Saturday, May 31, 2008

More Cute Things My Son Says

This morning after breakfast my son did something different. My wife took the tray off of his high chair and instead of instantly reaching for her, he looked at his lap, waved his hand for emphasis, and said, "What a Mess!" He was referring to the food that inevitably ended up in his lap. "Mess" is a new word for him. Neither of us heard it before today.

My son has always tried to steal the seat of whomever gets him out of his high chair. We are usually eating, so this is usually inconvenient. Recently my son began adding a twist to the routine, returning it to cute status, rather than annoying. He sat in my chair, got set to eat my food, looked at my wife and said, "I Daddy." He was trying to pretend we was me. He has done this a few times, and it is cute every time.

This doesn't qualify as cute so much, but it was still impressive to me. My father in law bought my son a few puzzles while he was in California on business recently. One of these puzzles is of the alphabet, complete with electronics that know which letter you have put in place, as well as the alphabet song on command. He and I were putting the pieces in, thankfully without the sound this time, and I was singing the alphabet song for him after each letter. I was naming each letter as we went too. He picked up the "C", so I told him "A, B, C, D", prompting him to look in the appropriate section for the letter. This had worked on a few other letters, so I expected it to work this time. He looked at me, looked at the letter, and as he was reaching to put it in, he pointed at the slot and said, "C". That's right. My two year old can recognize the letter "C". Daddy was pretty proud of this, if you haven't guessed by now. :)

Thank You Post Office

I have one piece of advice for you if you are moving. Tell the Post Office that you are moving by filing a change of address form. When you get to your new place you will get a special piece of mail.

What is this special piece of mail? It is an envelope full of discounts and coupons from your neighborhood. My wife and I officially changed our address together, and then I filed a change of address from my parents' house, as I was still using them for important permanent address stuff. This helped me get two sets of coupons, both of which contained a special coupon to Kragen Auto Parts. 25% off anything in the store. I am sure there were restrictions somewhere, but either way I was able to put this to good use.

The first coupon I used to buy brake pads for my POS Nissan that I thankfully no longer own. Today I went to Kragen to buy a battery for my wife's car. I saved $20 on the battery plus accessories. Kragen also had a bunch of air fresheners on sale, and they marked them down to 25 cents each on the spot. I saved quite a bit today, so I am pretty stoked.

Be sure to file your change of address forms and enjoy the coupons.

Friday, May 30, 2008

World's Greatest Sloppy Joes

My wife made one of my family's perennial favorites for dinner tonight - Sloppy Joes. These are no ordinary Sloppy Joes, mind you. We don't do Manwich or any other tomato-based sauce. I am going to share the recipe with you tonight. I am at least a third-generation benefactor of this recipe, if not fourth.

With no further ado, here it is:

  • Ground Beef
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Brown Sugar

That's all it takes. Just mix the ingredients together on your stove, seasoning to taste. The idea is for a sweet and bold tangy flavor. The tangy mustard and Worcestershire sauce counterbalance the sweeter ketchup and brown sugar, which makes for a sweet and spicy glaze. Add to a hamburger bun or white bread (or if you must be healthy, whole grain wheat bread), slather with mustard, and you are ready to go. My wife loves Bread and Butter Pickles, so she always adds those and some red onions. She tends to improve upon the family staples.

That's all there is to it. Enjoy.

Harvey Korman, 47 Years of Laughter

As I type tonight I am watching "Blazing Saddles", in honor of Harvey Korman, who left this world yesterday at the age of 81. He played many memorable roles over the years, the first of which to come to mind was Hedley Lamarr, in "Blazing Saddles". He has been making people laugh for so many years that it seems extra hard on those who now grieve him.

I was not an avid Korman fan, but I did enjoy his roles throughout my own limited encounters with his work. I like to look back on the work of early actors, as the business was so much more pure back then. They didn't have to deal with writer's strikes, or SAG strikes, or any other nonsense of that nature. They worked for a sheer love of the job.

Most of my memory of his career is tied up with his Mel Brooks movies. He did some episodes of shows I watched as a kid, including "The Flinstones" and "The Munsters" as well, so I am bound to have seen him more times than I can recall. Most of the roles he was best known for were from well before my time though. I always enjoyed his roles whenever I came across them.

My prayers go out on behalf of his family and friends.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nikko R2-D2 DVD Projector

I was reading through some blogs today, and I came across one called The Tech Inside. I discovered something there that I am pretty excited about. It is an R2-D2 DVD Projector. View his post at This went straight to the top of my wish list on Follow this link to see more details: Nikko R2-D2 DVD Projector.

This thing is pretty sweet. Not only does it come with a remote-controlled R2-D2, it has a pretty cool replica of the Millennium Falcon for the remote. From the video it looks like the Falcon can play at least Han's voice. Here are some of the specs:

  • Project to ceiling and walls up to a 260"
  • Picture Resolution: 1024 X 768 XGA
  • Contrast Ratio: 1800:1
  • Lumens: 2000
  • Bulit-In Cd/DVD Player. Also plays MP3/MP4 video
  • iPod Docking station Memory card and UBS Slots FM Wireless audio out (channels 1 through 7)
  • Full-Fuction: Forward, Reverse turn 360 degree and recline
  • Millennium Falcon Remote control with removable stand
  • Head turns using remote control
  • Plays the most popular R2-D2 sound effects

This is definitely on my Father's Day wish list, though I know we can't afford it right now. This is the ultimate home entertainment system. It has a port for an i-Pod, Wii, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. It has a built in DVD player. There are USB ports that enable you to play audio/video. I can't think of anything this thing doesn't have, short of a bottle opener. This is my gadget of the year. Hopefully I am not the only nerd excited about this.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Climate Change - Cold or Hot?

Tue Feb 13 2007 19:31:25 ET
Photo pictures New England as seen by NASA on above date. Photo found on Wikipedia.

I was planning to write about the global warming nonsense when I began this blog a couple of months ago. I made a comment in my post The No Microwave Challenge about the "farce of global warming", and one of my friends called me on it. I figured now is as good a time as any to jump into the fray.

First, let me point out that I am not disagreeing that it has been pretty hot the last few years. What I disagree with is the cause of the heat. Just taking into account the science education I received from elementary school on, I can reasonably assert that the earth has gone through some major climate changes over the years. There were Ice Ages, then the ice melted with intense heat and volcanic activity. Then the Ice Age returned, and went away. There was even a "mini Ice Age" in recent history. To me, again basing this on my blend of public, private, and home education, it seems pretty clear that there are climate cycles. Hopefully this at least is something we can all agree on.

I ask the following question before I continue. What brand of automobile were the dinosaurs driving when they contributed to their global climate change? I propose that we are no more in control of our global environment than the dinosaurs were.

In 1975, Newsweek published an article on the global cooling crisis. I found the quote at In an article written in April of 1975, Newsweek reports:

There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now. The regions destined to feel its impact are the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the North, along with a number of marginally self-sufficient tropical areas – parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indochina and Indonesia – where the growing season is dependent upon the rains brought by the monsoon.
Think they are talking about global warming? Guess again. It continues:
To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather. The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. "A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale," warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, "because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century."
I will leave the rest of the article for you to read at your leisure. Let's move on.

I found an interesting read at this website: The following is an excerpt.

It was five years before the turn of the century and major media were warning of disastrous climate change. Page six of The New York Times was headlined with the serious concerns of “geologists.” Only the president at the time wasn’t Bill Clinton; it was Grover Cleveland. And the Times wasn’t warning about global warming – it was telling readers the looming dangers of a new ice age.
For the sake of brevity, I will leave this article for you to read as well. The article discusses the global warming/cooling debate that has been raging for over a century now. Why hasn't anybody been correct yet? Are we warming or cooling? Apparently Newsweek wasn't the only source of global cooling speculation in 1975. According to the article, the New York Times stated "A Major Cooling Widely Considered to Be Inevitable."

I referenced this above with the picture, but here is more information about the U.N. canceling their global warming summit due to the snow storms of 2007.

The Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality hearing scheduled for Wednesday, February 14, 2007, at 10:00 a.m. in room 2123 Rayburn House Office Building has been postponed due to inclement weather. The hearing is entitled "Climate Change: Are Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Human Activities Contributing to a Warming of the Planet?"
I thought this was a perfect answer to the Global Warming fanatics.

As this is getting rather long, I will end my first salvo here. I fully expect to get flamed on this one. Let me say that I am 100% behind conservation for the sake of being good stewards of God's creation. I do not believe that we can destroy what God has set in motion. The constant cycle of destruction and regrowth of our world's forests is testament to the fact that God knew what He was doing when he made the Earth the way He did. He renews it daily. Let us conserve for His sake, and not because of some left-wing out lier that is making a pretty penny on this garbage.

Upromise - Get Help Paying Off Student Loans

About a year ago I signed up for a service called Upromise It is a free service that gives you rewards for shopping at stores you already shop at. I figured that was a pretty good deal. What makes this a great deal though, is that they will put cash into your student loan account, thus helping you pay off your loans faster by earning points.

I heard a statistic on the radio this morning, saying that the number of students self-financing their college education is skyrocketing. Mom and Dad just don't have the money any more to pay for college. It is often up to the student to bear the full brunt of the cost. I had to pay for mine, and let me tell you it is not easy. I am easily paying a quarter of my monthly salary to my student loans, and I even have another twenty percent in deferment. That is a lot of money. I figured why not let someone else help me pay for it? Enter Upromise.

One of the features I really like is that you can have your family and friends support you. You send them a link, they sign up, and then when they shop at places they already shop, you get rewards. I am still working on convincing some of my family and friends, but at least knowing the option is there is comforting.

This service isn't just for college graduates though. Have a little bundle of joy on your hands? Why not save for their college education? You can save all your rewards in a 529 College Savings plan. You have to pay into the account, but you can let Upromise add money too. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Your earnings grow free from federal or state income tax. **Note**(Earnings on non-qualified withdrawals may be subject to federal income tax and a 10% federal penalty tax, as well as state and local income taxes. The availability of tax or other benefits may be contingent on meeting other requirements.)
  • You can start one for as little as $50 per month.
  • Best of all, you can sweep your Upromise rewards into your participating 529 account in addition to adding your own money.
This is a great way to make sure your kids don't have to suffer through the loan repayment process. Maybe you can arrange with your teenager a system where they contribute money into their own account. There are lots of options available.

I think this is a great product and I highly recommend it. Upromise has not directly sponsored this blog, but I am a member of their affiliate program. That being said, I am a customer and I stand behind this endorsement. Join Upromise today

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Taming The Lion


My wife and I took our son to the Santa Barbara Zoo today. He loves animals, so my wife likes to take him to the zoo. I haven't been able to go with them until today. Let me just say, if you go to a zoo, prepare for the stench of a lifetime. That place had some serious stench coming from the pens. :)

The Santa Barbara Zoo is tucked away in the midst of the city, between the Cemetery and the beach. This allows for a steady breeze, even on a warm day. I definitely needed that breeze today.

We walked around the zoo, looking at the various animals. Some were harder to find, others were definitely looking for attention. Apparently the last time the Gorillas were right up against the glass. Today was not the Gorilla's day though. as you can see in the above pic, the Lions were out today. How often can one get this close to a lion without being dinner? I thought it was pretty cool. My general rule on cats is this: house cats are best served to dogs, while a cat that can eat you is cool. This is why I am a fan of lions and tigers.

We had a lot of fun at the park. It turns out that the zoo is a Pepsi park, so I was pretty stoked. Too bad some bad apples have thrown lids at animals in the past, because the zoo, like other parks, doesn't serve Pepsi with a lid or a straw. When there are birds flying around, I like having a lid on my cup. Don't you?

One of the things that stood out at the zoo was the play are for the kids. There was a huge hill of astro-turf or something. It looked a lot like grass from a distance. Kids were sliding down this hill and having lots of fun, so I took my son up a few times. That hill turned out to be quite the workout. We would run up the hill and slide back down. The hill was pretty fun, and I only got rug burn on a couple parts of my back. I think the next time we go, the hill will definitely be on the agenda.

I think the highlight of the day was on our way out of the zoo. My wife was, in my opinion, foolishly running her hand along the railing of the path we were on, disregarding the white splotches all around us from Seagulls and all sorts of other avian visitors. She finally got a big handful of guano on her hand. This was no small glob here. This pile was pretty big. She was pretty disgusted, as was I, and we hurried to the nearest bathroom, with myself laughing all the way. She didn't think it was so funny.

This zoo is pretty cool, especially for how small it is. It was nice being able to get as close as we did to the animals. My son loved it, my wife and I had a good time, and I got a great laugh in the end. I am looking forward to the next visit.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Wine Review - Mas de Caralt

Label: Mas de Caralt
Vintage: 2003
Type: Tempranillo
Country: Spain
Region: Penedes

I picked up this bottle about a year ago, and finally opened it up tonight. When I first opened the bottle I could smell a pleasant, fruity aroma. It smelled a lot like one of my favorite wines, in part because the Tempranillo grape is part of the blend. I am a huge Tempranillo fan. I let my wife smell the bottle too, even though she is not a red wine person. She thought it smelled pretty good.

When I swirled my glass I was able to see it had some pretty good legs on it. Not too thick, but definitely enough to notice. The taste followed the smell, and I could pick up the fruit pretty clearly. The next test was to put it together with my steak, and it worked perfectly.

I had a grilled 18 ounce New York Strip, with sauteed mushrooms and onions. My wife sauteed them with olive oil and butter, and once the mushrooms had a nice crust, added some salt and some of the red wine. Add some garlic bread and some jalepeno corn, and my meal was complete. The corn recipe involves a fresh jalapeno pepper, white corn, and cream cheese. I was a little nervous that the cream cheese would throw off the taste of the wine, but it worked out.

The bottle says that the wine includes Penedes, Tempranillo, Granache, and Monastrell grapes, and it is aged in oak. It says to expect fresh berries with floral notes, and describes it as smooth and silky. I think the bottle was not exaggerating here. My above description seems to fit with the one from the bottle. I always look at the bottle after the tasting, so it won't influence my interpretation.

If you are looking for a decent table wine, I recommend the Mas de Caralt. Beverages and More (BevMo) sells it for about $5, so it is a really good wine for the price. I think they only sell the 2006 now, but I am sure it will be just as good.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


My son came to me the other day, looking for help fixing his toy golf club. He has a habit of knocking the heads out and using the rest of the club for other purposes. On this occasion he added a twist. As I was trying to shove the head back in, he got behind me and started shoving my elbow. He was saying "push, push".

Needless to say, this was a bit of a surprise. How did my son know that by pushing my arm from behind he would assist me in applying force to the head of the club? How does a two year old kid understand basic physics? This is a question I would like to research. No, I am not saying he can sit down and solve mathematical formulas. He can, however, use mechanical means to achieve his ends. This is pretty cool I think.

He has begun to understand the use of tools already, and dutifully carries his wooden toolbox around to help Daddy with basic repairs/upgrades. He obviously understands that by pushing my arm forward, he can contribute to the amount of force applied to an object. He can throw or bounce a ball, and has had lots of fun making bouncy balls ricochet all over the house. Is this all normal childhood development, or is it a sign he is going to be a science wiz? Hopefully it is the latter.

I have always been interested in science, and my dad can fix just about anything. My father in law is into computer engineering. I think it is possible that my son got a bit of a genetic boost in the science/mechanics department. I am interested in seeing where this goes.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Our House - Tighter than Fort Knox?

When my son went down for his nap today, he thought he ruled the roost. When he woke up, he found the place a little less accessible. Mommy and Daddy had toddler-proofed the house.

It is not that we had not baby-proofed before, because we had. He is just so mechanically-minded that he can get past many of our baby-blocking devices. We had to up the ante, and it seems to have worked, at least mostly.

First up was a doorknob cover for the front door and downstairs bathroom. My son has a habit of opening the front door and running outside. We have a front gate that further blocks escape, but we don't want him opening the door at all. He knows how to unlock both the knob and the deadbolt, so we had no choice but to add the cover.

Next up were the stove knobs. He started messing with the gas stove knobs this week, so we put a stop to that with some covers. The last thing we need is a running stove when we light the fireplace. So, we have now achieved gas safety.

The next item we had to address is the wall outlets that we use. The unused ones have the standard plastic inserts, but we use one particular outlet for our laptop power supplies. He has a habit of yanking the cords from the wall, and attempting to put them back in. We are always on top of this, but it is so frequent we needed some peace of mind. I found a box that you attach to the wall which allows for some cord space, and completely blocks the outlet from tiny fingers. Good luck getting the cord out this time, kiddo. :)

My son has a habit of opening the fridge and peering inside for something good to eat. The other day he brought me the milk and a sippy cup. Yesterday he got into the eggs and broke all but two of them. My wife tried to install the fridge blocker, and gave up, telling me it was a worthless tool that doesn't work. I looked at it and got it to work as planned. By this time my son had woken up from his nap. My wife decided to try out the device and boasted to our son that he couldn't open the fridge. He yanked at it a few times, and then looked at the device. Within seconds he calculated what needed to be done and yanked the latch off of the fridge. It was only attached with an adhesive strip, apparently a fact known by the two year old. Score one for the baby.

The baby gate we currently use is fine when we are downstairs and want to keep him downstairs. It has a flaw, but a less than dangerous one if we are downstairs. It mostly keeps him penned in, but when he decides he wants past it, he charges it and manages to knock it down most of the way, clearing the path to climb over it. Again, while downstairs, this is not so bad. The problem is that sometimes we want to keep him upstairs. I worry that he will try his charging routine, and then slide down the stairs on top of the gate. We wanted to install a permanent unit on the top of the stairs to protect us all from the above scenario. It turned out we picked the wrong one, though, having not allowed for the railing interference. We have to get a new one tomorrow.

So, all that being said, we have now protected the front door, the stove, the wall outlet, and the fridge (sort of). We still have the one stair gate, and will be replacing the upstairs one tomorrow. We are pretty satisfied with the security now, but we are always looking to improve.

Bye...See You, and Other Cute Phrases

My son has picked up a number of interesting phrases lately. Some of them are pretty cute. Others are pretty frustrating. I am writing about some cute ones tonight. Apparently he gets the following one from his mom, who just admitted this to me last night. Any time by son is leaving the room, he will wave at us and say, "Bye. See You." Without fail, it is those two words, back to back. With his tone of voice, and the obvious sincerity, it is hard not to laugh.

He has picked up the concept of "I don't know" recently as well. He hasn't quite grasped the word "don't", but he tries to use the sentence often. Mommy/Daddy: "Where are your shoes?" Son: "I know" (know having two syllables, and accompanied with hand motions). He will then repeat the phrase until we find what it is we are looking for.

When my son was first learning to talk, instead of saying T.V. he would say "'mote", as in "remote." It was always fun to ask him if he wanted to watch something. Mommy/Daddy: "You want to watch Mickey?" Son: "Mote! Mote!"

These are just a few of the ways my son makes me smile on a daily basis. I enjoy every minute I have with him. I have been greatly blessed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The No Microwave Challenge

When my wife and I moved to Ventura County last October, we decided to leave an old friend behind - our microwave. I know you are thinking, "how can one live without a microwave?" My answer to that would be, "quite well."

We are finding that there is no quick reheating to be done in our house. Something has to go in the toaster oven, the oven, or on the stove. I don't know that we are gaining any health benefits, but I thought it would be worth a shot.

Growing up as microwaves were first hitting their stride, it is an odd thing to not have a microwave. It took a little adjusting, but for the most part we are in good spirits. To be fair, my wife has made more of a sacrifice than I have on this point. I have a microwave in the break room at work, so I am not wholly weaned off of microwaves. She stays at home with the boy, so she has no choice but to be microwave-free.

We are not exactly known for our "Green" lifestyle, so don't write this off as evidence that we are environmental wackos. We don't even believe in the farce of "Global Warming." I had heard some things growing up about cancer and microwaves, and more recently my mom was talking about microwaves altering food chemically. I don't necessarily buy into all that hype, but nonetheless, we are sans microwave.

I really don't miss it that much. Again, remember that I am using one at work. I do have to deal with it in the mornings, at night, and on weekends and holidays, though, so I think I am still qualified to make the call. We will see how long this experiment can last. I am hoping it can last for at least a few more years.

Mr. Mischief

Whenever my son's activities stop making noise, my wife and I know that he is up to no good. Tonight was no exception. He stopped making noise, so I went to investigate. He managed to climb up to the top bunk of his bed, which doesn't have a mattress or ladder, and had begun painting his toenails.

This boy can't get enough of Mommy's makeup. He sees her using it, so he thinks that all grownups use it. This is how he has progressed his whole life. Mommy and Daddy have a fork, so Baby needs a fork too. Hopefully the carrying purses and painting toenails is just a fad. I don't need to spend all that extra money! :P

This wasn't how the evening ended, however. My son and I were playing in the living room, and after a while I took a moment to rest. We started throwing a ball around, with the movie "Dodgeball" on in the background. I looked away for a moment, and when I looked back, my wife's old camera was flying through the air, and landing on my ankle. Needless to say, this hurt pretty bad. I think it is time to start reinforcing the idea that only balls get thrown, and especially not cameras.

As I type, my son is fighting his pajama routine. We can't wait for him to move past this stage. While there are definitely some cute moments, I will gladly forgo the tantrums he is dishing out in mass quantities.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Movie Review - Indiana Jones

I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tonight. I am going to have to disagree with a lot of the critics on this one. This was definitely an Indiana Jones movie. While I could have done without a few of the scenes, I think it still came out well in the end.

The movie begins in Roswell, New Mexico, which is an indication of where the rest of the movie is going. Meet Indy's new brother-in-arms, who has an irritating habit of calling Indiana by the nickname "Jonesy". "Jonesy." Really? What about "Indy", or "Indiana", or even "Junior?" This was one of my few gripes.

For the first 20 minutes or so, it was hard for me to get behind the fact that it was really Indiana Jones, with the exception of the escape from the warehouse. He wasn't wearing his trademark jacket, and the hat seemed to morph from the trademark, to some bleached out, white-ish hat, and then finally back to the one we know and love. Once he gets to Peru with Mutt, things get back on track.

This movie was full of improbable fights, action sequences, and escapes, which is why we all watch Indy movies. Again, parting ways with the critics, these things are why we watch summer hits. We don't want excellent dialog, or well-manicured lines. We want to see stuff blow up. George Lucas has a habit of ruining dialog, so none of us expected anything good in that department anyway.

If I could change something, I would have Indy use his whip more. He gets it out a couple times, but it seemed like he forgot he had it for a while. Another element missing was the name "Indiana Jones". He went by Henry for most of the movie, only referring to himself as Indiana once, but then catches himself and goes with Henry. I think the point was to honor his dad or something, but I thought it was a little lame.

The above gripes notwithstanding, this is a MUST SEE, though I doubt I needed to tell you that. This installment definitely was more appealing to me than "Temple of Doom", so I would rank this one 3rd place of the 4 movies. As far as comparing to other movies, 8 out of 10. I loved it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hypermiling - Part One

As the gas prices soar higher and higher, I am finding that I have to rethink how I drive. I am looking into carpooling options, and other ways to save some gas money. I currently can drive to work 4 times on a single tank of gas. This means at least $65 every 4 work days.I heard about something on the radio called Hypermiling. Hypermiling is a method of driving habits that is supposed to really increase your mileage. I decided I want to give it a try.

Some of the techniques are relatively easy to implement, so I am going to give them a try. The first is driving the speed limit. The statistic I read says that for every 5 miles per hour over 50 you lose 10% of your fuel efficiency. Going 70-75 means I lose 20-25% of my efficiency on the freeway. I haven't tested this on the freeway yet, but I have noticed a difference on PCH.

Another gas saver that most of us know, is to not use the A/C. Some go as far as to say that the windows should be rolled up too, but when driving along the ocean it is a shame to keep the windows up. All the same, I have been doing my best to endure the current heat wave without my A/C.

Another thing I noticed that is not in the list of Hypermiling techniques, is turning off the Traction Control on my Taurus. This seems to be having a mild beneficial effect.

Since I started this Tuesday morning, I have already gained .5 miles per gallon according to my car's Average MPG display. .5 times 16 gallons times 4 typical weeks in a month, mean I get an extra 32 miles a month just on the few changes I have made. That is roughly a one-way trip from home to work. I can't wait to see how much further I can take it. Wayne Gerdes, the godfather of hypermiling in a sense, has achieved 128 mpg. I don't think I can get that high, but every little bit helps. I will keep you all posted on my progress over the next few weeks and months.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Go Away Hillary

This presidential campaign has gotten out of hand. I think two years is ridiculous. I would love to see all the money these politicians spent go toward the homeless, our troops, education, or any other pet project that these people claim to care about.

As if this debacle wasn't bad enough, I can't help but feeling a sense of deja vu. Remember the way Al Gore handled his defeat? He kept whining about the popular vote. Hillary is trying to play the same card now. I am no big Obama fan, but I am sick of hearing about Hillary. Why can't she just give up gracefully?

Obama now has the most pledged delegates. He has many of the super delegates he needs. More and more are joining his camp. Hillary is losing her own money now. When is enough enough? Why can't Hillary spend her millions helping the poor she "cares" about? She is obviously not interested in anything of the sort.

Bush is continuing to disgrace the Republicans, McCain isn't much better, and Obama is on the same path it seems. I would take any of them over Hillary though. I think it is time for a major change in Washington. The Democrats and Republicans both have lost site of what is important here.

Hillary, whatever Washington has in store, whatever change is coming, you have no part in it. You have lost. Accept defeat. Don't be like Gore. Go away and never come back - and take your Skeletor cackle with you.

My Son the Crack Shot

My wife bought my son some water toys the other day. Among these were a couple of cheap squirt guns and a kiddie pool. He has been pretty enthralled with both ever since.

One day he and I traded shots with the squirt gun. His aim wasn't so good, so I didn't get nearly as wet as he did. Last night he caught me off guard. Either he was practicing, or he figured it out. I was talking to my wife and he shot me, point blank, right in the eye. He thought it was the funniest thing. We all got a good laugh out of it.

My son continues to improve his aim, which is fun to watch. He can hit a flower from 10 feet now. :) He is definitely my little mechanically-minded guy. I am looking forward to seeing what else he can master.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Movie Review - Iron Man

This is a bit overdue, but I have been wanting to write about this for a couple of weeks. If you have not seen Iron Man yet, I would highly recommend that you do so. I am assuming all the comic book fans out there have seen it by now, but this movie isn't just for them. Normal people should like it too.

Iron Man is not as well known as some of the other Marvel, or even D.C. superheroes. He is one of the rare ones who doesn't have a super power. He is just an everyday guy with everyday problems. He is easier to relate to in some ways than even Spider-Man. Marvel Comics itself was showing a vulnerability this time around, as this was their baby all the way. Marvel is now in the movie business in a big way.

All comic book movies have been adapted for the big screen, and this one is no exception. There are some minor changes here, but for an Origin story, I thought this worked out pretty well. Tony Stark is a wealthy playboy who drives fast cars and dates beautiful women. He makes his money selling high-tech weapons to the military. One day his own weapon nearly kills him, and he ends up creating a device to keep shrapnel out of his heart. He then goes on a crusade to undo the damage he has done with his weapons.

The acting was particularly good in this film, especially in comparison to Elektra, Daredevil, the Incredible Hulk, and Spider-Man 3. Robert Downey Jr. was a perfect Tony Stark. All the weaknesses Downey has been famous for are shared with the character Tony Stark. I am not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, but I thought she did well in her roll. Jeff Bridges was great. A lot of people didn't even recognize him with the bald head and thick goatee.

While the movie was somewhat predictable, I expected it and was looking forward to it. I don't know where Entertainment Weekly and all the other reviewers get the idea that fans don't like the same old routine. We flock to the same old movies every year, in spite of the critics. I think it is time some of them looked for work elsewhere. I go to a comic book movie to see explosions, to laugh, to be excited as the hero saves the day. I don't care that it has been done a hundred times. A blockbuster is just that...a blockbuster. The critics should leave it at that.

The special effects were particularly good in this film. When Iron Man was flying, it looked like he was flying, not some computer animation. The jet battle was a pretty good example of the realistic look and feel of the movie.

Good acting, good writing, and a good director make this movie a must see. This was a great Marvel debut. I am even looking forward to the Incredible Hulk, in spite of Ang Lee's attempt to mess up the franchise. Summer movie season has begun. I give Iron Man an 8.5 out of 10.

Daddy Finally Matters

My two year old son has finally started paying a lot more attention to daddy. He is still attached to mommy's hip, but he has been giving me a lot more attention. I am more than happy to receive this new-found affection.

Yesterday at Disneyland my son wanted out of his stroller. This usually means daddy carries him, because he is too heavy for mommy. We were walking along and he spontaneously kissed me on the cheek. I turned to thank him and he kissed me again. Two unprompted kisses in less than 10 seconds.

Today he made it extra hard to go to work. He woke up way to early, and as I was getting dressed he wanted me to hold him. I picked him up and he clung to me like a monkey on a tree. He did not want to let me go. I sat down and held him for a few minutes, cherishing every second of it.

Tonight when I got home some of the affection was still there. It was not so blatant as the above examples, but daddy got to spend some time with him, grilling and shooting his squirt guns. I even got him to say "please" for the first time tonight. Daddy is officially on the radar now. I have been waiting for this for a long time. I am looking forward to whatever comes next.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Disneyland Day Trip

My wife and I took our son to Disneyland today. This is probably his fifth or sixth trip by now, but each one provides something new to fascinate him. Now that he is starting to talk a little more, it is getting more fun for us too. Even before we got there, he was pointing out every truck he saw. "Truck...Truck..." He has some thing for trucks apparently, and gets excited when he sees one.

We stayed almost exclusively in Disneyland today, only going to California Adventure at the end. We took him on the Mark Twain steam boat, and he loved it. Every time the steam came out of the pipes, or the driver tooted his horn, my son lit up. We enjoyed watching his excitement.

It was so hot today we stuck to the shade and air conditioning wherever possible. Pirates of the Caribbean was far more packed than usual, probably a sign that tourist season has begun. We skipped Pirates so we could wait in shade somewhere else. We ended up at the Haunted Mansion, which had almost no line. My son is not sure what to make of the ride, so we try to inject humor wherever possible. He seems to be getting used to the ride at this point.

After the Haunted Mansion we went to the Winnie the Pooh ride. He got to see Tigger again, though not as close-up as before. He loves Tigger, probably because his daddy kept buying him Tigger stuff when he was younger. He enjoyed the ride as usual, and then we tried Pirates again.

Pirates is a roller coaster for my son in more ways than one. He is not a fan of the initial drop, or the subsequent smaller one. He is pretty nervous until the Tortuga section, where Carlos is being lowered into the well. At that point the Pirtate's theme song is playing and he lights up. He loves the song. He loves the rest of the ride, and we make sure to point out the dogs, cats, donkey, and any other animal we see. He is a big fan of animals, so this always excites him.

Daddy wanted to buy him a toy at the gift shop, though mommy is usually stronger about that. When mommy went to get the stroller, my son grabbed a toy gun and started playing with it. I grabbed one too, and we played for a while. He later grabbed a second gun, and I found a pirate hat with Mickey ears. By the time mommy came in my son had his hat on and a gun in each hand. He definitely looked like a pirate.

I am looking forward to our next trip to Disneyland. It is nice living close enough to go from time to time at a moment's notice. The season passes are really getting a lot of use.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What a Day

Tonight I am pretty tired. We got a lot of things done for one day. Normally I like relaxing a bit on the weekends, but some weekends that is not possible. My son normally wakes us up by 6:55 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings, reliably doing so this morning as well.

First stop was McDonald's for breakfast. My son is usually not too thrilled to be taken anywhere before he has breakfast, so taking him to breakfast is usually a chore. Today was no exception. Once we got to McDonald's he was ok with the situation though. He ate most of his meal, which is a rare thing these days. We went to Target to get some stuff, and then headed home because he decided to melt down.

By the time we got home, daddy and son needed naps, and mommy needed a pedicure. She took advantage of nap time, and went on her errand. Nap time would have gone better had my neighbor not been home. She seems to think that everyone LOVES their walls thumping and pictures shaking to the beat of her Janet Jackson album with the woofer on full blast. This woke up my son on two occasions, and I had to help lull him back to sleep.

My wife got home from her pedicure, and when the boy woke up we had lunch. It was off to the Ventura Harbor then. From the website, Ventura Harbor, or at least Oxnard, looked like a pretty busy place, kind of like Seaport Village in San Diego. It turned out not to be the case. I need to check out Oxnard to be sure, but the Ventura Harbor was not much to look at. It was nice and all, but the shopping and restaurant selection weren't all that great. We will go back for the boats, or a nice walk, but not much else.

Having spent only an hour of what was supposed to be a full afternoon, we had to think of something else to do. My wife had been talking about Santa Barbara for a while, so I thought we could go up there. Turned out it was Prom Night, so we headed back to Ventura. We had dinner at one of our favorite places, Casa de Soria.

All in all, we got quite a bit done. I think we had a pretty full day. My family seemed pretty satisfied. I am looking forward to seeing what happens tomorrow.

My "Wild" San Francisco Vacation

A while back I took a trip to Northern California. While I was in the area, I wanted to make sure I got a chance to visit San Francisco. Since I knew I wouldn't be there long, I tried to do as many things as I could while I was there. Next time I go back, I will check out the sightseeing tours available from a place called Trusted Tours and Attractions. They have a web site with discounted tickets to the best sightseeing tours in 23 cities across America. For example, check out Things to do in New York City. In just a few moments on their site, I found a lot of things I missed the last go 'round.

One of the first places I went was China Town. I have been interested in Asian culture for a while, and I enjoy going to the shops and restaurants both in San Francisco and L.A. While I was there I sampled some Dim Sum from the local vendors, and checked out all the trinkets and toys they had for sale. I was there during the Chinese New Year, so there were tons of excited people around. I tried several things I hadn't eaten before, but what stood out the most were the PotStickers. I highly recommend you try them while you are in China Town. It doesn't matter which store you visit. They all taste good.

If you like flowers or crooked streets, you need to check out Lombard street. This is a very narrow street that zig-zags down a steep hill. There are flowers on both sides of you as you drive down, so it smells pretty nice as you wind your way down. We had a few close calls with other cars and the flowers themselves, but made it down intact. I would recommend trying it at least once.

The last stop was a whirlwind visit to Ghirardelli Square and the Fisherman's Wharf, including Pier 39. I went with some shopaholics, so we were bound to end up there. I wanted to see Alcatraz, though I knew I wouldn't be able to do the tour. We walked around all the shops, and ate burgers at a diner somewhere in the mix.

I had a good time there, and am looking forward to spending more than a day next time. If you are planning a trip, make sure you stop by the places above. For more ideas, check out these things to do in San Francisco. You'll be glad you did.

Trusted Tours and Attractions is having a special promotion that you might want to check out. If you sign up for their newsletter, you can win a $150 I-Tunes gift card. That is definitely something I would be interested in winning. If you are too, click here to sign up. You need to sign up right away, though, as the offer ends Saturday, May 31st, 2008.

Disclosure Notice: This post was sponsored by Trusted Tours and Attractions. I believe in full disclosure in my blogging. I do not offer my readers any product or service that I have not used or would not use myself. You can be sure that I am behind this post 100%.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Quality Time

Some days when I get home, my son is really excited to see me. I wish I could say it is everyday, but, alas this is not the case. He has good days and bad days, and sometimes he is just too busy for me. Oh, the life of a two year old.

This last week or so I have been spending a lot more time with my son. He is usually found attached to his mommy's hip, by his choice, not hers. I try to take him off her hands, but he usually migrates back to her. I am noticing that daddy is getting more attention lately. I am not going to complain about that. :)

Last night my son decided to water the TV, probably because he had helped mommy plant a new salsa garden earlier in the day. As a result I unplugged the TV while I let it dry. I accidentally unplugged my receiver at the same time, and hadn't gotten around to plugging it back in yet, though the TV was working this morning.

Tonight, my son knew that when I was done plugging in the receiver he would get to watch a DVD, which couldn't play without the receiver being plugged in. He came up to me and climbed into my arms and clung to me like a monkey on a tree. I hugged him tight and held him as long as he would let me.

Later we were watching Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade as a family, and he climbed into my chair to play with his toy. I held him for a while, and then he stopped playing so he could snuggle in next to me in my recliner. He nestled into the crook of my arm and sat back and relaxed. I got to hold him like this for 15 minutes or so, which, in our case, is quite a lot of daddy time. I was very pleased to say the least. I love it when he spends time with me.

Nice Steak Dinner

My wife surprised me tonight when I got home from work. When I got to the door I could smell something good. I walked in to find my wife sautéeing mushrooms and onions. She had some sirloin steaks sitting in some Montreal Steak Seasoning, and had the coals already lit. This was a nice thing to come home to and she knew that.

We had a salad...I know, I shouldn't eat salad, but it was pretty good. She used some alternative types of lettuce, dried cranberries, and she made croutons. She tried to find a healthier dressing than blue cheese, and she did. It was a blue cheese vinaigrette, which tasted heavily of apple, which I thought was pretty good. This was due to the cider vinegar being a main ingredient. I thought the apple and cranberry went really well with the mushrooms.

I grilled the steaks about 5 minutes per side, and it came out really nice. The meat was a little stringy, probably the reason it was on sale. We both thought it was pretty good though. As I said in my post " The Art of Grilling", the McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning really makes a good steak great. The only thing we were missing was a good red wine. My wife being pregnant, I try not to open a bottle for every steak dinner. Even without the wine, I would suggest you try this dinner.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Where are you Wii?

Wanted: Nintendo Wii for less than $300.

Location: Unknown

My wife and I have lots of options for things Uncle Sam can buy us with this Economic Stimulus check we received today. We already have the plan pretty much, but we decided to think about getting a Nintendo Wii. The basic price has been $250 for at least the last 6 months, so this is the maximum we want to pay for the console. It seems most of the Oxnard merchants (Fry's, Wal-Mart, etc) want to sell it in a bundle, costing up to $400. In my opinion, if I have to pay $400 I might as well get the X-Box 360 which I want more than the Wii.

I finally found two stores which had the Wii at the basic, non-bundled price. These were Target and Best Buy. Normally Best Buy is on my DO NOT SHOP list, but every so often they try to make amends for poor service over the years. Today I focused on Target. It seems I will have to try Best Buy or Ebay after all. Target does not have its' act together when it comes to the Wii.

I looked at to see if they had the Wii, and the website didn't have any available. I looked for local stores, and found it was available in a couple of the Oxnard stores. I went to the first after dinner tonight, and they did not have it in stock. This was the nicer of the two Targets. I had not been to the alternative Target, but was told by my wife that it is a filthy place. She was right.

Never go to the Esplanade Target. This is the one off of Oxnard Blvd, right off the freeway, and next to a lot of brand new, nice stores. From the time I got out of my car and smelled the foul odor in the parking lot, I knew things weren't going to go well. We got inside, and the entry carpet was so filthy I could not believe they clean the place on a daily basis. The tile further into the store was no better. Black streaks adorn almost every tile in 6-8 feet chunks throughout the store. My wife and son went to get ice cream while I went to the electronics department.

I got there and asked if they had a Wii in stock. He told me they don't. I told him that the website told me they had one, so he took his laser and scanned the bar code for me. He confirmed they had a few in the back, but then told me he couldn't sell me any. I was very surprised by this. He tried to explain that since the Wii will be featured in the Sunday ads, they are not allowed to sell any Wiis until Sunday. He said it was because it would be bad if they ran out of Wiis when they advertised them in the Sunday ad. He also said something about getting a $10,000 fine if they sold one to me today. The best part of this outlandish story is that he told me the price was the same. This is not a sale price on Sunday. It costs the exact same if I buy it today or Sunday. This is ridiculous.

I leave him and go to look for my wife, determined to add Target to my boycott list, right alongside the Oxnard Wal-Mart. I told her what happened and she wanted me to talk to the manager. I had already thought to do so, but decided that I wasn't interested in giving Target my money even if I could convince the manager to sell me one. Ultimately I talked to the manager.

She seemed surprised to find out about the no sales before Sunday thing, so she went to investigate. The kid told her a different story than he told me, then she came back to talk to me. Apparently there were no Wiis in the back. If there were, they hadn't gone through security where the serial numbers are recorded, and wouldn't be available until they did go through security. She explained that both the web and the bar code scanners are off by 24 hours. Neither allows for a purchase less than 24 hours before the scan. I was pretty frustrated at this point, and we left the store.

My wife and I discussed the fact that Nintendo keeps shooting itself in the foot with the Wii. They know the demand, and refuse to produce a reasonable number of products. If Nintendo intends for me to purchase a Wii at $400, maybe it is time I left Nintendo. I have every non hand-held Nintendo except the Wii. If Nintendo can't get their act together, maybe I will move on exlusively to the better brands, namely Sony and (I can't believe I am going to type this....) Microsoft. If anyone from Nintendo happens to read this, please fix the problem. This is getting old.

I am not sure what I am going to do about the Wii thing. Maybe I wasn't meant to get one for whatever reason. It shouldn't be this hard to buy something so basic.

Fast Food Review - Loaded Steakhouse Burger

I went to an Oxnard Burger King for lunch today, since they got the rights to market Indiana Jones. I thought it would be cool to help my son build his collection of useless kid's meal toys, so to Burger King we went. As for cleanliness, this is one of the nicest Burger King restaurants that I have been to.

When I went to Burger King last week I saw they had a new burger called the Loaded Steakhouse burger. Having learned my lesson from the Angus burgers, I chose to stick with a Whopper. Well, today I wasn't so smart. I went for the loaded burger. I was pretty disappointed.

Parts of the burger tasted really good. It reminded me of the Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl's Jr. As I got further into the burger I started noticing strange tastes. At one point it tasted as if they put A-1 into the bbq sauce. I like A-1, so I kept eating. The main problem is that they put a mashed/baked potato concoction on top of the patty. I was more than halfway through before I figured out exactly what it was. I finally pulled all the potato out and finished the burger. At least I had learned my other lesson and didn't order the onion rings. My wife made that mistake this time.

Overall, the experience was good. I would highly recommend that you avoid the Loaded Steakhouse Burger at all costs. It was a huge mistake. If Burger King would bring back the onion rings of the early 1980's it would be great too. They changed the recipe when I was a kid and it never tasted good since. So, while this Burger King deserves props for how nice and clean they are, especially considering the Oxnard address, this burger tanked. 3 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Art of Grilling

When it comes to grilling, you will probably hear a different recommendation from each person you talk to. Some will tell you to use a gas grill only, others will tell you that the briquette is the only way to go. Some grill with wood chips, others use smokers. One thing we tend to agree on though, is that fire makes a piece of meat taste so much better than an oven or microwave can.

Grilling takes a lot of finesse. You usually won't get it right the first time you try. It is a process, and you will always try to perfect it. There are two main types of the "right way" of grilling. Charcoal (bricks or briquettes) and wood (Hickory or other choice wood). I am not covering gas grilling, as I am of the school of thought that frowns upon gas grills. I am most experienced with briquettes, so this will be the method discussed here.

The process begins with clearing excess ash from the bottom of the grill. This will allow better air flow. The next step is to put the briquettes on the grill. Note that there are two grills. The smaller one is at the bottom of the grill, and holds the coals. The top one holds the food. Some grills, like mine, have a smaller veggie grill that connects to the lid and sits above the main grill. The various grill plates should be apparent. The ideal amount of briquettes will cover the entire surface of the bottom grill in one layer, with some overlap okay/needed. Once you have enough coals on the grill, you need to stack them. Make sure the vents are open on the bottom of the grill.

Stacking the coals is an art. One wants to maximize the heat channeling through the stack in order to get an even light. You want to build a tall pyramid in the center of the grill. This will maximize efficiency. Next, you douse the coals with lighter fluid. Some men, myself included, enjoy watching the initial burst of fire upon lighting the coals, so we coat them especially well with the lighter fluid. The idea of the fluid is to encourage even an light around the base of your pyramid. Make sure you squirt some of the fluid inside the pyramid. This helps get the most flame onto the coals.

Once you have put the desired amount of lighter fluid, it is time to light it. Keep in mind you are building a fire, so you want to start from the bottom on the opposite side from where you are standing. This keeps you from burning your arm. Light around the base of the pyramid, stand back, and enjoy the fire.

Back in the day, coals took 45 minutes or longer to light. Kingsford, among others, has come up with new ways of making the coals so they light faster and heat more evenly. 25-35 minutes is a reasonable wait for the coals to light. Keep in mind that the flame will burn itself out in moments. This does not mean the coals did not light. The idea of charcoal is to let the embers smolder. If you look at the coals, you should see them turn white as they burn. You may even see a red glow from inside your pyramid. This is good. Once most of the coals are white, it is time to spread them out.

Spread the coals over the entire surface of the grill. You want an even heat, and no flame-ups if possible. By evenly dispersing the coals, you will get a more even cooking. At this point it is time to sterilize the top grill. Assuming it has been used at least once, this helps burn off any remaining bacteria from the last grill session. To sterilize the grill, place it over the coals and close the lid. You should allow about 10 minutes for the grill to heat up. Use a grill brush to get rid of excess ash from the grill. You are now ready to put the meat/food on.

Steaks should be at room temperature before going on the grill. A cold steak will not cook as well as one at room temperature. There are a variety of marinades out there, both wet and dry. I am pretty fond of McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning. I am fond of both the original and the spicy versions. I have been adding a basic Cajun seasoning as an alternative lately, and have been pretty pleased with the results.

Once the meat is on the grill, let it stay on the grill. Different steaks or cuts of meat will require different cooking times, so you should probably look your meat up on the web for a guideline. Constant agitating of the steak will result in a poorly cooked steak. Put the meat on, the lid down, and walk away. Try not to position the meat directly over a flame, but rather over an ember. You want a slow, even cook. The flame will char the meat and the inside won't cook all the way.

Try to limit flipping the steaks/burgers to no more than two flips. You want as much of the juices to remain in the meat as possible. Don't press hamburger patties down. You lose the flavor and dry the meat out.

One thing that many people forget to do is let the meat rest once it is cooked. Cutting into it too soon will result in a drier, tougher meat. Let the juices settle back into the meat and you will agree it is worth the wait. A few minutes is sufficient. Keep in mind as well that the meat will continue to cook somewhat once removed from the grill. If you want it medium rare, make sure you allow for some post-grill cooking.

This has been a basic tutorial on grilling. I plan to post more techniques and recipes as I begin my summer grilling season. As for disclosure, I am not being reimbursed in any way from the endorsements made above. Feel free to send me recipes or links to grilling sites. Happy grilling.

Ebay Marketing E-Book

I was looking for e-books to review when I came across one I read a long time ago. It is called The Silent Sales Machine Hiding on Ebay. When I first came across it I was selling, or at least trying to sell, quite a bit on Ebay.

I read the book and used it to make a few hundred extra dollars, which is an obvious perk. After a while my life circumstances required me to take a break from Ebay for a while, so the book slipped to the back of my mind.

I am getting ready to jump back into the Ebay swing of things, and plan to use what I learned in this book to give myself a big head start. I would recommend this book to you. I linked to the page where you can purchase this book. I would ignore the "Get Rich Quick" aspect of the website. Like I said, I made a few hundred after reading the book, which at the time was pretty cool. Here is the link again: The Silent Sales Machine Hiding on Ebay

In the interest of disclosure, all blogs regarding e-book sales will have a note similar to this in nature. I only blog about books I have read and used, or am about to read and use. I will not endorse a book I don't believe in. If you encounter any problems with this seller, please let me know. I will try to facilitate satisfaction on your part wherever possible.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother's Day Weekend

Mother's Day started a little early this year. I knew we were going to be with my mom all weekend, so I surprised my wife and actually let her open her gift early. She had been dealing with my defiant two year old so much that I planned to take my son to dinner to give her a break. She happened to let slip that she wanted a stand mixer, so to Craig's List did I go. I found some guy in Ojai and decided to kill two birds with one stone. I would take my son off my wife's hands and get her a present at the same time.

This stand mixer came with a ton of accessories. I think I got a pretty good deal. These things start at $300, so for the low price of $125 I got one. My wife and I don't mind scratched paint if it means saving 1-200 bucks. Not only did I save the money, I got two extra bowls ($40ish each), a meat grinder ($50), two whisks and a dough hook ($30-$40ish?). I think we got a pretty sweet deal on it. My wife emphasized the sweet deal by making a batch of banana bread. Money well spent. :)

Fast forward to Friday night, the last night we were supposed to be home for the weekend. My son got back into his tantrum phase, so we chose to leave at night so he could sleep it off in the car. We made great time - just over 2 hours. This time my son was not so friendly to grandma. She got to see his tantrums. The difference is that she can usually snap him out of the tantrum better than we can, so she still thinks he is pretty innocent. We know grandma is wrapped around his little finger.

My sister and her family arrived too late for much visiting, so we all went to bed. In the morning I was awakened by a three-way dog pile which my son started. He and his two cousins (18ish months and 4 years) jumped on my head while I was sleeping. I think my son had a pillow, as the blow was cushioned. I didn't mind waking up to that, though it was pretty dang early.

My niece has definitely gone the vocal route while my son has gone the motor skills route. I tried to get her to teach my son some words, like "Please, Thank You, I love You, etc." He chose not to learn, at least at the time. He showed her how he can climb a ladder and slide on the big boy's slide (with parental assistance of course). Later that morning my son and nephew wanted to watch Return of the Jedi, so we sat down to watch it. Star Wars movies are always fun to watch, especially with my nephew who is well on his way to Star Wars nerd-dom. See my post, "Curious Kid" for the story of watching Star Wars with my nephew. He was cracking me up all weekend. He kept calling me just "Uncle", without attaching my name. "Uncle, why...?" "Uncle, what...?" "Uncle, can I ...?" It was pretty funny.

For lunch on Sunday we had steak salads. A typical female-inspired meal if ever there was one. ;) My mom, wife and sister sat on the sidelines (with some exceptions) while my dad, brother-in-law and I cooked the food. We had two Tri-Tip steaks from Costco, premarinaded by Morton's Steakhouse. These things were huge. I was in charge of the grill, and my dad and brother-in-law prepared most of the rest of the food. The meal turned out really well. The meat was really tender, and was cooked a little more rare than I would have liked had we not been in a hurry, but it was still pretty good. Everyone liked it, so I guess that worked out. My sister wanted to hit the road before nap-time, so her kids would sleep for part of her 4 hour drive home. I didn't think that I would enjoy a steak salad, but I was proven wrong.

I mentioned the Tri-Tip. The rest of the toppings included avocados, black beans, corn, fried corn tortilla strips, and dressing. My wife had made some pico de gallo that was really good, so I put that on my salad too. I was the only blue cheese guy among a group of ranch dressing fans. All in all this salad was pretty good. I had two plates, and lots of meat. I got to bring home a big chunk of the second steak too, so that worked out well.

Mother's Day weekend was also blended with my mom's birthday, which always falls near or on Mother's Day. We got to do two parties this way. I think the weekend went pretty well. Now we have to look forward to Father's Day. I am not sure what we will do yet, but I am sure it will be just as fun.

SocialSpark - A New Community for Bloggers

I recently signed up for SocialSpark, a new social networking site where bloggers and advertisers can get together to maximize blog profitability. So far I am enjoying the site quite a bit. Within minutes of signing up I had 5 friend requests. I thought that was pretty impressive.

SocialSpark offers a variety of methods that help you make money. Among the chocies are a sponsored post, a blog sponsorship, or a spark. From what I can tell, a spark is a free post in exchange for a post on someone else's site. It encourages collaboration among friends. A blog sponsorship is a per day agreement with an advertiser. Here is a sample of available sponsorships.

I haven't signed up for a sponsorship yet, but I plan to in the near future.

Some opportunities are only available for blogs with higher page ranks, but there are many opportunities available for the beginners. As Google has been stomping bloggers who advertise, SocialSpark doesn't look at Google page ranks for the higher-end opportunities. They use a tool called RealRank. This is a data-based method that gives you a more accurate picture of who is visiting your site and how valuable your site really is.

SocialSpark opportunities range from $5 - around $40, from what I have seen so far. I don't think there is a cap on how much a post can be worth, though. Here is a screenshot from the opportunities page.

On the right of the image you will see two small rectangles, either green or red in color. This helps you know if the opportunity is open, and lets you know if you qualify for the post. I think is is a pretty nice feature. It saves you time when you want to look for a post you are actually eligible for, and you don't have to click through a bunch of non-qualified posts.

Another tool for narrowing down your available opportunities is by using the search tool. This helps you narrow your search by the price you are looking for as well. I have used this tool a lot, and am happy with it.

SocialSpark cares about blogger integrity, and they have an extensive code of ethics. Here are some of the basics:

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So far I have been very pleased with SocialSpark. I have found a couple of friends who I am in touch with, and have been introduced to many new opportunities. I think this is a great place to find advertisers for your blog and intend to use this site frequently. I highly recommend this site to you.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Curious Kid

"Uncle, what was cut from the movie?", my nephew asks. I had told him 5 minutes before that we were going to watch the original theatrical release of Return of the Jedi. When he asked what I meant his mom told him it means things have been cut from it. He seemed to be satisfied and we went about watching the movie.

"Who is that guy with the things on his head?", he asks next. I answer, "Bib Fortuna. He's a Twileck. Those things are Leku." I think this is the end of the questions, but I am wrong. "Where is he from?" "Ryloth." "What language does he speak?" "I forget. I think there are two languages on Ryloth though. I will have to check." "Where does he sleep?" "In his bedroom in Jabba's palace." "Where is his bedroom?" "They don't show it in the movie, so I don't know." All the while I am struggling to remember the book "Tales From Jabba's Palace", which I read years ago. The questions didn't stop there.

"Why is that guy pushing Leia towards Jabba the Hut?" "She got caught trying to rescue Han. Now she is in trouble." "Why is she in trouble?" "Because Jabba is a bad guy." "'Cause he didn't listen to his mommy and daddy." "That's right." "Who is Jabba's daddy?" "Zorba the Hut." "Who is Jabba's mommy?" "I don't know." "Who are his brothers and sisters?" "I don't know. I will have to check." By this time I had the attention of everybody in the vicinity. This included my wife, parents, and sister.

"Who is that guy with the green face?" "A Gammorean." "What does he speak?" "I think it is called Gammorean. I don't remember if it is something else." "Why is he in the pit with Luke?" "He fell in when Jabba pushed the button." The questions continued to get more entertaining the longer we talked, but I think I covered the gist pretty well. His mom tried to get the video camera out, but I don't think she caught much of the conversation.

Later we were outside playing on the playground at my parents' house. We talked about a few things, and then Star Wars came up again. "I like Anakin because he wins all his fights." "He doesn't win all his fights. He lost to Obi-Wan." "But he killed him in 'A New Hope'." "He didn't win that one. Obi-Wan knew he would become more powerful if he let Vader kill him." "Oh." A few minutes go by when he brings it up again. "I liked it when Vader killed Obi-Wan. I like it when Anakin wins." I don't know about you, but this 4 year old is pretty entertaining to me.

I look forward to answering this set of questions from my son when he is old enough. My son will know that Obi-Wan is the best Jedi though. :)

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Terrible Twos...

The terrible twos are officially upon us. We thought they had come and gone a long time ago, but we have found the past was a preview of things to come. My wife and I can't wait for this phase to pass.

My son has taken to defying us every chance he gets. He will fight and scream and cry at the drop of a hat. It has been quite challenging for my wife to deal with, especially since she is having her own problems with her pregnancy hormones. ;) I am doing my best keeping the peace as the two of them exert themselves in their own ways.

Looking at my son you only see a very cute, innocent-looking little boy. There is no warning before he strikes. He can swing from cute and sweet to pretty darned bratty in an instant. Not that we love him any less for it... He just tries his best to exhaust us.

On the one hand, it is good to see him going through his life stages, but this is getting out of hand. Hopefully the end is near. To think that this is only a preview of his teenage years is quite sobering.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Pleasant Surprise

My wife surprised me today in a good way. She is usually horrible at keeping secrets, so this time she caught me completely by surprise. It seems that at some point on Saturday she came across one of my close friends on Facebook. They worked out a plan for him to come up for a late Sunday lunch. She decided to hide the plan from me.

My wife apparently went through some great lengths to keep this secret from me, though I think she probably tried harder than she needed to. She takes pride in the fact that she kept us from going to lunch so we could eat at home, considering we did quite a bit of grocery shopping the day before. This of course made sense to me, and I went about my day.

I was just getting the grill going for some Carne Asada when I heard a noise up front. The wind had been knocking the blinds around all day, so I figured that is what I had heard. My wife told me to check the door, so I went to the door to comply. I looked through the peephole, as I was not expecting company. I didn't see enough to make out who it was, so I opened the door. To my surprise my friend was standing there.

Part of the surprise was that in the two plus years I have been married he had not been to my place, and we are now on our second place. He was a Groomsman in my wedding, but hadn't seen the boy. My son has been to his house, but that is another story.

I think this was a pleasant surprise. This is a particularly good friend, but we get so busy that it is hard to get together. On those rare occasions where it works out, it is always a fun time.

When he arrived, my son was still taking his nap. We got to visit for a while before my son woke up. As my son made it known that he was awake, I warned my friend that he might not get a warm greeting for a while. My son tends to have a warm up period, and won't give a stranger the time of day for at least five minutes. To our surprise, my son was instantly taken with him. He acted like he knew him forever, though he was seeing him for the first time. It was pretty entertaining. They had quite a bit of fun together.

We took my son to the park on the beach near my house, and let my son get his legs wet in the ocean. The water is still pretty cold, so we didn't stay there long. It is convenient to have some slides and swings right there on the sand. My son can't get enough of that place, and prefers the big kid slides to the one more appropriate for his size.

Today was a pretty fun day. I always enjoy playing with my son, but to add my friend to the mix made it especially fun. Hopefully we will be able to get together before my new baby is two years old. :)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Wine, Food, and Friends

Tonight we had some friends over for dinner. We grilled some steaks on my charcoal grill, and I had a chance to open a bottle of wine for the first time in a couple of months. My wife is not much of a wine drinker to begin with, so add the fact that she is pregnant, and I have no wine buddies. I have found that though my buddy rarely touches wine, his wife is usually a pretty good sport. She, like most women I know, is a bigger fan of white wines, while I am a fan of reds. My wife can stand a red wine if it is fruity, so I have tasted quite a few wines in order to find something she will enjoy. This helps when we have company, as I have a red to present to a non-red audience.

For dinner we had grilled steak, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic. I added some Montreal Steak Seasoning to my buddy's and my steak. I also grilled corn, and ultimately a loaf of garlic bread. My wife made a wilted spinach salad, which is always a winner with me. It involves balsamic vinegar, bacon, fresh spinach, and dried cranberries, among other things I may not be aware of. I normally go for a hearty red when I have a steak as thick as these were. Tonight I had to go for a lighter one, so I went for an Argentine selection. I chose the 2004 Tapiz Malbec.

It turned out that I made a good call. I have found that I am pretty happy with just about anything out of Argentina, and this was no exception. This Malbec was light and had some distinct fruity flavors. I read a review that mentioned blackcurrant. I am not sure what blackcurrant tastes like, but if it tastes something like blackberries, I agree. My buddy's wife liked it too, so it turned out to be a good pick. I will make a red oenophile of her yet. :)

After dinner my son decided to ham it up, which kept us entertained well past his bed time. I have a feeling he planned it that way. He figured if he could keep us laughing he wouldn't have to go to bed. He was right, for a time. He is finally starting to warm up to this set of friends, so we tried to encourage it.

All in all the evening turned out pretty well. We had good friends over, had some good wine (at least two of us did), and had a good dinner. When it comes to grilling, my wife and I make a pretty good team. She preps it, and I grill it. It tends to work out well that way. I am looking forward to seeing what we can come up with this summer. The grill has been primed...this should be a good summer.

Restaurant Review - Victoria Pub & Grill

Victoria Pub & Grill
1413 S Victoria Ave, Ventura
Phone: 805-650-0060
Cuisine: American/British, Seafood

I took my wife and son to the Victoria Pub & Grill for lunch today. This was not my first visit, but it was for my wife and son. My friend had introduced me to it shortly after he moved to the area, and I have gone back several times.

From the outside the building looks pretty ordinary. Once you go inside though, you see that it has the look and feel of a British pub. There are two floors, and on a typical evening visit the first floor is packed to capacity. This has served my friend and me well, as there are two dart boards on the second floor, and usually we are the only ones playing upstairs.

I didn't go upstairs this time, so from memory I only recall the two dart boards. I don't recall any other games. The downstairs has one dart board that I saw, though I didn't check near the bar. The atmosphere is dark and you can smell the food from the kitchen as you walk in.

We were told to sit wherever we would like, which to my wife and me means somewhere where there is a booth so we can keep my son from roaming while avoiding the fit that would ensue by putting him in a high chair. We found a nice corner to hole up in, and the waiter came by shortly.

I ordered my usual Guinness, and my wife ordered a coke for herself and water for the boy. For whatever reason, it seems pretty consistent that my first pint of Guinness is from the bottom of a keg, and the second pint is from a newly tapped keg. I am not sure how it seems to always work out that way, but the second pint is usually better. I was unable to test my theory today, though I would have liked to. My Guinness was very satisfying, but it seemed to me that the bottom of the keg experience was playing out. I figured that at 11:30 in the morning my chances of them needing to change out the keg were much smaller, so I stayed with the one pint.

I ordered my usual there, the Cajun Chicken sandwich. This sandwich is so good that I crave it pretty consistently. Today I changed it up a bit when the waiter asked if I would like to add an avocado to my sandwich. I ordered my usual onion rings as well. My wife ordered the fish & chips, and my son was ordered a corn dog.

Typically when I eat at the pub it is pretty busy, as I mentioned before. This usually means that we have to wait a bit for our food. This is never a problem, as we are usually busy throwing darts. Today, since it was early, there were no crowds. We got our food much earlier than normal.

I knew I would be talking about the food, so I made sure to sample my wife's and my son's food. The corn dog had a thick, sweet batter, and it tasted pretty good. I wasn't sure what the hot dog was made of, but it almost tasted like chicken. He enjoyed it quite a bit. My wife's fish was lightly battered, though the batter was pretty tasty. She ordered the Halibut, and it was well cooked. I would order the fish & chips if I could keep from ordering the Cajun sandwich. The avocado made a great sandwich tasted even better. The spices were just right, and had just the right amount of kick, that is for the average person at least. I would love for it to have a bit more kick, but it was still really good.

The waiter was friendly and though he was not the fastest in the business, we felt he did a good job. The service gets a 7 out of 10. The ambiance was great, the food was great, and the Guinness was great. The food gets a 9 out of 10. I highly recommend this pub to anyone.