Monday, May 21, 2012

Opossums and Eclipses by Twilight


No, not the conclusion of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight trilogy. See, if I meant that Eclipse, it would have been in italics. Like I did there.

I mean the May 20, 2012 solar eclipse featuring a ring of fire. Did you hear me? A RING-OF-FIRE! Why was this not publicized more? I mean, did you hear Johnny Cash belting out his famous tune while radio DJs made lame puns about the day’s solar activity? I did not.

Did Sting and The Police feature prominently on your Pandora today, singing about little black spots on the sun? Confession: I did use those lyrics on Facebook today myself. Because they are greatness. I did not however, give Cash any props because I did not witness the vaunted ring of fire firsthand.

My father, Pops, called to invite the girls to watch the solar eclipse through the highly technical shoebox pinhole viewer.

”Eclipse?” I asked.

“Yes, he said. “It’s tonight.”

In my defense, we have been mildly consumed for the past week with two dance recitals, dress rehearsals and much softball. Not sun stuff.

“Okay,” I said. “They can go. But I want to go, too.”

Seriously, I wanted to go. It was 1994 when these things last came together where we Texans could watch. Generally, the sun and moon like to keep their distance!

Not to be outdone by his promised shoebox viewer, I decided to whip up one of our own. I love my kids but they do not share. Really, neither do I-especially if it’s something cool, so I figured we needed at least two of these things.

CAUTION: this is NOT a pretty project. It is rough, and it was hastily made!

I rustled up a rectangular skinny box and taped white paper to the inside end flap (unnecessary if your box is white inside). I then taped the flap shut all the way around.
line bottom of box with white paper
In fairness, I forgot what we did back at Hedrick Elementary the last time I made one of these, so I Googled many tutorials and merged them into my own version.

I cut a two-inch hole in the opposite end flap from the one I covered in white paper. Over this hole I taped aluminum foil. I really taped the flaps down well to eliminate stray light.

Next, I cut a hole in the top narrow side of the box near the foil end. About a two-inch hole as well.

told you it wasn't pretty!
Finally, I put a straight pin through the middle of the foil and Voila! It was done.

Straight pin
Pinhole before
and after!

The kids looked at me like I was an alien and this was my weapon.

What is THAT?”

I proceeded to regale them on the wonders of the pinhole device, how you could construct something similar to take pictures and they looked at me, pityingly, like I’d lost my mind.

“It’s true!” I protested, showing them examples online to prove my sanity.

I then went through the obligatory, cautionary, parental job of warning them against looking at the sun. Telling them that their retinas have no pain receptors so they won’t feel the sun frying their sight away like they burned leaves with a magnifying glass at the softball fields yesterday (yes, we put a stop to that-we aren’t trying to torch the town)!

So, once they were sufficiently scared of blindness and coated with bug spray we headed out into the twilight to chase the eclipse (hey, there is a connection between twilight and eclipse here too! How about that?)

We arrived at the field deemed highest and with the least obstructed view of the western sky. Pops had not yet arrived so a game of keep-the-soccer-ball-away-from-whoever-has-the-least-skills-and-most-whininess took place. I took off to scout local wild plum and blackberry offerings within walking distance. Nada.

The sky participated by obscuring the sun with huge, distant thunderclouds that would never reach our parched yards. 

no eclipse yet!
We were soon rewarded, however, by the arrival of an early-foraging baby opossum.

He was cute. All references to aside, he was pretty adorable.

We launched into a healthy debate over whether or not he was rabid, since it was not yet dark. It was universally decided that he was simply young, hungry and a bit early.

When the opossum tried to climb the trashcan nearby, the oldest said, “Mommy, should you go knock that over so he can get into it?”

“Ummmm, No!”


The middle child said, peeking from behind me where I demanded they stay in case he did have rabies, “Take a picture with the flash, then run!”

I am so glad these kids aren’t in charge of animals on a regular basis. Oh, wait, they are. At our house. Awesome.

About this time, the little guy wandered back into the woods, while the youngest crooned, “Awwww, he’s so cute! We should keep him.”

Again, no!

We Googled opossums and their diets, etc. I asked if they knew what an omnivore was and the middle child said, "Yes, it is a meatavore and vegavore put together!"

When her sisters corrected her, the youngest very disgustedly with an, "HERB-avore!"
she just grinned and skipped back to the pinhole viewers.

What did we do on nature walks and trips without Google? Looked things up in a book later, I guess.

The clouds started to clear just as the eclipse began. The kids looked through the two pinhole viewers (well they started as pinholes and the holes kept growing as fingers poked them) and the things actually worked! You could see a tiny replica of the eclipse projected on the paper.

I kept taking pictures by lining up the camera just below the sun and then closing my eyes and raising the camera up and snapping. Somehow, when the camera takes a straight shot into the sun, a lens flare, like a halo, is formed below the sun. Due to light refracting or reflecting or whatever it does, the eclipse was actually captured in my pictures in that lens flare. It is very cool!
see the eclipse in the flare?
Well, the clouds moved back in and so did bug spray-resistant mosquitoes so we took off. Hopefully someone out west saw the ring of fire. 
Clouds came back but, how cool does that look?
We had a pretty great and educational evening, with everything from eclipses, to soccer, to opossum sightings, to caution-induced blindness nightmares I am sure are just around the corner. Although, as I write this at 3:30 a.m. from my Sudafed-induced insomnia, I hear nothing stirring upstairs. Sweet Dreams!

*Did you see the eclipse? The ring-of-fire? comment and let me know or send photos-we'd love to see what others saw in different places!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Technical Difficulties and Geniuses

Well, lets talk about how tough it is to blog without a computer. Or at least without my computer. As I speak, I am desperately racing the clock to finish this entry before my laptop blacks out on me again. Since my sewing machine is also on the fritz, I have been taking this electronic mutiny to mean “hey there blogger mom, take it easy, take a break, watch some softball and soccer and chill out with a good book.” My electronic devices are ever so soothing and comforting when they speak to me as I ponder their non-usefulness.

Obviously I will soon be making a trek westward. Apparently, only people in Tarrant or Collin Counties can fix either of these items so I flipped a coin (ok, so I decided a trip to Central Market was a good reward for driving so far) and picked the Southlake/Hurst choices for repair. In the near future, I hope to drop off the sewing machine at the Husqvarna Viking shop and my laptop at the Apple shop (man, do I hate those superior elitists at the “Genius Bar”) and return laden with fresh produce and cheeses!

A side-note on the “Geniuses” at Apple:

Picture it, Sicily, 1935…

Wait, that wasn’t me…

Picture it, Highland Village, 2007. A beautiful young woman (go with it) is trying to rip some songs from a CD to her iMac.

Ok, it was me.

Anyway, I kept hearing this horrible grinding noise and the thing spit my CD out with a huge groove dug in the surface. Not cool, iMac!

I threw a few blank CDs in there just to test. Grooves, one and all.

Sooooo, I hauled the thing down to the Apple shop and asked the “Genius” to fix it.

“Do you have an AppleCare plan?” he said with a snotty tone of voice, peering at me over his John Lennon-esque frames.

“Yeeeesss, I dooooo.” I said back, as if to a toddler. Honestly, who doesn’t get the warranty on a computer worth more than their sofa-especially with three small children in the house!

Off I went, back home to wait, computer-less, for the “Genius” to wield his magic.

I did not wait long. The next day, he called to tell me,

“I found your problem.”

“Awesome,” I said. “And?”

“There was a nickel in the disc drive.”

“Oh,” I said, very unimpressed. “How often do you see that?”

“This is my first time.”

Lucky me, I made his day.

So long story short, Too late! I got my computer back, working disc drive and all, with no cost to me. Hoo-rah!

*****Doodley doodley doo, doodly doodly doo, doodley doodley doo…(say it like Wayne and Garth) Back to the current computer crisis!*****

This time, I am out of warranty and I am certain it is not a nickel, dime or even a crumpled-up one that is causing my trouble with the laptop. The sewing machine is suffering from what I like to call “severe, severe over-use and under-care.” That is a technical diagnosis of an affliction that also plagues my dishwasher and AC units. Cest la vie!

Since I cannot sew, or help my offspring sew, we have been skulking around a lot in the yard. The following are some pictures of what is growing strong around here and a few of the critters we have discovered here around the casa. The mother squirrel and baby cardinals have still been too quick for my camera but I am trying! See if you have any of these where you live! 

unripe tomato 

Cherokee Purple tomato
new baby eggplant

Honeybee in action
Lambs Ears in blossom
View from my living room of the garden
despicable tomato hornworm
super-cool moth
Frittilary caterpillars
Frittilary butterfly

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Band of Weavers

Headbands. Lots and lots of headbands. That’s what we’ve been making. Thanks to my very stylish sister-in-law Kerri who sent us the project idea, and a Pinterest tutorial here, we started chopping up t-shirts and scrap knit fabric to make these fun accessories.

We even cut little scrappy flowers to match and glued them to clips. They can be added to the bands or used alone. Once the strips of material are cut, it takes about 2 minutes to finish a headband. We have them in all coordinating colors for sports teams and they worked great this week in the windy weather on the softball and soccer fields!

We started with some old t-shirts and some new, clearance-plus-40%-off t-shirts from the giant “ancient military-sounding clothing store”.

I decided to run through the tutorial and see how tough it was before I mired the three young ones in a frustrating task. I chose a multi-colored floral knit fabric that was left over from a jammie project. I cut five, 1” strips that were about thirty inches long (you can double the head circumference as the tutorial suggests, but I found that one and-a-half times was sufficient with a little left-over wiggle room).

You have to pull the knit to find which direction the greatest stretch happens. You need the strips to stretch a ton. I also learned that cutting the t-shirts from neckline to hem results in less stretch. I wound up making a few shorter headbands from these strips and sewing elastic to them to extend the reach.

I stacked the strips on each other and stitched across the top, about an inch down from the end. I taped the end to a table and started braiding. Weaving is more accurate.

Spread out the five strips like a fan. Take the furthest right strip; pull it under the next strip to the left, over the next strip, under the next strip and over the last strip.

Straighten all the strips out again and keep the tension constant. Repeat the weaving with the furthest right strip-always starting under the next strip to the left, straightening the strips and keeping the tension stable. You will figure out the best way to hold the strips once you get underway.

The first time I tried, I followed the tutorial and got very tangled. I eventually got the hang of it and finished the whole headband. I stitched off the bottom of the band and went back and unraveled the top back to where it went right. I wove the rest and re-stitched the top.

I made a couple more and decided it was time for the girls to try.

They picked out the colors they wanted and we cut strips. After stitching the tops of each bunch, I taped them to the coffee table in a line. We all queued up and they watched me start my headband. I started each girl’s headband as they watched the weaving order. Soon, each girl was quietly muttering the mantra: under, over, under, over, under, over, under, over, under, over, under, over, under, over, under, over.

Fingers twisted and wove, raveled and unraveled. Three rows were woven, mistakes were made and three rows were unraveled. Time to start again. Four rows were woven, mistakes were discovered and four rows were unraveled. Another do-over. It was so quiet and harmonious. I was pleasantly surprised.

The process was repeated for about fifteen minutes. Soon we had four, reasonably successful headbands. The middle child declared it “too tough” and asked me to finish hers. The youngest started over and over and got it pretty well down. The oldest suddenly had a headband epiphany.

“This is sort of like those bracelets we make with embroidery thread. I’m going to try something.”

She got some more strips, tied the ends together and started knotting. After a few minutes, she had a spiraling line of knots. A large, stretchy, headband version of the friendship bracelet.

While the girls made a few more, I started cutting out flower shapes from the fabrics we used; I folded and glued them together and then to clips.

Once we had several long, woven strips, we stitched the ends of each closed and made each woven strip into a circle. Each circle was stitched closed. A square of matching fabric was cut, the ends folded in and then wrapped around the stitched line. The opposite ends were folded in and the band was hand-stitched closed, covering the rough-cut ends and stitching. Done!

We plan to make plenty more of these in the future-and several are on the way to Kerri and her sweetest little one!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Random Nonsense and Garden Notes

Kind of a cheater blog tonight. We’ve been pretty busy around the Evans casa lately. We’ve been doing all kinds of stuff-not necessarily creative stuff, but stuff nonetheless. This time of year is what I like to call the “perfect storm” for our family.

Sports are in full swing, school programs and field trips are lined up until school gets out and recital is on the horizon. Below are some moments from dance photo day and our weekend of 10 games-ended with the oldest winning 2nd place in her tournament and the others playing some great softball and soccer.

Everything is also growing fast in the garden, including the caterpillars and weeds, so the garden needs daily attention. Here are some pictures of what is growing in the garden right now.

Tomato vines
Eggplant blossoms

Cherry tomatoes

New red potato

Tomato blossoms
It is exciting to go out to the garden each day. The tomato vines are so big that you almost have to crawl inside the tunnel of plants just to see what’s going on.

'Purple Cherokee' Tomatoes
Baby bell pepper
I don’t mind sharing a little produce with my wild neighbors, and when you grow organically you have to expect it, but I don’t need them cleaning us out, so I do a daily inspection for caterpillars. With as many butterflies as we have seen around here this year, there should be a bumper crop of caterpillars to match the bumper crop of veggies.

Whenever I go out to the garden, I trail a string of kids behind me. Sometimes they drift over and ask questions about the garden, the herbs or the bugs they find. Sometimes they bake me a delicious loaf of zucchini bread (sand with leaf garnishes) and serve it garden-side. The peppermint and lemon balm are so prolific that the girls always use plenty of it in their “cooking” and sometimes they just chew on it!

The bummer of this week is that the temps got up to 90 and the lettuce bolted to seed. The bonus is that plenty of little veggies are on their way and the sugar snap peas even gave me a sweet surprise with a tendril heart!

lettuce bolting to seed
Sugar-snap pea tendrils

So, we have been pretty busy-but not too busy to do something truly stupid. Thanks to our good friend Dave, we were introduced to the weird phenomenon known as “cat breading”. Do not send emails to me, comments telling me how terrible I am, or put calls in to the SPCA.

No harm, no foul. Seriously, look at these pictures and tell me that you aren’t laughing your head off (the dog ate all the bread-some of it straight off of the cats!)

It took the kids about five minutes to get breath back enough to speak after they saw these animals “breaded”.

I will tell you that my sister-in-law, Kerri, sent us a great project-to-do-with-the-kids-and-blog-about-it project. There is a pin on this on Pinterest here. I’ll describe our experiences here next time. Meanwhile, I’m going to go make dinner! Nighty-night all!

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