From Santa's elves, "Merry Christmas!"

click photo to see the full effect of the awesome
elf costumes we made for the branch party this year

Specimen in Multipurpose Cleaner

Last summer, I had the unfortunate experience of getting bit by a tick. Thankfully, the tick had not been on me long and I was able to tug (and yes, it required me to tug) it out with tweezers. For years, I have been frightened of ticks, Rocky Mountain fever does not sound fun, so I was quite impressed with my feat of strength and (seeing as I took some zoology classes in college) wanted to keep the small creature. I looked for some isopropyl alcohol. Since I had none, I found some multipurpose house cleaner. This I poured into an old plastic bouillon jar and therein placed the tick. My specimen was prepared and ready for further investigation.

Winter time has come and it is (past) time to pour the tick down the drain. I have taken a picture of it (see photo on your right), so the specimen will be kept digitally. I am certain this digital photo will help scientists in years to come.


Bram Stoker's Dracula

I planned to read Dracula for Halloween, so I checked it out 10 October and finally got to reading it 14 November, and now I've finished it with Christmas just around the corner. I must admit, a strange story to be reading during the holidays, but this book definitely had the ability to take me out of the merry world surrounding me and into the dark mist of Count Dracula. I can definitely see why this story has held it's own over the years. Written in first person by several characters through the use of journal entries and letters, mixed in with some newspaper articles and telegraphs, anyone can die at any moment. I didn't know whether this story was going to end happy or sad. And I like that in a book, when you've not a clue of what the author intends for you in the end. True, I found some inconsistencies in the writing (e.g., characters were extremely smart in discovering the important details of Dracula in one chapter, but in the next they'd unfortunately forget that discovery and make a grave mistake), but overall it was a fun tale. Some of my preconceptions were also disabused: Dracula has a moustache, Van Helsing is nothing like Hugh Jackman, and sacred wafers are really the secret weapon against vampires.


Christmas tunes to enjoy

I spent the greater part of the Friday after Thanksgiving at work. It wasn't all that bad, but to lighten the mood of the ghost town office halls and the air vent buzz, I tuned into a Christmas music station via the internet. The music worked wonders. I analyzed data to O Holy Night, Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, and the Hallelujah Chorus. It was like a Christmas wonderland in office 1357 - plus a computer, some research, and fluorescent lights. Here's some of what I like to listen to during Christmas:
  • two albums my sister gave me a couple of years ago, filled with everything from Brenda Lee to the Madeleine Choir School
  • Osmond Christmas Album (a childhood favorite)
  • Harry Connick Jr.'s When My Heart Finds Christmas
  • Manheim Steamroller (the earlier albums the better)


Happy Thanksgiving!

This holiday cannot be forgotten. It is one of my favs. It is my dad's favorite. And it is always right around my mom's birthday. Why is it a favorite? Yes, there's the delicious food, great leftovers, and lots of conversation that can't be beat. But most of all, it's the feeling you get during this time. This feeling of devotion, of gratitude, of holiday spirit that just seems to make your joy that much greater. It's that feeling you get when you listen to an instrumental of the Messiah with your eyes closed, moving with the notes and humming the melodies. Cliche, I think not, it's just downright true.


Fantasy Land in the Forest

We came upon this land one afternoon when driving around the back roads of our area in Maryland. We found a pagoda, a large building with Corinthian columns, a very large German-looking building, and a statue of Hiawatha (among other things). All of the buildings were worn down, the bridges were falling apart, and the statues were looking like they needed some cleaning. We stared in awe as we drove around this curious place. Come to find out, a historic developer has teamed with a new developer to restore these enigmatic buildings as well as add some new town homes. We took a brochure from the developer's office and learned that this was the National Park Seminary. Upon further investigation we discovered what gave rise to these architectural curiosities was a girls school founded in 1894. The building with the Corinthian columns was the gymnasium, the large building a main hall which included music rooms and a ballroom, and the pagoda was a sorority house. Apparently, the president of the school and his wife allowed the girls to choose what kind of sorority home they wanted (after looking through an architectural book they provided) and they got it. In addition to a pagoda, they built a castle (complete with a bridge), a Swiss chalet, a Dutch windmill, a colonial home, a Spanish style mission home, and an Indian mission home (hence the statue of Hiawatha). And Voila! You get a fantasy land in the middle of a forest in Maryland.

Look at this place back at full swing:


Spanish Style Mission House
Swiss Chalet
Castle (with bridge)

Dutch Windmill

And this was a school! I hope to take a tour of this whimsical place. For links to where I ascertained this info click here or here.


What came first

Here's a question: does life make your blog more interesting or does your blog make life more interesting? The other day I was talking with a fellow (much more extreme) blogger and she said "I do cool things so I can post them on my blog." Hmmm, curious... It kind of struck me and led me to the famous query "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" In this instance, what came first, the interesting blog or the interesting life? One would suppose it was the latter. (Actually, for any of you getting really technical out there, for anyone born before the mid 90s the latter would be true, as that is when blogs are noted to have begun.) Still, could the previous be true for some situations? For instance, I wrote a post on the use of "okay" to answer the daily question of, "How are you?" This is usually a passing thought in my mind, but when I wrote about it on my blog, it made my thought more interesting. Take your blog for a moment, what came first?


Like a Knight in Shining Armor

When my sister got married, she hired a video artist to record the festivities, edit the footage, then put it to music my sister and her husband provided. The video was good stuff and when my sister got her CDs back, she got a little extra. She got a CD back that wasn't hers. How did she know it wasn't hers? Well, it was Peter Cetera's Solitude/Solitaire album, that's how she knew. Somehow, the album ended up with me. Probably because I hardly had any CDs and accepting one that no one particularly wanted increased my CD ownership by 20%. I kept it through college and pulled it out every once and a while, to show friends and family the intensity of the cover or to listen to the song from Karate Kid (Glory of Love) in order to bring back the memory of Daniel-son and his girlfriend from the rich neighborhood. Now out of college, I've pulled it out again, and let's just say, I've listened to it more than once, enough to hear his brother's faint yet rockin' backup vocals.



Man, this is already a nerdy post. But still, I'll continue. I remember once, I heard one of my friends from college mentioning that he had a computer programming assignment to do, that it was taking him days to finish it, and that in the end, try as he might, he would probably get a C, at best. I also remember going through the QA library book shelves, showing computer science students where to find their C++ or Java or SQL books. They always looked so mundane. Now, at work, I'm in a SAS class, learning some easier programming (so I can review files that make up about 15% of my work). Man, it is brutal! You need to add a '.', don't forget to close all of your parenthesis, make sure you stop the loop, end the pointer, merge correctly, enter the commands in the right order, think about what's going on in the PDV. I must say, I am in the dark (even though my teacher is quite good and actually makes programming seem fun - did I really just type that?!?). Anyhow, I thought I had a grasp of the basics of SAS and maybe I can write some small programs, but I have determined that it was definitely the right decision to never ever consider computer programming as a major, a hobby, an interest, but only as a subject for a short blog post.



The other day I heard about aphorisms on npr. James Geary, the author of Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists, describes an aphorism as following five laws, "It must be brief. It must be definitive. It must be personal — that's the difference between an aphorism and a proverb. It must be philosophical — that's the difference between an aphorism and a platitude, which is not philosophical. And the fifth law is it must have a twist. And that can be either a linguistic twist or a psychological twist or even a twist in logic that somehow flips the reader into a totally unexpected place." Either I just wasn't paying attention in English class, I haven't been in literary circles much, or my memory just didn't find it important, but I have never heard of this term (or I don't remember it). After hearing about aphorisms, I've become a fan. All of us have heard them, in fact, you're very familiar with many (some I know the author, others I don't): Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country - JFK. Judge not that ye be not judged - Matt 7:1. Better late than never. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. In fact, we've probably used a few this week: Great minds think alike. If you snooze, you lose. Never judge a book by its cover. Some not so familiar ones are great too: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent - Eleanor Roosevelt. The root of materialism is poverty; the well-fed remain idealists - Karol Bunsch. Don't always follow the crowd, because nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded - Yogi Berra. When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace - Jimi Hendrix. Can you think of any?


The Karamazov Brothers

Last night I felt like I had a book report due. You see, I checked out The Brothers Karamazov during the end of July. Not once, but three times I received the pleasant email from the library: "The following books are due on mm/dd/yyyy. Please return the items listed below to avoid incurring a late fee." Three times I quickly entered my several digit library number and clicked on "Renew Items." Ahh yes, three more weeks (times three) to finish! Well, my time was up. Due on 10/01/07, and still not completed with 100+ pages to go. I must interrupt at this point and recognize that some of you may be wondering why I just didn't take upon myself the 10 cents-per-day late fee. The truth is, I've never turned in a library book late and why destroy the record now? Anyhow, 100+ pages left, so I read through lunch, worked, ate some dinner, talked, and then read some more. Reading, reading, at some times skimming, all the time feeling like my AP English teacher was asking me, wiggling her fingers, what are the themes, what are the motifs, what is Dostoevsky trying to say about mankind, what about the conflicts of man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. self? The Epilogue is here, the final pages! I finished 15 minutes before the assignment was due. I rushed to the library and deposited my books into the receptacle leading to the entrails of the library. And now for the thought provoking essays to be completed in my brain. I've been thinking a lot about this book. In some ways I think I understand what Dostoevsky was trying to say, in others ways I'm still trying to figure it out. If any of you have read this book, do you want to form a study group via comments? I'd like to hear your thoughts.
Dostoevsky's notes for Chapter 5 of The Brothers Karamazov, wikipedia.org



Close to our house is a church with a marquee. This marquee is expectedly filled with church service times as well as announcements. But above all of that there's a message that usually aims at being catchy and clever, trying to relate to everyone's life in someway, so as to catch the attention of the the hundreds of cars that whiz by each hour. This week's message is:
God's like Coca Cola, He's the "Real Thing."

How's that for use of simile?



Would it be safe to say that freshly ground pepper, from your own pepper grinder, is several times better than pre-ground pepper, the kind you find in the pepper shaker at a fast food restaurant? Of course it would be safe to say, because it's definitely true. I know a person who discovered the distinctness of freshly ground pepper after age 50. So many years with nothing but fast food pepper, what a shame. But you know, I think there are many tastes out there that I have yet to discover as well. The other day, someone at work mentioned the much-used Maryland spice, Old Bay. She said it assuming I was familiar with it. I was not. Through wikipedia I came to find out that it's a spice "named for the Chesapeake Bay area where it was developed by German immigrant Gustav Brunn in the 1940s, and where the seasoning is very popular to this day. At that time crabs were so plentiful that bars in Baltimore, MD offered them for free and seasonings like Old Bay were created to have patrons enjoy more beverages...The seasoning mix includes celery salt, bay leaf, mustard seed, both black and red pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. It is traditionally used in Mid-Atlantic States and the northern Gulf Coast to season crab and shrimp." So I guess I'd better try Old Bay. And for any of you out there reading this who do not own a pepper grinder, make a purchase soon. It's a worthy investment.


It cannot go without mentioning...

Picture preparing to take a red-eye flight from Salt Lake to DC, arriving in the nation's capital at 8:30am and then going to an interview at 9am. That's cutting it close. Now picture checking in online to see that your red-eye flight has been delayed by an hour and ten minutes. That just makes you mad. Next, picture making a few phone calls, almost getting re-booked to a 6:30am flight the next day, asking a couple of "can I speak to your supervisor?"s, getting lots of much-needed assistance from your very helpful sister and brother-in-law, and then (with your dad driving carefully aggressive) rushing to the airport, pleasantly insisting at the service desk that you need to be transferred to an on-schedule flight, and finally getting on a plane that isn't delayed and actually gets you to DC at 8am instead of the original 8:30am you were scheduled for with ample time to get to the 9am interview.


Choice dessert

As you may know, I love doughnuts. They are delicious. Indeed, there are definitely better doughnuts out there than others. We don't even need to discuss Hostess boxed doughnuts because any doughnut that was made 7 days before eating is a moon pie. Anyhow, all the rage is the Krispy Kreme doughnut. However, I just can't seem to join the band wagon. Everything doughnut they sell is covered with the same glaze. What the? And the doughnuts aren't substantial enough. They are very light (not healthy lite, but fluffy light) and sweet, which I understand a lot of people enjoy. However, to me, they all seem to have the same taste regardless of the flavor you buy. They disappear too fast, meaning, when I'm done with them I feel like I've eaten an hor d'oeurvres not a doughnut. The best doughnut I've ever had was from a place in Salt Lake City, Utah called Banbury Cross. The doughnuts there are substantial, with the right amount of yeast and distinct, separate flavors. I have yet to find a place that even compares! Does this mean I will not eat a doughnut that comes from Krispy Kreme? Certainly not, I'll eat it, enjoy it for 5 seconds, and then wish I was eating a maple bar from Banbury Cross.


Nature Walk

I was just about ready to go outside for my lunchtime walk, when I read this on the company-I-work-for's intranet:

"Our campus is surrounded by not only beautiful landscape but also a variety of wildlife, most notably geese, snakes, and deer. Several coyotes have also recently appeared and may have a den to the rear of the building. The City is aware of the coyotes but cannot take action in the absence of aggressive behaviors. While all of these animals usually keep their distance, some have been known to venture into our sidewalks, parking lots, and garages. Remember to keep an eye out as you walk around the campus. If you encounter an animal that appears threatening or makes you uncomfortable, give it a wide berth and contact Security Services for assistance if needed."

At first I was a little worried, but the other day I saw a man playing the violin right in the area where the coyote den "may" be, so I think I'm still safe to go for my walk.


How can I help you?

This past year I moved across country to DC. Although the moved proved easier said than done, I am finding that the city and the surrounding area are very nice and the people are indeed friendly. However, the customer service here is a bit different…wait, maybe I should rephrase; checking out at a cashier is different here. First, very little eye contact is made, if any. I know, strange to think you can be helped by someone and never make eye contact, especially when you’ve got a ton of groceries that take about 8 minutes to check out. Second, a total price is never told to you. You never hear, “Your total is $25.37,” or “It’s $25.37,” or even “$25.37.” Instead, the cashier just points (if that) to the credit card device (again without making eye contact) and you try to read what it says on that monochrome screen that someone has accidentally signed using a real ball point pen. I’ve tried to say hello to a few cashiers; in fact, I say “hello” or “good evening” to pretty much every cashier that assists me. There are definitely some who perk up and say “hello” back. However, the majority responds with a faint “hello” under their breath as they continue to scan your items one by one. It’s somewhat sad that this occurs so often. What happened to the time when you enjoyed some human interaction when you went out to run some errands? Maybe I’m the exception, maybe this is the way most prefer. Still, it’s hard for me to understand how the automatic, pre-recorded, pleasant voice at the self check out machine is more helpful, informative, and welcoming than the human being behind the checkout stand.


If Ash can cook, so can you!

Once, while in college, I had a can of black beans for breakfast. While it hasn't gotten that bad since I've been married, sometimes I find us low on groceries and some creative meals come out of the mix. Last week our dinner consisted of tuna with dill pickles on saltine crackers. I've had other such meals throughout my life. When I was a kid, my older sister made us spaghetti noodles with cool whip (and do I recall cinnamon?) sauce. As a teenager, my dad mixed left over pizza and pasta to create the famous "boiled pizza" dish. Anything my mom made using a cacophony of foodstuffs was usually called dinner "surprise."

Sometimes what I make for dinner could also be in the "surprise" category, but I have tried to make a concerted effort at being a better cook. I am amazed at how easy it really can be. I've gathered lots of recipes from family and friends and have tried new things. My greatest success has been apple pie, while my biggest failure, homemade macaroni and cheese (I burnt the milk - very gross). Here are my cinnamon rolls, a delight to make really.
I've been thinking of starting a recipe book blog, just for the fun of it. People could share their recipes and ideas for easy yet delicious meals. This makes sense to me since all of the recipes I use are from others. All could benefit from such a blog. Do you blog readers think it's a good idea?


Airplane Neatness

Flying in a commercial plane is a neat experience. Flying in a little plane that you can push onto the runway with the help of another is an awesome experience. Trying to fly that plane, well, that takes a lot of concentration and steadiness I've yet to develop. Here's some video of excellent piloting. What a ride!


Airline Miles...lost

My mom started a frequent flier account for me a while ago, I think about 8 years back, and I had earned lots of points. I never knew my account number. I think I wrote it down a couple of times on some paper, then put it on the shelf in my room. My shelf wasn't very organized and I lost the number over and over again. Still, my mom kept track of my account and it seemed to me that I had a nice amount stockpiled.

This past week I found out my account number using the quick and convenient concept called customer service. Sadly enough, half of my stocked up points were lost last year, and the rest of them were lost January of this year due to inactivity (defined as no activity with the account for over a year). Blast!


Call for a change of mascot

A while back, we went with some friends to a Nationals baseball game. It was a great time; we cheered as the the Nats ran into home, booed as the ump made a seemingly bad call, ate cotton candy, and watched the mascot (Screech the Eagle) dance. We also watched some other characters dance: the president heads. George, Thomas, Abe, and Teddy, they were all there dancing, signing autographs, and posing for pictures. I enjoyed the presidents more than Screech (although he had some good dance moves too). In fact, it seemed that everyone else in the stadium agreed, seeing as the presidents were getting quite a bit of attention. So, would a change of mascot be appropriate here? The Washington DC Heads of State.



A summer holiday

We spent the fourth of July holiday in Maryland's capital city, Annapolis. We visited the Naval Academy there, in addition to taking a look at the state capital building (we even chatted with the Town Crier), Annapolis harbor, and the Independence Day parade. It was quite a parade. It included everything from Jazzercise-ing women to the Van club of Maryland. The fireworks over the Chesapeake Bay were some of the best I've seen. We ate at a suggested restaurant on Main Street, Chick and Ruth's Delly. We got a classic meal: strawberry shake, fries, and a pickle sandwich...I mean, a cheesburger. It was a good time. If you're ever in the area, I suggest you visit Annapolis.


Genetics 101

It wasn't until yesterday that I knew that hebra [see left] existed. With a zebra mother and a horse father, this neat creature makes for a great way to introduce genetics (cue the Punnett square). What makes the stripes stop and the white hair start? Now a hebra looks quite different than a zorse (horse mother, zebra father) [see right], which tells us something about X and Y chromosome differences; but what, I have yet to figure. I can see the NATURE clip right now: Shasta the Liger chasing a herd of rare hebra, after failing with the zorses. But wait! What lurks in the waterhole? A cralligator.


Air Conditioning: Friend or Foe?

Yes indeed, AC is a definitely a friend and without it, sometimes it'd be really hot and really uncomfortable (I have experienced such things). However, sometimes AC can be turned down way too low. For instance, when you have to use a blanket on a summer night when it's 78 degrees outside. Or when you're in a car and you'd rather have the window down instead of the vent blasting away. Most especially when you're in the office and your toes are blue because you wore sandals. At work, when I go for a walk during lunch and step into the heat, my body has that defrost feeling. You know, when the molecules in your body start moving faster and the vasoconstriction stops. After my walk, that's when I'm grateful for the AC. But after about 15 minutes, the color starts leaving my toes again. AC's good, it's just that my internal thermostat is comfortable at higher temperatures than the average being.


Define "okay"

I'm always curious as to how individuals are feeling when, after asking them "how are you?", they answer "okay." Does that mean "I'm feelin' pretty good," or "I feel down, but trying to feel better," or "This is as good as it gets for me"? On a scale of "crappy" to "great," I think "okay" falls somewhere between "alright" and "fine." When people say they're "okay" I always feel like asking them, "What can I do to help you feel better?" However, what if "okay" to them is actually "pretty darn good"? So, I don't ask, and I hope that on their scale of "crappy" to "great," "okay" sits somewhere on the better end of the scale.

Scale of "How are you?" answers according to my measurements:
crappy - alright - okay - fine - good - great


Living a vicarious dance life

Our t.v. broke about a month ago, which was a good thing. However, there is one show I get quite a kick out of watching, and that is So You Think You Can Dance? So, we found an internet site where footage of Fox 5 from Las Vegas was streaming live. This allowed us to watch the show, albeit from 11pm to 1am. Our friends heard our plight and, being fans of the show themselves, gave us a small television the previous owner of their house left behind. We had not yet broke out the new-used television until last night. And boy, did I appreciate going to bed around 11pm.


The English language

I often find grammar/spelling mistakes in published books. I understand it's hard to edit the whole thing perfectly and when the rule is a bit foggy, it can be rough. One example of a foggy rule is how to deal with quotations marks with commas, semi colons, colons, and periods. I won't write all the ins and outs of it, but the reason periods came to be inside quotation marks is due to the fact that when movable type was used, printers would put the period inside of the quotations so the metal that made up the physical period would not get bent during the printing process. If it was inside of the quotations, it was protected, and wouldn't get destroyed. Anyhow, here are some other interesting grammar/spelling things I've discovered as of late.
Barbecue can also be spelled barbeque.
Cancelled can also be spelled canceled.
Personal names that end with a s should add a 's to the end, but last names should not (e.g. Charles's vs. Hess').
And did you know that the period is not always supposed to go after the parentheses?


How would you spend your one phone call?

I have received not one but two messages on my office voicemail from inmates calling from the County Jail. And I work as an analyst for a research consulting company.


C. Automobeele

I read a car magazine called Automobile. For those of you who read that last sentence and thought, "how boring..." I will concur that some car material is banal, e.g., "The DOHC, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is 53 pounds lighter than it's competition." Still, there's some good stuff. Take Ezra Dyer's material. He came to write for Automobile after sending a non-solicited article to the magazine's headquarters. He's got great lines. When describing the Jaguar XKR's and Porsche 911's small back seats respectively he says, "...in a pinch, Biff and Tiff can fit in the back for a short run down to the club," and "The Carrera's rear seats actually angle forward, which is only ideal if you carpool with Quasimodo." Another example is Jean Jennings, the magazine's current pres. When she got a chance to drive the new Audi R8, she decided to take her 83 year old mother along and she "settled back and enjoyed this rare ride in the middle of the day, in the middle of a work week, in a spaceship." Some of my best memories involve a car - riding around ritzy neighborhoods with my mom looking at big houses, driving to Loa Utah with my brother, watching the RPMs go down as my sister pressed on the gas peddle when we drove the roads of Wisconsin, and sliding out on a Wasatch road as my dad turned hard knowing that he was free of his worries for at least that one moment. True, cars are basically machines that get us to and from places. But the fact that I'm having a hard time thinking about how I eventually need to part with the horribly impractical vehicle I own tells me there's more to it than that, at least for me.


The Jungle

I've been a bit anxious today concerning starting a blog. Will what I write be clever? Will people read my blog? What should I write about? What should I not write about? What pictures should I post? Then I decided that one should not worry so much about something that goes by the name of "blog," and so here's my post, a bit of a book review.

I just concluded Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. I didn't really know all that much about the book, except that it brought to the public the fact that rat feces were being packed with meat and sold for food. Come to find out, its a novel about a Lithuanian immigrant family trying to survive in the meat district. Indeed, I was shocked by the fact that rat poison was swept into the pickled meat products along with other things not fit for human consumption, but what affected me most was reading about how the strain of just trying to survive took a toll on the souls of the family. I was job searching right after grad school, and boy did it take a toll! I can't imagine what working from dawn to dusk everyday just to make enough money to pay for the "new" house that is already falling apart and the adulterated food that certainly isn't providing enough calories is like. The book was interesting, and on a Likert scale from 1 to 7, I'd rate it a 5. The end was a bit disappointing because 1) the style of the writing switched from political novel to political pamphlet and 2) I felt like there was no closure. But that could have certainly been the author's wish. It seems when books have zero to some closure, readers tend to think about them a bit more. And I've definitely thought a lot about the book.


And it begins

Wecome, I'm glad you've made it here to see that I'm finished being a passive observer of blogs. My habit of hopping from one blog to the next, reading posts, looking at pictures, and sometimes (very rarely) leaving comments is over. And so it begins, I've joined the fray. This should be a grand time. Join me...