30 December 2011

Eagle Extravaganza!!

Wednesday I witness a birding sight unlike anything before.  On a tip from Nicole and WHO-TV, we headed out to Fisher Lake in Johnston.  It really is a very shallow pond but it is near the Des Moines River and Saylorville Lake and that may be what has drawn this flock of bald eagles to the trees around it.  I wasn't even sure if we'd be able to find the place, yet the dozen or so cars pulled off the side of the road and people with massive telephoto lenses made it pretty easy to know that we had found the right spot.  There were eagles in the air, eagles in the shallow water, and eagles in the trees.  I counted 17 in one tree.  I estimated ~25 total eagles while we were there.  (I think there are 19 in this picture)  Some juvenile (they don't get their white heads and tails until ~5 years old) and some adult (male & female have the same plumage but the females are ~25% larger).  It was such a nice day out too, we used my binoculars and tried to snap a few photos (what I would give for a better zoom!) and spent about a half hour just watching them swoop around, switch spots, and go from tree to lake, take a lap in the air and come back to roost.  I don't know if they are here to nest or just passing through but if you have some free time I suggest heading out there to check it out.

Listen Up, AMC!

After visiting the movie theater twice over break (and hopefully once more this weekend) I thought this article from Roger Ebert encapsulated some sentiments that are 1) dead on and 2) things that should be common sense, regarding why movie ticket sales are slumping.
I went before noon both times so ticket prices were not a concern (plus homebase paid for me) but $8 for a large popcorn?!?!  And the large popcorn is the size of a laundry hamper! And $7.50 for a large pop that probably costs them under a quarter?  No thanks.  I don't feel bad for sneaking in treats now.
That is one of the reasons the Varsity remains my favorite place to see a film.  Diverse movie selections, cheap refreshments, homemade caramel corn to buy in a Zip-lock baggie.  

29 December 2011

Graduate.

I am way behind on blogging.  So I'll start with this story and start getting caught up.
In mid-July I got an email from my professor and the entire body of the email read as follows...

"Congrats, Jake
My Hahn  and Steve Rose agree that your paper deserves a passing grade for ed. 573.  Please see our comments.  They will help you with further writing efforts."

Well, that was fantastic to read.  Not quite a flattering or exciting as I'd hoped for, especially since I thought my 23 page paper was pretty good, and since I'd had that professor for many of my grad classes, earning straight A's in all of them, but really it is just nice to be finished so whatever.
One of the items on my 2011 checklist "Finish my Masters project."  Check.  It's been a long time since I got the coursework portion done back in 2006 and even longer since I was accepted into the program in '05!  But I did finish and wrap it all up this year.  I got the pay increase (whoo hoo!) and put a cap on it all, literally, a couple weeks ago during the graduate studies hooding ceremony.  I skipped the regular commencement, but it was nice to have a little formal celebration of a lot of hours, trips to Indianola, papers, reflections, etc.  And a meal at Macaroni Grill was the perfect place, since my family and I toasted my undergrad celebration there too!
Thanks to family and friends for support and encouragement along the way!!

25 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas all.  From my family to yours.

24 December 2011

A GOOD Year

Here are a few fun year-in-review type things from GOOD magazine. 

The GOOD 100: I love ____ is the new _____ statements.  They are so simple and as easy to decide if you agree, disagree or don't understand.  There were a few things from this list that I had to research further.  Bring on 2012.
The Year in Infographics:  I am a sucker for infographics.  Even though I've never made one, I went to a session at the last conference I was at that shared how to use them in a classroom setting, just so I can learn more about them.  This collection isn't their best stuff, in my opinion, but it still has some good stuff. The school lunch/prison lunch one is depressing, while the money buys happiness (experiential vs material) has me thinking about my spending in 2012.  You can check out their infographics page to see all of them for the year and pick your favorite.  
The Year in Awesome People:  My favorite of the bunch.  Everyday folks deciding to do the right thing or the extraordinary thing...two things which some times are one and the same.  Perfect reading for Christmas Eve. 

20 December 2011

More on Stephen Bloom

I have refrained from commenting on the Stephen Bloom uproar going on around the state the past week or so.  (SNG gathered some of the good ones on his blog.) I read his article and, obviously, disagreed with some of his "reflections" but whatever.  And I read his book, "Postville", back in 2004 and actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  It made the top of my book list that year!  But I liked it because it was a focused look at a rural community with an older population and the culture clashes they had as they dealt with the Lubavich Jewish slaughterhouses growing in their community. 
Anyways...this piece from today's DM Register is the best reply to Bloom that I've seen yet.  Ken Fuson had me laughing at a couple parts of it.  Enjoy.

19 December 2011

Tripe

I tried tripe for the first time tonight. 
As anyone in my family will tell ya, I am not one for letting anything go to waste simply because I don't like it.  Tonight, I just couldn't do it.  caboose and I ate at Tacos Andreas, our favorite taqueria, and I ordered three tacos (1 steak, 1 tongue, 1 tripe) and a gordita.  (Yes I was a glutton.)  I have had the toungue taco many times and it is great.  But I haven't had the tripe or the cheek and I saw them both tempting me on the menu so I thought, what the heck.
The first problem was when it came...it actually looked like what it is.  [I remember seeing it for the first time in the grocery by my place in Chicago.  It terrified me.]  I took a piece of the meat and tossed it down the hatch to try it out.  The consistency of it is what got me.  It is very mushy/fatty/mealy.  Undaunted I garnished with some of their fabulous hot sauce and took a big bite of taco.  That bite went down, but even before I'd finished I knew that it would be my last bite of tripe for the night.
At least I can say I've had it.  Now, on to the cheeks!

13 December 2011

Dam to Dam Gets a New Route

The Dam to Dam race is under new leadership this coming year and they are already announcing some of the changes.  A new race route that will allow it to finish in the Gateway West campus is the big news.  More room for post-race socializing, as well as getting to use Nationwide's parking ramps.  I was very happy to see that the route will now cross the river on the new Center St. bridge.  And the shirts will be technical shirts, a much needed upgrade from the towel-like shirts from last year. 
Can't wait!

12 December 2011

Cedric Delsaux: "Dark Lens"

Stoppable sent this link out this morning and it is the coolest thing I have seen in ages.  Cedric Delsaux is a French photographer and this "Dark Lens" series synthsizes gritty, deserted urban landscapes (France & Dubai) with Star Wars characters and machines.  They are completely fantastic.
One of the interesting things is that some of these photos look like they could've come straight from one of the movie sets.  And the movies had that fantastic quality that they were cool and new but at the same time, were still realistic enough that you could recognize some things are that would've fit in our world.  It is that blurring of lines between the actual world and a galaxy far, far away that the movies as well as these photos do some magically.
I love the soul-chilling power in some of these shots.  It echoes that feeling you get when watching the movies and you see an Imperial starship glide ghostly overhead or Vader slow-walking towards you, lightsaber drawn.
“I still remember how blown away I was by its visual power, but more important was the feeling of the absolute freedom, creative extravagance even, hundreds of ships, creatures, parallel worlds, a complete cosmogony...I felt the ‘Star Wars’ characters were allowing me to render the reality of our world in more ways than any so-called objective shot ever could. Expressing reality through fiction could actually be my photographic credo.”
The NYTimes articleThe NYTimes slideshowThe full slideshow on his website.
My personal favorite five:
  • The Falcon's Hiding Place
  • Vader Surveys the New Construction
  • Imperial Guard on Rooftop
  • Foggy AT-AT over Interstate
  • The Buick
  • Honorable Mention: X-Wing Accident

08 December 2011

Goats & Bees

A year ago during winter break I read an article, and I can't recall all the particulars now so I'll probably ruin the story, but it was about a woman who had a husband who was a youth hockey coach.  She learned that there were some kids that couldn't afford all the gear so she bought it for them and gave it to them for Christmas.  She liked doing it so every year she would save her change and buy gifts for local kids in need.  This was also about the time that I was finishing reading "The Power of Half" (fantastic) and homebase and I talked about doing something different for Christmas.  So she found a Ace Hardware bucket and we started the fund.  It grew over the year from pocket change, a few bills, money from redeeming cans, etc.
When we were all back home over Thanksgiving, we dumped it out on the floor and started counting.  (Yes, I realize the bank will do this for you for free but we wanted to know!  And it is more meaningful doing it by hand.)  We totaled it all up and found out we had $293.  So then we pulled up the Oxfam, Heifer and Catholic Relief Services websites, everyone gathered around and we started shopping!  Our group reached a decision and it we are the joyful donors of a tribe of goats and some honey bees!  The goat video is fun.  I'd like to be there for the redistribution! I think it'd be a ball.
Can't wait to see what we can get next year!
Also, sticking with that theme of appreciating the random fortune that has put us where we have all that we need, homebase sent me this link to Sanjay Gupta speaking about what he's witnessed and experienced in his travels. Well worth the four minutes to click on it.

06 December 2011

Music Lessons with John Mayer

Even though I give caboose a lot of guff about his man-crush for this guy, I can't deny that I am a fan of John Mayer.  I didn't know that he had written a small monthly column for Esquire back in 2007 but after caboose told me about it, I searched for them and read through all of them tonight (my favorite being this one).  I love writing from an expert, who knows the topic inside and out, but still retains an ability to reflect on it, communicate their thoughts to the average person, and also shine a light on things that we wouldn't have known or been able to discover on our own.  The most recent Rolling Stone has an article on the top 100 guitarists and for the top 10 individuals, they each have a synopsis written by a contemporary world-level guitarist.  It was these articles that got caboose and I talking about music writing. 
Perhaps partly due to the fact that I am such a poor writer when it comes to expressing my thought about music, I definitely enjoyed both of these magazines articles.  Check them out and see if you agree.

05 December 2011

Chicago Trip!

I put the one personal day I get per year to good use last weekend and made a quick getaway to Chicago. Leaving town on Thursday after work let us make it Iowa City in time for a fantastic meal prepared by Connie. Arugula & avocado salad. Pumpkin gratin. Portobello mushrooms stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes. Roasted butternut squash. All recipes were from her new "Plenty" cookbook and were delic.  I didn't waste any time in going to bed because I knew that homebase would want to get a early jump on things the next morning.
We were in the car by 4:45 AM and heading out of town and pointing it towards Chicago, listening to Frank Sinatra crooning Christmas carols.  And, while the drive across Illinois wasn't bad, hitting Chicago at 8 in the morning is not good.  So we had to battle some grid-lock but we were still able to make it to Rick Bayless's newest restaurant, Xoco, by 9.  Xoco has more of a diner/takeaway place vibe.  You queue up, order at the counter, can see the grills and wood-fired oven while waiting in line, pay, take a number and find a seat.  Don't let the unassuming, casual setup fool you...the food was fantastic.  I chose the chilaquiles, which I'd tried my hand at making out of his "Mexico One Meal at a Time" book and homebase chose the breakfast torta.  I was sad my stomach wasn't big enough to add an empanada to my order because they looked great.  We also had to try an order of churros and a hot chocolate for each of us, classic for mom, almendrado for me.  Everything thing was out of sight.  I didn't think I was a fan of churros but these were so much lighter, crispier and hotter that I couldn't stop munching!  Plus they came with chocolate sauce for dipping so how can you go wrong?  The hot chocolates were exactly what I needed on a chilly day, plus getting up at 4:30 tends to make me needy for caffeine and these provided it.  My chilaquiles were outstanding...completely fabulous. I would love to go back and check out their lunch/dinner menus.
Fully fueled and ready to stretch our legs we commenced shopping.  A few standards...adidas performance, adidas originals, North Face and a few new spots...Loyola bookstore, Notre Dame bookstore, and a LEGO store than is now in Water Tower where we had a ton of fun.  The best thing was this dad there with his young (maybe ~3-4) daughter, filling up a mix & match bucket.  They were both having a great time and he was very willing to help us out with our questions.  He shared that he was a very proud father that day because she hadn't wanted to go to the neighboring American Girl Store and wanted to look at LEGO's instead.  It warms the heart, doesn't it!
Around two we headed over to meet my uncle who recently moved back to the Chicagoland area.   We met at Christkindlmarket, which is a German market festival place that goes on every year in the Loop from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  Tons of ornament shopping, traditional crafts, food, drinks, etc.  I'd been a few times before (once on a blisteringly cold day with stoppable) but it was a whole new kind of fun to go through it with homebase and my uncle.  My uncle loves having a good time and enjoying all life has to offer and in addition he lived in Germany at two different points in his life so he was a great guide to see it all with. A brat, potato pancakes, hot mulled wine made for a nice snack to warm up with.
That evening, my uncle took us out to Pita Pita for dinner.  It was a place that he said was authentic, and since he just got back from 12 years in Saudi Arabia, I figured he knew what he was talking about, and he definitely did.  Lamb and chicken shawarma, hummus, babaghanoush, kibbeh, cucumbers & yogurt, lentil soup, bread, dolmas, olives, the food was never ending and I did my best to take it all in.  Once he found out that place was BYOB, he ran next door and added a couple bottles of wine to the table.  We capped it all with two flavors of baklava and despite being near the bursting point, I managed to enjoy both.  Fun conversation, stories from abroad, and a colorful waiter made for a delightful evening.
Saturday morning's itinerary had IKEA and the Irish shop at Long Grove in store for us.  Both stops were great and, through the thoughtfulness of my uncle, we were able to pick up Potbelly's sandwiches (one of my FAVES) for the drive home.  The journey home wasn't bad at all as homebase kept me entertained with flashcards and games on my iPad.
A few pictures below and more on my flickr and homebase's flickr.









01 December 2011

White Deer?

The picture of this "white deer" is super creepy. I would freak out if I saw one of these things while I was driving at night.  Contrary to my first thought, they are not albino.  Albinos are more rare and lack the ability to create pigment.  These deer are genetic mutations and have some, although very little, pigmentation, especially in their eyes.