Archive for July, 2008

Using CSA Veggies

29 July 2008

beetbrownie2, originally uploaded by TeaWithBuzz.

Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do. We get a lot of vegetables every week from our CSA, and sometimes I don’t know what to do with them. Happily, I found a recipe for zucchini-beet brownies here. Yummy!

Shoes!

29 July 2008

Once upon a time, I had very few pairs of shoes.  I was very practical in my selection of shoes as well:  if I found a pair that I really loved, were comfortable, and looked right, I would buy an extra pair or two to keep in reserve until the first pair wore out.  Also, I was relatively poor (young teacher, paying back student loans plus paying for coursework to get my MSEd), and renting spaces shared with others so I wasn’t really acquiring lots of stuff anyway.

However, to my surprise, I have found myself in recent years acquiring more and more pairs of shoes, including these particularly cute ones:

I hesitate to count the number of pairs of shoes I now own.  I’m sure I don’t have a hundred pairs, and I’m sure I don’t have fifty pairs, but I don’t really want to know how many pairs I do have.  I might be upset that I had too many.  There are sandals, boots, shoes for teaching in, and shoes for dressing up.  There are dancing shoes appropriate for Scottish or English country dancing, that I also use for Dance Dance Revolution.  I also have special bicycling shoes.  The shoes in the photo aren’t in any of those categories…they can be worn to school on “casual fridays” or I might wear them on vacations or weekends.  But they sure are cute!

I have shoes I bought for walking, shoes I bought to go out on a “date” with my husband (dinner and a show), shoes that I bought for my wedding, shoes that I bought in a thrift store.  Shoes that can only be worn with nylons, shoes that must be worn with thick socks or even two pairs of socks.  Shoes that I keep even though my wide feet get uncomfortable in them, but I like the shoes too much to get rid of them.

I don’t have any Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos.  They mostly look terribly uncomfortable and all cost way too much.  I mostly stick with brands that come in wide sizes or that I know to be made on a wider than usual last.  A last is the foot-shaped block of wood or plastic that a shoe is built around.  The shoes in the photo are by Rieker, and they tend to be a little wider than usual.  I like Rockport and Easy Spirit and Naturalizer, because they all make women’s shoes in wide sizes.

Shoe companies that don’t make shoes in wide sizes seem to have enough business without the wide-foot population that it doesn’t interest them to expand their markets.  I think that is odd in this capitalist culture, but then, I don’t run a shoe company.  And, clearly, I am able to find a lot of shoes I like and can wear, otherwise, why would my closet be overflowing with them?

Finally, I will leave you with a piece of wisdom I once heard on NPR, which still reliably gives me the giggles:

If you wear a pair of shoes only every other day, they will last you twice as long!

How to remove “popcorn” ceiling

27 July 2008

When we first looked at the house we now live in, we looked up at the ceiling and were a little taken aback by the sparkles.  There are little flakes of glitter embedded in that popcorn-looking texture coating that can be blown onto ceilings to hide flaws.  And this stuff was in the living room, dining room, stairwell, upstairs hallway, and two of the upstairs bedrooms.  Happily, it was not in the master bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, or the basement.

Well, we don’t like the “popcorn” ceiling effect, nor are we fond of the sparkles.  So as we re-shape the rooms of the house (not literally re-shaping) to our liking, the ceiling texture is going.

Last summer my diligent and strong husband scraped the “popcorn” coating off the room that used to be our pink-painted guest bedroom, painted the ceiling white and the walls yellow, made the floor nicer, and then I moved all my office stuff into it.  Then we took all of his computer and game and stereo and TV equipment and paraphernalia from “the blue room” and moved it to the finished basement.

So this summer I am transforming “the blue room” into a new guest bedroom.

Step one: remove all the furniture.  Check.

Step two: put a tarp on the floor to catch most of the stuff I’ll be removing from the ceiling.  Check.

Step three: dress sensibly for the work at hand:  goggles, face mask to keep out particulates (no fumes or asbestos here, so a particulate mask is fine), hat, work shirt, bandanna so my hair is not really gross afterward.  Check.

Step four: start scraping.
ummm….OK, this was arduous, awkward, painful, and exhausting.  I managed to work for about 45 minutes, almost finishing the part where the ceiling is bent against the roof.  You can’t tell from the photo below, but in the right-hand corner I did not scrape all the way down to the underlying surface.  There is still a layer of plaster-like stuff that I just could not muster the energy to do.  I showered and fell asleep.  My arms were soooo tired!

Day 2:
Step five: go to Home Depot for a better scraper than my little flexible spatula.  This was the best move I made in this whole process.  I found a tool specifically made for scraping “popcorn” texture off ceilings.  It has a handle you can attach a pole to, and you can attach a bag to collect the scrapings.  On the box, the manufacturer recommended also buying a solution to spray on the ceiling before scraping, to make it easier.

Unfortunately, no solution was available for sale.  I asked one of the helpful Home Depot employees, and he said if it isn’t there, we don’t have any.  He also said his nephew just sprayed water on a “popcorn” ceiling before scraping it, while he personally had simply covered one up with eighth-inch wallboard.  Well, I am not about to try installing wallboard on a ceiling, so I bought the big scraper, an additional (stiffer) small scraper for the edges and a wire brush for intractable bits, and came home to scrape.

Here’s my stuff: on the far right is my little flexible scraper that I wasn’t having fun with on day one.

Step six: get the ceiling wet.  Check.
For this, I used a pressure-sprayer that I had originally gotten for garden use.  It’s useful for cleaning bugs and spiderwebs out of my potted plants before bringing them in for the winter.  And it is also useful for spraying water on a “popcorn” ceiling.  It worked great!

Step seven: install bag and pole on big scraper, and scrape.  Check.
The fun part of this is that even with the bag on, there is still a way for goopy plaster ceiling texture to fall on your head.  Or goggles.  Or arms.  Which it did.  Plus, that bag gets pretty heavy pretty quickly, so this is easier than day one, but still not a piece of cake.  And, due to the ceiling not being a planar surface and the saturation of the texture material being variable, there is still the necessity of getting up close and personal with the little scrapers.

Step eight: Get on the ladder, scrape by hand, get off the ladder and move it over half a meter, then repeat.  Check.
Steps seven and eight got repeated several times, as I didn’t know how much of the ceiling was reasonable to soak at once.  When there was about a quarter of the room still to go, I called it quits for the day.  I was messy (pardon the fuzzy photo, I was having some difficulty figuring out the auto-shoot) and tired.  But look how far I got!

So, today, Sunday, was day 3.  I repeated steps seven and eight three more times after moving my tarp (it is not quite the size of the room, just a little smaller), and finished!  Yay!

This week I’ll wipe down the ceiling with a wet sponge to get any dust I left behind, patch the holes and cracks in the ceiling, prepare the walls for painting, paint the ceiling, and put the light back up before finally painting the walls.  After that’s all done, I can think about the floor!  And after that, furniture!

Math more popular than Nintendo

25 July 2008

Really, it’s true!  I posted my “No Excuses” post about arithmetic skills on Wednesday, on Thursday I got the most blog hits ever in one day (50, according to WordPress):

Before yesterday, I got a lot of hits the day I posted my first Nintendo post, the day I blogged about the customer service letter that told me to reformat my computer, and the day I provided the strawberry pie recipe (always popular….mmmmm, pie!).

Thanks for reading!

No excuses!

23 July 2008

A few weeks ago, I witnessed two women I know playing cribbage.  At one point they had a little confusion while adding up their points.  They laughed it off, each saying “oh, I’m not good at math.”

One of these women has a toddler daughter, who is one of the sweetest, prettiest little girls you have ever seen.  Both are graduates of elite liberal arts colleges, where you have to have a darn good SAT score to get in.

I restrained myself from ranting at them, so I will rant here instead.

First:

AAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!

No mother of a little girl should blow off poor arithmetic/counting skills and claim to be “not good at math.” Would you ever claim “oh, I can’t read very well” as an excuse for driving through a stop sign?  Or for missing the correct exit to get off the highway?  Or for voting for the wrong candidate?  What would you say to someone who used that excuse?  How would you feel about that person, especially if you knew they had graduated from a highly selective college?  Would you assume they have a learning disability, such as dyslexia?  A reading phobia?  Mental problems?

If you are not good at arithmetic (which is really what these women were having difficulty with), you can do something about it.  You can practice.  You can play math games.  You can use flash cards.  You can, in other words, exercise that part of your brain.  And you SHOULD.

If you are not good at mathematics, i.e. algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus…well, you won’t need those much in most professions.  But keep it to yourself and encourage your daughter to love and excel at math!

My mom is no mathematician.  She was an English major at a small liberal arts college in Ohio.  She never, to my recollection, claimed to be “bad at math” nor did she ever discourage me from doing math.  While she didn’t take the more advanced math classes in high school (they were not required) and therefore couldn’t help me with math by the time I was in seventh grade and starting (for the first time) to need help with it, she has always been an excellent arithmetician.  She can add up a score tally faster than I can, if we’re playing a game that requires adding points.  She can balance a checkbook.  She’s a very smart woman, with a very large vocabulary and a love of reading, and she can add, subtract, multiply, and divide without complaint, comment, or wimpy excuse.

Why is it acceptable for people (not just women) to shrug off this skill?  At a time when government leaders are pushing for better math and science education, and when high school science teachers I know bemoan the lack of math skills their incoming students have each year (which greatly hinders these students’ ability to learn science skills), such excuses as “I’m not good at math” should absolutely NOT be acceptable.  Especially in front of young girls who don’t get “humor” yet.

If you truly think of yourself as “not good at math,” you should do something about it! Especially if your kids are old enough to play math games with, you should actively compete against them in math games.  You and your kids will both benefit.

Of course you should also read to your kids, play fun games with them, and teach them good manners and all that…but you should ALSO encourage them in arithmetic and math!

Awesome Week

18 July 2008

Lets see…

  • Sunday: Picnic lunch and short hike with friends I’ve known for 20 years
  • Sunday-Wednesday: Visiting the science camp where I made the decision to become a teacher and where I met the man I married
  • Monday-Wednesday: Kids who loved learning to program with vpython
  • Thursday: Putting Grammy Wilma’s cedar chest in our bedroom
  • Thursday: The usual collection of yummy fresh vegetables from the CSA
  • Friday: I learned of Joss Whedon’s new internet musical comedy: Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog
  • Friday: My husband acquired Dance Dance Revolution Universe 2 for XBox 360 (and hacked the pad connector so we can use our fancy Cobalt Flux dance pad with it) and we learned it contains the song Safety Dance by Men Without Hats

I’d say its been awesome, yep.

Here’s the veggies:

There are tomatoes, green beans, onions, beets, rainbow chard, zucchini, cucumbers, potatoes, romaine lettuce, a large green bell pepper, and cherries!

The war against thistles

10 July 2008

I don’t care that thistles are the national flower of Scotland. I don’t want to grow them in my garden. I will concede that it is possible to mistake the rosebed for some sort of year-round prickly plant convention, or if you are a Japanese beetle you might see it as an all-you-can-eat buffet, but I prefer to think of it as a GARDEN. So this morning I put on my gloves and pulled weeds in the bright sunshine, and also trimmed the dead brown blossoms off the roses.

I know I missed a few thistles and I think I spotted some more poison ivy when I was wheeling a barrow-full of refuse around to the back, but I had to stop when my gloves were so soaked I couldn’t stand them any more on my hands. It’s been rainy for a few days and the ground was very wet, and the roses were very wet, and the weeds were very wet. So, now my gloves are too.

At least the FRONT end of the garden looks mostly good:

(Yeah, we have crabgrass, too.)

Here is a link to a little piece of guitar music one of my former students played on his new classical guitar and posted on the internet. He says the microphone makes the guitar sound terrible, and that it isn’t his best playing, but I think it sounds good. Give a listen!

Venezuelan Waltz

Nintendo, revisited

8 July 2008

After I wrote my initial post about the Nintendo Party I attended (here), Marisa pointed the party organizers to my blog and they were sorry that I hadn’t enjoyed the games I played. To apologize, they sent me two more games to try: Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.

I was very very surprised.

In the meantime, my husband used his Gamefly membership to get me Planet Puzzle League, a discontinued DS game. So, with the initial game Brain Age 2, I now have FOUR games to go with my Nintendo DS Lite.

You might wonder how I have fared with these.

By far, I have spent the most amount of time with Brain Age 2 and Planet Puzzle League. I am down to a “brain age” of 25, and I have played BA2 enough times to have “unlocked” all the different activities and I’ve gotten about a third of the way through the “Intermediate” sudoku puzzles (40% of all the available sudokus, according to the game.) Planet Puzzle League has caused me to almost miss my train stop, but only once.

Brain Age 2 lets you have a “stamp” on each date on the calendar that you train your brain. This is a method that works with me, and though I don’t feel beholden to the game (there are plenty of days I’ve ignored it) I have still picked it up over 20 times since getting it. That is way more than I have played the other games. It is quick if you want quick, I have gotten better at poking the piano keys, and I’m pretty good at the game where they give you a clock face that is not in its usual orientation and maybe also seen from behind (imagine clear clock innards so you can see the hands, the hour ticks, and one number). And I have

discovered I like sudoku to the point of looking for a sudoku DS game every time I walk into a Target or a Walmart or other store that sells games. I haven’t found one in a store yet, however, and Gamefly is being annoying (they won’t let me get an account separate from my husband), so I may just have to order one on Amazon.com.

Planet Puzzle League has several different (yet similar) games, involving little colored squares that march slowly up the screen. When a row of squares gets high enough, you can manipulate the squares by exchanging the places of two squares horizontally. You can exchange the places of any pair of adjacent squares, but if 3 or more squares of the same color wind up touching each other in a vertical or horizontal line, those squares disappear and the squares that were above them “settle” downward into their vacated spaces. If you are quick enough, you can sometimes slip a square into the empty space after one square disappears but before an upper square settles. You get more points for making more squares disappear at once, and for “cascades” in which settling squares wind up in rows or columns that can disappear, causing more squares to settle.

PPL is enough like Tetris or Bejeweled to keep me very occupied for a half-hour or more at a time. Of course, I really think Nintendo and PopCap should get together and make a deal…Even though I have already bought and downloaded some PopCap games, I would be very likely to buy them again (especially as a multi-game package) for the DS. In particular, Bookworm Adventures Deluxe and Bejeweled. Maybe Peggle.

Of course, I really really want there to be a Boggle game for DS. A GOOD one. There is one that you can buy through Amazon.com that has several games packaged with it, and the reviews on Amazon.com are TERRIBLE! They say the dictionary for the Boggle game is too limited and the Boggle game itself is buggy! That is two killers, right there. I need there to be a good dictionary and smooth gameplay. I don’t need sound. I don’t need fancy graphics, just “good enough” graphics, big dictionary, no bugs. Is that really so much to ask for?

Mine uses English

The game I have spent the next most amount of time with (several hours, cumulatively) is Professor Layton and the Curious Village. This is a puzzle game with plot. Literally a puzzle game. Will Shortz should have had this game when he was 12 years old! Well, maybe 10. Professor Layton and his sidekick (his “apprentice,” a boy of indeterminate age but definitely hasn’t had his voice change yet) travel to the village of St. Mystere, where everyone they meet hands them a puzzle to solve and where strange things are going on. The puzzles range from trick questions to the “move one matchstick” or “find the shortest path” or “draw without lifting your pencil” types of puzzles. The trick questions can be pretty easy, especially since if you are playing this game you start expecting there to be a trick, and if you expect a trick and are good at literal interpretation (this is easy for a physics teacher), there is hardly any difficulty at all.

Unfortunately, I am not that interested in these puzzles. They are a little too easy. The plot of the game does not draw me in, nor do the characters. I remember playing Planetfall from Infocom back in 1989…I LOVED my in-game sidekick robot Floyd! And I could relate to the character I was playing as, in the game, because I was thrust into the role. In PL&tCV you are not playing as the professor and you are not playing as the apprentice, but you are supposed to keep them happy by finding them furniture for their hotel room…yeah. Why didn’t their hotel room come with furniture to begin with? This is in addition to solving individual puzzles and the overarching puzzle of the game. The game encourages you to poke all over each scene to find “hint coins” which are a different sort of currency from the “picarats” you earn for solving puzzles. Plus, some puzzles will give you a scrap of a painting or a “gizmo” (or furniture) in addition to picarats once you solve them.

I feel that this game is trying too hard. Maybe somebody thought the idea of a puzzle game was too simple, so they put the plot around it. And that was still too simple, so they added the hint coins and the picarats. And once they started adding elements, it was hard to stop, and cooler heads in game development prevailed too late to prevent the furniture, gizmos, and painting scraps from being added. Or maybe there used to be even MORE stuff and some was deleted! Anyway, I’ll play PL&tCV again if I am desperate for entertainment…maybe the next time I am on an airplane or train.

The game I have played the least is The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. I played until I got stuck in the temple that sucks all your life out of you and you die. That isn’t very far into the game.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is an adventure game in which you play a little elf dressed in green with a little glowing butterfly for a sidekick. You can pick up things and throw them until you get a sword, and then you can hit things with your sword. If I had never watched my husband playing a Zelda game on the Wii, I would never have guessed that once you get the sword you should spend a lot of time hitting stuff, like barrels and tufts of grass. Why? Money pops out of some barrels and some tufts of grass when you mow them with your sword! (Is that why my husband mows the lawn? I thought it was because I told him I wasn’t going to mow…) You need money to buy things like bombs or health potion.

The characters in TLoZ:PH are very cartoon-ish and exaggerated, and even less realistic than in PL&tCV. There are maps, some of which you can “write on,” and you have to figure out puzzles like in Myst: what is the correct sequence of levers to pull to make something happen, for example. Plus you have to kill things with your sword. As in PL&tCV, you also have to go around and talk to people to get information which will eventually help you accomplish your goal of rescuing princess Zelda.

Unfortunately, I am not particularly inspired to continue playing TLoZ:PH, though I don’t rule it out entirely. I did try the temple puzzle several times and failed, and my next best guess of what to do is go mow a lot more lawns to earn enough money to buy healing potion in the port town and see if I can glug enough of that to be able to stay alive in the life-sucking temple. I’m really not into lawn-mowing. Well, we’ll see.

Aside from the necessity of mowing lawns, it seems to me that too many plots focus on rescuing princesses, and not enough princesses have fun adventures. Zelda tries to have an adventure, and is brave, but still winds up needing rescuing. I took enough Women’s Studies courses as an undergraduate to see the inherent sexism in this, which maybe Nintendo should think about as it tries to get more women playing DS. Plus, I put my name into the game, when it was asked for at the beginning, and the game uses male pronouns for my character which sounds funny with my name. I don’t see why you can’t designate yourself as a girl as long as you are also getting your name into the game.

I feel a little bad for disliking the free games I was sent, so I started thinking about the kinds of games I like and how to design a game for me (and people like me). Fist, what games do I like? Well, I like casual games like solitaire, Bejeweled, Planet Puzzle League, tetris, and sudoku. I like word games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Bookworm Adventures Deluxe. I like some console games, like Dance Dance Revolution and Katamari Damacy. I liked Myst and several of its sequels. And I really liked several of the old Infocom text-adventure games, like the Zork series, Planetfall, Stationfall, and that one I never got very far in, because it was hard…um…it took place in a university…there was an evil custodian…Oh well, if you know it, I’m sure you will tell me.

Hmm. So, casual games, word games, DDR, and adventure/puzzle games. No swordfighting. No gender-bias. No puppies (sorry, little sister). Stamps for accomplishment are a good enough reward. … I’m not feeling like I’m getting anywhere with this train of thought.

Honestly, I am not a game designer and have no desire to be one. I like a lot of games, just not the ones Nintendo thinks I ought to like. I do think casual games and word games could be good “female-friendly” directions for Nintendo to go with this. Happily, I can rely on my husband to keep his finger on the pulse of electronic gaming, and if a game comes out that he thinks I would like, I will certainly hear about it. You will probably be able to read about it too, at his site Positively Gaming. In the meantime, Nintendo, are you listening? Do you have any cash for paying consultants? I could consult for you and tell you if a game is any good for people like me, before you try to market it. Call me.

Ah, summer days, tra-la

7 July 2008

All those weekends I stressed over papers I had to grade or lessons I had to prepare; all those evenings when I fell onto the sofa, exhausted; this is when I have that time back.

So, I pull weeds, wash dishes (Greg does more of that during the school year), cook more often, and make to-do lists.  And watch the Tour de France, and watch wildlife.

Wildlife?  Well, suburban wildlife.  Yesterday we found a praying mantis and a small brown snake while pulling out some poison ivy from the front garden.  There are lots of birds at the birdfeeder, in addition to the white squirrel.  I’ve only been seeing one white squirrel at a time lately…so I don’t know what is going on in that community.  Did the one I saw in early spring going at it with a gray squirrel have her babies?  Did two of them die?  Has a squirrel gotten territorial and chased the others away?  There’s a little bird that lands on the wooden dowel of the bird feeder and keeps slipping upside down.  That happened to the woodpecker too, until it figured out how to balance on the top of it, sideways.  There are cardinals and chickadees and titmice and lbj’s (little brown jobs).  And wood doves, which are basically backyard pigeons, as opposed to street pigeons.

So far this summer I haven’t seen (or heard) the foxes that we’ve sometimes had in the backyard, and I also haven’t seen the hawk I saw last year.  But we haven’t had any problems with rabbits, despite some of my friends complaining bitterly that they are overrun with rabbits this year.  However, I found a really huge Japanese beetle in my roses on Saturday.  Ugh!

Here are some (out-of-focus) pictures:

Unusually Early

3 July 2008

It is only July 3, and I already this morning had my first “back-to-school anxiety dream” of the new school year. In it, I was unprepared for my first class on the first day of school. I was disorganized, couldn’t find my class list, was in a strange classroom that I hadn’t prepared beforehand, and had a huge class full of kids. The kids were a handful: getting out of their seats, talking on cell phones, and one girl wandered in from another class and started talking to one of my students, in the middle of my made-up-on-the-spot lesson.

In addition, I was having trouble hearing kids, the chalkboard at the front of the room was about 50 cm by 100 cm (barely enough to write certain equations), and there were strange random objects in the room. One memorable object was a toilet bolted to the top of a big old-fashioned solid wood teacher desk, which two students promptly tried to remove. In the dream, I found it necessary to reprimand the kids harshly, exhort them to use the restroom if they had to pee or poop and never do that in the classroom, and hold them in class at the end of the period.

Holding students at the end of the period of course backfired, as an inexperienced math teacher and her class bustled in for the next class period while for some reason I was picking up a huge pile of felt chalkboard erasers from the floor outside the classroom door. I suddenly realized that the reason I couldn’t hear was the loud racket from the HVAC unit in the front of the room, and started asking if we could change the orientation of the room so that the “front” was switched to the opposite wall (where there was a much larger chalkboards, as well). Then the head custodian came in to turn off the HVAC (so it would be quiet but very hot in the room—yet another reason for students to complain) and the assistant principal came in (I don’t know why) and one of the other physics teachers came in (with some strange egg-carton contraption he was building). I took the inexperienced math teacher out of the room and explained to her why the room organization would be better facing the other way.

“Don’t you have a mentor teacher?” I asked her, and when she told me who it was I rolled my eyes and understood why she didn’t know that she was supposed to turn on the TV in homeroom for the kids to watch the daily announcements. Because it was a dream, this was disproportionately important to me to convey.

The rest of the dream went on in the same vein until I woke up. It was 5 AM. Sigh.

I’m guessing I had this dream because I got an e-mail yesterday that my schedule for this year is being changed. After my AP class was canceled due to low enrollment, I was assigned to teach 9th grade physical science. I’ve done that before, and didn’t mind the assignment, and was already planning in my head, if not on computer or paper yet. But the administration had told me they would lobby higher-level administration to create an additional section of non-AP second-year physics and have me teach that instead of 9th grade. So apparently they were successful and I got word yesterday morning. I have taught that class more recently than I’ve taught 9th graders, but there were no nascent plans for the coming year in my head yet.

So, here I am, up at 5 AM on my summer vacation, blogging because I don’t want to go back to sleep and revisit the anxiety. Usually I don’t have this type of dream until August!

How do you spell that sound you make when you stick your tongue between your lips and blow a “raspberry?” Well, imagine I wrote that sound here.