Friday, November 24, 2006

Harvesting the silk

Splinter can be a very sensitive boy, so I wasn't sure how he'd react to harvesting the silk from the cocoon, an act which inevitably involves the death of the pupa. They are either killed during the process or in preparation for it (think about that before you buy a silk purse or shirt). I chose the latter method, baking the cocoons in a 200-degree oven for 20 minutes prior to boiling (and while the kids were out of the house). Those puffy white cocoons looked just like a sheet of meringues.

The actual harvest only held his interest for about 3 minutes, leaving me to spend the better part of an hour untangling the cocoons. It's definitely an art I have not mastered. Sometimes I got a very fine, single thread and other times I found myself winding a much thicker thread- something that looks like dental floss. In theory, Splinter is going to embroider a cloth which will be my Chanuka present. Of course, this gift can only be made with a great deal of my help....(Super DH, you want to take this on?)

Hopefully the next, and perhaps final, silkworm report will be about moths hatching out and creating new life in the form of hundreds of eggs. I say hopefully, because I'm not sure I found a dark or quiet enough place for the pupa to morph. We should know by the time December rolls around.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I'm thankful for...

I am very thankful for my in-laws, particularly because they had the boys sleep over last night. Wahoo! DH, my dear husband, and I went for dinner at the Super H Mart. This pan Asian mega mart continues to amaze me. In fact, I might start referring to DH as SDH, or Super DH, in order to speak of two things I love at once.

A friend of mine joked that Super H (the store, not the husband) should have "whitey patrol," that is, dedicate some of their Korean workers to help and explain things to confused Caucasians such as yours truly.

For example, although we were able to figure out from the ingredient list that Squid Ink Bread really does contain squid ink, it would have been helpful to have a patroller describe the flavor the ink imparts.

The patroller could have advised us that Octopus is a taste best acquired as a young child and warned us not to waste our money on the artificially flavored Octopus chips. Who knew? Smartypants was so taken by the packaging we bought it (on an earlier trip). After the first one he said it tasted like calamari; after the second, he'd had enough. DH stopped at one chip. I spat mine out after only a bite, and dear Splinter said it tasted like a fart.

Turns out though, that many friendly folks naturally take on the patroller role. After eating our dumplings and udon soup, DH and I eyed a nearby diner eating a delicious looking pancake-type meal. "Seafood pancake," he explained and told us where to get it.

Then a store worker sat down in our group of tightly spaced tables and our helpful neighbor asked her what she was eating. She explained and then even offered him a taste.

Later, when DH and I were exploring the massive produce section a kindly woman saw us puzzling over the durian fruit. It's like a 5-pound pine cone. It's got a hard, rough, spiky exterior. "Oh, I've heard of this! It's the stinky fruit," I said. (Click here for a great explanation and photo.)

"It's really very sweet," said the helpful woman. She explained how to cut its thick skin open and how to eat it. We decided to hold off on our purchase of durian for now. But we generally like to buy all kinds of new fruits. Sometimes we actually eat them, other times we just watch them rot-in the name of science, of course. For example, you may know that an orange left out for too many days will mold, but did you know that a lychee just gets really, really hard?

When we got home we checked our handy dandy Visual Food Encyclopedia to read up on durian fruit, burdock and some of the other foods we saw at Super H. (The VFE is a great reference would make a great present for the foodie on your list.)

The SH was a hit with DH. Now it's time to find some tasty recipes, lemongrass soup perhaps, and make a list before our next trip to the Super H.

Off to sleep I go with dreams of cuttlefish dancing in my head.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The boys are off of school this week so I figured I should take Smartypants to the doctor to check out his cough. He had a cold in October and has ongoing allergy issues, but even regular doses of Claritin (What? You want me to dust my house?) haven't made a dent in his stuffiness and cough. The doctor thinks my guy has walking pneumonia. Bad Mom or at least Guilty Mom for not having taken him in sooner.

After the bad news at the doctor's we headed to a nearby preserve for refreshing nature walk. At least I could gain some Good Mom points by having them spend some time outside, right? We might have been better off staying indoors as Splinter, unaware, stepped in some animal poop which he later smeared on my car's fabric interior and now it smells like, well, you guessed it.

Sick kid, smelly car. We had to put a positive spin on our day so we headed to our new obsession, the Super H Mart. It's the happiest place in Niles! This Korean/pan-Asian mega mart is amazing. It has a huge produce section filled with vegetables and fruits that I've never even heard of--dragon fruit, anyone? The boys and I have been there twice this week and it's only Tuesday. DH and I are going to check out the food court later this week.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A blast from the past

I've been asked to post more about the high school reunion. I've got a few thoughts, but have yet to commit anything to paper or screen.

I'll provide reunion coverage later this week. For now, here's a blast from the past, my third grade class photo:

Can you guess:
Who's the paste-eater who prevented me from ever naming a child of mine Eli?
Who got suspended from junior high for pulling down his pants on the soccer field?
Who sported a blue Mohawk in high school?
Who's an EBay exec?
Who got a perfect SAT score and now reportedly works at the NIH?
And can you pick me out?

Barney Bashing

In our house Barney was only a blip on the radar screen of childhood characters. But for some reason, Barney bashing is a huge hit among my boys, especially 6.5 year-old Splinter. They must have half a dozen cheery songs about shooting Barney, making him bleed to death and cutting off his head. I think it has something to to with proving what Big Boys they are- how easily they can crush a childhood icon.

When I woke up Sunday morning this message from Splinter greeted me on the fridge.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Smartypants on playdates

Eager to get to his friend's house for a playdate, Smartypants asked me to call the host mom and find out if he could come over early. "Tell her she doesn't have to clean the place up for us because I'm already used to a messy house."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Seven silkworms spinning

Actually, there are 27, or possibly 37, silkworm larvae busily spinning away upstairs.

Much to my relief, they turned out just as they were supposed to. Let's hope this is an omen of things to come with my children.

I feared the caterpillars were just going to keep eating, growing (and pooping) without reaching maturity. It's not unlike that feeling one gets after a few exhausted weeks of caring for a newborn. But, phew, now I can relax. In fact, the silkworms will never eat again. Ever.

The adult moths that emerge from the cocoons do not eat or drink. They live only to mate. I have one select group of 8 or so cocoons that I plan to let live out their natural life cycle. Hopefully there will be a mating pair among them which may leave us with perhaps hundreds of eggs.

I've already found homes for some of these eggs. And hey, I thought I was too old to be an egg donor! Don't some women make good money for this kind of thing? The eggs can stay for a year or more in the refrigerator in a dormant state which kinda gives me a new angle on the frozen embryo debate.

Anyhoo, the little buggers spin for three days--almost a mile of thread. It's amazing to watch. Beautiful. It almost brings a tear to my eye (as do Hallmark commercials since I became a mother).

Here's Pumpkin spinning his cocoon (just kidding we did not name them. It's generally a bad idea to name animals that one intends to "harvest"). I'd say he or she was about 6-8 hours into the process. The shiny reflection in the upper left corner comes from plastic wrap. In their early lives the caterpillars generally never moved more than a few inches on any given day, but they apparently get a bit bolder and more active as they look for a suitable place to hunker down, and this wild guy decided to hang from his ceiling. Still, that's a better choice than the one that attached itself to our wall.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Volunteer like a pro

Since a lot of you don't bother out-clicking to my Austinmama blog, I'm cross-posting and bringing the blog to you.

"Volunteer like a man." That's what Going Back to Work author Mary Quigley said in an interview on CNN's In The Money back in 2004. Offering advice to on-ramp moms she continued, "A man doesn't run a cookie sale. He runs the fund-raising drive to raise $10,000 for a new playground. "

Volunteer like a man. Career columnists, job coaches and other back-to-work advisors have since echoed her words. Ugh.

Do they also suggest doing manly things like stopping to scratch your crotch as you unload heavy boxes of frozen Market Day foods? Or leaving a copy of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in the PTA office?

No, what Quigley meant and later said was, "Volunteer in areas where there are measurable results." So let's change that to Volunteer Like A Professional. For example, if you're a writer, or an aspiring writer, volunteer to craft press releases, write grants or help with the school paper. Take on meaty tasks that build up, and on, your professional experiences. Use your volunteer time to make contacts, develop skills, and work on projects that make an impact.

Good enough advice, but let's get real. Does heading up a $10,000 volunteer fundraising effort stand out on a resume? And if it does get noticed, will it lead an on-ramp mom to a job offer or even an interview given the bias against hiring moms?

The fact is that schools need volunteers for the "gruntwork." Usually there is much more work to do than there are volunteers to do it. Sometimes the work can be done from home, some can be done at night or on weekends, so it' may be working-parent friendly, but it's not all high-profile, fun, growth-oriented, or interesting. In fact, most of it isn't.

Professional backgrounds or aspirations shouldn't serve as an excuse to avoid lunchroom duty or cleaning up after Bingo Night. Despite Quigley's take on this type of "women's work," I've expanded my network by rubbing elbows with other moms and dads doing these things. But instead of counting them among my "contacts," I tend to call them friends. You can really get to know a person in the time it takes to mix up 60 gallons of lemonade.

Lest I sound too self-righteous, though, I must that I draw the line at counting up the Campbell's Soup labels. Even contemplating serving as the label program coordinator makes me anxious and depressed. Damn it, Campbell's, I will not be your whore!

I started thinking about the concept of volunteering like a pro because I'm currently helping with our school's largest fundraiser- a silent auction. When the chairperson told me that I was an account manager for a select group of prospects, I suddenly felt so important. I no longer saw myself as an underachieving mom begging for donations. Now, I'm a hotshot account manager, cultivating relationships with qualified donors in order to increase revenues by 50%. How great will that look on my resume?

I don't care if you volunteer like a man, a 50s housewife or a chimpanzee. But please, please get involved in your child's school even if it doesn't add umph to your resume. And if your volunteer experience helped you land a job, email me at so I can share your story with others.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What not to say at your 20th high school reunion

In an effort to avoid foot-in-mouth moments, I asked Smartypants to help me come up with a list of things not to say at my high school reunion. He's got more tact than I guessed. Here are his suggestions:

You look like you gained a lot of weight.

Boy, you seem really old.

Wow, your hair is getting really gray.

What happened to all your hair?

Did you just fart?

I'm glad you're here because I wasn't sure you were still alive.

On a related note, upon hearing that one of our deceased classmates had been electrocuted, a junior high classmate asked the deceased's good friend without thinking, "Like, by accident? Or in prison?"

Not that I went to high school with a bunch of criminals-- there were only a few. Good thing one of my classmates is now a white-collar criminal defense attorney. And, hey, our crowd includes both a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon! And, uh, a noted mommyblogger who is on the blogroll over at the upscale Cookie magazine's Daysitter blog and Guy Kawaski's Ultimate Mommy Blog list. Yeah, I know, I can't even convince myself these are impressive credentials.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

New Post at Austin Mama

I've got a new post up at Austin Mama on the topic of entertaining.

Speaking of entertaining, here's why all the spoons have disappeared from our kitchen as of late.

Monday, November 06, 2006

And now for something really different

My friend Rachel, who knows I'm always up for a little hormonal humor, sent me this link. Check it out!

Eight year-old Smartypants was peeking over my shoulder when I first clicked in and got a glimpse of the homemade blowgun, "Cool, they have instructions for marshmallow guns!" Having finally caved on the No Gun policy, last summer I bought he and Splinter a PVC blowgun that shoots out mini-marshmallows. The plan was for them to build another one with their father. It looks like this project is all mine now!

Be sure to check out the holiday crafts as well, and, if you decide to tackle any of these unique projects, please forward pictures.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sophie's Choice, or Playing God to the Silkworms

I did it. This morning I sent about 25% of our silkworm population on a one way trip to the compost heap. I feel bad, having nurtured them since birth and all, but lacked the space and I'm certain the food would have run out before they started cocooning.

Our thriving population of roughly 40 caterpillars will hopefully start spinning soon. As they reach they end of their larval stage they are eating and growing rapidly, especially now that I moved them out of the room in which the boys practice piano, trumpet, recorder and violin. (Guess how many sets of earplugs I have?) Apparently they favor quiet surroundings.

Yesterday six year-old Splinter dictated his science fair report to me while I typed. Since I did all the work on this project, I was feeling like a bit of a helicopter mom, but he clearly has an excellent understanding of his stated topic- the silkworm life cycle. Phew!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Love Thursday: Even more adult halloween fun?

This seemed like an appropriate photo with Halloween just passed and my 20th high school reunion just around the corner.

It's me in my 8th grade cheerleading uniform! Lest I get too excited that it still fits, my mother reminds me, "You always were a little chubby."

But why the post on Love Thursday (albeit an hour early)? Well, the bookish DH never got to date a cheerleader when he was younger. *wink, wink* Gotta go.

Fear Factor

My living room is now home to seven stinky containers filled with 2-inch long creepy caterpillars. At this point they are sturdy enough to pick up, so they actually make better pets than, say, my mother's cat.

According to our guide book they should start cocooning soon, but they still seem to be in a stage of rapid growth. This means they are eating a lot and therefore pooping a lot, too.

I cooked up a double batch of food yesterday which turned out to be a mistake. Despite the increase in volume I didn't add extra time in the microwave and the food came out very goopy. Nutrients are nutrients, I thought, so I glopped some into a container, but it was veritable quicksand for the silkworms because of their suction-cuppy feet.
This led to our first casualty.
I popped the rest of the food back into the microwave, but you know how when you overcook things they gets sort of rubbery? Well, let's hope this doesn't bother the remaining silkworms.
I sure hope I, I mean Splinter, gets a gold star at the Science Fair. Kidding aside, I wouldn't recommend this as an independent project for a child under age 10.