Monday, September 28, 2009

The Dolomites

Following the bustle of the city, we took off for a relaxing drive to the National Park of the Dolomites, also known as the Italian Alps. Their GPS really hates doubling back, so it took them up streets as wide as the van plus one inch. With the side mirrors tucked in. Mari did a great job driving it, emerging with nothing but net.

We eventually decided the drive had taken long enough and parked by the river at one point to stretch and have our picnic. Everybody threw rocks into the brook and we chatted awhile before lunch, grasshopper catching, and letting Uncle Derrill introduce the kids to centrifugal force. (Since I was the one holding the kids arms and spinning them wildly around, I'll have to wait to get pictures from DeWayne before I can post em.)



The Dolomites remind me of all my favorite mountains: part Santa Barbaran Los Padres area, only with more picturesque tunnels; tall as Provo's Rockies; trailed and watered like Ithaca's gorges.




DeWayne and I took the kids adventuring along the stream to a sandy area where they had constructed a lovely bridge. Hyrum did a great job climbing the rocks all by himself. The kids were all buried in the sand, more rocks were thrown, and we enjoyed watching a newlywed couple wandering the pebble bestrewn path for their pictures.



DeWayne quite enjoyed the looks of consternation on the bride's face. The final pictures may look very romantic, but we know how bothered she was to be doing this to her shoes and her dress train.

After a short hike back (with Hy on my shoulders wading through the icy waters) we rejoined the ladies who wanted a restroom across the bridge. We drove and walked there only to discover that it was the start of the very trail we had hoped to find! So after paying $1.50 each for the use of a porcelain hole in the ground, we set off up the mountains to find the elusive waterfalls whose run off had been entertaining us.






Looks like we found them.










We hiked. We sang. We threw more rocks and branches. We mourned a dead mouse.










This is one of the places we were introducing to their family. Beautiful area, easy hike.






In the bottom center of this one you'll see the newlyweds. I had to watch until they climbed up the rocks out of the beach area to see the groom offer his lady a hand up.

The little villa up there gave me this great idea for a set of spin-off series: Little House in the Alps; Little House in the Rain Forest; Little House on the Veldt (or on the Serengeti, maybe)... Each one about a rugged family of individualists eeking out a living on a different continent. The Alpen family could be shockingly right wing, trying to avoid all government attachments; the Rain Foresters of course have to be environmentalists of the third order, protecting their land with their lives; and the last are probably with a donor organization, moving around with refugee camps. Little House on the Outback, maybe? Why not?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Requests

"could I see a picture of the busboat?"

This is the wait to get on one. You step down onto the boat. On the ones that go around the island, you step down 3-4 stairs to a few rows of seats (2 on each side). On this one, no steps down and a lot more standing room only.

I had Hyrum on my back or in my hands any time we were boarding, hence, no pics but this one Joy took. Oh, but you can see one in the picture I took from the train station, down and to the right.

Ah, Venice 2 - Venice Itself


Leaving the busboat a second time, we made our way past the stalls (Joy acquiring a hat, and I a magnet to support Trinkets for Tourists) to St. Mark's Square. Yeah, there's a ducal palace off to the right, but I like churches and statues, so I got a bunch of pictures of anything I could see from the outside of St. Mark's Basilica.



These shots really do deserve to be seen close up. If there's one thing Catholics know, it's how to build impressive buildings and decorate them in the most awe-inspiring ways. It's a God of Power and Glory you worship here.

I discussed the upcoming LDS Temple in Rome with DeWayne (Joy's bro and a local bishop), including how odd it would be if the Church tried to 'compete' with Rome and the Vatican. Some people won't appreciate the sacredness of the building without it, perhaps, but they could actually lose the significance of what goes on inside - which is about the familial intimacy of our relationship with our Father in Heaven - in being awed by His power. ... And if my hunch is wrong, and the Church pulls out something on this scale, I will appreciate the magnificence of what we can do too and take it as a beautiful symbol of God's almighty power. After all, we got sealed in San Diego which is a fairy palace. Nuf said.

This is gorgeous stuff.



We wandered a few streets that would be side alleys if they weren't so crowded with shops and pedestrians. This was my favorite view of Venice. This, to me, is Venice.






We then ditched Hyrum with Joy's family and we enjoyed a romantic tour of the waterways by gondola, marked in blue on the map in the last post. Our guide didn't sing :( so I did. We passed by Vivaldi's house here on the left, as well as Cassanova's.




Joy's favorite part about Italy is the potted plants sticking out of every window. If you happen to come by the house next spring, I don't doubt but what we'll have acquired a flowering terrace on our mobile home. To the right of the flowers is St. Mary of the Miracle. I asked our guide which miracle. She's credited with a lot. ... If you know, please tell us.


Most of the time we were the only boat on the 'road' but occasionally we met several others. None of them were singing either. Joy loved every bridge. Somewhere about here we also passed Marco Polo's house and you can imagine what happened next.

"MARCO!"



And back out on the Grand Canal into a beautiful sunset.

We enjoyed dinner at a restaurant where DeWayne and co had parked themselves. Hyrum had entertained them by arranging his grapes in a row, putting them back on a plate, and starting over again. He fell asleep while we ate as DeWayne held and sang to him the way I do. I kept him asleep as we boarded a busboat to the train station, but he woke up at the train station. We all got home about 11pm, all still awake, and fell into a deep and profound slumber.

Ah, Venice 1 - Murano

Day 1 in Italy we were picked up, bright and early at 9am on no sleep and driven home to play a few games, spend time talking with the family, and be zombies. The highlight of the day for EVERYone was when I intended to show how tired I was by lowering my head on to the table where we were playing Alhambra. I misjudged the distance and smacked my head with a resounding thwack. They laughed pretty hard and as Joy started preparing her list of favorite memories, that was included.

Day 2 then we woke up and took the train to Venice. Venice is really a group of about 118 islands with 120 churches. They just added manor house and bridge upon bridge until all the land was filled. There is one Grand Canal the neatly divides the islands. Joy took one look at the map and said it formed two hands clasping. Poetic and accurate!


View Watsons in Venice in a larger map
This is an experiment with Google Map. I've drawn our routes and various stops along them where we took pictures. If this works, I'll try it with other places we visited. This will enable you to see as much or as little detail as you want about our visit.

There are sidewalks and canals in Venice, so their bus system consists of boats. (Sorry, not gondolas.) On the left is my first view of Venice as we emerged from the train station. The bus-boat was very crowded and the kids were kind of cranky, but a ray of excitement shone through the clouds of low blood sugar. For one thing, we got to see a lot of Venice as we sped along around the south edge of the city. (As in the first picture, above, taken from the boat. I think I get extra credit for taking that while the boat was moving.)



Along the way, something strange happened. Don't ask me what. It was so strange, I can't explain it myself.


We got off at Murano, the island (north of Venice proper) where they make a lot of glassworks. This was one of Joy's favorite parts of the city and the trip. It had a peaceful atmosphere, despite the walk being wall to wall shops, colorful and varied scenery, a passersby speaking English (British and American), German, Polish, French, and, oh yes, occasionally Italian. The internationality made me wonder what a street in Zion would sound like....

We set off in search of lunch, though I dragged Joy into a church that stood quietly along the way to explore. The others found a disappointing pizzeria just a few paces down the way, so it wasn't that much of a detour. Turns out, it was St. Peter the Martyr Church, complete with gorgeous paintings and glassworks of a holy bent. Perhaps BECAUSE the rest of the group passed by it and I almost alone enjoyed it, it was one of my favorite churches.






Across the canal from Peter is the bell tower with a modern art sculpture. Joy astutely commented that modern art in Ithaca looks strange, but it looks like it belongs in Venice. (I hope she will forgive me for taking a picture of her while eating.)






Wandering down the canal, we paused to gaze in the windows (and sometimes the doors) of many of the shops. There were the knick-knack shops doing their best for the non-profit organization (smirk) Trinkets for Tourists; the middle class shops with the more decorative figurines, more tasteful coffee table centerpieces, and more artisanal works; and the upscale sellers of chandeliers, glass chairs, and works of such artistry I dared not enter the shop.

Along one small side street we found a 5' tall wheel (about 1' thick) covered in gold leafing. In a shop in that alleyway, I found my favorite of all the Venetian masks I saw in Italy (the one on the left). I spent the rest of the trip looking for one like that in green and gold, but never found it. The vast majority of the masks are for women, and the men's masks really don't do it for me (except that one on the left). I eventually sour-graped myself into saying that we don't go to any costume parties where I could wear it and we have nowhere to display it, so it would have been a poor souvenir. They are impressive, nonetheless.

A last look down the little canal of Murano before we find another busboat to take us to Venice proper.


If there's anything you want more pictures of, just put it in the comments and I'll do so.

Friday, September 25, 2009

We're Home - Quick Highlights

We're baaaaa-aack!

For two weeks we were in Italy with Joy's brother and family. We figured we normally try to go to UT to visit her family, but the cost to go to Italy would be close to the same and we hadn't seen them in a long time and and and... so we did it. DeWayne (the brother in question) took the two weeks off of work so they could all go with us for most of our travels. I anticipate far more blogs than I will probably get around to writing, so here is the quick and dirty version:

The best part of travelling was Hyrum attempting to haul our suitcases around the Philadelphia airport during layovers. He was persistent like nobody's business. He carried on like this for an hour and a half, going back and forth on the people movers. And the FIT he gave us if we took the suitcase away! He just wanted to be a little adult. I dub this Hyrum vs. Suitcase:
video



We started off the next day in Venice, touring the Murano glass areas, and wandering through the main touristy thoroughfare until we got to the gondola of our choice. So we gonolaed for an hour and then I carried our sleeping baby back to the train home.




Saturday we went to a national park in the Dolomites, part of the Italian Alps. We wandered along a river and climbed up a path to find a serious of waterfalls with little pools.







Tuesday we left Hyrum with their family and took off by ourselves for a few days. We first visited Lake Bled in Slovenia. Any time you see a small lake with an island and a castle rising from the cliff face, it's Lake Bled they're modeling. Gorgeous.





Then we slept in the van for a couple nights in Salzburg, Austria. This is one of the big highlights. Cathedrals, dinner theater, castles, a cable car, trick fountains, rivers, Mozart, fresh breakfast of Brötchen and Nutella, Döner, ... good times.




We took the long way home, pausing in Oberndorf on the German/Austrian border for a pilgrimage to the place where Silent Night was written. "It's only a model." Then we drove through a corner of southern Germany, past Innsbruck and Kufstein in Austria, and on through the twisting hairpins and switchbacks of the Italian Alps during a furious rainstorm in a van with malfunctioning windshield wipers. Good times.


We visited Verona twice, hoping to get in to the third largest Roman Collesseum (the Arena) or the Roman Theater ... but being denied access both times. We did make it to Juliet's house (they added the balcony in the 1930s for the tourists). Even had the balcony been there originally, the plaza here is 14-20 feet wide, so there really wouldn't be anywhere for Romeo to have hidden himself unseen.



We ended our trip in Trieste with the Grotto Gigante and Miramare Castle. This was a most impressive castle, and that's after seeing castles in four countries. The decorations were really exquisite. This was the home of a Hapsburg Archduke who was appointed Emperor of Mexico ... where they assassinated him.


Then after 30 hours of travel during which Hy slept 30 minutes, we arrived back in Ithaca. We had a wonderful, magical time with Joy's family. We are so thankful they took the time out for us and fed us and played board games with us until the early hours and on and on. The difficult part will be sorting through the 1300 pictures and videos to see which get shared on here. If you want to see more, come on by and we'll regale you.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Riiview: 1 Year Later

This is the story of four people with the same dream: to lose weight on the WiiFit.

At first there was just Diiego (D's ego, green in the middle) and Lilac (Joy, red). Then our nutritionist told us what our proper weights should be and we realized that even if we got down to them, our WiiFit would still claim we were overweight. So we created two taller characters, the 6'11" Alter Iigo (green on the left with a goatee) and the more pedestrianly-heightened Tinuviiel (yellow).


We used the WiiFit for exercise for 6 weeks and 10 weeks respectively, but kept weighing ourselves on it regularly ~twice a week. As you see from my chart on the left, my weight fluctuated within 10 pounds for most of that year. Partly this is because the WiiFit is a terrible scale - unreliable with swings of 6 pounds from one day to the next without extremes in diet or exercise. But the pattern is pretty clear: no change.

Then came the South Beach Diet in May. Practically overnight you can see a clear break where I drop a decade and slide my way down another one. I've kept those 20 pounds off for over a month, and today's weighing was tied for my lowest in the year. Now, we'll see what 2 weeks in Italy does to that, but the results are pretty sweet.

Joy's graph on the right shows her battle to lose her pregnancy weight. You can see she has finally achieved this, with a drop starting in June when she joined me on the diet. Both of us are in spitting distance of a normal BMI compared to our proper ideal weights.

"Weight really is a strange thing. I gained 30 lbs in about three months and couldn't seem to find a way to get it off. Even working out hard every day and following the advise of a nurtritionist. But the South Beach diet has worked miracles. I am still a little impatient and wish that the weight went off as fast as it goes on, but I am so grateful that we have found a way to be healthy and lose weight. I have always a diet was just an unhealthy way to loose weight, but this has changed my life, a diet can also be a change of lifestyle and a determined choice to be healthy! The choices can be hard sometimes, but if I am really dedicated and not feeling flimsy about the choice, it is not so bad :)"

But getting back to the WiiFit. It kept our interest for a month and has been useful since. For us, its best feature was the step aerobic program that set up a friendly competition between us. I also really liked the boxing program. But it was always the same routines while My Fitness Coach gives you at least some randomization and a feeling of newness. That, and we weren't losing any weight despite doing its exercises for over an hour a day, 6 days a week. Each of us did keep using the WiiFit as an exercise log for our walks and other efforts for a month or two after we stopped using it for exercise.

Getting the WiiFit was the primary reason we got the Wii in the first place. Since then, we've added several other favorite games that we play regularly: Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, Cooking Mama, Zelda, My Fitness Coach (Joy's still going strong and I still use it occasionally).

"It's fun to play with family or friends."

Hyrum and his 2000 parts

video

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hyrum vs. Swings

If Hyrum were writing a "What I Did This Summer" essay, it might feature going to parks. We showed you the park where he slid on the slides, and we showed you the park with the water features. We went to another park early last month where Hyrum met up with another wonderful playground system: swings. I had a lunch appointment fall through that day, so I kidnapped my wife for a picnic date (plus baby).

After lunch, we usually let Hy run around a bit while we sit and talk. This he enjoys greatly. On that day, he would run up the hill, slow down, then run back really fast and tag up at our bench.
video

Eventually he got interested in the playground equipment I swung him back and forth for a while in a child swing. He laughed a good deal, and we took some video and a lot of pictures of him swinging back and forth. It's remarkably hard to get one with him looking at us, though. He's still a very passive swinger.

Then Mama thought she's show him how it's really done, and he LOVED it. It takes me a few seconds to get the camera steady and see both of them while holding Hyrum in my other hand, but I get there eventually.

video

To end off, Dad gripped Hyrum firmly and took off in the neighboring swing. We and Mom swung back and forth, laughing and thrilling with the up and down. For us, the magic is seeing these pleasures through his wondering eyes. He loves our trips to the park.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hyrum vs. Chair

We mentioned a while back that we were reorganizing the house. We finally succeeded. We moved two bookcases into our bedroom (so now we can walk sideways everywhere!) and those have all the books. We moved my office out of his bedroom so the computer and my office chair are out here now. We bought a filing cabinet we have not yet filled efficiently that goes in Hyrum's room so we can store papers safely out of his reach and delineate a play area. After the first couple weeks teaching him to not touch the computer, it's working well out here. And he loves my chair:

video video

One of the upshots of all this moving is that Hy can now run from one end of the house almost to the other (we still don't let him in our room). This also means his room is now safe for him to play in ... and be put in time out. He's gotten stronger so that holding/hugging him for time out doesn't work for Joy anymore, so now he goes to his room. The first time we did this, it was devastating. It is less bothersome to him now, and he's even learning for the first time to play quietly in his room before dinner so that he doesn't have to go crazy vying with the stove for Mama's attention. It's ... nice - makes for a more pleasant home for everyone.

The only downside is that it means Hyrum isn't in the main room, running to greet me when I come home. That was the best part!

Hyrum vs. Slide

For my birthday, we ordered a pizza. We took it to a nearby park and enjoyed wonderful carbosity. Hyrum got to play on the park toys, mostly throwing chips around and climbing into and out of the toy car there. We also had an uninvited guest - a little boy came and sat down at our table as we spread out our blanket and put out the food. I asked him, "Are you joining us," and he said no. But he sat there looking hungrily at our food. So we offered him some pizza and some vegetables, which he enjoyed. Eventually the other people in the park left and took him with them to go have dinner. Hope his parents weren't upset at us for spoiling his appetite.

After dinner, I joined Hy at the toys and introduced him to the slide. At first he was apprehensive, as you can see. But he soon warmed up to the contraption.

video video

After a bit, Hyrum started climbing the red slide. He succeeded, too! I got out the camera for him to try again, but that had used up his grip-strength.

Joy says, "I mean, who has a 17 month old who can climb up a slide?!?"
He's strong.
"I really want to know. Did your kids successfully climb up slides at 17 months? It doesn't say anything about that in the children's development books. 'At age duh-duh-duh, your child should be able to climb up a slide.'"

video

While watching these videos, Hyrum started counting to three! Now I may have to wait until a four-count before unleashing fun....

Friday, September 4, 2009

What Does Your Daddy Do?


"My Daddy is a post-doc."
What's a post-doc?
"I dunno. Daddy, what do you do?"
I'm writing a book on food policy. Here are the wordles from three of the chapters so you have a better idea.

Chapter 7

Chapter 9
Chapter 11

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What I'm Reading

It took me a year and a half, but I finally finished Fire in the Bones, the biography of William Tyndale, the fellow who translated 90% or so of the King James Bible. It's written by an LDS author, so there are numerous comparisons to the language of the Book of Mormon and how Joseph Smith was influenced by Tyndale's work and life. One quote from Tyndale rings out particularly strongly in that regard as he complained to the clergy:
Morover, seeing that one of you ever preacheth contrary to another; and when two of you meet, the one disputeth and brawleth with the other, as it were two scolds; and forasmuch as one holdeth this doctor, and another that ... so that if thou hadst but of every author one book, thou couldst not pile them up in any warehouse in London, and every author is contrary unto another. In this great diversity of spirits, how shall I know who lieth, and who sayeth truth? Whereby shall I try and judge them? Verily by God's word, which only is true. But how shall I that do, when thou wilt not let me see scripture?
Joseph writes similarly about the contentions in his day even with the scripture in the common tongue, learning from James 1:5 that the one place we can find such answers is from God Himself in prayer. Fire in the Bones is really an outstanding work and strengthened my testimony of the Bible.

Now I'm seeing about getting through Neal A. Maxwell's last book, enjoying some religious poetry, maybe renew my Nibley studies. Without Friday Forum to prepare for, I may have a bit more latitude to play around.

--- ECONOMICS ---

For my birthday, my parents got me Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About it? (2007) I've read the first 50 pages or so [a quick read] and am impressed by one of the viewpoints he tries to establish. Rather than seeing the world as 1 billion rich and 5 billion poor, he divides the world as 1 billion rich, 4 billion getting there, and 1 billion stuck in poverty. He then describes four of the reasons a country might get its people stuck there (conflict, natural resource curse, landlocked, and I haven't gotten to #4 yet) and promises to cover a bit on how to get out. He does a good job of not sticking too firmly to his one hobby horse thesis, puts in a lot of good caveats, and has surprisingly nice things to say about different factions in the development industry. It's backed by a long list of impressive research (cogent caveats by Easterly here and here.)

Frederic Bastiat's Economic Sophisms (1845) isn't about putting forward new economic ideas, but playing economic journalist to some that were old back in the 1800's when he wrote. He casts trade protectionism as pursuing the theory that scarcity is wealth. And it is - for sellers. As buyers, we want everything to be plentiful, easy to find and purchase, and cheap. As producers, we want all our inputs to be plentiful, easy to find and purchase, and cheap. As sellers, we want the thing we sell to be scarce and as expensive as possible. Any trade protectionist argument is based on one form or another of the notion that restricting production and purchasing is good: fostering us vs. them mentalities, protecting the environment by scarcity, preventing a very poor person (or multiple of the same) from having a job in order to preserve a middle-class job of "ours"... .

Frederich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (1944) was written from a unique perspective: someone who lived through the Nazification of Germany saw the same signs in England and wrote to warn that the growing tendency toward central planning was the start of the road to totalitarianism, whether fascist or Marxist. I'm planning a future summary of his better points in another post ... once I've finished it. It seems highly topical given renewed efforts to put our financial, auto, and health industries under government control. Speaking of which, I finished Milton Friedman's Free to Choose and have been meaning to get some of his points out here also. Have to get to that.

I've also been poking around in Joseph Schumpeter's Capitalism, Democracy, and Socialism (1942), which is interesting in that it is written to socialists, starting with a quite flattering discussion of Marx (that's as far as I've read). To borrow the summation from Wiki: "Schumpeter's theory is that the success of capitalism will lead to a form of corporatism and a fostering of values hostile to capitalism, especially among intellectuals. The intellectual and social climate needed to allow entrepreneurship to thrive will not exist in advanced capitalism; it will be replaced by socialism in some form. There will not be a revolution, but merely a trend in parliaments to elect social democratic parties of one stripe or another. He argued that capitalism's collapse from within will come about as democratic majorities vote for the creation of a welfare state and place restrictions upon entrepreneurship that will burden and eventually destroy the capitalist structure. Schumpeter emphasizes throughout this book that he is analyzing trends, not engaging in political advocacy. “If a doctor predicts that his patient will die presently,” he wrote, “this does not mean that he desires it."" Sound about right so far, anyone?

--- FUN ---
The family book these days is Harry Potter 5. It's fun introducing these to Joy. As we drove to Connecticut and back, we made it through 150 pages or so. Reading it immediately after #4 helped me see Harry in a much more sympathetic light. The first time through, Harry's perpetual outbursts of anger bothered me and made it my least favorite of the 7. Now it makes perfect sense: the boy needs a therapist, bad. Not because he's crazy, but a lot has happened and he needs a place to talk it out with someone who isn't about to start yelling "Heir of Slytherin!" "Half-blood!" "Kill him!" Poor kid.

After the disappointing movie of Mansfield Park, I picked up the book to rejoice in Ms. Austen's writing. Every night for a while I would regale Joy with another superbly crafted paragraph the movie had butchered. But then I started in on White Banner by Lloyd C. Douglas, the fellow who brought me such joy (and a talent show act) with his autobiography, Time to Remember. I haven't gotten very far, but it's very thought-provoking.

Oh yeah, and I'm reading cookbooks to find some more recipes we can make on the South Beach Diet. So far, we've added succulent fried eggplant (Emeril) and fried zucchini (Low-carb cookbook Joy got me for my birthday), ginger chicken (SBD book), and New New Orleans pasta (Emeril). You really need a bunch of cookbooks. The SBD cookbook is mostly about salads: make this chicken, serve in a bed of lettuce; fry the eggplant, serve on another lettuce.... The low-carb cookbook is all about eggs and frittatas (never tried those before - Joy loves em, and they're simple and flavorful). Emeril uses more seafood than we do, but if we cut the BAM down by half, the creole seasoning is magnificent for cooking anything....

Next up: The Candy Shop War by ... that guy who does Fablehaven. [google google] That's it, Brandon Mull. Eat a sweet, get a superpower. Sounds like fun.