Monday, January 27, 2014

Just when you think you've seen it all...

... you learn about something that you've never heard of before.

Snow Rollers?  Who knew!

I first heard about them last night on the local news, then I saw them on the way to school today.  When I got to school, I emailed Hubs and told him that when I got home this afternoon, I would collect him and the camera and we'd go on a photography expedition to capture the elusive Snow Rollers.

He then sent me some photos that he took out the back window.  Here's one from behind our fence at New House:

Yes, those big things in the yard are Snow Rollers, and evidently they are rare.  

Here is the explanation from Wikipedia, then I will  share some more photos.

snow roller is a rare meteorological phenomenon in which large snowballs are formed naturally as chunks of snow are blown along the ground by wind, picking up material along the way, in much the same way that the large snowballs used in snowmen are made.
Unlike snowballs made by people, snow rollers are typically cylindrical in shape, and are often hollow since the inner layers, which are the first layers to form, are weak and thin compared to the outer layers and can easily be blown away, leaving what looks like a doughnut or Swiss roll.[1] Snow rollers have been seen to grow as large as two feet in diameter.
The following conditions are needed for snow rollers to form:
  • The ground must be covered by a layer of ice to which snow will not stick.
  • The layer of ice must be covered by wet, loose snow with a temperature near the melting point of ice.
  • The wind must be strong enough to move the snow rollers, but not strong enough to blow them apart.
  • Alternatively, gravity can move the snow rollers as when a snowball, such as those that will fall from a tree or cliff, lands on steep hill and begins to roll down the hill.
Because of this last condition, snow rollers are more common in hilly areas. However, the precise nature of the conditions required makes them a very rare phenomenon.

So, today after school, we drove around and took pictures.  These next examples are all from the athletic fields around my school, but we also saw them in MANY yards - sometimes just 1 and sometimes dozens.

Isn't Mother Nature AMAZING?  Snow Rollers!  Ha - Who Knew!

Hope you're staying warm wherever you are!

:) Amy

Saturday, January 18, 2014

It's A Boy!!

Since late October or so, we've been seeing deer in the back yard with our Backyard Critter Cam, and they have always been female - sometimes as many as 4 at a time.  Until Thursday night.  We saw our first buck!  Not only was this the first buck on our critter-cam, but it is the first deer with antlers that either of us have ever seen in the wild here in Ohio!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Stella Bain - Book Review

Stella Bain is a novel by one of my all-time favorite authors, Anita Shreve (pictured above).  The first book I read by her was The Pilot's Wife back when it was featured on Oprah's Book Club.  Since then I've read every book by Shreve, and I actively look for the next one to arrive on the shelves.  

Stella Bain is Shreve's most recent work, and I requested it from Santa.  Fortunately, he read my list and got it for me, and I finished it today.  

This novel is set during WWI.  It begins in a field hospital in France where the title character is working as a nurse.  She is wearing a British nurse's uniform, and she has an American accent.  The clincher is, she doesn't know who she is or where she came from.  She thinks her name is Stella Bain, and she feels a pressing need to get herself to the Admiralty in London, but she doesn't know why.  The story is about her search for her memory and her attempts to deal with what she learns about her past.  

I enjoyed this book.  It was a quick and easy read, but one of the things I like about Shreve's books is that they are not predictable.  As the clues were presented and the mystery unfolded, much of it was surprising.  
Another thing I like about Shreve's works is that they don't all have happy endings.  They feel more like real life in that there are bad/sad things that happen that have profound effects on the characters.  Sometimes those effects are negative.

Shreve does a lot of background research as she writes her books so that they are accurate historically and geographically.  This even includes traveling to other parts of the world if that is where the story is set.   Many of her books are set along the East Coast - she grew up and lives in the Boston area. She worked as an English teacher for a number of years and has worked as a journalist as well. Also, many of her stories are based, at least partly, on true events.

Anita Shreve has a website which includes biographical info as well as information about her books:  Anita Shreve  Here is a list of her books:

Eden Close
Strange Fits of Passion
Where or When
The Weight of Water * (also movie)
The Pilot's Wife * (also movie)
Fortune's Rocks
The Last Time They Met
Sea Glass
All He Ever Wanted
 Light on Snow
A Wedding in December
Body Surfing
A Change in Altitude

Happy Reading!


I Am Malala - Book Review

Malala Yousafzai is most famously known as the girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban.  She has also more recently been known as the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.  She spoke at the UN on her 16th birthday, 12 July 2013.  

I had learned about the shooting of Malala on the national news when the rest of the world did in October 2012.  She next entered my consciousness almost a year to the day after her shooting when she appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - 8 October 2013. [ Jon Stewart Interview ] He spoke with her about her book I Am Malala which had just been published.  Immediately, I knew I had to read this book.  I was extremely impressed by her composure and intelligence, not to mention her extreme courage.  

I got a copy of the book and started reading it, and the book was written in such an honest and accessible way that it just seemed natural that my students should read it, so before I had even gotten through the first few chapters, I announced to my 2 Honors English 9 sections that they would be reading this book.  We have spent the last 2 months reading, discussing and writing about Malala and her experiences as documented in this book.  I feel it has been a very valuable reading experience for my students as well as for me.

Malala's cause is that of education, specifically in her home of Pakistan, but also in the world.  In 2007, when Malala was 10, the Taliban took over the region of Pakistan where she lived - it is is an area in the northern part of Pakistan known as the Swat Valley.  Her family lived in the town of Mingora.  Her father's life mission had been to build a school, and he had done that.  It was a school for girls which he built from the ground up, known as The Khushal School.  When the Taliban took over in Swat, they started talking about closing girl's schools.  That was when Malala started speaking out publicly about the importance of education.  She quickly made a name for herself and began getting some notoriety throughout the country, even winning some awards.  This fame put her in the crosshairs of the gun of a Talib .  On 9 October 2012, when she was just 15, Malala was shot in the head at point blank range as she rode in the back of her school bus with some of her classmates.  

Malala was immediately taken to a hospital in Pakistan, but when she didn't progress as hoped, she was flown to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England - a hospital which happened to be treating many victims of the war with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  

In January of 2013, after several surgeries and much rehabilitation, she was released from the hospital to live with her family in England.  By April she was able to start school there as well.  She also began work on this book with journalist Christina Lamb.  As of the writing of this entry, the family has not returned to the Swat Valley out of fear that they will be targets again.  

The book talks a lot about the Yousafzai family history and about Malala's very happy and stable childhood.  She has two younger brothers, Khushal and Atal.  Her father, Ziauddin, was hugely influential in her life.  He is an outspoken advocate of equality for women in a culture where that has historically been discouraged.  When most families would mourn the birth of a daughter as an unfortunate fact of nature, he named his daughter after Malalai of Maiwand, the greatest heroine of Afghanistan, and boldly proclaimed that his daughter would also be great! 

In her book, Malala then documents the take-over of her homeland by the Taliban.  Her final chapters deal with the aftermath of her attack.  

This book has provided tremendous learning opportunities about the culture of Pakistan as well as the culture of Islam.  Malala's courage in speaking out about the evils of the Taliban regime is really amazing.  At first glance it would seem that her outspokenness is a product of a child's naivety; however, she makes it clear that she understands the dangers.  She is determined to not be silenced by fear.  She is fighting for the right to a good education for all people, and this has become her life's mission.  

I recommend this book very highly.  I can't say it was all enjoyable reading.  Some of it is quite sad and quite scary, but it is honest and informative and gives insight into a very real part of today's world.  Getting to know this young woman of courage was worth every page of reading! 

:) Amy

Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Wild Animal Sighting!

I have reported before on the large variety of animals that we have seen in our yards.  On Saturday, Jan. 4, around 12:30 pm, we saw something neither of us had ever seen in real life - a coyote!  It was in the back yard at the new house.  Here is a video that Hubs managed to film from the 3-season room. (It is a little jumpy, but there are some good shots, so be patient!)

Here is a list of the animals we've seen in the yard:

cats (obviously!)
squirrels (including a flying one)

Then there are the birds:

ducks (Mallard)
blue jays
blue birds
rose breasted grosbeak
bats (ok, I know it's not a bird)
wood peckers (including a pileated)

I'm probably forgetting something obvious!  I'm so glad we live in the wilderness!


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Philomena - Movie Review

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to see the movie Philomena.   I will say that the movie poster shown above is a bit misleading.  To me the bright yellow background and cartoonish font imply that this movie is a comedy.  While there are some funny moments, I would not call it a comedy.  It was very moving - quite sad in spots and maddening in others, but the most powerful feeling I'm left with is how well done the movie was - especially in the acting of Dame Judi Dench in the lead role. 

This movie is based on a true story published in book form in 2009 by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith. The story is about Philomena Lee's quest to find a son who had been adopted away from her as a small child.  Here is a photo from the movie of young toddler Anthony Lee being taken from the Irish convent where he was born  by his new American parents, while his teenage mother looks on in horror from behind a locked gate.  

On her child's 50th birthday, Philomena tells her daughter about him for the first time.  The daughter shares the story with journalist Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan) who initially sets out to interview Philomena for a human interest story.  When she asks him to help her find her son, he agrees, thinking this will give him more substance for his story.  Little does he know he will be sucked into an investigation that will go in directions neither of them expect.  

The search for Anthony begins at the convent in Ireland, and takes them to America when they learn that many of the children who were adopted out by the nuns were bought by Americans.  

I am not going to give away the details of what they learn about this child.  However, I will say again that the movie is worth seeing if for no other reason than to enjoy Judi Dench's performance.  Here is a photo of Judi with the real Philomena.  

I didn't realize this was a true story until the end, and knowing that made it all the more powerful.  I am going to put the book on my wishlist.  

I  highly recommend this movie to anyone who loves Judi Dench, enjoys a good mystery and doesn't mind shedding a tear in the darkness of a movie theatre!  

Thanks for reading!



New Game Review

One of the great gifts I got from Hubby this holiday season was a game called Laser Khet 2.0.  I had never heard of it before, but Hubby found it online.  It was a Toy of the Year finalist from Mensa Select.  It has also won a number of other awards.  Best of all, it's FUN!

This is a 2 person strategy game that is similar to chess.  Each player gets an army of pieces that are symbols from Ancient Egypt - Pharaoh, Pyramid, Anubis, Scarab, Sphinx.  What sets this game apart from chess is that the Sphinx has a laser light in it which is activated by pushing down the head.  The Pyramids and Scarabs have mirrors that reflect the laser.  The goal is to "kill" by laser your opponent's Pharaoh.  Players can also remove some of each other's pieces from the board by hitting them with the laser as well.

All of the pieces, except the laser Sphinx, can move 1 square in any direction at a time.  A turn consists of making 1 move (either moving a piece or turning it 90 degrees), and then firing the laser.  One of the challenges is to not hit your own pieces, which is easy to do if you're not paying attention to where your laser is going to it.  One turn of a mirrored Pyramid can mean victory or death!  Of course, the other big challenge is to protect your own Pharaoh while trying to get the other one!  It is easy to get too focused on offense and forget to play defense.  (Gosh, I wonder if some football teams have that problem?)

Unlike chess which has a standard starting set up, this game can be started from several different layouts.  The instructions provide 3 starting options, but you can also set up your own.  We tried that, and it wasn't a good thing - I would NOT recommend it for beginners!

There is an expansion pack as well which has pieces called Eye of Horus.  These pieces split the laser beam in half, reflecting half and allowing the other half to pass through - giving you 2 lasers in one.  As challenging as the basic game is, I can't even imagine trying to keep track of the paths of 2 lasers!

Anyway, I highly recommend this game to anyone who likes strategy games. It is easy to learn, and it seems to play faster than chess.