Monday, August 26, 2019

Bicycle wheel chandelier (aka, planning for failure: success!)

I can't remember where I found the book that extolled the virtues of "planning for failure".   The author wasn't suggesting we plan to fail, but rather, that being willing to experiment, or to learn from our mistakes, is a tremendous asset.   As in, when you start a new project, build in time for reflection and learning so that the next round is better.

And so.  I decided that making a bicycle wheel chandelier would be a great opportunity to plan for failure -- or rather, to plan to learn from my failures, so I could get better and better.

Why a bicycle chandelier?  Our new living room came with gobs of natural light, but basically zero electrical light*.  The room is beautiful, with 9-foot ceilings and gorgeous woodwork, ornate radiators, a handsome brick fireplace, and NO wall-mounted or ceiling mounted light fixtures.  It's wonderful during the day, but as soon as the sun goes down, it becomes a bit of a cave.   So we need a way to add focused light to a couple of different areas the room where we spend the most time.  Table lamps with long cords to trip on just don't cut it. 
My first attempt at a bike chandelier.
It's ugly, but a fun kind of ugly,  I think.
* In the weird electrical wiring of ways of this house, there are actually two sockets for light bulbs on the fireplace mantel.   The electrician initially told us they don't work: they do, actually, and there are four (4!) different light switches that control this pair of sockets.  The two switches at different ends of the living room make sense, but the switches in the dining room and upstairs hallway do NOT -- especially because those switches both override the living room switches, so if you turn off the lights while you're in the dining room or in the upstairs hallway, people in the living room can't turn them back on.   So weird.  

So.   I decided to look for ceiling fixtures.   Not surprisingly, these are super pricey (think $200-$1000 each), even without considering adding in the work of running wires through the wall and installing proper receptacles on the ceiling.  So, I decided to stop looking at ceiling fixtures, and to make my own.  This way I could experiment easily with amount of light, placement of the fixtures, and style.   Plus, I'd get to learn a bit along the way.
  • I bought 5 different wheels from a bike salvage store for $5 total.
  • I bought two ugly lamps, a large bunch of LED bulbs, and some extension cords (to use for wiring) from our local Habitat Restore.   In the same store, I also got a few supplies for other projects, and I ended up spending about $46 on everything together.  
  • While I was on that trip, I stopped at a yard sale and got 4 milk jugs for a quarter apiece; since I can return them to our market milk stand for $2 each, this is like spending negative $7.  
  • At some point, I needed to buy a bunch more cord from the hardware store; 30 feet of lamp wire ran about $10.  
That's the procurement part.  Let's get to the lessons: having spent a somewhere south of $54 on supplies, here's some of what I learned.

This circular chandelier (on its side) was the raw material for one of my new fixtures.
For the purposes of transferring sockets plus wires to a bike wheel, circular chandeliers are somewhat preferable to long wall fixtures.   One reason is that the wires attached to sockets  in a circular fixture are all the same length, so they all met at the middle of the bike wheel when I moved them to their new home.   On the other hand, if you want fixtures for regular bulbs (not skinny chandelier bulbs), then it's totally doable to use the long rectangular kinds, which are much more likely to have the kind of fatter socket you want.   It just gets a little uglier, because the wiring connectors will be a little off-center in the bike chandelier.

This long wall-mounted fixture has sockets for regular-sized bulbs.  

The back of the wall-mounted fixture. 
Notice that the wires from the sockets are different lengths.
That will affect aesthetics, but not function, in the bike version of the lamp.  

What else?  Oh, let's see.  To get the store-bought fixtures taken apart, mostly I just needed a wrench.   But with the larger sockets,  I wrenched around fruitlessly for a while before I realized there's a little screw inside the socket that attaches the socket to the fixtures.

Removing the socket from the gold-colored fixture.  
Okay, but here's the thing that made me kind of giddy with happiness to discover:  If you've ever changed the lightbulb in a ceiling fixture, you probably know that there's a fat central threaded post; the cover often screws onto this post.  The same kind of post is in store-bought chandeliers.  Well, if anyone ever doubted the existence of an omniscient and benevolent God, here's the evidence that such a being loves us:  the axle of a bicycle and the threaded post of a chandelier match.  That is, to hang a bike wheel, all you have to do is screw on a chandelier knob.
Voila: a chandelier knob on a bike wheel. 
I still can't quite believe how sweet that is.
Is that not a kind of minor miracle, or what?

Other things I learned:  it's hard to buy the kind of switch that goes right on the cord.  Our hardware store sells them for $5 a piece; never mind THAT!  I will probably find some old desk lamp that someone is tossing and scavenge that switch eventually.  Right now we're still at the "plug it in or unplug it" to turn one of the chandeliers on and off; the other one, we plug into a power strip with a switch.  So we're not all the way there yet, but it keeps evolving.

I'll write in another post with a few photos of how I did this, and also current drafts of the project.  But meanwhile, on to more experimenting.  Failure, ho!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.  We're particularly lush with job stuff lately, which I admit has been kind of drawing my attention away from important things like, I dunno, exercise.  Family.  The Good Stuff.  I'm hoping this is a temporary Wealth-Of-Work because of coming back from vacation.

What kind of wealth of work?  Well, the pictures here are of K-daughter on the job.   They remind me of a poem we used to chant when we were kids:
As you climb up the ladder of success,
Don't let the boys look up your dress.
These pictures make K-daughter look powerful and brave to me!

J-son finished up working at his summer camp.  I got to chat with him by phone both before and after his last week, and he admitted he was both relieved and a little misty-eyed that this very hard job was ending.   I asked him if any of the kids at his camp cried when they said good-bye to him, and they had.  And he fessed up to shedding a few tears himself.  But he also got to sleep in until nearly noon today, to recuperate.  Schadenfreude for sure.

As for me, classes start next week, which means that these few weeks are full of frantic finishing up of summer work, and equally frantic pulling together of syllabi and semester stuff, all of which gets interrupted by committee meetings and other suddenly urgent events.  I've been putting out fires regarding the book, and throwing myself into polishing up a grant proposal, which is the summer-wrap-up part of my life.  And my syllabi are finally . . . phew . . . done.  And the meetings included a bunch of actually useful and thought-provoking information.   (We had a great symposium on helping students with disabilities, and a session on avoiding implicit bias that made me look at something in a different way, so good). 

While I'm getting ready to start, N-son has just finished up his summer semester at school; he came home yesterday for a 10-day break.  He brought home a book that I'd had my husband buy for him, but that I hadn't yet gotten to read myself, on "organizing solutions for people with ADHD".  He says he wants to read it with me.  I am sooooo psyched.  I kind of love organizing things, if you hadn't picked up on that.  I think I got so psyched that I scared him a bit.  whoops.

While N-son was riding around with me, heading to the hardware store and back, I hit a curb when I was parking, and the right front tire sprang a leak.  Sigh

But this is kind of where work comes in for my husband.   He's off in San Diego now doing . . . some science-y thing.  Well, I'm not really sure.  It's kind of like work, except he's retired so it's like volunteer work where someone pays for your plane ticket.

But when I told him about the tire, he said "I'll take care of it. "  And I figure that makes sense, because after all, he's the one who's retired.  (Who's re-tired.  Get it?) 

Well, even if my jokes fall flat (heh), that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our work adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Peaches: because I can

Even though my new kitchen is shaped like a question mark and has the most . . . eclectic . . . configuration of shelves I've ever seen in a kitchen, even so, it turns out to be a pretty decent kitchen for canning purposes.  The fact that the dining room is right near by helps a lot, because the dining room accounts for 85% of the counter space in the kitchen anyway.

Oh, and I discovered in the process of trying to keep my jars warm that the oven is too small for my baking pans.  What's up with that?  Fortunately, the turkey pan fits -- not that we had to use the turkey pan for canning purposes, but I decided it would be good to check as long as I was futzing with the oven anyway.  

So, voila:  my first round of canned food in the new home!  I picked 75 pounds of peaches on Friday, and canned them up with my daughter and a friend on Sunday.  
A dozen jars went home with my friend. 
One jar didn't seal; these are the others, waiting for a bit of
a soapy wipe down before their trip into the basement. 
Aren't they pretty?

Even though I've been canning for a while now, though, I learned some good stuff.  One is: don't pick on Friday and then wait until Sunday to start canning.  Because the peaches were really ripe, and a bunch of them didn't make it all the way to Sunday . . . kind of spectacularly going bad, in fact. 

The other thing I learned is much more positive (more fruitful, so to speak):  a 5-gallon bucket holds 25 pounds of peaches, which makes approximately 12 quarts of canned peaches.  In the past, our family had used a wide variety of buckets and bushels and baskets, and I never quite knew how much we'd picked until it was weighed.  And it was only last year that I started keeping good records about where those peaches went (how many became jam, how many became canned peaches, etc).  This year, I picked exactly three 5-gallon buckets of peaches, which came out to 76 pounds.  The spoilage meant that we didn't quite can up 3 dozen quarts -- we were about 4 quarts shy.  But the conversion is close enough that in the future, if I decide I want a certain number of jars of peaches, I'll know just how many to pick when I go to the orchard.  How cool is that? 
Canning pots and buckets, rinsed out and drying on our back patio. 

It's a weird side-benefit of downsizing and getting rid of stuff.  We gave away so many of our specialty buckets that I only had the 5-gallon buckets left . . . and that turned out to make the whole tracking process a gazillion times easier.  Go figure.  

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Miser Family Update in pictures

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family these days.  The last two weeks have been full of travels for me, so this update will be rich in photographs.

As July turned into August, our book went to press!  And about the same time, I went to the math meetings in Cincinnati, where I got to see an advance copy of my book out in the booth, right next to an advance copy of Bob Bosch's awesome forthcoming book.  I think we did blurbs for one another, which feels a bit like nepotism, but . . . 

My book!  Well, an advance copy, not yet formatted correctly.

But I am not the only one in the family making stuff that delights the person who makes it.  L-daughter writes,
"yesterday I spent the day with my neighbor George who taught me how to make challah bread."  
"It was a lengthy but quite calm process and the finished product was absolutely delicious." 

"It made me think of you and all the bread you made in the bread maker throughout our childhood." 
But my break-maker bread never looked quite this delicious. 

And K-daughter also makes things:  in her case, HVAC things.  Below, you see a picture of an Erv.  (I'm sure you know all about Ervs, of course).
"It was super cool to see our product in NY! Our energy recovery ventilators are
going all over, but a lot of them lately have been shipping to NY!"
Not to be left out of the "scaling tall buildings in a single bound" is N-son, who is learning to do scaffolding stuff.  As an educator, I'm often involved in conversations about "scaffolding learning" (by assigning simpler projects at first and then assigning more complicated work as time goes by), but when we talk about "scaffolding" and "building competencies", we don't usually mean it quite as literally as N-son gets to experience.
In a completely different kind of creative act, I-daughter helped me build this smiley face on a playground set in Oregon.   (This is made of 2" beads that are black on one side and gray on the other).  

The reason that we're in Oregon (because, remember, the math meetings were in Cincinnati) is that as the math meetings were ending I flew out to join my family for our annual vacation in a little town about two hours from Crater Lake.

The waters are very, very blue in this lake, 
and the clouds reflect beautifully in a way that let me think about both nature and
projective geometry at the same time.
My daughter caught me math-ing here.

This is I-daughter in front of the lake.
Did I mention the lake is really, really blue?

On a slightly different adventure, we meandered outside our
guest home for about 5 minutes, during which little burrs attached
themselves to I-daughter's skirt. 
And then we spent an hour removing the burrs.

You can see the burrs more easily on this sock,
although those were much faster and easier to remove!
We also got to do the typical Oregon thing of visiting an Alpaca Ranch (okay, I guess that's not actually so typical, but it was fun), . . .
Alpacas!   They're not very friendly creatures, but
they're herd animals, so they pretend to be friendly.

. . . and I went for a hike with my dad and a sister and a niece that started in the rain and ended in the sun.
We're not frowning; we're squinting in the sun.
J-son has been hanging out with young kids that aren't Alpacas (a young alpaca is actually a "cria", not a "kid", but I needed a transition here).  He's still working very, very hard as a camp counsellor at his sleep-away camp, with 70 non-cria human beings occupying his time.   The next two weeks ought to be a bit easier, as the number of campers is likely to decrease a tad, and as they switch to day-camp only.  He's had to be on the go fairly constantly, pulled in lots of (very exciting) directions. 

I've spent a lot of my career joking with people about trying to be in two places at once, or about an inability to be in two places at once.  Well, we went to a cool science museum that I think has figured out how to solve this problem!
When I've fully perfected this technique, I'll be sure to let you know.

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our traveling adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A tale of 5 coffee makers

It was the best of grinds; it was the worst of grinds.  As I was packing up the deep recesses of our cabinets early this summer, in preparation for moving houses, I came upon a stash of coffee makers.  Somehow, over the years, we've accumulated a total of five of these.

I write "somehow", but the truth is that I know exactly how this stockpile of coffee appliances came about.   My favorite stores (that is, yard sales) are closed during the winter.   We had a bad experience a few years back when our coffee maker died during the winter -- requiring frantic trips to so-called-thrift-shops.   After that, whenever I'd come across an inexpensive coffee maker at a yard sale, I'd grab it "just in case".   I wanted to make sure we were never again stranded without an emergency back-up coffee maker.  And the way these things go, even without noticing it, I managed to become overly wealthy in coffee makers.

But we didn't want to move our entire wealth of coffee makers over to the new home.   We decided that having two coffee makers (a primary and an emergency back up) ought to hold us in good stead.  We picked our favorite two, based on the kind of filters we used, and hauled the other three out to the yard sale, to put the coffee makers back "in the cloud".

Coffee makers, anyone?  (See the lower left corner).
So here's an interesting phenomenon:  people don't really sell or buy coffee makers at yard sales much any more.   A few years ago, these babies used to be everywhere, and you could always find one for less than $5.  But this past July, our three were almost the only ones offered at the huge neighborhood yard sale, and nobody wanted them.  Even priced at 25¢ (or $1 for a bagful/armful), we had a terrible time finding any takers.   Someone told me this is the Keurig influence; I don't know.

At any rate, we managed to off-load two of our coffee makers at the yard sale, and delivered a third to a so-called-thrift shop.  And we moved our two favorite coffee makers to our new home.

And then a week later, the black coffee maker just stopped working.  We'd press the button, the light would come on, but the water wouldn't get hot or perk its way through.  Darn it.  Fortunately, we were prepared, and had our emergency back-up; the white coffee maker.

And then two days later, I came downstairs to see that my husband had written something on top of the coffee maker in sharpie. Since I'm the designated label-fanatic in the family, seeing him mark an object up meant that something serious was afoot.

And here's what my husband wrote:

"Water leaks out bottom".
Sheesh.  What this means is that the coffee maker still works, but we can't follow our usual routine of him setting up everything the night before, and me just pushing the button in the morning.  We have to wait to pour the water in until right before we make the coffee.  (The water doesn't leak out of the pot, just out of the reservoir, and it's not a super speedy leak, at least not yet).

So, we don't quite have a coffee maker emergency, but dang.  I'm traveling right now, so I can't go check out my favorite stores, and even when I get back I don't know if I'll be able to find a coffee maker in the cloud anymore (a pre-flight cursory check of a local so-called-thrift store didn't turn up any possibilities, either, and our local Craig's List has only Keurig models -- which lends some credence to the theory my yard-sale buddies told me).  I might just try the old "put out the word" method instead; I-daughter has already mentioned that she might have one she doesn't use.

Sigh.  From 5 coffee makers to a single semi-usable one, just like that.  No wonder I'd hoarded them over the years!   I don't know if I can use shoe-goo or some such glue to fix the white maker; that'd be pretty cool if I could.  It would buy me even more time to start building my coffee pot portfolio again, and to regain the wealth that we've squandered so recklessly.  It is a far, far better thing to brew.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The stealth labeler strikes again . . .

A half a century ago, the college where I work was a male-only college.   Partly as a lingering consequence of that history, the building where I work has exactly one restroom on each floor:  women are odd and men are even.  I like to joke that all the female mathematicians know all the historians, and all of the male historians know the mathematicians.  (This leads to funny euphemisms: one of our job candidates once told me, "Er, I'd like to go visit the history department.")

Alternating-floor restrooms are unusual enough, but the situation has been all the odder because the Powers That Be decided all signs should be as discrete as possible.   And so new people to the building have a terrible time finding a restroom.  Because we're a college with a new set of classes each semester, we're constantly getting a new set of confused and antsy people asking us for directions to a place that ought to be easier to find.  

So last week, emboldened by my happy kitchen labeling*, I decided to what-the-heck make some visible labels that let people actually see where the restroom is from afar, and direct them to the other floors if that's what the situation calls for.
* My daughter asked, "Mom, did you buy a label machine?", 
but I'd just made them on the computer.  And my husband heard 
that I'd planned for the labels to be temporary, but said he 
hoped I'd leave them indefinitely.  I'm feeling label love here, folks.

A sign that sticks out into the hallway,
so you can see the sign from far away.
A small sign underneath the women's sign,
directing men to the even floors.
I don't know if the Powers-That-Be will leave the signs up or not.  But anecdotally, I've been hearing people who work in this building say things like, "I'm glad they finally decided to put up signs" (using the ambiguous "they").   Maybe the ambiguous "they" will never realize the stealth labeler has struck, and will ignore the signs entirely.  Maybe someone somewhere will decide to make signs out of something more durable than card stock and tape.  Or maybe the Administrator of Aesthetics will decide the signs are ugly and remove them.  Who knows what will happen?

As long as I was on a labeling tear, I decided to add signs to the water fountains, too.  (These are, not intuitively, stuck in alcoves at the opposite ends of the buildings from the restrooms, and are even less visible than the restrooms, if that's even possible).
Water fountain!  It's hard to find a clip art logo for this, actually.
It's weird to do something which feels simultaneously like an act of public service and an act of vandalism.  On the one hand, it's the kind of thing that lots of people say, "Somebody ought to . . .", and on the other hand, I've worked here 27 years and nobody has followed through.  So the weight of history and tradition and inertia sit heavy.   Printing out a couple of pieces of paper and taping them to the walls feels oddly daring.

It feels daring, and also kind of thrilling and addictive.  Who knows where the stealth labeler will strike next?  

Thursday, August 1, 2019


How to take things out of cardboard boxes, that is the question.  Or rather, where to put things as I take them out of boxes.

Drawers with labels.
I've been fairly deeply influenced by Julie Morgenstern's book "Organize yourself from the Inside Out".  She's an advocate of thinking in terms of zones of activity, and also in terms of labeling.

As a consequence, my kitchen things have gone from sitting inside labeled cardboard boxes to finding new homes inside labeled kitchen drawers and cabinets.  The cabinet labels, they're for helping family members figure out the new system.   The labels are temporary, until we all get used to this.   I made the labels on card stock, using a font I like, so they're not too ugly.  And they're held in place with minimal amounts of water-soluble Elmer's glue.   I'm hoping this means it'll be easy to remove them and clean the cabinets up in a month or so.

On the one hand, the cabinets in my kitchen are amazing in a good way.  They're custom built, and carefully designed.  They're beautiful.

But also, the cabinets are amazing in a what-the-heck way.  It's like, they were designed for someone who wanted a beautiful kitchen for people who cook by ordering pizza or Thai.   Because it's not a person-centric kitchen.  

The kitchen itself is kind of question-mark-shaped, so a surprisingly large number of cabinets are triangular, to accommodate the twists and turns.  The ceilings are 9 feet up, and the cabinets go all the way up, and of course the top cabinets are largely unreachable until we get a 3-step step stool.  On one side, the cabinets are a mere 11 inches deep, with hardly enough room to store large objects.   On the other wall, they're 25 inches deep, so anything that gets shoved to the back is likely to get lost behind other objects, especially on those higher shelves.  The counter space is broken up into four tiny pieces -- two of which are barely wide enough to hold a toaster; the longest stretch of counter space is 36".  
From the back door, you can see the kitchen curves around the stove
and then past the sink the other way, into the dining room.

From the dining room, looking at this odd space from the opposite direction.

I love the challenge of using this space.  It's such a great puzzle!

And because of Julie Morgenstern, I'm thinking of this puzzle not as a jigsaw puzzle, where I have to find spaces to hold the things I own, but as logic puzzle:  what do I want to do in the kitchen?  Where am I going to do it?  How can I make sure the thing I want to use is where I'll need it?  Then, I can think:  how do I pull things out of boxes?  Zones.  Labeling.  

Can opener pretending to be
a bat in a cave.
Take the can opener, for example.   In the past, my can opener has gone in a kind of "miscellaneous food prep" drawer, with scissors and markers that I use to label frozen food and such.  But this kitchen is skimpy on drawers, and so I had to get creative.  Where do I actually use my can opener?  When I'm opening cans, of course.  Where are the cans?  In the giant, 25-inch-deep cabinets near the refrigerator (food zone).  So the can opener goes with the cans, on a hook.  Voila!   I love this. 
In fact, I love hooks so much I hung a few other things, at least for now:
Ice cream scoops hang on the side of the fridge,
right where the ice cream is.

Canning jar ring hang on bent hangars in the canning jar zone.
Everyone has a canning jar zone in their kitchen, right?
In terms of zones, (keeping things near where we'd naturally use them), I've got
  • the cooking zone near the stove and oven:  cast iron pans down low, cooking pots up higher, a dedicated cabinet for electric appliances.  
  • a food zone near the fridge, with baking supplies on two sets of shelves, another skinny shelf for "sauces and snacks", and then deep deep cabinets for "food that needs prep" (like pasta and canned goods).    
  • a food storage container zone, with an odd triangular cabinet for pyrex containers, a different odd L-shaped cabinet for canning jars, and a drawer for "canning jar bling" (lids, funnels, grabbers, etc). 

This label says "Canning Jar Bling". 
This is what it looks like when
I'm not wearing my reading glasses,
so now you see what I see.
So far, things seem to be working well, cross fingers.  I'm zoning the rest of the house, too (but of course), and doing my best to get those cardboard boxes out of our living spaces and into the homes of other people who are packing.    The place is looking more and more like a messy house, and less and less like a warehouse.   With any luck we can push through the messy phase into the "inviting" phase.

Un-boxing, man.  I love it.