How ’bout them Heels!

99AF97CC-4F8E-4E54-A478-826F8A88C100I know, that is a very strange, upbeat, optimistic title for a post this particular season. I know, the Tar Heels are really, really … not good this year. Not good at all. We have a losing record, we have lost 5 games in a row, we are last in the ACC, we are … not good.

Some years we have been amazing. We have seven national championship banners in our rafters, and we were really, really good more seasons than those. We have many NBA players who were part of our program, we have coaches around the country, players and coaches around the world.

But this season … not our best. Possibly one of our worst, in fact, in the past couple of decades. 

We have had a lot of injuries of our top players. Two or three at a time, even four at a time, key players injured or sick will be hard for most college teams to deal with. This is the first season that our bench is not as deep as most of our opponents’ benches. Injuries are always something to consider, and some of the seasons when we had arguably our best teams we had one player injured at a key moment late in the season and that prevented us from getting as deep in the post season as we would have otherwise.

But we are still fans. We still love our Tar Heels. We may lament and groan and cry out in frustration and irritation (“don’t be idiots!” “why did you do that?” “our uniforms are WHITE!”) but we still are fans.

Tomorrow Ivis and I will go to the game. Maybe we will put together 40 minutes of good basketball and win the game. Maybe we will get the 880th win for Roy Williams tomorrow afternoon. I hope so. I hope so.

But even if we do not, it will still be a good day to be a Tar Heel. #gdtbath


A race in a box

IMG_1270.jpegIn 1984 a friend, Donna Stanley, and I discovered that we both liked to do jigsaw puzzles. We also discovered that we both liked to do them fast. We thought we were above average in our ability to do puzzles fast. Naturally, we entered in the National Jigsaw Puzzle Competition, as one does. It happened that it was being held in Athens, Ohio, where my brother-in-law and his family lived. So off we went.

The competition was sponsored by Springbok puzzles, which was at the time the very best jigsaw puzzle brand. The puzzles were interesting, had non-traditional cuts, and were high-quality in their production. For the competition, Springbok had made two limited release, never-before-seen puzzles, one in 500 pieces (for the individual competition) and one in 1000 pieces (for doubles). Donna and I entered as individuals.

There were over 100 competitors – I actually don’t remember how many, but maybe even over 200 competitors – in the individual competition. We each had half of a six-foot table, with a divider down the middle so that our pieces would not be mixed up with our neighbor’s pieces. When the starting bell rang, we each turned over our never-before-seen puzzle box, opened it, and got to work.

Donna and I were competitive. I don’t remember which of us finished before the other (we were not seated near each other), but I remember that we were in the top 10% or so. But we were slow compared to the winner, who happened to be a grad student from Duke University. She did a 500-piece puzzle all by herself in about 63 minutes or so. In the photo, you can see that competition puzzle, the ballet legs. Donna and I did it in less than 1:40, I think, and time was called after, I think, 4 hours with some folks not yet finished. The top 15 finishers in the main competition went on to the final round. We watched that, and I swear that puzzler had eyes that could focus in two directions at the same time. She won hands down.

Two years later we decided to enter again (my brother-in-law was still living in Athens, after all) but this time as a team in the doubles category. Springbok was not the sponsor any longer, but instead the competition puzzles were made by, I think, American Puzzle Company or something like that. For the 1000-piece puzzle each team got a whole table. This time, the winner the previous three years in the singles competition (the Duke student) was also competing with a teammate in the doubles competition. And once again she blew away the competition. Donna and I were definitely in the top finishers, maybe the top 20% or so with a time of around 2 hours.

We had a lot of fun both years, not only going on the trip together and being with my family, but also practicing for the competition. We made a good team, with similar style of piecing, similar skills in recognizing and remembering shapes and colors, and neither one of us with a particular weakness or dislike for the hard parts.

Last night after supper I got out a 500-piece puzzle that I had never done before. It’s a good brand, and the picture is interesting and the material is good quality. I did not time myself exactly, but I think it took me 3 hours and about 40 minutes to put it together. I worked on it about 3 hours yesterday evening, and then finished up this morning before work. Much slower than I used to be, but I am older and creakier and the light is not as good …

There is a World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship in Spain this September, though …




Puzzling season


You may be thinking that I’m about to tell you how puzzled I am by the Tar Heels basketball season. You may be expecting me to tell you how perplexing it was when the Tar Heels, to a man, lost their minds the other night against Clemson; when they mistakenly thought that their teammates were wearing orange jerseys; when they thought that dribbling around and waiting for something to happen is the Carolina Way. You might think that I would write about that because you know that I am a Tar Heel fan and have season tickets and was at The Game that made history, when Clemson, for the first time Ever, won in Chapel Hill.

But no, I have a different puzzling season in mind – the season following Christmas when the decorations are put away and the entertaining is less frequent and the table can be devoted, for a few weeks, to jigsaw puzzles. I put down a vinyl tablecloth so that the pieces will slide around easily, and if we need to actually eat at the table I put another tablecloth on top of the puzzle. A few bumpy areas don’t matter to eating, right?

This year I received three puzzles for Christmas. I just finished the 1000-piece Christmas-themed one (it took me four days). I am now about to do one that features many elaborately decorated donuts (500-pieces). Then I will do one of the Dean Dome on a January night in, I think, 2013, when Reggie Bullock had a career-high 24 points (1000 pieces). Then I will probably get out another one or two puzzles that I have done before that were fun.

Jigsaw puzzles have a few rules to them.

First, I turn all the pieces over and separate out the edge pieces. Then, after the edges are together, I pull out pieces that are from some part of the puzzle that is usually connected to the edge. I don’t always save the sky for last – sometimes it is actually the easiest part because of gradations of color.

If I pick up a piece and try it, and it does not go, I put it back where I got it. I seem to develop a spatial memory of where the pieces are, so later when I see the space for that piece I can just reach over and get it. It’s kind of uncanny sometimes. (This rule especially applies if anyone works on the puzzle with me – don’t put that piece down in a random place, put it back where you found it!)

A few years ago I decided that I would not ever do a puzzle larger than 1000 pieces. Part of this is because it is impractical on a normal-sized table, but mostly it’s because the search space is just too large to be fun and to have the feeling of making progress. I also decided not to struggle with a puzzle that I was not enjoying just because someone gave it to me or I bought it. That said, I can only ever remember giving up on two puzzles.

Sometime I’ll write about competing in the National Jigsaw Puzzle Competition – but for now, I have to get back to these donuts with the sprinkles.

A goal

5pXzbs+eTLyiKURHhqjQ+gSomeday I want to be really good at the Royal Icing style of cookie decorating. A year ago I tried it for the very first time and enjoyed it. I did it once in the spring, and then a week ago for Christmas and again today.

The key is to practice. The tricky thing is getting the icing to the right consistency. One YouTube video I watched suggested that the edging icing needed to be like toothpaste, and the flowing icing like shampoo. Apparently I can’t get that quite right, but then, who sees bowls full of toothpaste? 

Every time I do it I get better at it, so eventually I should be pretty good at it. Then I’ll work toward getting a bit faster. Meanwhile, Bon Appétit!


A year of books

ppJxtNzLR4iFHUAO9M+AZQI am sure I have written before on this blog that I love to read. I read a lot – every day. I usually read on my Kindle, but sometimes an actual book.

I occasionally listen to a book on Audible or some other audio service. There is controversy in the reading community as to whether listening to a book counts as reading it. For me, I find that I enjoy listening to a book that I have read before. I am a visual learner, so I find it harder to pay attention and retain a lot of details in lengthy things that I listen to. But for books that I have some familiarity with, I am happy to listen (especially if the reader is excellent, as many of them are).

I am a member of Goodreads, which is a social media platform for readers (without all the drama of some other social media platforms). I like it because I can keep track of books that I want to read and books that I have read. It also has an annual “reading challenge” in which each participant sets a goal for a certain number of books, and then tracks progress toward the goal.

In 2019 I had an initial goal of reading 30 books. I increased the goal in about June because it was clear it was too low. I set it at 35 books. I have now read 44 books, and I have two or three going that I might finish before the end of 2019.

Most years I read mostly novels, a few young adult or children’s books, some books that I have read before, two or three classics, and a handful of non-fiction. This year was a bit odd in that I did not re–read any books, and I only read one classic. But in terms of overall proportion it was pretty typical – 31 fiction, 13 nonfiction (the three books I am currently reading and might finish are one nonfiction and two fiction).

So, in case you’re interested, here is my list from 2019 (starting with the most recent):

  • Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist by William R. Maples
  • Tamarack County (Cork O’Connor, #13) by William Kent Krueger
  • The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
  • A Better Man by Louise Penny
  • Trickster’s Point (Cork O’Connor, #12) by William Kent Krueger
  • Tales from the Couch: A Clinical Psychologist’s True Stories of Psychopathology by Bob Wendorf
  • A Dying Fall (Ruth Galloway, #5) by Elly Griffiths
  • The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
  • Ruth’s First Christmas Tree (Ruth Galloway, #4.5) by Elly Griffiths
  • A Room Full of Bones (Ruth Galloway, #4) by Elly Griffiths
  • Northwest Angle (Cork O’Connor, #11) by William Kent Krueger
  • This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
  • The House at Sea’s End (Ruth Galloway, #3) by Elly Griffiths
  • Vermillion Drift (Cork O’Connor, #10) by William Kent Krueger
  • Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
  • The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser
  • Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
  • Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #14) by Louise Penny
  • The Janus Stone (Ruth Galloway, #2) by Elly Griffiths
  • The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity by Steven H. Strogatz
  • Wait: Thoughts and Practice in Waiting on God by Rebecca Brewster Stevenson
  • Heaven’s Keep (Cork O’Connor, #9) by William Kent Krueger
  • Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
  • Beartown (Beartown, #1) by Fredrik Backman
  • Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (The Grantchester Mysteries, #1) by James Runcie
  • Mercy Falls (Cork O’Connor, #5) by William Kent Krueger
  • The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
  • It Was The Best of Sentences, It Was The Worst Of Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences by June Casagrande
  • The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
  • Mr. Churchill’s Secretary (Maggie Hope, #1) by Susan Elia MacNeal
  • Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
  • A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #12) by Louise Penny
  • When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
  • Red Knife (Cork O’Connor, #8) by William Kent Krueger
  • Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
  • The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (Mo & Dale Mysteries, #2) by Sheila Turnage
  • Three Times Lucky (Mo & Dale Mysteries, #1) by Sheila Turnage
  • The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers






The key to a big project – kits!

kDN7RbqJRS64DSgkdT95rAI have been working on a quilt for the past several years. It is a “curved log cabin” quilt that I started in a class that Cindy and I took at the quilt show. By the clever use of wider and narrower strips one can create a blocks made up of all straight seams that seems curved. I decided that I wanted to make a whole bunch of these blocks and make a bed-sized quilt. I had a nice collection of light and dark batik fabrics, and chose a turquoise blue batik for the center of each block. I started cutting strips and laid them around the edge of my work table in little groups of different fabrics. I went to town and made a lot of blocks.

Then I wanted to work on another project, but I couldn’t really, because the little groups of strips of all of those fabrics were all over the table. I eventually put all of the strips away into a box and set it that project aside. Out of sight out of mind. A few times over the years I got it out again, but it was hard to work on unless I set out all of the strips of fabric all over the table so that I could choose the combo for the next group of blocks. It was hard to decide which fabrics to use next, and even how many blocks I was in the mood to make. So I would stop for a while, and eventually put it all away again.

IMG_1599I realized that I had to change my approach to this project. I simply was not going to work on it straight through until it was finished; I was going to have to figure out a way to do a little bit at a time without having to get all of the fabric out and put it away over and over. Aha! I decided to make little “kits” that would each make four blocks. I put four center squares and enough light and dark strips into a ziploc bag. I used all of the fabric strips that I had already cut and pulled together six of these kits, and put everything in a box right in view. It was so much easier to get up the interest to work on this if I knew that I was only going to make four blocks. I could easily do that much in between working on other projects, and it did not leave a big mess all around the room.

I need about 256 blocks to finish a quilt that would go on a queen size bed. I have made 86 blocks now. Recently I had used up all of my little kits so I spent some time last week cutting up more fabric strips and will assemble some more kits soon. Bit by bit I will get this finished, and I will have a tidy sewing room in the meantime. And I won’t have to labor over deciding what fabric to use or how many blocks to make – I will work that out in advance, and then simply pick up a kit and go for it.



Christmas memory

vuGTrs+VSruRMqXBXbARjgNo, this is not “Christmas memories” – nothing nostalgic in here about days gone by. This is a memory post – i.e., remember to do it like this! Because, we find that we can’t remember from year to year the best way to do things when we put up the tree or set out the decorations. So I’m going to tell you all, my friends, how we did it this time, and maybe this will help me remember for next Christmas!

So here goes:

1. Put the lights on the very tippy-top section of the tree first, before putting it onto the tree. This makes it so that Byron does not have to lean way over off the step-stool to reach and get the lights right. The tree is nine feet tall, after all, and the step-stool is only two steps. It would be a bad thing to have him go crashing into the tree.

2. The point on the lights is to get them consistent, not perfect, or even the same as last year. Who can remember back to last year (the point of this post)?

3. Just below the tippy-top, start going one ring of lights on the inside and one on the outside. When we get to the bottom of the second section, start going one on the inside, one on the middle, and one on the outside.

4. I think it takes nine strings of lights. I really should count this and write it down. Though I think I did write it down last year … somewhere.

5. That may look like a torn sheet around the bottom, but it is actually snow. And once it gets covered with presents, who will know the difference?

ugRDHBgbT6CiZWKoTWETdQ6. Whatever else may get decorated or not decorated, be sure to put the lights in the vase. That is my favorite part of the whole shebang-bang.

7. If the creche looks out of place, just leave it in the box for this year. (We really do need to figure out a better place for it than the mantle – and I wonder if I can get a real Joseph that matches, rather than that poor shepherd standing in for him as he has done all these years?)

8. It would be nice to have remembered about three weeks ago that it takes about three weeks for orange slices to dry to a translucent hardness suitable for hanging on the tree. Maybe next year.

04RmhZB0Th+2xGfUYLHctA9. The two German wooden decorations that are in the “natural” tones go together on the top of the piano. (The nutcracker was from Judy, the smoking Santa from Lois, years ago.) The Carolina Tar Heel king goes on the mantle (from Judy and Paul).

fUNnHbG+TdKnIM8PoeN9kw10. The Christmas decorations go out the weekend following Thanksgiving. Many years that is also the first Sunday of Advent. Some years it is a week before the first Sunday of Advent, but that is OK.

11. It takes about 4 hours in all to pull the boxes down, put up the tree and ornaments, and put the boxes away. Doing it on a Saturday is fine – just remember to take a break for lunch and to watch football.