Posted by Ellen

After 15 years of service in a city fire department, which likely involved one or more calls a day, every day, round the clock, round the year, a fire engine is pretty well beat up.

If it's well worn but not completely used up at that point, it goes into the city's reserve fleet, to replace newer equipment that's out of service for repairs or maintenance.

After 5 or so years of reserve duty, it's surplus; maintenance at that point is costly, and there is newer equipment falling into reserve status.

So 20-year-old firetrucks go on the market, at a steep discount, and the purchasers typically are small, volunteer fire departments, which could never afford the $500,000 or more needed to buy a new pumper vehicle.

The duty level expected of the old truck isn't nearly as heavy with a volunteer force, where it might be called out for fires only a few times a year instead of several times a day.

The fire engine pictured here was bought new by the Tuscaloosa City Fire Department in 1984; twenty years later, it was sold to the Sapps–Union Chapel Volunteer Fire Department in nearby Pickens County, which is still using it in 2017 and plans to keep running it forever.

Posing with it are Assistant Chief Troy Jordan and Fire Chief Pauline Hall.

Posted by Ellen

Andy "Brunso" Paves and Michel "Jean Claude Van Damsel" Anais, married since 2015, have parlayed professional sports into advanced degrees and non-sports professions.

Andy's professional MMA cage-fighting record is 5–1, with two of his wins by submission. He recently completed his PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Washington and is currently interning in Honolulu.

Skating for Seattle's Sugar Skulls roller derby team, Michel won all-star acclaim on the banked track and earned her MSW at the University of Washington.

Posted by Ellen

Joe and his friend Beau pose for a picture last spring in Beau's new food truck, Local Roots, which plies the streets of Tuscaloosa serving an international menu that features locally grown foods.

Posted by Ellen

Paddleboard yoga, all adrift in Aruba. We're told it ain't easy.

Posted by Ellen

This 22-foot-high stone wall still stands after more than 800 years, even though it was built entirely without mortar.

It is part of the Great Enclosure, which surrounded the section of the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe that was believed to house the royal family and court from the 13th century up until the city was abandoned, probably in the mid-15th century.

Posted by Ellen

The fishing boat Point Reyes ran aground umpteen years ago in Tomales Bay, about an hour north of San Francisco. She lists and rusts against the mud and weeds near the edge of the bay, conveniently located in back of a grocery store in the town of Inverness.

Posted by Ellen

Another very old family picture: Sister Bertha is my mother's mother, my Grandma Buddy. Baby Robert is my Uncle Bob, my mother's much older brother, born in 1919.

Like all my other grandparents, Buddy was an immigrant, brought to the United States from Russia as a small child,  five years old, around the turn of the twentieth century. Her father had been a coppersmith in Russia, but I have heard two very different stories about what exactly that meant: either he fixed people's pots and pans, or he assembled a copper-tubed, um, still and made vodka to sell to soldiers in the czar's army. 

Whatever, he fled Russia in a hurry after a pogrom that had led to the death of one of his children. The family had twin baby boys at the time, and as was the custom, one of the twins was sent to live with a wet nurse nearby. When the pogrom struck, the wet nurse, who was not Jewish, apparently was forced to turn over the Jewish baby in her charge, and the family had reason to believe that he was killed. 

Leaving his wife and children behind, my great-grandfather left immediately for America, where he got work on the railroad, an unusual career path for an immigrant Jew. When he sent for his wife and children a few years later, they settled in a small railroad town in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. My great-grandfather became a train engineer, I'm told–but how? Isn't that the sort of job where you'd have to speak and read and write English? The family was given a pass to ride the railroad wherever they wanted to go for free; one time, they rode all the way to Portland, Oregon, where they visited a relative. Who?

When the older children in the family were approaching marriageable age, the family moved to New York City, in hopes of finding Jewish spouses. Buddy went to work in a five and dime store in Brooklyn, where she met my grandfather–but that's a story for another morning.

Posted by Ellen

With shopping bags, at the new town hall building in the Palaio Faliro district of Athens.

Posted by Ellen

On the morning of May 13, 2016, NASA's Landsat 8 satellite collected thermal, infrared, and visible-light data from high above the city of Shangqiu, home to more than 1.5 million people in the midst of the wheat, cotton, corn and sesame fields of the North China Plain.

Shangqiu is a transportation hub, located at the junction of China's major north-south and east-west railroads. Also, the largest frozen-food processing company in China is headquartered there.

The lush agricultural land surrounding the city shows up as deep green in this image because Landsat's sensors are particularly sensitive to the vigorous plant growth characteristic of freshly planted fields in mid-spring.

The small brownish blotches in the farmland are agricultural villages. Almost 6 million people live in villages in the Shangqiu hinterland.

Posted by Ellen

A wood stork grabs brunch in a marsh near Tampa, Florida.

February is breeding season for America's only native stork species; it is also dry season in the storks' Florida habitat, which means that ponds have become shallower and smaller, concentrating the fish population for easy pickings when these long-legged fish-eaters go out wading.

For what it's worth, wood storks are bald-headed, like certain other all-American birds, e.g., turkeys and vultures.