Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best of 2009

Ha ha! I'm finally ready with our 'Best of 2009' photo gallery and highlights of the year!

Best of 2009 album

This year was a bit of a whirlwind for all of us. We were really busy and felt overworked most of the year, so it's no surprise that 2009 was also a year for lots of mini vacations and trips.

January - Cynthia started this blog (which she rarely contributes to) in order to have a means to keep in touch with friends. Peter completed the necessary steps to become an Associate of the Society of Actuaries and Member of the American Academy of Actuaries. Cynthia also gets a calling as a Mia Maids teacher.

Some months in between - Honestly, not too much happened during this time period. Jordan lost his first tooth, we had some car problems, we had a staycation, etc. Then...

June - We did a joint vacation with the Maynes to Wisconsin Dells. It's a good thing we did it this year - we may never make it over to those parts again. Peter is released from his calling in the Elders Quorum Presidency and also switches positions at work. Jordan and Carter also go on their very first Father and Sons camp out.

July - Carter goes to the emergency room for the second time in his life (which is two more times than the rest of us combined). We were worried that he had possibly been drinking antifreeze with two of his friends in the garage. Thankfully, none of the kids drank anything...everyone was fine.

August - Peter begins seriously studying for an actuarial exam to come in late October. Family time decreased drastically from this point on. The test went well, results will be posted January 8th.

September - Jordan begins 5-year old, full-day kindergarten. It was so funny listening to how mature he said he was now that he's not in 4K half-day school.

October - Peter is called to be a secretary to the Elder's Quorum Presidency. This is now his shortest calling ever at a duration of 6 weeks.

November - Cynthia's brother (David and his wife Shelena) visit us for a week from Utah. On the final day of the vacation (for both families), Peter finds out he was laid off along with 95 others at his company. The job search begins.

December - The job search ends after only 23 days (very thankful). Peter's grandma passes away on the 8th. Our family leaves Milwaukee headed for Portland on the 28th to start a new job in a new town.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Recap - 2009

Alright, this is just a placeholder. Our Christmas cards were sent out yesterday and the letter promised that this website would have a recap of the past year. It should be here, but it's not. I'll put it up very, very soon. Like tonight.

Of course, I said that to myself last night too...

Keep checking back!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Grandma Swenson

This lovely lady is my maternal grandmother, Jessie Swenson. She passed away last week, and I miss her. She was the first of my grandparents to pass away despite most of them having pretty serious health conditions for a number of years. For a while there, I thought they'd all live forever.

I was closer to Jessie than the rest of my grandparents. She was always there for her children and grandchildren and always made me feel important. Jessie loved crafts, gadgets, music, writing letters, and laughter - all qualities that have seeped through her children and grandchildren. After my own parents and siblings, Jessie probably had the most influence on who I am today. Case in point, I probably wouldn't have my religious beliefs today if she hadn't insisted that her kids be baptized.

I was lucky enough to be able to fly down to my childhood stomping grounds in Orange County, California for the funeral. It was a beautiful service. I loved seeing loved ones again and I was so glad that I was able to pay my last respects to a wonderful woman.

This was the first time in 15 years that I've been back in the OC; it was a little strange seeing all the places and all my relatives again after so long, but it was a wonderful trip that I won't soon forget. Plus, In-N-Out...need I say more?

This was a display at the funeral. Grandma loved making crafts for everyone and this table contained only a minuscule portion of her work. She made those Christmas stockings for all her kids and grandkids (a tradition my Mom continued forward). After the funeral, I received the original stocking she made for me which I now proudly hang on my wall for the remainder of the Christmas season.

Me and my sibs. We haven't all been together since Christmas 2007. Dan the Man was much shorter back then...and not yet fashionable enough to wear a pink tie.

The 3 Musketeers. It's hardest to get the three of us together, but it's always a good time. Sometimes I wish I lived closer to them, just to make them laugh; they both have excellent laughs.

The original Swenson clan, one last time.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

We're Moving

Most of our regular readers have heard by now, but I'll announce it for the benefit of those that haven't heard. I accepted a job offer - a really good job offer with the company that was number one on my list. We'll be moving to Portland, OR right after Christmas.

As is often the case, we now have a lot of mixed emotions. We think it's miraculous that we found a job in just 23 days, but we wish we could have more time in Milwaukee. We are excited to move closer to family, but we are leaving behind some of the best friends and people we've ever met. We're excited to move somewhere warmer, but we'll miss the snow.

Many of you have kept us in your prayers and I'd like to thank you for that. We distinctly felt the help that those prayers have brought.

So, thus the adventure continues. We'll be moving to a city we've never even seen for the second time in a row...we should really stop doing this. We already got out of our apartment lease, we think we've found an apartment in Portland, and the movers are giving us estimates tomorrow. Nationwide is right - life comes at you fast.

Here are two pics (not great ones) of Portland. It sure will be nice being within 2 hours of mountains and an ocean; best of both worlds.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Things I'd Never Seen Before

Seattle was an interesting place to go for the first time. In just a few short hours, I couldn't believe the number of things I saw for the first time in my life. Like:

Pike Place - A farmers' market that actually has good stuff! Holy delicious displays of seafood and veggies, Batman!

Ah-hah! I told you they were real!

Sad, but true. I'd never seen a black truffle in person before this week.

I still don't know what that cabbage-looking flower is. I'm sure Google knows, but I'm feeling lazy.

The Spiced Noodle. Uhh, I mean the Space Needle.

Other things I'd never seen before: a container ship, Mount St. Helens, paper soap, a talkative TSA employee, or a library that looks like an anvil.

In case you're curious, I was in Seattle for a job interview. It went extremely well and I was told to expect a job offer early next week. Keep those fingers crossed...unless you want us to stay in Milwaukee ;)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

David and Shelena, Part 4: Zealotmobile

I've saved the best "David and Shelena" entry for last.

I feel sorry for people who live in Milwaukee and don't work downtown. They're missing out on one of the most unique experiences this city has to offer.

Imagine yourself, waiting on Wisconsin Ave for your evening commute bus to come. It's been a long day and you're lost in your thoughts. You consider running into Starbucks for a Caramel Apple Spice cider when you hear the faint sounds of a tinny PA system. You try to make out the words, but it's impossible. Just muffled voices screaming...err...preaching something. Probably the end of the world, damnation, repentance, etc. You look around for the source of the sound and see this vehicle coming up on you.

"Oh geez" you say to yourself, "it's the Zealotmobile!" Actually, I have no idea what other people call this...this...artwork. I'm looking for a better name myself.

David and Shelena were joining Cyn and me for lunch at Safe House when we got stuck behind the super-slow Zealotmobile. And I couldn't be happier about it. The Zealotmobile is quintessential Milwaukee and any trip to see us would have been incomplete without a viewing of it.

People have an odd reaction to this car. We've all seen it dozens of times, but not regularly enough that it annoys us. You just kind of smile about it all and move on. But if you really take time to read some of the signs on the behemoth of trash, you can become somewhat outraged.

I have no idea why this guy thinks he's saving souls with such inflammatory messages as (spelling preserved):

  • The 2nd Great Whore The Lutherans
  • Blame The Moslum N The Jew B-Cause They Both Hate U Christians
  • I'm Trying Save Your Soul A#&*$@! (although he has blacked out the cuss recently)
  • Earth: The Insane Asylum 4 The Universe
And there are some that are far worse that I won't be writing down. I'll leave it as an exercise for you to find them. :)

Hang that I think of it, the Zealotmobile's precariously placed tower of messages really reminds of something from my childhood...

"The Trash Heap, nyuuuhhh!"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

David and Shelena, Part 3: Apple Pickin'

While David and Shelena were here, we went apple picking for the first time. I'm not sure why we haven't done it in years past. The boys loved the outing and enjoyed snacking on the half bushel of Golden Delicious and Jonagolds we purchased. The boys said they want to pick apples every year, but we'll have to see where we'll be next year. Good thing that apples grow in every state.

Oh, and we finally tried Honeycrisp apples for the first time. Very good snacking apple, but I still prefer the versatility of a Golden Delicious.

This silly dog followed us the entire time we were picking apples. I had no idea how much Carter likes dogs. Carter tried feeding him apples and playing fetch with him the rest of the time we were at Barthel Farms.

Too Cute

I like these shots. Not entirely sure why. I guess it reminds me that center of our family is Cyn and I, having as much fun together as possible.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for the hope that Heavenly Father keeps sending to lift us up, and I'm thankful for all of you. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We love you. You make our lives beautiful!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

David and Shelena, Part 2: MAM

Shelena is one of the coolest semi-related-to-me persons I know. And I'm pretty confident that I know most of my semi-related-to-me persons. Aside from teaching us alternative scarf-folding techniques, knowing everything about cars (she even shares the same favorite car with me), and visiting us during a cold week in autumn, she also brought a Canon Rebel SLR with her.

I made the mistake of buying a film SLR right before the digicam craze started. And I will regret that decision until I have a digital SLR of my very own. (sniff, sniff)

So thanks to Shelena for snapping a million awesome pictures of our trip on a camera with far better color imaging than my own feeble non-SLR camera.

Let's get the picture-sharing started with the Milwaukee Art Museum.

I've said it before, the Calatrava is the most beautiful part of Milwaukee.

This pic would have been better if some of us were on the right side, but the guard yelled at us. They're very cautious at the MAM about where you stand, what you touch, and the level of moisture contained in your breath. I think we'll bring our HazMat suits next time.

This is a fun little 3-way mirror sculpture that everyone who has ever been to the MAM has seen, but this is by far the best shot I've ever seen taken of it. Hooray for Shelena!

I forgot the name of the artist, but there's a small room on the 3rd floor with 3 sculptures (including the sculpture above) by the same artist. The entire room has a very serene and quiet feeling that exudes from her artwork. I could sit and think in that room all day long.

Yeah, we're silly. And Cyn has the Bangles on her mind.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Funny Part About Church in Milwaukee...

Is that there's hardly a safe place in the whole city of Milwaukee. Each time that I participate in the annual church landscaping project, I clean up a plethora of cigarette butts; sometimes I really wonder who's hanging around the church when we're not there. I got a small answer to that question last night.

We had our church meetings from 1-4 and then choir practice from 4:15 to 5. Everyone but the choir members had evacuated the building by 4:30. Around 4:45, Jordan and Carter were running madly through the halls to stave off boredom when someone walks through the front door of the church.

In Jordan's words, the man was "black, kinda short for an adult, had an American flag shirt on, and had a cigarette in his mouth!" Jordan didn't feel like the guy had very good intentions, so he ran away and grabbed Carter's hand in the process. Jordan even looked back to make sure the guy wasn't chasing them. Well done, but he didn't tell an adult about it.

The guy then poked his head in the chapel where the choir was. Cynthia (and a few other ladies) saw him but failed to tell one of the four men in the room. We all failed to see him as we were....uhh....rehearsing. Yeah...rehearsing. Talking about ninjas actually. Hrmm hrmm...

If I had known this guy was in the church, I would have talked to him. We've had some stolen items from the church and several people asking for money, so prevention is the best policy. However, I didn't know about it until 5 pm after the closing prayer. One of the sisters told me she saw him and then she asked me to do a sweep of the building to make sure he wasn't still inside. Then my wife informs me that for whatever reason, she left her purse in the foyer.

Yeah, it was gone. Her purse, her scriptures that I got her as a wedding gift seven years ago, her lesson manual, her makeup bag, a copy of her patriarchal blessing (the original is safe at home), and all of our quiet books and coloring books. Luckily, Cynthia kept her class roster including addresses and phone numbers of the young women, her coat, her keys, and her wallet in a different place. So the guy got nothing of monetary value. Still sucks though.

Cyn's name, maiden name, birth date, place of birth, and both parents' names were in the bag, but as this is the fourth time that her personal information has been compromised during our marriage, we're pretty familiar with the routine of keeping her identity from becoming completely stolen.

Jordan was really shaken up about the whole thing. He kept crying about the crayons and coloring books that were stolen. He kept saying "that's the first time I ever saw a robber" and other such phrases. After a while I had to tell him that it could have been a lot worse - our car, for example, could have been stolen. For the rest of the night he decided to see the positive and be glad for everything that wasn't stolen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

David and Shelena, Part 1: Intro

David (Cyn's bro) and Shelena (his other half) were kind enough to visit us November 3 - 11. I really enjoyed their visit. I hadn't seen any relatives at all since December 2007, so it was especially sweet for me to see them. Here are a few stats of their stay:
  • 1522 pics taken. (Will be more, I don't have all of them yet)
  • 300 miles driven in a rental van
  • 45 minutes waiting for a table in Safe House
  • 36 games played (including 7 rounds of Carcassonne)
  • 19 hours of school that Jordan missed
  • 12 pounds of!
  • 8 amazing omelets by David
  • 3 books in the Twilight series finished by Shelena
  • 2 cheese fondues (Israeli and Bacon Cheddar)
  • 1 job terminated
  • 0.5 bushels of apples picked
  • 0 days that we were all awake by 10 am
Sounds like a party, doesn't it? Thank you so much for visiting us; we already miss you.

Past Halloweens

A few weeks ago, I upgraded our computer. We're now running Win7 64-bit with 4 gigs of DDR3, 1 terabyte of storage across a 3-disk RAID5 drive (all mounted on silicone) and backup 4th drive, and 4 cores running at 2.6 Ghz on an AM3 processor. I also have four silent pulse fans with all silicone fasteners and frames. It's as quiet as it is sleek.

I still need to upgrade our tuner card which is now incompatible with Win7, a new Blu-Ray burner, and a new video card. But they can wait.

If you're still with me, congratulations! You're an official computer geek!

But I digress.

While I was transitioning the old system to the new, one of Cyn's visiting teachers wanted to see a pic of a Halloween costume Cynthia wore years ago. I couldn't find it at the time because of the upgrade. But, now that I'm all done....this one's for you, Patty.

This is Cynthia as The Avon Lady, Halloween 2001. I didn't know her at the time (I was just two months off my mission - we met 5 months later), but I thought this pic was kinda cute in an odd way and scanned it. There was an even better full length picture that I didn't scan where you can see the hideous outfit she's wearing; the orange nylons really made the outfit. I didn't scan it because the picture has Cyn's then-boyfriend in the frame. Grrr.

For good measure, here's Cyn as The Scarecrow, Halloween 2004. Sad to say that all the clothes she is wearing actually came from her then-wardrobe; we've updated a bit since then. We've also updated the "Welcome Back Kotter" sofa and cinder block walls.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Sweetest Child Award Goes to...

We finally told Jordan and Carter on Friday that I no longer had a job. Jordan was a little surprised and then become rather pensive. He walked to his room, pulled out this piggy bank that he's had for years, and said "Daddy, I want you to have the money in my piggy bank. It will help you pay for things."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fitting End to a Vacation

Yesterday was my last day of a 5-day vacation. I was really looking forward to some time off after the exam. I really felt like I needed a vacation after all that studying.

David and Shelena were here for the week and we had a wonderful time - I'll post about it soon. Several months ago, I planned on resuming my search for a new job right after this vacation. And though the search will continue as planned, the intensity will change...

94 jobs were terminated at my company yesterday, and I was one of them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Matchy Matchy!

Halloween costumes this year had to be cheap and easy due to our busy schedules. Which means we couldn't do our original idea for Halloween costumes (all four of us dressing as 80's cartoon characters. I won't tell you which ones - there's always next year.)

We picked up the boys' costumes this year at a costume swap party. I'm just glad they were excited about them, despite the lack of color.

Carter as the Big Bad Wolf, Jordan as Remy from Ratatouille

Now if you'll bear with me for a moment, I must speak about something very important. Do you see those trick-or-treat bags they're holding? Pretty cool, huh? They glow in the dark for that extra touch of kiddy magic. The bags were from Cynthia's Mom - Cyn used those bags as a kid. Here's the weird part though, I used the same bags (except mine had handles) in my family! Does anyone else have fond memories of those bags? I need to know how many other Moms did cool stuff like that.

I digress...

As we were already planning on adult costumes that matched the kids this year, we felt challenged to come up with something else that matched. So...

Let go! These cookies are for my sick Grammy, you big meanie! Cookies will cure any geriatric condition!

Cynthia got some fleece from Joann's and freestyle sewed a Little Red Riding Hood costume. That fleece sure looked warm. Perfect for Halloween which was, unfortunately, 40 degrees this year. The dress and basket came from Goodwill. We wanted to stick a baguette in the basket, but we ran out of time.

Oui! Oui! Dupez ou le plaisir, monsieur! Donnez-moi le bonbon...MAINTENANT! Hon hon hon!

My costume was really easy - one quick trip to Bartz for a toque and a stop at Bed Bath and Beyond for an apron. Everyone seemed to dig the chef costume - lots of comments all night. One person recognized the Ratatouille connection and called me "Chef Gusteau"...I felt pretty fat after that one.

We went trick-or-treating in two waves (because one can never have too much sugar) and the boys gathered five pounds of candy together! Not that I measured on a kitchen scale...because that would be silly. Yeah, silly.

I'm done!

So, this is somewhat old news, but it took me a while to get a post up.

I'm done with my exam! I'm done, I'm done, I'm done!!!! No more headaches, flashcards, nightmares about missing the exam, hand cramps, frozen pizzas, etc. 450 hours is way too much time to put into any 5 month long pursuit.

I thought the test went fairly well. In the five years that I've been taking these exams, I've never been so satisfied with my efforts. No amount of additional studying would have helped and I felt like I did everything I possibly could during the exam. This has left me with a very satisfying feeling, regardless of whether I pass or not. Grades come out in early January.

Yes, January. Graders won't even see the exam until early December. I know that half of you just went into shock, but I'm used to the used to be worse...

So once again I can have a life and I can enjoy other endeavors.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sentimental Photomosaic

It's become somewhat of a tradition that with each "official" family picture we take, I make a photo mosaic out of it using the pictures we've taken over the course of our marriage. This year, I had over 6,000 images in the tile library and 10,000 tiles were used to make the following photo mosaic.


If a picture is worth a thousand words, this image is worth...(carry the one...raise to the power of...) 10,000,000 words. I love looking through this mosaic at a high zoom and reminiscing about all of the experiences the four of us have lived through together. Where's my box of tissue?

I already had one reader ask, so I'll tell you in advance. This image was made with AndreaMosaic (Win, Mac, and Linux) which is completely FREE. I've tried several photo mosaic utilities over the years, and I think this one is my favorite. There may be better, but not for the price. :)

Let me know if you make any masterpieces with the program. I can think of one friend that could probably make an amazing flower mosaic with flower photos...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pumpkin Patch Op-ed

Saturday, whilst I sat in a library studying the design and pricing of insurance products, the family decided to do something a little less nerdy. Off to the pumpkin patch!

Cynthia is really the one that should be writing this post as she was there and I was not, but apparently she was not so inclined to acquiesce my request. I can therefore only give my opinion as to what the pictures might mean.

I believe Carter is trying a Vulcan mind-meld with this pumpkin...or is it a Horta? (too obscure?)

I believe that instead of charging customers for the pumpkins, the owners simply take embarrassing photos of all persons picking out pumpkins. This allows them to participate in the much more lucrative practice of blackmail.
Doesn't that little ghost in the middle know that witches taste terrible?

I believe that, given the presence of a bathtub in the background (seriously, what's that all about?), the two animatronic puppets are presenting a PSA on the benefits of proper hygiene during flu epidemics: "give hand sanitizer to trick-or-treaters for the ultimate in fun this flu season! Remember to have a fun, and safe, Halloween this year!"

Sleeping on the Edge

Kids crack me up. How is it that they always fall asleep in such weird positions? His center of gravity sure looks close to the edge. I wonder how many inches away he is from falling off. Bonus points for him falling asleep in a Superman cape.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Family Pics

We FINALLY got things organized enough to get family pictures. It's been at least two years since our last photo session. Verdict? I'm bald. And have three chins. Besides those two inconvenient truths, the pictures turned out pretty well. If we had taken the pictures back when we actually bought the shirts Jordan still would have had his front teeth.

Note to self: must teach Carter how to smile and show teeth at same time. Still, he's a really cute little guy.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Jordan's Super Party

Birthday parties sure are an elaborate affair. Cyn and I decided that the boys will now have a birthday party for friends every other year.

As much hard work as it was, we had lots of fun. Three full families came over - 8 adults, 9 kids. We ate pizza and then the kids had a Super Why activity while most of the adults chatted. Every one of Jordan's friends got a superhero cape in the same colors as the Super Readers.

Then the kids watched the introduction to an episode of Super Why and then they had to find super letters to learn the moral and solve the problem.

I just realized that if you've never seen the show, this probably won't make too much sense...just know that it was cool.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the cake. Which is great, but I kind of wish we didn't have to eat the darn thing. Way too much work to admire for only 3 minutes and then cut up.

The cake says "Super Jordan". So great that Jordan was dressed up in his Super Why costume from last Halloween. We even had Carter in his Alpha Pig costume!

I had all the kids put their capes on and strike a superhero pose. This is the result.

Many thanks to everyone that came and the kind gifts. Even more, thanks for sticking around and playing Crokinole! :)

FBCT Saves the Day!

Jordan told us that he wanted a cake decorated with Super Why for his birthday party. It seemed appropriate enough, given that the party was going to be a Super Why based event. But how were we supposed to put Super Why on a cake? He's a lot more complicated than the stylized buttercream and fondant Elmo we made back in 2008 for Carter.

I needed something that would look like Super Why, taste good (so fondant was out), have an even texture (so the star decorating tip was out), and look good enough to not end up on Cake Wrecks! After a bit of investigation, I found the frozen butter cream transfer technique (FBCT) online and decided to give it a shot.

Like most cake decorating projects, the hardest part was getting the colors right. Unfortunately, this cake had ten different colors. It took at least three hours to get all of the colors mixed, bagged, and ready to pipe. Dark brown was the hardest - even harder than red and black! I used cake food coloring, cocoa, and dutch process cocoa to get the proper shade.

I printed a mirror image picture of Super Why, taped it to a cutting board, and taped a sheet of wax paper on top. Then Cynthia piped the black outline on the wax paper while I made the rest of the colors. We used a #2 tip, but only because we didn't have a #1 tip...note to self: USE A #1 TIP NEXT TIME! The thinner, the better.

We put the piped outline in the freezer for a few minutes and then I piped out (with #2) the three brown shades and the dreaded red. I loved the highlights I put in his hair - nothing worse than a flat color of hair. The above picture was the end of day 1.

I put it in the freezer overnight and resumed work in filling in all the colors. Another 90 minutes and I had a very sore hand.

As you can see from the picture, I also had the most adorable looking super hero ever.

I put whole thing in the freezer multiple times during the piping so it would be easier to work with. When I finished all of the coloring, I placed it in the freezer for another 10 minutes or so. Then I took a cake decorating knife and press the whole design down to make an even appearance for the front of the cake.

To facilitate the transfer process, I put a layer of buttercream on top and repeated the freeze-and-press-down process.

In hindsight, I made my biggest mistake here. I was in a hurry and didn't press down the layer of white buttercream enough. The front was a little layered after I transferred it - kind of like a cloth behind Super Why.

I placed it all in the freezer as I frosted the cake (even more buttercream). The cake was frozen to make the frosting easier, but it was still a rough process. I can't figure out how my Mom ever got a recipe for buttercream that tasted great and was easy to spread - I'll have to get her recipe for my next cake.

At the end of day 2, I pulled the image out, removed the tape, placed it on the cake and CAREFULLY removed the wax paper.

Here's the finished transfer! What a fun method! It was really time-consuming, but we were all impressed with the result. Carter has already requested an Alpha Pig cake for his birthday. There was still plenty of piping work on day 3 which Cynthia graciously did while I was at work.

My other big mistake was not putting the cake back in the freezer at the end of day 2. The colors bled a small amount. Next time I'll remember that eating cold cake is preferable to messed up colors.

The final product is in the the next post - Jordan's Party.