Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fishing, Again

It's the end of May already, and we had not been down to the River yet this year, but we fixed that today. We were able to get down and spend the afternoon fishing, with Grace again catching the first fish of the year, and the most fish. I think she did that last year too. It is becoming a tradition.

We had a nice warm day, and the fishing was decent but not great, with the usual assortment of perch, sunfish and catfish. There was a decent amount of boat traffic on the river kicking up wakes, and that always makes fishing off the bulkhead less productive.

It is an amusing experience fishing with the girls; they have limited attention spans, and do like to fish, but will spend much of the time wandering back and forth between holding a pole and various other endeavors. When I am not taking fish off and baiting hooks I think I spend the rest of my time holding poles for them.

I can't complain though, as I love to fish and should be very happy that my girls have any interest in it at all. I get a great amount of enjoyment out of watching them play, whatever it is that they are doing, whether fishing or just running around the yard. They will not be young forever, and are growing up at an alarming rate. I hope these days continue as long as possible.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The South Will Rise Again! (Tomorrow, actually...)

It looks like four of us (Leo, Dave, Ryan and myself) will be getting together for a game tomorrow night. We were bouncing a few emails back and forth deciding what to play, and the consensus was a Fire and Fury game since we all know it well, and since my ACW figures and terrain were left on the table since our game back in early April.

I figured it would be easy enough to move the terrain around a bit, recast the scenario, change a few things, and have at it again. So I went down to the basement a few minutes ago to look at the table and remembered something - we were right in the middle of a very good game where the outcome was still very much in the balance. This makes my set up work very easy; I'm not changing a thing. We will pick up right where we left off, at the 11:30am turn, with the Confederate attack in full swing and the Union attempting to hold on while reinforcements arrive.

The players will be a little different, but it shouldn't matter, and this way we get to finish this game. A half dozen or so posts back in early April detailed the game to this point. In the near future I will be posting the remainder of the game. So tomorrow (on what is apparently the last day of the world according to some), we shall grill burgers, uncork a bottle or three of good wine and then let slip the dogs of war. If the world does end tomorrow, I think that would be a fitting way for me to go...

[Update as of this evening: Leo, Ryan, Dave, Anthony and I are confirmed, which means we have all of the original players except swapping out Leo for Ryan's friend Mike. It should be a good game tomorrow...]

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Knowing that we are going to be in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park's North Unit as one of the highlights of our Dakotas trip, I have "liked" the TRNP page on Facebook. It has been fun to see the updates and pictures they post. Feet after feet after feet of snow in the winter with subsequent park closings. Blizzards in May. Bison calves being born. Prairie dog communities coming to life with the spring. All amazing stuff.
And then today they posted this photo.
Wow. For those of you counting along at home, it is 10 weeks and a day to blast off, and after seeing this, it just can't come soon enough. My main exposure to this kind of terrain (by which I mean basically anything not temperate woodlands with a little tropical "beachy" time mixed in) has been from the window seat of an airplane. Having the chance to hike and camp in this kind of country will be an otherworldly experience, quite literally. I am awed and a little intimidated by how different this will be, but am looking forward to it very much.
This is exactly the kind of scene I envisioned when I decided it might be a good idea to finally get around to buying that new camera. I have been reading the user guide the last couple of evenings, and have been dreaming of the photo opportunities that we will have. Which reminds me of an impulse bid placed on a nice Canon telephoto lens to go with the new camera over on eBay, which I should go check on. Not that I'll win it. Nobody ever accidently wins something on eBay after a low-ball bid, right Dave?...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Snakes...Why did it have to be Snakes?

As the Dakotas trip has gotten closer, I have gone back to skimming some of the guide books and trail guides I have purchased. This has been both informative and fun, as I am one of those people who can be transported by nothing more than a map and a book. Having spent a number of evenings recently with my before-bed reading being about the Badlands in general and Teddy Roosevelt National Park in specific, I am struck by the consistency of the reports on the three most notable types of wildlife we will very likely see. Prairie dogs. Cool. Bison. Very cool. Prairie rattlesnakes. Catastrophically uncool.

Crotalus viridis
There aren't many things that I have a very definite fear of, or a phobia about, but snakes are my thing. Me and Indiana Jones. I think I have gotten a little better over the last year or so due to the amount of time I have spent out in the woods looking for caches, and the number of snakes I have seen while doing so, but I still don't like them. Not one bit. So I am concerned to say the least.

Snakes seek warmth. I run warm. Very warm. Snakes will seek me out while I sleep. I just know it. Which leads me to the conclusion that the other guys should probably plan on splitting the driving to Minneapolis on that last day because I will at that point not have slept in two days. Should we happen to see a snake of any size or variety early in the trip, it is possible that I may not sleep for a week, or more likely, will not leave the car. Ever.

According to Wikipedia, prairie rattlers routinely grow to an adult size of over 100cm. In real measurement, that's over 3 feet. Or 120cm. Which is 4 feet. It wouldn't take one that big to do me in. I have a vision of the Last Moments of Eric going something like this...

A hiker, having the time of his life, is bopping along the trail when he rounds a sharp bend and sees a couple of little rattlesnakes on the trail mere feet in front of him. One of the cute little snakes shakes its rattle at the hiker. The hiker's eyes roll back in his head, he clutches his chest, and flops to the ground like a dead fish. The little rattlesnake turns and looks at his buddy, smiles, and says "wow! that was the easiest one ever!"

So in the immortal words of Sallah: "Snakes. Very Dangerous. You go first."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Million Miles to Go...

or... Swallow Your Pride and Just Play.

On an otherwise gray, rainy and dreary evening, brother Dave and Lori came over to have dinner with us and spend the evening. We had popped by their house earlier in the day, and I had said to Dave that he should bring one of his guitars with him when they came over. I have said similar things in the past, and have been honestly somewhat relieved when he has not actually done so. This is because I own a relatively nice guitar and have no idea how to play it in any real sense of the word, while Dave has gone to the effort of learning how to play his and now plays quite well. It's not a question of embarrassment or anything like that, just a recognition that I don't know how to play anything beyond the most basic strumming of a few chords. I love music in general, and really like the idea of being able to create (or recreate) some music, but do not have the ability to do so at this point.

The best way I can summarize my guitar experience is that I love the idea of playing guitar. Like most other things of value in life, this kind of skill isn't going to drop out of the sky, but must be earned. For various reasons (time commitment, too many interests, etc..), I have never bothered to take the time to learn that skill. I think that I have a very good feel for music, but do not have the education or training to match my interest level, and my understanding of even the most basic music theory from years gone by has faded.

That being said, Dave and Lori came over for a nice dinner, and then Dave actually got his Fender Telecaster and his amplifier out of the car and brought them in. Which created that awkward moment for me; Dave wanted to play around and I had no idea how. With a substantial amount of trepidation mixed with excitement, I got out my Fender Stratocaster 1970's copy (pictured above), and we played... if you can call it that. And strangely enough, I think you can.

To make a long story short, and to avoid dwelling on my feelings of great inadequacy along the way, we had a good time messing around with a few different songs, such as "After Midnight", the Moody Blues' "Tuesday Afternoon", and the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar". I am a total hack; that much is true. But I have a hard time putting into words how much fun it was to play a few things that actually sounded like the songs that they were intended to be. Our playing was generally limited to Dave instructing me on a few basic chords and then me fumbling along on the rhythm guitar part while he took the lead, but still... it sounded like music, and it made me happy.

Which leads me to the following conclusions:
  • I love music, and the idea of being able to make music, however clumsily.
  • I do own a very nice guitar, because when Dave plays it, it sounds fantastic!
  • If I ever do hope to be able to play at even a competent beginner level, I need to learn my chords. Learn them cold. They are the building blocks that are the foundation of everything. And as Dave has rightly pointed out, there are a wealth of songs out there that are fundamentally three chord songs.
  • Dave and I need to do this again soon, and I need to swallow my pride and be prepared to be terrible for a while in the hopes of being better at some point in the future. You have to start somewhere, and I have never really started.
This was humbling, but it was tremendous fun. Thanks Dave!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dakotas Trip Update - 11 Weeks Out

It is eleven weeks to the day until we board a plane for Denver and set off on our Dakotas trip. The initial burst of detailed planning that occurred back around the Christmas holidays has petered out entirely, and with most of the trip planned out (and all possible reservations made), there has been very little communication on the matter. But now that we are into the warmer weather and the weeks seem to be rolling by faster and faster, it occurs to me that there are a number of things that I need to do to feel like I am ready. In no particular order...

I need to do a little conditioning work to be in better shape for hiking, especially since some of it will be at higher altitudes, especially around Harney Peak. I have done a good bit of walking around as a part of my geocaching, but that is typically more a mile or two here or there in a park or natural area, and not longer or more grueling stretches. I haven't done a single hike yet this year (that I can remember at least) of at least 5 miles. In order to make sure my legs are up to the challenge, I absolutely need to get out as much as possible. I don't want to spoil what could be one of the trips of a lifetime by not being in good enough physical condition. Carrying a 32 pound pack for 12 miles hurt my knee. Hiking on this trip will only involve carrying a day pack with water and miscellaneous items and not a fully loaded backpack, so the physical demands will be different, but I still should not underestimate them.

Input from the boys on what to take will be critical. I did a lot of research about backpacking prior to the Pinchot Trail trip last summer, but this is different. Car camping is a significantly different thing than backpacking in certain ways, and I have never done this before. I need to rely on the experience of those who have to help me figure out what I need, and if I have purchases to make, I don't want to leave them until the last minute. As a group, we collectively need to get together and plan out our packing lists, as there are a lot of items that you you need one person to bring, but not everybody to bring the same thing. And the four of us will be living out of one large car, not an SUV or minivan, so space will need to be used wisely. Probably very wisely it seems to me, but they have done this before and say we'll be fine.

Photography. As I indicated in the post about my new DSLR camera, probably the main impetus to buy the camera right now was the desire to have a really good camera for this trip. Now I need to figure out how to use it to get my money's worth out of it, otherwise I should have just stuck to the old reliable point and shoot. The T3 is loaded with features and capabilities, almost none of which I know how to use at this point. I need to set aside some of my fun reading and put some serious time into studying the User Guide that comes with the camera, and then actually playing around with it as much as possible.

11 weeks is a long time, but not really. With work and family and all the other commitments that take up time, the trip will be here before I know it. I'm getting more and more excited as I start thinking about it again.

An "A" for Effort

There is nothing more special than the achievements of your children, so it was with great pride that I was able to attend an awards ceremony at Grace's elementary school today to watch her get presented with an award for Effort.

These awards ceremonies are held once a month, and different kids get recognized for different things over the course of the year. Today was Grace's turn.

The parents are informed ahead of time so they can be there, but it is generally a surprise for the kid themselves. I am not sure that Grace knew ahead of time that he was getting this award, but I know that she was surprised to see me and mom in the audience. The joy on her face was the kind of thing you just cannot measure.

Yay Grace!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

This Mother's Day was Mom's first since Dad's death, and it's a little hard to imagine what she must have been feeling, although I am sure that with every new event or holiday, there is another first that she has to deal with. The weather was beautiful today, though, and I had talked to Dave previously and knew that he was going over to Mom's house to do some work cleaning up the flower beds and planting some flowers. This seemed like a very nice way to honor Mom, so my whole family went to pay our respects and pitch in.

Dave and I were apparently thinking along the same lines, which is no surprise given the years living there as kids. Growing up, the two kinds of flowers that could pretty much always be found at our house were geraniums and marigolds. When we arrived (with a few pots, some geraniums, and some other plants), Dave was already out front planting marigolds.

As Dave has written in a post over on his blog, there is something peaceful about having your hands in the dirt, and that was certainly true today. Being on my hands and knees in the yard of the house I grew up in, with my wife and kids playing and talking to Mom, and my brothers working alongside me did make for a very pleasant afternoon. But there was one bittersweet thought that kept occurring to me; we were doing Dad's work. We shouldn't have been doing what we were doing, because he should have been. It made me glad to be there, and sad to have to be there at the same time, if that makes sense.

So thanks to Dave for the idea to go there and do this today, because I think we not only honored our mother, but honored the memory of our father as well.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The New Toys of Spring, Part 2 - Canon T3 DSLR

As I said in an earlier post, the last month or so has seen the upgrading of a number of gadgets around the house. The first was the iMac. The second was something I have been wanting for quite some time, but hadn't gotten around to being able to justify the expense, knowing that while such a thing would be very cool (and useful), it certainly wasn't truly necessary. That thing would be a digital SLR camera. A true photographer's camera.

Canon EOS Rebel T3
After going back and forth in my head for at least a year now, a couple of things pushed me over the edge. First, with the Dakotas trip coming up later this summer, I really wanted to have a serious camera to take with me, and wanted to have enough time to learn the camera before the trip. Which meant buying something soon. Second, I have always been partial to Canon cameras, beginning in high school in the early 1980's with the purchase of my first real camera - an original AE1. I still have the AE1 and a couple of additional Canon lenses, and I still shoot some film with it every now and then. Our point-and-shoot cameras through the years have always been Canon, including the current one, a PowerShot SX100IS 8 megapixel that has been fantastic. So I noted with some interest that Canon was releasing their new digital Rebel this spring; the T3i and T3. The T3i is an 18.1 megapixel thing of beauty. But 18.1 megapixels is pretty much overkill for non-professional use, as just about anything over 10 megapixels is only really necessary if you plan on making posters out of your shots. I don't see this happening. So the T3, the T3i's 12.2 megapixel baby brother, which has pretty much all of the newest technology for $300 less than the other, sounded like a good deal.

The camera was released in March, immediately went on back order in most places, but eventually came back into stock at Amazon. So for the best price I have seen anywhere, the camera fairy has brought me one. Now I just need to learn how to use it. It does so many things, and has so many features and options that I admit it is a little bit overwhelming. Or a lot overwhelming. But I guess the only way to deal with that is to just dive in and start playing. Which I intend to do.

As an aside, the interface with this camera is another example of how easy Apple products can be to use. The camera came with a few CDs of software for both PC and Mac. The camera's instructions talk about needing to install software, find drivers, and all of those things that I am used to having to do with a Windows based PC. I went into iPhoto (Apple's photo management and editing software that comes standard with all of their machines), checked out the Help section about importing photos from digital cameras, and it basically said "just plug the camera into a USB connection on the iMac and we'll do the rest." So I tried it. I took a few pictures. Didn't install any software or drivers. Connected the camera to the iMac. Turned on the camera. The iMac recognized the camera, started up iPhoto, downloaded the photos, asked me if I wanted to delete the photos from the camera's memory card, and I was done. It couldn't have been easier. Very very impressive.

Oh, and the photos were terrific!