Tuesday, May 21, 2019


The annual physicist* camping trip has come and gone and was declared a rousing success. It only rained once, and so for the first time in 6 years of camping, I didn't immediately come home and hang my tent out to dry. The kids are getting older, which means they can play more with each other, and greater numbers of parents can sleep through the night and be (somewhat) well-rested when the kids and birds wake up at 6am. Because of our "one family contributes one communal meal" system, we all ate delicious food. And we got to spend time together, doing math and singing and eating s'mores, which is the most important thing of all.

*We have one adult non-physicist and his biological and technical distinctiveness has been added to our own.**
**Borg reference.

Monday, April 29, 2019


Tonight I was mopping my kitchen floor, something I do about once every three months, and I got to thinking about how different my cleaning philosophy is compared to how I was raised. When I was growing up, one of my chores was to wash the kitchen floor, something that took at least an hour. My mother taught me that the proper way to wash a floor was on your hands and knees with a scrubbing brush. I even remember a time, before she worked outside the home and the kids were too young to help much with chores, when she used an index card system for tracking monthly, weekly, and annual chores. I recall that this reminded one to wash the windows and to apply lemon oil to the furniture.

I don't mean to imply that my mother is an obsessive cleaner. We were never chastised for making a mess (although we probably had to clean it up) and our house looked like everyone else's. But I'm quite aware of how cleaning standards change - on the 1940's radio programs I listen to, they are forever advertising waxes and polishes for floors, furniture, and cars. I think the combination of modern finishes and the lack of a full-time homemaker spelled the end of polishes.

Nowadays I never spend more than 90 minutes per week cleaning, if you don't include dishes or laundry. I attribute this to my patented three-part system: have no children, own as few belongings as possible, and lower your standards. No one ever spills juice on my floors, and I never have to pick up before vacuuming. That gives me an hour vacuum the whole house and clean two bathrooms, and then I do whatever else I notice. My house probably isn't perfect, but it's good enough and then I have lots of time for all the other fun things in life, like gardening and sitting by the firebowl with friends.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A new garden

At some point during my dismal spring I decided to put in a new garden. I've often considered planting a cottage garden, which is usually a big mass of colorful, overlapping flowering perennials. I have never done it because it takes years for such a garden to establish. But this year, I thought, if it takes two years to grow and then looks good during the third year when I move, at least I'll have enjoyed one year. And since my future plans are indeterminate, it's entirely possible that I'll be living in this house and enjoying the garden for years to come.

I engaged an advisory board, made up of three friend/relatives who care about gardening. And by "engaged", I mean that I pelted them with emails, drawings of the space, and links to plants. Here's what we've come up with so far.

In early March, when the garden was just a dream.
I spent two long weekends digging, with the help of my roommate.
My father, who always prefers to use machines, helped me rent a tiller to dig some more.
My mother spent an entire day considering exactly where the plants should go and labeling empty spaces with markers. I then purchased six carloads of mulch and compost, and shoveled for a long time. 
This is what it looks like right now! It's a big space, sparsely filled with 6" tall plants. But give it a lot of water and two years to grow, and I think it will be beautiful. I'll be sure to post updates throughout the summer.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Defense, and empowerment

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and learning about some of the experiences of friends and family, I decided to take a self-defense course. I did a bit of research and learned that martial arts wasn't what I wanted: many people said I'd need to take years of classes to get what I needed.

Instead, I found an empowerment self-defense class. For 10 weeks, I learned skills to limit or stop harassment, set boundaries, intervene with bystanders, AND physically defend myself. I could talk all day about what I now know- that when I know how to set boundaries with strangers, friends, or loved ones, I limit the opportunity they have to take advantage of me, whether that might result in emotional abuse, harassment, or sexual assault. I learned (a bit) about how gender based violence and racism interact. I also learned how to defend myself when attacked from front or behind, if my arms and legs are pinned, and or if someone is choking me. As an aside, it's a bit odd to let a stranger to choke each week.

I'm pretty proud of myself for doing it, because sometimes it was hard. At the end of the class, we all wrote down what idea we were breaking on a 3/4" board, and then broke it with our fists. So now I have proof that I'm better prepared.

Thursday, April 11, 2019


Once a month I attend a Vespers service at the Unitarian church downtown (which I describe as the "church without God" in halting Spanish, to the amusement of my Spanish tutor). Their vespers is a solid hour of repetitive singing and silence, in the Taize style.  This is one of my favorite parts of the month, and I've been going religiously (hah!) since I discovered it a few years ago.

Last night, I attended and while I was singing I realized I was happy. It felt good, and odd, and was something I haven't felt in a few months. I don't know if it was the passage of time, or my parents' recent visit, or the spring time, but probably it was all of it put together. I'm feeling better.

Monday, March 18, 2019

R.I.P., Ada

I am deeply saddened to report that Ada the dog has breathed her last. Since Christmas she had been leaky, a condition that old lady dogs are wont to suffer from.  But then she started drinking two or three times her normal amount, and had to wear diapers. Multiple medicines didn't help, and then the vet ran of out tests to suggest. Our best guess was cancer. Ada was happy most the time, but also starting to be uncomfortable, and I was exhausted from trying to be home, every four hours day and night, to let her out and change her diaper. I spent a final week trying to cram every day with hikes, treats, and visit to her favorite friends, and on Friday we put her to sleep.

We adopted Ada seven years ago, pretty much the day after Andrew agreed to get a dog. At first her time with us was nerve wracking, as she showed signs of tracing the cat (a precursor to attacking) and fought with a neighbor dog. But intensive training turned her into a well-mannered, quiet dog who seemed to be really happy. She loved to swim and hike, and conned every roommate I've had into becoming her best friend. Several neighbors kept treats just for her, and she could recognize their cars when they drove by during our walks. One of her dog sitters included her in the acknowledgements of his doctoral dissertation, and at least one small child afraid of dogs found the first dog that she didn't fear. She was a beloved companion for me in the years after Andrew died, but she was really his dog.

I'll admit that having both of my pets die in the last month has pretty much gutted me. Add the death of my maternal uncle, and I can only hope that I won't repeat the past few weeks any time soon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Winter retreat

We had a long weekend recently, and I used it as an excuse to schedule one of my weekend getaways. These are pretty easy to organize now - I just look for an Airbnb within driving distance of the city. They need to have a kitchen and accept dogs, and then I'm all set.  It doesn't really matter where I go, because there are always parks nearby far hiking. And since too many restaurants are a disappointment, I self-catered the trip. I've realized that I'm really just paying for the excuse to ignore all my household chores.

At the last minute, I learned that Shenandoah National Park was closed due to a recent storm.  I found a state park with a long trail following a river, which make it beautiful in spite of the lack of green and warmth. The dog had a great time as well. She does not understand the purpose stepping stones, and we had to ford of number of tributaries, but swimming in near-freezing water didn't seem to faze her.

I spent half my time reading and half my time reflecting. I've done enough retreats now that I'm just doing tune-ups, checking on whether I'm still living my life the way I want to. The rest of the time I can spend enjoying my Victorian detective fiction and whiskey.