Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hard boiled eggs

In this post, we would like to share an important reminder:

One must not reheat a hard boiled egg in the microwave.

Because if one should try to reheat a hard boiled egg in the microwave, one might hear a loud pop as one moves the egg out of the microwave, and suddenly find that the egg has exploded all over the kitchen. Then, rather than calmly prepare for the morning with a breakfast of egg and toast, one will get to spend the next half hour cleaning egg off the cabinets, floor, table and chairs, and scraping it off the ceiling. Then one will have to change clothes and even wipe off one's glasses.

Hard boiled egg: Not for the microwave.

This public service announcement has been brought to you by your clueless friend Artax.

And meanwhile, we hope you are enjoying the holidays in the way you love best. Here, that would be a Final Fantasy marathon.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I like to travel. Or at one point I used to say I liked to travel. And I like my job. I really do like my job. But five days in the cold in a gray city in the eastern US, rushing from sidewalk to subway to sterile university building, eating too much restaurant food, working... I would like traveling more if I could relax and enjoy it. But then if it were really about relaxing and enjoying, why would I travel? The people I love are back at home.

Two more days, loved ones.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A passing shadow

Age is a funny thing.

I've been looking around at work and in my neighborhood recently, at all the elderly people and those at the gates of retirement. They have worked long. They are a little more feeble. A little less sturdy on their feet. To me, they look Old.

And then only very recently it occurred to me that these feeble old people are the age of my parents.

To me, my parents are frozen in time and personality in about their late 40s or mid 50s at the most. Sure, they are winding down the family rearing years, but not without a fight.

My dad has reached retirement age, and he will very soon be retiring. Grandchildren are coming and growing.

How strange that is. How strange it must be.

I have a picture that I love, of the ten of us -- my family -- in a field in springtime. I must have been about 13 years old, and I am holding the baby and smiling, my siblings crowded around me smiling as well. And since then every one of those little siblings has grown up and been a teenager and fought against curfews and chosen a college and moved away. Permanently. And now they post pictures of their own, smiling families.

And all the pictures stack up. All the families. All the smiling children. But the people in the pictures no longer exist. They only existed for an instant in time. Light on film. Scattered and captured in a single moment. The moment long gone. But the pictures are still there, oblivious to the emptiness behind them.

What will I look like soon when I am old? What will the middle aged woman think of me, she in the thick of family and career? Will she wonder, too, how I happened to grow wrinkled and gray? And will I recognize her, watching me?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Balancing blessings

This year we are working on a theme of holiday traditions one day late, and so I begin with a list of expected and some unexpected things I am thankful for.

  1. A little boy whose hair is a bit too long, which makes him look extremely cuddly.
  2. Mario.
  3. Magical migraine medicine, because otherwise I would have spent the day huddled on the tile in the bathroom. Bouncing off walls is so much more enjoyable.
  4. Dance Dance Revolution. Even though it is no longer a fad, it still helps drain that extra bounciness.
  5. Health.
  6. True Love.
  7. Leftovers.
  8. Two more days to procrastinate grading those exams.
  9. Clear vinyl tablecloths. Otherwise, my white tablecloth and decorative runner would not be able to see the light of day.
  10. Apples.
  11. Internet.
  12. Five hours of ice skating Wednesday: the boy's first time. He didn't want to leave.
  13. Words.
  14. Fairy godmothers and dreams coming true.


Do you ever look at the richness in your life and wish good times could be packed in plastic and saved in the refrigerator? There is surely enough for leftovers. And when the house is warm and the bills are paid and the family is tucked in safe and full of health, and childhood dreams have aged and flowered and now bear fruit, do you sometimes wonder how long it will last? Does happiness come with expiration dates?

Is there a balance somewhere? Somewhere in the cosmos, does someone watch the scale and notice that life is weighted far too heavily toward happiness in the Artax household, and it is time to add a little pain and suffering?

Please not yet.

How about we please wait until I have finished my novel.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

So where is it??

Starting about a week and a half ago, we have been expecting SNOW! Snow overnight. Snow in the afternoon. Just wait -- the snow is coming! Two to four inches. Four to six inches. Up to an inch. But only above 6300 feet. Or above 5200 feet. Or above 4500 feet! That's us! It is coming. Get ready!

From Sunday onward, expect the worst. Tomorrow! It's coming! Until Monday morning: well maybe not today. But Tonight! And then by the evening: On Tuesday! A Blizzard! Just like in Seattle! Blowing snow. Six to eight inches.

By Tuesday morning: 100% chance of snow overnight. One hundred percent! Two to four inches this afternoon.

By midmorning: well, no snow today, but still 100% chance of snow overnight! Three to five inches! A storm as hasn't been seen in years, with snow and wind and chill.

And so the University Police sent out warning messages which bounced around my email and off my cell phone. Students skipped afternoon class, eager to be on the road out of town before the Blizzard! And then the entire University shut down.

Wandering home just after 3pm, to a gray sky but no sign of snow, the cynic that I have become thought it was a nice excuse to quit a few hours early just before a long holiday.

But the National Weather Service persisted. Still 100% chance of snow!

So we hit the grocery store with the rest of the world, deciding we'd better buy our foods for Thanksgiving before the Blizzard! trapped us inside for three days without power.

At 7:00 pm Tuesday evening, Jonathan peeked out into the darkness. Had it started yet? No.

By 8:00 pm. No sign of it. Bedtime for little boys.

By 11:00 pm. Still no storm. Bedtime for me.

At 7:00 this morning, I awoke with visions. Snow! Sledding! Holidays and snow! And so I peeked outside to see our marshmallow winter wonderland, with three to five inches guaranteed by the National Weather Service.


A skiff of snow lies over the grass, where it is cool enough not to melt on contact. Nothing on roads and sidewalks. So thin that the individual grass blades poke out of its shell, mocking.

Today's weather report: Slight chance of snow. Maybe half an inch? Maybe? Then sunny all week -- but Cold! It will be Cooold!

At least a few university employees got to go home early for their holiday.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Size B

In August, I did some shopping for some unmentionables. After trying on every small sized bra in the store, from AA to A to almost B, I found two that fit quite well. One was a size A as usual, but one was actually a size B. I have never been a size B before. I've always been much smaller, except for a few months when nursing an infant during which I skipped over B entirely and was quite pleased to be a C. It didn't last. Anyway, now in one particular brand in one particular bra style I am a B.

I know you are sitting there, Reader, thinking, that is more information than I needed, thank you very much. But that's not true. You need that information, as It is relevant to this post. I promise. Be patient.

Last Thursday, in a span of less than 24 hours, I was mistaken for a student three times.

The first time was at a banquet to honor our best students. I had invited five of mine -- excellent students, all. I was sitting at their table, chit-chatting, when a student employee wandered by and offered me a chance at the door prize.

"I don't think I'm eligible," I told the student helper.

"Oh no," he insisted, "Everyone is eligible."

"Are you sure? That seems strange...."

And then he paused. "Unless... you're not faculty, are you?"

I am, actually, faculty. So I wasn't eligible.

After the banquet, I went to introduce myself to the guest speaker. His research had been in an area related to my own, and I wanted to thank him for his words and chat a bit about research. We had a lively conversation; he answered a couple of my questions, and I described my interest. He concluded by asking, "Are you a grad student then?"

Nope. Faculty.

And then I had an appointment for undergraduate advising, and after a chat about classes to take and things to try and places to go, the student asked, "So are you a student, or grad student?"

No. Not either.

In all three situations, I smiled politely and let the persons involved know that, in fact, I was faculty. And they smiled and stated that I looked so young it was hard to tell....

Which is odd. I'm not really very young anymore, and I think I look my age. Mid 30s now. Definitely older than a student.

Anyway, I was pondering over these three events, wondering why they should all happen within the same 24 hours, when nothing like this had happened for a long time. What did these three events have in common? What made me appear so youthful so suddenly?

You know what it was, don't you, oh Reader?

For the first time in a couple of months, I was wearing the size B bra.

Young and attractive. That was me. Ten years removed from my appearance by the increased cup size.

Dude. In ten more years, I may be ready to consider implants.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Yogurt again

Let's talk about our food again. Specifically, I'd like to follow up on my yogurt post from last March.

Back in July-ish, Tim and I bought a serious food dehydrator, to handle the bushels and bushels of apricots we were picking off our tree, as well as apples and raspberries and currants and whatever else we were harvesting.

The food dehydrator has a temperature control. It is able to maintain low, warm temperatures consistently.

Which is perfect for yogurt.

It also came with its own yogurt recipe: Milk. Some powdered milk to thicken it. Yogurt start. Keep at 115 degrees for 3 hours. Voila. Perfect yogurt.

We have made yogurt three times now, to rave reviews. It has been thick, smooth, creamy. Not at all lumpy or sour. Especially good when made with whole milk.

Tim, who is a bit of a yogurt snob, compared it to Landliebe yogurt. Natural. Creamy. In a jar. As a family, we spontaneously broke out into singing all the German songs we know at the first spoonful. Luckily,we don't know any German songs as a family, and so instead we could concentrate on eating.


Good stuff.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Subtitle: On giving up.

In March, Tim donated his long hair to charity. What a cool idea. What a handsome husband. I decided to do the same thing. Only I didn't want to cut my hair quite as short as he cut his. So I decided I would let mine grow a little longer.

Fast forward to late last Saturday night. I had just come out of the shower, and was trying to straighten the tangled, dry, scraggly mass that was my hair, and it was not cooperating. Looking at the wadded hairballs in the mirror, I realized that even a poor diseased child would not want this hair. No one would want this hair. Especially not me.

So, egged on by my six year old, I pulled out the scissors and cut off the messy tangled split ended bottom four inches. Then spent 15 minutes trying to cut it straight to hide the damage. It's still a little jagged along the edge -- probably should go to a professional hair cutting place to get that fixed -- but meanwhile I really like the slightly shorter hair. I don't sit on it anymore, for example. It doesn't tangle as much. I have gone two days without wearing just a ponytail. Life on the edge.

But part of me is still sad that I didn't donate to charity. It would have been such a good cause. Such a lovely idea.

I started this semester with grandiose plans. My two classes were going to be better than ever before. By revamping the entire homework system in one, and by building up a course never offered before at G.O.D. University for the other, I would develop smarter and stronger and better students than ever before.

Sometime in the last week or two I have had to stand back. The students don't realize how much better the homework is -- it's still homework to them. Many skip assignments regularly (*gasp*)! Or are inattentive when they try it. In spite of my great ideas, in practice my students are still just students, and ultimately make their own choices on whether or not to learn. And the other class? While they sympathize with the need for the whole new course, I don't know that they care much whether I'm two weeks ahead or I just finish planning the day's class with 20 minutes to spare.

Needless to say, while the ideas for the courses were beautiful at the beginning of the semester, in practice the ideas have turn into tangled wadded masses of split ends. And this past week, I have been cutting myself away from the beautiful ideas, at least emotionally, and turning back to other important tasks that need to be done.

You know, faculty who are able to step away from their teaching, keeping a healthy emotional distance, have been proven to be more successful in all areas of their career. Including their teaching. That means faculty do better if they spend less time worrying and planning and revamping homework and resuscitating ideas, and just relax and enjoy the journey. With my new scissors, I feel like I've been able to take a step back and enjoy myself more.

And it's so nice not to sit on my hair anymore.

Of course, the edges are still a little jaggy -- probably should go plan tomorrow's graduate course rather than write this. And honestly, analogies really only go so far....

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Carving pumpkins

November 1st. We carved pumpkins tonight.

I know, you are saying, aren't we a little late on the pumpkin carving thing? That was supposed to happen in October.

Walking Jonathan home today, I reminded him: "Monday night. What do you want to do for FHE?"

"Carve pumpkins!"

"...Why not?"

So we hauled in the two pumpkins we bought on sale last week, and cut them open, emptied their guts, and carved them.

When I say we carved them, what I mean is that when I turned my back to dispose of pumpkin guts, Jonathan picked up the knife and declared he was going to cut out an eyeball. Thus followed the most frightening event of all of October and November so far: a six year old wielding a knife.

"Jonathan don't hold the knife like that! Watch your finger! Don't jam it in with your head there! Be careful!"

"Mom, would you stop saying that?"

"No! Are you sure you don't need my help?"

He did an excellent job. No blood. No severed fingers. After carving the little pumpkin, he decided it would make a nice head for the big pumpkin, which would serve as a body. Then he carved four arms in the big one, pulled out the carved pieces and stuck each back in sideways, along with a foot and a belly button.

I was floored. Where did he get the idea for carving such a pumpkin? Sure, the technique was not that great, for a kid who is not allowed near a carving knife on a typical day. But the vision was amazing.

Perhaps we will make an artist out of this boy after all.

After carving the pumpkin, Jonathan declared he wanted to put candles inside. So we found the candles and took them outside. Jonathan also wanted candles next to the pumpkins, like in a "spooky haunted house." So we lit candles and put them next to the pumpkin. Then the boy stood on the porch and in his spookiest voice, welcomed the backyard world to our haunted house.

Me, I stood on the patio watching the show, partly proud at my little monster, but especially relieved that he still had all his fingers and eyes. Thank goodness Halloween is over.

Next Monday he's going to ask to make pumpkin pies, I know it.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween timing

Wednesday night, 7 pm, we drop off Tim at the tip of the mountain, at a corn field maze. Tim was going to New York City for his cousin's wedding (congrats AdamAndAmanda), and his early morning airport ride would be at the corn maze Wednesday night.

Jonathan was most excited about the corn maze -- which made the late hour on a school night particularly problematic. We promised we'd come back Saturday, and headed home to bed. Kind of. Except for that quick stop to pick up a birthday present. 8:30pm, half an hour after bedtime, we were back and in pajamas. Late.

Thursday, with Daddy away, at 3:30 pm sharp I got a message on my phone. "Don't forget McKay's party," said a little voice, near tears.

I was on my bike, heading to pick up Jonathan to take him to McKay's party. For the record, I had not forgotten, nor was I anywhere near late. I picked up the boy, wiped away the tears, and we headed up to the birthday party. We were the first ones there. Happy birthday, McKay. 3:58 pm. Two minutes early.

6:00 pm sharp I was back at McKay's house, waiting for Jonathan to finish his ice cream. We hurried home, ate a quick dinner, then headed back to school for the Lights on After School program. Jonathan was displaying artwork. After a bit of song and dance by the six to twelve year olds, starting at 7pm, we got to wander and see the artwork, eat a cookie, drink blue punch, and head home to bed. 7:45 pm back at our house, into pajamas. Almost on time to bed.

Friday, 11:38 am. Two students walk into my office, asking for help on one problem. I glance at my watch. I have seven minutes before I need to leave for home if I'm going to make it to the Halloween parade on time. OK. We go through the problem. I pack the students out the door. 11:49 am. I can still make it. I have to pee really badly. 11:55 am. I can still make it. On my bike, cruising up the hill, I pass my mother about half a mile from my house, walking and running on her way to the same Halloween parade. She'll never make it. I get home, pull out the car, swing back to pick her up. 12:08 pm. Parade starts at 12:15. Will we make it?

12:13 pm. We park near the playground on the back side of the school, and dash to the gymnasium. All the seats are taken, but there is plenty of space standing in the back. We made it!

12:24 pm. No sign of the kids. Are they coming? The woman standing next to us teaches at the high school across the street. Her lunch ends at 12:44 pm. She hopes her kids will parade through soon. 12:35 pm. Here they are! Each class marches past. I hardly see my boy as I'm fumbling with the camera. And then he's gone, before I get a chance at the photo. Oh well. He saw me, which I suppose is most important.

12:55 pm. I leave my mother the house keys and drive back over to the university, arriving by 1:10 pm. I teach at 2.

4:00 pm. I pack up and head home. Jonathan and Grandma are painting in the kitchen. 5:00 pm we head out for an early dinner, so Grandma can make it to a funeral at 6:00 pm.

Saturday morning, 8:00 am. Jonathan is up! Can we go to the corn maze? Um... do you want to watch TV for a while? 9:30 am. I stumble out of bed. Drag the boy away from Johnny Test, and we eat breakfast. 10:10 am, head toward the corn maze. 10:30 am. At the corn maze. As well as a corn maze, there are hay rides, pig races, bouncing pillows, inflated dinosaurs and a haunted house. I do not believe it was worth the $18 entrance fee (we got $5 off with a coupon), but as I start to get annoyed I remind myself that we are out running and doing things. Playground. Jumping. Walking through corn fields. This is a lot better than TV all morning. We stay until 1pm.

5:30 pm. Rain is coming down in torrents. We were supposed to go trick-or-treating. Jonathan can't wait until 6:00 pm.

6:00 pm. Still raining hard. No kids on the block anywhere. Maybe they decided not to come out on Saturday after all? We put on raincoats and pack umbrellas. The Jedi robe goes over the rain coat. 6:25 pm. We head out into the storm toward the quiet neighborhood streets. If we don't see any other kids, we'll head home. Meanwhile, it's time to be out.

6:48 pm. Rain stops.

7:20 pm. Streets are packed with neighborhood kids collecting candy door to door. We pass several neighbors and friends. Note to self: next year, see if we can't join Jonathan to one of their groups.

7:45 pm. Back at our house, bucket full. Jonathan gets to answer the door and give candy to two people total. 8:00 pm. We turn off all our lights and head downstairs to watch Scooby Doo and Zombie Island. Perfect Halloween movie.

10:00 pm. In sleeping bags in the basement. I tell Jonathan he'd better go to bed now or we're never having another late night Halloween party. I wonder if I will laugh at those words in 10 years?

Sunday morning, 7:30 am. Jonathan bounces my air mattress. Mommy, can I watch TV? Yes, please, just go away!

Happy Halloween. I would like to do Thanksgiving without the clock. Is that possible?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Autumn rain

I planted about 10 more tulip bulbs this morning. After planting about four, it started to rain a little bit. I thought I'd finish up the one I was working on, and then come in. But instead I put up the hood of my rain jacket, and kept on digging and planting. When I reached the corner of the flower bed, I had to dig up three rocks, and my jeans were soaked, and the dirt had become mud, and the light rain shower had become serious rain, and the project wasn't very fun anymore. So then I stopped. But just because I'm not digging in the mud in the rain doesn't mean I don't appreciate it.

Snow is predicted for Monday, and remember, Dear Reader, how excited I am for winter and snow this year. Meanwhile, I like the rain.

Jonathan went over to the church this morning to practice with the other children for their program for Sunday. We walked him back home with our umbrellas. And an umbrella for him. And I could see that I was not the only one who likes the rain.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Let's talk dirt

230 tulip bulbs have been buried in our yard. 230. Their 30 remaining friends wait to join the others in the north east patch of dirt on our property. 230.

And there is a crater in my trowel-yielding hand the size of Yellowstone. Broken blister. Dirt caked. 230.

The landscapers left us a mountain of dirt, by request, just in case we needed extra wheel-barrows-full to fill in holes. It sits near the curb out our front door. A neighbor took a truck load to fill a hole the size of a tree in his yard. Another neighbor hauled shovel and barrow up and down the street, back and forth, over and over again. And we have been hauling and spreading, shoveling, wheeling, dumping, spreading, filling the large holes in our yard, and 230 other small holes. And yet no matter how many loads of dirt we take, the mountain does not shrink. It is a miracle. It stands there, miraculous, unchanged and unchanging. The miracle dirt that does not fail or diminish.

It eyeballs us. Sinners. Waiting for the snow plows. Waiting. In majestic miraculousness.

And now I have a Yellowstone-shaped crater in my right hand. Trowel blister. From digging 230 six-inch-deep holes. Six inches apart. Exactly. Ish.

Only 30 more to go.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A few random things

Today I taught logarithmic differentiation, and my students laughed. I know that last sentence means nothing to you, but it was a personal goal of mine, and I'm happy to have checked it off.

We have been getting some things fixed up around our yard. To start, we got a whole new sprinkler system that does not leak around our foundation. We also got a beautiful gravel path through the overgrown raspberry patch. And we tore out the box bush in front that was starting to smell like old socks. I will post pictures, someday. I cannot post the before and after smell, but you try to imagine. Times like this, when projects are finished and look great, I love owning a yard.

I got 260 tulip bulbs for my birthday, to plant this fall. I spent a few hours Saturday, and planted about 50 of them. Only 210 to go. Times like this, I hate owning a yard. (But just think how lovely everything will look with the tulips in the spring!)

Since the semester started, I have been finding that lunch is not necessary. I wouldn't have believed it. I have colleagues who don't ever eat lunch. They can't eat lunch. When they eat lunch, it puts them to sleep in the afternoon. I was falling asleep during the afternoons. So I decided to take a shot at skipping lunch regularly. I figured if I could do it, I would also save time and money during the day. And you know what? My workdays are so busy that I pretty much don't miss lunch. When I remember, I eat an apple or two, but that's all. And I have been staying awake in the afternoons, even during research seminars! This seems great. Doesn't it seem great? I try to eat an extra large dinner to make up for those missed calories. I suppose if my weight starts changing one way or the other, then I may have to go back to lunch. Meanwhile, I like the new schedule.

Fall has been spectacular so far. The mountains are orange and yellow, the valleys are green and yellow. We've had rain in the last two days that has cooled things off and made the world smell wonderful. Or maybe it just smells nice because the stinky sock box bush is gone. But either way, October has been lovely. I am determined this year to have a positive attitude about the cool weather, in preparation for picking up a positive attitude about cold weather. And then colder weather. I am going to be so super excited about winter this year that you will have to stop reading this blog because of all the lovey-dovey mushy posts about wonderful winter. And then once I have picked up this positive attitude thing, I will trick myself into enjoying the winter. The bitter cold, lack of color and smell and sound... I will love it. Love it, I say! Love! Until I have to stop reading my blog.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Some pictures from Tokyo

Tim took most of our pictures in Tokyo, because he was the tourist, and I was working. Here are a few pictures that I think look nice, as well as my personal interpretation of what was happening when they were taken. Sometimes I was there, and sometimes I wasn't.

This is a picture from our first Sunday in Tokyo, and I was there for this one. Tim and I decided to find our way to the Meiji shrine, a huge shrine in the middle of Tokyo. We carefully looked up the trains we needed to take, where to transfer, etc, then headed out on our own into Japan. Alas. We took note of the train stops written out in our Latin alphabet. When we arrived at the train station, the signs were in kanji. Uh... ? It took us some time wandering the train station, and a stop by the information desk, and some hand waving and penciled writing to figure out where we were going. But we got there.

We got better at the train system very soon.

Here is Tim at the same shrine, in front of a huge wall of Japanese wines. I like the decorations on the barrels.

If Tim is looking particularly hot in this picture, it's because he is a pretty hot man. Also, it was around 95 degrees and 90% humidity. Hot hot hot. We weren't as prepared for the weather as expected.

The above picture is me, later that day, trying to figure out exactly what we might take from this street....

Moving on:Deeper in the shrine we saw these traditionally clad women. I like the fact that the one is talking into a cell phone. Our trip was a mix of the familiar (young women on cell phones) and the unfamiliar (in kimonos).

Above: Unfamiliar. Tim took this picture sometime later in the week. It must be something famous and important.

Below: Familiar. Tall buildings. Probably also something famous and important in there.

So Monday, I headed to the Tokyo Institute of Technology to talk research with Japanese colleagues. That was the day of the raw egg lunch, but you can read about that elsewhere. Tim decided to head to the large park that contained the Tokyo zoo, and some other shrines and things. Like this Buddhist temple:
But unfortunately, he reported that pretty much everything was closed. So he headed back on the subway to the electronics district, Akihabara.

You can buy new electronic stuff in Akihabara. Perfect for a guy like Tim who likes electronics and stuff, right? Except he didn't want to go shopping. He found his way to one of the huge multi-story video arcades to play Street Fighter like a local. Kinda. He couldn't use their stick controller thing as well as his controller at home. So he stayed a while to practice with it.

And I was working and eating red bean shaved ice. Yum.

Which brings us to Tuesday, on which date a Japanese colleague took Tim and me, along with another American couple there for the conference, on a sightseeing tour! We started with the Edo-Tokyo museum, which was nice. But we didn't take many interesting photos, so we'll skip ahead to:

...The Imperial residence. We couldn't actually see the imperial residence. Apparently Imperials live there. But we could see this nice looking house near this nice looking bridge and take a nice looking picture. And a long drink of water. It was still 95 degrees with 90% humidity.

This sign says no bicycling and no running. Something looks wrong with those runners. Something will be wrong with you, too, should you go running around the Imperial residence.

It was too hot to do more outdoor things, like running, so upon the suggestion of the other American couple, we headed over to Akihabara to take in the cool sights at the electronics district. Oh hey. Tim was just there yesterday. We split up for some shopping, and Tim took me into the deep, dark abyss of an arcade.

It was creepy. Totally smoke-filled, full of Japanese males. As we went deeper and deeper into the arcade, I pointed out to Tim that I was the only female in sight. Maybe there were signs all over the place that said "no women allowed"? Maybe. We would never know, since we didn't know any Japanese. Tim didn't care. He showed me how you could pay 100 yen and play Street Fighter. Um... Cool? And so he played Street Fighter, and I sat at the machine next to him, and looked around nervously, and tried not to choke on smoke. And started getting a headache. And within a few minutes Tim started looking around nervously, and assured me he was almost done.... And as we left the arcade many minutes later, he commented that it wasn't much fun to take me to a Japanese arcade.


I don't know what the above picture is of, but I like it.

Wednesday I spent the day at the conference. And a tropical storm blew in and the sky opened up in rain. I purchased an umbrella for walking around campus. Tim was in Kamakura. Which is an outdoorsy location with a giant Buddha and a lot of temples and shrines. He also purchased an umbrella -- our two most useful souvenirs. His pictures from that day look pretty cool. Above is the giant Buddha from a distance. And then he got closer:

And even went inside. But his picture from inside is darkness with a big white hole where the door is. Not so interesting.

Anyway, the location looked pretty neat. Here is another picture Tim took that day:

Lovely, eh? Unfortunately, the pounding rain washed him completely away by the afternoon. Soaked, he hopped on a train and ended up back at the hotel.

Thursday, Tim went... somewhere else. And took some more pictures. Like this one below.
Hey. Isn't that Akihabara again? Wait a second. More Street Fighter?

Friday, while I was still at the conference, Tim wandered over to the Ginza shopping district, which is famous for being a pricey shopping district. You can buy pricey things there, like this car:
But Tim didn't buy a car, after considering our carry on space.

That evening, after the conference, we decided to find a nice restaurant for some very nice food. But then we wandered past a little Ramen shop and changed our minds. This was Tim's favorite meal of the whole trip. Except for the one where we ate steak. But close second.

See. He even photographed the food he was so excited about it. And here are his dinner companions.


And that's about all that I have, except this photo from inside the little grocery store near our hotel:
Fresh octapus for you and me.

The end.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Family TV time

We don't actually watch TV much. But Tim wanted to see a show last Monday just before Jonathan's bedtime. So Jonathan wanted to watch it too. Alas, Jonathan does not watch TV like an ordinary couch potato. Jonathan watches TV like a potato in a frying pan -- crackling and popping and jumping around the couch.

This particular exchange happened near the end of the program when Tim was a bit frustrated.

Jonathan: *Gasp* "He just said a Bad Word. Did you hear him? He said a Bad Word."


Jonathan: "Why did he say a Bad Word, Daddy?"

Daddy: "Jonathan, hush. I'm trying to listen."

Jonathan: "But he said a Bad Word! Did you hear him? He said a Bad Word. Why did he say a Bad Word? That was a Bad Word."

Daddy: "Jonathan, not now. Be quiet, please."

Jonathan: "It was a Bad Word. Why, Daddy, did he say a Bad Word?"

Daddy: "Jonathan! Shut. Up."

Jonathan: *Gasp*. "Now Daddy said a Bad Word! That was a Bad Word, Daddy. Why did you say a Bad Word?"


And that, my friends, was the end of all of our family TV time for the next seven years.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The dentist

I started this post a couple of weeks ago, soon after my gums suddenly swelled up. Decided to finish it up and post it now.

Tim's best friend from high school is now a dentist.

A dentist seems very respectable. Whereas Marcus always struck me as a little wild. He played the drums in Tim's three man band.

Now he is a dentist in Oregon.

We called Marcus Sunday night (August 29) for dental advice. I had spent the day in bed, in pain. It was Tim's suggestion to call Marcus. No, said I. We can't mix business with friendship. Why not? said Tim. Marcus called him all the time with computer questions.

Tim is in the computer industry, and works remotely. That makes more sense for a guy who used to play the electric guitar in the basement. Grew his hair long because his mother wanted him to cut it. A remote-working computer scientist seems a much more appropriate career choice for this personality type than a dentist. But that's just my bias showing through.

So we called Marcus, and told him about our week, and let him ask questions that are easier to ask as a dentist. (You guys aren't pregnant, are you?)

I believe Marcus's mother thought Tim was a bad influence on her son. But Marcus never struck me as the kind of guy who would be affected by peer influence. Maybe that helps explain the dentist thing, too. He and Tim were both smart, different, unexpected. No wonder they became friends and stayed friends.

So Sunday, Marcus listened to my dental woes and offered his opinion. He suggested that a change in diet (too many tomatoes), combined with a heavy load of stress (classes starting, international travel), depleted my natural defenses and led to canker sores. And once the skin of my gums and cheeks was breached, perhaps a secondary infection moved in. He listened and gave some suggestions, and prescribed a power mouth wash and second antibiotic to attack it.

And then Marcus the dentist talked to Tim for a while.

The day after starting the new prescriptions, the swelling was way down. By the end of the week, when I left for Japan, the bleeding was mostly gone. By the end of the trip, the gums were almost back to normal, just like Google predicted.

Thank you Marcus.

This has made me realize how important it is to find a medical doctor friend and car mechanic friend. I am taking applications.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fall introspection

Fall is almost here again, and the mountains are splotched in red again, and the nights are colder again, and the apples are almost ripe.

We picked plums on Tuesday. The tree that, last year, rained down its bounty in bushels and bushels, this year produced only two large bowls of plums. Although I loved eating the fruit last year into the winter and spring, I am full of thanksgiving this year that I will not be spending every evening for the next month at the kitchen sink, gutting plums.


This morning, I taught the Intermediate Value Theorem. At one point in class, the students were all roaring with laughter. Over the Intermediate Value Theorem. The Intermediate Value Theorem? I looked at them, perplexed. Who were these people? It wasn't that funny.

Less than an hour later, I was waiting for a faculty meeting, while a colleague of mine was trying to get out of giving a presentation. He said he was unsuited to give the presentation because he was not as funny as 'Bob', who had given the presentation before. Then he looked around and saw me, and said, "Jessica is funny. She should give the presentation."

And then it hit me. I am funny. That is why the students were laughing at the Intermediate Value Theorem. They weren't drunk, because it was 10 in the morning at G.O.D. University. I must be funny. Not the Intermediate Value Theorem. Am I funny? Maybe I am funny.

I politely told the colleague that alas, I was busy, and then turned my rapt attention to the faculty meeting.

(Those students really were laughing pretty hard this morning. I must be funny.)

And contemplated a career change.

(How do you think the Intermediate Value Theorem would work as a stand up comedy routine?)

And focused on the future.

(Oh no -- Horizontal Asymptotes next time. There is no way I can make that as funny as the Intermediate Value Theorem.)

And my career in comedy was over before it began.

At least I know my colleagues think I am funny.


Is that a good thing?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Adventures in food

Our plane, returning from Tokyo, landed on the tarmac yesterday morning around 10:00 am. Since we left on the same date at 4:15pm, and were airborne for several hours, we actually gained time. Kind of. If time on an international flight counts for anything.

I can do a travel blog type post later. The weather was hot. The city was crowded, but clean. And Japanese is completely foreign. But we had a very nice trip.

On Monday, I first visited the woman who invited me, and her Japanese colleague, at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. After a morning of work, they took me to their favorite soba shop near campus. Soba is a kind of noodle. It was served with dipping sauce and a bowl of rice and topping, along with miso soup and various pickled vegetables. On our walk over, I confessed that since arriving Saturday night, I hadn't really eaten any good Japanese food. They told me that for lunch, we would change that.

I never would have known the tiny shop was a restaurant. I think the flag-like banners hanging over the door indicate this fact to those who read the language. The menu was completely in Japanese, which is somewhat unusual -- usually the prices are written in familiar arabic numerals.

My hosts tried to translate the menu for me. They would look at a dish, begin translating, then read a few words back and forth in Japanese together, trying to decide on a word that would help me understand what I might choose to eat. After they had given it their best shot, I told them I would trust their judgment, and have what they were having.

The woman said she would have the dish with... what was that? ... Sardines eggs. Very good. I cringed a bit.

The man said he would have the dish just above it. Some sort of fish and vegetables with rice. That sounded a little more tame for my American pallet. I asked him to please order the same for me.

When the meals came, the woman had her bowl of rice stacked with small pink balls. Sardines eggs.

Mine, identical to my colleague's, consisted of some sort of flaked fish around the sides of the bowl, surrounding a beautifully raw egg. Staring up at me with its giant yellow eyeball.

Um. He didn't mention the raw egg.

My colleague stirred his up into scrambled eggs and fish and rice. I copied. Scrambled like that, stirred into the rice, it wasn't quite as slimy and inedible as a single raw egg eyeball. I was able to eat most of it. And it wasn't bad. And I do like miso soup. Yummy.

Later that afternoon, after a few more hours of hard work, the woman suggested we try a new sweets shop near the train station. That sounded like a nice break, so we followed her there.

This shop was very clearly selling food. Like many Tokyo establishments, they had pictures of their menu items outside the entrance, so one could see what one could purchase before entering.

It was a hot hot day, 35 C and very humid, and so I said I'd like a shaved ice. My colleagues recommended I try the traditional Japanese flavor. Red bean and sticky rice balls. A little more skeptical, but still willing, I ordered the red bean shaved ice. The woman ordered the same thing, only with extra green tea flavoring. The man ordered fruit and ice cream.

When I received my shaved ice, it was a small bowl filled with beans and a sticky rice ball, with plain shaved ice stacked twice its height on top. Plain shaved ice. So a big pile of snow, on top of red beans and sticky rice balls. I wish I had a camera. But I did not. So you will have to imagine.

Imagine me, eating plain snow down the side, scooping a bit of red bean to go with it. And it tasted just like ... red bean. I know the Japanese think red beans are sweet. But to me, they are an ingredient in savory dishes like chili. Or Mexican food. And they are not eaten plain.

The sticky rice balls were made of rice flour, but did not resemble rice. They were very very chewy. I popped one in my mouth and chewed and chewed and chewed. Very slimy. Unsweetened, except for the red bean. And so I chewed and chewed and chewed.

After about four more bites of the red bean and rice balls, I realized I was going to begin gagging if I ate any more, which is not polite to do in front of your wonderful hosts. And so I finished eating all the plain snow off the top of the dessert, and picked at the beans while I could.

"You don't like it?" asked my hosts.

"Oh, it's very good," I said. "It's just very filling."

At which they smiled at each other and said something to each other in Japanese. ("She totally hates it." "Oh well, it was fun to watch her try.")

Dear traveler, watch out for red beans in your sweet food in Japan. It's very disappointing to think you'll be eating chocolate chips, and then biting in....

Aside from the red bean shaved ice, I found the food to be good. I ate sushi, sashimi. Ramen from a ramen shop. Rice bowls and chicken and a very delicious steak one evening. Very delicious. Something that ended up tasting just like beef stew another lunch hour. Tempura -- deep fried fish and eel and vegetables -- with rice. And lots of miso soup. Soup with every meal. Salad and rice for breakfast, along with western choices like yogurt and bread at our hotel. Once a very fishy breakfast fish. Hm.

I was always the last to finish, among my Japanese colleagues. I am not quite as expert with chopsticks as they are. But I survived.

You hear? I survived.

How long do you think it takes for symptoms of salmonella to appear if they are to appear? I'm assuming that after nearly a week, I'm safe.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ill in the time of Google

Lisa gave me a large bag of garden grown tomatoes, and I had been devouring them voraciously, with no concern for consequences.

By Thursday, I had developed a canker sore on my cheek. That night, it hurt when I brushed my back tooth. I decided I'd better lay off the tomatoes for a while.

Friday morning my gums were swollen double their usual size, my body was wracked with chills and aches all up and down my legs and back. I tried to go to work as usual, but found myself curled into a ball on the floor while speaking on a conference call. I gave up.

After sitting on hold for five minutes with the dentist, I scheduled an appointment with a doctor. Then looked up "swollen gums" on Google.

Possible causes.
1. Allergic to toothpaste. No. I've been using this brand for years.

2. Poor dental hygiene. No. I floss religiously.

3. Diabetes. Oh no. I will never get to eat sweets again. How will I survive?

4. Mercury poisoning. Aack! It must be my new steel water bottle. Soon my hair will start falling out!

5. Leukemia. Goodbye cruel world.

I got to the doctor's office, and an annoyed looking assistant weighed me and took my blood pressure, ignoring all my attempts at small talk. She put me in an examining room. And I sat there. For 45 minutes. Aching, headache, chills and fever. Just an examining table and hard wooden chairs. After 30 minutes, I decided I'd leave. After 35 minutes, I decided that was enough, I'd leave. After 40 minutes, I was going to leave. After 45 minutes, I stood up, hesitated in front of the door. Should I leave?

Just then the doctor entered.

Looked at the swollen gums. Let me talk about symptoms. Felt my giant tumor of a lymph node.

"Since it's the weekend, I'll prescribe an antibiotic to kill off any bacteria affecting your gums. If you aren't better in five days, call your dentist. I'm sure you'll be better in five days."

And that was it. Less than five minutes.

Got my antibiotic, came home and went to bed.

Got up around dinner time and tried to eat bland mash. Body ached too much to sit for it. Took Advil and went back to bed.

This morning the body doesn't ache as much, but the gums look worse. And hurt. A lot.

Back to Google.

Consequences of severe swollen gums.
1. Loss of teeth and bone. Oh I will look ugly. And have to eat bland mash forever.

2. Heart disease.

3. Death. Goodbye, cruel world.

Or -

Maybe -

Maybe I have something called gingivostomatitis? Fever, swelling, aches, giant tumorous lymph nodes in the neck and jaw. And sores all over the mouth and gums. Hey, that kind of sounds like me.

"In healthy individuals the lesions heal spontaneously in 7-14 days without a scar."

Healthy aside from a giant swollen mouth and the aches and fever, apparently.

In two days I'm supposed to start teaching again.

In six days I'm supposed to get on a plane to Tokyo.

In fourteen days I'm supposed to be back home.

I can't think of a better way to spend the next 14 days than with my friends the lesions.

And the very very worst most miserable part of all this? All those extra delicious garden ripe tomatoes, now in my fridge, which I cannot eat. *Sob*. I will have to can them.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Modified lessons from church

Think of the word Satisfaction.

I would like more satisfaction with my life. Who wouldn't?

What do I need to do to get more satisfaction?

Look at the last six letters of the word Satisfaction. They spell Action.

Now throw those six letters away. Throw away three more letters while you are at it.

What are you left with? That's right. Sat.

I think if I sat around more regularly, I would feel more satisfied with life.


While we are playing with letters, I want you to note that there is no I in Team.

But there is me in Team. In fact, without me, the team would just be ta. As in, ta ta, team.

Which, I suppose, must mean that I am the most important part of the Team after all. Which is what I suspected all along.


What games do you play during church lessons?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Concert in the park with loopy parents

Actual excerpts from conversations that occurred between 6:35 pm and 8:30 pm on Monday, August 16, 2010.

The cast of characters: My father, whom we shall call Earl. My mother, whom we shall call Ace. My son, Jonathan. Myself.

The event: A concert in the park that my parents read about in the newspaper, and decided to invite us to attend. Basque dancing and bagpipes. One issue: It didn't start until after Jonathan's bedtime. I initially told Jonathan no, we weren't going. But then Earl talked it up so much, and got so excited about it, that Jonathan begged to go. So we went.

**** Excerpts from Earl ****

Earl (in the car): I'm not actually that excited about the dancing. It's too bad they have dancing first.

Earl (listening to announcements): They do this every Monday? Why haven't we come before? This is really neat.

Earl: I don't actually like bagpipes. Don't you think they all sound the same?

Earl (minutes later): Should we go now?

Earl (next song): Let's go. We should go.

Earl (next song): Let's get out of here.

Earl (next song): Let's go. Don't you think we should go?

Earl (while packing up at the end, speaking to unknown lady next to him): I hear they do this every week. Have you ever been to one of these before?

(Lady: Every week.)

Earl: Oh yeah? This is really neat. We should go every week, too.

Earl (lady has left, now packing up his chair): Bagpipe songs really all sound the same.

**** Excerpts from Ace ****

Ace (walking toward the park): Do you hear the bagpipes? Isn't this fun?

Ace (as we arrive, dancers are dancing to the melody of a whistle and drum): Are those the only instruments they use? It's going to get a little old.

(We watch the dancing for a while. They finish.)

Ace: Let's have the bagpipes now. It's time for the bagpipes.

(Pipe band arrives and starts playing a tune.)

Ace: Oh! I know this song! Hum hum hum hum... something about the moon. Oh it's too bad Daniel isn't here. He would know all the words... hum hum hum ... on the moon... hum hum.

(next song)

Ace: This song isn't very interesting. Why don't they play something more familiar?

(next song)

Ace: I wish they would play something familiar.

(next song)

Ace: Oh a march! This should be better.


Ace: I don't like this. Why don't they play something we know?

Ace: This isn't very pretty.


(Last song)

Ace: Oh this is more like it... hum hum hum... This is the one they played in that movie. Ooo this is really pretty. Hum hum hum. Isn't this nice? Hum hum hum.... It's too bad they didn't play more familiar songs the rest of the concert. Hum hum hum....

(Packing up afterwords)

Ace: Isn't this neat? Let's go next week. Won't it be fun?


Me (walking back toward the car when the event was over): Do you two ever listen to yourselves talk?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Recent events

On Sunday, Jonathan gave his first talk in primary. He did a very nice job. He was fearless, needing no help from mom and dad. He spoke clearly and carefully. But listening to him speak with his little lisp, I kept thinking about how young he really is. He is so tall for his age, and so clever, with his own funny little personality, that I sometimes forget what a little guy he is.

*Aww* Tender mom moment.

Spanish is over for the summer as of today. Jonathan loved his Spanish class all summer long, and he learned a huge amount. He was putting lots of words into sentences, communicating with friends and teachers all in Spanish all after just 2.5 months. I am super impressed. In fact, I keep going back and forth on the idea of taking him back to their after school class twice a week to maintain what he has learned. But then I remember I would have to leave work early twice a week, pick him up in the car, and drive north a long ways. More commuting by car in our lives. So I think we'll go without, at least for a little while.

This means, of course, that I will no longer be spending my afternoons in the public library. I'm out of afternoons. I have a research conference next week in the city over the mountain, and then university meetings the following week, and then classes start.

*Sigh*. What happened to the summer?

It is melting into a blur of raspberries, apricots, and apples. And a new, massive, food dehydrator that we bought online a couple of weeks ago (which has been running pretty much nonstop). Apricots make yummy fruit rolls.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

On buying and living in a home

Letterpress put up a post on her blog, directing to a New York Times article, that I found so fascinating I have decided to turn my comment into a post.

The article argues that until very recently (this year), homes seemed to have been built and remodeled solely with resale in mind. Which appliances will attract the buyer? Vaulted ceilings and granite countertops. And bigger is always better.

Maybe that's why we had such a hard time finding a house. We were looking for a house to live in, not to sell. Of course, those of you who know our home buying story will be surprised. We bought our house sight unseen off the internet. What do we mean, hard to find? But it was one of a kind.

When we were looking for a home in 2008, we were looking purely for "livability" factors. Top priority: within walking distance of the places we need to be. By 2008, Tim and I had lived five years in campus housing, where everything was walkable, followed by three years in a beautiful newer home in commuter land, where I found myself stuck on a freeway for 30 minutes at a time, mornings and evenings, listening to children's music ad infinitum with a toddler in the back seat. From there, we moved to England for a year and did not buy a car.

Going a whole year without a car was tough. There were days when it was raining diagonally, I had a massive migraine, and yet Jonathan was at school a mile away and needed to be picked up. Bundled in my coat and overcoat, I grumbled to myself that these were the days that everyone else gave up their exercise routine. We didn't let ourselves have the choice.

But in spite of those diagonal rain days, we found we were overall healthier. We ate all the double cream that we wanted with no affect to our waistlines. We spent time together. Every day Tim and I walked and talked and laughed. Down the hill, through the park, to the preschool. Back across the park, and up the hill. Thirty minutes of walking rather than 30 minutes on I-35. What a difference.

We needed a home within walking distance of the places we needed to be. Number one priority.

The second thing we were looking for was a relatively small home. About half way through our year in England, we were shocked to realize that our house there was about the perfect size for our family. Permanently. There was a medium sized kitchen on the first floor, a master bedroom and living room on the second, Jonathan's bedroom and an office on the third. It was a typical mid-row house in a working middle-class neighborhood. It was all we could afford on my postdoctoral salary and a brutal pound-dollar exchange rate, and significantly smaller than working middle-class homes in Texas. But halfway through the year, we realized the space was perfect. Each room was used regularly. No space was wasted. No space was too tight. Cleaning took a couple of hours. That was it.

Looking for homes here in the mountains, the newer homes with the better wiring were over 40,000 square feet. Each. One. Of. Them. There are only three of us. Who was going to clean those extra 30,000 square feet? Who was going to heat the vaulted ceilings? While we really wanted the most modern electrical systems that money could buy, we couldn't justify purchasing all that wasted space. In the end, the house we found had all those England rooms on the first floor, plus a bonus basement. The basement has been nice. It's nice to have a guest bedroom for the occasional guest. It's nice to have a large playroom and a separate laundry and storage room. But we really don't use it as much as the first floor. I can't understand why families like ours would want 40,000 square feet.

Location, size. Price. And a garage was also a make or break deal here where it snows a lot.

We found a house that was perfect. It needed new electrical work, some modernization of the windows and decor, a new kitchen, new bathrooms. But we bought them for ourselves, for livability. Solid surface in the bathrooms -- no more scraping black out of tile grout. Solid surface countertops in the kitchen -- no sealing granite or stone, or chipping formica. Extra lighting in the living room where we would be reading. French doors opening to the back yard where we would be... um... apparently picking fruit.

And I love it. I really really love living here in this home. The colors, the lighting, the ease of cleaning. Riding my bike to the library. Walking to work. Dropping Jonathan off at school on foot. Neighbors and fruit trees and community. I hope it is years before we need to find out the resale value of this home. Because I want to live here longer.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Making jam

I am making jam.

Right now I am making jam.

Na-now-NOW! I'm making it.

The instructions said let it sit for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. So I set an alarm for 5 minutes. When it goes off I get up and stir and then reset the alarm. When I have gotten up 6 times, the 30 minutes will be over and I can add the sugar.

That's what the instructions say.

Only they didn't say 6 times. I figured that out myself.

That's mathematics, by the way.

I have already gotten up to stir several times.

I think maybe 4 times?

Actually, after the 3rd time I forgot to reset the alarm, and I read two email messages and sent one to my mom before I realized I had no timer.

Do you think reading two messages and writing one to my mom took five minutes? I am thinking it probably did.


Which means I'm almost done?

Actually, I have lost count on how many times I've stirred the jam.

What do you think happens if you stir too many times?

And what does a "finely chopped" apricot look like?

I guess I'll figure both of those things out by the end of the night. Or at least over the course of a year when eating jam.

One thing about jam, it doesn't really use that much fruit. You add 3 cups of fruit, but 5.5 cups of sweetener (sugar and corn syrup). So that's nearly 2/3 sugar, 1/3 fruit.

Which means even after tonight, even after making jam, I will still have a tree full of apricots --

'scuze me -- 5 minute alarm.

I'm back. I'm calling this the 6th alarm this next time, so I can finish.

Cousin Lisa came and helped pick three grocery bags of apricots. You can barely tell. So my offer still stands -- come and pick and help yourself to apricots.

My jam-making relatives bailed on me. They were going to come today and pick and then make some jam, but Peggy looked in her freezer and realized she already had more jam than she could use from the same tree, two years ago.

So I'm making my own jam.

Right na-now-NOW!

(Making jam is kind of boring.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I picked apricots off our tree for 15 minutes this evening. My big bowl was full. So I came inside, washed the fruit, put the mushy ones into a bowl for fruit leather, put the greener ones into a bowl for ripening, and put the rest into quart bottles for processing.

15 minutes of picking. Total yield: 7 quarts now in the canner. 4 trays of fruit leather. One medium sized bowl of greenish fruit still to go.

You can't even tell I pulled anything off the tree.

And Tim picked for a half hour earlier today.

This is a major problem with fruit trees. The apricots are all ripe Right Now, and there are a billion of them. Last week they were too green. Next week they will be too soft and rotten. Oh what shall we do with our evenings this week, friends?

PS - anyone local - you are welcome to all you want. Come and pick them. You can borrow our ladder, but bring your own bowl.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


A while ago, I was pointed to this article by another blog I read. Although the article talks about dads struggling with work/life balance, the sentence noticed by the particular blog was the following:

"When both husband and wife work outside the home, the woman spends about 28 hours a week on housework."

28 hours a week = 4 hours per day, 7 days per week on housework. The blog asked, Where do they spend all that time?

Now, most people think housework is cleaning, but re-reading the article, I think they're lumping cooking and child care in there with those 28 hours. When we do that sort of lumping, I easily spend more than 28 hours on housework.

Take last weekend, for example. After cleaning the kitchen floor, I played in the basement with Jonathan. He wanted to drive his trucks around, and I wanted the plastic lions to attack the trucks, which was only fun for so long -- for both of us. So after a half hour or so, I continued to supervise from the couch while he pulled out the space ships, and an hour later I woke up to Star Wars toys all over the basement, and one happy little boy still playing away. Child care. Quality child care by me, the mom. That plus the floor mopping adds up to nearly 3 hours that morning alone.

And I also get to count afternoons. Lately, Jonathan and I come home and play video games together in the afternoon. I resurrected Dance Dance Revolution, in my continuing quest for my 22 year old body. I play a round, he plays a round, I play a round. I get stars for housework and exercise at the same time. I think I count as a super parent.

And then Sunday. Sunday we all went to church as a family. If church doesn't count as housework, I don't know what does. And I've been making fruit leather. Each batch takes about 6-8 hours to dry. Three batches over the weekend and woah! I'm spending way way more than just 28 hours per week on housework. I'm spending way more than 28 hours per week on housework in just a single weekend.

Who are all those lazy moms who spend less?

Irrelevant fruit update: (for my own future reference)

I am still picking raspberries. Huge patches of them have dried and shriveled on the thorny bushes, but there are enough juicy ones still out there that I'm hauling in multiple pints every other day. But we're all pretty tired of raspberries, which means, I suppose, that there is an end in sight: We will simply abandon them very soon.

The cherries are done. All picked and dried and stored. Yes! Accomplishment.

The apricots are turning orange, and we've picked and eaten a few, and they've been really really good -- far better than anything I've found in a store recently. However, the tree is still covered with enough green fruit that we can't strip the thing yet. I'm guessing that will be this weekend's project.

However, lest you worry that with cherries finished and raspberries abandoned we will have no projects until the weekend, it turns out that a tree in the corner of the back yard produces summer apples. Last year it was empty, and so we thought perhaps it was decorative only, but no. This year it is covered in fruit. The fruit has grown large, turned from bright green to pale green, and has started falling off the tree. It is kind of a sweet-tart, and definitely ripe. And so we get to do apples now. Tim and I (mostly Tim) picked a huge cooler full of the fruit this evening, and he's really only removed about a third.

What are we going to do with all those summer apples?

To make the whole fruit compulsion thing worse, I've been reading a novel in which the moon is whacked out of orbit and the tides wipe out all coastal cities and volcanoes choke out the sun and kill off all crops and everyone is starving to death. Which makes me even more eager to pick and process and preserve all those apples so that we don't die when a giant asteroid really crashes into the moon. Except that if we only eat apple sauce for a year, we will surely suffer death by diarrhea. But we will be ok up until the bitter end, because recall we've got large quantities of apocalyptic toilet paper stored away for exactly such an event.

Irrelevant fruit update ended somewhere back there. (In case you were looking for that clue to pick up reading again.)

Anyway, picking apples and raspberries definitely counts as housework. We're up past 37 now since Friday. All this housework is exhausting. Off to bed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Adventures in fruit

As my dear followers know, we have a garden. It's actually a relatively small plot of land, but it's nearly completely covered in raspberry bushes and fruit trees. Now that it is July, and the raspberries are in season, I am in a desperate fight against time to save all that fruit before it rots away.

Why, you ask, do I bother?

Because all that fruit is good! And expensive if purchased elsewhere. And honestly I don't know. But for some reason, we are compelled to harvest and freeze and dry and store, in preparation for the long cold winter in which nothing grows for months and months and months. I actually think it's some sort of biological compulsion. The longer you live in places with miserable winters, the more your genes tell you to gather food like mad in the summer.


At the very least, I can post our efforts here, and you may mock us from a distance. Ah blogging.

So the fruit season is in full swing here at Artax Orchards. The black raspberries have been ripening in shifts since the 4th of July. We've spent hours picking them. Each hour yields about 2 to 4 pints.

The red raspberries, which are hiding in and around the black ones, have been ripening for a week, but they're really just taking off this week. For future reference: Red raspberries one or two weeks after the black ones.

So far, we've been eating them and freezing them. Alas, we cannot get double cream in this country, and so we have been making due with plain old whipping cream on our berries. Still very nice, even if not perfect.

What else do you do with about 10 pints of raspberries? I am not inclined to make jam. Especially raspberry jam, with all those little seeds to stick into your teeth. I'm thinking lots of smoothies.

Aren't they pretty looking? Who wouldn't want to collect all those? Especially given those hunter - gatherer genes?

For your further edification, let me tell you about the two major downsides to picking raspberries. The first is the fact that the average daily temperature is between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I realize that my Arizona and Texas friends are not impressed, but let's just say those temperatures are not conducive to fruit harvesting. The other downside are the thorns, and the scratches.

Isn't that an ugly hand? It's mine. The scratches will fade away in just a couple of days, but I am stuck with the hand. It will grow uglier and uglier until I die.

Anyway, for future reference: Raspberries from the 4th of July through the 21st, still going strong. Some of the smaller ones have shriveled and dried on the vine. How do you get all your berries to be the big, fat, juicy ones?

Topic #2. Sour cherries.

For future reference: The sour cherries just began to ripen around the second week of July. We are trying to pick them early this year, before the cherry flies find them. Our tree is smaller -- we have been trying to prune all the fruit trees down gradually to manageable sizes -- but we've still hauled in several quarts.
What do you do, you ask, with sour cherries? Well, Jonathan eats them. The rest of us extract their pits:
And then try to come up with some other ideas. As we are not bakers, we are not going to make pies. Actually, what we've found that we like is sour cherry fruit leather.

For future reference:
Recipe (which I made up, so I am going to write down for next year):
2.5 cups sour cherries, ground in blender.
Add about 2 tablespoons sugar or more, to taste (these are really sour)
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1 can applesauce, for texture.

Pour immediately onto fruit leather tray in food dehydrator. Do not think, "ah. Now I am done with cherries. I will put this mixture in the fridge until tomorrow and then dehydrate." For future reference: ground up sour cherries contain a lot of natural fruit pectin. If you put them in the fridge, you will have lumpy jelly the next morning rather than smooth fruit for drying.

So dry overnight. Then wake up early to check them, and realize they still aren't dry. Give them another hour. Keep checking on the stupid things every hour for the entire morning. Finally give up and wrap them up still sticky. Remember that this happened last year -- even if the manual says 5 hours of drying, it will be 10. Remind yourself not to wake up early just to check on the dehydrator. Stupid thing.

Topic #3. Currants.

We have picked the red currants, dear Reader. But we don't have an excessive amount of these. So we don't know what to do with them. I asked Google, and apparently the only thing you can really do with red currants is make jelly. My friend Lena, who knows these things because she has an honest English accent, suggested a bread pudding recipe. So maybe we'll go there. Meanwhile, the currants are keeping themselves company in the fridge.

Now, you are saying that this is an excessively long and boring post about fruit.

Reader, you have no idea how long and boring our fruit has already become.

Stay tuned for next week: the apricots are beginning to turn yellow.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Spanish class

In case you were wondering, and why wouldn't you be? Jonathan loves his Spanish class. They do all sorts of fun stuff in there. Snacks and food, drama, exercise, art. They move from room to room playing games, thinking they are just having tons of fun, when secretly they learning all sorts of Spanish. The teachers are brilliant.

And then, when those kids thought they would just slip away home to normal life after school was over, the teachers presented each child with their very own CD full of Spanish language tunes. And now even I am singing in Spanish, all day every day.

This means, dear Reader, that I can now converse with you in Spanish. I can say useful things like, "I am a pizza" with "lots of cheese" and "no bologna". In case you ask, I can tell you that "this is the dance of the colors." Also, "we are all like the flowers in the garden of life." Or, just to shake things up a bit, I also learned how to say "everyone eats the flowers in the garden of life", in case that becomes important.

As the primary taxi driver between home and Spanish, I am more involved in Spanish than ever before. And not just music.

Yesterday, Jonathan's teacher asked if I would participate in a parent survey to help the school attract more students. I agreed. I assumed she would ask me questions like, "why did you decide on our school?" "Why is a second language important?" That sort of thing. And they kind of did ask the second one. But rather than find out why we chose Spanish summer school, given all our options, the questions on the survey ended up being a sort of psychological profile of me. The parent.

Seriously. They asked me to describe myself in a few sentences. They asked me to tell them whether the world is a safe place or a scary place. Whether good things or bad things typically happen to me. How people who don't know me treat me. What things are important to me.

I thought it was a little weird. Oh my psychologist friends out there, why do you think the Spanish school wants to know these things about the parents who select their school? Perhaps they are envisioning some clever advertising campaign. Since most of the parents who enroll are optimists rather than pessimists, they can increase exposure to their target audience by posting their signs on the sunny side of the street.

No really. I ask because I don't know. Please someone explain to me what might have been the point of the survey.

Meanwhile, please do not step on the flowers in the garden of life. "No pise las flores en el jardin de la vida."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A random summer post

I love the summer. I have already explained that. But I shall tell it to you all over again. And then again.

I love the summer. I love that my toes are always warm and that I don't shiver uncontrollably upon exiting the shower. I love that my skin doesn't crack open. I love the smell of the air outside. I love that my yard is green and my trees are growing and I have flowers in front of the house. I love having a yard and a house in the summer. You can take them in the winter. You can shovel the snow and spread ice melt along the driveway and sidewalks. That is fine. But in the summer, they are mine.

Don't look, but the summer is more than half over. AAAH! NOOOO!

I was going to be out and active all summer long, torturing my body back into its 22-year old form. How has that been going, you ask? I feel guilt. I get about 20 minutes of biking in each day. Commuting. That does nothing for my Michelle Obama arms. How, I ask you, am I going to get Michelle Obama arms on a bicycle? I will just have to wait until the fall, when I begin commuting by foot again. Oh wait --

Another thing I love about summer is having more time to read novels. Unfortunately, this summer so far, I have not done enough reading of novels.

Nor have I written anything on my own novel.

Speaking of novels, if one wanted to write a novel, where would one store one's draft? Particularly if one's husband is always in front of the home computer? And one didn't want to put the draft on one's work computer because, um, one does not want one's boss reading it? And one has considered Google docs, but decided upon reading this article that one would not like Wal-Mart reading one's novel either before its advanced release date, in case one decides to sue Wal-Mart.

If one is going to sue Wal-Mart, one must have an impeccable Google footprint. And Facebook footprint. Since I keep forgetting to see what all my Facebook friends are doing, I am pretty clean there. But the Google docs thing would totally ruin my case. Who can take seriously a law suit by someone who writes that kind of drivel? Of course, those Wal-Mart lawyers would be all over this blog as well, but that doesn't bother me. Knowing my secret yogurt recipe would not actually affect my case. No, no. The purpose of this blog is to prevent me from ever running for President. Oh, and for the record, Google also reads my email, but I also keep that very boring. For example, when siblings email about birthday presents for my Dad, I suggest socks. Nothing is more boring than emails about socks. I hope Wal-Mart enjoys reading them.

Let's talk about summer and what it means at work. Summer means I get to spend all my time working on projects and finishing up those projects I didn't have time to finish during the school year. But alas, I have not finished as many projects as hoped for. Boo. They keep expanding. Like the Blob. I try to contain them in my fist like a ball of playdoh, but they leak out between my fingers and grow and grow until they eat me in a terrible display of 1958 movie special effects. (Did you ever watch that movie? I don't think I ever sat through it, it was so bad. But that doesn't mean it doesn't make an apt comparison for summer research projects.) But I love my job in the summer. It would be much more painful to take on the Blob during the academic year.

What else? Recall that we live in an orchard here? People keep asking when we expect certain fruits to be ripe. Then Tim and I scratch our heads and look at each other and ask, "Now when did that happen last year?"

For future reference: The first raspberries were ripe over the 4th of July weekend. A week later, the first sour cherries are ready to be picked. Apricots are still a few weeks away.

I will try to update as necessary. Of course, sometime next spring someone will ask me when I expect the cherries to be ripe, and I will scratch my head and look at Tim, and he will say, "Didn't you put that in your blog?" and then I will look back through the archives and find this post and read it a little ways until I realize it is all about Wal-Mart, and then look somewhere else. So, buried this deep in pure text, this information is actually lost to the world. Lost.

Like summer in just a few more weeks. Boo hoo. I love summer. Ah. Warm toes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Local 4th of July -- For future reference

1. The fireworks won't start until after 10pm. There will be plenty of time to leave the store, drive home, put the groceries away, gather blankets and jackets, and walk up the hill to see the fireworks. Plenty of time.

2. No matter how hot it was at 3pm, when the sun goes down and the wind comes out of the canyon, it will be cold. Cold, I tell you. This is the mountain west. We are not in Texas anymore. Bring a jacket and an extra blanket to put over the legs. And a few dollar bills to buy glow sticks.

3. Just because you park the car in a quiet neighborhood doesn't mean it will be quiet later, after the fireworks.

4. Indeed, quiet neighborhoods are full of stop signs, and not the four-way-stop kind. Stop signs, as opposed to traffic lights, turn roads into parking lots after major events such as fireworks.

5. My own street is separated from the nearby larger street by a stop sign. It will be a parking lot for an hour or so after the fireworks. Therefore, do not even think about driving, even if the sun has already set and you are already in the car returning from grocery shopping. See number 1.

6. The hot air balloon launch is definitely worth seeing. If they launch at 6:30 am, be in the field by 6:00 am. That means be near the field looking for parking by 5:45 am.

7. If the balloon launch happens three days in a row, pick a day to attend besides the day of the parade and the 5K. The day of the parade and 5K, there will not be parking. Even at 5:45 am.

8. No matter how hot it is predicted to be at 12pm, at 6:30 am it will be cold. This is the mountain west, not Texas. Bring a jacket.

9. Although the hot air balloon launch is worth seeing, the parade really is not, even if it lasts two hours, with floats and marching bands. Two boring hours.

10. But if you want to see the parade anyway, and you send someone with a few blankets at 6:15 am, you still have a chance to get front row seats. For the record, Janice found places for our blankets near the very end of the parade route, even as late as 6:15 am. Thanks, Janice.

11. Of course, front row seats will be in the direct sun on the asphalt. And no matter how cold it was at 6:30 am, after two hours in the sun on the asphalt, you will be too hot.

12. Bring sunscreen. Send Earl to buy popsicles. Thanks, Earl.

13. And for goodness sakes, get the kids to bed on time the night before if you really plan on finding a parking place at 5:45 am.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Because I should write something

I got caught in a thunderstorm today. A loud one. It takes me about 30 minutes door to door to walk home from my office, and the wind was blowing and a few drops falling just as I left my building. By the 10 minute mark, the thunder crashed and the rain came down hard, diagonally. By the 12 minute mark it was lighter. Hard again at 15. Over by 25.

When I walked in the door, my dad said, "You don't look all that wet." That's because the wind blow-dried me dry in those last 5 minutes. And plus, it really only rained for 10 minutes all told. Not enough to cancel the sprinkler cycle.

My dad has been staying at my house. Tim is away for the week, so Dad has been helping out. My dad and I do not see things the same politically or socially or ... we can probably just stop with not seeing things the same way. He wanted to have a "heart to heart" talk Monday night, meaning he wanted to ask a lot of personal questions and then give me a nice lecture about how he sees the world and how it must, therefore, run that way.

I tried to be calm and polite, but I think the lecture bothered me more than I thought it was bothering me because I woke up at 3am later that night and couldn't sleep. My dad has some truth in his head, but I don't think it's quite taking him in the right direction. And I don't think he cares to see that.

In similar news, I was interviewed about my research for an article for a college newsletter. The interviewer had no background at all in my field, or in any field of my college, in fact, so I tried to give her a basic picture of the very broad types of problems I look at, and relate these problems to things she might understand. I got a copy of the article today, and it's kind of on the right track, but she was missing a lot of key details.

That's the connection to my dad. On the right track, but missing some key details.

One word that he used in our conversation: "abomination".

When was the last time you had a conversation in which the word "abomination" was used? You've gotta meet my dad.

Anyhow, I have now written something.

The last time I wrote, it was still spring, but now it is summer. I love the summer. I love the way my toes are never cold. I love that I can open the windows a bit at night and breathe fresh air while I sleep. I love that the garden explodes into green pandemonium. And then I have to weed. I love having to weed.

And I love the summer thunderstorms, and getting caught in a thunderstorm (without getting struck by lightning). Which brings us back to where we began, and so here we shall end.