July 2010


We are on the road and have been for a couple of days now. Today we stopped in VA where we lived for 18 years until 6 years ago. We went to church there and discovered that we only recognized one face in ten. That was surprising, because when we left, we knew ten faces in ten!

Former slave lodgings at the Ben Lomond Manor House

Former slave lodgings at the Ben Lomond Manor House


After church we went to our old neighborhood, primarily because someone had hidden a geocache there and I wanted to log it. It was hidden at Ben Lomond Manor House. Beth and I had no trouble finding it, and then we all hung out for a while to let Penny stretch her legs. The manor house was used as a field hospital during both Battles of Manassas during the Civil War. The photo above shows where the manor’s slaves lived.

While Penny stretched her legs, I moseyed on over to the rose garden.

Normally, cultivated flowers do not hold my interest, but since they had so few “weeds” in bloom, I decided to take a look, camera in hand. To my delight, I saw a hummingbird moth (Hemaris spp) darting among the flowers. I had never even heard of these until last week when I saw a photo on a blog I read. Here’s the shot I managed in my excitement:

Hummingbird moth (Hemaris spp)

Hummingbird moth (Hemaris spp)

After a bit we got in the car and resumed our drive. On the way, Va got a call from our neighbor back behind us. Seems the house to the south of us was fully engulfed in flames, and she wanted to be sure Penny wasn’t in our house. It must have been quite a spectacle.

One of the sad things about this incident is that we never once spoke to the people who lived there over the past five and a half years. They moved out last month, and put the house on the market. The sign came down quickly, and Beth says she had seen a couple unloading a moving van into the house. I thought it was still empty. I hope they were OK, but I really don’t have any other news on that front.

American Toad (Bufo americanus)

American Toad (Bufo americanus)


Tonight I saw this American Toad (Bufo americanus) in the backyard. He really didn’t want to sit still for a portrait, but I insisted. When I first saw him, he was near the deck, so I got out the camera and put it between him and the deck so he wouldn’t go underneath to hide. That worked just as I had intended, as he hopped away from the camera. I managed to get about 20 shots, and maybe this one turned out the best.

The funny thing I noticed was that if I put the camera in his face, he was far more brave and would sit still for a bit. If I positioned it to his side, the slightest motion would send him off for a better position. I didn’t try putting it behind him, as that wasn’t the shot I was really after.

Today we had to leave the house early so I could meet a guy who would give us an estimate for electrical work on the church. This is work I am well able to handle myself, but unfortunately, it would not be legal for me to do it. We have to have a licensed electrician. We used to have a member in the church who is licensed, but he moved to Texas last year.

Anyhow, the bid came in at over $2600, which was about double what I was expecting. Ouch. After I showed the estimator around, I dropped my car off for an oil change and tire rotation. Then I walked to the office from there.

My buddy Wayne was having his car serviced too, but not at the same place. He also walked to the office this morning, but from about triple the distance I did. After work Jonathan and I gave him a ride to his garage (but first… we had to walk to mine).

In other news…
I have been hacking together some software to process geocache data that I download from their site. Though it is still very much a hack-job, I was able to use it tonight to add about a thousand geocaches to my Tomtom. I’ve been virtually cruising down I-81 downloading caches in preparation for a trip we’ll take soon.

Today as I was wandering about the yard I scared up a Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris).

Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris)

Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris)


Even though Fish & Game says that these frogs are widespread, this is only the second third one I’ve ever seen. Frogs are actually a lot less common this year than they have been in the past few. We’ve had less rain than usual, so I suppose it must be a factor. I’m sure that’s why my bulfrog/green frog population in the catchment pond is so low.

The name Rana palustris means “frog: swampy.” Maybe if I spent more time in swamps I’d see them more often than once every three years.

This particular specimen did not want to hold still long enough for me to get a good shot. I’m glad I took this one even though the photo was sure to be sub-optimal (frog is obscured by the grass, etc), but I did it because I thought it might be my only shot – and it was. Shortly after this one, it disappeared into the grass (which desperately needs a good mowing) and I was unable to find him again.

We went to the company picnic today. Even though I have worked at this place for 11 years now (well… in August), this is the first picnic I have attended. It is also the first time they’ve ever held it on a Sunday. They moved it from Saturday to Sunday so that I could attend, which I did not ask them to do, but I did certainly appreciate it.

I brought a few things for the entertainment. Wayne had suggested that we have a solar-oven cookie bake-off. I did the research and found some plans for the ovens. I also bought the supplies for them and transported them here (except for the boxes). Supplies included aluminum foil, aluminum tape, oven/roaster bags, plexiglass, carton knives, cardboard boxes, and wire. Here are two of the resulting ovens:

Solar ovens, but no sun!

Solar ovens, but no sun!


The one Jonathan and I worked on is shown in the upper part of the photo above. Too bad the sun didn’t cooperate! Almost as soon as the ovens were finished and stoked with cookie dough, the clouds got pretty thick. It sprinkled a bit too. In spite of that, the ovens did reach temperatures of 110°F. I had brought an IR laser thermometer (we use them in our labs all the time). Soon the clouds got even thicker and the “oven” temperatures dropped to around 85°F. The grass also clocked in at… 85°F. We baked zero cookies.

Another item I brought was a pilot ladder I had made earlier this month. They have these at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, the difference being that you have to pay a buck to try climbing theirs. This one was free. In spite of the unlimited number of attempts, I was still not able to climb this contraption. David gave it a try too:

David on the pilot ladder

David on the pilot ladder


With the expected results:
David lying on the sand after falling off the pilor ladder

...but not for long

Some of the younger girls (about Beth’s age) finally did manage to reach the top without being thrown off. I awarded the first one to do this with a $10 gift card from Target. She was pleased.

There was also a swimming pool there which is where Beth spent most of her time. The whole family had a great time.

Today after lunch, Beth, Penny, and I headed down to Sandogardy Pond again. There were a lot of people there as both the temperature and humidity were nearly 90. Beth swam. I took pictures of aquatic plants.

Triadenum virginicum (Virginia marsh St. Johnswort)

Triadenum virginicum (Virginia marsh St. Johnswort)


I’m pretty sure I’ve posted pics of this species already this year, but they were out in force today, so I took several more shots. I liked this one the best.

I also came across one I don’t yet know. I have misplaced my “main” field guide, and have had no luck thus far with the FG’s I do have on hand. It might be one I used to know and then forgot:

Unidentified Flower

Unidentified Flower


If anyone out there recognizes it, I’d be grateful for an ID.

Penny spent the whole time taking sticks to people and convincing them to throw them for her. Most obliged. Kids tend to throw them out into the pond, but that does not daunt Penny in the least:

Stick Fetcher

Stick Fetcher

We came home after about an hour. I took a nap, had some supper, and then Beth and I went out again in the evening to do a little geocaching. We found two and then came home.

As far as I know, we still do not have the building permit for the school remodelling project, so that’s still on hold. Jonathan and I did stop by there after work today though to pick up some tools. I had been thinking we might clean up enough in there to make the room usable tomorrow, but that would have been a two hour task. Instead, Jonathan proposed that we move one of the cubby-hole cabinets in front of the door to close the area off to kids. I thought that was a brilliant plan, so we executed it, and were on our way.

It started raining this afternoon, so when I got home, I didn’t go outside. Maybe I will tomorrow, rain or shine. We’ll see.

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