After an exhaustive meta analysis of many factors that could potentially be causing the spike in Autism rates in recent years, I have found the one factor that is alarmingly correlated: Nutella consumption. Well, specifically interest in Nutella as evidenced by Google searches, but I think it’s safe to say that increased Google searches of Nutella means increased consumption. My scientifically proven* hypothesis is that increased Nutella consumption during pregnancy causes an excess of sugar and hazelnut compounds in the bloodstream of the mother that pass on to the fetus and alter the chemistry of their developing brain. The full research study, co-authored with Dr. Mr. Andrew Wakefield, will be published soon** in the medical journal The Lancet.
*not using the actual scientific method
**not published at all
For actual interesting cutting edge research on autism, see this TED Talk.
Eight years ago Audrey and I started this adventure of our life together. A lot of things have changed since then. We’ve gained some dependents, moved to another state, and are homeowners. This year we celebrated by taking a Tuesday off from work, dropping the kids with a friend, and declaring a snow day. I snagged us some tickets from Craigslist and we cruised up to Copper Mountain for our first day on the mountain since before Cooper was born and our first time skiing in Colorado. A great time was had by all. We got the opportunity to feel both young again (freedom!) and old (pretty sore the next day).
Ski lifts (Can’t we find a less terrifying way to get to the top?)
It’s been a long dreary winter and now that everyone is feeling better we took an opportunity to get outside. We’ve been itching to get to the beach for a while now. Since there is no ocean of reasonable proximity camping at Great Sand Dunes seemed to be a worthy substitute. After playing an intense game of 3 dimensional Tetris, we got all our camping gear in the car and headed south and away from civilization.
Great Sand Dunes
Great Sand Dunes is pretty remote. It’s definitely not like most national parks I’ve seen. There’s no cutesy town right outside the park entrance with gift shops and restaurants. There is one small entrance station with no employee to take your money and give you the glossy map. Not that the glossy map was necessary, the road from the entrance leads up to a parking lot and then the campground. That’s it. It’s a pretty cool place, there are these big snow capped Colorado-type mountains with these Lawrence of Arabia sand dunes leading up to them. In the late spring (this time of year) they have a creek that runs around the base of the dunes making a nice beach-y area. It’s quite popular on the weekends, but we went during the week, so we avoided most of the crowds except for one school field trip bus.
Cooper and Ellen were very excited to go camping, so excited that going to sleep was an issue and there were many shenanigans. On the first morning there while Audrey and I were distracted making breakfast, Ellen found her way into a bunch of prickly pear cacti, then tripped and rolled around in them. I’m glad nobody called in the authorities from all the screaming she was doing as we extracted the needles from her. Nevertheless, she bounced right back in spite of the trauma.
After finally finishing up our now cold breakfast, cleaning up the campsite, and going through an elaborate sunblock routine we got to head down to the “beach.” It was a grand time. The kids loved making sand castles and destroying them. Cooper had this boat he would send down the creek and then chase. Ellen had fun in the water until she got cold from the wind, but she could be revived along with Audrey by sunning on the hot sand.
In the afternoon we made a foolish attempt to climb the dunes after the wind had really picked up. Ellen really didn’t care for being sand blasted–none of us did really. However, Cooper loved sliding down the sand. It was fun, but short lived.
Colorado Gators Reptile Park
On our last day we packed up and drove on out. Morbid curiosity compelled us to stop at another local attraction: the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. This is the craziest small town tourist trap I have ever seen. This place started as a tilapia farm in the desert made possible by hot springs then became a rescue mission for alligators and other sundry reptiles. Honestly, it was kind of like walking onto the set of a horror movie. Everything was dilapitated and every time I saw a fenced area or cage where I couldn’t immediately see the resident creature I’d feel a sudden panic. They had everything: giant tortioses, geckos, emus, rattlesnakes, a 40 foot python, and of course lots of alligators including an albino and the alligator from Happy Gilmore. It was totally creepy-cool.
Cooper was totally excited about seeing the animals until he realized that one big rock was really a living turtle that was 3x his size. He never warmed up to that turtle even though we told him it was like Franklin. Ellen was freaked out at first, but then really got into throwing alligator food pellets in and watching them go for it. (I’d really rather not know what the contents of the alligator food were.)
Good times were had by all. A lot of sand found its way back to our house. We will not be getting an alligator as a pet. We’re thinking next time we’re in that area we will have to stop by the other fascinating local attraction: the UFO watch tower.
Prepare yourselves for cuteness. Apparently they make snowshoes for little people. We made a day of it on Presidents Day heading up into the mountains by Winter Park. It was a beautiful sunny day with almost no wind, which is a rare thing these days.
Ellen wasn’t so sure about being in the cold snow, but we made her come along in the backpack anyway. Cooper did great out there and got the hang of the snowshoes in no time. He loved tromping through the snow and picking which way to go. The fact that he is so light made it so he literally floated on top of the snow. I even taught him how to make yellow snow. 🙂
Ellen enjoyed the free ride for a while, but eventually wanted to get out and have fun like Cooper. She dove right in head first as she is known to do.
When we got back near the car we let her have a crack at the snowshoes. She was super cute, but did struggle staying on her feet. When she toppled over and her boots popped off, it seemed like a good time to call it a day.
We didn’t cover an epic amount of mileage, but it was certainly enough to tucker Cooper out. I suppose if you were to adjust for difficulty and leg length maybe it was pretty epic. Either way, it was a good time and I have a feeling it won’t be the last time.
Just days after buying our new car, we got to take it on an unplanned road trip back to the heartland (aka Utah). My sister Vanessa’s husband, Chris, came down with a terrible bout of the flu that has been going around. Normally that would be a good reason not to go visit, but this was different. When I say the flu, I don’t mean he ran a fever, had a cough and a sniffly nose, and felt crummy for a week or even two. I mean he nearly died. By the time we arrived he had been in the ICU for just over a week unconscious and on life support.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that if you haven’t gotten your flu shot this year, stop reading this right now, get in the car and go take care of that immediately. I’ll wait for you.
No, seriously, do it now. Don’t put your family through the hell that my sister has had to endure for the past several weeks.
Okay, now that you’ve taken care of that. There was a silver lining in that we got to be there for my cousin’s wedding as well. That was great fun. We’re so happy for them. It was an interesting juxtaposition being reminded of the eternal nature of marriage and how life together is this rich mixture of exquisitely happy and excruciatingly painful moments.
It was great to see family that we rarely get to see all at the same time and place. Audrey’s parents and family were so kind too in helping with the kids. As of this writing, Chris is on the long road to recovery. He’s made great progress, and we are all hopeful he’ll graduate from the ICU soon.
No we didn’t get a minivan even though we’ve heard they’re so wonderful.
We’ve been coming to terms with the fact that our beloved 19 year old Honda with 300k+ miles* on it wasn’t going to keep going forever. The weird little old car quirks were just adding up. Changing the interior temperature from heating to cooling requires stopping the engine, popping the hood, and reaching down to manually twist the valve next to the heater core. Rolling certain windows down is risky since there’s no guarantee they would make it back up. The turn signal light is all skiwampus because the double sided foam tape holding it in is losing its stickiness. The tape deck (yes it has a tape deck) no longer works because someone stuck a pair of tweezers, a screwdriver, and a small toy in there. Not to mention the chorus of shimmies, rattles, clunks and squeaks we’d grown accustomed to were making us nervous to drive it out of town.
It all started on Monday when I was casually browsing Auto Trader when I should have been working. Actually, no it didn’t start on Monday. I’ve been lurking around Craigslist, AutoTrader, and Consumer Reports kind of obsessively trying to find a car that didn’t seem to exist: the legendary reliability of our Honda, more room for us and to haul stuff (you should see the gymnastics we have to go through to go camping), and 40+ mpg. We investigated the Subaru Outback (“state car of Colorado”), but found the fuel economy disappointing. The Toyota Prius was too small and the new bigger one was too expensive . (We did test drive one, though, and it was seriously like driving a spaceship.) Then I was chatting with a coworker the other day about this dilemma and he mentioned to me that VolksWagen makes cars that run on diesel that get excellent gas mileage. He owns one and really likes it. They even make some in the uber (German diction intentional) practical wagon form.
So anyway, back to Monday. Lo and behold there on Auto Trader was a 2010 Jetta SportWagen TDI with heated leather seats and a panoramic sunroof. A quick check of Consumer Reports and Edmunds revealed the price was good too. I was worried it was too good to be true, but the Carfax checked out. Yelp reviews for the small dealership were overwhelmingly positive too.
Tuesday, we dropped the kids off with some friends and went for a test drive. It was like a dream, but with more traffic. Apparently the car was owned by a pro cyclist who quit being a pro cyclist, got a real job, and couldn’t afford the payments anymore. He kept impeccable maintenance records and other than a few faint bike tire marks on the roof of the trunk, the car was in mint condition.
We were feeling pretty good, so we called our mechanic to see if he had time to inspect it. The second we told him we were looking at a Jetta Wagon TDI he flat out said, “Don’t buy it. VolksWagens are really unreliable. You should buy a Japanese car.”
We drove home in our old Japanese car sad and wondering if we had just been blinded by how toasty our butts were in those heated leather seats. That night we scoured the interwebs and made a bunch of phone calls to find further evidence to make a conclusion. Consumer Reports rated the Jetta TDI about the same as a Subaru that everyone is always raving about. So, statistically, it’s not really more unreliable. More searching revealed an enthusiast website for TDIs where we found a mechanic right in Golden who works on them exclusively.
Wednesday I called him and arranged to take the car to have the “diesel genius” inspect it. I knew I was in the right place when I saw the whole parking lot in front of the small shop filled with VW’s and Audi TDI cars. I was greeted by a friendly labrador and soon found myself out in the car with Anuthee as he’s reading the codes from the onboard computer. He swears like a sailor, but seems to really know his stuff. While he’s inspecting the car, someone calls him about a dead battery and he tells them the twelve digit part number for the replacement off the top of his head. The inspection revealed a few minor things, one of which he tells me VW should fix for free under warranty, but overall the car is almost brand new. Additionally, when I asked him about my mechanic’s negative response he made me feel better by saying VW sometimes gets a bad reputation for being unreliable not because they’re actually more unreliable than other cars, but because most mechanics don’t actually know how to fix them. I’m relieved to know that if something ever does go wrong, we have a mechanic who’s going to know what to do with it.
Thursday, I negotiated a slightly lower price, we signed a million documents, wrote a huge check, and took home our new (to us) car. The whole thing was quite the whirlwind. We feel sad that we literally kicked the Honda to the curb, but our new wagen sure has a lot more swagger.
* I don’t actually know how many miles the car has on it because the odometer stopped working about 5 years ago around 260k.
It could be argued that we are somewhat of curmudgeons when it comes to new fangled technology at our house. I mean we’re still not on Facebook. (Seriously, friend is a noun, not a verb.) However, a couple of months ago we were coming up on that crossroads in our lives where our Verizon contract had ended and our phones were starting to show their age. So before jumping on the Verizon bandwagon again for another 2 years, we took pause and looked around at what else was available. I had heard of these so called “smart” phones that were like carrying around a little computer in your pocket, but after looking at what Verizon wanted to charge for the extra data and texting plans I had second thoughts. (That’s correct, we didn’t have a text plan up to this point. It didn’t make sense to me to type out a message on those tiny buttons when I could just talk to the person much easier.)
Then one day I heard of a plucky little mobile phone company called Republic Wireless. They found a way through technology to drastically reduce the cost of wireless. The secret is that anytime you’re on a Wi-Fi network like at home or work or even at church, all the phone calls, texts, and internet stuff goes through that network that you’ve already paid for instead of the more expensive cellular network. Then for the cellular coverage they just buy time wholesale from Sprint. I liked this idea because it was a slick way to stick it to the man.
I still had to convince our chief financial officer, so I put together this very compelling presentation:
She agreed and we switched back in December. (Incidentally the math in that presentation is wrong now. They dropped the price on the phone since we bought ours from $249/phone to $199/phone for the $19/month plan and $79/phone if you agree to pay $29/month for the plan.)
MMS messages don’t really work through this service. (Yet. They say they’re working on it.) That means picture messages. However, you can send and receive emails which seems to be plenty sufficient for me.
If you start a phone call at your house (on Wifi) and then go to get in your car, the switch over to the Sprint network is not seamless. The call drops and automatically re-calls. A pretty minor annoyance. You really shouldn’t be talking on your phone and driving anyway, right?
If you’re used to an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S3, the phone they have (Motorola Defy XT) is going to seem kind of lame. It doesn’t run the latest Android operating system and it’s pretty easy to run out of space for apps. But, if you’re like us, and switching from phones that aren’t like small computers, it’s still going to be pretty amazing. Rumor has it that they’re going to release some newer fancy phones later this summer.
The phone gets service in places other phones (even fancier phones) do not. For instance, last winter we visited my cousin who lives in kind of a cell phone dead zone. After connecting my phone to the Wifi at her house, we were the only ones who could make or receive phone calls or texts. The same goes for our basement.
Did I mention that it’s $19/month for unlimited talk, text, and data with no contract?
So far we’re pleased. It’s nice to be in the 21st century with everyone else, but at a much lower price tag. If you’re looking to jump ship on your cell phone provider, by signing up through this link it will give you a discount of $19 on your first month’s bill. (We’ll get $19 off our bill too, so we’ll each save a buck.)
So, if all that didn’t convince you, you should hear this guy out:
I was torn from a restful sleep instantly. Whatever that was, it sounded heavy. It wasn’t someone tripping over a lantern on the way to the bathroom.
Beep! Honk! Beep! Honk! Beep! Honk!
Audrey stirred next to me looking a bit annoyed at the ruckus. We lay frozen in our sleeping bags listening to car horns blaring throughout the campground. After a few moments the car horns stopped and it was eerily silent. Outside the tent I could hear what I thought was a stick snap and some snorting noises. Oh, wait, that was Ellen snoring. Somehow she and Cooper were miraculously still asleep.
Another crash erupted nearby quickly followed by hurried footsteps and someone banging furiously on a door. Our muscles tensed and we alternated between praying and making mental plans of how we’d scare a bear away from our tent by yelling and flashing our headlamps. The chorus of Beep! Honk!s started up again and a few cars and their passengers drove away into the night. As the sound of honking horns gradually got quieter and further away, our muscles slowly relaxed.
I whispered to Audrey, “I have to pee.”
“I don’t think now is a good time.”
I pushed the Indiglo button on my watch. 3:40am. I laid there on my partially deflated REI knock off ThermaRest trying to get comfortable with a full bladder and frazzled nerves. After quite some time the pre-dawn gray began to lighten the sky and I ventured out to make a cautious trip to the bathroom.
No bears in sight. Good. The car was also still in one piece. Also good. The dumpster by the bathroom had been toppled, but the bear proof lid remained closed. This made the chipmunk jumping into our car earlier seem like no big deal. I reported back to Audrey and finally fell back asleep.
* * * *
Camping has long been the ideal vacation for us. Cheap, plenty of fresh air, and the harder things you do the less people you have to deal with. One of our favorite vacations was a backpacking trip to Escalante, UT where a flash flood chased everyone away and we slept in a cave. (Don’t worry, it was a wide canyon so our lives weren’t in danger, it was just really wet.) Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether we’re super awesome or just plain crazy.
We’ve made a point to go camping with the kids several times each year. Every time we go people tell us how brave we are to take such young kids camping, but we’re sure cultivating a love for nature in them. Camping with tiny ones can definitely be trying. Bedtime can be a nightmare and any unexpected event of nature (rain, bears, chipmunks eating food in your trunk, getting stuck in a traffic jam at the end of a very long weekend, etc) can make things quickly unravel as epic whining ensues. However, it can be fun too. I guess you can say we’re beginning to understand what it means to “Come What May and Love it.”
In spite or maybe because of all the crazy stuff that happened this weekend (and the bear was only part of it) we had some good laughs and enjoyed some of this beautiful world we live in. Photographic evidence to follow.
In January of 2006 I had just finished a church mission and was returning to Logan, Utah to go back to college. I loved many things about serving a mission, but one thing I sorely missed was good music. I like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as much as the next guy, probably more, but there’s a limit on how much of that someone can take. Even worse were the absolutely awful Especially For Youth soundtracks from church youth summer camps that were really popular with the missionaries. Imagine super cheesy soft rock ballads about reading scriptures and being chaste. (Both good virtues, mind you, but that didn’t make the music any better.) There was this one song with synthesized bagpipes, it still makes me cringe when I think about it.
Back at college I was hanging out in the apartment and chatting with one of my new roommates. He was listening to some music I hadn’t heard before. When I asked about it, he generously burned me a copy of the album. It was by some band named OAR. I thought it was strange that the band was named after a paddle used to propel non-motorized watercraft. Nevertheless, those guys rocked, silly band name notwithstanding. Many of those songs became an anthem for that stage of my life as I adjusted to being a “normal” 20-something.
Fast forward to spring of 2010, I had just finished school, and we had welcomed Cooper into our lives a full month ahead of schedule. The doctor’s bills were starting to pile up and I was in full job search mode. I had come here to Colorado to interview. I had an afternoon to kill after the flight since the interview was the next day. According to Google, one of the must see sights is a little place called Red Rocks Amphitheatre. I went on a little hike there and had a good feeling about this place like this was somewhere we could belong.
In a great alignment of the stars, last weekend Audrey and I pretended like we were young again, dropped the kids off at a babysitter, and went to an O.A.R. concert at Red Rocks.
It was a lot of fun. On the way there we were worried that we were going to be too tired and just wish we were at home watching something on Hulu and going to bed early. (After all it was Saturday and we had spent the entire day up to that point doing yard work.) However, the band was happy to be there and their energy was contagious.
The other concertgoers were generally amusing as well. My favorite were the group of “bros” a couple rows in front of us. Also Captain America. I must be getting old because the clothing styles of the young ‘uns these days makes no sense to me. My only complaints were that the no smoking in the amphitheatre rule wasn’t really enforced. Also, I think that if you’re so tipsy that you can’t hold your can of beer and not spill it, you probably shouldn’t be having another. (I’m looking at you guy standing behind me.)
Beer spillers notwithstanding, we had a great time. Since you weren’t there, this is kind of what it was like.
(That was actually from their concert at Red Rocks last year that they released on DVD because it was so awesome.)
And one more for good measure
*The guy on the screen in the upper right in the photo is Andrew McMahon, one of the opening acts. I didn’t know who that was either, but when he started playing he sounded really familiar. It turns out he’s the lead singer from Something Corporate. That was a pleasant surprise.