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?

Knocking on wood…

It's February. Seriously.
It’s February. Seriously.

I know it’s been awhile since I posted anything, but this particular post has been bouncing around for a bit and I didn’t want to jinx anything.

So far this season, “sickness” has passed us by.  This isn’t to say we haven’t felt ill or anything, but the week-long, knock-out D.B.D. that we tend to experience each Winter has, thus far, eluded us.  Meg had a bout of strep throat two weeks ago that kept her out of school for 3 days, but the antibiotics took care of it, and really, by the third day, she was back to normal and just couldn’t go to school.

Calvin, somehow, hasn’t really come down with anything.  He’s had a lot of gunk in his eyes the last few days, but that’s begun to subside.  It was probably connected with the runny nose he’s had, but again, nothing to keep him from school.  Thus far, he hasn’t missed any days because he’s been sick, which is craziness compared to the last few Winters.

I can only assume that he’s been infected by literally all childhood diseases at this point and he’s now built up an immunity.

Regardless, we’ve been pretty good on the illness front.  Even Brooke and I have resisted sickness pretty well, with the exception of the odd runny nose and headache.

The weather is the other story of the season, where we had a high of 72 F yesterday.  On February 20th.  In Missouri.  It was nice enough late this week that I pulled out the bike trailer and hooked it up to take the kids to the park on Thursday and Friday (pictured above).  Yesterday, since the sun was out and the temperature broached the 70 F mark, we went out to the garden and started working the soil a bit.

There's Calvin..."helping"...
There’s Calvin…”helping”…

Brooke went ahead and started on the new garden plot, a third one to complement the other two we made last year.  She nearly completed it too, as the ground was soft enough to work efficiently and turn it over in a few hours that morning.  I turned over about half the old, large plot to prepare the way for some carrots, radishes and peas Brooke wants to get started with.  The weather should be in the 50 F range this week, so while it’s going to get colder again, I’m hopeful I’ll have at least one warmer day over Spring Break in a few weeks so I can get out there and turn over more of the garden.

It's mostly herbs. I promise.
It’s mostly herbs. I promise.

For now, Brooke started up her seed warmer and a lamp down in the cellar.  So far, she’s got mostly herbs planted, as well as peppers, tomatoes and some flowers.  This is a bit sooner than she started them last year, and we had them on the back porch last year, where the temperatures got a bit hotter earlier than we expected.  Hopefully, the cellar will maintain it’s temperature better and the seeds will be a bit happier.

Feels like Spring is just around the corner!

New Year, New You

...even Brooke has used it!
…even Brooke has used it!

Last year, I started jogging regularly at the student center next door to my building on campus.  At the time, Meg was still at the preschool, so I could stop what I was doing at 3:00, go over and jog on the treadmill for 20-30 min, and then get home to do a few things and take a shower before getting the kids.

This year, that hasn’t worked out as well since Meg is in Kindergarten and gets out of school at 2:55 pm on most days.  I could always leave her in my office (not my first choice) or I could bring her with me (really not my first choice…), but the path of least resistance just led me to “not jogging anymore.”

On a whim in mid-December, I did a quick survey of Amazon to see what they had in the bicycle trainer realm.  A buddy from St. Louis had one that he used for his road bike in the winters, but until recently, I hadn’t really considered it.  Turns out they’re actually pretty reasonable!  We already have good bikes and have invested in a roof rack for the Forester, as well as a trailer for the kids to ride in, so it made sense to continue in that vein toward biking.  What’s more, it’s compact enough that it, and a bicycle, can fit in our basement without much fuss, though it’s also collapsible and easily removable from said bike if we need to move it.

This particular model from RAD Cycle is a touch on the noisy side, and reviewers pointed this out, but many of them were talking about using one in an apartment when someone lives below you.  In our case, it really doesn’t disturb anyone, as it’s resting on a concrete foundation.  You can hear it on our first floor when someone’s using it, but with the heater running as often as it is, it blends in pretty seamlessly.  The noise comes from the mountain bike tires rubbing up against a magnetic resistor.  If we were using a road bike or had hybrid tires, I bet it wouldn’t be quite as loud.

I’ve been using it the past few days for 20 minute stints in the afternoons after getting home.  Brooke has tried it a few times in the morning and hasn’t quite made it to 20 minutes yet, but she’ll work up to it.  We’re using her bike on the thing to make it a bit easier for her to hop on it.  Also, she’s less likely to use her bike outside as the weather (eventually…) gets warmer, so mine’s available to pull the kids around in the trailer if need be.

Hopefully we keep it up.  I need to put in more than 20 minutes to really do much good, but for now, that’s 20 minutes of sitting down doing nothing that I’m now using for exercise.  I guess that’s progress enough.

Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

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It took a few weeks, but I finally got to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night.  I didn’t try to avoid spoilers over the past few weeks, so I didn’t exactly go into it with “fresh eyes,” but it was still cool seeing it.  I’m absolutely glad I saw it in theaters, though it wasn’t IMAX and wasn’t in 3-D.  Those screenings are somewhat limited in Sedalia at this point…

Overall, I thought it was “good.”  I wouldn’t say it’s a “great” film – just “good.”  There are actually elements of the movie that were legitimately “great,” including the acting and special effects.  Unlike the Prequel Trilogy, which was largely terrible (with the possible exception of the third one…),  the acting was solid among the new and old cast.  As everyone knows at this point, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were all back in varying (or even limited) capacities in this movie, and did a good job evoking their characters from the Original Trilogy.  However, I was especially impressed with the acting chops of the new cast and how well they fit into the universe.  Oscar Isaac was perhaps the best-known actor on this list, but newcomers like John Boyega and Daisy Ridley really stole the show, wiping away the stench of Hayden Christensen in the Prequels (ew…).

With regards to the effects, again, J.J. Abrams relied more heavily on practical effects this time around, unlike George Lucas in the Prequel Trilogy, who had nearly every scene in front of a green screen.  Sure, there was a ton of CG in The Force Awakens, but it wasn’t over-done this time around.  CG characters were better integrated into the background.  Buildings were inserted into actual, live environments rather than having the entire environment built on a computer.  It was much easier to “fall into the world” watching this movie, as it was easier to convince yourself that everything you were looking at on the screen was real.

My main gripe with the movie concerns the story.  It isn’t that the story is “bad” – it isn’t.  But it’s absolutely derivative.  Perhaps I was clouded by post-release articles, when everyone was talking about it, but The Force Awakens is absolutely a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope.  Not shot-for-shot, but in the critical story beats, it’s totally that original movie.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Rebels find some critical information that they’re trying to keep away from the bad guys and store it in a droid.  That droid, on a desert planet, happens to find a young person who also happens to, we come to find out, be “strong in the Force.”  That person hooks up with a “bad guy with a good heart” kinda person, as well as an “older mentor,” as they try to return this stolen information to the Rebellion.  All the time, they’re being chased by a evil guy in a black mask that can Force Choke you.  I’ll stop right here to limit potential spoilers, but seriously, take all those characters I just mentioned and continue on through A New Hope and you’ll know what happens.

Now, does the story follow it exactly?  No.  Some things happen in a different order.  There are also gratuitous scenes in this movie that are intended to evoke the original movie (like when the two main characters, Rey and Finn, happen across the Millennium Falcon, on that desert planet that they happen to be on), and obviously those scenes wouldn’t have existed in the first movie.  There’s a great deal of nostalgia here, definitely, but that’s most of what this movie has going for it.

Which is to say, if nostalgia is what you’re looking for, The Force Awakens has it in spades.  It’s intended to make you feel like a kid again, seeing Star Wars for the first time.  It’s intended to remind you of what made you like the Original Trilogy and why no one (except demented, horrible people…) like the Prequel Trilogy.

But it isn’t an original story.  Heck, A New Hope wasn’t even an “original story,” as it was just ripping off the classic “Hero’s Journey” monomyth.  But it at least put it in a sci-fi setting with a budget that could really wow an audience.

And also, Star Trek is still better than Star Wars

Another Semester Down…

I’ve completed 3 semesters in my teaching career now.  Four, if you count the summer class I taught last year.  At any rate, I’m starting to feel more like a pro that’s been doing this for awhile.

This semester, I taught my regular stable of Fall classes: Anatomy & Physiology (A&P) I, A&P II and Principles of A&P.  These are courses I’ll be teaching every Fall, unless we need to shift things around due to the number of students heading in.  This coming Spring, I’ll teach A&P I again in a double-size class.  I’ll also teach A&P II, which is normally a Fall-only class, but because of scheduling conflicts this past semester, we’re going to offer it again.  The newbie will be Environmental Science, which I’ve never taught but am looking forward to.  It’ll be a bit more discussion-based than what I’ve taught thus far, allowing a bit more flexibility in how I approach the material.

The main reason I write this, however, is because I feel like I’m finally getting things down into “well-oiled machine” mode.  I didn’t feel nearly as stressed out this Fall with getting my final grades completed and turned in.  I think I had my three classes turned in before most of the rest of the department did.  This is likely due to the consistency between last year and this year, where the grades for most of the exams were nearly identical (within 0.1% of last year’s averages).  There were some differences (the Final didn’t go as well this time…), but for the most part, everything this semester went very similarly to last semester, making it a bit easier to chart out the course of the past few months, knowing how things would ultimately end up.

Now, I’m off for another 3 weeks before school starts up again in mid-January.  I’ll have Meg home with me for 2 weeks while she’s off from Kindergarten, so that’s something of a change from last year.  Calvin will hang out with us for a few days in there as well, but he’ll be back full-time around when Meg goes back, leaving me with a little prep time by myself for the upcoming semester.  Effectively, I’ve got most of my semester plotted out already (because they’re classes I’ve not only taught before, but just taught this past semester), but Environmental Science is a wild card that should mix things up a bit.  I’d like to try and set it up with a series of “debates” that the students carry out (for example, “pros” and “cons” of the most recent international climate agreement), but as I haven’t actually taught the class before and that’s an activity the other professors who teach it aren’t doing, I figure I should get my feet wet before trying something like that.

Still, I’m looking forward to trying something new.  Before then, I’ve got some Christmas Break to enjoy!

The Boy Who Never Sleeps

Two cute kids. Not sleeping.
Two cute kids. Not sleeping.

I’ve been writing this post in my head for weeks now, but things never seemed to settle down perfectly, so I kept putting it off.

Basically, Brooke and I split time sleeping on Calvin’s floor for, like, 8 months this year.  He simply did not want to sleep alone, and while you could get him to sleep, the minute he’d wake up, he wouldn’t go back down (willingly) unless someone was with him.  This also made it nearly impossible to leave his room (or we’d fall asleep waiting for him to finally pass out).  We tried a few things, including removing his crib because he was getting too large to lay in there without waking him up.  He fell asleep on the floor one night, so we went with it and made a little “nest,” of sorts, in the corner for him to sleep on.

Ultimately, we relented and began just sleeping on the floor with him.  I moved a backpacking-style air mattress in there, Brooke laid down multiple comforters, and one of us would just take turns going in sometime between 1:00 am and 4:00 am and staying with him until it was time to get up.

Finally, finally, we got sick of it.  On Calvin’s birthday, we gave him a small toddler bed.  We figured this would be the opportunity to start fresh in a “new situation,” where we rearrange his room a bit, put him in the bed, and make him sleep in it.

Shockingly, the process of getting him to sleep in it didn’t go as terribly as we’d expected.  That first night was somewhat challenging, but even within the first few days, he was sleeping in the bed by himself for 6 hours at a time.  It took us a bit to get into a routine of one of us sitting with him with books or YouTube videos before he’d let us leave his room without crying.  There were some times when he’d try to follow us out and we’d have to sit there, holding his door shut, so he couldn’t escape.  Early on, this didn’t happen all that often though, and he’d actually stay in his bed for awhile.

“Awhile” is a critical point, though, as 4:00 am would roll around and he’d decide “I’m awake!” and he’d leave his room.  We had a door knob protector on, but those old door knobs are useless and the protector would stick in such a way that Calvin could get right past it.

Occasionally, he’d go into Meg’s room and wake her up, wanting to play.

More recently, we picked up a special alarm clock that changes colors depending on whether it’s time to get up or not.  He mostly ignores whether it’s “yellow” (stay in bed) or “green” (time to get up), even though he’ll tell you what those colors mean.  We think the clock has helped, to some degree, as we know what time it is so, if he’s crying at 5:00 am and wants to leave his room, we can use the walkie-talkie function on the baby monitor and tell him to stay in bed “until the light turns ‘green’.”

Overall, we’re doing much better.  Both of us are getting far more sleep than we were at this time last year, and we’re getting to stay in our beds for longer on successive nights than we have since Calvin was born.  Occasionally, we still need to go in there and help him find his lost stuffed animal in the middle of the night, but for the most part, he’s sleeping quite a bit better than he has in awhile!

As a brief aside, over Thanksgiving this year, Meg and Calvin slept in the same rooms for 4 nights and actually did remarkably well!  We tried it once at our house a few weeks ago and it was a literal nightmare, but on the road, Meg was actually pretty good at keeping him in his room and knowing whether it was okay to get up and play or not.  Since she can actually tell time, she knew whether it was okay to get up and play with toys in their room but not actually leave the room, and other policies like that.  Perhaps we’ll be able to move to bunk beds sometime in 2016!

Garden Update: Early-November

Them's some sweet potatoes...
Them’s some sweet potatoes…

I’ve got a few posts rolling around in my head but, frankly, I just haven’t had much time recently.  Midterms were a few weeks ago and I gave 3 exams last Friday, so now that I have a window of downtime, here’s the last bit of updating for the garden.

Brooke gave up on the tomatoes weeks ago, after she crossed the at least 40 pint line for tomato sauce.  Seriously, that last batch of tomato sauce she made was a slog – I could tell she was totally done with tomatoes for the year.

But at the time, we still wanted to wait for the sweet potatoes.  Finally, just after Halloween, Brooke pulled out the potato crop to see what we ended up with.  Not too bad, but I don’t think we got as much as we did in Iowa.  Still, for our purposes, it was still a pretty good haul.

...the potatoes in our garden basket...
…the potatoes in our garden basket…

We haven’t tried eating any yet, but have no reason to think they won’t be solid.  Brooke’s busy processing pears from my aunt and uncle’s house, so these things aren’t exactly a priority.

Still, just wanted to post this for posterity’s sake.  We’ll probably plant some again next year, so we want to remember  how many we got this year!

Inaugural Oktoberfest

A beautiful day for a party!
A beautiful day for a party!

Over years in St. Louis, Brooke and I found that we enjoyed “hosting,” whether that was for church small groups, family gatherings, or for parties.  Up in Iowa, we had our first Oktoberfest party largely because we lived in the middle of nowhere and we rarely had visitors, so we organized a gathering of mostly work friends for a cold and rainy evening.

Flash forward to 2015, now with two kids and still with a house that doesn’t get visitors (aside from family) all that often.  At this house, though, we’re a bit closer to other people (including family) and we also know more people from work and the neighborhood.  In an attempt at celebrating our German heritage and the end of our garden’s growing season, we organized another Oktoberfest, hopefully the first of many.

The weather ended up being perfect.  Seriously, it couldn’t have been any better.  There was a chill in the air, the temperature never broke past the low 70s, and the fire was actually useful instead of just decorative.  We started the party at 3:00 pm to make life easier for the folks with kids, as we didn’t know how late this thing would go and we didn’t want people to come for dinner and then leave an hour later because it was bedtime.

We had a little over 30 people over during that period of time.  Quite a few kids were there, and most of the folks were from Missouri Valley.  We had a few neighbors come over, as well as one of Meg’s friends from her old school, so she had a pretty great time.  Brooke made potato soup, pretzels and sausages (we ran out of the latter, despite Brooke wondering if we bought too many!), and other folks brought desserts, dips, beer and more.  Speaking of beer, I made a German Alt and a Bavarian Hefeweizen.  A few over 20 bottles were had, as well as some of the other domestic offerings we provided.  All in all, we had a lot to recycle after the party was done!

Ultimately, I think people had a good time.  It didn’t go as far into the evening as I’d hoped, but we had people there for over 4 hours, so considering when the event started, that was probably long enough.  As kids get older and as we meet more people around here, I bet that’ll change a bit.  Still, I think the party was a success and we look forward to doing it again next year!

It’ll be hard to beat the weather from 2015, though…

Garden Update: Early October

Aftermath
Aftermath

This will be relatively short, but as I’ve been posting about this all summer (and now Fall), I figured I should present the aftermath of a relatively successful first year with the garden.

Clearly, the main garden is mostly dead.  There’s some broccoli struggling to survive, but that’s about it.  As you can see, though, the corn stalks have been pulled down (and re-ordered into decorations for our upcoming Oktoberfest party), and the pumpkins have all died off.  We ended up with something around 12 pumpkins, but only 4 of them survived to be useful.  The rest were chewed on by beetles, so we may need to do a bit more proactive spraying next year.

Slowly dying...still...
Slowly dying…still…

The tomatoes and peppers, on the other hand, are shockingly still producing!  They’re looking a bit saggy, but that’s more because they’re still growing and I’m not trimming them or tying them up.  There are absolutely some areas of death and destruction, however, as leaves continue to die off due to a lack of water.

 

Behold the death of the tomatoes.
Behold the death of the tomatoes.

The picture just above this one shows a little bit of the dying leaves in the middle of that dense forest, but still, there’s plenty of green still in there.  As of today, we haven’t had a frost yet, so the tomatoes are still coming on and there are still flowers on some of the plants.  Even some of the peppers we planted, that hadn’t made anything yet, have finally put on some full-size veggies for us to pluck.

Still harvesting!
Still harvesting!

I think Brooke’s generally tired of canning tomatoes already, so I haven’t bothered to pick the really tiny ones anymore.  I’m still grabbing the larger ones as they slowly develop, and as you can see above, there are some pretty big ones in there that are finally turning red.  I pick them when they’re starting to turn so we can keep them protected inside.

As of right now, Brooke’s canned about 24 pints of tomatoes, and there’s still quite a few bags left in the freezer to be canned (she thinks another 15 pints or so) after we’ve got more batches like these accumulated.

So ultimately, not too bad for our first year’s harvest!  We still haven’t dug up the sweet potatoes, so I’ll likely do a post on that yet.  Surely they’re done, but with the party coming up, we didn’t want to disturb that area of the yard with a ton of digging.  Soon, though!