April 2011

Jim Arnosky, Va, and Beth

Jim Arnosky, Va, and Beth

Tonight Va, Beth, and I went to Gibson’s book store. It’s in the same building as my office, but that’s not why we went. Jim Arnosky was there for a book signing. Va and I have loved all the books of his that we’ve read, but I guess we haven’t read them all (yet). He’s written something like 126 of them. Don’t quote me on that number though – it’s close, but I don’t remember the exact figure.

Arnosky is a nature illustrator – and I just love his artwork. His narrative is always excellent too. I did not know that he plays the guitar, but he brought one along. He told us that he often writes his books while he is fishing or canoeing, but the first draft is usually in the form of a song. He jots it down, and then when he turns it into a book, he converts it from poetry to prose. He is a fantastic story teller, not only in his books, but in real life. We bought his latest book, Thunder Birds and he signed it for us.

When Va and I set up the card catalog at Beth’s school’s library, I set up the web server and configured the software for it, and Va added the books (a much bigger job). When I would test it, I usually did so by conducting an author search – using Arnosky as the search term. That was because I knew she’d have his books in the collection.

Before Arnosky spoke, a guy from the Audubon Society was there with a red tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) That was pretty cool too. I took a few photos, but I’m not happy with them, as I had forgotten my camera and was using Va’s. Her camera is a Canon too, but it doesn’t have a fully manual mode, so I was a little lost with it.

The other thing I noticed while we were there was that nearly all the men who came to meet Arnosky looked a lot like Mr Crinkleroot.

This weekend, Norio Ohga died. He was the chairman of Sony who oversaw the development of the audio CD. Ohga insisted on two things: that the CD be 12 cm in diameter, and that it hold 75 minutes of audio (in stereo), so that it would have sufficient capacity to hold Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in its entirety. This is a fact that I have long known, because I used to do a lot of signal processing work revolving around digital audio. A CD stores music using a sample rate of 44.1KHz, and that is a strange number, especially since it is so close to 48KHz, which would have been the more logical case. Except for Beethoven. In order to meet Ohga’s demand, the engineers set the sample rate to 44.1KHz. Had they used 48KHz instead, the Ninth would not have fit.

As the work week began, I started hearing stories about Ohga on the radio, and sometimes they would play the Ninth in the background. If you are not familiar with that particular symphony, you really need to check it out. I used to own a copy on cassette, but I haven’t seen it in a long time. And even if I found it, then I’d need to scare up a cassette deck. So with Ohga’s passing to remind me of what I have been missing, I decided that it was high time I replace that cassette.

I signed onto iTunes and did a search. It turned up, but as the four individual movements. Movement number IV is the choral piece upon which the hymn “Ode to Joy” is based. But that movement is 24 minutes long, and iTunes won’t sell you a song that long as a single track. Instead, you have to buy a whole album. I didn’t object to that, because I wanted to buy all four movements anyhow. The whole album (by the London Symphony Orchestra) was in the neighborhood of $4.00, which I thought was pretty good, so I bought it. As it began to download, I realized that I was getting all nine of Ludwig’s symphonies. Bonus!

I listened to Number Nine at least nine times today, but mostly just the fourth movement. Man. There is no other song like that. Parts of it are so beautiful that I am literally moved to tears when listening. If you have a copy, there is a passage about 15:20 seconds into the fourth movement where the sopranos come in singing “Diesen kuss der ganzen welt”, taking four notes (and about four seconds) to sing the word “Diesen” and that gets me every time. Translated from the German, that passage means “with a kiss for all the world” and is speaking of the Creator’s love for us. That just makes it even more beautiful to me. Beethoven didn’t write the words – it was an extant poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785. Tchaikovski had also written a symphony set to Schiller’s poem, but when he was urged to publish it, he refused. He did not want his work to be eternally compared to the Ninth, because he knew there really was no comparison. Can’t say I blame him!

Va and I selected Ode to Joy as one of the hymns sung at our wedding (almost 25 years ago). We also listened to the National Symphony Orchestra perform it at Wolf Trap back in 1987 or so (pre-kids, but I don’t remember exactly when). What a performance.

This song is all the more spectacular when you know that Beethoven was completely deaf when he composed it. He never heard it, but there’s no way he didn’t know what it sounded like. When it was first performed in 1824, Ludwig got on stage a couple of times to indicate the tempo, but since he could not hear, he couldn’t really do more than that. But it was sure more than enough in my book.

Before I left work today, I burned the Ninth onto a CD (it fits quite nicely, Mr Ohga!) so I could bring it home and listen to it in the car. I think I’ll pop it into the CD player in a few minutes and listen another nine times.

Winter just won’t let go:

Tulip in the snow

Tulip in the snow

This is what we found when we got home from church today. I didn’t think the ground was cold enough for the snow to stick, but I guess I was wrong. We had more snow here at the house than we did at Concord, but it’s still not enough to have to plow.

Yesterday most of the tents were dry enough to take down. The four season tent was still wet on the inside, so I moved it to the basement. The forecast was for rain today, but you’ve already seen what we got instead.

Flock of tents

Flock of tents

We’ll use these again in about two weeks when the club attends the Atlantic Union Camporee. There will be about 3000 people there (as compared to the North American Division camporee in Oshkosh which had ten times as many people, or the Northern New England camporees which have a tenth as many people).

Jonathan managed to convince all his professors to let him take his finals early, so he’s going to Budapest next month to attend the Ubuntu Developers Conference. He got his itinerary today.

He’ll fly from Boston to Budapest with a layover in Zurich, and then fly back home with a layover in Frankfurt.

He’s a tiny bit excited.

We also attended the awards ceremony where he was named Outstanding Freshman of the CPET department today (he was one of about 50 students named something). I think CPET must be something like Computer Programming/Engineering Technology or something. I made that up, but it kinda fits. The ceremony ran 100 minutes, and his part took maybe two.

2011 Outstanding Freshmen in CPET

2011 Outstanding Freshmen in CPET

He was a tiny bit happy about the award too. I left work just before noon to be there and arrived before Va, David, and Beth. Jonathan found me in the auditorium, about the time Va called me to figure out where the auditorium was. She described her surroundings, and I relayed that to Jonathan, and he trundled off to find them and guide them in.

Just as he was leaving to do that, one of his professors approached me and asked if I was his Dad. Why yes, I am! Then he told me how unanimous the whole department was on his selection, and that they all really felt he deserved the award. I told him “We kind of like him too!” and he laughed.

Va and the kids arrived a few minutes later and we found some seats in the nosebleed section. I took some crappy photos (low light conditions plus long distance from subject equal noisy photos). The least crappy one on is shown above.

On the way home he said (in his usual subtle manner) “Today was a good day.”

I think he was right.

The Pathfinders had our annual club campout this weekend. The verdict is in – it was very mixed! I am reminded of Roald Amundsen’s statement that “Adventure is just bad planning,” and I have to confess that a great deal of our problems were self-inflicted. Mostly by me I guess.

When we got there and were setting up, Ken (on whose farm we were camping) pulled me aside and told me we might want to stay clear of the barn on Saturday. One of his cows had broken a hip. They were planning to butcher her after she had weaned her calf, but she moved those plans up a bit by falling on her calf and killing it. Normally, they have their butchering done elsewhere, but since they had an immobile cow, that was not possible. OK – we’ll stay down in the woods on Saturday, no problem.
With that, our campout saga begins.

One of our staff members was planning to join us Saturday morning, so she wasn’t there when we pitched camp Friday evening. Last fall, she had taken the griddle for our propane stove home with her to give it a good scrubbing, so we were without that. That in itself is not a catastrophe, but it goes a little deeper than that. The griddle is stored in a canvas bag along with the propane regulator. Without the regulator the stove is pretty much useless.

The plan was that we would have grilled cheese sandwiches for supper on Friday evening, and a “feast in a foil” Saturday evening. Since the feast in a foil is prepared over a camp fire and grilled cheese is grilled on the griddle, we decided to switch the two around. That was a good decision.

The menu and shopping list was planned by our Ranger unit (13 year-olds). David (who is in the Guide unit), guided them through this. I provided them with a spreadsheet into which they could enter ingredients for each meal they planned as well as the number of people who would be dining with us. It figures out how much food to buy based on that. They copied the ingredients from the spreadsheet to paper, but not the amounts! Then their grandfather (Mr Stokes, another of our staff members) took them to buy it, but none of them knew how much of anything to get. And their guesses were not exactly “spot on.” So we were a bit short in the food department. I have to take the blame for this though, as I did not review the shopping list. I did see the menu, which looked pretty good, but clearly I need to look over the list from now on. My bad.

After any meal we need to wash dishes, and not having a tap with hot running water, the way we handle that is to heat some water and put it into three plastic tubs (pre-rinse, wash, and final rinse). Not having a stove meant we needed to heat the water over the campfire. So I put the kettle on the fire for a bit. When I went to take it off, I donned some heavy, padded leather gloves, which unfortunately proved to be insufficient for the task. I ended up with a blister on two fingers. Ouch! My bad again!

I sent the pre-teens to bed around 10:30 or so, and the older kids and I turned in about an hour later. The plan for Saturday’s breakfast was French toast, but since our griddle and regulator were still missing in action, we opted for oatmeal and cold cereal instead. Again, we adapted.

After breakfast, we started our Sabbath School and church activities. The Rangers were working on the Camping Skills IV honor, and for that, they needed to prepare a one-hour Sabbath activity. They thing that they came up with took all of five minutes, so I sent them back to the drawing board. It wasn’t a bad activity – it just didn’t take as long as they projected it would.

I presented a few worship thoughts for the kids to take up the extra 55 minutes, including how the furnishings in the wilderness sanctuary are arranged in the shape of the cross. To illustrate this, I had a kid stand where each item of furniture was located. When I asked what shape it made, they could easily see it. One even noted that the altar of sacrifice where the Israelites confessed their sins was right at the foot of the cross.

After church was over I got a call from Va. She shared some tragic news with us. One of my former Pathfinders had lost her baby after an 8-month pregnancy, and she was at that moment struggling for her own life. A lot of the kids in our club knew her, so this news hit kind of hard. We (and many others) prayed for her of course, and I am very happy to say that she has now turned the corner. She may be released tomorrow.

Lunch was our first uneventful meal – haystacks. There was plenty of food for everyone, and everyone was hungry. When we finished that, we headed off for an afternoon hike to see a massive beaver dam. When we got to the pond (but before we got to the dam) we took a short break. Mr Stokes and his granddaughter were sitting at the edge of the pond when Mr Stokes thought he’d grab her suddenly as if he were going to push her in. But instead of grabbing her as if he were going to push her in, he accidentally did push her in! She only got one leg of her pants wet though, and it was really funny. Mr Stokes was somewhat embarrassed about that (which is why I’m posting it here?) I had my camera in hand when this happened, so I now have the opportunity to deepen that embarrassment:

Mr Stokes "rescues" his granddaughter

Mr Stokes "rescues" his granddaughter

While we were there, I found my first fully blossomed trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). I promised here a little while back that as soon as I saw some, I’d pop one into my mouth and report back to my readers. And today, I am fulfilling that promise. It tasted… meh! But not bad at all. I will not likely make eating TA blooms a habit any time soon.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Out in the middle of this beaver pond are several dead snags, and one of them sports a blue heron nest. We were lucky in that the blue heron came by and stayed long enough for me to get several shots of it. My little Canon does not excel at telephoto-ops, so this image isn’t really the greatest, but I will share it with you anyhow:

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

After our short break, we had to bushwhack a little more to get to the beaver dam. Here it is from the top:

Massive beaver dam

Massive beaver dam

This dam was about six feet high in the middle, and at least 200 feet long.You can see a satellite image courtesy of Google Maps here.

Trailing arbutus was not the only flower in bloom, but you had to look up to see the others.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

These are red maple blooms. The chronology I am noting this year is that the silvers bloom first, followed by the reds. I haven’t seen any sugar maples in bloom yet, but I’m sure they will be coming along very soon.

We got back from our hike without further incident and worked more on the Stars honor (which we had started Friday night). I had the kids stand in for celestial bodies this time. My favorite thing to do with this is to have them re-enact the motion of the earth, moon, and sun. I start by having the moon orbit the earth, being sure the kid playing the moon is always facing the kid playing the earth. Then I set the earth into spin about its axis. Finally, I instruct the earth to orbit the sun while the moon tries to keep up. That’s always a lot of fun, and the kids like it every time.

We finished off the day with a new “one-hour” activity that the Rangers planned during our hike. It didn’t quite last a full hour, but I’m going to give them a pass. At any rate, this exercise should give them a pretty good understanding of how carefully the staff plan their activities.

We had our grilled cheese for dinner.

Around 8:00pm Saturday evening we had a bit of rain mixed with sleet. I think I can now say with certainty that my least favorite camping weather is raining and 35 degrees. Not a good combination. But with the sleet came warmer temperatures, and the sleet turned into a downpour. I was pretty exhausted by then, so I sent the pre-teens to bed around 8:30. The teens and I hung out in the kitchen shelter until 9:30 or so when I found myself continually waking up in my camp chair. They were pretty tired too, so we all went to bed before 10:00.

It poured all night.

When I got up at 7:00, this is what our kitchen looked like:

Deluged Kitchen

Deluged Kitchen

The water in our kitchen was two inches deep in most places. Deeper than that in other spots. Two inches doesn’t really sound that bad until you stop to consider that it’s a bit deeper than the top of your shoes. Then it seems really deep. We considered relocating the kitchen, but there was no way it was going to move more than six feet in any direction without disassembling and reassembling it. Also, there was not an abundance of dry places nearby. So I decided we should try to drain it. Since this property belongs to my good friend Ken, and two of his kids were camping with us, I knew that he would not mind at all if we did a little excavation. So we dug a small ditch and raked leaves out of the path of the water. The kitchen was drained by about 9:00 (well… kinda), and we were finally able to begin cooking breakfast. Pancakes! The first order of business was to heat some water so the dishes could be done afterwards. Then we mixed up some pancake batter (oops! Our shoppers bought pancake mix that called for eggs & milk, and not our usual “complete” pancake mix!). Then the kids went to light the burners for the griddle (which had rejoined our party), but they were having an awful time of that – because we were out of propane. My. Bad. Again.

By then, our dish water was nice and hot, but I decided we could put it to better use in making oatmeal. I heated a little more water for the dishes over the fire, which was lit by our Ranger unit – in spite of the previous evening’s deluge. I was rather proud of them for that, and grateful that we were able to wash the dishes in hot water.

Sometime during the morning, one of my Pathfinders came to me with a tick embedded in his abdomen. Out of all the kids in my club to get a tick, and indeed, out of all the kids I have ever known in my life, I could not have selected a worse one to suffer that fate. This kid has an irrational fear of ticks. He is terrified of them. I washed my filthy, kitchen-draining hands, went to the first aid kit, and got some tweezers. I was intent on pulling this parasite out firmly and slowly (like you’re supposed to), and he was screaming the whole time. He was also pushing my hand away. I don’t think I can justly blame his panic on what happened next, but the tick’s body came loose from his head, which is exactly what the firm-but-gentle pull is supposed to prevent. My panicked Pathfinder went into an even greater panic, which I did not think was even possible. I worked on him for another ten minutes, but I was not able to get the tick head out of his tummy. His mom managed to do that when he got home, and I have nothing but admiration for her for that.

We spent the rest of the morning working on the Camping Skills I-IV honors, with my older Pathfinders teaching the younger ones. That really went pretty well. Around 11:00 or so, one of my staff members (Ken’s wife) offered to make PB&J sandwiches up at the house instead of having us suffer through doing that in our flooded kitchen. I did not hesitate to accept her gracious offer.

While she was up making lunch, Warran, Mr Stokes, and I took the kids back into the woods to construct a rope bridge over one of the many puddles in our camp site. This was so we could finish off the Pioneering honor. The kids absolutely loved doing this. They had a blast. I don’t like to show pictures depicting the faces of other people’s kids on the Internet, so instead, I will show one of myself (Warran used my camera to take this shot of me):

Jomegat crosses the rope bridge

Jomegat crosses the rope bridge

When we were finished with this, we headed up to the house to have lunch (outside!) Afterwards, I began herding the kids back down to the camp site. As I was doing this, Ken called out to me. One of his cows was calving! Did the kids want to see that? I figured. “why not?” Three of the girls in my Friend unit (10 year-olds) were very interested, so we detoured into the barn. The calf had already been born, and mama was standing there cleaning it off, with all the attendant grossness hanging out of her back-end. Eeewwww! The girls didn’t seem to mind though. That’s when Ken’s youngest son asked them if they wanted to see two other newborn calves (one of which was his own). Why not? So ff we went to a second barn. The first calf was standing, and it’s mother was licking the kids’ hands. Then we moved to the next stall where the other calf was. But not its mother.
The calf was sleeping? Nope. No breathing action there. Turns out this is the calf that had been crushed by its mother. Ken hadn’t yet had a chance to take care of it, and his son didn’t know any of this had happened. He called out “Hey Dad! Where’s this calf’s mother?” I don’t think this affected him too much – he does live on a farm, and mortality is certainly a part of that life.

After this minor fiasco, we headed back down to the camp site to strike camp. Everything was soaking wet, but the sun had come out for a bit. We had moved the tents into the pasture to let them dry some, and some of them were actually pretty dry. Unfortunately, the field was still pretty wet, so driving back up to the house (and driveway) was something of a challenge. I thought I was going to get stuck for a few minutes, and I was also very concerned that I would tear up Ken’s pasture. I don’t think I did too bad though. Unfortunately, Mr Stokes did get stuck. We tried to push him out, but I could see all we were doing we digging him in deeper. In the hope of not making a bad situation worse, we called for Ken (who was still busy with his newly minted calf) and he came down and pulled him out with his truck.

I brought all the still-wet tents home with me, and David and I pitched them in the north yard. Of course it’s raining again now, but as long as they’re not folded up and packed away in a trailer, they won’t mold.

I guess this post is about long enough now, so I’m going to turn it loose now. Hope you all enjoyed reading it.

Last Sunday the screen on my laptop went out on me. That’s usually either the voltage inverter or the tiny flourescent light tube situated along the bottom edge of a sheet of glass in the screen. I have replaced both those elements in other laptops in the past, reviving the computer. But this one belongs to my employer, and it’s still under warranty. So I called Bill, our IT guy. We removed my hard drive and installed it in another computer he had on hand that is just like mine. So using that laptop felt “just like home.”

Then we sent my laptop back to Dell. But just before we did, the screen came back to life. That probably means a broken wire connected (or not) to the flourescent tube. But hey – we sent it anyhow.

It came back today, along with a report of what they did. Nothing about the screen. They replaced the cracked wrist pad, and that was all. Neither Bill nor I were very happy about that. I turned it on, and it was working, so… what can you do?

When I got home, I fired up the laptop again, and within 10 minutes, the screen went blank again. This did not come as a surprise. The screen came back again, went out again, and then came back again. I’m sure it will eventually not come back at all. Maybe Bill will send it back again tomorrow.

Today marks the first day this year that I have had no snow on my property. We had some yesterday, but it is gone now. I guess that means spring is really here now. I heard some spring peepers today too, so there’s another sign. I suppose I can put the snowshoes away now.

The big question now is whether the snow will be gone at my friend Ken’s place this weekend, as the Pathfinders will be camping there. We need to finish up the Camping Skills honors and polish off the Pioneering honor. I also need to teach Stars – Advanced to a few of them. Unless it’s cloudy (the forecast is calling for rain). That’s OK too though, as one of the requirements for Camping Skills is to light a fire in wet weather. I make them all do that whenever we camp in the rain, as I don’t want to find myself in the position of hoping it rains on a campout so they can meet that requirement. It’s better to take advantage of the situation as it arises (which is plenty often enough).

When I got home tonight I went into my woods to look for trailing arbutus. There’s plenty of it around since it’s an evergreen plant, and they are almost ready to bloom. Maybe by the end of the week. Here’s how they were looking today:

Epigaea repens

Epigaea repens

Our church has been conducting some seminars in Franklin about five miles from my house this month. I went tonight to help out with the kids, but there were no kids there. On my way to the car I was greeted by this:

Sunset on the Mill

Sunset on the Mill

I assume this building was once a mill of some sort, as it looks old and is located right on the banks of the Winnepesaukee River. I guess the composition could have been better, but the sunset was fading fast and I had the camera perched on the top of a chain link fence (with barbed wire along the top) surrounding an electrical substation. I didn’t think the substation would add much to the photo, so I zoomed until I was shooting over it.

Today I took a walk during my lunchbreak to see how spring is coming along. The silver maples are still in bloom, as are the crocuses, but that’s about it. Along the railroad tracks I spotted this:

Digitabulus laboris

Digitabulus laboris

For a few milliseconds after glimpsing this, I thought it was some sort of monocot with nice thick leaves pushing defiantly up through the soil, but upon closer inspection… ok, it’s an old work glove. Or as they might say in Latin, “Digitabulus laboris”.

The black locust is budding though.

Robinia pseudoacacia

Robinia pseudoacacia

I thought I might meander over to LL Bean while I was out, but there was a car accident on the sidewalk along that route, so I just took my usual lap. Had I gone to Bean, I would probably have missed the sprouting of the glove.

When I got home I went out to check my sap bucket. It had half a gallon of sap in it, but it also had a dozen mosquitoes and a moth. That’s the sign that syruping season has come to an end, so I dumped it out and removed my tap. I have a couple of gallons of unboiled sap to process now, along with some that I reduced by about 20:1 last week. I’ll prolly mix them together and boil it down tomorrow evening. Then that’s it until next year.

We had more snow today, but it changed over to rain in the afternoon. It accumulated to about an inch at my house. Yup. April 4. I left my camera at home today, which I seldomly ever do, so I have no pictures of the latest snow. In Concord, it wasn’t even quite enough to cover the dirty snow banks at the edges of the parking lot. I could still see patches of black snow through the new cover of white.

Music Clinic went pretty well. Va and David arrived shortly before the Saturday evening concert, and we bailed shortly after Beth played her piece (which was excellent). We got home a little after 11:00pm. Beth got some sleep in the car and slept late Sunday morning, but that was not nearly enough for her. She was a BEAR on Sunday.

April Fools Snow Storm

April Fools Snow Storm

Today I found out that on April 1st, it’s a bad idea to tell people that you’ve been praying for snow – even if you’re just kidding. Most people will not appreciate that.

I’m in Freeport, ME with Beth this weekend for Music Clinic. This is what my car looked like when we left the hotel this morning. The roads were kinda bad too, as one might expect. I made it to the school OK though, and got a pretty decent parking space. Beth had an 8:30 practice, and another one that ended at about 11:00am. I had forgotten my name tag, which doubles as a meal ticket, so we went back to the hotel. The roads were even worse then. I nearly got stuck, and actually had to shovel out the car to get out of my decent parking space. At the hotel we ate some PB sandwiches and watched cartoons (Curious George if you want to know). Then at 1:00 or so, we headed back to the school. The roads were a ton better by then. Beth had another practice. When that was over we were free until 5:30 which is when I was on the hook to help move ten pianos. Luckily, they were all electric, and I wasn’t doing it myself. We had to move them out of a practice room and onto the stage for the “dress rehearsal” and the first performance. Why ten pianos? Because Beth’s performance was shared with about 25 other kids. They actually sounded pretty good too.

Here’s Beth waiting for her turn on the stage for the dress rehearsal.

Waiting In the Wings

Waiting In the Wings

They did not sound good at all during their first rehearsal yesterday. I don’t know how the instructors can stand that, much less how they were able to turn it around so quickly.

Tomorrow she will participate in two more pieces. Between these two, we’ll take a short snowshoe trek. There are plenty of places to do that up here, and there’s enough snow on the ground that it won’t be ridiculous to try. As long as the snow is still here after lunch, anyhow. Since this snowstorm was forecast pretty well in advance, I brought the snowshoes with us.

Va and David will be coming up for the evening performance, and Jonathan will stay home to keep Penny company (and allow her outside to transact doggy business). We’ll drive home after Beth’s final performance.