Friday, July 31, 2009

To Chicago via Iowa

This past weekend we went to Chicago for the day via a trip to Iowa. We left Friday night right after work to start the 6 hour drive. It was pretty uneventful until the last 45 miles. We drove through some serious thunderstorms. Not only was the rain so heavy it was hard to see, every lightening strike would illuminate the clouds. I looked like a tornado might drop down at any time, but we kept driving (of course) and finally got there around 11:30pm.

I was up around 6:15am the next morning to run the Bix 7. The Bix is 7-mile race in the Quad Cities during an annual jazz festival honoring musician Bix Beiderbecke. It is a fun race and I have done it for four years now, but I forgot how hilly the course was! Just over 15,000 people ran the race this year and while the weather was slightly cooler than normal this year, the course was still tough! But, I finished (after getting a cramp with only 0.25 miles left - ugh!) in 1:02:57. My time was a little slower than I hoped, but compared to my race times over the last several years, this time was great. After that, we spent the day by the pool and ate smoked ribs for dinner.

Sunday morning we were up early again to head into Chicago. Todd has been wanting to take his niece and nephews into Chicago, so we decided on a game at Wrigley! Todd had on some old sandals as we left and forgot his shoes to walk around in. So, we stopped to get shoes in Wrigleyville at 10:00am on Sunday morning. After that we parked and got tickets for the game. It was very important to get the tickets as we knew it would be hard to get 5 together and also because our nephew Max was concerned about going to the game without tickets. We promised him we had been many times and gotten tickets outside of the stadium, but we definitely needed tickets in hand to make everyone happy! We grabbed lunch, bought Sharpe #1 for possible autographs, lost Sharpe #1, and made it to our seats. Thankfully the Cubs won, so the kids got to sing the Go, Cubs, Go! song. I think they enjoyed the game and we definitely kept the cotton candy guy busy. After the game, we saw the bucket drummers, bought Sharpe #2, got Ben some Cubs baseball cards, and waited for Cubs players to get some autographs.

We waited near where the players park their cars. It is kind of crappy because they all leave and never sign anything. They should at least sign for a few kids. It only costs them a few minutes of time to gain fans for a lifetime. We waited and watched Lee, Dempster, Fontenot, Soriano, and other players leave. Rich Harden, the winning pitcher came out and was talking to others inside the gated parking lot. Finally, after about 10 minutes, he came over and started signing autographs for people. It was awesome of him and all the kids were excited. We were trying to get in for our autographs. Todd held Ben on his shoulders so he could reach over the top of other people to hand in his Harden baseball card for a signature. Max climbed up the side of the fence and hung over the game program open to the page on Harden. Both got signatures (of course, we didn't need the Sharpes #1 and #2 as he used the same pen for everyone).

After that, we headed downtown for a quick tour of tall buildings, a stop an Millennium Park, and some Chicago-style pizza. We didn't get home until late, but had a lot of fun! Next time we'll hit a few other attractions. I think all the kids are ready for the aquarium.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Todd is 40!!

I already know what is coming at me. Todd will be so mad I am posting this and putting up a picture. I am so in trouble, but it is such a big occasion, I couldn't skip over it. I mean, this is The Royer Report, a whole blog about us!

At the beginning of June, Todd turned the big 4-0. I spent months planning a big surprise party for him, but nothing really turned out as I planned. I guess in the end, a good time was had by all, so that made it worth the effort.

Party Planning - I called so many different places to reserve a room, but nothing was available or I couldn't get places to call me back. I finally reserved the back bar area at Yogi's, a local bar and grill, and ordered an appetizer buffet. They were so accommodating! I would completely recommend anyone who wants to host a casual party and not worry about having at your home. They were great to work with and even adjusted food to make my order smaller up to two days before the party. So great! They were also great when I arrived to great guests and put up a few decorations. I will be using them again for my future party needs.

Guest List - I invited about 80 of Todd's friends and family. A few were from out-of-state, so I knew not everyone would come, but I was disappointed that only about 25 people could come. I definitely wanted a big surprise bash, but I guess I picked a bad weekend. It was after the semester had ended and the same weekend as several local high school graduations. Oh well, those that came had a great time and like I said, Yogi's was great at changing the food orders up to the last minute.

Surprise Effect - So, everything was a complete surprise up to the last week. About a week before the party, Todd decided he was going to take a trip to do a dog hunting test with Murphy in Illinois. That would require him to leave right after work on Friday. Ack! The party was set to start at 5:30pm that Friday night. I tried to come up with all sorts of different suggestions, including leaving Friday morning and making up a fake party that we had been invited to and he needed to attend with me. Of course, he didn't really buy any of those schemes and kept his plans to leave after work. I finally had to tell him about the party. At least we didn't have to worry about our plan to actually get him there for the party (that was prearranged with a friend of his). His comment to me was that he was definitely surprised I had planned something for him and would have never guessed anything. Nice. Needless to say, I was bummed about having to tell him, but everyone at the party gave him a hard time about ruining the surprise so that made it a little better.

The Gifts - Lots of people got him great gag gifts and some useful things, too. He got lots of black and 40 balloons. We came home to a nice present on our front porch (see picture below), so he was happy about that. Of course, the gift I got him was a flop! I ordered a book for him on Chesapeake Bay Retrievers that is no longer in print. I search high and low for this book and finally found a copy on ebay that was listed in good condition. I paid for expedited shipping to get it here for his birthday and they failed to ship it until five days after I place my order and paid the extra money! I definitely was not happy, so they refunded my full shipping cost and sent it out. Well, the book arrived in horrible condition, two weeks after his birthday. I had to send it back and complain about the shape it was in - broken spine, stained back cover, torn front cover. Clearly not in good condition! But, I was able to find a better copy and order that, so I did redeem myself three weeks after his birthday.

The Cake - I did get us two pieces of cake from Blu Boy. We love their cake! So good!

New Decking

Well, we finally decided to put on a new deck this year. We had always known the deck on our house was not well-built and it was falling apart. The previous owners never stained he deck, so the wood was water damaged and cracking. We stained it twice in the last four years, but the damage had already been done. I didn't really want to spend money on a new deck, but during the demo you could see how horrible it was, how pieces were falling about, and how it could have pulled away from the house. Lovely. The posts were not even sunk in with concrete! So, I guess it was needed for safety reasons.

We spent months decided what type of material we wanted to use and finally decided on the composite wood - no maintenance and more difficult for the dogs to tear up. Overall, I like the deck, but it was not built without drama.

First of all, let me mention that I will NEVER spend any of my hard earned money at Lowe's EVER again. Horrible. It took us days to get the materials delivered, and then they were not delivered on time. From Thursday through Sunday we waited to start building and trying to organize getting the materials from them. I even tried to rent a truck to pick everything up myself. First they told me it was okay and then they said it wasn't because the wood was too long to fit on the truck and it would be a safety hazard. Okay, you know my order, so why did you say it was originally okay and make me wait an hour to hear it was not possible?!? Parts of the order were not correct or missing. Then, when we tried to return some spare pieces (about $200 worth), we were not allowed because of how THEY ordered it. We ordered 6 posts, but they put it in the system as 2 packs of 3. So, since we weren't returning the how package, we couldn't get our money back. But, they will sell them individually and can look up an individual price, not too mention we did not ask for the materials to come as a package, we asked for individual pieces. UGH! Let's just say that I had to leave Lowe's so I wouldn't go over the counter ate strangle the stupid people working there.

It is nothing spectacular, just a 12x12 deck. We only increased it by about 2 feet in width. The railing is a lot better than before. But, the stairs are an issue for me. I do not like the stairs. We originally wanted an octagon shaped stair that would come off the corner of the deck. At some point, we changed our minds and decided on regular old steps coming straight off the deck down to the grass. But, I didn't realize until the stairs were under construction what was going on. Todd had decided to go back to the octagon shape, but they are not symmetrical. In my opinion, it does not look right. Also, because of how the yard slopes, we had to add an extra step to one side because it would have been too dangerous of a step down to the yard. So, we have two sides of the stairs with 3 steps and one with 4 steps.

Another issue is that we have nothing going around the bottom of the deck. We were going to put up skirting and we have also talked about the trellis-type material. So far, we have nothing. I would like to put something up. We would have to leave an opening for the dogs as they like to hang out under the deck when the weather is bad. They stayed outside during the recent 90-degree days and stayed cool laying in the dirt under the shade of the deck.

The other problem is that half of the patio was torn up to put in the new steps for the deck. I have been wanting to get rid of the patio and just replace it with grass, but for now, everything is just sitting there waiting for us to do something with it. Great, another project.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Blueberry Peach Crisp

I think I may have found the crisp recipie I will use from now on. I made a peach crisp a few weeks ago and it was good, but it wasn't spectacular. Well, last weekend I came across another crisp recipe that looked really good and tried it the same day, although I adapted the recipe for our tastes. I had some peaches cut and frozed, but not enough to actually make the crisp. So, I decided to use half blueberries (also needed to use up some of those) and half peaches. Todd has declared this my best crisp yet and this should be my go-to recipe for fruit crisps. So, I guess it has been blessed. :) It was gone so fast, I didn' get a chance to take a picture.

Fruit Crisp
½ cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup all purpose flour
¾ cup old fashioned oats
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon

About 2 lbs. (4-5 cups) fruit (I used 2 cups peaches and 2 cups blueberries)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium size bowl, mix together brown sugar, flour, oats, baking powder and cold butter with your hands, until mixture is well combined and crumbly Lightly toss almonds into mixture. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together cinnamon, brown sugar and cornstarch. Set aside. In a 8x8 dish sprayed lightly with cooking spray, combine your fruit. Drizzle with lemon juice and almond extract. Stir in cinnamon/sugar/cornstarch mixture and combine. Crumble crisp topping over the peaches. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or ice cream.