Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am in the midst of baking pies now, both pumpkin and pecan.  It is the usual thing I do for Thanksgiving; time was, my mother-in-law made the pies, and her mother would come over at some time during the year to make the pie crust.  But Grandma Brown passed on, and so I ended up making the pies, as I learned how to make decent pie crust at Federal Way United Methodist Church during their pie baking sessions for their yearly bake sale at our Holiday Faire. 

The pecan pie recipe has been handed down from generation to generation in the Brown family, and their roots go back to at least the early 1700s in Maryland, around Harbaugh Valley in the Sabillasville and Thurmont area. I suspect the recipe goes back that far, with modern modifications (yes, Karo syrup is one ingredient, which I believe was created around 1900 or so).  I am willing to bet, though, that the recipe was originally made with maple syrup, or some kind of cane sugar syrup. I will have to try that kind one of these years. The Karo syrup version that I have was Grandma Brown's recipe, and her mother's recipe before that. I wonder if Grandma Brown's grandmother made the pecan pie with maple syrup or cane sugar syrup?  I understand there are recipes where it's just sugar and eggs, too.

The pumpkin pie filling recipe is from a Quaker cookbook given to me by a friend, Genny, for my birthday, the year I was married.  It's called "Quaker Flavors" and was put together by the Willistown Friends Meeting, Goshen Road, Chester County, Pennsylvania.  It's well-worn and has spots on it from accidentally spilling things on it, as it is full of hearty and "down-home" recipes that can easily be favorites for any American family. I have modified the pumpkin pie recipe a bit, because I use the puree from the cooked Halloween pumpkins we put out each year (don't worry--the pumpkins were well washed and sanitary before I cut them up and cooked them). Yes, it's totally from scratch.  Because the pumpkin puree tends to be more liquid than paste, I put nonfat dry milk in it so that it isn't runny and cooks well.  One of these days I will experiment with different ways of cooking the pumpkin so that it's more of a paste than a puree.

I haven't modified the pecan pie recipe at all, as it's something that's been handed down, and it's tried and true. Why mess with perfection?  However, the pumpkin pie recipe has been through more than a few modifications, because of making it from pumpkins instead of puree in a can. One of these days, I'm going to write down the process and the recipe.

When I thought about how these recipes came to be, I used to wonder whether I would be able to pass them down to younger folk in my family. I am happy to say that my son has turned out to be a very good cook, so he is capable of doing it, but when he became engaged to Amy, I found out she makes perfect pie crusts.  So, when the time comes, I will be able to pass down these recipes to Derek and Amy, and know that the Brown and Harbaugh recipes will continue to their generation.  There are other recipes I have had from my mother-in-law June (chicken pot pie, wilted lettuce salad, cole slaw), that I will have to bring out.  

June has dementia now, unfortunately, and no longer cooks or bakes.  I am sure there are recipes that she has that I haven't heard of or experienced.  I think tonight, when we go to the elder Harbaughs' house tonight, I will ask John senior if I can look over her recipes, and perhaps take them home.  It would be sad if those treasured recipes were lost.  I'll like to try them out, and I'm sure that Derek and Amy would like to try them out as well, since they like cooking together.

There is a feeling of goodness and abundance in having old family recipes to cook and pass on from one generation to another.  It is a loving tradition, I think, one that has so much love and care and nurturing in it.

May you all have such traditions, old as well as creating new ones, that will tell generations hence that there was care and nurturing here, passed down in love.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How My Mother Came to Love Opera

I spontaneously wrote this story on Facebook, and because people seemed to like it a lot, I thought I'd make it more "permanent" here on my blog. I wondered whether I should put it on my writing blog (Playing With Words) or my Pollyanna Files blog, but decided on the Pollyanna Files because it's less business and more to do with life.  I've fixed it a bit, because hey, I'm a writer and I will tweak words forever if I had the chance. Anyway, here it is:

Between work and other stuff, I haven't written a whole story in a long time. But because I have a little bit of time, I am going to write a story here, right now on Facebook. It is a true story, one that really happened.

It is about how my mother came to love opera.

In about 1939 or so, when my mother was in elementary school in the town of Sasebo, the children were called into the assembly hall to listen to announcements from the Japanese government. The country was engaged in war, and was very nationalistic, and had decided to reject anything that was not Japanese, and of course this meant anything Western. This included books, magazines, music, and art. It was to begin the next day.

The music teacher, a lovely young woman with a classically-trained soprano voice, then announced--with the principal's agreement--that she would sing everything that she knew and loved.

The teacher began to sing all the opera she had memorized. She sang Puccini and Wagner, she sang Donizetti, Bizet, and Mozart. It was the most beautiful thing my mother had ever heard. She felt that heaven had entered through her ears.

After it was all done--hours that seemed like minutes to my mother--the teacher fell silent. All the children broke out in cheers and applause, but my mother noticed that all the adults--the teachers, the principal, and the parents--were weeping. She could not understand why the adults cried over such beautiful music.

After that day, the teacher never sang opera again. My mother did not hear that glorious music in all the years of World War II. She did not know what happened to that teacher during the course of the war, whether she lived or died.

But through all the deprivations, deaths, and starvation during and just after the war, my mother remembered that music, the beauty of it. She told herself over and over again that one day, she would hear it again, no matter what.

And so it happened. Many years later, when my father was stationed in Japan during the Korean War, my mother met and married him. When she came to the U.S., understanding that this was indeed the West, and therefore must have Western music, she heard it on the radio, and once we got a record player, she bought it. Maria Callas, Mario Lanza, all the greats.

As a result, I grew up listening to opera, and when I asked my mother why she loved it so, she told me.

And now, I am telling you.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What if there was a structural engineering reality show?

I am learning new words at the day job: eigenfrequency, eigenmode, and eigen response. Or trying to, because these have to do with vibrations and linear algebra.  Vibrations, I can understand. Linear algebra, not so much. 

Structural engineering. So exciting. Mmm hmm.

Actually, I was chatting with the hubby during lunch, and we were discussing a potential reality show, maybe entitled, "Breaking Bridge," or better, "Erection America" (attention-getting title, yes?)  featuring the trials and tribulations of a structural engineering company. You could have these engineers go onsite to inspect construction, or dive under water to analyze structures, and there are those problems that inevitably come up when some contractor or other has a problem with the design or vice versa.

And of course there are such dramatic events as an engineer inspecting a bridge that needs repair, only to report back to the local city council that it’s in danger of collapsing and has to be closed NOW (cue dire near-death music, interview with city council members on how they had no idea, and how scary it is that citizens were THAT close to DEATH).

Suspense is added when environmentalists threaten protests because the river has salmon spawing in it, and disgruntled commuters complain about the increased traffic, so heroic engineers have build everything FAST in a small window of time so as not to further endanger this species, while trying to make the bridge as safe as possible for the disgruntled commuters.

And then a new bridge is built, with a separate pedestrian/bicycle bridge.  There would be interviews with local citizens who say they absolutely love the new bridge. Show children bicycling happily across the new bicycle/pedestrian bridge, pedestrians pointing out the happy salmon spawning below, with parade of cars honking cheerfully in the Grand Opening Parade over the new bridge. (Cue relieved and happy citizen music.)

It would so work.

It could go on the same network as “Ice Road Truckers,” “Axe Men,” and “American Restoration.”  I think that’s the History channel.

Right?  Right?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Fabric, yarn, and ghosts

Yesterday, I went with my mom and my sister-in-law Margaret to the Sewing and Stitchery Expo in Puyallup, WA. We always go every year, as Mom is one of the Clothing and Textiles Advisors (CTA--which for some reason makes me think of something like "counter-terrorism agency") who help organize the event.  If you're a fiber artist, into sewing or knitting, this is the place to be.  There are tons of helpful workshops and an abundance of vendors selling every type of fabric, yarn, notions, and machines to fill a crafter's heart with joy. People from all over the country and even out of the country come to this expo. 


I went in thinking I'd not buy anything, or if anything, just one item.  Foolish, foolish me! I came away with a skein of furry yarn (to go with some yarn I already have, so as to make a fancy shrug), 8 oz of alpaca fiber (from Longbranch Fiber Farm, which has VERY soft alpaca fleece, and almost NO guardhairs), and a pair of lovely fine silk scarves from Leilani Arts. I could not believe it, but those scarves--quite large--were only $10 each!  What a deal! They also had some very, very tempting Merino Irish Donegal Tweed yarn (actually made in Ireland), worsted weight, two skeins of which would have been perfect for the shawls I've been obsessively making, but I refrained, as I have yarn I need to go through first for those projects. Yes, I was strong, strong, I tell you! Because those skeins were very lovely and so, so soft, and at a very decent price. 

Margaret was about as foolish as I was, for she also had vowed not to buy anything, but of course came away with some to-die-for cute vintage embroidery patterns, and then she got stuck somehow looking at more vintage goods, as well as buying SOMETHING (which I will not reveal, because she is making it for a certain SOMEONE who may read my blog) that I am sure that SOMEONE will like a great deal.

As for quilters...well, if you have not gone to the expo, this is quilter heaven. The fat quarters were plentiful and diverse, and the displays of quilts were glorious.

I was happy to see Maker's Mercantile at the Expo, which is the brand new retail shop that features the famous Skacel Collection (of the fabulous Addi Turbo needles and other fine notions and scrumptious yarn).  I had noticed this shop on my way back from shopping at the Uwajimaya's Renton store, and of course had to stop in because, hello, YARN. It also has RylieCakes within the shop, which is a gluten-free cafe full of lovely gluten-free pastries. AND they have a place where you can sit and knit! What can be better than noshing down deliciousness while knitting and chatting?

Mom, who is 81, seemed tireless as we walked through two buildings for a good 5 hours.  I noticed that she hardly used her cane at all.  What's up with that?  She'd fallen a few times this year, which has caused my brothers and me a great deal of concern.  But here, she hardly showed any signs of fatigue, except once when she wanted to sit down for a few minutes before she was up and about again.  Either her physical therapy is showing good results, or it is a testament to the healing power of fiber arts.  She was in particular pursuit of an iron, but we didn't find one that suited her needs at the time, possibly because she decided to look for one near the end of our stay, and only looked in one building. We did get separated from time to time in our quest for Mom's iron, but thank goodness for cell phones. 

And now we come to the ghost. After all this fabric and fiber glory, it was close to 5 pm, so we decided to go to a very nice Japanese restaurant in the heart of the old part of Tacoma. We managed to escape to our cars between rain showers--it was quite cloudy and rainy--and drove a few minutes to the place.  Fujiya resides at the top of an old building, which--if I recall its history correctly--still has the original stained glass at the top of its windows that face the street below. 

We were one of the first to arrive after the restaurant opened for the evening, and so the waitress said we could sit where we wanted. Margaret immediately made a bee-line for the booth in one corner, saying it looked like a sunny place to sit.  I was momentarily taken aback by this, because the clouds hadn't parted, and there was no sunshine beaming down on that particular booth, not that I could see.  But I went with it, because we could see down to the street below. 

We went through our menu, while the waitress brought our nicely large pot of green tea and poured it into our cups. But while I was sipping my tea, a sudden movement caught my eye--it was the teapot!  It had slid a definite two inches to the side.  I pushed it away from the edge of the table.  Perhaps I was seeing things.  I went back to my menu, watching the pot out of the corner of my eyes.  It moved again!

"Did you see that?" I asked Mom and Margaret.  "The teapot moved--by itself."

Mom said, "I thought you were pushing it."

"No, I wasn't!"  It moved again.  "There, see?"  I had both my hands on the menu, so there was no way I could have moved it.

"Oh, that's weird," Margaret said, laughing.  "Maybe it's a ghost."

I thought about it a minute--surely there was a rational explanation for it.  I noticed that the table was wet.  Perhaps that was it.  I took my napkin and lifted the teapot--still pretty full, even after the waitress had poured the tea--and wiped the table and the bottom of the teapot until it was totally dry.  I felt it to make sure.  I set the pot down again.

"Okay," I said.  "Let's see if it moves."

We went back to our menus again, but it was obvious that we weren't focused on ordering yet--we were watching the teapot.

It moved again, this time a shorter distance, maybe an inch.  Was the table vibrating from something, enough to cause it to move?  Was there something under the table, maybe some magnet, that was pushing it around?  I felt the surface of the table, and under it.  No vibration, nothing. There was no draft of air going through our corner--the air was still.

The waitress came back again to take our orders.  The teapot moved again.  

"Did you see that?  The teapot moving?" I said.

She grinned.  "Oh, I see you've met our poltergeist.  Yeah, he or she keeps moving the teapot at this booth, and sometimes the one next to it.  It's always the teapots, never the water glasses or the sake bottles."

"Are you serious?" Margaret said.

"This is an old building," the waitress said.  "A lot of buildings in old Tacoma are, and we've experienced more than a few things like this.  The Swiss Hall?  You go there and sometimes you hear some old music playing, even when there's nobody else there--you know, polkas and stuff like that." She nodded at the teapot.  "This one is all right. Sometimes I think it just wants to help pour the tea." She opened the top of the teapot and looked in.  "Thanks for helping," she said to the teapot, and laughed. 

We talked some more about the ghost, and she mentioned that she was careful about telling people about the ghost, especially children, because she didn't want to scare them.  Her own young son had experienced the teapot moving, so she told him that it was because she was magic, which he was very ready to believe, because aren't mothers magic to very young children?  She didn't mind telling us about the resident ghost, because it was clear we weren't worried about it.

We ordered our dinner then, and I kept an eye on the pot.  It didn't just move in one direction, but around.  Oddly, it moved when it was full, and never when it was empty or close to empty. I would have thought that it would have moved more easily had it been empty, but it didn't at all.

When our meal came, we dug in and ignored the moving teapot, and after a while it stopped moving.  The food was delicious, and Endo--the owner/chef--sent out a complementary appetizer, which he did the last time I had been to this restaurant.  Margaret had some grilled fish, and I had a combo sushi plate, and Mom chose from the a la carte sushi menu.  So good!

Just before we left, I gave a nod to the teapot and said, "thanks for making our meal memorable."  It gave one last jiggle before the waitress came to take it and our dishes away.  I like to think it was the ghost's way of saying "you're welcome."  :-D


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh

My dear husband and I are just fine, thank you.  However, he is all over this Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh Super Bowl that people are calling the "Harbowl."  Why?

1.  At last, people will know how to pronounce "Harbaugh," at least the ones who will be watching the Super Bowl.

2.  As a fan of history, he considers this the culmination of all the major conflicts in which the Harbaughs have participated in the history of the United States:  "Harbaughs have fought with honor for the Revolutionary War.*  We have fought in the Civil War.**  We have fought in World War II.***  Now, we are bringing the fight to the Super Bowl!"

3.  As a result, he is very conscious of how momentous this event is in Harbaugh history, yea, even unto the whole country:  "YES! For the first time in football history, two brothers are major league football coaches. For the first time IN THE HISTORY OF THE KNOWN UNIVERSE two HARBAUGHS are going head-to-head at the SUPER BOWL! BRING IT!!!!!!"

Oh yeah.  I am SO looking forward to February 3.  Uh huh.

-----
*John Harbaugh, magistrate, York County, Pennsylvania, 1777; Christian Thomas Harbaugh, Frederick County Militia, 1779.
**The Civil War Journal of Horace Harbaugh
***William Henry Harbaugh, PhD; Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia; Captain of Battery “A”, 62nd AAA Gun Battalion under Gen. George Patton and Gen. Patch.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pushing Back the Dark - Giving to Children

I am deeply shocked and grieved by the brutal events at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut. As a mother, when I think of the loss of those little children and those teachers--it's unfathomable the amount of grief they must be feeling.  And to have this happen just before Christmas, in the Christmas season.... My heart and prayers go out to them all.

But this is Christmas, which means in a deep sense that it's about bringing light when there is dark, bringing hope when it seems there is none.  There is in me something that wants to fight back when I see this kind of thing, and I refuse to feel hopeless and helpless.  I must DO something, anything, to push back despair.  

So I suggest doing something to make a child's life better, to fight back whatever awful force there is that thinks fit to destroy children's lives, whether it's violence, hunger, or disease.  I am going out Christmas shopping today to buy clothes and toys for children in need.  And then I will contribute more to a charity that helps children. World Vision, UNICEF, Boys and Girls Club, are good starts.  Want to find more?  Here's Charity Navigator to help.  And then, there is Mr. Roger's charity for the education of young children. 

And, because this is the Pollyanna Files, I leave you with my son's favorite TV show when he was a toddler and preschooler:  Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.  This was the episode that my kid really loved, and I think the words "Fearless Authenticity" describes what he ended up having in his character.  :-)

Be fearless.  Be authentic.  Be giving.  Push back the dark.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

That Nazi thing

I generally try not to post much of anything political here, but today, it is different.

I was so angry today, and it takes a lot to get me angry. There was a stand outside Costco, and the people at the stand had "impeach Obama" signs there. This normally wouldn't have got me angry, because everyone is entitled to free speech, and I'm fine with that.  What got me so awfully angry was that they had put a Hitler mustache on Obama's picture, making him out to be no better than that dictator.  It immediately brought to mind my experience at Belgium's Breendonk concentration camp--the horror and the unspeakable acts that occurred there.

I suppose I shouldn't have done it, but it is one thing to see such things on line, and another right there in front of you in public. I got out of my car and went to that young man and said, "Don't.  Don't do this Nazi thing.  Feel free to address the issues and your concerns, but don't make anyone--I don't care who it is--out to be a Nazi like this, because you have no clue about what you're talking about."

He spouted about how it was The Truth and how Obama was taking us down the road to thermonuclear war and all the rest.  And I said, "No.  Even that does not qualify anyone for being the next Hitler.  Have you ever been to a concentration camp?  Seen one in person?"  He acknowledged that he didn't.  And I said, "I have.  I have seen what real Nazis and what Hitler actually put into place and did. What you are doing here is cheapening the Holocaust.  You are cheapening the sacrifices of our veterans to save us from those horrors."

This didn't convince him.  He looked to be in his twenties, younger perhaps than my own son, and I am sure this world is frightening to him, what with the economic problems we--and especially his generation, my son's generation--have to face.  I will give that young man the benefit of youth, inexperience, ignorance, as well as a directionless passion.

But after I left, I confess I was so much in despair for this young man I wept.  I realized, this boy--I don't even think I can call him a man because of his youth and what I see as hopelessness--has no faith in America.  He has no faith in the deep-down spirit of the American people to do, eventually, what is right and good.  He does not have the perspective of history or of a life of observation as I have had.

John saw me return in tears, and of course he asked me what was wrong.  I told him. After a hug, he said these most wise words: "He--and people like him, regardless of whether they say that Obama is Hitler, or Romney, or Bush, or anyone else is Hitler--is projecting what he has become himself.  They are brownshirts themselves looking for another brownshirt to lead them."

It was a hard truth to hear, but I think John may be right.  Tonight, I am going to pray for this young man, and others like him who project demon-like qualities on others because they themselves may be fighting their own inner demons.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sushi, Shopping, Continental Textiles, and a Recipe

Despite being a true introvert, I nevertheless tend to be chatty and even, alas, garrulous, and have little problem starting a conversation with complete strangers. However, as a result, I find out interesting things about them, and sometimes even end up finding some gems here and there.

Take today, for instance.  I had to take my car into the mechanics for its oil change and radiator flush, and this took a while.  Luckily, I had my knitting and my iPad with me to keep me amused, but this doesn't mean that these things necessarily make me ignore my environment, because I will glance up at people and overhear what they have to say.

So there was this guy and his wife who came in, and he was talking about making less money than some people he trained, which of course perked my ears up because I analyze and write resumes from time to time.  I said, "what, you earn less than the people you train? How does that happen?"  Well, he was referring to something else, but we started talking, and I discovered that Jimmy is the head chef and part owner of Trapper's Sushi over in Covington.  Being half-Japanese, I had to find out more, and let's just say I will go there sometime soon, possibly with my mother in tow.  Trust me, I will report back, but I anticipate good things from what he had to say about his training and the slight disgust I briefly saw on his face when he talked of "junk" sushi, and the subsequent passion I also saw when he talked about using fresh ingredients, etc.

Once I got my car back, inspired by the gourmet magazines at the mechanic's, I decided to go to the local health food store, Marlene's, which was out of my migraine vitamins, alas, but which did have other things that I bought. And because there had been an artisan bread baking class at the Marlenes that I unfortunately had not been aware of, it made me think of the lovely German breads I used to have, which then led me to the Valley Harvest grocery store on Military Road in Federal Way, which features not only foreign foods of all kinds and from all over the world, but the Eastern European "A Taste of Europe" deli and bakery.  That bakery has real European artisan bread, including kinds that I used to buy in Germany.  So, of course, I bought two loaves.

But before I even went to do that, I noticed a new store:  Continental Textiles.  Textiles!  Being interested in anything fiber-related, I had to go in. 

Immediately, I was overcome by nostalgia.  It was, in essence, a mix of the Aldi, Kik, or Tedi stores I used to go to in Germany and the Sittard market in the Netherlands, except it was clothing items and accessories, mostly for women.  And oh, my the scarves!  So many different scarves of different kinds, shapes, textures, and fabric!  The deals on these were amazing, as well.  I spotted a gorgeously rich red Pashmina (yes, real Pashmina) and silk scarf for only $20!  No, it was not a tiny thing, but a scarf that could cover your shoulders down to the middle of your back--essentially a shawl.  I seriously have never seen so many scarves (or men's ties) in so many colors and shapes in my life.

I talked with the store clerk/manager there, who is an American of (I'm guessing) Romanian heritage and who speaks Romanian and bit of Russian, and she said she originally worked in the Portland, Oregon store, and came up here when this one opened up.  In the course of our chat, I found that she, too, had been to Germany--specifically Cologne, and so was familiar with the outdoor markets such as the Sittard one that I often went to in the Netherlands, not to mention the magnificent Köln Cathedral. We chatted for a while, and I found out that between this Federal Way, WA store and the Portland, OR one, Continental Textiles has the largest collection of scarves and shawls in the United States.

I don't doubt this.  Had I had my camera with me, I would have taken a picture of all those scarves and shawls, in colors and edging designs I've never seen before. It seems the gal who works there--Lia, I believe her name is--and her mother actually designed many of the dyed scarves and edgings in the shop.  As the daughter of a professional tailor, I was VERY impressed by the workmanship.  The designs and other items in the store have a distinctly European flair, and if you want that bit of je ne sais quoi with which to accessorize, that store should help.

I should also mention that if you are fond of tea, this store has a number of very nice traditional European tea sets, and I mean the delicate china sets with gold edges and delicate flowers and baroque curls on them.  They also have modern glass tea pots.

When I mentioned that I felt nostalgic when I came into the store because it made me remember my time in Europe, Lia laughed and said that everyone who has stepped into the store who has immigrated from elsewhere has said it seemed like a part of home to them. "Even some women from Ethiopia," she said.

It made me reflect on what I had mentioned to Jimmy the Trapper's chef at the car repair place in Auburn: it really isn't Seattle that's culturally diverse; it's South King County.  When I lived in Seattle, I don't think I met or really talked with one Russian, Ukrainian, Mexican, Guatemalan, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, they were that rare.  But living in South King County, there is not one day when I don't interact with someone from another nation or race.  Here, you'll find home cooking in restaurants owned by people from another country, or who were trained in that country's dishes.  I can get German spätzle here at a decent price, not overpriced as I'm sure I'd have to pay in a Seattle specialty store, because this is where native Bavarians or Ukrainians shop, who--like me--can't afford to own a home in Seattle.  I can get all the spices I need for a Garam Masala, or Ethiopian Doro Wot without paying an arm and a leg.  And I am pretty much guaranteed to get what the people from these countries normally buy at home, because I shop where they shop.

Seriously, aside from the fact that it's awfully expensive to live there, I don't think I'd want to move back to Seattle.  I love looking at people from different countries and guessing where they might have come from, and trying to talk to them if they are able to speak English well. 

Diverse?  Oh yeah.  And I really love it, because it's like having my own little bit of Europe or Asia or Africa right here at home.

Oh, and what did I do with that European artisan bread (similar to German bauernbrot)?  I decided to create a dish to go with it: Delicata squash (seeds removed) filled with chopped bacon and leeks, baked at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, then topped with chunks of chicken and zucchini in Alfredo sauce and grated fresh Parmesan cheese on top of that, then back in the oven to broil for 5 to 10 minutes until the Parmesan cheese was melted.  Yum!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Cats and physics

A few days ago, it occurred to me that--being a cat lover and owner--had I been the observer of Schrödinger's cat, the cat would have come out alive, because if particles can influence outcomes, surely the particles that are involved in forming my thought processes would influence the collapse of different potentials into the cat being alive rather than dead from whatever nastiness was in that box.

That's my reasoning, anyway, even if it does sound a bit tin-foil-hat.

I posted this on Facebook. A friend responded that regardless, Schrödinger should not own cats. I agree. And despite the fact that Einstein had some good things to say about cats, that he would propose--in the course of his correspondence with Schrödinger--putting an explosive in that box along with the cat makes me think that he might not have been someone in which to put full confidence vis a vis cat care.

And then I remembered a while back that I had Facebook-posted that yet another physicist--Sir Isaac Newton--was certainly a cat lover, because he had invented the cat door not only for his cat, but another little one especially for her kittens. Clearly this scientist was one who had the utmost consideration for felines.


Newman: "Is asleep. Go away."
Not long ago, my husband--an engineer--commented that was remarkable how our cat, Newman, has such perfect instinctive balance in whatever he does.

What is it with science-types and cats? While I am sure there are dog lovers amongst science folk, there seems to have been special attention paid to cats by scientists. Perhaps it is a cat's instinctive balance that brings to it some scientific focus. There is, of course, something mathematical about balance, and an acute awareness of physics would eventually bring a curious mind to wonder: what is it about cats that make them do what they do?

Of course, I did an internet search to find out if anyone has looked into this, and sure enough, some MIT scientists have observed cats (specifically, one scientist's house cat, Cutta Cutta) lapping up water and the physics involved in it.

Which of course gave rise to all sorts of comments and questions on the above blog regarding whether the roughness of the cat's tongue helps it lap up water (it's the curl in the tongue as well as timing) in the unique way it does, and how it evolved in such a way to have such measurably precise movements.

And while all this scientific speculation is going on about Dr. Stocker's cat, I can imagine Cutta Cutta's attitude would be something akin to this:

With a corollary of: "FOOD. NOW."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Focus on the beautiful and the bounty, please!

Supercascade Petunia, April in Paris Sweet Peas
It seems to me that if you focus on beauty, especially if it’s natural, you’re going to benefit in more than one way. I mean, who doesn’t love a beautiful sunset, or the glory of the morning dawn, or the bounty of spring and summer? And I do love a garden, I really do.

I want to lift up the idea of sustainable gardening and landscaping, not because I think it’s a politically good thing to do, or is virtuous, or will "save the earth," or whatnot. Seriously, every time I think of politically-motivated "good works" I get depressed and I do not want to do it, because inevitably it comes from people who become so pinch-mouthed grim and puritanical in their demeanor when they talk about it that it almost makes me want to get out an axe and hack down some trees and stomp on some flowers. Which is saying something because I love trees and flowers, and it would break my heart to hack and stomp them. I wouldn’t be surprised if other people are turned off by eco-puritans as well.

Eco-Puritans (not really, but still grim)
Instead, these people who are into "saving the environment" should relax and focus on showing the beauty and the joy. They should be telling us about the smells and the tastes, and saying, look, isn’t that garden heavenly? Isn’t that home-grown tomato sweet and luscious? They should be talking about the practical things like saving money and time. Because the bottom line is, who doesn’t like beauty, good-tasting food, and saving time and money? As an investment, it pays in the long run, both in enjoyment and the bank account. Even the worst Scrooge ever would at least like saving time and money.

My husband and I had landscaping around our house done last year, and he suggested focusing on a sustainable landscape, using native and climate-appropriate plants. Yes, my dear, conservative-leaning husband was the instigator, which blasts the really stupid stereotype of conservatives being against the environment. Maybe it’s because we live in the Pacific Northwest, but I have not met one conservative who did not do something to help the environment at least on a private level. And no, no environmentalist "finally" got to him--the hubby is a very practical, scientific, engineering guy and calculated the numbers. So stop with the freakin’ stereotyping already.


The back yard
So (ending rant) we went to some workshops about sustainable landscaping that was conducted by some Master Gardeners, and then contacted a small local landscaping company that had a Master Gardener as a landscape designer.

As a result, the landscape was designed to prevent the driveway and roof runoff from going into the storm drains, and allowing it to soak between the brick pavers at the entry way into the earth or into our rain garden instead. We love it, and my husband especially loves not having to spend hours mowing the lawn (we still have some grass, but it takes maybe 15 minutes to mow). Our water bills this summer have dropped, too.

Lavender angustifolia and purple lobelia
Bountiful and beautiful native and climate-friendly plants aren't hard to find, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Vine maples--so beautiful! Tatting fern for the shady spots. Lavender for color and scent.

These days, instead of dreading the muddy yard we used to get in the winter, I can now enjoy a little pond in the rain garden that occasionally forms right after a huge rainstorm. During the very dry months of summer, I can enjoy a French/Mediterranean-like garden that has rosemary, lavender, roses, and sweet peas (and our raised beds in the back yard are now showing some lovely ripe tomatoes!). In the north-facing back yard, we have delicate maidenhair fern, sword ferns, and salal (all native to the Northwest) that perfectly complements our front yard flowers in flower arrangements.

The hubby building raised vegetable beds.
And of course, there is the vegetable and herb garden that has become so abundant with growth that I have not been able to keep up with staking it and tying it back. I will, actually, have to (gulp!) hack back the tomato plants, I kid you not. Before we had the veggie garden we have now, the lemon verbena didn’t grow much more than a foot at most. Now it’s a good three feet tall. I grew WAY too much fennel (aka anise), but my justification for that is that I’ll be collecting the aniseed and making biscotti later on. I grew it next to the tomatoes, and since they’re companion plants, this also explains the crazy growth of the tomatoes. Yeah, I actually underestimated the growth of my herbs and vegetables this time.

Our neighbors like our yard, too. We’ve had neighbors say they really like walking past our house because of the lovely colors and perfume from the flowers. I’ve given away some sweet pea flowers to children who pass by, because heaven knows I don’t have enough vases, and the thought that the kids might bring them home to their parents reminds me of the delight I had when my son would spontaneously bring flowers home to me.

You can have a beautiful low-maintenance yard and garden and save money at the same time because you don't have to water as often or use expensive fertilizers. That's just plain old common sense and practical money management anyone can get behind--no politics need apply! It's a win-win situation all around.