Thursday, December 29, 2011

Batona Trail hike, Pine Barrens - 12/28/11

The Batsto River
Dave and I had discussed the possibility of getting out for a hike at some point over the holiday week, and I was pleased to get an email several days ago to the effect that he and Leo were looking at a few dates. We settled on yesterday as a day that would work for everyone, and a day on which the weather was supposed to be pretty good. It was forecast for cold but clear, with a high in the low 40's. Leo's friend Tim would be joining us.

Dave's initial suggestion was for a Pine Barrens hike, which suited me fine. The scenery would be very different from what we would have seen last time out on the Pennsylvania appalachian ridges, and wasn't very far from home. The final plan was for four of us to meet in Springfield near the Blue Route exit at 9am. I had to drop Grace at a one-day gymnastics camp, so I would be closer to 9:15.

Everyone was on time, I grabbed a few juice bottles and a couple of bagels at the bagel place where we met, and then we all piled into Tim's car for the drive to historic Batsto Village, near Hammonton. The drive was uneventful, other than finding our way around a "bridge out" detour. We parked a little after 10:30am, and were ready to hike shortly before 11.

Trail sign at Quaker Bridge
The hike Dave had selected for us was to start in the parking lot of the historic site on the east side of the Batsto River, follow the Batona Trail up the east side of the river, cross over at Quaker Bridge, and then return to the car on the yellow trail down the west bank of the river (between the Batsto and Mullica rivers). It was an estimated 12 miles in total distance, but over easy flat ground. Depending on our pace and stop time, it would take 4-5 hours to complete. Another nice thing about hiking in the Pine Barrens is that there are many geocaches, and I had my gps loaded and ready to get a few. If I could find some close to the trail that wouldn't take too much time for stops and detours, I might be able to have a decent day at that too. As much as I like to take the time to mix geocaching and hiking, I realize that those who are not at all interested (half our group in this case) will soon find it tedious to have me making a 5 minute stop every few tenths of a mile to try to find a cache. Hopefully some of the ones I see on the map will be right off the trail (and not too hard to find).

The weather was as promised, clear and cool. There was a cold breeze pretty much all of the time, kicking up to a real wind in places. Fortunately, we were somewhat protected in the pine woods. The hissing sound of the wind through the tops of the pines would be a constant companion throughout the day though. As Leo noted at one point, the wind through winter pines and bare trees sounds different than wind through leafy trees, and I would agree with him.

The hiking was easy, with the ground being level as expected. A slight up or down slope here or there was the extent of the exertion, other than the pure miles we would cover. I did want to make sure I got a few geocache finds out of the way before I lost track of that, and managed to make three easy finds within the first couple of miles. It's a good thing that I wasn't planning on making too many caching stops though, because after the third cache I needed to replace a drained set of rechargeable batteries. I did so, only to find that the replacement set I had brought were also drained and had not been recharged. Oops. I had downloaded the Groundspeak iPhone geocaching app onto my Christmas present, but the reception was so spotty out in the woods that my geocaching day was effectively over almost before it began.

Batsto Lake, behind the dam
The 6 miles up the east bank of the Batsto to Quaker Bridge took us about two and a half hours at a leisurely pace, and with stops. The scenery was nice for winter, with bare oaks interspersed with scrubby pines and large stands of taller cedars. There was enough variety to keep things interesting, and the few places where the trail paralleled the banks of the little river were especially nice. We saw the same kind of "cedar water" here that we saw in the summer of 2010 on the Pinchot Trail hike in upstate PA. It made me wish for a warm day and a canoe or kayak.

We had a chuckle when we got to the road at the Quaker Bridge crossing and realized what the map referred to as a named road was a dirt and sand road that was little better than some of the fire access roads the trail had crossed back in the woods. These "roads" were on maps and if you didn't know the area, you could very easily show up in a car and expect to be able to drive on them. Depending on the weather and depending on the vehicle, I wouldn't try it. My car would sink to the axles in the soft sand patches.

Batona trail section had been. On the east bank, we were generally on a hiking trail, crossing a number of fire access roads, but usually not following them. On the return loop on the west bank, we spent too much time on these dirt and sand roads, or right next to them. The scenery was still nice, but there is something about a trail vs a dirt road that makes a big difference in my mind.

Batsto Lake, with clouds
Pretty much on schedule, after a slight detour for the last mile or so due to a washed out trail section, we arrived in historic Batsto Village from the west. The village is a collection of shabby old wooden buildings that were cool nonetheless. There were some beautiful views of the lake behind the dam, and I got a few very nice pictures of clouds reflected in the waters. A short walk over the dam itself had us back in the parking lot having covered 12.9 miles in about 5 hours. I am pretty sure that is the longest day I have had hiking as an adult, but I didn't feel too bad when all was said and done. I was footsore, and had some stiffness once we sat down, but my joints all felt good, which I am sure would not have been the case if there had been more elevation changes mixed in. This was a fun hike, a nice day out in the woods with a good bunch of guys, and something I would gladly do again in a different season. I can't wait to come back to this area.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Longwood Christmas - 2011

As always, one of the highlights of the Christmas season is the visit (or in most years several visits) to Longwood Gardens. This year we were here for Brunch with Santa, as well as a nice walk around the grounds. I've written about Longwood before, so I will just post a few pictures this time around.
Santa and the girls

Santa and the whole gang

Ridiculously fancy gingerbread house

Julia and Amparo


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Philly Pops Holiday Concert 2011

Over the last bunch of years, it has become a tradition that Amparo has gone to the Philly Pops holiday concert with my Mom and brother Chris. Dad went in some years before it became too difficult for him to get around, and I believe Lori went to one or two of these as well. Last year, with Grace being older and Julia being able to sit still for extended periods, the whole gang went for the first time. I thought it was very nice, and the girls enjoyed it enough that they wanted to go again (see last year's post here). We continued this new tradition (new for me, anyway) by going to the matinee show this afternoon.

Like last year, the show was very entertaining. The holiday music program is cheerful, up tempo, and always has some interesting arrangements. Between the Pops Festival Chorus, the Philadelphia Boys Choir and the African Episcopal Church of St Thomas Gospel Choir, there is a good amount of variety, and the program is delivered with subtle humor by Peter Nero, who is also a tremendously gifted pianist.

The program itself was very similar to that of last year, as you might expect from a holiday show, and was a mix of jazzy and big band arrangements of the well-known holiday classics as well as a liberal dose of choral music. Each of the choral groups had chances to be featured individually, and also contributed throughout the show as the vocal component of a lot of the Pops' numbers.

Highlights of the show for me included the gospel choir, the full assemblage performing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah, the bits where Peter Nero soloed on the piano, and everything involving the guest soloist, Ashley Brown. Ms. Brown is a 29-year old award winning Broadway performer best known for spending parts of 4 years in the title role in the Broadway production of Mary Poppins. She has an amazing voice, and contributed the funniest part of the show, which was a variation of Jingle Bells performed as an opera aria (it was intended to be funny...). Hilarious stuff.

At two and a half hours (with a twenty minute intermission), we got our money's worth, and everyone had a great time. I asked the girls afterward if they would like to do this again next year and they both said "yes", although Grace did ask if the show could be a little shorter next year...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Remember Pearl Harbor

As a history buff and wargamer, it is all too easy to think of battles, campaigns and wars as abstract events; things to enjoy reading about, painting figures for, and playing games about. But a day like today reminds us that war is indeed terrible. It was terrible before we had the written words to record it, it was terrible 69 years ago, and it is still terrible today.

Rest in peace all those who have fallen throughout our long and violent history.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Geocaching Update - Fall 2011

It has been a very quiet second half of the year from a geocaching perspective. Since beginning in April 2010, I had managed to maintain a pace of around 50 to 60 finds a month, and while this slacked off somewhat earlier this year, things didn't take a nose dive until this fall. July and August were decent months mainly on the strength of the caching day with Ellen in Lancaster around the 4th of July holiday, and the finds made with Dave while on the Dakotas trip. After the end of August though, a strange thing happened - not a single find between then and the middle of November. Seventy-nine days without a find.

I still have a strong interest in this, and have every intention of making more of an effort to get back to it. But I don't realistically expect to get back to the pace that I was on for the first year or so. There are too many other things going on, and I just don't have the quantity of caches around home to get numbers of finds without making at least a several hour trip somewhere. I expect that I will find the time to grab a few local caches around home as new ones pop up, day hikes and family trips will continue to be opportunities to grab a few caches in other areas, and I will manage to find a chunk of a day here and there to get some numbers. Beyond that, we will have to wait and see.

My favorite part of geocaching continues to be the fact that it takes me to places that I wouldn't ordinarily go, and makes me stop and take the time to see little things I would never have noticed otherwise. I like the idea of filling in maps with finds in new counties and new states (and new Delorme map book pages), filling in calendar dates (working toward a find in all 366 dates), filling in difficulty/terrain combos and the like. Pure numbers don't hold the same appeal that they used to, at least at the moment, but knowing myself, I suspect that feeling will go in cycles. I still would like to get to 1,000 finds in the not-too-distant future. I am currently sitting at 882.

With all that in mind, what little recent activity there has been has bagged me two new PA counties; Dauphin on the way back from Sunset Rocks hiking on 11/26, and Lebanon on the way to the day in Hershey with the family on 12/4. One of three finds on the way to Hershey was a virtual cache, which are not all that common and are worth going out of the way to get. A find on December 3rd filled in my only empty calendar date between August 26 and January 26, completing a nice sized chunk of the year in a solid block. And a grand total of 9 caches since September 1st. Oh well.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Hershey Christmas

We tend to do many of the same things each Christmas season, and while it is nice to have family traditions, it is also nice to seek out and do some different things. Amparo had been looking for something new this year, and we decided that we should make the drive out to Hershey take a day to do a chocolate Christmas. The weather for this weekend was supposed to be unseasonably warm, and with today forecast for a high around 60, we decided to head out for the day.

Hershey Park itself doesn't open until noon on a Sunday at this time of year, so we had a leisurely morning at home before leaving at around 10:30am. It would be almost a 2 hour drive, and I wanted to take the opportunity to grab a cache (or two or three) in Lebanon county, which is a new one for me that we would have to drive through to get where we were going. We didn't really have a plan, but we knew that one of the highlights at this time of year is a car ride through an extensively decorated area of lights. The light show started at 5pm and ran through 10 or 11pm, so we knew that would be the last thing we did before heading home.

Victorian Candy House
After an easy traffic free hour or so on the Turnpike, we got off the same exit we did last year for the Renaissance Faire, and headed north to a slight detour through the little town of Quentin. We made quick work of a virtual cache and two others and were back on the road west to Hershey in short order.

We arrived in Hershey shortly after noon, and made our way to the combined parking lot for Chocolate World (the indoor museum/store) and Hershey Park. Everything was decorated for the holidays and looking very festive. Everybody was hungry, so we had a quick (and pretty bad) lunch in Chocolate World before heading to the Park for the afternoon. The weather was nice for December, and we thought it would be nice to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

On the Monorail
The Park had a good number of people wandering about, but was not crowded by any means. Everything seemed to be open with the exception of all the large roller coasters. That would be disappointing to many people, but I have never been overly fond of amusement park rides for whatever reason. It's not that I dislike them, they just don't excite me. Except for any ride that spins; those I absolutely dislike and cannot ride because they play havoc with my stomach. Julia tends to find rides that move quickly to be unsettling, whereas Grace is fearless for her age.

Over the course of the next few hours, we rode some of the smaller rides, played a bunch of carnival games, won a bunch of stuffed animal toys (which will soon be making an appearance in a Goodwill store...), and just generally having a great time. It was nice to be doing something that everyone seemed to be enjoying, because these days it is often difficult to get the girls to agree on anything. Today they couldn't agree on what they wanted to do next, but at least they were both getting some of what they wanted.

Visting Santa's Reindeer
One of the highlights of the afternoon for the girls was the visit to the stables to see Santa's reindeer. There were nine reindeer, and I have to admit that they were pretty cool. They aren't very large animals, appearing to be smaller than the adult white-tailed deer we see around home, but some of them had very large antlers.

Grace also especially liked a Pirate Ship ride that was a boat shaped thing that swung back and forth like a pendulum. She loved it and rode it more than once.

At a few minutes before 4:00pm, we lined up at the theater to watch a Christmas themed song and dance show. It was an entertaining enough 35 or 40 minutes. The singing was pretty good. The dancing was... less so. Lots of repetitive moves and lots of arm waving. But the girls liked it.

After three hours or so at the Park we were all starting to get chilly, so we decided to head back to Chocolate World for a snack and to do some candy shopping. I am a dark chocolate fan, not milk chocolate, and it was amazing all the different items that Hershey makes in dark chocolate that don't appear in stores. As a matter of fact, they seem to make a dark chocolate version of just about everything, from Kit Kat bars to Peanut Butter Cups. Yum. We got out of the store with a nice bagful of things, but I thought we showed remarkable restraint. I would have bought as much dark chocolate as the girls could carry, loading them down like little pack mules... Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

By the time we were done our snack and shopping, it was almost 6:00pm, so we got in the car and followed the directions to the "Sweet Lights" drive through. It turns out that how they rig this display is to close a road in the woods back behind the Hotel Hershey to public traffic, hang a million lights on 600 displays, put a tool booth at the start of the road, and charge $20 per car to enter. After you pay your way in, you spend the next half hour or so driving slowly along the road, looking at the lights from your car as you drive by, and listening to holiday music on the local radio station. It was impressive in its own way, but I think we were all getting a little numbed by the time we were most of the way through, and were definitely impatient with the guy a few cars ahead of us who kept coming to a complete stop. What should have been 20-30 minutes turned into 45 minutes. It was an awful lot of lights, an awful lot of the same thing, and the extra slow pace didn't help. It was nice to have seen once, but having seen it, I wouldn't be in any hurry to see it again. But worth seeing once, for sure.

When we finished creeping through the light display, it was 6:45pm, we were still in Hershey, and everybody was getting pretty hungry. Rather than finding a place to eat in Hershey, the consensus was that we should get most of the way home before stopping for dinner at Buca di Beppo in Exton. We got to the restaurant at 8:10pm and ordered quickly. The place was mostly empty and would be closing at 9pm. Grace was falling asleep on the bench of the booth we were sitting in, but we had a good dinner and headed for home.

We were home and the kids were in bed by 10pm. That was a little later than we had wanted to get home on a school night, but it was well worth it. We all had a good time at the Park, Chocolate World was fun (what we saw of it), and the lights were great. For anyone who hasn't spent a day in Hershey during the holiday season, it is worth the trip.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunset Rocks Trail, Cumberland County, PA

Dave and I did get out for a hike yesterday, and we did end up doing the Sunset Rocks Trail out beyond Gettysburg. Even though getting out there would require about a 2.5 hour drive each way, the weather was forecast to be unseasonably warm, and we had basically the whole day set aside, so we figured what the heck. The hike as planned is a counter-clockwise lollipop, with about two-thirds of the planned 8+ miles on the Appalachian Trail, and the remainder on a side trail that climbs a ridge to a rocky overlook, Sunset Rocks, the namesake landmark for the hike. Guidebooks list the hike at 8.x miles of moderate difficulty due to a few modest climbs and a section of rock hopping on the ridge top. It should take around 4 hours with stops.

To make the most of the day, I got up at 6:00am, was out the door by 6:45am, and was at Dave's house shortly before 7:30.

First bridge over Tom's Run
9:50am - The day is forecast to be in the mid-60's and sunny, but as we shoulder our daypacks and set out from the Fuller Lake Day Use parking area, it is 38 degrees. Dave and I are both wearing long sleeve fleece, which is unusual since neither of us feel the cold easily. From where we parked, the first several tenths of a mile are through the picnic areas in the park, along roads, and past buildings. This would normally be a drudge, but we did see one cool thing. The halfway point of the AT is within a few miles of here, and it is a tradition for thru-hikers to stop at the Pine Grove Furnace general store and eat a half gallon of ice cream. At this time of year the store was closed, but it was fun to see.

We are almost 7/10ths of a mile from the car by the time we finally get out of the main park grounds and turn off Pine Grove Road at the white blazes and follow the AT up the hill into the woods.

Midpoint on the AT... 5 miles down, 2176 to go.
10:47am - We reach a nice stream crossing over a little bridge near the junction of the blue blazed Sunset Trail and the Appalachian Trail. We are about 1.6 miles into our hike. This junction is the end of the "lollipop stick" portion of our route, and we will be going counterclockwise on the AT for a few miles before heading left onto the Sunset Trail and eventually ending up back here. To this point the hike has been relatively easy, with only a few minor ups and downs, and good footing with minimal rocks. It feels good to stretch the legs. Dave and I both discard the long sleeve fleece at this stop, as it is warming up nicely. We stay here for a few minutes and have a drink and take some pictures of the streams, as this is the first picturesque spot we have come to.

11:43am - After having walked for the last couple of miles along wet trails, we reach the midpoint marker for the AT. I am surprised to see it here, as the guidebook I have been using says that this marker is on the AT section that is a part of the Pole Steeple hike several miles from here, but not on this hike. I know that they move this marker around as the length of the AT changes due to rerouting and the like, and I guess they must have done so in this case since my guidebook was published only a few years ago. Dave and I take turns taking pictures of the sign and each other standing by it, as this is a famous hiker landmark. It has been slow going the last mile-plus, as the ground is very wet, with a lot of runoff from recent rains making the trail itself a small stream in many places. We spend too much time watching our feet and not the landscape. Shortly after crossing Michaux Road we would have passed the ruins of Camp Michaux, a WW2 era prisoner of war camp, but we saw nothing obvious as we sloshed by. Apparently this POW camp was set up to hold German naval officers, but was later expanded to include German Afrika Korps officers as well as Japanese officers. It was officially classified as a POW interrogation camp, one of only three in the country. More information on this area can be found here.

Tom's Run shelter on the AT
11:53am - We reach Tom's Run shelter almost exactly two hours after setting out. We have only covered about 4 miles of easy trails, so our pace is not very good, but the soggy condition of the trails and the constant little detours around puddles and marshy spots has slowed us considerably. The shelter area is very nice, with two wooden shelters in very good condition, a half a dozen tent spots, a critter pole for hanging packs, an outhouse, and a number of fire rings. All overlooking pretty little Tom's Run, which can be heard running over the rocks a short ways down the hill. This is my first sight of an AT shelter, and it seems like a very nice spot to spend the night.

A few hundred yards after leaving the shelter area, we turn left onto the blue blazed Sunset Rocks Trail. It continues to be an easy if mucky walk, with fairly run of the mill scenery. We do pass through a nice rhododendron thicket at around this juncture, which is a nice thing. Other than that, it is a lot of the same: waterlogged trails, fire access roads, and fairly ordinary terrain.

At around the 6 mile mark according to Dave's handy-dandy iPhone app, we have climbed onto the southern end of Little Rocky Ridge, and the hiking along the side slope has made me begin to feel my right knee. Typical. A little soreness but nothing bad. The climb onto the ridge is no big deal, but it was one of the few times that I have been breathing hard today. It feels good.

Dave at Sunset Rocks
The last 2 or 3 tenths of a mile approaching the overlook is as advertised; rock climbing and boulder hopping. I love this kind of hiking and this is my favorite part of the day. I would have liked it even better if my knee weren't acting up, and I felt more stable hopping from rock to rock. But it was still terrific, and reminded me of the rocky sections east of the North Lookout at Hawk Mountain. Very nice. A few hundred yards from the overlook we leave the main trail, which heads left down the ridge, and continue on a short rocky spur.

1:09pm - We reach the Sunset Rocks overlook. At first I am not 100% sure that we have reached our destination, as there still seems to be some ridgeline ahead of us, but a quick investigation shows that the blue blazes do end here, and there is no more spur trail ahead. We stop and enjoy the view across the valley. We do lament our lack of planning. It is lunchtime, we are at a nice scenic spot, and a sandwich would taste real nice right about now. If we had a sandwich, that is. Unfortunately, all we have are various protein bars, which will keep body and soul together, but that's about it.

After maybe a ten minute stop for a rest, a snack and some pictures, we head back to the trail that heads back down to the AT and will complete our loop. The descent off the ridge is very steep, and I set a very slow pace as this kind of downhill is a killer on my knee. Level ground is fine, uphill is a little sore, but downhill is rough. And this is rough. I feel old at this moment; much older than my years.

Things get better once the slope levels out, and before long we are back at the junction with the AT near the nice bridge (picture at top). We see what appears to be a family in the distance out for a walk, and note that they are all wearing blaze orange. Dave is wearing red (by coincidence) and I am wearing royal blue. We make a bunch of "I am not a deer" jokes and begin retracing our steps back along the AT to our starting point.

2:00pm (ish) - We arrive back at the car, a few minutes beyond 4 hours, and having covered 9.6 total miles according to Dave's iPhone hiking tracker app. Dave is pleased that this first test of the new app has allowed his phone to run on gps mode for a little over 4 hours and still have perhaps a third of its battery life left. I am a little tired, my feet are sore, my right knee is a little sore, but in general I feel terrific. We could hardly have expected a better day for a hike in late November.

Final thoughts - We had a fun hike on a beautiful late fall day, and it was nice to take the time to go somewhere relatively far from home. The hike, while pretty long by my standards, was not tough at all from an elevation standpoint. Other than a few moderate but brief climbs and the one very steep downhill stretch coming down off the overlook, it was mostly flat (or flat-ish). The last two or three tenths of a mile getting to the overlook was a lot of rock scrambling, but that is one of my favorite kinds of hiking, so I loved that part. As for "rating" the hike itself, I would say that it was a good solid hike but nothing spectacular, and while I am certainly glad we did it, it wouldn't go on a list of hikes worth repeating. The overlook was nice, but not "wow". The scenery was typical eastern PA hiking, with a mix of hardwoods and some pine understory, a few pretty patches of rhododendrons, and a few noisy little streams. Time of year may be influencing my opinion, as the leaves were off the trees, and the extensive soggy stretches of trail had Dave and I spending too much time looking at our feet and not enough at our surroundings. But simply put... good but not great.

I wonder as I write this if my recent experiences out west have spoiled my expectations, and in a sense I am sure that they have. But there is more to it than that. Certainly after having hiked Harney Peak, Little Devil's Tower and Teddy Roosevelt National Park, this would pale in comparison, but even by my limited Pennsylvania hiking experience, this was nothing special for Pennsylvania. Hiking around Hawk Mountain and the Pinnacle has better views and scenery in general. The Pinchot trail backpack (summer 2010) had better scenery in terms of mile after mile variety and interest (although granted it was summer). And the up and down in and out of the Port Clinton Gap was a much more vigorous hike if that is what you are looking for. So I don't think I am being too harsh. If Harney Peak was a 9.5, TRNP was a 9, Scotts Bluff and Wind Cave were 8's, and Hawk Mountain is a 7, then this would be maybe a 6. Or a 5.5. If it sounds like I didn't like it, that's absolutely not the case. It as a nice hike, and a great day out with my big brother. But this is a nice hike, not a great hike.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hiking Tomorrow

Dave and I are planning on getting out tomorrow for what would be my first real hike since the Dakotas trip. On the one hand, that is disgraceful. On the other hand, I am excited about the prospect of actually getting out and doing something.

I was at the annual Friday-after-Thanksgiving get together with a bunch of old friends, including Dave, and we are not sure as yet where we will be going. Dave had a couple of ideas, as did I, but we didn't settle on anything. All I know for sure is that I am getting up at 6:00am and picking Dave up at 7:15. The rest remains to be seen.

The leading candidate at this point seems to be the Sunset Rocks hike in the Michaux State Forest west of Gettysburg. I am partly skeptical, as that is 2.5 hours driving each way... but it is a hike I have been wanting to do for a long time....

Painting Table

...also known as the dining room table. It seems that a few odds and ends have migrated out of the basement again. Oh well, it happens. Much to Amp's regret...

In and around the bits and pieces of historical stuff that I am working on, Grace and I are having fun painting a few fantasy buildings from Games Workshop. I'm not exactly sure what I plan on using them for, although perhaps more on that later, but the nice thing is that my 7-year old and I are painting them together. Painting these is really nothing more than an exercise in dry brushing, but Grace is picking it up pretty well and routinely asks me if we can paint something. How could I refuse an offer like that? Now if I could just teach her how to paint 15mm Napoleonics, I'd be all set. (All in good time I suppose...)

The buildings in the picture are "Dreadstone Blight" (a ruined wizard's tower) on the left, a watchtower in the back center, and a chapel and small outbuilding on the right. All are from the Warhammer scenery range, and are very nice kits. Building a plastic model kit of any kind brings me back to my childhood, and these were no exception. Plus, I have always enjoyed painting buildings; they look great with minimal effort.

Pictures of the finished product to be posted shortly (assuming we finish them!).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hobby State of the Union

So... What have I been up to from a hobby standpoint these last several months? The honest answer is "not too much". That being said, things seem to have taken a turn for the better. Part of it is just coming out of a general malaise, part of it is that the Fall In convention in Lancaster PA has energized me somewhat (as these cons always do), and part of it is that I never went completely dormant on the hobby front (blog silence to the contrary).

As much as anything these days, I am suffering from the attention span deficit that often (OK, always...) afflicts me. Too many interests and projects and too little time. Back to the original question... "what am I doing these days from a hobby perspective?":
  • Seven Years War project - I have been packing an order to send to Sri Lanka for painting, This is an interest that I have that I will never ever be able to address properly on my own from a painting perspective. If I waited until I painted what I needed to do a modest game, it would never happen. So it is time to admit my own limitations and call in the pros. I am sending Austrians to be painted, while I still have hopes of doing some Prussians on my own, as well as a bullet point covered below...
  • Modular terrain - Following the blogs of Olicanalad and others, it seems that many hobbyists use modular terrain pieces for their battlefields. I have always either used custom terrain boards carved out of foam (but not modular), or simple ground clothes with other terrain pieces. I have made a few half-hearted starts on making modular terrain pieces, but have never gotten very far. This time will be different, and I have already made some decent progress. More to follow in another post...
  • Hundred Years War - As recently posted, I completed a mini project on a set of 24 archer stake bases. I had been planning to get around to this for the better part of a year, and finally set aside the 2 hours needed to knock it out. In addition to that, I always seem to have at least a unit or two of medieval figs on my painting table.
  • Napoleonics - My 15mm armies need more rebasing work in order to use my existing figs better with the LaSalle rules, which we have played a couple of times and like. LaSalle seems to be a nice mix of period feel with modest complexity and fairly quick play time. In other words, a winner.
  • Ottomans - Work continues, albeit at a glacial pace, on knocking out a unit or two here and there. Much more work to be done before even a modest game could be played.
  • Seven Years War "ImagiNation" - It seems to be a fairly common thing amongst our English gaming compatriots to create a fictitious state for which to create an army and inject it into real history. Popular periods seem to be in the early horse and musket periods of Marlburian through Seven Years War. I have decided to exercise my imagination and create the Duchy of Alsberg, a small German state in the Seven Years War era. I have begun painting a few units and have begun sketching out the "history" and background of my little duchy. I envision my duchy as a sometimes ally of Prussia which is often at conflict with smaller neighboring states as well as occasionally getting caught up in the larger affairs concerning Prussia and Austria (hence the additional impetus to get some Austrians painted...).
  • Lord of the Rings and some other fantasy stuff to be expanded on later....
  • Last but not least, the Crusades Project needs to forge ahead. Theoretically this should be an easier one to make progress on as it requires little more than rebasing of figures.
So... as I said, lots of different things going on. If I could just focus on one or two things at a time, I might actually make some progress. Alas, it is not my way...

Dad - One Year Gone

One year ago today, at around 7:30am, my dad died. It has been both a long and a short year since then. They say that time heals all wounds, and in a way I am sure that is true, but in other ways it is not. The passage of time has made it such that I do not feel his loss as a painful thing, but I do still feel it as a hollowness, a kind of emptiness that he is no longer in my life. And unfortunately, I will always now associate the Thanksgiving season with Dad's passing.

I am thankful that I had him for 44 years, and sad that I didn't have him longer. I am thankful that my children knew him at least a little, and that they will remember him in some way, but sad that they didn't know him as the vibrant man that I knew. I am thankful that he was a dedicated father, an involved part of my life, and a father in action and not just in words. I didn't always agree with him in many ways, and our relationship was strained at times (as many father son relationships can be), but I always knew that he cared, and that he was there for all of us.

I will also always have a pang of... I don't know... regret, I guess, that after all those hours at his bedside I wasn't there with him at the very end.

Thanks Dad. I miss you.

Dave has posted a nice note here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mommy's New Ride, Part Deux

It's like deja vu all over again. Three years ago we were nearing the end of the useful life of a 1999 Ford Explorer, and settled on a 2009 Honda Pilot as its replacement. It was, at that point, the nicest vehicle we had owned, and turned out to be as good as our initial impression of it had been. We never had a problem with it of any sort, it rode like a dream (big heavy tank that it was), and we loved almost everything about it.

Flash forward, and we have gotten to the end of the 3 year lease, and so we needed to decide what to do. As happy as we were with the Pilot (and subsequently me with my Accord from the same dealership), it made sense to check out options for both buying out this Pilot as well as rolling the lease forward to a new Pilot, or even downgrading to a CR-V...

End result, taking into account many different factors, is that we have leased a brand new 2012 Pilot. And it's even dark blue, the color that Amparo wanted 3 years ago and couldn't get at the time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wargames Terrain - Archer stake obstacles, part 2

In the first installment of this little how-to I described how I made the rough stands for my Hundred Years War archer stakes. This final post will have a few brief notes on finishing them along with the requisite pictures on the end product.
  1. The completed stands are sprayed with Army Painter Army Green spray paint (a medium green olive drab color).
  2. The stakes are painted with Citadel's Graveyard Earth (a medium brown).
  3. The tips of the stakes are painted with a craft paint, Folks Art's Camel (a tan color). This color looks a little too bright in the picture, but I originally used a duller tan color and while that looked good up close it disappeared into the background when placed on the table. This color makes the points "pop" nicely.
  4. Lastly, the bases are coated with watered down white glue and sprinkled with a mix of Woodland Scenics flocking and tiny stones.
An English force drawn up in a solid defensive position
I think the final result is pretty effective at representing what I wanted. The only thing I would do differently looking at the end result is that I would probably be more careful to mix the "factory tip" pieces of stake with the hand carved ones. The factory tips on the toothpicks are perfectly round and tapered and look too well finished on close inspection. The whittled tips look much more like branches or small logs that have been hand-hewn. I tended to cut them in batches and make whole stands of factory tips on the first few stands. Oh well... Live and learn.
English longbowmen behind their stakes

When all was said and done, this project cost less than $10 in materials, and generated 24 stands of stakes in less than 2 hours total time spent. It was also a nice little project in that I completed it in 15 to 20 minute increments over the course of several days. When I had a few minutes to spare, I could pop down to the work area, make a little progress, and stop easily before coming back to it later, after glue or paint had dried.

A well spent two hours if you ask me...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wargames Terrain - Archer stake obstacles, part 1

One of the terrain projects that I began a long time ago but have needed to complete was the making of a bunch of archer stakes for my Hundred Years War English army. These would be useful little terrain bits that I could envision serving multiple purposes as generic defensive obstacles. In addition to their intended use as archer stakes for the English in HYW, I could see them serving as anything from the obstacles in front of the Ottoman infantry lines at Nicopolis to components of temporary camp protection in ancient battles.

I mocked up one sample stand of these many months ago and was pleased with the result, so I knew exactly what I needed to do, it was just a question of setting aside the time. This is a simple project. To make the 24 stands I am making, the raw material cost is minimal. Most items either came from the household toolbox or miscellaneous hobby stock materials already lying around. I used:
  • A power drill with a small drill bit (the diameter of a round toothpick) from the toolbox
  • A pair of medium duty snips from the toolbox
  • Some craft glue (Aileen's) from the hobby stocks
  • An Xacto knife from the hobby stocks
  • A 3 inch wide sheet of 3/32 inch thick balsa wood (about $2)
  • One pack of 250 round toothpicks (about $3)
  • Some paint, flock and other basing materials from the hobby stocks
Each stand is the same size as my standard base for 25mm infantry figures; 60mm wide by 1 inch (or about 25mm) deep, this way each obstacle stand has the same frontage as a single stand of figures. The process is very simple:
  1. Measure and mark bases on the large balsa wood sheet.
  2. Holding the drill at about a 45 degree angle to the surface of the wood, make 7-9 unevenly spaced holes through the wood (for each base). For this step I placed the wood on top of a styrofoam sheet so I could drill completely through the balsa and into the styrofoam and not hit anything important underneath. (Note that it is much easier drilling all the holes in one large sheet of balsa than it is to drill each individual base after cutting...)
  3. Cut the bases from the large balsa wood sheet with an Xacto knife. Be careful. Score, break, sand lightly (if necessary) and trim.
  4. After cutting apart the bases, I bevel the upper edges using the Xacto knife held at and angle. I prefer the bevelled edge to a straight edge, but that's just personal preference.
  5. For the stakes, I use so-called "fancy" round toothpicks that come 250 to a package. They are pointed on one end (obviously!) and have a decorative banded butt end. Not counting the banded end, which gets cut off and discarded, each toothpick is perfectly sized to make 3 stakes. The first third has the pointed end. After snipping this end off, the cut end of the remaining section needs a little whittling with the Xacto to get it pointed again, then this next third is snipped off. The remaining third is whittled to a point again, and the butt end is snipped off and discarded. (see the top picture for an un-cut toothpick as well as one cut into its four eventual parts).
  6. A small dab of glue on the non-pointed end of each little stake gets poked into one of the holes. I find it looks better and more natural to have the stakes pointing in slightly different directions and at different angles.
After about an hour of this, I had completed the 18 stands as shown in the bottom picture. I decided I wanted a total of 24 stands after doing these 18, so I will crank out 6 more before doing the finishing work, which will be part 2 of this little how-to...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review - House of Holes

I recently finished Nicholson Baker's new novel House of Holes (2011). The novel is subtitled "a book of raunch", and that it was. I am a fan of Baker overall, and it doesn't hurt that he attended my alma mater, but this is without a doubt the most worthless piece of drivel I have read in a very long time. Other Baker novels have had a strong sexual flavor to them, and are very explicit in places. I have nothing against that as a general rule, and would by no means consider myself a prude. But this is 262 pages of self-indulgent literary masturbation with no redeeming qualities that I could discern. It was uncomfortably like listening in on someone else's waking wet dreams. If you want to read porn, read real porn. Or if you want to go up-scale, read real "erotica". Just don't read this.


1.5 stars out of 5. Well written for what it was I suppose, but lacking in plot, characters or anything else you would typically expect out of a novel.

Books read in 2011: 4 (totaling 954 pages)
Published in 2011: 3 (including this)
New authors: still 1
Classics: none

Next up... something better. But then again, anything would be better.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Life is Short

I haven't been posting much at all recently, because I honestly haven't much felt like it. But an odd thing happened today. I watched a man die. I am not much of a racing fan, but my good friend Anthony is, and we were invited over to his house for dinner tonight. When we arrived, he was watching the Indy car race at Las Vegas with his father in law. It was the last race of the season, and apparently a formality, as the year end title had already been decided.

One moment everybody was zooming along at 200+ miles per hour, and then one guy got bumped and started to slide sideways. Then cars started banging into each other, and some began to spin. Then one car ramped up over another and got airborne. Then there was more crashing and banging, and sparks and flames, and another car got airborne and began to tumble in midair. And there were cars hitting the wall and high up on the fence, and more flames. And little pieces and big pieces of cars everywhere. And smoke. And more flames.

When all was said and done, 15 cars had been involved, and three drivers were in route to the hospital. One by helicopter and two by ambulance. After a delay of well over an hour, they announced that Dan Wheldon, aged 33, husband and father of two young boys, had died of "unsurvivable injuries". As I said, I don't follow racing, so I don't know anything about this man. But one minute, he was at the top of the world doing what he loved to do. And a little while later, he was dead. Purely by chance and as a result of an accident that had little if anything to do with his own driving. Sobering to say the least.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review - Train Dreams

This has been a very lean year for fiction reading for me. I have read probably as much as usual, but it has been primarily history, magazines, and wargaming materials. For my first new fiction book since the summer, I recently picked up Denis Johnson's novella Train Dreams (2011, but published in a magazine in different format in 2002), and devoured it within a couple of days. I liked Johnson's The Name of the World very much, and Nobody Move was a fun "noir" read.

This short, spare book is the story of a man living in the open spaces of the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900's. He spends some time working on the railroad but loses his way when his wife and baby daughter perish in a forest fire that consumes their homestead. For the rest of his life, Robert Grainier carves out a solitary existence, haunted by the loss of his family. This is a touching and heartfelt little book, well worth the brief evening or two it would take to get through its 116 pages.

3.5 stars out of 5. A solid read, but nothing remarkable.

Books read in 2011: 3 (totaling 692 pages).
Published in 2011: 2 (including this)
New authors: still 1.
Classics: none

The other book I picked up at Barnes and Noble on the same trip as this will be reviewed shortly...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Where's Eric?

In the aftermath of our Dakotas trip, brother Dave posted an entry on the number of states he has now been to. Since this is a periodic topic of conversation amongst the guys, like any good little brother, I will follow suit and post my tally.

I have done less traveling in the United States than most of the guys, although I dare say I have done more international travel than any of them. According to the guys' rules, to be able to count a state (or country for that matter), airport-only stops do not count (which is a reasonable disqualification). For me, the no-airport-only rule disqualifies the states of Arizona, Colorado and Michigan, as well as the countries of Japan and South Korea. I have seen the inside of the airports in Denver, Phoenix, Detroit, Tokyo, Osaka and Seoul, but never left the airport grounds so can't count them.

Going into this trip, I had been to 27 states. I have also been to 16 countries. The states are too numerous to list, but the countries I have been to are:
  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. England
  4. France
  5. Belgium
  6. Luxembourg
  7. Netherlands
  8. Switzerland
  9. Liechtenstein
  10. Belgium
  11. Austria
  12. Hungary (behind the Iron Curtain in 1985)
  13. West Germany (when there was a West Germany in 1985)
  14. East Germany (travelled through on a train between Cologne and West Berlin, but the machine gun toting guards with dog teams searching the train grant me the "i'm claiming this one anyway" privilege) 
  15. Greece
  16. The Philippines
I have looked into Italy from halfway up the Matterhorn in Switzerland, but never actually set foot in it. As close as we live to Mexico and the Caribbean nations, I have never been to any. Sadly, all non-US travel was before my geocaching days, so my geocaching country count remains one.
Back to the subject at hand... US states. The Dakotas trip added six states to my tally: Colorado (non-airport), Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, bringing my total to a modest 33 out of 50.

States remaining to be conquered (17 in number) are:

New England (1) - Maine. The final northeastern frontier. Beautiful.

The Southeast (3) - Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. Tennessee for some Civil War sites, or music and barbecue, but other than that...

Pacific Northwest (4) - Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho. I was so close to Idaho on my Park City, Utah business trip, but was a couple hours of daylight short of being able to bag this on the same geocaching run that got me Wyoming. I still regret the "so close but so far" feeling on Idaho. I have a brother in law who lives in Portland, and I keep thinking that while he is still out there the family ought to visit...

Southwest (3) - Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. Never having been to this part of the country, I am nonetheless fascinated by Navajo culture and mythology. As an aside, anyone interested in a good mystery novel with lots of character should dive into anything by the late Tony Hillerman...My wife has been here on a couple of occasions, and raves about it. Overall, this area is very high on my "must see" list. And there is, of course, the Grand Canyon, which I have only seen from 35,000 feet in an airplane.

Mid-South (3) - I'm not exactly sure how to classify this area, but I am putting Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas into it. General definition, I guess, is north of Texas... No real reason to go to any of these places, but Kansas has a business connection, so maybe someday I will end up there.

Upper Midwest (3) - Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. Difficult; I am not sure why I would ever be here, and doubt that I would ever plan a trip, but who knows. Business travel to Detroit is the most likely possibility I guess.

So that's where I stand. The geocaching states "to do" list stands at a much more imposing 32, but that is the subject for another post.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Happy Anniversary

September 7, 1963. The day my parents got married. Today would have been their 48th anniversary, but Dad isn't here. Another one of those firsts since his passing last November. 47 years married is a long time. Something to aspire to, and something which is almost hard to imagine. 20 years seems a very long time. 27 more beyond this seems... hard to comprehend. Congratulations Mom and Dad. Happy Anniversary!


All this rain around here recently brings to mind a few different songs, one of which I hadn't thought of in a while, but I like very much. The song is a Moody Blues song (shocking!) off the Keys of the Kingdom album from 1991. The album itself is from the period of over-produced too-keyboard-oriented Moodies, but does have several very good songs on it. Which also brings back a memory of attending a Moodies show at the Tower Theater in the mid-90's with Leo, but that is a whole other story...

August 19, a rare break in the rains (from my deck)
...The changes we go through are making us strong
The shelter of friendship is where we belong
Look into the future knowing what we see

And never blame the rainbows for the rain
And learn to forget the memories
That cause you pain

The last whispered wish of age
Is to live it all again
So never blame the rainbows for the rain...

      --Justin Hayward (Moody Blues), "Never Blame the Rainbows for the Rain"

I recognize that many of Hayward's songs would put a lot of people into a diabetic coma, but they suit me... :-)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Another New Project... Really

A little bit of a teaser... I have found myself with a little more spare time in the evenings these days, and the painting bug has bitten again. An interest that I have had for a while but not really given in to seems to have taken hold. So I am prepping a few things for painting. Something completely different. Which I will take some pictures of and show here soon...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Good Riddance, Irene

OK, so I was wrong on that last hopeful comment about being able to finish my hurricane writeup Sunday morning. Moments after hitting the "publish" button on my last 9:30pm update Saturday night, we lost power. And didn't get it back until 3:30am last night, exactly 30 hours later. But I am jumping ahead.

9:45pm (Sat) - Power has gone out and it has been off for a few minutes, so it will probably be off for a while. The kids are tired, so we decide to make sure we have our flashlights nearby and just go to bed for the evening. Hopefully the power will be restored during the night. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that we have lost power, but the timing is a little surprising in that it is raining hard, but the wind isn't that bad. It seems like a simple rainstorm at this point, not anything worse.

10:30pm (Sat) - Musical beds is over, and we have ended up with Julia and I in my bed, and Amp and Grace in Grace's twin bed. Grace is going to try to "camp" on the floor. Good luck to Amp... Lying in bed waiting to drift off to sleep, the sound of the storm isn't alarming at all. I have heard much stronger winds buffeting the side of the house than this.

6:00am (Sun) - I wake up after having slept soundly and mostly uninterrupted (other than a stray knee or elbow) for over 7 hours. The storm never woke me once. I think I actually slept better than I have been recently. Odd. The power is still out but I know the time from my cell phone. I get out of bed and walk around the house looking out the windows to see what is going on outside. It is blustery and overcast, but the winds aren't too strong, and the rain has lessened to a light wind-blown drizzle. I can see that the wind has shifted from west to east, the opposite of yesterday, so that means the hurricane has passed and is north of us now. I go back to bed for a while to think and doze.

7:30am (Sun) - Julia wakes up so we get out of bed for good. I walk around looking out windows again in the better daylight to try to see if it looks like we have damage outside. A quick inspection makes me think we got away unscathed. That is encouraging, because I was worried about our one remaining Bradford Pear tree, expecting to lose it. We lost its twin in the spring, and knowing how fragile they are, wind gusts like we were told to expect would almost certainly have damaged this one in its exposed location. A few minutes later Amp comes down, looks out a different window, and tells me that we did lose a big chunk off the back of it. Oh well.

8:00am (Sun) - Taking stock of the situation, we are in pretty good shape. The remnants of the storm are tapering off significantly. We have running water (and therefore also toilets). We have a gas range that we can light with a match to warm or cook with. We have a gas hot water heater, so we have hot showers. And we have a propane grill outside for cooking also. All things considered, we are dealing with inconvenience and not a problem. A text from Dave does tell us that all non-emergency road traffic in Delaware is banned, so no driving south.

11:30am (Sun) - 14 hours with no power. By now it is just breezy and overcast. All but the most scattered trailing edge of the storm seems to be gone. After a lazy morning around the house the kids are bored and want to see what it looks like outside, so the three of us go for a drive. There is small debris everywhere, and a good scattering of tree limbs. Only occasionally do we see a whole tree down. The power outage is widespread in the area. Concordville Town Center, Glen Eagle, Brinton Lakes and all the surrounding residential neighborhoods are out. Some areas, such as south across Smithbridge Road are fine. A little pocket around the Painter's Crossing intersection is fine also, and the kids talk me into a McDonalds lunch. Being one of the few places open, it is a zoo.

2:30pm (Sun) - The kids are bored again, we are 17 hours into the blackout, and the kids and I decide to go for another drive. We head north up 202 and find that once you get to Dilworthtown everything is fine (mostly). We stop at a crowded Starbucks for a drink and a snack before driving around for another hour. The Granite Run Mall's anchor stores are open but the mall itself is closed.

5:30pm (Sun) - Amp is ready to get out of the house now too and see what things look like, so we decide to head over to Target and do a little shopping (assuming that it is open). Getting there, we find a strange sight. The store is open, but running on minimal backup power. The store is mostly dark, and can only take cash payments. The kids think shopping in the dark is hilarious, so we wander around for a while and get a few things.

6:30pm (Sun) - 21 hours and the power is still out. The weather is cool but beautiful. We need to open the fridge and get some things out to cook for dinner. They will go bad if we don't. So we cook more than we need, have the neighbors over again, and have a nice dinner on our deck, first by fading light and then by candlelight. The girls all think that Anthony and I wearing camping headlamps is a riot, but they work very well. Good food, good friends, good wine and Norah Jones on a battery powered ipod dock. Once again, things could be much worse. But it is getting a little old.

10:00pm (Sun) - 24 hours has come and gone. We go to bed in the same arrangement as last night. Please have power by morning...

3:30am (Mon) - Exactly 30 hours after power went out, I am wakened when the lights go on in my bedroom. I make a quick circuit of the house turning off things that came back on with the power. I can't resist checking phone, tv and internet to make sure our Fios service is working, and it is. Hoping that everything stays on, I go back to sleep.

Aftermath: What an odd storm. We lost power for longer than I have ever been without power despite the fact that what we could see and feel of the storm was a complete dud compared to what we were told to expect. We routinely get thunderstorms way worse than that. But it sure did have an effect...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Feel Small

While riding out the hurricane, such as it is at this point, Anthony and I were goofing around with YouTube. Searching out old videos of such songs as "End of the World" by REM and "Rock You Like a Hurricane" by the Scorpions. Then we stumbled on this. As the title says, I am humbled. This kind of talent boggles the mind. Derek Trucks. Thirteen years old. Ack! I truly do feel small.

I am not 100% sure why I am moved so much by this video clip, but I guess it is because I value musical talent above perhaps any other kind. Prodigies of any type are a wonder, but it is the musical ones that make me the most envious. If there were anything I could choose to excel at, I think music would be my choice. Music can make a happy soul dance, a sad soul wail in desperation... in other words, make you do whatever it is that it wants you to do. I watch this with rapt amazement and cannot help but think "I wish..."

Look Who's Coming to Dinner

It's hurricane day today. I have decided to start a post this morning in diary format and update it throughout the day (I must be bored). I have no idea what the day will bring, but some of the forecasts seem to be at odds over what to expect.'s headline news would have you believe that the end of the world is upon us. Their hour by hour forecast has heavy rains and winds near 40 mph between dinner tonight and dawn tomorrow. That's not exactly the same thing, although I do recognize that well inland on higher ground is very different from being on the coast, and the hour by hour forecast here truly is local.

8:00am - It was gray at dawn this morning and it has been gray and solid overcast since. The air is perfectly still, but the cloud cover is moving steadily and fairly briskly from east to west. I guess that means hurricanes spin counterclockwise since we are north of the storm. Looking at the pinwheel images, that is obviously true.

9:30am - No change. Our lawnmowers are here working several clients in the neighborhood as fast as they can. With all the rain we have already gotten this month our lawn looks like a green wheat field and they have had a hard time finding clear days to cut.

10:15am - We are starting to have some breeze in the taller tree tops, but not much else.

11:35am - It's getting breezier off and on, and we have had a few small patches of rain, but nothing substantial yet. Ran to the mall quickly for a few errands and am heading back out now. I want to get the ingredients to make Chicken Tikka Masala for dinner if I can get them. Who knows what a food store is going to look like today, but it's worth a shot. If we are going to be stuck in the house I'd just as soon cook a nice meal.

12:45pm - Breezes are pretty much unchanged, but a light steady rain has started.

3:25pm - Raining moderate and steady but not bad by any means yet. Very little wind.

4:45pm - On a normal Saturday we might cook a nice dinner and have the neighbors over, so that's what we are going to do. Still just a light steady rain.

6:20pm - Very light rain. Not much wind. Tikka Masala smells fantastic.

9:35pm - Dinner was terrific. Even the finicky kids loved it. Our friends have gone home, the kids are in bed, and we are getting ready to go up to read or maybe watch a movie (power willing). While I was writing this periodic update, we had a split second power surge that shut off the computer and lost my edits. Grace is reading an e-book on the iPad and is concerned about the storm. It is raining hard now and there is some gusty wind, but it is nothing bad yet. Unfortunately, Grace has been hearing gloom and doom weather forecasts all day and is worried. Hopefully the kids will sleep well. If all goes well, I will have power and be able to post an update in the morning. I suspect I will be able to, as the forecast isn't that bad where we are away from the coast. Nite nite everyone, and see you on the other side. :-)

Friday, August 26, 2011

What Tomorrow Brings...

As the wind and rain begins to lash the Carolina coast, we have done just about all we can here to get ready for this hurricane. Deck chairs and all smaller potted plants are either under the deck or in the garage. The grill has been moved as far as we can get it into the lee of the house. Hanging plants are all down. The table is upside down on the deck so it won't catch the wind.

We went out and did some shopping today, not so much out of absolute necessity but more to join the communal effort to do what we could to prepare. Better safe than sorry. I picked up a few bottles of wine at the liquor store, and it was a total mob scene. I think the last time I can remember it being that crowded was the lead up to New Years Eve. The cashier said it had been that way since they opened. The supermarket in the same shopping center appeared overrun as well. To try to get some food items we wanted we decided to go to Target instead, which was very crowded but manageable. I checked on a few items out of curiosity, and was not all surprised to find them unavailable: bottled water, flashlights and batteries being the most obvious. We are well set for all of those kind of necessities and have stocked in enough easy food items to last for several days at least.

The last errand of the day was to go to a home improvement store to get a few things so we can hopefully work on some house projects while we are stuck in. A gallon of trim paint, some masking tape. Stuff like that.

The current forecast has the storm ramping up in our area around dinner time tomorrow (Saturday) and going full blast until around dawn on Sunday. It is expected to lessen throughout the remainder of the day on Sunday, and by the time Monday rolls around we are supposed to be left with cleaning up whatever damage it has left behind. The storm tracker on the Weather Channel website actually has it not as bad as it was earlier in the day, showing a category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds at the Outer Banks by Saturday pm, and a non-hurricane with 70 mph winds at Connecticut by Sunday pm.

I hope that all this turns out to be like many other forecasted blizzards and storms, where what you actually get turns out to be far less than the worst case scenario that the experts detailed. My kids ask me what the storm is going to be like, and all I can tell them is that it may be more rain and wind than they have ever seen. For all I know it could be more rain and wind than I have ever seen. I hope not.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Waiting for Irene

It's been quite a week for disasters around here. First the earthquake on Tuesday, and now the impending arrival of hurricane Irene, which is forecast at this point to be perhaps the most severe hurricane to hit this area in decades. I'm not sure I like the sound of that.

The weather forecasts are full of gloom and doom, and the chance for flooding, wind damage, downed trees and power outages is very real. When hurricanes do come out of the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico, I am used to other areas being in harms way. Florida, the Gulf Coast, the coastal Carolinas. But this one is tracking differently, and by Sunday morning I may have an experience rivaling childhood memories of hurricane Agnes in 1972.

I only have vague memories of Agnes, but our family was at my grandparents' summer place on the Sassafras River at the time (this is the same place so many of my family fishing posts are from). My memories are not much more than a series of images, but I remember images of trees bent nearly parallel to the ground, scary winds, water covering the yard, and at one point the body of a cow floating past the house, all four feet up in the air. I remember my parents' concern that the windows would be blown in, and the very disconcerting feeling that my parents were worried.

Hopefully, this will not turn out as bad as they are predicting, but that seems unlikely. In the meantime, we wait.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Given the title of this post, what follows will not be a surprise, but it was a first for me. There was a 5.8 or 5.9 magnitude earthquake a few minutes before 2pm today centered west of Richmond, Virginia (about 200 miles south of here). Supposedly, I have slept through a few minor ones in my life, but I have never actually felt one. Until today.

I was sitting at my desk in my third floor office when I noticed an odd sensation under my feet. I momentarily thought "that's strange, I'm not moving my chair but my feet are moving" and then I realized that the floor was shaking. At first I figured they must be doing something in the building, or picking up the dumpster outside, but the shaking got a little more pronounced and kept going. I got up and walked to my office door to see that just about everyone else was doing the same. The realization was hitting everyone that we were having an earthquake.

There was enough time for me and my immediate neighbors to discuss what was happening (after I had walked to my door) before it subsided, so I would estimate that it lasted for a good 15 or 20 seconds. In the immediate aftermath, we had a few good jokes about the sturdiness of the construction of the nearby nuclear power plant and similar topics. Included in that of course was the question "should we leave the building?" Those in my neighborhood at least decided that there was no reason to leave, and we weren't forced to, so we didn't. What we had felt was fairly gentle for the most part, and not terribly alarming in any way, other than the general surprise of it. More of a curiosity than a scare.

The ensuing half hour or so of lost productivity was a mixture of looking for news of what the heck had just happened, and trying to reach loved ones on an overloaded cell phone network. I hate the feeling of not being able to reach out and be assured that those I care about are ok. In this case it wasn't a big deal, as the quake was certainly more of a curiosity and not a danger, but you still want to be sure. I was curious as to how my kids would react. The answer to that would eventually prove to be that the kids were at Tyler Arboretum playing at the time and never even noticed, although their mom did. Just as well I suppose. But I kinda liked it. Hopefully everyone everywhere is ok.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Highpointing - Ebright Azimuth, DE

One of the things that the hiking boys bring up often in conversation of places to go and things to do relates to doing the high points in various states. I know that I had done very few if any of these prior to the recently completed Dakotas trip, although I know that I have been very near the Delaware state high point (such as it is). Highpointing and geocaching overlapped today.

When on the geocaching website earlier today, I saw an announcement that today was the first annual International Geocaching Day, and that anyone logging a cache today would get a special souvenir badge on their profile. Not a big deal, but a good excuse to get the girls out and find a couple of the newer caches in the area that I haven't cleaned up yet. We ended up going out with one of Grace's friends in tow and found two simple caches. One of the caches is at the location shown in the picture, which at 448 feet above sea level is the highest point in the state of Delaware. That make two official high points for me. Ebright Azimuth, Delaware, the second lowest (only Florida's is lower), and Harney Peak in South Dakota (the 14th highest at 7,242 feet).

While we were looking for the geocache, a nice older lady came out of a nearby house, asked if we were "highpointers", and proceeded to tell us some history of the area, handed us a bunch of pamphlets and information on highpointing, and had us sign the official Delaware state highpoint logbook. Fun. We also get to claim the badge for the special day today. Not a bad hour's work.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Tower Theater - 8/18/2011

I love seeing shows at the little old Tower Theater. Comfortable seats, great sight lines, pretty good acoustics and a bar in the lobby where you can bring your drinks to your seat. We arrived before 7:30, purchased the Tedeschi Trucks Band's new CD Revelator for a mere $10, got a glass of wine and went to our seats. I was excited because I thought we were in the neighborhood of row 18 by my calculations (the seating chart is a little ambiguous). It turns out I was wrong about where we were sitting. We were in row 10, on the aisle, with an up close unobstructed view of the stage.

Steve Earle and the Dukes and Duchesses, featuring Allison Moorer
7:05pm to 8:15pm

I didn't know anything about this opening act, but I liked them very much. The earlier part of their set was by far my favorite, as they played a lot of songs that seemed heavily influenced by zydeco and other regional musical types. They used all manner of interesting instruments (violin, banjo, dobro, mandolin, accordion, bazouki, etc...). The second half of their set was more straightforward rock, but was still very enjoyable. Dave and Lori arrived toward the tail end of the set, and he was unhappy that he hadn't noticed who the opening act was or he would have made a point to get to the show in time to see them. Unlike me, he knew who they were and was a fan.

The real gem of a talent here for me was Allison Moorer, who sang lead on one song that just blew me away. What a great voice. I need to find out more about her (from reading the attached link, she is now Steve Earle's wife). She has a fairly extensive discography. I think I feel an Amazon impulse purchase coming on...

This was a surprisingly long opening act, but a really good one. It is always a nice bonus when you get an opening act and you really like them.

Tedeschi Trucks Band
8:40pm to 10:36pm

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect in terms of a set list for the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Each person's individual band has had a reasonably long recording career, with a number of CD's, but the band only has the one new CD together. I tried half heartedly to get a set list before the show but couldn't find one. My best guess was that we would get a heavy dose of the new album along with a few songs from each one's prior efforts. I didn't take notes on what we heard, but as far as I could tell that is what we got. And it was fantastic. I was mesmerized by Derek's playing, and Susan's vocals were really strong. I have written earlier about my finding Derek Trucks as a new musical act for me, and the opportunity to hear him for the first time has had me looking forward to this show as much as any I can remember in years.

The one Derek Trucks Band song that I would have picked for them to mix into this show was Anyday, an old Derek and the Dominoes song (Eric Clapton featuring Duane Allman on slide guitar). This song is generally DT's encore song, and it is a fitting one in so many ways. Duane Allman died way too young, ending his stint as the lead guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band. The current co-lead guitarist for the modern incarnation of Allman Brothers is of course Derek Trucks (Derek's uncle Virgil Trucks is an original member of the band). On occasion, Derek has played this song on Duane Allman's gold top 1957 Les Paul. Cool. I was overjoyed when the band launched into Anyday as (I believe) the fourth song of the show.

Anyday, anyday,
I would see you smile
Any way, any way,
Only for a little while

Nothing about the show disappointed. Tedeschi has a great voice for these bluesy songs, and Derek's playing was a marvel. He was a smooth as he wanted be, as fast, as soulful, or as raucous. The band was unbelievably strong, with a pair of drummers, keyboards, bass, the two leads, two backing vocalists (including Michael Mattison, the DT Band's lead singer), and a three piece wind section of sax, trumpet and trombone. All were fantastic musicians who got to shine in their own solos and featured pieces. Derek himself seemed to almost shun the spotlight, seeming to walk out of it on a few of his many solos. The only real emotion he showed other than being totally engrossed in his playing was minor annoyance on the two different occasions that he popped the top string on his trademark Gibson SG. He had to finish the end of Anyday soloing without the highest notes available to him, and was forced to have a roadie swap out another SG in mid-song the other time.

I hadn't properly done my homework on the new album, having heard Dave's copy once, but hadn't yet bought it myself. Other than the lovely Midnight in Harlem, I didn't really know it at all. What a pleasant surprise; all great songs with some real gems, such as the hauntingly beautiful Shelter.

They made their promises then they walked away
Fair-weather friends are gone for good
You never cared about what others had to say
And through it all you understood...
    You are my prayer in times of trouble
    I'll be your answer when you call
    Shelter you, shelter me

Wake up, but keep dreaming that you were born to fly
When your heart is heavy like a stone
I'll lift your burden high until you realize
That through the storm you soldiered on
    You are my prayer in times of trouble
    I'll be your answer when you call
You showed me that your actions
Speak louder than your words
    You are my prayer........

A terrific show overall. The opening act was a new one for me, but one I would definitely search out some more on. And the Tedeschi Trucks Band was phenomenal. Fantastic musicianship, good songs, great energy, and a great place to see a show. Any time they come back I am going to see them!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kitchen -Day 23 (8/16)

Today: The plumber came and hooked up the sink, faucet and dishwasher, and also rerouted the gas line for the range. Our contractor was not due to be here today, but because of a bad weather forecast preventing him from getting in a couple of days on an outdoor job as he had planned, he and his guys showed up to do the tile back splash and prep for the range hood installation.

I am very happy at the color of the tile back splash. It is a grayish white marble that contrasts nicely with the dark gray counter tops and is not too white. I was worried that it would be more white than it turned out to be.

We have a functioning kitchen again. I am thrilled. We even unwrapped the appliances, and can now see what they look like.

Still to do: The tile needs to be grouted, the range hood installed, and finish detailing, including a little more drywall work. Then painting.