Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 31, 2016

Wow, we just entered 2016 and a month of it is gone already.  It is hard to think back over the month because I really didn't do anything significant, yet have been busy since my last post. 

Well, one thing for sure is that each January, there is the "Frozen Butts" workday.  This year was the 23rd annual FB workday and where there is always lots of planning and work, this one didn't seem nearly as stressful.  I had the pot luck that follows the workday at my house again but with the two tables I bought and lots of chairs that people brought along, things went very smooth. 

The workday went great as the weather was really decent.  We had a high in the 30's and no rain or snow.  There was little snow on the ground so we didn't have to "trudge" through deep snow and the other vans were able to get down the trail to transport participants in. 

We are continuing the work along the trail in the area between the trail and the tracks which is what I hope is the last major cutting event at Hickory Creek Barrens. 

We also had the annual Resource Management meeting that I usually have to attend to get my chainsaw safety training done.  There was also a workday at Sugar Creek Admin the next day that was brutally cold.  Very few people showed up so we only worked 3 hours instead of 4.  My chainsaw was giving me no end of grief too, so between the cold and the saw, the workday was very challenging.

At work they decided to have a chili cook off so I searched the internet for competition chili recipes and found a lot of them.  Most real competition chili does not have beans in it, but after a Facebook poll, I found that probably 95% of regular folks like beans in their chili.  So, I combined a bunch of those on-line chili recipes and added beans and cooked it in the slow cooker for 6 hours.  I then froze the batch and am ready to bring it in for the cook-off.  I have no usually don't do well in cook-offs.  The last time I entered a chili cook off I made Southwest White came in dead last as I don't think most people can get past the color.  Chili (I guess) should be red.

One of the other volunteers who is cleaning out his parents house offered me a potting bench that his mom had used.  Making a potting bench is something I always intended to do but never got around to make.  Now I don't have to.  The bench is 8' long and about 2' wide and was all in natural wood.  I decided to spruce it up a little and sanded the top plywood and shelf plywood and then painted it with some old exterior paint I had in the basement.  The pieces came out nice. 

I let it dry for over a couple weeks and yesterday I took my jigsaw and removed a square big enough to sink a plastic tub into so that I can use that to keep potting soil contained.  I will see how good it works later when I go downstairs to start seed for milkweed for this years Monarch project.

I also spent a weekend going through a lot of stuff in the basement and cleaning it out.  After reading the book "Lights Out" about the possibility of long term power outages, I felt it was time to put an emergency plan into effect.  I went through my camp gear to make sure my campstove and lantern worked and that I had fuel.  I also went to the store to stock up on "essentials" like paper and canned goods and even things like flour, rice and other staples that I put down there in mouse proof containers.  I also purchased water and filled some of my water carriers with water and looked at the condition of my water filter from my backpacking days.  I feel I am ready at this time to deal with probably a month of no electricity...perhaps longer. The basement is looking a lot more organized and I do hope to get most everything up off the floor.  I am also going to Home Depot this morning to get a much longer florescent light to put above the potting bench.

Also on tap for today is making blueberry jam as blueberries have been on sale.  Yesterday I made a batch of "Mega Berry" jam...I had a bunch of blackberries and raspberries in the freezer...I added some of the blueberries and some strawberries too.  It came out good...always unsure of flavor though.  Is there a too strong berry or do they mix well.  I have found strawberries to have a really strong flavor and only put a little of those in the mix.

 At the monthly Pot Luck for the Master Gardeners/Master Naturalists, I heard about an Eagle's nest at what was said to be "McClintock Woods".  I was given coordinates and never heard of McClintock woods so I found that McKinley Woods might be the right place. 

With very little money to spend the last years and high gas prices, I have been unable to just drive somewhere and look at things and do a little hiking.  Now that gas prices are (temporarily) low, I decided to just go to McKinley woods and take a look around. 

It really is a nice place.  I didn't find an eagle's nest but did enjoy hiking around the area and also the I & M State trail which is there also.  There are campsites at McKinley that look REALLY nice.  It might be a good place to camp a night and get away from it all. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

December 20, 2015

NO....I  have not seen the new Star Wars movie yet!  I hope to go on Tuesday.  Things have been rather rough the last couple weeks.  I have had a lot of SW events lately, and suffice it to say that the experiences at them have not been awe inspiring.  I did not finish my Force Awakens X-wing pilot and more or less have put the costume away.  I don't know that I will bother to finish.  Where I have known for several years now that short and old women get little love in the galaxy far, far away, the point has been driven home a LOT lately and I realize that my time in costuming is probably over.  Some say to make the new Leia costume, but early reviews of the character lead me to believe that there is little interest in her or her costume.  There is supposed to be a new female X-Wing Pilot in the new movie, but, as always....she is young and pretty...two things that I am not.

But, moving forward, I did make an appearance at the Bridgeview ToyCon event that I have done every year since 2004.  This time I wore my Imperial Gunner costume since I don't wear that much and it is an easy trooping event so I can wear the helmet for brief periods of time without the fan (which broke) before things get so steamed up under there that I can't see. 

Next, I did a marathon for the Toys For Tots event at Martino Jr. High in New Lenox.  On 12-9 (Thursday night) I hauled the Hoth Vidscreen, Artoo, and a costume to the gym at Martino and set up the entire thing.  Friday after work, I went home, got suited up and made my way to the event to "appear" from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM. 

The next day it was back to Martino to costume the event from 10:00 AM till 1:00 PM. 

On Friday, I wore my Rebel Fleet Trooper costume which got absolutely no "love".  On Saturday I decided to wear what I had completed of my Episode 7 X-Wing costume.  That costume generated zero interest as well.

  Experiences at these events plus a few other events have just not been great.  Where I  have always made costumes that I like and the rest of the world be damned, I have come to learn that the only one interested in these costumes is me and that does not lend itself to a great experience.

Work has been difficult, and the lack of interest in my costumes led me to just bail out of the movie premier and all of the associated costume events. 

Yesterday I did another restoration workday and came home tired and full of pain.  I also had my ulcers just go crazy for a time at the workday but worked my way through the pain.  Today I am taking this rather hideous Star Wars sweatshirt and making it more ugly for a contest at work on ugly sweater contest.  If it goes well, I should win hands down!  The sweatshirt on the right is the "base" I am starting is plenty ugly!!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

December 5, 2015

I guess I am about to enter the busiest month ever - December 2015.  In addition to the usual Christmas preparations and restoration workdays, there is this thing called Star Wars Episode 7-The Force Awakens.  Where I had hoped to get the new X-Wing costume done, it does not appear that will happen.  There are snags with fitting the flightsuit and so many details that need working on.  With everything else going on, there simply isn't enough time to dedicate to doing it right.  I did get all of the additional pieces that had to be ordered in through the mail.  The only thing really missing is the leg flares and holder and a few minor trim pieces.

Thanksgiving was very nice again this year.  I began the day with the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade down State Street.  The weather was really iffy.  It was pouring rain when I left the house and the forecast was for intermittent rain.  Thankfully, the rain stopped while I was waiting in the parking lot for the others to arrive to suit up.  We got downtown and the usual "stand around and wait" time went really fast as we were in the front of the parade this year...unit #13.  It was also on the warm side so no standing around freezing either.  The Rebels led off the group this year and our entire unit got a lot of screen time on the TV broadcast.  

After the parade was over, I made my way over to Joan's for Thanksgiving dinner.  Stef was in town this year and it was great to visit with her.  We had a lot of laughs and went over current events.  As usual, I had to leave early because I had to get up for work the next morning.  I am the only one in my family that had to work the next day.  I will be glad when I can stay in bed the day after Thanksgiving.  Stef also paid me a visit at the house on Sunday morning on her way to Bev's.  I finally got the Christmas tree up and pulled a whole bunch of muscles getting the box with the tree upstairs.  But, fortunately, since I kept moving through the pain, I think it lessened the recoup time and I was feeling better by later in the evening.

The Sunday before the parade (11-22-15), I trooped the Chicago Wolves Star Wars night at the Allstate Arena.  I had never been to that venue before and always approach these big events with some logistics concerns.  The Allstate Arena turned out to be very user friendly and we all got in, suited up, and wandered the Concourse in the hour before the game and for the first two periods.  Again, since I had to get up for work the next morning, I didn't stay late and made my way home during the second intermission.  It was a really nice event and I wore my Rebel Fleet Trooper for the first time in a long time.  The pants were getting really tight because I had gained some weight and wearing them was uncomfortable.  I have lost some weight so the costume was once again comfortable to wear.  I would still like to lose a little more...but isn't that always the way it is.

On December 1st, we did a special event down at Lurie Children's Hospital.  We had been contacted by Lucasfilm/Disney about doing the event for a new program that the company is doing with Children's hospitals called "Master Your Force".  Groups of costumers are going into Children's Hospitals across the country with help from Lucasfilm and doing a "Jedi Training" program and distributing toys.  I was asked to wear my Jedi costume, so that is what I wore.  I did NOT want to drive downtown because this event was on Tuesday when all of the usual commuter nightmares are going on.  I decided to get fully suited up and take the train downtown.  I also had to take a bus as the LaSalle Street Station is quite a long way away from Lurie's.  There was the usual last minute snafu's with people running a bit behind schedule, people getting sick, people without transportation, but finally everyone got there.  We didn't have a huge number of kids partake in the activities, but those who did seemed to really enjoy the event.  The trip home was pretty funny.  In full costume, I walked back to Dearborn Street which was the street I hopped the bus on to head north.  As I hit Dearborn I walked a few blocks looking for a bus to take back to the LaSalle Street Rock Island station and it occured to me that there would be no southbound bus as Dearborn is one way north.  So, I didn't plan for that and stood at the corner of Dearborn and something and wondered which way to go.  I ended up heading west to Clark Street and walked a few blocks south and finally found a bus stop and hoped that it went to Jackson.  When I got on the bus, I tried putting my fare into the farebox - I had 3 one dollar bills in one hand and my lightsaber in the other and tried to jam the dollars into the farebox.  I was so "in another world" that I didn't hear the bus driver telling me that the dollar bill machine was broken and "thank you"  After he said that a second time, I just stood there with the dollar bills and look dazed (I'm sure) and finally got the "thank you" to mean "go sit down".  So, long, long day but everything turned out ok.

Also, the Saturday after Thanksgiving was the annual "Work Off the Turkey" workday at my restoration site.  A couple weeks ago, Linda and I went out and got some brush piles started and ready to light off.  It was a little tight getting going, but we finally got a larger area cleared around the brush piles and at the end of the workday, we had removed another ton of autumn olive and honeysuckle and expanded the open area between the trail and the tracks quite a bit.  Slowly but surely, we are getting that project done.  I would say another 2 years and that will be completed.  There was also a reporter from the New Lenox Patriot out there and she took a few photos (one ended up on the cover of the paper) and tried to interview us, but as usual, the volunteers were all moving pretty fast so she didn't get

Yesterday was "Wear Star Wars/Share Star Wars" so I brought some of my helmets to work with me and got photos of my fellow employees doing there job with a helmet on.  It was a lot of fun, something we don't have much of at work and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

The next few weeks will be insane....I hope I have enough energy.  I at least have a few Christmas lights up and am starting on my Christmas cookies/candy.  I tried to make a batch a day the last few days.  I have nothing purchased for our Christmas grab bag yet.  I need to get to that this week because it is all downhilll (timewise) after this week.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

November 15, 2015

The next month and a half are going to be hectic beyond belief as Thanksgiving, Christmas AND the new "Star Wars" movie are hitting between now and Dec 31st.  I started with the holiday decorating yesterday by at least getting some lights put up outside since the weather was pretty good and I had a little time.

As noted in my last entry, I have been scrambling to try to complete an X-Wing costume from the new movie in time for the premier.  I had to wait to start because not enough good information was available on this costume and there are still parts that I am not certain about. New information is coming to light at a fast pace the last week or so with new trailers and TV spots. 

I have completed the flak vest (finally) and today I begin work on the flightsuit.  I also completed the ejection harness and belt.  So, it is coming along, but the flightsuit is going to be very difficult indeed.  I have a tailor that is supposed to come over today to help me to modify the generic flightsuit pattern that I have.  Where I have modified patterns in the past, it has mostly been a trial and error thing.  It will be GREAT to have someone show me the right way to do it and to take some up to date body measurements on me.  Things seem to have shifted a lot on my body as I have gotten older.  So, where I have gotten a lot done, there is still a LOT to go.

On October 18th, I did the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in St. Charles.  I managed to raise over $1,800.00 in donations which was both good and bad.  In years past, I had sometimes managed to raise over $3,000.00.  It was a beautiful day weather-wise and it is always a pleasant walk with some of my friends from the Star Wars costuming groups. 

The night before the MSABC, I attended my 50th Grammar School reunion at Gaelic Park in Tinley Park.  I was hesitant to go at first because the reality is that in grammar school I was fat, poor (which means I never had the latest of and anything but popular.  I wasn't sure I really wanted to re-live that period of my life.  I sucked it up and went anyway.  I did find it very interesting and pleasant.  I did a lot more listening than talking because I really didn't have that much to talk about that would actually interest anyone else.  Fortunately, some of the folks I graduated with had seen my Facebook page so they did know what I have been up to.

As always, I have done a bunch of restoration workdays for the Forest Preserve and have also been busy at work shutting down my garden for the season.  I remember when I planted the garden I thought to myself that I will be again "shutting it down" before I knew it...and sure enough...that seems to be the case-the year has flown by.

I am still no closer to deciding what to do about retirement...there are so many factors to take into consideration and it becomes a question of how long will one live?  Obviously, none of us has an answer to that.  You don't want to retire too early and outlive your funds and you don't want to wait too  long so that you have little time to enjoy retirement.

I have also been doing a ton of jam making because fresh cranberries have been in the store.  I finished 2 batches of each of Spiced Cranberry, Cran-Raspberry and Cranberry Orange.  Soon it will be time to start the Christmas baking. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

October 11, 2015

Seriously?  July was the last time I posted here?  I guess I have been busier than usual. 

Well, where to begin?

The Monarch project:

I guess I will begin with the Monarch project.  At the last post I was still raising and releasing generation 3 monarchs.  Around the end of July I started to collect 4th generation eggs and caterpillars and raised all of those with pretty good success.  I had a few cats die and one that was infested with a parasite, but overall the health of the generation 4 monarchs was very good. On August 26th I tagged my first 4th generation monarch and released it for its' trip to Mexico.  From that first one on 8-26 I released 38 more with the last one released on September 29th.  I learned a lot this season with the monarchs and got some great photos to share in Powerpoint presentations etc.  I scanned my tag datasheets and mailed them in to Monarch Watch.  Now I just sit and wait to see if any of my monarchs are found.

One thing I also did for the monarch project (besides all of the work on the publications and plants this spring) was to purchase a microscope so I could test the adult monarchs I raised for a disease called OE.  I was grateful that I found no OE on the first 20 monarchs I raised, so I then stopped testing the rest of the adults I raised.

The Garden:

Well, the vegetable garden this year was another exercise in futility.  Spring rains and flooding gave way to rabbits eating everything in sight and things just didn't seem to take off this year.  I did raise enough tomatoes for 6 jars of "Whimpy Ass Salsa" and recently had enough to can a couple pints of just plain tomatoes.  I pickled about 7 pints of beets and that was pretty much about it.  The cucumbers produced enough only to eat.  The peppers produced enough to freeze some and use some fresh.  Everything else was pretty much a disaster.  I plan to pull up the remaining vegetable garden plants today and bag them.

The flower garden was ok this year too.  Again the rabbits ate so much of the native plants that I had put in the last two years that some things just did not have the ability to come back.  It seemed that the rabbits especially loved all of the milkweed I planted this year for the monarchs.  It was to the point where I was not sure I would have any milkweed left.  The rabbits damaged started to diminish a little toward the middle of the summer and with putting protection around some, I managed to get some of the milkweed to survive.  What did do VERY well was the cardinal flower and the great blue lobelia.  They both set seed last year and I got some new plants come up and bloom.  Some of the great blue lobelia is blooming still.

I have already cleaned up a lot of the garden already and today plan to put much of the rest of it "to bed".  I am leaving some of the blooming annuals out simply for color and will leave them till frost finally kills them.  I also did some trimming of the spicebush out front and removed one of the "Red Prince" wiegela.

The House: 

I spent the entire Labor Day weekend laboring.  I decided to paint the kitchen and living room (except for the walls that were green) white.  It took me literally all weekend.  I did a few other things like helping Paul spray phragmites and reed canary grass at Hickory Creek Junction but mostly the entire rest of the weekend was spent prepping, painting and cleaning up.  It is gonna be a damn long time before I paint again.  I HATE painting and wish I could afford to pay someone to do that.

I started to look at new flooring for the kitchen, but found I really can't afford that right now.


Another thing that has been constantly on my mind is retirement.  I am exhausted from my job as I feel totally stressed every day and really have not had a good vacation in probably a decade.  I am making the same amount of money that I was making in 1991 - so that is not good either.  I am working harder for really less money and the only way out is to retire.  I read a bunch of books on retirement and ended up more confused than ever.  I decided to see a retirement planner, one that someone I knew personally also knew.  I am still trying to formulate a game plan on retirement, but the planner stated that I did do a reasonable job of my finances.

Star Wars stuff:

I really cut back on my costume appearances this year, but still managed to do a few. 

On 8-22-15 I exhibited at the Mokena/Southland Maker Faire.  I had seen some information on Maker Faires the last couple years and thought they looked very interesting.  Doing Star Wars costuming IS making stuff, so I applied to be an exhibitor and the folks who ran the Faire were very enthusiastic to have my SW stuff there.  So, after work the night before I brought a ton of costume pieces and display tools and what not for things like leatherworking, and molding and casting. 

The next day was spent at the booth all day.  A few of my fellow Star Wars costumers came and suited up as well.  We were very well received and one of the guys who was running the Faire told me that he had been doing an exit poll and asking people what their favorite exhibit was and over 50% replied that they liked the Star Wars exhibit best.

I costumed the Christ Children's Hospital event on Friday 8-28-15.  As in previous visits, we went on the floors to visit the kids.

One of my fellow St. Rita grammar school graduates asked me if I was going to be part of the SW costumed people at his wife's fundraiser for the Oak Lawn Children's Museum.  Initially, I was not going to because I had a large restoration workday the day before.  I decided to suit up and headed down there.  This event was 9-27-15.

Yesterday Artoo and I were joined by Steve M. and his grandson and we costumed the "Star Wars Reads" day at the Mokena Public Library.  It was very laid back and the time passed quickly.

As far as costumes, I did complete the dark brown linen Jedi costume and have been at work making an Episode 7 X-Wing Pilot costume.  I was lucky to be able to get the exact boots, gloves, and belt used in the movie.  I am now struggling through the making of the flak vest.  There is a whole lot to be made but I am glad to have the pieces that I do have.

I have also been doing endless workdays for the FPDWC with big ones like National Public Lands Day, 2 Sharefest workdays and a large Tuesday workday with 160 students from St. Ignatius High School.  The weather for all of those workdays was pretty warm, so I felt exhausted after each one of them.

Upcoming in the next few weeks is Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and my 50th grammar school graduation reunion.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Another month quickly they do go.

The last month has pretty much been in pursuit of the same old, same old.  Working at my restoration site battling invasive species.  Working on my garden battling rabbits that are eating everything.  Working at work, butterfly monitoring and generally doing nothing spectacular.

I got a chance to visit with Caroll Martin when she was in from Seattle a couple weeks ago.  Had hoped to spend a little more time with her but it was not to be.  Had lunch with Rick Hannah last week.  Rick came to the house and I honestly could not remember the last time he was here.  We had a nice chat and he took home some car models I had to build.

As noted, I have been fighting rabbits in the garden all this season and have given up.  The rabbits ate my snow peas, snap peas, and now the green beans that I tried to plant.  Where I have always had rabbits hanging around, they never did much damage.  This year has been totally different as they have eaten just about everything in sight from the vegetable garden, to the milkweeds I planted to the new plants I bought at the native plant sale.  Next spring I will have to cage the plantings in the garden off.  I just don't feel like bothering for this year as it is already July.

I have also been raising and photographing monarch caterpillars.  Where I have not found as many caterpillars as some years past, I have had some extraordinary experiences in this endeavor and several firsts.  This was the first year I have raised a caterpillar from an egg and got to photograph that.  For the first time I also got to photograph the shed skin of the caterpillar going from one instar to another. 

I also had a lot of caterpillar death that I am not used to.  I never really had caterpillars die, this year I lost quite a few to parasites and for unknown reasons.  Very disheartening.

I attended the Bartlett Parade this year as the weather wasn't too terrible in the way of heat.  It was a day in the low 80's which is tolerable for that parade in the middle of the day.  I wore my "summer Jedi" and still was sweating pretty bad by the end of the parade.  The Jedi boots I wear with that costume do make things a lot easier on the feet.  All in all I enjoyed the day visiting with some of the Star Wars folks that I have not seen much this year and was glad I did the parade.

I have been working also on a new Jedi costume that I hope to make into two Jedi costumes.  Using 10 yards of a dark brown linen/cotton blend, I made the traditional Jedi tunic set first.  Next, I hope to have enough fabric to make the sleeveless version too.  The nice thing is that I will be able to use the tabarads and obi from the traditional version to wear with the sleeveless version so that will save a LOT of fabric.  I am just finishing that up and only have to hem the sleeves and the tabards on the first version.  It came out pretty good.  The one thing I can't understand is that I have certainly gained weight since the Jedi pattern I used was made, and I have cut the pattern down in some places a couple years back, but the finished costume still seems too large on me.

Thursday after work I had a reporter from the Tribune here do interview me on a piece he is doing for the Trib on Star Wars.  He has interviewed a bunch of different people for different reasons.  The reason he wanted to interview me? segment will be "growing old with Star Wars".  In other words, what someone a LOT older than most thinks about the Star Wars franchise.  It was interesting and there is supposed to be a photographer sent over here maybe next week.

I ordered some new quarter panels for the Jeep this week....sigh...I really thought that when I replaced them the last time that they would last a LOT longer than they did.  I am not happy about the job done by the Body Shop and before these new panels go on, I am going to think a whole lot about my options.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

June 14, 2015

Finally am making a new post in under a month! 

We have been getting rain just about every other day the last couple of weeks.  Rain is better than drought, but sometimes too much rain can be problematic too.  This morning we got another deluge after several downpours yesterday so the garage and back yard are under water...again.  Great for the wet loving plants, but not so good for others.

This year I have tons of rabbit issues.  The rabbits are eating everything in my yard.  They have completely destroyed most of the new milkweeds and other native plants that I put in this year.  They also are eating the vegetable garden.  Things like beet tops and snow peas are getting badly eaten, the snow peas are actually not salvageable at all.  I have to start rabbit proofing some of the garden or I will have nothing.

Another Joliet Library Star Wars Day has passed.  I can't believe how this event has grown and changed.  Growth and change are not always for the better either.  The event is not fun for me anymore as it involves so much work. 

I spent months building that Hoth tatical vidscreen and where it came out nice, the display didn't really gel as a whole and I was disappointed by the total end result. 

Thankfully, the weather was nice.  Even though it was not really hot as it could have been, I still managed to be soaked with sweat the entire day. 

This year we had something like 130 costumed people and probably 11,000+ people were estimated in the crowd.  These figures are a far cry from what we started with - 12 costumed people and less than 100 people who came to see us.

The weather has been goofy this spring and I finally got out to butterfly monitor.  I went this past Tuesday by myself and Sally and I both went out yesterday.  Yesterday's route census went very well.  There were not huge numbers of butterflies, but we did get a nice variety of them.  It also was nice to see the Skippers back, they really have been absent the past two years.

It has been jam making time for sure!  I have gotten some great fruit over the past few weeks.  Apricots have been plentiful, gorgeous, and cheap.  I have made 3 different kinds of apricot preserves.  The Serviceberries are also ripe and I have made that jam as well.  Found out that you can cook and run the serviceberries through a food mill one day....get the pulp..refrigerate...and then actually cook the jam another day.  The texture is off and I had to really cook the pulp/puree down.  I am not sure it is going to set properly either.  Lesson learned.  The cherry tree has produced a fairly good crop this year and those are ripening fast as well.  I am picking daily and putting in the freezer and will make preserves when all of the cherries are done being picked.

I have spent most of my free time the last several weeks spraying invasive species at my restoration site and fighting weeds in my own yard.  It is a never ending battle.