Lunar Eclipse | Images of Totality

Originally posted on JAR Blog...:

The previous post explained the nature of a total lunar eclipse and what to watch for. The post also described the four consecutive total lunar eclipses we can expect in the next two years, known as a tetrad.

I set the alarm for 2 am. Total eclipse was to begin for my location in eastern Iowa at 2:08 CDT. The camera settings were made the night before. It was already on the tripod. Images were from my front lawn.

For the photographers:

  • Fuji FinePix S602 ZOOM at 6x
  • ISO 200
  • White Balance set to incandescent
  • Exposure 2 seconds using the self-timer mode to avoid shake
  • Focal Length 47 mm
  • White level was set in each of the next four images using the star Spica at lower right

This diagram shows the path of the Moon across the penumbra and umbra of the Earth’s shadow. Times are for the eastern time zone…

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Decorah Eaglets | D18-19-20 | All Hatched

by Jim and Melanie

It was a cold and brutal winter in northeast Iowa near Decorah where the Bald Eagle live-streaming nestcam is located. (Wait for the 30 s ad to go away.) The IA winter was the coldest in 35 yrs. Three eggs were laid in February. Hatching started in late March. There was concern whether the cold damaged one or more of the eggs. The third eaglet emerged the morning of April 7. Below is one of the three eaglets up close. Cute, isn’t it? Volunteers are on hand to manually operate the nestcam if something interesting happens.

A volunteer called dragonlainey has a YouTube channel with several good videos of eagle activity. Here is one of the latest. It shows feeding, arrival of fresh fish, and one of the eaglets in a stupor from a full gullet. The parents have raised several broods over the recent years. They are doing a good job again with these three.

Bookmark the links. Live views. YouTube highlights.

Visit often. Enjoy some of the wonder that nature has to offer.

Oklahoma Hike | Glass Mountains State Park

by Jim and Melanie

Drive 45 minutes west of Enid, OK and you reach the Glass Mountains State Park. It is small, only 640 acres (1 mi2). Sometimes referred to as the Gloss Hills, their name comes from the sheen and sparkle of selenite crystals, or gypsum. The tops of the mesas are thick with them and appear light gray and green. There are also thin layers of selenite in the red dirt of the Permian soil in these “Shining Mountains”. Click this Google Maps image to do some exploring.

Light gray areas are tops of 150 ft high mesas.

Light gray areas are tops of 150 ft high mesas.

At the lower left of the map is a turnout from highway 412 into a parking lot. From there, you can take the trail up the steep 150 foot climb to the top of the largest mesa.


Roadside entrance sign.

Show me more.

The Magic Day: Calendar Tricks for Geeks

by Melanie and Jim

Amaze your friends! Astound your neighbors! Confuse your enemies! Calculate the day of the week for any date, all without consulting a paper OR electronic calendar!

Several years ago my dad, a brilliant man, told me about a calendar trick he used. The trick allowed him to figure the day of the week for nearly any date. While other people were still looking in their paper planners (back in the old days,) he already knew.


Original calendar layout  jks Lola – | Noted dates by Jim and Melanie in IA

In 2014, Friday is the MAGIC DAY, a reference day around which the calendar trick revolves.

Let’s begin with the easy ones:
the 4th day of the 4th month and
the 6th day of the 6th month and
the 8th day of the 8th month and
the 10th day of the 10th month and
the 12th day of the 12th month

ALL fall on the same day of the week, the MAGIC DAY. In 2014 the Magic Day is Friday.
Note that for the EVEN numbered months starting in April, the day and month match up.

Besides those:
the 9th day of the 5th month and
the 5th day of the 9th month and
the 11th day of the 7th month and
the 7th day of the 11th month

ALL fall on the same day of the week, the MAGIC DAY. In 2014 the Magic Day is Friday.
Note how 5 and 9 match up [think "9 to 5"] and 7 and 11 match up [think "7-11"].

That leaves January through March. February and March are simple.

For February, the LAST day of the month is the Magic Day (Friday this year), regardless of whether or not it is leap year.

For March, since the LAST day of February is the Magic Day, the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th of March also fall on the Magic Day. Pi Day is the Magic Day!

January is more difficult, but because the last day of February is the reference day, the last day of January is the same day EXCEPT in leap years. In leap year it is the day before the reference day. For example, in 2012, a leap year, the last day of January was Tuesday, not Wednesday. (Go ahead, check the calendar and see.)

Once you know these rules, you can move backward or forward in any month to determine the day of the week. For example, my son’s birthday is on the Magic Day, and mine is two days later. This year his birthday is Friday, so mine must be Sunday.

The reference day progresses through the years. It becomes one day later every year, except in leap years when it advances two days. In 2011, the Magic Day was Monday, and it progressed two days to Wednesday in 2012. In 2013, it was Thursday, and in 2014, it is Friday.

These days when so many people carry smart phones, it may not be as useful as it used to be. But I don’t have a smart phone. I have a dumb phone, and I still use these rules. Do you think you are geeky enough to remember and use these rules?

Basil Pesto | Food of the Gods

Sweet basil, fragrant, green, versatile. It’s used in Italian cooking as well as Asian. For those who keep a kitchen garden, it’s also easy to grow.

It’s spring. As the air turns sweet with the budding trees and greening grass, thoughts turn to gardening. We’ve lived in this house for 12 years now, and each year Jim plants a garden in a small area of terracing on the south side of the house. His crop always includes tomatoes, and now it has a permanent rhubarb plant. The other items vary. This year he’ll plant pole beans again, as well as hot peppers. For herbs, he’s tried dill, rosemary, peppermint, and basil. Basil, sweet basil. We come back to it, year after year. Reliable, delicious, and apparently not attractive to the deer, it grows easily and prolifically.

And most importantly, we use it. All of it.

A popular use of raw basil leaves is the Caprese salad, simply made from slices of juicy tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, good olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and fresh-ground pepper. Some people like a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, as well.

Photo from the blog

But our favorite use of basil is pesto, what I’ve come to believe is one of the foods of the gods. And because I love it so much, and because I love you so much, I will share the recipe with you.

Basil-Walnut Pesto



Basil Pesto Sauce

  • Servings: 15-18 3-oz cups
  • Time: 30 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

by Melanie and Jim in IA

Two batches of the recipe below uses the full product of about one basil plant, grown to full-size and likely beginning to flower already. We make it in an 11 cup food processor. If your food processor is smaller, you can do it in smaller batches keeping the proportions the same.

  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, or 1 T minced garlic
  • Process these on pulse a few times to get them started.

Fill the food processor with washed basil leaves, and add

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup grated or slivered Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 T salt
  • 1/2 T pepper

Process. Stop once and scrape down the sides, and process until smooth.

Once the pesto is done, spoon it into 3-ounce unwaxed paper cups and freeze it. You’ll have 15-18 paper cups when processing in two batches, each paper cup nearly full. After it’s frozen, we drop them into a 1 gallon zip-top bag and keep in the freezer to use, one scrumptious lump at a time. You may also spoon portions into ice cube trays to freeze.


Curses! The 3-ounce paper cups we’ve always used are Dixie cups, a brand owned by the evil Koch Brothers. Once these cups are gone, we will not buy more. Other people often recommend spooning it into ice cube trays, popping the lumps out of the tray once frozen. That would work, too, but the capacity for each would be less, so you will need to adjust the amount used in recipes.

You may have noticed the recipe uses walnuts rather than pine nuts, the more traditional ingredient. Pine nuts could be substituted, I suppose, but they cost approximately twice as much as walnuts per pound, and we like the walnuts anyway. Another thing you may notice is the consistency. Unlike many jarred pestos you can buy at the store, this is thick and far less oily. In fact, it uses about half the oil you would use if you made pesto from a traditional recipe for immediate use. I LIKE having half the oil, both for how we use it and from a portion-control standpoint.

What Should I Do with the Pesto Lumps?

Now that you have pesto, you’ll love using it! Here are some ways you can use it:

Green Pizza
Use one thawed pesto lump as your sauce, instead of red sauce. Top with your favorite toppings, bake and eat! I especially love mushrooms, chopped artichoke hearts, black or kalamata olives, mozzarella, and a little feta on mine.

Pesto Pasta
Boil your pasta (penne, rotini, farfalle, or your favorite) as directed. (Oops! Can’t use Barilla pasta anymore!) Heat one lump of pesto in another pan, loosened with a spoon of pasta water. Top the pasta with the pesto, grate Parmesan cheese on top, and eat!

Pesto Rubbed Roast Chicken
Thaw one lump of pesto, smear most of it under the skin of a whole chicken, and massage the rest onto the chicken. Roast as usual.

Pesto Rubbed Pork Loin Roast
Yep, same as the chicken except you’ll rub it all on top, not under a skin.

Pesto-Marinated Pork Chops or Chicken Breasts
Place meat in a zip-top bag. Thaw a lump of pesto and dump it into the bag. Add a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar. Marinate in refrigerator up to 2 or 3 hours. Cook the meat as usual.

If you need more ideas of how to use it, find 50 things to make with pesto at this foodnetwork site.

How do YOU like to use pesto? Do you have a favorite recipe?

Senator Gladys Pyle of South Dakota

We celebrate women’s history one month a year. Though most of us could argue that women should be celebrated every day, perhaps it is fitting that the designated month is March. March, with the beginning of spring, the symbolism of birth and growth. March, whose very name implies strength and unity and progress. March is a month that symbolizes women well.

Today I bring you the story of a woman who led in the arena of politics, much before her time, a woman named Gladys Pyle.

“The Greek word for ‘idiot’, literally translated, means one who does not participate in politics. That sums up my conviction on the subject.”
~ Gladys Pyle

Gladys Pyle lived by her conviction and was politically active her entire life. Born October 4, 1890 in Huron, SD, she grew up with examples of political careers held by both of her parents. Her father, an attorney and politician who also served as the state’s Attorney General, died when Gladys was 11. Her mother and sisters were involved with the Women’s Suffrage movement, successfully helping to bring women’s voting rights to South Dakota. After her father’s death, her mother taught school and later served on the Huron College Board of Affairs.

As an adult, Gladys broke ground time after time. After graduating from Huron College, Gladys took a position as teacher and basketball coach for both the boys’ and girls’ teams at nearby high schools. She taught for six years before becoming the superintendent of schools for a small school district near Huron, possibly the first female district superintendent in the state.

She decided to enter the political fray, becoming the first woman member of the state House of Representatives in 1923. Her entry into the position only came after demanding a recount after a very close vote. In 1927 she became Secretary of State, the first woman to be elected to statewide office. A Republican, she ran for governor in 1930. There were a number of men in the race, as well, and it was a hard fought primary battle between them, the men virtually ignoring Gladys. Going into May’s convention, Gladys had the lead in balloting. But after deal-making, the man with the fewest votes going into the convention won the party nomination, going on to become governor.

Though she didn’t win the governorship, she next was appointed to the state securities commission from 1931-33, the same period when federal securities laws were enacted to improve stability of the financial system.

In 1936 one of South Dakota’s senators died after a long illness. A successor was appointed, but state law allowed the appointee to serve only until the next scheduled general election, in November of 1938. In addition, the law would not allow a candidate to appear on the ballot twice, so the man nominated for the general election, to be sworn in the next January, could not be elected to the slot open from the time of the election in November until January. Gladys was “the man” for the job.

Senator Gladys Pyle filled the vacant Senate seat from November 9, 1938 until January 3, 1939. She was the first woman elected to the Senate without having been appointed first. Also she was the first woman Republican to serve in the Senate.

She moved to Washington, DC for the two month term, as there were rumors that President Roosevelt would call a special session to take advantage of the Democratic majority in Congress. No special session was called, and Senator Pyle never was sworn in. However, during the time she filled the position, she advocated on behalf of her constituency. Most expenses were paid out of her own pocket. Since she was not sworn in, she did not have a salary.

After her short term in office, she returned to Huron to resume her career in insurance. In addition to filling other positions in public life, she continued as a licensed insurance agent until 1986. At that time, at age 95 years old, she retired and moved into a nursing home. She died in 1989 at age 98.

Gladys Pyle, an ancestor of Jim’s, was a remarkable woman who broke barriers all her life. In her political career as well as her business career, and even as a young woman when she coached basketball and served in education administration, she led the march for women in public life. She lived her conviction, involved in the arena of politics, for the good of the people of her state and the progress of women everywhere.

In his comment below, Jim adds this link with more great information about her. Take a look.

Blood Donation | So Others May Live

“Hello. Is Jim there? This is Pat from the blood center.”

“Just a minute, Pat. I will get him for you.” said Melanie.

I told Pat I would check my calendar and call back to make an appointment.

About every 8 weeks like clockwork, the DeGowin blood donor center at the University of IA calls to make an appointment to donate platelets. The process is different from donation of a pint of whole blood. If you have never donated platelets, you might be interested in knowing what this procedure is like. If you have never donated blood at all, please consider doing it. I’m not going into great detail about the procedure. Just the basics. Why is blood donation important?

I arrived for my appointment and parked in the nearest ramp. Our blood center pays for the parking as a way to encourage donors to come in. The blood center is right across the driveway and up one floor. I made my way to the check in desk and said hello to Pat. She was glad to see me again. She is a familiar face at the desk and has greeted donors for many years.

One of the nurse-phlebotomists escorted me to a private room so I could complete the questionnaire about my recent history. It has about 50 questions related to general health, diseases I might have had or been exposed to, out of country travel, had I been tattooed, sexual activity, medications, and whether I had read the informational materials. I opened the door when I was done and was joined by the nurse who would be with me for the donation. This time it was Craig.

We made some small talk and caught up on a few things since last time. He asked when I had my last meal. Craig asked about the out of country time a few years ago from the question form. He cleaned a finger-tip and poked it with a lance to draw a few drops of blood. The small vial would check to see if my blood was up to standards. Only one time has it found my hematocrit was borderline. That time I was told not to donate. He checked my temperature and blood pressure. When he left the room, Craig said to use the restroom and get something to drink or eat from the next room. He would join me when the blood vial was finished.


My blood sample was fine. We headed into the larger room with several donation couches and machines next to each about the size of a dishwasher. I laid back in the couch and got comfortable. It was warmed and felt very cozy. Craig checked the printout from my blood sample test machine and entered them into the large machine next to my couch.

This image is very close to what it looked like. It is often called an apherisis machine. The automated blood collection system takes blood from one arm of a donor, puts it into a centrifuge, removes the desired component, and returns the remaining blood to the arm. That cycle is repeated many times with small collections from the arm. At no time is the donor ever missing much of their own blood volume.

My time connected to the machine was a little more than 60 minutes this time. I have been connected up to 90 minutes. The amount of time depends on what blood components they are collecting and what condition the donor’s blood is in. The components that can be collected are platelets, plasma, and red blood cells. Each blood component has a different density. When spun in the centrifuge at several hundred to a few thousand revolutions per minute, the parts separate out into layers. These layers are extracted and collected into bags hanging on the machine.

During the donation, I had opportunities to visit with the nurses, watch TV on a small screen lowered in front of me, read, listen to music, etc. Everything that needed my hands was limited to one hand. But, someone was always happy to help with anything like turning a page, etc.

When I was finished, Craig removed the needle from my arm and bandaged it well. He checked my blood pressure and pulse again. He asked if I was feeling fine. Then, he thanked me and released me to the room for some liquids and snacks for 10 minutes or so. After that, I went to the front desk and got a parking pass from Pat. I was on my way home. The whole process from start to finish was about 90 minutes, a little shorter this time.

If you are able, consider giving the gift of blood at your blood center. If you are a donor, thank you for your help. It is a way you can actually save the life of another person.