Monday, September 15, 2014

Really vacationing, this time in Shawnee

It doesn't seem all that long ago that we were vacationing with the family in Michigan.  But were Jill and I up for a short trip without the kids?  In a word, yes.

Jill's parents paid us a visit, and then really paid us by (a) paying for our hotel for 2 nights and (b) watching the kids while we were away.

We decided to visit Shawnee National Forest because it's not too far away (3 hours) and though we had been to the area before (WildCard spring cycling camps), we haven't done any exploring off road.

The photos below are not in the order of our visits (frustrated with blogger).  The common theme is rock, a rare site in our town.

Below is the view from just inside Cave-in-Rock, located just off the end of Highway 1 (one could take the ferry across the Ohio River in a car, but the road ends here).  We had lunch at one of the 2 restaurants in town, chatting up some of the old-timers from town.  We didn't get a chance to meet the 102 year old guy, who was at the restaurant the previous evening.  Anyway, pirates, counterfeiters, and all-around bad guys used the cave as a hideout.  Now that's it's a state park, it's a bit harder to use it as such.
Cave-in-Rock has a painted bike decorating theme.  Here's the pink one, with the lovely Jill in the foreground.
On the way back from the Cave, we were deciding between Iron Furnace, an 80 foot tall rock structure that was used to make iron during the civil war, and Rim Rock State Park.  We chose the latter, and were rewarded with natural 80 foot tall rock cliffs.  Highly recommended.
Our first day, we visited Giant City.  Look how surprised Jill is to see a large rock.
That is a natural rock wall canyon (er, gap?)  right here in Illinois.
The visual highlight of the trip was Garden of the Gods.  I don't know how this ended up in Illinois.
A Mennonite group was there at the same time.  The young men climbed the rocks, while the young women sat together singing.  It was really lovely.
At no point during our trip did anyone cry about eating food, ask to stay up late, not share, or make a giant mess and refuse to clean it up.  In fact, there was no complaining at all.  

Now we're home, and we're glad to see the kids.  Somehow, we did miss them.

We're nuts, like all parents.

Monday, September 1, 2014

ready... go ... set

Real life took off like a shot after we got back from vacation.  We got home during our temporary resident's stay (Katy needed a place for a week between leases and had moved in during our vacation) and a few hours before our long term boarder arrived.  Nikki is a Parkland freshman staying with us for the school year.  Very soon, she will be an expert at the local busing system.  She is also using Clara's race bike to do some multi-modal commuting.

Clara and Janny started preschool already.  This is Janny's first year and Clara's last.  They are in the same class at Wee Disciples, just down the road.  Jill say's the couple hours without the kids goes by VERY fast. This photo was from the first day of school, 2014.
Clara now has a career path picked out:  she wants to be an artist.  For now, I'm doing my best to teach her to keep costs down.  Janny is not quite clear on the concept:  she wants to be Sleeping Beauty when she grows up.  At first she also wanted to have white eyes, but just today she accepted that her eyes will remain brown.  I've yet to figure out if she wants to the sleeping phase or the post-waking up phase.
Below is my favorite Clara project to date.  She found a double-kinked stick (which she then lost amongst hundreds of similar sticks, but daddy found it again after a few minutes), and came up with the idea to make a Pteranodon.  In the photo, the leaf wings have dried out compared to when new.
Having a boarder and growing kids inspired us to reconfigure the bedrooms.  We had a local guy build a loft over a queen bed.  Clara sleeps up top, and tiny Janny gets the queen bed.  When guests come, we'll move the kids to our room so that guests can use the queen (or the loft, if they want).
Jill continues to be excited about gardening. Check out her latest project:
Just kidding!  That's the arboretum!  We paid a visit to be inspired and grab some ideas.  I'm hoping for some Lantana and a blueberry bush.  I'm still scheming about the best place in our yard for the blueberries.
Fun fact:  both Clara and Nikki were born on Labor day!  Soon we're off to celebrate with some canoeing on Crystal Lake.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The rest of vacation

Because our last adventure with Jill's cousins went so well, we decided to bring even more family along for this year's Northern Michigan vacation.  Beth arranged a gigantic vrbo cabin near the top of the Boyne Mountain ski resort (the hill fascinated me.  It's a giant sand dune.  As in, you cannot find a rock bigger than your hand anywhere on the hill.  Sand, sand, and more sand.).  We filled all 8 rooms of the place, including the master bedroom with the taxidermed wolf.

By the way, I'm still struggling to take enough pictures.  Below is a shot of the flower girls from Calvin and Kim's wedding in July.  We had a great time, and the kids just loved being flower girls.

 There is a small lake at the bottom of the hill with a nice beach.  The lake floor is very flat near the beach, so all the kids could walk into it as far as they dared and splash around.  We spent a lot less time here than I thought we would because there were a couple of rather chilly days during the week.  On perhaps the nicest day, we visited Petoskey State Park on Lake Michigan.  The water was frightfully cold.  I could only take short, force breaths for the first minute and a half after wading in.  Eventually, I felt fine enough to stay in the water for about 15 minutes.  Then back to the towel.  We looked for Petoskey stones in the sand, but didnt' find any stellar examples.
 We thank Uncle David for encouraging Janny to eat some food at nearly every meal.  Perhaps as a result of this, her hair is growing faster now.  She might have even gained an ounce or two.  Playing with Ricky and Enoch wore the kids out every day.  Below, Beth was supposed to rear the whole Wizard of Oz story to Janny.  Janny stayed awake for the first 70 pages.

Thanks to the presence of grandparents and other givers, our generation got to have some fun adventures without the kids on the vacation.  On several mornings, coach Brent led us through some tennis drills, and then we played a set or so.  Jill and I really enjoyed this, so the tennis rackets might get dusted off a few times before winter sets in.  

The biking around Boyne was just great.  The Boyne ski hill is about 500 feet tall, and the road to our cabin wound around and up and down it.  I also rode back from Harbor Spings to our cabin along some nice dirt roads.  And I rode a good bit more than I could handle of the single track mtb trails at the resort.  There are lots of jarring roots and some very steep short climbs that weren't suitable for either my bike or skills.

Finally, the TCBC softball came to an abrupt end.  Because of numerous rainouts early in the season, the semifinal game happened while I was in Michigan (as was Matt, our left fielder).  Apparently, the team staged a comeback from an 8-0 deficit, only to lose at the end.  I was a bit sad to miss the game, but had too much fun on vacation to regret it.  We'll try again next year, and plan the vacation during the regular season.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What we (okay, I) did for summer vacation, part 1

We're back from the big family summer vacation.

Because of a minor scheduling conflict, my vacation started a day earlier than the rest of the family's. Hmmm, what to do on a day off without any obligations? If you said ride my bike a long distance, you're right.

 I chose to do my big ride of the year toward the confluence of the Vermillion and Wabash Rivers, or Cayuga, Indiana. I rode towards Homer Lake and veered south towards Fairmount and Georgetown.

After leaving home around 7:15, I got to Georgetown at 10am with two choices for a second breakfast: McDownalds or Casey's. I chose McD. I meant to get a sausage and egg biscuit, but the meal # I actually ordered was a truly disgusting "steak mushroom muffin". As a hungry person, I ate it anyway and headed out.

 The bluff just west of the Vermillion River was the best riding of the day. The gravel road went up and down steep (for this region) hills with a view of the valley about 100 or so feet below. I crossed the Vermillion on the covered bridge (blocked to car traffic). The only way I knew to get across the Wabash River was to ride the shoulder of Highway 63 to recross the Vermillion and then take 234. Somehow 63 has a decent amount of traffic on Thursday mornings.

I followed the flat, sandy road along the east side of the Wabash up towards Perrysville. I didn't want to ride on Highway 32 out of Perrysville, so I took a gravel road detour and ended up back on it near Danville. At this point I didn't know the roads, so I stayed on it all the way to downtown Danville. I had studied maps for several days prior to the trip but decided to not print any out (and I don't use a gps). My general approach was to head in the right direction (my compass came in handy a few times on the way back) toward the towns that I had memorized while avoiding the "major" highways. In every county outside of Champaign, this means riding on numerous gravel roads. They add to the adventure, but slow progress (despite my stupendous Boulder Bicycle with 35 mm Panaracer Pasela tires).

 I got stuck behind a long train on the main road in downtown Danville (what other big towns have a rail line that blocks the main street?????), which gave me time to realize that it was lunch time. I settled on Penn Station east coast subs!, which I had never frequented. My 8" philly cheese was fine, but not good enough for a return visit.

 After lunch I headed towards Kickapoo state park, initially thinking I would ride parallel to i-74 back home. But that road is straight and flat, so I turned south towards the hilly, gravel roads south of Danville.

 While on the way, I found the path to the Great Vermillion Rail Bridge. I hesitated before deciding to follow the path since I was still about 30 miles from home, but when adventure calls, sometimes you have to answer. Because of the remaining rocks of the rail bed, no plants grow in the middle but branches from trees and bushes on either side of the bed form a hobbit tunnel about 3 feet tall. I pushed my bike about 200 yards through the branch tunnel before deciding to stash it and continue on without it. Many cobwebs in the face later, I walked out onto the Bridge. It was glorious, just like the pictures I had seen (except that now I could see the drop to the ground far below. Since I hate to make Jill angry (she told me to never walk on it, which I took to mean that I shouldn't walk all the way across it), I only walked out a few tens of feet before heading back to my bike and the open road.

 I ran out of water at Homer Lake, but decided to not detour the whole 1 mile out of the way to refill my bottles in the park. This was a poor choice, and I struggled for the last 5 miles home and felt wiped out when I arrived.

 I rode somewhere around 130 miles in around 9 total hours. I'm pretty happy with that pace. If I bring more food with me (and water.  I brought only 2 bottles, next time I'll take 3) and avoid exciting detours like rail-less bridge walking, I can reduce the time a bit.

I felt fine until the end of the ride. I should have eaten a bit more food and refilled my water bottles. In my mind, I've been thinking that 40 years old is the age when I should switch from racing short distances to endurance riding. I'm on schedule.

I didn't bring a camera.  Which is a bit sad for the blog, but now you can use your imagination (or click the link to see photos of the Bridge).

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bikes in the Cloud

Lots of happenings recently at my place of employment, Wolfram Research Inc.  A new version of Mathematica is now out, and we have released the Wolfram Programming Cloud (WPC).  Why the WPC, you ask?

I'm glad you asked.  Well, it's a very nice way to share fun Mathematica projects with friends, like you guys, like this one:

If the link is broken, I'm doing a bad job as QA.  The page should be something like this, but interactive.

Fun, right?  There are real numbers and equations behind the pretty picture.  Some things that may happen in the future include telling you the values that you selected, or other relevant measurements (saddle height, set back, reach, drop, etc.).  Eventually, I'll set up an API function which will allow users to specify bike size and body dimensions.  Then, I will be rich and famous and powerful.

That's basically what I spend most of my days doing:  writing fun stuff to make sure that our products work just fine.  It's not a bad job.

Update:  Joel reminded me that I can directly embed here.  Voila!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Happy 4th!

Clara and Janny are learning to share.  As expected, there are some regular conflicts (whose turn it is to choose the tv show, or to wear the sparkly shoes, or to drink from the fizzy-whizzy-cup).  The fizzy-whizzy-cup solution is somewhat reasonable.  When one has finished drinking at a meal, the other gets to drink from it.  The sharing that gets to me a bit is the toothbrush.  I had hoped that once we got rid of the red toothbrush, they would be happy to have their own again.  Not so.  Apparently, Scoobydoo is better than sponge bob, even though brushes are both blue.
 We have one less giant tree in our neighborhood.  Two quick days or working in rain or shine got rid of it.
 I got a couple of sweet ties for Father's day this year.
 Clara finally let us cut her bangs this weekend.  What finally convinced her was that she could spread her hair in the garden to keep the bunnies away.  Janny needed more hair cut as well after learning this fact.
Knutson estate farming continues to ramp up, by which I mean that within about 10 years, we'll really have something in our yard!  Because this summer has been plenty wet and rather mild (thanks, El Nino!), we can only blame ourselves for a small harvest.  Lessons learned so far:
1.  Our cherry tree did not care for last winter.  Not a single cherry to be had (same story with our neighbor's pair of trees).  The trees blossomed, but no fruit.
2.  Raspberry season has just ended.  I think more fertilizer is needed for the black ones.  Our cane diameter pales in comparison to the idea garden and to Eric and Amy's.  Red ones were pretty successful.
3.  Garden bed in general needs more soil enrichment.  Salad greens and herbs grow very slowly.  We're still thinking about how to do this.

Finally, I think softball season is nearing the end.  We had rainouts for the last two weeks, so it feels a bit removed.  We've won all of our games, though most have been quite close.  Runs continue to be a challenge to come by this year.  Our defense is stellar, and all other teams either have pretty good defense as well, or our hitting was terrible against them.  With the playoffs around the corner, I must believe that we'll get it going.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Farms and family

Life is coming at us about as fast as we can take right now.  Since my last general update, both sets of grandparents visited us, and we took a weekend trip to Michigan.  "Why is this vacation so short?" was Clara's question of the weekend.  We assured her that at longer trip is forthcoming during which we'll travel even further north.

On recent bikes rides through the farmland surrounding our fair town, I've wondered about the economics of corn farming.  Thanks to a quick internet search, I'm an agricultural economics expert.  Farm roads around here are generally on a mile grid, so that's what I'm using for the numbers here.  Granted this is far from 40 acres and a mule, but I have no idea when that was a typical size, and I don't know the typical size "family" farm around here.  The bottom line:  a square mile has about $500,000 worth of corn.  About $100,000 of that was spent on fertilizer, $200,000 on all other stuff (seeds, pesticides, tractor, etc).  If all goes well, the farmer takes in about $200,000, IF they own their land outright.  Not too bad, if you inherited the land.  If you want to buy that square mile of land in our county, consider paying about $6 million.  Which you will pay off in somewhere around 30 years (I've made a zillion wrong assumptions here, but it's probably close).  Or you can rent land to farm, but you'd be pretty lucky to make about $30,000 each year.  As a non-owner of land, I'm sticking with my desk job.

Since grandma K was in town, we have some great photos to share.

Our adopt-student family has a big overhaul forthcoming.  4(?) of our students graduated this year, leaving us with only Tariq the senior and Sean the grad student as actual students in the group.  We're planning to recruit Kim's younger brother and hopefully some of his friends.

We got to see the Smith/Whites twice in the last month.  Our trip to Michigan included Jill's cousin's son's high school graduation party, where we also got to say a belated happy birthday to great-grandma (we decided to not drive the icy roads to attend her actual party in winter).
We're in the middle of softball season now.  The squad is undefeated so far, with a couple of nail-biters and a couple of 10 run rule wins.  The wind was blowing in from left/left-center at about 20-30 mph for the middle two game, which made it very difficult to get hits.  We won those games 3-1 and 5-0 (pitcher Jim filled in for the co-rec team on of those weeks and pitched a shutout for them.  3 games, 1 run scored.  He's just unhittable!).  In last week's game, the wind wasn't blowing as hard and was blowing out to right.  To make up for lost time, we scored 15 runs in the first inning (also thanks to some poor defense by the CFC gang).  Then we didn't score again until the 5th inning.  Consistency is overrated.