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.