Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Parting Clouds and Partying Clowns

Most days last week were dull, dreary and for the most part foggy so when I woke early one morning and saw heavy, dense banks of mist hugging dewy grass out of my bedroom window I decided to rush out and head for the Skyline Drive, hoping I'd see some amazing clouds. I'd managed to get a few hikes in last week too, so I'd also go and get an annual pass to the park, as one of my New Year's resolutions is to hike every trail, or as many as I can, on the Skyline Drive.
I left an eerie looking Meadow House and drove as fast as I could to the park. There was no line to get in and very few cars; I had the place pretty much to myself. I soon realized as I drove along that there would be no hiking today. The clouds were incredible, blowing across the lower valley and slamming into the peaks, but the trails along rocky ledges would be dangerous, with visibility impaired, so I decided to concentrate on just capturing these big floating fluff balls before they dissipated and blew away forever. The sun kept trying to break through but was failing, only managing to produce some lighter areas in the grey clouds.
But as the morning wore on, it became evident that the wind was succeeding in ripping the clouds apart, finally letting large blue areas of sky burst through and the last of the white clouds sank into the valley pockets, hugging the river beds and convincing the towns below them that it was still a very foggy morning. But up at 3000ft the sky was clear and it became very cold with strong blustery breezes pummeling across the ridge.
I left after noon and was glad to get back home. This had been my first real arctic experience this winter and with the warm temperatures we'd been treated to through the fall, I wasn't ready for the cold yet!
On Saturday evening our DCUE crew met for a party at Liz's house.
Lewis brought along an old Polaroid camera with film from his expansive collection and took some great shots of the party. A couple are above; it was wonderful waiting for them to develop into the old retro style.
Jason did his usual thing, finding a comfy sofa and settling down for a snooze.
Andrew and John with little Zoey, who like Kota, has her own Facebook page on which she shows off her vast wardrobe of outfits.
Richard made this collage using our beer bottle caps.
We had many laughs playing Cards Against Humanity, one of the best games of all time, and one which is very difficult to stop playing. But after midnight I was feeling tired and having an hour's drive decided to leave....
...and Jason was still on the sofa.

The Foggy Dampish Days of Christmas

At first I was not looking forward to Christmas Day as the weather forecast had predicted a warm day with the sun shining so I grinned with delight when I opened the curtains in the morning to see a soggy, dripping and foggy day. Awesome, the Christmas lights would look lovely with this backdrop!
I had decided to stay at home despite having 3 invitations and so spent a lovely relaxing morning taking my time to prepare the roast dinner and then talked for a couple of hours on the phone with Mum who had already enjoyed her salmon lunch.
 The cats opened their presents and I had to chuckle as I realized they actually had more gifts than  me! Kota allowed Rosie Lee a quick turn on the new cave bed, she had no idea that she should be in it and not on it. Once they were settled I could concentrate on getting my lunch ready and since I'd done all the preparation the day before there was little to do except time the cooking of various things.
 My roast was cooked to perfection even if I say so myself and after having quaffed a couple of sherries while chatting to Mum, I was hungry. The roast potatoes and parsnips were just the right amount of crispy on the outside while tender in the middle, my sprouts and broccoli were firm and the turkey had cooked itself splendidly. The stuffing was moist and crunchy on top and the gravy was just the right consistency. I filled 2 little bowls with turkey, kibble and gravy for Kota and Rosie Lee then sat down to enjoy my meal with a glass of Merlot. Delicious!
The birds had their seed out the front of the house along with some chopped cooked giblets for the crows, and little Sebastian sat on his tree trunk and tucked into the nuts I'd laid out for him. We all munched happily and of course afterwards the inevitable snooze beckoned. With no guests to entertain, Rosie Lee and I settled down on the sofa while Kota snuggled in his new bed, which incidentally I had purchased for both of them, but he had no desire to share, so I've had to order a second one for Rosie Lee. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the grey fogginess outside which wrapped around the house like a cozy blanket while we lazed together by the soft Christmas tree lights.
On Boxing Day, or the day after Christmas Day, I had resolved to work off some of the extra calories I'd consumed and so joined a group at Manassas Battlefields for a hike. It rained all the way there but thankfully eased off when we started walking. There were only 8 of us so it didn't take long for us all to get acquainted and we chatted as we marched. We did notice how few other people were out with us on the trails, likely not ready to work off their dinners just yet.
As we walked we stopped to take photos, noticing the raindrops glinting on bare tree branches like diamonds, and the bright lichens on the wet tree trunks. We were also aware of guns shooting in the distance and laughed when Tom commented on how cool it was that they also supplied sound effects on the battlegrounds to enhance our experience. We realized it was actually the gun range at Bull Run Park.
Tom's idea of a group portrait, pretending to beheld at gun point, or I should say, 'cannon point'. We finished our hike, dry but very muddy. I was glad I'd brought spare boots and even happier later once I was relaxing after a hot shower.
The next morning was a foggy one, drippy and dank, the sky heavy with grey moisture, branches and grass laden with dew drops. I grabbed the camera and hit the back roads for a few hours.
This cow image was my favorite of the morning, with the 'star' cow staring into the lens, once I'd whistled at him a few times!
I came across an alpaca farm, and was delighted to be greeted enthusiastically by the herd. They all trotted over, took a stance and posed quite contentedly, holding their heads in different positions and looking into the lens. I noticed that they gesticulate a lot with their ears, flapping them back and forth excitedly. But they bored quickly with me and after a few minutes trotted off despite me pleading with them to stay. I drove for a while longer until the mists dissipated, lifting off the hills and leaving behind clear blue skies.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Preppers and Guns

On Sunday I went with Bill and Janice to Fredericksburg where there was a gun show and a preppers expo combined. We were very curious about the latter since this is a trend which has exploded in the States in the past few years. TV programs and world violence have fueled the public's need to build a bug out bag or a home defense system in preparation for the impeding Armageddon. I've watched the build up with curious interest.
 This wasn't the clearest posting of signs, it didn't bode too well, I thought...
 Pretty cool FJ truck and trailer but really not effective considering the cost. You'd need a fair amount of fuel to keep this running, which isn't likely to be readily available if the situation arose where the truck was needed.
 I'd seen this guy on a TV prepper program and thought he was a little overboard. He wasn't generating a lot of interest here today.
My enthusiasm peaked when I spotted a tiny house at the prepper show. I've been watching a lot of TV programs featuring these and I find them endearing. I love the idea of pulling a home wherever you want to go, and it certainly prevents a collection of needless material possessions.
It was quite roomy inside with 2 loft bedrooms and a decent sized bathroom. I could live in this happily enough but it was on the expensive side at $63K.
We were quite tempted with these ready made meals sold by the case containing a variety of dishes. These would be great for backpacking and camping. But we didn't buy.
 But we did all buy one of these versatile carbon shovels. Useful for digging, sitting on, tilling and other uses, mine is in the trunk of the car for winter use.
Then we went to the gun show. There now seems to be a lot of concern about the validity of assault weapons. A friend sent me an article from the NRA saying that Democrats are calling for a ban on "assault rifles" they categorize as "weapons of war" designed only for killing people. She wasn't happy about this move, yet I applaud it. I don't believe any of the public should be able to own these weapons, they should be for military use only. The public in the USA can easily purchase pistols, shot guns and rifles, and that also alarms me as it is too easy.
I have been sitting on the fence for nearly 2 years, trying to decide whether I wanted to buy a gun or not, and if I did, what kind. I researched brands and models and have shot many kinds of guns, including a vintage Springfield .22 rifle, a Magnum .45 and a semi automatic AK-47, with a fair few other kinds in between. The decision to buy was not taken lightly, but in the end, my purchase was made for recreational purposes first, and self defense second. I've always been a fair shot with most weapons and would really like to see how good I can get on a range, so today I was looking at pistols.
I checked out a few and was rather taken with a Springfield XDM. But I'd neglected to bring a second form of photo ID so purchasing at the show was not an option.
So we left Fredericksburg and headed straight for Gander Mountain in Winchester, with me making a quick detour to pick up my green card. The store has an extensive array of guns stretching from one end of the store to the other, and I've been told that on ammo sales days, there are lines outside waiting for it to open, and that many calibers of ammo sell out quickly. I find this alarming. A lot. I walked up to the counter and was helped by a young man who obviously knew his guns. I spent the next couple of hours selecting weapons, holding, racking, questioning, researching on line, and finally deciding on the Sig Sauer P250. I felt this would be an excellent, fair priced gun to start out on the shooting range with. I completed my paperwork and then had to wait about 3 hours for my background check to clear. This was held up because that day there had been 15 other gun shows in Virgina. That's just Virginia, no other state, and immediately I pondered on how many other people were purchasing weapons on this day. That was an alarming thought. And another thought I had was that with so many people now buying guns it surely makes those without feel defenseless and insecure, thereby encouraging them to go out and buy one or a few. So finally I left for home with my gun in the trunk along with 200 rounds of ammo. And I was pretty nervous all the way home, dreading the chance of being pulled over by the police. But I got home without interruption and promptly hid the ammo in one room while stashing the gun away in another. 
 I'm writing this 5 days after making my purchase and have yet to shoot my gun, let alone place a bullet in the chamber. And I won't be doing either until I have read and watched tutorials on how to use the gun, and also how to take it apart. The first time I sat down on my own and pulled it from its case, I was immediately aware of the power I held in my hand and it terrified me. Yet what terrified me even more was how easy it had been to get hold of this lethal weapon. Yes, I'd had a background check, but it had been apparent in the store that I had no proper knowledge of firearms, yet the law allows anyone who can clear a background check to obtain as many guns as they like with zero experience in handling them. They can build an armory and then let anyone who visits them to use these weapons, all with no training! There are plenty of idiotic videos on YouTube showcasing this, and still the government is allowing these purchases. I am taking a Basic Pistol Shooting Course in the new year to make sure I can use my gun safely. Prior to that I'll be taught the rudimentary basics by a buddy who has plenty of experience, but I won't be trying anything out on my own first. 
Gun ownership is escalating at a furious rate and the government needs to step in, restrict the number of guns that are purchased by an individual, remove assault weapons from public sale and impose that all sales must be accompanied with a proof of having taken basic training.
I found this article on line in light of the government wanting to prohibit future sales of assault weapons, and even though Americans voted pretty much 50/50 regarding this, they are strongly in favor of more gun control. And this needs to happen soon.