Archive for February, 2010

For the birds

26 February 2010

So here I am at home, on the 5th snow day this month.  Our school district budgets only four snow days each year, so we will have to make this day up somewhere, either in June or over Spring Break.

I have been making use of the free time in various ways.  Yesterday I went grocery shopping at 6 AM.  The grocery store opens at 5 AM and I was up and dressed, so I went ahead and took care of the shopping at a time when there were very few other shoppers.  The aisles were full of employees, though, restocking shelves depleted, no doubt, by crowds the day before the storm.  Yesterday and today I am again keeping up with my AP Physics curriculum by meeting my class online using Elluminate.  I will also be holding my Science Bowl practice this afternoon online.

I’ve also been enjoying watching the birds.  I counted 36 grackles this morning before I had to give up due to them flying about, saw a European starling, and also gave up trying to count the song sparrows since they are all over the place and it is difficult to distinguish them from the other sparrows.  There were three cardinals, several mourning doves (though not the 16 I counted in our redbud tree a couple of weeks ago), juncos, and house sparrows.  I see a Carolina chickadee in the redbud now, waiting for a turn at the feeder.

Two weeks ago during our previous snow event, I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count.  I dutifully counted the birds as best I could, but I have difficulty distinguishing song sparrows, house sparrows, and tree sparrows (if we even have those) from a distance, from above (since I watch mostly from my office window on the second floor), and while the birds are moving, which is most of the time.  I remember seeing one house finch, though!

Ooh, there’s a tufted titmouse!  I haven’t seen any woodpeckers at our feeder in a while, though I keep looking for them.  I wonder if buying the  different blend of seeds (with fewer sunflower seeds) has sent them looking elsewhere.

I’m definitely going to have to replenish the bird feeder today!


14 February 2010

Remember reading over the summer that I learned to make pickles and jam?  Now I know how to make marmalade!  Several people have asked for the recipe, so here it is.  I made slight modifications to the recipe from the cosmic cowgirl, who credits Nigella Lawson (though I can’t find a marmalade recipe credited to Nigella herself on her website – maybe it’s from a book). I found her through the tigress’s “can jam” January citrus round-up of recipes.

The first step was figuring out which citrus to use.  Every year my parents have been sending us a box of oranges and grapefruit at Christmas and a box of Temple oranges at St. Valentine’s Day.  This season after a discussion we settled on ONE box of fruit, the yummy Temples and also grapefruit…usually we take a looonng time to get through all the fruit.  So my husband and I had a discussion and my wonderful smart husband asked me which fruit we take the longest to use up.  That’s the grapefruit, so that became the marmalade ingredient.


  • 5 pink grapefruit
  • juice of 4 lemons (I used the equivalent of bottled lemon juice)
  • about 7 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of local honey (from Lancaster County)

Since marmalade involves the rind, I scrubbed the fruit very well to start with, then cut them in half.  I boiled the halved fruit uncovered for two hours (adding boiling water from a kettle once or twice), and drained the fruit and let it cool.  Meanwhile, I put a couple of plates in the freezer for gel-testing, cleaned my jars and lids, brought my processing water-bath to a boil with my jars inside, and readied my canning tools.

I used a mandoline to slice up the grapefruit halves, then removed some large chunks of membrane and large chunks of rind.  I chopped the large chunks of rind into smaller slices and added them back in, and then I used an immersion blender to make some pieces even smaller, but I did not chop it into such tiny pieces as the cosmic cowgirl did.

Citrus pith, membrane, and seeds contain plenty of pectin, and I saved a bunch of seeds from when I cut the grapefruit in half and put them and the large chunks of membrane I’d removed into a little cloth bag (one of those herb bag thingys for bouquet garni–you could also use cheesecloth or some clean muslin) which went into the pot with the shredded grapefruit, lemon juice, honey and sugar.  I brought the mixture to a boil and kept it at a low boil for a long while…I started gel-testing at about 10 minutes, but it took more like 45 minutes before I felt it was ready.

I filled and wiped my jars, and processed them for 10 minutes.  I got 5.5 pints of marmalade from this recipe, and I can attest that it is yummy on bagels with cream cheese, bread with butter, and bread with peanut butter.


11 February 2010

Last weekend, we had a big snowstorm.  Maybe you heard about it.  Maybe you were in it.  Maybe you listened to the NPR reporters going on and on about it, heard about the government shutdown, and thought, “what, for a little snow? What wimps!”

Anyway, by the time it was all over, we had about 20 inches (51 cm) at our house, but the airport reported 28.5 inches (72.4 cm).  Happily, the neighbors used their snowblower to clear our sidewalk, but since my husband was at his graduate classes on Friday and Saturday, I had to shovel the snowplow leavings from the end of the driveway on my own.  Then, due to the local transit system shutting down, I had to go drive into the city to get him, which was fine, since I know how to drive in the snow and hardly anybody else was on the roads.  I took it slow and steady, and even without 4-wheel drive, I easily made it.

So then it snowed again Tuesday night and all day Wednesday, and I didn’t measure this time since it is harder to measure when you already have snow.  The airport recorded an additional 14 inches (36 cm) but here it was enough to top off our compacted-and-sunken snow cover back up to about two feet (61 cm).  And this was heavy, wet snow, since the forecast of temperatures in the teens (Fahrenheit) had been completely wrong.  The temperature hovered around the freezing mark, and some of the precipitation was in fact sleet and freezing rain at times.  YUCK!  Happily, both my school and my husband’s work were closed today so we could shovel out together.  I have the added bonus of no school tomorrow either, for some reason, so I won’t be going back to school until Tuesday, since Monday is a federal holiday.  So I am in the midst of a 6-day weekend!

You might wonder why I have not been spending all my free time writing blog posts for you to read.  Two reasons.  Number one, I actually had class for my AP Physics students yesterday and today, via “Elluminate.”  They are the same company who once upon a time told me I had to re-format my computer.  No problems this time, though, and I was able to teach all about how to determine the electric field from a dipole (along a bisecting axis) and a line of charge and a ring of charge and from a disk of charge. All of this required advance preparation, including some complex equations that I typed into Word’s equation editor ahead of time.  I have been told that it might be easier to do my equation in LaTeX, but I have never had the patience to figure that out.

The other reason?  Reading.  On facebook a couple of weeks ago, a cousin had mentioned Diana Gabaldon’s latest, and I hadn’t realized it had been published last year, so I got it from the library.  If you are not familiar with Diana Gabaldon, she writes time travel romances.  An Echo in the Bone is her seventh novel  (all are 700+ pages) about the adventures of Claire, a twentieth-century-born physician, and Jamie, her 18th-century Scottish highlander husband, and their family.  There are several goings back-and-forth between the 18th and 20th centuries, lots of historical figures (An Echo in the Bone features my ancestor Joseph Brant, as well as Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, and major revolutionary war figures in Saratoga), and lots of sex.

Upon finishing An Echo in the Bone, I immediately started in on Connie Willis’s latest book, which arrived from last week.  Blackout is another time travel novel, featuring Oxford University historians studying World War II.  Connie Willis first introduced the history department of Oxford University, and its head of time travel James Dunworthy, in her short story Fire Watch in 1982.  Dunworthy is a major character in Willis’s novel Doomsday Book, in which a minor character from Fire Watch does her history practicum in the Middle Ages while Oxford suffers from an influenza epidemic.  Dunworthy appears again in the comic novel To Say Nothing of the Dog.  That one takes the historians to the Victorian era.  In Blackout, Willis returns to her favorite era and location: World War II Britain, and reintroduces one of the characters from Doomsday Book, Colin Templer, now seventeen years old.  Unfortunately, Blackout is only part I of two books, and the second half of the story, All Clear, is not due to be published until fall!

So there you go.  I have been keeping busy.  I have a bunch of tests yet to grade, that I gave on Tuesday, and I have some more work to do for my AP class (I want to send them some notes via e-mail, since we won’t be teleconferencing again tomorrow), and I am sure I can find plenty of other ways to continue to keep busy.  I have two netflix movies to watch, for example.  And I have some sewing projects to do.  And four more days before having to be back at school!


3 February 2010

Dummy…that would be me.

I did one of those things that you aren’t supposed to do in physics, which is drop a kilogram on your foot from the lab table.  It is the argument for why you should never wear open-toed shoes in physics lab.  Which doesn’t really make sense unless your concern is really to avoid spraying blood all over, since most shoes won’t actually protect you from injury:

I think I may have a broken toe.  Though I am intrigued by the unusual green color on the toenail on the “second little piggy,” I am also excited by the deep purple of the “third little piggy’s” bruise.

Aren’t you glad you read my blog?  You totally needed to see that photo.

My students were very excited to see me hop up and down and yell.  Quite the diversion.  Sigh.  I had actually taped the kilogram onto a WHEELED cart.  Then set it down on the table in an orientation that allowed it to roll right off the table onto my foot.  Aaarrgh!