Looking at a Road Trip

I do not like to travel alone to strange and far off places. I do not like to drive on back roads of gravel and dirt – especially at night when I don’t know where I’m going. Guess what? My boss told me he wanted me to travel to a far away wilderness area to do an inspection. He needed it done ASAP. So I’m going on a trip. An adventure. But I’m not going alone. Sparky can’t go – he has to work and had already asked for time off for the eclipse and for the wedding this Friday. I was in a little bit of a panic. My wonderful friend saintvi has rescued me by volunteering to travel into the wilderness with me! She doesn’t realize it yet (because I didn’t mention it -but as soon as she reads this she will) but there aren’t too many people who get the opportunity or privilege to visit this specific area. It is a pristine wilderness area and the students and researchers who visit are very careful to avoid making any impact on the wildlife. Mostly because that is what they are studying. If we bring it in, we have to take it out… This ecological research center was a favorite spot of Fr. Hesburgh’s and supposedly he would go there on retreat. I’ve had to get a special pass to get past the gate and made arrangements for a rental car and accommodations on site overnight. We have to bring our own food for dinner and breakfast…

The jealous people have been pouting about not getting to go. I’ve been told that I absolutely need to have a good length of rope, a shovel, a saw, and a “come-along” in addition to ample amounts of mosquito repellent, a snake bite kit, extra water and some flares. Because “if you slide off a muddy road it could be days before anyone drives down that way.” Another advised, “Take a couple of blankets and your winter coat because the UP is getting cold by now.” Still another person suggested taking multiple cell phone chargers because there isn’t any reception and the roaming will drain the battery in a heart beat! I think what I’ll do is take cookies. The students stuck in that mosquito infested paradise will be grateful because cookies make everything better! And I’m bringing my camera. The secretary for the director of the research center mentioned that the wildlife (porcupines, weasels, bobcats, and deer) mostly haven’t seen people much and they have never been hunted so they don’t run away – There will be lots of photo opportunities!

As a reward for having to drive long distances on unfamiliar roads, saintvi and I will geocache our way home. I anticipate getting to the remote location in about 10 hours. I’m planning on taking 2 days to drive home! I think we’ll be able to up our numbers and maybe find some cool caches… I’m only 313 caches from my next milestone!

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Looking at Retirement

Last week Sparky and I attended one of those seminars on financial planning for retirement. You know the ones. They lure you in with a free dinner at a fancy restaurant. Well, Sparky took the bait. It was dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. We don’t eat “big meat” very often and we really can’t afford that restaurant so it was worth the 1 hour sales pitch.

We were assigned seats and ended up across the table from Dave and Shannon. I looked at Dave’s name tag and it seemed that his name was familiar. He was looking at Sparky and finally asked, “Are you by chance related to Craig?” The answer was yes! Seems as soon as he said that Sparky recognized his name and there ensued a conversation that brought to light that he and his wife know all our friends and family and that they have been following our trip for the eclipse on Facebook! Dave is a musician and plays the saxophone. As we talked he realized that for the past 2 years he has been giving lessons next door to where son#2 give his lessons. In fact they have spoken many times but neither one was aware of their 6 degrees of separation!

Then we were talking about plants and I found out that Shannon was a master gardener! She had photos of her garden that were amazing. As we spoke about plants I asked her about a “tree” that I’ve fallen in love with. She knew exactly where it was located when I was talking about it. She knew the woman who had originally planted it. She and her husband had been biking and passed it and stopped to inquire from the home owner who happened to be puttering in her garden. They liked it so much they bought one for their yard! So now I know what to look up and how to get one for myself!! It was a Grace Smoke Tree if you want to look it up…

Besides the somewhat interesting talk about retirement savings and how to avoid the “tax torpedo”, and the delightful dinner companions, the food was delicious. I didn’t take photos of the main courses because it was just meat. They started with a mixed greens salad with cherry tomatoes and croutons. Spark ate mine. I had the petite filet mignon and Sparky had a NY strip steak. They served family style some garlic mashed potatoes, barely cooked (as in still crunchy) broccoli, and a sweet potato casserole. The dessert however was fabulous. The choice was a chocolate cake topped with chocolate ganache and a peanut butter whipped cream or a mixed berry cheesecake. It is a no brainer – we both went with the cheesecake.

It was a wonderful evening!

Looking Scared

Complex impedance
My ground fault connection
Lowered resistance
Too late for correction
As I kiss the sun’s surface
Suffer a fate worse than Icarus
For I lived

I know a lot of semi-useless stuff. I’m killer at Trivial Pursuit because of it. I just attended a presentation on NFPA 70E (Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace) as part of my safety training for work. This standard focuses on safety and prevention of electrical shock, electrocution, arc flash and arc blast. So what is the big deal? Well, complacency is the big deal. We use electricity all the time for so many different things and we don’t understand the nature of this “beast”! If you do anything today let it be an inspection of your electrical cords. Look for cuts or frayed areas. Check to see if the insulation is intact and there is no damage to the plug or prongs. If the cord is damaged stop using that item! Do you hear me? STOP USING THAT CORD! Either throw it away or have it replaced. It won’t happen to me is a lie we tell ourselves. It could very well happen to you or me or that grandchild that is crawling around on the carpet and behind the chair.

The above poem is a commentary on the phenomenon of arc flash which is defined as: When an uncontrolled arc forms at high voltages, and especially where large supply-wires or high-amperage conductors are used, arc flashes can produce deafening noises, supersonic concussive-forces, super-heated shrapnel, temperatures far greater than the Sun’s surface, and intense, high-energy radiation capable of vaporizing nearby materials. Most people wouldn’t experience an arc flash or arc blast (specifically the supersonic shockwave produced). Most people. How many times did your mother intone that you “weren’t most people”? I was tempted to post some of the photos of the survivors but they are pretty horrific. As they said in the presentation, the unlucky survive. These are the people who have lost one or both eyes, have hearing loss, burns that resulted in scaring and loss of flexibility, not to mention the loss of arms and legs, ears and noses, and sometimes even more… I’m going to make Sparky throw out the outdoor extension cord that he has spliced and taped in 10 places. I love him too much to take the chance!

Looking into the Sun

How geeky am I? Sparky and I traveled into the path of the eclipse so we could experience the totality. We left on Saturday morning very early and geocached our way to Kentucky. We arrived in Henderson by dinner time Sunday and enjoyed a leisurely dinner at an excellent sushi restaurant (Tokyo Teppanyaki).

This is a photo of my plate. The Volcano Roll  At the bottom is made with salmon, cream cheese, avocado, and deep fried inside out – that is with the rice on the outside and drizzled with eel sauce.  The Spicy Crab Roll is in the middle. It had just a touch of sriracha so although it was a little hot it was also a little sweet making it a perfect balance! At the top is the Tornado Roll made with spicy tuna, panko crumbs to add crunch and topped with masago. Masago are Capelin fish eggs – a sort of caviar. It was so good!! Amazing for a little town.

This is Sparky’s plate. He was much less adventuresome. At the top is his Volcano Roll. In the middle he opted for the Futomaki Roll which was a variety of vegetables (cucumber, a pickled something or other that was a yellow-green color, and some other undefined vegetable) with crab and rice wrapped in nori (seaweed sheets).  And at the bottom he went with the California roll of salmon, cream cheese and avocado. He was happy with his selection and managed to eat it all!

The hotel was serviceable even if it wasn’t a new place. We left at 4:00 AM Monday to head to Madisonville, KY (about 40 miles south of where we stayed) which is where we were meeting Charley and Julie to watch the eclipse. We had anticipated that the traffic was going to be backed up. In keeping with the plan (A-Team style) we left our hotel before the birds were awake in order to give ourselves 6 hours to travel the 40 miles to Madisonville. It was quite the experience. There weren’t any other crazy people on the road. It took us about 30 minuted to arrive. Once parked in the hotel lot where our friends were staying, I reclined my seat and tried to nap. All the hype about people stopping on the highway and the resulting gridlock was way over blown.

Amazingly we were able to meet up with saintvi and her husband in Madisonville too! It was the perfect confluence of friends and eclipse events! We set up at the hotel on the large lawn where Charley and Julie were staying. Saintvi and Waldowalking had lawn chairs and Charley and Julie had a blanket.

We all had eclipse glasses and Charley had made 2 pinhole projectors and brought his telescope.

The guys set up the telescope and the pinhole projectors. This first photo is of the sun with a little notch taken out where the moon is just starting to slide over.

This one is getting close probably about 80% covered. The pin hole projectors worked great!

While we waited, we walked around and found 2 geocaches (an eclipse bonus!). There were lots of friendly people and we had a good time hearing their stories. We laughed and visited and ate our picnic lunch. When the moon started to slide in front of the sun we took turns looking into the projection boxes. The eclipse glasses were very dark – so much so that when you had them on and weren’t looking at the sun you couldn’t see a thing!

We waited, sneaking a peek through our eclipse glasses. It was very eerie to see the moon start to encroach on the sun and even stranger to have the sky go dark. We were surprised that the mosquitoes and cicadas decided to make appearances. Just before the totality, there were several hawks that decided it was dinner time and were circling looking for prey. Where we were the eclipse was only about 40 seconds. It was over so quickly. We really enjoyed watching it with our friends! That made the occasion even more special! This is where I’d post an awesome photograph of the total eclipse or maybe one of the moment just prior to the eclipse. However I couldn’t get my camera to focus and decided the experience was more important than my personal documentation…

 

Looking Into the Woods

Sparky and I went for a walk in the woods at Fernwood Botanical Gardens and Nature Preserve. This path is as we were coming out of the woods. Most of the other paths were not so level and clear.

The woods shielded us from the sun. We hiked up and down the trails carrying tools and gear and water and some rather large geocaches. We worked up a good sweat but the canopy of green created a welcome coolness. Then we hiked through the prairie grass. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. I am not crouching down. The grass is very tall. This was the photo where I can actually be seen!

We succeeded in placing caches for the upcoming Geocaching event “Super Cachers” with a super hero theme.
The first cache we placed is called “The Incredible Hulk”. It was not heavy although it could fool some people. It was bulky and awkward to carry. After settling it in place, we enjoyed the peaceful surroundings. Just a note, most of these photos don’t show the caches in their hiding places – we don’t want to spoil the fun.
           

After that was the “Spiderman” cache. A fellow cacher put up the webs we added the cache container and strung it up in its hiding place. I’m pretty sure it needs to be tweaked. As is, it is going to cause some elderly nature preserve patron to have a freak out when she sits on the bench overlooking the river…

          
Then we placed the “Magneto” cache. This one was an easy hide and will probably be an easy find, maybe. You see, it requires the use of a magnet to fish out the log container. There are lots of containers. Most have little notes inside that say things like “Nope. Try again.” or “What would Magneto do?”

   
Next was the placement of the “Dynamic Duo” multi-stage cache. This involved putting the first stage up (a “robin” bird house) which was more problematic than anticipated. Sparky had brought his gloves which made handling the raspberry vines a little less painful.
          

Then we needed to place the final stage (a “bat” house). The bat house is really perfect. As Sparky commented, wouldn’t it be great if Joshua the Geocaching Vlogger could see all these caches and spazz out on a vlog? Maybe we should invite him. Anyway the bat swings out at eye level when the cache is opened. Hehe!
             

The second to last cache was the “Ironman” cache. This is the one that required tools but not all the tools Sparky decided to bring. He had a hammer, very long screwdriver, a dandelion digging tool, pliers, wire cutters and the only tool we really needed a garden trowel. We had previously selected a perfect hiding spot and all he needed to do was scoop out the center. There was a good amount of wood debris and leaves and after a minute of scooping all was ready. (yes, this is the actual cache spot but it won’t spoil the hunt.)
      

Finally we were ready to place the last cache. This is a “Guardians of the Galaxy” puzzle cache. We made the container and another geocacher (pipsqueak) is making the puzzle and posting it. Once the puzzle is solved it will take you to the final coordinates where you will find Baby Groot! He is just so cute! And he was a little heavy to cart around so we took turns. We should have placed him first to lighten the load but he was in a spot that was much better accessed from the other direction…
      

Looking Smashed

No. I don’t drink. Although a stiff one might have been in order…I had my annual mammogram this week. It is never fun but usually tolerable. I am bruised. I generally like to go to the mobile unit. They are close and quick and there has never been an issue getting an appointment. This one was different. I showed up ahead of time for my appointment. I followed all the instructions – no deodorant, no powders, no lotions. I wore an easy on and off top. I cheerfully put on the hospital gown so that it opened in the front. And I waited. And waited. And waited some more. My appointment was at 9:00 AM and I had arrived at 8:50 AM just in case I needed to fill out any paper work. I had a meeting at 10:00 AM. Checking my phone showed that it was 9:20 AM. I didn’t need to panic. I was a short walk from my building and if I hustled I wouldn’t have a problem as long as I was done by 9:50 AM.

And I waited. Finally a nurse came in (not the one who had checked me in). She was all business as I stepped up to the machine. She was young and had very long fingernails, dagger-like, decorated with paint and rhinestones and glitter. To say she was rough would be an under statement. She slammed me around and pulled on me and then used the hydraulic pedal to really mash me flat. As she sweetly told me to hold my breath, she took the x-ray. AND THEN SHE DIDN’T RELEASE MY BOOB FROM THE MACHINE!!!!! As I clenched my teeth the sweat started down the sides of my face and began to bead on my upper lip. I saw the black clouds roll in and start to envelope my field of vision. The only times I’ve experienced the black clouds have been just before fainting. She looked up. She realized that there was something wrong. She started toward me and then the light went on in her brain. She released me. I gasped and a small whimper escaped my lips. One side of my chest was bright red and the other was ghostly white. I sat down in the chair. I gulped air. I tried very hard not to cry. She wrung her hands. I managed to finish the x-rays. She was new and young and inexperienced. She wasn’t familiar with the details of the machine. We had a chat. I seriously doubt she will make that same mistake again.

Then the real waiting began. To get my results. Of course I got the envelope in the mail last night. I opened it expecting to place it in my medical file and forget about it until next year’s letter reminding me I’m due. The letter basically said, “Hold on a hot minute, not so fast sister. There was something wonky on that film and we want you to call your doctor so we can check it out with bigger and better boob smashing equipment.” I don’t have time for this!!

Looking Huffy

I grew up in central Indiana, south of 40. To those in “the Region”, everything and everyone south of I40 is considered country, backwards, and pretty close to Southern. Of course it isn’t in anyone’s wildest dreams close to what my sister in Georgia would consider Southern. Still there is a sense of graciousness and neighborliness that is not as pronounced in the more northern areas of the state. That said, even in northern Indiana there is a helpfulness that permeates the culture. People will hold doors open for those carrying children or large boxes. They will stop to see if you need help if you are stuck in the snow. They will let you go ahead in the check out if you have a gallon of milk and a candy bar and they have a cart full.

Times are changing. I experienced it first hand. Sparky and I were in the check out line at Dollar Tree. Now, I know that there are some people who would never set foot in that store. They are generally the same folks who make fun of Wal-Mart shoppers. I’m not a big fan of Wal-Mart but it has nothing to do with the people who frequent that chain. Dollar Tree clientele are on the whole looking for a bargain and rather a diverse group. But I digress. The line was very long and only one cashier was working. Some folks had been waiting a long time. They announced that lane 3 was opening. Sparky nodded for me to head that way. I took a small step back. I’m talking the length of my foot (I wear a size 7 shoe). As I brought my foot down I felt resistance. Having owned pets and being a mother, I abruptly stopped my progress. In that instance the woman behind me squawked. Immediately I apologized, “I’m so sorry!” Her response was greatly exaggerated and she began to curse at me as she moved to lane 3. I just looked surprised and remained in the line instead of moving – since I was NOT going to get closer to her.

This whole episode has irritated me. Why was she standing so close to me? Why was my apology not accepted? What was I supposed to do instead or in addition to the apology? I’ve been accidentally rammed with a shopping cart and the apology was accepted and I ended up having a nice conversation with the young mother wrangling her rambunctious 4 year old. On one occasion I was smacked with a gallon of milk. I wasn’t injured and again a profuse apology and we parted with smiles. What has changed in this world? Are we so pugnacious that we are looking for any excuse to have a tiff or start a brawl? These are mostly rhetorical questions. I can point to our current political atmosphere. I can nod at the general lack of interest in organized religion. There is permissive parenting, the opioid epidemic, cognitive dissonance, rampant drug and alcohol use/abuse, unemployment, shirking of personal responsibility, too many triggers and not enough sensitivity, a sense of entitlement, and a myriad of other cultural and economic woes that impact our lives.

Still this kind of encounter bothers me, and I’m not sure I can do anything about it. Sorry for the rant but every once in awhile I just need to get these things out of my head. Thanks for reading.

Looking Messy

I had the pleasure of being chauffeured by my sons last weekend to pick out wedding gifts for their cousin’s upcoming wedding. Son#1 drove in the morning. His car is “new to him” and he is very particular about keeping it pretty. He has realized that eating and drinking in the car can result in spills and a mess he’d like to avoid. His car is pristine inside and out. He was describing his altered behavior. Instead of getting a beverage refill and taking it in the car, he drinks his fill and disposes of the remainder. His reasoning is that he won’t become so thirsty that he can’t wait to get home/to work and get a beverage.

That same evening I went with Son#2 on the same mission to purchase a gift. His car is older, having purchased it from his grandmother about 3 years ago. It is a very nice car. However his approach to car ownership is somewhat altered from that of his brother. I opened the passenger door to get in but I hesitated. There were literally a hand full of potato chip crumbs coating the seat. I scooped most of them out and had to use a discarded granola cardboard to scrape out the remainder before sitting. As it was the seat was stained and altogether icky. I was thankful that I had changed out of my white pants!

This is a quick photo of the floor AFTER I threw away the accumulated trash and empty food bags and recycled all the pop cans and plastic bottles. I’m really hoping he takes my suggestion to vacuum out the car and use some upholstery cleaner on the seats. It is a shame that it has been so abused… But then he didn’t keep his last car very clean either. I ask myself, “Where did I fail?”

Looking for Summer

I know I was just moaning about the hot weather. It seems the perversity of nature has once more shown itself. Since last week it has been downright chilly. Friday night Sparky got the space heater out for the bedroom! I purchased a pair of capri pants and a bare shoulder top last Saturday thinking I’d be able to wear them this week. I was wrong. I haven’t even worn my sandals opting instead for socks with solid shoes. On Sunday night I even fired up the oven and baked a winter favorite – turkey pot pie.

I decorated it to remind those at the dinner table that it was still summertime despite the chill in the air!
I tried to get some photos of the fireflies/lightening bugs but my camera is not accommodating and my cell phone and my hand-eye coordination is not geared to snapping pictures at the speed of light. However this year has seen a resurgence of the lightening bug population. Several years ago I was worried that there just weren’t any to be seen. Made me sad to think future generations would never have the thrill of seeing them flash and disappear in the tall grass. Or rise up in a great cloud of blinking lights. This summer they are back! I even had one get in the house (no doubt from when I was going in and out from the patio grill). I saw an eerie light coming from the curtains. At first I thought it was from outside until it decided to move location from the curtain to the stove top!! Unlike spiders that must die if they dare enter my kitchen, the lightening bug was gently scooped and released into the outdoors.

This coming weekend is the last push to have a “summer excursion” to Chicago. We haven’t been to the planetarium for at least 5 years and Sparky wants to go again. Originally we thought about taking the train (South Shore Line) but with the track repairs and delays a car trip is a safer bet. I’m thinking we’ll leave very early Saturday morning and spend the day and drive back in the evening. We might even stop for dinner at an old haunt in Michigan City… If I’m lucky, I’ll get to wear my new outfit to Chicago!

Looking Sneaky

The comparison of a sly and sneaky person up to no good to a snake, especially one in the grass, never made sense to me. I personally like snakes. They are fascinating in the way they move, how they eat, and even their camouflage. The snake has been carrying around a reputation as evil incarnate and the great tempter. The snake is implicated, tried, and convicted of causing the exile from Eden. I mean, even the Bible gets in on the snake bashing, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15).

As you know I’ve been dealing with my own pit of vipers. Right now the pit has been emptied and sanitized. There are no more snakes identified in my work environment. But snakes are a sneaky lot. Currently there are two employees in close contact with former management. I am looking for any slithering since snakes like to return – no matter how inhospitable the lair.

While visiting the local botanical garden and nature preserve, I happened upon this fellow. He was at least 3 feet long and had a pretty substantial girth for a garter snake!

       

I was able to get a couple photos before the snake decided to move on, no doubt in search for a midday snack. Indiana only has a few venomous snakes: the Copperhead which is only found in the southern third of the state, the Cottonmouth which is on the State Endangered List and only found in one small area in southwestern Indiana, and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake again it is on the State Endangered List and is a Federal Candidate for am endangered and protected species. It is located in the northern third of Indiana which is in my area! I have never seen one alive!! Even with the poking around in the woods there hasn’t been any trace. I only wish the other kind of viper was as shy and and rare!