Tuesday, May 27, 2014

On my day off

This is what 60 pounds of strawberries looks like. Perhaps, when your friend says, "Let's go pick some strawberries on your day off", it would be good if you helped her have some restraint.
Then, when you say in return, "Will you help me put a quarter-cubic yard of compost in my back seat?" she may return the favor and help you have some restraint.
Alas, neither of us was very restrained. The result is three batches of jam, many gallons of fresh-frozen strawberries, and a car-ful of compost that hasn't yet been unloaded. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014


     I just got back from Austin, where I ran a conference. I've assisted with others before, but once a year my two colleagues and I are responsible for a 100-person conference all by ourselves. Luckily, my organization runs a lot of conferences, and they have been doing this particular one (on the topic of physics teacher education) for ten years so it's pretty much a well-oiled machine. Still, there are an enormous number of details to monitor, and I'm really looking forward to the coming long weekend. I worked some long days: on Tuesday morning I walked across a courtyard, and the 30 seconds of fresh air and birdsong hit me like a slap in the face. That's when I realized that I hadn't left the building in 36 hours.
     Looking back, I can see that I've been an event planner for a long time. In Germany, I'd plan train day trips for me and the other exchange students. For most of the last two decades, I've been throwing big dinner parties, including parties that are sometimes big enough to need a waiter or waitress. But this job is taking it all up a level, and I can see the effects in my regular life.
     When I recently went camping with my graduate school friends, I couldn't help but use everything I've learned. Once everyone agreed on the date, I made the cabin reservations. A few months before, I reminded everyone to request a day off. I encouraged friends to help me make three different spreadsheets, where we signed up for meals and shared gear. The only thing I didn't do is send around a post-weekend evaluation survey. But now that I think about it, that might be a great way to gather feedback to improve our next camping weekend...
     I'm lucky to have friends that tolerate so much planning.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Feeding people

     I’m not very good at making kid-friendly meals. I know to prepare meals with lots of separate ingredients, so each person can choose what they want, but I always end up including something that is viewed suspiciously by the kids in my life. Tacos sounded great, but then I mistakenly made the beans from scratch instead of opening a can of refried beans. Spaghetti seems like it will work, but I make my own sauce, and you can see those pesky chunks of onion and green pepper.
     While camping this weekend, though, I stumbled on a very kid-friendly dinner. We had chili mac. I made a big batch of mild vegetarian chili, and you could ladle it on top of macaroni and top it with ground turkey, cheese, corn, sour cream, and hot sauce. In practice, that meant that a five –year-old could carefully eat separate portions of macaroni, cheese, corn, and maybe a taste of a bean, while the grownups piled everything in one bowl.
     One thing that makes chili extra delicious is good hot sauce. I make my own, because it’s cheaper that way. Since it got rave reviews, I thought I’d include the oh-so-easy recipe here.

½ can adobo peppers in sauce (freeze the other half for the next time you make this)
1 c. water
½ c. apple cider vinegar
1 t. onion powder
½ t. garlic powder
Puree and keep in the fridge. Mine has never gone off, but I tend to eat up the above recipe in under six months.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I am delighted that I was able to spend all of last weekend in the woods of Pennsylvania. I have a group of friends who I know from graduate school, and about once a year we get together camp. This spring we calculated the location most accessible to Washington DC, New York City, and Columbus, Ohio, which turned out to be cabins in Cowen's Gap State Park in Pennsylvania.
     We were four families, comprised of seven adults and three kids. (I'm grateful that we still outnumber the kids.) We share some strong interests: six of the adults are physicists and all were part of the Star Trek group at one time or another. We also differ: the New Yorkers are the only ones wrapping duct tape around their ankles to keep out the ticks and I'm the only one wearing makeup while camping.
     We went on short, kid-friendly hikes and ate a lot of delicious meals. We worked on communal crosswords, where we discovered that we need to meet friends who have more knowledge of literature and film. We sang songs in harmony and we sat around campfires. We discuss the pitfalls of academia, how to raise kids, and why humans and primates evolved menstruation. We saw a beaver and watched one of the children fall into a muddy stream. (She was fine.) It was terrifically relaxing.
     Because I moved so much as a kid, I didn't have many friends who I had known for more than three or four years. I'm grateful to have these friends, most of whom I've known for a decade. I'm doubly grateful now. Andrew's death impressed on me the importance of enjoying things *right now* and these are also some of the friends who stepped up to do all of the work associated with a funeral - contacting friends and acquaintances, hosting a meal after the funeral, and helping me deal with paperwork and errands.
     I can't thank all of my friends and acquaintances for what they've done for me in the past eight months, so I thank them the only way I know how. I cooked two good dinners, brought them some home-roasted coffee, and try to be a good friend in return.

P.S. To E&K, who couldn't join us because E is about to give birth to baby number two - we missed you!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Second-year gardening

This year, somehow, I managed to convince the landlord to give me three garden plots. Last year, several plots went unused. I'm not sure if he thinks that overgrown, unused plots are an eyesore, or if he just knows that I'll appreciate the space, but I was grateful. I was also a little overwhelmed. The 600 square feet of weeds looked a bit intimidating, so I called in reinforcements. My neighbor and friend, C, is an avid gardener who won't be able to have a garden this year. C and her husband helped me weed and dig up all the beds this weekend, and then C and I planted tonight. 

I thought that I'd need to go buy more seeds to fill all this space, but I already have plenty from all my seed-trading with friends. After two and a half hours, we have three-quarters of the garden planted, with only the June planting left. It's amazing to me that I can fill up that much garden.

For those of you who love plants enough to have read this far, here's what is growing in the garden right now:
Daffodils, tulips, and bachelor buttons
Arugula, spinach, and mesculn mix
Broccoli raab and garlic
Radishes and peas

Then, tonight, we planted seedlings:
Lavender and watermelon
Eggplants, tomatoes, and green peppers
Fennel and leeks

And we planted seeds:
Beets and green beans
Hollyhocks, marigolds, asters, and cosmos
Zucchini and cucumbers

Next month there will be lemon grass, sweet potatoes, and edamame, and then the whole plot will be full.