A Once-In-a-Century Pi(e) Day

This Saturday is Pi Day of the Century, an extra-special day to celebrate the irrational number that expresses the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.

For math geeks, this is big.

For us, it's still pretty fun.

The first five digits of pi can also be read as the date March 14, 2015. 3.1415. If you're really smitten with pi, you can go all the way to the 10th digit by observing Pi Day at precisely 9:26:52. Whether you celebrate to the 5th or 10th digit, this moment will not roll around again until the year 3015.

There's lots of fun to be had with pi across the web. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a "Pi in the Sky" problem set, based on how NASA scientists use pi in their every day work with the Mars Rover, the Dawn and Voyager spacecrafts and other projects. San Francisco's Exploratorium, where Pi Day originated, is staging its 27th Pi Day celebration in the real world and virtually on Second Life. The New York Times has a special puzzle for its Numberplay blog that contends that two identical balls clicking together can calculate pi. The puzzle challenges readers to explain how this "Pi Machine' works. Believe it or not there's even a Pinterest page to commemorate the day with activities, t-shirt pictures and more. Plus, a bakery in Sioux City, Iowa is selling pies for $3.14 each. 

How did all this Pi Day exuberance come to be? Here's some background from our Pi Day post of last year. 


How I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.

If you’ve read that sentence before, you’re a better geek than I.

Read more: A Once-In-a-Century Pi(e) Day

The Last Fun Thing To Do in the Snow

Valentine's Day HeartI am over winter. If you're on the East Coast, you probably are too. We're all pretty much stir-crazy. The kids don't go outside at recess, and at 15 degrees, the fun of weekend sledding and snow forts has long passed.
Last weekend, though, I found one last fun thing to do in the snow. It's easy. It's yummy. It's quick. If you have kids, it'll make you an instant hero. If you don't, well, that's more for you.
Maple toffee.
The idea is simple. Boil maple syrup, then pour thin ribbons of it onto (clean!) snow. Eat.
I guarantee the yumminess of this endeavor, even for those who, inexplicably, may not be huge fans of maple syrup. I thought the toffee would be disgustingly sweet, but the boiling gives the maple syrup a caramel flavor. You do need a candy thermometer. But basically, you can't lose.
The details:
1. Choose your pan.
It should be deeper than you think you need, because the boiling syrup bubbles up and creates a large volume of very hot foam.
Also, once the syrup is ready, you will have to carry it out into the snow, and the boiled syrup will be dangerously hot. If it splashes on anyone, it will stick, creating a bad burn. I boiled our syrup in a cast-iron tea pot. It was heck to clean, but I could put the lid on the pot and carry it outside without worrying about anyone getting burned.
2. Boil as much maple syrup as you want.
Some recipes call for half a cup, some for two cups. I'd start on the small side. In order for a candy thermometer to work properly, you generally need to immerse about an inch of the thermometer in the liquid. So you need to pour the maple syrup to a depth of at least an inch. It's nice to add a tablespoon of butter (or so) and some salt for that salted caramel flavor.
3. Boil the syrup to 235 degrees, or until it comes to the 'soft ball' stage.
This shouldn't take long – about five minutes after it comes to a boil.
4. Bring it outside.
Pour *thin* ribbons of syrup onto clean snow. I made some thicker ribbons too. That doesn't work as well. Thin is better.
Some recipes say you should pack snow or ice into a cookie sheet and use that instead. You've got to be kidding me.
5. Eat.
The syrup will cool immediately. You're supposed to roll the ribbons up onto popsicle sticks and enjoy. My kids mostly just ate it before it made it to the popsicle sticks. It's crazy good.
6. Feel proud and slightly smug that you managed to eek a bit more fun out of this ridiculous winter.

Okay. I'm done. Spring, where are you? -- KW


If you missed last week's issue, here you go:
Sharing the Love on Valentine's Day

If you liked this story, you'll also like:
Antioxidants, Granola, and Illegal Maple Syrup
Five Easy Ways to Prevent Colds and Flu
Beautiful Crafts to Welcome Spring

Photo of maple toffee courtesy of TheSeafarer via Compfight cc  

Sharing the Love on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day HeartValentine's Day is not everyone's favorite holiday. Fair enough. It’s sort of silly to think we’re all going to spontaneously feel romantic on the same day each year, whether or not there’s anyone in our lives we’d like to share that feeling with. And trying to get reservations — and a babysitter — on the same day as everyone else sounds suspiciously like mandatory fun.

But the basic idea — of dedicating a holiday to love — is pretty easy to get behind. Plus, there are plenty of ways to show you care that don’t involve overpriced ‘specials’ menus. Instead, why not make an extra effort to spread the love to friends, family members, perfect strangers, and of course, yourself? Some ideas:

For your family:

• If you feel the need for a celebratory dinner, take out the fancy dishes and the cloth napkins. Then order sushi and drink champagne. Or pizza and beer.

• Send Valentine’s cards or notes to younger family members, who will get a kick out of receiving a real live letter, addressed to them. If you have kids, help them create Valentine’s cards for older family members.

Read more: Sharing the Love on Valentine's Day

Bring on the Holiday Schmaltz

HermyEvery Thanksgiving, my family watches White Christmas, a two-hour schmaltz-fest featuring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and enough saccharin-soaked musical numbers (punctuated by “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”) to induce a sugar coma in even the most die-hard, cheesy holiday movie fans.

I love it.

From the opening scene, which shows a troop of soldiers celebrating Christmas in 1944’s war-torn Europe, to the parody of a Martha Graham dance sequence called “Choreography,” to the closing scene with all that snow, it makes me smile, it makes me laugh, it makes me think of all the holiday seasons past watching this silly movie with my family.

And I can’t say it’s the only schmaltzy holiday film I love to watch. As I’m baking cookies, wrapping presents, writing holiday cards and drinking eggnog (vodka optional), I always have a holiday movie on in the background. There are dozens of holiday movies I can choose from, but here are the ones that make me turn my attention away from the task at hand to the screen because I just can’t not watch.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. What’s not to like about a story that includes Hermy, the Santa’s elf who wants to be a dentist, an island full of misfit toys, a gold prospector named Yukon Cornelius, and of course Rudolph, the ultimate misfit? Yes, the songs are lame, but the message -- that everyone is different and that’s okay -- made a big impression on me when I first watched it on TV when I was six. It never convinced me though that being a dentist was a better gig than working as a toymaker in Santa’s workshop.

Read more: Bring on the Holiday Schmaltz

20 Things to Be Thankful For: 2014 Edition

cowboybootsIf you're a regular reader of One Thing New, you know that Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. We enjoy giving some thought to all the things we're thankful for, knowing that it will help us keep our perspective and enter the holiday season in a calmer, happier state of mind. What are we thankful for this year? Well, for starters:

1. Skype

Talking to anyone in the world in real time, for free? That’s pretty darn amazing – especially when a family member is living abroad.

2. White Christmas

It’s a movie our family watches every Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s corny. But we love it. 

3. Stay-at-home parents

I'm sharing class parent duties this year. As far as school involvement goes, that's pretty much all I can handle. But it's primarily the stay-at-home crowd that runs the PTA and the school enrichment program. They give back so much more than I do -- and all our kids benefit.

Read more: 20 Things to Be Thankful For: 2014 Edition

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True Love