Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Q's Blog

Q usually blogs about boring stuff like computer programming and electronics so I don't link from here very often. :)
This time, however, he was kind enough to post about the hive stand that he made this weekend. Consider checking it out. It looks really great.

Home Again

We finally got back to Eugene at 1:30a Monday morning. Poor Q had to be to work by 8. It's lovely being home. Yesterday I harvested 1 1/2 lbs. of blueberries, 1 1/2 lbs. of snow peas, the first 8 pods of shelling peas, and about 7 lbs. of strawberries. I need to do another strawberry picking today.
I didn't have time to post this before I left. Here's the beeswax after it was melted and strained. I still don't know what we're going to do with it but today I've got to make laundry soap (and wash many clothes) so this particular bit of experimentation will have to wait.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Georgia Aquarium

After conference ended yesterday I took public transport over to the Georgia Aquarium, which was open late for their summer Friday jazz evening. It's rather expensive ($27 base ticket) but it was really worth it. There are things there that can't be seen anywhere else in the US. Do consider going to their website (linked above) to see the exhibits I mention below. I posted my lousy camera phone pictures because they're meaningful to me but the pictures on their site are really excellent even without going there.

I was sort of sorry this picture of the main central area turned out so badly but, at the same time, it certainly reflects my state of mind at the time. It was very overstimulating and disorienting. I wish that it wasn't so fashionable to give all public venues a carnival atmosphere in an attempt to appeal to the masses. Their exhibits were enough to stand on their own without all the blinking lights.

I went to the Tropical Diver exhibit first and this Pacific Reef viewing window astonished me (little did I know that this was only the beginning). You can't see it here but all of those fish are brightly colored - lemon yellow, fuchsia, neon green leopard spots, electric blue.

Here's the window facing the main lobby, just to the left of the Open Water exhibit entrance. It has 6 million gallons of water. Consider the scale - the fish swimming by the glass above that woman's head outweighs many adults. It is a relatively small inhabitant of this exhibit.

The exhibit culminates in a 60' long, 23' tall viewing window, the second largest in the world. This is a small portion of it as one of the four resident whale sharks swims by. They were the species that this exhibit was built for and are apparently the only ones in captivity outside of Asia. The largest female is 23' long right now and they're hoping that she someday may reach close to 40'. They're amazingly beautiful. I hope that being able to see these remarkable animals in captivity makes people more adamant about protecting them.
The exhibit also contains two giant manta rays (the only ones in the US) and so many other unusual, remarkable species that you just need to go here to see the full list. I really must stop gushing.

I didn't take any pictures of the beluga whales but I'd never seen those either and they give an amazing dreamlike mood. They're pure white and they were so gracefully and gently gliding through the water. One even was rotating in a spiral for a while as he swam. They provided a striking contrast to the harbor seals who share their exhibit. They were very small compared to their tankmates and were very playful, chasing each other and wrestling as they swam.

They also have many strange and beautiful smaller animals. I believe this little guy was called a sea dragon. There is a sea otter named Gertie whose favorite activity is sucking her paw as she swims around on her back, her favorite toy balanced on her chest and occasionally stroking her head with her other paw. She reminded me of a contented baby.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Atlanta Pictures

Eighth grade classroom at Waldorf School of Atlanta.

Chapel window at Agnes Scott College

Greenhouse attached to the ASC science building

Letitia Pate Evans Dining Hall

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More Conference

I have never been to a conference that is this good. Every seminar, every keynote brings me new valuable stuff.

To start with the fun, my afternoon "artistic" seminar is an introduction to beekeeping. Most of the information is not new but we got to suit up today and it's a lot of fun seeing somebody else's hive. I was glad to get a definite look at what capped honey looks like and also picked up a good tip about using formic acid to control varroa (which we haven't seen any evidence of in our hive yet, thank heavens). Coincidentally, when I called Q this evening he was working on the new hive stand to replace the concrete blocks. I'll be anxious to see how it turns out.

In the morning "focus" group, I've been attending one entitled "Recreating the Gestures of Embryology Through Clay Modeling". It's a really amazing experience. After covering the reproductive system and some education regarding sexuality and social issues around sex this year with my 7th grade I think this would be a great art block for them in 8th. It's an absolutely beautiful way to combine science and art and create a very spiritual experience. The full progression is properly experienced during embryology in 10th grade at Waldorf high schools. I'd hate for my students to not have the experience just because we don't have a high school in Eugene because they will never be anywhere with that kind of opportunity again. I do think that it can be brought with a light touch (more experiential/phenomenological - less intellectual) as an artistic exercise and be simultaneously enriching and appropriate for 8th graders.

Today's keynote was presented by a teacher from Lake Champlain Waldorf School. They have completely changed the 7th/8th schedule there over the past two years to try and meet the pre-adolescence because they had been observing that something wasn't working.

The key points I took away from the lecture were...
  1. The concrete thinking that is still present for the adolescent requires very systematic, consistent expectations enforced objectively (The example she gave was that if a student is allowed by one teacher to wear a hat indoors, he then assumes that this is acceptable, no matter how many times the rule to the contrary has been stated and enforced.)
  2. At this stage of development it is especially helpful for the student to have experiences of wholeness because their feeling life is so fragmented. This can be well-met by working closely with all subject teachers to more tightly integrate the curriculum. (Having close collaboration among all teachers who work with the class is imperative for supporting both this point and the one above.)
  3. Craft work can give the students the ability to observe themselves improving a skill following a path similar to that of an apprentice-journeyman-master. For them to be able to see this, they've decided to use short, concentrated blocks for these experiences. (She pointed out that the improvement in skill is difficult for them to experience if a project is stretched over too long a time period, i.e. completion of a stool over the course of an entire school year working only a short time each week.)
  4. Students of this age are more productive during a main lesson if the morning activities prior to work include an extended movement activity to wake them up and increase alertness.
  5. If the curriculum can be reenlivened for the upper middle school students they don't leave 8th grade feeling "over" or "done with" Waldorf. They've been getting anecdotal evidence that this change to middle school is helping support enrollment into their high school. They've expanded it to include changes in the 9th and 10th grade curriculum to better meet those students as well. (This seems like we could see similar results and maybe eventually build enough momentum to actually get the high school started up again.)
Ideas I've been rolling around that could be experiments without causing much (if any) disruption to the school schedule...

  1. Combine the 7th and 8th grades for 20 minutes or so of movement first thing in the morning followed by some artistic (speech, recorder, singing) activity together before breaking back into separate classes. To make up for the slightly shortened main lesson time, it seems like one movement specialty period could be replaced by an extra main since they're getting more a mini-movement class each morning.
  2. Split the year into 6 five week "blocks" where 7th and 8th grade alternate having 2 woodwork or 2 handwork classes per week instead of one of each. A lot of time seems wasted each week reorienting themselves with their projects and it's difficult to keep energy up for work that is so spread out. The woodwork and handwork teachers would have the same teaching times that they would have had anyway so there would be no budgetary or scheduling difficulties to overcome.

I'm anxious to bring the notes back to my colleagues and see what they think of my ideas or if they have others.

Tomorrow's the last day of fun - 2 keynotes, 1 focus session, and 1 artistic session. After the last keynote the conference will officially wrap up and I'll be here for two more days attending delegates meetings. I've never been to one so it should be interesting to see what all of the regions are working on and what AWSNA is trying to do at the continental level.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hatchet Strawberry

Q called this berry a "hatchetberry" because of its large flat shape. The card it's next to up there is a standard business card. Q informs me that this big guy was officially a four bite strawberry.

Q went home after dropping me at the airport yesterday and picked 16 lb. 4 oz. of strawberries! Since I'm out of town he got stuck washing and freezing them all. That little picking brought us up to an even 50 lb. for the season so far. It looks like I only need 1 1/2 more gallons for the freezer. I'll have to double check our jam supply too.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Frivolous Post Unscientifically Maligning Air Conditioning

There was a mistake in timing for a renovation at the college dorms in Atlanta where I'm staying. That means that several of us have been given rooms without air conditioning for a night until some other guests check out. Yes, daytime temperatures are in the 90s, nighttime temperatures are in the 70s and humidity is currently at 75%. We are staying in the "hot dorm" and have been given repeated apologies and little consolation gifts for our understanding.

We were told in the conference information to remember a sweater. Air conditioned buildings are kept so cold that we need jackets to stay comfortable. Wait, I thought air conditioning was designed to provide comfort.

My room is kept quite comfortable by a fan and an open window, through which I can hear highway traffic but I can also hear breezes through the trees and night insects. In air-conditioned buildings it is commonly known that an open window is a cardinal sin.

To play devil's advocate, I have been in Sacramento during a heat wave (over 100 degrees) and been in a position where I had to stay outside for an afternoon due to locked buildings. Even in the shade it felt almost unbearable. I was grateful for air-conditioning then and it rapidly cured my heat induced headache. My question is, does it really have to be set so low?

It seems like most people attempt to keep a steady year round indoor temperature - somewhere in the low 70s or high 60s. We've ingeniously invented machines that allow us to do that. We don't, however, maintain a steady year round wardrobe. Anybody with a whit of sense wears sweaters and coats in winter and lighter clothes in the summer to keep themselves comfortable outside. It would be nice to extend this common sense to the indoors and allow interiors to be a little warmer in summer and a little cooler in winter because people are able to dress for that variation (and already do). The potential energy savings seem staggeringly large to me.

That's my head argument against the state of climate control. My gut argument is that I never feel well in these super heated/super chilled extremes. Since I've been in Atlanta the heat has been a presence but I haven't really been in heavily air-conditioned locations. It's been perfectly bearable wearing a light sheen of sweat until the sun disappeared and the night cool came.

I'm contrasting this experience to so many other summer conference experiences. I can so clearly remember freezing for an hour during a seminar then rushing through what seemed to be the blazing heat so I could enter another building and start over again. It makes me feel clammy and I rapidly grow irritable and feel a little sick and headachy. My allergies start acting up which then starts the road to mild asthmatic wheezing. I have come to the unscientific conclusion that these constant adjustments must be extremely stressful for my body, which has to constantly adapt to new climates.

It will be interesting to see how thoroughly air-conditioned the classrooms are tomorrow. Maybe I can perform some unscientific testing since the heat and humidity will be constants.
Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon?

Summer AWSNA Conference - Brains!

The hallway of my dorm at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Georgia.
I'm spending five days in Atlanta going to the Summer AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America) Conference. I'm the only representative from our school and I'm thrilled to be here. The conference theme is adolescence. A presenter tonight opened by making an intriguing observation - the three major transitions in every human life are birth, adolescence, and death. We don't remember birth and we can't talk about the experience after death so adolescence is the single largest event that all humankind shares that we can actually recount and examine as a personal experience. It was also a general consensus that nobody in the room has ever said, "Man, I remember 9th grade; I sure wish I could do that over again." Adolescence is hard.

It will be interesting to see what the conference brings up for how we, as educators, can help students through this time. It's a three year cycle and this first year is generally focused on distinguishing the pre-adolescent middle school years from true adolescence in high school and determining best ways to support the middle school students.

It was quoted tonight that the average age of puberty 100 years ago was 17 and that today it is 12. This tidbit seems to be backed up by this article - "In the mid-eighteenth century the average age of menarche in America occurred at over sixteen; it dropped to just over fifteen by the end of the nineteenth century, but fell to twelve years and nine months by the end of the twentieth century."

It was also stated that the development of the prefrontal cortex (responsible for "controlling planning, working memory, organization, and modulating mood") doesn't finish until the end of high school.

Yup, that's right - the latest generations of children are facing the strong hormonally driven instincts induced by puberty a full five years before their brains have finished developing their capacities for self-control, organization and planning. "Poor kids" is the first thought that comes to mind, almost immediately followed by "poor parents and teachers"! It's fascinating to me that in this light, kids really have changed in the last couple of generations - and it's not just a result of not being forced to walk to school five miles uphill both ways. :)

Other super cool adolescent brain science links:

That said, I do believe that an overly indulgent society has not made this biological change any easier to handle. I'm also curious about what environmental changes have caused such a remarkably rapid change in human development patterns. Considering an evolutionary time scale, a huge change has happened in the blink of an eye.

I'm sure more will follow...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Harvests of Various Kinds

Parsnip that overwintered, 6 lbs. of strawberries (after 5 lbs. picked earlier that day), and about 1 1/2 lb. spinach.

The bees had been building comb that was not in an acceptable place so we had to clean it out of the hive yesterday - our first "harvest" from them. There were a few bits with honey that we chewed up - yum! This is the comb that had not yet been used, 75 g. I'm going to attempt to melt and purify it soon and maybe make some lip balm. :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

First Cherries

Sorry the picture is out of focus - I was in a hurry so we could eat them. :)

Kittens Never Stop Moving

They were all simultaneously purring throughout this photo shoot. Marbles is in my hood with the white spot on his back. Munch is mostly white and Socks is peeking over my left shoulder.

They seem to be feeling much better today. They seem to be eating their weight in food.

Corn Experiments

We froze several ears of corn on the cob last summer and then realized that our winter eating habits never really make it something we want to eat. That led to corn experiment night...

After looking up a few corn casserole and corn pudding recipes, I decided to start the experiment by cutting the corn off of 12 defrosted ears - a total of about 7 1/2 lbs.
Half of it went into the blender with 1/4 c. rice milk (any milk would do), 1 t salt, 3 eggs, and 2 t cornstarch. That puree got poured onto the remaining corn for what I started to call the "base".

One half of the base got 6 oz. of canned green chilis, another 1/2 t of salt, several grinds of pepper, and 12 oz. of finely diced tempeh. The other half was the dessert experiment so I just added about 2 T of honey.

Before mixing in the honey I took a small ramekin out to see what the base tasted like. The larger ramekin is the honeyed portion. After the savory one was mixed, I topped the pan with shredded cheese.

It turned out very yummy but I felt like it was a little flat. The chilis added a nice heat but we think we need to try it again and add some sauteed onions and season the tempeh somehow. I might have to research some southwest dishes.

The dessert was good but I'd like a smoother mouth feel. Next time I'm going to increase the egg to corn ratio, use cream instead of milk, blender all the corn, and add some nutmeg. Q had the brilliant idea of pouring half into the pan, drizzling a spicy wildflower honey over it, and then adding the rest of the corn mixture. I'm glad I've got another six ears in the freezer since corn season is still a little ways away.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We've Got Kittens!

I got a call this afternoon that Greenhill had three little kittens who need antibiotics and nose drops for an upper respiratory infection and lots of fattening up for a week. They all feel lousy and have just slept all evening, rasping for breath. They remind me so much of when Digit was that size and just sat on my lap purring and snorking through his URI.

The baby above is Socks. He has another orange and white brother named Marbles and an almost entirely white (except for two tabby spots on the top of his head) brother named Munch. More pictures will, I'm sure, be forthcoming.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Beef and Snow Peas

Local snow peas (first from the garden) and local beef (first steak from the new quarter)

We marinated a steak in oyster sauce, soy sauce, and garlic powder and then grilled it. The peas had some of the leftover marinade poured over them as Q cooked them in the grill basket.
Served over rice, it turned out as a yummy early summer meal. I need to plant more snow peas next year. I fear that none of this harvest will make it to the freezer.

More First Harvests

We got our first two cherries on Sunday. We probably won't get a lot more because the cherry tree is very big and the birds are very greedy.

Q noticed that the blueberries were starting to turn. We found two that had fully ripened. Shortly after this picture was taken, the two ripe ones were consumed.
More are right behind them.

Here's Saturday's strawberry harvest and the first few snow peas.

Corn's growing nicely.

The black-eyed peas seemed stalled and their seed leaves were looking tattered but they've finally put forth some true leaves.

Field Trip!

We went to the "Brews, BBQ, and Berries" festival at French Prairie Gardens near Wilsonville, OR this weekend. Since we have a rental car with unlimited mileage while the insurance gets our car fixed after being rear-ended, it seemed like a field trip was in order. There were some yummy wines, some pretty flowers, a fantastic strawberry scone, and many farm animals, including a yak! Good times.

(Note: I discovered later that this is actually some unusual domestic cow breed.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

School's Out!

My first calendula opened, maybe it's celebrating the last day of school too!

We worked with a bookbinder and all of the students bound all of their work from the entire year into a single volume.

I didn't know enough about the process to properly plan ahead so all of their 8 1/2"x11" sheets were bound using a Japanese method known as stab binding. I'm keeping them until I finish writing end of year reports and returning them to their owners then. I figured I'd use the opportunity for a little photo shoot.

Here is one open to the first page, an art assignment based on the Hundred Years War.
We ended up with between 70-100 pages each (handwriting size differs), covering the Renaissance, Age of Discovery, Writing, Math, African and South American Geography, Physiology, Physics, and Chemistry.
Next year I'm going to look into doing our work on 11"x17" pages that are already sewn together into signatures so we can make books using Coptic binding. That style opens more easily.

And a few garden pictures, since it seemed like a shame to waste a sunny moment.
Our first grapes...

First pea pod...

Bird's eye view of the strawberries...

Monday, June 7, 2010

An Extremely Unusual Day and A Garden Update

Today we had a bee swarm settle on the apple tree outside the school's entrance as they searched for a new home. It didn't seem like a good idea for them to find their own home somewhere on an elementary school's grounds so I found the coworker who helped us when we captured our swarm. The dear woman had a nuc box and her veil in the backseat of her car - talk about good luck! They were about 15' high so, with the help of a tall ladder, she carefully attempted to brush them into the nuc before passing it down to me. We tried at lunch time and again after school and both times it looked good but after a few minutes they resettled on the same place on the branch so we somehow missed the queen each time.

When Q came and picked me up I showed them to him and he was such a sport. We drove home, threw our veils and other equipment in the car and drove back down to school.

On the way back down, we got rear-ended! It was pretty minor but gave us a good jolt. Q saw her coming (looked like a young college student - in a brand new car!) but had no place to go. At least we didn't get pushed into the car in front of us. We'll get an estimate in the next day or so. It looks like they'll have to replace the bumper and there's a minor scrape/dent on the back of the trunk so I don't know how they'll fix that.
(This isn't a great picture but the crack in the bumper is visible. You can't see the way the whole thing is slightly misplaced from this angle.)

After we exchanged information, we continued on to school. With the careful application of pruning shears and Q's patience we got a big chunk into the nuc, put the remaining frames in, and put the lid on. We stepped back to watch and feared that we had failed again because a clump again began to reform on the branch. As we watched though, some bees started doing the Nassanov pheromone fanning; bee for "hey guys, the queen's over here!"
This is what they look like as they fan...

Then, they all just started going in the door, as quickly as possible, it was like a bee vacuum or subtle bee gravity. After a few minutes the clump on the tree had dissolved and after about 15 minutes most of the bees were inside. We left the nuc there for my coworker to pick up this evening. She'd been wanting another hive and this was a lovely stroke of good luck! It was a very cool experience to see. It was also nice having it not work twice. I feel like I'm gaining a lot more knowledge about capturing swarms. Here's a short video of the parade into the box...

When we got home, there was still a little daylight left and it hadn't rained all day! We got another strawberry harvest in - 4 more pounds! (We also got 3 lbs. on Friday night.) I can't believe the rate they're producing at.
Here they are in front of the peas, which are quite tall and quickly becoming covered in blossoms.
I love the way this variety is red all the way through, even the largest ones don't really seem to have the core that store bought always seem to have.

The blueberries are well on their way to ready.

Edamame plants,

Bingo Bean Plants, and...

The closest you'll ever come to seeing my green bean plants! This is a small part of the collection Q took off of the house this Saturday. Slugs and snails left nothing but empty green stalks from my many green bean seedlings. They've also devoured my melon seedlings faster than they can grow. Everything else is a bit chewed on but seems to be winning the battle. We've got to stop having all this wet weather. It gives them too much of an advantage.

I made spinach bacon omelets for breakfast Sunday. I love the brilliant green of spinach as it just starts to cook. I harvested another 12 oz. of spinach and froze it tonight. The silly plants are already bolting. I think I'll try for one more crop since it's such a cool wet spring.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

First Bowl of Strawberries

We harvested 15 ounces all at once tonight and it looks like another pound is a day or two away! That is if a great flood doesn't wipe out the entire Willamette Valley before then!