Sunday, November 28, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful that I'm still here to celebrate it with my wife & son and everyone else in my life. It's been a good long weekend and we managed to fit in quite a bit. We enjoyed our Thanksgiving meal with Beth's family this year. The food was excellent. Nathan wasn't so sure about some of the food but had a good time, especially playing with his cousins. I ventured out Friday morning for some Black Friday deals like I do most years. It's crazy but I get a kick out of the experience. Friday afternoon I put up our Christmas lights after finally finding the right hardware to hang them up. Most normal hooks won't work with our new leaf-guarded gutters. Saturday morning we made Lefse with Beth's parents like we do each year. However, we decided to do it at our house this time which worked out well for Nathan and his nap schedule. The Lefse turned out great and will be enjoyed through the holidays and the rest of year whenever we decide to pull some out of the freezer. Saturday night we got together with my parents and my sister and her family for some Thanksgiving leftovers and good family time. We wrapped up the weekend with my niece's 5th birthday party on Sunday night. Overall a busy but good weekend. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wine Label Honorable Mention

I'm happy to report my Apple Wine label got an honorable mention in Winemaker Magazine's label design contest. The latest issue of the magazine arrived at the house with the results of this years label contest. The competition was good, and the winners had some fun label designs. They awarded some big prize packages to first, second, and third place. Mine was one of 16 other honorable mention labels. According to the magazine I won a Carboy Cleaner, so I may be receiving a package in the near future. Thank you Winemaker Magazine!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Wheel Cake!

Growing up in a family of artists has instilled a creative drive in me that cannot be ignored. I enjoy opportunities to be creative and make things, and baking is no exception. Growing up it was always fun to have my mom's creative cakes at our birthday parties, and now that I'm a parent I want to do the same for our children. Besides, it gives me a chance to be creative and have more fun than I would have going to buy a cake at the store.

For our son's first birthday party we had to feed 12 adults and 9 kids, so we would need a big cake, or maybe two, and one small cake for the birthday boy would be fun. At one year old, there's not necessarily much that a baby is "in to," but I can say for sure he likes spinning things. Mostly the wheels on his toys. So why not cake(s) shaped like wheels? Seems simple enough. Not quite as complex as his Baptism Cake, but that's OK by me. I'll save more complex designs for the future.

I made two boxes of cake mix, but divided up the batter evenly by weight so I could make three round cakes. Our only round pan had angled sides, so I used a springform pan instead, which worked very well. Bake-Even strips made a big difference too, keeping the cakes fairly level, and not too rounded on top. The cakes are much easier to work with, cut & sculpt, and frost when they've been frozen. So I made my three cakes ahead of time, wrapped them in plastic wrap, and froze them overnight.

Why three cakes? Two would be the base of each wheel. The third would have the center removed, which would become the birthday boy's personal cake. The remaining "donut" shape would be cut in half, and placed on the first two cakes as the raised shape of the tire. The picture at the right shows this in better detail.

Decorating was fairly straightforward. I used white frosting from the store and used black coloring to make different shades of gray. The base cake got a coating of light gray which would separate the layers and give color to the "hubcap" area. The outside of the cake got a dark gray frosting, and at my wife's suggestion I added some blue to the hubcap for a splash of color. A Monochromatic gray cake wouldn't be as fun, right?

With the help of a ziploc bag and cake decorating tip I put lettering on the cakes and we were done! I would have enjoyed adding more details, but my time and energy were limited, as being a parent can sometimes do to you. Still, it was fun and I think it turned out well.

Everyone thought the cake was wheelie good.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Happy Birthday Nathan

My wonderful, happy little son Nathan turned 1 yesterday! The time has flown by. We had all the immediate family over last Sunday for his party (grandparents, aunts/uncles, and all his cousins). It was a packed house with 12 adults and 9 children under the age of 5. Poor Nathan started the day in the Emergency Room at 5am, battling sickness and teething issues for the last couple weeks. At the time the doctors thought he might have pneumonia, but it seems more like a teething issue, but he was prescribed am antibiotic just to be sure. Thankfully he was back to his happy self in time for the birthday party.

Nathan enjoyed playing with all his cousins and relatives, and experiencing all the activity in the house that night for his party. Since Nathan loves anything that spins, especially toy wheels, I made two wheel cakes for everyone, and one little cake just for him. He got his hands good and dirty with his own little birthday cake, but we had to feed him a few bites since he doesn't usually feed himself. Once he got good and messy with his cake (as you should at your first birthday), it was straight to the bath tub! Nathan got some fun gifts from everyone and it was great party.

Yesterday we had our own little celebration. Nathan got some new foam blocks and a couple other small items from us, and a slice of cake with dinner. He definitely enjoyed his cake, as he giggled with each bite we fed him.

Happy Birthday Nathan!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Parking, Football, and Sightseeing in New York

Last week I had the opportunity to take a business trip out east to the New Meadowlands football stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey; home of the New York Jets and New York Giants. This is the stadium's first year of operation, and has recently installed a parking management system from my company. Having worked on supporting this site's parking system, I was sent out with one of our developers and one of our testers to install some updates to the system and to see how well everything operated as nearly 80,000 fans showed up for a football game looking for a place to park.

We arrived on Sunday October 9th and got to work on the handheld computers in the attendant booths throughout the complex, and made some updates to the server as well. We were able to take care of most of the work Sunday, and complete the updates on Monday morning.

With the major work done, we had some preparation for the game and ensuing parking traffic. Double checking things, getting security credentials for the stadium, etc. After a busy morning we broke for lunch, and spent a little time touring the stadium in the daylight, checking out the view of the field from the front row at the 50-yard line.

Happy to say our parking system worked very well overall, which made our evening fairly easy. As thousands of tailgaters flowed in and fired up their grills, we drove around to the various parking entrances and checked on everyone as the evening progressed. I carried a two-way radio to keep in touch with the parking staff if something came up. At one point shortly before game time we ended up stranded out in a downpour, and got pretty soaked until we could make our way to shelter underneath a pedestrian footbridge for awhile. Aside from being wet I was having a great time!

With things running well, our remaining job for the evening was to monitor the system and send out reports every hour or two on how many transactions had gone through. Since this could be done with a laptop and internet access, we brought one with us and headed into the stadium hoping to see some of the game. As luck would have it, the game we went out there for was a MN Vikings game.

Once in the stadium, the rain really came down hard. They wouldn't let anyone into the seats until the rain and lightning let up, and the start of the game was delayed. Our security badges allowed us into the back areas of the stadium, so we could get out of the crowds of fans trying to stay dry. While roaming the halls we saw the entrances to the team locker rooms, and happened to come upon a tunnel down to the field. After chatting with security for awhile, he told us we were welcome to come down and watch the game once the rain delay was over. Until then we had expected we'd have to find some open seats in the upper decks. Sure enough, we came back later and walked right down by the field. It's surprising what wearing a badge and carrying a two-way radio can accomplish. We walked up the ramp to the handicapped seating area, pulled up some folding chairs, and took a seat front row in the end zone. If I were a real football fan I may have appreciated this more, but it was still an amazing experience to be watching a football game in the front row with 80,000 fans cheering around you.

The game was blast. We got rained on a few more times, but could at least duck into the tunnel if it got bad enough. We kept checking on the parking system and things continued to run well as the game started. It was a long day and long night, but overall a great success and a great time. We headed out just before the end of the game to beat the crowd, and turned in at the hotel around midnight, picking up some dinner in the hotel lobby.

Tuesday morning we slept in after a long day, and met with some coworkers to go over the details of the day before. With business & breakfast out of the way, we had a few hours until we had to get to the airport, so we took the rental car and made the most of our time... Manhattan or bust!

I've never been to New York before, so to spend two days just over the border and NOT go into the city would be a shame. We entered Manhattan through the Lincoln tunnel, and took a driving tour to see whatever we could see, including Times Square and the Empire State building.

We headed for Ground Zero and had about 20 minutes we could get out and walk before we'd need to head back. Of course, we had to stop for a hot dog from a New York street vendor, and it was good.

Ground Zero itself was under a lot of construction and was difficult to see from where we were, but there was a small opening in the wall by the subway entrance where I could get some good photos of the area. Pretty amazing how much of the space is still empty a full 9 years later.

After our brief tour of the city, we headed back to Newark airport and back to Minneapolis. All in all it was a great trip.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Camping 2010 at Lake Louise State Park

This year's annual camping trip with friends brought us down near the Iowa border to Lake Louise State Park. This was also Nathan's first camping trip. Camping with a 9-month old was certainly a change, but overall I think we adapted fairly well. Thankfully one of our friends brought the our bins of camping supplies this year, otherwise there would be no way we could have driven down in one vehicle.

I worked a full day on Friday (maybe I'll take the afternoon off next year), and after our usual evening routine at home, we headed out just before Nathan's bedtime so he could sleep on the way down. We arrived around 9pm and despite our hopes, Nathan didn't sleep through our unloading of the car and instead got to play with our friends while we unpacked and set up the tent with the help of our car's headlights. We stayed up for awhile around the fire and Beth put him down to bed. He had trouble sleeping each night but we think it was mostly due to teething issues lately.

I love our new tent. It's huge. We knew we would need space for us and a pack & play this year so we upgraded to a new big tent. It took a little troubleshooting to get it set up just right, but it worked out great. There were even poles for each door so we could have doors that swing open. A little hard to get used to, but very nice.

Saturday was a beautiful day for camping. Our friend Amanda brought a portable highchair that hooks on the edge of a table, and we used it to feed Nathan at the picnic table and it worked great for every meal. While he enjoyed his pureed food, the rest of us had fruit, bacon & eggs (a new addition to this year's menu) and my fried donut. I fry up biscuit-dough donuts on the camp stove each year and coat them in sugar. They're always a big hit.

My sister let us borrow her baby backpack and we used it to go on a short hike with Nathan later Saturday morning. He loved riding on my back and checking out the scenery. We stopped at the beach for snacks, and headed back for his lunch. After he ate rest of us had our Tacos in a Bag using a bag of Doritos, taco meat, and taco fixings all mixed up in the bag.

In the afternoon we played with Nathan on a blanket with his toys, and I went for a hike with a couple friends while Beth and Nathan went down for naps. The highlight of our hike was an unexpected river crossing. The trail was marked as a horse and hiking trail, and all our our previous river crossings were over bridges... except for one. We ended up stopping and enjoying the cool water for awhile, and then kept hiking until our feet dried so we could put on socks and shoes again. After the hike we took some much-needed showers and got ready for dinner.

Like previous years we made our "Hobo Dinners" (aka Foil Dinners) consisting of meat, cheese, and veggies roasted in a packet of foil on hot coals in the firepit. Nathan slept well for the first part of the night while we enjoyed s'mores and good conversation around the fire. He had a rough time sleeping later that night, though.

This year a bunch of our group had tickets for Wicked on Sunday and had to leave right away in the morning, so Sunday was a quick scramble to pack up first thing in the morning. We managed to take down the tent and stuff all our gear back in the car and made it back home before lunch, with a brief stop at a rest area on the way home.

As always, we had a great time camping with our friends, and I think our first attempt at camping with a baby was a success!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wet Basement Adventures

Let me tell you a story about our basement... First, we love our basement. It's nice, spacious, unique, and a fun place to hang out. However, we've had the occasional problem with water. Usually this showed up below our chimney, which happens to be the wall between our family room and the furnace room. During a really big storm, we might see some water show up in the furnace room, and maybe a little wetness in the carpet on the other side of the wall. Not much usually, and it would dry up and we never thought much of it until one day we came downstairs to find these:

Yes, those are mushrooms. Big, brown mushrooms growing in our carpet. I even found mold growing up the wooden leg of an ottoman out in the middle of the room. We knew there was some water damage there but never realized the extent of the problem. Our mission was clear, the mushrooms must die ASAP, but not until they could be properly examined by water damage professionals. We were preparing to go on vacation for a week and didn't relish the thought of these things growing down here for another week until we got back. We ended up calling a couple cleanup companies to see if we could get it cleaned up right away. There were some delays as we figured out that nothing was covered under insurance. One company looked over the whole basement with an infrared camera and could see water in the walls as high as 6 feet around the affected area, but otherwise the rest of the basement was dry. Metro Restoration, the company we ended up going with, helped us feel better about leaving for a week and sprayed everything with a disinfectant when they came out to inspect the basement. This killed the mushrooms right away, and by the time we came back from vacation they were shriveled up and black. Thank goodness for that, and thank goodness for subscribing to Angie's List, which made finding good contractors a great experience.

Shortly after we came home we had the water damaged material ripped out of the wall, and had all the carpet in the room removed as well. What we found was a likely culprit... the "ash pit door" which is where you would clean out ashes dropped down from a wood-burning fireplace. Our fireplace has since been converted to gas, so this door was concealed behind sheetrock. All the water was centered around this door. While we've essentially lost the family room for awhile, at least the nasty stuff has been properly cleaned up and we can move on with finding solutions. As an aside, we could tell that previous owners had fun down here. We found hopscotch courses and children's names painted on the floor, and chalk drawings on the block wall.

At this point we didn't know if water was coming down the chimney, and finding it's way down due to a roofing or flashing problem. We had people look at it, and we even went outside during a rainstorm to look at the chimney area. The most telling thing we saw was water dripping off the underside of the gutters (but not overflowing as far as I could tell) in front of our chimney, and hitting the ground right next to the chimney foundation. We also noticed that some of the landscaping near the house doesn't slope away from the house very well. Our gutters have always been in need of repair... rust, holes, cracks, etc. We've managed to keep them going with caulking in the worst spots, but there's only so much you can do. My dad came up with a good way to test out our theory... run the hose on the ground in front of the chimney. If we see the same results, we know it's not likely a chimney/roofing problem. I turned on the hose and ran it slowly for about an hour, and we saw the same thing we've seen before. I set up my camera for some time-lapse photography to capture the leak:

At this point we've decided to go ahead and fix up the gutters and the water damaged soffits & fascia like we've talked about doing since we moved in. We're also going to fix up the landscaping so water is directed away from the house better. I haven't decided if I want to dig in front of the chimney to look at the foundation, but if we direct water away from it, a foundation crack wouldn't be so much of an issue anyway. The chimney itself has some deteriorating brick above the roofline, but that repair/expense may have to wait, and at least we know it's not the source of our water problem.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nisswa Family Vacation 2010

We just came home Saturday morning from our annual Nisswa vacation with Beth's family. We've managed to get unpacked and settled back in at home again after a nice relaxing week with the family. Thank you to Beth's parents for making the trip possible.

This was our fourth year at the Good Ol' Days resort in Nisswa on Lower Cullen Lake. The resort has recently changed ownership, so the original husband and wife team that used to run the resort are no longer there. Everything is basically the same... nice amenities, great activities for kids, but it doesn't have quite the personal touch that it used to. Still, we had a great time and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Because of the larger families now we rented two adjoining cabins and opened the door that connects them. Beth and I took a big room upstairs in one of the cabins that had a queen and a twin bed, and space for Nathan's pack and play. It worked out very well for the three of us. This was also the first year I was able to take the whole week off work and didn't have to come home early, which was an added bonus.

Nathan enjoyed his first family vacation, and especially enjoyed playing with and laughing at his cousins, and swimming with Beth and I almost every day. He also seemed to reach some developmental milestones during the week. He slept through the night without needing to eat a few times, started pulling himself up on the couch while sitting in my lap, and started eating solid foods instead of gagging on them. He also started rolling front to back a lot more often than before. We can tell he's starting to getting up on his knees to crawl.

Beth and I brought our golf clubs and managed to get out for a game mid-week. Our first attempt was a bust however. We left during Nathan's morning nap, and drove up to the clubhouse and there were 30+ boys under 12 with their parents all waiting to golf. The guy running the front desk said it would be at least an hour. We figured it must have been some kind of junior golf league. So instead of golfing in the morning we came back and watched our nephew win 2nd place in the Worm Races back at the resort. We went back later that afternoon and got right in for 9 holes at Wild Wedge in Pequot Lakes. This was my first game of golf since my surgery almost 4 months ago, so it would be a test to see what my range of motion was like. Much to my delight, it felt great to golf again. After a little coaching from Beth on my swing, I had some awesome drives. On one hole I even landed on the green 125 yards away with my first shot, and made par for the hole which is rare. It ended up being one of my best games in a long time.

Each family takes at least one night to cook dinner for everyone else. Ann & Mike made us some chicken on the grill covered with bacon and cheese, mashed potatoes, bread, etc. Beth and I made a variety of pizzas (my personal favorite being chicken teriyaki) and foccacia breadsticks. We also hit a couple restaurants while we were there, Rafferty's Pizza and Ganley's, which has two of my mom's prints hanging in their dining room.

We filled the time with lots of activities for the kids, and activities of our own... ladderball, swimming, playing on the beach, playing cribbage, phase 10, fishing, taking walks, touring the lake on a rented pontoon, trying some new beer and sharing homemade wine, and taking advantage of the wireless internet access. I also brought a small hobby electronics project to play with when the kids were sleeping. All in all, it was great week and I look forward to next year.