Used a Charcoal Chimney Starter (121/366)

“Grilling, broiling, barbecuing – whatever you want to call it – is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.”
James Beard

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Gone Bouldering (120/366)

“You climb for the hell of it.”
~ Sir
Edmund Hillary

Last year, when Nick and I went to Las Vegas, we had the absolute thrill of going outdoor rock climbing with our friend, and one of the most awesome tour guides (over at Grand Adventures in Las Vegas) ever, Erik. It was AWESOME. I had never done any kind of climbing before that (well, except for climbing trees). I had such a great time, in fact, that I went and bought my own pair of climbing shoes after our adventure. I never even got a chance to use them afterward though!

Well we have several friends that enjoy outdoor and indoor climbing, and like I said before, Ryan and Nick have gone bouldering at Planet Granite a few times (I even did a little photo shoot of Ryan the first time they went). Well today I decided it was time for me finally break in my climbing shoes, and to jump on the wall, as well!

With bouldering, you don’t use a top rope while climbing, so there are large “crash pads” on the floor to help soften the blow if and when you fall (or jump) from the wall. While I really enjoyed outdoor rock climbing with a top rope, the thought of jumping off a real rock onto a crash pad below sounds so scary! I was glad to start my bouldering experience indoors. There are routes marked with different colors of tape, and ratings for the difficulty of each route. I hopped up on my first wall – it was okay, but it still gets kinda scary as you get to the top!

That wall was a “top out” wall, where you could climb up and onto the top of it. The concept was kinda scary for my first climb, so I decided to try a few other walls and routes (with wider areas of crash pad!). Here was my second wall – up, up up:

Yay! I made it! Whew!

There were some pretty funny grips in the walls, like this telephone receiver. Hello? Is that for me?

And here’s some video and some time-lapse photography of a few climbs:

I had fun bouldering for the first time. It’s like a big playground or jungle gym for grown-ups (kids can use some of the walls, too, but there are some areas that are supposed to be “14+ only”). It’s neat seeing people staring at the wall, trying to figure out what route to take to get up. There are a lot more challenging routes, and like I said in the previous post about bouldering, there’s even a ramp to the second floor, with a bouldering wall hanging above it (for the daring and experienced only!)! I’ll be back. Next time, I’ll “top out,” too!

Related Links:
SCARPA Women’s Techno Lady Climbing Shoe

Screened a Marvel Movie Marathon (119/366)

“There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could … “
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, The Avengers

The Avengers is coming to American theaters next week, and we wanted to be fully up to speed on all the Marvel characters that would be tearing up the screen together. I had seen the Iron Man movies, but hadn’t seen the three others (Hulk, Captain America, and Thor), so we decided what better way to catch up than to screen a Marvel Movie Marathon?

We started with Iron Man:

Iron Man was released in 2008 and stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the genius heir to Stark Industries, a company that builds, among other things, military weapons. In the beginning of the movie, Stark is captured by a terrorist group and told that he must build a bomb for them. He instead builds the first generation of the Iron Man suit as a means of escape. When he realizes that it is Stark weaponry that the terrorists are using, he decides he wants to get out of the weapons manufacturing business. Gwyneth Paltrow plays his personal assistant and voice of reason, Pepper Pots; Terrence Howard plays Tony’s friend and the military liaison to Stark Industries, James Rhodes; and Jeff Bridges plays Tony’s father, Howard Stark‘s partner and old friend, Obadiah Stane.

We continued the Marvelthon with Iron Man 2:

Iron Man 2 was released in 2010, with Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow returning in their roles as Tony Stark and Pepper Pots, and the movie is supposed to take place six months after the end of Iron Man 2. The military is fighting with Stark over the Iron Man suit, saying it’s a weapon and it should be turned over to them, but Tony has so far been able to keep control of his invention. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, an angry Ivan Vanko (played by Mickey Rourke), whose father collaborated with Stark Industries before he was fired and deported back to the Soviet Union, has developed a similar suit based on Stark’s technology, and plans to take down Stark for ruining the lives of his father and his family. Don Cheadle plays the role of James Rhodes in the Iron Man sequel, and Natalie Rushman/ Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson) is introduced: an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent posing as an assistant to Stark.

Next was The Incredible Hulk:

The Incredible Hulk was released in 2008, after Iron Man, and starred Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner. We really should have watched this between Iron Man 1 and 2, as it was supposed to happen between the two on the Marvel timeline, similarly to how the movies came out in theaters. The story basically has Dr. Banner as a part of a military experiment, trying to resurrect the “super soldier project” using gamma radiation. When the experiment goes awry, he’s forced to flee and try to stay hidden, and try to learn ways to keep the monster (the Hulk) from emerging. He wants to get rid of the gamma poisoning that creates this double identity, but the military, and General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) just want to capture him so they can study him and try to make more super soldiers, if they can get the experiment right. Liv Tyler plays Betty Ross, Bruce’s girlfriend before the accident, and General Ross’ daughter.

After The Hulk, it was on to Thor:

Thor premiered in the US in May of 2011, and stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor, strong-headed son of Odin (played by Anthony Hopkins), and heir to the throne of Asgard. When, against his father’s command, he confronts a leader of the Frost Giants for breaking a truce agreement, a battle breaks out and Odin has to exert his power and the worlds are plummeted into further unrest. Because of his arrogance, Odin banishes him to Earth, stripped of his powers, accompanied only by his hammer Mjolnir (the source of his power) which Odin has cast a spell on to allow only the worthy to be able to lift it. Tom Hiddleston plays Thor’s brother Loki, and Thor’s love interest (Jane Foster) is played by Natalie Portman.

Last but not least, we watched Captain America – The First Avenger:

Captain America was released in 2011, and stars Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, a scrawny man who gets denied placement in the military time and time again. When he’s finally let in, it’s because he’s being scoped out to be the perfect test subject for the military’s “super soldier” program. He becomes Captain America, and has to defeat Red Skull and the organization that has plans for world domination using the “Tesseract“. Tommy Lee Jones plays Col. Chester Phillips, a part of the super soldier project, Hugo Weaving plays Johann Schmidt / Red Skull, and Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter, a Strategic Scientific Reserve officer and Captain America’s love interest. Other notable Marvel characters in this story include Howard Stark (played by Dominic Cooper), Tony Stark/Iron Man’s father, the creator of Stark Industries, Dr. Abraham Erskine, creator of the “Super Soldier Serum” (played by Stanley Tucci), and Sgt. James “Bucky” Barnes, Steve Rogers’ best friend, played by Sebastian Stan.

These movies are all so much fun. While I know many people have watched them, I didn’t want to give away too much information for the people who haven’t. I’m glad we got to have this refresher on the movies we’d already seen, and that I was able to see the ones I hadn’t before. I always like to be up to speed on a film that has plot lines or characters from other films in it, whether it’s a sequel, or something new and different like The Avengers. The movie looks like it’s going to be a smash-hit, so if you haven’t seen all of these films, you really should! Assemble your friends, make some popcorn, and get into the Marvel Universe!

Related Links:
Iron Man [Blu-ray]
Iron Man [DVD] (Single-Disc Edition)
Iron Man 2 (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
Iron Man 2 [DVD] (Single-Disc Edition)
The Incredible Hulk [Blu-ray]
The Incredible Hulk [DVD]
Captain America: The First Avenger (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
Captain America: The First Avenger [DVD]
Thor (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
Thor [DVD]

Made an Ice Cream Cake (118/366)

“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!”
Johnson, Moll, & King, the “Ice Cream” song, 1927

We’re having a birthday BBQ for our cousin Sarena, and while I was asking her what kind of cake and ice cream she liked, I thought it might be cool to combine them and make her an ice cream cake! She likes chocolate cake, and she said mocha almond fudge was a favorite ice cream of hers. I just happened to have a box of chocolate fudge cake mix, too (next year I’ll make you the cake part from scratch, Sarena!). Perfect! I whipped up the cake batter.

The “
recipe” I found online (it was really just instructions, but they were helpful!) for ice cream cake had just one layer of cake and one layer of ice cream (like how they apparently do at Baskin-Robbins – I can’t remember), but I thought it would be cool to have the ice cream in the middle of two cake layers, like a regular cake would have, so I divided the batter into two tins, one having just a little more than the other (the thicker one would be the base layer).

After the cakes were cool, I wrapped them in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer. The recipe I was using called for ice cream in “a rectangular carton”, but I couldn’t find mocha almond fudge in those. The closest I could find was coffee ice cream from Breyer’s, which was in a somewhat rectangular container. I like Breyer’s anyway (they don’t have a bunch of crap in their ice cream like some others), so I figured it was the closest we’d be able to get. When the cakes had been in the freezer for a while, I decided it was time to put the “ice cream” in our “ice cream cake” – ha ha ha! I inverted the container and cut away at the carton. The ice cream was softer than I thought it would be, so it was a little messy. I used a piece of floss to cut the block in half, then put the slices side by side on the silicone mat.

I put the thicker layer of cake on top of the ice cream (like my
Giant manicure?). The cake and ice cream went back into the freezer for a bit to firm up again – the ice cream was really melty!

After some time in the freezer, I got another cookie sheet ready, and flipped the cake and ice cream over onto it. I smoothed out the ice cream – it wasn’t too bad that the ice cream was a bit soft – I got to spread it out onto the cake pretty easily. I just had to work fast.

On went the second layer of cake, and the whole thing went back into the freezer again.

One of the commenters on the recipe I was using said a great frosting to use was actually MORE ice cream, and I thought, “Why not?” After the whole cake got to chill a bit more, I started frosting the cake with vanilla ice cream.

Here’s the “frosted” cake!

Now, I was actually supposed to cover this with crushed
Butterfinger candy bars, since they’re Sarena’s favorite, but with everything going on with the BBQ, I completely forgot (I bought four of them, too!). When it was originally served, it was plain like this, but later I added the candy bars (sorry, Sarena! I’ll make it up to you!). Here’s a shot of the original (and a nice shot of the layers), and then a shot of how it was intended to be (they were both delicious):

This was really yummy, and not that complicated to make. I would just suggest allowing PLENTY of time to make this cake though, so you can let it sit in the freezer for a few hours between steps (that will definitely make the process less messy). Also, don’t forget time to let the cake(s) cool before freezing (to firm), and remember to have everything you’ll need for the current step on hand so you’re not running around like crazy while the ice cream melts all over the place!

If you have a special event coming up, and you (or the guest of honor) likes ice cream and cake (who doesn’t?), I’d totally recommend making your own ice cream cake for the occasion. You’re limited only by your imagination as far as the fun combinations you can come up with!

Related Links:
Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix 18.25oz (Pack of 2)
Butterfinger King Size, 3.7-Ounce Candy Bars (Pack of 18)

Read Patrick Henry’s Speech, "Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death!" (117/366)

“The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave … the war is inevitable — and let it come! … I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”
Patrick Henry

“Give me liberty, or give me death!” is a famous American quote. People all over the United States know it, but not many people can remember who it’s attributed to, and even fewer have read the text of this extremely rousing and powerful speech. I was one of the above! I was both, actually – and that’s why I decided to find out more about this cornerstone of American History.

Patrick Henry delivered this speech in on March 23, 1775, in Richmond, Virginia, to delegates including *future* US presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Tensions were high between Britain and the Colonists, Britain had begun sending militia to America, and other states had begun preparing to defend themselves in the event of a war. This speech is credited with convincing the House that Virginia, the largest colony in America, should join the American Revolution.

Here is the full text:
MR. PRESIDENT: No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves, and the House? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet.

Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these war-like preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort.

I ask, gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted?

Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free – if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending – if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable²and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace²but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

I was surprised at how eloquent and how rousing this speech really was. The story is that Henry gave this speech with no notes, and spoke in a voice that grew louder and louder, more and more passionate, and that at the end of it, the delegates cried, “To arms! To arms!” and “Give me liberty, or give me death!” I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear this speech first hand, and what was going through the minds of the delegates. What a turning point in American history! A lot of times it’s hard to identify with the people we learn about in the history books (and that’s understandable – there are a
lot of differences between us sometimes), but reading a speech like this was a fascinating reminder for me that our founding fathers were human too – they had concerns, doubts, and real fear for their freedom and future. They sometimes didn’t know if they were making the right decisions for themselves, their families, and the budding new country they were forming – and yet they foraged ahead, and thank goodness they did. I love my country!

Related Links: – Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

Put Together a Jigsaw Puzzle Mat (116/366)

“The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity.”
Douglas Horton

I recently purchased a Giants jigsaw puzzle (awesome) of AT&T Park, and wanted to open it. We don’t really do jigsaw puzzles, so when I thought about starting it, I realized if I wasn’t going to sit down and do the whole thing in a weekend, I’d need to either dedicate a space for the puzzle so it could stay undisturbed until I could complete it … or figure something else out. I remembered that they sell jigsaw puzzle mats where you build the puzzle on the mat and when you need to store it you just roll the whole thing up, and I thought about buying one of those … but like I said, we really don’t do jigsaw puzzles so I realized I didn’t want to spend money on a mat just for that.

I thought, “What are those things, anyway? Are they made from special material, like rubber or neoprene or something? Could I just make one myself?”

Aha! That’s just what I decided to do. Frugality FTW!

I went online and found a few sites with DIY instructions, like this mat from “Organized Christmas”, but it still kinda seemed like a lot of trouble to go through for something I wasn’t sure I was going to use that often. The patterns I saw involved lots of sewing and cutting different pieces of fabric to make the mat all nice, with ties and other touches. They were using rotary cutters and cutting mats, hot glue guns, sewing machines … blech! That’s cool if you’re making the mat as a gift (most of them were), but I just needed to store a puzzle. Then I found this post from “SuperMom” about making a puzzle mat, and I loved it. All she did was cut some felt and rolled it around a mailing tube. I wanted to make mine a little nicer, but I liked the way she thought.

My mom made these awesome scarves out of felt a while ago and had some leftovers (she scored some of the patterns on sale and bought large pieces), so I went down to her place and asked what her largest leftover piece was. She had several yards of this cute burgundy “cable knit” pattern. Great! The color is nice, and the pattern’s not too “busy” so it won’t interfere with the puzzle building! Plus, the lines on the fabric made it super easy to cut. I had an old mailing tube from a photograph I had enlarged (thanks, Zee & Ruel!), and I just put the mailing tube I had on the fabric, saw where the cable pattern line matched up, and cut what I needed. Yay, no measuring or marking! This was awesome.

The first DIY page I looked at had you wrap the felt around an old wrapping paper tube, pin the fabric, carefully remove the tube, then sew the “sleeve” for the tube and replace the tube into the sleeve. So much work! Plus, I didn’t really like the idea of using an old wrapping paper tube – it seemed too lightweight. What if I accidentally put my elbow on it and crushed it? The second DIY page uses a cardboard mailing tube, which I liked the idea of, and it doesn’t attach the tube to the fabric at all – but then that’s just a piece of felt and a mailing tube. I wanted to attach the tube to the felt somehow, but I also wanted the option to remove the tube. Wouldn’t it be horrible if the tube – it’s pretty heavy since it’s a mailing tube – fell off the edge of a table and took my puzzle along with it?! Velcro to the rescue! I cut four pieces of sticky-back Velcro, spaced them out, and while they were stuck together I placed them on the edge of the felt. Then I removed the paper from the other sticky back side, and rolled the tube and fabric so that the velcro stuck and closed the “sleeve” for my mailing tube.

Yay! I was done! Well, kind of – I had to trim the raw edge off one side of my fabric before cutting it to the length of the mailing tube – I thought it would be kind of cool to reuse the strip, to tie the mat closed when I had it rolled up. I just cut the strip in half and the lengths were perfect! Plus – another bonus from using a mailing tube – I can store the strips inside when the mat’s open!

I was really happy with the way this project came out. I got to reuse things that were around the house, I saved money by not having to go out and buy a jigsaw puzzle mat, and now I can work on my puzzle! All in all, pretty awesome. And I didn’t have to sew a stitch, either!

Related Links:
MLB San Francisco Giants ATT Park Puzzle
Duck Brand Twist-n-Pull Tamper Proof Mailing Tube, 3 x 24 Inches
Velcro Sticky-Back Hook & Loop Fastener Roll In Dispenser Box, 3/4in X 15 Ft., Black
72” Rainbow Felt Black By The Yard