Thursday, October 31, 2013


I just realized that I need to post this picture today, or it will be old news. A neighbor organized a pumpkin carving party, and here are the results. Mine is the second from the left.

Although I've only lived here for six months, I've met a fair number of neighbors, which makes me feel really welcome. I think the garden really helps - not only have I met fellow gardeners, but people walk by while I'm working and talk to me. I guess that means that someday, when I have my own house, I should make sure there is a small vegetable garden in the front yard, so that I can meet the new neighbors.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Friday was precisely three months since Andrew's death. I now understand how new parents know the exact age of their child. "He'll be fourteen months next Tuesday," they say. When really big events happen in your life, you don't have to keep track of when they happened; you just know.

Saturday was Andrew's UK memorial. His family did a lovely job arranging it, and included me in as much of the planning as possible. I'm glad I didn't attend, simply because the time off and expense of traveling to the UK would have been overwhelming. I also didn't know Andrew's extended family as well as his immediate family, and I'm in contact with his immediate family regularly. But my thoughts were with them all day.

This morning I'm off on another business trip. Trips, like anything that is not part of my regular routine, are hard. But I know that the best way to make all these things easier is to simply do them.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guarding the gates

Just a quick note today. I work at a building that houses four different physics societies. There was a lecture on the history of the building this week. There I learned that these two dogs, who guard the door I enter every morning, are named Electron and Positron.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fixing stuff

     My father and brother had a tradition of monthly "work days", where they'd take turns working on home improvement projects at each other's houses. We had emulated this tradition here in Maryland, with our friends N and S. I asked to keep the tradition going even though Andrew is gone. This means, though, that I need to pull my own weight: instead of helping to make dinner, I am learning how to fix things.
     This month, we replaced a toilet. I watched how to use a torch to loosen the nut corroded to a bolt after decades of disuse (but next time I'm going to ask to use the torch myself).

I also learned the benefits of being small when you're working in a small house - that's me behind the wall, screwing the bowl to the tank while N steadies it.
At the end, I also used a chainsaw for the first time. I was glad it was a smaller, electric version, because that seemed intimidating enough.
I must admit, I was both sore and proud of myself by the end of the day.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A flash of happiness

When I flew to Denver last week, I got to watch a lightning storm from my plane window, and it was one of the most awe-inspiring things I've seen in a long time. The bank of clouds was at the same altitude as the plane, and far enough away that I could see a huge swath of clouds. The stars shone above, and in the clouds, the lightning danced. The flashes happened fast, several times a second. Sometimes they made the cloud glow, sometimes a bolt was almost visible.  I looked around at the people around me, but they were asleep or reading their books, and no one seemed to be glued to the window like me. It has been quite a while since I felt, even for a moment, happy that I was experiencing life. I used to feel that way all the time, and I trust that, eventually, it'll be a regular part of my life again.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Garden success story

     Since this was my very first garden, I'll admit that I didn't know what I was doing. I planted a lot of different vegetables that I thought I'd like to eat, then crossed my fingers and hoped. When I gained a second garden plot later in the season, I decided to plant a long row of sweet potatoes, because I had heard that they like hot weather. 
     What I later learned is that you don't have to wait to eat the potatoes - you can eat sweet potato greens. In fact, they are one of the few greens that grow during the heat without during bitter (at least in my experience). So I ate sweet potato green salads, and then I harvested all the greens right before I dug up the potatoes. 
     I was a bit nervous about harvesting the potatoes, because experienced gardeners had warned me that you could have verdant growth above ground and yet no tubers.
Success! There were, in fact, sweet potatoes in the earth.
We harvested 5 buckets of greens (some for my neighbors, because even I can only blanch and freeze so many greens) and a crate full of potatoes. I forgot to weight the crate, but it was too heavy for me to pick up, so I'd guess that I got about 25 pounds. Now those potatoes are all sitting on my bedroom floor on a tarp. They need to cure for several months. During this time, the cuts heal, and then the enzyme do their magic to make the potato sweet. I'm looking forward to many batches of sweet potato gnocchi, topped with pesto (because my basil plants grew equally as well).

Sunday, October 06, 2013

In the woods

     Two weeks ago I got to go camping in Pennsylvania with old friends. They are all physicists, except for one lone artist/entrepreneur, and I've known all of them for years. It was a bit overwhelming to plan for even a weekend trip. For the first time it many years it was my job to do everything: plan the food, buy the groceries, find all the camping gear, and pack the car. But I had company for most of the trip, thanks to my friends B&R, who flew to Baltimore to travel up with me. Then I had all my friends around, to help me set up the tent and loan me soap or salt when I didn't have it. 
     The weather was terrific until Saturday night, when it rained for most of the night, and everyone liked the dumpling soup I made when it was my turn to cook. Cooking while camping is great, because everything tastes better outside.
     Here are a few other highlights:
Admiring a waterfall on our "hike". I have to admit that it was more of a walk in the woods than a hike.
Two-year-olds discovering a lake, which led to some parents discovering that the didn't bring enough dry clothes. No, I am not a bad photographer; the child on the left was anonymized.
While walking around the lake, I remembering thinking how much I missed this type of terrain in Miami. See that hill? That's an elevation change of more than 5 feet! 
On previous camping trips we had big tick problems. This time, some people took serious anti-tick measures, including taping their socks to their trousers. In the end, ticks weren't a serious problem, whether you were using DEET or masking tape.
Okay, so some of the campers preferred cottage cheese and cheerios to the dumpling soup and vegetable-scrambled eggs that made up our meals.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Nature, in all its forms

The biggest problem in my life right now (aside from serious grief, of course) is fleas. Although the dog has left the house for a while, the fleas have not. I have been battling this problem for a while, and I'm sad to say that I don't appear to be winning. At best, I'm in a stalemate.

What I have tried, unsuccessfully: flea baths for the cat, flea bombing for the house (twice), frequent vacuuming, monthly flea topical medicine for the cat, diatomaceous earth on the carpets, and daily flea combing. What I have not yet tried: waiting until it is below freezing outside and the opening all the windows. Sure, that might burst my water pipes, but it would probably kill the fleas.

I have not yet given up on flea combing and vacuuming, as the Internet promises me that these methods will eventually work. Flea combing is a tedious, semi-disgusting job which I do every 12 hours. I used to hate it, but recently a group of friends (all physicists) convinced me to start counting the number of fleas I remove. They argued that this was the only way to see whether the problem was getting better or worse, and to measure the effectiveness of various treatments. This has been pretty cool -  now I am not removing blood-sucking parasites, I am taking data! I am doing science.


In other news, it was free museum day on Saturday. The Smithsonian organized museums around the country to not charge admission for a day. I'm not one to pass up an opportunity like that, so my friend D and I visited a historic house and gardens in DC. It was the kind of place that has an army of gardeners, and acres of formal gardens, and it was beautiful. I really like it that I've lived in DC three times, for over ten years total, and I'm still discovering places I've never seen before.