30 December 2015

2015: The Year in Pictures

I rounded up 55 pictures on to encapsulate our year...
Check it out here.

29 December 2015

2015 Book List

Here it is!
A good (but not great) year of reading.  The biggest success of the year was getting my Overdrive app set up on my iPhone so I can check out audiobooks from our public library and listen to them while I'm running, working out or in the car.  That made the training runs for my Dam to Dam Half-marathon much better.  I'll always associate Argo with running the Bill Riley Trail.
Sylvia & I read eight of the same books this year and we enjoyed talking them over and comparing our reactions.  (Best: The Circle and The Martian.  Worst: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk)
We also had a few great family read aloud this year. The Secret Garden was totally magical and we were enraptured by it. Tuck Everlasting had us guessing what would happen next, who was good, who was bad and the ending led to some fun discussion.

Past years: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

16 October 2015

Garage Clean Up

A little cleaning, a little sweeping, a little organizing, sealing up some seams, a lot of scraping of peeling walls and a couple coats of fresh white paint. Oh, and a new bright white LED bulb.
It didn't really change much or make the space any more useful but it sure made it less of an eyesore.

12 October 2015

At the Drive-In

Back in June the family and I took a trip over to Newton and experienced the last drive-in in Iowa. I'd never been to one before (and always wished I could have when we drove by the old drive-in lot outside of Shenandoah.)
Despite the rain beforehand (and a little during) we had a ball. We made friends with the family beside us. And we were the only car in the place that did not bring chairs to sit outside in. And everyone else brought like tailgating food or potluck or pizzas. We had stopped at KFC on the way through town. :(
The movie was "Home" and it was only ok. But the experience was great.

03 August 2015

Garage Sales!

I haven't gone to many garage sales since the days living in Shenandoah when I went with my mom, but last week I hit three garage sales in three days!  One was a moving sale in the neighborhood, one was only a block from our house and one was our friend's.
I picked up an old radio, perfect for the workbench, a garden weasel (like we had growing up except this one works), a small pitchfork, a docking station speaker, an assortment of great kids books, a pair of ~$200 boots in my size, Isa picked up a few toys and much fun was had. And some seriously great deals!  One man's trash=another man's treasure.
Oh, and you can see the fantastic squirrel target in a frame.  I can't decide whether to hang that or use the target and put the frame to use elsewhere. 

18 July 2015

Arizona Vacation!

[I'm going to make an effort to get back to blogging, not as often as I used to but at least to document memorable events]

Flickr photo album

The family just got back from almost a week in Tucson, AZ.  We had a delightful, fun-filled time with the Tucks.  I think Isa swam every day we were there.  Plus they have two dogs (one of which is Isa's, "they just take care of it for me") so she started and finished each day with playing catch and teaching tricks with them.  She was in heaven. We packed a lot of things in so we had at least one outing each day.  Here's the highlights:
  • Thurs:  alarm @ 4:15AM to get to airport for 6:10 flight. Flew through Chicago to Phoenix on American Airlines.  Then we got on a small US Airways jet to hop to Tucson but after pushing back and sitting for awhile we got the news that we had a mechanical issue and would need a new plane.  So we de-planed onto the tarmac in 100 degree Phoenix heat.  Luckily it wasn't too long at all and we were on a new jet and on our way.  Phoenix to Tucson was the shortest flight I've ever been on.  26 minutes from wheels up to wheels down.  Once we got to Tucson, we were taken on a super, all-access tour of the University of Arizona.  We were on the floor of the basketball arena, on the turf of the football stadium and zipping around campus in a golf cart.  Very cool. And Martin is a top-notch tour guide, and not just for the university!  He always had background information, geographical explanations, weather insights, historical facts, etc to made every outing more interesting and meaningful.  First meal:  El Guerro Canelo.  I tried to sample it all but made sure to have a 'Sonoran-style hot dog' as seen on the FoodNetwork.  Their 'caramelo' was one of Sylvia's favorite things she ate the whole trip.
  • Fri: While the girls stayed home to play, I got up and went to work with Martin.  He got me into the Rec Center and then left to get his work done.  I spent the next few hours working out, trying out battle ropes and throwback trampolines, running on the Mall, shopping in the retail store, watching a little Wimbledon (incredible match between Federer and Murray) and finishing it with a dip in the pool.  Martin took me to St. Mary's Mexican Food for a scrumptious birria (stewed beef) & bean burro.  It was the best burro I've had since Pablo's closed.  Afterwards, we picked up the girls and went to Colassol Cave but opted for the horse ranch instead of the actual cave. Isa got to go for a short horse ride and also lead a mini-horse around.  She didn't stop talking about that horse ride for the rest of the week.  Her and Elle sluiced for gems with good success.  We capped the day with a great meal at La Guadalajara, complete with table-side custom salsa-making and wonderful mariachi music. 
  • Sat: Relaxed in the morning, watching the women's Wimbledon final (Serena is a beast.) and then headed to Teresa's Mosiac Grill for lunch.  It was mentioned in a recent NY Times article and Bobby Flay came there in 2010 for a huevos rancheros throwdown. (I hadn't watched it until we came back.  Check it out, it's a fun show.) Along with incredible panaramic views, we could watch the woman at the grill, hand-patting out tortillas.  She makes 500 a day.  With that we were fueled for an afternoon of learning at the International Wildlife Museum (similar to Bird and Mammal Hall) and a drive up through Gates Pass in the Tuscon Mountains.  In the evening we checked out the Downtown Second Saturday festival and ate at El Charro, the oldest Mexican restaurant in the United States.  I tried their famous carne seca - a sun-dried, shredded spiced beef, sort of like a chipped beef jerky, very unique. 
  • Sun: 7:00 mass at Sts. Peter & Paul and a Bruegger's Bagel and we were off to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  Lots to see and do, part zoo, part nature preserve, part education center.  The high every day we were there was ~98-101 and the sun is intense.  So by noon, it is best to be indoors. We stopped at St. Mary's Mexican Food again on the way home for more delicious food.  Spent time relaxing, cooling down and looking at (and laughing at) old family photos.  Isa talked people into a late evening swimming outing to the University pool.  Pretty awesome to be able to go in after hours, have the place to ourselves and be able to use any of the three pools, 5 diving boards, hot tub and dive tower. 
  • Mon: Pima Air Museum had several hangars full of aircraft and history and we/I loved exploring it all.  They also have tons of aircraft outside for you to walk through.  We also took a tour on a charter bus through the neighboring "boneyard" on Davis-Monthan AFB.  Technically called the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG)  Our guide had VAST knowledge of not just the aircraft models but their history, current events, and interesting anecdotes. An awesome spectacle. Davis-Monthan AFB is home to a squadron of A-10's, one of my favorite planes, so it was a treat to see and hear then in the skies throughout the week.  
  • Tues: Sabino Canyon, part of the Coronado National Forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains was our pick for a morning of hiking.  Sylvia, Isa and I explored and hiked about 3 1/2 mile of the park.  It was really pretty and such different landscapes. Mountains, cacti, low trees and brush.  And it was HOT!  Did get to see a few good birds (Greater Roadrunner, Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wren).  Lots of lizards.  It was a fun family outing.  We met up with everyone for lunch at BK's, a super tasty meal of tacos al pastor, great salsas and cold horchata. We shopped a bit at the UofA bookstore and then hit the pool for some swim stroke help from Martin for Isa and I. Some delicious slushie drinks from Eegee's and then we went over to the city track meet and watched Elle and Isa run. A very cool community event and the girls had a great time.  Late dinner at Pionic (custom-made personal pizzas) finished a packed day.
  • Wed: Breakfast, packing and a sad airport dropoff.  A great vacation for sure.

12 May 2015

Book Character Day

Here's a snippet from Isa's school blog where she shares her selection for last week's Book Character Day...

11 May 2015

First Communion

I have been doing an abysmal job of blogging my family's events but I would be very remiss if I let Isa's First Communion go by without a mention. 
Sylvia did a fantastic job of getting her ready, finding the dress, trying out hair styles and Isa was able to wear the shoes and hair piece from our wedding.  It was extra special to have the big event on the one year anniversary of our wedding.  Family came from both sides and we had a delicious spread of food.  Lengua & cochinita pibil tacos, rice, fresh guacamole & salsas, and of course a lovely white cake.  Isa was very excited for the sacrament and did a fine job.
Yesterday was the first time she went up for communion as part of the parish and when she realize it she got excited all over again and had to tap on my arm to share the good news.

30 April 2015

Historical Tour of Court Avenue

I had the treat of meeting a tour guide just before lunch today and be escorted around a few buildings in the historical Court Avenue area of downtown Des Moines. She was prepared with a brochure she had created and was a great guide. She even allowed me to take her to lunch afterwards. It was gorgeous weather and we had a great time. The audio is a bit faint in a couple parts, my apologies.

13 April 2015

The Black Flamingo

Randomly saw this in the news this morning (as I am staying home with a sick girl).  An all-black flamingo photo'ed around Cyprus.

31 March 2015

The Dark Penguin

I haven't shared any fun news or pictures lately but homebase helped me out and sent this news article my way.  A photographer documented an all-black (or melanistic) penguin in South Georgia.  Pretty awesome limited edition!

25 March 2015

Spring Break Project: Flag Spotlight

 I like to do a small project around the house over spring break (last year I replaced a motion-activating outdoor light with the help of a friend) and this year, the idea for it came to me during a wonderful concert I was enjoying.
minovia had gotten us three tickets to a fantastic free concert by the Jazz Ambassodors, a branch of the US Army Field Band.  We were in the sixth row at the Civic Center and it was a fantastic show.  They played jazz standards from different periods and, while I am no jazz expert, I totally loved it.  "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller Band and "Feelin' Good" were a couple faves.  They finished with some patriotic numbers, including a medley of the music for each of the branches of the Armed Forces and asking anyone in the audience who was in that branch or had family members in that branch to stand up.  It was a very moving and cool tribute.  A superb show for sure and during it I thought that, since I do not bring my flag inside at night, I would put in a outdoor spotlight that would come on at dusk and spotlight it.  I didn't really do any research online but just headed to Home Depot on morning during break and they had a helpful brochure in the outdoor lighting area and I picked up what I needed with no problem.  It was a bit more than I was expecting due to having to purchase and 'power pack' which is what you plug into the outdoor outlet and it transforms the high voltage into a low-voltage for the lights and it also has the timer and light sensor. I went with LED, which was a little more expensive also.  I could've got with a solar light but I wanted something that was strong and bright. 
The install couldn't have been easier. I was done in under an hour and then waited for the sun to go down.
I was very happy with the results.  I can't wait for the first time I come home at night and see the flag lit up.  Here's to the red, white and blue!

[sidenote: I also installed an endcap on the tile at the top of the stairs to the basement, replaced a floor register in the kitchen and made a flagpole and attached my Ireland flag to display it for St. Patrick's Day.]

02 March 2015

Led Zeppelin cover by coolest percussionists ever

Minovia came across this video last weekend and I saw it on NPR also.  And it turns out Jimmy Page also liked it so much he put it on his Facebook page.  I LOVE bells, xylophones, marimbas, etc.  And these performances by the Louisville Leopards are fantastic.  The drummer is great too.  Check out "Crazy Train" also!

01 March 2015

Kitchen Floor Replacement

This picture is too flattering to our old kitchen floor.  It was a stick-down wood parquet tiles which looked fine when we bought the house but as we got into our first summer the heat and humidity had the floor buckling up and away from the subfloor.  The adhesive obviously no longer was working and as the square enlarged with the heat, there wasn't any space for them to expand so they would float up.  We endured it with mats and carpets but after our second summer the floor was chipped up and a sorry sight. So we looked at some tile samples, got a couple bids ($1000 difference between the two!) and I decided to tear out the floor one weekend just to see what our subfloor looked like.  It came up very easily to no surprise.  What was a surprise (and I had to be told by a contractor) was that the surface under the wood was not the subfloor but a layer of linoleum which I would also need to remove. That one was a bit more work, but still nothing too intense. And that got us down to subfloor. [This is the layer I failed to capture in a photo.]  
And we
lived with exposed subfloor for a couple months as we got contractors lined up and scheduled.
We purchased our tile from Lowe's.  A pretty medium gray with just a little texture to them and theyare a 12"x 24" size that we wanted in a brick pattern.  The kitchen (and small garage step-in area) would require ~100 sq ft of tile.  
The day before our contractor was scheduled to start, I had caboose over to help take my appliances out of the kitchen.  First, I'd tried the washer and got it about half out before realizing it was installed on a plywood board and wouldn't need to be removed.  They could
tile right up to it without blocking it in.  So that was wasted effort.  On to the frig.  I remembered when we purchased it that they had to remove the doors to get it
in so I was ready with my tools to do that.  Doors came off easily and I got the water line turned off and detached before we moved the frig out to the dining area and put the doors back on and plugged it back in.  Lastly we tackled the stove.  Slid it away from the wall and began the hunt to figure out how to turn the gas line off.  No valve behind the stove...or anywhere in the basement really.  I thought I found a main gas shutoff so (after consulting another friend) I zipped out to Home Depot 15 minutes before it closed and got what I would need to shut the main line and then cap off
the stove line.  Back at home, I shut the main valve and ran the stove burners to run out the gas...for ten minutes and no sign of slowing down so obviously the gas was still on.  Completely out of ideas at this point (and completely tired of messing with it) I contacted my tile guy and asked for guidance.  He lined up a heating contractor to come by at 8:30 the next morning (we were texting at 10pm) and install a gas valve.  I was thrilled.  So the next morning the gas guy came by, shut off the gas at the meter,
installed a pipe extenstion and a valve in about 40 minutes.  And then the tile guy was ready to get started and I was off to work.  Day 1 also included laying down the Dura-rock (a thin concrete-like base for setting the tile).  Day 2 all of the tile was installed.  Day 3 we picked out our grout color and Day 4 all the grout went in.  And so, after nearly a week with no kitchen, I put everything back together and cleaned everything up.  It felt so great to cook a simple dinner last night in the comforts of my own kitchen. And we LOVE how it looks. We still need to paint a floor register and get it put back and also figure out how to replace the quarter-crown molding and get a couple transitions but we are going to enjoy it for sure.

12 February 2015

Picture Perfect Tostada

I was sitting in a meeting tonight and received this text from my wife. She had made chicken tostadas and they smelled fantastic but I had to leave before they were ready so she sent me a picture of the finished product. 

Pretty fantastic, huh? 
Unfortunate, that text was closely followed by this one. 

I'm sure it still tasted good. 

04 February 2015

Kitchen Sink job

When you get 10 inches of snow in one day there's not much point trying to leave the house. Luckily I had thought ahead the previous day and picked up a tube of silicone caulk. That allowed me to spend some time on Sunday removing the old grout around our kitchen sink (a messy job) and then applying new. I got a couple good tips off the Internet, namely to use painters tape to keep a nice clean edge. I was quite happy with the finished work. A simple small and inexpensive project but one that has brightened the kitchen and it was easy to fit in to snowy, home bound day.

15 January 2015

Money Well Spent

"To everything, there is a season"
So sayeth the Byrds, and they are correct.
[sidenote: I did not know that a majority of that song is taken directly from Ecclesiastes.]
This post is a tribute to two long-serving and (one) recently departed small housewares.

First off, the clippers.
I bought an Oster clipper set from the Wal-Mart in Shenandoah when I was either a junior or senior in high school.  (This post is in no way a testimonial to the quality of Wal-Mart's merchandise.)  When you hold clippers in your hand, you are holding power.  The power to change. We had quite a fun time giving each other some pretty horrid bowl cuts and buzz jobs. As I got older my hair swung back and forth from long and untrimmed to clipper buzzes.  After that, keeping a buzzed head through the spring, summer and fall has saved me an pretty penny for sure.  And most recently, Sylvia has shown an interest in and aptitude for giving me a nice fade so I can keep my sides and back short while growing the top out a bit. 
After nearly 20 years though, my clippers gave out.  I can't believe they lasted that long.  Most of the attachments had been lost,  broken or thrown away.  I only use one anyways, so that was ok.  But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little sad when that old familiar clattering didn't fire up when I switched them on.  Sylvia is a kind soul, though, and she presented me with a new Wahl clipper set for my last birthday (yes, it's taken me three months to blog about it.)
They are fantastic.  Better than my last set for sure, but I guess that kind of improvement is to be expected when your last purchase was when Bush the Elder was President.

Next, the alarm clock.
This one actually goes back further than the clippers.  I'm not really certain when it showed up.  I'm guessing it was purchased for me by homebase.  I know I got it in high school sometime.  It traveled with me to college, in each different dorm and apartment, to Des Moines, Chicago, and back.  This is the ONLY alarm clock I have had for the past two decades.  The formerly glossy, clean white plastic is now more of a matte finish and heavily yellowed on the top half. One morning, out of the blue (I'm not sure that phrase can fairly be used), the alarm was much less alarming.  The snooze light was lit up like the alarm was going off, but there was no sound.  If you put your ear up to it, you could hear a very faint ticking, but that was it.  I couldn't just put it out to pasture, so, for the past year or so it was been serving as just 'clock' instead of 'alarm clock.'  As long as the clock keeps on  working, I won't pitch it.  'Til the end, then, til the end. 

Bowl Pick Challenge

It came down to the final game, caboose had Ohio State and I had Oregon.  Oregon definitely had its chances (they got four turnovers from Ohio State) but simply couldn't seize them (only three points off those turnovers.)  A nice post-season for the much disparaged Big Ten.  I guess maybe we aren't such a poor conference after all.  (Iowa's embarrassment excluded). 
Congrats to caboose!  This is his first win in the bowl challenge.  Well done buddy!
Final standings:
caboose - 25.5
middleson & homebase - 23
minovia & stoppable - 21.5
NTW - 21
isa - 18

14 January 2015

2014 Book List

The past year's book list has to one of my most genre-spanning. 
I'll let my reviews stand for themselves instead of picking any favorites.
It was a good year of reading.  I was able to get through several on our honeymoon.  Hours in the sun, on the beach or poolside, is a nice way to read.  We had some great times reading aloud as a family.  I read three David Eggers books, as well as a few military memoirs and a couple books with Iowa connections.

Past years: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004