Thursday, February 25, 2010

Speaking Math

So, I'm not saying that I haven't been distracted by other things (like this and this (more to come on this later) and a meeting and chatting with my office mate and others), but part of me is wildly proud that I've made progress at work today and part of me is devastated by how small the progress was.

I'm doing a project with some people that do things (that's about the extent of my knowledge of what they do...seriously...this isn't me keeping top secret stuff from you, this is me being oblivious). On orders from a co-worker, I built a model for them (this is what I do at work - build models that exist wholly within my computer, my head, and sometimes my white board or some scratch paper. Either that or analyze things. Yes, this _is_ rocket science). But in reading the papers about the system that I modeled, I came across this other way of modeling things that I had some (albeit limited) experience with a few years back. So I started delving into that way of modeling things so that I could better understand the papers about the system.

But while I understood the text of the papers about the other way of modeling things, they would occasionally throw in a section using set theory. Set theory, my friends, is definitely _NOT_ rocket science. And by that I mean that I know almost nothing about it. I know math. I know basic physics, dynamics, statics, orbital mechanics, etc. I don't know jack about set theory. So I've spent the last several days at work trying to work through what amounts to half a page in one chapter of a book about this other way of modeling things.

My progress today? Most of two paragraphs. Two short paragraphs. And that was with the help of my office mate and his mathematician friends.

But I understand it. For reals. I _grok_ what those things mean. Transitive closure? BAM - the way to make something that's NOT transitive into something that is! Silly little symbol that I can't find anywhere other than this book that "denotes the restriction of f to B?" BAM.....ok....I've got it, but I really don't feel like explaining it to y'all. So just trust me.

Only two paragraphs left in this little half-page ("Preliminaries") section. But they start talking about alphabets and "words over" an alphabet. So I think I'll go home for the night and come back to it tomorrow.

It's been a long time since I've had to really learn something absolutely new to me. I don't remember it hurting this much. I think that makes me old.

Help Haiti Live - Again, Some More!

So this weekend is the Help Haiti Live concert! Due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, the LA show was canceled, but the Nashville show is on (and possibly sold out!) and you can still watch it live (for free!) at on Saturday, February 27th at 7:30 PM (Central - that's 8:30 PM in MD). You can see the line-up here, or you can look at my last blog post about it here. Since that post though, there have been a few additions to the Nashville line-up - specifically NeedToBreathe will be there (since they won't be playing in LA) and so will Jon Foreman of Switchfoot!

They've also added a new "auctions" page to the website. Starting yesterday (Wednesday), they are auctioning off the following:

  • Epiphone Performer Acoustic Guitar (to be autographed by the performers at the HelpHaitiLive event) - MSRP: $832; Current bid: $200 (+$35 shipping)
  • Two passes to watch a live taping of Hannah Montana starring Miley Cyrus - Current bid: $250
  • And there have been rumors of other auction items that are still pending, so keep checking back!
100% of net proceeds will go to Compassion, International's Haiti disaster relief fund.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Too Much TV

So I'm beginning to think that our kids watch too much TV (and by "TV" I really mean mostly DVDs as we gave up on the ever-changing PBS line-up many moons ago). Do I think this because the first thing my son says when he gets out of bed in the morning and after his nap is "I wanna watch a moooooo-vie on the TV?" No...that's not it. Is it because the TV is pretty much on the entire time that someone (other than myself) is awake and at home? Nope. That's not it.

There are actually two reasons that I think our kids watch too much TV:

1) AJ, who has always laughed when he heard other people laughing (that's a good thing, right? "Rejoice with those who rejoice?"), joins in pretty much every time he hears a "bad guy" laugh at someone else's hardship/situation. And he's started using an "evil" laugh too. Larry the Cucumber falls down and the "mean" characters laugh at him? AJ "laughs" too. With an angry smirk on his face and some gravel to his voice. No amount of, "Buddy, it's not very kind to laugh when someone has fallen down" seems to make any difference. He still does it. I guess the saving grace is that he has yet to do it in real life. And it's not like we watch "bad" movies. We're talking VeggieTales here. That's like watching the Bible on TV.

2) Joanna is both scared witless and fascinated by tall, thin characters that lean towards the viewer. She screams like a banshee whenever a "scary" character comes on (not necessarily a "bad" guy, just scary to her), but no amount of reassurance or distraction will keep her eyes from being riveted to the screen. As she screams. Like a banshee. So Jafar when he becomes a genie in Aladin? Scream. Goliath the pickle from VeggieTales? Scream. (She doesn't even have to see the pickle itself...just hear the music leading up to his coming.) Mr. Nezzer's Grandma in the Easter Carol (NOT a "bad" character). Scream, climb up mama, not to get away, but to get turned around so she can see more and scream longer.

So we put up with the whining when I tell AJ to play instead of watching a movie. We try to limit him to a couple a day. We use the excuse "Daddy will be home soon" earlier and earlier each day. We let his over-reaction to a scratched DVD be an excuse to turn it off. We make sure he puts the one in the DVD player away first before he can get another one out (which sometimes takes all day if he's lost the box).

And yet we still end up watching TV too much. At least we mix it up with JellyTelly from time to time! Maybe AJ should give up DVDs for Lent.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Help Haiti Live!

Here's a new way for you to help out Compassion, International's work in Haiti - most of you from the comfort of your home, fairly inexpensively, and while enjoying some awesome artists!

HelpHaitiLive is a concert to benefit Compassion (sponsored by lots of folks, but especially Gaylord Entertainment). It will take place in Nashville at the Ryman and LA at the Wiltern Theater on Saturday, February 27th at 7:30 PM (CST and PST, respectively). Ticket prices range from $25-75 for seeing it in person.

But, Leia, I don't live in Nashville or LA and you said I could watch it "from the comfort of [my] own home!" That's true - because it's also going to be streamed live online from each location and for $10 you can watch!

All of the money goes to Compassion's Disaster Relief Fund. All of the services (both technical and musical) have been donated.

Who did you say would be performing, Leia? Well, I didn't yet, but this is the line up by venue:
Nasvhille/Ryman - Hosted by Big Kenny, performances by Alison Krauss & Union Station (featuring Jerry Douglas), Jars of Clay, Mat Kearney, Dave Barnes, Matt Wertz, and Brandon Heath
LA/Wiltern - Message from pastor Francis Chan, performances by Amy Grant, Leann Rimes, Rebecca St. James, NEEDTOBREATHE, and a special guest headliner

(And kudos to Alison Krauss, et al, since they were the only artist/group who actually has this concert posted on their website!)

Edited to add: Due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, the LA show has been canceled. The Nashville show is still very much ON! Tickets are rapidly selling out! Get yours now or watch online.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Flowers or Food?

So five years ago tomorrow, I had my first real conversation with a certain "Very Nice Boy." About five months after that conversation, the "Very Nice Boy" became my "Very Nice Betrothed." And four years ago today, my "Very Nice Betrothed" became my "Very Nice Beloved." (That would be "VNB" otherwise known as "my husband" for those of you who are new here. I think I'm "done" with "quotes" now. "Maybe.")

I didn't look to see what the traditional gift was (knowing that we'd already missed our favorite year - year 3 - leather ;p ), but now that I have, it looks like we did pretty well in terms of the "traditional" gift (ok, really done with quotes now. "Maybe.") - flowers or food.

Our main gift was going skiing last weekend. That doesn't really fit at all, but it sure was a whole lot of fun! The cabin where we stayed had a Galaga arcade game! I ended up with the pitiful high score of our group - 52k. And skiing is AWESOME right after a blizzard! Well, assuming that you can get out of your cabin and to the ski place. I haven't been in like 7 years, but I did what I don't think I've ever managed before - a complete skiing trip without a single fall! I didn't even bite it coming off of the lifts which are usually my worst times! It was a lot of fun, although the resort where we skied (that doesn't look like it's spelled right - skiied? Spell check doesn't like that one...anyway...) apparently didn't have any really _steep_ mountains, so they increased difficulty by adding in bumps. I'm not a fan of bumps. I like to "Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn." (Name that awesome '80s movie!) But it was still a lot of fun!

But _today_ we had the babysitter come even though both of our offices were closed for the day and went to the house of some friends to eat lunch (homemade pizza) and watch a movie (Jakob the Liar - not quite the uplifting fun movie that we maybe should have picked for our anniversary, but it was still a good movie). While we were there, I got a call from a florist who was supposed to deliver flowers to my office today, but couldn't since we were closed. So she called my office number, got my voicemail which has my cell phone number on it, and called my cell phone - ruining the surprise, but letting me know that VNB had been thinking of me and tried to send flowers to my office on our anniversary.

We went from there to the Cheesecake Factory where we were too full still from pizza to really order much, but we got some appetizers that we shared and took some cheesecake home. We would have taken more time, but our babysitter's mom wanted her home before it got too dark and the roads got icy.

So food, check. Flowers, check. We're good for another year.

(And in all seriousness, it's been a good year. Life is far from perfect, but every day shows me more how VNB and I are perfect for each other. Like God knew what He was doing or something. Go figure!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

So in the midst of "Snowpocalypse 3.0" (i.e., the third blizzard in the DC area this winter - we've surpassed the old record for snow totals and we're still in the middle of this storm with another one looming early next week!), I wanted to share a couple of quotes I noticed for the first time a few days ago as I re-read a favorite book from my childhood - E.L. Konigsburg's "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler."

"Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around."


"I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."

I've always felt sorry for folks who shun good children's literature, music, and movies. There is a whole lot of very simple, but very profound, wisdom packed into those media. Granted, it takes some effort to wade through the crap that's also out there, but find the good stuff. It's worth it. Even (maybe especially) as an adult.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

MOPS Partnership with the Laurel Pregnancy Center

Another ongoing project that our MOPS group has is a partnership with the Laurel Pregnancy Center. You can find more about them and their ministry by checking out their website here, but suffice it to say that they offer all of their services for free and those services include pregnancy tests, options education, viability ultrasounds, parenting classes, post-abortion counseling, and many more. But since their mission is really to work with women and men _during_ a crisis pregnancy, there's not much they do (other than offer mentoring) for those parents once the baby has been born.

That's where MOPS comes in. Instead of just saying, "Good job on making the hard choice to choose life for your baby! Now that s/he's born though, you're on your own!" by partnering with us, they can point the moms to a group of other moms who can come alongside them in what we all recognize is a difficult time in anyone's life - the infant, toddler, and preschool years. The moms not only then get to have the support of other moms, but they also get to continue getting that support through a para-church organization. Neither the LPC or MOPS wants to take the place of a local body, but we can sure help folks out while (or if) they're looking for one.

So how does this really manifest itself? Well...I go to the last one of their Lifeworks (parenting) classes each semester and encourage the ladies to join a community of other moms since motherhood is hard enough without trying to do it all themselves, and if they'd like, they're welcome at our MOPS group (although since many of their clients are from all over the area, I usually just point them to to find a group in their area and/or that meets at a time when they're available).

We also participate as a MOPS group in their annual "Baby Bottle" Campaign. We give each of our moms a baby bottle which they take home for a month or so and fill with their loose change. That change is then turned over to the pregnancy center where it is used to help _change_ the lives of their clients.

They have an annual "Walk/Run for Life" that we support as well. There is frequently a group of MOPS moms who walks (last year, I did my best at running the 5k), and those that don't have the opportunity to sponsor those that do. We have also had an informational table the last couple of years at the fair that they have the day of the walk.

We also encourage moms to bring in donations for the center. Maybe they've seen an awesome deal on wipes or diapers and can afford to pick up a few more than they need. Maybe they have an outfit that they just never got around to taking the tags off of before baby grew out of it. Maybe baby outgrew size 1 diapers before they opened that last box. Whatever the case may be, as a group we collect donations of material goods that they give away (for free) to their clients.

How can you help with this one? Well, the material donations are the best way (diapers, wipes, etc.), although you're welcome to sponsor me in the walk and/or save up your own loose change (or just send them a donation). You can also help by helping me come up with other ways that we can partner with them!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Help Haiti With Compassion

If you've been listening to Christian radio at all today, then you already know that today is the day that everyone is banding together to "Help Haiti with Compassion" (as in, Compassion, International). Some folks have done crazy things to raise money in order to donate it all today. Some people "just" gave their hard-earned cash.

Whatever your case may be, if you're still looking for ways to help out in Haiti, donate here.

Called Out

So until just recently, my dad has been a minister of music (and sometimes youth). Sometimes he was full-time (most of my childhood, but not since my senior year in high school), sometimes bi-vocational, but always on a church staff. Still, he's not so much the type to talk about his kids from the pulpit, using something we said or did as an object lesson for the congregation.

So it was a new experience for me yesterday morning when our Senior Pastor called me out from the pulpit! I didn't even realize what was going on at first (even though I really was actually paying attention right then)! I was sitting there, thinking how funny it was that he was talking about what my email signature has said for just about forever (or, you know, 5-6 years): "The grass is always greenest right next to the puddle of raw sewage."

I made that up one day while driving through a poor part of Baghdad on a cold, dreary, November day. The houses were all adobe-colored, the sky was gray...and the only color I saw anywhere was this tall tuft of bright green grass growing next to a drainage ditch. In that part of town, there is no underground sewage system, so every house just has a ditch running from their "bathroom" to the ditches along the roads. And that was the only spot where grass took root and was growing.

Anyway, that gave me a good chuckle, so I put it after my name on all of my emails and it's been there ever since. I don't know that I've emailed the pastor in months, but that's obviously left an impression on yesterday when he was preaching about finding joy, he mentioned that "the grass your neighbor is standing on is like that because..." then he trailed off and started staring right at me.

After a moment of discomfort (as I wondered, "Is he really talking about me? Is he really staring at me? Is he looking at something/someone else? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? (ok, not really on that last one)), he then said that there was someone in the church who ends her every communication with that, then said, "Melissa, you want to fill them in?" At which point, VNB roared with laughter, as did the few others who have received emails from me and knew exactly what he was talking about.

So I yelled out, "it's right next to a puddle of raw sewage!" He repeated me for amplification purposes, the congregation tittered, and then he moved on with his sermon.

It was definitely a new experience for me!