Wednesday, August 29, 2012

All the Comforts of Home

Matching Living Room Set
Ever since I made a doll bed for Grace's first American Girl doll last year, I have gotten periodic requests to make something else. Actually, to be honest, I get bombarded with requests to make more things ranging from the simple ("Daddy, make them a remote for their TV"... i.e. a little rectangular block) to the utterly ridiculous ("Daddy, let's build them their own house"), and everything in between. Ever since she figured out that I could do a pretty nice job of building things for her, she seems to like the idea of homemade better than buying store bought pieces. Which is fun, because it is something that she and I can work on together. She helps draw/design what she wants, I figure out how to engineer things, and then she helps me as much as she can with the construction.

The gang making themselves comfortable
While on vacation this week, Grace requested seating for her ever-growing collection of American Girl dolls, now numbering four (and staying at four...). So over a few hours yesterday and today, we whipped up the sofa and pair of chairs shown here. Grace wants them painted, which we haven't done yet, but the construction is finished.

Our pieces tend to be angular and blocky, but I'm not breaking out the router and other assorted goodies for doll furniture. Not yet anyway. That being said, it's pretty cool what the two of us are able to accomplish with a bunch of 1" clear pine boards of various widths and a compound miter saw.

The matching coffee table, entertainment center and flat screen TV are in progress. Yep, I'm serious.

A New Family Member

As brother Dave's guitar playing has flourished, the urge to upgrade and expand his collection of instruments and equipment has obviously been strong. I have been the beneficiary of this in the past, with a beginner Yamaha acoustic and a Line-6 modelling amp to show for it. Dave's most recent purchase was a very nice Epiphone Casino hollow body electric (Gibson's second brand version of the Gibson ES330). The Casino is perhaps best known as the guitar used by all of the Beatles at different points, and by John Lennon for most of his time with them. The Casino is a true hollow body, and very light, but otherwise similar to my "holy grail guitar", the Gibson ES335 semi-hollow body (in Justin Hayward cherry red of course...). But I digress...

Apparently, a strong request made around Dave's household was that if a new electric guitar came into the house, one of the existing ones should leave, therefore maintaining... balance... shall we say. Dave mentioned to me that he was going to keep the Fender Telecaster and put his Epiphone Les Paul copy on Craig's List.

At that point, it seemed an awful shame to lose a member of the extended family, so I purchased the guitar from Dave, and now it will live with me. In a way, this is a bit of silliness, but I can say that I have been fooling around on my guitar more than I ever have, and have gotten myself one step above total hack status, so what the heck. At the very least, it gives my Strat someone to commiserate with; the two guitars can hang out in the basement and bemoan the fact that they were not blessed with a more talented owner.

Dave brought the Les Paul over this past weekend and I played it for a while with Dave using my Strat. He taught me some things, and a few of them actually clicked. It was very productive and energizing.

So between the two of us, we now have a Statocaster, a Telecaster, a Casino and a Les Paul copy. Plus a bass. And three acoustics. And amps. And electronics. Oh well, so much for balance (but it is a lot of fun!).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Little Sous Chef

Dredge... dip... fry...
One of my favorite things, but something I rarely blog about here, is my love of cooking and good food and drink (there is a separate cooking link...). Far removed from my day job, the things that interest me the most in my spare time are almost all outlets for creativity; wargaming (the building things part...), cooking, writing and music.

With that in mind, it gives me great pleasure that Grace has very much taken to the idea of cooking. She watches Food Network and its spin off The Cooking Channel. She will also go out of her way to help me in the kitchen with whatever she can. Even as an elementary school kid, I have relished getting her involved in the kitchen. As we say, everything tastes better when you cook it yourself. I am on vacation this week, burning some time off with the family before the kids go back to school next week, which means I have time to cook. Yesterday, shopping for dinner at Whole Foods, Julia noticed some beautiful locally grown eggplant in the produce section and requested one of her favorites, eggplant parm, for dinner tonight. I shopped for the ingredients today, and Grace and I made it for dinner.

...and turn when properly browned
Grace has gotten pretty good at basic kitchen tasks like stirring and whisking, and has developed good knife skills for someone her age (or any age for that matter). She knows to flatten one side of something she is cutting to make it stable on the cutting board, and can do a large dice, medium dice, fine dice or rough chop without too much guidance. But the most important thing is that she enjoys it and it is something that we can do together.

Tonight, I was in charge of prepping the eggplant so that she could be the one to fry the slices in the skillet prior to assembling everything in the baking dish. I prepped and sliced. She dredged, dipped and fried. Her attention to detail on the safety aspects was good to see; not splattering hot oil by turning the slices the proper way and other details that make for a safe cooking experience. We had a blast.

Oh... and it was delicious.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Julia Meets Ryan Howard

Ryan throws out the first pitch
Julia had a special treat today, and I was fortunate to be able to take a day off from work to see it; she met Phillies superstar slugger 1st baseman Ryan Howard.

We had gotten an email a couple weeks ago that Ryan Howard (or the Phillies, or someone...) had been  put in touch with the Challenger League, a group of special needs kids playing little league softball, and that Ryan Howard would be coming to a special game there were organizing. The plan was that he would show up, take some pictures, say a few words, and then hang around for an hour or so while the kids played.

Julia was excited, and concerned that it would be rained out, but we got lucky with a nice warm but not overly hot day, and it was somewhat overcast which made it not seem too bad under the sun for a few hours. Ryan was on time, the event went off in a pretty organized fashion, notwithstanding all the extra people that had come out of the woodwork for this particular game. He came out, said a few words, threw out the opening pitch, and then stood around on the field chatting with and encouraging the kids.
Julia leads off the game

The challenger league games are non-competitive, with each player on each team getting to bat once in each of the three innings. Everybody gets to run the bases, and everybody scores. Obviously, they don't keep score and it has nothing to do with winning and losing, but just having fun and being active with their peers.

Julia - pleased to be at third base
This special occasion was a one inning game. Julia was the very first batter, and grounded a sharp single to right field. She had a blast. Somehow in and around all the adults taking pictures, they actually managed to finish the one inning, and then there was some time for pictures before Ryan had to leave.

It was a very nice day for Julia (and the rest of us). Ryan is a big big man. And very nice with the kids. It is often overlooked how much time some of these guys spend in the community doing things like this, and it is nice to be able to recognize those who do. I also have to admit that Ryan has been my favorite Phillie for years now, and while I think my days of hero-worshipping athletes are long since past, it was still nice to get to say hi to him. Thanks, Ryan, for coming out to the game!
Julia with Ryan Howard

As an aside, the Phillies are playing the Braves tonight at home, and Ryan crushed a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning... He is coming off a ruptured achilles tendon last fall, and missed much of the season this year, but he is back playing now. He doesn't look great yet, but he's getting there. He did have a very noticeable limp at the event today. Hopefully that gets better with time.