Monday, March 28, 2005

New Orleans

There has been no snowshoeing for the last 2 weekends. Amy arrived home late on March 18th. A few hours later I was up to head to the airport to fly to New Orleans for a user group meeting (for COEUS - grant pre-award tracking software). Note to self - do not book 7am departures, they require being up _way_ too early.

The flights) to New Orleans by way of LaGuardia were uneventful. I even got a movie, "After the Sunset", on the flight from NYC to New Orleans. "After the Sunset" is the story of a diamond thief, played by Pierce Brosnan, who retires to a Caribbean island with his assistant/love interest, Penelope Cruz. He's followed to the island by an FBI agent, Woody Harrelson, who is convinced that he moved there to be in position to steal another of the "Napolean diamonds" which is being exhibited on a cruise ship soon to be docked at the island. The movie is a study of the relationships between the thief, the FBI agent, and the love interest. It has a small amount of action, nice shots of beautiful scenery and some cool technology. I'd give it 2 1/2 stars out of 4.

On the ride from the airport to my hotel, entertainment was provided by the van driver. He started off with a pronunciation lesson, kept us quite entertained with detailed instructions on the art of eating crawfish like a native, pointed out the "beadtrees", and finished with warnings on how to avoid getting ripped off. Among his advice - you should suck the head of the crawfish until its eyes are cross-eyed, then bang your head on the table to uncross your own eyes. The patter definitely made the trip go faster.

First stop in New Orleans, after checking into my hotel and having lunch was the Audubon Aquarium. The aquarium is a relatively short walk from the hotel, about 6 blocks. It sits on the banks of the Mississippi along the Riverwalk. It's a nice aquarium, although I'd avoid it on Saturday afternoons, if possible. It was full of noisy children. Highlights were the Amazon Rainforest and the white alligator.

Sunday, Monday, and most of Tuesday were taken up with conference meetings. I did make use of the rooftop pool (heated) and hot tub each day. The pool was too short for much real swimming, but I was getting enough exercise walking around the city so I really didn't need to swim for exercise.

The hotel, Le Pavillon, is quite posh. There are many crystal chandeliers in the public areas, the dining room has small painted vignettes along the ceiling beams, the elevator door on the top floor is painted with a vineyard scene, and above the chandeliers in the center of each hall is painted some sort of plant life. My floor had lavender, other floors had ivy, and grapes - I did not do a full survey. The pool decor includes marble statues.

During the conference we (Tony and Jen from work and I) walked into the French Quarter for lunch and dinner. We had very good bar-b-que at Zydeque, Po'boys at Mother's (which is not in the French Quarter, and messy burgers at Yo Mamas.

Once Tuesday afternoon arrived we went our separate ways - Jen to the airport, and Tony to the casino. I headed for the French Market an area of small shops near Jackson Square. I managed to get on the wrong streetcar, one that didn't go all the way to the French Market, and ended up walking an extra 7 blocks but it was a nice day so it wasn't that bad. (The forecasted rain never did appear.)

Jackson Square attracts a variety of artists who set up along the perimeter of the square. In addition to the visual art, there were several musicians - I particularly enjoyed the saxophonist playing on the corner near Cafe du Monde, and the jazz band playing in an open air restaurant.

After shopping for an hour or so I set off in search of dinner. I ended up in a seafood restaurant on Bourbon Street. The food was passable, and entertainment was provided by the people walking by. On the way back to the hotel I passed several musicians playing on the sidewalk. One highlight was the 2 trombone players at opposite ends of one block who were dueling. It was a lot of fun to listen to at the middle of that block.

Wednesday was my play day in New Orleans. I headed to the Audubon Zoo by way of the streetcar. I hopped on the streetcar a few blocks from my hotel. The streetcar runs down St. Charles Avenue and gave many opportunites to view the "beadtrees" and lots of pretty houses. After exiting the streetcar at Audubon Park, on the edge of the Tulane University campus, I boarded the zoo shuttle for the last part of the journey.

The zoo is a nice small zoo. The day I was there it was full of children on field trips. There is a really beautiful fountain near the entrance with elephants in the center, and hippo heads peeking out of the water on the edges. It's ringed with benches enough to seat close to 100 people.

I headed first for the African Savannah exhibit, mostly cause it's on the way to the Louisiana Swamp exhibit. It includes Monkey Hill which is not were the primates live. It was built early in the last century so that the children of New Orleans, which is a very flat city, could experience a hill. It appeared to be a favorite spot for the children. There were dozens climbing up the hill, rolling down the grass section, playing in the rocky stream, and climbing down the rope spider web on one edge.

The swamp exhibit includes a black bear, for lack of a better place to put him. Several alligators - some small, one extra large, and one white (sibling to the white alligator at the aquarium). Also, on exhibit are raccoons. Given the number of raccoons I have seen in the "wild" I did not linger. Several of the children who were nearby were thrilled by the raccoons, though.

From there I headed through the Jaquar jungle where the highlight was the misters - there are several strategically located throughout the zoo providing a spot to cool down. I also enjoyed the cotton top macaques - a small primate with what looks like a ball of cotton on the top of their head. After a quick tour through the Primate exhibit - where the only active critter was one orangutan who put on a 4 minute show before retreating into the shade - I headed back toward the hotel.

I took a small detour on the way to stop in Jackson Square to pick up a book I'd seen the day before. This time I took the correct streetcar, so didn't have to walk any more blocks than necessary. I also took the time to pick up dinner, so that I wouldn't have to venture back out after dark, or eat expensive hotel food.

The trip home on Thursday was fine, although not without it's unexpected moments. It too started _way_ too early in the morning. (Did I mention that 7am flights should be avoided...) My flight was supposed to include a layover in Philadelphia but no change of plane. After we landed in Philly, we were notified that there was to be a "change of equipment" airline speak for "different plane". And as long as they were making us change planes they decided to make us change terminal wings as well. So, it was off to gate C21 from gate A21 where we were. The Philadelphia airport does have strategically placed moving walkways, however, so the walk wasn't that bad. The gate area was overcrowded with many people standing - the result of the airline having scheduled two flights to depart from that gate area (two gates) at basically the same time. Because of the change of planes our departure was delayed while the replacement plane was pulled out of the hanger.

Once on the plane the flight was uneventful. Upon arrival in Boston I dutifully proceeded to baggage claim. When the baggage from my flight arrived it consisted of 10 bags - just 10, and did not include mine. After waiting a bit to see if more baggage appeared from the portal, I checked in with the baggage office. The woman there was fairly sure my luggage would be on the next flight from Philadelphia which was due in 30 minutes later. I decided to wait rather than having it delivered by the airline. An hour later the luggage from the next flight arrived, and it did include mine. I gladly gathered it up, headed out to the van which showed up less than 5 minutes later and was off to home.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Picture Perfect Monday

After spending hours shoveling on Sunday, I had no energy left for snowshoeing. Rather than push myself beyond reasonable limits, I invoked the Shelley rule - when you think about doing something stupid think what Shelley would say. So I decided to take Monday off and snowshoe then.

Monday dawned bright and clear, a picture postcard kind of day. After doing a little work in the morning, and with a need to be home and available I grabbed my gear and headed out. I headed to the Weston Ski Track, 15 minutes and 3 town lines away.

The trails at the Weston Ski Track range over the grounds of the Leo J. Martin Memorial golf course. With trail pass firmly attached I headed out. It was only as I was strapping the snowshoes on that I realized I'd brought Amy's not mine. The good news is that they are almost identical, and all that was required was a small amount of strap adjustment.

The trail I chose makes a 2km loop starting along the edge of the parking lot, then turning to follow the banks of the Charles River, then up a hill (affectionately listed on the trail map as Mt. Weston) before turning back toward the club house.

Snow conditions were extremely varied ranging from dry, fluffy "freshies" to crunchy ice crust and finally, where the sun had been beating down on the snow, to what my skier buddies refer to as "mashed potatoes". The trails are nice and wide, with lots of opportunity for making my own tracks.

Temperature when I started off was 40 according to the thermometers on the back of the trail rules sign. In open spots it was quite windy, as evidenced by the spinning fans in the snowmaking machines.

The trails were busier than I'd expected but open and wide enough to not feel crowded. I didn't see any other snowshoers, though.

One drawback to the trail I chose is that as it makes the u-turn to head back to the clubhouse, it borders Route 128, the train tracks, and the Mass Pike. I really wished that I'd brought my iPod, so that I didn't have to listen to the traffic. It was definitely not a wilderness experience. And to top it off I missed the excitement of the tractor-trailer accident at the intersection of 128 and the Pike, which happened between when I passed and when I got into the car 25 minutes later.

To finish off my play day, I headed for the workshop and spent a couple of hours sanding, vacuuming (I even vacuumed the floor outside the workshop), and dry fitting the parts of the project I'm working on together.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Saturday Storm

This is a picture of the dogwood at the edge of our driveway, coated in the wet snow from Saturday's storm.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Shovel Adventure

Round 2 of the shovel out is complete. We got about 8 inches of wet snow yesterday. I was up early to take Amy to the airport, so she could head to Arkansas. When we left the house it was misting rain, but by the time I got almost home it was snowing here. After a quick trip to the grocery store, I hunkered down to wait out the storm. I alternated most of the day between bread baking and sanding a project in my workshop.

On one break I watched the movie "Friday Night Lights". It's an interesting movie but didn't grab my interest as much as I expected. It is the story of one football season at a high school in Odessa, Texas. If you know anything about the importance of football in the lives of many in Texas, the film is quite predictable. I thought the character development was weak, which given that the entire plot is the football season is perhaps why it didn't pull me in.

About 4pm as the snow was winding down I decided to begin to dig out. The front walk wasn't too bad. Most of this years shoveling has been of the push it until you can't push it any further, then scoop it up variety. This storm is not. This is the scrap a layer off the top and dump it, repeat until you find pavement variety. The plow droppings at the edge of the street were of the basic rock variety. Last night they weren't too solid so I was able to split them with my plastic blade shovel.

A note about the shovel - earlier this winter I became fed up with the shovels we owned. Both have wide short blades which are fine for pushing snow but not for lifting it. So, off I went to Home Depot to procure a shovel with a squarish blade. What I ended up with is a shovel with a funky bent handle designed to be more ergonomic. I love this shovel. Amy loves this shovel. I should have bought 2 - I went back later to get another but found only lawnmowers and weed wackers. Next year... The handle of the shovel is long enough to give enough force to fling shovelfulls quite a distance. A benefit to shoveling a driveway that touchs the neighbors driveway. With the shovel I can send most of the snow into our yard, rather than struggling to add it to the 1 foot wide pile dividing the driveways.

After reaching the street it was on to the driveway. Three linear feet of plow droppings awaited. It was slow, tiring work. And it was hear that I discovered that a small layer of slickness under the snow. Picture if you will me standing in eight inches of snow in the driveway shoveling toward the street. It was the only way (without a trip back into the house - more on this later) to avoid ending up on my rear - it was that slick. I gave up once I'd cleared the plow leavings, but not before pulling out the camera (I'll get a picture or two loaded sometime today).

I was up early this morning, having collapsed into bed fairly early last night. I was going to laze in bed, but had to find the source of the beeping I kept hearing. It turned out to be the carbon monoxide monitor screaming for new batteries. After the trip to the basement, I wasn't in the mood to crawl back into bed. So I suited up in long undies and sweat pants, had a leisurely breakfast, added rain pants, gloves, boots and hat to my attire and headed out.

I had to give the walk another once over to clear the additional 1/2 inch of snow that arrived after last night's shoveling. The edge of the street had another pile of plow droppings. The ones at the end of the walk were small enough to move without splitting, but when I reached the driveway I discovered a few the size of small cars (well kiddie cars anyway). The plastic shovel was no match for these boulders, so I headed back to the porch for the short handled steel shovel. It weighs a ton, but does a great job splitting ice boulders. This proved to be the right tool for the job and made short work of the boulders. As I got down to the pavement, again, I discovered that the layer of slick was still there. So I added my yaktraxs to me outfit.

For those unfamiliar with yaktrax, they are large rubber webs which fit over the sole of your boot. What makes them useful are the wires wrapped around the web on the bottom. The wires bite into ice and give you great traction.

With the yaktrax firmly attached to my boots the shoveling was much easier, and I didn't have to stand in the unshoveld snow to maintain my footing. The snow untouched by the plow proved much easier to shovel. I've done the top 4 linear feet the full width of the driveway, a 2 foot wide swath down to the car, and most of the flat in front of the car (the car is parked against the garage door. The goal for the day is to be able to get my car out. I'm not going to worry about getting Amy's car out yet.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Broadmoor Again

I spent a good part of last week itching to go snowshoeing. I did have to work part of the weekend so the snowshoeing location had to be close to home. I investigated the possibilities at two places I've never visited (Great Brook Farm and the Weston Ski Track). Amy decided to join me and requested a return to Broadmoor, since it's so convenient.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny. Unfortunately we weren't moving that quickly. By the time we suited up and headed out clouds had moved in. Not to worry, though, we were dressed for whatever Mother Nature threw our way. We suited up outside the Nature Center and head for the Marsh Trail. With temperatures in the upper 30s/low 40s the snow was soft and mushy. This made the going difficult at times.

It was clear that the weather has been on the warmer side - we saw several small insects along the way. As always the trails were not very crowded, although we did see a few other people along the way. I had to stop a couple of times for boot adjustment. (It's definitely time for new boots.)

Since we were returning to a site I'd visited so recently, we headed off to investigate previously unknown trails. At the Mill Pond we attempted to locate a short trail that is supposed to cut across the stream before joining up with the Boundary trail. We were denied, we got across the stream but it was unclear where the trail went from there. Given the warmth of the day we decided to err on the side of caution and not test the limits of the ice on the far edge of the stream.

After returning to the Mill Pond trail we followed the south side of the trail to the Boundary Trail. The Boundary Trail heads north east along the edge of the Sanctuary's boundary. Along the way we found a couple of stretches of bare ground (it is weird snowshoeing on pine needles), a tree with a very impressive top to bottom split, and at the point where the sanctuary backs up to a neighborhood several back yards. It was a little odd to snowshoe behind the houses. Just past the houses the trail heads down a fairly steep hill into an open field. Here we encountered another significant patch of bare ground.

The going across the field was probably the most difficult of the day. The wet snow was heavy and what trail existed was not very wide. Whether we walked in the existing trail, or off to the side we were breaking a new trail. At the far end of the field the trail map indicates that the trail crosses a branch of the Charles River. When we arrived there, we didn't see anyway to cross without getting wet feet. Our alternative was removing our snowshoes, climbing over a stone wall and walking in the road that borders this edge of the Sanctuary to the other side of the river. So, off with the snowshoes, over the wall, and across the bridge we went (that's where this picture was taken).

Once across the bridge we sat down on the stone wall to reattach our snowshoes, and have a snack. From there we headed back into the woods, up a slight hill to the junction of the Glacial Hill and Mill Pond trails. Amy was feeling pretty pooped at this point (a surprise to me since I'm usually the one to tire first) so we headed back toward the Nature Center. We took the southern leg of the Mill Pond trail, which traverses hill before heading down to join the Marsh trail.

After a short break at the Marsh lookout, it was back to the car and home.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


"More Pictures" to the right will link you to more pictures from this winter's snowshoe trips. There are _even_more, but these will give you a taste.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Snow Day - Not to Be

Today would have been the perfect day for a snow day. We got 9" of snow ovenight (and another inch this morning). I really wanted to take a snow day. Unfortunately, Amy is covering the help desk this week while a couple of people are off at training, and _had_ to be there. And there was no way for me to convince the people at work that I couldn't make it in when she did. So, instead of shoveling out to go play in the snow we shoveled out to go to work.

The silver lining of the day is that I got a surprise - a bonus for all the work I did on the upgrade/implementation over the last 2 1/2 years. I really wasn't expecting it. And to top that off I'm not going to have to spend as much time working next weekend as I expected so there should be time for snowshoeing.