We bought ourselves a new KitchenAid cooktop

First new home improvement for 2018 – a new cooktop.

We started looking late last year, but didn’t find very much that we liked. Even then, it’s a bit of a process:

  1. Go to a home improvement store and find all these options that may or may not fit.
  2. Pay (and schedule) for someone to come out and measure your current cooktop,
  3. Wait for them to show up daya later.
  4. The plumber takes a few days to report back the exact measurements.
  5. Go back to the store and try to figure out what will or won’t work.

Initially, we had our eyes on a particular 30″ Samsung model, but all their new models have a 1.5″ long Wi-Fi antenna that sticks out. Don’t really need Wi-Fi on my cooktop, but there’s no way to remove it. Unfortunately, we learned that the Wi-Fi antenna wouldn’t fit in our current cutout.

Back to the drawing board.

Ultimately found (and ordered) a KitchenAid model online. I called up our local Lowe’s store, and they didn’t think it would fit either, according to the measurements on the Lowe’s website. Argh! I went back to the store in person, spoke to an appliance person, and we checked the actual KitchenAid website. It should fit, and it did.

The model is a nice upgrade from our previous model that was original for the house. The old cooktop was functional, but we wanted something newer and matched our other appliances. Also, the prior model had 18 years of burned on crud that couldn’t be cleaned off.

    • Stainless steel to match our other appliances.
    • 5 burners with an optional griddle.

    Looks nice. Works well. No Wi-Fi but i guess that’s okay. 😉

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    Joel’s review of Lady Bird (2017) – I don’t know if I get it

    My first film of the new year (and literally, we went on New Year’s Day) was Lady Bird. Well, the kids also went to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, so the Ipes actually saw two movies this year.

    [Side bar – the kids approved of the new Jumanji film.]

    Lady Bird is the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, and stars Saoirse Ronan as 17 year old Christine / “Lady Bird” McPherson, Laurie Metcalf as her mother Marion McPherson, Tracy Letts as her father Larry, and a slew of other characters. The film is supposedly semi-autobiographical about Greta Gerwig, and her life growing up as a teen in Sacramento, California. The film takes place over the course of Lady Bird’s / Christine’s senior year at Catholic high school. She navigates relationships between old and new friends, new boyfriends, her father, and her mother. She also has to prep for graduation.

    It’s the mother – daughter relationship that often comes forward, as they are like oil and water. Constantly fighting but in that familial way. Mom is loving but slightly domineering. Lady Bird is young and reckless.

    I appreciate the acting in this film, but I’m still digesting it. I thought the writing and directing were good, and the acting by everyone was top-notch. Once the credits began to roll, however, I said, “Um, okay….. was that it?” It felt like a year in the life of a teenage girl. I don’t know if there was a moral, a particular theme, or a message. It was a story, but not a complicated one. Life is complicated? Is family complicated? Is life as a teenager complicated?

    If anyone has any feedback, I’m open for further discussion. All I have is a pair of shrugging shoulders.

    Lady Bird (2017)

    Lady Bird (2017)

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    My reflections on 2017 and what lies ahead for us in 2018

    If you thought the U.S. Presidential election made 2016 exhausting, 2017 was like a dumpster fire politically. Ah well. There is so much that I want to comment on, especially the level of vitriol, repressed racist beliefs, etc bubbling under the surface in this country. You open the door by reading the ‘Comments’ section on a Fox News article, and you are at risk to fall into a dark and evil hole. That’s life around here. Let’s get on with the long-awaited recap!

    I’m not sure how to summarize the year for us, but I would say we spent a lot of the year improving ourselves in some way or another. Whether it was helping the kids be better students, improving on the house, or spending time with one another, it was a year of building.

    Life, Love, and Family

    Me

    • I’m 41. I want to outlive my paternal grandfather, and he lived until 101. I hope that means I’m more than a third of the way there. I’m a little more self-conscious that I am the middle-aged stereotype of “The Dad” now, and I often mentally compare myself to what my own father may have felt like and experienced at this age. What was he thinking of my sister and I back in the late 80s? I could ask him, but he probably wouldn’t remember. It would probably be a weird conversation so let’s drop it.
    • Work was very busy for me this year, but good overall. I had four business trips that took me to such exotic locations as Ohio, Missouri, and Texas (twice!) I’m going strong at the bank, so it’s nice to have some stability.
    • Although I’m sadly losing my hair, I’m trying to better myself physically in other ways. I biked 450 miles this year (solo and group rides), and have been working out much more frequently. I am all finally fixing my teeth through Invisalign braces. It took me 20 years to to finally get my braces. I’m more than halfway through, with 20 weeks to go.

    Joshua

    • Joshua entered 7th grade this year, and we’ve been helping him to get better organized at school and stay on top of assignments. He is definitely missing fewer assignments compared to 6th grade. I think he was a bit overwhelmed by the rigors of middle school. He is still using an external math tutor but it’s been overall good for him.
    • Joshua moved up from senior purple to brown belt this year. It’ll take approximately 15 months to make black belt, if he practices.
    • He’s also working harder at Boy Scouts this year. He made 2nd Class, and has been recently racking up the merit badges. I credit Namita for finding merit badge fairs in other counties for him, which has helped a lot. He’s hoping to make 1st class this year.
    • Josh was also been away more often this year through Boy Scouts. He went camping again at Forestburgh for a week this summer, a weekend away down the Shore camping along the beach, and another weekend camping trip in Manalapan. He also went on a hike at the Delaware Water Gap.

    Lily

    • Lily entered 4th grade this year. She seems to have a nice teacher and is doing better overall.
    • Lily moved up from senior purple to brown belt this year. It’ll take approximately 15 months to make black belt, if she practices. Unfortunately she doesn’t like to practice very much. She briefly quit karate last month, but she seems to be back into it. At least for now.
      Lily got a dramatic haircut this year. Looks great and much more manageable for her. I’m glad she didn’t ask for a buzz cut.
    • She also got her ears pierced!

    Namita

    • Psych! She doesn’t like me to write about her. I will say she’s doing great. She turned 40 year this year, and we celebrated it in Mexico.

    Trips

    I don’t think we got around as much as we could have this year. I mean it’s fine, but I would not have minded a few more trips. Trips can be fun!

    • I mentioned I went on four business trips this year – Columbus, Kansas City, Dallas, and Houston. All were fine, but Houston was a short 24 hours only. I liked our family trips much better.
    • In January, we flew to Michigan to attend Sean and Rechana’s wedding.
    • I mentioned Nums and I went to Playa Del Carmen for a few days away and stayed at a resort in late Feb. We also had another couple come with us, so that was a lot of fun.
    • In April, we drove down to Baltimore and stayed a few days with my sister-in-law. While I had to work two days, I got to enjoy some time off. We also lugged our 3 bicycles with us, and the Lightning Wheels Bicycle Club (plus one) explored Baltimore.
    • In May, I took a super secret flight to Michigan to celebrate my friend Sean’s 40th birthday.
    • The Ipes spent a week in the Outer Banks in August. We rented a house with five other families.
    • A weekend trip to Virginia in October for a friend’s birthday.

    The House

    Possibly in lieu of trips, and keeping the theme of improving ourselves, the Ipes made a few improvements within the house in 2017.

    • We committed to dramatically revamping the living room. The main project took a few weeks to be sure, between designing it, ordering new flooring, and getting the various pieces together. I mean, we started sometime in March/April, and more or less called it complete in July. Sure, we still don’t have window treatments yet, but it’s useable and good.
    • After one of our condensers failed, we looked at all the options, worked the numbers, performed some voodoo, and committed to entirely replacing both of our HVAC systems (main floor and upstairs) in July. Big project to be sure, but we thought it made sense when our installers offered a significant cost-savings if we replaced both.
    • In July, I hired a local electrician to help me to wire three rooms with Gigabit Ethernet. It’s been a few months, and I have to redo the family room wiring, because I believe cute little country mice chewed on the in-wall cabling. Although I opted to save money and wiring the basement, I unfortunately never got around to it. I will have to replace the family room wiring, and run the basement wiring, in early 2018.
    • Added more music to the house with a pair of Sonos Play:1 speakers and a Sonos Play:5.
    • The dining room was a bit of an outdated eyesore, so we opted to renovate in November in record time. Took about two weeks overall. Still need to get some pictures on the wall, and some sort of server on the side to store our china.
    • Our microwave was cracked, so we bought a new one. It works!
    • Bought a new Sony A/V receiver, massive family room speakers, including a subwoofer.

    Other Stuff

    After nine years, we traded in the old 2008 Toyota Highlander for a brand new 2017 Nissan Armada.

    I saw 27 movies this year. Not bad!

    Best films I watched:

    • Arrival – smart film and I liked Amy Adams as the protagonist.
    • Wonder Woman – really good film and I liked Gal Gadot as Diana – she mad the character interesting.
    • The Godfather – classic film that’s well done.
    • Spider-Man: Homecoming – fun film.
    • It – I don’t like horror films but this was well done.
    • Thor: Ragnorak
    • Coco – heartfelt film
    • The Last Jedi – very different than I expected, but I applaud the courage to break from the expected.
    • Logan – enjoyable.

    Worst films I watched:

    Favorite Moments

    • The kids are getting older and taller.
    • I liked all the home renovation work we accomplished this year. Serious progress!
    • Loved that I was able to spend more time with the family this year, a definite improvement over prior years.
    • I’m glad I’m getting faster and stronger. I’ve been pushing myself on the treadmill and easily hit 5K in 32 minutes, and running a faster pace for longer distances.
    • I’m also happy that I’m getting my teeth fixed after waiting two decades.
    • I enjoyed all the biking I did this year.
    • My job is stable!

    Worst Moments

    • I’m still fatter than I want to be.
    • I’m really losing my hair.
    • Someone dinged my car in the station parking lot — not big enough to prioritize fixing now, but ugh, hurtful enough to make me sad every time I see it.

    Looking Ahead to 2018

    Dunno!

    I hope the job situation stays stable. I like stability.

    I’ve booked my 2018 vacation time in the system at work, so now we just need to figure out where we are going, and how to pay for it!

    I hope the family stay happy and healthy.

    I hope we can get the next big home renovation project done this year — painting the interior of the house, and maybe even flooring. It’s a big job, so fingers crossed.

    I hope only good surprises next year.

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    Joel’s review of Girls Trip (2017)

    Sooooooo Girls Trip. We rented this 2017 film from our local library. The film stars four fun actresses — Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, and Tiffany Haddish. They’re old college buddies who have slowly grown apart in the intervening years. They decide to get the old “Flossy Posse” back together again for a trip to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival. Regina Hall is probably the most successful of the four, but all are not exactly in the best of places career and life wise. Part of this trip allows them to reconnect, open up about their personal challenges, etc.

    It’s an interesting film, and I appreciated how they weren’t afraid to get raunchy. I did think some of the writing was a bit corny, but I guess that can’t be helped. It’s still a worthwhile rental, but don’t have the kids around.

    Girls Trip (2017)

    Girls Trip (2017)

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    Joel’s review of Rashomon (1950)

    Namita recently rented Rashomon, a famous 1950 Japanese period film by acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. I’ve never seen a Kurosawa film, but I’ve often read trivia stating this or that modern film scene was inspired by a specific Kurosawa film. I’ve never gotten around to actually watching a Kurosawa film, so I appreciated my wife going out her way to borrow it from our local library.

    Without spoiling the film’s plot, it starts out slowly with two men, a wood-cutter and a Shinto priest, sitting lost in thought under the Rashomon city gate watching (waiting out?) a rain storm. Another man joins them, and they hint to him that they were witnesses to a tragedy. What we know is a samurai and his wife were traveling through a nearby forest when they encountered infamous local bandit TajĂ´maru. There is not much more we know.

    The film introduces these and multiple other characters who also provide their version of what happened. Some of it jives, some doesn’t. The audience is left to wonder what the truth really is. I’ll say no more.

    I was impressed by how Kurosawa and team created the visuals and tones for the the film. The constant views of the sun through the trees. The look through the forest from the audience viewpoint. The camera work was all pretty interesting.

    Roshomon (1950)

    Roshomon (1950)

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    Christmas around here with the Ipes

    If you ask me, I think we kept Christmas not too complicated this year. We had some neighborhood friends over for Chrismukkah last week. We had the Davids and Chackos over Christmas Eve at our house, and went over to my sister’s for Christmas Day dinner.

    Even in terms of gifts within our little family, we kept it small and memorable. For the kids, Namita thought of getting Broadway show tickets to see Wicked in February, and I contributed the idea of staying overnight so we don’t have to take an 11 PM train home in time for school the next morning.

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    Chrismukkah with the Winters

    We invited our friends the Winters to come over to celebrate Chrismukkah. We had beef brisket, potato latkes, and other sides, and dessert.

    Pictures below. Now we wait for the Holiday Armadillo to arrive!

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    In Western Lands

    In western lands beneath the Sun
    the flowers may rise in Spring,
    the trees may bud, the waters run,
    the merry finches sing.
    Or there maybe ’tis cloudless night
    and swaying beeches bear
    the Elven-stars as jewels white
    amid their branching hair.

    Though here at journey’s end I lie
    in darkness buried deep,
    beyond all towers strong and high,
    beyond all mountains steep,
    above all shadows rides the Sun
    and Stars for ever dwell:
    I will not say the Day is done,
    nor bid the Stars farewell.

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    In Midtown for training… for nearly a whole week!

    It wasn’t easy, and it took some effort, but I got approved for 4 days of technology-related classroom training on advanced persistent threats through Learning Tree. I spent four days Dec 19-22 taking the train from home to NY Penn Station, then walking up to the classrooms on 47th St. It was kinda cold, so I walked briskly.

    It was nice to get some official training this year, and to earn some much-needed CPE credits. In 2018, I resolve to attend more training that is not at the end of the year.

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    Joel’s review of Logan (2017)

    I caught Logan (2017) on HBO this week. I had intended to watch it in theaters back in the Spring, but my plans never worked out. I was happy to watch it now, even on the small screen. This is purportedly the last film featuring Hugh Jackman as Logan / Wolverine, and Sir Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier / Professor X.

    Wow. What a film.

    I’ve recently been appreciating films and shows that don’t follow the typical script or plot lines. That are different or more realistic, instead of the happy ending films. I acknowledge the previous Fox X-Men films are PG, but Wolverine stabs all of these people and no blood? It’s a violent act and it’s like a video game with no consequences. It’s not realistic. Also, I find it difficult to watch many films these days that have predictable plots, or retread previous films. Where’s the creativity?

    Logan blew me away. As I mentioned above, it’s the third film in the Wolverine-centric film series that started with X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009 (blech) and continued with The Wolverine in 2013 (better but couldn’t stick the landing.) Director James Mangold helmed both The Wolverine and Logan. I’ve seen some of his other films (Identity, Walk the Line, and 3:10 to Yuma) and I think he does a nice job with visuals. Anyway, the film is R rated, which allows us a mature story with adult themes. I found this so refreshing. We find Logan and Charles in 2029 living in hiding along the U.S. – Mexican border, along with mutant Caliban. Charles is around 90 and very frail due to advanced aging. Charles is also subject to these seizures that also generate dangerous psionic waves that can incapacitate and eventually kill. Logan’s own healing ability also appears to be severely weakened, and he has aged. Reminded me of Old Man Logan from the comic books. For some reason, the X-Men and all other mutants are gone, and no new mutants are being born. Mutants appear to be feared and quietly hunted again. It’s all very dire. After the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), you have to wonder what befell mutants a mere 6 years later.

    Logan is soon requested to transport an 11-year-old girl, Laura, to Eden, a refuge in North Dakota. Soon Logan, Charles, and Laura are on the run from Alkali-Transigen (yes, same Alkali from the prior films.) The situation is dire, and the stakes are high. Laura is soon revealed to be X-23 from the comics, a young clone of Wolverine. And Transigen wants her back.

    Through Charles and Logan, we see how our heros (first introduced in 2000) are clearly at the end of their life’s journey. And it’s a little sad. Charles is clearly very old, but to watch Logan limping, with a severely weakened healing ability, and struggling to win in fights he shouldn’t have difficulty with. Our heroes are dying and fallible. Between this film and The Last Jedi, in sending a common theme.

    The film is well directed and the story grips you early. In the back of your mind, you’re wondering what has h happened to all our heroes in the past few years? With our protagonists in such dire straights, and the threat of violence and death ever-present, you’ll be tense. This is a fantastic film, and a tragic end to our heroes. It’s a much watch.

    Logan (2017)

    Logan (2017)

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