Friday, December 30, 2005

Two Stories To Tell Children And One You Maybe Shouldn't.

It was a long, long drive back from Maine yesterday. Twelve hours of rain. Pretty awful. Around hour ten, it was established that I should tell Fuz a story. A story with an elephant. These are what I came up with.
Once upon a time, there was a little boy who got lost playing in the woods. He wandered and wandered trying to find his way home, but he was hopelessly lost. At last he came across an elephant in the woods.
"Hello," said the elephant.
"Good evening," said the boy, who was very polite. "Aren't these woods awfully small to have an elephant living in them? And do elephants live on this continent?"
"I'm a magic elephant," said the magic elephant. "I can live anywhere I want."
The little boy decided that the elephant was probably right, and he should just let it go.
"Since you've found me, and you seem to be a nice and polite little boy, I shall give you a wish," said the magic elephant, "anything you want."
"Well," said the little boy, "it's been kind of fun wandering around in the woods after dark, which I am not normally allowed to do, but what if there's a magic man-eating tiger out here, too? I think I'd better wish for you to send me home."
"Very well," said the magic elephant. "I will pick you up with my trunk and throw you home. Get ready."
The little boy, who had never been thrown by an elephant before, was not sure what kind of preparations to make. He settled for taking a deep breath. "I'm ready," he said.
The magic elephant wrapped his great trunk around the boy's middle, wound up a couple of times, and threw him into the air. The magic elephant threw him so hard, in fact, that he achieved escape velocity and went sailing out of the atmosphere, all among the stars and the starfish and the planets and the nebulae. The little boy, who had learned about the vacuum of space in school, and had no desire to experience it firsthand, held his breath. He passed the moon, which was populated with colonies of space-going moon-ferrets. He passed Mars, which was covered with throngs of tiny green people. He passed Jupiter, which was a huge gassy planet, and huge gassy people lived on it. He passed Saturn, and saw the tiny inhabitants ice-skating on the rings around the planet. He passed the light blue planet Uranus and saw the three eyed people who lived there, each bluer than the last. He passed the dark blue planet Neptune and saw the purple goldfish who swam in its atmosphere stop and stare at him (They thought he was a comet.) He used the gravity well of Pluto, which was inhabited entirely by tiny grey women who reproduced through parthenogenesis, to swing around and slingshot himself back towards Earth. Again he passed Neptune and Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter, Mars and the moon. Finally he went speeding into the atmosphere of Earth, miraculously not burning up on re-entry. He fell down, down, down, into the forest and landed, THUMP!, on the back of the magic elephant.
"Er," said the magic elephant, "do I know you from somewhere?"
"Yes," said the little boy. "You threw me home just now, only you didn't. You threw me into space, and it's a good thing I was holding my breath."
"Oh," said the magic elephant. "Sorry about that. Shall I try again?"
"Yes," said the little boy, who would have preferred to take a bus, but who had no other way to get home. "But gently this time, and on a more horizontal trajectory."
"Right," said the elephant. He wound his great trunk around the boy's middle and threw the little boy, more gently this time, and on a more horizontal trajectory.
The little boy went sailing over the forest, and he saw his house coming up. He tried to reach out and grab the chimney, but he was too high, and going too fast. He went past his house, and past his street, and past his neighborhood, until his whole town was just a spot of light on the horizon, and then it disappeared, and he was flying over unfamiliar towns and cities. He flew over farmland and rivers and lakes and ponds and cities and finally out over the ocean, where he saw whales and sharks and islands and icebergs. He flew over Mongolia, where he saw horses and polar bears (they were visiting the horses) and yurts. He flew over Russia, where he saw onion domes and people in furry hats. He flew over Romania, where he saw vampires and terrified villagers. He flew over Italy, where he saw plazas and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He flew over France and almost got caught on the Eiffel tower. He flew back out over the ocean, and now he was getting lower and slower, and he worried he might not make it to the other side. The waves were breaking right beneath him when he saw the shore approaching. At last, with land under him, he came crashing back through the trees of the forest and landed, THUMP!, on the back of the magic elephant.
"Hullo," said the magic elephant, " you again?"
"Me again," said the little boy. This time you threw me all the way around the world."
"Sorry about that," said the magic elephant. "Shall I try again?"
"Yes," said the little boy, who was beginning to despair of ever getting home. "Only much, much more gently this time."
"Right," said the magic elephant, and wrapped his great trunk around the boy's middle. This time the elephant, very, very gently, tossed the little boy into the air. He went drifting low over the treetops, disturbing some birds and barely clearing the branches . He saw his house coming up, and he was going lower and lower, and finally he went tumbling through the window and landed THUMP! on his bed, and went right to sleep.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who wandered into the woods and became lost. She wandered and wandered until at last she came to a clearing, where she found an elephant.
"Excuse me, " said the little girl, " are you lost like I am? I didn't know elephants could live in these woods."
"No," said the elephant. "I am a magic elephant. I can live wherever I want."
"Oh," said the little girl.
"Since you are lost," said the magic elephant, "would you like me to pick you up and throw you home? I'm quite good at throwing lost children home."
The little girl considered this. Her home life was not all it could be. She was largely ignored by her parents in favor of her three younger brothers, which was how she had been allowed to wander into the forest in the first place. "No." she said. "I think I'd like you to throw me to someplace where I can lead an exciting life."
"Can do." said the magic elephant. "I'm going to pick you up with my trunk and toss you off to somewhere exciting. Ready?"
"Ready." said the little girl.
So the elephant wrapped his great trunk around the little girl's middle and tossed her straight up, way, way, up into the sky. She sailed up and up and up until she was among the clouds. She slowly arced back down and landed THUMP! on a wooden surface.
The little girl was most surprised to find herself on the deck of a ship floating in the sky. It was like a small sailing ship, but where the masts would be on a sailboat, there were three mighty ropes tethering the ship to three clouds which suspended the ship in the sky. There were women in bright clothes on the deck of the ship, and they rushed to surround the girl who had fallen into their midst.
"Arr. Who be ye? And how did you come here, in the middle of the air?" asked a woman wearing a curved and shining sword at her hip.
"A magic elephant threw me here when I asked him to send me someplace where I could lead an exciting life," the little girl explained.
"Well, you're in the right place then. Arr. We be a ship of cloud pirates, and if you like, you could join our crew. I'm Captain Helena Catherine Bollivio, and I am the queen of the cloud pirates. "
So the little girl went to live with the cloud pirates. They traveled the world seeing wonders. They attacked airships and cable cars, throwing the passengers off and claiming the valuables as their own. She learned how to shoot a blunderbuss and a bow, how to divide the booty, and how to swab the deck. The cloud pirates taught her all the sky shanties and cloud pirate songs. From the pilot she learned how to navigate by the stars and how to work the radio. From the cook she learned how to prepare sea gull and albatross. The captain herself, Helena Catherine Bollivio, Queen of the cloud pirates, taught her how to frighten the innocent with terrible cloud pirate curses, and the correct way to hold a cutlass in one's teeth (sharp side out).
After a year, the pirates offered her a cloud-frigate of her own to command, with a crew of ten cloud pirates. But the girl had grown disillusioned with the cloud pirate life, with its violence and noisy battles. She was tired of robbing others of their hard-earned money and cable car tickets. So the pirates navigated back over the forest where they had picked up the girl, and after putting on a parachute, she took her leave of the cloud pirates and jumped over the side of the ship.
The cloud pirates had been quite high up, and with the parachute slowing her descent to a safe speed, it took the girl a day and a half to get back to the ground. The cook had thoughtfully given her a few sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. She ate them, carefully folding the wrappers and putting them in her pocket, for cloud pirates did not litter. Halfway down, in the middle of the night, she was passed by a little boy shooting upwards at tremendous speed. She thought he must be going to replace her on the cloud ship, but in fact he was on his way to becoming the world's first open-air astronaut.
Al last she fell through the branches of the trees and landed in the forest. She wandered until she came again to the clearing where she had last seen the magic elephant, and he was still there.
"Well," said the magic elephant, "how did you like the cloud pirates?"
"Quite well," said the little girl, "they were very kind to me, and living with them was certainly exciting. But I don't think I can condone the violence they use, or the fact that they feel no remorse about stealing the goods of others and throwing them off of airships."
"I should think worse of you if you did," said the magic elephant.
"Could you send me somewhere else please?" asked the little girl. "Someplace where I could earn an honest living? Somewhere peaceful and quiet?"
"I know just the place," said the magic elephant.
He picked the little girl up with his trunk and threw her into the air. She went speeding over the forest and over town and cities and rivers and lakes and out over the ocean. She flew lower and lower until with a SPLASH! she broke the surface of the water and continued down under the waves. She sped through the water, slowing all the time, until she stopped at last outside a huge pen filled with all kinds of fish. She was soon surrounded by mermaids, wanting to know who she was and how she had arrived here so suddenly, in the middle of the ocean.
"I asked the magic elephant to throw me somewhere peaceful where I could learn to make a living," the little girl explained.
"Ah," said the head merwoman. "Well, you may stay here with us if you wish, and we will teach you how to herd fish."
So the little girl went to live with the mermaids, and learned to herd fish. They taught her how to tell a sea bass from a tuna, and how to train an eel to lay around her neck like a necklace. She learned how to ride a whale and how to fend off the attacks of sharks. She spent her days gathering pearls from sleepy oysters and tending the kelp gardens. She loved swimming with her flock of manta rays and singing them cloud pirate songs at night until they fell asleep, drifting on the currents deep in the ocean.
But one can only hold one's breath underwater for so long, and after a year the girl bid farewell to her mermaid friends and hitched a ride to shore with a passing group of humpback whales. At last, just at sunset, she came ashore near the elephant's forest and once again found his clearing.
"Hello," said the magic elephant. "Still not happy?"
"The peace and quiet of the deep ocean was lovely," said the little girl. "But I missed the exciting cloud pirate life, too. I think I need something in between."
"Hmm," said the magic elephant. "Let me think. Ah. I know just the place."
He wrapped his trunk around the little girl's middle and tossed her into the air. She went flying over the trees and into the dark night sky. She flew along a river, and in the distance she could see lights. As the lights got closer and closer, they spread out and became many lights. She was flying towards a great city, all lit up in the night. She flew among the buildings and over subway cars and busy streets. Finally she flew in an open window and landed THUMP! on the floor.
She had landed in a room covered with mess and paint. A woman was in the room, working on a portrait of an extremely ugly dog. She was very deep in concentration and failed entirely to notice that a little girl had just flown through her window and landed on her floor.
"Er," said the little girl, "hello? Excuse me?"
The woman turned around. "Goodness! Where did you come from?" she asked.
"The magic elephant threw me here because I asked him to send me somewhere exciting where I could make an honest living," replied the little girl.
"Well," said the woman, "that I can teach you. I'm a painter."
So the little girl learned to paint. She grew up to be famous for her extremely detailed portraits of fish, and for her lively cloud pirate battle scenes.
Once upon a time an extremely rude little boy found his way into the forest and couldn't find his way out. At last he happened upon a clearing where he found an elephant.
"That's absurd," said the little boy, "elephants don't live here. This forest is much too small."
"I'm a magic elephant," said the magic elephant. "I can live wherever I want."
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard of," said the little boy. "There's no such thing as magic elephants! And elephants can't talk, either!"
"Have it your way," said the elephant, and he picked up one huge elephant foot and squashed that rude little boy quite flat.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Mom says it's because I'm an adult.

There's this... thing. This thing where I really, really care deeply about my grades. This thing where I want to get straight A's. Because, well, because I should, dammit. I should be able to get straight As. I take four classes per semester. Every semester so for, I've gotten three As, and one A-. This is the most infuriating experience ever. Fuz tells me that an A- is an A, and I should just be happy. This is a dirty, dirty lie.
Now, this is the first time I have ever cared about my grades in my whole life. I did not care kindergarten through college. I did not care about my grades so much that I went to a college which had no grades at all, which believed that grades were part of an oppressive patriarchal system. Now that I am in grad school, an A- is like a poke in the lungs with a stick. This is very confusing. Why do I care? What business do I, a good Hampshire College student, have with caring about grades? It's awful.
So I was antsy for days waiting for my grade report to come in for last semester. Finally, the day I got to Mom's for Christmas, all of my professors put in my grades. This is the conversation I had after checking.

Me: Three As and an A-. Again! I hate this! It just nags at me! A-!
Bob: You've got a problem, Kathleen
Long pause.
Bob: And it's not the A-.

He may be right.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Peanut Butter Cheesecake

As mentioned before, while I am at Fuz's, I believe in using the ice-cream maker as often as possible. And not for vanilla, oh no. While I greatly enjoy vanilla ice cream, Ben & Jerry's makes it better than I can. The ice cream maker is for flavors I make up. This week, that means Peanut Butter Cheesecake.
There's this really good recipe in the All New Joy of Cooking, see? It's for peanut butter pie. But it's more like peanut butter cheesecake mousse. It's my favoritest thing in the whole wide world. And so I was thinking about peanut butter cheesecake ice cream. And I made it. And it
rocks. I am having a bowl right now.

Peanut butter cheesecake ice cream
3 egg yolks
1/2 c sugar
1 c milk
1 1/2 c whipping cream
dash of vanilla
1/2 c cream cheese
3/4 c peanut butter

In a bowl cream the egg yolks and sugar. The more you beat them together, the better. They should be runny and a light yellow. Put the milk and cream in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. Add a dash of vanilla extract. When the water starts to simmer, whisk in the egg yolks and sugar. The mixture will thicken. When it's starting to thicken, but not pudding-like, remove from heat and whisk in the peanut butter and cream cheese. Pour in to a heat-proof bowl and chill completely in the fridge. Pour into ice cream maker; process according to manufacturer instructions.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts. So good.

Monday, December 19, 2005

English as a Second Language

So there's this new scene design grad student at Temple. Me Joo. She's Korean. She's never done scene design before, but she's a completely amazing artist. She came to the US in April. She spoke no English. She entered grad school in August. This is way more courage than I have.
She's also never done carpentry before, and has had to learn everything in the shop. She's really quick. I suspect that if her English was better it would be more obvious that she's really, really smart.
So we have a lot of fun in the shop teaching Me Joo new words as they come up in conversation.
An incomplete list of words I have taught/seen taught to Me Joo:
Substantial (As in, "Our complaints were substantial." Try teaching that to someone who doesn't know the word "substance.")
Transparent (As in, "His motives are transparent.")
Honky ("Me Joo, never use this with someone you don't know.")
Plane (As in flat surface)
Plane (As in tool for making a flat surface flatter)
and, in one memorable afternoon,
Snickers (the candy bar)
Sneakers (the shoes)
to snicker
to sneak
ass (can be applied to donkey or butt)
donkey (can be applied to ass, but not butt)

This is a lot more fun than it sounds like. I'm definitely looking forward to next semester with Me Joo in the shop.

Dairy-free Ice Cream Experiment #1

I am sad to report that Dairy-free Ice Cream Experiment #1 was a near-total failure.
1/2 c. coconut cream
1/3 c. coconut milk
1/3 c. sugar
1 egg yolk
2.2 oz. dark chocolate

Based on my favorite gelato recipe, I was hoping this would produce a nice, creamy coconut-chocolate ice cream. My big fear was that the coconut milk would make big ice crystals, instead of the creaminess I wanted. Well, it's not icy. It's also not ice cream. It's a yummy, coconut-chocolate... thing. It's kind of like cold taffy. Very sticky. I think there were two problems: 1) too much sugar, and 2) not enough mixture for the machine to process properly. Will try again soon with a different recipe.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Hello, Internets.

Oh, Internets, how I have missed you. I have been sadly neglectful in keeping you abreast of the new developments in my life. There are new grad students, and a new apartment which is a whole different kind of broken from my last one, and so many cute antics on the part of the cats that I could not possibly tell you about them all.
Not to mention new knitting and a planned ice cream experiment. I will start now, with a conversation I frequently have with Sienna.
Sienna talks to me. A lot. I've started talking back. This is how our conversation goes from my side:

Sienna: Mraaah
Me: What's that, Sienna?
Sienna: Meeeeeeeer
Me: Timmy's fallen down the old well? Oh, no!
Sienna: Mrrrrrraaaaur
Me: Unfortunately, I am much too busy with homework to go off and rescue careless children.
Sienna: Ark?
Me: You'll have to go yourself.
Sienna: Roooahnnn
Me: Rope's in the closet.
Sienna: (angry squeaking noises)

I suspect this is how these conversations sound to her:

Sienna, Princess of the cat world: Pay attention to me.
Me, lowly peon: (those noises adults make in Charlie Brown cartoons)
Sienna, Princess of the cat world: It has been at least two minutes since you've thrown the bouncy mouse.
Me: Wauh wauh, wauh wauh wauh.
Sienna, Princess of the cat world: Tell me I'm pretty.
Me: Wauh wauh wuah, wauh wauh wauh wauh, wauh!
Sienna, Princess of the cat world: Now!
Me: Wauh wauh. Wuah wauh wauh wauh.
Sienna, Princess of the cat world: You're being flippant, aren't you? I hate you.
Me: Wauh wauh wauh.
Sienna, Princess of the cat world: I'm going to eat your face while you sleep.

Around this time Ochre usually comes and pins Sienna down and bites her for a while. Sienna's a pretty bitter cat.