Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Birthday V! Happy Easter Everybody!

Happy Easter!

Today was Easter, and today was my daughter's birthday. We celebrated Easter at Mass this morning, and then we celebrated V's birthday this afternoon.

Virginia wanted to go to the zoo, so we were at the LA Zoo this afternoon. I was shocked at the number of people at the zoo today. We obviously weren't the only ones with this idea today. I believe the kids enjoyed it, there was bunny face-painting, and bunny ears for all the guests. The highlight was an elephant taking a shower (zookeeper with a hose). We finished the trip by stopping by the mall for dinner at the Red Robin, the birthday girl wanted to go out to eat. I've never seen an empty mall before; all the shops were closed, but a few restaurants were open. We played in the mall play area for a little bit, then ate dinner.

Since today was Easter, we went out to get Virginia's big present (from Grandparents Borths and us) yesterday. We took V to Guitar Center, and she picked out a guitar. We got her a beginner's guitar book, and we plan on lessons after she gets a little more familiar with the guitar. She now has a cherry red 3/4 size Fender. We went with an electric guitar because the strings on electrics are less difficult to press down than on acoustic guitars. That was a strong factor considering the size of V's fingers. Plus, an electric guitar is more fun than an acoustic (more knobs to play with).

(A confession from me belongs here. I will almost definitely try to learn to play V's guitar. Who knows, maybe I'll get one of my own someday...)

Easter Morning. Baskets from the Easter bunny,
and V is opening birthday presents.

Our bunny ears. If you look closely, you can see V's face paint.

Elephant shower. I believe he's drinking here.

The mall on Easter afternoon.

Rock on, V. Rock on.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The kids' B-day party

We had a joint birthday party for the kids today, and I think everyone had a good time. As usual, Liz did a great job planning the shindig, and the weather today was just fabulous. We opened up the sliding glass door and let the party spill out into the back yard.

Liz set up a pizza party for the kids. She pre-baked some personal size pizza crusts, and we let the kids spread sauce, cheese and toppings on their pizzas (outside, of course). They then handed the pizzas to me in the kitchen (we have a window that opens into the backyard; it was great for this), and I baked the pizzas for everyone. The kids all got paper cook hats (think the hat you'd see at a burger joint) and paper aprons to decorate and wear. After pizza was the cake. Liz did better than last year, check out the pics below. We then opened presents, and the kids got some wonderful gifts. Then, after about 3 hours, everyone left. By then it was naptime for most of our guests under 6.

Liz made both of these cakes herself, and I was impressed. She did purchase the Care Bears, and the Car and Piston Cup on John's cake are toys, but she did everything else. Even the icing was made from scratch and dyed with her own color mix. I like the M&M rainbow (V helped with that) and the "3" road on John's cake. You can just see the oreos ringing the base of J's cake. Liz put them on because the looked like tires. V's cake is ringed with tiny marshmallows. They tasted as good as they looked.

We cleaned up this evening, and I'm enjoying some peace and quiet outside while the kids are asleep. I've got a small fire going in my new outdoor fireplace, and the wireless network lets me write this in the backyard. Today was a good day.

BTW- I'm sure Liz will be posing more party pics on her blog. I just wanted to share the cake pics first.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My $7 outdoor fireplace

I've wanted an outdoor fireplace since I bought my house. I have a gas fireplace in the house, but burning gas inside is not the same as burning stuff (wood, charcoal, etc.) outside. I like terra cotta chimeneas, but I couldn't stomach paying over $50 for one. So I decided to make myself an outdoor fireplace.

I wanted something simple and small. I wanted to be able to move my fireplace around without trouble, and I wanted to be able to put it away when I didn't want to use it. That precluded building a permanent fire pit in the yard. (But I know how to build one out of brick now.)

I happened to see a cactus planter at Home Depot, and it struck me as the perfect fireplace. It was a shallow terra cotta dish 15" in diameter, and about 5" deep. The only downside was the presence of a drainage hole in the middle of the dish. Well, I could fix that. I bought the planter for $7, and built a nice fireplace with materials I had around my garage.

I built a stand for the pot using 2x4's. The ceramic of the pot should insulate the wood of the stand from charing or burning. I kept the stand simple; I built a 1 foot cube out of eight 10.5" lengths of 2x4 using drywall screws. I painted the stand black with a can of spray paint I had leftover from another project. To seal the hole in the bottom of the planter, I used mortar to affix a broken piece of tile over the hole. We have used the fireplace twice this weekend, roasting marshmallows both times. I hope the family enjoys it as much as I do. (Although Liz does dislike the fact that our clothes smell like smoke when we're done. C'est la vie.)

Spending only $7 on the whole project is a source of frugal pride for me. But I still would like a chimenea. Maybe I could build one...

Here's the stand I built before painting.

I put a piece of cardboard under the hole in the bottom of the pot, put a layer of mortar down, and pressed the tile into the mortar. I also had a "test fire" in the pot before doing this.

Liz and Virginia enjoyed the fire. I think the black stand looks pretty good.

John was happier running, but he did roast a few marshmallows first.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Learning a new home improvement skill

I now know how to do basic masonry; I built a small brick wall today.

It's spring in SoCal, and it's time to start planting our garden. We have been planting a small (8' x 4') vegetable garden every year, and this year we decided to add to that. We put in a small herb garden (6' radius quarter circle) in the corner of our yard. When we installed our vegetable garden, we made a raised bed using 2x12's. It made amending the soil easier, and we were guaranteed to have good drainage.

We want good drainage for our herb garden, but we're not too worried about amending the soil. Herbs grow in just about anything. We decided to put the new plot next to our back patio, and we wanted it to look nice. Since a lot of the landscaping in our yard is brick, we decided a brick wall would make a nice border to the garden.

I have never worked with brick/masonry before, but I figured it couldn't be too hard, right? Actually, it isn't too hard; it just takes a little bit of time. I dug the garden and put in some temporary composite edging to keep the dirt in place and to mark the plot. Then I dug a small trench for the brick wall to sit in, and filled the bottom with sand. The sand provided a foundation for the wall, and allowed me to level the bricks. I had to cut a few bricks to fit, and I learned how to do that, using a brick hammer and a couple of chisels. I only ruined a few bricks learning. Applying the mortar was relatively easy after that. I only built the wall two bricks high (it's a garden border), but hey, I built a wall.

The kids helped.

I finished the project at dusk. The rectangle of pipe against the wall is my sprinkler system for the vegetable garden. We pulled it out to turn over the soil. Below the sprinkler is Dweezel, the garden gnome. He'll go home when we plant the garden tomorrow.

"Is this the Deskjet?"

My son is precocious. He's still a couple of weeks shy of his third birthday, but he's been using the family computer. He doesn't just bang on buttons or watch movies someone else starts, but he surf's the web. Really. He bookmarked on his own, and he knew what he did. He uses the bookmark to go back the webpage to play games, which he also does all by himself. He's been matching letters and rhyming words in the Word World and Super Why sections

Just today, he was playing on the computer, and he asked my wife, "Is this the Deskjet?" He knows how to print, and wanted to make sure he was using the right printer. He printed out a picture from Word World to color. Dude.

Yesterday my daughter participated in a jog-a-thon at her school. She's five, and she and the other kindergartners wore stickers on their backs for the jog-a-thon. They ran laps in the school yard, and each lap the kids would stop to have a parent mark their sticker to count laps. Other kids ran/jogged/walked and some of them took rests, but not my daughter. She ran full speed the entire allotted time, stopping only to get her sticker marked. She was passing other kids on the outside. Virginia ran 24 laps without stopping, and she was still ready to run when her class had to stop (after about 10 minutes). From what I heard, she was doing the whole 'Chariots of Fire' thing running laps, her hair flying in the wind behind her. That girl loves to run.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

John can read...sort of.

I have been doing story time with John in front of the fireplace lately. It's cold for around here, but not really that cold (40's at night), but the fire is nice. John really likes to Make Fire! Also, by reading in front of the fireplace, John will sit still longer than in his room, where distractions abound.

We read "My Car" by Byron Barton a lot. It's John's current favorite book. Last night, I was a bit tired, and I opened the book and didn't immediately start reading. John took it as a cue that he should read the book, and he did. He needed a little help with "windshield wipers" and a few lines at the end of the book, but he read along, pointing at each word as he said it. I get a real kick out of hearing him say "I obey the laws" and "pedestrians." John read the book to me again tonight.

I know he's not really reading at this point; he has the book memorized. But he can spell his name, first and last, his sister's name, and he knows the entire alphabet. It's only a matter of time before he is really reading now. And Liz and I didn't sit down a drill him, either. Virginia taught him his letters and numbers (he can count to 15, maybe 20), and he taught himself the rest by just paying attention.

Pretty cool.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It's been raining in SoCal...Let's go sledding!

We've had a week or so of rain here in Southern California. It's been a bit of a bummer being stuck in the house (we're spoiled...we usually go outside all year), and I've been driving my car to work instead of riding my motorcycle. But rain here means snow in the mountains. And since yesterday was a good, hard rain and today is sunny, we went sledding! Good sledding in the mountains is about a 90 minute drive from our house, so we threw a couple of sleds in the trunk, made some hot chocolate and headed north into the mountains.

This was the kids first sledding trip, and they did great. Virginia is a speed demon! Once she learned how to ride her bike, she was seeing how fast she could go, and she only rides her bike fast and really fast. On the sled, she went as fast as she could, and she rode down the hill by herself. John liked sliding down the hill with me, but I think he enjoyed eating the snow as much as sledding on it. Hey, it just snowed last night, so the snow was fresh. No worries about him eating it. I took a few pictures between the snowballs and sled runs. Enjoy.

Throwing snowballs at Daddy.

Check out the snow spray.

A quick snack.

I tried uploading my first video, Virginia sledding. The file is about 7 MB.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

It's nice to just play

Today was a good day. I can't say I accomplished terribly much, yet it was still a good day. The best part of the day was just before dinner. My wife took my daughter outside to ride her bike, and left me and my son inside to occupy ourselves. Usually this involves a lot of John getting into things, and me telling him to stop and redirecting him. But today was better. We both played. Together.

John has recently acquired an extensive Thomas the Train collection, and he enjoys building with the tracks and watching the trains run in circles. He got to building, and while I was watching him, I started building. Then our two track layouts ran into each other, and we linked them up. Then we put together a few cars with an engine, and started the train running around our track. We added a few tunnels. We flipped switches to send the train around different circles, knocked it off the tracks a few times, and ran around the moving train, getting out of the way with barely time to spare. We ended up doing this for almost an hour before I noticed that it was dark outside, and Liz and Nia were coming in. We all played with the trains for a while until we needed to eat dinner.

Like I said, we didn't really accomplish anything, but John and I were playing, not as a father and son, but as friends. I wonder if I was having more fun than him...

I stepped back for a moment to snap a quick picture. He barely noticed.