September 2007


Kangaroo with joey

[Note: This post is inspired partly by Erika, partly by a kangaroo documentary Ariel and I watched today, and partly by a book about two cute little animals ("Platypus" and "Echidna") having a birthday party, which we read in the library this morning.]

When I was a kid at school and paid as little attention in Biology as I thought I could get away with, all I picked up about kangaroos is that they are marsupials which means they have a pouch to put their babies and all I picked up about the platypus is that it is a bit weird, something like a cross between an otter and a duck.

So now I learn stuff. If anyone else is as uneducated as me in these matters, prepare to be amazed. I mean, wow!

Mammalian reproduction comes in not just one but THREE basic types.

The one we all know about, because it’s what happened to us, is the placental variety. Sperm and egg meet and set up home in the uterus, growing into a foetus that is nourished by the placenta and is then born at a fairly well-developed stage. Lactation then occurs, usually for a relatively brief period, before the new animal becomes more or less independent of its mother.

Then there is the monotreme type – the rarest and most primitive method of mammalian reproduction, where a mammal lays eggs. Yes, we’re talking otter meets duck: also the echidna (spiny anteater) but that’s about it. Lactation happens after the eggs hatch.

Cool, huh?

Finally, those marsupials. The male has a two-pronged penis, which is just as well because females have two vaginas, each leading to a separate uterus. Don’t ask me why they need two, I don’t know.

There is no placenta to nourish the marsupial foetus, it just has a yolk-like sac to keep it going until it is developed enough to exit the uterus (though a third vagina!) and crawl a short distance through its mother’s fur to reach the pouch where it latches itself onto a nipple. Since lactation starts at such an early stage, it is relatively prolonged and, at least in kangaroos, continues until well after the joey first starts to explore the world outside its mother’s marsupium.

Another remarkable thing about the female kangaroo is that she can hold a joey foetus in suspended animation within her uterus.

At any given time, assuming conditions are favourable, a mature female kangaroo might have one joey who has recently left the pouch but is still coming back for milk, another inside the pouch attached to a nipple (her body makes two different kinds of milk – one for the older joey and one for the new foetus), and a third foetus in her uterus ready to be born as soon as the joey in the pouch is ready to leave. She manages to time things so that almost as soon as the joey leaves the pouch, the next one is ready to be born and take up residence. And as soon as that joey foetus leaves her uterus, she comes into heat and will mate: the resulting zygote will develop for a few days and then stop, dormant until she is ready for it to move to the next stage. Isn’t that amazing?

Pak choi

With pak choi (aka chinese cabbage, bok choi) you get two vegetables in one. Take the bottom and you have a slightly crunchy whitish vegetable, not unlike celery only much less offensive. Take the top and you have a robust green leafy vegetable (somewhere between cabbage and spinach) with bit of horseradish zing. Yum. I stir-fried mine with garlic and ginger and noodles and stuff. NB If you add the chopped stalks first, then the leaves just a couple of minutes from the end, then that works best.

There apparently over 20 varieties of pak choi although you pretty much only see the one type here in the UK. It’s also, like all cruciferous vegetables, obscenely good for you: lots of vitamins, folic acid, calcium and iron. And it is related not just to things you might expect like cabbage, but also to both mustard and turnips.

So there you go.

Take (for each person): 1 banana; about 3 squares of good chocolate.

1. Place unpeeled banana on some tin foil.
2. Make a slit all the way down the side of the banana, not cutting quite all the way through the flesh.
3. Poke the squares of chocolate into the slit.
4. Grill, bake or barbecue until you smell hot banana, then give it a few minutes more. This can take 10 to 20 minutes, depending on your cooking method.
5. Serve still wrapped in foil.

Each banana makes one good helping.

COOK’S TIP:
This one is very nice with a big spoonful of clotted cream and the possible variations are endless (different kinds of chocolate, things to sprinkle or squirt or dollop on top – use your imagination!)

Helicopter model (1)

Helicopter model (2)

Helicopter model (3)

Ingredients: A4 piece of coloured card; glue; scraps cut from magazines etc – for decoration; 2 cocktail sticks; 9 largish beads; 1 small tack-type nail; and some blue-tack (er, white-tack in fact).

Tools: pencil, scissors, 10p piece, hammer, some folded newspaper and a chopping board, wirecutters or the like.

  1. BODY: Draw a helicopter body in one corner of the card. Hint – it looks a bit like a chubby cartoon whale with a squared off tail. Cut out the helicopter shape and draw round it on the card so you can cut out a second helicopter shape. Set your child to gluing on scraps from magazines or whatever onto each piece, making sure that the decoration goes on different sides of each piece (i.e. so when they are laid out they are a mirror image of one another). While she is busy, you will be making the tailpiece, wheels and blades.
  2. TAILPIECE: Cut out a square of card about as wide as the helicopter tail is high. Glue a picture on it and then fold it immediately in half – it is easier while the glue is wet! – sticking the halves together to make a rectangle-shaped tailpiece. Set aside to dry a bit (while you work on the other bits). Then round off the corners with your scissors and, half way along its length, cut a slit that goes half way across the width of the tailpiece.
  3. WHEELS: Cut out 8 10p-sized circles of card. Stick them all together in pairs so that you have 4 doubled up wheels. Set aside to dry – while you keep working on other bits! Then take your chopping board and put the folded newspaper on top. Use this as a surface so that you can gently hammer the nail through the centre of each wheel to make a hole. Use a cocktail stick to enlarge the hole a bit. It will need to slide easily on the cocktail stick.
  4. BLADES: Cut out 2 long rectangles about 2cm wide and say 15 cm long. It doesn’t matter exactly as long as both bits are the same size. Fold each piece lengthwise, sticking the halves together, so that you have 2 long blades. Then place the blades in a cross formation and glue them together at the centre. Set aside to dry off a bit (don’t stop working!) then make a hole in the centre where they cross – in the same way as you made holes in the wheels, but don’t enlarge this one.
  5. FINISH BODY: At some point during this process your child will have finished decorating the helicopter body. As soon as the glue is dry enough that you can handle the pieces, help your child to glue the two pieces together, plain sides in. If your child has thoughtfully left bits sticking up and out at all angles this is good because you can fold them over and stick them onto the other side, to help bind the pieces together. Make sure you leave a place at the top where you are going to insert a nail to hold on the blades. Each piece needs to be left to dry properly before you start assembling the helicopter, so it’s time for a drinks break!
  6. ASSEMBLY:
    Helicopter model (tail detail)

    1. When all the pieces are ready, the first step is to make two axle holes near the bottom of the body, one at the front and one at the back. They should be near enough the edge that the wheels will be clear of the bottom of the helicopter but far enough away that it is unlikely to break. You also need to cut a slit in the tail, fairly low down, about half the width of the tailpiece.
    2. Thread a cocktail stick through one axle hole. On one side, thread on a bead, a wheel, another bead and then cut off the end with wirecutters. A blob of blue-tack finishes this side and then you do the same on the other side. Repeat for the second set of wheels.
    3. Marry up the slits in the tailpiece and the tail and put the tailpiece on.
    4. Insert the nail into the hole in the centre of the blades, thread a bead onto the nail, put some glue on the end of the nail and then insert this between the two pieces of card, at the top of the helicopter. Squeeze the two pieces together so the glue will stick.
  7. ALL DONE: Ta-da!

(Featuring the famous Pink Rabbit.)

Here is the conversation we had while leaving nursery in the car park and then in the car. (I would have posted this one yesterday if I wasn’t too busy being on Facebook. Anyhow.)

SHE: [Cries]
ME: What’s wrong?
SHE: [Cries some more]
ME: Are you crying because Jade* was upset?
SHE: [Gulps, swallows, nods, cries.]
ME: But she’s all right now, look [pointing]
SHE: [Cries]
ME: Come on, love, you don’t need to be upset.
SHE: [Sniffling] I want to be upset.
ME: You want to be upset?
SHE: Yeah I do I do want to mummy.
ME: What makes you want to be upset?
SHE: [Silence punctuated by sniffling]
ME: Are you OK now?
SHE: I want to take a cake home mummy.
ME: Oh, did you make cakes? I didn’t see any.
SHE: I want to take a cake home.
ME: Did you make cakes?
SHE: I want one mummy. [Cries some more.]
ME: You didn’t make any but you want to take one home anyway?
SHE: Yes, I want one.

(*Not her real name. The girl had been bitten by a small boy seconds before her mother arrived. Big scene.)

So that was how we came to make cakes yesterday. I told her if she cheered up and stopped being a misery guts we could make cakes and it worked. Cruel but effective.

Here was today’s end-of-nursery conversation:

ME: Hello, Ariel!
HER: [Looks sad.]
ME: Hello!
HER: [Looks sad.]
ME: What’s up, honey? Do you want a cuddle?
HER: [Turns away, looks sad.]
ME: Are you sad?
HER: [Nods almost imperceptibly. Looks, if possible, even sadder.]
ME: What’s made you sad?
HER: [No answer.]
ME: Are you upset with mummy?
HER: [No answer.]
(Nursery staff intervene to explain she has been a bit sad since her carer Ayasha* had to go home early today.)
ME: Are you sad because Ayasha went home?
HER: [Whispers sadly] Upset.
ME: Are you upset with mummy or because Ayasha went home?
HER: [Whispers] Ayasha.
ME: Poor old you. You’ll see her next week.
HER: [Silence]
ME: Do you want a cuddle to make you feel better?
HER: [Turns away.]
ME: Shall we come back next week and tell Ayasha off for going home?
HER: [Scathing look.]

What do you do with them?!

I think the problem is just that she is tired because she hasn’t slept too well the last few nights. Worrying, I speculate, about the possibility of having an Accident in bed now that she is out of nappies. Ho hum. I eventually cheered up by taking her to Asda to buy nice things for a picnic tomorrow. We are going to look at helicopters.

  • I made cakes with Ariel right after work, and they were ready to eat with the washing up all done before bedtime.
  • I ate my leftover gumbo from yesterday.
  • I ate some cakes. (They have muesli in them and when you’ve eaten one you REALLY know it was a healthy cake. Like all-bran or something.)
  • I joined Facebook. I dunno. Blame my big brother.

So, I just wanted to record for posterity that Ariel is now out of nappies altogether. This is her third night without and so far (cross fingers) she has had no accidents at all. :-)

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