Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Things I did this weekend

Took a Just Ducky tour
Technically we did this earlier in the week so I guess the post probably could/should be called “Things I did Last Week” but really, who’s keeping track anyway.

Just Ducky Tours (website link) conducts tours of Pittsburgh using a WWII era amphibious vehicle called a DUKW. From the Just Ducky Tours website, “The DUKW (popularly pronounced "duck") is a six-wheel-drive amphibious truck that was designed by General Motors Corporation during World War II for transporting goods and troops over land and water and for use approaching and crossing beaches in amphibious attacks.”  

The tour starts out overland as any typical bus tour would, driving past local monuments and historic buildings. However, about half way through the tour, the DUKW turns off of the public streets and onto the north shore river walk. The river walk is basically a wide sidewalk along the Allegheny river and it is not open for motorized vehicles (other than the DUKWs). Once on the river walk, the tour continues to a special ramp near Heinz Field where the DUKW gets to show off its true capabilities. The driver turns into the water, there is a large splash, though I stayed dry in my “window” seat, and the next thing you know, you are motoring along as if you’re in a tour boat!

During the river portion of the trip we got to see the city from a different vantage point. The other cool thing about this portion of the trip was that each of the kids on board got a chance to actually drive the boat!

After everyone had a chance to drive and after we motored past all of the river-based sights the captain “drove” the boat up the ramp and back out of the water. The rest of the tour, back to our starting point, was on public roads.

Overall we had a great time, we got to see Downtown Pittsburgh, the North Shore and The Point from the river and my niece got to drive the boat.

Started building a bench in the dining room
A couple of winters ago, we built a bench in the dining room at the cabin. We knew it would be a game changer because, with the bench, we could seat more people at the table and we could move the table closer to the wall. We guessed that moving the table would improve the traffic flow past the table, which is situated in the pathway between the family room and the rest of the house. Moving the table did greatly improve the traffic flow, but it also ended up giving us another “couch” and in a room other than the living room. Since then we find that people tend to gather and hang out more at the table, which is an unexpected bonus.

The original bench!

Since we had such good luck with the first bench, we decided to build another,  this time in the dining room at home. We have similar issues at home that we are trying to overcome: the dining room is narrow and the patio door is in the dining room, so traffic flow can be problematic.

After drawing up some plans, we headed off to Lowe's to get our materials.

Cath and her cart.

A car full of building supplies.
Living in the city, space can be an issue, so we ended up doing much of the assembly in the dining room on the (well protected) dining room table. 

Nice work bench.
However before we could begin the assembly, we had to cut out the frames on the table saw. Of course we don’t have room for a table saw, but some friends do, (more on that later) so we packed up our uncut frame pieces and headed over to Greg’s.

Laying out frames on the floor.
Cath and the saw.

After about an hour with the table saw and a jig saw we had eight identical frame pieces and we were ready to head back home for the assembly. The frame pieces are held together with four 1x3s that are glued and screwed to each frame. The result is a “cabinet” that looks like a bench, but without any facing. We managed to get one of the two frames assembled before we ran out of time and energy. 
Part 1 complete.
Next up will be finishing the other frame, leveling them and screwing them into place and then adding the facing, the seat and the trim. Hopefully we’ll finish up this coming weekend and you will see the finished product next Monday.

Visited friends who own a church
So where do you find a table saw in the city? Well, the answer to that question is Greg, who owns an old church that he has turned into a wood shop. Here are a couple of pictures that give you a rough sense of the space. It's really amazing and it's only a few blocks from our house!

Cath setting up for a cut.

Local sculpture.
Experimented with a new drink idea
I had a left over watermelon from last weekend and on Saturday I realized that there was no way we were going to finish it before it went bad. I hate wasting food so I decided to cut it up and throw it into the freezer for later. Sunday was hot and humid and the idea of making something using frozen watermelon cubes sounded pretty good, so I threw something together as an experiment. I started with the frozen watermelon cubes, then I added some fresh mint from the garden, the zest of one lime and the juice from that same lime. 

I blended these ingredients for a minute in the blender and I got shaved watermelon ice, which was not what I was going for. I need some liquid help everything blend. I would have added some lemonade but I didn't have any lemons or lemonade on hand. I plan to try this another time, after I get some lemons. What I did have, was tequila, and the idea of tequila made me think of a salted rim glass, which reminded me that salted watermelon is the best… so I added two shots of tequila to my blender and I blended again. What I got, once I poured it into two glasses with salted rims, was a nice watermelon flavored “frozen margarita”. Yum!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July 4th Weekend 2014

I’m trying to get into the habit of posting more.  I’m also trying to keep my posts interesting and relevant, and yes, sometimes I feel like those two things are in conflict with one another. In spite of that, here is a DC Rainmaker inspired, 5 random things I did this holiday weekend post, for your reading pleasure.

Friday was the 4th of July and Cath and I spent the entire weekend at the cabin.  Last year everyone was in town and we built a play set for Gemma and Artie, but before we could start building, we had to cut down a large tree that was in the way.

The tree came down pretty easy but then the focus shifted to building the play set, so the most of the wood was left uncut.  Friday seemed like a good day to cut and split wood, so that’s what I did! Once I finished cutting everything to length, there were about 50 round logs ranging in diameter from six inches up to about two feet.   I split and stacked most of the 50 and I cleaned up and consolidate the remaining rounds near the fire pit.  It’s been a while since I split wood, so at the end of the day, my hands, shoulders and hamstrings were pretty sore. No workout today but a lot of work nonetheless.

Saturday started with more of the same… I restarted the fire from Friday night and then I split and stacked more wood.  Around noon my sister started work on a key lime pie and I fired up the slow cooker to start dinner (more on that in a minute!).  While dinner cooked, I had time for a brief trail run. My legs and back were pretty sore from splitting wood, so I figured a nice easy jog would help to loosen things up.  Cath wanted to come along too, so we worked out a plan: she dropped me at the Maple Summit parking lot on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail and I started running north on the trail.  She then drove to the Rt. 653 parking lot and started hiking south.  We agreed that I would run north until I met her hiking south, at which point she would turn around and I would switch up to her pace.  My best guess was that we would meet up somewhere around my one-hour mark and that’s exactly what happened.  I met her at 1:01:30, just short of five mils into my run.  She turned around and we walked/jogged our way back to the Rt. 653 parking lot. You can see my path here (link to Connect).  Overall I covered a little more than seven miles and felt pretty good.

Saturday dinner was slow cooked, BBQ, pulled chicken sandwiches with coleslaw, fruit salad, potato salad and key lime pie. We are big fans of the slow cooker and pulled chicken sandwiches are really good and really easy.  I used Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce as the base and then I added orange mango preserves, crushed red pepper flakes, Worchester sauce, and a mix of chicken breasts and thighs. Four hours on high (in my slow cooker) and everything was ready to be pulled.  I removed the skin and bones from the thighs and I pulled the meat into shreds. Next I removed some of the excess fat from the top of the sauce. Finally, I tasted the sauce before adding back the pulled chicken. We served the chicken on hamburger buns with a dollop of coleslaw on top. Yum! There are dozens of similar recipes on the Internet, pick one that sounds good to you and mix up some BBQ!

Sunday was the real relaxation day of the weekend and I got to shoot sporting clays with my brother-in-law at Seven Springs (link to seven springs sporting clays).  If you’re not familiar, sporting clays are often describes as golf with guns: you move between shooting stations with each station setup to throw clay targets in a different direction and pattern. Seven Springs has three distinct courses.  Each course has 15+ shooting stations and each station has several different throwing patterns.  They also have an outdoor 5-stand and an indoor, heated 5-stand.  The facilities and the trappers are first class.  An accomplished shooter will hit north of 85% of their targets. I am not an accomplished shooter!  That said, I managed to hit 61 out of 100 targets, so I was really happy with the effort.  I was especially happy with the number of fast crossing targets that I managed to hit. I was not at all happy with the number of rising targets that I managed to miss. I was pulling the trigger right at the apex but for some reason I just kept missing. Ugh.

This is a picture of my lovely bruise. Clearly I don't get to shoot often enough because this should not be happening.  Oh well, something else to work on!

One other funny thing: as I was packing up to go shoot, I was trying to figure out a workable way to mount the GoPro to get some pics and video footage. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and I wasn't able to come up with a solution.  Thus, my surprise today, when I received an email from GoPro focused on their new Sportsman Mount (link to GoPro). Briefly, the mount allows you to hang your GoPro from the barrel of a rifle/shotgun and get footage aiming out at the target, back at the shooter or both (if you have two cameras). I don't shoot enough to make this a must have item, but the footage on their site is pretty cool and it makes me wish I would have planned a little further in advance for Sunday.

The other thing that Seven Springs has done right is the outdoor pool with bar and food service.  The pool is great, the food is great and if the weather is great, you can easily drift off to the tropics and forget that you're still in Western PA!

I don’t know if I’ll turn this into a regular feature but I really enjoyed the weekend, so I figured I would share.  Hopefully you all had an enjoyable and safe holiday weekend.