Thursday, June 30, 2011

Peepie Cheepies

A quick update on the finches who needed help with their nest:

6/20: Three little hatchlings, small enough to hide under the pile of fluff. You could see them poke their little heads up only when it was feeding time.

Today: Looking like awkward teenagers.

I suspect they will be gone by the time we get back from Downieville.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

First Week of Summer Vacation

Not much writing lately, as we've been too busy doing stuff since school got out.

The first week of vacation included:

1) A trip to Gilroy Gardens. I took her friend Jenna along too since it was "Bring a Friend Free" week. The place is small enough that they could explore the park in a more or less free-range fashion.

2) A sub-24-hour backpacking trip up to the Black Mountain Backpack Camp. Nim and I hiked in with most of the stuff on Wednesday afternoon; Chad joined us by bike after work. We enjoyed the sunset, stars, fog rolling in over the ocean, and city lights twinkling around the Bay, and had the entire place to ourselves. In the morning, Chad rolled down early to work, and Nimue and I headed out later in a more leisurely fashion. Nim carried her own sleeping bag and all of her stuff!

3) A most excellent piano performance by Allen Toussaint, as part of the Stanford Jazz Festival.

The second week of summer vacation started out with a dinner party (butterflied leg of lamb, grilled -- yum!), followed by me essentially giving my finger a gooseegg by slamming it in the garage door. Big purple swelling on the pad of the fourth finger on my right hand; the photo below does not do justice to the violently dark purple color it is at present, but does give you an idea of how much bigger it is than the other one. Nim said "You should be more careful with your body, Mommy!" and then got me ice and tea, all of her own accord. "That's what you do when I get hurt," she says. Good kid.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Butter Fail

I went mountain biking this morning, to shake off the aftereffects of helping with the early part of the end-of-year 3rd grade picnic of chaos. Naturally, going mountain biking means making butter.

Normally this is a straighforward process: add a spoonful of yogurt or buttermilk to a cup of cream and let it sit in the bottle overnight on the counter, put bottle on the bike and go for a ride, and drain the buttermilk/rinse the butter when back home.

Not so easy this time, sadly. I realized about halfway through my ride that I had put two cups of cream in instead of one, and they had rapidly whipped and expanded to fill all of the head space in the bottle. Doomed from the start. I figured it'd be no big deal -- just throw the goo in the stand mixer at home and that should be the end of it.

Not so. Ten minutes later, there was still no separation of butterfat solids from buttermilk. It was so warm in the house that I suspsected that was part of the problem. Let's add some ice water to the mess in the mixer to cool it off...

Fling! Watch the ice cube describe a beautiful parabolic trajectory across the kitchen, as the splotches of butter substance that came out of the bowl with it de-adhere and splatter everywhere. The cats will celebrate when they discover the happy scavenger hunt.

Still no separation of the buttermilk out. The gloop had a nice whipped texture, as well as a yummy flavor and aroma, so I delcared it to be "Delicious Buttery Spread". Selling these creations to the rest of the household is all about the right name -- Buns of Happiness (random leftovers chopped up, encased in bread dough, and baked) will be cheerfully eaten, whereas Cheesy Gloop (random leftovers mixed with cheese sauce and baked) is roundly rejected by the small one. In this case, the mystery substance is indeed quite buttery, and delicious!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Make your own gum kit

I've been fighting a cold for the last few days. The insides of my lungs feel like they are covered in sticky goo, and coughing it all out is slow going. So, when Chad got up early this morning to go out on a mountain bike ride, Nimue and I decided to slug about the house instead of going for a ride as originally planned. She lazily watched way too many cartoons, while I enjoyed the latte Chad made me before he left (thank you!) while reading in bed.

Eventually, though, I had to get up. I figured that *something* useful should be wrung out of the day, and headed out into the yard to find some gentle chore to putter away at. Maybe just some light weeding...

which led to the realization that the bushes needed to be trimmed,

which led to the thought that maybe the shredded cedar mulch sitting in the side yard should be put down on the spot that had just been weeded and cleaned up,

which led to the thought that perhaps the other section of the yard needed the same treatment...

You see where this is going. Eventually I managed to stop and emerged back into the house, battered in cedar tufts adhered to me with multiple varieties of sticky sap.

Thankfully, Nimue's morning pancake project hadn't involved any major kitchen mayhem. However, at this point, she had gleefully dug a project out of the pantry: The "Make Your Own Gum Kit".

If one of your kids ever receives this item of wonder, you might want to consider conveniently "losing" it. It looks like an innocuous little box with a few bags of stuff that need to be microwaved and mixed up, and voila -- gum appears.

Right. I was suspicious, and decided to have a snack before taking a shower so I could vaguely supervise the action. Good thing, too.

Step one: put the little bag of corn syrup in a cup of hot water so it'll be runnier and easier to get out of the bag. So far, so good.

Step two: Heat up the chicle pellets in a little plastic tray in the microwave. Nimue grabbed a spoon to stir it. Said spoon got covered in sticky goo, so naturally, she grabbed another spoon to scrape it off. Now there were two spoons covered in incredibly sticky, non-water-soluble stuff. Great. I stopped the process before any more spoons were involved, and got most of it back in the tray, and went out to the garage to find the Goo-Gone.

Step three: Mix the corn syrup into the chicle and knead the whole mess in powdered sugar. The usual powdered sugar mushroom cloud ensued; on the bright side, Nim knows how to clean this one up. I continued to work on the Goo-Gone-soaked spoons. Much kneading ensued.

Step four: Knead in the powdered flavor. Seems simple, right?
Not if you've already kneaded in so much powdered sugar that the mass is stiff and crumbly. Nim took a little break while I finished cleaning off the spoons, and then I effected a recovery of the crumbly gum by getting my hands wet and kneading in a little water. Sounds unwise, I know, but it worked -- aside from leaving a monolayer of sticky gum over every surface of my hands.

Step five: roll the mass out thin and cut into sticks. No way was this stuff touching my rolling pin or knives. We ripped off hunks and rolled them into gumballs instead.

The end product was a gum-like substance, which Nimue reports has good flavor...for about 30 seconds. "Kind of messy, but ok," she reports. Also the grumbling about kid kits that can't be completely done by the kids, on both of our parts. All kid projects should be water soluble, too.

So let's recap: sticky mucus in lungs, sticky sap covered in bark dust all over body, gum-covered hands. A humdinger of a Sunday morning, for sure. Nimue did learn the trick of cleaning gummy hands by rubbing them with olive oil before washing them. As I tried to scrub off the sap in the shower, it occurred to me that I should have brought the oil in there with me too. Clearly, I need a strigil. Or fewer sticky things in my life.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Crazed creatures this week

Insane cat.

Demonic butterfly on Mt. El Sombroso.

Results of tired Ma + crazed child.

Gratuitous mariposa lily picture.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Water Chickens at Alviso

Amidst all the weird June rain last week, I snuck out between showers for a quick mountain bike ride along the levees at Alviso Marina County Park. Naturally the length escalated as I rode from home, and added on loops at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge and Sunnyvale Baylands, leading to a delightful 40 mile ride. At any rate, there were a lot of scenic rain clouds to look at, as well as many, many shorebirds -- also known as "water chickens" in Nimue-parlance. Here are a few shots for you all to enjoy.

The hills to the east
Friendly-looking avocet
Great Blue Heron. This one surprised me by taking off and flying across the trail a mere six feet in front of me. They're big!
The blurs in the previous shot were actually part of an apocalyptic cloud of bugs; it was actually hard to breathe for about half a mile due to the sheer number of these little gnats. Fortunately, I eventually went around a corner into the wind and they all blew off. Blow up the picture and you will see layers upon layers upon layers of bugs.
Cute little white flower that was everywhere, which turns out to be an invasive non-native: broad leaved peppergrass.
Fun little scraps of trail along the way home. I'm amused by the juxtaposition of mustard-strewn singletrack with the high tech Silicon Valley buildings.
The interesting part of the route
If I had more time and inclination, I could have continued from Sunnyvale Baylands along the dirt road behind Moffet to Shoreline Park, then through to Palo Alto Baylands, and along another trail to Ravenswood Open Space Preserve. Then maybe across the Dumbarton Bridge to to the levees on the other side to ....

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Poor dumb birdies

I refilled the birdfeeder the other day in order to enhance the "kitty TV" experience -- the cats love to watch all the avian activity outside the big dining room window. As expected, the new seed attracted a bunch more birds, and it still being spring, a pair of house finches started to try to build a nest.

We watched them hard at work during breakfast for several days, but no nest was forthcoming. Upon investigation, I found a sad pile of twigs that had rained down on the bushes below the corner they were trying to colonize. Alas, the common house finch lacks both common sense and engineering skills -- this pair had spent days diligently trying to build a nest cantilevered out from a nearly nonexistent ledge.

Ah, I took pity and put some tape up, and an hour later there was a nest.

They're gonna have to manage the next step on their own. Stay tuned.

Bike Stoplight

One of my minor pet peeves is the bad habit of bike trails to have awkward spots that spit you out on the wrong side of the road or otherwise lead people to do bad things like ride the wrong way on the sidewalk to get from one side to its continuation.

This spot on the new section of the San Tomas Creek Trail is a delightful exception, as there is a clearly defined way to get from the trail on one side of the creek to the other. If you blow up the picture, you'll see that the lights on the special stoplight for bikes are bicycle-shaped :)