Travels with Laurie

My personal writings and photography for family and friends.

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A Trip to Carlsbad

One of the Expanding Your Horizons conferences I do every year is in Carlsbad at the local branch of the New Mexico State University. I take the trailer down and stay a few days, visit the cave, etc.   The trailer park I stayed in last year has a sign saying “Not a Gun Free Zone”.  I couldn’t stay at my usual trailer park in town because it is being threatened by a massive sinkhole left over from and old brine well.  I can just imagine my new Lance 2285 trailer slowly sinking headfirst into the ground. Hopefully without me in it.  So I went up to the KOA halfway between Carlsbad and Artesia.  There be mosquitoes there – I got eaten alive. We don’t have mosquitoes in Los Alamos. Too dry. And the internet was almost non-existent. Otherwise quite nice.

I had about a dozen girls, age 8 to 12, in my “Light, Color, and Sparkles” class, with two consecutive sessions. We make rainbows with prisms, use laser pointers to look at diffraction and reflection, and write with blue light on phosphorescent paper.  I demonstrate why the sky is blue, and even set up a laser microscope which is very cool.  Get an eyedropper full of dirty water, mount it in a stand, squeeze out a spherical drop of water, and shine a laser pointer at the sphere. I have a white screen set up a foot away from all this, and the drop gets magnified about 100 times.  You can see all the paramecia and little animals swimming around.

This year I got water for the eyedropper from the local Pecos River, which smelled rather funny.  Seems the kids are forbidden to swim there because there’s some kind of bloom going on. Which also meant that there were lots of interesting swimming things in the drop of water. A whole universe in a drop of water.

The girls crowded around to watch. Suddenly one of them said, “Eeww.  We’re girls, not boys.  We’re not supposed to like this stuff.”  Then a small piece of algae brook loose and floated across the screen.  They all screamed and ran away.

But amid the chaos I heard one girl say softly, “If I were going to do this I’d have to keep the whole thing really steady because you just touch it and the drop jiggles”.

So at least I got through to one of them.


A Trip to the RV Place

So last October I had to take the trailer to the RV place where I bought it to get it winterized, and it had to be there by 8AM.  In Albuquerque, which is ~100 miles from where I live in Los Alamos. And I had to go to the doctor for a followup on my shot in the back the day before. So I decided to drive my new Tacoma truck to the doctor, then to Abq to pick up the trailer at the storage place where it lives, and stay overnight at the nearby RV park, which is only about 10 miles from the RV repair place. That was the plan, simple, yes?

I had some messages come in on the phone from my Washington work while I was driving into Santa Fe. But by the time I got stopped so I could use the phone they had all gone home.

So I get to the doctor OK, and we agreed to wait awhile before doing anything more about my back. It is better, but she thinks it might be something called meralgia paresthetica which involves a different part of the body. They can do a different type of shot directly in their office, or they can give me drugs. I said, no drugs, I need my brain intact!  So we agreed to wait a while and see how things develop.  Fine.

Then I headed for Abq, but stopped for dinner at my favorite restaurant.  Lots of beans, in a burrito and a side dish.  Turns out that was a bad decision on several counts.  Put me behind a bit in my schedule, so I suddenly thought what if the RV place closes before I get there? How do they handle after hours registrations?  I got there about 6, and fortunately they still were open, and I checked in, paying higher rates because Balloon Fiesta is on. Then I headed to the RV storage facility, just down the road to pick up the trailer. Got there about 6:30. I have to touch a card to a sensor and the gate opens. So I got in  and checked out the trailer, hooked it up to the new Tacoma, then headed for the gate.  Touched my card, but the gate wouldn’t open!  It was just after 7:00.

It started to rain.

Fortunately the guy who owns the place lives on site so I headed to his house and knocked on the door. I could see him watching TV and he jumped about 3 feet when he heard me knock.  I told him I couldn’t get out and he said the gate locks at 7PM, and I should have called ahead of time.  So he took me back to the gate in his little golf cart and got it open for me. He said I was lucky that he hadn’t released the guard dogs at 7:00 (they are at a neighbor’s) and just taken off somewhere. Anyway it was pretty dark by the time I got back to the RV park, and I was trying to get the storage compartments open on my trailer. But the key wouldn’t turn in one of them. So I turned harder. The key broke off in the lock.

Raining harder now. Getting cold.

Unfortunately that was the compartment where I stored the water hose, the extension cord to hook up the electricity, and parts of the hose that goes to the waste water dump.  So now I’m without power, except for the trailer battery which isn’t very strong, no water, and even if I had water, I couldn’t dump the waste water.  Which means I can’t use the bathroom.  But the heater is propane, and fortunately that worked fine. But I couldn’t push out the extension with the dining table, so I’m reduced to a space with the bed and a few square feet of floor, and the counter by the sink. So I walked over to the RV Park shower/bathroom.  At least I thought I could use their hot tub, because I brought my bathing suit. So I walked over there and discovered it closed at 8PM.  It was now 7:59 PM.  Oh well. I went to bed.

About midnight the beans hit.  Got up, got dressed, walked again to the RV park bathroom.  This happened about 3 more times – so I just kept my clothes on all night.

Had to be at the RV place at 8 in the morning.  One of the things they were going to do was put the brake controller from my old car into the truck, and since I was driving without it, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to stop properly. Turns out that wasn’t a real problem, the truck is heavy and did all the stopping just fine. And some balloons from the fiesta floated over the highway – that was nice.  So I got to the place, got checked in, told them I broke the key off in a lock – they said not to worry, they’d take care of it.  Finally got to call work, and they told me there’s a conference call at 1:00.  I’m waiting for the repairs to be done, and didn’t know how long they would take, so I said hopefully I can get home in time for the call.

Anyway, they took care of the trailer, oiled all the locks and got me a set of new keys (and I’m $321.93 lighter). Unfortunately they mounted the brake controller about ¼” from where my right knee is over the accelerator. The repair buy was taller than me and moved the seat back – he didn’t think that I would move it forward again.  I have to go back and get the thing moved.  I got the trailer back to the storage facility, then took off for home, it’s now 11:45.  I figure I could just make it home in time for the phone call.  (Used about ¼ tank of gas back and forth between the storage facility and the RV place – but I expected that).

Then it started to rain. Again. Hard.

So that slowed me down somewhat, but I could eat a hunk of bread and a banana that I had brought for lunch as I was driving.  Finally got to Santa Fe about 12:45.  I figured I needed to stop at Toyota and ask them about covers for the truck anyway, and while I’m there I can sit in their waiting room and be on the conference call. Which I did, and that worked out OK. Except I’m a non-paying customer talking on the phone in their waiting room for an hour and 15 minutes. But nobody kicked  me out.  Guess I had some credibility from just buying the new Tacoma and the Prius within 3 days.

Other than for all that, the trip was uneventful. Truck is getting about 20 miles/gallon, although I didn’t keep exact records – that’s what I guess.

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Blue Cornbread Adventures

I had a meeting the other day at LANL, to help stuff 250 bags with gifts for the young girls attending the Expanding Your Horizons convention in Santa Fe on March 6th. This is to try and get them interested in science, and lots of local companies had donated items to fill the gift bags. They ordered pizza for the stuffing party and also asked everyone to bring a dish to share. So I decided to make something and decided on blue cornbread.  Made with blue cornmeal.  I’ve just rearranged my dining room and made a a little pantry out of a bookshelf – well, it’s hard to explain exactly.  I had a whole jar of blue cornmeal and this was the first time I tried to cook something with it.  1-1/4 c blue cornmeal, 1 c all purpose flour, 1/3 c sugar, 2 eggs, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt. 1/4 cup melted butter, 1 cup milk. All mixed together.  Bake in a greased 8x8x2″ pan, which I just happened to have, at 400 deg, 20-25 minutes. I did 22.  Came out looking great.

So I get to the place and there are 30 people there, very few of whom brought anything to eat. So I put the cornbread by the pizza and went on my way.  I guess it was OK because the woman leading the meeting took a piece and held it in her hand, taking occasional bites all the time she was speaking to us. I call that success!

Didn’t take too long to stuff the bags with 30 people helping, and I was charged with taking boxes loaded with bags from the stuffing room into the hallway where they were picked up with a cart and taken to a storage room.  We were so careful, because the last item put in the bags was a little bag of popcorn, and we didn’t want it to get smashed.  However the storage room was so small that everything got piled on top of everything else, and who knows if the popcorn has survived? We’ll find out on March 6th.

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A trip to the Kitchen for some Swedish Heritage

Having discovered my old krumkake iron, and the family recipe from Agnes Beers given to me by her daughter Marla for Whipped Cream Krumkakes, I decided to give it a try for the Christmas party tomorrow.  The family name is Liljemark, and most of them came over from Sunne, Sweden around the 1920s.  Most krumkake recipes include cream, but this is the only one I’ve see where you actually whip the cream before adding to the dough. The dough is stiffer than what you might see on YouTube videos.  And the nutmeg is a little unusual, but tastes great!

You can buy electric krumkake irons, but that’s cheating.  krumkakes-1

The finding and mixing of all the ingredients went well, and the heavy whipping cream whipped nicely with the #6 setting on my old electric hand mixer.  Hint, don’t use a whisk to mix in the flour, you will never get the slightly stiff dough out of all those wire loops.

Krumkakes take time – that is you burn a few, then it seems to get easier. Helps to turn down the heat. I’ve got a nifty laser temperature gauge which I can point at the iron – seems about 250 degrees isn’t bad. You always turn it up too high at first, and get a lot of burned things all over the stove. Once I burnt the handles right off the iron, obviously had to get a new one.
Here’s the iron in action.  Part of the fun in making krumkakes is the thrill of danger:


Hint – don’t grab that metal handle at the back with your bare hands.  Only three burned fingers this time.  And the smoke detector didn’t go off all that long, because it fell off the wall and broke from enthusiasm:


The smoke cleared out. Eventually.  Actually most of it drifted upstairs to my bedroom.

Things seem to magically get better the more  you do; here’s the first and last one.  The first one I ate.  You can immediately tell why they are called Krumkakes (actually the word ‘krum’ means something like ‘rolled’, but I always thought of them as ‘crumb’ cakes).  It was pretty good, even for being a little burnt.  All that butter in the dough eventually soaks into the iron and seasons it as the process proceeds.  Even though you should put something like Crisco on the iron before you start, the first few are always throw-aways (or eat-aways). In fact the first one will be so thin and scraggly and full of holes that you’ll wonder if this is ever going to work. But don’t get discouraged, just scrape it off, load it up, and try again.  And again. And again.  Next time it should be starting to work better. Of course when you clean the iron the temptation is to scour off all that nice butter seasoning, so you always have to start from basically nothing next time you cook.

I had also lost my conical wooden Krumkake rollers and had to use some aluminum Italian pasta rolling things, which work fine.  By the way, Ingrebretsen’s in Minneapolis has rosemaled Krumkake rolls which are great. Get two – one to roll the latest one, and one that sits in the last one you rolled to hold its shape while it sets.  Some people like to put the roller directly against the piece while it is still on the iron – but don’t be a wuss.  Take them off the iron with a long, thin knife like the one in the photo that goes with my crepe maker, and roll them by hand. But you have to do it really fast because they set up quickly – something having to do with the sugar hardening.

They always seem to come out darker on one side then the other – put the dark side on the outside of the roll. And it’s hard to get the flame under the iron even, so it’s also difficult to get them to come out evenly brown all the way across.  Just roll them so that what shows looks perfectly done (light brown), the rest can go on the inside.  The iron does imprint a nice pattern on the finished piece.


Here’s the mess afterward:


And here’s the finished product, and I did eventually sprinkle the whole plate with powdered sugar. And put the slightly browner ones on the bottom of the stack. The brown specks are nutmeg, and maybe a burnt flake or two…


And all ready to go, packed in a covered cake plate thing.  Along with a whipped cream gas thing, good for the leftover heavy cream! You are supposed to fill them with whipped cream. It’s all sitting on the new crepe maker – but that’s another adventure.

They went over beautifully at the party.


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Memorable Quotes

From the cat keeper when picking up my cat Nike from the vet where he had been boarding for about a week: “Bob-Cat brought some catnip to share with everyone, so Nike is a little stoned just now.”

From my mother when I asked her if it was OK if I went to work for Los Alamos National Lab:
“I bucked rivets on B-29s at the Boeing plant in Seattle during World War II. Now you go do your part.”

Advice from a dear friend in Minneapolis: “Never try to save anyone.”

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Sounds I should have captured

Late at night, listening out the back door.  An eery sound, like little screams, all over. Seemed to be coming from the trees.  I think they were screech owls.

Years ago at the cabin up north in Minnesota. The lake had frozen, but there was no snow. The ice was breaking up. Every time it cracked there was a shooting sound like an alien ray gun, reverberating under the ice.

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Great photos that I missed taking

As I was driving home the other day, what should come along the side of the road but an entire wedding party, trudging happily up the rather snowy street.  Bride, groom, attendants, parents, children, photographers, and me with no camera. The bride held her dress up off the street, laughing all the time. I just hope they were going to the church on the next block.

My very best missed photo opportunity, same street as above, me in the car, again no camera.  A young boy was skipping along the sidewalk, completely oblivious to anything else. He had a giant sunflower plant in one hand, pulled up by the root. It was bigger than he was. This was all framed against a hillside.

Again, the same street. A buck mule deer and his harem. He had about 100 points.

Once again, the same street, just after the Los Alamos fire of 2000. The planes were seeding the burnt landscape, one flew right in front of me about 200 feet up, and dropped its load which sparkled in a brilliant arc in the sun. He then disappeared behind a low mountain, completely vanished.

One of these planes coming in for a landing at Los Alamos airport. Came straight in, did a sharp 180 degree turn, then landed. Impressive.

A few years later, same airport, very windy.  A woman in a plane coming in for a landing lost control and crashed nose first about 50 feet away from my car. She was OK. The plane was not.

Being evacuated during the 2000 fire, and driving along Diamond Drive. I looked up the mountain on the left and saw flames shooting up over 100 feet in a column.  Then later on passing the courthouse and seeing the ragged flag straight out in the 60 mph wind.

Ghost trees after both the 2000 Cerro Grande and the 2011 Las Conchas fires. You usually see these on large bare bedrock, black images of fallen trees and limbs. During the fire the wood burned away completely, and all that is left are black soot images of the tree. They disappear after a few days.

I went at night to see comet Hale-Bopp up at the Valle Grande. It was completely dark and the windchill considerably sub-zero, but the view was magnificent. If I’d had any sense I would have had the camera on a stand and snapped a photo every 10 minutes all night long. Even if I froze to death in the process.

Driving up to Taos, through a little town called Ojo Sarco. Seeing a one story house with a double door, the top half open.  In front of it was the rear end of a horse, the rest of the animal was inside the house. Never did figure that one out.

I need to try this one next year. Just past the Valle Grande there’s a wonderful hill that forms a carved snowbank in the winter. It grows and grows every day, then diminishes as the weather warms up.

At Ojo Caliente, there are two pools, one slightly above the other. Water pours out of the higher one into the other through a little curved trough. You can lean your head back int the trough. First time I saw someone do that I just saw the back of his head. He didn’t have much hair, but it was the exact color as the surrounding rocks.  I was in the lower pool, and at first I thought it was just a round rock. Then, suddenly, ten fingertips appeared around the edge of the rock. Wish I’d had a camera.

Looking out my back window and a cold, windy day. Sub zero temperatures and the wind about 40 or 50 mph.  Little birds were flying by, shooting like bullets, and somehow landing safely.

There’s a big red bear that people see up in the Jemez. Remember, this is about 8000 feet.  He runs down a mountain, across route 4, and up the hill on the other side, running full out.  I’ve seen him twice.  And once, a little farther down, I saw a female with two cubs crossing the road. They disappeared up a little slope on the side of the road. Then suddenly a third cub appeared and crossed the road.

Again, driving in the Jemez.  Just ahead of me a bear crossed the road, followed by two tiny cubs.  They went up a little hill on the other side of the road and disappeared.  Then and third cub appeared and also crossed the road, trying to catch up.

Turkey buzzards circling over the town dump. It’s not a dump anymore, but a ‘recycling center’.

The two ravens that croak at me every morning from their perch high in a pine tree. They’ve been there as long as I have.

Swimming down at the Chavez center in Santa Fe. They had opened up the high diving board and people were lined up for a go, one of whom was an older man, a little paunchy, a little slow. My friend told me to watch him carefully. He got to the top of the board and straightened up into a perfect athlete, did his approach and turned a few flips and somersaults for a great landing. Turns out he was an Olympic champion diver in the 50’s. Really impressive.

Flying to New York above a rather flat cloud cover at night. It went on forever and the sky above was perfectly clear.  You could see searchlights moving around in the clouds below. So many of them.

A flock of Sphinx moths feeding on some flowers in front of my building at work. My sister would have liked that – she has a web site on the critters. Unfortunately we can’t have cameras at work.

Swimming with two loons up at the cabin.  They have red eyes. One of them got within a few feet of me, the other stayed much farther away.  That’s much like the time I saw a bald eagle swoop down on our lake and get a fish. This was before they became un-endangered.

Driving back in the Jemez with some friends – there’s this one spot in a valley, very exotic, partially burned with lots of trees. A hawk taking off from a dead tree emitting a scream as he did.  Some of my visitors were wondering just why I’d brought them out there. Unfortunately they were unimpressed, even with this.

The neighbor in the end unit in my quad demanded that her daughter clean up her room, which was on the second floor just above the little roof over the front door.  I came home from something, and saw many of the girl’s possessions neatly arrayed on that roof just below an open window. She later told me it was her way of organizing the cleanup. Her Mom wasn’t home at the time, and they disappeared in short order.