Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cheerful DIY-ing

     There hasn't been a stove for four days, nor water since early this morning. Furniture is piled up in the living room and porch, and my mother is now sleeping in the hallway. Projects have consumed the rest of the house. My father and I put up drywall in the living room while my mother is painting two bedrooms. The bathroom sink was removed days ago, and there is a large-ish hole that connects the bathroom and kitchen (i.e. there's no much privacy when you're in the bathroom).
     I am impressed with my parents' fortitude and stamina, and their good cheer. Although I now have guest rooms, they are not yet usable, so my parents tolerate makeshift beds in ramshackle rooms and my mother tells me how pleased she is that I have a house and how much fun we're all having. And in truth, it's not that bad. Yes, it'll be great when I have a stove again, and we're definitely making the return of running water a top priority. But we're all in good spirits, my father is having fun teaching me, and I'm having fun learning*. 

Some of what I've learned so far: plumbing isn't that scary any more. It used to involve soldering and precise measurements, but it doesn't have to. Because my dad is here and is awesome at working with copper pipe, we're doing some of that. But there are new products that make it relatively painless, and I think in the future I'd be able to do quite a bit of my own plumbing myself. How cool is that?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Novice plumber

     My father and I were at Home Depot for five hours today. This is quite possible the longest time I have ever spent shopping in one store, and most certainly the longest the two of us have ever shopped together. We hadn't planned on such a long trip, and were forced to turn to Home Depot's small selection of snacks for sustenance, so lunch was Coke and peanuts.
     When we were done, we had bought a $800 worth of tubing, connectors, drywall, paint, and tools. We haven't done any actual plumbing, but we have spent three days walking around my basement, looking at pipes, pulling out bits of wall to look at more pipes, and researching options. At the time my father suggested helping me replace all of my house's plumbing at Christmas, I was pleased that he wanted to help me, but I assumed I'd be pretty clueless. However, as we spend all this time researching and discussing, I'm feeling more comfortable. I'll always be less experienced than my father when it comes to home repair (as are 98% of people, I think), but by the time we're done, I think I'll feel comfortable doing smaller plumbing repairs on my own.
     Stay tuned for more scintillating plumbing posts...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Lost and found

     I'm feeling pretty lucky this week. I lost my wallet on Friday while I was on the Metro. I couldn't tell if it it had fallen out of my bag or been stolen, but there I was, with no card to swipe so I could get off the train, and no money or credit cards. Alas, I am a veteran at replacing wallets: one was stolen in 2012 and last year one was lost. So I know the drill. I called the credit cards and within ten minutes had my accounts closed and new cards on their way. The next day, I ordered the rest of the new cards, transferred my metro balance to a new card, and mourned the loss of the cash and wallet. I keep a spare ID, credit card, and a bit of cash hidden at home, which are handy while the replacement cards arrive.
     But today my wallet came back to me! Some honest soul turned it into the lost and found, where I had filed a claim, and even left the cash in the wallet. The total loss was $20 for a replacement driver's license, which was needed in any case because I have a new address.
     I'm trying to devise a system to attach the wallet to any bag I'm using. Although it's a sample size of only n=2, I think we can say that I have a habit of losing my wallet, and need to figure out a way to prevent myself from doing it again.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

More home discoveries

     Today was an extra special project day, because it was the first one at my new house. I had decided that we would install two electrical outlets in the bathroom. There were none in there when I moved in, and I thought I needed one on the wall, for things like hair dryers and razors, and one under the sink, so I could recharge my electric toothbrush.
     As always, planning took a very long time. We scouted out pathways for the wire through the walls, discussed what parts we'd need, and just generally spent a long time staring at my bathroom fixtures. In the end, we installed the outlet shown here, just to the left of the existing light switch. I've opened up the mirrored cabinet so you can see the little discovery we made. N and I had looked at the odd strip inside the top of the cabinet, trying to figure out whether it was a storage device or perhaps used to have a light fixture attached. S had the brilliant idea to read the label, which said "Tap-a-line 120 V" and that's when we realized it was a string of outlets.
See? You can plug in an entire line of appliances, right next to each other. It's somewhat shocking that something like this was once allowed. It can't believe that this would be up to code today because you can cram a huge number of plugs on to one circuit, and the live parts of the circuit seem so exposed.
It still functions, though, so I'm planning to use it.
     In the other room, S the very-experienced-painter started working on the Blue Bedroom. I suppose I'll need to come up with a new name soon; it had blue walls and navy blue carpet when I bought the house. I've pulled up the carpet, and S began priming the walls. I'm guessing that it'll take a number of coats to cover up all that blue, but then the room will need to be christened again.

Friday, December 11, 2015


     I particularly enjoy the fact that I don't have to be a very dedicated tourist when I'm in San Francisco. My brother and his family have lived here for two years, and will likely live here for many more, so I don't feel a lot of pressure to make sure I hit every important landmark during each visit. Of course I've visited the Piers, the sea lions, and the Ghiradelli store, but since I know I'll be back at least once a year, I can always save something for the next trip.
     Since big cities are always crammed with interesting activities, I spent Thursday wandering around without a plan and stopping at whatever caught my eye. I'm a sucker for churches, so I spent an hour in the Saint Patrick's church, which was built for the Irish immigrants to the city. Then I happened upon the California Historical Society, which had great exhibit about the Panama Pacific International Exposition. This fair celebrated the completion of the Panama canal and the new connection between the West and East. It was attended by luminaries such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, Henry Ford, and the Liberty Bell (which traveled by train from Philadelphia), and it was seen as proof that San Francisco was recovering from its 1906 earthquake. I love this kind of history, and the exhibit did a great job explaining the importance of the fair to the city.
     To top it all off, my sister-in-law had a special treat for me that evening. They live near a theater, built in the 1941, that still has the original decor: murals of nymphs and airplanes on the wall, plush red velvet seats, and a curtain that closes after the movie had ended. We went to see a screening of White Christmas, which just happened to be free. Vintage and free, my two favorite things. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Gardens, formal and not-so

     I'm visiting San Francisco for a part-vacation, part-work trip. The first week is all vacation, visiting my brother's family and doing a bit of sightseeing. I used the excellent-but-slightly confusing public transportation system to get there - so far, I've encountered one subway system, two light rail systems, and one bus system. It took me a half an hour to find the right bus stop. Three times I saw the bus I wanted pass me by, but I couldn't figure out how to get on it. Luckily, that bus ran every seven minutes, so once I found the stop, I didn't have to wait long.
      I decided to spend my first day in Golden Gate Park, which is San Francisco's answer to New York City's Central Park. (It's a bit bigger than Central Park, actually, which is exactly what I'd expect from anything on the West Coast.) It takes days to see everything in the park, so I stuck to a few gardens, including the Japanese Tea Garden and the Botanical Gardens, which were both excellent. The Botanical Gardens happened to be free on the day I visited, so that made it just a little bit better in my book.
     All this time with plants made me think about my own garden. I certainly will never had a formal garden; my taste runs much more toward cottage gardens, which are full of informal, dense plantings, and mix vegetables and flowers. Wikipedia describes this style as depending "on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure", which is a lovely turn of phrase, I think.
     My house came with small beds lining the back yard (back garden for those of you outside the U.S.). One length of the beds are just dirt, because the husband did the vegetable gardening, and one length of the beds are perennials, because the wife did the flower gardening. Next spring I plan to put in additional raised beds, for vegetables, but I'm looking forward to seeing what pops up in the perennial garden. I hope to plant a lot of my favorite flowers: roses, irises, hollyhocks, and gladioli are just a few that I'll probably add. I know there's already a lilac bush, and I transplanted the lavender from my last garden, and the rest will be surprises in the spring and summer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

All quiet on the home front

     Having a dishwasher in every bit as wonderful as I expected. I spend about 2 minutes loading dishes in each day, and then once every three days I press a button and like MAGIC clean dishes appear. I know people complain that the labor-saving devices promised in the mid-twentieth century never appeared, but I think they have forgotten how utterly delightful dishwashers are.
     Speaking of the mid-twentieth century, I was ripping off the fake wood paneling on my living room wall (as one is wont to do on a quiet Thursday evening) and uncovered a message from the previous occupants.

If you can't read the penciled message among the glue lines, it reads:
This job was done by William Henry Anonsen
November, 1967
11-11-67 Veteran's Day 
Job Started
Helped by
Barbara Anne Anonsen
An adjoining panel reads "Craig Robert, 5 2/3 yrs, old" and "Dale Kevin 2 1/6 yrs old". 
     I feel like I learned a little bit about this couple, undoing the work they did almost precisely 49 years ago, when wood paneling must have seemed so modern and cozy. They had two small children (one of whom sold me the house). His wife probably helped him lift the panels - they're quite hard to move around by yourself. I know that William was a man who did things right, as evidenced by excellent craftsmanship in the home repairs. And he was a man who always reduced his fractions to least common denominators. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015


     During these weeks of house repairs, I'm reminded that  I said that I never want to remodel a house while living in it. It turns out that I know myself well. What I'm doing now is small potatoes compared to a real remodel, but the upheaval and lack of order in my surroundings is not something I enjoy. Basically, I want my kitchen to quit looking like this:

     And soon it will, I know. The living room floor is coming along nicely and I've decided I don't need to do anything to the bedroom floor that I uncovered. I should have a living room before next weekend.
     In the meantime, I'm starting to make a list of all the other projects that need doing. This house was well cared for by its previous owners, but the last owner was in his 90s when he moved out, so I'm pretty sure he didn't bother fixing every little thing. Back gate not fixing properly? Prop it shut with a 2'x4'. Bulb burned out in the light fixture? Well, there's two in there and you really only need one working to have light. 
     Along with that, there are the projects that don't fix things, but make the house more usable for you. As I've started making the project list, I triage, because something becomes suddenly urgent. For example, last weekend I decided I couldn't keep accidentally locking Phi in the basement. Her litter box might be down there, but her water was up here. So now the basement door has a Phi-sized hole.
And this week, Ada escaped from the backyard twice (remember that broken gate?), so that repair moved up in priority. I can't WAIT until my parents come for Christmas. We have so many projects to do...

Saturday, November 07, 2015


Because I am apparently seeking to make my life difficult, I started working on my floors right after I was done with the door locks. If I had planned ahead, I wouldn't even have bothered to unpack the living room, because I enjoyed it for precisely one week before I moved all the furniture back out. (Extra thanks to N who moved the couch in, then came back a week later to help me move it out.) I had pulled up a tiny piece of carpet the very first day I moved into the house, and I could see there was hardwood under the carpet. Since that day, I had been burning with curiosity about the state of said wood floors. So here's what I found...
The living room, half uncovered. There are nail and staples doles, and for some reason holes were drilled near every wall so that half a dozen cables (i.e. cable TV cables) could be pulled through. I can't figure out that out - did the previous owners have six televisions in every room?
One downstairs bedroom: the foam under the carpet pad adhered to the floor and has to be laboriously pulled off in tiny strips using my fingernails to scrape.

But the floors are in pretty decent shape! The good news: they didn't glue the carpet pad down, so I've only pulled up (many, many) nails and staples. The finish is worn off in high-traffic areas, but not so much that the wood has been worn away. The not great news: the finish is worn off and there are a few water stains.

I've spent all week debating whether I should sand down and refinish. This is a big task, would require me to move me and the animals out of the house for a week, and would be pretty physically demanding. It's the thing that most people do, though, because they want a house that looks like new and they want polyurethane floors that require no care.

After much thought, I'm inclined not to refinish but to just wax. You can only refinish a floor a limited number of times before you sand away all the wood, so it shouldn't be done too rashly. I also like a floor that looks lived in - it's homey, and I don't worry about having a dog with nails or women with high heels walking around on it. After all, if it has a some dings, what are a few more? This weekend I'm going to try to figure out what finish is on the floor, and test a bit of wax on it. If that's the way I go, I'll still have to spend a number of hours buffing the floor, but I may be sitting on my couch by Thanksgiving. That would be an awesome thing; you really miss furniture when you don't have it anymore.

Monday, November 02, 2015


(By the way, thanks for all the supportive comments about bicycling on the last post, everyone!)

When I bought my house, I understood that I was buying a long list of projects. I’m actually pretty lucky: the house I bought will be 70 next year, and for the last 55 years it was owned by man who took meticulous care of the house. The circuits and cables are labeled, the fifty-year-old carpet and wallpaper is in excellent condition, and when he fixed things, he fixed them properly. Compare this to the house of my friends N&S, where I’ve been training on home repairs. Their house is 90 years old, still has its original plaster and lathe walls, and every repair uncovers 90 years of “making do” construction that is rarely up to professional standards.

I started on my list of projects this weekend by replacing the door locks, and I got a taste of weekends to come. It goes like this. I work on a project until I get stuck, in this case because door locks are a slightly different size than they were decades ago. I send my father pictures like this:
Then we talk on the phone, and he sends me pictures like this, explaining what I need to do.
Repeat as necessary. I had to caution my father that I was not willing to fix things that were simply worn– if I did that, I’d have to replace the whole house. I’m strictly limiting repairs to actually broken (or about-to-break) items.

I am so lucky to have my dad, who knows how to fix just about anything. I’ll be the first to give him a five-star rating, so that he can build up his new long-distance repair consulting business.

Friday, October 30, 2015


I enlisted the help of my mother when searching for a house this fall. I gave her three guidelines: a maximum price, a sunny yard for gardening, and a three-mile radius from my workplace. Everything else was pretty much moot – I was willing to deal with almost any kind of décor, appliances, and so on. The location was important because I have loved, loved, LOVED my commute from the Pink House. I could bike in ten minutes, walk in 25, and drive when necessary. I wanted to stay close enough that I could still bike, and I figured three miles was my maximum for regular biking in work clothes.

I’ve tried out the bike commute from the new house, and it only three miles, but it’s a lot tougher. I have to cross big roads with lots of traffic and there are a lot of hills, which I have to walk up because I’m not fit enough to bike up them. On my first day, it took 45 minutes, even though Google Maps thought it would take me 15. (To be honest, that’s about what I expected. Google Maps always thinks that I bike about two or three times as fast as I actually do.)

There’s a second route, though, that’s much nicer. It’s on trails that follow a river almost the entire way, and when I encounter big roads there are well-marked crossings with traffic lights. There are many fewer hills, and I don’t feel like I’m going to get smushed by a car. The down side is that it’s five miles each way, and that’s a LOT more than I’m used to biking in a day. I’ve tried it once, and I loved the trip, but it’s a big time commitment. I may need to give up the idea of biking every day, and instead have a goal of a few times a week. The good news is that there are many ways to get to my workplace – besides biking, it’s a 15-minute drive, and there are two different public transportation options, bus and Metro train. So I’m sure I’ll figure this out, and I’ll probably be more fit in the long run.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I really do have a good excuse for not posting for a while; I've been moving. Since I'm still in the throes of unpacking, I was hoping to make do with these photos.
 Ada walked around looking distinctly worried for about three days. Once the furniture was taken apart, she knew something was up. Maybe she was worried that she'd be left behind.
One of my friends told me it was the most organized move he's been part of, an accolade I'm particularly proud of. I could pack and organize on my own, but I couldn't possibly lift all the furniture on my own.  I am so lucky that people turned out en masse.
 N and K played Tetris until everything fit, even the 9-foot-tall trellis that Andrew built for me.
 The kids entertained themselves by running around the empty house laughing and screaming. Wow, an empty house really lets the noise travel.

I've only unpacked one room completely, but the end is in sight. I'm glad I have minimalist tendencies, so that moves are easier, but I know I'll have to work hard to not collect a million things now that I have a house.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


I recently noted that I haven't had a dishwasher since I moved out of my parents' house. I just turned 40, so that means that I've been washing dishes by hand for more than 20 years. Some people tell me that they don't use their dishwashers much, or that it doesn't save much time, but I can't believe this is true, particularly with the amount I cook and entertain.

Thus, I've decided it's time to buy a dishwasher. And it comes with a house! Here are enough pictures to make your eyes glaze over. Note, please, the shag carpet - the previous owners took exquisite care of the house, so the shag carpet, which must be decades old, is still pristine. I'm toying with the idea of buying a bunch of 60's era furniture and embracing the look. After all, it's retro.

The packing is well under way, and Phi is helping by inspecting all the boxes.

Monday, October 12, 2015


As I was waking up this morning, a cricket hopped across my bed. Let me tell you, that got me out of bed FAST. I have a vivid memory of taking a bath at my grandma's house as a kid, and after I got out, she found two crickets swimming around in the water. My grandmother played it cool and said they were taking a swim with me, but as a kid I was terrified of bugs, and it scared me silly. I've since become a lot more tolerant of creepy crawly things, and will now catch crickets and spiders and send them to their freedom outside, but I'm still not that keen on them sharing my bed.

I wonder if the cricket hitched a ride in on the last of the garden produce. Once again, I had a bumper crop of sweet potatoes, harvesting more than I could carry at once - so maybe 40 pounds? They'll now sit quietly and age for a couple of months, and then they'll be sweet enough for Thanksgiving dinner. Once again, I expect that sweet potato nachos will be a staple until next March.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

This and that

It's been a lot of radio silence over here. Although I've been working on projects, they're not done, so there's nothing to show here.
It's fall, so I've been focused on sewing. Since starting the 333 Project, I love having only the clothes that I need in my closet. But since I only have about 8 outfits, that also means my clothes wear out faster. Thus, I'm sewing two new skirts for my fall wardrobe. I've found two "growth areas" (as they phrase it during your annual review): zippers and pockets. I spent three hours putting in a zipper one day. How does one take that long, you might ask? By continually sewing it in wrong, and then ripping it out, alas. I'm hoping and praying that eventually I'm learning, but I'm still dreading the zipper in the second skirt.
My parents came for a visit last weekend. There was no particular agenda, but still we managed to pack our days full. We visited an interesting museum in Salisbury, Maryland, a town two hours east, across the Chesapeake Bay. I wouldn't have thought to go see a museum of wood bird carvings, but they were very good. I do appreciate it when tourists help me see new things in my old stomping grounds.
I'm really appreciating all the hurricane-induced rain we've been getting. I still have things growing in the garden, but as the season has progressed I'm spending less time tending the plants, which means they haven't gotten enough water. You can also see the effect of my minimal-gardening efforts in the fact that I left the green beans and soybeans on the plants to dry, and now I'm harvesting the seeds as dried beans. Of course, fresh edamame is tastier than dried, cooked soybeans, but i came to a point where I just couldn't bear to pick and freeze any more produce.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Still barking

Having finished the liquor cabinet, I've been casting around for another project. I've decided to try desensitizing the dog to the car. As I've discussed before, drugs don't do much to stop Ada's constant barking in the car. According to the Internet, people have trained their dogs to like the car. They load the dog in the car and start driving, but then pull over whenever the dog barks. One person reported that it took her three hours to drive the first five-mile trip, but then things rapidly improved.

Well, Ada and I have spent about five hours in the car, and we haven't left the drive way yet. I pop her in the car, turn it on, and sit in the driver's seat with my earplugs. After some minutes, she calms down, and then I do something like flip on the turn signal or put the car into gear, and she goes crazy again. At some point, she may grow accustomed to the sound of the car being put into gear, and then we can do something exciting like drive forward five feet. In the meantime, I'm doing lots of great reading while sitting in the driver's seat.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


     Today I am happy to announce the completion of my longest project to date: a project that took seventeen months to complete. To wit, we took an old 1942 Philco radio, the kind with radio tubes that had lived in someone's dusty barn for a while, and turned it into this beautiful piece of furniture.

 And it does something even better than play music now - it holds liquor!
I didn't work on this continuously for a year and a half, but there were a lot of steps. Step 1: My father gives me the radio. He helps me rip out the inside and then I haul it from Ohio to Maryland. Step 2: Nick and I make shelves for it. Step 3: Nick and I determine that we cannot make or buy the complicated hinges we'll need. Step 4: I haul it back to Ohio. Step 5: My father spends a huge amount of time making the lovely black hinges you see above. The door alone weighs 10 pounds, and has to mounted on a veneer (i.e. very thin) curved wood surface, requiring some sophisticated engineering. My father tells me this is my Christmas gift. Step 6: He brings the radio to Maryland. Step 7: Nick and I adjust the shelves to account for the hinges, I paint the inside and attach a back to keep my glasses and bottles dust free. Step 8: I spend almost the entire weekend refinishing the faceplate, which is hinged and can be lifted to store shot glasses. Step 9: I drink.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Now is the summer of our discontent*

I make an excellent ratatouille. But I never make things like ratatouille in August, when I have eggplant, tomatoes, and zucchini in the garden, because I'm too busy picking and freezing said vegetables. My freezer is stuffed, and I still have gallons of edamame and beans to freeze. I'd ask myself why I thought it was a good idea to have such a large garden, but I know why it's a good idea - I'll be delighted to have these vegetables in February. Right now, though, I'm thinking about fleeing to a desert retreat to get away from all the growing produce.**

*As an aside, I looked up the meaning of "Now is the winter of our discontent", and it means that the time of unhappiness in past. Therefore, being in the "summer of discontent" would mean I'm right in the middle of it, I think.
**Yes, I could pick it and leave it at neighbors' doors, but that still involves picking.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Project Days

     The project days with my friends S&N have continued throughout the summer, but there haven't been as many picture-worthy elements to share here. Following the success of our coat trees, N and I thought we'd make Adirondack chairs, one for each of us. On the first project day we sat down with our chosen plans, and started working out how much cedar we'd need to buy. After a half hour of calculations and some phone calls to the specialty wood provider, I started comparing the projected cost of the wood to the cost of a kit. The kit turned out to be more than $100 cheaper per chair, probably because the guy making them buys his wood in bulk and knows how to cut carefully and not waste anything. N and I agreed that it wasn't worth a $100 extra to spend months making them. By the next project day we had our kits, which we assembled in about four hours.
     The only unforeseen difficulty was the carpenter bees that live on my front porch. As soon as I got my chair home, I realized I couldn't leave an unfinished chair on the porch, when the bees have been munching on the existing chairs all summer. So right now it is residing in my living room while I figure out what finish will withstand hungry bees.
     I've also helped out with S&N's kitchen. This is a long-term remodeling project, in which I've practiced hanging drywall (it's easy to cut but oh-so-heavy), painting ceilings, and sanding moldings. There have been relatively few disasters on this project, although I did do touch-up painting with the wrong color, requiring touch-up on my touch-up. In my defense, I used the paint I was instructed to use. This was a good lesson in labeling all old paint with the exact room/wall it was used on.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

This and that

     I'm sitting by next to my phone, while it opens apps and changes settings, seemingly possessed. Luckily, this is because I gave a technician remote access to my new phone. Unluckily, since I got the phone three weeks ago, every phone call I make has been plagued by "What was that? I couldn't hear the last sentence." While I can access email and text and take pictures, above all, I'd really like to use my phone to, you know, make phone calls.
     This is the latest in a long series of troubleshooting efforts. I really like the phone service I use, so I am hoping to stick with them, but my commitment hinges on whether I have a working phone in the next week.
     At the conference last week, several friends suggested that my blog was no longer appropriately titled. My impression is that they don't think there's sufficient "style" any more. I suggested "Frugality with Renee Michelle" but was informed that it was not a catchy title. If any readers have better suggestions, let me know.
     I bought about 20 pounds of peaches at the farmer's market last week, for the crazy cheap price of $12. With this purchase, I consider my fruit storage done for the summer. This winter I'll be able to enjoy: 20 pounds of strawberries, 20 pounds of peaches, and 3 gallons of blueberries (picked and frozen by my wonderful mother). I haven't yet made any jam, but I was thinking about branching out into orange marmalade and apple butter this fall.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pet sitters

While I toil away at the conference, a neighbor has been helping out by doing some pet care in the evenings. I appreciate that, but I really appreciate the photos that sometimes show up in my inbox while I'm at work. I think the animals would prefer that I go away more often, if they're going to get luxurious treatment like this.

This is what Phi looks like after she's been petted into submission. She's fallen into a happy, drunken stupor on the table.
Ada got to take a trip to the doggy park and run around on the doggy jungle gym.

Alas, my good friends (and neighbors) C and S are moving to Ohio this weekend. I'll miss them as both friends and pet sitters. This means I need to start the search again for pet-friendly friends. It would be awesome to find someone who has a dog who would trade dog care, but it's surprisingly rare to find people who want to do that, and I haven't figured out why.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

For Andrew

Today, it's been two years without him. Thanks to all the friends and family who are thinking of him today.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hard Times

Today I begin a 12-day stretch of work, six of which will be 14-hour days at a conference. I've been attending this conference for almost ten years, and I have lots of friends there, but mainly I spend my time in meetings. There's no doubt that the next 12 days will be wearing for little old introverted me. In addition, Saturday is the second anniversary of Andrew's death, so that's an ever present thought in my mind right now. As a result, there will probably be radio silence until August.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A little disconnected

     I have another widow friend who has done without an oven for several years. It broke, and she hasn't gotten around to fixing it. I thought this was a bit crazy, because I couldn't possible live without baking things. Tonight, I realized that I am exactly the same as her, but with technology.
     I have three electronic devices: a latop, a tablet, and a phone. Right now, none of them works properly. Andrew was the one who made sure electronics functioned around here. I've taken on a lot of his jobs, but somehow I've slipped up on this.
     The laptop was his, so it runs on the Linux operating system. I know how great Linux is, because I heard him explain that a million times, but I don't actually know how to do very much with it. In fact, I don't even know how to install software. In the past two years, it's slowly decayed to do less and less, and I squeak by because so many basic functions, like word processing and photo editing, can be accessed through browsers.
     The tablet, also inherited from Andrew, is an iPad 1. I purchased it for him in 2010, which doesn't seem that long ago, but to Apple, that's apparently prehistoric. No new apps can be installed because Apple doesn't support the operating system that was originally installed on it, and Apple doesn't make upgrades for the iPad 1.
     My phone, the one piece of technology I purchased myself, quit connecting to the Wi-Fi last month. This may not seem serious, but I have a hybrid phone designed to automatically switch between Wi-Fi and cellular service, even in the middle of calls (which are also routed through Wi-Fi whenever possible). Tonight, following the instructions the tech support people sent me, I seem to have wiped my phone in a way that I can't even make phone calls.
     Apparently, I'm *this* close to living in the nineteenth century. I guess I'll take my candle and my book and go to bed.

Edited to add: Last month my Kindle broke and I had to spend hours on the phone to correct some Internet provider issues, but I thought if I mentioned those problems I'd sound like a bit of a complainer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July vacation, part 3

Vacation at the Styling with Renee Michelle house are wild and crazy. Along with ice cream parties and lots of dog walks, the oddly shaped carrots from the garden were turned into creations. After B made this, he wasn't hungry for the carrot, so I washed it off and ate it. If I'm the person who planted, weeded, and harvested the vegetable, I find that I really can't bear to have the vegetable wasted.

I have always wanted to try a Sazerac, but when I was in New Orleans, I only had time for one cocktail (it was a work trip, after all), and I opted for a Ramos Gin Fizz. So you can only imagine my excitement when we attended a party hosted by S's cousin, and a tray full of Sazeracs appeared. It was delicious, and now I must get my hands on some absinthe so I can make my own.

After the visit to the beach, I feel like I should write a little love note to the ocean. I grew up in the middle of the country, and all our swimming was done in lakes. When I lived in Maryland last time, Andrew and I took frequent day trips to the beach, but I really came to appreciate the ocean in Miami. I don't go much now, because it's a three-hour drive each way, which is just too far for a single driver.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

July vacation, part 2

If I'm careful, I can spread out the photos from last week's visit and get three blog posts for minimal effort. My niece had done a report last year in school on Arlington National Cemetery, so that was on our can't-miss list. Of course, it's summer in DC, so after about two hours in the heat and humidity we were wilting. Arlington National Cemetery is is weird place for a pacifist to visit. It's like an atheist visiting a cathedral - a chance to learn about a belief system different than my own. At times like this, I'm always happy to have been an exchange student, because that's where I gained the valuable skill of learning about other people's beliefs and cultures without needing to align them with mine.
Remember the ice cream party? A party's not a party without a piñata. We didn't have a good place to hang it, so my brother held it suspended. The problem with this method is that my brother is a stinker, and it is likely he lifted it out of the reach of some people when they were swinging.
My sister-in-law and brother are always the ones behind the camera, so right before they left I asked them to pose for me. I thought this was an awfully nice picture of them. I feel pretty lucky that I not only like my brother, I like the woman he chose to marry. 
After their visit, I reflected on what a tolerant family I have. I have a one-bedroom apartment, and all four of them stayed in my small space. I don't have a lot of extra stuff, so when we went to the beach, we all used bath towels because I only own one beach towel. Then, when we returned home, it took two days for the bath towels to dry (because I don't own a dryer and it won't stop raining). In the meantime, there were only hand towels available. As you can see, my house isn't exactly a four-star resort, and yet there was nary a complaint.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

High summer

     I've been busy enjoying a terrific visit from my brother, sister-in-law, and their kids. More to come on the visit in an upcoming post, but here's a taste of how we spent last week. 
     The kids helped me pose for my monthly garden picture. The watermelon and green beans have found their trellises and are rapidly climbing. The whole garden is growing nicely, but it's been wet, wet, wet. We had 13" in June, which is three times our normal amount, and it's rare that a day goes by without rain. It's great that I don't have to water, but nothing will ripen because of the lack of sun. Except the zucchini, of course - nothing stops zucchini. The kids had great fun harvesting what they could - cherry tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, and the garlic I planted last fall. 
     Some days we we skipped sightseeing and just enjoyed hanging out at home, which gave us opportunities for events like an ice cream party. My niece posted invitations all over the apartment and made a piñata, and I made ice cream and chocolate sauce. I highly recommend ice cream parties in July.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Saving seeds

 The garden harvest is just about to begin. This is the time that everyone dreams of, when you're inundated with never-ending streams of zucchini and tomatoes. There have only been a few zucchini so far, so they're still a treat. Come August, I'll be passing them out to anyone walking by on the street, I think.
     In the meantime, there are seeds to dry from the spring garden. The chamomile is a new addition to my garden this year, thanks to a seed gift from my in laws. I'll save all the flowers as they bloom, and then let them dry to use in teas. I have fond memories of chamomile, because it's popular in Germany as a soothing, healing tea. I had the impression from Germans that chamomile tea cures stomachaches, headaches, stubbed toes, flu, and pretty much any other ailment you can think of.
My not-so-fancy drying station is my living room shelf. That's one of the points about living in a small home - there's no spare rooms. So my seeds dry in the living room, my miter saw lives on the bedroom shelf, and my hand tools are stored under the bed. It's a cozy way to live.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dinner Parties

     If you throw a dinner party well, you will have happy, well-fed friends, and (once they have gone home) you will have a thoroughly cleaned house and delicious leftovers. Thus, I am now enjoying the comfortable feeling of possessing enough ratatouille, cherry clafoutis, and vanilla bean custard ice cream to see me through the start of the week.
     I don't throw as many dinner parties as I once did. In part this is because it takes time in a new place to make enough friends who you can invite over. But is also rather more complicated now that I am single. When I was married, I did the cooking and my husband did the cleaning. This meant that I could throw a dinner together in a few hours. Now, it's all on my to-do list, so I started early in the morning to clean and tidy the house, bathe the dog, arrange flowers and set the table, and then cook three courses. It's worth it at the end, though, to see happy people having fun. And to have that leftover ice cream, of course.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

From Trash to Treasure

I had a terrific time on my trip to Ohio. The garage sales were perhaps not quite as prolific as last year, but I still found lots of deals. Below, my father and I show off our treasures (the copy of Matisse's Blue Nude is his). I picked up a spare ten-speed bike (currently stored at my parents' house), for when my three-speed dies; fabric to make trousers, yarn to make a sweater, and a 50-cent squash plant, which is already at home in my garden. 

I also bought a quart of strawberries picked fresh from someone's garden, which made awesome margaritas when we got home. Here, my mother connoisseur sips them thoughtfully.
I suggested that we celebrate Father's Day a week early, and offered to make my father anything he wanted for brunch. His choice was not surprising for a man who loves sugar - Cinnabon-style cinnamon buns. And they were just as insanely sweet as the ones you buy at the airport. To balance all that sugar, we also had strawberries, bacon, and shirred eggs.
One of the garage sale finds was a 1960's alarm clock. We took it apart to see if we could make it work. Alas, this was a failure, although I learned a lot about gear-based clocks. That's a quarter that was foolishly spent...

P.S. The coda to last week's post: A dose of Xanax did nothing for the dog, and she barked for hours. A double dose on the way backed helped a bit, but not enough. The vet has now authorized a double dose, twice as often, for the next trip. She is a dog who Does. Not. Want. To. Sleep.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Catching up

     I have a good excuse for not blogging - I've been working. June is a great conference month, because professors aren't teaching. I worked the last two Saturdays helping out with conferences, plus I had friends stay a few days. Visitors are awesome, because they give you an excuse to have fun and not do housework, but then they leave and the housework is still there.
     So I spent the day doing laundry and watching the dog not fall asleep. That might not seem remarkable to you, but I was doing a test run with some tranquilizers the vet gave me. Ada the dog has the unfortunate tendency to bark when she's in the car. When we first got her, it was just a few minutes at the start of the trip, but now she can easily bark several hours. This is stressful for her, and me (as you can imagine).
     I was supposed to dose her today, while I was home, so I could measure how long it took to take effect and how soundly she slept. I gave her a full dose, and the effect was... not particularly noticeable. She still got up and sat by the kitchen whenever I was there cooking. She followed me around the house. She went on a two-mile walk with me. Tomorrow I will be calling the vet to ask for some better drugs. Perhaps her time on the streets of Miami means that she's already had a lot of experience with drugs?

Monday, May 25, 2015

By the numbers

Since last weekend was devoted to friends and traveling, I spent the holiday weekend catching up on things.

My weekend by the numbers:

30 miles cycled. That was 10 more than my goal.
20 pounds of strawberries, picked, hulled, and frozen. That's a bit less than last year's 35 pounds, but should probably last me until next spring
23 eggs collected from the chickens I was tending. Said eggs were turned into fresh pasta and deviled eggs.
5 items of clothing mended. I try to stay on top of mending. With the 333 Project I can't afford to have clothes out of the lineup.
6 episodes of A Brief History of Mathematics podcast from BBC 4 listened to. I just finished the 170-part History of Rome, which was awesomely educational and interesting. I'm looking for something to replace it. The History of Math is good, but it's only 10 quarter-hour episodes, so it's not going to last long.
2 servings of strawberry shortcake and 1 bowl of strawberry ice cream consumed. I have finally figured out that when you are a grownup and live alone, there's no one to tell you that you can't consider strawberry shortcake your lunch.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On two wheels

     Since last fall, I've been trying to bicycle more. I've switched from walking to biking to work, which is actually a net loss in exercise, since biking is more efficient. I also use the bike for errands like doctors' appointments and the bank. Most of these things are within two miles, and the effort involved is primarily in choosing a doctor that will be within range. A long-term goal is to bicycle regularly to the grocery store, which is less than five miles away, although a large hill lies between my house and the store. My other goal is to take the dog on bike rides, using the trailer, to a nearby lake that is just out of walking range.
      To that end, I'm trying to build up my biking abilities. I know that I'm a pretty pitiful bicyclist; my brother is training to bike between LA and San Francisco, and he regularly bikes dozens of miles. So don't poke fun at me when I say that my goal this week is to bicycle 10 miles twice. I will be chicken-sitting for friends who live five miles away, and I need to go every day.  If I use the car half the time and the bicycle half the time, that will be a good. If I manage to not break the eggs I've gathered that day while riding back, I will consider it a complete success.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Physicists Camping

     Last weekend was the annual physicist camping trip. Take 8 physicists, add cabins, kids, a dog, and one lone artist/technology/entrepreneur spouse and put them in cabins in the Pennsylvania mountains for three or four days. It was a great success, where I define success as (1) no one was injured, (2) it only rained for part of one afternoon, and (3) no one got any ticks (so far as I know).

     One family brought an awesome straw/connector building set. 
Some of us snuck away for a hike. Many people didn't leave the cabin area, but even getting to the bathrooms was a quarter-mile hike, so you got plenty of exercise without effort.
The dog loved spending so much time outdoors. She also LOVED having the children around, because children drop a lot of food. The highlight of her weekend was a spilled bag of cheerios.
Like last year, we worked on crossword puzzles together. I accidentally picked an extremely difficult puzzle, with many puns. Even with most of the adults helping, it still took us four hours.
The campground is in a lovely area, surrounded by mountains and adjacent to a small lake.
The lake also had a beach. The beach was small, but had enough sand to keep an almost-four-year-old happy.

It was good to get away from technology (no cell phone signal or wifi) and great to see friends. Two families travel quite long distances to attend each year, and one family came in spite of having a one-year-old and a two-year-old. I feel lucky to call them all old friends.

Saturday, May 09, 2015


     Dear readers, I hope you are prepared for the annual parade of garden photos. I spend so much time there that I can't help posting on it often. I think I have more to show this year than most years in early May. A fair number of plants came up on their own - herbs from last year, garlic and tulips that I planted in the fall - but others are products of the the seed-growing factory I host in my bedroom.
     I just planted all the tomatoes. You can't really see them in this picture, but they live in the blue plastic-covered bed. The plastic is my attempt to protect them from blight, and it has mostly worked in the past. It's a bit early for tomato planting, but the soil is quite warm (according to the instant-read candy thermometer that I use for this purpose) and, more importantly, the plants were over a foot tall and desperately needed to get out of their tiny containers.
     I feel lucky to have discovered that I love gardening. Of course, two years before that I discovered that I loved Indian classical dance, and last year I discovered a love of woodworking. So maybe I should say that I am grateful to be interested in so many things, and to have the opportunity to learn how to do them.

Monday, May 04, 2015


     Since returning from my fact-finding trip to Germany, where I researched tortes, I've made two German tortes. Each time I underestimate how much time it will take. First, I always have to translate a bit. I can read the German, but then I have to answer questions like, "How many cherries are in a jar in Germany?" "How much gelatin is in a 'sheet'?" And then there are always a few substitutions that I have to investigate, since U.S. grocery stores don't usually carry things like potato starch or whipped cream stiffener.
     I also forget how BIG these things are. I need to promise myself to only make half-batches from now on. I took the first to a party, and shared the second with neighbors and friends, but it's still a lot of cake.
     Friesentorte mit Kirschen (Cherry torte from Frisia, a region on the North Sea). Each cake layer is topped with meringue and almonds, and the filling is cherries and cream.

Kirch-Joghurt-Torte. (Cherry yogurt torte).A chocolate cake, split in three, is layered with a yogurt/cream/cherry mixture. The base is a standard shortbread layer, which means the bottom of the cake never gets mushy. It's hard to tell in this picture, but the cake is very tall, maybe 6 inches, so that it towered above my springform pan.