Starved Rock Return Trip

The return trip was a success! Everything worked out just about as perfectly as could be expected, especially when dealing with small children and a dog. Izzy joined us for the walk, and she did really well despite the odd terrain and new people. The nieces immediately took to hiking, and the first thing we did was consult a map and have them choose a trail. They picked Kaskaskia canyon, which was the longer of the two, and it ended up working out well because the second trip seemed faster and easier by comparison.

They were fearless with all the bugs and mud, which was great. We found several huge millipedes, some six or seven inches long. This one was dead, so we got a good close look at it.

The only downside to the trip was that it had rained heavily the night before, and the paths were thick with greasy grey mud. Didn’t phase the girls any, though there were a couple of times that we had to ferry them up a steep bank or over a deep stream. Even my sister-in-law, who’s not big on either mud or bugs, had a good time and was patient with all the ups and downs. I was really proud of everybody for rolling with the punches.

We stopped for a snack at the waterfall of Kaskaskia Canyon, and the girls got to get their feet wet. Izzy made short work of all the food the kids dropped.

My brother purchased a souvenir set of binoculars from the gift shop for A, and she had fun checking out the cliffs and trees.

We also made it back to Ottawa Canyon, and the approach to the waterfall was shallow enough that we even got to walk behind it.

It’s not as dramatic in the photo, but it was a beautiful little curtain of water, just enough to be exciting for the kids, but not too intimidating.

Two canyons proved exactly enough hiking for little legs, and we went from there over to the shelter for lunch and letting Izzy run around a bit. Our timing was perfect, and the girls slept in the car all the way back home. Before she fell asleep, Tom said that E. kept saying, “That was really fun.” Cool Aunt achievement unlocked.

Best part? There’s a bunch of other canyons there and at Matthiessen State Park that we can explore next year.

Cast Iron Skillet Restoration

Late this fall, I was helping my cousins clean out their mom’s basement, and we came across a stack of cast iron skillets. I don’t know much about them, but I do know that there are a few highly collectable brands — and the entire stack was nothing but Wagners and Griswolds. I half-jokingly asked my cousins if I could have one, and they said yes, that their mom would have wanted them to stay in the family regardless of their value.

A little rusty, but otherwise in perfect shape.

So of course, because I’m me, I immediately went home and looked up the skillet online. According to this article on the Wagner and Griswold Society’s website, (of course there’s a society) this pan is a Fifth-Series Griswold #9 skillet, pattern 710D, with an inset heat ring and a rounded rib handle, manufactured in Erie, Pennsylvania sometime between 1905 and 1907. It is both wondrous and a little scary that there are people who know this much about cast iron — but as a fellow history nerd, I’m grateful they exist.

The skillet was in pretty darn good shape to begin with, but since you only find hundred-year-old cookware once in a blue moon, I followed the lye-bath directions on the WAGS site to electrolyze all the gunk off.

Let's do this.

Into the lye bath.

It took a couple of dips and some scrubbing, but after about two weeks the water had turned black and thick as imperial stout. After a couple rounds of scrubbing with Dr. Bronner’s and some steel wool, I had a clean, beautiful bare iron pan.

Two weeks in the bath: I think it's working.

Scrubbing off a few decades worth of grunge.

The WAGS site suggested one seasoning coat of Crisco, but I’m a sucker for Serious Eats with their photo-heavy food-sciencey articles, so I used J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s method. The results were stunning:

Lookit that shine.

Ironically, the first egg I cooked in this stuck like glue. A few weeks later and the seasoning's much, much better.

Once I’d got the antique skillet back in working order, I took our Martha Stewart pan that had served us loyally for the last dozen years, and stuck it in the lye bath for a couple of weeks. Unlike the antique, we’d ridden old Martha hard and put her away wet, and she was covered in a gunky black crust that no amount of scrubbing could remove. That lye bath, though:

The gunk just sheeted off in 2-inch hunks. I was very impressed. I forgot to take a picture of Martha before we passed her on to some friends, but once that stuff was off, she looked like she’d just walked out of the store: perfectly clean, gunmetal-grey iron.

The experts say that the older skillets are a higher-quality iron, and that they were polish-ground to a fine finish — and I certainly saw the difference between the old skillet and Martha, who was rough and pebbly, even after I’d taken a steel drill-brush to hear a couple years ago. When you run your fingers over the cooking surfaces, you immediately notice the antique skillet’s superior quality. It’s lighter, too — the antique is an inch or two wider than Martha, but she’s lighter. There’s a lot of debate over whether or not this makes that much of a difference when you’re cooking, and I probably have some sunk-cost fallacy / confirmation bias going on, but I feel like the Erie definitely cooks better. Still, for me, it’s more about putting a family treasure back in action. Allez Cuisine!

Big News at PaulSizer.com

Over the Holiday break, I took some time and helped Paul overhaul paulsizer.com from the creaky old custom site I’d built him nearly a decade ago. WordPress has really upped their game since those days, and with the help of a theme and some custom CSS, the site is both functional and pretty darn good-looking, just in time for some big design news.

We had an absolutely wonderful week kicking off both projects: We were generously invited to the soft opening of Zazio’s to be one of the first taste-testers of the new menu, and last night we got invited to the Kalamazoo Wings home game where they launched Paul’s mark as part of their new “Futuristic” design. The game, second in a series against the Toledo Walleye, was chippy right from the faceoff, with several fights throughout the night. Goalie Joel Martin was the star of the show, handling over forty shots on goal and only letting two in. The excitement lasted right till the final two minutes, when the Walleye pulled their goalie in an effort to catch up, but the Wings scored with a long empty-net goal from behind their defensive line. Three K-Wings goals in the third period, crowd on its feet — you really couldn’t ask for a better debut of a new jersey.

Plus, as a sweet bonus from the owners, Paul also got a customized authentic jersey of his own. It’s the same one the players wear, with the fight strap and everything. We may just make a sports fan of him, yet.

Paul's custom jersey

Winter Trip: Cheboygan and Tahquamenon

For the last several years, my hiking / paddling /skiing buddy R has been trying to get me to head up north with her during the winter for a skiing weekend. I always balked, thinking the driving would be bad, or that it’d be too far, or that the cabin would be too primitive (R likes to do things like spend an entire weekend living in a snow cave). This year, badly in need of a change of scenery, I finally took her up on her offer. She invited a few other folks along, and we had a great time of it.

The Michigan DNR has several dozen rustic cabins for rent, and after some hit-and-miss with the website, we ended up with one in Cheboygan State Park, one that we hoped would have a good view of Lake Huron. Boy, did we luck out:

Despite the 15F outdoor weather, the cabin was lovely inside, with four double-bunks, big wooden tables and chairs, hooks for hanging our food to keep the mice out of our packs, and a fat cast-iron woodstove that easily warmed the entire place. The DNR stocks the firewood, and previous travellers left matches and paper scraps, so we had no trouble keeping the fire going all weekend, banking it when we left (though after the first night we did have to institute a “whoever gets up to pee has to put a log on the fire” rule). A big hand-pump was ten feet to the left of the front door, and was somehow in perfect working order despite the freezing temperatures. The privy was fifteen steps to the right of the front door, and didn’t smell at all, because of the freezing temperatures.

The following morning we got up, fixed a giant breakfast, and then went out for some snowshoeing to the coast. The path was beautiful and bright with reflected sunlight, and pine boughs laden with ice made tiny rainbows wherever you looked, clattering like tiny windchimes.

The panorama is stunning — if you look really closely you can see the Mackinac Bridge faintly in the center left, and the Nine Mile Lighthouse on the right. We couldn’t dally long, though, because the wind coming off the lake knifed right through our clothes. It was much more pleasant behind the first row of dunes.

We had to hike all our food and gear in and out, and R had the foresight to bring a kid’s snow sled along, which allowed us to bring an unholy amount of food and drink in with us. Fie upon freeze-dried food! Nothing but the best on this trip, and with six women along, we had roughly 300% more food and 500% more drink than what we actually needed.

The second day we decided to head up to Tahquamenon Falls in the UP and do some hiking around there. The falls are, if possible, even more spectacular in the wintertime. We did a short hike along the river and were astonished to see a pair of river otters sporting in a clearing, leaping on and off the ice into the black water.

The spray from the falls freezes on everything, forming icicle waterfalls and bending enormous trees over like weeping willows.

As the short day gathered into night, we had an excellent meal at the pub, and then headed back to the cabin. The following day held a bit of hiking, but was mostly a long slog home through foul weather. Though the return trip was pretty rough driving, the overall success of the trip inspired most of us to make it an annual occurrence.

Starved Rock Trip, 1/3/16

Last weekend, Paul and I and hiking buddy R decided to make a short day trip out to Starved Rock State Park in Oglesby, IL. The main purpose of the trip (aside from burning off some of the Christmas cookies) was to scout the park to see if it’d be a good place to start introducing my nieces, currently ages 3 and 5, to hiking.

Since we were driving right past Chicago on a Sunday morning, we thought it’d be foolish to not stop in Chinatown and get some high-quality dim sum:

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When we first arrived, we found that the flooding in Missouri had not been isolated; the Illinois river had jumped its banks and covered most of the park.

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Judging by the online map, my initial thought was that the nice little loop to the west of the main lodge would be a good starter trip for the kids. It was indeed a scenic trip, past several small but beautiful canyons, and ending in the spectacular St. Louis Canyon, all bedecked with ice:

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But there were about a thousand stairs to get there, far too many for little legs. Nobody wants to lug a wailing toddler up the equivalent of 20 flights of stairs. The middle section from Lovers’ Leap to Wildcat Canyon was pleasant enough, following along the Illinois river and past another beautiful waterfall, but the trek back up to the bluff trail involved another monster staircase, and by the time we got to the top we were all sure we’d made short work of all the shumai and taro puffs we’d devoured that morning.

At this point we only had a few hours of daylight left, so we hiked back to the parking lot and drove out to the easternmost set of trails: Ottawa Canyon, Kaskaskia Canyon, and Illinois Canyon. We were not disappointed:

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Now this was more like it. Far away from the bustle of the main lodge, with the cold and distance keeping most of the other hikers at bay, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Here we got to take our time fording the little creeks and admiring the myriad ice structures:

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The creek ice amazed us with its odd geometry. Spikes, needles, planes, odd rhomboid holes the size of a silver dollar.

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But the neatest structures weren’t the chandeliers of icicles or the beautiful fractal shelf ice, it was these wonderfully weird ice spheres:

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We saw them in several places in the park: perfectly smooth, usually perfectly clear, formed by water dripping down from the heights above. They looked like carpets of huge frog eggs.

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The waterfall in Ottawa Canyon is enormous, and we only had to compete with one other person for its full attention, so we spent a lot of time there. I’m grateful to have friends and a husband who think dorking around taking pictures of ice in a canyon in 30F weather constitutes fun.

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The best part about this section is that there are no stairs at all, and the hike back to Ottawa Canyon is maybe only half to three-quarters of a mile, and there’s interesting stuff to look at and climb on the whole way.

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These sandstone cliffs look oddly like the sea caves we saw at Pictured Rocks this summer. I wonder if this whole area was submerged by the river at one point.

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After leaving Ottawa Canyon, we had just enough time left to check out Kaskaskia Canyon, and it was equally good. A short hike brought us to this gorgeous place:

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Again, no stairs, no obstacles, just a shallow stream and plenty of logs to jump over. The nieces are gonna love it here.

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Darkness was encroaching fast, so we didn’t make it to Illinois Canyon. Ah well, all the more reason for us to come back.

This was a really fantastic trip. We started from Kalamazoo at 7am, dallied in Chicago for a delicious breakfast, spent a full five hours hiking around, ate dinner in Joliet and still made it home by 11pm. If you’re in the mood for a great outdoors roadtrip this winter, wait for a break in the weather and give Starved Rock a try. I can’t wait to bring the nieces back here in the springtime and see the whole place turning green.

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Smokies trip, six months old

Way back in April, I had the opportunity to visit South Carolina, and since it was my first roadtrip to the South, I decided to make the most of it. After getting business out of the way in Columbia, I drove north to Durham, NC to visit my dear old buddy Virus and his wife Andrea. For two days they escorted me through all the best that Raleigh-Durham has to offer: the Duke botanical gardens:

Dame’s Chicken and waffles:

The local ballpark (alas, no game!):

The Durham bull (strong like bull!):

I had a fantastic time, and I loved every minute in Durham. The restaurants are amazing, and there’s so much going on; I can see why folks love the area so much.

After my stay with Matthew and Andrea, I started the next leg of my journey and picked up my buddy Sumana, who had taken the train down from New York City to join me in some hiking at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I tried AirBNB for the first time and was very pleased with the accommodations: the cabin where we stayed had a porch that overlooked a wide, ferny creek, and I got to spend the post-hiking evenings reclining in a slat-backed rocking chair, reading comic books and listening to the water rushing over moss-covered rocks. Heaven.

We hiked two trails up different sides of Mount LeConte, Alum Cave (which was due to close for repairs the following day, so we lucked out!) and Rainbow Falls, both of which were spectacular and left me craving more. I’m hoping to return here one day to hike the mountain again and stay overnight at the LeConte Lodge, which sounds like an absolute perfect vacation for me. Plus, llamas.

After dropping Sumana back in Asheville with a friend for lunch, I headed home, narrowly missing a distillery tour in Bardstown. Ah well, all the more reason to return soon! I made up for the loss by picking up some fantastic bourbon at the less-than-picturesque Liquor Barn, then treated myself to an excellent Cajun meal in Lexington before driving the final leg home, Art Bell keeping me awake all the way.

I used to hate long drives, but this turned out to be a really fun time, and I think I’ll do more in the future.

Daring greatly

I’ve been doing a lot of internal work lately, and in the process came across this Tim Ferris podcast where he interviews Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly. I’ve heard the “Man in the Arena” quote many times, enough that it feels hackneyed and overwrought by now. But Brown’s reaction to it, during a tough place in her own career, was really arresting to me, so I thought I’d share:

“For me, daring greatly — that quote from Theodore Roosevelt, I even got teary-eyed when you were reading it. It was a life-changer for me. It was right after the TEDX Houston talk had gone viral […] and as you can imagine, all these online stories had online comments. And my husband and my therapist were like, “Don’t read the comments.” And so I read all the comments one day. […]

“We all have the shame triggers[…] that you could overhear someone saying about you that would be so painful and so hurtful that you don’t know if you could survive it. Most of us have those things. And so for me up until that point, those things really dictated my life. I was like, “Look, I’m going to engineer this career to kinda be small and safe. I’m going to play right under the radar because I’m not willing to put myself out there and be criticized. But the problem with staying small is that it’s always served up with resentment and pissed-offed-ness. Because we’re not using our gifts, we’re not in our power, and there’s always a price for that.

“And so to me, when I read that quote — when I looked at the comments, they were like, ‘Of course she embraces imperfection, what choice would you have if you look like her,’ ‘I feel sorry for her husband and kids,’ ‘More botox, less research,’ and ‘You need to shake loose ten pounds before you can talk about being worthy.’ Just like, really hurtful, shitty stuff. And then like thirty minutes after reading all that I came upon that quote from Theodore Roosevelt. And in that moment, what I realized was, ‘You know what? I do want to live a brave life. I do want to live in the arena.’ And if you’re going to live in the arena, the only guarantee is you will get your ass kicked.

“The second thing is that daring greatly is being vulnerable, so when you ask yourself, “Did I dare greatly today?” The big question I ask is that, ‘When I had the opportunity, did I choose courage over comfort?’ […]

“One of the things that really turned my life upside down […] in my research […] was the difference between healthy striving for excellence, and perfectionism. I’ve always been perfectionistic about my stuff, and what I learned in my research was that perfectionism is very outwardly defined. It’s dictated by ‘What will people think?’ and healthy striving is internally motivated.

“Perfectionism is a defense mechanism, classically. which says that ‘If I live perfect, love perfect, work perfect and accomplish perfectly, I can reduce or minimize shame, blame, criticism and judgement’. And so we carry this thing around thinking it’s protecting us, but what it’s really doing is keeping us from being seen. So when I ask myself personally, ‘Have I dared greatly today?’ sometimes for me the question was, ‘Was I enough?’ or ‘Am I trying to get everything perfect so that I can somehow think I’m mitigating criticism and judgement?'”

You can hear the entire interview here.

A whole ten years in the making, SPQR Blues is finally being collected in graphic-novel format — as long as we can all help fund Carol Burrell’s Kickstarter, that is!

If you haven’t already read the comic (get started here!), here’s a bit about the story:

SPQR Blues is set in ancient Rome in the years leading up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I (aka Klio) began the webcomic ten years ago as part of relearning to draw after recovering from repetitive stress and nerve injury.

Ordinary guys need epics too: Rather than the more typical Roman epic about gladiators and orgies and imperial assassinations (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it’s about the lives of ordinary people in the city of Herculaneum, Pompeii’s less famous neighbour–though there are the occasional murders, mysteries, banquets, and battles. Many of the characters are based on people who really lived in the town. Our hero Marcus Antonius Felix, the self-described descendent of a slave of the much more famous Marcus Antonius, arrives jobless, homeless, and missing his clothing, but carrying a lot of secrets. The first job he gets (after putting on some clothes) is as bodyguard for a wealthy teenage girl in danger, Petronia Iusta.

Subsequently: intrigue, murders, flashbacks, goddesses, star-crossed lovers, ursine intervention, more misplacement of clothing, heroic accountants, gambling, slave-dealing, swords, sandals, earthquakes, seven emperors, and a jug of wine.

On top of being a fantastic artist, writer, and editor, Carol’s an all-round super person. Please take a second and have a look at her comic, and if you’re able, make a pledge!

Apostle Islands

About a month ago, my paddling buddy R. emailed me to invite me along on a kayaking trip to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in northern Wisconsin. This was a leap of faith on R’s part, because the last few years I’d been so busy with comics and other hobbies that I’d put her off on several other invitations. Fortunately for me, the stars aligned this year, and I spent the month of July training up for the trip.
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Located in the far western corner of Lake Superior (if you imagine it as a wolf’s head, they’re just below the point of the wolf’s nose), these 22 islands boast some of the most pristine wilderness in the Great Lakes region. And because they’re located in Lake Superior, preparation is paramount. the water there never gets much above 55F (even in mid-August, when we went) which means wetsuits at a bare minimum, and drysuits most of the year. I was fortunate to have a “farmer-jane” style suit I’d bought for a previous trip that I never got to take (see R’s leap of faith, above), and so I didn’t have to buy much new safety gear. I did elect to rent a longer, faster boat than my dear little Tsunami, because we were doing open-water crossings and I didn’t want to fall behind. It turned out to be a good choice, and the Scorpio I brought was speedy and a delight to paddle.

Day One
After driving through Chicago traffic and spending the night in Wausau, we arrived in Bayfield around 1pm and picked up our permits, then headed out to the lakeshore to put in. The weather shifted from overcast to bright and sunny, and we were super excited to get on the water. No sooner had we taken the lines off the boats and struggled into our neoprene when an impenetrable bank of fog rolled in and diminished visibility down to ten feet. We were crushed — but then we noticed the signs for the hiking trail and decided to have a walk along the shore, so we tied the boats back up, struggled out of the neoprene, and changed into our hiking clothes. This turned out to be a very wise choice, because we still got to see all the famous sea caves from above, watching other, braver (?) paddlers below weave in and out.

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The hike was great, and it was nice to stretch our legs after having been in the car for so long that day, and the day before. We got to see all sorts of neat plants like reindeer lichen, blue bead lily, and thimbleberry bushes, plus the gorgeous natural formations of the sea caves, and this natural land-bridge over a deep crevasse of a sea-cave (we’d paddle that same cave the next day).

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After a good 6 miles, we were ready for dinner, so we drove back to Little Sand Bay and made a gourmet dinner on our camp stoves: thai green coconut curry with fresh veg, brown rice, and dark chocolate cook-pudding. One of the perks of kayaking is that you don’t have to carry dehydrated space food, and we ate beautiful satisfying meals every night of the trip.

As we packed our mess kits away, the last of the fog lifted, and we still had time to take a sunset paddle:

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Day Two
Our adventure started in earnest as we returned to Myers Beach, scene of our previous defeat by Lake Superior fog. We put in at around 10am and paddled out to see the sea caves along the mainland.

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Here’s R’s sister K and I exploring that crevasse of a sea cave. The cliffs must have been fifty feet high, and the cave narrowed down to a tiny point you could just stick the stern of your kayak into.

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The caves were tremendous, and were so spectacular that throughout the course of the morning, we would find ourselves spontaneously shouting “SEA CAVES!” and “WE GET TO BE HERE!” just out of pure joy. There were enormous caves big enough to house small buildings, some so tiny you could only fit a single-person kayak through, some dripping with sheets of the previous day’s rain, some covered in lichen and moss in a dozen colors. We squeezed our boats through stone arches and into caves so low that we tucked our paddles under our arms and pulled ourselves along with our hands on the ceilings, the water lit greenly from below by the sunlight spilling in between the sandstone pillars.
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After a good three or four hours playing our favorite game, which is called “I Bet I Can Fit My Boat Through That,” we stopped for lunch, and then completed our first of five open-water crossings out to Sand Island, leapfrogging each other the whole way to pass the time. We then paddled along the beach until we came to the campground, set up camp and ate dinner, then hiked the three-mile trail out to the Sand Island lighthouse. With our campsite on the east side of the island, and the lighthouse on the northernmost point, the hike was exactly the right plan to see the stunning sunset. Up that far north it just lingers on and on, painting the sky in unbelievable colors.

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We hiked back by headlamp, moving quickly over the boardwalks to avoid the terrible bugs, and made a pot of ginger tea with a camp stove on the beach to watch the stars come the rest of the way out. More stars than I have ever seen — even growing up as a kid in the country, I’ve never seen such deep sky — the Milky Way a ghostly trail across the heavens, the Pleiades meteor showers gifting us with streaks of light, the ISS tracking its unerring orbit.

Day Three
Sand Island is home to more sea caves, so we spent the morning exploring them for as long as we could. The Sand Island caves are much smaller than the ones on the mainland, but more intricate, with more little tunnels and secret chambers and tiny sculpted pillars. Plus these caves are much more difficult to reach, so there were far fewer other boats around, allowing us to play and dawdle and really enjoy fooling around in them.

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Bald eagles live all over the place up in Lake Superior, but we were startled to come across a single eagle, perched on top of a cliff — not in a tree, just on the cliff — some twenty feet above us. We got into a staring contest with the eagle, fully expecting it to fly away, but it never did. The eagle totally won.

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Sadly, we eventually ran out of sea caves, and began our second open-water crossing to York Island, where we stopped for lunch on some beautiful sunny rocks tailor-made for the purpose. One of the things that struck me most about the Apostles was how unbelievably clean the whole place was. The entire trip I never saw garbage of any kind, no visible pollution, just gorgeous unspoiled wilderness. Each of the campsites we stayed at was well-established, with ranger stations and vault toilets and bear-boxes, and even those were shockingly well-kept. It must be because it takes actual work to get out to the islands, and those who are willing to put forth the effort are also those with a healthy respect for the environment. Regardless, it was a real treat to see such beauty in such good care, and York Island was no exception.

Lunch finished, we made a third crossing to Raspberry Island, were we stopped for another quick break by the lighthouse for some gorp and a stretch before continuing on to Oak Island, where we lucked out and got the outlying campsite far away from all the other campers. true, it was a quarter-mile hike to the pit toilet, but the solitude was worth it. We set up camp, ate dinner, waited out a quick burst of wind and a few sprinkles under R’s mammoth tarp, then read books on the beach and watched the sun set in another spectacular display.

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Day Four

It was so difficult to get going on that last day, knowing we’d be heading back to civilization with all its troubles and worries and work, but there were still sights to be seen. We made our final open-water crossing back to the mainland and began working our way back to Little Sand Bay. R. had worried at the outset that since we’d be seeing the best of the sea caves on the first day that we’d find the remainder of the trip boring, but the coast had tons of beautiful rock formations for us to see, as well as loads of little rocks that we could sport and play around, practicing our steering and maneuverability.

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The remainder of the day came and went so quickly, but we still saw an abundance of eagles (juvenile and adult) and had a great time playing our way back to reality. As we pulled into the bay, K and I joked about distracting R and making a break for Isle Royale, but alas, reality called. We packed all our kit into our cars, loaded the boats, squelched out of our smelly wetsuits, and drove into Bayfield for a last look at Superior while we ate dinner.

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The Apostle Islands are such an amazing place. This felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I hope I get to return someday and see the outer islands as well as the inner ones we did this time. Huge thanks to R for planning the whole thing and keeping me and K safe from both drowning and bears.

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Emotional Labor

This thread is one of the most important pieces of group interactions that I’ve read in a long, long time.
It’s given me new vocabulary to describe and detect a dynamic that’s been eating at me in several different parts of my life: family, work, hobbies. So many thoughts, still parsing them all. Go read:

“Where’s my cut?” On unpaid emotional labor

Izzy progress video

Dogblogging! It’s half the internet.

Seriously, though: the woman who rescued our sweet Izzy from the pound is moving out of the area, so I made her this progress video as a going-away present. Enjoy some slobbery tennis-ball action:

Marriage is what brings us together today

After the SCOTUS legalized gay marriage, the city of Kalamazoo held an equality celebration rally at Bronson Park. Paul and I have a friend who’s a pro-gay-marriage Lutheran minister at the local ELCA church, and The Rev asked Paul to come down and play some music at the rally. Kalamazoo mayor Bobby Hopewell had already married two couples by the time I arrived at the park, and I got to witness two more marriages and a couple of vow renewals. It was an absolutely beautiful day.

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Hurrah for Teenage Cat

I planted a dwarf Montmorency cherry tree several years ago, and have been waiting eagerly for a year in which I could actually, y’know, pick some cherries. Previously, one defiant bird stripped all the cherries before they even had a chance to ripen, but this year, the tree not only had a bumper crop, but the birds mysteriously stayed away.

In the last week, we’ve harvested three huge bowls of tart cherries, probably around 10 quarts total. I was mystified at the good luck until Paul reminded me that a feral cat has taken up residence in our backyard — a slender, white-and-grey kitty with gangly long legs that we have taken to calling “Teenage Cat.” That seems to be the only differing factor this year — the topmost branches were picked clean as usual, but all the lower ones remained untouched — and it seems as likely an explanation as we’re going to get.

After pitting them in stages and freezing them (there’s only so much pitting one can do in a day before one starts getting aggrivated…) I’ve simmered the cherries down in the crockpot and whirled the results in my blender to make a kind of cherry butter. I’m more fond of jam with whole fruit, but this allows a nice thick jam consistency without a ton of extra sugar or pectin. I like it lots.

Thanks, Teenage Cat! We’ll have to leave you some extra food out this winter.

Art weekend

Every year for the last 20 years, Paul’s boss has led a weekend workshop for her Design Center students, where they go to the Lake Michigan shore, far out of reach of the internet and cellphones, and study the world around them, bringing what they observe into the art they create. This year, Trish decided to get some of her graduates together for a similar retreat, and Paul and I were lucky enough to be invited along.

We went to the beach near South Haven and drew textures made by the lake, melted graphite sticks with mineral spirits to create a viscous, creamy slurry that could swirl or tear, used palette knives to coat glass with thick paint so we could pull prints. We dabbled with spraypaint and blue photosensitive paper, read art books, made communal meals. The focus was on experimentation and observation, of play and practice without pressure. It was wonderful.

My favorite project was when one of the art professors brought out a dozen cigar-box pinhole cameras and turned us loose at a local antique shop. The light was iffy at times, so we tried exposures of varying length, and returned a second time for more images. The professor had stuffed a towel under the bathroom door and turned it into a darkroom, where we learned to load the cameras and develop the photos. This was a really great experience for me, as I’d never had the chance to take photography in college, and I was very pleased with the results I got. Watching the images appear in the developer was magical for me — I’m pretty sure I exclaimed aloud each time I saw one darken into something recognizable.

I’m very fortunate that I got the chance to try so many new techniques and play with so many new tools this weekend. I didn’t realize how much I needed that chance to experiment and explore — It shocked me how much I missed that feeling of pressureless creation.

Anyway, here are the photos, original first, then developed — I like seeing them side by side. Enjoy! I know I do.

Test photo of me, taken in bright light to test focal length
pinhole_3

pinhole_1_inverted

My first photo — a pair of old rollerskates on a table next to a small outbuilding. Bright light, 30 second exposure.
pinhole_5

pinhole_5_inverted

My second try — old doors for sale. Weak light, 3-minute exposure, very quick dip in the developer to keep it from overexposing.

pinhole_4_inverted

Whoops, got the camera too close while checking focal length. Still kind of neat.

pinhole_1

Two portraits taken of me — long exposures just before sunset.

pinhole_2

Such a long exposure that my breathing blurred my form.

pinhole_6

pinhole_6_inverted

Closeups of my favorites

pinhole_2_cropped

KRVT, finally.

Tonight the clouds parted after several days of rain, so I took my first bike ride on the KRVT so far this year. I saw a bald eagle, a downy woodpecker at work, and this lovely Jack in the Pulpit. I love biking in the golden hour, seeing shafts of light through the deep woods, watching my shadow lengthen in front of me.

Comfort and Adam’s How-To Book is Here!

It’s here! Adam Withers’ and Comfort Love’s Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics is now on sale!

Available online and at finer book and comic shops everywhere, it’s the most comprehensive book on making comics, manga, and webcomics you’ll find! Our oversized mega-chapters include: Concepting, Writing, Drawing, Coloring, Lettering, Publishing, and Marketing! Everything you need to know to make your book a reality!

Plus there are sidebars from more than 70 of the best and smartest comics/manga/webcomics pros out there, so you don’t have to take our word for it.

… or mine, for that matter. Check out these reviews from Bleeding Cool and Comic Related. Paul brought our copy home from the Local Comic Store, and it’s even more gorgeous than I’d hoped.

Thanks again, Adam and Comfort, for including us in this amazing project. I’m so glad to still be part of comics self-publishing.

Microaggressions

That thing where both you and your husband get invited to speak at a function, and despite your very similar careers in comics, you get subtly different levels of interest. See if you can spot the differences:

Dear Mr. Sizer,

I’m a student intern with the [Organization Redacted], an organization dedicated to promoting literature and writers in [Location Redacted].

On Saturday, June 13th, we’re running a comic book writing and mini comic making workshop. Given your expertise, we were wondering if you would be our guest speaker.

Payment will be provided. We’d require you to do a half hour presentation plus critique the finished minicomics our participants will make in the workshop.

Given that we’d like to start advertising this week, with Free Comic Book Day just around the corner, I’d appreciate hearing back from you today or tomorrow. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
[Name Redacted]

Dear Ms. Irwin,

My name is [Name Redacted] and I’m a student-intern with the [Organization Redacted], an organization for supporting authors in [Location Redacted].

On June 13th, we’re hosting a comics writing and minicomics making workshop. We were wondering if you’d be willing to come and be our guest speaker and judge the resulting minicomics.

Payment can be provided. Given that we need to start advertising soon and with FCBD just around the corner, we’d appreciate you responding today if possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
[Name Redacted]

How to build a rhino

So you guys remember my buddy Mark, right? The guy who helped his daughters send up a stratoballoon? Who does a kid-science video podcast? The guy who’s been my cubemate since 2008?

Well, last week I heard that he’d tried to build a robot kit with his daughter Lucy, and, well — it didn’t actually robot well. A non-functional robot isn’t good incentive to keep building stuff, so I decided to get him and his daughters a kit that actually worked. Enter the Strandbeest Rhino kit from ThinkGeek.

What’s a Strandbeest? It’s a wind-powered kinetic sculpture invented by Theo Jansen, and it’s totally awesome:

True to form, Mark made a great blogpost outlining the build. He, Lucy and Katherine got the Beest built in pretty short order, and got inventive when it required a bit more windpower:

Now that’s better. And also: SCIENCE!

Vögelein now on Comixology!

Good news! You can now buy both Vögelein books at Comixology. These have been in the works for about a year now, and I’m really excied to have them available. If you’ve never tried Comixology’s “assisted view” reading format, I encourage you to give it a try. It’s pretty neat, and adds a subtle dynamism to digital reading. Thanks, Comixology!

Rob Chamberlin: Serendipity.

There’s an outstanding profile of my neighbor and friend Rob Chamberlin in this month’s Encore magazine. His life is exactly as magical as they describe it, and every meal or conversation I have with him and his wife Suzanne is remarkable. Rob’s a heck of a guy, and one of the things I admire most about him is that he leaves his life open for miracles and mysteries, and they find him with unerring timing. Check out the article here.

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