Sunday, January 31, 2010

Varsity Letters @ Elmhurst College

Last fall, I coached the kickers and punters at Elmhurst College - a Division III football team in our town.  I had contacted the head coach early in 2009 and interviewed for the job.  After a few rounds of chats, they gave me the role.   I inherited a senior kicker/punter and a junior kicker.

I joined the team a month or two before fall camp, so we had a few workouts before the season hit.  The season team-wise was a bust.  We went 4-6 with a couple of heartbreaking last minute losses including a triple overtime loss.

But in coaching, I had a ton of fun and gained a bunch of new friends - both players and fellow coaches.  There's not many people that provide more laughs than a bunch of college-aged men on a football team.  I would leave practice every time with a big smile on my face.

Fortunately, my work schedule was flexible enough for me to be able to get to a few practices during the day- but not every one - and to most games.  They move their schedule around and do some things in the morning and some late in the afternoon.  It wasn't perfect for me, but I made it work.

The season wrapped up this weekend with the Awards Banquet held on campus.  I was happy to be able to be on hand to help award the Varsity "E" letters to the specialists.  Seeing these guys grow into men is a joy and a honor.  We're welcoming in 2 or 3 new Freshman kickers and bringing back 1 senior.

I can't wait for next season.  Go Bluejays!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vacation Interrupted

Nat, the babe and I were up in Michigan for the past few days - and we were set to stay up there next week on vacation, but circumstances arose that required us to come home.
My family loves the lake during the summer.  Everyone competes for weekends.  In fact...there's even a calendar and draft!

But...for me?  I think I might prefer the winter.  It is calm.  Quiet.  Pretty.  We just light the fireplace (we used to read, but now with the babe...not so much) and relax.  I'm glad we got to spend a little bit of time up there, but I wanted more.  So glad we're going to be able to go up after voting for a few more days of respite.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Good Night, Sleep Tight

Coming home from class two nights a week, I get to barely see the babe before she's off to **bed** for the night.  (I'm using 'bed' loosely.  It really is a bassinet at the side of our bed and she's in and out of it throughout the night for feedings and changings and what-not.)

It is a wonderful feeling to come home to a family and one that makes me race home safely each night.  When I do get to spend some time trying to get her to sleep we share a little song together.  One that was pointed out to me by my good friend Neil as a good lullaby.  He was right.  It's a good daddy/daughter number.  For all those dads out there, hopefully you can share this with your babe's too!


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reclaiming the Basement: My New Workbench

If you know the difference between, say, a Holtzapffel-style cabinet maker's bench and a split-top Roubo-style workbench, then this post will not impress you. (Bill Fox...I'm looking in your direction.) But...those of you guys who are cramped up in a condo somewhere on the northside and long for a little man-retreat, then you're going to be jealous!

(SIDENOTE:  At some point - maybe when I'm older and say 1.) not in school, and 2.) don't have a new born - I'd like to do something like this below.)


Anyway...back to the story.  Starting a few weeks back, I began to beat my cabin fever by beginning to organize our basement.  Our basement is probably like a lot of basements: unfinished, messy, damp, and quite a bit disorganized. During construction (or re-construction), the basement housed just about everything we owed that wasn't in our POD - and it was messy down there.  Once we moved in, we started to put everything that didn't have a home down there.  Over time, I bought some shelving units and began to put some of our stuff on the shelves, but in no particular order.


We then inherited some of my sister and brother-in-laws stuff to store - as their basement is finished as a playroom and don't have the space.  We don't have a garage, but our basement has it's own entrance, so the basement houses things such as our lawnmower, rakes, and even some patio furniture.  And...IT HAS NEVER REALLY BEEN CLEANED.

Reclaiming the space - as a man space - would require some help.  And help is what I got from my good friends at Menard's.  As part of their New Year specials, they had heavy-duty shelving units on sale as well as various size/shaped work benches.  We needed both.

Since we moved in, I've been keeping my tools scattered in various parts of the house - everywhere from the front closet to the basement to my office.  Nothing really had a home.

Until now.  I carved out a space downstairs to set up a workbench and create a place where I could work.  Being the amateur craftsman that I am, I caved and bought a "workbench kit" from Menard's and it quickly came together.   I'm quite pleased with the way it turned out!


I quickly filled it with various tools and other random stuff I've collected/been given.  I also bought a 2X4 foot sheet of pegboard and tacked it up behind the bench.  I should probably read up on the intricacies of peg-board maximization.

There's a fridge down there already.  All I need is to splice the cable that's down there, put up a small tv, find a suitable Lazy Lad and we'll have my very own man space.

In all of it's dingy, damp glory.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Silverado Grill - Elmhurst

On Saturday night, Nat, the babe and I packed into the family truckster and went out into the night to find a place to grab a meal.  We headed south towards Oak Brook and began to call a few places.  Not one but 7 places we called had waits of longer than an hour.  Some had waits as long as 3 hours!  It was 6:30, so in the 'burbs, that is prime dinner time.

We used to be 8 or 8:30 dinner folks, but not any more.  Now we're competing with every Chad and Michelle and their 4 kids in the western suburbs for a table at Maggiano's.

After driving across town and back for an hour, we headed back to Elmhurst settling on grabbing a pie at Pizza Palace in downtown.  We called ahead and they had plenty of tables open.  But, as luck would have it, we took a different route home and passed by a place called the Silverado Grill.  I had heard "things" about the Grill, so we popped in.  When we got there, there was a couple waiting for a table, but the restaurant had open ones.  Turns out, they're regulars and were just waiting for a table to open in their preferred waitress' section.   It is that type of place.

The place is just my speed.  It could only get better if they offered peanuts and popcorn at the tables like the Country House does, but the decor/feel/vibe of this place works for me.  Low key, not low class.   We both had house salads - which came in wood bowls (Nat likes that!).   I had a pot roast sandwich - which came with carmelized onions, cheddar and horseradish sauce.  Nat had a wrap.  She wasn't that thrilled with her order, but I loved mine.   They also have Shiner and Lone Star beers in bottles - which is nice.

We've been in Elmhurst for over a year and we have yet to find a place that we could go regularly.  We're close with Seven Ten, but the waitstaff is young and inconsistent.  Barnaby's is too far away to go often.  Francesca's is too expensive.

Jack's Silverado Grill might fit the bill nicely.  We'll be back to put it through it's proper paces again.  That's for sure.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oprah Studio - and the House Supplied Kleenex

A few weeks back I was over at Harpo Studios talking all things Google with the production team and art department.  We have a few things moving forward - including Oprah using Google Earth for all broadcast maps now - and a few other things up in the air (fun things)!

I was there with a fellow Googler and we both got a short tour of the studio.  Here's us below.




The one thing that isn't in this photo - and hard not to discuss - is that each seat in the studio comes with house-supplied kleenex. So you don't have to worry that when Oprah plays with your heart-strings, they have you covered from a clean-up perspective.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm Feeling Lucky


At work, when you plan to take leave they invite you to a "baby shower" - it really is just a video conferenced meeting with a bunch of other dads from around the company.  The HR team walks you through the whole process and what details of the benefits are for the time you are away.

After the "shower", in my inter-office mailbox was one of those yellow envelopes with all the lines on them.  I had a package from Mountain View.

Inside?  Baby clothes!  Guess who's feeling lucky today?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

B.T. (Before Twitter) Blog Post Drafts

I began to import some posts over from my old blogging platform a few days back.  Those of you on the email probably noticed that a bunch of posts suddenly showed up.  Sorry about that.

During the importation process, I discovered that my long- ago abandoned drafts also made the trip over with the actual published posts.  There's a lot of rubbish in those drafts, but there's a few minor gems, too.  One of them is actually only one sentence.  No title nor follow-up.  Just this.
Is Tony Rezko the new George Bluth? Corrupt developer with shady deals in Iraq. Who's the analrapist in Tony's family?
Too bad I wasn't on Twitter then, eh?  I would have walked around smugly all morning for posting, what I considered at the time, to be a mind-bendingly funny comment about the worlds of politics and television colliding.   I even nailed the sub-140 character mark.  Left room for Re-Tweets.

Too bad, indeed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Mom's Gift to My Dad


This past summer and fall, I had a bunch of projects that required some power tools to complete.  I built a deck, put up bookshelves, put up a fence, and built a small pergola and gates - all things around the house that needed to get done.

I've begun to build up my collection of tools - like hammers, sanders, clamps, and drills, but I didn't yet have a circular saw.  Anyone who's done any sort of carpentry will tell you that one universal tool that you'll use over and over is a 7 1/4" circular saw.

Embarking on these projects actually required one.  I need to make a bunch of cuts and I didn't want to hack at them by hand.

That's where my family comes in.

First, because he was lending a hand on the deck, I borrowed my father-in-law's saw.  He had a real nice saw with a laser so you could see where you were cutting.  Because the saw is fairly indispensable, he needed it back shortly after I got it because he had projects of his own he had to tackle.  From there, I asked my dad if I could borrow his.  Sure enough, he dropped it off.

The saw worked just fine.  But, inside his case was this receipt from 1980.  It is for a return on my dad's saw. Turns out, after doing a bit of research (asking my folks about it), my mom seems to recall that she bought the saw for my dad as a Christmas present on December 1, 1979.  It is all there on the document.  When I pulled it out, I just stared at it for a few minutes.  If not for the yellowed paper and the old-fashioned look to this, my mom's signature looks the same today as it did then.  That's 30 years ago!

This story has another nice ending.  On Christmas morning, Nat and I made our way to her folks place in Naperville.  When I opened my gift, guess what they gave me?  A 7 1/4" circular saw.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Barnaby's Family Inn on Touhy (Des Plaines)


Last Friday, Nat, I, the babe and Nat's parents went to Barnaby's Family Inn in Des Plaines for pizza and beer.  For those of you who've never heard of or been to a Barnaby's, well...this hopefully will convince you to take the time to go.

The back story to our history with Barnaby's is that both of Nat's parents are graduates of Notre Dame.  We were headed there for a football game a few falls ago and asked her folks where a good post-game bite to eat could be had.  Both of them volunteered the same thing:  Barnaby's.

Turns out, it is an old pizza place a few miles from the stadium.  They told us to try the sausage pizza.  We went in with little expectations aside from satisfying our hunger.

Little did we know that we'd start a personal pizza revolution in our own house.  This place was that good.

The Barnaby's we went to in Des Plaines is set up exactly like the one in South Bend (and I imagine every other one in the country).  There's only 7 left in the country - mostly in northern Illinois.

What you get at Barnaby's is good pizza, no pretense, and a trip back to pizza parlors before goat cheese and caprese salads.  (not that I don't like both of those things!)  There is no wait staff.  You walk up to a counter order your pizza and take your number.  Then you shuffle to the left to the bar and order your pitcher of beer - which comes with smallish frosted mugs.  You then go grab a seat in one of their small booths - or if you are a big party, grab one of the "center" booths where there are 2 booths attached to each other with a small divider in between.  After 15 or 20 minutes (depending on how busy it is), you hear your number called our and get your pie.  Large pizzas are $14 each, small are $10.  Priced right.  And...taste right.  I'll leave the description of the textures and flavors to someone else, instead focusing on the atmosphere and the real reason to go there for your next night out.

They haven't changed a thing in either of the Barnaby's since probably 1987.  The signs, the booths, the wall decor.  Take a look at these photos.  They're from the 70's, but trust me:  things have NOT changed.  This is a pizza parlor - with the requisite little league baseball sponsorship and everything.  Now that we have kids, I have a more attuned eye for where/when we should be bringing her and I doubt that she'd be unwelcome anytime/any day at Barnaby's.  In fact, the babe was wailing away most of the night and due to the noise and our proximity (we chose a back corner) to other diners not one person looked sideways at us.

We like old things, and Barnaby's fits that bill.  It is styled like a Bavarian lodge and feels like someplace that time forgot - in a good way.  That's worth the price of admission alone.  But the pizza really is good - and not having a waiter/waitress is nice too!

The Barnaby's story is interesting in that they were bought out by Bally's in 1981.  Yup, the casino folks.  They also were a big pinball/arcade company and had plans to trick each of the Barnaby's out with an arcade.  Guess it didn't work.  Lots of them closed around the midwest - each leaving behind a legacy of happy family outings, I'm certain.


If you want to step back in time, taste some delicious pizza and have a great time, please go to Barnaby's.   In the suburbs, there's on in SchaumburgNorthbrook, Niles, Arlington Heights and Des Plaines.  

One favor though if you do decide to go:  Please email or call me.  We'll go with you!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake from Cook's Illustrated

Over the weekend we had some of Nat's friends over to say hello and see the babe.  Nat said that we couldn't just put out a partially eaten sleeve of saltines and sugared fruit slices; we had to pull something together for a brunch-ish crowd.

Now....I'm not normally the baker in our house - that's Nat's domain.  But with her having her hands full (with the child-rearing and all), it was time to play flour scientist and bake up a cake of sorts - a coffee cake.

For my birthday a few years ago, my mom started to give us a Cooks Illustrated subscription.  She renews it every April and I've come to enjoy thumbing through it each month.  I've occasionally referred to it when making something (like potatoes in the oven), but I've never baked anything from their pages.

Aside from the crazy quantities (you can sense that they really did tinker with them - I mean what's with all the 1/8 of a teaspoons!  We don't even have one of those!), we didn't have the right pan.  They called for a tube pan.  One with a removable bottom (like these).  All we have is a bundt pan - the type that you cook the cake upside down, then flip it over to pop the cake out after it cools.


The real issue is (as you can read below) that the recipe outlined has a specific sequence.  You start at the bottom of the cake and then move upwards to the top.  With the pan I had, I had to work backwards.  It wasn't perfect, but I think it turned out ok.

On the plus side, this gave me an opportunity to give our handmade organic vanilla extract a shot in a recipe where it called for 5 teaspoons.

As far as flavor goes, I'd recommend this if you up for a nice cream-cheesy coffee cake.  Doing it the right way (with the right pan) will probably make a difference looks-wise with the almonds and what not.

We also were fortunate because we were able to bring the 3/4 of it leftover to my in-laws where the caloric pain was shared far and wide.

The next time, we might nix the lemon and lemon juice and go with a cinnamon instead.  If we can borrow a pan, that is.

(The full CI backstory is here, but the recipe is behind a paywall.)
Cream Cheese Coffee Cake
Makes one 10-inch cake, serving 12 to 16
(Note:  Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator, covered tightly with plastic wrap.  For optimal texture, allow the cake to return to room temperature before serving.)

Lemon Sugar-Almond Topping
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Cake
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons butter, softened but still cool
1 cup plus 7 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
4 teaspoons lemon juice
4 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened

0.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.


1.  For the topping: Stir together sugar and lemon zest in small bowl until combined and sugar is moistened.  Stir in almonds.  Set aside.


2.  For the cake:  Spray 10" tube pan with nonstick spray.  Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.  In stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, and lemon zest at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula.  Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, about 20 seconds, and scraping down beater and sides of bowl as necessary.  Add 4 teaspoons vanilla and mix to combine.  Reduce speed to low and add one third flour mixture, followed by half of sour cream mixing until incorporated after each addition 5 to 10 seconds.  Repeat, using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining sour cream.  Scrap bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds.  Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour.


3.  Reserve 1 1/4 cups batter and set aside.  Spoon remaining batter into prepared pan and smooth top.  Return now empty bowl to mixer and beat cream cheese, remaining 5 tablespoons sugar, lemon juice, and remaining teaspoon vanilla on medium speed until smooth and slightly lightened, about 1 minute.  Add 1/4 cup reserved batter and mix until incorporated.  Spoon cheese filling mixture evenly over batter, keeping filling about 1 inch from edges of pan; smooth top.  Spread remaining cup reserved batter over filling and smooth top.  With butter knife or offset spatula, gently swirl filling into batter using figure-8 motion, being careful to not drag filling to bottom or edges of pan.  Firmly tap pan on counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any bubbles.  Sprinkle lemon sugar-almond topping evenly over batter and gently press into batter to adhere.

4.  Bake until top is golden and just firm, and long skewer inserted into cake comes out clean (skewer will be wet if inserted into cheese filling), 45 to 50 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and firmly tap on counter 2 to 3 times (top of cake may sink slightly).  Cool cake in pan on wire rack 1 hour.  Gently invert cake onto rimmed baking sheet; remove tube pan, place wire rack on top of cake, and invert cake sugar-side up.  Cool to room temperature, about 1 1/2 hours.  Cut into slices and serve.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Time Out Timer

Earlier this summer, my sister and her kids came to stay with us.  They weren't here too long, but in that short time we had a ball.  She has two young kids - a girl and a boy.  The boy is 6, the girl is 9.

We learned a lot about our house and it's ability to handle kids.  It wasn't bad, but we had some things that we have to come to grips with (like NEVER BUY ANYTHING NICE!) now that we're parents.

One day this summer, my sister's son gets in trouble for something usual for boys like running around like a crazy person or eating his beyond messy sandwich on the couch or punching his sister.  As a punishment, his mom puts him in "time out" - which all you parents know about - for 30 minutes.  He couldn't play the Wii or even watch tv.  He had to sit in a chair in his room for the whole time.

Being an ingenious boy, he asked his mom if he could borrow the kitchen timer so he could tell how long he'd been in "time out" (I think he thought his Mom was "gypping" him!).  Off he went with our timer.  Never to be seen again.

After they'd left us for a few days, I got back in the kitchen and started to fix one thing or another and noticed that the timer was gone.  It was a cheap plastic one that I'm not sure we even know where it came from.  But....as cheap and flimsy as it was, it was our kitchen timer and was heavily used.

Nat remembered that my sister's son used the timer so we called them and asked my sister if she'd seen it.  Guess what?  She hadn't.  She presumes it is squirreled away somewhere never to be seen again.

A few weeks later, our door bell rings.  Nat goes out to answer it and sitting by our front door is a bag with this beauty inside of it.




I think it is from Anthropologie - it sure has that look.  My thoughtful sister made us whole again.  Now that we're parents, I'm sure it'll come in handy when the babe wants to keep tabs on her own "time outs".

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Two Dorothys

We made the decision to pull back on our cleaning lady (is "cleaning lady" pc?  Should I be calling her something else?) right after the holidays.  We had a wonderful woman named Dorothy who was uber-energetic and did a pretty good job when she came over every two weeks.  Turns out, all those checks we were giving her were getting squirreled away somewhere.  By the end of the year, she informed us that she was packing her bags and moving home to Poland because she said, "I have a degree in engineering, I can't clean houses for the rest of my life!"  She subsequently sent us her sister - Agnes.  While Agnes was very good, in an effort to save a few bucks each month, we've cut down her to once a month.  The ramifications of that decision are for another post (most notably I am now on latrine duty).

For this particular story, you have to know that my sister also used Dorothy to clean her house.  Having your (now-ex) cleaning lady share the same name as your mother leads to some pretty funny situations.  Like, did I ever tell you time (OF COURSE I DIDN'T!) that I thought my brother-in-law told me after knocking something off of a shelf in their fridge to not worry about the HUGE mess I made because my mom would be coming over tomorrow TO CLEAN IT UP!

Went something like this:

Equation Boy/Man:  "Oh....don't worry about it.  Dorothy will get it."

Me:  "Wha?"

Equation Boy/Man: "Seriously.  Dorothy will be here tomorrow, she'll clean it up."

Me:  "Marc...it is fine.  I don't mind doing it.  I don't want to make my mother..."

Equation Boy/Man:  "What?  Your mother?  Oh..."

.....And it was that very moment that both Marc and I realized that we were talking about 2 different Polish Dorothys.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Renegade Craft Fair - Chicago 2009

Back in December, Nat 'dragged' me to the Renegade Craft Fair on the north side.  She's been to a few of them (one of them outdoors, I think) and convinced me that it wouldn't be the worse way to spend a Sunday morning.  Secretly (or not so secretly in some circles), I'm a bit crafty.  (Hence why I put 'dragged' in quotes.)  I tend to gravitate towards either food crafts (Vanilla Extract) or holiday-driven (Christmas stuff), but I'd never been to a Renegade fair, so I was in.

I had no (read: ZERO) real expectations for the fair so I couldn't leave disappointing.  Us silly suburbanites drove, and alas, there was NO parking (I know..."mass trans, dude.") - in fact, the place was a zoo - much to my surprise.

I guess those hipsters really love them some screen printed shirts.  MY GOD WERE THERE SCREEN PRINTED TEES!

In fact, that's probably my only gripe:  too many screen printers.  Ironic tees.  Indie band posters.  Lots of things I didn't understand.  They had the crafts in 4-5 big and small rooms.  I think they can kick out a few screen printers, shrink the thing down and allow me to concentrate a bit more.  The tables were packed and some were hard to belly up to.  We managed to, I think, hit all of the rooms and even shared a cupcake from the temporary cafe they set up.

Nat ended up buying a crocheting tool 'holder' of some sorts for her aunt, we bought an elephant print for our then un-born daughter, and Nat fawned over a hand-made winter hat. It was a bit pricey so we passed on it.  I grabbed the vendor's card and ordered it for her for Christmas, so she got it anyway!

Magnolia Photo Booth Company also had a booth setup which we took advantage of.  The guy running the booth asked us if we wanted to use his props like glasses or hats or giant cigar.  We were all like, "ahem...don't you see this HUGE belly and goofy beard?  We're all set.  Thanks."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

First Edition

It was a Julia Child Christmas for Nat (and secretly for me!).  She was gifted the Julie and Julia DVD
set and her mom, after much searching, came across a reasonably priced First Edition of Julia Child's seminal work:  Mastering the Art of French Cooking.



The real joy in this gift is seeing that this book has been used and loved by cooks before arriving at our house.  With little notes on some pages and an inscription up front, this book - a First Edition - meant something to someone; and now it means something to us.

The beautiful tome took it's proper place on our kitchen bookshelf right next to such literary and culinary masterpieces as Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

I'm so glad it found a nice home in Elmhurst.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Welcome Home Eloise (The Sign)

When we arrived home with the babe from the hospital, we were greeted by this home-crafted sign on our dining room windows. Nat's mom and dad came over, shoveled our snow (so did Equation Boy/Man), brought over a "Birth Day" cake, left behind some presents and hung up this cute sign.  All very thoughtful gestures.  But the sign stands out for a few reasons.*


First, it was hand-crafted.  I hate to use the term home-made; that makes things sound amateurish; and this thing is anything but amateur.  Dianne used some pretty cute fabric and strung up the sign in Nat's preferred lower-case letters.  But, the other really interesting aspect to the sign is that it is re-usable (as in not temporary).  Not as in....take off this girls name and slap up another one if/when we have another kid  (and I mean "slap up" in the most delicate of senses, by the way).  I doubt that will happen, rather, (I believe) we can move the sign up to the babe's room/nursery and hang it there.  It will be a nice reminder of her Grammie each time she wakes up.

* Although the sign is the most meaningful gift/gesture, one can NOT underestimate the impact of having come home with a newborn to have had the 6 new inches of snow shoveled from their walk.  That's a-nice!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Elmhurst Front Yard Tree Tradition

Going out to the curb with today's trash is our "second" real Christmas Tree.  The one in the house that we cut down after Thanksgiving went out last week, but we've had another one outside our house - in our front yard that was lit for the final time last night.

Elmhurst has a nice tradition of putting "front yard trees" in for the holidays - and our street participates in an especially strong fashion - almost every house buys a tree and lights it up for the Christmas season.

I'm (nor is my sister who lives also lives on the block) not sure where or when the tradition started, but in most parts of town, there's pockets of these real, fresh cut trees that spring up in late November.  The trees are a fundraiser (I think) for the grade school district.  They send around a flyer a few weeks early where you order them - they cost $17 a piece.  You have to go get a big stake (ours from Ace Hardware) and wrap the trunk to the stake so it won't tip over.

The trees arrive on a Saturday morning - and the neighborhood gathers in one of the yards to collect their trees.  It is a nice morning - the hosts provide coffee and donuts and we get out of our house to see each other for an hour or so.  There's lots of kids on our block - so they run around and get crazy - which is fun.  The whole thing didn't have ONE THING TO DO WITH A STRIPMALL.  See you urban hipsters, us suburbanites aren't all so bland.

The trees aren't big - ours was probably 5 feet tall - but at night when you drive down the block, the trees look really great.  Next year, we'll try to snap a photo of all of them lit up!

So long, yard tree.  We'll see you again next year.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Our Fireplace(s) Before

We started (re)construction of our house in September of 2008.  There's still! things that need to get done inside including the "finishing" of the fireplaces.  We put in 2 42" direct vent fireplaces - one in the family room and one in the front room (living room).  That's right....42"-ers.  Some folks brag on their plasma screens, I brag on my HUGE fireplaces - they type of which you have to go to Panera to see in person.  (Note...I think they might actually be too big/hot for a house our size!)

Direct vent fireplaces (for those that don't know) have a piece of glass on the front of them and a 2 chamber flue/pipe that takes hot air out in one chamber and pulls cool air in.  It is a pretty slick technology.


The downsides of direct vent are (obviously) it is NOT a wood-burning fireplace.  So, you don't get the smell or sound of those.  On the positive side, it **looks** like a real fireplace (they've gotten pretty good), it is clean (no dirty wood to bring in) and you can flick a switch on the wall and it fires up.  Plus, when putting them in you don't have to hire a mason to build you a chimney.

For us (me), the positives outweighed the negative.

They've been put through their paces this fall and winter - nary a day goes by that we don't fire one up.  Maisy's really enjoyed them and heat they throw off - MY GOD, when they're fired up on high the room gets hot fast.  She doesn't quite understand them (she lays in front of them even when they are off), but they've certainly changed her behaviors.


Alas, to date, they've been unfinished.  No surround nor mantles.  All that changes, soon.

We went to the Wilder Mansion in town in the fall and spied one of their many fireplaces.  We've taken our inspiration from there.  Tile is going up shortly (hopefully) and then we'll get started on the mantles with the help of Nat's dad.  Stay tuned for the changes!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Your Early FeedBack

I don't have to tell you guys this, but blogging tends to be habit forming.  You get in the habit of posting and guess what:  you post.  But as soon as you fall out of the habit of posting regularly (or at some interval), it is VEEEERRRRRRY easy to fall out the habit of posting to your blog.

With the feedback loop on blogging very small (what with feeds, twitter and comments), it is that crucial feedback that might help keep a (this) blogger motivated.




After posting every day this year, I thought I'd share some of the feedback I've received from friends (THESE ARE FRIENDS!!)

1
0:59 AM (NAME REDACTED): what's with your blog?
  why am I suddenly getting your emails again?





11:00 AM (NAME REDACTED):  and what's with some of these posts?

11:09 AM (NAME REDACTED):  are you writing for Oprah's magazine or something?  What's with this new writing style?

How reassuring to know that my posts are connecting at such a high level intellectually with the people who know me well, I can't wait to write tomorrow!  Keep the feedback coming.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Under the Sink Composting

Last summer, Nat and I made the decision to start to compost as much material as we could (actually...I made the decision and Nat said:  "I think it is a fine idea, but it is going to be a lot of work FOR YOU.")  We had a moderately successful first year as backyard gardeners and we'd been "container gardeners" prior to that, but composting was going to be a big step up.

It required a bin in the yard.  Sure, we could have just strung up some chicken wire and turned the pile occassionally, but I wanted something that was closed, sealed, and spun on an axle.   Maybe it was a rookie mistake, but we bought a relatively cheap one and began - late in the season to fill it.

We weren't too knowledgeable about composting, but I understood the basics.  One of the issues I wasn't aware of is that composting - at its best - is a 'batch' process.  One should fill the bin with the right mix of 'browns' and 'greens' and then turn that sucker regularly for weeks until you get your "Black Gold".

After learning of this, I quickly realized that I probably need 2 of these bins.  Maybe next year.

Now...where was I.  Oh yeah....about to tell you about our "under our sink" composting.   I'll get to the outdoor bins and our first batch of compost later.

After the first few weeks of carrying our 'scraps' out the back door, past the deck, down the stairs across the lawn to the bin, we quickly realized that if were going to be serious about keeping as much of our waste out of the garbage bin, we had to come up with another solution.

We remembered that the Crate & Barrel outlet in Naperville carried stainless mini garbage cans.  We went out there on one of our (many) trips and picked one up.  For twelve bucks we had our 'under the sink' solution.

Thus far it has worked perfectly.  The only downside is that it is (as the name implies): under the sink.  Occasionally we'll forget it is there and throw something away or down the disposal.

She's currently stuffed to the gills with Clementine peels.  Once we get this first batch out of the bin this spring, we'll, hopefully, have it figured out.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Parrillo Family Lexicon: The Lazy Lad

A new term was coined in our family recently.  Everyone should update their files as we add this one to the Parrillo Family Lexicon:  The Lazy Lad.

A few weeks back the entire family gathered at my folks house for Christmas festivities.  Having had the babe a week prior, we scouted out some space to scurry to when Nat needed to feed her.  We quickly spotted a nice chair up in my folks bedroom.  We set up camp.

A few hours into the evening, after coming down from one of her numerous trips up there, Nat sat down on the counch and began to sang the praises of a the chair she was using.  As she described it, "it is really comfy but a really nice size.  Kinda like a small lazy-boy" the my brother-in-law Shaun (the part-time comedian) was listening and chimed in.

He said slyly:  "Oh....you must mean the Lazy Lad?"

Both Nat and I responded:  "Is that what it's called?"

Shaun:  "Heh.  I don't think so...but it would be a heckuva name for one, wouldn't it?"

We all got a good chuckle out out of Shaun's joke - and even he thought it was a funny name and laughed along at his own joke.  (which isn't uncommon in our family.)

The really funny part for me?  We're trying to barter with my folks to get the Lazy Lad to come live with us in Elmhurst!  Had no idea Nat liked the chair so much.
----------------

Lazy Lad
noun.  
1.  A small brown chair in Noonie and Papa's bedroom
2.  A small boy from the countryside who didn't like working
Origin:  S. Coyle, derived from Lazy Boy.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nice Lights

Whilst in the throws of our first winter in our house, I'm taking time to notice some of the small design touches that Nat help make when we put the place together. The construction process was soooo long and frankly....frustrating, that I forgot how many decisions needed to be made.

Cabin fever can make you introspective, I suppose.

One of those decisions (or many of those decisions) were light fixtures. I had focused mostly on the 'bones' of the construction - all the rough plumbing, electric, insulation, location of walls, windows, doors, etc. And, Nat was able to focus on some of the other finishing touches like the color/type of the sinks, cabinets, and most notably fixtures.

One of the nicer ones she picked out is below (I actually like ALL of the lights she picked and she HATES every one of the ones I picked). You hardly notice it, but when I take the time to pay attention, I can enjoy the details. It fits well with the rest of the house, fits well with the task (lighting the area at the bottom of the stairs) and fits well with Nat's design aesthetic.

It throws off a really nice light (even though it has a CFL bulb) and the pattern stamped into the base is quite pretty and detailed. It is a schoolhouse-styled light that you'd see in bungalows of (about) our vintage - 1910's-1920's.

I'd tell you what it was called, but I don't see it on the Rejuvenation site any longer but it was in this category when we purchased it.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The King and I

A while back, we had Mayor Richard Daley over to the Google office to launch his YouTube channel. It wasn't the first time I had met him, but it was the first time that I actually had a conversation with him - we greeted him in the lobby and chatted up the elevator.

Now...looking at this picture, you might think he was at an event to help combat homelessness, but, alas, he wasn't. Unfortunately, that's just what I look like at work sometimes. (and I knew he was coming!)

Come on Nat! Open up both eyes when I sneak out the door in the morning. Help me make sure this doesn't happen when a dignitary is coming to see me.

Friday, January 08, 2010

"Just south of North Avenue, a bit west of Western"

We live in the suburbs. No denying it. Hence the subtitle of this new blog.

In fact, I've always lived in the suburbs. Sure, I lived in Champaign for four years and spent a bit of time after college on the northside with some friends, but I moonlighted @ home with my folks the whole time. (Ask my roomies...they'll vouch for that!) I ran for office in the suburbs and really enjoyed creating a community amongst our neighbors and friends.

Guess I'm just a suburban-type of guy.

In 2008, we moved. To. Another. Suburb.

Much to Nat's chagrin.

We picked Elmhurst for a variety of reasons - the right house, the right street, and the location of the town relative to work, family, and more.

When people ask where we live - which happens all the time - I never shy away from telling them we live in Elmhurst. I love the town. I love our street. I love how accessible Elmhurst is to just about everywhere.

Nat, on the other hand is a late comer. She has come to (I believe) love our close-knit street and community, but she yearns for the fast-paced always-on environment of the north/west side of the city. I don't blame her.

Evolving from those competing beliefs and desires, I often joke with Nat that, if it makes her feel any better, she can tell people we live "just south of North Avenue, a bit west of Western."

Which....looking at the map below is **somewhat** accurate depending on what your definition of "a bit west" really is.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Carving our Name in...Well....Really Hard Wood

This Christmas, we received this carving from (bare with me....this is a long description!) Nat's sister Elise's (at that time) boyfriend Bill. I say "at that time" because....wait for it.....THEY'RE NOW ENGAGED!

Back to the sign. Bill told us about this piece of art/wood back near our wedding and showed us what it was going to look like. He's a artist in lots of ways - one of them wood. He really outdid himself - the piece turned out gorgeous and fits so well into the look of our home. Our house is bungalow and has some craftsman elements. I'm not totally sure what tools he used, but this isn't his first wood-working project, so I know he has a wide range of equipment at his disposal. It is made on Brazilian Cherry wood - which he said was extraordinarily strong and made it difficult to carve. Bill is quite a skilled craftsman, eh? Rumor has it his wood-working skills played a role in the engagement process, too!

2008 was such a meaningful year for us: We got married and bought our first house. The sign Bill made works on both levels. Nat and I are currently discussing where it should go - but we both know it needs to be up near the front door entrance for all to see. Thanks, Bill!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Reminder: Change your furnace air filters

The past few nights Chicago has gotten cold. Real cold.

Our furnace was having trouble keeping up. I'd set it for 70, and it'd barely get up to 68 during the days and would drop low overnight - down to like 60...or below.

We have two JUMBO direct vent electric start gas fireplaces, so heating the place when we are awake wasn't an issue (Nat and I are both afraid to leave them on at night), but I knew something was wrong. I feared the worse: time for a new furnace.

I sauntered downstairs to the ice cold basement and had a peek around. Low and behold; I spotted the filter. I pulled it out an inch and **whoosh** I hear the furnace - which was struggling to get air - pull in a full breath and fire up. I pulled the filter out further and it was caked. Off to the web I went research the frequency one should change the filter and I discovered that during the heavy heat months (Dec, Jan, Feb), you should change it every month! The rest of the year, you can probably get by with changing it two other times - beginning of A/C season and middle of A/C season.

This was all new to me. Living in our condo, I didn't once change the filter. We lived there for 4+ years! Yikes! Hopefully our renters new these rules and kept up with the maintenance.

Here's my final tip. Go downstairs now and check your filter. When you go down there and actually change the filter, take a sharpie with you. Write the date on it - that way you won't forget when you put it in.

**note** I'm talking about the middle of the road filters; the ones that cost ~ $5.00 a piece - not the $0.89 ones nor the $48.00 ones.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

When'd She Learn to Type?

This afternoon in my inbox, I received this note and photo. I wish I had an answer for her.
Daddy:


Why won't Maisy stop barking?


With Love,


Eloise



With a furrowed brow like that, there's no doubt she's mine!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Fatherhood - 2 weeks in

Leaving the house this morning for work felt a whole lot different than it did the last time I saddled up for the office in December. I knew it would, but I underestimated the emotion involved. This wasn't just a new year - but rather - a new life. A father's role today (more specifically -my role) is dual: provide for the family, and bond with the new baby. The first part used to come pretty naturally - waking up, going to work, going to school, paying the mortgage. I actually enjoyed a great bit of it.

But this morning, something changed.

I'm sure the same thing happened to millions of new fathers across the globe in countless cultures. Instead of the job being something that used me, I started to look at the job as something I can use. The role I have at the office is NOW just a minor part of my life. Although I still love every single second of my work, it no longer carries the same meaning. (I'm not trying to be profound here, I'm just saying what I feel.) Nary a sane man can look at these photos and not feel the same way I do.

Nat sent me a few photos and a video from her day today and it made me ache to be home. I'm sure this 'newness' will eventually wear off, but right now, I can't stand to be away. Where I work is like no other place on earth, but after the past few weeks, I've come to realize that it just a job - a great job at that, but what really counts is a happy and healthy wife and daughter.



Like I've said elsewhere previously, we've only had her for a small time, but I couldn't imagine life without her. However, in those 2+ weeks, there are a few things I discovered that I enjoy and a few, well, not so much. As a waymarker down the path of fatherhood, here's my list 2 weeks in.

Good: The pureness in her. I've never been associated with something so wonderful and pure. She lights up my life (even with all the spit up and diapers - more on that below). After talking with (at least) one dad about the 'connection' that appears and grows between fathers and children, I'm pleased to report that we're well down that path.

Good: Diaper changing. I really don't shy away from changing her diapers. Maybe it is the 'process' part of my brain, but if all the supplies are there, I'll change a diaper any day of the week. The movements, the subtleties, the purpose - I envision myself in some sort of diaper 'pit row'. I think I can take most other "new" dads.

Good: Moving cars/strollers. Didn't take me long to figure this one out: babies like movement. Being the middle of winter, our stroller isn't getting put through its proper paces, but I've made sure to move the dining room table over a bit so I can scoot by with her strapped in. A few minutes of rolling around and she usually settles down.

Good: Portability. I'm aware that this will, indeed, change, but for now, the babe is incredibly portable. 2 dinners out already and she sleeps (in her car seat) right through them. Pre-tay, pre-tay, pre-tay nice.

Bad: The guilt. With a breast-feeding wife, I'm working with a serious resource limitation. The tools at my disposal are the basics: changing of diapers, bouncing around, and a tight swaddle. I can't give as much to the babe as Nat can - and I know that will change - but for now, it feels like I'm not pulling my full weight.

Bad: The lack of response. Sure, I get a few smiles, but for the most part, that's just gas. If she's clean, full, and not too cold, all is well. But that's about all that matters now. I yearn for the day when I can make her (genuinely) smile and react to the world and to me.

In Between: Baby farts. No one told me about these! Maybe my girl is more gaseous than most, but she is LOUD and forceful. Kinda funny, but kinda not.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

My Favorite (Holiday) Things - 2009

Before the holiday season gets pushed too far away from my memory, I thought that I'd share with you (and with the future me in 10 months) what I enjoyed since November. This year was a pivotal Christmas season - one of many firsts.

First Christmas morning together (alone!)
First Christmas in our own house (not a Condo or parents house!)
First Christmas with our new babe
First New Years that we went out at 5 pm and were home by 10 pm
First batch of vanilla extract (more on this in another post)
First time decorating our house (inside and out!)
First time shopping for our own child
...and more!

Without further delay, here's my list.

Tammen Tree Farm. Although they keep raising their prices, there's no finer place to buy a tree in the area. I have tagged along with the entire Moran clan for the past 5 years.

Paper Source Embosser. I'm a fan of correspondence cards. They can be thank you's, congrats, regrets, anything. Nat bought me an embosser and I now have 'professional' looking cards every day.

Gene Autry Christmas, Bob Dylan's "Christmas in the Heart" Album, and Sirius Holiday Traditions Station. Sirius promotes "Holly" - which is Channel 3 during the holidays, but it has way too much rubbish on it. (N*Synch and such). The real gem is Sirius Holiday Traditions. Barely any repeats and they turned me onto this baby: Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey!

As for Mr. Dylan. Well...it is what is is, but I like it. Especially this.



Portable North Pole & Norad Santa. My sister Vic turned me on to the Portable North Pole. If you are a parent, go check it out for next year. Pretty cool customized video. I'm a believer!

Peppermint Joe-Joe's. The chocolate dipped ones are even better than the originals. But...you have to move fast - they sell out all the time. I know I'm supposed to like home-made/house-made cookies best, but these are hard to compete with. (although my mother-in-laws cranberry/white chocolate cookies from Nigella Lawson are pretty good!)

Maple Leaf Cookies from Trader Joe's. Not really holiday-specific, but filled a niche really nicely between Thanksgiving and well....December 1. These didn't last long in our pantry.

The DuPage Model Train Show. Nothing makes me think of Christmas more than Lionel Trains. This has become a bit of a tradition with me and my dad.

Dean Thorsen Photography. We have treasured holiday memories for the rest of our lifetime because of him and his work. How can you not love these?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Friday, January 01, 2010

Full Year of Blogging?

Blogging is back in 2010.  At least for me.  Going to try to post everyday of 2010.  No promises that I'll actually follow through.  Knowing me, I'll get bored by May.
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