Monthly Archives: July 2012

American Youths to Help With Security Shortfall at London Olympics

S.W.A.C.K. (Suburban White American Commando Kids), an elite and relatively unknown (by design) security force, have been pressed into service for the 2012 London Olympics.  G4S, the company contracted to provide over 10,000 guards for the Olympics, has admitted it will not have enough guards for the event, forcing British police and armed service members to fill in.  In a state of panic, British Prime Minister David Cameron has reached out across the pond to enlist the services of this somewhat unusual group of security experts.  Says Prime Minister Cameron, “Please, for the love of God and all that is holy, please send S.W.A.C.K., or we will be 100% gobsmacked!!!”  Since it is summer and school is out, the team has agreed to come to the aide of America’s mates in London.  But just who are these experts, and what skills will they bring to the table?  A short bio on each is below:

Jane – The Little Gourmet

Not only does she remove your liver with a spoon, she fries it up in pan and serves it with some fava beans and nice Chianti.  Just lemonade for her though, another 16 years until she’s legal to imbibe.  Think it’s impossible for a cherubic blond-haired blue-eyed angel to be a killing machine?  Think again my friend, think again.

Rhodes -Scar Face

Already battle-hardened by years of jungle fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (pity the man that gave him that scar), Rhodes is a take no prisoners, do what ever it takes to succeed beserker.  Nicknamed the Grave Digger, after his favorite monster truck, Rhodes is the boy you turn to when you want results and are not worried about collateral damage.

Grace – Say Grace, Say Whatever Prayer Comes to Mind, Because Your Goose Is Cooked

An all around sportswoman, Grace can kill you as easily with a baseball bat as she can with a golf tee.  Her job at the Olympics will be to blend in with the athletes, looking for trouble.  If you are trouble, pray she doesn’t find you.

Lily – If Looks Could Kill, or at Least Maim You Socially So Badly That You Want to Die

Don’t let her apparent lack of interest and total absorption in her phone fool you, she is deadly.  Make the wrong move, say or wear the wrong thing, and you are dead to her.  Dead to her, dead to everyone, just plain dead.  So go ahead, try to get too close to the Slovakian synchronized swimming team, make her day…

Emma – The Monkey

Gifted with supersimian climbing abilities, she will spend her time in London looking down on everyone.  Her headquarters will be on top of the Millennium Wheel, or will it be Big Ben, or the London Gherkin?  She wouldn’t really be a member of an elite and deadly security force if she told you that, now would she?  Just know that she will be there, somewhere high above you, watching, waiting, wondering what’s happening over at the Olympic Park…Emma!…pay attention!!!

Sam – 50 Lashes with a Wet Pool Noodle

An aquatics expert, nothing, not even a great white shark, delivers a death-blow with more efficiency or ferocity.  His main focus at the Olympics will be the River Thames, and that super nice hot pool the high divers use to warm up before and after their dives.  No one escapes his double noodle forward triple flip inward reverse pike with a half twist, no one!

So the international sporting and spectating community can sleep easy, rest assured, and put away the Xanax, because S.W.A.C.K. will be on the job in London.  Not to sound too much like a Brit, but you will all be safe as houses.  Let the games begin!

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A Day in the Life of Pretty Baby, My Friend Tony’s Porsche

I am Pretty Baby, Tony’s Porsche.  You may look at my home (a cluttered suburban garage) and make the mistake of thinking that I am not cared for in a manner becoming one of the world’s most elegant, envied, and high performance vehicles.  Well, if you think that, you are very, very wrong.  Follow along with me as I show you what one of my typical days is like…
Breakfast in Bed

Every morning I am gently awakened by Annie, Tony’s lovely wife.  She brings me my newspaper and morning coffee.  Ahhhh, sweet coffee.  To quote the French statesman Talleyrand (1754-1838), “Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.”  I feel almost human again.  Thank you Annie, it is you who are the angel…

Sponge Bath

As ladies everywhere know, there is nothing better than starting off the day with a little fresher upper.  After brekkies, young Matthew arrives to give me my sponge bath.  He is an enthusiastic and chipper young fellow, who always looks so terribly modern in his colorful hats.  He only uses Meguilar’s The Gold Class Car Wash Shampoo and Conditioner (that my Tony buys especially for me) on my delicate exterior.  Wax on, wax off young Matthew, and mind the tender bits!

Mid Morning TV Time

Now for some R and R.  Please, no interruptions while I am watching my stories.

Afternoon Tea and Crumpets

As the day gets on, I begin to feel a bit peckish, which is Trevor’s cue to suit up.  A young man in a suit jacket is surely one of the most charming things on Earth.  Such a darling boy!  He delivers my afternoon tea with unfailing grace of body and spirit, his tea towel at the ready in case of spills.

NASCAR!

It may seem a bit unrefined, but have you checked out the bumpers on those bad boys!  Come to mama…

Nighty Night Cocoa and Jammies Time

At the end of another long and completely satisfying day, Darby, the lovely young lady of the house, arrives with my nightly cup of cocoa.  Made with real milk and imported Swiss chocolate, it has exactly 3 mini marshmallows bobbing in a sea of sweet, frothy foam.  After that I crawl into my jammies and it is off to dreamland.

…Tony and I are cruising north along Highway 1 through Big Sur, on our way up to Sonoma for a long weekend of wine tasting, the tangy ocean breeze caressing my grill, ruffling his hair…

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Brad and Angie, If You Only Met Me You Would Want to Be My Friend

Hi Brad and Angie,

You don’t know me , but I feel like we have A LOT in common, and if you only could have the chance to meet me you would TOTALLY want to be my friend.  I realize this is coming at you out of the blue, you’ve never heard of me or even anyone who knows me.  Anyway, I put together this AWESOME list of the things we have in common, in the hopes that one of your minions will read it and relay to both of you (and the kids, of course), the wonderful news that I am ready to be your friend.

1.  You make movies, I go to them.  Not often, and mostly these days I see kids’ movies, but I just happened to catch that Mr. and Mrs. Smith thing you did, which makes me feel like I was totally THERE when, you know, you kind of lit each others’ fires.

2.  Brad grew up in the Midwest, I grew up in the Midwest.  We could chat about cold winters, tornadoes, winter wheat.  We could head to Farm and Fleet to get new blue jeans and a seed cap.  And don’t forget the bag balm, cuz nothing works better on chapped hands than bag balm.  Am I right Brad?  You know I am!

3.  You have a house in France, I have a friend who is ACTUALLY French and lives in France.  Her name is Sylvie, and we would love to visit her and her family.  We haven’t been since we had the kids.  So I was thinking that maybe, after we are friends, the next time you head to France on your private jet that our family could hitch a ride.  The kids are pretty small still, and wouldn’t take up much room.  And I can make them work during the flight, like passing out the peanuts to your kids.

4.  You do that United Nations Ambassador thing, I live in a nation with United in its name.  And, like I mentioned in #3, I have friends in other countries.  There are my French friends, and I’ve also got other friends in England, Germany, Japan, and Canada.  I know the Canadians don’t really count, since they are basically just another state, but maybe I could get half a point for them?

5.  I’m a parent, you are parents.  I’ve got two biological children, and though I have never adopted a human, I have adopted 4 cats.

So…that’s all I’ve got.  Give it some thought, no need to rush.  Though if we are going to squeeze in a last minute summer European vacation together, I will need to let Sylvie and Jean Marie know our schedule.  And I ABSOLUTELY understand if you feel like you aren’t up for a friendship right now.  If that’s the case, do you know Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson?  I know they are practically young enough for you to add them to your brood, but I thought I would ask.  You see, I have SO much in common with them…

Hope to hear from you soon good buddies, Mo

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It is Every Sock’s Dream to Become a Sock Doll

I found a book at Barnes and Noble about 4 years ago that had lessons on how to sew sock dolls (Stray Sock Sewing by Daniel).  Between that book (which is perfect for beginning sock doll sewers), a few other books, and the magazine Stuffed, I learned how to create sock dolls/softies.  I make them as gifts for friends, or just for something to do with my hands if I get the urge to create something.

I have a large collection of socks (I only sew with new socks), buttons, ribbons, bows, yarn, and fabrics.  I keep interesting fabrics, especially old shirts and dresses from my daughter.  I mostly sew with heavy duty thread, as you need to pull on it with some force sometimes.  Beverly’s is a great place to get specialty buttons, and other odds and ends like curtain pulls and letter beads.

Below is a gallery of dolls that I’ve made over the years.  I even managed to get one of our cats, Julius, to pose with the itty bitty kitty dolls.

Julius with itty bitty kitty dolls. I sew these from baby socks.

My version of a totoro, a Japanese ogre (from the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro.

Sheevil, the evil big horned sheep, with her baby. She is cute and pink, but notice the crazy look in her eyes and those razor sharp fangs?  Still want to pat her on the head? I think not.

Medusa (yes it was tedious to sew eyes and a tongue on all her head snakes) and two ballerinas. She turns people to stone to create captive audiences for her two dancer friends.

Megg the chicken, slouchy guy, and a foot creature I made from a pair of stripy knee high toe socks.

Soccer sock monsters I made from Emma and Sam’s soccer socks. They each played one season       (Mia Hamm and David Beckham they are not).

Emma with Big Headed Baby. I sewed her from a small child’s sweater. She’s the baby sister Emma always wanted.

Three dogs. Nuff said.

The sea monster in the back was a request from Sam. It has no name. He doesn’t know why. The pigs are fun, and the pink ruffly socks on the outside two make them extra pink and piggy.

Another chicken, plus lots of eggs.  I made the eggs as a fundraiser for the kids’ school science team, so I tried to make them appealing to lots of different interests.

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Microworlds

I’ve always liked little things.  Small figurines and toys, bonzai, the pygmy maramosets at the zoo.  The idea for this post came from some small gardens I’ve made and wanted to share, but I’m also going to include some info on two books on the subject, as well as a poem by Billy Collins.  First a look at my shelf.  It is over my sink and has my favorite little things on it that I’ve collected over the years.

Microworlds in Books

The two books I wanted to share are Microworlds by Mark Valli and Margherita Dessanay and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Corrine May Boltz.  A word of caution about sharing these books with kids.  The majority of Microworlds is kid friendly, though 3 or 4 pages are absolutely not.  The Nutshell Studies are small models of a actual crime scenes, complete with corpses and blood.  Emma and Sam have both looked at it, but some kids might find it too much.  The pictures I’ve included in my post are okay for kids.

I bought the Nutshell Studies after I saw a review in the San Diego Union Tribune.  It is the story of a series of models built over many years by Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy widow.  She was fascinated with police and police work, and built the models for use as a forensic training tool for investigators.  There are 18 dollhouse style crime scenes based on real cases, built on a 1:12 scale.  Each scene is filled with meticulous details, down to hand knitted miniature socks and cabinets filled with food.  One of the most charming things about the vignettes for me is the glimpse into the houses and way of life in 1940’s and 1950’s America.

I found the book Microworlds at the San Diego Museum of Art.  The book describes the work of 27 artists, who all create and then photograph miniature worlds.  Many use small figures they purchase through companies that supply hobbyists or at garage sales/swap meets, and some create their own figures.  Some artists’ work is very whimsical, like posing small figures with eggs, which suddenly become mountains.  As I mentioned above, some of the themes are more adult.

Microworld Gardens

I enjoy growing plants, and our yard is stuffed with them.  They stay out all year round (San Diego weather!), and if you can afford the water, most things will thrive (though some do need to be moved to the shade in summer).  I, of course, like little succulents.  We have plenty of  sun here for them, and if you get the right ones (not jade plants), they grow slowly and maintain the feeling of a miniature world.  Below are some examples of microworld gardens I’ve done.

I made these a couple of years ago from old ceiling light fixtures. The kids surrounded the plants with special rocks, marbles, and small figures.

The kids made this (with some help!) for their dad for Father’s Day. The meditating baboon is from the Lion King.

I created this this past spring as a class gift for Mrs. B., Sam’s teacher. We glued glass stones around the top, and added fairies donated by Emma and a shell filled with the fairies’ treasures.

My friend Jeri had a corner of her patio that was filled with dirt and stones. We transformed it into a gnome garden, complete with lava rocks and birdhouses.

Bonsai, by Billy Collins

All it takes is one to throw a room
completely out of whack.
Over by the window
it looks hundreds of yards away,
a lone stark gesture of wood
on the distant cliff of a table.
Up close, it draws you in,
cuts everything down to size.
Look at it from the doorway,
and the world dilates and bloats.
The button lying next to it
is now a pearl wheel,
the book of matches is a raft,
and the coffee cup a cistern
to catch the same rain
that moistens its small plot of dark, mossy earth.
For it even carries its own weather,
leaning away from a fierce wind
that somehow blows
through the calm tropics of this room.
The way it bends inland at the elbow
makes me want to inch my way
to the very top of its spiky greenery,
hold on for dear life
and watch the sea storm rage,
hoping for a tiny whale to appear.
I want to see her plunging forward
through the troughs,
tunneling under the foam and spindrift
on her annual, thousand mile journey.

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Great White Sharks – Surprising Things You Might Not Know About Them…

We have been watching a great show on PBS called Inside Nature’s Giants.  A team of naturalists, biologists, and anatomists all gather to dissect large animals that have died.  The dissections are interspersed with scenes following living animals, as well as cut aways to Richard Dawkins explaining the evolution of structures examined in the dissections.  We have seen the Great White Shark, Giant Squid, Giant Python, Big Cats, and Sperm Whale episodes.  Our favorite was the Great White Shark episode.

We thought it would be fun to write about the most surprising facts we learned from the Great White Shark episode.  If you like learning about what goes on inside of animals and don’t mind the sight of blood and guts, I would give the show a try.  You can watch online at http://video.pbs.org/program/inside-natures-giants/.  Here is our list of 5 surprising things we learned about Great White Sharks…

1.  Stomach Eversion–  This is a picture of the dissection team before they start cutting into the shark.  One thing that jumps out right away is the material sticking out of the shark’s mouth.  This is a really surprising fact about sharks.  They can evert their stomachs!  Evert means to turn inside out.  It is kind of like their version of throwing up.  Sharks do it when they need to get something out of their stomach that they can’t digest, like hard bone or a license plate.  It can also occur in times of stress, which is probably what happened to this shark, as it drowned after it became entangled in anti-shark netting around a beach.

2.  Livers – Sharks have really really big livers.  And their livers float!  This is because unlike bony fish (fish like goldfish, salmon, tuna), sharks don’t have swim bladders.  Swim bladders are basically gas-filled sacs that allow fish to regulate where they are in the water column, they can increase or decrease their buoyancy by changing the gas inside the bladder.  It helps them to go up, and to stay down!  The solution sharks have come up with is to have a really big, fatty liver, which helps them to be neutrally buoyant (meaning they won’t sink or rise too much).  The liver is so fatty that is actually floats when put in a bowl of water, which they demonstrated nicely on the show.

3.  Eyes – Sharks can roll their eyes all the way back in their sockets.  They don’t have eyelids, and they do this to protect their eyes when they go in to bite their prey.  Remember, they like to eat seals, and since seals don’t like to be eaten they fight back with their sharp claws and teeth.  I would put my money on the shark in that fight, but even so, losing the use of your eye would make finding and attacking prey much harder.  Though sharks do have other senses they use to find prey (this is a teaser for the amazing fact #5…)

4.  Skin – The skin of all sharks, not just Great Whites, is made of tiny teeth.  In fact, their big biting teeth evolved from their little skin teeth.  Shark skin is covered with lots of small, hard tooth-like structures called dermal denticles.  These are shaped like little curved teeth, and even have the same structure as a tooth (outer layer of enamel, dentine, a central pulp cavity).  That’s why shark skin feels so rough when you rub your hand against it.

5.  Elecromagnetic sense – Great Whites and other sharks have a whole other sense we do not, which is provided by their Ampullae of Lorenzini.  These sensory organs help the shark to sense electric fields in the water.  Why would they want to sense electric fields?  Living things, full of yummy blood, muscle, and fat, give off electric signals, and if the shark can sense you he can find you and eat you!  The ampullae are jelly-filled canals connected to the surface of the shark’s skin by a pore, and are arranged into clusters or groups.

These structures were first described by Stephano Lorenzini in 1678.  It is pretty cool to have an anatomical structure named after you.  Can you figure out where to find the Circle of Willis or the Islets of Langerhans in your body?

This is not from the show, but is of interest to us living in San Diego.  Female Great White Sharks migrate down to southern California to give birth to their young.  The adults live up in northern California because there are lots of fat seals up there, which are their preferred prey.  They come south to give birth in our warmer waters.  The small sharks stay down here, eating fish, until they and their appetites grow enough for them to cruise up north for some seal snacks.  Great Whites are spotted off of our coast, and La Jolla Shores beach was recently closed when a 15 foot Great White shark was seen by a life guard.  A swimmer was also killed in a Great White shark attack a few years ago a little further up the coast in Solana Beach.

And finally…

This isn’t a Great White, but it is a cool picture of me in front of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst.  It is artwork at the Met in NYC.  It is a preserved Tiger Shark suspended in a formaldehyde solution.  This is actually not the original shark, the first shark he used for the piece began to decay and it had to be replaced with another.  This brings up the question, is the art the shark, or is the art the idea of displaying a shark and calling it art?  If the original Mona Lisa decayed, would most people consider a replacement of it to be a masterpiece?

Food for thought.

Now here are sharks, thinking of food…

And here is an amazing photo from the web, taken at just the moment the shark is about to break through the water.  Cool.

Shark Breaking waterAnd another shark all the way out of the water!

Great White breaching

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography Pier Walk

We took the kids to a program offered by the Birch Aquarium at the SIO pier in La Jolla, which is normally closed to the public.  It is a working research pier used by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (part of USCD).  The program started with a tour of the campus (the new Forum building was beautiful, we want to go back there for lunch), and then we got to head out onto the pier.  There were several stations set up at the end of the pier with different activities for the kids and adults to try.  They tried to collect plankton with a plankton net (but the only thing they found was a fish egg), there was a table set up with various shark displays, another table housed the squid dissection, and finally there were several tubs of mussels and rocks they had collected from the sea floor, that Sam in particular spent a lot of time sifting through searching for creatures.

We had a great time, and I particularly enjoyed being out on the pier, looking at the view back toward the coast.  The program started at 7:00,  and we left around 8:30 (it got cold!), and the lights sparkling on the water were lovely after dark.

As a special treat we were given sealed plastic baggies filled with bioluminescent plankton (dinoflagellates) that glow blue and green when you shake the baggie, called a Bioglow Kit.  They should live for several months if we care for them properly (indirect sun to feed them, no extreme temperatures).  The idea for the kits came from marine biologist Michael Latz of the Marine Bioluminescence Lab at SIO.

The Birch Aquarium offers this program throughout the year, it is called the Full Moon Pier Walk (the next is August 30th).  We had clouds on our night, so I think we will have to try it again sometime!  And I would recommend it if you are looking for a very San Diego outing for adults or kids with an interest in marine science.  Check out Emma’s and Sam’s blogs for their posts on our outing.

This is the view from the near end of the SIO Pier

Sam dancing for the SIO pier cam.

A research building on the end of the pier

Squid dissection table.

The view from the pier as we were leaving.

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