Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Busy Summer

When I think about the summer of 2013, I do not deny that the feeling that it "flew by" surfaces.  However, if I think about when I was in San Francisco, or when I taught my JBA course, it feels like a lifetime ago.  So perhaps it didn't fly by.  I'm here in the now and summer is gone.  So yes, it did pass, but it passed at the same speed everything passes us by.

Independence Day Weekend
During a bonfire earlier in the year, I met friends of our friends, Jonathan and Sara.  They had us down to Macon for an evening by the fire drinking craft beer and talking philosophy with their Macon crew.  If not for that meeting, I would have felt a lot more awkward going down a day early for the float trip at the Gasconade Hills Resort.  Jonathan and Sara were at a wedding and I camped with their friends that Friday evening following Independence Day. 

The subject of Gödel's incompleteness theorem came up.  This states that no system can be both complete and consistent.  Talking about it sparked a new love of mathematics in at least one other camper.  Even within a mathematical system, there are truths that cannot be proven.  Sitting in the middle of the canoe without a paddle between Jonathan and Sara the next day, I assumed those paddling would take me where I needed to go.  I could not assume a left or right turn, or that the ride would continue straight.  I could only sit back and choose to enjoy the ride or not.  I did.

CCAS Conference in Indianapolis
On July 1, I officially began my new role as Chair of the Statistics Department at Truman State University.  Earlier in the summer, when I was meeting with the Dean of the School of Science and Mathematics, under which my department is housed, it was encouraged (more close to enforced) that I attend a chair training conference in Indianapolis.

Erin decided to take work off and join me on the trip to Indy.  Steve took us out the first night we were in town to Scotty's Brewhouse, The Rathskeller, and the Bru Burger Bar for an evening of great brew and delicious food.  The next night, I met up with my high school friend Jake, who took us to the Broad Ripple Brewpub, the Brugge Brasserie, and Twenty Tap for another fantastic night of amazing beer and exquisite bites.

Steve and Jason at Rathskeller
Jake and Jason at the Brugge Brasserie

On the Saturday of the conference, I finished my session and then Erin and I went to Steve and Katie's place in Avon to visit and see the twins for the first time.  I tried to teach Michael all about beer.  Steve promised that he would fill in any gaps that I may have missed.  They cooked some burgers on the grill for us, had some cold Two Hearted Ales waiting, and sent us down to Bloomington in style.

Erin eating Big Red Wings at Yogi's

We had a condensed visit to B-town, so we accelerated our stay by taking in Upland Brewing Company, Mother Bear's Pizza, and a late night appetizer of Big Red wings at Yogi's Bar and Grill.  We dined at the Uptown Cafe for breakfast Sunday morning before heading back to Kirksville.

Ragbrai 2013

This summer I spent the last full week of July biking across Iowa for the fifth time.  This time, it was the shortest and easiest ride that I have been on.  My father and his best friend Lonnie came back for redemption.  They had stopped after day 4 last year because of a rain soaked tent and 4 days of extreme heat.  They finished strong and happy this year.  Friends Jonathan and Sarah also went this year.  Jonathan rode with his sister Becca while Sarah was game for experiencing Ragbrai from the driver's seat.

Mathfest in Hartford

A few days after returning from Ragbrai, I packed my bags again for a flight to Hartford, CT.  Earlier in the year at a conference in San Diego (see A Whale's Vagina), my colleague Scott had heard that a panel was being put together entitled "A Mathematician Teaches Statistics: Story from the Front Lines," and thought I would be great to serve on that panel.  I was invited, and decided to make the trip.

This was the first time I had visited Hartford, so I made sure to stay another day beyond just serving on my panel.  I visited several fun restaurants and breweries, and took in several sites.  In fact, I got too adventurous one day and took a bus ride to Willimantic to visit a brewery there.  What I neglected to do was check what times the bus would be coming back to Hartford.  I was on the last bus to Willimantic and the next bus back wasn't leaving until the next morning.  In a panic, I found an Enterprise very close to the brewery I visited and rented a truck to ride back to Hartford.  What an expensive mistake that I won't make again.  (If Erin had been with me, it would not have happened, so I blame her).

Great Taste of the Midwest

A week after I returned from Hartford, Erin and I packed for our third annual trip to Wisconsin.  Our friend Rob now lives in Dodgeville which splits the difference between his work in Madison and his wife's work in Platteville.  We left Thursday, August 8th and drove from Kirksville to Rob's place in Dodgeville.  My friend Brian left from Buffalo, NY for Rob's place as well.  Erin and I pulled in to Rob's place, Brian arrived from Buffalo, and Rob arrived home from work all within a time span of 2 minutes.  Nobody could have planned that better if they tried.

Thursday evening, we enjoyed some home brew that Brian brought from Buffalo and had some dinner at Bob's Bitchin BBQ.  We enjoyed a Vertical Epic from Stone, a Wild Sour Ale from New Glarus, and a Dantalion Dark Wild Ale from Upland before watching an episode of Archer and going to bed.

Friday, we had breakfast at Cooks Room Cafe, then to Grumpy Troll in Mt Horeb, a stop at New Glarus Brewery in New Glarus.  After that morning and afternoon adventure, we drove on into Madison and checked into our hotel before getting a taxi down to the Capital since most of the pre-partying was happening down there.  There were many different beers drank before another taxi took us to another place in Madison where we ate at Tex Tubb's Taco Palace, had another beer at the Alchemy, and yet another beer at One Barrel Brewing Company.  I think a game of chess broke out at One Barrel.  I lost.

When Saturday came around, Erin and I got up and around and ready for our shift of wrist banding! We worked from 11-2pm but only missed one hour of the festival since the gate didn't open until 1pm.  The festival was amazing like always.  And, just like always, post festival activities seem to be a blur to me.  We ordered pizza in the room and went to bed early.  The next week I reported to Truman for duty.

Jason, Rob, Erin, Brian

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Beauty of Mathematics

Within Truman State University there are many different departments.  One of them is called the Truman Institute, and one of their goals is to find or create fun and innovative learning opportunities that do not fall into the mainstream college experience.

Although new, the Truman Institute now oversees the 26 year-old program called the Joseph Baldwin Academy (or JBA) for Eminent Young Scholars.  This program is for students all over the country in 7th, 8th, or 9th grade.  It is definitely geared for high achieving students who may not be getting enough of a challenge in their classroom at home.  To learn more, visit the JBA website.   

I first taught JBA in the summer of 2010, when I taught "How to Lie with Statistics."  Since it was my first time teaching JBA I made the rooky mistake of not preparing nearly enough material.  These students gobbled up statistics as a hound dog sniffs and gobbles up any scrap of food within reach.  My first two days worth of material was gone in less than a day.

I took several years off from that experience.  In 2013, I was ready to tackle it again.  This time, instead of teaching a course in statistics, which is what I solely teach each semester, I thought I would develop a class in mathematics, something I haven't taught since the 07-08 school year.

I titled it "The Beauty of Mathematics: Elementary Problems in Quantity, Structure, and Space."  This time around I knew what to expect.  Even knowing what to expect, I still assumed I didn't and prepared 1.5 times the material I thought I would need on a given day.  It worked, and I had one of the better experiences of my life. 

Each JBA course (there were 11 during the June 8-28 session and 9 during the July 6-26 session) meets with their students for almost 6 hours a day.  My class met from 9-noon and then again after lunch from 1:15-4pm for five days a week, and then from 9-11:30am on Saturdays.  In total, we are with the students over 90 hours for three weeks.

This may seem like too much.  I agree.  How can students be engaged with mathematics for almost 6 hours a day and not burn out?  The answer is that they cannot.  Maybe other courses are different, but I feel my students would have got the same from my course (and had a similar experience) if I had them for only 3 hours a day.  In my opinion, the students would enjoy having two classes instead of one, and it would be a tremendous relief for the professors who would only have to prep for half the day.  Still, 3 hours is a long time to keep students in the classroom.

I kept to a pretty basic formula for my class.  To begin each morning session, students would wake up their brains by taking 3 minutes to find as many sets as they could (there were six total) of the 12 SET cards (see the Daily SET for instructions and to play). This game caught on quickly among the students and I do not doubt they have all asked their parents for their own game.

The morning would then be broken up by lectures and working together on worksheets.  First they would see it done a few times on the board and then work on their own problems independently or in groups.  Several activities forced students to work together and share insight.  A few students spoke up and admitted that this was a good thing for them, since they had not felt the need to do it in their classes at home.

In the afternoon, I would always open up with a mathematical card trick that I would perform a few times before handing out directions on how to perform the trick themselves.  I would also have them write out how they thought the trick worked.  Thanks to the Card Trick Teacher for the many great tricks I showed them. 

The rest of the afternoon would follow the similar morning schedule of a brief lecture followed by a worksheet to develop and test their skills.  Both the morning and afternoon sessions would be broken up with a few 10 minute breaks.  Each session may have had a computer lab element to it, or perhaps a viewing of one of the many shows that Marcus du Sutoy created, including The Story of Mathematics, The Music of the Primes, and The Code.

On the first Saturday, I took students downtown to Kirksville's Farmer's Market.  There, they were able to explore both the market and what downtown had to offer.  Many students found an ice cream shop to their favor.  On the second Saturday, I took students for a long hike behind AT Still's Thompson Campus Center.  They have over a mile of wooded trails along which is an obstacle course of several challenges.  

During our last week together, I decided that we should do something fun and create our own little version of a Harlem Shake video.  The students and preceptors both were amazing participants.  Even though it was only three weeks, when you spend so much time together, it is hard not to get attached.  There were a few students in my class who impacted me deeply, and I them.

The experience was very rewarding albeit exhausting.  It has sparked my interest in the history of mathematics and statistics.  Since JBA, I have picked up several books from the library that I am working my way through.  I have finished Fermat's Enigma by Simon Singh and am close to finished with The Lady Tasting Tea by David Salsburg.

I left a few minutes at the end of our last day of class together for students to share their thoughts and feelings of their experience with The Beauty of Mathematics.  A few of them shared how it was the best class they had ever had, not without choking up a little.  They weren't alone.  I choked up right along with them.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May in the Bay

Erin's friend Cara and her husband Mike recently had a baby girl whom they named Harper almost 4 months ago.  Erin has been itching to get out there and see her "niece" since she was born.  We made it happen last week and made our way to San Francisco (Richmond, mostly) from Wednesday evening through Sunday morning May 22-26.  

Harper living the active baby lifestyle
When we arrived at the Oakland airport, Mike, Cara, and Harper were all waiting to take us down to the In-N-Out Burger.  Although we don't go every time we go out west, we almost do.  If you are wondering why, it is because "those are good burgers, Walter.

"Some Burgers, some beers, a few laughs..."
On Thursday morning Cara and I went to pick up coffee for everyone at Peets (yummy).  Once we got those down, we decided on some pastries from La Farine Bakery.  Following some great early morning conversation, Cara took us to Enterprise so we could pick up our little, white, four-door, Toyota Yaris for the weekend.  The Yaris provided a lovely drive over the Bay Bridge and up to Santa Rosa where we stopped at Russian River Brewing Company where we spent over two hours.

Erin and I ordered a sampler and the Nu Deal with added garlic from the pub menu. They had an amazing selection of IPAs including one brewed with 100% Simcoe hops called "Row 2, Hill 56."  Their Blind Pig IPA and Pliny the Elder were also fantastic.  Of their wild ales, I found Supplication to be my favorite followed closely by Consecration and Sanctification.  With a BeerAdvocate rating of 98, Russian River is considered a "World-Class" brewery.

To kill some time before dinner and to let our lunch and noonday beers settle, we checked into our hotel in Healdsburg.  Erin wouldn't let me take a nap, so we headed to downtown Healdsburg to get a coffee first at  Flying Goat Coffee.  Erin ordered an Aztec Mocha which was spicy and delicious.

We decided to try some wine, so we stopped in at the Hawley Tasting Room & Gallery.  John Hawley has come to Kirksville a time or two to do wine tastings at the country club.  Since we had tasted and enjoyed Hawley wine before, we thought we would stop in to their location in Healdsburg to say hello.

Hawley Tasting Room & Gallery
An FFA parade was about to roll through town to kick off the Memorial Day weekend, so we got ourselves some very coveted seats right inside the open windows of Windsor Vineyards Tasting Room.  We were able to see most of the parade from there while having a flight of wine and then selecting a bottle of Carignane to enjoy.  

By the time we made it to Bear Republic we were both warm and fuzzy all over.  We ordered a sampler and the Mega Roasted Garlic, which was described as "Gilroy Elephant garlic, roasted in olive oil, white wine and herbs. Served with brie, green apples, roasted red peppers and crostini."  We get really pumped about our food.  I can't remember what I got as a main course.  I barely touched it.  Back at the hotel, I almost passed out while it was still light out.  Maybe I was still suffering from jet lag.

On Friday, I slept all the way back to Mike and Cara's while Erin drove.  They took us to Viks for lunch which served South Indian food.  I had some Masala Dosa, and Erin ordered Aloo Tikki Cholle and Samosa Cholle.  If this place was in Kirksville, it is possible it could survive on Erin's and my business alone.

After lunch, Mike took over some babysitting duties (thanks, Mike) and Cara joined Erin and me to go sailing in the Bay.  We met Erin's aunt and uncle (Mary Jo and Jim) at their condo in Point Richmond.  They were taking us with them for their first sailing outing of the year.  None of us had been sailing before, so I went to school.  I learned a lot and could see myself easily getting into something like this.

Even though we had some beers on the sailboat, sailing did make us ravenous.  We said our thank yous and good byes (a postcard will also be sent their way: Thanks Mary Jo and Jim) and headed back to pick up Mike and Harper to go to dinner.  They took us to Talevera Cafe in Berkeley.  I had Lamb Barbecoa and Erin had Mole Guajillo.  If you can't tell, it made us very happy.

Mmmmmmm..... Foooooooood.

Saturday morning found us traveling down to the Ferry Building and the farmer's market.  I picked up some post cards to send out and enjoyed a veggie spring roll.  We found some beer to drink that afternoon (Rodenbach Grand Cru and Sculpin IPA).  After taking these great photos next to the Ferry Building, we walked to Tony's Pizza Napoletana. 

Tony's opened at noon, and we got there a little before.  We found a line going down the block in anticipation of it opening.  Yes, it was that good.  Cara ordered her favorite fries to share, the Lillet Blanc Fries which had smoked pancetta, honey, and parmigiano.  We also ordered a small Margherita Pizza (wood fired at 900 degrees) and a large New Yorker (coal fired at 1000 degrees).  I had a pint of 90 Minute Dogfish Head IPA to go along with this taste bud orgy.  

Cara and the Lillet Blanc Fries
Mike teaching Harper all about Tony's

Margharita and the New Yorker (with 90 Minute IPA)

Erin and I found it funny that Mike and Cara didn't think we would finish all of the pizza.  Indeed, we consumed it all.  There was nothing left.  This is the Shaw way.  We walked back to the car and were going to spend some time at The Trappist, but Harper got us kicked out.  So, we went back to Mike and Cara's for the drinking of the Grand Cru and Sculpin IPA.  

This was so fucking good. 

I'm not sure how this was possible, but we got hungry again.  To enjoy Sichuan Fusion in the best way possible requires a large table with the rotating table server in the center.  Thus, Mike invited their most excellent neighbors Kyle and Brandy to join us.  We dined Indiana Jones style.  I can't tell you what we ordered exactly, but when going from one plate to the next and even back again, each dish that I tasted was my new favorite.  I'm not sure how that was possible, but it happened. 

What a fun trip.  Mike, Cara, and Harper were such great hosts.  They said we were good guests, too, and that we should come again sometime.  Hopefully they meant it, because we totally will be.   

Thursday, May 16, 2013

School's Out: Summer Plans

It has been almost two months since I posted my controversial correlation between religion and ACT scores. It got quite a bit more attention than I had anticipated.  Although I was not intending to upset anyone, I knew that people would be upset.  When data and facts get in the way of what somebody believes, the emotions of those that are slaves to a sole way of thinking run rampant and their underpants get wadded up in a bunch.  Instead of thinking about what one can learn about the correlation posed, many people will immediately think that it cannot possibly be true and there is an explanation around it.  *Sigh*  Enough about that.

Like the title suggests, I'm done with classes for the summer.  But this will hardly be a summer like my others.  I will be officially taking over chair duties of the newly formed Statistics Department at Truman State University on July 1.  Meanwhile, I will be keeping busy with the transition process.  I will be attending a conference in Indianapolis July 11-13 hosted by the CCAS (Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences) which is specifically for department chairs.

Another huge thing on my plate this summer will be teaching JBA (Joseph Baldwin Academy) again.  This is a three week (June 8-29), highly intensive class with gifted 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students that come from all different parts of the country, mostly from Missouri.  I have been busy preparing for this since classes ended.  It will come close to sucking the life out of me.  These classes meet for 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon 5 days a week, and 3 hours in the morning on Saturday.  The course I will be teaching is titled The Beauty of Mathematics: Elementary Problems in Quantity, Structure, and Space.

Summer also means softball.  Like last summer, our large group of interested players have split into two men's recreational teams that play on Thursday evenings and one co-rec team that will play on Sundays.  Although I will probably see playing time on all three, the team that I will manage and give the most energy to will be the One Hit Wonders this year.

Erin and I will be traveling to San Francisco from May 22-26. We are going primarily to see her good friend Cara and her husband Mike's new baby girl Harper.  I'm sure we'll find some time to sample a few great beers from around the area.

My fifth Ragbrai will take place June 21-27.  I plan to make a mini-documentary of this week long bike ride across Iowa.  This will be one of the easiest years to date.  It is both short and not that hilly.  This will give me plenty of time to get some fun shots of interesting people.  This year, I will know a few more people going from Kirksville, so I will have a few more familiar faces on the ride.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Religion vs. ACT Scores in America

While I was doing some leisure reading and enjoying Taos, NM over Spring Break, a research question came to mind.  How religious is each state in America?  Along with that, how intelligent is each state on average?  The reason this came to mind is that through my own personal experience, I noticed I was able to break through the boundaries of my thinking back when I was religious and become, in my own opinion, much more intelligent.

Pretty quickly I found some data that Gallup collected on March 27, 2012 regarding how religious individuals felt.  Nationally, about 40% of Americans are very religious, in that they attend church services and believe religion to be a very important part of their lives.  Only 28% of Americans see themselves as moderately religious, where religion isn't that important but they attend services or they may feel it is important but don't attend services often.  The growing number is those Americans who feel they are not religious, as 32% fit into this category [see Gallup poll].

It turns out Mississippi is the most religious state, with Utah and Alabama coming in second and third respectively.  The least religious states in America (which also happen to be the most non-religious states) are Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.  Although Mississippi and Alabama are also the top two least non-religious states, there are at least 17 states that have fewer non-religious people than Utah.  I found that interesting.

The average ACT scores of graduating students is hardly a measure of the overall intelligence of a state, but it is one measure.  The ACT website had data on 2012 graduates from all 50 states, including the composite average and averages in Math, English, Reading, and Science.  I've put both the religious and ACT data in an Excel file that you can obtain here.

It turns out Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky have the lowest three average math ACT scores, while Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut have the highest three math ACT scores.

I fit a total of fifteen different simple linear regressions relating my response variable of either Percent of Very Religious (y1), Percent of Moderately Religious (y2), or Percent of Not Religious (y3), to one of five independent variables Composite ACT (x1), English (x2), Math (x3), Reading (x4), and Science (x5).

Here were the t values for the coefficients that go with each independent variable and the coefficient of determination for each regression:

Most likely, you're not a math person, and you're wondering what the hell this is telling you.  This is telling you that the average Math ACT score in a state is a very significant predictor of whether a state is Very Religious or Not Religious.  Here are some graphs that may help you see what is going on. 

The larger the percentage of "Very Religious" people in the state, the lower the average Math ACT score is in that state.

The larger the percentage of "Not Religious" in a state, the larger the average ACT Math score is in that state.  

Please note: this in no way shows or proves causation!  But isn't the correlation interesting?  There are many other variables at play here, no doubt, but nobody can argue that there is not a correlation between how religious a state is and how well they do on their Math ACT.  

This was the most fun I had with statistics since I've been alive. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Changing Tide

The issue of gay marriage has come up again and again over the years.  It reminds me of a steadily rising tide as we near dusk.  The waves have finally shown their white caps.  Now, it is time to grab a surf board and enjoy the glorious ride to its inevitable beautiful conclusion.

What led to this massive wave?  On March 7th, Bill Clinton wrote a piece for the Washington Post calling to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which he signed into law in 1996. On March 15th, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio publicly backed gay marriage after his son came out as being gay. On March 26th, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) held hearings on Propostion 8.  Today (March 27th), SCOTUS will question the constitutionality of DOMA.

The Rising Tide (from FiveThirtyEight Blog)
Gay marriage is still not allowed in Missouri.  Since this is the case, academic institutions across the state which are full of forward thinking individuals have had to juggle around this injustice to offer employees in a committed same-sex relationship the same benefits and privileges as other employees that are married.  Truman State University is only now considering these benefits.  A joint resolution to encourage the board to act immediately in extending these benefits to domestic partners has already passed the Student Senate unanimously.  It is on the agenda of the Faculty Senate for tomorrow (March 28th).

Everywhere around me is the topic of gay marriage.  It is unavoidable.  I've already weighed in my opinion with my blog "Who will I vote for?" Since then, I've heard many other arguments against gay marriage.  They have all been discredited in some way or another.  I am closing in on a saturation point of arguments for and against.  Here is how all of them go in my head: 

Someone arguing against gay marriage tries to makes point A or argument B that does not support gay marriage.  I simply point out that point A or argument B is not anywhere in the vicinity of being as important to me as the equal treatment of all human beings, and that I find it appalling that their point A or argument B is MORE important to them than the equal treatment of all human beings.  

Usually at this point, the individual provides some song or dance around the issue of equality for all.  It is quite amusing to me to watch those that oppose gay marriage to dance around this issue.  They try their best to somehow justify their stance while sweeping this equality thing under the carpet.  But here we come, lifting the carpet back up and pointing at what is underneath.  Shame on them. 

If you are one to oppose gay marriage, shame on you for placing yourself on some high horse, where you may look down upon those you don't understand and say, "No, I will not grant you these rights and privileges that I enjoy."  Shame on you for thinking for a second that you have the right to pass judgement.  Shame on you for placing more weight in a definition, then the freedoms of "those other" people.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Taos: Day 5

Surprisingly, I was not sore at all on the morning after my ski trip.  The only discomfort I experienced was the ongoing congestion that refuses to go away.

I woke up Erin when I got hungry because we had plans to eat breakfast at Michael's Kitchen, one of Taos's best restaurants for breakfast.  To continue the New Mexican theme, I ordered Huevos Rancheros with green chilis and hash browns and Erin had the Breakfast Enchilada with green chilis.  She sat in front of a picture window, so it was hard to concentrate on what she was saying with the view behind her. 
The View from my seat at Michael's
Naps and more relaxation were needed in the late morning.  I decided to walk to the Wired ? Cafe around noon for another attempt at getting some grading done.  I enjoyed a Blueberry and Pineapple Smoothie with an apple juice base as I graded two of five pages for both sections of my statistics classes.

Around 4 pm, Erin easily talked me into a hike along the Rio Grande Gorge.  The day was a gorgeous one.  We didn't hike very far, but far enough to sit on a bench dedicated to Keri & Amy (whoever they are) where I got a video of the gorge and the surrounding countryside.
Rio Grande Gorge
The hike got us hungry for ice cream, and the Taos Cow was mooing.  We took a drive over to Arroyo Seco (on the drive from Taos to Taos Ski Valley) where you will find one of the smallest communities that thrives on the traffic to and fro the Ski Valley.  I ordered a double scoop with White Chocolate Pistachio and Pinon Caramel on a waffle cone and Erin had a double scoop with Raspberry and Coffee ice creams on a waffle cone.  We sat outside on the long deck full of tables, chairs, and chili ristras to enjoy our ice cream.  

These are chili ristras (because I know you were wondering)
We took a drive and found a good place to watch the sunset if we wanted to come back a few hours later.  Instead, we stopped at a liquor store called The Old Blinking Stoplight (OBL) to buy the beer that people requested back home and a few extra six-packs just in case.  We also stopped at Smith's for some salsa requests.  Again, we picked up a few others just in case. 

Our dinner choice was the Gorge Bar & Grille which is on the Taos Plaza.  I ordered a margarita "old school" style, in which they do not put that American sweet & sour shit.  It is just tequila, orange liquor, and a half fresh squeezed lime.  Thank you very much!  I had a green chili grilled cheese with a black bean soup and Erin had a club sandwich.  

That was our last hoorah in Taos.  That evening we packed and cleaned the place up for a 5:30 am departure.  We had a great time and look forward to visiting again when her folks are actually down there.  I really like fact that I will have a place to ski and snowboard on a regular basis!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Taos: Day 4

At 6:40 Wednesday morning, I got up and dressed, fixed some coffee and a big bowl of cereal, drank a lot of water, and then hit the road for Taos Ski Valley.  I timed it almost perfectly as I arrived around 8 am.  That gave me an hour to rent some boots and skis, buy a lift ticket, rent a locker to put stuff into, and twiddle my thumbs for a few moments before the lift began operating.  I was fourth on the lift!
At the Base of Taos Ski Valley 
 The first time down was much better than my first time down with the snowboard a year and a half ago.  I only fell down a few times getting used to the skis.  I consider that quite an accomplishment.  For the first few runs, I stuck with the green routes (easy ones), and briefly thought that these would be the only ones I would ski for the day.  That idea got thrown out quickly, as I did venture to a few blue routes.  Since 2000 was the last year I had skied, and I like not being covered in bruises, I did not venture any further to the black diamond routes.
At the top of Taos Ski Valley
I had lunch a little after 11 am in the middle of the mountain at a place called Whistlestop.  I ordered a coffee, Powerade, a Clif Bar, and a spinach and mushroom crepe, all of which I downed in one setting.  Eating just got in the way of skiing the way I saw it, so I couldn't eat fast enough.

Although the lifts were open until 4:30, my mind and body were done at 2:30, so I beat the crowd and traffic by leaving a little early.  It was quick and easy retrieving my stuff from my locker and turning my boots and skis back in.

Erin wasn't expecting me back so soon, so that gave me plenty of time to have a big snack, shower, and take a long nap.  Around 5 she was done working (transcribing interviews for dissertation) and we went for a night on the town.

It started at Taos Mesa Brewing Company for appetizers and drinks.  We had some Green Chili Corn Fritters with a Green Chili Cheddar Ale dipping sauce and some chicken taquitos served with their homemade salsa.  I enjoyed a pint of their Superstitious Stout and 13 oz. of Crosseyed, their double IPA.  We listened to a band called The Paragraphs while enjoying our tasty beverages.
Near Sunset at Taos Mesa Brewing Company
For the third time this trip, we returned to Dragonfly Cafe (Erin's favorite restaurant in Taos) for Wednesday evening's Tapas and Wine Flights.  We ordered clams baked with chorizo and tomatoes served with grilled crostini, Brie with Medjool and black dates served with crostini, and an Indian spiced cabbage salad with grilled swordfish and smoked paprika aioli.  Our Italian wine flight consisted of three half pours of Prosecco sparkling wine, Bollini Pinot Grigio, and Fiano di Avellion.  On the table was a basket of apricot bread and Gorgonzola biscuits.
The Wine Flight at Dragonfly
By the end of the dinner and wine flight, I was ready to collapse from exhaustion.  It did not take long for me to pass out back at the house.  Although we have one more day to spend in Taos, it will be hard to top this one.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Taos: Day 3

On Tuesday morning, I woke up shortly after 6am refreshed and curious when the Wired? Cafe was to open.  A quick search revealed that it would open at 8am so with the time to kill I read a few more chapters of The Great Hunt before collecting my materials to work down at the cafe all morning. 

Along the way, I noticed an unusually large number of the small liquor bottles littered all over the side of the road.  It was quite the riddle I could not figure out.

I ordered a large coffee and a bagel with peanut butter, got the wi-fi password and found a comfortable place to sit and grade exams.  Over half way through them, I let Texas Holdem on Facebook distract me, so I was only able to completely finish one of my class's exams.  I have two more to go on some other morning. 

Erin made some southwestern salads for lunch and we watched the 8th episode of Homeland.  For the rest of the early afternoon, I worked on a few Kirksville Multisport board member duties.

Around 3pm, we walked to the Taos Plaza.  We stopped at a few stores to pick up some more hot sauce, salsa, and some pinon incense.  With just a few stops, we had picked up everything we needed so we strolled down to the Alley Cantina. We enjoyed some "Silver Coin" margaritas and some jalapeno poppers there.  It is one of the oldest places in Taos. 

Since the margaritas and appetizer at Alley Cantina were expensive, we decided to hit happy hour up the street at the Taos Ale House.  I had a Marble Stout and Erin ordered two small samples of their wheat and porter.  We played a round of cribbage in which Erin dominated for almost the entire game.  As the game was winding down, and I thought there was no hope, I was dealt 6, 6, 7, 8, and then cut a 6 for a 20 count.  With one more round of play and my first count, I finished ahead and conquered.  I felt really bad and really good at the same time.

It was getting close to dinner time, so we walked to La Cueva and tempted the idea of an appetizer and another beer somewhere else first.  We held course, and La Cueva was named appropriately because it felt as if we were in a tiny little cave.  I ordered the recommended Chicken Mole Enchiladas and Erin had a combination platter with a chicken enchilada with green chili sauce, a veggie taco, and a chili rellano.  Both were good. 

After dinner we enjoyed a long walk home to burn off some of dinner's calories.  Erin began to get me pumped up about skiing the slopes of Taos Ski Valley on Wednesday.  The guy serving us at Taos Ale House suggested that I plan to arrive up there at 8am to get easily parked, get my gear rented, and be ready to go by 9am; when the lifts officially open.  I will heed his advice.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Taos: Day 2

Monday morning in Taos was a sleep in day for Erin, whereas I had to wake up and hydrate myself as I have been suffering from congestion and sore throat.  

Like every morning for the rest of the week, I will begin my day with leisure reading (today I read two chapters in The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan, and a few sections of What Hath God Wrought).  I watched the episode of Homeland that Erin watched without me on Sunday since I fell asleep while uploading scores from my class to the grade book.  

We made Rip's Big Bowls for breakfast so we could lounge around most the morning.  For lunch, we visited the Dragonfly Cafe for the second day in a row (previously we enjoyed breakfast there).  Erin was craving a Gyro sandwich that she had there a few years ago when we were here.  I ordered a Veggie Burger that was outstanding.  

We stopped by the Post Office for post card stamps on our way back to the car.  When we got back to the house, we took a picture of the sign I created for my second mock post on Mondays in March.  

I took a long nap, read and wrote some more, and then we watched the third episode of Homeland. On the DVDs, there was only 3 episodes on the first disk, while there is 5 on the first Blu-Ray disk.  This had us out of sync since we had Blu-Ray disk 2 with episodes 6-9. How were we to watch the 4th and 5th episodes?  Since we are on vacation we justified renting them through Amazon Prime.  

Yesterday evening, we enjoyed a couple of bottles of wine that Trish & Joseph offered us in exchange for helping them out with the leaky roof on Sunday.  They were good.  Monday was a very unproductive, money saving, lazy day in Taos.  But hey, we're allowed a few of those when spending 5 days.  


Some of my addictions include peanut butter, Mexican food, pizza, and Doritos.  Whenever I begin consuming any of these, it is very hard if not impossible to stop.  To deal with this, if I decide to consume any of them, I do two things: ration it out in small doses and make it very difficult to get another ration.  

Erin has an addiction of her own that many of you can relate with. The addiction showed through brightly last night as we finished watching the 8th episode of Homeland.  She wanted to keep watching more and I reasoned that it was time for bed (11pm).  I also reasoned that we had watched enough T.V. for the day (since we had watched episodes 3-8).  After all, we had the rest of the week to watch the rest of the season (through episode 12).  What ensued was the closest thing to a temper tantrum as you can get as an adult. 

I only write about this because many of you can completely sympathize with her.  But, many of you also can sympathize with me.  To top that off, many of you are couples with the same issue.  Life is funny. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Taos: Day 1

On Friday afternoon, after giving an exam to my Linear Regression class from 1:30-2:20pm, my Spring Break began.  Erin and I planned on traveling to Taos, New Mexico to vacation for a week in her parents' new house at which they will spend their retirement.  We packed the car and drove to Lawrence, KS (where her parents are currently living) to pick up instructions and the key.

We awoke around 5am on Saturday morning and were driving by 5:30am.  Trish & Joseph (Erin's folks) sent us with coffee, a small load of their own, and a key to their new place.  

The drive went fine until we go to La Junta, CO.  A little outside La Junta, the rain turned into snow and the drive became slow and tedious.  Once, Erin came upon a plow that had stopped to help someone that had slid off the road.  When she passed, she found herself plowing the road with our Subaru Outback.  Although slow going, especially over La Vida pass, we finally arrived a few hours behind schedule.

After unpacking and admiring their new home (and our vacation home for the week), we drove back north to the Taos Mesa Brewing Company.  Erin had a sampler of their beers (Superstitious stout, Kolsch 45, Lunch Pale Ale, Hopper IPA) and the Green Chili Cheeseburger while I had a pint of the Hopper and the Green Chili Black Bean Burger.  I suggested we get a growler of Hopper to take back to the house and watch the rest of Game of Thrones season 2.  We only had 2 episodes left.  

After the first pint and just one episode I felt pretty miserable.  Although I very rarely get sick, I had started feeling a sore throat and congestion before leaving for Taos.  It was really catching up with me.  The altitude (6000 feet higher than Kirksville) and the climate (very dry) difference probably wasn't helping much either.  I powered through the last episode without a beer and then went to bed.  Although it wasn't the best of night's sleeps, I felt pretty good Saturday morning.  For a small period of time Saturday we had to move our clocks back an hour since we changed time zones.  But then Sunday we could move them back forward again with daylight savings.  

On Sunday morning, I got up and got comfortable in the house.  I made some coffee, continued to drink plenty of water (dealing with altitude), and read and relaxed most the morning until Erin got up.  We drove down to the Taos Plaza and walked the remaining distance to Dragonfly Cafe for more coffee and brunch.  I ordered a Green Chili Stew with eggs over medium floating on top.  Erin ordered a veggie omelet that had several different vegetables inside topped with a pesto sauce.  We shared a lot of our breakfasts with each other because they were so good.  

Just outside Dragonfly Cafe

We walked back to the Plaza after brunch and stopped by Seconds Eco Store, one of Erin's favorite shops in Taos, and picked up a few items there.  We went back home afterwards for reading and naps.

While doing a little leisure reading and looking up a few things on the internet, I heard a stream of water hit the ground very close to where I was sitting at the dining room table.  That was when I looked up to notice a leak in the roof.  I hurriedly put a trash can under the stream and had Erin call her folks.  I found a ladder and a snow shovel, so I got up on the roof and shoveled off the snow.  Using Erin's IPad, I took pictures of the place on the roof at which I felt was the source of the leak.  Erin's folks were thankful enough for our service they said to open another bottle of their wine on them.  I was just glad we were here!

Down from the roof, Erin was hungry for a snack.  We went to Eske's Brew Pub for a Green Chili Beer and some chips, salsa, and guacamole.  There may have also been a small tasting of their Millennium IPA.  While still at Eske's, I made a phone call to the Video Casa to see if they had the first disk to season 1 of Homeland.  They did, so we went to rent it.  (The disk we got from Netflix was faulty).

Down the street from the house was Albertson's where we picked up some groceries for the week.  I found a few extras to add to the cart, one of which was a 6-pack of New Mexico Brewing Company's Black IPA.

We dropped off the groceries off at the house and then went to the Taos Ale House.  Erin ordered a S.W. Pale Ale and I had a Porter.  We found a cribbage board and a deck of cards so we played a few rounds of cribbage while we enjoyed our beverages.  We had to get some Happy Camper IPA for the second game.

It began to get dark and close to dinner time, so we closed our tab and headed to Taos Pizza Out Back.  It was a long wait, but it was worth it.  The pizza was very good.  I ordered a slice of the Southwest and Erin ordered a slice of The Taos.  And yes, one slice was enough of a meal.  Of course, we couldn't have that slice of pizza without having a pint of Monks' Ale and Torpedo!

Back at the house, we enjoyed a nice relaxing evening watching the first couple episodes of Homeland.  We can't wait to see what the rest of the week has to offer.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

You want a dollar?

Recently, I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors for the United Way of Adair County.  Since this was an opportunity to give back to the community, I didn't give it much thought and jumped on board.
It is important to me that a non-profit organization be very efficient with their funds.  If I am to advocate for an organization and raise money for them, I need to be able to tell the people that I will eventually ask for support that almost all of their money will be going toward a cause and a very small percentage toward costs.  I was proud to find the United Way on this list of charity all stars.

One of our fundraising events is going on right now as we try and sell chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine's Day.  If you don't already give to the United Way and would like to make a one-time donation, this is a great chance.

Donations are currently set at $11 and $16.  Since I would also like to give to the United Way, and I find these prices a little weird, I will give $1 for everyone that will donate either $10 or $15.

Post a comment on the blog or the Facebook post with "Count me in for $10/$15 on the 13th/14th" depending on the day you would like your half dozen or dozen of chocolate covered strawberries delivered.

Thanks for helping me have a good start in my new position on the board! 

You can also order online

Saturday, January 26, 2013

MBT3 Or The Birth of Chops and Scrappy

Recently Erin and I made some new friends with Jonathan and Sarah.  You may remember them as the first couple to appear in the Holiday Meal video.  Besides the Holiday Meal, we've had them over for a couple dinner and talked quite excessively about our Michigan Brewery Tours we go on each MLK day weekend.  As they heard more and more about it, you could sense that they were waiting for an invite.

It was a real pleasure to have Jonathan and Sarah along not only because they shared our love of beer and adventure, but because it would add a second female to the crew and we would have some people to consistently split some hotel and gas costs with.  Almost everyone on MBT has a nickname, however, and we never came up with anything.  So, Erin and I dub them Chops and Scrappy.  It may not stick, but it is worth a shot.

On a usual Friday, I begin getting antsy at the office between 3:45 and 4:00.  At 4:19 (which is the approximate volume of a unit sphere), the department's "Fluid Dynamics Seminar" meets at the Dukum Inn.  On the Friday of MBT, I had to wait until 11:15pm before my first beer at 3 Floyds in Munster, IN.  It closes down at 2am, so we were able to have ample time to enjoy our first night.  I enjoyed a pint of Sand Pebbles, Zombie Dust (which according to Beer Advocate is the 7th best beer in the world), Arctic Panzer Wolf, and a Blot Out the Sun Stout.

Once we had broke our fast at The Commander restaurant in Munster Saturday morning, we drove to Battle Creek, MI for lunch and beers at Arcadia Brewing Company.  Erin and I split a salad and a quesadilla.  I enjoyed an ESB, a Skye High Rye, and a shorty of a London Porter.

Our afternoon was spent at Bells in Kalamazoo.  That was where we met the New York (or eastern) contingent of our group.  Since I brought two corny kegs for Brian to take home, he told me to put a few beers on his tab which I happily obliged.  I remember trying a Kal-Haven, Red Nose ESB, and The Wild One.  You may be wondering why I did not have Hopslam or Two-Hearted Ale since these are some of my favorites.  I can get those at home.  The ones I mentioned are specialty beers that can only be had on tap.

To end Saturday evening we made our way to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange which surprised me in two ways.  I imagined something a lot more like the stock exchange with the prices of beer moving across a screen, but it was a solid TV screen that was updated every 15 minutes.  Given that small and minor let down, the place was a lot more immaculate and larger than I had expected.  I split a vegetarian lasagna with Erin and had a few drinks the only one of which I remember was Lagunitas Sucks.  That turned out to be one of my favorites for the entire weekend.

I'm very glad Erin was driving to Ann Arbor the next morning since it gave me another hour and a half to remain very still and sleep off the adventures from the previous day.  By the time we arrived at Jolly Pumpkin for lunch, I was almost tip-top.  The La Roja was a brilliant beginning to my Sunday (Chops ordered one as well).  This is an American Wild Ale (just like The Wild One from Bells) which I will be tenaciously seeking from now on.  A Smashed Chick Pea Panini along with a draft of Maracaibo Especial topped off the lunch with excellence.

The afternoon was spent at Dragonmead in Warren.  They had a World Beer Cup Silver Award winning beer called The Ring of Fire.  It was a cream ale brewed with jalapeno, Serrano, and habenero peppers. It was by far the best chili beer I had ever tasted.  After checking in at the hotel, we got a taxi to Kuhnhenn where we ordered take-out Thai that was so good my mouth watered while writing this sentence.  I hyped up their DRIPA too much I think.  Although delicious and an exceptional beer, it didn't quite match my expectations.  The Creme Brule Stout and their American IPA were also good enough to remember and write down.  Kuhnhenn closed at 10pm, so we closed our Sunday night down a little early.

At our hotel, Brian offered his room up for some Euchre and more beer.  His room was in the hotel next door.  After another beer and several rounds of Euchre, I grew very tired and went upstairs to knock on 332 which was the room in the wrong hotel.  Hopefully, nobody was occupying that room at the time.  I finally realized my mistake and went next door.

The long journey home started after brunch in Warren.  We broke up the drive with a great lunch at the Fiddler's Hearth in South Bend.  I had a Monk's Cafe and a Hopslam from the tap.  We ordered Welsh Rarebit for the table and Erin and I split a Pear and Walnut Salad and some English style Indian Curry  We dropped off Chops and Scrappy in Macon, and got back to Kirksville a little before 1 in the morning.  It was a great MBT3, and has us looking forward to MBT4.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Whale's Vagina - 2013

Erin and I had quite the journey on Tuesday, January 8, once we arrived at the airport in San Diego (which according to Ron Burgandy, is German for a whale's vagina).  It began with making a decision on how to get to our hotel.  Anyone in their sane mind takes a cab to the hotel if there is no shuttle available.  Of course, I opted for the more adventurous bus ride. Stone Brewery in Escondido was our only destination of the evening.  However, the challenge was to get there without renting a car or taking a cab, because both of these options were too expensive for our budget.  

After dumping our stuff off at the Hilton in the Historic Gaslamp Quarter, we caught the green route trolley to the Fashion Valley stop.  Here, we waited several minutes for the 20 bus to Del Lago, except that it didn't go  all the way to Del Lago.  Well short of Del Lago, the bus driver told us to get off and follow the other people to another stop if we wanted to continue.  Another several minutes, and another bus 20 (this one I guess to take us the rest of the way) picked us up.  What seemed like forever passed before we arrived in Del Lago.  

It was painful watching the time tick by, knowing that every second that passed was another second that couldn't be spent at Stone, and would have to be matched on the return journey home.  Luckily, in Del Lago, there was a quick transfer to the 350 bus, that took us to the main station in Escondido.  This was the last bus that was on our list of instructions, but once we hopped on and asked the bus driver, he informed us that we would have to transfer to the 353 in Escondido station.  That took another 10 minutes.  Bus 353 finally put us on the door step of Stone's World Bistro & Gardens.  However, we only had 2 hours before the last 353 would be going the other direction.  

Erin and her Ruination
With the money saved through the use of San Diego and the surrounding area's transportation system, we splurged on dinner.  We ordered the Grilled Peach Arugula Salad, the Garlic, Chedder, and Stone Ruination IPA soup, and some Fried Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan Cheese from this amazing menu just for the appetizers.  I had a Stone Smoked Porter while Erin drank a shorty of Stone IPA.  For our entrees, Erin had the Artisanal Sausage Platter and I had the Wild Mushrooms over Penne dish.  I enjoyed that over an Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale from Stone.  For dessert, we ordered the Smoked Oregon Blue Cheese & Jalapeno Tart.  With dessert, Erin indulged herself with her favorite Ruination IPA.  It was a good thing she did, because the long adventure home was long and cold with nothing but a bed to look forward to.  

On Wednesday, after the morning session at the Joint Mathematical Meetings (yes, I did actually go to the conference everyday), we had lunch at Monkey Paw.  A graduate school friend and colleague, Nathan Carter, joined us for lunch.  We walked about a mile to get to Monkey Paw, and arrived 20 minutes before they opened.  That was enough time to snap these few shots outside.  Indoors, we found there were only two Monkey Paw brews on tap (along with several guest beers).  We tried both of them, the Bekantan Farmhouse Ale and the Sweet Georgia Brown.  I enjoyed them both with some wings and a salad.  

After a very mundane afternoon session at the JMM, we decided to travel to Ocean Beach and eat at Pizza Port.  This is a fantastic brewery which has four locations (fifth coming soon) and a bottle shop.  It is very unique in that each new location begins a new brewery brewing different beers, but keeps the same great tasting menu.  We ordered a sampler of 8 of the Ocean Beach beer selection and two small pizzas that we shared: the Garlic Veggie Pizza and the Pizza Vallarta.  We finished the evening off at The Beer Co. back in downtown San Diego.  Here you can see our sampler of 8 with Pleepleus.  

Pleepleus and his Pizza Port Beer Sampler

Erin had to bid me farewell on Thursday morning to return to work in Kirksville.  I hooked up with my graduate school colleague and friend Greg Lyng for lunch and beer at The Hopping Pig.  Erin had got a quick taste of this the afternoon before (while I was at a conference), so I wanted to check it out.  This was one of my favorite places, and is one that I would frequent a lot if I lived in San Diego.  It was small and cozy, with a small plate menu and about 24 great beers on tap.  During our 2 hour lunch, I had some Organic Greens and three drafts, one of which was a 90 Minute IPA from Dogfish Head.

Thursday afternoon I got in touch with my childhood friend Pepper, who I hadn't seen since I was 15.  He works in La Jolla and lives in Encinitas.  Since he knew I liked Pizza Port, he suggested the Solana Beach location and I was all about a second round.  I took a Coaster from San Diego which got me to Pizza Port at 5:10pm ahead of Pep.  I ordered a Seaside Stout, which was a gold medal winner at the GABF in 2011.  Pep arrived when I was halfway through my Swami's IPA.  He ordered a beer and we sat and talked for about an hour before we decided to get a pizza.  I think we settled for a medium Pizza Monterey.  He only had 3 slices and made me eat the 5th.  Sometime before 8pm we decided to call it a night.  I caught the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner back to San Diego for $12 and got some sleep.

Me and Pepper after 20 years

As soon as I got in, I got off the train and walked straight to The Yard House to meet colleagues Scott and Tom (also there for the JMM).  This place had 130 beers on tap.  I had a sampler of 3 shorties before we walked back to our hotels to call it a night.

Friday was my busiest day at the JMM, and I got the most out of the conference.  By 5:45 I was ready to have some fun, and was glad that Scott wanted to join me on an adventure to the north part of San Diego.  He met me outside my hotel around 6:30 and I talked him into hopping on the 2 bus to go to Toronado.  This place was similar in a way to The Hopping Pig with an offering of small plates, an amazing beer selection, and a small and cozy atmosphere.  If it were close to where I lived, it would definitely be a place I would frequent.  The 2 bus then took us back toward downtown with a quick stop at Hamiltons Tavern.  This was too small and too popular of a place for Scott and I at that moment in our lives.  It was very crowded and made us feel old.  We had a beer anyway.  At an earlier and less crowded hour, this place would have been a blast.  Scott and I capped the night off with a few beers back at The Yard House for our second night in a row.

Before my flight on Saturday I had breakfast at The Mission, which is one of the best 25 breakfast spots in the country according to USA Today.  I definitely thought it was a great end to my trip.  The coffee and breakfast selection was amazing.  I only wished Erin and I had found it while she was here!

The JMM will be back San Diego, probably in 5 years.  So will I.  See you then.