polychromatic, idiosyncratic

Yesterday, the kids and I spent some time playing out in the front yard at my in-laws’. Phoebe had collected some pretty leaves, and I found myself joining her. Fall comes a bit later here than at home, so the big maples in the yard were still leafy and bright. I kept finding interesting individual leaves, with interesting patterns and color arrangements. Of course I had to photograph them. First individually, then in groups. Before you knew it, I realized I wanted to spread them out and arrange them by color.¹

I was channeling Andy Goldsworthy, one of my favorite artists.

I found I had to hunt around to find more of the brightly-hued freshly-fallen leaves among the crinkled older leaves, which had turned a fairly uniform shade of brown as they dried. I paced around the yard, poking at the leaves, looking for more oranges and reds. I was enjoying myself immensely.

I was somewhat startled, therefore, when a woman from across the street yelled across: “Did you lose something?”

“No,” I replied. “We’re just playing with leaves.”

The neighbor took my explanation, with a nod and a slight look of confusion, and went back into her house.

I was reminded a little of that time I probably confused (or amused) some passersby back at my house by my rather unusual approach to shovelling snow.

Do you ever confuse your neighors?

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¹ Much like I once did with tomatoes.

ridiculously colorful Fall leaves

New England is known for its spectacular Fall foliage, primarily for the show put on by the sugar maples that are native to the region. However, there are plenty of other plants, trees and shrubs that put on autumnal shows of their own. And I have no idea what most of them are.

These are some photos I took around and about over the last 2 weeks.

This little guy is a shrub on the campus of BU. The leaves reminded me of confetti.

These leaves were on a smallish tree on the MIT campus. I loved the way the colors changed variably across the surface of each leaf, making striking multi-colored outlines.

This plant caught Phoebe’s attention at an apple orchard we went to a couple weekends ago. Likely a weed, these plants grew over 6 feet tall, and had very soft, fuzzy stems. (Phoebe wanted to just stay and pet the plant.) We were all amazed by the varied colors, covering quite a large range of the spectrum, and often over the surface of a single leaf.

This is just another shot of that same plant.

Anyone have any idea what any of these are?

6 unrelated photos

Here are 6 unrelated photos taken over the last 3 years.

From top: 1) a doorknob on a caboose 2) a roll of plastic barrier material 3) macro of a dandelion, 4) plastic bucket with ice, 5) jellyfish in the Boston aquarium, 6) a view from the roof the roof of the garage at the Boston Museum of Science.

true colors

I went to a conference last week in Portland, and while there is plenty to say about that trip, for now I will just share this moment from the start of my trip.

I flew out last Sunday evening, and I arrived at the airport a good 2 hours before my 7 p.m. flight. Boston Logan is, as major city airports go, a fairly moderate and manageable size. Airport security typically goes pretty fast (at least compared to some airports (Denver, I’m looking at you)), and I expected to have a good chunk of time before boarding. For whatever reason, though, things went really slowly in security that evening. I watched my cushion of extra time dwindle away such that it looked like I’d be getting to my gate only a few minutes before boarding. Having finally passed through security and reassembled myself and my luggage, I wasted no time heading to the gate, which naturally was as far from security as possible in that terminal wing.

With my gate just in view, I looked out the window. It had been raining earlier, and the clouds had parted a bit to provide a spectacular sunset.

What’s more, there was a rainbow.

Rainbows are big in our household. Phoebe and Theo both love color, and rainbows are a frequent subject of artwork. For that matter, rainbows are a frequent subject of conversation.

I confess that this love of rainbows in my children has been encouraged by me. I loved rainbows as a kid. I mean I *loved* rainbows as a kid. I had what might be considered a “rainbow phase.” And for someone who mostly wears gray and black, I still love color. I love that my children love color.

So imagine my excitement at seeing a rainbow. At an airport. (Because I also love airports.) My inner child was giddy.

My flight was scheduled to board in about 5 minutes, but I didn’t hesitate to stop to walk over to the window. I had my iPhone handy, and snapped a few shots. But they absolutely didn’t do it justice. I parked myself at some conveniently open seats at the gate closest to me (a gate which happily didn’t have a flight scheduled imminently). I unloaded my backpack, and dug out my camera with my telephoto lens.

What I found sort of hard to understand was that the vast majority of the people waiting around in the airport seemed to be completely indifferent to the stunning view. I say “vast majority” because I did overhear one guy on his phone nearby saying something about the rainbow and pretty sunset, but that may well have been in reaction to seeing me whip out my camera. (I think I made him look.) Nobody else appeared to be looking. I wanted to just stand at the window and stare.

But I also wanted to share, especially with my rainbow-loving children. I headed over to my gate, and found a seat. They hadn’t started the boarding process yet, so I figured I had time. I got out my laptop, and loaded the photos from my camera onto it. I sent an email to John with a photo, and posted it to Facebook as well. I may well have posted it here on my blog as well, but my row was called for boarding, so I had to pack up my laptop in a hurry.

I realized that if I hadn’t gotten stuck in security, I would likely have missed the rainbow. (I’d likely have settled down at my gate and buried my head in my electronics until called to board.) I wouldn’t have heard a peep about the rainbow from anyone around me.

Are most adults really so blasé about rainbows?

A photo taken with my iPhone. You can find the rainbow only if you know where to look. (It’s near the white rectangular structure near the horizon, about a third of the way from the left.)

Taken with the telephoto.

Rainbow and plane.

The scenery was beautiful even without the rainbow. This scene is to the left of the rainbow. The views of the sunset from the windows near my gate were also striking, but the crowds were too thick for me to get close enough to take pictures.

One last zoom of the windmills and big tanks just beyond the runways.

These were the photos I was considering for the friday foto finder theme of “right.” To see a rainbow, conditions have to be just right. You have to be at the right place at the right time, with the weather conditions and the lighting just right such that the water droplets are in the right direction from the sun.

3 white birds

Here are 3 unrelated white birds I’ve come across in the last few years.

A white dove at Alcazar in Sevilla, Spain.¹ (Photo taken in September, 2009)

A white rooster at a Massachusetts farm. (Photo taken in June, 2011)

A white peacock at a Massachusetts zoo. (Photo taken last Friday. And sadly not totally in focus.⁴)

I came across the first two photos last week when considering what to post for the friday foto finder theme of white. (I opted to post snow, instead.) On Friday, Phoebe had the day off school, so we went to the zoo, and came across the white peacock. And so my trio of white birds was complete.

¹ This pigeon-holed dove is also part of my collection of visual representations of idioms.²
² Perhaps someone can come up with expressions for the other two?
⁴ Should I just pretend it’s an artistic choice?

as white as snow (friday foto finder)

When snow falls in big cities like Boston, everything is magically transformed into a world of white. For a moment.

Before long, exhaust from the traffic and the spray of sand and dirt turn it all brown and gray. The mounds of snow from the plows sometimes look more like mounds of sand and dirt. The sidewalks become soupy with gray slush. Winter wonderland it is not.

Out here where I live, though, we don’t have so much traffic. The snow, for the most part, stays white until it melts away.

This was some snow by the side of our driveway, the remnants of the pile from shoveling after some partial melting and refreezing. I liked the way the elements had sculpted these interesting forms, and how the low angle of the winter sun illuminated them.

This week’s friday foto finder prompt is “white.” Given that the other regular participants represent warmer climes, I thought it was my duty as a New England resident to offer up this more wintery interpretation.

When red + white = blue. (Experiments using red cabbage to dye eggs blue)

+ =

A couple of years ago, I learned that it was possible to dye eggs blue using red cabbage.¹ Typically, we have used a variety of artificial coloring options for our egg-dying needs, whether liquid food coloring or the store-bought Paas-type kits. Last year I was determined to try my hand at doing some natural dyes with vegetables. In the end, I gave up on my plans for using onion skins or artichokes. (The water from steaming artichokes is often an intense bright blue-green, but not from the particular ones I made that day). But I followed through with the cabbage.

I had forgotten how long it took to dye the eggs, but looking back at the photos, I see that it did indeed take a lot longer than the food coloring. So be warned: The eggs took a good couple of hours of soaking to get blue.

I started by cutting up some red cabbage and boiling it in some water.²

The resulting juice was quite purple, and I was doubtful that it would produce blue. It was, however, quite pretty. (6:18 p.m.)

We dunked the first egg and let it soak. 16 minutes later, a peek showed the egg looking somewhat lilac-colored. (6:34 p.m.)

At some point, I added a bit of vinegar to the cabbage juice, inspired by the instructions for dying eggs on the box of food coloring. The purple cabbage juice turned even redder, which made me even more doubtful of achieving blueness. So I poured some more cabbage juice into another glass to have one without vinegar, and dunked another egg to soak.

Here we are, almost an hour after first dunk. Getting to be the kids’ bedtime. Time to break out the chemicals. Here’s Phoebe, squeezing out some blue food coloring. (7:22 p.m.)

I don’t have a time for when the first egg (from the vinegar mixture) came out, but it did indeed come out blue eventually. Having read up a bit on red cabbage (as one is wont to do), I had learned that red cabbage juice changes color based on pH levels. Acid leads to redder colors, and adding something alkaline, and raising the pH, should make it bluer. I then tried adding baking soda to the cabbage juice with the vinegar. The change was instant and dramatic, turning from red to greenish blue.

Here we are, hours after the first dunk. (11:27 p.m.) The two glasses show “neutral” cabbage juice (left), and alkaline cabbage juice (right). In the background are the rest of the completed eggs, mostly dyed with food coloring. (I think the first cabbage dyed one is there in the photo, too. Second row, left, behind a yellow egg.)

Here are the chemically-dyed (top) and cabbagely-dyed (bottom) blue eggs arranged together. The lighter-colored leftmost cabbage-dyed egg is the one from the baking soda solution. (Blotchiness is due to condensation that happened from putting the previously-refrigerated eggs outside for the egg hunt.)

3 of one, a half half dozen of the other.

In the process, I realized why it is that it helps to add vinegar to dye eggs. Egg shells are composed primarily of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is commonly used to neutralize acidity and raise the pH level: it is the main ingredient of antacids such as Tums, as well as agricultural lime. Acids can dissolve calcium carbonate. I’m guessing that adding vinegar starts to break down the egg shell, allowing the color to permeate and bond more quickly to the shell.

This would explain why the redder cabbage juice with added acidity led to a bluer shell (or got there faster) than the bluer-appearing cabbage juice with baking soda added.

Future study:
This year, I’m hoping to try the cabbage dye again, and also to experiment with beets, carrots, berries, and turmeric. I also may play around with acidity levels of the dye solutions again, as well as using brown eggs in addition to white. I wonder if pre-soaking an egg in vinegar would make it more permeable to dyes. (Did you know that you can dissolve the shell off an egg with vinegar? That’s another science experiment for us to do.)

Can you tell I’ve been wrapped up in academic writing? I need to get to bed.³

More resources on using natural food dyes for eggs can be found at various places around the web:
Natural Easter Egg Dyes on about.com, Making natural Easter egg dye, Three ways to dye eggs, Natural Easter Egg Dyes

Here are all of the photos from above, plus a few more.

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¹ I think it was from NotSoSage, who sadly, has purged her blog archives. I’m pretty sure she also made red/purple eggs using red onion skins.
² That’s not entirely true, I started by buying a red cabbage. And there were steps leading up to that as well. I had to get up in the morning, for example. Sometimes that is the hardest step.
³ Seriously, I need to get to bed.

shades of gray

The world is a complicated place. Many people find life easier to see good and bad as clearcut cases of black and white. I’m much more likely to see both sides of the issues, to see good in the bad, bad mixed in with the good. To see that both sides of a conflict can be both right and wrong. All of this has nothing to do with my affinity for shades of gray.

When I was a little girl, I loved bright colors. I liked to be surrounded by color. The more colors, the better. I even went through a rainbow phase. I still love color, love to find it in artwork and nature, but I’m less inclined to wear a lot of colors. Bright colors make me feel a bit too on display. Most often, I like to wear black and gray. Especially dark gray. Charcoal gray. Most of all, I love items that combine black and charcoal gray. Or black with varying shades of gray.

My affinity for gray and black clothing items sometimes borders on compulsion. I find myself wanting to buy any shirt I can find with black and gray stripes. I own, at this time, at least 3 shirts and 4 sweaters with variations of gray and black stripes. I have 2 winter scarves with black and gray stripes (but they have different widths of stripes! They are different!) and another scarf that is a plaid of grays and black. Okay, I have more than 3 scarves with grays and black. I’m not sure how many. (It’s fewer than 30. Really. Maybe only 6.)

There was the longest time that I was hunting for just the right charcoal gray and black scarf. I learned to knit at one point in part so that I could construct that perfect scarf. (But then I found 2 scarves that were close enough.) I’m sure that at some point, I will acquire more black and gray striped scarves, maybe one that is more gray and black than black and gray. (Have you ever watched Despicable Me? I coveted Gru’s scarf.) Sometimes I will buy items that are gray with white stripes, or gray with other color stripes. But these items always feel somehow lacking. They do not have the magic for me of charcoal gray and black.

Here I am wearing Theo, who is wrapped up in one of my black and gray sweaters.

This was a picture from yesterday with my current black & gray sweater favorite.

One thing I realized, while digging through my photos looking for me in my various gray and black clothing items, is that I have many very unflattering photos of myself in those gray and black clothing items. Those you don’t get to see. But I did find this cute picture of me that John took when we visited London in early 2005. Notice the charcoal gray jacket and black and charcoal gray hat. At that time, my quest for a black and charcoal gray scarf was as yet unfulfilled (though that was the trip when I found the gray plaid scarf). My scarf in that photo appears to be only gray.

(This is my first installment of a project to write 40 posts about things that I like.)

think pink

It was recently pointed out to me that October is Breast Awareness month. Our society is far too oblivious to the existence of breasts. Every day, millions of women around the world have breasts. In spite of this, breasts go largely unnoticed by men, women, and advertisers alike.

Wait, maybe it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. That probably makes more sense.

Pink has become the color associated with breast cancer awareness, originating in the use of the pink ribbon symbol in the early 90s. So this month seems a good time to bring out the pink things. In the spirit of my Themed Things lists of green, red and blue folks and critters, I give you a list of pink animals, characters and other creatures.
The Breast Cancer Site
Before the pink fur starts flying, let me direct your attention to the button to the right. If you click on that, you’ll be directed to a site that funds free mammograms to women in need. All you need to do is click a button. So…you know…click on it.

Ok, once more into the pink.

    Some Pink Creatures

  • The Pink Panther. A cartoon character originally appearing in the credit sequences of the (live action) Peter Sellers movie The Pink Panther (1963), but who later got his own TV show.
  • Barbapapa. A shape-shifting pink blob character who appeared in kids’ books and short animated shows. I have vague but fond memories of the cartoons from when I was little. I also had at least one of the books.
  • Serendipity. A bright pink, aquatic, dragonlike creature from the book (of the same name) by Stephen Cosgrove. (One of the first books that I ever read.)
  • several Care Bears are pink, such as the one called Cheer.
  • There are likewise various My Little Pony characters who are pink. (One called Pinkie Pie, for example.)
  • pink elephants Said to be seen by those who have had too much to drink. The expression seeing pink elephants is believed to have originated in a book by Jack London. Pink Elephants were featured in a scene in Dumbo (1941), along withe song “Pink Elephants on Parade.”
  • some Muppets are pink, such as one of the Martians, or “Yip-Yips.” (You can see the Yip-Yips discover a radio on this YouTube clip.)
  • Pearl: A pink octopus from Finding Nemo (2003)
  • the Energizer bunny. A mechanical drumming bunny toy with pink fur used in Energizer battery commercials.
  • flamingo. A bird with pink feathers, at least as an adult:

    Young flamingos hatch with grey plumage, but adults range from light pink to bright red due to aqueous bacteria and beta carotene obtained from their food supply.

  • Plastic pink flamingos are a popular lawn ornament in the US starting in the 1950s. They are often considered the epitome of kitsch.
  • Amazon River Dolphins. There is a species of freshwater dolphin living in the Amazon. For real. I actually saw some when I was travelling in the Amazon in 1991. (Or I may have possibly seen tucuxi, which are apparently saltwater dolphins, but live in the Amazon and can be pink.)
  • pigs. While the actual pigs I’ve seen haven’t been, pigs are often shown as pink in cartoons, toys, etc. The Disney version of Piglet, for example is bright pink. Cincinnati’s flying pig mascot is pink, as is the Kids in the Hall Flying Pig.

image sources: Barbapapa, Serendipity, Care Bear, flamingo and elephant, Pink Panther.