Saturday, January 21, 2006

First Two Weeks of the Spring Semester

As promised, here's a little update on how my classes are going after the first two weeks of the Spring Semester. I don't remember if I gave out my schedule in a previous blog, but I'll go ahead and type it out again for all of those who don't already know:

Intermediate Spanish II - MWF 8:30-9:20 AM
General Chemistry II - MWF 9:30-10:20 AM
Ethics as Intro. to Philosophy - MWF 12:30-1:20 PM
General Biology II Lab - MW 2:30-4:20 PM
General Biology II - TR 8:30-9:15 AM, F 1:20-2:20 PM
General Chemistry II Lab - TR 10:00 AM-12:50 PM

The first two days of last week were the "introductory days," since that was when all of the classes met for the first time, the syllabi were handed out, and the expectations of the class were laid out. Obviously, those first two days are the easiest, since there is not very much actual information presented about the material. The exception to that was in my Biology Lab, where we did an experiment on the very first day.

We were divided into groups of three, and we were given the instructions for how to perform the lab. This one involved PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), which is a process of amplifying a specific part of one's DNA. For all of you CSI and Law and Order fans, this is the same process they use to compare DNA in a crime scene or a paternity test. In this particular experiment, we were testing for the presence of a certain part of a gene on the 16th chromosome called the alu insert. For all that we know at this time, that particular part of our DNA is "junk DNA," which means that it doesn't code for anything important in our bodies. So, one member of each group took two hairs from their heads and the PCR was performed on the samples of DNA. Two days later the samples were put through a gel electrophoresis, which separates the DNA into segments based on size. Since the gene with the alu was larger than the one without, if the alu insert was present, a band would appear closer to the starting point, whereas a gene without the insert would move farther towards the end. The third option was that the person was heterozygous for this trait, which means that one parent was positive and one was negative for the insert, and there would be two bands of DNA. This turned out to be a fun experiment, especially since I do like to watch those medical shows on TV!

All of my other classes have also gone well so far, but I think that can be attributed to not having any tests yet. The only other story of interest regarding classes so far involve my Chemistry Lab class. We did an experiment this week involving separating a solid mixture into the different components. After the first component was boiled off, the solution was cooled down and filtered, and the second component was isolated. This component consisted of small white crystals that had to be left out to dry overnight for the next two days. As I was putting those crystals away in my drawer, the instructor said something to me and I spilled a bunch of them into my drawer! I didn't say anything right then, because I didn't want to make a big deal about it, so I just hoped everything would work out on Thursday. Now on Thursday, I opened up my drawer to recover as much as I could of my sample, and it seemed like everything would be fine. However, after I did the experiment again (we were supposed to filter our sample again to get a more pure sample), there must have been some contaminants in my sample, and my solution had some brown flakes in there. After I asked the instructor about this, she just told me to use my original data (since it was still reasonable) and just use another student's data for the second part. What an interesting experiment!

Outside of school, there's really only one thing I can think of right now to mention. On Tuesday it had rained all day and all night, up until about 10:00 PM, when it changed over to snow. The weather people had only predicted less than an inch of snow, but the storm shifted and dumped about 2-3 inches. This meant that no one was really prepared for the extra snow! This included the snow plows and the people who salt the sidewalks. So, on Wednesday morning when it was still snowing, the sidewalks were a little bit slick. I was running a little bit late that morning, so I was in a hurry to get to class. I walked over a slick area close to the Student Center, and my feet flew out right from under me! I landed on my left arm and kind of lay there for a second. But, not wanted to embarrass myself even more than I was, I got up and began walking to class again. Thankfully no one was around to see my fall, so the embarrassment factor was very low. Thank God for that!

Anyways, that's really all I have to report for now. I do have some homework and laundry to do now, so this will be the end of this post. Until next time, enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Pictures of Christmas Break

All righty... As promised, and after many struggles with this site, I have added those Christmas pictures. Three of them are from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, and the last one is of our Christmas tree at home. Enjoy!

:Here's myself and my mom inside the Opryland Hotel. They had made a tree out of thousands of poinsettia plants, and we thought this would be an excellent photo opportunity.

:Here are my mom and brother posing between two small Christmas trees inside the Opryland Hotel. This was underneath a gazebo that was lighted with twinkling white lights, and it looked beautiful.

:This is the terrific display outside the front of the hotel. Normally I believe this is a fountain, but during Christmas, they run cables and lights up to make a giant Christmas tree of lights. At the base of the trees are red and green lights that forms giant poinsettia plants.

:Here's my beautiful creation of ornaments and lights. Considering I did this all myself (including putting the tree up in it's stand) it looks pretty good!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Big Finale of the Christmas Blogs...

Sorry to be keeping everyone in suspense of how my Christmas Break went, but as many of you already know, school started back on Monday of this week. So, as you can probably imagine, I haven't had too much time to sit down and blog. Well, to make up for that, I think I will finish up the narrative of my Christmas Break, hopefully in a way that doesn't take hours to write, and read for that matter.

I think when I left off at the end of my last post, I had just gotten back from our trip to Nashville. I was back to work the very next day, and I continued to work about five days a week for the rest of my vacation. Now by the time we had gotten back, it was just a few days until Christmas, so the rush-rush-rush was all around. I however didn't get into the big secular Christmas as many people do, so I was never rush-rush-rushed in anything I did. Up until Christmas, everything was normal for me, and I was content to go on that way! I just worked and spent some time with my family just like any other time of year.

But on Christmas Eve, that's when the whole Christmas season really started to sink in for me. We were invited to a little get-together over at Greg and Janie's house, which would consist of snackies and desserts, and of course, good company. We had decided to go to Midnight Mass, which is something we haven't done in many years. (If my grandparents are reading this, they probably remember the last time we went; they were there in fact! What a memorable evening, but that's a whole other story...) So, what we would do was go over there around 8:00 PM and stay until it was time for Mass. So, we went over and had a great time with Greg and Janie, and also some other friends of ours Pat and Sandy, and their kids Charlie and Jimmy. We shared some good times, some laughs, and of course some food, and it was an enjoyable experience. An added bonus was that I got a Christmas gift from Greg and Janie, which actually will come in handy up here in the cold. It was a reversible vest that is actually very good against the wind (and it's been very windy up here lately). One final treat was that Janie read some stories she had written, and I had no idea she was such a great writer! It was mainly about her mother and some memories she had as a child, and she tied in humor along with some of the more serious aspects...very good stuff.

We left Greg and Janie's around 11:00 PM and headed over to the almost packed Church. As usual on most holidays, we did get there before everything started, but had to sit up in the balcony due to a shortage of seats, once again. Everything was so nice and the Church was decorated very seasonably, which really did add to the experience. We got home at around 1:30 or 2:00 AM, watched a couple of Christmas movies on TV, and headed to bed. It really was a great day for us, but then again, it had also been a very long day. It was nice to be able to sleep in on Christmas Day and really enjoy the day.

Between Christmas and New Year's there really wasn't anything significant that happened, except of course that I worked some more. For New Year's Eve I actually went over to a friend's house, since my family really wasn't doing anything special (my mom was actually sick that night, so I got permission to spend the evening with my friend, who wasn't sick). I met over at his house around 9:00 PM, and we went over to the store to pick up some snackies. We got some chips, sodas, desserts, and the makings for some very delicious nachos! We got everything ready and ate to our hearts' content! Up until midnight we watched a few movies and some TV, and also surfed the Internet a little so that I could help him set up a Facebook account. (Facebook is a website for college students who are interested in finding people they went to high school with, and also to make new friends from their college. It's very similar to Myspace, which is marketed more towards high school kids.) Then at midnight, all of us watched Dick Clark on TV and toasted the New Year with some sparkling cider. I stayed for about an hour or so after midnight, and it really was a good way to start 2006.

After New Year's, again there was some more working, but also a few other interesting moments. We had actually decided to distribute Christmas gifts on New Year's Day, since most of us hadn't had time to get anything for anyone before Christmas. On the 5th, my friend (the one I visited on New Year's) had a birthday get-together, so there again was an opportunity to have some fun! We met over at a restaurant in Downtown Knoxville called Calhoun's on the River, and let me tell you it was delicious! There were about nine of us, that included him, his mom and a co-worker, a girl he works with, his brother along with his girlfriend, and then Emily, Connie, and myself (the three that went to middle school together). I had a steak and potatoes, and it was most excellent! I later had a dessert with ice cream, chocolate sauce, and chocolate cake, which also was very good. A few of us went back to his house after dinner and spent some time watching movies, TV, and online once again. That night ended a little bit earlier, but it was definitely an experience to remember.

The very next day Aaron, Emily, and I went over to the mall for lunch and "hanging out" before I had to be at work. We actually didn't get to do very much, since it was already after 2:00 PM when we were done eating, and I had to work at 4:00 PM. We walked around a little bit, shared a few laughs, and returned some clothing items we had gotten. I then drove to work and got there right before 4:00 PM, for once again, more work. But, this would be one of the last times this visit for me to work, so I made the most of it, of course. Saturday was the last night I worked, and boy I was glad to go home and not have to work for a while. But the one drawback was that I would have to leave for school on Sunday, and this would be my last night at home for this trip.

So, Sunday was family day for me. After Mass and a little bit of lunch, we just hung around the house and got all my stuff ready so that I could leave. But, before I could leave, I had to take down our Christmas tree. It was after all the 8th of January, so it was about time to come down anyways. I took all the ornaments and lights off and put them away, and my mom assured me that the rest would be taken care of. Around 6:00 PM, we loaded up my car so that I could leave, and that was a very hard thing to do. Someone had told me before I started college that going back after Christmas Break was the hardest part, and boy was she right! I really was not ready to leave, but it was time. So, my mom and I said our goodbyes (my dad had left for work already and my brother was out of town, so it was just the two of us around) and I went off on my way. This trip took a little bit longer, since I actually stopped and ate a real meal on my way up, and I got to school around 11:30 PM. The trip went very smoothly with no traffic (but a very gusty wind the entire way). I was back, and it was time to return to school.

Well, since this post is as long as it is, I won't include the pictures I was going to share in this one. I'll put up another post right after I publish this one so everyone can see. Oh, and pretty soon I'll put up a post about my first week of classes this semester. Anyways, I hope this post satisfies all those out there with appetites for blogs (that's you Adrienne!). Until later, enjoy the weekend and have a great 2006!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Continuation of Christmas Blog and Trip to Nashville

Sorry to leave everyone hanging for so long, but I just haven't had too much time at all to write since my last post. I think where I left off I had just put up our Christmas tree, so I guess I'll begin again from there.

After the tree had gone up and I had worked a few days, we set out on a trip to Nashville. As I think I mentioned already, we had planned on making a trip out there in order to go through some of Sharon's stuff. So, we decided to leave on Tuesday afternoon and set out right after the morning rush hour. We got directions from one of Sharon's friends in Nashville, but most of the driving was just on I-40. My brother Ryan did all the driving, and as we got into Nashville, we realized we were going the wrong way! The directions had told us to take a right, but what we were supposed to do was take a left! She had given us the directions from her house, which was in the opposite direction down the highway. So, once we were reoriented, we arrived at the apartment complex and found her unit.

As we walked in, we were surprised at what we saw: books, books, and more books!! Now we were expecting to see many hundreds of books throughout the apartment, but we hadn't expected seeing thousands of books there! There were books stacked behind the couch, going up the stairs, in piles in the bedrooms, and on the bookshelves that filled bedrooms, the living room, the dining room, and the family room. Suffice it to say that the books runneth over! And all types of books, too, including mystery, fiction, religious, biographies, historical, inspirational, and many other types too. We were all astounded by the sheer volume of books, but then, that was something unique about Sharon.

We had only been there for an hour or so when Judy, Sharon's friend in Nashville, came over to meet us. She is a very nice and courteous woman who is, I would say, around Sharon's age, and she explained everything about the estate and the apartment. She also discussed the beautiful memorial service held early in December and how so many people showed up to remember Sharon. I was very glad to hear that, and yet, somewhat disappointed that I wasn't able to attend. Thankfully, though, Judy saved a few programs and prayer cards from the service just for us, since we knew ahead of time that we wouldn't be able to attend. It sounded like a very nice service, and a very worthy sendoff of a remarkable person.

After we met with Judy for a couple of hours, we decided to explore around Nashville a little bit before we started going through the stuff. After all, we didn't want our entire trip to be stressful and all hard work, even though that was pretty much the entire purpose of the trip. Anyways, I suggested that we visit the Opryland Hotel, since I had been there several times and remembered how they really went "all out" decorating for Christmas. So, we got directions from Judy and got there in about 45 minutes, which I think was pretty good time considering we were in rush hour traffic. We decided, upon my suggestion, to park across the street from the hotel, since their prices for parking are unbelievably high, as I recall. It was somewhat cold that night, so we walked at a very brisk pace and made it inside.

Now, I don't know if any of you have been inside that hotel, but let me tell you, it sure is a sight to see! The entire complex is indoors, with five different guest room sections, several restaurants, shops, business meeting rooms, and even a large water feature running through the place. It looked almost like a forest in there, with tall trees and plants and flowers everywhere. But, in addition to all of this, add in all the Christmas lights, giant balloons hanging from the ceiling, Christmas trees, ribbons, life-sized figurines, and anything else you could possibly think of. We walked around a little bit looking at the wonders around us, but eventually got hungry and got some personal Pizza Hut pizzas from the Food Court. Lo and behold, while we were eating, the water fountain in the center of the place started up and Christmas music started echoing from the giant speakers. (You see, a couple times a night, no matter what the season, they do a water show from the giant fountain that features music, lights, and of course water.) This one was spectacular, and it really was a good show.

After we finished eating, we walked around just a little bit more and checked out a few of the other venues. But by the time we were finished doing that, it had gotten fairly late, and we decided to head back to the apartment. It was around 10:00 PM Central Time when we got back, and we were all exhausted from our travels. So, without thinking of really anything else, we just all decided to go to bed. We had to be up bright and early in order to get everything done that we wanted to do.

Once we woke up around 7:00 AM, we went over to rent a U-Haul so we could transport some of the furniture, etc. back to Powell with us. (Now before I go any further, I guess it would be good to mention that Judy gave us her Nissan Pathfinder during our meeting. She decided to keep Sharon's car, since she is in fact the co-executor of the estate, and decided that we could have her SUV. So, if you were wondering, that's how we were going to tote a U-Haul trailer.) So we went and picked that up from the local U-Haul place and got it all hooked up and toted it back to the apartment. When we did get back we had to decide what we wanted to take back as far as furniture. My mom finally decided to bring her couch, queen size bed (which would replace my parents' bed), day bed/couch (which would replace my old bed), clothes dryer, and an end table of sorts that had drawers and a sort of cabinet that she kept wine in. All of these items (except for the dryer, which went into the back of the SUV) fit into the U-Haul trailer, after repacking it several times.

After all the large items were packed up, we started going through some of the smaller stuff, such as knick knacks that were around the house. I brought a few Patricia Cornwell novels with me and my mom looked through some stuff in her bedroom, which included the actual bouquet Sharon carried in my parents wedding, and the bridesmaid's dress she wore! We also brought a few paintings, a horse clock and a horse painting (which we gave to Greg and Janie's niece, who is very much into horses), a few kitchen items, some board games, a couple of Christmas ornaments and decorations, and a few other items that we found. One batch of items that we found very interesting were some buttons with inspirational sayings on them. There was a bag with some in it, but then in random places around the house, like on the kitchen cabinets, on the refrigerator, and on the book shelves, a few of the best ones could be found. My mom thought that they were just oh so cool, and it really was neat that she left inspirational messages around the house.

So, after looking around a few more times and picking up any other items we found, we loaded up the cars and began to head out. I found leaving the place to be very emotional, since that would probably be the last time I'd see Sharon's place and all those memories of her. But, we had to leave, and I needed to drive the car back, since my brother would drive the Pathfinder and my mom would have to be with him (because he only has a learners permit). So, we headed out after saying a final goodbye, and we were on the road.

We got back home really late on Wednesday, and since it was so late, we decided to just wait until Thursday to unload the cars and the U-Haul. The U-Haul had to be returned by Friday, so we had plenty of time. Part of me was glad to be home, but then another part of me was sad to leave. But, I have tons of memories to remind me of the good times we had with Sharon, so she will never really be gone.

Well, this has turned out to be quite longer than I had originally intended, so I'll have to write another post or two about my Christmas Break. I also will have a post about my first days of classes, since I started back just yesterday. Until then, I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas, and that 2006 will indeed be a very Happy New Year.