Summer 2017 Travel: Friday Harbor Day 8

It was windy and rainy most of the day yesterday. Nonetheless, Everett said it was great bike riding weather and he came by the Whiteley Center a few times to see Chris working. During one of his visits we saw a bald eagle fly by. In the afternoon everyone went to the Whale Museum.

Chris came home around 4pm to see Gabby and Grandaddy off. They were scheduled to fly out on a sea plane at 6pm. Around 4:30 Cress got a call asking if we could fly out of Roche Harbor instead because Friday Harbor was too windy. So we loaded everyone in the car and went to the dock at Roche Harbor to wait for the plane. After a few minutes we decided to get a table at Madrona, and the adults had drinks and shared a Dungeness crab while the kids played in the garden. Then we received a call saying that the sea plane hadn’t left Seattle yet because of a storm, so we ordered more drinks and dinner for the kids. A while later we received another call saying that the plane had landed in Roche Harbor. Fortunately the kids were done eating and we had already paid the bill, but it was still a bit of a scramble to get to the end of the dock and get everyone loaded on the plane. It was raining, and everyone got pretty wet while tromping around, so we decided to give the kids a shower when we got home to get them clean and warm. Then we put them down for an “early” bedtime at 9pm while we ate dinner and watched two episodes of Catastrophe.

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Summer 2017 Travel: Friday Harbor Day 7

First, let me acknowledge the obvious: this blog and website have been languishing for some time. It is important to us to keep it up to date for many reasons. The problem is that that our lives have been so busy that there hasn’t been time to write what we have been up to. Ironically, if we did fewer things and had less to write about on this blog then there would be more time to write. But this isn’t likely to happen any time soon. Another problem is that we now have a big backlog of blog entries and photos to publish. This will get done in time, but the best thing to do now is just start writing now.

We are currently staying at Friday Harbor Laboratories for 10 days. It is a privilege to be here for many reasons. First, simply to be a part of FHL. This is our third time here. Chris came here for a month in 2004, during which Melissa visited for a long weekend. We returned for a month in October, 2011 with Everett, who attended Alphabet Soup preschool while Melissa worked on her dissertation and Chris worked at the Whiteley Center. Now we are here with Teddy & Gwen. Second, to have the opportunity to work in the Whitely Center, which is where Chris is working while we are here. Third, to be able to spend time on San Juan Island. This place is heaven for us, though not necessarily in ways that we can articulate or that would make immediate sense to people outside our family. It is reminiscent of the line from Which Way Does That Old Pony Run by Lyle Lovett: “What’s riches to you just ain’t riches to me.”

Gabby and Grandaddy arrived on Monday and are leaving this afternoon. It has been great to have them here with us, taking part in our adventures. Last night all of us had a fantastic dinner at Downriggers. We recalled having dinner with Grandaddy somewhere downtown in 2011 but couldn’t find the restaurant on this trip. Then we checked the blog and realized that it was the same place, but looked different because it burned down in 2013 and reopened in 2016. Particularly memorable were the Dungeness crab tater tots and a charcuterie plate as appetizers. And the fact that the kids got to go the restaurant with Chris in the rowboat.

Photos of the trip so far are here:

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When I started this blog I was determined to keep it focused on our family and keep politics out of it. This was partly because there are so many other venues for political views, and partly because constructive political discourse has vanished from our country during my adult life. I felt that bringing politics into it could unnecessarily alienate people and dilute its purpose. However, I don’t think this separation will be possible anymore because our new president does not treat people with basic human decency or respect, and his behavior reflects an incredible lack of maturity. These are issues that transcend political ideology and violate the values of our family. We will not be able to ignore them. We do not tolerate this type of behavior in our house, and our children will not be allowed to model it. In fact, we may use it as an example of some of the worst kinds of behavior we can imagine. I am deeply saddened and sickened that this is the state of the American presidency. And I have never been so ashamed of my country in my life.
There will be activism in our future. There may be protests and civil disobedience to defend human rights. We may get arrested, and there may be legal consequences for us. At every step we will carefully evaluate our actions to be reasonably sure that our efforts are not wasted and are worth the potential costs, but we must make it clear to our children that we will not be bystanders when our government has violated the ideals of our country. We will write about these experiences on this blog and we hope that you continue to read it.
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In Charge

In an effort to try to keep our household operating smoothly Chris and Melissa have started holding weekly meetings every Monday night. The subject matter alternates each week between family budget and emergency preparedness. Last night Melissa picked up her special notebook that she got at a stationery store in Austria and announced that it was time to start the meeting. Here are some of the minutes:
C: When do I get to run the meeting?
M: Never.
C: What if I want to run it from time to time?
M: You can request a slot as a guest speaker.
C: I see. How far in advance do I need to do that?
M: About three months.
This procedure and several others are carefully documented in Melissa’s Rules of Order for Family Meetings, which provide continuity in household operations and provide Chris with some much-needed (though not always requested) structure.
On a related subject, dinnertime last night somehow morphed into a situation where neither of the twins were in their seats. Instead, Chris had a child on each knee while trying to eat. At the same time Everett was standing next to Chris asking “Is there room for me in there?” and Gwen was providing helpful tips on the way Chris should put food in his mouth.

Finally Chris asked “Who is in charge here?!?”
“ME!!!” said Gwen
“I am in charge!!!” said Teddy.
“I’m in charge!” said Everett.
So it’s nice that we have an egalitarian society at home, and it’s also nice that Chris has a job where he is sometimes, sort of in charge of a few things.
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Our battle with the voles is now getting serious. When we learned we had voles we were initially excited to find out what collective noun is used to describe them. We checked An Exaltation of Larks, followed by The Book of St Albans (also known as The Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Blasing of Armswhich is now online and has been the definitive authority on collective nouns for over 500 years). Neither listed voles. This could be because collective nouns were initially used to describe animals that were hunted, and we don’t often hear of anyone hunting voles. A web search turned up “a colony of voles” in several places. Really? This is disappointing compared to other collective nouns that are so delightfully original and clever. However, we note that collective nouns come about through common usage, so we are starting to use the following terms immediately, and in a few years we will see which of them makes it into the OED:
A vacuole of voles
A varmint of voles
A vigor of voles
Once we got past collective nouns the excitement started to wear off. We got educated about voles and found out some disturbing facts: they are destructive to plants by eating the roots; they reach maturity in about a month; a female can produce over 100 offspring per year. We have also observed that the voles in our yard are prolific – they can create mounds of dirt in the yard in less than an hour, often in the exact places where we just spread repellent or poison.
Here are some of the things we have tried or are considering trying to get rid of them:
-Catching them live. There are a number of traps that will do this, but then we still have to get rid of them somehow. Melissa “Pioneer Wife” Butson has dusted off her vole casserole recipe and is not afraid to use it. We printed a copy of it in large text and put it in the kitchen window with the text readable from outside.
-Poisoning them. We have an exterminator who comes to the house a few times a year to deal with our spider infestation (which is a whole separate story). We asked them about voles and they said they would bury poison in the tunnels. We are averse to poison because of the children and possible effects on groundwater, but thought it was worth a try. Instead, they came to the house and randomly threw poison pellets all over the yard. We were not happy about this and aren’t going to do it again.
-Killing them with traps. Most of these traps look like medieval torture devices that would not be safe for children. One uses a pneumatic blast to kill them.
-Mechanical vibration. We bought an aluminum tube that goes about a foot into the ground and creates vibrations that voles “hate”. Reviews on these devices are mixed. Our voles decided to dig new tunnels all around one of these devices.
-Chemical Repellent. There are many stories about how voles hate castor oil. So we whipped up a batch of Butson Anti-Vole Potion and sprayed it all over the grass. Within an hour a vole poked his head through and crated a new mound of dirt in the grass. We also bought a container of vole repellent pellets, which should be safe for children and groundwater because it is made of natural ingredients and contains no poison. Our yard now smells faintly of garlic, one of the primary ingredients. We still have lots of voles.
-Explosives. We have all seen Caddyshack. Multiple times. Granted they were dealing with gophers, but it seems like the same techniques would be successful with voles. However, upon reflection it now seems that even large amounts of dynamite were not successful in the movie. Under the right circumstances (i.e. no one gets hurt) this might even be considered fun, in the same sense that it might be fun to use liquid oxygen to get coals hot for a a barbecue.
At times like this it is important to gauge your expectations. We are in the midst of this now, and have since discovered neighbors who have been fighting this battle for years. We will ask them what collective noun they use for voles and report back soon.
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This week we had a special treat: Ms. Tierra visited us for dinner one night during her visit to Salt Lake City for a convention. She was Everett’s teacher at Wauwatosa Montessori for two years in Children’s House. Everett loves Ms. Tierra and we do as well – in many ways she had a huge positive impact on him. She visited us with Ms. Tracy, another Wauwatosa Montessori teacher who teaches Upper Elementary. One thing that we learned as Montessori parents is how children are intrinsically motivated to do work, and even young children will concentrate for long periods of time given the right task and setting. On a related subject, our dinner with Tierra and Tracy was surprisingly relaxing because Teddy and Gwen found engaging work. This first happened for Gwen a couple months ago when we were at the beach – she was playing with sand and told Melissa “Momma, I’m so busy. I’m so busy Momma.” Tonight during dinner the children were playing with colored macaroni. Teddy told Chris “I’m working so hard.” Also in the midst of this Gwen told Melissa “Sit down with me and don’t hold your phone.” Later, Teddy said “This is nice, Momma.” This may be the most relaxing family dinner we have had for a couple years. Both of them love playing with the macaroni, so much so that it has become a distraction from eating.

Everett is now in Lower Elementary (second grade) and he is getting used to a different approach when it comes to work and time management. When he was in Children’s House the students were almost completely self-directed and did not have deadlines. That is changing now – he is given more specific tasks for his lessons, and he is given a deadline to finish them. He can be very focused. On Tuesday this week he was sick and home from school. One of his self-directed activities was to create an entire book of watercolor paintings for the family.

All of the children now have chores. Everett sets the table and takes out the trash on Sunday nights. Teddy & Gwen are expected to help with cleanup of toys. Gwen has taken it upon herself to make sure everyone has a napkin at dinner. Chris has a reputation for being a messy eater; Gwen seems to have picked up on this and decided to give Dad a couple extra napkins.

This afternoon Everett helped Chris with another kind of work: dealing with the voles in our yard. This has been an issue since we moved in but we didn’t really care because our yard has been abandoned since the house was built about 20 years ago. However, we are nearing completion on a huge landscaping project and now that we have a nice patch of grass outside the back door we do not like to see it destroyed by vole mounds and tunnels. We have researched several ways to get rid of them. None seem particularly effective – these rodents are so fertile and prolific that the best we can probably do is keep them in check.
We are averse to traps and poison because of the age of the children. Instead we are focusing our energy on repelling them, perhaps into the neighbors yards. So Chris and Everett mixed up a batch of vole repellent out of castor oil and dishwashing soap. Then we carefully scraped away all the vole mounds and sprayed the solution into each hole, as well as all over the surviving grass. Within an hour there was a vole poking his head through the grass and making a new mound. And in the afternoon there was another new mound. It seems clear that this is just the beginning of a process in which we may not prevail.

As for Mom & Dad, our work is never done. It feels like there are not enough hours in the day to keep up. Somehow we have to reconcile that feeling with the fact that these are likely the best years of our lives. Even when everyone is happy and healthy it’s not always easy to keep this in mind.

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The Molly Show

Molly had some time off this summer and we feel fortunate that she decided to visit on her way to meet her family in Denver. She has been with us for about the past week. Since we moved to Utah she has been caring for some of our former neighbors in Wauwatosa who have an older child and younger twins. And she decided to take a vacation from this by visiting us :-).

It was great for everyone to see her again. The twins remembered her and called her by name right way. She and Everett had some special time together. She explained social media to Chris, and she and Melissa spent several evenings together. On Friday night she hosted the Molly Show: she watched all three children while Chris and Melissa went away for a night to Midway, Utah (also know as the Switzerland of the Rockies). That night the children asked for Molly water (a la Dada water), a sure sign of trust and affection.

Safe travels Molly! We hope to see you again soon. Perhaps next time you can visit for a year or two?

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Not Ideal

Over the last few months a remarkable thing has happened: there has been a confluence of physics and football that has been reported by many popular newspapers in the wake of Deflategate (a.k.a. the unusual drop in air pressure in footballs used by the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts).

One New York Times article tried to explain how this could have happened using goofy and contrived photos of someone in a lab coat writing equations on a white board. This was meant to show how the ideal gas law could provide quasi-scientific evidence that the pressure drop in New England Patriot’s footballs could have occurred naturally, and could have happened without any deliberate deflation, even though the footballs from the opposing team remained at normal pressure. This situation reminds Chris of the time he compared the incredible mess on the desk of a fellow grad student to the entropy of an ideal gas. The associate director of our research institute was walking by at the time and said “Oh there’s nothing ideal about it!” The same can be said about the events related to Deflategate and in the news reporting on the subject. Perhaps the best possible outcome from this is to take advantage of a teaching moment.

There are two broad possibilities with regard to the pressure drop in the Patriot footballs: the pressure dropped because of natural conditions such as a change in temperature; the balls were deliberately deflated (most news stories have created confusion by using the term deflation to describe both of these possible mechanisms, when in fact the former is a pressure drop without deflation). To put this in perspective, the ideal gas law is not some exotic equation that is used exclusively by physicists with advanced degrees. It’s a fundamental equation that is taught in high school chemistry (PV=nRT), and it doesn’t take any advanced education to perform your own analysis of the ball pressure. In fact, the hardest part about using this equation is making sure the units are correct. A quick glance at Wikipedia lists the gas constant R using 27 different combinations of units. Note that the analysis shown in the New York Times article above uses Rankine for temperature, a unit of measure that is so obscure that modern spell checkers don’t even recognize it. As we have pointed out many times before in this blog, it would be much more sensible to use metric units, but it is likely that the NFL would perceive this as being un-American. It probably doesn’t help that the most widely used system of measurement in the world has a French name (Le Système International d’Unités, more commonly known as SI Units).

Of course this is all pure hooey. If a football can drop 2 psi when moved from a 70 degree locker room to a 50 degree playing field, then why is the run up to Super Bowl XLIX the first time we are observing it? And why doesn’t it happen often in places like Green Bay or Minneapolis where the temperature differences between inside and outside are much greater? This is reminiscent of the scene in My Cousin Vinnie when Vinnie Gambini (Joe Pesche) is questioning a self-respecting southerner who claims to have cooked non-instant grits in about 5 minutes. He exclaims “Perhaps the laws of physics cease to exist on your stove?!?” Indeed we might be left with a similar conclusion with regard to the Patriots. Probably the best possible outcome from all of this is that children who watch professional sports will take a greater interest in science. Stories like this also create the incorrect perception that you need an advanced degree in physics from Columbia to perform basic scientific analysis. In fact, you do not need an advanced degree in anything from anywhere. What you do need is common sense, a basic degree of confidence with algebra and the ability to be a keen observer. Using these criteria almost anyone who has taken high school chemistry should be able to perform an analysis using the ideal gas law. And anyone with a football, a pump and a pressure gauge should be able to reproduce what happened during the Patriots-Colts game. In other words, this phenomenon should be reproducible by any football player who is old enough to read. In the United States this should be tens of millions of people as a conservative estimate.

We have been waiting until the news stories about Deflategate die down before we post this blog entry, but it appears that this may never happen. At this point several people have confessed to deflating the balls including Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Steven Tyler and many others. The NFL has decided that the balls were deliberately deflated and that Tom Brady knew about it. As a result he was suspended for several games, but this suspension was erased. There is almost certainly more to come.

Lastly, as DAVID WALDSTEIN at the New York Times recently pointed out, it is surprising that the NFL has decided to pay such close attention to ball pressure, while virtually ignoring issues like domestic violence, drug use and brain injury.

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Not Babies

Today Melissa and Everett were standing in the kitchen when Teddy opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of scissors. Everett remarked that we needed to go through the house and babyproof it again, to which Teddy replied “I am not a baby!” Wow, indeed. And neither is Gwen, though it still comes naturally to us to refer to them as “the babies”. Clearly it’s time to think of another way to collectively describe them. None of us like “the twins” and we have heard anecdotally from grown twins that they don’t like it either. Melissa sometimes calls them “the kiddos” and Chris calls them “the monkeys”, but neither of these sound like they will be in use for very long.

After Everett was born, Chris often called him “the kid” when talking to people outside our immediate family, as in “I took the kid to school on the bike today.” After the twins were born he added “the girl” and “the boy”, all descriptive and unique. Coworkers especially found these terms incredible amusing, though this was unintentional.

The need for these kinds of names and collective labels seems to be purely motivated by efficiency: time is one of our most precious commodities at this point in our lives, and we don’t want to drag out our sentences by saying things like “Everett Maxwell Butson, Gwendolen Rose Butson and Theodore Ansel Butson: please come to the table for dinner.” Also, we are often so frazzled that it takes two or three tries to call each child by their correct name.

We are curious to hear how other families handle this.

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The Talk

Everett is now seven, and we recently had a talk with him about how babies are made. However, if you know Everett you will not be surprised to learn that he did most of the talking. We have given him bits of information over time as he has asked for them. Also, on a recent trip to the library he zeroed in on the book Where Willy Went, which doesn’t go into detail but it does explain that the egg and ferns (sperm) need to get together somehow. Once the process started he put it all together himself. We have now quickly moved from the realization phase to the questions phase, most recently “So you and Dad did that? Twice? That’s crazy.”

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