Saturday, December 24, 2011

Camp Christmas

We'd never visited Camp Alpine during the winter, so we decided to go check it out.
We had the place to our selves. The drained pond was sporting a layer of grass, with frost still remaining in the shade. The salamanders were snug in their beds.

It got cold quickly after the sun went down. Luckily there was plenty of firewood.

It has been an uncharacteristically dry winter, and we had another clear night. We spotted the space station pass by. The Soyuz capsule docked the day before and six humans will be spending Christmas orbiting earth this year. With all the solar panels, it becomes the brightest object in the sky for a few minutes. If you want to try spotting it, I published a how-to at Instructables.

After some hot chocolate and listening to Cinnamon Bear on the radio, we declared "mission complete" and returned home to our warm beds. The caretakers gave us a plate of Christmas treats to take home. I'm sure they were glad to have some company, even if only for a short while.

Monday, December 5, 2011

With stories like this, who need fiction?

I just finished reading an amazing story about a WWII plane crash in a remote valley in New Guinea called Lost in Shangri-La. The rescue of the three survivors takes weeks and involves paratroopers, a film maker, and some creative thinking.

I won't spoil the ending, but if you watch the video, you'll know how it turned out.

This ranks up there with some of my other favorite great adventure tales such as Two Wheels NorthThe Long Walk, We Die Alone,  and Assault in Norway.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fall Fireworks

These are the trees outside my window at work. I've watched them change colors for three years now since moving to my new position. This year I took some photos and stitched them in to a time lapse sequence for you to enjoy as well.



I especially like the shade of red the maple on the right turns. I'm amazed at the amount of change that occurred on a day-to-day basis. Now I can't wait for Spring.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What are your strengths?

At work they've had us take a test so that we can focus on our strengths. Here is what they told me my strengths are:
  • Ideation, fascinated by ideas and able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
  • Restorative, adept at dealing with problems, good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
  • Deliberative, take serious care in making decisions or choices and anticipate the obstacles.
  • Input, craving to know more and like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
  • Belief, having certain core values that are unchanging and that defined purpose for their life.
Not surprisingly, my bottom strengths involve empathy, relating, winning people over, command, and competition.  So, I'm not a people person or good at leading. Good thing I got out of the Navy and am not in marketing or HR.

You can try this test for yourself at http://richardstep.com/self-tests/.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Church History Tour - Day Twelve


Everyone seemed to be up early and in good spirits for our last day together. I grabbed photos of the few that I hadn't got good portraits of yet. This included my crew.



Our first stop was with Farmer Bob Brown at Mt. Pisgah. He owns 1600 acres and has identified numerous wagon trails, home sites, and cemeteries from the Saints stay there. He gave us a demonstration of using two bent rods to locate "disturbances" in the earth. He was pretty good at it, and had all of use walking around the hill side with rods pointing this way and that.


Farmer Brown showed us a hedge apple from a Osage orange tree, the Shag Bark Hickory tree, and what the poisonous nut called a Buckeye looked like. He then loaded us up on a trailer pulled by a tractor to give us a first-hand look at some of the trail ruts and home sites.

After the wagon ride, we had a brief testimony meeting there at the pioneer monument. Then it was on to Afton for a lunch put on by Methodist ladies' auxiliary.

I spent the morning frantically trying to get a playable DVD burned of the
first eleven days. I kept getting errors on the disk and when I played them on the bus entertainment system, they skipped badly. I tried a different program and got a playable copy for everyone to watch. I then began burning copies as fast as possible (7 minutes a piece) in hopes of getting a copy for everyone before we parted.

The last stop for the whole group was at Winter Quarters. Like Nauvoo, they have built a temple since I was here last. We watched a movie at the visitor center and then visited the pioneer grave yard. We then returned to the visitor center to look around, with me carrying the laptop around, popping a new disk in every seven minutes.

As with most places, we were short on time. The missionaries have always been very good at tailoring their message to what ever time we had available. From there it was a short trip to the airport. I managed to get everyone a disk with one left over. It was a "fishes and loaves" moment for me, and I was I was able to share the videos with everyone so they should share their experiences with their friends and family. About 15 of us, most headed to Portland, split off to catch our planes while the remainder continued on to visit the Kanesville Tabernacle and return for a later flight. After twelve days together, it was a bit wrenching to part with our new friends.

From Omaha, we ironically flew east to Chicago to catch a flight to Portland. By now we had the drill down pat. In Chicago we bumped in to the parents of a ward member who were flying out to meet them. It really is a small world.

The final flight was thirty minutes late at takeoff, but somehow they made up the time in the air and we were on the ground in Oregon by 10:30 pm.
In Portland, Brenda's and our van magically showed up thanks to Mike's parents. We loaded up and were home just after midnight.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Church History Tour - Day Eleven

Our final day in Nauvoo began with a visit to nearby Carthage Jail. On the drive over, the tour director sang a heart-felt rendition of a Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.

The mood at Carthage was somber. This was the first time in the trip I really wished we were in smaller groups, but we felt the spirit just the same. I asked about the blood spot on the floor I remember from before. I was told President Kimball asked that it be removed.

We returned to Nauvoo and did some shopping in the upper district. We returned to Nauvoo Park for our final meal there to find a cake for Eldon's birthday. He seemed pleased. For gifts he got a book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and American Moses.

We were set free to finish our visit and spent time at the print shop and Browning's house and gunshop. We finished by walking the Trail of Tears down Parley Street to the monument near the river the commemorates the saints that died on the plains. Then, like the saints, we loaded our wagon and left Nauvoo, headed west.

On the bus, we sang "Come, Come ye Saints" near the spot where William Clayton wrote it. We stopped in Garden Grove, Iowa, for a dinner put on by the Iowas Trails Association. Although there are no members there, the town's identity is closely aligned with the saints as evidenced by the Mormon Trail High School name and fight song, "When the Saints Go Marching In".

We finished the day for a short drive to Osceola where we stayed in an Inn next to a, wait for it . . ., Wal Mart! We were back in the twenty-first century.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Church History Tour - Day Ten

At the Nauvoo Inn, we had a nice buffet breakfast in a large meeting room. It was nice to not be bouncing off each other.


The first stop of the day was at the Joseph Smith home, which is owned by the Community of Christ. They gave us a tour before opening so as not to disrupt other visitors, and the guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. This is where the graves of Joseph and Hyrum were relocated to.


We returned to the LDS Visitor center to get tickets for the carriage and wagon tours and to get our game plan together. We got dropped of near the Post Office, and began our explorations with the School House, Brick Yard, and Blacksmith Shop while others spread out across Nauvoo to their points of interest.

Around lunch time, we caught the bus back to Nauvoo park. The same company catered all our meals here, and they were pretty good.

After lunch, we took a carriage ride, looked at the quilts in cultural hall, and visited the Family Living Center where they had several looms and were demonstrating a triangular loom for shawls.

We ventured the long walk to the Sarah Granger Kimball home. She organized making shirts for the temple workers which lead to the formation of the Relief Society.

We made a quick tour of Brigham Young's home before meeting the rest of the group for an after-hours tour of the Red Brick store, where we sang Praise to the Man in the second story meeting room.

The final trip of the night was out to the Old Nauvoo Cemetery where we visited the grave of Laura Clark Phelps who helped the prophet hide from the mob once and also helped her husband escape from jail on one occasion.

We got back to the motel by 7:30, the earliest time so far in the trip, with plenty of time to unwind and swim.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Church History Tour - Day Nine


While waiting for two tour members who had slept in, we took the bus down to a marker by the Mississippi river commemorating the arrival of the displaced saints in friendly Quincy.

From the prospering town of Quincy we drove to the rather dismal Warsaw. I gave a reading of a first person account of mobs coming and going to Carthage in front of the inn where the mob met before and after killing the Prophet and Hyrum. The guide reports that no members currently live in Warsaw.

From Warsaw, we drove north along the Mississippi until the temple came in view on the bluff overlooking the river. It was an amazing site. We did a quick drive through Navuoo to see where the hotel was, and then doubled back to the LDS Visitor Center.

At the Visitor Center, we watched a short film, spent some time looking at the exhibits, and spending some time in the Woman's Garden. The flowers were beautiful, but they were scrubbing and waxing the statues, which was a bit odd to see. Apparently they have to do it twice a year, and we just happened to be there at the right time.

We boarded the bus for Nauvoo Park, where we had a catered lunch in the pavilion. This is not too far from where we camped when we visited before.

After lunch, it was time for a temple session. Most of us had been wearing church clothes all day, and the temple provide clothing for the session. There were four people doing baptisms, and Eldon and I helped out there with me doing the baptism and dad doing most of the confirmations. The font is beautiful, and located "with an few feet" of the original. There is a marvelous stain-glass picture of John baptising Christ across from the stairs to the font.

Since the baptism session was quicker than the other group, we went across the street to the Traveler Assistance Center. It is set up with several different lobbies for people to wait or shower after traveling. We watched a few videos before joining the other group. I was a bit jealous to find they had been allowed to climb up to the bell tower, but one sister had gotten permission to photograph both the view and the bell.

We returned to the park for another meal catered by the same company. Buffets seem to be a distance memory, and no one was complaining. Following dinner, we went down to the Cultural Center for a play put on by the missionaries. We made up about 3/4 of the audience, and the missionaries put on a good show for us.

Following the play, it was time to check in to the motel. We got to our room in time enough for the girls to swim with Noah. The internet connection was so poor I was unable to get my video uploaded till the following morning!

Church History Tour - Day Eight

We started the day at the Far West Temple site. Sheryl and Eldon read parts and Brenda sang a beautiful rendition of Be Still My Soul in the cool morning air.
North of Far West, the Gallatin Courthouse is where a fight broke out between the mob and Mormons trying to vote. This violence was part of the build up that led the the Mormon War and the Saints expulsion from Missouri. On the way to Gallatin, they showed my video of the highlights of the first week.


We had a catered lunch in a motorcycled theme restaurant called Cycles in small town of Gallatin. It was a nice change after a long streak of boxed lunches.


Adam-ondi-Ahman is a site along the east bluffs above the Grand River in Daviess County, Missouri. It is the site where Adam and Eve lived after being expelled from the Garden of Eden. It will also be a gathering spot for a meeting of the priesthood leadership, including prophets of all ages and other righteous people, prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

We had a long transit east from Adam-ondi-Ahman to Hannibal along the Mississippi. To pass the time, some people shared stories about their pioneer ancestors. Janeil had written about Jacob Foutz and Henry White for Sheryl and I read.


We had a brief stop in Hannibal, which is the birthplace of Mark Twain. We were left to our own devices for a hour, and Rachel and I walked along Main Street and visited a county museum while Robin climbed a nearby hill to a lighthouse overlooking the river with Noah, the other youth on the trip.

For a change of pace, we checked in to our hotel in Quincy before dinner. It was raining, so we rode the bus several blocks to the Patio Restaurant where we had a nice family style dinner of fried chicken and roast beef.

After dinner we had a short lecture by Dr. David Costigan on the significant of the Douglas-Lincoln debate that occurred in Hannibal. This was the turning point in Lincoln's langusing campain.

From there it was short trip to the hotel, and we arrived in time for Robin to get some swimming in with Noah.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Church History Tour - Day Seven


Sunday we packed up the bus and drove to Independence, Missouri where the Lord had revealed that Zion was to be built. We gathered on the grass field where a stone marks the corner where the temple is to be built and had a short program in which Rachel and Eldon read parts. From there it is only a couple of blocks to the LDS chapel where we joined a sacrament meeting with the Kansas City Blue Hills Ward.

After the service we had lunch on the lawn and then walked to the LDS Visitor Center. A lot of the material was review of sites we had already seen, but the Sister Missionaries did sing "I know that my Redeemer Lives" for us in front of the status of Christ which was very touching.


Just across the street is the Community of Christ Temple. It is a magnificent building that spirals into the air and has a Japanese garden in its center. The Community of Christ was formed after the death of the Prophet and has about a quarter-million members world-wide. The presidency followed the lineage of Joseph Smith up until the current leader, and they have ordained two women as apostles. The fact that we have a common source of belief, but have drifted so far apart in doctrine, illustrates why there are so many religions and diverse views in the world.

In Richmond, Missouri, we visited a monument to Colonel Alexander Doniphan,
a prominent citizen who was a commander of Missouri Mounted Volunteers in the War with Mexico. He saved the life of Joseph and Hyrum by defying a direct oder to execute them. He never joined the church, but was received as hero on a later visit to Salt Lake City.

Richmond is also the location of the graves of Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, two of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. All three left the church, but none recounted their testimony of seeing an angel and handling the gold plates.


At Liberty, they have built a recreation of the jail in which Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and three other church leaders were held during the bitter winter of 1838 - 1839. The missionaries gave a great presentation, and the tour leader read from D&C Section 102, revelations received during these dark times.

We had the opportunity to stop and see the Kansas City Temple which is still under construction just as the sun was setting, providing a beautiful backdrop.


We had another late buffet dinner in Kansas City and made it to the motel in time for Robin to get some swimming in with Noah, the other youth on the trip, and for me to get a load of laundry done while working on getting the blog up to date.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Church History - Day Six


We awoke from our second night in Concord Township near Kirtland and packed for our flight.



First stop of the day was a stone quarry, which is about two miles south of Kirtland, where sandstone was cut for the Kirtland Temple. The quarry area was actually in the riverbed which must have made hammering it out a bit interesting.


We also stopped briefly across from the Lorenzo Snow home which is currently a private residence. As we sang Oh, My Father (on the bus) a dog came out in the yard to either sing along or warn us off.

The Johnson Farm is about 25 miles south of Kirtland and is another place the Prophet made as his home for a short while. It has a beautiful farm house where they have restored the original colors which were identified during restoring.


We had a late lunch at a Chinese buffet in Parma. Buffets are perfect places for tours because they usually have reserved area and we can all get our food rather quickly. This one had a number of unusual items like octopus, pig ear, and roasted beef stomach.


We returned to the Cleveland Airport for our flight to Chicago. We had to bid a fond goodbye to our tour guide and his family, as well as the bus driver and his wife. They had both become like family during our brief time together. In all, 18 people separated from the main group, including Neil and Pam. We were to meet the mew tour guide and the remainder of our group, which included Mike, in Kansas City.


We had a short flight into Chicago, a two hour layover, and another short flight to Kansas City where we met the new tour director Mike, a bishop from Salt Lake City, and John, the bus driver from Kansas City. It was a short drive to the hotel. John, who spends 200 days a year on the road, got to sleep in his own bed for the night.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Church History - Day Five

A little latter start time, and not having to load the luggage on the bus, made for a pleasant start to the day.


Our first stop was Fairport Harbor on Lake Erie. It was overcast and windy, whipping the waves up like a normal day at the Oregon Coast. We stopped for pictures at the nearby lighthouse, and I couldn't locate my camera. After a brief search on the bus, I convinced them to return to the shore where I retraced my steps. We gave up, assuming it must be on the bus shomewhere. At the next stop, it was located in an overhead bin a few rows up, misplaced there by me, and I was quite embarrassed.




In Kirtland, we started with a visit to the Isaac and Lucy Morley Farm where Joseph and Emma lived for a time and where Josphep received numberous revelations. We met the another Mormon Heritage tour group at the Kirtland visitor center where we had a presentation by author (and other tour guide) Karl Anderson on the importance of the area.


Next, we went to the Kirtland Visitor Center where the Newel K. Whitney house and store are located. This is where Joseph and Emma lived for a while and where the School of the Prophets occured. The Church spent signiciant money and effort to get the road rerouted around the area so that the exibits, which include a sawmill and ashery can be visited safely. They have also put in a sidewalk up to the temple site.


The Kirtland Temple is owned by the Church of Christ, who have also made some significant improvements which include a new visitor center. They showed us a video, following which the curtains on large windows were drawn to reveal the temple, nicely framed by beautiful greenery.


The Temple is a remarkable piece of architecture both in size and workmanship. It was one of the largest buildings in Ohio when built. They asked us not to photograph the inside, but did let us sing The Spirit of God in the assembly hall, and I noticed the guide singing along with us. Janiel played piano and Brenda led. It was a marvelous experience.


Our final night together (as the first tour section), we were spared another buffet and instead had pizza delivered to the Kirtland Stake Center. It was a nice way to relax after a hectic day.

Church History - Day Four

First stop of the day was the Smith homesite near the Susquehanna River where a good deal of the Book of Mormon was translated. The bus driver exibited some extrodiany skill in backing the bus up a half-mile on a muddy road so that we could walk down near the river where Joseph and Oliver went often to pray. The driver Dan and his wife sang Sweet Hour of Prayer for us there along the bank of the river.



We then had a fun stop at a grocery store near Binghamton to stock up on goodies and eat lunch.


In Elmira, NY, we had stopped at Elmira College for a short talk on Mark Twain, whose wife was from there. Mark Twain travelled to Salt Lake City and had some humorous, if unflattering, things to say about the Mormons. On the campus they have the eight-sided study his sister-in-law built for him where Tom Sawyer, among others, was written. We continued the session at Mark Twain's grave.


We had a long transit from Elmira, New York, to Erie, Pennsylvania, which we passed quickly as we took turns introducing ourselves. It is quite a diverse group with members from New Zeland, Austraila, and Cananda. A good portion are from Utah, and most are retired, but there are several mother-daughter teams. The introductions were followed by a quiz. The question for me was "who is pretending to be a batchelor because his wife is afraid to fly?" I also burned a DVD and previewed the first three days of video for everyone on the bus's DVD system.


We had a buffet dinner in Erie, and then got back on the bus for another hour and a half ride to Kirtland, Ohio. We arrived after 10 p.m., but by now had the key/luggage/room drill down and were quickly settled in for the night.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Church History - Day Three

Day three began early so we could enjoy the Sacred Grove to ourselves (all 50 of us). The bus driver Dan and his wife Jessica sang a beautiful traditional hymn for us, which is remarkable because they are non-members. We spent some time wandering the peaceful trails through the grove. Later, when the visitor center opened, we toured the Joseph Smith log home and the frame home they built later.



Just North of the Smith farm, we visited the Grandin Print Shop in Palmyra, NY, where the first printing of the Book of Mormon occured. It is a three story structure, and the Church has managed build a vistor center around it while maintaining the historic exterior appearance.


The Palmra Temple is visible from the Smith farm, and reportedly contains a clear glass window so the farm can be viewed from the temple. We traveled to the temple grounds and posed for a group photo in front before mingling about the grounds. It is fairly recent and has some beautiful stain glass windows.


The Hlll Cumorah, where the Gold Plates were revealed, is nearby and the bus dropped us off near the top. We had a brief program at the top where a large statue of Moroni is placed, and then walked down the trail to the visitor center.


Dinner was a Chinese buffet at Vestal, NY, and we headed to the hotel in nearby Johnson City, arriving late, ready for bed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Church History - Day Two

Our first full day together started at a luxurious 9:00 a.m. for those of us with jet lag (everyone!). The first agenda item was the Maid of the Mist boat tour which was quite exciting and wet. We also got some touristy shoping out of the way at the city of Niagra by the Lake.

We returned to the US and began the Church History Tour in ernest in the Mendon, NY, area where Brigham Young and Heber Kimball had homes. The Mendon cemetery contains the graves of Brigham's first wife, Mariam, as well as Heber C. Kimball's father Solomon.

We had a catered Italian dinner in a former church that Brigham Young attened. After dinner, we had a short program at Miriams grave under the stars and then headed for the hotel in Victor, NY.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Church History Tour - Day 1


"All good adventures begin before dawn," is something I always tell the girls. This adventure started at 3:00 a.m. so we could pick up Grandpa, Grandma, Sheryl, and Jonathan, and make a 7:00 flight out of Portland. We met Brenda, Neil, and Pam at the airport while Mike and a friend shuttled our vehicles back.



We changed flights at Midway Field in Chicago, an airport I had never been through. Our second flight landed in Buffalo, NY, another new airport for me. We met the rest of the tour, already on the bus, and after a brief head count, departed for Niagara Falls.

The border crossing was interesting. There was a line of tour buses waiting, and when I was our turn, we had to unload and present our passports to the agents. Every one got asked one of several questions: What is your citizen ship, how long are you staying, and do you have any weapons?

Back on the bus, we travelled toward a Las Vega's like city-scape. We had a buffet dinner at a restaurant within a stones throw of the falls. It was already dark, and after dinner we drove along the falls which were lit with colored lights.

At the hotel, we unloaded luggage, got our room key (card) from the assigned "Key Sheriff", and headed up to our room.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Adventures of a Wandering Man

I've been following adventures of Jay, who has been traveling, and living in, --wait for it--, a tan 1985 Westfalia.  When I found out he was passing through our neck of the woods, I invited him to stop by and camp out in our driveway for a night.

He lost his job as a university professor, and his house to a fire, and has spent all summer exploring the country before looking to set any roots back down. His Westy is named "Walden", and the dashboard sports a copy of Henry David Thoreau's book of the same name. Thoreau said, "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone", and Jay is quite rich at the moment.

He is blogging his adventure, and my favorite post to date details his attempt to infiltrate Canada. His blog even shows where he is at minute-to-minute, on a page appropriately titled "Stalk Me", which made it easy to figure out when he was going to show up.

The Ward had a baptism that Robin wanted to attend, and "when in Rome" was Jay's response to the invitation to come along. The missionaries showed a short video after the baptism on thankfulness, in which Dallin H. Oaks talked about adversity:
When we understand this principle, that God offers us opportunities for blessings and blesses us through our own adversities and the adversities of others, we can understand why He has commanded us again and again to “thank the Lord thy God in all things”.
Jay is a great example of handling adversity, and I am thankfull we had the chance to meet him and offer him some hospitality. He was a superb guest, and kept Ann Marie quite entertained. In the morning, we fed him pancakes, let him shower, and sent him on his way. I can tell from his website that he made it to the coast already.

A Westy owner will always have friends.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stephanie verses the Coquina

I was helping June edit some video she is working on. It contained this little gem. Who does it remind you of?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Empty Nesting?

Polly and I took a sneek peek at empty nesting. We dumped the kids on Grandma and Grandpa Smith and went to the beach for the weekend. We stayed at Fort Stevens near Astoria.
The wreck of the Peter Iredale is still visible after more than one hundred years.

 We didn't have reservations at the campground, but lucked into a 60 foot pull through spot that had just had a cancellation. Our 14 foot Westy looked a bit out of place.

Fort Stevens was a coastal defense battery which was used from the 1860's up until after World War II. We spend most of a whole day visiting the museum and exploring the batteries.

We visited the Columbia Maritime Museum at Astoria. It included a tour of the Lightship Columbia, which was moored next to an active duty Coast Guard ship.

The Peter Iredale wasn't the only wreck we discovered. This one was fairly recent.



Getting away for a bit was nice, but it was good to get home. Our nest won't be truly empty for a long time.