Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Important Question for My Vast Readership

Lately, I have been briskly walking the 5K route at my workplace with some friends. It is cold out, or at least what passes for cold in Tennessee. Let's say it's 40 F (roughly 5 C) or colder outside.

As I walk briskly, my hands get very hot. As my friends walk briskly, their hands remain cold. In fact, they have to wear gloves on the walk because their hands are so cold. When we get back to our office, my hands are extra warm and puffy, and theirs are cold. We are all sweating in our torso regions and breathing somewhat heavily from the exertion, so it's not like I'm the only one who has exerted him/herself. They think I'm a freak because my hands are so hot and swollen. I think they're freaks because their hands are so cold.

Question: What happens to your hands when you walk briskly on a cold day?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Post-Holiday Return

The holiday weekend is over and I once again return to the normal world from the fun time with my family.

Vinny was pretty thrilled with the whole concept of Christmas morning. All those presents... what's not to like, at least in principle? In practice, waiting through opening all those danged presents, that is no fun. This is one major drawback to having literally carloads of presents.

Some of the highlights of his haul included a kid-sized easel, a pirate game, and this pretend electrical board that I made for him. It's a small pegboard with a set of switches and outlets that he can attach to the board with bolts and wingnuts. I took actual electric outlets and light switches, attached each end of them to a small block of wood, and drilled holes in the wood so that the blocks would align with the holes in the pegboard. Then I also got some replacement plugs plus a few other interesting accessories (such as a plug that converts an outlet to a light bulb socket, and another one that converts it back the other way) for him to play with too.

The most exciting gift for me was a Roomba (a vacuum cleaning robot). It is supposedly a time-saving device, but in order to save time, you can't sit there and watch the thing do its work. Vinny and I are both mesmorized by it. So far I've had it clean two of the bedrooms in the house, which has been great, because it can reach under the beds a whole lot better than I can!

I made some special oatmeal for Christmas morning. A friend at work told me you can make oatmeal in the slow cooker overnight, so I thought I'd try it. You have to use steel-cut oats, not rolled oats, and they are a bit harder to find, but I found some in the "health foods" section of the grocery store (which makes me wonder, is the name of this section an indictment of the quality of the rest of the food in the store?). Anyhow, the ratio is 4 cups of liquid to 1 cup of oats. I used half milk and half water for the liquid. I put it in the slow cooker right before I went to bed, and it cooked on low all night.

It did stick to the side of the crock, unfortunately, but it wasn't too bad. Next time, though, I think I'll do a double boiler -- use a larger size slow cooker, half filled with water, and put the oatmeal in a smaller bowl inside. I say "next time" because there will be a next time -- it was really delicious and creamy. This is saying a lot because I am not really an oatmeal person.

Anyhow, I had a great time at home the past four days, and I'm kind of sad to have to go back to work this morning. But oh well. Once I get back into it, I know I will enjoy it. Thank goodness for having such a great job!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Adventures in Radar Detection

As I was driving down the highway the week before last, I got to thinking about all the police cars and their radar speed detectors I was passing. Thankfully I am not a big speeder and did not have to learn from personal experience the effectiveness of their radar guns. But it did make me curious how exactly the radar gun was used to determine a car's speed.

I knew it had to be using the Doppler Effect somehow. You know when you are driving along and you hear a fire engine or police siren behind you, and how the pitch shifts as the emergency vehicle passes you? That's the Doppler effect on sound waves.

What happens is, the wavelength of the sound gets compressed as the siren approaches you. Conceptually, the siren is producing a sound wave that peaks every so often (hundreds or thousands of times each second). In the case of a stationary siren, these wavefronts would be equally spaced, but in the case of a moving siren, the wavefronts are going to be squished together in the direction the siren is going, and spaced farther apart in the opposite direction.

Mathematically speaking, we know the wave equation: v = f, where v represents the velocity of the wave, is the wavelength, and f is the frequency. Let's suppose, to keep things simple, that you (the observer) are stationary, and the siren is moving. The frequency of the wave that you observe is proportional to the velocity of the observed wave divided by the frequency of the observed wave (i.e., fo = vo/o). The velocity of the wave is constant; the siren isn't pushing the air faster, it's altering the location and frequency of the wavefronts. So vo = v (a constant). How does the movement of the siren change the wavelength of the wave? Well, there is some amount by which the wavelength o gets changed from the at-rest wavelength ; let's call that a. So o = -a, making our equation
fo = v/(-a).

The shift in wavelength, a, has to be proportional to the velocity of the siren, vs (i.e., vs = af). We can substitute v/f for , and vs/f for a, by solving for the wavelength in the wave equation. Thus we obtain
fo = v/(v/f - vs/f)
fo = (v/(v-vs)) f.

We can go through this exercise again, with the siren stationary and the observer moving, and obtain the equation
fo = ((v-vo)/v) f,
and then combine the two equations into the more general
fo = (v-vo)/(v-vs) f.

Of course, a radar gun uses electromagnetic waves, not sound waves. When v is much, much bigger than vo or vs, then we can simplify this equation somewhat. Suppose we multiply the right-hand side, ((v-vo)/(v-vs)) f, by (v+vs)/(v+vs), or in other words, by 1. Then we obtain
fo = f (v-vo)(v+vs)/((v-vs)(v+vs))
= f (v
2 - (vs-vo)v - vovs)/(v2-vs2).

This doesn't look very nice or helpful, but since the velocities of the source and the observer are so tiny compared to the velocity of the wave, then we can cancel out any second-order (i.e., squared) terms in vo and vs:
fo = f (v2 - (vs-vo)v - vovs)/(v2-vs2) = (v2 - (vs-vo)v)/v2

So finally, we end up with the much simpler equation
fo = f (1-(vs-vo)/v).

This is the equation that is used in a radar gun. The radar gun shoots out some radio waves, which bounce off your speeding car. The frequency shift is used to determine the speed of your vehicle.

It is slightly more complicated, however, when faced with identifying the actual culprit who is speeding, as well as correcting for certain types of errors that crop up when the radar is not trained in the exact direction of the car's velocity, etc. But combining the radar gun readings with other techniques, such as observation, speed matching, etc., police are able to catch speeders with better and better accuracy.

How Radar Guns Work
Doppler Effect (Wikipedia)
Doppler Shift (Eric Weisstein's World of Physics)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Signs of Change

Driving partway across the country gives you an opportunity to get out and see things you wouldn't have otherwise seen. There are some interesting signs by the interstate near Urbana, for example, with Burma-Shave-esque rhymes promoting the benefits of gun ownership. I can't say that I completely agree with the author of these signs, but they are entertaining.

I saw another sign, this one nearer to home, on a church, which asked, "Jesus never changes, how about you?"

This sign had me thinking for a good thirty minutes. The first minute or so consisted of the obligatory jokes about underwear and odor, but then I got down to seriousness, and decided that I completely disagreed with the premise of the sign.

Leaving aside the debate for a minute about whether Jesus changed or not (which, he did!), I just don't see remaining the same as being a virtue.

Let's suppose for the sake of argument that Jesus represents perfection as a human being. Okay, then, we should all strive to become more and more like Jesus... in other words, change. And since we can never actually become perfect, we should keep changing for the rest of our lives, until we die.

But people in this country -- and our country as a whole, really -- have a mortal fear of changing. For example, if we change our opinions on something, then that means that we were wrong about something, and if we were wrong about one thing, what's to say we're not wrong about a whole bunch of things?

Indeed, what is to say that we're not wrong about a whole bunch of things? It is certainly quite a frightening prospect. But to me, knowing the truth about something is not nearly as frightening as not being able to know about it and make corrections.

For example, if I were on an airplane that had been taken over by terrorists, I think I would like to know that fact so that I can at least try to do something about it. The realization that the plane is indeed hijacked would be frightening, to say the least, but once I got over that, maybe I'd be able to do something to stop the terrorists or at least to land the plane safely. I'd at least prefer to die trying than to die cowering!

Similarly, if I harmed another person, I would want to know. The realization that I had broken my ethical goal of not hurting others would be shocking, anger-inducing, and depressing, but that way I could at least have a chance to try and make up for my transgressions, and to change my ways so it didn't happen again.

But all too often people see any kind of change as a sign of weakness. Think about how much flak a politician gets when he/she changes his/her mind on an important issue. The sad thing is, people's forced rigidity will be their downfall. When things can't fit into the boxes people use to classify life, something has to give -- either the rigid system, or their sanity. Too often it's the sanity that goes rather than the unrealistic and unhealthy worldview.

I for one know that I have changed throughout my adult life, and I am extremely glad that I have. I've developed a new outlook on life, and no longer feel worthless and depressed. I've become aware of patterns playing out in some of my interpersonal relationships, and have been able to change the course of the relationships, or if not, at least to take it a lot less personally. And I have learned so much more about compassion and become so much less rigid and inflexible as a result.

Learning from life experiences, and growing and changing as a result, seems like a better plan than not changing at all. I think even Jesus would approve!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Music I Like: Gipsy Kings

I feel that I owe the Gipsy Kings something after their epic concerts (spanning multiple states and multiple hours!) with special guest singer Rebecca, in my car on the way to and from my sister's house. Those guys kept me awake and having fun despite the flat terrain and the fact that I detest driving.

But also, they're darn fine musicians and composers. You may have heard the ubiquitous "Bamboleo" in the 1990s -- which is a fine piece of music, but I prefer some of their less popular works, which are musically deeper and more complex.

I don't understand a word that they sing, and had they actually been present at our in-car concerts, I'm sure they would have been horrified at what was coming out of my mouth. But to my own credit, had I been able to use my instrument of choice (the violin) rather than my instrument of necessity (nothing like singing to get the lungs pumping and the oxygen flowing) they might have enjoyed themselves.

Anyhow, I have told you many times how much I love a good surprise. I love a piece of music that is clearly going one direction and then veers off in another. The Gipsy Kings are very good at this. Their masterpiece in this way is a piece called "Majiwi," from their album Somos Gitanos.

"Majiwi" begins with a flute playing a sweet, peaceful little melody in C major, which is then reproduced by the solo voice, before launching into the piece as a whole. Here's the awesome thing about this piece. You know that beautiful, peaceful C-major melody that you hear at the beginning? It's the chorus of the song! They take those same notes, but harmonize it differently, for a completely different effect. In this case, we go from C major to A minor. I love it! (And since I am a sucker for minor keys, there's twice as much to like: a surprise, and it's in a minor key!)

The thing I love is that I get fooled every time. I mean, I totally know what's going to happen, having heard this piece hundreds, if not thousands, of times, but nonetheless, I get caught in this thought that a peaceful little melody on a flute cannot possibly be in a minor key. Then, halfway through the song, I find myself thinking, "How could I have ever imagined that this was a C-major melody?!?!" It's a form of cognitive dissonance that only a serious music nerd like me loves.

Another of my favorite Gipsy Kings songs is "Montaña," from Love & Liberté.

It starts out plain and simple, with a guitar playing the melody and the chord sequences that harmonize the melody, as an introduction: not quite a simple I, IV, V, I (A major, D major, E major, A major), because the Gipsy Kings are a little more sophisticated than that, but pretty close. Still, it sounds very comfortable, very beautiful, if a bit plain.

The voice begins the song, and there is a little more texture that joins in: a little rhythm, some more guitars, etc. But it is still mostly quiet and peaceful.

It is not until the 0:45 mark that the action begins. At this point, we hear a change in the direction of the song. We branch out into the minor chords in the A major scale: vi and iii (F# minor and C# minor). This change in mood is amplified by the addition of the electric bass and keyboards. The guitars begin adding ornamentation -- ascending scales harmonizing in the minor key. But the progression works its way back to major -- V, or E major, and makes it way back to the melody in major again, but not before repeating the minor portion.

The progression of the harmonies in the song is kind of mountain-shaped, the way that they do it. There are some chords in there I can't completely identify outright, but the basic sequence goes: I, IV, V, I, vi, iii, IV, V, I. That's probably complete gibberish to most of you, but there is a way that you can play the sequence of these basic chords on a piano and change (usually) only one or at most two notes per chord progression. And in doing so, the bass note (the bottom note played, but not necessarily the root of the chord), rises (like a mountain peak) and then descends. You can hear this at about the 4:20 mark of the above video -- just concentrate on the first note the bass plays per chord sequence.

There are really no Gipsy Kings songs I dislike, but I do prefer some over others. Other favorites include "Tu quieres volver," "Ami wa wa," "Vamos a bailar," "Legende," "Love and Liberte," and "La Tounga." They have some really good instrumentals -- we share the philosophy that the voice is but another instrument, so they use it in addition to guitars, percussion, keyboards, clapping, and many other things. So maybe if one of my vast blogging audience goes out and purchases one of their albums, the Gipsy Kings will forgive me for our in-car concerts, and we can call ourselves even!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Music I Like: Christmas Edition

I may be an atheist, but I still like a lot of Christmas music -- for the tunes and the associated holiday memories, of course!

Something I really like in a melody is when it has an interesting shape to it. Imagine creating a graph, with time on the horizontal axis and pitch on the vertical axis. Songs with melodies that stay close to being a horizontal line can be pretty boring. (I say "can be," because it all depends on what is happening in addition to the melody.)

Some of my favorite holiday songs that have good shapes to them include Silent Night, Joy to the World, and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

I've always had a soft spot for Silent Night. It's a very soothing lullaby (which goes well with the sentiments of the lyrics). Here's a graph of the song, almost as described above -- note number on the horizontal axis, and pitch on the vertical axis:

I unfortunately could not figure out how to get it to display this graph with the actual measure numbers on the x-axis -- this is what I get for not using an actual graphing program!

But you can see the general arc of the melody, even if the scaling of the x-axis is not quite right. At the end, we have a climatic rise followed by a climatic drop. The melody hints at this from the beginning -- "Silent night/holy night" is a miniature preview of the last two phrases ("Sleep in heavenly peace/Sleep in heavenly peace"). Likewise the middle previews this: we begin to soar with "Round yon virgin" but come back down to the baseline with "mother and child."

You can see these parallels on the graph: from about 33 on the x-axis to the end is the big finale of the melody. You can see a similar shape at the very beginning (1 to 4, repeated immediately), and in the middle (15 to about 24, also repeated).

Joy to the World takes a different shape -- it's kind of like a V or W shape. The first line ("Joy to the world, the Lord is come") descends an entire octave, the second one ("Let Earth receive her King") comes right back up. Then we have a few descents ("Let every heart" and "Prepare him room"), followed by some ascents, modulating downward (the first two "And heaven and nature sing" lines), followed by the octave-jumping and ultimately descending final phrases ("And heaven and heaven and nature sing").

The grandiosity of Joy to the World is very similar to the final movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, which follows the same octave-spanning, V-shaped melodic concept (although the symphony is more like an upside-down V, because its melody ascends first and descends second). But this octave-spanning movement up and down the scale is part of what makes many melodies very grandiose and pompous (which I don't mean in a bad way). Other examples include "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Pomp and Circumstance," and Mendelsohn's wedding march from A Midsummer Night's Dream (a staple of American weddings alongside Pachelbel's Canon).

My favorite movement of my favorite Sibelius symphony -- the third movement of the Fourth symphony -- also uses the (inverted) V-shaped melody spanning an octave, but turns the grandiosity on its head by making it a minor octave rather than a major octave. (I hope to share this symphony with you at some point -- but it is an acquired taste. The first time I heard it I was like, WTF?!?! But I gave it a few more listens and fell completely, head-over-heels in love. It is the leader on play count in my iTunes collection, and by a long shot. This is saying a lot because this symphony is more than a half hour long.)

But I digress.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen has an interesting arching shape to its melody, more like Silent Night than Joy to the World. But what sets this song apart to me is its minor key. I've mentioned before, I'm a sucker for something a little surprising or different, and this song does that by being in a minor rather than major key. It is also great fun to harmonize against, because there are so many ways you can go. I have fond memories of playing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen with my sisters when we were kids -- me on the violin, Rachel on the cello, and our younger sister on the viola or singing. Usually she would be the one to play the melody, while Rachel and I harmonized. Rachel had a good bass line that she would do, and I would tend to try something different every time. Ah, yes. Good times with music!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Back Home Again

I made it home safe and sound on Tuesday, one day later than I had planned. The delay was because when I got out of my car to pump gas, I got a migraine! Luckily, this happened right outside of my hometown, so I just called my dad and bonus mom and they came and picked me up and let me spend the night. If it had happened anywhere else I suppose I would have had to find a hotel room.

Then, on Thursday, I got another migraine! I was so angry and disgusted about that. I don't usually get them in such short succession like that. It made me feel a little worried that something is changing (for the worse).

But it hasn't been all headache, all the time, around here. (Well, okay, it pretty much has. Because even though I didn't have an aura obscuring my vision on Tuesday, Wednesday, and most of Thursday, I did still have a headache -- enough of one that I chose to wear my hair down rather than in my usual ponytail.)

It was great to be home and see my number one fans again. Jeff was relieved to be no longer single-parenting it, and Vinny just thinks I'm lots of fun, which is very affirming. Last night he and I made some gingerbread dough, which we rolled out into gingerbread cookies this morning. I used the cookie cutters of his choice (two different gingerbread people cutters, as well as the slightly less Christmas-themed shapes of hearts, flowers, butterflies, and squares) to make the cookies, which he then decorated with various candies before I popped them in the oven for seven minutes.

I used the gingerbread recipe in The Joy of Cooking, which I had never tried before, but they turned out quite well. The only problem I had was that the dough comes out of the refrigerator hard -- I had to chip away at it with a fork in order to get some pieces out. Even when it cools to room temperature it is still quite hard, and rolling the dough is a major upper-body workout -- along the same lines as sawing a gigantic squash, only you have to do it more than twice. My left arm was in a fair amount of pain by the end of the whole deal.

But, once you worked the dough, it made some fantastic gingerbread cookies. They held together better than any other recipe I've used. Vinny was able to decorate them with no problems. And most importantly, they were really really delicious. I got a chance to eat one before packing them up and sending them off with Jeff and Vinny to Granny and Granddad's.

I have the house to myself this weekend; they're coming back on Monday. I plan to spend a significant amount of time sleeping and trying to get rid of this blasted headache (yup, my hair is still down today).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Great Squash Adventure

So, at my sister's house there was a giant Hubbard squash that needed to be cooked. When I say giant, I mean a 30-pound squash. For the record, that's 5 lbs less than my 3-year-old son. It was also about 2 feet long, and 1 foot in diameter in the plane normal to the stem-to-blossom-end axis. This squash was so huge, we didn't know exactly what to do with it. First we decided to see if it would even fit in the oven:
Turns out that it did, but just barely:
The internets told us that if we baked it at 400 F for 30 minutes, it would soften and we could cut it up with a knife. The internets, however, were wrong, or at least they were talking about smaller squashes than this one, because we ended up with a hot but still very hard squash when we took it out of the oven:
Here it is on the kitchen counter, ready to have either end cut off.
So, I took a saw to it. This is the first time I've ever taken a saw to my food.
I began by sawing off one end, and let me tell you this was quite a workout.
In this picture you can see the sawdust as my cut goes into the fleshy part of the squash -- it's getting orange!
Finally I sawed through the blossom end of the squash!
I put that piece in a dish to roast in the oven.
Next I tackled the stem end. This was easier because I turned the squash to rest on the flat place where I had made the previous cut, and it was much more stable:
With that piece off, we put both ends in dishes, cut side down, and baked for about 2 hours in the 400 F oven.
Next, what to do with the main body of the squash?
I cut it open with a knife and removed all the seeds and other gunk.
I had to use a flashlight to get a good view of the cavity.
Then, we made some stuffing from walnuts, apples, and dried cranberries, tossed in melted butter and brown sugar, and spooned it into the squash.
Here's a closeup of the stuffing:
And here's the stuffed squash, ready to go into the oven at 400 F.
We baked it for 2 hours, but probably should have left it in for longer. The stuffing was delicious, though, and the squash wasn't half bad either!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Blizzards Are Good for Something

Tonight, in honor of my nephew's one-week birthday, we took advantage of the snow on the ground and made some winter treats.

First, my sister's better half and I both remembered the molasses candy from the Little House books. An internet search revealed this recipe. I don't have much experience with candymaking so I had to learn as I went what the different stages of sugar were -- we had to get the molasses and sugar mixture to hard crack stage and we didn't have a candy thermometer to work with. I think I got it to the right temperature, but it was hard to pour the stuff out in any kind of interesting designs.

Next, we made snow ice cream. We used snow, soy milk, sugar, and vanilla. That was really good too. I'd never had snow ice cream before, so it was fun to try it.

I told them, that's one advantage of living up north -- we could never make those things in Tennessee!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Words Matter

I am a proponent of using gender-neutral wordings to make documents, books, and presentations more effective and more inclusive. It grates on me every time someone uses man/men, or he/him/his as the "generic" person. This is because they are not generic. I've talked about the word "guy" before and how it is not inclusive. The same thing applies to these other words: If you were at a party and someone asked you if you knew of someone who possesses expert knowledge about optimization, supercomputing, and ulnar nerve entrapment, would you say, "He's that man right over there, wearing the turquoise blouse?" No, you would not.

If you have trouble understanding my argument, please read this piece of satire to gain enlightenment. If you're not squirming in your chair by the end of it, you may be entirely devoid of empathy for others.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

On Family

Doing the graveyard shift with a sweet little newborn in my arms has given me plenty of time to think about things. Tonight, the topic is family.

The first presidential election I was really politically aware of was the 1992 election, in which Bill Clinton was facing off against George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. During this election season, Vice President Dan Quayle made some sort of disparaging remark about Murphy Brown, a woman in a white-collar job who had a baby out of wedlock on the eponymous television show. He questioned whether the unit formed by Murphy and her baby were actually a family.

Naturally, the definition of family has evolved over time -- the so-called "nuclear family," the alleged backbone of American society, would have been decried by politicians a hundred years ago just as Murphy Brown was criticized in our time. In earlier times, it took more than a mom, a dad, and their 2.5 kids to create a family. People had always lived in extended family units -- and still do, today, in much of the rest of the world. So, family is a fluid term.

I define family as a set of people who love and take care one another. These people may or may not share genetic ancestry, although often they do.

I've been rather oblique about it in the interests of their privacy, but I am at the home of my sister and her partner. The baby in my lap is no more genetically related to me than your average person on the street. But he, and my sister's partner as well, are more family to me than many folks with whom I share ancestry. My dad's wife, or, as I call her, my Bonus Mom, is also family. Her love for my son is indistinguishable from her love for her biological granddaughter. And Vinny's godparents, although they are no biological relations, are the family members who live nearest to us. They are wonderful to him and to Jeff and me as well.

To me, family is all about the love. I have some biological family members who don't share my values and seem to be too full of fear and insecurity to be able to operate on the basis of love. Those folks I regard as relatives, but not family.

I don't have a coherent end to this discussion that ties all the threads together, because it is 3:30 am and I am sleep deprived. But basically, a family is created by the individuals within it, and not the other way around.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

More News from the Night Shift

Apparently we may experience a blizzard here tomorrow. It will snow at least six inches, possibly more, and it may blow around a lot and cause white-out conditions. Also, there's a good chance that the high winds could knock out electricity. I'm glad I'm already here, and not having to contend with that. I'm hoping that everything will be clear by the time I leave on Sunday.

We brought a bunch of firewood into the house today, just in case the power goes out. We should be able to all huddle around the fireplace and keep warm. But if that doesn't work out, I'm sure that my baby nephew will give us top priority on getting emergency shelter somewhere.

Monday, December 07, 2009

News from the Night Shift

My nephew is the cutest little thing. I had forgotten just how tiny newborns are. I was amazed and charmed by his little tiny face, his miniscule fingers and toes, and his paper-thin fingernails. I had also forgotten that distinctive newborn scent -- they really do have a unique smell about them. Every time I inhale I can take in that delicious smell.

But one thing I have not forgotten are my mad baby-wrangling skillz. I can shush and rock and put a baby to sleep like it's nobody's business. (Okay, it also helps that this one sleeps like a champ.)

I have the night shift, at least until 4, and then it's my sister's turn. I'll probably let her sleep until 6 though -- she needs it. It's just too bad that neither of us can give the nursing mom a break.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Live from Urbana

I was concerned about the weather forecast for today, because snow was promised at home.  Now, normally, snow in East Tennessee is a joke -- that is, as long as you're at the lower elevations.  But today, I had to cross a mountain -- sure, go through a mountain pass, but still, it was a concern.

The promise of snow actually delivered.  We got about 1/2 inch in our yard.  We got Vinny dressed and went outside and played in the snow with him.  Because, hey, this was going to be one of the few snows of the winter!

I left home at about 11, when I figured the roads would all be clear.  And I had no problems over the mountain at all.  When I called Jeff later that afternoon, he said that all the snow had melted by 1:00 pm.  Once I got into Northern Kentucky, the roads were completely dry.  As I drove North, the temperature kept going down, but since the roads were dry I didn't really care.  My drive was completely uneventful, except for the fact that I had the radio cranked up and was singing at the top of my lungs in order to keep myself from getting drowsy.

I got to Urbana at about 6 local time, dropped off my stuff at my aunt and uncle's house, and went out to dinner with an old friend who still lives in Urbana.  We went to this Chinese restaurant that I had really missed, where I ordered "Ants Climbing Trees."  I'm not sure what's in it, but there are no trees or ants in this dish, just some combination of ingredients that tastes really good.  I got a chance to catch up on what my friend is up to as well as some local gossip.

Now I'm back at my aunt and uncle's house, waiting for them to get home.  I plan on sleeping in late in the morning, and then making my way to my sister's place sometime in the afternoon.  She and I will talk tomorrow, to coordinate.

Friday, December 04, 2009

I'm an Aunt!

My newest nephew was born last night at about 5:30 pm. He weighed 8 lbs, 11 oz and was 21 inches long. Mamas and baby are doing well.

So, it's off to bed with me, so I can leave in the morning! I'll be spending the night in Urbana before driving the remaining 3 hours to help with the newest member of the family.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Our Little Christmas Elf

I'm not a big Christmas enthusiast, but my son is. This is the first year he's really understood what Christmas was and been able to anticipate it.

He's been wanting a Christmas tree since Halloween. So on Sunday, we went to a Christmas tree farm and cut one. He enjoyed cutting down the tree and was pretty excited about decorating it. We let him put ornaments wherever he wanted them, which meant we ended up with a couple of clumps of ornaments down at the bottom of the tree.

Normally Vinny wakes up after the sun rises, but on Monday morning he woke up before dawn because he remembered that there was an exciting Christmas tree full of lights to see.

I have other plans for him, including making Christmas cookies and a gingerbread house. I'm also thinking we might take him to a Christmas concert -- my workplace is offering discount tickets to the local symphony orchestra's holiday concert.

He's excited about Christmas and wants to know how much longer it is until Christmas every day. I thought about getting him an Advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas, but I didn't think it would really help him understand how much longer it was. A colleague of mine suggested doing something that his dad did for him -- create a paper chain where each of the links represents a day until Christmas, and then tear one off every night. I thought this was a great idea -- it's a graphic illustration of the length of time remaining.

I wrote the date and the number of days remaining on each link (e.g., Wednesday, December 2 [23]). I included the days of the week because he is starting to catch on to the days of the week. He knows that Saturdays and Sundays, Mama doesn't go to work, and he's learning the order of the days. He is really excited about the chain and it gives me something to point to when he asks how much longer until Christmas.