Saturday, January 31, 2009

Jane: Useful but Cute Crochet

I made this goldfinch as an Iowa buddy for that British robin I crocheted a while ago. This one was easier as I didn't have to overlap the yarn to make a two-colored body.

The goldfinches don't look like this now, of course. They're wearing winter drab. But wait until spring!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Robbie: Field trip to Sundown Mountain!!!!1

On Friday 1/30/09, The Franklin 8th grade class went to Sundown Mountain. After a brief ski lesson, I hit the slopes with my friends Joe and Nick. The first course you go on is the sunbowl which is a not very steep hill with a lot of curves. It is basically a warm up after the lesson. After going on that a few times and going up the super mega long ski lift we went on the Bullet (an offshoot from the sunbowl which has a short steep hill and lets into an area with a few turns then a wide, medium steepness hill that takes you down to the lift. Here is a map of the hill.
The cool thing is that we got charter busses instead of school busses so the ride was comfortable. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jane: In the News--the video

The video of our volunteer work is up on KGAN's website; just click here!

It seems to take a bit of time to load.

Jane: In the News

Yesterday I did some volunteer work for a local ministry helping in the flood zone. Yes, CR is still recovering from this summer's devastating flood.

Our job was to go door to door, asking people whether they needed any help to finish renovations on homes--and to make notes on homes that seemed to be abandoned.

I don't have enough upper body strength to help "muck and gut" damaged homes. I have no skill at putting up new drywall. But I am really good at asking questions and listening!

A local news team was there doing the story for the 10 pm. news. The reporter asked if anyone would mind having a mike clipped on and being followed for the story. Everyone looked at their shoes. . . .there was a long pause. I felt bad for him--I have to ask for people to help me out all the time in my freelancing work. So I volunteered. The news team followed me and a woman from my church as we went door to door--well, for about 4 houses anyway.

I missed the story on the local news, but the transcript is here on their website. I'm hoping they post the video!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Jane: Car Thief

The other night when the boys were getting ready for bed, I got a call from my friend Brian, who's a sergeant on the police force here.

"I can't talk long because I'm on another call," he said. "I just want to know where your car was found."

I told him, and he said he'd call back.

Later this week, we had lunch together and he told me what was up. The other night there was a theft at a dance school! This one is a ballroom dance school, just blocks from The Ballet Academy. A couple came in to dance. While they were dancing, her purse and his truck keys were stolen. The truck was not stolen.

The police thought they knew who'd done it. It's a guy who haunts the downtown area, going into businesses and, if no one's around, going behind desks to steal purses.

"And you know who this guy is?" I asked Brian.

"Oh yeah," he said. He lives in the apartment where they found my car parked.

Later, they were able to get the guy after his roommate led the police into the apartment. The stolen stuff was nowhere to be seen, but apparently guys like this are careful. They take the money and valuable stuff, throwing the purses on rooftops or in dumpsters.

"So, what, does this guy think of stealing purses as his job?" I asked. "Does he get up in the morning and think, 'gotta go to work today, steal some purses.'"

Brian thinks they have enough evidence to get the guy this time.

"Hey, don't forget they took fingerprints in my car!" I said.

Maybe they'll catch him. I don't have any hard feelings toward him--I did get my car back, in fine condition, with the keys in and even 1/4 tank of gas left. But seems like he's got a serious problem. He probably needs to go to prison for a while--or, as Robbie would say "get a life!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jane: Inauguration

On Inauguration Day, one of my journalism students had a short piece in the local newspaper. They'd asked for stories about ordinary people and the Obama campaign.

I encouraged all my students to share an observation or experience from this past year--from the campaign, the caucus, voting, or inauguration day. It's their chance to do some "citizen journalism."

Here's what I would share.

I wasn't sure if I would caucus for Obama or not. I heard him speak at Coe College, and was impressed by his knowledge. I loved his eloquence. But I wondered whether he could gather enough momentum to inspire the country. Many of my friends who are slightly older than me were supporting Hillary and encouraging me to be a good feminist and support her. My husband, a political science professor, liked Richardson.

So when I got to the caucus, I hadn't completely decided who I'd support. As I looked around at the huge crowd, I scanned for the Obama signs. They were in the middle of the overcrowded school cafeteria, and all sorts of people were holding them: dark faces, light faces. Women, men. Teens and senior citizens. A lesbian couple I know and some well-known well-to-do folks. They were smiling and calling out to one another and to the people who came in.

It was the feeling of this group that won me over. They were united, they were diverse, they were inviting and welcoming. There wasn't any name-calling or vindictiveness there. Just lots of energy, hope, and confident patience.

So in the end, it wasn't Obama himself who convinced me; it was the Obama supporters themselves.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Robbie: Wii

There is a new addition to the Game Shelf and it's not the Super Nintendo.
I was calling around to various stores to see if they had any Wiis but out of the seven I called...
ONE store had wiis in stock. That store was the Gamestop in the Westdale Mall. (the mall that is losing stores and mostly has government offices.)
The games I have so far are Wii Sports and Wii Play but I am planning on getting MarioKart Wii soon. Conveniently, Gamecube games work on it so we don't have to keep the Gamecube. Seriously, it is a mess with all of the cords for Eli's SNES and my N64 and Wii.
I will post a review on youtube of a game eventually.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Jane: Splendid Meal

There was a recipe in the NY Times on Wednesday ("Dining" feature section--LOVE those feature sections!) that I wanted to try. It was roasted broccoli and shrimp with spices and lemon rind.

I didn't particularly want to clean all those shrimps, though. So I let the recipe inspire me to try something different.

I decided to do the roast veggies, and broccoli was on special this week. I added onions, turnip, carrot, and some cauliflower that had been in the fridge for . . . a while. For seasoning, I did use the lemon zest and some rosemary, too.

The Splendid Table people say that in winter, you should just come home and turn your oven to 450--you'll think of something to cook in there! I roasted the veggies at that temp, heating the pan first, and stirring every 10 minutes or so until they were nicely roasted and beginning to carmelize.

For protein, I decided on something boy-friendly: frittata. I had some frozen hash browns, which Eli loves, so I made the frittata with those and some bacon (which had also been on special this week).

Here's what it looked like.

Problem with a hash brown frittata is the hash browns cook down a lot. So the frittata wasn't very big. But everyone liked it, especially Eli. Both boys tried the veggies, and Robbie actually ate more than just a bite--they were almost sweet from being roasted--I'd recommend that combination. And it's totally easy!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jane: Colder

"Cold weather is hard on cars but good on people. . . . we say 'Hooooo, it's a cold one out there. You hear the weather this morning? Cold out there. Terrible.' Except it's not terrible at all. You're . . . phenomenally alive, your whole body, the nervous system and along the cortex and in the marrow of the bones, every part of the body has got the message: 'Heat. Let's go. Come on, team Little more H, now. Let's have some H.'

There is no depression at twenty below. Human depression occurs frequently in the low fifties, and when it gets into the nineties there's plenty of latitude for self-pity and grief at your sad wasted life and the people who let you down and exploited your vulnerability, but at twenty below the body turns passionate. You venture out and every internal organ is up on its feet doing the schottische, your skin is singing the 'Habanera,' At twenty below, nature sends us a message: Die. And the body says, 'Hell no, we won't go!'"

from Garrison Keillor, "Cold" in We Are Still Married.

Mitzi: Cheezburgers!

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Robbie: What I did with my Christmas gifts

This may be a little late, but here's a list of the things I have done with my Christmas gifts.
I have created my own snap circuits parts out of old broken ones and a couple of switches from a hair dryer using the soldering iron I got:

I made a video by Rubber-banding  my mom's camera to the back of my RC Car.

I said I was going to buy the Wii but Target (or any other store) didnt have any!!!!!!!!!!!
(Colorful Language Situation)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jane: How to Survive Iowa Cold

It is cold. And getting colder. But there are ways to survive Iowa cold
Pella windows with a birdfeeder in view.
Winter activities.
Down jacket. (No, thinsulate and wool are not warm enough.) Cute, wearable hat, fluffy scarf, and thick gloves needed, too.
Astronaut socks, made with aluminum to reflect heat.
A good book.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jane: Splendid Table

My sister and brother-in-law got me The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper for Christmas, a cookbook packed with tips, stories, and opinions, as well as recipes. I immediately used their advice for roasting potatoes (preheat the pan in the hot--450 degree--oven, then add potatoes). They were a hit with my family. Even Eli ate them!

Last night I made their Sicilian Corkscrews with White Beans.

It was also well-received. Tasty and easy with olive oil, garlic, tomato paste, a bit of parmesan, and tuna (we had that on the side)

I did cut back the amount of garlic by half--6 cloves seemed a bit much :-)

Tell me what you're cooking!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jane: Mom with a stick

Robbie and I went skating at one of the little outdoor skating areas yesterday--we'd gone last weekend and had a great time--much more fun than the indoor rink where everyone skates in a circle.

When we got there, I started chatting with some dads playing hockey with their boys. They asked if I wanted to play. "Sure! But I know nothing about hockey!"

It was fun! They were very kind as I was, indeed, terrible. I can skate fast and accurately, but can't stop well, and I'm terrible when someone puts a sporting item in my hands. Once Robbie got out, he took a turn, and he was much better.

I have a huge bruise on my knee where I fell :-(

I did get two goals, though :-)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jane: Sledding Birthday for Robbie!

We weren't sure we'd have snow for Robbie's birthday, but his heart was set on a sledding party.

Luckily the weather cooperated the night before the party, bringing us 8 inches of new, fluffy snow!

Here are the guys at the sledding hill:

Some of the other activities were playing video games:


and present opening.

All in all, it was a great day. The boys were really delightful, though rather loud.

"It's funny when they are fighting," said Eli when much laughter and lots of loud comments were being made. "I wouldn't say they're fighting," I said. "That's right. Robbie calls it 'witty banter,'" said Eli.

I didn't think this when I was 14, but 14-year-old boys can be very amusing!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Jane: TKD and Flood Damage in the News

Last night at Tae Kwon Do, two guys showed up with a big camera and notebook. They were reporters from a local TV station doing a story on how small business owners are affected by flood damage to the downtown area's steam generating station.

You can watch the story on the KGAN website

I'm holding the kicking pad for our two boy wonder students, Brandon and Raymond. Then Justin and I are being jumped over. They did a good job interviewing Master Hughes.

When we read the paper this morning, we found out that the steam generating station is going to close. Repairs are just too costly. Problem is, most of downtown is heated by the generating station. Now, all those businesses, including the huge Quaker Oats plant, are going to have to put in alternative heating systems.

The building where our dojang is located will have a new owner soon. Master Hughes wonders if the new owner might just tear it down and build something else. That wasn't originally in his plans, but with the steam gone, it might be.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Jane: Found!

"Hello. This is the Cedar Rapids Police Department."
"Am I speaking to Jane Nes-"
"Yes! This is Jane Nesmith!"
"We have found your stolen vehicle, and it's in good condition--no damage other than what you'd reported was already there."
"Woohoo! Oh. Sorry. Where did you find it?"
"It's at the apartment building at the corner of 1st Avenue and 1st Street. When can you be there to meet the officers?"
"Give us fifteen minutes. We'll be there!"

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Jane: Stolen Car, Day 3

They say that stolen cars have the best chance of being recovered within the first 72 hours. As of now, it's been 68 hours since mine was stolen. . . .

My friend Brian, who's a sergeant on the police force, was one of the first people to hear about this crime. "Happy 2009!" he said. He thought it might not be a bad idea to have our locks changed on the house (we did), and he looked around in the "dump spots" he knows about. Still nothing.

So we're back to being a 1-vehicle family, like we were for so many years. I'm wondering if my car insurance provides for a rental. It's difficult to say as they haven't contacted us.

I called State Farm the first thing Friday morning. The secretary took the info and told me they'd call me. "What will they be able to do?" I asked. "I don't know," she said. "This doesn't really happen here too often."

According to my net research, insurance companies are supposed to begin to deal with the claim in a "timely" way, though, according to, most start with a 48 hour waiting period. Perhaps that's why State Farm hasn't called yet--they were hoping, as we were, that the car would show up.

The kind of insurance we had on this car, comprehensive insurance, should provide us with a payment equal to the "Actual Cash Value" of the car. If the car is found after that, it belongs to the insurance company. We take the claim money and have to go buy a new car, which to many of you sounds like fun, but it does not sound like fun to me!

We'll have to wait until they call to find out for sure. More later . . .

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Jane: Grand Theft Auto

A sky-blue 2007 Toyota Camry--what a handsome car! You can see why I picked it. But take a good long look at this photo, because you won't see it parked in my driveway these days.

On New Year's Day, my car was stolen from the Ballet Academy parking lot.

I could hardly believe it. This is Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for heaven's sake! But my car is gone. Someone came into the building while I was in class, went into the ladies' room where the coat rack is, took my keys out of my coat pocket, and stole my car--that's the discovery I made when I came downstairs to leave the studio. It's now been almost 48 hours since the theft, and the car hasn't turned up yet.

The police officer who came to make the report told me that most stolen cars go on "joy rides" with local punks, er, criminals, and are found within 72 hours. He assured me that there aren't any chop shops in CR, but did warn that there are some in Dubuque, Council Bluffs, and, of course, Chicago, with folks just waiting to disassemble cars and sell the parts. "How much gas was in the tank?" he asked. I didn't know. I hope not enough to get it to Chicago!

The girls in the ballet class were amazed that I was "so calm" about my car being stolen. "I would be losing it right now!" said Gabe, a high-school girl. Well "losing it" wouldn't get the car back.

I have to admit, too, that one of the thoughts going through my mind was "hmm, I've never had a car stolen before." Like when I had some surgery and told the doctor "this will be interesting--I've never had surgery before." He looked at me weird. I keep forgetting that writers have kind of a wacky approach to life.

Crime stories aren't my bailiwick when it comes to writing, so finding out about "stolen cars, auto theft, crime statistics iowa" was a bit tricky at first, but I did find some good web sources. My favorite was an article called "Stolen Car, Day Two" on the Motley Fool website. I like the way the author described what a recovered stolen car might look like:

"The police will probably find the car in 72 hours with a busted steering column, a few dings in the fender, an empty bag of chips in the front seat, and smelling of reefer. It will have been parked for a couple of days on the street and no one knows anything."

One good thing: the theives won't have to break the steering column because they have the gol-darned keys . . .

How common are stolen cars? Many articles quoted the statistic that "every 26 seconds a car is stolen in the U.S." OK. But what about Cedar Rapids?

Statistics from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report that I found on the local newspaper's site, GazetteOnline, say that in 2007, there were 339 auto thefts in Cedar Rapids. "About one a day," said Bruce. That surprised me.

How many of those cars were found? Doesn't say, but the Motley Fool writer found statistics that showed about 70% of stolen cars were found. Let's hope mine is in that 70% and not in the remaining lost-forever 30%.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Robbie's Lego Showcase

Just what you've been waiting for! More awesome LEGO creations!
Modified TIE Fighter/\

I was just messing around when I made this one \/
Darth Vader's New Escape Pod/\

The Slightly Blocky Ship (only using 2x4 bricks)/\

The Random Bionicle Warrior Guy /\

Robbie: HTML

Last summer I decided to learn HTML or HyperText Markup Language. The place I learned the tags from is (just highlight that and paste it in your address bar. sorry)
It shows you how to make everything from
A Marquee

radio buttons

a text box

an embedded midi
and embedded pictures but blogger has its own way of doing that...