I put in a few hours this afternoon (after installing a gutter on our garage) on the Cedar Summit Playground from Costco - at long last.  We bought it back in March, but it took me until the end of May to crack the containers and get started.  This is through step eight.
I have tomorrow off from work, so I'm going to put in a few more hours and (hopefully) by the weekend I'll have a good bit of this done.  Based on the comments on my original blog post - it seems that this is a 20ish hour job.
A how-to post to follow at some point but my seed potato plants are really taking off.  I have to pile on more mulch, but it seems that six weeks or so from now we'll have new red potatoes.

Another year, another great Petruck party.  This time Eloise brought her own chair.

Big day!  Here's to many great years ahead.

Now...how about moving to the suburbs and having some kids?

Today is his 8th Birthday and to celebrate, we went out to Home Run Inn for pizza and (the best part) a Cookie Monster.  Based on this photo, I'm not sure which one of us is more excited about digging into the Cookie Monster.
We were supposed to go to the batting cages before dinner, but the weather didn't cooperate so we opted for a quick game at the Cosmic Bowl.

Happy Birthday, G-Man!
News comes today that the City of Elmhurst is pushing ahead with ANOTHER tax increase that will cost those of us in town even more money for the exact same service.   This time it is a 8% increase in the cost of both water AND sewer.  I understand the realities of the revenue/cost situation at City Hall and that the City has said that they can't cut any more (I'm skeptical of that) and they'll (of course) point the finger at others - in this case the DuPage Water Commission - as the real bad guy.  They'll say, "Oh...don't blame us!  The DuPage Water Commission is MAKING us do this!" 

What happened to "The Buck Stops Here"?  Apparently that's not the approach of Elmhurst Mayor Pete DiCianni.  Instead, he's going to jam through another tax increase and not loose any sleep over it.

I think it is time for the City to STOP being disingenuous with the pricing of water and sewer fees - and this could have been the right time for the move.  But instead of doing something innovative and creative - and ultimately tough - Mayor Pete and his staff took the easy way out and just decided to increase taxes and pass the tough decisions on to future administrations.

In calling the City's pricing of water and sewer services disingenuous, I mean that they're NOT actually charging the real costs.  Why do I say that?  Because they factor your sewer charges based on only one factor:  how much water you use.  So, they're blindly figuring that every drop of your water is going right back into the City sewers.  Guess what?  All the water isn't going there.  But they're still charging us for it.  Think about the water that you put into your grass or garden or landscaping.  Guess where that water ends up?  Not in the City of Elmhurst wastewater treatment plant like the water that comes out of your sink.  It goes into the ground and stays there.  But the city is charging you like it is going back to the treatment plant.

So, what's the solution?  It is called a "Deduct Meter" - which is a second meter that measures the amount of water that is NOT discharging into the sanitary system.  Other towns use them, but not Elmhurst. 

Why not?  Well...because they can get away with charging us all for more in sewer costs than we're actually using and NOT charge the real costs of the service to residents.   Allowing the installation of Deduct Meters - which are done by private contractors and are paid for by the residents, thus not costing the city anything - is a tough decision because it forces the government to come to grips with reality.  They'd have to actually figure out what things cost.  Gasp!  Imagine that.  Government having to operate like a real business?  Actually being accountable for pricing and costs?

We can dream, right?

The second night of having a baited trap came and went with no raccoon to be found.  Last night was pretty rainy, so perhaps he stayed at home and didn't venture out to take a HUGE dump in my garden.  Alas, per the recommendation of the trapper, I left his latest pile in tact and when I went out to inspect, there wasn't a companion turd from last night.  So, at least that's a positive, right?

In addition to moving the trap and in a further attempt to make the trap more appealing, I cut up an apple into wedges and added that to the sausage wrapped in tin foil, but it (apparently) wasn't enough. 

Per the recommendation of Nat's Aunt, I'm going to up the ante and go with a can of cat food or tuna fish and really try to lure him in tonight.  Those items were both mentioned by the trapper, too, so I'm thinking they may work.  But, do you guys know?  Do I just open the can and take the lid off?  Then put the entire can in the back of the trap?  Or, should I dump the contents out onto something like a plastic plate? 
Last night, the fine folks at Animal Trackers set this trap up in our vegetable garden.  After spying the various piles of turds laying around, the guy said that we definitely had a raccoon living among us - and that he believed he could trap it. 

So, this morning, I went out with a big smirk on my face to see what we had caught.  And...as I peered over the vegetable garden fence, I saw.....nothing.  The cage was empty.  Bummer.   To make matters worse, there was another HUGE pile of turds that was spitefully left behind.

I've repositioned the trap and I'll put a few more aromatics in there this evening and HOPE that we catch him tonight.

We had the first fire in our backyard this past weekend - not out of a need to sit out there and relax, but because I have a HUGE stack of wood that is a mess and I wanted to bring some order to the area.  It is still a work in progress, but after burning through the material that was in the box over the winter (Christmas tree branches, yard waste, etc), things are looking better.

We have a weird, evasive animal that is making a home in our yard these past few weeks.  And by "making a home", I mean taking HUGE smelly dumps in weird spots.  I have Animal Control coming over today to set a trap so hopefully we'll be free of whatever it is soon and can go back to enjoying more fires like these!
This was attached to one of new Hydrangeas - the (apparently Trademarked) Incrediball Hydrangea.   Strange isn't it?  I haven't seen any warning like this before on anything we've purchased, but maybe grafting of some sort is common for a special variety of flower like these?

The Increciball Hydrangea are billed as having the "enormous" blooms with very sturdy stems (to support said enormous blooms) and grow fast.  We bought 5 gallon container ones - which were on sale at Menards - instead of smaller ones because Nat wanted them to have impact right away.  I always error on the side of cheapness and buy smaller plants hoping that they'll grow into something spectacular over a number of years.  Hopefully these Incrediballs will be the best of both worlds: big blooms this summer with a long, healthy, vibrant life over the next few years.
Today was a yard day.  After a quick trip to the store to pick up a few plants, both Nat and I got dirt under our fingernails and planted a bunch of different varieties in both our back and front yard.  Out of all the new plants we bought, I think my favorite is something called a Jacob's Ladder. The photo doesn't do them justice - but the leaves are really quite pretty to see and are very delicate. 
We planted two of them near some of our ferns on the north side of our yard right near our deck.  I'm very hopeful that they'll thrive there.  They're called 'part shade' plants, but they flower, so I'm wondering how much sun they actually need.
A few months back, I received an email from someone at the McHenry County Visitors Bureau asking me if they could use a photo I took of some corn we bought at the Elmhurst Farmers' Market.  They wanted to highlight Twin Garden Farms in their annual travel magazine but didn't have a photo they could use.  So, they wanted to use the photo I posted on this post about Mirai Corn.  Sure, I said.  Go ahead.  But...can you send me a copy of the magazine when it is done?

Fast forward to this week.  In our mailbox was a copy of the McHenry County Visitors Guide.
And, if you turn to page 12, you'll see the photo of the corn taken with my phone.  No photo credit, but because of this post, I can take credit, eh?  I'll have to update my CV to include "published photojournalist", right? 
According to this story on the Elmhurst Patch, the Elmhurst City Council is considering a joint public/private partnership with a developer to re-develop part of Addison Street (the east side) from Schiller Court (the little walk-thru alley) north to Second Street (which is where the mechanic's garage is).  I think there is a one-story office building on the south end (next to Shiller Court) then 2 parking lots and the Mechanic's garage.  There used to be a Greek restaurant in there, but they tore it down last year.  The City is considering a retail only version or one with retail AND offices upstairs.  Both options have a garage connected to them - which it seems is a big deal for everyone.  I am partial to the bigger option that has office space - even though it is 20 feet taller.  In this case, I think density is our friend.  Those office jobs help feed the retail component by putting bodies in Downtown during the day which means more revenue opportunities for those stores/restaurants.
(This image above is from the city's documents)

The full document is located here on the city's website.  There's A LOT in there like a discussion of TIF's and comprehensive plans, but it seems that the City believes that this development will serve as the major stimulus to getting Addison Street going - and making Downtown a lot more lively.    I think I'd tend to agree with them.
It is Birthday Week on the blog it seems.  First, it was Balone's birthday on Monday and now I'll chronicle one of the Babe's cousins' big day.

Yesterday, we were able to stop by my sister's (and Equation Boy/Man's) place for a quick birthday party for her son's 5th Birthday celebration.  This was just some parts of our family who could get together, but it was fun.  The birthday boy is also my Godson so he gets a little bit of extra attention from me!  Happy Birthday, buddy!
He's wearing his Bulls jersey - to mark the occasion.  While the cake looked delicious, I did not have any, unfortunately.  I have a tuxedo I'm trying to fit into in 10 days.
For Easter, I decided to take on a craft project from Martha Stewart that seemed kind of manly.  I chose to make these Faux Chocolate Easter Bunnies.  I ended up making four of them: three as gifts and one to keep for ourselves.  I believe Ms. Martha herself makes different chocolate bunnies each year, so perhaps this will become a tradition.  I suppose I'm only limited by the number of molds I can find.

Martha Stewart's Faux-Chocolate Bunnies

Tools Required:
Easter bunny chocolate molds
Binder clips
Bamboo skewer or other long, slender stick
File, sandpaper, and/or Dremel tool with a sanding attachment
Durham's water putty
Drill with paint mixer attachment, or paint mixing stick
White primer paint
Brown paint (Martha used liquid acrylic -- a mix of burnt sienna, burnt umber, and white)
Clear satin topcoat
Paint in a variety of colors for details
Ribbon and flowers for embellishing

This year, I bought a mold at KHL Molds - per Martha's recommendation.  My mold (below) came in two pieces and I chose it because it was pretty tall.  I wanted bunnies that were substantial. 

Here's the mold compared to my MacBook Pro.  Like I said, it isn't small.

To make the statues, you use Durham's Water Putty.  Just follow the directions on the can.  If your mold is the same size as mine, it'll take 3/4 of a can to do just one. 
Next, clip the two halves of the mold together with binder clips. Cut the bottom out of the mold, if necessary, to allow pouring of putty mixture. I had to do this to get the putty inside the mold.  Set the mold upside down in a bucket to keep it upright; clip the mold to the side of the bucket with clothespins to hold it steady.  I used cardboard in the bucket (below) to steady the mold.   You have to use a stick and I "flicked" the sides of the mold to settle the putty into each crevice. 
Then, wait for at least four hours.  I usually waited overnight.  I carefully took the mold out of the bucket and started to peel away the plastic.  It came off every time very easily.  And, I was left with this:
Grab your Dremel and take the seam down as best as you can.  I figured that *real* chocolate bunnies actually have a seam on them, so I didn't sweat the seam too much.  I got rid of most of it, but it wasn't perfectly smooth. 

Then, I let it fully dry for a day or two which made the water putty lighten up a bit.  After that, I put on a coat of white primer.  I used spray primer, but you could brush it on if you want. 

After that, it is time to color.  To get a true chocolate color, I picked three different paint colors and combined them.  I tried the color called Chocolate Bar, but it wasn't perfect on it's own. 
Mixing the paint in a little ramekin was a breeze and I started putting on coats.  The primer helped, but it still took like five total coats.  

More coats of brown.
Once done, I sprayed it with a shiny coat (I forgot to take a photo of that!) and then it was time to adorn them.  I went with the ribbon collar look.  Two pieces.  First, the ribbon around the collar.

Then I made separate bows and hot glued them on.
I think they turned out pretty great and I'm already thinking about making a different style next year for Easter!
Here's to the only guy I know who still has a Birthday Party at his parents house in the suburbs - my good friend Jason.  I've know Jason for the better than 25 years and he's a pretty a pretty amazing guy.  From his critter days to lots of laughs along the way, I'm proud to call him a friend.  Happy Birthday, Jason!  BTW...Look who got in there right next to the cake (on the right):  the Babe with her Noonie (My mom).  She looks mesmerized by the candles, doesn't she?  (it was past her bedtime, so that may be the reason.)
Although the weather didn't cooperate and there wasn't any Jarts, Whiffle ball nor beanbags, there was a lot of fun.  Thanks for having us, Balone.  Can't wait until next year.
It took me at least five minutes to figure out what was going on with the print edition of the Chicago Tribune this morning.  I saw this kid with the pineapple head and read every one of the surrounding blurbs like 3X just to try to figure out why the image was there.
Only then did I realize that it had NOTHING to do with the news, but was an advertisement for Lunchables that became clear when I turned the page.  Kind of a weird monetization strategy for a serious news organization, but - hey - who am I to judge, right?
I went out and picked up more perennials for the backyard at Menards.  They're already in the ground, so I'm hopeful they'll color up this summer.  And...getting a hummingbird or two (as the BES tag claims) would be a nice side benefit, too.
Last week, Nat and I rented 'Little Fockers' from Amazon Video on Demand.  The local video store in Coloma closed last year and we haven't found a close Redbox (Hello, somebody?  There's an opportunity for you!  Put a Redbox at the Hilltop/Harding's grocery store.) so we turned to Amazon Video on Demand.

Sure, the movie was terrible (we should have know, right?), but to make matters worse, the connection we were on (we were up in Michigan slurping free/slow wifi from our neighbors) was terrible.  The film crapped out at this very moment.  Seriously.  No funny-business in hitting pause or whatever.  Just a smirking Bob De Niro and the Amazon logo.   One heckuva coincidence, eh?

BTW....Blogger is back online?  Sort of?  I guess the post I wrote yesterday about the fence stain disappeared into the ether.
Yesterday I had everything set up: while Nat was out for the evening, I had the Babe being watched by my Mom.  Earlier this week, I picked up 5 cans of stain that were on sale (thanks for the rebate, Menards!) and was about to get my stain on.   I set up my Wagner Powersprayer with the can/hose attachment and fired away.  One can in, the skies opened and it started to pour out of nowhere.  The forecast said I was going to be fine for 3-4 hours.  Turned out to be 30 to 45 minutes.  I just got 5 panels done (3+ that you can see here to the left side of the photo).

We're using a semi-transparent stain called Cedartone.  At first I didn't love the color, but it is growing on me.  And, looking at it half done/half not done, I actually am starting to love how it looks.   I have four more cans in the garage, but I'm thinking that - based on how far the last can went - I'm going to have to back and buy five more.  At least.
I planted an asparagus plant two summers ago and (as planned) this should be the first year of any sort of payoff.  The first two years it was mostly a lace-like plant without any stalks.  The first thin stalk /shoot appeared this morning.
Guess what I'm going to go out and picking up this afternoon?  That's right.  More asparagus plants.  Hope Menards has them.  Two years from now we'll be having a (small) asparagus party.
Just like last year, we had our lawn aerated this year.   And, based on the photos alone (go back and check out the shape of our lawn last year), it seems that it is helping.  Our lawn is thicker, fuller, and a bit more lush.  (I'm also now using the Menards brand of the 4-step fertilizer process -which is bound to help.)
This year, I had both the front and back yards 'plugged' and have stepped up my entire lawncare treatment process.  I have a lot of bare spots in the backyard from the various construction jobs last summer and I'm attempting to seed them, but I waited until after the aeration to maximize the effect. 
This year, I picked two early Perennials for the planter box on our front porch.  The two varieties are a Pincushion Flower Scabiosa and an Erysimum Apricot Twist.
I put them in the planter box that we converted from an old "beverage" case that we picked up at the Kane County Flea Market.  Nat has a particular taste in flowers, but as you can tell by the orange choice, she didn't have much to say in this decision.  Fortunately, she's ok with them because (I think) they're kind of on the wild sign.
I am documenting them here because I did the same thing last year - planting two varieties of perennials in the same box, but when late summer arrived and the flowers drooped, Nat yanked them out of the box and stuck them in the ground on the south side of our front porch and we mostly forgot about them.  Fast forward to this spring and one variety (the yellow one) has gone and gotten HUGE.  As a side note, you can *barely* see our Anemone plant just to the right of the bottom yellow plant.  That was given to us by Nat's mom because she was attempting to recreate Nat's wedding bouquet and the florist didn't have any of them on hand. So, off she went to the nursery to pick up a few.  We got one, she got one.  They both came back this year.
I keep pretty decent records of the trees/bushes/yard upkeep via a Google Doc (I have similar docs for our cars and Maisy), but for some reason, these plants from last year's planter box are absent from the doc.  Thanks to Blogger - and the Google Doc - if this year's plants start to take over next spring, we'll at least know what they are and where they came from.  Once we put this years purple and orange plants in over here, by next spring we'll have a bunch of color popping on this side of our house. 
The Babe is clearly an "outside-the-lines" thinker, right?  She colored it all by herself.
Here's to the most wonderful woman in the world.  Hope it is a good day, Nat!
When I was running errands this morning, I spotted on Twitter a few folks talking about today being Free Comic Book Day - which turns out to be the first Saturday in May every year.  Fortunately for me, there's a place called GEM Comics in Elmhurst which is located just a few doors down from our dry cleaners.  Nat had asked me to stop at the cleaners to pick something up, so I figured I would stop by GEM Comics and pick up the free comic book.
First thing I did when I walked in was ask "Today is Free Comic Book Day, right?" 

The older lady at the counter said, "Well...it isn't free for me, so I decided to pass on it." 

Hmmm....out the door I went.  Bummer.  This is the local comic book store in Downtown Elmhurst.  I want a reason to shop there.   I am after a birthday present for my nephew and figured I would find something cool at the store, but when she rained on my parade, I couldn't muster up the attitude to dig through their store. 

I understand that giving away comic books isn't free but I'm thinking that the benefits of doing so far outweigh the costs in some way.  I know when the Babe is old enough to read them, we'll go find a comic book store on the first Saturday of May in 2015 or something and maybe, just maybe, they'll hook her and that store will have a customer for life.  I know we won't be trying that experiment at GEM Comics in Elmhurst. 
Much like last year, I was (apparently unnecessarily) concerned that our peonies would not return this spring.  No need to worry as last week they began to punch through the mulch and have come on very strong.
We're up to five peony plants around the yard - which is one more than my records show.  I can't figure out where the fifth one came from - but perhaps it is a dahlia?  I suppose we'll find out soon!
I was in Ann Arbor this week doing some press outreach with the leader of our office and our landlord about our local office's effort to green-up the office and our building.  This is a pretty unique effort in that we have a VERY supportive and forward-looking landlord/partner in McKinley Properties and their CEO Albert Berriz.  Here's a photo I took of Albert and Fulter - a Googler - as they talk with the Detroit Free Press reporter AND photog (very meta, eh?) in front of the new solar panel installation at the Google office.  It is the largest private solar installation in the state of Michigan (I believe...)
The neat part is that *this* project (which includes these panels plus other things like a "live" roof/green roof on another portion of our building, a greenhouse, and a new compost program IS consistent with Google's global approach to these things.  Pretty great to see the implementation at the local level in our regional offices instead of just at HQ in Northern California.  Kudos to the team in A2 including Mike, John, Tracy, Fulter, Julie, and Luke.  Well done, guys!

Here's a story in AnnArbor.com that we did about the project and stay tuned for the piece in the Detroit Free Press that resulted from this visit.
This past weekend, I spent Saturday evening out on Montrose Harbor in our annual tradition of smelt fishing.   This was the 8th year of smelt fishing, but I've only gone 7 times.  I remember writing posts about the outing back in 2005 and 2006, but I can't track them down.  Damn you, Wordpress migration!  Anyway...here's a post from our 2010 outing and one from our 2007 outing.

Organized by my good friends Matt and Jason, a group of us gathered for some sodas, plenty of laughs, peanuts in the shell and (hopefully) a smelt or two.  Like in years past, unfortunately, the smelt weren't running (sure....that's the reason we didn't catch any, right?), but that's not the point of smelt fishing, right?  I got to spend some time with guys like Eric and Rob - which was great to catch up.  And...the peanuts?  I think I've found a permanent addition to the Chicago Smelt tradition.  Peanuts in the shell. 

I arrived late, but it was still not quite dark.  The city skyline never looks better than from behind a smelt-fishing rig and burn bucket.
Matt and Jason set their rig up earlier in the night and had the nets in the water by the time I arrived.  I was at my nephew's First Communion party earlier in the day - so I couldn't get to the Harbor until late. 
We caught - what we've always believed to be are smelt, but once again it appears that they are shad.  You can compare this one to the same thing we caught last year in 2010.  Same type of fish.
Guess who's getting her Chromercise in this morning?  Who knew they'd make such great baby wristbands?!?
Taking a look at the list of archives on this blog, it seems that we've arrived at the 1/3rd point in the calendar year.  (well...technically, we're just a hair past 1/3rd, but for round numbers, this is as close it we can get, right?)

Has gone fast, hasn't it?  I've done so much this year, but still have so much to get done - especially outside in the backyard. 
On my to-do list:
1.  Stain the fence
2.  Stain the deck
3.  Seed the lawn
4.  Powerwash/re-sand/seal the pavers
5.  Build/assemble playground
6.  Re-establish vegetable garden
7.  Stain/seal raised beds in vegetable garden
8.  Stain the pavilion wood
Now that's how you follow through on an April Fool's Day joke.  These finger bands arrive via first class mail yesterday.