Sunday, February 16, 2014

Marshmallow World

This is one of the snowiest Pennsylvania winters E and I remember. We've had winters with multiple large storms that probably, in the end, dropped more snow on the state. But since December, it's just been storm after storm here, not necessarily major ones, but enough to put a pause in people's schedules. Then last Thursday, we were hit with a lovely two-part storm that gave us about 20 more inches on top of the 8-10 that were already on the ground from previous events. This was followed Saturday by a 3-inch topcoat, and there's talk of a little something tomorrow night. Amazing.

E decided to fix his long-broken cross-country skis over his winter break, assuming that spring would come immediately. But luckily (from a skiing perspective at least) that has not happened and he's been able to take a few runs over the many farms near our house. It's given him a new and beautiful perspective on our area from a vantage point he wouldn't otherwise be able to see.

But back to our latest deluge:

The patio is now level with the ground thanks to the snow.
A better perspective on the depth
The filled-in vegetable garden
E and the mail delivery  area
Front sidewalk – now with walls!
Hardy young Mennonite women
Man the barricades!
E doing his Dorf impersonation.
Front walk

But there is hope, know why? As I was taking these shots, this appeared. Look closely:

My grandmother was always thrilled to see the first robin, and documented the sighting each year. She always felt that it meant spring was coming soon. Let's hope she's right.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

House of C and E - Special Science Edition!

I'm not sure this post fits in with the original spirit of the founding ideals of this blog, but I just think this is the coolest thing and I'm shamelessly working this into any conversation, email, post, etc.

So yesterday at work, I had some free time and decided to take our shiny new cloud chamber out for a test drive.  At this point, you might be asking: "What's a cloud chamber?" "Wait, why are my thoughts being typed out on this blog post?"  "What unholy power is responsible for revealing my innermost deliberations onto this miniscule and insignificant blog?"  "Wait, is this just E trying to be witty and whimsical?"  "Haha, very funny, now get back to writing your post."  "Anymore of these shenanigans and I'll stop reading right here."  Good point. Sorry about that.

A cloud chamber is a simple device that has a chamber (about the size of an average piece of Tupperware) that is filled with an alcohol vapor.  Simply, the bottom of the chamber is filled with an alcohol (like isopropyl alcohol) and with a little cooling around the chamber provided by cold tap water, the chamber becomes filled with a vapor of these alcohol molecules.  And the purpose of all this?  This vapor is really good at interacting with high energy particles, like those you'd find from nuclear processes (for those who want to know: alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, etc).  When a high energy particle flies through this vapor, it can collide with these alcohol molecules and, in the process, ionize them.  When an alcohol molecule becomes ionized, the neighboring alcohol molecules become attracted to it and condense onto this "seed" ionized molecule.  It's like the same process that makes water vapor in the air condense into a larger cloud (hence: cloud chamber).  So this newly formed, larger cloud of alcohol becomes big enough that we can see it.  And because it's so much bigger (and heavier) than the vapor of molecules around it, it falls downwards.

So as the high energy particle flies through the alcohol vapor, it leaves a thin alcohol cloud trail behind it, showing us the path that the high energy particle travels along.  Cool!

So, we set up the cloud chamber and had everything running.  Our high energy source was a piece of radioactive cobalt that emits gamma rays (high energy photons - just like light, but with a lot more energy and WAY outside of the visible spectrum).  We placed the cobalt sample near the chamber.  As the gamma rays from the cobalt enter the chamber (traveling at the speed of light) they can collide with the molecules in the alcohol vapor.  When that happens, the gamma rays can knock electrons off the molecules, sending them shooting across the chamber at high speeds (think of the breaking shot in billiards)!  And it's these high speed photoelectrons (the electrons that are knocked off the alcohol molecules by the gamma rays - i.e. photons) that create the cloud trails through the vapor.  So, in this chamber, we don't see the path of the high energy gamma rays, we see the path of the photoelectrons that are created when these gamma rays enter the chamber and collide with the alcohol molecules.  But still, seeing those cloud trails is evidence of the gamma rays being there.  Plus it just looks so cool.

So without further ado, here's a video showing the subatomic fireworks display:

Isn't science cool?  It totally it is.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Blogging is for the Birds

It goes without saying that we've been delinquent in posting to the blog.  We've done a little painting in the foyer/hallway/kitchen.  Replaced the light fixtures in the powder room.  And completed a few other odds and ends.  But for now, we're going to post about our birds.

We have two seed feeders and one suet feeder hanging from the ash tree in the back yard.  Being that I knew almost nothing about birds, it's really amazing and interesting to see all the different varieties that we see come to the feeders.  Here's a main sampling of our avian neighbors:

Finches - Lots of finches.  As far as we can tell, they look like House Finches, with the males being the ones with the nice red accents.  They come in groups throughout the day, thoroughly chowing down on the Safflower seeds. 

Juncos - C tells me that they're also called Snow Birds.  They don't show up in the numbers as the finches, but there are a good number of them.  They do eat at the feeders but when the finches are monopolizing the roosting spots on the feeders, the juncos are more than happy to eat the seeds that are knocked to the ground.

White-Crowned Sparrows - A little less prolific than the juncos, these distinctive sparrows tend to stop by a few times a week.  The white/black striping on their heads make them very easy to spot.  We see these guys out on the feeders, on the ground under the feeders, or out in the front yard eating the berries off our Burning Bushes.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet - We usually only see one or two of these grey-ish yellow birds at a time.  The yellow is subtle but the striping on the wings really stand out.  And they'll get seeds wherever they can.  If the feeders are unattended, they'll sit there and eat.  When the other birds are around, they'll hang out on the ground with the Juncos and eat the seeds there.

Cardinals - Good ol' Cardinals.  It's a little surprising how few of these we see.  But when they do show up, especially with snow on the ground, they're impossible to miss.  As far as we can tell, we have a male (seen in the photo) and a female.  The female has been spotted in the front yard eating the berries off our Burning Bushes.  The male has been spotted at the feeders.  Also, he is not intimidated by the finches, juncos, or any of the other smaller birds who quickly make room for him on the feeders whenever he wants to get a bite to eat.  The smaller birds don't leave, but they do know it's probably not a good idea to get in his Excellency's way.

The Woodpeckers - These are our rock stars this year!  They're pretty shy and only show up now and then.  But when they do, it seems like a special event.  We have two.  As best as we can guess, the first one is a female Hairy Woodpecker.  She goes for the suet:

Our second woodpecker is a male Red-bellied Woodpecker.  This guy is striking with that red mohawk of feathers on his head.  It's not a stretch of the imagination why we call him Sid and the female Nancy.  Like Nancy, he pretty much only eats the suet, however we tend to see Sid more frequently than Nancy.  Whenever they do show up, it's usually when none of the other birds are around.  And when they do arrive, it feels like we have celebrities among us!


That's all for now but I hope to post something soon about the new colors and features in the house.  But for now, we're enjoying the colors that have showing up in our backyard everyday.  Stay warm!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bringing in the Sheaves

Frost's a comin'. Garden evacuation time.

Longkeeper tomatoes
Basil hanging to dry
Poblanos galore.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Vole Truth

For some reason, I thought voles were something found in another part of the country. I think they merged in my mind with the boll weevil, an entirely different cause for increased aspirin sales. Well, this year, I found out I was quite wrong.

This spring, before the grass really grew back, I noticed surface trails through part of our lawn, two-inch wide tracks that looked like long, narrow cave-ins. "Moles," pronounced Mom. "Well, what do I do?" "Let the grass grow in." Fair enough. That did seem to do the trick, for the most part, and only a true student of turf would notice the difference.

Until I dug up this year's potatoes.

Yes, look closely, my children and you will see, the midnight noshing of voles hungry. True, that was not ideal, but the point stands. E came home in the midst of my sad potato retrieval mission, took one look, and said only, "voles." "Not moles?" "Nope, voles." Apparently, D, vanquisher of Roses of Sharon, just had similar problems in her own garden. I did a little reading and found out not only was she right, but that we had done this to ourselves. While heaven only knows what made them move into the front garden – and it was definitely voles in the lawn, as I found they are surface diggers – we invited them into the vegetable garden by planting the super-enthusiastic sweet potatoes, which grew so much that they acted like ground cover around the potatoes. Voles love ground cover. I noticed this as I pulled away enough of the vines to dig up each potato plant – holes and disturbed earth aplenty. So, due to both poor sprouting of my potatoes to begin with, and the subsequent in-vole-sion, this is the sum total of my potato crop this year:

Live, learn, get stronger, cliche of choice. Basically, the sweet potatoes are going to have to get their own digs next year. And if the voles got to them this year, we may not bother at all come 2014. We'll have to wait until after the first frost to find out.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

When the River Meets the Sea

It's been a summer unlike others here at the House of C and E, and one that has not lent itself to blogging. I know we've written more "we're back" posts than regular posts for a while now, but with luck, and perhaps a little guidance from unanticipated quarters, we are, really, back.

So to restart, how about a bit of a recap? This will mostly be outdoors, while E hopes to post some indoor shots shortly.

This way, friends:

This is a bit of a sneak preview, as the cushions were safely tucked away from the rain when I took this picture. But it is indeed a real patio set that is comfortable enough to linger which is what I hope will work best for us. We got it on on sale for the end of the season, but I think we should get some use out of it before we have to put it away, unless we have another Major Storm. Let's hope not. Pictures of the fully kitted set to follow.

Garden news now:

Sweet Jesus.
The vegetable garden as of September 1
The tomatoes are so tall and heavy that they're breaking through their cages.

The sweet potatoes that ate...well, everything.
As a point of comparison, here is the garden in May:

Now I realize this is not the first time I've posted Wild Kingdom photos of the garden. This does happen, in some form or another, every year. But really, new levels. The good news is, the weed barrier is doing its best to counteract the rampant growth that results from the mushroom soil we use as compost - growth which is great for our plants but a pain in the weed department. It really does work well, and though there are always renegades, they are much more manageable.

This year, the true accelereant has been the amazing amount of rain we've had. Though we still lag far behind our friends in the Pacific Northwest, our July/August dry spell never came. My theory is it's all because I actually put a soaker hose in the garden this year. 

So our crops include:
  • Three Sunsugar cherry tomatoes
  • Two Opalka roma tomatoes
  • One Longkeeper tomato
  • Two habaƱero peppers, one orange, one Caribbean red, which is said to be twice as hot as a typical habaƱero
  • Two serrano peppers
  • Two poblano peppers
  • Six bell peppers
  • Four Anaheim peppers
  • Two overgrown basil plants
  • an unknown number of potato plants - I had problems with my cuttings this year, and, as a result, they came up sporadically, and now I have little idea of where they are now that they've started to die back, mostly due to...
  • three sweet potato plants, our experimental crop of the year that started out as the saddest little striplings you could hope to see and, after playing possum until the first good rainy period, proceeded to play pool hustler and tru to strip the rest of the garden for all it was worth; I finally had to get in there and rip out feet upon feet of vines. Beautiful, but we'll be looking for a new system should we try again next year
  • A little onion patch (Stuttgarts) which met with about medium success. Some didn't grow much at all, others rotted, a few thrived, the rest were middling. As my mother said, upon viewing them, "Inever really understood planting an onion to onion." I know what she means, but I don't think that will stop me from trying once more next year.
  • And this baby:

Can't you just hear its slow-rolling, Orson Welles laugh? It's positively glistening with menace. This is a Ghost peper, or Bhut Jolokia, 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. Some like to say it was "discovered" about five or six years ago, but as our friend from India says,"Discovered? We had those growing in the back yard back home. I could have made a FORTUNE." He explained that they simply touched their food to the peppers to get flavor and heat. We Americans are still in the process of putting our hands on the burner to make sure it's hot, apparently.

You're thinking, why? Because I have a little devil on on shoulder who is also a real person who stands behind me and insists I do certain things.

At the Garden Center of Wonders (actual name temporarily misplaced) which said devil and I just found this year, that has so many odd and fantastic plants:
C Mom: Get it for E, he'll love it.
C: He'll have no use for it, it's too hot.
C Mom: Have you ever actually seen one of these plants for sale before?
C: No, but...
C Mom: Get it. You're getting it. Here this looks like a nice one.
There it is.

Oh, and we're growing cilantro, both because we use it and it annoys my cousin who is genetically deprived of liking it.

Some may have noticed an absence in the vegetable garden - the black raspberry bush that once thrived in the northeast corner was cut down to size and relocated to the south side of the house where it can throw its mad lines where it pleases, within a certain amount of reason.

This is the least visible and, thus, least ornamental, side of the house, so it's a good fit now that I know how eager this thing is.

We also moved one of its offspring, which at the time of transplantation was no more than 10 inches high. Now:

Trellis-worthy by next summer, no doubt.

On the more ornamental side of things, some sale acquisitions and some old favorites:

A new tree! E grew up with a mimosa in the yard, and it's the one thing he wanted at our place. It took some doing, as some nurseries and garden centers consider them invasive, but not the Garden Center of Wonders, which had a little two-footer for $8. Said two-footer is now easily eight if not more, but since it grew sideways, it was a few months until we realized it had changed at all.


Red peony, Karl Rosenfield, courtesy of Esbenshade's wonderful parking lot sale

Bloomerang reblooming lilac, on sale at the Foliage Farm; I bought this in May but didn't get around to planting it, with E's help, until August. It seems perfectly happy, though, and is flowering now.
Mazus ground cover, Esbenshade's

Green Santolina, Esbenshade's

Spurge, which I am convinced was on sale at Esbenshade's mostly because it's called Spurge.

And now for some returning favorites:

The lavender patch, which started as three of these:

The morning glories...

...which have relocated themselves, and started out our first year here as this:

The beautyberry, purchased last fall, which made me really nervous because I planted it somewhat far from the house and late in the season, but is doing very well indeed:

More to come as we ease back into things. Thank you for coming back, and please stop by again.

Though our minds be filled with questions
In our hearts, we'll understand
When the river meets the sea

With love.