Gonna rise up. Find my direction magnetically.

Month: January 2011

Squishy Records is proud to present…

(Squishy is Brooke’s name for her blankey…)

First Recording

After working out a deal to get my sister’s used MacBook, the girls decided that the price was right and they both took out a withdrawal from Dobson Horizons Bank (great rates, friendly service).  The MacBook arrived last Thursday and Maddie was immediately drawn in. They have Macs at school so she already knew her way around. Of course, PhotoBooth was the first app to get extensive use (is this true for all first time Mac people???). For those of you not familiar, MacBooks come with a built in webcam on the lid and some software to have fun with named PhotoBooth. You can overlay fun-house type effects and make silly faces. The girls continuously laughed for over 15 minutes.

The other thing that the MacBook allows us to do is to play with iMovie and GarageBand. iMovie is by far the easiest movie editing software I have ever seen. Maddie finished her first composition yesterday so maybe I’ll post that later…. we’ll see, I haven’t screened the whole 7 minutes yet.

GarageBand is one of this apps that I knew once the girls start playing with, they would pick it up quickly and want to do more with. I was not disappointed. I recently started playing guitar again and with Maddie on the piano and Brooke on the drums, we have the makings of band (Julie won’t sing. Don’t ask. 🙁  )

Once the girls saw how easy it was to hookup the various instruments (including the USB mic from RockBand), we needed something quick and simple to record. We decided on a ‘He’s Got the Whole World’. Maddie already knew the piano and the simple guitar cords made it a good candidate for me as well. No drums in this one, but Brooke played her part by singing. We first laid down the piano track, then my guitar and finally Brooke put on the headphones and sang along. I think it’s pretty decent for our first attempt and Brooke’s voice is so sweet…. Hope you enjoy!

He’s Got the Whole World

Download mp3

August 30th – September 1st (Kayaking)

August 30th – September 1st (Kayaking)

See Apostle Islands for the intro to this trip report.

August 30th

The entire week prior to the trip I had been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. Kayaking up in Lake Superior can be a pretty horrible experience if the weather picks up and you can become stranded on one of the islands pretty easily. So as we were preparing to push off at Meyers Beach, the forecast was for rain that night or possibly the next morning. We would be out of communication (no 3g in these parts) for the next couple of days and would have to rely on our old school ways of reading the clouds and taking an educated guess.

The first leg of the trip took us along sea caves that were actually on the mainland. Once we got north of the caves, we would find our campsite. There is only one mainland campsite and it seemed like it didn’t get very much use. There is a 4 mile trail that leads from this site all the way back to Meyers Beach if one was so inclined to hike it. The guided tours that come out here spend the morning looking at the sea caves, have lunch on the beach just north of the caves, and then paddle back to Meyer’s Beach.

The caves were unlike anything I had seen in the water. They certainly had more of a Utah/west coast feel than northern Wisconsin.

There was a very interesting woosh sound that the waves made as they pushed under the rock formations into the caves. You could also tell that this was not a place you wanted to be when the weather or waves picked up. We lucked out and had great weather with a very low chop.

Once we made camp, we were able to appreciate the view and enjoy the rest of the afternoon. One thing that we didn’t appreciate were the damn black flies. Those things were everywhere and bit hard. It got so bad that we ended up bringing our dinner inside the tent just to find some relief. I wore my long johns (top and bottom) for most of the time we were in camp.

August 31st

We were waiting for the rain to come, but it only drizzled a little and the big rain never hit. The next morning there was a stiff westward wind and it created some pretty good chop. This along with some looming clouds had us breaking camp and heading to Sand Island pretty quick… no point in hanging around and seeing if the weather gets worse!!

We paddled for a few hours and reached the bay on the east side of Sand Island. It’s amazing how close something looks while you are on the lake but spend the next 1-2 hours paddling just to realize you are half way. My back was sore from the previous day’s paddling so it probably felt longer than it actually was. Sand Island has a full time ranger stationed on it and it felt good getting back into some type of civilized environment. It was fun to be out on our own the previous day, but with the weather and kayaking in the open water, it just felt good to see some other folks around.

We made camp and then headed out to view the sea caves. These were AWESOME! Some of the best in all of the Apostles. You can get really far back into the caves and it’s shallow enough that you could get out and walk around if you were into that kind of thing. We had a great time paddling around and made our way to Justice Bay. This place looked like it could have been in the Virgin Islands. The sun was out, the water was clear and there was a sailboat right in the middle of the bay.

We hiked up to the lighthouse and got a tour from the resident ranger. It was pretty interesting to hear about the old lighthouse keeper and some of the stories about the area. Included in these stories was an interesting one regarding if the old keeper had killed his wife and then told everyone that she had ‘left’ him.  No one could figure out where she had left to… mystery and intrigue in the Apostles. We were able to climb all the way up to the top of the lighthouse and were rewarded with a view of several of the other islands. I also learned that the markings for a lighthouse on a map give you a lot of information. Height of the lighthouse, the color of the light and the frequency at which the light will flash.

Oh, and guess who we ran into? The guy who was working at the visitor’s center when I came in looking for my camera bag. So my dad took a picture of us with our cameras. Nice!

We enjoyed a nice sunset and I went to bed hoping that the weather would be agreeable enough in the morning to allow us to cross Sand Bay over to the mainland so we would make our scheduled pickup.

September 1st

We woke up, broke camp and made our way across to the mainland without much incident. I have to admit that crossing the few miles in the open lake did make me a bit nervous. Especially at the half way point when you look around and realize just how far away from land you are and that you are in this little kayak on top of the freezing cold water. It’s a good, healthy kind of fear. The kind that makes you glad to be alive and to be able to enjoy a trip like this with the old man.

This ranks up there with the top 1 or 2 breakfast spots I have even eaten at in my life.

I can easily see coming back up here with the whole family and doing another multi-day, multi-island trip. There is a lot to see in this area and it’s truly amazing how this unknown National Lakeshore is just sitting here in northern Wisconsin.

The old man on the hunt.

Mainland sea caves.

Loved this dock. The campsite on Sand Island is 100 yards back from this doc.

My current favorite picture of my dad and I. It turned out great and captures some of the beauty of the area as well.

August 28th and 29th (Bayfield)

August 28th and 29th (Bayfield)

See Apostle Islands for the intro to this trip report.

We spent the first two nights at a campsite just south of town (Apostle Islands Area Campground). It was a pretty quite place but the owner had a very disturbing resemblance to the owner of the cabins the Griswolds stayed at in the movie Vacation.  We had dinner in Bayfield, which was great but a little crowded. We figured this was due to it being so close to the end of the summer that a lot of families were getting in their last vacation before school started.

Sunday morning we went into town for breakfast and found this GREAT coffee shop,  Big Water Coffee. If you make it to Bayfield, WI at some point, you need to make sure to spend a morning here. Lots of locals and they roast their own coffee. Oh, and free wifi.

Our next stop was at Trek & Trail for our kayaking lesson.  You have to take a 3 hour lesson if you are going to take the kayaks out on your own (no guide). This is required by law, so we didn’t really have an option. As it turned out, it was a good thing that we took it since it built our confidence and improved our technique. There was a middle-aged couple that took the class with us, but they were denied the rental because they failed to do the wet exit in the lake. After they watched my dad and I do it, the female of the couple got…. wait for it… cold feet, and chickened out. The water was pretty darn cold, in the low 50s, so I can’t really blame her for not wanting to flip over her kayak intentionally.

We had originally wanted to get a ferry to see a few of the outer islands, but we couldn’t find any in town. Only some local tour boats that go out in the morning. So instead, we drove out to Little Sand Bay and enjoyed lunch while thinking about what the next couple of days had in store for us. We came back into town and I got a 4 mile run in before we went back to the campsite for a shower and to get ready for dinner.

The Camera Saga

When we came back into Bayfield for dinner, I went to the trunk of the car to get my camera bag and guess what… no bag. I searched the back seat… no bag. I went back to the trunk again, then to the car again, then to the trunk. Uh-oh!!! Before we left for the trip, I had put all of the video/camera gear that I own into that bag. My Nikon D90, a Canon SD1100, a Flip, several lenses and other gear. Not being able to find this was, to say the least, a bit concerning. At times like these, I usually start to freak out a little, but oddly enough, I was pretty calm. After discussing where it could be with my dad, we decided I had probably left it at the visitor’s center up at Little Sand Bay. We immediately drove up there, but since it was a Sunday night the center was closed. We walked around the center, trying to find it sitting in there somewhere, but no luck.

It was also at this point that I decided in my mind that if we couldn’t find the bag, I would wait until I got home to tell Julie. Why ruin my trip even more??? Right??? Love you hun.

The next morning we shot up to the visitor’s center to be there when it opened because we had to be back at Trek & Trail to get our ride over to Meyer’s Beach at 10. The guy working at the center had heard something about a bag being found, but he didn’t have any details. He called into the headquarters (located in Bayfield) and it turns out that once they opened it and saw all the equipment ($$), they decided it had to be put in the safe which they had at the headquarters building. So back to Bayfield we went… and we got my camera back. Lots of smiles all around. As a note of warning to others.

Always always always have something on your camera or in your camera bag that has your contact info on it! Stop reading this now and go do it. A label on the camera, a picture on your SD card that has your contact info (you can mark the pic to not be deleted when you sync), anything so someone who finds it can get it back to you.

Apostile Islands

Apostle Islands – August, 2010

I’ve been meaning to post about this trip that I took with my Dad back in August for a while and I finally found the time to put it together. The trip was a birthday gift to my Dad (he turned 60 this year). We planned to spend a few days camping and kayaking in the Apostle Islands. The trip was to be from August 28th to September 1st.

The Apostles

For those of you not familiar, and who could blame you, people I know who grew up in Wisconsin didn’t even know what they were, I’ll give you a little background.

The Apostle Islands are a group of 22 islands in Lake Superior off the Bayfield Peninsula in northern Wisconsin. The islands are a National Lakeshore (managed by the NPS)

The majority of the islands are located in Ashland County—only Sand, York, Eagle, and Raspberry Islands are located in Bayfield County. All the islands except for Madeline Island are part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

The islands are the spiritual home for the Lake Superior Chippewa. The islands were named the Apostle Islands by New France historian Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, who named them after the 12 apostles (even though there were 22 islands).

For more information about the islands, the Wikipedia entry has a lot of details: Apostle Islands.

The Trip

Saturday, August 28 – Drive to Bayfield

Sunday, August 29 – Take kayaking class, hang out in Bayfield (try to get a ferry trip to outer islands)

Monday, August 30 – Get dropped off at Meyer’s Beach and kayak past sea caves to camp just south of Sand Point.

Tuesday, August 31 – Kayak to Sand Island, explore island and sea caves around the island.

Wednesday, September 1 – Kayak across Sand Bay to Little Sand Bay where we would be picked up and then drive home from Bayfield.

Geek Home Improvement

Infrared Thermometer

There is little doubt regarding my attraction to electronics, but this time I have hit the perfect match where my inner Tom Silva (oh, I’m name dropping) and geek are both extremely satisfied. Since we have moved into our house, which was build in 1962, I have taken on several improvement projects related to making it more energy-efficient. We replaced all the old, single-pane windows, new doors, insulated the upstairs attic up to R-43 and numerous others. All of these were done mainly to make the house warmer in winter. In the summer, we have big trees that shade the house and keep it pretty cool, but it gets pretty darn cold in some parts of the house during the cold, Chicago winters.

The most frustrating thing after completing these projects is knowing what impact they have. Yeah, the house ‘feels’ warmer and it makes you feel like you are doing something, but I need hard data! The gas/electric bill is one way to tell but fluctuations in weather make it too difficult to compare one month to another.

I think I have found a solution to my struggle. Bring on the Kintrex IRT0421. This infrared thermometer allows you to point the laser at any surface and get a temperature reading.

KINTREX IRT0421 Non-Contact Infrared Thermometer with Laser Targeting









This little dream of a tool has been great fun for the past 2 days. I have been running around the house, pointing it at floors, ceilings, walls, etc. and have been surprised by a lot of the readings. Below is a reading off of our floor. The temperature for a majority of our floor is 63-64 degrees. This is fairly consistent except for one strip of the floor next to the fireplace. In that section (10″ wide and extends the 3′ from our exterior wall to the fireplace) the floor drops to 55.5!! Crazy… add that to the investigation list!

So what does all of this mean? Well, it means that next week, while I am off from work, I plan on spending a few hours going around the house and recording temperatures from various places. I’ll put that in a spreadsheet along with the outside temperature and what we have the thermostat set to. This list will allow me to prioritize my next set of improvements and also allow me to get before/after readings. Finally, I will have the hard data that I have been looking for that show me how much of an impact my improvements make!!! I am so pumped.

Oh, and as a side note, the kids LOVE pointing this thing not only at each other (Brooke was 90.2 degrees last night) but at random objects around the house. Our dinner last night was served at 142 degrees, Brooke’s stuffed penguin was 63 degrees. I had to yank the thing out of their hands finally…

Fire Safety Alert

For 2011, I’m going to try and post at least a couple of blog entries a month. Things got busy during the holidays, so I wasn’t able to find the time.  We’ll just see how it goes…

Fire Safety

On December 13th, just after 8 PM, we heard fire trucks coming down our street. They made the turn at the corner and stopped 2 houses down. We didn’t know what was going on so we ran to the back door and we could see plumes of smoke rising up from our neighbor’s house.

We immediately ran to the garage and into the driveway to see what was going on. Julie and I were running down together and the girls were staying in the garage. I don’t think I will ever forget the sight. Our neighbor’s garage was engulfed in flames. Flames were shooting 5-10 feet out from the front of the garage and a full size conversion van that was parked right in front of the garage door had flames rising up from under the hood. Everyone made it out of the house before the fire department showed up thanks to a passerby who saw their garage on fire and knocked on the door to tell the family.


Smoke was everywhere and you could see the firemen were gearing up to go inside while others had already hooked hoses up and were putting out the fire.

This is the closest I have ever been to a house fire and I learned a lot from this event:

  1. Firemen kick ass. They were already putting water on those flames in the time it took us to realize what was going on and run down our driveway. It had to be less than 2 minutes.
  2. Even with all the water and firemen at the scene, it still took over an hour to get the flames out.
  3. Houses smolder for HOURS and the fire department will not leave until it’s done. 3 am is when they all left.
  4. Once the actual fire is out and the mass of firemen start tearing apart the house looking for smoldering debris is when a serious amount of damage is done to the house. They certainly have to do it, but it’s really heartbreaking to watch the guys tear it apart with pry-bars and axes.

Brooke was freaked out by the fire so we made her our fire marshal. We did a fire safety check of all our smoke detectors and fire extinguishers a few days later. I would encourage everyone to do this. NOW. And go over your family exit plan for how everyone will get out of the house and meet up. It’s serious business. Here is a link to a good checklist.

The thing that really got me nervous was that it turns out the fire started in the garage and the kids were in the basement so they had no idea there was a fire. In our house, our smoke detectors are not connected so if one goes off, the others do not. This was never really a concern for me in the past…. until now. The cost to wire them all together was out of the question, so I looked for alternatives and I stumbled across these:

First Alert ONELINK Wireless Battery Operated Smoke Alarm with Voice Location

I read some reviews and decided that these were just what I was looking for. Wireless, synced smoke detectors. They have about 15 pre-programmed locations so when you get them, you program them for “basement” or “dining room”. When the alarm goes off on one, it takes a few seconds for the others to start up, but it works and it works pretty well. I got 2 2-packs for $67 each. First place I put one was the garage…

As a side note, this makes me feel very proud of what we do at Motorola. Working with public safety and helping ensure that these firemen can communicate gives a lot of purpose and meaning to my job. I have always felt that way, but now it’s just more personal and real than before.

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