Garden Update: Late-June

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The garden’s looking pretty good since Brooke and I spent hours last weekend weeding it, so I figured I should post something before it’s hideous again.  Here in the forefront, the pumpkins are starting to look pretty good, but the squirrels dug out one of the hills, so one series of watermelon plants is down.  Hopefully we get something out of the three plants that are still there, but again, they won’t be ready until September anyway.  The tomatoes, on the other hand, are doing remarkably well.  We’ve found three or four “volunteer” tomato plants that we’ve plugged in where we lost some to hail and, thus far, they’re doing pretty well.  We’ve even got some tomato plants flowering!

Beans and peppers
Tomatoes and pumpkins

The bean plants are looking really good (the main reason I wanted to take pictures, really…), though some of the soybeans are smaller than I’d prefer.  The green beans and soup beans, as usual, are going gangbusters, so we’ll end up with a good crop of them.  I’ve staked two of the pepper plants, as they were starting to grow more “sideways” than “up-ways”, though two of the plants are still looking pretty small, so I dunno how they’ll ultimately turn out.

Herbs
Herbs

The herbs are looking a lot better now, after supplementing with some larger plants a few weeks ago.  A few of Brooke’s original seed starts are still with us (cosmos, aster, basil), but I added oregano, lavender and lemon balm.  The lettuce is looking awesome and we’ve eaten some of it already.  The sunflowers, seen in the background, are also starting to really take off.

Trees
Trees

Lastly, the trees seem to be doing alright, though their growth has slowed down.  We got 2.5 in. of rain a few days ago (finally), so I don’t feel the need to water them this week, but I had to run a hose out there to each tree the last two weeks due to lack of rainfall.  I trimmed a few of their low hanging branches the other day too, as I’d rather them grow “up” rather than “out” at this point.

Everything’s still growing!  I didn’t bother taking a picture of the popcorn, as there isn’t much to see yet.  We’ve got some plants growing, but they look pretty sparse.  It remains to be seen whether anything will come of them, but we’re treating them as more of a “test” than anything else.

Onward into July!

State Park #1: Katy Trail State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Biking on the Katy Trail
Biking on the Katy Trail last summer

Katy Trail State Park is a 240 mile shared-use trail converted from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.  Growing up in Columbia, it’s a site I visited multiple times with my family (at the Rocheport section), but Brooke and I made multiple visits to the St. Charles section of the trail shortly after moving to St. Louis.  Now that we live in Marshall, we live about 30 minutes away from the Sedalia portion of the trail, ironically making it closer than it has ever been to the two of us.

As Brooke and I are the only two in the house capable of riding a bicycle (sans training wheels…), we picked up a trailer for my bike last year that we can put the kids in.  It folds up in the back of our Forester pretty easily, though by the time you put our bikes on the roof rack of the car and the front tires of said bikes in the back with the folded-up trailer, we’re mostly out of room (i.e. we can go to Sedalia, Boonville or Rocheport pretty easily, but not much further, as we don’t have room for overnight bags).

For now, the kids like riding in the trailer and we use it on trips to the local playground here in Marshall.  Meg is 6, but is still relatively small, so she fit in the trailer easily last year and this year – next summer may be a different story.  Hopefully, we can get Meg riding her bike over the next year, but Calvin will still be able to use the trailer for years to come.

Honestly, there isn’t much to write about here.  The trail picture above is what it looks like for 240 miles.  It goes through/near some small towns, sometimes there are bathroom facilities available (though usually not), some sections are shaded while others aren’t.  It’s a great State Park to visit, but personally, we like biking on it more than anything else.  It’s a “mixed use” trail, so we see walkers and joggers frequently, though closer to cities – the further you get from the cities, the more likely you’ll find bikers.  Some sections, especially near the State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, also allow for horses, but we don’t often see them on the trail.

Ultimately, it’s a really awesome resource that’s unique in that quite a few Missourians have been on it, likely without knowing it’s a State Park.  It isn’t a “single destination” like the other State Parks because it spans the entire state (as in, you can live in Kansas City or you can live in St. Louis, and you can visit the same park while only driving for 20 or 30 minutes to get there).  I suspect the kids will both have fond memories of this one.

Review: Finding Dory

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I think it’s safe to say that one of the earliest movies my parents remember me liking was Ghostbusters.  I somewhat famously watched on a nearly daily basis for one summer (a “sanitized” version, of course).  In another 20 years, I suspect that the movie we will look back on that Meg watched constantly for a long period of time is Finding Nemo.  Granted, she didn’t memorize each and every line from it like some of us did for movies in the mid-80s, but she watched it at home and in the car to a point where Brooke and I were getting a bit tired of it.

Fast forward a few years to the announcement of a new movie in the franchise, just at the age when Meg can appreciate it, but releasing 13 years after the original: Finding Dory.  And it released on June 17th, right before my birthday, so Meg and I decided awhile back that we’d go “for my birthday” (awwwwww…).

The story centers on Dory and her journey from childhood as a young fish with short-term memory loss, on up through the events of Finding Nemo (there’s a brief flashback to when she met Marlin), and then finally to about a year later.  A lot of the movie is told in flashbacks back to Dory’s childhood as she remembers specific events around the time when she lost her family.  As each detail pops back into her little fish brain, she gets another clue to lead her back home and, of course, Marlin and Nemo come along for the ride.

It goes without saying that the production values are spectacular, from the animation to the voice work.  Quite a few actors are attached to the movie, including some of the originals (Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks, though Alexander Gould was replaced by Hayden Rolence because of, well, puberty…), and they perform just like it was 13 years ago in the original film.  Newcomers like Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy and Idris Elba also make their marks, though in many cases, more screentime would have been great.  They’re memorable new characters, much like the “aquarium crew” in the first film were, and they do a great job filling out the story a bit.  Ed O’Neill as the “septapus,” Hank, steals the show in many respects, partially because of the intricate animation of an octopus sliding across the floor and using camouflage, but also because his curmudgeonly demeanor serves as a good foil for Dory’s otherwise sunny disposition.

The story itself isn’t quite as strong as Finding Nemo was, but perhaps it’s just because I haven’t seen it countless times (yet).  Multiple reviews for the film have rightly pointed out that Finding Dory is really about living with disability, and on that level, I agree that it succeeds.  At the same time, while Pixar pushes that boundary forward for kids to try and learn something out of their entertainment, I think it still goes over the heads of many kids.  Meg really didn’t “get” Inside Out when we watched it last year, but over time, I bet she’ll understand it more and more, and likely, Finding Dory will also work on that level eventually.  Right now, Finding Nemo is a show (for Meg) about a kid that gets lost, and the parent that does everything to find him.  Finding Dory, as Meg said during the movie, wasn’t really about “finding Dory” because she doesn’t get lost the same way Nemo does.

Eventually, Meg will understand that “finding” has a few different meanings in this context.  As an adult, I get that.  As a 6-year-old, Meg isn’t quite there.

Still, she enjoyed it quite a bit and is seeing it again tonight.  Can’t argue with that. 🙂

Garden Update: Early June

Bees!
Bees!

I’ve got a few things to cover here, so it may get kinda lengthy…  The first thing that bears mention is the bees!  We don’t have chickens here (yet…), but for the time-being, bees will be our means of extending this homesteading venture beyond growing stuff in the ground.  Brooke ordered some bees a few months ago and they arrived in early-May.  Since that time, we’ve largely left them alone, aside from giving them copious amounts of sugar water to keep them happy until more flowers are blooming.  The hives are in the yucca plants underneath our maple trees near the garden, providing them with a decent amount of protection from the elements (more on that soon…).  They don’t get a ton of sun, but I’ve trimmed the maple trees a bit to make sure they get it for at least an hour in the morning and in the evening.  We’ll see how they do there, but right now, it seems like they get especially active in the early 10:00 hour and remain that way until the evening.  In the picture above, Brooke was opening up the hive to make sure the queen was doing her job and, at least a few weeks ago, it seemed like comb was being laid and brood were present, so thus far, the bees appear to be doing their jobs!

Now, speaking of “protection from the elements…

Our ocean of bean plants...
Our ocean of bean plants…

A pretty big hail storm came through just before Memorial Day weekend.  And by “huge,” I mean some pretty big hail.  It was over golf ball size at our house, but larger stones fell just north of us.  Thankfully, Brooke’s new car was on the other side of the state at the time and mine was in the garage…

Them's big...
Them’s big…

The house is mostly undamaged, but we’ve got a few estimates coming in to see if we need to do anything.  The garage roof needs to be replaced, but we need to look at just how much work we want to put into it right now.

Again, the bees were fine because of their placement under the trees, but the garden got hit pretty hard.  Brooke had just planted green beans, soup beans, and soybeans in the garden plot above, where you see a small ocean forming.

Oh no! Tomatoes!
Oh no! Tomatoes!

Our tomatoes were mostly spared, but many of the milk jug covers were blown off as the storm came in.  The unprotected plants were mostly decimated, but the ones that remained covered were fine.  We lost a few plants, but the rest of them have bounced back pretty well by now.  The peas got hit too, as they were probably the largest plants at the time.  Since then, Brooke has harvested all the peas and pulled up the plants so we can make room for planting popcorn.

The entirety of our pea crop.
The entirety of our pea crop.

We still don’t feel like we’re getting all that many peas.  This is the third time we’ve done it and it seems like we’re always getting enough peas for one or two meals.  We can make green beans and soup beans like nobody’s business, but peas are always difficult for us.  They tasted great last night!  We just want more…

Carrots...
Carrots…

The carrots are looking good and probably need to get pulled soon. Again, the peas and radishes were to the left of the carrots, and we’re going to put some popcorn over there today or tomorrow. The weather looks to be getting pretty hot this week (highs in the low 90s), and no rain chance in sight, so we’ll get them planted and I’ll need to water them in the coming days.

Watermelons and pumpkins!
Watermelons and pumpkins!

We’ve been gone for the past few weekends, and any available time during the week has been taken up by Brooke traveling, or by rain, so we hadn’t planted the rest of the garden yet.  Finally, yesterday, Brooke made some mounds next to the tomatoes where the pumpkins are going to go.  This is a section of the garden that flooded last year, so we’re hoping the mounds keep the pumpkins out of the water better than the corn seeds were last year.

We’re also trying watermelons for the first time, but considering they were planted in early June, we probably won’t actually get any until September.  Not exactly “prime watermelon season,” but hey…we’ll see what happens…

The beans survived!
The beans survived!

Thankfully, the beans survived the hail and flooding from last week! Since then, the green beans and soup beans all popped up and are looking great.  The soybeans are moving a bit more slowly, but I think nearly all of those seeds popped out of the ground, too.  We’re adding fewer green bean and soup bean plants than previous years because we’ve still got green beans canned from two summers ago.  If the soybeans take off, we’ll probably keep using those in the coming years for edamame.  Soybeans are good nitrogen-fixing plants, so we’ll rotate them around the gardens to maintain good soil health.

The herbs I planted in the plot in the background are kinda growing, but not all that well.  Many of them got hit hard by the hail and a few of them weren’t looking great when we put them in the ground.  We’ll just have to see how they turn out.  In the extra patch to the right, Brooke planted some sunflowers yesterday.  The bees will like them, too!

Hops!
Hops!

Lastly, I wanted to mention the hops we’re growing in Hannibal.  Clearly they’re doing as well as they usually do!  Mark and Diana got us a nice new vacuum sealer for Christmas this past year, so we’re looking forward to harvesting and saving some of these hops once they’re ready, hopefully earlier than we tend to harvest them.

...something's eating my hops...grrrrrr....
…something’s eating my hops…grrrrrr….

Unlike previous years, though, it looks like somethings chewing on the leaves.  I didn’t see anything obvious on them, but the evidence is pretty clear.  I’m sure Mark will keep an eye on them, as he planted some new fruit trees near the hops, so he’ll be out there checking on everything frequently.

I think that’s about it for now!  Lengthy post, lots of pictures…you know how it goes…

Grand Tour of Missouri State Parks

Look at those happy campers!
Look at those happy campers!

We like to think of ourselves as “outdoorsy” types and, thankfully, we’ve got a really good Department of Natural Resources in Missouri to provide us with some great opportunities around the state.  When we traveled the Oregon Trail last year, Brooke and I found that many other states out that direction had some very unimpressive parks to visit, especially with regards to how much they charge to camp there relative to the quality of the facilities provided.  Thankfully, Missouri has cheap rates (even for non-residents), and some really nice places to visit.

Therefore, we decided it would be cool to hit every state park in Missouri before both kids graduate from high school.  There are 54 state parks and another 33 historic sites, many of which are also associated with the parks.  We’ve already visited a few of them as a family of four, so if we visit a few each year, we should be able to pull it off rather easily.  We’ll probably camp at most of them, but some of them like Rock Bridge State Park and Van Meter State Park, we may just visit.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be making a few posts about previous visits that both kids have been present for, so you may see some old pictures showing up.  Apparently, I didn’t post about many of those trips, so I guess I need to catch up.  Still, this will be a lengthy series of posts, so enjoy!

Review: Captain America – Civil War

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As has become painfully obvious by now, I’m a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and though Captain America himself isn’t my favorite, his third “solo” outing, Captain America: Civil War was an exciting prospect for me because it still brings in lots of characters from across multiple movie franchises.  To be honest, I built this movie up in my head quite a bit because there have been reviews floating around for, literally, at least a month now.  It’s been hyped up to such a degree that it was bound to be disappointing on some level and, indeed, it was…just a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s still good.  Maybe even great.  But I think I liked Captain America: Winter Soldier better.  The Russo Brothers were back on-board to direct this one and while the pair of them were able to hold the movie together against all odds, I think the story, as a whole, suffered under its own weight.

Seriously.  It’s easier to count who wasn’t in this movie instead of who was, because nearly everyone was in it. We had Captain America, Bucky Barnes, Iron Man, War Machine, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Ant-Man and Falcon from the previous movies…and then introduced Black Panther and Spider-Man on top of all of that.  The introduction of these two characters is intended to set up their own movies within the MCU, but they each had 15-20 minutes of screen time focused on them, which in a 2.5 hour movie means that you then only have about 2 hours to work with for all the other folks I just listed.

Taking a step back, the movie very loosely centers around the Civil War series of comics, where this time around, the United Nations and its associated world powers want to set up a hierarchical protocol where the individuals with superpowers are kept “in check,” under control of the UN.  Captain America doesn’t want to give up his right to do what needs to be done to stop evil-doers, while Iron Man thinks they have too much power and need to be reined in a bit.

But this is all complicated by the villain, Baron Zemo, who wants to create a series of “Winter Soldiers” a la Bucky Barnes, and ends up framing Barnes for the assassination of King T’Chaka, the father of T’Challa (who is also Black Panther).  Zemo has almost literally nothing to do with any of this, but they need a villain, so there he is.  He’s incidental to the whole enterprise.  Barely essential.

I could go on, but the “Civil War” storyline is complicated enough without also trying to bring in Black Panther and then Spider-Man.  Both of these characters are awesome on screen, and in their own way, they make sense why they’d be there.  But at the same time, I’d rather see the focus stay on the rift between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, rather than bringing in all the extraneous story in service of the MCU.

The fight scenes are really cool, there are some genuine “cheer”-type moments, and good-natured Marvel humor injected throughout.  The relationship between Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers is in full display in contrast to the strained relationship between Rogers and Tony Stark (which began in Avengers: Age of Ultron).  But again, with all the stuff happening in the story, I feel like the plot suffered.  Captain America: Winter Soldier had a focus to it – Bucky and Steve’s relationship – that was at the center of a feud between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra.  Both elements tied together very nicely, and even brought in some bigger “Government Control Is Bad” themes.  But Captain America: Civil War doesn’t tie these elements together nearly as deftly, in my view.

I’m absolutely glad I saw it, and I’m definitely going to buy it.  Spider-man was awesome to see on screen again, and his stand-alone movie will likely be really, really good.  These characters are all in this conflict because of multiple movies’ worth of build-up, and that all makes sense.

I guess I just wanted a bit more focus out of it.

And Then There Were Two…

Brooke's New Baby! ...but is it her favorite baby? You'd have to ask her...
Brooke’s New Baby! …but is it her favorite baby? You’d have to ask her…

Back in early November, 2014, I wrote

When we bought Brooke’s 2006 Scion xA new, the plan was (and is) to “drive it into the ground,” or at least as close as we can. We’ve got about 97,000 mi on it now and had almost zero issues with it. The one issue we did have was with the blower motor resistor, and I was able to fix that myself. We’ll probably end up replacing it eventually, but likely not until we’re done making payments on the Subaru.

Weeeeeeelllllll, we made it to 140,000 mi and Brooke’s 2006 Scion xA was starting to squeal a bit more.  Was it just a loose belt?  Probably.  But we’ve been talking about it for quite awhile and Brooke’s been getting a little more cognizant of the fact that she’s the director of an agency and is driving consumers around with a car that has seen some better days.

The original plan was to keep that car for 10 years and then start looking, and that’s what we did.  Brooke and I had been investigating some other options, like the Volkswagen Golf or the Ford Focus hatchback, but more and more, the Subaru Impreza seemed like the mix she was looking for.  Part of this was the fact that we already have a Subaru and love it.  The Forester is based on the same platform as the current model of the Impreza, so driving one is very similar to the other (though the Forester sits a few inches higher).

Back when I got the Forester in 2013, the main thing I wanted was a moonroof.  This time around, Brooke wanted leather seats.  When comparing the leather options on the Impreza versus the Golf or Focus, the Impreza just made more sense as, for the same amount of money, you got the bonus of all-wheel drive on the Impreza where you didn’t on the Golf or Focus.  Also, the resale value on the Impreza is second-to-none compared with the Golf and Focus, especially at the Limited trim level we ended up getting.

The big reason we went ahead and pulled the trigger is because we figured we could get a decent deal on one now, while waiting a few months would force us into the brand new 2017 model.  Don’t get me wrong, that new model looks pretty nice, but there hasn’t been a price announced, and with all the new features they are advertising, it would likely be more expensive than the current version is.  On a related note, because the new model is coming, you can’t easily choose options on a 2016 model anymore, so if we waited until July, we probably wouldn’t be able to find this specific car anymore, at least not without having it transported across the country.

So yeah, Brooke was in Columbia last Friday morning, went by Subaru to ask them some questions and ask a few questions.  She went on a test-drive of this car (that she already checked out online before going) and fell in love.  The process ended up taking 3 hours, but the dealership bought her some Fazoli’s to keep her in her seat so they could close the deal.  It’s the little things.

Side-view
Side-view

Regardless, it’s a sharp little car! It definitely feels smaller to me relative to the forester, but the back seats are just as roomy, so the kids can actually grow into this car, whereas in the Scion, they were just about as big as any person could be and still sit comfortably for long periods.  She also finally has cruise control again, so with all the traveling she’s been doing recently, she won’t be quite as insane.  This model also comes with the 7″ touchscreen option and some better Bluetooth connectivity than our Forester does, though we didn’t spring for their EyeSight adaptive cruise control option.

She loves it!  Hopefully Calvin ends up liking this car when he gets it in 12 years… 🙂

Garden Update: Early-May

Finally got the tomatoes in the ground...
Finally got the tomatoes in the ground…

First of all, let me say that it’s been a long time since I got anything posted up here, but now that school’s out for the summer, I should be able to post stuff more regularly.

Otherwise, it’s that time of year again when I start posting garden-related stuff.  We’ve expanded into another section of the yard, but mostly I wanted to focus on what’s growing and what isn’t.  Up top, we’ve moved the tomatoes to the larger plot this year.  Last year, we went with a similar configuration, but had the two trellises really close to one another, not knowing how well the plants would do.  Well, they did really well.  Almost too well.  To the point where light couldn’t get between the trellises.  Thus, we’ve put them as far apart as possible and will likely not put anything between them.  19 different plants are in there right now, ranging from “slicer” tomatoes to “cherry” tomatoes to “heirloom” tomatoes.

Some carrots, peas...and weeds...
Some carrots, peas…and weeds…

The other plot we planted in turned out pretty good.  The carrots are over-run with weeds and Brooke made a valiant effort (in the right foreground) to de-weed them.  The peas are moving very slowly, but there are some buds on there, so perhaps we’ll get something.  We dug up all the radishes on Tuesday night…

Radishes!
Radishes!

…and ended up with a solid haul.  There are quite a few “heirloom”-type radishes in that mix that I haven’t tried yet, as they sure look awful “root-y” to me, but we’ll see.  It was a mixed back of radish seeds, so we knew we’d end up with some different varieties.  Still, we’ve got a few gallon-sized bags in the crispers to munch on for a bit.

Blackberries and raspberries.
Blackberries and raspberries.

The berry bushes have been doing remarkably well.  We’ve seen some flowers on the blackberries for a few weeks now, while the raspberries are taking it a bit slower.  There are some starts popping up, but compared to their nearby brethren, it may end up later in the season before we get anything from them.

Trees!
Trees!

All of our trees are doing well, too!  We had to water them quite a bit early on, but it’s been rainy these last few weeks, so it hasn’t been quite as essential.  All of the tree varieties have leaves on them, though the pear trees are moving slower than the others.  The almond tree is probably doing “the best,” but the apple trees are close behind.

Back of the house
Back of the house

Lastly, I wanted to mention the back of the house, which is a bit more manicured than it was at this time last year.  I’ve been using some herbicides on the left-hand mulch to prevent stuff from popping up, so that’s making it stay pretty clean.  We were initially going to try and remove all those hostas, but we changed our minds and we’ll just have to remove the weeds from around them by hand.  We’ve also got some concrete bricks lining that bed now, so it looks just a little bit nicer.

I don’t have much going on this summer, so I’m hoping to get a lot more gardening in.  More posts to come!

Some Spring Break Work

Garden 2.0
Garden 2.0

I’m on Spring Break this week (yay!), so we’ve been trying to get some things done around the house. Though it’s been somewhat wet, we’ve been able to get a shocking amount done. Mark and Diana were kind enough to haul along their tiller this past weekend when they were here for Meg’s 6th birthday (Happy Birthday, Meg!), so Mark turned over the garden for us.

Some new plots...
Some new plots…

He also made a few more plots for us. The one in the foreground has peas, carrots and radishes in it. We’re planning on installing raised beds for herbs closer to the house, so the tilled space is a bit smaller than the large one from last year that sits next to it. The narrow patch in the background next to the berry bushes is intended for rhubarb and asparagus, as they should return each year just like the berries will. It may take a bit to get those established, so we’ll see how that goes…

Moved some appliances!
Moved some appliances!

For the past few months, we’ve also been meaning to move the chest freezer and one of our (three) refrigerators from the garage into our basement. Now that it’s warm outside, it’s kinda past the cold period of the year when you don’t want to go outside to the freezer, but oh well. The fridge will likely get used for beer, mostly, and the other fridge will remain in the garage for lawnmower beer, soda, juice boxes, and other stuff we’re likely to want when we’re actually in the garage this summer.

Garage 2.0
Garage 2.0

Speaking of the garage, we also got some organization done in there. Brooke stayed home from work today to get some other stuff done, so while she was here, we took this opportunity to rearrange a bit in a fashion that makes more sense than the way we had things. The other fridge is in front of my car now (not pictured…), and we mounted our new car top carrier on the wall over the wagons. The fridge is a bit further from the door to the garage now, which isn’t ideal, but we’ll live.

SOOOOOO much better...
SOOOOOO much better…

The real reason to get this done, though, was to open up the tool bench and organize the tools to access things more efficiently. Seriously, that table had everything piled on it for the past year or so.  The power tools and other bins are on the new shelves we picked up, and Brooke brought up the pegboard from our basement and put it up on the wall in the garage where it belongs so all those tools can be mounted and accessible.  The various battery-powered tools have their chargers working there on the corner as before, but at least now, all the tools are off the table, leaving it open for actual, you know, work.

We aren’t completely done with everything in the garage yet, but this is a good start.  The garden stuff and the kids toys still need to be organized, but it’s way better than it was.  The toys will go on a shelf between the two garage bays, and I think we’re going to put in some other shelves for the garden stuff closer to where the door is.  I’ll probably pick up another shelving unit tomorrow for these various purposes.

But hey, not too bad for Spring Break 2016, right?