It’s Been a Brutal Summer…

19 August 2016

It’s been a miserable summer at the TreeHouse – hot, sticky, muggy, but little or no rain, so we’re officially in an “extreme drought” northeast of Boston, and our lawn looks like it! We’ve sworn off pouring treated drinking water onto our lawn for a number of years, and in past years it hadn’t been a problem.  But this year, it’s a problem.  Most of our lawn is now brown, except for the southwest corner that got the benefit of a failed flower-sprinkler-timer that shut on and didn’t shut off over a five-day period that we were up in Maine.  The sprinkler timer was supposed to water the marigolds that line the front walk for 90 minutes every two days via a couple of soaker hoses that run along the front walk on either side. The southwest corner of the lawn was under water when we finally got home, and that area has endured while all the rest of the lawn went crunchy long ago.

The muggy heat has put a crimp in my ability to do much yard work either, so the shrubs along the front of the house are in extreme need of trimming too, but that won’t happen until I can bring the electric hedge trimmer back down from Maine.  Maybe in two weekends.  Sigh!

Woburn has a enacted a voluntary water ban (don’t water on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays).  The only watering we do is for flowers; 2 hours on the raised flowerbeds out back once every five days, one minute of the drip system on the deck each morning for the four hanging plants, and occasional watering of the front walk marigolds when they look like they need it.  The raised-bed watering also nourishes the Concord grape vine on the pergola so it’s flourishing.  I’ll have to start keeping an eye one the grapes now to make sure I harvest them after they ripen but before the birds get to them.  I misjudged last year and didn’t get any harvest. I assume the birds enjoyed them.

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Back in the Groove (or Furrow)…

(click on thumbnails to see full-size images)

12 JUNE 2016

IMG_20160613_064956234_HDR-33pct20xA couple of hundred years ago I started a Mother’s Day tradition at the house in Woburn… the girls (at ages 7 and 9, with help and guidance from Dad) would plant “Yellow Boy” marigolds all along the curved front walkway.  We’d plant them on Mother’s Day (much to the occasional rainy-day chagrin of the girls) and Mom got to do whatever she wanted while we worked.  She usually sat in the shade, sipped her coffee, and offered occasional advice to the workers and the “knows-nothing-about-gardening” supervisor.  Sold in flats of 48 plants each, and spaced at 6 inches apart, it took a little over four flats (192+ individual plants) to trim the entire walkway.

I continued the tradition as long as I could, but as the girls grew up and went off to college and one got married, scheduling the planting event on Mother’s Day became harder and harder.  Eventually Lynn and I picked up the grunt work from the girls, which meant we could postpone the actual planting by a few weeks to avoid the late spring frost troll that occasionally showed up, trying to kill uncovered early plantings around Mother’s Day and the few weeks after.  The 90+ feet of bright yellow marigolds became a neighborhood landmark over the years.  We would have perfect strangers stop and chat while we were planting, telling us how much they enjoyed and appreciated the look of the yellow border.  One unrecognized neighbor thanked us for planting such a stunning display as he often used it when giving directions to his house… “Take a right at the house with a gazillion yellow flowers along their front walk…”

Last year was an aberration.  Lynn was in recovery mode from the accident, and I had a few more “ODARs” (Other Duties As Required) on my To-Do list associated with the recovery period, so we skipped the annual planning tradition and just mulched the empty flower-beds along the walkway; nothing got planted.

This year we resumed the tradition.  Lynn found a couple of flats of “Yellow Boy” marigolds at the local garden center last week (a bit late in the season for whole flats, that’s usually an earlier-in-the-season option) so she grabbed them.  I weeded and raked and sifted the flower-beds Saturday and early Sunday to remove the weeds and the ever-present pebbles and stones, and we set up an assembly line Sunday afternoon.  4725333775_d03783f952_bWith Lynn’s bad ankle and my bad knee we were a lot slower than usual, but we made up for it by spacing the plants 12 inches apart instead of the usual 6, so it was half as many marigolds and half as much work (yeah, right!).  At this stage of growth they look more like runway landing lights than plants (see the image at the top of this blog entry for this year’s photo right after planting), but time improves them!  The photo at the right is a shot taken in 2010 to show what the marigolds WILL look like after a month or so of growth.

Posted in Gardening, House, Spring, Woburn, Yard Work | Tagged | Leave a comment

Oh, I’m A Lumberjack and I’m Okay…

…to the tune of…

We have 2.6 acres of land at the house up in Maine, with a LOT of trees, so I acquired a refurbished Homelite ZR10568 42cc 16-Inch Gas Chain Saw a few years ago for use up north to keep the trees in check.  I’ve used it to clear out whole trees to expose a pair of nicely-shaped spruce Christmas Trees on the edge of the lawn in back, and I’m forever trimming the fast-growing white pines that are all over the meadow that used to be a grazing field for sheep many years ago.

But last February at the TreeHouse in Woburn, a mini-blizzard dropped a good-sized tree of the “willow” variety (not a weeping willow, a regular willow with buds that look like pussy willow buds).  The tree itself was on the very edge of our neighbor’s land, growing right by the brook in our back yard.  It fell across the brook and square into our yard, thankfully missing our pergola that sits in the raised flowerbeds and supports the Concord grape vine that sprawls over it and provides shade in the summer and fruit in the fall.  However, the fallen tree did clip a few branches off the birch tree we’ve been encouraging for the past fifteen years or so and deposited the broken top of the willow in our giant arborvitae bushes/trees, remnants of the privacy bushes that used to hide the above-ground swimming pool that was where the pergola and raised beds are now.

Massachusetts (and most state) property law says that a neighbor’s tree that falls in my yard becomes MY tree – and my responsibility – so it was up to me to get rid of the now-horizontal trespasser.  Ordinarily that would be a straightforward task, but this tree was also engulfed in Celastrus orbiculatus– invasive bittersweet vines, so I had to remove the knurled twisted tangle of sinews that covered the entire tree before being able to get the chainsaw anywhere near the trunk.

I spent three non-consecutive weekends cutting the knotted tangled bittersweet vines away from the fallen tree, packing my multi-bushel-sized bicycle-wheeled garden cart head-high with the pieces – so high I needed to cinch a strap around them to keep the pile from toppling out of the cart.  After more than twenty runs to the community compost pile in the woods, I was ready to attack the tree itself.  The top of the tree had broken off and was still hung up in the arborvitae, and it wasn’t going to be extricated by a single person, so I ignored that and attacked what I could with the 16″ chainsaw.

Serendipitously, newly-engaged daughter Audrey is beginning to pull together her plans for the wedding and reception (to be held in October 2017).  She is planning a rustic wedding theme (outdoor wedding, reception in a barn, etc.) so she saw the felled tree as an opportunity to make, rather than buy, table centerpiece bases and a cake platform out of round thin-ish slices of the tree trunk.  Running a chain saw is fun, so I sliced up 14-15 1″ thick slices of the tree – bark and all – for her to sand a bit and polyurethane. We also did a 3″ thick slice as a potential cake platform. It may not work out, but it will look way cool if it does, and costs next-to-nothing to try!

Once I had de-brushed the trunk and cut up as much of it as I could with my “light-duty” saw, I called on a friend to bring his industrial-strength 20″ chain saw and assorted equipment (ropes, come-along, peavey hook, etc.) to help me get the tree top out of the arborvitae and slice up the remaining main trunk.  We threaded a long rope through the branches of the hung-up treetop, splayed out the ends of the rope about 40-50 feet out away from the treetop, and PULLED! Down it came out of the arborvitae, and we pulled it away from the work area to attack later.  Then he fired up his bigger chain saw and attacked what was left of the trunk.  He was able to cut up manageable pieces back to the middle of the brook (still enough water in the brook to impede a complete removal) which I stacked under a tarp to dry.  Should have close to a half-cord of firewood once split. Willow is a light wood that burns quickly so it’s not much good for heating with, but would make great outdoor fire-pit fuel.

The final work involves clearing out the rest of the bittersweet vine and cutting up the smaller but long logs into shorter chunks suitable for stacking and/or burning. To assist with that I built a sawbuck that has been on my to-do list since I bought the chainsaw – five 8-ft PT 2x4s, three 5″ long 1/2″ bolts, six 1/2″ nuts, six 1/2″ washers, 24 3-1/2″ wood screws, and a couple of hours last Saturday with my miter saw and a drill. $45 in materials… almost as much as what the chainsaw cost me!

EPILOG – 17 April

And finally done!  Cutting up the remaining bittersweet vines and remaining tree parts took longer than I’d like, but I finished up today.  It looks a lot better than it did that first day I started hacking away at the mess.  I even vacuumed up the little chainsaw chips left from cutting up the tree parts.  The neighbors must’ve thought I was off my rocker!

As usual, I take pictures as I attack new projects like this, so the whole set (including some of the linked-to photos in this blog post) are in a Flickr “Album” titled 20160227-Downed Tree Removal.

Posted in House, Winter, Woburn, Yard Work | 2 Comments

A Geeky Christmas Dessert – Raspberry Pi

We use Amazon Christmas lists in our family, but I’m not very good at keeping them up to date or remembering to put stuff I want on the list. This year I remembered to put something on my list I had been interested in experimenting with for a few years; A Raspberry Pi.  What is a Raspberry Pi, you ask?  The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized single board computer that plugs into your TV or monitor and can accommodate a keyboard and mouse, and a lot more. This is a little computer that can be used for many of the things that a desktop PC does. The design is based on Broadcom BCM2836 system on a chip with a 900MHz ARM Cortex-A7 quad core processor, Dual Core VideoCore IV Multimedia coprocessor and 1GB RAM. This board is powered from a 5V micro-USB adapter and runs various operating systems such as Raspbian, RaspBMC, Arch Linux, RISC OS, OpenELEC, Pidora and Microsoft Windows 10(!).

38Y6466-501Megan and Dan bought me the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B starter kit for Christmas.  It came with a credit-card-sized motherboard, a clear plastic case, and a micro-USB power supply (the same kind of power supply you use to charge an Android phone).  With the motherboard in the case, it slips easily into a shirt pocket.  In addition to all the circuitry for the computer (CPU chip, 1GB memory, audio, graphics, etc.), this tiny motherboard has a power connector port, four USB2 ports, an RJ-45 Ethernet port, an audio-out port, an HDMI graphics out port, a CSI (Camera Serial Interface) in port, a DSI (Display Serial Interface) in/out port (for use with touch-screens), a long bar of places to connect various other controllers and sensors, and a micro-SD port for memory/data storage.

RaspberryPiSizeI made the silly assumption that there was a “BIOS” on the board, but when I hooked up a keyboard, a mouse, a 32-inch Hi-Def HDMI TV, an Ethernet cable, and powered it up… nothing!  So I did a little more research.  It turns out you need to hard-format a micro-SD card (I had a spare 4GB card, the bare minimum required) and pre-load the NOOBS (“New Out Of Box Software”) bootstrap loader on the card, then run NOOBS and use it to install any one of a number of graphical OSes onto the card.  A 4 GB micro-SD card only had room for the Spartan RISC OS for Pi.  A bigger card will give me more options (Raspian, Linux – a bunch of flavors, even Windows 10!) so I may pick up a few cards and try more than one OS.

IMG_20151228_231314933Once the micro-SD card was prepped, it booted up into NOOBS, presented a list of possible graphical OSes available over the internet, and let me choose any of the OSes that would fit on the installed micro-SD card (of which there was only one; RISC OS for Pi).  I installed RISC OS for Pi by downloading it directly over the internet to the micro-SD card in the Raspberry Pi.


Next step will be to pick up a few more micro-SD cards to try other OSes, and then experiment with adding components that can sense conditions (cameras, touch-screens, RFID proximity, accelerometer, temperature, clocks, etc.) and write some code that will respond to sensor inputs.  Fun!

UPDATE 1 (30 DEC 2015)

I went out and bought a couple of 32GB micro-SD cards, loaded the full-featured Raspbian OS on one of them. Raspbian (a version of Linux based on Debian) is the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s official supported operating system, and comes pre-installed with plenty of software for education, programming and general use. It has Python, Scratch, Sonic Pi, Java, Mathematica and more.

IMG_20151230_110508290_HDROn the other card I loaded Windows 10 IoT Core For Raspberry Pi 2.  The “IoT” stands for “Internet of Things,” where little limited-function gadgets are connected to the Internet and can be monitored and controlled by dedicated small computers (like a Raspberry Pi!).  THAT is the real reason I wanted to experiment with a Raspberry Pi; to build my own controllers for dedicated devices (a weather station, or a temperature alert system, or a synchronized lights-and-music controller, or…).

Posted in Computers, Hobbies, Technology | 1 Comment

The First Anniversary…

We’re up in Maine, spending the anniversary of the accident at the scene of the crime, so to speak.  The actual anniversary is today (Sunday, November 1st), but Lynn wanted to drive (not be driven) to the scene of the accident yesterday, and then visit the Pen Bay emergency room where the people who took care of her that night do their magic every day.

We made a celebratory day of it, and took a roundabout route up to Rockport, driving up Rte. 235 past Seven Tree Pond, then zigging left on Rte. 17 for a bit, then zagging right onto Rte. 131 for a bit, and then a leftIMG_1572 onto Butler Road which sort of parallels Rte. 131 but is an occasional dirt road through blueberry country, which develops a deep red color this time of year.  We saw them IMG_1591burning the blueberry fields with a mechanical dragon towed behind a tractor.  We passed through a village called Appleton Ridge (not on most maps) to Searsmont and stopped at the Fraternity Village General Store / coffee shop / bakery / pizza parlor / liquor store.  From there we doubled back on Rte. 131 a bit to Rte. 105 through Hope (how appropriate), past Megunticook Lake, and into Camden, where we headed north a bit on Rte. 1 to Mt. Battie State Forest and drove up Mt. Battie Road to the lookout point at theIMG_1602 top of the “mountain” (more like a hill; elev. 846 ft.) and the view of Camden town below.  By then it was 4pm, so we drove to the Reny’s discount department store in Camden, which is where Lynn stopped to do some shopping just before the accident.  We did the same.

Lynn took over the wheel from there and drove south on Rte. 1 to the right turn onto Rte. 90 west, drove a few miles and then pulled into the parking lot of the antique shop next to the Yankee Stripper furniture refinishing shop.  It was just past that parking lot that the accident had taken place.  We sat in the car in the parking lot for a few minutes, talking about what it felt like to Lynn to be back at the spot.

Then we went back to Rte. 1, continued south for a few miles, stopped at the Dunkin’ Donuts shop in the Sunoco Station and bought a “Box o’ Joe,” a dozen donuts and a dozen muffins, and headed across Rte. 1 to the Pen Bay Medical Center where the emergency room is where Lynn was taken first, before being transported to the Maine Medical Trauma Center in Portland.  It was that first stop that Lynn remembers most.

Luckily, it was quiet in the emergency room.  We walked in and a woman in the waiting room immediately started trying to get us to give her a donut.  We ignored her.  We explained to the receptionist who we were and why we were there, so she called back and got permission for us to go back to the nurses’ station in the emergency room, where we talked to a bunch of folks.  I got to meet “Kelley” who was the one who called me at home in Woburn and gave the perfect delivery of bad news like that.  A goodly number of the staff remembered Lynn and that night, and Lynn got to meet “Matt,” the nurse she remembered as being so kind and caring and who focused on her the whole time.  There were more than a few moist eyes, and exclamations of how great it was to see a former patient doing so well, and how that they hardly ever get to see or hear about how a former patient is doing.  We didn’t stay long, but long enough to convey our profound thanks for the work they do in general and the work they did that night in particular.

We had made previous arrangements with Lynn’s sister Marcia and her husband Tom (who live in the area and were with Lynn in the emergency room that night) to meet at a new Scottish Pub in Camden – “The Drouthy Bear” – at 6:30 for a bite to eat (Lynn’s family is 110% Scottish – Munroe and Taylor).  We were ahead of schedule so we drove downtown to the harbor parking lot by the docks and sat and looked out at the lobster boats and winterized wind-jammers for a while before heading up to the pub.  The Drouthy Bear offers about 35 single malts from all the regions of Scotland, plus another 6 or so blended scotch whiskies, and some American whiskies, and they serve them in patented Glencairn whisky-tasting glasses (hard to find in the States, but ubiquitous in Scotland; we brought some home from our 2013 trip)!!

It was a symbolic “closing of the book” for the year for Lynn.  She’s ready to move on.

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I *TEN* the Windows…

Back in November 2012 I blogged about installing the new Windows 8® on my laptop and the experience of the installation and getting used to the new operating system (often referred to as an “OS”).  Here I am now blogging about doing the same thing with the new Windows 10®!

Windows 10® was released to the unwashed hordes on 29 July 2015 with much media-generated fanfare, and it was (and still is, until 29 July 2016) FREE to anyone with a machine running an authenticated “genuine” (as opposed to pirated) copy of Windows 8.x® or 7®.  Most of all, Windows 10® was going to be Microsoft’s tail-between-the-legs apologetic offering to the unwashed hordes to try to make amends for the largest business faux-pas since the Edsel (if you believed the media punditz); abandoning the START button.

To be sure, Windows 8® was significantly different from Windows 7® – 8 was the first mass-produced OS designed to work with new-fangled touch-screen devices, AS WELL AS old-fangled mouse-and-keyboard machines.  It was going to revolutionize the computer industry; the first OS that would run on all sorts of platforms – desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, touch-screen, non-touch-screen, keyboard- and mouse-based machines, point-and-swipe machines, all of them.  But it left off the START button (insert wailing and gnashing of teeth here)!!

Windows95The START button – as everyone in the known universe knows – was a button in the lower left of the computer screen (sometimes rectangular, sometimes round) that, when clicked on with a mouse pointer, popped up a sometimes cascading menu (cleverly called the START Menu) of programs that were installed on the computer and could be run by clicking on the program name and/or icon in the menu.  It was first introduced with Windows 95® in August 1995.

It should be noted here that while the START Menu was displayed, the user could do nothing else with the computer except navigate the START Menu or click on a single item in the menu to start that program running.  Clicking anywhere OUTSIDE the START Menu caused the START Menu to immediately vanish.  While the START Menu was on-screen the user could see what had been displayed previously (except for the stuff that was occluded by the START Menu), but the user couldn’t get to it or interact with it without causing the START Menu to vanish.

Windows98R2But Windows 8® – the scourge of all Windows users everywhere (according to the media) – took that away… but not really!!  The START Button (which started out rectangular in Windows 95®, changed to circular in Windows Vista®, and changed again to trapezoidal in Windows 8®) WAS STILL THERE, only instead of popping up a vertical cascading START Menu that occluded some of the desktop and vanished at the first click, it brought up a full-screen scrollable START Menu with square chicklet-like boxes for each program that was installed on the computer; same function, different look.  The user had the configuration choice of two (sometimes three) box sizes, so youngsters with sharp young eyes could make the boxes tiny and get more of them on the screen at a time, while older people with bifocals could make the boxes bigger and easier to read.

WindowsXPWindows 8® removed the START Button from the screen, but made use of the previously-ignored keyboard button that has a “Windows” logo on it that started appearing on keyboards about ten years ago.  Pre-Windows 8®, pressing that keyboard button was yet another way to open the cascading START Menu. With the advent of Windows 8®, pressing that physical button with your finger (instead of clicking that virtual button with your mouse pointer) would cause the screen to switch to the full-screen START menu.  HOWEVER… the media-fanned public outcry over the removal of the START button on the screen was so incessant that Microsoft brought the virtual START button back with the Windows 8.1® release/upgrade.  But that wasn’t enough for the unwashed hordes.

Windows-7-Start-ButtonI too was confused and discombobulated by the lack of a START Button in Windows 8® – for about 20 seconds.  It took me longer (about 2 minutes) to figure out where they had hidden the entry to the Control Panel!  I can only conclude (and I have plentiful examples to back up my conclusion) that 99.44% of the computer-using public is violently allergic to change of any kind! Get over it folks!

Windows-Blue-8-1-start-buttonWindows 10® brings back the START Button (in the lower left where it evidently belongs, and shaped like a trapezoid like it did in Windows 8.1®), and it pops up the START Menu, occluding some (or most) of what was on the screen, just like everyone (except me) longed for!  Oh, by the way, the START Menu looks more like a miniature version of the START Screen, with little chicklet boxes for each program, and users can arrange them to their liking and resize them to their liking, like they could with Windows 8.X® if they bothered to learn about it, but that seems to be okay now.  The media-led choruses of Halleluiah (that the START Button is back) have been sung since the preview copies were released almost a year ago.  I will never understand.

Anyway, my upgrade to Windows 10® was done yesterday and was almost flawless, only a couple of minor hiccups.  Microsoft had loaded a “reservation” tool on Windows 8.1® machines during a pre-July monthly update. The tool allowed the user to “reserve” their free copy of Windows 10® prior to the release date, with the reservation tool doing an authenticity check for the existing OS and a compatibility check against the system’s hardware and installed software before announcing that a copy “had been reserved” for this machine.  It is projected that there are a billion and a half machines “in the wild” worldwide that qualify for a free copy of Windows 10®, so Microsoft staged the downloads so as not to bring their servers – and the entire internet – to it’s knees.  I “reserved” my copy as soon as I saw the reservation tool on my machine.  July 29th came and went; I guess I wasn’t going to be in the first wave.  Just as well, as we were traveling in Montana on the 29th – I didn’t want to do the upgrade from a hotel room.

Image1Once we returned home I started getting impatient.  I poked at the “reservation” tool every few days to see if anything had changed.  Mid-last-week I noticed what appeared to be a new link on the “reservation” tool’s screen – a “frequently asked questions” link – and the first question’s answer alluded to a downloadable “Media Creation Tool” that would let you do one of two things; download an installable copy of Windows 10® that would need a valid license before installing, or… kick off an immediate installation on a previously authenticated machine without waiting for Microsoft to decide it was “your turn.”  You can guess which option I chose.

Using my copy of Acronis True Image 2015, I cloned a copy of my laptop’s hard drive onto a spare laptop hard drive to preserve my machine in case there was a problem, then kicked off the upgrade!

The upgrade took about 90 minutes, in twelve phases; Downloading Windows 10, Verifying Your Download, Creating Windows 10 Media, Getting Updates, Getting A Few Things Ready, License Terms, Getting Updates (again), Making Sure You’re Ready To Install, What Needs Your Attention, Ready To Install, Installing Windows 10, Upgrading Windows (yet a third time), and Login (I took screen snaps along the way).

The What Needs Your Attention phase told me about the first hiccup – two problems I had.  One I had to fix and the other I had to agree to.  It told me my copy of Symantec Endpoint Protection (my virus scanning software) was incompatible with Windows 10® and had to be uninstalled, and it told me that my paid-for copy of Windows Media Center (*not* Windows Media Player) is not available in Windows 10.

Win10LoginOnce the installation finished I was presented with my new login screen, and my picture, username, and password were carried forward from Windows 8® to the new copy of Windows 10® – a good omen!

Once I logged in, all my desktop icons were there, my desktop background images were in place and displayed, my apps were all there (except for Symantec Endpoint Protection and Windows Media Center, obviously), and they all seemed to be working! The last hiccup was familiar from my upgrade to Windows 8® from Windows 7® back in 2012 – my speakers were silent; no sound. Once I found the Control Panel (they moved it again) I checked all the sound-related device drivers; all were listed as functioning and up-to-date.  I begged to differ.  I popped over to the Dell web site (using the new browser, Windows Edge) and sure enough the hardware on this 5-year-old Latitude 6420 got misidentified again by Microsoft’s OS installation routines.  I downloaded the correct drivers, installed them, and VOILA! Sound!

And oh, by the way, this was the first time since I started down this road with my first personal computer over 30 years ago that a “whole-number” OS version upgrade (DOS2-to-DOS3, 95-to-“ME”, “Vista”-to-7, etc.) didn’t involve a wipe of the C drive, starting fresh and having to reinstall all my application programs all over again! Instead of a 2-3 DAY process, it took two hours, and I just watched! Dee-lightful!

IMG_20150822_164813944_HDRSo I’m spending time finding old things (like the Control Panel) learning new things (like the multi-desktop feature and the new browser – I like them both!) and slowly rearranging the chicklets on the new/old/restored START Menu.  I declare it a winner, but what do I know? I declared Windows 8® a winner!

Posted in Computers, Hobbies, Technology | Leave a comment

Montana Trip Journal

(Click on most thumbnails for a full-size image or map)

Lynn’s nephew Lincoln escaped the woods of Maine 12-15 years ago and headed for the mountains of Montana. He’s been there since, and he hooked up with a nice girl from Minnesota who did the same thing. They’re both extreme outdoorsy people, a perfect match. They decided to get married and we got an invitation, so we decided to attend! We hadn’t seen him for years and years so it was about time!

Neither Lynn nor I had been to that exact part of the country, but we’ve been close with family and friends in Colorado and Wyoming, so we decided to burn some expiring frequent-flyer miles and fly to the festivities first-class! My FF miles were with USAir, which recently merged with American Airlines. Neither airline flew to Montana per-se, but American did fly to Jackson Hole WY, which is about a 5-hour drive from Livingston MT where the wedding was to be, and that drive is through some boring scenery the likes of places like Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, so we decided to take a week, fly into Jackson Hole, drive to Livingston, enjoy the drive, enjoy the scenery, enjoy the wedding, and have some fun! The irony of the trip was not lost at work. Most projects at MITRE have nicknames, and the nickname of the project I was working on at the time was… wait for it… MONTANA!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015, Woburn MA:

BOS-DFW-JAC MapThe first leg of our trip, our flight out of Boston to Dallas-Fort Worth, was departing at 2:25 pm EDT, so we had a relatively leisurely morning before the flight. Lynn’s sister Gail traveled with us, so she came down from NH the day before and stayed with us overnight. Lynn was uncharacteristically ready ahead-of-time, all packed the night before, so the morning of the flight was cool, calm, and collected – delightful!

We drove to Anderson Regional Transportation Center to park the car and hopped on the 11:00am Logan Express shuttle bus to the airport. We were at the airport and checked in in plenty of time. The plates and screws in Lynn’s ankle had no effect on our TSA screening adventure. This trip gave us a chance to spend some expiring frequent-flyer miles from my business travels over the years, so we flew first class both ways. What a treat!! We took American Airlines Flight 1578 departing Logan Airport (BOS) at 2:25pm EDT, arriving at Dallas-Fort Worth airport (DFW) at 5:37pm CDT (6:37pm EDT). DFW is the third busiest airport in the world when measured by aircraft movement and the ninth busiest when measured by passenger traffic. It has five terminals laid out as semi-circles along a central artery. The inner part of each semi-circle contains parking for cars, an access road, and then the terminal building. This makes for a l-o-n-g distance from one end of the terminal building to the other.

Our BOS-DFW flight landed at gate A11, and the connecting flight to Jackson Hole Wyoming Airport (JAC), American Airlines Flight 1456, was initially scheduled to depart from gate A39 at 7:25pm CDT; same terminal, but one hell of a walk for three folks over 60 and one with a surgically-repaired ankle. Luckily we had a 2+ hour layover so we took our time. Just as we got to gate A39 my American Airlines smartphone app informed me that the flight had been changed to gate A23 – halfway back the way we just came, so after a short rest we turned around and schlepped back to A23 – slowly.

We landed in Jackson Hole a little after 9pm MST (10pm CDT, 11pm EDT), and saw a spectacular sunset over the Grand Teton Mountains from the plane as we landed.

For some reason I didn’t have a hardcopy of the car rental info so I stood in line at a few of the usual suspect rental companies (Hertz, Avis, National) to see if they had me down for a reservation; nope. I had to fire up the laptop to find the name of the company – Dollar Rent-A-Car, one of the three off-airport agencies. The Dollar shuttle bus had already left, so I called them to send another. “Off-airport” was about 10 miles away, in the center of town.

We picked up the car, played Trunk-Tetris with the suitcases, and headed out via GPS over the Teton Pass Highway (Rte. 22) in the pitch black to Victor, Idaho and Morley’s Acres Farm and B&B, 30 miles northwest of Jackson Hole. We arrived about 11:30pm MDT (12:30am CDT, 1:30am EDT). Luckily we had called ahead to keep the inn-keeper Julie Morley appraised of our ETA, and she was waiting at the door when we arrived. She got us settled in and then excused herself as the 8am breakfast wouldn’t cook itself!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015, Victor ID:

IMG_20150729_084417681_HDR-33pct20x-crI woke up early at the B&B, tiptoed out of the bedroom and wandered around outside. Sunny and chilly (36ºF) out there! I got my digital SLR out to take some pictures of the horse corrals and mountains, but my 12-year-old stock Canon 18-55mm lens had failed (the thumbnail and accompanying photo to the left was taken with my cell phone). This was the lens that came with my first digital SLR camera, a Canon Digital Rebel purchased back in 2003. When I bought the newer Canon T3i a few years ago, I bought the camera body without the lens, planning on using the original lens with the new body. That worked out pretty well – until today. Every time I pushed the shutter button I got a message on the back screen that said… “Communications between the camera and lens is faulty. Clean the lens contacts.” I cleaned the contacts on the lens AND on the camera – nothing. I popped the 75-300mm telephoto lens on, and it worked flawlessly, so the problem wasn’t with the camera body. I could get the stock lens to work maybe one out of twenty tries. Not good, with a wedding coming up Saturday – and not enough time to get the broken lens fixed. Then I remembered that we were driving to Livingston via Bozeman, a big enough city to have a few camera stores, so I could try to find a replacement camera lens. Hope springs eternal!

Victor-to-Livingston tightWe drove north with Yellowstone National Park and the Idaho/Wyoming boundary to the east, and the Teton mountain range to the west. We stopped for lunch in West Yellowstone (the town, not the park) at the Geyser Grill on Rte. 20 (the Elk burgers were tasty) and continued north from there. We stopped at Bozeman Camera & Repair to buy a replacement stock lens (a gently-used Canon EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS [IS=Image Stabilization] lens for $65). Great staff, even greater prices!

We got to Livingston around 4pm, checked into the Comfort Inn hotel by the highway (Rte. 90, the same numbered interstate throughway as the Mass Turnpike!), met up with Lynn and Gail’s sister Jan, and headed out for dinner at the Livingston Bar & Grille – nice restaurant with an AWESOME old-style hand-carved bar.

Thursday, 30 July 2015, Livingston MT [PICs]:

An orientation day. We slept late (some later than others), kicked around downtown Livingston, explored a bunch of shops, and had lunch at Pinky’s Café (an interesting and promising menu, but ultimately a bit disappointing in execution).

For the afternoon we were off to the wedding venue (Yellowstone Lodge House in the Paradise Valley) for a cookout and to meet the bride. We got re-acquainted with the groom-to-be, met the bride-to-be and her family, soaked up the western ambiance and scenery, watched a spectacular sunset over the Tetons, caught up with folks we hadn’t seen in quite a while, and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

I had quickly put together a draft genealogical chart/scroll, showing the groom’s ancestry back 15 out of a possible 47 generations (theoretically back to 45th Great-Grandfather Bishop Arnulph, who died in 631, on a line that includes Emperor Charlemagne and connects to William the Conqueror, if I had wide-enough paper). It was intended as a taste of the eventual wedding gift, once I get some of the bride’s family information to add to the chart. The draft chart was printed on a plotter, was two feet wide and about 12 feet long.

Friday, 31 July 2015, Livingston MT [PICs]:

Lazy morning. We abandoned the hotel breakfast offerings (one can only take so much of the “continental breakfast” fare at budget hotels) and hit the well-reviewed but also well-hidden Faye’s Café in the Shane Civic Center on E. Lewis Street for breakfast.  Very tasty!  We had some fine sandwiches for lunch at Matt’s Old Fashioned Butcher Shop & Deli in Livingston, then headed south on Rte. 89 to explore Paradise Valley along East River Road (Rte. 540) and up to the Pine Creek Campground at about 5600 feet altitude. We saw bright orange signs all over the place warning campers and IMG_20150731_140138433_HDRhikers that “…BEARS ARE CURRENTLY ACTIVE IN THIS AREA…” and a warning that the “… Food Storage Order was in affect – violators will be cited.” Grizzlies were about!

Our traveling companions defaulted on dinner, preferring to use up previous-meal leftovers in the hotel room, so Lynn and I headed to Copper John’s Bar & Grill in the Best Western Hotel in Livingston for dinner, where the pan-fried trout was supposedly good. We weren’t impressed; it was overcooked, and it looked more like salmon than the trout we’re used to (though the two are related species-wise).

Saturday, 1 August 2015, Livingston MT [OTHER PICsWEDDING PICs]:

IMG_0692aLynn and I spent the morning exploring Bozeman, hunting quilt shops (we found three; The Silver Thimble, which was right beside the camera store we stopped at on Wednesday, though we didn’t see the shop then; Main Street Quilting, right in downtown Bozeman; and Quilting in the Country, on the outskirts of the city). After the first two we ate lunch at an Americanized Thai restaurant called Rice, on Main Street – nice place, good food. Then we went in search of the third shop, which had great photogenic out-buildings on the property so I was entertained as well!

In the afternoon the four of us drove back to the Yellowstone Lodge House south of Livingston in two cars to attend the social event of the summer – the wedding of Lincoln and Stephanie in the afternoon. Hot temperatures (~95⁰F), bright sun, a mostly-cloudless sky, and extremely low (to us Easterners) humidity greeted us on the plain of Paradise Valley at an altitude of about 4800 feet. Three of the eastern sisters (minus the eastern mother-of-the-groom) laid claim to a small patch of shade under a pine tree in the open area where the ceremony would be held, where they were kept hydrated by frequent delivery of ice water and lemonade from the catering tent.

IMG_0782The ceremony was officiated by the uncle of the bride, and was held under an archway made by the groom from driftwood pulled from the sandbars in the Yellowstone River. The eighty-five or so guests then congratulated the newlyweds and hydrated while the caterers completed the dinner preparations.

Two long tables were set up in the field with about twenty place settings per side. Tenderloin beef with roasted fingerling potatoes and beet salad was served family-style, while some of the fairer-skinned attendees ate under parasols and umbrellas providing a bit of shade. I took a lot of photos at the wedding and processed them that night to upload to Flickr while I slept (upload speed at the hotel was abysmal) and deliver to the parents of the groom as soon as possible.

Sunday, 2 August 2015, Livingston MT [PICs]:

Having set my laptop computer to uploading the culled- (400+ pictures down to 85) and processed- (exceedingly bright sun creates exceedingly dark shadows, especially on faces) wedding images to my Flickr account for online sharing, I went to bed a little before midnight, but being an older guy I needed to get up a few times during the night. At 2:30am the images were still uploading, but at 4:30am they were done, so I popped off an email to the principals involved with the link to the pictures on Flickr, and went back to bed.

The next morning I got up and had breakfast in the hotel, then walked to the Albertson’s Grocery Store across the road to see if they had thumb drives for sale; I wanted to be able to give a full-resolution set of processed images to the parents of the groom. Albertson’s did not have any thumb drives that I could find but the Conoco Service Station on the other side of Albertson’s did so I bought a 2GB thumb drive with a U-Montana “Bobcats” logo and went back to the hotel and uploaded the images to the drive (much faster than the Flickr upload!).

We had two more restaurants in Livingston we wanted to try before leaving the area the next day, so we had lunch at the Northern Pacific Beanery in the old train station by the still-functioning train tracks. It was Sunday morning and they had been so swamped with breakfast customers that the kitchen suspended taking lunch orders for about a half hour, but we weren’t in a hurry so we sat at the table and chatted about the wedding and what a great day it had been.

The parents of the groom had been visiting other family members at a downtown hotel before their departure, so they swung by the Beanery while we were there waiting. I gave them the thumb drive of photos taken at the wedding, and we made arrangements to swing by the venue after lunch.

We drove back down to the wedding venue where both sets of parents were staying to say our goodbyes to the bride’s family and the San Francisco-based best man and brother of the groom. All four sisters and myself and brother-in-law Tom sat around the not-lit fireplace in the main house, recalling the previous day’s ceremony and party and reminiscing about when the groom was a tow-headed toddler.

Our dinner was at the Montana Rib & Chop House in Livingston, the last Livingston “gotta try” restaurant on our travels-bucket-list, and it lived up to its reviews except for the noise-level. I had an awesome 28oz. dry-aged-for-45-days bone-in rib-eye steak that I shared among all; possibly the finest steak I’ve had since eating at the now-defunct Ross’ Steak House at the corner of 72nd and Dodge in Omaha NE in the mid-eighties!

Drinks at the hand-carved antique Livingston Bar & Grill bar closed off our last full day in Montana. They had a respectable collection of single malts – the expected 12-year Glenlivet, a 12-year doublewood Balvenie and a 10-year Glenmorangie, but also a 10-year Edradour, a 16-year Lagavulin, and one delightful Benriach I had never heard of!

Monday, 3 August 2015, Livingston MT [PICs]:

Livingston-to-Jackson Map tightLynn, Gail and I hit the road south to drive back to Jackson Hole, from whence our return flight left, and Jan stayed an extra day to enjoy some peace and quiet before heading home.

The first fifty or so miles of the ride rolled down the middle of Paradise Valley and the Yellowstone River on Rte. 89, a 70mph undivided highway – and a pretty ride. We hit Gardner MT and the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park and a 20-or-so car backup at the gates. Normal entrance fees are $30 per car, but there is an “Inter-agency Senior Pass” option that costs a one-time fee of $10 that we took advantage of.

The Inter-agency Senior Pass is a lifetime pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over. The pass provides access to, and use of Federal recreation sites that charge an Entrance or Standard Amenity Fee. The pass admits the pass holder and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per vehicle fee areas and pass holder plus 3 adults at per person fee areas. I was driving so I coughed up $10 and I now have free access to all Federal recreation areas! There are a few benefits to growing old!

We continued along Rte. 89 into the park, which changed from a well-built undivided highway capable of sustaining 70mph speed limits to a curvy mountain-pass road with 45mph speed limits, and 35mph speed limits on the more curvy parts. We had heard occasional horror stories about massive traffic jams in the park when a bison or an elk appeared and all the tourists stopped in the road to gawk, so we were a bit worried about being able to make the whole drive to Jackson Hole in one day, but our fears were unfounded.

We drove through Gardner Canyon beside the Gardner River, silently crossing the Montana-Wyoming state line by the Boiling River turnout, where the hot water from the various geothermal features in the area causes the river to steam even on hot days.

IMG_0905aOur first pullover stop was after the Mammoth Hot Springs complex to view the Lower Terrace Area of the Hot Springs. The “white rocks” are deposits of calcium carbonate that have dissolved from the hot water running over underground limestone and were deposited on the cooler surface rocks topside.

IMG_0926We next stopped at Beryl Spring, which was a touristy pull off by the side of the road with a real parking lot and boardwalks to the spring. There was a hot spring (bubbling hot water) and a fumarole (belching steam and Sulphur Dioxide) in a single location – one picture frame got them both!

IMG_0999Soon after that we stopped at the Fountain Paint Pot Nature Trail, which was a half mile walking tour over boardwalks to see hot springs (the Celestine Pool), the bacteria beds (cyanobacteria, which can live in waters as hot as 167⁰ F), the Fountain Paint Pot (hot bubbling clay mud), the Red Spouter (a rumbling fumarole this time of year), a field of geysers (Clepsydra, Fountain, Twig, etc.), and the abundant lodgepole pines that drowned in hot acidic water when nearby hot springs shifted their flow.

IMG_1047Our next stop allowed me to cross an item off my personal bucket list – Old Faithful. It was getting a bit late for lunch (~2pm) and we were hungry (and there aren’t many choices for food in the park) so we took the short detour off the Grand Loop Road into the enormous Old Faithful complex. The huge parking lot was teeming with cars and busses, so I drove up to the lodge (where the cafeteria is) and dropped the girls off while I took off to find a parking space. Lady luck was on my side as I immediately found a spot just a single row out from the lodge. I caught up with the girls in the cafeteria and we enjoyed BLT roll-ups (with huge amounts of chewy bacon jerky!) and salads. After eating I scooted out to see if I could find out when the next eruption was scheduled, and it was for “about” 3:28pm, less than a half hour away! Crowds had been gathering in the amphitheater around the steaming geyser while we were eating (the cafeteria had a ringside view) so I headed out with my camera and gear while Lynn and Gail found seats overlooking the show on the lodge veranda – in the shade!

As the crowd swelled into the thousands, I wandered around behind the hordes scoping out the view, but decided the veranda had the best easily-accessible view so I moseyed back to the lodge and joined the girls. An Old Faithful eruption lasts 1.5 to 5 minutes and reaches a height of 90-184 feet (27-55 m). I had thought the period of time between Old Faithful’s eruptions was fairly precise, but in reality it ranges from 35 to 120 minutes, though the average is 92 minutes. About 90 percent of eruption predictions are accurate within a window of plus or minus 10 minutes. That schedule that said “about” 3:28pm was my clue that the eruptions were not precise. 3:28pm came and went, then 3:30, and 3:35. Closer to 3:40 (over ten minutes LATE!!) she finally blew. The crowd was getting antsy, so there was a loud cheer when she finally let loose.

The traffic jam we got stuck in after the eruption was predictable and expected with thousands of people waiting for and watching a ten-minute event, but we needed gasoline for the rental car and there were TWO gas stations at the Old Faithful complex, so we let the traffic dissipate as we filled the tank.

Back on the road, we drove by West Thumb Lake and along the shores of Lewis Lake and Jackson Lake, exiting the park out the south gate and directly into Grand Teton National Park. We followed the Snake River Valley along Rte. 89, stopped once more to get some panoramic views of the Grand Teton range across the valley, and rolled into Jackson Hole to find our hotel for the night around 4:30pm.

Purely by coincidence but delightfully convenient, our hotel (the Jackson Hole Lodge) was on West Broadway / Rte. 89, diagonally across the street from the Dollar Rent-A-Car drop off lot that we had to be at by 4:45am the next morning. We walked West Broadway for a few blocks looking for a place to eat dinner, but all we found were pizza places or nouveau tapas bars, all very crowded and noisy, so we punted and had dinner at the Silver Dollar Grill at the Wort Hotel, an up-scale elegant place with impeccable service and delicious meals (slow-roasted Bison spare ribs on a bed of grits as an example).

We strolled back to the hotel and hit the hay, with an alarm-clock-assisted wake-up at 4:00am so we could pack the car (more Trunk-Tetris) and drive across the street to unpack the car and hop the 5:00am shuttle to the airport.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015, Jackson Hole WY:

The alarm clock worked. We were up at 4am, caught the 5am shuttle to the airport, caught American Airlines Flight 115 at 7:00am MDT (9:00am EDT), arriving in Dallas/Fort Worth about 10:45am CDT. We landed at terminal C, but I had pre-booked a people-mover cart to bring us to Terminal A, gate A13, for flight 1094 to Boston, departing at 11:55am CDT. An hour and ten minutes was nowhere near enough time to hoof it from terminal C to terminal A at our age, so the people-mover cart was a requirement.

We were delayed 40 minutes landing at Logan by violent thunderstorms in the area with 2-inch hail southwest of Boston. While circling we saw a complete end-to-end double rainbow over the city!

Off the plane in Terminal B, down to baggage claim to claim our bags, out to the curb to wait for the Woburn Logan Express bus back to Anderson Regional Transportation Center, get the car out of hock ($56, $7 per day for 8 days), load the car (easier with the SRX than the rental sedan, Trunk-Tetris not needed), and drive home.

A tiring but delightful trip. We’ll wait a few weeks before we do it again!

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