Saturday, February 21, 2009

Feeling the Love

I love looking at the stars, but I don't really know very much about them. I had a floor-mate, Julie, in college who was an astronomy major, which mostly meant that we didn't see much of her because she spent evenings and nights in the observatory. The other exotic thing about Julie was that she was from Las Vegas. Up until I met her I hadn't ever really thought about the fact that there were families living in Las Vegas. But I digress. During one January Wintersession (a voluntary mini-semester filled with mostly non-academic workshops) she offered a star gazing workshop and a bunch of us who lived near her signed up. If I remember correctly the entire group was people from our floor. It was a lot of fun and I owe everything I know about stars to her. Because it was January the major constellations we could see were Orion, and Cassiopeia. I still think of her when I look up into the winter sky.

My nephew, D, loves learning about space and I'm guessing he knows much more about it than I do. His current plan is a career in astrophysics, though I don't think he would state it that way, yet. When it came time to pick his holiday present this year I wanted to find something that he would love and that would challenge his intellect. It took me till mid-January (D is perfectly okay with receiving gifts whenever they show up) to figure out what to get him, but what I sent was a telescope - what every budding astrophysicist needs.

Yesterday after a very long day at work, I arrived home to find this in my mailbox.
It brought a big smile to my face, and I love that the constellation he drew is Orion, one of the few I can pick out of the night sky.

Unique's Photo Challenge: Urban Landscape

Post Office Square, Boston
taken February 7th

See more Unique's Photo Challenge here.

Biscotti Weekend 2008

The long overdue tale of my annual December trip to New Jersey.

Once again as the calendar turned to December I loaded up the car and headed for the wilds of New Jersey for Biscotti Weekend, an annual event that features wrestling, woodworking, reading, and the lovely smell of baked biscotti. I've been making the pilgrimage since my nephew D was 2, and it has become a tradition that we both look forward to.

The highlight of the weekend is the project, usually a woodworking project, that he and I put together for him to give to his parents. This year's project started with a couple of phone conversations in November. After giving D a week to think about the kind of project he'd like to do - this year I offered him the option of making something for his parents, his cousins, or friends. He decided that he'd like to make a stool for his parents (actually he gave me two options but the other will remain a surprise because it's on the table for next year). In the final planning call we settled on wood type and then I headed to the shop.

Or I should say I headed to the crate of plans. My sister, D's Tama, already has a simple footstool that I made for her years ago and I didn't want to duplicate that. In my stash of plans I found a couple different patterns for two step Shaker style stools featuring only a few, relatively simple parts. The only tricky aspect of the pattern I picked was the angled cut on the back edge of the stool. (I'll post details on my woodworking blog and update this with a link when I have.)

Preparations also included loading up my iPod with holiday music. My new car features an iPod connector and this meant that I didn't have to haul a bag full of cds with me.

I got a later start than I'd wanted, probably because I had my woodworking class Thursday night and didn't get packed until Friday morning. Friday's entertainment was limited to dinner at Teriyaki Boy, though D opted for pizza instead.

Saturday morning started bright and early with D's wrestling practice. He's been wrestling for 3 years and is very serious about it.


Preparing to take on his opponent.

He's got him down.

He should be looking at the back of him opponents neck.

While D and I were out of the house Shelley got started on her biscotti baking. Over the course of the weekend she made dozens of batches which were then shipped off to family and friends.

We split up for the afternoon, T took D and his friend, I, to see Bolt while I went to see The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a very powerful movie. I definitely recommend it, but be prepared to have it stick in your mind for weeks and months afterward - I still find myself pondering the ending. Bolt, which I saw last month with my pal RT is also very good, though definitely a kid's movie.

Once we got back from the movie we headed to the basement, where a temporary workshop was set up. I had done most of the preparation of the parts, since the R-K house does not have a workshop. Step 1 was to cut several notches in the sides of the stool. D decided he much rather have me do that task. Given the setup it was slow going. We got one or two done before dinner with D making sure the clamps remained tight.

After dinner we dropped the grown-ups off at a concert and returned to the house for several rounds of Hang on Harvey. D was the undisputed champion. After a few stories D headed off to bed, and I headed to the basement to finish sawing the notches.

On Sunday morning I joined Shelley and D at Princeton Friends Meeting.
While I attended meeting for worship Shelley tended to the babies, and D went to First Day School. I spent a few minutes in the meeting house after rise of meeting taking pictures. You can see them here.

Once we arrived back at their house it was back to the basement for D and me. The first order of business was drilling countersink holes and pilot holes for the screws that would hold the stool together.
D suited up to help drill.

D decided he wasn't up doing the actual drilling, but he did keep the parts organized. Twenty four holes later we were ready for assembly. (Side note Norm Abram pronounces this a-sem-ba-ly and it drives me crazy.) D volunteered to start all the screws. After giving them a coat of akempuky, he screwed them into the slats and steps.

starting screws
We chatted while he turned screws and D was occasionally distracted by the conversation.

Finally, it was on to final assembly. Where we discovered that the holes I had drilled in the one angled slat were on the wrong side. That and a couple of other errors had me a bit frustrated. My very intelligent nephew reminded me that "It's homemade. It doesn't have to be perfect." We decided that the stool would be fine with a couple of visible screws, the rest were to be covered with plugs and continued on. We also ran into an issue screwing on the top. I had not taken into account the location of the screws holding on the slats just under the top and the holes for attaching the top made the screws run into each other. Several additional holes were drilled and the top was finally attached.
D applying glue before attaching the slats.

Next step was to plug all the screw holes. I had cut plugs before heading down there, with my plug cutters. (I made several dozen by cutting lots of holes almost all the way through a piece of maple.) While I was working on cutting the notches, D had taken charge of popping the plugs out of their holes. After placing glue in each of the holes we added the plugs.

D using the dead-blow hammer to seat the plugs in their holes.

flush cut
After a short drying time D used the flush-cut saw to trim off the plugs.
He had great fun teaching Shelley all about the flush-cut saw.

The almost finished product - still needs sanding and wax.

D and Snowy (at least I think that's his name) - slightly blurry.
My mind is already working on ways to get a better picture of them next year.

I would be remiss if I didn't include a picture of the multi-tasking Shelley - cooking and watching videos on-line.

Monday morning before I headed home I was able to drop D off at school. One of the best parts was the map that D drew to show me how to get to his school.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

See It Sunday: Key

The key to the medical cabinet we use for storage in our kitchen. The cabinet used to be in Amy's Dad's office.

See more See It Sunday here.

Macroday: Nuts

Pistachios - the nut I've been craving recently.

See more MacroDay here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How I Met My True Love

I don't remember the first time I met her. She was a freshman when I was a senior, and joined the choir second semester. She was good friends with a couple of freshman with whom I was friendly and a second alto, like me, so I'm sure we met early in the semester. Choir officers helped run auditions and as the Business Manager I'm sure I did auditions that semester, but if I participated in hers I don't remember it.

My first memory is of her requesting to be excused from a concert. Our choir had rules about how many rehearsals you could miss, and all concerts were mandatory. In order to be excused the choir member had to make their case to the officers. We did this in a storage area next to the room we rehearsed in during a break. She was asking to be excused so she could attend her sister's wedding (number 2). I don't know why I remember this because , but it's stuck in my mind.

Toward the end of the year our choir was able to add a couple of last minute concerts, singing for alumnae clubs. Because the concerts were last minute we didn't have enough money in the budget to rent two large buses, but we wouldn't fit in one. We solved the problem by renting a van and a station wagon. The choir president drove the van, and I drove the station wagon. On the trip to New Jersey my passengers were all freshmen. Most of what I remember about the drive there is that our friend T was reading Little Women and kept giggling.

It is the drive home that sticks in my mind. Our choir director was a very dear man, but also very nervous. On the drive to New Jersey he had been driving the incoming choir president nuts, and she begged me to take him in the car on the drive back to school. So one of the freshmen road back on the bus and WAH rode with us. For reasons that escape me now Amy and T sat in the front seat with me (this was in the days of bench seats), and WAH and the remaining freshman, who was reading Ayn Rand, sat in the back.

When you sing in a choir one of the reminders you hear frequently is to enunciate the final consonants in words, so that they don't get lost. During the drive back to Massachusetts the three of us in the front seat spent a good portion of the drive singing along with the radio, over enunciating the final consonants in each and every word (or rather wur-duh). I don't know exactly why we did it. We certainly didn't discuss it before hand. That trip was when our friendship was forged.

The next year I worked on campus, as a teaching intern at the lab nursery school (a story for another day), and lived just off campus with a family for whom I did child care in return for room and board (that too is a story for another day). Most of my classmates were either long gone or living in the city. But Amy, T and J all friends from choir who were now sophomores were only a short walk away. I spent a good portion of my free time with them. We talked, played games, went to movies... As the fall semester went on I ended up spending more time with Amy than the other two.

Our college has a January session, at the time a month of alternative courses - learn to knit, star gaze and the like. It was optional and Amy spent that month at home in the mid-west. Since this was well before the age of email and text messaging we wrote a lot of letters. Instead of spending most of my free time with Amy I spent my free time writing her letters.

Once she returned we spent as many hours together as possible. We went to the movies (My Favorite Year) and should have been thrown out because we talked through much of it. (My sincere apologies to everyone else in the theatre that night!) We talked late into the night, each night, after which I would walk home through the quiet streets of the suburban town.

About a week later I had to be home, partly to care for the children during a party and partly because I was taking GREs the next morning. There was at least one and possibly two phone calls that night. After the GREs we went and played in Boston with T, went to the movies, and out to dinner. Amy and I ended up sitting, or more correctly cuddling, and talking all night. There was a kiss, and the rest is history.

Tomorrow is the 26th anniversary of that kiss.

Inspired by a request from Maria way back in January.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Storm

the storm
Following the progress of today's storm from my office window. There is about an hour between each shot.
Taken using the black & white setting on my camera.

Monday, February 02, 2009

My Favorite Wrestler

Check out the cool video my sister-out-law took of our favorite wrestler, my nephew D (he's in the orange singlet).