Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving Adventures

We had a good holiday weekend.  I stayed home on Wednesday so that I could cook for our Thanksgiving dinner.  I went grocery shopping and made an apple pie and cranberry sauce that day.

Then on Thursday morning I put the turkey plus some carrots, parsnips, and the appropriate herbs and spices in our super-deluxe oven on the slow-cook setting before we left for a Thanksgiving-day race.  The entire family participated in a fun run, and Vinny got a medal upon completion of the race.  We headed back home and we continued cooking: rolls (made from my favorite leftover oatmeal bread recipe), corn pudding, fresh beets and greens, macaroni and cheese for Vinny, and Jeff's broccoli casserole.

The turkey was delicious -- very moist and falling off the bone.  I'd never tried parsnips before but I liked them.  I ate all the beets because I am the only family member who actually likes them, but Jeff tried some of the beet greens and thought they were good.  Vinny feasted on macaroni and cheese, rolls, and cranberry sauce.  We all enjoyed the pie for dessert, but especially Vinny, because it was an "X" pie (lattice top).

My dad and bonus mom arrived on Friday and we enjoyed some of their leftovers and ours, plus Italian roasted pork loin, for dinner.  They came so that we could go to a football game together on Saturday -- the annual Kentucky vs. Tennessee game, which is always held on Thanksgiving and which Kentucky has consistently lost for 26 years in a row now.

On Saturday morning we got decked out in layers of clothing (blue of course!) and headed to the game.  We had a pretty good view of the field despite being near the top of the stadium.  The stadium was filled with a surprisingly high proportion of people wearing blue.  It wasn't half, but it was more than a third.  We had a good time even though our team lost.

Dad and Marvis left after we had dinner.  On Sunday we went to the same Christmas tree farm that we went to last year, and cut down a tree.  We are slowly decorating it -- I got the ornaments and lights down from the attic last night, and we have put a few strands of lights on it as a reward for good behavior in everybody's favorite four-year-old.  Tonight I plan to make a 25-link paper chain like I did last year for him, to illustrate the countdown to Christmas.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Little Nerd in Training

So, while Vinny was staying with his grandparents, my dad was walking with him through a parking lot, where Vinny proceeded to rattle off the make and model of every single car.  If he could identify cars, Dad thought, then surely he could learn to identify trees too.  So that week, Dad helped Vinny to create a leaf collection and learn all the leaves.

There are a couple dozen different leaves in that book, and Vinny knows them all.  He can flip through the book and rattle them all off, but also he can identify them out of order or even outside of the book.  He took the leaf collection book to school and showed it during show and tell.  His teacher was amazed by his leaf knowledge, and so am I.  I think that at this point, he can identify more leaves than I can.  The mind of a four-year-old is like a sponge!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Travel and Home Again

We took Vinny to his Grandparents' house on the Wednesday before we left for the conference, because we wanted to take a CPR/First Aid class on Thursday.  We did, and are now both certified in CPR and First Aid, at least for the next year.

We left on Saturday, driving to New Orleans.  We spent one night in a beautiful new hotel for a bargain price (the gubmint rate, since I was on business travel!) before arriving mid-afternoon.

Jeff had a great time in New Orleans -- he explored the French Quarter and went on a cemetery tour.  I spent the majority of my waking hours in the convention center, although I did get a chance for an evening beignet excursion to Cafe du Monde, and to go out to dinner one night with my boss and his wife (and Jeff too), and another night with Jeff alone.  I tried a lot of new foods, including rabbit, which tastes like a cross between chicken and pork.

Finally the conference was over, and before leaving New Orleans, we went on a swamp tour.  We saw lots of alligators and other creatures, and we got to hold a baby alligator.  Then we started driving.

We stayed in that same hotel at the same gubmint rate -- unfortunately I suffered a migraine when we got out of the car for dinner, so Jeff made the executive decision to stop.  We arrived home on Saturday evening -- only to get up early the next morning to go pick up Vinny.

We spent the afternoon with Jeff's sister and brother-in-law, allowing Vinny to play with his cousins.  It was a lot of fun, especially for Vinny, but we had to leave earlier than we would have liked, to make it home at a decent hour.  I was terrified that the migraine would make a reappearance, but luckily I remained migraine-free.  This morning marked the return to our regular schedule -- Vinny to school and me to work.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Prepping for the Conference

Remember last November, when I was the signage chair for a major conference in my field, and how exhausted and burned out I was, and how I said I wasn't going to do anything for the conference this year?

Yeah.  Uh, so, I didn't exactly keep my promise to myself there.  I'm not doing anything as hard or involved as that, but I am one of the judges for a student competition, a speaker for the part of the program aimed at attracting minorities to the field, and I am presenting a session (along with two of my colleagues) at the conference.  Also, I was asked to help some students who won a prestigious fellowship find their way around the conference.  (I was also told I should use this as an opportunity to recruit shamelessly for my employer, so I have them all set to meet some Important People from my workplace.)

The conference is in New Orleans, which is just close enough to drive to (although far enough that it is still a big trip).  Jeff is going with me, and we are once again leaving Vinny with Grandma and Grandpa, who were kind enough to look after him once again.  Unfortunately, their house is in the opposite direction that we need to go, making the trip about six hours longer each way (since we have to go there and back once each way).  But I think Vinny will have a good time, and so will Jeff, exploring the city.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Electric Car Update

A few weeks ago I got an in-home inspection to determine whether I was eligible for a free charging dock for my Nissan Leaf.  And it turns out, I am!  So, that's $1500 that I don't have to spend to install a charger.

The charger is at the same high voltage level as the plug that connects to your range or your dryer, and it takes about 8 hours to charge the car from 0% to a full battery.  Using a regular wall plug, it would take 18 hours.  Using a fast 400-Volt charger, it takes about 30 minutes to charge from empty to about 80%, but that's not what they install at your house.

It'll cost me a dollar at most to fully charge my battery.  My employer is installing special charging stations at work, so I may charge even less than that at home.

And I am now able to order my Nissan Leaf!  I am really excited about it.  I talked to the dealership last week.  The good news is, they are not tacking anything onto the price above the MSRP.  The bad news is, I'm not sure when the car is arriving.  Depending on when I get it, I have to make different financing plans.  I'll be eligible for a $7500 tax rebate, but if it comes after January 1, then I'll have to wait a while before I get my money back, and the car payment for a (roughly) $35K car is not cheap.

So, I have to talk to the salesman and find out when it arrives.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be December 31 or earlier.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Solution for Sweet Potatoes

So, our CSA is over, but we still had a bunch of sweet potatoes left from it.  I was trying to figure out what to do with all those sweet potatoes, so I turned to my trusty cookbook, The Joy of Cooking.  Imagine my delight when I saw a recipe called "Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew."  And it got bonus points because it called for zucchini too!

In addition to using ingredients I had too much of, it sounded like an interesting combination of flavors.  It calls for bell peppers, jalapenos, ginger, and garlic, sauteed in peanut oil (I substituted sunflower oil).  Then you add chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes to that, before stirring in the sweet potatoes, some tomato paste, and enough water to cover the veggies.  You let it simmer for 45 minutes while you cook up some ground beef or turkey, which you add after the simmering, along with the cut-up zucchini.  The final step is to combine some of the stew liquid with some peanut butter, and then stir that into the stew and simmer.  You can eat it plain, or over couscous or rice.

I made it last weekend, and boy, was it ever delicious!  It was kind of spicy but not too bad for me, especially with the couscous.  We liked it so much that I'm making a double recipe of it right now, and we're going to freeze some of it for later. Thank you, Joy of Cooking, for this recipe!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

New Shoes!

This past weekend, I got some new running shoes.  I realized, when I was stretching before the night race early last month, that the bottoms of my shoes were so worn out that they were slick!  So I went on Saturday and bought a new pair of shoes.

My old ones were okay, but they rubbed a little too much on my little toes, so I got a new pair that was wider in the foot.  The problem is that they are also wider in the heel which makes me feel a little like my foot is going to come out of the shoe, unless I tie them in a special way, the runner's tie.  (By the way, can I just say, that website is cool and there is some awesome math behind shoelaces and tying knots/bows!  Also, there are some really interesting ways to lace up your shoes there.)

Anyhow, I'll let you know how they work out for me.

Monday, November 01, 2010


So, I recently signed up for a free month's trial of Netflix, with streaming video that we can get on our Wii or on our computers.  So far I am enjoying it a lot, but it has prompted us to discuss movies a lot.

One thing we were thinking about is sequels, how they are pretty much never as good as the first movie, with a few notable exceptions.  The sequel has to be substantially different from the original in order to be any good -- it can't just be a rehash of the same plot, as so many sequels inevitably are.  It's like trying to repeat the same experience again, and it just can't be done.

It's kind of the same way in life, too -- the novelty of an experience is part of the experience, and a repeat performance lacks that novelty.  Sequel-makers can't be blamed for trying, I guess, but at the same time they should know it will never work.