips to take video sequences as they ran rapids along the river. But alas, no excursions were to be seen that afternoon. I did happen to take a mosaic of a bend in the river that was nice and symmetric in an artsy way, so I show it here. Unfortunately, blogspot limits image sizes to 1600 pixels, so I can't show you the full sized image 10,000 pixels across!

Another thing easily noted about the river, other than it's bashful appearance, is while it is called Colorado, Spanish for "red", the river's color is usually shades of green. That is because since the 60s when Glen Canyon Dam was built, the red silt that gave the mighty river it's color, now settles out above the dam. You occasionally see some red tints when rainfall brings in silt from the side canyons, but green is now it's normal color.