Monday, September 20, 2021

Scenes from an Evening Walk

Here's a few pics from yesterday's evening walk.

Fall is coming!

Where there's milkweed, there are milkweed bugs. I love that these critters opt for an unintuitive defense mechanism: have overtly colorful markings and consume a steady diet of milkweed. Milkweed is toxic to most animals, and therefore, so are the milkweed bugs who harbor the poison. Over time, animals that may feed on milkweed bugs have learned to read the colorful markings as a warning sign and avoid them. Monarch butterflies, who also feed on milkweed, use the same tactic.

And just when I thought I'd read it all about Oncopeltus fasciatus, milkweed bugs, I found dvoribird's account of raising them.

It was an Oncopeltus fasciatus named Angel who started my bugsession and caused me to fall in love with milkweed bugs with other insects to follow. Angel (mature adult male with mate) came home with me on a milkweed plant purchased at a local nursery on October 22, 2017. I overwintered him, his wife, and a few additions, and he lived until May 2, 2018, a nice long milkweed bug life.

Raising bugs? Of course that's a thing. Dvoribird's description is part science fair project, part field journal and part pet blog. What a delightful and clever way to both learn about another species and develop a deep love of all living things.

I thought I was capturing pictures of a ladybug. Now I'm not so sure. Perhaps I can convince Shira to go back and let me raise him/her? Pretty sure that's going to be a hard no.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

5 Kids and (maybe) 5 Days of Rain | Entertainment Ideas that Worked and Didn't

The weather forecast for our Tybee Island Adventure was looking grim. Meteorologists promised us two days of sunshine, and then a week of rain. I had visions of being trapped in our beach house with 5 restless children, ages 7 to 12. But, to be forewarned is to be forearmed!

To that end, I brought a slew of activities with us to the Georgia coast so the kids would have plenty to do. Some of these worked great, others were a bust. Here's how it broke down.

Shrinky Dinks

Hit. Thankfully, most of the promised rain held off and we were out and about for the vast majority of our trip. But when we did find ourselves stuck inside, everybody enjoyed crafting with Shrinky Dinks. The kids could be as sophisticated as they wanted, and the results, when shrunk, always came out looking good. Given how compact a Shinky Dink kit is, I'd be hard pressed to travel again without one.

Friendship Bracelets

Miss. The Klutz Friendship Bracelet book and Multi color embroidery floss were two high quality items that delivered on their promise: to teach the kids how to make an old school friendship bracelet. Alas, the kids just didn't have the interest to finish what they started. Maybe when the kids are older, or if we have longer stretches of nothing to do, we'll try again.

Drawing Kit

Hit. The kit consisted of a pad, Ed Emberley's Make a World drawing book and a package of colored pencils and was an absolute winner. Drawing was the perfect activity to help kids wind down for bed. Ed Emberley's Make a World is a thin volume that makes drawing accessible to everyone.

Legos, Attempt #1

Miss. On previous trips, Legos were an absolute staple. I'd usually bring a couple of larger sets for us to build one afternoon. This time, I went more minimal and brought a heap of Lego Mini Vehicles for them to build and play with, along with a baggies of extra pieces. The kids were unimpressed by the offering.

Legos, Attempt #2

Hit. Fortunately, our Lego playing didn't stop with what I brought. J asked if he could bring some of his own Legos to supplement mine and I eagerly agreed with him. He too mainly brought along odds and ends like I had, but his collection was filled with mini figures. And that, it turned, was what the kids wanted to play with. I learned my lesson: (1) they are far from too old for Legos (thinking back, at 12 I was just getting into my Lego prime) and (2) mini figures are key. I'll probably pick up a bulk collection of minifigs next trip.

Travel Tanagrams

Hit. Magnetic Tanagarm's were a hit both in the car and at the house. The kids enjoyed building the puzzles as described in the book, as well as inventing their own characters. When paired with online resources, there's no shortage of puzzle building fun to be had.

Card Game: Snip Snap Snorem

Hit. Snip Snap Snorem is an easy to play, group card game. I found it to be my go-to activity when I needed to keep the kids attention for a few minutes. We played it while waiting for our food to be delivered at lunch, or while Shira was finishing odds and ends before we could head out for the day. The game is fast paced and everyone gets to feel like they're winning.


Hit. What made this classic tile game especially fun was how we could invent variations. We'd take turns being the game master, trying out different rules to see what was most fun. What if you started with fewer or more than the required tiles? Or didn't allow users to pick from the bone yard? Or you had to play two tiles on each turn? The most fun version that G came up with was a co-operative version of Dominoes where everyone worked together to build the longest possible sequence.

Wire Jewelry Making Kit

Miss. I've tried Wire Jewelry Making a few times, and I've yet to really crack it. The kit I brought consisted of a spool of 20 gauge wire and pliers to manipulate the wire. The idea is that you find some awesome looking shells or stones and then artistically wrap them in wire to make a necklace. In my minds eye, I'm going to make a whimsical piece of jewelry, but I always end up with a clunky, awkward-looking creation. It didn't help that the beach didn't provide much in terms of interesting shells. Also, the kids didn't have the patience or interest to experiment on their own with this. For now, I'll leave the Jewelry making supplies at home and continue to hone my technique.

Journaling Kit

Miss. I thought this was genius. I packed a notebook, the drawing supplies described above, an M02 Pocket Thermal Printer and sticker paper. The idea was that the kids could both write, draw and print out content to include in a journal. The result would be both an activity to do while traveling and a keepsake at the end. Yeah, no. The kids were not moved. The M02 printer is neat, but they really didn't see the value of a fuzzy black and white prints that it produced. I still think the M02 holds promise, but even I have yet to find a good use for it.

1,000 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle

Miss. This 1,000 piece Marvel Avengers puzzle was going to be the perfect activity for us to chip away at during the week. Alas, the only surface large enough to hold the puzzle was the table we ate at, so the pieces stayed in the box. The puzzle certainly intrigued the kids, but not enough to actually work on assembling it. This one may be pulled out on our next adventure.

5 Minute Marvel Cooperative Card Game

Hit. The kids disappeared upstairs and played this game for the first few nights of the trip. For giving Shira and Myself a few minutes to collect our thoughts, it will forever be considered a winner. In the past, when we played this game together as a family, I was fairly impressed. The game content and cooperative nature is well done.

Card Game: Solitaire

Hit. D had a habit of waking up before everyone. The challenge was to find an activity he could do that wouldn't cause him to wake up the other kids. The solution was solitaire. He'd play the solo card game quietly while everyone else continued to get Zzz's. I'm not sure who taught him this game, but whoever did gets my eternal thanks.

Movie: Sonic the Hedge Hog

Hit. We had a chance for movie night and found ourselves stumped with what to watch. Finally, we opted to watch Sonic the Hedgehog. It. Was. Awesome. The kids got the video game references, and we got the adult jokes. Everybody laughed and soaked up the kid friendly drama that takes place in the movie. As a foster parent, I appreciated the positive message about how families can be formed in unexpected ways. If we had tried to pick such an ideal movie, we never would have done so.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

9/11 Remembered

We walked down to the 9/11 Memorial this evening. It's been closed for Covid, so we were a bit surprised to see it was open today.

On our way down to the Memorial we reflected on 9/11 as a change-agent. Were we safer? Had we learned important lessons? In our zeal, had we overreached, trading freedom for perceived security? Once at the memorial, we were brought back to the simple truth: real people had had their lives cut short on this day. It is truly a moving memorial, made all the more so with the flag draped Pentagon in the background.

On the way back home we noticed a crowd at the Air Force Memorial and tried to figure out what they were waiting for. Then we remembered that they've been shining a spot light in the sky the last few nights and people must have been waiting to see it. Sure enough at 8:00pm sharp, the Tower of Light was lit and we all went to work snapping pics of the impressive beam emanating from the Pentagon.

(All photos are by Shira)

Friday, September 10, 2021

A Silent Phone and A Buzzing Watch; My Latest Notification Strategy

I have a vague memory of a PocketNow watch review where the reviewer noted that he always kept his phone on silent and depended on the watch to deliver notifications. I can't tell you the watch being reviewed, or who the reviewer was; but the idea stuck in my head.

A few months ago, after frustrations trying to set up the perfect Do-Not-Disturb schedule I realized I could try this method. I put my phone on mute and depended on my Vivoactive 4 to alert me to calls, messages and other notifications.

It worked! I found that I was reliably getting alerts without disturbing those around me. I can't believe I didn't try this approach sooner.

I found two gotchas with this setup: first, for reasons that are beyond me, my phone would occasionally turn off Mute and start to make noise again. Second, I didn't love that if my phone got disconnected from my watch it would remain in mute, leaving me with no way to get notifications.

Both of these issues were easy to fix with Tasker. Here's how.

Always Be Silent

Forcing my device to always be in mute mode turns out to be straightforward. I created a profile that is triggered whenever the variable %SILENT is changed. I then have that profile call a task that executes the Sound Mode action, setting the phone's mode back to 'Mute.' Here's how it's setup:

The %SILENT variable is built into Tasker and changes anytime the phone is put into or out of silent (mute) mode. Watching this variable is enough to know when to take corrective action.

Download from Taskernet: Force Silent Mode

No Watch, No Silence

If my watch gets disconnected from my phone I want to stop forcing the phone to always be silent. For this to happen, I created a profile that uses the BT Connection event. This event can detect when my watch connects or disconnects from the phone. This profile kicks off a task which consults %bt_connected. If true, then the watch is connected I enable the Force Silent Mode profile from above and force the phone's sound mode to Mute. If false, I disable the Force Silent Mode profile an set the phone's sound mode to 'Sound.'

I love how I can have this task enable or disable the Force Silent Mode profile. This let's me leverage Tasker's internal state rather than needing to write code to track whether the phone should ever be allowed to unmute.

Download from Taskernet: Watch Status Changed

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Tybee Island Adventure, Day 8, The Last Day

[Composed 8/6/2021]

How we did it is a blur, but we did it. At 7:58am, we piled into a packed-to-capacity car and drove away from our beach house. We had an amazing vacay with the kids and all that was left to do was to drop them off at their respective parents and catch a plane out of town. Man this was going to be a long day.

During the car trip, when the kids got especially loud and out of control, I leveled the most serious threat I could muster. If you guys don't chill out, I'll be forced to read y'all a chapter from the Cherry Ames, Flight Nurse book. This was one threat I had no problem following through on. I'm telling you, this book is awesome. Why the kids aren't more interested in the story is beyond me, but at least it bought us a few minutes of quiet.

The drop-offs to parents went well and in short order, we found ouselves in an empty, quiet Yukon SUV driving back to Jacksonville to catch our flight. Our first stop, however, was a Dunkin Donuts to pee, mentally collect ourselves and have some yummy "recovery" donut holes.

We got back to Jacksonville with enough time for a bonus adventure: we stopped by our cousins' Lindsay and Doug's for some adult time. It was great seeing them and I only wish we had more time to catch up.

Overall, Tybee Island provided just the adventure Shira and I were looking for. The beach was pristine and kid friendly and Savannah and the surrounding area offers endless history to explore. Our VRBO was sized perfectly and the island was generally quiet. With the exception of one ice cream place, we didn't try any restaurants so I'm not sure how good the offering is.

About the only complaint I can level is that the area is super spread out. Tybeee Island to Savannah is a 30 minute drive. Even the Publix is 20 minutes away from the island. During trip planning I shrugged off this timing as no big deal, but in practice we noticed it as an inconvenience.

Overall: this was awesome! Time to start planning 2022!