Off to see the rabbit!

Off to see the rabbit!

On Maundy Thursday afternoon we loaded up two vehicles, my sister’s “camper van” (as the kids call it) and my SUV, with my great-niece Tracy and her kids, Jeremiah, Jordan, Journey and Jayden along with her sister Ashley’s kids, Elaina and Damion, and took off to Owensboro, Ky in search of the Easter Rabbit!

Every year their grandmother, Jeanne, has us bring them all down to visit the Easter bunny at her work. They have Mr. and Mrs. Bunny there to pass out gifts to the kids and they always enjoy it. Plus we take them to the Owensboro Riverfront afterwards so they can have some play time on the wonderful playground there.

Damion and Jayden rode with me and it never ceases to amaze me how they entertain each other from the back seat!

On the ride down they both brought their tablets and had a great time battling each other. Even though neither one had the same games, it didn’t stop them! They both still had a ball!

One of Damion’s remarks cracked me up when he said, “Jesus, help me level up!” Afterwards, he said, “it’s not something you really should ask Jesus for though.” How did they get so smart at 4-5 years old? With that being said, a short time later he shouts out “alright, I’m at level 4!” So, was it an answered prayer from an innocent 4-year-old? 

The visit to see the Easter Rabbits at Jeanne’s went very well and everyone had a good time. Jordan wouldn’t approach them closer than a few feet this year, so he’s not in the group shot! Funny thing is that last year I seem to recall it was his older brother, Jayden, that had the issues, or maybe it was one of the other kids.

After we finished at Jeanne’s office we headed off to the riverfront. Sis and Tracy took the van with the smaller kids, while Jeanne and I took the four older ones and walked the three or so blocks to the playground, which made it a little bit more of an adventure. Plus, Jeanne and I both needed to get our step-count up for our family FitBit weekly challenge!

The playground at the riverfront park is really a great place to take kids! Sis took over care of our youngest, Jeremiah, while Jeanne, Tracy, and myself attempted to keep up with the five older kids on the playground. Talk about a job!!! I don’t know how my mom and dad kept up with the 5 of us when we went on outings. It’s a full time job! They all took off in several directions at once, running, climbing, jumping and having a great time! Even Jordan, who is wearing some braces these days, to fix a issue with his left leg, had a great time and didn’t let the braces slow him down at all. Mom Tracy, of course, stuck close by him to help, but he didn’t miss a beat with the having fun part! There’s a gallery at the end of this post of the kids from today’s adventure.

However, all good things had to come to an end and we loaded the little ones back up into the van while I headed back to Jeanne’s work with Damion and Jayden on foot while Jeanne to the two girls by a different route. On the way down they were, of course, full of energy and excited, but as always, when it’s time to head back they were less enthused to say the least! To help make the return trip easier I allowed them to be a little more adventurous. The fountains along the riverfront were, as always, a big hit and, while on the way down, we had told them to stay off the ledge that surrounds them. On the way back, however, under a watchful eye, since they were no longer spraying water, I allowed them to walk on the wide ledges! They seemed to me to be built for that purpose and I’ve seen plenty of other kids doing likewise with their parents help, so I let the boys be boys! 

When we got within less than a block of Jeanne’s office, where we had parked, Damion was pretty much tuckered out and ready for me to carry him. Instead I let him and Jayden take a laying down break on the nice spring grass in front of the Owensboro Convention Center, till they were rested enough to prod them along to the parking lot and meet up with Jeanne, Elaina and Journey. 

After a quick stop at the convenience store to pickup something to drink for everyone, we hit the road back home. The kids, at this point, all tore into the bag of goodies that they got from Mr. & Mrs. Easter Bunny. 

Jayden and Damion finished up the last 45 minutes or so of our trip home by each one telling the other stories, ranging from zombie tales to stories about ninjas and other superheros! One thing for sure, all of our littles have great imaginations! 

Above is about a 4-minute audio file of the boys and their stories. There’s a lot of road noise, but I think if you play with your volume you’ll get the idea. All in all everyone enjoyed the trip and sis and I made it back to town in time for the Maundy Thursday service at church!

A gallery of photos from our trip to see the Easter Bunny

 

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Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?

Off we go.

My oldest daughter, Chrystal, lives in Chicago.  She tries to make it home once a month or so to see her only grandson, Xavier, who lives here.  All her other little ones are girls.  Two of them live in Texas and the other two are currently in Germany.  She is Damion and Elaina’s favorite aunt as well.  The timing of her trips depends on what’s happening here and at work.  Things came together this past weekend and we spent the whole time entertaining toddlers.

On Saturday, there was an Easter Egg Hunt and a trip to the movies.  Sunday morning we all went to church, but the real gig was on Friday when we took the three of them to the Land Between the Lakes Nature Center.   

Now, these three are roadtrip veterans.  Xavier, the oldest, has gone with his grandmother to visit his Dad in Texas several times.  We’ve taken all of them to the Kentucky Railway Museum a couple of times, most recently to see Thomas the Train.  We have a Pearson Family Reunion in Ohio every year and, usually, take them along there too.  We all love zoos and we’ve been to St. Louis, where they have a cousin, as well as Nashville and Louisville.  Other family members also travel with them occasionally.  So, they understand that, when we tell them it’s a long trip and pack movies, snacks, and books, it’s going to take quite a while.

Of course, they spent the first twenty minutes of the trip devouring most of their snacks. Then they got restless.  In spite of the fact that they’ve been to the Nature Center before and kind of remembered it, they started asking, “Do they have giraffes?  Will there be elephants?” Then, as proof that they were just playing around, “Do they have sharks and octopuses?”  Their imaginations are ten times the size of their bodies and they were in full charge the rest of the hour long drive.  

Even the movies they had chosen to bring didn’t really occupy them for long.  It was like being trapped with the a pack of howling puppies.  They weren’t being bad, not arguing, not whining.  They were having fun, laughing, talking (all at once), asking questions, even singing.  Strapped into their seats, they couldn’t wrestle or climb around the car physically, so they made up for it verbally.  

They enjoyed the Nature Center and were just as amazed and fascinated by it all as ever.  They loved the inside displays.  They hung on every fence and searched for each animal as though they’d never seen one before, even though there weren’t as many as usual and most of them were hiding in their dens.  They especially loved the raptors, but the polliwogs they found along the edge of the garden pond were a big hit too.  They made friends with a dog out front and had to stop to pet him on the way out.

Since it was past lunch time and the grown ups were hungry even if the toddlers were still full of snacks, we drove back to Grand Rivers and stopped at the grocery store for supplies to have a car picnic.   The adults had sandwiches and the kids got lunchables.  

We had planned to take them to see an eagles nest that Jim knew about, but the birds weren’t really flying.  Plus, there was a crowd of serious photographers toting three foot lenses on tripods.  It didn’t seem like a place to release the Wild Bunch, so Jim took a few shots while we waited in the car.  The trip back was just as rambunctious as ever.  The hour or so spent running around hadn’t burned up their energy at all.  We really do love traveling with toddlers.

 

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Pennyrile Hike & Photo Walk

Pennyrile Hike & Photo Walk

View from the top of the dam.

Many times during the year, we all make short trips that seem routine.  We tend not to bother documenting them.  After all, a half hour drive isn’t Really a Roadtrip is it?  But our lives are made up of these moments.  If we only pay attention to the big ones, we miss out on the chances to share our daily experiences with others.  

One of our frequent stops is the state park at Dawson Springs.  Every year, Pennyrile State Park has photo weekends, one in the spring and another in the fall.  Various members of our local photography club participate in these and compete for awards.  However, the park also holds nature hikes and other events throughout the year that we sometimes attend without thinking of them as an actual TRIP.  This past weekend several of us joined Naturalist Becky Clark for a morning hike along two of the park’s most popular trails.  

All trails in the park are clearly marked.

We started out behind the lodge, climbed down the natural limestone steps to the dam, that creates the lake, and walked across the top.  Becky gave us a brief history of the park before we proceeded down to the base of the dam for a quarter mile hike along the Clifty Creek Trail.

 Since our group was familiar with the area, we tended to lag behind, more interested in taking photos than listening to Becky’s talks.  She was very patient with us as we caused her to repeat several times, “Our photographers are catching up now,” before the main group could move along.

From Clifty Creek, we crossed the road and headed up the quarter mile Indian Bluff trail which, while being the same length as Clifty Creek, is a bit more strenuous.  By the time we got back to the lodge, my Fitbit claimed we had climbed up the equivalent of 10 flights of stairs.  The trek was leisurely though and the information Becky presented along the way about various wildflowers, trees, wildlife, and cliffs was interesting.  

The weatherman played an April Fools joke on us with his forecast.  Instead of sunshine and warmth, we got overcast and a chilly breeze; but it wasn’t too cold and it didn’t rain on us.  The cool spring has made some things late in blooming, but we did get some nice wildflower shots and the rocks on Indian Bluff are interesting any time of year.   After the organized hike, Jim and I decided to check out one of our favorite spots in the park.  A small waterfall hidden in the woods at the end of the beach.  It has a nice flow, at present, due to all the rain we’ve had lately.  Overall, it was a pleasant trip shared with friends and natural beauty.

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We tend to dismiss places that are close to us as though travel is required to make a place interesting.  One of the things I hope to do over the next few months is demonstrate the fallacy of that way of looking at things.  Kentucky has many beautiful spots.  In May, we will be paying a brief visit to the Red River Gorge area.  This trip will be mostly reconnaissance.  We’ve never been there before.  Years ago, we talked about making short trips to places in Kentucky and Tennessee, but then we got too caught up in heading cross country.  This summer maybe we will begin to correct that.  

 

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A day railfan trip that turned into a night trip!

A day railfan trip that turned into a night trip!

March 25, 2017 – The Princeton railroad station was built in 1875 and has been beautifully restored. Once housing the C&EI and L&N railways, it was the lifeline of commerce and transportation for the county. Passenger service was discontinued in the late 1960’s. The Princeton Train Depot is now home to the Gibson County Visitors Center and features a railway museum with a restored train caboose.

Sometimes I start out planning to do one thing when I set off on a railfan trip, but end up doing something different which usually results in nice photos I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise!

I try to do some railfan photography several days during the week, usually Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Mostly because on CSX’s Henderson Subdivision, which runs here through Madisonville, Ky, these are the busiest days.

Well, last saturday, March 25th, 2017, the weather was overcast and it was drizzling rain off and on most of the morning as I sat here working on the computer and trying to motivate myself to get out the door and on the road. Yes, I too sometimes have to motivate myself to take pictures! LOL

After posting a few queries on Facebook to a couple railfan groups, about current traffic for trains in the area I want to railfan, I finally decided that I was going to point my Toyota RAV4 north and see where it’d lead me!

Responses to the  Facebook posts were providing some info that trains were out there moving, just not a lot of them, so it seemed, but that never deters me as I always seem to find them. For me it’s not about the number of trains, but catching unusual or different angles, scenes or trains when I’m trackside. This day seemed to start out challenging, to say the least!

March 25, 2017 – CSX Autorack train Q247 arrives at the north end of Howell Yard in Evansville, Indiana.

Out of Madisonville I followed CSX’s Henderson Subdivision north to Evansville, Indiana and during the whole trip I only saw and heard (I use a scanner to listen to the train traffic) one train, a southbound, which I was too late in catching to get a photo! It wasn’t looking good! 50 miles and only one train? Maybe I should have stayed home, but the clouds in the sky were fantastic and I was determined to catch some trains with them!

My first stop was CSX’s Howell Yards in Evansville, Indiana. This is a spot where you can drive all the way around the yard and get good shots from various angles. My favorite location however is on the west side of the yard across from the engine service facility. This is where I caught a autorack train coming into the yard heading south and empty coal train northbound from the yard. Knowing the route the coal train would take I decided to head on north toward Princeton, Indiana to get ahead of the coal train to catch it along its way north. This way I’d be sure of at least getting a few shots with a train.

March 25, 2017 – Empty coal train CSX E234 heads through St. James Curve at St. James, Indiana as it makes it’s way north on the CE&D Subdivision.

The first spot I wanted to catch the coal train was a location known by railroaders as St. James Curve, which is just outside the small hamlet of St. James, Indiana, just past I-64 off of Hwy 41 north. After arriving and waiting about 5 minutes the coal train, E234, graced my presence as it swept through the curve into the frame to allow me to catch this sweeping photo with the beautiful clouds in the sky! First photo I was really happy with from the day!March 25, 2017 – CSX empty coal train E234 heads north through St. James Curve at St. James, Indiana, on CSX’s CE&D Subdivision.

Knowing how fast the train was moving I knew I only really had one other spot I could get to before the train and that was the restored depot in Princeton, Indiana, which was the furthest I planned on going on this trip today. 

Again, I was rewarded with this shot as the coal train prepared to pass the station as it continued its trip north. 

March 25, 2017 – CSX empty coal train E234 passes the depot at Princeton, Indiana as it heads north on CSX’s CE&D Subdivision. The station was built in 1875 and has been beautifully restored. Once housing the C&EI and L&N railways, it was the lifeline of commerce and transportation for the county. Passenger service was discontinued in the late 1960’s. The Princeton Train Depot is now home to the Gibson County Visitors Center and features a railway museum with a restored train caboose.

At this point I was satisfied that I had a couple nice photos in the camera, but still I wanted more!

I had been in contact with fellow railfan photographer Ryan Scott via Facebook Messenger and phone, since I got to Howell Yard in Evansville. He also was out railfanning and we decided to meet up at the depot in Princeton to visit and railfan together.

That’s where things started to change from my original plan! We spent time looking and shooting at the Norfolk Southern Yard at Princeton and along the other lines in and around town and at the Alliance Coal Mine loop where coal trains load. Ryan then suggested night photos! He’s not had much success on shooting photos at night and was looking for some tips and help. I hadn’t planned on staying trackside that late, but it had been quite awhile since I did any night work so I went for it.

March 25, 2017 – The red light from signals light up the front of NS 871 with an empty Norfolk Southern coal train that tied down in Lyle Siding at Princeton, Indiana, waiting on a crew to take it on east on the NS Southern West district.

Now, for the railfan friends of mine that read this, here’s some of the tips I passed onto Ryan as we were shooting at Norfolk Southern’s Lyle Siding and in downtown Princeton during our night shoot that you might find helpful as well.

First, before we got out of the car, where we had some light, we set our cameras as follows: 

  • Turn off auto ISO if you use it and set your ISO to 250.
  • Set your camera on manual and the shutter speed to 20 seconds with your lens aperture to it’s widest opening.
  • Remove any filters that might be on the lenses you’re going to shoot with. Otherwise you can get some ghosting in your photos when the lights reflect back into the filter.
  • Place your camera on a tripod!
  • Then set the self timer on your camera to somewhere between 3-10 seconds. This is to insure that there’s no camera shake, resulting in a blurred image, when you trip the shutter.

Review your first photo on your LCD screen. If it’s too dark, increase your exposure by giving it more time, ie 30 -60 seconds. If your camera won’t allow beyond a 30 second exposure then increase your ISO setting to give you another stop of light. That means go from 250 to 500 ISO, or something equivalent. I try to keep my ISO as low as possible as this helps to keep the noise (grain) down in the photograph. Keep adjusting like this until you get an exposure that you like and feel you can work in. If the photo is too light then of course you go in the other direction with your exposure.

March 25, 2017 – Great time shooting some night action with fellow railfans Ryan Scott and Dave Kunkle! We caught this empty Norfolk Southern coal train that tied down in Lyle Siding at Princeton, Indiana, waiting on a crew to take it on east on the NS Southern West district. A big shout out to Dave Kunkle who was gracious enough to be our “grip” and use his hat to cover a bothersome light on one of the RR Boxes next to the crossing!

Focusing can be an issue when shooting at night as well. I usually bring a bright spotlight to shine on my subject to aid in focus, but since I didn’t start out planning to shoot night photos, I didn’t bring one. So, we had to improvise.

Change your focus point to center weighted so you have a single point to focus with. Then pick a bright spot on your subject and try to focus. If the camera can’t lock in the focus using the brightest spot, then see if there’s not something brighter about the same distance away that you can focus on. Another thing you can do if you are shooting with someone else, is to have your friend stand in a safe spot next to your subject and turn their smart phone’s flashlight on facing the camera and focus on the light from it. Of course you can manually focus as well, but for my aging eyesight I find autofocus works better for me.

Now, once you have the camera focused you need to turn off the autofocus on your lens or camera. Otherwise when you press the shutter button on the camera it’s going to try to refocus when you take the photo, probably resulting in an out of focus photo. I personally use the back focus button on my Nikon D800 and turn it off on the shutter button. This way I don’t have this issue. Most of your DSLRs have this feature. If yours doesn’t then you’ll have to turn it off on the lens between subjects.

Other than that, shoot a lot and check your focus after shooting each photo! Do this by viewing the photo on your LCD and zooming in tight to check your focus. Nothing more disappointing than shooting a bunch of photos to find they’re soft or out of focus, after you get back home.

As you can see from several of the photos here, I came away with some nice photos for not really having planned for shooting at night.

Oh, by the way, I left to start this trip at noon Saturday and by the time I got back home it was 12:30 am Sunday morning. Sometimes, things work that way though! All in all a good trip! Be safe out there when you’re trackside or traveling!

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Coordinating Toddler Schedules

Coordinating Toddler Schedules

As you can see from the new countdown plugin, we have several trips planned.  I will be researching for most of them over the next few months and will be posting highlights from what I find from time to time.  One trip that we are trying to put together is still up in the air because of scheduling problems.  

My oldest daughter, Chrystal, is currently living in Chicago.  She is a favorite with all our Littles and they miss her very much since she moved last summer.  She comes home to visit as often as possible, but it’s a six hour drive each way and that limits her trips to once a month or so.  It’s hard for toddlers to understand why she isn’t here more and they have no concept of where she’s now living.  

So, she and I decided last fall that we’d plan a trip this summer for her grandson, Xavier, along with Damion and Elaina, to see where she lives and works.  There are a million fascinating things to see and do in Chicago and we know they will have an amazing time.  It would be nice if we could take all seven of the ones who live here,  but traveling with that many under the age of six is too much even for me.  As it turns out, getting three of them there may be too much.

Obviously, we thought, the trip would have to wait until school was out.  I suggested sometime in June.  She said, “Probably not.  I think Xavier will be in Texas with his dad then.  July is also impossible, even if Xavier is home by then, Damion and Elaina both have birthdays that month, as does one of Xavier’s sisters that lives in Texas.  School starts back the first week of August.  Damion spends every other weekend with his dad, so that left only two available weekends in May. We settled on the week of May 20th.  When we started notifying parents, Damion and Elaina’s grandmother said, “No, we’ve already got plane and hotel reservations to take them to the beach that weekend.  (Hmph, sigh) 🙄  Back to the drawing board.

Another consideration, Damion and Elaina will be playing T Ball this summer.  We don’t have schedules for that yet, so we can’t even begin to see how it will affect things.  Their grandparents will also want to take them camping, at least once.  They only do one kid at a time, so that ties up two more weekends.  

Maybe we should just give up on the summer.  It is much shorter than it used to be when school didn’t start back until Labor Day week.   I’m thinking maybe we’ll have to wait until fall break in October.  We are both retired.  Chrystal is off every weekend.  The kids are five and under.  Scheduling shouldn’t be this hard.  I dread to think what it will be like when they are ten.

 

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