Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Meet Kappa

Kappa pledged SGa in December 2007. We had already gone through many changes by this point, but NOTHING prepared us for making the "we to three" (humans that is) leap. He truly changed every aspect of life in SGa.

Kappa made quite an impression from the beginning; roaring into our lives like a freight train at 8 lbs., 13 oz., and 5 days early (born on a Friday, and we had a lot planned for that weekend!). I remember holding him for the first time, looking down at his squishy purple face and saying, "Mommy has no idea what to do next, but I love you and we're going to figure it out together. Deal?" And just like that, we were parents.

I'd like to say it was smooth sailing from then on. Not so much. Kal and I were largely making it up as we went along, at least that is how it felt. But Kappa kept up his end of the deal like a champ. People would ask how we were doing and I would always answer the same, "Kappa has it together. We are a mess just trying to keep up with him." We still sometimes just watch him and wonder how blessed we are to have this little person in our lives that we get to play with and teach things, and ultimately mold into an adult that will, God willing, go on to have his own little beta someday. Scary, rewarding, and just awesome.

Thanks for continuing to keep up your end of the deal, Kappa. Mama and Dada love you!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Meet Delta

Delta pledged SGa in December 2003. She was a scrawny little kitteh abandoned at a vet's barn in Monterrey, MI. Half-starved and sweet as sugar, I couldn't resist those pretty green eyes and immediately fell into a mushy pile of nonsensical baby-talking love with this girl.

I mean, just look at that face. Would you look at that face? Isn't that a face you could die for!?

*ahem. Sorry.

So Kal brought her home, and we quickly discovered the drawbacks to bringing home this little rescue. First we discovered that she had an eating disorder. Yes, out of all the cats in the world we found the one with bullemia. She was so used to not having food that she would binge (then subsequently purge) every time she passed by her food dish. Really?

Then once she started feeling better, she discovered that she had claws (oh boy!) and teeth (even better!) and was a masterful escape artist (STUPID CAT!). We thought so many times, "She is 2 (3, 4, 5 ...) year old now. Surely she will start to calm down ..." Oy.

But, she is still our little girl. She's been there since darn near the beginning; surviving 2 months living with another cat, a 12 hour half-sedated car ride, and 2 screaming newborns (one of which has since learned what the spray bottle is for). SGa just wouldn't be the same without her.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kal's Little Caesars' Sauce Clone Recipe

(Originally posted here, this is slightly edited.)

I've had several people ask me if I make my own sauce or if I use store bought, so I thought that would be a good post. I used to buy pre-made sauce - Ragu Homemade Style Pizza Sauce - and then add some italian seasoning at the time of pizza assembly.  For all of you who make your pizza at home but don't make your own sauce: don't use spaghetti sauce. Do yourself and everyone eating your pizza a favor. It's not the same. Use the Ragu Homemade Style (usually on the top shelf above the spaghetti sauce). Or, check out the sauce I use.

Kal's Little Caesars' Sauce
18oz can Tomato Paste
2 1/4 cups water
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder

This is a variation of a reverse-engineered recipe for Little Caesar's sauce. You can find the "original" copycat recipe on PizzaMaking.com (link).

Instead of using the mentioned method of cooking the sauce, my sauce is cold-fused, with the flavor of the dried spices being helped along with what's called Microwave Assisted Extraction. Before mixing all of the ingredients together, I place the oregano, basil, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder in a small pyrex cup, with just enough water so that everything is wet.  Then I stick it in the microwave for 2 minutes on 30% power.  When that's done, the kitchen smells magnificent.  Then I mix the spices in with the tomato paste, water, sugar, and salt.

For more on the idea of Microwave Assisted Extraction, check this link, again on PizzaMaking.com. This takes you right to one of the replies, but the whole post is pretty informative on the topic of cooked vs uncooked sauce. Warning: extreme pizza geekery lies ahead. Proceed with caution.

After it's mixed up, I pour it into a mason jar I picked up from Ikea. I actually scaled it up by one half as you'll notice from the original recipe, because it will fit perfectly into the jar. Stick it in the fridge and use it within a couple weeks. Try to make it a few days before you plan to use it, because it gets better with age. The first day or two after it's good, but give it 3-5 days and it's even better.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cutting the Cord

In December 2009, SGAlpha World HQ (henceforth known as SGAWHQ) embarked on the grand experiment that is Verizon FIOS. I had been intrigued with FIOS ever since it was announced: it promised blazing fast internet at a competitive price. We got the triple-play, or whatever they call their Internet-Phone-TV package. The introductory price was great, but when you throw in the regular monthly fee with the additional fee for the HD receiver and the home media DVR, it became an expensive endeavor.  The other thing we found, though, is that we didn't watch that much TV. We were really paying for the DVR...for shows mostly watched by Kappa.

In December 2010, we set in motion another grand experiment: Cutting the cord.  In December, we started a Netflix streaming trial. Through January and February, we found that they kept adding to their streaming titles, and that we and Kappa could find our favorite shows (with just a few exceptions), whenever we wanted, streaming via Netflix on the Wii.  We were hooked, and in late February switched from FIOS internet/TV/Phone to Cox (Cable) Internet, Vonage, and Netflix.

With the $100 we saved by switch, in March we bought a Roku XD (actually $80) so that we could utilize Netflix's HD offerings on our TV, and access Netflix from both TVs.

The Roku box is a serious cable-cutting option. It offers Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus premium streaming services, and then countless other free or pay “channels” with plenty of on-demand, and some live content. For you sports buffs, MLB, NHL, and UFC subscriptions are available for live sports as well.

Rachel was skeptical at first, but several seasons of The Office, 30 Rock, Weeds, Scrubs, and Twin Peaks have made her a convert. Kappa is on board too with Dora, Diego, Word World, and Thomas and Friends, among others.

If you are keeping score at home, we…
…ditched a $160/mo FIOS subscription (w/ DVR/Tuner boxes)
…added $35/mo cable internet, $15/mo vonage phone, $8/mo Netflix
…saved $100/mo (and bought a Roku with the first month’s savings).

Try it!

Netflix: www.netflix.com
Roku: www.roku.com

Baseball and Judgment Day

So what do baseball and Judgment Day have in common? No, it's not a joke. Come on the journey with me.

First a little background. Baseball, while entertaining, is far from my favorite sport to watch. Sure, I'll go to games, but it's just as much for the snacks and fresh air and wacky antics between innings. I recently heard a radio commercial for the local MLB team that went a little something like this: "There's no game clock, no shot clock, no two minute warning in baseball. It's not over until the last out is called." I'd never thought about it like that before, but baseball is a purely event driven team sport. All of the other major sports are time driven, from quarters and hurry up offenses to power plays and time in the paint fouls. Not baseball. Sure, you get 9 innings, 6 outs per inning. But it could take 5 minutes or it could take an hour to finish an inning. The team with the most runs scored wins when the task is completed, not matter how long it takes. It's not over until the last out is called.

Ok, so what does that have to do with Judgment Day? It started nearly 2 years ago when we moved to a new neighborhood and were greeted with this little gem on our new route to church:

Nice. For some reason I found this very offensive. Actually, I can tell you this exact reason why I found this offensive: I thought it made the rest of us normal, non-gloom and doom Christians look bad. While these folks have every right to spread their message, I just wished they hadn't decided to broadcast it on the broad side of a truck that I have to pass several times a week.

But the more I saw it, the more I began to think about the end of the world. Clearly there are signs of the end times all around us: wars and rumors of war, famines, earthquakes, etc. Matthew 24 refers to these signs as the beginnings of birth pains (vs. 4-8). Having given birth to two 8-10 lb. boys, I can totally relate (more on that in a later post, bet you can't wait!). But just as nobody knows how long a woman's labor will last, nobody really knows when the end will come. So doesn't it make sense to live each day as if it were your last? It actually changed my mindset dramatically and freed me to make what I hope turn out to be good decisions (perhaps more on that in a future post if we make it through today).

A little research showed that this was the brain child of Harold Camping. Who is Harold Camping? It doesn't matter. How did he come to decide that Judgment Day is May 21, 2011? Also not important. Why? Because he is wrong. How do I know? Harold and the Happy Campers are trying to answer a New Testament question by looking to the Old Testament. Mr. Camping spent 5 years studying Genesis ch. 5 and 11 trying to read the scoreboard of life and figure out how time was left in the game. Fascinating, but misguided. The answer Mr. Camping seeks is spelled out clearly in Matthew 24:35, "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." These are the words of Jesus! Jesus is admitting that HE doesn't even know when the world will end! If the Father wouldn't reveal this information to His only Son or the angels at His right hand in heaven, why would He reveal it to Harold Camping?

Back to baseball. At a normal game, you can follow along on the progress of the game by watching the strike count and the innings tick by on the scoreboard. But I think Matthew 24:36-51 does a pretty good job of explaining that there is no such cosmic scoreboard. So imagine you went to a baseball game that didn't have a scoreboard. You would pay closer attention to the progress of the game so that the end didn't sneak up on you, right? Now imagine that it is solely up to the umpire how many strikes, balls, outs, and innings make up the game. How much more would you be riveted by every play of the game? Imagine as a player how much more determined you would be to make the most of every play not knowing how many times you will go through the batting order, or if this time when the umpire called you out you went back to dugout for good! I can tell you that no amount of beer, nachos, or free bobbleheads would be able to tear my eyes from the field!

This is where I think Harold and the Happy Campers fell off the wagon. They are screaming at the top of their lungs that we are in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs and a full strike count, and the next pitch will end the game. How do they know? Because time is running out based on Mr. Camping's prediction. They are trying to convince people to pay closer attention to the game, but I think it has the opposite effect. If the next pitch will end the game regardless, what does it matter if the batter swings, bunts, or just stands there? *yawn ... Let's head for the parking lot now and see if we can beat the traffic out of the stadium. I agree that we could very well be in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs and a full strike count, but that doesn't automatically mean that the next pitch will end the game. It could be a base hit, a home run, a foul ball. Remember, time is irrelevant in baseball.

I believe that time is also irrelevant to the Father in His determination as to when Judgment will come. Jesus gives us a clue to this effect again in Matthew 24:14, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." A-ha!!! Jesus is saying that the end will not come until all people on earth have been given the opportunity to hear the gospel and accept salvation. That is the final out! And I have it on pretty good authority that there are people in this world who have never had the opportunity to here the gospel (so many future posts to look forward too!). Until that happens, the game keeps going.

Still want to head for the parking lot? I certainly hope not. Jesus talks at the end of Matthew 24 about what will happen to those who are found "wandering in the parking lot" when He returns, and it ain't pretty (no good can come of anything that ends in "weeping and gnashing of teeth"). What should you do instead? WATCH THE GAME. Help keep those around you in the stands focused on what really matters: the Umpire, and the amazing grand slam His Son hit all those innings ago that changed the game forever. Ok, that was cheesy. Stick with me.

Do I really think there is some cosmic baseball game going on somewhere in heavens that ultimately decides the timing of Judgment Day? Not likely, although it would make a great Douglas Adams-esque novel. It's an imperfect analogy. But I'm sure of one thing. When the game does end, the score will always come out in my favor due to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The only question is how many Jesus fans will be in the stands because of me?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Randy's American" Dough Recipe

(Originally posted here, this is slightly edited.)

As you'll find out soon enough, I am a pizza nut. I post pizza pictures often on Facebook, and frequently get asked about my recipe. The dough recipe I use most frequently is "Randy's American" recipe, as found here (link) on the pizzamaking.com forum. It's similar to Papa Johns in flavor and color. He's had several versions posted on the site - many of the recipes there are always evolving, which is why I have linked to this version. I'll post the sauce recipe I use soon.

Anyway, here it is. Randy's American Recipe (circa December 2006):
22 oz Hi-Gluten Flour or Bread Flour
13.6 oz Water (by weight) warm 110deg.
2 tbsp + 2 tsp raw sugar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp honey
1 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
2 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp instant yeast

Start with the Paddle Attachment for your stand mixer until the dough comes together. Scrape that off and switch to the dough hook (spiral if you have it, otherwise use the C-hook).

Put flour, yeast and salt in mixer bowl then run on stir.

Mix sugar, honey, oil and water then add to bowl on stir, stop after 2 minutes
Rest 5 min
Run 7 min on speed 2
Rest 5 min
Run 7  min on speed 2
Turn out on floured board and shape.
Place in an oiled bowl then cover before going in the cooler for one or two nights. Take dough out of cooler three hours in advance of shaping.
Bake at 500 on (preheated) stone or screen, 8-10 minutes (longer is better if the cheese isn't burning).  Makes 2 14" pizzas (or in my case, a 15" and breadsticks!).

I can't stress enough how much the slow rise in the fridge is. One night is essential, two nights would be better. The flavor of the dough is noticeably better after two nights.

Enjoy the full picture set below!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Stay Tuned

Tomorrow will be our first Wordless Wednesday here in SGa blog land!

I totally stole the idea from a college buddy's blog (check out McKenna Moments at http://threemckennas.blogspot.com/). Basically posts on Wednesdays will be a picture only: no caption, no explanation, but comments are absolutely welcome. I figure a picture is worth a thousand words, and probably a lot more entertaining (read: I'm just that lazy sometimes).

I should warn you though that any picture from the last 10 years is fair game for Wordless Wednesdays. This is going to be ahhh-some!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Happy 10th Anniversary

That's right. It was 10 years ago in Dr. Smith’s ACTY 211 class at WMU that Special Group Alpha was born. Kalvin and I worked together on an assignment, but we couldn’t settle for a boring cover page with just our names. So being the massive dorks we are, we decided to establish Special Group Alpha and grace our cover page with a giant α. Dr. Smith had a great sense of humor. I’m sure she got a chuckle out of it.

We were just friends then, and our friendship was strong. But I don’t think either one of us realized how much this silly little expression of geekery would shape the evolution of our relationship and ultimately the rest of our lives.

It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years since the beginning of Special Group Alpha. But here we are: 10 years, 650 miles, 7 jobs, 7 apartments, 7 nephews, 6 weeks in Europe, 5 cars, 5 funerals, 4 dorm rooms, 4 nieces, 2 states, 2 weddings, 2 churches, 2 kids, 1 house, and 1 feisty kitty cat later. We are so blessed.