Sunday, July 16, 2017


     I have a certain friend (who will remain nameless). I enjoy hearing the stories of her family, because they are always filled with drama. When the family isn't yours, the drama just sounds like a soap opera. I have always felt lucky that my family is not soap opera material.
     I am organizing my family reunion this year. Once every three years, my father's siblings and many of their children get together for a week, usually in Minnesota. In the past, organizing was a tremendous job, because you called all six siblings, the siblings consulted with their off spring, then you called them again. This happened repeatedly, as you decided the location, the timing, the activities. When I took over, I decided to use all my event planning skills from work. After all, I herd (busy, over-booked) physics professors. Can that be that different than organizing (busy, over-booked) family members?
     It's turned out that my skills are pretty transferable. I have a timeline and time estimates to complete my tasks. I use surveys and pilot-test my informational emails with my parents before sending them out. Most of all, I'm trying to stay out of any drama. Of course, feelings are part of any family, but if I can keep them out of my planning, then the job stays straightforward. In fact, I'm thinking about volunteering to run it again next time. Maybe I shouldn't admit that yet, though... I will find out in a few weeks whether everyone else is as pleased with my organizing as I have been.

Saturday, July 08, 2017


It's 7am and I'm sitting outside with a cup of coffee. The heat of the day hadn't hit yet. I can hear a dove cooing, crickets chirping, and all kinds of cheerful birds tweeting. The bees are busy in the squash blossoms. The dog is relaxed, nearby, but ready to spring up the moment I start to indicate it's time for our walk.

In a few minutes, I'll go finish making my picnic lunch,  because my friend E, her kids, and I are headed to the beach today.

It's the best part of summer.

Monday, July 03, 2017


     It turns out that the washing machine couldn't be repaired. Well, that's not quite right. With the help of my father and my friend S, it was determined that the motor was broken. You can replace these, but they cost half the price of a new machine, so I've ordered a new washer. I'm glad I tried to fix it, though, because otherwise I would have wondered whether a $20 sensor was all that the machine needed.
     My new computer arrived, which was great until the fan quit working. Computers are designed to shut down if they're going to overheat (a wise engineering decision!). So I sent my non-working computer back for a replacement. Alas, the company that was so prompt to fill my order is not so motivated to process returns quickly. I've been limping along with my not-quite-completely-broken laptop from four years ago, and I have high hopes that it will be resolved soon.
     I'm chicken-sitting this weekend, something I enjoy doing for my friends N and S when they travel. (They pay in eggs!) The first day I arrived, though, the key was not in its usual hiding space and no amount of careful searching could unearth it. By phone, N and S decided that the best thing was for me to break in, and I requested a discreet ground-floor burglary. I hoped to pry a porch window open, but it turns out that the glass gave way before the frame did. I sealed up the window with heavy duty plastic, fed the animals, and counted my lucky stars that no neighbors called the police. I have only broken two windows in my entire life, and both of them have been on N and S's house. Sorry, guys!

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Some thing in my life went wrong, but they could have gone FAR MORE wrong. So here I am, counting my blessings.

1. I threw out my back on Monday. I laid down pretty much all the time I wasn't at work for the next two days, and took a lot of ibuprofen. Lo and behold, I got better! Lesson (perhaps) learned: don't pick up air conditioners in small confined places and don't try to slide a barrel with 50 gallons of water in it. (Spoiler: you can't move it.)
2. Someone rear-ended me yesterday. But she was going really slowly, perhaps 5 mph. When I got out and looked at my bumper, it sported two tiny new scratches, but no crumpling. I told the other driver we could just forget about it. My car is certainly old enough that I won't notice scratches, and I don't think any structural damage was sustained.
3. My washing machine broke last night. I siphoned out the water, and after several hours of consultation, I have partially disassembled it. My father and I haven't diagnosed it yet, but fixing washing machines seems so far above my ability level that I don't mind if I can't fix it. I will feel sufficiently accomplished if I simply attempt it. You should have seen the my celebrations when I simply figured out how to remove the case.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June Garden Update

     After my initial worries about the failing spring garden, some of my plants soldiered on. In the past month, I've eaten garlic scapes, lettuce, peas, and a bit of broccoli. I've also been able to pick several cups of raspberries. Each time I step out in my front yard and eat fruit that I grew, I am still a bit amazed.
     Everything that was scheduled to be planted has been planted, although there is a small bare patch I had reserved for sweet potatoes that will need to be filled with something else. I couldn't get my seed potatoes to sprout, and I couldn't find any seedlings to buy. Nonetheless, I sit out every morning and survey my beds of tomatoes and squash with a satisfied, proprietary air and dream of meals to come.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

On a quest for Brötchen

   Lately I've been craving a proper German breakfast, the kind where you have bread and rolls, slices of cheese (and meat for the omnivores), jam, soft-boiled eggs, and maybe some yogurt. I've found a source for some of the appropriate cheeses, Boursin and Butterkäse, and I'm perfecting my soft-boiled egg. But the rolls have proved quite difficult.
     I've never really understood why French baked goods are so popular in the US, but German breads are completely absent from the country. With some hunting, I can find excellent French bakeries in DC, and Latin American bakeries are everywhere around here. But the chewy rye and wheat breads I love from Germany are rare. I know I've mentioned in the past that I drive to Virginia every few months to stock up on pounds and pounds of dark bread. Unfortunately, that bakery doesn't make rolls (aka Brötchen) so I need to figure those out on my own.
     Today was my fourth attempt. One of the difficulties is that no one in Germany would every make Brötchen, because they're available everywhere, so there's not much information publicly available. Then, the varieties vary by region, and I have a particular, whole grain type in mind. I don't know if I should be using just whole wheat, or some white flour, or maybe rye. Are eggs or yogurt/quark used? An egg glaze? What about the fact that American flours have more protein than European ones? I am definitely baking blindly.
     In the end,  I think this will be a rather expensive endeavor, because the only way I can see to truly verify the authenticity of my final result is to fly back to Germany and eat a lot of bread. That's worth it, right?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Choosing people

May was a month of interviews for me. I was in charge of hiring two summer interns for our department, and I needed to find a new roommate. Along the way, I realized that finding a roommate, interviewing a possible hire, or even going on a first date are pretty much the same. The main question you seek to answer is "Are you a crazy person?" After you've figured that out, you want to know "Are you a good match for this situation?" and "Are you interested?".
     I have a good track record with roommate selection so far. Since I prefer short-term roommates, I'm already on the fourth since I bought the house. I have a finely crafted ad, a set of questions that I ask during the meeting, and a set of expectations that I share with them. Then there's the application and credit check, which are just enough hassle that the not-seriously-interested don't continue. I seem to do a good job of conveying what living with me is like, and finding people who will like my house and me (i.e. they will not mind I don't talk to them a great deal), because everyone involved has seemed pretty happy.
     Tomorrow the interns start and my newest roommate moves in, and I can find out if my selection processes were successful again.