Thursday, March 31, 2011

Three birthdays in a week

My birthday, the odometer one, was on Tuesday --- our friends the vets came by on Monday to help me celebrate, so Tuesday was day two --- and then this evening we made potluck a celebration of the birthdays of the two of us with a birthday this week.  (We didn't advertise it widely: there are at least three or four people close by who don't come to potluck who have birthdays right around now!)
Being rather busy for the last few days, I didn't make as much as usual.  But I made enough, I think:-) Garlicky allioli, tapenade, hummus, and flat bread.

The other things that people brought were delicious too!

Yours, thinking that friends make the birthday, the party and the birthday party,

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Getting down to busyness

This week is turning crazy.  I'd thought that it was crazy a few weeks ago, but this is worse.  We have our annual big lecturer here, giving two talks, one today and one tomorrow.  It's the week when students are starting to need to talk about what courses they'll take next semester. I've had lots of extra meetings about education projects.  And art exhibits.  And.  And.  And.
I can only be in three places at one time.  And if I hadn't been given the key to the 48-hour-per-day-closet, I don't know how I would cope.

On the plus side, one of my favourite students just won a major scholarship this afternoon, and then some music that he and I composed won its category in an art exhibit.  And my origami poetry came in second in another category.  And my head of department tells me that I am valued for what I do.  This is always nice to know.

Yours,  valuable,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I'm declaring today Odometer day. 

Yours, clicking over again,

Monday, March 28, 2011

New Delhi is crowded

Not only are there a lot of cars in this picture, they are moving fast.  Note also the lack of lanes.

Yours, having crossed the street in New Delhi, and lived,


India is big.
I knew this, of course, that it is the second largest country in population, that it's an enormous landmass, that it is jam-packed.
I knew this, but I didn't know this.  Not until I saw it.  Just one very small part, one tiny piece.  And started thinking about how the tiny piece was just a very small portion of a much much larger whole.
Numbers can be overwhelming, even to a professional mathematician.  We can perceive small numbers well: up to six or seven with easy, and with training we can appreciate quantities on the order of tens or hundreds quite easily, if approximately.
Once we get into the thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands, even appreciating the order of magnitude gets to be more difficult.
Consider then, that India has more than 17% of the world's population, at almost 1.2 billion people.  I didn't realise that it was quite that big, nor that it is projected to overtake China within ten or fifteen years.
What does 1.2 billion mean?  Half of the population is under 25, so that's 600 million under 25. More than 400 million of school age.

Of those 400 million, over half will drop o
ut prior to their eighth year of school.  Nearly forty percent will have already dropped by the age of ten!  That's 160 million children under the age of ten who have already quit school.

Let me put that figure in perspective: in India, there are more children under the age of ten who have dropped out of school, than there are people in all but six countries!

Yours, still staggering under the magnitude of the figures.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cranky old thoughts on a plane

Not that old, of course: it's not like they've been gestating for fifty years or so: no, these were some notes I made on the flights back from India and am just now getting round to writing in my blog.

(Reading what I've written below makes me look like a cranky westerner, and I don't mean it to come across that way.  My trip to India was amazing and eye-opening, and I hope to go back.  But my thoughts were written down on a cramped plane, and may reflect something of that!  I'll be more positive and coherent in later writing, I promise! )

Air France seems to be ten years behind Delta or KLM: I expected much better.  The plane from India to Charles de Gaulle felt old and rickety, and the entertainment facilities were non-existent.  I was originally seated at the back of the plane, but it turned out that there were three girls travelling together: two had seats next to me, and the third asked if I would switch with her.  It was a win-win situation, since I ended up sitting on the upper deck of the 747, in the slightly-less-cattle-club but still economy seating, and with rather more leg room since I was in the front row.  Nonetheless, the in-seat entertainment system, while present, didn't work, and the seats still felt as if they were about to break apart. 

Of course, my crankiness at that point probably didn't help my impression of the flight either: I'd arrived at the airport at 10 or so at night, had  to wait for almost an hour to get through security, which was more rigorous than most airports I've been in, and also seemed very poorly organised in terms of efficiency.  My flight didn't leave until nearly 2am, and so I'd been up for nearly 24 hours straight by the time I was focusing on the features of the plane.

Security is very visible in New Delhi: every hotel I saw had cars being searched as they entered the property: the hotel I was staying at scanned all hand baggage on entering the hotel (and of course, large luggage as well), made us pass through a metal detector at two different points, and waved a wand over us on entering.  Not so surprising, given the events in Mumbai a year or so ago, but still it made an impact.

I was very suprised at the extent to which India still attempts to restrict currency export: with the fall of the Soviet bloc a couple of decades ago, I'd assumed that most countries had given up on this sort of hard line: but India's laws --- presumably dating from the days of partition --- are still rather draconian.  I changed my remaining rupees back at the currency exchange desk by the departure gate, and unlike the experience in other airports (here's my money, there's the exchanged money, thanks, have a nice flight), this required my filling out the blanks in a letter to the manager of the appropriate branch of a bank, explaining that I had exchanged this many dollars on entry, here was the amount I had left, and respectfully requesting that they exchange it for me.  Plus, I had to have my boarding pass, passport number, and all sorts of other information.   

After all that, I expected at least to be asked whether I had changed all my money, or to exhibit the receipt from the currency exchange to demonstrate that I had.  But apparently the draconian ban is draconian in law only: no efforts were made to enforce it, as far as I could tell. 

Fortunately, the bar in the airport was willing to take dollars, even though the prices were all quoted in rupees.  Unfortunately, there appeared to be no free wireless: apparently there is free wireless, but the way they authorise it is by texting a password to your (indian) mobile phone number, and so as a visitor, there was no way for me to get on to it: the bar staff didn't offer to help with this, and I didn't learn until later that this was how it works, so I didn't know to ask.

Now that I've written this, it's time to start writing more positively,
Yours, crankiness ejected, I hope,

And we're home again

Back at the house, safe and sound.  We've had a lovely trip, the children were very well behaved for (almost) the whole drive home, listening to music, singing along, then playing hangman and categories. 
A lovely weekend, but now it's time to face the week. 

Yours, also facing fifty,

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Fortunately, Skibo appears to be feeling much better now than early this morning.  We're hoping that it was a one-day gastric event, and that it won't affect the other three of us on the way home!

We've had a lovely time, in spite of Skibo's troubles: today Boo and LOML went off to E's birthday party at the local skate-and-minigolf venue, and apparently had a lovely time.  Afterwards we all sat down for dinner, with sushi from a local restaurant for appetizers, and then a lovely dinner cooked by Ian, followed by lots of sitting around and chatting with people we like to sit and chat with.

Of course, along the way, there were children to put to sleep, and I plead the fifth here: LOML did it all.... as I wanted to talk to S&I about some ideas, I'm very grateful....

Yours, suddenly ready for bed,

Not a nice night

About four o'clock this morning, Skibo woke up coughing, and made it half way to the bathroom before throwing up.  At first, we thought it was too many corn chips at the concert last night, but after the fourth visit, it seems clear that there may be more going on than that.  This, unfortunately, is likely to ruin his chance of going to the birthday party this afternoon --- we don't want to spread this joy around to all sorts of other children.
We're just trying to keep him from getting dehydrated, and keeping him comfortable.

Yours, wishing there were a better way to treat this,

Friday, March 25, 2011

Zoe plays!!! And a near Shakespearean subplot

This morning we were up -- if not at the crack of dawn, at least fairly early, and on the road, blessing our local community (people watching the dogs, checking the tires out just before we got on the road, just generally a wonderful bunch of people!)

We made good time, nearing Gainesville at around 4, and after stopping to pick up some wine and some flowers for our hosts, we reached their house at about 4:30.  We visited for a couple of hours, and then hit the road to the concert: Boo tremendously excited, Skibo a little more unsure.  He ended up enjoying the part that he saw, but managed to fall asleep for much of the second half of the show.  Boo, on the other hand, was clapping along, and singing along when Zoe asked for audience participation.  She did get a little  bit embarrased when she and Skibo were mentioned before the last song, which she was playing at our behest.  But all in all she had a fantastic time, as did LOML and I.

And the Shakespearean subplot?  We bought a CD for our hosts, Ian and Stephanie, and Zoe autographed it to them; however, she didn't realise that it was for someone else, and not for us, so she put a wonderful note on it as well about being her very best fans: and later in introducing Squid, her encore, and the final song of the show, she referred to me by my new subplot name.  And since neither of LOML and I are either of Ian or Stephanie, (or, for that matter, look at all like them:-) a wonderful little twist to the evening was born!

Yours, pseudonymously,

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Tomorrow we go to see Zoe Lewis play!  We are all very very excited!  And she's playing at such an exciting place -- a natural burial ground!  How cool!

Yours, with an exclamation point to spare!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Left over fish

What to do when one has fish left over? 
Jump for joy, and buy some potatoes, of course!
Some amberjack and some salmon, both wild caught, left over from last night, turned into absolutely delicious fishcakes this evening.  Together with a salad, they form a complete meal, and take next to no preparation, other than mashing the potatoes.  At LOML's (good) suggestion, I added some sauteed onions, and of course I added salt and pepper, and squirted a little sriracha onto the finished fish cakes, but that was it.

Yours, in praise of leftovers and simplicity,

Generating excitement

I've been trying, with quite a bit of success, to generate excitement here about the Agastya foundation: I saw them talk about their activities in India, and came away extraordinarily impressed, and inspired to try and bring the same kind of enthusiasm for science to kids here and elsewhere.
Since I've been back in the States, I've met with a bunch of people, and have been making great connections, finding people who want to do similar or related things, and --- I hope --- beginning to make the pieces fall in place.
Today it looks like the education folks here are interested in what I want to do, and have ideas that tie in nicely.  Who knows what tomorrows meetings will bring!

Yours, experimentally,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shopping dates

Every once in a while, LOML and I like to go on a shopping date: we get into the van and drive half an hour or more to places where there are better grocery stores.  Today, we went to Whole Foods and to Trader Joe's, buying, amongst other things, olive oil, brown basmati rice (from TJ -- very good, better than almost any other brown basmati I've had) and a variety of fish.
The fish we had for supper with the vets and LOML's friend J (who ate a steak, not being of the fish-eating persuasion).  Absolutely delicious, with a mango pineapple ginger salsa (a little heavy, perhaps, on the ginger, but it wasn't meant to be eaten by itself, and with the fish it was quite good), a variety of mushrooms, asparagus, and brown basmati.
Yours, enjoying eating healthily, at least occasionally,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Break

It's spring break!  And how am I spending it?
I celebrated the first day of spring by sleeping in.  Or rather, going back to bed after everyone was out of the house, and sleeping for a while.
Quite wonderful!

Yours, wondering if it was a delayed reaction to jetlag,

Sunday, March 20, 2011

We'd hoped

We had hoped that our friends K&K would come over to dinner this evening, but he was way too busy, and so they have been given a rain check.  Since I'd made a good amount of pizza dough, we quickly invited others: in this case Boo and Skibo's friends M&A, and their parents.  They were planning on having left-over pizza anyway, so they brought that with them, and between them and the pizzas we had just the right amount of food.  Also company.  And conversation.
We'd been feeling, for a while, that we'd had very few people over to dinner: but finally it seems that we are getting back on track --- including potluck, it's three of the last four nights we've had friends over.

Yours, entertaining the possibility that entertaining should always be a possibility,

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thai one on

We had friends over for supper ("what?" you say?  "how unusual!"): friends we've had at potluck frequently, but never just to ourselves, to chat.
An extraordinarily pleasant, gentle evening, with tom ka gai followed by fresh summer rolls (like spring rolls, but with a non-fried, rice noodle wrapper) and a lovely asian chicken salad. 
What a lovely evening it made for.  Unfortunately, the skies refused to cooperate, and we missed the moon, but other than that, it was just delightful.

Yours, thinking we should eat this style of food more often,

Friday, March 18, 2011

Breaking the semester

A multi-hour committee meeting to end a shortened week, and I'm done for the day, for the week, and until the end of Spring Break!

Yours, needing a break,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patrick

Inspired by the day, we made stew and bread for potluck this evening: a rather bigger group than usual, and a great time was had by all. 
We are so lucky to have such a lovely group of friends!

Yours, with absolutely no green beer.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Making connections

Now that I'm home, I'm beginning the process of trying to figure out how to bring Agastya's brilliant experiments to students here, and around the world.  And so I need to find people to help me figure it out -- I had very productive discussions yesterday and today with half a dozen people.

Lots is going on, but you will have to wait for a while to hear about it.

Yours, urging patience,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Now that I'm home

Now that I'm home, of course, and I have hugged LOML and the children, it was time to get back to work: things have built up while I've been away, of course,
Little bits of discouraging news: my car is on its last legs, or rather, its transmission is about to take it off to carvanha, and the budget problems in Washington, especially the hurry-up-and-slash-and-burn combined with no-we-won't-pass-this-years-budget makes it likely I will get paid much less this summer.
On the plus side, I've continued thinking about how to work with the foundation in India: it occurred to me that I know a couple of documentary film-makers, and perhaps I could put a little buzz in their ears: I think that if they could capture the joy, the excitement, the utter bliss at learning and teaching science in the eyes of the students, it could be a real winner of a movie. 

We live in exciting times indeed: and frightening too: Libya has all but disappeared from the news with the problems in Japan --- which look horrific and potentially catastrophic: already well past disastrous.  I know a couple of people there, and know of many more: and my thoughts go out to every one of them.

Yours, trying to keep a positive attitude on the future possibilities while remembering those hurt or lost in Japan, Libya and beyond.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Just flew in from New Delhi

via Paris, and boy are my arms tired!
Sorry, had to repeat the old joke...  but I'm home, safe and sound, and inspired.
I'll probably find some time to blog about it all in the next day or seven,....

Yours, out of the flying pan into the fire,

On the ground in Paris

On the ground at Charles De Gaulle, enjoying fifteen minutes of free wifi.
Not enough to blog a lot, so I'll save all my thoughts for later --- there are a
lot of them, and I made notes on the plane of things I wanted to say....

Yours, in a holding pattern,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The trip begins

The return trip is coming up soon.  I'll leave the hotel in about an hour, getting in to Charles de Gaulle in the early morning, Paris time.  Four hours or so later, flight across the Atlantic, and probably about four hours after landing, I'll get home.  Somewhere between 30 and 32 hours from now!

Yours, ready, set,.....

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another eyeopening day

Day two is done, and it was another incredible, inspiring time.  Lots of great interactions with other summit participants, and in the evening, a visit to a school: they'd had Agastya's mobile science lab visit some time recently, and the students were asked to show us the experiments.  Immense smiles of joy and delight on the faces of the children, and similar expressions on the faces of us, the visitors.  I am so impressed with this program, and definitely want to find a way to help build something akin to it elsewhere.  I'd love for Boo and Skibo to have such a bus visit their school one day, preferably one day sometime soon!

Yours, astounded,

Friday, March 11, 2011


After nearly two days here, I finally found some time to check out the gym at the hotel.  Described in their publicity as "futuristic", it gives a rather dire prediction for days to come.  Still, though they didn't have an ergo machine, they did have a decent treadmill, nicely adjustable for time, gradient, speed, and with a heartbeat monitor on the handrail.  Combined with some music, it made for a pleasant hour of exercise.

There's an old saying: horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, and ladies glow.

Yours, sweating like a horse,

One of our trains is missing

It sounds like a flippant title, but I don't mean it that way.  It's a serious statement from Japan: in the wake of the earthquake and the tsunami, there is an entire train that can't at the moment be located.
I'm trying to choose my words very carefully, not tempted to, but worried about accidentally referring to this as disaster of immense magnitude.  I'm an inveterate punster usually, but a situation like this is one that leaves my heart bleeding for those affected.  My thoughts with the people of Japan, and of the other regions facing tsunamis in the next few hours.

Yours, saddened greatly,

Fascinating day

A fascinating day today, especially the final session, and the after dinner speaker, both from the Agastya foundation.  We got to see their mobile science lab (a relatively small vehicle, jam-packed with super simple but highly educational and entertaining science experiments.  Each bus has a driver and two teachers, and they go from rural school to rural school exposing children to the wonders of "why?". 

Yours, thinking that really, those three hours or so were worth the trip by themselves,

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crowded roads

The roads here may be crowded, but surprisingly, the streets are less so. Fewer throngs than I had expected.  Except on the roads.  Bumper to bumper traffic, and 30, 40, 50 miles an hour, bicycles and mopeds weaving in and out on roundabouts, pedestrians risking life and limb every time they cross the street, yet seemingly unconcerned about the risks they take.

Yours, still chicken about crossing the road,

Traffic! Island time!

An observation.  There is a lot of crazy traffic on the road from the airport to New Delhi at 1am.  But there is a lot of crazy traffic on the road during the day.  Crazy amounts, driving like crazy idiots!  Not that I'm deliberately trying to be culturally insensitive, but I am astounded by the level of great awful driving here: none of the cars seem to be damaged, and even though I swore I saw dozens of accidents just about to happen, there was not one!

Everything here seems to happen like it does in the Caribbean, on island time.  At one point we got almost two hours behind schedule this afternoon!  Perhaps it was the Indians who introduced island time to Trinidad and Tobago?

Yours, posting late, but early, because of the time difference,

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In India

I'm now in India, managed to get four hours sleep, and I think that I might have been able to manage the time change okay.  I'm tired, but not currently feeling completely jet lagged.
I'll have more thoughts over the next few days on things here, I am sure.  For now, I was struck by the level of security to enter the hotel at which I'm staying.

Yours, off to discover what they have for breakfast,


A couple of hours in between flights --- and Schiphol Airport has free wireless --- for an hour, which is enough!

Yours, in transit,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

And I'm off

24+ hours of travel to come...

Yours, on the road, in the air,

Time for bed

It's late now, and I think that I have most things ready for the morning: I have to make sure I have my passport, my glasses, my money, my life, etc to take with me for the trip.

But I'm pretty much packed, and ready to go. 
Yours, ready to go,

Monday, March 7, 2011


I'm nearly packed -- suitcase, at least: my carry-on bag will be packed in the morning.  I'm excited to be on the way, but nervous as well.  I'm always this way with travel to places I haven't been before, but this is even more so than usual.
Twenty years or so ago, I went to Poland.  I had an amazing time.
Ten year ago, I went to Russia.  Ditto.

Yours, looking forward to a trifecta, plus ten years from now, it's Japan!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Checking out the other stores

I went to a couple of other grocery stores today: still no galangal.  But what I was hoping to buy was rather more mundane: smoked trout.  But no luck.  Who would have thought that smoked trout was so exotic?

Yours, thinking about buying a smoker.  Wait, is there somewhere I can find trout?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Planning to cook thai food

I went to the more up-market supermarket today to buy the ingredients for tok ka gai, and unfortunately managed to stump them.
In spite of the fact that their fact sheets on herbs and spices etc. list galangal, extol its virtues, and describe its flavours and its uses, the produce manager tells me that they have never stocked it.  And they no longer stock lemon grass.

Yours, remembering the downside of living in the boonies,

Friday, March 4, 2011

Huckabee versus Portman

Former governor of Arkansas, possible presidential contender, and someone who I formerly thought to be seriously misguided, but at least sincere, has been completely off the wall recently.
In the last few days he was ranting about Obama having grown up in Kenya with a Mau-Mau mentality (as far as I am aware, even most of the birthers realise that that is just ridiculous): and today, he came out firmly against Natalie Portman.  Why?  Because she is pregnant, and unmarried.
Portman is a stunning example of what people can make of their lives: she is, of course, a highly successful movie star, winner of an Oscar last weekend: but also, she was a semi-finalist in the biggest national science competition for high school students, a star student at Harvard in neuroscience, and from all accounts from Hollywood and elsewhere, a decent human being to boot.  In this battle, I'd have to give her the edge.  A very, very wide edge!

Yours, hoping that Huckabee's rant will be his swan song!

Oh, to live in Texas

now that the "I can keep my maid" bill is here!

A legislator in Texas has apparently introduced a bill making it illegal, on penalty of a big fine, to hire illegal aliens.  Recognizing, however, the fact that this might piss some people off, she wisely added a rider exempting a small group of people: those who employ said illegal as a maid, a gardener, a nanny, a butler...

Truly, Texas must be a state of great equality, where all (real citizens) can enjoy using others (illegals) as personal servants!

Yours, amused that someone can propose this with ann apparently straight face,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Potluck in preparation

In preparation for my flying visit next week, I prepared Indian food tonight for potluck.  Chicken biryani, and a chickpea, cauliflower and tomato dish.  Delicious, if I say so myself.

Unfortunately, almost everyone is sick, so it was a fairly small (but very nice) group.

Yours, getting ready,

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A culinary experiment

LOML and I used to buy smoked trout pate some years ago, until the store decided not to stock it any longer.  We didn't eat enough of it for them to keep it in stock, it seems --- it was an occasional treat rather than a daily staple, and it doesn't seem to be a culinary tradition in this part of the world.
Last week we were in a rather more up-market store, and sure enough, they had smoked trout pate: but I'm even more ambitious in the kitchen now than I was back then, and since they also had smoked trout, I decided to make the pate myself.
Halfway through the rest of the trek through the store I had an idea: a sriracha aiolli, a pizza crust baked bare, and slices of smoked trout.  Finally I had the opportunity to try making it today: it's a definite keeper!  Slightly spicy, slightly smoky, contrasting textures working together, it's quite delicious.

The aiolli:
4 cloves of garlic, minced
teaspoon of mustard powder
2 large egg yolks
juice of a couple of lemons
2/3 cup olive oil, good quality
1/3 cup peanut oil (or other if allergies require)
teaspoon sriracha (hot, sweet sauce, my favourite chili sauce)
salt to taste

In a blender, blend the garlic, mustard powder, and egg yolks until they turn a lovely yellow.  With the blender going the whole time, very slowly drizzle in the oil -- less slowly than a steady stream, occasionally drizzling in a little of the lemon juice.  When all of the oil and lemon juice is incorporated, add salt and sriracha to taste, again, with the blender running.  The texture should be that of mayonnaise, which should be no surprise, since that is exactly what it is, a garlic mayonnaise.

This is a magnificent sauce to serve with pizza (think garlic dipping sauce kicked up a hundred notches): but with a square of naked pizza, topped with a little sauce, and a slice of smoked trout atop, you'll have an appetizer fit for a king.  Or president.  Even a despot or dictator!

Yours, happy with the outcome,

Jeopardy: it's not exactly rocket science!

Or maybe it is!

Yours, no question,

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ed Schultz's commentary on teachers

Ed Schultz is one of the few truly progressive, liberal voices in the media these days, his show following immediately on the heels of one of the few similar voices, Rachel Maddow, on MSNBC.

This evening he gave a very impressive commentary on the state of teachers in this country:  it was a beautiful piece, sharing memories of his mother, interviews with current teachers, thoughts on balancing budgets on the backs of teachers, and other great ideas.

I'd like to give a huge shout out to the teachers I know locally, all of whom are absolutely fantastic, hard working, dedicated, effective, wonderful individuals, and I feel very lucky to have my children in your care.

I'd love Schultz's statistic on New Jersey to be wrong (it feels wrong, but I suspect that it is correct): he says 6.69% of NJ residents are millionaires, with 212K millionaire households, and that there are only about 113K teachers. And he's vetoed the millionaires tax increase, and is planning to balance the budget on the backs of teachers. Disgusting.

Yours, sharing an amazing paean to teachers,