Friday, May 18, 2012

desert blooming

It must be spring time for Arizona.  The desert is in bloom.  You know how sometimes you'll see a picture of the desert and it can look pretty beautiful?  This is one of those times.  


Except that most of the flowering plants are landscaped plants around here, and our "real" desert is still the boring ugly desert that it normally is.

There are some parts of Arizona that are lovely, but we don't live in one of those microclimates.


However, I do have to say that our neighborhood has some lovely desert flowers going on.

I wish I had a better idea what all of these were.  I am slowly learning what types of plants are what, but for the most part, I have no idea.

By the way, I got a new camera.

Isn't it amazing?


Sunday, April 22, 2012

progress report

Hi, how are things? Did you hear we might have a college group reunion?  I just got done talking with Sarah and we decided that I should skype in.  Since I'm not, you know, in Iowa.

In the world of knitting, I have been working mostly on my secret project.  I'm onto the second ball of yarn now, and my project only has 26 rows left.  Yay!  I'm making so much progress.

The mice have been neglected.  I'm working on the body of the last mouse (the knight in shining armor), but I've been stuck on that same spot for at least a week now.

And that snake thing?  No progress.  It's just hanging around, hissing at me for leaving it unfinished.

I've been knitting a bit less lately.  First, there was the tri trip.  I was the designated driver, and the length of car ride tended to coincide well with a certain someone's nap time.  Which meant I didn't have a whole lot of down time outside of the car to work on things.

And secondly, I've been spending my free time on the computer doing chemistry tutoring.  Which has been great!  I didn't even realize how much I missed chemistry.  Plus tutoring.  I've missed that also.  This is seriously the perfect part-time job to have with a little one.  All I need to do is wait for nap time and then log in.  Although, I haven't gotten a pay check yet.  The web site was a bit convoluted about their algorithm for paying tutors, so we'll see if it's worth it or not.

How are things in the life of Amy?  I hope you are doing well.  You should share some projects!  I want to know how those birds are turning out.


PS.  There's a wet suit hanging in our garage and every time I see it out of the corner of my eye, I get freaked out that there's a person in there.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

tri trip

We had a weekend of fun in Phoenix and Tucson these past few days. James competed in the Marquee triathlon (olympic distance). It was his first time using a wetsuit and also using his new tri bike plus all the fancy gear that he has accumulated this last year.

Do I have pictures? No! I am so bad at taking pictures! I do have video, from which I might be able to eek out a still frame, but the cord for the camera is in the room where little M is sleeping. I don't think I should risk waking her. I'm so bad at this.

So each time that we go up to Phoenix for a tri we end up eating at PF Chang's. Last year we had a super friendly waiter that we remembered, and this year we had him again! Only I didn't recognize him at first because he grew all this facial hair and looked like that guy from Batman. Actually, yes. He looked exactly like him.

There you go! There's your picture! Anyway, the fun part was that he remembered us too, and even remembered where had sat the last time. I took that as evidence that he really did remember us and wasn't just placating us when we asked him if he was our waiter from last year.

I'm pretty impressed by people who have that kind of recall. I am the exact opposite. I saw this girl once on campus, and I kept thinking that I knew her from somewhere. It was bugging me, because I had this nagging feeling that I should know who she was. And finally I realized that she was my student from a semester ago. One semester ago! And it's not like I have hundreds of students at a time. There's at most 50. Not two months ago, I had known her by name. And then suddenly I could barely recognize her. There's no way I could go into the service industry. I'm just horrible at that sort of thing.

Okay. I braved the nursery and got the camera cord. Let's see if I can get a picture out of this for you. I mean, I could just put the video up, but then you would have to listen to my silly narration. Okay, there! A blurry picture of James in his alien helmet:

Pretty spiffy, huh? And it took way too much time for me to figure out how to convert a video to a blurry picture, so I think I'm done for now. Next time I'll take the camera out.


PS. Happy tax day to you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

some thoughts on science and inspiration

Happy Easter Amy!

When I was in elementary school we had a day of fun every year called "high interest day" where you could sign up to take classes that would teach you to speak a different language, learn to juggle, weave a basket, etc. I never signed up for the chemistry session, but I remember learning after the fact that it was the coolest class ever. Apparently, there were explosions and polymers and color-changing experiments. Everyone got to bring back some slime that they created, probably made with borax and glue. Science was pretty cool that day.

I had a student last year who probably wouldn't have gone to college if it wasn't for his high school physics teacher. I had him in a general chemistry class, but he was planning on signing up for physics classes next year and eventually majoring in the subject. High school physics really made a difference for him.

I foresaw a problem, though. He wasn't very good at math. And his chemistry-related logical reasoning skills were a little slow. I may have counseled him to consider another discipline.

And that really cool chemistry high interest day? It was exciting and cool and memorable. But it wasn't really science. Because science isn't just following a procedure or blowing something up. Some people might think that they are doing science by making a fun polymer. That may be an application of science, but without any type of inquiry or explanation of the phenomenon, I don't really think it can be considered science.

If we want our children to aspire to become scientists, I think we do need to include some of those fun days of play. And it helps to have inspiring teachers who encourage us to apply for college and who show us how much fun science can be. But I think we also need to teach children to think like a scientist would think; to pose questions, to interpret information, and to problem solve. I also think it's important to help aspiring scientists to embrace academic rigor, at the same time that we encourage, inspire, and promote a love of the discipline. I saw too many students who thought they wanted to go into science or medicine as first-year students, but who did not have the academic skills to follow-through.

Inspiration is great. It's important. It's essential. But we also need to know what a discipline is really like in order to follow through. In knitting, I may be inspired to start a project. But if I have just started to knit and do not have the basics down, I probably won't be able to manage something with cables or color or shaping.

I may be inspired to become a chemist, but if I don't know what that discipline entails, or what work is required of me, I doubt I will go very far.

Clearly there has to be some balance, because science instructors have an equal capacity to suck all the joy and creativity and mystery out of science. But I wanted to share my musings. I think there is a misunderstanding among some people as to what constitutes science. I like to think that science is more about doing and thinking than about listing facts.

What do you think?


PS. We have now broken half of our kitchen chairs. I feel like there should be a recall on this furniture.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

book of stories

I am really enjoying making toys right now. They are so much fun! And I wanted to share one more thing that can be done with these knitted toys.

Shutterly recently sent me a coupon for a free photo book, and I used the opportunity to make a picture book for little M. I took pictures of Tweet and Twiddle from around our neighborhood and put together a story.

The book turned out really well, and I am sure that M will enjoy reading about her birdlets' valiant quest to find their lost mother. She might be a little young still to understand the literary significance of this work, but I think she's already enjoying it on a baby level:

This was so easy to put together! I think it would make a great gift for a child, regardless of whether or not it followed the story of knitted toys or store-bought toys. The photo books start at $13, and shutterfly frequently has sales for these kinds of items (in fact, they have a sale going on right now). That's not too expensive, and it's a lovely way to create a home-made book.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

you don't have to be an aging hippie

I have been reading for a while about how sprouted grains are supposed to have great health benefits, but I never really pursued the topic. I kept finding bits and pieces of information about them, but never any recipes or directions. And I didn't pay much attention to these pronouncements of health anyway, since I don't have a grain mill.

But! I was reading in this cookbook about how to prepare sprouted wheat with just some water, a little bit of time, and a food processor. It won't make flour, but it can still be used in a loaf of bread. And as the book informed me, I don't have to be an aging hippie to sprout my own grains.

So here's how it works. You take some wheat berries and soak them in water overnight.

Then, you rinse them thoroughly in a colander, put them back in the jar (this time on its side) and let them sit on the counter for 8-12 more hours. You repeat this rinsing and resting process for 1-2 days or until the sprouts are about 1/4 inch long.

At this point, I believe you could dry the grains and then put them through your grain mill. But because that's not an option for me, all I did was add a little water to the wheat and process it all in a food processor. Then this milky-white concoction can be added to your bread dough.

For anyone who might be interested, here is the bread recipe that I used:
6.4 oz (1 1/2C) white flour
6 oz (1C) whole wheat flour
1.75 oz (1/4 C) wheat berries (which expands to make about 3/4 C of sprouted wheat berries)
5.4 oz (2/3 C) water (you will mix this in with the wheat berries when you process them)
3 oz (1/4 C) honey
1 oz (2 Tbsp) butter or oil
1 oz (2 Tbsp) orange juice
2 tsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt

You should knead the dough, give it a first rise before shaping the loaf, and then a second, final rise. This will bake for about 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Tent with foil halfway through, as the honey will make the loaf brown quickly. This will make one loaf of bread (though it can be doubled to make two, as shown below).

In the category of soft, spongy sandwich loaves, I found this to be delicously soft, spongy, and sandwichy. I couldn't quite pick out the flavor of the sprouted wheat, but then again, this loaf had a lot of extras in it, what with the butter and honey and all. I would like to try making a simpler loaf so that I can actually taste the sprouted wheat.

So there you have it! Sprouted wheat. And bread. And deliciousness.


PS. Has Kris done any sprouted grains? I'm curious since I know he's a big bread person.

PPS. I wish I understood the chemistry of this. I really haven't researched sprouted grains (and maybe I should to answer my questions), but I am wondering how the extra nutrients (zinc and iron and vitamins and what-not) appear after being sprouted. Where do they come from? Surely they don't come from the water or air. . . So is it just a re-arrangement of atoms in the seeds that form the nutritional goodness? I am curious. Maybe a rearrangement of atoms put these nutrients in a form that is more digestible to us?

PPPS. Okay. This is just a side-note, but for plants in general, the majority of mass that is accumulated by a growing plant does come from the air. It's from the carbon in the carbon dioxide. I thought I would share that since I would assume most people wouldn't know that. And because I think it is rather interesting.

Monday, April 2, 2012

one more stripe left

Actually, I lied. I have a third project going. (Well, a fourth if you count the socks in my closet that have been socking around for years without being worked on, but that project doesn't quite count because I've totally placed it out of my mind.) The third project is a snake: the green and purple striped snake. It just won't go away. And it's freaking me out.

I know it would take all of five minutes to fix up the tail (well, a tad longer), but for some reason I just haven't finished it. And it's lurking around, making me anxious, because I hate having things hanging over my head.

You see, I have decided that the perfect number of knitting projects to work on at one time is two. Any more that that, and one of them tends to get ignored. Yes, two is the best number. Two, because it's nice to have something a little bit mindless to work on and also another something that is a bit more complicated. Two, because it's nice to switch off between projects when you need a diversion. And two, because any more than that, and I feel like I can't keep up with everything.

I really need to finish that snake. I just have one more stripe left.


PS. I am sure you would disagree with me about this post. I suppose not everyone likes a finite number of projects at one time, but for me, that's the way life is. I hate having things hanging over my head.

PPS. I got a touch of sunburn the other day. Our Arizona summer is warming up already.