Thursday, July 24, 2014

Memphis Trip

Two weekends ago we drove down to Memphis to visit my (Lee’s) sister, who is currently working there with Teach for America.  We didn’t take a lot of pictures but some of what we did take might be of interest to the relatively small readership of this blog. We drove down Friday and ate out at Central BBQ which is apparently one of the more famous Memphis BBQ joints.  We had fun but the food wasn’t life-changing.  We went to bed at a reasonable hour to prepare for a full Saturday. Saturday we visited three places: the Civil Rights Museum, the Metal Museum, and the Memphis Zoo.  The Civil Rights Museum, which is based in the building that used to be the motel where MLK was killed, didn’t have too many surprises for us in terms of overall history but did offer a variety of personal perspectives and artifacts that were new.  We also appreciated the emphasis on the economic drivers for slavery.  I felt overall that the museum did a good job in contextualizing the different pieces and placing them into the larger narrative, and I was glad to have gone. After the museum we tried to get lunch at two separate BBQ places specializing in pulled pork sandwiches.  Unfortunately, nobody visits Memphis in the middle of July and both places were closed/on vacation.  We ended up going to a Venezuelan restaurant called Arepa and Salsa that served pulled pork (and chicken and beef) on fried plaintains in substitution for buns, with tomato and avocado and various sauces.  These proved to be admirable and interesting substitute lunch sandwiches. The Metal Museum is tiny place with a limited collection of things to look at, but what they did have was fun. The exhibits are more about art made with metal and less about metallurgy and materials science (which I was kind of hoping for) but for $4 admission I wasn’t exactly crushed. The special exhibit had a theme of basically ‘jewelry for doing violence to others or convincing them not to attempt to do violence to you’ and had things like ring sets that were secretly brass knuckles, porcupine-quill necklaces, and hair pins rather sharper than they needed to be. The Metal Museum also featured demonstrations of blacksmithing and casting, both of which I had never seen before in person.  Ana was less impressed since apparently she talked a high school teacher into letting her sand-cast some parts in the school machine shop at one point, which to my understanding is not a common practice. 

The Metal Museum is also right next to the Mississippi, which I took a picture of.  This trip was the first time crossing it not in an airplane for Ana and I.  The website shows some of the exhibits if you actually wanted to peek at the contents of the museum. 

The zoo was a zoo, but a pretty nice one.  The only pictures I took were of the frightening and unpredictable creature below.  Going to the zoo late in the day was a good idea as it wasn’t too hot and sunny, the crowds were more limited, the animals seemed more animated than zoo creatures often do, and we still had time to see nearly everything.    

After the zoo we went to dinner which would be largely not notable except that the chicken and waffles that Ana ordered were totally amazing.  The restaurant (Local) made the maple syrup spicy and intriguing and the chicken was crunchy and anyway it was the best dish I think I've had in months if not years.  Anyone else visiting Memphis should insist on having this dish.  I had crab and goat cheese empanadas and they were tasty and featured a substantial quantity of real crab, but that chicken and waffles dish was just something else...

I didn't know it was worth taking a picture of until I tried it.

The next day we did brunch at a place called the Beauty Shop which was possibly the most fun I've had at breakfast ever.  Fun faux-retro atmosphere, super fresh ingredients, creative but not too-creative dishes, and expert preparation - I enjoyed every bite.  Ana ordered chicken and waffles again (they were super enormous this time) but lacking the spices of the night before they weren't quite as exciting. My fried eggs with toast and mangoes and veggies was better.  Not cheap, but highly recommended.

Lee*, Ana, Lee's sister, Lee's sisters boyfriend (left to right)

*It should be noted that my facial hair was only cultivated for the qualifying exam (this trip took place between the written and oral portions) and does not represent my current 'standard' appearance.  
Then we drove eight hours back, pausing for dinner at what proved to be a  profoundly Midwestern restaurant called Beef House. We were hoping based on the name (we had to go after seeing the billboards) that their beef would be superb but the best I can give them is workmanlike. The best thing from that dinner was the rolls, which they give you a free bag of when you leave. Overall, a brief but fun trip. If the place weren't so far away we'd certainly be up for going back more often.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

There is No Longer a Hole in the Side of the House

It went pretty well, all things considered. We spent a large portion of the day assembling the window frame for transport. This is the most complicated thing I've ever made from wood and it looks pretty good. With some additional cleaning, caulking, and touch-ups on the paint I think it will be pretty hard to see the defects from the inside. The outside, where I re-used mostly the original woodwork, retains many of the original gaps. They were previously filled with enormous beads of caulking, so we'll restore those in the next few days as well as add a metal rain guard over that bottom board (after priming and paint).

I made every piece of this except the glass and I assure you it could look so, so much worse than it does.  I custom ordered the glass so as to use as much of the existing hole in the siding as possible - this custom fit is why I spent the time to make a window frame from scratch. 

 Prepped hole in the house with blocks in place and nailed down to support the base of the frame.  The existing exterior facing was left in to make sure the frame couldn't fall outwards.  I admit I was very tense when we picked up the window and started moving it - I had spent better than two full days making that frame and I did NOT want to lose it.  Aside from the cat trying to trip Ana there was little drama in actually moving it.

This is with the window in place, shimmed, leveled, and fastened in place.  It looks crooked - it is not.  The framing below it is a little down to one side, but the framing will be invisible with the wall back on.  I checked many times. As planned, nobody on the outside can see into the shower area any more and we have a dramatically larger window (~25% larger in square inches but also without crossbars) than before to let in more light. This time it's centered, which is a major plus. It should be noted that with the old window there were blinds that always had to be on, which have been forever banished.  Win!

There is definitely some priming, painting, caulking, and cleanup work to do on the exterior but overall I would say it does not look screwed up.  There are a couple of sizable gaps but this part of the exterior faces the neighbors and is never seen so I'm OK with somewhat rougher work here.  Success!

There is a Hole in the Wall of the House

And this is hopefully a good thing - barring disaster, the new bathroom window goes in today.  If you don't hear back, we fell in the noble battle to not have the neighbors be able to see into our shower from their front door.

Friday, July 18, 2014

RAT Cake

This is just a quick post to show off the rat-shaped cake that Ana made. She recently acquired a new (enormous) cake decorating kit and had an excuse to try it out when I finished my PhD qualifying exam, which in this department used to be called the 'readiness assessment test' or RAT. It may have been trial instead of test, but something with a T at any rate. The official name is now just Readiness Assessment because they didn't like people calling it a RAT, but everybody still does.

I was asked to cut the head off just after being informed that I had passed and the multi-week process was over. Ana did hers last spring and may hold the record for earliest passed exam in the department, but I responded like an adult (with champagne) not with rodent cake. Ana has her own craft blog and talks about the creation of the cake here if you want to know more about the technical details. Anyway, here it is:

Prior to transport and incision

RAT cake with head cut off after the end of the exam

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Knobstone Trail Hiking

Indiana is rightly noted for being pretty much flat and covered in corn and soy but waaaay down by Kentucky they have some dirt that is hill-shaped rather than being flat and on this hill-shaped dirt they have a trail called the Knobstone Trail. We visited this with some friends for camping and hiking purposes and found it was pretty nice (aside from the seven(!) ticks Ana managed to pick up).  Full picture set on Flickr and selections below.

We had to drive to get there so it was car-camping which allows for considerable luxury vs. backpacking. 

 Indiana apparently possesses large bright yellow and green spiders. 

The horizon goes forever when you're on the one tall part of a whole flat state. 

 Camera's panorama function remains cool.

 Hiking pictures now featuring more than just Ana!

Interesting tree shapes may be related to a major tornado that passed over this specific area a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wasn't it Spring yesterday?

April 11 - temperature in the 70s, sunburn, sandals and t-shirts, gorgeous Springfest.

April 15 - snow covering the daffodils and hyacinths. Welcome to Indiana!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

And Now For Something Completely Different

Spring has finally sprung, and to celebrate, Ana visited Purdue's Annual Springfest, featuring a Bug Bowl with cricket spitting competitions and an open house at the School of Veterinary Medicine. Purdue gets over 40,000 visitors, mostly families with children, for this event. It's packed. I only stayed for a short time and hung out around the vet school for the most part. I ate no bugs and spit no crickets this time, but there's always next year!

The campus was filled with yellow-and-white striped tents, all packed with parents and their children, run by student volunteers. The temperature reached the 70's and I got a bit of a sunburn while walking around; it was a perfect sunny spring day for Springfest. I headed over towards the petting zoo.

They had your typical llamas, goats, and rabbits. They seemed to be mostly hot and tired. There were fans in the barn, but the animals were just starting to shed their winter coats due to our extra-long, extra-cold winter and the day was just too much. The veterinary students had posters hanging by all of the animals discussing their proper care and general facts about them. They had a stethoscope with at least one of the rabbits so you could hear its heartbeat; that was surrounded by kids so I didn't get too close. They also had some ducklings and chicks to hold and pet. It was small, but really cool and it seemed to be a great learning experience for the kids. They also had a cow.

This is Buttercup. She seemed pretty done with the crowds and the day by the time I got there. She was the main attraction and had a pretty long line waiting to see her every time I walked by. Why, you ask? Do you get to milk her? Does she do tricks? Not exactly, but she does provide a very unique learning experience.

Can you see the appeal? Towards her rear, she has a fistula. What is a fistula? It is a hole. A hole between her stomach and the outside. It has a plastic ring around it and has healed nicely. This hole allows people to stick their hands inside her stomach and feel her digesting food. Yes, that's a human hand probing the cow's innards, feeling her stomach contract as it deals with the hay and grains she's eaten recently. Medically, this allows them to get healthy microbes to treat sick cows and gain a greater understanding of what might be going on inside a cow's 4-chambered stomach. It's also really cool.

Of course I did it too. It's creepy. Really creepy. But also really cool.

This guy is a retired greyhound. He's in his second career as a blood donor dog. He gives blood to have on hand at the animal hospital for surgeries and emergencies. This was an educational event, so they had a lot of really interesting exhibits to show what they do and to teach the community more about animals. Like these horses:

That is the digestive system of a horse, painted on its side so the general public can see. I couldn't tell you exactly what each organ was, but there they are in their color-coded, painted glory.

The second horse in that paddock had his skeleton painted on. I think this is a really cool idea, something I hadn't seen before. All in all, there were a lot of nice students presenting some very interesting and innovative educational experiences involving animals.

As I was heading home, I wandered through another set of nice students presenting educational experiences involving animals.

Yep, they're cooking mealworms for the audience to try. There was a cockroach exhibit and a few other things, but this one was the only picture-worthy exhibit I could get close to in the Bug Bowl area. If we have time, next year I'll drag Lee and make him spit a few crickets or try some mealworms. Stay tuned!