Thursday, July 28, 2011

Emma's birthday

Although I'm entering this on July 29, I'm labeling it as July 28 because that is when Emma celebrated her 9th birthday and when this picture of her cake was taken.

As usual, we all wonder how the time has flown since we adopted Emma. As she has matured, from a little girl who loved pink to a young lady who adores light blue, she never ceases to amaze me. She does jigsaw puzzles as quickly as I can lay the pieces out. We try to help her with them but she is so fast, and just sees where the pieces go, that she is often taking the piece from our hands that she handed us five seconds ago because, in that time, she's found where it goes. She loves learning new things and likes to figure out how things work. She loves to read and she loves to do crafts. She started a blog, Crafts Made By Me, that she updated for quite a while but now finds she doesn't have enough time to write in it. I hope we can change that  in the future but I don't want to take time away from the other things she loves to do.

As you can see in the picture, there are more than 9 regular candles on the cake (the purple ones). She figured that as long as the Number 9 candle was there, she could put as many candles as she wanted on the cake. She did enjoy blowing them out after all. For a little bit more about how we got Emma, you can go to this post.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A detour for our national budget

Our country is facing a number of big problems but the most urgent one concerns the limit on how much the federal government can borrow to pay its bills. It seems like the people in charge of handling these things are not doing a very good job of solving this problem. It's two problems, really. The immediate problem is the limit on borrowing (which we will reach in about a week on August 2) and the other problem is the growing national debt that is triggering the problem with the debt limit. If we weren't needing to borrow so much money to cover expenses, we wouldn't need to worry about the debt limit.

What is making this problem even worse is that it is not just the Republicans and the Democrats who are having trouble agreeing on what to do. A sizable number of Tea Party members of the Republican party are even disagreeing with members of their own party about what to do about these problem. The Republicans have said they will not work on increasing the debt limit unless a budget can be worked out where large spending cuts are made and taxes are not raised. The Democrats have said the budget must include tax increases (or at least, the removal of tax decreases that were put into place years ago) as well as budget cuts. It seems to make sense that people would want to tie action on the debt limit to fixing the budget problems because, if they don't, we will just need to borrow more money and raise the debt limit again later. But these huge budget deficits have been going on (with a small break in the late 1990's) since Ronald Reagan was president in the 80's. Why the urgency now? Why flirt with economic chaos by allowing us to reach the debt limit just to force a deal on the budget? The Republicans answer that it is because the budget deficit is growing much faster now since Barack Obama has increased spending so much to stimulate our economy to get out of the recession that started four years ago. They blame this stimulus for the huge problems we face with the national debt.

Well, while that seems to make sense, it is wrong. Here is a link to a story in The Washington Post about what has really caused the deficit (and the accumulated deficit or The National Debt) we face. It is NOT caused by the stimulus and it is NOT simply a result of recent spending although those things have contributed to it. To be fair, both sides are partly to blame for this misunderstanding. The Republicans are wrong in claiming that they have the right to demand severe budget cuts because it is the President's spending that is causing the problem. But the Democrats and President Obama are also at fault for not getting the facts out for everyone to see. They were also wrong to go along with extending tax breaks enacted in the early 2000's that have made the deficit balloon. Again, if the Democrats had gotten the word out for the need to reestablish taxes on the wealthiest Americans, we wouldn't be in as bad shape as we are in.

For another interesting article about how both sides are failing in the debate about how to handle the debt problem, see this GlobalPost article, The Negotiator: Solving the US debt problem.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Patty Pan Squash

We thought we were getting Zucchini when we bought our squash plants. But once they started to grow and came out looking like the ones in the top picture, we were confused. What in the world was growing in our garden? They are flat (only a couple of inches high and 4 - 6 inches across) and have scalloped edges. Some are dark green and others have mixed green and yellow coloring. Were they alien pods waiting for us to fall asleep before assuming our identities?
I entered the description in Google and found out that we were growing Patty Pan Squash in our garden. It's a type of Summer Squash. My wife, Cindy, cooked some and it is delicious! I had never heard of (or seen) this type of squash before but I'll be keeping my eye out for it in the future.
Speaking of our garden, it is going crazy. Instead of squash plants, we seem to have squash trees. And the tomatoes are growing better than I've ever seen - in our garden at least. We should have quite the harvest as the summer goes on. And Evan's beans keep producing and Emma's eggplant is starting to get near harvesting size. Yes, we're going to enjoy eating this summer.

Friday, July 22, 2011

More funny graffiti

Well, it's Friday and I'm about to go home for the day but there is time for one, short post.

For some reason, I recently remembered something that happened to me when I was about 12 or 13 years old. We had gone out to one of my parents' favorite restaurants. It was sort of fancy and normally, in such a nice place, you wouldn't see graffiti on the walls of the restroom. But apparently this line, written above the men's stand-up urinal, was considered high class enough for the restaurant. Or maybe it had been written just before I got there and before one of the employees got to it.

"The future of the world in in your hands"

I thought I was such a man of the world when I got the joke. I'd known about this stuff since my father had "the talk" with me but it wasn't something we talked about in the open. It was more like something my friends and I whispered about in gym or at the roller skating rink. I so enjoyed the joke that I repeated it, in a very low voice of course, when I got back to my parents. I'll never forget the look on my mother's face. It was a lot like the face she made the first time I swore in front of them when I came home from college one year. I think she knew that I knew about such things but she wasn't sure just how much I knew about such things. It just added to her worries about me. But my father had a good laugh. He knew what I knew. At least he was pretty sure.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Our Mr. Bean

This is a picture of my son, Evan, holding just a few of the green beans from our garden. Every year, when my wife buys the plants she wants in the garden, she lets the kids pick one of their own. I previously wrote about the time Evan picked a peanut plant. This year, Evan picked green beans and Emma picked eggplant. There is a way to go on the eggplant but Evan's green beans are ready. He's only holding a few them in this picture but there are many more than that. We already have enough for a few meals and the plant is still going strong. Maybe we'll get more than one plant next year.

I have another picture of him where you can see the beans better but I wanted to use this wider shot because it also shows the birthday cards from Evan's recent birthday. I didn't include a picture of him in that post. In case you don't know, the large picture on the wall is a view of our house in the snow (from New Year's Eve 2008). The title of this post is a play on the British comic Rowan Atkinson's character Mr. Bean. Those shows are a big favorite in our house and Evan does a great imitation of Mr. Bean - especially when he is talking to his stuffed companion, "Look, Teddy!"

Well, this post has been all over the place. I need to focus a bit better on my next one.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Where's the dragonfly?

Boy, it's fun to go for my lunch walks with my camera again! As I mentioned before, I let the lens go without cleaning it for too long and my pictures were coming out either washed out or cloudy. Why do I let things like this go? If I could answer that, I'd be a millionaire and my wife, my kids and my mother wouldn't be so frustrated. But I've been like this my whole life. If I could put something off for a later time, I would put something off for a later time. At least in my personal life. I'm pretty good at work. I keep up with work and even get a little ahead sometimes.

Anyway, back to my pictures. Here are two pictures from today's walk. The top one is a picture of a dragonfly where I snapped the photo quickly from pretty far away because I wasn't sure how long my subject would stay around (I just missed a picture of another dragonfly because it wouldn't sit still for more than a few seconds at a time). Can you find it in the picture? I guess it's not too hard but it does blend into the wood debris pretty well.

The bottom picture is one I was able to take my time to focus and frame correctly. It still blends into the background pretty well but it's more obvious here. This dragonfly eventually moved after a few minutes but by then I had to move on myself. Happy hunting you voracious predator. I like dragonflies for a number of reasons but the number one reason? They eat mosquitoes! I hope there will be a few less mosquitoes for my walk tomorrow.

Friday, July 15, 2011

An amazing athlete

Josh Hamilton - from his Wikipedia article
There are many talented athletes in the world and there are many athletes who are also role models. But what do you call an athlete who has made big mistakes but has turned their life around? You don't want to call them a role model because you'd hate to see a young person make the same mistakes they made. But you have to admire them for making the change that was needed. So, I'd like to mention Josh Hamilton.

He is a baseball player for the Texas Rangers. He won the American League's Most Valuable Player award last year. He was injured earlier this year but is making a big comeback during the mid-season now. But that is not the big change I am talking about.

Mr. Hamilton was a promising young ball player when he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays (then called the Devil Rays) but got messed up with alcohol and drugs and almost lost his chance at playing in the big leagues. He hit bottom but turned it all around with the help of his faith in Jesus and the help of people around him. I had not noticed him before but last year, he was featured during a series in our church about the I Am Second movement. Their website says, "I am Second is a movement meant to inspire people of all kinds to live for God and for others." Part of that is a series of short videos featuring people from all backgrounds explaining their faith in God and how they've come to realize that they need to be in second place - behind God.

Go to the list of films here. Some of the people are famous and many are not. But they all have one thing in common.They are second. You can find Josh Hamilton's profile here. To watch the video featuring him, look for the button labeled "Watch the Film". I hope you will find it inspiring, too.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Now my pictures look better

After cleaning the lens on my camera, as I mentioned in my post The great lens cleaning, it's a pleasure to take pictures again. On my walk at lunch today, I saw this colorful orange mushroom (upper right picture) and this perfect little pink flower (lower left picture). It is nice to not have to retouch the pictures before posting them. I did crop them but I didn't have to change the brightness, contrast or the colors in any way.

Unfortunately, the mushroom looks like an ashtray with the stick laying on it like that. If I'd have noticed that before I'd taken the pictures, I'd have removed it. Another interesting note is that I didn't see the small white markings on the flower petals until I off-loaded the picture to my computer and looked at them full sized. Anyway, it's nice to be taking good (not great) pictures again.

Friday, July 08, 2011

My son's birthday

I'm actually entering this post on July 11 but I'm writing about three days ago so I'm labeling this as July 8 because that is my son's birthday. To be more specific, I've set the time to 9:38 PM - when he was actually born.

As usual, I can't believe another year has passed and I especially can't believe Evan is 15 years old! To bring out the well worn cliche, " seems like yesterday that he was born." My poor wife had to go through 32 hours of labor (is that right, Sweetheart?) before the doctors and nurses finally let her stop pushing and have a Cesarean Section to deliver our boy. I can't remember if I've mentioned this before but my first act as Evan's father, as I held him for the first time, was to apologize to him for all the mistakes I was going to make in bringing him up. And, it turns out, I underestimated the number of things I would get wrong. He is a bright, attentive, curious and handsome young man and I haven't done all I should to help him reach his potential. But I will keep trying to improve. I will try to remember to encourage him instead of criticizing him for slight problems. I will try to expose him to the wonders of this world more often. And I will try to help him develop his relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And I'm going to continue to try to beat him in games. But the number of things I can win is getting smaller every day.

Happy birthday, Evan.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The great lens cleaning

Before cleaning my camera's lens
As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I've been letting the lens of my camera go without cleaning it. I noticed that many of my pictures were washed out and didn't have the contrast they used to have. The problem was that I'd heard too many horror stories about people trying to clean their camera lens and ending up scratching it. So, I've been looking for lens cleaning kits that were good but affordable. I've gone around and around with various suggestions from many sources but I could never come to a conclusion. I heard about kits with special brushes and air blowers. I heard about things called a Lens Pen that uses a special dry compound to clean the lens. Then, over the Fourth of July week-end, we were in a real camera store. Not the camera department of Walmart or Best Buy - a real camera store.

After cleaning my camera's lens
I asked what they recommended for cleaning camera lenses and they said they were out of kits just then but told me what was in it. It was a microfiber cloth with lens cleaning solution. I mentioned that I already had those things for my glasses and they said, "Well, whatever is good for your glasses will work for a camera lens. Just be careful and don't spray the cleaning solution on the lens. It could splash onto parts of the camera that it could react with. Just wet the cloth and use that to wipe the lens and then dry it with the other, non-moistened end of the cloth."

So, that's what I did. The two pictures here show the improvement. This type of scene caused the most problems. The light sky seemed to diffuse through the entire picture and wash it out. As you can see in the bottom, "After", picture, it's much better now. I look forward to taking more pictures and posting them here - without needing to run them through a photo editing program!

This points out what is nice about having real stores in town instead of buying everything off the Internet or having only mega stores that carry everything but are experts in nothing. I was able to ask questions of people who were professional photographers themselves. They took pride in their craft and were happy to share their knowledge with a novice. They had cameras there that we could try out and they would teach us how to use them correctly. When the time comes for our next purchase, we'll be going there.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A mushroom scene

This is a picture I took on my lunch walk last Wednesday (June 29). It's a photo of three mushrooms emerging from the ground and pushing up through the debris left from when the tree muncher cleared out a fire break in the forest behind our office. It's surprising how strong the soft little mushrooms are when they are seeking the open air.

As I've mentioned before, I like mushrooms. Besides the taste of edible ones, I like the look of them, too. Their shape and colors are appealing. But I also like the "setting" of these three. This almost looks like an abstract Christmas Manger Scene to me. The pushed up wood chips seem to make a shelter for the three huddling mushrooms. I've uploaded the full picture which you can expand if you click on the picture. Unfortunately, I had to retouch this photo. I had to play around with the contrast and brightness in a photo editor to bring out the subtle colors. I haven't cleaned the lens of my camera for too long and all the pictures I've taken recently seem washed out. But that's been corrected and I'll be adding a new post about that soon.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

4,000 miles

I passed 4,000 miles on my scooter on the way home from work yesterday. Here's the odometer and you can see I had my helmet on in the reflection and yes, I was pulled over by the side of the road! Don't be fooled by the speedometer going up to 70 miles per hour. My scooter can only go about 50 mph and it doesn't like running that fast for long. I only have to do it for the final 200 yards of my ride into work when I have to ride on a four-lane highway to get to the entrance to our office.

So, 4000 miles! I could have traveled the entire length of US Route 6 and been on my way back. The reason I mention Route 6 is because it starts on Cape Cod and runs all the way to California. Before 1964, it was a transcontinental route and ran all the way to the Pacific Ocean ending in Long Beach, CA. But then California renumbered its roads and US Route 6 was changed to end in Bishop, CA. It doesn't have the fame of US Route 66 - no songs, few mentions in books - certainly not the famous mention as "The Mother Road" in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath that US Route 66 got.

I know people are probably tired of my mentions of mileposts (so to speak) about my scooter. But then, not many people read this blog so I only have to please myself and a few others. But I will say this - I'll be marking when I pass 5,000 miles and then I'll hold off until I get to 10,000. How's that for optimism?

I've thought about what it would be like to travel the whole Route 6 on my scooter but even averaging 40 mph for the whole length, it would take me over 160 hours (20 days traveling 8 hours a day) to make the round trip. I don't think that's going to happen.