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