Reflections on 2012

There were explosions, and smoke was everywhere around us; you could smell the strong scent of sulfur.  It would appear to an alien looking down on the River Main that there was a war going on between the two sides, but they would be wrong.  It was now 2012 in Frankfurt, Germany, and Erin and I, along with her folks and step-brother, were on the last day of our trip to Europe.  The Joint Mathematical Meetings were in Boston a week later, which I went to alone.

I’m breaking these reflections into two parts.  The first part will be simply reflections on the places I’ve traveled.  The second part will be focused more on thoughts and feelings, and the things that I think and do that define my life.

Part I

On Martin Luther King Day, for the second straight year, we went on a Michigan Beer Tour.  The 2012 MBT always starts for us very late on Friday at 3 Floyd’s Brewing in Munster, IN.  This is where we stop for the night before we drive on to Michigan on Saturday.  Our first stop was Bells in Kalamazoo.  We had lunch and several samples there before heading north to Holland for the night.  We went to New Holland Brewing Company and a few other bars.  Erin and I stayed at an awesome hotel that night called City Point, which was just a walk from the bars.

On Sunday, everyone was dragging, and worst of all Brian and Bill.  We left for Grand Rapids and were disappointed to find out Brewery Vivant was closed.  We had to settle for HopCat at that time in the afternoon. We spent enough time there to eat lunch, drink several beers, and get hungry again for dinner.  That was when we went to Founders for some amazing sandwiches.  The Pyramid Scheme was the final bar for Erin and me that night.  That bar had several beers from Shorts on tap, so we thought that would be best.

To celebrate my 35th birthday in 2012, we hit the town of St. Louis following a conference that Erin attended.  We visited Perennial Artisan Ales, where we sampled 8 of their delicious beers and salivated over their amazing looking menu (we had just eaten Sushi or we would have ordered something).  Our next stop was at Civil Life Brewery where we sampled only a few that we really wanted to try while playing backgammon and dining on provolone & prosciutto stuffed peppers with garlicky toasted bread.  Yummy.  Bailey’s Range was one of our last stops since it had several St. Louis beers on tap.  We split a PB&J Buffalo Burger and a salad, as well as enjoyed several beers.  It was a nice celebration.

Early in April, we went to Rob and Holly’s wedding in Bloomington, IN and it was one of the greatest nights of 2012, if not the best.  What a fun time.  You can read all about it here.  In mid April, I visited St. Louis again for a math conference.  I was along this time and stayed at the Moonrise Hotel.  It was a great area to stay and dine at in St. Louis and I really want to take Erin there sometime.  I really enjoyed the Pi Pizzaria, for both the pizza and the beer selection.

Once school let out for the summer, Erin and I went to Los Angelas for a wedding of her cousin’s and to visit her good friend Jessica.  Some awesome highlights were hiking the Temescal Canyon Trail, had margaritas on the Venice Boardwalk while people watching, and got tickets to a Craig Ferguson show that aired at the end of July during the Olympics.  We also tried La Foile by New Belgium for the first time and fell in love with it a The Surly Goat.  You can read all about it here.   

At the end of May I went on a fly in Canada fishing trip with dad, Lonnie (his best friend), and Don (his biking buddy).  It was a very long trip with just the four of us, and the weather never really cooperated.  We caught several fish and ate like fat kings for an entire week.  According to my records, I reeled in 170 fish that week most of which were walleye.

Summer for an academe is blissful.  It is playtime.  I spent a Saturday in early June riding my bike 60 miles in BRAMCO.  After completing the ride, I drove straight home to pick up my wife, whom had completely packed us and was waiting on the front porch, and drove out to Sever Lake in Hurdland, MO where we met our friends Gerrit, Kristi, and Rachel.  The lake isn’t designed for camping, but we camped free nonetheless. Later in June, all of us had a weekend in my cousin’s condos down at the Lake of the Ozarks.  We did some swimming off the docks, some fishing along the shore, and a lot of drinking.  While we partied a little at Frankie and Louie’s, we took individual pictures of us acting as zombies.  They are classic.

Ragbrai consumed my mind for most of the month of July.  Not only was I riding a lot, but I was thinking of different themes for a video documentary that I wanted to create.  A week before Ragbrai, I competed in the Lake Geode Challenge, which was an Olympic distance triathlon just outside of Burlington.  It was ridiculously hilly, hot, and difficult.  I survived it somehow and so did our friends, Carla, Cherie, and Tony.  Carla, Cherie, Erin and I camped on the night before the triathlon and then decided to camp another night because we were too tired to pack up camp.

Ragbrai was brutally hot in 2012.  For the first three days, I decided to party a little bit and took video of me chugging a beer in every town.  That got expensive and tedious, and so I decided not to keep this up for the entire trip.  Ragbrai could best be enjoyed if you partnered up with one other person who was not only at your level of biking, but shared the same tastes for a fun time.  The second best way (I feel) is to ride alone and do whatever it is you want to do.  I left myself many notes for the 2013 ride and how I can get more enjoyment out of it.

The Great Taste of the Midwest is an extremely large beer festival in Madison every year, and Erin and I enjoyed our second annual with our friend Rob.  Rob got us a wrist-banding gig that requires us to put wristbands on people for 3 hours, only 1 of which intersects with the event itself.  We sacrifice 1 hour of the Great Taste for a free entry.  It is a great gig, and as long as we continue to volunteer each year, we will always have a spot.

An interesting coincidence occurred this year on Erin’s 32nd birthday.  A geeky check that I made on Wolfram Alpha showed that on Erin’s birthday, I would be exactly 13,000 days old.  We celebrated the day in Lawrence, KS with Gerrit, Kristi, and Rachel.  All of us slept and hung out at Trish and Joseph’s place.  They were kind enough to take us all in so we wouldn’t have to put up the money for hotels.  Nathan joined us for a dinner that Trish made and it was a good time.  Our friends were able to meet Erin’s folks close up and personal.

The Great American Beer Festival was scheduled during Truman’s Fall break in 2012, which coincides with our anniversary.  Erin planned a great trip to Colorado for us which involved a hike up the Flat Irons in Boulder, and visits to several breweries and eateries that were very good.  We spent a night in a cabin in Chataqua Park in Boulder, a night at the Armstrong Hotel in Fort Collins, and two nights right next to the convention center in Denver.  Erin was able to get us tickets to two different sessions at the festival which allowed us to taste all of the beer that we wanted to.  You can read all about our time here.

Over the summer, I came up with a crazy idea to write a stat song to the tune of Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack, and then do a music video of it.  It was one of my ‘wouldn’t it be funny if’ ideas.  I began to write the song, got about halfway done, and put it, and the idea, aside.  Sometime in November I decided that this idea was too big to pass up and I was going to make it happen.  Erin helped me shoot a large chunk of the shots on the first weekend of Thanksgiving Break.  During the last two weeks of school, I took shots of the students and the president of the university, and then put it all together.  This video will stand as one of my groundbreaking achievements.  It will happen again.  You can guarantee that.

We spent Thanksgiving day with Erin’s folks down in Lawrence, and the Saturday following Thanksgiving we hosted our second annual Parent’s Meal that we hope to continue.  We had our third annual Holiday Meal with friends on Saturday, December 15.  There were 10 of us around the table for yet another amazing meal from Erin.  She puts a lot of work and effort in these things.  We spent Christmas day with dad and Marilyn this year in Indianola.  We rented “Hope Springs” and “Premium Rush” for them to watch.  These were good enough movies that neither one of them fell asleep during the movies and they both liked them.  It was a successful pick!  On the day after Christmas, we did some shopping with mom at Kohl’s in Ottumwa, and lunch with her at the Canteen, and then hung out with her and Uncle Gary at home where she cooked us a nice meal.

We brought in 2013 rather simply this time around by hanging out on the sofa together having some wine and watching movies and T.V. shows on Netflix instant.  I think I fell asleep on Erin’s lap as she began her Harry Potter marathon which she finished the next day.

Part II

The Spring semester of 2012 was about to begin.  Toward the end of the Fall semester of 2011, I was in the process of creating my tenure portfolio.  This happened to be a very worthwhile venture for me.  I really needed to reflect on my time at Truman.  How was my teaching going?  How was my research going?  Was I making any contributions to the committees on which I served?  When I really evaluated these things by the numbers, I found that I was doing well.  If you know me very well, you will understand that doing well or good enough just doesn’t do it for me.  I want to be exceptional, and that can be very difficult sometimes when you have as harsh a critic as myself.

Books and movies inspire me a great deal.  I must have watched “Limitless” during the Fall 2011 semester because it sparked a large interest in memory and how the mind worked.  I checked out “The Memory Book” by Harry Lorayne from the library and soaked it up, always thinking on how I could use these techniques to better myself in the classroom.  Professor Hector Avalos taught an Old Testament class in Religious Studies at Iowa State that I took long ago, and he was able to do role call from memory on the first day of class.  I’ve always remembered that and even wrote about how important it was to me in several reflections, but had never tried it or put it into practice in my own classroom.

On my first day of class, I did role call from memory in all of my classes.  Students responded very well to it, as I did long ago, and so I will continue this practice until I retire from teaching.  The techniques used were quite easy to pick up.  In order to use the techniques, you do need to develop a wild imagination.  The year was getting off to a great start.

At the end of the semester my brain was on ultra-super-drive.  Ideas kept flowing out of me and I couldn’t write them down fast enough.  The combination of learning all kinds of new material and losing all kinds of weight by eating right and exercising a boatload must have had an influence on my behavior.  On the last day of each of my classes I delivered a powerful 5-6 minute speech that I just read from a paper.  In each of my classes, I dismissed them after applause.  It was the first time that it happened, and wouldn’t be the last. 

At the end of January in 2011, I was tipping the scale at over 180 lbs.  Someone I play basketball with regularly poked my stomach and said, “It looks like triathlon season is over.”  I knew it was true but I needed to hear it.  That was the best thing that he could have said to me.  I started going on a diet and exercising a little more and kept a detailed record of my weight during the months of February through May. I got down below 160 after implementing a new diet.  It was amazing!

During the end of 2011 and a major part of 2012 my leisure reading took a major turn to nonfiction.  For a long time now, I have realized that I have no faith and find anything metaphysical and non-measurable pointless to study or to which pay any heed.  I read the books God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett, Godless by Dan Barker, and The End of Faith by Sam Harris.  These books provided many arguments of which I had not heard along with many that I already had made in my head.

I thirsted for more answers about the universe and read the books The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.  When my pallet yearned for more, I turned to sociology and psychology reading The Tipping Point and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by Daniel DiSalvo.  All of these reads have provided much insight and much needed understanding of the world I live in and the feelings I’ve been having since I was a kid.

Since 2012 was an election year, I consumed myself with politics.  Although I paid quite a bit of attention in to the election year in 2008, it must not have been the right kind of attention, because by the time it came to vote I remember feeling very much uninformed.  Using sources such as Politifact.com and FactCheck.org, and reading several news analysis articles, I was able to sift through much of the nonsense that inevitably surfaces in politics during an election year.  To the chagrin of my parents and much of my family, I have become extremely liberal in my views.  This is because it has become next to impossible for me to make data based decisions and rational and reasonable arguments in favor of anything conservative.  It has been a real enlightening and eye-opening year for me.

Now, what am I going to do in 2013?  That will be my next blog.

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