Review: Captain America – Civil War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Then There Were Two…

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

Back in early November, 2014, I wrote

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side-view
Side-view

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

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

Garden Update: Early-May

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

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

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

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

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

Radishes!
Radishes!

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

Blackberries and raspberries.
Blackberries and raspberries.

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

Trees!
Trees!

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

Back of the house
Back of the house

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

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

Some Spring Break Work

Garden 2.0
Garden 2.0

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

Some new plots...
Some new plots…

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

Moved some appliances!
Moved some appliances!

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

Garage 2.0
Garage 2.0

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

SOOOOOO much better...
SOOOOOO much better…

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

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

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

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!