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Thursday, December 1, 2016

November 2016

I took Isabel her first agility trial.  We had been training for over a year, so it was time.  She really did well in Jumpers With Weaves, making first place both times, and a perfect 100 on the second run.  On the standard course, however, she refused to go on the contact obstacles, and we did not qualify. It was fun to compete and I look forward to our next trial.

Kitty had surgery on a mammary cyst that she's had for some time.  It was quite a time getting her over it, with three return trips to the vet, and wearing a cone for 3 weeks.  She beat the heck out of the cone, as it grew to be her personal weapon.  On the day we were planning to take it off, she went outside and rubbed it in dog poo, which precipitated an early removal.

My dog class has gone really well, as I've had lots of dogs visiting and culminated in a trip to the kennel club to see dogs run the agility course.  We got some good PR out of it when QU did this little story.

About 11 years ago, Lowell dug up some snake eggs while getting some soil with his tractor.  He gave the eggs to me and I hatched out three of them: Little Ron, Little Joe and Little Lowell.  I eventually released the first two, but have kept the third happy and healthy for years, often using it for demonstrations in my class.  I was completely surprised to find 4 eggs in her cage last week.  I think because I overfed her last spring, she had nothing better to do with the nutrients than make eggs.  I have rechristened her "Lolita".  For those keeping track, I'm 0 for 2 on guessing the gender of my pet snakes, as I thought my Burmese Python a female for years, but it turned out to be a male.

We took the sisters and Gretchen to a barn hunt practice.  They all shoed a little interest, but were not exceptional at all.  I was surprised, given how they like to chase squirrels at home.  I certainly thought Gretchen, who has killed mice, would attack the rat.  We consoled them with a trip to Pet Supplies Plus, where they got many treats and toys.

The next day I took Indigo to the Therapy Dogs International (TDI) test.  I knew the test was coming and she needed to work on some skills, but I just didn't have enough time with all the late nights and special events.  Miraculously, she passed.  Now she's a certified therapy dog.

Because we are insane we took on another foster.  Lilith is a pepper and salt mini.  She has lots of energy and attitude.  She is learning to socialize with the other dogs, and playing with one of the sisters at a time seems to work best.  We only had her a week before handing her off.  She sure was cute.

Leaves are one of the drawbacks of living in a heavily wooded area.  I had to buy a leaf blower.  I found one that attaches to my string trimmer, so I didn't add another motor to my maintenance load.  After blowing the leaves away from the house, I roll them into a big tarp, creating a giant burrito to slide down the hill and dump in the valley.

Deer season came and went.  I hung a stand on a tree in the back yard, but soon found that I had faced it in the opposite direction of that from which most deer come.  I saw about 7 deer on opening morning, including one legal buck, but I passed on them. I moved the stand to another tree with a better view.  On the second morning I saw 11, which was very entertaining.  I still didn't shoot, as most were on the adjoining property.  On the last day of the season I saw none.  It was much colder and fairly unpleasant.  I didn't even hunt that evening, much to my chagrin, as the dogs spotted a nice buck in the back yard that sauntered down the fence line after hearing their barking.

We had a nice, quiet Thanksgiving, with Savannah and Lowell coming over.  I had a long break from work, which enabled me to catch  up on raking leaves and other tasks. I did spend most of one day at an auction.  Guy I knew died earlier this year and they sold most of his stuff.  I didn't buy anything too fancy, just some inexpensive things, like a bike carrier and some plastic barrels.  I did get a little, black, cast iron schnauzer though, now adorning our fireplace.

Click to see November's photos and videos.

Monday, October 31, 2016

September-October 2016

Either I've gotten very lazy or my live is so boring, that I didn't bother to write a blog for September.  Time to catch up.  Perhaps the biggest event has been our fostering another giant schnauzer.  Marshall is a leggy, 80-lb black giant.  He has been a lot of fun to have around.  Since he is young, he likes to play a lot.  He even wears out the sisters.

I went to the International Congress of Entomology in Orlando.  I was so sick of flying that I drove.  I learned a lot, presented my talk, and reconnected with some old friends.  I did not go to Disney or any of the other tourist traps.

My dog class has been going great. We have had dogs ranging from Newfoundlands to Yorkshire terriers.  I'm sure the students are enjoying it.  Indigo earned the Canine Good Citizen title, and we're working on the skills for a Therapy Dog.  Isabel is making progress in agility.  She did really well in our demonstrations at Responsible Dog Ownership Day at Quincy Mall.

I fixed up an old Hiawatha bike that my brother Mike brought out from California.  It originally came from my Grandpa's estate, then hung in our milk barn for years. I put new tires and tube on it.  It is rusty but ridable.  Savannah rode it in the Monster Bike Bash in Columbia and won a costume contest with it.

I got another vintage bike, a Raleigh, that also needs tires and tubes.  It's a 3-speed with a steel mixte frame.  It does have some sweet fenders on it though.

Anticipating the need to plow snow this winter, and given the need to move stuff around and work on projects here, I thought a UTV would be the ideal solution.  After considerable research, I got the Honda Pioneer.  Although I had to send it back for a new fuel pump after a week, it has performed well ever since.

I found a couple of vines of wild hops at North Campus and I harvested as much as I could.  They were so prolific that even after several one-hour picking sessions, there were still many cones left on the vine.  I dried them and stored them in my basement.  I brewed up a batch of beer with it and bottled it.  I will be drinking it soon.

I taught the bug and bird parts of a Master Naturalist class.  They seemed like people who were really into it, though we didn't see as many species as I had hoped.

After nearly 3 years of waiting, I finally gave the deposition for the expert witness case I've been working on.  I'm not used to having my authority questioned as part of my regular job, but the opposing attorney in this case had no problem questioning it, and every assumption I made.  It was a bit unnerving, but I think I made my points and even got him back on a few.

I helped set up and take down the equipment for the Responsible Dog Ownership Day that the Quincy Kennel Club held at the Quincy Mall.  It was a fun event.  Isabel got to demonstrate agility twice and appear in the breed parade.  We hung out and chatted with our kennel club friends, mall visitors and vendors.  Dairy Queen had the pumpkin pie blizzard, which I could not resist.  I got to see and visit with a lot of dogs too.

The last day of the month was, of course, Halloween.  One of my students surprised me by dressing up  He had the hat, jeans, khaki shirt, tennies, fake beard and moustache, and even the earring.

September photos

October photos

Thursday, September 1, 2016

August 2016

I finally finished moving all our stuff and fixing up our old house.  It's for sale here:

It's been a hot, dry summer, but we finally got some rains, nearly 3 inches one night.  So I had to mow the grass at the new place.  The previous owner probably mowed 3 acres of surface area.  I sure wasn't going to do that! A lot of the tree-filled area will go back to natural woods, with a little help.  I started with a zero-turning-radius mower that I had gotten from Lowell.  It's a Bad Boy brand, and he's had a lot of trouble with it.  It was working well for me until I nearly put it in the pond.  It doesn't like to turn uphill.  I stopped it, then pulled it back up the hill with my truck.  Then I was mowing the dam and it stopped responding to the controls.  The belt had broken.  So I switched to pulling a Swisher finishing mower with Lowell's little ATV.  That was working even better until I looked back and saw it smoking (and not mowing).  I had burned up another belt.  Fortunately, I was able to borrow Lowell's riding mower and finish the job.  It was still 4 hours, including string trimming.

While we have become accustomed to the presence of deer in the back yard, the appearance of a big buck was quite a pleasant surprise.  I'm not normally a very patient photographer, but I stood at the tripod (which I keep in the sun room at all times) for quite a long time waiting for him to come out from behind a tree.  It was raining and the light was so dim I had to use a very high ISO.  Consequently, the images were not the best ever, but at least I got the shot.

My brother Mike and his son Racin drove out from California.  He brought me an old bike I had been storing in one of our barns.  We aired up the tires and I rode it for a minute before they blew out.  It's a restoration project.  He helped me fix up the old mowers and organize my workshop.  We hiked the property and swam in the pond.  We went to Palmyra one afternoon and I bought a vintage bar to go in the family room.  We squished up all the blackberries and started a batch of wine.  We went up to Hamilton, IL, and dug geodes for one morning, which was kind of fun.  There was an auction down the road and we went to that.  I got a few good deals, but was outbid on some others.  On his last day here, we moved Racin into the dorms at QU.

While they were here, we received a bid on our old house.  It seemed reasonable, though they wanted the old mower with the house, and we accepted.  We'll be happy to not be paying two mortgages for long.

The fall semester approached with the usual series of meetings, followed by the onset of classes.  i have two new preps this semester.  One is the Biology of Dogs, which was my own idea.  The other is QUC, which used to be FYE.  It's been years since I've taught it, and it no longer resembles what it once was.  Classes are now in full swing, and I am enjoying taking the Entomology class out.  They are very motivated and seem to appreciate the skills they are learning.

On my first check on the blackberry wine, it smelled bad, like vinegar.  I was quite worried.  After I racked it, I found that the liquor was developing into a nice wine, the smell attributable to the cap of decaying skins and seeds.  The fermentation was going strong, and I have reasonable certainty that it will be an excellent vintage.

I had a spare moment and got the old Honda CT-70 running again.  I had switched out the carburetor and added fuel filters last spring, so I just added gas and it fired up without much trouble.  Naturally, I rode it all over the new place, and even used it to go over to Lowell's to pick pears.  Stacey and I have been chipping away at the unpacking.  We got all the artwork hung on the walls and have emptied many boxes.  The house is almost in the shape that we ultimately want it to be.

Savannah got a new job as office staff at a Quincy manufacturer.  It's part time, but at least it has normal hours.

Indigo and Gretchen have been taking Canine Good Citizen classes.  Both are very close to being able to pass the test.  Isabel has been still taking agility classes for about a year.  She's still a novice, but very accomplished.  She may be competing this November.

Picasa has gone extinct, so I can no longer embed slide shows in this blog.  At the moment, it seems the best I can do is provide the following link, which you can click through to see the photos.

Photo album

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

July 2016

Moving, moving, moving.  Rather than pack all our stuff, rent a big truck and move all at once, we elected to use a more do-it-yourself strategy.  For the last week in June, I hauled a lot of nonessential things to our new place.  On July 1 we planned to haul essentials: bedroom, kitchen, bathroom. I had arranged through a friend to hire a couple of big guys to help us.  Unfortunately, they didn't show up.  We were able to pull in some late recruits and get the job done.  From then on, we have lived at the new place.  We bought a king-sized bed, in various parts from various places, and use our old bed for the guest room.  The new (used) frame was actually cobbled together from various parts of a couple of beds.  Turns out it's larger than King sized, and we had a big gap at the front of the mattress.  I ended up buying a regular rail frame and attaching the big wooden headboard to it.  No more gap.

Savannah lives in a basement room.  We have continued moving over the remaining noncritical stuff until the old house is emptied.  Stacey has done much of the unpacking and organizing the new house.  Meanwhile, we have hired a friend to peel wallpaper and repaint a few rooms.  We got our satellite TV hookup right away, but the internet, which was supposed to be hooked up on July 1, consistently failed to work.  After Stacey harassed them several times, CenturyLink finally admitted that they could not provide us with internet service.  That was after a week.  I still don't know why they couldn't tell us that in the first 5 minutes.  We got to hook us up eventually.  We have a very fast connection now.  Of course, CenturyLink still billed us for services they could not provide.

We also changed our cell phones from AT&T back to US Cellular.  We had poor reception at our house and essentially no data.  AT&T kept billing us too.  One big hitch we waited on was to get new carpet in the downstairs family room.  In the interim, all the extra furniture was stacked up in the front room.

Aside from the chaos of moving, we are loving the place.  It teems with wildlife.  We have tons of hummingbirds visiting our feeders, house wrens nesting on the front porch and eastern phoebes nesting under the eaves of each building.  Red-headed woodpeckers are here all the time.  We have a couple of mineral licks that the deer visit nearly each day.  Every evening after dinner Stacey and I feed the catfish in the pond and sit in the swinging bench and watch them come up to eat.  It's very relaxing.  I caught a bass on my first cast on my first attempt to fish the pond.  We'll be stocking more catfish in due time.  Right now, the bluegills have their circular beds constructed all around the edges of the pond.  The water is remarkably clear, perhaps because it receives no agricultural runoff, the grass carp keep down the vegetation, and the previous owner may have dosed it with copper sulfate.  I enjoy swimming in it, and I finally got Savannah to try it, though she's freaked out by the fish.  There is a floating dock on it already, and Savannah donated a pool ladder.

Much of the place is heavily mowed, so that it looks like a park, with lots of mature oak and hickory trees.  However, one day I took a hike and explored most nooks and crannies.  We have a couple of huge gullies from the outflow from Lowell's Lake.  I found a lot of native plants and not too many bad non-natives (autumn olives, your days are numbered).  I've seen lots of insects.  We have toads hanging around the front yard, and even 5-lined skinks that occasionally appear.  We have a woodchuck who, unfortunately, made a burrow under the big shed.  His days are numbered too.  Grey squirrels are all over, and we feed them a bit of field corn.

The smaller dogs like to sit in the bay window and watch the wildlife, especially the squirrels, in the back yard.  The dogs can see out from many of the rooms.  They are adjusting to the new invisible fence.  It was perfect for this situation, as we are set back far from the road.  They have lots of room to run, and I have little fear of their escaping.  I try not to leave any of the smaller ones out alone though.  I know the coyotes are out there.  The dogs are learning to swim in the pond, but some enjoy it more than others.

Our 13-acre hayfield was baled by our neighbors, a nice young couple.  He already has the hay sold and will split the (modest) funds with us.  I love being a hay farmer again after a hiatus of several decades, but I also would like to convert the hayfield to prairie eventually.  The bales were a lovely decoration for our field, and I naturally used them as props. I put Gretchen up on one for a still photo, and got Isabel to jump and climb them for a video. Eventually, our hay bales were taken away.  Other long term plans include planting native shrubs and woodland wildflowers.  I sure won't be mowing as much, though I plan to have some trails.  The previous owner had the most unique mailbox: a John Deere lawn tractor with a space in the grill hollowed out for the mail box.  I think they make fine tractors, but I don't want to advertise for them.  I unbolted it and pushed it off the post.  It's actually an old Husqvarna painted to look like a JD.  I put up a regular mail box with a schnauzer silhouette on top. I've made other improvements as time has allowed, usually when I'm stuck at home.
Video of Isabel should be embedded here:
Our proximity to Lowell (directly across the road) has been a great convenience, as was our intention.  We have him over for dinner, and I can help him on projects that he is working on.  We have been fishing a couple of times, and blackberry picking season has been exceptional this year.

As the old house emptied, I've been working on it.  I touched up the paint and woodwork.  I've made dozens of minor repairs.  We had the carpets cleaned.  I had a garage sale to get rid of all the stuff we didn't want to move.  It was a rainy morning, so hardly anyone came.  I did sell a few things, anyway.  We gave the rest to the thrift store or recycled it.  Our cleaning lady has been working on every square inch of surface.  We hear the real estate market is hot right now, so we're tried to get it for sale as soon as possible.  We had a couple of showings on the first day.

My friend Jan has cicada killers in her back yard, and invited me over to photograph them.  It had been awhile since I'd seen a nesting aggregation, as I couldn't find them in Canton anymore.  It was nice to get some photos with my latest equipment.  More interesting, perhaps, were Jan's big flower beds, mostly zinnias, that are very attractive to butterflies.

This months photos should appear in a slide show below (requires flash):

Saturday, July 16, 2016

June 2016

In the early part of the month I spent a lot of time working on the house and taking training rides.  I put the final touches on the bikes, installing full fenders on mine using some redneck engineering.  I did take the time to do some photography, mostly documenting insects that use our milkweeds.

I can't give a blow-by-blow account of Big BAM.  I wasn't able to keep a journal along the way, but I can mention some highlights.  The music was very good.  My favorite band was on the first night, the Kris Lager band, good rock music.  Second would be Final Mix, essentially a funk cover band.  I also enjoyed David Wax Museum and Bones, Jugs & Harmony.

The riding was challenging, with the heat and the hills.  The first day was hardest, covering 65 hilly miles. The fifth was easiest, 40 flat miles.  The towns had really prepared for us.  They all had a nice park or fairgrounds for us to camp in.  Chillicothe was probably best, having a large park with mature trees and their own water park, which we were able use for free.

One of the strangest things happened right as we were leaving St. Joe.  We were pedaling through a nice neighborhood, and there was a live bullfrog in the middle of the road.  The abundance and diversity of roadkills provided constant challenges to my taxonomic training.

We didn't bring our speakers for this trip, but our theme song was "Feelin' stronger every day" by Chicago.  It was appropriate because each day we became more fit, though we still had aches from the days before. So it was pain by day and misery by night, as we camped in a tent in the heat and humidity.  We adjusted fairly quickly to sleeping in pools of our own sweat.

We did take the opportunity to dip our wheels in the Missouri River at the beginning and the Mississippi River at the end.  It never rained, so I carried the weight of those fenders 300 miles for nothing.

We were interviewed by the Quincy Herald-Whig, resulting in an article.  I had a hard time articulating why we did it and what it meant.  I will say it was a rare opportunity to spend a week with my daughter, almost 24/7.  It was an adventure and an accomplishment.  I should also say that bicycling is intrinsically pleasing.

Upon our return I began preparing for the big move.  I went to the seller's auction and bought a few things, notably the firewood, which was already cut, split and stacked.  I loaded up my truck and trailer, the RV and the Lil Egg with some of our stuff.  After final details of insurance and banking, we went to the closing.  The sellers gave us the keys and we hauled out to our new abode.  Our address is now the following:

20697 250th St.
Lewistown, MO  63452

We have some acreage in the countryside, a pond, a few outbuildings, and a lovely home.  Now we just have to get all of our stuff out there.  I expect this will occupy me for weeks to come, as will sprucing up our old house.  One of the great points about this house was that it has a huge carport that we could use to park our motorhome out of the weather.  The first big disappointment was to find the the RV doesn't actually fit!  It's too tall by just a few inches.  Not sure how we're going to deal with that yet.

Photos should appear below.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

May 2016

Another semester and academic year came to a close.  It's always bittersweet.  My plant field biology class was really just starting to bond.  After final exam week and commencement, I've begun working on the house.  I started with some little things, then progressed to some exterior painting.

Savannah and I had been planning to go on some big bike rides this summer.  We had already committed to the Pedalers Jamboree.  We also wanted to bike the week-long Big BAM this year, but we would need road bikes for that.  One day Savannah found a used racing bike at the local bike shop, and it was just her size.  She got a good deal on it (Felt ZW95). Then I had to intensify my search for a road bike.  After following several dead ends, I found a really nice on on Craigslist for a good price.  I never owned a Fuji before, but this one was a high tech machine.  I didn't even know how to shift it at first. Bikes have changed a lot over the years.

We've been taking regular training rides to try to get into shape.  On one of our first ones, she rode into a cloud of gnats.  I think she got a mouthful.  I managed to dodge them.  After we both got our road bikes we set out on a 22-mile paved route, but we hadn't gone a mile before she got a flat tire.  Fortunately, I had prepared in advance by mounting a pump on my bike and carrying a patch kit.  We had the flat nearly fixed when Savannah turned the pump a bit too far and broke the valve stem.  Game over.  I rode home, brought back a vehicle, and carried her and the bike home.  While we were wheeling them back into the basement, I said, "Watch out for that dog turd."  We decided to switch to our mountain bikes.  While we were wheeling those out, Savannah ran over the dog turd with her front tire, which was also flat.  Clearly, it was not her day.  She hosed off the tire, we fixed the flat and were on our way.

We often comment on the roadkills.  There are the usual raccoons, opossums, and odoriferous skunks.  There are quite a few cats these days, and the occasional snake.  Usually, we play music on a bluetooth speaker driven by my phone.  I have a playlist of bicycle-related songs to give us motivation.  After those ran out, I was playing my list of dog related songs when we were, ironically, chased by a couple of dogs.  A big yellow lab joined me on the road.  He was kind of heavy, so I thought I could outrun him, but he kept pace pretty well.  He had some aggressive growls and barks going, but I yelled at him and he whimpered and broke off pursuit.  But his buddy was a much faster white dog on the other side of the ditch, and I was sure I couldn't outrun her.  I yelled some more, and I guess the owners were yelling too, and she gave up.  All the while, "Dog Eat Dog" (the Adam and the Ants version) was playing.  More irony.  After that, my legs were kind of toasted, but we had mostly tailwinds after we got to La Grange.  I got a gatorade at the Casey's, since I had left my freshly filled water bottle in the kitchen.

I spent one day out at Lowell's.  We tried and failed to repair two lawn mowers.  So we went fishing.  The bite was pretty good, and I was catching a lot of small bass.  At the end though, and good 18-inch lunker bit my lure and made my day.

Rainy weather was forecast for the Pedalers Jamboree.  I wanted to outfit our bikes with fenders, but new ones are costly, and I didn't have time to make nice wooden ones.  Like a timely miracle, a member of the Quincy Bike Club had a stack of them to give away.  She let me pick through them and get enough to outfit all our bikes.  I picked up some mounting hardware from the local bike shop and was able to get a complete set of fenders installed on Savannah's mountain bike before we left.  It required some modification, fabrication and exasperation.  On a test ride, she didn't like the way they rattled and asked me to take them off.  I convinced her to try them for a day at least.  Sheesh.  My mountain bike has 29-inch wheels, so none of the regular fenders would fit.  There was a chromed steel stubby thing that I was able to mount on the front fork.  I knew it wouldn't block much, but it was better than nothing.

We headed down to Boonville with the motorhome pulling the Lil Egg.  We parked in the lot of the Isle of Capri Casino, which is only a few blocks from Kemper Park.  There are no hook-ups, but we stayed for free.  We wandered the town and had a beer. Savannah cooked dinner in the RV. Without shore power, we could not use aire conditioning, but it was cool enough at night.  On Saturday morning we had a light breakfast and loaded all that we would need into the Lil Egg. I had realized early that I had forgotten to bring any biking shorts with me, in spite of having 4 or 5 pairs.  Fortunately, Savannah had an extra pair that were too big for her anyway.  They fit me a little funny, but did the job.  I guess I was cross-dressing all weekend.  The bikes were already on the roof rack.  We drove to Columbia, unloaded the bikes and parked the car.  We began at the official start, where I ran into Mike Dennehy, the tour organizer.  The beginning of the ride is always the best, as it is cool, shaded, and the path is paved.  We got off to a much earlier start this year than last.  I also have a bluetooth speaker, which we used to blast our specially curated playlist of biking songs.  The first act we saw was a one-man band called Dance Monkey Dance in Huntsdale.  He was pretty good, even with a trombone.  On to Rocheport!  On the way, we stopped to see the champion burr oak again.  In Rocheport we saw a band I like a lot.  Currently called Hounds, they were Clock Work when I saw them last year for Big BAM.  They rocked.  We had lunch there and moved on.  At one point, we stopped and I helped a guy fix a flat on his bike.  He had a pump and I had a patch kit.  Having just fixed one recently, I was in good practice.  I found the hole in the tube and completed the repair.  We saw them later and the tire was still holding air.

We arrived at New Franklin so early that the band wasn't playing yet and the beer tent wasn't set up.  It gave us a long rest.  Two ladies came rolling in with custom bikes.  One was decked out in a wine theme, with corks glued to everything and an actual small cask on the rack.  Her costume was complete with a Carmen Miranda-style hat full of fruit.  She actually dispensed free wine to people.  The other was a mermaid theme, with the front end of a manikin on the handlebars and a whale tail on the rear.  Finally, we heard the Royal Furs, who were a pretty good rock band.  The lead singer was a tiny thing, and she played the theramin, which you don't see every day.

We rode into Boonville a little tired, but in much better condition than we had last year. We were so early that we took a nap, though a fairly sweaty one.  We had leftovers from the night before, and headed over to the park.  The first band, the Mighty Pines, was already playing.  We had a couple of beers and some pie and ice cream.  The second artist was a woman named Flint Eastwood.  She was a great singer with a lot of passion.  She liked to get the crowd involved.  Then came Shrub, a reggae band from Ohio. They had actually parked their RV next to ours at the Casino.  We didn't have much appreciation for their sound though.  Next came a fire artist, who was good and funny, but we couldn't see much of him because of everyone standing up front.  Finally, Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band came on.  They're a funk band with maybe 6 or 8 people on stage, including a horn section.  Unfortunately, by then the night had turned quite cold and clammy.  We heard a few of their songs, then walked back to the RV to crash.  We could still hear their bass parts through the windows.

We slept well and got up in plenty of time to make the pancake breakfast at the park.  When we got back to the RV, the drummer from Shrub was wandering around looking for their RV.  When he found it wasn't there anymore (we had seen them leaving the park at breakfast), he called somebody and didn't sound happy.  We saddled up and headed out again on the Katy Trail.  I felt pretty good but probably pushed it too hard.  By the time we got to Rocheport, my butt was hurting and my knees were complaining.  The Missouri River had come up even more overnight and flooded the grounds, the stage was sitting in two feet of water. They ultimately pulled it out with a tractor. They set up the sound equipment on dry ground, and the band played on.  Two guys named Steve.  One was a really good acoustic guitar player, the other a singer.  They were quite good, and we saw their whole show.  That gave me a good rest, and I felt pretty good for the next 10 miles.

The rising Missouri had flooded parts of the trail.  Savannah kept perfectly dry with her fenders, while I got splashed.  We saw lots of aquatic turtles in the adjacent wetlands, and even a box turtle on the trail.  Some parts of the trail were lined with thick stands of spiderwort, as well as some white beardtongue.  I also found that when covered with sunscreen and sweat, swarms of tiny gnats that you encounter will just stick to you. I am a giant sticky trap.  When we got to Katfish Katy's at Huntsdale, we were disappointed to learn that they had no food tent.  We got bananas and snacks to tide us over.  They also had some great lemon shandy.  The band, Jenny Teator and the Fevers, was really good.  Too bad we were roasting in the sun.  When their set was done, we took off again.  As we approached Columbia, the battery on my bluetooth speaker finally died,  only 5 or 6 songs short of the complete playlist and a few miles short of the end.  Tragic.

We arrived triumphantly in Columbia, and looked around in a bike shop before we loaded up the car.  We stopped at a Taco Bell for a lunch of about the quality one expects from Taco Bell, and highballed it back to Boonville.  It didn't take long to hook the Lil Egg back up to the RV and get out of town. I started getting sleepy around Moberly and Savannah took over driving.  We arrived home smelly, but no worse for wear.

The next day, Memorial Day, the Quincy Bicycle Club was having a bike ride in support of cancer patients.  Stacey hauled me down to Hannibal so I could ride while she ran errands.  There were a lot of people there to take the ride, including my camera club friend Terry.  We joined the middle distance group for a planned 32 miles.  For the first 10 miles my legs felt pretty tight.  Then we had a rest stop.  I felt really good for the next 10, including a stop at the cemetery to pay respects at the grave of the woman for whom the ride was in memory.  The last 10 or so were very hilly.  The downhills were some of the fastest I've done in quite a while, but the uphills were the slow grind in first gear type.  Stacey picked me up, we got lunch and went home.

Savannah and I have done some training rides since.  We're still battling her flats, even after we got a new set of belted tires.

Next month: the Big BAM and the Big Move.

This month's photos: flowers, dogs and birds:

Saturday, April 30, 2016

April 2016

One morning after letting the dogs out for their first run of the day, I caught Indigo coming in with half a young squirrel in her mouth.  Later I came in the front door and spotted an unfamiliar toy on the antique couch.  Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be an entire young squirrel, quite dead. So that totals approximately one and one-half dead squirrels in the house.  I disposed of them quickly, but several questions were immediately raised.  1.  Where was the other half squirrel?  Living half-squirrels are rare in nature.  2.  Who killed these juvenile squirrels?  While the Sisters of Chaos are very fond of barking at and chasing our backyard squirrels, they have never caught one, and do not display sufficient aggression and prey drive needed to kill one.

The answer to #1 may have been revealed, as Indigo refused to eat for 24 hours, then produced a nasty, runny poo out back. Her appetite has rebounded, fortunately.

Around the same time period, I saw Indigo stalking something around the edge of the prairie.  I went in for a closer look, and saw one of our resident garter snakes.  She seemed interested when it was on the other side of the fence, but afraid when it got too close.  Isabel was similarly interested.  I know these snakes are criss-crossing the yard all the time, yet I've never seen the dogs attack one.  In fact, they ignored the last one I saw, though it was right in front of their noses.  Now that I've moved the chainlink fence around, the dogs can't jump into the prairie, and it will have a chance to grow back.  A couple of weeks later I rescued a snake that they had at bay in front of the willow tree.  It was holding them back by gaping and striking.

I finished off the Doggie Cam project.  I kept it on Isabel for a walk that we all took on the Canton North Levee.  It worked well, except that the sisters were yoked, and the yoke would catch the camera when they crossed each other.

I spent one weekend working on our rental property.  Though it's sold, it did not pass FHA inspection.  While replacing some electrical outlets with the GFCI type, I learned that a year of college physics provides the illusion that one understands electricity, but it is no subsitute for the training of an electrician.  I didn't shock myself, but much cursing was required to complete the project.  I also had to scrape, prime and paint the soffits.  It wasn't that bad a job, but it happened to be quite windy out, which added to the challenge.  It would be worth it when it sold.  We closed on it April 18.

The 19th was the 25th anniversary of our wedding.  We went to a concert in Quincy on the Sunday before.  We bought very expensive steaks for a nice dinner at home, and we went to see the Mariachi Band at the local Mexican restaurant later in the week.  We are still discussing getting matching tattoos.  It was a low-key but well savored anniversary.

Stacey's Dad and his wife Rhonda came out to visit one weekend.  We showed them around a bit, and picked up our niece Shilo at the train station in Quincy so they could haul her back to Indiana.  We hadn't seen her in a couple of years.

We camped out at the State Park again.  We took some nice walks with the dogs and I did a long training ride.  While we were gone, a rabbit made a nest in the back yard and moved her young into it.  This is the same yard where four schnauzers play.  The dogs found it immediately upon our return.  Savannah saved one of them, but I think one of the neighborhood cats got it overnight.

I did the Dogwood Parade in Quincy with my kennel club.  I had made costumes for the dogs but ended up not using them because it rained almost the entire time.  We just walked it and got wet.  It was still kind of fun to do.  Isabel was well behaved, and Indigo was a friend to all the kids.

The web site ran a contest for the month of April.  Those submitting 4 featured instructables during the month would be entered to win a GoPro.  I had one done about midway through the month, and that was a start.  I wrote 4 more because one was not featured (they have to be pretty good for that) and just made it on the 29th. They were all dog-related, the last being Ride 'em Cowboy Dog Costumes  I figure my odds are pretty good because it's not that easy to get even one featured.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

March 2016

Camping at Wakonda State Park was our RV shakedown cruise.  We took the first weekend of my spring break.  We didn't find anything major wrong with the motorhome this time, though we did head home a day early because of the threat of rain (which never actually appeared).  We walked the dogs a lot, and had the entire park largely to ourselves.  I took a couple of long skateboard trips with the sisters.  One I recorded with the helmet cam.  Not much interesting happened, but I need to edit it down to the best bits to make it worth watching.  Savannah came over for a bike ride.  We saw the huge flock of snow geese on Agate lake.  When they saw us they got up and moved to the other side of the lake.  One morning I had to get up early to walk the dogs and I a nice sunrise was in progress.  The sunset the night before had been disappointing, so I got the camera out and shot the heck out of it.  Some geese even flew by to add interest to my images.  I put one of the images on my CafePress site so people can buy a poster of it if they want.  Our realtor came out and we signed the contract on our rental house.  Yay!  It is sold.

We had the Sisters groomed, and this time I had the groomer do them in a style more like the official show pattern, except that they were clipped, not hand-stripped, of course.  We had let them go a long time.  Their hair doesn't grow very fast, but they were looking more scruffy than I'd ever seen them.  I love their new look.

We walked the St. Patrick's Day parade in Quincy with the Kennel Club.  I had them pull me on the skateboard.  Some of the children found it amusing.  One boy said, "Can you do a flip?"  I said, "Absolutely not."  I was happy to get through the parade without falling down.  It rained on us a bit, but not too badly.

Since we came home a day early, I was able to work on the RV and put it away fairly quickly.  I rearranged the stuff in the big garage at our Jamison place so I could fit my truck in it.  With a bit of time on my hands, I was able to finish off my Bar Jump instructable.  It was very quickly picked up and featured on the front page of the web site.  I have a lot of fun putting these together.  I've done four in the dog agility genre.  I bought a 55-gallon drum so I can make the chute obstacle next.  Once I had the bar jump done I put it in the back yard and photographed all the dogs jumping it.

I made a bracket for attaching my action camera to a dog.  Isabel has been the only camera dog so far.  I'm writing an instructable on it, but haven't quite finished it off.

We had planned to go camping over Easter break, but there was a lot of rain in the forecast and we canceled.  It turned out only one day was rainy.  You just can't second guess the weather.

My Plant Field Biology class is in full swing, and we have been lucky to enjoy an early spring.  Warm weather has coaxed a lot of wildflowers out ahead of schedule.  We had one nice outing to Siloam Springs State Park, where my friends Jan and Mark guided us and pointed out several new species.

I was interviewed by the local TV news about monarch butterflies.  I never saw the segment.  Hope I didn't say anything stupid. There is a brief story online here.

I published a paper this past month in Journal of Thermal Biology.  The study came from work we did in Ruby back in 2009.  We still have a lot of data from that time.  I believe you can watch the 5-minute slide presentation that I made for the paper, as well as read the abstract and highlights here.

I finally finished editing the video of Miss Kitty running through the snow while I cross-country skied.

Monday, February 29, 2016

February 2016

I built a tire jump so Isabel could practice this dog agility obstacle at home. It took a couple of months to finish, working on it a little at a time.  It turned out pretty well, I thought.  I made it from a pallet and some drain pipe.  I took photos during the construction process so that I could make an instructable.

My tenant moved out from my little apartment downtown.  I spent considerable time working on the place, installing a cabinet and range hood in the kitchenette.  Then there was a dead space where I think they used to have the water heater.  It's terrible to have wasted space in a place so tiny to begin with.  I carefully cut out the drywall and filled the space with a cabinet that was just the right size.  The apartment was open only for two weeks before we found another tenant, a young man who works for the city.

Our other rental, 901 West, finally sold.  It's been a drag paying the mortgage and utility bills for three months, but it was worth it.  I had to move a bunch of stuff from the garages at 901 West to the Jamison place, which has a huge garage.

I attended a Level II stream team workshop in Jefferson City.  I spent the night before with my friend and former student, Mike Irwin.  We had a great time drinking beer and playing guitars.  His girlfriend Belinda cooked dinner for us too.  The workshop was about like usual.  I have to do these every couple of years to maintain my level III certification, so this was probably the third time.  I met some interesting new people and got some free stuff.  I'm kind of excited by the new pH meter.

While I was gone Isabel tore out one of her toenails and bent another, probably while running around in the back yard. She limped on and off, but the vet said that she could still go to agility class, so we did. By that time, she was no longer limping.  She has been doing exceptionally well lately, and can chain together 9 obstacles without error.  She was so good that our instructor has graduated her to a more advanced class.  Unfortunately, it's later in the evening, but it will be better for her and my development.

We've been tapping maple trees for syrup production in my Environmental Science class.  The flow has been on and off.  It has been a good experience for the students, but we'll be wrapping it up this week.  We took field trips to the La Grange water and sewer plants, which is always edifying.  We also went to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.  I hadn't been there in 4 years, and it has changed a lot.

It has been a terrible month for photography.  On leap day I took my camera and long lens down to the riverfront before driving to work.  I was really mad that I couldn't get the camera to focus on a greenwing teal before it swam out of range, but then I found a live raccoon by the side of the road.  I have no love for raccoons, but you don't generally see them like that in broad daylight.  I shot many frames of it.  I photographed a few other birds in the area too.

I gave a talk to POLIS, our educational series for retired folks.  I didn't spend an inordinate amount of time preparing, but the talk was still very well received.  I've been doing these so long that I appear to have a following.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

January 2016

It appears I neglected to publish a January blog.  Rather than try to catch up, I'll do some brief summaries.
After returning from Brazil, it took my awhile to edit the videos, but here they are.

Hang Gliding
Brazil wildlife

We had enough snow one day for me to take Miss Kitty cross-country skiing.  It was a lovely time.  I have video from that that I have yet to edit.

Although Canton Eagle Day was kind of a bust (not many people or eagles showed up), I have hit a couple of days that were cold enough to bring in eagles for photography.  The bonus came on a day when I saw few eagles, but spotted a coyote on the edge of the woods next to the levee.  It was distant, but the lighting was good.  At first it was hiding behind a stick, but as it stretched and moved, it got out into the open for some clean views.

I went ice fishing for the first time in years.  I went out to Lowell's.  The ice wasn't very thick, so I stayed close to the floating dock.  The action wasn't fast, but I ended up with about 8 nice bluegills.

The spring semester began immediately upon my return, and it has been fun so far.  We tapped our maple trees on campus and got a good flow for awhile.  A cod snap shut it down, but it will come back, and we'll soon have syrup.

Below should appear a slide show of some of the highlights.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

January 2016 -- Brazil

The long-awaited trip to Brazil finally came.  I taught a class in Tropical Ecology last semester that culminated in this study abroad in Rio de Janeiro.  In the morning I picked up my students Aury and Liz and made an uneventful drive to St. Louis.  We met the others in our group, including four additional students, the other instructor, Dr. Megan Boccardi, an alum (Tom), and the retired Dr. Attai and his wife Nayeh. We cleared security and flew to Atlanta, where our layover was so short they were already boarding our next flight, the red-eye to Rio.  I watched a documentary on extreme sports, had a decent chicken dinner, and got some uncomfortable sleep.

We were awakened at what my biological clock said was 2:00 a.m. (6 local time) for breakfast.  We landed in Rio, cleared customs, met our guide-for-the-day, Eduardo, took a bus to the hotel, dropped off our luggage, and took a bus tour of the city, periodically getting out to look around.  I was still dressed for winter in the Midwest, with long sleeves and long pants, my summer wear remaining in my bag at the hotel.  Worse yet was that my hat and sunglasses were also there.  So it was a bit uncomfortable seeing the sights, though they were generally interesting.  The big pyramidal Catholic church, the tiled stair case (see my photos to appreciate), the opera house, and the avenue where they have the samba competition during Carnaval every year.

We had lunch at an outdoor diner.  I ate a roast beef sandwich, which was really good.  We had a bit of time to look through a nearby craft market, but I didn't buy anything.  I didn't even have any Brazillian reais (currency) yet.  We went back to the hotel, and met our guide for the rest of the trip, Luana.  We got into our rooms and showered.  My room, and the hotel in general, were very nice (Golden Tulip Continental, Leme).  We were one block from Leme beach, which becomes Copacabana beach to the south, and around a rocky headland becomes the famous Ipanema, then Leblon. Tom and I walked the area around the hotel, found a bank and got some cash.  We saw another craft market, but again I got nothing.  We had dinner at an Italian restaurant, where I got chicken that was quite good.  We hit the local grocery store and I picked up some bottled water and a chocolate bar of a local variety.  We went back to the hotel and crashed.
I was awake at 6:30 local time, and had the hotel breakfast with all its wonderful local fruits.  Eventually, I tried passion fruit, which is so strongly tart it's almost inedible, and other fruit that I still cannot identify.  The coffee was strong and served in small quantities like espresso.  At 8 we were in the bus and on the road to Corcovado, a mountain that translates as "hunchback."  We got on a cogwheel train to the top of the mountain, where the trademark Christ the Redeemer statue is located.  It's about 100 feet tall, and looked smaller in person than when I've seen it on TV.  When we arrived, it was shrouded in misty clouds.  Fortunately, it cleared after a bit for great view of the surrounding landscapes of the city, beaches and other mountains.  I did see some insects, including a green sphinx moth, a leaflike katydid, and many alate ants.

We took the train back down and the bus to a buffet for lunch.  It was the first time I ever had bacalhau (salt cod), a Portuguese staple I had heard about ever since childhood.  I also had some tasty grilled beef and boiled quail eggs, a first.  Beef in Brazil is abundant, relatively cheap and delicious.  I took advantage at every opportunity.

We returned to the hotel, where I learned our hotel had bikes for rent .  We had the afternoon free, and I rented a bike, a three speed with basically a girls frame.  It was adequate to the task, as the bike lane that runs along all the beaches is fairly flat.  First I road to the sea wall at the north end of Leme, then back south through Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.  People watching was great, as there were bodybuilders, musicians, and surfers.  Thong bikinis are still in style, even for people who should really not wear them.  Heightened awareness was mandatory, as people frequently wandered into the bike path without looking.  There are also frequent crosswalks for the pedestrians crossing the adjacent roadway.  I almost hit an ice man.  As there is no parking next to the beach, goods are often delivered on special cargo bikes.  Some of these sell ice to the little bars and cafes on the beach.  I think some of them may carry over 200 pounds of ice at a time.  One guy had his cargo bike parked in the left lane and lifted a bag out and walked into the right lane, where I was approaching quickly.  I locked up the brakes, lifting the rear wheel off the ground a bit, but I stopped before I would have hit him.

I inspected the rocky places on the beaches, hoping for the kind of diversity one sees at tide pools, but all I saw was short algae and barnacles.  The wave action is very heavy on this shoreline, and warning signs against swimming are everywhere.  Most of the surfing and swimming is done in the lee of the rocky headlands, where there is some protection from the long fetch of the Atlantic.

Back at the hotel, I took a little rest and we had a buffet dinner there.  Beef again!  I went back to the beach with my students, Ari and Aury (whose names provide endless confusion).  At the sea wall, which is designed for fishermen, we actually saw a guy catch a fish.  It was a long, skinny thing with sharp teeth.  He called it "espada," which means sword, though it was definitely not a swordfish.
Tom and I took a bike ride along almost the same route I had taken the day before, about 12 miles.  We went a little farther south than I had, and saw some neat graffiti on a wall.  It had a Back to the Future movie theme.  Rio is filled with graffiti, much of it worthless crap, but some places hold lovely works of art.  Again, I almost hit someone, this time a young man who just wasn't paying attention.  I had a quick brunch composed of bananas from the little market across the street and spicy beef thing folded up in a triangular fried dough.  Hard to explain, but it was yummy.

We took the bus to the Carnaval Experience.  We saw the group practicing outside, observed their floats under construction, and learned how Carnaval works.  It's an annual competition between samba schools.  It's kind of like the NFL having just the Superbowl, with no season leading up to it.  We learned the barebones history of the samba and got to try on some old costumes. We learned to dance the basic samba step and danced with the children's group.   I couldn't keep up with the dancing, as my legs were kind of shot after bike rides two days in a row. We got to practice drumming with three percussionists with the team.  I got a big bass drum.  It was a lot of fun.  We took the tram up to the Favelas, which provided a nice view, but we did not get out and tour the community.

Once back at the hotel, Megan and I walked down to the nearby craft market, but I didn't see anything I liked.  I was pretty tired by then.  We had an excellent beef dinner at Fogo do Chao.

I have to admit that my Portuguese was pretty rusty.  I'd had almost no practice since 1990 when I took the class. Back then, I felt pretty fluent.  But the Brazil/Rio accent and my decreasingly sensitive hearing made it difficult to understand people.  Typically, I could formulate a reasonable opening sentence, but then I couldn't understand the response and had to revert to English.  I picked up vocabulary every day, and I think I could be reasonably fluent in a few weeks if I stayed there.
We took a long bus ride to Itacuruca, a seaside resort.  Along the way, we saw a lot of land area that had been cleared of forest long ago and converted to rangeland occupied by many cows.  I saw a number of birds, most of which I could not identify, but two cara caras were an easy call.  We even passed a capybara crossing.  I would have loved to have seen a capybara, and kept my eyes out in all the marshy areas to no avail.  At a rest stop I saw a lizard that looked like a Sceloporus with a neck ring.  Upon arriving we got on a sizable boat with a capacity of 120, though we were the only passengers, other than the crew.  We anchored in calm water a short distance off an island.  Most of the students chose to swim, but Aury, Ari and I went snorkeling.  I was far down the shore when I realized I had jumped in with my wallet and swiss army knife in my pocket.  I swam back to the boat and returned them, and went back to the snorkeling.  We saw barnacles, limpets, and little mussels clinging to the rocks.  It was neat to see the barnacles extending their cirripedia when the waves lapped on them.  The best thing there though was a large ctenophore (comb jelly).  This marked the first time I'd ever seen (or held) a living member of this Phylum.  We also saw some puffers, a crab, and some other small fish.

We boated to another island  and docked for lunch.  We had fruit, really good fish and rice pudding.  The boys and I took a short hike around the lodge, noting many interesting birds and butterflies.  I must say I was impressed with the butterflies everywhere we went.  We snorkeled down the rocky coastline, seeing colonial cnidarians in green and orange, big sea urchins in purple and green, and other cnidarian polyps.  Both the guys had never been snorkeling before, and agreed that it was about the best thing ever.  We also saw a couple of sea stars, sea lettuce, and pennate algae.  The high point came when Ari spotted an actual sea horse, amazing considering how it blended in with the algae,  Aury got cramps in his legs and ended up walking a trail back to the lodge.  The other students had been swimming there and reported seeing sea turtles, which we also observed there.  We took the boat back to the harbor, and the bus back to Rio without anything remarkable happening.
We took a pair of jeeps up to the forest, which lies in city limits.  It is restored coffee plantation, replanted by slaves under the royalty of the time.  We stopped first at Chinese Vista, which provided a nice view over the city, and some swifts flying around.  We proceeded up the mountain, which is a popular bike path, to the site where Pedro II declared independence from Portugal, which was still ruled by his father.  Again, there were many butterflies, but they didn't allow me to get any pics.  There was a troop of brown capuchin monkeys that allowed us to get very close.  Some people tried to bait them with bananas, but they never took them.  I even got some decent video of them.  We proceeded up to a waterfall, which was very nice, and went on a short hike.  We didn't see many birds, perhaps because it was too late in the morning.  We descended the mountain directly to the hang gliding site.

We filled out our insurance forms and paid our money.  All the students but one were going to hang glide, plus Megan and me.  Actually, Megan and Ari went parasailing instead on hang gliding. Both would be tandem flights, where an experience pilot manages the aircraft while the passenger just hangs there and tries not to screw anything up. There weren't enough cars available to take us all up the mountain to the launch site, and I was left behind.  I wasn't too happy about it, but I did get to see some of our students land.  Finally, my pilot (Ricardo Nogeira) landed and we were introduced.  He was about my age, and had spent 6 months in Los Angeles.  Hence, his English was fairly good, and we had something in common.  His roughnecks (or assistants) packed up his hang glider and affixed it to the roof rack.  I got in the car and looked for the seat belt, but the female end was buried.  He drove up the mountain at a breakneck pace.  Never in my life did I want a seatbelt more than during that drive.  I felt safer later while in the air.  Though I was now at the launch site, it wasn't yet my turn, as my pilot had another guy to take down first.  I watched other people launch, and talked to Megan and Elizabeth, who hadn't taken off yet,  I saw one parasailor have a bad take-off.  He started out a bit sideways and decided not to launch, bailing into the grassy hillside. It turns out he was something of a beginner.  Not long afterward I heard a collective gasp, and everyone ran to the edge of the launch ramp. A student hang glider had crashed into the trees.  One guy ran over with a rope and a machete, which is apparently the standard rescue kit for such situations.  Finally, my guide came back and it was my turn.  I put on the gear and got the short lesson, mostly about take-off.  We practiced the short run.  You are supposed to run off the end of the ramp without stopping.  I had watched enough people launch by then that I had a pretty good idea.  We approached the ramp and practiced hanging from the kite and stuff.  I felt like I needed about another hour to mentally prepare, but I only had a minute.  Before you know it, we were running off the ramp.  That was about the pants-shittingest moment of my life, but once we caught some lift and the glider started flying, it was pure bliss.  We sailed over the mountain forest and out toward the ocean.  Once we met the cliff face there was a big updraft and we got some good lift.  For a long time we just went back and forth between land and sea, working that wind.  The land below us was mostly luxury homes with pools.  We were flying at the same altitude as the birds, and the pilot made a dive at a black vulture and then a frigate bird.  The vulture was not amused.  Ricardo was rather garrulous, and entertained with his constant banter.  He let me fly the glider for awhile, and I was able to make the turns from land to sea and back.  He took back the controls before the landing.  He performed some dives and wheels to position us for the landing, and I enjoyed that like a good roller coaster ride.  He put it into a little stall before we landed on the beach and I ran as soon as my feet touched.  We stopped after just a few steps.  There were two GoPros running on the glider, so I've got plenty of video and stills of the event. It will take some editing before I make it available.

That evening we went on a "Samba Night" at a nightclub.  Dinner was good (beef again!).  There were two band venues.  I saw three bands and they were all really good.  One was an accordion band with a triangle to keep the beat and a bass for funky flavor.  The last had four percussionists, and a guy who played sax, clarinet and flute all in the same song.
We took the bus to Maracana stadium, where the world cup final match was played and some of the upcoming Olympic soccer games will be played.  Security was tighter so we didn't get to see much of the stadium, but we did have the opportunity to take a 360 degree photo, which I did.  See it here:

We had some time to spare and returned to the Escadaria SelarĂ³n steps decorated in tiles in one of the neighborhoods.  It is really quite a work of art, reminiscent of Gaudi, and apparently much more popular now that the artist is dead.  We went to a cooking class hosted by the vivacious Simone at Cookin Rio.  I cut up and fried some onions, which did make my eyes water.  I learned to make the capirinha, the national alcoholic beverage.  By that time, most of us were big fans of the drink.  The main course was fish, and we got to eat everything when we were done cooking it.

We bussed back to the hotel and I took a taxi by myself to the Botanic Gardens.  It's a big place.  First I enjoyed the specialty gardens: cacti, bromeliads and orchids.  I continued down a path where I met up with a large troop of  brown capuchin monkeys.  Many of them were females with a baby on their back.  They crossed the path to the little concrete canal where they got drinks of water. On the other side of the gardens I saw some common marmosets eating some bananas on a tree.  I'd never seen wild marmosets before.  They're mighty cute.  Not long afterward I spotted a monitor lizard walking through some open space.  I got a little video of him too.  I spent much of the rest of the time chasing some toucans around trying to get decent photos.  I took a taxi back to Copacabana beach, where I bought some gifts at a craft market.  Unfortunately, I had spent all my cash and could not get a taxi back to the hotel.  I walked the two or three miles along the beach, which provided a lot of sights.  That made up in part the pain of carrying my heavy photo backpack all that way.  We had pizza and beer for dinner.

After breakfast I walked down the street to find a shop we had visited earlier in the week.  It was closed, but I got the sandals I wanted at a different store.  I rested the remainder of the morning, as I knew I had a big day ahead.  At noon we had lunch at a nearby place (beef, of course), then took the bus to Sugarloaf Mountain.  We took the tram up to the first stop, Morro Urca, and explored the grounds. There were nice views all the way around; ocean, beaches, and city.  We took the second tram up to the top, where the views were even better.  We saw some monitor lizards hanging about.  Aury and I walked down some trails and he spotted a common marmoset.  There were several, including a small juvenile.  We got very close to them and took many photos.  We took the tram back down to Morro Urca, where Megan, Tom and I took a short helicopter ride.  It provided great views of the beaches.  I took some video and many stills.  Editing will be required again.

We took the bus to have dinner at a Manekineko sushi place. Their logo features a cat, and I remembered that neko means cat in Japanese.  I didn't see cat on the menu, but it was good sushi.  We left for the airport, where we had to wait in a loooong line to check in.  There was a problem with one of the students, who did not have a ticket from Atlanta to St. Louis.  This was the fault of the tour operator.  Fortunately, we all made it to the gate on time.  I slept fitfully on the plane.  We landed in Atlanta without much time to spare.  We cleared passport control, picked up our bags and rechecked them.  I got hung up in security while they scanned my camera bag twice.  I walked right onto the plane and was almost the last to board.  We made it to St. Louis, picked up the car from long term parking and drove back to Canton.  Home at last.

Friday, January 1, 2016

December 2015

I worked on my building on Jamison a bit.  I borrowed my neighbor's ladder to get on the roof, and there were a bunch of shingles missing from the ridge, as I'd suspected, due to last summer's wind storm.  I'd never done that kind of repair before, but I figured it out by looking at it long and hard. Fortunately, There were some leftover shingles of the right type.  Then I worked on the garage door opener, which hasn't worked since I bought the place over two years ago.  Again, it required the use of a tallish ladder.  It took about 10 minutes to fix it: plug it in, re-engage chain, push the control unit back in.  I added an interior switch too.  So for two years I've been walking around the back, unlocking the door, pulling out a hangar from the track (the "lock"), and lifting that big bastard by hand.  All this time I could have been using the handy little remote.  I think the lesson is Check Your Assumptions!  There's an exterior wireless keypad too, and I got it working later.  It's actually a really fancy opener: super quiet and has two speeds--slows down when it gets near the floor.

Lowell and I went to the Jazz performance at the Lewis Street Playhouse.  I know three out of four members of the band.  The first half was Christmas Carols and the second was jazz standards.  I enjoyed it.  They even did a couple of encores by request.  Unfortunately, Lowell hit a deer on his way into town.  He really does have a Danger Ranger.

Our tenants moved out of the rental property that we've had for 15 years, and we have reached the time where we want to cash in on our investment.  I spent a few days after final exams fixing it up for sale.  The first time the realtor showed it she discovered that the crawl space was full of water. Actually, it was just the crawl space on one end of the house that had about 6 inches of water.  I pumped it out with a little bilge pump I had leftover from my old boat.  I fixed all the downspouts with some fresh drain pipe. I thought it was all good, then we had a big rain, and the crawl space filled up again.  I pumped it out with the bilge, but  decided it was probably prudent to install a permanent sump pump.  I'd never done this install before.  Needless to say, in a 3-foot tall crawl space it's hard to dig a hole in the mud. With some help from Stacey, I got it done.

I did the Christmas bird count again with my usual partner, LuBeth Young.  We walked around South Park in Quincy for starters, then drove routes through our territory.  There weren't any huge surprises, but a few bonus birds in there.  Here are our stats:

European Starling, 34
Northern Cardinal 17
American Robin 10
Tufted Titmouse 5
Black-capped Chickadee 5
House Sparrow 40
Blue Jay 23
American Crow 3
Eurasian Collared Dove 5
Bald Eagle 2 (1 juvenile, 1 adult)
American Kestrel 3
Red-tailed Hawk 6
Canada Goose 20
Mallard 3
American Goldfinch 7
Dark-eyed Junco 28
White-throated Sparrow 3
Cedar waxwing 20
House finch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Horned lark 3
Eastern Bluebird 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 6
Red-bellied Woodpecker 6

We had a Christmas Carol sing-along at QU, and instruments were welcome this year.  I didn't really know what to expect, as I was unable to make it last year.  I showed up with my charango, as I'd been practicing about 10 songs for the Camera Club Christmas party, but only one of them was in the song book we were given.  So every time Ann (my friend and our VPAA) would call out a new song, I'd have to quickly look it up on, choose a tab, and jump in.  By then, they were usually three lines into the song. And I was in the wrong key.  There were two guys playing guitar, and they weren't using any music at all.  I should have asked how they were doing it.  At least I was able to play a little, unlike my friend Megan, who had no sheet music. You can't play chords on a cello.  The charango did generate some interest among the attendees.  I borrowed a copy of the song booklet, so I'll be better prepared next year.

The camera club party was fun too.  We successfully completed the sing-along.  My buddy Jim and I had rehearsed a couple of times, and I'd prepared lyric sheets.  Fortunately, Stacey and Tracy are strong singers and carried the rest.  We had good food, drinks and a gift exchange.

We had a nice family Christmas.  Savannah came over in the morning and we opened our gifts. She got a bluetooth speaker, among other things.  Stacey got a Wilson Sleek cell phone booster.  I promised it would make her life better every day.  I got a bike rack, a weather vane, and a cigar box ukulele kit.  Lowell came over for our traditional prime rib dinner.  It was yummy.

It took most of a day to build the ukulele.  It was fun and challenging.  I found just the right cigar box in my chest of drawers, in the top drawer where I keep a lot of junk.  It's the kind of project wherein a single screw-up can ruin it.  The instrument turned out pretty well, fortunately, and I was playing it the same day.

It's been a terrible month for photography.  The eagles haven't come down yet, and all insects and flowers are long gone.  I've mostly been photographing the dogs in various situations.  I leave for Brazil on January 2, and should have a lengthy report, and photos, upon my return.