Garden Update: Early-July

Main view of the garden
Generic garden shot

Just a brief update about the garden, as it’s been a few weeks.  We’re making more progress getting the concrete bricks lined around the plot(s) and hope to have most of them surrounded in the coming days.  Brooke picked the peas and dug up the carrots a few weeks ago and planted more corn in its place.  However, the rain over the past few weeks has been ridiculous.  Literally, 4 in of rain fell in 2 hrs one night last week, leaving a lake where the new corn was just about to come up in the garden.  Thankfully, it looks like at least some of the sprouts survived and we’ve got plants coming up…

Also, the green beans and soup beans are coming up well, with buds on the green beans already.

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From left-to-right: green beans, pumpkins, broccoli. Soup beans in back.

In the middle of the shot above, Brooke’s got some pumpkins growing.  After the massive rainfall, they actually took off surprisingly well. She’s got 6 pumpkin plants in right now, and obviously they won’t be making much for awhile.

Broccoli!
Broccoli!

This is probably the most success we’ve had with broccoli.  We tried it in Iowa and got a little out of it, but the heads we’ve got right now are already looking larger than we remember from before.  It’s a bit late for broccoli, we think, so we aren’t sure we’ll actually end up with anything, but it looks good, at least…

Tomatoes!
Tomatoes!

The tomatoes are coming in pretty well, too.  Really, the one side is taking off, while the other (in the back) is moving a bit more slowly.  The ones in the forefront were in the ground sooner and were also larger when they went in, so it isn’t surprising.

More impressively, this is the first time we’ve successfully grown tomato plants from seeds.  Brooke got them started on our back porch months ago and they’re doing pretty well!  We’ve also got flowers on at least one plant.  I suspect we’ll have them showing up on more soon.

Raspberries and blackberries
Raspberries and blackberries

The berry bushes are moving slowly.  We don’t expect to get much out of them this year, though at least one bush has already produced some berries.  We put some mulch around them to make mowing a bit easier, as they’re taking their sweet time in betting big enough for me to see, but they’re moving along.  Next year, perhaps…

Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes

The sweet potatoes are also going a bit slowly.  We don’t really remember how quickly they went last year, but by the time we moved from St. Louis, it was like they’d taken over our garden.  It feels like they should be further along than they are, but oh well…they’re doing something…

Probably enough for now.  Hopefully by the time we get back from our vacation, we’ll have something to harvest!  …more likely, we’ll have tons of weeds…

Review: Inside Out

Inside Out

I took Meg to her second theater-based movie this past weekend, and her first in 3D.  She’s a fan of most Pixar movies and, while we weren’t originally keeping an eye on this movie (unlike Finding Dory), Brooke read a few blog posts suggesting that Inside Out may be helpful for young kids (girls, especially) to visualize their feelings, especially as young people tend to get rushes of emotion and don’t necessarily know how to deal with them, or how to express the complexity of what they’re experiencing.

Inside Out centers on an 11-year-old girl, Riley, whom we meet at birth.  At that time, we also meet Joy, her one and only emotion.  Over time, other emotions appear as Riley gets older: Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust.  Ultimately, these five emotions work together to help Riley navigate her life, frequently conflicting on how exactly Riley should be “controlled” in a given situation.  Sometimes Disgust needs to take over (when broccoli is presented to Riley), while other times, Fear is the one in control.  All of this action appears in a “Control Center,” of sorts, where each emotion works at a control board to control Riley, and new memories are formed and sent off for storage.

The action balances between Riley and her interactions with her peers and parents, and the emotions inside Riley’s head.  Without spoiling the finer points of the plot, the writers provide an interesting take on Riley’s entry into adolescence, giving the viewer an intriguing take on how a kid can go from jubilant and goofy, to morose and reserved.

As an adult, I can recognize this shift pretty clearly, as someone that went through it at some point in my life.  It’s intriguing to think back on how my emotions changed during the first decade-and-a-half of my life, where memories come from, how you forget things over time, how things just “pop in there” randomly.

Meg, however, didn’t get any of that.  At the age of 5, she simply isn’t aware of it yet.  Oh, she has emotional outbursts, but the experience of a 5-year-old is different from what was presented in the film.  She hasn’t gone to school yet.  She hasn’t had similar situations quite yet as what Riley goes through.  I suspect that she’ll appreciate it much more in the next few years, but right now, to her, it was “just a movie.”

Overall, I think it was really good.  It blew over Meg’s head, but I certainly appreciated it.  The voice actors they chose for each emotion were spot-on, between Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Bill Hader (Fear), Mindy Kaling (Disgust), and Lewis Black (Anger).  I don’t think they did much motion capture of the actors while reading these lines, but I saw them in each of the oddly-shaped cartoons as they spoke.

Hopefully, in a few years, Meg will appreciate it on different levels upon subsequent viewings.  I guess that’s as good a mark of a successful film as any.

Review: Jurassic World

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The first movie I remember seeing multiple times in theaters was Jurassic Park.  Pretty sure it was three times.  And I was 11.  I loved this movie and still think it holds up to a ridiculous degree, considering it’s over 20 years old and ushered in an era of CGI-based summer blockbusters.  Seriously, I picked up the Bluray last week and we watched it this weekend.  Those dinosaurs still look good, better than many other heavy CGI movies that come out today.

The sequels were “decent,” at best.  I don’t remember if I saw Lost World in theaters or not, but I know I didn’t watch Jurassic Park III until it was out for rental.  Neither movie had as good a story, and both of them started to try doing too much with their effects.  If I recall, many of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park III looked about as good as what you see on any given Saturday night on SyFy Channel.

Thus, the franchise died.  Until it was revived, over a decade after the third iteration, in the form of Jurassic World.  This movie all but retcons the middle two movies, returning 20 years later to Isla Nublar, which is now fully operational as Hammond’s dream theme park.  They have their own Disney World main street equivalent, roller coasters, hamster wheels that let you drive among stegosaurus, triceratops, and diplodocus – truly a spectacle.

As we’re quickly told by the park’s administrator, Bryce Dallas Howard, they have to constantly introduce new, scarier beasts to attract new guests to the park.  Thus, they have taken to genetic engineering (carried out by BD Wong, the only returning cast member from the original), combining multiple species of dinosaur into a single animal, named Indominus Rex.  Chris Pratt is brought in to consult on the enclosure for this fierce new dinosaur, followed shortly after by the escape of said dinosaur from said enclosure, leading the characters (and audience) on an epic chase through the island.  Indominus Rex is clearly intelligent and uses its genetically-endowed defenses to escape from its captors at nearly every turn.  InGen’s private military force, led by Vincent D’Onofrio, is brought in to try and contain the situation, though he has ulterior motives of proving that Velociraptors would make great soldiers in war zones to fight on behalf of the military.

Yeah, you read that right.  This is about the point where I couldn’t suspend my belief much more.

Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the movie (Brooke saw a movie with me!!!).  I caught myself smiling like an 11-year-old multiple times, any time I saw my “old friends” from the 1993 original, or they made some reference to the characters of that film.  It really was quite good fan service.  But I don’t think it was as good as the first one.  I suspect it’s because I’m biased toward the property I grew up with, and this new one is for a generation 20 years younger than me.  The two things that hold me back from loving this movie are the aforementioned Soldier Velociraptors, and the excess of CG effects.

First, the raptors.  Chris Pratt is on the island because he’s training 4 raptors to follow commands.  That part’s actually pretty cool.  He isn’t doing anything all that complicated with them, but he demonstrates that he can get in the cage with them and can get them to follow simple orders, but only to the extent a trainer could do so with a lion: they’re still very, very dangerous.  But D’Onofrio is there to get these raptors to follow orders, like “go chase that terrorist in Afghanistan,” and at this, I say “okay, that’s kinda nuts…why would you try to train a velociraptor, who were clearly smarter than the humans 20 years ago in the first movie, to act as soldiers?”  It just wasn’t believable for me.  I feel like the plot would have been stronger if Pratt was there training raptors for his own scientific ends, and D’Onofrio came in from InGen to solve the Indominus Rex problem, but they had no prior connection.  The same plot points could have been there without certain key scenes, while keeping all the awesome action scenes.

Secondly, the effects.  Overall, they were good.  We saw it in 3D here in Marshall, where the screen isn’t exactly IMAX, so perhaps I’m clouded by the less-than-stellar visual fidelity.  In short, many of these dinosaurs were obviously computer generated, whereas I’m still fooled by some of them in the original movie from 20 years ago.  Most of that comes from the fact that Spielberg used a mix of animatronics and computer animation to make a seamless experience, where each dinosaur felt huge and weighed down, adding to the realism.  CG has a problem when you integrate it with the “real world,” where the creatures seem to “float” unnaturally and gravity doesn’t actually affect them because they aren’t a real thing.  Animatronic animals from the original were actually quite heavy, and that showed when you watched the film – and the CG dinosaurs they used in certain shots were designed to match those animatronics in their slow, lumbering movements.  That wasn’t a problem in this movie, as nearly all of the dinosaurs were CG animated.  So while many of them shots looked really good in Jurassic World, there were others that pulled me out of the experience because I knew I was watching dinosaurs that weren’t really there, unlike the way I feel when I watch Jurassic Park.

Hopefully that just made sense…

Regardless, it was a great movie.  Brooke enjoyed Jurassic World quite a bit, but for my money, I prefer Jurassic Park so far as this franchise is concerned.  If anything, Jurassic World was spectacular fan service in the callbacks it made to the original, and certain aspects of the original they brought back to this movie to remind you of the magic you felt in 1993.  At least on that level, it completely succeeds.

Garden Update: Mid-June

The main garden area...
The main garden area…

It’s about time I updated everyone on how the garden’s going.  Again, we bought this place with the intention of taking advantage of the extra lot next door to the house with growing some fruits and vegetables, so we’ve been busy trying to get that going.

I say “trying” because rain has been something of an issue.  It seems like Marshall has been getting the brunt of the weather these past few weeks, with at least 10 inches falling since the last few weeks of May.  It has slowed down this week, though, giving us a chance to get some work done and let the sun come out to do its thing.

In the picture above, you can see the green beans pretty plainly in the middle of the garden.  Soup beans are planted in the bottom-left, and broccoli is slowly making headway in the upper-left.  The far-right has peas that are ready for picking, so we’ve been working on those a bit recently.  Our neighbors have been picking theirs for at least a week now, but they planted a bit earlier than we did.  The carrots have been in the ground about as long as the peas, though they still seem a bit on the small side.

Brooke also planted a row of corn where the radishes used to be.  I say “used to” because I pulled them up a few weeks ago.  Of all the things we planted, they were the only ones to really adhere to their prescribed schedule.  They grew pretty well, incidentally, as we got quite a few big ones!

Yes, that's a radish.
Yes, that’s a radish.

That row of radishes turned out pretty well, so I suspect we’ll move forward with them again next year, even though I’m about the only one in the house that likes them (Brooke will eat them on salads…Calvin just spits them out…).

In the background of the picture far above, you’ll also see an A-frame of sorts, where Brooke planted some sweet potatoes.  We haven’t grown any since we were up in Iowa, when Meg would eat them constantly.  We’ll see if we’re as successful this time around – at least we can make fries out of them…

Tomatoes and berry bushes...
Tomatoes and berry bushes…

The other garden plot still needs some work, obviously.  Lots of weeds growing in the front portion (where we still plan on putting some green pepper plants), but we finally got the tomatoes in a few weeks ago.  Brooke started most of them as seeds on our back porch using a heating pad she picked up from Menard’s, but I supplemented with some plants I stole from students at school (they left for summer…oh well…).  A few of those plants disappeared, likely due to rabbits or squirrels, so we’re having to keep them protected with milk jugs until they get big enough.

You’ll also notice the trellises we set up between rows of tomatoes.  We’ve tried a few different methods in the past and have never been all that happy with any of them.  Before we moved last year, we tried making A-frames using PVC pipes.  That generally worked, but a). the middle of the A-frame got zero sun, so no tomatoes grew, and b). we moved before we actually got to harvest anything…grrrr…  This time, we spaced things out a bit more and made two trellises, so we’ll see how they hold up.

In the background, you’ll also see a white frame where blackberries and raspberries have been planted.  I suspect we’ve got critters munching on them as well, but we weren’t expecting to get much out of those plants this year, anyway.  At least their root systems will get established this summer.

Lastly, in the top picture, you’ll notice we’re slowly surrounding the garden(s) with concrete blocks.  We’ve been making them using disposable aluminum cooking trays with leftover Quickrete from our other long-term project:

The concrete path we're making to the side of the house.
The concrete path we’re making to the side of the house.

We debated how to handle this, exactly, and went back and forth between stone pavers, a mulch path, and everything in between.  The problem with that spot is that grass doesn’t really grow there, tree roots are all over the place, and it gets really muddy after it rains at all.  So, we needed some kind of pathway to get from our backyard down to the side area where the garden is.

Brooke eventually found a concrete form that lets you make individual stones from Quickrete, so we’ve been slowly grabbing (heavy) bags and making stones when we get a chance (or when the sun comes out…which, again, has been an issue…).  It’s coming along alright, though the pathway isn’t exactly “uniform” in how each stone looks.  Once we’re done, we’ll spread some sand around it and try to fill in some of the gaps to make it look like they’ve been there awhile, or so they’re more integrated into the dirt.

I think that’s plenty for now!  I’m just hoping those tomatoes get going soon…getting hungry…

 

Boys and their Toys

Calvin and a lot of cars...many of them old...
Calvin and a few cars…

We’ve done our best to ensure that Meg and Calvin don’t get pigeon-holed into gender-specific stereotypes.  That is to say, “princesses” were largely avoided for the first few years of Meg’s life (can’t avoid them now).  We avoided pink clothes and toys for Meg early on (again…hard to avoid…).  There were some toys that Meg fell into, like “Julia” (her doll that she was inseparable from for a few years), that weren’t exactly “gender neutral,” but we also made sure Calvin had a doll to play with (which he largely hasn’t).  The idea was to allow them to choose the toys they want to play with without filling their rooms with princesses and superheroes, respectively.

Weirdly, though, Calvin likes cars.  Always has.

Our house is near a relatively busy road, so shortly after he started walking, he made his way near that street.  One of his first words was “cars,” followed shortly thereafter by “trucks.”  Many afternoons, waiting for Mama to get home, Calvin and I sat on the corner waiting for her to drive up, listening for cars about to come up over the hill.

Since then, he’s liked playing with toy cars (including two small ones he fell asleep with tonight), he likes watching rally car racing on YouTube, and he’ll even watch me play Gran Turismo 6 with a PS3 controller in his hand.

It’s just one of those things we think about.  With Meg, she’s started gravitating in the direction of princesses slowly over time as she’s met new friends, so now she has an interest (recently because of Sofia the First).  But Calvin’s one year old, so he doesn’t exactly have meaningful conversation about whether an STI is better than an Evo.

So is it inherent that boys must like cars?  Maybe.  I guess there are just some things “gender neutral” won’t work for.

A Return to Biking

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I used to do a decent amount of biking, in another life.  Growing up, we’d make relatively frequent treks to the Katy Trail in Rocheport, MO.  I also had a paper route, and for the most part, made my deliveries on my bike.  Once I went to college, after I moved off-campus my Junior year, I picked up a Trek 800 Sport to get around easier, and occasionally went mountain biking at Thousand Hills State Park near Kirksville, MO.

Since college, though, my biking has been pretty infrequent.  Brooke and I went a few times after we got married, as we were close to a decent biking trail in Affton, MO.  We also told ourselves that we’d bike the entire length of the Katy Trail back in 2006 (240 miles…and no, it totally didn’t happen…).  But after moving to Soulard, we got out of the habit.  Brooke actually rode her bike up in Iowa a few times with Meg, as there was a decent lake-side trail in Cedar Rapids to visit, but we still didn’t go biking as much as we’d used to.

Well, now that I’ve got more time in the summers, I figured it was time to get back in the habit.  Meg got a bike for her birthday, so in an effort to get her a bit more interested so she’ll actually learn to ride said bicycle, I figured I should get mine back up to snuff.  My poor Trek had been left outside for its first few years with me, so it wasn’t as well maintained as it probably should have been.  I took it by a local bike shop and had them do some updating to it: new brakes, new brake lines, new road/trail tires, and a new grip shift system.  It rides better than it has in a long time!

We live hear Sedalia, where the Katy Trail passes through, so I wanted to be able to take the kids down with me.  As Meg can’t ride her bike with training wheels nearly fast enough, and Calvin is a toddler, I looked into trailers to attach to my bike.  These things usually retail for around $500+ if you want a quality two-seat trailer, so I took to Craigslist to see what I could fine.  After a few tries, I snagged one in south Kansas City for about $175, which I thought was pretty reasonable.  It fits in the back of the Subaru, though I have to fold it down each time.

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Once folded, it’s actually quite compact.  In the image all the way at the top of the post, you can see how wide the thing actually gets.  The seat belts are pretty secure and it has various windows and shades that can be optionally installed depending on what the weather looks like that day.  Lastly, it also contains a rear compartment for picnic lunches, diapers, etc.  It should hold about 100 lbs, so Meg and Calvin can both ride it this summer, and potentially next summer depending on how much they grow.  Once Meg is actually riding her bike properly, then I can still keep Calvin in it until he’s ready to get on a two-wheeler himself.

I should note that I took the kids out for a spin in it when I brought it home this week.  They made me go out in it again after dinner, so I think they’re pretty pleased with it.  I think Calvin would have slept in it that night if I’d let him…

Speaking of the Subaru, the last piece of this puzzle involved getting the bikes from our house in Marshall to Sedalia.  We’ve tried various bike racks over the years and have never been happy with them on our hatchbacks: they simply never feel secure enough when you’re driving 70 mph down the highway, and one of us always had to keep an eye out the back window to make sure we weren’t going to cause an accident.

Thus, we made sure that the Forester had a roof rack when we bought it so that we could put bike racks up top eventually.  Actually, we want to put in a trailer hitch and then get a rear hitch bike rack, but that’s a $1000 (total) upgrade, so we opted against it for this summer.  Instead, I picked up a few Rockymounts roof racks on sale at Amazon.  They were pretty easy to install and, thankfully, are relatively easy to get a bike attached to.  Brooke isn’t quite tall enough to get a bike onto the roof of the Forester, so it’s one of those things I’ll always have to do (at least, until we get a trailer system).

IMG_20150527_155752402I’ll still be teaching in June four days a week, so I’ll probably take Calvin down with me on Fridays.  If Brooke is available, perhaps I’ll take her bike along and steal her away from work for an hour or so to get some fresh air.  Either way, I’m looking forward to getting back into biking, and hopefully getting the kids outside and away from the TV for a few hours each week.  :-)

Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

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June 28, 2014. That’s the last time I saw a movie in theaters (X-Men: Days of Future Past, in case you were curious…).  To be frank, the movie theater here in Marshall isn’t exactly stellar for seeing big blockbuster flicks.  Sure, it’ll work in a pinch, but my students tell me they can hear the other movies coming from adjacent screenings, so it isn’t really ideal…

Thus, as I’m now out of classes for the semester, I took a trip into St. Louis to see Avengers: Age of Ultron with a buddy.  I enjoyed the original movie quite a bit, so I’ve been looking forward to this one since trailers first debuted.  While the first movie was just about everything I wanted to see in a confluence of Marvel franchises, the sequel is a bit more convoluted.

As in the previous film, Age of Ultron is informed by events from the other Marvel movies, most importantly, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  The last remnants of Hydra are using Loki’s staff from the first Avengers movie (that they got from…somewhere…we aren’t told, though it’s kinda inferred, I guess…) to experiment on humans and the Avengers have “assembled” to get it back.  They reclaim the scepter after an encounter with new villains/heroes Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and then return to New York to celebrate.  In the process, Tony Stark discovers that the scepter has some unique properties that allow him to create an advanced artificial intelligence that, he hopes, could ultimately create machines to take over for the Avengers in defending Earth from threats.  He gets in over his head and Ultron is born: a robot capable of self-replication that can evade capture through the internet, who goes on to produce more machines in an effort to cleanse the Earth of a grave threat (i.e. humanity).

So, there’s four characters already.  We’ve also got the Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, Thor, Nick Cage, War Machine, Hawkeye, Maria Hill, Hawkeye’s random wife, Falcon, Vision, Peggy Carter, Hemidal and Dr. Selvig to bring into the mix.

Just ruminate on that list for a moment.  Each of those characters is attached to an actor, and not a “no name” actor.  They don’t just show up for cameos: they show up for reciting lines.  These are folks that generally command high dollar contracts and I can’t imagine what’s written into their Marvel Cinematic Universe contracts to get them all to show up in one movie.

Unfortunately, this is the main problem I found with it: there are simply too many people.  It’s all in service of putting them in their own movies (Captain America: Civil War, primarily), and they aren’t all in it for extended lengths of time (Falcon shows up twice…War Machine shows up a few times…).  That is to say, the screen time isn’t massive for many of these additional folks, but every time they appear, that has to take time from the main Avengers from the previous movie, and I think this film suffers from it.

The action and effects are still great (and yes, I think IMAX 3D was worth it for this one), and the story itself isn’t terrible, though it isn’t as strong as Winter Soldier was.  While Winter Soldier makes a pretty clear point about government spying and whether threats should be eliminated before they’re actually guilty of something, this movie dances around its themes a bit more abstractly.  It wasn’t quite as funny as the previous Avengers movie either, though there are a few chuckle-worthy moments.  James Spader is pretty great as Ultron, though it kinda feels like he’s off in the background a bit more than I’d prefer.  The film sets up the conflict between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers that’s going to come up in Civil War, though I think it’s yet another facet to pile up on top of an already large movie.  Lastly, Scarlett Johansson has some great scenes, but quite a few of them this time are spent as a love interest or damsel-in-distress, so I think her character has been turned back compared with her appearances in previous MCU movies.

Ultimately, I still enjoyed it.  There were some awesome battles there interspersed, especially toward the end (obviously) and they even did a decent job working in some Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. references.

I just hope Civil War, which is looking to be even bigger than this movie, will rein in all the guest appearances.  The guys that wrote and directed Winter Soldier (and did a great job) have Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War Parts I and II to hold together, so they’ve got their work cut out for them.

The Music Room

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When we were looking at this house, the main level had an interesting floor plan: it was very open with doors between the living room, the dining room, and this “extra room” that had a fireplace.  It was referred to as a “den” on the listing, though its bay window provided enough light that “den” didn’t seem right.
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This room also had some “extras” to it, specifically some additional woodwork that was not original to the house.  They made up a bench, a toy box, and a series of “cubbies” that you could stash a variety of trinkets in.  They didn’t look all that great to us, nor did the aged wall sconces, many of which didn’t work.  When we had the electrical re-done, we kept the sconces next to the fireplace, but had the others disconnected.

We decided to christen this space “The Music Room,” as we needed a place for all our musical instruments to go.  The guitars would go up on the walls, the drums would be put, er, somewhere, and we’d also put the kids’ downstairs toys (i.e. everything that isn’t in their rooms) in here.  Generally, we thought it would make a good play space for kids and adults.  But, the wallpaper and extra wood had to go.
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Brooke decided my Spring Break was a good time to get this started, so on March 13th, she took a day off of work and took a crowbar to the wood shelves.  We found red paint on top of old layers of wallpaper behind them.  Also, some plaster started to come along for the ride.  Lastly, the floors were covered in dirt, much of which we ultimately couldn’t remove (without taking a sander to the floor…).

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The wallpaper was hit-or-miss in its removal.  We had a series of metal scrapers to use, as well as a spray bottle of dilute vinegar to loosen up the layers of wallpaper.  And by “layers,” I mean four.  Oddly, there were two layers of the same wallpaper

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…the same wallpaper, mind you, that was lined up and matched.  Very weird.  You can tell how dark that outer layer was, likely caused by decades of cigarette smoking.  These outer layers weren’t all that much trouble, but the layers beneath this were more challenging.  In total, it took a few weeks to get all of it off.  We worked our way along the larger sections as best we could in the evenings, but weekends ended up being best, as scraping on the walls of the house tends to get a bit noisy when the kids are in bed.  I stopped jogging in the afternoons after 3:00 so I could come home and keep working on it before picking up the kids.6

Ultimately, the walls underneath weren’t in terrible shape.  We couldn’t remove the painted-over sections that were behind all the wood additions, as they were effectively sealed onto the wall.  Brooke used a “screen mesh-style” sander to smooth everything out as best as possible.  She also used a mix of plaster and joint compound to fill in the various holes in the wall.  In the pictures above and below, you’ll see circular patches where a wall sconce used to be, that Brooke filled in with either plaster or joint compound.  It just depended on how large the patch was.
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We tried to be somewhat careful about the woodwork that we wanted to keep, so Brooke made sure to use plastic tarps to cover the fireplace and other sections of the room.  The existing wall sconces didn’t put out much light, so we had to rely on them in the evenings, as well as a portable light fixture we brought in from the garage.
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Eventually, after all the patching was done, we took primer to the walls.  Lots of primer.  Especially in these corners, where we were trying to cover up the red painted-over sections of the wall.  We spent a few days priming to make sure we got good coverage.  Brooke also had some plaster to fill in at points, so we had to prime over that, as well.10

Brooke wanted to do most of the detail work…though, I was up on the ladder more.  Getting around that bay window took some extra effort, as the wallpaper was somewhat difficult to remove.
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The space above the fireplace cleaned up pretty well.  For some reason, it seemed like the paint roller wasn’t working very evenly, though we never figured out why.  It seemed like the previous owners played with joint compound a bit more than they should have, and laid wallpaper on it before the compound had finished drying.  There were a few spots on these walls that featured near impossible-to-remove sections of wallpaper…12

Finally, after about a week of priming, we put on the paint.  We went with a color that would be similar to the old color, but a bit brighter.  We also chose a color that was approved by the National Historic Registry, so it should be a color that was somewhat common at the time this house was built.13

Brooke spent a good afternoon on hands and knees scrubbing the dirt off the edges of the floor.  It definitely looks way better than it did on that first day after removal of the wood additions, but it’s still pretty noticeable.  However, we’ve put some stuff along these walls, so perhaps it isn’t that obvious.  When we have these floors refinished someday (after we don’t have a 1.5-year-old dropping things on it all the time), it’ll finally go away.

Also, notice that corner in the picture above.  That was one of the worst spots, where Brooke had to put a few layers of plaster and joint compound to fill in the gaps.14

The color during the day looked quite a bit nicer than it did at night!  Brooke also made some lace (and later sheer…) curtains to go over the windows.  In the picture above, they aren’t all around the windows yet, but the window facing the porch has it.

Also on that porch window, you’ll notice the toybox is still there.  That’s a pretty functional piece of woodwork that we keep toys in, and can eventually hold blankets, pillows, and whatever else someday.  Though it doesn’t match the rest of the wood in the room, it still fits the space pretty well.

The last thing to go up in the corner pictured above was the guitar holding system.  We looked into a few options but decided to get the slatboard music stores use to display guitars.  The main reason was so that we could add and remove guitars from the wall without tearing holes in it each time.15

The guitar display worked out pretty well, we think.  We primed and painted the panels the same color as the wall and positioned it at a level high enough to keep Calvin from it (for the most part…).

…also, we don’t know where that purple bin is going to go, yet…but it looks hideous and out of place in that room.  It’s got all of Meg’s craft stuff in it right now, so we need some kind of replacement…
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Here’s more of a “wide shot” of that section of the room, now with the sheer curtains over the bay windows, a bench Brooke picked up underneath the windows, the rug we used to have in the living room and moved into the music room, and the various instruments.18

The last section to finish was the fireplace, which involved finding something to go above it, and finally replacing the functional sconces in the room.  Brooke picked up the new sconces last week and we made my Dad install them on Mother’s Day (because it was Mother’s Day…so, Mom couldn’t do it…).

We couldn’t decide what to put above the fireplace, but Brooke found this canvas print that seemed to fit the vibe and color scheme we’d set up in the room.  We may eventually replace it, but honestly, it seems to fit pretty perfectly right now, so I suspect we’ll keep it for a few years.

That’s it!  Long process, long post!  We don’t really have anything else in mind for upgrades on the house in the near future, though sometime this summer, I’ll likely get started on the kitchen, which needs a serious fix-me-up…

Missouri Beer Festival

Lots of people at the Holiday Inn Expo Center
Lots of people at the Holiday Inn Expo Center

Brooke and Meg went to Girls Weekend at the Lake, as usually happens this time of year, leaving me all by my lonesome with Calvin.  Thankfully, my wonderful parents were thinking of my plight and Mom watched Calvin while Dad and I checked out the Missouri Beer Festival.  This event has been held for a few years now, switching venues once or twice as it has grown.  The Holiday Inn Expo Center is among the largest available in Columbia, as other options on the University’s campus, wouldn’t allow the sale of alcohol.

Overall, for $25, we were pretty impressed with the selection of breweries and beers.  The Festival opens at 1:00 pm (unless you lay $25 more for a VIP pass) and continues until 5:00 pm, yielding plenty of time to make your way around the Festival floor, trying the wares from the available breweries.  Though their website has mostly comprehensive list of the breweries that were present, there were others like Civil Life, Stone and Abita that were also featured.

As part of the deal, you were given a tasting glass, where each brewery would pour somewhere between 2 and 3 oz of beer for you to try.  Though this doesn’t sound like much, it certainly adds up over a 4 hour period.  They also had food available for additional cash, and believe you me, that BBQ smelled pretty great.  They also allowed voting for your favorite brew (apparently Rock Bridge won for their Option #2 beer), though the organizers took the ballots at 3:45 without announcing that they were doing so, and we weren’t quite ready to vote yet, so I guess we didn’t exercise our constitutional rights on this one…

Me, Dad and cousin Laura

Me, Dad and cousin Laura

The main thing I’d like to see corrected for next year’s event hinges upon the beer list.  When we’ve attended Schlafly’s events in years past, they provide you with a list of the beers and descriptions for each, thus allowing you to cross them off as you move through the stations.  It gives you a good sense of how many you had and which ones you liked.  For this event, you were provided with a list of breweries (and their locations on the Festival floor), but no list of beers.  Granted, you could always write that down, but with the complexity and length of some beer names, it’s not ideal.  I’m not sure how they could easily fix this, as some breweries won’t decide which beer to bring until the last minute, but surely there’s something they could do.  An 8×10 sheet of paper with all the beers listed, including style and alcohol content, would be just fine.  It would also allow me to seek out the beers I liked far more easily, rather than requiring me to try and remember (during an afternoon of heavy drinking…) which ones were awesome and which ones were just so-so.

Overall, we had a pretty good time.  We saw some familiar faces (Dad saw half of his office there…which was kinda crazy…), got to try some great beers, and had a pleasant time with a bunch of people we didn’t know.  I suspect we’ll be back next year, so long as our babysitter’s available.  :-)

A Beautiful Day

The lake at Van Meter State Part
The lake at Van Meter State Part

We haven’t had many absolutely gorgeous weekends lately, though we haven’t really had any terrible ones, either.  Still, we took advantage of the weather and went to Van Meter State Park again to get a picnic lunch in and a brief jaunt down the trail.  We went down a different section than the last time, heading down into a valley toward a lake set up for fishing, with a trail wrapping around it.

Calvin walking by the lake.
Calvin walking by the lake.

The trail is something like 0.6 mi long, and we didn’t get anywhere near that distance.  We didn’t deal with putting kids in backpacks or anything this time, so we tried getting Calvin to walk as best we could.  For the most part, he did fine, though part of the trail got a bit closer to the water than we’d prefer.

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Sitting on the dock.

We didn’t end up staying all that long.  Maybe an hour and a half or so.  I suspect Meg, Calvin and I will head back frequently this summer as an excuse to get out of the house and take in some fresh(er) air.  We walked back up the hill to the car (Calvin had to be carried by this point, and Meg wasn’t too happy about her feet…) and headed home.  Calvin took a nap after we got back, Brooke got some painting done, and I mowed the lawn.  Meg had a birthday party at 4:30, and while Brooke took her, Calvin and I got dinner going.

Filet and veggies.  Mmmmm.
Filet and veggies. Mmmmm.

In the end, I think we spent 8 or 9 hours outside today, soaking it all in.  Lots of productivity, lots of play time.  It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so I guess we’ll just have to remember today while we’re stuck in the house tomorrow.

Speaking of “the house,” the next post will hopefully feature our next upgrade.  Tonight, we were able to finish up the paint in “the music room,” though we have a little more work to do in mounting the guitars.  By midweek, we should be good to go.

Onward and upward!