Sunday, September 27, 2015

what is new

Clara has been in kindergarten for a whole month now.  She's so cool and grown up now.  Reading is just around the corner for her, and her written alphabet letters are looking pretty good.  And except for having to wake up too early, she loves the whole experience.

Meanwhile, Janny didn't at all enjoy Clara's absence during the day.  Mommy just couldn't replace Clara (and Mommy really didn't want to).  But she's getting the hang of life with less Clara.  She has a good friend (the only other girl) in her preschool class.  And Jill is working hard to inspire Janny to learn things and play on her own a bit more.

Our church has a nice tradition of passing out Bibles to new kindergartners each fall.  Clara lined up with her friends to receive theirs during the service last month.
Clara's birthday party was a bit smaller scale this year, but so much more grown up.  She invited 5 friends, and their parents didn't stay for the party.  We built legos and whacked this pinata.
 A couple of years ago, I bought a new fridge which turned about to be about 3 inches wider than the old one.  It barely fit between the counter and the cabinet.  I suspected that one reason we never had much ice (besides Jill eating so much) was that the water line was too close to the exhaust and there wasn't any place for it to go.

Enter Grandpa, always a willing worker!  He helped me move the cabinet over about 2 inches.  Sounds so easy, right?  But we got it done.  The fridge now breathes.
 Janny is a 2 wheeled bike rider!  She is so proud of this (and I am too).  On her third ride (on the way to pick Clara up from school), she crashed and cut her mouth (likely on her handlebars, see photo below).  Much blood and tears flowed. When she and Jill got Clara and returned to the crash site (and the bike), Clara showed Janny how to start by herself.  Janny took off and hasn't looked back.
 Our garden produced a watermelon!  It was pretty decent even.  One more remains to be picked.  Tomatoes have been growing well also, except that squirrels are stealing many of them.  Red raspberries are again available in small numbers.  And our moon vine bloomed yesterday (just a day before the super moon eclipse tonight).
 Clara and Janny are both getting a little big for their respective bikes.  So I got to thinking.  And reading the internet.  And scouring ebay and craigslist.  Eventually, I decided on a 20" Specialized Hotrock with coaster brake.  It's a super cool purple.  Clara loves it, despite being just big enough to ride it.

Not one to leave bikey things well enough, I have a few items on order to hotrod it up a bit.  The coaster hub will be replaced with a single speed freewheel hub (when I'm convinced that she has the hang of the hand brake) and some fancy bmx race tires will replace the flat-proof tires that came with it.
Janny tried the pink bike, but still prefers her 12" purple bike for now.  Her legs spin so fast (trying to keep up with Clara) it's hard to keep her feet on the pedals.  Maybe if she's grows an inch (she's tiny for her age), the transition will be easier.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Summer vacation

Unbeknownst to us, we scheduled our summer vacation for the last week of summer.  After a large number of years not caring a whit when the school year starts, school is again impacting our lives.  Clara started kindergarten this past week.  But that's getting ahead of the main story, which is that we took a summer vacation in Colorado with Chad's side of the family.

Again, I kick myself for not taking enough photos, but Grandma did her part.  When she sends her set to us, I'll have a full suite of photos to choose from.  But for now, we're stuck with ours.  I promise, the rest of the family was there.

Going into the trip, I had a few small goals to achieve:
a.  Bike ride adventures
b.  Some hiking
c.  Dip my feet in a mountain stream

(c) was quite easy to do, as our condo was a short walk from the Keystone ski resort, which has a very nice stream that flows along the mountain.  We built dams and found some treasured rocks to take home.

(b) was actually pretty limited.  The whole family (except Grandpa, whose knees aren't so hot anymore) rode the chairlift to the top of Keystone and hiked along the ridge.  And it turns out that was the only real hiking we did.
 But Grandpa and Grandma have jeeps!  Grandma's was the available machine this week, so two different groups took a mini adventure ride with Grandpa in the Montezuma area.  We took off the doors and roof for super jeeping mode!  Janny liked the part when her head rattled.  I enjoyed seeing the vistas from the tops of mountains.

(a) was, surprisingly to me, my biggest success.  Prior to the trip, Jill and I waffled about bringing our bikes.  I considered just renting an mtb at Keystone.  Hanging the bikes on a rack on the back of the Protege for 2000 miles makes me a bit nervous (plus we lost an mpg or two!).  But sanity prevailed, and the bikes came!
Jill and I did a couple of rides together, up to Montezuma and up the Keystone gulch.  Jill preferred the pavement over the gravel.  I also managed to talk Bernie and Anna into joining us to Montezuma.  Despite riding on mtbs from the '90's, Anna and Bernie rode great.  We were quite close to Montezuma before Anna decided she'd had enough climbing.  I was impressed!  No doubt she can ride to Grandma and Grandpa's house from their house now.
Just prior to leaving for the trip, I emailed my friend Ryan to see if he was going to be in or near CO during our stay.  Well, in fact, he was there and was planning to ride up Mt. Evans with his brother-in-law and nephew.   We met up at Ryan's 1970 ice cream truck/army transport camper on Friday morning, parked 22 miles from and some 6000+ feet below the summit.  He brewed some tea for me while we awaited the rest of the crew.

We rode most of the way up to Echo Lake together, but I soon realized that to climb that far I really needed to ride my own pace.  So up I went, alone.  About 4 miles above Echo Lake, the rain started.  It poured, and I got soaked.  About 10 minutes later, it hailed.  I was wearing shorts and had no gloves.  Hail on bare legs and hands hurts!  So I contorted myself to have most of the hail hit my arms and head.  Then it rained again.  But at about mile 5 1/2, I was above the storm.  I thought, hey, this isn't so bad.  I'll dry off the rest of the way up, and enjoy a cozy route down.  Alas, it sprinkled more, I never dried completely.  Gloves and a rain jacket instead of my wind-breaker would have been nice to have.

I made it to the summit and was heading towards the trash to throw away my banana peel when a man and his wife offered to let me sit in their van and warm up.  I like to say no to such offers, but warming up did sound nice.  Their 4 kids squeezed into the back seat of the van so I could sit in the middle row.  The family was on a monster road trip from their home in Long Island to Seattle, Las Vegas, and Colorado.  I turned down offers of pizza and peanuts, but accepted the roll of paper towels to dry my shirt and socks.  I very much enjoyed talking to them and feeling the heater blowing on my head.  Then I bid adieu and headed back down.

I saw Ryan and the rest of the crew not far from the summit and planned to wait for them at Summit Lake.  Alas, it was too cold, and I wanted to get away from the lightning storm.  So I headed down... and down... and down.

I didn't realize until this trip that I struggle with a bit of vertigo.  Riding and driving (we drove Loveland Pass on the way there) on roads without guard rails and with huge dropoffs really freaks me out.  I know that a guard rail really doesn't do much, but still, they are so comforting.  Plus, the edge of the Mt. Evans road is crumbling away, and periodically there are 1 foot diameter holes in the road.  I think the holes go to the center of the earth.  Perhaps my bike would bounce over them, but thankfully I managed to avoid them all.

Well, finally I made it to the Echo Lake lodge and drank hot tea while waiting for the crew.  We were all freezing upon arrival.  We had very nearly warmed up when we left, but then it poured rain.  And I had a flat tire.  And my spare had a slow leak.  I gingerly rode the corners down to my car.

I put on dry clothes (except that I didn't have extra socks, so I drove barefoot), and Ryan gave me his nephew's breakfast burrito (thanks!).

During most of the ride, I thought that it was stupid.  Looking back, it was yet another super memorable, excellent ride with Ryan.  May there be many more!

I also rode the service trail to the top of Keystone and took the "green" mtb trail down.  Then I (gently) crashed, and decided that riding a road bike on mtb trails is not fun.
 Thanks again to Grandma and Grandpa for arranging the trip (and paying for the condo!).  It was wonderful to have the whole family together.  We're looking forward to more adventures together.

Finally, TCBC is again the A league softball champion.  We won the semi-final game 9-8, and then for the second year in a row I took vacation for our last playoff game.  Without me, the team won 16-1.  I guess I'm not needed.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Hi, it's wake up time.  Are you ready to go?
 Some pretty momentous occasions have happened since my last report.  Fereshteh is now a master business lady, soon to be working out on the east coast.  We'll miss her!  And we'll miss Nikki too, who has just started boot camp at the Air Force Academy.  I think she'll do more pushups this month than I'll do this year.  Finally, we added a new boarder, an intern working at Wolfram (not doing all my work, sadly) for 6 months.
 And Clara graduated from preschool!  She started at Wee Disciples as a tiny, just turned 3 year old, and is now a hearty 5 year old ready to tackle kindergarten.  Well, that's if she can get herself out of bed in time.  Lately getting up before 8:30 has been rare.  So a bedtime change is in order.  But that can wait until it's actually dark outside at 8:30 pm.
 Thanks to a company provided 4 day weekend on Memorial day, we took a trip down to Nashville to visit grandpa, grandma, and the southern gang.  It was a great way to welcome spring a bit early -- the weather was so nice.

Jill and I took our bikes for the first time and did some riding in the neighborhood.  Based on our driving around their neighborhood, I thought it would be pretty difficult to start rides from their house.  But I was pleasantly surprised by the very nice road that tracks the west side of the Priest Reservior.  I ventured out into some neighborhoods to ride some steeper hills and rode past the BMX track (not on it... way too scary for me!).  So color me impressed.  I still prefer my commute to any sore of possible commute there, but the "fun" riding is pretty nice.
 Clara and Janny got some pointers for hitting a wiffle ball.  I'm trying to play a bit of ball sports with them regularly.  My goals:  throwing well, catching without flinching (or ducking) and sweet hitting.

And while on the topic of ball sports, church softball season is about half-way done.  If you asked me prior to Monday, I would have said that our team is very tough to beat.  After our 10 run loss on Monday, well, we're still pretty good.  The wind was howling out to right-center, so much so that I hit a ball over the fence.  The problem was that the Vineyard gents were really mashing the ball.  Many balls were into and over the fence, neutralizing our team's biggest strength, excellent defense.
 No more babies amongst the grandkids.  Linda is still too young to play much with the older 4, but that should change very soon.
 We've gotten a lot of rain this spring/ early summer.  Janny doesn't mind, as long as she has an umbrella.
Our (well, mostly Jill's) gardening skills continue to improve.  To date, the big successes are cherries (every other year seems to be good for our tree), raspberries (both black and red), peas, and salad greens.  Much more on the way, including tomatoes, peppers, squashes and beans (if we can keep the bunnies away).

Apologies for not writing often here.  It's too nice outside!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

less green

After church today, a friend commented that life might be too easy in this town.  We are never in traffic jams, there are a few cultural amenities, and reasonable employment situations happen.  When the temperature is 75 degrees with sunshine and no humidity, well, it's quite nice.  Thankfully, it's not like this too often, and there's still lots of work to be done.
 Not long after Grandma and Grandpa S came for a visit, the K grandparents stopped by for a long weekend.  As usual, that means a family portrait was found amongst the 10 or so attempts.  Silly kids!

My parents were able to peak into some of the crazier parts of our life.  They attended our small group.  I think that there are 12 kids 8 and under at our house (it's hard to count them all).  Preparing for the group and recovering after it can be all that we are able to handle.  So it's gotten harder to call on Sundays, as had been the usual plan.  We still need to work a better time for all of us to talk.

We've now been living in this house for about 4 1/2 years.  As the kids have grown, Jill is having more interest and energy to do some gardening.  Our neighborhood is filled with giant trees, so full sun areas are hard to find on our land.  So we started thinking.  Hmmm, there's a big evergreen in our yard that appears to be dying one branch at a time from the top and bottom.  If it were to somehow disappear, we'd have a bit more land to play with...
Well, a visit from Gus (and a big check!) later and voila, open space!  While I was at work, Gus led the count of tree rings on the stump.  It was about 40-something years old (fits with the age of our house).  Rings for the last 7 years were exceptionally narrow, suggesting that it had a disease of some sort.

Eventually we might have some raised beds in there, and hopefully a nice rainfall runoff management system.  But for now, it's full of dreams and potential.

While Jill was digging in the dirt, I was getting grease in my fingernails.  We bought a tandem from fellow townie Bonnie a few weeks ago.  She had all the parts for the kid-back crankset but they weren't connected.  So I hooked up all the chains, bolts, and such for a Janny-sized person.  Frustratingly, the kid crank length was 150 mm, or not that much shorter than adult sized (170 mm).  
When faced with challenges, one could get frustrated or spend $$ on new cranks or get aggressive with drills, saws, and taps.  I chose the latter.  The holes would have been a bit more accurately placed if I had a drill press.  But I used a cordless drill.  Since Janny doesn't turn the pedals over in anger, I'm not too worried about the 1.5 mm-ish offset.

So, now we're out there on the roads, bringing smiles and turned heads wherever we go.  15 years ago, we had almost the only bikes at the church rack.  Today the racks are full of single bikes.  Maybe in the future, more families will travel this way?  Who knows, I might have a couple for sale by then.
Today was the Urbana Criterium bike race.  I didn't race.  I'm not saying that I'm retired, but I'm not planning to do any races this year.

Softball season is underway!  We've won our first 2 games by a comfortable margin.  The first game almost doesn't count since the other team only had 8 players.  For my first at bat, I noticed that there was no shortstop, so I casually hit a grounder in the gaping hole.   We went on to score 17 runs that inning,and I batted 3 times.  Curiously, we scored 1 run in the remaining 3 innings.

This year, we picked up a new outfielder, Rob, that is better than both Matt and I.  How much longer until we're put out to right field pasture???

Sunday, April 5, 2015

return to B-town

Since we live in the paradise that is central IL, we really don't need to travel often.  But sometimes, you really should see the troubles people in another part of the world must face.  Since our jet is in the shop, we decided to visit a location within driving distance, and that turned out to be Bloomington.  The one in Indiana, not to be confused with our neighbor town in IL.

Back in the kid-free era, Jill and I took a few trips out to B-town to ride the hills.  This time, we thought we could convince the girls hike a bit in the state parks.
Saturday morning started a bit badly at Brown County state park.  It was still cold (around freezing), and I had left Janny's boots in the trunk.  Both her second layer of pants and the boots were soooooooo cold.  We got out of the car to visit the west gate fire tower (above).  Then Clara wiped out while trying to balance on log.  In both cases, many tears.

Undeterred, we drove out to the 'rugged' 2 mile trailhead on the east side of the park.  Armed with good humor (as always) and a bag of Swedish fish, we headed down the partially frozen trail.  At the bottom of the canyon, we threw rocks at the confluence of the small streams.
As the day warmed up, the frozen trail became the muddy trail.  But we made it all the way back!  And all were up for climbing the 'real' fire tower.  Clara got a bit frightened about 3 stories up, so she and I walked back down.  That thing shakes!  Janny and Jill climbed to just below the deck (it was locked).  Can you see them?
 For day 2, we visited McCormick state park.  This was a much easier day for the girls, as the canyon/ river/waterfall was a rather short walk from the parking lot.
 There were also a lot more sticks and rocks to throw in the much bigger stream.
The trail continues over there?  Sure, Clara and mommy are game!  I tried to take this route, but balancing is quite hard when trying to not dip one's unnecessarily-long legs into the stream.  I dipped my foot, and decided to hop across on some the stones.
My coworker (IU class of 2012!) suggested a bunch of restaurants and parks to visit.  We ended up at only one of the restaurants on her list, but it was a memorable one:  The Runcible Spoon (extra credit for sophisticated readers that know the reference).  It's a converted house about a block from campus.  You really should be more into goth than we 4 are, but they served us anyway.  For some reason all the servers smelled VERY strongly of incense (aside: while a student way back when at a school in Berkeley there was a correlation between incense use and inhaling the smoke of certain plant.  Since that was so long ago, I can't imagine that there remains such a correlation).  Anyway, the food was really nice, and it was fun to eat at a place that looks different than Chilapplecharlie's.
In conclusion, I quite enjoy Bloomington.  I think our town(s) would have been better off following that pattern of development.  Their civic buildings and campustown area coincide.  Whereas, here we have two 'downtowns' on either side of campus town that created a pull to move things away from campus itself.  There aren't nearly enough people here to support 3 main business/civic centers.

Or maybe the town is nicer because engineering students are banished to Lafayette.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

life in fast forward

Winter was no big deal this year.  Then two big snow storms hit, and the wind came, and it was cold.  Well, at least we had some snow to play with.  I built a sledding hill on our patio, and the girls cruised down it on baking sheets.
I built the hill after the first storm and added to it after the second.  That storm started late Saturday night and continued until about noon on Sunday.  At 6:30 in the morning, Jill work me up to tell me that we could sleep in, since we wouldn't be able to get to church.  I was confused (um, why did you wake me up to tell me this?).  

Our church didn't cancel services, but we declared a family snow day.
One of the families in our small group is from northern Minnesota.  The wife's mother was staying with them for the winter.  At our small group, she said that it's colder in Urbana than in Duluth.  Despite the -25 degree temperatures in Duluth, it still feels warmer than 5ish degrees in Urbana, thanks to the steady [cold!] winds here.  

I can't tell you how proud I am of this comment.  Our hometown has just about the worst weather in the country!   We may not have interesting topography or varied flora, but the weather is really something.  Come visit anytime! 
Hey look below, here is our patio on March 14, Janny's birthday.  It's still a bit wet.  I was able to scrape the remainder of the sledding hill off earlier in the morning, but it wasn't quite warm enough to dry the melt water yet.

The usual cast of kids from church and the neighborhood came to Janny's party for some cupcakes and pinata breaking.  I felt smart that I pre-distressed the pinata a bit this year.  We only had to go through the line once before it was about to break open (the bigger kids at the end of the line did the work before Janny finished it off).
Jill pushed back barbie acquisition at least until Christmas.  Instead, Janny got some very fun hotwheels cars and track (see behind her in the picture).  These are much more fun for me and Jill.

Some common Janny sayings lately:
Mommy I can't [do something]... WAIT!  I can!
Mommy [or Daddy], I'm hungry. [This is said either when she's laying in bed for bedtime, or about 30 minutes after we've finished eating a meal]
Mommy, will you play with me?
Our basketball season was cut one week short when a last second put-back by Luke bounced around on the rim and ultimately rolled out as the buzzer sounded.  Had it gone in, we win.  Instead, the game went to overtime, and we ultimately lost.  The next tournament game would have been against the undefeated Stone Creek, who beat us by about 30 a few weeks before.  So I didn't feel that we missed out.

The season as a whole was a struggle.  We won only one game, beating the winless team in the league.  A few games were close, but many were not.  We had trouble scoring, and our defense was poor.

But a couple of ideas brightened my feelings about the season.  First, there were only 6 teams in the league.  In softball, there are about 30 teams over the 4 different levels.  So instead of thinking that we were 2nd to last, instead I think of it as 5th place.  Quite respectable!

Second, Tom Z from church shared some encouragement before church one Sunday.  We had played together in church league during my grad school days [he seems to have retired some years ago].  A friend of his on the 4th place team told him something like 'TCBC is decent.  They have some older guys that are pretty good.'  Thanks?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

views from 2 1/2 feet

This post's photos were all taken by Clara recently.  She requested they be used for the blog, so here we go.

The girls continue spend most of their days making crafts of all sorts.  Coffee filters were converted to fish ponds.
 Bunny (Clara's version. Janny's bunny arrived a couple of weeks ago.  She is fond of it, but Clara's attachment to her Bunny is quite a bit greater) is often the subject of the project or the recipient of it.  Clara cut this cereal box to make a swan, which apparently Bunny can fly in.

The next day, Jill asked Clara why she was sobbing.  Clara couldn't remember how she made the bird from the cereal box.  With a little help from mommy, Clara was back at it.
 I just realized this week that Janny's life will be radically different next year.  With Clara away at kindergarten all day, Janny will have lots of alone and mommy-only time.  We're planning to have her in the 3 days per week preschool, but that still leaves a whole lot of time.  What will she do by herself?
 I try to dump the lower half of the project bins every other week.  It's time to do it.
 We've had a couple of small snow storms last month.  Janny comes outside and demands that snowmen are made.  She won't help because she doesn't know how.  She assures me that 5 year-olds can build snowmen.  I wouldn't know because Clara tends to stay warm inside.
Jill is turning our sunny windows-areas into greenhouses.  Our big plan for this year is to have the evergreen on the northwest side of our house (next to the driveway) chopped down.  That area should be the sunniest on our whole estate, so we have high hopes for a garden there.

The girls' Sunday school class passed out Valentine's cards at the county nursing home today.  Neither Jill or I joined the group because (a) our class had a fantastic potluck and (b) other parents graciously went with the kids.  The parents' reports:  our kids are quiet.  Sounds like me and Jill!

Finally, TCBC basketball remains winless.  There is one more team that we haven't played yet before we replay a couple of other teams.  So there's a decent chance that we'll win a game or two (we switched our primary defense from zone to man, so it's not quite so easy for our opponents to score.  We struggle to score).  Possibly because I'm getting older (not that old, I'm still in the upper 30s), or possibly because I'm zen'd out, I really don't mind the losing.  It's dark and cold at night, and I'm getting some exercise.  I'm not sure anyone else on the team feels this way, but my hope is that we still enjoy playing and hanging out together.

And if not, well, softball starts up again soon.