Sunday, June 26, 2011

Birthday Gift from Dad

Here's what the Common Household Husband gave to our Youngest Daughter for her birthday.   Just what every 12-year-old girl wants.

He found this squished bug in his lab, preserved it and fixed it on a slide.   When she received it, she exclaimed, “Now I can see what animal life REALLY looks like!”  (As if she had never seen any animals before.)

We looked at it in the microscope which resides in our guest bedroom (it’s just what every guest bedroom needs).  She looked, but was grossed out at first, screamed, and jumped away.  She tried to look again, but had to cover her eyes.

After a while she was brave enough to look, but only if she gripped my arm.

My son tried taking a photo of it by just putting the camera up to the microscope viewer.  It’s not too bad a photo, considering the equipment he was working with.  I think it shows the part where one of the legs meets the body.

Looking at other parts of the bug, we could see each segmentation in the antenna.  The segments in the antenna were of uniform size, but the leg segments were different sizes. We could see the tiny hairs (spikes?) all along the legs, and the claw-like things at the end of the legs.  I thought it was quite interesting.  We were not able to determine what species of bug it was.

But my main point is that around here you never know what you might receive as a birthday gift.  

Friday, June 24, 2011

Birthday Cake Transmogrification

Youngest Daughter turned 12 today.  We’ve had so many celebrations in this family in the past two months that by Monday little planning had occurred for this birthday.  She didn’t ask for much, mainly chocolate cake and books.  Last year the two older kids made her a DNA cake (the preferred cake for budding microbiologists), but this year the cake was up to me. I don’t have time to produce a spectacular cake, but it was expected.

Yesterday at theater day camp, the instructions were to dress as your favorite holiday.  So she wore her Belize t-shirt, gray shorts, carried a toy stuffed snake and a toy kangaroo.  Can’t guess it?  She went as Earth Day!  (The gray shorts represented pollution.)  So with 1 day to spare, I decided for an “earth” birthday cake – just a hemisphere, with continents and oceans painted on with icing. 

Then I remembered that she had asked for chocolate icing.  Hmmm.  Perhaps with the oceans brown (chocolate) and the continents blue or white, it could be a sort of reverse earth cake.  We could put Antarctica on top, with gummy penguins and such.

I baked three round layers, each one smaller than the next.  I assembled it with huge amounts of chocolate icing to round it off, but it looked more like the half an egg than half an earth. 

The grocery store hadn’t gotten the memo on my plans.  They had gummy butterflies, but no gummy penguins.  Somehow butterflies always make me think of Ron Weasley.  Knowing that the cake in progress was already more mountain-shaped than half-earth shaped, my husband suggested making a volcano.  He said, make a small hole in the top, and put strawberry topping in there for lava.  Suddenly my main hope became that the cake would not look like a giant boob when I was finished with it.  Cake Wrecks, here we come.

So this morning while she was at the last day of theater camp, my son and I decorated this earth-now-volcano cake.  But Son mutinied when he heard about the strawberry topping, and insisted on red icing.  I decided to use both.  Plus M&Ms for volcanic rock.  Cookie crumbs for pumice.  And a little green icing around the base of the volcano, for plants growing in rich volcanic dirt, of course. 

Here is what we ended up with.  Just kind of a mess.  But it is chocolate.  And maybe that’s what counts.  Happy birthday, sweetie!

This year's volcano cake

Last year's DNA cake

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dear Reader

Dear Reader,

Have you read a good novel lately?  

Lately I have read some good non-fiction, including

When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me? : Montaigne and being in touch with life, by Saul Frampton, about the French Renaissance philosopher Montaigne.  The author’s main claim is that Montaigne was ahead of his time in much of his thinking.  He also suffered from kidney stones.  I am adding Montaigne’s Essays to my reading list for some time in the future.

The rise and fall of the Bible : the unexpected history of an accidental book, by Timothy Beal.  This book is not so much about the demise of the Bible, but about how most Americans have come to view the Bible as a rule-book for life, when in fact the Bible is more a “library of questions” as the author puts it. It's also about how the Bible is marketed these days. I like the author’s viewpoint, but think that the publisher went for the attention-getting title just to get some people riled up.  Riling up equals readership, in this day and age. 

But it is now time for some fiction.  At a friend’s suggestion, I looked at the BBC Book List in the hopes of picking a couple books to read this summer.  I was enthusiastic, without even looking at the list, thinking that the BBC list would include lots of 18th century British novels devoid of bodily dismemberment,
 s e*ual crimes, and awful things happening to children.  I find it difficult to read those in a work of fiction. 

The first thing I discovered is that the BBC Book List is hard to find.  I couldn’t find it on an official BBC web site, but it has been internettily bouncing around.  Maybe it is not actually from the BBC.  To see the entire list that I was working from, go here.

I picked a few from the list.  I admit I partly picked books based on their length.  For instance, I rejected Middlemarch by George Eliot because it clocks in at 904 pages.   Maybe I'll read that someday, but not this summer.

Here’s my short list:
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (240 pages)
Watership Down by Richard Adams (476 pages)
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (256 pages)
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (464 pages)

So what are you reading lately?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Travels with My Dad

When I was a child my Dad took our family on many trips. 

He took us camping.  This was “drive up to the campsite and set up a tent” kind of camping.  We camped our way from Maryland to Mississippi, from there to the Grand Canyon, and also to the border of Mexico.  We camped from Maryland to New Brunswick, Canada.  We camped in the Florida Keys.  When everyone else’s family was luxuriating in hotels, we were setting up camp.

He taught us how to pack everything on top of the car and tie it down with a tarp.  He would time us to see how fast we could do it.  When we were camping in furious rain, my Dad always switched with one of us kids if our sleeping bag got wet (notice, though, that he did not replace the leaky tent.) 

He also took us to unusual places.  After we camped our way to the border of Mexico, we made our way through parts of Mexico by train.  He took us to his childhood haunts in Punjab, India and to Srinagar, Kashmir.

My Dad was usually a pretty stern guy. But not always. When I was in my 20s we took a family trip to Pakistan.  We were hiking in some high mountains above the Swat River Valley when I discovered my fear of heights.  Almost paralyzing.  My brother chose to walk up the rest of the mountain, but my father stayed with me and coaxed me down the steep mountainside.  His staying by my side meant the world to me.  And I was an adult, not a child, at the time. Parents, even if your kid is an adult, it's not too late to show love.

My father now is 82 years old and nearly crippled by Parkinson's Disease.  That walk down the mountainside now means more to me than ever.  And my Dad still is teaching me about courage as he deals with this terrible disease.  Thanks, Dad, for showing me the world.
My Dad, celebrating his 70th birthday in 1998 - running in a potato race.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Join the Bloggy Exercise Craze

How do you get motivated to exercise?  Lately it seems that many in my bloggy world have taken up some form of exercise.  Alise is moving from Couch to 5K.  SheRev is running strong.  The Suburban Matron has been known to Shred and Rip in just 30 days.  Angie was recently hiking up large mountains in Big Bend National Park.  Green Girl in Wisconsin not only teaches martial arts, but is making a movie, starring 26 kids, called Crouching Poodle, Hidden Hamster.

You go, girls!

My exciting life involves sitting:  sitting at the computer, sitting at music lessons, sitting at the graduation ceremony, sitting at church.  Feeling pudgy, two weeks ago I resolved to move a bit more, and even joined the summer attendance program at Jazzercise.  Then I promptly caught a cold from Youngest Daughter, and couldn’t do anything for lack of lung power. 

Last week, having somewhat recovered, I tried to get with the program.  I woke up at 6:30 AM and went out for a walk.  I saw two rabbits, 5 birds, 27 chipmunks, another early riser watering his garden (he said hi), and a toilet (it was trash day).  The toilet reminded me of the chores waiting for me at home. I wished I could sing “Aaaah” like Princess Giselle in Enchanted and get the animals to follow me home.  Since housework doesn’t count as exercise, I might as well get some animals to do it for me.  I would ask the resident children, but it’s easier to get animals to do housework.

Thirty minutes after I began my walk, I was back home, asthmatic after my exertions.  Since then I have used every excuse in the book to avoid both exercise and housework.  It’s raining. I’m coughing. I have too much to do.  And my favorite excuse: it’s time for lunch.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Driving School

Today the Common Household Son turned 16 years old.  We spent a portion of the morning getting his learner’s permit.  For the next 6 months I will be gritting my teeth while trying to appear calm.

It seemed appropriate for this birthday to give him this cute little steering wheel and driving practice game for a birthday present.  He is very happy with this gift, but I do not think it will contribute to good driving skills.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

School's Out for Summer

Today was the last day of school.  This summer has started much like last summer, with my youngest child sick.  She made it through the last day of school, but developed a fever late this afternoon.  She said that half of the school day was devoted to signing yearbooks, and the rest of the day was useless.

At dinner she did share with us what she learned this year.

Youngest Daughter: “In science I learned the matters of physics.”

Oldest Daughter:  “Do you mean that you learned about matter?”

Youngest Daughter:  “No, I learned the matters of physics.”

Son:  “Did you learn about anti-matter?”

Husband:  “Anti-matter is just matter with a negative sign in front of it.”

Youngest Daughter:  “No, I learned the matters of physics.  I learned how to roll a marble down the hallway as far as it can go.  You put it on a slide, and the momentum makes it go “Whee!” and it rolls until it bounces off a table leg and then goes even further.”

Youngest Daughter: “I learned the English rules, which are very confusing.”

Son: “Wait until you learn about the semicolon and the ellipsis.”

Youngest Daughter, insulted:  “We DID learn about the semicolon.”

Husband: “What about the semi-ilium?  And the jejunum?

Japanese Thingies
Youngest Daughter: “I also learned the names of one of the Japanese thingies.”  No further explanation was given.

So learning at school is done.  For how to proceed during the summer I bring you advice from that same daughter’s school art project, which mostly proves that she did learn how to write neatly, at least once.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Undead Dinner Conversation

We are fortunate in our family to have dinner together often.  And we get to talk about all sorts of things.  Such as this:

Youngest Daughter said, “I have a riddle.  What do rich people need, poor people have, and dead people eat?”

I doubted this would lead to a dinner-appropriate conversation, but I ventured an answer: “Worms?”

Son:  “Is this a zombie joke?”

Youngest Daughter: “NO! That would be the UNdead!”

Son:  “If it were zombies, then the answer would be ‘brains.’”

Youngest Daughter, getting testy: “It’s not brains, and they’re not zombies!”

Husband said, “Is the answer ‘real estate’?”

Youngest Daughter, visibly angry: “NO!”

Oldest Daughter said: “Nothing.”

Youngest Daughter said, “Correct.”