Tuesday, December 30, 2014


     As they say, the family that paints together, stays together. In the end, it took five adults just under four days to paint downstairs plus two-story foyer in my parents' house. Because half the house was on West Coast time, and because my father is a night owl, we never started before noon. But we didn't stop until at least midnight, so there were some long painting days. We finished on Christmas Eve night, which was just enough time to re-install curtains and outlet covers.
     But then we had Christmas:
 Cute creatures. 
Winner of the Best Wrapped Present of 2015. I watched my brother wrap this and it took about 30 minutes of diligent work. My mother certainly couldn't guess what was in it - an electric toothbrush and mittens.
     We had Mexican for dinner: homemade tortillas, pulled chicken and refried beans, and tres leches cake. And many margaritas, of course. I'll definitely make homemade tortillas again. They're no more work than donuts or bagels, and they really made the meal exceptional.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


     I'm back in Ohio for the holidays. The trip here was unpleasant - it lasted hours longer than usual, and involved a sick dog and cat. My car now smells of dog poo, and that's more than you want to know already. I was extremely glad to arrive.
     I am a product of my family: we are a project-doers. My sister-in-law, the architect of many great home painting enterprises in the past, convinced my parents to repaint their living and dining room. They've been meaning to do this since they moved in eight years ago, but never got around to it. Now that we've started, I can see why they have been putting it off. The two-story foyer feeds into the living room, which feeds into the dining room and kitchen, which connects to the hallway. Essentially, we need to paint several thousand square feet of walls in one go.
     My father built a tremendous scaffold and has been repairing walls. My brother is taping, while my sister-in-law and mother are buying paint. I've been steaming off wallpaper. We put the kids to work removing electrical outlet covers. What a productive holiday this will be!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


     I love dressing up, so for the past decade or so I've been throwing fancy dress parties during the holiday season and inviting as many people as I can. I didn't have the heart for it last year, but this year I managed a pretty good shindig.
     When planning parties, my background in cooking and event planning serves me well. In November, I drafted a twenty item to-do list and began my preparations. This included menu planning, making tags to denote gluten free choices, and decorating. I was even lucky enough to score a silk party dress at the thrift store. 
 My friend C came over on the morning of the party. I had already made four batches of cookies, but we needed to make 5 dozen pretzels, soup, 3 dozen mini quiches, soup, and homemade flatbreads. I have vowed that next year I will scale back the menu a bit.
     I can't decide whether I like the picture of the snazzily attired guests or the tired dog more. Ada desperately wanted to go to sleep, but she also couldn't bear to miss the party, which was full of people petting her and dropping tasty morsels. Every quarter hour she would tour the house, wearily nose her bed hopefully, then head back out to hang out with the guests. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another project

     My friends N and S often ask me how I have enough time to do so many projects, and I always answer the same way - I don't have a television and I don't have kids. (They have two little ones, so they have to be more careful with their time.) So, here's yet another project I've managed to complete before my big Christmas party: refinishing my end table.
     We didn't have room in our previous 350-square-foot apartment for frivolous furniture like coffee tables. So when I moved into my current, large apartment I was looking forward to having a place to set my glass of wine in the evenings. I had trouble finding a nice end table, so I eventually just picked one that looked like it would take a coat of paint and brought it home from the thrift store. Behold it in its former state, dusty and scratched:
     While I was giving it a rough sanding (so that the paint would stick better), I realized that the table was real wood and I started to get bigger ideas of refinishing the piece. Then I sanded some more and realized that parts were particleboard with veneer, and when you sand through that you get a big mess. Eventually, I settled on a mix of refinishing and painting.
     I'm quite pleased with this, especially considering the total outlay was $7: $5 for a busted table and $2 for a new drawer knob, because I had all the other materials and tools from other projects. And for such a small price I had hours of fun sanding and varnishing. I'm not even being snarky - I was pretty happy when I got to spend four hours of a Sunday afternoon sanding. Paying only $5 for the table meant I was willing to see it as an opportunity to learn; at most, I was only wasting my time. 
     The rest of you can just skip this part, but I'm recording the what I learned so I'm ready for the next time. (1) Particle board will take stain, but the clear polyurethane coat just pools on it. (2) Stain smells really bad; if you stain furniture in your bedroom you will have a headache the next morning. (3)The books tell you to sand polyurethane between coats, but they don't mean for you to do that on paint! I had to repaint. (4) The key to a good clear coat is to have a bunch of lamps aimed at your project, so you can see all the little mistakes you made in time to fix them.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Prettying things up

Earlier this year, my friends R&B stopped by for a quick visit. They were on their way to France, and they had arranged a 10-hour layover in DC. Because of they had taken an early flight to DC, B was pretty tired and I offered my bedroom for a nap. At that point I looked around my bedroom and saw it through someone else's eyes. I wasn't too impressed. I use my bedroom for storage, and it looked a little bit like a warehouse. Evidence: 
The bed is lofted a bit for extra storage. The "accent wall" was painted yellow by a previous tenant. The cat's food cabinet is stacked on top of the dog's crate.
The corner shelf, more fitting for a garage, stores all the power tools. The curtains are beige and ripped: I bought them to wrap around furniture when moving to DC, and then temporarily-for-a-year hung them in my bedroom.
     With all my other projects, it took me a few months to get to this, but my bedroom is finally presentable. Evidence:
 I bought pillows, a duvet cover, and fabric from the thrift store, made a bed skirt, and painted the bed frame gold. (Ignore the crazy blue lights - those are Christmas lights.) The landlord had the yellow wall repainted the same white as the rest of the house.
 The cat is more or less permanently installed on the bed. Now that it looks like a bit of a princess bed, I think she finally feels she has found surroundings befitting her.

The tool shelf is clad in curtains. Building the frame for the curtains was the first wood-working project I've done all by myself. I'm quite pleased with it, even if I can't shake the vague feeling that it will all come tumbling down due to poor construction techniques.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


 I celebrated my first turkey-less Thanksgiving this year. Although I've been a vegetarian for more than two decades, I understand that Thanksgiving, for most people means turkey. But this year there were seven of us: four vegetarians, and three agnostic meat eaters, who were indifferent on the subject of meat. Let me tell you that you can still pack plenty of calories in a meatless meal. The plate below demonstrates, with two types of alcohol, garlic bread, macaroni and cheese, palak paneer, mashed cassava root, and lentil loaf.
     Thanksgiving is the only day of the year that I miss not owning a television, because I love watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The parade coverage doesn't stream online, and once again I missed it, in spite of my best efforts. Of the three friends I asked, not a single once could help me out - one doesn't own a television, and the other two use Netflix but have no standard broadcast TV access. I suppose this is a sign of the modern era.
     Because my guests can't watch television at my house, I need to offer other forms of entertainment. Of course, there's always the old standby, "Pet the dog and cat continuously." When that grew tiring, we played cards and cut out snowflakes. Yes, paper snowflakes like you used to make when you were a kid. I've used them before in my decorating, but this is the largest house I've lived in and thus I needed close to a hundred. Yesterday, it took three of us an hour just to hang them, but now the house is a winter wonderland.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


     I was on the University of Maryland campus for almost seven years, but I never noticed that they had a labyrinth. This is probably because physics graduate students walk a path from their home/parking place to the physics department, with occasional detours for food or the gym only. I never had occasion to go poking around the Memorial Chapel, where this is built.
     A group of people from my Unitarian church took a trip there last weekend. I learned that labyrinths are now often built as places of contemplation, open to people of various religions, and I learned the difference between labyrinths and mazes  - a labyrinth only has one path to the center and back again.
     I found it quite meaningful to walk the path slowly. This is something that I wouldn't have enjoyed a few years ago, but I think I've become more contemplative. I'm still terrible at meditating, because I have an abiding urge to get things done and that doesn't easily quite during meditation. But I'm better at using forced times of inaction (like on a car ride) to sit and think. I now regularly think about life, the importance (or relative lack of importance) of various activities in my life, and what should really matter to me. I assume this come about as a result with my close experience with death. I thought this might fade as my grief grew less acute, but so far it hasn't. In contrast, the expectation that anyone around me could drop dead in an instant has lessened, and I am grateful for that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


I work at One Physics Ellipse, in a four-story building of physics organizations. This is pretty unusual, because most physicists who work outside academia are in companies where there are just a few (or one) physicists. This has been quite a different experience for me personally. Although I worked at universities before this, in physics departments, I didn’t always feel part of the department. My research was in physics education, and it is not always the case that other physicists consider that to be “real” physics. I thought it was – I had to take the same classes and pass the same qualifying exam, and I think like a physicist. I’ve even been involved in some rather heated debates with physics professors about whether people like me should be part of their department (and that was at a party, which is to say I wasn’t quite prepared). At my new job, I almost never have to convince people that I’m a physicist – it’s in the name of my organization, even in the name of the street I work on. And I like that.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


I grew up in a family that cherished two-wheel vehicles, but mainly those with engines. While I have a fondness for motorcycles, it turns out I like bicycles as well. This fall I’ve been cycling more, which is partly inspired by my new bicycle. I’m rather proud of it, not because it’s especially beautiful, but because I had to stand my ground at the bicycle shop in order to get the bike I want. For example, I wanted the beat-up bike my dad bought at a garage sale, with a few new parts, instead of the expensive fancy bike they wanted to sell me. Likewise, I wanted handlebars that I could reach with my quite-short arms; I couldn’t find any handlebars that did this, so I ended up buying a stem that was designed to move the handlebars further away, for very tall people, and rotated the stem 180 degrees to do the opposite. I’ve been contemplating adding some strategic duck tape, just to make the bike a bit uglier.
     It’s time to bid a temporary adieu to my bicycle, because the weather is getting cold. I know that there are hard-core cyclists who ride throughout the winter, but it’s not me. Partly this is because I don’t have special gear – I bike to work in my work clothes - and partly this is because I can walk to work when I don’t bike. This year I was also a bit lazy and never attempted the ride to the grocery store with my bike trailer. But I vow that I will do that next year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Project Day, episode 8

     This weekend turned into a special double-edition of Project Day. My friend N and I are re-purposing an old console radio that my father gave me. The radio tubes and phonograph were ripped out, and we’re installing shelves so it can be used as a liquor cabinet. I think it would be great to have this done in time for my big Christmas party. (Because planning a big party isn’t enough, I’m using the occasion to redecorate my bedroom and refurbish furniture at the same time. I admit this is a bit ambitious.)
     The most difficult part of the project is the front cabinet door. The radio originally had a phonograph that slid out from the front. When not in use, a door closed over it. We need to change the door so that the hinges are on the side (picture how a refrigerator opens) instead of at the bottom (picture how an oven opens). The door has curved edges and weighs about 10 pounds, so if I didn’t know technically minded people, I don’t think I can do this. Luckily, N is sketching out the hinge in Mathematica (a computational program we often use in physics) and my father will fabricate the hinges. It’s good to be related to an engineer, especially one as gifted as my father.
     If all goes well, there will be pictures in about a month. If it doesn’t go well, you’ll never hear about this again.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


     My cousin AinA goes crazy for apples the way I go crazy for strawberries in the spring. I can't compete with her, but I do buy several dozen pounds over the course of the fall. One favorite use is apple cake. I have made several this fall, but none has been quite right. I was looking for a high ratio of apples to cake, and most had too much cake. Perhaps I really wanted a pie, but pies tend to be gooey-sweet and I just don't love them.
     However, I made my Alexis'  Dutch apple pie, and I think it is the winner. It's not overwhelmingly sweet, and has a shortbread base topped with almond paste*. Then you just pile on apples, tossed with cinnamon and jam. It's pretty straightforward, although it would have been easier if I had already had almond paste (instead I made it from scratch) and if I hadn't fought with the translation so long. (It took me a while to figure out that "Push the meat to good." meant "Press the marzipan mixture into the bottom.") I highly recommend it. If anyone wants to make it, email me and I'll send you a cleaned-up English language version. It's definitely worth it. And here's the recipe!

*Edited from marzipan to almond paste. I just figured out that they are different things - almond paste is softer, and the almond isn't ground so fine. That's the one you want, not marzipan.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

The occupants of three apartment houses got together to carve pumpkins. This little village of jack-o'-lanterns is the result. Tonight we'll all sit out on the porch, drink wine, and pass out candy. 

My dog gets free room and board, so I decided it was time she would earn her keep and provide me with a little entertainment. Here she patiently endures this cruel torture I've devised.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Product plug: Mint

     Several years ago, my brother convinced me to start using Mint. Andrew took care of the bills, so I didn't pay much attention at the time. But since it became my job last year, I've realized what an awesome (and free) service it is, so I'm going to hype it up a bit.
     Mint works because you give it access to all of your financial accounts. That's a little scary, I know, but here's what it does a lot for me in return. I'm notified whenever there's a charge I consider "large" (which I've set as $500). I'm notified when I'm charged interest fees. I can see all of my credit card or debit charges in one list, and see when bills are coming due. I track all my spending, because it automatically collects all the charged amounts, and I've trained myself to manually add in my few cash purchases as soon as I make them, on my phone app. I can see my total net worth, and I can see my spending in various categories over time.
     Because I review purchases weekly in Mint, before I have a chance to forget what they are, I've saved tons of money. Here are the mistakes I've caught in the last six months:
  • I was double-charged for a hotel room.
  • A newspaper subscription was automatically renewed, when I wanted it canceled.
  • I was inexplicably charged interest fees, although I paid off my bill in full.
  • I was triple-charged for a purchase, over the period of a few months.
     There may be other apps or software programs that work as well as Mint, so I guess my real message is: tracking your spending can really pay off. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014


-The wedding activities all took place in lower Manhattan, where lodging is quite expensive. I used Airbnb to rent a space on a foldout couch, and thereby got to see a different slice of city life. My hostess lived in a fifth-floor walkup apartment. The building was built long before indoor plumbing, so it was with a shower in the kitchen, and I brushed my teeth at the kitchen sink, because that was the only sink in the apartment. I see that I take my bathroom for granted.
-The Metropolitan Museum of Art had a special exhibit of mourning clothing from the past 150 years.  I think I am in a small percentage of living Americans who have worn mourning, and it was especially meaningful for me to see it in a historical context.
-I listened to a strong quartet who gives concerts in a barge under the Brooklyn Bridge. It was lovely to listen to Beethoven and watch the Manhattan skyline.
-New York City is expensive, but its subway system is so much cheaper than the DC metro that I am jealous.
-I wanted to buy some authentic bagels to take back with me, but the line at the site was almost a hundred people long. I  realized it would be faster to go home and make the bagels myself.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


My current job involves more travel then I had done for past jobs - about 20%. Mainly, my trips have two purposes, to run (or work at) conferences and to visit universities that we have given grants to. Both types of trips are really productive, and they are are important parts of my job, but work trips give me headaches. Literally- I take a great number of painkillers when I'm doing them. As an introvert, I find it extremely taxing to talk to new people all day long.

I feel quite lucky that we've been able to reduce my trips a bit for the coming year. This fall, I only have two trips. Earlier this week I was in North Carolina, where I saw the coolest library. They took all the books and stacked them in a four-story-tall room. A huge robotic arm fetches whatever book you order. As a result of such efficient book stacking, the rest of the floors are filled with innovative study and work spaces for collaborating students.

Next week I'll be in Virginia, but today I'm off somewhere for purely fun reasons. A friend is getting married in New York City, so I'm taking the Bolt Bus up I-95. This is the first wedding I've attended at a marriage bureau, which should be an interesting experience. It sounds like a scene from a movie: a wedding at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

This and that

Today I worked on putting the garden to bed. Before this morning, I would have told you that I was nearly done with harvesting. After 6 hours of work, I've revised that opinion. The haul is shown below: sweet potatoes, green peppers, sweet potato greens, peas, salad greens, radishes, tomatoes, and Swiss Chard. It took me the rest of the day to clean, blanch, and freeze it. Bring on the freezing weather - I'm ready!


The other way to get ready for winter - eat lots of heavy foods. For dinner I ate one of my favorite English dinners - cheese on toast. I make the version that uses a white sauce plus beer and cheddar cheese.


I'm also celebrating good health today. In the past two weeks, every creature in the house has been sick. I missed work, took the dog on midnight trips out to visit every tree in the neighborhood, and cleaned up after the cat was sick all over the bed. I'm not ever sure that disease are communicable between cats, dogs, and people, so it was probably just bad luck. In any case, I think we're all well again.

Thursday, October 09, 2014


In learning to sew, I feel I have gained a superpower. Suddenly, I have the ability to make my clothes fit! While I haven't yet tackled making new clothes, I've altered a pair of pants and a sweater and a skirt is next on the list. I can make waists bigger, or smaller! I can shorten legs and arms! Very few people are actually a standard size, and I am no exception. Now I can remove all the safety pins that hold in my waistlines or the poor hand sewn seams that marked my previous hemming attempts. I wish had asked my mother to teach me years ago.

It turns out that my father has also taught me a superpower. Because of his engineering and general creative fix-it prowess, I am imbued with the belief that almost anything can be fixed and that I have a fairly good chance of fixing it. Last night the neighbor had his car towed home from the train station after it wouldn't accept a jump start. I brainstormed a few things we could try, including removing the battery and using my plug-in charger on it overnight. In the end, we were able to jump it using my car. Several important lessons: (1) It really is important to keep a pair of jumper cables in your car - almost no one I know does this. (2) The battery in a Chevy Cobalt is in the trunk. (What?!) and (3) When I try to fix stuff, sometimes it works.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Winter is coming

     Winter is coming. More specifically, a freeze is coming, probably in the next week or two. If a freeze comes on a weeknight, when I'm only home for a few hours, I'm not sure if I can save everything in the garden in time. So I've started the final harvesting.
     Some people have a utility room for unfinished projects. My small house means that rooms need to be multipurpose. I did my best to make the herbs hanging in my entryway look like part of the decor.

 Even though I have a bit of an addiction to coconut-lemon grass soup, I think these gallons of lemon grass stems will carry me through the year.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Treats for people and pets

     On nights when I make cat food, like last night, the entire household is in bliss. Except me. The smell of boiling meat is revolting to this vegetarian, but the two furred carnivores* think it’s pretty terrific, and they pay close attention to what’s going on in the kitchen.
     I’ve been making cat food for Phi for so many years that I’ve lost count. In the early 2000’s there were scares about pet food, when some of it had been contaminated and caused pets to die. While I think that’s a pretty rare event, I got to thinking about the ingredients in my cat’s dry food, and how there were some ingredients, like grain, that she wasn’t evolved to eat. I also thought that I if I fed her really high-quality food, I might have fewer vet bills. This has, in fact, been the case, but it’s an n of 1, so I wouldn’t generalize the results.
     I should add that you can buy high quality food, but at the time I was a poor graduate student, and making it was much cheaper. Now I still make the cat’s food, but buy the dog’s food, because the dog weighs eight times as much, and I don’t like the idea of boiling meat eight times as often.

     In completely unrelated news, I’ve made tea! It finally occurred to me that herbal tea is just dried stuff in hot water. Right now I’m drinking a blend of lemon grass, sage, and mint. I might even experiment with fennel seed, and next year I plan to have chamomile to add the mix.

*I know that a dog is technically an omnivore, but that did not make the sentence read as well.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Seasonal foods

      Tonight I had a salad, made of: lettuce, sweet potato leaves, yellow wood sorrel, fennel leaves, and tomatoes. That's because making a salad means taking a bowl out to the garden and seeing what's edible and big enough to cut. This is how I've discovered that things like lambsquarters are food, not just weeds.
      I've often pondered how different my salads look compared to the ones in the restaurants. I spent my whole life eating salads made of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. But in my garden, that is impossible - cucumbers and lettuce are never ripe at the same time. So I'm left to wonder - is there a climate (and a cuisine) where cucumbers and lettuce coexist and ripen together, or is this an dish invented only after international produce transport became common?*

*Ratatouille is almost, but not quite like this. Eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers are all warm-weather crops, so I can see how, in theory, you could make ratatouille from the garden. It's just my poor sense of timing that means I end up buying one of the three.

Friday, September 12, 2014

______ in the moon

Last weekend, as I sat around campfires with my friends, our conversation once again turned to the moon. Specifically, we continued our ongoing conversation about what you can or can't see in the pattern of dark patches on the moon. Until I went camping with my Mexican friends R and B, I didn't even know that anyone saw anything other than the Man in the Moon. That's what the Germans see, too, so I hadn't ever tried to look for anything else. But R and B, like most Mexicans, see the Rabbit in the Moon. In fact, this imagery is so culturally determined that R claims he can't even see a Man. (To be fair, it's almost as difficult for me to see the Rabbit.) Then D, who has lived in Japan, offered that the Japanese see a rabbit making mochi, like this.
     Tonight I'll be sitting around another campfire and the moon will be nearly full. As long as the trees don't block my view, I'll be craning my head in different directions and squinting, trying to see the Man, the Rabbit, the Rabbit making Mochi, or maybe even the Woman carrying Firewood.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The perils of nature

     I spend a lot of time outside now that I live in Maryland. I've got a terrific front porch where I eat breakfast, the dog and I walk, and then there's my biking/walking commute. As a result, I use a lot of DEET. There are a lot of ticks in this state (and a lot of Lyme disease), plus mosquitoes have always found me extra tasty.
     In spite of all that bug spray, I still manage to get a fair number of bug bites - last week's count was 25 in two hours, but that was an exceptionally bad experience -  and I can't find anything topical that actually stops the itching. (As an aside, can anyone recommend anything besides hydrocortisone or calamine lotion?) On really bad occasions, like today, I've started taking over-the-counter antihistamines, which help quite a bit.
     However, I haven't yet developed an allergy to poison ivy. I've been particularly grateful about this lately, as my friends S and N incurred terrible poison ivy reactions while putting up their big wooden fence, requiring the doctor's attention.
     It seems to be tempting fate, but since we're all on the mend from our various bites and rashes, we'll all be headed to camp at Shenandoah National Park this weekend. When we're there, we can worry about bug bites AND bears.*

*Of course, nature lives in the house with me too. Just ask the mouse who is currently inhabiting my kitchen.  

Sunday, September 07, 2014

A birthday pig roast for a vegetarian

     On Saturday, I attended my parents' sixth pig roast, which they conveniently held on my birthday. There's nothing that a vegetarian loves more than to watch a hundred people eat pork. The pig roast takes a lot of planning, most of which was done before I and my friend D arrived on Friday night: the parking spaces were marked in the front yard, the tables had been borrowed, the name tags were printed, and the meat purchased. While my friends and I helped out with final-day preparations, we also had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves.

Attendees wait in line to fill their plates with pork and their selection of dozens of side dishes.

     Three of the five attending physicists. After this picture was taken, we tried our hand at Cornhole (a beanbag toss game). I'm sorry to report that we lived up to the stereotype of scientists not being particularly academically gifted. Although three of the five physicists were planning to teach parabolic motion next week, none of us were very goof at putting the theoretical knowledge into action to, you know, throw a bean bag into a hole.
     Here I'm showing off my birthday gift - new blue jeans made from a vintage pattern. While I hope to make more of my vintage clothes in the future, it'll be many years before I learn to sew denim (a notoriously difficult fabric). I love them.

Monday, September 01, 2014

A mega-project completed: The Coat Tree

Throughout the year, I've been alluding to an ongoing woodworking project that I've been undertaking with my friend N. I am now happy to reveal the finished product - a coat tree.* In the last ten years, I have never lived in a house with a front closet, and I decided that this was the solution. I found instructions in an old Popular Mechanics, and N and I made one for each of us. We didn't know the project would take six months, but it was worth it. I've learned to use most of the tools I now own, I can rout and plane and rip, and I have this beautiful piece of furniture. However, if I ever decide to build a kitchen table or rocking chair, I may need to quit my job.
*For the record, the coat tree will normally live in my front hall, but I was wanted good light for the photograph.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


     I'm devoting this weekend to projects. Since I'll be traveling for the next two weekends, I need to get some of these half-finished projects off my list. Otherwise I'll turn into my father, who has unfinished projects that last as long as five or ten years.
    My lack of freezer space was one task that urgently required my attention. All this gardening means that I don't have enough room for my vegetables, and the edamame will probably have to be picked this week. After plenty of research, I  settled on a larger chest freezer. (Compare my old freezer on the left to the new one on the right). It's an annoyance to dive for my food every time I want something, but I figured out that I'd pay an extra $1000 over the next decade for increased energy costs and decided I could deal with inconvenience. I'm relieved that the new model is as quiet as the reviews promised, because the freezer lives in my bedroom.
     I'm also trying to turn my father's garage-sale-find of a bicycle into something that will work for my everyday use. I want things like a luggage rack and a different handlebar. Working brakes and new tires would be good things too. The repair job is made more difficult by the fact that I have to figure it all out without expert help. There are lots of bicycle shops in the area, but they primarily (1) sell new bikes and (2) repair the bikes they sold you. When I took my $5 bike in, they politely looked at it and then explained that I would need to replace almost every single part. This made the $700 bike they suggested look like a good deal. I can't blame them too much- we live on different planets. They sell reliable, stylish, comfortable bikes that you can use for serious commuting and racing. On the other hand, I like to bicycle sitting bolt upright, in my work clothes, at slow speeds. I'm looking for a functional bike that, when it is stolen, I won't cry about too much. Bonus points if it looks rather shabby, so that thieves target the bike next to mine - generally poor bike appearance along with a sturdy lock are my chosen defense against criminals.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Living in the past

     My cat has become part of the medical tourism movement. Since she turned 15 this year, it really was time to get her teeth cleaned. However, when I found out that it would cost $800 to have her teeth cleaned by the local vet, I called my mother to discuss whether this was an unconsciounable amount of money to spend on a senior cat. She offered to talk to her Ohio vet, and the $300 cost sealed the deal for me. There were already several trips planned between me and my parents, so Phi the cat travelled back to Ohio with my mother, had her surgery this week, and then I will pick her up next weekend when I attend the annual pig roast. I'm happy to say that she quickly recovered from the surgery, which is not a given with such an old cat.
   In other news, I am slowly joining the 21st century again. I finally gave up hope that I would ever find my wallet, and ordered replacement cards, which have not yet arrived. Unfortunately, my router also died over the weekend. So, for most of this week, I've lived in an all-cash, non-internet world. It was like going back to the 1980's, but with better fashion choices.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Project day in the mud

     For the August edition of project day, I helped my friends N and S put up a fence. Well, it would be more precise to say that I was one among a crew who helped them start to put up a fence. We had hoped to set all the posts on Saturday, and then N and S would attach the fencing during the week. But Saturday turned out to be a wet and dreary day, and the job turned out to be harder that we thought. We managed about six hours in the drizzle before we gave up, exhausted. Hopefully N and S can still get the rest done on their own.
     These pictures were taken during a few of the non-rainy moments. We tore out old fences and distributed many, many pounds of lumber around the yard.

     They rented a gas-powered, two-person auger, but it couldn't dig holes near existing structures and flooded and was generally temperamental, so we did a lot by hand. I did not have to swing the pick axe, although I use a post-hole digger and spade. I also helped remove that big red wooden fence on the right, along with a chain-link fence.
     It's hard to believe it, but I hope to own a house someday. And then I'll get to do exhausting, muddy projects like this on my own property...

Friday, August 22, 2014


     I've been without my wallet for almost a week now. To be more precise, of course, I've been without the contents of my wallet. I'm quite sure that it is lost in my house (or out of human reach in a garbage can or something) because I've been carefully watching my accounts and there's nothing amiss. It hasn't affected my life too much yet: I ride my bike and walk a lot, and mainly need the car (and thus my driver's license) on the weekends. And beyond the bills that are automatically paid, I don't buy that much. Still, I am grateful for my emergency stash of cash, which let me buy groceries and mail a package at the post office. At some point I'll have to admit that I can't find it and go through all the hassle of replacing all the cards and IDs, but I not quite ready to admit defeat yet.
     Here's a totally unrelated picture to remind me of happier days when (1) I spent my vacation in San Francisco visiting my brother's family and (2) I still had a wallet.
If you look closely, you can see evidence on both K's face and mine of the chocolate ice cream we had recently eaten.

Monday, August 18, 2014


     I learned to sew this weekend! I invited my mother to visit, and she taught me how to use the sewing machine I found while garage-saleing with my father earlier this summer. My mother used to sew a great deal: she made her prom dress, her wedding dress, and curtains and clothes when we were kids. She hasn't done as much lately (it is cheaper to buy clothes now than to make them), but luckily she still remembers it all.
     I wanted to learn to sew because vintage clothing is expensive.  You can buy actual stuff from the '40s and '50s, which is pricey and fragile, or you can buy reproductions made with more modern fabric (which is easier to care for). Or, you can make it yourself. So, we made an apron from a pattern from the '40s. For those of you that sew, the pattern called for nearly every seam to be edged with binding, and they apparently didn't have (or couldn't afford) store-bought binding back then, so we followed the pattern and made dozens of yards of binding ourselves.

I've learned to woodwork and to sew this summer, and my verdict is - sewing is much easier. It's a bit less terrifying, because you can usually recover from mistakes in fabric more easily than what you've done in wood. Also, you can mix drinking and a sewing machine (the pictured apron was accompanied by lots of wine), but drinking and power tools doesn't sound like a good idea.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A week at the farm

     I just got back from a week's vacation at a working tourist farm. Tourists come from all over, some from as far as England, just to experience a taste of the real Midwestern country life. We did hard physical labor, ate terrific meals on the shady porch, and drank bottles of red wine and hard cider.
     I took plenty of pictures so that I can create an advertising brochure, to lure future guests to this - ahem- wonderful opportunity

Here, our hostess demonstrates how to weed. Rest assured, there are enough weedy flower gardens that everyone can have a chance.
The 42-acre property has elegant lawns, which needed frequent mowing. After the lawns were mowed, some lucky guests were given the chance to head out into the nearby woods and harvest fallen timber infested with woodworm.
Pets are encouraged. They may look like fun, but also provide plenty of opportunities for grooming, walking, and cleaning litter boxes.
There are field trips to nearby berry farms, allowing guests to harvest in the hot sun, then return home to make multiple batches of blackberry jelly. And if you're technically inclined, you'll be encouraged to give Internet lessons to your more mature relatives.

To be honest, I had a great time with my parents and in-laws. I couldn't have asked for a better vacation.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Of rivers and gardens

First, a note from last week. Thank you to all the friends who sent me pictures of their candles, and to those of you who lit candles. It meant a lot to me, and I think it meant a lot to his family. I lit a candle in my hotel room in Minneapolis, and spent part of a day at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
     I also tried to spend time at the Mississippi River, but that turned out to be more difficult than I expected. Large swaths of land around the river are set aside by the National Park Service, so I thought I'd just wander down to one of the green areas of the map and sit by the river a while. But at one park a railyard separated me and the river, and another set of directions took me to a manufacturing plant, rather than a park. I could see the river from the third park, but only from a high bluff. I hiked down o a bike path, but was always separated by at least fifty feet of dense trees. I didn't dare climb through the thick underbrush because I've had way too many ticks in the last year. So, in the end, this is as close as I got.

After I returned from my long work week in Minnesota, I had two days at home. I've been madly trying to whip the garden into shape before I leave again. August is the time of reckoning for this gardener. It's when I discover that I really didn't choose the best strain of tomatoes, and they're all suffering from blight. The eggplants (in the right-hand bowl) weren't harvested early enough, which is why they turned yellow and a bit seedy. The watermelon plant looks dead, because all the leaves have dried up, but the watermelons still taste lovely.

And yet, not all is lost. I made pesto and cooked green beans, and this evening I got together with friends and we planned our fall gardens. That meant that we were trading seeds and placing a shared order for seeds online. When I get back next week from my Ohio trip, it will be time to plant again. I don't know what I shall do with all the free time I'll have in the winter...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lighting a candle

     Friday the 25th is the one-year anniversary of Andrew's death. This day feels like it means a lot, perhaps more than his birthday. It marks the fact that I and his family have survived a year without him, but it also gives me a bit of distance so that I can hopefully focus on happy memories of him.
     I will be in Minnesota for a conference, but my supervisor generously offered to cover my responsibilities for the day so that I could take the day off. Although I have family in the city, and there will be lots of friends in town for the conference, I decided that I wanted to spend the day alone, with just my thoughts. The only thing I have planned is a trip to the Cathedral of St. Paul, which sounded like the kind of contemplative space I'd want to be at that day.
     A friend has told me about some of the Jewish traditions surrounding the anniversary of a loved one's death. Part of it involves lighting a candle and saying a prayer. So I've been asking my friends, and I ask my friends and family who read my blog - if you would like to do something to remember Andrew, light a candle on Friday and think of him.