Monday, August 31, 2009

Wildfire, From The Inside

The webcam at Mt. Wilson, embedded with the dense farm of communications equipment that overlooks Los Angeles, gives the world a front row seat for the wildfire that has been threatening the area's northern suburbs since last week.

When we visited the observatories at Mt. Wilson in 1995 when Cheryl was working under a JPL grant for math teachers, the guide showed us a small cabin that had been used for decades by the caretakers of the observatory properties. The cabin had metal shutters, which we were told were necessary in the old days to survive the occasional fires that swept up the mountain. The personnel would barricade themselves inside the fireproof building and wait for the fire to blow itself out. Modern firefighting techniques had prevented fires in that area for a half-century, though. The guide told us that tire prevention is a mixed blessing in wilderness areas. Without the fires, certain plants do not germinate, unhealthy old growth is not cleared out, and new growth becomes overgrown ... leading to extreme fire danger. Nature will get its way eventually.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Summer Like None Before

The swim team season wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. It was everything that people told us it would be. It was a fun social opportunity for both kids (even though Kelly did not swim with the team, her best friends did, so she saw them often over the summer). It was a great social opportunity for us. Both kids learned how to swim. And with all the focus on swimming in this area, team spirit is a very big component of the whole experience. We decorated our car with decals and paint like everybody else.

We had a good time at the massive league championships, which involved more than 1800 swimmers from the nine clubs competing over three days.

We yelled ourselves hoarse, saw records fall, and chuckled at how two thirteen year olds in adjacent lanes can differ in height by a foot or more.

Michael consistently improved his times over the course of the summer. He even received a Coaches Award at the team awards presentation last week, essentially a good sportsmanship/spirit award.

All in all, it was a really fun summer. We already can't wait for next year.

So It Begins, Again

For the first time in three years, when Michael was still in pre-school, the school year began exactly like the previous year. Last year, everything was new. This year, we are building on everything that happened last year. Instead of sitting on a bench while a playground full of joyfully reuinited friends whirled around him, Michael was part of the frenzy, hardly looking back to say goodbye on his first day of second grade. Instead of bravely looking forward to making new friends out of everyone she would meet because she did not know a soul, Kelly headed to seventh grade eagerly looking forward to seeing which of her friends she would find in each of her classes.

Both got off to good starts, with positive reviews for their classes and friends. Kelly has eight class periods, and Michael is in a split second/third grade class that was put together with some of the better students in each grade (because they all have to be able to work semi-independently, and be capable of pushing a little faster than most students). Most of Michael's class is made up of kids from the swim team, so unlike last year when he knew nobody, he knows just about everybody in his class this year.

We're all sorry to see the summer come to an end, but the school year seems to be off to a good start.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Feed Me, Seymour

Do you have a rodent problem? Ditch the traps and poisons. Get a carnivorous plant. The Venus Flytrap is a mere popgun compared to the big-barreled, newly-discovered meat eater from the Phillipines:

The plant lures in the rats with the promise of sweet nectar. When the rat leans into the plant to drink the saccharine liquid, it slips on the pitcher's waxy interior, and gets stuck in the gooey sap. Once it is trapped, acid-like digestive enzymes break down the still-living rodent.

Yummy. It's your very own Little Shop of Horrors for your domestic pests.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

(Falling) Stargazing

Spend some time outside tonight watching meteors streak across the firmament. The annual Perseid meteor shower will be at its peak overnight. The most spectacular meteor streaks are expected to appear between 9 and 11 pm local time, while the best time for sheer frequency will be closer to dawn on Wednesday.

Brew some coffee, pop some popcorn, put the deck chairs on the lawn and prepare to say "ooh" a lot.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Eternal Breakfast Club

This is a sad day for Gen-Xers. The man who simultaneously reflected and shaped our teen years, John Hughes, has died. He is the man behind "Sixteen Candles," "Ferris Beuller's Day Off," and "The Breakfast Club," among other '80s hits.

A generation of people who saw much of themselves in Hughes' slightly nerdy but good-hearted characters mourns today.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Madness Reaches Fever Pitch

The swim season is nearly over, but the intensity has ratcheted up in advance of the league finals. The kids had two-a-day practices last week, and have now backed way off, preserving their strength and energy for the final meet. In preparation for the ceremonial parade to the aquatic center at Campolindo High School later this week, we joined everyone else in festively decorating the car:

It has been quite a year for Michael. He has reduced his freestyle time from 36 to 25 seconds, and now is very competitive over the first half of each race (and no longer doggie-paddles to catch his breath at the end). His backstroke has improved dramatically over the course of the year as well. When we noticed that he seemed to be very quick during warmups while swimming the butterfly, we had him swim it at the last dual meet of the season last week. Once again, he dropped his personal best dramatically, getting closer to a "bronze" time with that stroke than any other. Unfortunately, a scheduling quirk will prevent him from swimming the fly at OMPA, but he is already looking forward to next year. He figures, probably correctly, that he will probably hit bronze times next year as one of the older kids in his division after a full season of competition.

And yet, his biggest accomplishment for the season was not in a race. At the beginning of "Survival Week" last week, the team held a swim-a-thon to benefit a swim team family whose mother is struggling with a recurrence of cancer. The workout for all of the swimmers was to swim as many laps as they felt comfortable doing during their regular workout time, which is 45 minutes for Michael's division. I figured that Michael would swim a few laps and call it a day. Not quite; he swam 44 laps ... 1,100 yards, more than half a mile.

I am officially old. My seven year old son has done something athletic that I cannot do.