Feb 26, 2011

Strange Snow Formation

While looking out my back door this evening, I noticed an unusual shape in the snow on the deck. Pictured on your left is a nearly perfect right angled snow formation on a deck post.

Knowing that right angles are somewhat rare in nature, I wondered how this shape came to be. My best guess is that this shape was formed as a result of the partial melting of what was originally a sphere, causing the flat surface that was underneath the snow to shift at a 90 degree angle when some of the snow fell off the side of the post.

And no: this was not man-made. There were no footprints in the fresh snow anywhere near the post in question, though perhaps an enterprising unladen swallow could have performed such a feat.

Feb 23, 2011

Al Stewart - "Year of the Cat"

I always loved this song as a kid, and recently I have been playing the bejeesus out of this Al Stewart tune on my iPod. The following live version of "Year of the Cat" was recorded live in 1976 on the BBC program The Old Grey Whistle Test:

The songwriting is brilliant (though Stewart has mentioned it is not among his personal favorites among his recordings) and there are lines with sheer beauty, like the opening of the second verse: "She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running like a watercolor in the rain." I also enjoy the seamless solos in the instrumental break, which morph from cello to acoustic guitar to electric guitar to saxophone.

In addition, the musicianship in the song is impeccable. I especially enjoyed hearing George Ford's bass work in the digitized version of the song, an element of "Year of the Cat" that unfortunately became washed out on the tinny AM transistor clock radio I owned in the 1970s.

Six minutes of sonic joy: what more could you ask from a musician?

Feb 21, 2011

Northwest Ohio Ice Storm

ice-coated branches of a cherry tree Left: ice-coated branches of a cherry tree

I have to admit that there is a certain beauty associated with the aftermath of a winter ice storm. Pictured on your left are some ice-coated branches of one of my cherry trees that glisten in the grey post-storm light.

The sounds of an ice storm are also unique, beginning with the crunching of human feet and vehicle tires across the frozen landscape. Each passing breeze also creates a crackling noise in the neighborhood trees that is not unlike popping corn, or perhaps the sound of distant fireworks.

Yet the damage associated with a severe ice storm far outweighs any fleeting aesthetic pleasures, and my yard took quite a beating in the storm that passed overnight. My yard is strewn with many dozens of goodly-sized branches, including the 20-foot fir limb that crashed down while I was beginning some cleanup.

 limb from a fir tree broken by heavy ice accumulation Left: limb from a fir tree broken by heavy ice accumulation

My yard better resembles a war zone, or the aftermath of a severe wind storm, than it does a quiet winter scene. I will be spending many hours chopping up these limbs and branches, and I suspect I will have enough firewood for the chiminea to handle three years' worth of outdoor parties.

A large broken limb in my neighbor's yard also hangs precariously over the power line that services my house. I am tempted to go cut it myself, but I would not want to be the party responsible if I guessed wrong and caused a power outage. I suppose the best course of action is to call Toledo Edison and hope they get to the problem before the broken limb completely snaps off.

Or luck could be on my side: the limb might break, glance off the line, and be nothing more than another branch to clean up.

Feb 20, 2011

First Crocuses

Given the lengthy and bone-chilling nature of the current winter, I was heartened to see that some of my crocuses have begun to sprout today. This is the earliest I can recall seeing crocus sprouts, and I am not sure if this is: a) the markings of a different crocus variety; b) a true sign of spring's imminent arrival; or c) a false start due to the warm temperatures we experienced the past five days.

Of course, no sooner had I uploaded this image than I looked out the window to see thick, fluffy snowflakes falling in the latest winter storm. Still, the sign of fresh green life brings me some hope that this bitter winter is waning, and that in a few weeks we will finally say goodbye to a particularly brutal stretch of cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls.

Feb 16, 2011

On Winter Daffodils and Seasonal Blahs

I have been beset by a significant mental funk of late; I am not sure if this is a pronounced case of a seasonally-induced blues, or if I am just passing through a low level depressive phase. I do not much feel like writing, and most of my energy gets sucked up by work, though I should be grateful that I am not falling behind in the classes I teach during this spell.

In order to jar myself out of my melancholia, I purchased some daffodils at the store the other day. The flowers almost called out to me, and for a brief moment the fog lifted as I loaded them into my shopping cart.

I wish I could say the flowers brought me immediate joy, but this is not the case. Still, seeing some life in the middle of a rather dreary winter cannot hurt, and perhaps these flowers will last long enough for the first crocuses to appear next month.

I planted about 250 bulbs from a variety of tulips, daffodils, and irises last fall. This alone should be reason enough not to stick my head in the gas oven (sorry: this is not a suicide hint, just a bit of gallows humor).

Springtime: you cannot arrive soon enough.

Feb 11, 2011

Fighting Temptation and Saving Money

I was late in making myself some lunch today, and I ran into an advertisement from a local pizzeria for some delicious-looking cheese bread. Despite working in the pizza business for several decades, I am always a sucker for a fresh-baked pizza or cheese bread, and it took considerable willpower not to pick up the telephone and place an order.

Two quick points: 1) I am trying to lose weight; and 2) I am trying to rein in unnecessary expenses so we can remodel our kitchen. Both of these goals are antithetical to the purchase of a calorie-laden cheese bread, so I decided to look around the kitchen to see what might work as a substitute for this craving.

A couple of leftover wheat hamburger buns jumped out at me, as did some two slices of low fat Provolone cheese. I baked the two at 500 degrees for a few minutes, and I substituted a little olive oil for the butter. Sprinkling a bit of Parmesan cheese and Italian seasonings, and voila! Homemade cheese bread that was at least half the calories of something I might have purchased (I estimate this was about 450 calories), and I did not shell out $4-$5 on an unnecessary purchase.

The taste was reasonably close to what I imagined the commercial cheese bread would be, and I am sure that my arteries were no worse for the wear after eating this creation.

Feb 6, 2011

Dogs vs. Squirrel vs. Snow

The fresh accumulation of another six inches of snow last night did not deter my dogs in one of their primary missions, which is to keep the property as squirrel-free as possible. The new snow brings the total snow pack to just under two feet, though the dogs managed to trample down the snow under this crabapple tree:

Interestingly, when I played back this short video, my dogs (now inside) ran immediately to the east windows and began barking in the direction of the same tree. It seems clear to me that this was a form of canine language, as they not only responded to the sound of the barks, but they specifically went to a certain place and stared at the exact same spot.

Feb 5, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Prediction

In keeping with my past traditions, I am posting my annual Super Bowl prediction. Now, though I would not recommend taking anything I say straight to your bookie, I can say that last year's prediction of a victory by the New Orleans Saints raised my Super Bowl prognostication record to 5-0 since joining the blogosphere half a decade ago.

This year I see the aerial exploits of the Green Bay Packers being a bit too much for the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the unfortunate loss of center Maurkice Pouncey will continue to hurt the offensive line of the Steelers (though his replacement, Doug Legursky, might be alittle better at pass protection). A late TD by Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson will be the difference maker in a close game, with the Packers coming out on top 27-21.

I think the Packers will also come out ahead in the turnovers category, picking off a Ben Roethlisberger pass and scooping up a funble along the way. Green Bay, meanwhile, will only turn over the ball once, probably from a deflected pass. MVP for the game: Aaron Rodgers, who returns to the superhuman playmaking that has carried the Packers for the past two months (setting aside the pedestrian numbers he put up against Chicago two weeks ago).

Other recent successful Historymike predictions:

2009 Prediction: Steelers 27, Cardinals 21 (Actual 27-23 Steelers win)
2008 Prediction: Giants 27, Patriots 24 (Actual 17-14 Giants win)
2007 Prediction: Colts 27, Bears 21 (Actual 29-17 Colts win)
2006 Prediction: Steelers 24, Seahawks 17 (Actual 21-10 Steelers win)

Feel free to leave your own predictions and/or homer hate mail in the Comments section.

Feb 2, 2011

Snowmageddon 2011: Round Two

The second (and larger) wave of Snowmageddon 2011 turned out to be somewhat less devastating than early projections suggested. Certainly this was one of the more impressive winter storms in Northwest Ohio the past few years, but it might not even be the biggest storm of the decade.

We benefited from a sudden northward surge in the sleet/freezing rain line, as the early snowfall was interrupted with a few hours of dense sleet. This was kind of a pain in the arse to clear - even with a new snowblower - yet I did manage to clear four driveways and a significant section of the street in 2-1/2 hours.

Not bad for a forty-something with a wicked upper respiratory infection.

Today's workout was more of the backbreaking labor effort. The 8-10" heavy snow was a struggle for the machine to move, and many times I had to really lunge into the work. My neighbor's driveway, for example, received an unkind gift from both an east-west and north-south plow (he lives on a corner) and I spent a good half-hour destroying a two-foot mountain of snow at the base of his driveway.

Still, this was considerably less strenuous than the days of a shovel.

Feb 1, 2011

Snowmageddon 2011: Round One

I just finished clearing away the first wave of what is being billed as the biggest winter storm in decades in this area (as well as setting snow records in many other parts of the country). We received 4.5 inches of snow overnight by my measurement, and later this afternoon the main blast should start arriving in Northwest Ohio.

This year I have been blessed by the acquisition of a new snow blower, which my wonderful wife bought for me. After dutifully shoveling snow for approximately four decades in cities like Detroit and Toledo, I suppose I paid my precpitative dues.

I am amazed at what a time saver the snow blower has turned out to be. I cleared three driveways in about one hour this morning (I have two elderly neighbors who patiently endured the many years of noise and hijinks from our children, so I consider this to be a form of penance). With an old-fashioned shovel I estimate the same amount of work would have taken me at least three hours, and this does not include the street clearing I can bring about with the 24" swath of gasoline-powered doom I can wreak on accumulated snow.

Even better, I no longer suffer from the inevitable backaches that accompany snow shoveling. It was almost a foregone conclusion that my snow-clearing efforts would bring on at least moderate back pain, and I can recall a few winters where a steady snowfall over a period of weeks meant non-stop backaches for me.

Thus, I await the worst that Snowmageddon 2011 can send my way. Bring it.