Monday, April 27, 2009

Bidding a Fond Welcome Back To a Fellow Blogger

About six months ago I had the unpleasant task of removing a fellow blogger from my blogroll. Arby's Archives, which had been one of my daily reads (when he posted daily, that was), was no more. For some reason--which I have been coming to sympathize with--Arby just decided to up and delete his blog entirely.

Well, he's back. He may not look like Cary Grant anymore, but his much wrinklier visage hasn't dimmed the sharpness of his pen, or something. Insert your own profound-sounding metaphor if you don't like mine.

Be warned when you visit his new site, though: it appears that he and The Boss (his feminine side) decided to put their kids in public school, and judging from the tone and timber of his first three posts, that turned out to be a disaster. If the state of education is something you get worked up about easily, then Arby's new blog is so far about 75% red meat. They're planning on going back to homeschooling right quick.

(And if you also get worked up about Scouting, or about pubescent boys who haven't discovered how to combat B.O. yet, then the other 25% of the blog is also red meat.)

So without further ado, Arby's new blog is entitled Boarding In Bedlam.


P.S. Arby, I'm curious--any particular reason you went with Blogspot this time instead of WordPress? I don't have any particular reason for asking--I'm just curious.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Things To Do With Cupcakes When You're Depressed

Ok, I cheated. We're not actually depressed. We obviously wish things had gone differently, but Tonya is home and on the mend, and a great deal of future uncertainty has been removed from our lives. What we're feeling is complex, but has a whole dollop of relief thrown in.

And it doesn't hurt that we have a much higher-than-normal quantity of chocolatey baked goods at home. You see, Monday was my 38th birthday, and Tonya had both picked up a devil's food cake to celebrate, and made a huge batch of chocolate cupcakes. She had then decided to decorate the cupcakes by spelling out the words "Happy Birthday Tim" on them in frosting--one letter per cupcake, so it only spells the phrase correctly if the cupcakes are properly arranged.

So the timing of events could be seen at least in part as one of those Mysterious Ways In Which God Moves--he timed things so that we would have the maximum amount of chocolate on hand when we needed it the most.

I know, it's a minor thing... but it's often the minor things that keep us rooted in the real world when all kinds of surreal, unreal events are swirling about us. My younger brother tells of the time he and his wife lost a child three years back, how he was resenting the fact that their eldest son, who was then two, wasn't staying depressed like Daddy was. He wanted to play! He wanted to run! He wanted to splash in the bathtub! --as was appropriate for an energetic then-two-year-old boy. And somewhere along the way something clicked in Daddy's brain--maybe my little boy is the one who has things right--whereupon Daddy climbed in the bathtub right along with his boy, and they started splashing together. Note that Daddy was still wearing most of his clothes at the time. And they splashed, and laughed, and tickled, and Daddy remained sane. To this day, he still refers to his now-five-year-old boy as his hero.

So here's the minor thing that's been going on over here. See, we've had grandparents over who like cupcakes. And we have kids who (obviously) like cupcakes too. So throughout the last few days, the various letters of "Happy Birthday Tim" have been vanishing, one after another. One of the y's went away, then one of the p's..., and--well, it looked like it needed a little cheering up.

So every time I noticed a letter missing, I'd try to rearrange the cupcakes into a complete phrase. And then someone would eat another one, and I'd have to rearrange them again. Or I'd pick the next cupcake to eat, by figuring out an anagram that uses all but one letter that I couldn't get to fit. Or after a while, I'd just start rearranging them every time I went into the kitchen, just because anagrams are that much fun.


And of course, there were a bunch of cool words that I never got to use because I couldn't figure out what to do with the rest of the letters. Thus, I wasn't able to deliver any wisdom on "Parthia". But for the most part, I think I did rather well.

Ew. Not a good thing to do to your harp.

We got a book of the Arabian Nights for next year's homeschooling, and read through some of it. Some of those stories are really funny.

Don't invite he.

I bet bartenders hear the "bar paid myth" quite a bit, actually....


And if anyone does business with the M.I.B., I'll bet it's DARPA.

These are known for tormenting garden gnomes.

Well, I had letters for it...

An' da wife she slap da me.

Good that someone did. Those bartenders have to make a living somehow.

So we've been having fun with this. And I think this newfound hobby of mine has actually been cutting down on our family's cupcake consumption, because everybody has been fearful of taking the wrong cupcakes and leaving me with an unusable collection of letters, like when you have a bunch of stuff on a scrabble letter rack that just doesn't spell anything. Truth be told, I'm afraid that someone will come along and eat all my vowels.

Though it actually got easier when someone came along and ate the y's...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Baby E.

Well, this was the Big One.

Baby E. entered this world at 3:24 this morning, and left it not much more than two hours later. We did have the chance to hold her, and feel her breathe, and feel her move, before she quieted down and left us.
I apologize that these aren't the prettiest baby pictures you've ever seen; before you can bathe a baby, the baby's temperature must be above some minimum threshold, and Baby E's temperature never got high enough. But there really wasn't time to worry about making them pretty. At the time, we didn't know how much time we had with her, so we did our best to make every moment count.
Aside from being emotionally drained, Tonya is recovering from the delivery well. This baby came about four weeks early (which caught us by surprise), which meant among other things that Baby E. was much smaller than our other kids were at birth--she was only 5 lbs. 9 oz (and 18.5 inches long), as opposed to the Adrenaline Junkie's 8 lbs, 2 oz--let alone the Happy Boy's 9 lbs 7.5 oz. Under normal circumstances, 5 lbs 9 is not a big baby, but still within the normal, healthy range; but Tonya's body was accustomed to much bigger babies, and when the time came, Baby E. arrived much faster than anyone expected. The doctors had just gotten done saying that they'd be back to check on us in an hour, when Tonya involuntarily gave an almighty push and Baby E was there....

So now what?

Well, we're not entirely sure, but the first step is for Tonya to continue recovering. She should be coming home sometime tomorrow, and I'm going to be on Daddy-On-Steroids duty for a while. Thankfully, we have grandparental support to help out. When Tonya is home and has had a chance to catch her breath, then we'll start figuring out what to do. The hospital will keep Baby E. for the next two weeks, so we don't have to make any rushed decisions. That's very nice.

We have a lot of people to thank for the help they've already given. My wonderful brother and sister-in-law, Rick and Wendy, high-tailed it hither at about 9:00 last night to keep an eye on the kids, when we realized that we had to go to the hospital pronto. Then, around 10:30 when the doctors verified that Tonya was in active labor, my Mom and Dad started packing, and hit the road for the two hour drive up here, so they could relieve Rick and Wendy, so they could get some sleep for their workday. Then Tonya's parents came up this morning with the RV so they could stay with us long enough to help us get healthy and back on our feet. And, of course, there are all the people who've been praying for us since we got the Trisomy 13 diagnosis back in December; we owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.

With all the stuff we have to deal with, blogging will be irregular for a while. Not that it was very consistent before....

Monday, April 20, 2009

We're Headed to Labor and Delivery Tonight

Well, that post on Gödel's incompleteness theorems will have to wait.

Tonya has been having fairly strong contractions every five minutes for the last hour--along with a little bleeding--and we've been instructed to go to Labor and Delivery. We're waiting for our first-line-of-defense child care to show up (thanks, Wendy!), and then we're off.

Be praying for us. We don't know yet if this is the Big One or not. We've had false labors before, on other pregnancies--but not when it was our fourth one, and there are some signs that we're much farther along this time than we were in those instances. We're not sure what will happen.

So as I said, be praying for us. Thanks!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Yet More Amazing News From That Amazing State...

...which would be North Dakota, of course.

Of Course! Regular readers of this blog know that I've got a soft spot in my heart (head?) for the Land of Flat. I lived there (Minot Air Force Base) for a year and a half while growing up, and it was one of the nicest places I've ever been.

Sure, it gets a bit nippy there in the winter. And every decade or so Grand Forks gets washed away by the Red River. But aside from that, it's what Paradise would look like if Paradise was a vast, featureless plain.

So whenever news from North Dakota pops up, my ears perk up. And news from North Dakota usually puts a smile on my face, because it somehow always seems to run contrary to whatever other doom and gloom stories happen to be running out there. My last post on North Dakota was about how the entire state had a grand total of two murders last year, and neither of them was a shooting. Yup, the per capita murder rate was less than a third of some of the more orderly continental European nations; and the per capita gun murder rate was 0.00.

And then my reader/commenter/co-blogger Roger Z left a comment with some additional North Dakota news that brought a smile to my face: The state has a growing number of millionaire oil tycoons. Turns out that there's a hefty amount of oil under the ground in big swathes of the state; and the ground in question is divided up into family farms that have been in their respective families for generations. A lot of long-time farmers are putting an oil well or two out in their fields, getting wealthy, and staying farmers--continuing to drive around the old beat-up pickups and tractors.

Then, of course, there was the North Dakota story from last December, which alleged that it has the most corrupt state government in the union. Of course, there were so many irregularities in the way they handled their statistics and interpreted the results, that it makes one wish that the reporters had actually spent some time in the North Dakota school system--because then their reasoning skills would likely have been better, and they wouldn't have written the story in the first place.

Well, today I saw a new North Dakota story, that again made me smile. Courtesy of the Instapundit, it appears that the only two areas of the country to have improving employment figures over the last month were the District of Columbia, and North Dakota.

And it's pretty obvious why the District of Columbia had increases in employment, so I'm not so impressed there. Even so their story isn't great; their overall unemployment rate is much higher than the national average.

But North Dakota? It was the only state to have unemployment drop in the last month. There were three others where unemployment stayed even; the other 46 states saw increases of varying magnitudes. My home state of California, I'm ashamed to say, has an unemployment rate of well over 11%--and that's dragging the national average up.

And North Dakota? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
In March, Michigan again reported the highest jobless rate, 12.6 percent. The states with the next highest rates were Oregon, 12.1 percent; South Carolina, 11.4 percent; California, 11.2 percent; North Carolina, 10.8 percent; Rhode Island, 10.5 percent; Nevada, 10.4 percent; and Indiana, 10.0 percent. Nine additional states and the District of Columbia recorded unemployment rates of at least 9.0 percent. The California and North Carolina rates were the highest on record for those states. (All state series begin in 1976.) North Dakota registered the lowest unemployment rate, 4.2 percent, in March. Overall, 12 states and the District of Columbia had significantly higher jobless rates than the U.S. figure of 8.5 percent, 25 states reported measurably lower rates, and 13 states had rates little different from that of the nation. (See tables A and 3.)
Emphasis added, of course.

You know, I suspect I need to post about bad news from North Dakota sometime; something looks bad about the state, I post it. But I suspect I'd be waiting a long, long time before coming across such a story, unless the headline was something like "Spring Thaw on Lake Sakakawea Sends Idiot's Car to the Bottom."

But that one happens every year, so it's not exactly news, it's more like a sporting event that people bet on: "What day is the ice going to break, and whose car is going to get dunked?"

Anyway, good to see more news from North Dakota. News from my former home state nearly always makes me proud to be from there, and even a little homesick--unless it's news about the weather.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bacon--Is There Anything It Can't Do?

I've been feeling a little guilty about not blogging so much lately. All this cutting and bending metal has been fun (and you should see the little piece of dragonscale maille that I've been putting together lately!), but I've been neglecting my readership. Ah well. I'm thinking that, with the one-year anniversary of that post I did that picked a fight with a herd of Objectivists ("Since I started with good premises, and reasoned without error, my argument will contain no inconsistencies. Therefore since you claim to have found an inconsistency in my argument, it means you must have made an error somewhere, and it's up to you to find it..."), I would go ahead soon and write up something about Godel's Inconsistency Theorems.

But not tonight. Tonight, we play.

It seems that Popular Science's resident mad scientist, Theodore Gray, has built what essentially is a blowtorch, where the oxidizer is pure O2 gas, and the fuel is--what else?--bacon.

Well, actually--prosciutto. Turns out that plain old American bacon doesn't have the structural integrity, so he had to go with something he considered more "industrial grade". But he then proceeded to turn it into what he refers to as a "bacon lance", which is a bacon-fueled variant of the more mundane (but still awesome as heck) "thermal lances" that are used to cut metal.

Hmm... that means that, at least in theory, bacon is capable of rescuing people from collapsed buildings. Nice.

Of course, as awesome as this is, I still think it's a poor use of perfectly good prosciutto, although I bet his lab smelled absolutely heavenly after he used his bacon lance to cut through that metal pan in the video.

I also love this little note at the end of the piece:
Achtung! Theodore Gray is trained in lab safety. Don't try this at home...
Yeah, and you might run out of bacon.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's Time for the Carnival of Tonya!

Well, I haven't been in much of a blogging mood lately, but my lovely bride has been cranking them out.

Blog, posts that is. Although the phrase "cranking them out" somehow seems appropriate to a pregnant mother of 3 kids ages six and under....


On April 7, as she was thinking about Tax Time, she did this post on responsibility. She is coming to the conclusion that personal responsibility is increasingly a counter-cultural virtue; that we tend to "delegate" away our responsibilities, from finances to education to child-rearing.

Then, on April 11 she posted about her sudden urge to get all the loose ends in our life wrapped up now, before the baby comes next month. Now, it's a well-observed phenomenon that expecting mothers get this terrible urge to clean, rearrange furniture, and get everything ready, just a few days (or hours!) before they get this terrible urge to push. Tonya was wondering whether her urge to wrap everything up was a manifestation of this "Nesting Instinct". Have to say, though, I'm skeptical. Tonya gets like this periodically whether or not she's eight months pregnant....

But I really liked her latest post. The Biblical book of Job is my favorite book of the Bible, because of all the hard questions it tackles head-on. What is justice? What is truth? What is wisdom? Why do good people suffer? Why do bad people so often not suffer? What should we do when events occur that run completely contrary to our faith? The book of Job tackles all this very challenging material in an intellectually stimulating way, and with a surprising amount of (often very black) humor.

My favorite line of the book is Job 12:1. After a rather self-righteous and ignorant speech by one of Job's friends deriding Job's wisdom and trying to get him to repent of his (non-existent) sins, Job just rolls his eyes and delivers this sarcastic gem--which for full effect, you have to read out loud:
No doubt, you aaaare the people, and wisdom will diiiiie with you....

Appropriate inflection added by me, but was undoubtedly in the original.... :-)

Tonya expands on a point that I made back in December, but does it from a more theological direction. I mentioned that we were taking the news of our Trisomy 13 baby better than so many of the people around us were. Well, Tonya mentioned that she's been understanding lately something of what Job went through. It's not that we're suffering anything like he did--that's not it. Rather, imagine what Job must have been thinking while listening to his friends' theological babblings--how he must have been thinking, "They have absolutely no idea what they're talking about," and, "how shallow and unthinking their 'wisdom' is!" and, "how in the world do I explain what I know in such a way that they'll actually get it?" and "'s like I'm talking to a wall here..."

Well, Tonya has been noticing lots of people greeting her at church with well-meaning attempts to bolster her faith, without really understanding Tonya's situation, or how much faith she already has. (Incidentally, that's my assessment.) We meet people who have been praying for us that God would deliver us from this trial--by healing the baby, or otherwise making everything better. Well, we'd certainly be grateful if God decided to do something highly miraculous and give us a perfectly healthy little girl.

Of course, that would take about the same size and kind of miracle as God deciding spontaneously to turn her into a boy.

So we nod our heads and smile, and thank them for their concern; there's no need to get into theological debates with your well-wishers, if you can avoid it. But Tonya's given a whole lot more thought to this than they have, because it's happening to her; and as such, she may well be seeing God's work a bit more clearly. God does not just make life easy for his people. Rather, he gives his people what they need. And sometimes God's people need trials that make them stronger, that bolster their faith, that give them sympathy for the suffering of other people around them. A miraculous healing of our baby would certainly be appreciated; but for us to endure this trial with faith and grace, and to emerge on the other side of this trial with greater strength and experience, may well serve the true needs of the Kingdom of God better.

Anyway, I'm summarizing a wee bit too much of what Tonya was writing, so I'll suggest that you go over there and read the whole thing.

(By the way... It's this kind of thinking that I saw in her, that convinced me that I needed to marry her in the first place....)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blog? What Blog?

Well, well. I knew if I went much more than a week without posting something, people would start wondering if we'd dropped off the earth or been eaten by ducks.

Nothing so dramatic, I'm afraid. Starting about two weeks ago, a serious case of ennui set in. Also:
  • I started making things out of chain--of which I have a few pictures to share a little later. I found that after the kids went to bed each night, I had the choice of sitting down at the computer and typing a whole lot of whatever, or sitting down at the table and bending metal. The latter kept feeling more compelling, somehow.
  • For that matter, I have been making a conscious effort to spend less time web-surfing. I find that I'm a whole lot more informed about the world when I'm spending more time online, but (relatedly) it makes me a lot more annoyed with the world. I'm generally a happier person when I don't know what's going on. :-) But as a result of my being offline more, I tend not to come up with as many ideas worth sharing....
  • We were also out of town for a couple days there.
  • And then I managed to catch one of those generic diseases that's going around lately. We've got a lovely young lady in our office who's had a constantly-mutating virus, or a series of viruses with shifting symptoms (congestion one week, sore throat the next, coughing the week after that), for the last four weeks. It's gotten to the point that my office-mates have named the virus after her. ("Oh, you seem to have caught the 'K' virus...") The trouble is, she just happens to be a veteran chain-maker too, so we've been spending much time shooting the breeze lately and showing off our latest works to each other. So I guess it was inevitable that I would wind up with the 'K' virus. I've been pretty weak and surly this last week.
So that's my excuse. We'd finally get the kids in bed, and I'd hear the little voice on my right shoulder telling me, "They really need to know how you're doing". And then I'd hear the little voice on my left shoulder telling me, "They need to get a life. And so do you."


So, what has been going on around here? Well, my lovely wife posted this about two weeks ago, and things haven't changed that much since then.

And then we've been getting over the K virus lately. At one point or another it hit pretty much everyone in the family. For a while there we had both the Pillowfight Fairy and the Happy Boy on antibiotics at the same time.

...Oh, yeah. I nearly poisoned my daughter. I was supposed to give her two teaspoons of amoxicillin, and I gave her a dose of two tablespoons. She took it like a trooper, so I can be proud of that. But shortly after giving her the dose, after some odd things spoken by my wife and daughter, I realized that I'd just given her three times what I should have done. You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that you get when you realize that something really, really bad has just happened? Well, I'm not entirely over that sinking feeling yet. I felt absolutely awful as I dialed up the nurse to explain what I'd just done to my kid. And the nurse was very calm and reassuring, explaining that this sort of thing happens all the time. She called up the Poison Control Center just to be safe, and they said just to keep an eye on things and call in again if anything else comes up. As it turned out, the Fairy suffered no side effects or anything; she was absolutely fine. My nerves were shot, but she was just fine.

Now, if it had been Acetaminophen, that would have been really serious....

(P.S. The spell checker doesn't like "amoxicillin". It thinks it's some unholy combination of penicillin and amontillado...)


So what of those wires that I mentioned in my last post?

Well, they got here eventually. They took the scenic route, but they got here. After spending the weekend in Winnipeg, they hopped a truck down to Minneapolis, then down to Cedar City, IA; and from there they headed west, west, west--all the way along I-80.

And then it landed on our doorstep a week ago Friday--mere hours after we had left town to visit with Papa and Grandmother for the weekend. Thankfully, my brother and sister-in-law were taking a bit of a fun drive the next day, and were able to swing by our place to snag it before the neighborhood gremlins could. No telling what they'd do with 2 pounds of 16-gauge Nickel Silver wire....

Anyway, after taking off Monday with a bad case of the K virus, I was feeling a little better by the evening, so I started making up some rings and seeing what I could get them to do. By yesterday night, I'd completed this:
And here it is on my very long-suffering wife, who's 7.5 months pregnant, barely mobile, and wiped out after another day full of Toddler Wrestling:
I really like the way it turned out. It's hard to tell from the pictures, but it's actually made of three different kinds of differently-colored metal--bronze, stainless steel, and nickel silver (which, for clarity's sake, contains no actual silver). Up close you can see the colors clearly; but from a distance, the different colors trick the eye into seeing shadows where there are none. As a result, the chain looks like it has more depth and intricacy to it than it actually does. It's a neat visual effect.

It's also a heavy chain. A boxchain pattern with over 400 rings of 16-gauge wire, wrapped around a 1/4 inch mandrel, makes a heavy chain. It's the kind of chain you would expect to find on bikers.

Of course, that's not the only chain I've made so far. As I was impatiently waiting for the Canadians to get their act together, I took a trip to the local craft supply store to see what they had, and found some 20-gauge soft copper wire for beading projects. Close enough, said I! I picked up a small spool of pure copper, and a small spool of silver-plated copper, and got busy making little trinkets for my daughters.

Here's the first one I finished, for the Adrenaline Junkie (dressed in this picture in her Sunday finest. That's why--aside from the smile--she looks like she's about to go to a funeral).
And here it is up close, so you can see a little of the detail...
And here's the one I made for the Pillowfight Fairy:
She likes to wear it long, of course, but it's not always practical that way. So I included a hook on it, so it could be doubled around the neck and hooked in back, like this:
Each of these necklaces took on the order of 400 rings to complete. The different lengths of the necklaces are due to the different patterns, some of which are denser than others. The Adrenaline Junkie's necklace--which is very short, so that Tonya can barely wear it as a choker--takes about 25 rings per inch. The "biker" chain takes about 16 per inch, and the Fairy's spiral chain takes about 12.


So now what?

I'm not sure how much I'll be blogging in the immediate future. I figured I needed to write an update to let everyone know that we're still here. But you know, it's actually been a little liberating not trying to blog every day. And bending metal is actually a very fun activity.

I'll try to be a bit more prolific than once every two weeks, though.