Wednesday, September 29, 2010

One Michaelmas Long Ago...

John Milton wrote a play ("masque") for the children of Ludlow Castle.  It was first performed on Michaelmas in 1634.  In that tradition, our children performed it on Michaelmas a few years ago.

It only took about 15 minutes to perform it--perfect for young audiences!

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Great Weekend

This weekend was Don's birthday, and that is one of those low-key events that is celebrated quietly with a tiramisu cake, and as many of the kids as possible.  So easy.  Don spent some of his birthday pursuing his favorite hobby--politics--helping NY-5 candidate for congress Dr. Milano meet and greet folks at local fairs.

It was also Webb Family Weekend, so most of us spent our time on the gorgeous Webb campus on the LI Sound, with great food, and fun events.  A new Model Cutter was dedicated.  (I must admit that I thought they were dedicating a model cutter; it was actually a device that cuts models--a model cutter--I kept laughing to myself about the mistake as the machine was demonstrated).  And thanks to a couple of seniors, Grannie got to see a demonstration of a propeller in the 90ft model tank!  We took a video, but she does not know how to get it off her camera.  ;)  A fascinating article (with photos) featuring Webb's unique marine engineering facility is here.

But this was the highlight of the weekend (click on the picasa symbol to view the complete slideshow in full screen format)

The main event was the Freshman Wind Powered Design Challenge. The freshmen were divided into 5 teams (there are 19 students) and challenged to build a sailboat that actually sails using plywood, a tarp, duct tape, an aluminum pole, zip ties, and up to 10 tubes of caulk. This was their first design project, and, after only 4 weeks of naval architecture classes, they had one week to design and build their boats, putting what they have learned to practical use.

On Sunday, at 10:30 am, with all our family members present, the boats were launched on the sound. The canon sounded the start of the race, and the boats were off. There was a fine wind, but a strong incoming tide, and several boats were swept away to the west side of the quay, never to recover.  One boat sank, but the crew were expertly rescued (there was, of course, little danger in calm seas so close to shore)  T's team had the advantage of the windward starting position, and two very good sailors as crew. After 21 minutes of very difficult sailing (and bailing) the good ship Felicia came back to shore, victorious; in fact Felicia was the only ship that finished the course.  It was a true Swallows and Amazons day!

An outstanding brunch followed.

L was there for the race, but missed the previous day because she was performing in the season opener of the New Juilliard Ensemble. The NY Times has a review today, and a photo of the ensemble (L is under the bassist's elbow). We were disappointed that we missed the performance, but we figured there would only be one opportunity to participate in Webb Family Weekend while T is a Freshman...but there will be many more concerts. (Many, many more concerts!)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Comfortable Reverence, Russian Orthodox Style

We were blessed to be invited to Great Vespers at a Russian Orthodox church last evening. We were actually enjoying the good food at the church fair, when Don struck up a conversation with the deacon, and he invited us to stay for the service. It was just beautiful. Of course, the church was decorated with icons in the Orthodox tradition, and there were real lit candles and incense. The music was subtly glorious, with the priest and deacon chanting the prayers, and a small but well-practiced choir singing the responses in polyphony.

But my favorite part was just before the service began. A twenty-something dad walked in with his daughter. Both were dressed casually for the church fair, and the little girl had her face painted with a rainbow across her cheek. I heard the father whisper, "It's time for church now." The little girl, perhaps 4 years old, ran excitedly from icon to icon at the front of the church, and waited with barely controlled patience for her father to pick her up so she could kiss each one in turn. He then took her to a side icon so she could light a candle. She was delighted with this ritual, which she obviously knew by heart. And she stood, joined by her mother and sister, for the 45 minutes of vespers, without too much handling by her parents. She knew what was expected, and was comfortable in her reverence.

From their website: Children -- we don't have a nursery during the services because we believe it is appropriate and beneficial for children to be in the services as much as possible. It may take a few visits, but young children can learn to settle down, and it's surprising how much even toddlers absorb.


As we left, her father spoke with us briefly in the vestibule, recognizing that we were strangers in the church, and welcomed us, entreating us to return another time. Perhaps we will, at least for Vespers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cutting the Jerusalem Artichokes: Simple Science!

The lowly Jerusalem artichoke, neither an artichoke, nor from Jerusalem, is a great native plant to grow in the northeast. It is actually

The cut flowers last longer in a solution of water and baking soda.
a cousin of the sunflower, and often grows just as tall, but with several small flowers on each stalk. That might be the beauty of the JA, but the real value of growing them lies underground. Beneath the tall flowering stems lie the tubers, uglier than potatoes, but delicious, with a hint of the flavor of artichokes (thus, the name). Best of all, for those with diabetes, they may be used in lieu of potatoes as the starch breaks down into fructose rather than glucose.

Recipes and more info are here:

I look forward to harvesting these tasty tubers after the first frost. Right now, I am cutting off their little flower heads. Unfortuantely, they make a poor cut flower, killing themselves off by acidifying thier own water very quickly. Annika, having studied biology and begining chemistry, suggested that we find a way to neutralize the acid. We tried baking soda in the water, and it workd rather well; the flowers kept for several days. This is an easy demonstration for the kids to try--one vase (use a clear bottle or vase for best viewing) with baking soda, and one without. The water without the baking soda turns a nasty, acidic brown very quickly. The one with baking soda remains clear. If you do not stir the water after adding the baking soda, the acid forms a brown layer over the clear water. Make sure the stems are in the clear part for longest lasting blooms. The acidic water, after a few days, begins to small like a marsh--lots of decay going on in there!

Headless JAs produce fat tubers.

We cut the flowers off so that the energy produced by the plant is stored in tubers rather than spent on flower production. We discard most of the flowers, but thanks to Annika's good idea, we now decorate the house with these lovely Jerusalem artichoke flowers!