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December 30, 2007

From Technicolor to Grey

After spending 10 days in the land of warmth, vivid colors, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla, and chicken molé enchiladas, it's back to cold and grey. The sun has not peeked out since I've been back home, and there are no immediate prospects on the horizon. And there's a huge icicle hanging on the power lines to the house; I hope it doesn't all come crashing down -- c'mon sun, do your thing!

The trip was enjoyable and much needed. It involved a lot of good food, a lot of "hanging out," a few good movies ("Atonement" - highly recommended .... and "Once" -- I got the DVD for Christmas). Reid and Meredith are at wonderful ages -- 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 - both in awe of the world in their own ways. Even though Halloween is long past, they enjoy dressing up in their costumes. Here are the bumblebee and the dragon.

M R in costume 1207.jpg

I'm counting on the colors in their costumes to add life to the bleak landscape outside.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:34 AM

December 26, 2007

Betrayed by Blue Bell

Blue Bell.jpg

One of the (not too) guilty pleasures of visiting Austin is Blue Bell Ice Cream. It's really the best, IMHO. My very favorite is to mix Homemade Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate together in the same bowl. Yum!

To my dismay, I learned on Christmas Eve that Dutch Chocolate contains wheat flour. As a person with gluten intolerance on a gluten-free diet, I check labels religiously. However, It never occurred to me that chocolate ice cream would offend. Chocolate chip cookie dough - yes, of course; but not plain chocolate. So I'll have to suffer with just plain Homemade Vanilla. I can hear the violins warming up in the background...

On the Blue Bell website, I noticed the new Chocolate Covered Cherries flavor (above). Hmmm .. that would go with Homemade Vanilla! I'll be checking the ingredient list as soon as I can make it to the grocery store.

Happy new year everyone!

Posted by hgroteva at 8:43 AM

December 18, 2007

The Gift of Music - Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium

I was just listening to MPR before dinner and heard a recording of Morton Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium" sung by the Dale Warland Singers. I cranked it up full blast and luxuriated in the sound. I have sung this a few times, first at St. Marks, and it moves me every time. Today is the anniversary of its first performance -- December 18, 1994. Not that long ago. Just a blink in the history of music.

So I set out to find a YouTube of it as a Christmas gift to my readers. And here it is. There were several to choose from, but I liked this one the best because of the sound and the group's obvious sincerity, even though it's a home-made video. Note that the singers have memorized the music and are singing with men and women interspersed. Both of these allow and require them to watch and listen with every ounce of energy available. It worked.

The YouTube site didn't provide a lot of information, but it appears to be the UST Alumni Singers, under the direction of Allan Diona Sims - performing at the Hollywood Festival 2006. Not sure what "UST" stands for. If anyone knows, let me know.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this and can take a moment to reflect on the mystery and wonder of Christmas.
[Caution: the applause at the end breaks the spell, so be prepared to exit quickly after the last chord]

Here are the words, by the way.

O magnum mysterium, et admirable sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentum in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia!

O great mystery, and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in their manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

Posted by hgroteva at 5:06 PM

December 14, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: The Huddle

Tonkpile 121407.jpg

Winter has truly arrived, with nighttime temperatures (air, not wind chill) below 0 F. The tribe really has a hard time in the cold weather -- they are truly heat-seeking devices. We play a little game with the heating pad that Susan left behind. It's about 24 x 8 " and they can all fit on it (barely) if they line up like sausages. When only one is on it, he/she stretches to take up the whole thing. The idea is to expose as much surface area as possible to the heat. Same goes for the radiator. MacKenzie especially loves to stretch out on top of the warm radiator, exposing every square inch possible to the heat.

Anyway, the game ... The heating pad has an automatic timer that turns it off after 30 or 60 minutes (you can set it.) Often, when I'm working in my study, I'll turn the heating pad on for them in the bedroom. About 10 minutes after it turns off and cools down, MacKenzie will come padding down to my study and jump in my lap, then want to be held like a baby on my shoulder. Within 30 seconds, Shadow will be bopping in, wanting the same. And of course, they both want to occupy the same space (on me) at the same time. It's hard to do much else with 2 cats on my shoulder, so usually I carry them back to the bedroom and turn the heating pad on again.

For several years, I have used their heating pad behavior in my human development class as an example of classical conditioning. The heating pad makes a little "ding" sound when I turn it on. The cats have learned, through association, that "ding" means "the heating pad is warming up - time to jump on." And they do. But it just hit me that they have conditioned me (instrumental conditioning) to carry them back to the heating pad -- since every time both of them pile on while I'm trying to work, I carry them back and turn the heating pad on again, thus rewarding their "jumping on" behavior. They didn't want me - they just wanted me to turn the heating pad on again! (Although who knows the inscrutable ways of cats...) Another example for the next time I teach learning theory!

Tonks have no respect for personal space. Shadow is A+ in that domain. This morning, while trying to sleep at least a few minutes past 6:00 a.m., he decided to lay on my face -- I guess my face is warm and he figured it might be as good as a heating pad or a radiator. But the fascinating thing was that he positioned his purr-er right over my ear. He makes quite a racket! So I consulted Wikipedia to find out how cats purr. Here's what it said:

"A purr is a sound made by some species of felines and is a part of cat communication. It varies in detail from cat to cat (e.g., loudness, tone, etc.), and from species to species, but can be characterized as a sort of tonal buzzing. All domestic cats purr in a frequency range of 22.4 to 30.2 hertz. Some cats purr so strongly that their entire bodies vibrate; conversely, other cats may purr so quietly that the only indication is a vibration felt when touching the cat's throat. ... [Shadow's is definitely a full-body purr.]

"Despite being a universally recognized phenomenon, the exact mechanism by which the cat purrs has been frustratingly elusive for scientists. This is partly because the cat has no obvious anatomical feature unique to it that would be responsible and may also be partly because a cat placed in a laboratory for examination is unlikely to make the noise.

"One hypothesis, backed up by electromyographic studies, is that cats produce the purring noise by fast twitching of the muscles in their larynx, which rapidly dilate and constrict the glottis, thus causing vibrations in the air both during inhalation and exhalation[1]. There is also some contribution from the diaphragm. A timing mechanism in the brain sends neural messages to the muscles in the larynx, rhythmically opening and closing the air passage approximately 25 times per second.[2] Combined with the steady inhalation and exhalation of air as the cat breathes, a purring noise is produced with strong harmonics.[3]"

Fascinating! The author is certainly right that cats don't purr on demand. So maybe I can contribute my good fortune (of being a target of purring) to purring research -- I'll have to think about that. Woops - MacKenzie just walked in the door and jumped on my shoulder. Must be time to turn the heating pad on again.

Posted by hgroteva at 11:03 PM

December 5, 2007

The Gift of Shoveling --- and Petaluma Afternoon

My least favorite time is here -- shoveling season. It's probably clear that I'm not a native Minnesotan, because I have never "embraced the winter," as Eric Friesen (from MPR years ago) advised. As I was grumbling about shoveling my driveway on Sunday after the city plow had pushed a foot of hard gunk into the mouth of the drive, I thought about what my good friend Jean told me last year at this time: "You have been given the gift of shoveling." There's a lot of wisdom in that sentence. I think I commented on it last year too.

Re-framing is an important skill to have at this time of year, and I appreciate this particular one. Yes - it is a gift and a privilege to be able to shovel. The man across the street had a leg amputated last summer because of diabetes. He no longer has that gift.

I am reminded of one of my favorite Robert Frost poems, "The Dust of Snow". I discovered it when I was in the Navy, wanting desperately to be somewhere else.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

I had that experience in the car on the way to teach this morning. (It was 12 degrees BTW.) On the radio, they were singing a song about "Petaluma afternoon." It was evoking a fine summer day in northern California. One of the verses said "Breezes blowin' ... Serotonin flowin'..." I had to smile!!

So now when I am grumpy about shoveling, I have my choice of thinking about my gift -- or about a Petaluma afternoon. It's nice to have options.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:20 PM

December 3, 2007

U.S. to Join the Hague Adoption Convention in December

A message from the U.S. Department of State ....

"The U.S. Department of State, Office of Children's Issues, is pleased to announce that the President signed the U.S. instrument of ratification of the Hague Adoption Convention on November 16. The legal requirements for ratification of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) have been completed, and the formal deposit of the instrument of ratification will take place on December 12, 2007! The Department will announce the official U.S. effective date—projected to be April 1, 2008—in the Federal Register. The Hague Adoption Convention protects children and their families against the risks of unregulated adoptions abroad and ensures that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of children. The Convention also serves to prevent the abduction of, sale of, or traffic in children.

Once the treaty is in force, the new processing requirements for Hague adoption cases will take effect for adoptions between the United States and more than 70 Convention members. The new process protects the rights of children, birth parents, and adoptive parents while promoting transparency, accountability, and ethical practices among adoption service providers.

The progress we have made toward joining this important Convention would not have been possible without the hard work and cooperation of the whole U.S. adoption community, including families, adoption service providers, and public servants who have helped us make our laws and regulations among the best in the world. The dedication of the adoption community to the improvement of intercountry adoption practices has been invaluable and is greatly appreciated. We can all be proud this December when Assistant Secretary Maura Harty deposits the U.S. instrument of ratification at The Hague. Congratulations to all who have helped make this possible!

For more information on intercountry adoptions and the Hague Adoption Convention, please visit the Intercountry Adoption page of the Department of State website:

www.travel.state.gov/family/adoption/adoption_485.html
"

Posted by hgroteva at 10:48 PM