Category Archives: Science

Vacation; or, We Attack the Pacific Northwest

N.B.: I’m stealing the format of this post from Tammy, because it’s a great way to do this quickly given that we took about 4,000 pictures.

We drove from Pocatello to Port Townsend, WA (1,700 miles) to visit Grammy and Grandpa for 2 weeks (the kids staying an extra third week). We hadn’t been to Washington before so this was a great treat. Turns out, Anthropapa and I discovered it was ideal there, and we now have a 5 year plan to relocate to the Seattle area! Must get master’s degrees first, though.

A is for public Art. This was at the Seattle Center, and even had one tube the kids could climb inside:

B is for Beach. Grammy and Grandpa live above a private beach, complete with a sand dollar colony and 40 bazillion shells. This picture is from a day trip to Dungeness Spit:

C is for Clouds. We had beautiful weather except for one cloudy day, but the sunsets were gorgeous. This is the view from the back deck:

D is for Doughnut machine. SillyBilly has been reading Homer Price by Robert McCloskey, which features a doughnut machine run amok. We were thrilled to see this one in the Public Market on the waterfront in Seattle:

E is for bald Eagle. Grampa says there are one or two bald eagles flying by quite often, perching over the sound watching for fish. They are awe-inspiring. Sorry, I have a very lame camera. Squint a little:

F is for Fourth of July. We went up to Port Townsend to sit on the beach and watch the fireworks at Fort Worden. We could see fireworks from at least three other spots around the sound. The Fort Worden show was simple, but lasted much longer than any show we’d seen before:

G is for Columbia Gorge. We drove up the gorge on both ends of the trip. Coming west we kept seeing Mt. Hood peeking out at us. Going east we had a slightly less fun time (went the wrong way on the highway, before we could get off we saw a tanker truck on its side blocking the entire westbound side, had to backtrack all the way to Portland, two-hour delay leading to being on the road 12 hours). But we won’t blame it on the beautiful gorge. This is the view from the Washington side, westbound:

H is for Hat. Though the temps were cool, the sun was very strong and I needed my hat! I almost forgot it in the ferry terminal leaving Seattle that day. I remembered at the last minute, and when we went to get the hat from the bench where I’d left it, we found a young man trying it on! I waited to see if he really wanted it (I would have gladly left it behind, even though I like it) but Anthropapa ended up asking for it and the man gave it back a bit sheepishly. Now my little blue hat has a story:

I is for Interesting. Anthropapa and I snuck away one day to Seattle while the kids stayed with their grandparents. We had lunch with old friends (Hi Erin and Kensuke!), found some treasures at a Tibetan store (certainly none of that in Pocatello), parked ourselves for a few hours at the awesome Elliott Bay Book Company, and saw some amazing installations and exhibits at the Seattle Art Museum, including some Helga paintings by Andrew Wyeth, beautiful Northwest native weavings, and this installation in the lobby, which inspired some interesting conversations about meaning in modern art:

J is for Joy. So many things to be happy about on this trip! Being with Grammy and Grandpa, discovering things large (the Seattle Aquarium) and small (the Port Townsend Marine Science Center), seeing wildlife (seals, eagles, deer, elk, sand sharks, sculpin, crabs, sand dollars, goldfinches, gulls, jellyfish) and many wildflowers. This is a tiger lily among lupines up on Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park:

K is for Kids playing. Lots and lots of that. This was at the Seattle Center:

L is for LEGO Liberty, also at the Seattle Center:

M is for Multnomah Falls, which Anthropapa and I stopped by to see on our way home. So beautiful!:

N is for Nibblers. We saw deer in the backyard, deer in open fields, and a few rather saucy deer who were clearly looking for handouts at the visitor center at Hurricane Ridge:

O is for Olympics. Truly awe-inspiring. Next time I hope we have time to explore more. We just had time to go on a quick hike,  a little taste of the beauty of these high mountain peaks:

P is for Playground. Even on vacation, sometimes it’s nice just to take a little swing:

Q is for Quiet. So often we had the beach to ourselves, or sat on the back deck watching for sailboats with just the birds to accompany us. Even on our hike on Hurricane Ridge, with lots of other people there enjoying the sunny day, it seemed quiet. Maybe it was the beauty all around us, like this avalanche lily:

R is for Rivulets on the sand. We went out on the private beach during low tide to explore the sand dollar colony and go beachcombing. I was entrance by the shapes the retreating water had made in the sand, and realized later that I saw very similar shapes in eroded mudflows by Mount St. Helens:

S is for Seattle Skyline. We went over twice on the ferry from Bainbridge Island. What a fun city, not too big or small, quite clean, and with friendly people. Lots of culture as well as amazing outdoor opportunities. We’ll be back, for sure:

T is for Transportation. We took several ferries, and rode the bus, a monorail, and a trolley. It was great fun to take the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry, seeing lots of sailboats, container ships, and even some jellyfish!:

U is for Unusual. We did many unusual things (for us), including staying up late, eating fried clams, watching movies, and playing with light-up light sabers on the Fourth of July:

V is for Volcano. Anthropapa and I scouted out Mount St. Helens National Monument on our way home. Yet another awe-inspiring mountain! I’ve always been interested in geology, and we both clearly remember the 1980 eruption (Anthropapa even remembers the ash fall in Montana). The visitor center has some great displays, and a rather frenetic film, but the star of the show is the mountain herself. Pictures really do no justice in this case:

W is for whirlpool. One day we noticed these beautiful water forms as the ferry left the terminal:

X is for eXciting! For the kids, even simple things were so very thrilling. Grammy took them fishing off the nearby dock several times. The first time, Napoleona almost immediately caught a sand shark! She couldn’t keep it (all six-gilled creatures must be released back) but was so amazed at herself. She and SillyBilly went on to catch several sculpin. Unfortunately, though they are edible, they are almost all head. Nobody wanted togut and clean them! They might look calm and cool, but really they were quite thrilled:

Y is for Yikes! As Anthropapa and I left Seattle on the ferry, we noticed this boat following us, resplendent in jaunty red and accented by a machine gun! The public address system notified us a few minutes later that this was a routine Coast Guard escort. Hmmm. Funny that we hadn’t seen one before! One time we watched the boat almost stop to intercept a sailboat that was unwisely heading toward the ferry. They wisely turned away, as I’m sure they noticed the nice man with the big gun out front:

Z is for blast Zone. The ridge where the Johnston Ridge Observatory now sits across from Mount St Helens was directly in the path of the pyroclastic flow in the 1980 eruption. It’s hard to conceive of that much earth moving so fast and so far. These trees, several feet in diameter, were simply snapped off at the base by the force of the blast:

And if you’ve read through all this, you deserve an award 🙂

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Filed under art, Books, Family, Food, friends, Napoleona, Nature, papa, play, Science, Silliness and Mayhem, SillyBilly, travel

Darwin, Gradually

Having finally finished the unpleasant book about psychopathic killers, I have gone back to finish editing a series of essays about Charles Darwin. 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, so he’s being feted and written about left and right.

This evening Anthropapa came across this bit of artwork, which is very funny and fits so nicely with my current project:

By Mike Rosulek, buy it at

By Mike Rosulek, buy it at

Evolution is in the air right now. There’s my editing project, of course.

And then there’s the state of Texas. The public school science curriculum standards have been amended by the state board of education to require that students consider “all sides of scientific evidence.” Hey, that’s what the scientific method is all about, right?

I’d be a wee bit more supportive of Texas’s standards on critical thinking if it weren’t for the fact that it seems clear that what the NY Times so delicately calls “social conservatives” on the board are trying to push their avowedly creationist agenda into the curriculum, by systematically deleting references to such things as the specific age of the Earth from the science standards.

It is also certainly troubling that potentially, “publishers will have to include criticism of evolution if they want to sell science textbooks to Texas schools,” when essentially the only criticism of evolution is intelligent design (which as a religious belief, is lacking in the scientific evidence the board wants students to consider!) Texas is such a huge market for textbooks that their decisions affect textbook publishing as a whole in the US.

On the other hand, I wish scientists criticizing the board’s decision would be at least acknowledge that analysis, questioning, and not accepting estimates as fact are all part of critical thinking. Sure, Southern states (and, oddly, Pennsylvania) have a history of creationists trying very hard to use the idea of “balance” or “equal consideration” to get their beliefs taught in schools. But in the end, embracing the scientific method does not mean checking criticism at the door and accepting anything dogmatically.

(And if you’re wondering, I don’t believe in a “young Earth” but I do believe in a creator. I also believe that creator may very well have also set the processes of evolution in motion for his or her own purposes. However, I won’t support teaching any of that in public schools.)

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Filed under Books, editing, Rants, Religion, School, Science

SillyBilly’s Science Project

QUESTION: What would you like to find out?

What does mold need to grow?

HYPOTHESIS: What do you predict will happen when you do your experiment?

I think mold needs food and water to grow.

PROCEDURE: What will you do to test the prediction of your experiment?

I will put things in plastic bags and let them sit for a week. Some things are wet and some are dry. Some things are food and some are not.


The bread, cheese, and wet paper got moldy. The dry paper, dirt, water, potato, and dried beans did not.

The dried beans and dry paper did not have water. The water did not have food. I think the paper is food for the mold.

Why didn’t the dirt and potato get moldy?

1. The dirt did not have food for the mold.
2. The mold needed longer than one week to grow.
3. The mold is too small to see.

SillyBilly had to explain his experiment to his classmates and a judge. He received “outstanding” marks (N.B.: the choices were “good” and “outstanding”.) and the judge congratulated him for the amount of thought he put into the experiment. The children were graded on whether they completed the steps of the scientific method (the headings in bold).

We were really stumped by the mold-free potato. We thought for sure that the potato had the requisite food and water. I wonder, aside from the three possibilities listed, if potatoes have a mold-repelling chemical in them? Something to investigate in the future.

Great job, SillyBilly!


Filed under School, Science, SillyBilly

A Week in Photos

SillyBilly had the week off because his school was closed for parent-teacher conferences and teachers’ conferences. So in between him making LEGO contraptions, playing outside with friends (usually riding his bike or scooter, trying to climb a tree,or roaming around with a bunch of boys brandishing sticks and light sabers!), and eating me out of house and home, we did a few things together.

On Tuesday the Idaho Museum of Natural History was giving away bird guides to any kids who came in with an adult, in honor of the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. (We’ll have to figure out where we can do that, since our apartment complex only seems to attract starlings.) We hadn’t been to the museum yet, even though it’s just downstairs from Anthropapa’s office. It’s a great little museum, perfect for kids, with easily digestible exhibits and a nice hands-on science exploration room. We looked at lots of dinosaur and ancient mammal skeletons, displays of how a paleontology excavation looks, a video on Idaho geology, and some beautiful taxidermied local bird species. And of course ye olde gifte shoppe, which was selling real excavating tools (!) but we settled for some coloring books.

So after that we were inspired to make volcanoes! (You know: dinosaurs + geology = volcanoes, right?) First we made a practice one out of a paper plate, aluminum foil, and an empty yogurt container:

Our dish soap, baking soda, and vinegar lava was yellow because we were out of red food coloring!

Then after we got a handle on how the volcano would work, we made another one out of the yogurt container and air-dry clay:

I’ll have to convince SillyBilly to add a bit more clay, and then he’ll paint it. He’s also got big plans to add gravel and some dinosaurs to make a scene. Maybe I’ll make him some little clay palm trees to go with it.

One day this week we got a bit more snow (though it’s melted again by now) and since I had finally remembered to charge the camera batteries, we stopped on the way home from dropping off Anthropapa and Napoleona at ISU to get a shot of the beautiful Portneufs:

Next time I’ll try to zoom in a bit to show the peaks more, but at least you can see the beautiful colors and morning light of winter here. The city, which is somewhat lower than the bank of trees in the middle foreground, is at about about 4500′ and these mountains reach about 8000′.

Then just after I took that photo, I happened to look down at my feet:

Not my footprints, but those of a leetle rabbit who had passed by sometime earlier.

On other days we went to the library, where SillyBilly all by himself asked the reference librarian where to find books on dragons. We hit the thrift store to buy some shirts, as both kids have been doing all sorts of growing lately. And both kids made a pile of valentines for school. (Napoleona had her party today — we were evidently the only ones to make our own valentines. I’m not sure I get why Spiderman, Hannah Montana, and sexy fairies have to do with Valentine’s day. Ours had hearts punched out, heart stickers…just hearts.)

This afternoon after we made some rosemary bread together, SillyBilly asked to use the camera. Things rapidly got out of hand:

In that last one he is wiggling his latest loose tooth. Where did this big boy come from, and what did he do with my baby boy? And then I see things like this, and I can already imagine the young man he will become:

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Filed under Crafting, Family, Napoleona, play, Science, Silliness and Mayhem, SillyBilly