Friday, December 29, 2006
1. That both Lauren and I are still alive and unharmed to celebrate the New Year, given the car wreck after Thanksgiving that totalled our previous car, and that our insurance came through quickly enough to snag a new one off the lot ... and a thank you to the unknown person who had originally ordered the car, but refused it when she found out that they weren't including a full-sized spare tire with it! Now if State Farm could come up with the reimbursement for the car rental ....
2. That we're in good health. Mine has much improved after leaving an unhealthy and stressful (in every sense of the word) job situation, and Lauren, at least, has been spared the possibility of having gallbladder surgery for another year.
3. That we're both as much in love with each other as ever, and everything is on track for our wedding in March.
4. That we have the continued blessing of friends and extended family, both mine from Des Moines and from years past, and Lauren's from various places (Urbana-Champaign and here in Maryville), who have all enriched our lives in various ways. What makes it amazing is that several of them (at least 3, at last count), are also getting married sometime next year as well (and in one case, the wedding is directly attributable to me, because I introduced them last year).
5. For the blessing of our kitties, who continue to remind us that we need playtime in our lives: for Opie, who (apparently) has kitty Alzheimers and can't quite find the litter box anymore, but can still find the food dish and our laps; for Kitty, who has made the transition to indoor cat quite well (except for the occasional hairball chucking); and even for Stinky, who has finally started to grow a bit and still gives us headaches in going into places and on top of things she shouldn't.
6. For the guidance and blessing of our minister, Mike Kyle, who shepherded us through the pastoral pre-wedding counseling process, and our diocese bishop, who pronounced his blessing on our future wedding.
7. For the blessing of a decent winter so far; although it's been cold, apart from a dusting or two, we haven't had any snow this year, but we have had enough rain to keep the lawn in decent shape. EDIT: I spoke too soon. The next day after I wrote this, we've gotten two inches of snow just in time for New Year's Day. Go figure ;-).
I dare say we've been quite blessed this year ... here's hoping it continues next year as well.
Happy New Year everyone!
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Ottawa would have made a wonderful college town, but local folklore (uncorroborated) suggests that they blew their chance years ago, when the city chose the Appellate Court over the University of Illinois. Maybe that's just as well, because Ottawa has retained a certain charming character while getting some culture from its location on the I-80 corridor. For example, Jeremiah Joe's Coffee. And the Court Street Cabaret, where my niece Robyn helps with technical production. We'll be watching Holidazzle (a Vegas-style revue) there this evening.
Of course, for more down-home experiences, there's always hanging at the local Wal-Mart with my mom:Everyone but me thinks I look like my mom.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Last Sunday after church, the two of us joined fellow church friends in decorating for Christmas ... we hadn't done so earlier because, as Lauren pointed out, the Episcopal church that we go to follows the strict liturgical calendar, which means that the Christmas decorations and trim would not be put up until the end of Advent. She noted that some churches are even stricter than ours, and do not put up their Christmas decorations until Christmas Eve day.
The Organ/Choir Loft
Channing Horner Hangs Trim
The Front of St Paul's Episcopal
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I'm interviewing tomorrow for a more local job with a nearby school district. I have my fingers crossed for that one; granted, it may not pay much, but it would mean a 15 minute commute each day, as compared to a 1.5 hour commute down and back to KC every day, and that means more than a nice salary.
So, to take a small break from job hunting, and celebrate a nice day (temps near 60), we headed down to the local Earl May garden shop, which is, sadly, being downgraded to a landscaping services only shop (apparently, the chain is in the middle of a store reduction). As they've having a store-wide clearance, we picked up some additional holiday trim for the front porch. We also picked up a nice bench and side planter combination for the rose garden, and some feed to stock the bird feeders.
A half hour later, we had redecorated the front porch, and added some more Christmas lights:
South Side Candles
The Front Tree
The Front Porch Redone
The Angel Tree
Later that evening, Lauren introduced me to a bit of Christmas nostalgia from the Chicagoland area, having purchased a DVD containing a trio of pre-Rankin Bass stop-motion puppet featurettes: Hardrock, Coco, and Joe, Suzy Snowflake, and Frosty the Snowman.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
It's football playoff time in Maryville; the Bearcats are one game away from playing for the Division II national championship, and to show off their pride for the upcoming game, someone on the second floor of the Admin building outside the Admissions Office has decorated the statue of Abe Lincoln with some Bearcat wear.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
On the plus side, we managed to get a new car with a slightly lower monthly payment than I was paying for my Accord, so I was happy. By and large, it's a nice car for a compact; in size, handling, and zippy-ness, it does remind me of the Honda Civic or the Accord hatchback (which I used to own as well), and it has plenty of cargo room. I also think I'll like the car's gas mileage; on the way back, I think we got almost 38-40 miles per gallon ... much improved over my old Accord, and certainly better in this day and age of high gas prices.
The Fit at the Dealer
Friday, December 01, 2006
Built in 1928, the Leeds plant was stripped years ago of its machinery, but you can still tell where the equipment once had been ... swing tracks for assembly hangers, the long, long enclosure for the assembly line, the paint rooms and sub-assembly rooms separated by rolling chain link gates, and the equally long finish out line leading to the holding yard and rail sidings, where Union Pacific stores several older passenger cars and locomotives.
Inside, I drove through the long, long cavern that once held a bustling assembly line until approximately 1998, the year before my car was even built. Empty bays still sit where the production line itself must have run, and not too far from the finish out line, I found myself chatting about previously owned Hondas with the owner of the storage space while taking the back license plate off the fender piece ... this piece I could now carry with two hands, as it was no longer attached to the car.
I finished pulling items out, and by this time, the weather that I'd hoped to avoid was worsening ... the winter storm that KC was slated to get had started to move in, and by that time, I knew I was going to have to spend the night in KC ... fortunately, the owner of the storage space, who knew I wasn't from the area, offered to lead me over to my friends' place safely.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
It's about 12:48 in Kansas City, MO. Following my job interview this morning, I'm waiting for the partner of the towing service to get here from Blue Springs, so we can retrieve the plates and remaining personal belongings from my (now former) car ... former after State Farm took possession of it following the wreck and we reached a settlement.
After I get home, we'll continue car shopping. I've had good luck with car purchases so far ... I'm hoping that it still holds true.
I'm probably being a bit maudulin about the whole thing. Cars come, cars go, right?
Monday, November 27, 2006
Shortly thereafter, we hooked up with the rest of our family (they had been coming back to KC from Pittsburg, and they were about a half-hour out of KC at the time of the accident), and later, after filing the claim with our carrier (both I and the other driver had been on State Farm), and discovering that airport car rental locations (at least for Enterprise) don't do insurance replacement rentals, we went down to the Plaza in KC to see the lights.
Fortunately, on Sunday, following breakfast with Teresa and Cindy, we made it to an open Enterprise location, rented an SUV (which State Farm will pay for most of), loaded our things, and made it home to Maryville in good time.
In one sense, I'm very grateful, and thank God, because it could have been worse. We could have been directly broadsided, and we could have needed extricating with power tools. There could have been serious injuries on either side, but there weren't. Now all that's left is for State Farm to process the claim and then use that money to pay off the car loan: I notified the loan company this morning, and oy, THAT was a fun experience. The CSR went quiet after I told her that the car would likely be totalled out, and when she asked if I needed anything else, I said wryly with a short laugh: "Yeah, I might need some help with financing for a new car once I pay the rest of the loan off."
So we'll see about buying another car ... it's going to be a bit dicey since I'm still unemployed, but I'm hoping that God will, as always, take care of us in this instance. We really could use a break financially.
I'm going to miss my Honda, too. I only had it for three years, but it did what it was supposed to at the end: keep us safe.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
We'd spent yesterday afternoon at City Market in KC for lunch and browse shopping. We'd hoped to get on the road by 1:00, to make it over to the Larcoms (Teresa and Cindy), where we were going to meet my family and they could meet Lauren.
At about 1:30, we had stopped at the intersection of 59th and Ward Parkway, about to cross Ward Parkway. We had a green light, and we had just pulled out into the intersection when we were partially broadsided (driver's side) by another out of town driver who went through the intersection with his pickup, hitting our left side and rear.
The resulting impact spun the car around so that we ended up against the opposite corner curb, with the left quarter panel and most of the trunk crumpled in and fiberglass and shattered auto glass flying. Shaken and a little sore from seatbelt strain, we climbed out of the car. I had to exit out of the passenger side because the impact had buckled the quarter panel into the driver's side door.
It was one of those cases where the wreck itself was pretty unavoidable; we didn't see the vehicle coming because our line of sight was blocked off by the vehicle in the right lane ... although I do recall trying to crank the wheel at the last moment to avoid the worst of the accident, which in retrospect might have saved us from a worse fate.
After making sure that Lauren was okay, I reached back inside, shutting the engine off. I started to collect items that had fallen to the floorboard, realizing belatedly that the claims adjuster would probably factor in the car's age, the shredded quarter panel and trunk, the broken rear windshield and glass, the buckled left axle (the left rear wheel was pushed in), and the (probable) frame warping, and total the car. Then I looked over at the other driver's pickup: some left fender and bumper damage, and popped airbags ... about $1,000 in body work, and a few hundred more for refilling and resetting the airbags, and he'll be back on the road again.
Fortunately, KCMO police and fire (and two tow trucks) responded immediately, and short of sweeping up the broken auto glass and parts, all that was left was exchanging drivers info and plate and insurance information. The officer (who did an incredible job of keeping things orderly), made sure everyone was okay, and, after talking with the witnesses to the wreck as well as both parties, we found out what had happened:
The other driver was from out of town, and he had gotten distracted because shortly past the intersection the road narrowed down to one lane because of road work. We think that he got tunnel vision about the merge, and for all we know, may have dodged into the left lane to try to get around the cars ahead before the lanes merged. (We base that assumption on the skid marks, which ran to 3-4 car lengths going into the intersection). He also might have panicked, suddenly realizing that a)he was at an intersection, b) didn't see the red light (or maybe he saw it but he was too late to stop at that point), and c) that there was a car in the intersection.
The officer cited him for failure to yield. He finally admitted that it was his fault to the officer, but only after two witnesses first told her that he had run the light. He'll likely have a court date down in KC in the future, and his insurance rates will likely climb.
Lauren and I agreed that it was very stupid driving on his part.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
"One of the best meals I've ever eaten" - Woodgie, commenting on Thanksgiving lunch/dinner, after sampling the roast turkey. That turned out very nice and juicy following the overnight brining, the spice rub, and the roasting on high heat, followed by further roasting at a lower temp with cheesecloth soaked with sage mead atop it to protect the skin the remainder of the way ... thank you, Alton Brown and an unnamed Food Network competition chef ... your input both made this a turkey to remember. It was a lot of effort, but it worked out very, very well.
The remainder of the dinner (ham, stuffing, etc.) was just as good, and after a morning of cooking and parade watching and playing with the kitties, we're settled in for our Thanksgiving nap.
Happy Thanksgiving! to all of our family and friends.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
The first Leon my family did face
was when Dad took some letters and moved them from place
When my mother found out, she exclaimed, "Dear John,
can you tell me why 'Noel' now proclaims 'Leon'?"
Leon, Leon, Leon, Leon
It's all the fault of a father named John.
From there, "sending the Leon" has become a family tradition in Woodgie's family ... it's taken different forms and come from different locations ... one year it was the form of block candles from Leon to Woodgie's mom. Last year, Woodgie's niece, Robyn, was the recipient of the Leon, with toy building blocks spelling Leon that were sent from - where else? - Leon, Iowa.
And that begins the tale of the family holiday season ... we don't know yet who will be the next recipient to carry on the Leon tradition, but we've got a couple of weeks to figure that one out.
We had been planning to turn on the Christmas lights and decorations after Thanksgiving ... however, after all of the next door neighbors turned their lights on this evening, we decided that we would do the same:
This is our "bird feeder" tree, which Lauren bought last summer at the closing sale at a thrift store which went out of business. When we were pulling out Christmas decorations, I discovered two packs of icicle lights from my stores. I didn't want to do icicle lights on the house, because that's been so overdone, so in a moment of inspired creativity, I looped the lights onto the bird tree ... imagine my surprise when we turned the lights on, as we were left with an abstract Christmas angel.
Front Porch: We're still working on the trim for this one, but it's your basic, dual-wreath setup.
When we were decorating the living room, two of our kitties (Opie and Stinky) decided to take possession of the garland.
Here's the garland after we reclaimed it from the kitties.
Here's our outdoor tree in all its glory.
Monday, November 20, 2006
With that for a theme ... here's our list of "things to be thankful for":
1. It looks like the gallbladder tests came out fine, and Woodgie is feeling much, much better than she was a week and a half ago, just in time for feasting on Thursday.
2. I have a screening phone interview for a position with a company in KC on Wednesday. No details yet, but I hope to have better news after this week.
3. After Sunday, we have 95 percent of both the Christmas shopping and Christmas decorating done as of this week ... the decorating will be 100 percent done this evening after finding some sticky hooks for the last piece of garland, and the Christmas shopping will be done after one or two more purchases, hopefully this next weekend.
4. Friday is the one year anniversary of the start of our relationship ... even though we "met" officially back in Spring of '05, we count Thanksgiving as the "official" date (yes, this year it falls on Black Friday ... don't read anything into that, please).
5. Family and friends - I haven't seen my family since New Years, 2004, due to conflicting holiday schedules, but I'll see part of them this weekend, and also thanks for the "extended family" at our church, as well as those friends at my former churches back in Des Moines, and for Lauren's friends (now our friends), too.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Secret Santa Revealed
1. Roast turkey breast (of course) - only we're pulling out all the stops - brine soaking it the evening before, followed by a traditional spice rub and then roasting ... one of the competitors last night did a nice technique we're going to adapt: covering the meat with a wine soaked cheesecloth to keep the meat moist as it roasts. We're going to try that, using either a sage-honey mead (if we can find any in Woodgie's remaining homemade stock, that is), or a cranberry wine that her dad made last year.
2. Ham - we almost didn't include this on the menu. Woodgie has some nasty allergies to nitrates and normally, she can't eat ham because of the curing. Fortunately, a packing company out of Iowa named Beelers has started producing a very nice set of uncured products (sausage, weiners, bacon, brats), and now they've finally put out an uncured ham chub at a decent price. We'll probably do a typical glaze - brown sugar (probably a Splenda blend), cloves, prepared mustard, and perhaps a little honey.
3. Cranberry relish - Woodgie has a nice recipe for this we're going to try.
4. Multi-grain stuffing, with pecans, golden raisins, and apple juice - I started making this about six years ago when the recipe first appeared on the Butterball website, and it has a very nutty texture that holds up very well to gravy ... it helps that it's the only stuffing that Woodgie likes, as she normally doesn't like stuffing.
5. Mixed greens salad, with almonds and dried cranberries, topped with a balsamic vinagrette.
6. Green beans with almonds, mushrooms, and a small handful of Beeler's uncured bacon, for taste.
7. Roasted and seasoned red potatoes - after weighing everything, we decided that we'd forego the mashed potatoes this year in favor of roasted/seasoned ... while they are a usual staple of the Thanksgiving table, mashed potatoes are a bit hard on the calorie count.
8. Turkey gravy (our one concession to pre-packaged), using a brand called Simply Organic. We sampled some at the local Hy-Vee, and it was very, very good, as well as being low-fat.
Finally for dessert, we'll be trying out a sweet potato flan recipe that we first sampled at Friday Night Cafe several weeks ago.
After we'd hashed out the menu, Woodgie did point out that we were making a large amount of food, but I noted that we could count on having leftovers, also a Thanksgiving tradition.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
What this means for non-techies is this: if you wanted a quick way to see if there were new postings, you can use an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed reader such as the one in My Yahoo or Google (or any RSS reader application) to set up a feed for the blog.
After you subscribe (by clicking on the RSS or My Yahoo icons), the next time there is a new entry, you'll see a link to it in your feed reader, courtesy of the Feedburner service.
Quite nifty, eh? The kitty chorus (Kitty, Opie, and Stinky), all give it six paws up ;-).
It was rather funny ... based on a comment in the Indiebride boards, Woodgie noted that this would be an excursion to see the local "marital-industrial complex". Come to think of it, since
the community center and local National Guard armory share the same space in town, it was a convergence of both the "marital-industrial complex" and "military-industrial complex" as well.
First impressions for guys:
1. Bridal fairs do serve lots of samples ... wedding cake, wedding cupcakes, and chocolate, especially. This is a good thing; it helps to keep you going when you realize how much you could, in theory, spend on your wedding.
2. Wedding photographers, as a constant, are expensive ... when you realize that the prizes they are offering are discounts to make their wedding photo packages more affordable, you realize how expensive they are to hire.
3. In some ways, it's rather like a home show, only different.
4. Even though you liked the scent of the Mary Kay after-shave lotion, don't admit this until you are out of earshot of the consultant.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Earlier this year, we'd thought about going down to Arrowhead Stadium to tailgate and watch our respective schools (Pitt State and Northwest) play, but we held off ... as much as I'm a Pitt alumni, I thought they had a slim chance against the Bearcats last weekend, which turned to none after listening to the first five minutes of the game ... it hurts to hear your alma mater get pasted on the field.
Cheshirewoodgie says there's an easy cure for that ... just become a Bearcat fan ;-).
We did have some good news ... in an earlier post, I'd mentioned that we were going through the required pastoral pre-marriage counseling and getting ready to petition the diocese bishop for approval to be married in the church. Thankfully, we got word that the bishop had approved us ... yay! Now we can start more detail planning (or at least, start on those items we had to hold on until we knew for certain that we were approved for). Like sitting down with the organist and organizing musicians. And working up a service order. And selecting readings. And writing vows. That sort of thing ....
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Sunday, October 22, 2006
"Rehabbing" meant taking out the existing hangar bar, sorting winter/summer clothes to send downstairs, selecting older clothes to put out on Freecycle, and putting in a new double hangar bar with shelving on either side. After nine hours straight, we had a much better organized closet. We're saving reorganizing the office/storage closet of chaos for another week.
Homecoming itself we took a pass on, because we weren't able to get tickets to the game. Just as well ... it was wet, cold, and miserable, so instead, we spent the weekend at a slower place: some cooking of comfort food (Lauren's patented chicken noodle soup) on Saturday evening, followed by a crafts project for Lauren (repairing a keepsake box made by her parents).
On Sunday, we walked to church despite the cold weather (and ultimately, halfway into the walk and again after church, through light snowflakes). This evening was our next to last "pre-letter" meeting with our minister before he submits the letter to the diocese bishop asking for permission to marry Lauren and myself, and now, I'm in the living room, updating the blog with Opie on my lap while Lauren grades student assignments.
Friday, October 13, 2006
We wanted something stylish, but not too extravagant, and settled on a titanium design (very light and hypoallergenic), that nicely complemented the Claddagh rings we chose for our engagement.
When it came to choosing an inscription, we were making the usual Lord of the Rings jokes about the "One Ring to rule them all ...", and it took a bit of thought to come up with an appropriate engraving other than that. Since the two of us are both fans of mystic poet Jalal-Uddin Rumi, we arrived at this:
"Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along."
Of course, we'll probably continue to joke that in order to read the inscription properly, you'll have to throw the rings into a fire ....
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
When I first moved to Maryville, I was used to a variety of good, ethnic restaurants in Des Moines ... ADong downtown for Vietnamese, with its 137 menu options, succulent springrolls, and never-fail bowls of steaming, fragrant pho, for Thai-leaning Chinese Cafe Su (home of the best, biggest crab rangoon anywhere and the only place to find dim sum in Des Moines), Cookry for traditional African (the groundnut stew is a must, as well as the jerk chicken, and if you're there on a Saturday, you must try the fufu), Thai Flavors on 14th or Cool Basil for excellent Pad Thai, and the Des Moines Art Center restaurant on weekends and First Fridays for the monthly-changing "surprise me" and excellent desserts, among other restaurants I haven't named yet. When I moved to Maryville, I was wondering if I was downgrading that area of my life. Although there aren't as many restaurants here as in Des Moines, there are a couple of notable places (and some I haven't tried yet), ranging from upscale ethnic, to BBQ, to authentic truck-stop cafe, so it's been pretty good so far.
I should point out that apparently, the best non-commercial ethnic offering in town is sponsored by the college's FACS department (yes, I know, this is a shameless plug for something my fiancee's department sponsors ...). Starting this Friday, my fiancee's department hosts a series of ethnic meals on Friday evenings called Friday Night Cafe. While I have yet to experience it, she assures me that I won't be disappointed, and we do have tickets. (Okay, end of shameless plug.)
Otherwise, for commercial ethnic, we have several different choices. For Greek, Italian, and otherwise fine dining, there's A&G next to downtown. It's nicely appointed, with outdoor patio and bar, and it's most notable for Friday night Greek nights, as well as some nicely done entrees. In particular, the rack of lamb is exquisite, but a little steep at $22.00 per person, which is why it's best done for special occasions or split between 2 people. For Greek, they serve a full range of Greek specialties (gyros, souvlakia, mousska, spanikopita, souvalaki, roasted chicken, accompanied by pita, salad, and rice pilaf, etc.). On average, prices range from $5-10 dollars for lunch menu items, to $17-22 for dinner entrees.
The salads include some unusual ones, including a pecan crusted, blue cheese chicken, as well as the usual Cobb and chef varieties. The entrees range from upscale bar-grill items through nice entrees, with restaurant burgers, chops, steaks, sandwiches, pasta entrees, and a wonderful lunch menu (lighter pasta entrees, some of the chop and steak options from dinner, twice-baked potatoes, a Greek sampler plate if you're eating there other than Friday night, and wraps). The lower-priced lunch menu includes soup and salad combos, a reasonably priced quesadilla with dipping sauces, and even liver and onions (yeah, I know, it's sick, but I like liver and onions).
They also do a spa menu with some lighter pastas and salads, including a honey-balsamic glazed salmon and spinach combination, and most of the entrees are accompanied by A&G's home-baked bread and honey-butter ... one loaf of that, and you're almost full already.
Their desserts are also well-done, including a tiramisu that's slightly more frozen/chiled than the average, a wonderfully done bread pudding (Lauren's favorite), which for a little extra can be served flaming (soaked with Barcardi 151 rum), and a newly introduced frozen lemon custard/cake that also does well. However, my favorite dessert there is a baked apple pastry (baked apple wrapped with pastry, dusted with cinnamon, and served with ice cream and whipped cream).
For Chinese, we have a few options here ... The Mandarin (American Chinese, nothing fancy, and Happy Garden, which again is fast-food Chinese). The other alternative for Chinese here, strangely enough, is the local Hy-Vee supermarket. Surprisingly, they do put out a good product ... again, nothing fancy, but not bad, either.
The other ethnic alternative is Mexican: La Bonita and a new place which will replace the former Julios (which was closed due to alleged undocumented illegal alien staffing problems).
The remainder of Maryville's restaurants can be broken down into the following categories:
1)Sports Bars and Grills
For the most part, this is taken up by JWs, the revamped former Bobcat Grill on campus, and Carsons, a newly opened sports grill downtown.
In the Student Union at the college, JW's is basically a sports bar with free trivia machines and games, but without the alcohol (since Northwest is a dry campus). They serve a pretty decent (and decently priced) range of burgers, entrees, soups, and salads. Lauren puts a vote in for the buffalo chicken salad, while I've found that they do a mean BBQ beef sandwich on Texas toast. We both agree that their best offering is a homemade kettle-fried potato chip that is worth indulging in once in awhile (otherwise, it would be detrimental to our health). JWs is mainly used by students and faculty, but anyone can eat there.
The other, recently opened sports bar is Carsons ... we haven't eaten there yet, but once we do, we'll let you know how it was.
2)The aforementioned BBQs ... Bubbas BBQ and Fixins, Pink Floyd (catering, but they sometimes do parking lot sales) and Hey Vern (also parking lot sales). Lauren has mentioned Bubbas before. It's owned by a local American Royal competitor who has won several times there ... if you want large portions, incredibly large pulled meat BBQ sandwiches with an incredible dry-rub (that should not be profaned with sauce, according to Bubba), and award-winning bacon/cheddar/onion smashed potatoes, Bubbas is where to go (although it's now only open on Wednesday-Sunday, probably due to BBQ competition season). Pink Floyd and Hey Vern, I haven't had yet, so I'll have to reserve an opinion on them for later, too.
3)Fast food and family food chains - Subway, Pizza Hut, KFC, Sonic, Applebees, McDonalds, Hardees. Been there, done that before. Enough said about them.
4)Truck-stop cafes - Gray's. Outside of town on Highway 71, Gray's is your typical truck-stop cafe ... inexpensive burgers, breakfasts, weeknight specials, and daily desserts. Not bad.
5)Coffeeshops - right now, we only have two, Main Street Coffee, a small coffeeshop located next to the fitness center on Main, and a small one embedded in a local used antique/bookstore. We used to have a third, but it went out of business. We have heard rumors that a Starbucks may be coming into town (part of that 22,000 new stores they have planned), but so far, that's just a rumor. A St. Joe based coffeeshop may also expand here, but that's also a rumor as well.
I should point out that most of our eating out usually takes place at the local Hy-Vee salad bar, inexpensive and good for our diets, or else we grill out or stay in and cook ... speaking of which, I need to dig out that lamb curry recipe I promised to make Lauren this weekend ....
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
This weekend found Lauren and I at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. Lauren's been a regular Faire-goer since her grad school days, and I've been to the Faire a couple of times before, but never "in garb" (i.e. costumed). That changed this weekend. Surprisingly, we found enough accessories to take the basic "peasantware" Lauren found for me off eBay and turn it into a fair approximation of a merchant's costume.
Lauren also wanted to go see her one of her favorite Ren Faire music groups, a "fusion" bagpipe group (seriously!) named Tartanic. Tartanic mixes non-traditional piping with Middle Eastern and Irish drums, sometimes taking indecent liberties with traditional 'pipes music, and tossing in a little live comedy, all to prove - as their lead bodhran player asserts - that "bagpipes aren't just for funerals anymore".
Tartanic at the KC Ren Faire
On the way home Sunday, we stopped at Lauren's favorite Indian restaurant, Swagat, for lunch. Words can't do justice to this North KC restaurant, which features frankly the best Indian buffet that both of us have ever had, from over 12 choices of fresh tandoor-baked breads, to curries, vindaloos, tandoor-chicken, and desserts, including carrot halva.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
No game day this weekend ... the Bearcats are away at Kirksville, and instead, the state's homeland security division is doing a terror/disaster drill on the campus (translation: stay away from the exercise zone this weekend).
Lauren's parents are down for their traditional post-birthday visit. We're probably heading over to St. Joe for a little antiquing and shopping.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Northwest's Mascot - Bobby Bearcat
This weekend found us once again at the football stadium for the second game of Northwest's season. It was a bit soggy, with light showers up to game time soaking everyone, but we braved the pre-game tailgate anyway. Umbrellas are prohibited in the stadium proper, and although Lauren had brought a rain slicker along, it was an orange-red color far too close to the colors of the opposing football team (Univ. of Nebraska-Omaha) for comfort, so we purchased a couple of disposable clear plastic rain slickers ... granted, they made us feel like we were covered in Saran Wrap, but they kept us mostly dry during the day.
The game featured the "duel of the bands", as UNO brought along their marching band, too. After a close start (10-0 at the half), Northwest pulled away to shut UNO out 31-0.
Pre-Game Pep Rally - Band
Pre-Game Band Show
Introduction of the Bearcats
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
1. Am I employed yet? Not yet. It's mildly frustrating. Still checking the job listings as much as possible, and I'm still hoping I can find something that would let me telecommute or work an alternative work schedule. Gas prices are still way too high to even consider a regular commute somewhere. I'm ready to work again. I really am.
2. Is the house being painted this week? Yes it is; we're not doing a full painting, but a sand down and touch-up paint of a few places that needed work. We should be done by Friday evening, so we can take that off the to-do list. And the place does look much nicer.
3. Am I tired because of (2)? Yes, I am. Very. Fortunately, the list of "to-dos" involving the house has shrunk considerably. The only major items left on the home improvement list will unfortunately have to wait until I find a job and/or we're graced with a lottery win. Both would be nice.
4. Do we have plans this weekend? For the moment, it will likely be tailgating on Saturday, followed by the local Northwest Mo State football game, and a possible RenFaire trip down to the KC Ren Faire. We should have pictures to share after this weekend. The former has me slightly conflicted, as I'm now rooting for a college that is a conference football rival to my alma mater (Pittsburg State). It should get really interesting around the 1st week of November, when the two play down at Arrowhead Stadium.
5. Is Lauren's birthday coming up? Yes it is ... her birthday is Sept. 11th (easy to remember, unfortunately); we'll have to stretch out celebrating it over two days, since Monday is her "loaded" class day, including her evening class. I've already hidden her birthday gift.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Through the weekend, I showed Lauren around Pittsburg and Girard, stopping off for lunch at the Mall Deli and later for dinner, letting her try SE Kansas chicken! For those of you who don't know about it, there are two "dueling" long-time chicken restaurants down in SE Kansas that make chicken unlike any other restaurant I know of: Chicken Annie's and Chicken Mary's.
Before we went down, Lauren was a little skeptical of how good the chicken was, so we ran a taste test of Annie's chicken on Friday evening before doing the county fair, and with family friends Carl and Millie Larcom, headed for Chicken Mary's on Saturday night ... after comparing the two, Lauren decided that Mary's was better (which makes me the lone family holdout for Annie's ... sigh).
Friday evening was spent at the fair;, where Lauren got in her quota of ducky, wabbit, and horse petting ;-), and we also got to experience another tradition: homemade county fair ice cream. I also saw a couple of former high school classmates and caught up on how they were doing.
On Saturday, we journeyed over to Joplin, MO for lunch to see a very nice bistro and Victorian/Italian styled garden shop called Sandstone Gardens:
Interior of the Garden Shop
From there, it was a quick jaunt to Carthage to see Precious Moments ... we wanted to stop off at Marion Days in Carthage itself, but decided not to ... way crowded.
Early Sunday afternoon found Lauren and I taking a short train ride ... the local SEK Railroad Association had brought down a steam locomotive and several (thankfully air conditioned) passenger rail cars, to run a short trip out into the country and back. Lauren's a bit of a train buff, having grown up next to the Rock Island line, and also having ridden the train to and from Chicago, so she really enjoyed the trip (even though the air conditioning cut out half-way through). Not having ridden trains very much, I was a little concerned by the pronounced rocking of the cars, but Lauren assured me that a)this was normal, and b)it wasn't bad compared to other rides she'd been on.
After lunch at Pittsburg's newest Thai restaurant, Typhoon (which we can both recommend), we stopped by the Knoll's (Linda and J.T.), for introductions and catching up, and then headed home, getting back to Maryville just before an oncoming round of thunderstorms delivered some much needed rain.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Mark Twain Lighthouse - Hannibal, MO
Home again, home again ... we're back home in Maryville after a week's worth of traveling, having left last Friday on a road odyssey/vacation that took us through Mt. Vernon, IA, to Marseilles, IL to visit Lauren's parents and family, to Urbana-Champaign, IL, to visit Lauren's friends whom she hadn't seen in several years, to Hannibal, MO, boyhood home of Mark Twain (and now tourist attraction du jour ... everything in the town either had Mark Twain's name attached to it or was related to the Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn mythos in some way ... we guessed that Clemens would probably be rolling in his grave if he knew what his name was now attached to).
Along the way, our journey took us to several bed and breakfasts, including Blythe Cottage Inn in Mt. Vernon (a nicely appointed basement and cottage house), and Lulabelle's in Hannibal (now a very well run B&B and restaurant-bar next to the river. It plays off the noteriety of the building's former use as an, ahem, brothel, in earlier days).
We also found a selection of coffeehouses in various locales ... Fuel and Brewcasso in Mt. Vernon, as well as another in downtown Champaign (sorry, we forget the name), and Java Jive in Hannibal (where we found out that even Mark Twain frequents the place for coffee ... one of the local faux Clemens was there in the morning). As Lauren observed, "looks like even the local characters stop here."
Brewcasso Exterior and Fish Boil
Mt. Vernon found us stopping at Brewcasso last Friday night for a different reason: their take on the "Door County Fish Boil". The summer hosts at the coffeeshop had been throwing several special reservation-only dinner nights; the previous Friday's meal had been an Ethiopian one, but the one we attended was a Door County, Wisconsin tradition from the days of Norwegian fishermen where whitefish and potatoes were cooked over an open fire (in particular, the fish were boiled to remove the "fishy" taste from the fillets). The hosts, a nice couple from Wisconsin with 10 kids (5 adopted Ethiopian), had decorated the dining area with Packers memorabilia and were playing football-themed music.
While we watched the preparations and chatted over appetizers (Wisconsin cheeses and summer sausage, accompanied by a chilled raspberry soup), the hosts performed the ritual of boiling the fish and potatoes (apparently, the important part of the boil is the boilover, which removes the starch and also helps put the fire out). Needless to say, the meal was excellent, accompanied by several varieties of fresh bread, and topped off by fruit pie a la mode from a local church bake sale (trust me, it's Iowan fruit pie ... having lived there for six years, I've found there's none better).
After a light breakfast at the B&B, the following morning found us stopping by Fuel, another equally eclectic coffeeshop in town, for tea. (If you do make it there, be sure you arrive there early after opening for their berry scones ... hot out of the oven and crumbly.) We had to get back on the road shortly thereafter, but not before we sampled prune and poppy-seed kolaches at the local farmer's market.
Lunch found us at the "original" Iowa Machine Shed restaurant in Davenport, where Lauren was quite amazed by the decor (I think it was the hayrack/tractor rides they give in the parking lot that really impressed her).
With that, it was on the road to Marseilles and a stop at Lauren's parents for a few days of visiting her family, including meeting her Aunt Peggy and her sister Lisa's family, some walking "down near the river" during Marseilles Fun Days, a trail walk and sightseeing at Buffalo State Park (complete with buffalo), followed on Tuesday by breakfast and some sightseeing at Starved Rock State Park (named for the historical massacre of a band of Illini Indians by a band of Potawatami where the Illini were chased to a bluff, surrounded, and "starved") ... I'm given to understand that in more recent days, the park has its share of accidents (falls), often caused by stupidity, where people fail to realize that the law of gravity applies there as elsewhere in the world ;-).
Below: the Great Hall of the Starved Rock Lodge
The Buffalo at Buffalo State Park
On the way back from Starved Rock, we did some wine tasting, and Lauren also introduced me to Polancic's tenderloins ... she has often commented that the tenderloins done in her area make the best tenderloin sandwiches out there, so of course, we stopped for lunch so she could prove this to me. After that stop, she was proven right.
On Wednesday, we set out for Urbana-Champaign, arriving at about 10:30 that morning for a slightly rainy walk downtown and some shopping... among the finds were (for me), a 1st ed. copy of the Star Trek Concordance, and for Lauren, a Christmas gift. Later on, a find for the parents was a Senseo pod coffeemaker at the local Habitat for Humanity store.
The afternoon brought lunch with Mariellen, one of Lauren's Quaker friends, and a small tour of the UIUC campus, which I "almost" attended back in 1996 (and in one more case of "almost but not quite", I would have missed Lauren by about 3 years, as she had departed in 1993 for upstate New York). One stop was Espresso Royale in Urbana ...as Lauren noted, the back room space was reportedly once a bar that was George Lucas' inspiration for the cantina in Star Wars.
The evening brought dinner at the "best Thai restaurant in the Urbana-Champaign area" with friends from Lauren's former "Saturday Night" group (from left, Ken Sarno; the group's informal mentor, U of I professor emeritus Les Savage; Chris Mayer and Mike Barkley; followed by Lauren and myself), followed by a stayover at Ken's "new" house out in the country 25 mi. south of Urbana (which provoked a small amount of house envy ... especially when Ken showed us the new addition which will eventually house the hot tub).
Lauren's Friends at Dinner
Thursday afternoon and this morning brought us to Hannibal, where besides the aforementioned Lulabelle's (staying in the "Gypsy Rose" room), we occupied ourselves at the local stops, scavanging for scrapbooking supplies for the wedding guestbook/scrapbook, dropping in for ice cream at Becky Thatcher's, earning survival certificates for climbing the 244 steps up to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse on top of Cardiff Hill (and making it back down again), as well as stopping at Jam Session, the local pipe and bowed instrument shop, where we both tried a bowed psaltry and Lauren added a new tin whistle to her collection.
At Java Jive, we lamented with some of the local customers a recent city council decision to remove the trees from the downtown area because they thought that the tourists would be offended by the bird poop. The crews with the chain saws were out even as we watched.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
On other fronts, Lauren and I finally started doing wedding planning (budgeting, getting reservations, checking with family, etc.). It's been a little stressful at times (paring down the guest list, for one thing), but slowly but surely we've been making arrangements (church, officiant, and reception), designing our invites, pouring over websites for cost-conscious wedding ideas, doing our budget planning, selecting attendants, and coming up with something nice out of it for all of us. We'll have more details later as we go. In case anyone is wondering, we're registered at Wal-Mart, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Amazon.com ... just do a search on either Leach-Steffens or the reverse, and you should find us.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
We'd planned to go camping out at the lake Monday and Tuesday for the 4th, but the threat of storms for the next few days has ruled that out, and a road trip to central MO wine country got postponed (Just as well, given the 10 cent a gal. price hike in the last few days).
Over the weekend, we took a break from the Babylon 5 marathon of the previous week and finished watching the last half of the anime series "A Vision of Escaflowne" ... quite enjoyable, except I still wonder what happened with the ending, which to me made no sense given the characterizations of the two leads, Van and Hitomi. We suspect a last minute (and poorly written) rewrite or editing cut (or maybe a badly translated dub). Without spoiling the ending, suffice it to say that if you are a romantic, you'll likely be disappointed (and tempted to write your own fan-fic ending to replace it). Note: this is the series version of Escaflowne, not the movie reimage which, in the opinion of my fiancee, got everything wrong.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
I also got to stop by my old church and catch up with everyone ... it was good to see everyone there.
Monday, June 12, 2006
The site is called Lifehacker ... it's a tasty mix of techie information, personal improvement widgets, and out and out tips and nice to knows.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Apart from some brief trips outside to do maintenance on the watercourse (cleaning a pre-filter), cutting some fresh dill from the garden for a lunch dish, and some garden watering, we're staying indoors and vegging today under the a/c.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
It became quite clear that we owed this gentleman a lot (in particular, the comforts of indoor plumbing).
Monday, May 29, 2006
Not to say all is boring in the summer in Maryville. It's definitely a different feel to a town whose social life is largely driven by what's happening at the college (or, alternatively, what's being served at Your Maryville Hy-Vee). Summer in Maryville tends to include the following attractions:
- Horses. At Sonic Drive-In. As one enterprising young rider put it, "Saves on the gas money."
- The Chatauqua. At least every other year, we get a visit from a traveling show of historical reenactors. This year, the event highlights Theodore Roosevelt, Fred Harvey, and George Washington Carver, among others.
- BBQ. BBQ is a constant, between Bubba's new restaurant and roadside stands like Hey Vern's and Pink Floyd's. (However, too much BBQ will lead to me being a BBW.)
- "Getting the Runs will give you the Blues". No kidding -- this was the official t-shirt of the Maryville Marathon/Blues Festival a few years ago. These events are hosted in the same weekend.
- The Art Fair. There's some pretty good local and traveling talent that shows up at this small art fair every year in early July.
- The County Fair. See and be seen -- what else does one do at a county fair? (Personally, I like the big slide...)
- Fishing and camping at Mozingo Lake. It's finally getting warm enough that tent camping doesn't require thermal survival blankets.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
The drive down and back left me with a few pithy conclusions about the state of interstate travel these days, none of them positive:
- Despite gas prices lowering from their highs of recent months, it still seems like there is gouging (or some inaccurately caliberated pumps) out there. $15.00 doesn't fill your tank anymore (and I drive a fairly fuel-efficient and well-maintained car).
- With troopers patrolling less and less due to increased gas prices, the days when most interstate drivers only kept to 5 or 10 miles beyond the speed limit are long gone. Average road speeds are now in the mid-80s/low 90s. With no enforcement, and long distances, people will speed because they can.
- Because of point #2, tailgating and rudeness is on the rise. I had several cases where someone rode my back bumper, forcing me to slide into the slow lane, or used the slow lane to pass me.
On the way down, Lauren took me to lunch at a Missouri winery/restaurant, Les Bourgeois, near Rocheport, that she had been to before and thought highly of, for both the view from the restaurant and the food. The pictures are of the restaurant and the incredible view from it, which overlooks both the Katy Trail and the Missouri River.
The food itself, we can both attest, was as good as Lauren promised, between a split appetizer, Cuban pressed sandwich for me and a panini for her, followed by a split dessert, and I'd highly recommend eating there, if you're on your way through Missouri on I-70. Their website address is below:
After the intern visit in Jeff City, we trundled back to Columbia for the overnight stay, and after checking into the hotel (and waiting out a nice rain shower, as well as meeting one of Lauren's professional organization colleagues to transfer a portable whiteboard), a search of the phone book and some web reviews helped us sort through our dinner choices. On the way to finding the restaurant, we checked out the homes (among them, some very nice, and very old, four-squares).
For dinner, we found a (thankfully) very inexpensive Thai place called Bangkok Gardens (26 N 9th St) for dinner in the District (historical downtown) area. Lauren had the Tom Ga Kai (coconut milk and chicken soup), while I had the Laap (Larb). While the Laap was a little greasy (we agreed it should have been drained a little more), it was mildly but satisfyingly spicy ... bear in mind that Lauren has me "in training", while I have to be vary careful about my spicy food choices.
After dinner, we walked around the downtown and window-shopped, discovering a very nice wine/cheese store and restaurant (see photo); quite expensive (we were content to window-shop), but they had a nice mix of domestic, Missouri-grown, and French wines.