Sunday, December 31, 2006

Holiday Update

Sorry for the lack of posts, but we have had a busy holiday. Two weeks ago, Jeff's parents came down for Uncle Wayne's heart surgery. Of course, they also had to see their gorgeous grandson! I am pleased to report that the surgery was a success, and they got to go home well before Christmas.

That weekend, the weekend before the Christmas weekend, we also went to two parties. On Saturday night we went to a friend's 20th birthday party. His mom and dad were really excited to meet Vinny and even us. Then on Sunday evening was the Math group holiday party, hosted by one of my colleagues at his house. His house was really interesting: it's built into the side of a big hill and it's so far up the hill that he had everybody park down at the cul-de-sac of the street, and he shuttled us up and down the hill in his minivan.

While they were here, Granny and Granddad left a carload of Christmas gifts, most of them for Vinny. In addition, Mommy and Daddy bought him some toys. So on Christmas morning Vinny really got the haul.

Unfortunately, he wasn't in top condition to appreciate it. (Well, not that an 11-week-old baby really gets what's going on anyhow...) He got his first cold, probably from a little girl at the party who was coughing everywhere. He started really coming down with it on Saturday night, when we were at the next-door neighbor's for her holiday party. Jeff took him home early while I stayed and socialized. The neighbor's daughter and son-in-law invited us over to their place for Christmas dinner, but we had to decline because Vinny was too sick.

Yes, continuing the family tradition, he was probably at his sickest on Christmas Day. But we called up Jeff's sister, who is a pharmacist, and she told us what we could give him to make him feel better. We had these decongestant nose drops but we weren't sure if we could give them to him, and if so, how much. But Rhonda told us it was okay to give him one drop in each nostril. It really made a difference, once we cleaned his nose out and then applied the decongestant drops. But the next morning I took him to the doctor anyhow. And, it was a good thing I did, because he was also coming down with his first earache. The doctor prescribed amoxicillin, so we are giving him that.

When you were a kid, do you remember taking medicine? Because I do remember taking a few things. I remember liquid actifed, and it was bitter but not too unbearable. Amoxicillin I remember as tasty good. His is this thick, pinkish-orange liquid that has to be refrigerated. It smells very strongly of that fake berry flavoring. I haven't sampled it but he seems to like it.

But I digress. In the afternoon, Dad and Marvis arrived, en route to Florida. Now that they have a stopping point here, they like to take advantage of it. We had some Mediterranean food and opened the presents they brought and the presents we gave them. They seemed pleased by their gifts. Once again, though, it was Vinny who got the biggest haul. In fact, some of the presents for Jeff and me actually turned out to be for Vinny!

On a more serious note, the holidays have long been a hard time of year for me. They remind me of the family that I will never again have, that family with whom you're supposed to share these special days. It was also after Christmas five years ago that my mother moved away, marking the date at which my family was permanently broken. There is never a good time for your parent to move out, but the fact that it occurred during what would become an extremely difficult season (made difficult by the event in question) has made this time of year even worse.

I'm not going to pretend that it was easy this year. After all, any hope I had last year of being able to at least work out some of the old family conflict is gone. But having another person to think about has helped distract me at least a little. I now have a responsibility to make Vinny's holidays happy. I owe it to him to make his holidays memorable not due to mommy's moping, but due to genuine positive family moments. I don't know that I will ever feel comfortable darkening the doorstep of my parent's house on a holiday, but perhaps I can create a comfortable holiday environment in my own home for Vinny.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What Not to Do

If you want to find a hacker to change your college grades, don't ask at a computer security website. (For some perspective on this story, see this story and its first three links.)

I love how they ask him to take pictures of squirrels, as if this somehow legitimizes his intentions. I expected the hackers' next request would be a shrubbery or something.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Adventures with Blogger

As you may have noticed, I have upgraded to Blogger Beta. Since they have now made it simpler to do so, I have been able to improve the look of my blog by adding pretty math-related pictures. Hopefully I will be able to make it even better as time goes on.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Adventures with Migraines

Until today, I hadn't had a migraine in a long time. I can tell you that I wasn't missing them at all. I don't get the really bad kind that debilitate you for days. What happens is that the migraine is triggered by a flash of light, such as sunlight glinting off a car mirror. I have an aura for 30 minutes, and then I get killer head pain. The aura basically makes it seem like I'm tuned to the wrong channel. The pain lasts until I sleep for a couple of hours.

I can't remember the last time I got a migraine. At one point in my life, I got a migraine every other Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. Then I lost a bunch of weight and it seems like that helped reduce the frequency of migraines. (Of course I can't be sure because there aren't two parallel universes, one in which I lost weight and one in which I didn't.)

Today I had a migraine. It was strange because it wasn't triggered by the sunlight; it was dark when I had the migraine. I walked into a store and felt really dizzy, and then I got the aura. Unfortunately, I was all alone, so I had to wait in the store until the aura lifted. Then I got to drive twenty miles home. I made it home without getting into any accidents.

I'm trying to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight, slowly but surely. I've started back at Weight Watchers. Hopefully I'll be able to lose the weight again and get rid of the migraines.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Thought from a Sleep-Deprived Mind

It occured to me that the reason it was so easy to pull an all-nighter in college was that the late teens is the age at which, historically speaking, I should have been having babies and consequently been deprived of sleep.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Adventures of a Working Mother

Sorry for the drought in posts. I returned to work beginning with a half-day on Thursday, November 30, and I haven't had much chance to stop since.

People were happy to see me back. I have spent the time trying to remember what the heck I was doing before I left. I still don't remember everything, but I'm starting to get back in the groove of things.

When I get home, I spend all my time with Vinny, because I need to get my baby fix. Then I go to bed early, because it takes longer to get enough sleep since the baby wakes up in the night. So I have very little spare time.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


We had a good Thanksgiving. We were going to make our own Thanksgiving dinner but then our neighbor invited us to Thanksgiving dinner with her and her daughter, son-in-law, and their kids; and her son, visiting from Atlanta. We had been over to their place a few weeks ago for dinner, and they were pretty nice, so we accepted. I brought rolls, since, as I indicated before, I really enjoy baking rolls. The dinner was delicious, and the company was very nice.

The next-door neighbor is friends with two of my colleagues at work. Her husband was their softball coach or something like that. She's also a lawyer, and whenever we get around to it, we're going to have her make up our will.

As it turns out, it was a good thing we went over to the neighbor's, or we might not have had any turkey at all, because our turkey was still frozen as of yesterday (despite being in the fridge thawing since Monday).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Five Fun Facts

I got tagged for this meme by my sister Rachel. I'm supposed to write five things that my vast blogging audience doesn't know about me. Seeing as the majority of my audience is family, this is going to be nearly impossible. So instead I'll try for things that they knew but may have forgotten about me.

1. I have perfect pitch. No, not baseball. If you sing or play a note, I know what pitch it is. It's a fun parlor trick and comes in handy when you find yourself without a pitchpipe or other source of tuning, but mostly it's a royal pain for a variety of reasons. First of all, listening to someone singing or playing off key can be excrutiatingly painful. Secondly, it means that I am unable to read music and transpose it. So if there's a song that's too high for me, too bad; I have to sight-read it in that key or not at all. This also means that I can't play any instrument that is not tuned to the key of C, such as a clarinet or trumpet.

2. I once convinced a bunch of people that I was French. It was my freshman year of college, and I had just gotten back from France. I spoke French a lot better than I do now, and I did a really good French accent too. Whenever I would visit Jeff in his dorm across campus from where I lived (he lived on South Campus, I lived on North Campus), I would speak to the person at the desk in my faux French accent and pretend to be from France. I was masquerading as a foreigner before Borat even thought of it! But I did not incite anyone with misogynistic or anti-Semitic remarks. I was always very polite and everyone liked me. I ran into trouble though when I ran into a person that the French me knew, hanging out with a person that the American me knew.

3. I have this recurring dream about owning a historical site. Every so often, I dream about this historical home I inherited from someone-or-another. I don't actually own a historical site, but in this dream I have inherited the former home of an obscure poet. There's some sort of a trust that runs the historical site and I don't have to do anything but own the place. In addition to giving tours, they periodically host special weekends like "Christmas with Obscure Poet," depicting how he celebrated Christmas or whatever. The last time I had this dream, I was explaining to my sister Laura that I inherited this historical house. I had invited her along to the special Christmas celebration with me. I got free admission since I owned the place. I have no idea why I have this dream.

4.When I was a kid, I used to pick my nose at night and wipe it on the back of my headboard. This caused the headboard to become kind of crusty. When my parents got divorced, my mom took my bedroom furniture. I take a certain passive-aggressive delight in knowing that (at least according to my scouts' reports) the headboard is still booger-encrusted. Yes, that was gross. That's why I haven't exactly broadcast this humorous tidbit.

5. I love to bake rolls. It is one of my favorite activities. I especially enjoy dividing the dough into parts. I think this is my inner mathematician.

Now I'm supposed to tag others to do this meme. Well, of course I'm going to tag Ginger and Jeff. And anybody else who wants to do it. Post a link to it here, or if you'd like, do your list in the comments section.

Adventures with Baby

We went to Kentucky this weekend so that Vinny could meet even more family. The original plan was to take him to see my maternal grandmother, who just turned 98. But then my dad brought his mother over from Evansville, and we decided to spend Sunday afternoon with Jeff's family, who all gathered at Rhonda and family's house in Lexington. Also, my dad's sister Rosemary was passing through on her way to Evansville so she also got a chance to meet Vinny.

We packed our car full of baby stuff and headed for Lexington on Friday afternoon. (I think that the amount of luggage a person requires is inversely proportional to age.) That evening we had dinner with Dad and Marvis and Grandma Mary (the grandmother from Evansville). The next morning we went to see Grandma (the one we had planned to visit in the first place). She was delighted to meet Vinny. I knew that she really enjoys babies, so I was not surprised. She has some short-term memory problems so she kept asking over and over who was his father and whether he helped with the baby. But she soon became convinced, based on Jeff's stature, that he took good care of the baby. (Don't ask about the logic. I don't know.)

We got a nice picture of Vinny and his two great-grandmas. We also got a four generations picture: Vinny, me, my dad, and his mom. I'm not sure how many pictures were taken this past weekend, but all those pictures lined up end-to-end could quite possibly stretch from here to Lexington and back.

Rosemary arrived in time for dinner. She was happy to meet her new grand-nephew too. His Grandma and Grandpa couldn't get enough of him either. Marvis just loves babies and babies love her too. I think Vinny might prefer staying with her instead of his mean parents. (Someday we will need a break from being parents, and we will pawn him off on his unsuspecting grandparents for a day or two.)

On Sunday afternoon we saw the other side of the family, including the elusive Aunt Ginger and Uncle John. Granny and Granddad also made the trip down from Louisville to see the newest member of the family. Granny and Aunt Ginger were fighting over who got to hold him. (Okay, that is an exaggeration.)

Vinny is one lucky little boy to have so many relatives who love him so much. The world would be a better place if every baby were as loved.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Well, as it turns out, Vinny indeed has a big head. A big, healthy head, full of "ze little gray cells," to quote Poirot. Or, if there is something wrong, it's not serious enough that they kept us at the hospital.

This weekend we are going to head up to Lexington. My grandmother just turned 98, and I wanted her to meet her youngest great-grandchild. Her mother lived to be over 100, but you never know when it will be the last chance to see her, so even though it's a royal pain to travel with a baby, we're going to go up there and see her. At least it's a three-hour drive, instead of a cross-country plane trip or something!

Then on Sunday, we will have a get-together with all of Jeff's family. If all goes as planned, Jeff's parents, his brother and sister-in-law, his sister and brother-in-law, and two nephews will all be there too. It will be the first time the family has all gotten together since Jeff's brother and sister-in-law's wedding three years ago.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

New Car

I'd been looking for a new (to me) car, because Gundar the 1990 Volvo has become a petulant teenager and once again believes that he'll start when he dang well feels like it rather than every time we want him to. Instead of trying to get him repaired, we decided to just get another car.

It didn't need to be a very big or luxurious car like the new Impala we have for the babymobile; it just needed to get me from point A to point B and back (i.e. home to work). I decided that I didn't need to have a brand new car, but it would be strategic to get a car three years old or less, because it could still have some warranty left.

We found a good car on the internet: a 2005 Beetle with less than 5000 miles, at a dealership. On Sunday we went to testdrive it. It was really nice: a 5-speed stick shift, silver (not my favorite color; silver is just "shiny gray" and I hate gray), surprisingly roomy for such a small car. Even Jeff could fit in it comfortably.

So on Monday we went to our bank and got a car loan (a blank check, preapproved up to a certain amount). Then we went to the dealership and bought the car. We parked it near the dealership before going on to the hospital to see Uncle Wayne (who was finally in a recovery room and got to meet Vinny). After our visit, I drove the new car home while Jeff drove the other car.

I had missed driving a stick shift. With all the hills here, it is much more fun to drive than it was to drive Ingrid the 1982 Volvo around flat Illinois. I am so looking forward to coasting down hills and enjoying physics in action!

Friday, November 10, 2006

On Sucking, Part II

First of all I wanted to thank everybody for the supportive comments. I have decided to discontinue any regular attempts to breastfeed, but to continue pumping for him at least until I return to work at the end of the month. I am able to pump enough for one meal each day, so I feel good that at least he's getting that much breastmilk.

If circumstances had been different, I probably could have gotten breastfeeding to work. In particular, if he hadn't stopped breathing at that lactation consultation, I think the problem would have been resolved right then and there. I think that hospital stay really messed us up, because I was too upset and afraid to continue attempting to breastfeed while in the hospital. Also, if I had known then what I know now about proper latching and what it's supposed to feel like, I think that would have helped too. Next time (if there is one!), things will work out better.

Since I have to work (I'm not saying that out of disappointment -- I like my job and I make four times what Jeff could ever make), Vinny is going to be mostly bottlefed anyhow. Oh sure, there's a difference in the ingredients of breastmilk and formula, but at the same time one of the main advantages of breastfeeding -- the variability of caloric content based on how hard he sucks (i.e. hindmilk from a long feeding session, the more watery stuff for a light snack) -- will not apply even if he is drinking breastmilk out of the bottle, by virtue of the fact that it's a bottle.

Given Vinny's genes, we are concerned about obesity but we are being careful not to immediately offer a bottle the first time he cries -- we change his diaper, or hold him upright (he suffers from a bad case of reflux), or try other things unless it's obvious that he's hungry.

I kind of like the fact that I don't have to be the only person to feed him. Jeff has been feeding him primarily, but others have also gotten a chance to do so, and I think they kind of enjoy the experience. For a while I was trying to pump religiously every two hours (except at night) but that was driving me crazy because I was literally spending a quarter of my time doing that and I was sick of it. So instead I have resolved to pump enough to produce at least four ounces per day -- something I can do in three or four pumpings.

Something else that was driving me crazy was that I was told that I couldn't drive for six weeks. I don't know if that's a real prohibition, or if it was because the nurse who was debriefing me for my discharge from the hospital thought I'd had a c-section, but it was making me feel extremely depressed, like I was living in Saudi Arabia or something (especially because when we went out, I was always sitting in the back seat with Vinny). After talking to several people, including the speech-language pathologist who was working with Vinny, I decided that either that was an instruction that applied only to a c-section or the patriarchy was trying to keep me down, because there was no logical reason that I should be prohibited from driving. So I've started driving again. Mostly the prohibition from driving was what was making me nuts; now that I feel like I can drive, I have no real desire to drive anywhere. I did drive once on an errand with Jeff and Vinny in the back, but when Jeff offered for me to go alone on an errand, I declined because I didn't mind staying home. Just knowing that I can get out if I want to was freeing enough for me.

We had his one-month checkup on Tuesday, and it went well. He has reflux so the doctor gave us a prescription for some medication to deal with that. Vinny now weighs over ten pounds, so he is still right about average on the growth charts, except for his head, which has grown more rapidly than the rest of his body. So just in case there is something wrong, the doctor ordered a head ultrasound for next week, which will probably show that nothing is wrong. Personally, I just think it's his enormous brain. But I am glad that even though I am unable to feed him in the way that I wanted, he is thriving. Ultimately, that is what is the most important.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Math Update

I realize that lately, there hasn't been much on this blog about math. Instead it's been mostly "Vinny this, Vinny that." It's enough to make you think this blog should be entitled "Adventures with Vinny" instead of "Adventures in Applied Math."

To those who are reading this just for the math, I apologize. It's just that since I'm on leave from work and caring for a newborn, I don't get many opportunities to think about math. Here's what I got for you:

  • There were 288 cranberries in the bag of cranberries I used to make two loaves of my world-renowned cranberry bread: one for Aunt Mary, and one for the neighbors who invited us over for dinner last night.
  • We are looking to buy a new used car, for me to drive to work every day, because Gundar the 1990 Volvo has once again decided to act like a recalcitrant teenager and not start unless he feels like it. I have been looking at the government vehicle crash-test ratings website, and it is totally cool. Look up your own car in it and see how safe your ride is. I've also looked at several different websites that give you used car values, and I find myself wondering how they do their computations. You can get divergent values for the same car on different websites.
  • I realized recently that I "visualize" numbers primarily through sound. I wonder if other people do that too. If so, this explains the math/music link.
  • I count everything, even the number of times I pat Vinny on the back when burping him. I also make things rhythmic, like I pat him three times for every rock of the chair (six times in one period [back and forth] of the chair). Or four sets of eight pats, followed by four sets of three strokes of rubbing, repeated until he burps. Hopefully I am instilling in him both a sense of rhythm and a sense of math.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Baby Vinny Meets More Family

On Thursday, Vinny got to meet more family for the first time. Jeff's Aunt Mary, cousin D.W., cousin-in-law Christy, and their kids were in town. Unfortunately, it was not for a happy reason: Uncle Wayne (Mary's husband) is in the hospital after having had two very serious heart attacks in a short period of time. He'll have to stay in the hospital for at least another week, and then come back for heart surgery in another month.

But Vinny was his usual charming self and I think his presence helped take Aunt Mary's mind off Uncle Wayne's very serious condition. Of course she didn't forget about him but Vinny gave her something else to think about.

Last night we saw them again, this time going out to dinner. Jeff and I treated them to one of our favorite local restaurants. I bribed the waiter to give me the check by promising him a generous tip. He complied and so did I.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Cutest Little Vampire

We took the cutest little vampire out trick-or-treating around the neighborhood last night. He was a big hit with all the neighbors. He fell asleep after the first or second house or so, so he was especially well-behaved and darling while asleep. He charmed a bunch of neighbor girls who were out trick-or-treating, too. (I guess I'm a real parent now because when they saw us come home from the hospital with Vinny, I stressed to them how it's nice to coo at a baby from afar, but having one is painful and should not be attempted until you're in a place financially and emotionally to support a new life.)

Anyhow, thanks to Vinny, I managed to score a lot of candy, some of which he will eat vicariously, no doubt.

Friday, October 27, 2006

On Sucking

There are two things in life that it's a good thing that they suck: vacuum cleaners and babies. Thanks to Dad and Marvis, we have a sucking vacuum cleaner. But unfortunately, our baby doesn't suck.

Well, to clarify, he does suck, it's just that he doesn't do it properly, and he has trouble coordinating sucking with swallowing and breathing. This could be why he stopped breathing two weeks ago. So yesterday, we had an appointment with a speech-language pathologist to assess his sucking abilities.

This problem with sucking is why he has had trouble breastfeeding. He doesn't latch on properly, and then he basically chomps on my nipple instead of using his tongue to stretch the nipple/areola in his mouth and get the milk out. He wants to place his tongue over the nipple instead of underneath, where it belongs.

So I have been unable to provide him with the food he needs to grow. I do pump breastmilk for him, but that supplies maybe a quarter of his needs if I'm lucky on a good day. Thank goodness for formula.

We are working on his sucking and the SLP gave us some exercises to do with him to improve his sucking, such as holding his chin as he sucks. The hardest part is getting him to latch on properly, and then to maintain that latch. Theoretically speaking, once he figures out how to suck properly, the large amount of food he gets from it will be its own reward and he will learn in a single trial to keep doing it that way. In the meantime, we have to keep vigilant and take him off when he starts chewing again, and then reattach.

For some time I felt like I sucked as a mother. I couldn't breastfeed my own child, even though I wanted to, and a variety of other things made me feel guilty too. Talking to Rhonda really helped, as did learning more about just what the problem is. It's not me, it's really him. But it's just a developmental issue that we should be able to resolve.

I felt really guilty because I wanted my baby to have the best. And they say breastfeeding is best. "Babies are born to breastfeed." Et cetera. Even my mom, for all her shortcomings, breastfed me. So what was wrong with me that I couldn't do this simple thing for my son?

I also got into the old pattern of what I call "apocalyptic thinking," that is, thinking that any mistake will lead to imminent doom and destruction. For example, if we fed him with a bottle once, he would forget what a breast was for and then I'd never be able to breastfeed him. (In reality, he still remembers what a breast is for and tries to feed, still incorrectly.) Or he wouldn't get the right nutrition from formula and he'd grow up with problems. (In reality, his daddy was formula fed and turned out just fine.) And I even went so far as to think if there was a nuclear war or something, he would die because we wouldn't be able to get formula, whereas if I could breastfeed him, he would have a better chance of survival! (That was the ultimate in apocalyptic thinking, and made me realize how ridiculous I was being.)

It took me a while to work through the feelings of inadequacy but I realized that I need to set my goal as a mother at the same level as my goal as a professional. I'll never be the best mother in the world, but what I need to shoot for is being the best second-rate mother in the world. I'm going to give him the best that I can give him, and that will be more than enough. I know that I will screw up with him in my own special way, but I just need to be accepting of myself and my imperfections. He will have his issues with me and I need to be able to accept myself enough to be open to the fact that I make mistakes, and secure enough to know that I am still a good parent despite the inevitable mistakes.


Over the past week or so, two more of Vinny's aunts have come to see him.

Last week Aunt Rhonda (Jeff's sister) came for a few days. Vinny took to her right away. She should be called "comfy Aunt Rhonda," because she would hold him in such a comfortable way that he would fall asleep.

She also helped me a lot, with some advice and pointers from her experience as a mom. She had some of the same troubles that I've been having, in particular, with nursing. So, I think that means I can blame it on Jeff's genes instead of my own inadequacies. :)

Then on Monday, glamorous Aunt Laura (my sister) came for a visit. She left this morning. Vinny took well to her too, although she's not quite as comfy as Aunt Rhonda, but no matter. In addition to helping us with Vinny, we also sent Laura up on the roof to glue back down some shingles that had been damaged by the neighbor kid's errant arrow. (It is a tradition to make Laura go on the roof when she visits. Last time she was here, she cleaned our gutters.)

On Wednesday, we went on a little road trip to the Smokies and saw all the changing colors. It was really beautiful, although riding in a car and being sleep-deprived resulted in me examining the inside of my eyelids more than I would have liked. But it was really good to get out of the house. A little day trip like that was just what I needed. It really lifted my spirits.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

New Things in Life

There are other new things in our lives besides Vinny.

  • Microwave. Our microwave, which we'd had for more than 8 years, started emitting arcs of electricity instead of microwaves. So we bought a new one. We got the 2006 equivalent of our old one, which was pretty fancy at the time. This one is pretty cool and has special buttons for cooking all kinds of different things. I ordered it online, but when it arrived it had a huge dent in it. So I sent it back and they sent us a new one, this time without a dent in it.
  • Clothes washer. The day we got home from the hospital, our washer decided it was the right time to break down. The repairman declared it "totalled" so we bought a new one. Our new washer is the same brand and matching model to the dryer. It's a really nice washer, and quite an improvement over the old one. One nice feature is that it has an optional extra rinse cycle, which they recommend using for baby clothes. The only "problem" is that the washer is white and the dryer is bisque. But I don't really care about the color. I'm just glad to have clean clothing.
  • Dining room decor. The previous owners of our house had... interesting... tastes in decor, to put it diplomatically. They had painted the dining room with the "faux bistro" look -- painted fake bricks on the walls, one wallcovered completely with these bricks, and other walls attempting to look like the bricks were sticking out of plaster... yes, very ugly. Anyhow, we figured it was so garish that a million layers of paint wouldn't cover it up, so we'd bought some wallpaper to cover it up. But, the wallpaper hanging went awry, so instead we decided to paint the room and use the border from that wallpaper. Unfortunately, the color we picked out of that border to paint the wall was too ugly so we instead ordered a new border and new paint. We went with a sunflower border and off-white paint above the border and shamrock green at the bottom. We finished painting the dining room before leaving for the hospital but hadn't gotten a chance to put up the border. Dad and Marvis put it up after we got back from the hospital. The dining room looks great now!
  • Vacuum cleaner. In Illinois, we had a central vacuum system. We had hoped to install one here, but it looks a little too complicated for us to do ourselves. So we had meant to buy a vacuum cleaner but just hadn't gotten there yet. Dad and Marvis decided that they didn't want their newest grandchild living in filth and squalor, so they bought us a vacuum cleaner. I haven't yet used it myself, but it seems to work pretty well. (They also bought their grandson a very nice new dresser.)
  • Decorations. As a surprise for me, Jeff, Dad, and Marvis conspired to decorate the house when we brought Vinny home from the hospital. They put up streamers, balloons, tropical fish streamers, and posters of Elvis in the living room. The baloons have deflated a bit but the rest of the decorations are still up.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Bit of a Scare

We had a bit of a scare on Thursday. We went to see Pat, the lactation nurse at the hospital, for help on nursing Vinny. As it turns out, he just likes to chew instead of actually suck, which explains why I am so sore. Anyhow, while we were there and Pat was trying to get him to suck correctly, Vinny stopped breathing and turned gray. Pat noticed; for some reason I totally missed it, and she whisked him out of the room and into the nursery for some oxygen. Thank goodness he started breathing again, but we still had to go to the children's hospital. I got to ride in the ambulance with him. It was interesting to ride in an ambulance but I have to say it was not an experience I was all that interested in having. Jeff and Rachel drove to the hospital in our car.

We stayed at the hospital until they let us go at around noon today. During that time, we stayed in a hospital room with our poor baby and he was all hooked up to a bunch of machines. They had to make sure that he didn't have an infection (such as Strep B), so they gave him a catheter to get some urine (pure torture for both Vinny and his parents!), took a blood sample, and even took a spinal tap. Thank goodness for us that we weren't there when they did the spinal tap, but I am so sorry that he had to endure that pain all by himself. They put an IV in his head, where the best vein was, to administer some antibiotics. But he hated that IV and tried to pull it out, so they had to move it to his left hand. He looked a little bit like a member of the Borg or something with that IV in his head.

Aunt Rachel (my sister) had been staying with us for the week, and she was a big help while we were in the hospital. She regularly brought us stuff from home, and provided a lot of moral support. And yesterday, Granny and Granddad (Jeff's parents) came to see their grandson. Granny couldn't get enough of Vinny. I was really glad that she was there to snuggle with him and give him some lovin'. By that point I was so frazzled that it was hard to do much.

After all those tests, they figured out that he didn't have an infection, and they let us take him home. Aunt Rachel, Granny, and Granddad all left at about the same time in the afternoon. In the evening, just before the sunset, we took Vinny out on a little jaunt around the neighborhood. Everyone we saw was smitten by his adorable little face. That's to be expected, I suppose, when you have the cutest little baby in the world!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Future Has Arrived

Young Vincent decided to show up on Thursday, October 5, at 6:25 p.m., weighing 7 lbs 11 oz, and measuring 21-1/4" in length. I will now tell two versions of the story, in varying levels of detail. The first is an executive summary. The second is not for the squeamish.

The Short Version

On Thursday morning, I woke up to discover that my water broke. After consulting with my doctor's office, they said I needed to head to the hospital immediately. We called Dad and Marvis to let them know it was time, and we got to the hospital at about 9 a.m. I got my first ever wheelchair ride from the emergency room check-in to the labor and delivery ward. Dad and Marvis arrived at around noon. We had really nice nurses and it was kind of a comedy routine. There were six babies being born that day in the hospital, and the OB/GYN doctor was really getting worked hard. After a lot of pain and a lot of work, Vinny was born. The nurses delivered him because the doctor was busy with another birth, but we did see him afterwards.

The Longer Version

On Thursday morning, I woke up to discover that my water broke. Jeff called Dad and Marvis to alert them to the possibility that my water had broken. They were minutes away from leaving for work, with Dad leaving for a meeting in Indianapolis, so it was good timing. I drank a glass of milk and called the doctor, but it was still too early so they paged the on-call doctor for me. While I waited for that doctor to return my call, I drank a glass of milk and e-mailed my boss with some results from a supercomputer run that had run overnight, the news that my water had broken, and apologies for not being able to contribute more to the report that was due that day. I sent a message to my sisters alerting them to the water breaking too. I also called our secretary but it was too early so I left her a message that my water had broken.

Eventually I gave up on the on-call doctor so I called the now-open doctor's office, and they told me I'd better go to the hospital immediately. I asked them if it would be okay to take a shower first, and they said no, absolutely not, get to the hospital immediately. Jeff drove us to the emergency room. I was still wearing my nightgown, over which I had thrown a t-shirt, and I was wearing shoes and socks. My water was still leaking as I was standing there waiting to get checked in. I asked them if I could have a tissue to wipe up the water going down my leg. They gave me a tissue but as I leaned over to wipe my leg, even more water gushed out and I made a big puddle on the emergency room floor. I was so embarrassed. Eventually someone from the Labor and Delivery department came and gave me a wheelchair ride to the right floor. At that point I was feeling some cramps, kind of like uncomfortable period cramps, and losing this water (which felt kind of like peeing except that I had no control over it).

They had me change into a hospital gown, and put me in a hospital bed with lots of absorbent padding, and I signed a bunch of consent forms for various things that might happen. The nurses were really nice and they had good senses of humor, meaning that they laughed at my jokes. ;) Naah, they also were very nice and had good attitudes of their own.

The woman doing my IV hit the jackpot or the fountain of youth or something and I bled a lot. Luckily I did not once look over there as she was doing it because I can't stand the sight of blood. I hate needles enough as it is, which is why I refused to look in the first place, but Jeff tells me that it was pretty gory. My fear of needles is also what made me want to avoid getting an epidural, if possible.

Jeff was by my side the whole time, and Dad and Marvis arrived after noon. The contractions were getting more and more painful. Jeff helped me concentrate on my breathing, and Dad and Marvis rubbed me and wiped me with wet washcloths. But it got so painful that I was pushing my nose into the side of the hospital bed really hard, and deeply considering biting the handles on the bed too. Finally I asked for an epidural. Actually, I believe what happened was somebody brought it up and I said, "Can I have one please god." So I got an epidural. It was creepy because I had to sit with my back slumped forward in a particular way, and I told Jeff that I don't want to know how big the needle that they stuck in between a particular place in my spine was but I think it had to be huge. After the epidural took effect, I was back to a much more mild level of pain and I could once again converse and ride through the contractions. The OB/GYN on duty that day, who was not my regular doctor but a member of his practice, came in and checked on me. The problem was that all day my cervix was effaced but not at all dilated. So I was having these contractions but pretty much for nothing. He checked my cervix and it was still not dilated. I was cheerful enough by that point to joke around again, so when he mentioned that I'd had an epidural I said, "Yeah, I did and it feels great. I don't know what the f*** I was thinking before!" He got such a kick out of that comment that when he went back to the office he told everybody there what I had said.

They kept raising my pitocin level and eventually I did start dilating. And I soon got to the point where I was fully dilated, and couldn't hardly stop myself from pushing. Well, I could, but it meant that I had to tense up during the contractions, which made them hurt a lot, even in the epidural state. I told the nurses that I really needed to push. They wanted me to wait because the doctor was in another delivery. Eventually after they saw that I was fully dilated they let me push.

Pushing was very painful, even halfway numbed by meds. I can't imagine how unbearable it would have been for me without the epidural. Jeff was on my right, and Marvis was on my left, and they helped me push by counting and holding me up for the pushes. Dad cheered me on from the side. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done, and at times it felt hopeless. As I pushed him out, it got more and more painful, probably because I was tearing. But once his head came out, it was pretty simple from there. I felt distinct relief when his chin came out. Then I pushed out the first shoulder and it was pretty much over. He cried immediately when he came out. The nurses wrapped him in a towel and put him on my belly for me to see.

The doctor wasn't there when the baby arrived, but after a while he came in, collected the cord blood, and sewed me up. I had a fairly superficial although very long tear that he fixed up.

I can't describe my feelings when I saw Vinny for the first time. I know that every family member there had tears in their eyes when he came out, but when I saw that beautiful baby for the first time it was amazing. He looked so sweet and he was so calm. His eyes were just so deep. He looked at me and I looked at him. Then he glanced over at Jeff, then back at me, then back at Jeff, then back at me. After that, the nurses took him away and fixed him up while the doctor stitched me up, but I got him back within the hour.

I'll tell you more about him, and maybe even post a picture or two in a later entry.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Official Due Date

Today is Vinny's official due date. I would have liked for him to be born by now; in particular, before October 1 (which is often the cutoff date for school enrollment), but I guess they say you can't hurry something good. But it's okay, I guess, because this allows me to work longer, thereby accumulating more vacation time that I can use during my family leave.

On Monday I had a bit of a fright. I went to work as usual. But over the course of the morning, I found that I was getting ravenously hungry. I tried to ignore it and just wait for lunchtime. When I got up to go to lunch, I discovered that I was really dizzy, shaky, and was breaking out in a sweat. I managed to make it to the cafeteria and I promised myself that if I didn't feel better after lunch, I would get some help. Eating my lunch seemed to make a big difference, but just in case, I went to the lab's health department and had my blood pressure taken. It was normal, thank goodness. The nurse said it sounded like I had experienced a drop in my blood sugar. I went home a little early just to be safe. Then on Tuesday I worked from home. Jeff bought me some snacks to take to work with me today, so I didn't have to worry about a repeat of the low blood sugar.

I still don't know why my blood sugar dropped like that. I have never had that experience before, and since about the 3rd or 4th month of pregnancy, I have not needed to have a morning snack in order to make it through the day. So I don't know what happened.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Interesting Facts

Still around... no sign of Vinny yet. I thought I'd take this time to tell you some interesting things I've learned this week.

  • Only 5% of babies are born on their due date.
  • Most first babies are born late. (Damn!)
  • Before a baby is born, its head drops into the mother's pelvis. This can occur anywhere between several weeks to just before the baby is born. As of my last doctor's appointment, he had not dropped yet.
  • If I push on my swollen ankle with my finger, it makes a depression that doesn't immediately go away -- kind of like those Swedish memory-foam mattresses they advertise on TV.
  • The super-duper computer doesn't like it if you try to open more than 128 files at once. Doing so causes your job to crash. In addition (something I figured out a few weeks ago), if your job requires more time than you requested, and the super-duper computer cuts it off, this results in a segfault and core dump. It took me a week to figure this out and after confirming with a colleague, this is indeed a "feature" of this machine (where "feature" really means "error"). They should really tell you these things so you don't spend a week trying to track them down.
  • Facts about North American telephone area codes:

    • Telephone area codes used to be of the following format: xyz, where x is between 2 and 9, y is either 0 or 1, and z is 1-9 if y is 0, or 2-9 otherwise. In the case of y = 0, the area code was supposed to cover an entire state, whereas if it was a 1, the area code was supposed to cover only a city or part of a state.
    • Area codes with the fewest clicks on a rotary phone were assigned to the biggest cities. Thus, Chicago was 312 (6 clicks -- just add up the digits), while Hawaii was given 808 (26 clicks -- the 0 is really ten clicks).
    • From 1962 to 1981, only two new area codes were added to the system.
    • The proliferation of fax machines and cell phones resulted in the need to abandon this system, which is why today a telephone area code is of the form xyz = [2-9][0-9][0-9]. There are some reserved exchanges that cannot be used for area codes, such as x11, and the numbers 8yy (y= [2-5]) are reserved for future toll-free expansion.
    • There are still some area codes left, but not as many as we would like. There are various plans for increasing the number of available telephone numbers, including adding an extra digit to distinguish between United States and Canadian area codes.
    • If you're a numbers junkie like me, and you want to read more about the telephone number system, I got all this information from Wikipedia's articles about the North American Numbering Plan.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I'm a Winner... and You Could Be Too!

Last week, when I was at the lab's International Festival, I entered a trivia contest at the British Isles booth, and I found out today that I won the grand prize! Apparently I had more correct ansers than anyone else, which I find quite surprising but I'm not going to complain. Anyhow, I won a fabulous paperweight from the Orkney Islands, made from a round stone with a sheet of metal hammered onto it and etched with a winged dragon. It is pretty cool looking.

It seems like I never win anything, so this was pretty exciting to me. In fact, I might go so far as to say that it made my day. Usually, contests are random and so the probability is just not on my side. Other contests are based on guessing, and I am usually no good at guessing. So it was a welcome surprise to win something based on my knowledge of famous British people.

In honor of this, I want to share the joy of winning. Alas, the only contest I can think of is a guessing game, so it will be dependent mostly on luck, I'm afraid!

Answer the following questions before 7:00 p.m. EDT Thursday, September 28, 2006.
1. When will Vinny be born? (Give both a date and a time.)
2. How much will he weigh?

You can answer in the comments, or send me an e-mail with your guess. I will determine the winner and award an exciting prize. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Birthday Activities

Last Thursday, I took Jeff out to dinner for his birthday. We went to a steakhouse, and Jeff enjoyed his steak but I didn't think that my chicken was worth the price. Then we went on a huge shopping spree and bought each other's birthday gifts: the latest releases of the original Star Wars movies for him, and cookie sheets, a muffin tin, and a waffle iron for me. We also went and bought diapers for Vinny: this type of diapers called gDiapers, which combine all the benefits of both disposables (no extra laundry) and cloth (no extra garbage; the absorbent liners dissolve in your toilet and get flushed into the sewer system). They are considerably more expensive than cloth diapers, and pricier than disposables too, but we can afford it and it sounds like a good way to solve the diaper dilemma. I'll let you know how well they work.

On Friday night, Jeff made me a delicious spaghetti dinner. That is one of my favorite foods, especially Jeff's sauce. So I was pretty happy with that. Then on Saturday I made his favorite cake, although I had a bit of a mishap when I added the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and accidentally turned the mixer up to high speed. There was cake batter everywhere, even in the CD player that was (foolishly) sitting right next to the mixer. I cleaned it up as best I could but I may have ruined the CD player. I haven't turned it on again so I don't know. But the cake turned out to be really tasty, despite being slightly thinner.

On Monday, I got birthday phone calls from both my sisters and from Dad and Marvis. It was a real treat to talk to them. Unfortunately, I missed Laura's call but she left a nice birthday message.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Numbers for Today

Today is my birthday. I am 2N-1 years old today. I'll leave it to you to figure out which value of N. As a hint, I'll tell you that my dad is also 2N-1 years old, but NDad > Nme. Today is also my mother-in-law's birthday. She's turning the same age as my dad.

Yesterday was Jeff's birthday, and he turned 2N. NJeff == Nme.

Other interesting numbers: On Saturday night I measured my circumference and it was 50 inches. Today, I bought a dozen pastries and took them to work for people to eat in celebration of my birthday. It cost $26.01 (they were fancy pastries from Panera) and they ate only half of them. So I have $13.005 worth of pastries to eat. I think Jeff will be happy to help out with that.

Speaking of cost, the other day I bought something that cost $23.27, so I gave the cashier $24.02, with the idea that I would get back three quarters. But she must have mindlessly typed in the money I gave her and mistyped it as $24.01, because she gave me 74 cents. Now why in the world would I give her one penny just so she could give it back to me?!?!

Friday, September 15, 2006

One Year

One year ago today, I started my job.

It's been a year of many adjustments, some easier than others. For example, adjusting to an income that exceeded my expenditures was not particularly difficult. Adjusting to the loss of my karate class and all my friends, that was tough. I don't think I had any idea what my life would be like today when I started my job. It's certainly much different than I might have expected.

In this year, I have made new friends. I still miss my old friends in Illinois, but I like the people here too. I have adjusted to hills and curvy roads after seven years in the flatlands. (It didn't take that long.) It was much harder to get used to my job. I feel like I work much harder at this job than I worked as a graduate student. In graduate school, the deadlines were more nebulous than they are here. I feel like I get along well with my boss and my colleagues, and that makes me happy. It almost seems like we all get along too well, and that makes me a little bit suspicious sometimes. I guess that's just my inner paranoia speaking.

The biggest adjustment is yet to come. I know that having a child is going to make my life very different. I mean, when I was a graduate student maybe I didn't work so hard but it was the same type of work. But I've never been a parent or even babysat regularly. The closest I've ever come to that is teaching children's karate once a week. But I had to deal with those critters for only one hour at a time, whereas this will be a full time gig.

Now that I've passed my one-year anniversary, I am eligible for family medical leave. It was quite a relief to pass the one-year mark without having to worry about my job. So son, feel free to come out whenever you're ready!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Swell Week

Haha just a little pun there in the title of this post! I've been swelling a lot lately. I've taken to wearing shoes that enclose my feet so my feet don't swell so badly, but all that ends up doing is making me have really swollen ankles instead of really swollen feet. On Saturday I spent most of the day with my feet in water, and it felt pretty good, although it did little to take down the swelling.

I've been finishing up the sewing that Laura and I were doing for the nursery. This week I finished up the curtains and the crib dust ruffle. I complained to Marvis about being unable to iron for very long, because the standing was making my ankles swell. Well, suggested my brilliant bonus mom, why don't you lower the ironing board to sitting level? I don't know why I didn't think of that. Anyhow I did that and was able to do more sewing at a time.

Then, my sewing machine started squeaking really badly. It was so loud it was giving me a headache. So I bought some oil for it, and proceeded to oil everywhere, but it was still squeaking. Finally, Jeff helped me turn it upside down and oil underneath it, and fortunately, that's where the squeak was coming from, so after that I was able to sew without suffering.

As for work, I've been trying to finish up some important stuff so that I don't have to worry about getting it done before the baby is born. In particular, I've been trying to get this code running on our super-duper computer. So far, I don't yet have it running, and I'm not quite sure what's going on. But I am getting closer to figuring out the problem and assuming he doesn't come too early, I should have it done before I have to go.

Speaking of the baby, I guess most everybody knows, we've decided to name him Vincent David: Vincent because we like the name, and David after my beloved cousin who died a couple of years ago. We plan to call him by a diminuative of Vincent, but I have a question to pose to all my vast readership. How should we spell it: Vinnie or Vinny? There are potential advantages to both spellings, so I can't decide. Most people seem to be spelling it Vinnie, which is fine. But spelling it with a "y" means that it has one fewer letter, making it easier to type and possibly to write for those of us who are handwriting challenged. On the other hand, writing "ie" might be easier than writing "y." But I guess this is something that doesn't really matter that much anyhow.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Adventures in Travel

So we decided to get away this weekend for our last child-free getaway. Jeff decided that we should head south. We didn't actually end up getting very far, only to Chattanooga. But we had a good time because no matter where we go, being together is fun. Also, there are a lot of things to see and do in Chattanooga.

On Friday night, we got off the interstate at an exit that promised to have lots of hotels. It was a good thing it did, because we went to three hotels that didn't have any non-smoking rooms before we found a fourth hotel where we could stay. By that time it was very late and after I looked at some brochures about the area I went right to sleep.

We did not see the eponymous choo-choo. But there is a park where you can go and see it. Instead, we went to Rock City, a kitchy attraction made famous by barn advertisements throughout the nation. We never knew where it was until our neighbors told us it was there near Chattanooga (actually just a few miles south, in Georgia). It was an interesting place although a bit challenging to navigate. You walk along all these paths through rocks and gardens. I managed to squeeze through "Needle's Eye" and "Fat Man's Squeeze" although I'm glad we didn't take this trip a few weeks from now. I was pretty worn out by the time we got out.

Then, since we were so close and Jeff had never been, we drove into Alabama and had lunch there. In case you were curious, Chattanooga and Georgia are on the eastern time zone, and Alabama, about 20 miles west, is on the central time zone. After lunch in Alabama, we traveled back to Chattanooga and went to the Tennessee Aquarium, where we saw an IMAX movie before going into the two aquarium exhibits. Both exhibits begin at the top of the building and proceed downward. First we saw an exhibit about rivers, and it was really interesting. The other exhibit was about the oceans. By that time I was getting really tired. After we saw the aquariums we headed back to our hotel where we rested up before going out to dinner.

We left for home on Sunday, and we spent the rest of the day resting up. Then today we went shopping in preparation for packing our bag for the hospital. There were a lot of things we needed to get, including snacks, toiletries, a bathrobe, and nursing bras and nightgowns. Jeff had the patience of a saint while waiting for me to try everything on.

There are a lot more fun and interesting things to do in Chattanooga and I hope we'll get down there again someday. For example, there is the Chicamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway (which I want to ride next time), and a riverboat cruise. I never knew there was so much to do in Chattanooga.

Adventures with Imaging

On Thursday we got the first portraits of our son. Thanks to the wonders of 3-D ultrasound imaging, we now have pictures such as this one of our pride and joy:

It might be a little hard to see at first but it's a profile view. Jeff thinks his nose looks like mine, but it just looks like a typical baby nose to me. It looks like he may have inherited my lack of chin, but it's hard to tell because the umbilical cord is in the way.

We were also able to see some real-time images (which they refer to as 4-D, the fourth dimension being time) of him practicing up on breathing. You could see his chest moving in and out, even though he's just inhaling and exhaling amniotic fluid. She confirmed that he is indeed a boy, no mistakes from last time. Also she checked out his size and estimated his weight at over six pounds. He seemed to be about two weeks ahead of the curve. Maybe that means he'll be born early.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

With Apologies to Bob Dylan

How many times must a woman go pee,
before her baby arrives?
How many aches will she get in her feet,
her ankles, her knees, and her thighs?
How much more weight will she gain before then;
her ankles will swell to what size?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
the answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many times will the baby kick me,
until he decides to come out?
How many days will it take me to lose
the weight that is making me stout?
And how good a mom will I turn out to be
and will I remain filled with doubt?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
the answer is blowin' in the wind.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Blog Haiku

Haiku2 for riebecca
can narrow it down
based on their own outlook
and experience
Created by Grahame

Busy B

I've had a busy week. Last week, I worked really hard at work. Then, on Friday, Laura came for a weekend visit. As a gift for Vinny, she came to help me sew for his nursery. It was a big help because thanks to my medial epicondylitis, I really can't do much sewing by hand. So we did the pieces that would require the most hand sewing first: the blanket and bumper. Thanks to Laura's excellent sewing skills, we finished both of those pieces. She also cut out all the pieces for all the other nursery pieces: the curtains, the valance, and the crib caddy. That was a big help because it's now a little bit hard for me to get on the floor, much less get up from the floor. So it's nice that all these pieces are ready for me to sew whenever I get to it.

The nursery theme is tropical fish. I looked at all the nursery themes at the store but was unhappy with them, so I decided to make my own instead. I found some great tropical fish fabric on the internet and went from there. The cost of the nursery is comparable to if we'd bought a set at the store, but it's more what we want. Plus it's made with love, so it's got to be better, right? :)

In addition to sewing, we also managed to talk a lot and have a good time. We took some time out to have fun, like going to what is the best Thai restaurant in East Tennessee, according to a friend of mine; eating delicious Mexican food cooked by Jody and delicious manicotti made by Jeff; and seeing a few sights around town. She also was kind enough to clean our gutters. I told her to come back any time!!!

I took Laura to the bus station early Monday morning, and then returned home and went back to bed. Then in the afternoon I went to the doctor because I was a little worried about the sudden swelling in my feet, hands, and face that I had developed. As it turns out, I'm just fine, but I wanted to make sure that I didn't have pre-eclampsia.

Today, they held a baby shower for me and Jeff at work. As part of the celebration, Jeff got to come to the shower. Since he had a visitor's pass that was good for the entire day, he just came to work with me and read while I worked. I took him to lunch to experience the disgusting cafeteria food, and after lunch we went to an awards ceremony during which my boss got an award for being a good mentor. I was not the one who nominated him for the award (it was a summer student), but I definitely think he is a very good boss and I can understand why the student nominated him.

The baby shower was at 2:00. Lois, our department secretary, was the one who organized it. She had evidently been listening to me when I babbled to her about the baby, because the shower theme was tropical fish, with a cake decorated with tropical fish, paper plates shaped like tropical fish, and a tropical fish tablecloth. All the attendees, except for one woman from upstairs, Lois, and myself, were men, and in fact some of them said it was the first baby shower they'd ever been to. Lois said they had to play one shower game, so she had a list of baby-related words that they had to unscramble, and whoever got the most in three minutes won a prize.

I think everybody got together and gave Lois a bunch of money and she went and bought a bunch of gifts for us. There was a lot of stuff, and it was really great. In addition, my boss gave us a gift card, which was really nice of him.

It made me feel really good to know that all those people cared enough about me to chip in for this baby shower. I haven't been here quite a year yet but I have made a lot of friends and put down some roots. I am always surprised to (re)discover that people really seem to like me, and today I was pleasantly reminded that I am not as unlikeable as I appear to myself.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Thinking about Math

I love my job because it fits well with the way I think. Thinking in a logical and orderly fashion comes naturally to me.

These days, I spend most of my time at work writing and debugging programs. I come up with algorithms, implement them, and then figure out what went wrong.

I begin by determining what I want my algorithm to do. Then I do a simple example, and from there, try to generalize to an algorithm. After that, I try the algorithm on a more complicated example. If it doesn't work, I revise my algorithm until it does work. And then I keep thinking about possible counterexamples and amend the algorithm accordingly.

Eventually I get to the point where I can't come up with any more counterexamples and I go ahead and implement the algorithm in C++. (I enter this stage of the process with the understanding that there are probably still cases that I have not considered that will cause my algorithm to mess up.) After I get it to compile without errors, I run the algorithm on a simple example, and if it works, go ahead and try it on a more complicated case. If I'm really lucky, then these tests have worked and I try the algorithm on a simple real-life case. At this point I usually find that there is a flaw in my logic and I track it down using print statements and logical thinking.

I told my sister Laura once that what makes me such a good mathematician is that I'm "fair with the numbers." That is, I consider all sides and look for counterexamples before drawing a conclusion. For example, given the fact that 2 + 2 = 4, 2 × 2 = 4, and 22 = 4, it might appear that the addition, multiplication, and exponentiation operations are equivalent! (I know, this seems like a really stupid example, but bear with me.) A careless mathematician would draw the conclusion that the operations are the same. If I didn't know anything about these operations, but had a source that could give me the results of using these operations, here's how I would figure out whether they were the same or different.

First, I would generalize each operation. I would try to find a counterexample for x + y = x × y = xy. Here's one: x = 2, y = 3. 2+3 = 5, 2 × 3 = 6, 23 = 8. Okay, so these operations are not the same in general. But what about in the case where x = y? Maybe they are the same then. So I need to look for a counterexample. Here's one: x = y = 3. 3+3 = 6, 3 × 3 = 9, 33 = 27. From this I conclude that x = y = 2 is simply a special case in which the operations happen to yield the same result.

I know that this was a ridiculous example, because we all have an understanding of the addition, multiplication, and exponentiation operations. But in my line of work, I look at much more complicated operations, sometimes called "black box" functions, the inner workings of which are beyond my comprehension. The only data I have are the input and the resulting output. So the techniques I used on the simple operations above come in very handy when dealing with more difficult functions.

I think about most things in life in a similar fashion, and I find that it really helps me to make sense of the world. For example, my fellow human beings are classic black box functions. I have no idea what makes them tick. The only way that I have to understand them is the input and resulting output. So, based on previous data, I can say with some degree of certainty that if I buy some cream cheese for Laura, she will eat it, because I have seen this happen in the past. Or if I give her a hug, she will hug me back. I know her fairly well, so I have a lot of data on her.

Strangers, on the other hand, are more complicated. When I interact with someone for the first time, the only data I have is an approximation of how they may behave, based on my previous experience with other people and my reading of their body language. Usually I try to say something humorous, to make the other person laugh, because in my experience, humor is a good way to open doors with people. But, it doesn't always work, because of the differences between the person I am talking to and the sources of my other data points.

Someone not laughing at my jokes doesn't necessarily mean I'm not funny; it just means that given the input of my joke and the input of whatever else in their life, their black box doesn't compute "funny" in this case. Why did they not compute "funny?" Maybe they're having a bad day. Maybe they didn't hear me. Maybe they're preoccupied with something else. Maybe I inadvertently offended them. Maybe I'm ugly and my mother dresses me funny. Maybe I don't have a good sense of humor. There are many possibilities, and without more data, I can't be sure what it is. But, I can narrow it down based on nonverbal cues and past experience.

For example, in the vast majority of interactions, when I tell a joke, people laugh, so I don't think it's that I don't have a good sense of humor. I could be ugly, although most of the time people are able to look me in the eye, so I'm probably not that ugly; and my mother definitely has no say in what I wear. Maybe I have accidentally said something offensive: I try to consider this from every possible vantage point. My jokes are never racially-, gender-, or religiously-oriented, and very rarely politically-oriented, so this seems unlikely. I examine the nonverbal cues to see if anything stands out. I can usually tell if someone didn't hear me, because they get this certain look on their face. And I can often see evidence of a bad day or preoccupation in their eyes and mouth and mannerisms.

This sort of logical thinking helps me to take my interactions with others less personally, the bad interactions in particular. When I was younger, I thought that a bad interaction was something personal against me. Now that I'm older and understand that the other person is a real person responding to stimuli based on their own outlook and experience, I am able to take things less personally when things go wrong. For example, I have a seemingly unresolvable conflict with a close family member, but I am able to see why that person might take what I say in the wrong way, and instead of beating myself up over it, I do what I can to avoid further misunderstandings while remaining true to myself. It doesn't make things easy, but it does make things easier.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Showered with Love

Yesterday Jeff and I went to a baby shower in our honor that was hosted by fearless relatives Ginger, Rhonda, and Liz, at the home of some of Jeff's cousins. We drove up to Kentucky on Friday night, spending the night with Dad and Marvis before continuing on to the shower the next day.

The shower was a lot of fun. We got to see a lot of relatives and friends that we hadn't seen in a long time, including Jeff's Aunt Mary and Uncle Wayne, who drove all the way up from Harlan; my cousin Elizabeth, a journalist temporarily assigned to work in Louisville; and my high school friends Carrie, Tabitha, and Chris, and Tabitha and Chris' daughter Samantha, whom I met for the first time.

There were more people there than I could count, but I would still say that it was a finite number, definitely less than 100, and probably under 50. I'm not the world's most outgoing person, so the sheer numbers of people and the resulting loudness was a bit much, but I tried not to let it overwhelm me.

Ginger came up with some wonderful games, including one where the object was to make as many words as you can from the letters of the baby's name. Thanks to the very long name that we have chosen for him and Ginger's word and spelling abilities, she came up with over 150 words that were contained in his name! She showed me her list, and the one that made me laugh the hardest was "tirade." If he inherits anything from either of his parents, we're going to hear a lot of those in the future!

Jeff made a very clever movie trailer about our baby, using his Father's Day gift video camera and the awesome software that comes standard on a Mac, and burned it onto a DVD. He gave one copy to Dad and Marvis, and another copy to his parents. But he also showed it at the baby shower. I can't really describe it without completely giving it away, and I want two of my fans to see it and enjoy it (I'm thinking of you, Rachel and Laura!) so I don't want to give anything away. Suffice it to say that the movie generated a lot of laughs and people really got a kick out of it.

Of course we also opened lots of gifts. Mostly we got stuff that we had registered for, but highlights from off the list include an afghan handmade by Jeff's mom, a UK outfit to counteract the UT onesie Jeff sacrilegiously bought for our son, and a hat handmade by bonus sister Vaughan. In total, we came out of there with a lot of loot. My dad used his packing SUPERPOWERS to fill every single nook and cranny in the trunk of our car, while dad-in-law and John Rice used their talents to fill the back seat, and by defying the Pauli Exclusion Principle, they fit all of it into the car.

I mustn't forget the amazing cake, brought by Rhonda. I am so bad about taking pictures and now I wish I had one of the cake, because it is hard to describe. It was a beautifully decorated cake with the baby's name, blocks with his initials, and two baby booties made of frosting. Under the icing, half of the cake was chocolate and the other half was white cake. The cake was specially ordered from a particular bakery in Winchester and it was really outstandingly decorated, and delicious too!

We drove home after the shower and got in just before midnight, because today we are going out to dinner with some friends. A graduate school classmate of mine, his wife, and their one-year-old son are in town visiting his parents, and they graciously agreed to take some time away from the family to see us. He currently works at Sandia but because of the dire financial situation there is looking for a job after his term of employment ends. He's interested in working here, because this is the happening place, evidently. No, seriously, national labs have their ups and downs, and right now Oak Ridge is on the upturn, while Sandia is on the decline. Ten years ago, ORNL wasn't such a great place for computational science, but now, we are becoming the center for leadership computing, we have attracted great people from elsewhere, and more and more money keeps flowing in. So I seem to be in the right place at the right time.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Interesting Math Links

Because I know that sometimes the mathematical content on this blog is a bit sparse, I have found two interesting math links for you to peruse. The first is a blog written by a professor in the math department at Northeastern University. Professor Bridger is an unpaid consultant for the popular television series Numb3rs, and he gets to review the scripts before they begin filming. The blog is mostly dedicated to Numb3rs episodes and a discussion of the math in each episode.

I'd have to say that Numb3rs is one of my favorite shows on television. I don't watch much TV, but if I see that Numb3rs is on, I will watch it. It's usually on at 10 p.m. Friday nights on CBS.

The premise of the show is that the younger brother of an FBI agent is a mathematician and he uses his math skills to help the FBI solve crimes. It's a mathematically accurate show. The writers take their inspiration from real-life cases solved using mathematics, and they employ many mathematics consultants to make sure that the math is right. Sometimes they go a bit overboard with gratuitous equations on the chalkbord that serve only to impress the television audience. But overall, the math content is very good and it serves to show people that math isn't just boring equations and esoteric theorems. Math is important and applicable.

The second math link is the website of actress/mathematician Danica McKellar. Ms. McKellar is probably best known for her portrayal of "Winnie" on "The Wonder Years," but she is also an accomplished mathematician. As an undergraduate math major at UCLA, she was the co-author of a mathematical proof. After college she continued her acting career, but she is still an advocate for math education and for women in mathematics. She's coming out with a book aimed at encouraging girls to pursue mathematical studies, entitled Math Doesn't Suck. For more details about her accomplishments, see this article.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Calculus of Voting

Yesterday Jeff and I did our patriotic duty and voted. It was strange because not only was it a Thursday, but this election was a general election for county offices and a primary for state and national offices (e.g. state senator, governor, and U.S. senator). We used these newfangled electronic voting machines. As a computer scientist, I have some reservations about electronic voting machines, particularly systems that do not have a paper backup. I don't think we have the notoriously bad machines here, but I still feel skeptical about their fairness.

The security issues of electronic voting machines could be a post of its own, but of course I know that my vast audience comes here for the math, not the computer science. So instead I am going to discuss another way in which elections may not be completely fair, even assuming the votes are counted perfectly.

Ideally, we should use a voting scheme that selects the most preferred candidate as winner. This would be the candidate who always win in a run-off between himself/herself and any other candidate. The most preferred candidate is also known as the Condorcet winner. In a vote between two opponents, selecting the most preferred candidate is simple: people vote for their favorite candidate, and whoever gets the most votes wins. But for a race with more than two opponents, selecting the Condorcet winner is complicated, and sometimes, there may not be a Condorcet winner.

With the voting system that we use, unless one candidate is clearly preferred over all the others, the Condorcet winner may not win. In fact, the Condorcet loser may end up being selected. A classic example of this is the presidential election of 1860. This was the year that Abraham Lincoln was elected president. That year, there were four candidates: Lincoln, Breckinridge, Bell, and Douglas. Lincoln carried most of the northern states, and the three other candidates split the remaining states. Let's pretend for the sake of argument that the winner of the popular vote would win the election. (In reality, Lincoln got 40% of the popular vote but 59% of the electoral college, so in some sense he won the majority of the vote.) Here are the election results, in percentages:
Lincoln: 40%
Douglas: 29%
Breckinridge: 18%
Bell: 13%

So Lincoln received the most votes, but he did not receive the majority of votes. Would he have won a runoff against every opposing candidate? Probably not. Chances are, if the people who voted for Breckinridge or Bell had to pick between Lincoln and Douglas, 99.9% of them would have selected Douglas, so Douglas would have won that race 60% to 40%. Similarly, Lincoln supporters would have probably preferred Douglas over Breckinridge or Bell. Douglas was almost certainly the Condorcet winner of that election.

In yesterday's primaries, there were a plethora of candidates for nearly every position. In the Democratic race for United States Senator, there were five candidates. As it turns out, one candidate, Harold Ford, Jr., got 79% of the votes, so there is no doubt that he was the Condorcet winner of that primary. But for the Republican race, there were four candidates, with the highest vote-count going to Bob Corker with only 48% of the vote. (Is it just me, or does that name make you laugh?) Anyhow, it is possible, although unlikely, that Bob Corker was actually the least preferred candidate, despite winning the election. Let's call his opponents X, Y, and Z. It could be that all supporters of X would choose Y over Bob and Z over Bob, and all supporters of Y would choose X or Z over Bob, and all supporters of Z would choose X or Y over Bob. I'm not trying to pick on poor Bob Corker, but I think you get the idea. The point is, Bob's supporters could be very overzealous about him and only him, but the supporters of X, Y, and Z could prefer anyone but Bob. This means that Bob was actually the least preferred candidate, despite the fact that he got the most votes out of anyone.

How can we be sure that the Condorcet winner is always elected? As I hinted above, we can't always be sure that there is a Condorcet winner. We could have a three-candidate cycle, for example. If we have three people (1, 2, and 3) voting in an election between three candidates (A, B, and C), the voters might have the following preferences:
1: A > B > C
2: B > C > A
3: C > A > B

So, if we ran A vs B, A would win 2-1; A vs C, C would win 2-1; and B vs C, B would win 2-1. So no candidate wins all the runoffs they are in; therefore there is no Condorcet winner.

But, assuming there is a Condorcet winner, there is a simple way to find it, and that is by having the voters rank the candidates in order of preference. From this data, a computer can compute the outcomes of all the runoffs, and determine the Condorcet winner. If the Condorcet winner does not exist, there must be some sort of tie-breaking method agreed upon ahead of time so that the election will have a winner.

Unfortunately, Condorcet voting methods are rarely used. Even in places like Europe where there are multiple political parties, the instant-runoff or Borda count methods are usually used, and neither are guaranteed to elect the Condorcet winner (assuming it exists).

Personally, I would like to see Condorcet voting methods implemented in the American election system. Now that our voting is becoming computerized, I don't see a problem with implementing these methods. It would take a computer very little time to find the Condorcet winner. And if one candidate garners over 50% of the vote, no computations would be needed!

If you are interested in learning more about Condorcet voting methods, may I recommend the Wikipedia article on the topic. Also, I got my information on the election of 1860 from the Wikipedia article on the United States Presidential Election of 1860.

At Arm's Length

Update about my left elbow and the shot I received on Tuesday:

I've been icing it down every night, just like the doctor told me to. I'm supposed to ice it down every night for at least ten nights. I also need to find my counterforce brace and wrist brace and wear them during the day when I'm using my left arm.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I had a tough time bending my elbow more than 90 degrees, which made life rather interesting. For example, I needed help fastening my bra. Doing my own hair was challenging too, so I had two really bad hair days. Another thing was that I couldn't move my arm fluidly enough to eat, so I had to eat completely right-handed.

Today it was less stiff but still not great. But I was able to get dressed on my own and I didn't look like I'd used a five-year-old as a hairdresser. I was even able to write a little bit with my left hand! So it is definitely getting better.

Still, I'm trying to take it easy with the left hand, because the shot won't last forever. I'm definitely going to need that elbow for much more important things, such as holding my baby, in roughly 60 days. So I'm still trying to eat right-handed and do as many things as I can without using my left hand.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Elbow Grease (part 2)

Today I saw the orthopedist again. I don't think that the occupational therapy had really helped very much. Unfortunately, there are not two parallel universes, one in which I had occupational therapy and another in which I did not, so I can't say for sure whether it helped. For all I know, I could be a lot worse now if I hadn't done it. In any case, things have not improved, so I went back for another appointment with the doctor. He decided to let me have another shot in the elbow. So I took him up on that.

Before the anesthetic wore off, it felt like I had a new elbow. Now it feels worse than it felt before the shot. But I know that after my elbow heals up from having a gigantic needle stuck in it, it will feel much better.

If it hurts more after the baby is born, he told me to come back again. He said it was reasonable to give me a shot at most once a year, but if I need it more often than that, then he really needs to try something else. He talked about surgery, and seemed open to the idea of doing it, after I was no longer pregnant and assuming the problem came back. He did remark that I had a pretty bad case of medial epicondylitis. Hopefully (worst case) this injection will tide me over for the next few months and then I can have the surgery if I need it.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Busy Week

In addition to our anniversary on Tuesday, Jeff and I were out and about the next two evenings as well. A former classmate of mine and fellow student of my advisor was in town for a meeting, so we went out to eat with her on Wednesday night. She works at Argonne National Lab, and she graduated about five years or so before I did. She has two kids already and is pregnant with her third. She and I are due at nearly the same time! So Jeff enjoyed going out with two pregnant ladies. (Oh, the intrigue! Which one is his? Or are they both his?) We had a lot of fun talking with her. I asked her a lot of questions about the logistics of working and having a baby to take care of. She was happy to give me all kinds of advice. I'd say that she's the closest to a role model that I have these days. She shows that you can have kids and a successful career.

Then on Thursday, we had our first baby class, "Drool Time." Unfortunately, the class did not give me a chance to show off my drooling superpowers. In fact, no drooling was involved. If it had been, though, they would have all been terribly impressed by the sheer volume of drool that I produce. I have been told by dentists in three states that I produce more saliva than anyone they'd ever seen.

Seriously, though, "Drool Time" was an informative class. We learned a lot about baby care, such as how to bathe a newborn baby, and how to know when babies are sick. We have several more baby classes next month.

Speaking of baby, I had a checkup on Thursday, and the doctor said that he's doing just fine in there. At this rate of growth, we should have ourselves an eight-pounder, assuming he's born full-term. That baby is a busy little critter. One thing he enjoys doing is stretching out his legs. It feels kind of weird but it doesn't really hurt when he does that. I can see part of my belly rise slowly. It's kind of creepy but cool. Another trick he's developed is to backfist the uterus, BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM, really fast. That also feels weird but I think the leg stretching is weirder.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Anniversary Thoughts

I am pleased to announce that as of today, Jeff and I have been married for eight years. That's 2922 days, or about 70,128 hours, for those who are reading this just for the math! It's been a mixed 4,207,680 minutes, with its ups and downs, but overall I'd say it's been good and keeps getting better. The experience has definitely been worth it, and I would hope that everyone could be as fortunate as I, to find that special someone and have the opportunity to spend the rest of your lives together.

Unfortunately, not everyone has had that opportunity over the ages. In some societies it was (and still is!) normal to marry a complete stranger. Royalty often married to establish alliances rather than for love, with the marriages arranged at a very young age. In some societies, if a woman is raped she must marry her rapist! I don't think that any of these make for a good marriage.

To me, marriage is all about the love. I chose to marry Jeff, and he chose to marry me, because we felt so much love for one another that spending the rest of our lives together was the only choice for us. It didn't matter who his family was or how much money either of us had; my father didn't have to give Jeff any cattle as payment; it didn't matter that our families were unconnected and that this connection brought no new prestige to either side. Neither family gained anything but a new family member to love. Our religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds were irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was the love we had for each other, the love that we continue to nurture in our hearts, the love that has grown even bigger over the years!

We had a big wedding, inviting everyone we knew and could tolerate. The wedding was held at the Loudoun House, the home of the Lexington Art League, and my mother, licensed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky to perform marriages, signed the legal papers. (Actually, my sisters were the witnesses on the marriage license. The license makes it look suspiciously like a shotgun wedding but I can assure you that was not the case.)

While there were religious elements to the wedding (for example, Jeff's brother gave a very moving prayer), it was overall a non-religious wedding. It was more like a ritualized statement in front of all these people (and God, for the one of us who believes in God) that we were committing to a life together. Marriage is not exclusively a religious condition; the state recognizes the commitment of the religious and non-religious alike. I was glad that it was possible to have our relationship, our commitment, and our love for one another legally recognized.

What is most unfortunate is that not everyone can marry the love of their life, even in this land of freedom. How would you feel if legal technicalities kept you from becoming family with the person you love?

It used to be that anti-miscegenation laws prohibited marriage between people of two different races. Based on an interpretation of the Bible (the story of Phinehas in particular) asserting that the different races of people were not meant to mix, these laws were upheld until 1967 when the Supreme Court overturned Virginia's "Racial Integrity Act of 1924" in their unanimous decision on the case Loving v. Virginia. The Lovings were an inter-racial couple originally residing in Virginia who had gone to Washington, D.C. to marry, in an attempt to evade Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws. Upon their return to Virginia they were tried and convicted, and sentenced to one year of prison, which would be suspended if they left Virginia and did not return. The couple moved to Washington, D.C. and from there began a lawsuit that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, however, they lost several appeals, including one in which the law was upheld because it was discriminatory against people of all races, so therefore was not discriminatory. In the end, the Lovings prevailed, with the Supreme Court ruling unanimously on their side. Although all anti-miscegenation laws were thereby invalid, the last one on the books, in Alabama, was repealed by referendum in 2000, with only 60% voter support for the repeal! (source:

Physical characteristics such as race are irrelevant compared to love, when it comes to choosing whom to spend the rest of your life with. What I love about Jeff is his personality, not the color of his skin. He would make me feel the same way whether his skin was white, black, or orange!

While anti-miscegenation laws have been repealed, there are still laws prohibiting two unmarried people who are in love from marrying one another. Couples who are of the same sex are not allowed to marry, which is truly a travesty. Why should they be denied the same opportunity for bliss that Jeff and I have been afforded?

There are many people who express Biblically-based opposition to same-sex marriage. I am not a biblical scholar so I will not debate the validity of this interpretation, except to note that there are scholars and earnestly religious people who draw completely opposing conclusions from the very same Bible. That being said, their opposition comes from their interpretation of the Bible and while they are free to interpret the Bible in any fashion they choose, their freedom ends where my freedom begins, which is outside their churches and homes.

If you don't want same-sex marriage, then don't marry someone of the same sex. If your church is opposed to same-sex marriage, then don't perform same-sex marriages in your church! But permit those who would like to marry a partner of the same sex do so in a secular ceremony. After all, heterosexual non-believer couples can marry in a secular ceremony! Jeff and I were not married by a minister, although religious rituals such as prayer were performed at our wedding ceremony. Religion does not control secular heterosexual marriage (beyond prohibiting non-believers from marrying in that particular religion), and its control should not extend to secular marriages of any kind.

Well, Rebecca, you may be saying, if we allow homosexuals to marry, the next thing that will happen is that people will be wanting to marry their cats. I think this slippery-slope argument is silly; the line should be drawn where the involved parties are able to give legal consent. That's why we prohibit child marriage and why we should continue to prohibit human-animal marriage.

The real slippery-slope argument that people should be concerned about is plural marriage. Personally, as long as consent is met, I don't have a problem with plural marriage. While it's certainly not for me, there are plenty of other activities which are also not for me, and I don't see that that's a valid reason to prohibit something. I mean, I don't like cream cheese, but I don't think that my dislike of it gives me the authority to outlaw the consumption of cream cheese. Sky-diving is also not for me, but many people get great enjoyment out of it. Why should my personal preferences prohibit someone else from having happiness in their life? Obviously, I'm not talking about something like someone who takes great pleasure in murder. I'm referring to people who want to participate in an activity that brings them pleasure and harms at most themselves.

If homosexuality is indeed a sin, it is a sin that harms only those who are participating in it. It doesn't make any difference in my life whom the letter carrier spends his life with or whom my professor loves. If their behavior ensures them a one-way ticket to an unpleasant afterlife, that's their problem. Assuming I'm not on that route myself, I'll be having such a great time in Heaven that I won't hardly know that they're missing. I see nothing wrong with religious groups excluding people based on behavior that violates their religious tenets, however. But this exclusion should not extend beyond the religious group itself.

If you believe that someone you care about is sinning, tell them, pray for them, but remember that it is your belief and their beliefs may be different! We are all given free will and no matter how much we love another person, we cannot force them to behave as we wish. Otherwise, trust me, cream cheese would be a figment of someone's imagination and sky-diving would be no more than a dream. And all people, independent of race, class, religion, or sexual orientation, would be able to marry the love of their life.