Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Main Problem with Poetry

and particularly with reading an entire book of Ogden Nash poems in one sitting is that it will permanently warp your brain.

You start thinking in couplets.

Even months later, when you glance at your pet, for example, you will suddenly think:

Parakeets neat are awfully sweet,
but parakeets molting are pretty revolting.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Syracuse Salt Potato Science!

Now this is a great recipe from Cook's Country magazine: It has history! It tastes fabulous! Best of all, it has science! Lots and lots of science!!

Here's the history: It started with Irish salt workers in Syracuse, NY some time in the 1800s. They extracted salt from the waters of a local lake by boiling away the water in large evaporation vats. The workers would slip their potatoes into the evaporation vats to cook and 20 minutes later it was lunch time!

Here's the recipe:
Boil 8 cups of water
Add 1 1/4 cups of NON IODIZED salt or 1 1/2 cups of Kosher salt
(do NOT try this with iodized salt)
put in 3 lbs of small whole potatoes (don't cut them!) and boil for 20- 30 minutes.

Science break:

First notice that the potatoes float! There is enough salt in the water to change its density. The potato is less dense that the salty water. Try a potato in plain water, too.

Now boil some plain water and take the temperature of the pure water: 212 degrees, right? Take the temperature of the boiling salty water. Ours was 221 degrees. It gets better. As the water evaporates, the water in the pot gets saltier. Ten minutes later it was boiling at 223 degrees.

Ok, in 20 or 30 minutes, when your potatoes feel a little soft (use tongs, not a skewer or the salt will flood the inside of the potato), lift them out with tongs (don't drain the water!) and set them on a wire rack if you have one (or a plate!).

Stare at your potatoes.

Science break:

Watch the incredible crystal formations on the potato skins! Grab a magnifying glass and verify that each crystal is square! Talk about crystal lattice structures!

Now look at the water. The evaporation of the water concentrated the salt so that you now have a super saturated solution. The crystals are forming so quickly that you can watch them! The salty water is so dense that the salt crystals float! Remember that a hot liquid can hold more than a cold liquid. As it cools, the salt falls out of suspension more quickly. Once the entire surface is covered (click picture above for a super-large view!!), you can poke holes in the crystal covering and watch the crystals reform and push each other up and apart. Plate tectonics, anyone?

Now, cut open your potatoes. Be careful, these are hotter than regular boiled potatoes! They also have a luscious creamy texture because the higher temperature has more completely cooked their starch. The skins do not allow the salt into the potato (compare this with cell membranes). The skins are about as salty as potato chips.
Traditionally they are served with melted butter. Mmmmm.

Lets look at the statistics:
3 out of 6 Zoomlians dislike potatoes in any form except fries.
6 out of 6 wanted more salt potatoes...

A highly successful experiment. The only draw back was that I only got to eat three. Next time I may need to do 2 pots. We could experiment with varying salinity... We could cut one of the potatoes, or poke holes in it and see if the inside of that potato is salty.

Kitchen. Science. Madness!

Hula Party!

It all started with a recipe gone awry.

I was starting with a shrimp and pineapple recipe: toss in some soy sauce, garlic, ginger and a touch of 5 spice and it should be great, right?

Not so great. Tried some honey. Balsamic vinegar? Too salty? Cornstarch to thicken it? Sugar? Liquid smoke? More pineapple? Ham?

Hey! Pineapple and ham + Grammy just gave us some chocolate covered macadamia nuts + I was just reading about Hawaii in a second hand National Geographic + I just found some grass skirts and leis while organizing the home school room= HULA PARTY!!!!

Well, you probably know that fresh pineapple has tenderizing enzymes. The first batch of pineapple I cooked in the sauce before I added the shrimp (thus neutralizing the enzymes). The second batch of fresh pineapple tenderized the shrimp and ham. They were meltingly tender. Dissolvingly tender? Mushy? No one asked for seconds.

Maybe they were too busy dancing! Aloha!!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Zoo Creatures

We went to the zoo yesterday and at night I talked it over with Choclo:

Did we see the lion at the zoo?
Saw the lion at the zoo.
Did we see the zebra at the zoo?
Saw the zebra at the zoo.
Did we see the elephants at the zoo?
Saw the elephants at the zoo.
Did we see the monkeys?
Saw the monkeys at the zoo.
(as I turn to go)
Saw the backhoe at the zoo!!
(yes, he actually did.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Plan B: Spanish to Snow

This has been Spanish week. The Emperor is taking a 5 day Spanish for Educators class. We have been doing Speak in a Week, various Spanish computer games , worksheets from Enchanted Learning, and a bunch of games on the big chalkboard/driveway. We have a Spanish number line out there (looks a lot like the English one but sounds different) and 9 colored splotches ( Donde es azul?). I have plans to draw locations (beach, restaurant, house, etc) but God hasn't erased the board yet (thunder and lightning, no rain).

It's a great plan and it was going well until Choclo got an ear infection and Oob started cutting molars. Look, it's cranky Spanish week! Do Spanish screaming babies sound the same? Time to retrench!

Let's have a crazy mixed up day! So, after breakfast, I sent the kids to get their pjs on. They came down wearing them inside out and backwards. I'm married to a teacher, I know there is only one reason for doing that: you are hoping for a snow day!

So we played with instant snow. These are polyacrylimide crystals you can buy. They look like powder but expand 100x with water and look like snow. If you refrigerate or freeze it, it feels like snow. Try reconstituting them with ice water! I find this a little expensive (although they can be dried out and reused) and have experimented with getting the crystals from (clean!) disposable diapers. This works, but I haven't been able to fully separate the crystals from the cottony substrate used to hold the crystals in place. I end up with a pile of snow with cotton balls in it. Research continues.

The snow session turned into a foam paint session, probably because the foam (shaving cream) looked liked snow also. Oob and Choclo ate only a little and now everyone smells like they are fresh from the barber.

We ate breakfast again and then dessert: snowballs AKA Mexican wedding cookies (it's a crossover, Spanish snow!). I sent them up to put on swim suits so that we could cut out snowflakes without getting snow on their pjs. We cut out the ones in the picture, then they went out to play with liquid snow on the slip and slide.

Now that Oob is napping and Choclo is zoned out on Mighty Machines, we will be able to make snow cones. The little guys don't like the noise the machine makes. We will make a super saturated sugar solution to flavor the cones and experiment with how quickly the sugar solution melts the ice vs. water. Maybe we'll try salt water, too!

Fruit Meme

I am SO making this up as I go along:

1 How much space do you have?
I think it's a little more than a fifth of an acre.

2 What fruit do you grow?
yellow and red raspberries
2 kinds of strawberries
I started the season with 3 kinds of plums but lost 2 of them
red and yellow cherries
bush cherries
pink currants
2 or 3 kinds of blueberries
I think I'll count the watermelons, but not the tomatoes
passionfruit, but I haven't got even a flower yet

3 Which is your favorite?
Tough call, but I'd say the cherries.

4 What do you most want to grow, but can't?
Crazy, but true, I'd like to try pawpaws. I just can't find room for 2 more 60 foot trees. But they look like they'd taste so good! And they are the host plant for zebra swallowtails!!!!

I'm tagging Kate in NJ, cause I know she's a crazy gardener too. If you grow any fruit, or wish you did, join in!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wild Kingdom of Zoom

Not sure why we've been seeing more wild life here lately (actual animals, I mean...).

We found this great frog in our slip and slide!! The Emperor said he hadn't seen a frog here since before 1983!!

Mxyl saw a hummingbird hovering around our (finally) reblooming roses (too fast for the camera).

We've been seeing rabbits all over the place. Mxyl actually petted a wild one some time ago. (I said he could pet it if he could catch one...)

We have had a mama squirrel trying to teach a teenage squirrel how to behave. (Will you please stop somersaulting around that stick! You are driving me NUTS!!) I am sure I will find it even more hilarious in a few years.

And of course, more butterflies! Whenever I look out, I see at least one tiger swallowtail. Since Klenda discovered at least 5 swallowtail caterpillars munching on the fennel, I'm guessing they aren't all the same one!

The fennel looks like tall yellow Queen Ann's lace here and you can just see the coneflowers below it. This morning I looked out and thought I saw a tiger swallowtail on a cone flower. Oops! Wrong phylum! It was a male goldfinch, also very yellow and black!

We also saw a rare zebra swallowtail! Enchantingly lovely!

In other garden news, the hibiscus has begun to unfurl an extravagance of blooms. They remind me of tree peony blossoms.
In other gardening news: We've dug the hole for our butterfly puddle, we're almost making progress! The cukes and tomatoes are really starting to bear. :) The watermelon vines are rambling. We have bouquets of my favorite basils. On the down side: my Italian plum tree fell over in a storm and after a few months of "stake out" I have to face facts... It is just not going to miraculously grow upright again. :( It finally was bearing fruit this year!!! :( On the plus side, what other fruit could I put there?? :)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mxyl!

11 years old!!!
A scout!
Serving at Mass!
Finding the area of trapezoids!
Devouring every science fiction book in the house!
Building robots!
Teaching Oob to walk!
Doing crazy science experiments!
Building Bionicles in 10 seconds flat!
Telling crazy jokes!
You are growing up into such an interesting person!!!
We love you so much and we are amazed at who you are growing up to be!!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer Reading

The second best thing about summer (besides having my sweetie home) is getting to read more. In an interesting crossover of these two, the Emperor took the kids to the library and brought me back a book I never would have picked up for myself: Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana by Anne Rice.

Two things made me balk at opening the book: first, I'm not a big fan of "this is what Jesus was really like" fiction, and second, I was not sure where Ms. Rice stood religiously. I mean, I admired her for chucking her truly fabulous career and following Christ, but I wasn't sure how far her conversion had taken her. I had read the Joshua books rather naively some years ago and had (to totally ruin the metaphor) gotten blindsided by the author's axe to grind.

I began reading with cautious foreboding. Hmm. Virgin birth? Check. Jesus' brothers? Step brothers. Fine. Hypostatic union? That's the tricky part, isn't it? Especially if you are going to do a biography from a first person perspective. How does it feel to be fully God and fully human? And, of course, the controversial: When did He know?

Ms Rice's answer is more than on the level, it's actually graceful! She gives Jesus the words,"I know what I need to know. I learn what I need to learn." She also answers the "When?" in a very nice way. (Do I need to give a spoiler alert? I mean, you know His life story, right?) Instead of siding with the "Knew it as a fetus!" camp or the "What a surprising thing to discover in the desert!"camp, she has Him realize (in the desert after His Baptism) that He has chosen not to remember that He is God. The temptation in the desert was also very well done, and she adds a detail which says something very meaningful about the nature of the devil. I don't want to spoil that even if you do know how it turns out!

I most appreciated the segments based on the actual Gospels. Ms. Rice brings her considerable talents as a novelist to bringing these passages to life and she succeeds fabulously. I was a bit less comfortable with the parts dealing with His family life and circumstances. They were marvelously written and plotted to bring the events at Cana to a focus and level of meaning that are nothing less than brilliant.

What they say about Jesus and His life are very true, yet I still couldn't read them without feeling a little put off. It is marvelously well researched guesswork. I think I dislike mixing fiction and non-fiction in the area of religion, probably because so many people view the Gospels themselves as fiction. That's not a criticism of the book, just a personal preference.

That being said, Ms. Rice strikes an excellent balance between showing that Jesus was, in fact, a man like us in all things except sin, and showing that He was, in fact, the God that created the universe. She also does a marvelous job anchoring Jesus securely in history: showing that Jesus came in a particular time to a particular place.

Despite my own minor issues with the book, I would recommend it, particularly to someone who has never quite felt that Jesus is real.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Painting the Bathroom

At long last I am pleased to announce that Mxyl and Klenda are old enough to do some of those chores I've been meaning to get to but just couldn't find the time.

I asked them to paint the bathroom and they did.

It is only fair to note that we have always called this bathroom the fishy bathroom: It has a fish themed rug, shower curtain, and...well...toilet seat.

About that toilet seat... It's worse than you think. It is one of those clear plastic ones with little plastic fish and real seashells in it. Let those of you who have never desperately wanted to potty train a child cast the first stone. But I digress.

I think Mxyl and Klenda did a splendid job so I thought I would post some of the highlights of their artistic triumph! The first picture is the back of the door. Unfortunately you can't see the shipwreck at the bottom.

In the second, note the beautiful squid, the punny catfish and the really creepy anemone. If you haven't already done so, try sayibg "The Enemy Anemone" 5 times fast.

Moving on to our third detail, note the realistic look of terror on the clown fish.

To counterbalance, they provide the detail of a school of fish terrorizing a shark. Also, please note the subtle pun linking the barnacles on the towel rack and the Bionicle floating around underwater.

Something seems fishy, indeed!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Since You are Entitled to My Opinion

The excellent Queen of Carrots has a thought provoking post here on What the Founding Fathers Would Do.

It also referenced the question (which I have always found amusing), What Would Jesus Drive? It really is remarkable how the answers to these sorts of questions mirror our own perspectives (although the Queen puts it better than I could). For example, I have known people who answered that question, "Jesus would have driven a tiny hybrid because He would care about the environment (having made it Himself)." I have also heard, "Jesus had 12 apostles to cart around, He would have driven an SUV!"

My personal answer? I think Jesus would have taken the bus and sat next to that bad smelling lady who is talking to herself. I'm not saying He wouldn't have borrowed an SUV or hybrid or whatever He needed (like He borrowed the donkey), but since He didn't have a house, I have a hard time picturing Him owning a vehicle.

The real question is: what does Jesus want me to do? That's (mostly) obvious in the original WWJD, but it gets lost in the knock off questions.

Personally, I do own a house and I drive a 12 passenger van (Hey, He could borrow Blue Streak!). Actually, in a way, He does borrow Blue Streak. In fact, it might be more proper to say I borrow Blue Streak. Blue Streak is a gift. Driving Blue Streak is one of the ways I use His gifts to care for the people He has sent me to take care of. I don't think it's what Jesus would do, I think it's what Jesus wants me to do.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

An Idea for Princess

Kate in NJ, I can't find an e mail address for you! I want to snail mail you a small piece of Chesapeake beach for Princess to find shark teeth in. If you think this a good idea, e mail me at ericandwendyATearthlinkDOTnet

Today's Discovery

Oob likes jello.
A lot.
I have scrubbed the walls, floors, high chair, and baby.
It came off the walls and floor.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Our butterfly garden has been doing very well lately: we just saw the first of the monarchs on our milkweed!

Last year Klenda and I planted a butterfly garden. We got the plants in 2 days before Oob arrived! If you are interested, the best place to get plants and advice is Butterfly although they can only ship to certain states. Based on the prices, I was sure the plants would be tiny, barely rooted slips, but they were actually husky fellows which took off with minimal attention (very good since Oob spent a while in the NICU!).

We tried to have a balance of host and nectar plants so that the butterflies would stay and lay eggs. We have rue, artemesia, fennel, and milkweed for host plants; and we have butterfly bushes, cone flowers, snapdragons, bee balm, hibiscus, and milkweed for nectar.

All that milkweed worked! We got monarchs! We watched the cycle from butterfly to egg to caterpillar to lovely chrysalis (monarch chrysalises are the color of jade studded with gold. I have no idea what compound a butterfly could make that would look quite so convincing, but it really looks like gold) to new butterfly. That was at the end of the season, so when "our" monarch flew off to the south, we knew he was heading for Mexico!

Today we visited Wings of Fancy again and came home with an idea for making a permanent puddle for the butterflies to drink (and form the bachelor "puddle club"), while not providing a spot for mosquito breeding. It basically involves digging a hole, pouring in concrete to make a shallow depression (hopefully making a mosaic around the edges) and then adding wet sand after the concrete dries. We shall see how it goes!

The trip should be its own post: Oob made "b-i!" (butterfly!) his sixth word. Choclo was entranced. Picture a large glass conservatory filled with low growing flowers, a few trees, a box of hatching chrysalises, and more than 1000 butterflies from 3 continents. They fly around at toddler level and like to land on your head. Come to think of it, we were all entranced! I do wish I had brought my camera! This butterfly was my favorite (picture from flickr): the Blue Clipper from Malaysia.

In case you are looking for butterflies in the garden picture, they took off while I was getting the camera...