"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘weekend’ Category

What’s Going On These Days…

One of the things that I do that drives my kids crazy is to start a sentence and not finish it when I’m talking. Sometimes it’s because I assume they know the end of the sentence, but other times it’s just because I’ve gotten distracted. I realize that my blog has kind of gone in the same direction as some of those unspoken sentences.

Here lately, I’ve been very distracted from blogging and writing in general. As a Financial Peace University graduate, it’s good, because the reason is that I’ve been working a side job as a form design contractor. It’s a great gig—I can work in my PJs on the couch on my laptop. However, as a paid gig, it takes precedence over other things—like writing. I wish I could put things on hold like laundry or housework instead, but for some reason it’s frowned upon to go out with no clean clothes.

So as to not leave some of the more recent blog topics dangling like a participle in one of my unfinished sentences, I thought this would be a good time to follow up to some “goings on” around here recently.

The Wall

The new view from the living room into the kitchen.

The new view from the living room into the kitchen.

The wall we removed the week of Thanksgiving was successfully taken out without incident. Over that weekend, Darrell removed the wall and finished it with the wooden trim he painted, leaving a strip in between the two floors of the kitchen and living room unfinished (for now—I’m not the only one who runs around like a loon).

The strip that needs to be covered.  There's a teeny little hole that peeks into the basement.

The strip that needs to be covered. There’s a teeny little hole that peeks into the basement.

He touched up the paint on the living room side, and I decided that it really was time for a new color in the kitchen. My friend brought over a gallon of paint she had leftover from a project at her house, so we tried it out in a couple of spots in the kitchen. The color is “smoked taupe” and it looks pretty good. Now we just need to paint!

Here's "smoky taupe", the color we'll probably go with.

Here’s “smoky taupe”, the color we’ll probably go with.

 

Robotics

 

Our Engineering Notebook

Our Engineering Notebook

Last Saturday the Nuclear Unicorn Girl Assemblers (NUGAs) attended the FIRST Robotics qualifier competition. After an (almost) all-nighter the night before, complete with printer issues and a few robot hiccups, they managed to do quite well. (By the way, the girls did win the 3D printer, we just haven’t received it yet!) The game, called the Cascade Effect, required our robot to try to score points on the game field by knocking out the kickstand of a container that had wiffle balls in it, and then trying to loft them into these tall beakers. The teams were assigned other teams as alliance partners for six separate matches. The girls had to make sure that the robot was programmed keeping in mind that another robot would be in the same general area, trying to do the same general thing. One robot starts on a ramp and the other one on the floor (hence, two possible programs to use). There is also an “interview” type of judging session (our girls rocked!) and an Engineering Notebook they have to turn in documenting their work and how it progressed.

A scene from the qualifier.

A scene from the qualifier.

In the robot matches, the girls came in tenth out of thirty-three teams, which was amazing. They did not make the cut to advance to the next competition, but we are attending another qualifier next month to try again. This month we will spend updating the robot, its programming and the presentation to wow them at the next competition. The girls all learned a lot from Saturday’s competition—and I know I gained valuable insight as well. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing the kids that do the FIRST Tech Challenge are. The atmosphere at the competition is one like no other. Yes, they are competing against each other, but teams are continually helping each other with troubleshooting and supplying items that a team may have forgotten. Officially it’s called “gracious professionalism” and it’s stressed throughout the competition. It is so encouraging to see it being practiced by these very mature, very smart young adults.

Adelaide/NaNoWriMo

Maybe next year???

Maybe next year???

Poor Adelaide. She never saw it coming, which is kinda crazy because seeing things coming is a big part of her story. Adelaide is a little bit psychic, but not of anything of importance. Just weird, small stuff that doesn’t really amount to anything, so she really keeps this “gift” a secret. Until this nudge causes her to uncover the plot of a murder. Now, usually-reserved Adelaide has to go out on a limb to protect people she loves. Will she risk leaving behind her “normal” life to set the story straight?

That’s the premise of my silly little story I started for NaNoWriMo at the beginning of the month. I’m not anywhere near the 50,000 words that is the goal by month’s end, mostly because I didn’t see my side job coming. It’s not a huge deal, so it does fall into the realm of possibility to be the type of thing that my character would get a heads up on.

I haven’t completely shelved her at all. I just have gotten swamped with home improvement projects, robots, work and Christmas. Hopefully someday Adelaide will get all the attention she deserves so she can be brought to life on the paper. In the meantime, I just keep writing her story in my head.

When I’m not thinking I’m George Jetson on the treadmill screaming, “Jane, stop this crazy thing!”

The St. Louis Zoo

Love the Zebras!  So unique.

Love the Zebras! So unique.

Here lately, it’s a pretty amazing feat any time that all five of us in our family manage to do any family activity together besides the occasional meal at the dinner table. But a few Sundays ago, it happened to fall into place-the girls wanted to DO something besides hanging out at the house and Tyler happened to have the afternoon off when we had a Sunday afternoon at our disposal. So we went to the St. Louis Zoo.

Normally when we're at the Zoo, it's too hot or too cold and the cats are hiding somewhere.  It was great getting to see them out and about.

Normally when we’re at the Zoo, it’s too hot or too cold and the cats are hiding somewhere. It was great getting to see them out and about.

Out and about today!

If you’re not from St. Louis, let me tell you our Zoo, located in Forest Park, is absolutely amazing. Though you have to pay for parking if you choose to park in the Zoo’s lot, admission to the Zoo is still free. And our Zoo has a rich history (as does Forest Park in general). It started with the walk-thru flight cage, originally part of the 1904 World’s Fair. The City paid $3,500 for it back in 1917. You can check out the Zoo’s history at http://www.stlzoo.org .

So this guy in the Walk Thru Bird Cage was friendly.  He was mugging for the camera...even playing peekaboo!

This bird in the Walk Thru Bird Cage was friendly. He was mugging for the camera…even playing peekaboo!

Peek a Boo–A little blurry, but this little guy was a hoot!

Ask anyone who grew up in the St. Louis Metropolitan area, and they will probably recall school field trips as well as family visits to the Zoo. I remember in first grade we went there and when my kids were in elementary school they always did a Zoo field trip in third grade. Both of my Girl Scout troops participated in Snooze at the Zoo, where we spent the night at the Zoo participating in fun educational activities, including a night hike. They also hold this event for families as well—you can read about it on their website. My favorite part was being able to go through the herpatorium at night with flashlights covered in red plastic film as to not disturb any reptilian eyeballs. Seeing the snakes and amphibians poised in the eerie light had a certain creepiness factor unlike when you see them in the normal light of day. We learned a lot about how the Zoo operates and works with other Zoos in how they choose to breed the animals. Hint: Sometimes the females and males that would make great offspring do NOT like each other. Both times our troops went it was winter, so we slept inside the buildings (with Erin’s troop we slept right under the stuffed display of world-famous Phil the Gorilla) but they have these events in the summer, too, where you can sleep outside under the stars.  As a Girl Scout leader, it was one of the most enjoyable trips we have done…and there have been several.

The rhino seemed to be in a little bit of a bad mood.  It was hot though.

The rhino seemed to be in a little bit of a bad mood. It was hot though.

He must have felt better getting in the water.

He must have felt better getting in the water.

When we went as a family, we were able to see the Sea Lion show. The sea lions are my favorite. Even Tyler made the comment that they seem so happy, it just makes you happy to watch them. They re-opened the Sea Lion exhibit a few years back and now you actually walk through a tunnel that goes through the water tank where the sea lions are swimming around. I was a little bummed that they were off eating or something when we walked through, so we didn’t get to see them up close in the walk-through tunnel. But I have some great pics from the show.

The sea lion pups really know how to perform.

The sea lion pups really know how to perform.

Check out Mandy getting her treat.

Check out Mandy getting her treat.

I took some pictures with my phone camera and thought I’d share some of my favorites. Have a great weekend!

Owl pose for you.

“Owl” pose for you.

Oh, how dignified!

Oh, how dignified!

Lemurs are just hilarious to watch.  They were behind glass, so I didn't get the clearest pic, but he just looks SO relaxed!

Lemurs are just hilarious to watch. They were behind glass, so I didn’t get the clearest pic, but he just looks SO relaxed!

Check out his face! I’ll bet he was just DYING to say something about it being hump day, but couldn’t as it was the weekend.

The hyena didn't seem to be laughing...he was stalking something while we were watching him.  Very intense dude.

The hyena didn’t seem to be laughing…he was stalking something while we were watching him. Very intense dude.

Again, behind glass, so a little blurry.  However, he just looked "cozy" or something all curled up like that!

Again, behind glass, so a little blurry. However, he just looked “cozy” or something all curled up like that!

It’s All About the Wine—Even If It’s Only Tuesday

It may look like an innocent wine bottle--but could Attila the Hun be in there?

It may look like an innocent wine bottle–but could Attila the Hun be in there?

I like wine from a box. That’s a hard thing to admit…certainly doesn’t sound classy, does it? After all, I do put the wine in a glass; I don’t just hold my mouth under and dispense. Personally, I think wine from the box has come a long way since Darrell and I would get the big box of Franzia that took up half a shelf in the refrigerator. We usually opt for the smaller boxes now, so that by the time we’re drinking the last glass it doesn’t taste like vinegar. I love drinking just a glass while I’m cooking dinner in the evening, and the box makes it easy to just drink a small one (or add more to it if it’s been a tough day!) I like red wine, so I tell myself how all those antioxidants are helping me ward off dementia and health issues as I grow older.

My favorite wine-in-the-box story comes from my husband’s former co-worker, who also worked a side job as a server at fundraising events. Apparently the crowd at one particular gathering was trying to dazzle the people at their table with their superior wine knowledge, checking the legs (which I’ve learned really doesn’t tell you that much about a wine’s quality) and being a bit snobby about the wine service. They were a demanding group to him, and more than a little condescending. Now the funny thing was that the servers would pour the wine from classy-labeled wine bottles at the tables, but those bottles were filled in the kitchen with wine from a box. I imagine he had a hard time keeping a straight face when one of them declared after tasting, “Well, it’s certainly a lot better than that wine out of a box.”

I have learned a lot about wine over the years and I love going to the wineries and hearing about how they make their wines. Yet I still feel a little self-conscious when I order a bottle of wine at a nice restaurant and they open it at the table, giving me the cork and pouring a tiny amount for me to swirl and take a quick taste. I never quite know how to act besides saying a quick, “Thanks, it’s good.” I’ve wondered how often people spit it out and declare that the wine is horrible and demand the waiter to take it back. I asked a waiter about that one time, and he told me it really doesn’t happen that often when people get bottles—it’s more when they are getting a glass. Fun fact.

Darrell and I have made wine ourselves for several years now. We don’t go out and stomp the grapes or anything, but they have winemaking kits that are actually quite delicious. Our favorite kit to make is a Chardonnay—it always turns out perfect. The labor-intense part of winemaking is the cleaning and sanitizing of all the bottles—a kit makes around 28 bottles. The actual bottling part is fun. I like to think of these kits as idiot-proof. Simply add what the instructions say to add and stir and wait. The beginning of the process resembles what you see in a dirty mop bucket, but as the wine sits in the carboy, the smell of it in the room is wonderful. Similar to how many people feel about coffee, I have never been able to find a wine that tastes as good as the wine smells as it’s fermenting. (Note: The same is not true about brewing beer. Beer smells horrible while it’s brewing!)

This past year my friend Tina has become a consultant for a wine party business called Wine Shop at Home. She comes to your house and walks you through tasting the various wines and food pairings. When you set up the party, you have her order a wine kit (red, white, or mixed) that you want to taste at your party. The company sends you the kit, along with the cards that tell you what kind of food pairings work well with each wine, and voila!—instant party. You pay for the wine kit, but it’s at a discount, so you spend about the same amount you would spend on food and drink if you were having a party anyway. If you have friends that drink wine, it is a great way to try new wines and get together. You can check out her website here for more information about parties or just to learn more interesting facts about wine:  http://www.wineshopathome.com/tflower?customerid=355785&MarketShow=565

Darrell and I ended up signing up for the Wine Shop at Home Wine of the Month Club through our party. We’ve gotten some great, high quality wines, and I love reading the description cards that come with them. They give you recipes and food pairings for each wine and tell a little bit about the grapes used and the vineyards they come from. They also describe the wines’ noses and such in terms that make me laugh. (Did I mention I wasn’t very sophisticated?) My favorite description was for the Mariana Vineyard’s Petite Sirah wine. It described the wine like this: “This wine is powerful and the alcohol, even at around 14%, is fairly noticeable in the finish. The attack in the mouth showcases big tannins. The mouthfeel is fluid, fresh and aggressive, with blackberry flavors coming forward.”* That instantly made me think the wine was a bottled version of Attila the Hun and would jump out of the bottle and knock us upside the head. But that’s just my wine-in-the-box humor again. Sorry. I’m working on it.

Because I like to think I am getting a little more sophisticated, or at least more knowledgeable, with these wines. I’ve learned how to discern the various flavors within the wine once they’ve been pointed out to me. Many of the wines are for collecting, and advise that they taste best after 3 -5 years. We’re trying to save them longer, or at least until a special occasion comes around. We’ve been very impressed with the bottles we’ve tried so far. Since we’ll be waiting for these bottles to age a little, it looks like I won’t be getting rid of my wine in a box any time soon. Let’s just hope I don’t get too spoiled with the good stuff that I can’t go back to box wine. Bottoms up!

 

*Taken from Wine Shop at Home’s description card.

Weekend Larks

Emily and Erin on the float...they were the only ones who didn't get tipped by the boater!

Emily and Erin on the float…they were the only ones who didn’t get tipped by the boater!

One of my favorite things our family does in the summer is go on weekend larks. We don’t actually call them that, but “road trip” makes it sound like we’re going cross-country or something. What we do is more local than that, but fun just the same.

During the school year, between sports, school activities, Girl Scouts, etc., we usually find our weekends taken up with at least one day where we’re obligated to be somewhere. I love how in the summer we have a little more flexibility on weekends. While a whole weekend getaway is preferable, sometimes we can only do a Saturday or Sunday day away—a mini lark, I guess you could call it.

So last weekend, we got to have our Weekend Lark in the form of the Third Annual Float trip/Camp Pick up weekend. We started this tradition when both Emily and Erin used to go to camp in Vienna, Missouri, near Rolla. The first year, Darrell, Tyler and I came down on Friday night and rented a cabin at Meramec State Park. We picked the girls up as usual, but instead of going home like they expected, we took them to the cabin and went on a float trip for the day. They were so surprised and the whole weekend away from the normal refreshed us as a family.

The next year, our friends’ daughter went to camp with Erin, so we made it a multi-family trip. The cabins at the State Park were all booked, so we took a chance on a hotel in St. Clair that Darrell found called Budget Lodging. Their tagline is “A Touch of Class for Less”. Turns out, both our families love this little hotel. As far as accommodations go, it’s not anything fancy or unusual—clean rooms, nice breakfast, and swimming pool. But the charm of the place is not what you find at Super 8. Maybe because it’s a little like walking back into the late 1980s, complete with the picture of the proprietor, Letha Hickenbotham, at the front desk. The first time we were there, we were amazed to see they still had one of those credit card machines where you roll the handle over the carbons. And actual room keys, not the credit card kind. Now, staying at this cozy little hotel is just part of the fun of the weekend with the main event being the float trip.

Although a float trip on the weekend with kids can be a little bit of a vocabulary lesson for younger ears, the part of the river we float is usually pretty tame compared to some other places nearby. You do get a bit of a rowdy, partying crowd here and there. Most of the time it’s just college-age kids trying to impress one another, and they’re easy to tune out. We tipped our canoe this year, in part thanks to some guy with a small motorized boat that made enough wakes to flip it into the bank, but we came out unscathed—muddy and down two beers, but with great memories.

Because memories are what the Weekend Larks are all about. When I remember summers past with our family, those fun little larks are one of the things that stand out most to me. Stopping at gas stations that boast the “World’s Largest Rocking Chair” and not feeling guilty about snacking on a Zero candy bar for lunch. Picking places to stop based on the cleanliness of the bathroom and if you can pull to the gas pump easily with the boat. Radio stations in the middle of nowhere where you can hear the stock report, the gospel and the local obituaries read in a monotone voice as you’re driving home on Sunday morning. Lark traveling moments we still laugh about together.

So while I’ll never turn my nose up at a cruise or Caribbean island vacation, these larks—well, they’re special, too. What would summer be without them?

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