Friday, May 30, 2008

On Moving...

Making the decision to move your family 460 miles to a different town is a lot easier than the actual act of doing so. And while we agonized over making that decision (seriously the wife and I were popping zantac like M&M's there for a bit), selling and buying a house, packing our stuff (my God how much STUFF do we have anyway?), and getting the timing right for closings on houses and moving trucks etc...

Well anyway, we won't be doing this again for awhile. I swear.

The good news is that we've got an offer for our house. It's not a great offer, but we're taking it. The real estate market news is worse by the day and we've already committed to buying another house. We'll swallow the dollar loss and find a way to make it up.

The last week of June will be hectic and crazy. Hopefully we'll be able to enjoy July.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Warblers Warblers everywhere

Wow! I went out with a group of 12 or so, led by Backyard Bird's Mark McKeller early Sunday morning. We went to Weston Bend State Park, which is a beautiful spot located in the bluffs along the Missouri River. I was hopeful to see a few new birds, warblers mainly since I lack any kind of expertise in identifying these beautiful birds.

I was also accompanied by my 78 year old father, which was actually quite special for me, since he has moved to Texas and I don't get to see him as often as I would like.

We had a great morning of birding, spotting a dozen or so varieties of warblers and vireos, along with some understory birds. I picked up 11 new birds for my list, which was quite bit more than I had hoped for. The highlights (for me at least) may have been the great looks I got of Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided Warblers (pictured above).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pewees and Catbirds

When I was a child (say 8-15 or so), I knew that my parents liked birds and birdwatching. I would look through the bird guides left lying on the coffee table and admire birds like the Indigo Bunting and the Orchard Oriole. Then I would go outside and play and ride my bike and never ever see a bunting or an oriole. I thought they were rare birds, only seen in the wild by expert bird watchers.

I've since biked, hiked and camped in numerous parks and wilderness areas around the country. Never saw a bunting or an oriole. Wasn't really looking very hard, but still, you'd think I would have noticed them if they were there.

Until this spring. I've been out birdwatching 4-5 times in the month of May. I've seen Indigo Buntings every time... even though I didn't recognize the bird the first time. I've seen Orchard Orioles several times. Yesterday I went to Lewis and Clark State Park near Atchison Kansas. I thought the orioles must have been following me, but I finally concluded that there were just a lot of them.

I did see 3 new birds. Pictured above is the Yellow Warbler. I saw several of these pretty birds. I also got a good look at a Grey Catbird (pictured below), a somewhat reclusive bird. And finally, I saw a pair of Eastern Phoebes (or maybe Eastern Wood Pewees).

These three bring my life list total up to 83 birds. Am hoping for 100 by the end of the summer. It's getting harder to find new birds ... but I am missing a lot of water birds, and am going out to a marsh Sunday. I should pick up several there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Two For One

I've just finished reading The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. What a marvelous introduction to a series of books! Set in Botswana, an African Republic which, I confess I know little about, a wonderful African lady sets up her own detective agency and... investigates. These stories are charming and illuminating. Mma Precious Ramotswe, our heroine, has incredible insight and cleverness into human nature. I look forward to future installments of this series.

Also another cover comparison. I own the US bookclub version, pictured on the right. But I admire the UK version on the left.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Last Coyote

Michael Connelly (and here) is a powerful writer. His Harry Bosch series has been nominated for and won several writers awards. I didn't pick him up until last year, and as I slowly work through the 14 books in the series... I'm both regretful for waiting so long and thankful that I have so much to look forward to.

I've just finished the 4th in the series, The Last Coyote. Previous books have Harry finding his father, and I felt that the description of that meeting may have been several of the saddest pages I've ever read. In this book, Harry starts digging into the death of his mother. Again quite sad. Future installments are almost certain to include more (The Black Echo already did to a degree) episodes from Harry's Vietnam days.

I can't wait.

Furthermore, he has another character, Mickey Haller, who he introduced in The Lincoln Lawyer, a book that won the Macavity and Shamus awards and was nominated for the Anthony and Edgar awards. I've not read that book, but did listen to it (see blog entry here). Connelly is still adding to both series with both characters. His latest books are The Overlook and The Brass Verdict. Hopefully someone will pick up the movie rights.

Pictured above is the Mark Twain Hotel, Bosch's residence after events in The Last Coyote.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Foreign Exchange Students

Every so often, in my teaching career, I've been fortunate and blessed to have a student from a foreign country in my classes. I had a young man from Germany a few years ago in my senior physics class who knew, at the age of 17, far more than I did about physics. We had a great year wherein I probably learned more than he did... but he was an excellent teacher and a good kid. He (and this is common for these kids) maintained contact with me for several years after he went back to Germany. I haven't heard from him in a while, but I'm sure he's doing very well.

I remember a girl from Russia.. who also entered my physics class with a reputation for surliness and disrespect. Turned out that she was bored nearly to tears by her classes, and once we got past her initial reserve, she too managed to teach me more than I taught her.

Another girl from Brazil had one of the most attractive and magnetic personalities I've ever encountered. She, in one year spent in the US, managed to be elected student body president and homecoming queen during her senior year, and, as I recall, received a perfect score in my physics class.

This year I'm saying goodbye to a young man from the Ukraine. He speaks six languages, is unfailingly conscientious and accurate with his work, and again, has managed to teach me more than I've taught him. He is headed back to Europe on Wednesday. I wish him well and am completely confident that he will succeed at whatever he tries. I hope that he looks on his time here at Central High School favorably. I hope that I had some impact on his career and outlook.

Goodbye Roman. I enjoyed having you in class and getting to know you. Take great care of yourself and the best of luck to you.

Oh yeah and keep in touch!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pretty Birds

Same bird you say?? Not so. The one on the left is a Blue Grosbeak. The right bird is an Indigo Bunting. I actually saw both of these birds through my binos at the same time. Amazing. The Grosbeak is bigger and heavier looking and has the brown wing bars (although I didn't really see his wings, it was obvious they weren't the same bird and the Grosbeak is the only other all blue bird).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

More Covers

One of my favorite all time authors is Robert Heinlein. But I've never much liked the US covers. Compare these two. The one on the right is the UK version.

Great Gadgets

My wife and I tend to be gadget collectors. We're always looking for new kitchen toys...things that make cooking and cleaning up easier or more fun. Here's one that looks great!

I am wondering about the cleanup though. Don't hot dogs drip when cooked?

Cover Art (second try)

Messing about with resizing pictures so as to post them side by if this entry seems a bit disorganized it's because I'm experimenting.

OK. Got it to work...

So, cover art is a favorite part of many books for me. Often I'll pick up a book to look at it because the cover catches my eye. That, of course, is what cover art is supposed to do... and sometimes a bad book will have great art (and vice versa).

The disparity between US and UK cover art is sometimes startling. The UK publishers generally have far better art than the US equivalents, at least in my opinion. It's not always the case and sometimes both are good. Pictured above are the US and UK covers for The Lies of Locke Lamora. This is a case of equal but different IMO.

But how about this one picture below (UK on the left and US on the right)?

I far prefer the UK version here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

And a Few More..

April and May are great months for bird-watching. I didn't get out much last month, mainly because of the cold, but am finally getting out to try and catch the last wave of the spring migration. I've seen birds that I knew existed...but never knew to look for before. Added 5 more new birds to my list today, 3 of them at Bluff Woods Conservation Area and 2 while waiting for my son to finish up baseball practice.

1) Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher; small bird, as you might expect, blue and gray with white outer tail feathers. 99% sure.
2) Black and White Warbler; amazing bird! Looks like a flying zebra. 100% sure.
3) Indigo Bunting; another beautiful bird! I got a pretty good look at it, dark blue shading to black with light wings...except for the yellow patch at the throat, may have been the same bird from yesterday. Was singing up a storm, and I think I matched the song when I compared it to WhatBird's songs (click on the listen to voice link). 95% sure.

Those are the three I saw at the conservation area. I was pretty thrilled. But then, while I was waiting in my truck in the elementary school parking lot, I got to watching the back yard of a house with some flowering trees. I heard a chipping sparrow, saw some robins and grackels, and then I spotted something different up in the flowering tree...

4) Orchard Oriole; I've never seen one of these birds before. Orioles are gorgeous birds...this was no exception. As I watched him... I caught a flash of orange and OH MY GOD there's a...
5) Baltimore Oriole; in my opinion, THE most beautiful bird, period. He was hidden inside the leavs of the tree, but once I knew he was there, I got several great looks at him. My son came over after practice, and he got a good look too and was very impressed.

A great haul! Up to 76 birds now and am excited about the rest of the month.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Four I didn't have...

Summer Tanager; 100% sure (only two birds to confuse with...Cardinal and Scarlet Tanager, Scarlet has black wings, this one didn't)
White-breasted Nuthatch; 100% sure, I have seen this bird before and kept looking for it on the woodpecker pages of my bird guide... frustrated cause I never found the woodpecker with the black head and white face, finally figured it out today duh!
Yellow-Rumped Warbler; 95% sure, I think I saw two of them. Blue-grayish back and wings, yellow patch on side, yellow crown, white wing bars... ok I didn't see the yellow rump, which is why I put only 95% sure.
Yellow-throated Blue Warbler: ok I invented this species, because that's what I think I saw. Dark blue wings and back, very dark blue head shading into black face with yellow patch at throat. Hmmm... doesn't match anything. I called it a Yellow-throated warbler for my list, but am only about 25% sure. I'm thinking of going back to the spot later to see if I can find it again.

Life list is up to 71.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Swallowing Razor Blades...

is how strep throat has been described by some. And I've got it. Two days ago I noticed that I had considerable drainage and was developing a cough. Now I tend to bounce viral stuff off pretty well, colds don't usually hit me very hard... but when I came home from the evening ballgames on Tuesday running a slight fever and having trouble swallowing, I had my suspicions. Yep I woke up at 1:00 am coughing and hurting so bad I had to get up. Went to the doctor yesterday and he didn't even do the strep test... he just said "you look miserable, here's two scrips, the antibiotic and one for pain so you can sleep". So I slept a little better last night, I was still pretty feverish, and am recovering nicely today. My throat is still a little sore... but thank god nothing like it was.

Heh I looked for a picture to post... but they were all too gross. So no pic, just my whinyness.

A Good Month of Reading

I completed thirteen books in April, and am back on track for 100 for the year. I've already blogged about Stephen King's Cell and Lance Armstrong's biography. The last book of the month, finished late last night is Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce. I enjoyed it immensely. As young adult fantasy goes, it is easily one of the better stories I've read in quite a while. Not surprising then to find that it is a Missouri Gateway Award nominee for 2008-09. My wife, the librarian, tries to read all of the upcoming years nominees (and has done this for the last several years), and I pick through the stack to find the good ones. This was a good one.

Here's my April list:
1) The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters; the next book in the Amelia Peabody series. My wife read one of these books a while back and I guess she just doesn't appreciate the dry humor as much as I do. I find Amelia Peabody to be hilarious. Mix that with the strong archaeology background (after all, Peters has a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago) of the stories...what's not to like? I'm just glad that there's 19 books in the series, and thus will keep me snickering for years to come.

2) The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio by Alexander Kent; another young adult book, written by an author who's pretty well known. This is the first of his I've read however. The story was ok... I probably won't go out of my way to find and read more books by this author. I did like the cover art of this book. Cover art is a whole 'nother topic for another time...

3) It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong
4) Cell by Stephen King
5) Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

6) Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian; again a series that I really enjoy, and one that will keep me reading for a good long while. This episode was nothing spectacular, although I did very much enjoy looking up Desolation Island on wikipedia.

7) Ranger's Apprentice 4: The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan; go here to this fun website to read more aobut this Australian authors excellent fantasy world. My son and I can hardly wait for each new installment.

8) Stone Cold by David Baldacci; the finale in the Camel Club trilogy. Baldacci really has a low opinion of Washington politicians. But as they say, finding something to criticize about politicians is like shooting fish in a barrel. Stone Cold wraps up the series in a satisfying (yet unsatisfying.. but isn't that the goal?) way. I liked it.

9) The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich; I should do a whole post on this one book...and I might. Set in Wyoming, where I spent three summers working and playing, how could I not love this book? More later...

10) Grave Peril by Jim Butcher; why am I always exhausted whenever I finish one of these stories? Maybe it's because Harry Dresden gets beat up, burned, mentally and physically tortured, slashed, etc more than any other 'tough' guy I know. Every book is the same, the only thing to change is the monsters doing the damage. This time it's vampires and a rogue sorcerer's ghost demon. Not a series to read straight through for sure.

11) A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray; another fairly new author to appear on the young adult scene aiming at girls. Set in a victorian England girls finishing school.. I was suspicious of the language, did a little research and found that Bray grew up in Texas. Hmmph. Not a bad story, it's been nominated for some awards and I'll read the other two books in the trilogy, but... if I can spot the flaws...

12) Sharpe's Rifles by Bernard Cornwell; here's another book deserving of it's own post. Bernard Cornwell's first Sharpe book written in 1988. He essentially wrote two different series concerning Richard Sharpe. If I had it to do over, I would have read this book (and series) first instead of starting with chronological first book set in India (which Cornwell wrote much later).

13) Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce; I'm beginning to think that I've got a thing for female protagonists... um no, Harry Dresden, Oliver Stone, Will the Ranger's Apprentice, I've got plenty of male characters in there too. I just wonder if the girls are more noticeable now because they were neglected for so long. For whatever reason, it's a good thing and I look forward to the next book set in the world of Tortall.

Well that wraps up a good month of reading and reviews. Welcome May and warmer temperatures!!