29 December 2014

Kiva #6

After another successful loan fully repaid, I was able to recycle my Kiva funds again today. 
This time the money is heading to Kenya when James will use the money to purchase farm inputs for his cattle business.  He has 10 years of experience so I'm hoping for another ontime repayment.
Good luck James!

26 December 2014

Backyard Bird List 2014

This was our first full calendar year in our place and it was a great year of birds at our feeders, in our trees and around our home.  
In 2013 I marked down 43 species and my goal was to top that this year. Things really slow down after the mid-point of the year.  In 2013 only two birds were added after July 1 and this year I only found three after that date. But I did make my goal, identifying 45 species. 
Some species that I spotted in 2013 I was unable to check off this year: Bluebird, Golden-crowned kinglet, rose-breasted grosbeak, pine siskin, yellow-rumped warbler, indigo bunting, great blue heron, red-eyed vireo.
So, obviously, I added some new names to the list to make up the difference.  Bald eagle, tufted titmouse, herring gull, mallard duck, tennessee warbler, nashville warbler, swainson's thrush, golden-winged warbler, hairy woodpecker.
Total on the overall house list is now 52. Can't wait to start on 2015!!

02 December 2014

The Trick to Being More Virtuous

In truth, demand is far more important than supply: We get more of what we signal we want through our dollars, clicks and votes. If our politics are too often poisonous, it is because, as a society, we are demanding too much poison. If we want to grow in virtue, and experience a healthier, more productive political environment, each of us must demand more virtue.
We should ask ourselves: What will my next click say about my desires? Will the next article about politics I read elevate me? Or will it be a pathogen that provides momentary satisfaction from an eloquent insult to my enemies, but ultimately fuels personal bitterness and increases the climate of acrimony in America? Can I pass it by instead and seek personal moral improvement?

 I love that passage from the recent NY Times opinion page article from Arthur Brooks entitled, "The Trick to Being More Virtuous."  The idea of 'moral elevation' being "an emotional state that leads us to act virtuously when exposed to the virtue of others."  I have zero doubt in that idea and love what the quoted passage above shares, that we should therefore make sure we are exposing ourselves to the most positive and virtuous things we can.  
Sounds like a perfect idea for a New Year's resolution to me.

06 November 2014

Best BBQ in Town

Funny moment that needs to be shared...
I was getting ready to start a training session, making small talk with some attendees, talking about where they went to lunch.  They had gone to a BBQ place, which I've had and is good, but I had to share my favorite spot so I say, "Man, have you been to Woody's Smoke Shack?  That's the best BBQ in town, in my opinion.  I love that place."  They reply that they had not been there, so I shared where it is and as I'm finishing, another attendee, who had not been part of the conversation so far pipes in with, "If you like BBQ, you know what's great?...Hardee's."  I try but can not stifle my surprised laugh. "Yeah, they have this Texas BBQ Thickburger that is fantastic. Pulled pork on top of a burger." Not sure what to do, I just say that it does sound tasty and will have to try it sometime.  ...But I'm not planning it.

04 November 2014

Photo Challenge #4: Fall

Pile of leaves she raked. Isa.
Halloween scarecrow.  Rosie.
Football lights & the elevator behind the field. Carlisle, IA.  Jake.
Red tree in Washington D.C.  George.
A wet day at the market in China.  Connie.
Beneath a neighbor's tree.  Sylvia.
Pleasant Valley Nursery.  Annette.
Yard Waste Bags.  Bruce.
Charcoal grill on the back patio.  Eron.
Halloween Decoration & Shadow.  Kate.
Fall trees in Essex.  Rose.
Unloading harvest near Sidney.  Rose.

31 October 2014

Learning to Ride

At the end of last summer we got rid of Isa's little bike.  She'd outgrown it for sure, plus the brakes were a mess.  Sylvia, in the spring, found a good bike the next size up for super cheap and so we were all set to make that big jump to really riding, no training wheels. All of us except Isa.  She was not in any hurry to conquer this challenge.  She did agree to give it a try so we went to the neighborhood school parking lot a couple evenings in the summer and got our first taste of it.  There were a couple very brief glimpses that she might be getting it, but they were very very brief.  And she just wasn't feeling it...and I'm not talking about balance.  I'm talking about the desire to ride.  She was perfectly fine with never learning to ride a bike, a fact that she told me more than once.  A couple months go by and finally I get her outside on the bike trail in front of our house and we work on it some more.  Still nothing.  And more frustration than ever.  Frustration at not getting it, mainly.  And some frustration with being pushed to do it, I suppose.  A couple episodes of that and, thinking back to something I'd read on the internet, I decide to take the pedals off the bike.  The thinking is that, by taking the pedals off, the rider can push them self along and work on coasting, finding their balance, and start to feel like they are powering and guiding the bike instead of just going for a ride while I provide the momentum and control.
This proved to be the secret.  It didn't happen immediately, but very quickly I could start to see that she was beginning to feel where the balance point is and was fighting to stay there.  And the coasts started to go from inches to feet to yards and once that happened it all started progressing very quickly.  Suddenly she had it and could coast all the way down the decline at the trail head, maybe 50 yards, without putting her feet down.  And once she got that feeling, she LOVED it. At the end of that day she was already asking to put the pedals back on.  So, we did and she started riding a bike.  For real.  From a stop, on a flat surface.  It was super fun to see.  It actually gave me some goosebumps (and Sylvia a few tears). And the great part is now she LOVES that she can ride a bike.  She posted this little achievement statement on her whiteboard in her room. She's always asking if she can go ride it around and when we'll be able to go on rides together.  I'm eager to see how she does as at partnering me when I go for my runs.
That night, when I went to go to bed, there was this sweet little thank you note on my pillow.  No one prompted her to write it, she did it totally on her own.
Click here to see her in action.

20 October 2014

Photo Challenge #3: Doors

Great submissions from all!  Doors are such a distinctive feature and so full of character.












16 October 2014

Christ Our Life conference

Four years ago they held, what I think was, the first Christ Our Life conference here in DSM.  Homebase and I checked out that one and had a super time.  I think there was one two years ago that I did not make it to, but when they announced that Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of NY, would be the keynote speaker at the 2014 conference, I definitely wanted to be there.
We bought our tickets at the gate on Saturday morning and spent an hour or so checking out the vendor displays, then we made our way in and found some seats for opening mass.  That turned out to be tricky as it was a packed Wells Fargo arena so we had to move up into the mezzanine level.  We had a fantastic view of the altar area and the lights, sound, and jumbo video screens made it easy to see and hear.  The entrance processional was great, with a Knights of Columbus color guard, around twenty priests, our current bishop, our bishop emeritus, the cardinal and great music.  I liked a line from the homily from Cardinal Dolan, "This life is but the antipasto before the great banquet in heaven."
After mass the Cardinal returned to a thunderous welcome and gave a fantastic keynote address.  He spoke about how one of the ways that Christ brings himself into our lives is through the Pope, and, what a fantastic group that last three Popes have been.  He spent time talking about what each Pope brought to the church and why that was important.  He categorized them as, Soul - Mind - Heart.  John Paul II brought the soul.  Benedict XVI focused on the mind.  And Francis is addressing the heart.  He is a comfortable, entertaining speaker and shared great historical facts and stories from each man's life.  His recounting of John Paul's tour of Poland (only nine days before he came to Iowa!) in 1979 was very interesting and I made a note to read more on the events there at that time.
I could've listened to him all day.
The next speaker was Fr. Larry Richards and he is an energetic, straight-talking priest who focused his talk on confession.  A definite contrast in styles with Cardinal Dolan, but after I conditioned myself to his manner, I found myself enjoying and appreciating his message.  He had no patience for priests who make confession painful or demeaning.  He also had strong guidance for those seeking penance. Most importantly he talked about ways to make confession not intimidating, ways to remember all your sins (for those who have trouble), and to keep the focus on Christ, not on ourselves while confessing.
When we came out for the noon lunch break, there were people unpacking all sorts of big tailgates and picnics in the parking lot.  They were soaking up the gorgeous weather and having a great time and I thought they were smart to plan ahead and not try and rush around finding a restaurant. 
Even though we only caught two speakers, it was an enriching and fun morning!

14 October 2014

Photo Challenge #3: Doors

Short notice on this one, since I am forgetful.  Photo challenge is DOORS.  I'm eager to see all your interpretations and images.  Get them to me by Sunday night.  Have a great week!

03 October 2014

"Dean's List" from Fr. Neenan

I saw a mention of this by Fr. James Martin and followed it to this nice article about a long-time Boston College administrator and Jesuit priest, Fr. Neenan.  It seems he had been sharing a "Dean's List" of books each year for the past twenty-some years.  27 books and you hold your spot until something he liked better came along, is how I understand it. This site has a list of all the 168 books that have appeared at some point over the years. 
What is it about a book list that is so intriguing?

24 September 2014

Retaining Wall Rebuild

When we purchased our home, we quickly made note of the badly leaning retaining wall to the south of our house.  Something that would definitely need to be addressed but there are so many other things to work on or put improvement money towards that we didn't rank it very high.  That was the case until a 40 foot section fell over during a severe thunderstorm a month or so ago.  It was a huge section that fell and when it fell, it pretty much flopped straight forward and lots of the blocks were still in place, just laying horizontally now instead of the more effective vertical.
So began the process of asking for contractor recommendations, leaving messages, setting up times to have them come look at it, talking them through what we want and then waiting for them to give an estimate.
Amazing, I was able to get Contractor A to come by the day after it happened on Labor Day.  His rebuild plans sounded good but he didn't really have any experience with walls of this size (40' long x 4'-5' high).  Verbal estimate was in the $3000 range. Contractor B was the husband of a work colleague.  He specializes in "hardscapes" (I did not even know that this was the term for landscape jobs that are primarily concrete/block/stone etc.)  His company's website has some great examples of their work and I love having someone who you have a connection to, even if it is slight.  I figure that means less of a chance of them just doing the job to get it done.  His estimate was $2,100, but he said he was booked out until November.  He said he would try and get us worked in early though, possibly in the next 3-4 weeks. Contractor C seemed slightly impressed by the size of the job and said it'd be around a week's worth of work (the other two contractor had estimated 3-4 days) and a cost in the $5000-$6000 range.  Needless to say, we went with Contractor B.  And we were so happy we did!  He gave us a call in two weeks and had an opening and was ready to work on our wall.  It pays to spend the time to get three bids on any sizable job.
Day 1: They arrive around 8 and are gone when I get home around 4.  They have pulled all the limestone blocks out of the walkway and stacked them in the driveway and on the patio.  They have excavated the dirt, widening the walk space considerably and dumped in in a trailer they brought.  They must've called it a day a little early since they were ready to start the rebuild process the following day.  And on Day 2 they started working at 7:00 and didn't let up until 5:30.  They were grinding each block, checking it with a level, grinding again, back and forth until they had a perfect fit.  At the end of Day 2 they had the first few layers of block laid.  Day 3 they started again at 7:00 and they were gone when I got home after work.  They finished the wall, backfilled the space with a foot of clean aggregate (gravel), and put in a piece of tile to help move the water out from behind the wall.  They also improved the look of the walking path in the walkway too, using their saw to trim the bricks and filling the extra space with red gravel.  They powerwashed the limestone wall, getting all the green moss off and making it look like new and they sprayed off the patio and driveway as well.  The owner was there for short while in the mornings but for the most part it was two guys.  That is some hard work and I was happy with the finished product. 

End of Day 1.

End of Day 2.

End of Day 3.

Here's why you need a filtration sock around your tile.  
Without it, your tile fills with silt and can't do it's job.

15 September 2014

Patio Door Swap

When it was decided to replace the door to our patio, I was kicking around the idea of doing the installation myself.  The manufacturer's website rated it as a "2 Hour Install" which I am guessing would mean at least half a day for me.  So when I got to Home Depot and was informed that they were running a sale for $50 off the install fee (usually $97), my decision was made.  Save me the time and having to get the tools and supplies.  The door we wanted was out of stock and so we had to wait for about a month or so, but finally, we got the call and the installer came to swap the door for us.  I'm glad we had them do it, as he had to add a small trim piece of wood to the top of the frame to get the right fit.  It looks fantastic, is super quiet (no more slamming) and best of all - you can slide the top pane of glass down and a screen rolls out!  It helps a bunch with getting a breeze through the house.  We took this opportunity to scrape and repaint the interior door to get rid of the scratch marks from the previous owner's animal. 

03 September 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

I think the microphone got covered up at the beginning.  I just said that stoppable had challenged me and I did not complete the challenge within the 24 hours, so we will be making a donation to ALS.  I challenged Sylvia and Isa.
It is quite a shock to the system!  And a negative side-effect is that we didn't have any ice in the house for the rest of the evening. 

02 September 2014

Photo Challege #2: Labor Day



25 August 2014

Photo Challenge #2: Labor Day

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social & economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity & well-being of our country. Photograph is due by September 2nd.

21 August 2014


So, even though I don't have a ton of tools, and I'm not churning out the home projects, I could not suppress my need for organization.  (And my need to clean up the basement and make better use of the space down there.)  I moved all my tools from a table/workbench on one end of the basement to a lower, wider workbench on the other end of the basement.  I wanted to put up a pegboard for organizing my tools and getting them all up off the bench and not just on shelves.  The only part that posed a slight challenge was that I was going to have to mount it onto a concrete block wall.  I did my research and went on a very fun trip to Home Depot (using some wedding gift cards) to pick up what I needed.  I came home, cut my boards to size and started in.  And got no where.  I'd read a few blogs (including this one from the great Young, House, Love blog) and, while a few talked about mounting on concrete, none of them mentioned anything about needing a hammer drill.  Luckily, a friend of mine had one to loan me.  ("Use ear protection" was his only advice)  Once I had that, everything went smoothly.  After it was up, there were many rearrangings needed to get the tools in the best alignment and incorporate some good ideas I'd seen on Pinterest.  And there is space to the right to add one more panel of pegboard if I need to expand down the road.
Overall, I totally love it.  Total cost of the project was ~$60.  Those three wire baskets alone were $10, so don't get those if you don't need them and it could easily be a <$50 project! I got the small glass jars for free from a friend whose dad worked at a water treatment facilities and had tons of water sample jars laying around.  Sylvia hooked me up with a small clipboard to hang on there as well (in the spot that is empty in the photo) with some paper at the ready for sketching or figuring.
I wanted there to be some unique touch to my board and decided on adding a quote to the front edge of my board.  After a quick hunt and a little help from stoppable, I selected "Give us the tools and we will finish the job" which were delivered by Winston Churchill in 1941.  I used a projector and some paper on the wall to see how big I should make the letters and get my spacing down.  Then I free-handed them while looking at them on my computer.  Outlined in pencil and then filled in with a Sharpie pen.  I love how it turned out.  I should probably give it a coat of clear stain to protect it and make it last longer.
I just go down and stand and look at it sometimes.  Now I just need some projects to work on!  And maybe a few more tools to fill on those spaces. :)