Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hanging Rock State Park

We intend on raising a child that's accustomed to long road trips in the car, so it's important that we do so every once in a while.

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So...Hanging Rock State Park. Never been. We were in the general vicinity a while back (October 2010), and I said, "We'll be back, and actually go there next time". Well, we're back!

Hanging Rock came highly recommended. There's moderate, but relatively short, trail all the way to the top, which we did. (All three of us!) There are also waterfalls in the area, which we didn't have time for. With Marla, one 2½ mile (round trip) hike was enough.

I think this was the longest hike Marla had been on so far. So, we came prepared. We just brought the whole diaper bag with us. And by the time we got to the top of Hanging Rock, it was time to feed her.

That's okay, though, because it was really nice up there. I didn't mind spending some extra time there. (Note: the people in these pictures are just random people. Popular day for a hike!)

Marla behaved wonderfully throughout the whole hike. Even though she looked terrified...

...she did great. It makes us want to do it again sometime! There were other young parents on the hike as well. Our baby carrying device was simple in comparison to what some of these other parents had.

Hanging Rock was actually one of three state parks we considered visiting on Saturday. Raven Rock State Park (south of Raleigh) is another park we haven't been to yet, but will some day. And we'd also like to go back to Pilot Mountain on a day that isn't cloudy and raining.

How many North Carolina State Parks have I been to? The North Carolina State Park web site lists 41 state parks and recreation areas; I've been to 8: Cliffs of the Neuse, Falls Lake, Fort Fisher (I think), Hanging Rock, Jordan Lake, Mount Mitchell, Pilot Mountain, William B. Umstead. I think we need to increase that number.

Road trip notes: the route we took to Hanging Rock (NC-68 to Stokesdale, NC-65 to Walnut Cove) seemed like a route I had never taken before. But my blog archives indicate that we took the same exact route in October 2010, except in the opposite direction. I'm slipping! Usually, I know when I've taken a particular road before. Unacceptable! (The route we took from Hanging Rock, NC-8 south to Winston-Salem, was definitely new.)

Also, no new counties for Marla on Saturday, although she came really really close to Rockingham County.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Curling Recap: 1/27/12

Career game #164: 2012 Winter League - January 27, 2012

End.......... 12345678S |TTL
Allen........ 110002100 | 05
M. Jackson... 001210011 | 06

Last Sunday in pickup curling, I happened to catch opposing Skip Murray on an off night. Not this week! He made some incredible shots. I made some shots of my own, but not enough, especially early in the game.

First, the ice conditions. The line was really, really tricky, and not always predictable. Seemingly unnoticeable differences in shots would result in your rock taking a completely different path. That meant you could sometimes make your take-outs...but not always, especially early in the game before we figured it out.

In the first two ends, we got early position, and that was the difference. After that, Murray's team started making the shots before we (especially myself) did, and his team pulled out to a 4-2 lead. In the 6th end, I made a draw, Murray missed the take-out, and then I made another draw, to score two. I forget how we scored in the 7th - maybe that was one of the ends in which the other team accidentally promoted us into scoring position. (That happened a couple of times on Friday. Never underestimate the value of rocks in play!)

Now...the 8th end. Important strategy decision! The opponent had the hammer and was down by one; here's the approximate setup before our last rock. (Our team = red)

Even though the lines were predictable, we could use most of the ice, which meant that we had options. I couldn't remember having as many options at such a key juncture of the game as we did with this shot.

If I wasted my shot, I was almost certain Murray would go for the take-out on rock #1, and sit two, for the win. With that in mind, I think we had four reasonable options.
a) Guard rock #1.
b) Draw another rock in the general vicinity of rock #1 to get a guard and/or second scoring rock.
c) Raise rock #2 towards the button.
d) Raise rock #3 towards the button.

All of these options are sort of related, in that if the goal is option a) and you're heavy, you might end up with option b). Or, if the goal is option d) and you're narrow, you might end up with option c). On arena ice, what would happen if you miss is a very important consideration.

I called shot c), for a couple of reasons. One, it was the most predictable line; there was a ridge down the middle of the ice, and I was pretty sure the rock would hold that line. Two, it was hard to place a guard exactly where it needed to be, and the odds of placing my guard effectively under plan a) were slim. And also, in an earlier end, I did play the guard...only for Murray to make the "double tap" anyway. Precise guards weren't proving to be of much use in this game. But most of all, I wanted to prevent Murray from winning the game on his final shot. For that to happen, I needed to be lying two after my shot (which eliminates option A), and not have a double take-out possibility (which eliminates option B). So, I called option c), with option d) as a "Plan B" in case I was wide. Take-outs weren't gimmes given the ice conditions, so leaving it open and hoping he would either miss, or roll the shooter out of scoring position, seemed like a viable option. Or, if I raised rock #2 well enough, it wouldn't matter, because I'd have an untouchable rock on the button.

But, I only kind of made the shot. I raised rock #2 into the rings, and enough for second shot...but NOT enough such that Murray couldn't tie the game with the open take-out. I needed a little more weight. Murray made the take-out, of course, but at least it was only to score one and not two. And that matters because of a new rule that I (as the club's League Coordinator) implemented this season: NHL-style standings! Two points for a win, one point for a shootout loss. So, our team's league record is now 0-0-1. (Oh, right...Murray beat me in the tiebreaker by about an inch. Ugh!)

So...it's annoying when your team plays well, and you lose anyway. And, this was my fourth consecutive loss in league play. But these streaks happen, both good and bad. I'm still confident that I can get the job done, and I think we have a solid team. Our next game is this Friday.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sports Saturday: 1/28/12

This would be an appropriate time to talk about the passing of Joe Paterno, but, I don't know what I can really add to what is already out there. And, I admit, while I am obviously saddened, it hasn't affected me as much as it's affected many of my Penn State bretheren. It might be a different story were I still in State College and surrounded by the Penn State culture, but I never met Paterno, nor have any stories about how he "inspired" me or whatnot. For me, he really was just the football coach. For many others, however, he was so much more.

And, that's that.

College basketball - Generally speaking, all of the professional sports teams I follow suck. Thank goodness for Florida State athletics! Obviously, I'm talking about football and men's basketball, but I should also mention that the women's volleyball team made the Final Four this season.

While it's easy to take the football team's success for granted (the 1990s ain't coming back, folks), we're nowhere near that point in basketball. I've never been more excited about Leonard Hamilton and this team. Yeah, I was kind of critical a few weeks ago when I said "they just don't have a clue", but that was before they beat North Carolina and Duke. (And Maryland and Wake Forest, too. I was a little concerned they might drop the ball against Wake this week.)

Part of my beef was that FSU's last second plays for the tie/win almost always fail. But against Duke, Michael Snaer made a buzzer-beating three for the win. Finally, they got one! What was the difference? They didn't have any timeouts left! It came immediately after Duke tied the game with 5 seconds left, and with no interruption in play, so the defense wasn't set, allowing Snaer (considered the team's best scorer) to get open. When FSU calls a timeout in these situations, the defense knows what's coming (Snaer will get the ball, won't pass, and put up a bad shot) and can be prepared. If I were Hamilton, I wouldn't call timeout next time they're in this situation. Just let 'em play. Disclaimer: I am not qualified to be a college basketball head coach.

Florida State does not play this weekend, and neither does Penn State, so it's a good time to broaden my horizons. (By the way, NC State fans: did you really think you were going to beat Carolina this week?)
St. John's at Duke - Sat 12:00p, ESPN
Wake Forest at Clemson - Sat 12:00p, WRAL (ACC Network)
West Virginia at Syracuse - Sat 1:00p, ESPNU
Mississippi State at Florida - Sat 1:30p, MSG (SEC Network)
Virginia Tech at Maryland - Sat 2:30p, WRAL (ACC Network)
Kentucky at LSU - Sat 4:00p, MSG (SEC Network
Bowling Green at Eastern Michigan - Sat 6:00p, STO
Virginia at NC State - Sat 8:00p, ESPN2
Michigan at Ohio State - Sun 1:00p, CBS
Georgia Tech at North Carolina - Sun 6:00p, ESPNU


Last year, I was super excited about the NHL All-Star game. It was here in Raleigh, and it was the first year in which the players pick the teams themselves, fantasy draft style. This year? Meh.
NHL All-Star Skills Competition Thingy - Sat 7:00p, NBC Sports
NHL All-Star Game - Sun 4:00p, NBC Sports

Auto racing

It's the 24 Hours of Daytona (Sat 3:30p and Sun 9:00a, SPEED)! Yeah, we'll see how bored I am this weekend.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Want To See Pictures of Our Baby?

Before we had Marla, I think I remember saying something to the effect of, "I'm probably going to be that obnoxious person who is constantly posting pictures of my kid on Facebook." I don't know if that's come to fruition. Pretty sure many of my friends still have us beat. But I think I have all of my male friends beat. After all, most of the baby pictures you see on Facebook are posted by the mom rather than the dad, right? (For the record, Amber does post more pictures of Marla than I do, but I might post more frequently.)

Then, at a restaurant the other night, something occurred to me. Here I am, showing off pictures of Marla to some friends, just like that "obnoxious person" I thought I might become. Yep, it's happened alright. I think a compliment here and there ("oh, she's just so cute!") get to my head, to the point where I insist on showing everyone I know, and never leave the house without at least a few baby pictures stored on my phone. And what can I say? I'm a proud papa.

Well, Marla is pretty cute. But everyone thinks their children are cute. Are some parents just saying that? Or are all children truly "cute" in the eyes of the parents, because they (in theory) sort of look like mom and/or dad? If Marla has similar facial features to Amber, then Marla may remind me of my wife, whether I realize it or not.

By the way, I underestimated how nice it is to have a picture of your kid on your desk at work.

Of course, I know our respective families like seeing these pictures, especially because they only see us every few months. They're missing big chunks of Marla's development. By the way, she's not crawling yet, but can roll over several times in succession, to the point where we can't just plop her down somewhere and expect her to still be there two minutes later.

Marla turns six months old on Saturday. Maybe we'll celebrate by taking her somewhere. Gotta keep her (and ourselves) in "road trip shape"!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kickball Hiatus

When Knightdale Parks and Recreation released their sports schedule for the spring, something was missing: co-ed kickball. Apparently, kickball won't be back again until the Fall. It figures, too. We were just starting to actually get good at it, and now they pull the plug on it? And how are we supposed to know that it actually will come back in the Fall, anyway?

Well...this leaves a void in "Gang Green"'s schedule for the next few months. Time to start looking at other options, I guess. For example...

Another kickball league: When it looked like the Knightdale kickball league was going under last year, I tried (well, not really) to nudge us in the direction of a different league, because there are other leagues out there. They may not be any better than the Knightdale league, but just think. A whole new group of opponents who have never seen my pitching or bunting before!

Or, we could go in a completely different direction. Among the options that were mentioned on Twitter among the various "Gang Green" teammates...

Softball: Knightdale still has a co-ed softball league, but that doesn't start until later. And, well, let's face it: I am nowhere near as good at softball as I am at kickball. Unlike kickball, softball requires using your arms, and for me, that's a problem. I can't throw a ball far (to say "I throw like a girl" is an insult to girls everywhere), and I can barely hit the ball out of the infield. And, worse yet, they don't let you bunt! I'm not all that excited about the idea of playing softball, but if that's what it comes down to...

Ultimate: I know a few people who play ultimate. It's popular among people our age (or at least a certain subset of it), and I'm sure it's great exercise. I think I'd be pretty good at it too - I can run well, and as a one-time avid disc golfer, I can throw a frisbee far and accurately. (Throwing a frisbee is a totally different mechanic than throwing a ball, and I am far better at frisbee throwing.) I'd probably enjoy it a lot...provided that I'm on a team with at least a few friends of mine. I'd never just join a random team out of the blue. Problem is, I doubt we could convert the entire team from kickball to ultimate. Is there such a thing as "co-ed ultimate"? I don't know any women who play ultimate.

Ballet: I'm not sure if this was a joke or not, but let's all have an open mind, shall we? I'm all for trying something new. (Except when it comes to food. And a few other things.)

Curling: Seriously, guys. With no kickball, that frees us up to all join the Triangle Curling Club! You know you want to.

Buffalo Wild Wings: Usually, the kickball team heads to Buffalo Wild Wings after each game. Anything preventing us from just going there anyway, game or no game? Nope. I imagine there will be some of this, at a minimum.

I pretty much just go with the flow with this sort of thing, so...you know, whatever.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Curling Recap: 1/20-1/22/12

The Triangle Curling Club's winter hiatus of sorts is over. Time to get back on the ice! It's been so long, I had completely forgotten that in my last official game, my team lost 11-1.

I'd like to get as many reps in as possible between now and "The Dykes" bonspiel in February, so I played twice this weekend. Both games were pickup games - "preseason", if you will. (The spot in the second game was really Amber's spot, but she declined, so I went instead. Amber will be curling on Sundays once the league starts again, though.) The next round of leagues start this coming weekend.

Career game #162: Pickup - January 20, 2012
(Note: Game was a 3-on-3 game played with six rocks per end, instead of the standard eight.)

End.......... 123456789 |TTL
Allen........ 021202101 | 09
Foulger...... 400000010 | 05

Getting behind early in the game was a serious problem for me last season. Good to know I can still spot the other team a 4-0 lead after the first end! After that, we were pretty much in control, though.

But in all fairness, opposing Skip Andrew only has a few games under his belt at Skip. I've been there, and it takes a while to know what to expect with respect to ice conditions, etc. For instance, the ice did have a slight fall towards the center, but it was possible to get a rock to curl back from the inside out...if the weight was right. Rocks thrown at take-out weight fall and don't curl back, while rocks thrown at draw weight fall and do curl back towards the end. Andrew knew that, but there's still the matter of knowing where to put the broom to compensate for all of that, which...I have to say, that is the single aspect of Skipping that I think I've had the hardest time with, but I am getting better at it.

Since this was just a pickup game, I decided I'd try a "take out" strategy late in the game. On dedicated curling ice, it's standard protocol for a team with a lead to keep everything as open as possible and remove as many opposing rocks as they can. On arena ice, though, chasing take-outs can get you in trouble, so I usually just keep playing normally until at least the last end. But a preseason game offers a perfect opportunity to try a different strategy! Based on the final score, trying to remove every yellow rock I could worked out, but this isn't something I'll make a habit of.

Career game #163: Pickup - January 22, 2012

End.......... 1234567 |TTL
Allen........ 1100102 | 05
Jackson...... 0012010 | 04

The feel of this game was entirely different, because unlike on Friday, both teams had one or more practically brand new curlers. Priority #1: help them along, and make sure they have fun. But when my turn to throw came up in each end...of course, the idea at that point is to win the game. I think I just take these pickup games more seriously than most.

So I get pretty nervous when I have a big shot coming up in a league game, or better yet, a bonspiel. In a pickup game, however...hardly any pressure at all. I made some clutch shots in this game, including two last-rock-of-the-end draws to the button: one against two opposing rocks to score one (I think that was in the 5th), and then the game-winning draw for two in the 7th. (But that game-winning draw wasn't completely pressure-packed, because had I missed, we still would have gone to a shootout.) Taking six weeks off from curling clearly had no effect on my ability to throw draw weight when I needed it. In fact, it might have even helped. From the standpoint of the upcoming bonspiel, maybe I would have been better off not curling this weekend at all! But what fun would that have been?

I'm also drawing (no pun intended) close to 100 career wins. Sunday was my 97th; will my 100th career win come at "The Dykes"?

League play starts this Friday. Yes! Curling is back.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sports Saturday: 1/21/12

NFL - One thing I like about the NFL playoffs, as opposed to other playoffs, is that it's not a huge time commitment (at least relative to other sports) to watch the ENTIRE playoffs. 11 games over five weekends? Yeah, I can do that. (Especially with a DVR!) This is one reason why the NFL gets such fantastic TV ratings. You can't possibly watch every playoff game in other sports. (Well, I suppose you could...) Seven-game series are too spread out and take too long to finish. With the NFL, everyone gathers in one place, at one time. That helps it make for great "water cooler" talk, too, because chances are, a lot of other people were watching as well. And...no 9 PM weeknight games! NASCAR and golf are pretty much the only other sports that play at Chris-friendly times. Even the Super Bowl (TM) will be over around 10 PM, which isn't unreasonable. There's no question which sport has the best playoff system.

My primary rooting interest this weekend is that we don't end up with another Patriots/Giants Super Bowl (TM). Not because it wouldn't be a good game, but because I'm a fan of anything that's 1) different and 2) not located between Philadelphia and Boston, inclusive.

AFC Championship: Baltimore at New England - Sun 3:00p, CBS
NFC Championship: NY Giants at San Francisco - Sun 6:30p, FOX

College basketball - Florida State has, at times, looked awful this year. Against North Carolina last Saturday, however, they looked great! FSU can be a dangerous team when they're making their shots. (Yes, you could say that for pretty much any team.)

The best part about beating North Carolina or Duke? Living in the area, I get to listen to the local fallout all week! Locally, North Carolina and Duke are in the news most often not when they win, but when they lose. Truly spoiled fan bases we have here. So losing by 33 (I still can't believe the final score, by the way) to Florida State is unacceptable! Ha! It's been a good week. Let's do it again this week! Florida State at Duke - Sat 4:00p, ESPN

Penn State is clearly going nowhere this season, so I've been watching other Big Ten teams more often instead, such as Michigan State, and resurgent Indiana. Purdue at Michigan State - Sat 12:00p, ESPN; Penn State at Indiana - Sun 12:00p, BTN

NHL - I think it's time to start talking trades. The Carolina Hurricanes traded a couple of minor leaguers this week, but I imagine more changes are on the way between now and the trade deadline, whenever that is. (What, you expect me to know these things? I've never professed to be a hockey expert.) Carolina at NY Islanders - Sat 7:00p, FS Carolinas

By the way, my decision to not renew NHL Center Ice has proven to be a good one. I wouldn't have been able to get my money's worth this year. There are a few teams I would like to get to watch more often (Florida, Winnipeg), but I'll live.

(This weekend's nationally televised games: NYR/BOS - Sat 1:00p, NHLN; SJ/VAN - Sat 4:00p, NHLN; MTL/TOR - Sat 7:00p, NHLN; WSH/PIT - Sun 12:30, NBC)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Marla's Baptism Video

Here is the promised video of Marla's baptism from last Sunday.

The main reason we had it recorded was for the sake of Amber's side of the family, who weren't able to make the trip down from Toledo. But they'll getting a longer version - the "director's cut", if you will. This is the much shorter "YouTube" version.

Personally, I think it's just as fun to watch everyone else standing there watching (especially the kids).


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Impulse Eating

Normally, the grocery store routine goes like this. I come back from the store, put everything from my grocery bags in its proper place in the kitchen, and that's that. But what happens when I don't put everything away?

Here is the case of the Target-brand fruit snacks left out on the counter top, in plain sight. Over the last couple of days, I've found myself taking a bag or two every now and then that perhaps I wouldn't eat otherwise. Why? Because I see the box and think, "Hmm, that sounds good. Besides, each individually wrapped bag is only 80 calories!"

This begs the question: how much faster will the fruit snacks get eaten by leaving them out on the counter, as opposed to putting them away and out of sight? I'm thinking, 50% faster. But I can't really perform this experiment on myself, because it only works if the participant is in the dark.

This is how "impulse eating" works. See something yummy, eat it! This is precisely why I make an effort to not have too many snacks in our house at one time, in particular the more fattening/sugary snacks. Sure, riding my bike 40 miles a week helps, but I think not having a large selection of snacks at my house is one of the biggest reasons why I've been able to maintain a pretty low weight over the last few years.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


So...I'm having a really hard time blogging about Marla's baptism. For one, the topic of baptism is something I've talked about before. And, Marla's baptism pretty much went perfectly - no drama, no crying, no nothing. Marla was very well-behaved throughout the whole thing. (Such a wonderful little child, she is.) And, we have a video of the baptism, which we will be publishing eventually (next week?). So, that's that! Instead, let's talk about the "after party".

We had about 15 people, friends and family, over at our house for lunch after the baptism. I'm pretty sure this is the first time there have ever been more than, say, 8 people in our house simultaneously, ever. (Or at least since we bought it three years ago. Speaking of which, we moved into our house exactly three years ago today!) Suffice to say, we don't entertain much. But this was a good a time as any to give it a try.

Alright, I'll come clean here: Amber did the vast majority of the work. That is, the food preparation and cleaning, which is pretty much what it comes down to. And she did an outstanding job.

The tricky part isn't so much the execution, it's the planning. For example, what kinds of food do you serve? How do you make everyone happy? Can you make everyone happy? I'm a fairly picky eater myself, so from experience I know for certain that the answer is "no". But that didn't stop us from trying, of course. We had healthy options (soup and salad) and yummy desserts (courtesy of my Aunt Wendy), which I think went over well. Hopefully both the health-conscious and the people who don't really care as much about that sort of thing were all satisfied with the food selection.

The drink options, we were less confident in. Now...I've noticed something whenever I go to a party or organized something-or-other involving a variety of soda. Usually, the ratio of regular soda to diet soda is something like 3:1. Then, almost always, the diet soda is the first to run out. Why don't these people provide more diet soda? With that in mind, and knowing our family and friends, we had ONLY diet soda available. I don't know whether that was a winning formula or not, though. (By the way, we had Coke Zero and Diet Coke available, in equal quantities, and the Coke Zero ran out first. Coke Zero FTW!)

There were also some details we hadn't thought of in advance. For example, ice. Good thing my brother asked for ice the previous afternoon, because only then did we realize that our ice trays were empty. Not having ice at a lunch party would have been kind of embarrassing.

Aside from the food, it was easy, really. The football game in one room, and Marla in the other room, provided plenty of entertainment for all.

So, for those of you who came to the baptism and/or lunch party on Sunday, thanks a bunch! We really appreciated it. Hopefully we did an okay job as hosts. By the way, suggestions for improvement are appreciated. We won't be offended. This was our first time.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Day Care Holidays

We had Marla baptized yesterday, and I'll blog about that once we pictures and/or video sorted out.

In the meantime...today is Martin Luther King Jr Day! That means that some of us have the day off, and the rest of us don't. Among those that are working today: Amber and me*. Among those that are not working today: Marla's day care.

(* - Today is technically a holiday for me, but I decided to work today anyway and use a 'floating holiday' some other time.)

As we learned during "chicken pox week", it is very hard to get in 8 hours of real work while simultaneously watching a young child at home. So, Amber and I are each doing the following: four hours working in the office, four hours working at home with Marla. I think that worked out okay. This is something we might have to do again on Presidents Day.

I'm just glad we have flexible employers. How does the rest of the world do it?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

License Plate Registration Stickers: 2013 Edition

The first of the year is always an exciting time to be a license plate geek in North Carolina. It means the debut of a new set of registration stickers!

In North Carolina, the registration stickers are a different color every year, and there is no discernable pattern. And unlike some of these other dumb license plate games that I play, this game is guaranteed to have a swift and timely conclusion. Because eventually, every car will have one of these stickers! (Well, every car that is caught up on its annual safety inspection, at least.)

Starting from the year before I moved to North Carolina, the colors have been as follows:

2005: blue
2006: red
2007: green
2008: blue
2009: purple
2010: green
2011: goldenrod
2012: red

Now it's time to reveal the 2013 color! I saw one speed by last weekend while on a bike ride, but it's not official until I get a close-up picture...

Blue it is! Blue hasn't been used in five years, and it's a standard color, so it's a pretty logical choice.

As for 2014, I think green and purple are both viable candidates. Or, will they do like they did in the "goldenrod" year and break out with something completely unexpected and...shall we say, out of the blue?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

School Bus Stops

When I was a kid, I would watch TV shows in which the school bus picks up the main characters right at their house in the morning, and then drops them off right at their house in the afternoon. I would think, "That's not how it works! The school bus doesn't come by MY house. I have to walk a third of a mile (which when you're little is quite a distance) to a predefined bus stop. No fair!" I figured that for the purposes of a TV show, it was more convenient and/or a better plot device for Otto to stop right at 742 Evergreen Terrace, rather than for Bart and Lisa to have to walk down the street a little ways to meet the bus. School buses don't actually stop by individual houses to pick up individual children, right?

Well...now I'm not so sure. On my after work bike rides around the neighborhood, occasionally I'll encounter a school bus or two. And rather than stop at major centralized intersections like my old elementary school bus 164* used to, where the bus would only stop a handful of times with each stop handling 5 to 15 children, these buses would drive around the neighborhood and stop at individual houses, just like in The Simpsons and in most other TV shows featuring children. Not every kid gets dropped off right at his or her front door (particularly if they live on a dead-end street), but they're all pretty close. Here in Durham, most bus stops only handle one or two children, and that's it.

(I only rode the bus after school, and not every day, but I still remember the number. On a related note, riding the bus is kind of uncool once you reach middle school, and is very uncool once you reach high school.)

Of course, now that I'm an adult, I have a completely different opinion on this. Do we not trust our children to walk even a third of a mile alone anymore? That has to be why buses around here do this, right? Safety? Or does Durham just do it differently (and less efficiently) than Jacksonville? (Does Jacksonville still do things the same way that they used to, even?)

I hope safety isn't the sole reason Durham school buses make all of these extra stops. We live about three-fourths of a mile from the elementary school Marla will likely attend in a few years, and you know, it would be really nice if Marla could walk there on her own.

Speaking of neighborhood safety, somebody found a dead body in our neighborhood lake last month. Yay Parkwood!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Toll Transponder Test

So, about that toll transponder I installed a few weeks back in anticipation of the opening of North Carolina's first toll road. I suppose it would be a good idea to make sure it works, right?

To find out, I did a "test drive" from I-40 to the first Triangle Parkway exit (Hopson Road) yesterday. Would the posted toll amount (worth 30¢) appear on my online statement, leaving me with a balance of $19.70? Yes indeedy! But it turns out, I didn't actually have to pay that 30 cents to find out if the transponder was working properly, because Amber's trips down the not-tolled-until-August NC-540 showed up on our online statement also, with a toll of $0.00 charged.

Hey, now that I think about it...this kind of gives us a way to stalk each other. Now I can see at exactly what time Amber drives down NC-540 on her way home from work, to the second. Neat! So far on her commute home from work, she's averaging a pass-through time of 16:20:35. This will really come in handy when we have kids who are old enough to drive. We're watching you! Maybe by then, there will be several more toll roads in the area for us to stalk via our NC Quick Pass accounts.

Another reason I wanted to check the online account is to make sure we did NOT get any tolls deducted on the West Virginia Turnpike the previous weekend. My transponder will eventually be E-ZPass compatible, but not yet. I suppose if the transponder did work already, then the electronic signs along the West Virginia Turnpike's toll booths would have told me so on the spot.

As for what the holdup is on E-ZPass compatiblity, according to the News and Observer's "Road Worrier", the remaining issue is this. Other toll-collecting states have a law that guarantees the legal privacy of toll transactions, and E-ZPass (and others) won't do business with North Carolina until an equivalent law is on the books in this state as well. That law might be introduced this Spring, if we're lucky...it all depends on our state legislature. (Great.)

By the way, there wasn't a whole lot of traffic on the Triangle Parkway when I test drove it yesterday. But it was nonzero, at least.

Monday, January 09, 2012

New Phone: 2012 Edition

In December 2009, I decided it was time to a) switch from AT&T to T-Mobile, and b) enter the smartphone market with one of the cheapest smartphones available through T-Mobile, the T-Mobile G1 (a.k.a. HTC Dream). The G1 served me well, but it's pretty outdated now. The G1 doesn't have enough processing speed and/or memory to handle a lot of the Android apps that are coming out these days. The latest version of TweetCaster (my current Twitter app of choice), for example, takes a long time to load and crashes every five minutes or so on the G1. And Twitter apps are supposed to be simple, right? And, the G1 only has enough internal memory for a few big apps. I had been up against the G1's internal storage limit for quite a while, to the point where I had pretty much given up trying to download new apps.

So, I've been eagerly anticipating the time when I could reset the two-year contract and upgrade at a discount. Well, it's been two years, and it looks like the planned AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile fell through (thanks, FCC!), so it's time to upgrade!

Introducing my new phone: a T-Mobile G2x (also known as the LG Optimus 2X). Other Android options considered and recommeded by fellow T-Mobile customer James were the HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy S II; the G2X was by far the cheapest of the three ($100 vs. $200 vs. $230 with a two-year contract). Compared to what I had, this is a massive upgrade. Processing speed was something I had never even thought about when I got the G1, but these things are just miniature computers with phone-calling capabilities, after all. I've been jealous of the ease other people have with their smartphones doing simple tasks that took me several minutes on the G1. Not anymore! It reminds me of when my parents upgraded from a 386 to a Pentium, whenever that was. (1996?)

Also something to get excited about: the camera. I take a decent number of photos with my phone, so this is important. The G1 has a 3.2 megapixel camera, which is fine, except when you're trying to take a picture of a license plate from a distance, for example. And you can forget about taking pictures at night. But the G2x has an 8 megapixel camera, and features like variable light settings, a flash (yay!), and "zoom" (which I'm sure is nothing more than a crop, but still). At what point was that the leading edge of digital camera technology, let alone phone camera technology? Either way, the quality of my picture taking should improve from now on. I tried taking a couple of pictures at a stoplight at night the other day with the G2x to see how they would come out:

I'm not yet sure how a license plate would come out at night, though, which is important on the oft chance that I spot the ABC-1234 license plate at night, for instance.

I'm a big fan of the Android platform, and I had no intentions to switch to something else. What else is there for T-Mobile customers, anyway? Blackberry? Windows Mobile? Please. Even if T-Mobile carried iPhones, I would stick with Android, and not just because I'm already familiar with the operating system.

One thing I did like about the G1 was the pullout keyboard. I guess they don't make phones with these things anymore, do they? Would phone manufacturers rather make their phones as skinny as possible? Instead, I use something called "Swype" to type, in which you trace the path of your intended word on a QWERTY keyboard and Swype tries to guess the word you intended. I think I still prefer the pullout keyboard, but Swype isn't a huge downgrade. I'm already getting the hang of it. It's not so bad. The bigger adjustemnt is not having that LED notification light at the top of the phone. (There is an app called "NoLED" that serves as a substitute, but I tried it and didn't particularly like it.)

So, I like my new phone, a lot, but I knew I would. Now, let's fast-forward to January 2014. Will the G2x be as outdated then as the G1 is now? Hopefully not, but given how quickly smartphone technology is advancing, we'll have to see.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Sports Saturday: 1/7/12

College football - College football season is basically over, but there is this Penn State head coach business. I think it's official now that New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien will get the job. There is a quite a bit of a, let's call it a negative vibe among Penn State fans about this, and I think it's gone a little over the top, so I think I need to provide some reasonable, unemotional, rational discussion.

First off, it's too bad that Penn State has become one of those "elitist" schools where "outsiders" who don't know our "tradition" aren't welcome (at least according to a few high profile former players), and that the head coach of the football team is thought of as so much more than just a football coach. I think being the football coach should only about, you know, coaching the football team. This goes back to the idea that the football team is bigger than the school. It shouldn't be. That's how we got into this mess in the first place, right? Let's not take this so seriously.

That said...it's hard to get excited about the hire, if O'Brien is in fact the next coach. O'Brien was (is?) also a candidate for the Jacksonville Jaguars head coaching position, prompting Florida Times-Union writer Vito Stellino to tweet something to the effect of, "How many Bill Belichick coordinators have to fail as head coaches before teams finally stop hiring them?"

Well, whatever. Hire whoever you want, guys. Given the status of the Penn State football program at the moment, they might as well go with a cheap hire, I suppose.

NFL - First, about the Jacksonville Jaguars: this could be the most interesting offseason to date, now that we have a new owner. Is Shahid Khan going to open up his pockets and grab a big name head coach and/or big name free agents? Even if that doesn't immediately translate into more wins, it might keep this "new buzz" afloat and help sell tickets, and that might be better in the long run. And with a full offseason to work (unlike prior to this season), how much better will Blaine Gabbert be in the 2012 season? Will he have a better receiving core to work with next season? (Let's hope so.)

As for everyone else who's still playing...of this weekend's playoff games, I am probably the only person in the world outside of Cincinnati and Houston who is most interested in the first game of the weekend: Cincinnati at Houston (Sat 4:30p, NBC). Why? Because somebody has to win, right? Houston is pretty much screwed without Matt Schaub, and Cincinnati is only here because they kind of "backed in" to the playoffs. Yet, one of those teams is about to win a playoff game, which the Bengals haven't done since 1990, and the Texans never have. These two teams are the ultimate underdogs in these playoffs. Wouldn't it be great if either of them went on to win the Super Bowl?

Other games, none of which I have anything interesting to say about:
Detroit at New Orleans - Sat 8:00p, NBC
Atlanta at NY Giants - Sun 1:00p, FOX
Pittsburgh at Denver - Sun 4:30p, CBS

College basketball - With the start of conference play, it's time to finally get serious about college basketball.

First, my favorite college basketball website, kenpom.com, put up a paywall for this season, and I chose not to pay. But we can still look at his rankings, I guess.

As a Florida State/Penn State fan, it may not ever get better than it did last season. Both teams made the NCAA Tournament, and one (Florida State) even won a couple of games. But will either make the NCAA Tournament this season? I'm thinking, no. As good as Florida State's defense is, they seem to get worse and worse on offense every year. Sometimes, it looks like they just don't have a clue, especially when they play an Ivy League team. Leonard Hamilton can recruit, and he can get his players to play outstanding defense, but on offense, these guys are completely lost. And it's never more evident than in close or late game situations. I can't tell you how many times I've watched the Seminoles have a chance to win the game on the final possession, and fail. It's kind of discouraging when I'm watching an FSU game and it comes down to the final minute. Well, I guess every team has their weaknesses. Regardless, FSU can still plausibly win 10 games in the ACC. Florida State at Clemson - Sat 4:00p, ESPN2

Penn State: well, I'm just assuming they aren't good enough to make the NCAA Tournament. That's always a reasonable assumption with these guys. But hey, they beat Purdue! Indiana at Penn State - Sun 12:00p, BTN

This site has been my source for complete college basketball television listings this season. I don't know if it's 100% complete, but it's close, at least. Due to frequent stoppages, especially near the end, basketball is the kind of sport I can only watch on DVR, so I usually just choose a few games to DVR and then watch them later. I can get through an entire college basketball game in one hour this way. That's pretty sweet.


Things haven't improved much for the Carolina Hurricanes over the last few weeks. They're now dead last in the Eastern Conference (as of Friday afternoon). Time to start trading for prospects? Who do they trade, anyway? Dare they consider trading their two highest-paid players (Eric Staal and Cam Ward), both of whom have underperformed this season, and both of whom are signed to potentially franchise-killing long term contracts through the end of the 2015-16 season? Of course they won't, but I think it should at least be discussed. Florida has found success this season by hitting the reset button; maybe it's time the Hurricanes do the same. (Staal is still worst in the league in plus/minus, by the way: -23.) Carolina at Nashville - Sat 8:00p, FS Carolinas

Nationally televised games this weekend, which is pretty good if you're you a Red Wings fan.
Vancouver at Boston - Sat 1:00p, NHL Network
Detroit at Toronto - Sat 7:00p, NHL Network
Detroit at Chicago - Sun 7:30p, NBCSN

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Find Your Spot: Redux

I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and I'm proud of it. However...every time I go back there, I feel more and more disconnected from the local culture. It's kind of hard to explain, but I don't feel like I fit in there anymore. And the more time that passes, the more I'll feel that way, and the more I'll feel like an urban North Carolinian (which is totally different than a rural North Carolinian) rather than a Floridian.

So...several years ago, I took an online quiz called Find Your Spot, a quiz that tells you where you would most like to live in the country. But that was a while ago, after only a few months in North Carolina. Going back to the first paragraph, the longer you live in a place, the more you kind of meld into the local culture. So what would happen if I retook the quiz today? How much has 5½ years in North Carolina changed me? (Disclaimer: you have to jump through quite a few hoops at the end in order to get your answers. Opt out!)

The original top 12 from December 2006: #1 Cincinnati, #2 Lynchburg VA, #3 Bloomington IN, #4 Springfield MO, #5 Asheville NC, #6 Carlisle PA, #7 Roanoke VA, #8 Norfolk, #9 Charleston WV, #10 Rochester MN, #11 Topeka KS, #12 Charlotte.

And, now the top 12 from today: #1 Charleston WV, #2 Baltimore, #3 Little Rock, #4 Frederick MD, #5 Norfolk, #6 Hartford CT, #7 Roanoke VA, #8 Lynchburg VA, #9 Salem OR, #10 Medford OR, #11 Albuquerque, #12 Eugene OR. Sure, it's a little different, but given that quite a few cities made the top 12 both times, I think I can conclude that my preferences haven't changed all that much.

Given that North Carolina didn't come up near the top, can we conclude that living in North Carolina for a few years doesn't make you a "North Carolinian" at heart, then? Well, maybe. Here's my takeaway from this. Regardless of where you live, you will - with time - adjust to the local way of life. Move, and you'll re-adjust. Sure, you might be wearing more long pants and fewer shorts, and might have a slightly different taste in food, music, or sports teams. But that's all a matter of convenience, and it's only because it's what you're "used to". What you're "used to" and what you "prefer" are two totally different things, and only one of the two is dependent upon where you live.

Yeah, I suppose my "ideal" location is another degree or two of latitude farther north, where it snows a little more (but not too much), the politics are a little more progressive (but not too progressive), the terrain is a little more rugged, and red maple trees are more plentiful. But North Carolina is close enough, and we're certainly used to it by now, so we're not going anywhere.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

New Year's Eve

As someone who is obsessed with time and with timing things, you'd think I would love New Year's Eve. Sure, it's fun to see my watch change over from 12-31 23:59:59 to 1-01 0:00:00, but I think the days of staying up late enough to see that are over. The thrill and suspense are gone. The sleep we would otherwise be missing is more valuable (especially now).

And, besides, we know what happens at midnight. It's always the same. When you think of it that way, it'd make more sense to stay up late to watch the end of a late sporting event in which I don't know what's going to happen, and I haven't been doing that so much lately, either.

So what do people do on New Year's Eve? They either...
- ...go party! If we were invited to a party or something (especially if it celebrated every stroke of midnight around the world), we'd consider going. But the timing of a New Year's Eve party isn't really convenient for us anymore. Midnight is awfully late. We would probably have to leave around the time Brazil gets to midnight.
- ...stay home and watch one of the networks' New Year's Eve shows. Popular musical acts and celebrity appearances aren't our thing, and that's pretty much what these shows boil down to, so...yeah.

By the way, I made an update to this. Samoa (but not American Samoa) skipped a day and moved to the other side of the International Date Line. Instead of being one of the last places in the world to experience each New Year, Samoa is now one of the first. In fact, they now join the Line Islands of Kiribati as the first places in the world that experience the New Year. Hey, that's cheating!

I think people generally have the idea that staying up until midnight is simply "what everyone does", or at least what all the cool people do, on New Year's Eve. Well...we're not cool, so I can't speak on behalf of them, but I can speak on behalf of the many who were in bed by 10 PM last Saturday night. We don't feel like we missed much.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Statistics Galore: 2011 Year in Review

Happy New Year! As an obsessive stat-keeper, the end of the year is always a very exciting time. I have TONS of year-ending stats to unload on you. You might want to grab a cup of coffee before you begin.

I think I've mentioned this before, but I keep all of these stats for my own enjoyment, blog or no blog. But even if only one other person gives a crap, if I've got them I might as well publish them, right?

In case you're only interested in a few of these topics, here are some "jump" links:

Nights By County: Final numbers for 2011, which was spent mostly at home...by our standards.
County Visitation: Marla is a county-munching machine!
Car Mileage: How many miles did I put on my car in 2011? Not enough.
Gasoline Statistics: Speaking of car mileage, my car doesn't get the fuel mileage it used to.
Restaurant Serving Times: Nothing new to report here, really.
Bicycling Statistics: It's getting harder to find time to ride, and to bike to work.
North Carolina ZZ/AA License Plates: At last, the game is complete!
More complete stats in "By The Numbers"

Nights By County: Every night since January 1, 2006, I've recorded the county in which I spent the night. This used to be a far more interesting stat when I was back in college, but now, every year, it's basically the same: 320 to 340 nights at home, 5 to 10 in Duval County, FL (Jacksonville), 5 to 10 in Lucas County, OH (Toledo), plus a few more scattered throughout the country depending on where we vacation. This year was no exception, except without a huge one- or two-week road trip. Here are my year-ending totals:

Durham NC - 341
Lucas OH - 6
Duval FL - 5
Howard MD - 4
Monroe NY - 4
Mecklenburg NC - 1
Wake NC - 1
Orangeburg SC - 1
Monroe TN - 1
Nottoway VA - 1

For four years straight, we went on a big long road trip somewhere (Nova Scotia in 2007, Northern Ontario/Manitoba in 2008, US 50 cross-country in 2009, Alaska in 2010). In 2011, we had a kid, so no road trip this year. My only multi-night road trips were to see family, or to go curling. ("The Dykes" was in Monroe County, NY, and for "The Kayser" we stayed in Howard County, MD.)

I overnighted in 10 different counties in 2011, the lowest number since 2006 (also 10). By comparison, in 2010, I overnighted in 24 different counties. I spent 337 nights at home in 2011. (Four of the Durham County nights were spent in Duke Hospital, before and after giving birth to Marla.) That's the most number of nights I've spent in one place in any year since, well, at least 1999.

From 2007 onward, the cumulative totals for Duval and Lucas counties are 42 and 48, respectively. That's an average of 18 nights per year spent visiting our families, an average that will probably go down over the next few years due to the "Marla factor".

Finally, here is Marla's Nights By County for the portion of 2011 that she was alive for:
Durham NC - 146
Lucas OH - 6
Duval FL - 4
Monroe TN - 1

County Visitation: This is something I wished I had kept on an annual basis, like this, but it's kind of too late now. How many new counties did I visit in 2011? I could probably figure it out if I tried, but...nah.

All I know is that thanks to the "scenic route" we took to Toledo last weekend, my lifetime total is now over 1,400 (1,403, or 44.7%). It's getting harder and harder to keep adding counties, of course, so 50% might still be a few years off. Among states that are relatively close to home, I think Tennessee and Kentucky offer the greatest opportunity.

But while it's too late to start tracking my counties visited on an annual basis, it's not too late to do the same for Marla! But rather than track her counties visited based on calendar years, I'm doing to do it based on her age, so that the years will reset on her birthday (July 28) rather than on January 1. "Year 1" still has another 6 months and 25 days to go. And what a "year 1" it will be. Marla has already been to 111 counties in 9 states, including 38 counties in Ohio alone. That's what will happen when you drive to/from Toledo four times (two round trips), and take a different route all four times. We're not trying to take Marla to as many counties as possible, it's just a side effect of being along for the ride while her daddy does the same for himself.

Car Mileage: I feel like I've been driving my car a lot lately, and my odometer is now less than 1,000 miles away from 75,000. Yet, the 15,314 miles I put on my car in 2011 is the 2nd lowest annual total in the last seven years. So despite all those 60-mile round trips to curling and kickball, two round-trips to Toledo, and that drive to Rochester, I still had a fairly pedestrian annual mileage total. We put even fewer miles on Amber's car in 2011, around 13,000 (unofficially).

Why do I sound so disappointed? Because it's a dream of mine to drive a car all the way from nearly 0 miles all the way up to 200,000. With my 2008 Honda Civic, that's not going to happen. We've already decided that before we have a second child (2015 or 2016?), I'm going to get a bigger vehicle. So even though we're going to make an effort to put more miles on my car than Amber's car over the next four years, I doubt we'll be able to get it up to 200,000 before it's time for a new one. We'd like to keep Amber's car longer than that, but we'll also be taking it on fewer road trips over the next few years as a result, so the quest for 200,000 isn't looking good for Amber's car, either.

If you want to run up your car odometer, I can think of two reliable ways to do it, all of which I have experience with. 1) Live at least 20 miles away from your job. A long work commute is the #1 way to run up your car odometer. 2) Date a girl who lives at least 500 miles away, and go see her at least once a month. From the summer of 2006 through the summer of 2007, I lived 20 miles from work, and Amber was still at Penn State, so I would put over 2,000 miles on my car every single month. Some months, I would put over 3,000 miles on my car. Those days are over. Given the price of gas, it's just as well, I suppose. In 2011, November was the only month in which I put more than 2,000 miles on my car.

Gasoline Statistics: I've noticed something with the gas mileage log I keep, and have kept since 2008. My car doesn't get the gas mileage it used to. From June 2008 through February 2011, my car averaged 38.3 miles per gallon. From February 2011 until now, my car has averaged 36.0 miles per gallon.

What's the difference? Do cars just get less efficient as they get older? Are the tires I bought after we returned from Alaska more "grippy" and therefore less efficient? (Yes, I do keep the tires inflated.) It's not just the short work commute and even shorter drive to day care; my road trip mileage is also lower than it used to be. Regardless of the cause, 36.0 miles per gallon is still pretty good, so I don't see any reason to be concerned.

Restaurant Serving Times: Recall that a few months ago, I thought that the company Christmas lunch stood an excellent chance of being the slowest restaurant of 2011. Well, that didn't work out. And, all of the restaurants we visited over the holidays in Jacksonville and Toledo were pretty average. This means Applebee's of Knightdale, NC, held on to claim the "honor" of slowest of 2011 with its time of 29:43 back on March 31. And Ideal Hot Dog of Toledo, OH, finished the year as the fastest of 2011, but I knew that number (3:39, the second-fastest ever) was going to stand up.

Bicycling Statistics: One pleasant side effect of my Bicycling Trip to Alaska is a weekly log of bicycling miles. How did I do in 2011 compared to last year? (The trip isn't done yet, by the way. Yes, I made it to Alaska weeks ago, but the trip ends several hundred miles after the border.)

Average weekly bicycling miles: 35.9 miles/week in 2010, 40.6 miles/week in 2011. Hooray! Progress! I've taken a step back in recent weeks, however. In the last quarter of 2010, I averaged 38.0 miles/week, compared to 34.3 miles/week in the last quarter of 2011. Sure, the "Marla factor" makes for a convenient excuse, but...no excuses! 34.3 miles/week is still a pretty good average, but I can do better. And after the eating binge I went on over the holidays, I need to. (Disclaimer: don't mistake this for a "New Year's Resolution". I don't do those.)

North Carolina ZZ/AA License Plate Game: And, lastly...let's wrap this up, finally. I spotted an AAS- license plate on I-40 yesterday, which means that after 14 months, I have now spotted a North Carolina license plate representing all 21 ZZ-, and all 21 AA-, letter combinations. Really? That took barely over a year? It feels like this game has been going on for, like, three years.

With that, let's move on to my next two license plate quests:
- It's January, and that means it's time for a new color of North Carolina registration stickers! What color are North Carolina's 2013 registration stickers? (Don't tell me. It's more fun if it's a surprise.)
- I might need another license plate game to keep myself occupied. I've already done Florida counties and Ohio counties. How about counties from some other state? Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana are all somewhat nearby states that put counties on their license plates. Any would keep me pretty busy for a while. Indiana might be the most fun because they put a county number AND a county name on their plates. Regardless, it'll be a while on that one...I need a break.

The AA Highway

I like having Toledo as a frequent road trip destination. Since there is no direct interstate connection between here and there (not yet), there are many different route options available that don't add too much time to the drive. We've already driven pretty much all of the reasonable route variations between here and Jacksonville, but with Toledo, there is still a lot of exploring (and new county-visiting) to be had.

And that takes us to the AA Highway, a two-lane road in Kentucky that more or less forms the hypotenuse of the Cincinnati/Lexington/Huntington triangle.

View Larger Map

I think I just found this road intriguing because it's relatively new (opened in 1995), mostly rural, travels through five previously unvisited counties, and because I think the name is catchy. While it's officially Kentucky Route 9, it's more commonly known as (and signed as) the "AA Highway", so-called because its primary purpose is to connect Alexandria, KY with Ashland, KY. Yeah! AA Highway!

The Wikipedia article says this road is dangerous, due to "speeding...and numerous side road entrances and at-grade intersections". It never felt dangerous to us. I mean, look how wide the shoulders are!

Then again, we were driving this thing at around 9 AM, when there wasn't a whole lot of traffic. I can kind of see how the road is "dangerous", though. The speed limit is 55, but with the wide shoulders and very infrequent traffic lights (a few in Maysville, and that's pretty much it), some people probably try to go 70 or more. That'd be fine if the road were limited access, but...it's not. And while I thought the road was scenic, I can see how one could kind of get lulled to sleep by it. It's hilly, but there are no slow corners. It's built for speed. Maybe that's the problem! (Since the picture caught part of the speedometer, let the record show that I was going 61 mph, not 67.)

Let's talk timing. Let's say you're on I-64 west of Charleston, and you're trying to get to Cincinnati. Is it faster to take I-64 all the way to Lexington and I-75 north from there, or to take the non-interstate AA Highway and cut the corner? I've done both, and I've timed both, so I have the answer: the AA Highway is 12 minutes faster. But the fastest route from Charleston to Cincinnati is probably US-35 to OH-32, rather than the AA, which I haven't done yet.

So, there you go. The AA Highway = win!

Meanwhile...I was kind of discouraged after the drive to Jacksonville, as to the prospect of road tripping with a young child, or in our case, an infant. It's no fun anymore, I said! Well, the drives to and from Toledo were both fun, AA Highway or no AA Highway. (We took one of the faster routes home.) The key is to not be in any kind of a hurry. Enjoy the ride, and don't think about all the things you have to do when you get home until you actually do get back home. If you have to stop for 30 minutes, after having just stopped 15 minutes ago, no big deal. And, all things considered, Marla has been great in the car, on both drives. We have a "road trip baby" in the making.

Still, though, we're tired. I don't think we'll be taking Marla on any more overnight road trips until at least March, which by our standards, is an eternity.