Thursday, December 22, 2016
My church held a solstice service last night, which was just lovely. As a gardener, dog owner, and bicyclist, I spend more time outside than I used to in days of yore. As a consequence, I notice the seasons and weather more. I always welcome winter solstice; it means I've already survived the darkest days of the year. Solstice also reminded me how much I appreciate having seasons again. I know I've said it before, but living in Miami with its two hot and not-quite-as-hot seasons has made me forever appreciate four seasons. It's cold now, but in one month I'll be able to bicycle again, and in three months I'll be planting.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Guests were impressed by the trifle. I suspect this was mainly because no one ever makes it in the U.S. It was a standard component of my UK Christmases, so I was a bit more critical. It turns out that you can't use too-dense leftover cake in place of ladyfingers. But add enough custard and fruit and hardly anyone notices.
I am the odd introvert who enjoys throwing parties. I love planning for weeks, cooking, and decorating. I love dressing up, turning on the music, and lighting the candles. I want my friends to have a delightful time, and I work the room, introducing people and make sure that all the different friend groups are mingling and no one is left alone. But after the conversations are going strong, and the plates are loaded with snacks, I wish I could just slip away for the rest of the evening. For me, the creation of the party is the achievement and I don't actually need to participate in it. Fortunately I have enough social savvy to know this would be frowned upon.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
One new addition to the menu this year is a fruitcake. I didn't quite follow the recipe, because I had to substitute brandy for rum and lots of fresh citrus zest for the candied citrus. Since I always label all my food at parties, I've been debating whether to name it "fruitcake" and trigger all the negative associations with that name or choose something like "brandied spice cake with figs and cherries." Probably the best idea is to have two separate plates, one with each label, and measure at the end of the evening which one has been consumed more.
Monday, December 05, 2016
The good news is that the danger comes primarily from fainting, because people tend to injure themselves when they faint. The other good news is that I'm very good at not fainting. Whenever I feel dizzy, I lean against a wall, or sit down, or lay down. (Happily I've never needed to lay down at work.) The best news is that it has never happened when I'm driving, so I'm not in any danger there.
I don't need medicine now, but I'm glad to know it's an option if it gets worse. In the meantime, the doctor is trying to raise my blood pressure the old-fashioned way, with salt. I am the only person I know who got an official directive to eat more salt. Pretzels and potato chips (and salt tablets), here I come.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
I extended my Seattle trip so I could visit my old college friend, A. We've known each other for twenty years and I because I've spent so much time in the city previously, we agreed that we didn't need to do a lot of touristy things around Seattle, just needed a chance to catch up. A's suggestion was a relaxed day of a taking a ferry to a nearby island or just doing a hike plus a visit to a local pub. Instead, I suggested we spend the day doing home repairs. A's handy, but usually hires out all of this kind of work.
Two trips to Home Depot, a morning of DIY YouTube videos, and an afternoon of work later, and we had repaired a leaky shower, diagnosed a faulty motion-activated light fixture, and replaced five exterior door locks so that they all use the same key. It's not quite how A was expecting the day to unfold, but I think he was pleased with the result.
Also, I am nothing like my father.
Yesterday my dad helped me install a hitch on my car. It was pretty easy because he has a car lift. But first my parents and I spent six hours cleaning off all of the stuff piled up on the car lift. I am such a minimalist that I simply can't even conceive of owning so much stuff. But amongst all the junk metal and bolts, you find little historical treasures like this vintage cardboard milk carton. We think it has been holding sandpaper since about 1975, because the milk supplier is from the town where I was born in Minnesota.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
I subletted someone's dining room in a one-bedroom apartment and slept on an air mattress on the floor. I was poor, but had a few friends in the area so I wasn't lonely. I was basically killing time, trying to figure out what my next step was. In mid-December, my temp position wasn't renewed and there weren't any other prospects, so I headed back to my parents. My earliest memories of Seattle are fond, but colored by the indecision and lack of funds that were my constant companions during that time.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
I think the dog would enjoy car trips more if I could figure out how to keep her crate cooler. A thick blanket most be draped over her crate at all times; if she can see any movement through a window, even through a thinner blanket, she goes crazy. As a result, the crate gets pretty warm. I need a way to keep her cool but in the dark. In the past, I tried a blindfold, attached to her harness, but she was highly motivated to get it off and wriggled out of the blindfold, her collar, and her harness. Suggestions are appreciated.
While I was in Pittsburgh, I met a friend for dinner. I had two foods I had never eaten before - Philly cheesesteaks and buckwheat tea. I had never had the former because I hadn't come across a a restaurant that made them with seitan, and I hadn't even heard of the latter. It's kind of rare in my life that I get to try utterly new foods, and they were both delicious. I'm already researching how to roast my buckwheat for tea, since that seems much cheaper.
Wednesday, November 09, 2016
I was originally assigned to scraping and painting duty - a few parts of the house exterior needed a new coat before winter came. I'm quite comfortable working on ladders, but my arms are so short that my reach is quite limited. Soon, I defected to the door team. The exterior of the back door was worn, so S&N had decided to sand it down and refinish it. The two months I spent refinishing my bedroom floor gave me lots sanding experience, and I made myself somewhat insufferable complaining about the equipment. I used the little oscillating sander sitting on the bench in the picture, but I had two more appropriate sanders, and better sandpaper, at my house that I could have brought with me. The rest of the team was fine with doing a lot of hand sanding, but I was raised by a man who would spend ten hours building a machine to do a two-hour job* and don't take well to hand tools.
Two days later I found myself in another somewhat impromptu project. I'd like to build a set of three steps for Ada the dog**. She can't see out of any of the house windows, and with steps she could amuse herself watching the neighborhood, as she used to do at the old house. I couldn't find any steps of appropriate height, and of course I'm too frugal to buy anything new anyway, so I decided to make them. It seemed crazy to spend a lot of money on good wood for dog furniture, but N said he could get me some used plywood. His university lab often receives equipment and materials on pallets that are lined with wood. But we needed to move quickly, because free plywood is snapped up by his coworkers. So I drove to his lab straight after work on Monday. Three of us worked to cut down the wood to a size that would fit in my car. We were in the loading dock, after dark, working by the light of a single fixture and a phone flashlight, cutting the wood down with a circular law while it balanced on barrels. I hadn't changed clothes after work, so I was still wearing my wool skirt and heels. By the time we were done, I and my work clothes were covered in sawdust, but I had the makings of dog furniture loaded in my little hatchback. I felt like I turned the 50's stereotype on it's head - instead of wearing my pearls and heels while vacuuming, I did so while ripping plywood.
*Because then you'd have the machine for the next job, and the saved time would be cumulative.
**It's her Christmas gift, so don't mention a word of this to her...
Thursday, November 03, 2016
I didn't have a really good plan going into this thing, except that I had brought a notebook and turned off all my electronic devices. A friend's wife loaned me two books, one written by a minister and one by a psychotherapist, which were full of stories, poems, and exercises for the reader on the purpose of life. They turned out to be though-provoking and a great structure to my thinking.
I walked a five-mile trail every day, which took four hours. That is incredibly slow, but on the first day, when I tried to walk it faster, my hands swelled up and turned blue, and I was utterly exhausted. I blame the altitude.
After three days, I came out with a list of ways I wanted to change my life. Some of them are mundane: I realized that my kitchen table is uncomfortable for all who sit at it and should be replaced. Others are much larger, about how I want to live. If I shared them, though, I think they would not be impressive. If, for example, I said that I wanted to be nicer to people, I think you'd say, "Yup, sure, that's a good thing." But if you've sat in the woods and thought for three days about your life and why you're alive, and realized that you want to live your life to be nice to people, it's deeply moving.
One thing that stuck with me was a quote in one of the books along the lines of, "Man is an absurd creature. He can watch people dying all around him and still presume death will never happen to him." I know that when I can grasp that I will die, even if I only grasp it a little bit, I live my life in a way that is better - better for me, and better for other people.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
This is my morning view. I sit on the Adirondack chair that N and I built, Ada keeps watch for Evil Squirrels, and I drink my coffee. In the distance, you can see the pink cosmos, blooming near the back fence. I planted them far too late, but they've managed to bloom like crazy starting in late September.
The leaves are just starting to come down. I have no trees in my yard, so I only get a few leaves from the neighbors' trees. Since I'm a gardener, I'd actually like to have more leaves than that, to cover my beds and fill my compost pile. This year, I plan to "liberate" many paper bags of leaves that neighbors have left to be picked up be the city, and shred them with my mower. Yesterday, in fact, I found three bags of pine needles, which will be a great mulch for the front garden beds.
When I get back from Denver, I think it may have turned to cold to keep spending my early mornings outside. But that's all right, because I'll be back in just four or five months. Having relatives in Minnesota, with its six months of winter, makes me extra appreciative of the comparatively balmy seasons here.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
In my planning for this trip, I realized that people retreat for many different reasons. Some people want to meditate, or to practice yoga. I want the chance to think about the direction of my life, and make sure that it continues to be aligned with my values. By sequestering myself in a cottage in the Colorado mountains for three days, I hope to cut off all the distractions that I turn to when I face a hard question. There will be no chores around the house, or extensive cooking. I cannot quickly search for something online, or go have lunch with a friend. My choices will be: think while sitting, or think while hiking. That's it.
Monday, October 17, 2016
Monday, October 10, 2016
Monday, October 03, 2016
Monday, September 26, 2016
On Saturday I had the perfect frugal day. First, there was a neighborhood-wide garage sale nearby. I didn't find anything I wanted to buy, but on my way out of the area, I drove by some stuff on the side of the road with a "free sign" and scored three things I really wanted - a wheelbarrow (for hauling compost), a bucket, and some very high quality hoses for watering the garden. Next, my friend D and I went to a new museum to take advantage of the annual free museum day held in DC. This museum is the perfectly-preserved 60's era home of some philanthropists, filled with their personal art collection. I felt a bit awed by people who could afford to decorate their personal living area with Renoirs, Van Goghs, and Picassos. I had brought some apples and what turned out to be perfectly-toasted walnuts as a snack, so we drove to the grounds of the nearby National Cathedral and listened to a whole series of songs played on their bells while we snacked.
Sunday I made apple butter and pesto. This turned out to be more work than I expected, but it feels like the perfect fall activity to be stockpiling foods for the winter. My enthusiasm for the pesto was aided by my personal dislike of purchased jarred pesto, and my friend E's contribution of her extra basil. In a few cold months, it will be a nice taste of summer.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
I will miss her.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Sunday, September 04, 2016
After my three years of growing stuff at the Pink House apartment, I figured I was a whiz. This year I had mixed results, so I guess I'm not an expert yet. I can probably blame this on my two-week absence in July, or my attention being focused on house updates, or not knowing the sun and soil in my new place. Next year I hope to have more time for gardening, and then we'll found out who's really to blame.
First, the successes:
Tomatoes. I ate lots of cherry tomatoes, but almost no Romas. There's no picture because I've already ripped out all the dead plants. I bought a special hybrid that was supposed to be resistant to blight. They did resist blight, but died in July of something else. I'm going to ask my gardener friend S for recommendations, because this is the second year in a row I had bad tomatoes.
Zucchini. It died after it grew a single zucchini. I blame a zucchini vine borer, but now I know how to stop them. Next year all my zucchini plants will sport medical gauze wraps at earth level.
Other failures: leeks, fennel, cosmos, bachelor buttons, cucumbers and kale.
Lastly, the future successes:
Thursday, September 01, 2016
Next Thursday is the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Star Trek airing on TV. I will celebrate by watching said episode on an IMAX screen at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. I also found this book at the library yesterday. It's a little amazing to me that someone wrote an 800 page book on the oral history of Star Trek and even more amazing that my working class neighborhood library bought a copy. Either the library purchasing department bought this book just for me or there is a whole subgroup of nerds hiding in my city that I don't know about.
Monday, August 29, 2016
I also fixed the toilet. It's had a tiny leak, just filling up the tank for a few seconds every now and then. Fixing the flapper (a rubber piece that can grow old and fail) was the first thing to try. The internet assured me this was a five-minute job. And it is, as long as you don't call the phone call to your dad, the 25 minutes of informational YouTube videos, and the 30 minute trip to Home Depot to get the part. After that, it's really only five minutes.
I had a chat with one of my neighbors while I was doing yard work. I've mentioned before that I really like my neighborhood. My next-door neighbors have been quite welcoming, and I like them a lot. They do regularly play super-loud music, but it's almost always on the weekends and never goes very late. They've helped me shovel out the drive during an epic snowfall, and diagnose a car problem. I've now figured out why they like me. Remember the loud Latin music? It turns out that dear old Bill, the previous owner, called the police regularly about them. So I think I get points just for not being Bill.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
It may come as a shock that I wanted to rip out existing gardens in the yard, considering my love of all things growing. But it turns out that my love only extends to edibles, and despite my best efforts these gardens mainly grew weeds. I think the previous owner may have put them in decades ago, when the trees behind them were much smaller. I considered putting in shade-loving perennials, but then I'd spend a lot of time weeding shrubs that I didn't want in the first place. Instead, I decided to rip everything out and replace it with lawn. And since cool-season lawns are best planted in fall, the de-gardening needed to happen now, in the heat of the summer.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
I ate the very first fig off my tree. It was delightful! There are only six tiny fruit on the tree, and this was the only one that was purple. It’s proof of concept that I can grow delicious fruit.
The doctor asked me to cut back on caffeine to see if it would help with a minor medical issue. I have been drinking only one cup of coffee each morning and not a drop of tea or afternoon coffee. Today I had a decaffeinated black tea, something I normally despise, but it tasted marvelous. Deprivation does make the heart grow fonder.
Monday, August 08, 2016
My friend E and I had a wonderful day trip to the beach on Saturday. Her husband dislikes the beach and its blinding sun and heat, so we decided that I would go with her and her two kids. Three hours to the beach with a three-year-old and a two-year-old is more manageable if the adults at least equal the number of the kids. I didn't go deep enough to immerse my waist, but the waves were so powerful that I was still knocked down by the waves a few times and lost my sunglasses. The kids wisely and carefully would not venture past ankle-depth, but the oldest still found his first experience with the ocean captivating.
Next weekend I head to Ohio for the annual pig roast. As always, it's a bit odd that a pig roast makes the annual social calendar for a vegetarian. But I get to see my folks and there's always a subset of half a dozen physicists who specially come to hang out. And when else what I get my fix of Midwestern classics like Jello and ramen salad?
Friday, August 05, 2016
As a result, I felt out of whack all week, trying to catch up on sleep, lawn mowing, and laundry. I finally bought groceries on Thursday, which meant I lived on peanut butter, pasta, and vegetables from the garden until that point.
I had a terrific garden sitter, but leaving a garden in the vigorous growing period of July means that the weeds were taller than some of the plants. I think it will take me another several weeks to catch up. As per cousin request, I will put more garden pictures up soon.
Every time I leave my cat to go on a trip, I sort of say a permanent goodbye, and I'm always a little surprised and delighted that she's still around when I get back. Phi is now almost completely blind and deaf. She walks into walls, but luckily whiskers help her to stop before she hits her head. She sleeps oven more than she used to, which I didn't think was possible. Nonetheless, she can find her food and litter box, she can go up and down the basement stairs, and she doesn't appear to be in any pain. As long as she looks like she's still enjoying life, I'm awfully glad to have her around.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
Thursday, July 28, 2016
I extended my work trip in California so that I could spend some time with my brother and his family. It's been like a foreign exchange trip, where the country is the Land with Kids. I've attended swim meets, gone on trips to the candy store, and played at playgrounds. I have learned about Pokémon Go, but thankfully haven't had to learn much about the preteen pop artists my niece favors.
Since I'm an introvert, though, I also appreciate the quiet times a vacation provides. Every morning I sit out with my coffee in their front yard, which is dominated by a giant redwood whose branches form a canopy over the entire yard. It's a lovely way to start the day.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
A few years ago, I asked if we could change some of my responsibilities at work, because I had realized that I really, truly do not like being in front of people. I don't like giving talks. I don't like running workshops. I don't even like standing up to give announcements at meetings. It was quite a realization, because I did these things for many years and thought that doing them was a fundamental part of academia and of my current job. Moreover, I was fairly good at them. At some point, though, I wasn't willing to do things I that made me utterly miserable anymore.
In fact, we were able to arrange things so that I can avoid much of that. This year was my very first conference where I did not give a workshop, a talk, a poster, or even announcements. And it was the least stressful conference of my life. I still had meetings from 7am to 8pm, and I was pretty tired at the end of every day. But I was no longer exhausted and mainlining Advil. I feel lucky that I could identify what would make my work life better, and that I had a position where we could make that happen. Sometimes happiness is achieved simply by asking for it.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Then I went inside and moved back into my bedroom. It took me almost two months to complete, but I'm very pleased with the refinished floor. I have a new roommate moving in in two weeks, and it'll be good to be back up on the second floor in my bedroom when she arrives. Sleeping upstairs means that I don't enjoy quite as much air-conditioning, and it's a hike to the only bathroom in the house, but having a bedroom on a separate floor has given me privacy that make house sharing much more manageable.
Friday, June 24, 2016
I started to put my bed back together tonight but noticed that the frame was scratched and the metal finish a bit worn. "No point in assembling this if I'm just to going to disassemble and paint it in a few months," I said to myself. "Better to repaint it right now." So tomorrow morning I'll nip out to Home Depot, buy a few cans of paint, and paint the frame in the backyard before reassembling it. This may be interpreted as:
- Lunacy, because I shouldn't be starting another project when I have to repaint the bathroom and move back into my bedroom before next weekend when my parents arrive.
- Brilliance, because I have already unpacked my bedroom THREE TIMES in the short time I've lived here, and I don't want to do it a fourth time.
Saturday, June 18, 2016
It looks better than I expected, and I love the color that the oil-based polyurethane imparted. The smell and mess of oil-based is awful, but worth it in this case.
However, once again, I will note that I would never hire me. The floor looks great from afar. But if you look close up, you'll see where I have permanently shellacked cat hair and dust into the floor, and it's not an extremely smooth finish. If I had hired me and paid a thousand dollars to have it done, I would be disappointed. I guess I won't quit the day job yet.
My new town is almost exactly one-third White, one-third Hispanic, and one-third African-American. I really like the people in my neighborhood. Yesterday night, a cool summer Friday evening, I was walking the dog and noticed that it was almost a requirement that at least one family on every block host family and friends and accompany this with loud Latin music. At one house, they had row seating for a hundred and a band, but (if I can trust my limited Spanish skills) that turned out to be a church service/ cookout, and that's not so typical. In the neighborhoods where I grew up, you were supposed to keep your parties rare and quiet, so it's definitely a different vibe.
My parents and in-laws are in the middle of a two-week trip through Ireland. I am truly pleased that they have remained friends and take trips together. Also, I have been to Ireland, so I imagine I'll be a bit jealous once the pictures start getting posted.
Work has been a bit stressful lately. Our department was reorganized, although that didn't affect my job much, and almost everyone in the company moved to a new office. I worked a Saturday meeting in June, and there was a big deadline on a proposal. I'm hoping the next month is calmer, so that I can save energy for the big week-long conference in Sacramento in late July. I love seeing all my work friends at said conference, but the 16-hour days are killer.
Friday, May 20, 2016
I'll probably end up choosing an oriental rug, because the only other options for used rugs are super modern, and that just doesn't fit into a 70-year-old-house. So, could you all squint at the pictures below, picture a medium-sized oriental rug, and tell me what color the floor should be?
- Painted squares
- Stained dark brown (this will never look like real wood flooring. The most I can hope for is that people don't particularly pay attention to the floor.)
- Unstained, but covered with a clear coat. Think industrial/Chipotle aesthetic. Something like this, but without the stencils.
- Painted a dark brown
I'll add a caveat about how I know this is not the "right" way to do things. Plywood is soft so it's going to dent easily. I've heard of people having plywood floors for 3-5 years, but nobody keeps them for 20. So this is a "good enough for now" choice for me.
*According to a dictionary, a garret is "a top-floor or attic room, especially a small dismal one (traditionally inhabited by an artist)." I'm trying to avoid the "dismal" part.
Monday, May 16, 2016
Tuesday, May 03, 2016
Saturday, April 30, 2016
For the final night of our vacation, we decided to stay in Punta Cana, the resort town on the eastern edge of the island. This gave me an afternoon and morning of beach time and put us conveniently close to our departure airport.
After Santo Domingo, Punta Cana is weirdly artificial. Santo Domingo was loud, dirty, and full of life. Punta Cana is clean, well-groomed, expensive, and full of overseas tourists. I understand that areas like this can be a financial boon to counties like the DR, and I can understand why tourists would want to have a holiday where every care and rough edge of life is removed. Nonetheless, the inequality between the two areas of the country is overwhelming, and I find the perfection creepy. I don't think I am part of their target market.
We AirBnB'd a room in someone's home, which was a great choice. The hosts both spoke English, so we had interesting conversations about our respective countries, as well as research (the husband does academic business research). My mother got to eat a real Dominican breakfast - it was heavily meat-based, of course, so I had cornflakes. The conversation with locals was something I especially appreciated; I had searched fruitlessly for a cultural exchange or a program where we could share a meal with a local, and both my DR contacts and the Internet had failed me. One particular thing that stuck with me was our host assuring us that the Dominican Republic had many traffic laws, it's just that no one follows them...
I'll end with a picture of the beach, taken during the hour when the forecast called for 99% chance of rain.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
My mother and I make good travel companions. We both believe in leisurely breakfasts, drinks with lunch, and lots of museums. I'm happy to stop as she takes yet another photo, and she doesn't take it personally that introverted me needs an hour or two of silent time in my room when we come home every afternoon. I can't spend eight straight hours with another person, even when that person is the woman who gave birth to me.
Things that I heard about the Dominican Republic that are, in fact, true: You can hear music almost all the time. The sidewalks are treacherous; if you don't keep your eyes glued to the ground, you will fall into the deep gutter that separates every sidewalk from the gutter or trip over rubble and bags of trash. People dress conservatively- even when it's 30C and 100% humidity, skirts and shorts are below the knee and shoulders are covered. Unless you're at an all-time inclusive hotel, hot water is not a given. The people are very nice; we had strangers help us across the street when they saw us bewildered at a huge intersection. There are no beaches in Santo Domingo - the picture shows the closest we got to the ocean, which was a boulder-strewn fifteen feet below the ledge my mother is sitting on.
The accuracy of the weather predictions is laughably abysmal. In the evening, the forecast would show that tomorrow we'd have 80% chance of rain every hour. The next morning, the skies would often be clear, and the forecast would change to show rain around noon, which would change to later in the afternoon as the day went on. This happened *every* day. We always had some rain, but it was as if the forecasters used darts on a random list of weather icons. Or, you know, their models aren't very good at modeling a small island in a big ocean.
There is a general election on May 15. Over 4000 offices will be filled, which is a huge number for a country of 10 million. Trucks drive through the streets, blaring campaign messages on loudspeakers and there are signs on every building and telephone pole. I can remain neutral on most of the election - if their ads are to be believed, everyone is for peace, prosperity, and the people. But the incumbent president it is favored to win, and this seems a bit suspect to me, as his party forced through a constitutional amendment ending the restriction that presidents can only serve one term.
I need to learn more Spanish verbs. It's amazing how much one can communicate using nouns and about six verbs, but eventually one looks for some verbal variety.