Saturday, December 31, 2011

Here, deer...

I'm hoping for a discount on venison today. Worst case, beautiful day in the woods.

Update: No venison. I flirted with a doe for about 45 minutes after she came running toward my antler rattling, which sounds pretty realistic if I do say so. I rattled 2 more times while she stood there and tried to figure out why she couldn't see the two studs she could hear 75 yards away. I was trying to take one with more meat so i waited. A dad and 2 kids squirrel hunting in the same woods came too near and flushed another doe, who convinced the one I had been engaged with to mosey on. I sat around and enjoyed the afternoon, trying to tease another one in with antlers and a call. No joy. To all my northern hunter friends... you should really come down here and hunt sometime. I burned up while wearing a T-shirt and BDU pants - SOOOO glad I don't live in Minnesota.

The boys went out with Papaw and their new Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun. They didn't see anything in the 15 minutes they were able to stay in the stand, but they spent some time learning what rubs and scrapes are. Then they went to the "range"... my oldest proved he will be another sharpshooter nailing coke cans from about 15 yards away while my 5-year old plinked the cans a few times and scared the bejesus out of the oak trees behind the cans.

Nerdliness is Genetic

Tonight I introduced my kids to astronomy via telescope. One (hyphenated) word... awe-inspiring.

Previously we have used a pair of 70s vintage 7x35 binoculars from Sears or just gone out with the old eyeballs. You can see a ton of objects with your eyes and even more with binoculars, but there are some advantages to the telescope that I had never considered for the kids. Namely:

1) I find interesting things and they can just walk up and look - We started with the moon via a 25mm eyepiece and worked them up to the 12mm and finally 4mm eyepiece. That gave them 3 different chances to look at the moon over the course of 30 seconds, see the same thing 3 times at increasing magnification, but feel like they were looking at 3 completely different views.

2) The increased detail makes things look "like the box" - Too often things disappoint compared to the marketing. Beginner/entry-level telescopes certainly fall into that category. Trying to head this off at the pass, my sis-in-law (who bought the scope for Christmas) and I explained that stars will still look like points of light but we can see more. We also explained that we will barely be able to see the details of the planets (Jupiter's stripes, Saturn's rings, etc.). They were stoked when they could see extreme detail in craters along the shadow terminator on the moon. They couldn't (be still enough to) resolve the stripes or red spot on Jupiter, but I saw the stripes. That will take a little practice for the boys to master.

3) They can actually see things moving in space - We often sit outside and watch satellites orbiting and figuring out which ones we are seeing during visible passes. Until the telescope, this was the peak of their observed understanding of orbits and motion in space. The 4mm eyepiece changed that tonight. I lined up the westernmost lunar horizon with the eastern edge of my field of view and let the moon traverse the field. My 5-year old asked how I was making the telescope move across the moon without touching it. But my 7-year old jumped in with "Daddy isn't moving the telescope, the moon is moving around the earth. And DADDY, YOU CAN SEE IT MOVING! LOOK!"

That was enough to brighten my night and put a smile on my face as I got more acquainted with the scope in the cold after they went to bed. It also rekindled my desire to eventually buy or construct a high-quality telescope like a Stellarvue refractor or a homebrew Dobsonian. My poor wife... my strange, completely nerdy hobbies just never end. Did I mention we tilled in some compost and planted some winter rye in one of our poorer soil beds this morning at the request of my 5-year old? :)

Note: Images via &

Friday, December 30, 2011

Help: Mushroom Identification

These mushrooms have spawned in a few places around my yard, primarily where pine trees once stood (the roots are still in the ground). They are also popping up in shady spots in 2 of my beds. I'd appreciate some help identifying them. A few more pictures are shown below.

They may be utterly inedible. But they might be a perfectly acceptable addition to a salad or other dish. I hope a roving mycologist checks in and lets me know.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Toys I Always Wanted

The kids each got an iPod Touch AND a Nintendo DS Lite for Christmas. They also racked up with tons of Lego Ninjago stuff and this new game called Beyblade (marketed on Cartoon network with its own cartoon). Awesome aunt Jen, aka Papucha kicked in with a new refractor telescope from Tasco, which comes with a microscope kit, too! Santa even added a Playstation 3, but my oldest immediately said Mr. C brought it for me.

Now I am not a huge gamer nor do I have a TON of time to just play. But I have to say that the shift from toddler-type toys to "big kid" toys is very welcome. My wife & I both enjoy playing Beyblade enough that we sat down for about 10 minutes and did it while the kids were on a day trip with their grandparents. My oldest son can now put the complex Lego sets together, so he takes off and occasionally yells down that he needs help putting 2 difficult sections together. Bottom line, it's like being a kid again and I'm game. Quality time is no longer tickling Elmo, but building Lego jets and submarines, shooting Nerf guns or their new BB guns, launching rockets... the list of awesome goes on.

Here are some links to the cool stuff the kids got. If you want it and buy it through these links, I'd appreciate it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Papa Johns

I am frustrated at Papa Johns. We ordered pizza over an hour and a half ago and now the phone number doesn't work. Want to go to plan B but already gave them my card info online. DOH!

UPDATE: Apparently we were the last order to be listed as "30-45 Minutes" but as far as the swamped restaurant was concerned we were NOT on that list. We ended up getting the pizza after an hour and a half. They tried their best to make it right though... they gave us a free pizza for next time.

Nostalgia for a Broom Trick

This video proves that I am still moderately flexible, performing the "Broom Trick". Why on earth was I trying this in the first place? Well, a video has surfaced from a cousin of my dad doing the "broom trick" when he was my age. He can't swing it anymore, so I was volunteered to entertain the family at our Christmas gathering. There is a 4-video sequence that is pretty funny to watch. But this one is the one in which I figured it out:

Here is the original in which my dad tried to pull it off:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Santa is following me

I am almost positive Santa has begun following is today. It must be that Elf on the Shelf, Thomas, passing intelligence to the Central Present Fulfillment Agency (90.0N 0-180E/W)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stolen: My Heart

My 5 month old baby girl makes me smile inside... she smiles at me almost every time we interact. Even when she's been screaming her head off she'll laugh herself silly with a little tickling or funny singing from Daddy. Her eyes lock onto me and she watches me like I'm her hero. She either loves her Daddy or finds me remarkably strange. Regardless, I'm hooked... she's nuzzled up to me napping now. If she is softening me up for a huge wedding on Necker Island down the road it's working.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Podcast Withdrawal

With no long commute today, I haven't had the opportunity to listen to any podcasts. I'm in a moderate state of withdrawal from all things preparedness, skill building, & hobbies that will drive my wife crazy. Among other reasons, continuing to increase the hobbies that drive her crazy is certainly high on her list of "Reasons I Don't Want Dillon to Commute So Far Every Day".

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Debate? Nah... It's Over Already, MmmK?

While I despise listening to politicians blather on with party line after party line, the potential debate between Inhofe and Markey discussed at Junk Science could be interesting. Both of the fellas are pretty staunchly in there corners, so I do not expec them to listen to each other. But if the moderator could keep them in check, they could get some interesting points on the table.


Sometimes a nation bends to pressures from NGOs or even state actors, but others they don't. Often when they don't they couch their reason with well-spoken diplomacy crafted to allow them to later do whatever they deem necessary and remain consistent with previous statements. However, sometimes they just tell the NGO what amounts to the 7 year old child's reponse: OR WHAT?

In the case of Canada and their interaction with the UN, maybe it's time to bow up 7-year old Canadian style with a big old OR WHAT, EH?

Thanksgiving Hello from Deployment

I just ran across this video of myself and wanted to link to it before it disappears...

It's my message home for Thanksgiving 2009 when I was deployed to Joint Task Force Bravo in Central America. Watching and listening to myself makes me feel like a goofball. But I think everybody feels that way a little.

It does bring back some memories of a wonderful group of people and beautiful places. I will try to get some pictures from my stay there uploaded either here or over on my photography blog while I am off over Christmas.

Commute Update - Blue Heron

This morning I saw an absolutely stunning sight within 1/4-mile of I-55 on the Trace. I figured I needed to update my recent post. I was still driving around 30 mph due to the traffic entering/exiting in that area when a massive blue heron that looked like the one below glided past my windshield. From beak to toe it must have been 6 feet, as it's head had already passed my car before it's feet got to my right fender.

The beautiful bird helped me center myself a bit for the day. Take a few deep breaths and relax. There is a beautiful world out there if you take time to look around.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Siberian Sea Berry - An Experiment

In the vein of gardening, preparedness, and potential small businesses I decided to perform an experiment with a plant species that for sure will handle the cold winters here in Mississippi, the Siberian Sea Berry, Hippophae rhamnoides. We decided to order them from One Green World and the customer service was great. Now they are in the ground and we will have to play wait and see for a while. They are said to be very healthy and I expect I can ferment any extra for use in the distillation column I'm building. -- did I mention I'm a real nerd?--

According to the Mississippi State University Extension Service, central Mississippi is in the range of acceptable chill hours for this species at 600-800, though on the lower side. I like to be different. If this plant can handle our heat (it's said to be VERY hardy) and produce fruit, we will be the southernmost grower that I can find. There are people out there growing these things in the northeast, like Tom, who is WAY into this species. But I haven't found any evidence of folks growing these as far south as we are. Anyone who has information on growing them or proving me wrong would be welcomed. I'd love to borrow some knowledge from a trail blazer.

Why I carry knives

My wife always asks me why I carry my Barrage from Benchmade on me all the time and keep my Benchmade Houdini Pro in my car. She thinks I'm a bit of a knife/gun/___ nut. Here's a timely reason from Blade Mag. So far, I've only convinced her to carry an old Swiss Army Knife in her glove box. I haven't gotten a response from her yet, but this might be what it takes to get the Houdini moved over to her truck - and stationed within arms reach in case SHE is the one who is stuck in an accident.

Eliz, if you're reading this... this is why I do all of the "nutso" things I do in the name of a little preparedness. Being ready before an emergency is the only way to actually be ready. I love you and I want to keep you around. If one other person reads this and takes action to prepare to deal with the many small tasks and potential emergencies for which a knife is well-suited or in the extreme saves a life, then this post did more than I could hope for.

In the near future, I will try to post a little about the small things I do to be prepared in my daily life.

Commuting Sucks - But Mine Sucks Less

In 2008 I left my job in the Navy to build new nuclear reactors in Mississippi at Entergy. Beyond all of the great reasons to transition back to my home and work on an awesome project, there was a MAJOR tangible benefit - time. In Jackson, I would have ~10-15 minute commute, leaving me an additional hour and a half EVERY DAY with my wife and kids. PRIMO! For many reasons, we cooled our jets on that project and I shifted to the Extended Power Uprate program office. Shortly thereafter I was deployed to Central America on an active duty individual augmentation assignment with the Navy. On my return, I was offered the opportunity to jump into the meat of an ongoing extended power uprate project at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station. This was a good move career-wise, but it certainly brought back a lot of the cons that we took off the list by leaving DC. Namely, my commute sucks. While it is longer than my DC commute was by about 20% and longer than my initial commute in Mississippi by about 700%, it has some upsides. Here are the stats:
10 miles, 1 hour, 1 National Park visited

Jackson, MS (where I was recruited):
8 miles, 10 minutes (15 with heavy traffic), 1 National Park visited

Port Gibson, MS (where I'm temporarily stationed, they actually have a website...):
75 miles, 1 hour 15 minutes, 1 National Park visited

Why, oh why, would I say that a longer distance and duration commute to approximately the middle of nowhere has upsides? Well, it is less than pleasant averaging 10 mph on the George Washington Parkway (The "G.W.") staring at a bunch of other cattle lining up for the morning cattle drive through the chute (the 14th St Bridge) into one of our country's least productive corrals (Downtown DC). It is way more pleasant to be out the door of the house and in the door of the office and vice versa in 10-15 minutes. Commute #2 was via the Natchez Trace Parkway. But I only hit a 3-mile stretch of it filled with Mississippian cattle vice beltway cattle. Now I will not say that it is super fun to drive 3 hours round trip each day, but I will certainly say that getting south of Mile Marker 85 (Clinton/Raymond) takes you into an area that reminds you how this country became what it was at it's greatest. There are farms with livestock; crops like corn, cotton, beans; historic sites that consist of country churches or the stories of battles fought and lessons learned; and wilderness - at least the first couple of layers of it after you get out to rural america. The people that live here work hard for what they have and they provide a lot of the things that I have and don't even know it. By the time I get to around Mile Marker 80, I stop counting the minutes and start counting the deer, turkey, hawk, owl, fox, raccoon, opossum, and armadillo. I even saw a Florida panther one night - Wildlife & Fisheries doesn't acknowledge them, so are offering a $15,000 reward for verifiable evidence their territory now includes MS. Bottom line, the word commute brings ugly visions of gridlock into many folks' imagination. I'm on the road a bunch, but you do have to appreciate the good parts of something that isn't all that good on its face.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gardening Update 1

I planted a small herb & vegetable garden this spring before I ran into The Survival Podcast. I didn't take the time to do much to the soil and I only have 2 years of mulch on top of the crappy soil the builder left behind. Some of the hardier plants took off (lemongrass, rosemary, sage, fennel), but a combination of poor soil and a rough summer killed or stunted the rest (tomatoes, peppers).

We do not want to have a farm, but a garden producing some (eventually most) of the plants we eat. So my herbs/veggies are mixed in with ornamentals. We have a banana plant, a red canna, variegated ginger, and a few other grasses/plants to fill out the "look nice" quotient.

I've started preparing and amending the soil in the locations where I'm going to create space for my edibles. I also want to invest a little money in some information from people like Marjorie Wildcraft at Backyard Food Production. She comes highly recommended by Jack Spirko. I also am creating my main veggie bed as a hugelkultur beds. This concept buries wood beneath the beds to provide a sponge for water and a source of nutrients to decompose. Implementing this should help my more water-hungry plants (and even those that aren't) flourish through a hot dry Mississippi summer. Additionally, I am building a PVC greenhouse or some mini row covers to get the garden started earlier, dapple the sun a bit during the summer, and extend my growing season next fall.

Please feel free to leave a comment/link to your favorite plant or plants. I'm still toying with what to put in my new beds and could use your help. +1 for "pretty" plants that will automatically be wife-approved.

Weight loss, my diet and lifestyle

In 2002 I was 250 pounds with a BMI of >25. I got that way by transitioning from a 210-pound, muscular college athlete in May 2000 (a cheerleader at Mississippi State) to a sedentary tub-o-lard following a knee injury in the Navy. I continued eating like I was burning 3000 calories a day but relied on the knee-injury crutch to explain why I wasn't exercising at any level. My biochemistry didn't particularly care about my excuse as it prepared for hibernation accordingly.

In October of 2001, I finally failed the "rope-and-choke" measurement the Navy performs if you're above the height/weight standards (see Navy PRT). The standards are generous to say the least. The secondary "rope-and-choke" measurement gives you a better result if you have a fat neck. So as I became tubby, I stayed in standards for a while because my neck was matching my gut growth and I put a lot of the weight on in my legs/chest. As part of my continued denial that I WAS THE PROBLEM, I argued that the test was stupid and didn't give a good measure of body fat like hydrostatic weighing or other more accurate measures. In the end, I realized that Uncle Sam's method was more favorable to the fatty (that was ME for those who think I'm insensitive), but that realization came later.

So after failing to live up to the lowest common denominator in the service, Uncle Sam strongly encouraged me to get within standards - I had a year to reestablish myself to the standard or it was sayonara jobby-job. My wife & I both took this opportunity to make some lifestyle changes and I ended up at 175 pounds after approximately 6 months of dedicated effort and I'm sitting at 180lbs 10 years later. Many people have two reactions when they hear this factoid about me:
1. I don't believe you were EVER 250lb - it's true, unfortunately
2. PLEASE tell me HOW you did it. - let's see how to put this gently... DIET & EXCERCISE

We started out with the little book and a slider that you got in that time frame from Weight Watchers. That was all it took. We created and printed out a week-long journal in Excel to count points and keep up with what we were eating. While my wife said I was crazy, I always rounded up if it was a "half-point" situation. The 2-3 points I counted but didn't eat each day helped me cut another couple hundred calories just by mentally tricking myself. I also exercised 3-4 days per week for no more than an hour. Once we reached my goal weight and my wife's corresponding 10-15 pounds (she was already only 120 pounds and "smoking hot", so didn't have as far to go), we started to gradually increase the points to level out and eventually stopped formally counting/journaling. This way of life had become just that... second nature. With all of that weight loss, I gained some additional benefits that are sometimes strange to think about:

- Blood pressure improved to below 120 / 75-80 (<100 with a bit of relaxed breathing)

- Clothes fit right off the rack and I often find my size on sale since everyone else is buying the bigger stuff

- No more ingrown hairs, boils, and associated skin complications on fat inner thighs that never saw any space between them. This was a little-known complication of me becoming a fat polar bear.

- Improved ability to, ummm, perform.

Since 2002, my wife & I have continuously searched for healthy ways to feed ourselves. With the addition of 2 kids (recently a 3rd), our habits devolved a bit with an increase in nights where we would clean up the mac & cheese or chicken nuggets by eating their leftovers. Over the last 7 years I ended up gaining 20 pounds of the 75 pounds lost. Once we had our daughter, we both centered ourselves and recommitted to live a healthy lifestyle. We don't do "diets" and have continually warned my seriously overweight dad & stepmom that fill in the blank fad diet won't work and isn't meant to be a long-term lifestyle. They have tried Atkins, Glycemic Index, et cetera ad infinitum. I started hearing about the "paleo diet" and I was immediately skeptical. However, a little more research and hearing other people who I am beginning to trust explain it uncovered the point that the paleo "diet" is diet in the traditional sense - the sum of the food consumed by an organism or group. At it's core: eat simple food that was common in a paleolithic diet (meat, vegetables, leafy greens, et al) and avoid food that our evolved biochemistry may not be properly designed to deal with (grains). Various people have their on take on this diet and one who continues to be very popular is Robb Wolf. At our house we have started using leafy greens to deliver meats conveniently (think lettuce wrap). I also increased my egg intake to replace cereal in the morning. I plan to continue with dairy, though I have significantly decreased my intake just because I don't eat cereal every morning anymore (my family has dropped our milk intake by 75%). We have made very few changes from our already veggie/meat intensive diet, but dropping out the 2 slices of bread, cereal, and most milk have made about 15 pounds disappear over about 9 weeks.

This post is getting a bit wordy and I feel like I might be rambling. So I'm throwing it out there. I can always post a follow up. I hope this helps someone.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Focus Areas for Improvement

Jack Spirko's tenants of modern survivalism are leading me to learn (or relearn) skills that can make my life better. Here are the ones I am focusing on right now:
1. Gardening
2. Food Preservation
3. Energy Independence

I will post some basics of what I've been doing in each area over the next couple of days.

Eclipse Facts

Return of the Blood Red Moon - Eclipse Facts!/SPACEdotcom/status/144804553873829888 Shared via Plume

Thursday, December 08, 2011

My Inspiration to Act

Jack Spirko has completely lit a fire under me to get active in a lot of areas where I have dabbled. I want to make my family more independent and he offers many tips and inspiration to help you get there. In addition to his podcasts: The Survival Podcast and 5 Minutes with Jack