Friday, May 29, 2009

Arts of Martial

I had a great karate practice on Tuesday. This was only my second regular practice since the accident. These are longer, more rigorous, and formal than Fridays, and you can't take a break whenever you want (well, I guess you can, but it does not look good).

Master Campbell taught this practice and it was very good for me because we reviewed all katas up to Pyung-an 4 which is my highest kata. Everything is coming back to me. But my stamina is way down.

My karate is different now. I feel the moves and I am more aware of my body. I guess it is all change for the good. I am just glad to be alive and walking and practicing karate again.

Thursday I went to my first Kendo practice. I had a great time and quite a workout. I decided to go today because I thought that it would be good therapy for my back and Tom is out of town on a business so I had time to kill.

My karate experience was a big help because footwork is half the battle. Using the boken (wooden sword) felt natural to me and did not hurt my back.

If you are wondering how I am going to fit in another activity, well I don't know. Kendo was fun but my passion is still in karate. I will keep going to Kendo on Thursdays as time allows.

If you are wondering about my terminology, check out Myo Sim, the style I practice.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SPCA Kitten Foster #5

Some of you may know that Tom and I foster kittens for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. We care for healthy or sick kittens, and the last set was September of last year. [See my web album for some pics]

The CASPCA called me the day I got back from the hospital to see if I wanted to foster again, and well that did not work out.

So yesterday I picked up our first set of foster kittens for the year. There are two of them, and they are about 3 weeks old and sick with an upper respiratory infection. They look pretty bad but are doing well so far. I give them eye and oral medicine twice a day and feed one of them with a dropper. The other one eats on her own.

Stay tuned for more pictures and updates on their progress.

From Kitten Foster 5

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Smoky Mountain Rainforest

This Blog entry is for Sunday, May 17, Day 3 of our trip to the Smokies.

It was so rainy and foggy this morning that we could not even see the mountains from our cabin view. So we decided to stay high and dry indoors for the first half of the day.

After lunch we drove into Gatlinburg and met a fiend of Tom's for a personal tour of the machine room of the Ober Gatlinburg Sky Tram. This was very interesting (I think more so for me than Tom), and was the perfect in-door activity since it started to poor down rain again. We turned down a free ride because it was so foggy, and decided to take our chances in the car at the park.

We headed for Cades Cove and saw several small waterfalls and swollen creeks because of all the rain. We even saw some crazy white-water kayakers.

Maybe it was the rain, or the day of the week (Sunday), or the time of the day (about 5pm), but the traffic and crowds were much lighter compared to yesterday. This and the heavy water flow got me excited about going on another hike to a waterfall.

So I picked the Abrams Falls Trail from by book and convinced Tom I could do it. It was only 300 feet total elevation change out-and-back, and there were only 4 cars in the parking lot. The only kicker is that it was 6 pm when we set out. Sunset was 8:30, and the book said the trip should take 2.5 hours, and another book said 3.5 hours. Tom offered to carry all of the gear, and I promised not to stop along the way and take pictures or look for birds.

We made it in there in 50 minutes, back in 60 minutes, and rested for 10 minutes at the falls. My back was sore, but the waterfall was well worth it. Because of all the rain from the last couple of days the falls ROARED. One of the most amazing falls I have ever seen. And the rocks were situated right next to the pool so you could walk right up to it, as far as you wanted to get wet from the spray. We got some great photos and videos with no other people in it. I found some wild Bleeding Heart flowers growing on the cliffs near the falls.

The trail was heavily eroded and wide (not paved), but the wildflowers on the trail banks were in great shape. I would point one out and Tom would stop and take a picture of it and then catch up to me. On the way back we saw wild turkey and a Ruffed Grouse, birds we would have never have seen if the trail was crowded.

It was risky heading out on a hike so late in the evening, but it payed off. And we made it back in time to see the sun set over Cades Cove. We were starving by the time we got back to our lodge at 9pm.

UPDATE: Visit my web album soon for pictures.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Conquering the Park

This blog entry is for Saturday, May 16, Day 2 of our trip to the Smokies.

Today was a mixed bag. We entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the first time of the trip. The crowds here blow my mind. We got to the base of the Clingman's Dome trail at 8:30am. The weather was very foggy and cool, but we decided to head up hoping it would clear.

Soon after we started we heard a group of school kids pierce the silent fog, quickly catching up to us. I did not make it to the top because the trail was very steep and my asthma acted up (my back was sore but not bad). So I sat on a bench and talked to a nice British lady and waited for the kids to pass.

On the way down I stopped a lot to look for birds. I saw a sparrow-type bird with a ragged tail that I have not identified. The highlight of this part of the trip was seeing a chestnut-sided warbler near the parking lot.

Tom made it to the top of Clingman's Dome but could not see a thing because the fog was so thick.

Then we drove to the Laurel Falls Trail which was crowded and paved from the parking lot to the falls. The scenery along the trail the whole way was very sad. Switchbacks were cut through. Kids were climbing on the rocks and trail banks. Sever erosion was everywhere. I understand that this is a popular park and popular trail, but it seems the average American has no outdoor etiquette, let along "leave-no-trace". A fire started by a tourist not long ago (we overheard a ranger talking about it) killed all the pines and rhododendron. Luckily the trash was not too bad.

On the way to the falls I saw a lady pulling down a bundle of mountain laurel flowers. She had a nice camera in her other hand, so I thought that maybe she was going to take a picture of it (I do this sometimes). Just as I was walking past her on the trail I watched her out of the corner of my eye and saw her wrist turn, so I knew she was going to pick it. So I quickly exclaimed "DON'T PICK IT!" I did not mean to yell or startle her, but I guess I did because she quickly let go (she did not deny my accusation). I was so flabbergasted. Then her husband/boyfriend got mad at me and started yelling at me and tried to pick a fight with me. But I kept waking, and just hoped that she would not pick the mountain laurel anyway. I reminded them that you can get fined for it, and he did not like that either, but he was so fat that he would not be able to catch me if me wanted.

The falls were lovely but crowded. Luckily we did not see our flower-picking foes.

Then we continued up the trial and we were in instant solitude. We saw some salamanders in a little trail drainage trough (dug by the park to keep the water off the trail). They weren't spectacular looking (dull brown with spots, about 4 inches long), but special to see anyway, especially for Tom.

In less than a mile we found the old-growth forest promised by the trail book. They were the biggest trees I have ever seen. Poplars and oaks over 4 feet in diameter. There was not much brush on the ground except ferns, so you could see far into the forest. The birds were chirping everywhere, very active considering it was the middle of the day. I heard several warblers and vireos. The only birds I could positively identify was Black-Throated Green Warbler and Red-Eyed Vireo.

Friday, May 15, 2009


We arrived at our mountain cabin this afternoon outside of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee after an uneventful drive (except for the traffic in Sevierville). Soon after we got all of our stuff inside it poored down rain with a big thunderstorm. We watched from the porch. After the rain let up a little the birds came out, and it was amaizing. This place is a birder's paradise.

Within the first hour I saw and/or heard all these birds:
- Scarlet Tananger
- Black and White Warbler
- Eastern Pewee
- Indigo Bunting
- Tufted Titmouse
- Cardinal
- Towhee
- Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher
- Carolina Wren
- Flicker
- American Goldfinch (a family of 5 in a tree)
- Downy Woodpecker
- Common Raven

We also heard a Northern Green Frog (it makes a rubber-band 'twang').

After the rain cleared up we headed back to the quaint part of Sevierville (only 10 minutes on the back roads) for the "Bloomin', Barbecue, and Bluegrass" Festival. Because of the bad weather the place was not too crowded (it continued to rain throughout the evening). Tom said that he had the best bbq ribs in his life.

We heard a whip-poor-will in the dark not too far from the lodge.

I would like to post photos but the internet (satellite) connection here is really slow, but I am glad to have some connection!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blog-casting live from Panera Bread in Blacksburg, VA. Tom and I are on our way to the Smokies for the weekend. He is working today in Salem and Blacksburg, and then we will be on our way. Instead of camping we will be staying in a cabin near Pigeon Forge. Some light hiking and sight-seeing is planned, but mostly looking forward to un-planned leisure and quality time together. Great Smoky NP is the most visited NP in the country. Hopefully we will beat the Memorial Day rush by going a week early.

The cabin has wi-fi, so I will keep you updated with photos if I have time.

I drove around campus some this morning. I really miss Virginia Tech, and I had dreams of returning here to teach engineering someday or retire and work at the library.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Birdwatch at Secluded Farm

I went on a great birdwatching trip this morning with the Monticello Bird Club. We walked around Secluded Farm, a park near Monticello and Kemper Park. Here are some of the birds I saw:

Indigo Bunting
Black-throated Blue Warbler
American Redstart
Baltimore Oriole
Field Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Tree Swallow
Brown Thrasher
Red-Tailed Hawk

Other creatures:
Spotted salamander tadpoles
American Bullfrog

Friday, May 1, 2009

Our friends Bob and Christine from New York stopped by on their way back from Georgia. Thier son Robert is 9 months old.

Some pictures from The Glass Palette

From Glass Palette

After the glass was fired:

Fun with glass

Wednesday night I went to The Glass Palette with oasc. It was a blast. Think of an art studio that you can just walk in to and make something and pay for what you use. All lessons included. It is similar to a pottery studio that you may have been to when you were a kid for a birthday party, but this place is unique.

Fused glass is a beautiful art form and very forgiving. Easy to pick up and be creative. You start with a clear "palette" of glass - for example 6"x6", 10"x10", or circle similarly sized. Then you place more colored glass on top of it to make a design. You pay for the piece by the size of the palette and pick it up in a week after they fire it. The studio supplies an endless supply of glass and advice. And they clean up after you. What a great time.

The glass is not really that sharp, as long as you work carefully. You can choose to cut your own, ask them to cut it for you, or use pre-cut scrap pieces.

The prices are very reasonable considering the price of the glass and the fact that all the lessons are included in the price.

I was impressed with the two women entrepreneurs who founded and run the studio, and their business model. The place is unique and attracts a lot of tourists. The mother-daughter duo are artists and teachers, and it shows in how they walk you through the process of designing your own piece of art. No design is wrong or ugly. We are lucky to have a business like this in town.

I had so much fun that I am going to bring my mom and grandma here next time they visit for a mother's day gift. And I may get my mother-in-law to go next week when they visit if there is time.

Stephanie, the oasc leader that arraigned this adventure, took pictures, so as soon as I get them I will post them!