As the snowbanks very slowly recede, E and I have taken to getting our nature walks in cemeteries, since the plowed and paved roads through them are much less wet and muddy than any woodland trails. Today we headed over to the famous Sleepy Hollow cemetery, and ended up on Author’s Ridge. Here’s Henry David Thoreau’s stone:


That’s right: evidently it’s a custom for visiting Thoreau-worshipers to leave him writing implements, in case he wants to continue his works from beyond the grave. Seems rather odd to me. A well-worn pencil might not look quite as ludicrous, but I can’t imagine what Thoreau would make of a bright-yellow highlighter pen. Doesn’t really fit his “simplify” theme.

Back home, the cat has decided that after 3+ months, he can no longer tolerate being limited to our shoveled paths, and has started to venture cross-country.


In January, we took our Christmas tree down shortly before all the snow started. We placed it lying down in the backyard in the spot where we burn brush each spring. We figured that when spring came and we had just enough snow left on the ground for optimal fire safety, we’d know exactly where to stack the rest of our brush, rather than burn off a new section of grass.

Or at least, that was the theory. Our snow is diminishing enough that we would like to burn fairly soon. But there is absolutely no sign of the Christmas tree.


E spent about 10 minutes today, poking around the yard with some sticks, trying to find it. It’s still missing. Hard to believe it’s nearly April, and we still have enough snow on the ground to be hiding an entire Christmas tree.

17 years later

Insurance companies usually advise you to photograph the contents of your house, so if there’s a total loss, you have proof for the insurance company of what you’ve lost. And then you’re supposed to store the photos somewhere other than your house. In today’s world of digital cameras and pictures stored in the cloud, there’s probably way more digital evidence than most of us would ever need. But I was rummaging through my desk drawer at work, and ran across some pictures from when I had heeded that advice in the pre-digital era. I think they were taken in 1998 shortly after I moved into my current house, so M was about a year old. So funny to see the contrasts between then and now — some rooms have relatively little change, and others look quite different. We’ve definitely accumulated more stuff.

Living room:



M’s room:



M’s closet:



The computer area in the corner of the living room, and M (in the first pic, he’s at far right in his high chair):



My room, now E’s and my room, or perhaps now it belongs to the cat:



Corner in the spare bedroom, which has been turned into E’s closet:






Bad luck/good luck


Bad luck: Facilities guy who was hooking up ductwork and gas lines to a system I’d moved on Friday realized he’d lost his wedding ring, which had probably slid off while lubricating the ductwork joints
Good luck: After 10 minutes of searching, I found his ring in a wastebasket under a paper towel, next to a different sink than the one he thought he used to wash the lubricant off his hands

Bad luck: UPS attached to my system refused to start up properly in its new location
Good luck: Site electrician was available and able to get it going

Bad luck:
Multiple on/off power cycles on the UPS did something to the instrument computer so it couldn’t fully boot, even in safe mode
Good luck: Engineer from equipment vendor happened to be on site fixing something else, and could work on it

Bad luck: Engineer had to completely reimage the machine
Good luck (or not lucky — I was good): I had backed up all the instrument data to the network about an hour before moving it, so we only lost a few samples’ worth of data

Bad luck: Re-imaged system could control the instrument but didn’t have any of our methods or custom settings
Good luck: We’re getting rid of/selling off an identical system in another lab, so I can swap computers with it, have everything I need for the system I’m keeping with minimal reconfiguration, and nobody has to scrub sensitive corporate data from the freshly-reimaged machine

Bad luck: In order not to impact workflow with 2 systems down at the same time, I should do this swap very early in the morning before more people using these systems are in
Good luck: M’s high school has some weird alternate schedule tomorrow, so rather than go to work when he goes to catch the bus, I can go in really early, and he’s leaving the house at his own time anyway

Bad luck:
Got home and M said the cat had peed on his jacket on the floor
Good luck: M realized this before putting the coat in the coat closet or on his body, and hung the jacket over the tub

Bad luck: We don’t use the tub for bathing, but as a place to dry random stuff
Good luck: The jacket didn’t drip onto the metal clothes drying rack

Bad luck:
It may have dripped onto the humidifier
Good luck: The humidifier innards are starting to decay anyway, so even if we have to discard it for permanently reeking of cat pee, at least we got a full life out of it

Bad luck: Entire bathroom smells of cat pee
Good luck: We have another bathroom, which does not smell of cat pee

Out of everything, by far the best good luck was finding the guy’s wedding ring. I saw him later in the day, and he was still really grateful I’d found it, and still a little shell-shocked from having lost it.

Math problem

– You put gas in the car on the way home from church, and reset the trip-o-meter because you like to track your gas mileage.

— You drive about 1.5 miles from the gas station to home.

— Your son borrows the car in mid-afternoon. He says he’s going to a friend’s house who lives 2 miles away.

— Son later texts to say he’s eating dinner at a different friend’s house, who lives 2 miles from friend 1.

— Son drive 2 miles home from friend 2’s house.

— You get in the car the next morning to drive to work. About 1.5 miles from home, you glance down at the dashboard to check the temperature, and notice the trip-o-meter.

— What does the trip-o-meter say?

A) 9 miles.
B) 34.5 miles.

I don’t care if M does a little extra driving around with his friends that he doesn’t tell me about, such as to the local sandwich shop that they love, but seeing he put on an extra 25 miles in just a few hours was rather startling. I’m currently waiting for E to get home so we can address this with M. He got home on time with the car intact, so I’m not going to get too upset. But I guess I’d like to know enough of where he’s going, so that if something bad does happen, at least I know which town’s or city’s police department to call to ask about recent accidents.

Wardrobe issues

M had a big presentation for his history class on Friday. He was up late the night before preparing for it, and his teeth hurt from the orthodontist, so he wasn’t in the best mood Friday morning even without the stress.

Friday morning he got dressed in khakis, a rugby shirt, and a pink pullover sweater. It was actually my sweater, still in his closet because wore it for a seniors-wear-pink-on Valentine’s-Day thing, and it was so tight on him that he had torn a hole in the elbow. He asked if the sweater looked OK, and I told him it didn’t. (It actually looked totally ludicrous but I didn’t say that.)

I asked what look he was going for, and he said “more formal.” OK, then the too-small pink sweater was definitely out. I suggested his green-and-black button-down shirt. Which he put on, then added a beige sweater over it, because he said he didn’t want to wear the button-down shirt untucked, but didn’t want people to see his shirt tucked in. Huh? I totally don’t understand teenage boy clothing rules. At least the final outfit looked OK.

By this point he was running so late that I wasn’t sure if he’d catch the bus in time. So I took pity on the exhausted, nervous kid with the aching mouth and drove him to school, which is a few miles of detour on my way to work.

It was all quite a contrast to E’s wardrobe commentary heading out the door that same morning: “This sweater is linty, oh so what, it’s Friday and I don’t have any meetings.” And quite a contrast to the first 16 years of M’s life, in which he’d wear whatever shirt and whatever pants were on top of the stacks in his dresser.

Oh, and later in the day? M said his presentation went fine. Good!

We just got an email from M’s school, announcing that the school will be switching to a gender-neutral approach to graduation gowns. No more girls in white and boys in the school color — now everyone will be in the same school color. Woohoo! I know this change has been a tough fight in some school districts, with transgender students having to take on the entire establishment. But we’re here in nice liberal Massachusetts, so the school can just cite a state law as the reason:

“The cause for this change is related to state legislation, specifically An Act Relative to Gender Identity (Chapter 199 of the Acts of 2011), which is intended to help ensure that all students feel safe, supported, and included. The Act identifies transgender and gender nonconforming students as being in need of specific protection from discrimination.”

Now, ideally the school would have decided and announced this before the deadline to order graduation gowns without an extra late fee. Because there are probably a few families who didn’t order a gown, assuming their daughter could wear her older sister’s. (We have to buy the gowns, and goodness knows what they’re made of, that they only cost $20.) Or a few families that wouldn’t have bought a gown, if they knew their daughter could wear her older brother’s.

But then again, our school isn’t known for being practical about scheduling or timing. Today the school also announced a mandatory parent meeting to share details about graduation and senior week, scheduled for the same evening that all the Ivy League colleges, and a bunch of others, release their admissions decisions. E and I can’t be the only parents who would much rather spend the evening celebrating with or reassuring our son, than sitting in the school auditorium to learn a bunch of info that they could just email. We’re tempted to ask our neighbor (whose daughter was accepted Early Decision and isn’t awaiting any more college news) if she can just tell us whatever relevant stuff the meeting covers.

Anyway, at least the school is doing the right thing with the graduation gowns!

Market research

E is a coffee fiend. She’s known in every coffee shop within 10 miles of home/work/commute. So it wasn’t entirely surprising that when a new coffee shop opened in our town, she

    — had to visit
    — knew the owner, who used to work at a different local coffee shop
    — spent so long chatting with the owner that M and I, waiting for her at the library, started to wonder if she’d been hit by a car.

As part of all that chatting, it turned out that the shop owner, who doesn’t have any decor on the walls, would be willing to hang some of my photographs, and sell them if anyone’s interested in buying them. E and I have been kicking around the idea of selling my pictures, and this looks like an easy way to start into the market. For hanging photos at home, I’ve generally had them printed on canvas (which makes them look more artsy than just printing on shiny paper) in a 16×20″ size. And the prints come with the canvas wrapped around a wooden frame and a sawtooth hanger on the back, so there’s no need to buy a frame; these are ready to just hang on a nail on the wall. However, 16×20″ is probably larger than the shop owner would want to hang, and a little too expensive for the impulse buyer market.

So, poll time: what size sounds good, what price sounds good, and which of these subjects sound most appealing to a general audience? (Or to the more specific audience of people in an upscale suburb who buy artwork along with their coffee?)




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