18 July 2015

Arizona Vacation!

[I'm going to make an effort to get back to blogging, not as often as I used to but at least to document memorable events]

Flickr photo album

The family just got back from almost a week in Tucson, AZ.  We had a delightful, fun-filled time with the Tucks.  I think Isa swam every day we were there.  Plus they have two dogs (one of which is Isa's, "they just take care of it for me") so she started and finished each day with playing catch and teaching tricks with them.  She was in heaven. We packed a lot of things in so we had at least one outing each day.  Here's the highlights:
  • Thurs:  alarm @ 4:15AM to get to airport for 6:10 flight. Flew through Chicago to Phoenix on American Airlines.  Then we got on a small US Airways jet to hop to Tucson but after pushing back and sitting for awhile we got the news that we had a mechanical issue and would need a new plane.  So we de-planed onto the tarmac in 100 degree Phoenix heat.  Luckily it wasn't too long at all and we were on a new jet and on our way.  Phoenix to Tucson was the shortest flight I've ever been on.  26 minutes from wheels up to wheels down.  Once we got to Tucson, we were taken on a super, all-access tour of the University of Arizona.  We were on the floor of the basketball arena, on the turf of the football stadium and zipping around campus in a golf cart.  Very cool. And Martin is a top-notch tour guide, and not just for the university!  He always had background information, geographical explanations, weather insights, historical facts, etc to made every outing more interesting and meaningful.  First meal:  El Guerro Canelo.  I tried to sample it all but made sure to have a 'Sonoran-style hot dog' as seen on the FoodNetwork.  Their 'caramelo' was one of Sylvia's favorite things she ate the whole trip.
  • Fri: While the girls stayed home to play, I got up and went to work with Martin.  He got me into the Rec Center and then left to get his work done.  I spent the next few hours working out, trying out battle ropes and throwback trampolines, running on the Mall, shopping in the retail store, watching a little Wimbledon (incredible match between Federer and Murray) and finishing it with a dip in the pool.  Martin took me to St. Mary's Mexican Food for a scrumptious birria (stewed beef) & bean burro.  It was the best burro I've had since Pablo's closed.  Afterwards, we picked up the girls and went to Colassol Cave but opted for the horse ranch instead of the actual cave. Isa got to go for a short horse ride and also lead a mini-horse around.  She didn't stop talking about that horse ride for the rest of the week.  Her and Elle sluiced for gems with good success.  We capped the day with a great meal at La Guadalajara, complete with table-side custom salsa-making and wonderful mariachi music. 
  • Sat: Relaxed in the morning, watching the women's Wimbledon final (Serena is a beast.) and then headed to Teresa's Mosiac Grill for lunch.  It was mentioned in a recent NY Times article and Bobby Flay came there in 2010 for a huevos rancheros throwdown. (I hadn't watched it until we came back.  Check it out, it's a fun show.) Along with incredible panaramic views, we could watch the woman at the grill, hand-patting out tortillas.  She makes 500 a day.  With that we were fueled for an afternoon of learning at the International Wildlife Museum (similar to Bird and Mammal Hall) and a drive up through Gates Pass in the Tuscon Mountains.  In the evening we checked out the Downtown Second Saturday festival and ate at El Charro, the oldest Mexican restaurant in the United States.  I tried their famous carne seca - a sun-dried, shredded spiced beef, sort of like a chipped beef jerky, very unique. 
  • Sun: 7:00 mass at Sts. Peter & Paul and a Bruegger's Bagel and we were off to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  Lots to see and do, part zoo, part nature preserve, part education center.  The high every day we were there was ~98-101 and the sun is intense.  So by noon, it is best to be indoors. We stopped at St. Mary's Mexican Food again on the way home for more delicious food.  Spent time relaxing, cooling down and looking at (and laughing at) old family photos.  Isa talked people into a late evening swimming outing to the University pool.  Pretty awesome to be able to go in after hours, have the place to ourselves and be able to use any of the three pools, 5 diving boards, hot tub and dive tower. 
  • Mon: Pima Air Museum had several hangars full of aircraft and history and we/I loved exploring it all.  They also have tons of aircraft outside for you to walk through.  We also took a tour on a charter bus through the neighboring "boneyard" on Davis-Monthan AFB.  Technically called the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG)  Our guide had VAST knowledge of not just the aircraft models but their history, current events, and interesting anecdotes. An awesome spectacle. Davis-Monthan AFB is home to a squadron of A-10's, one of my favorite planes, so it was a treat to see and hear then in the skies throughout the week.  
  • Tues: Sabino Canyon, part of the Coronado National Forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains was our pick for a morning of hiking.  Sylvia, Isa and I explored and hiked about 3 1/2 mile of the park.  It was really pretty and such different landscapes. Mountains, cacti, low trees and brush.  And it was HOT!  Did get to see a few good birds (Greater Roadrunner, Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wren).  Lots of lizards.  It was a fun family outing.  We met up with everyone for lunch at BK's, a super tasty meal of tacos al pastor, great salsas and cold horchata. We shopped a bit at the UofA bookstore and then hit the pool for some swim stroke help from Martin for Isa and I. Some delicious slushie drinks from Eegee's and then we went over to the city track meet and watched Elle and Isa run. A very cool community event and the girls had a great time.  Late dinner at Pionic (custom-made personal pizzas) finished a packed day.
  • Wed: Breakfast, packing and a sad airport dropoff.  A great vacation for sure.

12 May 2015

Book Character Day

Here's a snippet from Isa's school blog where she shares her selection for last week's Book Character Day...

11 May 2015

First Communion

I have been doing an abysmal job of blogging my family's events but I would be very remiss if I let Isa's First Communion go by without a mention. 
Sylvia did a fantastic job of getting her ready, finding the dress, trying out hair styles and Isa was able to wear the shoes and hair piece from our wedding.  It was extra special to have the big event on the one year anniversary of our wedding.  Family came from both sides and we had a delicious spread of food.  Lengua & cochinita pibil tacos, rice, fresh guacamole & salsas, and of course a lovely white cake.  Isa was very excited for the sacrament and did a fine job.
Yesterday was the first time she went up for communion as part of the parish and when she realize it she got excited all over again and had to tap on my arm to share the good news.

30 April 2015

Historical Tour of Court Avenue

I had the treat of meeting a tour guide just before lunch today and be escorted around a few buildings in the historical Court Avenue area of downtown Des Moines. She was prepared with a brochure she had created and was a great guide. She even allowed me to take her to lunch afterwards. It was gorgeous weather and we had a great time. The audio is a bit faint in a couple parts, my apologies.

13 April 2015

The Black Flamingo

Randomly saw this in the news this morning (as I am staying home with a sick girl).  An all-black flamingo photo'ed around Cyprus.

31 March 2015

The Dark Penguin

I haven't shared any fun news or pictures lately but homebase helped me out and sent this news article my way.  A photographer documented an all-black (or melanistic) penguin in South Georgia.  Pretty awesome limited edition!

25 March 2015

Spring Break Project: Flag Spotlight

 I like to do a small project around the house over spring break (last year I replaced a motion-activating outdoor light with the help of a friend) and this year, the idea for it came to me during a wonderful concert I was enjoying.
minovia had gotten us three tickets to a fantastic free concert by the Jazz Ambassodors, a branch of the US Army Field Band.  We were in the sixth row at the Civic Center and it was a fantastic show.  They played jazz standards from different periods and, while I am no jazz expert, I totally loved it.  "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller Band and "Feelin' Good" were a couple faves.  They finished with some patriotic numbers, including a medley of the music for each of the branches of the Armed Forces and asking anyone in the audience who was in that branch or had family members in that branch to stand up.  It was a very moving and cool tribute.  A superb show for sure and during it I thought that, since I do not bring my flag inside at night, I would put in a outdoor spotlight that would come on at dusk and spotlight it.  I didn't really do any research online but just headed to Home Depot on morning during break and they had a helpful brochure in the outdoor lighting area and I picked up what I needed with no problem.  It was a bit more than I was expecting due to having to purchase and 'power pack' which is what you plug into the outdoor outlet and it transforms the high voltage into a low-voltage for the lights and it also has the timer and light sensor. I went with LED, which was a little more expensive also.  I could've got with a solar light but I wanted something that was strong and bright. 
The install couldn't have been easier. I was done in under an hour and then waited for the sun to go down.
I was very happy with the results.  I can't wait for the first time I come home at night and see the flag lit up.  Here's to the red, white and blue!

[sidenote: I also installed an endcap on the tile at the top of the stairs to the basement, replaced a floor register in the kitchen and made a flagpole and attached my Ireland flag to display it for St. Patrick's Day.]

02 March 2015

Led Zeppelin cover by coolest percussionists ever

Minovia came across this video last weekend and I saw it on NPR also.  And it turns out Jimmy Page also liked it so much he put it on his Facebook page.  I LOVE bells, xylophones, marimbas, etc.  And these performances by the Louisville Leopards are fantastic.  The drummer is great too.  Check out "Crazy Train" also!

01 March 2015

Kitchen Floor Replacement

This picture is too flattering to our old kitchen floor.  It was a stick-down wood parquet tiles which looked fine when we bought the house but as we got into our first summer the heat and humidity had the floor buckling up and away from the subfloor.  The adhesive obviously no longer was working and as the square enlarged with the heat, there wasn't any space for them to expand so they would float up.  We endured it with mats and carpets but after our second summer the floor was chipped up and a sorry sight. So we looked at some tile samples, got a couple bids ($1000 difference between the two!) and I decided to tear out the floor one weekend just to see what our subfloor looked like.  It came up very easily to no surprise.  What was a surprise (and I had to be told by a contractor) was that the surface under the wood was not the subfloor but a layer of linoleum which I would also need to remove. That one was a bit more work, but still nothing too intense. And that got us down to subfloor. [This is the layer I failed to capture in a photo.]  
And we
lived with exposed subfloor for a couple months as we got contractors lined up and scheduled.
We purchased our tile from Lowe's.  A pretty medium gray with just a little texture to them and theyare a 12"x 24" size that we wanted in a brick pattern.  The kitchen (and small garage step-in area) would require ~100 sq ft of tile.  
The day before our contractor was scheduled to start, I had caboose over to help take my appliances out of the kitchen.  First, I'd tried the washer and got it about half out before realizing it was installed on a plywood board and wouldn't need to be removed.  They could
tile right up to it without blocking it in.  So that was wasted effort.  On to the frig.  I remembered when we purchased it that they had to remove the doors to get it
in so I was ready with my tools to do that.  Doors came off easily and I got the water line turned off and detached before we moved the frig out to the dining area and put the doors back on and plugged it back in.  Lastly we tackled the stove.  Slid it away from the wall and began the hunt to figure out how to turn the gas line off.  No valve behind the stove...or anywhere in the basement really.  I thought I found a main gas shutoff so (after consulting another friend) I zipped out to Home Depot 15 minutes before it closed and got what I would need to shut the main line and then cap off
the stove line.  Back at home, I shut the main valve and ran the stove burners to run out the gas...for ten minutes and no sign of slowing down so obviously the gas was still on.  Completely out of ideas at this point (and completely tired of messing with it) I contacted my tile guy and asked for guidance.  He lined up a heating contractor to come by at 8:30 the next morning (we were texting at 10pm) and install a gas valve.  I was thrilled.  So the next morning the gas guy came by, shut off the gas at the meter,
installed a pipe extenstion and a valve in about 40 minutes.  And then the tile guy was ready to get started and I was off to work.  Day 1 also included laying down the Dura-rock (a thin concrete-like base for setting the tile).  Day 2 all of the tile was installed.  Day 3 we picked out our grout color and Day 4 all the grout went in.  And so, after nearly a week with no kitchen, I put everything back together and cleaned everything up.  It felt so great to cook a simple dinner last night in the comforts of my own kitchen. And we LOVE how it looks. We still need to paint a floor register and get it put back and also figure out how to replace the quarter-crown molding and get a couple transitions but we are going to enjoy it for sure.

12 February 2015

Picture Perfect Tostada

I was sitting in a meeting tonight and received this text from my wife. She had made chicken tostadas and they smelled fantastic but I had to leave before they were ready so she sent me a picture of the finished product. 

Pretty fantastic, huh? 
Unfortunate, that text was closely followed by this one. 

I'm sure it still tasted good.