Saturday, May 08, 2010

Happy Mother's Day :: I Got Myself Fired

First of all, please note that there is a cute bunny here. It's Joe. The oldest bunny we have ever known. He's ten years old, and still quite spry. Dear Joe. Sweet bunny Joe.

Joe lives on the SouthSide of the Bird House, the corner where we moved Betty and Joe, then put in some trees. Now we want to build garden beds for veggies.

Funny bit: I tossed a rotting pumpkin in to the worm bin. I don't know how the worms are doing, but the rotting pumpkin has sprouted in one hundred different directions, so the worm bin is now a baby pumpkin nursery.

And so... for Mother's Day we are building raised beds. The baby pumpkins need room, and we want tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corn, sunflowers, basil, cilantro, zinnias, zukes, and honeydews.

Our three half barrels are full and happy, keeping onions and flowers safe from tunnel monsters, like gophers and moles. But we need more. More veggies. More flowers. More room.

Max wants his own garden bed. Maria has her own half barrel. Alex thinks we need at least three beds exclusively for pumpkins.

I think I should be scattering cilantro seeds all over the yard. I love it when coriander flowers, then goes to seed.

The pineapple guavas that we moved from the bottom of the yard, up to our reconfigured garage side of the yard, are blooming! That was a long sentence. Sorry. Feijoa blossoms! You can eat the fleshy pink petals. They taste like a delicate, floral marshmallow.

I never did plant all of the red onions from the little nursery six pack. I gave most of them away. But each compartment had so many seedlings, that I am looking at about a dozen almost fully ripe red onions. I think I will be giving away more produce, because even on my most oniony day I cannot imagine using up twelve red onions. Though I guess they should keep... must look in to that...

Roses I can share too. Roses and onions. We are blessed! We have more roses than I can cut. This is not a problem. They are so beautiful.

Alex cannot understand why anyone would be happy with florist roses, when garden roses are so huge, and fragrant. He much prefers the homegrown variety, and so do I.

I also like poppies, sweet peas, zinnias, pansies, dahlias...

Right now we have poppies.

With raised beds, I will finally grow zinnias. I cannot recall the last time I had a place to grow zinnias.

So. We need raised beds because of the gophers, and they will be good for containing the soil and raising everything... it's a nice look. We decided to make them 4' x 4'... square, and big, but not too big. The next question was about depth. I figured about carrot depth would be good... give or take an inch. Alex estimated eighteen inches, and Geoff discussed varying heights and widths of varying wood cuts. There was debate, discussion, design, and re-design etc...

Last night at the build center we decided we would construct four boxes, and that they should be between eighteen inches high, and two feet. No one thought to bring out a tape measure. Our discussions were always punctuated with hands and gestures... About this high and then hands apart to show the "measurement." I walked away from lumber and saws with Maria. Geoff and Alex were selecting the two by twelves.

Geoff called me: "Come back here, and tell me again how deep these should be."

I had just got Maria across the entire store to the section where we could sit and read gardening books, and we could not be bothered to walk back, so I said: "Eighteen inches or 24 inches, or something. It'll be fine. It's all good."

And he said: "Are you sure?"
Because the depth of gardens beds is more my area of "expertise" than his, but now this point is arguable.

Alex and Geoff chose sixteen big boards and then had them cut. Maria and I showed up when they were just about finished cutting all those big boards. And you know what? Twenty four inches is really big. Large big. Quite deep big.

After six months of pining for raised beds, and demonstrating my "expertise" about garden beds, after two hours figuring out the details in the build store, I was somewhat reluctant to say, "Dang. Those boards are way too tall. We don't need beds that deep." So, I went a different route and said: "Super! Eight beds!"

But he caught on.

"What? This is enough for four beds."

And I said, "I don't know. I bet we can get eight beds out of all this lumber." Then I grinned sheepishly, which as it turns out is my real "expertise."

Then he fired me. "You are fired from all measuring jobs," he said. And really, I thought he kept his composure quite nicely.

Joe, we will see you tomorrow, when we spend Mother's Day in the SouthSide, putting together four, or eight, twelve, or twenty-four inch garden beds.

Friday, May 07, 2010

You're My Witness...

Do you remember the other day when I was weighing the pros and cons of getting chicks? Do you remember my raw honesty? Then my responsible, "adult" conclusion?

So this morning, with a humorous wink I say to Geoff, "So then, I guess I will just go out to the feed store and get some chicks then..." and this is where I paused and waited for him to laugh, or interject, or look nervous, but no. No he is completely casual, and says, "I've been wondering when you were going to do that."

Seriously. I did not see that coming.

"Do you read Chcikenblog?" I ask him, not even pausing to correct my spelling, because I was speaking to him, not writing.

And he says, "Yeah. What was that all about? I figured you would have got the chicks by now. Too bad Betty isn't broody."

By now I am standing up and looking him in the eye, because really. I. did. not. see. this. coming. And I ask him, "Seriously?"

And he's serious.
He's totally serious.

So, for some absurd reason, I have to pause and try to muster rational "adult"
thoughts, and those are hard to come by twice in the same week. Naturally, none came and I was on the phone with the feed store thirty seconds later.

New chicks are arriving at my favorite feed store in a couple of weeks, so even though I could track some down at some other feed store, I am going to be an "adult", wait, and prepare. And in thirty days, when everyone here at the Bird House is asking "What the haybale were you thinking?" I will have the very immature and comforting knowledge that I was not alone in my rash and reckless decision.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Suburban Agony

(Lola, May 17, 2008. Rest in Peace Sweet Lola)
I am tormented.
In twenty-five minutes I could be in feed store country, picking out a few of these little chickies. In forty-five minutes I could be on my way home with the cute pippers. It would be so easy. I would finally be realizing my dream, or at least the next phase of my dream. I would have more than one chicken, finally.


In twenty-fours hours I would be asking myself: "Self, what the haybale were you thinking?!"

In thirty hours everyone else would be asking me, "What the haybale were you thinking?!"

And for the rest of the summer we would be in a real fix, because real farmers have a tough row to hoe when they want to take off on vacations, when they don't have actual chciken chicken coops or barns, when the one resident hen wants to bop cute little pippers on the head.

But... but, I really want chicas. I really do.

There are other torments, and disappointments. This has not been the easiest year, but sometimes there is a little agony that looms large, and makes the heart ache.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Oh Mango

Dear Mango,
I love you.
I have always loved you.
I have loved you since Mercado Hidalgo days, when my mommy would slice you up and I would dine on your juicy bits, with a hot corn tortilla in my other hand.
I have loved you since Aunt Janey's Acapulco paradise, when we ate from her hybrid tree.
I have loved you since Princess K, when every morning Poppa Corn Man gave me my fill of garden mangoes to satisfy my pregnancy cravings.
I have loved you since Janice's MNO, when she served mango salsa, and I took the serving bowl as my own personal serving and was unrepentant.
I love sticky, juicy, slimy, stringy, messy mangoes.
Left to my own devices I devour them with my whole face, then hose off, floss, and reflect on my many blessings. Amen.

But sometimes I do things properly. Rarely. But sometimes.

A mango's color is not always the best indicator of ripeness. All golden yellow can be very ripe, but this one was red, yellow and green, and it was ripened to perfection. I test the firmness. It should not be hard. With a gentle push or squeeze you should detect softness, a little give. The second mango I sliced on this day was firmer than the first, and Max enjoyed it even more, because he likes fruit that is slightly tart.

And when I want to make a tidy and efficient presentation of a mango, I reach for one of these:

This is the Christmas present that my kitchen savvy, and dear friend, Karen, gave all of us MNO mom's one year... it is her tradition to favor us with a wonderful kitchen gadget, and this one has been my absolute favorite.

It is a peeler. It is the best. Look for this name: Messermeister.
Messmeister = The Best, no foolin'.

I think it has something to do with it being serrated, so do not mess with any others, because they do not work like the Messermeister.

Take a firm hold of your mango, and on one of the two wider sides peel away the skin. You can do this with knife, true, but you will lose a lot of fruit with the skin. And then you will have to get sloppy and unseemly and gnaw away at the precious fruit from the skin, because it is too delicious to toss on the compost pile. Get thee a Messmeister. Waste not the precious Mango!

Look how nicely the skin peels, how little of the fruit is taken off. And now you can just slice a big hunk of mango clear of the bone.

Cube these for snacking, or dice them for a fresh salsa.

Another method I like works nicely if I want to make a pretty presentation of the fruit, so taking the flip side of the same mango, I sliced it down right next to the bone, but without skinning it. This time the skin is going to hold the fruit in place.

Carefully, using a small knife, I score the fruit right down to the inside of the skin, then I go back across diagonally.

With the fruit scored in clever little squares, I am ready for the fun part. Push the skin up, so the the fruit inverts itself and separates along the cuts.

This looks very tropical festival when added to a fruit platter.


And the scoring trick? It works nicely on avocados too.
Score your halved avocado...

and then scoop! Now it's ready to top your hot corn tortilla, or to get chunked up
for guacamole.

Of course, if I am making guacamole, I don't fuss about the scooping, I just squeeze it all out in to the bowl. Dice some white onions, chop lots of cilantro and tomatoes, maybe squeeze a little lemon, salt, pepper, a dash of chile...

Oh Guacamole!
Dear Guacamole,
I love you.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Science Sunday :: Get Wired

A spark. An idea. A plan. A vision. Success.

Last week my cousin and her daughter were over for a casual afternoon of play and lunching. Priscilla is a grade school teacher in San Diego, so naturally we talked about schools and lessons, testing, learning... all of it. When we got to the subject of science, Priscilla and I agreed: Some people get it, and some people struggle to get it. She was not looking forward to an impending lesson about electricity, and circuits. I totally understood her frustration about wanting to give the students a good experience, but feeling kind of detached from the subject because of not getting it.

Electricity? Circuits? Magnetism, polarity? I don't get it either. You've heard me joke about enjoying the "mystery," but that's just a humorous way of admitting that no matter how hard I try, there are some topics that never quite sink in. But I still like trying, especially if the difficult topic is covered in a relaxed way, with patience, pasta and hands-on demonstrations. And most especially if someone else will read the manual for me. Oh Lord. Why are manuals written in a foreign (read: boring and confusing) language?

This discussion about making new lessons easier and accessible to all, sparked an idea in my head, and because I sometimes can be impulsive I said: Come back next week. We will play with wires, and Alex can show us what's what.

I said "what's what" because I talk technical.

Like how I recruited Alex?

The idea was simple enough. We would enjoy another potluck lunch. Emma and Maria could play together. And the science-able people could help us science-challenged people by talking-doing-playing-teaching science. We made it a plan. Meet. Eat. Teach and learn.

Then my plan started evolving in to a vision.

Poor Geoff. He has only one vision: Unpack the garage. The things he has to put up with, like me, and my "visions."

My vision goes something like this: Bring together people that want to share science, both teaching and learning, so that we can casually, relaxedly hang out, and exchange ideas, play with tools, build, make, deconstruct, instruct, eat brownies, observe, discuss, and leave inspired, smart(er), and happy(er).

Then my vision collided with another vision, and a new vision was born!

Meanwhile, poor Geoff is trying to get me to focus on his vision. He is so disciplined. Like a scientist. I am so flighty, like a chiceken chicken.

In FIRST there are many incentives for, and a lot of emphasis on: Community Outreach. And in Atlanta, I was really motivated by Dean Kamen's vision about inspiring everyone to get involved... to "transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes."

The new vision, born of my other visions, is about how the robotics club can begin to more carefully document their involvement in community outreach, and also create new means of benefitting their community as young artists, scientists, and thinkers. So instead of just having our science potluck, enjoying the lessons, and moving on, I thought we would emphasize that Alex is from 2102 Team Paradox, that he has a knowledge of electronics and circuitry, of building and using his metal shop skills, and that he is formally offering to teach his skills to a teacher, so that she can improve her skills and be inspired when she goes back to her fifth graders and teaches science. And for him to document the process and outcome.

As I seek to find my place as a mentor, and spirited parent, for the club, I am learning too. I know that the students themselves decide their course and make the decisions, but this experience gave me an opportunity to field test my idea, so that when I present it to the students I can offer details and specific pictures of my vision. So, I think of myself as a facilitator in this experiment, and as much as possible I let Alex take leadership and show initiative. Now we have a teacher getting new perspectives and guidance on a specific set of science lesson skills, and we have a student learning about leadership, public speaking, organizational and instructional skills. Everybody wins. And the pasta and brownies were delicious.

Before Priscilla arrived, Alex, Max and William were doing a little science on their own. Maybe a future Science Sunday theme? "Dangerous things?" I side with Gever Tulley.

We keep it safe.

Our First Science Sunday

We chose our theme: Electronics.
Priscilla brought the kit she would use in the classroom.
Inspired moment: Let Alex read the manual.
He read it, then broke it down, explained bits, and then introduced the components and key elements.

My contribution to the process was keeping Maria and Emma engaged in their own science. So we introduced water, turkey basters, funnels, and colored tablets.
Blue + Pink = Purple = Fun

Bright futures... as chemists, or cooks, or chemists that cook. The possibilities are limitless.

Maria revealed that she has dish washing skills, and I have to say I am proud.
Actually, both Emma and Maria were very in to washing dishes.
I had to resist bringing out more from my kitchen.

With the girls pouring and scrubbing, with William and Max observing, and Geoff unpacking, the lesson continued. Alex assembled the kit, demonstrating both a series circuit and a... a... oh gee, what was the other kind? End to end, with wires... keeps the battery voltage the same? I was involved in the water lesson, so I guess I did not retain as much info about the two kinds of circuits as I meant to.

I did learn that in this configuration the batteries' voltages increase, because they are in a series and the energy is added up. Something like that. Okay, don't quote me. But I swear I understand it better than I ever did before.

One thing about kits... they can be a bit flimsy (read: cheaply made) and this can give an inexperienced scientist a lot of frustration. If things are falling apart or not fitting together easily, you may think it's your own lack of skills. Don't blame yourself. Blame the supplies. Once Alex assembled the lesson, he did Priscilla the favor of soldering the components together. Now she has a working example to show her students, one that will stay together. And now she understands what might be frustrating for her students, so she can anticipate this and help them get passed it.

From here Alex and William shared their vast knowledge and respect of Nikola Tesla. We love Tesla. Now Priscilla loves Tesla, which made the boys really happy. They are always more than happy to introduce anyone to the unsung hero of electricity.

In Max's school a poster of Edison hangs on a door. Under his image it says: "It took him 1,000 attempts to invent the light bulb."
Max wants to make his own poster, with Tesla's picture and this statement: "Tesla invented and made 250,000 light bulbs in two days, and it was 98% more efficient." He used those light bulbs to light the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, when Edison refused to let them use his bulbs.

We love Tesla. Just saying.

Alex made illustrations of other motors, pumps, and components, and he brought out some repurposed toys and parts that he likes to play with.

Priscilla thought it was neat that old and broken toys, can still be fun, still be useful.
It is neat.
If you didn't know already, and I had to learn this from Geoff: It's a real good idea to take things apart. Disassemble, dissect, deconstruct... discovery is an amazing opportunity for learning.

Here is a small motor taken from a friend's motorized super-soaker. The big squirt gun wasn't working any more, but when Alex took it apart, he found that the motor was still good. He wired it to a series of batteries, to demonstrate another circuit. Priscilla asked about why the water moved through...

... and Alex described what was happening, and why.

Priscilla is a good teacher too, so it made her a helpful student. She asked good questions, shared her interest and enthusiasm. I think this added to Alex's experience, by leading him to offering more information.

A spark. An idea. A plan. A vision. Success.

Priscilla is going to get back to Alex and let him know how the lesson with her students goes. I think just getting a fresh perspective, and encouragement will make a nice difference for her. And I really appreciate what Alex gained... he learned he can share his knowledge, and his confidence and perspective were encouraged too.

Above all, we all had a really good time together. I think we may even be smart(er), and happy(er), which is so cool.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Progress Report

Before a couple enters in to Holy Wedlock, they should exchange kindergarten progress reports, and analyze them with the purpose of gaining insight. Very telling, revealing, foreshadowing insight. Not that the information necessarily has to be deal breaker, but knowledge is good. Knowledge can help you anticipate what discourses you will have over and over, and over again... 'til death do you part.

Geoff is the amazing cleaning and unpacking motivational task master. And I appreciate this. Never mind my whining. What I do not appreciate is the number of miles I walk, when he is working. He calls me to his side about every five minutes, so I can "see something," or so I can answer a question, or unpack a box, or put away something. It does not matter where I am, or what I am doing. It does not matter that I am equally immersed in work... he will insist I drop what I am doing to assist him.


I pointed this out to him, again!!! and I thought I made a very good case for myself. Explaining that laundry and dishes are important too. Begging him to let me finish my task. Demanding that he quit hollering for me every single time he got the notion that I should be by his side.

And not five minutes later, when I was deep in the dryer, I heard him calling me, again!!! And I got really peeved. And then he hollered for me again!!!

He wanted me to see his kindergarten progress report.

Can sit still for 5-10 minutes without bothering someone near him:
Needs Improvement

Can listen to the teacher or classmate without interrupting:
Needs Improvement