Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I grew up in the Seattle area. It is beautiful there. It is green. It has 300 foot tall trees next to the freeway. It is an hour or so from great hiking, all with trees and underbrush. Gardens are lush, even if you don't have a green thumb. Anything grows. Even cactus, although you have to take it inside and ignore it.

Rocks (40 years ago) had slightly more aesthetic value than asphalt.

I got a job in Eastern Washington, in semi-arid country. (that means it isn't a desert. yet.) My Seattle friends said "How can you live there? There aren't any trees!" I replied "In town, you don't notice." But the objection stayed in my head. And bothered me. Basically, it said that their idea of beauty (at least for greens) is limited to kelly and pine green, occasionally mint. Having no choice in the matter (at least for the foreseeable future), I decided to like sage green, gray green, light tan and even gray. And all the other colors that don’t seem to make it big over the mountains. (Fortunately for me, orange was not a big player.) Even sparse vegetation has an attraction.

And so I developed this philosophy: Here on this side of the state, we are proud of our rocks. We don't cover them with extraneous vegetation.

Monday, June 20, 2011

History is in the eyes of the beholder.

One of the things I get to do with exchange students is visit my own state. I don't know how many Seattleites I've talked to that said they only go up the Space Needle when they have out of town guests. (Well, at $15 a pop, I can see why!) So...a trip to the Whitman Mission is in order.

It is interesting why people are famous. The Whitmans started a mission to the Cayuse Indians and lived near them for 11 years or so. It became a way station for settlers on the Oregon Trail; in 1847 some 5000 people visited them at least overnight. But they are most famous for: getting killed. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians was famous for: surrendering.

I'm sure that if, had the Indians won the land for themselves and were able to completely exclude the whites, these people would have been only a footnote in their history books. (And we would never have called them Indians, a 50+ year habit that is hard to break. And creates confusion when you tell a Pakistani exchange student that we are visiting an Indian museum in Toppenish.)

I've rarely had anyone disagree with me when I said that history is the most boring subject I've ever taken. (Of course now that I am an adult, I read history and enjoy it. The people that wrote those books were trying to make money, so they make what they write interesting. Those who write textbooks have a captive audience and don't need to make it interesting.) Which means that my impression of world history is this:

Europe existed to discover America.

The colonies rebelled and became the United States.

We had a civil war, then (generously) helped out Europe in World War 1 and 2. We ended the second one by dropping a bomb on Japan, although how the war ended in Europe is pretty murky.

So, after dragging Stephan around the countryside, I asked him what we thought of the Mission. He said it was pretty interesting and he learned all sorts of new things. And then I found out he learned nothing about US history at all when in the Netherlands.

At this point, I said: "So your impression of US History is that a long time ago some people left and never came back?" Before he could answer, Jack said "Somebody left?"

I should probably explain the last picture. At the old and decrepit age of 55, teenagers are faster than me. The light turned yellow. They ran. I didn't.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Art with a degree in chemistry

Everything about color and design I have learned by the seat of my pants. I have a degree in chemistry, and the only time we dealt with color was identifying elements and compounds and looking for color changes as they reacted. In my job, I was in charge of instrumentation which counted alpha, beta and gamma. As far as color went, I chose what color to write data in the books. Usually black. Occasionally blue. On the day after Christmas I drew holly leaves in the notebook, in black.

When I quit my job to raise kids, I said "Now I am going to concentrate on the arts" because my girls loved coloring with color crayons, coloring with pencils, coloring with crayons, and coloring the stamps with whatever they had on hand. They also colored on the walls. Once. (I guess they didn't like plain white.) They even colored on the quilts...fortunately it washed out.

I am not normally satisfied with making a quilt just like in the book, I want to make it different, I want to make it noticeable, I want to make it one of a kind...I want to make it mine. So, when I signed up for a class last weekend with Jan Krentz (, I spent two days with 1/2 inch wide pieces of fabric trying to figure out just how I wanted to put my star together. (see first picture)

I got tired of this and went to EQ5, which has two drawbacks: it doesn't have exactly my fabrics, and I haven't had the patience to learn how to use it properly and didn't have the time the day before class started. But I muddled on through to a design which I though would work -- and of course, was different than what she had suggested for class. It looked really cool on EQ5 and on the little mockup, too. As a side benefit, I showed up for class behind because nothing had been cut out at all. But at least the fabric had been washed.

After sewing it together, I put everything on the wall -- picture 2. Now I see a green blob in the center with almost no definition. So I turned the diamonds around (3rd picture), and the green blobs turn into green ends which disappear into the background fabric. The second problem is the background fabric, which worked fine in the mockup, is blah at full size. So I replaced it, (picture 4 and 5)and now I am very happy with it except for one thing: There is not enough background fabric. But that is OK, I probably have enough of something that works in my stash. Or I can change the squares and triangles of the background to accomodate things. And there are ways to fix the green blob which does not require unsewing. Which may not work anyway. So there is a lot more design work ahead of me.

But my imagination is now taxed and it is a good thing class is over.

But the real value of the class: look at my points in the last picture! Perfection!

I think I will go read my Science News magazine.

Monday, June 13, 2011

scientists do have a sense of humor...

...and this proves it. There are many more examples, of course.

Friday, June 03, 2011

natural disasters

One of the nice things about living here is that the weather behaves itself. It generally comes from the west, so it is easier to be right about weather predictions. Our heat waves are, say, 5 degrees above normal, the cold snaps are 10 degree below normal and they end soon. We don't have tornadoes, we don't have hurricanes, the cascade volcanoes are on the west side and earthquakes are just not on the radar, although there are those who say they should be. We do have eto contend with the occasional fire, since we are after all a semi-arid climate. Once every 8 years or so.

So, basically, natural disasters here are photo-ops.

The first pictures were taken two weeks ago. The first is Ingalls Creek on Blewett Pass. It was raining so hard that all the streams in the area looked like chocolate milk. (And probably tasted like that crummy add water stuff, complete with totally tasteless marshmallows.) The second is the Yakima River, somewhere south of Yakima.

The last pictures are the Columbia River. This is controlled by dams (10 upstream and 4 downstream) and so is only about 10 feet above normal. It has been above normal all winter. I have seen only one gosling in the park, I think all the nests got washed away. (They nest on the now half-submerged island in the middle of the river. Several weeks ago there were trees listing at 45 degrees; they got washed away too. When a tree gets washed away, what chance does a goose egg have? (Of course, there are those who claim that this is a good thing, there are already too many geese. But we don't like threading our way through the poop on the walking path. (Which, as you can see, is now a swimming path.)) The river is running fast, and the gosling just couldn't swim upriver at all. The deer who normally live on the island have probably left for drier spots.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures. And donate money to places that need the help.