6/8/2014

Greetings from an overcast day in West Des Moines Iowa.

John is outside pressure washing the siding on the apartment building and I just got done cleaning the bathroom.  Decided to do blog posting while my head clears from all of the cleaning products.

Spent the last two weeks getting my knee back in shape to skate at the Heart of America Invitational in Kansas City.  Practiced four times last week and found the knee brace really helped.  Club practice ice is from 5pm to 6pm each evening – so I take a taxi there, then John picks me up after work.  He usually arrived a bit before 6 and waits in the parking lot for 15 minutes. The taxi drivers with Cab Trans are quite chatty and seem like they enjoy driving me to practice.  They ask me lots of ice skating and hockey questions.  Costs around $13 for 15 minute trip… so not the end of the world.

Took Friday as a vacation day from work.  Spent the morning playing Minecraft, getting rental car (white Nissan Altima) and packing for trip.  At 1:00pm meet John and one of his coworkers for lunch.  We took a short walk on the skywalk to the Big City Burgers and Greens.  Enjoyed a black and blue burger with fries drizzled with truffle oil.  Was pretty good and was nice to meet one of John’s coworkers

After lunch I hit the road for Kansas City.  Was an easy drive – just take I-35 South for 3.5 hours.  It was nice to hop in a car by myself and drive somewhere – something I don’t do much anymore.  Bad part was that I hit Kansas City right at rush hour – so had to contend with unfamiliar roads and stop and go traffic.  The last 15 minutes the GPS took me through a maze of interstate roads until I arrived at hotel in southern suburb of Shawnee, KS.  To save money went with a Motel 6.  Came to $54 a night and it was “just fine”.  It was an older hotel but my room was clean and updated in past year.

That evening was able to go to public skating session at the Kansas City Ice Center so I could practice on their ice and get a comfort level with their facility.  Found their ice to be a little faster to skate on then at the Buccaneer Arena.  Could really notice it when I did a simple two foot spin – easier to start spinning and would go faster.  Practiced for an hour and was happy with things – was able to go over routine several times without music and practice certain parts over and over.

On Saturday got up early and headed back over to the Ice Center for 8:00am practice ice.  They let you spend 15 minutes on the ice with 11 other skaters and go over your routine once to music.  Gives me a chance to get “my skating feet” back for when I do routine for judges later.  Is a bit intimidating to be out skating on the ice with 11 girls who skate and zip around the ice really fast.  Just blocked them out and did my thing.  One girl gave me the stink eye as she almost hit me trying to do some sort of jump… Oh well..

Next was waiting around until 10:00 and changing into skating clothes.  Then they let you go on the ice with 7 other girls for a quick 5 minute warm up.  Gave me another chance to “get my skating feet back” and practice some of the more difficult elements one more time.

Then we all exited the ice and I was up first.  They announce your name, you head out on the ice alone, strike a pose so they know to start the music and go through the routine.  Was not nearly as nervous as at the last competition.  Routine went as planned, the very ending where I do a simple waltz jump was a shaky but did not fall.

Then changed out of my skating clothes and waited 15 minutes for results. I won a first place gold metal.  Coach Elena said if I did not fulfill the requirements for Adult Light Entertainment, then I would have received a lesser metal – being only skater in category does not guarantee you first place. Ordered a few photos of my performance from professional photographer who was rink side – will post when I receive them.  Believe there is a video of performance taken by one of the coaches – will post if I can retrieve from them.

Prince modeling my gold medal

I then stayed at the competition for two more hours watching the other skaters in our club compete.  Most received metals for their performances.  Was nice to see the club skaters being able to compete well with the other clubs in the area.

Started for home at 1:00pm.  Trip back was easy once I got out of Kansas City.  Stopped for a quick lunch at Wendy’s then made it back to West Des Moines by 4:30pm.  Had John pick me at car rental place and was glad to be back home.  Ethan kept by my side for the next two hours meowing – like he was telling me everything I missed…  I asked John to refer to me as “Gold Medalist Derek” for the remainder of the weekend – he just groaned and muttered something about being the only one in my category…

Decided to make supper at home – we were both tired of eating out.  Made fetuchinne with red sauce, meatballs and french toast.  In the process of cooking I splashed boiling water on top of my left foot.  It really hurt.  I immediately put ice cubes in my sock and that helped me get through supper.

After enjoying supper, got the kitchen cleaned up and watched the first two episodes of the second of Orange is the New Black on Netflix.  Kept an ice pack on my foot while watching TV – see some the skin has blistered.  Is sore, but not bad enough to need medical attention.  So far I’m liking this season just as much as the first one.  Like how they go into the back stories of the other characters and let you see how they ended up in jail.  Many times I watch a series, love the first season, but hate where they have taken the story line in upcoming seasons – like with the TV show Weeds….

This morning we both slept in until after 8 and had simple breakfast at home.  Think John will be done with pressure washing soon.  He was having problem with breakers being thrown – believe water got into some of the outside plug-ins.  The siding gets dirty because grass does not grow next to the building.  The wide overhangs prevent rain from falling on it.  One of my projects for this summer is to put stone pebbles around the building along with landscaping fabric and a stone border.  Once done it should help keep the dirt from flying when it rains.

Next Thursday through Saturday I’m participating in the Des Moines Charity Hack 2014.  It’s a 48 hour event where computer programmers get paired up in teams and work on IT problems/solutions for various non-profit organizations.  It’s a marathon programming session – where you work for two days straight to do as much as possible.  Their web site explains a bit more.  Thought it sounded fun – so taking next Friday off of work and going for it.  I will probably be the old guy with a bunch of 20-something computer savants but oh well…

Not much else going on… Think we will probably go out for a mid-afternoon lunch, get grocery shopping done for the week and then head back home to finish up laundry.

 

 

Posted in Des Moines, IA | 2 Comments

5/25/14

Greetings from a nice Memorial Day Weekend in Iowa..

We spent the three day weekend cam the Meskwaki Casino RV park in Tama, IA.  The park was fine.  For $19.00 a night we got a nice paved site with 50 amp electrical service and picnic table.  No water or sewer at the site but the RV had plenty for us.  The park was only 1/5th full so was nice and peaceful – no children or barking dogs to contend with.

All Setup

For fun I went swimming at the hotel pool twice.  The second time a large family (mom/dad and grandparents) kept staring and scowling at me with their best “I’m from North West Iowa” demeanor  - was creepy after the first 15 minutes.  Thought they were about ready to form a prayer circle and exorcise my demons by the time I was done swimming.  Left after 90 minutes… Was not even wearing my favorite My Little Pony t-shirt… :)

We also took some rides around Tama, Toledo and Marshalltown. I like driving around small towns – interesting to see the old homes and figure out what the history of it was – John not so much.  Took in several antique/thrift shops and a Hardware Hank.  I purchase d two used cookbooks (Kingsford BBQ and Mr. Food’s 15 minute meals) and John purchased a fitting to fix the melted water tube that leads to the ice maker in the freezer.  The tube had melted last winter because I left the fridge on by accident.

We made it home by 1:00pm.  The apartment building was “just fine”.  Took an hour to get the RV unloaded and interior cleaned.  Was glad that the RV did not have any problems during our first trip of the year.  Was worried since it froze solid on us last November when the nasty cold front came through before we could complete our last trip of the year.

A few weeks back the 8 foot commercial picnic table was delivered by a big Holland semi truck.  The driver refused to deliver the 8 foot pallet with the various parts wrapped in plastic on it to a security location in the back yard.  He opened the back of the truck and said “Here you go” – implying it was my job to unload it.  The truck had no lift gate and he had nothing to unload it with.  He eventually helped me drop it on the curb before taking off.  So I was stuck moving the picnic table parts one at a time to the back yard – could not just leave it on the curb.  In hind site I should have refused delivery unless he put it in the back of the apartment building.

The table went together easy enough.  I got it 75% done before heading off to ice skating, then John finished up the final braces while I was away.  We now have a nice outdoor area for the tenants to use.  So far, the grill gets used much more then the table.

Outdoor area. Now just need some grass to grow... under the oak tree.. maybe..

Three weeks ago the handyman service installed a new front door.  They did a shitty job.  We are still complaining about it.  Basically the door is installed crooked, does not shut properly and does not seal unless you pull the door closed yourself.  The door closer is set to pull the door closed as hard as it can and still does not work.  They are now trying to blame the security company and their door strike.  One handyman told me I was going to need to tell my tenants to use the door handle to close the door behind them each time they enter or leave.  Asking tenants to do anything is like asking Prince to speak in French – just not going to happen.  John is going to call them again tomorrow to have them fix the door problems.  This could get nasty.

Two weeks ago the security company installed the new door access systems.  They did a shitty job with no attention to detail or workmanship.  They guy who did the installation was probably not old enough to purchase alcohol.  At least he was pretty to look at.  He took four days to do a job that should have taken a single day, damaged our new door frame when installing the new strike plate, accidentally drilled a hole in the hallway wall and did not drill pilot holes in wooden panels that cover up the large holes left by the old access system in each apartment.  The panels cracked when he drilled drywall screws into them.  We bitched up a storm and his manager came out and attempted to fix the problems.  We finally got tired of the whole shirt storm and sent him away.  Never again.

Their first attempt to cover up the gouges to the metal door frame. New door did not look new for long.

Once we get the door and security system projects resolved, I want to start installing landscaping rock around the apartment building.  The wide overhang of the roof causes grass to not grow two feet out around the building.  Each time it rains, dirt gets thrown up by the rain drops.  We stopped at Menard’s over the weekend and picked out the style of stone border we like and along with the smaller rock.  Now trying to decide if it would be better to work through a landscaping company and purchase materials in bulk, or have it delivered by someone like Mendards or Lowe’s.  This could easily be a $1500 project… sigh….

Still working on the Adult Light Entertainment ice skating routine for the Heart of America ice skating competition in Kansas City, MO in a few weeks.  The routine has a baseball theme to it using the song Right Field originally by Peter, Paul and Mary.  Skating buddy Rich was able to artistically mix the song so it fits into 1 minutes and 30 seconds dictated by the rules, and still tell a story.  This is an old Pizza Hut commercial that is somewhat the inspiration:

I need to get lots of practice in the next two weeks.  The main problem I’ve been having is that I keep throwing out my right knee.  Kept twisting it when getting out of the jeep – believe it is a recurring Meniscus tear.  Putting ice on it made it feel better.  To help it heal faster and prevent further twisting I purchased a Shock Doctor Knee Supporter.  It has really helped and have been able to continue skating while wearing it.  Will keep wearing it until I make it through the ice skating competition.  Bad news is that over the weekend I developed gout pains on my left knee – calling the doctor for medicine tomorrow.  I just can not win… John tells me that is what happens when a 45 year old tries to skate like a 13 year olds…  That really is not the case… I know my limitations but keep pushing :)

My knee all iced up...

Love this knee support - helps keep my knee stable so it can heal nice and strong.

John blames the ice skating for my knee injuries but I’ve not hurt them skating – happens when I’m off the ice.  I’m quite proficient at falling properly on the ice and tend not to hurt myself.

Not much else going on… heading off to read for a bit and fall asleep.  I’m “On Call” this week for work – so hoping I don’t get paged in the middle of the night.  At least it is a short week with having today off :)

Posted in Des Moines, IA | 1 Comment

4/27/14

Greetings from a stormy day in Iowa.

Had a nasty line of storms roll through this afternoon but ended up not being too bad.  Did not lose power or have any damage in the neighborhood.  Just lots of rain.  Ended up driving to ice skating lessons in the tail end of it.  All city roads so was no big deal.

Last weekend the weather was nicer out.  We purchased an electric pressure washer for use on the apartment building and motor home.  Went with a Greenworks 1700 PSI 1.4 GPM Electric Pressure Washer at a cost of $189.  It comes with 5 different nozzles and two tanks for soap or spray on wax.  It had enough power to get the grime off the RV but not too much that it would strip off the decals.  Only drawback is that you can only apply soap from the two dispensers while using the low pressure nozzle.  No big deal – just apply soap with low pressure, wait a minute then remove with higher pressure nozzle.  The RV really needed to be cleaned, but was surprised that it did not have too many black streaks on it.  Wonder if that is an indication of less pollution in the air, or we just got lucky?  John got up on top of the RV and washed the roof – he said it was quite cruddy. Probably the first time it has been washed since we left Portland, OR.

Pressure washer in action

 

John finally giving the roof a good scrubbing

Almost done..

We have been living without satellite TV for over a week now.  There’s things we both miss (HGTV, Bravo, USA Network to name a few) but I’ve found new shows to watch on free over the air TV, Netflix and Hulu Plus.  Last week watched the first season of The Paradise and really enjoyed it.  Is about a department store in the early 1900′s with all sorts of drama with the salespeople and management.  Is similar to the Mr. Selfridge show but set in the United States. Now hope seasons 2 and 3 comes to Netflix soon…

Yesterday had the fun of disconnecting all of the Directv’s equipment and putting it in a box they mailed to us.  Will drop it off at the post office tomorrow.  Is nice to have less equipment connected to the TV’s now.  We are still having trouble with some of the over the air TV channels getting all pixelated now and then.  Normally it is ABC, but tonight it was NBC.  Living in the city you would think we would have really good reception.  Will probably play around with moving the antenna to different locations in hopes of finding a sweep spot for reception.

Equipment all boxed up

Finally have a security company lined up to replace the door access system, right after the front door is replaced.  Have Kaufmann Handyman Service installing the door this week (I hope) and then Dakota Security should have the access system installed the following week.  So ready to have this project done and over with.  Without a working doorbell, can’t tell when delivery people are at the front door.

My ice skating adventures continues. Did not have lessons at Buccanner arena on Saturday due to scheduling conflict with a hockey game, but had lessons at Metro Ice today.  Still working on being able to do a 3 turn.  Instructor has me doing some exercises that will help – like skating on just the right foot while going in a circle that keeps getting smaller.  Three turns (right and left foot) is the last element I need before I can test out of level 4.

Also practicing for the “It’s A Small World” club skating show on May 10th.  This show is like a recital for kids to show off their new skating skills to their extended families and friends.  The adult learn to skate class is representing the country of Jamaica and skating to Bob Marly’s song One Love while wearing tie dye t-shirts and shorts.  Ever notice that ice skaters usually perform with not very warm clothes on?  I think it is some sort of cruel joke :) Been having practice sessions Wednesdays at 5:00pm to get the routine down. “Let’s get together and feel all right”.  Been taking a taxi there and then John picks me up on the way home.  Works out OK…

Also preparing for another ice skating competition – this time in Kansas City on the weekend of June 7th for the Heart of America Invitational 2014.  The ice skating club wants lots of its members to attend so off I go..  Believe they get points that helps their standing, or just bragging rights?  This time I’m being judged on a “Light Entertainment – Adult” category.  You are judged more on the entertainment value of the routine then specific skating elements.  Here’s two examples of Light Entertainment I found on YouTube:

Not telling what I’m doing – is going to be a surprise.  It’s not anything like the two videos above.  Have several coaches help put something together that has been stretching my skating ability and may include a little jump or two… Had learn to skate friend, Rich, help me by mixing some music for it.  He was able to take a 3 minute song and reduce it down to 1 minute and 39 seconds – even added some additional sound effects.  Thank you, Rich!!

That’s about it…  Did have a good giggle when I read about how a stash of E.T video game cartridges for the old Atari 2600 video game system was actually found in the New Mexico dessert.  Was an urban legend about how Atari’s ET game was so bad they ended up burying millions of them.  They confirmed there was some truth to the legend:  E.T Found in the New Mexico Landfill

E.T. phone home..

I remember playing the game back in the day.  Think we borrowed it from someone and did not actually own it.  Remember playing it on and off but not really getting too far with it. I was more into Frogger and Pitfall…

 

Posted in Des Moines, IA | 1 Comment

4/13/14

Greetings from a stormy day in Iowa.

Was in the middle 70′s yesterday with sunny skies, and today it is rainy with temps falling back down to the 30′s.  The wind is really blowing outside as I type..

Made it through the ice skating competition today.  The spinning team took 4th place and my solo took first place because I was the only adult who did a beginning level 3 routine to music.  Here is link to video of performance John took with his iPhone:

From John and Derek’s Blog Photos 2014

 

Routine went OK.  I had a misstep going backwards to forwards at the beginning.  The remainder of the routine went as planned.  Seeing the video shows how slow I skate – it feels like I’m moving faster when I’m going through the motions – guess that is what beginners do :)

 

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Team Trophy for Spins

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Result sheet showing I was skater #1 out of 1

I posted on Facebook about how I was the only person using the men’s locker room.  Was kinda lonely, but was kinda neat to relax and watch TV a bit.  Was amazed at how nice and clean the locker room was.  Now I’m spoiled for any possible future competitions :) John was a little miffed with me when I told him about the locker room because he was stuck watching little girls ice skate in the cold seats around the ice arena.  Just not his thing at all.

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My stuff in the locker room. All alone..

Big thanks to my skating coach, Kimberly and the Central Iowa Figure Skating Club.  Without her experience, patience and help I would have been a completely lost cause today.  She makes skating and practicing the same thing over and over fun. Now on to more ice skating fun and working to advance to higher levels.

So backtracking a few days now… Friday after getting done with programming for the bank, I went outside and started to install the new park style charcoal grill.  Started by digging a hole for the support pole and then mixed up a bag of Quikrete cement to go around it.  Managed to get it completed in about 90 minutes – including trip to Ace for the cement and the help of John and Saul.  Saul rents from us and wanted to help out :)

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The pole in cemented in place and leveled

 

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Grill all ready to go. Still nice and clean.

On Saturday morning I finished up the grill by bolting the top part on, then adding the grilling surface.  Was easy enough…  Saul then said they would cook some burgers for us that evening.  So we had a mini-cookout in the back yard.  John drug some lawn chairs out and I setup a card table for food.  Saul did the grilling while I whipped up some baked beans with bacon in it.  Everything turned out “Just Fine”.  Was nice to just hang out a relax for a bit. Even enjoyed a margarita on the rocks, or two.  I did have to cut the evening a little short because I had a final practice skating session at 6:30pm.

After I was all done skating at the competition, we headed home.  Had enough time on the way back to stop at Burger King for a quick lunch.  I then headed to Metro Ice for my Sunday afternoon lessons.  John’s getting was miffed with me over the amount of ice skating that I’m doing, but oh well…  Now need to get ready for the Spring Show the ice skating club is putting on next month. :)

Now at 9:00pm, my legs are sore and my eyes are tired.  Time to get away from the computer and get set for the upcoming work week.

 

Posted in Des Moines, IA | 2 Comments

4/10/14

Greetings from a beautiful Spring day in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Temps got into the upper 60′s today with lots of sunshine.  The lawn is starting to turn green – much nicer to look at then the matted down brown stuff.  Went on my first bike ride of the year.  Went around Raccoon Lake twice – was good to see my bike is in decent shape – only needed to pump up the tires and oil the chain a bit.  While at the park was able to see the new archery range they built – guess it is for little girls who watched The Hunger Games movies one too many times.  Actually, John has a compound bow – he should check it sometime.  I remember doing archery in High School – mainly remember pulling the sharp quils out of the side of my hand because I had the arrow oriented wrong on the string..

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Bike trail around Raccoon Lake - no leaves yet.

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New Archery Range

We have decided to stop paying for satellite TV.  John decided the bill was too high once our “special promotion” period was done and they were unwilling to make us any deals.  Our last day with satellite TV will be April 19th – the end of our billing cycle.  I purchased a Winegard FlatWave Amplified Razor thin HGTV Indoor Antenna and with it we get 18 local channels.  We will supplement this with Netflix, Hulu-Plus and Apple TV via the internet.

We both liked having a DVR with the satellite service because we rarely watch live TV anymore.  Just set up season pass once and it remembers to record our shows each week.  It was really nice being able to fast forward through the commercials – especially while watching American Idol.

We decided to purchase a Tivo Roamio DVR that will enable us to record over the air programming.  Went through and have our favorite shows all set to record on the Tivo – at least the ones we can get over the air.  The Tivo’s guide is integrated with Netflix and Hulu Plus.  So if I search for a TV show, “Bones” for example, it will show me when it is available over the air, plus if it is on Hulu-Plus or Netflix.  It is nice to be able to switch between live programming, Netflix and Hulu-Plus with a single remote.  Will be interesting to see how well we adapt to not having satellite TV.  I’m going to miss HGTV, Bravo and Lifetime the most… oh well.. I can now watch lots of public TV.

Purchased a park style grill to setup in the back yard for us and the tenants to use.  This weekend I need to get the base installed by digging hole and putting concrete around the main post.  Would like to get this done before the spring rainy season starts in.  Will also purchase a nice 8 foot picnic table so we have some usable outdoor space. Want a place I sit outside with computer or book now and then.

The Skate Des Moines Spring Classic competition is this Sunday.  I’m part of an adult “Spinning Team” and also doing a solo Adult 3 routine.  The spinning team has each team member demonstrating a different type of spin on the ice.  I’m doing the easiest one – a two foot spin.  I can do them pretty well, but now and then I go out of balance.  Spinning quickly in a circle really bothered me when I was first learning – would get really dizzy.  Not so much now…

Did a final “dress rehearsal” for my solo routine on Tuesday night.  Wanted to make sure I could skate in my dress slacks since I normally have jeans on when skating.  Went through routine several times and changed the ending up a bit so I can spend more time on my final spin and finish with some exotic hand movements ;) Will have the routine recorded and post it to blog…  Should be a fun day – plan to hang out with my skating buddies and go out drinking after it is all done :)

Not much else going on…  Here’s Prince trying to look out window when Ethan is sleeping on his perch:

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Posted in Des Moines, IA | 1 Comment

3/18/14

Greetings from a warm evening in West Des Moines, Iowa

At 7:00pm it is still 50 outside – feels warm compared to the weather the past few weeks.  Are are on the “weather roll coaster” for the next few months here – will have a few nice days mixed in with the normal cool, wet and windy ones.

Have not been on a bike ride yet this year.  Need to spend some time cleaning my bike, making sure the tires are properly inflated and the break pads are in good order.  Hope to get to it this coming weekend.

Outside ice skating is done for the year at Brenton Plaza downtown.  They were able to stay operational for a week longer then last year.  Attended their end of season party.  Had fun doing silly dances on ice skates like the Hokey Pokey and the Chicken Dance.  Will not see Coach Jenny until I sign up for lessons downtown next winter.

Skating lessons continue at Bucanner Arena on Saturday’s and at Metro Ice on Sundays.  I’m still working on learning more elements in “Adult 4″.  Right now doing backwards one-foot outside edges on a circle are not coming very easily.  Having a hard time getting my skates to stay on the edge, but will get it down eventually.

Getting ready to participate in my first ice skating competition.  My skating coaches thought it would be good for me to try competing.  Signed up to do Adult 3 elements at the Skate Des Moines Spring Classic on April 13th downtown at the Wells Fargo Arena.  Will skate to music for one minute and thirty seconds, demonstrating 5 different skating moves they list:

  • Forward outside and inside edges on a circle (clockwise and counterclockwise)
  • Forward crossovers (clockwise and counterclockwise)
  • Backward 1/2 swizzle pumps on a circle (clockwise and counterclockwise)
  • Moving forward to backward and backward to forward two foot turn
  • Beginning 2-foot spin.

I can do the items listed in some capacity – so should be fun to do. Plus get to hang out with my skating buddies while watching the other skaters do their thing. Going to skate to a shortened version of “When Will I Be Loved” by Linda Ronstadt.  Song is short to begin and has a simple enough melody to skate to.  Did not want to pick music that is bigger then my meager abilities.  

Had my paint by number painting framed at Michael’s.  Went with an off the shelf frame, but had them cut a mat for it and put it all together.  Went with a black mat and I think it looks “just fine”:

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 John has been busy setting up a new server using a new Mac Mini Server and four external hard drives.  This replaces the older Mac server that was no longer able to be upgraded to a supported version of the OS X operating system.  Apple was no longer updating the older version of OS X – so we were vulnerable to viruses and other cyber attacks.

The main purpose of the server is to host our own email server and provide document management for our apartment business.  We purchased a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner and DevonThink document management software.  He spent a weekend getting it all installed and configured.  We are now able to scan in receipts, bank statements, rental documents and all sorts of paper documents we have squirreled away.  Once scanned in we add tags to the electronic documents and move them into folders.  It’s really slick how it works and will make tax time easy next year.  Will be able to supply our tax preparer with a thumb drive that contains images of all our receipts.  It’s nice to be able to shred and throw away all the old paperwork we were holding onto.

I’ve been taking some online IT training through the Team Tree House website.  You follow along with online videos, take quizzes and complete code challenges.  You earn points and badges as you progress.  They also have a quirky movie that is revealed to you one segment at a time as you reach different training milestones.  It’s neat how they have everything organized – it makes the training fun.  Right now I’m going through the Web Design track, but will eventually go through PHP, WordPress, iOS and Ruby tracks.  I spend an hour to 90 minutes each evening with it.  It’s cutting into the time I was spending on Minecraft.  Doing the training to update my skills, incorporate it into my annual goals at work that is part of my annual review and a nice resume booster.  Being employed in the IT industry means you need to keep learning “the new stuff”…

Not much else going on… heading off to do some more Treehouse training before watching some TV..

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2/27/14

Greetings from a cold West Des Moines, Iowa..

Don’t believe it has been above freezing outside since we have returned from our vacation last weekend.  It is currently 7 outside and we are expecting more snow tomorrow (Friday) and maybe on Saturday.  On Tuesday night the garbage totes were frozen to the ground and the shed – had to kick them to get them to move.  This winter weather is getting old again – I miss the warm weather we had on vacation.

Last Sunday had an afternoon skating lesson at Metro Ice.  The instructor said that she has not seen me so energetic and confident with my skating before.  Was doing some backwards crossovers and three point turns better then ever before.  Guess 10 days in the warm sun made me a better ice skater :)

Little story from the cruise.  One of the performers was Pandora Box from RuPaul’s Drag Race.  During her first show she explained that she forgot to bring her props along – so she had to make a little story book from a pamphlet in her room and did without the big glasses she uses for her Carol Channing impersonation.  You can’t do Carol Channing without the glasses – just is not the same.  So after her performance she hung around and chatted with people. I asked if she would like to borrow a pair of big glasses I brought for the paparazzi dance.  Long story short, she thanked me and used my glasses for her next performances.  Her Carol Channing impersonation was so much better with them on.  Will remember this each time I see her on Logo.

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Glasses I packed in lower left hand of suitcase

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Bad photo of Pandora wearing them.

 Finally got around to putting together slideshow that shows the progress of the paint by number painting I finished earlier this month.  Took a photo of the painting after each session.  Here it is:

Derek's Paint by Number 2-SD (480p).m4v

 Created it using iPhoto then exporting it to a .m4v video.  Clicking on it should open it up in the Picasa web album. Hope you can play it on your computer.

Yesterday John came home from work and noticed that someone had ran into the side of the motor home.  Could still see tread marks in the snow going up to it  Was not major damage, but did leave dents in the bottom bay doors on the driver side.  We called the police department and had them file a report for the insurance company.  No one has confessed to hitting it and doubt the police department will find anything.  We would like to have it repainted this coming year, but will see if we can budget for it.  Seems like it is always something.

Not much else going on – heading off to watch American Idol and play MineCraft for a bit.

Posted in Des Moines, IA | 2 Comments

2/24/14

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, an narrow-mindedness” ~ Mark Twain

One of my all time favorites quotes…  RSVP vacations gives the room steward little cards to put in our cabin each night, and that was one of them.  I thought it quite fitting for the cruise.  We’re at sea today, our last sea-day, and thought it might be a good time to start writing my review of the cruise.  Derek was very encouraging, as I think he was dreading the long blog post.  I’ll let him actually post it and populate the pictures!

So, let’s start from the beginning.  We left Wednesday, and the day started out a bit rocky.  We decided to leave the Jeep at home and take a taxi to the airport.  It cost less for two taxi trips than a couple days of parking at the airport, even in the cheap seats, so it was a no brainier.  Well, there are two taxi companies in West Des Moines, and of course the Des Moines companies, but they make a big deal about coming “out this far” (because you know, Des Moines is so big and has SO much traffic…)  In any case, Derek had a bad experience with one of them, and I used the other one the day I had starting trouble with the car, and he was fine.  I called him Tuesday to make an appointment, and we agreed that 10:30 on a 1:00 flight should be fine.  Well, he ran into problems, and after 15 calls (most originated by him) he sent his college.  We made it, but not until about 12:30, which even if it is DSM, makes me nervous.  The owner of the cab company was super apologetic, and offered to give us the ride for free.  Our driver was, well, he was interesting, and in the short ride we heard all about his travel adventures, mostly centering on his trip to Duluth, MN to “Visit his father in the correctional facility”.  <Sigh>

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Our bags all set for taxi

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We did not travel light. I also had three bags.

 Anyhow, made the plane to Chicago, and only waited a few minutes in Chicago for the next plane to Miami.  I am not a big fan of O’Hare, however, being that we had the same airline for both legs it was much easier.  The trip from ORD to MIA was pretty rough, turbulence-wise.  In reality, we were extremely lucky, as we were in the air an extra hour before we landed because we had to divert around all the storms in the South East.  Several people we have talked to on the cruise had to rearrange travel plans to make it—many gave way to travel from plane to drive.

So we made it, got the car (a stupid big Tahoe), and headed to my Aunt and Uncle’s place north of Miami.  It was a short drive, but made interesting with the Miami driver’s and the thunderstorm in progress.  We made it, feeling terribly guilty that we arrived so late.  My Aunt greeted us, and we hurried off to bed.

This is the first time we have seen their new house. It was absolutely beautiful.  Sitting on one of the channels off the Intracoastal Waterway, and the weather was perfect for our stay in Miami.  We had a great time, as we walked down Hollywood Beach, and had dinner at a local bar on the oceanfront.  Then on Friday, Uncle Dave took us out in their boat on the ICW, almost down to Miami.  It was perfect weather, and a great way to spend the day.  We finished our visit with a nice dinner and a couple bottles of wine.

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Aunt Sharon and Uncle Dave taking the helm

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One of many mansions we saw along the ICW

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Derek enjoying the boat ride

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Getting boat set for trip

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Derek at Hollywood beach

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Mermaid at Hollywood Beach

Our next night was at an Extended Stay near the airport.  This allowed us to get reorganized, do laundry, and be close to the airport to turn in the rental car Saturday morning.  All went well, and made it to the rental place shortly afternoon, and took a shuttle they provide free to the cruise terminal.  We weren’t supposed to get on board until 3, but we had no problem and short lines boarding around 1:00pm.  We met up with our friends Don and Troy at the cruise terminal and all boarded together.

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Part of the ship behind the cruise terminal in Miami

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Once on the boat, our rom wasn’t ready yet, so we headed to the “Welcome Aboard Lunch”.  It was in the Calumet and Manitou Buffet on deck 14.  The ship itself (MSC Divina) is absolutely gorgeous.  In a few area’s the ship’s decor is a bit over the top, but Derek said “It isn’t tacky, but one more piece of bling would make it tacky.”   I dunno, I thought the “Crystal Staircase” and the “LED Glass Elevators” were a little too much…

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One of the stairways inlaid with Swarovski crystals to make them sparkle

We enjoyed lunch with Don and Troy and explored the ship a bit before we are told that our rooms are ready.  Our cabin (10127) is on Deck 10, and is a pretty standard balcony stateroom.  It’s nice, and very clean.  We met our Cabin steward Noronha Olimpio.  He’s from India we learn, and over the week we learn how any hours, etc. he works to keep us all very happy.  His hours are 7am to 3pm then 5pm until 11pm, 7 days a week for 9 months.  He seems to understand English well, but then in some cases I think he is a just pretty good actor and just smiles a lot and likes to greet us. Regardless he did a nice job.

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Our state room - it was nice.

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Derek decorated our cabin door with a camping theme

The Ship itself is flawless, and run very “European” very laid-back crew.  It is very obvious that MSC is “new” to the American tourism market.   The other ship we were on, it was rare we would interact with a crew members that didn’t speak English well.  In fact it was almost as if they were “hidden” while here it is quite common.  I’ll touch more on the differences later, but first impressions are very positive.

We get settled, and our friend Jared comes to visit with his friend Mark.  Chat with them for a bit then we go explore the ship a bit more, then meet up with Don & Troy who introduce us to some of the other Iowa group.  Meet some cool people, and had a few drinks.  Derek decided to purchase a beverage package, which included 105 vouchers, and we would split it.  Well, It was a “Good Deal” but honestly, we just don’t drink that much, and with the cruise nearing an end, we are finding ways to “Get rid of” drink tickets…  The group decided to all go to the main restaurant for dinner, which was the “Black Crab”.  Now for this charter cruise they do dinner a little differently than the typical cruise ship.  It is open seating, you basically queue up, and the Maître D’ seats your group, and if you’re just a pair, they join you with another table.  Well, they sat 8 of us.  They give you a menu, you order from the several selections of the evening, and they serve you.  It is fairly formal in the dining room.  Our first meal took almost 3 hours.  Not off to a good start when the waiter actually said to one of our table “It’s Saturday, please excuse our bad service, as we’re all tired and just want to go to bed”.  I was a little taken back, but the meal was fine, and we got through it.  I forget what we had…  The menu is very Italian, a lot of pasta, lots of Italian style cooking.

We spent the first two days at sea, attempting to keep up with the plentiful and varied entertainment.  All of which has been excellent.  Another MSC boon is the ship’s own variety show is spectacular, and hands down some of the best live performance we have seen anywhere, particularly on board a ship.  In addition there is all the RSVP added entertainment, which again has been top notch as well.  I also have to add a bit about our cruise directors.  On the last RSVP cruise (2007, Princess) I do not recall the cruise directors so involved.  Here we have Andre, and Brad.  Andre is the Ships Cruise Director, is from South Africa, and has been hilarious paired with Brad (the RSVP cruise director).  The two play off each other well, and are almost as entertaining to watch as the rest of the entertainment.  Well-done guys.

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View from the back dining room of the ships wake

I think it was the second night we saw Leslie Jordan in the main theater, who was incredible.  We saw him on the boat prior, and he is genuinely a nice man as well.

The following day, we landed in St. Maarten, Philipsburg to be exact, which is on the Dutch side of the island.  The port area there is very nice; however not far out It does get a little slummy.  Last time we were year we headed to Maho (or Sunset) Beach, where the airplanes fly in real low, a definite must see, but we wanted to be adventurous.  We did the “Saint Marten by Jeep” excursion.  It was about $100 per person.  The nice thing about the excursions is that while they may seem pricey, the ship or RSVP has already checked them out, and there is some guarantee that you won’t get ripped off to badly, as well, they ensure you make it back to the ship in time.  The All-Aboard call was for 4:30, and we didn’t get a good start until 11:45…  Anyhow, after a short walk to the transport hub, we jumped on a cute little Nissan bus. They took us to the Jeep Rental place where we formed four-somes.  We ended up paired with Cruze and Sam, a couple from Miami.  None minded if I drove, which was a mixed blessing.  Cruse was a riot, and Sam was pretty funny in his own way, and made the trip that much better.  We were afraid we’d be stuck with some WWII piles of crap, but we actually had 2012+ Jeep Wranglers.  It was an “On-Road” tour, which I was a little disappointed about; I thought we would at least have some trails…    Our Guide gave us small handi-talkies, which ironically were Baofeng Ham Radio models (Similar to what we just purchased to stay in contact in the ship).  He then gave us the “Rules of the road” as there were 7 jeeps in total, his only rule was “Don’t let traffic in our caravan” which was much easier said than done in Saint Marten!  Particularly from someone who doesn’t like tailgating, it made the driving a little stressful, but we got used to “Closing the gaps” and running stop signs in unison… He took us to a few photo op spots, as well as Palm Beach Resort, where we had lunch and were allowed some time on the pristine beach.  The trip ended with an hour of shopping which was…  well we could have skipped that part.  Then, we were whisked back to the ship, with Minutes to spare before we departed.  Having the Balcony room has been particularly nice for port days as we can watch the ship coming into port and leaving from our staterooms.

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The ship at dock

 

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Bad pic of John driving Jeep

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Cruze hamming it up

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View from one of the scenic stops

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View from front of the jeep - following the six other Jeeps

 

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We look happy

 Port Day Two starts with a early arrival to San Juan.  We had nothing really planned, so jumped off the ship early and found the ferry station next to the port.  Rode across the bay for $.50 each, and some crazy taxi driver took us to the Bacardi Distillery.  The tour was about an hour, with free rum at the end.  From there we headed back to Old town and found the Fort.  Derek made me walk up the steep hill and then found the entrance.  We stood in line for about 15 minutes, and the line wasn’t moving. I heard them talking about a 30 minute movie, etc.  It was Hot, stinky and I just really wasn’t into it.  I left.  I think Derek was a little disappointed, he said I was “Having a moment”…  but I did find a place we could take some pictures.  Got yelled at for climbing on the wall, and then decided to walk around Old town.  We looked for a local restaurant to have lunch, but each one we found was closed.  Seems that over ½ of Old Town was for-sale or out of business.  Derek did find a gift shop and bought t-shirt and some other trinkets.  We ended up eating at Senor Frogs.  I had never been before.  It was… interesting with loud music, staff dancing, most patrons wearing balloon hats and contests for free shots.  Had lunch (Service was horrific) and went back to the ship.

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view of San Juan from our room

 

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Bacardi Bat Sculpture

 

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John checking out the buildings in the old part of town

 

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Part of the old fort

Today is our last sea-day.  I really like the sea days, and find them much more relaxing than the rush to get off ship and hurry up to see a place in 5 or 6 hours.  Last evening the wind seems to have kicked up, and the seas have been much rougher.  The boat was rocking pretty good for a while.  Not like a small craft, but a gentle sway that makes walking in the corridors interesting.  Derek said on the way back to the cabin after the late show “Did we drink that much, or is it just really rough out?”  The size of the swell is pretty deceiving.  We are on deck 10, and it doesn’t look too bad out, but when you get down to Deck 5, and close to the waterline, you can see the swell is over 8 foot.  Most of the trip the depth according to our little TV programing in the cabin has been around 5500 meters. Wholly crap that is deep water.  The water is so perfectly Azure Blue it is truly amazing.

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Typical view of the ocean

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From Deck 5

Ok, So comparing the two experiences, and realizing the other one we were on was 2007.  From what we have heard, RSVP typically uses Holland America.  The one we were on was also an anomaly being it was not on HA.  The ship itself is absolutely beautiful, although I do miss having a full Promenade deck to walk around.  Here you are limited to most of one side on Deck 7.  There are no chairs, nor can you see much because it is also the lifeboat deck.  Other ships sacrifice some balcony rooms to move the lifeboats up, and allow you to walk under them, thus having a full deck near the waterline, which I would prefer.  The crews for both ship has RSVP as their first “Gay” cruise.  The Princess one had its hiccups in the beginning too, but came around fairly quickly.  This one, the attitude is a little different.   Please understand I am also being super critical here as well, because none of this has very negatively impacted my vacation enough to not do it again, but there are some things that need work.  Bar Service is horrific.  Remember what I said about English Speaking crew; well, just because you’re short staffed, it doesn’t mean pull housekeepers and think they can make drinks, or even look pretty trying.  It just makes the situation worse.  I do not think they were prepared for how much 3500 homosexuals drink.  We were told we consumed 5 times the amount of what a typical sailing consumes in alcohol in the first 3 days.  I know on the Princess one we ran out of booze and had to restock at one of the ports of call, here I don’t think that was a concern, but the staff to serve it has been.  The most apparent difference with the staff has been almost a fear of engagement. On the other cruise, they quickly warmed up to us, and had a good time with it, joked around with us, made conversation, etc.  Here, it is all “Yes Sir, No Sir” bullshit.  Our room steward on Princess welcomed us by first name when we came on board.  Ours technically did a superb job, but still never got much more than a “Have a good evening Sir” out of him unless I pressed, and never once did he state either of our names even though they were clearly marked on our door thanks to Derek’s sticker job.

Second, the “Voucher” program for drinks in general.  Yes, it’s a great deal, but two of us, can’t finish it.  It could have been slimmed down to about 10 tickets a day, and we would have been more than OK with it.

The Food.  One of the highlights of any cruise is the food.  And this has been “OK”, but just not quite the level I was expecting. Not saying we had “Bad” meals, but it all feels a little stale as far as selection at this point.  The buffets have been pretty disappointing to be honest, and don’t change hardly at all.  The Dinning room food has been better, with more selection, but again, very Mediterranean with little variety.  Service has improved some, but not great.  There are three main restaurants, Black Crab Deck 5, Black Crab Deck 6, and The Villa.  They open them as needed, filling Deck 5, then 6, then the Villa.  Because we go early, we always end up in the same one; I’d like to see the others…   Personally I wouldn’t mind having an assigned time to eat, provided the entertainment was scheduled around or available outside those times.

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Derek's favorite pool - had a little shade so he did not fry in the sun.

Some have been complaining about no drink service in the main theater.  OK, I get it, but I also don’t agree.  The Main Theater is huge, 1600 seat huge.  It is an awesome venue, and I can’t see drink service in that venue.  Seriously, you would never believe you were on board a ship in this theater, as it is truly world class.  My one “Bitch” though is the lighted steps.  They use a lot of LED’s in the ship which is awesome, but wherever they found these LED’s for these particular steps must have not looked at the lux output, as they are the brightest LED step lights I have ever seen, and walking up the steps at certain angles in the theater its almost blinding.  Most likely a control problem, which highlights the fact the crew just doesn’t seem dialed in.  The other cruise, the crew we saw were actually sort into the whole gay cruise thing than really had fun with it.  Here, they are still playing the subservient role, and not engaging.

 

So, I would do another RSVP cruise for sure.  I think they have done a nice job, although I do think the next one we would look for a smaller boat, one with a crew that has done it before, and probably a location we haven’t been too, but so far, this trip has been excellent.

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One of the pool parties - nice way to end the blog posting

Posted in Des Moines, IA | 3 Comments

2/9/14

Greetings from a sunny, yet frigid winter day in Iowa.

The weather has been cold and snowy the past few days.  Getting good at shoveling snow, but tired of winter in general.  Last week had to shovel at least six times due to snow that would come down most of the day.  Would clear them each morning and evening.  John felt sorry for me on Thursday morning and shoveled before heading to work.  I appreciated being able to stay in my warm bed and get an extra 30 minutes of sleep. :)

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Front sidewalk seems to get longer each time I shovel it

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A city deer in the neighbors yard behind the Jeep. They are plotting against us - or just hungry.

Last week had a new dishwasher installed.  Went with a low end Frigidaire model from Lowe’s that cost $295.00 – is the same one we purchased for the downstairs apartment.  Want to see for myself how well they work.  Paid an extra $109.00 to have it delivered, installed and the old one taken away.  It all went like clockwork – installer showed up on time, spent 45 minutes doing the installation, then spent 30 minutes showing me how it works, how to clean the filters in it and going over each feature on the control panel.  The installer was kinda cute and had nice eyes – so paid close attention to everything :) So far it is working fine.  It is quieter then the previous one and cleans much better.  The old one I had to use the pot scrubbing cycle to get dishes clean at all.  The new one does the job with just the normal cycle.  Only criticism is that the washing cycle takes at least 90 minutes to finish – seems like a long time.  Don’t miss doing all of the dishes by hand and is handy to be able to put dirty dishes out of site after lunch, instead of in the sink.

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Old dish washer removed

 

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New one all setup

 Spent lots of time working on the paint by number painting this last week.  Wanted to have it finished before going off on the upcoming cruise. Tonight I finished it.  Done.  No more.  Signed and ready to be framed.  It was much more work then I had anticipated – have at least 20 hours into it.  Painting each blob with the correct color seems simple enough, until there are 100′s of them.  I will probably do another one next winter – it did fulfill my goal of doing something fun away from the computer.  I did learn lots of little tricks and things I would do different next time.  Think next time I would start in the middle and work out to the edges instead of starting in the upper left hand corner and working out.  Also would not do all of the black areas first – would do them after other colors are in place so they have sharp lines.  Did take pictures of the painting after each painting session and will put them together into a time-lapse movie.  Not sure if I do this in iMovie or iPhoto but will figure it out.

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The painting on Feb. 5th

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The completed painting on 2/9/14

 Today we went out clothes shopping for the cruise.  John power shopped JC Penny’s with the help of gift certificates my parents gave him for Christmas.  Ended up with a mixture of clothes for work and for vacation.  I then found some nice shirts at Gordman’s on the way back from my Sunday ice skating lesson.

The ice skating sessions I paid for in January are coming to a close at the various places.  So have to pay more money for the next round of sessions.  Can see improvement in my skating and I’m almost done with Adult level 4.  Will probably be able to test out of it after another round of 6 week sessions.  The upcoming session will be the last one outside at Brenton plaza since it usually warms up too much by the beginning of March to have ice.

At metro ice they have a practise area where you can warm up/practise for 30 minutes before your lesson starts.  It is really nice to have this so I can get my skating legs back before trying the more advanced stuff during lessons.  Only problem is that it is me, one other adult and 30 little kids on the ice.  Most are dressed up like little hockey players and are falling all over the ice.  Several kept running into me – think their hockey helmets blocked their vision.  Was kinda funny….

Not much else going on.  Have lots of packing, organizing, cleaning and getting things ready for the upcoming trip.  Think I will be all set in time, but sure I will forget something.  Still need to head to a local party supply store to get a few things for some theme parties – one is Pirates and another one is a Paparazzi event – guess we dress up like stars and get asked for autographs and photographs…

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Ethan looking sad after I asked him to stop digging through stuff on shelf.

Posted in Des Moines, IA | 2 Comments

2/3/14

Greetings from another wintery day in Iowa.

The cold weather and snow is getting to me.  Seems like it snows a few times each week, then melts, then snows, then melts, then snows….  The cycle goes fast enough that we don’t get more then a few inches on the ground at a time.

John came home early from work today so we could go for our annual meeting with the accounting firm that does our taxes.  Have a new lady working with us this year since the previous one is no longer with them.  We come in with our stacks of receipts, various tax forms received from our employers and etc.  Having the apartment building makes our taxes nice and complicated.  This year should be interesting with the money we spent on windows/siding, redoing the basement apartment and getting married.  Having combined state and federal tax returns should lower the tax preparation bill a bit.  A nice fat tax refund would be nice, but not expecting much.

After the tax meeting, had a quick supper at home (Brats prepared in the crock pot) them headed downtown for ice skating lessons at Brenton Plaza..  Was actually a nice evening with temps in the mid-20′s and no wind.  Been practicing doing crossovers, bunny hops and waltz jumps.  Coach Jenny wants me to be able to do a bunny hop into a waltz jump but having difficult time putting the two together.

Back into taking lessons at three different places (Brenton Plaza, Buccaneer Arena and Metro Ice).  It gets a bit confusing keeping the times and places straight – especially when some lessons have been re-scheduled due to bad weather, and mechanical breakdown of  ice making machines.  Another thing I notice is that the different coaches teach things differently and all have differing ideas as to where your arms should be placed during certain types of moves.  Not that I’m good enough for it to make much of a difference.. :)

John and I are pretty much over our colds.  John ended up taking two and a half sick days. He had a really bad sinus infection that made him miserable for four days.  This week he finally seems back to his old self.  I had the flu for a few days, but not as bad as John.  Ended up calling in sick for a single day.  The bad part is the John’s sick days count against his annual vacation days. My employer does not deduct sick days from vacation days.

Last weekend we purchased some new suitcases from Costco.  Went with two sets of Samonite suitcases. Each set has a large and a medium sized suitcase.  They should work out nice for our upcoming trip.  Our existing suitcases have seen better days – they are having problems with the wheels and the handles that retract out.  We also purchased a small carry on case with long retractable handle to store our iPads, cameras, ham radios and various cables/power cords.

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Suitcases still in the boxes.

Next weekend we need to head out shopping for shorts and other warm weather cruise clothing.  Hope to use some of the gift cards we received from Christmas for this.  There is also a little shop in the East Village called Colores by Nita that makes and sells tie-dyed t-shirts – want to stop in and pick up one or two for the trip.  Have ordered some cargo shorts from Amazon.com – hope they arrive in time.  San Juan, Puerto Rico has been getting into the upper 80′s this past week. Hope that weather continues for our arrival :)

John was “on call” last week for work – got quite a few alerts in the middle of the night and over the weekend.  Then I’m “on call” this week for my employer.  I usually don’t receive as many calls as John, but is still possible to get some in the middle of the night.  Think we are both going to be good and ready for vacation next week.

Been working on the paint-by-number painting, trying to get it done this month.  This is what it currently looks like:

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It's starting to come together.

 Not much else going on – here’s picture of Prince’s favorite place to sit – on John’s keyboard.

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Prince is partial to sitting on an Apple keyboard

Posted in Des Moines, IA | 2 Comments