Friday, June 29, 2007

Prometheus Strikes Again

After a month without a stove, the most miraculous thing happened. A large white object that has been sitting in the kitchen suddenly moved into the hole left by the old stove and started spouting flames. When you turn a little knob, there's a little click-click-click sound and then a ring of fire appears. These rings of fire are well-behaved and will tolerate having kettles and cooking pots placed over them, whereupon the contents get hot and there is great rejoicing.

One of these rings of fire is special. When you turn its knob, first a small ring of fire appears in the center, and then two more appear around the first. These three concentric rings of fire can produce a lot of heat or a very little. They look like they might be quite useful for sauteing, browning, and the making of pancakes.

We were in wonder at this miracle, and explored further. Beneath the rings of fire, there is a box with racks. This box can also become quite hot. We experimented by placing some pizza in the box, and it became beautifully hot and evenly bubbly without burning.

This morning, I summoned fire under one of the rings, placed the kettle on it, and produced enough hot water for a pot of tea and two cups of cocoa besides.

Malcolm calls this miraculous device "a working stove." I suppose that we shall all get over the wonder of its feats and likewise call it merely "stove." Or perhaps we shall call it by its proper name: Jenn-Air. But we shall likely not call it by its personal name: JGS9900BDF.

Driving to aerobics yesterday, I realized that I am embarking on a new relationship. I chose the previous stove in the flush of kitchen remodeling. I was young, I fell in love, and the
Thermador had everything I'd ever dreamed of in a stove. It cooked beautifully. Its burners could be adjusted with pinpoint accuracy. Its oven baked evenly. I came to know all its features and

This new stove I chose because we needed a 30" slide-in range with a downdraft. There wasn't a lot of choice, and so I didn't pay a lot of attention to available features. It's a stove-of-convenience.

Malcolm's new bed

Meanwhile, the new beds, lag bolts snugly wrenched into place, had been made up with the boys' chosen sheets and comforters.

Remus John's new bed

And the creativity room has now become the boys' bedroom.

Hard Hat Zone

On Wednesday, I completely cleared and cleaned the creativity room. The boys' new beds were going to be delivered on Thursday. I also re-sealed the hardwood floor in that room so that it would all be shiny new for the boys.

While we were waiting for the delivery, we went about our normal activities. The children did their schoolwork and piano practice.

Malcolm with his weapons of math instruction

Remus John has become very interested in answering the telephone. He's been practicing his telephone etiquette so that we'll let him answer the real phone.

Yup, this is the Cowboy Diner

After the beds arrived, Matisse and I joined forces to put them together. They're held together with 16 four-inch lag bolts. One of us held the rails while the other one wielded the wrench.

Construction worker Matisse

The two stoves were still hanging out in the kitchen. The new stove was to be installed on Thursday afternoon. In the background, you can see all the stuff needed to put the beds together.

The construction zone

Meanwhile, there were still about 10 more lag bolts to go.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

30 pounds

I'm celebrating having lost 30 pounds over the past 7 months.

Me, today, holding 2 15-pound weights

I read today that Michael Moore has also lost 30 pounds. More power to him. More power to me. He'll get down to where I started and I'll get down to where I want to be. There are many more pounds to go before we get there.

To give myself a better idea of how my body has changed, I've thought of those 30 pounds in a lot of different ways.

I like to visualize fat in terms of pounds of butter. Here's what 30 pounds of butter looks like on display in the refrigerator section of the grocery store:

32 pounds of butter

And here's another way to look at what I'm not lugging around any more:

30 pounds of potatoes

I'm not slowing myself down by toting the weight of 6 bags of flour all the time:

30 pounds of flour

And I'm not lugging around the weight in this much water:

30 pints of water

A pint is a pound the world around.

In order to lose these 30 pounds, I had to cut or burn 105,000 calories, which is about the number of calories in 62 pounds of sugar:

My calorie deficit, measured in sugar

When I first thought about doing this photo essay to celebrate my weight loss, I imagined that I would use things around the house to illustrate the surplus avoirdupois that I'd dropped. When I decided to use sugar to represent the calories I've burnt, however, I realized that I needed a different strategy.

Thanks to Ben Lomond Market for the foods used in these shots. A couple of employees looked at me twice when they saw me arranging the stock and photographing it, but no one said anything.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Midsummer Night Boy

Remus John turned 8 last Thursday. To celebrate, he wanted to go swimming. We've been going to free swim right before his swimming lessons on Thursday, and that was enough celebration for him.

At the pool, he's always in motion, swimming from one side to the other, climbing out and diving back in.

He reminded everyone he met that is was the summer solstice in addition to being his birthday. He was a midsummer night baby, and he's grown into a midsummer night boy.

At home, this was what I had to bake a cake in:

We have two stoves sitting in the kitchen. After the new one arrived, we pulled the old one out of the stove spot. Unfortunately, the new stove arrived without the liquid propane conversion kit, so we have to wait for Maytag/Jennair to ship it to us before we can install it.

Two stoves in the kitchen, and we're still not cooking.

This led to the first-ever store-bought birthday cake for a Madrone child. We ordered a chocolate fudge cake from the local supermarket. Remus John was delighted with it and blew out the candles after a rousing chorus of John McCutcheon's birthday song:

It makes me think of the good old days.
Happy birthday to you!
You sure grew out of your baby ways.
Happy birthday to you!
8th birthday and we wish you many more.
Health and wealth and friends by the score.
Cut the cake and we'll have some more.
Happy birthday to you!

He did have a very happy birthday. He and Malcolm have simple expectations for birthdays and holidays. They seem happy with a cake and a few presents and a trip to the park or the beach or even their weekly swimming lessons.

And what did the solstice boy want for his birthday? New t-shirts. He also got some books, a watercolor painting kit, and a magic set, but he likes the t-shirts best of all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Signs of Summer

On the way up the mountain to piano lessons, we didn't see a single California tortoiseshell butterfly this week. We saw a few California sisters, a tiger swallowtail, and a fluttering white butterfly. We also saw a goodly number of dragonflies, but none of the millions of tortoiseshells that covered the mountain last week.

While looking for butterflies, however, we saw leaves fluttering down from the madrones and tanoaks.

When we got home, we found that our own small madrones were dropping their leaves, too.

Madrone leaves on the driveway

We have many varieties of evergreen broadleaf trees here in the coastal mountains. They leaf out during the rainy season and then drop their old leaves in the early part of the summer drought. They seem more adapted to our climate than the riparian maples and sycamores, who drop their leaves at the beginning of the rainy season.

The madrone is a thirsty tree, like the maples and sycamores. Its evergreen leaves allow it to do most of its growing when rain is plentiful. Dropping its leaves at the beginning of the dry season allows it to grow further away from water than its riparian cousins.

One of our small madrones (Arbutus menziesii)

I tried to get a picture of a tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflora) across the road, but it was mixed in with redwoods, douglas fir, maples, and hazel, so it's hard to make out the tanoak.

The live oaks and bay laurel aren't dropping their leaves yet, and neither are the redwoods and douglas firs. The redwoods will hang onto their leaves until their cones are a little more mature, and the others will start dropping leaves as the weather heats up.

I had a good vantage of our Grandmother Oak tree, so I decided to include a picture of her.

Grandmother Oak, a healthy coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

It's really hard to get a picture of a tree around here without other trees getting in the way.

Advice on the Bus

18-year-old Morgayn was on a crowded bus. An elderly gentleman got on and said, "Can I sit with you, young fellow?"

She said sure, but didn't tell him her true gender.

the haircut (with metallic green gel)
that bends gender assumptions

The man struck up a conversation, and the two of them chatted until it was time for him to get off.

As he was standing up, he said, "Now remember, young fellow, if you ever go out with a girl, do the thinking with your big head instead of the little head."

Er yeah. No problem.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Blizzard of Butterflies

On Tuesday, as we drove up the mountain to piano lessons, we started seeing lots of little golden butterflies. As we got higher, there were butterflies everywhere. I had to slow down to avoid hitting them.

The butterflies were pretty agile. As long as I kept my speed below 35, they could dodge my car or ride the slipstream up the windshield and over the car.

By the time we got to the ridge of Ben Lomond mountain, we were in a blizzard of butterflies. I once drove this road the other way during a snowstorm. The feeling was much the same, but in shades of gold instead of white and gray.

When we rounded the bend and headed back down into the forest, the butterflies vanished.

California Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Our piano teacher was astonished to hear of the butterfly storm less than a mile from her home. She helped me rescue several insects that had gotten caught in the grill and the windshield wiper blades. We got a good look at the butterflies, and I memorized their wing patterns so I could look them up when I got home.

The California tortoiseshell is relatively rare most years, then has huge population explosions like this one.


Ceanothus is the host plant for the California tortoiseshell's caterpillars. The adults feed on ceanothus and manzanita nectar. The top of Ben Lomond mountain is chaparral, thick with ceanothus and manzanita.


I also noticed that the yerba santa was in bloom and wondered if it might be the butterfly host plant.

Yerba Santa

We often see magical sights up on the mountain: coyote, snow, a red fox, red-shouldered hawks, band-tailed pigeons, the California sister butterfly, and all the plants of the chaparral in bloom.

What We Bin Doing

New compost bins arrived this week. Yesterday, the noble Morgayn did the digging while I assembled the first bin. Since we previously had 2 bins, she had to shovel the contents of one into the other. After I set up the new bin, she then had to shovel the contents of that bin into the new one. It was our first really hot day this summer. We worked in the morning, but it was 93F (34C) before we finished.

There were potatoes sprouting in the second bin, lots of sal bugs and some earthworms squiggling around in the compost, and a fat alligator lizard hanging around the edge of the bin.

The New Composter

The new bin has a simple-but-clever design, of tiers that can be moved one at a time and stacked in any order. Turning the old bins was a bit of a problem. The front slats could be removed (and, in the past few years, couldn't really be replaced), but there was a bar across the top of the bin that limited shovel angles.

The old bins were definitely ready for a ride on out of here. I pulled the pieces out as Morgayn shoveled. They're waiting for the boys to take the screws out of them, and then they'll be cut up for kindling.

Old Compost Bins

The new bins are plastic, but recyclable. They're a grade of plastic that should be able to be recycled indefinitely, as opposed to down-cycled.

Remus John was hanging around while we worked.

Upside-Down Boy

Later, he discovered the most important part of the new compost bins.

Boy in the Box

During the heat of the afternoon, the boys built castles and towers out of Kapla.

Malcolm's Kapla Castle

This morning, the top tier of the new bin and its lid had been knocked off. I suspect the opossum that lives under the woodpile, but Garry thinks it must have been a raccoon. Or it could have been a dog. The bin was full of stellers jays and squirrels this morning.

We'll have to figure out some way to keep the animals out. We gave up with the old bins, and now all the neighborhood vermin are used to a free kitchen.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

100 Degrees and Not Cooking

It's been unseasonably cool here on the Two Bar, with highs in the 70s and low 80s and lows in the low 50s. We still have our flannel sheets on our beds, and the boys cuddle under blankets in the living room when they get up in the morning.

Today, though, the mercury hit 100 for the first time this year.

But we're not cooking.

I came home from taking the boys swimming last Thursday to a distraught Matisse. The stove, she said, wouldn't go out. The back burner wouldn't turn off; even in the OFF position, gas was still coming out of the valve. The smart girls had left the burner lit, on low, until I got home to fix the situation.

I experimented with the burner for a bit, determined that indeed it would not go off, and decided to shut off the gas to the stove. I showed the children where the shut-off valve was located and demonstrated How We Shut Off the Gas to an Appliance. I talked briefly about the situations where they might need to do this.

Okay, so we no longer had gas coming out of that burner, but the stove now had an annoying click-click-click as the electronic ignition tried to light the gas that wasn't coming out. I went down to the basement to shut off the breaker and realized that dinner wasn't going to happen.

The Old Stove

We managed to get a repairman out the next day. After examining the stove, he told us it was kaput, and that it wasn't safe for us to use it. Fortunately, we were able to find a replacement online, but meal preparation is very interesting in the meantime.

Our Current Stove

Yup, it's our ancient camp stove, pressed into service on the back deck. The girls won't use it, and I've only used it a couple of times.

Our Overworked Toaster Oven

This baby is in constant use, however. We line up at breakfast and dinner time to cook our suppers, one or two at a time.

We also use the electric tea kettle a lot. It can make 2 cups of tea and one cup of cocoa at a time (or two cups of cocoa and one cup of tea, but not 3 cups of tea). We've also found that it's useful for heating water to cook hot dogs and snow peas.

Our Tea Corner

Since we no longer use the old stove for cooking, we can use it for storage. Here it is being pressed into service as the tea corner. A new tea order came in yesterday, and the contents of the silver bags are waiting to go into the black tins. The electric kettle is in the right foreground, and the normal kettle and the teapot-we-can't-use-because-the-electric-kettle-won't-heat-enough-water-for-it are in the background.

We're eating lots of fresh fruit and salads, and everyone is getting tired of sandwiches.

I'm kind of hoping the new stove won't come too soon. It's not often I get a break from cooking.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Around One Star

Here is some of 7-year-old Remus John's art work from the space fantasy adventure.

A Reman, the top predator in the food chain on Remannia.

A Ritosaur, one of a peaceful species.

A Caraband, a race that enslaves other species.

A Snaggiu, which is a cross between lizards and humans.

A human starship captain.

A Ragon, which is a type of DNA-trading species. They buy and sell copies of DNA.

A Stagmeen spaceship.

A Stagmeen, one of the lowest creatures in the food chain on Remannia.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Smiles from Space

My sons (ages 7 and 11) have been drawing characters for their epic space fantasy game. These are some of Malcolm's characters.

A carnivorous Skuulik.

A Ketan Rebel with Katanian face marks.

A Valkrian Ketan Imperial warrior.

A Kuel (pronounced "quell"), a sort of herbivorous life form.

A carnivorous Il-Quar.

A Ketan admiral.

A Ketan with an Esklen.