28 October 2012

Vanishing Ink

I've got another science conundrum for you. It's not quite as mysterious as the last one, but more amusing, really. It's (drum roll please) The Case of the Vanishing Ink.

For my current course, I'm supposed to be following a particular kind of journal-writing practise, one that involves putting on a Baroque music CD, lighting a candle, and then introspecting for half an hour by cello warbles and candlelight. Great - I love Baroque, and adore candlelight. So I thought I'd get out something a bit special for the purpose: I have a pack of floating candles that I bought a couple of years ago and never used yet; they're shaped sort of like fat lenses and are meant to be floated in pretty dishes while softly illuminating their surroundings. Seeing as the bag of candles sat in the broom closet through two hot summers (we usually have at least one week when the temperatures go well above 30°C), they melted out of shape and stuck together. But I thought they might still be useful.

I got out a little plexiglass dish, filled it with water, and dropped a candle in. Purty. But, I thought, how about making it a bit more interesting? I could colour the water, I thought. Not having my watercolours handy, I reached for the nearest colouring agent, which was a cartridge of blue ink from my fountain pen. So I dropped in about four or five drops, and watched it swirl around the water. Lovely, deep royal blue colour. I lit the candle, and started my first piece of journalling. Then I looked at the candle dish again. Hmm, I thought the water had been darker blue. Ah well. Back to writing. Another look at the dish - is it just me, or is the water getting paler by the minute? No, it's not just me. After half an hour or so, the water had gone completely clear:

Now, that kind of ink (Pelikan Royal Blue, if you must know) usually fades over time, anyway, especially if it's left in the sun; I knew that. But to disappear completely, and in such a short time? That's just weird. But it happened. Twice. I recoloured the water after it had gone clear, and again, the ink totally faded in an hour or so. I don't know - maybe it would eventually reach its ink saturation point and stay blue? But I'm not going to try it out; those ink cartridges are imported all the way from Germany and I don't want to waste them on having them fade away in the water. The candle looks pretty enough bobbing in clear water.

Life, the Universe, and Mysteriously Vanishing Ink. Science is a strange thing.

21 October 2012

When Your Bear Won't Write Your Post For You

Steve and Horatio being busy
I asked Steve if he'd write another blog post for me, but he says he's busy. Go figure. So much for supportive bearhood. I have no idea what he's busy with - probably composing poetry, or designing a new ultra-light aircraft.

So I guess I have to write my own post again. But the problem is, I've run clean out of inspiration, not to mention energy. And without either inspiration, energy, or, in a pinch, a looming deadline, decent pieces of writing aren't easy to come by. Nor, for that matter, are indecent ones.

I don't know if you, gentle reader, really want to hear about how tired and dragged-out I've been lately. Probably not. I'll spare you the whining, as I know full well that many of you are in far tougher spots that I am in your life. Fact is, I'm not in a tough spot at all; I've got a really great life. And I know it. But that knowledge doesn't change the fact that I go through times when everything is just too much, and there's a slight haze of grey over a lot of things. I'm not talking about the haze that permeates the kitchen after burning the pizza - no, this one doesn't set off the smoke alarms. It's more of a fog that makes the outlines of things blurry, not fumes that burn your eyes and choke your lungs. This haze can settle in all the chinks and crannies, and eventually rust you up like the Tin Man of Oz so you can't move any longer and need to wait for Dorothy and the Scarecrow to give you a hand with the oilcan.

Did you know that the Tin Man was originally a Winkie? It's true, I read it in the book. He was a woodcutter by the name of Nick Chopper who had a bunch of nasty accidents courtesy of one of the Witches, and ended up accidentally chopping off all of his limbs (not all at once, fortunately), until his whole body, head included, was one giant prosthesis. As a matter of fact, he was the original android - move over, Data, you're a copycat! Come to think of it, Data and the Tin Man are rather alike in their quest, too, both of them looking for a heart, or true humanity ("I want to be a real boy!" Oh, wait, different story.). Maybe Data isn't a copycat, but the Tin Man's descendant. The heart the Tin Man got from the Wizard didn't get passed down, that's why Data is still struggling with the same issues in the 24th century.

And that's the kind of waffling you get from me when I'm too out of it to write something witty and profound. Blame Steve - I did ask him nicely to fill in. But what can you do when your bear is busy? Drivel on about Tin Men, I suppose. I guess the fog will clear eventually (it usually does) and you'll get wit and profundity again. But, perhaps, it's just as well you knew I'm not always on top of the world. Maybe, if you run across Dorothy and the Scarecrow, could you point them in my direction?

Life, the Universe, Bears and Tin Men. Perhaps Steve isn't too busy to help out with the oilcan.

15 October 2012


We got a new kitty. Yes, again. Our darling Morty (Napoleon/Villy/Voldemort) got out on Labour Day evening, and never came home. The coyotes were howling in the night. After shedding lots of tears, and cursing the coyotes up one side and down the other, we girded our loins and betook ourselves back to the SPCA, to find another small kittycat who might like to put our elegant Cleo's aristocratic nose out of joint.

We wanted another not-black cat - Cleo is solid black, we figured it might be too confusing to have two black shadows slinking past you in the night. There were a couple of tuxedo kitties in the kitten room, tumbled amongst their solid black brethren and sistren. (Apparently, black cats are the last ones to find homes. The only reason I can think of for it is superstition. I was going to say "the only good reason", but as far as I'm concerned that's not a good reason at all - it's profoundly silly.) So we asked to meet one of those little black-and-white kittens. And he was cute alright - cute and a bit skittish, hiding under the bench when we wanted to pet him. But while the SPCA lady had brought him out, we saw this little solid black guy hobbling around the room. Yes, hobbling. There was something wrong with his foot - a three-legged kitten.

We played with Mr Tux for a bit, and then my daughter and I looked at each other and said: "Should we meet the little three-legged guy?" Yes, we should. No question. So I asked the SPCA lady if we could, and just about got shouted at with enthusiasm - YES, absolutely we could meet him! And out he came. His back right leg is missing from the joint down; apparently he lost it shortly after birth because the umbilical cord had been wrapped around it. He hops, not unlike a rabbit - loppety-loppety-lop, he hobbled all around the visitor's room, poking his little black nose into every corner. He wasn't particularly interested in sitting on our laps, there was far too much interesting stuff to explore. But when we did catch him and hug him, he rumbled at us - LOUDLY. A small black kitten with three legs and an enormous purr.

So we had to bring him home, didn't we? Black and gimpy, he'd probably have been at be at the SPCA forever, if we hadn't. Besides, we fell in love.

And this time, there was no question about what to name him. My son, who has a knack for naming furry critters (live or toy, he usually nails it), said "We could call him Long John Silver!" Well, of course, it's obvious. Except that we actually named him Long John Charcoal, on account of the colour, you know. Beware the Three-Legged Cat! (Maybe we could get a pet mouse to go with him, and name it Jim Hawkins. And a parrot named Squire Trelawney?)

So there's Johnny Cat, singing his country music - no, Long John, limping around the ship - no, just Johnny. Johnny Kitten. Hobbling around the house - until he takes to running. Ziiiiip! up the stairs he goes, just as fast as any other cat, ziiiiiiip! across the rec room and around the corner, ziiiiiiiip-hophop! up on the kitchen table where he's got no business to be and gets a squirt of water in his face to teach him manners. He's adorable, and we love him.

Maybe Morty had to go to kitty heaven so Johnny could find a home? I miss our Morty - but Johnny is a darling, and I'm so glad we met him, that day we went to find another furry friend, and he became a part of our family. And you know what? I always wanted to adopt a crippled child. I didn't think he'd be furry, and quite this small, but there's a little bit of a childhood dream fulfilled here.

Life, the Universe, and a Gimpy Kitten. We love our Long John Charcoal.

10 October 2012


The power went out an hour ago. It blinked, twitched, came on again for a split second (just enough to make the charging cell phones squawk), and then took a leave of absence, time of return not specified. So now we're powerless. At this moment, I still have 73% battery power, rapidly diminishing, and, of course, no internet.

Being without power is kind of amusing for a little while. I always have to think carefully about what I can and cannot do without electricity. Fortunately, my tea maker was done doing its thing, so I had a pot of hot tea available, and everyone was finished having breakfast, so no need for eating untoasted toast (which would, of course, have been a terrible experience).

But I had to consider how to keep my tea hot. Usually, I just leave the pot sitting on the counter, and zap a cup of the lukewarm brew in the microwave when I'm in need of caffeinated refreshment (which, as a rule, is about once every fifteen minutes, until the pot runs dry). Well, zappage capacities vanish with the departure of power. So, some other means of keeping the tea toasty had to be found.

At first I pulled out a tea cosy. I've got a couple of them; one of them I knitted out of ugly thick brown wool, and it goes quite charmingly around my White Betty teapot (is there such a thing - a White Betty? It's shaped just like a Brown Betty, but it's white porcelain.). The brown wool works very well to hide those hideous tea dribbles that always run off the spout and disfigure any other self-respecting tea cosy, which is why I chose that particular yarn. However, that particular cosy won't fit over the glass carafe that goes with the tea maker (which is, technically, a coffee maker, but woe betide the hapless innocent who dares put the bean grind into my brew machine! There's nothing worse than tea made in a coffee maker. Blch - cofftea. Coffee flavour is horrifically penetrant, sort of like peanut butter in hot-drink format. Tea is a delicate thing, easily bullied by the heftier brew. No coffee in my tea maker, got that?). So: brown woolly cosy, tea maker carafe, no fit. Then, I took out the thick quilted pink floral thing I got for a present a while back; it ties around the top. It worked, sort of, but it wasn't entirely satisfactory.

But then I went "D'uh!" The piece of equipment that is designed for this very purpose, the item I wanted here, is the Stövchen. It's an East Frisian tea-keeper-warmer. You see that candle in the bottom? That's why that kind of candle is called a tea light.

So, I fished the Stövchen off the top of the microwave where it usually resides, lit the candle, parked the tea pot on top, and was ready for a prolonged bout of powerlessness.

However, seeing as you're reading this on the internet just now, you can conclude that the power did, eventually, come back on. My battery was down to 54%, the cell phones let out another strangled squawk, the smoke alarm screeched briefly, and we were back to humming along in our usual electrified way. But it's always kind of fun to think about how you could function without the blessed power of the hydro dam, isn't it? So long as it doesn't last all that long.

Life, the Universe, and Powerlessness. It's good to have a Stövchen in reserve.

02 October 2012

Hyperbole and Oxymoron

This is highly symbolic (sim-BOL-lick).
My son brought home a poetry exercise, and he had to give an example of hyperbole. Now, I know what hyperbole is, pretty much - but what I don't know is how to pronounce it. Is it HIGH-per-bowl, or high-PURR-bolly?

Well, thank goodness for Google; it has the power to prevent the unspeakable embarrassment of mispronounced literary terminology. And that, just now, was hyperbole, the "unspeakable embarrassment" part. High-PURR-bolly, as it turns out - go figure.

You really need a pronunciation guide for those things; there's no way you can guess whether the individual terms are pronounced the way you think, or put the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle. I was doing the fancy pronunciation on "oxymoron" - called it ox-IMMER-on; it sounded so much more literary that way - until someone looked at me funny for it and said "Is that how you pronounce that?" Seeing as she was an English BA who had actually gone to a brick-and-mortar university for her degree, unlike me who got hers from a distance ed school and learned all these words from books instead of live people, I thought she might have a point, so I looked it up. And to my great chagrin is turns out to be an OXy-MOR-on - you know, as in "bovine draft animal of low intelligence". It's from the Greek words for  "sharp" and "dull", so an oxymoron is a sharpdull - a contradiction in terms. And a moron, it appears, is a dullard, i.e. not the sharpest knife in the drawer (and that, in turn, is a metaphor. MET-a-for, not met-TAF-er. Sigh.).

English is not the easiest language to learn to speak by reading it. I got laughed at once, when I hadn't been in Canada all that long, for calling an executive (ex-ECK-you-tiff) an exe-CUE-tiff. Well, excuse me, they execute power, don't they? They don't ex-ECK-ute it, they exe-CUTE it. Cute, I know. I was making the mistake of applying logic to the English language. Hah. Silly me.

Life, the YOU-ni-vurs, high-PURR-bollies and OXy-MOR-ons. When in doubt, look it up.