Sunday, 30 April 2006

Organic veg box.

organic food

For the last few weeks the issue of organic food keeps coming up around me. When visiting Jayme a few weekends ago I saw her organic veg box, delivered to her door each week. I was reading a Guardian article that same weekend about organic food. It seems to me that the most compelling reason to eat organic food is that it lessens the environmental effect. There are no laws in the UK at the moment which govern things like how close pesticide-sprayed fields can be to houses or other areas. The article said that one group is recommending a five meter buffer zone around fields, and that some US states have a 2.5 mile buffer between fields and schools.

Organic food may or may not be better for your health. The article I was reading cited lots of studies on both sides of the debate. The main problem with defining pesticides' harm to the body is that there are no human trials (understandably--who would sign up?). Several scientists interviewed said they eat organic out of a "rather safe than sorry" attitude.

Organic food is more expensive at our supermarket. It reminds me of the leaded/unleaded fuel debate of the past. My dad said that for years he bought unleaded fuel when it was much more costly than leaded out of a conviction to cause less harm. Now I am starting to feel that I may have to approach organic food with the same attitude. Organic and local, if I really want to get on the environmental bandwagon.

Friday, 28 April 2006

A present from Sonya: a chocolate carrot! She knows me too well.

Ant's news

Today Ant had his last exam. Ever. Again. He hopes. All that remains of his masters course is a few pieces of coursework and a five month project. The project is the part of the course that he has been looking forward to most of all. He hopes that it will be more interesting than the courses he has been doing, and that the professor involved will be able to teach him in a more hands-on way. He is sick of having to teach himself the things he should be taught in class.

The project is about, wait for it,... "using observer theory to optimise PIV and PTV methods with the aim to understand turbulence." I don't really understand what this means...! But our main hope is that after all of this he will be able to get a job in his desired field of vehicle aerodynamic design.

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

the first and second twigs of motion

While visiting Isaac Newton's birthplace two weeks ago, I saw the apple tree under which he is said to have sat when postulating about gravity. Matt, Julian, Nadia, and I really wanted our own scientifically famous tree, so we swiped a cutting from a branch. And this past weekend Matt picked up some rooting hormone and Miracle Gro. After reading the accompanying literature we cut our portion into two twigs and planted them both. They have a makeshift greenhouse (a clear plastic bag) to help keep them warm and moist on the kitchen ledge.

Since the weekend we have been debating about what to name these new cuttings. I vetoed New and Ton as being too ridiculous. The First and Second Twigs of Motion wasn't quite catchy enough. I think we have decided on Gravitree for one and Twig Newton for the other.

Photos of our darlings coming soon!

Saturday, 22 April 2006

thai massage

I went yesterday for a Thai massage--oh, the pain! The masseuse balanced on the back of my thighs for the first section and pulled and twisted my arms, legs, and back at the end. But it feels good to be pushed and pummled by an expert. Next time I will bring a pair of sandals and stay for the steam room--I didn't realise this was included. What wonderful pampering just before I go back to work on Monday.

Wednesday, 19 April 2006


Here's an idea I found a while ago. I still think it's a brilliant market niche. iTrain is a company that provides mp3 files for download that combine music and a personal trainer. They have all types of different workouts with instructions given: a treadmill playlist, and ones for kickboxing, cycling, body sculpting, strength training, stretching, and hip hop. They're coming out soon with an outdoor program and a new core workout. Now all I need is an armband for my iPod nano and I'll be set. Oh, and they've extended their market to non-US customers, so I won't have to make up a fake address in Alabama.

Sunday, 16 April 2006

Geek Week 2006

Matt, Nadia, Julian, and I took a magical road trip around England tracing the life of Sir Isaac Newton and doing other geeky things. On Wednesday, we visited Westminster Abbey and saw the memorial plaques to Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, James Joule, and Lord Kelvin.

On Thursday we visited Oxford.

This is the Museum of Natural History in Oxford.

At the Natural History Museum, I learned that insects are the most successful of all animals in their profusion.

We found a statue of Newton at the museum of Natural History.

Here is a statue of Euclid at the Museum of Natural History.

Next we visited the adjacent Pitt Rivers Museum. General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founded the museum in 1884 with a bequest of 20000 items. He specified they must be displayed in the thematic arrangement that he preferred, not chronologially or by region. So for example, there is a case about weaving that holds European bobbin lace, woven baskets from tribes around the world, and many other kinds of weaving from all parts of the world.

We saw this set of eleven carved spheres at the Pitt Rivers Museum. The set was carved from a single piece of ivory. You may be able to see the handwritten labels that are attached to every object at the museum.

Here are some calculation methods on display at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

We wanted to visit the Bodleian Library, but we were obviously not scholarly enough. Instead of entering the reading rooms we visited the gift shop!

Here is the doorway to one of Oxford's colleges.

At the Museum of the History of Science, we saw all sorts of mathematical instruments. Here is a rectangular protractor.

Here is a standard mathematical drawing set from 1847. It contains a pen and dividers, and compasses with extensions and extra drawing points. There is a scale rule, a parallel ruler, and a sector, all in ivory.

On Friday, we visited Bletchley Park, where the Enigma machine was cracked in WW2. The Enigma machine had three (and later five) dials that were readjusted every twenty-four hours by the Germans to generate enciphered messages.

This is a machine called the Bombe that helped crack the code. On the left is the front of the machine. It has thirty-six sets of three alphabetic dials. The machine can process the cipher text and use frequency analysis to see if any of the settings of the three dials is a possible key for the enciphering. On the right is a part of the back of the machine showing the workings and wires.

The first semi-programmable computer was made and used at Bletchley Park; it was called the Colossus. It was used to break codes from the Lorenz encipher machine, used by the top officials in the German army and government.

Next we went to see Isaac Newton's birthplace in Lincolnshire. Here I am in front of the apple tree in his front garden. The plaque states that the tree has been designated one of Britain's fifty great trees by Queen Elizabeth II! I am holding an apple that we were using to make an educational film.

Here is Matt trying to drop the apple on Julian's head during filming. Julian is explaining about gravity.

Newton went to school in the nearby town of Grantham. There is a statue of him near his school.

And across the street there is another monument to his greatness.

Yesterday we visited Cambridge. Newton attended Trinity College. Here is a shot of his window and the apple tree outside. It was recently planted there and is an offshoot of the apple tree at his house.

Here is the court of Trinity College.

test your Easter knowledge

Happy Easter! Welcome to the holiday that has nothing to do with chocolate or a new bonnet. Try the Easter quiz on the Guardian website to see what you know. I scored 4 out of 10 and received the comment: "Hopeless. Don't expect anything from the Easter goose this year."

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

wedding pictures

While Ant was getting ready to go to Switzerland, he was searching high and low for his snowboarding goggles. A fantastic by-product of this search was finding the CD with our wedding pictures on it. Enjoy!

These beautiful photos were taken by my brother Paul, a wedding photographer.

Ant's cravat, made by my mum.

My hair, done by my aunt.

Arriving at the church--note the winter jacket and snow on the ground behind us.

Coming up the aisle with my parents.

Making our vows.

Listening to the sermon.

Ant, Kit, and Micah.

Sonya, my matron of honour.

With both our families.

My excellent brothers flying me through the air.

Having dinner in the church hall.

Relatives partaking of the tasty buffet.

The beautiful cake.

Cutting the cake.

I am tired after a long day.

Ant is tired.

new trousers

I went on a little shopping trip today--to Clapham Junction! It's just down the road and has a busier high street than Wandsworth. Also it has a fair few charity shops. The charity shops have quite good quality items and I bought a skirt from Oasis (£4.50) and a blazer from H&M (£7.25). What bargain! Then at a new shop down the road I picked up a steel gray trouser suit for £20 (wow!) and a pair of black trousers for £17. I spent the rest of the afternoon ripping out the hems in three pairs of trousers and rehemming them. (Actually I got tired before the final pair was finished. But I'll get back to them tomorrow, maybe.) While growing up I watched mum ripping hems and that acquired knowledge has come in handy. Almost any trousers I buy require adjustment.

Monday, 10 April 2006

first day of holidays

My first day not having to go to work... and what do I do? Go to work. Knowing that I had about one day's work that needed to be done over the break, I decided that my holiday would be much better if I got it out of the way near the beginning. So I set off to school this morning--granted it was about three hours later than usual!

The heating was off in my corridor, so I had a chilly day. But it was well worth it to get my one big task out of the way. As a bonus I went out for lunch with a colleague at a very nice cafe down the road--the kind of treat reserved for holidays. After lunch I shivered my way through lots of scanning and cleaning. When I left at 6:30 it was still light outside, which always lessens the burden of being at work late.

So it was a good first day of my holidays. Not the most exciting, but definitely productive.

Sunday, 9 April 2006


I have started reading a book called Watching the English by Kate Fox. Ant gave it to me as a wedding gift and April said that she thought it was fantastic. Ms Fox seeks to observe and report on the customs and eccentricities of the English. I am in an enviable position as an immigrant she says, since as Ms Fox puts it, minority individuals "quite consciously, deliberately, cleverly, and even mockingly pick and choose among the behaviours and customs of their host culture." It's a really interesting book that exposes conversation codes and behaviour codes of the English.

In the book, Ms Fox argues that outsiders coming to live in England are involved in English culture in three ways: influence, adaption, and adoption. Since moving here my adoption of Englishness has been confined to vocabulary. I talk of taking out the rubbish, putting things in the boot of the car, using aluminium foil to wrap food, eating tea (the main evening meal) and finishing with pudding. But this week I made a conscious effort to change my pronunciation of the word "half." I was reading a mental maths practice test for a year seven class on Thursday and when I got to the question, "Write down half of 28," they all asked what I meant. I repeated the question, but this time with the English pronunciation, and they had no trouble answering the question.

When I first moved here, Jayme told me that she had found it essential to change her accent somewhat. I can understand that now since I receive a lot of mocking and imitation from students because of my accent. (And their teasing always sounds so American! Grrr.) So I think that maybe she was right. I will have to change my pronunciation a bit more over time. She said she didn't find this particularly hard to do. So far the only words I have changed are half and snooker (the latter used to receive unbearable taunting from Ant whenever I said it). I thought that having an English husband would help, but unfortunately this seems to be not the case. It will have to be a conscious effort.

Current reading.

Saturday, 8 April 2006

tonsils, sleep, and behaviour

A random fact I read today in the paper: Scientists in Michigan have found that children behave better after their tonsils are removed. "What kind of strange connection is this?" I thought. A quick search led me to the New York Times article which said that ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can in some children be linked to a sleep disorder. And sleep disorders are treated in part by removing the child's tonsils. In a study about children having their tonsils removed, half of the ADHD patients were no longer classed as ADHD after the surgery. Wow! What an idea. I guess the connection between tonsils and behaviour is not as random as I thought. If only I was dual-trained in teaching and tonsil removal!

dinner party

Last night I cooked for eight in our first dinner party in ages. It was awesome to have Matt and April (our perpetual guests), Matt and Bree, and Andrew and Naomi visiting for a meal. And I have found a foolproof company dish that is easy and tasty every time. Yay!

Maple Hoisin Chicken
Make a marinade with:
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 T soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
2 T ketchup
1 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger root
Mix with eight chicken breasts and marinate for 2-8 hours.
Bake for 30-40 minutes at 200/400 degrees.

This is a wonderful dish that takes no time during the evening you are serving it. I made a couscous side dish and a fresh salad with rocket and that's it. Delicious and easy.

Thursday, 6 April 2006

so close!

There is only one more day until my two weeks holidays. I am eagerly awaiting them. I stayed late tonight to clear some stuff off my desk in advance of tomorrow. I had a busy day with no non-contact periods, a parent meeting before school, a parent meeting on my lunch hour, and an after school maths department meeting. That's busier than usual!

It seems like a shame to enter the holidays so tired. I feel like slacking off now so that I can really enjoy them. During the time off I need to do some work, like preparing our homework booklets for the new half-term. I need to find us a dentist. Ant and I will be doing a hotel review in central London for two nights. And I will be doing some sightseeing, as usual. There are still lots of things to do in and around London.

Monday, 3 April 2006

a fantastic weekend

I spent the weekend away visiting my friend Jayme and her fiance, Donald, just outside of Southampton. Jayme is my oldest friend--we met when I was four and she was five and I had moved to Miramichi. We were fast friends. I remember that when I was in grade one she took great delight in teaching me grade two math, an early boon to my maths career! We played together nonstop until I moved away just before I turned ten.

Jayme and I.

Jayme's fiance, Donald, and I.
It was a friendship built to last. We have been in contact for all the intervening years and still really enjoy our time together. She is now an English teacher with an English fiance, and they are planning to move back to Canada in the summer and get married in October. It was really lovely to spend the weekend with them and catch up.

It was a relaxing weekend with enough sleep (yay!). On Saturday Jayme cooked us a fab breakfast (her favourite meal of the day), and then we tuned up Jayme's new (eBay) bike, Donald's bike, and his mum's bike for me. It was a bit of a scary proposition for me to be cycling, since I have done so only a handful of times in the last ten years. But it is true what they say about remembering how to do it.

Sidebar: I hope Ant won't take it as a personal slight that I went cycling this weekend. He has been urging me to do it since we got to London. He is an avid cycler, but I am seriously scared of sharing the road with the drivers in London. They drive fast on tiny roads. There is no space for the cyclist most of the time and the drivers don't care. Ant, of course, has nerves of steel and cycles blithely through any traffic jam. He keeps telling me how short and enjoyable cycling would make my commute to school, but I disagree. I refuse to try.

New Forest.
Fortunately for my fear level, we decided to cycle to the nearby village of Lyndhurst through the New Forest. It was used as a hunting ground by King Henry VIII. We went along a gravel track for the first section of our journey. The forest was beautiful, with ivy growing up the tall deciduous trees. Then we hit an area that had no tree cover and, due to the rain the night before, was a huge mud puddle. We walked our bikes through that squelchy mud for quite a time and Jayme vowed we would be returning home later on the road (to my dismay).

The village of Lyndhurst.
Lyndhurst is a lovely little village with quaint shops and narrow streets. We had lunch at a cafe, and browsed in the little shops for most of the afternoon. We finished with a stop for tea and cakes (yum--apple toffee fudge cake). Our cycle home on the road was scary but after a few stress breaks I made it back. We were all tired and a nice night in with food and wine was very enjoyable.

On Sunday we had another great breakfast and then headed out to a village called Beaulieu. Jayme bought some beautiful fake roses for her bridesmaids, and I got a present for my mother. (Heehee, my mum may read this and she will wonder what it is! Cackle, cackle.) We had a roast dinner at a nearby pub--I had roast beef, roast potatoes and parsnips, Yorkshire pudding, green beans, mangetouts, and cauliflower, with masses of gravy.

The view from Lepe. The Isle of Wight is in the background.

A sailboat off the Lepe coast.
We drove on to Lepe, on the coast. It was windy and the water was very choppy. We saw a windsurfer who was clearly having a grand time. And my weekend was also grand. It was relaxing and also interesting, a good mixture of staying in and going out. Jayme encouraged me regarding my job and showed suitable shock when I told her some stories of how the school is run. I feel energised enough to make it through the last week until Easter holidays--a glorious two weeks off.