I love spring wildflowers! My love for them was born in college where I majored in biology and was taught by Dr. Lee at Roanoke College. He was diagnosed with cancer that spring of 1997 and the course I took with him was to be his last, so we made a special effort to walk the same trail in the woods each week and watch the progression of wildflowers. Dr. Lee's favorite was spring beauty, Claytonia virginiana, and I think of him each time I see it. The passing of Dr. Lee was inevitable, but also inevitable was his passing on his love of biology to students. Our favorite activity was to blindfold him and bring him a living plant to identify. He never got one wrong. I am saddened each time I think that he is gone, but I smile knowing that he lives in each wildflower.
On April 8th, Susan and I walked the Shut-in Trail near the NC Arboretum just south of Asheville. Our baby was 5 days overdue and we thought a 5 mile hike might coax him out. As we walked along the trail, Susan had to wait for me because I was looking at so many plants. It was incredible and although the bloodroot was the only thing really in full bloom, there was so much on the way. We just had to wait a little bit.
Little did we know how much really was on the way. At 9 lbs. 3 oz, Simon burst on the scene two days after our hike. He was an absolute joy to hold and my world view has changed since his arrival. I now perceive danger constantly and understand calculated risk on a different level. Our emotions were unchecked, raw, and naked, but as a result, I feel closer to Susan than I ever have before. We survived the first few days and nights at home. Our lives settled down. Our minds returned to a somewhat stable, but altered state. As "normal" returned, the thought kept coming to my mind. What did those wildflowers look like? I couldn't stop thinking about them.
On day 11, I casually said to Susan, "Why don't we go check on those wildflowers? We can take some hard pretzels [Hammond's, not Snyder's, mind you] and Pepsi." She quickly agreed and the results were stunning. I have never seen such a variety of species in such a small area. We only walked about 0.1 miles on the trail. I saw so many wildflowers. I saw Dr. Lee's favorite, spring beauty, while holding Simon and am comforted that Dr. Lee's legacy and love for plants lives on through me and my generation. And maybe another.
Happy Earth Day. Love your Mother.
Humility while bicycling...
I posted this sales ad to craigslist recently for a set of cyclocross tires for sale. The post is about a biking trip I did in the fall.
Cursed 700 cc cyclocross tires from Mordor - USED once - $50 (Asheville)
These tires represent the worst bicycling mistakes of my illustrious 35+ year cycling career and I can no longer bear to have them in our house. I fear the worst - that they are cursed. I am now convinced that these tires were cast from the bowels of Mordor themselves.
My neighbor asked me if I wanted to join her on a 60 mile training ride up Mt. Pisgah linking up on FS Road 5000. There were so many reasons to do it: it would be fun to grind some gravel with her, my wife was working, I could try cyclocross on my 29er with the fork locked out to see if I liked it. All my friends have gravel grinders and love it. It seemed like such a good plan, but this idea has been the single greatest mistake of my lengthy bicycling career.
I quickly went to my local bike shop and carefully selected the Clement MXP and PDX as the optimal solution. I threw them on the counter and whipped out my credit card. "Do you need the wider tubes too?" I replied, "Won't my regular road tubes work?" He nearly succeeds in suppressing his laughter, but I see through his thin veil of judgement and he explains that when the thinner tubes are over inflated, they are more likely to puncture. "Oh that's right," I exclaim, feigning that I already knew this. So I am now down over $100.
Of course, stupidly, I tried to put the tires on my road bike. "They won't fit, but you should try," said my neighbor. "They won't fit, but you should try," said the guy at the bike shop. Guess what? THEY DIDN'T FIT. But I tried. Mind you, it's pretty hard to put on brand new road bike tires. (Despite all my riding experience, I actually never have gotten a flat while riding. I'm not counting that tumbleweed in Texas with HUGE spines on it that I hit, but that was a fluke. A really nice German guy stopped to help me change the tire and used a screw driver as a tire lever and stabbed himself in the hand. He tried to conceal the wound from his wife with his thumb and I've never seen blood spurt out quite like that. But I am trying to change a tire in the living room, not Texas, you know?) So I waste 35 minutes the night before in the sweltering heat trying the impossible. My wife asks, "Are you having some trouble there, honey?"
So then I put these tires on my 29er. Of course when I am "done" I notice the directional arrows that I ignored and immediately imagine the front tire disintegrating on a 55 MPH Parkway decent that leaves me paralyzed but capable of having the thought "Why didn't I switch the tires after I saw the directional arrows?" So I spend another 30 minutes switching the tires on the 29er.
It may not sound like this, but I'm not a noob. I have done three large rides of over 500 miles unsupported in my years. I have done century rides on consecutive days hauling 70+ pounds. As a teenager, I rode up Mount Mitchell every year. I draft. My road bike is a 1984 Tomasso (not a Tommasini, mind you) with Campagnolo Super Record , down-tube shifters, a double ring, and Columbus steel tubing. I judge the triple ringers, but only slightly. I love road and mountain biking and am in better-than-average physical condition for a 39-year old male. On every ride, I eat a balanced diet and only bonked once. (That was in Texas also, but there were extenuating circumstances.)
So the next day we begin to ride up the Mt. Pisgah highway. I think it climbs about 4000 feet in 10 miles. I know what you're thinking. That's the exact same slope as Mount Doom. I felt good at the beginning, but the tires felt heavy. I tried to keep up with our neighbor, a woman 15 years my junior, but couldn't do it. "Are you drinking enough water?" she chirped, as she sped off. I was alone for a bit in the middle of the ascent, but then began to hear some other riders coming up behind me. It's ok, I told myself. They have carbon fiber. And more spandex. No problem. It's a hard climb. We were cordial in conversation and I rode faster with them, but when the road got steeper, I was dropped. At this point, my goal was to maintain airspeed and avoid a stall. But then I heard another rider gaining on me. YES I thought. Someone to help me. A motivator. It was Mike. He said he was an educator. I asked where. He said at the school of life. Mike was wearing blue jeans and demoing a bike from Goodwill in Candler until noon. I wanted to cry.
Somehow, I made to Mt. Pisgah. There our neighbor continued on and I lay in the grass and took a nap. I had to ride home before we even got to FS 5000, so I didn't even use these tires on the stupid gravel, for which I bought them.
I look at these tires and see so many things. Perhaps you will buy them from me? Please? When I look at them I see:
- Clement 700 cc cyclocross tires
- the nubs that aren't even worn off
- my looming 40th birthday
- high quality rubber
- my own ineptitude
- a curse
- less than 40 miles of wear
In case the tubes are cursed, I am also including them.
Living room interior design
Our house is a 1925 brick four square and is the only house on the block that was originally two-story. There are many identical houses in West Asheville though (60 Brevard Road, 118 Stewart Street, and 38 Olney), just none in our immediate vicinity. Susan and I wanted to buy local furniture, but found much of it far too expensive. Our tastes are eclectic: we appreciate Arts and Crafts, Mission Style, Art Deco, and Mid-Century Modern and were willing to do anything as long as it was reasonably comfortable. Susan's only requirement: a comfy rocking chair. =)
We found Atomic Chair Company furniture at Oddfellows Antiques in Asheville. ACC furniture is built in Charlotte and all of their chairs and sofas have a solid oak frame. We were excited to get our furniture at 20% off too. The chairs are awesome and we spent the snow storm of 2016 nestled in the living room next to the wood burning stove that we kept burning for 4 days.
I want to try astrophotography! We have a good camera for it and I think I just found a great location, Grassland Mountain Observatory in Madison County. Unfortunately, it is privately owned and permission is required to go there. Here are directions. On the weather report, dark blue is good. This site is frequently used by the Astronomy Club of Asheville. I think I should use the following setup:
- Manfrotto tripod
- Sony camera
- 24 mm lens
- shutter speed of below 20 seconds (based on 500 / lens in mm [24 in my case])
- RAW files
- ISO of 1600 - 3200
Has anyone done this?
As a raft guide at the Nantahala Outdoor Center from 2002 - 2008, I made several trip to what would become my favorite waterfall destination in Western North Carolina: Wildcat Falls. I was first introduced to Wildcat Falls on a day off during my first year there by Stephan Hart, my botanical buddy. His nomenclature was phenomenal, and my wife will tell you, I don't say that about every man I know. Wildcat Falls is found in rural Graham County and accessed most directly via the Big Fat Gap trail head. This requires 7 miles of driving on a gravel forest road, best experienced in a Subaru which facilitates the most eloquent of fishtails around the corners. If you drive in at night, you can also detect oncoming cars more easily (there were none our entire drive in or out) allowing for a slightly higher rate of travel.
She and I have enjoyed backpacking together for several years now and my goals of carrying a lightweight pack have been realized thanks to a gift from my favorite college buddy, Mac Johnson, who gave me a 1 lb frameless pack made of silicone impregnated nylon (silny). For gear heads, it's a G4 54 pack and I carry 30 lbs. max in it. But to go even lighter on this trip, we camped at the same spot for two nights and the next day, we set out on an aggressive 20+ mile loop carrying only our water and lunch. Trail 42A had not likely been maintained in at least several years, perhaps five, and our shins were scratched and bloodied after miles of bushwhacking. The morning of the third day, I took a dip in Slickrock Creek and then headed over to the "touristy" part of Joyce Kilmer for some enormous Tulip Poplars.
- we didn't see another person on a 3 day-2 night trip in the Eastern US. Awesome!
- the blue ghost fireflies were out in number creating an other-worldly hike in at night
Photographed highlights included:
- nocturnal snails
- poorly maintained trails that were even more poorly signed (54 A is uphill)
- a fungal feast for some bugs
- Indian cucumber root as far as we could see (Thanks Lee Knight for teaching me this one!)
- Susan telling me she is terrible at creek crossings as we are in for 5 creek crossings! (she was fine :)
- groves of gigantic Eastern trees that escaped the axe and saw
Susan and I were fortunate enough to travel to Barbados for a week in March of 2016 for a surfing based vacation. This decision was based on two wildly successful hours of surfing on massive two foot waves using massive 12 ft. Bic surfboards at Folly Beach, SC. The decision to go to Barbados was also based on the fact that we had a free place to stay. It really helps to know a certain bald, handsome, intelligent bachelor diplomat with a three bedroom three bath fortified domicile replete with security guards, all paid for by our wonderful tax dollars. To
We had a glorious time riding the giants. Fortunately for us beginners, the waves at Freights Bay were the smallest he had seen them in his one and a half year tenure. Highlights of our trip included:
- epic body surfing sessions
- entering a sea cave (not recommended during most tides and slightly terrifying)
- the best fried chicken of our lives
- the longest wait of our entire lives for fried chicken
- touring a rum distillery
- seeing the critically acclaimed TWA terminal at JFK
- not getting sick the day before the flight in someone else's house in NYC requiring evacuation to a hotel and subsequent rebooking of entire vacation including use of travel insurance
- Animal Flower Cave tour guide who was "tied to the cross" and prefers to "polish it and wax it"
I made cheese!
It's true and so can you! Last year for Christmas, my in-laws gave me a cheese making kit and I finally got the motivation to use it. Thanks for the encouragement, Susan! The process was easy and the results were fantastic. I made a 3/4 lbs. ball of mozzarella that was better than anything I've tasted.
With crust and sauce from Standard Pizza, Susan and I made the best home-made pizza I've ever had. I used Boar's Head prosciutto, basil, and my mozzarella shown in the first photo. (Why yes, that is a Chambers stove in the background!) I drizzled a cookie sheet and the crust with olive oil and pre-baked it for 6 minutes at 500 degrees. This makes for a crisper crust that doesn't necessarily need to be thin to be crunchy. Our wonderful neighbors, Hadley and Margot, helped with consumption of the pizza (and a bottle or three of wine).
Milk selection is the most important component of cheese making. I used Mills River Creamery Cream Line milk that is low temperature pasteurized and not homogenized. Their website reports "that this leaves our milk with a better more natural flavor and protects some of the healthy enzymes that are needed for a healthier product" and I couldn't agree more. My attempts to make the mozzarella with an inferior product failed miserably. The bottom photo shows this.
It's not budget cheese at *gasp* $8 per gallon yielding 12 ounces of cheese, but you won't find anything fresher. Let me know if you want to come over and we can make some cheese!
My awesome summer!
This summer was awesome! Pictured below are some of the things I did:
- kayaked on Lake Michigan
- went the historic Pullman neighborhood of Chicago
- hiked at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore where I had a summer internship
- went to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park
- saw thick deposits of heavy mineral in Indiana
- watched the sunrise from a teepee with my beautiful wife in Oregon
- backpacked in the Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon with Susan
- had dinner with Vivian Wampler (b. 1910) who was the nanny for my wife!
E-ZPass and highway taxes
So I am driving to Wooster, OH for a romantic weekend getaway with my wife and want to estimate the tolls on I-90/I-80 from Porter, IN. On the E-ZPass website, I see that the fare from Portage to Eastpoint is $8.10, but with E-ZPass, it's only $4.15. So here is my big question:
Does the Indiana Department of Transportation the same amount of $$$ from a car that uses E-ZPass and one that doesn't?
I have a problem with privatization efforts in general, especially when the system in place was working. If you can't remember how this turned out for private debt collection agencies, let me remind you. In 2003, the Ways and Means Committee had it's first session on the benefits of privatizing collection of debt. In 2004, it was law. By 2012, the results were clear and the IRS opted not to renew the contracts. Taxpayer Advocate Services released this nice little report in 2013 with the figure below. Now back to E-ZPass.
I can't really find the answer to my question. I find it impossible to believe that E-ZPass turns over all the money they collect from the customer and make their business run on the other fees they collect. The fees are highly variable from state to state. The four main variables are initial transponder cost ($0 - $40), whether you get the money back (yes/no), the cost per month ($0 - $3), and the discount you get off the cash toll rate (0 - 50%). Obviously a state that charges nothing for the transponder might impose a monthly fee. PA charges the most monthly (3$ per transponder) while IL users enjoy a flat 50% discount off cash rates. Now I am sure the math on this would get way over my head quickly with 4 variables and all, but I still have a hard time believing that somehow taxpayers aren't footing the bill on this one.
E-ZPass is owned wholly by (get this, Aaron) an Austrian company, Kapsch TrafficCom (KTC). While the government is by definition a non-profit (ok, that's a separate discussion), KTC is looking like one lately. According to their 2013/2014 financials, they only made 5.5 M Euroes. As an aside, my goodness, what if they went under? Wouldn't that be a mess? They delivered 9.2 M transponders, but profits declined by a whopping 83% in 2013/2014. More plausibly, what would happen if they had long-term financial trouble? Would about 30 states in the US and over 30 countries come to their aid?
What should my position on E-ZPass be? What am I missing here?
Central vacuum in 1934?!
The 135 S. La Salle Building in Chicago is considered to be the last true Art Deco skyscraper constructed in the city. It was originally constructed with a central vacuum system that still works! The letter box is also in the shape of the building and indicates the elevator locations.
Of interest to me and hopefully at least one other person