31 August 2011

New Header

I went in a different direction than usual on this one.  I came across an Illustrator tutorial that I thought looked cool and I know that I have a serious deficiency of knowledge in that area so I went for it.  And even though mine ended up looking nothing like the tutorial, I am fairly happy with the results.  Illustrator still stumps and frustrates me, but I did learn a few things in the process.  The biggest snag is that the yellowish background color looks quite different on here than it did in Illustrator/Photoshop. And that the text isn't centered top to bottom.
I started with a background rectangle, added a ton of skinny rectangles to make the pinstripey lines, blended a image of concrete to add texture, used a vector image of a wreath to go around my logo, took a color picture of three walking penguins, made it into three layers with each having a different brightness/contrast, used Live Trace with a black and white logo setting and then made each layer a different color and reassembled the penguins, slapped on some text with a drop shadow, added a stroke to the whole thing and ta-da!  I thought about going back and adding a shadow to the penguins but it would be took much work at this point.  Much more to learn, but I'm happy to have something new out there for a while.

30 August 2011

Birding!

I never got a chance to post my recap of my birding expedition from a week ago.  After driving home after the Dowling game Friday night and getting to bed ~1:00, homebase got me up at 6 am to start our birding.  And I'm glad she did because we had a great morning.  I should back up a bit and say that homebase has been a lifelong birder and so I've always enjoyed them also, but it's been years since I've done much with it.  A few months ago we drove through the Riverton Wildlife Refuge and her knowledge of birds and all reignite my interest.  I then bought a copy of Peterson's Bird Guide to Eastern North America.  I checked out some websites and found this nice, detailed guide to birding Fremont County.  So homebase and I had talked about trying it out and last Saturday we set out to cross some birds off our lists.  We left home at 6:28, with the sky showing some great colors but before the sun actually came up (6:48).  We hadn't gone more than a mile or two when homebase made our first spotting, as we were cruising along the road at full-speed no less.  I hit the brakes, put it in reverse and when we came back, he was still there...a Great Horned Owl sitting on the top of a grain bin.  Very cool.  From there we went to the Riverton Wildlife Refuge where I got to get the little mud on the tires of my Jeep and we saw a few more.  Our most productive location was at Waubonsie State Park, lots of breeds in the trees and no one around to disturb them.  There we found an Eastern Towhee that was not shy, sitting at the top of a tree, tweeting away and not troubled at all by us.  We also were able to see the flood waters from the lookout area.  And the worst location was Manti Park.  It is very helpful for me to go with someone who know lots of different birds already, since I would have to look each new one up to see what it was.  By 9:30 or so we were back home and checking out some unknown birds in the guides and online.  A great morning and I am looking forward to another session this fall!

Louisiana Waterthrush/Bay-breasted Warbler?
2 more undetermined Owls

29 August 2011

Michelle Bachmann talks to God

God is unhappy with the recent debt ceiling shenanigans and our nation's deficit.  He is sending hurricanes and earthquakes to get our the attention of the politicos in DC.
Who knew that He was a financial conservative?! Doesn't He know that by using these destructive forms of attention-getting, it is making our government spend even more money to clean-up, repair and rebuild?

Arsenal's Silver Lining

It hasn't been a great opening to the '11-'12 season for my favorite soccer teams.  In Scotland, Celtic have failed to impress, lost at home to a team other than Rangers (which is a rarity) and then proceed to crash out of European football at their first challenge, losing to the Swedish side Sion.  Two years in a row with no European football is worrisome, the loss of the experience against quality teams, the lost appeal to prospective players, and most important, piles of forgone income means financial tightening, which means fewer and lower quality transfers.  Across the border in England, my second favorite team, Arsenal, is going through a historic rough patch.  They lost key stars Cesc Fabregas and Samri Nasri to rival teams this summer and have failed to bring in any quality replacements, leading to angry fans and a very thin squad.  Although they just qualified for the Champions League group stage with a nice win in Udinese, fielding some very young players, fans were still nervous.  Add onto that eight players missing this last weekend's game against Manchester United, some through injury, some through suspensions.  And I use the term "game" loosely.  Manchester used it more as a technical dismantling, scoring at will and running away 8-2 winners.  This is a rivalry between two of the biggest English clubs that has produced epic battles over the years.  It is the first time Arsenal has given up eight goals in 115 years.  And, scarily enough, many article's said that Arsenal's goalkeeper was their best player on the field!  People are calling for the manager's, Arsene Wenger, head.  He took the team to its highest highs, but six years without a trophy and people forget.  Manchester's manager, and longtime rival, Sir Alex Ferguson even come out last week to support Arsene and told people to back off.  Arsenal now have only days to bring in some desperately needed reinforcements.  (Edit. I went home for lunch and this game was on so I was able to watch ~20 minutes of the game and see the first two goals and Arsenal's failed penalty kick.  Even at the 30 minute mark (with an hour left to play and 6 more goals to come), the announcer was saying that 'this could get ugly.')
The (very thin) silver lining comes in how Arsenal, the fans, the manager and the captain all handled that loss.  Arsenal is offering the 3,000 or so fans that made the road trip to the Manchester game (and stood by their team, getting louder in their solidarity as the goal barrage continued) a free ticket to another game.  Arsene has not offered excuses or pointed fingers at all after the loss, only apologized.  Robin Van Persie's statement after the game was the type of comment I like to read and one that doesn't get made enough in today's society where finger-pointing and excuses too often trump responsibility-taking. "It is an honest result if you look at the game.  It sounds crazy maybe but Manchester United were much better than us and they punished us hard. We were simply not good enough. We have to deal with that. I don't think we can hide behind injuries or suspensions. It is no excuse. They had injuries too, this is football.''

28 August 2011

Jorge & Alexa

I saw this new cover of "Rollin in the Deep" by Jorge & Alexa (of "Home" fame) last week and loved it.  You can also buy their songs on iTunes now!  Their YouTube channel is a riot, he seems like a very cool dad and they have so much fun together!

24 August 2011

Stephen Colbert & WOI

I have been eating lunch at home fairly often lately and if I time it right, I am able to catch a recast of the previous night's Colbert Report.  He put WOI on blast when they decided at the last moment to not show the commercials (one and two) for the straw poll (to write in Rick Perry, but with an 'A') funded by his Super PAC.  Then, a couple days later, he offered an apology of sorts, along with a challenge and now there is another follow up.  It is hilarious and you can follow the saga at the links below. 
August 11 - Colbert goes off on WOI
August 15 - Colbert apologies & challenges
August 18 - Colbert checks in live with WOI

23 August 2011

Free AND Gluten-free

It's been weeks since I've been to the local coffee shop and it was nice to get back there tonight and relax, listen to some new music, catch up on my internet things and enjoy some of my favorite iced tea.  I also got to see a former student, who it turns out is considering starting her own business.  She is taking a year off from college as she is weighing her options and this opportunity sort of just grew on its own.  She had started experimenting with some gluten-free cooking to accommodate a friend of her brother's, who has Celiac disease.  She tried some store bought cookies and thought they were poor so decided to try her hand at it.  So now she is baking gluten-free cupcakes and through just word-of-mouth she has people contacting her and placing orders.  She's got 8 dozen ordered for this weekend!  A little while later she brought me out two samples, a raspberry lemonade and a vanilla rum.  The lemonade one was sweet and great!  The rum didn't really come through on the vanilla one, but they were both nice and I wouldn't have guessed they were gluten-free.  Very cool to here from a student doing a little entrepreneurial activity and also cool to get some free samples!

Patriotic Millionaires

This op-ed article, "Stop Coddling the Super Rich" from Warren Buffett, is from a couple weeks ago, but I've been a bit behind on my blogging/bookmark reading so I'm just now getting around to sharing.  I was happy to see several of my friends on facebook sharing links to this article.  It is reassuring to see that even people who are on "the right" or are conservatives can see that some of the politics happening currently are not what the majority of citizens want or need.  Most understand the concept of shared sacrafice and Buffett is forthright in saying he isn't sure why he is paying 17% in taxes.  Even more criminal is what some of the major corporations get away with through all there loopholes.  One stat that jumped out at me from the website for the Patriotic Millionaires, 44% of the members of Congress are millionaires.  (The letter to Oren Hatch and his response are also entertaining to read).  Are they really working for the middle and lower classes?  And the real kicker is that the ending of the tax breaks would really only affect the super-rich.  That 0.3% of the population that reports a million or more in taxable income per year
Buffett mentions the Giving Pledge, which I think I've blogged about before, but the website is cool to check out and see what some of the pledgers bio's look like.

22 August 2011

Top 10 Central Iowa Restaurants

Here's what I came up with for my top 10 restaurants.  Probably not what I think the ten best eateries are, but more like which 10 places do I enjoy eating at the most.  I don't care a lot for $$$$ places, so my list tends to be more the $$ and $ categories.  Near misses:
Jethro's, Centro, South Union, Paesano's, Fat Tuesdays, Latin King, Thai Flavors, Ted's, Rachero Allegre.
(All restaurants, other than Ames-based Hickory Park, are located in Des Moines proper. This was a coincidence that I didn't notice til I was finished, but was happy to see.)
I'm looking forward to the results being compiled and seeing the new Top 100 list.  You can view the 2009 list here, and go vote for your favorite ten here. I've made it to 68 overall on the old list and to 20 of the top 25.

Kickoff

I've wanted to attend the Dowling-Valley football game for years now but had never made their until last weekend. ESPN and Rivals list this as the biggest rivalry in Iowa high school football, and it would be tough to argue. The game regularly pulls in 10,000 fans and it was played at Drake Stadium this year, which is practically my backyard! A friend, who is a Dowling grad, and I made plans to go and walked up to Jethro's for a pre-game sandwich. I figured it would be packed, but I did not expect a full on Valley Tiger tailgate to be going on in the patio area. We were lucky to slide into a couple spots at the bar after only a few minutes and got some delicious pulled pork sandwiches. Bellies full, we headed into the stadium for the game. Preseason rankings had defending state champ Dowling at #3 and Valley at #7, and it was indeed a tough, even match-up the whole way through. With the game tied at 21, Dowling fumbled away possession with about 5 minutes left on what could've been their game-winning drive. Instead Valley moved the ball right down the field and scored to go up 28-21. Dowling only had a minute on the clock and their offense sputtered. I was bummed to see Dowling lose. And I never like to see Valley win, but it was a good game. Valley's offensive line definitely had the upper hand. I wanted to see the Maroons get the ball to Darboh, their big-time college recruit, more, although he did have a VERY nice catch for a touchdown. (Notre Dame and Iowa are among his top choices.) Also, the marketing student in me thinks that they should definitely been selling merchandise at the game. Booster clubs, where are you at?!

18 August 2011

PSD fun

This is what a quiet night with not much to do and leaving the TV off will lead to...
The Kreayshawn photo I saw on a blog somewhere and I liked the photo effect. It reminded me a little of that Vampire Weekend cover. So I tried to replicate it. There are a few things I would change but it was just for fun.

16 August 2011

Garden '11 Update

Tomatoes are rocking.  I am suffering some losses on the Big Boy tomatoes though.  I think the chipmunks are helping themselves to the fruits of my labor.  And, they are frustratingly waiting until just when the tomato gets ripe, and then they chow down and leave about half of it there uneaten.
My red bell pepper plant has one fantastic pepper on it that is almost ripe, but that is it.  Not another blossom or bud or beginning of anything else.  And the Hungarian Black hot peppers are growing but very slowly.  I think my monstrous tomato vines are strangling them out.  I'll remember not to put them so close together next year.

So...what's in the frig??

I have been such a slacker in the kitchen all summer.  Hopefully cooler temperatures and more nights at home will lead to me getting back into the groove of making meals again.  It is calming and stress-relieving (not that I am very stressed) for me to do some food prep and create a little something.
I made a fantastic meal tonight and the best part was I didn't have to go to the store for anything!  Half a red onion from the frig, a shallot, a clove of garlic - chopped and into the pan with some EVOO to saute & soften.  After a few minutes I threw in a cut up yellow squash and a zucchini (that I'd bought a week or more ago to grill and never got around to it), two big tomatoes from my garden, a cut up brat & hot dog leftover from grilling last week (times are hard, man, don't judge me for throwing in the hot dog).  A little herbe de Provence, crushed red pepper, salt & pepper for seasoning.  I let all that simmer for a bit and then threw in the remaining 2/3's of a jar of pasta sauce to pull it all together.  I let some of the liquid evaporate off that while I boiled up some elbow macaroni.  Combined it all in the pan when the pasta was done & drained, and served it up (to myself) topped with some grated Parmesan.  No picture this time but it was delicioso!

14 August 2011

Dining In

I went from Monday night to Saturday night last week without going out for a meal!  That is quite a change and one that I am excited about.  I've been tracking my expenses the last few months and, although I already knew it, it is motivating to see how much I spend on eating out.  That large orange section is Food & Dining and I'm thinking it probably shouldn't be my #1 category.  I will be working on doing better.  I've cut way back on the "Big Gulp trips" that I take with caboose.  Going back to work has helped with that.  I am going to stay away from Starbucks; I got in the bad habit of stopping in there at the end of the last school year.  I need to do a few more things to be successful at dining in more and cutting back on the Food expenses...
  • Do better about choosing 2 or 3 dishes to cook each week.  The leftovers can fill in on the other nights or can be taken as lunch. I need to remember that these can be simple things - grilled vegetables, stir-fry, black beans & rice, chicken on the grill.  Planning a meal doesn't have to be a big, expensive production. 
  • Write down what I am going to cook that week on the chalkboard.  That solidifies the commitment and hopefully will be a great reminder.
  • Get groceries, but not just random things.  Go with a purpose, buy just what I am going to use.  A full frig is so much easier to make a lunch from than an empty one. 
  • Schedule my school visits so that I can stop by my house for lunch, which is what I did successfully last week.  Sometimes packing up a lunch isn't very feasible, but it is always easy to make a quick stop in and fix something. 
Hopefully these goals will help out with my new fitness goals as well!

09 August 2011

Trio of News Articles

Three articles that I've came across this week that needed to be shared...
"Teaching Kids How to Break Up Nicely" This article about a group seeking to help teens learn how to handle relationship changes maturely in this digital age.  It is shocking and sad to see what teens think needs to be shared with their online social circle.  I love the phrase "Face It, Don't Facebook It."  I will definitely have a poster of that when I get back in the classroom and am teaching digital citzenship.
"Credibility, Chutzpah and the Debt" Krugman's article does a nice job of taking a more realistic view of what the S&P's downgrade means for the U.S. economy.  I often think that his articles are a little too negative, whiney and "all is wrong in the world" but, sadly, that doesn't mean they aren't accurate.
"Iranian Students Test Authority With Water Fight" (sorry about linking to Fox News).  A few thoughts on this one:  1. A thousand people in a water fight?!  Sounds fantastic.  2. Being arrested for being in a water fight is almost beyond imagination.  3.  "fortifying security and police presence" should never be associated with water fights in a park.  4. 70% of Iran's population is under 35!

GREAT Monday

I had one of the best Monday's I've had in years yesterday.  I woke up not tired at all, shaved, which, even though I don't like doing it, does make me feel pretty good and headed to work.  My morning flew by with some very productive meetings at work (a somewhat rare occurrence).  When I glanced at the clock and saw it was 11:00 already I couldn't believe it.  For lunch I had made plans to meet a former fave student at Woody's.  And it was great to get out of the building because it was the perfect weather for sitting outside on the patio.  She surprised me by bringing another great former student along so the three of us sat outside, enjoyed some scrumptious BBQ, shared some laughs and filled up an hour and a half covering college classes, trips to India and Germany, post-graduation plans, car shopping, health insurance, movies, music, relationship status, pending wedding plans, the military, wine snobs and smoking.  I went back to work for another good meeting at that pretty much wrapped up my day so I jetted home to get ready for my big road trip.
When I heard that Lissie was coming to Iowa City, I was over the moon.  When I saw that it was the same day at the Bright Eyes concert that I already had a ticket to I was not as happy.  It was a very hard decision but I went with the Lissie show.  nicole was a good travel partner and we shared some oldies playlists that we'd put together for the occasion as we made our way across the eastern half of the state.  Hitting Iowa City, the Jeep found its way directly to Oasis, my favorite felafel joint.  And my felafel pita with hummus and Mediterranean salad was huge and delicious.  I rolled my stuffed self to the Blue Moose for the show and I was so excited but also had a little of that nervous worry that it might not live up to my expectations.  I shouldn't have worried.  Lissie was fantastic.  She is a totally captivating performer, her voice is husky and raw yet perfectly comforting.  And she throws herself without reservation into her music.  She was had to superglue her finger halfway through to keep it from bleeding and she was a sweaty hot mess but she was enjoying herself.  I'd worked my way up to the second row by the time she was finished and then returned for an encore including "Pursuit of Happiness."  She had a lot of great songs, leading off with one of my favorites, "Bully" but one surprise song that I hadn't heard before was her cover of Maxine Nightengale's "Get Right Back"...SO FUN!!! 
The show was A+.  Having to drive 2 hours afterwards and not getting to sleep til 1:45 on a work night was less thrilling but it was totally worth it!  Pics are in flickr.

08 August 2011

Drummer Hoff Fired It Off

I had one of those phenomenons last week were you don't think of a certain thing forever and then you happen to see it or hear of it multiple times in a few days.  As I posted recently, I received an Ed Emberely drawing book and had been having some fun with it.  We had lots of his drawing books around growing up.  Last week, I was cleaning out some of my old files and took a glance at a list of my favorite children's books that I had compiled years ago with the help of stoppable and homebase.  My eyes latched on to one name in the author column - Ed Emberely.  I was stunned to see that Drummer Hoff had been written by his wife, Barb Emberly and illustrated by Ed!
[sidenote: I called homebase and asked her who the author of Drummer Hoff was, trivia question-style, and of course she got it straightaway.  There is no stumping her on children's books.]
This is a book that I clearly remember reading to caboose when he was a baby.  A lot.  After reading some of the reviews and analysis online, the whole anti-war theme (it was written in 1967) was illuminated for me.  I'm going to have to check my collection when I get home to see if this Caldecott Winner is in there.  If not, I'll be on the lookout for a copy.  If you haven't read it, check it out sometime.

05 August 2011

Matt Damon Loves Educators

Sporting a clean-shaven head, Matt Damon, product of a public school education, made an appearance at last week's Save Our Schools march in Washington D.C.  He was introduced by his mother, a public school educator and made a short speech on the value of good teachers and the need to improve education policy and funding.  He also had a couple interviews afterward where he was able to share more of his thoughts and views, including his feelings on the debt ceiling issue and the taxes on the wealthy.  He's a well-spoken guy, and I like his comments on there being a lack of "shared sacrifice."
"Well, I didn't go start a small business with my tax break...and I don't know anybody else who did."
(And he had an opportunity to put a reporter in his place.)

04 August 2011

Happy Meat Night '11

The eighth annual fete of meats was a hands-down success again this year.  The turnout was slightly smaller but the core group was all still there.  I know I've said it before, but it is so great having that event to pull everyone together, some of us it may be the only time we'll see each other that year, and have the evening to relax, chat, catch up, share laughs, and of course, eat a crazy amount of meat.
I changed up my contributions this year.  After five years of making the Bacon-wrapped Scallops (Tyler Florence recipe), they won the Best in Show last year and so I thought it was a good time to retire them for a few years.  Sticking with the seafood idea, I tried out a recipe for Chili & Ginger Grilled Shrimp from America's Test Kitchen.  I tried out the recipe the Wednesday before the event and definitely got a couple ideas on things to alter and I'm glad I did because the shrimp turned out fantastic on the big night.  The grill was very hot, just like i needed it and the shrimp picked up a lot of color.  The marinade was flavorful and had just the right level of heat.  It was very well-received and actually came in second in the best of show voting.  It is a recipe I will definitely have to make again, maybe for a smaller get-together on my own grill.
I also tried out another ATK recipe from the same magazine called Drunken Steak which was flank steak in a tequila, triple sec, cilantro, cayenne and cumin marinade.  It was very tasty but not distinctly memorable.  I'd like to try it again though.  It's very easy and I think it would be better if it was the only meat being served.
I tried out a couple new beers also!  Little Kings - an 8 pack of miniature 7 oz bottles that were pretty tasty.  And Caguama, an El Salvadorian light beer that was pretty good too.   
Other highlights included a return of ćevapčići, taking a swing at the pinata, eating junebugs, trying Campari and real lemoncello.  A lot of talk in the winding hours of the morning on how to tweak the event next year AND I get to take a shot at creating the shirts!  Can't wait!
I did a very poor job of taking pictures, but you can see a few here.
Past years: '10, '09, '08, '07