Solar Eclipse Awesomeness

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Solar Eclipse Animated map
On Monday, Aug 21, Darren and I got to see the eclipse that went across North America! We had been planning it for months, and our trip went really extraordinarily well.
We decided to take the Pathfinder and drive down. Although it has over 400,000 km on it, it’s still the best when it comes to 4X4-ing… and we wanted to keep that option open in case there was an eclipsopolis! You know what I mean, right? A zillion people in a small space, all trying to see the sky for a few minutes on a certain day in August! It could have been a formula for disaster — and I gather some towns were totally overrun — but we ended up in a really nice, remote spot.

Here’s a map of the general area. We had set our sights on Idaho:
WesternStatesEclipse

On the way there, we saw some neat stuff! At The Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, AB, we saw a Lancaster bomber!

We continued through southern Alberta and took the Crowsnest Pass into BC. I had never been that way before and it was quite lovely — definitely the easiest pass through the Rockies. 🙂
In Montana, we found the area around Flathead Lake (named after a native tribe) particularly beautiful:

At the south end of Flathead Lake is the town of Poulson. We drove through and stayed at the Gaynor Ranch not far from there. The guest rooms were all booked, so we stayed in a tipi!

The staff there were great, and we had a nice time, but we left early to get into the zone of totality and find a camping spot.
Our Plan A was to go to Cascade, ID, but the highway to it was closed due to forest fires. We found this out before we left Alberta. So Plan B was Stanley, ID. Apparently, a lot of other people had that idea too, and the town was throwing a big party. Along the way, we stopped along the Salmon river for a break, and met a man who suggested we camp with others along highway 93 in Idaho. There is no town nearby, but that didn’t matter to us, since we were prepared for remote camping. We had planned to get in to one of the many National Forests and take advantage of their policy of “dispersed camping” that allows people to camp wherever, as long as they stay close to their vehicle.
South of the town of Challis in the middle of nowhere, we came upon this:

Once through the rocks, we got into a wide valley and found the Challis National Forest to camp in! But where are the TREES?!?

There were some up in the hills, actually, but the sign looks so funny there! You can see Borah Peak, Idaho’s highest peak, in the background of this next shot (first peak from the left):

Several people were climbing the mountain to try to watch the eclipse from the peak. I wonder how many made it? We stayed up late the night before the eclipse and saw lots of headlamps of people part way up. I don’t know if there were actively climbing all night long, which doens’t sound wise to me, or if they were just hanging out on the steep slope waiting for the sun to come up.

So, there we were in central Idaho, in the zone of totality with a neat little area to camp. In 1983 there had been an earthquake and the valley floor had dropped and left a visible fault line. There was a sign along the highway and a little fenced off area and interpretive signs about the earthquake. There were already a few people camping out of vans and truck box campers.
It was a wide, arid valley between two mountain ranges. The only vegetation was sage brush and small yellow flowers. There were no bugs, birds or other wildlife, so it was a little weird. We decided to camp right by the earthquake interpretive area with the others although we had the option to spread out nearly anywhere. Many people did that, proving that if you try hard enough, even in a total solar eclipse in the US, you can be alone if you really want to!

Here’s a shot of the crowds on the morning of the eclipse! 😉

Here’s a shot from Google Earth of where we watched the eclipse from:
eclipse spot

This was the morning of the eclipse — a little smoky but not too bad. You can see the interpretive signs on the left and our picnic table in the middle.

We met such nice people there! They had come from all over the US and there was another couple from Alberta there, too. They really helped to make the experience special. After the eclipse, our new friend Dave played the bagpipes.

I didn’t focus on taking photos of the eclipse. It was so short! I had read a website that warned against being consumed with photography instead of simply enjoying the eclipse. It was P H E N O M E N A L! So amazing.
This is basically what I looked like, I’m sure! (Photo from here.)

The sun is blocked by the moon. It sounds so simple, but is it so beautiful, it is mind-blowing. The corona is so striking, and the entire sky is so neat. It wasn’t totally black, unlike some photos you may have seen online, but instead, a deep twilight. There was a sunset on all horizons. But the corona is really what makes it so amazing. I am having a hard time finding words for how striking the whole thing is!

And, in 2 minutes 8 seconds, it was over. Wow.

We relaxed for a while while the sun returned, and took down our tent. We didn’t want to be stuck in traffic, so we lingered. Eventually, we made our way back into Montana where we had supper with the bagpiper Dave and his sweetie, and camped at his brother’s place. We visited other new friends in Poulson the next day and then camped near Glacier International Park. We drove the “Going to the Sun” road through the park the next day. It was a combination of great views, crazy heights, narrow roads and no guard rails!

It was such an amazing trip. I’m so glad we did it! I’m glad the weather held out for us, and that we met such nice people and had a phenomenal time.

Did you see the eclipse that day? Leave a comment with your eclipse experience!

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Alex the Alpaca Video

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Enjoy this adorable video of Alex, just a couple of days old, running around!

Alex the Alpaca from Darren Griffith on Vimeo.

Previous post introducing Alex

Alex the Alpaca

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Hi all,

I can’t believe what a busy summer it has been! Our Miss Uki had her baby WEEKS ago, and I haven’t had a chance to blog about it!

He is a real cutie! In this photo, he is only hours old (still looking a little stunned at how bright and noisy the world is)!

He knew right away where the milk was!

He would drink and rest, drink and rest that first day! We decided to name him Alex. I don’t know why — he just seemed like one!

Alpacas are so cute when the lay flat-out! They all do it from time to time — except Miss Uki. She is the momma and she doesn’t seem to rest that much!

The boys are doing well, too! We have some tall grass on our land, and they sometimes to eat it or hide in it!

And, of course, on a hot day, Fozzie is still loves to go in the pool!

Fozzie is Alex’s papa, and we are starting to see that perhaps personality is passed on, too! Alex LOVES to run now (since he was a day old!) and he will even pester Daisy, his older sister, to play with him. He bumps into her, interrupting her grazing, to try and get her to run with him. He is such a funny guy! Just like his papa.

I’ll try post more photos soon, but who knows!? Life is busy. Today we leave for the US to watch the eclipse on Monday! I am so excited — I can’t wait.

Open Letter to Refugees, Immigrants and New Canadians

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Welcome to Canada! Let me tell you a few things about this country you now call home, and offer some advice.

This land was originally inhabited by aboriginal peoples, long before the French, English and Scottish came here to make their homes. We call them First Nations, and when you meet a First Nations person, show them respect. They may not always respect themselves, but you should show respect just the same.

In fact, you will do well in Canada if you respect everyone you meet, as soon as you meet them. They might turn out to be a jerk – we have our share of those – but wait for them to show you that themselves. Don’t assume they are one. Be polite to strangers and friends alike. That might be a big difference from the country you came from.

I don’t know what it was like in your home country, but I can imagine that you didn’t have the well-stocked grocery stores we have, the good road system, the excellent hospitals, and, to a large degree, kind people everywhere you go. There are charitable organizations to help needy people, people having cancer treatments, and a thousand other things. We like to take care of each other here. We like to look out for one another, and although we aren’t perfect at this, it’s something we do as a whole.

It might be because our founding religions were Christian. We do hold quite a few of those values in our society, and you’ll see them in our laws and policies, if you know how to look for them. Not everyone is kind and considerate, but you will do well to practice kindness as much as possible. Non-Christians are welcome here, but I wanted to mention that about our origins. Not everyone is religious, but almost everyone is kind. You are welcome to bring your religion and practice it here, but if your religion is not kind, it will not fit in here. It could, in an extreme case, even make you unwelcome.

Remember that for all the hospitals, roads, bridges, and other amenities you enjoy, someone had to pay for those. People who were born here, and who moved here long before you, did that so that you can benefit from them. You can enjoy moving about this country freely because of others who worked hard, paid their taxes, and because they cared enough to contribute. They contributed by having jobs, by joining service groups, by volunteering and by helping their neighbours with everything from babysitting to snow shoveling. Look for ways to contribute to all sorts of Canadians. Make sure you mix with other cultures and don’t just stick to your own.

We are not perfect but we generally obey the laws and conform to our social norms. You would do well to do the same. We do not consider our laws to apply to some and not to others; they apply to everyone equally, and they are enforced. If you bend them, they will snap back. If you disregard them, you won’t be able to stay here, or you’ll be put in jail – you’ll lose your freedom. One of the reasons Canada is Canada is because we had law enforcement early on; while the US had the wild west, we had the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and they still keep the order today. Respect them.

Our laws say that women have all the same rights as men; if you do not agree with this, you should look for somewhere else to live and move there as soon as you can. If moving is not an option for you, you will do well to learn to keep your opinions very, very hidden. This equality is fundamental to who we are, and you will NOT be able to change it.

Actually, don’t try to change anything about Canada. We are who we are and we’ve been this way a long time. Any of your behaviour that differs too much from the social norm will not make a change; it will only alienate you. Do not blame Canadians for alienating you. You always do that to yourself. We are quite welcoming to those who want to live here, follow our laws, contribute to our society and be like us.

We have our quirks – we love our quirks. You do not have to be a cookie-cutter Canadian. Just take some time to watch those around you and see how they act. Although we value our freedom and independence greatly, we are also more conforming than you may realize. This will be your challenge while you are new here! You will have to learn to put aside your ideas from your home country and adopt ours.

I don’t want to overwhelm you with advice. You have probably been through a lot to get here. Let me summarize.
Show respect to everyone.
Respect the laws, and follow them.
Be grateful for what you have, where you are, and those who made it possible for you to be here.
And yes, be kind and polite!

You may also like: Remembrance Day
Farewell Fort Simpson

DIY Doghouse on a Pallet

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Hi everyone! Just wanted to show some photos and explain a little about the doghouse I made a while back for our awesome chocolate lab-mix named Gunner.
This was the ghetto-style doghouse we had rigged up before hand. Poor guy! He had to crawl in under the tarp. There’s a dog crate under there, with several blankets inside and an old sleeping bag draped over the top, but still, it’s not very warm or cozy.

I started with a regular pallet. Be sure to choose a sturdy one in good condition. I decided a half-size doghouse was big enough, so I framed that out. If you look closely, you can see I only framed the front and back walls and just added boards to join them together. I added a board under the “floor” of the dog house right at the back edge, in order to make the edge stronger and then I nailed/screwed the frame down. Then I used a staple gun to attach old feed bags (white) and some windbreaker material (black) to the outside of the frame.


The next step was to insulate. I had a huge bag of raw wool, so I fluffed it up and then filled the space in the walls.

I used a piece of fleece and stapled that to the frame and that’s all I have for interior walls. No need for drywall or wood since the wind-proof barrier and wood siding goes on the outside.

I can’t believe how well wool works as insulation! This doghouse is so warm! Search on kijiji or Craigs List or wherever for raw wool and if you can get some, use it!
Next step was to attach siding. I had lots of rough-cut planks, so I cut them to length and screwed them in using deck screws. They are layered like siding should be and overlapped a bit at the corners. In the two photos below, I was still insulating the front section.


Once I finished the front, it was time for the roof. I like a traditional peaked roof, so I made rafters and attached them using long screws. This was trickier than you might think, but worked well. It’s not trivial cutting pieces to be identical, and some of my 2×4’s were a bit twisty… which I didn’t realize until I was trying to make them all work! All the material for the doghouse was just kicking around the farm, I’m pleased to say! Some things, like the huge box of deck screws, were given to us by friends that were moving — thanks Krista!

I also rigged a board across the middle to make the ceiling. The insulation for this part was added later in the form of an old sleeping bag. Next, the roof boards.

I guess there are a few more steps. Roof boards — very tricky to install yourself! — and siding for the gable ends. One of our outdoor kitties had started crawling on top of the dog crate and sleeping there, so I made her an attic room. She snuggles in the sleeping bag that is the insulation! And how did I cut the kitty portal? I didn’t have a jig saw, so I cut two straight cuts and then just hit the wedge shape out using a hammer. And then smoothed it out with a file. Cool, eh? I’m probably related to MacGyver…

I did not overlap the siding boards on the gable ends. That was just too nutty. I just put them up against each other.

Now, how to move it? I held off on mailing on the asphalt shingles because I knew they’d add a lot of weight. I moved the otherwise-complete doghouse all on my own, by manoevering it onto a plastic sleigh/toboggan that we use to haul bales in winter. I used levers, using smaller boards, longer boards, and whatnot, to get it from the shop floor onto the sleigh on the snow. Once I had the doghouse on the sleigh, I just pushed it across the yard from the shop to the house! It was pretty heavy. This is the doghouse in transit:

And here it is in it’s place! See the kitty portal?

Gunner enjoying his new house! He had been pretty reluctant to go in it while it was under construction, but once it was at the house, he knew immediately what do to! What a guy! initially, I stuffed more raw wool into old pillow cases to make cushions, but later I bought a burlap sack to make a mattress for him.
Before we got our second dog, Jenny, I made her a doghouse too! A slightly different design — and I was really under a time crunch on this one!
This is it 90% complete.

All I had left to do was put a couple of boards on each side to close up the roof. You can see I used reflective insulation on this ceiling. I also bought recycled denim insulation instead of using wool in the walls — I just didn’t have time to fluff all that wool up! I highly recommend using a safe insulation like wool or denim, and NOT fibreglass, if you are going to build it this way. You don’t want the fibres bothering your dog, and they might leak out of the walls! You would have to install solid wood or gypsum board walls.
This style of roof is much easier, I have to say. I just screwed two taller boards to the front wall, and then decided on the roof size and cut it out. I shingled it before installing it, except the last shingles which would cover the screws that attach to the taller boards. I also bent a couple of shingles over the front edge on a warm day and nailed them on. Darren and our friends Michelle and James helped me move this one! Thanks guys!
Anyways, I just wanted to share what I made. It’s not exactly step-by-step, but if you’re reasonably handy, I think you can figure most of it out by looking at the pictures. If you have any questions, leave a comment!
Take care everybody! Go give your dog (or kitty) some love! 🙂
Other woodworking projects

Our New Alpacas

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Hello all! Friday was an exciting day for us as we finally got our 2 new alpacas! We’ve been wanting some new males to keep Fozzie company, since he can’t be with the girls. So, we talked to our friends with alpacas and they held onto two of their young males for us! I’m sure you’ll agree they are super-cute.

The white fella is named Boeing and the brown guy is Ziggy.
The white fella is named Boeing and the brown guy is Ziggy.

Boeing is 3 years old and Ziggy is only 2. Boeing is tall, isn't he?
Boeing is 3 years old and Ziggy is only 2. Boeing is tall, isn’t he?

It was getting dark when we got the new alpacas on Friday night, so these photos were all taken Saturday morning. I plan to keep the new alpacas separate for a little while — my reasoning is that Fozzie should get to know his new friends over the fence before letting them all be together. Since they are all intact males, there is a small chance they will fight — but that depends on personality and crowding. These guys have lots of room, so they should be alright. Saturday morning, we gave the girls and Fozzie their kibble first and then opened Fozzie’s gate. He finished his kibble and then went outside as he always does. He noticed the new guys right away and came over. He looked at them from a little ways back — he was stuck behind a huge pile of snow I had shoveled a few days before — but he found his way to the fence and began sniffing the new fellas.

Before long, Fozzie came over to give everyone a sniff. (Fozzie is black.)
Before long, Fozzie came over to give everyone a sniff. (Fozzie is black.)

Fozzie and Ziggy nose to nose
Fozzie and Ziggy nose to nose

It looks like they are all going to get along great! Ziggy was definitely a bit more curious about Fozzie than Boeing was. Boeing is pretty chill — he’s like a Zen master.
We also got a big load of hay on Friday. A few of the bales were lower quality and/or falling apart, so we piled them outside, to be used first. Well, the girls noticed them and had a feast. What lucky alpacas!

The girls enjoying the new hay
The girls enjoying the new hay

This is a ways from where the male alpacas are — Daisy is looking towards the dogs. It is constant dog play at our place, and sometimes the dogs bumble across the ground and the girls have to get out of their way!

I still don’t have a good picture of Jenny! She’s always moving! But I do have this one.

Jenny
Jenny

Wade and Darren having a moment...
Wade and Darren having a moment…

How to Get a Front-Row Seat to an Alpaca Rodeo

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The 3 girls
The 3 girls
We love our alpacas! We have four of them — 3 females and 1 male. I thought I’d take a minute to tell you about the latest alpaca rodeo. It’s not like we plan to have one — except when we have an appointment to get them sheared! Usually the rodeo is kind of unexpected.
A couple of days ago, the rodeo was to help our brown beauty, Marley. She had been limping a little and it had gotten much worse in 24 hrs. So, it was time to have a look at that foot and see what was going on. I figured if Darren held her, I would look at her foot. I mixed up a batch of warm water with epsom salts in it. If this were a movie, we’d go to a flashback now, for how I learned that epsom salts are so good!
In addition to alpacas, we have a healthy population of barn cats. It started when we got Felicity to replace Stella. A while ago, something happened to one of Felicity’s paws. I don’t know how she injured it, but the top was getting infected and she was licking it incessantly. I decided I had to do something, because she was licking it raw and it was getting very puffy. So, I knitted a small sock, and with Darren’s help — what would I do without him?! — we put some polysporin (a cream that’s supposed to fight infections. It doesn’t.) on her paw, a piece of gauze from felicity-in-her-sockthe first aid kit, and then the sock. We taped the sock securely on, in the same manner one tapes on hockey socks, taping the tape to itself, not to her fur. With the sock applied, we figured she’d be great in no time. To make a long story short, let’s just say for over a week, we applied cream, replaced the sock after she pulled it off, and whatnot. She wore a cone for a lot of that time, too, poor kitty. The infection got marginally better, but barely.
Then my friend Noreen suggested warm water with epsom salts in it. I was instructed to run the water over her paw as much as she would let me and then leave it to dry (with Felicity wearing a cone). In two treatments, the infection was almost completely gone! Love that stuff.

I love these summer pictures!
Marley, always smiling
So, zooming back to the present, we are faced with one very limpy alpaca and a bucket of warm epsom salt water. I caught Marley when she wasn’t expecting it and handed her off to Darren. Then, the rodeo started! Our alpacas seem tame enough, until you try to grab and hold them. In that instance, some instinctual effects kick in and they start to buck around like wild broncos! She jumped around a bit, lunging and ducking, trying to get away, for five seconds or so, and then settled down a little ways away.
I knelt down by her bad foot and managed to lift it up and look at it. There was no obvious injury that I could see, but it sure was puffy! The natural crack between her toes was nearly gone, it was so swollen. So, I brought the pail of water over and put her foot in. She didn’t protest at all — it probably felt quite nice — so I gently scooped water up to cover her ankle a bit. I was able to hold her foot in the water for 10-15 seconds before Darren shifted or she just got tired of being touched. A short rodeo began again, but I told Darren to let her go. I had planned to dry her foot off after wetting it, but decided that she was pretty riled up. So we let her be.
The next morning, she was limping much less, and by the next evening (24 hrs after applying the salt water), she was not limping at all! I could not believe it! This time, I had planned to put a bucket of epson salt water out and see if she put her foot in on her own. She’s so smart, I bet she would have!
Fozzie scratching an itch
Fozzie scratching an itch
Other alpaca rodeos are a given when you try to separate one alpaca from the others. We were trying to load Fozzie on shearing day, and he decided to go into the horse trailer first. I told Darren to keep him in, but he did not want to do that! He ran right through Darren’s arm, jamming it into the side of the trailer, and he thought Fozzie had broken it! It was just a bad bruise. I attempted to catch Fozzie a week ago to take a piece of baler twine off him — he must have gotten it off a bale but how he got it around his neck, like a necklace, I’ll never know! Because it was like a necklace, I wasn’t too worried about him getting strangled. He let me cut it, so it was no longer a loop, but he did not let me do much else. I chased and lunged and held onto him briefly, but I was just grabbing his fibre (wool) and then I realized I was sort of pulling on his hair so I let go. How rude of me!
So, I think I’d like to learn how to handle them a bit better. I can move them around really well without touching them, but when grabbing them is necessary, it’s rodeo time and that’s just not ideal. Our mamma alpaca’s bangs are getting quite long and I’d like to trim them, but I’d like to be able to do it with a minimum of drama. So, we’ll just have to google it — or ask the nearby alpaca farm! 🙂