Lily and the Spelling Bee

On January 30th, Lily competed in a district spelling bee organized by the Hightstown Juniorettes, her first ever spelling bee. She spent the past three weeks studying words, and we were helping her practice. The day of the spelling bee, I took her to one of the local elementary schools for the big evening. There were about 16 kids competing, and Lily did pretty well for multiple rounds. Sadly, “speechless” tripped her up and she was out. She did earn some DQ and Southwest Moe’s coupons, and I hope she also learned that she can do well when she puts her mind to it!

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Ha! Swapped out old hard drive for new SANDISK SSD and it’s so much faster

A few weeks ago, we had a random power outage, and it seemed to have corrupted our kitchen PC. Not sure what happened exactly, but the hard drive came down with some serious drive errors. Even with a repair, it was slow and wonky.

Fed up, I rebuilt it with a fresh Windows 10 install, and it was still slow. At one point during boot up, I swear I saw drive consistency error messages. Maybe the drive was irreparably damaged. The kids primarily use it for homework and checking our calendar and tasks, so a non-functioning or slow machine doesn’t work.

I found a SANDISK 240 GB SSD hard drive for about $74 so I ordered it and it arrived late Friday. We don’t store any data locally, so this was an easy migration. I watched a video on how to remove the back off of a Dell Inspiron 24 3000 all-in-one PC, and it took me 20 mins in total from start to finish. Easy peasy.

What took longer was getting the PC to boot from USB. I used it only a few weeks ago, and now it wouldn’t boot. After spending 30 mins, I went back to look at the actual USB flash drive contents, and I was annoyed to find I had the wrong drive. Doh!

I found the right drive, booted up with no issues, and it was smooth sailing. Doctor, the operation was a success.

Now I’m installing software and other updates. Damn, it’s fast. And all this time, I thought the processor sucked. It was just the original clunky Toshiba 5400 RPM drive that came pre-installed.

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My review of The Greatest Showman (2017)

This may be an unpopular opinion in my house, but I…. really didn’t care for The Greatest Showman (2017) starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya. The film is a fantasy version of the story of P.T. Barnum, the showman who eventually started a traveling circus. The real life P.T. Barnum was all about taking people with deformities, and showing them off as “oddities.” The fantasy version of P.T. Barnum was about putting on a good show, and hires people with deformities to be his entertainers. And every five minutes, we have a song for the audience to tap their toes to.

I’m sorry — I’m not trying to be a hater, but let’s acknowledge that this is a fantasy, and not at all biographical.  The film starts many years earlier when P.T. Barnum is a poor child working for his father, a tailor. Soon enough, his father dies, and Barnum is living destitute on the streets. Somehow, he pulls his life together, gets sort of rich, marries the wealthy girl of his dreams (Michelle Williams), and they start a few businesses. He later starts his circus, gets very rich — rich enough to buy a ridiculously large mansion in record time. It’s unbelievable.

Eventually, Barnum wants to get more respectable, so he enlists playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) and famed Swedish singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson.) Blah blah, more songs.

The songs themselves are okay, but I wasn’t a fan of a song every 5 minutes. I also didn’t enjoy the fantasy version of Barnum. I could excuse the glossing over of the past, but the fantastical elements through me off. He goes from poor to rich, to starting his circus, to needing more attention. Sorry, I couldn’t get into this film.

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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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    Lunch with Doug & Kathy @ Delicious Heights in Basking Ridge NJ

    Last week on Sunday, we drove up to Basking Ridge to meet up with our Doug & Kathy for lunch. As soon as church was over, we drove the 35 mins north to Delicious Heights, a restaurant at the Basking Ridge Country Club Golf Course. Decent food, nice views, but the company you keep really sells it.

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    We went to see Trevor Noah at Radio City Music Hall

    Christmas, my wife bought me (us?) two tickets to see Trevor Noah at Radio City Music Hall on Friday Jan 12th. The big evening finally arrived. I took off Friday, and we left around 5 pm. We hit some serious traffic on the way to Newark, and our plans to eat dinner before the show (or at least grab some drinks) fell through. After taking 2.5 hours to make it to N.Y., we felt lucky that we even made it on time. There was a huge crowd… HUGE! waiting to get in. We had enough time to stand in line to purchase two reasonably-priced-for-Manhattan mixed drinks, and then get to our seats and……..

    Wait around a bit longer, as people were still filing in. Okay, and soon enough…. the warm-up comedian “Angelo” came out for 15 mins.  He was fine.

    Finally, Trevor Noah came out, and he was really good. I spent most of the time watching him on one of the large screens hanging above him, as you could see him, but not his face.

    After the show ended at 9:30 PM, we were hungry for some dinner, and we walked around the block to Hama on 51st St. The kitchen was going to close at 10 PM, so we dashed in and ordered some dinner. Small basement restaurant, but nice decor and good food. I especially liked the design of the entrance and stairway down to the restaurant. Something about the white-on-white, then the black. Clean and modern. Really caught my eye.

    We walked to 7th Ave to catch the subway down to WTC, then the PATH train to Newark, picked up our car, and drove home.

    Funny story — a few days later, Namita was talking to her sister on the phone, and found out that she and another family friend were also in attendance at the Trevor Noah show that exact same time. They were seated on the other side, and we actually walked by there (outside) on the way to Hama, and yet didn’t know they were there, or see them. Funny.

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    Mazel Tov! Celebrating Kayla’s Bat Mitzvah

    During the last days of 2017, we attended our very first ever Bat Mitzvah ceremony and… reception? for a wonderful girl down the street, Kayla. We’re friends with the parents, and we felt very… honored to be invited to partake of this special family occasion. It was a snowy Saturday in December, but the service at the temple went without a hitch. Afterwards, we drove over to the reception hall for cocktail hour, lunch, and a whole lotta fun.

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    The Ipes completed the LEGO NASA Apollo Saturn V set and it’s pretty impressive

    During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, Joshua, Lily, and I started a major endeavor – assembling the 1,969 piece Lego NASA Apollo Saturn V set. Growing up, I was a huge fan of the NASA space program. The Saturn V is still one of my favorites, based on it being the most powerful heavy-lifter that helped propel the U.S. space agency all the way to the Moon.

    This commemorative Lego set was released back in 2017, has been hard to find for months, and is composed of 1,969 (commemorating the Apollo 11 mission.) This was certainly the most complex and ambitious Lego set that I have ever taken on, so I’m glad I had two great team members with me on this.

    The Saturn V can be displayed on three blue stands (included) in one large contiguous piece or with all three stages separated. The set also includes a command module, the lunar lander, and even two astronauts to recreate the lunar landing. It took us a few days, we did have to redo some parts once in a while, and the 1st and 2nd stages survived getting dropped once.

    Today you can still find three complete Saturn V launch vehicles on public display:

    • One is located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.
    • Another is at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A
    • A third Saturn V is on display at the United States Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville near the Marshall Space Flight Center.

    Our version is currently on display in all of its glory at our house.

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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


    • 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 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 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!


    • 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.


    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


    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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