Monday, August 13, 2018

West Virginia

Last month I got fed up with all of my friends texting me great vacation photos and I booked a weekend trip at the first AirBnb that I could find which  (1) was within driving distance of DC and (2) accepted dogs so I didn't have to bother with a housesitter.

That turned out to be a cabin in West Virginia. Driving distance is relative, of course, in DC traffic - it still took me three hours to go 85 miles (about 130km). But once I arrived it was idyllic. I researched, but didn't plan anything, which meant I spent lots of time sitting around in the woods reading books and drinking coffee. I did manage to eat out a few times, but the best meal I had, I cooked myself using garden tomatoes and cheese my cousin AinA had brought from Europe.

I also thought carefully about whether I'd like to live in a place like this someday. When I retire, my current financial plan dictates that I can either stay in DC in my house while having a roommate,or move to a lower cost-of-living area and have my home to myself. I have sometimes considered that a college town in Pennsylvania, within driving distance of my parents, might bring the diversity and cultural aspects that would allow me to thrive in a small town. Spending the weekend in West Virginia added a few more qualifications: I don't want to have to drive everyday and I need to figure out exactly what I mean by diversity. I like my life now, where I'm in the car about twice a week. And I'm pretty sure that diversity means more than different skin colors: what I love is people with a variety of experiences, who haven't all lived in the same place their entire lives. I don't know if this wish list is even possible, but if I don't start creating it, I'll never know what to look for.

And finally, some hiking pictures.
 Ada abhors a bath, but loves swimming in ice-cold mountain streams.
The woods were very green for late summer, and exceptionally peaceful. I only saw four people in three hours, and luckily managed not to encounter any rattlesnakes (although I did see evidence of them).
Ada has no fear of heights, and walked right up to the edge of this cliff, which has a several-hundred foot drop. This is terrifying in a creature that is tied to you.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Numbers I've been thinking about

That's the average number of miles I drive in a year, over the past four years. The average American drives about 13,000. I'm actually a bit proud of this - all that cycling is paying off.

The average number of books I've read per month in 2018. That's two per week! In the last year, my reading has really picked up since I've rediscovered ebooks (and the newly improved collection at my library). I still read a fair number of actual paper books, but the convenience of checking out books remotely combined with the ease of holding a book displayed on a phone has made a big difference. I regularly read while walking the dog, and even occasionally read while cooking. I was also surprised to find that for every two books I read, I start one and never finish it (these are not counted in the statistics). I would not have guessed that I was latter number, which means either that I am becoming more choosy or less willing to plow through things I dislike.

The answer to life, the universe, and everything, of course. Also, the number of dollars I'd need to pay each week to have my lawn mowed. This comes to mind, not infrequently, as I push my little electric mower through the tall grass in the overly humid DC summer heat. I suspect my neighbors think I'm a bit crazy. Some of them hire a mowing service, and the rest have big gas-powered mowers. And it is definitely a man's job - I've never seen another woman in my neighborhood mowing. Currently I am too frugal to hire someone, especially at those outlandish rates, even though this is far and away my most hated chore. But if I inherit millions of dollars from my unknown great aunt, a lawn service is the first thing I'll purchase.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


My cousin AinA and her family visited last weekend, and it was delightful. I am at a disadvantage with young houseguests, as I have neither kids, nor toys, nor video games to entertain them. Luckily, I have my ace in the hole- extremely tolerant pets. During the first morning, her girls fell in love with the animals and covered my refrigerator with drawings and notes professing their love. The preschooler, N, decided she was in fact Molly the cat, and meowed her way through the next four days, although  her attempts to drink water out of a bowl on the floor were less than successful. Both Ada and Molly put up with a large number of pats and only rarely retreated to a corner of my bedroom to recover.

My cousin and I are surprisingly close for people who only see each other every three to four years. We make up for our lack of visit by reading and commenting on each other's blogs. I am fond of her in spite of her excessive love of cabbage and likewise, she tolerates my new-found love of The Archers. And we all like desserts: she made butterscotch ice cream to go with my chocolate cake, her husband R did all the dishes, and we all feasted. I'm looking forward to my visit to see them at the end of the year, although I worry her children will like me a lot less without my pets.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Alas, my trusty three-speed bicycle's gear hub has been making ever-more-worrying noises, and it now sounds like a small airplane is following me when I pedal. They don't make parts for that bike anymore, so I needed a replacement.

Craigslist to the rescue. I was quite delighted that buying something used was even a possibility. Because of my size, I ride a kid's bike. There was only one bike for sale that was the right size in the entire DC metro area, but a two-hour roundtrip drive to Virginia and a bit of cash made it mine.

Then I spent all weekend doing bike DIY, resulting in this:
Anyone who had seen my old bike might recognize parts of it, because I basically took off anything that I liked from my old bike and put in on the new one. The old bike is truly destined for the scrap heap, as it now looks like this:

I am pretty darn proud for doing this all by myself. Sure, it took a lot of explanatory YouTube videos and hours in the hot sun, but I'm hopeful that it will all work. The new bike is German, as in "actually from Germany" because all the instructional labels are in German, and I can only guess that someone in DC's oh-so-transient population brought this over with them for their kid long ago.

Friday, July 06, 2018

New Bathroom, Part 6

And another weekend of bathroom fun has come and gone. Once again, my father planned, my friends and I worked, and my mother cooked. A lot of progress has been made, but that will be saved for another day, because I'm not taking pictures of the inside of the house until I've had time to clean up the tremendous mess we've made.

There was a lot of work that needed to be done outside this time. Bathrooms have a surprisingly large number of connections to the outdoors: fans need to vent the humid air and the plumbing has to vent to the outside so you don't get sewer gases inside. It is the "v" part of the DWV system here if you really want to learn more, otherwise I'll spare the rest of the readers.) It was unfortunate timing, as the weather was in the high 90s (35C) and pretty much as humid as it gets.

My roof is also quite steep, 40 degrees. This steepness in great in one regard - it's probably the reason my 20-year-old roof is leak-free - but it's scary when you are thinking about climbing on it. Luckily, my father was unfazed. He built braces and scaffolds and we got it all done without a single broken bone.
My friend S installs a vent. The scaffold was screwed into the roof, and my job was to steady the ladder. 
My father installs another vent. We built a wooden ladder, then hauled it up to the roof and screwed it down. It was so steep that tools kept falling into the gutter.
My mother did the catering for the entire weekend. Tacos with fresh corn tortillas and homemade cherry ice cream. Takeout Salvadoran food, and delicious burgers. Some people managed more than one, like N.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Moving and growing

My friends N and S bought a new house. It is a wonderful house, with more bedrooms and bathrooms and a gorgeous view of a wooded park. They have been househunting for a year or two, so I was excited when they closed the deal on the new house (but probably not as excited as their realtor was). I can only imagine how much work it is to move a family of four and all of their stuff from one house that needs repairs to a second house that needs repairs, but I did my best last weekend to assist a bit. I packed, I mopped, I took apart furniture, and I unpacked. I surveyed the mountain of boxes that is their home. And then I came home and solemnly swore to get rid of even more of my belongings.

In the meantime, my garden has been soaking up all the glorious sun and rain in the last month, and growing like mad. Of course, so have the weeds, so this weekend I tried to get more of it under control. The snapshot taken this morning shows two lovely patches of petunias, gifted to me by a friend. There are dying yellow pea plants, and knee-high tomatoes. I'm eating spinach, chard, peas, and raspberries, and I'm hoping in a few weeks to see some zucchinis. Of course, a few weeks after that I will hope to never see a zucchini again...

Saturday, June 02, 2018

What I get paid to do

Once every few months, I end up running a workshop or a conference. Today was a 40-person meeting where we helped teach professors and graduate students how to run conferences, since every January we run about a dozen of them simultaneously to encourage women to keep studying physics.

It's sometimes hard to understand what someone else does when it's not your field. For example, my cousin AinA works in sales, which I know means she tries to convince people to buy stuff, but I'm not actually quite sure what she does all day long.* If you've ever wondered what I do, you're in luck today. Nature is one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, and this week they published something about a project that my department works on. If you want to read about the types of things I do, you can here, or you can listen to the podcast here (minutes 0-7).

*In truth, I suspect that the answer for my cousin is the same as the answer for me: we write emails for a living.