Sunday, January 27, 2008

Up North

Having been away from the extended family for far too long, my wife and I decided to drive up to Saint Cloud on Saturday night for an evening of cards and board games. I actually had to turn down an invitation to play Boot Hockey from my cousin who lives on a lake outside of the Cities, but hopefully we will make it to his place soon enough to enjoy the ice before it melts. I also hoped to see my other cousins in Saint Cloud, who just moved up here from Georgia. More on that in a second, though.

Anywho, our trusty 1992 Geo Prizm brought us safely there, and turned 161,000 on the way (if we have our way he'll make it all the way to 200K and beyond). We met up with my cousin Beth and her boyfriend "S" at Caribou right away, and hung out drinking hot chocolate and coffee while we caught up on casual miscellany. Good times.

Shortly after arriving at Beth's parents' house, where Game Night was being hosted, we found ourselves awash in an array of avocado dip, popcorn, chips, juice, cheesecake, and tiny cousins running all over the place. It was a blast, which is usually the case when my extended family gets together. My grandparents continue to dominate all when it comes to card games, and we also had a great time playing Catch Phrase, Wii Tennis, and just plain ol' chatting. It was cool to see my cousin Angie and her boyfriend too. Thanks for coming, you two. :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wrapping down

Another year in the can for Camp Moses Merrill, and what a year it was. My brother Andy recently figured out that the sledding hill is around 700 feet long, and this weekend, thanks to his pocket GPS, also discovered that when soloing on a snow tube, one can achieve a top speed of nearly 27 miles per hour. I made the run dozens of times, mostly on a $20 semi truck tire tube I picked up on the way out of town from a seedy place called Saint Paul Tire just off of 35-E. While it was not the fanciest tube, and did not come with any sort of gripping mechanism such as, you know, handles, it did not lose one cubic inch of air throughout the weekend, which was a great advantage (to give credit where credit is due, though, I must offer mad props to Evan, my brother Andy, and the rest who brought Snow Tubes. Thanks, guys!). In addition to myriad solo runs, we also attacked the downhill slope in groups of two, three...even five or six, loosely tangled together with an amalgam of boots and arms intertwined enough to retain group cohesiveness until the flat spot two thirds of the way down the run, at which point all groups disintegrated in a flying mass of rubber and Thinsulate. No serious injuries this year, thank God, though my brother Tom did fly backwards into a hay bale at the bottom of the run, with his fiancee taking the brunt of the impact. She's doing fine, though, as is her camera which I mistakenly took for a ride down the hill in my coat pocket.

But the real highlight of the weekend? Seeing, and spending time with, lots of good people. All my brothers were there, and many of my friends from high school and college including one I have not seen in quite some time. He even brought his 15 year-old brother, with whom we all got along quite well and whose presence we greatly enjoyed. This was our eighth trip to the cabin as a group of friends, and the weekend was spent actively enjoying one another's company an hour away from civilization, fueled by a near-endless supply of frozen pizzas (all purchased by Evan and his wife. Thanks, you two!), hot chocolate, popcorn, and gummi bears. Thanks for another great trip, everyone. And here's to many more.

I should also say a special thanks to Sarah, who went to Lincoln with us and spent the weekend enjoying the amenities that my more or less adoptive hometown has to offer, such as (what else?) Amigo's, Valentino's, and my eminently hospitable parents. The three of us, on Sunday night after my return from the cabin, even had time to spend a few hours with my sister and her husband, for which I was very grateful.

Ok, I'm out like trout. Time to wrap this up and down some more Fiery Habanero Doritos before heading to bed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

If you can't stand the cold,

get out of the state, I guess. Well, it's more incidental than that, I suppose, but the fact remains that in just over 17 hours we will be on the road to (where else?) Nebraska, but for a slightly different reason than usual. This weekend marks the 8th annual Camp Moses Merrill trip, when over a dozen of my friends and I go to a cabin an hour north of Lincoln and spend the weekend sledding, watching movies, eating profusely, playing football, ultimate frisbee, and capture the flag, and a host of other of these sorts of activities that are best enjoyed with good company and topped off with a roaring bonfire. My wife is going to stay back in Lincoln along with Sarah, who is joining us for the trip, and will likely indulge in a vast amount of relaxing and having fun with the girls. Should be a nice weekend all around.

Meanwhile, in the Twin Cities, the high temp for Saturday is projected to be negative two degrees. Ouch. The wind chill for Sunday is supposed to be negative forty. So I'll raise a mug of hot cocoa for my Minnesota peeps before launching down the 700 foot sledding hill. See y'all in a few days.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Icing on the Lake

One nice thing about winters in Minnesota is the shortcuts that become available from time to time. Last night we spent a few hours playing Catch Phrase and Loaded Questions at my cousin's house, which is right on Coon Lake, about a half hour north of the Cities. When we left, though, we chose a slightly different route which, rather than circumnavigating the lake, took us right across it instead. Our entrance was at the boat access on the west side of the lake in Thielen Park, and we drove a little more than a mile to another access on the east side. All in a 1992 Geo Prizm (front wheel drive, for those following along at home), no less.

View Larger Map

Edit: I should probably mention that we chose to make the drive after finding out that two of our friends who live near the same lake, and were also over at my cousin's house, drove across the lake to get there. We followed them home on their way back. As for the thickness of the ice...hey, it's winter in Minnesota. :)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Unlearn what you have learned

More than two years ago my cousin Eddy told me about a keyboard layout I had read of from time to time but never gave much credence to. It was called the Dvorak layout, and it was a way of typing that was, so he said, far easier than the standard keyboard on computers and typing implements. He suggested I learn it, which I tried to do, but never really stuck with it.

Most keyboards are called QWERTY keyboards because of what the first five letters in the top row spell. The layout is not based on anything very scientific, and one can see this by giving a keyboard even the most cursory examination. The home row, where your fingers rest (on the asdf and jkl; keys) contains one vowel. One. And a semicolon? When was the last time you typed a semicolon? Well, a guy named Dr. August Dvorak invented a keyboard layout in the 40s that is based on the most logical and efficient use of the keys. All the vowels are on the home row and can be typed with your left hand. All the most frequently-used consonants are also on the home row and can be typed with your right hand. Keys are placed in a way that creates the best use of your hands, and even puts often-used letters near the stronger fingers of the hands.

Only trouble is, it's hard to rewire the brain once it has learned a process, even if the new process is better.

Anyway, at work I literally popped the keys off my keyboard and rearranged them to be in the Dvorak layout. I am going full-force on this, trying to type in Dvorak as often as possible even though it is, right now, extremely slow. I'm optimistic, though, and by my birthday I hope to be typing as well in Dvorak as I can type in QWERTY. That's the goal, at least. :) And Eddy, if you read this, make sure to hold me accountable to it!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Preserving and Remembering

It's nice to be back in a routine after being out of it for a little while, and as much as I would have liked to stay on vacation even longer over Christmas break, it has been pleasant in many ways to return to life as normal. I still have a bit of trouble waking up early, but the odd thing is, on weekends I can hardly sleep past 8 even if I try. Just a few years ago I could easily sleep to 10 or 11, and in college...well, take a guess and you're probably not far off. I guess I just feel restless on the weekends, as if I need to get up simply for the sake of being productive somehow, even if it's nothing more than taking out the trash or posting on me blog. But after two weeks of, more or less, lazing about and taking it easy, I suppose a return to routine is probably a good thing.

Last night my wife and I were talking about the research papers we both had to do in high school, so I went to see if I could locate mine on my computer. See, when my parents got a Mac LCII in the early 1990s (Mom, if you read this...when did we get that computer, anyway?) I was allocated (by way of my brother Andy and I more or less agreeing to voluntarily partition the internal 80 megabyte drive amongst ourselves and the rest of the family) a share of the computer's storage space, on which I kept myriad papers, letters, programs, writings, games, and other minutia. Well, by today's standards, anyway. My school assignments accumulated over time, and were transferred to our iMac in 1998, and then to my own iMac in college, and now to my eMac which dutifully resides, albeit rather humbly, in our apartment. So I have all kinds of school papers and personal letters and whatnot going clear back to when I was 12 years old. And it is all, very literally, just a few clicks away.

Anyway, as for the research paper, I did locate it after just a few minutes of searching, and spent the next 45 minutes going through all kinds of school assignments. The cool thing is that it's all preserved in a way that takes up virtually zero storage space (less than a few MP3s) and it's extremely fast to access and sift through. In the next few days I want to post some excerpts from such gems as my 11th grade report on tapeworms, my 7th grade ballad of the Brothers Wright, and even some letters to my cousins, which I think you might find enjoyable.

That is, if I don't sleep in too late or get distracted with Mario Galaxy. :)

And in quick other blogworthy news, we made delicious lasagne tonight. It's a recipe that my wife got from a friend when we got married, and though it lacks meat, it is just about one of the most tasty entrees I have ever had. And it's not even broasted. :)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Go to the mattresses

Hotels with the finest linens,
Soft and gentle as a swollen dandelion,
And billowing pillows, twice as delicate.
Cushioney beds in parents' basements,
fashioned of sentimentality
And memories.
None are quite so quiet
And simply stately
And completely comfortable
As my own bed.

It was a good Christmas break, but tomorrow it's back to the grindstone, so to speak. However, I suppose there is some intrinsic value in simply having a routine to come home to.

Last night we spent the evening with our good friends Jon and Sarah, and had a nice dinner at a local cafe about a mile from our apartment, followed by some Wii Bowling during which my Pro status was lost and subsequently found. We capped the night with a viewing of The Little Mermaid, courtesy of Sarah's amazing DVD collection. I even remembered the words to a good portion of the songs. But wow, Usurla is freaky.

It was so nice out today that we went on a good ol' fashioned walk through Como park, though its green carpet had been replaced with a white coat of winter down. I also made a jalapeno grilled cheese for dinner and changed my choice of dipping sauces to ranch dressing in lieu of my usual ketchup or buffalo wing sauce. And as I write this, nursing a flat Coke from a clearance Target glass, I think about how good things can be sometimes.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


The thing about visiting up here in winter is that it's very cold, but not very snowy. Temps are about the same as back home, which is to say the mercury hovers somewhere from zero to just below freezing during this time of year, but the air is dry and the snow is nowhere to be found. Well, scratch that. It's on the mountains, as one can easily see from anywhere in Helena, but it usually stays far away from the town itself. My wife's stepdad says it has to do with the mountains around town sort of choking off precipitation from the clouds as they roll in from the west, which sounds logical enough. In any case, it's nice to have a change of pace for a little while during mid-winter. When we got back from Lincoln last week our other car, left in the parking lot of our apartment for the duration of our brief sojourn, was covered with nearly a foot of snow.

So far, 2008 has been much the same as 2007. We went to a New Year's party on the eve of the calendar's yearly iteration, which was hosted by a friend of my wife's parents who lives just down the block. We had a few hours of good conversation and excellent food, though we left two hours before the new year was actually upon us. Instead, we rang in 2008 with some Star Trek DS9 and a few glasses of water, or possibly pop. I can't remember. Either way, it was a nice time for someone like me who isn't always up for grand parties and celebrations, and often (but not always) prefers to spend such temporal landmarks with a few close friends or family members.

Today we have to run a few errands, one of which is going to be a trip to a computer store to snag a pair of Logitech 2.1 speakers for my wife's parents' Mac Mini. We saw them a few days ago, and while they won't blow the walls down like some other 2.1 setups, these should be plenty good enough for what her parents need. I also hope to make more progress in combating my cold, which has been plaguing my sinuses (sinii?) since we got here. I am rather averse to ingesting cold medicine, because I figure if my nose is plugged up it's because my body is trying to rid itself of the cold by any means necessary, and stopping the symptoms of a cold will only prolong its overall duration. So I have been drinking water and juice by the gallon, and taking lots of Vitamin C to boot. Although, last night I took some Mucinex, which helped me sleep exceptionally well. When you can't beat 'em, well, you know...

Oh, and one more thing, mostly for my brother Phil: At the New Year's party I was talking with this lady who was from, honest to goodness, Lynwood, Washington. When I told her who was also from her hometown, she about freaked out. :)