Sunday, December 30, 2012

A White Christmas

After spending our Christmas holiday on the road several years in a row, we stayed home for Christmas this year. The kids were excited to open their presents under the Christmas tree on the morning of Christmas day. It was a cold day, grey and rainy outside. We lit the fire inside and just played games and read books.

Sometime in the afternoon the raindrops turned into snowflakes. The snowflakes kept falling, and soon our backyard was coated in snow. A white Christmas in Texas is really special. Last time it happened here was in the 1970s.

As I stared out of the window watching the dancing snowflakes, my memory wandered back to the best white Christmas I had years ago. We were still in Ohio, where winter and snow are inseparable. In that year, snow fell silently all night on Christmas Eve. When we got up early on Christmas morning, the outside world was all covered in pure thick virgin snow. The sun was up, snow encapsulated tree branches glistened under the bright winter sun and clear blue sky.

After breakfast, we decided to go out sledding. The snow was totally undisturbed, not a single footprint within our sight. The air was crisp and refreshing. It was quiet; we could only hear the snow crunches under our feet as we walked toward a slope in front of our building. 

I ran the sled a few times at the slope to compact the snow and to form a track for 3 year old Justin. Justin was thrilled to sled - every run, his crisp, sparkling laugh and Lily's cheer broke the tranquility of the Christmas morning. It was quite a lovely sight as well - he was in an orange coat, red hat, and riding on a green sled. We were immersed in the sheer joy of sledding. Then we heard a loud voice above us, from a second floor window, "What a beautiful day!"  An old lady opened her window to greet us. "Yes, it is". "This is the best Christmas card I have ever seen, the picture of your little boy sledding there J Merry Christmas!” “Oh, thanks! Merry Christmas!”

I smiled at the vivid memory of that “Christmas card” and realized it was turning dark outside. I turned on our Christmas light and went outside with my camera. The snow stopped, gusty wind turned to breeze, it was calm, and I raised my camera to capture this special white Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Family Holiday Letter

We received first family holiday letter about 10 years ago from my graduate school professor. As I understand that family holiday letter is an American tradition that people use to reconnect and get back in touch with friends and family. I thought that it was a very good idea, and we started our family holiday letter the next year, and have been practicing it ever since.

Though family holiday letter has been a staple of December holiday activities in America, it is still relatively rare in my circle of friends. So we are teased from time to time: some friends call our holiday letter an annual report of our family, or annual summary.....sort of, it is. Our family holiday letter typically highlights major events in our family for the year - mostly positive things, occasionally with reflections . 

Writing a good family holiday letter actually takes more efforts than sending out a Christmas card. When Christmas is approaching,  Lily and I will talk about writing family holiday letter. I will then recollect what happened during the year, checking our calendar, photo albums, and in recent two years our blog, to see what events are worth sharing in the letter. Each year I try to identify a major theme, and draft the letter around the theme - one year it was about very interesting or funny events, another year it was about the reunion with our friends from graduate school, last year the theme was travel and this year it is about change. What ever the theme is, I will always have a section on our travel and outdoor activities in the spirit of "explore nature have fun". When my draft is completed, I will send it to Lily for polishing. She is a good editor, improves my writing, deletes  or adds some contents. I will then go through the final draft, always take her version as the final, making changes only to typos :). So it usually takes about two days to come up a decent family holiday letter for us!

Over the years, the format of the letter also evolves - initially it was in the format of a letter with a family picture on top, then I changed the format, making it more like a composite news story with 3 or 4 pictures accompanying the text. In recent years, I used this format with the addition of a row of 5 selected pictures at the bottom of the letter highlighting some events mentioned or not mentioned in the main text.

I feel that holiday letter can make a special personal connection with family and friends that social media cannot. The accumulated family holiday letters have become a chronicle of our family life, fond memory of good times. So we continue our tradition of family holiday letter in the era of online social media.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Random Thoughts: Sandy Hook Elementary

Last Friday's Sandy Hook Elementary massacre gripped me, and saddened me.

Issues of gun control is front and center of a national debate, discussion of mental health intensifies. As a parent I think more about what parents can do.

The killer killed his own mother first! The anger and hatred he had toward his mom must had simmered for some time to reach the boiling point. He then killed 20 6-year old innocent boys and girls and 6 school teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary. Why did he kill them? unfathomable! I will wait for official discovery of his motives.

For teenagers and youth, because of their developmental stages,  they tend to be easily frustrated with parents, authority and society, they tend to be easily stressed out due to various reasons, they might be easily irritated and be angry .....

Channel of Relief

First and foremost, we should consciously and purposely provide teenagers a channel of relief - allow them to vent, listen to them, help them to identify causes of frustrations, anger and stress. It is actually a good thing that teenagers vent in front of parents.

More often than not, they don't talk to parents at all, they let their frustration simmer - but parents should be able to tell from their easy irritation, anger over trivial things, and tantrum. We need to probe the causes of the symptoms via whatever communications we can have. The communication to identify the causes of frustrations is a channel of relief - sometimes merely talking through the issues help teenagers to resolve their problems.

Mental Health

Mental disorder is a taboo for most parents. Many parents don't even want to speculate about the possibility of mental disorder even when extreme behaviors persist. When we can not resolve issues for our children, we need professional helps.

Be persuasive, Not pushy

In my circle of life, many parents have great expectation of their children. Many times, parents push their children, especially middle schoolers, high schoolers, very hard for academic excellence. This is a major stress for teenagers.

My position has always been that parents should help to plan, to organize, to improve, to ...but the drive to excellence has to come within. Otherwise the journey to excellence will be a stressful, frustrated process, and the force-acquired excellence will not last long.

My other opinion is that let them be what they can be, not what we want them to be, set realistic goals and expectation. When children do not reach their potential, parents should help to connect their goals/expectation to their current efforts, persuade them to work harder, not to push.

My Sympathy 

I could maintain my emotion when news of massacre came, be it be Virginia Tech, Oregon Mall or movie theater at Colorado. But this time when I watched the news on TV, read the stories in the newspaper, that 6 year old school children were killed in their classrooms made my tears flow, my heart broken. I could not bare to imagine the sorrow of their mothers and fathers.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fix Leaking Outdoor Faucet

We noticed that our outdoor faucet at backyard leaking during mid summer, we put a bucket under the faucet, every evening we used the accumulated full bucket of water to water Lily's tiny garden or the grass. We did nothing more until late November when the temperature at North Texas dropped the first time. Lily worried that the faucet would freeze and break water line. I told her not to worry, leaky faucet actually helps prevent waterline freezing J  But I told her I’ll fix it if she does some preparation work. So here’s my “order” of action:

1) find out what's wrong with the faucet so I know what to do: replacing the faucet or washer or seal;
2) find out if I can turn off the water main since there is no local shutoff valve to the faucet;
3) once above two steps are completed, the faucet can be fixed in the following steps:
a) turn off the main shutoff valve at curb side;
b) fix the faucet;
c) turn on the water.

I did a quick investigation. I checked the book "home improvement 1-2-3" by home depot, which I use when I need to fix something in the house. But there is no description of outdoor faucet. Concurrently Lily did some online search about fixing leaking outdoor faucet, and found plenty of information:

The structure of the standard frost free wall faucet 
How to fix a leaking outdoor faucet

Leaks in outdoor faucets usually occur in two places – the handle and the spout.

To fix a leak coming from the handle, try tightening the nut behind the handle with a wrench. If that fails to stop the leak, or if the leak is coming from the spout, you’ll have to take the faucet apart.
Start by turning off the water supply at your shutoff valve and unscrewing the screw that holds the handle in place. Behind the handle, you’ll find a packing nut. Using a wrench, turn the nut counterclockwise and slide out the valve assembly.
Older valve stem assemblies have two washers – one behind the packing nut and one at the base of the assembly. If the washer behind the packing nut is worn, use a wrench to loosen the nut and take out the washer. Take the old washer to a plumbing supply store to make sure you’re replacing it with the right one.
To replace a worn washer at the base of the valve stem, unscrew the screw that holds the washer in place, remove the worn washer, and replace it with a new, matching one.
Leaks in long frost-free valve stems are more difficult to fix, especially if the leak is inside your wall or if your valve stem is soldered onto your supply line.
We also watched online videos on fixing leaking outdoor faucets.

Fixing it!

Knowing what to do, we were half way through. This one looks especially simple. But as it turned out, shutting off the main water valve was the most difficult part of the work.

We tried to use wrenches large and small to turn the shutoff valve, we borrowed a wrench like key designed for turning the shutoff valve from a friend, we tried with all our might, it just wouldn’t budge. We called the city for help. A technician showed up with a T-bar, and turned the valve on and off multiple times like a toy. Knowing that we did not have a T bar, he tried to show us how to use a wrench to turn it on and off. He had a hard time to turn the valve as well. As it turned out, the T-bar has a much better grip on the valve and provides a much bigger torque than the smaller tools we tried.
I bought a T bar after work. It was dark after dinner, I told Lily that I would fix the faucet next day. But determined to fix the faucet quickly, Lily used her extra hour of the day in the morning to work on it.

She had no problem turnoff the water main. But she did not have enough strength to unscrew the screw that holds the handle in place. She decided to try the power drill. Proceeding with great caution and following instructions and trying to remember what I taught her before about using the drill, she finally unscrewed the screw after several tries. She took out the valve assembly, unscrewed the screw from the other side of the tube, and replaced the seal. After putting everything back in place, she turned the water back on. And there was no dripping at the faucet any more.

Satisfied with her work, she called me triumphantly to let me know that she fixed the faucet using her extra hour!

After thoughts

Handyman job should be easy, on paper at least. With proper training, almost anyone can do it. Whether we can do it or not depends on our interests, determination, resourcefulness, tools and strength. Whether we want to do it or not may depend on the amount of time needed.

For us we will let contractors do the big jobs or more dangerous jobs, such as roof repair.

We will work on smaller jobs like this one. They are more like challenging games for us, we get a kick out of completing this type of work.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Foliage in the Yards

Due to the big swings of temperatures this fall, the foliage came quite late and irregularly. It was not until Thanksgiving that I could observe some wide spread beautiful fall colors. I noticed that my block actually had the best foliage around our subdivision from jogging around the community on Thursday to Saturday mornings - Thanksgiving week.

On Sunday morning, Lily and I went out to exercise and to capture some autumn splendor.

It was a sunny, crisp Sunday.

Standing in front of our house, we took in the splendor of autumn right in our own yard. 

On the right, the golden yellow leafs just brightened a few more shades over night; on the left a mocking bird was sunbathing in the evergreen tree full of red fruit.On the west side of the house, the tree leafs displayed layered colors of red.

Looking down street, a huge volume of  bright yellow stood out in the block. It looked golden when I took a picture of it in back light.

Walking down the street,  I checked on the persimmon tree in a neighbor's yard  - I took some beautiful pictures of matured persimmons there several years in a row. This year it showed me its peculiar side, it had 4 pairs of double persimmons - each pair like twins joined at bottoms! I have never seen this before

Looking back at the direction of my house, under direct light, I saw this contrasting and complimenting colors under the blue sky.

Instead of the usual route of jogging in our community, we went to a neighboring community in hope of capturing some different feels of Autumn. It was a good decision.  An older community than ours, and more matured trees, a distinctive feeling there was that the streets were full of autumn splendor!

Autumn splendor in my front yard
The mocking bird who lives in my front yard
Varying colors 
The brightest foliage on the block under morning Sun
double Persimmons

Contrasting and Complimenting Colors

Purple flat bean and flower

A Colorful Street
Red in Yellow

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving - Give Thanks

Be Thankful and give thanks! That is the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Lily and I are thankful to our Alma mater, we joined the alumni association as life members, and we donate to our school every year. We love to explore our national parks and state parks, and we donate to  national park conversation association and Texas state parks and wildlife fund every year.

This year I went a little bit further.

When we came home from our Yosemite Trip this summer. I saw a company email soliciting volunteers to be featured for 2012 charitable donation campaign "Giving Choice" : "We would like to feature employees at all levels across the company who participate in Giving Choices (either making a pledge or supporting a local fundraiser) by developing posters and flyers that do the following: Identify the employee by name, title, department, show the employee’s photo – not necessarily a professional headshot, but a photo of the employee volunteering or interacting with the charity that he or she supports through Giving Choice Include a sentence from the employee stating “I Give Because…”"

I just had a perfect photo for my causes -  preserve America’s national parks and Texas state parks. In this photo,  I was at Yosemite National Park on top of Sentinel dome. In the background, under my left hand was the Half Dome. I wore a Alaska cap (from Denali National Park), and a Yellowstone T shirt!!

I sent in this photo with my statement "I give because I want to help make sure that our state and national parks are around for many generations to come to enjoy just like I do. For this reason I donate to national parks conservation association and Texas state park and wild life fund."

My submission was chosen as one of the giving choice promotional posters. 

During the month of October, the poster featuring me was posted at the Cafeteria of my company. Hopefully my poster helped to convince a few more fellow co-workers to donate to the charitable causes of their choice. At the end of the October campaign, the 18 x 12 poster was given to me as a souvenir. I posted it by our kitchen at home.

When Justin came home for Thanksgiving, he noticed the poster. Friends joining us for this year's Thanksgiving Dinner also noticed the poster.  They asked what it was for and I was happy to explain and to promote charitable giving! The sphere of influence was a little bit bigger now.

Note: the full photo was posted in the "Half dome" post earlier.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Birthday - by Nicholas

Days have passed since my 11th birthday, although I still feel like I’m only 10 years old. In fact, on my 11th birthday, I had a perfectly normal day. Although people did say happy birthday to me, nothing changed inside of me. Nothing. Nada. Even though most of the world’s secrets remain hidden to me, I’m old enough to realize that change happens gradually. Still, you never know. Perhaps on my 12th birthday I’ll magically become much smarter than I am now. Or maybe it’s that I was learning, gradually getting smarter without realizing it and then something clicked for me and everything fell into place, like a jigsaw puzzle that’s finally been solved.

However my birthday did not go unrecognized. My parents, of course gave me gifts, a video game from my mother; things like that. I deeply appreciated that. Currently I have played for six hours and thirty-nine minutes, six hours and thirty-nine minutes of my life wasted, my mother says. But Pokémon Black 2 is a magnificent game. The need for experience points has gone down ( I think) making it easier to level up Pokémon, the graphics are slightly better; the storyline has become a bit more complex, but on the other hand, it’s more fun too. I had a great time playing with my birthday gift so far, and I’ll try not to lose it like my other Pokémon game, Soul Silver.

Overall, I had a great birthday and hope to continue to have a good life and be happy as much as I can, along with becoming smarter too!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Shark Tank

We started watching the ABC show "Shark Tank" by chance. We have been watching it since, every Friday' night after dinner.

Shark Tank is a reality TV show about selected entrepreneurs of start-up small businesses seeking investment from a panel of investors - or "the Sharks".  In stark contrast to many reality shows which try to lure audiences by sex, violence, rudeness and downright stupidity, this show is a fresh air on the small screen. It draws people by intelligence, business smart and suspense.

Money only 

On last week's show, there was a guy named Michael, who went to college at Princeton, and got a MD from other school,  who invented a new plastic food cover "Plate topper".  His new plastic cover has several advantages over  plastic wrap, and he was seeking $90K investment for a 5% stake of his company.

After his presentation, several investors showed great interests, one investor (Lori) offered $900K for 30% stake of the company, another investor (Daymond)  counter offered $1M for 25% stake of the company!  Michael got really excited, he tried to incite an bidding war among the investors and seeking the highest bid; but when asked about his true valuation of his company from Daymond, he would not give a number initially and eventually he valuated his company at $15M. This and other behaviors eventually led to the two investors rescinded their offers. He got this outcome due to his inexperience and to some extent greed, but at least he knew then what his company was worth from seasoned, serious investors, $3 ~ 4 M.

Desperately wanted to get some investment, he essentially begged investors to reconsider, and in the end Lori's substantially lowered value offer $90K for 8% stake was accepted.

I was surprised that he would take this offer since he knew the trues valuation of his company already. The only conclusion I could make was that  he was greedy, want instant money at almost any cost. The other investors went much further, they said that he was not a person one could do business with.

Two grannies 

If last week's show provided an educational moment from a bad practice about what was wrong, this week's show  about two grandma entrepreneurs"Ice Chips Xyliandy" company  provided another educational moment from an exact opposite practice about what is right.

Briefly, the two grannies have a successful  business on ice chips candy, they wanted to automate their manufacturing process and seeking $250K for 10% stake in their company. During the presentation and negotiation process, they calmly listened to an offer or reject, patiently waited for next tender. In the end they got two offers $250K for 40% stake from Barbara and Mark, and $250K for 25% stake from Daymond.

When asked if they knew which offer they would chose, they glanced at each other and said "we know" - they picked the offer from Barbara and Mark - the lower valuation offer,  because they believed that Barbara and Mark's personalities fitted theirs.

I thought that they made great decision because business is not only about money, it is also a good chunk of one's life, you got to like who you work with. Same applies to ordinary people who work to make a living.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Yosemite: Sightings of Rock climbing and Wildlife

In addition to its strikingly beautiful scenery, there were a couple of other things that made me interested in Yosemite - sightings of rock climbing and wildlife.

Rock Climbing

The cover story of May 2011 issue of National Geographic: "Above Yosemite Like Never Before" introduced me to the extreme sport of "free solo" rock climbing  - climbers use no ropes climbing cliffs. I was in awe to see the picture of a climber scaling a negative angled rock thousands of feet above ground, the picture of another climber on the northwest face of Half dome, again without any gears.The story itself was thrilling to read! The in depth discussion on "El Capitan", a 2916 ft  tall cliff from its foot struck a deep impression on me.

I wished to see El Capitan in person, and to catch a glimpse of fearless free solo climbers on the face of Half dome. When we drove into Yosemite Valley, the El Capitan was easily recognizable.Unfortunately, August, when we visited, was too hot for rock climbing - there were few climbers on the rocks - free solo or not.

The day after we biked in the Yosemite Valley, we went to El Capitan again by shuttle, and we took a good look at it using binoculars and spotted two mountaineers climbing El Capitan on the "Nose".

 Wild Animals

The most talked about animal at Yosemite is black bear. Before checking into our tent cabin, we were warned by the park staffs again and again of not putting food or anything with sweet smell (like shampoo) in the cabin because of black bear. We did not see anything in the valley!!

The commonly seen wildlife are deers and nearly domesticated fat squirrels ; looking and listening carefully we saw acorn wood peckers.

We did see black bears near glacier point when we hiked to Sentinel Doom - we saw a mother bear (brown color) and two cubs (pitch black) walking pretty fast near the trail we were on - I did not get good pictures of them.

On the way back from reflection pond under the half dome, I spotted a bob cat and caught it on camera- it camouflaged so well in the rocks. 

A deer in the Yosemite Valley
Fat Squirrel was favorite subject of Nicholas
Acorn Woodpecker - could be heard or seen

A black bear in motion

A Bob cat

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mini Fall Break at Lake Texoma

Last week Nicholas' school had a Friday to Monday 4 day mini fall break. Instead of Lake Ray Robert, we went to Eisenhower State Park for a change, for a short camping trip with his friend Ben and family, Saturday to Sunday.

Foliage at Eisenhower State Park

Eisenhower State Park is a small park of 462 acre. It is on the shoreline of Lake Texoma, about 60 miles north from where we live. The 60 miles made quite a difference, where we live the leafs were still green, the foliage was on display already there.

Compared to Lake Ray Roberts Park, Eisenhower Park is quite hilly, and there is no biking trail there. We had to bike on the road way, sharing the narrow roads in the park with fast moving vehicles. So it is not an ideal place for recreational cycling.

It was a windy Saturday afternoon. We flied kite near our campsite for a while until Benjamin's family arrived.  Setting up tents, we started fires for grill. It was dark after we finished delicious BBQ. The night was breezy, pleasant but not with the crispy chill we expected. Kids roasted marshmallow and played fires by the camp fires, parents chatted.

It was a starry night, with a crescent moon in the sky. So we indeed "sleep under the stars, awaken to the cool dawn wind."

In addition to camping, the other main activities at Eisenhower Park are hiking and boating. Due to strong wind foretasted for Sunday, we planed to hike only. 

Around 9:30 am, we went on hiking, the boys and a girl led the way, adults followed. The trail is in a relatively dense woods for about 2 miles, we could barely see the lake on that portion of the trail.

On the hiking trail
Mushroom by the trail 
Autumn sky
Then we approached a cove, mistook it as the Ammoonite scenic point, our designated end point for the hike, we went off the trail, and headed to the rocky shoreline.

We watched two fishermen fishing on their motor boat.  The kids and Ben's dad skipped stones for some time - Ben's dad was really good at it - easily making a stone jumping on the water for 6 or 7 times. 

Caroline built a little statues Nicholas and Ben started throwing stones at it trying to knock it down, and after several tries, they did. They asked Caroline to build another statue and they knocked it down again. they had so much fun, the boys built their own "big" statue for targeting as well.

When they were done playing rocks, we explored the rocky shoreline along the cove; then we noticed that the Ammoonite scenic point is on the other side of the cove. 

It was really beautiful place - it backs up the claim the park made that the area's beauty is captivating!

A cove by Lake Texoma 

Building statues
Statues: Ben and Nicholas built the left hand side, Caroline built the other
Lake Texoma

We stayed on the rocky lake shore for over an hour. It was 12:30pm now, it was getting hot on the trail, the kids were tired. So the mothers took the children to nearby Marina store for snow cones, and the dads went back to the campsite, where Ben's dad started to cook lunch, I drove my car to the Marina to pick them up.

It was a fun trip. 

We only explored about two thirds of the park; the remaining 1/3 is claimed to have more captivating beauty, and some wildlife. We did not kayak or boat on the lake. So we will go back sometime in future to have more fun.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ansel Adams

A couple of weeks ago we went to local library - I picked up a book "The black hole at the center of our galaxy" because I thought that it would help to know the starry sky I saw at Yosemite more; Lily picked another Yosemite related book "Ansel Adams in the National Parks" for me.

"The black hole at the center of our galaxy"  presented some fascinating details about our galactic center which I was thrilled to know, but I was quickly bored of reading it because it has too many details for me. So I picked up "Ansel Adams in the National Parks"  and read it every night for a week until the last page was turned.

Before I read the book, I only vaguely knew that Adams was a photographer who took a lot of black and white photos of nature,  rocks, mountains, rivers ...

My first exposure to Ansel Adams's photos, that I remembered,  was at a colleague's office, which had four walls of large frames of Adams' photos of Yosemite. It struck me a deep impression - the striking beauty of Yosemite in black and white, and I remembered the name since

From then on, I paid more attention to black and white photos, I noticed his black and  white photos of nature from time to time, in office buildings, in art galleries, at schools, and at doctor's offices.... - each time they impressed me, and each time they reinforced my memory of Ansel Adams as a great photographer who likes to take black and white photos of nature, Yosemite in particular.

 Then I saw a lot more of Adams' photos in one place, at Yosemite National Park's Ansel Adams Art Gallery this summer. But I did not really know who he was until I read "Ansel Adams in the National Parks" primarily a collection of 225 of his photos of national parks along with some of his writings, and writings of his friends,associates.

"Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was the most honored American photographer of the twentieth century, ......he was also a prescient and highly effective voice in the fight to preserve America's remaining wilderness".

As a nature lover, I resonate with his photos, and resonate with his relations to nature: "You must have certain area of the world left as close-to-primal condition as possible. You must have quietness and solitude. You must be able to touch the living rock, drink the pure waters, scan the great vistas, sleep under the stars, awaken to the cool dawn wind."

In a small way, we practice what he embodied: "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet" - explore nature, have fun.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Exploring Giant Sequoia Trees

When we first entered Sequoia National Park, we stopped at the first sight of some extraordinarily large and tall sequoia trees along  highway 198 going south to Sequoia. We were amazed by the sheer height and size of the giant sequoia trees -it was extremely hard to take a good full picture of those big trees. We explored approximately ten big trees for about 30 minutes!

Quickly Justin and Nicholas were bored of the seemingly same big trees everywhere in the park, despite the fact that we saw bigger trees later, such as the 275 ft tall, 2200 year old General Sherman Tree, the largest tree by volume, or the 267 ft tall, 2000 year old General Grant Tree, the largest tree by width. It was really hard to appreciate all these world records then and there because the surrounding trees are almost just as big.

However, observation and curiosity made it interesting and fun for  Lily and me.

Giant Sequoia Tree Bark color

Very quickly we noticed that there are differences in color of the barks between the smaller sequoia trees and larger one. The large sequoia trees have a reddish, relatively smooth barks, while the smaller sequoia trees barks are more like regular trees, grey, and fragmented. It was interesting. But I did not think about it further until Lily raised the questions about why there was such a difference.

I hypothesized that it was because that the older trees experienced fires and the surface grey barks were burnt. We tried to find an answer at the Giant Sequoia Museum, but could not. So Lily went to ask a ranger at the information desk. We were told that Sequoia trees' barks change color at around 500 years of age due to chemical produced in the trees - tannin, it is a mechanism for the trees to be more fire resistant and pest resistant....(upon web search at the time of writing - I found another explanation - sequoia tree barks contain tannin. When the lower portion of sequoia trees' bark were burnt, the tannins from upper portion of the trees leaked to coat the surface of the burnt area, giving it the reddish color) . We were really excited to find the answer, and felt like we got a peek at secrets of nature!!

Shallow roots for very tall trees

Most giant sequoia trees are so straight, so it was peculiar to see some leaning trees, especially around Big Tree trail. We saw some fallen trees. Based on my common sense, the very tall trees have very deep roots. How could such big trees just fall?

From the exhibit along the trail I was surprised to find out that Giant Sequoia Trees actually have very shallow roots, 3 feet deep on average for trees 200 - 300 ft tall. But the root system extended extensively in horizontal directions, it can stretch out for 300 ft near the soil surface to take water and nutrients.

 The big tree trail is a trail on the perimeter of a meadow - wet land. As the wet land grows, the sequoia trees used to be far enough from the water's edge gets closer, water flow induce soil erosion. The Giant Sequoia trees lean or fall due erosion of soils in their immediate surroundings.

It is also a wonder that giant sequoia trees can pump water and nutrient 200 ~ 300 ft above its root system. It turns out that "trees draw water from the soil upwards. Their foliage is the main motor driving this movement. During photosynthesis, leaves open their stomata and allow water to evaporate into the air.This transpiration creates suction, which extends to the xylem in the leaf veins. From one cell to its neighbor, then across the xylem, suction draws the water."  All trees pump theie water up in the same mechanism  but I did not give it a thought on how it could be, took it for granted, until now.

Fire helps Giant Sequoia trees
People try hard to fight forest fires by all means. I heard comments on why we should allow some fires to burn but did not really investigate it. At the visitor center's exhibit, I found a specific example of fire's role in giant sequoia's life, from seed germination, seeding,  to pests control, from nutrient creation to kill competitors, ...."Fire is the dynamic process that allows minerals and energy to recycle faster within the ecosystem's operation. In theory, similar decomposer functions are performed by fungal and bacterial action. But these processes are far slower than fire, and it is doubtful whether these organisms have ever played the complete decomposition role without fire. "   Artificial fire fighting slowed the process, and caused some of the biggest fires we ever see!!
Longevity of Giant Sequoia Trees

It is absolutely amazing to see giant sequoia trees can live 2000 ~ 4000 years.

When one gives it a bit thinking, one realizes that  the longevity relates to 1 ) their genetics, which definitely play significant roles; 2) external conditions, such as soil type, precipitation, weather patters, temperature, altitude ..., which must have played almost an equally important role as genetics, based on the facts that not all giant sequoia trees live to 1000+ years; no 1000+year old giant sequoia trees outside the limited areas.

All these mental activities at Sequoia helped me to peek into nature's secrets and to have enormously satisfying and exciting experiences.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

One Extra Hour A Day of My Life - by Lily

As the kids entered a new school year, I started a new job. Since my commute is cut in half, I am essentially getting an hour of my life back every day. It is all mine by myself, without the interruption of the kids. I am totally thrilled by the prospect of this. There are so many things that I have wanted to do for so long, now I finally have time for them. I need some time at the beginning to catch up with the learning for my new job. But I won’t be bogged down by it. And one thing for sure I will not touch is household chores. I want this hour of my life to be meaningful and beneficial for myself.

I have more time to exercise, taking a morning run around the pond,  soaking up the golden morning sun ray, and admiring my white-necked friends trotting and hovering near the pond. 

I have extra time to tend my garden, watching the peppers turn into red and the purple okras shoot up toward the sky, amazed by an uninvited guest, double in size within a day. Hopefully the nest I made for her is good enough for her to turn into a butterfly.

I have time to take on home projects, learn a skill, and develop a new hobby. I finally opened the canvas and acrylic paints I ordered a few months ago and put them to use. It’s a joy to spend some quiet time in the morning mixing up colors and adding a few strokes on my canvas. Slowly but surely the shapes are coming alive. It’s satisfying to see the surprise on everyone’s face when they discovered my little “secret”.  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Under the tent cabin in Yosemite - by Lily

When we entered Curry Village campground in Yosemite, rows and rows of densely packed white tents immediately attracted my attention. My heart sunk. This looked like the scene in the Harry Potter movie where..

And yeap, these are the so called “tent cabin”, where we’d spend three nights in the park. Despite the high price and difficulty of booking, we saw only three beds inside as we entered our cabin. It was hot inside, but there’s no sight of AC, no TV, no Wi-Fi, no shower, and the only outlet was plugged in for the heater. Good thing we didn’t need the heater at night, so we had one outlet to use for charging our three cameras. But since we were there to enjoy the scenery in the park, we decided to make do with the accommodations we got.
As it turned out, we really didn’t need all the other “necessities”. The shower house was reasonable enough to take care of our needs. After a full day of hiking, all we needed was a good night sleep. The temperature did cool down quite a bit at night. We sat outside our tent, watched clouds moving by mountain peaks, and gazed stars above our heads at night. We heard voices and languages of all kind. The last night, we turned off the light early and chatted. We told funny stories and talked about interesting people we met during the trip, we talked about summer camps and upcoming school year. Somehow the kids started a conversation on attitude and gratitude. It was just the perfect family bonding time.

The next morning before checking out, we took a picture in front of our tent cabin as a memory.

Note: A week after we returned home from Yosemite, a scaring news came - that there was Hantavirus in Curry Village, and people stayed there from June to August were potentially exposed to the  potentially deadly virus. I read related news, searched internet about the diseases the virus can induce.  We were fortunately that we did not stay at the outbreak area - "signature tent". I have been very carefully to monitor the status of the whole family since. I asked Nicholas to read and summarize what he read about Hantavirus.

Appendix:  Hantavirus at Curry Village Yosemite  - by Nicholas

Hantavirus is a rare disease found in the droppings and saliva of deer mice. In California approximately 14% of mice carry the disease. 36% of all reported cases of Hantavirus have resulted in death.

Signs and symptoms of Hantavirus present themselves 1–6 weeks after exposure and initially appear like a common cold; symptoms in the first 1–4 days include fever, chills, muscle aches, especially in the back and thighs, nausea, and cough. Signs and symptoms become increasingly serious afterward. The types of Hantavirus that cause HPS in the United States cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

Early medical attention is critical for individuals who contract Hantavirus. Early medical attention can increase the chance that a Hantavirus patient will survive. Found especially at Yosemite in Signature Tent Cabins at Camp Curry Village, The National Park Service Office of Public Health has confirmed six cases of Hantavirus that have been linked to Yosemite National Park. Two of the six cases have resulted in fatalities. The other four individuals are improving or recovered. Approximately 3,000 registered parties have been contacted through email, mail or phone calls to inform them of the recent cases of Hantavirus and to advise them to seek immediate medical attention if they exhibit any symptoms of the virus. The National Park Service has closed the Signature Tent Cabins at Yosemite and has intensified building inspections and assessments and cleanings throughout the park.

My father was worried about me because I had flu recently. But he was not too worried since we did not stay in a Signature tent cabin. Nevertheless we are susceptible to the virus, we must be very careful.