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It’s past Christmas already?
Dec 27th, 2007 by Jessica

Well, okay then.  I think this is the longest I’ve ever gone without blogging before!  A lot has happened since Halloween.  Let’s see if I can recap.

November saw lots of homework.  We started two new classes in the MSIM program: Business Process and Workflow Analysis, and Enterprise Application Integration.  We completed the first five weeks during the first week of December, and will resume the next five weeks on January 14th. 

In the meantime, we are working heavily on our applied project, forming a real technology venture and completing the business plan.  We start our Winter Intensive course this Saturday.  It’s a 3-credit Master’s course in just 2 1/2 weeks: Managing Enterprise Applications.  I’ve been doing a lot of homework to get it out of the way before the Intensive starts.  Hopefully it won’t be that bad.

On the work front, I accepted a very cool position working with an excellent team in Operations.  As we grow closer to go-live on February 19th, a lot of changes are in the works.  Ops will take on the challenge of being Tier 2 triage for SIS issues.  There is a lot of work to be done, but I have excellent people to help with the tasks at hand!  I am so fortunate to have the chance to work with them.

Thanksgiving was different this year.  Mom, Dad, Andrew and I went over to Aunt Barbara and Uncle Mike’s house.  That was it!  Nobody else showed up.  The family is still going through some changes ever since Grandma passed away in 2005.  I wish everyone could just get along.

Andrew and I have been playing Rock Band (Xbox 360) and Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) quite a bit together.  I enjoy the vocals in Rock Band, and I even managed to make it to #3 in the world on the leaderboard in vocals for Dani California by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Freakin’ sweet!  Number three…  In the whole world!  I guess the computer likes my tone.  I can’t sing for real but I guess I match the computer just right!  We beat Super Mario Galaxy tonight, but will continue to play it and try to collect all the stars.  We like both of these games because they are cooperative efforts, and we can both play together at the same time.

We went to California the weekend of December 14th and met up with our friend Mike and his new girl, Rachel.  We tried going to Knotts Berry Farm but it was “Bring a toy and get in free” weekend, and the line to buy tickets was INSANE.  Thousands of people were single-file-lined-up to get into the park.  Forget it!  We drove over to Anaheim and waited a few minutes for a 3-day park hopper.  Then we hit California Adventure, followed by Disneyland.  It was lots of fun!

Andrew’s birthday was pretty good, and we celebrated with dinner at Rustler’s Rooste.  I got him a subscription to gamefly.com so he can rent hard to find games.  He seems pretty psyched about it!  Hopefully it works out well for him.  We threw him a little Transformers birthday party with Snickers ice cream cake.  He loved all the kitchy plastic tablecloths stickers and paper plates/napkins with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee.  Who needs kids when we can both act like them?!  =)

December 21st was my last day of work until January 2nd.  The College District is on paid holiday for 12 whole days!  Hooray!  Andrew and I have been quite sick with matching sore throats and head colds.  This is the first vacation we’ve ever had that we stayed home on.  It was our choice to stay home (well, Andrew’s mostly, but I thought I’d give it a try).  It has been really relaxing to just sit around and get homework done and watch television.  I’ve been eating lots of junk food and cleaning up the house.  I guess I prefer to leave town when I’m on vacation, but with us being sick, I guess it worked out well this time.

Christmas this year was really low-key.  We tossed and turned all night with matching coughs and woke up being smothered by our four kitties.  We opened gifts together and gave the kitties their new toys and treats.  Then we headed over to pick up Mom, and Dad took Reesy in his car.  We drove out to the Fox’s for a Christmas lunch barbeque.  After a quick exchange it was off back home to relax for the rest of the day.

That pretty much brings us up to speed, I think.  So as I sit here typing, watching Cars on television, Andrew is resting and all the kitties are asleep…  I guess it’s time to do more homework.  Hopefully I can get ahead far enough that I don’t stress about it in January.  We’re almost halfway done with the Master’s program.  Holy cow!  Halfway point… I never thought I’d get this far.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows
Jul 22nd, 2007 by Jessica

It took about 16 hours of reading, but I just finished HP7.  All I can say is, I was sort of off-base in my predictions, but then again, I was right on the money with them.

Confused?  Then go!  Read!  Now!

I’m just grateful that I managed to read the whole story before anyone spoiled it for me.  Andrew is only about halfway done, so hopefully he will finish it tomorrow so we can discuss it.

I hope those of you who were as excited as I was to read the final book found it as amazing and enthralling as I did.  I also hope those of you who have not yet finished, aren’t spoiled before you complete it.  Now, get to it!

For some crazy reason, we decided to go stand in line to buy Deathy Hallows at Wal-Mart around 11:30pm Friday night.  There were probably 100 people in line in front of us, and I expected to be waiting for more than an hour.  Shockingly, we had purchased the book and were heading to the car by 12:11am.  I never thought I’d say this in my lifetime, but dang – way to go, Wal-Mart! 

There was a cool excitement in the air and I’m really glad we decided to go to the midnight launch.  I wonder how long it will be before another book is as anticipated, as revered, as desired as HP7?

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Optimus Prime Cake
Jun 26th, 2007 by Jessica

Andrew and I spent last weekend creating an Optimus Prime cake in celebration of the new Transformers movie that opens July 2nd. Andrew already has a ticket for the first show! Alas, I’ll be in class that night, and will need to see it with him the following day. You can see more pictures and video on his website.

For those of you who are interested (or just plain insane?) and might like to try this yourself, I offer you a basic rundown of the creation below. Note, I recommend at least a fair amount of baking and fondant experience prior to attempting this project. We are certainly classified as amatuers in the cake arena, but it was a fun project nonetheless. Yeah, so the tires are flat. You try making tires out of cake and fondant! (Send me pictures, if you do!)

Optimus Prime Cake

Goal: Bring Optimus Prime to Life

Model: 1984 Optimus Prime Transformer
Scale: 1:3.2
Cost: $85.00
Planning Time: 4 hours (1 amatuer planner)
Baking Time: 22 hours (2 amatuer bakers)

Ingredients

  • 9 8″ square white cakes, baked and frozen
  • 3 batches of buttercream icing
  • 5 pounds of white fondant
  • 1 bag Oreo cookies
  • 5 12″ dowel rods
  • 3 cans black color mist
  • 2 cans red color mist
  • 1 can blue color mist
  • 2 bottles silver luster dust
  • 1/2 cup clear vodka
  • 4 13×19 cake boards
  • 4 feet thin silver wire
  • 1 pack edible ink writers

Accessories

  • electric carving knife
  • dough scraper/cutter
  • paint brush
  • icing spatula
  • cake leveler
  • circle cookie cutter
  • lazy susan
  • tiny bowls for silver paint
  • rolling cutter
  • exacto knife
  • yellow electrical tape (optional)
  • lots of space in your freezer
  • endless patience
  • good shoes (for standing in the kitchen)

Basic Directions

Photo

Directions

Step 1 Bake all 9 of the 8″ square cakes, leaving out 1/4 cup of water each to make them more dense, and freeze in multiple layers of plastic wrap
Step 3
20070627_step2b.jpg
Cab – Level and stack 3 pairs (6 cakes total) with dowels and boards in between, cutting out the front wheel wells – this part is the trickiest!

Bed – Level and stack 1 pair (1 cake in half) on a board

Tail Lights – Level and stack cake pieces from the 8th cake to form feet/tail lights

20070627_step6.jpg Crumb coat everything and freeze

Ice each piece again so fondant can stick

20070627_step8.jpg Roll and apply fondant to each of the pieces – the Cab, the Bed the Tail lights, and all six wheels
20070627_step10.jpg Cut window shapes out of the cab – be careful, you’ll need to put them back later
20070627_step12.jpg 
20070627_step12b.jpg
Use cutter, knife and other tools to create markings on the side of the cab and the back of the tail lights

Use fondant to mold roof accents and attach with clear vanilla extract and a paint brush

Spray the pieces – Cab is red, Bed is blue, Tail lights are blue, windows and wheels are black (Hint: spray black twice under the blue to make it darker)

Use fondant to mold roof accents, grill, bumper, headlights, icons, and exhaust stacks (wrapped around dowels for stability); freeze for easier handling

20070627_step14.jpg Use Oreo cookie pieces, discarding (or eating!) the center creme – stick 10 cookie sides together with royal icing and paint silver, then freeze to harden
20070627_step15b.jpg 
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Paint the miscellaneous pieces to match the toy’s various details with silver luster, red and black markers

Cover one 13×19 cake board with aluminum foil and use yellow tape to make lane markings (optional)

Place the pieces together on the large cake board – you might use a second 13×19 cake board underneath for added strength

20070627_step16.jpg Use stiffened buttercream to attach the pieces to the cab, and the wire to help hold on the exhaust stacks
20070627_step19.jpg Complete any final touches, then take pictures and show all your friends how much of a geek you are!
20070627_step20.jpg Eat cake (yum!)

So there you have it. Please, promise me if you try this cake (or anything like it) that you’ll send me a picture! I’d love to see your work of art. If you are interested in the Excel spreadsheet with all the calculated measurements and ratio adjustments, just leave a comment below and I’ll post it for you. Good luck!

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Argentine Giant
Apr 7th, 2007 by Jessica

I snapped these photographs of our baby Argentine Giant cactus in the front yard yesterday morning.  It only blooms at night, so you have to catch it very early.  It sure brings a big punch to the landscape!

Our front yard landscape, April 2007 Our baby Argentine Giant, April 2007 The first bloom on our Argentine Giant, April 2007

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Saving Dinner
Feb 27th, 2007 by Jessica

For Christmas, my sister sent us a gift certificate to SavingDinner.com.  I never learned how to cook, and until then I never had any interest in trying any new types of foods.  She sent us a book called Saving Dinner Basics along with the DVD on how to cook even if you don’t know how.  After years of pressure, I decided it was about time to give cooking a shot.

So… our New Years’ Resolution for 2007 was to learn how to cook.  Starting on New Year’s Day, we attempted our first dinner.  I didn’t know what garlic looked like.  I’d never once bought an onion.  I barely knew how to bake a potato.  We researched how to steam vegetables.  Seriously!  I’m talking for real, we had to Google methods for how to chop yellow squash.  We watched the instructional DVD that came with the Cuisinart we received as a gift, and learned what type of vegetables should be chopped and which ones should be pureed.  We literally did not know how to mash potatoes.  That’s how sad we were.

I’m not sure I can express how much learning to cook has changed our lives. I’d call us a novice pair in the kitchen, but the impact is extraordinary. I can go to a restaurant now and find MANY things on the menu to order. Never before have I had this option; at best there might be one thing I might like. I’m no longer scared of vegetables. I can handle a lot of sauces and spices. I don’t even need to scoop away marinara off my Chicken Parmesan, nor worry about ordering everything “plain” or “on the side.”

Pecan Salmon with Wild Rice Cozy Cheese Strata Cuban Chicken

The biggest thing about cooking at home that has benefited me is having control over what I eat. I can add more or less of something that I like. I can feel safe to make a recipe and hate it – then just grab something else. I don’t need to order something off the menu, feel like a jerk for not eating it because I don’t like it, and still pay $19.95 plus tip.Cooking has also helped bring Andrew and I closer together. We usually make dinner together now, instead of apart.

Turkey Veronique  Skillet Pork Chops with Creamy Gravy Baked Pineapple Sweet Potatoes with Pork Chops

We’ve graduated from frozen chicken patties and frozen french fries, through the skillet meal stage, and now onto broiling, sweating, frying in olive oil and baking multiple types of dishes.  We now know how to cook fresh chicken, pork, turkey, steak and several types of fish.  We stopped into Whole Foods on the way home to look for specialty cheeses, and I noticed they have a huge array of meats, fish and poultry to choose from at their deli counters.  I’m actually excited at the idea of trying new recipes with the stuff in the case!

Pork Chops on Wilted Spinach  Cran Apple Turkey  Steaks With Bearnaise Sauce

I guess what I’d like to say is, thank you Kathleen.  Thank you for pushing me so hard to learn how to cook.  Thank you for all the years of prodding and poking and forcing me to eat stuff I didn’t want to eat.  Thank you for rescuing me so much when I call for advice, and not laughing at me when I don’t know how to steam a carrot.  Thank you, sis!

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Its’a Wii! Woohoo!
Jan 22nd, 2007 by Jessica

Andrew found us a Nintendo Wii on Thursday. It is TONS of fun! You have something called a “Wiimote” (remote) that’s wireless, and you attach a Nunchuck to it (second remote). Every game you play physically tracks where your remotes are to mimick you on the screen. That means when you’re playing any of the Wii Sports games (it comes with the console), such as Baseball, you literally swing the Wiimote just like a bat. You pitch just like you would a real baseball (without letting go) and the on-screen “Mii” character mimicks your actions exactly.

It’s sort of… scary! I never imagined I would have games in my own living room that allow such vivid virtual reality. My arms sure hurt from pitching, golfing, throwing a bowling ball, playing tennis and even from boxing Andrew! Two people stand in the living room, each with a wiimote and nunchuck, and literally box each other in thin air. It tracks the height and angle of your swing, the speed of the swing, and the height/orientation of your ducking and blocking. It takes ALL of your energy to play! A great workout!

The Wii’s are hard to find right now, but they are getting a little easier as time goes by. Andrew snagged the last one at Fry’s Electronics. They made us buy three additional games with it in a bundle, but at least we got to choose which games to buy. We picked up Zelda: Twilight Princess, Warioware and Monkey Ball. There aren’t a whole lot of titles out for it right now, but the Wii Sports is all I need to get hours and hours of game play! Like I said, it comes right in the box with the Wii, too.

Well, it’s 4:47am and I’m heading to work. I got a lot of frustration out this weekend around my working times playing that Wii, thank goodness. Back to the grind! I worked about 70 hours last week in emergency mode (note: Monday was a holiday, too!) and we’re just about halfway out of it. Hopefully by Wednesday things will be better.

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Overnight low of 26? Brrrr!
Jan 14th, 2007 by Jessica

Overnight low of 26 - almost a record!We hit a major cold snap here in the Valley. Many of our plants have suffered severe frost damage, including our poor Sonoran Yellow Bells and our beautiful Ficus Natida trees. Our cactus seem to have come through it without too much of a problem, thankfully. We’ll have to see if there are any long term affects on them, since they are newly planted.

Arizona Golf Resort Fountain - Frozen Over!We went to the Arizona Golf Resort in Mesa today to look at a wedding location for Amy and Mason. On our way in we noticed the fountain had literally frozen over! Thus, giving solid proof that it’s not always over 100 degrees in Phoenix. The record low for tonight was 22 back in 1963! This is way below our average low of 39 degrees.

I moved here to get AWAY from the cold. I don’t even have a real coat!

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December: A Month of Mixed Emotions
Dec 25th, 2006 by Jessica

I haven’t blogged too much in the month of December. I figured I owe it to you at least to explain a little more on why that might be. Actually, the more I think of it, it’s been since before Thanksgiving huh?

November 23rd – Thanksgiving at Aunt Barbara’s house. The day was overall uneventful, although some of the family gathered together. Uncle Cecil was there and met Mason (Amy’s fiance) for the first time. We announced Amy’s engagement to the family.

November 27-December 1 – I spent this week in training for HP Openview Operations for Windows from home. The class was spectacular and I learned a ton of stuff to take back and implement at work.

November 29-December 5 – Andrew went to Orlando with his parents for a trip to Disney World. The three had a nice time taking in all the sights. He says not much has changed since our wedding there nearly 5 years ago.

December 3-8 – I traveled to Las Vegas for the Storage Decisions 2006 conference. Again, I learned so much that I am eager to implement back at work about backups, SAN architecture, security, archiving and more. It was a nice conference.

December 9 – I met Andrew, Mom, Dad, Amy and Mason in Sedona for an ATV Adventure Tour of the red rocks. It was so much fun to go four-wheeling in the brush and washes of the desert! Unfortunately I was last of six, so by the break time I had a perfect dirt moustache. When we returned to the hotel, my sister called to tell me that my mother’s companion had passed away while we were on the tour.

December 10 – We returned to Phoenix so I could do laundry and pack my bags to hop a flight to Michigan the next day.

December 11-16 – I flew into Saginaw and rushed up to be with my mother. We tried to occupy our time by slowly taking care of items (like reading the will, calling insurance companies, taking account of finances, etc) and also I tried to help her calm down a bit. We laid Bruce Struble to rest on Friday, December 15th. It was a very hard week for Mom, and continues to be painful I’m sure. Unfortunately since I was out of work for almost a month at this point, I had to go back home.

December 16-17 – I stopped in to see my DaD, Karen and my brother Noah overnight before my flight. It was really good to see them, even for such a short while. Noah is growing up so fast! At 3 years and 1 month, he’s almost like a tiny adult who is kind, considerate, funny, happy and loves to play. What a cutie!

December 17-18 – I returned to Phoenix to find Andrew with a horrendous case of food poisoning. The poor sweetheart – he was sicker than I’ve ever seen him in the 10 years we’ve been together. He spent the next 48 hours in extreme pain and exhaustion. I returned to work but left early to help care for him.

December 19 – Andrew celebrates his 30th birthday recovering from food poisoning. We woke up to a phone call that Uncle Cecil passed away just minutes before midnight (December 18, 2006). With that sad news, we go to work all day, and hardly anyone remembers it’s Andrew’s birthday. He didn’t even feel up to going out with the family (in fact, we still haven’t gone out to celebrate). I got him an Xbox 360 with all the perks. He seems to be liking that, anyway.

December 20-21 – Work as usual. I take a midterm for Theater 210 and barely get a B on it. I just simply could not concentrate with all that happened. I also completed the photo tribute boards for Uncle Cecil’s service.

December 22 – Uncle Cecil’s service takes place at Valley of the Sun Mortuary in Chandler. The house is packed full with over 100 visitors. It was an extremely emotional service. I’m sure his wife and 13-year old daughter will miss him dearly. He had a very long battle with cancer, same as Bruce (my mom’s companion).

December 23-24 – We tried to relax during these days, and shake off all the recent deaths and bad news. Andrew played his Xbox and I took the time to work on some VHS transfers and video/DVD editing. Our friends Leisa and Cuinn came over to play some Monopoly and relax a bit.

December 25 – Christmas day. I woke up with severe cramps and a really hard-hitting sore throat. Apparently I have a head cold, to go with my cramps. =( My mother was first to call and wish us a Merry Christmas. She also let me know that her sister, my Aunt Sandy, was found dead at her home this morning. We don’t know how long she was there, as she lived alone and had no children. Her close friend found her and called my Aunt Rose. What a horrible way to die; alone in your house and nobody finds you for days. I feel so saddened by this news. I didn’t know Aunt Sandy very well; she was very helpful with my genealogy research though. She spent hours one day telling me all about the family, how things were back in the 1940′s and 50′s at my Mom’s childhood home, and filled in lots of details about the ancestry. She was such a nice woman to me; it’s a shame I couldn’t have known her better.

That pretty much brings us up to speed. If you were wondering why I didn’t write much this month, I’m sure you are no longer wondering.

I hope this holiday brings you more joy, less sorrow, and a little more happiness than sadness.

Hugs to my friends and family,
Jessica

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You know, that stuff I meant to blog about… but never got around to it…
Nov 22nd, 2006 by Jessica

It’s time for one of those catch-up posts. Here’s a whole bunch of stuff that I’ve done recently and fully intended on telling you all about… but I was too lazy to upload the camera phone pictures.

Me with Tom Hanks (SWEET!) ok, so it's just his handprints.  That's as close as I'll ever get.Me with Tom Hanks (SWEET!) ok, so it’s just his handprints. That’s as close as I’ll ever get.

Mikey looking cool, as seen through the Photoshop CS2 Spatter filter.Mikey looking cool, as seen through the Photoshop CS2 Spatter filter. I think we were at some sort of Microsoft tech event in north Phoenix.

Mikey throwing yet another strike...Mikey throwing yet another strike… He kicks our butts at bowling most of the time.

Madonna on her mirror cross at Glendale Arena.  She's on it - I swear - I guess you'll just have to believe me.  Crappy phone!Madonna on her mirror cross at Glendale Arena. She’s on it – I swear – I guess you’ll just have to believe me. Crappy phone!

A woman at work made this Kitty Litter cake complete with Tootsie Rolls.  It was a little too realistic for most.A woman at work made this Kitty Litter cake complete with Tootsie Rolls. It was a little too realistic for most.

The movie set for Kingdom starring Jamie Foxx.  It was just one mile from our house, near ASU East Campus.The movie set for Kingdom starring Jamie Foxx. It was just one mile from our house, near ASU East Campus. They tore it down last month sometime.

This is a huge dust storm that I drove into a few months ago here in Phoenix.This is a huge dust storm that I drove into a few months ago here in Phoenix. Who says you can’t take picturemail and drive at the same time? Sheesh!

Me and Andrew at the Blue Man Group: How to be a Megastar 2.0 tour at Dodge Theatre.Me and Andrew at the Blue Man Group: How to be a Megastar 2.0 tour at Dodge Theatre. You’re encouraged to take a cameraphone picture at the end of every show if you make it to the “Top Floor” in their text message game.

Amy gets a froggie tattoo at the Santa's World fair.Amy gets a froggie tattoo at the Santa’s World fair. Too bad it wasn’t permanent – it looked real nice on her!

Aerosmith at Cricket Pavilion, as seen via camera phone through my binoculars.Aerosmith at Cricket Pavilion, as seen via camera phone through my binoculars. Yes, I was bored. Who knew this would even work? I was frickin’ shocked.

My Envoy rolls over to 36,000 miles, voiding the warranty of course.My Envoy rolls over to 36,000 miles, voiding the warranty of course. Notice I was stopped this time, instead of driving. This happened when I was leaving Blue Man Group. It’s only a matter of time before the car dies now, eh!?

So there you have it. I’ll admit it, I’ve been lazy about all these camera phone pics. Hey, better late than never! Oh and by the way, I can’t get the stupid formatting right on this post, so you get what you get. I’m REALLY being lazy now!

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They’re Buggin’ Me
Nov 19th, 2006 by Jessica

Unknown Rose Bugs - What are they?We’ve got these bugs all over my rose buds in the back yard. Haven’t a clue what they are. They sit together in groups of 3-5 on every bud.

Anyone have any suggestions? Are they good, bad? Should we spray them off?

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