Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Update on Lemon Tree

The most recent addition to our plant menagerie is Lemon Tree. He was offered to me by my co-worker Maureen as she relocated to the Chicago area earlier this year. When we got him, he had only about a half dozen leaves & I wasn't sure how he'd do in our fairly shady backyard. As you can see from the photos below, "Lem" (my nickname for him) is doing quite well - so well, in fact, that he has TEN little lemons on him at the moment...

Maureen said that she's gotten lemons off of Lem before, but I wasn't sure we'd be so lucky. Fingers crossed that I can coax the little lemons to maturity & be rewarded with their juice...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Xmas 2009 with My WHOLE Family!

The Xmas holiday was extra special this year because all six members of my immediate family (Dad, Mom, myself & three siblings), as well as their families, were all together in the Twin Cities for almost a week! (The last time we were all together was in July 2007 for youngest brother Andy's wedding in New York.) We had an excellent time and activities included:
  • Xmas Day Madden 2010 on the PS3, snowman building, gift exchanges & Taboo playing
  • train-watching for Grandpa Dave, Tom & Zach
  • nephew Brady's baptism & post-baptism dinner at Buca (complete with car theft...ask Andy about that)
  • nephew Zach's first Packer game at Lambeau Field (while niece Kayla spent her day with Grandpa Dave & other family in the Twin Cities)
  • a trip to Mall of America
  • a spaghetti dinner & the MNF Vikings v Bears game at Grandma Mary & Aunt Ellen's house
  • sledding at the Town & Country Club
  • a family photo followed by pizza, pool & foosball at Parkway Pizza
  • a movie at the Riverview Theater
Here are some photos from our time together (in reverse chronological order because I haven't figured out how to change that on Flickr yet)...http://www.flickr.com/photos/anovitske/.

Can't wait to get together with everyone again...I miss you all already! :) Ann

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Big Move

Hi all! For those who haven't heard yet, Dan, Huck & I have moved to a new house. We like it a lot so far & we're looking forward to welcoming you all to it in the coming weeks/months/years. In the meantime, here are some photos from moving day & our first couple weeks in our new house...

Moving day (Oct 10)! Note the snow... :(

The moving truck arrives…

Huck finishes his final security duty shift on his perch at 4033...

The movers made quick work of emptying the old house…

Here it is empty...

A final photo with my first house...

Welcome to our new house...

Here's the living room...

And the dining room...

And the TV/guest room (off of the living room)...

And the office...

And the kitchen (I always wanted an eat-in!)...

And the upstairs "master suite"...

And the backyard (with the teeny 1-car garage - yes, we're going through some withdrawal after leaving our spacious 2.5 car garage)...Huck's already enjoying basking in the sun on the deck...

We hope that you're all doing well and as mentioned earlier, we look forward to sharing our new home with you someday soon.

:) Ann

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Long Overdue "Holiday Letter"

Hi all & happy Spring 2008! (And I use the term ‘Spring’ loosely – here’s a photo looking at our backyard in late April…the snow just keeps coming.) Thought I'd try something different for my latest holiday letter and put to use the blog that I started a year or so ago & have only posted to three times. So without any further adieu, let's catch up on 2006, 2007 & early 2008, shall we?

Probably the biggest change to my life since my 2005 holiday letter is that I left the teaching profession at the end of the 2005-06 school year. All aspects of the job - students, parents, administration, public perception - seemed to get more frustrating to deal with each year and the forecasts from Mpls Public Schools grew bleaker with each passing year, so I decided that I needed to do something different for the time being. I spent autumn 2006 sending out résumés and preparing for my Aussie friends David & Jodie's visit (more about that later), but didn't find a new job right away. I’d depleted most of my savings by the end of 2006, so I temped for the HR department at TCF Bank (2 weeks) & for the Government & Regulatory Affairs department at Xcel Energy (3 months) in early 2007 - both new & enjoyable experiences for me. Finally in March 2007, my friend Matt came through with an interview at his place of employment, a worldwide HR consulting firm called Watson Wyatt (WW). I survived the interview process and started working there as a Business Analyst in their Technical Administrative Solutions (TAS) practice at the end of April. I work closely with software developers to implement & support pension administration & employee benefit self-service systems and I've been pretty busy there since my first day about a year ago. The work is challenging (I pretty much do problem-solving/troubleshooting all day long - coding specs for software developers, diagnosing & debugging system issues, writing SQL queries & scripts to find & update data), but not stressful in the way that teaching was; I feel more in control of how my day goes at WW (for the most part). Dan and my family & friends have all commented that I seem a lot more relaxed than I did while teaching (I notice that about myself, too). The job has its perks, too – did I mention that I wrote part of this blog entry on a plane to sunny San Diego, CA, for the 2008 TAS National Training Conference…?

Now as much as teaching for a living was stressing me out, I couldn’t completely turn my back on the world of math education. (I am a born math nerd, after all.) If I took one thing away from my experience as a high school math teacher, it’s the realization that innumeracy is rampant in the U.S. (Check out John Allan Paulos’ ground-breaking book Innumeracy for more info.) It occurred to me that I run with a pretty well-educated and “numerate” crowd, so I organized a volunteer math tutoring group for the 2006-07 school year. About a dozen of us staffed five sessions per week in two south Minneapolis locations and we probably saw 60-80 different students over the course of the year (including some “regulars” who were at almost every session). We’re in our second year and though we’ve scaled back to two sessions per week in one location currently, we hope to grow this project in time to serve students all over Minneapolis.

Another big change in my life came at the end of May 2006 when Dan & I brought home a dachshund pup whom we named Huckleberry (Huck for short). We headed out to a home in Buffalo, MN, with my mom, Aunt Ellen, cousin Abby, sister Susan, niece Justine and nephew Rowen to check out some puppies listed in the newspaper and brought Huck home with us. (Susan & family took Huck’s sister and only other litter mate, Lola, home with them.) He’s been a great addition to our little family. I was a bit nervous at first because we got him exactly a year after Reggie’s passing and he’s physically very similar to Reggie (same size & coat color/type) - but apart from that, he’s his own dog. We took him to puppy school right after we got him, and he passed with flying colors (he learned “Leave it”, “Wait” & “Chill” as well as “Sit” by hand signal). Like his mom, Tootsie May, he LOVES to play with toys and will happily fetch his squirrel & frog squeak toys as long as you’ll throw them for him. He also goes NUTS for flashlight beams (it’s HILARIOUS). Currently, he’s looking forward to warmer weather so he can get back outside for daily walks & chasing REAL squirrels.

In other domicile-related news, we continue to slowly spiff up our humble abode. The latest work that we had done was to upgrade our kitchen countertops (to eco-friendly Paperstone) and install a new sink/faucet & dishwasher in late 2007. Our contractor friend Darren did the work and it’s a huge improvement over what we had before! Just need to repaint the kitchen and decide what to do about some unsightly paneling by the back door (and maybe replace said back door) and we’ll be able to cross that project off the list. Outdoors, we were sad to see one of our two backyard apple trees taken down in the autumn of 2007. I’d noticed the year before that one of its two trunks (it had a V-shaped “double-trunk” & provided a nice perch for newphew Rowen here) located closest to the house appeared to be rotting and a tree specialist confirmed that it was & the whole tree needed to come down. So we now have a very open backyard that we haven’t decided yet what to do with…though I’m tempted to put in some fruit bushes along the north fence. To be continued…

One constant in my life (well, besides Dan) is, of course, broomball. I’m up to three teams now – my long-time mostly indoor co-ed team, the Sheep; my young indoor women’s team, Frozen Assets and a new outdoor co-ed team, Evil Petting Zoo (aka EPZ). The Sheep play Tuesday nights during the winter as well as the Winter Carnival tourney in January and the State & National tourneys in March. Winter 2007 was a very good season for us – we won both the Winter Carnival & National tourneys and finished 2nd at State! Winter 2008 has been tougher for us because we entered all of the tourneys at a higher level (to challenge ourselves) – so no big wins this year. Frozen Assets’ roster is stabilizing and we continue to improve – we had our first tie & win during the Winter 2008 season. And EPZ had good seasons in both Winter 2007 & 2008 – we made it to the Mpls Park & Rec Board’s outdoor co-ed broomball semifinal (lost in overtime) this winter, one game further into the playoffs than we made it last year. I'm still playing summer softball, too, but it's more of a liesure activity than a sport the way I play. At any rate, as I approach the age of 40 (May 2009), I’m happy to report that I’ve still got game...(we’ll see where I’m at next year).
Moving on, what would my annual (OK, currently biennial) holiday letter be without an update on my travels? Both 2006 & 2007 included many trips with a focus on visiting family & friends. My first major travel experience in 2006 was a trip to Barcelona, Spain, to visit my cousin Jane who was studying abroad there for her junior year of high school. Dan & I were a little anxious about the trip because we’d be spending the first half of our week there with Jane’s host family and who knew how we’d all get along? As it turned out, our worries were baseless – Jane’s Spanish dad, Pau, was a lawyer (like Dan) and her Spanish mom, Montserrat, was a teacher (like me)! And her Spanish sister, Daniela, seemed to enjoy our company, too. They all picked us up at the airport and whisked us off to the small resort town of Palafrugell on Spain’s Costa Brava. We stayed in a quaint, old convent run by friends of the family and were treated to a fantastic tour of the area. Pau drove us to Figueres to see the Dali Museum (very cool), through the lovely coastal town of Cadaqués to see Dali’s childhood home, through the Parc Natural Cap de Creus to the Restaurant Cap de Creus for a leisurely lunch and then back to Palafrugell via a pleasant medieval town (complete with ancient walls) so that we were home in time to have dinner while we watched the HUGE FC Barcelona v. Real Madrid soccer game (think Green Bay Packers v. Chicago Bears rivalry) that started at 10:00 pm that night. The next day, we wandered around town with Jane & Daniela and had an authentic paella lunch in Calella before packing the van & returning to Barcelona. Pau dropped us off at the Hotel Jardi in the Barri Gòtic (as recommended by Rick Steves) and we were on our own for a couple days. We joined a bike tour the next day to get the lay of the city (very helpful – we rode all over!) and enjoyed tapas & sangria with that group, then a tasty organic dinner at a restaurant called Orgànic near our hotel. Jane joined us the next day for a trip to see the famous & unfinished Sagraga Familia church by Antoni Gaudí (where I had my worst claustrophobic experience EVER climbing the super-cramped spiral steps up one of the spires – worth it, though, for the spectacular views!) and the Picasso Museum before we met the family for dinner (at 10:00 pm as is customary in Spain). The following day we went to Gaudí’s whimsical Parc Güell and his spectacular Casa Milà (aka La Pedrera) on the Passeig de la Gràcia with its tessellated hexagon pavers. We walked Las Ramblas on our way to the airport and had a safe journey home. We hope to return the hospitality to the Sans Fau family in the U.S. in the next year or so.

My other big 2006 trip (there were only two trips that year, but they were both BIG) involved playing host to my Aussie friends David & Jodie who came to the States for the first time. They started their trip in L.A., then traveled to Las Vegas, NV, for a friend’s wedding. They continued on to Arizona and then flew up to Detroit, MI, to meet me & Dan for the Midwestern leg of their journey. We were charged with showing them football, baseball & hockey and whatever else along the way – so we started by taking them to see the (University of) Wisconsin Badgers v. the (University of) Michigan Wolverines football game at the “Big House” (Michigan’s football stadium, the largest in college football) in Ann Arbor, MI. (Though the Badgers kept the score tied at 10-10 through half-time, the Wolverines crushed them in the end, 42-10). Dan handled the host duties in MI, having grown up in the Detroit area and done his undergraduate studies at University of Michigan. After the game, we walked around town and had dinner at the famous Zingerman’s Deli, then headed over to the Blind Pig (a bar featuring music) to see a band called Tally Hall. We all thought they were AWESOME and Jodie & I let them know that by accosting all five band members for their autographs on the CD that she purchased. (Dan & I still follow them!) We followed up the that day’s fun by taking them to see the Green Bay Packers v. the Detroit Lions at Ford Field (so they could see pro football compared to college football & outdoor compared to indoor – and because they HAD TO see the Packers, of course!). The good guys prevailed – Green Bay 31, Detroit 24. Sorry, honey!) After the game, we dropped Dan off at the airport, then David, Jodie & I drove to Chicago, IL, for a couple days. We did A LOT of sightseeing there, taking in Navy Pier, enjoying an architectural boat tour down the Chicago River, eating pizza & drinking Goose Island beer at Giordano’s, tasting Chicago dogs at the Wiener’s Circle, watching the sun set from the bar at the top of John Hancock Center, and strolling through Millennium Park. From Chicago, we headed north to Green Bay, WI, with a small detour through south Milwaukee to sample III Dachshunds beer. (It was delicious and I got all of us III Dachshunds T-shirts for Xmas 2007.) While we were not able to attend a Packer game at world-famous Lambeau Field, we did tour the place while in Green Bay – including seeing a luxury box, walking onto the field through the same tunnel as the players and experiencing the awesome acoustics that created an impressive echo of our small tour group’s “GO, PACK, GO!” cheer from the south bleachers (yes, we still have bleachers). From Green Bay, it was on to tiny New Glarus, WI, (near Madison) to tour the New Glarus beer brewery (are you seeing a pattern here?) and drive through the scenic hills of southwestern Wisconsin. (I think I saw more of my home state with David & Jodie than in my first 18 years with my own family!) We visited the House on the Rock on our way from New Glarus to my hometown of Onalaska, WI, to see my dad & my friend David. We had a very pleasant visit with Dad and got to see David in his Oktoberfest lederhosen before heading north to Minneapolis for a Twins baseball game. (It was interesting to attend that game, the third-to-last of the season in a final series with the Chicago White Sox, because the Twins needed all sorts of unlikely things to happen to make it to the playoffs - including the not-so-good KC Royals to beat the division-leading Detroit Tigers in their final three-game series – and all of them happened! Unfortunately, the Twins promptly lost their first playoff series, making it all for naught…) The next night (a Saturday) was (as it is in Canada) “hockey night” as we took in a Minnesota Wild pre-season game against the Chicago Blackhawks. And on Sunday, we had a BBQ with friends & family in our backyard – I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all! We had another day of knocking around the Twin Cities and then it was time to say goodbye to my Aussie friends. It’s always so fun to have friends come to visit – especially international friends – because it gives me a chance to show off my city/state/part of the country and to see all of these things through a whole different lens. (Consider that an open invitation to come for a visit!) And as if we hadn't had enough adventures already in 2006, Dan & I enjoyed Xmas in Florida with his parents, sister & some of his extended family (my first Xmas ever away from my family - thanks to Dan's family for taking good care of me!)

(I know this letter is LONG, but remember I’m summarizing two-plus years of my life for you here, so bear with me!)
On to 2007 travels. 2007 was the year of traveling for family & friends’ WEDDINGS! Wedding #1 in mid-May was a very short trip out to Gale Woods Farm in Minneapolis’ western suburbs for the nuptials of my friends Matt & Jessi. The wedding was outdoors on a bluff overlooking Whaletail Lake & the weather was beautiful. I’ve played Sheep broomball & softball with the newlyweds for several years (and I’ve worked with Matt at Deloitte and now WW) so I knew most of the people at the wedding & had a great time there. (Note the presence of our broomball namesakes at the wedding!) Wedding #2 was my younger brother Andy’s; he married a wonderful gal named Barb (who we still miss on my women’s softball team). The wedding was in July in New York state so the Minnesota Novitskes & Vondrasheks descended upon New York City for a few days before heading north toward West Point to join the rest of the family for the wedding activities, including a bridal shower cruise on the Hudson and a rehearsal dinner on the West Point Military Academy grounds. Andy & Barb got married in the Catholic church on the West Point grounds and had a beautiful reception in a ballroom overlooking the Hudson. It was excellent getting to have pretty much my WHOLE FAMILY around for almost a week – makes me think we need to schedule vacation get-togethers like this periodically. Wedding #3 was in August in Estes Park, CO, (next to Rocky Mountain National Park) and was put on by my friend/”adopted brother” Kenny & his wife Jennifer. For this wedding, Dan & I rented a house with my college/Minneapolis friends and had fun catching up with them. We attended another wonderful outdoor wedding and even fit in a trip to the park the following day. Wedding #4 was in St. Joseph, MN, and featured Dan’s cousin Jonathan & his wife Michelle. They had a short ceremony on the front porch of Michelle’s family’s cabin and a yummy Italian dinner under a big tent set up on the side of the cabin (near Michelle’s huge vegetable garden). We went with Dan’s parents to the wedding and enjoyed catching up with his extended family (including political debating with his many cousins). Finally, wedding #5 was my co-worker Wendy & her husband Jon’s. They had a lovely ceremony in a church near our house followed by dinner in the church basement. It was fun to attend this wedding because I got to see a lot of the prep beforehand with Wendy at work – and I even got to sneak her present to Jon to the wedding for her! Dan & I did also enjoy a long weekend trip in September to a very nice bed & breakfast, the Lauerman House Inn in Marinette, WI, and to a Packer game (they beat San Diego on a very warm autumn Sunday) - we saw some lovely fall colors along the way!
So far in 2008, Dan & I have been to San Diego for a long weekend before my annual national training conference for work and I’ve been to Houston, TX, to visit my brother Tom & his family. The San Diego trip included meals at several good vegetarian restaurants that Dan had researched ahead of time and a visit to the wild animal park where we saw a week-old giraffe (shown here), some nearly extinct rhinos, several lion cubs and many other fascinating animals. My trip to Houston included seeing the rodeo, a Houston Aeros hockey game (they are the AHL feeder team for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild) and throwing the football daily with my nephew & playing classic games with my niece. We’re currently pondering a trip to Eastern Europe later this year…
Whew – this marathon blog entry should about bring us up to date! I hope this renews your faith in me as a correspondent – albeit, a somewhat irregular one. Know that I LOVE receiving your holiday greetings & hearing what you’ve been up to – and that even though it sometimes takes me a couple years, I will respond in kind. (Maybe I’ll eventually get to the point where I’m posting regularly to this blog, so you might want to check it periodically for updates.) Until our next exchange, take care & may our paths cross soon!


Friday, November 24, 2006

My Dog Just Wants to...Party All the Time!

I can't get that song out of my head! My friend Merlin and I caught the latest Detroit reunion show at the 400 Bar on Wednesday night and I'm STILL humming tunes from it two days later. I can't look at my dachshund Huck without singing "My dog just wants to...party all the time!" to him and I also got to hear the band play another of my favorites, "Mowin' the Lawn." ("Mowin' the lawn, mowin' the lawn, mowin' the lawn, mowin' the lawn, baggin' the grass, you bet your ass, mowin' the lawn, mowin' the lawn..." It will be with me every time I get the mower out next summer.) Of course, Detroit also did their famous Rush medley (with the surprise Loverboy bit at the end) and "Hard Rockin' Mama" which features various hair metal verses strung together medley-style in the middle. And there were the requisite pyrotechnics, too. I got my $10 worth and then some given that the band played for at least two hours and my old friends The Sandwiches played an hour-long reunion set before Detroit went on. I haven't enjoyed a show so much in ages! In case you aren't familiar with these bands, here are their MySpace sites which (thankfully) feature several of their songs for you to listen to (Detroit's "He's Smart" and The Sandwiches' "Panic Girls" [Rock on, Louise!] are classics):




PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE let them do it again SOON...

P.S. Actually, now that I think about it, I did really enjoy the Tally Hall show that Dan & I went to in Ann Arbor, MI, in September. It reminded me a bit of these two bands. Like Detroit and The Sandwiches, they have "costumes" (they all wear white shirts, black pants and color-coded ties), their songs are very catchy with clever lyrics and they put on a STELLAR live show (lots of witty banter between songs - always a plus). The night that we saw them, they planted someone in the audience to yell "Free Bird" for an encore suggestion then faked not knowing the song. By halfway through the song, they were totally rocking it, they had two women dressed as birds dancing on stage, there was confetti flying out into the audience and part of the U of Michigan marching band was making its way through the crowd to the stage playing along with the band! Spectacular! Here are some links for them, too (they have some great video clips on YouTube):





I hope they HEADLINE a show in Minneapolis SOON - seeing them open for Teddy Geiger at the Fine Line in October was sort of disappointing after their Ann Arbor show...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

This Year's Pumpkin Pies

Pumpkin pie has long been the de facto dessert at Thanksgiving. And I have in many past years volunteered to bake the pumpkin pie for our family's holiday gathering. This year I have done so again.

Now, I went all out this time around. My sister and I bought organic Halloween pumpkins from Gardens of Eagan near her house, and I spent yesterday evening baking my large pumpkin (in 11 pieces) and then pureeing it. I started right in this morning making my crust from scratch, too, using a pumpkin pie recipe from America's Test Kitchens, a PBS-based cooking show that's as good, if not better, than anything the Food Network has to offer. (The host, Chris Kimball, is superb and his two main chefs, Bridget and Julia, who do all of the demo cooking for the show are wonderful, too. And their gadget evaluation segments are responsible for my NAILING Dan's 2006 birthday gifts of a scraping/cutting tool, a microplaner and an egg slicer that he uses EVERY time he slices mushrooms now, per ATK's tips.) The recipe includes a lot of refrigeration steps during the crust-making portion, so it took me a couple of hours just to get to the filling steps given all of the in&out of the fridge steps with the crust. But I got the first pie in the oven (I'm making two of them) and the timer's beeping now to let me know it's done. Let's see what we've got... After a few extra minutes in the oven to firm up the filling, it looks good! ...and about an hour later the second one looks tasty, too. I was careful to follow my mom's advice to put foil around the crust during baking to keep it from getting burnt - worked like a charm, as always. I even had a little crust dough and filling left over so I made four "mini pies" in a muffin pan. I've included a photo of my finished products for all to see. Wipe that drool from your chin!

Epilogue: After a late Wednesday night at the 400 Bar, I treated myself to a mini pie upon arriving home. It was DELICIOUS. Dan tried one Thanksgiving morning and pronounced them TASTY, too. And the family concurred at Aunt Ellen's house after the Thanksgiving meal. Who knows? Maybe I'll do it all over again in 2007...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wow. I have a blog.

OK, then. What to blog about? I just returned home from seeing the movie "Jesus Camp" with Dan at the Riverview Theater in South Minneapolis. Disturbing film. All of the Evangelical adults in the movie pretty much admit that they're focusing their messages on children because the kids believe everything that they tell them. A few of the scenes showed parents encouraging their kids to approach random people to ask them if they've "been saved" or "found Jesus." I keep thinking about what I would say if one of those poor, misguided innocents came up to me to "save" me. What approach could I use to plant a seed in their minds that might get them to start questioning their faith and to develop rational thinking skills? So far, all I've come up with is responding with "Yikes! That's what they told me when I was your age, too! Did they tell you the truth about Santa Claus yet? Here, I'll fill you in..." Or maybe I'd try to reason with them by employing some of the contradictions in the Bible. I wonder if either of those approaches would have any effect?

The timing of our seeing "Jesus Camp" might give some indication of the strength (waning?) of the Evangelical movement in the U.S., too. Pastor Ted Haggard appears in the film in all of his glory at his Colorado Spring church. He talks with a young man named Levi who enjoys preaching and Ted shows himself to be quite an ass by asking Levi if he thinks that people listen to his preaching because he has good content or because he's a kid?! (Poor Levi looked like he'd been kicked in the stomach. What a jerk!) Of course, just a few weeks ago, we learned that Pastor Haggard's just another hypocritical religious figure who preaches one thing and does another (explored homosexual relationships & bought meth). And the recent mid-term election results suggest that moderate thinkers still run things in this country. WHEW!

However, in the words of one of my favorite Air America Radio personalities, Kent Jones -- "VIGILANCE!"