Sunday, February 25, 2007

28.9% of a circle

Sorry, no adventures the weekend. Miniwether woke up Saturday morning with a temperature of 104.1F and vomiting.

Actually, that was somewhat of an adventure...

She's better now.

Adventure! Excitment! Poor little sick girl!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mind, body, and soul.

The Universe spins around and round in perfect gravitational balance while atoms and molecules are held spinning in orbit by the strong and weak nuclear forces.

It's things in between that spin out of control.

That's where I am right now, somewhere between an atom and the Universe.

Barely in control.

Insomnia, being a dad to new child (even one as awesome as Mambowether), dealing with a reorganization at work, trying to be a good husband, good homeowner, good son, good scientist, good blogger and an adventurer...

You know what I mean. The same stuff (with some variations) that y'all deal with.
How did we all end up to be such mad jugglers?

I'd like to think I could handle it all if I could at least control the insomnia. I've seen too many 3:00am's slowly tick to 6:04am. I've recently turned to Lunestra. It's pretty good except that I rarely actually have a time when I can be out for eight hours.

Oh well.

But hey, you didn't come here to listen to me complain, you are hear to hear about my latest adventures. Seeing as this last weekend was a 3-day-er I have a plethora of stuff to share. Trust me, you'll wish you were an adventurer like me (but without the aformentioned insomnia, heavy responsibilities, etc...)

What's a three day weekend without a little time travel? The family (extended to Mommawether and Poppawether) made a short juant back to 1800's Texas. Yep, once again we partook in yummy foods, black powder, and assorted skill sets from my parent's childhood. Uh, my parents aren't 150 years old. They just both grew up on farms without electricity during the Great Depression. The way they did stuff wasn't that much different than the way things were done 100 years earlier. At least that's the case if you believe Poppawether. I suspect Mommawether's accounts of farm-life back then are somewhat more reality-based than Poppawethers. Her stories are still pretty amazing if not downright terrifing (especially the ones about when their barn burned down killing all their livestock and destroying all their grain and silage!).

But I digress. Let's stretch the mind with pictures of Way Back Then...

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Making butter, rope, yarn and cloth.

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Mmmm, carrots, cornmeal, and meat on sticks!

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They really were entertained, but, well, they are Minnesotans...

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Cowboys and Indians.

Misseswether is balanced.

What's a weekend without spending time in the woods? A bloody hellish weekend, that's what! My quest for the perfect sandbar boondocking spot continued. Well, I think I was successful! 1.69 miles from home I found a sweet sandbar untouched by anything but deer, feral hogs, raccoons, something with big claws that crawled out of the water, and maybe a pack of wild dogs. Perfect for camping! It's far enough from I-45 that the traffic sounds are gone. All you can hear are the sounds of the creek, the wind, and assorted things rustling in the brush.

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Mambowether was baptized this Sunday. Ah, salvation. Not just for the wicked, the unjust, and the Democratic presidential candidates. The public declaration was made that we will raise her as a Catholic and she was welcomed into the congregation. Yeah, God!!

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Entering the grace and glory of God, amen.

So, do I seem a little busy to you?

Adventure! Excitment! Koyaanisqatsi!

Monday, February 12, 2007

China Part 5: Going Native...

In the USA it is a throne, in China it is a doormat.
-One world, same object, two very different views.

One of the cleaner ones...

Window looking through shower to at toilet in our "five star" hotel.

There was no heat in the building. The furnace wasn't turned off or broken. There just wasn't any furnace to begin with. As the lady behind the desk explained, "This is southern China, nobody has heaters here". "Here" was Qing Yuan, a city an hour and fifty years north of Guangzhou. We were staying at the only "5-star" hotel in this city for three days while exploring Qing Yuan and Ying De, the cities of Mambowether's orphanage and birth.

This was a "Chinese-only" sort of city. I was pretty excited to be there as Guangzhou wasn't really exotic enough for me.

The hotel was "The Lilac Garden Hotel" and at first glance it was beautiful.
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But it was a hotel for Chinese people, not Americans. This meant there were sutble difference such as the rooms lacked drawers for your clothing, soap, towels, toilet paper, and light bulbs. According to our guide, if the hotel room had these things the Chinese guests would just steal them. The hotel itself would only serve food to Westerners in this lttle bar-like area and you didn't get a in what you got to eat. You'd sit down, they'd bring you a club sandwich, an orange juice, and a bill for 120 yuan (about ten bucks American). I already mentioned they had no heat even though the daytime highs were in the 40's.

Still, in comparasion to the conditions outside the hotel, at least we had running water (even if it wasn't hot).

The drive out Ying De was to me the highlight of our three weeks in China. It took us four hours over dirt roads and mountain switchbacks to get to this small city in the heart of China's sugarcane fields.

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Do you see the man dangling from the powerlines?

The place of mambowether's birth, Ying De City.

Trucks loaded with sugarcane.

Those trucks were about the only peice of of farm equipment not powered by human or water buffalo. Farming here was strictly medievel. Every few miles there would be a small sugar refinery spewing smoke and steam from a giant chimney as the sugar was extracted from the cane in huge pots of boiling water. The trucks would carry the cane from the field while kids on bicycles would race along side trying to snatch peices of the sweet cane. Public school ended at the fourth grade out here so there were plenty of kids running around free while their parents worked in the fields. I guess nine-year olds and machetes don't go together even in China...

We spent three days driving around the area. At lunch or supper we'd stop at some roadside diner and eat amazingly good food. I also amused myself with staring contests with the locals. Being on average two feet taller than most of them (uh, and white) I got a lot of stares. Not hostile or anything, just frank curiosity. According to our guide the people could not figure out where I was from or what I was doing there. They thought the guide and Misseswether were sisters and the driver was Misseswether's husband. The guide then gave me a great compliment by saying, "They didn't think I was an American because I wasn't fat and a smiled a lot." They couldn't figure out if I was a strange-looking Chinese person ("your nose confuses them") or a European of some sort. The "not fat" part made me feel good though, especially after having to buy bigger pants for the flight to China (don't want to strangle anything important down there!).

One of these things is not like the others...

Sadly, my memories of this trip are already fading. So much happened that it has all dissolved into wind-blown streamers of color in my mind. We took tons of pictures, but few are really worth putting up here. I think at this point I'll end my stories of China and leave you with just a few more pictures. Enjoy.

Have engine, will travel.

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Moving water the old fashioned way: an aquduct.

Why my life rocks!

Some botanical garden. Like I said, things are getting blurry...

The end of the journey begins.

Adventure. Excitement. A sadness of travels ended.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Night in the Borderlands

The woods are lovely, dark and deep...
-Robert Frost

Sunset in the Borderlands

Okay, I know I promised you the next post would be about going native in China. Don't worry, it's coming (though after the Eating *things* post some of you probably are concerned just how deep we went). Alas, you'll just have to have patience. Instead may I present to you the weekend's adventure: A Night in the Borderlands.

Sometimes I wonder at this point just what I'd have to do to really shock my neighbors. They smile and say hello to me as I walk down the street with a loaded backpack while wearing surplus army clothing and carrying a machete. Even the cop patroling our neighborhood doesn't bat an eye as I go by in my Adventure Gear. While this kind of saddens me it DOES make my life easier. Some of the places I explore need the machete to get to and being shot by a cop because of it would really be an unpleasent experience (cool to blog about though if I lived).

Clark and I were heading to a sandbar along Spring Creek to camp out. It was already pretty late in the day, less than two hours before sunset, but the sandbar was only an hour away. We were both in need of some fire therapy, some tree therapy (okay some burning tree therapy!). When you spend most of your time doing high-tech stuff the caveman-part of you gets cranky. Our inner-cavemen (no offense to real cavemen) need to be let out, preferably to make fire and sleep under the stars. True, it was supposed to get down to freezing Saturday night but hey, that just means no bugs.

And the need for a really big fire.

We made it to the sandbar later than planned but it didn't take long to set up camp. Clark pitched his tent on one side of our firepit and I unrolled my sleeping bag on the other. I'm too lazy to bother with a tent. The sun had set by the time we finished.
sunset2 camp

It was perfect. The sand was very comfortable and suprisingly warm. Once full dark dropped, an owl began hooting in a tree near us, then launched himself over our camp and across the creek. It was so cool!

On the hike in I saw a lot of animal tracks such as deer and raccoons. I also noticed areas where the ground had been quite disturbed in a manner like that of wild pigs searching for acorns. I already knew these woods were filled with wild pigs but choose not to say anything about it. Later, when we heard something snuffling and snorting in the woods behind us I just causually moved my machete closer and hope fire would keep them at bay.

Clark roasted hotdogs on a stick while I cooked a supper of freezer-bag chili over my store-bought, propane-powered backpacking stove. Freezer bag cooking is a great way to minimize muss and fuss (and doing dishes!) out in the woods. To make the chili I just emptied a can of Wolf's brand chili into a heavy-duty Ziploc freezer bag, sealed it, then dropped it into a pot of boiling water. Ten minutes later, hot, yummy chili! Eat it from the bag with a big spoon, lick the spoon clean, and dishes are done. Like I said, I'm lazy.

It was only 7:30pm by the time we finished, so the next five hours were spent poking the fire with sticks and solving the world's problems. Perfect bliss...except for the roar of traffic along I-45 less than half a mile away. The occasional train was also pretty loud. I had forgotten how far sounds can carry on a cold, clear night. Oh well.

Eventually we solved all the world's problems and so headed to sleep. Clark to his tent, me to my space blanket bag inside my mummy bag inside a fleece bag. Oh yeah, I also had several chemical hand warmers stuck in my bag with me. The end result was I spent the night being cold, but not actually shivering. Note to readers: No $20 sleeping bag will keep you warm when you are sleeping under the stars in freezing weather. Buy a good one instead (or better yet, take pity on me and buy me one!).

This was the first time we'd actually slept in the Borderlands. Well, to be perfectly honest, I didn't really sleep much that night either. All the wild pigs I've seen there in the past wandered through my imagination. That was worse than hearing the coyotes howling back at the pirate festival. The one-day-past-full moon also lit everything up bright enough to read by so it kept me up. Of course, the cold cold temperatures didn't help.

Yep, it was ABSOLUTELY PERFECT!!!! Gads, I LOVE SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS IN THE WILDS!!! Everyone should do it at least once in their life, (and then go home and leave the woods to me!).

Because of the brightness of the moon I didn't realize morning was breaking. The logs gathered last night were still smoldering, so a fire was quick to make with some twigs and a puff of air. Clark heard me and soon crawled out to warm himself by the fire.

Mmmm, a perfect morning.

A light mist formed where the relatively warm water met the cold air.
upstream downstream
Upstream / Downstream.

A large muskrat swam by as we sat and watched the river mists. The beast seemed to enjoy splashing about in the water but we couldn't lure it near us. After that we turned to breakfast. In my case, another freezer bag concoction of eggs, cheese, salt, pepper, onion, and sausage all boiled up into a wonderful omlet.

No dirty dishes!

After breakfast neither of us were ready to return to civilization yet. Clark had found a dead tree that had fallen nearby so we decided to give it a Viking funeral. It took us several hours to chop it up and burn it (note to self: get a better machete). It was very dry so it burned well and gave off a small amount of wonderful, sweet-smelling smoke.

Eventually we did finally pack up, douse the few remaining embers, police the area for garbage and then head home. Walking through our neighborhood an hour later we passed right by two cop cars parked by the playground. The police glanced up at us then went right back to talking about whatever cops talk about on Sunday mornings.

Neither of us had slept much and lugging our gear through the underbrush had us dead tired. Clark stopped at his house and I continued on mine. Misseswether was smart and had taken the girls to church so they wouldn't be underfoot while I unpacked and de-grimed. By 11:30am I was completely de-neanderthaled and ready for polite society.


Okay, now it's time for the "what did Merriwether learn" section of the post.
1. My cheap gear kind of sucks. It is heavy and not very warm.
2. Pigs don't like fire, definately a good thing.
3. A good snack can be made by melting chocolate chips in a freezer bag in boiling water, adding peanuts and sugar-puff ceral, then allowing it all to harden up.
4. Sand is very comfy, but it gets everywhere. Have small bags for all your gear.
5. Cannon fuse makes a great tinder for starting campfires.

Adventure! Excitement! Borderlands!