Saturday, November 26, 2016


It is that time of year when we traditionally consider giving thanks.  Thanksgiving comes to mind but of course the tradition of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest goes back in time.  The Greeks the Romans, the ancient Chinese and Hebrews all had or have similar traditions.

Here at Rocky Acres we have much to be thankful for. I started prepping for the big dinner early that morning.  First I fed the keets, they got a little extra dose of seed.  I tuned the radio to the local NPR station which plays jazz, they seem to be especially talkative when jazz in on.  Next I fed Chairman, he seemed his normal not-so-thankful-self and to let me know that something more 'special' than dry cat food would be  appreciated he planted himself squarely in the middle of the 'kitchen triangle' (you know, that space between the fridge, the sink and the stove) with his tail laid out as far as it would go.  he wanted some ham lunchmeat of which the 'cupboard was bare'.  I microwaved some bacon for him (and me) which was accepted.

I put out some extra seed for the wild birds, this being a particularly cold, wet and windy day of thanks.  The ground feeders arrived quickly even though it was still pre-dawn gloamy.  Once it was light, the doves arrived in several flights and then by ones and twos, till the feed trays were covered with gray birds.

As I was prepping the dough for the dinner rolls

 I saw a flash out at the feeder and looked up to see the Cooper's hawk take one of the doves.  I always feel bad when this happens but if you look at the numbers you realize that dove populations are in no danger. All the birds scatter when he comes but as soon as he has his prey on the ground the seed eaters immediately flock back to the feed tray.  I guess it is like what happens after a cop pulls someone over on the freeway; Everybody seems to speed up, knowing the cop is busy. I guess even the Cooper's hawk has something to be thankful for just as the seed eaters do.

He came the next day but was unsuccessful.  Here he is sitting on the fence contemplating.

I made a pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust the day before, this is something of a new-ish tradition for us.

The rest was a dinner from the past.  We had mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with brown sugar, the old standard green beans w/mushroom soup and fried onion topping, and of course a turkey.  It all came out well, the turkey might have gone just a little longer in the oven, but was fine otherwise.  I found a plastic packet in with the bird which turned out to be ready made gravy, something new to me.  I gave it a shot and was very disappointed, tasted like Herb-Ox beef bullion with too much corn starch, it jelled almost to pudding consistency as it cooled, but made a good topic for jokes around the dinner table.

We hosted a couple and their son from our church who are serving as missionaries in China.  They live in the very far west of China, in the Lisu Autonomous Prefecture among the Lisu people.  This remote area is home to about one third of China's ethnic groups.  She was born in China though not in this prefecture.  

They are back here just now because he is suffering severe pain as a result of having several ruptured discs, something I can completely sympathize with. He is trying to get medical assistance through the VA and is not having much luck.  Another data point on the spotty chart that is our patchwork health care 'system'.

So, this is a thankful time for us, which is a stark contrast to all the commercialism which seems to overtake every form or social media.  It seems too easy to me to switch from thankful to buying, I wish there was more of a transition to help me focus on the notion that giving gifts could be connected with my thankfulness, a way of paying forward my good fortune.

Some time ago I came across this, the national day of giving, actually it has gone global.  Never mind that, the idea is that there are many ways to give something, to pay forward your good fortune.  Do we need a special day for this? I don't know but if you do have a tradition of charity around this time of year, this day is a good reminder to uphold your tradition early so that it does not get overshadowed by the hectic commercial side of the season which looms ahead.

Thanks for reading.

Dr C

Thursday, November 17, 2016


October was one of the wettest on record here, November has been on and off but unseasonably mild.  I won't say warm, but mild, as in no dramatic temperature plunges.

The pond water temp has stayed above 50 degrees much later than normal this year.  50 degrees is the break point for feeding the fish, or cutting them off.  That usually comes around Halloween.  I stopped feeding the a day or two before Halloween anyway, better a little early then to feed them too long.

The key to good fish health is pristine water conditions.   Normally I clean the pond in late October or early November, and for a bunch of reasons (excuses) I missed that window this year.  Though I have a filtration system, 'stuff' gets in the pond over the summer: needles, leaves, lots of dirt in the form of dust, and too, the filter doesn't remove all the fish poop, so 'mulm' (fish keeper speak for pond muck) forms in the bottom of the pond and it is the perfect medium for growing parasites and bacteria which can cause health problems for the fish.

So sending them off for their long winter sleep in pristine water is really important - they won't eat again until April and so will be weakened by the lack of food and dormancy in very cold water.  In this condition they become vulnerable to parasites and bacteria.  Worse, the 'bugs' tend to come out of their dormancy on the bottom of the pond before the fish do.

So I was feeling 'dirty pond water guilt' when there appeared last weekend a hole in the rainy weekend cycle, and I got an extra day off thanks to the veterans.  I decided to take advantage of the circumstances to clean the pond, especially opportune given that the fish were still lively, it's a stressful process for them and best not undertaken after they have gone into their dormancy. 

First we set up the quarantine or "Q" tank, and add an air pump to assure the water will be amply aerated when we move the fish in.  If they were going to be in there for more than a couple days I would also install a filter.  In this case it would be just an over night 'camp out' for them.

Next is to transfer the fish. 

This entails capturing them in the big dip net, then sliding them into a 'sock net, then carrying them to the Q tank and releasing them.  This is a process that cannot be hurried: start 'chasing' the fish around the pond  and they all get very stressed, and progressively harder to catch.  It all went pretty well, the last of the Koi was pretty spooked so I had to catch him after I had started to drain the pond.  The last fish to be caught is always the big, black Chinese catfish.  He is almost impossible to see (he's black, the pond liner is black and by the time I have the pond mostly drained, the water is filthy, black.

Then drain the pond, power wash it, and then drain that water out, and finally getting down in the pond and scooping out all the mulm.

It's a stinky, messy job and always reminds me why it is a good idea to clean the pond twice a year, spring and fall.

Then I refill the pond and add a chemical disinfectant, Potassium Permanganate and let that circulate through the  pond overnight.  This stuff does a good job of 'oxidizing' all the micro organisms in the pond that don't get removed in the cleaning. 

Then next morning it is draining that mess out of the pond, scooping out any remaining messiness, and refilling the pond with clean water.  Once the pond is refilled with clean water we again go through the process of transferring the fish.

I go to the trouble of measuring and recording the measurements of the fish when I do this.  It is a good way to give them a close examination to assure that they don't have wounds or other problems and it is also nice to note their growth year over year.

Most of these fish started their time with us ranging from 6" to 10" in length.  As you can see they have all grown quite a bit. (the grid on the bottom of the pond is 1"X1".


   These last two little fish are comets, Japanese gold fish.

It's a big job and I usually prune the plants around the pond at the same time. 

Mrs. Dr. C is always a great help. 

  Chairman Meow provides QC inspections.

and supervision from a distance when it starts to rain.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

There's No Place Like Home

The Big Horse is off to the mechanics for a 'makeover', velo version (not extreme).  Bikes never need work ... if you never ride them.  Even though my mileage has dropped dramatically over the last couple years, things do wear and much of what needs fixed is the result of 'deferred maintenance'.

Winter in these part is hard on bikes.  No salt on the roads  but sodium chloride spray, sand and the regular road grime combine with rain water to create an effective grinding past for  all the moving parts. Chains, chain rings, cassettes rims and hubs suffer the steady wear.  On my bike the brake hoods are worn through and the bar tape is frayed.  These were new when I had the bike built, that was before PBP '07 so new is in order.  Spendy stuff but I'd say I got my money's worth. 
The shifting is balky, it requires a forceful nudge to get the next gear.  It works but you have to pay attention and that is not the way you want this business to work.   A little extra squeeze of the fingers, a bit of extra attention, what's the big deal right?  On a long ride you may shift gears hundreds of times.  On a really long ride maybe even thousands of times, (SIR rides mean hills and for me, that means shifts).  I have learned that over time little things can become big things, all the more so if it involves simple repetitive motions, like pedaling, or, ... shifting. A blister on your finger or cramps in the hands can take away from the fun and divert your attention from the business of getting to the next control or the finish.

You know, 'after' pictures are never as dramatic as 'before' pics and by themselves they really only tell half a story. 

I admit it didn't occur to me that a bike overhaul would make much of a blog post.  This says something about the scale of drama in my life.  But when I saw the 'after' bike I was immediately overcome with a big silly kid grin so pictures seemed entirely appropriate, ... the age of social media and all.  And really, you will never again see this cassette and this chain this clean

the pictures before we march off to war so to speak.

New jockey wheels
bar tape and hoods too

There were other tidbits, not very impressive visually, but it all adds to the bottom line and the improved performance.  I did spin several laps up and down the lane just to see how it shifted, and braked. like new oddly enough.

I am a little concerned that 'stuff' can instill such an inner sense of well being.  Does this mean I am a shallow person?  Or have I become one of those people who thinks of his bike as a sentient being?  I'm well on the way down that road, the machine does have a name, sort of.

Giving this some thought I have a couple justifications to offer:
  • I have been a little blue since last Tuesday night, November 8th.  Maybe this is just a bauble to distract me from the train wreck.  There will be plenty of time for recrimination and soul searching in the future (four years anyway, ... oy!)
  • This bike has been with me on many memorable occasions, some epic successes (we'll always have Paris) and some unforgettable failures.  Why not attach a degree of special meaning to its 'resurrection'? 
  • This newly refurbished bike is a sort of reverse motivation for me, hello smile of irony. 
So sure, a big smile and sense of well being is perhaps understandable.  I guess we shall see how durable this newfound optimism is when I find myself pedaling out to the Beehive for breakfast on some cold January morning. 

I have always said the equipment has never held me back.  Where others can honestly say that lighter gear or certain tires can shave time, I have always known that there are huge gains to be made for me just by working on the motor.  This shiny newish toy motivates me, and that makes me smile.

Thanks Cory