Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Eagle Watching Day!

Every year my family goes eagle watching.  Eagle Watching Day is ALWAYS the coldest day of the year.  We pile into my parents van and drive around all day with binoculars or cameras glued to our faces.  I know, you are so jealous right now.  Every winter thousands of bald eagles fly south from Canada and spend the winter in Alton and Grafton, Illinois on the Mississippi River. Now this is an all-day event.  We head out around 6 or 7am.  We stop at Denny's for a nice, hot breakfast, then head to our first stop, Clarksville, MO.  We make a number of stops heading to Grafton, IL then Alton, IL before heading back home by 4 or 5pm.

Eagles are awesome.  The Bald Eagle has been our nation's symbol since 1782.  There may have been as many as 20,000 nesting pairs during that time.  But, by 1978 numbers had declined dramatically (3,000 nesting pairs) and the federal government added the birds to the endangered species list.  The Bald Eagle is one of the best recovery stories though.  By 2007, they were not considered endangered anymore, and today there are about 10,000!  That is amazing!

If you have never seen a Bald Eagle, you should know that they are big.  Like huge.  They have a 6.5 to 8 foot wingspan and get 3-3.5 feet tall.  They are hard to miss amongst the river gulls and starlings flying around.  When they are juveniles, they do not have the characteristic white head.  So you may have seen an eagle and didn't even know it!  My family has been eagle watching for the last 15 years or so, and I like to think of us as eagle experts.  When someone sees an eagle, we pull over and all gaze skyward, snapping photos.  Now, you may think this sounds boring, but you haven't experienced the rush of trying to frame the perfect eagle photo.  This isn't your mama's backyard birding!  Well, it is my mama's... but anyway...

Last year I wasn't able to go because I was SUPER pregnant.  I was pretty bummed out.  So I was not missing out again this year!  Besides you can never start your children early enough when it comes to eagle watching.  My baby girl's first Eagle Watching Day!  I can't wait to drag unwilling teenagers on this epic tradition.  It's going to be awesome.

(The little blurry dot in the tree above my baby's head is an eagle.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

100 Books for a Beanie Baby!

If you were a girl during the 90s there are a few things you remember.  The Macarena, jellies, boy bands, Lisa Frank, and of coarse Beanie Babies.  Like my fellow children, I LOVED Beanie Babies.  During the height of the frenzy, my sister and I got into the cute bean-filled critters.  My amazing mother went all around town trying to find who still had the new ones.  She got Happy Meals every day trying to get two of all the Teenie Beanies (one for each of us).  Now we didn't always get them right away.  My mom would save them for birthdays and Christmas or as rewards.  In fact, we didn't even know which ones she had.  We were not under the illusion that they would be worth anything;  we even took the tags off and actually played with them.  We had Beanie Baby sleeping bags, clothes, food, and houses made of cardboard boxes.  When we moved to a new state, we took Beanie Babies in the car with us instead of in the moving truck.  I remember my sister and I playing with all our Beanie Babies spread out over the floor before the furniture had even arrived.

By the time I was in sixth grade, I still loved the little critters.  I was also an avid reader.  My mom came up with the brilliant scheme of keeping us off the television during summer break by making a deal with us.  Every time we read 100 books, we would get a Beanie Baby.  I got out my Lisa Frank notebook, wrote the date, and #1.  I read those books and got my Beanie Baby.  I asked my mom if I read another hundred if I could have another Beanie Baby.  She said "yes" so I kept writing.  I can't remember if I got that second Beanie Baby, but I do know I have been writing down every book I have read since summer of 2000.  That's 14 years worth of books!

It may sound a little OCD but when I started doing it, I never envisioned it would become a sort of life-long list.  In 2011, my husband surprised me by typing up my whole list (I was still writing them all down in my Lisa Frank notebook).  Some of my numbers were off, so the typed version actually had the most accurate information.  I was so excited!  I started typing them all on my list instead of writing them down.  I planned to do both, but kept getting sidetracked.  Then, tragedy struck.  Our hard drive failed.  I had all my photos backed up, but none of my documents.  One of the documents that was lost was my book list.  Luckily I had emailed the list to myself, but it was only updated through 2012.  I was on a couple of reading social sites, so I was able to piece some of the list together (30-40 books).  The order is probably a little off, and I may be missing a few still, but its better than nothing.  We have tried to recover some of the data, but the hard drive is physically damaged.  It would cost a lot of money just to recover a few documents (if they are even able to be recovered

According to my most current information, I have read 465 books since summer 2000.  These are completed books, not the amount of books that I've started.  I used to make myself work through the most putrid of books, just to say I finished it, but my time is too precious.  I'm learning that it is about quality, not quantity.  The list has become a sort of overview of my life.  It has books from college, books for entertainment, fiction, non-fiction, book club...  My life in books. 

The moral of this story is to always back everything up!  Not just photos, everything.  You won't realize what you have lost until it is gone.  Oh yes, and Mom, you owe me a few Beanie Babies.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Big Stink

This year has been my first year not working full-time since 2008.  I'm not going to lie, it's been GREAT!  With my extra time, I wanted to make sure I got out of the house and did fun (and free) activities and took my daughter to see new places.  One of the places we went to several times this year, was the Missouri Botanical Garden (MoBot).  It was really relaxing to push the stroller around the gardens and look at all the different plants bloom throughout the seasons.  Baby girl LOVES being outside too. 

During one of our expeditions we heard that the corpse flower, or titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) had just bloomed.  We took a stroll through the greenhouse and saw the tall plant had already closed its petals.  corpse flower!  I felt honored to be in its smelly presence.  The smell was not as terrible as I had imagined though.  It was stinky! Don't get me wrong. But I was expecting to find it so unbearably stinky, when in fact, it was more of a wafting stink.  (The most pungent odor only lasts 6-12 hours so I may have caught the very beginning or end.) 
The blooms only last for 24-48 hours and they don't bloom very often.  I was pretty heartbroken to have missed it, but little did I know, the garden had more than one plant.  Several weeks later another plant bloomed and I was determined to see it!  This time I went early and the plant had not opened up yet.  A couple days later and we were among the throng, lined up to see the stinky flower!  You would not believe how many people came to see the massive bloom!
The corpse flower is also the largest flower in the world.  So just to see the size of the bloom was pretty spectacular!  The botanists had cut a small opening in the base of the flower so the visitors could see the inside.  I'm so glad MoBot cultivated another bloom so quickly after the first.  They have had five blooms in the last three years!  There is also a tradition of naming the titan arum.  The first bloom of the year (the one I missed) was "Izzy".  The second pungent bloom was "Hunter." The garden has eight plants total, so maybe there will be another stinky flower in 2015.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Crocheting, Like a Boss

When I got pregnant last year, I decided I needed to learn to crochet.  It was probably all those motherly hormones telling me I needed to make cute little things to keep my baby snug and warm.  After practicing the stitches on a few washcloths, I decided to up my game.  My baby needed an aviator style steampunk hat.  Not to mention, I was taking my new baby to a steampunk convention the following April, and she needed to be the cutest steampunk baby ever!  I found a really cute pattern for free (yay Pinterest!) and decided to attempt it.  The original pattern I used is not online anymore but here is a link to a similar pattern.

I had never done anything this complex before, but the pattern was super easy to follow.  I'll admit, I did rip everything out and start over once or twice, but it was all user error.  Anyone that knows how to crochet will find it easy.  The pattern said it was for 0-3 months which I thought would be perfect, but I was wrong on several accounts.  I think my stitches are a little bigger than the author's for one.  Two, my baby is very petite.  She was born full-term, but has always been on the smaller side.  Three, it's pretty warm in April, and crocheted hats are a little hot.  So when the convention rolled around, the hat was too big, and it was too hot anyway, so she didn't get to wear it.

Now that it is winter, I thought I would try the hat on again.  It's just a smidge too small, but it looks adorable.  I snapped a couple photos (which was the whole point), so I could still show everyone the cutest steampunk baby ever.
The original pattern had all the trim in tan, but since I knew I was having a girl, I decided to pink it up.  In retrospect, I wish I had put the lenses closer together, but I'm pretty proud of my first non-washcloth.  I've made several items since then, and I keep getting better.  And, I don't have to look up what a double crochet is every time anymore.  Practice makes perfect, and you would not believe how many steampunk crochet patterns are out there.  I will attempt to make them all!  Well, maybe not all, but most.  Definitely most.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Boring Documentaries For the Win!

I'm a total geek.  I love Harry Potter, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica (old and new), Lord of the Rings, and pretty much anything sci-fi or fantasy.  I go to steampunk conventions, and I love strategy board games like Settlers of Catan.  But I am not just a geek; I am also a nerd.  The kind of nerd that didn't have to study and still made straight A's.  When I wasn't in school, I was playing school.  I love learning.  I also love documentaries, especially nature films.  For example, this Christmas, my sister got me the DVD boxed set of Really Wild Animals.  I had one of the tapes when I was little and watched it over and over again, until my sister was sick of it and I can't wait to watch it over and over again with my daughter. 

One of my favorite times of year is Shark Week.  Or it was, until the infamous release of Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.  This fake documentary was the premier attraction for Shark Week 2013.  Social media blew up about it, and not in a good way.  For more than 20 years, Discovery has been airing nature documentaries to teach us about sharks.  But Megalodon used a fabricated news story, and the Discovery name, to broadcast a fantastical story that a megalodon shark was still living today.  Animal Planet (also under the Discovery name) has aired Mermaids: The Body Found and the sequel Mermaids: The New Evidence as fake documentaries.  The worst part of these films, is that they are being broadcast as if they were real scientific documentaries.  There is no disclaimer at the beginning saying that this is fiction.  The scientists are all actors, which you can see in the credits.  Now I may be in the minority here, but I miss the real science!

When BBC put out Planet Earth, I got chills.  The cinematography was superb.  The only thing on my Christmas list that year was the DVD box set of Blue Planet and Planet Earth.  A network that has built itself on the premise of science, should stick with science.  I'm not saying there isn't a place for shows like Megalodon and Mermaids, because there is.  It's the SyFy channel.  I think if they had been marketed as a What if? documentary, I would have been interested.  The moral of the story is:  Bring back ACTUAL documentaries!  And they are.  The new president of Discovery, Rich Ross, says that the era of Megalodon is over (pun intended).  Some shows that were already in the works may still air, but going forward the network is going back to the basics.  I have hope in a future filled with nerdy nature documentaries about little known species.  Here's a picture of my sister and me dressed up for Shark Week 2011.