Friday, December 31, 2010

And you can't take a picture of me either


Sean showing that he doesn't discriminate when picture blocking!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Smooth

Sean perfectly executes the face block maneuver.



Thursday, December 23, 2010

Face Painting Part II

Gracie has been doing lots of watercolor painting lately. Apparently the Christmas party gave her some ideas.






Friday, December 17, 2010

Face Painting

The kids got their faces painted at the Zoo during the christmas party for my office.



Santa Claus

The Cat

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mimi and Papa in the house

We had another good weekend with Mimi and Papa in town. Thanks for the early Christmas.










Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cuddly

Quite cute how the kids love to cuddle their new little sister. But gotta keep a close eye or things get out of hand quickly.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I proudly present my little sister



........................................WHATEVER




Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Eyes

We don't get to see her pretty eyes much since she prefers sleeping.





Sean loves his new sister

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Isabel is here

Isabel Kathryn arrived in the world this morning at 8:05 after a few hiccups (clerical) and is all we could ask for. She is healthy, cute and has been an angel so far.


She was 7lbs 1 ounce, 20.5 inches













Sunday, November 21, 2010

Greasy

Ever had a bad experience with some part of the car industry (sales, service, and insurance)? Most can answer yes. I will apologize right now to those I know that work in some sector of the business as this may offend you. I often wonder if all industries are as slimy as the automobile business; perhaps our experiences are more frequent due to Americans dependence on the car. It seems as if the automobile industry realizes the quandary of our situation and knows we need their services. Whether buying a car or getting it serviced, if not vigilant about getting a "good deal", most will take the opportunity to help themselves to your wallet. Why am I so bitter you ask? 2010 required a car switch-up for the Armstrong family in addition to the usual car maintenance. Let me start with my recent experience.

We purchased a Toyota Sienna all-wheel drive (AWD) minivan earlier this year as a compromise to hauling our brood of children and the ability to transport them in the Utah snow. The AWD isn't nearly as effective without snow tires to give grip so I decided to purchase snow tires. Knowing that tire dealers can be sleazy, I did my homework, calling around to find the best tire price before making the trip to a tire shop. I was turned off by one shop before entering the store since they failed to mention additional shipping charges for tires when agreeing to price match over the phone. Lucky for me, I requested a detailed quote when the tires arrived the following week and found their hidden cost. After this "oversight", I moved on to another dealer.

Dealer #2 had the best price I could find in town without any price match and had the tires in stock. I took the van to them early the next morning and walked in the store to seal the deal. I did mention my call to them the day prior but didn't mention the price quoted. Oddly enough the total price quoted in the store was over $100 what I was told over the phone. The customer that doesn't do their homework knows no better and opens their wallet for the thieves to loot. Interesting that a $50 rebate mentioned the day prior wasn't included with their in-store quote. Once I mentioned my prior call and brought my notebook out with the person I spoke to and the price quoted, I was given the lesser price quoted. Already feeling the filth, I wanted to walk out the door at that moment. However, I knew this was the best deal around town and the forecast of snow that afternoon pushed me to complete the purchase.

And again back to my point of being too dependent on the automobile, thus easily taken by dishonest businesses. I left the van and got a call two hours later from the shop. The alignment was out a few degrees and should be corrected to ensure the longest life. Funny how these things aren't mentioned up front. I understand that alignment may not always be required but how often do they tell someone putting on new tires that they don't require alignment. After some haggling on my part, I got the price down to $50 and agreed to the service. I went to retrieve the van a while later and paid for the service. Upon reviewing the bill, I realized they threw in an additional $50 for a tire protection plan. What the F^%# is that I asked. Oh, that's in the event of catastrophic damage to a tire, they will replace it for no charge. For a tire (run flat) on a minivan that is only rated for 20k miles to begin with? If I'm driving a jeep wrangler off road, this insurance might make sense. But I think I will take my chances that Sarah won't gash the sidewall while driving in the next year and a half.

My experience buying the car wasn't any better, requiring endless haggling and head games to complete the sale. Sarah was ready to divorce me (not really) over the purchase cause I didn't back down with the used car salesmen tactics. Let's just say that we walked out of the dealership once and it still took three hours to finalize the deal upon returning. All this after half-assed repairs were completed, though different things were promised before the paper signing. I've yet to see the second set of keys that allegedly existed for the car before we signed. Keep in mind that a new "smart" key costs at least $100. Need I mention the dead battery experiences one week after receiving the car? Shouldn't "Toyota certified" include a check of the battery and the ability to see that it was near death?

Are all businesses run like this? There are many other industries where prices changes depending on how many questions are asked and the amount of pressure applied. Though if I were a man with no kids or lived in a warmer climate, you better believe I would ditch the automobile and rely on my legs (bicycle). It would be one less thing I have to spend time researching before making a purchase. Tired of my automobile industry rant? Me too.

Just be sure that the next time you plunk down money on this "need", you do your homework before walking in their door. If you don't, go ahead and walk in with your wallet open cause chances are you just put a smile on a salesperson's face and fattened their paycheck.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Madsen Kg271 Bucket Bike Review

Upon seeing the title of this post, you might begin to wonder how many bikes a man needs in his garage/man-cave. The answer: you can never have enough if ridden regularly.

My Madsen purchase actually occurred earlier this fall but I just got around to reviewing the bike after getting some time in the saddle. I first came across the Madsen this summer and knew I must have one after test riding the 2011 prototype at Madsen headquarters. Following lots of impatient calls and waiting, the 2011 model finally arrived for distribution to waiting customers like me. The Madsen is designed for hauling up to 4 kids at a time or whatever your creative side can dream up. I've yet to fill the bucket with water for a bubble bath, a keg on ice, or other unusual objects but I have managed 4 kids in the bucket.

The Madsen is designed for a family with younger kids that is tired of driving around a minivan with the other soccer moms/dads in the city. It has a bench seat on either side with two seat belts to keep the kids secure (or from beating the crap out of each other). Its a great build with solid components that aren't over the top (internal hub); keeping costs reasonable. Last time I checked the 2011 model was retailing for $1485. The only modifications I've made thus far are comfier lock-on grips, Schwalbe Marathon XC tires and the forte campus pedal to allow SPD use.

I have managed over 100 miles on the bike in two months and have no regrets with my purchase. Most people's first question is "isn't that hard to balance?" The Madsen is amazingly easy to ride with the bucket sitting low to the ground and well placed over the rear wheel. I can feel some wobble when the kids throw punches at one another but otherwise feels like riding a heavy cruiser. It's obvious that weight wasn't much a factor in design and the bike provides a workout when pedaling up the steeper hills in SLC. For those that ride often, its a fun challenge to see what you can conquer with kids loaded in the bucket.

Eight gears allow the rider to take most hills with ease. I eventually plan to swap the front chainring to get the gearing a little higher as I've only really needed the low end a few times. I often find myself "geared out" on anything with a slight downhill grade. Most will find the stock gearing sufficient for their needs. The combination of a front disc and rear v-brake provide enough to stop the bike quickly if needed. A dual leg kickstand keeps the bike stable, even keeping it stable when the kids climb in and out of the bucket. The coolest feature of this bike might just be the integrated front wheel lock. Easy to operate and provides another level of comfort; knowing your bucket isn't being carted off while in the grocery. Though I do carry a cable lock for added security when leaving the bike unattended in public.

The Madsen is not only cool but provides children a totally different experience from riding around in a minivan watching Disney DVD's. It's a great feeling to have the kids observing the elements around them; pointing out birds, squirrels and odd looking people (just kidding). The kids often wave and flash their cute smiles at cars as they go by. I look forward to many years of grocery getting, park hopping and taking the kids to school in what has been dubbed "the bucket".

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Camera

After years of using a point and shoot camera, taking twenty pictures to get one worthy of posting, I decided it was time for a digital SLR. I've been researching DSLR cameras for a while and decided on the Sony A33 due to its ability to capture 7 frames per second along with HD video. It has more settings and tools than I can figure out at this point but I hope to understand them all with time. I haven't taken too many pictures thus far but managed to capture a few around the house this weekend.

Sean found Sarah's tights and gave them a try.
Good Fit


Big Cheeser


Sarah getting Gracie ready for a night out at the theatre

Monday, November 8, 2010

All Business on the Trail

Most would presume a guy that only works 30-45 days a year (airline pilot) could conduct business when off the trail. Apparently not.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rocky Mountain Altitude 50 review continued

The first week of November brought really warm temperatures allowing further testing of my new bike. Even better is that I got to ride my usual route, dry creek to shoreline to bobsled, allowing easy comparison of my recent purchase to last years Rocky Mountain SXC 50. I'm about to get used to the steering change and it feels good now. Another hurdle I'm working to overcome is the difference in the down-shifting setup between the SRAM and Shimano.

The biggest difference between these bikes aside from weight is the frame geometry and rider position. The Altitude frame puts the rider closer to the front and lower to the ground, allowing more efficient and easier uphill pedaling. I love the feel of climbing with less effort and easier steering. The SXC rider position left me constantly fighting the front wheels desire to wander when riding uphill. On a positive note for the SXC, I felt more confident descending when further back, especially when things get technical.

I've mentioned it before but can't say enough about the weight difference. The Altitude has about 4 pounds less weight and I can feel it, pushing the bike through the flats with ease. I'm also noticing the ability to pull the bike off the ground and over obstacles with less work. The loss of some travel with the Altitude is somewhat noticeable when descending bobsled but still gets the job done. A ride like Porcupine rim in Moab will feel different but still tolerable for the weight loss. All in all, this bike rocks but being faster on the uphill means a longer wait for my friends at the top. Time to find faster friends or start riding with weights.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Crackin' me up

Sean is such a smart kid, always asking questions and surprising us with his knowledge and personality. He also says and does some pretty funny things I wanted to document. I started this post mid-summer and am finally posting.

Sean and I got out of our car and were walking across a parking lot when a car with windows rolled down drove up within earshot. We needed to cross paths with the car so it was either him stopping or us. Sean looked at the driver and said "excuse me, could you please stop for us?" The driver and his female passenger kinda laughed and said "sure." After getting across the street, Sean looked back and waived them on while saying "you can go ahead now, thank you."

Sean got into my truck and took some of the Skittles candy I have stashed in the door compartment. I didn't realize he had done this until seeing him walk over to his sister and give her a few before putting the rest into his mouth.

Sean and I were looking at his work from school and I was commenting on how great his artwork was. His reply "you know I'm a regular Van Gogh dad"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Bike

The fall in Utah has been excellent this year, lingering on with weekend after weekend providing excellent biking weather. I had 4 weekends in a row of epic rides including the crest, mid mountain trail, Spiro and the canyons. Always lusting after a new bike, I had been eyeing the Rocky Mountain Altitude 50 for quite some time. I test rode the 2009 last year but ended up getting a Slayer since it was cheaper at the time. After seeing the 2010 model online and waiting for the price to drop for months, my chance finally came. Not only did the price drop but a free gift (bike light) was included. Due to a rainy weekend(the nice fall weather has officially ended), I had a chance to take the maiden voyage. Lucky for me, I have work in the Moab area this week allowing the chance to test ride my new steed post work. I chose to ride Sovereign because I know the area and like the style of riding. Weather wasnt great, cold and windy but at least the sun was out and it wasn't raining.

I will compare the Altitude to my previous bike, a Rocky Mountain Slayer 50, which I have enjoyed but felt was a little too heavy (especially for the PCP2P race). The Altitude has geometry which puts the rider in a more forward position than the Slayer, allowing easier climbing and less front end looseness. The Altitude climbing skills weren't really put to the test at Sovereign since no big climbs exist but the few short spurts felt easier. A few climbs even left me thinking, why did I get out of the saddle for that? I was concerned with the low bottom bracket hitting rocks but never managed to catch the frame on any rocks, though the end of my crank-arms took quite a beating. As mentioned, less weight was the primary driver for my new purchase and I gotta say the 3-4 pounds is very noticeable. There were a few times I went to pull the bike over an obstacle and almost went over the bars cause the bike followed me with so little effort. I immediately disliked the location of the rear shock, as switching from climbing to downhill mode is difficult to change on the fly. In addition, something feels quite different in steering between the two bikes, a few more rides may help me understand that. Perhaps the best thing about my new ride is the color. My last two bikes have been puke green while the Altitude sports a shiny white frame with nice blue accents. One ride on a bike isnt enough to give a full report but I'm pretty happy with my purchase at this point.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Been a While

A busy summer has kept me from posting in quite some time. Most evenings are spent in the garden or bike riding. In addition, I haven't been good at taking pictures. We have had many good times this summer with the highlight being our trip to Puerto Rico. Beach time on San Juan with family was priceless. I wish we could do something like that every summer. Our extended trip to Vieques was a blast. Our family had so much fun exploring the island.

My last post noted the soon to be ripe raspberries which didn't pan out. Each time 3 or 4 berries would ripen, Sean would be out eating them. Not a problem since we never got enough to make jam anyway. I'm now realizing that some of the berries are ever-bearing and are now about to produce lots since I chopped the plants down in spring.

I hope to get pictures posted of the last month and our gardens current state soon.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Garden Update

Seems this blog has been focused on kids and their antics lately even though we are in the midst of prime gardening season. We have lots of tomato plants along with the usual squash, beans, lettuce, peppers, spinach and carrots. We had broccoli again this year which produced quite well. I pulled the broccoli plants a week ago since its getting too hot to produce nice heads and the large plants were shading my squash.

Broccoli starters


Just before pulling it out


We had a nice friend who gave us 9 heirloom tomato plants as a housewarming gift. We should have lots of tomato soup to put away for the winter.


Sean and I have been unloading and spreading mulch around the garden and flower beds the past few weeks. I hope the weeds slow down as a result.

We have quite a few raspberries on our plants and hope to be making jam in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Worn Out

A few days after returning from camping in Moab for Memorial Day weekend; Mimi, Papa and Aunt Megan came to town for a visit. We had a great time while they were here with lots of sunshine and perfect temperatures. Thanks Mimi, Papa and Megan for coming to see us and for all your help around the house. Though we are still trying to get caught up on rest.



The Armstrong house has been enjoying the cooler weather vegetables with dinner lately. We have more lettuce than we can eat and are enjoying baby carrots obtained during thinning.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sneaky

Sean has a knack for ruining pictures. I can't ever recall doing such a thing when I was a little boy.


Here are the cute girls

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Still Going Strong

This past weekend the Armstrong family was lucky enough to have Granddad and Meemaw in town for a visit. We always look forward to spending time with my grandparents as they are a joy to have around. Each time I see them, I'm amazed at how outgoing these two are considering their age.



(Granddad knows how to look at the camera for a picture; everyone else needs some training)
Thanks again to Granddad and Meemaw for enduring standby status in the Tulsa airport to visit the Armstrong family.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Another TF gone by

This past weekend I loaded up my bike and camping gear for the annual guys trip to Moab mountain biking and good times. This years' trip included good weather, plenty of deep fried goodness and a sampling of previously unridden trails. I was lucky to escape with a few close calls and only one fall off my bike with no blood drawn. Thanks to Sarah for making my hair fantastic, the shingle look in the back got lots of comments. I even had a 70 year old lady stop me in a gas station during a break on the drive down and comment on how much she liked my hair.




The Troll Doll look is coming back.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Judgements

It seems a challenge to go through life and not judge others based on life's previous experiences. Ironically, my recent experience with a neighbors' rush to judgement had me falling into the same trap of judging others. It's quite obvious from the tone of the neighbors letter that judgement had been made before seeing how things worked out. The letter was amusing but also had me judging all people who fit my neighbors' profile. I felt that anyone who resembled my neighbor (older and a member of a certain "club" in utah) must have the same hate for my chickens. An experience yesterday humbled and enlightened me.

It was Sunday morning and I was out mowing the lawn with my helper Sean nearby. As I turned to mow another strip, I saw an older woman begin walking toward me. Seeing that she wanted to begin a conversation, I shut my mower down and walked to greet her. The lady (a "club" member) is a neighbor from down the street and was quite interested in our dog, Duke. Not long after chatting, Sarah and Gracie came out of the house to introduce themselves. The conversation soon turned to the woman's work at animal control and the animal shelter. Sarah mentioned a recent trip to the animal control headquarters to obtain a permit. This prompted the woman to ask if we went to obtain a permit for Duke. Sarah and I both looked timidly at each other before giving her the honest answer.

The trip to animal control was made to obtain a permit for our backyard chickens. To our surprise, the woman was extremely excited and asked if she could see our chickens. Sarah and I about fell over after being stunned by her reaction and realized that we had already passed judgement on the friendly woman. Of course we would show off our chickens and coop to anyone who is supportive of the idea. We had a great conversation about chicken coops and other neighbors in the area who kept chickens. In addition, the woman told us about her hobby of bee keeping and plans to begin a hive in her backyard. It's great to be reminded that just because people can be thought of as members of the same "group", they don't always have identical beliefs.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Goodbye Midvale

The Armstrongs are officially one home owners again. We closed on our Midvale home and can now focus on our new house. While extremely happy with our new locale, we will always remember the fun times we had in our first home and the Midvale neighborhood.




Home when bought


Home when sold

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Barbie Cruizin'

Mia took the kids for a spin in her Barbie Jeep during a recent stay at the Williamsons.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Most of my readers probably follow Sarah's blog and have seen the news on the Armstrong's newest acquisition. We followed the recent trend in Suburbia and took on a chicken coop and egg laying hens. After months of tossing the idea around, a friend offered his old coop for free leaving us no more excuses. We got the coop moved, cleaned and into place the Sunday before last. After reading up on the subject, I went about making a chicken run and ensuring the coop would remain predator/rodent safe. I spent more time and money than I had imagined but created a nice space for our girls. On Thursday, we made a trip to Sandy to pickup four 16 week old hens. Our adventure was set to begin. We only have one problem now, our neighbors. They made comments at the initial sight of our coop and were nice enough to deliver a caring and heartfelt letter to our mailbox Friday morning. Its such a great read so here it goes:

Dear Matt and Sarah-
We are thrilled to have such a nice family move in next door to us and have enjoyed getting to know you and your darling children. We're writing to you because this is easier than trying to find us both home at the same time, and because we have been tossing and turning all night thinking about your chicken coop. We think the way you feel about your neighbors dog is about the way we feel about your chickens - can't do a thing about it but wish it would go away. We're only asking that you consider moving the coop into the center of your backyard, along the east fence and away from our property line. Our bedrooms are on the north and east sides of our home, just like in your home, so the noise level from the north neighbors has a big influence on how well we sleep sometime, and we don't think you can train chickens to not make noise. Your coop is well hidden from view for you but not for us. As we enter our backyard - which we will be using a lot more in the summer (for entertaining, playing and working in) - it will be impossible to ignore the sight, noise and smell of your coop. Our biggest concern is the rats that will invading your coop, and we would like them as far away from our yard as possible. We know it's impossible to keep them from finding their way into our yard and home, but maybe there will be fewer of them getting under the fence if their nests (made in your coop) are farther away from that fence. We had no idea your coop included an open fenced area for them. Are you aware that your apricot tree will be dropping fruit into your coop and onto your chickens? It is really quite a mess under that tree in the spring and early summer. Do chickens like apricots? Anyway, we don't want this request to cause any unkind feelings, because we have tried to be good neighbors, but hope you will consider our plea to move the coop as far east and north as possible.
Thanks
Gavin and Jill



How to respond? Based on the lack of tact this letter reeks of and the neighbors initial comments in person, its hard to find a proper response. We followed every letter of the law for chickens within city limits, ensured protection from rodents through proper coop design/food storage and will ensure a clean coop is kept to minimize smell. If this letter were written 4 months from now because we had rodents invading the neighborhood, chickens waking everyone around us and an unkempt, smelly coop I would understand. But everything in this letter is either false or makes assumptions of the worse case. At this point; my chickens and family sleep soundly knowing that the neighbors toss and turn all night assuming the Armstrong's are horrible, unclean people. I suppose it will only get better when the well rested Armstrong family enjoys fresh eggs in the morning while the tired neighbors consume their lives with worries based on assumptions of others.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Too young?

I thought Sean was growing quickly but a beard already? Not only is he growing a beard but its so gray he could pass for Santa if he packed some pounds on in the belly area.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Easter Cutie

Gracie sure is cute these days. Except when we tell her she cannot do something and she gives us attitude back. It's hard to discipline when you are trying to keep from laughing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lots of Love

So much love to give even Duke gets a daily hug from the kids.