Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Early fall

     Fall and spring last a long time in Maryland. It's just starting to get cool at night here, but Ada and I can still sit out in the garden each morning, as long as I wear a coat. For reference, it's 6C/ 43F right now.
     This is my morning view. I sit on the Adirondack chair that N and I built, Ada keeps watch for Evil Squirrels, and I drink my coffee. In the distance, you can see the pink cosmos, blooming near the back fence. I planted them far too late, but they've managed to bloom like crazy starting in late September.
     The leaves are just starting to come down. I have no trees in my yard, so I only get a few leaves from the neighbors' trees. Since I'm a gardener, I'd actually like to have more leaves than that, to cover my beds and fill my compost pile. This year, I plan to "liberate" many paper bags of leaves that neighbors have left to be picked up be the city, and shred them with my mower. Yesterday, in fact, I found three bags of pine needles, which will be a great mulch for the front garden beds.
     When I get back from Denver, I think it may have turned to cold to keep spending my early mornings outside. But that's all right, because I'll be back in just four or five months. Having relatives in Minnesota, with its six months of winter, makes me extra appreciative of the comparatively balmy seasons here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


     Several friends have asked a polite version of this question: "You live with a silent a dog and a silent roommate. Why do you need to go somewhere to have a silent retreat?" And this is an excellent question. It is true that on a non-workday I could easily go the whole day without talking. However, I never do so. I phone friends or family, I listen to podcasts, I run errands and talk to the checkout woman. A key part of the silent retreat, for me, is cutting myself off from all electronic devices, people, and music.
     In my planning for this trip, I realized that people retreat for many different reasons. Some people want to meditate, or to practice yoga. I want the chance to think about the direction of my life, and make sure that it continues to be aligned with my values. By sequestering myself in a cottage in the Colorado mountains for three days, I hope to cut off all the distractions that I turn to when I face a hard question. There will be no chores around the house, or extensive cooking. I cannot quickly search for something online, or go have lunch with a friend. My choices will be: think while sitting, or think while hiking. That's it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Old-fashioned laundry

The highlight of my weekend.
     I am just nerdy enough that the best part of my weekend was hanging out my clothes on my new clothesline. During the last project day, whenever folks were worrying about heatstroke, I sent them down to the basement to work on the secondary project - building clothesline posts. 
     Since I moved in, I've been hanging my wet laundry on a rack, and spreading sheets out on the grass. I really love air-dried laundry: it's cheaper, it's old-fashioned, and it makes the laundry smell nicer. But I just didn't have the time to install proper clotheslines until this fall. My friend N and his boys came over a week ago to help me concrete them into the ground, and now I have 120' (that's 37 meters for my metric friends) of plastic-coated lines to hold all my wet laundry. I'm so pleased.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Happy Ada Lovelace Day

In honor of Ada Lovelace Day (Tuesday, Oct. 11), here's a picture of her namesake. The day is an international celebration of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). So, you know, go cheer on a female scientist. Or help your kid learn about how electricity makes light bulbs turn on or how to program a loop.
Ada's favorite activity, right after eating doggy bacon.

Monday, October 03, 2016

My days, in numbers

     I have always been prone to introspection, but in the past few years I have become more serious about it. One of the books I was reading on the science of what makes us happy suggested tracking activities. I loved this idea. I already consider whether, in general, what I do aligns with what I value, but this lets me examine things on a more fine-grained detail.
     I tracked all of my time for roughly two weeks, one in the spring and one in the fall, down to the nearest 15-minute interval. I categorized them and made this pretty graph. The only things not displayed are sleep and work, which I felt I could safely remove from analysis: I am almost always well-rested and I almost always limit my work week to the 37.5 hours workweek my company keeps.

Hours logged during 14 days
     A few things I notice right away- I'm spending the most time on things I really love - DIY and friends. Also, since I hate to clean, I have streamlined my household to minimize cleaning and I'm really pleased with that number. I'm outside a lot, because being outside is captured in half of the DIY, most of the pets (walking Ada), and "Outside", which is what I call my morning routine of drinking coffee and reading comics outside every morning. I am sort of astounded at how much time I'm spending on laundry for one person.
     This graph is really just preparation for a silent retreat I'll be taking this fall. I'm planning the retreat myself, and I knew I wanted to head in with a good understanding of how I spend my time and how I spend my money. I'm not quite sure what I'll be doing with my time when I get there, though, so if anyone has good suggestions on how to examine your life in three days, please send suggestions my way.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Low key weekend

     I had a rough week, with Phi's demise and some other difficulties (which can't be explained on the blog right now), so I tried to take it easy on the weekend.
     On Saturday I had the perfect frugal day. First, there was a neighborhood-wide garage sale nearby. I didn't find anything I wanted to buy, but on my way out of the area, I drove by some stuff on the side of the road with a "free sign" and scored three things I really wanted - a wheelbarrow (for hauling compost), a bucket, and some very high quality hoses for watering the garden. Next, my friend D and I went to a new museum to take advantage of the annual free museum day held in DC. This museum is the perfectly-preserved 60's era home of some philanthropists, filled with their personal art collection. I felt a bit awed by people who could afford to decorate their personal living area with Renoirs, Van Goghs, and Picassos. I had brought some apples and what turned out to be perfectly-toasted walnuts as a snack, so we drove to the grounds of the nearby National Cathedral and listened to a whole series of songs played on their bells while we snacked.
     Sunday I made apple butter and pesto. This turned out to be more work than I expected, but it feels like the perfect fall activity to be stockpiling foods for the winter. My enthusiasm for the pesto was aided by my personal dislike of purchased jarred pesto, and my friend E's contribution of her extra basil. In a few cold months, it will be a nice taste of summer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Goodbye to Phi the Cat

     Today was the last day of Phi's life. She lived 17 good years. By the end, she was blind and deaf, but until yesterday she was still walking around and enjoying the good life in between increasing numbers of naps. Last night it was clear that her body was just shutting down, so today I had her put to sleep and I buried her under the fig tree.
     I've never had a cat who liked people so much. She was tolerant of all people, kids, and dogs but felt that the best defense was a good offense when it came to other cats; she made many a cat twice her size retreat in fear. I'm pretty sure that Andrew fell in love with Phi before he fell in love with me. She and I lived in eight houses during our 15 years together, and that's a big chunk of my life.
     I will miss her.