24 Aug 2014

Dinner with a mycologist

Last night we were invited to our friends' house down the street for dinner and mahjong. Being that he (Jianping) is a mycologist, it is safe to assume that some form of mushroom/fungus may be on the menu. When we arrived, we headed out to the back deck to find this display.
Jianping's fungus collection for the day
Apparently, Jianping went out with the kids to go hiking and ended up collecting some samples for his research (he is a prof in the biology department at Mac; same with the other mahjong player). These samples, as we soon found out, were actually not for dinner! In fact, the white ones on the left are the infamous "death angel" or "destroying angel" mushrooms (Amanita creata) that are known to cause a rather agonizing death rather quickly if you dine on them. They contain amatoxins that are known to inhibit RNA polymerase II (you'll have to take my course in cell biology to get the full story on that one...sorry). What caught Wendy's eye, however, was the rather large one on the right.

The biggest puff ball mushroom we had ever seen
It is called a puff ball (Lycoperdon umbrinum). We (and Jianping) had never seen one so large. Apparently, it is a very tasty mushroom, but it would not be eaten until the next day. Jianping described it as being best lightly fried in a little butter and garlic. For his research, however, he will dry most of them (after eating some of course...) and will take them to China for a comparative genetic study. His colleagues will harvest DNA and genotype them to see what similarities and differences are apparent in common fungi in the two different locations.

Even though we didn't eat any of these nicely arranged specimens, the stir fry was great! Parker persevered and learned (yet again) how to use chopsticks. Lots of encouragement and it only took him about 1 hr to eat his plate of food. No wonder he is skinny.
Learning to hold the chopsticks

On Sunday, we decided to go on our usual hike, and wouldn't you know it, we saw lots of mushrooms! Must be the season for them.

These might be chandrelles...
We found several logs completely covered with mushrooms. This was one of the best displays.

Must be a bit damp in the forest...
Found a few that were somewhat interesting shapes. I thought this grouping looked a little like brown flowers, but of course, we wouldn't touch any unless Jianping adds his mycologist blessing.

More fungi
The ultimate find, however, was one of our favourites - the lowly puff ball.

A 'micro' version of the puff ball (~1" diameter)

And no, we didn't take it home for dinner. I'm just guessing that jerk chicken and roasted corn-on-the-cob probably wouldn't go well with puff balls...

21 Aug 2014

Boys and their toys...

Parker is ecstatic about getting a tablet as an early birthday present and,  as expected, has been even more glued to his electronics than usual. We were helping a friend of Wendy's buy a tablet and it was such a good deal that we got one for Parker.  Other than electronics, he does go to school from 9am-1pm (until tomorrow) and he seems to enjoy the "step up" to grade 9 program. Maybe they have computers there too...?

Adam borrowed his grandfather's power washer and decided to use it today. Other than washing both cars, cleaning the driveway, and washing the shed, he also worked on the back patio. See below.

He was supposed to clean off some paint on the bricks at the front of the house but that didn't seem to work. Maybe some other toy will need to be found to clean that up..

10 Aug 2014

Wendy survived her birthday skydive jump...and loved it!

Wendy and her friend Melanie went skydiving yesterday over Dundas. Wendy wasn't very nervous (it was also her birthday), but any residual anxiety instantly melted away when she caught sight of the hot guy she would be strapped to for the event.
Wendy won the coin toss to be strapped to Konrad...
After some on-the-ground training, Wendy got suited up for her jump. Because they had arranged for it to be video recorded, they would not have been able to fit everyone into the one plane, so Wendy went first.

Jumpsuits are quite slimming...
Getting the harness prepared - the weather was gorgeous
Ready to get in the 1956 Cessna 182
Wendy found that the aircraft was both incredibly hot and incredibly close. At least she was sitting in Konrad's lap the whole time...
Close quarters in the aircraft on the way to 10,600 ft
Also on this flight was the trainer ("hottie" Konrad), Mark (the videographer), and Jason (a young training videographer). The plan was for Mark to get out of the plane and perch himself on the spar until Wendy and Konrad were ready to jump. After a count of three, the first 3 went out at the same time, then Jason followed as fast as he could and tried to catch up (he overshot a little...).
And away they go!
Mark and Jason ran their still cameras at about 5 frames per second the whole time in free fall (about 35 seconds), so there were a lot of frames to see. He and Jason also recorded on video the whole time.
Half a second from the plane
Jason had to hustle to catch up, and ended up diving too far. He missed some of the last few seconds and had to break off an pull his chute at the required altitude (~6,000).

Jason scrambles out to catch up to them (they will soon reach 200 km/hr)
The drogue chute was deployed after about 2 seconds to slow down Wendy and Konrad - they would accelerate faster since they were heavier than the single jumpers (same wind resistance though). They look like they are pointed head down because they still have some forward momentum from the plane. The wind was straight at their chests, so it apparently didn't feel like they were pointing more towards the ground.
Konrad pulls a drogue chute to slow down, so Mark and Jason can catch up for pictures

This is the 'money shot' (notice Konrad's face in the wind)

Breaking formation and ready to pull the chute (Dundas Quarry below)
The sudden deployment of the main chute was a little surprising for Wendy, but not particularly painful. The wind was straight up at about 200 km/hr at this point.
Chute deployed - check out the effect of the wind on Wendy

Wendy says the noise suddenly stopped and all was peaceful
Wendy says the view was incredible (I told her that was why I enjoyed flying). There was nothing to do but hang there and look around at the scenery.
8 minutes later, it is almost over
Coming in for a butt landing (on purpose)
The landing was gentle as they slid on the ground on their rear ends. If they had tried to put their feet down, they would most assuredly fall flat on their faces.
And she arrives safely back to Dundas

Perfect landing, no injuries
Wendy receiving her first skydive certificate
Mel went up for her adventure about 30 min later and also was thrilled about the experience. It was a wonderful birthday gift to Wendy from Mel and one that they will never forget.
Chris (Mel's trainer), Mel, Wendy, and Konrad after a successful day

After landing, we asked Wendy if she would do it again - she said "no", even though she had a wonderful time and wasn't nervous at all. The worst part was being in the small plane (she hates flying), but there was no real sense of falling while in free fall or on the chute since the ground didn't really move very much as you were heading toward it.

Apparently,  Adam now wants to go (we kept him apprised of the jumps by text).

Mark prepared a DVD video (with music), but it would be difficult to post it on YouTube and link it to this post as I have done in the past. I have added the video in a 'blogger video container', but this might not work on some systems. It also is quite low resolution. Try this first and see if it works, then go to plan B if necessary. For plan B, I have also provided the video as the original .mp4 file and it is available to download from the two different links below. These files are at a higher resolution than the embedded video below. You might be able to download it and play it directly on your computer or mobile device. I'll cross my fingers.

Alternate download links (if you can't see the video) :



6 Aug 2014

Play time!

Last weekend Maddy was in a playful mood, so Wendy got her to run through all of her tricks. Below is a short video showing most of the tricks she can do.

Maddy really loves to chew on her rawhide and spends a lot of her day gnawing away at the multitude of pieces laying around the house.

We (Eric, Wendy, and Maddy) took a quick trip to visit our niece and family while all the boys were away. Parker went to a sleep-over at a friend's house for most of the weekend, so we had virtually nothing to do!. We decided to bring with us the old wooden rocking horse that my father had made for Adam. We have had it stored away since Parker was only a few years old. Our great niece Laura is just about the right age for it, and having her play with it is a lot better than keeping it in the garage.
Laura and the rocking horse
Laura seemed to be able to operate it without too much trouble (video below). She definitely liked it better than Maddy, though. Laura was very fond of Maddy when she was younger, but now is somewhat afraid of her. Maddy is a noisy creature and Laura much prefers calm and quiet.

After a few hours, Laura did warm up a little to Maddy, although not quite enough to get close and touch her. She was, however, very interested in watching Maddy eat her supper off the floor.

Maddy's Dinner Theatre
Wendy and Laura watching the show
It was a great visit and Maddy was so tired she slept really well that night (we also had done a 6 km hike earlier in the morning).

It is going to be busy in the next several days, with work and my 'age 50 colonoscopy'. Can you tell how thrilled I am about this test?

Just another week until Adam comes home from camp, and Parker will start school on Monday for his 2-week head start program as he enters grade 9. We will also be preparing for our trip to Edmonton soon, but the first big event to come up is actually this Saturday.  Wendy (on her birthday) will be jumping out of an airplane with her friend Mel. Hopefully some good pictures and videos will follow!