Friday, September 28, 2007

Astronomy Down Under

Here is a story Rob Esson, one of my astronomy buddies, sent via email. Rob travels quite a bit for his job, and visits Australia regularly. He is also from the "otherside of the pond" and indulges in occasional bits of "we don't speak the same language" humor. All very amusing, naturally. You should imagine this story told in a sort of nasally British accent...

Gentlemen: sorry I couldn't join y'all, but let me share a story-ette with you. A week ago last Saturday night I was a couple of hundred miles west of Sydney in the Outback observing through an 18in Obsession (see image -- chap is Lachlan MacDonald of the Astronomy Society of New South Wales). There are, as you know, three fantabulous Globulars in the sky - Omega Centauri, M13, and 47 Tucanae. We were looking at 47 Tuc with a 26mm Nagler when t'other guy there Tony says "Some people see colours in 47 Tuc at high magnification - lets find out what you see" (of course, had he been American, he would have said 'colors'), So we switched eyepieces to one of the old 12mm Naglers (remember the double barrelled ones that you can use as 1.25in or 2in?). I look through and say "Well, I can't see any obvious color, and it doesn't seem to have as good definition at the higher magnification". Lachlan then takes a look and concurs, saying "It's actually a pretty shitty view", and shines his red light onto the objective to check for dew - but no go. Tony also looks and agrees that the definition is poorer ... until it dawns on him that ... yes, we'd left the translucent plastic lens cap on the other end, and we were STILL able to see the globular, AND some degree of definition. After taking the cap off, well, words fail me (gold and blue were my colors, Lachlan agreed, and Tony saw salmon pink - but maybe it was the wine) - but that should give you just some sort of clue as to how amazing 47 Tuc is that it can even penetrate a lens cap and look reasonable!


(c) 2007 Rob Esson Productions. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wild Bunch

On a walk with Samba Saturday, I found some wild flowers in a field near our house. I didn't have my camera, so I picked a few sprigs to carry home with the purpose of identifying them. I felt a little guilty about picking them, but the field is not in a nature preserve or park and is mowed regularly. I rationalized they would probably be mowed down in a week or two anyway. I made a bouquet from them when we got home and have been surprised by how well they have fared. I didn't expect them to last more than a day, but they have gone for nearly a week. The center flower in this image is chicory.

I turned to my copy of Edgar Denison's Missouri Wildflowers, which sufficed to identify the brown-eyed susans and chicory, but wasn't much help with the other two. Naturally, I consulted the fount of all knowledge (Google) and found, a terrific website. This enabled me to identify the remaining flowers: yellow ironweed and wild blue sage, which I particularly like.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Crescent Moon

I stepped out in our backyard yesterday evening to check the sky, considering a possible urban astronomy session, and was surprised to find a beautiful waxing crescent moon visible through the western trees. The new moon was only a few days ago.

I took a snapshot and am pleased with the result. Mare Crisium and the prominent crater, Cleomedes, can be seen in the image.

I did break out one of my scopes later in the evening and observed from 10 until about 1:30 in the morning, logging some challenging planetary nebulae in Aquila and Cygnus. I'm pondering whether to start a blog devoted to astronomy observations.

Friday, September 14, 2007

David Smith's Zinnias

We have lived at our home in midtown Kansas City for 19 years, which is a long time compared with the average time people often stay in one house before moving. I have heard the average is 7 years. Our next door neighbors, the Smiths, however, moved into their house during the flood of 1951. Mr. Smith once told me they had to sneak in to see the house when they bought it because the neighborhood was under curfew. They lived there for 56 years.

They have been the best neighbors. It was a sad day when they moved out, though I don't think either Mr. or Mrs. Smith will miss all of the up keep these big old houses require, or walking up a long flight of stairs from the street. (The Smith's did not put in a driveway -- the neighborhood was built when most people rode the trolley.) Anyway, the neighborhood will never be the same.

Their son David, who for years did charitible work in South America, lived at home when he was in America and had a fondness for gardening. He did not always choose low maintenance plants, however, and Mr. Smith had a fondness for mowing them down, or having them mowed down, when David was out of the country.

David has planted zinnias for years and has often offered to give us cuttings so we could plant some in our yard too. They are certainly beautiful. I think we will find a place in our yard for some zinnias to honor the Smiths.

Caprese Salad

I had to go talk with one of our managers, Shawn, at work. He had this enormous basket of tomatoes on his desk and told me he was trying to give them away. "Really?" Organic, too. I helped myself to a pound or two with Shawn encouraging me to take more. I didn't want to take more than we could eat, though. Shawn said his family planted 70 tomato vines this year. Wow!

We used some of the tomatoes to make these lovely caprese salads. They are simple to prepare and wonderful to eat. You need the freshest and very best ingredients. This includes vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese (the kind that comes packed in water), and fresh basil. We got the cheese from Costco and the basil from a pot on our back porch. A good quality olive oil and freshly ground pepper are the remaining ingredients.

To make the salad, simply slice the tomatoes and cheese, arrange them on the plates, drizzle olive oil over them, tear the basil leaves and sprinkle them on top, and finish it off with a few twists from the pepper mill.

Elly and I first had caprese salad in Fiesole near Florence, Italy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Vegetarians Eat

I am not a full-time vegetarian, but my wife Elly is, which makes me a vegetarian about 75% of the time. Vegetarians are not rare in the midwest, though you wouldn't know that by the question people almost universally ask when they learn someone is vegetarian. It's so predictable, it's funny: "What do you eat?" Elly's usual response is something along the lines of "Everything except dead flesh."

We rarely eat at restaurants anymore, apart from occasional carryout from Minsky's Pizza (5-Star Cheese or Gourmet Vegetarian) or Taj Mahal (Vegetarian dinner for two). The reason for this, apart from saving money, is that restaurant food doesn't compare with what we (especially Elly) cook at home.

Tonight we had spaghetti squash cooked with butter, garlic, gruyere cheese, and parsley, a salad with dark red kidney beans, ground walnuts and I don't know what else (unbelievably delicious), and asparagus crepes (Elly made the crepes with whole wheat flour). For dessert we had an apple crumble. Elly used various recipes, but modified them all to suit the SouthBeach diet, which I have followed off and on for a few years. It didn't taste like diet food.

And, in case you are wondering, Elly's days off from work are Sunday and Monday. A meal like this would be difficult to prepare on a workday. Even on workdays, though, we spend more time preparing and enjoying our dinner than most people do, I suspect. We typically eat later, as well, usually between 8 and 9 in the evening.

I got the squash from the Brookside Organic Farmer's Market, which I discovered a few months ago. All of the produce is raised within 100 miles of the market (most within 20, I think), is certified 100% organic, and is raised by the vendors. Saturday morning visits to the market are a fun treat.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Red-Breasted Nuthatch!

We had an exceedingly rare visitor at our backyard feeder today: a red-breasted nuthatch. I caught a glimpse of the bird when leaving on a quick trip to the library. I thought it might be our elusive wren (often heard, rarely seen), but house wrens are more a grayish brown and this bird was a grayish blue. I snatched up the binoculars and caught another quick glimpse of it striding up one of our hackberry trees. I knew at once what it was.

I crossed my fingers it would hang around today. Sure enough, when I returned from the library and was mowing our backyard, it made several quick visits to the feeding tray. When I finished, I sat in the kitchen and watched the tray. It was coming down for sunflower seeds and carrying them off to the safety of the hackberry. I sprinkled some more seeds into the tray and took up my observing position in the kitchen, accompanied by Samba and my Canon S2 IS digital camera. I managed to get a few pictures. Not great shots, but not terrible either. A lot of detail can be seen.

I have only seen a red-breasted nuthatch once before. Coincidentally it was in our backyard. White-breasted are common enough at Missouri state parks. It might be that red-breasted nuthatches simply pass through the area when migrating, though Sibley lists them as winter residents in our part of the country. Anyway, it was a wonderful addition to our usual urban crew of mourning doves, house sparrows, grackles, starlings, and red-winged blackbirds. Before long, several grackles discovered the sunflower seeds, and a group of nervy sparrows also flew up. The nuthatch made a few more abortive passes at the feeder and then retired to the trees to wait out the larger birds.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Samba Report

Thanks to our many friends who have asked how Samba, our beloved Rottweiler, is doing. We learned in June that Samba, who turned 8 this summer, has osteosarcoma, an aggressive and incurable form of bone cancer. Rotties get a lot of negative press as a result of owners who don't understand how to manage and care for their dogs. Properly raised and trained, however, they are devoted and delightful companions. And Samba is one of the best. We were devastated when we learned that he has this terrible disease, which occurs all too often in large breed dogs.

We noticed Samba was limping after a camping trip, and found a lump on his front left leg just above the pastern. We thought he had sprained his leg, but our vet said he was afraid the situation was much worse. An x-ray indicated he was right. We took Samba to the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center in Overland Park, Kansas for more x-rays and diagnostic tests, all of which confirmed the original diagnosis.

We read all we could about the disease, talked to other friends who own Rotties, and joined the BoneCancerDog Yahoo eGroup. This latter resource proved to be one of the most helpful and best in the decisions we made about Samba's care. Second only after Dr. Heather Heeb, the canine oncologist at VSEC.

Many dogs with Samba's condition live for only a few months. The average survival time is four to six months. Dogs who have their leg surgically removed and then get chemotherapy tend to have better survival rates, some living as long as a year or two after diagnosis. We scheduled Samba for surgery, but on the day we took him in, when the orthopedic surgeon examined Samba, he told us he didn't think surgery was a good choice for Samba. He said most of the dogs who have amputations are in so much pain they can't put any weight on the affected leg. But Samba, though he was limping, was putting pretty much his full weight on the leg and didn't seem to be in much pain. In addition, large Rottweilers often have a difficult time getting around when a front leg is removed: a back leg removal is easier for them. He told us that some dogs remain in the hospital for as much as a week or two after their surgery before they can get around well enough to go home.

That was it for us. Samba hates being separated from us. So much so that we have not boarded him since he was a year old. We even got an RV so he could go on vacations with us. Staying in the hospital for a week or two is something that he might never really get over.

So instead of surgery and chemo, we opted for radiation therapy (three treatments in three weeks) and intravenous pamidronate treatments (a medication to strengthen his bones) once a month. Samba is also getting a Deramaxx painkiller pill once a day, and we switched him to a grain-free diet: Innova EVO kibble flavored with EVO canned chicken and turkey. Samba didn't like the kibble that well, but he is nuts for the EVO canned food and would probably eat rocks if we put the canned food over them. We also reduced his kibble by one cup a day (he now gets two cups) and added one can of green beans. The green beans add bulk without additional calories which is helping Samba lose a little weight.

We are thrilled to report that Samba has responded exceptionally well to this course of treatment. He has not limped since his first radiation treatment and has not suffered from vomiting or diarrhea. He goes in for his third pamidronate treatment next Monday (September 10). He is full of energy and fun and having the time of his life. What's more, follow-up chest x-rays indicate that the metastatic tumor in his lungs, if that is what it is, has not grown larger and no additional tumors have appeared.

We are crossing our fingers and hoping Samba makes it to his ninth birthday next summer. But no matter what, we are determined to keep him with us and as comfortable and as happy as we can for as long as possible. Here is a picture I took of Samba lounging on our back porch on Labor Day.