Friday, December 31, 2010


2011 is here.  Well... almost anyway. 

Next year I resolve to do the following, in no particular order...

I will finish blogging about China.

I will participate in another triathlon or three.

I will spend more time in the shop making knives and glass and other things.

I will spend more time playing with my kiddos than I do in the shop.

I will try to do more for the Wife who has supported me in this crazy adventure.

I will try to laugh more often, love more freely, forgive and let go.

I will do the best I can and not fear falling short.

I will look at the world through the eyes of my children to regain the wonder that is always there.

I will try to be more proactive than reactive.

I will wake earlier, to chase my goals and dreams with intensity.

I will live each day on purpose.

2010 is gone now, these days never to be regained.  Today I will spend considering the what ifs of the year.  Tomorrow I will let it go and move on.

Happy New Year to you all!  May it be filled with more joy than sorrow.  More dreams than tedium.  More love than ever before.

More Later

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Of Dinosaur Things and Dragonfly Wings

Today the Boyo has an extra couple of hours to prepare for the school day, thanks to the snows of last night.  Also thanks to the snow, I missed the lunar eclipse.  Unfortunate, because I love space sort of stuff (I'm starting to plan for the big Venusian transit in 2012) and because had it been clear, I would have taken the Wife and Boyo out to see it.  She likes space stuff too, and he is interested in everything!

For example.  As we entered a big box store last week looking for printer ink, he was telling me all of the wonderful things about dinosaurs he had learned that day in school.

"There is a big one called a T Rex that eats other ones!  And there is one with three horns called a trip... tram... uh..."
"Triceratops?" I asked.
"Yeah!  That one is cool!  And you know what Daddy?  I think we should raise a couple as pets for the yard!  We could get little baby ones and they would be our friends!"
"Umm... buddy?  Did they tell you that dinosaurs are extinct?" I asked.
"Yeah!" says he excitedly.
"Do you know what extinct means?"
"No!" just as excited.

So I explained it to him gently.  But still he was weeping as we walked through the front door, genuinely grieving for animals that have not walked on the planed for millenia.  Sad that we could not even go to a zoo to see them.  So we talked a bit about critters that have been around since dinosaur times.  Sharks are pretty much unchanged for example.
"Oooh!  Let's get some of those!" He said, brightening instantly.
"Umm... No."
Crocodiles, too, are pretty much the same.  Again I shot down the adoption idea for that critter also.
Dragonflies used to be the size of crows, and they have not changed in 300 million years!  He warmed greatly to that, and so we started learning about dragonflies.  More specifically, we started learning about the eighteen species that for sure live in our neck of the woods.  There may well be others, but since dragonflies are shockingly under studied nobody knows for sure.

But for now, the Boyo and I have learned to identify the 18 in our area, both the male and female of the species, too.  It is very fun to hold up the flashcards I made - like this one...

 and hear him say "Oooh!  That's the male Twelve Spotted Skimmer!"  or...

 "That's the female River Jewelwing, and she's a Damselfly, not a dragonfly!"
He can rattle off the names of the Widow Skimmer, Common Green Darner, Halloween Pennant, Ruby Meadowhawk, Common Whitetail, Ebony Jewelwing, Common Pondhawk, Canada Darner, Proghorn Clubtail, Saffron Winged Meadowhawk, Four Spotted Skimmer, Eastern Amberwing, White Faced Meadowhawk, Cherry Faced Meadowhawk, and his personal favorite, the Dot Tailed Whiteface, seen here showing why it is called what it is called!

I've even changed the pictures on the cards to make sure we are learning to identify the dragonfly and not the picture.  We look at wing patterns, body, face and tail markings, and even how they hold their wings to identify them.  It is really fun!

He's incredibly gifted with his recall ability.  I made 24 cards initially, with male and female of some species.  Within a couple of days he knew all 24.  Come this spring and summer, we'll be ready to go hunt our dinosaur dragonflies and maybe, just maybe, find one not on the list that is common to the area as well.  Who knows?  If we are really lucky and diligent, maybe we'll even discover a new species!

Want to know more about dragonflies in your area?  Check out  If you live in the US, you can go to the checklist part and find which species have been recorded in your county! 

Eastern Amberwing - male

It is a fun bonding project for him and me.  I think we will have some serious fun when the weather warms up!

More Later

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 9 - Shanghai

As shocking as it may seem, we once again awoke to a gray and cloudy day.  Today's agenda was pretty simple.  A trip to visit the Pearl Tower to get a view of the city, then some shopping, then a night at the theater to watch the acrobats of Shanghai.

Jimmy told us that it was the start of the Moon Festival.  This is an annual pilgrimage home for people all over the country.  As such, it also meant that the locals would be out and about seeing the sights too.  So when he told us that we would have to wait for hours at the Pearl Tower to go up, and that there were a couple other tall buildings we could go up sooner instead, we jumped at the chance.

We ended up going to the observation deck of the Jin Mao Tower.  It was a nice view, though a bit overcast.  We did get to see the Pearl Tower.

 And there was a view down the middle of the building as well.
 We also got to pose with Haibo, the World Expo mascot.  Some thought he looked like Gumby. 
 I thought he looked more like a sworl of toothpaste.
 The building next to the Jin Mao Tower is locally known as the bottle opener because of the shape.  But it is really called the Shanghai World Financial Center.  It is currently the tallest building in Shanghai, but will be surpassed soon by the under construction Shanghai Tower being built a couple of blocks away.
 Of course, there were a few things that seemed out of place in Shanghai China...
 But overall it is a very lovely city.
 We visited the Bund area next.  With views of modern and ever changing Shanghai...
 Right across the river from the European inspired architecture of the old world.
 Dad, naturally, was a source off picture taking frenzy by the locals...
 We then went to a huge shopping area, where we all scored some nice swag at excellent prices.  I have no pictures of this because I had planned on doing most of my souvenier shopping here, and we were given a grand total of about 45 minutes to do it.  No time for photos.

That night we saw the Shanghai Acrobats, a thouroughly enjoyable troupe.  My favorite were the "Hat Guys"  Seen here stacked on each other doing their thing.
 They each had three hats.  One hat was on a head and the other two were in the air somewhere.  It was good fun.  There was also this 8 year old kid who did the old stack-the-chairs-really-high-and-wave-from-the-top thing.
 It was a good show, and a great way to spend our last night in China.

This shot is for my sister.  She told me before we left that she had heard that Chinese toddlers didn't use diapers, they just had slits in thier pants and their parents cleaned up after them.
Sure enough, most of the toddlers we saw had the open backed pants!  This little guy was squatting to pick up and put down that water bottle, so we didn't see him "in action".  Which really was OK.

More Later

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 8 - Off the Boat and On to Shanghai

During the night the ship passed through the locks at the Three Gorges Dam.  Dad, Jason and I sat in the rain to witness the first lock.  But as midnight turned into almost two, we opted to sleep for the remainder of the locks.  

 Dad and I had lots of locking experiences from the Mississippi River expedition of 2002, but it was Jason's first. 

In the morning, it was time to take a bus over and tour the dam itself.  Along the way, we saw many a street worker in this creative headgear.
 When we reached the dam, the visibility was great, though the sky remained grey.
Our local guide mentioned that the skies were this clear only about 80 days of the year.  It was a great view of the dam and surrounding area.

 The dam was interesting, and the Chinese were rightfully proud of it.  But I preferred the natural and ancient wonders to the modern big cement plug we now saw.
 Back on the river, it seemed like a very short time until the ship was docking in Yichang where we would depart.  We got a photo with our friends in the dining room.  They were very cool and taught us a lot of useful Mandarin, most of which I wrote in my little book so I would not forget.
Jason, Theresa, Me, Peter and Ben.

We said our goodbyes and debarked the ship.  The drive to the airport held exotic vistas and was very beautiful.
In Shanghai, we checked into our hotel and were once again greeted by luxurious Western style accommodations.
Complete with excellent views.
Jason found out about some of the extra amenities of the hotel, including "skeet shooting" in the virtual shooting range in the hotel.  All three of us partook of that, and great fun was had by all.

Tomorrow in Shanghai we would be visiting a tall building, driving past the Worlds Fair, and seeing the Bund area.  To be honest, I was least looking forward to this part.  But since we were having so much fun, there was no pressure to "see" things.  which was nice!

More Later

Friday, November 26, 2010

We Gather Together

 Ahhhh, Turkey.  a list of side dishes that rivals a restaurant.  Pies made from home grown pumpkin.  And good friends joining us for the meal.  Could it get better?

We had Thanksgiving proper here at the house and had a couple of friends come over to help us eat all of the food! 

I was in charge of the bird, the sweet potatoes, the pies, the gravy and just for fun, I added a plate of deviled eggs.  After our shopping prep, we had no room for more eggs, so the leftovers got boiled, deviled and consumed not too long after our guests arrived!  the turkey came out golden and juicy.

In the morning when I awoke, I got busy butchering pumpkins for the pies.  I had lots of pumpkin and doubled the batch, giving us these two pies...
And a couple of 9x9 pans with crust less pumpkin pie.

We were all concerned about the timing a little, with so many things to cook and only the one stove.  But everything was done precisely on time!  A Thanksgiving miracle!

Soon after dinner, I fell into a pleasant turkey coma while the kiddos watched How to Tame Your Dragon.

Now we get to have one more at the Hotel with my folks!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

More Later

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 7 - Three Gorges and Sampan Rides

After the sauna that was the day before, it was nice to wake up to moderate temperatures and relatively clear skies.  Of course, the haze set in after breakfast, making everything look mystical and magical to those of an optimistic nature, and smoggy and polluted to those who were not quite so.  The boat made a brief stop at Baidicheng before entering the Qutang Gorge, the first of the Three Gorges.  Our cruise director said that the Baidicheng stop was mostly for Chinese tourists, and since it cost extra we decided not to go ashore.  I later regretted this, as Baidicheng would have been interesting to see!

Instead we stayed on the ship and took pictures of the entrance of the gorge.


The sheer cliffs and size of the gorge was amazing to be sure.  What fascinated me was the gale force wind that hit us as we entered the gorge!  It was so strong that it made my eyes dry out instantly, and water copiously for the duration of the gorge!

As we sat there enjoying the view and the air, we remembered that we had hung clothes out to dry on the little patio just off the rooms!  I had a pair of shorts, some socks, and a few pair of underwear draped about on the chairs and such.  Remarkably none of us lost an article of clothing!  We brought our clothes in for the next two gorges!
Since we were heading downstream, it seemed right to have me in my red shirt on the left, and Jason in his green shirt on the right!
Along the gorge, there were smaller streams joining up with the river, making little gorges of their own.

We left the first gorge and went up to lunch.  During this we made our next port of call.  From here we took smaller boats...
Festively decorated to look like huge dragon boat/tow boat hybrids.   
Along the way we saw fields of sesame, complete with bundles being dried prior to harvesting the seeds we love so much on our hamburger buns.

We also got to see one of the famous 'Hanging coffins' of the gorge.
See it?

For a long time, the Chinese suffered from a serious lack of curiosity about the coffins.  They knew they were old, but nobody really knew how old or why they were there.  Within the last twenty years or so, someone decided to check one out and see how old they were.  They were expecting to find something a few hundred years old.  But when they opened the coffin, they discovered that the person had been buried with artifacts dating back two thousand years!

We took the dragon boats up a smaller tributary to get on sampans and tour the Lesser Three Gorges. 

This was a series of high cliffs and hills rising up from the narrow tributary we travelled, giving amazing views and scenery.  I'll let the pictures speak for our experience...

The sampan driver showed us what used to be traditional garb for them. 
Fashionable rain cape and hat woven from Yak hair.  Traditionally, they only wore a loincloth otherwise, and the boats were powered by long bamboo poles.  Now they had the blue pajamas and outboard motors.  Our driver was also quite the singer, and regaled us with a song about working hard and missing his love.  Jason tried on the rain gear too, but didn't sing a song for us.
 All along the way, the hills got steeper and steeper, prettier and prettier, and... well...

You get the picture.

This guy was playing a horn of some sort.

Which the guide said he did all day every day, playing for tips. Of course, nobody ever did tell us how he gets the tips!

Then it was back on the dragon boats...

and back to the ship.

Rather dramatically, I might add!
Back on the ship, we headed into the second gorge, The Wu Gorge.  At 45 KM, it is the second longest.  There were amazing views.

And of course - the wind!

We passed by Goddess Peak, where if you look closely, you can see what looks like a figure standing on the mountain.  This is the River Goddess who brings luck to all who pass here.

See her yet?

Here you go!

We saw a great variety of boats, including the very rocket ship like hydrofoils that cruised up and down past us.
There were many caves.

Enough for any spelunker to stay busy for years. 
There were also on board classes and shopping and such, but we mostly just stayed on the top deck and watched the scenery roll by!

As the sun set, we passed the city of Badong.  The whole city was relocated (along with a great many others) to high ground after the Three Gorges Dam was finished and the water level rose 176 meters. (About 577 feet, or a bit less than two football fields.)

The crew did a show again that night, sort of a talent show.  It was fun.  One of the highlights was a Szechuan Mask dance that one of the guys did.  I didn't take my camera, but I think Dad got it on video, so I'll re post this if I can get it.  The mask dance is a part of Szechuan Opera, and I would have loved to see that!  I also didn't get pictures of the food on the ship.  By this point in the tour, it was obvious that the food we got would be pretty safe, western style Chinese food.  Although the food on board was some of the best we had on the trip!
Tomorrow we would see the dam in all its glory, and we would also get off the boat and head for Shanghai. 

More Later