Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year in Review - 2010

Well, it's December 31st, and the obligatory look back at 2010 is now required or they'll take my blogging license away. Hmm. I don't think they actually do that, but just in case...

When looking ahead to this year, I mentioned some goals around hiking, canoeing, backpacking, fishing and other outdoor activities. Most of what I wanted to be able to do this year was accomplished easily. I was able to get out and do a number of very nice day hikes, including Ridley Creek SP, French Creek SP, Brandywine Creek SP and many other little state and local parks. Much of this time spent walking in the woods came about in a way I never would have imagined entering the year - geocaching. In addition to the dedicated hiking trips I have mentioned, dozens and dozens if not hundreds of mile were walked, a few miles at a time, in search of geocaches hidden here, there and everywhere. What a wonderful blend of two interests that turned out to be.

I also specifically mentioned wanting to do an overnight backpacking trip, and much to my delight this actually happened in June in the Lackawanna State Forest. It was hard work, painful at times, but I loved it. And I have a very nice set of equipment that will make the next trip require virtually no additional investment at all.

One outdoors item that did not get addressed is the longstanding desire to do some canoeing. Other than a brief token kayaking run with Dave (little more than a test drive), no time was spent on the water, and this is a disappointment. This will continue to be a goal every year until it happens.

I had hoped that after our wonderful Disney World trip in December 2009 that we would take another big family trip this year, and that did not happen, which is disappointing. But I am pretty happy about the number of smaller things that we were able to do together. We fished, we went places for nice day trips, we spent some time at the River, we geocached, and the girls were involved in more activities than ever before, which Amparo and I tried hard to support and attend as best we could. Julia was involved in cheerleading and various Special Olympics sports, and Grace continues to grow and amaze me.

Reflecting on family is difficult for me at times, because I know that this is the area where I can always do better. Most parents would like to believe that they are doing the best they can, and that they try hard, and in that respect I guess I am no different. But if there was one aspect of life to always strive to be better at, this would be it. There is always more room to be involved. And I could use much more patience.

Bluntly put, 2010 was for the most part a lost year on the wargaming front. And you know what? That's perfectly fine. One of the comments I had made going into this year regarding my hobby was not to worry too much about planning, and just let my interests go where they wanted to. What I meant at the time was to let my interests drift between historical periods and such. What actually happened was that my time and attention drifted almost completely away from wargaming and settled on geocaching instead. Oops. Unexpected; but not a bad thing.

I had expressed the desire to set up a dedicated painting table in the basement. I did that in January and then proceeded to paint less than a hundred figures all year, which is a dreadfully low output. I attended Cold Wars, Historicon, and Fall In as usual, with varying degrees of satisfaction. Cold Wars was good, Historicon was very good, and Fall In was a huge disappointment. We did play a little LaSalle rules for Napoleonics, which I liked well enough to buy some 15mm Spanish and Portugese for the Peninsula, and to begin re-basing many of my existing 15mm Napoleonics. I had a decent sized batch of French and British painted in Sri Lanka. So that is a bright spot. And toward the end of the year Chris Parker began floating some ideas for a 4th edition of Day of Battle, so hopefully that will spark some creative juices in me.

My interest in modern literature is a big part of my spare time, or at least my nightly before-sleep time. A separate post details my year in books.

I have also written extensively on this elsewhere. Suffice it to say, I found a fun new hobby that I have every intention of continuing with in a semi-obsessed state. Or completely obsessed state depending on your point of view I guess...

When reviewing where I spent my time and the things that were important to me this year, I should probably mention blogging itself. I began doing this in September of 2009, and so 201o is my first full year of blogging. By the time the year is done (pretty much now) I will have posted almost 180 entries, or one every other day on average, a level of output that is surprising to me. The great thing is that it has never felt like work. I have always enjoyed writing, and this is a different kind of creative outlet than I have undertaken before. I always wonder who if anybody reads the eclectic mix of stuff I write about here, but the stats don't lie and there are people finding random posts here every day and from all over the world, whether it be wargaming references, book reviews, concert reviews, or hiking trail references. I still insist that the audience I write this blog for is me and my immediate circle of family and friends, but it is kind of cool to think that total strangers show up here from time to time and read what I have written.

Going into this year, I talked about a few personal development items that I hoped to make some progress on this year, notably struggling against my introverted nature and living in the moment. On the one hand, I think I actually made some progress this year on focusing on what is going on today and being less distracted by worrying about what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future. On the other hand, I am an introvert. Always have been. Always will be. I could be perfectly content surrounded by my family and a small circle of good friends as well as all the things that are going on in my own head. Perhaps going forward the issue is not so much struggling against my introverted nature but accepting it for what it is. Hmm. I wonder.

Finally, 2010 will always be the year in which I lost my father. I understand how lucky I have been to have had a loving and involved father in my life for as long as I did. Many people are not so fortunate. But that doesn't make it any easier in the short term to deal with the pain and loss of him not being here. It is said that you don't appreciate what you have until it is gone, and while I think I did always appreciate my dad, in some ways this is still true. Perhaps it is more a question of having taken him for granted. Either way, I miss him. Thank you, Dad. I would not be the man I am without you, and I think I turned out OK.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Geocaching - End of Year 2010 Recap

I began geocaching on April 15, 2010, and when I look back on what I was able to accomplish this year, I am amazed. I am also somewhat stunned by the amount of time and energy that went into a hobby that I had never even heard of when the year began, although I certainly do not mean that in a bad way. It is just a reflection of the unexpected turns our lives can take in terms of how we choose to spend our free time.

One of the ways to keep track of milestones in geocaching is by using a freeware badge generation macro that takes your data as an input and awards you various levels of badges based on predetermined numerical achievements. In my first year I was able to find 558 geocaches, 15 benchmarks (US survey markers), and 45 waymarks (landmarks and places/things of interest). This earned me 11 badges of various degrees.

Due primarily to my most noteworthy achievement, a 100 consecutive day streak with at least one find, I was able to find at least 1 cache in 182 of the 261 days since I started (70%). My total cache-to-cache distance was almost 12,000 miles courtesy of some business travel, especially out to Utah/Wyoming and back, but also including Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and a bunch of trips to north Jersey.

Other things I like to keep track of are how many of the 81 different Difficulty/Terrain rating combinations I have made a find in, as well as how many days of the calendar. As of the end of the year, I have filled those 182 days on the bottom two-thirds of the calendar, and have made a find in 46 of the 81 D/T combinations. Both of these are like Bingo - you want to fill your card as much as possible. As an aside, February 29 next comes around in 2012, so no amount of effort would fill the calendar this year.

Perhaps one of the more fun things to work on from the perspective of using geocaching as an excuse to go new places is the focus on finding caches in new geographies. I have now found caches in 10 US states, as well as 17 of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania. I am also halfheartedly keeping track of counties in Maryland where I have found 9 of 24 counties, and New Jersey where I have found 12 of 21 (mainly in northern and central NJ which is actually further from my home).

Statistical bests at this point are:
  • 31 in a day. 10/7/10 in NC.
  • 24 in a weekend. 10/30-10/31/10 mainly in Lancaster county.
  • 50 in a week. Includes my 2 big NC days.
  • 120 in a month. Includes my 2 big NC days.
  • 25 days for my fastest 100 finds.
  • 4 cache types in a day.
  • 2 states in a day. I guess I never tried to do better at this since I live within about 30 miles of 3 states not including my own and can practically hit a golf ball into Delaware from here...
  • 7 counties in a day. 6/27/10 in NE PA on the way to our Pinchot Trail backpacking trip.
In the overall scheme of hard-core geocaching, these numbers are not all that impressive, but they are to me, knowing the time and effort that went into them.

But, now having rambled on for quite a while on all sorts of numbers, I will stress again that no matter how much I like looking at those sorts of things, it is not the numbers that have gotten me so addicted to this hobby. It is the things I have seen and the adventures I have had along the way. Some of my favorite memories of geocaching this year would be:

  • Doing those 7 NE PA counties with Dave on the way to our backpacking trip in June.
  • My 31 find day in NC on the American Tobacco Trail with Ellen in October.
  • Finding 11 caches in Utah and Wyoming while out there on business for 4 days. Especially the rental car run to Wyoming one evening, just because I was within an hour and knew I might not get back that way any time soon.
  • Road tripping 250 miles of the Eastern Shore of Maryland in July.
  • Working really hard to get just a few caches on the Appalachian Trail above Port Clinton PA with Dave in the late fall.
  • And last but certainly not least, all the little trips I made to some local park with one or both of my daughters. Precious time well spent.
Wow. It has taken me a long time to write this post because of all the time I have spent remembering all the fun I have had. Ultimately, that is the best testament to geocaching that I can give. And it makes me think forward to all the things I would still like to do...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Painting Totals - 2010

Tallying up my miniatures painting totals for 2010 was a brief and comical exercise. I post this for no other reason than to perhaps shame myself into doing a little bit better this year. Although it would be hard to do worse. To the best of my recollection, all I managed to get done was this:
  • 12 medieval cavalry (25mm)
  • 3 medieval mounted leader figures (25 mm)
  • 1 French Napoleonic divisional general (25mm)
  • 1 French 12 lb Napoleonic cannon and 3 line foot artillery crew (25mm)
  • Mostly done 16 Ottoman heavy infantry (25mm)
  • Mostly done 16 Ottoman janissary archers (25mm)
  • Painted and flocked a bunch of bases
  • Based and Re-based a host of 15mm Napoleonics
Yep. That's it. Ugh. Pretty dismal. But you know what? For some reason it doesn't bother me all that much...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Recap of Reading Goals - 2010

This will be an easy post to write, as I have gone back and looked at my reading goals for this year and they were short and sweet.
  • Read 10 books by authors new to me. Passed this easily. My final new author count was 16. This goal was less about an actual number and much more about broadening my horizons.
  • Read 10 books published (or in US editions) in 2010. Passed this easily too. Final count 17. This is probably the easiest goal to achieve, and was simply a way to make sure I was paying attention to what good new books were coming out.
  • Read a few classics. Accomplished this with 2 Hemingways, a Fitzgerald, and a book by Hans Keilor published in Europe in 1947.
  • Read 30 books. Just made this, with a final total of 31.
I will have to think about reading goals for 2011, or if even to have any. I have settled into a nice routine of reading regularly, and keeping up with my favorite authors and highly rated new stuff that is coming out. So goals around those items have lost meaning. What probably does make sense is to continue to try to make an effort to go back and read a few more classics, and continue to find authors new to me.

Perhaps classics should include authors such as Faulkner, Steinbeck, Twain and the like. We shall see...

The Reading Year in Review - 2010

2010 was another great year for reading, with a host of very good books having crossed my nightstand. This year probably had a broader selection of authors, types of books and publication dates than any other year, which is a good thing. So without further ado... [Dates of my blog capsule reviews are in square brackets - all dates 2010]

5 Stars - Excellent
  • The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald (1925). I loved this book as a younger man and still do now. Some of Fitzgerald's prose is breathtaking. I took this out of the running for my favorite book of the year, mainly because I have read it a few times before. [Feb 10]
  • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonsen (2010). My favorite book of the year in many ways, although two story collections below gave it a serious run for the money, as did a couple of novels. [Sep 20]
  • Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It (Stories), Maile Meloy (2009). Runner-up #1 for my book of the year. [Dec 27]
  • If I Loved You I Would Tell You This (Stories), Robin Black (2010). Runner-up #2 for my book of the year. [Aug 27]
4.5 Stars - Almost Excellent
  • What is Left the Daughter, Howard Norman (2010). A new author for me, and a book I really liked. [Aug 10]
  • Safe From the Neighbors, Steve Yarbrough (2010). Yet another strong outing from one of my favorite authors. [Feb 25]
  • Molly Fox's Birthday, Deirdre Madden (2008) [Aug 15]
  • Memory Wall (Stories), Anthony Doerr (2010) [Aug 21]
  • Summertime, JM Coetzee (2009). Another great Coetzee book. [Jan 17]
  • The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (1952). A classic well worth the re-read. [Feb 12]
4 Stars - Very Good
  • Emperor of the Air (Stories), Ethan Canin (1988) [Jan 21]
  • A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan (2010) [Oct 18]
  • Driving on the Rim, Thomas McGuane (2010) [Nov 11]
  • Keep the Change, Thomas McGuane (1989) [Nov 17]
  • Nothing But Blue Skies, Thomas McGuane (1992) [Nov 16]
  • Chemistry and other Stories, Ron Rash (2007) [Oct 18]
  • Alone with You (Stories), Marisa Silver (2010) [Nov 4]
  • Love and Summer, William Trevor (2009) [Feb 26]
  • Mississippi History (Stories), Steve Yarbrough (1994) [May 20]
3.5 Stars - Almost Very Good
  • Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter, Michael J White (2010) [May 15]
  • My Father's Tears and other Stories, John Updike (2009) [Jan 29]
  • Fun with Problems (Stories), Robert Stone (2010) [Feb 17]
  • Nemesis, Philip Roth (2010) [Oct 23]
  • Burning Bright (Stories), Ron Rash (2010) [Oct 1]
  • The Cadence of Grass, Thomas McGuane (2002) [Nov 13]
  • Something to be Desired, Thomas McGuane (1984) [Nov 18]
  • Broken Glass Park, Alina Bronsky (2008) [May 29]
3 stars - Good but nothing special
  • The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (1926). I wanted to like this, but just couldn't. It just didn't strike a chord with me. And the prose was painful at times. A stark contrast to The Old Man and the Sea, which I really enjoyed. [Feb 4]
  • Comedy in a Minor Key, Hans Keilson (1947) [Nov 13]
  • Tinkers, Paul Harding (2009). [Jan 20]
  • Point Omega, Don Delillo (2010) [Aug 11]
There were a few books that I started and just couldn't keep moving on. The two that come to mind are Paul Auster's Invisible (2009), which I just bogged down in, and Emma Donoghue's Room (2010), which is one of the very rare books that I just actively disliked.

Factoids on the Year's Reading:
  • I read 31 books, or exactly the same number as last year. For most of the year I was on a pace to read somewhere in the low 20's, but many hours at Dad's bedside added 8 or 9 books I probably wouldn't have read otherwise.
  • I bought 64 books for a total of approximately $501.27, or $7.83 per book, or only $41.77 per month. This is about half of last year, which is good I suppose since I'm not sure where to put all these books.
  • My deficit of books read to books purchased this year is only 33 (64-31), which has to be my lowest since I began reading again.
  • My modern lit library is up to about 755 books, of which I have read all or part of around 200.
  • The books from this year broke out as 10 story collections and 21 novels, which is many more story collections than last year when I read only 3. Maybe my attention span is going...
  • 22 of the books were published in the 2000's, 2 in the 1990's, 3 in the 1980's, 1 in the 1950's, 1 in the 1940's, and 2 in the 1920's.
  • 17 of the 31 books were by authors new to me (or new in the sense of having read them as an adult, which lends a different perspective, I think).
I did have some specific reading goals for 2010, and I will review them in a different post.

[12/29/10 - On further reflection of this list in its entirety, I shuffled a few ratings from what I originally gave them in their reviews. The three 5-star books other than Gatsby were elevated from 4.5 stars, as they really were the three best books I read this year. Tinkers and Point Omega were dropped from 3.5 to 3. This "unclumps" the middle of the bell curve a little...]

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review - Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It

In what is likely to be the last book I finish this year, I read the final story in Maile Meloy's 2009 story collection Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It last night. I enjoyed an earlier collection of stories by Meloy, and really liked this one as well. There are eleven stories here, with strong recurring themes or relationships, desire, and choices to be made. Meloy's prose is simple but elegant, and the stories fly by. The stories tend to highlight the darker side of relationships, or at least the unspoken side; the restlessness and the questioning...

The door in the front hallway opened. "Hello!" he called, and Naomi felt as if a guitar string in her lower abdomen had just been plucked, and left to vibrate, by the sound of his voice. She believed these responses were biological tricks to propagate the species, but that didn't make them lose their power. She had never felt that way when her husband spoke, though he was a good and decent man. [p. 97]

She watched him, his eminently intelligent wife. He pulled her closer to make the scrutiny stop, and feeling her head on his shoulder was reassuring. He was doomed to ambivalence and desire. A braver man, or a more cowardly one, would simply flee. A happier or more complacent man would stay and revel in the the familiar, wrap it around him like an old bathrobe. He seemed to be none of these things, and could only deceive the people he loved, and then disappoint and worry them when they saw through him. There was a poem Meg had brought home from college, with the line "Both ways is the only way I want it." The force with which he wanted it both ways made him grit his teeth. What kind of fool wanted it only one way? [pp. 196-197]

4.5 stars out of 5. I really really liked this collection, and thought it was one of the better story collections I have read this year, or in many years.

Books read this year: 31 [totalling 7,096 pages]
Published in 2010: still 17
New authors: still 16
Classics: still 3

I have started a new novel, Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists, but given my limited time and attention span during the holidays, stand no chance of finishing it before the end of the year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas 2010 - Santa Brings an Oregon!

I guess I wasn't that bad this year, because my family got me the one thing I really wanted - a fancy new GPSr unit to feed my geocaching addiction. A Garmin Oregon 450T. I have been using a relatively low-end but perfectly effective unit which I have really gotten to love; a Garmin eTrex Venture HC. But the Venture has some serious limitations for a hard core geocacher. The Venture is very good at keeping the track plots of our hikes, but from a geocaching standpoint only stores the name of the cache and the coordinates. So all it can tell you is there is a cache named "xyz" and it is 0.17 miles in such and such direction. The Oregon stores and displays all of the information in a "gpx" file. This includes not only the cache name and coordinates, but also the description, difficulty and terrain ratings, cache type, hints, and recent log entries. In other words, paperless geocaching. For the whole time I have been geocaching, I have been printing little maps and scribbling notes to make sure I have the information that I need and that I am not wasting my time searching for a cache that is known to have gone missing. The Oregon also holds 2,000 cache entries compared to 500 for the Venture.

What fun is having a new toy if you can't use it right away? At least that's what I figured, so at about 2pm on Christmas day, Julia took her new cell phone and I took my new GPS unit and off we went to find a few caches.

I am thrilled at how well the Oregon performed on its first outing, and I know I am just beginning to learn how to use its many features. Julia and I found 6 caches in northern Delaware, clearing out the last few holdouts between my house and the Delaware river, making a nice big open space on my map. The wealth of information available at my fingertips compared to what I am used to is amazing. I think I can get used to this...

Merry Christmas 2010

Christmas has been nice and relaxing so far this year. My sister in law and her family came down on the 23rd to stay with us for a few days, and it is very nice to have two extra little kids in the house at this time of year.

Christmas eve, Grace and her cousin Ines leave out a plate of snacks and drinks for Santa and the reindeer. How did they know that Santa's favorite kind of cookie is oatmeal raisin?

Santa did come after all! I guess the kids must've been pretty good. Let the pillaging begin!

Grace emptying her stocking.

Santa was good to us again this year, as he always is. I got a new Garmin Oregon 450T gps (more on that later), Amparo got a Kindle e-book reader and a Flip video camera. Julia got the thing she really wanted - a cell phone. Grace got toys toys and more toys.

Then only thing missing today was more family, but we will be seeing Mom, Chris, and Dave and his family over the next couple of days. Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day of Battle 4 - Playtest Game

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving (11/27), Dave, Ryan, Leo and I got together to push some figures around. Our intent was to spend some time working through some of Chris Parker's draft rules and ideas for a new version of Day of Battle. This post isn't going to be a review of those ideas, but is just an excuse to post some pictures from our game with a minimum of verbage. At this point the game was three weeks ago, and I doubt I could write a detailed battle report, seeing as how my main memory of it at this point is being unceremoniously driven from the field. Oh well. It happens...

For this game we used figs from my Hundred Years War collection to set up a French-ish medieval force and an English-ish force, but set in the decades prior to the full-fledged ascendency of the longbow. To be able to get a feel for our impressions of some of the core parts of the new rules, we went light on missile troops and hoped to concentrate on the melee and morale sections, which contain a lot of new material.

The set up: French on the left and English on the right. Three battles (commands) per side. Mixed infantry and cavalry in the center and far flank. Infantry near the town.

French and English cavalry mixing it up in the center. The English (me) held on for a while, but the tide would turn against me...

Infantry advancing into the village. This bogged down into an inconclusive pushing and shoving match.

The cavalry battle turns against the English. French weight of numbers grinds down my horsemen.

Oops. The French are in front of me... beside me... and behind me. The "behind" part is especially bad. At this point, the new battle line morale rules that Chris is proposing really came into effect and had the English battleline begin to fade away.

A good game, a fun evening, and a solid run-through of Chris' new ideas. After a few months of very little in the way of gaming other than the occasional bit of painting, it was very refreshing to get a few friends and family together to push some figures around.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Gold Medal Day

The Special Olympics Oath says "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

Well, Julia didn't need to settle for being brave in the attempt today, because she won! She participated in a Delaware state Special Olympics bowling tournament at the Bowlerama in New Castle, and came in first in her little group, bringing home a gold medal for her efforts (87 and 74).

When they called her name for the gold medal, I'm not sure whether I would call what she did hopping, skipping, jumping, or some combination of all of them, but she did not walk up to claim her medal, that's for sure.

If I could bottle the joy I got from seeing her reaction in that moment, I would never have a bad day ever again.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Santa Brunch

A tradition that we have had for the last several years is to go to the Santa Brunch at the country club, and be joined by our good friends from across the street. When the kids were younger, we used to do the Santa Brunch at Longwood Gardens, but that is further away and wasn't all that good. Longwood does many things well, but mass producing an expensive breakfast wasn't really one of them.
The best thing about Santa at the club is the relaxed atmosphere. The kids know the place, can run around safely with no real supervision, which gives us parents the time to actually enjoy things and eat some good food. The mimosas aren't a bad way to start the morning either.
All Julia has been talking about this year is wanting a cell phone. We have tried to explain to her that when you ask Santa for things, you should tell him a few different things that you might like so that he has choices and can try to make sure that you get one of the things you wanted. She's not buying that at all, and refused to come up with anything else that she might want for fear of confusing Santa and not getting the all important cell phone. We'll have to see how Santa handles that.
Grace on the other hand is easy. She wants every single thing she has ever seen on TV. If they make it she wants it. If they advertise it she wants it more. If they advertise it heavily, her life will not be complete without it. Until the next commercial comes on, that is. Her attention span on the gift wish list is hilarious (and short attention span comments coming from me really mean something... ooooh shiny!!).
So brunch was great. We all ate too much. Julia asked Santa for a cell phone. And Grace asked Santa for everything else.

Philly Pops Holiday Concert

With everything that has been going on over the last couple of weeks, this weekend is really the kickoff of my family's holiday season. Yesterday afternoon we went to see Peter Nero and the Philly Pops holiday concert matinee at the Kimmel Center in downtown Philly.
Amparo has taken my mom and brother Chris many times over the years but this is the first time that we have thought Grace was old enough to attempt it, so this year all 6 of us went. This was also a first for me. I think I saw a Philly Pops concert many years ago, but I believe it was a Broadway show and not a holiday show. In either case it has been many years.
We had seats way up in the nosebleeds, but every seat in the place is good, and I really love the architecture and design of the Kimmel. The concert itself was terrific with a wide range of Christmas and Hannukah music. Special guest soloist was Rachel York, who I am sure that Amparo and I saw on Broadway several years ago when we saw Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria (York was the young moll). In addition to the Pops, there were about 250 singers including the Pops Festival Chorus, the Philadelphia Boys Choir and the African Episcopal Gospel Choir of St Thomas. Each contributed to the show individually and together. The girls especially loved the gospel choir (as did I!).
It was a great day. The kids enjoyed the music, liked being out on the town, and we had a nice dinner afterwards. I would very much like this to become an annual tradition for the whole family in the years to come.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

And on the 101st Day I Rested

On December 2 I found my 500th cache and got to 100 consecutive days with a find. On Friday December 3, through no particular plan to do so, I did not get a cache, and therefore have ended my days streak at an even 100. This is not what I intended, but it was a very busy day with a lot going on, and it just didn't fit without disruption to go out and get a cache. I maybe could have gone out late at night, but I didn't really feel like it at the time.

I knew when I started my streak that getting to 25 days would be a challenge. Then 50 days became an even bigger challenge. Then 75 days rolled around and it had just become a part of my daily routine to always know where I could go to get a cache, hiking a little when time permitted, or at least walking deeper into a park or away from a parking lot. Or when time was short, using up one of the simple park n grabs that I was hoarding for those occasions. Every day became "gotta get a cache", and for the most part it was fun and not work to do so. Sometimes like work, but only a day here or there. It never felt like work day after day. If it had, I probably would have stopped.

When I got to 100 days, I knew I had gotten past some fairly significant obstacles, and that I wouldn't have a prayer of getting to the next badge level, which is 150. But I didn't want to end on an even 100. But that's how it worked out.

Now that it's over, how do I feel? The simple answer, for today at least, (writing on Monday December 6) is that it is KILLING me!!! I say that mostly in jest, but I do have regrets that I couldn't keep it going a little longer. The reality of the matter is that I have cleaned out the area around my house well enough that starting another streak of any significant length would be much much much harder than this was. Practically impossible actually.

There are other geocaching goals to achieve, and lot of enjoyment left to be had. But I do dearly miss my streak.

After nothing on Friday, I did get a cache on Saturday. And 2 on Sunday. Plus one today on Monday. So I am at day 3. And counting...

Friday, December 3, 2010

One Hundred Days of Geocaching

As I have mentioned before I have been working on a streak of consecutive days with a geocache find, with the ultimate goal of 100 days and beyond. When it became apparent to me that I was closing in on 500 total finds as I neared 100 days, I decided that I would try to plan it so that one find on my 100th day would also be my 500th overall. Thursday December 2 would be the date.

With just a little bit of planning (and being very careful not to overshoot the mark), I was able to make this happen, and on December 2, I found one simple park and grab near work that became this milestone find. I had been trying to find some special cache somewhere to do for this milestone, but I couldn't really come up with one that was achievable on a workday at lunch or on the drive in. It did occur to me though that the perfect find for this really should be a park and grab. After all, without park and grabs, a streak like this would be impossible. So I looked around a little and found the perfect cache. A pill bottle in a fence. A fence around some dumpsters. Behind an office building. Humble. Unassuming. Kinda ugly actually. Perfect.

So at approximately 1pm on Thursday December 2, 2010 I made the find quickly at lunch, signed the log, and went back to work. I can't believe I made it this far.

One hundred days for me is quite an accomplishment. A lot of fun. Some work. Inconvenience at times on those rare days when I really didn't care about finding a cache but wasn't willing to give up. Nasty rainy days. My father's illness, death and funeral a week before my 100th day. And finding easy ones to get on all those days when I only had a few minutes to spare on the way to or from work, or during lunch. But a lot of good times too, especially on those days where the streak was kept alive as part of a nice hike or outing with my girls.

One result of this streak is that the area around my house is becoming very picked over, and it is getting harder and harder to find a cache anywhere around home that doesn't require a significant block of time. Any single cache around home pretty much requires an investment of at least an hour, or very close to it, between driving walking and searching. Park and grabs around here are basically non-existent. So we shall see what the future brings. Getting to this point was my goal, and now I am here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Longwood Gardens - Nutcracker 1776

After the events of the previous week, everyone in the family was looking for something to do to take our minds off of things, and Amparo found something that she knew the kids would enjoy - a ballet show at Longwood Gardens. We had not been yet this year since they set up the Christmas displays, so this would be a perfect time to go and check out all the usual decorations in addition to seeing the dance.

The dance show was comprised of a number of individual routines selected from a performance of the Nutcracker 1776 by the students of the Rock School, a local school of dance. Nutcracker 1776 is apparently a version of the Nutcracker set in Philadelphia during the Revolution. I'm not quite sure why there needs to be a version of the Nutcracker set in Philadelphia, but... ok. The performances were highlights taken from the complete show, with maybe 12 different numbers of 2 to 3 minutes in length. Many of these students were very talented, and the girls did enjoy it a lot. At approximately 40 minutes in total, it was just enough for them to enjoy without getting bored, so in that respect it was perfect.

No visit to Longwood is complete without a general stroll around, but on this particular Saturday, there wasn't too much strolling around outside that anyone wanted to do. It was cold to begin with, and the wind was once again whipping across the hilltop between the entrance and the Conservatory, as it often does.

Before heading home after a relatively brief but satisfying visit, we did wander the main Conservatory building, which was as impressive as ever. My only quibble was that this year the main pointsettia displays were mostly of that pale whitish-pink variety that I am seeing everywhere this year. Call me a tradionalist, but give me the red any day.

This is one of the great things about having a season pass for the family - single visits to Longwood aren't the cheapest thing in the world for a family, but when you aren't paying every time you go, you can be content to go for just an hour or two and don't feel like you need to stay all day to get your money's worth. Pricey or not though, anybody who hasn't seen Longwood at Christmas is missing something special.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Laying Dad to Rest

Friday November 26, 2010

Today we did one of the hardest things I have ever done; we laid my father to rest in Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill.

Fittingly I suppose, it was a cold and dreary day, with a threat of morning rain which thankfully never materialized. Amparo, our girls and I arrived at the chapel on the grounds of the cemetery a little bit after 11:00 am, and joined the rest of the family in remembering Dad and preparing for the day to come. The public viewing was scheduled for noon, followed by a service in the chapel at 1:00 pm, with interment to follow.

The chapel was starkly beautiful in its simple elegance. Dad, as a combat veteran of World War II, was entitled to full military honors, and the first of many times today that I lost my composure was entering the chapel and seeing his flag-draped coffin. As I write this two weeks to the day after the fact, the tears are streaming down my face as I look at the picture and remember the strange mix of anguish and pride I felt on seeing that sight. I am humbled at the thought of a time when a 17 year old boy would lie about his age to enlist in the army and go to fight in a war half a world away because he, and everyone else, had no doubt that it was the necessary and right thing to do.

The viewing seems somewhat surreal to me, and I have few concrete memories of it, other than gratitude to the people who came to pay their respects.

At some point, the viewing turned into a memorial service, but once again I am a bit fuzzy on the details of how and when that happened. As a part of the service, Dave, myself, and our friend John (our other brother) were all going to say a few words. I had agonized over what to say, writing and rewriting, and worried about how I would get through it. Sitting in the front pew, I was pretty sure that I would be able to get through my remarks with some semblance of composure. I was wrong. Dave had shared the draft of his remarks with me, so I knew what he was going to say, which was a very nice overview of Dad's life. As I sat there listening to his words, the weight of the moment collapsed on me. When my time came to take the podium, I had a hard time even beginning. I ended up completely losing my composure on numerous occasions, and only managed to hit a few of the highlights of what I had written, skipping much of it. I wish I could have gotten through it better. Nobody got to hear what I intended to say, although family would get to read it afterwards.

After attempting to speak, I'm not sure I remember much of anything of the rest of the service other than the moving and heartfelt words that John spoke. Thank you, my friend.

As I have mentioned, Dad was a veteran and as such was entitled to military honors. I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but in discussing preparations with the funeral director, she had mentioned that she had put in a request to the local veterans organization to see if someone could come out to the grave site on that day. Knowing that the funeral was to be on the Friday after Thanksgiving, she wasn't sure whether anyone would be able to come, but she would hope for the best.

As a military history buff, I think perhaps I may have more of an appreciation for the pomp and ceremony attending military ritual than most people. But I can honestly say that nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when we arrived at my father's graveside. Despite the cold blustery Friday on a holiday weekend, local veteran volunteers had turned out to provide a 7 man honor guard, a bugler to play taps, and 3 other men to perform the flag-folding ceremony and recite the poem "In Flanders Fields". There were a few moments available before it was time to carry Dad's casket to the grave, and I was so moved by the presence of these aging veterans (many seeming to be near Dad's age themselves) that I walked down the line of them, one by one, mumbling my thanks for their presence. I cannot describe the pride I felt when each and every one of them replied with the same simple comment: "It's our honor". I can barely type through the tears...

I remember carrying Dad's casket to his grave. Dave, me, Chris, Ryan, John and Ted. Six men who I think, and hope, would have made him proud to carry him to his final rest. I remember thinking how heavy the casket was for a man who had wasted away to nothing. I remember the veterans performing the flag-folding ceremony and presenting the folded flag to Mom. I remember 7 veterans firing 3 times each for a 21 gun salute. I remember completely losing it at that point. I remember one veteran collecting the spent shell casings from the 21 gun salute and tucking 3 of them into the folded flag. I remember taps. I remember a veteran reciting "In Flanders Fields". I remember feeling everything... and nothing.

"On behalf of a grateful nation..."

"...honoring our deceased comrade Fred B. Lyons..."

There are no words...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

The family gathered at our house today to celebrate Thanksgiving, and despite Dad's passing, it was a very nice day. Mom and Chris were here, as well as Dave, Lori, Sarah, Greta and Ryan. I can't honestly say that I felt much like cooking, but Amparo and I have gotten proficient enough at doing the traditional meal that we can turn out an almost entirely homemade one pretty quickly and efficiently. Once we got settled into the routine of cooking, it was a nice distraction, and it was especially nice once family started to arrive and we could all be together. Or almost all.

I know that there will be many moments, sights, sounds and events that will trigger memories of Dad in the coming days and weeks. Two of them happened today. The first was looking down at the far end of the dining room table when sitting down to the meal and realizing that Dad wasn't sitting at the head of the table. The other was not having Dad's little ritual of slipping whoever would be hosting a holiday dinner like this a little cash to "help with the expenses." This has always been an eye-rolling moment for me, but I did miss it today.

Most of all though, I have not lost sight of the fact that this is Thanksgiving, and I have much to be thankful for. Family. Friends. A very comfortable life.

I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dad, 1926 - 2010

Tuesday November 23, 2010, 7:30am

My father died early this morning at the age of 84. He passed away peacefully in his sleep in hospice care at Delaware County Memorial Hospital after having been seriously ill for the last several months, and having battled a number of health concerns over much of the last decade.

I am actually writing this post a couple of weeks later and backdating it. I haven't been able to put some of this down earlier, and I haven't been sure that I wanted to. But now that some time has passed, I think that this blog is first and foremost about my family and my life, not so much just about books and geocaching and wargaming, and not to recognize such a monumental event in my life would be too glaring an omission. And where the thought of sharing some of this earlier caused me great pain, I think I have gotten to the point where sharing it may bring me comfort. I know that my brother Dave on his blog has been telling some stories of his memories of Dad, and they have been a joy for me to read. Perhaps my doing the same here will help ease my sadness.

So today I lost my father.

Dave called me at about 7:20am to say that he had just gotten to the hospital, things didn't look good, and that I should come as soon as I could. I was in the car and on my way within 10 minutes, but had to fight my way through rush hour traffic. It was almost 8:30am when I arrived. When I got up to the room, Dave, Mom and Chris were already there, and Dad was already gone.

I feel guilty that after all the dozens of hours spent at his bedside over the last couple of weeks that I wasn't there at the end, but I am not sure that Dad was really there either. He had been in a deep sleep and non-responsive for the last day or more and I am not convinced that his body wasn't just carrying on without him for a little while.

I feel guilty that one of my first emotions was gladness and relief for him that his ordeal was over. There is a part of me that didn't want to let go and would have been willing to do whatever necessary to keep him here with us, but that part of me is only a small piece. That is not what he wanted, and not what any of us would have wanted for him. His life had become very difficult, his world had become very small, and if there is such a thing as it being someone's time, then I can believe that this was his.

I am heartbroken for what Mom must be going through. I have been married for 20 years, and that seems like a very long time, so I cannot imagine losing a spouse of 47 years. I hope I can be the son she needs me to be in the coming months and years, and do whatever I can to help her and Chris.

But today feels like a selfish day, I am sorry to admit. More than anything, I feel overwhelming grief and sadness for myself. They say that no amount of time to prepare for something like this will ever make you ready for it when it does happen. I believe that. I am not prepared. And I am not ready.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

French Creek State Park - 11/21/10

Amparo and the girls went to northern New Jersey for the weekend to stay with family and visit her mother, who was in from out of town (the Philippines - waaaay out of town), so I had some time between hospital visits to do something for me. Dave was available today as well, so we decided to go to French Creek State Park and do some hiking. Dave has hiked (and geocached some) here in the past, but it was a completely new park for me. I was looking forward to this very much; days at Dad's bedside have been draining, and anything other than the cycle of work-hospital-sleep, work-hospital-sleep... is nice.

We met at Dave's house at 8am, left my car, and got to the park by 8:45. The hike he had selected for the day was one he had done before but liked a lot and didn't mind doing again. As a bonus for me, there were two geocaches that he had found before but would be new for me, so we would try to get those as well. Finding something today would be 89 days on my quest for a 100-day streak, so that was pretty much a necessity for me.
It was a beautiful late fall day; sunny with temperatures in the high 40's. The hike itself was not particularly strenuous, just a nice path through open woods with some moderate up and downs, but nothing difficult compared to our Port Clinton hike a few weeks ago. Only one climb out of a stream valley to the top of a hill really got my heart rate up. It was very nice though, and similar in landscape to most other Pennsylvania hiking I have done; nice woodlands with some rocky patches. Sort of like upstate Pennsylvania but on a smaller scale. We also had some of the same rhododendron patches, which are one of the few things holding their leaves at this time of year. At several points, we crossed small streams, which are always a scenic highlight for me (I love water), and there were a couple of instances of a feature that I especially like - streams running under rock fields that you can hear below you but cannot see. My first experience with this as an adult was at Hawk Mountain last fall, and I have really liked stumbling on other such places ever since. It is apparently more common in this area than I would have thought. When passing by the streams, a few times I went out of my way to dip my toes in the water, a habit I have noted before, and Dave chuckled and remarked on one of these instances, commenting that Leo and I have been getting wet in streams since maybe 1969. True enough... and good memories. I think maybe I am at my happiest when wet.
The caches we found were perhaps my favorite kind of caches - regular sized containers (nothing ridiculously small) hidden out in the woods. Not very difficult to find if you are willing to invest the walking time in getting to them. The only unfortunate part of the day was that our good family camera went to north Jersey with the rest of the gang, so I was left with the 3 mega pixel camera on my phone to try to commemorate the day with. It's funny how we have gotten spoiled with advances in digital photography over the last couple of years. A few years ago, a 3 mega pixel camera would have been at least decent, but these days you can probably get a 12 mega pixel name brand point-and-shoot for less than $200, making the pictures shot from my camera and emailed to myself seem extremely inadequate.
After our main loop of 6.1 miles, we got back to the car and drove to another parking spot so that we could get a cache that Dave wanted to get. This was another ammo box hidden in the woods, but one that would have been much harder to get in the summer months. Leaving the car in one of the newer parking areas, we set off for 1.1 miles roundtrip of pure bushwhacking, with no trails anywhere. We got to the cache and made the find easily, but I wouldn't have wanted to do this in the summer.
We were back in the car and on the way home before 1:00 pm, so the whole little trip took only about 4 hours on site. It did exactly what I hoped it would; it recharged my batteries a bit for the week ahead. Things will get worse with my Dad in the coming days, and anything that takes my mind off of this for a while is a blessing. And spending time with my brother out in the woods is a good thing no matter what the circumstances.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Indian Orchard Park

In an effort to clear my head of all the things that have been going on over the last few days and weeks, I took an hour and a half this afternoon to get out and do a little walking in a park that I had never been to before. My destination was Indian Orchard Park, a nice little one in Middletown Township off 352 adjacent to Linvilla Orchards. Shockingly enough, there were also 7 geocaches in and around this park. OK, maybe not so shocking...

There was only one other car and a couple of dog walkers when I arrived, and I was happy to find a sign board at the trail head that showed the different trails within the park and how they connected to the larger Middletown Trails system, specifically the Linvill Trail that winds behind the orchards and then into the park.

I parked at the blue dot, got the cache to the NE first, then the farthest north, then south/southeast, ending with the one to the SW. None of the caches were overly memorable or difficult, but that wasn't the point of my being there. A 2.2 mile hike in a little over an hour, with something else to occupy my mind was exactly what the doctor ordered. On second thought, let's keep the doctors out of this.

I was pleased to be able to get out by myself for a little while, and this is yet another example of exploring a hidden gem of a park that I never would have known about otherwise. At this time of year, with all the leaves down, there were a pretty good number of places where you were able to see how close you were to the surrounding houses. I would be very interested to walk this again in the summer and see how much more isolated it would feel. It is often amazing what a few leaves can do to whisk you away from civilization.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review - Something to be Desired

Another day another Thomas McGuane book. I didn't have as much time yesterday at the hospital as I have had other days recently, but I still had time to get through most of Something to be Desired (173 pages, 1984), and finished it last night before bed.

This is the story of Lucien Taylor, a Montana native who moves away, gets a job with the state department working in various Latin American and Caribbean countries, gets married, has a son, and then decides that he needs a change and leaves both his job and his family. Part of the impetus for leaving things is the siren call of an old girlfriend in trouble back in Montana. He bails her out of jail (murder charges), she puts up a ranch she owns as collateral, and when she skips bail and flees, Lucien ends up owning the ranch. He begins to understand what he has given up and begins working to try to get his family back. Turning a hot spring on his new property into a successful spa, he tries to use his success to win back his family, and ultimately we are left unsure as to whether he will be able to succeed or not.

This is a shorter work than any of his later novels and is a little bit more plot driven, but is ultimately a character study of what is turning out to be a very typical McGuane hero/anti-hero. A man and his relationship to the land, fathers and sons, women, the consequences of our actions, and the inability to stop from doing that which you know is probably the wrong thing. Emily, the old girlfriend character, is strongly symbolic of the lure of temptation, while Suzanne, the estranged wife, represents the wholesome side of life. In that sense, this novel is much more straightforward than some of his later ones, where everything has become a gray area, but for that reason perhaps has left me a little ambivalent about the story. I found it a less compelling story to have someone who had something good and ruined it, rather than someone who was struggling to determine what they wanted in the first place. Like the title says, this book left something to be desired.

3.5 stars out of 5. A good book, but not great.

Books read this year: 30 [totalling 6,877 pages]
Published in 2010: still 17
New authors: still 16
Classics: still 3

I'm not sure if I will read the next McGuane novel going back in time or not at this point. While it has been a fascinating experience thus far, I might be getting a little weary of reading very similar books over and over again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Review - Keep the Change

The hospital book of the day for yesterday is Thomas McGuane's Keep the Change (230 pages, 1989). It is fascinating reading back through this author's novels one after another. As much as I do read, I don't think I have ever read this much by one author in such quick succession. It provides an interesting perspective.

Keep the Change is the story of Joe Starling, an erstwhile painter living in Key West who abandons his girlfriend and makes his way back to his Montana roots. Seeking meaning in his life, he decides to try to work the rundown ranch that his parents left to his spinster aunt with the intent that it be passed down to him. Things get complicated when he reconnects with an old sweetheart, now married to an old rival, and his Key West girlfriend follows him to Montana.

Thematically we are dealing with what is very typical McGuane stuff here. Loneliness, love-hate relationships, difficult family bonds, and a faded dream of the American West. He paints his usual bleak picture of ranching, with rundown farms, an uncertain future and financial disaster looming in the distance. Starling is also fairly typical of McGuane's lead characters - simultaneously struggling with his past, present and future. As Starling's tale spins to a somewhat deflating ending, we are at least left with some hope that he has learned something along the way and has a more certain future ahead of him.

4 stars out of 5. Very good, but similar to his other works. If you like McGuane's other books you will like this. If you don't, you won't.

Books read this year: 29 [totalling 6,704 pages]
Published in 2010: still 17
New authors: still 16
Classics: still 3

I guess I should keep going and read Something to be Desired next...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Review - Nothing But Blue Skies

The Thomas McGuane novel binge continues with Nothing But Blue Skies (349 pages, 1992). This is the story of Frank Copenhaver, a middle aged Montana business and rancher whose wife leaves him, precipitating a downward spiral as Frank's life begins to come apart at the seams.

It's typical McGuane, from the small town Montana setting to the larger than life comic bumblings of a man losing control. Once his wife is gone, everything else good seems to start to go as well. Business deals go sour, he loses his business savvy, friendships are strained, and his interest in life wanes. As his interest wanes, the vicious cycle continues. A work like this can bog down into typical mid-life crisis and male angst, but I thought that this one rose above that. Perhaps I am more willing to overlook the formulaic nature of this story because I like McGuane in general and find him to be a very entertaining read. And in this specific instance, as infuriating it was for me to watch Frank careen around out of control, I kept hoping that he would get his act together in the end. He wasn't the most likable character in the world, but I felt for him, and that kept me fully engaged.

4 stars out of 5. Very good. Funny, poignant and entertaining.

Books read this year: 28 [totalling 6,474 pages]
Published in 2010: still 17
By new authors: still 16
Classics: still 3

I think I will continue working my way backwards through his novels and read Keep the Change next.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review - Comedy in a Minor Key

Today's book is a novella titled Comedy in a Minor Key, written in 1947 by Hans Keilson, but published in English for the first time this year. This small format 135 page work tells the story of Dutch couple who hide a Jew in their house during World War 2. Nico is with the couple for almost a year before dying of pneumonia and needing to be disposed of, which creates its own set of issues.

I found the work to be an amiable enough read, but never felt like it delved too deeply into the characters, of which there were only the three with any significant amount of "on stage" time. I never felt like I knew why the Dutch couple would risk what they did to hide this man other than a vague notion of patriotism in defying the Nazis. I also never got to know the hidden man other than at a superficial level. Perhaps most importantly of all, in a situation that could be fraught with tension, that tension was never really developed. Not that I would necessarily expect this to be written as if it were a thriller, but the nameless faceless entity that Nico was being hidden from never put in an appearance in any form. These factors taken together made this a fairly two dimensional read for me.

3 stars out of 5. Good enough, but nothing worth going too far out of your way to read.

Books read this year: 27 [totalling 6,125 pages]
Published in 2010: 17 [including this in a first English translation]
New authors: 16 [including this]
Classics: still 3

Book Review - The Cadence of Grass

Long hours at my father's hospital bedside provides many hours to read, and after reading the newest Thomas McGuane novel recently, I went back and read his previous one in its entirety yesterday.

The Cadence of Grass (238 pages, 2002), is the story of a dysfunctional Montana family who are forced to deal with each other more than they would like based on the unusual conditions of the patriarch's last will and testament. The jacket blurb notes "McGuane's trademark combination of high wit, low behavior, and hard-won wisdom." There certainly is plenty of low behavior, and this darkly comic novel delves pretty deeply into the uglier side of peoples' motivations and behavior. All of this is set against the usual Montana ranching backdrop and a supporting cast of well-drawn characters.

So my streak of books with hopeful happy endings ends at one. But this was an engrossing read. 3.5 stars out of 5, maybe closer to 4.

"As she said this, she felt the room grow distant and time awkwardly slow. She couldn't for the moment understand why saying her own name aloud made her loneliness so evident that it nearly choked her. Now all funny thoughts had fled. She looked at her young dance partner and wondered if he yet understood that all the cures for loneliness failed, that it was a chronic state and that anything used to anesthetize it turned into its own problem." [p. 78]

"She was silent for a long moment, then added with searing conviction, "I may be the wrong person for my own life." [p. 210]

Books read this year: 26 [totalling 5,990 pages]
Published in 2010: still 16
New authors: still 15
Classics: still 3

I may read another McGuane next; I'm on a roll...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Review - Driving on the Rim

Thomas McGuane is one of the earliest "serious" novelists that I read back in high school outside of assigned school reading. I was reminded of that when thinking about 15 authors for the list I noted a little while back. Coincidently enough, within a day or so of writing that list, I was in the local Barnes & Noble, and saw McGuane's new novel, Driving on the Rim (306 pages, 2010). You can't fight a coincidence like that, so I bought the book and read it.

The cover flap notes this as the "dark comic journey" of Irving Berlin "Berl" Pickett, MD, a small town Montana doctor. Berl's is the story of an unusual childhood having grown into an equally unusual adulthood. Despite having come from modest beginnings and having gotten himself through medical school to be a practicing physician, Berl is a maladjusted socially inept guy struggling to find his way. I found the book to be both intricately detailed and carefully constructed, although it can probably give the false impression of meandering around. It does wander, but not aimlessly. It seemed to mirror the way in which Berl is buffeted along by the currents of his life, sometimes able to steer himself around the snags, and sometimes not. He is infuriating, endearing, aggravating, perplexing, hopeless and hopeful. I felt for him. And perhaps best of all, despite all that he goes through (and in contrast to much of what I have read recently), there is a happy ending...

As is typical of McGuane's works, Berl is surrounded by a large cast of supporting characters, many of whom are constructed around typical western archetypes, but convincingly so. These people, even those putting in brief appearances, seemed very real to me.

A very good book. 4 stars out of 5 and recommended.

"I seemed to be a bachelor. For years I wondered whenever the phone rang late at night if it might be Debbie. It never was. I realized now that it never would be. There were quite a few things like that." [p. 240]

"She might have been too smart for me at that stage of my life. Now that I was somewhat shriven by circumstances and Jinx had begun to accept me as an unadulterated friend - someone to go birding with or share a ride to racquetball - I saw more in her. My mistakes seemed to accumulate like channel markers behind a boat. But at least I had a friend; I was sure of that." [p. 244]

"I'm quite aware of how abject I must have seemed, but one look at Jocelyn would clear that up for anyone. She was a such gorgeous woman, and the fact that she administered her beauty with coolness and perhaps calculation didn't seem to detract from it. I don't think anyone has quite understood the merciless power of women at their apogee. We are reduced to worship - and I do mean reduced. I wasn't sure brains and character added much at all." [p. 275]

Books read this year: 25 [totalling 5,752 pages]
Published in 2010: 16 [including this]
New authors: 15
Classics: still 3

Friday, November 5, 2010

Geocaching by the Numbers - 11/4/10

My geocaching obsession should be obvious by now. One of the things that I find interesting to look at is some of the statistical tracking that can be done in conjunction with the geocaching website and related support sites. I use a program called Geocaching Swiss Army Knife (GSAK) to track what I have done. Since these numbers change every time you find a new cache, I have decided to periodically take a snapshot of some of the more interesting bits and post them here, just so I can go back and look at them later if I want to.

As my geocaching mentor and I repeatedly tell each other, "it's not about the numbers"... and then we laugh ourselves silly. It may not be entirely about the numbers, but it is a hobby for which some degree of stats watching is almost unavoidable. Completely unavoidable in my particular case.

"Personal Best" type stats. A miscellaneous bunch of numbers where the goal is to better your previous accomplishments. More finds in a day than you have ever done before, or a week, or a month. More states in a day, or counties, or different types of caches. Farthest from home. Furthest north/south/east/west.
Difficulty/Terrain combinations and the Calendar. The long term goal is to find a cache in every combination, and on every calendar date. My current "consecutive days with a find" streak of 72 days is filling up the back half of the year nicely.
States in which I have found caches. The goal here, obviously, is to find a cache in every state in the country. Business travel can help immensely with this. When on a business trip to Utah earlier this year, I took a rental car an hour out of my way on some down time just to get some caches in the corner of Wyoming. Chances like that to get states far from home don't come along every day, and I now find myself looking at all of my occasional business trips in light of "do I have that state yet, and are there any other states right nearby?"
Pennsylvania counties - Much like the US state map, the goal here is to find a cache in every county in my home state. Living way down in the corner and not in the middle of the state makes this a bit harder, but I'm working on it. Some day I am going to sucker Dave into a 2-3 day barnstorming tour of the state, out to Erie and back, to bag as many of these as possible. In the meantime, wherever possible, I like to see if family day trips or hiking days can be in nice places where I also don't happen to have a cache find yet. My family is... mostly understanding.
So is it entirely about the numbers? Of course not, but they do play a part in it. Geocaching is a "collecting" sport in a way, and the numbers reflect how many different kinds of things you were able to accomplish. Ultimately though, the numbers are just an abstract way of capturing all the great little adventures and experiences along the way.
At the moment, the main thing I am concentrating on is trying to get my consecutive days streak to 100. One of the only nice things about a one hour commute to work is that it gives me many options of which roads to take so that I can find simple "park and grabs" on the way to work with only slight detours, and get the daily find out of the way. If I can complete my streak, then I'll figure out if there is something else I want to concentrate on next. I'm sure there will be.