Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top 5 - Holiday Candies

I'm feeling hale and hearty tonight, so what do you say we go for another 3 BLOG NIGHT! Oh yes, I think it's time for one! Brace yourselves. I've noticed that a lot of my friends blog about lists, and the Internet is certainly suffused with a great many "Top 10" and "Top 5" and "Top-Random Number" lists. So, I thought to myself, "Self, you need to get with the times, and do a list post." So, here we are. My first list. In honor of the Christmas and holiday season, may I present: Jon's Top 5 Holiday Candies! 5. Peeps - I love Peeps, not because they taste good exactly, but because they're such a fun candy. As a young boy I remember eating them and doing strange scientific experiments by melding more than one peep together. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. You bite off all the little chicken heads, or chicken butts, and then stick them together to create some strange animal fit for a KFC Urban Legend! Nowadays there are even more possibilities owing to the wider variety in both species and color of peep. Ever want a blue, yellow and black Chicken-Bunny-Bat? Just save your peeps for a year and go crazy. They'll last. This brings me to the other reason I like the humble peep. There is a thriving community of peep enthusiasts that discuss at length the methods and nuances of peep aging. Two extreme schools exist who prefer either the perfectly fresh, soft peep, or the delightfully crusted stale peep. I myself am of the latter school. There are of course those in between who age their peeps to some middle ground. I find the intellectual discussion of silly topics like peep aging to be immensely enjoyable, and this scratches that itch. The only reason peeps are not higher on the list is because they have lost a lot of their "exclusivity". Peeps used to be an Easter candy, but now they have them year round with everything from Christmas Tree Peeps, to Bat Peeps, to Chinese New Year Peeps. Well, maybe not those. For a candy to really grab you, it has to make you want it, and the fact that you can get a Peep of some kind just about all the time, kind of kills the thrill for me. I am a purist however. I'll only eat yellow chick peeps myself. :) 4. Candy Hearts - On the list for fun and exclusiveness more than taste, (though I've seen some variations for different occasions and holidays, and they taste pretty good if you're into Necco candy like I am), the classic Necco Sweetheart set many a grade school boy or girl's heart racing around "VALEMTIMES DAY" every year. Tell me you never got one of those awesome fancy Valentines from that girl or boy you had a crush on in the 4th grade. Sure his/her parents bought, signed and sealed one for everyone in the whole class, but that doesn't mean that he/she didn't smile just a little when he/she dropped it into your artsy-craftsy Valentine mailbox. 3. Candy Cane - Tasteful; elegant; classic. The Candy cane is a staple of the Christmas season. These powerhouses of holiday cheer can brighten a day without fail. I don't usually fall for a piece of candy that is just reshaped and repackaged for each holiday. It's still the same candy. However, the candy cane is a little different. Sure it's just a long curvy Starbright mint, but in this case, you don't see a lot of peppermint trees, bunnies or bats. The cane is a classical symbol of Christmas sweets. I listed the candy cane at number 3 just because I love a good candy cane. It's mood candy. Deck the Halls and Silver Bells and all that! :) 2. Cadbury Mini Eggs - Actually my favorite Easter candy. I could polish off the whole bag. I mean, the BIG bag, in one afternoon if I were not so adverse to becoming sick on them, and then losing my love of such a great candy. These are as simple as it gets. Chocolate and Sugar Coating. Like an M&M, but bigger, with Cadbury chocolate. This is the holiday candy I dream of all year. Yet they are listed at number 2. Why you ask? Well, I'll tell you. As much as I love the flavor and the tactile crunchy sensation of a good mini egg, they aren't quite the total package that the number 1 entry has become. 1. Cadbury Creme Eggs - Being that Easter traditionally rolls out the big guns when it comes to candy, it's hard to stand out amongst a sea of contenders. There has been some controversy surrounding the Creme Egg and its size, which seems to be on the decline in recent years (Here, on Conan O'Brien, we see proof from BJ Novak) , but by and large, the Creme Egg has remained a pure, rich and sweet champion of Easter candy. Some say that the Creme Egg is too rich, but I disagree. If it's too rich, you're eating it too fast...slow down. Enjoy. You think these things grow on trees? Actually, they're laid, by none other than the Cadbury Bunny. *bok bok bok bok BOK* Honorable Mention: There are some good candies out there that are holiday themed, but a lot of them are repackaged and reshaped. You can get a peppermint patty, or a peanut butter cup anytime day or night. The holiday versions are just marketing tricks. You can list the Peppermint Batty and Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs/Trees/Pumpkins and a truly tasty candy, but the truth is that they are just the regular candy in a different pair of pants. Though the Batty is a nice pun. I'll admit it. It made me chuckle. :) So these are my Top-5. Anyone out there have a favorite that I didn't list? Don't worry. With holiday candy, there's no right or wrong. Faves? Anyone? -J

General Update

I thought I would make a general update along with my pottery post. A lot of things have been going on and you, constant reader, deserve to be informed! What kind of blogger would I be if I didn't tell you all about everything? Let's start with how the running thing is going. Michelle and I have continued our pursuit of fitness. In fact, we joined a local gym for the winter months and ran a week and a half ago in the Jingle Bell Run in Huntington, West Virginia. I posted 28 minutes and 42 seconds (This was the accomplishment of another of my 43 Things as well! To run a 5k in under 30 minutes) and placed 114 out around 180. Michelle was about 10 seconds and three people behind me. It was 25 degrees and snowing. 5K in the cold and snow is definitely a new experience for me. Next year, and I will run it again next year, I plan on having a full balaclava. My face wasn't working when we finished. I raced the guy who placed 115 neck-and-neck for the better part of two blocks. At the end I had a little more than he did and pulled ahead, but I went to congratulate him and such, and as I was shaking his hand all I could get out was "Conssazhhalahyan...goofinsh." It was then I realized that my jaw muscles were too cold to function. I have to say that I had a good time with the other crazies, running in the snow. I've always prided myself on being a little odd, and I think this falls right in line with that assessment. Ok, what else...the novel! Not too much to report here, with the exception that I have done some work WITH it, but not exactly ON it. See, the last two times I have started to write, I have ended up working on the world building and magic system. Two things that Brandon Sanderson touched on at his signing in Dayton. I started thinking things through and ended up realizing that I needed to understand the world I was writing in a little better before I could progress much further. It is tricky to write in a world of your own making, because you really can't take anything for granted. Everything from the geology to the political climate can effect your writing. (Robert Jordan is perhaps the best world builder I have ever read. I don't intend to go into nearly as much detail as he did, but I love the idea of it. I get the feeling that when RJ wrote about a broken teapot, he knew when it was broken, and who did it, and why, even if he never told you.) Most of the writing I've done in the past two months won't be in the novel itself, but it is the framework on which the book must rest, and for that reason is it very important. Possibly more important than the book itself. Let me leave it at the fact that Merrick is progressing, however slowly, but progressing nonetheless. In other news, Michelle and I actually went on our Vesuvius Backpacking Trip! I think I can be brief and just say that we had a great time, and found our equipment to be sufficient for the kind of weather we'll be expecting on the AT, but the trip itself really deserves its own entry to do it justice. Though, you can view 39 pictures from the trip with comments by going HERE. You know, looking at the gallery, it's kind of a photo blog in and of itself. Let me know what you think! Lastly, I would like to say that I really appreciate you, the readers. It's cool to know that you're enjoying reading along with me here. It keeps me looking for the next post in my day to day life! :) Additionally, It is amazing enough that friends and family read what I write, but I was particularly jazzed (I know what you're thinking. "Jazzed? Who talks like that?") to get a comment from someone I've never met! Thanks for the note of appreciation! I'll close this entry before it gets too much longer. More to come, guaranteed! Talk to you soon! -J

Pottery - Night...oh nevermind.

Hey all! It's me! I know I've had a bit of a hiatus here, but let me tell you that the past 4 weeks have been ridiculously busy. I have been running around like crazy with work and with everything else. New accounts have been opening at work, which can be a little bit of a headache, but I think all in all we have things running. Also, I played a wedding this past weekend with my good friend TJ. I hadn't done much with my saxophone and I had to work really hard to build my chops back up. Anyway, tonight begins my vacation until the beginning of the new year. Now I can relax, and catch up on my blog. As well as get ready for Christmas. And a host of other things. Ok, so maybe RELAX isn't the word, but I can at least do some other stuff. :) On to pottery! Ok, so I have been a few more times since my last update, and I want to report that all is going well, and I will be continuing into the new year with the classes. Last night I went down to the studio to work on a few things. I threw three pieces that were by far my tallest work, and I think my most complex. Each of them fell into the 10-11" range, and I used a throwing stick to create the kind of urn-like pieces you might imagine when you think of a genie bottle, or a classic long necked vase. The throwing stick is basically a wooden tool that lets you reach into said long necks where your hand would not be able to go. A new batch of glazed work is coming out next Monday. I keep promising pictures, and you probably think I'm deliberately putting you off. This time you'd be right. :) Y'see, several pieces are going to people as gifts, and I think one or two actually read my posts. Owing to a strict no peeking clause here in the Cook household, I'm delaying a bit to maximize the potential for surprise. I think it might also be more efficient to link to my gallery where the pottery will be shown as well. So, here I am, now an 18 week veteran of the Bill Meadows pottery class in Ashland Kentucky. How do I feel, looking back? I am amazed at how much I have improved, and also amazed at how much improving I have to do before I would consider myself proficient. I like being where I am though. It is so much easier when you are a beginner in a particular skill to see your improvement. As you get better, your leaps become smaller, and it can get discouraging. The fortunate thing about pottery is that I decided to do it for fun and don't have to improve at any rate, nor do I need to be graded, or anything that would make it seem like some required class for credit. Nope, this is a hobby and I am quite enjoying myself. -J

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brandon Sanderson Book Signing

Hello to all of my faithful readers! I wanted to do a quick post about a quick little adventure that Michelle and I went on Wednesday night. We drove up to Dayton after work to the Books and Co, to attend a book signing that Brandon Sanderson was doing to promote the third book in his Mistborn Trilogy. Here's a picture: For those of you who don't know, Mr. Sanderson is the author that was chosen to finish the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, who fell ill with a condition called Amyloidosis and passed away last year before the epic's completion. I didn't really know of Brandon Sanderson's work before I heard he was completing the Wheel of Time, but as soon as I did, I went out and bought Mistborn, which was a fantastic novel! I'd recommend it to anyone, not just fantasy readers. The trilogy is accessible and easy to read, and most importantly not too big to commit to reading like say, Wheel of Time! :) Mr. Sanderson addressed this last night too. It's easier to get into an author's body of work if you don't have to begin with book one of a 13 volume epic. Anyway, There was Q&A, and some readings from a couple of Mr. Sanderson's books, including a passage from his very own multi-volume epic which is unpublished and mostly unwritten as yet. We had a great time listening to his thoughts on both writing, and reading. I was glad to hear that two of his major influences were Robert Jordan and Orson Scott Card - Two authors I respect greatly. We were there about an hour and left just before the Mistborn Trilogy - Book 3 spoilers began, thanks to a prudent warning from the author. It was a great time, and really inspired me to keep pursuing my writing. I think I could definitely make a go of it if I can find the time and the drive to get my first book written. I am envious of Joel Cooper, who is now beyond the initial writing, and into the editing. Well, I don't envy him too much. Editing is supposed to be the tedious part. :) So that's my update on my latest adventure! Thanks again for reading! -J

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pottery 102 - Nights 4 and 5

Woohoo! I have to say that things are going well in Pottery class, and this two week post thing is really shaping up well as things are progressing a little more slowly and I'd have little to say in a once per week post. Anyway, I'll fill you in. I have succeeded in throwing my most technically advanced piece to date. It is taller, more even and straighter than anything I've done thus far. It is trimmed and getting ready to bisque fire. I had quite a few things that came out of the glaze fire, and I thought they looked good for the most part. A couple of little issues, but mostly, I was pleased! I will have pictures this weekend, which I will be posting to my site gallery. I'll update you here with a URL when they're available. So, I feel as though I am making steady progress with my skill. The majority of my progress has to do with the fact that I am not nearly as afraid of the process as I was. Not that I was scared to do anything, but I'm a little more confident in my ability to at least make some kind of vessel. I'm sure I haven't finished my amazingly terrible blunders. I know I have a lot of those left in me. The kind where clay flies from the wheel, coating everyone in a thin coat of slimy brown paste. Alright, I'll go, but within a week, PICTURES OF MY WORK! STAY TUNED!!! -J

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pottery 102 - Nights 2 and 3

I was late in putting up my blog for night 2, so I decided to just combine them into one update for you! The last two nights have been feverish to say the least. Some of the phrases that come to mind are, "Burning the candle at both ends", "Running around like a chicken with its head cut off" and "Busier than a one armed paper hanger".
Anyway, I have a lot of pieces that were bisque fired a couple of weeks ago and a glaze firing coming up, as well as a few pieces that needed to be trimmed before they dried out too much on me. So two weeks ago I was glazing, trimming, trying to dry out some wet stuff before it was trimmed, glazing some more. Generally running about before time was up.
This week, I trimmed four pieces, and glazed another 5 or 6. It's a little tedious, but I am learning a lot. Also, that means I have more things to glaze and hence, more things to show you very soon! I'm getting a good grasp of the pottery process from beginning to end, and that will be important should I decide I want to do this on my own.
I do have a treat for you this week though, if you can call it that. :) I have taken a couple of pictures of the studio as well as an advance shot of one of my goblets. Check it out!
There you go!
This is a shot of the pottery studio where I take my class, one of the wheel I use, and one of a goblet I made. It has unfired glaze on it, so it may look a little silly, but I promise it's going to be cool. :) I'll be sure to post an after picture of it as well.
That's it for now! Tune in next week for another exciting episode of "As the Wheel Turns"
-J

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pottery 102 - Night 1

Hey all! Yes, it's that time! I have begun my second 8 weeks of pottery class. Night one was a full evening, even though I only threw 4 pieces. I was focusing on quality rather than quantity. I did a pair of one piece goblets, and a couple of cylinders that I think will be nice mugs. I feel like I'm growing a little more capable at least. I'm hoping to really try something big before long. As soon as I'm a little more comfortable making smaller pieces that are somewhat symmetrical I'll give it a go and report on my attempt! Also, the 8 pieces I had ready to bisque fire were in the kiln, along with the pieces Michelle did. We should be able to see how they turned out next week. After those are all glazed, I expect we'll get a good glaze firing and finally get to see how our pieces have ended up. It's a hard thing to wait this long, but I'm being as patient as possible. I know everyone else is ready to see this stuff. It was interesting this time because we have three brand new students in the Tuesday night class. I enjoyed being a "veteran" this time and watched as the new students learned the basics with frustration and got to witness the victories and defeats from the other point of view this time. Always interesting to see how far you've come, and then to watch your instructor throw and realize how far you have to go. :) It was fun to have my step-mother Donita join us on the Tuesday night class. She had been taking the Monday night one, and switched for this 8 week period. So anyway, still plugging away. One week closer to pictures, and I think I'm getting a little better. We'll see! :) Talk to you soon! -Jon

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pottery 101 - Night 8

Well, the first 8 weeks of pottery has come to a close. Very soon I'll be starting my next 8 week session, which I will affectionately call Pottery 102. A quick update about the last night of class: Michelle and I spent most of the night cleaning up pieces we'd already thrown, and preparing them for their bisque firing. I think I have at least 7 pieces ready for the first firing. Let's see...two small noodle bowls, two cups, a mug, two bud vases, one larger vase...I think that's it. That's 8! Then there are the two pieces that are being glazed. We did actually get to start glazing this Tuesday night. We glazed the inside of our bisque pieces. Michelle has two little bowls, and I have a tea bowl and a mug. They're going to be pretty cool I think. The instructor said that Michelle will be able to come back and finish the pieces she has already thrown, so that will be nice. We weren't sure how that would work. We are going to try and finish the glazing this Friday night at first Friday. I believe I have mentioned it before. Arts and Music in Ashland the first Friday of every month. We'll be able to use the studio during that time. And so, we're getting close to actual finished pieces. I think during my Pottery 102 classes I'm going to strive to really make something amazing. Even if it's only one piece, I'm going to try for it. Something where people see it and have to say, "You MADE that? No way!" And I smile smugly and nod. This old thing? Just a lump of mud and unparalleled pottery skeels. :) There will be a few weeks of break on pottery blogs, but soon enough, look for pictures of Pottery 101 creations and Pottery 102 entries! Thanks for reading! -J

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Home Away From Home...

Well, I have a replacement for my $25 Wenzel tent, which I mentioned in my previous camping blog. Having spent the night with soggy toes, and using a makeshift tarp rain fly, I decided to take a step up and get something that was a little more sturdy, a little lighter, and a little dryer. Enter the Eureka! Solitaire. Small, light, and by most accounts a good little backpacker's tent. It's not too expensive either, which was a key element in the selection process. You can easily spend a whole lot of money on bells and whistles in the tent world. The Solitaire is shy on bells and short on whistles, but it has the basics, and a bit more. I picked it up at Dick's Sporting Goods on sale. It features a 2lb. 9oz. packed weight (about half the weight of the $25 Wenzel), plenty of room to sleep 1, and a built in rain fly. (Yes...a rain fly. That's important.) How about some pictures, Jon?! Here's a shot with the rain fly rolled and tied up along the front pole. And one with the fly deployed. And here's Michelle, modeling for me to show the tent's size. I think she looks fantastically comfortable. So this will be my home in the spring on the AT for 7 or so days. We're going to hike the 16 mile backpacking trail at Vesuvius here soon, so I'll get to try it then. We're planning 8 miles out, an overnight stay and 8 miles back, just to get the feel for our packs and so forth. I for one am looking for a nice cozy stay in my little yellow house. Anyway, I just wanted to update everyone on the tent situation. By the way, I accidentally melted a hole in the top of the $25 Wenzel. I swear it wasn't on purpose. I was flipping it over while it was drying out, and it brushed the engine of our lawn mower which I had used recently enough that it was still quite hot. Well, if it was leaky before, it certainly will be now. :) Once we hike the Vesuvius trail and try things out, I'll give you an update! Talk to you soon! -J

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ohio Ren Fest 2008!

And now, the third and final entry in our THREE BLOG NIGHT!
Last weekend, Michelle and I made our annual trip up to the Ohio Renaissance Festival, and met some of our friends there. Eric and Justin and Lili, their little one, along with Erik and Gina Cooper with Their daughters Jenna and Sarah, and also Aaron and Michele Hager and her sister Kristin.
We all had a great time and as usual the faire was a blast! If you've never been to a ren faire, I recommend going at least once. If you hate it, you never have to go again, but you might find something you like about it.
Perhaps you'll like the food, perhaps not. They have expanded their menu this year. You can always get a roasted turkey leg, which is a fan favorite. They have steak on a stake, which is just as it sounds. Michelle and I had the fish and chips and discovered that we are no longer fried food ready. When you've been eating like we have and avoiding the fried stuff, the body has an interesting time with deep fried battered anything.
Also, there are bread bowls and a variety of soups, chicken fingers for the kids, and a few desserts and any beverages you might find at any fair, with or without the "e".
If the food isn't your thing, there are the crafts. Something a little different every year, and a few faire staples that you will want to check with to see if they have anything new and interesting. My personal favorite is the Griffon Works leather shop. There are potters, jewelers, armorers, blacksmiths, weapon makers, glass blowers, clothiers and many various and sundry other things.
Maybe the entertainment would be your thing. Jugglers, comedians, a genuine Mudde Show (which you really just have to see) They recreate famous literature and tell stories while basically throwing mud freely about the viewing area. Think Gallager, only in place of watermelon, it's a big pit of mud. There are wandering musicians, mimes and the like all over the 30 acre grounds. Perhaps the most notable show at the faire is the full contact joust which happens about 4 times a day on their full sized tournament field. I shot a video of the one we watched this weekend, which you can see over on youtube, here. Excuse the poor quality, but I think you can get the idea.
Maybe you hate everything else about it, but even so, you might like to dress the part! The costumes are a fun part of the festival. Several of us dressed for the faire this year. And yes, I have pictures! Behold!

Michelle and I both did pretty well I think. Though, my tri-corn hat was a touch too "Colonial America" until I added the grey plume later in the day. That fixed it, but I didn't get another picture. Michelle made my doublet (I did some ironing and assisting), and I made the pants. This is the first dress that Michelle ever wore to a ren faire also. She bought it, but has made everything else she has worn since. Remember I said we'd talk about her cool self taught sewing skills? These are those! :)

Aaron is working it William Wallace style, while Michele and Kristin are both a little more British Isley...I don't think that's a word. Anyway, Aaron constructed all of these costumes. Well done there! :)
The Cooper Clan, Erik, looking dashing in blue tunic and chainmaille, Gina looking regal in flowing blue and white. Jenna, looking adorable in her pink princess dress, and Sarah looking...elsewhere. :)
And last but not least, the Nears, dressed as the coolest parents in the world! I'm pretty sure Eric knows it. :) That's Lili there. Later on she broke out the fairy wings and it was all anyone could do to stand up. The cuteness was far to great for a single ren faire.

So there you go. Food, Shopping, Festivity, and Festoonery, all in one day! And a good time was had by all! Michelle and I might even be going back again this season. We're thinking about heading back for the Harvest weekend! You're all welcome to join us!

Talk to you soon! HUZZAH!

-Jon

Recent Camping Trip

Welcome to entry number 2, as our THREE BLOG NIGHT continues! A couple of weeks ago, Michelle finished up the rain fly for her hammock. I may or may not have mentioned that she purchased a camping hammock kit from Speer Hammocks and had been working on it as time allowed for a few weeks. Well, when she finally finished it, she was naturally exuberant and eager to try the whole rig out! I was excited for her, as I always am when she pulls something like this off; The from scratch construction of a camping hammock, or any of the amazing garments she has put together with her self-taught sewing skills. (More on this in the next blog) So, we started tentatively planning our quick camping trip to Lake Vesuvius. Michelle in her new self-built Speer hammock, and me in my $25 Wenzel 2-person tent. As the date approached, we began to realize something. This would be a true test of Michelle's hammock, and of my tent. The forecast grew increasingly bleak. Before long, the day we had planned to camp was showing 70% chance of storms and the days on either side were nearly as wet. We were, however, determined. The day came, and we were both excited about our trip. I visited my pharmacies in the Huntington area so that at the end of the day I ended up close to Dick's sporting goods. I met Michelle there and we looked around for anything we might need. Finally we decided we needed a lantern and picked up an inexpensive little Coleman two-wick propane job, and that's it. We decided to eat what we could find at home, and already had a dehydrated chili-macaroni meal from Mountain House. Their food is always pretty tasty! So far, the skies were clear and all looked well. We thought we might dodge the weather bullet. That was not to be, but we were fortunate that the weather held off until some time later. Attempting to get to the camp site and set up before nightfall, we hurried home, and quickly packed a bag of food, and our camping gear using our frame packs to carry everything. I think we managed to throw everything together and get out to the site with about 30-45 minutes before darkness descended. Now here we are. I pitched my tent fairly quickly, using a blue tarp for a ground cloth as well as another one for a rain fly. My Wenzel is somewhat resistant to light moisture, but I wasn't taking any chances due to the forecast. Michelle's set up took a little longer than mine, being that it was the first time either of us had set up a hammock. At this point, I wish I had taken some pictures to show you, lest you have an image in your mind of a standard, backyard hammock. You know, a mesh thing with wooden spreaders at either end and the like. This hammock is a sophisticated piece of gear. Rip-stop nylon bottom, high quality mosquito net upper, and a silicon impregnated nylon fly, all weighing in the neighborhood of 2.5 pounds and packing to roughly the size of a football. Did I mention I payed $25 for my Wenzel 2-person tent? Yeah, we're getting to that. So, Michelle finished pitching, and I got to work on dinner. We didn't bother with a fire, choosing instead to just use a stove to heat the water for our chili-mac. I used a marvelous little folding camp stove and Esbit tablets. See it here. I think I'm going to take this stove on the AT next spring, after its admirable performance. Super light and easy to use, this baby was perfect for a quick boil, and left no ash, or anything. Just a little sticky residue on my cookpot. Having finished her setup, Michelle joined me and we had a nice dinner! Chili-mac, water and apples. The rest of the evening was taken up with conversation and relaxation. We had a nice time just hanging out in the quiet and the darkness, with only the glow of our newly acquired Coleman lantern. Eventually though, the clouds did roll in, and it began to look a little like it might rain. We went to my tent and chatted a little more, and finally we decided it was time to turn in. I helped Michelle get to her hammock with the lantern, and when she was cozily dangling between a pair of sturdy maples, I retired to my tent and turned off the lamp. Then the rain started. The night was what I technically refer to as, "A Dumper". It rained steady and hard most of the night. No wind or anything. Just straight down. Fortunately I was able to stay mostly under my tarp rain fly. I stayed reasonably dry most of the night. Eventually though, a $25 Wenzel will give up and just soak you. So as the night wore on, I did sleep, and fairly well, but I slept with my toes in the water. I was pitched with the foot of the tent slightly downhill, which I think saved me from getting really, really soggy all over. I hoped that Michelle was faring better, and managed a decent night of sleep, so, I passed the test, whether my $25 Wenzel did or not. The next morning I lay there, watching small rivulets of water stream past me on either side of my foam pad, and squishing my toes in the water at the foot of the tent, when I hear from a few feet away, "Are you awake?" "Yup!" I said. "How'd you do?" "Good! I stayed dry and cozy! You?" "Me? Uh....yeah, same here! *squish, squish, squish* Doin' Great!" Anyway, in short, Michelle's hammock was a fantastic success! She has made an excellent piece of camping gear and it was well worth the effort involved in my opinion. She will have to work on some of the peculiarities of hammock camping, but they are things that can be overcome with some practice. I am tent shopping. :) -Jon

Bento Blog! Michelle's Lunch for Tomorrow!

You know, every time I post a bento, I think, "Man, this is the best one yet!" We can't possibly out-do ourselves can we? Always I think, no way, and every time it seems we find the strength, courage, and strange dishes to pull it off! Without further ado, I present Michelle's Bento lunch for September 22nd, 2008:

See what I mean? Wouldn't you love to tuck into something this awesome? Let's begin our tour!

First, we have the main dish. Top and Center. This is a bulgar salad with tomato, blanched broccoli florets, chopped parsley, shredded carrot, garbanzo beans and Italian dressing. We garnished the tier with parsley. It turned out very good. I know because I ended up stirring it all together and may or may not have stolen a taste! We bought fresh parsley and ended up with way more than was required by our cooking, and so you're going to see sprigs of if everywhere as garnish. :)

On the right, you will see Michelle's favorite yogurt. Plain yogurt mixed with strawberry preserves, which a touch of honey on the top, as well as another piece of parsley. I think the parsley looks great on all of the various things, don't you?

On the left, another common building block of Michelle's lunches, a quarter cup of mixed nuts!

In the center, it a little something I whipped up with some extra garbanzos from the bulgar salad. This is a homemade hummus containing the beans, a little salt, olive oil and a toasted garlic clove, as well as, you guessed it, chopped parsley! In the tier with the hummus are broken pieces of Wasa brand whole grain crackers.

Finally, in the bottom tier, we have a pair of unique little muffins that Michelle found a recipe for online. These are Indian influenced pumpkin muffins, containing cooked pumpkin (as you might've guessed) and garam masala, which is a spice blend containing many different things. I've linked to the wikipedia entry, which has some good information about it. We were quite amazed to find it among the spices at Wal-Mart. New to us! :) Between the muffins are a few Concord grapes and another tiny bit of parsley. We still have WAY too much parsley left. Might have to start eating it for breakfast or something.

This bento turned out to be a big one. You might notice that we had to borrow a container from Michelle's yellow bento set to finish packing it up. She is concerned about being able to finish everything, but her photography class starts tomorrow and dinner might end up being late, so it's good to be prepared with extra lunch! :)

I hope we have enticed you with another delectable tour of flavor and style! Buon Appetito Michelle!! Let us know how everything tastes!

-Jon

Three Blog Night!!

Hey all! You're in luck, because I have a back log of blogs that I need to do, and I've decided to catch up this evening! This is a rare event in the blogging world! A THREE BLOG NIGHT! - Joy to the world!!
Stay tuned as we embark on a fantastic voyage! We'll take the road ahead, straight to Bentoville, make a hard right down Hammock Camping Lane, and Come to a stop at Ren Faire Plaza! Jump in, Sit Down, Shut Up and Hold On! It's time for your THREE BLOG NIGHT!!
-J

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pottery 101 - Night 7

This will be a pretty quick update, simply because I had a pretty simple night, and Michelle was stuck in Fairmont, WV all day and couldn't make it in time for class. My evening went pretty well. I tried to stretch myself and throw a couple of things that were more delicate than I had tried. I managed a pair of small bowls that look like they'll be really nice! I'm excited to see how they eventually turn out, and I think they'll end up being for Udon noodles or something like that. I'll probably trim some chopstick rests into them. I was going to glaze a couple of things. They're ready, but he didn't have all of the glazes there so I'm going to wait until next time. As I had mentioned before I think, I will be taking another 8 weeks in this class. I'm looking forward to it and I hope I can increase my skill as well as the size of clay that I can handle. Michelle isn't going to be taking it again, but she has enrolled in a basic photography class. She'll be doing that on Monday nights and I'll be in pottery on Tuesday nights. It'll be kind of sad not taking a class actually WITH Michelle, but we're both going to enjoy what we're doing. And so, I know I've promised pictures over and over again, but I've given up predicting exactly when I'm going to have something to show. Let me just say that it'll be someday pretty soon! :) Hang in there and before long I'll have all of my glorious works on display! Oh and by the way, next week we have the week off, so Pottery 101-Night 8 will be in two weeks! Talk to you soon! -Jon

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pottery 101 - Night 6

It's that time again! Michelle and I had our 6th night of pottery tonight, and things went very well. First of all some of our pieces are being bisque fired as we speak, so next week for sure we'll get to glaze! I would imagine though that we won't be able to see them fired for a few weeks yet. The process is slow and so it takes awhile, especially since there are so many pieces to fire from all of the students. Tonight for me was a trimming night. I think I trimmed 5 pieces, and put a handle on one of them. I stayed very busy and ended up feeling like I made a lot of progress. I was particularly happy with the result of my one-piece goblet. It is my favorite piece so far. The instructor commented on it and said it was the nicest single piece goblet he'd seen thrown in his classes. Not the best goblet, but the best single piece goblet. He said he was going to experiment with my design a little, which is always nice to hear your instructor say. Michelle had a good night too! She produced a pair of small bowls that were very pretty. I look forward to seeing how they turn out. Next week I plan to glaze whatever comes out of the kiln, and throw as much as I can. With only two weeks remaining, I'm going to try and get as much practice in as possible. Michelle and I talked about whether we would continue in the class. I think I have decided that I'll be doing it for at least another 8 weeks after this. After all, I need material for my blog, right? :) Michelle is as yet undecided, and may actually devote some time to a photography class or something of that nature. I guess that's about it for this week's update. Can't wait to finally show what we've been working on! Tune in next week for the next exciting chapter! -J

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Michelle's Bento for Tomorrow...

Hey again all! I wanted to post Michelle's lunch tomorrow because it turned out really nice! We were both quite happy with the result. Here's a picture:

Ok, this is a good one. On the top left is a really nice little assortment! A few Hapi brand Mixed Party crackers, and three Parmesan cheese crisps we made. Just grated cheese on a cookie sheet in little circles with a little oregano tossed on top. The definition is a little tough to pick out, but they're round, just take my word for it. I got to sample one and they're quite tasty!

On the bottom, you'll see some mixed nuts. These are Kroger brand, because we forgot to pick up the ones at Walmart. Did you really need to know that? Maybe not, but now you do know in any case, and knowing is half the battle!

On the right is some vanilla yogurt with strawberry preserves blended in, and some honey over the top. Michelle is a huge fan of yogurt as you may have already been able to deduce from past Bento posts. We couldn't think of anything to top it with this time. Any suggestions for next time?

I saved the middle left tier for last. The pièce de résistance! Here we have a pair of hand rolled rice balls, edged in toasted sesame seed, and seasoned with a nice rice vinegar and soy sauce dressing. On top, an arrangement of avocado wedges, Alaskan smoked salmon, and a garnish of fresh ginger. I think this is our most complex entree to date, and let me tell you, the house smells wonderful! Smoked salmon, ginger and Parmesan cheese is wafting throughout the place and it is glorious! :)

Once again, I will not be eating a lunch that I think will be delicious! Maybe Michelle will pop in to tell us how it was in the comment section! Till next time!

-J

Friday, September 5, 2008

5k Finishes, Then and Now...

So, I decided I needed to do a post because I just got an e-mail with some pictures from the Good Samaritan 5k this past weekend. I found the pictures of Michelle and Me, and was a little excited by what they revealed. Let me first post the finish of the Ironton Memorial Day 5k back on May 26th. About 3 months and 1 week ago. Be warned, this image may be shocking or offensive to...well, mostly me. :) This is one of those pictures taken on a downward step so I look like I'm melting, but for better or worse, here it is:
The first thing you might notice is the look of dire distress on my face, even in the downward pull of my stride. It is quite evident. You'll note that even though I am sweating, and desperate in appearance, Michelle has a pretty relaxed, "Stroll in the park" kind of look on her face, and is in fact, not sweating after a 3 mile run. Not sweating. Ole 495 there looks pretty good too for having finished the race well ahead of us and taken a walk back up the course a little way, and is now returning to the finish line. I find that the contrast in this picture makes it absolutely hilarious. :)
Ok, on to the next stop! This one of two pictures from last week, September 1st, that I'll post. First, in the style of those infomercials that show you a before picture where the light is bad, the clothes are bad, and the pose is bad, then they show you the after, where the lighting, pose and clothes have been replaced so that the person would look better no matter what you had done to their face with your miracle product! Behold:
This picture was taken in an infinitely better part of my stride. In the up half. Because of that, everything looks a little less...melty. There is, of course, a little less to melt and that helps too, but the really important difference is that Michelle and I are about to finish this race and we are both strong enough to look determined and even happy to be there! I was so glad to be able to look at this picture and see us both with that "stroll in the park" look on our faces! Ok, maybe I'm a little more, "brisk jog in the park", but that's better than, "Someone help me. Oh dear, oh dear, my face is melting off, would someone pick up my face and bring it to the finish line for me?"
So there you have it, Michelle and I have made great progress so far, and these pictures are super motivational for me. It's great to be able to track yourself in pictures! It'll be worth it later in life for our health if we manage to keep this up, but the good thing about it, is that it's worth it right now! That makes it so much easier to get out there and run. By the way, we ran an 8:07 this evening!
Ok, so where's the third picture? Ok, just so you can't say, oh he left out the ones with weird faces! This blog is rigged! Here is another picture from last weekend that was taken on the downward half:
This one was taken right after a bit of an incline right before the home stretch. This was taken about 3-4 blocks before the second shot there. Note that Michelle is still just as happy as a lark, while I am catching my breath. But there is still a difference. Note the eyes that seem to be carved from granite! Note the finely chiseled pectoral mahscles! (eh not so much...still working on that chiseled thing) Seriously though, I'm much happier with both of these pictures, and I just wanted to share! Thanks for reading and talk to you all soon!
-J

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Quick General Update

Some of you may be wondering, "Hey, where's my pottery update this week?" I can understand your dismay, and I would understand completely if you wrote me hate mail or something. But I promise, I have not dropped the ball in any way. Actually, there was no pottery class this week, owing to Labor Day activities. Class resumes next Tuesday night, and there'll be an update then for sure. But, just so there is at least a little something to read, I decided to do a quick post anyway. I thought everyone who has been following my progress with fitness and such, might like to know that Michelle and I ran an 8:19 mile tonight. That works out to about 7.2mph, and it's our fastest yet. My fastest by about 30 seconds. Our plan is to run in the Jingle Bell Run this year in December as I believe I mentioned, and we want to make an excellent showing. We're planning on pushing our mile time as low as we can manage, so we can get used to those kinds of paces, and then back off to something a little more comfortable for the actual run at the end of the year. My under 30 minute 5k is very close. :) In other news, you may or may not know that Michelle and I have been working to pay off all of our debt except the mortgage since we got married. We took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University as soon as we were married and have been working the principles of it since June of 2005. This September budget marked three years and three months of work and it finally paid off. Our credit card debt has been gone for a long time now, but we finished the cars this month and we are now officially debt free with the exception of the mortgage and the land we intend to build on sometime next year. The only credit card we have is the one work makes me carry. I'd lose that one if they'd let me. The next step is fleshing out our emergency fund. Finally we'll be saving money rather than pouring it into a debt hole! YAY!!! I'd like to extend some thank yous to the people involved in keeping me from ending up broke somewhere down the road: I'd like to thank Dad and Donita for buying me the Financial Peace University kit. At the time, I'm certain I wouldn't have bought it myself. I'd also like to thank my Alan, my brother-in-law for actually facilitating the class at church. It takes someone with dedication and excitement toward an idea to truly sell you on it. I think I might be more sold on it than he is! Thanks also to Michelle, who by agreeing to marry me, gave me the incentive to straighten up and be responsible. Well, more accurately, I didn't want her to think I was an idiot with my money. I'm still not terribly responsible. I'm just glad she didn't have to marry TOO much debt. :) Thanks to Dave Ramsey for going flat broke and coming out of it. The best teaching aid is a hard lesson. I'm glad he learned it for me and was gracious enough to pass it on. Thanks to God most of all, for lining all of this up. Right place, right time, right people. I think I am a better person for all of the work that these people put in for my future. Not just better financially, but better in general. I'm holding more loosely to the things that I have, more tightly to the people in my life, and more closely to God because I have seen him work some amazing wonders over the last 3 years. -J

Monday, September 1, 2008

The 2008 Good Samaritan Soles 5k

Well, today was the big day. Michelle and I ran our second 5k and it was a great time! I just wanted to post our results and let you know how we did. First, let me say that we both made a vast improvement over our first 5k on Memorial Day in Ironton. As yet, I have not accomplished my goal of a 5k run under 30 minutes, but today I came very, very close. Michelle and I both shaved a full 7 minutes from our time in Ironton. Let me post the results of both races so you can see the difference: Memorial Day, May 26th -Overall Time: 37:14 Pace: 11:59 Labor Day, September 1st -Overall Time: 30:18 Pace: 9:45 Yes, had we run a little bit faster overall, we would've made the under 30 minute goal. I'm still extremely happy with the result though, and I couldn't be more proud that we have set our sights on this and stayed with it. The under 30 minute thing doesn't have to be an official race anyway. I can keep trying in the park until I get it! :) It's a very rewarding thing anyway! We are already looking for another 5k to train for so we can try to lower our time, and stay motivated. Probably going to be the Jingle Bell Run in Huntington this December. Cold running might be interesting. So, how did things go? Well, I learned first of all that it's next to impossible to drink water and run. That is not only an exercise in futility, but it's also quite hilarious. :) This race was markedly different in feeling than my first one. In the first race I thought I might keel over and die, but this time, I knew I could finish. I even had something left at the end to push for a couple of seconds and get there a couple of seconds faster. When I finished and finally stopped to catch my breath, the Rocky music was actually playing over the loud speakers. Now you might think it's corny, but I had to really force down an impulse to throw my hands up, training montage style. The only thing missing was the bulky grey sweatsuit. I had a good chuckle to myself about it. Maybe it's a guy thing, but I really don't think so. I'd imagine it crosses everyone's mind when something like that happens. In May, I felt like I showed up where a bunch of runners were doing their thing and tried my hand, somewhat infringing on the whole running thing. Today I felt like a runner. Afterward we all stood around talking and laughing, and enjoying the feeling of accomplishing something. It was good to see a couple of friends from high school who have taken up running as well. They have been doing this longer than Michelle and I, but they started somewhere too. It's inspiring to see people you know doing something and to know that you can get where they are if you keep at it. I also wanted to congratulate Michelle. Her time placed her second in her age group! Another minute and a half and she'd have medaled today! I'm very proud of her! :) After all is said and done, we have accomplished what we set out to do. We aren't finished though. We're going to keep running and trying to improve. It'll probably be slower progress now, but there'll be some progress. Do we have the running bug? No I don't think so. It's something we know we should do. Maybe at some point I'll get out there for a run and realize that it's not a "should do" but a "want to do". We'll see. All went well. Thank God we're able to run and enjoy our health. We ran a good race today. And at the end, I finally got to have my banana. -J

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Bento Lunch

Hello all, and welcome to another edition of "What's Michelle Eating for Lunch Tomorrow"
We just finished a fairly easy, yet tasty looking lunch and I thought, "Hey, this looks like a good one for all of my fans! Observe:

Alright, now the usual rundown! On the left is the main compartment, which contains four pieces of Cream Cheese Roll from Kroger's. Imitation crab, cream cheese and avocado wrapped in rice and seaweed. Also with the cream cheese roll is a small bottle of soy sauce and a little pickled ginger. Above it is Balsamic Sesame Chicken. Chicken breast, marinated in Balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, rolled in sesame seeds and fried with cooking spray to brown the seeds. The chicken is garnished with a small sprig of mint.

On the top right, is another three bean salad like the last one we made, except it contains white kidney, dark kidney, and black beans. Again, with a fat free Italian dressing, and also garnished with mint.

Under that is Michelle's favorite yogurt, inspired by Gina's yummy yogurt recipe on thedailyplate.com. It's plain yogurt with honey. We ran out of the usual cranberries, so they aren't in there. There's a swizzle of honey on top, and again with the mint! Gee whiz! Actually, I might explain that the mint has been in the fridge for a couple of weeks and if we don't use it, it's going to be all wilty and brown, so, I'm using all I can.

The bottom right is the small lid space, which normally would hold some mixed nuts or something, but this time, we picked up some mixed rice crackers from Kroger and used them instead. A pleasant and colorful snack. Except the seaweed ones. They're just a little strange. :)

There you go! Another interesting and tasty looking lunch from Michelle's Bento Box. Fortunately, this time, there is chicken and bean salad left over, so I may get to have some!

Till next time! Thanks for reading!

-J

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pottery 101 - Night 5

Well, a good night yet again. Still no glazing. No bisque firing as of tonight, so nothing was ready to glaze. I was in a good position though, to crank out some pieces. I did 4 tonight. I just tried to keep my head down and practice throwing. I managed a one piece goblet, a skinny little bud vase, some kind of tallish, muggy, vasey thing, and another kind of tallish....muggy....vasey thing. I think it went well. I'm gaining a little more control over the clay because I'm trying to make myself not quite so afraid of it. In order to do that you have to set out to make a goblet stem and end up with a napkin ring once or twice. :) That's pretty much all I did, which was my goal anyway, in the event that there was no glazing to do. Michelle trimmed a piece, or maybe two. I can't remember. But she also threw a couple of nice mug forms as well. I'd say we're both improving each week. There's going to be a kiln opening at the next First Friday, and I think Michelle and I are going to go over, despite the fact that we have nothing in the kiln to actually see. I think it'll be a fun night anyway. There will be pictures. I promise. It's just a matter of time. -J

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Vacation in The Smoky Mountains

Here I sit in the Smoky Mountains. Michelle and I took a long weekend to come down here and do a hike, and a few other things. I just thought I'd post about our day and weekend in general so far. We had a really great time! Brace yourself, this is a long one. :) This morning we got up early and started out between 9:30 and 10:00. This was my first time trying out a complete hiking "getup". I was wearing my clearance polyester shirt and clearance Field & Stream shorts. The only cotton I had on today was my bandana, which I might add, served me very well. My clothes were super light, and later in the day when I'd normally be completely soggy, heavy and miserable on the trail, I was light and very minimally damp. The dri-weave fabrics and such are definitely the way to go. In the spring on the AT, the only cotton I plan on carrying are my two bandanas. Michelle, by the way, donned her polys today as well. All Dick's and Gander Mountain clearance. If you are planning a big hike, clearance clothing is the way to go. We have nearly outfitted ourselves with a full trail wardrobe for fully half what we intended to spend on that part of our gear.
Also, I was in a pair of my old New Balance running shoes, which if you can believe it, were fantastic on the trail. I've tried all kinds of shoes on hikes, and by far, these humble $40 NB Runners have been the real champs! I've been researching shoes online and I've come across a few brands that I think would be good, and yesterday we were fitted at the happy hiker in Gatlinburg, and I tried a pair of Montrail hikers that I really like. By the way, my foot is a little odd. I have the length of a size 8.5, but the ball of my foot hits where a 9 should. I think that means my toes are too short. Anyway, I'm a size 9 overall. Just thought you should know. Anyway the point is, I may well end up in a mundane pair of New Balance trail runners. In the ones I have, I can feel the path enough to react, the gravel and roots don't batter my feet, and the toe box is flexible and forgiving so my toes are not completely destroyed in descents. No one wants to lose toenails.
So, on to the actual hike. We went to Ramsay Cascades. This is a 4 mile in and out style hike, usually categorized as moderate in nature. That is an incorrect categorization! This hike is brutal! I keep using that word to describe it today. It's the only one I can think of. It's pretty short really. An ascent of 2000 feet over 4 miles (Fairly steep and constant). The trail starts wide and graveled, but soon narrows and becomes almost entirely roots and stones. After that the slope increases and the stones become boulders. The last three tenths of a mile, as I saw it described in a trail review, is nothing less than hand over hand boulder climbing! Now, don't get me wrong, it was a blast, but this one will kill you if you aren't ready. :) It's as hard going back down because you have to climb down over these tough sections of trail. No open trotting until you reach the bottom third or so. If you think I'm exaggerating, have a look at part of the trail...
I took this picture standing on the trail. If you look up the right side of the photo, you'll see the continuation up through that hole in the trees. On the top half of the hike, this terrain is the rule, and not the exception! :) Challenging and rather crazy, but in a word, awesome!

So, now that I've impressed upon you the seriousness of this trail, (Except for the part where there's a sign that warns you that bears are active in the area, and the fact that you are indeed stepping over numerous piles of bear scat to remind you and praying that you don't see a class ring or something in one of them) Let me mention a couple of really neat things about it. First, the trail to Ramsay Cascades winds through some old growth forest. Some truly enormous trees. Now, they aren't the redwoods, but they are the biggest trees I've ever seen. Michelle and I took a quick break at this one...

This angle actually makes it appear a little smaller than it is, but you get the idea. Very big trees. And as tall as you'd imagine a trunk of this size to be.

Then there's Ramsay Cascades itself. The tallest falls in the Smoky Mountains at around 100 feet. Check it out:

It was quite a sight. Michelle and I both took our shoes off and waded at the foot of the falls a little bit. The water was ICE cold. No joke, it made my feet hurt it was so cold. I don't know how there wasn't ice somewhere. Anyway, we spent a little time at the Cascades, had something to eat and relaxed then started the trek back down. A tough hike all in all, but very rewarding, and an excellent test of both our mettle, and our equipment. :)

So, what would you do if you had just hiked the roughest 8 miles of your life, and were now sitting at the family vacation home in the Smokies, looking at dailyplate.com and realizing that you now have more than 3000 calories to consume? That's right. You plan dinner!

Michelle and I went down to Maryville and tried a little place that Dad and Donita have been watching from afar and wondering about. It's called the Lemongrass. It's a Thai menu, and there's a sushi bar. So, in the interest of informing Dad and Donita, and the rest of my vast readership, here's how it went:

The restaurant is smallish, but in a cozy way. Well lit and comfortable. There were quite a few people there, but we didn't feel crowded out or anything. The service was excellent. It's the kind of place where they place your napkin in your lap for you and all that jazz, and the staff was very attentive and interactive. Our waiter was quite smooth and did a great job. (He kept the meal moving, but you didn't feel like he was standing there waiting to take your plates from you.) :)

So, we tried it all. We ordered some sushi. A shrimp tempura roll which was absolutely awesome, and a salmon roll. It too was very good. The nori (dried seaweed used to roll everything up) was very mild, which is usually my trouble with sushi. The seaweed overpowers the fish and other things. The flavors were all present and nothing overpowered.

As for entrees, Michelle had a Red Curry Chicken, and I had Cashew Chicken. I got to sample Michelle's which was very tasty, and mine too was excellent. I ate the whole thing and it wasn't a small plate. :) Again, the flavors were complex, all present, and very well blended. I sound like one of those judges on Iron Chef. Allez! Cuisine!

One of the best surprises about the place was the dessert menu. The desserts are actually unique! I was expecting, "Ok, cheesecake, some pie, vanilla ice cream, oooh...look at this Triple Chocolate Thunder Blunder Mega Bang Death Mountain!!"

Michelle had a slice of fresh mango with rice pudding, which I sampled, and which was pleasant and light. I had banana pieces, wrapped in rice paper and deep fried, drizzled in honey and sesame seeds, with a scoop of the ubiquitous vanilla ice cream. A really great, and unusual dessert experience.

The whole trip to Lemongrass was well worth it. It's priced pretty comfortably. Two people can eat there for somewhere between 30-50 dollars depending on what you order and whether you do the whole thing or just have entrees. A 4 star experience to be sure!

Alright, I'll wind it down now. I'd say if you've read this far you deserve to be finished! Thanks for reading, and I'll talk to you next time!

-J

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pottery 101 - Night 4

We're at the halfway mark of our 8 week class. I think tonight, Michelle and I both did very well and had our own respective breakthroughs. I figured out how to make a pot with a bottom that isn't proportionally way too heavy, and Michelle had a fantastic night with trimming her already thrown pottery. We were even told that we didn't have to worry about our mid-term grade and that we pass. :) The bad news is that we didn't glaze anything tonight. The good news is that I think I have a time table for when we get to finally see some finished work. Assuming our pieces are bisque fired this week, (bisque firing is the first of two firings, and is done to prepare the piece for glazing and the second firing) then we'll be able to glaze next week. If that happens, then I anticipate we'll see something finished in early September. *fingers crossed* I can't speak for Michelle, but I for one would like to take another round of this class to solidify the things I've learned, and have the opportunity to make a few more things, with perhaps a bit more freedom. So far, I'm having a good time with it. I mentioned last week that I'd like to focus on throwing taller cylinders, and so the piece I threw tonight was just that. I tried for another tall, straight cylinder. It would have been my tallest yet, but I ended up pulling the wall too thin and lost about 2 inches of height as a result. No harm done though, because it still made a decently sized piece. I'm doing better gauging the width of my walls at the base of the piece, but I still have to take considerable time to make sure I don't make a mistake and mess up what I'm working on. Bill (our instructor) will walk past and hold a finger above the piece after a glance at the walls. This finger indicates how tall the piece WOULD be if I were getting the excess width out of the base. As I said though, tonight I think I sort of got it. It should come a little easier next time. Anyway, more to come next week! -J

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fitness Update

I haven't done a fitness update in awhile, so I thought I'd let you all know how I was doing in case you're curious, and hopefully to inspire those of you who may have fitness goals of your own! Let's begin shall we? My current and lowest weight in my bid for fitness to date is 189.6 pounds. That brings me to a grand total of about 38 pounds lost. My original goal is 50 pounds total, and that one is clearly in sight. 12 pounds to go and I'm there. Around 177.5 pounds. However, as I am not certain if I've mentioned before, my secondary, and in fact final weight goal is 165. I want to stay somewhere between 160 and 170. That is the weight that will put me solidly inside my healthy BMI range. If I manage to do this, I'll weigh less than I did in high school, and I'll also weigh less than I did when I lost my accumulated college weight. Most people know that I lost 76 pounds late in college with the Subway diet and walking. That took me from a max weight of 253 down to 177. Before beginning this last attempt I had put weight on back up to 227.5. So, with a 12 pound sub goal, and a total remaining goal of approximately 24.5 pounds, I feel primed to go, prepared to go the distance and positive that I will make this happen. On a related note, I bought some new shirts today! I was really excited because new clothes are a great way to enjoy weight loss and to motivate you to keep going. Also if you throw away your old ones, you have nothing to grow back into, so backsliding = buying more clothes that you won't enjoy. Jon's Fitness Law #1 : No one ever got in shape by buying bigger pants. So anyway, not only did I get four shirts and a tie, all of which I really like, but I got them on clearance. Yes. The shirts and tie that would have cost me $56 total at full price, cost me about $30! That's nearly a 50% discount. Dave Ramsey would be proud. :) Ok, so things are also ramping up for the Labor Day 5k in Ceredo-Kenova. Michelle and I have been training pretty hard and I think we can come close to a 30 minute time. One of my goals on 43 things, as I think I have mentioned, is a sub-30 minute 5k. I think it's possible, but I can't say for sure if I'll pull it off this Labor Day. Could happen if I have a really good day. In case I didn't post my Memorial day 5k time, it was 37:15. Michelle and I finished within a second of each other. This time, we will definitely see a decrease in the time. How much depends on how we are feeling when the race happens. Rest assured that the time and a report will be posted here the very day that the race is run. Related to running, Jen P. told me that her doctor once told her that for each pound of weight you shed, you are actually taking four pounds of pressure off of your knees. That would explain why running has become a less painful affair for me. 38 x 4 = 150 pounds of pressure! My knees are definitely behaving better since last fall when I injured the left one in a glorious stage dive. The right one, which has bothered me since high school marching band, is doing pretty well also. It aches, but it works. So lastly, let me give you a couple of really useful websites. One, which I picked up from Eric, is a pedometer hack for Google Maps. Located here. It comes in handy when you run or walk somewhere, and then have to wonder how far you ran. I recommend using the hybrid map/satellite setting. Secondly, I stumbled across this handy site while looking for an easier way to convert MPH to and from various other measurements. The Arkansas Runner Calculators Page located here. I hope you've enjoyed my little update. I'll keep you posted on all the exciting new developments leading up to the big mountain trek in the spring! :) -J

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pottery 101 - Night 3

Well, tonight was a pretty successful night for me. I managed this time to make a cylinder that was the tallest I'd thrown so far. Last time I mentioned pinching it in half, and this time I managed not to. I have a good, solid stein sized cylinder. Tonight I got to do a little of everything. I trimmed up something I had done last time, I threw my stein, and I put a pretty nice handle on the pot I trimmed. I was even able to help with mixing some glazes, which was interesting. I was mixing glaze and so forth, and didn't really get a good idea of what Michelle got to do tonight, but I know she threw a decent mug type object herself. I can't wait to see how it turns out. I really want to concentrate on throwing taller cylinders for a couple of weeks, because I think that'll be the key to doing bigger things. It makes me nervous trying to pull the clay upward to make it taller though. I'm always afraid it's going to flop right over. Anyway, that's about it for now. Still nothing glazed and fired, but I believe we'll get to glaze next week so we're getting close to some pictures! Hang in there constant reader!! -J

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My First Bento

Ok folks! It is finally time! Michelle and I made bento lunches tonight. I have made my first one and I have a picture and a description for you! Here's the lunch:

So, you might be wondering with intense curiosity, just exactly what we have here. The top tier is a three bean salad, made from black, kidney and great northern beans, and a fat free Italian dressing, garnished with fresh mint. To the right are a couple of lemonhead candies. Actually, a lemonhead and a cherryhead.

The bottom tier contains chicken nuggets that Michelle found a recipe for on justbento.com. These nuggets are seasoned with salt and pepper, rolled in corn starch and fried in olive oil cooking spray. Then, we dashed them with a little soy sauce and some lemon juice. They're paired with fresh sliced cherry tomatoes and mint leaves.

Next to that is 1/4 cup of mixed nuts.

That's my lunch! Small, simple and healthy. By appearances it'll be very satisfying. Finally I get to eat something rather than watch Michelle carry things off and wish I could have it. I might comment this post after I taste everything and let you know how it was. I hope you're all enjoying reading about my lunch. :) Talk to you soon!

-J

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Pottery 101 - Night 2

Quick update on our pottery class. Tonight Michelle and I both felt a little more comfortable with working on the wheel. We were introduced to the techniques involved in trimming an unfired pot, to get it ready for glaze and firing. We each trimmed a couple of the pots we did last week and I put a handle on one of mine to make a decent, if somewhat heavy, mug. Also, I was working on a new pot tonight, trying to make one above the aforementioned 7 or 8 inches, but I ended up pinching too hard and taking off the upper two thirds of the thing in one fell swoop. So, I did what anyone in my position might do with a basketful of lemons. I made lemonade. My super tall pot became a really nice little teabowl. Still no pictures, but I'm thinking that as soon as we can get a batch fired, we'll have a couple to show. Of course, there will be works on display at the next First Friday in Ashland. First Friday happens as you might've guessed, on the first friday of the month, where the galleries in Ashland stay open late and so forth. If the things we're working on make it through the process of glazing and firing, we'll maybe have a little something to show there. More to come next week! -Jon

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bento Update

Well, Michelle and I received our new Bento boxes from Japan this Saturday. I came home from praise band rehearsal to find Michelle standing in the living room, excitedly holding forth a yellow package containing our Japanese swag! Also included was my first pack of Black Black chewing gum. Let me start with that.

I was intrigued by the gum because it had an odd name. Not to say that most snacks and gum don't have odd names to us in Japan, but this one just caught my eye. Here's a picture:



The gum itself, as you might have guessed, is black as well as the wrapper. Anyway, it's a really strong "Altoid-like" flavor, and quite refreshing. It also makes an excellent cat repellent. Merlin hates mint, and this makes him run like there's no tomorrow. I'd love to know what the Kanji on the wrapper says. Also, here's a youtube link to a commercial for the gum in Japan:

Black Black Chewing Gum

I guess the gum is considered masculine, as well as capable of waking you up...kind of like...a girl dressed in silver, shooting you with a huge ray gun or something. Ah, Japanese TV. :)

So anyway, that's the gum. Moving on to what you really came here for, the new Bentos. First, I'll show you mine, mainly because there's less to say and because I can't get a really good picture of it. I'll try again, but for the moment, it's just not working. Maybe I'll try a lighter background. A couple of pictures:


So, as you can see, my box is black and grey and though I don't have a size comparison for you, it's a little larger in capacity than either of Michelle's. I haven't gotten to use it yet, but we're planning on a picnic at Central Park or something sometime soon. The box says "Liberty" on the lids, which is the particular model name.

And now, Michelle's more interesting box. More interesting because I have better pictures, and an actual lunch that she's taking to work tomorrow. Pics:



Here we are. I like this box a lot because it's a little more squared than her other one, and that presents some new options for packing. I also like the triangular Onigiri (remember that means rice balls) box. It's designed to hold two convenience store onigiri. They're available in Japan like burritos and nachos here. We're going to have to make our own for it, but the box is cool. I like the color as well.

As for the lunch we kind of tossed together tonight...

Obviously a banana. The top tier is a turkey and tomato sandwich on whole grain bread, wrapped in cellophane and decorated with dragonfly and flower stickers. In the bottom is yogurt, honey and dried cranberries. That's a little recipe we picked up from Gina's daily plate diary. Very tasty. I think it's listed as yummy yogurt on the diary. So, credit to Gina for the idea. It's decorated by a swirl of honey and a dusting of red sugar. The silicone souffle cup has a 1/4 cup of mixed nuts. Again, I'd love to have this tomorrow, but It's probably a clif bar for me. :)

So there you go! A Bento update as promised! I'll try to get a better picture of mine as well as the first lunch I pack in it. Comments and Questions are of course welcome! Thanks a lot for reading and see you again soon!

-J

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pottery 101

Michelle and I started our 8 week pottery class tonight. It was an interesting format. We both kind of expected to go in, sit down and learn how to use a pottery wheel step by step. We expected kind of the same skill level from all the students. In reality, it was much more of a relaxed atmosphere and there were students of all levels working pretty much at their leisure. We got some basic instruction from the teacher and then set right to playing with clay. Michelle and I each made three small pieces tonight and we got off to a good start. I'm looking forward to having more time on the wheel. I can make tiny pieces but I need to work on making them slimmer and not so bottom heavy. Hopefully I'll be able to put a little height on them at some point too. I can't really get much above 7 or 8 inches yet. I'm actually hoping to make either some goblets or tea bowls or something. I'll update with some pictures of our work once some things (that we want to show) are glazed and fired. Talk to you soon! -J

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bento FUUUUUN!

Hello! Here's a quick post to show what Michelle and I did for her lunch tomorrow! We made some things from a bento website and a book we picked up at Borders.


Here's a picture of the lunch:


The top tier contains a mix of nectarine, mandarin orange and sliced Kiwi fruit.

Below that is a cabbage salad with balsamic vinegar, garlic and dried cranberries. I fixed this one. It smells like it'll be fantastic!

The bottom tier is most interesting. We have three rice balls (Onigiri), on the left is sweetened egg, in the middle is Umeboshi (Japanese Pickled Plum), and on the right, wrapped in plastic is Shrimp, soy sauce, sake, ginger and a little sugar. It smells like the shrimp from the Hibachi grill. I'll bet it's going to taste awesome. I made myself an egg onigiri for a snack tomorrow. Also in the bottom tier is a small sweet potato cake we picked up from the Asian market in Charleston.

On the right is the lid of the Bento box which contains some mixed nuts, which we are now crazy about thanks to Gina's well timed bowl of them the last time we were up there.

I wish I was eating this lunch tomorrow, but I'll probably have a yogurt bar or something boring. :) Anyway, just thought I'd let you see what we made! Talk to you soon!

-J

General Update

Well, There's a lot of stuff going on, and things are going well at the moment. I just decided to do a quick update on a few things to keep both of my readers informed. :)

I'll begin with a quick thanks to God for such a great weekend. I feel like there is a lot I should thank him for that I don't, and I really felt like He gave me this weekend. Michelle and I got to spend a lot of time just hanging out, and we have been so busy for the last month or two that it was a nice change of pace to say the least. We got to do a little shopping and have a nice dinner and just relax.

So I was excited in part because my dad was making a hiking stick for Michelle and we surprised her with it this weekend. Here's a picture of the top:




It has a face carved into it and a bone Celtic Triquetra on the strap. Also her initials and a reference to Proverbs 10:10-14. The surprise went well and she loved it. I found out at the same time that I'm getting one too, but I don't have a picture just yet, because it's not quite ready.

In other news, Michelle and I ran in the park Sunday evening and we pulled off an 8:56 minute mile! That's a new personal best over my previous 9:09! I could've gone further, except we had just eaten and a full stomach is not conducive to endurance while running. Also, I think I have broken my plateau at 198. I am now 197 and still continuing my quest for smaller pants! :)


A little news on the FBC Praise band! We have guitar, vocals, keys, bass and drums lined up and played together for the first time as a group at the 5:30 service at church. I think things went very well! It's a lot of fun to be playing in a band regularly again. I'm enjoying the bass a lot and even though I'm going to have to work up to being good at it, I think it'll be a great time!


Let me see, the last thing I think I have for now is that I ordered a Bento box! If you aren't familiar with Bento, it's a traditional lunch box in Japan. I got one for Michelle this past Christmas and she's been having a lot of fun packing lunches in it. I'll put a picture of my box up here when I get it. Here's Michelle's box:


She has another one in yellow on order as well. Anyway, you can see that the box is way cooler than a typical brown bag. The lunches themselves are works of art! children in Japan take the most fun lunches ever to school! Go to Flickr sometime and search for Bento. Or just on Yahoo or something. you'll find hundreds of pictures! Here's an example.

Ok, so I think that's enough for now. I'll update again soon, once we have our new boxes and everything!

-J