Winter 2011

Back in Knoxville!

We had washed the car before leaving Maryland, but the roads were salty all through Virginia. We had E re-wash the car for us:

This wash might last longer, as I don't think Tennessee believes in salt (or plowing for that matter). I think their theory is that snow will melt eventually, so why bother doing anything.

On Wednesday they were calling for rain, possibly turning to snow after midnight. Yet somehow by 4pm we had a few inches of snow on the ground:

We've managed to move to Knoxville during a cold and snowy series of winters. The average yearly amount of snow is 9" and I think they've hit that already and it's barely January.

On Saturday we thought we'd go to the Knoxville Zoo! We got the whole way there only to find out it was closed. We'd forgotten that here in the South things like Zoos will close when you get 2" of snow.

Unlike the Wednesday snow storm (where they were calling for not much and we got a lot) the Saturday storm was supposed to start Friday early... but didn't amount to much at all.

We did finally get to the Zoo on Sunday after church. We attempted to phone or check the web-site to see if it was open, without much luck. It turns out we are too old-fashioned: the modern way to find out was to check the Zoo's Facebook or Twitter pages.

We activated our zoo membership, which was a very nice Christmas present from K's sister. It was very cold, so we spent a lot of time inside at the children's play area and not as much time looking at the Elephants, Gorilla, and Zebras.

They have an area when you can pretend you are a zookeeper preparing foods for the animals. E spent a long time slicing up the fake food with a fake knife:

K and I stopped at the "Pizzaria" they had there; E was our server. The service was a bit slow, but she brought us ice-cream cones while the pizza was cooking. She refused to let us eat until the "movie was done" (it was unclear why and where there was a movie playing, it had to do with the curtains). Then she wanted $4 for the pizza and wouldn't take pretend money. By the time we worked that out the pizza was cold so she had to put it back in the oven again.

Here's a picture of some llamas at the zoo messily devouring a Christmas Tree:

The big storm hitting the South today is supposed to give us 4-6" of snow by Monday night. I'll believe that when I see it, but as you can imagine the locals are a bit paniced.

SNOWBOUND! Well, not really, but 3" of snow was enough to close the University of Tennessee for the day.

I took the following picture when putting out some mail on the off chance that the mailman might come (she did! Score one for the postal service). The road out front doesn't look any better now, 12 hours after the picture was taken.

Well the snow melted enough that I eventually went back to work. A snow plow finally showed up about 24 hours after the snow had stopped, but the roads were pretty clear by then anyway. It has been unusually cold so the snow has been sticking around, but next week is supposed to be warmer and rainy.

Despite temperatures hovering around the freezing point, the snow we got was dry and powdery. Thus my attempt at a snowman didn't get very far.

The sled tracks across our yard are actually from neighbors possibly two streets up who I think were impressively trying to sled the _whole_ hill that our development is on, weaving between houses, even if it meant getting hit by cars on the way down or ending up run down by a train at the very bottom.

On Saturday we went to the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge. It was super crowded when we got there; it turned out admission was free in celebation of the inauguration of Tennessee's new governor (who was the previous mayor of Knoxville and the owner of Pilot Truck Stops).

Apparently no children's museum is complete without a life-sized statue of Annakin Skywalker in full pod-racing regalia. There was a cool spaceship in this room but E didn't want to go into it.

Here's a vintage adding machine left over from when Oak Ridge was a Secret City developing nuclear weapons during WWII:

As an aside, I can't hear people talking about Secret Cities w/o thinking of Commander Mark. Thats's probably dating myself though.

I ejoyed the WWII part of the museum, but K was annoyed. She thinks parts of this museum weren't very childreny, that they just took a regular museum and added a few things you can touch.

They had a cool water room. E had fun moving boats around; I'm an engineer so I wanted to take the boats through the working locks.

The best part of the whole museum is a two-story playhouse. Here's looking up at the upstairs:

There was a train exhibit, but we've seen so many of those lately it wasn't that exciting. They do have a window where you can watch the Knoxville Model Train club at work though:

Temperatures were back above freezing, as our melted snowman can attest. Though as I'm writing this it is snowing big snowflakes outside; they are calling for an inch or so by morning. I hope the locals don't panic and cancel things, as there's free pizza at lunch tomorrow and I don't want to miss that.

On Saturday we went to the East Tennessee Discovery Center which is a small children's museum right next to the zoo.

We got there early and for a while we were the only people there. My favorite part was the spaceship. Here's E and K navigating to the moon:

I had fun making my logo on the rubber-band board:

We got to see a show at the planetarium there. Luckily there was only one other family there, as E kept making loud comments throughout.

Here we are playing with Legos:

The weather was very nice out: it was over 60° and sunny. We had a picnic lunch in the park that surrounds the museum. Not many other people were out and about, except everyone at the gun show at the nearby fairgrounds, and the old guy looking for cans who stopped by to ramble a bit about Eisenhower being the last good president.

K has been re-reading some Austen books, which inevitably leads to watching the various movies (none of the 6 hour versions yet though). In all of these movies the bad guys always have long sideburns and last names starting with "W". So you can't say she wasn't warned.

We've been in Tennessee for a year now, so I'm starting to repeat comments. I'm continuing to be shocked (just like last year) that we get crocus flowers coming up before it's even February yet:

Sadly the warm weather is ending with a front going through that's giving the rest of the country ice/snow. E has a concept of months now (she knows it just turned to February) and she decided that the warm weather meant summer would be here soon. I guess we'll have to see what the groundhog says tomorrow.

Sunday the weather was supposed to be sunny and warm, but in the morning when we were out and about it was still cloudy and chilly.

We swung past the UT Hospital to make sure we knew how to get there. Due to various insurance concerns (and the fact that in theory I might get an employee discout at UT) we are making a last-minute change in hospitals for the impending baby.

We next stopped by Fort Dickerson, a civil-war era fort that overlooks Knoxville. We first stopped by the quarry overlook:

The signage at the various Knoxville parks never really inspires much confidence:

The siege of Knoxville was complicated: I won't even try to summarize it here. On the lower right you can see a picture of Burnside and his sideburns:

The famous attraction at this park is that they have cannons! E was having fun looking at them all by herself:

I bet you've all been sad I haven't posted any GPS tracks recently. We actually didn't climb to the top of the fort, we were lazy and drove. You can see the fort from my office which is just across the river next to the football stadium. You can see the hospital on the left over by the bend in the river.

We thought we'd take E to Fort Kid to play on the playground, but it was closed due to disrepair. So we went to the playground down the hill at the World's Fair park instead.

We had a pizza party watching the Superbowl. We only watched the first half, and then it was E's bedtime. Also by that point K decided that most of the commercials were innapropriate for little toddlers:

It's supposed to snow a few inches tonight, we'll see if that happens. That would almost make up for any endodontist vists that might have happened this week.

On Saturday we drove down to Sevierville to the RainForest Adventure Discover Zoo. That turned out to be a lot of fun.

Interesting business plan: selling the skins shed by your snakes. You'll notice that people seem to prefer the venomous option:

E and K got to hold a Skink. You might think this was an official thing to do, but from all appearances the skink was some lady's own personal skink that she brought to the zoo with her and was letting people hold.

K was annoyed that many of the visitors were harassing the animals by tapping on the glass. Her theory is that this is an Appalachian trait, much like how no one down here can go through a tunnel w/o beeping their horn.

There were a lot of exotic tropical animals around, but you can see where my priorities were, as I took lots of pictures of guinea pigs. Here's a blurry picture of a cute guinea pig family:

There were windows for viewing animals; the baby doll got a good look too:

Many of the bird exhibits also had guinea pigs living in the bottom. This surprised me a bit, as guinea pigs often don't like birds very much. You can't tell (because the picture is blurry) but the animals have just been fed and the birds are feasting on muffins of some sort.

There was an Australia exhibit outside; by the exit they had an endless loop of "I come from a land down under" playing. That got old pretty quickly.

Here you can see the famous goats of Australia:

The Australian roosters were being noisy:

They did have some emus and a kangaroo. We only got a dusting of snow the other day in Knoxville, but they did get a few inches down this way.

Here are some peacocks and some cool chickens that looked like they were wearing slippers. In the background you can see that we are near the Smokies not far off of the infinite tourist-trap highway, but not quite to Pigeon Forge:

The bird area was pretty neat. There were a lot of Budgerigars:

We stuck around for the animal show, and it's good we did because it was enjoyable. The guy giving it was a bit strange, he did a lot of magic tricks and thought it was funny to pretend to throw scary animals into the audience. We were in the front row so this was alarming at times.

We did get to touch a lot of neat animals, including a friendly African porcupine (who later almost managed to open the door and escape its enclosure). I passed on holding the tarantula. Here's a picture from near the end where there was a giant snake:

On the theory that it takes a long time for only 3 of us to eat a birthday cake, we started the celebration of my birthday at sundown the night before.

One of my presents was a cool "Emergency" Electronics kit that fit in a little tin. Despite what K will tell you, I didn't only ask for it because the product description mentions MacGyver. You can see the first thing I built involved lighting up an LED.

Sunday was my actual birthday. Usually my birthdays are cold and snowy, so it was a bit of a novelty for it to be sunny and in the 60s. I took E for a walk to the nearby playground.

That night was my actual birthday. E refused to believe it was my birthday unless I wore the proper headgear:

Monday was even warmer, with temperatures around 65°. Nothing says Valentine's day like burgers on the grill prepared out in the moonlight:

There's a crocus that's impressively growing up through a crack in our driveway. There's probably a good metaphor in this somewhere, but I'm not sure what it is:

This weekend everyone who lives in North America should be particpating in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Unlike in Ithaca (where all the birds knew about the count and would hide from me all weekend), here we've seen a huge variety of birds in our yard. You'll have to take my word for it that the following picture contains an Eastern Bluebird rolling around in the crocuses:

I usually don't post pictures of what I'm up to, because in general they are pretty boring. Here's a picture of my birthday present being configured to automatically blink an LED. Yes, it takes a surprising amount of circuitry to make an LED blink (unless you buy the self-blinking kind). Notice I am using a swiss army knife to fit in with the MacGyver theme for the kit.

Do it yourself passport photos! This means it has been 10 years since I got this one when living in Lowell (possibly for the off chance that I'd make a trip to Disko Island). Don't worry, when clipping the photo down to be 2" by 2" (and making sure my face is 1 3/8") you can no longer tell I'm an Orioles fan.

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