30 April 2009

T-Ball

7 remarks
Upon Valerie's insistence, we signed Ari up for T-Ball this year. I was hesitant to do so because I thought he was too young, but you know how that goes. He had his first game on Saturday and he did great! I was so proud of him.












He went after every ball when he was on the field, and he hit the ball well both times he was at bat. The only thing we really need to work on is running the bases. He hasn't grasped that concept quite yet. But, he stayed with the team in the dug out and listened to his coaches, so I couldn't really ask for much more.

So, now that we've got Ari taken care of, it's time to start getting Emilie prepped.

29 April 2009

Baking bug bites billfold

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It all started as an innocent trip to Best Buy to procure a birthday present for Kevin. On our way to the back of the store, I stopped with Ari so he could play the Wii on display and Valerie and Emilie went on to find the gift. After playing for about five minutes, Ari and I went to find our counterparts. There they were, still waiting for service as two employees were helping another customer with his faulty Garmin. After their riveting conversation came to a merciful end, Valerie went to get one of the workers and asked him about the product we were in search of. Alas, they were sold out and the friendly staffer instructed Valerie to go to the service counter and obtain a rain check.

Not wanting to wait in line for the rain check, Ari and I decided to traipse around the store in order to keep us entertained. Ari wanted to play the Wii again, but the games they had on display were a little too advanced for him. I was able to persuade him to look at other things with me, and to my surprise, I was able to do so without him having a major melt town. Top notch parenting skills, I know. We made our way through the computer section and headed back towards the kitchen appliances. All the while, Ari was still relentlessly bugging me about playing the Wii. Just as I was about to stuff him into one of the display refrigerators, I noticed a yellow tag on the range I have had my eye on for some time. Taking Ari by the hand, we headed over to the range and noticed that it was the floor display model that they were selling at a reduced price. Unfortunately, it was still out of our price range, but a seed was planted nonetheless.

I told Valerie about my find on our way home; needless to say she was less than thrilled. Spending money is not something she is very fond of and I had to choose my words carefully. I knew that if I was to win this battle, I would have to make my moves with the kind of strategy and precision I feared I was not capable of. For the first time in my life, I regretted having never played Risk. Once home, I spent my evening scouring the Internet for a better price on the range that had captured my undying attention. To my dismay, the Best Buy price was the best after all, yet it was still too much. I was defeated, and I begged Valerie for leniency for even mentioning the thought of purchasing the range at that price. In a moment of apparent weakness, her mercy was reluctantly granted and I lived to see another day.

The next day I was on the phone with my mom and I mentioned to her my hard luck range story. Being the thrifty and cunning shopper that she is, she told me that I should go back to Best Buy and haggle with them over the price; especially since it was the floor model they were selling. Not one for haggling, I sat silently and digested her words of maternal wisdom; and figured if it was something I really wanted, I would have to indeed haggle. I mulled it over for a couple of days and talked price with Valerie. We decided on a price we wanted them to go down to, and with zero confidence whatsoever, I walked through those large sliding glass doors for my date with destiny.

I went alone on that unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon; armed with only a few Best Buy gift cards and a quadruple Reward Zone coupon they send me for my birthday. "Happy Birthday Like" the coupon read; the personal touch was so nice. I went back to the range and stood right in front of it, hoping the price would magically drop as I was staring at it, like in those old Wal-Mart commercials. Surprisingly enough, that didn't happen; and soon I was approached by a salesman who asked me if I needed any help. My voice quivering, and as I struggled to find words I learned when I was two, I told him I was interested in the range and was wondering if they could go any lower on the price. He said he would see what he could do and away he went behind the secret swinging door; unbeknown to him my culinary bliss lay in his hands.

After waiting for a few minutes, a different man came out with the verdict; a towering fellow he was. I imagined that they sent out the "muscle" to denounce me for trying to haggle and throw me out the door by my shirt collar. As it turned out, the man was very nice and he explained to me that he could lower the price of the range and they would sell it to me for cost. There was nothing wrong with it and it had never even been plugged in. I was thrilled that they came down at all (thanks recession), but the price was still a little higher than Valerie and I agreed upon; and even though I didn't think it was a deal breaker, I still had to call my darling wife to plead my case.

To make a long story short, she gave her seal of approval and I am a happy owner of a new range! I was so excited and I felt no sense of buyer’s remorse, and even better, I felt no fear of Valerie. What's also interesting about this range is that it is the brand that Alton Brown endorses. A few years ago, we went to see him do a demonstration at an appliance store in Indianapolis; and after the demonstration, I looked at the price tag of the range and thought it was something I would never own. Yet after a few strokes of luck and some amateur haggling, I am living the dream, and I couldn't be happier!

Oh, after only having it a few days and using it a handful of times, I can honestly say that it was worth every penny, and then some. Thank you Valerie for letting me get it and thanks Mom for not letting me give up on it. You both are the best!

Here's proof that I actually got it:

28 April 2009

Finding a new way to walk

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There is one thing I would like to do this year that I didn't do a lot of last year; take Walter out for some leisurely walks. A couple years ago, we took Walter out for walks all the time. We would meet Ang and Michael at their house or they would come to our house and we would just take off for an hour or two. As the years went by, we went from walking two dogs, to two dogs and a stroller, and then to two dogs and two strollers. As our families grew, it started to take a lot more effort and a little luck to get everyone together on a regular basis. Then, last year we strayed from our walks way more than we should have, and I think there are a couple reasons.

The main reason being that we went on more bike rides last year. I prefer riding my bike to walking, so when the opportunity presented itself, I always chose the bike ride. Unfortunately, that left Walter at home. The other reason is that Emilie was just a newborn last summer and she had her share of problems the first couple of months of her life which resulted in lots of crying. So I think, at least subconsciously, we didn't want to take her out on a walk just in case we couldn't get her to stop crying. But now, seeing that she is as happy as can be, I'm hoping that our evening strolls will become more frequent.

I still plan on going on a good number of bike rides this year, but we'll just increase the number of walks we go on with Walter. Ari now has a bike that he can ride as we walk, and we can put Emilie in the jogging stroller. I'm looking forward to getting Walter back out on there and getting reacquainted with all the other neighborhood dogs he likes to exchange pleasantries with. It'll be fun to watch him track the path of a squirrel and bark at an oncoming dog only to hide behind me if it gets too close. It's so much fun to watch him with that spring in his step, and I'm sure he's ready to get back out there, too.

27 April 2009

Volleyball goodness

3 remarks
Yesterday, we finally got together for some volleyball for the first time this year. We tried to arrange some games two other times, but each had to be cancelled due to rain. Not yesterday, though. The air was warm (mid 80's), there was more than a steady breeze in the air (about 20 mph), and we had partly cloudy skies. It really felt like it was July out there.

We only played for about three hours, but it was a great day to start the season. Unfortunately, I was not on a team that won a game yesterday. It was a little discouraging, but not really a big deal since everyone tried their best; that's all that really matters.

It was still tremendous fun, especially just being able to play again. Not winning a game did make me want to get back out there that much sooner though. There's always the day long volleyball/cookout Memorial Day gathering to look forward to!

24 April 2009

Baking bug bites big time

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Yes, I have been bitten by the baking bug yet again. I have a lot of recipes I want to try running around in my head, and I'm ready to get to work in the kitchen. So, what's the problem? Well, the majority of what I want to make are desserts, and with so few mouths to feed in my house I don't want the fridge to be full of sweets, with not many takers. I don't want anything to go to waste. Plus, when I cook, I get more pleasure seeing others enjoy my food, than I do eating it myself most of the time. Here is the list of items I want to make:

Sweet:
Chocolate meringue pie
Strawberry custard pie
German chocolate cake
Coconut Cake
Pâte à choux - to make cream puffs or eclairs
Chocolate mousse

Savory:
Coq au vin
Chicken salad
Fried gizzards (yes, really)

I have never tried to make any of these and I am intrigued by all of them. Where do I begin?

22 April 2009

Thanks Earth!

2 remarks
Happy Earth Day Planet Earth!

I owe my own survival to you, Earth. Without you, I don't know where I'd be. Everything you have gone through over the billions of years, you are truly remarkable with all of your life sustaining goodness. I am honored to be able to spend time you during this period of your existence. Thanks again for everything!

Oh, one more thing; sorry about all the satellites and other space junk in your orbit up there. I know it kind of takes away from your beauty a little bit; but I'm sure you understand. Technology...what are you gonna do? But any who, here's to many more years of good health and prosperity!

20 April 2009

Hello old friend

2 remarks
It's funny how things work out sometimes. I joined the digital camera crowd in late 2005 right before Ari was born. I have loved taking pictures since I was a kid; and with the digital camera, I was free to take as many pictures as I wanted without worrying about the cost of development. So, I took pictures of the ceiling fans, rugs, stairs, the banister, anything that I thought looked interesting I wanted to capture. Plus, I also took my fair share of pictures of Ari. I wanted to take a picture of him every day for the first year of his life; and I think I only missed two or three days. I loved it, and I loved my camera!

I would take my camera with me everywhere, and that led to Valerie and I thinking we needed a smaller pocket-size camera to take with us when we were out. My camera was a little inconvenient to take to the park or on walks and whatnot. So, I did my research and found a nifty little camera that got good reviews and was in our price range. It was in early 2008 when we got our new camera; and with its larger display screen and portability, I'm sad to say I simply forgot about my old camera. I just stuck it in a basket with a bunch of other unused electronic devices, tossing it aside because I got a new toy.

A couple months ago, I was taking a picture of Ari and his cars when the lens on my newer camera froze and wouldn't shut. I was bummed. We were able to send it out and get it fixed free of charge, but we were without it for a couple of weeks. Needing to always have a camera close by to capture life's special moments, I dusted off my old digital camera and powered it up to take a few shots. Holding that old camera in my hands again, I realized that I liked it much better than our newer camera, and I felt bad for stashing it away for so long. Sure the display screen may not be as big, and it may be a bit bulky, but it still is darn good camera nonetheless.

We got the small camera back from the manufacturer and it works just fine. But lately, I have been taking more and more pictures with my old camera. It's able to take pictures faster, which is important when trying to capture priceless moments of two small children. It's nice to have the speed of the camera almost match the speed of the kids. Plus, it zooms to a greater distance and the flash travels further. I'm glad to have rediscovered it, and I wish it hadn't taken my other camera breaking for me to do so.

17 April 2009

The thrill of the hunt (really)

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Oh what fun it is to search for little colored eggs hiding is the grass. We went to a few Easter egg hunts this year and I have to say the one we had at our house was the best! Just Ari, Lilli, and Piper running around our yard looking for the eggs with all the adults rooting them on. No winners, no losers, no special "prize" eggs. It didn't last long, but it was fun the kids' eyes light up when one of them spotted an egg.

We used plastic eggs filled with candy, Reese's Pieces as a matter of fact. Yum! We also used the real eggs that we colored in the kitchen a couple days before. The first time Ari found a real egg he picked it up, looked at it for a minute, and threw it back on the ground because he knew it didn't have candy in it. Kids these days! So the kids got to keep their candy and I got to make some "egg"cellent egg salad (get it?) out the the hard cooked eggs. Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun. Alas, the egg salad is now gone, but still so much candy remains.

Here's a look at my favorite egg the kids colored this year. The picture does not do it justice, but, it's pretty neat nonetheless.

I'm done with the Easter posts now, I promise.

15 April 2009

Easter eggs

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We colored eggs with Ari for the first time this year, and Piper was there to join in the fun as well. We stripped the kids down and let em' have at it in the kitchen floor.

They were both pretty into it and had a lot of fun. Ari was more conscious of not getting the dye on him, but Piper didn't care; she was just after the results. They started out doing one color at a time, but as it progressed, each egg went into each color. So when it was all said and done, a lot of the eggs were a greenish-blue color. Both kids had a lot of fun and were upset when we reached the last egg. They produced some really beautiful colored eggs.

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As for Emilie, she was content to just sat back and watch in her Easter bonnet.

13 April 2009

Bob Ross

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I happened to be browsing through the channels on an otherwise miserable cold rainy spring day and came across a little gem of a show I hadn't watched in years. The Joy of Painting was on my local PBS channel and I decided to watch it.

I remember watching Bob Ross as a kid paint his mountains and happy little trees; and being entranced by the ease in which he seemed to do it. Upon watching it again, I am still amazed that he can produce these works of art in about 25 minutes.

There is just something about watching the show. The calmness and kindness of Bob Ross, his caring nature, it is so relaxing and enjoyable. Even Ari will sit and watch it with me when it is on. He hears Bob's voice and asks if painting is on.

Bob Ross passed away on July, 4 1995 at the age of 52. New episodes of The Joy of Painting ran from 1983 to 1995. The reruns air today under the name of The Best of The Joy of Painting. If you've never seen it before, you should check it out, it really is enjoyable.

09 April 2009

Easter Birthday

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I share my birthday with Easter this year. This is only the second time in my lifetime that Easter has fallen on April 12. It seemed odd to me that in 29 years Easter has fallen on my birthday only twice; so I did some research as to what other years Easter has been celebrated on April 12.

The first time I shared my birthday with Easter was in 1998. Prior to that, the last time Easter fell on April 12 was in 1936. After this year, the next time Easter will be on my birthday is in the year 2020; after that, 2093. What a strange series of years; 1936, 1998, 2009, 2020, 2093. With no apparent rhyme or reason as to the date Easter falls, I was intrigued to find out how the date of Easter is determined.

I did some research and found that in Western Christianity, Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon. Oh, okay...what's the Paschal Full Moon? The Paschal Full Moon is the first moon whose 14th day (the ecclesiastic "full moon") is on or after March 21 (the ecclesiastic "vernal equinox").
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So there it was, I had my answer. I found it peculiar that the timing of this Christian holiday was based on a full moon, but that's another post. At least I had my answer, and I know I won't be sharing my birthday with Easter again until I am 40. Now that's something to look forward to.

07 April 2009

Signs of life

1 remarks
Hooray! Our tomato plants have started to grow! I don't know why I feel such a sense of accomplishment, they did all the work. I am really nervous now about accidentally killing them. Before when it was just a pile of dirt I was watering, I didn't really think about it too much. Now that there a little plants looking up at me and I feel much more responsible for their survival. I have had to bring them in off the porch the last couple of nights because the temperature has been below freezing. It is quite exciting, though, and I can't wait until it is time to transport them into the ground outside. Ari is excited too about the new little ones, he likes to count them. I'll keep updating as we progress on our first gardening adventure.

05 April 2009

Happy Birthday R.E.M.

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On April 5, 1980 R.E.M. performed live for the first time. They played as part of the birthday celebration for Kathleen O'Brien. The event was held at St Mary's Episcopal Church in Athens, Georgia, where Michael Stipe and Peter Buck lived with birthday girl Kathleen. It is said that they performed mainly cover songs and that there were about 300 people at the party. At the time R.E.M. did not have a name yet, but some say they played under the name Twisted Kites.


Happy Birthday R.E.M.!

Here's to many more years of wonderful music!


Here is a song from an early R.E.M. show. The actual date of the performance is unknown, although it is believed that this is from the May 30, 1980 concert at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA, making it the earliest R.E.M. concert available. Enjoy!

video

04 April 2009

Biscuits anyone?

2 remarks
One of Ari's favorite things to help me make is biscuits because we really get our hands dirty. I enjoy making biscuits as well. Not only because I can get my hands dirty, but because it takes me back to my childhood.

When I was young, we would go to my grandparent's house every Sunday for biscuits and gravy. The smell of cooked bacon still takes me back to those times. To me, there was nothing better than biscuits and gravy for breakfast, especially my grandma's biscuits and gravy. I don't remember when or why we stopped going every Sunday, slowly we started going less and less.

When I was older, I remember asking my grandma to teach me how to make them and she agreed. I was thinking she would just give me a couple recipe cards and some helpful hints, but I was wrong. There were no recipe cards at all, the recipe was in her head, and the only was I was going to learn was to watch her and then do it myself.

The first few batches I made by myself were tough. I remember asking her how much flour to add to the biscuits or how much milk to add to the gravy. She responded just by showing me what it was supposed to look like and how it was supposed to feel. Those were pretty hard concepts for me to grasp as I have never cooked like that before.

After several failed attempts where my biscuits didn't rise or were too crumbly and my gravy was too thin or lumpy, I finally started to understand what needed to be done to get the results I wanted. I was so relieved the first time my biscuits came out light and fluffy. They were so delicious, and while they didn't taste exactly like grandma's, they were pretty darn close.

So now I can make biscuits or gravy without a second thought, it is almost like I have also known how to make them. It's so much fun making biscuits with Ari because I am able to show him the little tricks that I know and what to look for and how it should feel. It's a lot of responsibility making sure the boy knows how to make a good biscuit when he grows up.

02 April 2009

The thrill of the hunt (not so much)

3 remarks
The lease we have on our Honda Pilot is over on June first. What does it all mean, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. It means that we can either: a) Buy the Pilot outright and pay what we still owe on it, b) Turn the keys in on June first and buy or lease another car, or c) Turn the keys in, not get another vehicle and make due with the Civic.

With "c" being a money saving but not very practical option, we probably won't do that; though I have mentioned it to Valerie. We were planning on option "a" to pay it off and we could own it outright in a few years. As it turns out, our payment on the Pilot would be about the same as it would be if we bought a brand new car! So, we are on the market for a new car, and instead of just going to the Honda dealership like we usually do, we are really exploring our options right now.

I don't like buying new cars. In fact, I would rather buy a new house than a new car. I don't like all the negotiating, sitting in a small room, not really knowing what the heck is going on. Then at the end if it all, I wonder if I really got the best deal, or did I get swindled. At least when we bought our house, we had a realtor on our side to help us with the offers and whatnot. Now that's an idea! Car "Realtors" to help us consumers get the best deal! It's about time the buyers have someone on their side. That's what I'm talking about!

We are looking at several different kinds of vehicles, and are mainly focused on GM and Chrysler products. They really look nice and it seems like they are making great strides to win back the trust and confidence consumers used to have in them. Hopefully, it is not too late. They have some great deals on a lot of their vehicles and it is well worth taking a look at what they have to offer. Valerie and I are going out this Saturday to test drive some vehicles to get the ball rolling on the hunt for a new car. Hopefully, we will come out with our sanity still intact.

01 April 2009

Peanut butter bliss

4 remarks
So, I've been making my own peanut butter for a while now and I recently ate some of a national brand that I used to buy religiously. The result? I liked my peanut butter so much better! I was nervous, because when I first started making peanut butter, it was good, but not what I was used to. I liked my homemade variety better than the all natural peanut butter we bought, but it was still different than that classic peanut butter taste I grew up with. Now, I don't think I could go back. Homemade peanut butter provides a richness and a depth of flavor lacking in that national brand. Plus, with all the unsanitary conditions at some of the peanut factories around the country, this is a much safer option as well; and I know exactly what is in my peanut butter.

My journey into the realm of the peanut butter began when I saw an episode of Good Eats; which is where many a food fascination starts for me. The episode focused on peanuts and Alton Brown made a peanut butter pie with homemade peanut butter. I read some reviews online about the pie and many people used store-bought peanut butter and said it turned out fine, but the people who made their own peanut butter raved about the results. Always up for a new culinary challenge, I decided to make my own peanut butter for the pie. The pie turned out so deliciously wonderful and we were hooked on the new peanut butter, too. I now make several jars at a time and have made many batches for family and friends. I also just made my first batch of chunky peanut butter and gave it to Michael since he prefers the chunky variety.

I have thought about selling my peanut butter at the retail level, and Eva and Katie helped me come up with a brand name, Cousin Luke's Fundamental Peanut Butter. I met with The Sunspot last summer to discuss selling it there, but I got discouraged when I found out I had to get my own separate permit to make my peanut butter in the back room. Aunt Joan has since said that she doesn't mind having an inspector come out so I can get my permit, so now the ball is in my court. I think it would be a rewarding experience to be able to make a quality product for people to enjoy and discover what real peanut butter tastes like. Who knows?

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