Friday, July 3, 2020

Summer Fun

My friend took me out for a belated birthday treat at Ted Drewes - a Cardinal Sin sundae. And let me tell you, this thing is RICH. It's loaded with huge cherries on top of frozen custard and the whole thing drenched in hot fudge sauce. Yum! We had to eat fast, because it's so hot out right now. I wasn't sure if Ted Drewes would be open with the lockdown, but they've implemented that Disneyland-style queueing with little 6-ft markers painted on the pavement.
On Field Trip Friday, I got up early to go biking on the Katy Trail. Even though 4th of July is on a Saturday this year, I think most people are taking a day off work on Friday, because by 9:00am people were pouring onto the trail. I'm kind of surprised given how hot and humid it is outside. The Missouri River is incredibly muddy right now - not very picturesque.
I stopped at the Sugar Creek Winery to eat a snack and sketch this sign. It was way too early to go up to the patio for a glass of wine, but I'm guessing it'll be a popular stop for bikers later in the day. I noticed I cut off the tree standing right next to this sign, which I'm guessing is the "judgment tree." I had to look it up, but according to Wikipedia, it's where Daniel Boone held his court. Hmmm... I also read that this isn't just a winery. They also make Judgement Tree Vodka. Having found that out, now I'm sure that bikers will be making a refreshment stop here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Fitbit Challenge - June

Hard to believe that the year is half over, but Janet and I have managed to stick with and surpass our monthly goal of 250,000 steps. I managed to beat her this month by 610 steps, but she's still almost 43 miles ahead of me. Since I'm at the point of needing new tennis shoes, I'm sure she's well on her way to needing new carpet. We managed to make it up to Jupiter, Florida - only 300 more miles to the Georgia border. The Cardinals normally do their spring training here, but they had to cancel all their March games as well as the summer season. Bummer.

Chicago Visit

I decided to brave the airport and take a trip to see Courtney. I haven't seen her in 5 months (that's a long time for me). You're supposed to wear a mask in most public places right now, but I'd say over half the people in the airport either weren't wearing one or had it pulled down around their chin. You absolutely have to wear one on the plane though, or you aren't getting on. It was much easier to wear the mask on the airplane, because the air conditioning was on high, so the air was really fresh. Plus the plane was spotlessly clean. No one is allowed to sit in the middle seats - yeah! They can make this a permanent change, in my opinion. I'd probably put up with wearing a mask all the time if I didn't have someone right next to me.
On the way to Courtney's condo, I passed a courtyard that was brightly decorated with colored lights, flags, stuffed animals, and beach toys. Courtney said the residents started putting things out when the lockdown first began, but it has grown into quite a "zoo" since then. It looked very festive.
Chicago just recently loosened up their lockdown, so Courtney and I headed out to the lakefront to do some sketching. We managed to find a secluded spot away from the trails that were so crowded with bikers, joggers, dog walkers, and stroller pushers. It was a nice sunny day, but much more humid than it usually is in Chicago. I'm glad I got to see my "baby" and eat some deep-dish pizza, but I'll probably hold off on any more airport trips until the summer crowds die down. Unfortunately, who knows if kids will be heading back to school in the fall.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Happy Fathers' Day, Bruce

Bruce celebrated Fathers' Day in his usual way - by working on a project. This time he changed my bike tire for me. I know, I should be ashamed to call myself an engineer, but all those gear sprockets around the back wheel intimidate me. Besides, who am I to deprive him of a little "fun" on his special day.

Summer Solstice

I celebrated the summer solstice with an early-morning bike ride. The summer solstice is my favorite, but most depressing day of the year, because it is the longest day (sunshine-wise), but also marks the time when the days start getting shorter. I love going out for a bike ride at 5am, because there are very few people out, though with our recent 90+ degree weather, there were more joggers than usual.
The park itself was a bit depressing, because so many things are closed. The Muny cancelled all their summer musicals - the first time this has ever happened since they opened in 1917. We've been going to at least one Muny show every summer since we moved here in 1983. The Science Center, Art Museum, and History Museums are also closed. The only thing that is open at present is the golf course and the zoo. Even though the zoo is still free, you need a timed-ticket to get in. But at least I can still hear the lions and tigers roaring when I ride my bike past their fence.
I also celebrated Juneteenth with a Zoom sketchout of famous black St Louisans. Juneteenth commemorates the official end of slavery even though the incident that triggered it (the Union army arriving in Galveston, TX) occurred 2.5 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We started our sketchout with 6-minute contour drawings. I'm not the greatest with drawing faces, especially in only 6 minutes, so in case you couldn't tell, the people are Maxine Waters (US Rep), Chuck Berry (singer), Fred "Rerun" Berry (actor from the 70's show What's Happening), Maya Angelou (author), and Redd Foxx (actor from Sandford & Son). Use your imagination.
We finished up our session with a 20-minute sketch of all participants. I think I did even worse on that one. Oh well...

Thursday, June 18, 2020

New Book on Amazon

I am a published author on Amazon! Every year when I go on my snowbird adventures, I take 1 or 2 robots along and write up activities for kids. I used to incorporate those activities into my teacher training workshops, but this year I decided to take a new path and publish them in a coding, coloring, and story book called, Send Your Robot to Work. The story follows the antics of Botley the robot and his friends (also robots) as they compete in the Office Olympics. While it is a fairly quirky story, a lot of it is based on the goofy things I've seen in my 28 years as a technology consultant. The book includes 24 coloring pages and 13 coding exercises that allow kids as young as 5 years old to program Botley to do stunts like line following, maze navigation, talking, and obstacle avoidance.
This book turned out to be a sanity-saver for me during the recent pandemic. I'd originally intended to publish it as a digital e-reader, but with the enforced lockdown, I decided to illustrate the story and turn it into a coloring, as well as coding, book. I bought an iPad and taught myself how to use Procreate, which is SO much easier to draw with than regular pen and paper (especially when you can just tap the screen to erase a mistake). There are a lot more robots sitting on my desk. Maybe one of them has its own story waiting to be told.

More Biking

The weather has really been cooperative lately - not too hot or cold and no rain. So I've been able to try out some new bike routes. On Sunday I went over to Illinois to the Madison County trails. Unfortunately, I think half of Illinois had the same thought, because the trails were packed - mostly with twosomes and threesomes riding side-by-side taking up the entire width of the trail. The bike trail itself is actually paved asphalt, but the views are mostly cornfields.
On Wednesday, I went out to the Weldon Spring section of the Katy Trail. But rather than drive all the way to the Weldon Spring trailhead, I parked at the outlet mall on the east side of the Missouri River. On MODOT's last highway renovation, they built a bike lane along I-64 that connects the Katy Trail to the outlet mall (actually to the Chesterfield Levee Greenway that surrounds the outlet mall since it sits in a flood plain). It saved me several extra miles of driving, but added a layer of stress to my bike ride. Even though bikers are separated from the roadway by a concrete barrier, it's pretty nerve-wracking to be only a couple feet from on-coming traffic racing by at 70-80 mph (yes, the speed limit is technically 60 mph but everyone in St Louis knows that's only a suggestion). But when I finally got to the other side, all was peaceful along the Katy Trail. I even managed to find a little park bench in Defiance and do a little sketching. Next time I should go a little later in the day and do my sketching from the beer garden.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Biking & Hiking

Since the weather has been fairly nice, I decided to get in some biking and hiking before the humidity climbed into the 90's. My first stop was the Rock Island Trail in Pleasant Hill. The trailhead was a bit tricky to find, because Hwy 291 takes a few jogs through Lee's Summit. I ended up in a town called Greenwood out in the country (rural roads scare me), so I had to backtrack and start over. I finally made it to the trail, but kept having to detour around downed branches from a recent severe thunderstorm. After about 10 miles, I gave up when I came upon an entire tree laying across the trail. Some people were managing to get through by walking their bikes down into the ditch and around the tree, but I decided I'd just head into Pleasant Hill and do some sketching of their "downtown" area.
The next day, I headed off to the MKT Trail in Columbia. It was a MUCH nicer trail - well-maintained and shady. It intersected the Katy Trail after about 4 miles. I would have stopped to sketch one of the old truss bridges along the trail, but gnats and mosquitoes were pretty prevalent.
I ordered some new hiking pants from Eddie Bauer. When I ordered them (about 3 weeks ago), it was still cool out. But even though it's much warmer now, I decided to try them out with a hiking trip to Meramec State Park. I couldn't believe how much the foliage has grown up along the trail, probably since the parks have been partially closed the last couple months (not many people out to beat down the plants). I love my new pants, because the side pocket is big enough for my phone, but I'm not sure I'd wear a short pant leg style again until they cut back some of those plants. I was petrified of getting poison ivy and/or a tick bite.
Today I met a friend in Washington for a walk along the river. It was so gorgeous out with a nice breeze coming off the water. You'd think with all this exercise, I'd be ahead on Fitbit steps for this month, but on my "off" days, I tend to sit at home on my computer. Hopefully the good weather will continue until I can catch up to Janet.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Fitbit Challenge - May

They say April showers bring May flowers, but this year May was our rainy month making it tricky to get in any walking, but Janet and I managed to get our 250,000 steps this month. I am sick to death of walking the 10-block radius around our house that is about the limit of how far I can go without needing to head back home to the bathroom. Since there are no stores, restaurants, or libraries open, I can't stop in to use theirs like I used to. Janet is wearing out the carpet in her living room. She may have to head to Home Depot to order new before too long. But at least we're staying in shape... yeah, right. Since we're in Miami "virtually," I guess I can put on a "virtual" bikini and head off to the beach.

Approaching a Sense of Normalcy

After weeks and weeks of rain, lockdown, and Zoom meetings, I was finally able to get out on my bike for a ride on the Katy Trail. Unfortunately the temperature hit 90° which made the humidity skyrocket (especially along the river front), but it was so nice to go some place besides my 10-block radius I've been walking the past 2 months.
And my friends and I got together for a socially-correct Game Day - no masks, but we sat 6 ft apart in open air on my front porch. We played bingo, which seemed the best option for spreading out because it doesn't have a central game board. To liven it up, we all brought white elephants to give away to the winner of each round. I think the best white elephant was a crocheted toilet paper cover complete with a full roll of toilet paper. Funny how something like that can turn into a "coveted" prize in this day and age.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Zoom Sketching

This week I had 4 sketchouts on Zoom. The first was an international meeting for all the administrators of urban sketching groups. This is a fairly large group of people, so we had over 4 screens of tiny people-pictures to scroll through. Since it was an international meeting, there were folks from all over the world. Luckily my time slot for logging on in the Midwest was 8am, but some people in Hawaii were logging on at 2am.
On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, one of my traveler friends posted pictures of her trip to Peru she took last year. She was doing it 2 different times in order to work around different people's schedules (though since most people are working from home right now, I'm not sure that matters).
For me, painting the same pictures 2 days in a row was a chance to go back and add more color and detail. When we're at our regular sketchouts, I barely have time to get the picture drawn on paper.
On Saturday, we had another Zoom sketchout only this time we drew faces. We tried sharing each other's screen, but Zoom has been implementing a lot of security controls recently, so that didn't work. Luckily, I had some portraits from Google Images handy so we did some 2 and 5-minute contour drawings.
Then we tackled the entire screen of all 12 of us. Since we had to draw quickly, most of my characters have a Fred Flintstone look. Courtney sat in on this event, and of course all her sketches look like professional portraits. I should have invited Violet to join us, but she took off for Florida.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Zoom Retirement

One of my best friends retired this year from teaching. But with the lockdown, she wasn't able to have a normal retirement party. So I got a bunch of people together on Zoom to wish her farewell and welcome her into our alumni lunch group (whenever we can finally get back to that).
I think Zoom has been a good tool for staying in touch with friends, but it definitely has its drawbacks, especially if you're working with older techno-phobes. It was a struggle getting everyone logged on at the same time (some people didn't make it). And both the guest of honor and the teacher we sent over to make sure she logged on lost track of time when they started chatting. But after a quick long distance call to her daughter in Seattle, we finally got her attention long enough to give her a toast to the next chapter of her life. What a way to start retirement!

Neighborhood Sketching

I haven't been out sketching with my urban sketching group since last December, but on Wednesday I called a friend who lives in the neighborhood and we went out with our paints and sketchbooks. Unfortunately, as soon as we got 10 ft away from home, it started drizzling (which it seems to be doing constantly this month). But we set up under the awning at the local elementary school, since kids aren't in school anyway. The view wasn't the greatest, but at least we were out sketching from real life rather than a zoom photo. I sketched the top of the school building. Molly looked past the playground equipment and painted the trees in the park.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Lincoln's Surgery

As if things weren't bad enough with the virus scare, poor little Lincoln had to have hernia surgery last week. I might have to steal his Micky Mouse mask and add it to my collection.
Luckily it was an outpatient procedure so he was in and out in just a few hours. And typical of most kids, 2 days later he was back to playing in the dirt.

The Energy of the Young

Janet and I have been struggling to get our 250,000 steps this month. We can blame part of it on the rainy weather, part of it on the lockdown, and unfortunately part of it on just getting older. Janet finally bit the bullet and got cortisone shots in her knees to help counteract her arthritis pain. Yikes! It's supposed to make you feel better, but you have to put up with a day of excruciating pain, not to mention having someone stick needles in your knees. Meanwhile, Hazel is just learning to walk. Enjoy that flexibility while you can, baby!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Mothers Day!

Some mothers are happy to get breakfast in bed on Mothers' Day. I was excited about scoring a successful shopping trip to Walmart for soap and paper products. Of course, I felt like I was on one of those reality game shows, where you have to race through the store as fast as you can plucking items off the shelves before someone else gets it. But I managed to get everything on my list. Funny thing was, Walmart had a huge display of flowers right inside the door, but everyone was hustling past it to get to the toilet paper aisle. Happy Mothers' Day 2020!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Fitbit Challenge - April

Well Janet and I both walked over a million steps since the beginning of the year. I didn't think I was going to make it with the lockdown. They've been closing off one sidewalk after another here in St Louis. Janet, on the other hand, has almost worn out the carpet in her livingroom doing her steps. We are almost at the southern tip of Florida (we're not going down to the Keys - just swinging around Miami). Luckily the beaches are opening back up for walking, but I heard you can't lay out in a deck chair, even if you are 6 feet from the person next to you.

Warm Weather Fun

While Janet and Jamie went off to Lowe's to buy a new gas grill, Violet and Lincoln stayed behind to put together Janet's fairy garden.
Unfortunately, Hazel woke up from her nap and decided to "help."
So when Janet got back, she got out the sidewalk chalk. Violet started drawing her favorite unicorn. Lincoln's picture looks a lot like SpongeBob to me, but I don't think that was his intention.
Jamie decided to get in on the act and drew a dragon. But the way he's posing looks like the dragon is trying to eat him. I guess the dragon's not the only one with eating in mind, because while Hazel isn't in this photo, she's off to the side sucking on her piece of chalk. In her defense, she's teething.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Zoom Draw

It's been raining off-and-on here and in Kansas City, so on Friday I asked Violet if she wanted to have a DrawDay via Zoom. I found a good step-by-step how-to-draw website that we used for our model. Mine looks a bit more colorful, because I cheated and used the Procreate drawing app on my iPad. Violet used a pencil and crayons.
But even with such simple supplies (and no instant Undo ability), she is incredibly talented and fast. Right before we ended our session, she asked me if we should make this a weekly meetup. As long as this lockdown stays in place, it's fine by me. I might even learn a few new tricks.
On Sunday, the Chicago Urban Sketchers had another virtual meetup. The theme this week was East/West. You were supposed to draw the view looking east and then staying in the same spot, draw the view looking west. Since I already drew the view out my office window last week, I found an abandoned parking lot with nice views. The only trouble was the sun was shining so strongly that it kept drying my paint and it gave me a sunburn on the back of my neck.
I managed to finish both pictures in time to have a virtual throwdown (screen-share) with some other sketchers. As it turns out, I think Courtney was the only one who was actually in Chicago. One lady was still snowbirding in Florida. Another was in Dallas living with her sister. Her 180-day world cruise was cut short a month ago, when they made everyone get off the ship in Australia. I'm glad this  pandemic didn't happen to us last year when we were on our double cruise.