Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween 2015

This year's haul: 404.5.

Completely Random Observations:

  • Kids took home four "Take Fives," their fave.
  • Aubrie likes the original Almond Joy wrapper better. (Yes, this was what she told me to write when I asked for her observation.)
  • I've never seen so many golf carts zooming around. Ginger and I thought: "Rex Eckert would love living here"
  • Looking back at Homewood trick or treating, there was an absence of Smarties, Dots and Charleston Chews. #1 candy in 2012 was Suckers. #1 candy in 2015 was Twix. You know where the kids liked getting their treats! 

Cute pic of them with their stacks of candy forthcoming.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Elder Bednar Talks

Elder David A Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, spoke with our congregation in northwest Indiana last night. 

Unlike General Conference wherein an Apostle speaks to the entire Church membership, Elder Bednar's talk was designed for us in this geography. He mentioned this was a big break from his typical speaking circuit: he rarely gives talks in the US or at these kinds of local meetings. So what he said to us last night was extra special and sacred.

Before continuing, I want to make two small observations not related to the talks themselves:

Small Observation 1

Elder Bednar paid close attention to each speaker as if THEY were the Apostle. He leaned forward most of the time. 

Small Observation 2

When the interlude music started playing, and the congregation sat stuck in their seats, it was Elder Bednar who motioned for us to rise.

Elder Bednar's talk was beautiful. He has an elegant style that is "simple and clear," the terms he uses to describe how he wishes to communicate. It's always refreshing to hear an Apostle provide his candid thoughts. For example, when he was the president of BYU-Idaho, students would always complain about the dress code. In response, Elder Bednar wishes he could have said something like this: "You are messing with the wrong person."

Elder Bednar's talk was divided into two parts. First, he taught doctrine based on the 2nd and 4th Articles of Faith and expanding the concept of moral (not "free") agency and its relationship to covenants. He said this part might be a "snoozer." It wasn't. However, it's best if I let Elder Bednar publicly articulate this doctrine in his own way in his own time, and not share/butcher it by disclosing further details. 

However, I feel I can talk about Part 2, which was not about doctrine, but equally profound and captivating. Elder Bednar contrasted his experiences with Church members inside and outside the US. He made it clear he was not trying to give us a "guilt trip." It wasn't. But it was eye opening enough to change my worldview on what's really important in life and sketch out tonight's family home evening lesson.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Indian Gem in Michigan City

It took a banker asking Ginger and I how long we were married for us deduce we both forgot about our wedding anniversary. We made up for our error by lunching at India House in Michigan City. It was love at first bite. We were so inspired that we wrote our second ever yelp (and Google) review. 

We seldom write reviews -- this is our second one ever -- but my wife and I immediately looked at each other during our meal and said we should write a review. We love Indian food, and had gone to India House for our wedding anniversary meal. So we feel like we know our Indian food. 

Ever taste a watered down Indian dish? Not in India House. The food was creamy and tasty. The selection was more varied than most Indian buffets. There were the exceptional samosas, the best pakora we ever had, chicken tikka masala, butter chicken as well as a great assortment for vegetarians: Dal Makhni (lentils), saag paneer (spinach), channa masala (chick peas), punjabi bhaji (veggie fritters) and aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes). Also: fresh naan made to order, either plain or garlic, which is an offering unique to this buffet.  The majority of patrons at India House were Indian, which is always a good sign.  The food may be a little Americanized because the heat is toned down, but it has plenty of flavor.  A bit less salty, and the food would have been perfect -- we were gulping water the rest of the day, but it was worth it.

Please patronize this restaurant to keep it in business. Indian restaurants are so few in Northwest Indiana.

The yelp review is here. The first-ever, overwhelmingly less positive yelp review is here.

So for the three of you who follow this blog, we command you to try out this restaurant. You might see us there, celebrating our next wedding anniversary!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Aubrie's Volleyball Adventures [Week One]: A Surprising Start

After two days of volleyball practice, none of which I had personally witnessed, I had no idea how Aubrie was going to do in her first volleyball start. She plays in a girls volleyball league run by a local Nazarene church*.  Reports from practice weren't very promising, so I went in with low expectations, with the hope of being pleasantly surprised.

One thing I did know: Aubrie looks great in a pink t-shirt and knee pads.

Aubrie served first for her team, and nailed the first three before dropping one outside the lines. She ended up getting one more point during game 2. This was great considering the night before we practiced serves using a kid's inflatable ball. No equipment failures were going to hold Aubrie back!

Aubrie launches a serve behind the back line.
Slideshow here.

Not to be biased, but I thought Aubrie was the best player on her team. Ok, I'm biased. But she did strike balls that were clearly hers pretty cleanly, and called for them every time. The balls she missed would be difficult for any level player. One came straight down from the ceiling, another landed between her and another player and one was stuck in the net.

Aidan, Ginger and I had a great time cheering Aubrie on. Though her team lost two games to none, we're confident we have a little volleyball player on her hands -- though she's not quite convinced she herself is quite good enough. Ironically, despite Aubrie feeling bad about her performance, she earned a start for enthusiasm. Most of all, along with progressing her skills, we feel Aubrie becomes more confident in her abilities and cheerful overall.

Aubrie in action

Shout out to the Nazarene church of Chicago Heights for running this professional and fun program for the girls. The church is also teaching the girls about the gospel of Jesus Christ after each practice, which is pretty cool way to combine religion and athletics.

Monday, December 8, 2014


It's Christmas cookie baking season. This weekend, Ginger baked healthy pretzels topped with melted Rolos and pecans and peanut butter Hershey Kiss cookies (with Xylitol of course), among other delights.

Meanwhile, Aubrie and I fashioned works of art with the leftover Hershey Kiss wrappers.

Charge! A multi-color knight launches into battle.

It's obvious that this is a foil man on a foil horse, right? Right after I took this photo, Aidan crumpled it up, saying it looked like a bunch of wrappers. He clearly doesn't recognize art when he sees it.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Three Act Summer Vacation

This summer’s vacation was the best of times, multiplied by three. We used the family reunion in Tulsa, Oklahoma to pack in vacations to Nauvoo, Illinois and Branson, Missouri. It’s a lot easier when your spouse drives. Thank you, Ginger.

Act 1 – Navigating Nauvoo: Sunday, July 13 – Monday, July 14

There’s nothing that says summer better than a pool, even one with trihalomethanes. Regardless of these activated radicals, that’s why I chose the Nauvoo Family Inn & Suites. As luck would have it, our room was across the pool’s entrance – two Robert Barone strides from our door. The kids swam both nights we were in Nauvoo. Aidan liked soaking himself in the hot tub, so he could feel the chill when he jumped back into the pool. (Okay, that’s not why he did this, but it’s what happened.) Aubrie enjoyed doing back flips off my knees, then swimming underwater and tapping my stomach with both hands – thump, thump. Where was Ginger? Somebody had to watch the Food Network. Just kidding. Remember those trihalomethanes? She did “sacrifice” herself at least once.

Somewhat Ironic: The Nauvoo hotel served coffee.

This was our first time at Nauvoo, the last city the Mormons settled before heading west. It’s also 30 minutes away from where prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were martyred in Carthage. Thirty young performing missionaries (YPMs) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 200 missionaries overall, staff Historic Nauvoo, as well as act in and stage all of the musicals and pageants. Brass bands and groups of merry men performed impromptu concerts and songs around the city.

With two of the cast of "Just Plain Amanda," one of the many shows performed by the young performing missionaries.

The kids loved (=fought foolishly over) the free souvenirs offered at many of the historic sites. We got prairie diamonds (a bent horseshoe nail) at the Web Brothers’ blacksmith shop and a Nauvoo brick from the Brickyard.  Aubrie loved that brick. We saw – and loved (or at least I did) – “Just Plain Amanda” (where everyone is “important”) and “Sunset by the Mississippi” variety show. The last skit, the Audition, in which the YPMs replayed a scene in a variety of ways—fast, slow and with cheerful pep—was our favorite.

Wonder Twins Power: Activate. The Li family shows off their "prairie diamonds."

We also took a “two horsepower” ride, to quote the senior missionary tour guide, through the village on a horse-drawn wagon that leisurely took us through the village and along the Mississippi River. We ate (free) gingerbread cookies at the Scovil Bakery and home spun rope at the Family Living Center (also: found out what a cooper did, saw how bread was made and learned how a loom worked). We toured the Brigham Young home where the 12 apostles of the Church met and were quizzed about various pieces of pioneer equipment at the Stoddard Tin shop. We also walked on the grounds around Nauvoo temple, a destination temple. It was amazing to see the temple overlooking the hillside from the village below.
Making rope at the Family Center. One of the many freebies are kids got to take home as souvenirs.

Destination: Nauvoo Temple. Rabbit ears courtesy of Aidan and Aubrie.

Our intention was to see a couple of other shows, including “The Promise” and the “Nauvoo Pageant” (American & British), but are kids were “showed” out. That would presume they actually liked the shows. However, I suppose if Aubrie was playing with stones during “The Promise” and neither kid really got into “Amanda” (at least not like the other kids when they were asked to do the motions for Primary songs), they probably never liked the shows in the first place.  One day they’ll be able to appreciate musical entertainment. Maybe when they’re 65.

Where's Aubrie? Playing below Ginger's knees during the "Sunset by the Mississippi" performance at the outdoor theater. Bonus question: Who's that man? I don't know, but he's about to step on Aubrie.

Act 2 – Tussling with Tulsa: Tuesday, July 15 – Friday, July 18

It was an 8.25 hour drive to Tulsa. It could have been faster, if not for the Mississippi River flooding the roads, which forced some detours. We quickly found out gas stations no longer sell maps. We relied on directions from a friendly local who overheard me talking to the gas station attendant. He was wrong. But at least he sent us in the right direction, until the GPS brought us back on track.

Kathleen Crockett is Ginger’s sister. She’s married to Richard Crocket and they have five children, two of whom are still living with them, Annalise and Emerson. They live in Broken Arrow (B.A.), a suburb just outside of Tulsa. The rest of Ginger’s family also converged on B.A. for a family reunion. Altogether, there were 26 folks staying at the Crockett home. In addition to the families of Ginger’s siblings, this included Janice, Ginger’s mom, and David, Ginger’s father, as well as David’s wife, Rayito. Jose, Melanie’s husband, was abroad on a tour of duty and the only one not presented and accounted for.

Here's 24 of us. Can you tell who's missing?

Aidan in his Batman pose on Ginger's bed at the Crockett home

Kathleen (and Ginger) did an incredible job of feeding everyone three square meals a day. Among my favorites were a ham omlette and beef brisket. You also can’t go wrong with grilled cheese. I ate some Lay’s potato chips that the teenagers had snuck in at the Dollar Store (snuck in because Kathleen likes to have healthy foods around and chips don’t count as healthy). Most of my time was spent with the kids. There were three age groups:  the teenagers (14 – 18 years old), the young’uns (9 -13 years old) and the super small (4 – 8 years old). And then there was two-month old Marcus. 

Ginger's sister Kathleen feeds 26 people. No miracle loaves and fishes. Just a lot of cooking. Thank you Kathleen!

I loved playing Ultimate Frisbee with the boys at an elementary school:  Ethan and Christian Coffeen, Nolan Stout, and Aidan Li. Their dads Jared Coffeen and Bryan Stout played too. Emerson Crockett played too while his father watched over the little ones at a nearby playground. Emerson was fast and all the kids caught and threw the Frisbee extremely well. Aidan sometime heaved it up for grabs when he panicked. We also played a Frisbee accuracy game with Bryan, Aidan, Nolan and Ethan in the cul-de-sac and a couple of rounds of whiffle ball where some of the girls joined us in the “park”. Said park was really the backyard of a few of the houses. The first day we were there, Kinsey Coffeen, Shelby Coffeen, Annalise, Ethan, Aidan and I played Ultimate Football.

One of these kids likes baseball. The other likes giving air high fives.

It was great seeing the girls express their creativity through video (finding link...). “The Interview” has a smart nerd (Annalise) and a beautiful girl (Kinsey Coffeen) both vying for a job. The nerd had an amazing application; she did invent sliced bread after all. The gorgeous applicant has hand-drawn pictures of a cat on her resume. Shelby plays the semi-mannish interviewer. When the boss (Aidan) sees the beautiful girl, you know who gets the job. I was the cameraman because I can’t act.

The cast of "The Interview." Aubrie and Ethan didn't participate, but they did visit the set.

The little kids and I played a game where we threw a pillow onto different objects such as a couch or on a certain step on the stairwell. I was able to get away with playing this game repeatedly. But the runaway hit of the trip was the card game Slap Jack. Not to brag, but I was undefeated. My reflexes are faster than a cheetah’s, and that of a five year old (and even a 17-year old). As we departed for Branson, the last scene was seeing the kids played this card game. It’s my legacy to them. When they share the game with their kids, even though they might forget, it’s because I taught it to them. I have to boast about this because I don’t have any practical skills to teach them like hunting with a bo staff.

What the Eighties Left Behind: Ashley Coffeen and Aubrie.

Shelby (pink shirt) watches Kinsey, Ethan and Nolan play a rousing hand of "Slap Jack."

Act 3 – Burning up Branson: Friday, July 18 – Saturday, July 19

First off, don’t you love the names of these different acts. Aren’t they dripping with cleverness?

There’s a lot to do in Branson. Hundreds of options. It’s like Vegas, but kid friendly. Trip planning was made easier because of our kids’ love for musicals – as in they don’t love musicals. This eliminated 99% of the choices. Goodbye “Jonah the Musical.” Technology also helped make the decision a cinch. Trip Advisor listed Silver Dollar City, a theme park based on the 19th century American frontier, as one of the top choices. Then on the SDC website, they promoted a package that I couldn’t refuse: tickets for the entire family for two day, including a hotel room (with a pool, of course). Mom would love the bargain, the kid’s would enjoy the roller coasters, and I was done planning.

After an eight-hour drive to Branson, we arrived at 4p at Deer Forest Inn, which was (literally) right next to the park. We drove to Parking Lot 5 and took the tram in. Our first stop was a one-hour, one mile guided tour of Marvel Cave that was just starting. Not one complaint from the kids. We rode out of the cave on a train pitched at a 45-degree angle. Next, we rode on a wooden roller coaster called Thunderation. I’m not a roller coaster kind of guy, but it was fun. That evening around 9p, Aubrie, Aidan and I swam in the hotel pool and watched local fireworks. Well, we didn’t really watch the works, but they could be seen shooting up over the evergreens.

Tram on the way into Silver Dollar City. We were pleased by the efficient transportation and friendly staff. Except those photographers who waylay you and take your photo -- for a price.

We crammed a lot in on day two. The highlight of the day was probably the final rollercoaster: Outlaw Run. It’s the fastest (68 mph), steepest (16 story drop at 81-degree incline) wood coaster in the world. Aidan wants me to mention that I couldn’t keep my eyes open the entire time. Yeah, it was that intense. Yeah, I’m tht chicken. I’m not sure how the kids survived; they said the loved it. Ginger really delighted in Riverblast (sarcasm font on) in which we got totally drenched squirting other boats and passersby at the edge of the ride who were also armed with squirt guns. Aidan and I manned one side while Ginger and Aubrie took the other side. We also went on Wildfire, Powder Keg (not me, since I was still dizzy from the Wildfire), and the Grand Expedition (just Aidan & Aubrie) coasters. We saw the “Illusions of Brad Ross.” He was cute with the kid volunteers, but I think the family and I have been spoiled by the show “Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed” since he did some of the same acts. Is it just me, or should magicians do their own acts, and not copy. It’s like me sticking my tongue and pretending to be like Michael Jordan. Fake. The Flying Ace All Stars, three aerialists plus one former Olympian who had skis on, looked like they had a lot of fun on the trampoline. The best segment was when one dude timed his jumps on the trampoline to propel another aerialist really high in the air.  Other rides: Lost River of the Ozarks, a white water tube ride that had an hour wait time and the kids trying to steal things out of my pocket (another Ken Li wait-during-the-line game); Magnificent Wave Carousel (vertigo inducing so I stayed grounded); The Flooded Mine, a laser gun attraction where poor Aubrie’s gun didn’t work and Aidan racked up the points; Grandfather’s Mansion, a fun house; and Fire in the Hole, an indoor coaster that was unique in that it killed someone. We also sampled some peanut butter brittle at Brown’s Candy Factory. I was approached by an elderly woman after I mistakenly said out loud that a 6-pack of Coke cost $3.00. I don’t blame her for accosting me. The park was selling Big Gulp-sized containers at $10 plus $3.50 per refill. So if you got three drinks, that’s $20. That’s just beverages! Fortunately, we had several thermos to keep us hydrated and protect our wallets.

Aubrie and Ginger (2nd from last row) on the climb up the Powder Keg. Ken chickened out on this one as he was still a bit dizzy from the Spitfire.

Ginger, obviously cringing in fear, on one of those rides where it swings you around in circles. Kids on the ride too, but their grimaces weren't as photogenic.

Ginger's favorite ride: Mystic River Blast. You get a little wet!

Sunday, July 20

After eating a continental breakfast that sounds better on paper (biscuits and sausage gravy – ‘where’s the sausage?’), we took 11 hours to drive what should have taken eight hours. All the rest stops added up, as does a pit stop to visit the world’s largest rocking chair. When we got home, it was neat to see the kitty and the cat greet us with so much affection.

Our last tourist attraction before heading through St. Louis on the way to Homewood.

  • Dining (not) out: Guess how many times we ate out during our seven-day excursion? Twice. Ginger made a lot of bean dip and crackers and chips. Plus we restocked at Kathleen’s and an Aldi’s on the way to Branson. Kathleen, Ginger’s sister, provided all the meals in Tulsa. We ate out at a dinner buffet at the Nauvoo hotel. The middling Midwestern fare included scalloped potatoes, fried chicken, and raw broccoli (not green beans because they’re deprived of nutrients). Ginger called it the worst buffet she’s never eaten at. We also grabbed a late night snack at Buckshot Annie’s as Silver Dollar City was closing during Midnight Madness. Aidan, Aubrie and I split a mixed order of succotash (sauteed corn, squash, okra, peppers and onion chicken) and a harvest skillet (stringed beans, carrots, redskin potatoes and ham chunks).
  • Aubrie’s favorite activity in the car was Farkle, a dice game similar to Yahtzee. She also wanted to play “Spoons” at night, but we had better things to do, like watch Animal Planet.
  • On the iPod: Louis Sachar (author of Sideway Stories from Wayside School) books, including “Someday Angeline,” “Pig City,” and “There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom.” We also enjoyed “My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar” by James Patterson, an adult fiction author. Ginger tried to get us into “Cheaper by the Dozen,” but we just weren’t cultured enough to be entertained by it.

Overall, I give the trip two enthusiastic thumbs up. The polar vertex in Oklahoma kept things cool when we played outside. We saw family. We hung out as a family. The kids got to ride on adult roller coasters. We enjoyed some Church history. Sub in the bad buffet in Nauvoo with a different dining experience, and it would have been perfect.

Spring's Back