Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Call Me Fletcher

It's time for yet another installment of "John's New Skill of the Day!" That's right, I'm learning something new. Shocked, aren't you!?!

So here's what I had. When I shot the new arrows I bought a couple of weeks ago I noticed that they wobbled a lot before hitting the target. Not terrible, and I could still kill the pumpkins from 10 to 20 yards out pretty regularly. But I couldn't figure out what was causing the wobble.

For those of you out there (like me) who are not as fluent in Archery as the pros, there are a few things that make a difference in arrow flight. Things like spine weight, what points you use and how many grains those are, whether the arrow is wood, carbon, aluminum, what sort of fletching, left wing or right wing feathers... it truly boggles the mind. So I googled the problem and thought perhaps I was using field points that were too light. (Those are the pointy things on the front, but not the razor like broadheads used for hunting) I visited the gun and archery shop across the road for the first time since we've lived here, and met a very friendly guy who knows loads more about archery than I. I described the problem and he told me that the solution was in the fletching, or feathers, on the back of the arrow. My arrows were using plastic feathers, which apparently when shot from a wooden bow like mine will bounce off the arrow shelf and cause the arrow to wobble when it flies. He suggested I re-fletch my arrows with 5 1/2" real feathers as a solution. Then he directed me to a traditional archery shop across town to get what I needed, as they would have more choices and gear for a traditional archer (that's me).

That he didn't try and sell me something I didn't need and even directed me to another store has earned them my business! They have an indoor range there, and I will happily go there a few times this winter to thank them for the help!

Anyway, I headed to the traditional archery store later in the day, and was like a kid in a candy store. Bows everywhere. And not those metal hunting bows, but wooden works of art. Arrows and materials for all sorts of building of archery stuff. It was awesome! I bought a fletching jig, which was a little spendy, but worth it. And picked out some colors for my arrows.

New toys in tow, I headed home and learned to fletch arrows. With the jig it is not as hard as I thought, and I'm looking forward to a return visit to the store to get supplies to make the entire arrow!



How do the new arrows work? Well, after I finished a couple, I took them out to give them a try. Wobble - gone. They flew as straight as... well, you know. And I was drilling the pumpkins within an inch of my aim point. I've got four more to do, then I'm going to re-fletch the Boyo's arrows as well since his vanes are plastic and his arrows are also a bit wobbly.

It is a delightful way to spend an evening, and will add a new dimension to my budding bowyer skills.

More Later

Monday, November 14, 2011

Time to Go Oly

I'm kicking around the idea of doing an olympic length triathlon at the end of next season. That's the next step up from the sprint tri. Just to refresh your memory, a sprint tri has a swim of around 500 yards, a bike of around 15 miles, and a 5K run - 3.1 miles. Olympic distance is a 1.5K swim, which is around a mile, a 40K bike - around 25 miles, and a 10K run - 6.2 miles. It's double the run, which will be the toughest part for me, and three times the swim, which may just work in my favor! I know I can do a 25 mile bike, as I've done a few in training for the sprints.

Tonight I went for a swim. When I arrived at the pool, both were completely empty and as I had my choice of the two, I decided to warm up in the warmer pool. I swam the first hundred, adjusted the goggles, and started out again. 300 yards later I was feeling quite warm and decided that after another hundred (completing a 500) I'd shift over to the other pool and do a couple more 500's.
I hopped into the cooler pool, took note of the time clock and started at the top of the nearest minute. About 400 yards in I felt pretty good, and decided I'd shoot for a full mile and see what my time would be. I kept waiting for the weary to set in, but I kept a solid, comfortable pace and felt good through the entire swim! As I finished the 1650, I did a time check. 28:50. Not speedy, but not too bad. The best part was I felt that I could keep on swimming. But since this was my third time in the water since August, I decided to leave it at a mile and work up from here.
28:50 is about 1:45 per 100 yards. Not too shabby. Not too shabby. My race pace for the sprint tri's is around 1:30, so I have some room for improvement. But I now have a baseline time to work with and the confidence that I can swim pretty much indefinitely should the need arise. And I am a solid third of the way to doing an olympic length tri. Now if I can bike 40K and run 10K, and do all three together... everything will be peachy! So, yeah. I think I can be ready for an "Oly" sometime next season.
More Later

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Elevensday

It's the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year of our century. I'm posting this at 11:11 pm. For the nano-second it takes to pass through 11:11:11:11 to the billionth power, not much can be done. But it's cool to think that it's the last all binary date we'll have in our lifetimes.

It's also Veterans Day. The continuation of Armistice Day, which for those of you non history types was the end of The Great War to End All Wars. Or WWI, as we call it these days. They stopped that war on November 11th, and 11:11 in the year 1918. Unfortunately it did not End All Wars. So we celebrate Veterans Day. Celebrate and remember all those who served this country in uniform. Those like me, who served mostly in peace time and never in a foreign war, right through to those who gave the last full measure, like my USMC brother SSgt. P. We thank those that are still around to thank, and keep in our hearts the memories of those that aren't.

Freedom was never free. It has cost us dearly throughout the decades. Thank you to all who served and were willing to do what they could for their country.  It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good.

Oh, and Happy Elevensday as well.

More Later

I'm All a Quiver

So, a couple of years ago I traded a knife repair for a tanned deer hide. As I put a new handle on the knife (buffalo horn, turned out pretty nice!) I was imagining all of the things I could do with a tanned deer hide. Leggings, maybe. No, no! A shirt! Yeah a buckskin shirt would be fun! Maybe some knife sheaths, too.

So when the hide arrived, I was a little taken aback when it had the hair still on it. It was nicely tanned, but had a few too many holes to make clothes out of. I'm not too sure what a hair on shirt would have looked like anyway. I had no idea what to do with it, so I folded it up and stored it until an idea would come.

Fast forward a year and as I was driving home after a night shift, I saw a little red fox that had been hit by a car and was quite deceased laying half in and half out of the road. I stopped to toss it into the ditch so no other critters who might want to dine on it would meet the same fate, and noticed that it was still warm and not too damaged. I have a friend at work who tans skins of all sorts and thought he might like a nice fresh fox, so I went home, grabbed some trash bags and went back to collect the fox. I called my friend, who gave me advice for keeping it on ice until I could get it to him, and worked out a deal to trade a knife that I built for the tanned fox hide.  This time I knew the hair would be on, and when the fox skin arrived, it was really quite pretty. But I again had no idea what I would use a fox skin for. A hat maybe? I even tossed around the idea of a sporran for my kilt.  But the fox got rolled up and put with the deer hide...

Fast forward to this fall. The Boyo has taken to archery, and we've had about a half dozen good afternoons of ploinking away at the Halloween pumpkins with our bows.

The one on the left is my oak longbow, the one on the right is my first laminated recurve bow that I built as a test. It only has a draw weight of about 15 pounds, so I gave it to the Boyo to use. It shoots pretty well, and he seems to like it a lot!

So after our first few times shooting my old Boy Scout Arrow of Light arrows, I went and bought us each new arrows so I could retire the AoL's.  On the plus side, we now had more arrows to shoot at the pumpkins! On the down side, we had nothing to carry them in. I sat down a few nights ago thinking 'If only I had some leather or something that I could whip up a couple of quivers with.'

It seemed that finally I had a notion of what to do with those tanned hides! So after some fussing and measuring and research and tinkering, I built myself a quiver from the deer hide. It has a broken arrow inside as a stiffener that also serves as a place to attach a carabiner to make it a hip quiver...

And I built the Boyo a quiver out of the fox...

Originally it had the legs and head attached, but it looked like a dead fox hanging from his back. I clipped those off, but left the tail. I think the look is much better.  He insisted in having a back quiver, because that's how Robin Hood does it, and he is convinced that is how the Lakota used to do it, too when they hunted deer and buffalo. So we ran over to Fleet Farm and he picked out a belt, and I made it into a back quiver for him. It can be easily converted to a hip quiver when he gets older if he wants.

Anyway, we've been out shooting with them twice now, and they seem to work very well. I'm going to add a few embellishments to mine, but overall I'm quite pleased with the results!

More Later

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Devil Dogs!

236 years ago, the United States Marine Corps was born, leading to some of the most awe inspiring, horrific, incredible, frightening, mundane, spectacular, funny and tragic war stories ever told.

I served in my beloved Marine Corps from 1991 to 1999, and loved a great many minutes of it. Some I could have done without, but every experience helped shape me into the man I am today. From my short time in, I have stories in every genre listed above.

So Happy Birthday, Marines. I thank you for your honor, courage and commitment, for your Esprit de Corps, and for your brotherhood.

Semper Fi.

More Later

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spoiled Training

So I joined a gym. Actually it's the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center at Mayo. All the cool kids just call it "The Dan". The Wife is a member and I thought I'd check it out, since they have a pool and all.

Honestly, I was fully ready to get a winter membership to the rec center, since I am familiar with their pool and policies and such, but after tonight I may never go back to the rec center!

I started my first workout heading for the 2012 Triathlon Season with a fifteen minute session on something called a 'hydro-bed'. Basically a water bed with jets inside that run up and down your body giving a water massage. After some fiddling with pressure, speed and which areas to jet water onto, I was settled in and had my back and neck muscles pleasantly pummeled with hot water... all while staying perfectly dry! It was delightful.

Then I staggered sleepily into the pool area for my swim, a 600 yard jaunt, just to get the old body reacquainted with the freestyle stroke. That felt good. They have two pools there, a four lane lap pool and a four-ish lane exercise pool. Both saltwater/chlorine, so a little different than I'm used to. But the topper of the evening was a 10 minute soak in the whirlpool after the swim.

That's right. From the pool the the hot tub. Incredibly relaxing!

I am now a spoiled athlete! The Mayo health facility is really spectacular, and pretty reasonably priced. And if I go 15 times in the next three months they lower the price. 30 times and it's almost half off! They are open way too early and stay open well past my bedtime, and the lap pool is always a lap pool! So any free time I can get there to swim, I can swim! They also have an indoor running track, and a bunch of stationary bikes, and a spin class that I'll have to look into doing. So eventually I can do entire triathlons indoors!

I now have no reason not to improve on next year's races. No reason not to go exercise. No reason not to get in better shape.

I envision much hard work and sweat and yes, even some pain in the future... but the hydro-bed and whirlpool are a nice treat! (They also have massage therapists on staff, $25 for a half hour. I'm already planning on how to justify that expense occasionally!)

More Later

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Secret to Weight Loss Revealed!!!

So the triathlon thing is looking like it will be a permanent part of my adult life.  As such, I have finally, finally decided to lose the third grader I've been carrying around my waist for the past decade. In my USMC days I was considered "overweight", weighing in at around 200 pounds.  203 was the maximum weight allowed for a guy my height, and I struggled to keep my weight under that number.  For the last year I was in, the roller coaster gains and losses really started to oscillate dramatically, and every month I would gain more back and have to lose it before the next month's weigh in. This led to gaining and losing 10 to 20 pounds each month, and by the last six months I would be losing sometimes 15 pounds in a couple of days to stay under. It was a brutal, vicious cycle that only those who have been in it can really understand.

My last official weigh in for the Marines was in October of my last year in, and the NCO in charge of it was... well... there's no way to say it nicely. He was an ass. Rather than help those Marines who were over with some guidance or at the very least offer encouragement, he declared that he was happy to kick anybody out who was over by even a pound. And he seemed sadistically pleased to see people fail at their weigh ins, and taunted them with how many months they had left until he could kick them out.

By the end of my stint in the Corps, I had learned how to push the boundaries on what could and really could not be said to a superior without some serious repercussions, and I lent my considerable vocabulary to mocking and insulting this NCO for his blatant disrespect for his fellow Marines. Without going too far, of course.

He knew I was insulting him, but he wasn't sure exactly what I was saying, so he really developed a dislike of me pretty quick. The feeling was mutual. Now a few things about the weight rules for the USMC...

In those days, if you weighed over your max, you were put on "weight control" and had a few months of weigh ins to determine if this was a temporary thing or a permanent one. After a certain number of months of weighing over and getting reprimands, you could be discharged. But if you stayed under for six months, you would be taken off weight control. Unfortunately the Navy Corpsman was usually responsible for the weigh ins and such, and we switched corpsman a few times and for whatever reason the record keeping was pretty sporadic. Which at first was no big deal, because though I was near the top end of my limit, I could usually come in within a few pounds of it, at first. Then a couple of years went by with no weight control oversight at all, and I had an unfortunate knee injury, stopped running, and really ballooned up. So when it started up again in the last few years of my service, I had a real struggle getting back under and staying there.

So - I had been riding the 203 line for about nine months when Ssgt Butthead took over and made it his personal mission to kick out every fatbody from his beloved Marine Corps. (Those were his actual words to those of us who were on weight control. And one of those guys was a big Iowa farm boy with a skinny waist and a huge chest and muscular arms, but he was "overweight" so on weight control... ridiculous.) I did fine for the first four months he was in charge, but I weighed 205 one morning in September. My section chief, Ssgt Carlson, arranged for me to weigh in again before lunch for my "official" weight and sent me out to run the weight off. He was a good leader, and knew that I had been struggling with the weight since the resumption of weight control. And that I had been under for the past four months after a year and a half of starts and stops with the program. And I like to believe that he thought I was good enough at my job to keep around.  So he was willing to cut me some slack. After a five mile run I weighed in at 202.9. Ssgt Butthead was not pleased. He told me that if I was an ounce over in October he was going to get me discharged. I told him that perhaps he'd be less of a bitter little man if he could have intimate relations with something other than a bovine. Did I mention that he didn't like me much?

By this point on the monthly weight roller coaster I was usually ballooning up to around 220 - 230 for the two weeks after drill, then losing it again before the next month's drill. but it was getting harder and harder to lose the weight, and easier and easier to gain it.  For some reason that September I went up to just over of 240. A week before October's drill I was still 225. I stopped eating five days before weigh in. I drank water, but only two pints a day, because I remembered my wrestler friend Matt telling me "a pint's a pound the world around." And I had to lose the weight. I ran three miles in the morning and evening with five days to go. From four days on I went 2 miles, but I did that 4 or 5 times each day.  The last two days I wore a garbage bag suit to lose more water weight, and the night before weigh in I did four 2 mile runs in the suit, and in between was an hour spent under several heavy blankets and a sleeping bag to keep the heat up and the sweat going.

The morning of the weigh in I could barely walk, but went to formation and did all that I could to stay upright. Weigh in was about an hour after the start of drill... after breakfast. So while the rest of the battery ate what to me smelled like it had been catered by the gods, I jogged in place in a bathroom and prayed. The night before - during what I have come to know as my own private hell night - I went from 215 to 204, so there was no guarantee that I would be under this morning. I tried to remove the rest of the extra weight, but I couldn't pee, let alone have a BM. I didn't have enough moisture to even spit. In hindsight, this was not a good state to be in.

I remember vividly the look on Ssgt Buttheads face as I approached the scale in my boxers. I remember the smirk and the hatred beaming from his eyes. I remember his words as I stepped up on the scale.

"I am going to love throwing your fat ass out of my Marine Corps."

My max weight was 203 pounds.
I was 202.8.

He frowned and had me step off. He re-zeroed the scale (many others were present, including an officer, so he couldn't fudge it.) and weighed someone else. Then I stepped up again. I think if he could have stabbed me in the face right there with a Ka-Bar, he would not have hesitated. Again the weights on the scale slid around.


The officer read out the number to another NCO who recorded it. The smirk left Ssgt Buttheads face, replaced with pure hatred. I will never forget my parting words to him, either.

"It's MY Marine Corps, too. Now go frak a squirrel, you arrogant little ass."

Of course I said something a bit more salty than "frak". Did I mention I didn't like him much, either.

The officer told me to watch my mouth, and I promptly apologized to said officer for my offensive language. I did not apologize to Ssgt Butthead. Then the officer congratulated me and said I was no longer on weight control. I was too dizzy and nauseous to even smile.

Then I went and ate breakfast, which I promptly threw up because I had not eaten anything for five days. Interestingly I never saw Ssgt Butthead again. He developed testicular cancer and left the unit before November's drill.

In those days I thought nothing of losing 5, 10 or 15 pounds in a week. Knowing what I know now, I shudder to think of what might have happened had I continued in that cycle.

I tell you all of that to tell you this. I'm tired of hauling around this extra fifty pound tire. And I've discovered a magical secret to losing weight!  Wanna know what it is? It really is profound!!!

Lean in close, I'm going to whisper it because it is so revolutionary!

Here it is... eat fewer calories than you expend each day!

Mind blowing, isn't it! My friend Matt - mentioned above and in many other posts - has been telling me since I started doing tri's that this was the big secret of weight loss. Heck, I've known that secret for a dozen years myself.

Wanna know another big secret to losing weight and getting fit?

Regular exercise.

That's right. Calories and exercise. Common sense that everybody knows and denies.

So I stopped the little voice in my head that kept saying "It is so hard to count calories. Why bother? Just try and eat right."

Did you read that? "Hard, why, try." And it is so easy to listen to that voice.  But I am making different choices now. The first day of this month I ate and snacked as I normally do, and found a nifty website called Calorie Count where I could plug in foods and see how many calories I was eating. I could also plug in activities, and see how the calorie to activity balance was.

It was shocking. SHOCKING, I tell you.

I discovered that I was happily eating about 1000 calories more each day than my body needed just to maintain my weight. No wonder it has been so "hard" to shed pounds! So I set some goals and crunched some numbers on the site, and committed to a plan that would cut my daily caloric intake almost in half.

At first I was very concerned that I would be hungry all of the time. Less food means more hungry, right? But you know what? This week I have not been hungry at all. I've been within a hundred calories of my target each day, and a couple of days were even well under, and I have not been hungry. I have also not been denying myself foods that I like. I've just been controlling the portions quite a bit more. Tomorrow will be day six of this new project, and I'm somewhat surprised to say that in the first five days I lost 11 pounds.

You read that right, eleven pounds.

Now, I realize this is VERY fast weight loss, and that proper weight loss is two to three pounds a week. I promised myself that if I felt too hungry, I would increase the daily caloric intake. But I have not been hungry, and I've lost 11 pounds!

I've also not been exercising like I want. Mostly due to getting over pneumonia, which really drained my energy. This week I'm following the Wife's example and joining her gym, which has a bazillion very cool programs to help me on this journey, and a really nice pool to swim in, and a hot tub to soak in, and massage spa to relax in, etc. etc. etc.

So the tri training will begin again this week, along with continued calorie counting, with the goal of dropping 50 pounds before my first tri next season, which will probably be the Pigman again in early June. If that goes well I'll aim to see that 203 line again by tri season of 2013. Wish me luck!

This is a very long post. If you've read this far, thanks for sticking with me. If you are trying to lose weight, there is no big secret. Proper eating and exercise. Insert fewer calories into your system. Go for a walk. Be the Captain of your own life. If I can do it, anybody can.

More Later

Friday, November 4, 2011


I like plans. I like days when there are plans in place and I can follow the plans. Or at least have a plan to attempt to follow for the day.

Life at our place has been just on the shy side of chaotic. This is not new. Life became chaotic, and wonderfully so, when I first started dating the woman that would become my wife. At first it was subtle. Joint decisions on where to eat, what movie to see, where to take a vacation for the weekend, who got Ben for the week. That sort of thing. Then came marriage, that beautiful arrangement whereby we are now legally obligated to be with each other all the time. That increased the chaos.

Just when we were getting used to that arrangement, the Boyo magically appeared. OK, not so much magic as basic biology. But still it threw our world once again off its axis and spinning wildly and giddily out of control. The second offspring, Sweet Pea, knocked whatever sense of balance we had right out the window.

And as the children grow and create a chaotic bubble / wall of noise, another phenomenon occurred. Somehow both sets of parents, mine and my Wife's, are unbelievably getting older! It shouldn't be surprising, as I know I am getting older, and my kids are getting older. Even the bananas on the counter are getting older. So it makes sense that they are getting older, too. What this means though, is increased medical problems. And I am torn, torn, torn between my duty to the Wife and Kiddos, and my duty to be with my parents as they age.  Chaos multiplied.

So, somehow we fell into the pattern of living day to day, getting the bills paid, the kids to their obligations (school, scouts, and lots of other stuff) and not really having a plan for any of it.

We have a family calendar that has on it all of the things we must do. Job schedules, school schedules, extracurricular activities, medical appointments, and the like. It is crammed full on most days.

There is also a list or two or three of "things to do" in other areas of life. Triathlon training, yardwork and housework, various projects for various people. But the things on those lists are thrown in as time allows, and sometimes time doesn't allow.

Result? Chaos.

So the Wife and I sat down with our calendars again today and started plotting out everything, and I do mean nearly everything, for the next few weeks. On our calendars right now are work schedules, kids schedules her exercise schedule and my exercise schedule (I'm not waiting until next year to re-train for my triathlons). What we will be adding to the calendars are specific tasks from the "to do" lists, so that we can get those things on an actual schedule so we can have a plan to do them on a specific day. Or at least a plan to attempt to get them done on a certain day.

We are hoping that by scheduling everything but bowel movements we can regain some sense of balance in our chaos riddled world. We're even doing menu planning weeks in advance so we can avoid the nuisance of having to decide what to have for dinner each night. That shouldn't feel like a chaotic decision, but somehow it all adds up.

We are pretty flexible with the schedule, and have promised each other that we will not panic if the day doesn't go as planned. It's hard to fluster a nurse and a medic with unexpected events, so we shouldn't have a problem there!

So, a calendar project to try and bring some order to the chaos. Life is chaos, and beautiful. We endeavour to make some sense of the chaos every day. If nothing else it gives us a goal to shoot for.  Wish us luck!

More Later

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Remains of the Day

So we brought Ben home the other day. We had him cremated individually, and the vet called to tell us that his ashes were back. My first experience with this was with Rascal. Prior to his death, all of my pets had been buried in the back yard at my parents house. But when Rascal died, we decided to have him cremated because we weren't sure if the house we are in is going to be the house we are in when we die. So the week after Rascal died, we got a call from the vet and went to pick up the little cardboard box that held the plastic bag that held the ashes of our pup.

Then Shoba died not a month later, and we had her cremated too. A week later we got her box back, too. It was a little larger than Rascals box. In our hall closet we have a hanging sweater organizer thingy that we used to store our boots, hats, mittens and such. The bottom two shelves were cleared and used to store the remains of our two dogs.

Ben spent the next few weeks looking very nervous and wondering where the heck his two pals went and what they had done to disappear and he always looked like he was promising us that he would behave as long as he could stick around. Eventually he settled in to being the only dog, but after a few months he started looking mopey. A couple months after that he was downright sad. I had been feeling the loss of Rascal and especially Shoba, too. So I knew how he felt. That's when we started looking around for a friend for Ben and eventually came to adopt Holly Bedudah.

Now here we are, three years down the road, and the vet has called again to let us know that a little cardboard box was waiting to be picked up.

My EMS gallows humor kicked in to soften the blow a little, as I joked with my wife that I could pick him up before heading to run some errands, because he could stay in the car with no worries now.

But we went to pick him up together and once again I was gut punched by how little was left of him now. We brought him home and cleared another shelf in the hall closet for his remains.

When the first two died, we thought it would be nice to take them up to the Island and inter the remains there. It is a place that I will keep visiting until I'm unable to paddle a canoe anymore. And it is a place that all three of them loved. In my memories of those three dogs, I can vividly picture each one at the Island, a look of supreme contentment on their faces. So we wanted to take Shoba and Rascal up there. But for some reason or another, we were never able to get to the Island in the three years since they died.

When Ben got sick again and it looked like he wouldn't pull through this time, the Wife mentioned that perhaps the reason we never got the other two to the Island was because they were waiting for Ben so they could all go up together. It would be in keeping with the bond that the three of them had. So as I placed Ben's ashes on the shelf with Shoba and Rascal, they were finally ready to head to the Island.

I however, am not ready. So we'll plan a trip for next summer sometime and take the Big Three up along with Holly and introduce her to the Island, and finally lay the Big Three to rest.

More Later

Sunday, October 30, 2011


It's been a bit of a gloomy week. Mostly for the wife and me, I think. The Boyo was very upset about Ben at first, and still has some booful moments from time to time, but seems to be coping quite well by playing even more with Holly Bedudah, who is reveling in all of the extra attention.  Sweet Pea is non-plussed as usual, and joyful sings her way through almost anything.

Even though I am still gloomy, Halloween is just around the corner. So tonight we got the table cleared off and covered in newspaper for the annual carving of the pumpkins. Or as I call it, "This will be an hour long project that will see much weeping at having to clean out pumpkins, perhaps some gagging at that part as well, lots of drawing on the pumpkins to let Daddy know where to cut, bitterness that if you are under the age of ten then cutting the pumpkins with the huge carving knife is left to an adult, and in the end the parents get to clean up the mess anyway, and by then the kiddos will be running around wild with buckets on their heads attacking each other and/or any imaginary foes that may arrive."

It's loads of fun.

I actually like carving pumpkins, and I never know quite what mine will look like until it is well underway.  I try to plan it out, but it never goes according to plan.  I'm always the last one at the table as well, which is fine, since I like the carving and the pumpkin guts and all that.

But first things first. And first one done went this year to the Wife, who found a little help at Wal-Mart and actually claims this year as her favorite pumpkin carving night ever.

Behold, her creation...

Next to finish was the Boyo, who will be dressed as a pirate tomorrow night, and liked Mommy's potato head pirate so much that he wanted a pirate carved in his. So with the instructions to draw out the parts he wanted cut, he set right to work...

I've been given specific instructions by my son, but we are going to work on it a little more tomorrow to get it done.

Sweet Pea was the next to leave the table. Though to be fair she started after the Boyo was done, and would have been perfectly content to color her pumpkin until the marker ran dry...

I have no clue where I am going to be cutting on this one.

Last up was me. I was going for a "sexy Marilyn Monroe" face...

Nailed it!

So, we did have a little fun tonight. Some laughs. Some tears. But overall I think we are ready for Halloween.

More Later

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Last of the Big Three

We had to put our beloved dog Ben to sleep yesterday. He was the last of the "Big Three". Rascal and Shoba being the other members of that club.

From left to right, that's Ben, Shoba and Rascal relaxing on the Island.

The Big Three were our dogs before marriage. Rascal was the Wife's dog, Shoba was mine, and Ben was technically Rascal's, but the Wife and I shared custody of him while we lived in separate places, and we would swap Ben back and forth as we met for dates and such.

We met Ben when the Wife was running a B&B in Decorah, Ia. We were fostering dogs at that time. People would find dogs and bring them to us, or the dogs would find us. We always had a few extras running around. We'd get them their shots and train them a little, then place them with good families. We must have fostered a couple dozen dogs in those days. The only one who didn't find a home right away was Ben. A friend found him galloping along the side of a road somewhere and dropped him at the B&B. At that time I was renting the basement of the B&B and driving a semi over the road for a couple of weeks at a stretch.

When I personally met Ben, he did not wag his tail or seem happy to see me at all. In fact, he was as close to wild as a dog can get, and did not care for leashes, collars, being checked by a vet, or any fingers too near him. Not a dog we could just send off with a family and hope for the best. Also, he was a barker. We had kennels out in the garage that the dogs stayed in at night. Ben stayed in his a lot because he was so wild, and he voiced his opposition to this by barking non-stop. We even got a visit from the police to ask us to keep the barking down.

Nobody who came to look at dogs wanted Ben. He was too wild and unpredictable. I thought that if we trained him a little, perhaps someone would take him.

It did not go well at first. I managed to convince him by sheer force that I was the Alpha Male of the pack. I can count on one finger the number of dogs I've had to actually get physical with. By "physical" I mean keeping their mouths clamped with my hand so they don't bite and holding them down firmly but gently, much as an Alpha Male would in a wolf pack to assert my authority. It took a little time, but soon he recognized me as the Alpha and wouldn't try to take my hand off. I got a collar on him without much fuss. But then came the leash...

Swordfish have put up less of a fight. Sled dogs have less pull. Tornados twist less than that dog did when attached to a cable. He became 40 pounds of Tasmanian Devil. A black, spinning blur. For the only time in my entire time training dogs, I actually had to use a spike collar to get things started, he was that wild. We had to have him on a leash to let him go potty, as the yard was not fenced, so things were a bit dicey at first.

Eventually though, he got to a point where he would just pull for all he was worth until he got to where he wanted to go. After weeks of working with him, this seemed like the best it was going to get.

But Ben surprised us. Gradually he let the leash go slack from time to time. He seemed to be understanding the boundaries of the yard. He even started getting along with the other dogs instead of trying to attack the bigger ones and eat the smaller ones. He lulled us into a sense of security so that one fine day we decided to try him off leash.

Now, we had been working with him for weeks getting him to know his name and come when called and all that. He had been coming along very nicely and even had "sit" and "stay" down.

So I had him sitting at my feet, and the Wife was ten feet down the sidewalk ready to call him. I removed the leash and she called.  He took a few steps, then his ears perked up as he realized he couldn't feel the leash.

Then, like a rocket, he departed the yard, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, big grin on his face, us calling him and calling him.

We looked all over on foot and by car for a good long time. Even when the rain started and night fell and lightning crashed all around. But it seemed that Ben had taken his freedom and escaped.

When we returned home and parked the car, what did we find hiding under a pine tree in the yard? A very wet, very happy puppy. I growled at him and he spent the night in his kennel, barking and drying out from his adventure.

I went on the road again, but the Wife kept working with him while I was driving. She even tried him off leash some more. At first he made like a cheetah and bolted. But what we learned was that he always ran to the same place by the same route. A park many blocks away was his destination, and some of the neighbors would call us when they saw him run by to let us know where he was heading.

Slowly, slowly, slowly, Ben bolted less and less and hung out with the other dogs in the yard more and more. I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point he decided to keep us and became a good off leash dog. As long as no squirrels or rabbits darted by.

As our days fostering dogs came to an end, and the Wife and I decided to get married and travel our road together, we had worked with Ben so much that we decided to keep him off the market. But whose dog would he be? I had Shoba, the Wife had Rascal. I asked Shoba if she wanted a dog, but she only wanted to be with me. Fortunately, Rascal was a good soul, and took Ben on as his own. So began his "joint custody". And when we got married and moved in together, Ben became "our" dog at last.

I'll be posting more about Ben in the next few days. In the end, he turned into a really, really good dog. I already miss him a ton. Holly, our remaining dog, has never been to the Island. But we are going to go next summer. This picture -

kind of sums things up. My Wife, my best friend Matt, and the Big Three all at the Island. I know those three canines are already there, waiting for the rest of us to join them one day. Someday when we three humans are gone, my kids can look at this picture and know that this is heaven for me. The loss of Ben has hit me hard. I feel like I've lost Rascal and especially Shoba all over again. I'm missing thier ears and tails and coats and the souls that those bodies contained. Such good, good dogs.

OK, my throat is getting all lumpy, so I'm going to bed now.

More Later

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Space Shots

Last night the moon was near full and floating beautifully above our house, so I decided to go out and try to take some pictures of it. I've done this before, of course, usually ending up with shots that look like a light bulb in a dark room. So I read up a little on how to "shoot the moon" and headed out.

Of course, everything I read suggested a lens with at least a 300mm zoom. But as I only have the two lenses for my D60, and I can only zoom up to 200mm, I just wanted to get the best shots I could.

So after some test shots, I ended up with these...

That I cropped and enlarged into these...

Jupiter, meanwhile, was hovering just south of the moon. Although I knew full well that my little 200mm lens wouldn't be able to shoot the great storm on Jupiter, I thought I'd snap a few shots and see what came up.  When I zoomed in while still outside, I saw this...

I thought I might be getting some sort of weird contamination from the house, so I moved away a little and re-shot...

OK, maybe the lens was dirty. Clean that off and re-shoot again...

Alright. Something is there, but I can't hold the camera still enough freehand, so I got the tripod and shot again...

I wondered if they were stars beyond Jupiter or maybe UFO's. I know there are moons around Jupiter, and these certainly looked like sunlight reflecting off of planets. But could my camera actually get pictures of Jupiter's moons???

Apparently the answer is YES!  Those four little splotches of light are - from left to right - Ganymede, Calypso, Io and Europa! I, of course, was totally geeked about this find, and am hoping one day to get a bigger lens!

I'm such a nerd.

More Later

Friday, October 14, 2011


Today, 40 years ago, my best friend was born. That we both survived some of the things we've done is, in itself, pretty miraculous. That we have been friends for the better part of that 40 years is simply delightful.

Time may pass between our visits or our chats. But I know I can always count on him as I can a brother. That sort of friendship is highly valued in my world. So I celebrate the day of his birth and am so very glad he was born.

Today, 7 years ago, my Marine Corps brother Staff Sgt. P was killed half a world away. His family is still hurting, and yet through all of the postings I read on his obit sites, they celebrate the life he led and the years they spent with him. So although I grieve for his loss, I celebrate his life more, short as it was.

Both of these things falling on the same day reminds me again to celebrate my own life. That I am generally happy, relatively healthy, with food in the cupboards, clothes in the closets and a roof over solid walls. I am a lucky, lucky man. And in honor of my two friends, I celebrate today.

More Later.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Under Studied Much?


The Wife worked a night shift last night, so to keep the house quiet so she could sleep, I took the kiddos out for a little dragonfly hunt after picking the Boyo up from school. I didn't expect to find much, since last week was all frosty. But we've had a run of a few days of temperatures in the 80's, and I had seen a couple of Odes buzzing about yet.

So we headed out on a trail that runs next to the river that goes through town and found a lovely, grassy spot on the flood plain to do some searching.

Lots of bugs, but few dragonflies. The ones we saw were distant, the sun glistening off their wings. No more than two or three in the sky, though.

Then one cruised right over us and settled into some weeds. We stalked it and it took off and flew to another weed clump farther on. We stalked it again with the same results. On the third stalk I was able to get within 10 feet and snap a couple of shots. Only one was in focus...

I knew it was a Darner of some sort, and I knew it would be helpful to get a shot of the stripes on the side for ease of ID. But as I stepped off to get a side view, it took off into the sky and flew right down the river until it was out of sight.

I posted my find to the MOSP group on facebook after poring over my dragonfly ID book and deciding that it was perhaps a Lance-tipped Darner.

To my delight, the pros agreed with my assessment. So I've submitted it to Odonata Central. If confirmed, it will be our 8th county record for the year! What great fun!

(Update 10/7/11: It was confirmed! Woohoo!)
I hope that the kiddos still want to go dragonflying with me when the county records taper off. Well... we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Getting county records almost every time we go hunting made me think, though. Our county holds a decent sized city and lots and lots of good Odonate habitat, yet it would seem that it is pretty under studied. It is pretty common knowledge that Odonates are understudied everywhere. So if you want to contribute something to science and be a "citizen-scientist", or if you want a fun activity with your kids, or you just want to learn more about dragonflies, I implore you to head out with a camera and get some pictures.

Of course, I'll be imploring again at the start of next season. This season is coming to a close.

More Later

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October Goals, and Bye Bye Dragonfly

Dragonfly Season is coming to a close. We had a frosty morning today, and I doubt I'll see many more this year. It kinda bums me out, but I am really looking forward to getting out next season.

Speaking of next season. I was terribly lazy in the month of September pertaining to triathlon training. I went for a couple of runs, did a couple swims, and did some good test driving of the new bike. But nothing too serious.

Last year I didn't start training again until January, and all heck broke loose shortly after. So I'm setting some new goals for the year, and I'm going to do them month by month.

October is now my starting point for doing some events next season. That gives me a good nine months until the Pigman tri, seven or eight until Ode Hunting Season starts up. My goal for this month is to bike 100 miles total and run 30 miles total for the month. This may not seem like much, but it is a good starting point for goals and a good baseline for training. Besides, this is probably the last month for being on the bike for awhile. Then I'll switch to hitting some heavy swimming goals and figure out an indoor training program.

By Spring I hope to be a bit more svelte, faster in the water, on the bike and on my feet, and ready for some fun in the warmer weather.

There are also a few other changes coming down the pike. Not sure where I'm being led, or what exactly I'm supposed to do with it all, but the potential is exciting and a little overwhelming.  I'll keep you posted.

More Later

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The summer flew by quickly due to a great many things. It seems like just a few days ago that the Boyo came home from his last day of first grade, now he's a seasoned second grader. Mom was just here rehabbing at Mayo, and it seems like Dad should be coming through the door at any time, back from visiting Mom.

I got just about nothing done from the list of things I wanted to accomplish over the summer. And since all of my September blogs are Odo-centric, I will say that one of the things I wanted to do this summer was to spend many, many days with the kiddos going dragonfly hunting.  I imagined long hours spent outside wandering to and fro, netting and photographing and studying.

The reality was that we went on only four or five "hunts", and those usually lasted around a half hour or less. No nets, just a camera and some sharp eyed kids. The other pictures were taken during fortuitous encounters in the front yard or out shooting rockets. Not actually on dedicated hunts.

I knew that odonates were pretty understudied, and that we may find an unrecorded species or two. What I was unprepared for was that on nearly every short walk, we discovered a county record. Even when we went a county over, we managed to get two records on the same day.

Today was no different. After church, I invited a friend and his daughter to come on a hunt with us at a local nature preserve. She is about the Boyo's age, and is quite the little spitfire. The last time I went to this spot, I only saw Widow Skimmers, Eastern Forktails and some sort of Meadowhawk that I couldn't get close to.

Today we saw a couple of Eastern Forktails, and then I got some shots of these...

sitting on a leaf...

Paired up for mating...

Mating wheel...

I knew they were Meadowhawks, but they were so skittish I couldn't get close enough for really good shots. When I got home, I checked them out in my Dragonfly ID book and it seems that they are pictures of Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum). I submitted them to the Odonata Central website and they have been confirmed! That makes County Record number Seven!

So, to recap -
#1 - Band-winged Meadowhawk...

was our first find. The boyo spotted her right in our garden in our front yard! That was on July 31st.

#2 - Eastern Forktail...

a very common species, but strangely not yet recorded here. We added it to the list on August 11th.

#3 - Black Saddlebags...

Another visitor to the front yard garden, and starting off a very busy September on the 6th of that month.

#4 - Tule Bluet...

On a walk with my Sweet Pea the next day, September 7th, when she noticed this little sapphire in the bushes.

#5 - Black Saddlebags...

again. But this time in a different county. September 12th, visiting a playground with the Sweet Pea.

#6 - Eastern Forktail...

Same day, September 12th. There were quite a few other species there that day, but I couldn't get close enough to get good shots of them.

#7 - Autumn Meadowhawk...

Just today.

The season may not be over yet, either. I don't know if we'll find other county records this year. But I sure am motivated to get out next spring and see what we can find around here!

Of interest to me was the rediscovery of this picture...

I don't know what kind it is, a clubtail of some sort obviously. But it does stand as my first picture of a dragonfly that I took. This picture was taken in China almost exactly a year ago, on September 20th, 2010.  Who knew that a few days over a year later we would have seven county records to our name!  Fun stuff.

More Later

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Old Friends

After dropping the Boyo off at school the yesterday, Sweet Pea and I went to a playground/park we've been to once or twice before that isn't too far from home, and has the added benefit of being in a very under surveyed county as far as Odes go.

We didn't have long, but we didn't need much time. There were dragonflies and damselflies all over. Most were busy on their morning hunt, but I did get an OK shot of an Eastern Forktail fellow...

and saw many, many other mature females and males of that species.

We got some shots of this guy...

A Meadowhawk of some sort based on size and markings, but I couldn't catch her to tell.

We saw a mating pair of something flying around. Shots not quite clear enough to ID, though.

Sweet Pea and I chased a few others around waiting for them to land, which didn't happen. Then I saw a Black saddlebags fly over. He circled me three times, then landed a few feet away and watched as I took a few dozen shots of him. This is my favorite.

The Black saddlebags dragonflies are quickly becoming my favorites.

Almost a decade ago, Dad and I took a trip down the mighty Mississippi from Itasca down to St. Louis. Not surprisingly, there were many, many dragonflies to see. It was the first time I became aware that there were so many different kinds of dragonflies. Upon reflection it was completely logical. There are different species of cows after all. And chickens. That sort of thing. Why not dragonflies, too?

So I started watching them. I called damselflies "flutterbugs", after their flight characteristics. But dragonflies stayed dragonflies. As I watched them, I gave each different species names.

Darners all looked similar enough that I called them "Tigers". Green Tigers, Blue Tigers, Yellow Tigers, depending on what color the stripes were. "Green Eyed Monsters" I later found out were Common Green Darners. There were "Golden Snitches", fast little golden odes that I saw very rarely. Probably meadowhawks of some sort.

Then there were the "Black Mambas". The "biker gang" of the dragonfly world. They never got close enough for me to really study them, but I called them Black Mambas because they were pretty much all black, and the two black patches on their hind wings looked menacing. I'll give you one guess as to what Black Mambas are really called. I liked them because they always seemed to patrol right off my bow and snatch deer flies and other annoying insects out of the air and away from me.

One day I saw a "Green Tiger" splashing around in the water. It couldn't seem to get airborne and I figured it would probably die out there. So I paddled over, dipped it out of the river with my paddle and set it on the towel/tent that was shading my dog Shoba. (That's Shoba's picture at the top of the blog) It lay there for a long time, not moving. After about a half hour I figured it had expired, so I reached down to toss it overboard. But it walked a few steps away from my hand. Over the next couple of hours I watched it go from a pale yellow color, to a black with green stripes color. The eyes brightened up as well, going from that deathly pale yellow to vibrant green. It preened it's wings and head and basked in the sun during that time. Then it fluttered it's wings for a few minutes, as if making sure they still worked. Then without even a goodbye, it took off and zoomed away!

I felt like I had done my good deed for the day, and decided to one day learn more about dragonflies. Now, this next part requires a little faith. In what, I am not sure. But even to me it sounds a little far fetched. If it had not happened to me, I don't know that I would believe it. For the first time that I can remember, a dragonfly landed on me. Right on my chest, right above my heart. It was the same "Green Tiger" that I had just rescued. Or one very similar to it. I looked down at it and it looked up at me. It fluttered it's wings twice, cocked it's head twice, and flew off.

That in itself was odd for me. But what happened next was really... well... decide for yourself.

A couple of days later we were paddling in an area packed with biting deer flies. I had a couple of "Black Mambas" making runs across the bow of my boat, but there were still four or five deer flies circling me and swooping in to chomp on my neck and ears. I killed a half dozen, but they kept coming. Dad had DEET all over him and wasn't being bothered much, but my skin doesn't like DEET, so I was suffering. After another bite on the neck (and another one killed) I yelled in my head that I couldn't take much more of this and something would have to change!

From the shore came two "Green Tigers". One landed on the towel/tent. The other landed on my chest in the same place that the other had a couple of days before. As the deer flies circled, the Tigers tracked them with their big eyes. It was really cool to watch. Then, like lighting, they zoomed up, one right after the other, and snatched a deer fly each from the air right in front of my face! One landed on my paddle and proceeded to dine. The other dropped the dead fly, took up his perch on my chest again, and did it again. And again. And again. Maybe five or six times in all, until there were no more deer flies circling me. Then it grabbed one off my lap and flew off to eat. I tossed the other dead flies on the towel to see if they would return for a meal.

It was almost as it they had spread the word among the "Green Tigers" that I was an OK human and worthy of helping out. Sort of a 'thank you' for saving one of their own, it seemed. Of course, I realized I was anthropomorphizing them. But a strange thing happened. On the rest of the trip, around 800 or 900 miles of river, whenever I had insect troubles I also had "Green Tigers" and "Black Mambas" around taking care of the problem for me. I didn't use any bug spray for the rest of the trip, but had no more bites either.

Knowing what I know now, there were probably several species of Darners hunting around me. But at the time I journaled that they all looked like the one I had rescued. Green stripes, blue/greenish and black tails, greenish eyes. But I'm pretty certain that the "Black Mambas" were Black saddlebags. And they always seemed to appear when the pests were bothering me. It's the only time they ever landed on me as well. It seemed...harmonious.

So, of all of the species that we saw yesterday, the only one that landed long enough for me to photograph was my old friend the "Black Mamba". The same species that came to visit me in my garden when I first got pictures of them.

I had many, many other interesting things happen relating to dragonflies on that trip. It was a pretty great trip. And a pretty great day with the Sweet Pea yesterday. I think the two species we got are also county records for that county, too. So that's fun!

Now you know my connection to Odes.

More Later

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Seedy Side of Nature

The Boyo and I went for a quick walk around the yard today, just to see what we could see. With his excellent sight, he spotted this guy...

cruising around by our marshy area. He buzzed around for a bit and let us get some shots. He should be easy to find again, as his front starboard (right)wing looks a little injured. Did I mention that I love my camera? It turns this...

into this...

We were just about to head in when this flew past and landed in the tall grass...

I think it's a Common Green Darner, and is huge for a dragonfly. Three inches long.

I'm also pretty sure it's a male, though I only have a few reference photos to go by, and very few look like this one.
As for our red friend, it could be a Cherry-faced Meadowhawk or a Ruby Meadowhawk. My new friends over at MOSP inform me that the only way to be sure of the ID is to catch it and look at its genitalia.  That's right. I gotta check his junk. Fortunately one of the pros sent me some diagrams of what to look for to ID them. Odonata porn as it were.

Now I just have to figure out a way to catch the little sucker.  He is FAST!

And yes, I am going for an entire month of posts focusing only on dragonflies.

More Later

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dragonflies on the Brain

It's been a busy week of dragonfly hunting around the Shaffer house. I am totally addicted, as my loving and patient wife can attest, and the kiddos seem to enjoy it as well.

The Tule Bluet that the Sweet Pea found the other day was confirmed by Odonata Central, thus bringing us to four county records! Which I am pretty geeked about and the Boyo thinks is awesome. Sweet Pea is pretty indifferent to the excitement of her county record, but is convinced that the Tule Bluet is her own personal damselfly.

Today the Boyo had a good day at school, so as a reward we headed to the lake for another 30 minute blitz. We once again saw a multitude of Eastern Forktails...

And I got some pretty good shots of male Widow Skimmers zooming across the lake...

Then we came upon the "seedy side" of the natural world.

DISCLAIMER: If you will be scarred or scared by the sight of death and sex, READ NO FURTHER!!!

We found an unfortunate Widow Skimmer becoming a meal for a big, ugly spider.

The Boyo was ready to valiantly rescue the Skimmer and be his friend. But I convinced him that it was way too late for a rescue, and we had a talk about the whole circle of life thing. He was ok with it after a while, and thought that at least the spider wouldn't be hungry over the winter. We'll save the freezing death part of nature for another talk on another day.

As we walked around the lake, we spotted two dragonflies zooming over the lake, joined tail to head. I tried getting a shot of them in flight...

but they were just too fast.(see the two reddish blurs in the middle of the other blur) After a little more hunting, and spotting another male Widow Skimmer...

And mature female Eastern Forktails...

We started back for the car, and these two landed on a twig a couple of feet over my head.

I took pictures by holding the camera up and firing away, hoping, hoping, hoping for something usable.

Over 300 shots later, the mating duo got tired of being photographed and zoomed away...

So far on all of our hunts, we have seen a species we have not seen before. I'm putting together a little picture list of the ones we've seen and when/where/what time we saw them. Eventually I am certain we will go hunting and just see the same ones we've seen before. When that happens I guess we'll have to go to another county and start scouting there!

Many thanks to the Wife, and to those of you still reading, for your patience with this latest obsession.

More Later