Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu -- schools aren't messing around

Because I both have a kid in school and work in and around many schools, it's been interesting to note the strong response to the swine flu story that's been developing over the last few days.

Basically: one kid gets a fever with flu-like symptoms = school shuts down for a week. They're not messing around. It'll be interesting to see what fraction of local schools end up closed; hopefully the current trend of local cases being merely mild (rather than something worse) continues.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Juniper Tams

When we moved into the house last year, there was a section of the front yard that had been entirely taken over by a gigantic swath of juniper tams. These had the benefit of being green and not needing any attention to stay that way, but they're not nearly as attractive as many other plants that do just as well around here and they were eating a lot of space that could be put to better use (for example, for edible things). Plus, this particular plant looms large in my childhood memories as "Evil Ball-Eating Bushes".

When I was about Nimue's age, one of the things my neighborhood friend Janelle and I liked to do was to play with our little rubber bouncy balls out in the driveway. However, there was a large-ish patch of these bushes next to the walkway in their yard, and if one wasn't careful, or or the ball just made a bounce in an unlucky direction, it would land splat in the middle of the bush, never to be seen again. The tams were too dense for even the bounciest of super balls to bounce back out, and too dense to see through, much less reach into to rescue the ball, and were itchy to boot. Sort of like a rash-inducing black hole for one's favorite toys.

Nasty evil ugly things. Needless to say, the extra-large overgrown section of these in our current yard had to go.

When my dad was visiting last fall, he hacked into the morass of tams as a warm-up to the tree trimming project, reducing the volume by about half, and partially unearthing a line of rocks that had clearly once delineated the edge of the bushes before said bushes went feral. This improved things immensely, by we never quite got around to cleaning up the newly cleared area, and it weighed on my conscience.

About a month ago, we transferred my old citrus trees out of their pots into the newly liberated ground, and last weekend I finally got around to pulling out all the weeds, removing another section of tams and trimming the remainder into a smoother shape, excavating old rocks (it felt like I was conducting an archeological dig to discover the old form of that section of yard, as all the old stuff had clearly just been buried),making a new border, ripping out roots of the removed section of bushes (down with the ball-eating bushes: muahahahaha!!!), and planting a cantaloupe plant. Chad and Nimue helped by putting in a new layer of sweet-smelling cedar mulch. A pumpkin plant will go in next month, and if things conform to my vision, the vines of that and the cantaloupe will spread along the edge of the remaining bushes, looking festive and providing gourds.

A slowly-evolving project, but this section of front yard that used to be almost entirely covered with evil ball-eating bushes is finally much improved. I also ripped out the expiring fava bean forest out of the veggie plot in the back and dug in the last 6 months worth of compost, so the tomatoes have a happy home in the ground now too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Back home after visiting WA

Nimue and I took advantage of her spring break to head up to Washington for a few days. While there, we had a chance to visit my parents, a friend from high school, and my brother and his family. Much trampoline fun, a little rain, a trip to see Mt. St. Helens (Nimue is currently obsessed with volcanoes), and a last-minute concrete project ensued. Here are a few of the pictures:

As is often the case, even an absence of a few days can lead to one noticing changes in one's home environment.

1. It got a lot hotter -- temperatures above 90 for the last couple of days, leading to all manner of critters sunning themselves on the road. I saw no fewer than three snakes this morning, and myself got to eschew all the winter layers to which I've been accustomed for shorts and a tank top. My bike shadow looked unusually svelte.

2. Yet another fava bean crop to harvest. This was the biggest yet, as I filled up the garden hod that Linda gave me for my birthday. (Hod, hod, I like the word hod. For my birthday, a useful new tool and a new word!) The plants are starting to look like they're almost done, so I'll have the space liberated for the rest of the tomatoes soon. I spent more than half an hour shelling the beans on Monday, and much as I like them, am ready for a change.

and my favorite:

3. The pattern of squirrel roadkill on the way to school is entirely different. Given the large number of fruit trees in people's yards around here, the squirrels are fat, happy, and slow. They get run over by cars with astonishing frequency, and are thus transformed into semi-squished roadkill. This starts out fresh and rather intact looking, but over time, the little corpses desiccate in the sun and get flattened as more cars run them over, until all that remains is a series of squirrel agonies tattooed on the street. One can use them as landmarks, for a time. The street sweeper must've made its quasi-periodic ramble through the neighborhoods while we were gone, as the street tattoos have been replaced by a plump new batch.

or my other favorite:

4. The house was cleaner on our arrival back home than when we left, thanks to Chad's delightful efforts :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I wrote "OK NOW WHAT!?!" on the driveway.
It's really funny!

Flying Palm Fronds

It's been crazy windy here today -- various weather sites are saying it's gusting to 30 mph in Sunnyvale, but I suspect that's a bit of an underestimate based on what I can see outside. I just diagnosed the strange noises on the roof as palm fronds falling from the neighbor's tree onto our house and then being blown across the entire roof over to the front courtyard on the other side of the house. The amount of bend palm trees can exhibit without breaking is quite impressive... Chad will have an interesting ride home from work tonight.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Yet another holiday, and as is the habit of six-year-olds, Nimue was wound up and crazo. She left a carrot out for the Easter Bunny on Saturday night, and woke up bright and early on Sunday -- around 6 am, I heard her piercing voice say "Maybe I was so good, I got all this!" "All this" included a bunny that I crocheted for her in addition to the loot that the EB left for her, because she has been good.

After leisurely toast and coffee, Chad hung up our new birdfeeder and the strawberry basket I planted earlier in the week, and then we headed off to Todd and Sarah's on the tandem for brunch. A fine pagan spring celebration including much good food, egg hunting by the small, and mimosa imbibing by the not-so-small ensued.

Todd was presented with a bunny costume that his daughter Cathryn made for him, so he had to be the Easter Bunny and hide all the eggs. (Chad's just lucky that Nimue didn't think of making him a costume....)

Happily, there was time afterwards to collectively sit in the sunshine in the back yard full of blooms and read/nap, before enjoying grilled mango-coconut shrimp for dinner. And more CHEESECAKE for Monster Ma.

Oh -- You look like Monster Ma!

As you all know, my birthday was last week, and I haven't posted anything as it's been a slow-developing event. A few musings:

1. Nimue greeted me with the title of this post sometime during the day. It seems appropriate given the comparison of my old drivers licence picture (taken shortly after I started grad school) and the new one I just got. The two pictures are clearly of the same person, but it appears that in the last 10-15 years I have made the transition between looking like Bambi (Sarah's description) to Monster Ma (Nimue's). Chad made a very diplomatic comment about the general evilness of DMV photography, but if I extrapolate from the two existing data points, the next picture will portray me as a demented hag.
No, I haven't gotten a strange dye job, just bad lighting....)

2. Nimue presented me with a lizard flashlight. If you press on its back, its mouth will open and shine light. Monster Ma has a new familiar. (insert cackle here)

3. The planned ride up Mt. Hamilton: You don't need the gory details. Suffice it to say, the tire gods, who had been mercifully ignoring me through the rainy part of the cycling season decided that the morning of April 10 was the time to turn their baleful eyes in my direction. Ride rescheduled to later in the month when it's likely to be warmer anyway. Monster Ma thwarted. Grrrr.
(Chad and I did get a mellow ride into Palo Alto for lunch, where we had delightful panini and cake at the Prolific Oven. Monster Ma mollified.)

4. Cake. Mmmmmm. Monster Ma like CHEESECAKE. Monster Ma HUNGRY!! Monster Ma GET cheesecake !!!!! Monster Ma satisfied :)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ginger And Bubby

Ginger and Bubby have had they're wedding.
Me and my Famliy did not get to see it.
They're Honey Moon is inside the cabnet with the placemats and

Saturday, April 11, 2009


It's been pretty quiet around here and I always look outside and look at the plants. I like playing
in the yard and help Ma with the gardening. It's so much fun!

Chess Club

Nimue's school lets out the kids third grade and under out at 12:45 every Friday. I hate this, as it leaves me such a short block of time free compared to the rest of the week. Fortunately, if you are on the ball, there are a number of after-school activities throughout the year that one can sign up for, conveniently scheduled to fill in the gap on those early dismissal Fridays.

For the last couple of months, this was a science program about space and rockets, which Nimue naturally had a lot of enthusiasm for, given that she's been obsessed by space since about the age of three. Alas, that ended at the end of March.

Several weeks ago, Nimue came home with a piece of paper advertising the next session of activities: Friday afternoon chess club. Despite the fact that I was dubious about it (I personally find chess to be tedious, and was worried about Nimue getting frustrated and thus having howling fits), I decided to sign her up anyway because she seemed really excited about the idea. And as I already mentioned, it gets around the early dismissal problem.

The information sheet said that there were 100 spots that would be filled on a first-come first-served basis starting at 8:15 out by the flagpole in front of the school on one particular day, so I figured I'd just hang out after dropping her off and sign her up. Clearly not a task that should take a long time, right?

Wrong. It's a really good thing that she and I usually ride into school early enough to avoid the nasty traffic mess (we usually get there around 7:55). After locking up the bikes I headed over to the flagpole to find a line of about 35 people already waiting. By the time 8:15 rolled around, there were 120 parents in the line -- more than the open number of spots. For chess club????? Weird. The line moved pretty slowly, and no one gave up after seeing how long the line was, meaning some people were there waiting in that gigantic line for probably at least an hour just to get on the wait list. For chess club??? The mind boggles. I got to the head of the line after about half an hour and was lucky that there were still spots available for her grade level.

I mentioned this to my friend Sarah, and she made a good point: at this age and stage chess club is pretty fun because it is an opportunity to hang out after school and play games with other kids. Particularly for an only kid like Nimue, this is a good thing :) I've been happy to note that the people running it have kept it all pretty non-competitive, at least in the beginner room where Nim is, so it's really all about learning the game and having fun. As Nimue put it: "Who cares who wins? It's fun!" Good girl.

Of course, she comes home and wants to play chess here too, but happily, Chad is quite willing to sit down and play with her once in a while. (I'll play Scrabble, or one of the rail games, or any number of card games instead.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

First Rose of the Season

Our first rose of the year opened up over the weekend -- I noticed it while I was out planting tomatoes, herbs, and strawberries in the side yard.

Saturday Morning Sloth

Nimue quite enjoys burrowing in the big pile of fleece pillows I made for the family for Christmas and watching gentle cartoons on PBS on weekend mornings. This allows us to sleep in .... until 8am ....

She also regularly finds a channel on which to check the weather report, which is sometimes useful. I would have had no idea it was going to rain this week without her warning, as it has been acting like the land of eternal sunshine lately. While we need the rain badly, the selfish part of me hopes it's all done and gone by Friday for my annual almost-on-my-birthday ride up Mt. Hamilton.


Fun at work

One of the more jolly things I've been doing at work lately is accumulating a series of Gigapan pictures of the Guadalupe River for us to use in classrooms to study parts of the river that the kids don't get to see on the field trips. For those of you not familiar with Gigapan, it is a robotic camera mount that allows one to take a set of several hundred photos in a full 360 degree panorama and stitch them together into a single image that one can then explore in great detail. I finally sat down to figure out how to embed them into the teacher blog at work, so you get one too...

Double-click on a part of the panorama to zoom, drag it to move around, or click on one of the snapshots at the bottom to see where it is located in the bigger picture. (Be warned, this only works well if you have a fast web connection -- i.e. not dial-up....sorry....) If you want to see more of mine from work, go to and search on "biosite", or just look at all the other cool images that others have taken!

I should mention that I found out about the Gigapan from Chad, who is peripherally involved with this at NASA.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Robot Bears, AKA Nimue's Cookies

Nimue decided to make the peanut butter bear recipe out of her cookbook yesterday afternoon, and as I had plenty of other things to work on, I let her do it largely on her own. Aside from her discovery that turning the stand mixer on high when it is filled with flour creates a "flour storm", she did pretty well.

The recipe calls for miniature chocolate chips for the eyes. I only keep the standard-sized ones in the house, which meant that the cookie bears had mutant big eyes when she first put them on (better after baking). Here is her reaction -- if you weren't convinced she is delightfully goofy, this is yet more proof...

And of course, after the first tray of bears, she moved on to making bunnies and cats :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New Record in March

Just got done looking at the data out of my bike computer for the month of March, and was very surprised to note that 551 miles had been logged. That's a new record! (The only other time I've broken 500 was the month just before the STP in 2006)