Science Fair- please, no wagering

“When is your science fair?” I asked the Boy one cool evening not long ago.

“I don’t know…” he responds.
Ooops. Hope it isn’t tomorrow, because we aren’t ready.
The Boy is a self proclaimed nerd, and loves science. He is memorizing the periodic table of elements (hint, if he asks you if you want to hear him say the first 37 elements, insist that he sing them. He’ll blush, but he’ll do it!)
He loves weather, and nature, and dinosaurs, and is getting into chemistry, and so there is a lot of pressure to have a really amazing science fair project. Pressure from his peers, but also from himself.
The problem is, we are pretty bad about follow through around here…
We brainstorm, and come up with things…then we get distracted by something shiny.

It turned out that the Science fair was a few weeks away, so we had time to follow through.
So,  the decision for this year was to examine the life growing in the jar of pond water we collected last summer . The 1 quart jar has been in his west-facing window, growing algae and stuff.

Look- follow through! With a map and a video and everything!

Look- follow through! With a map and a video and everything!

When we first collected the samples, we didn’t intend to make it a science fair project. I had read about the project in a garden book, and when I told the Boy about it, he thought it was a neat idea, and nagged me about it until I got a jar, and went with him to the park.

This made the “research question” portion of the science packet problematic… we couldn’t just say the question  was: “wouldn’t it be cool if we had a jar with pond water…?”

So, the research question became: “Can an ecosystem be formed by mixing materials from different sources?”
We took a video of the little critters that are swimming around, and looked at them with our thrift store microscope. With help from the interwebs, he determined that they were daphnia.

The science fair was a success- there was the usual supply of baking soda volcanoes, and several decomposition displays.  The Boy was the only one to have a jar of tiny critters with a water cycle. Our school fair is non-competitive- just an exhibition, not a competition.

This was on someone else's display. Now, I don't know Tyler or Jack H., but I am pretty sure they touched it.

This was on someone else’s display. Now, I don’t know Tyler or Jack H., but I am pretty sure they touched it.

Now we have to think about next year.

The Ubiquitous Mason Jar

lots of duckweed, little bit of water

We went to the river park this week. There are steps down to the Big Thompson river, where you can float or splash, or put in your tubes and drift down the river. We didn’t bring tubes, but ran into friends who shared with Kate.  There are sprayers where the little kids can shriek and splash and get soaked in relative safety, and there is a bridge under which the water slows down a little, spreads out into shallows, where you can look for crawdads. This is where we spent the bulk of our time. The boy discovered that when crawdads are really little, they just tickle when they pinch.

In Gaia’a Garden (I know, terrible title, great book) there is a description of a project where you take water samples from several different places, with plants and muck and life, mix them in a mason jar, put the lid on and then watch. The idea is that you are mixing elements and creating an ecosystem that is not quite pond, not quite river, not quite lake, but a blend of the three.
I told the boy about the mason jar project at bedtime, and he was fired up- he couldn’t think about anything else. Right after breakfast he asked for a jar, and kept asking when we could go. Obviously, I needed coffee first. And there was that pesky dental appointment…

We went out in the afternoon, after a wonderful thunderstorm. There is a wetland by Kate’s school, but no way to get to open water, so we wound up going to the Sculpture park near our house. This park has a chain of wetlands, culverts and open water, so we were able to find swampy still water, fast running aerated water, and duckweed covered water.

This lake is usually deeper than this…

The final piece of the puzzle was mud, from the reservoir. They have been lowering the water level alarmingly, and we had to walk out quite a ways in the mud. It was pretty gross.

The water is clearing, and the mud has settled, and we can see stuff swimming around.  The boy had high hopes for a minnow, but I don’t think we caught one.

Yes, I am aware of what 3 cups of pond water would smell like if it spilled on top of legos. We would probably have to move. But, we are also trying not to spill.

Resilience- you can grow that!

Purple Coneflower and Yarrow, extremely drought tolerant herbs. They’re loving the heat.

It has been hot here. Crazy hot. Typically, in June we get nice moisture, soaking rains, heavy thunderstorms, nice misty days when it’s just cool and gloomy. Not this year. I realize it is hot pretty much everywhere right now.
We went LA on vacation last week, and it was cool and pleasant- too cool for the ocean almost. Then we ended the vacation in Las Vegas, and it was ridiculously hot. You expect that for Las Vegas, but we kept watching the weather for home, here on the front Range of Colorado, and it was ridiculously hot in Colorado, too.
The guy who mows our lawn was checking in on the cat, and a friend popped over to water the container plants and the tomatoes, but otherwise, we didn’t provide for sprinkling. I expected the worst when we got home, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The grass in the front looks awful, of course, but it almost always looks awful. It’s on the list for future projects.

The beds in back, though, look pretty good. They have plenty of mulch, to hold onto what moisture they get. They have plants that are drought tolerant, or native, or both. I designed them that way so they wouldn’t take much water, and would attract bees and birds and butterflies.

The golden currant is dripping with fruit, the lavender is blooming like crazy, the yarrow and coneflower and chamomile are standing tall.  They look better than I do, dripping and drooping, and praying for rain.

Plan for resilience- xeric doesn’t have to mean rocks and cow skulls, it can be dragonflies and birds and fruits and berries. It takes less water and other resources, and it bounces back from hard times. Resilience is a trait we all can use.

This is pretty much the same shot, from the same angle, as I took 3 weeks ago. It’s been watered once with a soaker hose.

Two books that influenced me tremendously are “Herbs in the Garden” by Rob Proctor, and “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway.  Both books helped me learn to think beyond “vegetable garden here, lawn everywhere else.”

Vanilla Vine update

Not only has my vanilla plant survived the winter, but it has even grown- it isn’t to the top of the trellis, but it has quite a bit of new growth on it, and some aerial roots going into the moss on the trellis. The trellis is made of 2 layers of hardware cloth, with sheet moss in between the layers and orchid potting mix inside the cylinder.

Ignore the messy kitchen counter…

My pop bottle humidity system is not perfect- it takes a while to dial it in to slow drip, and about once a week I just bring the whole contraption to the kitchen and hose it down with the sprayer. I moved it out to the back porch today, and I’ll splash it with the hose regularly.

I added a grocery store orchid to the pot- vanilla is a type of orchid, after all, and they should like the same conditions. I don’t remember what kind of orchid it is, and the tag just says “orchid.” C’m0n, grocery store…

Becoming Handy

I’ve been crafty, now I want to become handy- I have a list, and some goals… I’m working on it.

There are a lot of little things on the list, like the drain plug lifter handle on both basins in the main bathroom. Then there are big things, like the gutters that still drip and the squirrels in the attic. Maybe we should outsource the squirrels. They frighten me.

My first step when learning new things is always getting books about it. I am not a person who can jump in and try something without endless research first.

I hit the library for some home improvement books, and found a strange mixture-a  memoir about moving a cottage to be an addition to a house on Cape Cod, a collection of tips and tricks culled from the pages of Fine Homebuilding magazine, and a book about home repair for cheaters. They are now overdue at the library, and I still haven’t fixed anything. Sigh. Being handy is harder than I thought.

This is the toilet that still runs. Sigh...

Exercising Willpower

I learned recently about the idea of will being like a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to be strong. I guess before I thought it was like a talent, something some people are born with, like mechanical aptitude, or great hair. but two things have changed my mind about this: I read in a yoga magazine about the idea that the front of your body embodies desire, and the back embodies will. Both sets of muscles must be strong, and will must follow desire. Strong belly, strong back, strong back, strong belly.

Is desire stronger for a lot of us? So many people tell me, “I wish I spoke Spanish,” and I have to tell them that wishing isn’t enough, they have to do it. The same goes for learning to knit, or play music, or anything you desire- the will to do it has to follow.
The other thought I have had about willpower is that most of us try for willpower on the big things in life- quitting smoking, or changing our diet, rather than exercising our willpower on little things for practice. Is there anything bigger than changing your diet? We all try, at one time or another, then discover it’s too big, and blame ourselves for lack of willpower.
I have been training myself-  putting post-it notes on my computer that remind me to do things.  Simple things, mostly- like “stretch” or “menu plan.” As I do them, I feel this satisfaction that I am exercising my will. Yeah, there are benefits to stretching, and to planning out a menu once a week, but the other benefit is that I am doing something simply because I will it.
I have also gotten in the habit of cleaning the kitchen sink every night before I go to bed- no dishes to soak, no goopy pans. Most nights, it is a pain, but most mornings, it is a joy to have a clean sink. I will it to be so!
We have an older house, and there are a lot of little things wrong with it, that I have desired to have fixed, but haven’t had the will to follow through on. So, now that my will is stronger, I have started to work on home projects- not crafty ones, but things that can be defined as “handy.” Things that involve caulk, and levels, and maybe the rental of a heat gun. Projects that I have “desired” to be done, but until now, haven’t had the will to do myself. These are projects that I want to accomplish, that I will accomplish. (slowly, and with plenty of mistakes, I’m sure- watch this space)
So, what do you do to exercise your will? Not resolutions, but things that you desire, and are willing into existence?


Yes, that is a pink venus flytrap...

The boy brought home a piece of art created in computer class the other day.
I love it. It goes without saying that I am thankful for photosynthesis myself. I am also thankful for my favorite planet, Earth, and the sun that shines.
I am thankful for my boy with a quirky sense of humor, and my girl who is balancing the twin loads of trying to make her parents happy and trying to become independent.

I am so grateful for DH, who can somehow get like 5 hours of sleep, and still wake up dutifully to drive carpool. Notice that I didn’t say wake up “cheerfully.” He’s not superman.
I am grateful for the kids at my school- that the girl who moved here 2 months ago from Korea laughed at my story of hitting the coyote with a rental car, because that means she understood the story. I am also grateful for the other kids, who know more English than she does, and were able to explain to her what a coyote is, and how it’s different from a fox or a wolf, and draw a picture on the board, and ask, “Don’t they have coyotes in Korea?” Apparently, they don’t.
I am grateful for the public school system I work for, and the public school system my kids attend. I appreciate the difficulty of meeting all children where they are, and bringing them farther down the road to an educated adulthood.
But most of all, I’m grateful for photosynthesis.

This wetland is close enough to my house to make a lovely walk- one I should take more often.

Process Sucks, Sometimes

I am obsessed with this shade of blue, aren't I?

I have posted here about cute knits and quilts, and things that came out just the way I wanted, and some things that came out surprisingly better than expected. Not today.
Back in May, I started a shawl, using a pattern from “Knitting in the Sun” The idea is, you knit one lacy end, then knit toward the middle, then knit another lacy end, knit to the middle, then graft them together.
The pattern was a stretch for me, the lace pattern was pretty complicated, but there was a nice boring part in the middle that I could do while watching TV. I figured I could get it done by the middle of June or so, since I had a fancy wedding to go to, where a bright lacy shawl would be a great accessory.
Yeah. So, process.
The first lace end was sloppy, I had to rip back a few times. I found I could not talk or even listen to conversations when I worked on it- I could only work on it during the times when the kids were out of the house and the TV was off. This slowed down my production. The second lace end was better, but not by much. There are sloppy parts, but not bad enough to rip back, so the sloppiness is forever enshrined in yarn.
So the middle, which was supposed to be a slow cruise turned into a slog. June came and went, and I found a different accessory for the wedding (Pashmina to the rescue!)
I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with the pattern itself-just my knitting skills. I don’t do lace very well, and a pattern where I have to memorize a different set of numbers for each row just doesn’t work for me.

I would do few rows, then put it away again in its ziplock bag.With no deadline, there was no push to finish. Somewhere along the way I lost count of stitches, then discovered the error and got back on track, so the rows of eyelets are crooked, like a goat path.

Or how I imagine a goat path might be, if it were knitted into a shawl, in Cyan colored wool and silk.
In getting back on track, I added stitches, so one side is 6 stitches wider than the other, where they are supposed to meet in the middle. I found this out, not by counting, that would be too easy.

You can see where the graft, which is supposed to be invisible, is, well, visible, and where I am half a dozen stitches off.

I found this out by actually grafting them together, a process so fraught with stress, that when I do it on the toes of socks, I insist on absolute silence from my children. It took me about half n hour, and when I got to the end, and realized I had extra stitches and no way I could think of to fix them, I nearly cried. I balled the shawl up and shoved it in the ziplock bag.
I used to work at a daycare center, and one of our mantras was “Process, not product.” meaning we shouldn’t push the kids to fingerpaint masterpieces, but that we should trust that the process of scribbling, or cutting and pasting, was more valuable than the artwork they made. The trouble with this shawl is that it was 100% product oriented from the beginning- I wanted a bright blue shawl, rather than I wanted to make bright blue shawl…
I still haven’t decided what to do- I have a little yarn left, so I could go backwards, even out the stitches, rejoin. If I wear it as a scarf, under the collar of my black coat, the sloppy join wouldn’t show a whole lot.

Here is the challenge of a blog- and maybe life. Not everything I do is perfect. I get frozen by perfectionism from time to time, not wanting to take a risk because everyone will find out what a fraud I am (fraud, not frog.)But if I never take a risk, I’ll never get better. But do I always have to be getting better? What’s wrong with a little stagnation going into fall?

So anyway, I’m not sure how to fix this disaster, or if I even want to at this point. I really love the color, and the feel of the yarn, but I can’t face working on it right now. Time for another sock, maybe. What are your thoughts?

Holey Socks, Batman!

Can you see where the hole was? Hint- it is the bumpy lumpy patch by the was my first try- I'm sure I'll get better.

I have been knitting socks for about 4 years- I make them for myself, and the kids and DH (by the way, if you see an acid green pair, they are for his birthday, and I kind of lost them) I also make them for gifts for other people I love, but don’t go hinting around about buying a pair- I’m happy to teach you to knit socks, but I it doesn’t make sense to make them for money rather than love.

It takes about 8 hours of work for a sock- usually it is work while I am doing other things, watching softball practice, or swimming lessons, or waiting at the dentist. I usually have 1 pair of socks going at all times, and it helps my mental health and concentration, so I do it at staff meetings and trainings and car rides. So on the one hand, it is borrowed time- I am rarely just knitting, but on the other hand, it is a lot of time to invest in a sock, so when a couple of pairs got holes, rather than toss them, or turn them into puppets, I decided they needed to be darned.

Not right away, of course. Projects need to marinate, for a while, sometimes.

When I was a kid, my mom had taught me to darn by kind of weaving across a hole, which is one way to do it,   In my research I found a different process, sometimes called swiss darning, sometimes called duplicate stitch, where you kind of trace the  stitches at the bottom of the hole, then create new ones where the hole is, then connect them to the old stitches at the top of the hole. Kind of amazing, and prettier than a woven patch.  It appeals to the witch in me- making something out of nothing. The muggles will never figure it out!

Here’s a link to darning with duplicate, with a demo on something that actually needed darning, and another, that just shows duplicate stitch as decoration, but was the best demo of where your needle should go, and when.

Getting dressed from the clean clothes pile

A mom of  a friend of the Girl and I were talking the other day- I was getting cleaned up for a party,and she said that she honestly expected to have a messy house until her kids moved out- she joked about getting dressed off of the clean piles of clothes in the living room. I’ve done this, of course, and you probably have, too.  Maybe not.  Maybe you are better than me… just stop rubbing it in.

When I was planning our party, I figured that I would have to spend like an hour a day cleaning, and I wanted it to be really clean, not just have all the piles of stuff moved into the bedroom, which is what I usually do.  The problem with doing an hour a day, is that is so bleahhh- there’s no system.  Then I came across

I had read about it in the past- in lady’s magazines.  It is a cute little cult about changing your life by setting up routines about keeping your house clean. Cult is mean. It’s not really a cult. Don’t be mad at me, FLYlady!

The routines are simple things like “shine your sink before you go to bed” at first you’re like, what? why clean my sink? but I have been doing this, and it makes a huge difference- when I leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight, they make breakfast that much harder, then DH and the kids pile more dishes in, then we have to run the dishwasher, unload it, then reload it, the counters are awful, and it becomes harder to do anything in the kitchen. But, if I clean the sink and run the dishwasher before I go to bed, then unload it while I am waiting for coffee, everything is smoother, all day.

Another routine is “put out hotspots.” A hotspot is a place where junk accumulates- at our house, my dresser top is one (we have several, but only I am responsible for my dresser) If I don’t take 2 minutes to put my clothes away,then my dresser is piled with bras and unmatched socks, and shirts, and that isn’t any better than getting dressed in the living room. I deserve to live in a clean house.

So, a couple of weeks into these routines, and our house is still relatively clean after cleaning it up for the party.

FLY, by the way, stands for finally loving yourself, and at first I thought, ick, mushy self-love, but I am realizing that I do deserve to live in a clean house, and I have been taking some time to make that happen, rather than yelling at everybody about it.

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