Thursday, November 24, 2016


I am becoming my father.

     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.
Medea the dog offers moral support during the faucet cartridge replacement.
I am now REALLY good at replacing door locks. Locksmithing is my new back-up job if physics doesn't work out.
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've been in Seattle for work this weekend. My former thesis advisor is now a colleague and we are working on a project related to diversity in undergraduate physics education. I spent the first night in the U District, which is the neighborhood next to the University of Washington, crammed full of cheap noodle restaurants, E-cigarette retailers, and hip clothing shops. I wandered around the neighborhood and was reminded of my first stay in Seattle, which was also in the winter. After I graduated from college, I took a two-month course in teaching English as a Second Language in Portland, Oregon. When I was done, I didn't really have any definite plans, so I hopped a bus north to Seattle and got a temp job in human resources at a very posh law firm. (If you are from Seattle, the Seattle Symphony plays in a Hall named for this same law firm.)
     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

Thoughts from the road

     On Sunday I began a convoluted two-week trip involving Maryland, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Seattle, multiple dog sitters, and Thanksgiving with my parents. The first leg involved dropping Ada off in Ohio and then heading to Pittsburgh for a two-day conference. For most of the trip, Ada remembered that she doesn’t need to bark in the car, but whenever I get of the highway and make a lot of turns or stops, she forgets. (For my physics friends, my dog is essentially a well-tuned accelerometer.)
     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


     Saturday was another project day. We added another family to project day last year, so now there are 3-5 adults working, depending on how many small children need attention at any given moment. As a result, many of us plan multiple simultaneous projects for the day.
     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


     The cottage I rented came with a little kitchenette, so I stopped and bought groceries before my arrive at the place where I was doing my retreat. I wanted to minimize the time I spent cooking, so I had simple meals, like yogurt and granola for breakfast, and canned soup for lunch. As a result, I can say that I like everything about my retreat except for the canned soup. That stuff is awful.
     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.