Owen, WI

I am slowly making my way thought photos from Christmas in Wisconsin. Here are some from a visit to Grandma & Gramps’ in Owen. They were both born and raised in this small town of just under 1,000 people.

I went with just my sibs, Aaron and Sarah. We have a large family, so it was fun to get Gr&Gr to ourselves. If you want to see what I (or Sarah or Aaron) might look like in 60 years, take a look at these photos:

And, of course, no trip to Owen is complete without a bowl of grandma’s fresh angel food cake, home-grown berries, and a heap of Maul’s icecream. (this local dairy basically pumps milk straight from the udder into the icecream-maker. Mmm.)


And, for your viewing pleasure, I made my very first .gif files.
We tried getting our grandparents (Harold and Fern) to make funny faces.


Everything Spins!

If I could marry a dead man it’d be the Italian mathematician, Fibonacci*. In the 10+ years I’ve known about the golden mean, my giddiness at spotting a spiral in nature has not waned at all. In fact, it’s increasing. The consistency of mathematical patterns within the universe are like the legendary sirens to me…only I don’t think this will kill me.

A few weeks ago, at work, I was experimenting with simple motors. I wanted to give the students who were building chain-reaction contraptions multiple ways to get things moving. We had a few options for motors, but motors only produce spinning motions. What if the students wanted to move something up-and-down or side-to-side? After some research, I made a personal discovery. Everything starts with a spinning motion! Even “servos” and “stepper motors”, which produce back-and-forth linear movements, are actually just spinning motors that turn on and off, switching directions each time. I was thrilled to think that every mechanized movement I can think of originates as a spin. That evening I began a brainstorm of every spinning, spiraling thing I could think of.

I decided I had to begin writing about spirals.

You won’t believe this. The first SIX blog titles I chose where already taken. Everythingspins. Spinningworld. Spirals. Spin. Spinning. Spiraling. Taken. Taken. Taken! Actually, “ilovespirals” was still available, but I was miffed at that point. Who (and where?!) are all these spiral-loving people? A brief google search landed me dozens of book and documentary titles. With a deep sigh, I realized my spiral plans had already been carried out. Numerous times over. By people who are much more than just casual enthusiasts for spirals. I decided to table my plans.

Then, a day ago, I emptied some of my sprouting garbanzo beans onto a salad. Usually a garbanzo sprouts’ first root is straight. But sitting there on top of my spinach mount was a cork-screw spiral staring right back up at me. I took it as a sign.

Ok, maybe the fact that I haven’t posted anything on this blog since the first of January is a good indication that I should not start up a second blog. On the good advice of a friend, I will simply use my already-existing blog to broadcast my admiration for Mother Nature’s geometry skills. Here are some spiral photos I’ve taken in the past year:

*note: It is not a Mormon belief or practice to marry one’s self to a deceased person. I recently had some interesting conversations about misconceptions concerning my faith, and what exactly goes on inside LDS temples. Just wanted to hedge any further miscommunication. My tongue-in-cheek fantasizing of a relationship with this brainy dude who lived in the 12th century was just an effort to reel in the attention of my 5 trusty blog followers. But, honestly, my knees do go week for nerdy mathematicians and scientists.

…And more Christmas highlights…

I’ve slowly been sorting through my photos from Christmas. Enjoy!

Mom’s Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Her heart is always open for stray animals, wayward teenagers, and that one tree everyone else would just walk right past… For the last few years, she’s chopped her own tree from the lot of a friend who needs help thinning his forest. Thanks for your environmental consciousness and your big heart, mom.

Dad’s reading from Luke. Note how sad Peter looks. He was up at 5:00am, anxious for Christmas to start. It wasn’t until 10:30 that everyone else was up and ready. It’s hard to be the youngest. My favorite line from the Christmas reading came after dad gave some heartfelt thoughts about the humble circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth.  A brother piped in, “yeah, but wasn’t one of his first gifts gold?”

Mediterranean Theme. Years ago, after reading a ‘Christmas Around the World’ book, we decided to have themed Christmases. We took the legs off our dining room table and ate with chop sticks for our Japanese Christmas. We travelled to Utah for a new baby grandchild and ate leg of lamb and flat bread for our Bethlehem Christmas. We turned the heat down, wore night caps, and read Dickens’ Christmas Carol by candle light for our turn-of the-century Christmas. I believe it was the Czech Christmas when we piled straw under the kitchen table—turning it into a stable—and slept there Christmas eve. The year the teen-age boys demanded a turn to choose the theme, we had celebrated the holiday in a cabin, wore pajamas all day, ate microwave dinners, had a rootbeer-tasting competition with an accompanying belching competition, and decorated the indoor tree with huge outdoor lights and tin-can ornaments: “White Trash Christmas”. This year we brought back the Mediterranean theme. We like the food. Mom’s artisan bread, crackers, fruits, nuts, chicken and spinach pastries, smoked fish, hummus, gobs of delicious cheeses…

My brothers’ number one request of me when I go home is to give them massages. This year I got them all massage tools. Thanks for posing for this picture Ben.

Just before I took this next photo, Caleb picked up the back scratcher/ massage hook and asked, “What pre-historic animal am I?” *(if you’re not sure, you can find the answer at the end of this post).

The friendly squirrels. They kept us occupied for a while. This little guy is loving mom’s stale cornbread.

Sweet Ava. She was the only grandchild at Christmas this year, so she was extra spoiled.

We spent a good chunk of time playing memory with her Disney princess cards. Here she is on game three, counting up her wins.

And more games. We had a building competition to see who could construct the sturdiest structure in 30 minutes out of dried spaghetti, toothpicks, and marshmellows.

…just seconds before one of my legs broke under the weight of the CDs.

Pandemic. This was our favorite new game. In the half hour following this photo, I discovered a cure for a disease that was wreaking havoc in Southeast Asia. And, together with the help of my siblings and dear friend Kristen we saved the world from an impending pandemic.

A pregnant belly. 😉

Dad’s sisters. It’s non-stop laughter when they are around. It was great to catch up with each of them.

And a phone call with Sarah. She’s currently serving a mission in the Philippines. It was so wonderful to hear her voice. (Notice the green cell phone in the center of the table. The black phone beside that was connected to my brother and his family out in Utah). I sure miss my sister, but am so proud of the stellar work she is doing half way across the globe. Her experiences are documented here.

*ANSWER: Caleb is a raptor.

manna to my taste.

On my morning walks to work there are many familiar faces. I don’t know anyone’s name, but they have become regulars in my life. The TRAX driver who smiles so good-naturedly when he opens the door for wheelchair-riders, the orange-clad construction workers huddled around the Chuvi-Duvi taco stand, the sister missionaries dutifully filling two-by-two onto Temple Square, the pan-handlers assuming their posts with their worn cardboard signs, the man with the two-foot-long silver ponytail who just stands at the corner watching traffic go by.

And, somewhere between 1st and 4th south I cross paths with a wide-eyed, shaggy-haired man in 80’s-length running shorts. He has some of the longest, skinniest legs I’ve ever seen. Or is it just in relation to those short shorts? Today he stopped maybe 4 yards ahead of me. He swooped to the ground and picked up a small object. I didn’t see what it was, but only that it went straight into his mouth. An indulgent grin spread across the man’s face. He looked so contented with his apparently jack-pot-of-a-find that I couldn’t help but smile for him too.

I grinned all morning remembering that startling encounter. How many busy morning walkers passed right by that anonymous morsel before the hungry man seized the treasure? …Sweet goodness appearing at his feet, just as the dews from heaven. How many of us would have thought to eat it? The children of Israel had to be taught to recognize their heaven-sent food. According to Biblical record manna was small and white like coriander seeds; it appeared as hoar frost and had to be collected before it was melted away by the sun. The name for this bread of heaven is said to have come from the question, “What is it?” or “Man hu?”

Other scholars suggest the name is derived from the Arabic word for plant lice, man. They suggest that when the travelers in the wilderness saw manna they stated, “Man hu. This is plant lice.” Some breeds of scale insects produce a type of honeydew. Such a meal would have provided Moses’ people with both a sweet mouthful and a complete protein. Other scholars cast in votes that manna was a type of lichen, or fungi, or a kosher species of locust, or the sap of an appetite-suppressing plant.

I won’t rule out the possibility that manna was a celestial concoction altogether different from any other earthly thing, BUT there is something thrilling to me about the notion that a group of God’s chosen people subsisted for generations on wax-secreting insects. And, honestly, who wouldn’t call an insect a celestial wonder?

Waxy scales from plant parasites and unwrapped mouthfuls on dirty sidewalks don’t make me anxious for lunchtime. But maybe they would if I was intensely hungry. Or maybe they would if I knew the source from which they came. My fellow morning traveler has inspired me with a desire to wake up to the heaven-sent morsels at my feet. I worry I too often mistake celestial gifts for earth-crawling commonalities.

I want to be aware enough of the path under my feet, and hungry enough, that I too can unhesitatingly drop to my knees and graciously savor empyrean gifts. In honor of the lesson from the man with the familiar face, I’ve decided to re-name my blog: Manna to my taste. With the same spirit of James Montgomery’s famous poem,  I will use this blog to record the manna in my life.

…land that I love…

I recently returned from a week in my motherland. It was a wonderful adventure. Within minutes of landing, I was whisked away to a lake in northern Wisconsin where I spent a number of days camping with 48 people who share much of my X chromosome (or married someone who does).

Here’s Fern and Harold, the common ancestor we all share. See any resemblance? My brothers lovingly refer to me as Fern3.

We had a blast playing water baseball, catching frogs, telling stories around the campfire, and playing the annual fear factor games.

Here we are blowing mounds of flour to uncover pieces of bubble gum. The first one to be able to blow a bubble wins.

On the menu for the “fear factor” eating challenge were: bleu cheese, anchovies, sardines, a full can of evaporated milk, and gummy worms soaked in water. My brother Caleb downed everything without a problem but started to dry heave with the gummy worm because he thought it was alive!

I loved spending so much quality time with family, and can’t wait until next year.

Also while in WI, I glommed with some dear high school friends

Visited with my 80-something-year-old great aunt and uncle who still farm as if they were in their 30’s.

I visited with my bosom friend and heroine, Fran Kelly, who was one of the most magical figures of my childhood and who is the motivation for much of my current life

I visited the old house where I grew up:

Picked berries behind the house where my mom currently lives:

Biked around Madison with my Dad, brother, sister-in-law, and niece:

And bought delicious produce at the nation’s largest out-door farmer’s market:

And spent my last evening hanging out with my dear friend (and niece) Ava.

She held my hand all the way to the airport. When I said goodbye, her bottom lip quivered and then she burst into tears and told me not to go. She almost persuaded me to stay. Here she is blowing me a kiss goodbye.

I’ll miss you!

Ode to Ruth Stout

My fledgling seedlings are getting so big and strong. I am looking forward to the day when I can set them free outside, and they can bask in an uninhibited stream of photons.

In anticipation of the approaching planting day, I wanted to introduce you to one of my personal heros: Ruth Stout. She is renown intuitive gardener, famous for her deep layers of mulch, and her quick wit.


Bananas to the Rescue!

When I heard about this recent discovery on NPR today I shrieked for joy. The University of Michigan Medical School published a study this week revealing that a chemical naturally found in bananas is just as potent as two already-existing anti-HIV drugs. It’s exciting because it’s a potentially cheap source, it’s mode of action is pretty efficient in that it blocks the viruses’ entry into the body (and does this well enough that it will hopefully take many mutations for the virus to get around the trick), and it gives me one more reason to love this fruit.

I went through a banana-crazed stage many years ago. I gave a speech in my freshman English class about “the perfect ripeness of a banana”, I learned the entire Chiquita Banana song (see below), I wore the fruit to school- wrapped into an elaborate bun on top of my head, and I convinced my high school cross country team to design our yearly t-shirt after nature’s golden beauty.  It was the first fruit for which I memorized its sticker number: 4011. Finally, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I first visited Ecuador and ate red ones and purple ones and tiny ones and huge ones fresh from the garden. In honor of these happy memories and the happy news of the day, enjoy the Chaquita banana’s original commercial: