Thursday, June 30, 2011

Preparing for the fourth

We are going ahead with our July 4th party this year, despite the fact that I don't have undergraduates studying with me this time round.  It's going to be the tenth year in a row we've held the party, and it's a tradition I'd like to continue.
As always, we'll go all out.  So far the menu includes (bearing in mind that it's a potluck, so others will be bringing food too)

Barbecued pork ribs, chicken wings and drumsticks
Vietnamese-style chicken salad
Pizza (for the kids: pepperoni, pineapple, cheese)
Flat breads (garlic, cheese, onion)
Hummus (perhaps one roasted pepper, the other cumin and coriander)
Allioli (spicy, with sriracha chili sauce)
Smoked trout and smoked mackerel pates
Harvest mix salad (about which I've written recently)

Crustless cheesecake
Roulade au chocolat

In previous years there would also have been sausage rolls as a staple, and I probably would have gorged mainly on them.  One of the changes I've made over the past few weeks and months is that I don't immediately think of preparing them for every party.  They may well get added to the menu still, in particular if the children request them, but they're no longer an automatic entry.

Yours, thinking that about half of the menu is rather healthy, and feeling that the other half is allowed on a feast day

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Incentive schemes

As I've been exercising, and losing weight (both in terms of pounds on the scale, and in terms of the way I look and feel), I've set myself a few incentives.  One of these is buying shorts in a size smaller than the one I currently wear.  And so far, I'm proud to say that I'm regularly wearing two sizes smaller than in February, and few days ago I bought a pair of shorts one size smaller than that.
Yesterday, I tried them on.  And while I wouldn't say that they fit, they fastened.  Of course,  I had a bit of a muffin top going on with them, but I wasn't having to struggle to get them fastened: they were tight, but not crazily so.  The last time I wore that size was probably fifteen or twenty years ago!

Yours, thinking about buying a pair a size smaller....

Final days of rest

I've been enjoying the past few weeks --- not the lack of income, of course, but the fact that for the first time in nine years I've had a few weeks to decompress, not to have to go in to work, not to have to focus on the job.  Of course, I've probably spent a fair amount of time thinking about mathematics anyway, but it's been my choice, not a requirement.
It all comes to an end a week tomorrow.  And one of the things I'll miss most is the time to exercise --- but I'm definitely planning to try to build it into my day (and evening) for the future.

Yours, preparing to hit the ground running,

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thai one on again

I mis-spoke yesterday, when I suggested that yesterday morning would be more complicated than the rest of the week.  Hopefully, today will turn out to have been the complicated day.
LOML turned out to have a cooking program to run today (two people signed up at the last moment, and so it wasn't cancelled) and so last night we had a dry run.  It didn't go so well: we forgot to add a couple of key ingredients to recipes, and while the food was edible, it didn't pop.
Well, today we both went (with Skibo and a laptop in tow, so he could play on the computer out of mind but not out of sight) and taught some lovely people to make some simple Thai food.
All in all, the class was a blast: everyone had fun, we put all the ingredients into each dish, everything tasted great together, and a fun time was had by all.

Yours, having enjoyed a few hours doing something I didn't expect to be doing,

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summers are a busy time

This morning we did a run around, which we'll do for most of the rest of the week.  Boo is in drama camp, starting at 9, and she and Skibo are in swim team practice from 8 until 9.  Given that Boo changes from swimsuit to clothes at the speed of molasses, this means pulling her from practice at 8:35 in order to get her to the camp.
This morning was complicated by the fact that there was also a breakfast meeting of the parents at swim team to discuss the upcoming races, including the parent-kids race next month.  At least for the rest of the week it will just be competing swim-team/drama camp schedules.

Yours, everywhere at once,

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Occasionally we try for good deeds

Yesterday afternoon we took the children swimming, and with us, we took Boo's friend A: Boo and Skibo are swimming like crazy these days -- far better than LOML or me, as is not surprising, since they are in swim team lessons every morning: but A had not had lessons in a long time, and was far less comfortable in the water.

LOML started out with her, trying to help her learn to find her comfort and safety zone, and then I joined in.  We tried to give her some lessons on how to float, and how to not panic, and by the end of the couple of hours we were there she was doing so much better -- trying to swim, putting her face in the water when she did so, and generally enjoying the whole experience.

Unfortunately, our attention to her didn't go down well with Boo, who attributed it to our loving her friend more that we loved her.  And as much as we tried to talk to her about it, she closed her ears and mind to us.

Later, friends offered both Boo and Skibo the chance of a sleepover: initially, Boo leapt at the chance, but later, she reneged, and decided to stay with mummy and daddy instead -- I'm pretty sure that it was because she felt in need of a little attention.

Yours, wishing this was not an issue, but understanding why it might be,

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Back home

Back home again, to running hugs and kisses from Boo and Skibo.

Unfortunately, just in time to not take delivery of a newly built desktop computer.  It seems that the frying of the video card a little while ago, which I'd deduced, and the frying of the rest of the motherboard, which my friendly local computer repair guy confirmed, was accompanied by the frying of almost all the other components in the box.  Including the wireless card, which is the current bottleneck, meaning that we won't get the new box back until Monday.

Yours, missing having the fourteenth computer in the house,

Friday, June 24, 2011

Strange political fact

Rick Perry, currently considering a run for president, was the state chair of Al Gore's presidential campaign in 1988.
I wonder how this will go down with the tea party.

Yours, quite surprised by this one,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hanging with students

For the best part of a decade now I've been working with undergraduates for two months over the summer, teaching them as best I can how to be a research mathematician.   I've loved doing it: even though it is hard work, it is very rewarding. 
This year our grant to run the program was up for renewal, and unfortunately our proposal was not chosen for funding.  This has had several consequences: firstly, that for the first time in a long time I have had time to just be over the summer; second, that I have no income for a couple of months (as you might imagine, this is a very negative consequence); and last, and another negative consequence, I've not had incredibly bright undergraduates around me all the time, wanting to discuss mathematics. 
Today, I visited a nearby university, one with such a research program running, and got to hang out with the students --- tomorrow I get to go and hear all about what they are doing, learn about their projects, their research, and, perhaps, put in a few suggestions to help guide what they do for the next few weeks.  It was a lovely day, and I expect tomorrow to be just as good.

Yours, reminded of what I've missed over the past few weeks,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Swim team, week 2, day 3

This morning, Skibo jumped out of bed, asking "where are my swimming trunks?" and ready to go at a moment's notice.  Boo was a little less enthusiatic, but only slightly so.  She was ready to leave well ahead of schedule.
They both enthusiastically got into the pool, and neither one showed any interest in leaving early!  They are, at least for today, hooked!

Yours, hoping tomorrow is as easy for me, and as much fun for them,

Revisiting the harvest blend salad

This afternoon I decided we'd try to have fish for dinner --- grocery stores permitting --- with trout as the first choice, and salmon as the fallback position. 
Unfortunately the grocery store had no trout, but they did have wild salmon, at a reasonable price, and it looked gorgeous, so I bought some.  I had decided to pair it with a variant on the harvest blend salad I made last week: replacing the pineapple with orange segments, and the rice vinegar in the dressing by lime and lemon juices (together with the zest from all three citrus fruits).  A small change, but it made a big difference in the flavour: not better, not worse, but different: and definitely very good with salmon.
The salmon I poached, in chardonnay and water, with dill and some of the citrus zest: deliciously delicate, perfectly flavoured, and beautiful to look at.

For the carbs, I threw together a couple of flatbreads dressed with garlic oil (using a no-knead bread recipe, together with some olive oil), which lent a delightful heft and earthy flavour to the meal.

All in all, a dinner fit for a feast --- except for Skibo, who has still to develop a sophisticated palate....

Yours, happy as heck with how this dinner turned out,

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


We'd thought of celebrating the summer solstice, perhaps even with a small party.  And somehow, the approach of the day completely slipped by us.  And it wasn't until this afternoon that we realised it was the solstice, much to the children's dismay.
Oh well.  Next year.

Yours, on the longest day of the year,

Swim team, week 2, day 2

This morning there was still resistance on Boo and Skibo's parts to going to swim team.  The resistance, though, was light, and we got out of the door well in time to get to the pool, and they were quite happy to go and swim when they got there!
LOML's summer camp seems to be going well: we'd discussed whether Boo or Skibo should attend, and ended up leaving the choice to them: both days so far they've both chosen to do so, and have enjoyed themselves greatly.

Yours, thinking that summers were much less full of activities thrumptysevix years ago, but also thinking that the kids are enjoying these opportunities,

Monday, June 20, 2011

Swim team, with two participants

Skibo insisted today that he wasn't going to swim.  No way, no how.
Boo was happy to go, but wanted her brother to swim too.

How to resolve the issues?  Well, first, insist that Skibo have his trunks under his clothes, then make sure we actually ended up at the pool ahead of time.  After that, the coach persuaded Skibo to help him move some floats, and asked whether he'd help lead the stretching.  Skibo helped moved the floats, but put his foot down on anything more.

Boo joined in the stretching (she really wanted Skibo involved too, but at least she agreed  to do it without him) and then all the other kids jumped into the pool.

Skibo took one look at them, tugged my hand, and said "I'm going to go change", went into the changing rooms and took his clothes off --- which he could have done pool-side, since his trunks were on underneath --- jumped into the pool, and did a fantastic job.

I'm anticipating this battle happening every day until school is back!  But hopefully, I'll be proved wrong and they'll discover the fact that they enjoy swim team, and will therefore want to do it...

Yours, thinking "they've already discovered they enjoy the swimming" part

Experimenting with salads

Last week, as I mentioned, we experimented with a salad using Trader Joe's Harvest Mix of seeds and beans and orzo.  Today, having purchased some quinoa from the same store, I decided to try another salad: this time, a quinoa, roasted corn and tomato salad, with a cumin coriander lemon dressing.

I roasted (or rather broiled) a couple of ears of corn, and three tomatoes: seasoned first with olive oil and salt and pepper to help them roast.  I cooked a cup of quinoa in chicken stock, as per the package directions.  After mixing them together (this was the original inspiration) I searched my taste buds for what to season it with.

I had a couple of small warm peppers -- a serrano and a not-too-hot thai chilli, and I chopped those up (sans membranes and seeds -- I wasn't going for heat) and tossed them in the mix.  I chopped up a fresh tomato that LOML had grown as well, threw it in, and thought about the dressing.

The flavour was clearly in need of an oil/acid combination, but I wanted some spices too: and LOML and I decided that middle-eastern was the way to go, so I used lemon juice and olive oil for the liquids, and threw in salt, pepper and some cumin and coriander: enough to taste, but not enough to overpower: about a teaspoon of cumin, and half that of coriander.

Quite delicious -- though it could do with a couple of things: it needs more green (perhaps italian flat leaf celery) and more crunchy texture (I'm considering yellow bell peppers, diced, or perhaps cucumber).  But overall, I'm very pleased with my culinary imagination over the past week or two, especially since I've been using it to make somewhat healthier food!

Yours, patting myself on my back,

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Fathers' Day!

Happy Fathers' Day to my dad!  And a very happy Fathers' Day to all of you out there who are fathers, and also to all of you who are sons or daughters and have helped make their fathers know the joy of parenthood!

Yours, raising a toast,

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A surprise outing

The children decided that they wanted to play with friends this morning, and so LOML and I got an unexpected, very pleasant opportunity to go off to lunch at the Thai restaurant with our friends the vets: now, S is not, by her own description, an adventurous eater, but today she decided she wanted to branch out.  And we are very proud of her for trying all sorts of new, exotic, scary foods: foods like Pad Thai (which was not actually that good), Massuman Curry (which was good) and Green Curry (which she liked best of these three), in addition to Chicken Satay (which she enjoyed tremendously).

So, not only did we encourage a friend to branch out, gastronomically speaking, but she enjoyed the experience too, and found some things she'd choose to eat again!

Yours, having enjoyed the surprise outing,

Friday, June 17, 2011

Boo is back!

And she had a wonderful week at horse camp (or cowgirl camp, or whatever the name is).   It seems that there was one day when she got a little teary and homesick, but by and large it sounds like she managed wonderfully!

To celebrate her return (and the return of her friend M as well), we had the family over for dinner this evening: I cooked burgers (laced with hidden vegetables for all except M, a dedicated carnivore who won't touch a trace of bell pepper, or onion, or garlic), and served up some more of the Harvest Mix salad I've been eating for a few days now (still delicious).  Delicious meal, if I say so myself!

Yours, happy to have Boo back,

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Since Boo is away for the week, with her friend M, and since M's brother A is Skibo's friend, tonight A is over here for a sleepover.
Earlier, LOML took them to the movies to see Kung Fu Panda 2 --- which is, apparently, very good --- and then we also gave them a movie night tonight.  They chose the next streamable movie in the Land Before Time sequence (it happened to be V, following I and III -- apparently II and IV are unworthy of our attention, or perhaps too well done to be streamed to the hoi polloi).  We sat and watched it, and ate popcorn, and had a lovely night.

Nonetheless, as nice as it has been to spend the best part of a lovely week with Skibo, LOML and I are both looking forward very much to getting our lovely daughter back tomorrow.

Yours, missing Boo,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Before Time

Today is the twentieth birthday of the son of my two closest friends: I remember visiting them a few months later for his baptism, and babysitting him for an hour, and having to rock him in his pram the whole time, hecause otherwise he wouldn't stop screaming... but when I rocked him he quieted down a little.
A couple of years later, when his family had moved to the US, I visited again: I have a very strong memory of sitting with him and his younger sister, watching The Land Before Time, or one of its sequels, watching the joy and fear and delight and suspense on their little faces.  Again, babysitting while their parents stole a few moments together.
And now, the circle turns, and this evening Skibo asked for a movie night, and since he'd recently watched TLBT, and there are multiple sequels, we watched the first sequel available for streaming on net flix.  And I watched his face, as thrilled, scared and delighted as another child's face had been long, long ago.

Yours, watching similarities across the years,

While the cat's away

the mice will play.

And in our case, while Boo's away, LOML and I will play with Skibo. 

In this instance, we were driving to the big (small) city to buy some things harder to find near home, and Skibo was not happy about the travel.  On the way there, he played with a birdsong gadget, making LOML and me realise how few birdsongs we can identify from memory.  I definitely need some practice on that score!! (Or would, if it mattered enough).

On the way home, Skibo kept asking how long it was till we got home: so we pointed out that the dashboard clock showed current time, and Emma, our GPS, gives an expected time of arrival.  And so Skibo started calculating how many minutes to go, subtracting times from each other with great skill!

A fwe minutes later, we started getting him to tell us how to spell words: he was fantastic at it (if not 100% correct --- but a good high accuracy rate, and we were giving him words like "magnificent" and "praiseworthy", which I think are tricky for a typical 6 year old)!

Yours, thrilled by the fact that he can spell so well already, and without a pen or paper at hand!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Swim team part 2

Skibo was almost eager this morning to go to swim camp!   What a pleasant difference from one day to the next!  And he seemed to do really well, as well!

Yours, glad to see his swimming skills develop,

Salad days

The weather these days is warm, although this morning it was cool enough to open the doors and windows and use the attic fan to pull air into the house. LOML and I loved the coolness, although strangely many of the parents at the pool seemed almost to be complaining about it!

Today felt like a day to eat salad (and also a day to eat steak, so not a perfectly healthy meal!)  We'd bought a package of "harvest mix" on our last trip to Trader Joe's: a melange of quinoa, baby chickpeas, orzo, and other similarly sized (and cooking-time-related) items.  I decided to cook it up and mix it into a salad: and it was quite magnificent!

1 1/4 cups Harvest mix salad
1 3/4 cups chicken broth

1/2 lb Trader Joe's Harvest Mix
Two ripe tomatoes, seeded, chopped into quarter inch dice
1 red bell pepper, chopped into quarter inch dice
1 serrano chili pepper, seeded, finely chopped
4-5 inches of hothouse or "English" cucumber, chopped into quarter inch dice
2 cups pineapple, cut into quarter inch dice
Handful fresh mint, coarsely chopped

Rice wine vinegar
Olive oil

Cook the harvest mix according to the package directions (simmer in 1 3/4 cups water or chicken stock for 10 minutes, covered).

Mix the vegetables and the mint together.

Make a dressing from 1 part rice wine vinegar to two parts olive oil, salt and pepper to taste: pour half over the vegetables, half over the drained harvest mix, then stir the vegetables and the mix together.

LOML was unsure about the addition of the pineapple, so I left it out at first: but at my urging she mixed some of it in, and pronounced it delicious!

Yours, glad to share a new recipe,

Monday, June 13, 2011

Everything seems to be going swimmingly

Boo and Skibo are signed up for swim team this summer: fortunately, the team is reasonably flexible about accommodating children who have other things on their schedule, and so it isn't a deal breaker that Boo is off at riding camp this week, and so can't swim.

Skibo was unsure about attending this morning -- very nervous about meeting new people, or trying new things -- but we managed to persuade him to go along.  The coach, a very pleasant young man in his early twenties, I'd guess, was tremendous: he immediately asked Skibo to help him with a simple task, and thereby earned Skibo's trust. 

Following this, the hour of training went really very well.

Yours, hoping that tomorrow will be much easier getting him there,

Not sure about the home made tonic

I made tonic water from scratch: I'm not sure that I really like the result, but I enjoyed the experiment.  And I'm going to continue trying for the appropriate sweetness level, and ratio of tonic to gin.  Perhaps I'll get it right soon:-)

Yours, in experimental mode,

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pizza by the pool

We sat by the vets' pool this afternoon: Skibo play in the water with his friend A, and A's parents, the vets and LOML I me watching them.  And, of course, occasionally getting in to swim or dive.

And then we had pizza and fruit salad and chatted and laughed.

Yours, thinking it was a lovely afternoon!

Riding Camp

Boo has left.  She's gone.  For a week.  She's off at riding camp with her friend M, the only two girls from her Brownie troop who chose to go to the riding camp an hour or so away from here.

We're a little apprehensive about it: she's never stayed away from home for this long, but we're hopeful she'll have a lovely time!

Yours, missing her already!


My cinchona bark powder arrived yesterday -- the citric acid was on back order, though, so I was anticipating having to wait to try my latest culinary experiment.  But then I remembered the cheese kit having citric acid in, and checked, and sure enough, it does.
So, it's off to the store for some lemongrass, whole allspice berries, and some citrus.

Yours, thinking that making homemade tonic water should be a thrill!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lack of imagination

I had a complete lack of imagination about food today, and since Boo is leaving for riding camp tomorrow, LOML and I decided to ask her what she wanted for dinner tonight.
She seemed surprised when we said that "yes, LOML's spanikopita would be a suitable dinner": perhaps she doesn't think that her dinner should taste that good...
I threw together a hummus and tapenade and smoked trout pate to join the spanikopita, and we ate a lovely feast.

Yours, thinking that main dishes are overrated,

Friday, June 10, 2011

Potluck at a pool

Potluck tonight was at a new location: a friend of ours who lives a mile or so out of town, on a lovely piece of land, beautiful tree cover, pool, etc.
And it was delightful to see how many people turned out, given that the start time was 6:00, and at 5:40 the heavens opened and tried to persuade all of us not to risk the run to the car.
Heavy, heavy rain, thunder, and scary looking lightning -- enough that LOML and I didn't bundle the kids into the car until it died down a little, at about 6:20 or so. 
But a ton of people showed up, including some nice new folks.  The food was good, the people fun, and the conversations, as always, interesting.

Yours, enjoying this tradition we've helped to start,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Library

Another good way for the kids to spend some time in the summer is making regular use of the library.  We went down this afternoon, and the kids took out three items each (in Skibo's case, two books and a video): they also signed up for a reading program the library runs: read thirty books over six weeks, and win a prize.

On returning home, and before going swimming, both kids sat and read all their books, logged them on the sheet, and have hence made great progress on their thirty book challenge!

Yours, loving the fact that our kids love reading,

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The pool

Our days in the summer seem to revolve around the outdoor pool: this year it is open every day except for Mondays, and we normally try to get a couple of hours in in the late morning -- avoiding the hottest part of the day, and enabling us to do something else in the afternoon.
Today we didn't manage that --- LOML and I spent a couple of hours working on the science lab for the elementary school: figuring out what was in all the kits, and trying to work out how best to make them most usable for the teachers.
We did get to go to the pool later in the day, though, and then cooked up mac and cheese for some friends who came over for dinner.

Yours, enjoying the summer,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Awards day in the classrooms

Today was awards day in the classrooms at the school: we turned up at Skibo's class right on time (according to the schedule on the web) only to discover that his teacher had started early.  That being a first grade class, she had concocted an award for each student, and thoughtfully waited until parents got there before presenting to students --- so we walked in, and immediately she presented Skibo with the best reader award.
Then we wandered off to Boo's class: her teacher had not decided to start early, so we had forty five minutes to wait for her session.  She gave out at least one or two awards to every student in the class, and Boo scored particularly well, especially in reading and writing.  Other friends of hers got nice awards too, which was great to see.

Yours, finding it hard to believe that she's going into third grade next year, and Skibo's going into second,

Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer fun about to begin

One more day for the children (actually, more like a quarter of a day) and then it's the summer for weeks and weeks and weeks....

Yours, hoping we can fill the days with fun and also make some of it educational,

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pools, pools, pools

We finally made it to the outdoor pool this afternoon: it had opened last weekend, but things have been so busy, and school is still not out, and we'd not had a chance to go.
It was not too crowded when we got there, though by the time we left, it had picked up substantially.  We usually try to get there right at 1 on Sundays --- so many of the other families have other obligations at that time of day, and it means that we get more opportunity to enjoy the less crowded time.

We're wondering whether to put Boo into the swimming team this year, or just to put her through lessons again: either way, she's a lovely swimmer, with great form, and I'm looking forward to watching her swim this summer!

Yours, in dolphin mode,

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Birthdays again

A month or so full of birthdays: today is LOML's friend J, tomorrow is LOML's father, a couple of days from now is my brother's birthday, all on top of the birthdays in the past couple of weeks!
A lovely party this afternoon and evening for J: the vets had everyone over, and we swam and talked and ate: the pool was full of children and a handful of adults for about 5 hours in a row!  This time of year is just at the tail end of lovely weather: still possible to be outside without melting, at least in the shade, and the pool makes it so much more bearable!

Yours, grateful for the opportunity to enjoy days like today,

Friday, June 3, 2011

Potluck? On a Friday?

Yes, potluck on a Friday.  A big success, down the street at friends with a huge field off the back of their garden: they put up a horizontal water slide ---- 30 some feet long --- and there was a great turnout. 
Thinking about it afterwards, neither LOML nor I could recall why potlucks were Thursdays, and not Fridays: there were lots of reasons not to be Tuesday or Wednesday this semester, but why we didn't go with Fridays, I don't know.

Yours, thinking Friday's the day from here on in,

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More evidence of Skibo's ability

We had our parent-teacher conference with Skibo's teacher this afternoon: it went really well: he's excelling all of the things they are teaching him, coming in in the 98th percentile nationally in math and reading, which given the spread of abilities at that age, and the fact that he's one of the youngest in the year, is very promising.
It was a quick conference, followed by a lengthy discussion with his teacher: she's moving up to second grade next year, and Skibo will stick with her: LOML and I are very interested in helping her figure out the best ways to incorporate science into the curriculum, and to help all the teachers there make the best use of the rather well stocked and under-utilised lower grades science lab.

Yours, enjoying being involved with education,

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A new month begins

And with it, a pancake breakfast in Skibo's class.  He got to show me a portfolio of lots of things that he'd written in class this year, and to take home a bucket full of educational games that his teacher had devised (or used of someone else's devising).

A lovely morning: so proud of the work that he's done!

Yours, finding it hard to believe he'll already be a second grader next fall,