Okee Dokee Artichokee

Train conductors? They can’t even drive yet…

We were trying to come up with something special to do for Meg’s birthday this year when Brooke happened to notice one of our favorite “family friendly” musical groups, The Okee Dokee Brothers, were coming to Kansas City.  The concert fell around Meg’s birthday, so close enough, right?

A bit of background: Brooke ran across their music 5 or 6 years ago and, though I can’t remember why exactly we listened in the first place (let alone how we discovered them…), my recollection mostly surrounds their fourth album, Can You Canoe?, which was inspired by their trip down the Mississippi River from St. Paul, MN to St. Louis, MO.  For Meg, it was a collection of creative and catchy tunes.  For Brooke and me, it was intelligently produced kids’ music that hearkened back to our own childhood experiences in this region, while also representing great bluegrass-style music.  That album went on to win the Grammy for Best Children’s Album in 2013.  They have since come out with two other albums, one inspired by their hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail, and another around their trip to the Rocky Mountains.

Thus, after church this morning, we went ahead and hit the road for Crown Center, where we ended up at Fritz’s again.  I think we waited a good 45 minutes to get into that place last year before going to Legoland for Meg’s 6th birthday, but this time, the line was considerably shorter (read: non-existent).  We were in-and-out relatively quickly and moved on to the Kansas City Folk Festival.

Seating was limited…

The event itself was pretty well organized, taking place at the Westin hotel in most of its various conference rooms.  Each show took place “on the hour” and ran for 45 minutes, and 5 or 6 shows were going on simultaneously, allowing listeners to move between rooms and get a good sampling of musical styles.  A substantial number of the acts were Spanish language-focused, which was very interesting musically, though difficult to deal with lyrically.  Still, Meg seemed like she was “bobbing her head” quite a bit, even if she didn’t know what exactly was going on.

The Main Event!

The Okee Dokee Brothers went on at 2:00 and were great.  In the picture above, Meg and Calvin are sitting on the floor just in front of the stage, so they had a front row seat to all the action.

This room was packed with families.  The organizers probably should have seen this coming, though to be honest, how all these people had heard of The Okee Dokee Brothers is beyond me.  Still, Brooke and I had to hold up a wall on the side of the room, with Calvin running back and forth from where Meg was sitting and where we were standing.  We weren’t next to Meg at all during the music, but we could see her copying the motions and singing along, as she knew many of the songs already.  So far as concerts go, they did a good job mixing their older stuff with their newer stuff, so that helped out quite a bit, as we haven’t listened to their newest album as much as their older ones.

It ended up being a fun time!  Not a particularly cheap experience, as were were also funding our “attendance” to all of the other bands that were there, but ultimately, I think we all agreed it was worth the trip.  The music was great, the experience was something different from what Meg’s used to, and it was an excuse to get out of the house for a day.

Win/win for everyone. 🙂

The “Half-New” Play Room

After setting up the new shared bedroom for Meg and Calvin, it was time to do something with Meg’s old room.  However, after putting a week into that new bedroom, I wasn’t really in the mood to scrape even more wallpaper, so it was decided that the second room would be turned into a play room.  In the interest of maintaining our sanity over this Christmas Break, we decided to leave the carpet and wallpaper for now and consolidate all of the toys into that room.

Well doesn’t that look cozy!

We now have another TV set up for the first time since living here and we have a Fire TV Stick on order to make it a little “smarter.”  The only station it gets over bunny ears right now is PBS, but we can live with that.  We’ve also got the Lego table set up in front of one of the windows.

The wall isn’t quite…”done”…yet…

Brooke had a crazy idea about the wall that will improve over time.  As the kids draw more pictures and do more “art” at school, it’ll get clothespinned to the string she put up for all to see.  The easel is also near two new tables we picked up from IKEA to replace the two we previously had, only this time, we put some chalkboard contact paper on it.

“Look, Mom! We can write on the table and erase it again!”

Honestly, I’m not quite sure how the contact paper will last on the tables, as they’re also intended for Play-doh and other things.  The idea was that roads and towns could be drawn on it for Legos, cars, etc.  We’ll just have to see how they use them…

Storage!

The last wall involved a purchase of a 9 cube organizer and some bins so we could put all those toys in a mostly central location.  Their Kindle Fires can be charged because of the port behind the shelves, so that’s where they’ll live and not in the bedroom (unless it’s during the day).  Hopefully we can foster some better habits that way.

It’s going to be a work-in-progress for awhile, but it’s more organized than before!  And now the Music Room downstairs has many fewer toys just lying around because they’re all upstairs!  There was also a “culling” of baby toys that the kids otherwise wouldn’t get rid of on their own, so this was a good opportunity for “Winter Cleaning.”

Review: Rogue One

Honestly, I wasn’t planning on seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in theaters until I started seeing reviews and spoilers.  As a one off story that wasn’t a “numbered sequel,” it seemed like one I could skip.  Also, I wasn’t very familiar with most of the actors in it (aside from Forrest Whitaker).  Ultimately, I made the trip down to Sedalia to watch it in 3D (using their crappy 3D glasses…next time, I probably won’t even bother with that 3D system…).

The story serves as a transitional film between Episodes III and IV, centering on the group of rebels who steal the plans for the Death Star that allow Luke Skywalker to destroy it in A New Hope.  Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is joined by other rebels in an attempt to reach her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who is a key figure in the science program tasked with building the Death Star.

First, the good: the movie is steeped with nostalgia.  Director Gareth Edwards does a great job replicating the 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope look, complete with 70s-era hair and prosthetics.  There are quite a few digital characters interspersed, but they generally looked great.  The sets also look dirty, which grounds the film in a sense of realism.  The dusty storm trooper helmets and dirty ships make the viewer feel as though there is history here, as opposed to a clean, sterile look.  As other reviewers have noted, the movie also does a good job of adding stakes to the Rebellion that weren’t really there in A New Hope.  You get a sense that these rebels are actually fighting for something, instead of some ethereal principle that was discussed in the Original Trilogy.

As far as the characters go, many of them do serviceable jobs, but there aren’t that many stand-out performances.  The only exception is Alan Tudyk, who voices the repurposed Imperial Droid, K-2SO.  He steals the show in any scene he’s in, providing just the right level of comic relief.

Also, spoiler: Grand Moff Tarken is in it.  Played by Peter Cushing.  Who died in 1994.  He shows up in at least 3 scenes and he looked gooooooood.  It’s kinda controversial that he’s in there at all, but having his interactions shown at the birth of the Death Star were invaluable to the story.

However, while some story beats were strong, others were quite weak.  The solution to getting the plans from the Scarif planet surface to the Rebel Fleet in orbit didn’t make much sense to me.  The convenience of having the daughter of the critical guy at the center of the Death Star Project (and why he’s so necessary is never explained) available to the Rebels.    The fact that Jyn Erso turns-on-a-dime from “The Rebellion Is Stupid” to “We Must Stop The Death Star At All Costs.”  The shallow character development of nearly all of these individuals in why it all matters (which, again, is addressed, but to do it right, more is necessary).

I enjoyed the movie, but I bet I could have waited to see it as a rental.  It does a good job of setting up A New Hope and provides a healthy amount of “Easter Eggs” for the most die-hard of Star Wars fans, yet those that aren’t really big fans of the series will find plenty of plot holes to pick apart.

The New Bedroom, Part II

Check out the previous post here…

So, the scraping started on a Tuesday and we were mostly done by that Friday, though we got slowed down by the kids getting released early from school due to weather.  That, and we were heading to my parent’s house for Christmas stuff that weekend.

As a brief aside, we were on the road to Columbia for 4.5 hours that Friday due to the weather.  That trip should only take an hour.  It was great fun.  Ug.

Gotta get all primed…

Anyway, after we got back from Columbia, we finished patching things up and finished scraping the walls so that, on Monday, I could prime everything and paint on Tuesday. We had to go with 2 coats of primer in most places, including the trim, and went with 3+ coats over the wallpapered section of drywall that was unscrapable.  We’re hoping the water-based paint doesn’t cause the paper to bubble up, but considering just how stuck it was to the drywall, we don’t anticipate too much trouble.  All the primer was enough to hide the floral designs underneath.

We went with an “off-white” color for the trim so we wouldn’t have to do the doors and windows quite yet…

The trim got a somewhat “off-white” color.  Bright white would have been preferred, but at this point, we really didn’t want to take the doors off the hinges or fight with the windows, so we figured this color would at least half-way match the doors/windows while still meshing well with the chosen paint color.

More of a blue-grey for the rest of the walls.

Like we did downstairs in the music room, Brooke went with a color that was approved by the National Historic Register.  The picture above still had wet paint, and the lights were off, but you can see the blue-grey hues pretty well.  We went with 2 coats of paint for most of the way around and, thankfully, it dried pretty quickly.

While we were doing the painting, Mom and Dad were downstairs assembling the twin-sized bunk beds so we could just carry them up the stairs when we were ready for them.  The room couldn’t really fit more than 3 people anyway, so it was a good way to divide and conquer.

Pulling the carpet up went remarkably well…

Once the paint was dry, we pulled up the carpet.  Dad and I did this the winter after we moved in on the landing to the top floor, so I drafted him into helping for another round.  The hardwood was very much intact, though the color differences between the middle and outside of the room was a bit odd.  Again, someday, we’ll re-finish the upstairs but, for now, rugs will have to suffice…

All done!

After carrying the bunk beds upstairs, laying down the rugs, and installing the new curtain rods and freshly dyed curtains (repurposed from those that were in the room to begin with, but now a darker navy color), we were all done!  We also moved Meg’s vanity (my grandmother’s, but painted last winter) into the room to give them a little bit of storage.

We’ve made it clear to the kids that this is a “sleep room” and not a “play room,” so with the exception of a few stuffed animals, no toys are supposed to be in the room.  Clearly, this is easier said than done, but we’re going to try and keep it that way for the time-being.  Hopefully that’ll stave off any markers on the walls for a few, er, days…

A view of the other corner…

Meg’s old bed was moved in and new sheets/blankets were added to match the bunk beds.  Obviously, the bed color is different, but oh well…  It’ll serve as a good guest bed should we need one!

Calvin enjoying his new big-kid bed!

Calvin was at school while we got all this done, so he was pretty excited to lay in his new bed!  He had a toddler bed after his 2nd birthday and, while he still fit in it, the twin sized bed is substantially larger!  He’s slept in big beds already, but this new spring mattress should be a bit more comfortable.

Meg’s up in the top bunk!

Meg’s up on the top bunk, as she’s the older kid.  Eventually, we can relax for Calvin, but for now, he won’t be sleeping up there.  We’re doing our best to keep him off the top bunk unless a grown-up is upstairs to monitor their play time, but again, this is easier said than done…

We’re pretty pleased with what we were able to accomplish in about a week!  It certainly went faster than the music room did!  And help from Mom and Dad was greatly appreciated!

Now, the play room…eventually…

The New Bedroom, Part I

Here’s what we had to work with…

So, Calvin’s been sleeping in a room with creepy quetzals (or some other bird…I’m not an ornithologist) since we moved in, but we’ve left it up until we could decide what the long-term plan was for the bedrooms, and also because we had other projects on the docket first.  A few months ago, the kids started sleeping together on weekends and, for the most part, they’ve done pretty well with this arrangement.  The idea of bunk beds came up at some point, so we all decided that the kids would share a bedroom for a few years, and the other room would serve as the kid’s “play room.”  For various reasons, Calvin’s room seemed like the better choice for “sleeping,” while Meg’s substantially larger space would become the “play room.”

It begins.

As we already knew, plaster was behind the wallpaper.  Some parts of it were cracked, necessitating patching with plaster and joint compound, but there wasn’t substantial damage to the plaster like we had down in the music room.

There were 3 layers of wallpaper in total, as well as an old border that was running along the top.

In this image, you can make out the green-ish wallpaper underneath the “quetzal paper,” as well as a border along the top.

The scraping wasn’t as bad as it could have been, honestly.  It took at least 4 solid days of scraping (largely completed by yours truly), but again, it could have been far worse.  The dust got pretty bad, but we kept the carpet in for the time-being to let it “soak up” the debris so we could remove it later.

We did run into a little issue on one wall, though…

…a little hiccup…

I started scraping it and the material underneath the wallpaper was quite a bit different than the other walls.  This is the one that was on the bedroom door side of the room.

…yup…that’s drywall…

With a little more investigating, it turned out that, somehow, drywall had been used on that one wall.  It’s possible that the wall had previous damage to the plaster, so the owners had to replace it with 1950s-era drywall, and then wallpaper over the whole room at that time.  Indeed, there was only the top layer of wallpaper covering that wall, so the whole room was done at the time the wallpaper was put on.

There’s a special place in Hell for people who wallpaper over joint compound…

On the wall adjacent to the drywalled…er…wall…we also ran into some large patches of joint compound that were directly wallpapered over, which slowed things down considerably.  I ended up scraping off a layer of joint compound in a few spots…

Ready to prime!

After I got scraping done, Brooke came back through with vinegar water to clean off remaining glue, and then worked her plaster magic to patch the walls.  You can see in the corner all the wallpaper that had fallen onto the carpet, so it was great fun tracking bits of trash throughout the house for a few days…

The rest will appear in another post.  That’s enough pictures for now!

For the second part of this project, click through.

State Park #3: Trail of Tears 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.

DSC_0002

It’s about time for another one of these posts, right?

Back in early June, 2015, we went on another camping trip with the Montgomerys and tried to find a place somewhat “halfway” between Marshall and the Memphis, TN area.  We tried Trail of Tears State Park near Jackson, MO.

In general, we weren’t all that pleased with this park.  Not that it was bad, per se, but the area wasn’t quite as well arrange for families as the last place.  The sites we selected were near each other, but much more forested than St. Francois from the previous year.  That also meant that Calvin, who wasn’t a great “walker” quite yet, found it much easier to trip on tree roots and rocks, and wander out into poison ivy with relative ease.  Also, we effectively had two separate camp sites, as the map we’d looked at wasn’t exactly clear on the position of the two locations, ultimately putting our tents about as far from each other as possible.

There was a very limited playground, but it wasn’t within walking distance.  There weren’t really other activities available either, aside from hiking, but again, when you’ve got small kids, that isn’t a great option.  At Calvin’s and Meg’s age now, we’d probably have a better time, but back then, it wasn’t ideal.

DSC_0039

I should note that we did have fun visiting!  This state park just wasn’t our favorite, I suppose.  Early June was a little on the warm side, but not unbearable.  Being deeper in the woods meant that the breeze wasn’t exactly…er…breezy…but we got something.

Anyway, we’d probably go back someday, but it isn’t all that close to our house (Jackson is mostly off the highway, but we have to drive a very round-about way to get there from here), so it will probably be awhile before we’re back in that area of the state.

Garden Update: Mid-September

That's all she wrote...
That’s all she wrote…

Now that September is nearly over, the garden’s pretty much done for the year.  This past week, the highs were still in the low 90s and the sun stayed out, so we ended up turning a few more tomatoes red than I expected to, but overall, we’re in a “down year” for our tomato crop.  The corn has dried out pretty effectively, though we haven’t tested the kernels to see if they “pop” as they’re supposed to.

img_20160911_163844813_hdr

The peppers have mostly died out, though the coyame peppers keep on producing. Brooke’s been spending most of her garden time dehydrating peppers, then dicing them up to make pepper flakes (for some unknown, future purpose…). The margaret peppers never really did much, though we did get some peppers off them.  The peppers definitely produced, but I just don’t remember getting all that many off the plants.  This is probably because margaret peppers are intended as “red” peppers, so I wasn’t picking them in their “green” state.  As such, sometimes they’d shrivel up before we’d get to them.

A few 'maters in there...soooooo many peppers...
A few ‘maters in there…soooooo many peppers…

The coyames, alternatively, turn red and then stay red for awhile, giving us the time to pick them.  Of course, they’re hot peppers, so not exactly the kind of thing I’m going to slice up and slap onto the grill.  Oh well.

Pumpkins!
Pumpkins!

The pumpkin story is yet to be completed. The plants died out pretty rapidly, leaving behind at least 15 little orange pumpkins. Beetles got to them, but I think we’ve still got a few viable ones out there. Brooke tried spreading some Sevin on them, as that was a pesticide that she could carefully avoid contaminating bees with, but we aren’t sure how much it helped.  We’ll see, I guess…

Herb(s)!
Herb(s)!

The basil took over the herb garden.  Lavender, oregano and lemon balm are still doing quite well, but weeds have invaded this area of the garden.  The sunflowers aren’t looking great anymore, but I think Brooke is planning on using them for something.

Overall, I think the “herb garden” was pretty successful this year, though processing everything else has detracted from our use of it.  Which is to say, there’s a lot of fresh stuff in there, but Brooke needs to spend more time dehydrating oregano and basil for later use, and less time dehydrating peppers.  Still, a good problem to have!

Trees!
Trees!

I wanted to include another picture of the trees, as they’ve done remarkably well.  The pear trees are still lagging behind the others, as they got hit by Japanese beetles, but the trunks have grown quite a bit in recent weeks, so I think they’ll make it through the winter and come through stronger than ever for next year.  I can’t remember if we should see fruit yet next summer, but I can at least plan for the trees to survive

Meat! ...wait...what?
Meat! …wait…what?

We ended up getting access to some “pork ends” from a co-worker of mine.  $20 for 60 lbs of leftover cuts.  Some of it was definitely better than others, but Brooke ended up grinding 20 lbs of it by hand (then vacuum sealing it and freezing it), followed by some additional portions she saved for cutting up (i.e. various purposes), and lastly the leftover “fatty” portions for rendering.  If I recall, she ended up getting maybe 4 lbs of fat off what she saved.

...quite a bit of processing went down...
…quite a bit of processing went down…

It brought back some memories for Brooke, who used to work behind a meat counter.  I’m not sure she’d like to do this all the time, but for the money, we ended up getting quite a bit of usable pork to use this winter.

That’s probably it with regards to “garden updates” for 2016!  The highs this next week are in the 70s, so while we’ll get a few more tomatoes to ripen, it certainly won’t reach the heights of tomato juice production we’ve had in past years.  Brooke has a few buckets frozen downstairs, but again, I don’t anticipate she’ll get more than a few quarts.  Perhaps we’ll be pleasantly surprised…

State Park #2: St. Francois 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.

DSC_0116
A brisk morning…

We visited St. Francois State Park way back in April of 2013.  Meg had recently turned 3-years-old and this was among her first camping trips (though not her first, because we went to Minnesota about 7 months before this), and probably our second time using our massive “new” Coleman tent.

We took this trip with the Montgomerys, from church, and another couple they knew from work.  It’s been awhile, so I’m thinking back on this particular camping trip and I remember it being quite cold!  Meg, Brooke and I were there alone for Friday night and it dropped to near freezing.  I remember reaching into the second room to make sure Meg was breathing and warm multiple times during the night, so we didn’t sleep all that well.  The second night was markedly warmer, though the other folks who joined us for the trip complained about being cold.  We’d already seen the worst of it, so Saturday night was relatively balmy for us!

With regards to the park itself, they had a healthy number of nice hiking trails that suited our abilities well.  We had Meg strapped to our backs, but thankfully, the trail we went on was mostly level, so it wasn’t all that strenuous.  It also went along a creek for a good portion, so that provided Meg with something interesting to look at while we were moving about the park.

One of my all-time favorite shots...
One of my all-time favorite shots…

The park also had a pretty good playground close to where we were camping, at least within walking distance.  Most of the facilities were close to our camping site too, and everything was clean and accessible.  Meg was potty trained by this point, but we were still having to work with her a bit on sitting on an actual toilet, rather than sitting in an outhouse.

We didn’t really take advantage of any nature talks, at least not that I remember.  I’m sure they were offered, but we were likely busy enough trying to wrangle Meg that we didn’t pay much attention to them.  Firewood was easily accessible, so we’d have to go on some field trips to either buy or find some.

DSC_0113
That Saturday morning was cooooooooold!

Another nice thing about this park was the open areas near the camp site.  With some other places we’ve stayed, the camp sites were deeper into the forest, leaving little “play areas” for young kids to run around without tripping over tree roots or rocks.  The location for the camp site had a nice, open, grassy area across from the tents, so it was easy for the kids to kick a ball or run around the tents.  The adults could also see the kids from a substantial distance, so they couldn’t go hiding behind a tree or anything without us noticing.

One of the other things Brooke and I remember about this park was that Meg, Latham and Ellis played in our tent for hours on Saturday afternoon.  The sun was out, the weather was nice, and the tent had a door that the kids could open on their own.  They’d run around it, move toys in and out of the screened-in area, and they’d be yelling and screaming with delight.  Sure, it got kinda annoying for us (and dirt on our sleeping bags…), but they entertained themselves for a lot of this trip, giving us a nice reprieve from our normal weekend activities.

Meg and Latham playing in the tent.
Meg and Latham playing in the tent.

Overall, we have fond memories of this park.  Compared with some others we’ve attended, this one seemed particularly well-suited to young kids, something we probably didn’t appreciate until we went to some other state parks that weren’t as well organized for such things.

Garden Update: Mid-August

IMG_20160814_161041158

I realized I hadn’t posted an update since late-June, so I figured I ought to add some more pictures.  Overall, the garden’s finally starting to yield some produce.  It sure looks healthy, for the most part, though we’re still in waiting mode for many parts.  The pumpkins took over this section of the garden, and have continue into the rest of the yard.  There is a single watermelon plant somewhere in there, but considering how voracious the pumpkins have been, I don’t expect them to make much.  We’re having to keep the pumpkins out of the tomatoes, so keeping an eye on their growth has almost become a full-time job…

Popcorn!
Popcorn!

The corn has tasseled and has some ears on it, finally.  Brooke pulled up the carrots weeks ago, so she planted some peas on the other side of the corn in hopes they’ll do something for the Fall.  There are some little plants growing slowly, but it’s still too soon to tell if we’ll get anything out of them.

Peppers, tomatoes, etc.
Peppers, tomatoes, etc.

The coyame pepper plants have gone insane.  These were some free seed packs from Monsanto that we inherited and, believe you me, those geneticists know what they’re doing.  They’re similar in hotness to jalapeños, so Brooke will probably end up drying them and grinding them into chili powder.  The margaret peppers we planted aren’t doing quite as well, though we’ve still harvested a few.  They’re closer to regular ol’ bell peppers.  That sad little wilty plant in the middle of the picture is a margaret pepper plant and we’re trying to keep ‘er going.  It’s got some peppers on it still that we’d like to continue with.

The bean plants in the background are also moving alone.  The green beans are mostly done at this point.  We ended up with around 2 gal of fresh green beans that we ate on as we picked them.  We’ve still got cans of beans downstairs from previous summers, so Brooke wasn’t quite as ambitious this time around.  The soup beans are coming along nicely, and the edamame (read: soybeans) are producing a metric ton, so we expect to do pretty well on that front.

Some beans and such from last week.
Some beans and such from last week.

Otherwise, the tomatoes are still coming along, albeit slowly.  They really got hammered by the hail a few months ago and it seems like that hampered their growth on the north side.  There’s also something eating them that we haven’t been able to identify.  It isn’t squirrels or rabbits, but likely some kind of caterpillar or other insect, as we’ll find random holes through all the good ones.  Still, it seems like that’s slowing down and we’re starting to get them now.  If they continue, we should end up with a healthy number of roma tomatoes and other “slicer”-varieties.

Herbs!
Herbs!

Lastly, the basil, lemon balm and oregano really took off since the end of June, let alone the sunflowers.  The lavender has slowed down quite a bit, and the lettuce is done.  The comparable picture from June of this section of the garden sure looks sparse!

That’s good for now.  Weeds are slowing down and we’re having to supplement our watering now, which isn’t too surprising.  We ended up with 4 in of rain last week when we got back from our vacation, but the ground drank it all up and we had to water again shortly thereafter.

I should also note that Brooke’s been using Sevin dust on various leaves to kill off the Japanese Beetles that are still going after our plants, especially one of our peach trees.  We’re finding them on some other leaves too, but Brooke’s trying to keep it away from the flowers so she doesn’t influence the bees.  For now, the trees are fine, but we’re having to keep an eye on them.