Back in February, Nat and I went with some friends to a special screening on Back to the Future for the 25th Anniversary celebration in Naperville with a few stars of the movie.  All in all, it was a great night with great company and we even had a chance to spend some time with the original Jennifer Parker (Claudia Wells), Lorraine McFly Lea Thompson), Dr. Emmit Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Principal Strickland (James Tolkan).  Thompson looked great.  Claudia Wells, on the other hand...well...I'll just say that I like Lea Thompson "better".    

The theatre they screened the movie in was called the Hollywood Palms and is one of those places that serve a full menu of food while you watch the movie.  That was pretty nice having waiter service.  The only downside is that I sucked down a few beers and like 4 Diet Cokes so I had to get up anyway to head to the john 3 times!

In the lobby of the theatre, they have a bar - which in this situation (we arrived early and had to wait around) was quite useful.  They had a Delorean on display, which we snapped some photos in front of, but the "cutest" BTTF tie-in was the tip jars.  They were "save the clocktower" jars.
Pretty stinkin' clever.
No sooner did I write a post wondering when/if Lou Malnati's was going to start selling their tomatoes retail do I get an email with the subject line: Famous Canned Tomato Sauce Now In Stores.

3 bucks for a 28 oz can.  About the same price as my Six-in-Ones.  Will have to give them a shot, I suppose.

This was the 7th Annual trip to Montrose Harbor for Smelt fishing.  I don't think I have been to all seven, but I bet I've been to six.  They're always a lot of fun and I have tried to chronicle the trips on my various blogs.  At least one post is here, but sadly, without any photos.  I started writing about smelt trips back when I was writing for Tom Cross at the blog and for some reason it really got in the craw of some conservative readers of his blog.  They were out of their minds that we would waste time writing about our adventures on the shores of Lake Michigan.   Because of that nonsense, I had to carry on the tradition.

This year, we convinced Equation Boy/Man to come down (and he drove - which is nice!) and enjoy the festivities.  Matt and his brother Jason put on quite the spread and had most of the equipment set up as we arrived.  Turns out, Matt has inherited the rig from our friend's father - who turned EVERYONE on to smelt fishing.  He's had enough, so he doesn't come any more, but we're carrying on the tradition for him.

This year was one of the best nights we've ever had.  Wasn't too cold.  And...most importantly...wasn't raining.

Here's Matt setting up the rig.  For those of you who aren't smelt fishermen, you use nets to catch smelt!

How many guys does it take to get the net in the water?  At least 4.  Two working, two watching!
Balone gets the net in.

I'm going to argue that these are smelt.  We caught a bunch - which is rare for us.  Some say that they're minnows.  We threw 'em back anyway.
Smelt fishing is a uniquely Chicago tradition and I'm glad to be a small part of it.  Can't wait for next year. 
Right in the middle of our downtown is a HUGE piece of commercial real estate that appears to be poised to help further enhance our City Centre.  It is located at 109 W. Schiller Street - right south of the York Theatre and just north of Plass Appliances.  They're billing it for lease right now (listing here), but I think it was for sale for a while.

It is the former Elks Club and I believe most of the space is on the second floor.  The developer has put quite a bit of cash into the redevelopment (and the listing reflects that investment).  They show this artist's rendering in the listing:
I found this article on the web which chronicles the steps they've gone through to make the street look "real".  They're hoping to attract a sports bar or restaurant into the second floor space.  We have a few watering holes including the Bowling Alley (Fitz's Spare Keys), Fitz's, and Buffalo Wild Wings already in Downtown, so I think Nat and I would prefer a restaurant to a sportsbar, but I'm not sure what the economics are in bar vs. restaurant.  The article talks about how everything they've done to the facade is 'real' and authentic.  Both Nat and I chuckled when we walked by and saw this:
Yes.  That is a faux wood door made of a sticker.  Authentic, indeed!
Last Christmas, my brother-in-law Shaun gifted me a MLB Authentic Gordon Beckham White Sox jersey - a pretty great gift.  I haven't been to a game yet this season, so I haven't had a lot of reasons to break it out.  Until last Friday.  Nat came home from her morning activities and told me that we could go to the original Home Run Inn in Chicago on 31st Street and catch a live broadcast of Boers and Bernstein.  I came down from showering with a normal collared shirt on and she said, "shouldn't you wear something White Sox?"  

Hmmm...I thought.  Perfect time to break out the jersey!  I quickly ran back up and grabbed the still-new-tagged jersey from my closet.  

As I went to cut the tags off of the shirt, I was surprised by the number of tags.  None of them were price tags.   Wonder why so many?  Is it to make sure everyone involved (MLB, Players Association, etc) gets a piece of the action?

What's that?  I "yada-yada'ed" over the Home Run Inn experience and pizza?  Don't worry.  I'll get to the visit to the original HRI soon!

Because of the garage construction, our backyard is pretty torn up.  Just this morning, I laid down some seed and began to water the portion of the yard that needs to return to grass.  It'll take a while and probably some additional seed, but I figured I should start now so the Rooster can get out there and not come back in totally filthy from the dirt/mud.  

An additional piece of collateral damage of the new garage is the relocation of our Victory Garden.  (yeah...I said "victory garden"!).  It was in the furthest south-west corner of our lot, but now it has to move.  I've preliminarily planned to move it to the south side of our house and expand it a bit, but that has to wait until after the fence and pavers go in.  

I've been to Menard's 10 times in the past month and every time I walk by the seed aisle or the vegetable plants, my trigger finger gets really itchy.  But then I reassure myself that we're not ready and the beds aren't even made yet.  

Furthering my veggie-related anxiety is this thing:
It is our compost tumbler.  We've had it for a year and filled it up late last fall.  The instructions say that it'll make compost in 2-3 weeks, but because of the winter temps and my lack of "proper mixing" skills, it took a bit longer than that.  More like (from October to now) 6 months or so!   I'm sure that if we fill it during the spring, it'll cook along way faster, but the winter took forever.  

When I opened it up last week, we had "black gold"!  The compost looks perfect.  But....we have no where to put it!  I'll keep it in the tumbler a few more weeks until I can build the raised beds, then I'll dump it in and get started on another batch.  This time I'll put more "greens" and less "browns" and hopefully it'll "cook" a bit faster!
I'm guessing that the City of Chicago department head that approved these banners to be made and hung outside of City Hall is breathing a bit easier now that the Blackhawks have tied up the series with Nashville, eh?
I even caught myself watching a bit of the game.  And...I'm clearly not alone in being a "fair weather Hawks fan".  Here's how far the Blackhawks are "back" in people's minds:  they're surging in search.
I've always liked the tomatoes Lou Malnati's put on top of their pies.  They tended to have some chunk-age to them and provided nice bursts of flavor/juicy-ness when I bit into the slices.  In fact, as I started to experiment with my own deep-dish pizza recipes at home, Lou's was always the pie I aspired to ape.

I ended up using a combination of 6-in-1's and whole peeled (de-seeded) hand torn tomatoes.  They came pretty close to the real thing.

This past trip to Lou's, I spotted a note about their tomatoes on their menu.  (!  This is not turning into a all-Lou Malnati's blog.)
  If you can't read it, it says:
The Malnatis travel to California each year to hand select vine-riped tomatoes at their peak.  The tomatoes are chose based on their rich color, plumpness, and full flavor.
From the photo in the menu, it seems like they can and label their tomatoes specifically for Lou's.  Wonder if they sell them like that?  Or...if they will?  Kind of like the way Potbelly's sells their giardiniera (that they for some reason call just "hot peppers"!).  As for the trip to California, sounds like a nice way to spend a vacation, eh?
When we bought our house, a mean, unhappy woman was living there.  She lives in our neighborhood still and we see her driving by slowly from time-to-time.  I have a feeling that she doesn't really care much for what we "did" to her house. 

After we had our house inspection, we were set to close the deal.  A few days before the closing, we drove by the house and saw the evil woman frantically digging up EVERY SINGLE PLANT that was in the ground.  She eviserated the flower beds and took every hosta, tulip bulb and anything green and growing, she ripped out.  

She was probably smiling the whole time she was ripping out her plants thinking that us two young people who bought her house were NEVER going to get her flowers.

Unfortunately for her, she was wrong!  Although we didn't see much action last year, I am pleased to report that we have a bunch of hostas that came up this Spring in some of the beds that were devastated when she tore the place up.

And even better, we have TONS of Lily of the Valley popping up next to the old patio.  Take that, lady!
As part of the garage preparation, I got dirty and dug up as many of the plants as I could (those are them in the photo above).   I shared quite a few with Nat's mom, my mom, my sister(s) and my neighbors.  We also kept a significant number.  They'll find a home once we get the garage, patio, pavilion and walkway(s) done. 

They're quite a pretty little plant that grows fast and in the shade.  Perfect for us.  You can see what they'll look like here.  
Monday night I got home late (after class) so I wasn't able to fully inspect all the newly poured concrete, but I was able to give it a good soak with our garden hose.  They say that we're supposed to "keep it wet" for a few days to slow the curing process.   Tuesday morning I had to head into the office early, so I was relying on Nat and my dad to steer the process/answer the issues/questions.  The contractors showed up early to finish the garage and pour our new driveway.

Here they were finishing up our "apron" that approaches the alley and they poured the slab to the north (on the right hand side) where we'll be doing some cool things with bricks! (can you say Pompeii-style brick pizza oven!)
They quickly finished in back and moved to finish up the driveway in front.  We're getting a "California Finish" on the driveway - here they are cutting expansion joints.
I'll soak it once again, then it is time to apply the concrete sealer.  That's for another day.  In the meantime - thanks to Nat - the Babe left her mark.
Early this morning, the City of Elmhurst building inspector showed up and gave his blessing to our footings.  The process allows for the City's inspectors to make a "pre-pour" inspection to ensure that the contractor has complied with the code and requirements.  Thankfully, we passed the inspection.

About 15 minutes after the inspector signed off, this guy showed up.
They got busy right away filling in the perimeter footings.    They had to cart the concrete by hand to the far edges of the garage. 

Once they filled the footings (16" deep), they moved on to filling the entire frame with concrete.  I had to run to work, so Nat kept me up-to-speed with her iPhone.   They smoothed it to a nice, level surface - using a piece of lumber as a screed board.
They moved on to more sophisticated equipment when they wanted to get the surface real smooth.
They filled the main garage, then moved on to the little 3X6 foot framed area adjacent to the garage.  We're going to build a permanent fireplace on top of the slab, so we made the slab strong.  It will float and heave a bit in the winter, but the design accounts for that factor.
Things are progressing well.  Within a week, we'll be putting up the walls and framing it out.  
Wednesday and Thursday were spent clearing and prepping the site of our garage and driveway/slab, but Friday was for actual construction:  framing of the foundations.

They put together the woodwork quickly, then dug some-more and filled in with wire, plastic and plenty of stone.  The plastic is a vapor barrier.  
The garage takes up 3/4 of the width of our yard.  Makes me nervous to see our yard shrink so much.  We're also putting in a "driveway".  I put "driveway" in quotes because it isn't a typical driveway that leads to our garage.  Instead, we've put our garage backwards to face our alley and our driveway starts at the street and goes for 35 feet and stops.  It is more of a "parking pad" than driveway, but we're still calling it a driveway.  It was previously made of some pretty ratty asphalt and was mostly broken up into little pieces.  We're pouring concrete at the same time of the garage.  We've also made it 2 feet wider - so we'll be able to get out of our cars and not land on the grass!  (that's it below)
The city building inspector is set to turn up in the morning (Monday) to conduct the "pre-pour" inspection on the footings and grade.  Once that is approved, we'll have the concrete trucks here to pour. If the weather holds up, our slabs will be done tomorrow afternoon.  Makes me VERY excited!
Guess who turns four months old today?!?  The Babe is happy we're celebrating, but she's concerned that you might take her giraffe away, though.  Look at those brows!
The Babe is getting to be such a big girl.  I couldn't be a prouder dad.  However, I'm even more proud as a husband.  The last four months have been challenging, but I've experienced NOTHING compared to what Nat has gone through.  And...she's done it with an amazing level grace and patience that I am simply in awe of.

I do my best to be a part of my daughter's life and we spend countless hours together.  However, Nat is really the one doing the hard work.  She's there when the Babe wakes up, there when she goes to sleep and is there (really there!) every time she's hungry.   She could NOT be a better mom. The development I've seen in the Babe's physical and mental acumen are directly attributable to all of Nat's dedication and effort.   She's the one reading the books about sleep patterns.  She's the one researching the toys.  She's taken to parenting with startling ease.  It has taken me all of the four months to get adjusted - and I'm not fully there - but she was on top of things after 2 hours.

I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have the Babe in my life.  I know I'm even more fortunate to have Nat in my life.
Have you ever walked by your neighbors yard and saw something that looked like this and wondered what the heck they were doing?  I admit, when I was younger everytime I encountered grass that had been aerated, I always thought that they were a bunch of turds.  They kinda look like it.

Well...guess what?  We're now the house on the block with a lawn that the kids in our neighborhood will think is full of turds.  Late last week, we had a company called Pluggin A Lawn come out and aerate the yard and parkway.  They say that the benefits of aeration include enhanced root growth through moisture and air circulation which all lead to a greener yard.  This will be our second summer with the yard and while many of our neighbors have companies come take care of their lawns with maintenance and fertilization products, we're going to go it alone.  We won't have the best looking grass right away, but hopefully we'll get there with steps like this.

I'm not totally sure that aeration will help, but the scientist in me is happy that we have a test and control areas to compare.  We didn't aerate the backyard (the control group)- mostly because it is set to get torn up with garage work.  Some parts of the back and side yard will stay untouched, so we'll know how aeration impacts the grass up front (the test group) and compare it to the control section on the back/side of the house.

If it works, I'll have to figure out a plan for next Spring.  I've been eyeing these Aeration Sandals (in the video below).  Maybe they'll prove to be just as successful in improving the grass.  If they do....they'll pay for themselves in less than one year!
Along with the flowering tree we planted out front last spring, we also bought a few different fruit trees - they were cheap, too, at $5.00 a tree.  I didn't have much hope that they'd last the winter, but surprisingly enough...they've come back strong!

Here's (what I'm pretty sure is) our Pear Tree.  We planted it on the south side of our lot and it took in plenty of sun last summer.  It shot up and is now thriving.
It has some quite pretty blooms on it - hopefully they'll pop open with flowers.  The documents that came say that it is fast growing and doesn't need an opposite sex tree in the area to produce fruit.  Nat's mom has a Pear Tree and I believe it fruits every-other-year.  We'll see what happens with this little guy. Here's to "creeping" this summer!

(Note:  due to the bark on the tree - and it's simliarlity to the "Cleveland Pear Flowering Tree" in the front yard, I'm pretty sure this is a Pear Tree.  If you are a arborist reading this, don't blast me in the comments with talk about genus/species of this particular tree!)
Early yesterday morning our garage contractor showed up at our front door.  In his hand was this:
We had received our permits and we could start to move some earth!  Finally.

They walked around the yard for an hour or so scoping things out then got to work.  The first thing to go was our back fence.  We had a ratty chain-link fence along our property line facing our alley.  The guys backed their Bobcat right off of their trailer and started to knock it down.  Clearly this wasn't his first fence take-down.  He figured out a way to bend the posts down then use the shovel of the machine to act as a fulcrum and pop the post out - concrete and all - in one easy move.  Pretty cool.
As part of our garage construction, we're getting a new front driveway (not attached to the garage) and they're removing a lot of old cracked concrete from our yard.  You can see an old patio/slab in the photo above.  

After they took the fence down, they got busy excavating the garage floor.  He made quick work of it, but there is a lot of soil that he removed.  After a bit of back and forth, we decided to keep a bunch of the soil to grade elsewhere/use in raised beds, but we're having these guys haul off the majority.   That pile in the foreground is the pile we're keeping.  It is a lot, but there's easily 5X that amount that they're planning on hauling away.
After they had dug for a bit and began to bust up the old concrete, they stopped.  Unfortunately.

Seems as though the hauler - the guy who drives the big truck that they dump all this stuff into was running late and was at another job.  They couldn't keep framing the garage because they had to get their machines through the same space, so instead they just called it a day.  Or...rather a half-of-a-day.

They tell me they'll be back early tomorrow and we'll get the whole thing framed up, inspected, and poured.  If I've learned one thing from working with various contractors on the house it is this:  I'll believe it when I see it.
A few months back, I spotted the original Lou Malnati's Menu hung on the wall of our take-out Lou's in Downtown Elmhurst.  We all noted how cute it was and ever so simple.  Last week, Nat and I found ourselves in Schaumburg doing some errands (bike store, IKEA) and we ran across the Schaumburg Lou Malnati's.  Nat insisted that we head there for supper.

After sitting down in their cute house-turned-restaurant we were greeted with this mammoth:
Go ahead and click on the picture to get it to blow up.  That menu is HUGE.  And...there's printing on the back!  A bit overwhelming for a place that serves pizza, no?

As a reminder, here's the original menu.
The price differences are starting:

Small pizza:  $1.50
Large pizza:  $3.50

Small pizza:  $9.20
Large pizza:  $16.75

I understand the demands of expanding a menu at a restaurant and wanting to please everybody, but you tell me:  which menu do you like better?   For me, the answer is clear: older is better!
I've started a bit of a tradition in our house.  For the past two years, I've given Nat a new frontdoor mat for Easter.  Not the most romantic of presents, but one that helps usher in Spring in our house.  And frankly....When was Easter supposed to be romantic!  There's death, rising, bunnies, candy etc...but no romance! 

Anyway....By the time early April rolls around, our mat from the previous year looks pretty bad.  What we've done is taken the old one, put it by the back door and rotated the one by the back door into the garbage can.   Worked pretty good so far.

This year, I picked up the mat at Target.  It is from the Smith and Hawken collection.  I believe that they went out of business this year (stories here), but for some reason they have a bunch of their stuff in our Target on North Avenue.  It tends to be pretty nice stuff, so hopefully they'll keep this "line" going while shuttering all their owned/operated stores.  

The mat is a pretty cute one and "fits" well, I think with both the house and Nat's penchant for all things "birds".
I'll be on the lookout all spring and summer to see if I can snag a mat to top this one next year!
If you know Nat, I don't have to tell you about what she thinks of peonies.

In late 2008, right after we closed on our house, we planted a peony plant that we received from Nat's aunt - which I believe was split from a plant she received from another relative.  Last year, we bought a few other peony plants including a transplant of a big peony plant from my sister's yard in Hinsdale - but the original plant from Nat's Aunt was clearly the prized possession in the yard.

Last summer, the plants bloomed, but were NOT spectacular.  And...if you garden at all, you know that peonies can really be spectacular.  We hosted my niece and nephew last summer for a few months and they gave our backyard a workout - including trampling all over most of everything I've planted.  I bought a few small tomato cages to put the plants in, but that just slowed the kids down, it didn't keep them away from them.

Fast forward to this Spring and as some of our bulbs started to emerge from the mulch, our peony plants laid dormant.  I told Nat that it didn't look good for them to come back.  Both of us were pretty bummed out - especially when we looked at our neighbors peony buds popping out and knowing that our's weren't keeping pace.

Then late last week, I went checking on them and noticed that they had begun to spring up.  And not just one plant.  All of them were back - most notably the plant we were given from Nat's Aunt shown below.
The lady we bought the house from wasn't the nicest person on earth, but she kept good soil in her beds, it turns out.
The Babe is getting older, happier, and more aware of everything.  Makes for a happy dad as I see her sit up, grab things, and recognize people in her life.  But...most importantly, we're getting smiles.

Have I told you guys about the smiles?  I haven't yet? they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words", right?

Early last Spring, we found a couple of super cheap trees at Wal-Mart.  Now...Wal-Mart isn't exactly the first place you'd think of when buying trees to plant in your yard.  In fact, we didn't go to Wal-Mart that day looking for trees.  But...somehow we ended up wandering into the nursery/outdoor part of the store and we stumbled on some trees.

They were small, and a little scrawny but they were cheap.  They were $5.00 USD per tree.  Seriously.  We bought a few different kinds of trees - 4 in total.  We figured, we couldn't go wrong.  We only had our little Honda Accord, but we threw them in - and had them hanging out the trunk.

We put one in our front yard - a Cleveland Pear Tree - and hoped for the best.  It was billed as "fast growing" and "flowering".  Last year it did very little.  In fact, I thought it "shrunk" a bit (I know it didn't....but due to it's small size, it felt like it did!).

After the winter, we **hoped** that they'd make it.  And...much to our surprise, it looks like all four have come through and have some leaves/buds on them!  The Cleveland Pear even has some flowers showing up.    Check out those babies in the photo above!

This is year 2 of the "Sleep, Creep, and Leap" cycle - so hopefully we'll get some "creeping" going on this summer as they head upwards slowly.

I'm one proud landscaper.  And frugal, too!
On Saturday, we packed up the Babe and headed out to the Kane County Flea Market.  We were rushed a bit - we got there late - but had a good time.  We bought just one piece, but made plans to come back later in the summer when we had more time.

On the way home, we had to utilize a McDonald's for the changing table - as the Babe needed a refresh.  I ran in to use the restroom while Nat took the Babe to the women's room.  As I was waiting for them to emerge with a clean diaper, I loitered around by the counter.  I haven't been in a McDonald's very often recently.  We do "go to" McDonald's but it usually the drive-thru for beverages.

In this particular McDonald's (and maybe all of them?), they have a "self service" soda fountain.  Above the machine was this sign.
The whole thing struck me as kind of odd and unnecessary.  I thought: "What kind of person would bring in a paper (probably disintegrating) cup to reuse at McDonald's." I stood there for not even 5 minutes (still waiting), I saw NOT ONE, but TWO different (independent) people walk into the restaurant with McDonald's cups in hands.  They went and set them down at a table and proceeded to order food (I was still standing by the counter waiting for Nat) without beverages.  They both then grabed their trays and came back with their cups to fill up.

I suppose the sign is needed after all.
Google Voice informed me that Al Capone is on his way.  And he's involved in electricity, too!
Could be curtains for us!
I think it must have been because of all the teardowns in Elmhurst.  That HAS to be it.

I'm talking about the City of Elmhurst's requirement for a Topographic Survey for gaining approval on your building permits.  I'm only building a detached garage off of our alley, and the city still makes us get one of these done.  They're aren't cheap. does tell us some "interesting" things about the grading of our property.

The city engineers say that these surveys are critical to ensure that anything you do on your property (building some HUGE McMansion for example) doesn't adversely affect your neighbors by throwing tons of groundwater/drainage onto their yards.  I suppose that makes sense.  But..the requirement for one of these to just simply build a garage is a bit steep in my opinion.

Here's what ours looks like.  You can click to make the picture bigger to see the details.
I've been on the Village Board before, so I understand some of the merits of building permits and the hoops residents have to go through, but as a citizen of the United States, we should have some basic property rights.  A person **should** be able to do whatever he wants on his own land as long as it isn't hurting anyone.  I suppose that's all that is happening here with this Topographic Survey - the city is making sure I don't harm my neighbors.  However, the long arm of the government has to stop somewhere and it should stop at my property lines.

I won't bore you with my politics any further, but property rights should be an issue that Republicans jump on.  It goes hand-in-hand with smaller government.  Speaking of smaller government....ah....that's for another day.  Stay tuned!
The Cake Girls Bakery burned down this past week.  Such a sad, sad story.  I do NOT want make light of the tragedy, so please don't hate me for saying what I am about to say.

But...there is a lesson there for small businesses.  Use the "cloud".  From the article:
Maher said that they are currently trying to retrieve order information from two water-logged laptops that they retrieved from the building. She said it would likely 'take months' before Cakegirls was up and running again.
There's something every business owner can take from this:  move from whatever your record keeping/order taking process is to the web.  Put your stuff in the "cloud" and you won't have to fish out a water-logged laptop if disaster strikes you.  It isn't easy to make the move, but it is freeing when you do.

I wish all the luck to the Cake Girls.  I don't know them personally - nor have I ever eaten one of their cakes, but from what I read, they'll not only come back, they'll be stronger than ever.  They're incredibly gifted and hard working.   And...I bet they'll start using the web to store their data.
Our local movie theatre - The York - has this sign out front along with their current movie offerings.  Apparently, on Sunday mornings, a group is using one of the theaters for church services.  Have I told you how much I love The York?  I haven't?!?   Well...I will soon!
For Christmas this year, we've decided to change gears and only give gifts to our family that we've "made" or crafted in some way.   I have 3 nephews that I've decided to make a board game for that was one of my favorites when I was growing up:  penny hockey.  I'm thinking of updating it a bit to make it more competitive with the Wii (who are we kidding!  These things will collect dust!).  I had a bit of help from Nat's dad and future-brother-in-law-law (my sister in law's future husband) in coming up with the prototype.  I think that some of their moms (my sisters!) read this here blog, so I will only show a little sneak peak of the board pre-sanding/staining/finishing.  
I stained in this weekend and have put a coat of polyurethane on it to make it slick.  It isn't as slick of a surface as I remember, but the angles are just about right.   I'm going to have it around the house for a few months to figure out how we can make it better.  First up:  make it smaller so it fits in a backpack.  That was Nat's idea and I think it is a good one.  We'll aslo try to make it relevant to young folks who are into things like this and this.  

I'll update you all as we get closer with the final builds.  I hope this game finds a way into their lives like it did for me when I was in 5th grade.  I played it everyday at school and loved every minute of it.  
The plans for the garage are moving forward fast.  The topographic surveys are done, the blueprints are in with the city, and the permits are applied for.  Hopefully, we'll hear from the city this week with the go-ahead.  We've come this/close to settling on a garage builder - and hope to sign a contract within the week.  Once the permits are approved, we'll break ground!

In addition to the fence (from earlier this week), we're also going to put in some pavers for a patio, a new driveway, and a bunch of landscaping.  There's also this "pavilion" that I want built above the patio.  Pavilion you say?  Yep.  You got that right.  See the picture below for what we're looking for.  
Nat HATES the idea, but I want shade.  We're facing straight west (in our backyard) and the sun makes the yard **almost** unusable on a hot day.  With this free-standing structure up against the garage, I think we'll have a really comfortable area to have a nice afternoon.

We'll see where the prices come in.  I'm thinking I can build this myself, but my dad is skeptical (and for good reason!).  We'll have to put the footers in before the patio, but the rest can wait until we can find the right price.
I get the fortunate task of hosting groups of all types at the office most every week.  Acting as tour guide, giving an overview of the company and helping spread the gospel is part of my job.  (have I told you that I have the best job in Chicago?)  

Most of the time, the groups that come through aren't personally significant to me:  Ukranian Businessmen getting a week-long MBA from Kellogg,  journalists of all types, politicians. 

But last week, we had a group that meant something to me:  LAS students from the University of Illinois.  I've been a bit active in the Speech Communications Alum group and have met a few folks from the school as a result.  They subsequently asked if we could host a group of 20 Liberal Arts students for a half-day learning session (with lunch, of course!).

Hopefully, they enjoyed the day as much as I did!  
Earlier this week, I was standing at my desk minding my own business when these guys showed up.  
Kind of odd having a face-to-face with a stranger 8 stories up in the air.  I'm sure these guys have some stories to tell!

You can **kind of** see my view in the image - through all the soap.    If you look closely, you can spot the Hancock on the right hand side in the background.  Lots of open sky for the Air/Water Show practice runs.