Sunday, January 28, 2007

Forty Three and Counting

So I turned 43 this past week. It pretty much seems like a number anymore, although you do correlate it to little injuries that don't heal as fast as they used to and you realize that it does mean something.

Vicki got me a Thermarest self-inflating sleeping pad for lightweight low-bulk camping, and a happy Buddah from Signals, which is pretty cool. She said it makes her laugh. It does. It's kind of infectious.

We went out to Buckinghams BBQ for dinner with Brian & Kristin & Angela (Kevin was in St. Louis in training) and Ryan and Kristie. Sam came by, too and bought a round.

Thursday we went to the celebrity basketball game -- the Q106.1 All Stars vs the Gentry Middle School teachers starring my favorite daughter-in-law (she's awesome). After a basket she scored, as she came running back down the court she pointed at Brian with a "that was for you" kind of look on her face. She's a funny girl. Afterwards we all headed out to Murry's and had a nice time with the crowd -- Sam & Deb, and Ken, along with the rest of us.

Yesterday we went out to Mom & Dads (finally) for our Christmas get-together. Had sweedish pot roast (for those of you who don't know what that is you're really missing out). Jeff brought dad a new computer that is acutally capable of running Windows XP -- so that got all set up. We opened presents. Joel & Dawn got me a nice Pelican Case for carrying cameras into dangerous environs, and got Vicki a nice fluffy blanket. I tried re-repairing the pot-handles on Mom's old stainless steel pans using JB Weld and a nut, and did some adjustments on their pepper grinder. We met our "adopted sister Keri"'s fiance -- Dan -- who tried on her pink cowboy hat (from Mom & Dad) for style (man card still intact, of course). I will say Keri looks much better in it, but not nearly as funny.

Today Ryan and I went on Walkabout in the cold morning. It was something like 10 degrees when we left and maybe 16 or 17 when we came back. Hiked about a mile in to Cedar Creek Wildlife Area ... but couldn't cross Cedar Creek (it was too high for a winter crossing, and where it was frozen across I wasn't about to test the ice with that water and current with today's temperatures). We ended up finding a spot and making fire with a magnifying glass and sunlight. First time we've successfully started one that way -- so that's progress. We each did it twice, so we're pretty sure what to do and what to expect.

You need to get at least a racketball to tennis ball size ball of fibrous material with lots of fine, stringy strands, and pack a little bit of it tight -- leave the rest of it loose. Then you focus your light beam on a spot. As SOON as it starts smoking, start blowing on it, but keep the light beam focused. It'll get smokier and smokier -- that's a good sign. Don't give up, keep blowing as steady as you can and pretty soon -- poof! Flame. Third time I tried it today I had flames in under a minute -- so I think I know how to do it. Not saying I could do that every TIME, but I think I understand what's going on and why you have to do what, when, and for how long.

DON'T SCRIMP on your tinder.

We had Brian & Kristin and Kevin & Angela over for dinner tonight and had a nice chat with all of them. I did nip of to Sam's Club -- Ryan found a nice Swisstech hiker tent there for $35 -- so I can retire the kids tent for solo hiking. It's 3.3 lbs and packs down nice and small. Probably not any lighter or smaller than the kids tent, but it's actually going to be long enough to hold me at my height. The kids tent was a bit of a tight fit in the diagonal -- you really don't want to be touching the tent walls and my feet were. So this will be much better. When it gets warmer, of course.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Icy January

We had plans for the second weekend in January, and they fell through. That's why we didn't do the Christmas get-together at Mom & Dad's that weekend. Then this past weekend, we got a fairly nasty ice storm. Sleet and freezing rain. So it was rescheduled for the last weekend in January since we had the January Club™ Birthday party scheduled for this coming weekend.

But the ice storm knocked out the Hilgers' power and they're not sure when they'll get it back. So that got rescheduled for the first weekend in February.

Last friday before the storm got going Sam said he had a pot of venison stew on and wondered if we'd like to pack our jammies and head up and weather the storm out in the country ... with a fire in his big stone fireplace, whiskey, dominoes, guitars. We even watched a movie... "Dreamer". Nice feel-good family movie.

We got about 2.5" of sleet outside mixed with freezing rain. The freezing rain kind of glued it together. When we went to leave the next morning, the car wouldn't budge from its spot in Sam's flat driveway. After several tries we finally got enough traction to get a little momentum and move. Once we got out to the highway the roads were passable.

We decided to see Charlotte's Web -- my favorite book when I was in 3rd/4th grade. I'd seen the animated one that came out a few years after that, and I was disappointed. It was pretty cheesy and they made it into a musical. But after having seen Dreamer with Dakota Fanning -- and realizing she had been cast as Fern in the movie -- I thought it was great casting. She fits the look Fern had in the famous illustrations. Delicate, but determined.

It was done very well, and stuck to the book for the most part. I think the biggest deviation was the crows, but they were a fun addition. It was shot well and had the right feel to it. They couldn't pull off those special effects in 1974.

Got a smaller camera to carry along when the big one is just -- well, too big. Found an inexpensive Nikon CoolPix L3 -- and it'll fit the bill. Not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes, runs on AA batteries. 5 megapixels. Video with sound. SD memory (compatible with my Pentax). 3x optical zoom. Lots of pre-set shooting modes and a fully automatic mode -- plus there's this cool "panorama assist" I'll have to check out when I see something I want to "panoramize".

Not a lot going on at home. Still waiting for my Seisco water heater part. Need to call tomorrow. I put up some aluminum flashing in the corner of the downstairs bathroom to deter Bart from peeing in that corner which is right outside his darned litterbox anyway!!!! It seems to have done the trick. For now.

I've also been meaning to make a foam cutout template for the Pentax camera & lenses in my camera bag. Got that done this evening. Niiiice. Even bought a body cap for the camera. So everything's protected.

The ice started to melt today -- we finally got above freezing. It was difficult to cross the street on Sunday. Saturday night we got about 1/4" of freezing rain on top of the sleet. It was like trying to walk on greased white plastic. Except you could slam your heels into it and make a dent and get traction that way, which is what I ended up doing.

Mary (of Jorgie) came up with an ingenious solution. She couldn't walk in her yard, and she has dogs to take care of... so she took an old pair of sneakers and put screws through the bottom from the inside out and made herself a pair of impromptu "cleats". They worked great! Have to keep that in mind.

I couldn't believe ... Saturday after the movie, on the way home I remembered we were out of eggs. Went to the grocery store. Their whole huge bin of eggs was completely empty. Most of the back wall was pretty barren, too. I think it's funny that people here rush the grocery store whenever a little snow or ice is predicted. I say if you can't get by for a few days on the food in your house you need to change your shopping habits. It's not like we get snowed in for a week or more around here. If you live in the city, a day and a half, maybe 2 -- max.

Anyway, we ended up picking some up at Walgreens. Yeah. Walgreens. Go figure. And they weren't that expensive.

Well, that's the update for now. Later.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

To be fair... (Re: IE7)

I finally got the gumption to try re-installing IE7.

I got tired of not having Outlook Express. Not that Firefox's email is BAD... but I do happen to have one of those old hotmail accounts that is grandfathered for use with Outlook Express, and I like being able to get to all my stuff in one place.

So I re-downloaded and re-installed, and everything seems to be fine.

Oh, and after all these Windows Updates it looks like Windows doesn't lock up anymore when I boot up with my ergonomic (Microsoft!!!!) keyboard.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Magic Tree

Here in Columbia there's a guy named Fletcher who puts up a spectacular lights display. Someone told us about it on Vicki's birthday. I didn't remember what it was, just that it was off of old Plank Road. So when Vicki and I were driving Mother around looking at Christmas lights in the highlands, we decided to go see if we could find whatever it was.

Right about the time we were about to give up, we saw something amazing ahead and to the left on a side street. That had to be it. It looked like something out of a fantasy novel. It positively glowed. This 2-d photo here really can't do it justice -- and there's a further glow beyond what you can see in the photos. The second one is a little better.

I went back tonight to take a few pictures (no camera that night).

There are 68,500 lights on the tree. Literally every twig has lights on it. The guy says in his pamphlet it took 100 hours to put the lights on the 30 foot tree in their front yard. That, my friends, is the spirit! This is the most he's ever put on it. Last year he "only" had about 47,000 lights on it. He will probably drop back to something along those lines next year. He had to run an extra circuit to get that much juice to the tree.

We took all of the Christmas decorations down yesterday, inside and out. We have a lot. I like a bit of tasteful opulence in the house for the Holiday Season.

Sadly, I broke what I, at least, considered our most precious ornament -- the tree topper that belonged to Vicki's parents. It may even go back further than that. It was one of those antique German/Polish "mercury glass" indented spires. It was silver with a single indent, with gold and a maroon dot in the middle, and some white flocking around the edge of the indent.

I've been extra specially careful with it packing it and unpacking it every year, and putting it on the tree, and taking it off. Anytime I handled it.

But I wasn't handling it this time. I was removing an ornament from a branch a bit lower than it. As I pulled on that ornament, it pulled the little branch that held the ornament and the branch it was attached to back a bit. The branch the ornament on broke, releasing the tension on the branch it was attached to -- which flicked back in an instant and shattered the tree-topper. I was stunned. Speechless. In disbelief. It was so unexpected and so disappointing. I have a couple of pieces of it, including the top spire and the bottom tube. At the very least I will make a new ornament using these remains. I also intend to scour the web for the closest thing I can find to it - even if I can find just an indented ornament similar, I may even be able to fashion a new tree topper incorporating the parts I saved. I know it's just a thing, and given all the troubles in the world, it is a triffle. But some things carry more importance than others in a relative way, and I am terribly sorry it has been shattered forever.

We went to see Eragon today... it was ok. It helped that Cami mentioned it had been written by a teenager. The dialogue and depth of the story definitely showed it, but I was forgiving with that bit of knowledge in the back of my head. It was impressive for a teenager. It's not that it wasn't entertaining for a couple of hours... it just wasn't "great". Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars ... even Willow ... it was not.

We also went to the basketball game Friday night and watch the Tigers blow a SIXTEEN point lead with 15 minutes to go and lose it by 1 point on a shot with under 2 seconds to go (vs Iowa State). It was the first time I'd been to "Mizzou" arena (formerly the "Paige" arena). First time in years I'd even been to a basketball game. Cool arena.

Met a young lady through my blog last week as well. She's quite the talented photographer. She's Megan Owens, and she knows what she's doing with a camera. If I have an eye, she has five, and while I'm a technical amateur, she could be a pro. If I had need of a photographer for ... well, practically anything -- I'm sure she could do it. Publisher quality. Her stuff puts mine to shame. Not that I'm going to stop trying or anything ;-) On top of that, from my conversations with her she sounds like she's quality people -- far more important than any talent.

Anyway, Happy New Year to anyone who's reading this.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

And a Happy New Year

Sorry about that, folks, things suddenly got crazy.

Lots of company, special dinners for the Christmas weekend, then we too Mom back home Tue-Thurs after Christmas. Parties Friday, Saturday, & Sunday. Had to go back to work so we could get some rest.

Vicki did very well with her non-Christmas list (you know, the one I didn't give her). I don't like to "ask" for things for Christmas. To me, it takes the "giving" out of "gift". It comes off like more of an expectation of, or an obligation on the part of the person being asked.

Anyway, she got me three books pertaining to how and why we have certain names, phrases, and other sayings for things. That stuff's always fascinating. A very nice sweater as well. And Volume 1 of The Best of Fractured Fairytales. The most mystifying one, though, was this rectangular box about half the size of a bed pillow that must've weighed 35 lbs. I couldn't begin to fathom what it was. Lead for re-loading bullets?

It was a two volume hardback set of The Complete Far Side. Awesome! There are well over 4,000 cartoons for me to go through!

I got her a bunch of jewelry, and a couple of movies. Kevin ended up with movies and a computer game, Brian was deluged with ... a bunch of movies. Movies are big in our house. Brian and Kristin were over in the morning, Kevin and Angela later that afternoon. Had the traditional prime rib, red cabbage, cinnamon pears, and wild rice. Vicki had an incredible idea for the dinner table. And she thinks she's not artistic. It was a winter wonderland type theme with a rumpled silver mesh runner and perl and clear glass balls, clear glass marbles, and silver candles.

After taking Mom back home, on Friday we went to the Elks Club with some friends to watch the Tigers in their bowl game. They did really well. Had a 14 point lead in the middle of the fourth quarter, and then they just stopped. No offense. No defense. They lost by a point on a two point conversion they couldn't stop. Went out to a party after that. Got home late. Went to Mark & Cami's in Kansas City for their annual Holiday party -- "Formal Pajamas" was the dress code. Ate way too much food and hung out with a bunch of pretty nice people. Until 3:00 am. Got up at 9:00 am. Left at 11:00. Got back home at 1:00 pm. Ran the vaccuum. Went to the grocery store.

Joel & Dawn, & Tom & Betty arrived at 5:00. Tom and Betty brought a bunch of stuff for Mexican food. Joel brought Gran Marinier for the margaritas. And a good time was had for the -- what is it, the 15th annual "Bro-Fest"? It might go back even 17 or so years. And that lasted until about 2:30 am. Got up about 8:30, made monkey bread, breakfast cassarole and coffee. We all had breakfast. Tom & Betty went over to Nancy & Van's about noon, and Joel and Dawn lit out for St. Charles. We basically did nothing for the rest of the day. Watched the Boisie State bowl game in the evening (we have some connections there). They did very well, led the whole game (they were supposed to lose big) and blew an 18 point lead in the 4th quarter. Oklahoma tied it with 1:26 to go, and then Boisie State threw an interception on the first play of their drive to try to win it and Oklahoma returned it for a touchdown with about 1:15 left.

I turned it off. Beat. Tired. Boisie State sure to lose this one.

Of course we woke up the next morning to find that the actual finish to the game was spectacular and Boisie State won in overtime using some very well-executed mis-direction plays. Wow!

The other night I also did some Nativity Scene repair. Mom gave me their old nativity scene a few years ago. It was the one I grew up with. It had belonged to Grandma & Grandpa Buechner, I believe. Anyway, over the years various things had happened to it. Joseph's hand was missing. Jesus' right arm was gone from the elbow down. There were some big gouges in the paint on Mary's cloak, as well as a few smaller ones on Joseph.

I started by drilling small holes and inserting brass pins to mount the missing limbs on, then used epoxy putty to fashion new ones. A needle to make impressions to suggest fingers. Curved Joseph's hand. Jesus' hand was made into a little fist. And I mixed paint as best I could to match the colors. I did a fairly decent job, I think. I didn't want to cover up the original character of the pieces, including some of the age, so the painting was mostly a touch-up job on areas where the paint had been completely scraped/worn off. The rest of the original paint-job was left intact. You can still see a crack in Joseph's neck where his head must've come off at some point, probably when I was a boy would be my guess.