Wednesday, April 30, 2008

So depressed...

I know I know, when the rest of you read this you will be all: boo hoo poor Ryan, but I needed somewhere to vent.

So my Macbook got sent back to Apple this Monday, so I am without my laptop. Even though I am out of warranty I had an issue with my case falling apart, and Apple decided to cover it, so at least that isn't all bad. But I am home without a laptop, ugh.

So to compensate, on my way home from work today, I swung by Wal-Mart and picked up MarioKart for the Wii, I have read a ton of good reviews and my co-workers who own it all rave about it.

I got home, popped it in the drive... unable to load disc... well thats weird. Try a few more times (ejecting, powering down, rebooting, unplugging, updating) and still no luck. Maybe I got a bum game disc that would suck.... Stick in SSBB, unable to read game disc... uh oh. Stick in Mario Galaxy, unable to read game disc... CRAP.

So I call up Nintendo, explain my issue, they agree that it does sound like the drive died and I need to send it in for repair. They ask for my serial number, I give it to them: "Oh, that's a launch system, thats cool!" she says... Then "I just need to check when you bought it to see if it is still under warranty, oh, wait, it's a launch system, I'm sorry, your warranty expired on February 15th."

Double Crap.

So now not only did I spend $50 on MarioKart... which I can't play for 11-16 days depending on how long it takes to ship, repair, and ship back... but I am out $75 to get it repaired!

This sucks... I hate poor customer service, Nintendo should learn from Apple. I didn't drop it, I didn't beat it with a hammer, it was sitting in my cabinet and it just randomly died... how is that my fault? It's their shoddy workmanship, they should step up to the plate and fix it. But instead they are giving me the shaft to have to repair this console. I am tempted to repair it, turn around and sell it on ebay along with my accessories, purchase a XB360 and never touch another Nintendo system again, crappy service does not inspire loyalty in ones customer base.... we will.

But I am not happy with how I am being treated.... nor am I happy about shelling out dollars just to "fix" something that shouldn't be broken.... grrr.

PS - Anyone wanna borrow MarioKart for 11-16 days... I already opened the box so I can't return it, so I can't do jack crap with it right now...

Getting my food on

So lately I have been trying to eat healthier and make better decisions about what I eat. Part of this has been monitoring my calories, and part of it has been monitoring my sodium intake. A conclusioned I have come to, we as American's eat a LOT of crap, and by a lot of crap I mean A LOT.

For example, one of the "healthier" options that I really like is Subway. They market themselves as the lowfat low calorie diet friendly fast food chain... and they are quite successful doing so (I think I read somewhere they are the #3 fast food chain in America, and the #1 growing fast food chain). I typically order a 6" Turkey on White, provologne cheese, veggies and a single line of the sweet onion sauce... mmmmm, tasty! And at only 370 calories for the whole thing it fits in great with my calorie restricted diet right?.... WRONG!

So the other half of my "choosing to live healthy" new lifestyle is monitoring my sodium intake (my family has a history of heart problems and high blood pressure, my father has it, my grandfather has it, I am not even 30 yet and I have high blood pressure but I really don't want to end up on medication, because then I will just die of liver complications instead of heart disease). So anyway, I started counting up the sodium in my sandwich choice. There was 470 mg of sodium in the white bread, there was 530 mg of sodium in the turkey, throw some cheese and low calorie nofat dressing on there and you are up over 1400 mg of sodium on a 6" sub, over HALF of your daily sodium intake! (BTW, I changed my order to chicken breast on whole wheat, that alone cut 600 mg of sodium out of the sandwich and only increased the total calorie count by 30, if I switch to sourdough thats only another 10 calories, but takes another 200 mg of sodium out of the sandwich).

So after realizing how much sodium was in that I started looking around at the other foods I was eating. Chips and Salsa, I bet those chips have a lot of sodium in them, they taste salty... Hrm, not too bad only 140 mg of sodium for the chips. Then I check the salsa. 260 mg of sodium for 2 tablespoons! Figure if you have a tablespoon of salsa per chip (I like my salsa) thats 1440 mg of sodium for 10 chips... yikes!

So after that long winded introduction, this gets me to my actual point. One of the things I have found is that if you cook your own food, your sodium intake is way, way, WAY less... like impossibly smaller. I have never been a fan of cooking personally, but in the last few months I have found more and more joy in it. Plus with the anticipation of re-planting our vegitable garden again this year (after the very successful bounty we had last year) and the start of our fruit garden taking place (strawberry patch, blueberry bushes, cherry tree, tomato plants, watermelon, and hopefully we will find some more stuff to plant) and our new found love of homemade bread, I am really coming around to this whole idea of cooking. The idea of cooking with "my own ingredients" is even more fun. Shalisa pointed me to a blog article today on the Sourdough Monkey Wrangler about making your own woodfire pizza oven and that got me even MORE exited about possible avenues we could take in our food adventure, plus it's a lot healthier! (low sodium, lower calories)

This got me thinking, one of the best parts (in my mind) about growing and cooking your own food is sharing that food with others. I think most people take pride in cooking, and even moreso when they are cooking with ingredients they grew, caught, gathered themselves. So I was thinking this summer, we should have get together of all of our friends, sort of a potluck picnic if you will, only the stipulation is, you are only allowed to bring something you either grew or baked or caught or hunted or gathered. How fun would that be! I would love to get together and have the Clevelands bring some homemade brew, the Dale's bring some of James' legendary fish, Shalisa and I could provide some scrumptious bread and maybe some homeade veggy pizza's from our garden, the Holzgroves could whip out garden salad and kiwi's and others could bring who knows what. I really think more people probably have access to more than they think (and more than I would know of) and not only would it be super healthy, super tasty, it would be super fun!

So what say you, anyone else think it would be great to get together and partake in the breaking of (homemade) bread or am I just a silly weirdo?

PS, after looking at the chips and salsa, I was convinced that Shalisa and I need to get back to making our own salsa again. We found this salsa flavoring packet from the Oly farmers market that was THE BEST EVER, and we used our own ingredients last year to make it... soooo good (and way less sodium than commercial stuff). Plus Shalisa has been making homemade tortilla's forever, so I think I need to get back to eating homemade chips and salsa, not this store bought stuff :p

Saturday, April 19, 2008

We had too much fun

We had too much fun making this video, and we decided it didn't have enough clips and wasn't long enough... so we are going to go back for a reshoot September 6-14th.

Anyone want to join us?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Great Wolf Lodge - A Second Opinion

We arrived to Great Wolf Lodge on a Monday at about 1pm, as that was the time we knew we could start using the water park. There were various cars waiting under the awning, but it didn't seem disorganized to us, just a normal resort front door area. While waiting in the car I noticed the carts people were bringing out to the cars to load there luggage onto. I thought this was a pretty great idea. I suppose that in many hotels you might find a bellhop to do this for you, which you would then need to tip. I'm a cheapskate, and I hate to tip, so I'm all for the carts. Of course we didn't need a cart because our 2 backpacks were easily brought in by the Smith muscle-man while the Smith little-woman took charge of the Smith kiddos.

Check-in was a breeze. It took about 5 minutes and even though by the time we were ready to move the vehicle cars were parked 3 across and someone was behind us waiting to get out, the driver behind us waited patiently and never honked their horn or tried to get us to move out of the way. We were told that Monday is not a real busy day for them. But when we asked about restaurant seating, we were told that even on Monday we should come 30 minutes before we wanted to eat. We felt this reasonable. I suppose that during a more busy time waits could get up there, but as long as you know that ahead of time, you can plan for that. We ate at the buffet restaurant for ease and were seated immediately. The food was, well, it was buffet food. But I can't complain. We enjoyed the variety. The smiley face potato patties were a huge hit with the little Smith eater. The variety of fruit was great. It was nice that it wasn't just a big fruit salad, but you could choose what you wanted. Pizza, chinese, a cold buffet featuring various salads, a hot buffet featuring chicken parm, meatballs and pasta, chicken potpie, oysters, shrimp, and prime rib, and a dessert bar.Not everything was terrific, but some things were extra delicious.

We took no time getting to the water park that day.

We actually had a room assigned to us at check-in even though we were prepared to wait till 4. It was nice to have the room ready at 1, and it wasn't because they were all finished cleaning rooms because the staff were out cleaning our floor still and didn't finish until much later.

Maddie really enjoyed the water. At first she was hesitant about the slides.

She just needed some time to warm up. By the time Dad had come back from the tornado she was ready to try out the slides. The littlest slides weren't enough for her and so she pointed to another one and said she wanted the "red" slide. She went down all by herself, but at the end was a bit shaken. However after a hug she then declared "yellow" slide. Of course once at the top it was a different story and she now no longer wanted to ride the yellow slide. But she tried. The snake and beaver floats in the play pool were a lot of fun for her, and with the help of Dad, she enjoyed shooting some hoops too.

She remembers that there was an owl at the wave pool, but here favorite thing was probably going through the kid spray area.

The lifeguards in the toddler area were very friendly, however I did feel it was a bit understaffed. I felt there should have been 1 more, but I did notice they didn't just stand, but made rounds. This is probably sufficient. Though one particular lifeguard, a young lady, seemed to be pretty stressed out at her station and anytime a kid fell in the water she asked them more than once if they were OK. She also got sprayed with water and didn't like that...I figure if you're a lifeguard, water should be your thing. But that's OK, it was one out of plenty and none of the others seemed to be shy about getting sprayed with water.

Lines for the 2 large slides and the tornado were short. The longest wait we encountered was about 10 minutes. Maybe 15. That was for the tornado. A very awesome ride. But...if you go, make sure you try it out at night. Put the kids to bed, and each parent should have a go at it. It's pitch dark and soooo much fun! Ryan had 15 minutes to get from the room to the tornado for a ride before it closed and he was able to ride it twice. And we were literally as far from the water park as you could get. (OK, one other room was farther) On Tuesday morning there were no lines. Perfect for parents like us where one has to wait with two kiddos.

We had planned on utilizing the water park after we checked out on Tuesday. The plan was to go at 9, watch the clock tower show at 10, check out and then go back to the water park. However, our little Maddie was pretty wore out. She just had a 9 day vacation, had a head cold, and had played hard 3 times already in the water. We decided it was time to go home and look forward to the next time we come. We are stoked about the location of the Great Wolf Lodge. Winter blues, move aside.

We feel that a 1 night stay is about perfect. You don't need to pay more for another night since you can use the water park after check out. You can't use the ultra convenient wrist band for purchases, but there are showers and locker rooms. There is plenty more to do at the Lodge as well. But for us with baby and toddler, the water park is the draw. There is the cub club, which I think would be fun perhaps for a 2 night stay. But the projects cost about 5 dollars each, and we can color at home...we came for the water slides :)

There is also a really g8 place for tweens and teens to hang out. I saw guitar hero being played there. And parents took there kids to watch transformers at night. The arcade also draws in tweens and teens, but as Ryan walked around at night he saw families playing together. We love to see families doing things together...that's what Great Wolf Lodge is about.

There was consideration of taking Maddie for her first pedicure or manicure at the Scoops Spa for kids, but at 35 dollars for a manicure, it wasn't worth it for such a little tike. The adult spa had regular spa prices. No bargains, but a great place for a mom to go to get a little relaxation. It's open to 9, so it's still an option once the kids are in bed.

For little kids the clock tower show is a big draw. Our little kid really enjoyed it. There is story time in the evenings as well, but it's not till 8:15, and that's past our bedtime. Perhaps if we were to go when we hadn't just been gone for over a week we could do it, but our kiddo was T-I-R-E-D.

Next time we go I think we'll try and get some grandparents or an uncle to go with us. Our room was the family suite, 2 queens with a semi wall and a pull out sofa. Maddie used the sofa. And even though we put Annora on the queen next to us, we have something else she can use, and the grandparents could take the second queen. This is the most economical room. But there are some rooms that have a separate bedroom. This might seem like it could save you money, but I don't think it would. I think those rooms are about double, and no matter the occupancy of the room, you have to pay 30 dollars per person over 4. If kids are counted as "free", then it could work, but otherwise, you might as well have two rooms. OR, the grandparents can just pay 30 dollars and come for the day to the water park as a guest.

So, we had a blast. Well worth our hard earned dollar and we'll be putting more towards another night sometime. Keep an eye out for bargains. For those of you with toddlers, it's possible they run a special for families of preschoolers come September. Yeah!

Sweet .500

While the Blazers aren't going to the playoffs this year, they did manage to win AT LEAST 41 games, which guarantees that they will have at least a .500 winning percentage. Considering they were projected by most "experts" to win between 25 and 30 games this year, that is quite an accomplishment.

Here is a quick highlight of the game last night, I promise you won't be disappointed:

I will post more later (at lunch time) about our Boston trip and The Great Wolf Lodge but for those that want a few pictures, here is my flickr photo stream:

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

We're not dead...

We just don't have great internet service here in Boston, so there has been a lack of posts and communications from us :p

I signed us up for the t-mobile full internet plan (which is a pretty good deal, only like $7 for the week) since the hotel charges for internet. The only problem with it is that it has upload speeds worse than dialup. It isn't TOO bad for browsing, but trying to post ANYTHING takes eons (and the download speeds aren't exactly fantabulous... I think it took 3 hours for me to update 1 podcast on iTunes... but we can at least browse the internet "okay" with it).

But using my 1337 haxor skillz I managed to finagle us some decent free wireless for today, possibly for the rest of the trip... we will see how it works, but for now we have some nice free broadband access in our room, so I will update everyone on how we are doing.

We have had a great time in Boston so far, our trip has probably turned out better than what I was expecting. My biggest concern was sleeping conditions, and boy did God really deliver there. When we booked the room we pricelined it (cause we are cheap that way) and made a "request" for 2 doubles and a non-smoking room. Having experienced Pricelines HORRIBLE booking practices before, we called the hotel 2-3 days before we left to confirm that we had 2 doubles and a non-smoking room. Shalisa got possibly the most useless employee ever, but he assured her that yes that was what we were booked for.

So of course, when I go to check in... what do you think we had? If you guessed a King smoking room, you would be correct :p Luckily the lady at the front desk was super helpful and said she would see what she could do, and while we waited in the lobby to snack on some fresh (and by fresh I mean they were literally burning my hand hot) cookies. So we sat in the lobby eating our gooey chocolate chip cookies for like 2 minutes. I came back to the counter and she was sad to tell me that they didn't have any more double rooms, but she could put us in a king room with a rollaway for the evening, and then we could move to a double the next day (non-smoking of course). The instant Shalisa and I got in our room we knew that the rollaway was the way to go, it allowed us to put Maddie off in her own little corner with he own little bed, while still making the room functional for us to use while she slept. I called down and told them we were happy with the king with a rollaway and asked what it would cost to just keep this room and the rollaway, normally it would cost more but since it was their mistake they said no charge and to enjoy the room... and boy have we since then. Maddie has slept as well as can be expected on vacation (she goes to bed a little late, around 8:30ish, but all in all not that bad).

The weather has been really good, and improving. It was bit cold the first day, but there has been no rain and we packed our winter coats, so we are doing well on that front. We have walked most of the freedom trail already (Bunker Hill Monument, USS Constitution, Paul Revere's house, The State House, and tons of other stuff). We also have had a blast hanging out in both Boston Park and Boston Common (Boston's version of Central Park, Maddie has had a blast running around and playing with lots of other kids there). We went to the Children's museum, visited Cambridge and walked around Harvard. We leave for the Fenway to watch the "Sawx" in about an hour and a half. On Friday we will meet Kyle and Beth in Salem and then again on Saturday we will go with them to the Museum of Science. Plus we still get to visit the Great Wold Lodge when we come home (I read your reviews Justin and Kristi, lower floor room for us ;) ).

I have taken a lot of video footage (remains to be seen if any of it is actually any good, but at least I have taken video this trip) and Shalisa has taken some great photos (as always) so hopefully when we get back we can have a comprehensive multimedia experience to show off our trip.

Hope everything is going well back home, I am sure we will see you guys all again soon.

PS - I am pretty sure Maddie has a new boyfriend, his name is "Peter Pan"... she has probably watched it... 10 times already this trip, we brought TONS of other movie options for her, but any time we try and watch anything other than Peter Pan, she goes about 30 seconds before asking "Peter Pan? Peter Pan?" and repeating this until Peter Pan is finally put in the DVD player. It's for her enjoyment, so if it is what she wants thats fine by me... but wow she sure loves Peter Pan.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Yeast Obsession

It all started when someone gave us an Amish Friendship Bread starter. One thing led to another and though we aren't maintaining the Friendship Bread, we made a successful sourdough starter from scratch that is thriving very well. 3 batches of the King Arthur Pain au Levain recipe later and we're hooked. Last night we made english muffins, this morning sourdough pancakes, and this afternoon was focaccia. Thankfully other people seem to enjoy our bread, so we don't have to consume it all ourselves, though it wouldn't be a hard task to undertake I don't think if we didn't have to face the scale in the morning.
There are many many many more recipes to undertake. And some without sourdough starter as well. Something to try soon is pita bread. Maybe tomorrow! So, here is the recipe for focaccia that I used today. Forgive the ounces and cups...I was being lazy and didn't weigh the starter...the secret to good bread...weigh your ingredients. Really. Try it.


2 cups sourdough starter

10 ounces water (I actually started with 8 but realized later the dough was not soft enough...thankfully bread can be forgiving..I added one ounce in the mixer and decided after it was in the bowl to rise it needed more and kneading in another ounce, and it still turned out very well)
-mix and let sit for about 30 minutes

12 ounces white flour
4 ounces whole wheat flour (I used whole wheat pastry)
2 T olive oil
2 t salt

-mix till combined. You may turn out and knead,
this is a very wet and soft dough, and may be kneaded by simply folding or tossing a few times. Put in oiled bowl and set to rise for about 2 hours. Prepare a half sheet pan with parchment and brush with olive oil. Turn dough out onto this and gently press it out to meet edges. Let rest if it resists. Cover and let rise for about 2 hours. Use floured fingers now to "dimple" the surface. Cover and let sit for about 10-20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush with olive oil and season to taste. I used salt and thyme on one side and sausage, sage, caramelized onions and tomatoes on the other.
Bake till golden, about 25-30 minutes.
Let cool on rack.