Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Boots, Blades & Bobcat

It's Springtime! Things are coming alive and I can get outdoors more. Recent rains have set consecutive days of rain records. I need to hike in a local wetland and finally have an excuse to buy these waterproof boots. The wetlands are REALLY wet and my Goretex-lined hiking boots just aren't up for walking through standing water for a few hours. These boots do the trick.

Then it's time to mow. After changing the oil, the oil filter and air filters and lubed the Zerc fittings, I started the beast. My little zero-turn is 12 years old now, and I had plenty of oil-burning smoke until it heated up some. That will take some work, but not today. These are the old blades that I'll take in to be sharpened. With two sets of blades, there is no hurry for these do be sharpened, which helps the shop in their busy season. I mowed the first cut. The war has begun.

It's time to plant a few geocaches in the Topeka area. My next one will be on Burnett's Mound, which is in Skyline Park in the city boundary. Recent rains have made the hiking trail very muddy. Luckily an old road is fine and I can hike to the top, but I study the hiking trail for tracks. BINGO! Tracks of a young bobcat are plain as day for about 20 yards. I've only seen one of these little cats in my life but I've seen the tracks much more often. They are evasive but living with us.

PS  I heard my first Northern Mockingbird this past weekend. I've seen a Killdeer in Topeka but not here on our land. They've nested here the past four years and we're looking forward to their migration return.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beats a Chainsaw

The rancher across the road from us is doing some fence maintenance. He's taking over the operation of his parent's cattle ranch and the fences haven't been maintained properly for several years. One particular stretch, probably a half mile, is overgrown with hedge trees (osage orange) to the point where you can't even get to the fence posts sufficiently to fix the barbed wire. In my younger days this would just mean breaking out the chainsaw and most of the family members and clearing out trees, one at a time. It takes weeks. Not today (if you have the money).

One day a bulldozer and an excavator show up. In the course of about three days the half mile of osage orange trees has been taken out and stacked for burn. They haven't rebuilt the fence row yet, but the worst is over, and it looks sharp. They've already reworked the fence along the road with nice 5-strand tight barbed wire. He knows how to do it right.

When the tree-clearing was finished the dozer was taken to its next job, but the excavator is still there. Last night was a warm night (for March) and I had some time after supper to walk over and sketch this beast.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

March Sketch Crawl

Today was sketch crawl time for Lawrence Urban Sketcher. We visited the KU Spencer Museum of Art. My first visit. We had a good showing of sketchers and met in the Student Union for a little food and talk afterwards.

This sketch doesn't really exemplify a typical art exhibit. I was drawn to this exhibit, though. The heart wants what the heart wants. The artist made up a story about an escaped (stolen) lab animal from KU. He had the office desk of the lab researcher, letters explaining the escape, lab tools everywhere, and then you notice an incubator with a weird looking animal in a glass globe. Then you notice the lungs expand as it breaths! And it's all made up. I walked around to all the other arts exhibits but came back here to sketch. Due to typical art museum paranoia we were told to use pencils only. I used my fountain pen. I sure love my flex nib.

The Urban Sketcher scene around here is very active and in a state of flux. The longest-running group in the area is organized by Kate Johnson of Excelsior Springs (Kansas City). As that group is fading away, another unofficial group started in Lawrence, headed by Gail, which I've been attending. Then an official Lawrence Urban Sketcher groups started in Lawrence last year. Our two groups have been meeting together lately. Then last week was the kickoff sketch crawl for the newly-created Kansas City Urban Sketchers group.  It's a busy time for urban sketchers! I think they're onto something.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Out With The Old

I was driving near downtown Topeka this week and noticed an old building being demolished. Not just any building. It was the Morrell Meat Packing Plant. My dad worked here right out of high school. This was the second largest employer in Topeka, with over 1200 employees. Then the flood of 1951! This was a big event in our local history. This building is virtually on the banks of the Kansas River and was flooded out. After the flood waters receeded, the building was declared unfit for production of food products, or at least it would not be cost effective to rebuild the building to where it could be used again my Morrell. So it has stood empty since then. That's 75 years. Not that people haven't tried to refurbish the building for other uses. However, no pipe dreams came to fruition. This building was erected in 1940, so it only saw 11 years of service.

Recent work to rehabilitate the levees and flood walls along the Kansas River have created the idea to just tear it down. A second Morrell building has already been removed.

Flooding of the Kansas River has happened a few times in Topeka history. It's part of who we are. The '51 flood caused many changes in the area, and in Kansas. It was the pivotal event that spawned the creation of several US Corps of Engineers flood control projects (lakes) in eastern Kansas. It also changed my history. If it weren't for the '51 flood, I would be the son of a butcher. Dad really liked the vocation of meat butcher. Not so much the big slaughterhouse experience, but after you pay your dues, you can hire into a grocery store as the house butcher, which he said would be great. Good skills, good food, good pay. He was set. The flood put him out of work, and after service in the Army he became a printing pressman. He loved that job, too. But I always remembered Dad when I saw the Morrell building. Now one more thing is gone to remind me of him. Now I have this sketch, though.

I decided to spend Saturday morning sketching the demolition work while there was enough structure to see what is used to be. While sketching, I had to good fortune to meet Danny and his grandson. They parked near us and had also come down to watch the action. The grandson just walked up and asked what I was doing. Nice kid. Then, after his curiosity was satisfied, he played with some toy cars he brought. Danny worked just across the street from my Dad and we're both grandpas raised in the area, we chatted a while. Danny and I chatted as they started to use the wrecking ball. We had a front row seat, right behind their fencing. Once in a while the vibrations would come through the ground. Impressive. So, it was a nice outing all the way around.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Business Trip to TX

I don't fly out often on business, but it happens. This week contained a 1.5 day meeting of a regional engineering committee I'm on. We met in San Antonio, TX, which is a favorite of mine with their River Walk. I have no proficiency for flying. There are little things that should be looked at before you fly, and I'm rusty. Little things like making sure there is no crazy long layover (like the 3 hour layover I have in Dallas going home) and knowing what ground transportation your using when you land (completely forgot). But life has a way of progressing, anyway, whether it's planned out our not. And it did. Nothing profound happened, but it was a little clumsy.

Getting time for sketch time on the River Walk is a challenge. I need a combination of daylight, time away from the meeting (which is paying my salary), and a spot to sit. The real estate is crammed with restaurants and stores. I'm sure it's all expensive, too expensive for green spaces to sit and relax. When there is the occasional bench, if you sit you may get approached by the street people that are killing time. However, our meeting was over 30 minutes early and I had a window of time before my flight. I found a mexican restaurant for lunch that overlooked the walk. I could sketch and eat. Being a popular restaurant, though, I didn't feel I could relax too long and take the space from another paying customer. So I did order a dessert, which I normally don't, to have more sketch time. A real sacrifice (ha!). This was the trip for pen and ink.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

February Sketch Crawl

The Urban Sketchers Lawrence group had their February sketch crawl at the local bowling alley. I just recently found out about this group. This is my second outing with them and it was mostly a different batch of people. Had a good time and met some nice people.

We were there this morning and we thought a tournament was going to be happening. However, the general public was all that was bowling, so most of the lanes were empty to get ready for the tournament. We still had people to watch and observe and sketch. So many parallel lines and perspectives! The kids were fun to watch, too. They always have so much fun bowling. Brings back memories.

I started with some quick gesture sketches in my other sketchbook, using my brushpen. All the movement of limbs was captivating. I just learned in an on-line sketching class I'm taking now to start by thinking of the verb - then see the line of action - then draw it. The verb would be bowling. The line of action is complex. Usually there is just one, but here there are two. The body slides and stands on one leg while an arm delivers the ball. The shoulder line and hip lines tilt differently, and torso leans. This is good stuff . . . and I've never noticed it before.

Sunday, February 5, 2017


I've got a thing for flashlights. Always have. Always will. And it seems that it's not unusual for guys. The recent craze for tactical equipment is just another verse to the old song. I've resisted buying one because they're just too pricey. These are LED torches with rechargeable lithium ion batteries. They brag about their lumens. My brother and brother-in-law have them and paid dearly for them, and they punch out into the night real well. Very impressive.

Then I had a thought. Maybe if I bought the smallest one it would be affordable. Well, I found that an AAA-size flashlight is the least expensive, as I thought. I'd have the neat power and features without the high cost of the full size flashlights. However, they are still expensive. I've resisted for a long time, but finally succumbed recently. This little rascal is great! With the rechargeable high-output batteries it puts out more light than any traditional flashlights we have around here. I'd do it again.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Drugs To Go

She's long, dark and mysterious. That's the storage closet in our bathroom. Linens. Medical. Personal care. Holds it all. But what we regularly use is only on the front edge of the shelf. The shelf is 22" deep, so there is a large dark mysterious space behind what we use, that hasn't seen daylight for many years. I think it's time to clean it all up and pitch stuff that's expired or that we won't use again.

I set up a folding table next to the cabinet and attacked. Shelf by shelf. I found stuff that we couldn't remember. Some of the expiration dates were obscene. The process was slow but rewarding. I ended up with quite a stack to go to the trash or the county haz-mat dump site. As I sat there the drugs talked to me. They wanted to be sketched, and it seemed like the thing to do. So I set there for a while and sketched. This was just plain fun to draw! Now they are all gathered up and sitting in the garage, in a box of CF burnt bulbs and batteries and photo developing chemicals. Now we just need to figure what day of the month we can take it all in to the county dump. That may take another 20 years.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Local COOP

It was a nice day. OK, maybe 38F and windy, but still I felt the urge to get out and sketch. The local COOP was here when I was a kid fifty years ago and it looked old then. It's seen a long life and is still kicking. However, times have changed it. The scales are accessed via satellite and the office isn't manned, at least in the off-season like right now. But the buildings are all as I remember them as a kid. They needed to be sketched.

The mood was different now. This was a happening place, especially at harvest time. The scale building also had a small retail sales space to sell rabbit food, dog food and other miscellaneous items that don't need to be bulk loaded into a pickup or grain truck. The smell of grain was everywhere, and you needed to watch out for huge trucks driving to the scales and then driving to unload. It was exciting!

The elevator is still in use, and maybe it is still hopping at harvest time, but I doubt it. The scale building appears empty of all furnishings. I think all the weighing is done remotely through the satellite antenna. Times have changed. I suppose they need to keep up with the economics of the grain markets and cut costs. However, today's youth won't have the same experiences that I did at harvest time.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Old Dog New Tricks

My dad taught me how to shave with both an electric razor and a blade. I settled on an electric razor process and have been using it for over 40 years.You'd think I'd be content. However, recently I've been intrigued by the shaving soap/brush method. It's more work, but it's a more earth-friendly method. The foam doesn't come from a pressurized can made of metal and using many chemicals. Just a simple round puck of soap and a brush made of natural bristle. Those are all points wasted on me until this generation of environmental consciousness. Plus it has a touch of nostalgia. I remember being a small kid looking up at my dad lather up and shave with this method.

The last straw was when I passed a soap/brush/stand shaving kit at the local grocery store marked off 30% as a clearance item. I had to have it!

Now how do you use it? My dad's gone so I can't ask him. Answer - YouTube. So there I was, a grandpa myself now, watching YouTube videos to learn how to shave. How did we learn anything without YouTube in the past?

After a week of use I can say I really like this method. The shave is close and the fragrances are not as strong as other products. One sensation I did NOT expect, though, is that when applying the lather, it feels somewhat like when your dog just jumped in the pond for a swim and then comes out and shares some love with you and his wet tail smacks your face a few times. That SHOULD be a turn-off, but I love dogs.

My next step, someday, will be to try the double-edge razor with the soap and brush. That's also what my dad used. The replacement blade cassettes hadn't been invented yet. If money was the sole driver I'd be using the double-edge now, but how much shaving gear does a guy really need? This is enough change for now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

August '16 Alaska Cruise, Part II

That's it for the trip. We could sure do that more often. Just need to find that money tree.

August '16 Alaska Cruise, Part I

This is our first cruise. Took 35 years of marriage to pass before we made it happen. I didn't know if I'd have time to sketch or not, but I took my gear, anyway. As it turned out I was able to get plenty done and saved enough spaces to finish at home. The journal doesn't capture everything we did, but works with our photo album that, together, helps us remember the trip. Glad I did. I'll let the sketches speak for themselves. We sure enjoyed the trip.

Just one clarification: I don't post these to brag about what we did. I post them because I really enjoy seeing the travel journals of other sketchers and figure maybe somebody might have an interest in how I do it. That's all. I'm not impressed by people that brag about all their worldly travels and won't become one of them.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Retiring A Favorite

I've been keeping these old sandals around so I could sketch them before I threw them away. They served me well or many trips to the great outdoors. They carried me in some tough country and some pedestrian activities like sketch crawls. Before them, I didn't think real men wore sandals. Now I do.  Finally a couple straps pulled out of the foot bed and they can't be fixed. When I bought sandals to replace them I almost felt like I was being unfaithful to them.

On the brighter side, I bought my first real trappers hat! I've worn cheap ones over the years when it really gets cold out. Got my first one when I was in fourth grade. Over the holiday break in Hays I ran across this real wool hand woven tweed cap with rabbit fur lining, and just had to have it. Made in Scotland. We've had three times when temperatures were well below freezing and I've worn it to bring in more firewood or drive to work. It keeps me warm and feels luxurious. The trappers hat doesn't get high points for style, but function is what matters to me.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Hello New Year

Time to start the new year by dusting off the sketch gear and spending some time in my journal. I've been meaning to and just never quite get to it. I like a process that Roz Stendahl has done in the past (RozWoundUp.typepad.com). She'd spend time around New Years doing some activity in each of the various art forms and activities she likes to do throughout the year. She does it in 24 hours. I select a few and spend the three-day weekend catching time to do them. It gives me a chance to see how much (or little) they mean to me. My sketch shows some of them.

My problem is that I collect interests. It's hard to get rid of any, too. They're all rewarding in their own way. I know others have this issue, too.

I wanted to start the year sketching again, too.  Don't know if it will continue on a solid basis or not. My sketch journaling is too rewarding to drop. I'm still processing what I learned from Roz's on-line class on sketching live subjects and need to spend some follow-up time on the skills. Just need more time sketching. Then I need to figure what my goals should be to continue on this sketching journey. There's plenty to learn.

I have done more sketching that I've posted. Wilma and I took our first cruise, and it was to Alaska. We've always wanted to, and kept putting it off. For our 35th anniversary we did. I managed to keep a travel journal, too. From experience I've found that you can't depend on having time to sketch when you travel with someone else. However, I brought my sketch gear just in case. I did my layout and probably half of my sketching on the trip, and finished it at home. I'm thinking of posting it just to show others the type of travel journaling that works for me.

More later.