Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I just realized that it hasn't even been a month since we returned from our epic summer trip.  Not even a month and it feels like we've been back forever, in some of the good ways and a few of the bad ones.  There are already days that I'm dreading a bit and obligations I'm coming to regret - but so dramatic! Really, with the turn of the weather this week it finally feels like we're no longer pretending it's summer.  So, it's probably time to play some catch-up before the leaves turn.

Some of the mornings when Eliza's off to school (for 43 minutes. 43.), Ani jumps on the chance to do something together, just us.  Sometimes it's whoopin' me at a card game, and sometimes it's reading one of the math books she loves (called, ahem, "I Love Math" books by Time Life), but sometimes she pulls me out to our stoop, me in my pajamas, to draw the flowers.  Those are probably my favorite mornings.

I can see the real shape of the flower when I'm drawing it! It looks different than I thought it did...She is drawn to the details, the counting of petals, the tube that draws the bees in deeper and deeper towards the nectar.  We don't always get the picture just right, but the sitting and the looking is Time Suspended.  I could use more of that.

We aren't seeing much of Dan these days; he's not only wearing his professor hat, but he's got on his director hat, so he finishes one and immediately starts the other.  We managed to snag him for a quick birthday celebration at the end of August just before rehearsals began...

...and when he has the chance to come home for dinner, before going back for rehearsal, it is an opportunity for celebration: tonight it was homemade spaghetti and meatballs, with garlic bread, salad and apple pie!!  Ani made it in her baking class at coop today and was so tickled to share it with us!

And speaking of baking (I know, this is all over the place, but that's what catching up is, right?), we came home from our trip determined to have a shabbat dinner for our family, in the spirit of the shabbat dinners we've shared with our dear friends in Seattle.  We've managed it once, complete with challah. In fact, Ani said that we probably shouldn't call it shabbat dinner since we aren't actually Jewish, but suggested that we could call it our Family Challahday.  Which meant we had to make challah. It made our house smell exquisite...

Must. Touch. The. Challah.

And that doesn't really bring us much closer to caught up, so I guess I'd better get on that.  I'm also thinking that while meatballs and apple pie were pretty awesome, it's probably time for another Family Challahday...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

calling all nerds!

Please tell me you're watching - or are way ahead of me and have already watched - the new Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson!  We started it as a family this weekend and watched two mind-bending episodes in a row and WOW. I took notes. I drew pictures. I wanted to watch it all over again when it was done, and I can't wait for Sunday when we will sit together and watch MORE.  Thank goodness Dan is our resident "starboy"; he can further explain most of what I just don't get, but the exciting thing is that most of it I do get. It is awesome. 

I won't be ruining anything for you to tell you that he mentions an incredible and extremely common creature called the tardigrade.  I'm guessing you haven't seen one and the reason is that they are microscopic and live in lichen and moss. However, in spite of being so small, they are the creature that has survived the major extinctions on Earth. There are fossils that date back to the Cambrian period.  They can survive being frozen, they can survive temperatures of 350 degrees (F). They can even be dehydrated and reconstituted many years later.  We are talking about a creature that is more resilient and far cuter than the cockroach - its cuddly names are "waterbear" and "moss piglet" - and I'm a bit obsessed.

So we set out to find one, Ani and I.  She pilfered her local supply of moss (replanted from our roof; she convinced the folks from the rental company who were cleaning our gutters that it was worth saving, so they gave her large pieces to relocate and tend to) and soaked it in water overnight. Following these instructions we then squeezed out the moss, set up the microscope and started looking at the water left in the bowl, drop by drop.  There are so many cool things to look at in the water - long worms and zippy little single-cell organisms, busy paramecium - and finally, we found what we were looking for.  A tardigrade, nuzzling its way along a tiny piece of moss. 

We were seriously excited.  We alternated between taking turns at the microscope, to watching a youtube video of tardigrade moving about, to jumping up and down.  I was a little worried that it would be hard to keep track of it, but tardigrade apparently means "slow walker" and especially compared with the crazy traffic of everything else whipping through there, it was definitely moving slowly.  

So excited that I tried taking photos through the microscopes, and you know what? They're awful, but I'm going to include them here anyway, 'cause it was that cool and if you know what I'm talking about, chances are you are just as excited about it as I am.

tardigrade, upside-down - one of its eight legs is visible
I think this is its sucking mouth
each of the eight feet has four toes with claws.  yowza!
A friend stopped by this morning and saw my drawing of a tardigrade on the chalkboard (obsessed) and exclaimed "Waterbear!!!" and I was so excited that she recognized what it was (she had met a woman in Alaska who spent four years studying these creatures, how cool is that?) that I got the microscope and the mossy water back out so we could find another. Which we did. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

homeward bound

Going home felt different from our travel westward.  I guess it partly felt like the adventure was behind us; we had less flexibility on the way back, with more pressure to get home for The Next Thing.  Even so, it was beautiful and so interesting, watching the land change as we drove by.  This is one big goldang country!! Nothing drives that home better than, well, driving it.

Eastern Oregon

Bruneau Dunes State Park
Common Nighthawk

the last tent spot in the Gros Ventre campground, Grand Tetons

can you see the pronghorns???
Thunder Basin National Grassland - also home to the largest surface mine in the country.

South Dakota
Crazy Horse monument

Badlands, SD

Minnesota - this was the day that we started at the far western edge of South Dakota and by the time we hit the Badlands we were thinking, hm, I bet we could drive aaaall the way to Wisconsin by midnight. And so we did!

The soundtrack for this particular leg of our trip was amusing: in a sanity-saving measure, the girls, with massive headphones, were "allowed" twenty minutes of singing at the top of their lungs before we moved into a more quiet driving mode for the last few hours.  What this sounded like was a mash-up of Taylor Swift and The Beatles.  If not the best combination, it was entertaining, and we still had enough sense of humor left to find it pretty funny...

I-90 and a sampling of the insects of eastern South Dakota
These were long driving days, but they were spent with the Snake River, dozens of osprey nests, miles of sagebrush, and wide, mesmerizing skies.  As we got closer to Wisconsin, I could feel Dan moving into work-mind, and I felt like I was mourning the passing of our vacation.  When was the last time I had a relaxed husband spending weeks of adventure with me?? (That should probably be rhetorical, but seriously - I have to think it was before our girls came along. Twelve years?)

Five weeks, 7,000-some miles, one new radiator, 13 nights camping, 2 nights in a hotel motor inn, and the rest on the floors, couches and spare beds of many kind friends and family...
I'd do it again in a heartbeat.