Saturday, October 31, 2009

NOW it's a special day!

It’s no secret how much I despise Halloween and all of its ugliness. But now we have a reason to look forward to 31 October. It is the day we finish our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes ( ).

We pull out the container of items we’ve picked up thru the year and sort them into piles on the table. After all the months, we really don’t remember everything we have. I know there will be a good supply of school items – I get those during the back to school sales. Can’t beat .15c for a notebook or .25c for a ruler.

After we do an inventory of what we have, we head out for the evening. First stop is to the Dollar Tree and then to Wal-Mart. After our shopping is done we go out someplace nice for supper.

And then the best part… putting together our shoeboxes! We use plastic containers. The container is the first gift. We line the bottom with a towel. Since you can see thru the plastic this fabric is our “wrapping paper” and is the second gift. Then it’s time to STUFF the box. There are school supplies – notebooks, pencils, erasers, rulers, etc. This year I found backpacks on clearance for $1 each. Those took some tight rolling to compress them down! Always put hygiene items in – toothbrushes, combs, soap, tweezers, etc. Items to eat with – a plastic bowl & cup, and a spoon. And of course these are for children and there must be toys! Cars, balls, puzzles, a musical instrument, and a soft “lovie”. And this year we were able to put in 2 shirts and 2 pair of socks – given to us by people who know about our box packing. Sounds like a lot to fit in a large shoebox, doesn’t it? I am a master packer!

Oh… I forgot about the final gift. And according to Samaritan’s Purse, the most important gift. We enclose a Christmas card in which we write a note to the child and enclose a photo of us. We’ve been blessed to receive 3 letters over the years from children who have gotten one of our boxes. Jamaica, Philippians and India. And one year in the annual report newsletter, a photo showed one of our boxes being opened by a boy in Sudan. Wow!

Every year since we were told by the Operation Christmas Child region representative that the boxes they run out of first are the ones for boys 10 to 14 years old, we have done 6 boxes for that age range.

But this year we’ve added one more box. A box for a little girl in the youngest age range – 2 to 4 years old. This is in honor of our new niece Little Bird. We will keep doing this box. We are looking forward to next year scooping up this little sweetie and taking her shopping to fill that shoebox. As the years pass we will do shoeboxes that correspond to Little Bird’s age.

We’re looking forward to it…

The table loaded with goodies.

Items that went into the boy boxes.

Our honorary packer - Little Bird!

Items that went into "Little Bird's Box" (for a 2-4 year old girl).

"Little Bird's Box" finished.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Little Bird at 7 Weeks

Our last stop on our trip was in Missouri to visit *my* family. We were especially eager to spend some more time with our Little Bird. Except… she wasn’t so little anymore! HOW can a baby grow that much in just 5 weeks??

One clue is the catch-phrase “Little Bird hungry!” She is making good use of all that formula she’s going thru!

Now she looks AT you. She’ll even turn her head towards you sometimes. Big smiles all the time. Well…almost all the time. If that bottle is late…
The bib says it all!!!

NOT a happy camper!

Who's that pretty baby in the picture?


Keeping Little Bird sweet smelling!

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Visit to Abe's Home

The last leg of our trip we headed to Missouri to see my family before heading back to TN. And between our night stop of Bloomington, IL and DeSoto is Springfield, IL.

What’s special about Springfield? It was the home of Abraham Lincoln and is also his burial place. Sometime when I was in high school – can’t remember exactly when – we made a field trip over there. Unfortunately it didn’t make much impression on me because the only thing I clearly remember is everyone rubbing Lincoln’s nose on one of the bronze statues at his tomb.

So I decided since we are going right past it, now would be a good time to visit with a bit more mature appreciation.

Following the “Lincoln Trail” signs into town, our first stop was his tomb. Kinda backwards but that is just the way it worked out. Found out they’re closed on Mondays but we still had a look around. First thing we saw was a very shiny nosed bust of Abe in front of the tomb! He hasn’t changed much in about 30 years! After looking around a bit, we took off – making a slight detour to look around the cemetery and at a war memorial there.

Next stop was at Lincoln’s home ( ). Very interesting site. Not only is his home restored… but much of the neighborhood around it is part of the park and also restored back to period. Those other buildings are offices for the park service. Pretty cool. There is also a small museum and gift shop on the site.

Tours are free but you have to get a ticket to lock in a time slot. They only allow 17 people per tour because it’s pretty cramped. But not bad.

We didn’t make it over to the Presidential Museum – we’ll hit that on another trip thru Springfield. By the time we finished at the homeplace it was time to get rolling for Missouri!

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln Trivia:

Lincoln quote: "Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

There are no living descendants of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln’s son sold his father’s home to the state of Illinois for $1 and with the provision that there never be a charge for people to visit it. And to this day, it is free for all to see.

In 1909, President Lincoln appeared on a one-cent coin and became the first American president to have his face appear on a regular-issue American coin.

Frederick Douglass said Lincoln was "the first great man that I talked with in the United States freely, who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the difference of color."

Abraham Lincoln established the US Department of Agriculture.

Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, the first one being celebrated on November 26, 1863.

According to his wife Mary, Lincoln's hobby was cats. (I knew I liked that man!)

And the trim on his home is the same color as our deck is stained. –LOL-
Outside of Lincoln's home.

Front sitting parlor.

The Lincoln family room.

Lincoln's bed. It is 6 ft 9 inches long to accommodate his 6'4" frame. The wallpaper is an exact replica of what was there.

Lincoln's Tomb

Still shining!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

International Crane Foundation

After the excitement of seeing the wild Whooping Cranes, we drove to Baraboo, WI to see the International Crane Foundation ( ). They have on display specimens of all 15 worldwide crane species. Besides seeing these unusual birds, I was also hoping to get some close-up shots of Whooping Crane.

I ended up with photos of 12 species, including my Whooper close-ups – the other 3 must have been hiding from the cold windy weather!

Entry gates to the International Crane Foundation.

Whooping Crane

Grey Crowned Crane

Sandhill Crane

Wattled Crane

Blue Crane

Eurasian Crane

Demoiselle Crane

Sarus Crane

Siberian Crane

White-naped Crane

Red Crowned Crane

Black Necked Crane

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Whooping Cranes

We went to Necedah Wildlife Refuge looking for one thing – Whooping Cranes!

Whooping cranes are considered extremely endangered. In 1941 there were only SIXTEEN left in the world! That’s just scary. Through extensive efforts the population has increased and as of 2009 there are 539 Whooping Cranes – 387 between 2 different wild flocks and 152 captive birds.

The original wild flock summers in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada’s Northwest Territories and winters in Aransas NWR, TX. This flock has about 250 now.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership ( ) has established a migratory flock that summers in Necedah NWR, WI and winters in Chassahowitzka NWR, FL. This flock has about 80 in it.

A fascinating part of the Eastern Partnership is that they take eggs from the captive populations and abandoned eggs to raise in a controlled environment. The chicks never see their human caretakers so they do not become imprinted. The caretakers are always dressed in a costume that (loosely) resembles a whooping crane and only make noises similar to the cranes. The chicks are conditioned to fly following an ultralight… and eventually follow “Mama Ultralight” in “Operation Migration” ( ) all the way to Florida to learn their migration route. In the spring, they fly back to Necedah on their own.

I read somewhere there were 64 Whooping Cranes living wild in Necedah this year. So I was looking as we drove around the public areas. We got out to walk along one area and there ahead was a huge patch of white. I had the telephoto lens on my camera and saw…yes…it was Whooping Cranes. Two of them! And they were calling! I was so excited!

Himself took this picture of me photographing the cranes - that's the white you see in the crook of my arm.

Wild whooping cranes!

The call of wild Whooping Cranes. It was very windy that day but if you turn up your volume, you can hear them. It's incredible to think that this sound was almost lost forever...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Trumpeter Swans

It was a treat to see several groups of Trumpeter Swans as we traveled around Wisconsin. They are North America’s largest native bird and the world’s largest waterfowl. The males average wingspan is over 6.5 feet and weigh about 26 pounds. That’s a big bird!

Their call sounds a bit like a Canadian goose with a sore throat.

In the photos you see several swans are wearing collars. They are to track individual birds for study programs. The colors in the colors are unique to species, so the yellow collar verifies that these are indeed Trumpeters.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Looking for old friends from Chelyabinsk, Russia

The Gildish Family

The Gyunter Family

In the early '90s, Himself and I were part of an organization that partnered with families in Chelyabinsk, Russia. And in '94 I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with the families we sponsored.

But time and lousy mail service caused us to loose contact. So this blog is a shout-out incase one of the kids (who are adults now) ever "google" their name.

We would love to hear from you Ivan Gyunter, Olga Gyunter, Lena Gyunter, Sasha Gyunter, and Tanya Gyunter. Also Olya Gildish, Olga Gildish and Rimma Gildish.

Migration at Necedah

Fall is an amazing time in Wisconsin and Minnesota. It’s migration time and there were so many different ducks, geese and cranes in the wetlands.

This video was taken in Necedah Wildlife Refuge. The ‘croaking’ is the call of Sandhill cranes, the Canadian geese are easily recognized.

If you watch to the right over the water, you can see a Bald Eagle swooping back and forth.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Splash of Red

I now consider myself Clarksville’s resident expert on the cranberry. We went on not one but TWO tours of cranberry farms! If there’s something you want to know about cranberries… just ask me! :-)

It’s a good thing I booked the two different tours…monsoons hit the area and really messed up the harvest schedule. But between the two tours on different days we got to see everything that goes into being a cranberry farmer.

Our first tour was thru the Pittsville High School ‘Future Farmers of America’ group. This high school has the nation’s only ‘cranberry science’ class. They call their tour “A Splash of Red”. The kids were the ones who spoke during the tour, with their advisor nearby to help with questions they didn’t know. The kids who could not handle public speaking prepared a cranberry lunch with help from the home ec teacher. They all did a fabulous job!

The second tour was thru Glacial Lakes Cranberries – a big commercial production. It was a very good tour also and covered the local history of cranberry farming. There was also a nice gift shop where you could get cranberry products and fresh berries.

Cranberries are a native American fruit. They were originally called “Crane Berries” because the flowers look very much like the head of a Sandhill Crane.

They are Wisconsin’s #1 fruit crop. There are 250 farmers who grow them and production dates back to the mid-1800s.

To make a cranberry marsh, the topsoil is removed (saved for later use) and the subsoil is dug down about 18 inches. They then backfill the area with about 12 inches of sand. Each marsh is 150 wide and 500 or more long. Each cranberry field has a reservoir of water that is gravity fed into the bogs. They are designed for the water to flow in one side and out the other – to another field. It’s a really efficient system. They grow in acidic sandy soil.

To plant a new field, they mow off tops from other cranberry beds and spread this the same as you’d spread hay over grass seed in your yard. Then a tractor with a type of disk attachment goes over it pushing the pieces into the ground. It’s then packed down and gently watered for a few weeks. Those cuttings take root and that is the start of the new cranberry field.

HOWEVER… it takes 3 to 4 years before there is any harvest. And that first one is small. In 6 years the new bed will be in full production. It takes about $30,000 per acre to establish a new bed. That’s a lot of money to sink in and not see a return on for at least 4 years!

Myth – Cranberries do not grow in water!

The marsh is flooded the day before harvest to make it easier to harvest the berries. There are 2 ways of harvesting. The fruit that will be sold as fresh is harvested with a machine that has tines like a comb. And that’s just what it does… it combs the berries off the vine very gently so they don’t bruise (which would cause them to spoil quickly). The second method is for berries that will be processed (juice, sauce, crasins, etc). This tractor has a “paddlewheel” on the front and it goes thru the marsh whacking the vines. The berries then float to the top. They are corralled by floating booms like you see holding back oil spills. They put the booms down in the water on the far side of the marsh suspended between 2 tractors on either side of the marsh. They drive along slowly pulling the booms which push the cranberries to the far corner where a machine with a conveyor belt moves them up into the waiting truck. There are a couple guys in the water (just like the Ocean Spray Cranberry guys!) who use bull floats to keep them moving into the conveyor belt.

Once they are harvest, they head over to the buying company. In Wisconsin, 60% of the crop is bought by Ocean Spray. The buying company takes a 10 pound sample with it coming from the front, middle and back of the load. The fruit is then analyzed for ph and sugar levels, as this affects the price the farmer will get. The berries are then unloaded into big tanks, washed and sent inside for crating.


The 5 major cranberry growing states are: WI, MA, OR, NJ and WA.

WI is the top cranberry state – it grows more than half of the US crop.

Cranberries are the fruit highest in antioxidants.

Cranberry bushes bear fruit indefinitely. There are some marshes with vines that are over 100 years old.

In the cranberry marsh!

A couple of kids from the "Cran Crew".

The kids who prepared our very good lunch.

A year old cranberry field.

Cranberries floated but not yet gathered.

Pushing the berries towards the truck.

Cranberry bush.

Flooded cranberries.

A marsh ready for loading.

Field after field of pink-red berries were so pretty.

LOTS of cranberries.

Himself showing the old way of hand harvesting with a rake.

A little bit closer...

Crating the berries at the factory.

An antique quarter barrel (25 pounds) cranberry box.

Loading cranberries.