Part 3 of our Midwest road trip – Saturday activities in Michigan and the drive home

On Saturday morning, I was up super early to grab breakfast downstairs, and to relax and read. Paul and I had made prior plans to to meet up early for a class at his local Orangetheory Fitness gym. We each braved the wintery conditions to get to his gym location.

I’ve forgotten how intense and demanding those classes are. It was good but I had some irritating issues with pairing and using competing heart rate monitors. 15 mins in, I was able to pair the Orangetheory chest strap monitor instead, and it worked. Huh? Well whatever I didn’t have time to keep futzing with monitors and watches – I was gonna miss more of the class. I focused on strength training (which was intense) and the cardio (running) was easier for me.  I was extremely sore for the next few days.

We met up with friends Sean and Rechana for lunch at the Henry Ford museum, and a tour of the nearby Ford F-150 Rouge River factory. Lunch was nice and then we took a shuttle bus to the factory. We watched one movie about the factory, sat for an interesting laser light 4D show about the truck, then we walked into the factory itself. We had planned to see the factory in action, but the factory floor ended up shutting down for the long weekend a few minutes before we got there. Rats. At least we were able to walk around to see the complexity and size of the place.

Afterwards we tried to see a movie and/or go bowling but the timing didn’t work out for either. We also tried to get dinner at this restaurant called Union Woodshop in a cool little town called Clarkston but there was a 3 hour wait. 3 hours! Next time.

We ended up going to this BBQ place with a shorter wait called Bad Brads BBQ in Lake Orion. We couldn’t get a single large table, so we split up into two tables. While the appetizers were really nice, I couldn’t eat much so I had a salad for my entree. Can you believe that? A salad. Good food, and it turned into an early night.

The Ipes chilled out in the hotel. Overall, I though the hotel was excellent. Very good food, really nice rooms, and excellent facilities.

In the morning, we had breakfast, finished packing up, and we were on the road by 8:30 AM. The rest of the 10 hour went extremely well. Maybe because it wasn’t a major weekend, but we sailed through Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Few cops, no traffic, good weather. We made a few pit stops along the way for an early lunch, gas, and leg stretching. We were home by 8 PM.

It was a good weekend road trip overall. A little disappointing with the aborted or not quite successful parts, but what can you do sometimes. Things don’t always work out the way you want it to be. However, we spent a good 4.5 days away as a family, we got to relax, hang out with friends, and do things we haven’t done before.

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Part 2 of the Ipe road trip to Michigan and Pittsburgh (Friday)

We work up in Michigan Friday morning, and it was hard to not notice the blinding white light bleeding out from between the window curtains. Color me surprised to see snow everywhere. Snow? Wait, it snowed? That wasn’t in the forecast for the week. We didn’t bring any clothes or boots for snow. Argh!

What can you do at that point? Not much except roll with it. The kids and I grabbed breakfast downstairs, and then we had a few hours in the morning dedicated to unstructured free time. My wife slept in, the kids took showers and played on the Nintendo, and went downstairs in the hotel gym. They had the fanciest LifeFitness treadmills and Peloton stationary bicycles I’ve ever seen. I stuck to the treadmill, followed virtual courses in New Zealand and northern California, and ran 6 miles. A personal best!

We got out the door after 1 PM or so, drove down to Troy, and met our friend Paul for lunch at a Nif Naf Grill restaurant for Mediterranean lunch. The Ipes went to the Somerset Collection mall to waste some time and get Joshua a better-fitting coat from Abercrombie & Fitch.

In the evening, we drove up to Orion Twp to Paul’s house to meet other folks for a low-key dinner and conversation.

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The Ipes took a road trip to Pittsburgh and Michigan in November

Getting on our way for another road trip

It’s been a while since we have seen friends out in Michigan. We didn’t have any plans for the long 4-day weekend in mid-November dedicated to the NJ teacher convention. Why not drive out to Michigan for a few days? We also thought about the time we drove through Pennsylvania in 2014,  stayed outside of Pittsburgh, and never saw the city. What if we checked out Pittsburgh for a day?

We made plans to pick up the kids from school early on Wednesday, leave by 2-3 PM, and try to reach Pittsburgh by 8 PM. Check into our hotel, have dinner, walk around, see more of the city Thursday until 3 PM, be in Michigan by 8 PM.

Best laid plans….

By the time we actually finished packing, got Josh a haircut, picked up both cars (from two separate Nissan dealerships), ran our errands, dropped off the key to the pet sitter, and got snacks, it was almost 5 PM. How? Why? Argh, every time.

A free massage near Harrisburg, PA

Thankfully, the road to Pittsburgh from NJ and the nearly entire length of Pennsylvania was clear on a mid November Wednesday night. No traffic! We stopped halfway near Harrisburg for a fuel tank refill, some chicken nuggets and drinks, and an unplanned free massage.

By the time we got to the outskirts of Pittsburgh, it was 10 PM, and we were ready to get out. We had mapped out a few nearby locales once featured on the TV show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives starring Guy Fieri, and based on the late hour, we selected Nadine’s for some tasty comfort / diner food. Funny, it was more seedy dive bar, grill off for the night, and no minors allowed. Sigh.

Luckily we found a nearby fast-food place called Wings Over Pittsburgh open until 1 AM (open until 3 AM on Saturday nights — thank goodness for college towns), and picked up takeout to eat in the hotel room. The next time we come out here, I want to try Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh — the German menu looks interesting.

And checked into our hotel room at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Pittsburgh Southside Works. It’s your basic decent hotel with suites and basic complementary breakfast. Not a lot of amenities, but the room size is good. Our hotel room had a nice view of…. an industrial rail line.

In the morning all refreshed, we had breakfast in the lobby, packed our belongings, got ready, and drove to the Carnegie Science Center to tour the museum for a few hours. It’s an interesting museum but I think it skews towards small children. We enjoyed the Hall of Robots and a water exhibit. I was disappointed that the miniature model train village was closed for renovation. Rats.

Afterwards, we took a walk along the riverfront to find the Fred Rogers statue, but that was covered up to protect it from nearby renovations. Really? Back to the car, and drove to the Starlight Lounge for lunch, another restaurant once visited by Guy Fieri. Let me tell you, while the food was tasty and served with in large portions, the decor was pure dive bar. I’m getting rather incredulous about this particular reality TV show.

And that was it for a quick less-than-24-hours in Pittsburgh. We would have preferred more time, including seeing a Steelers game, but we were expected in Michigan later that night. The drive to through the rest of western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and southern Michigan was pretty uneventful. No traffic congestion, no accidents. Cool!

We arrived at our hotel around 9 PM and it was rather cold. We checked in, made it to our room, then grabbed some drinks and small plates for a light dinner in the concierge lounge. Oh and we simultaneously watched the Steelers play on Thursday Night Football, and two episodes of Shark Tank.

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Happy Halloween from the Ipes!

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Our copy of Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Deluxe Limited Edition) has arrived and it is cool

This deluxe limited edition is beautiful. I don’t care too much for the little Funko figures, but the kids want them. The rest of it is all just so pretty. I love the artwork. Yes, part of the box got damaged in shipping (and plenty of folks are complaining), but I can deal with it.

This edition includes:

  • New remasters of all episodes in the series
  • Remastered versions of the full-length films Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Mr. Freeze: SubZero.
  • The box set also includes audio commentaries by cast and crew on 11 select episodes, and a series of featurettes (find the full list below) led by a 60-minute making-of documentary titled The Heart of Batman
  • Seven lenticular art cards, a deluxe art book featuring art from the series
  • Three Funko mini-figures of Batman, the Joker and Harley Quinn

I love the artwork. It seems a little tough to pull each disc out of the book, but I plan to rip each one and add to our Plex media library anyway. The discs are going to stay in the book long term.

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Our daughter Lily tested and achieved her 1st Dan black belt in Tae Kenpo last Sunday

Since reaching senior brown belt last year, both Joshua and Lily had been practicing for about a year on making it to black belt. Last June, with lots of practice in his regular forms, self-defense forms, and jo weapons forms, he passed and achieved his 1st Dan black belt in Tae Kenpo. 

Lily needed more time, so we tentatively planned for a few months of additional practice so she could solidify her forms and her speech over the summer. Hmmm, in hindsight, her practicing over the summer wasn’t as effective as we had hoped. It was now October, and while her speech was a little shaky but okay, she was stil having difficulty remembering all of her forms. 

After speaking with her sensei Master Brook, we made a plan to make the last week of October a concentrated week focused on karate. Happily, Lily was willing and motivated to make the time commitment. For the entire week, we would drop off Lily around 6 PM, and she stayed for 2-3 classes every night working on forms. On some nights, she took a snack with her as well. Josh also helped out by working with Lily on her forms and techniques. 

We have great news to share – it worked! On Sunday morning, Lily tested and achieved her 1st Dan black belt in Tae Kenpo. She’s very proud, and it was a great team effort by everyone. To celebrate, we went out for dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant in Plainsboro.

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I have no money — all of my money is tied up in fancy garage doors

I think it was July or August when our main garage door broke. Specifically, one of the torsion springs snapped, and we’ve been unable to open the door ever since. I had a company come out to look at it

We took a recommendation from a neighbor friend and called Precision Garage Doors. According to them, installing new springs would not be cheap, but our rollers were also original builder grade and should also be replaced. And we were somehow looking at almost $800. I pointed out that the previous owners had also left us a dented garage door. If I replaced the doors in the future, could we keep the rollers and springs? No? Argh.

Well, we didn’t have time or money in August to deal with it. We had the big London trip coming up to pay for. Once we got back, we lived another month or so with the broken door. We spent time thinking about it, and decided that we should upgrade both doors, both garage door openers, and the rest of the setup. I never got a clear answer if we had to replace everything,  but I didn’t want to install temporary solutions that we could not build off of. We also had an opportunity to replace both openers with quieter belt-driven systems.  For the smaller single garage door, we opted for a lower end model that didn’t have all the whizz-bang features. We didn’t need that for a garage we only open occasionally. 

So here we are in October with brand new garage doors and openers. We have brand new hardware for both sides, new LiftMaster garage door openers using belts (instead of noisy chains), and we splurged on windows and decorative hardware. My favorite features so far are that the doors now open when we push the button. A nice side benefit is that I also like how the sunlight streams through the windows and brightens up the garage in the morning. It isn’t important, but it’s a nice plus.

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The Ipes have assembled Lego Volton and we are ready to defend the universe

It took us a little longer to get it done than I expected, but I’m happy to announce that we assembled Voltron!

Seriously it took us two months on and off to finish building each of the five lions, with the large black lion completed at the end.  We finished the Saturn V in only a few days. Of course, we were on vacation at home for the Christmas holiday season end of last year. This time, we had camp, the London trip, the new school year, and work stuff keeping us all busy.  I don’t remember when we started, but 2,321 pieces later, we are done.

We ordered and received the box back in August. The kids put together the red and green lions first, as they are the smallest and easiest. They worked on the blue and yellow lions next. The yellow lion is unfortunately missing two small pieces under the chin, but Voltron still stands pretty well without them. I’ll have to order replacements for the purposes of completeness. The black lion took a few days on and off because it is seriously large. 

At 2,321 pieces, this was our largest and most complex set kit so far, but we got it done in order to save the universe. It’s currently on display in the Lounge, so feel free to come by and check it out next time you are around. And if you want some time to play with Voltron, we can also arrange that.

We’ve already started researching our next Lego challenge. Suggestions are welcome.

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I thought A Star is Born (2018) was an interesting film

I don’t usually get excited for film musicals. I can easily enjoy a live musical playing out on stage, but the on-screen versions often bore me. Notable exceptions to that rule include Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and a select few old films from the Disney library. Maybe it’s because I grew up on watching some of them on the Disney Channel.

I started seeing trailers for the latest remake of A Star is Born, featuring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and I dunno, it looked good. I mean, really good. This was surprising both to me and my wife. My wife especially thought I was joking around. I’m all in for quality films. 

A bunch of folks got together for dinner at a local Italian restaurant for dinner, then went to go see the film nearby. 

The film is the latest iteration or remake, where prior films have starred Barbra Streisand &Kris Kristofferson, Judy Garland & James Mason. I am very impressed with Bradley Cooper – the guy  stars as Jackson Maine in the film, directed this film, and learned to sing and play guitar. Lady Gaga as an actress was also very good. Very talented woman.

Something else I liked about the film and the story without going into too much spoilers detail. The film doesn’t pull any punches. I felt it was authentic. It’s probably the best film I’ve seen all year.

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We went to Helium Comedy Club and saw Adam Ferrara perform

Two years ago, my sister & BIL bought us a gift certificate to the Helium Comedy Club in Philadelphia, PA. Really nice of them. Unfortunately, you know how it is, you can be so busy that you don’t have time to actually use those gift certificates and gift cards. Maybe you do, but we have a stash of them.

We recently sifted through the drawer, and found out the comedy club gift certificate was going to expire end of September. Yikes! We checked the calendar, and found a show that seemed interesting — comedian Adam Ferrara was performing the last weekend in September. We made plans to go out for dinner in Philladelphia, then see his 9 PM show.

We did try to get into our preferred restaurant, but there was a 90 min wait to sit at the bar and eat. To sit at the bar….. and eat. Are you kidding me? We ended up walking down the street to college pub that was decent but really loud. Damn kids. 😉

We killed some time, then went to the show. First time at Helium, and I have to say it was pretty nice. Very spacious, good seating. And good drinks.

Both the guy warming up the crowd and Adam Ferrara were very funny. I feel bad not remembering the first guy. 🙁  

Adam Ferrara was really good. Why haven’t I heard of this guy before? Apparently he’s an actor and comedian, and played various characters on Rescue Me, Nurse Jackie, and The Job. Hmmm. Anyway, like I said, he was very good. If he’s playing in your town, you should go see him. And he was nice enough to let us get a picture with him. I’m still a little miffed that we never got a picture with Roy Woods Jr. last May at Stress Factory.

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