Tuesday, March 21, 2006


(Originally posted on Tuesday, March 21, 2006 by Tim)

Have I yet written a post about how much I hate Kroger? Living out in the middle of Virginia, we just don?t have good choices for supermarkets. Worse yet, of the three city area we live in (Christiansburg/Blacksburg/Radford), ours is the only one without a health food store. While there are four supermarkets in Christiansburg, our best two options are Kroger and Walmart.

Yes, I know Walmart is evil. That?s why we try to do most of our shopping at Kroger. However, Kroger has to be the worst stocked supermarket that I have frequented. They are regularly out of basic staples in our diet. I live in fear each week that they will decide to have a sale on an item we purchase. This is a sure guarantee that limited quantities will immediately sell out and be replaced by an empty space on the shelf for the next two weeks. I will actually stock up on tofu weeks ahead in case a swarm of locusts should descend upon the ?you?ll be happier if you don?t try to pretend it?s meat? isle. These folks have actually ran out of vegetable stock. Yes, that?s right, vegetable stock!

Kroger?s latest stunt has been to no longer stock adequate quantities of organic milk. We prefer to buy skim organic milk. I like the skim because I?m trying to lose weight and Cat likes the organic part. I?m not exactly sure where I read this, but I think milk becomes organic when steel wool and old hub caps are removed from the donating cow?s diet. The lack of skim organic milk resulted in my wandering aimlessly around in front of a dairy case full of hub cap fortified milk while muttering obscenities under my breath. I was about to stomp off when I noticed that they had multiple shelves of soy milk. I picked up a brand called ?Silk?, noted that it was the same price as organic milk, and decided to give it a try.

This isn?t the first time I?ve attempted to try soy milk. We bought it once before in Seattle. I like to think of myself as an adventuresome eater. However, in Seattle, we bought the soy milk and I never tried it. Tonight I decided I wanted a chai tea but realized that I didn?t have enough real milk left in the refrigerator. I reluctantly pulled out the soy milk and stared at it for a while thinking, ?Do I really want to try this?? In the end, I think I can be adventuresome when I anticipate a reasonable chance of something tasting good. In the case of soy milk, I expected it to not taste like milk and figured I?d be disappointed. Still, I poured myself a glass and gave it a sip. It wasn?t bad. I?m actually considering replacing our real milk with the Silk. Nutritionally, they seem pretty similar and the Silk doesn?t have the associated guilt of mistreated cows somewhere in Wisconsin.

I also used the Silk to make a chai tea. While I may like plain Silk better than plain milk, I think that milk makes a better chai tea. I?ll have to see how Silk does in the chocolate milk category before I make a final decision.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Working Out

(Originally posted on Saturday, March 18, 2006 by Tim)

While it wasn?t a New Year?s resolution, Cat and I have been very dedicated to a regular exercise routine since the beginning of the year. For me, it started with my stepping on the scale after the holidays. In general, I use the holidays as an excuse to eat a lot of stuff that I don?t eat during the year. It?s not like I can?t get the things I eat over the holidays, but usually I show more restraint during the year.

Cat likes to say that I?m a lazy eater. What she means is that I eat what?s around. Since she is vegetarian, we have little meat in the house and I eat mostly vegetarian when at home. When we visit people for the holidays, there are a lot of non-vegetarians around and hence a lot of meat around. I tend to eat a lot more meat during the holidays.

For example, while we were visiting Cat?s parents, I felt the need to buy a pepperoni stick. I love pepperoni! It?s spicy and salty and fatty. What more could a person want in life? I suppose they could make it sweet as well and it would be perfect. There?s a million dollar idea for you, the sweet pepperoni stick. I?d buy them. In fact, I?m getting a craving for pepperoni stick in maple syrup right now.

No, I?m not the one who is pregnant.

The point is, that I kind of go nuts eating over the holidays. As a result, when I stepped on the scale in January, I was up 7 pounds. This left me with a dilemma. I want to eat more, but I don?t want my weight to get too high. I?d actually like to keep it around 145 pounds and I was at 157 right after New Year?s. Immediately cut back on how much I was eating and I lost about 5 pounds in the first week or two. It wasn?t fun. I?d walk through the grocery store and think things like, ?Mmmm, that looks good. Hey what about that? It would be fun to make that dessert?. I couldn?t take advantage of the thoughts though. Anything beyond the basic meals of the day would thwart my efforts to lose weight.

I needed a way to eat more and still lose weight. Lifting was my answer. The idea was that each pound of muscle burns 40 Calories per day just resting. If I could put on an extra 5 pounds of muscle, I could eat an extra 200 calories of food a day! Now, I tend to be obsessive about everything. The starting obsession was how minimal a workout could I do and still accomplish my goals. In line with this, Cat and I started out with 2-3 workouts a week for 15 minutes each. I would lift one set of bench press, one set of leg press, one set of curls, and be out of there in a flash. I think it was working. My weight was stable and dropping very slowly (1-2 pounds a month). However, somewhere over the last three months, the focus of my obsession changed.

At the end of graduate school (9 years ago) I had managed to get my bench press up to 225 pounds. For those of you who don?t lift, that?s two of the 45 pound plates on each side. It was one of those, ?OK, I can die now goals?. Well, I?ve gotten into trying to increase my bench press again. I want to see if I can get back to 225 pounds. This has resulted in a substantial increase in workout time. Cat and I now work out 6-7 days a week for 45 minutes each. We alternate lifting with aerobic workout days. I wasn?t big on the aerobic workouts, but my weight got stuck at 150 pounds and I tried them out to try to break through. I think it?s been effective. It might just be my imagination. I?ve found that 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer isn?t too bad with a book in my hand. I get my heart rate up to 150 for the bulk of the workout and pretty much don?t notice it with my head in a book. It?s also a great time to do some leisure reading. Now if only I could find a way to grade and workout at the same time, I?d be all set!

So I have these two goals: Get my weight down to 145 pounds and get my bench press up to 225 pounds. I realize that they are in conflict with one another. To get my bench press up, I need to put on more muscle. This doesn?t drop my weight. I don?t remember being over 150 pounds in graduate school and I?m hoping to shift fat to muscle to achieve the bench press goal. In the end, 225 might have been my peak and I might be too old to achieve it again. I?ll definitely let you know if I make it.

Speaking of lifetime goals, I have a list of things I?d like to accomplish. These aren?t the really serious goals, these are side goals that would be nice.

Goal #1: Understand quantum mechanics. OK, I just don?t get it. I understand the results that come out of quantum mechanics, but I could never derive anything from basic principles in the field. I?ve made a run at this one a couple of times. My current attempt involves taking a step back and relearning my calculus. Right now I?m stuck on trying to learn how to do proofs. If you know of any good books on math proofs (Math Proofs for Dummies? Math Proofs for Your 3 Year Old) let me know.

Goal #2: Obtain a rank of Master in chess. I used to play chess seriously in junior high. I?m reasonably good at the game and it would be really cool to work my way to a rank of Master. I?m not sure how realistic this goal is. I had a friend in graduate school who was very good at board games (much better than me) and he had gotten close but not quite there.

Goal #3: Beat Diablo II on hardcore mode. This is a video game goal. Diablo II is a game where you fight your way through the various levels of hell defeating different demons on each level. You have to win the game three times at increasing levels of difficulty. On hardcore, you only get one life. If you die, then you have to start over. It?s a well done game. It?s also reasonably old. I think it came out about 6 years ago. Only the most diehard of gamers among my students have played it.

Goal #4: Explain to dogs that if it comes out of the rear end of another animal, you don?t eat it. Just kidding, this isn?t a goal (certainly not a realistic one). It?s likely to become a future blog post though.

Monday, March 13, 2006


(Originally posted on Monday, March 13, 2006 by Tim)

Cathy and I had a very relaxing weekend on our first Babymoon. As I understand the term, a babymoon is a vacation you take together before your child is born and your life becomes chaos for the next 20 or so years. We had a very nice and relaxing time and we?ll probably work in another babymoon before the blessed event.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast in ?Historic? Abingdon, Virginia. Abingdon is cute little town about an hour and a half drive west of Christiansburg. It?s very touristy with many little inns and b&bs. Its most interesting claim to fame is the Barter Theatre. This theatre was founded by Robert Porterfield during the depression. He was starving in New York with a gaggle of his fellow actors and he knew that there was an abundance of food in the farmlands of western Virginia. He opened the Barter with a starting ticket price of ?40 cents or the equivalent in produce?. Most theatre patrons paid for their tickets by barter and it is not surprising that the theatre ended it?s first year with ?$4.35 in cash, two barrels of jelly, and a collective weight gain of over 300 pounds?.

It?s quite an amazing place?I should actually say places. They have now expanded to two buildings and a traveling group. Times have changed as we weren?t able to pay our way in with a couple of jars of jelly and our killer vegetarian gravy. Tickets were a $37 a piece and the place was packed. We saw Greater Tuna which is a comedy set in a small town in Texas. It?s one of those performances where you have two actors playing a large number of parts. It was enjoyable and we will probably make our way back down there to see another performance in the future.

Probably the 2nd claim to fame for Abingdon is the Creeper Trial. It?s 34 miles of old rail road track that has been pulled up and replaced with a wide walking/running/biking path. Cat and I drove down on Friday night, had breakfast, walked 7.5 miles, had lunch, power napped for an hour, had dinner, saw the play, went to bed, had breakfast, and headed home. Cat really planned a perfect vacation. Usually, I feel like we don?t have enough to do on these things, but this was just perfect. Ok, maybe it was just a little too much, but it was a lot of fun and I didn?t feel like we were killing time at all.

The only thing that would have made the trip better is if we had exercised some more restraint and it had had some more halves in it. On the way there, we stopped at Taco Bell (a driving tradition for us). I should have had half as many bean burritos. The next day, we really should have walked about half as far as both of us pulled something in our legs and were hurting for the next day or so (yes, we?re old). Then, we went out to lunch at The Starving Artist Café. This place was quite nice. We went there on the recommendation from someone I accosted on the hiking trail. ?Hey! Are you local?? Take a look through the menu, it?s quite interesting. I had the Claude Monet, which doesn?t appear to be on their online menu. It had smoked turkey, herbed cream cheese, and granny smith apples. It turned out to be a little bland for my taste, but it was cool to try something new. Cat had the Frieda Kahlo (also not on their online menu) and enjoyed it. It was a vegetable fajita done up in a soy sauce. We?ll have to try to redo that one at home. Lunch was also something that should have been done in halves.

Another thing that made the weekend very relaxing is that last week was Cat?s spring break and this week is my spring break. As a result, neither of us was feeling particularly pressured by course work. I?m planning on getting a lot of work done on the house and my grants and presentations for April done this week. Wish me luck.

Sunday, March 5, 2006

The Skunkinator

(Originally posted on Sunday, March 5, 2006 by Tim)

Each of our dogs has his own distinct personality. TY is our smartest dog. You can give TY a new set of commands and he can often figure out what you want from context. He?s also quite good at knowing when resistance is futile. As an example, you can tell TY to ?Get in the bathtub? for a bath, point to the bathtub, and he will do it. He is also very good at communicating what he wants. Examples here are staring attentively for hours at the object of interest, general wining, and barking incessantly at the door when he wants to come in. While the title often gets passed around, this can often make TY our most annoying dog.

TY has recently found a new activity to earn him ?Top Dog? on the annoying list. Last Summer, the dogs got sprayed by a skunk in the back yard. TY and Modi took the big hits while Sam was ?relatively? skunk free. Through the process of multiple baths and lots of swearing, we learned that the following recipe works best for getting the skunk out of the dog.

Skunk-away Shampoo
1 liter 3% peroxide (the peroxide you buy at the store)
3 tablespoons baby shampoo
3 tablespoons baking soda

Mix all ingredients together. Wet the dog down in the shower and apply the shampoo mix liberally with a washcloth. Be careful to avoid the dog?s eyes (and yours too) as the peroxide will sting. We?ve found that this works best if you wash the dog right after skunking has occurred. What you get out of this process is a dog that smells not half bad. The drawback is that you can?t adequately get their face so the back end of the dog smells better than the front end of the dog for a change.

So dogs got skunked for the first time last summer. This isn?t too bad when you consider we had been here a year at that point. Maybe the skunk wandered into the yard, the dogs surprised it, and it and they both learned their lessons. Yeah right.

Dogs got skunked again about three weeks ago. This time, Sam and Modi got hit hard and TY escaped relatively unscathed. We thought, ?TY is the smartest dog. Maybe he learned to avoid the skunk last time.? Ahhh, it was not to be.

Last week, TY comes into the house with something in his mouth. This has happened before. The grossest thing we had seen so far was the night (he always brings this stuff in at night) he brought in a rotting mouse carcass heavy on the maggots. Well, this time he comes in and clearly has an object in his mouth. He knows we don?t like him to bring in anything that isn?t a toy, so he usually has some guilty body language about him. Cat notices that he?s got something and the ?DROP IT? subroutine kicks in. After a couple ?drop its?, he drops a roundish, black and white furry object on the floor. Have you guessed yet? A skunk head! What a great toy mom! Can I keep it?

Needless to say, TY hasn?t had a glorious week of us throwing the skunk head for him in the backyard. It was very quickly bagged and filed (circularly).

The next day, however, TY came in and smelled a bit skunky. Thinking that he had been sprayed again, we sniffed around him to try and figure out where he had been hit. The process went something like this?

Sniff, sniff, back of the dog OK.
Sniff, sniff, middle of the dog OK.
Sniff, sniff, head of dog a little skunky, did he get hit in the eyes?
Sniff, sniff, OH, IT?S HIS BREATH!

After this process, I definitively explained to TY that he would not be allowed to sleep on my pillow that evening! (It?s Modi?s spot anyway)

The following day, I managed to get home from work while it was still light out. I went out back to throw the ball for TY and look for skunk parts. About 10 feet from our lawnmower shed, I found a skunk tail with some glands attached. Now this smelled so bad, that after I bagged it and put it in the trash can out front, the whole front yard started to smell of skunk. Thank God we have tolerant trash men.

It?s warm today. I can?t put it off any longer. I?m going to have to do a thorough search of the back yard for the rest of the skunk. We?ve found the front and the back, but the middle is still missing. Thankfully, TY hasn?t come in smelling of skunk since I disposed of the tail. I just wonder, how much of the middle of the skunk is in TY?