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 pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance! 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