Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas 2007

I hope everyone had a great Christmas! This year, I decided to stay here instead of going to my folks' house. I go down most years, but, not all. Chels was not going to be there (poor thing is in sad!), and I was just down in Sept. and Nov. so, decided to just relax at home.

I did talk to mom and dad and everyone seems to have had a good holiday. There was one change this year....instead of cooking, mom ordered dinner from 17th Street Bar and Grill....several slabs of ribs and a couple pounds of pulled pork, etc... I'm sure it was tasty!!

Christmas afternoon, I had to go to Connie's for the gift she got me because "it won't fit in [her] car". hmmmm.... I'm completely lost... Unlike myself, she didn't ask for ideas or a list or anything. So, I have no idea what to expect, let alone what could be so large to not fit in her car. I get there and it's covered up in the living room....I still have no clue!! Maggie tried to tell me it was "thin screen" TV... You know, they're the next big thing!!!! LOL Anyway, I "unwrap" it and Tada!!!!!
Tim and Smoker
She got me a smoker!!!!! In our random conversations, I had mentioned it would be cool to learn how to do ribs / bbq..have an all day cookout, etc.., but, I'd never done that and didn't have a smoker. One thing I've noticed over the years, she's a great gift giver!

As I mentioned above, I had to ask for a list (I think clueless pretty well describes my gift giving abilities). :-) This was one of the things on Connie's wish list.
Connie and Stairs
She *says* this is her favorite. She's nice like that. :-)

Oh, and Mary who reads my blog but never comments....I also got a bottle of UV Blue!! LOL

Anyway, it was a great Christmas! I hope yours was as well!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Festivus!

Some groups consider today to be the day to celebrate Festivus. So, Happy Festivus!!

There is actually a lot more to Festivus than most probably are aware. For one, there is the traditional celebration of Festivus that the Seinfeld episode "The Strike" was based. Some traditions are different than that on Seinfeld, others seem to be similar. But, in any case, feel free to "air your grievances" here! :-) "I got a lot of problems with you people!!!"

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Week In Review

Last Friday, I went to Tucker's home game and for once, I didn't bubble out!! Actually, I went out one before the bubble!! LOL Early on, I was doing well, catching cards, etc... Then, when we combined tables, I went card dead, and missed when I had a decent starting hand. Finally, I hit a hand or two...then back to missing everything.. I was getting short stacked and picked up a middle pair. Raise! Of course, the big stack of mr. runner runner didn't go away...he re-raised (minimum) and I pushed the rest in. So, it's my 77 against AJ. The flop comes, and I'm still ahead, but mr. runner-runner has a ton of outs....turn...7, ok, trips!!! River....runner-runner hits his flush (again)!!! Damnit!!! Poker is a cruel cruel game!!

After that beating, I was so depressed (not really) that I basically hibernated the rest of the weekend! Actually, I did get out a bit on Saturday afternoon and cleaned out the garage a bit so you could actually park *in* the garage. The Ice that was forecast scared me. :-) That evening, Connie came over and I made dinner and Italian beef for Sunday (and Monday and the rest of the week...yes, it was an enormous roast)and we watched movies and football the rest of the weekend. What better way to spend a Winter weekend than that???

Monday night, I met up with a couple of flickr folks and we took some pictures downtown. It was chilly, but still a good time.
Peoria County Courthouse Square
The courthouse plaza with Christmas lights

Spirit of Peoria
Spirit of Peoria and Bridge

So far, Lily hasn't posted any of the same shots that I posted (the advantage of being the first to post). :-) Actually, between Jason, Mike, Lily and myself, none of the shots are really even close even though we were all within a couple hundred feet of each other the entire time. It's always cool to see what others come up with in the same situation.

Tuesday and Wednesday...not much happened. Work, home, work, home.... Thursday night, was the last day of photography class. :-( So, unfortunately, I doubt you'll be seeing any other corn-poo pictures in the near future. ;-) But, there is another class planned in the Spring that I'm interested...we'll have to wait and see once the schedule is posted.

Tonight is the Jaycees Christmas party. Always a good time!! So, my agenda today includes buying a gift for the gift exchange. I have no idea what I'm gonna get this year. I guess I'll know it when I see it.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Photography Class

A couple of weeks ago, well....several weeks ago, now...we got an assignment in photography class to take pictures of an item which we were given. We were to take pictures in interesting / unexpected locations, interesting compositions, etc...

My subject was an ear of corn. Now, what the hell am I going to do at this time of year??? I thought of a few ideas that I thought would be cool during the Summer...say in a bean field, or on the grill, etc.... But, at this time of year, I was having a tough time coming up with ideas (also, note that there really isn't much fresh corn on the cob around right now). Add to that, the fact that I didn't get around to shooting for a couple of weeks and the corn I was given, was looking a bit past its prime.

I asked at work if anyone had ideas, and shared my first idea with them. Louis came up with the following as a concept.

Stabbed corn, bleeding butter...I thought it was a cool idea, and this was fun to play with. I only wish I could have found those real cheap plastic corn-shaped holders...instead, I had to use these "fancy" ones which was the only thing I could find at the store.

Next, you have the first idea that came to mind when I found out I had an ear of corn for a subject.
Corn Poo

I thought about how no matter how much you chew corn, it seems to reconstruct itself in your digestive tract and comes out in whole kernels in your poo. I just carried it one step further. :-)

Birthday Weekends

I already wrote about Thanksgiving weekend, which was the weekend before my birthday. It was a pretty good weekend, starting with Wednesday night at the Rec Room, and continuing with Thanksgiving, dinner, new curtains, etc.....

Then, on my actual birthday, I got to work in Macomb at midnight!! yay!!!! Couldn't even go to Math Club that night.

But, the following weekend was pretty awesome! Gretchen took me to see Sugarland here at the Civic Center. Actually there was a group of us....6 chicks and me! Nice ratio, huh?? :-) The show was great and we had a good time. Then, we went to the bar for a couple of drinks and to try to score some autographed stuff, which some in our group did....just not me. But, on the bitches bought me drinks in honor of my birthday, so it's all good!! Thanks bitches!!! LOL It was a great night!

But wait...there's more!!! I also got an LCD HDTV for the computer room and a blackberry cobbler and ice cream from my girl! Those rocked!! The pie was awesome as usual (not such a huge fan of cake) and I just finished the last piece last night. The TV is sweet! It's the first HDTV I've had, and I was shocked at the difference it makes. LCD's are sharper than regular CRT TV's in the first place, and the digital nature of an LCD really shows the shortcoming of regular broadcast programming...but the HD channels are freakin' sweet!

Saturday night, Jeff, Tucker, Toby, and myself all went to Zooks' home game and had a good time. Jeff played well and took first, Tucker 3rd, and I was the bubble boy, which is pretty amazing considering I was 175 away from doing out with blinds being 100/200 (Toby caught up on the river and killed my stack). But, we still had a good time. I ended up making back a few bucks during the cash game, but, ended up down overall for the night. Oh well, cheap entertainment with good friends...or is it the other way around??? hmmmm... :-)

Sunday was spent doing laundry and crap and watching football IN HD most of the day. :-) All in all, a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You Can Get Anything You Want... Alice's restaurant.

I hope everyone had a good holiday and has recovered from their turkey comas.

The Thanksgiving tradition started on Wednesday night with drinking, darts, socializing and procrastination (can you say casserole?)! Though, I sucked at darts, I excelled at drinking and socializing. :-)

Thursday started off nicely, but, then driving down to Southern Illinois was a bit rough. I hit the St. Louis area (within radio distance anyway) right about noon. Just in time for the Thanksgiving tradition of Alice's Restaurant. I think I've listened to that on Thanksgiving every year since high school. "Yes, sir, officer. I cannot tell a lie....I *put* that envelop under that pile of garbage." You gotta love it! haha!

Anyway, made it to my folks' house and had a snack while waiting for dinner. Chelsea, my sisters, brothers in law, and nephews all showed up and we had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat (heh) and ended up nearly comatose on the couch for the rest of the night.

Then, in great anticipation of "black Friday", I slept in! No bargains for me! Call me crazy, but, there's no way I was going to be standing in line in 20-something degree weather at 4:00am (or earlier) when I could be sleeping in a nice warm bed!! I spent a good part of the afternoon working on Chels' computer. The sound wasn't working, and I'm not exactly sure how, but when I left, it was working. Whew!

Friday night, my parents took me out for dinner for my birthday. We went to 17th Street Bar & Grill. They have awesome barbecue! Award winning, in fact, they've been featured on the Food Network and Bon Appetite chose them as the best ribs in the US! In addition to dinner, mom made me some curtains for my family room. All I really wanted was for her to put a hem in the ones I already had (which were left by the previous owners), but, she wouldn't do it because she said they were ugly and sun-bleached. Maybe I'll actually get them hung up sometime in the next week. :-)

Saturday, I went to my sister's place to check out all the work they have been doing remodeling. It's a completely different place!! So, we hung out and visited a while. Then, after I left, I stopped by the lake to play with the camera. This is what I ended up with.
The Lake at Sunset

After that, I met my other sister and her husband out for dinner and drinks. Sunday morning consisted of get up, shower, have breakfast (B's & G's w/sausage), and hit the road. The drive back sucked even worse than the hung-over drive down! Traffic was very heavy and I had rain all the way to I-155, at which point it turned into freezing rain / sleet, and snow!! Of course, about half an hour after I got home, it stopped! :-/ Figures! After unpacking and all that, I called Connie to invite her over for dinner (BTW, can you stop and pick up dinner on the way over? LOL!!). She agrees, only to call back about half an hour later to say she's sick, and isn't coming. I guess I should have just gone to the store myself! haha! to the grind. But, wait, that's not all....then, I have to work Monday night (midnight) in Quincy, and Tuesday night (yes, midnight) in Macomb. I swear, I'm going to wear my truck out this week!

That pretty much brings things current. I still haven't done my assignment for photography class...guess I'll have to do that tomorrow! Yikes!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Easy Rider???

Saw this test on Zooks' blog and thought it would be fun. Right on!! I guess I need to see Easy Rider now (I've only seen parts of it). haha!

Street Photography and Landscapes

A group of us from the Peoria flickr group got together over lunch one afternoon for some street photography. Not my normal thing, but, thought it'd be interesting and I got a few shots that I liked. Most were not really what most people consider street photography, but, it's all good!
First, one that *is* pretty much street photography. The mother - son team at the Haddad's cart.

Then, as we moved on, I took this quick grab of the Commerce Bank Building.
Gothic Bank
I really liked how this turned out with the dark and monotone(ish) look.

A bit later, we ventured into City Hall and while trying to figure out how to get an interesting picture of the different floors and dome, Lola Takes Pictures thought the best perspective was from laying down on the floor!
Lying Down On The Shot
You can see the reflection of what she was going for in her sunglasses, and the shot she got can be seen here.


The assignment for this week of digital photography class was landscapes. Of course, this assignment came just after the daylight savings "fall back", so it's pretty much dark by the time I get out of work, leaving very little opportunity for anything other than night shots. I did get the chance to go out for a while over the weekend, so ventured out to Glen Oak Park. Luckily, there was still enough of the Fall colors left to make an easy task of find some cool shots.

First, one of the lagoon:
Lagoon at Glen Oak Park
I got lucky with a brief break in the clouds to throw some light on the trees across the lagoon and really make the remaining colors pop!

I also found this scene along one of the paths leading to the lower Glen Oak Park area. I really liked the close up perspective of the near steps as they lead up the hill.
Stairs In The Woods


This week's assignment was a "grab bag", where we were assigned a random object that we are to use in interesting or unusual compositions. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with my subject....I have a couple of ideas, now it's just a matter of pulling them off.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

It's been 9 days....continued - final chapter

Sunday was awesome! After all the night life from the weekend.....stayed in bed late, always a good start to the day! Finished sorting and editing the pictures from Saturday, grabbed lunch, then turned on football. Napped a bit, turned on the race, napped some more, watched some more t.v. and went to bed about an hour earlier than normal! Pretty near the perfect Sunday!

It's been 9 days....continued

Now, we've made it to Saturday... Saturday morning, there was a meetup scheduled for the Peoria flickr group. Several of us had a pre-meetup meetup for breakfast. After Friday night, I'm amazed that I made it to breakfast by 7:30!! So, we grab a real breakfast at Bob Evans in East Peoria before heading to Forest Park Nature Center. I tell you what.....between the liquid dinner Friday night, and breakfast Saturday morning....let's just say it's a good thing I have access to a toilet downtown because the assplosion was about to break containment!! After taking care of that emergency pit stop, I made my way to the nature center.

We spent the next few hours walking the trails, taking pictures, and generally giving each other a hard time. Early on, we saw a flock (??) of wild turkeys scratching around foraging in the woods. As I was trying to get a clean shot, I started down a side trail through the woods (looked more like a deer trail or something than anything man-made). I noticed that as I crept closer, the turkeys slowly shifted away from my location. Others from the group were opposite and left of me, so I figured that I would either flush them their direction, or piss them off and have them charge me. Luckily, I just flushed them towards the people to my left. All that, and I didn't end up with any shots I was happy with.

While walking the trails, we were keeping in mind that the assignment was "details" (several of us at the meetup are in the same class). Here are a couple of shots from that outing that were taken specifically with the assignment in mind.
Fall Oak Leaf


To see others, you'll just have to visit my flickr site

Fast forward to Saturday evening...We're deciding what to do, and I'm anxiously awaiting all of these calls my friends promised on Friday night. Yes, folks, that's the sound of crickets...NOT my cell phone ringing! So, we ended up going to Old Chicago to grab a bite and a couple of beers, which turned out to be a great decision. The entertainment was well above normal..there was a chick having a birthday there, and her friends were...interesting. About the closest way I can describe them was neo-emo or something. Good times, good times!

It's been 9 days....continued

So, it's Friday night....Jaycees happy hour. We meet at Kelleher's on Water Street. I walk in, don't see anyone there yet, and decide to head to the bar to quench my thirst. hmmmm....what to order....The far taps...can't read them, oh well.... Middle taps, nothing is jumping out at me. The nearest set of taps...Hop Juice! That sounds interesting, I flag down the bartender and order a Hop Juice. He goes and picks up this little rounded glass like you would expect if you ordered a brandy or something. At that point I should have known what that meant, but, I just thought it was being marked at a premium beer or something like that.

About this time, Dubby points out that they are hiding upstairs in the back...never would have found them up there!! LOL. I have my beer, now, and go to join Dub and Supervisor Squirrel. Dub was looking pretty damn good in a new shirt, also.....he told us himself, so I know it's true!! Anyway, more people filter in and we have the upstairs filled before long.

As I'm sitting there drinking the Hop Juice, I see a beer menu on the table. As luck would have it, I chose the beer with the highest alcohol content they have (9.9%...for reference American standards are generally around 4.2%). Yep! I'll have another! And another! And some Heavy Handed IPA....

In the mean time, we decided to play shuffleboard. Game 1, Jeff U. and I pull out an amazing win! I was down to my last puck, and we were behind by 5-6 points. Victor had landed a couple of 3's and a 1, meanwhile, I hadn't done any good that round. Last puck, I managed to knock BOTH of Victor's 3-pointers off and stick mine!! I heard they ran that one on Sports Center!! Well, maybe not, but they should have!! LOL! Then, game two...well, lets just say that after Ritter had a really awful start, Jeff and I got are asses kicked! Damn, this beer is good!!

About this time, talk has started to develop of playing darts. We head out to The Recovery Room where we run into Rob and Ang. It was nice to see them as I hadn't run into them for a month or so. Chit-chatted with them for a while then started the dart games. Dubby and I were partners and somehow took both games we played (sorry squirrel...I didn't *mean* to be a point whore!!!). On the other board, apparently, there was some wagering going on between Ritter and Gordo....Shocking, I know!!! But, I think Ritter and Tucker won breakfast...Semen, fisherman's catch, anyone???? ;-)

After that, I was ready to call it a night, and was asking around if anything was going on Sat. night. Of those I asked, no one really had anything in particular, but they would call and we could figure something out.

All in all, a pretty good night.

It's been 9 days....

..since the last update, and I've been nudged with the 'you need to update your blog' again. I've been meaning to update for nearly a week, just haven't gotten around to it. But, once again, one of my (2 or 3) faithful readers has stepped up to keep me on track. :-) I'll break this up into several short posts based on subject / time lines rather than one monster post covering everything.

So, roll back the calendar to the beginning of the month. In Digital Photography Class, the assignment was dealing with light and shadow. I did the assigned study of shooting the same thing, from the same location at various times of day. The point being to see how differently things can be in different colors / angles of light. The shots were illustrative, but, nothing exciting to post. I did have one shot that was ok. Still could use some work, but it was a quick edit for class and I didn't save all the steps, and don't really feel like starting over at this point.
Brick Wall

The assignment for this week is 'details'. More on that later.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fall Colors

This past week / weekend I was able to get out and try to capture some of the Fall colors in the area. Plans to go to Starved Rock / Pere Marquette State Park / Garden Of The Gods just haven't quite worked out. It seems that there is always something going on that would cut a trip short or I'm just too damn lazy. So, you will have to settle for Peoria area shots.

Grandview Drive:

Grandview Drive again:

I have noticed that over the past day or two many of the yellows are turning towards brown, and a lot of leaves have fallen. So, I think for the most part, we have passed the peak. That's not to say there aren't any good colors left, but, there is a definite shift towards browns.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Photography Class

A few weeks ago, I decided to sign up for a Digital Photography class through the Peoria Art Guild. The class will focus on camera controls, basic photography concepts, and a small amount of post processing (Photoshop or similar).

So far, we've had two weeks of class. Each week, we discuss a general concept, and make sure everyone knows how to use their camera to exploit that concept. Then, we have homework to exercise what we've discussed and have to bring in several prints for review / critique. This is the part of the class I most look forward to. I have done so much reading and playing, I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the technicals in using the camera controls. Where I have difficulty is execution.

The first week's assignment was "36 points of view". We discussed framing your subject (basically the "rule of thirds") and Depth of Field (how much of the picture is in sharp focus from near to far). To keep some consistency throughout the class, we were to photograph a person at a location of our choice. We could have the subject move a few feet if needed, but, basically, we were to take the same shot from 36 different points of view (above, below, near, far, all sides, etc....). Hut ohh! People / portraiture is probably the furthest style of photography from my comfort zone! Hence, all the landscape type of pictures I generally take / post. I just haven't developed the eye for poses and all the little distracting things that seem to find their way into your shots, not to mention my horrible timing and I seem to always get the really bad facial expressions or catch someone mid-blink. Oh well, class is all about learning, right? Right!

So, after getting the assignment on Thursday night, I start thinking about who, when, where, etc... Oh, and we were supposed to use available no flash...night is out! Anyway, the next day, Connie asked how class went. I told her that it went well, oh, and by the way, I need to talk to you...see...I have this assignment.... :-) She agreed to be my subject (whew!!). I tried to convince her that lingerie shots would be best (figured nude was pushing it heh)...she didn't buy into it.

Next, I decided on Riverfront park as the location, and the time was pretty much restricted to the only time that worked for both of us...about 4:00 Sunday.

We met at the designated time and actually had a pretty good time. Though, I think she was about as uncomfortable as I was most of the time. It all worked out in the end. Here are some of the shots I took to class:
Connie - Low Angle
This one (above), the only real suggestion was to loose the light colored building in the background of the lower left corner.

Connie & Keyarah
This one was a slight deviation from the assignment. But, I liked it quite a bit, so went with it. :-)

So, I made it through the first week of class and really feel like I learned quite a bit through the process (i.e. mistakes). A big "thanks" to Connie for being such a good sport!

This week's assignment...light and shadows. hmmmm.....

Note:due to the width of the current template, the pictures are resized to fit. If you click on them, the originals don't have those jaggie edges. I'm just too lazy to make yet another copy for the sole purpose of posting to the blog.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Peoria flickr Meetup

Last night, a group of people from the Peoria Illinois flickr group got together to attempt some sunset / night shots of downtown. We decided to meet on Fon Du Lac drive.

Unfortunately, the cloud cover that was supposed to be gone in the morning hung around until well after dark. So, sunset was less than spectacular to say the least. But, we didn't let that get us down.

The group leader, Dave Vernon, brought a rather large toy to play with.
The Human Bipod
This thing is enormous!! ...and heavy! In case you're wondering, Dave's "bipod" is Lola Takes Pictures. Unfortunately, none of the shots I tried with it turned out. It was getting fairly dark when I tested it, and the wind was really strong, so even mounted on a tripod and with image stabilization turned on, everything came out blurry.

I did manage to grab a couple of shots that I liked. This one I cropped to a panoramic aspect ratio just for fun.
Nightime Panoramic

After we were done there, a few of us headed downtown to the Civic Center area. I set up to take a night shot of city hall, and after a couple of shots, I thought I'd strike a pose!
The Phoon

Anyway, it was a good time. Oh, and yes, Gordo, I'm following your advise and getting new friends!! Hopefully, I won't get in trouble for not mentioning it when someone gets new glasses or a new shirt. And if I'm REALLY lucky, I won't have to help pay off any of their gambling debts. :-)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Past Week...

Wow! Another week gone by and I haven't gotten around to posting anything. Not that I haven't thought about it, just not gotten around to it. So, this is going to be a mix of things.

Let's see... Last Friday, after work I went out to Banner Marsh to see what I could find to point the camera at. I ended up with a couple of post-worthy shots.
First, some prairie grass in the sun:
Grasses at Sunset

Next, the skyline and marsh after sunset:
Marsh After sunset

Which brings up something I was just thinking about the other day. Isn't "prairie grass" or those prairie restoration areas just romanticizing what's really going on? The reality of it is, it's a bunch of weeds no one wanted to mow. I think next year I'm gonna get one of those prairie restoration area signs and put it in my yard so I don't have to mow.


Saturday, I just did crap around the house most of the day. Then Saturday night, Went to The Owens' "Fall Bash '07". Drank lots-o-beer and had a great time!

Then, paid my dues on Sunday!! I was feelin' pretty rough for about half (ok 3/4) of the day. However, I still made it to the wings party (as in Buffalo wings....not the Paul McCartney band) Ritter had in honor of Gordo. We had a poker game that afternoon and 15 played, so that was a pretty good turn out! It was a really good game. But, I think Kate still hates me for busting her aces with my 7's (hit trips on the flop)!


Monday, I was finally feeling better (the miracle of sleep)! Being Columbus Day, I didn't have to work, so got to catch up on things around the house. My big (if you can call it that) project of the day was tearing up some of the yard for more garden space next year. It wasn't that much space, but it sure felt like it when I was out in the 90 degree October weather! While out there, I went ahead and pulled up one tomato plant that wasn't really doing anything. While tearing it out, I found a couple of these on it!
Tomato Hornworm 1

It's a tomato horn worm, and they're huge! Survivor man could live for a week of a couple of these!! (note: I don't know if they're really edible)

Well, that pretty much does it for anything new. The rest of the week has been fairly uneventful.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

401 Water Street

Over at the Peoria flickr group, we have been having some "assignments" lately. The members of the group, in an attempt to generate more traffic / interest, have been coming up with themes or topics to photograph, hopefully, while keeping the overall focus of the group (Peoria) in mind.

One of the recent assignments was 401 Water Street. This was an interesting subject, because with everyone shooting the same building, you get to see how others interpret, approach or envision the same subject.

I had an idea in mind, and it was similar to several other entries (but there were several completely different perspectives submitted as well), except I knew I wanted to use a ultra-wide angle for the perspective.

Here is my first attempt:
401 Water Street

This is what I was going for! Dramatic shot of the sculpture in the foreground, with 401 Water Street (including the illuminated water tank) in the background. The colors popped, exposure wasn't bad, and the sculpture definitely grabs your attention. (click the photos for a larger version)

But, I still wanted to try something more. So, I made a second visit. This time, my goal was to get a similar shot compositionally, but do it a little earlier at night during "the blue hour". By the time I got set up, it was actually a few minutes late, but, there was so much cloud cover that there wasn't much of a blue hour anyway. Since I'm here, I might as well snap a few.

401 Water - revisited

In an attempt to try something different, I processed this one a bit more radically. I ended up desaturating all the color channels except yellow, then faded the desaturated layer slightly to let just a touch of color come back through.

I thought it added an interesting twist. You can focus on the textures, and still have some color to add interest as well, but not steal the show. I also like the blotchy sky...I think the nearly monotone blues/blacks leading into the darkness adds to the mood.

I have been thinking of yet another attempt and trying a few other ideas. This type of assignment was perfect...some boundaries, but not restrictive.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Back In Black

The chipmunk population was knocked down for a couple of months, but, they've come back pretty strong in the past few weeks.

On Sunday night, I walked into the garage and heard an unusual noise. I stopped and looked around. Then, I saw it....there was a damn chipmunk in the bag of sunflower seeds I had sat on top of two stacked coolers!!!!! I don't know how the bastard climbed up there....chipmunks (A.K.A ground squirrels) don't really climb like a regular squirrel.

So, I decided it was well past time to resurrect the Pool of Death

I set the Pool of Death up inside the garage and caught 4 in one day!!!!! I wonder how many brothers and sisters they have?????? Too bad I don't have a few rat snakes around, that'd take care of the problem!! If anyone has a rat snake or two they don't want, let me know!!!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Update to Southern Illinois Trip

Pelican line up
Originally uploaded by chymerikaen
In my previous post "Trip To Southern Illinois", I mentioned seeing 40+ Snowy Egrets in one spot.

Well, after seeing this, along with a couple other shots by chymerikaen, I believe this flock of pelicans is what I saw. What can I say....we were driving down the highway and I just got a glimpse....

Still, I am envious of this shot and the opportunity to see that many pelicans...right here in Illinois!!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Summer Is Winding Down

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been slipping into a minor depression....well, maybe depression isn't the correct term...saddened is probably better. It has become increasingly apparent that Summer is coming to an end.

It all started a few weeks ago when "the never-ending salsa bowl" ran out. See, this is the first year I have planted a garden at my current place (and years since I have had one due to rentals, no space, etc...). I planted tomatoes, Serrano peppers, Cayenne peppers, Basil, Cilantro, and bell peppers. I love fresh tomatoes, and love making (ok...eating) home-made salsa as well as pasta sauces. Around mid July, I had enough tomatoes and Serrano peppers to make my first batch of salsa. From that point on, every time the salsa bowl got low, I'd make more. This lasted until probably about September, when I was running low on tomatoes. I've had a slow but steady supply since then, so the salsa bowl is back up and running. But, I know within a few more weeks, it'll be all over for the '07 salsa bowl. Sad, sad.

Then, just this past week, I was going out and it was chilly enough that I put on jeans rather than shorts. Also, have had to close the windows at night a few times due to the cool temps. Yep, Summer is on its way out. Now, don't get me wrong, it's nice to not have to run the air conditioner non-stop, and I look forward to Winter food like chili and stew, and Fall has its beautiful colors. But, are they worth the cost of no more beer gardens or fresh home-grown veggies or grilling out?? Or is the fact that you have to get up when it's still dark, and get off work when it's already dark?? I don't think so...

For a long time, I have always liked the warmer weather. I like the snow, but not the cold. But, I have never really dreaded the end of Summer like this year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Trip to Southern Illinois

Over Labor Day weekend, I went "down South" to Southern Illinois. I always make the trip "home" over Labor day weekend for my daughter's birthday, and this year was no different.

We were going to do her birthday stuff (dinner, cake, presents, etc..) on Saturday, after which, she was supposed to be leaving for the weekend. However, something happened with her plans and she ended up sticking around for the weekend. So, that was to see the family and daughter over the long weekend.

Of course, as usual, I got about 3 calls over the weekend about things happening back here in Peoria...that weekend, there's always parties, cookouts, poker tournaments, etc... This year was no exception. I tried to talk one event organizer into having a card game "here". But, once "here" was defined as 4 hours South, things didn't go my way. haha!

Sunday evening, though, dad and I went driving around the National Wildlife Refuge around Crab Orchard Lake.
Sunset at Crab Orchard Lake

I always enjoy hitting that area around sunset. I'm sure it would be just as beautiful at sunrise...but, I'm never awake to see it. :-) I was hoping to get a really spectacular shot of a Snowy Egret, but didn't have any luck. I saw a few, but they were generally too far away, or if we had stopped and gotten out of the truck, I'm sure they would have taken flight (been there done that). I did get a shot of a Great Blue Heron, but it is far from spectacular.

There was one spot/scene that I am dying to get a shot of, at least under these conditions. As we were driving along the highway, we came across a cove that was LOADED with Snowy Egrets! There had to be 40+ birds there! Which, from what I have seen and from what I have read is somewhat unusual. The sun was setting, the trees lining the lake were in shadows, so the reflections in the water were pretty dark, but, it was peppered with all these beautiful white birds and their reflections (the water was like glass). But, since we were driving down the highway, we didn't stop right there. We did look for a way to get back there from a side road, but the only side road leading to that area has been closed off for several years now.

After that, we went back to the house, had beer and brats and just chilled for the rest of the evening. Monday, got up, mom made a huge breakfast, and we ate, then I headed out for the 4-hour trek North.

Nothing too eventful on the ride home, but I did see a buttload of cops and more motor homes/campers/boats than I could count. This is the first sign that it's time to start storing food for the long hibernation season that will be here before you know it.

LST-325 Visits Peoria

I know, it's a bit late as the USS LST-325 has already left Peoria, but, I thought I'd post anyway.

The ship was docked here in Peoria from about August 22nd - September 5th (give or take a day). Originally, it was going to be here for a week, but, rains up North caused the Illinois River to rise past flood stage, so, we got to enjoy the LST-325 for a little longer.
LST 325
A shot I took from the walkway just North of the Murray Baker Bridge.

Background Information Taken from
"This LST (Landing Ship, Tank) is an amphibious vessel designed to land battle-ready tanks, troops and supplies directly onto enemy shores. Ships of this type proved to be enormously useful during times of war and peace both. This particular LST was originally known as LST-325 during the Second World War, USNS LST-325 during its arctic operations in the 1950's, and later L-144 (A/G Syros) while it was in the service of the Greek Navy."
While in Peoria, over 21,000 people visited/toured the ship.

While I'm not a Navy buff or anything, it was neat to see this ship and I got to take quite a few shots during my 2 visits.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Just a quick note to say 'congratulations' to Mr. and Mrs. Brad Gordon!!

The wedding was very nice, and Mary was simply beautiful!! I had a great time at the reception, as well.

However, there are a couple of things I am curious about.....

1. It seems there was a misprint in the program. Something about Ritter: Friend of the groom. Friend????? ;-)

2. During the prayer after you were presented married, You were being blessed for this and that...and children??!!!! Little Gordo's running around, wow!!! Kinda scary, huh?? So, when is Mary due?? May-June??? :-)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

State Fair: Joe Nichols & Sugarland

Finally! I got through all the photos I took last Sunday at the Illinois State Fair! What a chore that was!! I guess that's the price of a nice day out and a great concert and the ease (and low cost) of digital photography.

We got to the fair a couple hours before the show was to start to have a chance to walk around and check things out and get some fair food. Well, kinda fair food....I got a BBQ sandwich from 17th St. Bar & Grill, a Southern Illinois favorite. Even though I wouldn't consider it true fair food (how can it be without a stick???), it was awesome! Great flavor and very juicy! We thought about getting something on a stick, but the vendor that had all the crazy stick / fried food had a huge we skipped it.

After walking around for a while, we decided to take a load off, and ride the sky tram.
It was a nice relaxing ride with a cool perspective.

As you can see, the sky was a little questionable. There was rain in the forecast, and we were seeing dark clouds pretty much all around us at varying points throughout the afternoon. It rained like crazy in Peoria, but, luckily, it held off for the fair/concerts. :-)

After that, we started heading towards the grandstand for the concert. The seats were very good, except for one slight thing...almost directly in front of us was the video crew. They weren't really in the way, but the cage around them was a little distracting, but not terribly.

The opening act was Joe Nichols. I didn't know many of this songs, but a couple, and he did a couple Hank Jr. covers. All in all, he put on a good show, but definitely not headliner material yet. I believe he won the horizon award from some country music organization this, he's still pretty new with plenty of chance to grow.

After Joe Nichols, the headliner Sugarland took the stage. They were incredible!!! Very high energy show!! They only have two CD's, but managed to fill all the time they had with their hits, and a few covers.
The first time you see or hear someone live, you always wonder how much they will sound like their studio stuff and how much is doctored or how many tries before they select the clip for the CD. Sugarland sounded very much like their CDs, which is always nice. I'd definitely go see them again!

One last thing; I would like to thank Louis for letting me borrow his Canon 70-200 F/2.8L lens. I have the F/4 version which basically means his lens works better in low light situations. All concert shots were taken with the borrowed lens.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

For 'gullible'

Grand Nationals Weekend in Peoria

OK, so I didn't really participate in most of the festivities this past weekend, but, I did go downtown to check out the bike show and bands. It was ok, but all in all, a letdown.

See, for the first half the day, it was rainy (blech) so I didn't get too motivated to go down and check things out. But, later in the afternoon, things cleared up, and I decided to give it a shot.

I got downtown a little before 6:00pm, paid my $15 admission (Ouch!!! which is why I didn't go last year) and started walking around to check out the custom and classic bikes. Well, I found that the awards had been given out, and there were only about a dozen bikes anywhere in there. That sucked!

After the 10 minutes or so it took to check out the bikes, and feeling ripped off, I decided that a beer or 6 would provide the needed attitude adjustment. OK, another $15 gone, but at least I feel better! :-)

After a couple of beers, South Side Cindy & the Slip-Tones were playing.
Cindy Youngren
I really like that band live. They play bluesy / classic rock type of music, with a mix of covers and some original material. I also picked up a couple of CD's while there and gave a listen the other day. I'm not as much a fan of the studio work...A live recording would be much better at capturing the energy.

So, another band plays Exit or something along those lines (they say they're really popular in Europe, but I'm not so sure about here...)...I wasn't too impressed. Just one of any other non-descript hard rock bands, IMO. Then, after an hour delay, the headliner Joan Jett played. I didn't get any photos as I didn't feel like fighting the huge crowd after the 5 hours I was there, but, she sounded great! Most bands that were popular 20 years ago and still hanging on, don't sound like you remember them, which leads to disappointment. Not Joan Jett! She sounded remarkably like she did 20-odd years ago. Impressive!!

Anyway, that was my Saturday night...disappointed in the number of bikes left, South Side Cindy ROCKED, Joan Jett put on a good show, and I'm $30 lighter.

A few more pics are on my flickr site

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

State Fair: Martina McBride

This past weekend I got the chance to go to the Martina McBride concert at the State Fair in Springfield (Not DuQuoin...yes, Illinois has two "state fairs").

So, we get to the fair about an hour before the show starts and have a chance to walk around... First stop, the butter cow!! Yes, you heard me. If you aren't aware, every year, there is a gigantic cow sculpted out of butter in the dairy barn. This has been a tradition for 85 years! On one hand, it's pretty amazing what they come up with out of butter, but on the other hand....Why???

After the butter cow, Corndogs and lemon shake-ups were in order (can you go to the fair without getting *something* on-a-stick??). A brief session of people watching and we headed in for the show.

Martina was awesome!!! I had seen her before, and would see her again! That girl can sing!
She's just as good live as she is in the studio. She sang pretty much all the favorites, including a few from her newest CD. As she left the stage, we were wondering what she would do for an encore. In my limited experience, it seems that artists save their most popular / signature song for the encore, but, she had sang pretty much everything we could think of.

When the band retook the stage, the guitarist started with a rockin' solo more reminiscent of Van Halen than anything "country". This was cool, yet unexpected. Then, they busted immediately into "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey! Martina freakin' NAILED it!!! No, really, if you didn't know better, you would have thought Steve Perry took the stage! When they finished that, they hit another cover...Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot". Again, a great job! I had seen this on an episode of CMT's Crossroads, and thought she did exceptionally well then. It was a great song to end the night...Fun, upbeat, and just a little different. As I said, I'd definitely go see her again!

More Martina concert photos

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Updates coming...

It's been a busy few days and a very musical weekend. :-) This week I hope to have pictures from Martina McBride and Sugarland at the state fair in Springfield, and a few bike pics and South Side Cindy and the Slip-tones from downtown on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

By Request...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hotter than a porn star?

[Am I] Hotter than a porn star?


That was part of the conversation between Beth (AKA Wilma Flintstone) and I on Rock The Boat this past weekend.

It's amazing what having a stripper on board will do for conversation!

Between Aspen Reign, and the Hardees girls, there was definitely a lot of eye candy, photo ops, and conversation!

Actually, the conversation I mentioned above started when I saw Beth on the top deck, and she said that she heard that there were hot chicks up here (not exact quotes...forgive my beer-clouded memory). My response: "so you thought you'd come check 'em out too??" HAHA "NO! I figured I should come up here too!" Whoops! Wrong Answer!! Damnit! LOL

So, later, while dancing, Beth says "Whew! I'm hot!". My response (I know the answer this time), "YES YOU ARE!!!" After verifying that yes, she is in fact, "hotter than a porn star", what else could I do?

I summonsed Louis over with the camera!!! I figured, the picture with Aspen was just warming up for the picture with Beth! So, was I right??

Oh, and Ritter got new glasses, and a nice new shirt that is a shade of green which I believe, several female passengers mentioned having tops in the same color.

Rock the Boat is a seriously good time. If you weren't there, you really missed a fun night!

Note: All photographs by Louis Elrod.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Proper Guy Protocol??

Last night, I went out with some friends for a couple of beers. Seems harmless enough, right? Well, I have been left with questions regarding the proper protocol in a situation that arose. No, this has nothing to do with which urinal to choose, or when it's ok to use the sink. :-)

After we'd been enjoying tall cold ones for about an hour, "R" looks at me and brings up the fact that I haven't said anything about his new visual normalization devices (glasses). My response was something along the lines of "yeah, I noticed, but didn't know I was supposed to comment on them, ya girl!! oohhhh I like the way you've styled your hair!!! oooohhhh That's a really sharp tie!!!" I pretty much got told to screw off. :-)

So, after this little exchange and the laughter died down, "J" says that he commented when he first saw R and his new specs. OK, So you're both girls!! Ha! Fast forward about another 1/2 hour or so and a few more friends join us. First thing out of "M"'s mouth... "Hey, R, nice glasses" WTF???!!!

So, now, I'm berated for being the only insensitive bastard to not compliment R on his shiny new glasses. "You know, we're not Neanderthals's the 90's" Huh?? the 90's???!!! No, we're past the 90's, and by the way, the whole Metrosexual thing has passed, it's over! LOL

So, my question is this: Am I just an insensitive ass, or was I just adhering to proper guy protocol and the others need to get over their sensitive metro phase? I think a man-law is needed for universal compliance!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Peoria Flickr Meet-Up

A couple of weeks ago, the admin for the Peoria flickr group started arranging a meet-up. A chance for other Peoria flickr-ites to get together and bring out all their toys (camera gear). For those of you that may not be familiar, flickr is a photo-sharing site. The plan was two parts with breakfast in between. Session 1, meet at 5:00am !!! Well, I was the only other one (besides the organizer) that showed! haha But, it was a good outing, and I enjoyed it.
Peoria At Sunrise

After sunrise, we refueled at Steak and Shake...not the best breakfast I've had, but, it was cheap. Anyway, after that we headed back for part 2. hmmmm... Still no one else. Oh well, let's just walk around a bit since we're here. As we get down by the landing on the riverfront, I noticed a shiny red car above us (we were on the docks). Well, that's worth investigating!! We walked up to the landing and there was a car show that day. That was an unexpected treat! Got some more good shots there.Sports Coupe
You can see more pics from that day (both sunrise and car show) on my flickr site

Poker Champ!

background: A group of us play a weekly poker game/league. We keep track of points based on finish position each week. The top finishers get to play a freeroll game against each other for the season championship. Currently, seasons are 6 months each.

Yes, I am the champion for this season (season 2)!! We were down to 3 players, and all I can say is JJ > 22, then there were two! We played a few hands, then decided to "chop" it, and since I had more points going in, I was awarded top honors for season 2. Let's just not talk about season 3... ;-)

Camping and Canoing

Back about a month ago, a group of Peoria Jaycees went on our annual camping and canoing trip.

As has been the case for the past few years, I went a day early to do some sight-seeing / exploring the area. Where we go is by Turkey Run State Park in (Parke County) Indiana. Parke county's claim to fame is the "Covered Bridge Capitol of the World". I had started the covered bridge tour last year, and since we weren't going canoing on Friday, that meant I got to finish the tour this year. Well, there are 3 or 4 that I didn't get pictures of due to private property, arson, etc. But, anyway.... West Union
You can see more covered bridges on my flickr site

It really is amazing to think that you can still drive across many of these. The people that built them, really knew what they were doing, they have lasted for over 100 years in some cases. And they built these things over creeks without the heavy equipment we have today.

Friday night is when most everyone showed up. Big party night, Friday. Then Saturday, we spend the day canoing or I should say floating with direction from sand bar to sand bar cooling down with a nice cold beverage. ;-)

It takes us about 5 hours or so to go 4 miles (they "allow" about 2 hours). By the time we're done, most everyone has been curing their hangovers with more alcohol and is feeling no pain. After a rough day drinking, we head back to camp and make dinner, then everyone is so exhausted from the rigors of the great outdoors, that they are creeping off to their tents by about 9:00 or so. I was the last one to fall this year, and I crashed about 11:30. Then, everyone is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the butt-crack of dawn and start packing up. I've never understood the big rush to get out of there, but everyone is loaded up and rolling by 9:00. I'm usually the last to leave. Maybe it's just that Camping and Canoing is my favorite project all year.

Looking forward to next July!

Those damn rules.....

Well, I've only had this blog for a couple of months, and I've already broken two of the top rules of blogging.....

First, the cardinal rule, never blog about work. Oops... Broken!

Next, you must keep your viewers' interest (i.e. fresh content). I've managed to ignore my blog for over a month. I've been called on this by at least two people, now. So, I figured I better get my lazy ass to posting.

Sorry for the blog neglect. :-)

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Pool Of Death

Over the past year, I have noticed a significant increase in the number of chipmunks in my neighborhood. These cute little guys are everywhere!

Well, cute as they may be, they're basically rats with racing stripes!! They are destructive little creatures. They dig up your yard, I've seen them going up underneath the neighbors' siding, they've broken through a cement patched hole in my front step, taken up residence in my garage (and made a hell of a mess in there), etc...

This year, I decided to go to war with these rodents!! I talked to a neighbor, and he had called an exterminator that basically told him it was useless...he could treat the property, but unless everyone did the same, they would be back. So, I started doing some research on the Internet. There are have-a-hart traps, sonic devices, predator urine, Juicy Fruit gum, and all sorts of gadgets and remedies. Most have mixed results based on others' posts and experiences.

But, one device seemed to have a lot of success and was so simple, I had to give it a try. It was called "The Pool of Death" (PoD) on the site I was reading. Here is a picture of my very own PoD.

Pool Of Death

Genius!! Simply fill a bucket with water (not all the way), throw some sunflower seeds in there (they float), and provide a ramp (diving board) to get to the top of the bucket. The fleabags can't resist the seeds they see/smell below!!

I know, I's cruel. But, I really don't want these destructive creatures in my garage, or worse, in my house (yes, if they can find a way, they have been known to come into houses/attics).

So far this year, I have caught about 17 or so of them (7 the first night when it was set up *inside* my garage)!!! The population is much more under control, now. I set it up in the evening about once a week and collect one or two by morning every time. They breed like rabbits (not exaggerating), I highly doubt I'm endangering the survival of the species.

a couple words of caution, though...I'm running out of grave sites (mark them, you don't wanna dig them back up!!!), and I have heard that other critters (for example, raccoons) can knock over the ramp/bucket...therefore rendering the PoD useless.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mmm Mmmm Good!

Hopefully, Campbell's will forgive me. :-)

This is the first year (at my current house) that I have tried to grow any veggies. The *vast* majority of my yard is shaded for most of the day, so finding a suitable place is a challenge to say the least. I have contemplated this ever since I moved in. But, this year, I decided to actually give it a shot. There is a small strip along the side/back of my garage that used to be flower beds or something a couple owners ago, and that's where my little experiment would take place.

4 tomato plants, 6 pepper plants (of different varieties), basil, and cilantro were my selections (think salsa and marinara sauce / pesto). 4 pepper plants are sad...a bloom every now and then, nothing more. These are the guys on the back side that get the least light. Won't waste my time there in the future. Cilantro..I planted in a pot...well, as I learned, once the soil reaches a certain temperature, it sends out shoots and turns into coriander. Bummer.

That leaves the basil, which is doing "ok", two chili pepper plants that are also ok (I'll have peppers eventually), and the 4 tomato plants. The tomatoes are really the whole point of my little garden. There's nothing better than fresh home-grown tomatoes. These guys are doing really well (they got the best spot in my little strip of sun).


As you can see, I have several that are nearly ready, and it's not even July!! whoo hooo!!! Tonight, I picked the first one of the year (the left-most one hiding behind the front guy). He was accompanied by grilled butterflied pork chops and potatoes. Damn, was it good!! Three others are almost ready, and will be plucked within the next several days. God, I love Summer!!!!

Next year, I think I'm gonna venture out into the yard a bit further rather than go behind the garage. But, until then, I'll be happy as a pig in slop with my tomatoes!!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bass Ackwards

It's craziness...CRAZINESS I tell you!

I stumbled upon what I think is a very bizarre rule / policy / process at work today.

See, last week, we had been asked to provide a list of all equipment we were in need of. If we had any specific needs/features in mind, we should list those, otherwise, we would likely end up with old equipment from surplus. We compiled the list and sent it off.

My supervisor advised that we work "through normal channels" for some of the items, one of which was a keyboard. So, I sent the request to the person/department that deals with smaller items like that. The keyboard we requested was one with the programmable hot-keys (you know, like virtually every other keyboard made in recent years) for mail, Internet, My Computer, etc....

This request was misunderstood, and it was thought to be for an ergonomic keyboard (the ones with the the two halves angeled towards each other). Well, it turns out that there are a bunch of those in stock, but to get one, you need to have a doctors note!!!???!!!!!

How crazy is that???!!! A keyboard that is designed to prevent repetitive stress syndrome / carpal tunnel cannot be obtained until you are already afflicted with said disease/syndrome!!!!! After you've crippled yourself, though, no problem, we'll let you have one of these that are already purchased and collecting dust.

Just seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen. I asked for an ergonomic keyboard, was denied until I am actually crippled, now I can get one. Is it just me, or is that retarded??

As for the keyboard we really wanted, it will likely have to go through a whole approval process where we have to list 3-5 bullet points of *why* this keyboard is needed rather than a "standard" one (from storage/surplus), 3-5 bullet points explaining the risk to the organization if this particular keyboard is not purchased, etc... So, it would cost many times more than the keyboard's purchase price in time/effort/paperwork to get it approved.

I'm sure glad I already have my Swingline stapler!!!! :-)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Poker Woes

This past week for poker has sucked! I have been playing in the FullTilt Message board Thursday night HORSE (Hold 'em, Omaha Hi/Low, Razz, 7-card Stud Hi, 7-card Stud Hi/Low) league. For the first 3 weeks, I haven't done too bad, and actually cashed once.

So, I'm kinda diggin' this HORSE stuff, and I started playing cash games instead of just tournaments. At first, I was doing well, but this past week...I'm down about $30 or so (I've won some back at other tables and had a few sessions where I was up)...and this is playing $0.25/$0.50 limit!! Between crappy cards, missing draws, and getting outdrawn, it's just sucked! Besides that, if I actually knew what I was doing, it might help. ;-)

Also, went to a friend's house and played Hold 'em the other night...2 places got paid...I finished 3rd. :-(

Oh well, it's a new week, I've been doing some reading, and hopefully, things will get better.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

24 Hours In The Cache River Natural Area

Last Weekend (6/20-21/2007), I had the opportunity to visit the Cache River Natural Area in deep Southern Illinois.

This area is, from an environmental standpoint, well decorated. It has been designated as a Wetland of International Importance (only 19 of them currently exist in the US), the National Park Service has dedicated two National Natural Landmarks, and three state nature preserves exist within the area.

I started off at the Heron Pond Trail. This trail travels along side of the Cache river and Bald Cypress swamps. Along the way, I saw these flowers in one area. This was the only red color I recall anywhere along the path.

Red and Yellow Wild Flower

Continuing along the path, I got to what was definitely one of the top highlights. There is a boardwalk / dock with handrails going out into the middle of the swamp. From here, you get clear views of a Bald Cypress swamp

Cypress Trees and Duckweed

The Cypress trees have flared trunks, called buttresses. Additionally, they grow these stumps called knees. The knees are an extension of the root system which add stability to these sometimes enormous trees in such a loose base.

Close-up of Cypress Knees

The swamps are nearly completely covered in a brilliant green carpet of Duckweed. This stuff is amazing! Most of the plants leaves are very small, maybe 1/4" - 3/8" across, and its roots are suspended in the water. They are not anchored in the soil/sediment at all. If a snake, fish, frog, or even a boat/canoe creates an opening or trail through it, the Duckweed immediately begins drifting back to fill the gaps. Within seconds, the carpet has repaired itself!

Duckweed 2

Next, I visited the state champion Cherry Bark Oak. Huge tree!!! (still need to post a photo of that..wonder how I missed it). Continuing on, the next trail or two, were uneventful for the most part. I didn't really have a map, so was just winging it. I later found out that the next two trails were simply connecting trails to other areas of interest.

One of these areas is Little Black Slough. Another Bald Cypress / Gum Tupelo swamp, but it has more open marsh area. There weren't many places to get a clear look at it, but here is one really nice view.

Little Black Slough

After Little Black slough, I decided to head back, as it was getting towards late afternoon, and there was an area called Wildcat Bluffs / Lookout Point that sounded like a good place to be for sunset. I walked a lot further than I thought with my leisurely stroll, stopping for pictures...I was fairly worn out by the time I got back to the truck!! I also had only taken a partial bottle of water with me as I thought the trail was only about 1.5 miles (I didn't realize I had gone on two connecting trails and part of a third until I found a map that night).

This is pretty rural country, and I decided to find lodging and something to eat/drink before continuing. Google maps had indicated 3 hotels a few miles away at the Interstate. On the way through town, I noticed that everything except the gas station / convenience store was closed (Sunday evening after 5:00pm).

I went back to the Interstate where I exited, and, lodging there. hmmm.... I had to continue to the next exit where there was not three hotels...but one that was closed down, and one that was listed twice on Google, but was no longer associated with any major chain. Oh well, I have one'll have to do.

So, after getting that taken care of, I headed out to find Wildcat Bluff...not an easy task! There was one sign on the highway, but a couple critical points along the way didn't have signs.

Eventually, I found it, and there were even maps of the area at this location (tells me that not as many people visit this location). I walk the mile or so trail to Lookout Point.

That brings me to the end of day 1.

Day two starts out with breakfast.

I ask the hotel desk clerk where's a good breakfast. She tells me that right across the highway, behind the gas station, there's a local place called Jumbo's Char and Grill, that's what I'm looking for. With a name like Jumbo's, how can I go wrong??? So, I head to Jumbo's, and it's exactly what I expect...a local diner with good breakfast at a reasonable price. While there, I plan my day (now that I have a map with some descriptions of the sites/trails).

I have spent an afternoon in the Upper Cache River area, now, most of what I want to see is in the Lower Cache area, so I head that way. I start off in Section 8 Woods Nature Preserve.

Section 8 Woods Sign

The particular area I go to has another boardwalk into the swamp. This is right off a state highway, so no real hiking involved, but, it is still an amazing sight. One of the attractions here is the State Champion Water Tupelo tree. Honestly, I am not 100% sure this is the actual state champion, but I think it is.

Large Tupelo

While in this area, I could hear the Herons and Egrets barking from several locations. This is pretty dense area, and it was difficult to get a clear line of sight for anything.

I did, however, see a huge tree fall (insert 'if a tree falls in the woods' joke here). It came splashing down, hitting several other trees along the way. It doesn't sound too exciting, but it really was. To hear the cracking begin, then escalate and see this giant fall...what are the chances of being there at that exact time.

As it fell, it sent a snowy egret scurrying and squawking in disapproval, as well as at least two other large birds. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a shot of the events.

Now, it's time to move on.... Next stop, Buttonland Swamp. This area has access for small boats and canoes (I sure wish I had a canoe for this). There were some beautiful views here, but, most were obscured by Button bush, Reeds, and various other vegetation. If you had a canoe, I am sure you could see some amazing areas, and wildlife.

There is one point that has an overlook area that teases those of us stuck on the land with what we are missing.

Lower Cache River Swamp

After visiting Buttonland Swamp, I backtrack a bit to another area of Section 8 Woods to Big Cypress access/trail. This is a really nice little trail that takes you to a Bald Cypress who's base is more than 40' in circumference; this buttress is huge! This tree is over 1000 years old!!

Big Cypress 2

While there I saw a couple of other interesting things. First, was a large dragonfly. I found him hiding on the under-side of a Cypress knee. I tried to keep my distance as he seemed very aware that I was there and shifted position a couple of times. I wish this image had more Depth of Field (F/7.1 at 130mm wasn't enough).

What I didn't notice until I got home, was that he had just molted!! You can see the old skin just above him!! If I had only gotten there a bit sooner!

Dragofly Just Molted

The other thing I found that was completely amazing to me, was two trees growing from one base!! The main tree is a Bald Cypress, and growing right out the side of it is a Tupelo Gum tree!!! As you reach the canopy, it's hard to distinguish one tree's branches from another, but I could definitely make the distinction visually (but not photographically). Even so, the trunks and bark are definitive....this is definitely two different types of tree!!

Two Different Trees!!

Upon leaving this area, it was mid afternoon, and I had a 5 hour drive home, so this was the end of my outing. There are still a few things I would like to see in the area, so maybe one day I'll make it back to that very unique area (at least for Illinois).

For more pictures (and larger sizes which most of these really need), please visit my flickr page and click on the Cache River set.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed following along on my 24 hour journey.