Friday, April 14, 2017

Projects projects projects!

So Spring has started with a bang as I have finally gotten some of the projects I wish-listed during the winter started and completed.

The first project started when Meg and I took a random trip to one of our local Good Will stores back in January. At the back was a light wood cabinet with an image of a King and the words "King's Head Pub and Brewing". I opened the cabinet to find it housed a dart board inside with five darts. It also had chalk board on either side of the door for keeping score. The dart board and darts that were in the cabinet didn't match which happens a lot in Good Will as people throw things together right before donating them. Anyway the cabinet was priced at either 2 or 5 dollars I don't remember now and the dart board really didn't matter much to me at all. I wanted to remove the dart board and put in shelves to hold glasses that were currently taking up space inside my bar.

Once we got home I realized it was the actual dart board not darts that did not belong to the set but it had everything else (chalk and erasers) so if I had changed my mind and decided to use it as a dart board it wouldn't have been hard to fix. Anyway I measured the cabinet from side to side and the height to see what would be the best placement to fit the most glasses.

Now I was mounting it in a narrow space that didn't give me much room to try and find studs so I got these really big strong drywall hangers because I didn't want the weight of the cabinet to pull it down. Of course, since I was prepared to not find studs, I hit directly on a stud with the right hook. I really should have known that was going to happen because I was close to the doorway so naturally it would have been framed out there.  As a result I used the drywall anchor on the left and a screw into the stud on the right.

I ended up leaving the chalk board and darts on the sides because I liked the way they looked with the glasses and the overall bar feel of it (I mean darts is the original bar game). Overall this was simply just two shelves and mounting on a wall. And it is definitely one of our best Good Will finds.

Inside shots with and without glasses and a full bar shoot. With the amount of Jack Daniel's glasses and liquor I guess you can tell where my loyalties lie.

Next project was getting a patio/deck area that I could put a gazebo up on and use for hanging in the yard and grilling. I needed a large space because Meg has a large variety of outdoor cooking tools. She has a charcoal grill, gas grill, smoker, electric smoker, and the latest addition is an outdoor sink. Not to mention she wants to get a griddle but hasn't pulled that trigger yet. Originally I priced the cost of doing a wood deck out by my fire pit (using that as a center piece) however with last Spring's rains I quickly realized that would not be wise. See, if you ever hear songs about Tennessee and red dirt it's because there is no dirt. It is all clay. As a result water settles on top of the clay and slowly soaks in. So when we get even one inch of rain in a short amount of time it causes a lot of standing water because it takes so long to soak up. So I quickly dismissed a wood deck because it would definitely not last long. I looked into Trex but that wouldn't really help since the framing would still be wood and would need to be replaced sooner than normal because of the water. That got me looking into concrete slabs. I thought about colored or stamped concrete to give the patio a distinctive look rather than just a slab. My Mom suggested aggregate which is what the building across the street from her condo has in it's parking lot. I liked the look and thought it would really stand out especially against the red brick of my house. At that point I still was thinking of putting it by the fire pit. That is when the outdoor sink got returned to our Lowe's by a customer because of a dent on it. Actually it had been delivered with a dent and he had kept it and used it until the re-order came in. When it got returned to the store it was... well used... to be polite. Anyway we bought it and took it home and cleaned it a bunch of times with a lot of degreaser and eventually it looked like this.

It has a sink top left, burners top right and storage drawers. However the addition of this sink changed my plans as I didn't want to have to run a hose all the way to the fire pit in order to use the sink. So the patio plan was moved away from the fire pit and up to the house so that the sink would be near a spigot.

Now there was existing patio around the back doors of my house so the plan became to add a roughly 24x18 rectangle of aggregate against the existing patio. This way the grills and cooking would be on the plain concrete and the gazebo and other outdoor living would be on the aggregate. Well last week the slab was poured and in the next couple of weeks I will be able to build the gazebo and anchor it down directly into the aggregate, which is necessary for sure with the TN winds.

The gazebo will be in the bottom left quadrant with plenty of room for hanging out in the sun in front of it and to the side.

Finally the last project to get off the ground was switching the downstairs bathroom door for a sliding barn door. There is a door from the garage and a door for the bathroom on adjacent walls. As a result if the bathroom door is open the garage door will hit it. However if we keep the door closed that bathroom gets very cold or hot depending on the season.

The new door started out as a plain hollow door and we added 1x and 2x lumber to it. Also it was my first time staining wood and it was funny to see how the pieces I did later look so much better than the first pieces. At least I know I'm learning right?

The stain was from Minwax and the color is American Chestnut. In that hallway we have a beach motif going on and I think the barn door complements it.

Monday, February 27, 2017

2 new spots on a Saturday.

I had planned to go to Private Star Viewing Party at one of the over looks on the Natchez Trace. The goal was to practice for a Messier Marathon.

Charles Messier was a French astronomer who was totally obsessed with comets and as he explored the night sky looking for comets made a list of all the faint and fuzzy things he saw that were not comets. Today his list is set at 110 different items and in March (the optimum time) Astronomers attempt to find all 110 in one night, hence the marathon.

Now I know I am no where near ready for that but I made a list of several things I wanted to try and find. In order to round up the day I looked up breweries to see if we could find a cool spot for a drink and add to our growler collection. We settled on the Asgard Brewery in Columbia, TN.  A few weeks ago we had stopped by H.G. Hill and had a growler filled with their Huginn Porter which was spectacular. I wasn't sure from the website if the brewery served food or not but we were going to be early so if not we could always find dinner elsewhere.

When we got there I discovered just about the worst thing you would ever want to discover when going to a brewery that you are super excited about. I forgot my ID. Yes of course I hoped they wouldn't ID but as the responsible brewery they are they did ID and that was it for me. However Meg got to enjoy several brews. First she had their Heimdallr. Which she enjoyed but didn't want to take as a growler option so she had a flight in the most amazing flight container ever.

Flight in a Long Boat
Who wouldn't want to have a flight served in a Viking Long Boat?

They had some amusing decor like the award for best place to get in touch with your inner Viking (which is certainly true).

I mean you have the Long Boat Flight that you can enjoy while you sit out front surrounded by fire pits and the wonderful aroma and crackle of burning wood.

If you are near Columbia TN I suggest stopping by and checking out this unique brewery. And in case you were wondering we settled on a growler of cider (second from the left). If the Mead (far left) had been available for a growler she probably would have selected that one.

When we left the Brewery we headed to the Natchez Trace to find our spot. Once we got there Meg used her GPS to search for food in the area. Well 12 miles away (not too bad) was a whole host of fast food options that we all know. Then 5 miles away was Papa Boudreaux's.

So since we were feeling adventurous and Meg loves all things Cajun we headed to Papa's.  Just two quick turns off the Trace at 3419 Fly Road, Sante Fe, TN and we arrived at a restaurant between two homes. I walked in only to discover that they were booked and in about ten minutes were going to be filled. The staff offered to make us food to go and the whole place smelled so good there was no way we could say no. We looked at the menu and choose to split an entree of Papa's Andouille Creole then added a side of dill weed potato salad. Then we saw the Boudin (Boo-Dan) Balls aka the cajun version of rice balls. So we added that.  They got us our food pretty quick and we headed back out to the Trace.

Once there I set up the telescope while Meg split the food. I took a pic of the food but it is dark because I was trying to avoid light. 

And the food didn't last long because it was amazing.  Next time we head out there I will do it right and actually make a reservation. And the cafe is BYOB so we will be stopping at Asgard for a growler of Viking inspired ale before heading to Papa's for some cajun cooking. If you are in Santa Fe, TN I suggest you stop by for a bite. Here is their website for more info-

As far as the star viewing went it was cold. I found Venus and Mars (not from the Messier List) but my fingers became very cold and rather than playing with my telescope Meg and I just watched the stars come out and picked out constellations for awhile before taking the Trace back to Nashville and heading home.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Solar Eclipse Party Update

So the preparation for the August 21st Solar Eclipse Party is going splendidly! Some of the supplies have started arriving including the eclipse glasses.

I purchased them from this website:  One very important thing to note is the inside writing that shows it meets the ISO 12312-2 requirement for solar viewing. Looking at the sun is dangerous for your sight. A lot of websites may be selling glasses that do not meet these requirements which could make prolonged viewing of the sun extremely hazardous. The solar eclipse is going to be magnificent but safety must come first.

I have found some things to make gift bags for kids who come to the party, all solar system or general science themed, though I haven't made that purchase yet.

We have several backyard games and I got a rocket because why not!

I'm pretty excited about the possibility of soaring up to 50'.

After researching several different citizen scientist projects I found the Eclipse Mega Movie project ( ) and keeping that in mind I bought some equipment. We haven't tested it yet but I bought a solar filter for Meghan's Cannon Rebel to catch photos leading up to Totality. Then she will be able to remove the filter to hopefully catch photos of the Corona (crown) around the sun during Totality and also the Diamond Ring Effect just before and just after Totality. This is when people report seeing a bright light that looks like a jewel in a diamond ring caused by sun light being concentrated through a crater on the moon surface.

Another piece of equipment I bought for her camera is the T-ring and adapter we needed to attach her camera to our telescope. Last night we hooked it up for the first time. Obviously there will be a learning process but here are the first photos we captured of the moon.

Finally I have a Go-Fund-Me page to help us raise money for the party. As I have said when I have shared it in the past on facebook and twitter I realize there are many more pressing and important causes on Go-Fund-Me but also I think we have a once in a lifetime event and chance here to bring some of our excitement about the Solar Eclipse to many people. It's hard to put into words but with each day  (there are 190 left until the Eclipse) I get more and more excited. Last night with the telescope trying to capture images of the moon I felt like a kid again.

We have different suggested donation amounts that come with various rewards. One of the rewards is a shout out here when the donation is made as well as in the blog post I will write after the event. Well we got a donation from a real good friend who donated anonymously so I won't mention my friend's name but still I want to acknowledge it here.

If anyone reading this could help me by spreading this page or donating that would be appreciated:

Also I am using the Go-Fund-Me to try and invite several celebrities who most certainly will not ever come but it would be awesome to get it to their attention and maybe at least get a "no thank you".  So any help again in spreading that would be cool.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Nashville Symphony presents Gustav Holst's The Planets

I forget where and when I first saw an advertisement for the Nashville Symphony's presentation of Gustav Holst's The Planets but I do know as soon as I saw it I wanted to go! I wish I could say I knew the music or even Gustav Holst's name, before that advertisement popped up but I would be lying. . . I feel long ago in a high school music class maybe I had heard the name, but if I did it didn't get saved into my memory. What I knew was that the Nashville Symphony (the Grammy-Nominated Symphony I should add) was going to be playing classical music while photos, images, videos, and recreations provided by NASA would play on a large screen.

To start the show they treated us to two pieces of music rather than jumping straight into playing Holst. The first was Music of the Spheres by Josef Strauss. This piece was originally composed in 1868 for the Medical Association Ball in Vienna. This was another piece that I wasn't familiar with but at least this time I knew the name. As you can imagine being composed for a ball it is meant to be danced to and it actually demands being danced to. For example I am listening to it now on Spotify and I was just dancing in my kitchen while getting my dog water especially around the 2:20 mark. If you don't start dancing, at least a harmless sway or something, I would be shocked. I definitely feel like this piece is taking me on a grand trip. At times the music sounds epic in proportion and than at times the melody takes over and becomes more small scale and personal in my mind.

Next was Philip Glass's Violin Concerto No 1. This one had a haunting melody that continued through the different movements and at times the solo violinist and the orchestra seemed to be interacting with each other as if having a conversation. It made me want to look up more of Glass's work. I definitely felt like the piece was telling a story and I think the conversation between the different instruments helped convey that as well. Also the soloist, Jun Iwasaki, was phenomenal to listen to and to watch as he played.

Following these two pieces was a brief intermission during which we stepped outside to enjoy the fact that it is January and the temperatures were in the mid 60s. Also we got to see a beautiful view of the At&T building A.K.A. Batman building.

Once everyone was seated again the Symphony began to play and now the large screen began to show images and videos.

The first movement was "Mars, the Bringer of War". There is a constant repetition of three notes that makes the piece feel like a march. The images that made me smile the most was a recreation of Curiosity, the Mars Rover, reaching Mars, hatching, and beginning to explore. The video showed amazing actual footage taken from the Rover of the Martian landscape including the sand dunes and terrain.

The second movement is called "Venus, the Bringer of Peace." The musical piece certainly has a calming effect moving away from the three note repetition of Mars. This movement has slower more drawn out notes. Unlike Mars, which seems to be pushing at the listener this piece invites the listener in like a kind host.  The image that really stuck with me from Venus were the multi-colored views from the Magellan mission showing the topography of Venus.

Without the topography Venus still looks like a beautiful planet and makes me think of a pearl because of the swirling pattern.

Next up was "Mercury, the Winged Messenger." This is the shortest piece in the set and is very light hearted and a little playful: basically what I expect from Mercury. As a result it didn't give much time for images of Mercury. The images focused on what I imagine are the result of impacts from comets against the surface.

After Mercury the rest of the musical pieces follow the order of the planets getting further from the sun. Holst skips Earth since it is from Earth that we perceive all the other planets. Also in a sad side note there is no movement for Pluto since Pluto had not been discovered yet. The composition was completed between 1916-1918 and Pluto was not discovered until 1930. I however was feeling super nerdy and instead of dressing up like some may do to go to the Symphony I wore my "Revolve in Peace" tee shirt with an image of Pluto on it and the years 1930-2006.

Next up was Jupiter, which was my favorite both musically and visually! At the  half-minute mark or close to it woodwinds begin playing a real playful melody, which quickly got my attention. Then at 1:35 or so starts a progression where more and more instruments are introduced as the movement builds for about a minute until it reaches a climax and then slows and calms again.  At around the 3-minute mark a very slow and majestic melody begins to play and again that melody builds over the next roughly 2 minutes before returning to the joyful and playful melody from the beginning.

Visually Jupiter was stunning. First off this picture made me laugh:

I don't know why, there is just something about poor tiny (not actually so tiny) Io against the massive background of Jupiter. Actually Io is not that different in size from Earth's moon and is larger than Mercury. I believe this photo was taken by the Galileo in 1999, fitting since the four largest moons  of Jupiter (called the Galilean Moons) Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto are among the earliest objects observed by Galileo around 1610.

Also the video created by the photos from the Cassini spacecraft in 2000 that showed the zonal winds of Jupiter, including Jupiter's red spot was engrossing. At one point at the melody was building with different instruments the screen repeated the same video but zoomed in and out further with each repetition.

This view shows a recreation as if  looking at the the north pole of Jupiter with east and west winds appearing as rotating circles.

This is also a string of images put together to show a video of how the zonal winds move around Jupiter.

This video uses data from the Hubble Telescope to show the winds around Jupiter. I was mesmerized by the different speeds that the bands traveled. And by Jupiter's red spot, basically a very large hurricane that is constantly traveling around the planet.

"Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age" followed Jupiter. Musically Holst returns to long drawn out notes that seem stately. I imagine an old and wise Saturn giving advice. I imagine the music telling stories and in the fourth and fifth minutes there is a building crescendo that ends with clanging bells which to me feels like a warning, like Saturn is watching mistakes of his past be remade and trying to stop them. The very end has a wistful tune intermixed with bells that makes me think of Saturn as reminiscing as the bells begin tolling for him, looking back on his life maybe sensing an ending soon. While the screen showed amazing images of Saturn my favorite is still something kind of close to this:

This is basically what Meg and I saw through our telescope last year. It was small and grainy but the rings where beautiful and clearly visible.

Next is "Uranus, the Magician" which immediately makes me think of spell casting and mischief. The beginning is a little startling coming from the calm end of Saturn. There is strong introduction by the wind instruments and then a drum beat signals silence before a note pattern begins to repeat getting louder with each repeat like witches over a cauldron.  The melody is at times playful but with a dark and mysterious undercurrent.

In the images we got to see the beautiful blue coloring of Uranus revealed in 1986 when Voyager 2 passed by the planet. Interesting note about Voyager 1 and 2 they both contain a record on them with a  message in case they are ever found by intelligent life. So if they are ever found by alien life then hopefully while developing space travel they also built a phonograph.

The last piece is "Neptune, the Mystic."

This image taken by Voyager shows Neptune's blue spot which is a storm that rotates counter clockwise.

Musically  this is another one that through building repetition I feel like it pulls in the audience. Looking at the beautiful deep blue of Neptune also, I think, has a mesmerizing quality to it. What struck me most was at the last two minutes when a chorus joins the instruments. Holst request that the chorus be unseen and I kind of wish that I hadn't read the program which mentioned the chorus. I feel like it would have been a real shock to all of a sudden hear disembodied voices chanting as the planet and the melody work together to create a feeling of other-worldliness.

It really did feel like a Space Odyssey. The images, videos, and music brought the audience on a journey across the universe starting with Earth's direct neighbors and then traveling away from the Sun in order getting further and further from Earth.

Speaking of the Sun we are now 211 days away from the Solar Eclipse on August 21st. Another spectacular celestial event to look forward to!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A quick trip: Kaskasia Dragon and Vandalia

A while ago I was thinking about making a road trip to Chicago and started looking at roadside attractions in Illinois that I could stop at as we weaved our way north. We didn't end up going on that trip yet but we did manage a quick night trip to Vandalia, IL on Monday to see one of the stand-outs.

The Land of Lincoln

The Kaskaskia Dragon is a metal dragon that breathes fire. It was built over the winter of 1995 by the Kaskaskia Hardware store. And was initially going to be part of a Halloween parade but with no clear plans after that. It wasn't until 2001 that it found a home a short walk from the hardware store right off Highway 40. Next to the dragon is a coin box where visitors can insert 'dragon coins' which gets you close to ten seconds of fire breathing fun. There are two options to get the tokens. Either you can head down the block to the Kaskaskia hardware store and get tokens for free or you can run next door to the Lomac Liquor store and pay $1 per token.  When we got there I tried the hardware store but it had closed at 6. So I walked back to the liquor store and got five tokens: 2 for during the day, 1 for night viewing, 1 for me to keep as a souvenir, and 1 for my sister to keep.

The statue is made of metal and is 35 feet long with a 16 foot neck. He wears a top hat in honor of Abe Lincoln. Facing off against him is a brave knight also made of metal and it is probably 6 feet tall. It has nothing to do with Don Quixote but the knight being so close to windmills made me laugh and brought the story to my mind.

Here is the knight and the daunting view of the dragon from the knight's perspective.

As I walked around the dragon I saw a 20 pound propane tank attached to the left leg. Apparently one tank lasts about a month.

Here is the tank, a picture of the dragon tokens, and the warning sign about the fire! After watching and photographing the dragon with the setting sun in the background we headed into Vandalia to find one more attraction and to grab some dinner before coming back to see the dragon at night.

While researching Vandalia to see what we could do while waiting for the sun to go down I found information on a series of identical statues that stretch across the country. The Madonna of the Trails monuments honor the pioneer woman who had the courage to cross this country and explore new territories.

Each of the 12 monuments are identical. They are made primarily with Missouri granite which gives them a pink color. The mother
holds a baby in one arm and a gun in her other hand while a small child holds on to her. It was the Daughter's of The American Revolution, specifically Arlene B. Nichols Moss, who originally wanted the statues made. They had previously established a committee, National Old Trails Road Committee, to commemorate the old historic pioneer trails. And in 1927 a design was made for the statues and the Committee chair at the time, Harry Truman, a judge at that point in his career, guaranteed the funding.  The design was that of a German-American immigrant August Leimbach. August was quoted as saying he imagined the moment of the statue was the mother waiting for her husband to return home. When he is not back on time she takes the children and a gun to search for him. August also said that as a child the stories of the American pioneer captivated him and made a lasting impression. He imagined that these brave woman were just like the people form his own country who had left to travel to America in search of new life and opportunity.  August continues "[w]hen I came to America, I often saw these people of the pioneer type, strong and brave and always ready to protect themselves against any danger. Asked to make a sketch model for a monument of pioneer days, I was inspired by my own impression of these people I had met, and the Madonna of the Trails is the result."

On the base of the statue the East and West sides of all 12 are identical while the North and South sides are specific to the statues location.

Here are the Vandalia specific sides.

Nearby were several plaques with info about Vandalia and the Cumberland road which had gone through the town in the early days.

Here are a couple more pictures from downtown Vandalia. The paintings of people on the stairs of an old brick building grabbed my attention and made me laugh. And then the junction sign listing the roads that brought people here.

At this point we went to grab dinner and head back to the dragon for some night time fire viewing.

It was time to see what this cute fellow would look like against a night sky.

He looks sweet

As we pulled back in we could now see that his belly was lit up with green lights that blinked on and off. Well the cute dragon during the day was much more menacing at night!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Solar Eclipse 2017 Viewing party!

Alea iacta est!

As soon as we heard about the upcoming solar eclipse we began planning a party, we sent out invites and tried to request off from work- turns out we can't request a date that is over a year away. At some point while planning the party we began to discuss making a Go-Fund-Me page to help make this a super awesome party. We wanted to upgrade some night sky viewing equipment, which is not necessary for the party but would lead to a lot of fun for our guests and us.

Anyway we finally did it. It asks for money for several things like a new telescope, camera, and filter set. Also for the party we need #14 welder's glass. And we need a good amount because I want to make two viewing stations so that young children can safely view the whole event. Once the party is over I will definitely donate one of the view finders and possibly both to a local school or club.  And then other party supplies.

The main reason we did it was because in the final reward we semi-jokingly offered an invite to the party. I say semi-jokingly because for most people it is just a thank you pack but if you are actually Neil deGrasse Tyson, Steve Harvey, or Bill Nye then you were definitely invited!! Due to a limit on the description we could not include that Sheldon Cooper (the character-sorry Jim Parsons) would also be invited. I mean they have to watch it somewhere right? Why not try! Honestly if we don't get any donations it won't matter we are going to have the party no matter what but it would be awesome to get this invite all the way to Neil deGrasse Tyson. .  .seriously no donation needed but the invite still stands!

I don't know if anyone will donate. We have set rewards for certain amounts. Basically every donation will get a shout out here (for what that's worth). The next level was a personalized hand written thank you note from us. I don't know I just feel like the thank you is becoming a lost art and it is nice to receive them. And then there are different size pictures taken with the telescope and camera.

We will really appreciate anything people choose to give us. There are so many pages out there for serious needs and this is a fun and frivolous one. If you decide to donate thank you. If you don't want to then please consider sharing it.