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.

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!
    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. :-)

You need to hear this. (Available for a week, today’s edition of Outlook, it’s the last 10 minutes you need to listen to.)

It is a programme that was on the World Service this morning discussing the real life effects in Nevada, USA of legalised prostitution.

When next you wonder whether actually it would be OK to legalise prostitution, think of Jong Kim’s (sp?) story. She was a young woman living her life in Texas. She met a man who became her boyfriend and in due course he asked her to travel with him to meet his parents. Happy, dreaming of a bright future, she agreed. He took her to Nevada:

He sold me, to someone here in Nevada. And he said “You know what, she has a naturalisation paper, she wasn’t born here, destroy her documents and she is an immigrant.” And that’s what they did. In illegal and legal brothels, I didn’t sleep on a bed, I slept on a mat in a storage unit. I thought I was crazy, I thought I was in a nightmare, I wanted to wake up. My trafficker said “I own you now, you are my slave”, that’s exactly what he said.

Trafficking shouldn’t exist but it does because legal brothels support it. So if you’re against trafficking then you should be against brothels, whether legal or illegal. My trafficker made me work 12 escort services here in Las Vegas but, you know what, the customers didn’t know the difference.

I was commanded to pretend to be a thirteen-year-old girl that was Japanese, even though I was Korean. The next day I got to be Hawaian, the next day I got to be Latino, the next day I got to be a mixed girl. Whatever the johns wanted. And you know what? The majority of them were married and I asked them “Are you happy with your wife?” – he said yes – “Then why are you here with me?” He said “Because I wanted to hear what a chink felt like.” That’s what he said to me.

People ask me have I tried running away, did I try fighting back? I can’t raise my arm any more because I tried. But yet people look at me as a failure because after you’ve been beat down so many times trying to get over the fence, you stop. You become that little animal in a cage, that when that door opens you just sit there and wait for your master to say – “Now you can come out.”

It’s been 10 years since I’ve been involved in a legal brothel forcefully and, you know what, when I have to meet new people I’m afraid… I lost ten years of my life that I can never get it back.

Think of her life, when even ten years on she is afraid. She looks over her shoulder. She is afraid to tell people about the life she was forced into. She is also physically disabled (or “crippled” as one charmer put it, when rejecting her suggestion that they go out on a date) because of the injury she suffered – her trafficker broke her shoulder – when she was caught trying to escape. The traffickers, powerful people involved in organised crime, have never to this day been prosecuted for what they did to her.

Also, Melissa Farley has written a book detailing her own findings when researching the legal brothels of Nevada, including interviews with both workers and employers. Reclusive Leftist has more on that. This Guardian article also worth a read (“It’s like you sign a contract to be raped“).

OkraAriel achieved a trinity of Firsts today.

First night without a nappy on (and no accidents! :-) ) First walk all the way into town and home again with no pushchair for backup – it’s probably a bit more than half a mile each way. And, first time eating okra, which I think just about qualifies as an interesting vegetable. More interesting than a tomato anyway.

Well here is one interesting fact about okra, anyway:

Most people know that it is also called “ladies fingers”(I assume because the shape does slightly resemble a finger, although I’m not sure that it is an especially ladylike finger). But did you know that in some places it is also called “gumbo”? Etymologically the two words are apparently related, both originating in Africa and taken from there (along with the vegetable itself) to America as a result of the slave trade. The thick stewy soupy dishes called gumbo in the southern part of the USA are named after the vegetable, which is a key ingredient therein.

For the uninitiated, the skin has a velvety texture (like a hazel leaf) and the inside is sort of like a shiny gel studded with softish seeds. It doesn’t taste of a great deal, in all honesty. The taste reminds me of runner beans.

So. Here is the gumbo I made:

Gumbo (vegan)

Take: 1 onion, 2-3 cloves garlic, oil, 1 red pepper, 8-10 okra, some spices*, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, 1tsp vegetable stock powder, 500g carton passata, and a nice of sploodge of tomato puree.

[*I have no idea exactly which spices I used because I used a jar labelled "Mix" that I found when sorting out my herb/spice collection this afternoon. I think I mixed some spices for a camping trip so I would only have to take one general purpose jar. Also, I started with some mustard seeds just because and later dded extra cumin because the kitchen smelled of rotting potatoes (don't ask, but UGH) and my nose was playing tricks on me as a result. Somewhere along the line the whole thing ended up Quite Spicy - Ariel demanded that I give her a bunch of natural yoghurt to stir into hers! Anyway, just use some nice spices that you like, OK?]

1. Chop the onion and garlic, fry gently in the oil in a nice big pan.
2. Dice the pepper and chop the okra, then add to the pan along with the spices and cook gently for a few minutes.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients. Put some extra water in the pan so that the consistency is just a little thinner than you are aiming for – on the soupy side of gumbo. Cook for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
4. That’s it! Serve and eat.

Serves maybe 3-4 people as a starter or side dish, about 2 if this is the main event.

That thing about the yoghurt was no joke. ;-)

I was sorting through some pictures from our camping trip in the lake district and found a series of about a dozen where Ariel and I were trying to take a picture of a lovely half-moon when we came back to the site after the Big Family Dinner.

Anyway, the whole enterprise was completely hopeless because it was dark and windy and all the pictures turned out completely rubbish. Just for fun, before hitting the delete key, I ran a few of them through some of the special effects and things on my photo editor software. Well, it amused me:

Weird moon

Weird moon

Weird moon

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