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.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Good News!

I'm sorry that I haven't posted much on here, but I've been really busy with work. I can't post from work (well, I could, but I get so busy and also I don't think they'd appreciate me using gubmint resources in that way) and then when I get home I am usually so worn out that I can't do much more than sit around and stare at the television. Growing a baby is hard work, and I spend all my extra energy on my job.

But all the hard work on my job has paid its dividends. I'm not a staff member yet, but my boss told me last week that he's renewing my contract (which was expected) and giving me a generous raise (which was not expected)! So I am pretty excited about that. I hate to brag (for reasons that deserve their own post) but I have to say I believe that I am now the highest paid postdoc in my building. I may even make more than the incoming recipient of the named postdoctoral fellowship, after this raise. I was fortunate to have had that competing job offer which forced them to raise their offer by more than a third.

Women make a depressing 76 cents on the dollar to what men make, on average, but I think I am the outlying exception to that. I have been told that I am the highest-paid postdoc (with the exception of the named postdoctoral fellowship) by a long shot, and I get a certain pleasure from knowing that the only woman in the department makes a dollar on the 76 cents her male colleagues of similar experience make!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

George Ryan

On Monday, I was sitting at the lunch table waiting for my co-workers to get through the cafeteria line when this guy came up and asked me to watch his laptop while he went through the lunch line. I guess he thought he knew me or something but I definitely didn't know him. But I agreed to watch his laptop and after he got his food he came and sat down with us. I didn't mind although it was certainly bizarre. He was a visitor from Argonne National Lab, here for a workshop of some sort. I had a good time chatting with him about all things Illinois, such as the current political situation and the general state of things in my former home state. As it turns out, the current governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, is running for re-election against Republican candidate Judy Baar Topinka, and he has a pretty good chance of winning, because he's managed to associate her with corrupt former governor George Ryan. So then I asked him how ol' George Ryan was doing, seeing as when I left Illinois in September, he was scheduled to stand for trial soon.

For those of you playing along at home and lacking knowledge about Illinois politics, George Ryan was Illinois' Secretary of State for several years before he was governor. While he was secretary of state, he supposedly used state employees to work on his campaign on the state's dime, embezzled lots of money from his campaign funds, and traded bribes for leases and commercial drivers' licenses, some of the many charges against him. A truck driver with one of these undeserved licenses got into an accident in 1994 that killed six children. In 1998, George Ryan was elected governor, much to our consternation, even without knowledge of these allegations against him. Basically there was not much of a selection in the gubernatorial race, but at least he seemed to be the lesser of the two evils. Still, it was kind of scary because both candidates were vehemently pro-death-penalty and anti-choice.

But when he got in office, George Ryan seemed to have quite a change of heart. His tough stance softened, particularly after he began to see the inherent corruption in the justice system. Of the inmates on Illinois Death Row, thirteen had been put to death and twelve had been exonerated. In 2000, George Ryan placed a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, so that the system could be studied. He was still in favor of the death penalty, but he realized that the system did not ensure that the penalty was given to the right person.

Ryan's tenure as governor was marred by allegations of corruption. Prompted by investigations into the 1994 accident, scandals in the Secretary of State office were uncovered. As the investigations continued, people closer and closer to him began to be convicted and his popularity declined. He decided not to seek re-election as it became increasingly obvious that the investigation would soon reach his closest associates and ultimately him. Days before he left office, George Ryan commuted all the sentences of the inmates on Illinois' Death Row to life in prison.

As it turns out, George Ryan was found guilty on all 22 counts! He is due for sentencing sometime next month, and faces up to 20 years in prison. I doubt that they will give this 72-year-old man twenty years, but I think he will probably be sentenced to serve some time in prison. I am glad that justice will be served.

I have mixed feelings about George Ryan. He is obviously a deeply troubled man, who, despite embezzling millions of dollars, squandered it all. He was a man who evidently never thought through the consequences of giving out drivers' licenses to people who didn't know how to drive. But, to his credit, he was also a man who kept growing and learning, who realized that the death penalty system in Illinois was unjust, and used his power to bring the issue out into the open and fix it as best he could.

Some of his critics say he took on the death penalty system to distract from the scandals. Obviously I have never met George Ryan so I cannot be 100% sure, but I really don't think this is the case. I think he's not that disingenuous. I think he's an imperfect human being, just like the rest of us. It's so easy to categorize people as "good" or "bad," but I think George Ryan is hard to place in either category. He's a prime example of a person who is not an inherently evil person, but has performed some evil acts. No one is pure saint or pure sinner.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Adventures in Occupational Therapy

On Friday, I had my first occupational therapy appointment. The occupational therapist tested my hand and arm strength, and determined that I may have lost some strength in my left arm, but not very much, because it was still slightly stronger than the other arm. She asked me to tell her what activities caused pain, and she had me put my arm in various positions to see how it felt to me. We discussed some changes I need to make in my daily activities, and she gave me some exercises to do.

I told her some of the most important activities in my life that are painful: writing, holding things, opening doors, steering the car, sleeping (my arm wakes me up at night), cooking (in particular, stirring). She told me to keep alert for other things that are painful, and I have realized that taking a shower (especially pouring shampoo from the bottle), getting dressed, brushing my hair, and eating left-handed are also painful.

For my exercises I am supposed to stretch the affected tendon by pushing my wrist back while holding my arm out straight, eight times for a count of three seconds, then I am supposed to massage my tendon perpendicular to the direction of the fibers, and then massage it with ice for one to three minutes. I'm supposed to do these exercises three times a day. I've been trying to do them regularly but it's kind of tough to do it at work.

Another thing she did during the appointment was to give my elbow a localized medicine treatment. The shot the doctor gave me in December was helpful, but it's also kind of bad for your joints and also the medicine spreads throughout your whole body. But there's this treatment that she gave me that was totally cool and I have to describe it to you. Normally your skin won't let much of anything permeate it. That's its job, after all. But if you run a current through the skin, then molecules of this medicine can permeate through your skin and into the elbow. So she put this one patch containing medicine on my elbow where it hurts, and then she put this other patch without medicine on my upper arm right on top of a big muscle. Both patches had electrodes on them. Then she attached these alligator clips to the electrodes and hooked me up to a current for 15 minutes. She warned me that it would feel like a bee sting. Personally I thought it felt a lot like stinging nettles, which is irritating but it doesn't really hurt too much. She said she can do up to eight of these applications for one treatment. It takes more applications to work, but it's not as hard on your body as the shot.

She was impressed by the amount of scar tissue that my tendon has built up. When she looked for my medial epicondyl (the place where the tendon connects to the humerus) on my right elbow, she found it easily, but she had a hard time finding it on my left elbow because it was obscured by all the scar tissue. So I don't know how successful these treatments are going to be. But still, I plan to keep trying them and hopefully they will at least help. The surgery requires six months of recovery, and even then it might not even help. So I will go along with the conservative treatments until the doctor determines that it's just not going to work. Then I'll think about the surgery, and probably (since I am desperate) give it a try.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Adventures in Math and Pregnancy

One of my devoted fans (okay, my sister!) recently made the following request:
Hey, there hasn't been much math on this blog recently. Here's a challenge: come up with a topic that's about math AND pregnancy (just 'cause I find the pregnancy really interesting!)

Ha! I knew it! Somebody reads this for the math! (Either that, or she's trying to ruin my life.) In either case, I am too much of a math junkie not to talk about math when asked. (Maybe this entry will ruin her life instead of mine!)

It seems logical to take this opportunity to talk about probability and statistics and their relationship to genetic inheritance. As you probably know already, a sperm and an egg fuse into an embryo, which divides a lot and eventually becomes a baby (assuming all goes as normal). A human being usually has 46 chromosomes in each cell, and half the genetic material originates from each parent, meaning that the mother contributes 23 chromosomes and the father contributes 23 chromosomes. The chromosomes can be paired into 23 pairs of like chromosomes.

Chromosomes in a pair basically look alike, except for in the 23rd pair, which is the one that determines the sex of the baby. Females have two X-shaped chromosomes, while males have one X and one Y. So everyone inherits an X chromosome from their mother, and the father's contribution to this final pair is what determines their sex. There is a 50-50 chance that any given sperm carries an X or a Y chromosome.

Chromosomes are tightly coiled strands of DNA, and contain sequences called genes that "control a hereditary characteristic." As of 2001, scientists believe that humans have 30-40,000 genes.

There are many ways in which genes can control what we are like. Some traits are a result of simple inheritance, in which a single pair of genes determines the outcome. Usually there are two possible traits, and one is dominant over the other, meaning that a person having one of the dominant gene and one of the recessive gene will express the dominant trait. The actual genes a person has is known as their genotype, and the expression of those genes is known as their phenotype. For example, I was talking about the fact that I am Rh-negative. What this means is that my blood lacks a certain protein that the blood of Rh-positive people contains. Rh-positive is dominant, and Rh-negative is recessive. For simplicity let's denote Rh-negative as (-) and Rh-positive as (+). What are the possible pairings of these two genes? We can have four possible combinations: (+) (+), (+) (-), (-) (+), and (-) (-). Since (+) is dominant, the first three combinations will be expressed as Rh-positive, and the last one is the only case of Rh-negative. What are the chances that our baby will be Rh-positive?

I don't actually know Jeff's blood type. If he's (-) like me, then our baby will be Rh-negative no matter what, because no matter which of his Rh genes he contributes and no matter which of mine I contribute, the baby will have a genotype (-) (-). If Jeff is Rh-positive, then he's either (+) (-) or (+) (+). [(-) (+) is equivalent to (+) (-).] If Jeff is (+) (-) then our baby will be either Rh-positive or Rh-negative with equal probability, because Jeff's gene is what will determine the baby's phenotype, and the chances of him contributing either gene are the same. If Jeff is (+) (+), though, the baby will be Rh-positive no matter what.

Sometimes there are traits where there is not a simple dominant gene, but two co-dominant genes and a recessive gene. For example, the genes for the A and B blood types are co-dominant, while the gene for the O blood type is recessive. I have two O genes, because I am type O. Both of my parents, however, are type A. How could this be possible?

My parents' blood phenotype is A, but their genotypes must both be AO. They each contributed their O genes to me, so that is why I have type O blood. We can use a Punnett square to see how this works. The first row of the square represents one parent's possible gene contributions, while the first column represents the other parent's contributions. The four remaining squares show the possible outcomes of their offspring's genes.


As you can see, there's a 3 in 4 chance that my parents would have an A-phenotype child, and only a 1 in 4 chance they'd have an O-phenotype child. It actually worked out this way in our family, because out of four children I'm the only one with type O blood.

A and B are co-dominant, meaning that someone who inherits the gene for A from one parent and the gene for B from another, will actually express both and have type AB blood. A person with type AB blood can never have a child with type O blood (although they could have a child with type A or type B blood).

Some traits are a result of the effects of multiple genes. For example, eye color is determined by at least three sets of genes, two of which are understood so far. One set is the brown-blue pair, where brown is dominant and blue is recessive. Another set is the green-blue pair, where green is dominant over blue but brown from the first pair is dominant over this pair. I have brown eyes. My father has brown eyes, and my mother has blue eyes. Jeff has blue eyes. So the color of our baby's eyes will be determined by what he inherits from me. The question is, what genes do I have? I know that for the first pair, I must have B-b (where B=Brown, b=blue). For the second pair, I must have inherited a gene for blue eyes from my mother, because that's all she had, whereas it is not obvious what I inherited from my father, because it's masked by the brown gene. I asked him if there was anybody in his family who had green eyes, and he couldn't think of anyone, so probably (although not definitively) I inherited a gene for blue eyes from him. This means that my eye-color genes are probably the following: B-b b-b. But since we're doing this for the math, let's pretend for the moment that my eye-color genes are B-b G-b. What are the possibilities for our child? Again we do a Punnett square, with my possible contributions along the top, and Jeff's possible contributions in the first column:

B G B b b G b b
b b Bb Gb Bb bb bb Gb bb bb
b b Bb Gb Bb bb bb Gb bb bb
b b Bb Gb Bb bb bb Gb bb bb
b b Bb Gb Bb bb bb Gb bb bb

The first two columns for our offspring are all phenotype brown, the third column is phenotype green, and the fourth column is phenotype blue. So he has a 50% chance of having brown eyes, a 25% chance of having green eyes, and a 25% chance of having blue eyes. This table is not very exciting because of Jeff's pure blue eyes. But, if I were having a baby with someone whose eye-color genes were like mine, we would get a very different result:

B G B b b G b b
B b BB Gb BB bb Bb Gb Bb bb
b G Bb GG Bb Gb bb GG bb Gb
b b Bb Gb Bb bb bb Gb bb bb

In this case, our offspring would have a 3/4 chance of brown eyes, as only the genotypes in the lower right 2 x 2 of the subtable would have non-brown phenotypes. The remaining 1/4 chance consists of 3/16 chance of green eyes and 1/16 chance of blue eyes.

Of course as I said above, scientists have not figured out all the genes that influence eye color. For example, my mother has a yellow ring in her blue eyes. What causes that? Nobody knows (yet).

There are some interesting sex-linked traits that are caused by genes on the X or Y chromosomes. For example, baldness is a sex-linked trait. The genes for baldness are located on the X chromosome, but baldness is recessive, so if a woman has one set of genes for baldness and one set for not-baldness, she won't be bald. The Y chromosome, however, does not have those genes so whatever baldness genes a man has on his single X chromosome is what he expresses. This means that a man inherits his baldness from his mother's genes, not his father's, so the best way to tell if a boy might grow up to be bald is by looking at his mother's family. There are some bald men in my family, such as my maternal grandfather, and a few of my paternal uncles, but my father has a full head of hair, so I'm thinking there's probably not a high probability that our son will go bald as he ages.

I don't know what our baby will be like but I'm interested in what you all think. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes? Brown hair, blond hair? Curly hair, wavy hair, straight hair? A, B, or O bloodtype? Rh-positive or Rh-negative? Any guesses?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Adventures in Doctors' Offices

Today I had two doctors' appointments, and made four additional appointments. At this rate, my number of appointments will grow exponentially, and I will spend all my time in doctors' offices.

In the morning I went for my monthly prenatal appointment. They took some blood because I am Rh-negative and they want to see about the antibodies. Next week I get a rhogam shot so that this and any subsequent pregnancies I may have won't run the risk of Rh disease (in case this or any subsequent baby is Rh-positive). Basically what could happen without this shot is that the if our blood mixes and the fetal blood is Rh-positive, my body will think there's an intruder and try to kill it. Also today the doctor tried to listen to the baby's heartbeat. He placed the microphone thingy on my belly, and the baby shoved it away. He tried this a few times and the baby kept shoving or kicking against the pressure, every time. He laughed and said that he knew the baby must be there and doing just fine with such a strong healthy reflex reaction. After I was done there, I made two appointments at the desk: one for my shot and one for another checkup three weeks from now.

Speaking of my belly, over the weekend Jeff felt the baby's movement for the first time. And I can see it move if I'm looking at the right time. And if you want to see how much I've expanded, here's a picture taken a couple of weeks ago (I'm even bigger now):

Anyhow, in the afternoon I went back to the orthopedist. In December, he had given me a handy-dandy shot in the elbow, which had really helped. Today, he was reluctant to do much of anything because he thinks my elbow problem has flared up because I am pregnant, like how people get pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome. But he did recommend me to have some occupational therapy, so I made an appointment for that and a follow-up appointment to see him again next month.

In the meantime, I read about my condition on the internet. As it turns out, I have medial epicondylitis, which is also known as golfer's elbow. Basically, I strained the tendon connecting my muscles to the humerus (upper arm bone) and this caused it to make lots of little tears. The tendon is made of collagen fibers all lined up together in parallel bundles, but the tears didn't heal right and now I have abnormally arranged collagen fibers and probably some scar tissue. According to the above hyperlinked website, there is a surgery for the most severe cases (I am a doctor, just not the right kind, but I think I might be a candidate for the surgery after the conservative treatments fail). What they do is open your elbow up and scrape away all the nasty fibers and reattach the tendon. Then, you have to have lots of physical therapy and it takes four to six months to heal up. Maybe after I the baby is born and nothing is working, the doctor will consider this surgery. In the meantime, I just have to endure the pain, try the therapy, and hope that something might actually work.

Adventures in Being a Visitor and Being Visited

Sorry for the lapse in posting but I have been very busy these past two weekends, busy being a bad guest and a bad host (ha ha just a little joke for you there Laura)! Last weekend my fearless sister Rachel came to visit, and the weekend before that, I visited Dad and Marvis in Lexington.

I had a good time in Lexington. Jeff spent the weekend in Louisville, visiting with his family and his high school buddies, but he dropped me off in Lexington on the way. It was really good to see Dad and Marvis and their beautiful new deck. I also got to see many bonus-relatives, including Austin, Vaughan, Brian, and Maya. On Saturday morning we went to the farmers' market downtown, and then we walked around the neighborhood because it was the neighborhood garage sale weekend. At one garage sale a woman was selling lots of baby clothes, so I came away with a dozen like-new baby outfits for a dollar each. After eating lunch with Austin, we went to see the Prairie Home Companion movie, and then to the arboretum to see Dad and Marvis' rose plot. The next morning I saw Grandma, who was in her own little world but otherwise doing well. That day she was stressing the importance of saying with pride (and proper diction) "I come from a good family." And in case anyone was wondering, you must say all three syllables of "fam-i-ly." After that we had a nice lunch with all the above-mentioned bonus relatives, and after lunch I got to talk quite a bit with Vaughan and Austin. By mid-afternoon, Jeff arrived and we headed back home to Oak Ridge.

On Thursday night, we went to pick up Rachel from the airport. She was visiting to fulfill my graduation wish: since she couldn't make it to my party last year, I requested that she come visit me wherever I ended up. I took a day off from work on Friday, and after a blueberry pancake breakfast, we went to Gatlinburg and saw the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum before heading to Pigeon Forge and Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. We all had a good time there. Jeff enjoyed the bluegrass music pre-show, I enjoyed drinking a cold, fruity drink from the souvenir boot-shaped mugs (all three of which went home with Rachel), and the show was kind of fun too: a "friendly North-South rivalry" expressed through contests and competitions, such as horse and wagon racing, chicken chasing, and ostrich-racing. If you just forgot about their description of the origin of the rivalry (originating in 1861 over different ideas about freedom) and the fact that you were being served your dinner by people dressed in Union blue or Rebel gray, it was a fun show. The food was good too, although they did not believe in eating utensils so you had to eat everything (including a whole chicken [more like the size of a Cornish hen]) with your fingers.

On Saturday Rachel joined our usual role-playing group and had a lot of fun entering the game as a not-so-bright but very kindly paladin. She thought that the gnome character was a child and pinched his cheeks a lot and the like. It was quite humorous and made for a lively game. I should also add that she made our dinner that night: a delicious lasagna. I made the dessert: lemon poppy-seed cake, which was a bit lemony for Jeff but I found it quite delicious. We were sad that on Sunday she had to leave, but she'll be back in October after the baby is born.