Thursday, December 28, 2017

This and that

This fall, I decided I had too much food stored in the house, a gave myself a challenge to buy no more than $10 per week in groceries. This worked, in so far as I spent about $6/week for new food. And I ate up half my pantry, but the freezer was still packed. The problem being, of course, that I am only one, somewhat small, person, and I can't eat that much. I took a break during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but now it's back on the budget bandwagon for me. I'll report back in March, or whenever I give up.
The bathroom installation proceeds slowly but steadily. My father is an amazing general contractor. He's always thinking ahead four steps. At first, this drove me a bit crazy, because I thought, "We don't have to worry about that part yet!" but now I realize that he talks through the process repeatedly, and thereby improves his plans each time. This trip alone we changed several decisions, and I had the opportunity to learn that Home Depot will, in fact, accept a returned toilet even if its packaging has been opened. I forsee that I'll be standing in return lines throughout the year, and have now organized my many receipts into a project binder. It's kind of fun to go old school - I haven't used a three-hole punch in about a decade.
The picture shows my father cutting out my stack pipe. This vents the air in your drains into the great outdoors so that your drains whisk away the liquids quietly. When my house was built, 70 years ago, these pipes were made of cast iron, so cutting it up (twice, because it was too heavy and long to remove in one piece) was a huge ordeal. But it's gone and replaced with PVC, with a location to hook in the new bathroom drain now.
I signed up for a MOOC Spanish course. Not only is this useful for my language skills, but I also have a professional interest in MOOCs. They are all the rage in academia right now - will they destroy universities as we know them? Will they every make a dime in profit? It'll be interesting to experience it from the student perspective, and I'll do my best to make sure that I'm not part of the average 85% of enrollees that drop out before finishing.

Sunday, December 24, 2017


Merry Christmas from a DC suburb! Due to the usual multiple-family tetris that the holidays are, my extended family celebrated a few days ago. I spent the days leading up to the festivities touring DC (pro tip: the holiday lights at the zoo are free, but you will not actually see any animals when it is night), taking the kids to the playground, and talking plumbing with my Dad.
     My brother and his family left this morning, and my parents are staying for a few more days. I absolutely love my family, but hanging out with seven people almost every day was a lot for little ole introverted me. I am looking forward to some quiet at the end of the week. Since I'm still exhausted from all this socializing, some photos:
 Ada looking dashing in her Christmas bow.
 For Christmas dinner, we had homemade fettuccine (which the kids helped make), Italian sausage meatballs and paneer/nut meatballs, a red sauce, green beans, and cheesecake. This had something for everyone but meant I didn't spend all day in the kitchen.
Molly the cat is fourteen years old, but this was her first Christmas. She also received her first ever toy. You might think that a ball in a tray would not measure up to the real live mice she used to catch, but she went crazy for it. I will have to hide this every night because the sound of the ball rolling in its tray at two am will make me bonkers.

I managed to create a separate scavenger hunt for each kid, so that the gift under the tree was just the first clue to the hunt. Surely I must be nominated for an Aunt of the Year award for this.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017


     It has finally started to feel like winter, and there is even the chance of snow this weekend. I'm not quite ready for fall to be over, because I haven't raked up all my leaves and if I admit winter has arrived then I'm a delinquent home owner.
     My winter wardrobe is complete, though. I keep trying to maintain a minimalist wardrobe, which for me means about seven work outfits and two DIY (i.e. blue jeans and paint-splattered shirts) outfits, with everything else packed away in the basement. I made a wool skirt last year and I was so pleased with it that I made another one this year. I'm modeling it in this picture, which I can thank my Spanish tutor for. (When he's not helping me with his Spanish, he's working on his photography business.)
     The other sign of the season is my Christmas party. As usual, I'm throwing a big, formal, dress-up party. This has involved two weeks of decorating and cooking, and it all culminates on Saturday. This time the wow-the-attendees menu item is samosas. I'm planning to fry them all in the morning and reheat right before serving. I might be a semi-professional hostess, but I draw the line at trying to deep-fry in a silk evening gown.

Monday, December 04, 2017


I took three years of Spanish in college and got good enough to read newspaper articles. Then twenty years passed and I forgot nearly everything. Since my house is in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, I started thinking about brushing up on those language skills when I moved in. But it wasn't until June, when I met my now-Spanish tutor that I actually started practicing.
      I got the push I needed when I went to a meetup and met someone who wasn't completely fluent in English. In Germany this is a thing: you find a "Tandem Partner" and meet to spend half the time working on their foreign language and half the time working on yours. I love this model, because you only need to feel stupid half the time. Luckily, when I proposed this to the person I had just met, he didn't think it was crazy.
     Meeting weekly to work on a language is just enough to remind you how much you have to learn. But I've been newly inspired by an old college friend who reminded me what I good language student I had been. And I thought, "That's right, I'm someone who studies hard!" Index card flashcards and writing vocabulary words ten times each is now passe, but I'm loving all the language apps out there. I still feel like all I do is remember how much I have to learn, but I have high hopes of moving into the intermediate level during the coming year.

Friday, November 24, 2017


     Black Friday is traditionally touted as the busiest shopping day of the year. I don't usually participate, but this year I guess I did my part - I dropped several hundred dollars on items I hadn't planned to purchase. It's not quite as bad as it might be, though, because my haul included seven rolls of fiberglass insulation, a hundred rafter vents and a toilet. The great bathroom construction project has begun.
     In the two years I've owned this house, I've gone back and forth on whether to add a second bathroom. Yes, it would be convenient. Yes, most people expect at least two in a house, and my realtor assured me that I'd recoup the money when selling. But the contractors I interviewed wanted to install something more expensive and fancier than the rest of my home, or they didn't think they could build it to code in the existing space, or I was worried that they wouldn't follow any codes. I eventually decided I'd rather let those tens of thousands of dollars continue doing their job for me in investments and I'd keep walking downstairs to the shared bathroom.
     But then my father offered to help, and I figured I could be patient during the year it would take to build it. The costs will be extremely minimal compared to a contractor, and I really do have fun working with my father.
     My parents came to visit for Thanksgiving, and in between eating pie and mashed potatoes, we started work. We've already considered about ten different layouts, which is nine more than I originally thought possible in such a tiny space. We debate soffits and drains, and today friends came over and we removed two dozen contractor bags of blown-in mineral wool insulation. I hadn't even heard of mineral wool (aka rock wool) until today, but now I know it as an itchy, heavy, but fairly effective and messy insulator. I have also learned that my friends L & S must be really good friends, or be really crazy, to spend hours in face masks and gloves removing it all from my attic.
     Stay tuned for many future installments of bathroom excitement in the coming year...

Monday, November 13, 2017


     One of the highlights of my trip was watching my brother and niece run obstacle races. This was a new experience for me. We drove 90 minutes outside of San Francisco to a ranch where they raise cattle and occasionally host thousands of people at outdoor events. They set up a bunch of obstacles, like barriers to scale, tractor tires to pry up and heave over, sandbags to trundle long distances, and rows of fiery, burning logs to hurdle. Luckily, the kids' race omitted the fire, although it added spears.

     As a committed non-exerciser, this all seemed a bit crazy to me. I can't imagine voluntarily participating in such activities, much less paying a hefty admission fee to do so. Luckily, my job was to be the proud aunt/sister, take pictures, and drink the free beer that my non-imbibing brother didn't want. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

On Holiday

I'm on vacation in San Francisco, or at least in a close suburb of San Francisco where my brother and his family live. This trip was something I badly needed. We've been short staffed at work, and we recently hired some temps. This was a good long-term decision, but in the short term it meant that I was training two people while looking for a permanent hire and doing my regular work. Several times a week, I have suddenly discovered that I overlooked something and needed urgent help from others to clean things up. While mt boss pointed out that this just means I'm human, I pride myself on being the kind of person that doesn't let balls drop and I'm grateful for a week off to recharge.

Trips to see my brother and his family are the perfect pace for me. Since everyone works or goes to school, I can sight-see or read during the day and then hang out with the family in the evening. This is just the right amount of people time for me. On this trip, I have three goals*: spend time with family, study Spanish, and learn about the building code for plumbing work in my county. That's everyone's idea of a good time, right?

*Because even when I'm on holiday I have goals.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Not-so-imposter syndrome

     Today my boss' boss walked into my office and told me she was supposed to make some opening remarks at a conference in two hours, but wouldn't be able to attend. Since my boss wasn't around, could I do it? Well, of course the answer was yes. I scribbled down the talking points she suggested, wrote them into notes, and then biked home to change into my suit and speed off to the conference. When I started this job, an assignment like this would have made me quite nervous. While things like this don't happen every day, I can now handle this pretty easily.
     My cousin recently wrote about imposter syndrome. This is something that comes up frequently in my work, particularly for scientists from underrepresented groups. I sometimes felt like an imposter while in graduate school, but now it's rare, and I'm really grateful for that change. I have a pretty decent sense of the parts of my job that I'm good at, and I've been lucky enough to have bosses and co-workers that give positive feedback. Instead, I find myself amazed that I can do my job. In this job, I have quite a bit of authority - I make recommendations about funding, I suggest how ideas should be presented, and I can be called on to represent the organization. People in the community ask my advice. When that happens, I (not infrequently) have something useful to tell them.
     And that just keeps surprising me. It feels like it wasn't that long ago that I was paid to mop floors and clean toilets, and here I am, a physicist, giving advice that physicists listen to. I guess that's what it means to get an education and work experience, but still, isn't that a little bit amazing?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mainly treats

Once a year I expect my dog to earn her keep by wearing a silly costume and entertaining me and the entire neighborhood. She's a dog, and is highly evolved to make humans happy, so she complies.

Halloween was a success this year, primarily because I remembered to purchase candy. Last year I forgot, and remembered only on October 31st, as I was returning from a business trip at 8pm dragging my suitcase from the metro stop. I had to sneak in my back door because I didn't want kids to see me coming home and then have to admit that I had no candy.

My current roommate is from Thailand and this was his first Halloween. It's such an American holiday! He had fun passing out candy and complimenting all the little kids on their costumes. I taught him how to gently harass the teenagers who show up without costumes - but of course I give them candy anyway, after ribbing them a bit. I just want to reinforce the social contract: you show up at my door in a costume and say "trick or treat" and I give you a handful of nutritionally deficient food and tell you happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


     On the spur of the moment last week, I decided to go camping. It's getting a little cold for tents, but there were no cabins available at the state parks. However, I found a camper that was being offered on AirBnB. Set up next to someone's house in rural Virginia, it was essentially a cabin plus en suite bathroom and kitchen.
     This was just the place for me to do a little refresher course based on the retreat I did last year. I walked, read books about philosophy, and took stock of the year. I checked in on my goals from last year (prognosis: some I had achieved and some I hadn't even remembered). It was a terrific break from life, and I might even try to do this every year.
     I decided to do some hiking while I was there, and found a five-mile trail rated "moderate" which ran along a tiny portion of the Applachian trail. Alas, the rating turned out to be inaccurate. Up and down mountains, climbing over boulders, on a track so studded with rocks that my foot hardly ever landed on a flat surface. The five miles ended up taking me five hours. Ooof. At the end, having already fallen a few times, I took extra care, as I was starting to worry that either the dog or I would come out of the trip with a sprained ankle (if dogs even have ankles). I haven't done a hike like that since Ben Nevis in Scottland twenty years ago, and I think I can wait another ten or twenty years to repeat the experience.
     I will say that the dog was a trooper. Mile one: lost of tail wagging and sniffing. Mile two: a bit more focused. Mile three and on: head down, still always ahead of me, but never a sideways sniff, as she seemed to figure out that we just needed to slog this out. The good attitude was in spite of her sad discovery that bees have stingers - for years, Ada has been snapping at bees. During the hike, she finally caught her first bee, but then immediately spit it out and pawed at her mouth for a couple of minutes. I felt bad, of course, but there's no other way for a creature with a one-ounce brain (that'd be the dog, not the bee) to learn. And this bigger-brained creature has learned her lesson: read the trail guides REALLY carefully.

Saturday, October 07, 2017


 This is the point where I'm really ready for the garden to be done. Luckily, it's easy to coast on the efforts of the early summer. Because it's cool, the weeds grow slowly, and I'll just wait until it freezes to pull them. The last of the peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes are coming in, and I get a few pints of raspberries every week.
      I didn't have time to put in a fall garden, which gives me a breather, although I'm trying to use some of the time to take notes. I've decided I'm done with edamame - they grow really well but they take a ton of space in the freezer. While I like them, I wouldn't miss them if they were gone. Instead, I'd like to try growing more carrots. It would be great to have enough to eat through most of the winter, although I've never come close to that. Also, I've asked my parents to bring some metal fence posts for next year, because I need some way to corral the floppy asparagus so that a 3' wide bed doesn't become a 6' wide bed, which shades everything around it and makes it impossible to mow.
     In other food news, my freezer is stuffed full and I noticed that some of the dry goods in my pantry came with me when I moved into the house two years ago. I think this calls for drastic action, so I decided to restrict my grocery budget until I've eaten through some of these stores. My regular budget is $50/week, but I'm aiming for $10/week until about Christmas. I've even roped in a few people to give me moral support. Another frugal friend is has a goal of $20 weekly grocery bill and my mother has vowed to not buy any meat until Thanksgiving, because she has so much pork and beef stashed in her freezer. I've managed to spend only $5 in two weeks, so I think this might actually work for me. But I'm just a single person, so I shall have to be diligent.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Back to Ohio

     As I have mentioned before, I go to Ohio for cut-rate deals on medical care and farm produce. Now I can add car repair to the list. Although I had some belts replaced last week, it turns out that my car needs even more work. I'm willing to pay for it, because I expect my Scion (a car that is a Toyota in all but name) to last at least three or four more years. But I wouldn't mind paying less for it. Thus, my parents and I devised a car exchange this weekend: I drove their car to Maryland, and they'll take my car to the lower-priced Ohio mechanic and get all the work done. When they come to visit at Thanksgiving, we can all trade back. My father was amenable to the deal (especially because the size of the Maryland mechanic's quote for repairs horrified him) but only committed once my mother promised to have my car cleaned out. My continual transport of dogs, mulch, and plywood results in a very messy car.
      In other news, we celebrated my father's 70th birthday. There were appetizers, and three types types of meat. There was a big cake, 30 guests, and a toast. And, of course, funny hats.

 Most of the photos featured either grandkids or vehicles, of course.
 I socialized as long as I could and then hid in an empty room with my nephew.

It was a terrific weekend. I'm grateful that my dad's health is better than last year and that we could all spend time together.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Highs and Lows

     A few days ago, I realized the Molly the cat was sick. She hadn't eaten in at least three days, which was super worrying. When you're only 4.5 pounds (2 kg), there's not much spare weight to lose. When the vet saw her, he metaphorically shrugged his shoulders. He couldn't figure out what the problem was and was keen to do blood work. With some discussion, I figured out that I could spend several hundred dollars, and then he might not know anything more. He might also figure out that she had something serious that we couldn't treat anyway, like cancer or feline leukemia. So I chose to get her loaded up with fluids, anti-nausea drugs, and antibiotics and then crossed my fingers. Yesterday, in fact, I would have given 50/50 odds that she wasn't going to survive the week.
     Today, I am a bit more hopeful. She is willing to eat yogurt and a few bites of kibble. Her meows, which were faint yesterday, are more insistent and getting closer to the loud complaint that is a deaf cat's meow. If she continues on this path, she'll be just well enough to travel with me to Ohio this weekend. I was going to spare her the four-day trip, but since she still needs medicine every 12 hours, she'll have to suffer through.
     Today was also the day my birthday present arrived. The picture just hints at the delights hidden in those boxes - 49 DVDs with every episode of the seven seasons of Deep Space Nine. They were shipped over from Europe, and I've been waiting for them for weeks. This is my favorite Star Trek series, and I want to watch it from start to finish, using the Spanish dubbed audio track. I used a similar trick in Germany, and it was a fun way to learn. The key is to choose a television show I already know quite well - otherwise I'm too frustrated by my novice language skills. Now I can look forward to months of television viewing which also count as homework.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


     When my brother came to visit, he was (predictably) horrified by my Internet speed. For the record, it was 3Mbps, which was so slow that the company won't sell that package anymore and every time I'd need to call my provider they would tell me that you couldn't stream video with such a slow connection. In fact, you could, but you needed to be patient if the video paused for a moment or two to buffer.
     You can imagine that Shawn the IT guy complained. He not only complained that he was suffering, but also that this was cruel and unusual punishment for my roommates, particularly my current roommate who occasionally games. In the end he wore me down, so I decided to get price quotes and let my roommate decide if he wanted to pay more.
     My roommate thought the prices were reasonable, so I called to upgrade. Thus began my odyssey into a surreal Internet price-fixing world. Every time I called, from every department I talked to, I was quoted a different speed and different price. Sales people acknowledged that different departments could offer different prices and multiple times I was assured that the speed quoted before didn't exist. No one could ever connect me to anyone who could offer me a price and package that I had previously been offered.
      Long ago, things like this drove me crazy. Now I have a more patience and perspective, so I just resigned myself to calling repeatedly. After about the sixth or seventh call, I was quoted a price I liked, so I signed up on the spot. My roommate will hopefully be pleased, but in any case I have earned his undying gratitude, because you can bet I made sure he knew how much I had to go through to make this happen.
     So go ahead, friends, let's schedule a video call! I need to get my money's worth on this new package.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ada's Day*

Since he was in DC for work, my brother S spent part of the weekend at my house. We had an awesome time hanging out together, while he installed Linux on my computer and I taught him how to make fried rice. However, the happiest creature was probably Ada. S loves animals, and has a soft spot for dogs in particular, so she got lots of attention and long walks. But then it just got better.

On Saturday, we had crepes for breakfast, and Ada always gets the first pancake. We decided to go hiking at Harper's Ferry National Park, and of course the dog came along. (As an aside, the road to the park goes through three states in about five minutes, which kept Google Maps busy announcing what state we were entering.) My brother is way more active than me, so Ada not only got to hike, she regularly had to run to keep up with S. Then we went for burritos at an outdoor cafe where S shared bits of his chicken with her. Ada was so worn out on the trip home she didn't even have energy to bark.

*The post title is a nod to a Star Trek episode. Can any of my Trekkie friends name it?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


     Although I came back early enough from vacation to have a day at home before work started, I still feel underprepared for my week. We've continued to have tons of rain (rather unusual for August), so I had to mow each part of the lawn twice to get it under control. The basil had bushed out again, so I made a bunch of pesto, and I spent some time getting to know my new roommate. Then I turned my attention to the animals.
     In spite of regular application of anti-flea meds, they both have a few fleas. Again, the rain is probably at fault. So it's all vacuuming and flea combing around here, which stresses me out. In addition, Molly the cat is having some litter box issues (as in she can't seem to find it when she needs to go). This meant a trip to the vet where they couldn't really tell me anything. While we wait for the results of her blood work, she's been banished to the porch - wood floors have a very low tolerance for acidic liquids, I'm learning. I've penned her in with great walls of boxes to a small area with maximum litter box coverage. In fact, she has three types of litter in three boxes right now, because the vet said that giving them a choice helps sometimes. She's an easy going cat, though, and only complains of her hardship when she can see me. I take her out for lots of supervised socialization, but we'll both be glad when this is figured out.

Friday, August 18, 2017


In Minnesota, everyone spends their summer vacation by the lake. By this, they don't mean the same lake, of course - it can be any of the 10,000 lakes in the state. The important thing is to buy or rent a cabin and spend a week or two there, preferably with your entire extended family.

In this tradition, I stayed at Leech Lake* with my father's family. Ten families in five cabins and campers. There was swimming and boating and playing cards. I kayaked three times and read five books. I drank coffee every morning while listening to the waves. Including a visit to my mother's hometown, I visited fourteen aunts and uncles and numerous cousins. I ate jello only once, but was repeatedly reminded that vegetarianism is still a bit unusual in this neck of the woods.

I am blessed with a family that is less crazy than your average family, and I'm glad I got to see everyone. But I was surprised how overwhelming I find it to be around people every day. My Aunt G** pointed out that I didn't use to be as introverted as I have become in the past few years. This is true. I was a shy child, but liked playing with kids I knew. As an adult I have always wanted alone time, but this need has increased in recent years. In the future, I'd like to spend some time thinking about how this should affect how I plan vacations or spend my free time.

* Yes, it is named for the blood-sucking worms. A marketing firm is needed develop a rebranding campaign.
** My normal pseudonym methods fail me in this instance, as my paternal grandparents named all six of their children so they'd have the initials GGG.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Las Vegas Wrapup

     I snuck away from the Star Trek convention a few times. Once was for a hike in a national conservation area. Luckily, I stayed on East Coast time for the whole trip, so it was no problem to wake up before 6am and hike before the heat really hit. There was more wildlife than I expected - great masses of frogs singing, and birds and lizards hanging out, which I attributed to the recent rainfall.
     One evening, my friend T, a fairly standard meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, gave me carte blanche to choose a restaurant. With his approval, I chose a nearby vegan, prix fixe restaurant. Since this was Vegas, there was a gimmick, and the gimmick was that you ate in the dark. Like really in the dark. After signing a waiver and leaving all your belongings in a locker, we were led by a waiter using night vision goggles to our table. He carefully seated us, guiding our hands to where our silverware and water was.  We weren't told what we were eating, and this was supposed to focus our experience. It was fun to try and guess what we were eating - the strawberry and walnut salad was straightforward, but we never figured out what the three pureed soups were. They had done a good job lightproofing - I could see tiny light patches after a few hours, but never even glimpsed my table, food, or any diners. It's not something I'd do very often, but certainly resulted in a memorable meal.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Star Trek!

     I just spent the last five days with 3000 Trekkies, and it was great. T and I (picture above, in a Borg alcove) listened to actors wax poetic about their auditions, collected autographs, and bought swag. I am now the proud owner of TOS (the original series) science officer pajamas - a worthy addition to anyone's wardrobe.
     T couldn't stop pointing out that we were the B- students. And it was true. I tend to think of myself as a diehard fan, because I've been in a Star Trek group for over a decade and am the kind of person that goes to conventions. But time and again, we were lost. Who was that guest actor? What alien are they referring to? Did Guinan really have no eyebrows? (Google to the rescue: she did not.)
     The rest of this post will only interest those who enjoy a bit of Trek.
 A Klingon battles with several Starfleet children.
 If I ever dressed up, it would be as a Vulcan. Look at the gorgeous fabrics on those robes!
Those with good eyes and high motivation will see Seven of Nine in the background of this photo.

I did live updates from the convention for my Star Trek group. Here are my favorite trivia facts:
  • Picardo thought that the role of the doctor was the worst on Voyager when auditioning - it was a cold and lifeless role, but would put his kids through college. During his audition, after he read the dialogue reminding someone to turn off his program, he improvised the line, "I'm a doctor, not a nightlight." He claims that he didn't know that was a McKoy trope.
  • George Takei said that everyone on the set of TOS figured out that he was gay, even though he never said anything... except Shatner never noticed.
  • Martok (or rather the actor who plays him) is running for Congress.
I'm looking forward to my next vacation - a family reunion in Minnesota - but think that the number of Klingons and Gorn that I run into there will be sadly diminished.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017


My vacation began not with a bang, but with a squelch. I could see the storm clouds approaching from my office window at work, but I wasn't able to outrun the rain. Shortly into my ride home, I hit a downpour and biked four miles in the driving rain. It was an uncomfortable and slow ride, knowing that even pedestrians on the path couldn't see me until I was a few feet from them. Luckily I ride on few roads, because I couldn't hear cars and I knew they wouldn't see me until they ran me over.

Once again, this rain invaded my basement. My basement floods two or three times a year, and my current strategy is to keep everything elevated off the floor and aim a fan at the puddles for a few days. I'm hoping that as long as I never smell mold, I can continue as is. I don't want to know how much it would cost to keep water out of my basement- I imagine one would need earth​-moving equipment, which wouldn't be a DIY job.

Vegas, on the other hand, is on a desert, so I won't have to worry about rain. I switched to Celsius last year (an easy task now that most thermometers are digital and websites let you choose your units). I admit I blanched when I saw the weather forecast for Las Vegas. It was just a string of 40s, and I hadn't seen a number that high before. I guess I'll plan on walking very slowly everywhere.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Travel and Vegetables

     I have three trips in four weeks planned. Last week was Cincinnati, this week is Vegas, and then soon it is Minnesota. The trips are conveniently arranged so that I have four or five days between each one. This times is set aside so that I can clean the house, mow the lawn, and madly freeze produce from the garden. After all, the neighbors will laugh at an unkempt lawn, a roommate will rue the tumbleweeds of cat hair in the living room, and the garden waits for no one. So I freeze zucchini, dry tomatoes, and make pesto.
     On top of it all, work is extra challenging right now. The big news is that I got promoted! It's quite exciting, but comes with supervisory duties and I want to learn all I can about managing people so I can do it well. This new responsibility reminded me how much work it is to learn something new. I certainly don't think I was coasting in my job before, but I had figured out how to do my job reasonably well. Now I'm madly juggling new meetings and trying to figure out how to achieve everything I'm supposed to do. I'm sure I'll eventually figure it out, but I can tell I'm thinking about 25% more at work every day that I have been.
     With all this extra thinking, my vacation this week couldn't be more welcome. I'll be attending a Star Trek convention (yup, I'm  that nerdy) in Las Vegas. I attended this same convention eleven years ago, with my friend T and late husband A. T's wife forced him to take a vacation this summer, so he and I will be reprising the trip. I hope to pick up lots of awesome Star Trek swag. Right after I pick and freeze all those green beans in the garden, of course...

Sunday, July 16, 2017


     I have a certain friend (who will remain nameless). I enjoy hearing the stories of her family, because they are always filled with drama. When the family isn't yours, the drama just sounds like a soap opera. I have always felt lucky that my family is not soap opera material.
     I am organizing my family reunion this year. Once every three years, my father's siblings and many of their children get together for a week, usually in Minnesota. In the past, organizing was a tremendous job, because you called all six siblings, the siblings consulted with their off spring, then you called them again. This happened repeatedly, as you decided the location, the timing, the activities. When I took over, I decided to use all my event planning skills from work. After all, I herd (busy, over-booked) physics professors. Can that be that different than organizing (busy, over-booked) family members?
     It's turned out that my skills are pretty transferable. I have a timeline and time estimates to complete my tasks. I use surveys and pilot-test my informational emails with my parents before sending them out. Most of all, I'm trying to stay out of any drama. Of course, feelings are part of any family, but if I can keep them out of my planning, then the job stays straightforward. In fact, I'm thinking about volunteering to run it again next time. Maybe I shouldn't admit that yet, though... I will find out in a few weeks whether everyone else is as pleased with my organizing as I have been.

Saturday, July 08, 2017


It's 7am and I'm sitting outside with a cup of coffee. The heat of the day hadn't hit yet. I can hear a dove cooing, crickets chirping, and all kinds of cheerful birds tweeting. The bees are busy in the squash blossoms. The dog is relaxed, nearby, but ready to spring up the moment I start to indicate it's time for our walk.

In a few minutes, I'll go finish making my picnic lunch,  because my friend E, her kids, and I are headed to the beach today.

It's the best part of summer.

Monday, July 03, 2017


     It turns out that the washing machine couldn't be repaired. Well, that's not quite right. With the help of my father and my friend S, it was determined that the motor was broken. You can replace these, but they cost half the price of a new machine, so I've ordered a new washer. I'm glad I tried to fix it, though, because otherwise I would have wondered whether a $20 sensor was all that the machine needed.
     My new computer arrived, which was great until the fan quit working. Computers are designed to shut down if they're going to overheat (a wise engineering decision!). So I sent my non-working computer back for a replacement. Alas, the company that was so prompt to fill my order is not so motivated to process returns quickly. I've been limping along with my not-quite-completely-broken laptop from four years ago, and I have high hopes that it will be resolved soon.
     I'm chicken-sitting this weekend, something I enjoy doing for my friends N and S when they travel. (They pay in eggs!) The first day I arrived, though, the key was not in its usual hiding space and no amount of careful searching could unearth it. By phone, N and S decided that the best thing was for me to break in, and I requested a discreet ground-floor burglary. I hoped to pry a porch window open, but it turns out that the glass gave way before the frame did. I sealed up the window with heavy duty plastic, fed the animals, and counted my lucky stars that no neighbors called the police. I have only broken two windows in my entire life, and both of them have been on N and S's house. Sorry, guys!

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Some thing in my life went wrong, but they could have gone FAR MORE wrong. So here I am, counting my blessings.

1. I threw out my back on Monday. I laid down pretty much all the time I wasn't at work for the next two days, and took a lot of ibuprofen. Lo and behold, I got better! Lesson (perhaps) learned: don't pick up air conditioners in small confined places and don't try to slide a barrel with 50 gallons of water in it. (Spoiler: you can't move it.)
2. Someone rear-ended me yesterday. But she was going really slowly, perhaps 5 mph. When I got out and looked at my bumper, it sported two tiny new scratches, but no crumpling. I told the other driver we could just forget about it. My car is certainly old enough that I won't notice scratches, and I don't think any structural damage was sustained.
3. My washing machine broke last night. I siphoned out the water, and after several hours of consultation, I have partially disassembled it. My father and I haven't diagnosed it yet, but fixing washing machines seems so far above my ability level that I don't mind if I can't fix it. I will feel sufficiently accomplished if I simply attempt it. You should have seen the my celebrations when I simply figured out how to remove the case.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June Garden Update

     After my initial worries about the failing spring garden, some of my plants soldiered on. In the past month, I've eaten garlic scapes, lettuce, peas, and a bit of broccoli. I've also been able to pick several cups of raspberries. Each time I step out in my front yard and eat fruit that I grew, I am still a bit amazed.
     Everything that was scheduled to be planted has been planted, although there is a small bare patch I had reserved for sweet potatoes that will need to be filled with something else. I couldn't get my seed potatoes to sprout, and I couldn't find any seedlings to buy. Nonetheless, I sit out every morning and survey my beds of tomatoes and squash with a satisfied, proprietary air and dream of meals to come.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

On a quest for Brötchen

   Lately I've been craving a proper German breakfast, the kind where you have bread and rolls, slices of cheese (and meat for the omnivores), jam, soft-boiled eggs, and maybe some yogurt. I've found a source for some of the appropriate cheeses, Boursin and Butterkäse, and I'm perfecting my soft-boiled egg. But the rolls have proved quite difficult.
     I've never really understood why French baked goods are so popular in the US, but German breads are completely absent from the country. With some hunting, I can find excellent French bakeries in DC, and Latin American bakeries are everywhere around here. But the chewy rye and wheat breads I love from Germany are rare. I know I've mentioned in the past that I drive to Virginia every few months to stock up on pounds and pounds of dark bread. Unfortunately, that bakery doesn't make rolls (aka Brötchen) so I need to figure those out on my own.
     Today was my fourth attempt. One of the difficulties is that no one in Germany would every make Brötchen, because they're available everywhere, so there's not much information publicly available. Then, the varieties vary by region, and I have a particular, whole grain type in mind. I don't know if I should be using just whole wheat, or some white flour, or maybe rye. Are eggs or yogurt/quark used? An egg glaze? What about the fact that American flours have more protein than European ones? I am definitely baking blindly.
     In the end,  I think this will be a rather expensive endeavor, because the only way I can see to truly verify the authenticity of my final result is to fly back to Germany and eat a lot of bread. That's worth it, right?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Choosing people

May was a month of interviews for me. I was in charge of hiring two summer interns for our department, and I needed to find a new roommate. Along the way, I realized that finding a roommate, interviewing a possible hire, or even going on a first date are pretty much the same. The main question you seek to answer is "Are you a crazy person?" After you've figured that out, you want to know "Are you a good match for this situation?" and "Are you interested?".
     I have a good track record with roommate selection so far. Since I prefer short-term roommates, I'm already on the fourth since I bought the house. I have a finely crafted ad, a set of questions that I ask during the meeting, and a set of expectations that I share with them. Then there's the application and credit check, which are just enough hassle that the not-seriously-interested don't continue. I seem to do a good job of conveying what living with me is like, and finding people who will like my house and me (i.e. they will not mind I don't talk to them a great deal), because everyone involved has seemed pretty happy.
     Tomorrow the interns start and my newest roommate moves in, and I can find out if my selection processes were successful again.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

IT struggles

     I'm in the market for a new computer, because my current specimen has a large crack in the casing. It's just a matter of time before the entire thing shuts down and never boots again. The only problem is that I don't like computer shopping and I don't particularly care what kind of computer I have, as long is it doesn't cost much money and plays DVDs. This later requirement apparently makes me some kind of Luddite, but the library still loans out most of its movies on DVD, and do appreciate free entertainment.
      My brother the IT whiz is willing to advise and vet my semifinal choices, but not to do the shopping for me. He asks me useful questions like whether I travel with it and how I use my home computer. But I think my answers are probably not useful - it never leaves my house, I don't care how heavy it is or how bad the battery, and because of Google services the only software I use is a browser and a generic video player. I am fairly close to using the shopping strategy of searching on Amazon for the right price range and letting a random number generator to choose my purchase.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Tidy, perhaps fastidious

     I'm transitioning between roommates - for four days, there will be/has been no one in the house besides me. I've been observing myself to see how I behave differently when I know I'm all alone. Mainly, I see that I'm noisier. There's no need to creep down my stairs if I think the roommate might still be sleeping (I live in a house with creaky floorboards) and I can listen to music without headphones and sing along.
     One thing that didn't change is keeping the place tidy. It will probably not come as a surprise that I am a tidy person, but this has intensified in recent years. Dirty dishes always live in the dishwasher, or are washed immediately (usually before I eat). The book bag has a home on a specific shelf in the closet, and keys live in the decorative bowl by the door. When I have a roommate, I am vigilant about being tidy to set a good example. But it turns out when I'm alone, it's now a habit I don't want to change, because I enjoy have a clean, organized, visually peaceful place to live in.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Good, the Great, and the Ugly

The Good: I went camping with friends. The weather was absolutely perfect. Sure, we had 9 hours of rain, but Mother Nature conveniently waited until we had set up our tents and readied ourselves for an early bedtime, then turned on the rain throughout the night. No tents leaked, and by morning it was cool and sunny. I camped with good friends, had heartfelt conversations over the campfire, and did an educational tree hike with interested kids and an enthusiastic dog.

The Great: the trailer works. (See the lights in the picture below? Those lights are the result of five PhD physicists and about twenty man-hours of effort.) A year ago, encouraged by my avid trailer-loving father, I convinced two other families that we should buy a trailer together. We could share the use and the cost. I hadn't counted on the fact that the trailer kit would take days to build, the trailer wiring system would fritz many times over, and the licensing would cost more than the trailer. Quite frankly, I'm lucky some of my friends are still speaking to me. (It's all good now, right, E&K?... Right?)  After eleven months of frustrating, intermittent effort, we have a working trailer, which hauled a bunch of gear to the site.
And there as much rejoicing.

The Ugly: The ticks were awful. We camp on the east coast of the U.S., so regular tick checks, and removing the occasional bloodsucker, are (unfortunately) par for the course. But I must have wandered into a tick playground, and the number of creatures that had to be removed from me was in the double digits. This is (a) disgusting, (b) worrisome, because a small proportion carry diseases, and (c) a total pain because I appear to be fairly allergic and had to dope myself up on Benadryl all week. While I use bug spray religiously, I'll be adding a second chemical to the mix during the next camping trip. In the meantime, I've been extra appreciative of the relatively bug-free city life this week.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Project updates

I just realized that I have finished up a bunch of projects that aren't on the blog. Since it doesn't count if it's not in a picture, I present:

The guest room. This picture doesn't show the two features I am most proud of: a folding luggage stand and a framed list of helpful information. My father loved the luggage stand so much he asked for a second, because my mother didn't have a place to keep her suitcase. (To be clear - I didn't make the stand; I'm just pleased that I thought to buy one.) And the list of helpful information was an idea of a friend's father, with the Internet password, the location of spare towels, and instructions on how to adjust the thermostat. 
My new dressing gown. Technically, this isn't my project at all. I chose a vintage 1940's pattern, my parents bought me the flannel for my birthday, and my mother made it. I love the style - fitted at the waist but with puffy sleeves. I helped only with the yards of hand hemming at the end. I was grateful that my mother put in all 10 buttons - you have to use a razor blade to cut open button holes, and I'm always worried I'll mess it up and slice into my brand-new garment.

 I even had enough left fabric left over to make pajama pants. They're super comfy but not particularly photogenic, so you'll have to take my word for it.

I put the finishing touches on my second Adirondack chair, pictured on the right here. As you may recall, we assembled and painted this in my basement. Yesterday, when I tried to carry it outside, I discovered that the chair is a 1/2" wider than my basement door. My lack of planning provoked both laughter and dismay. Luckily, my friend N stopped by today and together we figured out how to twist it out of the house.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

With the wind in my hair

I have a wonderful bike commute. Once I gave up on riding on the roads, added two miles to my commute, and started using the trails, I found the commute from my new house to be terrific. As I've said before, it largely follows a river tributary, through woods and parks. The new electric bicycle has eliminated all dread from my trip - I didn't even realize that I dreaded all the hills until I noticed how lightheartedly I approached them now.  And Google even fancied up a photo I snapped on my drive last week, to show how rosy the trip is. If you tie a scarf around your hair, stare at that picture, and listen to German podcasts for 60 minutes a day, you'll have experienced my commute.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

May Garden Report: It's hot already

      As I started my garden planning this winter, I decided that outside work would take precedence over inside work this summer. Last year repairing and refurbishing the house took so much time that I didn't work in the garden as much, and it showed in my vegetable output. This year, I am choosing planting/weeding/watering over sanding/painting/rewiring.
      Alas, I am already off to a mediocre start. I planted at the regular times, but it got really warm, really fast this in March. I should have peas by now, but instead I have 6" tall plants, which will soon die from the heat. So I've said goodbye to my hoped-for broccoli, peas, and spinach, and moved right to hot-weather crops.
     Like last year, the garlic and herbs look great. I planted 11 tomato seedlings today, which were carefully nurtured under my basement grow light, and I'm just plowing ahead (yes, that's a gardening pun, thank you) with all the other summer planting. According to my spreadsheet, I'm two weeks ahead, but the soil and air temperatures seem okay for what I'd call "tropical" plants like tomatoes and eggplant.
     I know that gardening, like farming, is somewhat dependent on luck. My spreadsheet has almost 40 different edibles because I know that one-third of them won't thrive in any given year. It keeps me, the gardener, humble, and and also makes me extremely grateful for grocery stores. Unlike farming, if my crops fail, I still eat.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Marching, or Rather, Standing

     In all my thirteen years in DC, I have never participated in a political rally. But when my physicist friends R and B said they were flying in from Ohio with their toddler daughter to attend the March for Science, I figured this was my big chance. After all, I can't let a fifteen-month-old be more politically hip than me.
     On Saturday morning, we got up bright and early and headed to the headquarters of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where my company was hosting a breakfast. After picking up our free shirts, free hats, and free granola (it was uncommonly good swag!), we started walking to the Mall. There was a steady stream of people going the same direction, and it was nice to hear some of their stories and why they had decided to come to the march.
     If you've never done something like this, the picture below sums it up. You stand on a flat patch of grass with 40,000 people and listen to many, many people give short testimonials, which was interspersed with surprisingly good live jazz music. I will note that the organizers had great diversity in speakers, and not just race, age, ethnicity and physical abilities. They included science diversity, too - I have to admit that I wasn't even aware of firefighter research.
We were expecting to stick around all day for the march, not just the rally. But three hours in, as the cold rain continued to pour down on us, and the toddler with us was really wailing, we packed up and went home. It was an interesting experience, and introverted me will be sure to do it again, probably in about thirteen years...
And extra proof that I was there: I'm in the crowd picture of this news story. Right below the Washington Monument, in the left-hand corner, is a person in a neon green hooded raincoat. That's me! My moment of fashion shame (neon green went out in the nineties) captured forever.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Old friends

     My long-time friend M and her daughter J were my most recent visitors. M and I got our PhDs at the same time - I can remember when we made the rule that only one of could cry about an E&M (Electromagnetism) exam at one time, so the other could do the comforting. Luckily, those days are long past, and now we both have "Dr" in front of our names and work for science education nonprofits. But M still gets tipsy on one glass of wine and I still over-plan all our get-togethers.
     Her daughter J is now five years old and she fell in love with Molly the cat. This suited Molly just fine, as there is nothing she wants more than to have someone pet her continuously and remark on her every meow. I hope to use Molly as bait to lure them both back for a future visit.
     Unfortunately, I was under the weather at the end of their visit, and still haven't recovered. I feel exhausted, but not quite sick enough to need to stay home in bed. I was just tired enough that I forgot to smile all day Sunday, which probably wasn't pleasant for my house guests. Now I'm just wading through a week with twenty-two hours of scheduled meetings. (I counted.) I normally have a lot of meetings, but this is an especially dense distribution, and it's probably not helping my energy levels.

Friday, April 14, 2017

      The parade of visitors using my guest room continues unabated. I need to update on last weekend's activities before I can let myself have fun this weekend.
     My parents' visit was all about the project, of course. I made a (huge) master list of everything that needs to be repaired in my house or vehicles, then narrowed it down to the top ten things I was stuck on. We decided to be official and have people sign off on the completed projects.
     I was very pleased with our accomplishments. When we didn't have time to complete things, my father surveyed the situation and gave me his expert advice on how to proceed, so I have about five projects that are underway right now. 
     The most exciting result of the weekend is my newly-powered bicycle. About a month ago, I decided that I would bite the bullet (and really, I probably need to bite a bullet to stop the pain, as I am so loathe to spend great sums of money) and buy an electric bike kit. After a year of cycling to work on the commute from my new house, I was still walking the bike up a few hills each way. And when I get home from work, I always have to sit and rest a bit before I can walk the dog. The kit I found has an electric motor in the front wheel hub, so you just change out the front wheel on your existing bicycle, wire it up to a battery, and off you go.
My friend S and his wife came over for dinner, but before we let them eat, my father and S installed the kit. Of course, nothing ever goes quite as smoothly as you hope, and my father needed to modify my bike to make it all work. 
Filing the forks - proof that I helped a bit.

The motor is designed to give you a boost when you're already pedaling (this its name Hilltopper) and it's just what I need. Roundtrip, I have a ten-mile, somewhat hilly ride, but now it feels like a six-mile, flat ride. I'm hoping the result is that I ride even more often to work, and I will be especially grateful to avoid the strenuous rides as the summer heat and humidity approaches. Stay tuned for updates.

Monday, April 03, 2017

An academic party

     This weekend I basically went to a class reunion for my PhD. My advisor turned 75 and the university organized a celebration. When regular people celebrate, they drink a lot and dance. When academics celebrate, the drink a lot and go to talks. So there were receptions, lectures on the many topics he has studied in his career, and physicists from all over the globe, who came to celebrate my advisor, talk about physics education research, and drink wine.
     In the picture, you can see my advisor (I actually had two PhD advisors, but that ruins that narrative) seated in front, with all of the students and postdocs who studied with him. Some of the people who were getting their PhDs at the same time as me stayed in research, so I regularly see them at conferences. But others decided to teach, or to become lawyers or make policy, so I hadn't talked to many in years. It was simply delightful to find out how many kids they now had, or what kind of awesome job they had.
     It was also heartwarming to hear all the great stories about my advisor. I have fond memories of him because he had faith in me for years, even when I kept failing my qualifying exams. But I am just one of many people who had positive memories of his intellectual curiosity and his unwavering support of his students. As a result, I left resolving to myself to be a better mentor to others.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


     One of the reasons I wanted to own a home was to have a guest room. I thought it was high time that my parents quit sleeping on the couch in the living room, and I wanted to be able to offer a comfortable place to friends when they came to visit. Well, they're coming to visit. Many of them. Next month I'll have guests for four weekends in a row. Every one had a different reason - my former thesis advisor is being feted, a friend's kid had Easter Monday off so it was a good time to travel, and so on.
     I'm delighted to see them all, but I purposefully kept March as low-social-event month so I could build up some socializing reserve. Instead, I caught up on projects, since I won't have much spare time in April. My mother made me a dressing gown from a vintage 1940's pattern, and I had to finish the hand-sewing on it. I am expanding the gardens in the back yard by five square meters, and I hauled in extra dirt and compost for them. I replaced two switches to my hallway light (which took me four tries, two calls with my dad, and the help of my friend N). I replaced my kitchen light. I snaked my drains which is most definitely the most disgusting homeowner job I've done so far (from now on, I will be seeking only roommates who are bald).
     And the guest room is ready: I added bedding, extra shelves, a luggage stand, and a reading light. Bring on the people!

Thursday, March 16, 2017


     The past month or so have been very busy at work, with a conference in Atlanta and a two-day meeting in Virginia, so I used a vacation day today. It was delightful to have a weekday off without any need to visit anyone, so I thought carefully about how I could use the day to the best advantage. My decision was to shovel compost. The city only sells compost on weekdays before 3pm, so it's quite difficult to manage it when I'm working and this seemed like a good solution. The only catch was that we were hit with a winter storm on Tuesday, and it's still pretty wintery. (My Minnesota family will laugh when I say that our 3" shut down the city, but that's what happens when you live in the almost-south.)
     The good part was that shoveling frozen compost meant it wasn't too muddy, but hauling the wheelbarrow across the snow was difficult. It's a bit jarring to see the fresh brown compost laying on top of the snow, but I figure that in a few days it will warm up, the snow will melt, and the compost will be right on top of the beds where I want it.
     My basement is filled with tiny pots of soil under the grow lights, where I soon expect to see tomato and eggplant seedlings. Today didn't feel like spring, but it's tantalizingly close.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


I love making jam, but I only eat about two pints per year. In physics terms, this would result in a net positive flux of jam, except that it turns out that homemade jam makes a great hostess gift.

This year I made cherry, apple butter, and, just this weekend, blood orange marmalade. I'll be having the marmalade for dinner tonight, since it is Pancake Day. But there will still be plenty left in my larder. And if you'd like some, now you know what to do- just invite me over for dinner.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Just plain lucky

I just got back from Atlanta, where I was helping to run a 100-person conference. Now that I've recovered from the twelve-hour days and the people overload, here are some things that I am grateful for.

  1. I have a job that makes the world a better place. Like everyone else, my job has ups and downs and sometimes all I do is write email all day long. But there are people out there who have studied physics, become teachers, and discovered that people just like them can be scientists because of the programs I help run. This is immensely rewarding.
  2. Having a cat again, especially one that would prefer to sit in my lap all day long.
  3. A work friend who carefully noted the date of Andrew's birthday, and then, a year later, brought me a plant and a card to cheer me up on that always-bleak day.
  4. Living now, in the era of anesthesia for operations, safe drinking water, and wonderfully insulated homes.
  5. My brand-new currant bush, a Christmas gift from my in-laws, that I planted this morning. I am crossing my fingers and hoping that I'll have at least a bite or two of fruit this year.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Introducing Mollie

Meet Mollie the cat. She had lived the last ten years in my parents' shop, venturing out to decimate the local mouse population. We think she is now about fourteen years old, and she will be spending her final retirement years at my house. She is named for molybdenum, which is an element used to strengthen steel, and particularly appreciated by my father for its use in motorcycle frames.

She is tiny, completely deaf, and seems to love every person that she meets, but she is deeply and profoundly suspicious of the dog. Ada mainly ignores her, so I think in time they'll get along fine. Mollie lived on a farm up to this point, and there really were plenty of creatures (such as hawks and coyotes) that would have been happy to eat her, so this paranoia is somewhat reasonable.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Using my time wisely

     Since I was traveling back and forth to Ohio so much during January, my parents and I decided that it made sense to leave Ada the dog with them, so that she could skip about 30 hours of driving. And when I say 'parents' I really mean 'mother', because she's the one that does all the dog care.
     Ada's absence made my house a little too quiet, and I missed her. But I also realized that a dog-free month meant that I essentially gained 30 minutes a day, because that's how long I spend walking her. I didn't want to look back and think I had squandered that 15 bonus hours of free time, so I decided to refinish my upstairs hall floor. Of course, I had forgotten how incredibly dusty this job is, and I've spent the last week just cleaning all the sawdust that leaked through the plastic sheeting and into the downstairs. But the hall now looks great, and I have pictures to prove it.
Before, with blue fake wood paneling, and very-vintage 1960's carpet. 
After, with white walls and refinished floors. You'll have to use your imagination to put the furniture in, because that can't go back on the floor until it cures for another few weeks.

     And as a reward, I am going to Ohio today, and when I come back I'll bring both Ada and Molly the (new-to-me) cat.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Project day, again

January's project was to build Adirondack chairs. In 2015, N and I put together kits, but this time we were building them from scratch, using an existing chair as a template. I have the most awesome basement workshop for projects. It's large and empty, with lots of pegboards and workbenches. N brought over his table saw, and together with my miter and jig saws, we had lots of different ways to cut up wood.
Today the N&S family came back for a bonus project day, and we sanded, drilled, and assembled.
N&S took two of the chairs home, and I'll keep one. This means I can now have a campfire or morning coffee outside with a friend, but only one friend. If I want to have more friends, I'll have to build more chairs.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Visits to Ohio

     I've been traveling to Ohio often in the last few months so that I can spend time with my dad. This is particularly important to me right now so that I could accompany him for a few of his radiation treatments. Since work is busy right now, I arranged two shorter trips this month. I got back to DC last night, and I'll leave again in six days.
     Each weekday, my dad goes for treatment.. The hospital is 60 miles away, so the entire trip takes at least four hours each day. Most days, someone goes with him, mainly to keep him company on the trip. My father still has lots of energy, so after the two visits I went on, he headed out to a class or meet-up. I was exhausted from all the socializing he does, although I'm pretty he sure he thrives on it.
     So how does my family spend time together? We diagnosed and fixed another problem on my car (bad wheel bearings), argued about the state of modern science and medicine, started cutting out pieces for a vintage bathrobe, and did a marinara sauce tasting. That last one was my idea - my father had purchased different sauces so he could figure out whether the "expensive" sauces were worth it. I was convinced he wouldn't be able to spot the differences if he ate them over the course of several months, so I arranged a blind tasting. My parents agreed on which two were there favorites, and as payment I took home the two jars they liked the least. For my American readers, Classico Tomato Basil, the mid-priced contestant, was the winner,

Monday, January 16, 2017

Wine and a short whine

     I manage a project that runs 10 simultaneous conferences every January. I always attend one, and so this weekend I was Hamilton, near Toronto. Other people do the heavy lifting of organizing and running the thing, but there's still enough for me to do. On Sunday morning, in the span of three hours, I gave a plenary talk, sat on a panel, and ran a workshop. Events like these are absolutely the hardest part of my job for me. I'm actually pretty good at talking in front of people - I'm organized, my slides contain the right amount of information, my talks are super interactive, and people laugh at my jokes. (I hope, of course, that they also learn something.) But I really hate it. I usually manage about five hours of sleep the night before, and then I'm wiped out for several days afterwards.
     Today I flew home and tried to make myself rest by not working on any house projects. Instead, I decided to take a trip to the wine superstore. It takes about 45 minutes to get there, so when I go, I stock up on a six-month supply. Alas, the two-hour errand turned into three when I remembered that I had left my wallet in my other coat, which was still hanging on the coat tree at home. I will not let a mere trifle like that come between me and my wine, so I drive home, fetched the wallet, and then drove back to complete the purchase. Those of you who visit me between now and July can appreciate my efforts when sharing a glass with me

Friday, January 13, 2017

Christmas Recap

Here's a quick look back on my Christmas holiday in Ohio before I forget everything. My brother and his family came from California and we all had three days celebration together.
Everyone else rides motor vehicles as part of their Christmas celebrations, right? My niece, on the left, is posing with a four-wheeler, but my father was riding with her. Of course, there's a small, kid-sized four-wheeler that they can drive themselves.
Ada received many gifts. I wonder if she even remembers what it was like to survive on the streets of Miami.
Dinner was individual Beef Wellingtons and a Buche de Noel. I loved the Beef Wellington recipe, which could be assembled the day before. The individual puff pastry packets had so many delicious fillings (cheese, fresh spinach, caramelized onions, and portabella mushrooms), that I simply left the beef out of mine and it was still amazing.
The kids were entranced with the idea that mushrooms could be made of candy (i.e. meringue).
The kids decided to throw a tea party, with the good "crystal" and the fancy tea set. We were all invited, and it was very exclusive - you couldn't get in without presenting your written invitation.

I also used the Christmas break as a training exercise. I realized that I've been using "Renee Michelle" as my first name for over 15 years, and there were still members of my family that hadn't caught on. I'm happy to give a pass to relatives and friends who see me rarely, but the rest of my immediate family needed to figure this out. For three days, I either turned away or didn't acknowledge comments addressed to "Renee". If needed, I'd follow up with "Who is this Renee?" I tried to express lots of appreciation when they got my name right. Soon other family members were helping remind each other. I understand that it con be annoying when someone arbitrarily changes their nomenclature, so a big shout-out to my family for playing along so well.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Fixing things with physics

     This week I managed to fix something all by myself. That is, the internet helped, but for once I didn't need to ask my father. My microwave started arcing - a scary sight, I'll admit. I thought I'd have to replace the entire appliance, but some googling suggested that this can happen when an interior part (the waveguide cover, to be precise) is damaged and the sharp edges cause sparks. Although I could have ordered a replacement part, that would have been expensive. Instead, I found that you could buy sheets of mica, sold for exactly this purpose, that could be trimmed down to the exact size of cover needed by your microwave. Two days later, with some careful cutting and installation, I have a microwave that is working great. Cue the increase in self efficacy. Of course, I've felt kindly towards microwaves ever since I successfully explained how they work during my oral qualifying exam.
     The car, on the other hand, has been a drag on my happiness level. After many phone calls with my father, extensive consultations with online tire suppliers, calls to local junkyards and mechanics, I think I have a solution to my busted wheels. I first had to learn the difference between a wheel and a tire. Then I had to learn what size tire I had. (Do you know how to read the gibberish 180/ 60-R 15? Because now I can decipher that.) Then I had to figure out if anything could be repaired rather than replaced (Answer: the front wheel and tire need to be replaced but the back wheel and tire may be partially salvageable. I had to determine what kind of wheel I had (Answer: steel.) and what kinds they sold (Answer: mainly aluminum.) and learn about why no one would sell me a steel wheel, and also why I wasn't allowed to have both steel and aluminum wheels on my car at the same time, although I can choose either one as long as all four wheels match. Actually, I'm still not clear on that last one: the physics-y answer is that the moment of inertia of steel and aluminum are different, but I don't really understand how and when the differing moments of inertia will become a serious problem in car handling.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The world is actually doing pretty well

As an counterpoint to the general doom and gloom about 2016, my uncle wrote in a recent post that 2016 was actually a pretty good year when he looked at immediate surroundings. He's right that we need to take a long-term view. Since I'm a person likes to believe what the data tell me, this blog post filled me with optimism. If we look at the past two centuries, the world is richer, more literate, healthier, more democratic, and more educated. By a lot. From the big picture perspective, I sure am lucky to be living in this century, where I am well-fed, well-educated, and healthy.