Saturday, December 30, 2017

December 30, 2017

Another year gone.  Hard to believe I have been retired for over a year now.  I really have not been able to find time to keep up this blog. 

Well, as the year wraps up, I can only reflect back on what has been a busy year.  Did not do as many Star Wars events as other years.  I did get to Southern IL for the solar eclipse.  The garden this year had a lot of fails and a few successes.  Too much flooding in the spring.  Rabbits were again a problem this past year.  I tried a bunch of new canning and preserving recipes and they seemed to come out well.  The winter started out pretty mild, but we have the old "polar vortex" going.  Finances should start improving a bit now that I have Social Security coming in.  I started collecting SS last month. 

One thing that is pretty exciting is that I am now a volunteer at the Field Museum.  I am volunteering every Friday in the wet insect lab in the basement of the Field.  I am just doing some of the low jobs on the totem pole.  That is fine with me as I don't have the proper education for doing anything else. 

 I do get to handle specimens and am working on organization, labeling, and things like that.  It is really interesting.  My first project was re-labeling the Isoptera collection.  After several weeks, it is done and ready to be put away.  Wondering what my next project will be.

I have put in over 450 hours of volunteer service for the Forest Preserve District of Will County this year.  I wanted to try to put in as much time as I could and see what kind of a difference I could make overall if I was able to put more time in.  A lot of projects did get done out there, but as always, there is so much more to do.  I also spent a lot of time volunteering at LaPorte Rd Access this year as we finished up one large project and started several more. 

There were also contractors hired to work on some basal barking of invasive species and thinning of others by cutting and burning.  It will be interesting to see how a lot of that went this spring when it becomes evident if the various invasives have the ability to green up.  Hopefully, they are pretty much dead. 

The contractors worked in a lot of areas that I simply  have not had the time to get into yet.  We are also starting to work on what I consider the last "big cutting" area at my restoration site.  We really kicked some serious ass at the Work Off The Turkey Workday.  We cleaned up a really large area and the contractors were also back there basal barking what we did not get cut.  It should look amazing come this spring. 

 I did not get a chance to do any burns this fall season.  There were only a couple of times I got notified and I was busy on the days that the word went out.

This year I again did the Thanksgiving Day Parade downtown.  It was not a particularly cold day this year but it was not warm either.  I did, however miss out on Thanksgiving dinner due to a snafu and a break of communications.  It was one of those few times that a cell phone would probably have been a good idea. 

It is always fun to be downtown early on Thanksgiving morning.  Our group is always well received by the folks who line the parade route.

On 10-28-17 I did a really brief Star Wars Halloween Party in Joliet.  I wore my Hoth Trench Trooper costume.  I really have not worn that one much this year.

Of course, the next Star Wars movie "The Last Jedi" came out recently and on 12-16-17, I did an event at the local Emagine theater on behalf of the Boy Scouts.  After we did the photos with the scouts, we were invited to view the movie.  For the first time I left a Star Wars movie pretty much vacant of any emotion.  I was not excited about it, nor did I dislike it.  I went to see it a second time thinking I would get more out of it and I really didn't.  Very strange. 

I really didn't do anything for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  Not sure yet about New Years.  Tomorrow (New Years Eve) a bunch of us are getting together for a workday at LaPorte Rd and then maybe a late lunch with the family.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

October 22, 2017

Fall is coming to an end and so is the garden.  I have left some things that are still blooming out in the garden for the late migrating butterflies and also other pollinators but most everything else is cut down. 

I have done more "re-decorating" of the garden by removing the two big conifers at the back of the yard.  They were oversized and I decided to put another concord grapevine in that corner.  I cut down both conifers but left the trunks back there to act as the stakes for the grape trellis.  It looks very strange back there with them gone.  In the spring I will be taking the tops off the oversized boxwoods and trimming them pretty far back.  Those boxwoods have kind of taken over everything.

Like most of the rest of the year, I have still been spending a goodly amount of time at my restoration site.  The task at this time of year is mainly seed collecting and planting.  I did spend a day out at HCB chainsawing and stacking trees that contractors cut down and just left whole. 

With those trees down, it is hard to get in there to work on things as one is constantly tripping and getting hung up. 

I also have been doing some chainsaw work at LaPorte Rd access as we try to break through an old fence row to make it possible for haying equipment to get in.  Parts of the site are to be used as a wild hayfield until it can be gotten to as far as restoration.

Right now I don't really have any Star Wars costume projects.  About the only thing I have worked on the last couple of weeks was a Jyn Erso blaster that I had the Mokena Library 3D print for me.  There was some rough parts that were difficult to sand and fill but all in all, I guess it came out ok. 

I also decided to make a holster for the blaster so that I could use it from time to time.

I have learned a lot about 3D printing during this process and what one can and can not expect.  It is pretty cool to be able to just find files and have the library print them for just the cost of materials, but there are limits to what can be printed to really look good as a prop when you do not control the design or printing process.

I have gotten out and done a few Star Wars costume events the last couple of weeks.  With the new movie coming out in December, there was the usual toy release at midnight 8-31.  I signed up last minute to do the toy release at the Toys R Us in Orland Park.  Years ago, there would be a couple hundred people at the midnight toy release events, but with a movie every  year, it is not such a big deal so there were only about 40 people in line at the event. 

Also, there was not too much to get excited about in the way of toys.  The only thing I ended up buying was a Poe Dameron black series helmet to wear with my Resistance Pilot costume.  I painted it up a bit so it did not look like it came straight from the box.  All in all, it was a nice night to get out and I did not have to get up for work the next day...which was a plus.

On 10-1-17 I went to the Walk For Wishes event in Busse Woods up on the north side.  It was also another great weather day.  Cool in the morning and lots of sunshine.  Last year when we went to this event it was at the request of the family that we granted a wish for.  This year, we were strictly there for "entertainment" of the crowd.  Last year we also walked the route at the request of William's family, but this year we just stayed for the start of the walk.

I wore the Resistance Pilot for this event also simply because with the new movie coming out and Poe and the Resistance Pilots being a part of the movie, I figured it would be a costume that at least a few people would be interested in or recognize. 

Lastly, on October 15th (my 66th Birthday), I did the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in St. Charles.  I really tried hard to fundraise this year and ended up with a donation total of $3,150.00.  I ended up the participant who raised the most funds for this walk.  The team I was a part of, which are all Star Wars costumers came in second place for overall fundraising.  The team did a great job fundraising.  We ended up with over $5,000.00 in donations and the crowd is always very receptive of us.  Where a few of us Rebels did do the 5K, many of the other costumed members stayed near the start/finish line and handed out water, snacks, and fist pumps. 

The weather was pretty god awful this time.  It was cold and raining driving to the event and there had been a pretty huge storm the night before.  Thankfully, it did not rain when we needed to walk but the sky was threatening and the wind was really brisk.  This was one time that I was glad I had on a costume that is really hot.  Again, I wore the Resistance Pilot costume.  I have been getting my "money's worth" out of that costume the last several weeks.  The costume is generally too hot to wear to many events, but I have gotten lucky that the last events have been good in the weather department.

This past Friday, I went downtown by train to "interview" for a new volunteer position.  Starting 9-27-17 I will be a volunteer at the Field Museum in the "wet insects" collection in the basement of the Field.  I will be doing mainly just mundane cataloging and entering of the specimens into the database.  I toured a bit of the Field with the insect collections manager and you can NOT believe how much of the Field's collection is in huge vaults.  Some of it, they do not even know what they have.  It was a LOT of walking as I first walked from the house to the train station in Mokena.  Then I walked from the LaSalle Street Metra station to the Field.  Then wandered the Field for a couple hours, walked back to the train station and then back home. Since even taking the train is pricey, I decided to apply for a reduced fare card with the RTA.  It cost $14.00 round trip to take the train downtown from Mokena, so supposedly, I can get a 50% off rate for being a senior citizen.  That will help a lot.  Should be interesting.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

August 31, 2017

Good lord...I have not made a post since June 11th.  Suffice it to say that I have been very busy.  Where to start?

Well, I guess I have spent a great deal of my time at my restoration project for the FPDWC.  This calendar year so far, I have put in over 300 hours of volunteer time.  Most of that has been out spraying invasive species. I have gone into so many areas at the preserve that I have lost count.  On days that were to be really hot, I would go out as early as 6:00 AM to beat the heat and would be done already by 9:00AM.  The reward is that the prairie looks fantastic this year with all of the work and the burn that was done earlier in the spring. I have already started to do some seed collecting as various seeds are starting to ripen.

The weather this summer was not too bad in the really hot department and for the most part, we have gotten sufficient rain.  I did have to water the garden a couple of times, but not bad at all.  I have spent a lot of time canning and making preserves with the bounty from the fruit trees and the vegetable garden. 

I made a batch of "Whimpy Ass" salsa, pickled the beets, made two batches of sweet relish and multiple batches of dill, sweet and bread and butter pickles.  I found a new canning book on sale and have tried a couple of the preserve recipes that turned out really good.  New preserves I made were Bananas Foster Butter, blueberry and raspberry mojito jam, and I also made some of the old favorites. 

Things are starting to wind down in the garden and I have already cut back a great deal of it already.  The task is very time consuming and labor intensive, so since I am retired I can now take it a day at a time and it seems less daunting.

 I have raised 15 black swallowtail caterpillars and am currently finishing up raising some Monarchs.  The black swallowtails were very successful, but I have had some mortality issues with the monarchs.  I still have a few monarch cats that appear that they will make it.

I decided not to do tagging of monarchs again this year as I am just happy to find and raise eggs/cats from my yard and send them on their way. 

Butterfly monitoring this season was really not great in the early part of the season.  Gradually as the season went on, I did start seeing more butterflies, but overall it was not a stellar year.  I hope to get out to monitor one more time this month before the season is over.

Another thing I got into was thanks to the Mokena Public Library.  My arthritis is getting so very painful that I was looking for more non-medication relief.  The Library offered some free Yoga classes so I thought I would give it a try.  I actually like the Yoga and it seems to be helping with my joints so I purchased a yoga mat and I sewed a few shirts to go along with the yoga pants I got.  I also found a yoga tape that I like a lot and I will often do the yoga tape early in the morning.  As always, I am looking for free/inexpensive activities now that I am retired.  I can honestly say that I keep so busy that I often ask myself when did I find time to actually work.

Where I do not do many Star Wars events anymore, I have tried to do a couple per month.

Right after the JLSWD, the Historical Museum held a SW Trivia contest on 6-21-17.  A few of us members from Nar Shaddaa Base signed up and formed a team.  Our team won the contest!  I guess I was surprised at that as some of those trivia contests can be very difficult.  We had a great team and everyone seemed to have their own areas of expertise and we soundly beat the competition.

Next up was a last minute 4th of July parade in Warrenville.  It was a lot of fun and the people along the parade route were some of the most enthusiastic Star Wars parade watchers that I have ever encountered and I have done a lot of parades.  Usually my "character" in the parade gets little notice, but there were lots of folks that were asking for high fives and fist  I guess they were happy to see us.

On July 19th I did an event in New Lenox.  The Village presents movies at their public square and for July it was "Rogue One".  It was a very hot night, and a lot of sweating was done in my Rogue One Fleet Trooper MP costume. 
It was nice to have another RFT there too.  Costumes like the RFT are always better received if there are more than one.  I didn't stay to watch the movie as I was soaked with sweat.

On August 13th I participated in the Montgomery Parade in the same costume.  Usually it is really hot for the Montgomery Parade but this year it was not too bad.  The parade itself is short but finding a place to park near the parade start area is usually challenging, so I have to add a lot more walking just to get back and forth to my Jeep.

                                                                            On August 26th I did the White Sox game for their annual "Star Wars Day" game.  It is also generally hotter than hell for this game too, but the evening was fairly cool so I was able to wear what is probably my hottest costume in terms of just so many layers that really make me sweat my ass off.  Fortunately, the Resistance X-Wing costume I made I didn't bother getting a helmet for so it is always a little cooler if you don't have something on your head too.  As usual, my costume got a luke warm response from the general public.  I guess they realized I was NOT Poe  Tonight I am signed up to do a midnight release of the toys for the new movie "The Last Jedi" at the Toys R Us in Orland park.  I will wear the Resistance Pilot costume again as it should be a cool evening and does tie into the new movie.

Two of the biggest things I did this month was that I headed downstate on Friday August 18th for a visit with my relatives down there, a chance to see the Missouri Botanic Garden and butterfly house AND of course the Solar Eclipse. 

I left on Friday morning and hit the Missouri Botanic Garden Butterfly house first and then went to the Missouri Botanical garden itself.  The MBG had a glass sculpture exhibit that was simply amazing. 

I was not able to spend a lot of time at either of the venues, but made the most of the time that I had.  I tried to avoid the St. Louis rush hour to get back to the hotel in Highland at a reasonable time. 

After all, I had got up at 2:00 AM, drove over 300 miles and spent hours walking around both venues.  I did, however get in a massive traffic jam anyway, but got to the hotel in not too bad of time and spent some time that evening wandering  around Highland and got a visit from my cousin Steve and Alanna.  It was nice to just sit and talk and get caught up.

The next day I went driving around to some of the old haunts.  I visited my cousins Paul and Ralph on the farm and then later in the afternoon headed to Glen Carbon to my other cousin Marks house where they had a Eclipse party and family reunion.  Again, it was nice to see a lot of the cousins that I have not seen in a very long time. 

 It was hotter than hell and very humid the morning of the eclipse.  We drove to Harrisburg Illinois to the home of Mark's wife Donna's sister.  Harrisburg was in the 100% zone and was about 30 miles east of the epicenter of So IL eclipse "happenings" at SIU in Carbondale.

The eclipse was an awesome sight and it was great to view it with my family.  My brother had been looking forward to the eclipse since the early 90's when he clipped an article about it out of a magazine and had been carrying it with him all those years.  My family started talking about going down together for the viewing for over 2 years.  It all worked out very well.  Probably the most mind blowing part was the ride home.  I was caught in a 300 mile traffic jam from Harrisburg to the Peotone exit on I-57.  It took me over 10 hours to get home and it should have only taken me about 4.5 hours.  As mind numbing as the drive home was, it was all part of the "experience" and most of the drivers in that same traffic jam just took it in stride, there were not a lot of asshats in the bumper to bumper road rage.  I did rent a car for the trip and was glad that I did as I would have burned up probably 3 times the gas in the trip home if I took the Jeep vs the crappy little Mitsubishi that I had.

August 29th also marked a very busy and great day as one of the "usual suspects" (Mark Bettin) secured us restoration volunteers a very nice behind the scenes visit to the Field Museum.  It was incredible to see parts of the Museum's plant, insect and bird collections.  We spent about 2 hours at the Field seeing as much as we were allowed to.  I got a chance to hold one of the Museum's passenger pigeons and where it was a huge honor to hold the stuffed body of a creature now extinct was so very sad.  The stuffed passenger was from the late 1800's. 

We saw plants that were pressed by EJ Hill in the late 1800s.  We even saw a book on gardening in the Museum's library that was from the 1700's. 

There is so much behind the scenes at the Field Museum that I am contemplating being a volunteer there in a "behind the scenes" capacity.  There are people volunteering that do some of the duties of sorting and labeling where it does not require you to have a degree.

After the museum, we went to Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham.  Always nice to see what the prairie is supposed to look like.  We saw amazing blooming plants, some strange insects and as we were leaving, R. Panzer (one of the founding fathers of the restoration movement) happened to come by to do a little work.  Where he is now partially disabled, he still gets out to the prairie to work because (in his words) - "there is no one else".

I also went to the Will County Fair this year to volunteer for the Master Naturalists.  I helped man an information table and I brought some of my monarch caterpillars with me.  Folks that stopped by seemed to really like seeing the monarchs.

Whew....busy, busy, busy and the next couple of months will be no different as my calendar is stuffed with commitments already.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

June 11, 2017

I didn't realize how busy I have been until I looked for what I posted last here and what to add since. 

 At the end of April I started a project for the Master Gardener/Master Naturalist program.  I built a "little library" for the CASA program in Joliet.  My job was just to build the basic structure.  I had some scrap outdoor plywood and some plexiglass from other projects so I built the structure and primed it in white. 

After I finished my part it was handed off to another MG who put a cedar shake roof on it.  After the roof was on, it was given to yet another MG to paint the outside of it.  It came out pretty good considering I had warped wood to work with so fitting things together was a real challenge.  It was very important to make it sealed from the weather so everything was caulked within an inch of its' life.  Hopefully no rain will get in and ruin any books. 

On May 6th I gave a talk on the monarch issue at the FPDWC Sugar Creek Administration building.  It was well attended and it went pretty well.  I had a lot of the participants come up to me after the talk to say that they learned something and a teacher came up to me and said that she has gone to several of these talks before and came away from mine with better facts and understanding than all the other ones she attended.  That made my day!

 The Endor Bunker was all set up and ready for its' premier - the Joliet Area Historical Museum's Star Wars Scavenger Hunt.  We had a good turn out of costumed characters to add to the atmosphere and the Bunker was a huge hit. 

Attendance was double last year's event and everyone that came seemed to have a good time.

The Bunker was definitely ready for the Joliet Library Star Wars Day festivities.

I did another event on 5-4-17 for the Children's Miracle Network.  Fellow Nar Shaddaa Base member Robert Redden had a fundraiser for CMN at his WalMart store in Orland Park.  We were there taking photos for several hours.  It was a nice, cool day so a perfect opportunity to wear the really hot TFA Resistance Pilot costume.  It was a "May the Fourth" event so it was on a Thursday night.  Considering it was not the weekend, we still managed to get a good amount in donations.
May 28th brought another Star Wars costume event.  This time it was Legoland up in Schaumburg.  I haven't done a Legoland event in a number of years.  I felt that I owed myself a "get away" from the house.  The wipers on my Jeep finally quit working and rain was predicted, so it was a bit of a "throw caution to the wind" thing to drive to Schaumburg with no wipers.  Fortunately, it didn't rain and I made it home with no issues.  I didn't really stay at the event that long as issues with arthritis make long costume events not something I am that crazy about anymore.
 On June 3rd was the "big day" - Joliet Library Star Wars Day.  The weather had been great right up to the event but the "day of" it was hot and very humid.  It was yet another "sweat fest".  Things went surprisingly well and the day went pretty quickly.  I didn't leave the Museum to see the rest of the event and stationed myself at the Bunker pretty much all day. I spent most of the day at the roped entrance to the bunker and tried to wrangle donations out of everyone who wanted to have their picture taken behind the ropes at either the bunker or the speeder bike or both.
We raised just over $600.00 for Bugs Pals from the public who came to take pictures.  Many of the people who attended both 2016 and 2017 said they felt that the crowd had grown again.  It was hard to tell since I spent the entire day inside the Museum.  This year we were also spread out over 3 venues instead of just 2, so that probably made things a little less hectic.  The Museum didn't seem to be as "crushed" but that could have been because we actually had more room this year with the R2 Builders at the Rialto Theater.
 On May 26th I had my new bay window installed.  The old one had been a mess and was rotting away.  Ants were being attracted to the rotting wood and the window had been fogging up between the glass panes for years and years.  The old window actually started to fog up only a couple years after  I had moved into the house in 1986.  I hated that old window and the casement windows on the side.  The new window looks GREAT!!  I can't believe what a difference a window makes.  The new window has double hung windows on each side of the picture
window instead of those crappy crank out casement windows.  It is so nice to open windows at will without dealing with the awkward screens that had to go in the old windows.  I also finally fixed the screen on the front door.  That has been torn away for years and fixing that went unexpectedly well.  I also fixed the toilet last month that was "running" way too often.  I thought that since the toilet was so old that I would not be able to find parts, but it was an easy, universal, $5.00 fix and no more wasting water.

May 31st I attended the "Invasive Species Symposium" in Champaign IL at the Extension Office.  It was a good event even though a lot of the topics were on invasive species in the waterways.  Good information but not anything I will likely use.  I rode with Mark Bettin who is another FPDWC restoration volunteer and on the way home we stopped off at a cemetery prairie called Prospect Prairie.  It was truly an amazing place.  I have to remember to get out more.