Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas

We celebrated Christmas in Urbana with the Smith family this year.  
Clara has been inflicted with some sort of bug.  Between periodic bouts of suffering, she's had a great time playing with cousins.
 The whole crew on Christmas morning as taken by Fereshteh.  Next year, there will be one more little in the picture (not a Knutson).
 One of Jill's good gift ideas was toy story costumes for all the kids.  Clara is a somewhat reluctant Jessie -- she would rather be Buzz oftentimes.  Janny is the weird alien guy(s?), but doesn't like to wear the hat.  Ricky and Enoch make an excellent Woody and Buzz.
Big news on my career front.  In January, I'll be working for the guy below (though I don't expect to meet him for some time).  We're super excited that (1) I'll be gainfully employed, (2) the company and job seem to be a good fit for me, and (3) we don't have to move!
For the first time in about a decade, our town has a church basketball league.  We have a ringer, so I expect that we'll be competitive.  My goals are threefold: (1) not get hurt, (2) not be horrifically sore after practice or games, (3) contribute.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

TN Thanksgiving

My allotted vacation days were burning a hole in our collective pocket, so we took the whole Thanksgiving week off and headed for Nashville.  Lots of people complain that spending time with family is stressful and exhausting, especially around the holidays.  We don't.  In fact, we relaxed a lot thanks to help with the kids and had some fun times.
We took a trip to the Nashville Zoo.  They have a fine playground near the entrance, so kids can wear themselves down a little bit before taking in the elephants, giraffes, and snakes.  The highlight of our visit was watching the cayman lizards.  One slipped while climbing a branch.  Just before plunging into the pond, she grabbed hold of the only thing in sight, by chomping on her friend's low hanging tail.  She hung there for several minutes before ultimately falling into the water.  Her friend never moved (but probably was laughing on the inside).

There was much dressing up.  Clara's favorite was a darth vader mask that talked and breathed loudly.  In the movies, he looks much taller than Clara.  Janny generally watched the 3 big kids from a distance.

Jill and I took full advantage of the available family baby sitting.  One night we went out to dinner with Matt and Lupita.  One day, we took a hike in the Cumberland area.  We hiked to 2 waterfalls.  The first was a fun surprise because we expected it to be dry.  The river bed up to the falls was dry, as in no flowing water, no stagnant water, no puddles of water.  We considered turning around and heading back (we only brought one bicycle bottle worth of water for our 4 hour hike).  About 100 yards away, we heard the falls, and then we saw them around the bend.  Very beautiful.  The stream disappears underground.
There are hills down in Tennessee.  From the valley floor to the tops is somewhere around 700 feet.  
To continue a tradition, a couple of Matt's long-time Kurdish friends joined us for Thanksgiving dinner.  They couldn't stay too long (and a wife couldn't come at all) because they had to work at Walmart on Thanksgiving night.  Boo on you, Walmart.

And now we're back home, trying to get used to cooking, cleaning, working, raising the kids, cleaning, and cleaning all by ourselves.  At work today, my office-mate hugged me.  It wasn't all that awkward.

Monday, November 12, 2012

bike ride not quite to Warsaw

An older gentleman from Jill's home church passed away last week, and Jill wanted to attend his funeral on Saturday.  After some negotiations, the plan was settled.  Jill and the girls drove to Warsaw on Friday night.  I would get there via bike in time to watch the girls during the 10 am funeral.  I left at 7 pm on Friday with 14 hours to get there (one hour time difference).  As the title suggests, I didn't quite make it.

Here are the high(lo)lights.

I didn't make it.  I got to Rochester, IN, at 7 am (CST), but called for a ride in Fulton.  In 12 hours, I had ridden about 155 miles, for 12.9 mph average including rests.  I needed to maintain 15 mph to get to Warsaw. I still had 2 hours to ride the remaining 25 miles, but I was exhausted and uncomfortable.  The first 90 miles (to Lafayette) took 6 hours.  I only traveled 65 miles during the second 6 hours.  I got off the bike and walked every 5-10 miles.  I was hurting.

The predicted wind was less helpful than expected.  First, it was blowing from the south and my route was primarily east for the first half.  When I did turn north, I traveled alongside rivers with mostly uphill roads.  Instead of my expected 20-25 mph northward speed, I was lucky to reach 15 mph.

I had few deep thoughts.  With much uncertainty in my career, I had hoped to think through some goals. Instead my thoughts cycled between 'am I going to make it?', 'why are my feet so cold?', 'why does my stomach feel funny?', and 'why am I not in [town name] yet?'.  I'm shallow.

I fear the paranormal in dark, rural areas.  I was terrified with crawling skin on 3 occasions.  First, I heard the four invisible dogs of the apocalypse sprinting towards me at mach 1 [the noise turned out to be the power line above me].  Next, as I was adding another layer of clothing to stave off the cold, a couple of dogs barked at me.  I could see their home a half mile away.  As I found my clothes and put them on, the barking grew steadily louder.  I never saw them, but imagined that any second they would appear and drag me off.  Finally I was ready and got back on the bike as fast as I could.  Then, while riding along the river road north of Attica, I saw a person/zombie leaning against a pole by the side of the road.  I didn't turn around to investigate.

At 2:30 am local time, the Steak and Shake in Lafayette was half filled with people, mostly Purdue students.

I was never sleepy.

I roughly mapped out the ride using google maps and printed out the maps.  I used them sparingly because I knew the route to Attica.  I then stuck to highway 25 after Lafayette.  The printouts were most useful as shinguards to keep my shins/feet warmer.

I used my compass twice.  Indiana rural roads decrease in number going north, and addresses decrease going east (unless I was really spaced out).  This is the opposite of our fine state.

I need to work on my eating.  I packed a bunch of random stuff -- candy from Halloween, string cheese, granola bar, almonds, dried cranberries.  I ate a double cheeseburger and fries at Steak & Shake.  I didn't eat enough.  If I try something like this again, I'll try Jan's idea of drinking ensure.  It's just hard to eat a lot of food in the middle of the night.

I rode the great Boulder Bicycle.  My headlight is a Lumotec Cyo powered by a Shimano dynohub.  I had 2 rear blinkies.  SPD clip in pedals.  Stuff was carried in a front basket.  I installed a freshly delivered set of Panaracer Pasela 32 mm tires.
I fell asleep when I was supposed to be watching the girls.  Thankfully, no one was harmed.  I slept for about 3 hours on Saturday afternoon, and then drove us all home.  After a deep sleep on Saturday night, I was felt okay but had very sore legs.  Pulling the girls in the trailer to church was tough.

During the ride I never wanted to try a ride like this again.  Now I think that if I just made a few changes, ...  I'm thinking warmer weather and daylight hours will help.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I watched a lot of the MLB playoffs during the last month (that's my excuse for not posting here often).  I grew up an A's fan, (Andy and I cut school once (very much outdone here by my friend Rick) to watch a game.  Dennis Eckersley's daughter and I were in the same english class in jr. high.  I cried when Gibson hit the hr in 1988.  I loved that the A's swept the Giants in 1989.), but due to the distance, time difference, numerous heartbreaks, and growing up have lost some of my passion for the team.  It's fun to watch such compelling games when one's heart does not fear being broken.

My parents came out for a week of watching leaves turn and kids grow.  Despite the week-long absence of stomach flu in our house, somehow both mom and dad came down with it (was it from someone else???).
I keep struggling to write about what Clara is like these days.  It must be because she is becoming her own person.  I would struggle mightily to briefly describe what Jill is like.  One thing that amuses me is that Clara corrects me when I misunderstand something she says.  She remembers events from several days ago, and often I have to jog my memory or ask Jill to what she is referring.
Notice that grandma has no injuries!  Her foot is not back to full strength and flexibility, but she's walking around without any assistance.  Derek Jeter, you're welcome to contact her if you need any input about recovering from your injury.

 With grandparents around, family portraits are possible!
Janny is our intense kid.  She gets so mad when she can't do things even if they really are above her development, like putting a hat on a lego man or putting puzzle pieces together.  She loves to explore our neighborhood.  This week, she was running on the sidewalk, and tripped and landed on her hands and forehead.  After crying for a few seconds, she wanted to get right back to it.
In local sporting news, we might have a church basketball league this winter.  We have enough players from our church, so other churches need to step up.  Cyclocross practice just didn't work out great this year as it either rained (we don't want to get in trouble with local authorities), I was sick, or we had visitors.  There's a race in Bloomington coming up that I might try.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

sick week

Last week, a stomach bug got each member of the family in successive days.  Josh and Ally came down for a visit and got it also.  Fereshteh held out the longest but still succombed.  For each person, the suffering lasted about a day and a half.

We've had some very pleasant weather this fall, so before the great wave of illness we were visiting parks and lakes on Saturdays.  Below are photos from a short hike in Busey Woods.
Clara likes play-dough and wears goggles during bath time.
Janny has some more words but her favorite is still no.  She loves to eat breakfast and to take walks.  She and I walked around our whole block together.  She laughs at physical humor and cries from not getting her way with much gusto.

We went to the Illinois-Michigan football game in Ann Arbor on Saturday.  The Illini got crushed in a dispirited performance.  We got soaked by the incessant rain, but our spirits remained upbeat, mostly because our tailgating was scheduled for after the game inside out of the rain.  Also, we may have a bad football team, but our academics remain top notch.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

another birthday

A mere 2 weeks after celebrating Clara's birthday, we were at it again.  This time, daddy turned a year older.  Great grandpa mailed a birthday card to me and of course included a couple of toys for the girls (tugboats that Janny is proudly holding).
I fear that Clara and Janny are turning into night owls.  Last night Clara needed to go potty at 11:30 (maybe she was awake until then, but we don't know for sure), and was heard running in the living room afterwards (to get more toys to play with).  As I'm writing this at 9:50 local time, they are in their beds, but Clara is playing with wooden toys and Janny is humming-singing.
Janny likes to read books now.  Yea!  Both girls like to watch Toy Story 3 every day.  Smartly, we have figured out that we can start the movie about 2/3 through.  As long as they get to see the end, they are happy.  Not sure how long before Clara protests this strategy.
To mix things up a bit for my birthday celebration, we invited lots of friends to an old fashioned pizza party, albeit with a slight twist.  Village Inn has a few video games inside, but outside there are sand volleyball courts and softball fields.  We had planned to play a little volleyball before lunch.  A few brave souls joined us to battle strong winds and rather chilly (for September) temps.  Very quickly, we were inside eating pizza and cake.
 This is how we look in fall 2012.
So far, it feels good to have a another prime number age.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

scary bridge

With a little help from google maps, I headed out (needless to say via bicycle) to a local bridge that I'd never seen before.  As I suspected, it is quite not maintained.  But surprisingly, there were no barricades on either side and no warning signs.  As a civil engineer who knows nothing about structures, I decided it would probably not collapse if I walked across.  Several planks were missing and there is no guard rail.  I was pleasantly frightened by the height of the bridge, maybe 20 feet to the stream below.
Riding across was out of the question, as I'm no Danny Macaskill.  I rode the race bike out there, so I had my fancy bike shoes.  I won't do that again.  I also have no plans to take the girls here ever.
Recent rains have decreased our drought severity to moderate (from extreme!), but the corn still remembers the hot, dry summer.  Many corn fields around here look bleak, though the soy beans seem to have done better.
Janny has been a little sick this week.  Except for a fever, she hasn't had many symptoms other than crying-all-the-time-isitis.  Somehow she mustered the strength to ham it up for the camera.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Clara is 3 now!

Clara turned 3 this week!  In her mind, she has been 3 for four months, but the actual birthday finally arrived.   There was much celebration.  In the morning, several of her good friends (and their moms) came over for the kid party.  I took a long lunch to see the 2nd half of the festivities.
Jill made this yummy cake and cupcake spread.  She also made chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal cookies which were shared with friends and neighbors at the evening open house party.  And Jill's Mom and Dad did a story and games for the kid party, plus they did a ton of cleaning and served food at the open house.  We'd have been crazy to attempt the 2-party day without them.
I am already starting to feel like Steve Martin in Father of the Bride.  It's so hard to experience the kids' big events and document/prepare for them also.  I like the enthralled looks on all the kids faces for this photo.
Turning 3 was no ordinary milestone for Clara.  It also meant that she could join a preschool class (that has been in session for 2 weeks already).  Her monkey backpack has 3 bottles of glue for upcoming crafts.
Mommy and Janny accompanied Clara for the 3 block hike to school.  Clara was so excited that she ate even less breakfast than normal.  Somehow she doesn't starve.
The verdict for preschool:  Clara loves it.  And what is not to love?  There are lots of other kids, toys, and even tricycles.  Her teacher's comment was that Clara is not shy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

mini Mi reunion

We drove up to Athens, MI, to spend some quality time with the maternal-paternal side of the family.  Since Jill is now watching an additional 2 year old on Wed and Fridays, we couldn't get on the road until after 5.  Which meant that we didn't get on the road until closer to 6.  An hour later we ate dinner at Burger King in Gilman.  Not much later, I made a wrong turn.  Later still we (except for the sleeping Janny) had to eat ice cream treats at a gas station.  At 1:45 am local time, we arrived at great-grandpa's house to a warm greeting (I think/hope that he was sleeping prior to our arrival).

On the way home, we drove during the day.  I'm preferring night driving now. At least one of the kids is asleep and we need to stop way less often.
We visited an apple orchard that was hurting for apples due to the great 2012 drought.  Our county is 9" short of rain on the year.
Fabulous cousins (now with spouse/fiancee/girlfriend) and uncles and aunts joined the reunion.  Local-boy-made-pastor Rick preached at Factoryville Bible church on Sunday morning.
Athens is super-duper rural.  Dirt roads abound.  This broken bridge means that instead of 3/4 mile between Aunt Kevin's house and great-grandpa's, one must drive 4 1/2 miles.  It's still strong enough for fishing.
On the way home, we drove across a covered bridge near Centreville.  The roof and supports are clearly not original, but it still has a wooden deck.  We saw a big green frog on a log near the river.
Only 3 days remain until our biggest kid turns 3.  She's been looking forward to her birthday for a solid 2 months.  Grandma S is planning the games for the morning kid party, and we invited a whole bunch of friends for an open house evening party.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

wet or dry

On Saturday we continued our recent tradition of visiting nice parks.  This week's destination was Homer Lake, which was upgraded this summer with a natural playscape that includes a stream with adjustable flow and a small sandy beach.  Highly recommended.
We didn't read the rules carefully before jumping right into the fun.  If you look carefully, you will see that we were breaking of them.  Shoes are required, so next time we'll bring our water shoes.
What can we say about Janny?  She says 'no' to everything even when the answer is yes.  She yells and squeals when she wants something (we are working really hard to break this habit).  She says all done after eating but will always eat at least 2 more bites as we move to pick her up.  She is fearless in her love of climbing.  She puts handfuls of dirt or wet sand in her mouth maybe just to see our reaction.  She sings "ba-ba-ba" at the top of her voice when she's riding in the bike trailer, and her smile is maybe the sweetest thing on the planet.
After playing around with potty training for several months, Jill put Clara on the potty regimen this week.  The first day was rough.  Somehow, Clara managed to poop 5 times in her undies (or only 4 if you don't count the one that rolled onto the floor).  Icky.  Since then no accidents.  #1 and #2 always end up in the potty.  We rejoice.

We visited Clara's preschool this week.  She knows that she'll be going when she turns 3.  Every day she claims to be 3.

Clara loves to try on 'princess dresses'.  When we are walking near a street she demands that we pick up Janny, saying, 'I'm very worried about Janny.'
The job search is getting off the ground.  The first two jobs that I investigated suggested that I could be paid  $90k and $40k per year, respectively.  So that's settled.  My approach to date has been to ask people I know if they know of anything.  So far, not too many bites on that end.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

St. Louis

We drove to St. Louis on Wed to meet friend from my youth Rick.  Rick loves baseball more than anyone I know -- he works for and takes vacations to watch baseball games in person (He gets to the stadium when the gates open to watch bp.  He gave one of his 6 bp home run balls to Clara.).  I'm proud to say that I once watched a game in a stadium he'll never match -- Montreal!

We picked a good game to watch, or mostly watch.  A 1-year-old and a 2-year-old in the bleachers need vigilant supervision (or ours do at least).  However, it was through no fault of Clara's that a guy in front of us spilled his beer on her bunny.  The Cards beat the Dbacks 5-2.  Clara and I were walking down a staircase when a Cardinal hit a home run.  All the girls went back to the hotel in the 7th inning.  
We stayed at the Millenium hotel which is located between the arch and the stadium.  On Thursday morning we swam in the pool and looked at the arch.
I'm getting a Manu Ginobli bald spot.
After lunch with Rick at a nice pasta restaurant, we wandered around downtown.
We waited out the super thunderstorm in a McDonalds in Vandalia, eventually getting home to some cheese, peas, and apples.
Finally, our church softball league concluded this week.  We were undefeated prior to the championship game and led by 1 run going to the last inning.  The red guys scored 4 runs in the top of the inning.  With 2 outs and a man on first, I came up to bat (having gone 1 for 3 so far) and grounded out to 2nd.  Ugh.  I was surprised how bad I felt after the game.  Generally, I don't take softball results seriously (it's softball after all!).  Probably we would have won if I got a couple more hits, and making the last out of the year is a real drag.

My hitting was super inconsistent this year.  I had a couple really good games and a couple really bad games (including the championship) mixed together with mediocrity.

After the game, a red guy asked me if we were missing any players, an indirect way of asking how we had been undefeated.  I didn't punch him.