Catching Up

So yeah, haven’t posted since September…..guess we’ve got some stuff to catch up on, eh?

Honestly, there’s been so much going on, I haven’t really known what to put up on the blog. The garden was done and we were all just doing day-to-day stuff at work, school, or around the house. One of many issues with an ongoing pandemic is that there are fewer milestone events worth mentioning for the record, as we find ourselves just figuratively treading water and trying to go from one day to the next. I’ll just recount some things about the last few months, though…

First of all, no infections in our little family of four, thankfully. The kids have only gone to stores like Walmart a few times, but we’ve mostly kept them at home unless there was a reason to take them alone (e.g. birthday presents, going to JCPenney for annual portraits, etc.). Any time we go anywhere, we’re still masked up, though around Marshall, many folks have gotten much more lax about it. Likely, this is why COVID cases have skyrocketed around here in recent weeks/months, though that’s true for Missouri and, frankly, the rest of the country, too.

However, the kids have been in and out of school, which has been a challenge to deal with. Their school district shifted to distance learning twice (now they’re in it for the rest of 2020, but plan to start in-person in early January), and Meg’s class has been quarantined twice this semester, so there were times where Calvin could go to his school, but Meg had to distance learn from home. Somewhat surprisingly, they’ve handled the back-and-forth shockingly well. We’ve left Meg mostly to her own devices in completing her work on Google Classroom and she got an award (and free pizza) for doing so well. Calvin has done well, too, but as a first grader, he just needs more engagement than a screen can provide. Still, both of our kids routinely say that they are in their daily Google Meet sessions with less than half of the rest of their class that is supposed to be there, so while my kids are doing alright, I know that there are countless more in our community and in the country as a whole that aren’t. We’re just lucky that our work schedules allow for a little more supervision and engagement as parents than some other families have.

On my end, the semester ended before Thanksgiving, which is crazy when you think about what a normal college schedule looks like. I ended up dealing with multiple students who were in and out of quarantine, which made it difficult to figure out when exams, lab practicals, and assignments could happen. Our school moved to a new LMS this semester, so I’ve been trying some new things in order to mitigate some of the scheduling issues. Overall, my students didn’t do as well this year as they’ve done in the past, so I’ve been trying to reevaluate the way I did things this past semester and see if I can make some improvements going forward. I guess that’s something I’m constantly reviewing anyway, but since I’m using the new LMS, I’m finding new tools that I didn’t use last semester but will use this time, so that’s at least kinda interesting.

A few months ago, Brooke scaled back her hours at work so she could start looking toward getting some counseling hours in toward her LPC. Working full time just doesn’t allow for the additional 15 hours a week that are required to actually get that certification in, so she’s taking a much needed break right now and will likely start getting those hours in once the new year starts. It’s been helpful having her around with more flexibility, as I could stay late for a meeting while Brooke could get home with the kids to make sure they were on a call at the right time, or get their lunches made, and so forth. The added flexibility has helped alleviate the stress we would otherwise be experiencing right now!

Last, but not least, Charlotte and Sam are getting along much better now. She’s been chasing him around a bit and, for the most part, he isn’t fighting back all that hard. Kinda an older brother being pestered by their significantly younger sibling, I guess. She’s also getting fatter…but not particularly bigger?

In closing, all I can say for sure is….I’m ready for things to get back to normal…..ug…….

Kayaking Adventures

Since our vacation plans were derailed this year (we were supposed to have been in Yellowstone last week……ug…..), we’ve tried coming up with some fun alternatives that will still be memorable for the kids. A few weeks ago, Brooke and I took our inflatable kayak that we got last summer down a stretch of the nearby Lamine River. It’s a little less than 6 miles and took us about 3 hours to do it, but three weeks ago, the river had more water in it and was moving a bit faster.

Brooke looked into getting a youth-size kayak for Meg to use, so Calvin and I could just use our inflatable, and Meg and Brooke could use traditional fiberglass versions. They checked around, thought there were some at Walmart in Sedalia, drove down….didn’t find any at the store….and essentially, it sounds like most places are out of kayaks. It sounds like everyone else is thinking the same thing we are: fewer vacation options, so find stuff to do closer to home, and kayaks are a relatively cheap option for that.

Well, once we figured that out, Brooke tried ordering another one of our inflatable kayaks from Amazon, but those were back-ordered (again, the aforementioned “everyone is buying them all the sudden,” but also “harder to get things shipped in from China). Thankfully, they over-estimated the back-order and a second kayak arrived on Friday. Yesterday’s weather was less pleasant, so we ended up going today.

Overall, the kids did pretty well! We tried to warn them that this was a pretty “lazy river,” so it wasn’t a particularly fast float. The novelty of kayaking wore off pretty quick, so Brooke and I ended up doing most of the paddling, though Meg and Calvin would have their moments where they wanted to actually help out a bit. We brought along some snacks and drinks, so we could slowly release those here and there to keep them occupied.

By the time we were done, it took about 3.5 hrs of paddling, and all things considered, the kids did alright in that period of time sans screens and other entertainment. Brooke and I were both pretty tired by the time we got to the end, so it’ll probably be an early bedtime tonight.

In the end, it was very tiring, but we’re still glad we did it! We may want to hold off on doing a “camp and float” trip, but now that the kids have a better understanding for just how long this can take, maybe they’ll have realistic expectations when we propose: ‘hey, wanna go on a float trip?’

State Park #9: Knob Noster 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.

Brooke reminded me that we actually went to another State Park last October and I totally forgot to post about it!

Knob Noster State Park is out near Warrensburg, MO, so it’s a relatively short drive for us. We were looking for a quick hiking trip on a nice day where we could see some pretty Fall leaves, so we made the trip for the afternoon.

Honestly, we didn’t do a whole lot and there wasn’t a ton to see, at least not that I remember. There was a trail that we used to hike around a pretty late, so the bulk of our time there was spent hiking. Calvin was able to get around the whole lake, but he wasn’t particularly speedy…

The aforementioned lake seemed nice and would probably be good for fishing and kayaking, but as we didn’t bring any of that equipment along, we couldn’t make use of it. There’s a campground associated with the park, of course, but we didn’t check it out. It seemed like there were quite a few people there on that particular day, including some groups getting pictures taken with the lake in the background.

Really, the most fun we had was crossing a shallow part of the lake that had some neat rocks for the kids to jump across. Pretty sure we spent 15 minutes just walking across them, back and forth, back and forth…

So yeah, there are a lot of trails there and it’s probably worth revisiting sometime, but hiking and fishing seem to be the biggest attraction to that particular state park. It’s close, at least, so maybe we’ll camp there sometime, but I bet we’ll keep on hitting the other state parks instead!

Garden Update: 07.26.19

I did…so much stuff today

I kinda buzzed through my lawn care work last week before heading off to Smoky Mountain NP (more on that next time), so I had some catch-up (ketchup?) work to do today. Thankfully, the weather has been pretty mild, so things could have been work for the amount of stuff I had to do…

Firstly, I finally dug up the carrots. We ended up with a overfilled ice cream bucket full of them, and many of them were a pretty substantial size. Others, however, were ridiculously small for how long they were in the ground. Right now, I’m not sure how “worth it” carrots are for next year: we got quite a few of them, but they were planted months ago and took up space that could have gone to other things. We’ll just have to see how they taste, I suppose…

The green beans are about done, too. Brooke has canned around 20 pints of beans this year, which is similar to our usual haul. We’ve also given away some and eaten them fresh, so as usual, the green beans have done wonders for us.

But yeah, they’re not filling as well as they did a few weeks ago, so we may pick a few more here and there, but we’ll probably let them finish up.

The peppers are still growing very, very slowly, so I’m not optimistic on their chances. We’ll keep working on it, but I don’t think I’ve seen any flowers on them yet. Ah well…

I also weeded some of the second plot. Brooke planted some flowers that needed some TLC, so I worked through them first. The black beans she planted are also looking great, but aren’t flowering yet, either. The cucumbers came on pretty quick and we picked two of those the other day. Calvin’s excited!

After that, I tied up the tomatoes. They’ve started producing finally, but we’ve only had a few ripen for us.

We’ve got some volunteer grape tomatoes growing in another plot that we’ve been going after, though we’re still waiting for them to come on strong. We’ve only had, maybe, 10 or 15 of those tomatoes mature.

Other than the ‘maters, everything else is still doing it’s thing. The pole beans are growing quite a bit, but no beans yet. The blackberries produced a few two weeks ago, but we only got a handful (still more than usual…). The strawberries are probably done for the year, but they’ve been putting their shoots out and they’re continuing to proliferate.

The peaches are the real story of the summer, though. A few weeks ago, they started to turn, so Brooke coated them with kaolin clay and I kept hitting them with neem oil, both of which should be relatively bee-safe. Then, we picked a few and tried them out and they were pretty good! Again, this is the first time we’d actually gotten to try some, because the Japanese beetles consistently get them, so we were pretty happy to actually get some.

While I was gone at Smoky Mountains, Brooke picked a bundle of them! Again, the flavor was pretty good, but she found them to be a little “mealy” and difficult to extract from the pit (“clingstone” peaches?), but overall, pretty good.

Well, over the past few days, the beetles have gained a foothold… I’ll probably continue to apply neem oil for a little longer, but we’re thinking the peaches are probably done for now.

Still, we got our peaches, so I’m satisfied!

That’s it for now. The next update will probably involve a metric ton of tomatoes, if all goes well!

Blizzkrieg 2019

Early last week, they started forecasting snow for this weekend, but depending on which site you looked at or which day you checked, the estimate varied from 2 to 10 inches. Thankfully, most forecasts thought the bad weather would hit on Friday rather than Thursday, making it more likely it would head into the weekend, therefore not disrupting work or school.

It turned out that a Winter Storm Warning went into effect at noon on Friday. With everything heading in, Calvin’s school (and mine…) were called at noon and Meg’s at 1:00. Brooke new the bad weather was coming and “battened down the hatches” at work, so she was ready to come home a little early, too. I went ahead and hit up the Y before picking up Calvin so I wouldn’t feel the need to run on Saturday.

The snow started right around noon on Friday…and kept going…and going…and going… We had maybe 4 inches late-afternoon on Friday before settling in for the night. By morning, we had 8 inches on the ground.

And it kept going from there.

About mid-morning, Meg and Calvin were invited over to a friend’s house to sled and make snowmen. With the depth of the snow, I wasn’t sure how sledding would go, but they packed it down well enough to get a few good runs in. Otherwise, the temperature was in the low-30s, so they still had fun just messing around.

Brooke and I drove out to their house twice, so we got to head around town a bit. Odell was fine, but our street was…bad. Thankfully, the Forester handled it like a champ, though it did struggle in our alley a bit. The slush in the intersections was difficult to get started in if you were moving slowly, and we ran into a few drivers that caused us to come to a complete stop. The second time around, we drove in from the northern end of the alley, and that was the better call. We also ended up helping to push a few cars, getting them moving again.

After coming home, we did lunch and rested a bit before going back out later.

Eventually, we clocked at least 12 inches in the alley, though it continued to snow more as it went along. I don’t know the official tally, but when I looked out the window a bit ago, my driveway was covered….again… I wouldn’t be surprised if we had over 13 inches.

Anyway, the kids went outside again later in the afternoon, so I watched them from the window while playing on the Switch. Much warmer that way… 🙂

The last time Brooke and I saw this much snow, we lived in Iowa. The crazy thing is, we apparently recorded 10.7 inches that day in early February, so this was more by a substantial amount. Granted, the snow drifts up in Iowa were considerably taller than anything we had here, but still.

Hopefully we’ll get more sledding in tomorrow! Who knows if they’ll have school on Monday – probably depends on how many rural roads get cleared tomorrow. Regardless, we had fun today! The kids loved the ridiculous amount of snow!

New Year, New You II

So, this post gets a “II” because, technically, I already used that post title back in January, 2016, and frankly, I’m too lazy to come up with anything more clever…so it’s a sequel.

To be fair, it’s probably worth an update, 3 years later. Back then, we had just picked up the bicycle trainer in hopes that we would use it. We actually did use it a fair amount that year, and a little the winter after. But then I started running quite a bit more and didn’t use it at all last year. These past few seasons, we’ve set it up downstairs, but Brooke only uses it periodically, mostly because it’s cold and boring down there. Brooke found that, earlier in the Fall, she’d stay on the bike longer if she had a magazine available to read while she was doing it, but for the last month with the holidays, it’s been harder and harder to get down there.

Today, we renewed our YMCA membership. Summer 2015 was the last time we used it, back when we thought Meg would do summer camp (note: she hated it). We let it lapse and haven’t looked back, but recently, in an effort to get some more exercise in, we opted to renew it because they run a sign-up deal in January like many other gyms do. Mostly, Brooke’s thinking that she’s more likely to get some exercise in if we set up a routine where the whole family goes: Brooke and I go to work out and the kids get to play in the ball pit play pen area they’ve got set up on the main floor. For my part, though i get plenty of jogging in (more on that in a moment), I’d still like to get more upper-body workouts in, so this gives me an excuse to go a few times a week to lift some weights.

Anyway, Brooke will probably check out some of the organized workouts for adults, and we’re still investigating if the kids are interested in any sessions. We may spring for swimming lessons before this summer, but we haven’t decided quite yet. At the very least, as Calvin is aging out of preschool, he’ll be home this summer and it’ll be a lot easier for me to keep up my jogging if I can drop him off at the Y while I work out or jog on the treadmill.

Speaking of jogging, the picture above is from yesterday when the weather was 63 F. On January 7th. In Missouri.

No, climate change totally isn’t real. Obviously.

I slowed down over the break, but was able to pick it up a bit in the last week. I’m trying to stick to a 20 mi per week average, but in an effort to “catch up,” I pushed it a little more this week.

Anyway, the temperature was awesome and I got to run in the afternoon, which usually goes better for me. I started out with a 7:22/mi average early on, which was a good 20 sec/mi faster than I ran last week, so that already felt great. I kept pushing it as fast as I could, slowing down a little bit toward the end, but still maintaining a 7:26/mi average over 6.2 mi (10k). In the end, I did it in 46:28 min, which is utterly spectacular for me.

Did I say I ran in a T-shirt and shorts? In early January? In Missouri? Seriously.

After I ran, I grilled some brats and hot dogs. Because it was 63 F. In early January. In Missouri.

And they were delicious.

…after I put them on the grill for a few minutes longer because it got dark and it was hard to tell…because…it’s early January

Treats!

This is the second year I’ve tried my hand at making some Christmas “cookies.”  I always call them “cookies,” but there’s really no baking involved.  Still, these are treats that my Mom used to make when we were growing up, but when we were gone for college, she slowed down on her cookie making, largely because we weren’t around to help eat them.

Regardless, I missed them and I wanted my kids to get the same treatment, so I started to make them last year when I had off for Christmas break.  Thus, here we go again.

The ones pictured up top are almond bark-covered Oreos.  I also put some peanut butter between Ritz crackers and dipped those, as well.  The fun part about making both of them is that it can be challenging to figure out which is which, as they’re about the same size and shape.  

I actually dipped Oreos and pretzels a few years ago back in St. Louis, but ended up burning the almond bark by trying to microwave it.  I just couldn’t figure out the right settings to melt the chocolate without having to stir it every 30 seconds.  Then last year, I tried it using a double boiler method and believe you me, it works wonders.  I suppose it takes a little longer than it does in the microwave, but I have yet to burn anything, so I figure it’s worth it.  I used the double boiler for just about everything I made this year.

The holly candy (above) is corn flakes, marshmallow, corn syrup and green food coloring.  It isn’t too terribly hard to make, though getting the shape right can be a little tough.  I think I did a better job this year of mixing everything, so the candy held together a bit better rather than falling apart a flake at a time.

The chocolate-covered rice krispie treats are also a favorite of mine, though I always forget that they aren’t technically rice krispie treats, in the traditional sense.  Sure, they’ve got most of the hallmark ingredients (like, you know, rice krispies…), but they lack marshmallows, which ends up leaving them a bit drier.  The topping, though, mixes chocolate and butterscotch chips together (also in the double boiler).

This was my first year trying to make chow mein noodle candy.  These are similar to what Brooke’s family has (haystacks), but my family always put marshmallows in there.  I ended up adding a few extra noodles to the mix, as I thought they looked a bit over-marshmallow-y (sure, that’s a word…), so we’ll see in the finished product whether I got the mix right.  I haven’t tried them yet.  Brooke had me make some her way, but we’ll save those for next weekend when we head to Hannibal.

Anyway, it doesn’t take all that much time to make them and I certainly like eating them.  If anything, the cleanup takes longer than the “making” part takes. 

Meg’s been eyeing these treats for a few days now and I haven’t let her have any.  I’m terrible. 🙂

Christmastime is Here!

So, it’s Finals Week at school and I’m procrastinating in my grading by posting pictures of this past weekend.  Just sayin’.

I put up the Christmas lights the Sunday after Thanksgiving (in the rain, I might add…), but we didn’t turn them on until late last week when it was closer to actually being December.  This weekend after we got the tree, I put the LED “flicker” candles in the windows.  Every year, I love seeing them up in the attic windows…

We got our tree this past weekend, again under threat of bad weather.  Calvin was actually feeling a bit sick, so we made him go with us, but he stayed in the car.  Brooke thought we should try and get a straighter tree this year rather than buy a new tree stand (last year’s tree had some “issues” staying upright…), and the tree lot we tend to go to keeps their best ones pre-cut and covered for easy browsing.  Meg and Brooke picked the one they liked the best (a Fraser Fir this year) and we hauled it off on the Forester.

By the time we got home, Calvin was feeling a little better.  He and Meg hung out for a bit while we waited for the tree to dry off from the rain (again…it’s Precipitation City here in Missouri this year…).  After a bit of unloading, I carried the tree in and put the new Christmas lights on it that Brooke picked up on sale at the end of last season.  These are bigger “bulb”-style lights, but they’re really just a plastic cover around a small LED.  Still, they look nice!  The kids helped out with hanging the ornaments…and then we had to rearrange the ornaments after they only hung them in the very front and below the 4′ line of the tree…  

In the end, it turned out pretty good!  The tree’s about 8′ tall, so the star doesn’t quite fit in the bay window perfectly.  We pulled it out a little bit, but it still looks great from the street outside.

This year also saw the addition of a new tree upstairs, also a pick-up from a sale at the end of last Christmas.  It’s a 4′ fake tree the kids can keep upstairs to put some of their ornaments on.  We actually put it up Thanksgiving weekend to tide Brooke over until it was time to put up the real thing.

We’ve got most of our presents purchased this year already and Brooke’s been busy with the wrapping.  She took care of Christmas cards before Thanksgiving for the first time ever, but as I’m in the throes of Finals, I won’t be addressing them until this weekend at the earliest.  Still, I think we’re ahead of most folks this season!  Since we’ve had at least 5 snowfalls this year (including a small one this morning…), it’s felt like Christmas for weeks now, even though it’s only December 4th.

The house at least looks more like Christmas now, too!

Garden Update: Late-September

So, being honest for a moment: I put these pictures in here earlier in October and forgot about it.  I’m a little late, but the garden hasn’t changed all that much in the last week, so oh well: it is what it is.

Aaaaannnyway, we’ve mostly shut down the garden for the year.  At this point, I’m still going out a few times a week to grab cherry tomatoes for Meg’s and my lunches during the week.  There are some full-size tomatoes still coming on, and we’ve still got peppers out there, but we’re only going out there when we feel like it, or when we need something for some reason.

Brooke picked the popcorn.  We got some this year, but nowhere near what we got two years ago.  She noticed a squirrel attempting to carry an ear up one of our maple trees a few weeks ago, so we know various pests also went after them.  Still, we got something, so it could have been worse.  The bean plot has some of last year’s straw bales on it to try and limit the growth of weeds, but other than that, we’re leaving that entire plot alone now.

The tomato and pepper plots are still moving, to a limited degree.  Somehow, earlier last week, we ended up with 80+ F temperatures before it started getting cooler.  The low tonight is supposed to be 38 F, so we’ve had a big swing in the last week!  We’ve also had some rain, so I should probably mow…er…sometime…

Earlier in October, Brooke picked as much as she could handle and ended up with quite a few tomatoes.  She’s pretty sure she’s canned over 20 pints thus far, though she put these tomatoes pictured here in the freezer until she’s ready to process them.  She expects that she can hit 30 pints by the time it’s all said and done, but the “official” count remains to be seen.

Our pepper crop ended up being pretty solid this year!  We didn’t get many traditional bell peppers, but the peppers we ended up with were still relatively mild and tasty.  

She ended up canning them after roasting them outside on the grill.  The roasting process was straightforward outside and provided the “real estate” to do all of them at one time.  Brooke brought them in and cut them all up and put them in small jars in the fridge.  I’m not entirely sure what she’s going to do with them, but I suspect they’d be good in a chili or on a pizza.  We’ll see!

Lastly, aside from the popcorn in the middle, here’s the soup bean and “pole bean” haul from this year.  Not a ton on any of their counts, but still: more than we had before.  We will definitely go with pole beans next year, but we haven’t decided whether to go with a more “prolific” variety, or whether we need to just add more arms to the teepee and get more plants going.  With regards to the soup beans, we knew going in that we weren’t planting as many as last year (we’ve still got some), but it just feels wrong to not plant them, so here we are.  We got something.  That’s what matters.

This post probably closes out this year’s garden posts for awhile!  I may do another wrap-up later after the sweet potatoes come up, but that doesn’t usually happen until we get closer to the freezing point (which is tonight…incidentally…who knows…silly Missouri weather…).  We had a good run in 2018!

Update (10/16/18): Rather than starting a whole new post about this, I figured I’d add a few pictures from yesterday.  Our first frost hit last night (a low of 29 F), so we picked the rest of the tomatoes and peppers that were out.

The tomatoes weren’t in the best of shape, but I got almost a “car wash bucket” out of them.  I’ll be sad to see the cherry tomatoes go this season, as I’ve been eating them in my lunch twice a week, but I suppose all good things must come to an end…

The peppers were in better shape, overall.  Lots of big ones and little ones out there.  Brooke’s going to freeze these after she slices and dices them and we’ll use them in chili, on pizzas, etc. I think our pepper haul was shockingly good this year, though I guess I can’t say for certain whether we got more than last year or not (I suspect so…).

Sometime in the next few days, Brooke will dig up the sweet potatoes.  That’ll close out the garden for 2018 for good!

My Legs Hurt

Ouch…

I went for a “long run” today, as the rest of the family were elsewhere and the weather was passable for part of a weekend (it’s snowing in KC right now…seriously…April in Missouri…).  I was hoping I could make it the full 13.1 mi today, but settled for breaching the “double digit” line for the first time.  I ran around much of Marshall, which is almost required when the town isn’t all that large, but I still only hit the 10 mi mark when I was within a block of our house on the return trip.

I spent much of the rest of the afternoon laying on the couch watching the Cardinals game, and as of now, it sure feels like I pushed those leg muscles to their limits.  I wouldn’t say it “hurts,” per se, but I feel my legs every time I stand up and move from room to room.  I’m interested to see what tomorrow brings…

I suppose I’ll need to step it up more slowly, but the next few weeks will get more convoluted due to various meetings and work.  Once we’re clear of school, I should have more time for these longer runs (and they’ll probably need to be in the mornings…I ordered a hat to keep my bald head from burning if I run in intense sun…).  Based on the time I put in today, I suspect that I’m on track to do a half-marathon in under 2 hours, and honestly, I think I could have finished it off today, but it probably wouldn’t have felt all that great tomorrow (or Monday, for that matter…).  Assuming I can keep on schedule, I’m pretty confident I can achieve a respectable time by October.