29 is a prime number and a prime age

My birthday was superb. It began with an endeavor to make carrot cake. It turned out to be delicious, and I must say, cream cheese frosting is one frosting that I find hard to pass up. Since this is the case, I put half of the cake in the freezer, seeing that Jess, Oliver, and I should probably not be eating carrot cake every night for a week. I think I'll pull it back out, say, hmm, tomorrow.

Then Jess came home and offered up a wonderful surprise of an early rockin' weekend. Hoorah! We decided to spend part of our weekend checking out Luray Caverns (see previous post). This place was amazing. We spent most of the tour in the back, lazily walking along, taking in the whole experience without the group. Just as we'd catch up to them, the tour guide would say, "Now if you'll just follow me, we'll move onto the next location." Perfect timing.

Much to our surprise, the Luray Caverns has a wonderful Carriage and Car Museum. This place had several, one-of-a-kind cars that I'd never seen before (plus some awesome mannequins dressed in the fashion of the relative cars' times). I felt like I was at a wax museum car show. Both of which I get a kick out of, so it was a great combination.

We drove home on Skyline Drive and took in the Blue Ridge Mountains, while eating apples and almonds. Nice.

Other weekend fun continued with the National Trolley Museum, Mia's Pizza, and a friends' home for dinner. Cheers to 29!

(Thanks to Oliver's free balloon from the grocery store, this photo looks very birthday-esque.) And thanks to all for the calls and cards and well wishes. Those are one of thee best parts of a birthday.


bp's science: The Stalacpipe Organ (v.1)

If you ever took geology, I'm sure you studied stalactites (holding "tight" to the ceiling) and stalagmites (trying with all of their "might" to reach the top of the ceiling). They are awesome to behold and grow quite slow, and at other times fast. Stalactites form when acidic droplets of water (complete with calcium carbonate and carbon dioxide) fall from the ceiling of a cave. As the droplet hangs from the ceiling, the carbon dioxide is released, leaving behind the calcium carbonate (limestone). Stalagmites grow when the water droplet lands, leaving behind limestone. And when the two come together, they form columns.

This past weekend, we found ourselves at Luray Caverns: an out of this world cave with endless stalactites and stalagmites, some of which are examples of the best in the world. Luray Caverns is a privately owned natural beauty, and as such, has an interesting history. For instance, a house was built over one of the cave's vents to become the first air conditioned home in the world, the Caverns continues to offer wedding packages (that's right, you can get married right in the cave), and a Stalagpipe Organ is built inside the "grand ballroom" where they used to have dances back in the 1950s.

I'm not sure if they would have allowed the Stalacpipe organ to be built in 2011, but back in the 50s it was the coolest thing in Virginia since cured ham. I'll have to admit, I was very impressed with the instrument. Built by a mathematician, the man went around the Cavern (3.5 acres of it) knocking on stalactites to get the tone for each note. He had to saw down many stalactites to get the perfect pitch. Next to the stalactites he set up rubber mallets connected to electric wires leading to the organ. When the keys were pressed, the stalactites were tapped and you've got the largest musical instrument in the world.

While we were there, I got some quality footage ("quality" typed with much sarcasm). You can hear the organ, along with Oliver's proclamation that it was indeed music. At the end he sings a bit, and it's pretty darn cute if I do say so myself.


bp's science: breathing fire (v.1)

My older brothers are around 10 years older than me. And as a kid, I recall them doing lots of cool older person stuff like traveling to NY, restoring old cars, composing albums, running track, playing football, and breathing fire. I was intrigued at the fire bit. I mean, who wouldn't be? And I decided that when I got old enough, I'd take a go at it.

Around the age of 17, I asked my brother if he could assist me in breathing fire. Whenever he had done it during my childhood it seemed like a cinch, but when I came to him that March afternoon, he was a little hesitant. "Okay, Ash," he said, "we can do it, but we must take all safety precautions." This was the real deal I thought. I soon found out the safety precautions consisted of moving our operation into the backyard and wearing ski gloves. He then asked my younger brother if he'd like to join us so we could make a huge fire ball. Younger brother gladly obliged.

Our first step was to refine our spew tactics. We had to spit a huge mouthful of corn starch out into the air and get it as far away from our bodies (and the flame) as we could. This required some practice. So, one by one, we filled our mouths full of the stuff and starting refining. It took some lung capacity and some force, but by the third or fourth mouthful we felt ready (and a little light-headed). Then my older brother got out some newspaper, rolled it into a cylinder, and frayed one side's edges. He then lit the frayed edges and held the paper at arms length. At the count of three, we blew. The flame was huge! It was bright, and hot, and quick. Then it was over. So we did it again, and then again. And that time, the ski gloves got scorched. So we stopped. We got a photo of the magic a little after the peak flame.

So, as I mentioned before, there is science to this whole thing but I'll let you research that yourself if you so choose.


My Life in France: Book Review

A quick and lovely read about Julia Child's life after marrying Paul Child and moving to France. They led a pleasant life enjoying food, traveling through France, taking pictures, and making friends. And cooking.

Boy did Julia love to cook! Once she got going (she studied at Le Cordon Blue) she never stopped. She tells a story of perfecting the recipe of mayonnaise, making so much that she and Paul were eating it at every meal. Then she had so much of the stuff that she was throwing it down the sink. In the end, she truly had mastered mayonnaise! And she did that with practically every dish she made. Needless to say, she used the word bilious a lot. She loved the ins and outs of cooking: what made a dish perfect, how everything worked, and why it worked a certain way. That's why it took over 7 years to write her (and her friends') first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The first draft was over 700 pages!

One of my favorite quotes from Julia concerning cooking for others:
"I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one's hostess starts in with self-deprecations . . . it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. . . Usually one's cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile . . then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile - and learn from her mistakes."

I am going to take that to heart. And I may just try to make one of Julia's recipes in the future.

In the book, Julia gives an address of the home she and Paul lived in while they were located in DC. Oliver and I sought out and found the house. Not sure if it was yellow then, but it is now.


Happy St. Patrick's Day

Wishing you all the luck of the four leaf clover this St. Patrick's Day! (How many can you see in this picture? Crazy eh?)

Last year we had some friends invite us over for a classic St. Patrick's Day meal: corned beef with cabbage. This year, I am trying to execute the meal myself (plus some carrots and sweet potatoes). I hope it goes well. The brisket is in the midst of its 3-4 hour cooking regimen.

And who's ready for some NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four action? I am! However, I was too busy thinking about a St. Patrick's Day meal that I never got a chance to fill out a bracket. Oh well.


bp's science: the earth's rotation (v.1)

Aren't you guys loving daylight savings! I sure am. On Sunday when we lost an hour it was kind of a bummer, but once we changed our clocks and it was light at 7pm, we were really diggin' it. The sunset tonight is at 7:15pm. Wahoo!

Oliver has a book called, What Makes Day and Night? It goes on to explain that the earth rotates around the sun, and then there's a little tidbit on the fact that the earth rotates on its own axis. But the final page (and final message) reads:

Just remember -
The earth goes around the sun.
When our part of the earth faces the sun, it is day.
When it faces away from the sun, it is night.
And it is dark.

Does anyone else see the flaw here? Yes, the earth goes around the sun, but that is not why we have night and day. That is why we have summer and winter. Instead of "the earth goes around the sun" it should say, "the earth rotates like a top" or "the earth spins on its axis" or something like that. That's why we have day and night. I took out a pencil and wrote that in the book.

When Jess saw the penciled-in correction he asked who had made the edit (it was an old book I had owned before we were married). I was very serious about the fact that the book was flawed and so I had changed it. It was essential! He laughed at my intensity on the matter. And I understand that it was a little over the top. But, of course, I'm leaving my corrections in the book. Because, basically, I have saved the why-we-have-day-and-night day.

photo October 2009


bp's science: the brain up close (v.1)

This photo, taken from the Smithsonian website, shows the many blood vessels it takes to feed the brain. This web of vessels carries fuel to the brain so it can perform its many and varied tasks.


What would you have done?

Last Thursday the weather was great. It was in the 60s and a big rain storm was promised to come after it, so Oliver and I decided to take advantage of the respite and go to the park. It was 4:00pm and the park was semi-packed, not only with kids, but with teenagers. And one of them was sitting on top of Oliver's beloved train playground equipment. Oliver was not deterred, however, and began to climb in and through the train, yelling, "Train, train!" which in turn, made the teen get off and continue his phone call. He talked to his friends about something he "hated the most," it being people who were two-faced. He then went on to say, that what he hated more than that was "people who are, like, eight-faced." Ahhh, this was classic 7th grade talk and our day at the park was proving to be more than I had anticipated.

Little kids played on the slide, ran up the stairs, and made friends with a golden retriever out on a walk with it's owner. After a bit, we moved over to the swings right across from the basketball court where some 15-year-olds were hanging out. One was playing basketball. Three others sat on a bench using the f word every 10 seconds. And they were yelling. I gave their cussing escapade a chance to settle down. They were talking about grades and one was explaining how he was okay with a 2.0. But then they moved onto making jokes and general teenage angst lameness and the language continued at stadium-cheering decibel levels.

What would you have done?

Without really thinking I shouted out, above their volume, "Stop swearing with all these kids around. Thanks!" And it wasn't a "thanks" coated with niceness, it was stern and to the point. There were a couple guffaws from the teens but they stopped. Ten minutes later (Oliver was still on the swing) and I heard a couple swears come from the courts but they were quiet and not loud enough for the kids to hear. I had made my point and I was glad it worked.


Ready for better weather, can you tell?

We put up the tent in the house for the second time this winter.


bp's science: mucus info (v.1)

It's cold season and with colds come mucus. Somewhere I was taught, that when you have a runny nose, the color of the mucus tells you important things. I learned that clear, runny mucus meant you were in the throes of a sickness. Once the mucus started getting darker (think yellow or green), then you were on the mend.

I couldn't find anything on the internet to back me up on this one. Although, there were some offerings up of what mucus color means. One of the sources I found helpful was Web MD. The site says that yellow or green mucus indicates that the white blood cells of your body are fighting a bacterial infection. These white blood cells have an enzyme that is greenish in color which can make mucus the same color. So in this instance, the green mucus shows that your body is fighting the infection and you will soon get better. Ahh! So it kind of backs me up here. Right? Another site suggested that different colors corresponded to the type of germ you've got (yellow = virus, green = bacteria). So, take what you can from today's post. And hopefully, be done with having to blow your nose very often very soon. Here's to spring!