Friday, December 11, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree...

Oh Christmas tree, oh christmas tree
Why must you be such a pain in my butt?
Oh Christmas tree, oh christmas tree
Why can't you cut me some slack?

Oh how I can't wait until Christmas is over
So I can take you out and throw you on the brush pile.
Oh Christmas tree, oh christmas tree
I guess it's time for a new stand

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Finger Saver

Yesterday, I decided to stop by Champaign's brand-spanking-new woodworking shop (CU WoodShop Supply). My main interest was in seeing a SawStop demonstration.

SawStop makes a tablesaw designed to avoid hand injuries. If the blade comes in contact with a human (or other conductive, large capacitance), a block of aluminum is slammed into the blade to stop it. The blade also drops into the saw body. The result is that the finger only receives a nick, probably small enough for just a band-aid. Here's their stock video:

This is impressive. However, in real life, it was much more impressive. Instead of slowly moving the hot dog into the blade (simulating normal saw speed), the sales rep pushed the hot dog much, much faster. The nick in the hot dog was about half as deep as this video!

They're not cheap. But, someday, when I'm ready to shell out bucks for a cabinet saw, I'm guessing this is the way I'll go.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Centennial Farm

As many of you know, we purchased our house from my grandfather (John Morrison). He was born in and subsequently lived in this house on and off for most of his life until we moved in.

Although it was not his first purchase in this area, Grandpa's grandfather (I think) purchased the house and immediately surrounding farm land around 1895. At one point, the Morrison family owned a great deal of the local land, extending all the way north to the Salt Fork River.

View Larger Map

Over the years, the farmland was sold, handed down, and sold again. Now, the Morrison farm, still owned and managed by my grandfather, consists of approximately 100 acres, surrounding our house on all four sides. Because this piece of farmland has been in the Morrison family continuously for more than 100 years, the farm qualifies for the Illinois Centennial Farm Program. Grandpa recently completed the paperwork, and when he came to meet Atticus, we planted the Centennial Farm sign at the end of our lane.

We're very proud to be able to help keep the homestead, in addition to the farm, in the family.

Atticus Gray Ashbrook Through The Weeks

I just realized that I never actually blogged about Atticus's birth. Hopefully, everyone who should know knows that Atticus Gray Ashbrook was born on September 29, 2009. He weighed in at 9lb, 5oz.

It only took about one hour for us to confuse his name. I tweeted his birth announcement from Kimberly's BlackBerry and realized a few minutes later that I mentioned Aidan Gray Ashbrook...nice.

With that in mind, we have had a crazy 6 weeks, juggling 3 "big kids" and a newborn. We're all starting to adjust, except Atticus who likes to keep things mixed up a bit, especially at night. Because that's not crazy enough for the Ashbrooks, we've also torn up our main bathroom for some renovation work. I'll have pictures of that later.

So, without further ado, here are pictures of Atticus as he's grown in the last 5-6 weeks:

One Hour:

One Week:

Two Weeks:

Three Weeks:

Four Weeks:

Five Weeks:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On Pause At a Million Miles Per Hour

Still no baby...

Life goes on three days after the due date. Work is crazy. The kids are crazy. Daphney is crazy. Our activities are crazy. October's calendar is filling up. I keep waiting for the "you need to come home right now" call in the middle of the day...

Did I mention that Daphney woke me up last night because a skunk was in our yard? Watching the skunk dance a defensive circle dance with its tail sticking straight up in the half-light of our yard was disturbing. I'm glad Daphney kept her distance.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lollapalooza 2009 - Day Three

Because Saturday wasn't hot enough, Nick and Grace headed home, and Chelsea and I prepared to battle the heat again. We prepared by eating a large, heavy Mexican brunch, complete with made-at-your-table guacamole. Who could say "no" to that? Who should have said "no" to that?

After Chelsea misled us to the entrance for the third day in a row, we just missed the end of the Kaiser Chiefs. However, that put us in a great spot to enjoy the Raveonettes. They were good, but a little mellow for a hot Sunday afternoon. As a drummer, I found their drummer using a weird setup - snare, floor tom, and a cymbal. He stood up the whole time and wore DJ head phones -- Not a rocker.

After watching most of that set, we headed to the other end to see Vampire Weekend. First, we stopped at the t-shirt tent to learn that they'd sold out of all of the cool t-shirts, including the kids shirts. Ethan had to live with an adult small. Vampire Weekend was a lot of fun with their get-up-and-dance style.

Near the end of their set, we went to see Passion Pit and meet Chelsea's new male friend. Passion Pit was on one of the side stages and was packed. I read one review that later said the stage area was one of the wildest of the entire weekend. After getting walked on too much, we wandered back to see the Cold War Kids. They were good, but no so different from their recordings. As we were leaving Passion Pit, a cold front moved through, and the temperature dropped 10-15 degrees in about 10 seconds. It felt like someone just turned on the air conditioner. It was quite welcome.

So, while still listening, we moved into position for Snoop Dog. I'm definitely no fan of rap. However, Snoop really knows how to get the crowd "jumpin'." He did several popular covers, and said a couple of bad words (per minute). I think his one hour performance seemed to go quicker than any other.

After yet another beer stop, we switched stages to see the Silversun Pickups. Like the Cold War Kids, they were a good band, just a little short of energy, especially after watching Snoop.

Finally, we switched stages for the last time of the weekend to close things out with The Killers. This was one of my favorite shows, probably because I know more of their songs than any other bands of the weekend. Even after a long, hot weekend, the crowd was still easily energized and made for a spectacular show.

Overall, I had a great time. It was amazing to see live performances by so many of the bands I enjoy. Every time I looked at the schedule, I would say "Oh, I forgot they are here." It was a big change from my only other music festival experience: the 2008 Pygmalion Music Festival in Champaign-Urbana. Speaking of this year's Pygmalion, I don't think we'll be seeing much, given Kimberly's current "bursting" state. Maybe I can sneak away to see the Headlights.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lollapalooza 2009 - Day Two

For your enjoyment today, I've included a few pictures that my brother took.

On Saturday, Nick and his girlfriend, Grace, joined us for a day-long steam fest in the mid-90s heat. After a late lunch at Potbelly, we headed downtown again (did I mention that we used CTA all weekend?).

We started off the day with an amusing, but explicit Welsh band, Los Compesinos! The lead singer would have fit in quite well in down-state Illinois, with his jean shorts and sleeveless t-shirt.

Next, we trudged back to the other end of Grant Park to watch Gomez. They were enjoyable, but the stench by that stage was so awful we didn't watch the whole show. That was the muddiest area on Friday, and they put down some moisture-absorbing granules that caused the whole area to smell like BO (worse than the smell of 1000s of sweaty bodies).

Nick and I then took a break in the shade (on Chelsea's emergency rain ponchos) and watched a few minutes of the mellow Blind Pilot before heading back to the heat to watch the Arctic Monkeys. It seemed like all of the UK's bands were in Chicago for the weekend.

As the Arctic Monkeys wound up their set, we headed to the neighboring stage and staked out a spot to watch Santigold, who none of us had heard prior to our morning iTunes preview. I went to load up on beer, and got stuck for 10 minutes in a mass of non-moving people. It was rather disturbing, and very stinky. Men should not have been taking their shirts off! Although Santigold is not really my type of music, the live show was great with good dancing and lots of audience participation, including an on-stage dance.

We passed on seeing Rage Against so that we could get a good spot to see Ben Harper and the Relentless 7. Their show was also great. Although, maybe he shouldn't have been wearing a long-sleeve shirt in the 90-degree heat under bright stage lights. On par with Ben Harper's performance was that of the dancing pot-head a couple of rows in front of us. He danced for the entire show.

At this point, we were starting to feel rather beat. We weren't very excited about Tool, and I was the only one who'd heard of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I think we were all a little bitter that we wouldn't be seeing the Beastie Boys (see below), which should have been the weekend's highlight. So, after a port-a-potty and beer break, we decided to head over to the DJ area for a little Bassnectar. That was a lot of fun that sapped the rest of our energy.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Lollapalooza 2009 - Day One

I was extremely jealous when my sister attended Lollapalooza last year. I stated that I would be going this year, even if it was alone. Needless to say, it did not take much arm-twisting to get both my siblings to join in the fun.

Chelsea and I got the three-day passes in order to maximize our Lollapalooza 2009 experience. For those of you who aren't familiar, this is an annual outdoor alternative music festival that is held in Grant Park in Chicago every year. It's billed as one of the largest such festivals in the country.

As I can't really pay justice to proper music reviewing, this is more of a "round-up" of the weekend's events, and less about critical music coverage.

In order to have a more relaxing weekend, I rode the Amtrak to Chicago on Friday. Once the train actually left Champaign, after being one hour late, the ride was a nice time to read and do my iPod-based music prep work. This is despite the fact that I'm fairly certain I was seated amongst some recently-released inmates (matching new gray sweats, white t-shirts, and white Keds).

The weekend (August 7-10) was supposed to be one of the hottest weekends of the year, with heat indices well-above 100F. So, I only took shorts and t-shirts. Unfortunately, Friday was a typical cold, rainy day in the windy city, and we had to make an Old Navy stop for an emergency long-sleeve t-shirt. We embraced the sure-to-be-muddy festival attitude and headed downtown. The rain wasn't too bad, and our umbrellas helped improved situation between shows.

Here's who we saw on Friday:
My favorite was Of Montreal. They had a fun stage show that involved lots of costumed characters. Another highlight of Friday was the availability of 24-oz cans of beer. Although we chose not to watch them, Depeche Mode was the only Lollapalooza band that I had previously seen live. Kimberly and I saw the Devontional Tour when it visited Champaign in 1993. The night was concluded with an 11:00 dinner at one of Chelsea's local bars.

The scariest part of Friday was when Kimberly texted me with "How's the Bud Light?" about 2 minutes after we bought more Bud Light. Big Brother is watching.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ominous Sign

I try to keep my blog from being too political, but this one is unavoidable.

Number one sign that you're probably in line to stand before a so-called "Death Panel": Verizon rep recommends you get this.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Entertainment Center Getting Closer

Last night I officially completed the second of three phases in creating our massive entertainment center. Although the side units were installed almost six months ago, it's taken "some time" to apply all of the details.

We finally moved the home theater components into their custom area (complete with slide-out shelf) a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, after a few days, we had a satellite receiver over-heating issue in the closed cabinet. So, the door had to come back off while I came up with a cool solution. I ended up ordering an 80mm fan unit from Last night, I used my brand-new 3.25" hole saw to a) drill a massive hole into my masterpiece and b) beat the living tar out of my wrist (for those who have used large-bore hole saws in a cramped space, you know what I'm talking about). I vented the fan to the empty area behind the center unit, so you can't see the fan on the outside of the unit anywhere.

In the end, the fan, in combination with some homemade component spacers, keeps the temperature directly above our receiver slightly cooler than it was with no fan and no door. Mission accomplished! And, Ethan and I got to play with the thermocouple for my multimeter.

Here are a couple of pictures:

New Right Unit

Full entertainment center (thus far)

Next, I will begin work on the book units that will fill the final 18" on each end. Hopefully, these will require less than the 9 months I've been working on the side units. Here's a snapshot of the prep work I did with Google Sketchup.

Sketchup drawing of new book unit to be built

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Half-Cat or Mutual of Omaha's Wild Lane

CAUTION: This post is mildly gruesome, particularly those feline-loving readers.

This post deals with a half-cat, not to be confused with either a half-track or a snowcat.

On my way to town last week, I noticed something that resembled a dead animal alongside the lane. After backing up for a closer look, I was disgusted to see a half-cat lying in the grass. The following picture will describe the approximate amount of cat that was lying there.

We suspect a coyote to be the culprit.

Here's a time line of events, as observed on my way to work each morning:

Day One: Observe half-cat in grotesque state.
Day Two: Observe half-cat in less-than-recognizable state. Turkey vulture very reluctantly flies off as I drive up.
Day Three: Observe disheveled half-cat skeleton surrounded by clumps of half-cat fur.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Clark School

All three of the kids spent the last weekend at my parents' house, so Kimberly and I spent the entire weekend trying to remember how to live without the kids. It was no small task. I think we managed.

As part of the management process, I rode to Royal and back using my "guaranteed wind shift" route. On the way back, I finally remembered to stop at the northwest corner of Homer Lake (corner of 2500E and Homer Lake Rd) to look at a historical marker that I've known about for some time, but always have forgotten to actually look at.

View Royal Loop in a larger map. The Clark School historical site is at the blue marker on the left.

This is the site of the Clark School, a one-room schoolhouse that was active from 1856-1951. The display there talks mostly about the collection of schoolhouses that were around Homer. I believe it said there were more than 10 within 10 miles of Homer at one point in time.

This site is particularly interesting to me because the display includes a 1930 picture of the students (about 20) and their teacher in front of the school. Front and center in the picture is my grandmother, Christine Morrison (Wiese), and two of her sisters. Around he same time, my grandfather was also attending a one-room school house situated about halfway between our house and Homer. I don't believe there's a marker for that one though.

Homer has a more interesting history than one would guess from its current state. The town was originally built about a mile north of its current location, on the Salt Fork. It was later moved to where it is now. A trolley used to run through town. In the early part of the century, Homer was the center of African-American life in Champaign County. I've learned this from paging through one of the Homer history books that have been published.

One of these days, we'll get around to visiting the Homer Historical Society Museum, that's supposed to be interesting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Impromptu Staycation

For some unknown reason, we've been unmotivated to do much advanced summer planning this year. Thus, most of our summer plans have been developed in less than one week.

After briefly discussing the possibility of visiting my brother in Dubuque last weekend, we decided that was a trip worth planning in advance. So, we just decided to stay home for the weekend and get a few things done around the house (and watch the Tour de France, of course).

Ethan expressed an interest in taking the trail-a-bike (note the "bike-train" pictures, this is probably in my future) to Homer Lake, where he knew that he could probably weasel a soda out of me. So, the saga begins (In the spirit of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie)

If your oldest son wants to ride the trail-a-bike, chances are
You will want to give your next-oldest son a short ride to help learn pedaling, which will lead to
Him wanting to ride in the trailer. If you say "okay," chances are
Your youngest son will want to ride in the trailer, which results in you saying you will
Take them both for a ride to the Homer City Park. If you go for a ride, chances are
Your oldest son will want to ride along on his own bike. If you go to the Park on a hot day, the water playground might be on and
Your sons might want to get soaked to the bone, but that's okay because you remembered a towel.

If your sons burn off lots of energy in the water, they might be hungry, so you might ride across town to the gas station to
Get your sons Schwann ice cream treats.

If your sons have had a fun afternoon, chances are they'll want to continue this by
Planning to sleep outside in the tent.
After remembering how to sent up the tent/house with the "help" of your three sons, chances are you'll want a drink...

If your kids are going to sleep in the tent, of course they'll want to
Have a campfire and cook marshmallows.

If your kids are outside in the summer evening,
They'll want to catch fireflies.

After sleeping in the tent all night, chances are
a) you'll want a Tylenol and
b) Ethan will still want to ride to Homer Lake on the trail-a-bike.
If you get out the trail-a-bike, chances are...

I apologize to the photography-inclined for the blurry cellphone pictures.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Test Passed

While I'm sure it will take a while for our new Pilot to fully feel like a member of the family, it sure earned itself a lot of points this past week. After waiting weeks, Menards finally had 1/2 baltic birch plywood in stock for a couple of days (literally) when I could actually pick it up.

Hauling 4x8 sheets of plywood was always a bit dicey with the Jeep. It involved the plywood lying at an angle, lots of tie downs, and the back door being mostly open, which made for a fun drive on the interstate.

When we were shopping for the new car, I took a trusty tape measure to measure critical dimensions, such as garage door clearance, snowy driveway clearance, and plywood loading clearance. The Jeep Commander cargo area was so small, that I wasn't convinced that I'd be able to even get plywood through the rear opening. However, my measurements indicated the likelihood of 4x8 plywood actually lying flat between the wheel wells of the Pilot.

I wouldn't believe it until the Menards guy helped me slide it in there. Simply Amazing!

Of course, when the plywood lies flat the back door closes nearly all the way. I had the most pleasant drive home that I've ever had with wood sticking out the back of the car. It was so exciting that I took a picture before unloading this ridiculously expensive plywood:

Friday, July 3, 2009

Postal Terrorism - One Year Later

To those who complain about federal terrorism dollars being spent in Smalltown, USA, I tell you that terrorists can strike anytime, anywhere.

At approximately 11:45pm on July 2, 2008, unidentified terrorists (likely sleeper agents) executed a coordinated attack on our defenseless, unsuspecting mailbox. Although the ATF never showed up to investigate, I'm guessing that the explosive was highly illegal in Illinois (but maybe not in Indiana). The attack was boldly commenced while lights were still on in our house (I think I was working when the grass-rocking explosion occurred).

The explosion blew the top, , which was never recovered from the scene, off of the mailbox. The bottom of the mailbox was permanently deformed, and the top of the mailbox post was nearly severed.

If the Department of Homeland Security had provided me with the terrorism dollars I had requested, this disaster could have been prevented with high-intensity security lights and high-definition security cameras.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Couple of Photos

For the medically curious and/or inclined, here are a couple pictures of my hand. I'm sure I'll end up with a nasty scar, since the ER doctor did a purposely quick job, assuming that the hand surgeon would just open it back up.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wait And See...

Well, the surgeon pointed out that I didn't totally sever my tendon, or I wouldn't be moving my finger up. I was given the choice of having them open it up on Thursday to see if it really needed to be fixed, and maybe fixing, or just waiting to see if it completely breaks.

I chose the wait and see approach, which the doctor also seemed to favor. He said I could take off all of the dressings and should use my finger a lot. For some reason, I'm not overly inclined to try and break my tendon!

I assume what will happen now is that the tendon will rupture right after I arrive in CA next week and I'll have to cut my trip short...

Saturday, June 27, 2009 chisels are sharp.

So, with Kimberly gone for the week, I decided I had better get some entertainment center work done this morning. While prepping some doors to be painted, I was using a chisel to scrape off some glue seep-out. Despite knowing better, I had my left hand in the path of the chisel.

You can guess what happened next: the chisel slipped, but my left hand was close, so the chisel stopped slipping abruptly when it hit my knuckle bone, sans skin. Fortunately, I'm fairly cool under pressure, so after a few choice words, I got some paper towels on the cut and stopped the bleeding in short order.

Now...I'm at home alone with three kids (one sick) and need to go to the ER. Ummmm....

Ethan helped me splint and bandage my finger. He also helped man the phone and get Aidan (who took this opportunity to get the marshmallows out for a snack) dressed and Owen with his sweatshirt to fight his fever-induced shivers. The Moore family was gracious enough to watch the boys. As we pulled up, Ethan had his look of "something bad is about to happen" as Owen threw up in his lap. Again, yeah for the Moores.

The ER was thankfully quick. After an xray and some poking and prodding (after some numbing), the doctor decided that I had cleanly severed a tendon and that was beyond emergency room care, in fact, beyond Provena care entirely. So, he stuck in a couple of stitches and wrapped me up. The most painful part of the visit was the anti-biotic shot on my butt. I think I was in the hospital for less than 90 minutes! I'll be visiting a hand surgeon at Carle Monday morning to have everything reconnected.

The in-laws came and brought the boys home for me and spent the afternoon keeping us company. We will all look forward to Kimberly's return tomorrow.

Not surprisingly, I will not be flying to Sunnyvale this Monday!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chanute Air Museum

Last week, my grandparents from New Jersey visited us for a couple of days. I took off work, and we sought out fun things to do that we don't do often, or at all.

On Tuesday, I decided we should investigate the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul. I know the museum has been around for several years and it sounded neat. We've just never visited. While visiting their website, I was surprised by how many aircraft they actually have on display. I assumed they had a few small craft, and perhaps one large "showcase" plane. However, by my count, they have 42 aircraft on display!

The museum is located in one of the original hangar buildings at the former airbase. Admission is a reasonable $10 for adults, $5 for kids (5+). Kids under 4 are free (great for the Ashbrooks).

First, you wind your way through two long hallways of rooms that have a number of exhibits about the history of the airbase (first built in 1923, I believe), life on the airbase, general military aviation, etc. They have one whole hallway wall of pictures from throughout the years. I found that the most interesting. The kids weren't crazy about this area, but I didn't expect them to. Near the end of this area, they have a room full of old Frasca flight simulators. While it was interesting to see the electro-mechanicals of these 50 (?) year old beasts, there was little to no information in this room, beyond model numbers. As an engineer, I would have at least expected production years and a few factoids.

Finally, we made our way out into the main hangar where most of the planes are located. The planes are all nicely lined up and roped off. They each have a sign or two in front of them describing the particular model, and also the particular plane that's on display. This was interesting, but you couldn't get too close to most of them. There were no hands-on displays for the kids to get up close and personal with the planes, or look inside the cockpits. They are currently restoring a very old F-15 (early 70s?), so that had some interesting information about the restoration.

The kids (with me being drug slowly behind) quickly made their way outside to the large planes. Among the planes outside are a large Navy WV-2 reconnaissance plane, a C-130 cargo plane, a huge C-133 cargo plane, and the only remaing XB-47 (which I thought was particularly cool). These planes are very impressive because of their size. Unfortunately, there still isn't any information beyond a small sign for each. It would definitely be neat to see inside these planes, especially the cargo planes. Sadly, these planes look to be quickly deteriorating because of the weather. I think the museum is historically underfunded.

Finally, we went back inside to see a few more planes, including a B-58 supersonic bomber. This plane is in excellent condition. It would be nice to see the inside. Interestingly, my grandfather (a fellow UI electrical engineering alum) remembers designing antennas for this plane that never quite made the final cut. They are also restoring a B-25. That had a gangway alongside so that you could see into the currently gutted cockpit. They also have pieces of ICBM silos inside that were used for training ICBM crews. They didn't have much information on those though.

All told, we spent a couple of hours at the museum. It wasn't great for the little kids. I thought it was worth the trip for the engineers in the crowd. However, the museum could definitely use a lot of improvements in the plane area to make it more than a display of old planes. I'm sure I'll go again.

Here are a few (rainy) pictures:

Aidan and Owen by the VC-47.

Grandpa and the boys under the WV-2

Ethan violating the look but don't touch rule

Ethan and Aidan next to the C-133

Owen "Ace" Ashbrook

Ethan hanging in a missile silo simulator.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Make The Itching STOP

I realize that everyone (except Kimberly) goes through this, but I'm going to moan and groan anyway.

Why, exactly, did God feel the need to put poison ivy on the earth?

Monday night I found myself itching under my chin a lot. Later, I was scratching my stomach. Later still I was scratching my upper arm. At that point, alarm bells went off and I decided to reassess the situation. Closer examination of these body parts revealed the tell-tale bumps with which I'm quite familiar. I seem to get some poison ivy just about every summer, but I've never had it in so many locations at once.

By Tuesday morning, I'd added my chest, lower arm, and my knee (front and back). This was alarming enough to get me to visit Convenient Care. The doctor agreed that it was weird to be so many places, but said he'd treat it just the same. I've never actually gotten drugs for poison ivy before, what fun!

As I write this, I think I've reconstructed the events. I was spreading mulch on Monday evening, and pulling weeds while I was at it. I thought I had gloves on most of the time, but not all the time. I then proceeded to either (a) scratch a lot, and/or (b) spread it all over in the shower. I've heard that a hot shower immediately after exposure helps the oil penetrate better.

All of the patches are small, and none is too annoying, but the sum is not fun. The lower arm is particularly annoying, because that's where my arm rests 70% of the day in front of my computer.

Next step: find offending plant, remove from children's path.

Monday, June 1, 2009

$60 Pancakes

For reasons that are very Ashbrook, we had to drive to Champaign Saturday morning to get the van so Kimberly could drive north to a wedding shower.

Well, you can't go to Champaign without going somewhere, so we decided to go out to breakfast (with the kids, of course). We hadn't visited the Original Pancake House in recent memory. I love their pancakes, so there we went. We had a surprisingly short 20 minute wait. They had lots of kids books to keep the little ones busy while waiting.

Breakfast started by talking Ethan out of ordering a $4 bowl of cereal. For those of you who aren't familiar, they don't really have a kid's menu. They have a couple of "Jr. Plates," but it's not clear to me exactly what those are. So, the little boys decided to share a plate of chocolate chip pancakes, and a side of sausages.

After a few changes of mind, Ethan settled on ordering the same as me - Bacon and Eggs, with the obligatory side of pancakes. Kimberly ordered Corned Beef Hash. This all sounds reasonable. Except... for those keeping tally, that's 4 full adult meals, and a side of sausage. Did I mention that everyone ordered seemingly expensive milk or juice?

Ethan and I enjoyed our breakfasts. Others enjoyed parts of their breakfasts (Ethan and I enjoyed those as well). We had decent service. Aidan entertained the entire dining room since he didn't really want to eat chocolate chip pancakes -- just make me cut them up. Ethan drew the ultimate disaster movie poster on his place mat (volcano, thunderstorm, tornado, complete with roofless house).

The bill for this quick breakfast (including tip): $60!!!

I'm pretty sure that when we make pancakes and sausage at home, the bill comes in at about $6 for the entire family (think Sam's pancake mix). Maybe we'll try IHOP next time. They have kids meals.

We decided against Hickory River for dinner in lieu of home grilled pork.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Welcome Back

to the land of monthly car payments. Kimberly and I drove to Indy yesterday to inspect and pick up our new (certified used) Honda Pilot. After driving several mid-sized SUVs last weekend, we decided that the Pilot was the way to go. Then, I discovered that Honda has a Certified Pre-Owned program. Our first Saturn was certified (our current Saturn is certifiably something-else) and we were always pleased with it. I spent the week seeking out the best deal over the Intraweb-thingy and was able to negotiate the Pilot for less than I expected. By negotiating entirely through e-mail, I was able to avoid awkward and silly moments of "Let me go talk to my manager."

New Pilot in driveway

Here are the technical details. It's a 2006 Honda Pilot EX-L (white with a gold pimp stripe) with about 40k (40,000 for non-engineers) miles. It has 4-wheel drive with leather interior and a sunroof. For the kids (and parental sanity), it has the DVD player as well. It's in beautiful condition. Because it gets about 2-4 miles more per gallon than the Jeep (when it was newer), we certainly deserve a tax credit! It has enough space that we could take this on trips if we chose. Did I mention that it fits in the garage?

The kids all immediately jumped into the third row and buckled themselves in.

While I haven't dealt with many of them, I can certainly recommend Ed Martin Honda in Indianapolis. They gave us a great deal (at least it seems as much), and they were quite polite and courteous when we actually met them in person.

Friday, May 8, 2009

And So It Begins

Not to complain, but tonight is the perfect example of why our lives always seem to be inconvenient (thus the title of this blog). I test drove my first candidate car after work today - a lightly used Jeep Commander. I was quite impressed. It's a much nicer outfitted vehicle than I'm used to. It's got some shortcomings, but a nice price has a way of covering those up.

Over dinner, Kimberly asked if it would fit in the garage. So, I went out and measured the garage opening. Judging from the on-line specs of the Jeep, we would have an inch or two to spare on the height. Further investigation will be required (on-site measuring, or test-drive to Homer).

On tap for tomorrow - a cadre of Japanese SUVs. These are all short enough, but will push the width of the garage opening. I'll take my tape measure. Maybe someone would be willing to throw in a new garage if I pay sticker price?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fare Thee Well...

Well, the insurance company declared the Jeep a total loss. Apparently, they're discounting all of the fun road trips (mostly to and from VT) that we've taken over the years. The Jeep was a fine companion.

Now, the search is on for a slightly (but not too much) larger SUV capable of driving through unplowed rural roads, and carrying four crazy little boys!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Way the Vermonter Crumples

Well, as many of you may have heard, I wrecked our beloved Jeep last week. While driving down a very open stretch of rural road in broad daylight (but still with my lights on), someone decided to back out of a driveway right in front of me. Fortunately, I'm paranoid and had already slowed considerably...just not enough to avoid impact.

Judging from (a) how far I didn't push him, (b) how little of my front-end crumpled, and (c) my airbag didn't go off and I didn't head-butt the steering wheel, I'm guessing I wasn't going very fast. No one was injured and I fortunately didn't have any kids in the car.

Unfortunately, the Jeep took a good beating (which it handled quite gracefully). It seemed drivable, except for the dripping coolant (that was just replaced 6 weeks ago). So, I got as close to home as Sidney before I red-lined the thermostat. There she sits...

Hopefully, I'll find out the prognosis tomorrow. If it wasn't 11 years old with 170k miles, I'd say the prognosis was good. However...

Fancy Cellphone Picture of Crashed Jeep

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Way the Asphalt Roofing Bounces

Since our house started leaking like a sieve, I thought I should probably fix the problem, or abandon the sinking ship.

One morning last week when it was pouring, I decided to stick my head out the window and play with our window air conditioner (that helps cool the second floor). This thing was causing water to not drip inside, but actually trickle (big difference). This trickle, in turn, was working its way down the wall and out through a first floor light, just three feet from the otherwise leaking living room ceiling.

I originally had thought last year that water just wasn't properly draining out of the air conditioner. I climbed up on the roof, and checked that it was not level (should drain the right way), and that its drain hole was clearing the plywood shelf it's sitting on. Everything seemed fine. So, on this rainy morning last week, I got to see the leak at work. I realized that nearly an inch of water was sitting in the body of the air conditioner! Duh...maybe the drain hole just wasn't working. A few screwdriver pokes later, and water was pouring out the designed drain hole, rather than the improvised one in my wall! One (major) leak down, several to go...

I was (optimistically) sure the tape-popping leak in the living room was coming from a section of flat roof directly above. The roof covering had some nasty cracks, so I didn't need to use much imagination to figure out where water might come from. Yesterday morning, I climbed up on the roof with some mobile home roofing stuff. It comes in a paint can and is a nasty mix of an oily substance, and a very thick silvery / sandy substance. It's so messy, that I actually don't try to clean the paint brush when I'm done (I'm normally quite anal about cleaning and reusing brushes). Of course, this was not the first time I've used the stuff, so I started with a partial leftover can. I painted the whole roof section, and then went and finished off the newly opened can on our well cover.

Last evening, Kimberly asked why I hadn't painted the whole roof...strange... I took a look, and guess what, the old can and the new can did not look the same! Now we have a two-tone roof. Kimberly was quite gracious and said it didn't matter. Then I mentioned that I had painted the little piece that hangs down and can be seen from the ground. I'll be buying another can and paying another visit to the roof. On the positive side, we've gotten 1/3 inch of rain this morning, and no leaks (fingers crossed, knocking on wood).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ducks Gone Wild

Easter morning was a little crazier than usual at our house. Perhaps it was because the boys woke up at 6, or maybe because we started out the day by watching Bolt. Regardless of the cause, the carnage was almost too horrible to look at:

Good thing we had Super Aidan around to clean up the mess:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ode To The Ladder Climbers

Here's to all those who climb ladders for a living - roofers, painters, gutter installers, illegal underpaid handymen, and most of all, firefighters. These brave individuals go to work every day knowing that they will prop a ridiculously tall, ridiculously flimsy (given the altitude) ladder against a building, climb the ladder, and only then proceed to actually do their work. I salute you!

For those of you who don't know, heights and I don't get along well. This is why I haven't been down the seven story slide at the City Museum - I can't climb the seven flights of steps. Ethan doesn't quite get that.

I decided to start fixing our roof leak on Saturday. That involved getting out the ladder and climbing onto a section of first story roof. I actually don't have much a problem with that. However, since I had the (tall) ladder out, I decided it was a good time to inspect the second story gutters that have been overflowing. So, I wrestled the ladder up to the second story gutters (25-30 feet?) and proceeded to climb up to the most-overflowing area. To my surprise, the gutter was clean as could be. I thought "Perfect, the downspout is just clogged." That was the case, but I was not so lucky on the other half of the gutter. So, the back gutter required 3-4 dreadful trips up and down with a bucket full of gutter gunk. No big deal...

Then, the overly responsible homeowner in me took over and decided the front corner of the house should be inspected as well. No problem: Wrestle ladder down, drag to front of house, wrestle ladder back up. Gulp. The ladder had to be raised two more notches to reach these gutters, and it was on the corner of the house (which I really hate). Of course, by the time I got to the top, the breeze decided to pick up. Sure enough, the downspout was so clogged and packed it was difficult to clean. Especially one handed while the other hand (on the end of the arm wrapped lovingly around the ladder) clutched desperately to the ladder rungs. I also did this at eye level to prevent having to climb just one more rung to a point where I could probably work efficiently. I think it only took 15 minutes to clean out the 2 foot stretch. I'm sure this would have been amusing to watch.

Needless to say, I was glad to drag the ladder back to my shop and come inside. Why don't we own a ranch house?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Ode to E.R.

Goodbye old friend...

As some of you may know, the last episode of ER was on Thursday night after 15 (?) years. Kimberly and I stopped watching it a few years ago (I think around the time that Carrie was leaving) because it was too depressing. But we felt inclined to watch the last episode of a show that we had followed since it's beginning (around the time we started dating).

Sadly, all the show did was remind us why we stopped watching it -- too many depressing and rehashed story lines. Lost (Kimberly's favorite Lost blog here) is much more fun.

My final tribute to the show when they played the theme song at the end was one last "Peter Benton punching the floor move". This was a scene from the show's opening when he was still a regular character.

Maybe now we won't have to work so hard to find a different network to watch on Thursdays after the funny shows are on.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Days That Try

Yesterday was one of those great days that try our collective patience with our house. Between the time I got home, and 3:00AM, here are some of the issues that popped up:

  1. Our trash service is dumping us. They won't come up our drive anymore because of unspecified safety concerns. I can't imagine how we would get our trash to the end of our long driveway.
  2. Our beautiful living room ceiling sprung a leak that has popped some of the drywall tape. I think this is a simple roof fix. But, now our ceiling is going to need to be fixed.
  3. Water pooled in our basement. This always happens when it rains. I think I've narrowed down most of the problem to a window. It doesn't cause any problems, but it's annoying.
  4. Daphney woke me up at 3:00 when she wouldn't stop barking. She was barking at (but wouldn't go investigate) the garbage can that had blown across the yard. I almost had to go outside in my robe to solve this problem.
  5. The entire first floor smelled like sewage. This is an occasional problem when it's really windy from the north. The smell (but not materials) comes up through a basement floor drain that's connected to a field tile that's supposedly connected to our septic tank. This is easily solved by putting a bucket over the drain, so the smell was gone by this morning.

Ahh...the times that try...

On the positive side, our home theatre now has rear speakers for the first time since we moved into this house.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring Break in Metro East

This last weekend was the end of the kids' (and Kimberly's) spring break. So, to celebrate, we spent a long weekend in the Metro East area (that's the Illinois side of the St. Louis area). Owen mostly just wanted to play with 20-30 year old Legos. Jonathan mostly wanted to play with Owen. Ethan wanted to bike. Aidan wanted to ride his scooter.

On Friday we headed off to the City Museum (our newest St. Louis-area membership). If you haven't been there, you have to go. It doesn't matter if you have kids or not. It's awesome for anyone ages 2-35. If you're past 35, you 're likely to get winded and sore knees. This was the first time we've taken the kids without an extra family member, so the adult/kid ratio was < 1. The kids enjoyed getting to climb outside for the first time since the fall. We had a great day, but we were beat by the time we got home to eat a little Alfonso's Pizza (Kimberly's personal favorite).

Ethan swinging in the skate park

On Saturday, my parents joined us and we went to the St. Louis Science Center to see Sue before she left. The kids had a good time, but they were a little more antsy than on Friday. The little kids had lots of fun in the Discovery Room. Owen and I made a jump with the marble run. Sue was cool (I learned that dinosaur exhibits are usually just casts of the skeletons and they keep the real bones locked away in a secret lair). The little boys made baby dinosaur hatchlings.

Sue about to bite my head off

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ah...The Open Road

Yesterday was the first outdoor cycling day of the season for me. Between kids and commuting, I find it difficult to find time to ride, other than in the morning. Unfortunately, it's still too dark to do that safely, so I've been riding the trainer in the basement for the last few weeks. Despite the torture, I'm definitely in better shape than usual. Yesterday's ride was one of the most pleasant "first rides" in recent memory. Being able to walk this morning just further supported that observation.

I enjoyed a quick 25-mile loop through Fairmount, past Jamaica (township, not independent island country), and back through Homer. It's still gray and brown for the most part, but the air is much fresher than that in our basement. The jury is still out about a follow-up ride today. Painting must be completed first.

Aidan and I also enjoyed getting out our kite yesterday for the first time. It was a lackluster kite day (directly improving the quality of the aforementioned bike ride). However, Aidan was very patient waiting for the wind gusts. He's quite the kite flyer. Unlike with his brothers, I did not have to run across the field to fetch any "released" kites.

Mr. Mom (The Conclusion)

Well, I survived.

There were no major mishaps, and I ended the week with the same number of kids that I started with!

It sure is lonely when no one is around our house. Since the kids spent the latter half of the week in Mattoon, I was all alone. Very quiet. It's a good thing I had painting to do (and Civilization to play), or I might not have been able to occupy my time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mr. Mom (Day 3)

Well, I've accomplished my first two goals: no broken children during our first two days, and no broken children after a full day of school!!!

The boys are having fun in the nice weather. They get to play outside after dinner way later than Mommy would ever let them! Owen didn't want to play outside tonight, so he went to play with Legos upstairs. After a while, Ethan came in to get Owen and they both went bounding outside. It was the first day of the season for the Gator, who's battery is getting sadder and sadder.

Unfortunately, the current woodworking score is: Entertainment Center (2), Jonathan (1). My hopes of quickly finishing the finish were dashed last night when priming one unit required nearly 3 hours. Tonight was awash after folding clothes and packing overnight bags for the boys. Maybe I'll make headway tomorrow...

Here's a picture of one side before applying any finish:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mr. Mom (Day 1)

So it begins... Kimberly left early this morning for her week-long work trip to the West. I'll have the boys to myself for most of the week. Fortunately, it's nice outside, so we won't be cooped up inside all week.

I have three goals for the week:
1) make it through the first 8 hours with no broken kids. (Kimberly had been gone <8 hours in the fall when Owen broke his leg).
2) make it through the first 8 hours of school on Tuesday with no broken kids. (See #1 above)
3) finish the trim , paint, and lacquer on Kimberly's entertainment center. If this is not done when she returns, I dare not think of the consequences.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fun Mac Mod

After peeling away my crazy dad exterior, you'd find my inner home renovator. After peeling that away, most of what is left is geek. So, while browsing Slashdot (for which I have 5 moderator points to go use up) yesterday, I stumbled over this fun MacBook mod (that's modification for those not hardware-inclined).

I enjoyed the Slashdot comments about how pointless this is and how it doesn't make anyone more productive. Who cares? My favorite part of Macs (other than being UNIX-based) is that their design is fun. This mod just makes them that much more fun. Perhaps while Kimberly's gone this week, I'll go drop $3k on a new MacBook Pro so that I can dismantle it. Warranty void if broken.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Monster, Monster, Monster!

Saturday night was the annual Monster Nationals monster truck show at Assembly Hall. Since I haven't seen the show since college (think Jet Powered Quad Bike and Bicycle Extreme Team), I thought it was time that the boys have some exposure to Midwest culture. Ethan, Owen, and I had great row 5 seats in B section on the side.

I remembered to buy ear plugs for all of us, but in a classic move, I left them in the car. The boys quickly learned to plug their own ears. Of course, they were mostly interested in getting a snack, but I said that had to wait for intermission. The beginning of the show was a lot of talking and revving of alcohol-fueled engines. However, as soon as the first truck launched off of the junk cars into a monster wheelie, Owen practically jumped out of his seat screaming with excitement -- mission accomplished.

There was no jet-powered quad bike, but there was a jet-powered golf cart that heated up the entire arena. That was sweet! Intermission included a pretzel, popcorn, and soda, so Ethan's mission was accomplished. The second half of the show dragged on a little as the trucks raced across the cars. However, the second half did include a (lengthy) show by Megasaurus! This was of course Owen's favorite part. It was quite enjoyable to watch the hydraulic jaws literally tear a car in half.


When we got home, Owen and Ethan didn't think it would be a very good idea to crush Mommy's van with my own monster truck (as Owen refers to my Jeep). I'm guessing that we'll be revisiting the Monster Nationals in the future.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tripping The Dad Fantastic

On Saturday, Ethan had his final 1st/2nd grade youth basketball game of the season. They made it "fancy" by having it in the afternoon, rather than the morning. They did player introductions using spotlights while the big lights were out. They had a "real" referee. The teams had chairs for the bench instead of sitting on the stage.

Ethan was much more active than he usually is during the game. I think he's finally getting the feel for moving around and trying to get the ball. He made baskets on two back-to-back possessions. I think those are the first he's made since the first game of the season. I believe his 3 baskets tops my 0 baskets during my one basketball season as a 6th grader. It was really exciting to see him make some plays, as you can see in this video:

We were also lucky to have Ethan's Great-Grandpa Morrison be able to see him play. Grandpa was in Homer (where he spent most of his life) visiting for the weekend, so he couldn't miss a visit to the Homer Old Gym!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Well Enema

This last fall we had our well run dry three times. Usually, this happens about once a year. We're not real sure what happened, but it was probably the confluence of a dry fall and Owen learning to use the toilet, hourly. We also ran out of water Christmas week. That time, we might have just had a frozen pipe. Needless to say, we've been real conservative with our water usage since then. However, we didn't move out here to use less water. So...

My grandfather had mentioned that the last time he pulled the pump out of the well, there was 6-8 feet of gunk in the bottom and the pump wouldn't go all the way back in. So, we thought maybe the well needed to be cleaned out to have a little more capacity, and maybe open the bottom back up, where the water's supposed to come in from the limestone.

It's taken 2 months to find someone who provides this service, get our schedules to match up with the weather, and get the health department to clear him to work on our well that has a well pit (which is no longer kosher with health code). He came out today to flush the well out for the first time in the 60 years since it was put in.

Well pit. I put in the red tank and associated newer plumbing in during a snow storm a couple of years ago after the original pressure tank (lower left) sprung a leak.

After pulling the top off the pit and pulling my pump (>15 years old) out of the well, he did some tedious measurements and pumping with his own pump to measure the well levels. Most of the water seemed to be coming out of the soil, rather than out of the limestone. Then, he put some massive 6" PVC together and stuck it onto the top of the casing (top right in the picture). Then, he fed some 2" rigid PVC all the way to the bottom and pumped ~1200 gallons down in there to loosen up and float out all the gunk. Mostly what came out was gray shale drill cuttings that have washed into the well over the years. Some rust came up as well.

Our well pump and it's 60 feet of pipe.

This rust stuff flushed out first. This is why our filters clog up so fast.

Mostly, this stuff came out. It's all tiny little pieces of clay-like shale that had washed into the well over the years. The water eventually became clear, for those who have drunk water at our house.

Next came more tedious measurements that seemed to indicate that we had revived some of the limestone supply. The well seemed to be constantly producing ~5 1/2 gallons per minute, after pumping several hundred gallons to dissipate the water in the soil. The well guy thought that was an impressive number for our well and is probably about as much as our plumbing can handle anyway.

Finally, he put our pump back in, and we cleaned up the untidy wiring that was in the pit. Now, we should be able to "pump the hell out of it."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ski Trip 2009

This past weekend was the annual Ashbrook ski trip. This annual event involves staying with my brother in Dubuque, IA and visiting local ski "hills." This usually includes my siblings (and significant other(s)) and my dad (so that we have someone to get injured). I was extra excited this year to take Ethan with us as well. He was excited to miss two days of school!

We drove to Dubuque on Thursday through dense fog the entire trip. We had planned to do a little skiing on Thursday afternoon, but the pouring rain put the brakes on that. Instead, Nick and I took Ethan to see Coraline.

On Friday we headed across the river to Chestnut Mountain in Galena. I started off with Ethan on the bunny hill. By the third time down, he went down without falling. Of course, the rope tow was a fun adventure. After a little lunch Ethan headed off to Powder Ranger school for the afternoon. Nick, Grace, and I hit the big kid slopes while Dad and Chelsea learned to snow board on the bunny slope (suckers). Conditions were much better than we were expecting thanks to cold air and a warm sun. There wasn't a crowd either, so there was no waiting in lift lines. When I picked Ethan up, the first thing he said was "Hey, can we go ski some more?" Mission accomplished! I took him down the bunny hill a couple times and then he decided he was ready for the real hill. After a couple of great trips down the long green trail, he was done for the day. Mom came along and made us some great white chili in Nick's apartment.

Saturday morning, we got up extra early and hopped in our cars for the two hour drive to Cascade Mountain north of Madison. For anyone who's driven I94 up there, Cascade is the ski place right next to the Interstate. They had a little more real snow, and a bright sun again, so snow conditions were fantastic (not as nice as when Chelsea, Brett, Aimee, and I had when we drove up for the day in 2003?). Unfortunately, the Saturday crowd created moderate lift lines. Ethan was ready for the big time after one trip down the bunny slope (and an interminable wait for the bunny chair lift). He was a bit shocked at the speed of the quad chair lift, but he took it in stride. After his first green run, he wanted to know when he could do a blue trail. By the end of the morning, we took him down the Manitou (which was actually marked as a black Super Park on the big maps). It was pretty steep for a little guy, but he loved it. By the end of the day, he'd done all of the blue trails at least once. His favorite was a flat, twisty, and icy trail through some trees called Glades. When we told him it was time for the last run, he was sad that he could not do a black for the final run! While we took turns skiing with Ethan, we all (including Dad and Chelsea who had skis) enjoyed doing all of the various black (not really very black) runs. We finally called it quits around 6 and started the 2 hour trip back. We had a late (9:30) dinner at Salsa's in Dubuque. Ethan and the rest of us were all ready for bed after that!

Ethan ready for Powder Rangers

Ethan taking a break on Old Main

Ethan and Grandpa waiting in line at Cascade

Ethan sizing up "Manitou" at Cascade.