Thursday, June 25, 2015

springtime

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!

Self-foot-portrait.
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.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A fine holiday season

I crossed paths with a coyote on my way home from work tonight.  I was riding along the dirt road just south of St Mary's Dr near the horse pasture, and he was in the harvested corn field.  Thankfully he didn't think I was dinner and ran off through the snowstorm.  

Have I mentioned that I enjoy living in this small town?  What fun to ride a bike without any cars nearby on a commute!  We had a great time in the Nashville burbs for Christmas but it's nice to be home.  

Lupita and the kids were back from Mexico, and the Beth and Brents came down from MI for the festivities.  So we had a full house(s).  Lots of 5 Crowns and Deer in the Headlights happened.

A highlight was the indoor jumpy house place that allows grownups to jump as well.  Janny climbed up to the biggest slide and came down all by herself!  

The kids put on the 2nd annual Christmas play.  Janny wouldn't say any lines as Gabriel.  Clara played Mary brilliantly.
We paid another visit to Cold Springs water fall near Manchester.  More water was coming down this time.  I decided to not carry Janny on the sketchy walk to the falls, so we threw rocks in the stream.
The kids continue to work on projects for hours at a time.  Other than the gigantic mess that this process leaves all over the floor, it's quite relaxing for us to watch them work.  During the visit to Nashville, Jill and I recalled with shudders how much work it was to care for a 1 year old.  Linda never stopped looking for new things to touch/break.
Queen Clara and Princess Janny hold fort in front of their castle.
In my last post, I mentioned that we were using a bit more gas than last year.  Well, a little more poking around on Ameren's site led to finding MORE DATA!  Also, I realized that my plot was labeled incorrectly last time (oops, I'm quite used to Mathematica now, not google spreadsheets), and my conclusion was wrong.

In fact, we've used less gas than last year.  In fact, the plot below shows that we've been progressively using less gas each year.  Notice the two very large data points from  2011, when we first moved in.  Yikes!  Adding insulation in the ceiling (happened late that winter) and paying attention made quite a difference.
Finally, church league basketball starts this Thursday.  I haven't played at all since, um, hmmm.... I don't remember.  So the first game might be a bit rough.  However, we have some new players this year, including large humans, so maybe it won't be so rough after all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

close to Christmas

I'm 1 work day away from Christmas break.  That means I've held my current job for just about 2 years.  And I still will have the job when Christmas is over. That's something to cheer about!  Over the last couple of months I've decided that I should learn some java.  Not only will this make me seem really cool, but I will hopefully have a better understanding of what I'm testing (tomcat, apache, and more!!!).

Since the students are now gone for the holiday break, our church only has a single service that starts at 10:45.  As we struggled to minimize the extent of our tardiness, I asked Clara if she ever felt bad about being late.  She said no.  So I wondered if she ever felt bad about anything she's done.  She hasn't.  Jill suggested that she get some counseling (Uncle Matt is certified).  She refused to entertain the idea.

Size charts are available all over the web for children, but I've never heard anyone mention a conscience development chart.

Did I mention that we went to Nashville for Thanksgiving?  It was a bit unusual since Lupita and the kids were away, but Clara and Janny had fun anyway with Grandpa and Grandma.

I helped Matt a bit with installing a wood floor in their guest bathroom.  My job was to figure out how to mark the boards around the toilet.  Not easy!  I wish that I had gotten about a cm closer all around, but not bad an amateur.
Our adopt a student group helped set up the Christmas tree.  This was the year of engagements for our group.  3 weddings are planned for the upcoming summer!
 Christmas is also the time for kids' performances.  We forgot our camera for the church one, so you'll have to image the super cute group of kids with Clara and Janny as angels.  Clara impressed us all by singing loud enough to hear in the 2nd service.  Janny mostly looked at the crowd.

For the school performance, Janny was a (black) sheep, and Clara was again an angel.  Good work by Mrs. Strom to get the kids to sing a number of songs!  We practiced at home a little bit.  Clara knew many of the songs and did great.  Janny knew bits and pieces, and did sing a bit.

 After the show by the Christmas tree.  Janny was a sick with a bad cough this week, so we left the party without eating any cookies.  Plus we hadn't eaten dinner yet.  Clara became very sad.
I continue to be obsessed with limiting our gas usage during winter.  This year, we have another person in the house, so I was curious to see how we compared to last year.

Since I'm still an engineer at heart, I made a chart.  The x-axis is the average degree-days for any given month (I've tried calculating a few different ways, but they all give about the same result.  SoI take the difference between our thermostat setting and the average temperature for the month from Ameren).  The y-axis is the gas used for that month (this includes heating water, but not cooking (electric stove and oven)).
The 3rd point from the left is November of this year.  It's a tiny bit more than our usage last year, but is quite close the the linearized fit.  Stay tuned for more exciting data!

Lastly, I wish a happy birthday to my big sister Lisa.