Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Eclipse of the Moon

Since I was a kid I have had somewhat of a passing interest in astronomy, and even though I don't look up at the night skies nearly as often as I ought to, I still enjoy watching celestial events when I think to do so.  My brother Andy and I used to have cheesy cardboard star maps when we were kids, and haplessly hold them high as we struggled to identify various constellations that managed to poke through the lights of Lincoln:  Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Orion...were fascinated at the big balls of gas burning brightly so far away even if we could barely distinguish one star (or planet) from the next.  It was fun, though, and one of the nice things about living in a small town now is that there's a whole lot more stars visible at night than when we lived in Minneapolis, and even if I couldn't for the life of me explain which planet is which or how to find the north star without some sort of sky map, I still enjoy casting an upward gaze in the wee hours.

And so last night I set my alarm for 2:30am in order to get up to see the lunar eclipse, even though I had heard reports that it might be too cloudy to see much.  This one was to be kind of noteworthy because it took place on the winter solstice, a confluence of events that has not happened in nearly 400 years.  Did that make either event any more noteworthy?  No, not really.  But it was a good excuse to drag myself out of bed and go snap some photos.  I snapped a couple 15-second exposures from our driveway near the edge of town, and then drove a couple miles east and set up the ol' tripod in order to get some better pics.  Our trusty point-n-shoot camera (with a humble 3x optical zoom) was ill suited to capture the magnificence of the event, but all in all the photos turned out rather well considering the circumstances.  I ended up with about 15 and only posted a couple here, and you can click each one for a full resolution version.

The belt of Orion is visible
on the lower-left corner of the picture.
(No magnification in this photo.)

Zoomed in as far as our little camera would go! :)
Just for funsies, a long-exposure shot of the horizon.
(it's a porch light, not the moon, btw)
I was probably out there for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, and by the time I got back home around 3am the shadow of our planet was creeping slowly away from the rim of the moon, making way for the full white brilliance to become visible once again.  I was a bit tired at work this morning, but I think it was worth it.  (If you're interested in some really cool pics, National Geographic has some excellent shots.)

Looking up at the sky, even for just a minute, is a really cool way to experience the wonder of the Lord's creation.  Even on a regular night you're liable to see some cool sights, and maybe even catch a glimpse of a meteorite, aurora, or just a cool-looking constellation too.  Even if you have no idea what it is you are actually looking at.  :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Music in the Aire

One of the things I enjoy most about this time of year is the music.  It might sound a tad silly, but I just can't get enough of Christmas music.  I have four Pandora stations soothing my ears with various Christmas tunes all day at work, and there's a great Christmas broadcast over the FM airwaves when we're driving too.  I dig the classics, the hymns, the modern rock stuff (Gary Hoey does an amazing rendition of "Linus and Lucy"), and especially the carols.  Even though we can get these tunes any day of the year, there's something special about combining Christmas music with the palpable anticipation of the celebration of Jesus' birth.  Anyone can raid the pantry for a spoonful of sugar, but combining sugar with chocolate chips, flour, eggs, and butter makes for an entirely new creation far greater than the individual parts.  And so it is with the music of the season--it's best enjoyed with decorations in the home and neighborhood, presents under a tree, and Salvation Army bell ringers at the stores.  Besides, reserving "The First Noel," "Joy to the World," O Night Divine," "Silent Night," "What Child is This," and dozens of others for this one time of year just makes them a little more meaningful.

On Sunday my wife and I went to a Christmas music celebration put on by First Baptist Church right near downtown, and even though we have been to a fair number of choral performances, this one was really special. A massive assembly of choir singers from congregations around the city, augmented by an orchestra, sang Christmas songs and hymns proclaiming the birth of our Lord and Savior long into the night.  We sat in the balcony and had an excellent view of the proceedings, which included Bible readings between each song to give a context for how many classic carols fit into the Christmas story and, ultimately, the Lord's plan of salvation for all mankind.  From time to time the audience was asked to join in, and hearing the voices and music soar far beyond the old wooden church rafters was a pretty incredible experience.  Afterwards we met up with one of my wife's colleagues who was singing in the choir and it was cool to talk about the rehearsals and the final performance.  Even though there's no snow on the ground here in Oklahoma, it's stuff like this that helps make the Christmas season seem all the more real.

On a completely unrelated note, this is a picture I took last week as the sun was coming up right before I left for work.  I brought our little Canon point-n-shoot out into the backyard and attempted to catch the majesty of the sun beginning its daily ascent as its beams shot through the morning mists and frosty air.  The picture doesn't exactly do the scene justice, but it's better than nothing.  You can click it for a larger version, but really, you kind of had to be there.  :)

Minnesota residents: note the lack of snow.
Any time you want to come down,
Oklahoma welcomes you with open arms. :)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Not-so-Black Friday

Last year I embarked on my first real Black Friday experience, getting up around 3:30 to stand in line outside a Target store in order to get an Xbox 360.  It wasn't even one of the big sale items, but it did come with a $50 Target gift card, so I was worried they might sell out anyway.  My sister's husband and I waited in line for an hour and a half, braved the surging crowd to get inside once the store opened, and then calmly went about getting my Xbox and a couple other items on our lists.  It was a pretty good time and I enjoyed the cosmopolitan atmosphere, friendly crowds, and yes, the good prices.  Was it worth getting up so early?  No, probably not.  But it was a fun way to spend time with relatives and friends, so that probably makes up for it.

This year my wife and I refined our tactics a little bit, scouring the black Friday ads well in advance and taking note of a couple items we wanted to pick up.  Nothing more than $20, and all things we had talked about getting anyway, so it was a good way to keep our post-Thanksgiving shopping in check.  We woke up around 3:30 again, and she went with a friend and some of the women in our family to hit up the clothing stores and the local mall.  I spent the morning with my brother, whose wife went with my wife, going to a few hardware stores and a couple other places looking for my part of our short shopping list.  We actually braved the crowds at Best Buy which, despite the headlines and news stories people may have heard, were casual and easygoing and not at all violent or angry.  Even the employees at most stores were cheerful and happy to help when we needed it.  After a couple hours we headed back home and I met up with my wife and her friend for some Amigo's and a bit of Shopping Part Two before calling it a day.

Much of the weekend was spent in the company of friends and family, which is just about the best way to spend a holiday.  Aside from playing with the nieces and nephews, we boring old folks watched Nebraska beat Colorado on Friday, and then played some cards while OSU got shut down by Oklahoma on Saturday.  Earlier that afternoon we were at my brother Phil's to help him and his wife celebrate the first birthday of their son, and like he said, time sure goes by quickly.  Seems like just a few weeks ago little Noah was just a big pink raisin in a baby carrier, and now he's this close to walking.  Keep it up, little guy!

Me and my one-year-old nephew. Aww.

My brother Andy made this. It was some sort of recipe that
involved cooking a whole pumpkin.

Eagerly anticipating Thanksgiving dinner.

My brother Tom doing card tricks with the kids.

Grandpa and granddaughters, waking up with
a Mountain Dew and carrot cake.

Other highlights from the weekend:
  • Thanksgiving dinner.  My mom makes some really good turkey!
  • Going back to Russ's Market for the first time in about 5 years, and seeing some former co-workers who are still holding down the fort.
  • Watching Mega Piranha with my brother, his wife, and a bunch of their friends on Friday night.
  • Hanging out with our friends and 1.5-year-old daughter on Saturday afternoon. Wow, she loves to jump on the bed!
  • Staying up late on Saturday with my buddy Gavin, watching speed runs of Super Metroid.
  • Lunch at Valentino's on Highway 81 on the way home.
And so this Thanksgiving we were indeed giving thanks.  Thanks for family, for friends, and for a savior who loved us enough to die for us. May we find rest and peace in His arms this Christmas season.