Saturday, January 25, 2020

Feeling shelf-ish

Shelves that are green on top and on the outside,
purple on the undersides.
Up above the shelves is a green bike wheel
I'm making into a chandelier, because I can.
So, I've made a set of green-and-purple shelves out of an old doghouse.

When we moved from our former home to this new (to us) home this past summer, we left behind a set of floor-to-ceiling, built-in bookshelves.   We also managed to re-home quite a few of our books, but not all of them.  Because of that, many of our books and book-like belongings have been been biding their time, tucked away in printer paper boxes on the floor, or stashed in printer paper boxes in my office at work, waiting for the day that they can stand up properly  and flex their spines out in the open. 

The thing is, wood seems to be freaky expensive.  I've toured our Habitat Restore -- there's not really any good shelving lumber there.  New lumber from the hardware store is pricey enough that I've convinced myself it's an environmental imperative to avoid using it if I can.  So I've been scouting around for scrap lumber, but it's not exactly been easy to find. 

Two wrongs don't make a right, but sometimes two problems make a solution.   The people who owned this house had apparently built a dog house at one time, and when they moved out, they tossed the pieces of that dog house amid a big pile of other random unfinished projects in the basement.  After we moved in, we donated a bunch of railings and poles to a scrap metal collector, we cleaned out piles of sand and bricks, and I'm still not sure what to do with all the cinder blocks we were gifted.  (Some of them are part of shelves I "built" -- really, piled up -- in the basement, but we're wealthy beyond our needs when it comes to cinder blocks).  And I laid the pieces of the dog house -- heavy 4'x4' pieces of grooved plywood -- off to one side, awaiting inspiration. 

Eventually, I realized that if Literature Professors can deconstruct a text, I can deconstruct a dog house.  I used the grooves as guides and sawed the pieces into usable widths.  For the cost of about $7 in L-brackets and screws, I had a set of shelves that were fairly sturdy but really badly ugly from weather and outdoor use.  Oh, and also kind of ugly because I used more of a "measure-once-bang-it-together" approach than a more professional carpenter would have. 

When it comes to home projects, I tend to be a "Sin Boldly" type, figuring that gawdy paint makes construction quirks seem "arty" rather than "inept".  So I grabbed some paint from a previous project or two.   I like how the green and purple contrast, with the purple in the shadows.  There's a single board on the back toward one side to provide side-to-side stability, and I have that purple, too.  The shelf just barely fits in that corner of the room-- in fact, in order to make it fit, I had to lift it back out, use the jigsaw to cut a notch out of the bottom for the radiator pipe, and then lift it back in. 

I've started hauling financial stuff back from my math office, and that means the poetry books aren't far behind.  My green-and-purple shelves, here in my Command Center.  I'm so happy.   It's a good kind of shelf-ish feeling, really.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Use the microphone

It's the beginning of the semester, and employees at my institution have been organizing and attending seminars on making our spaces more inclusive.   I'm really grooving to the stuff we're talking about.  Like, I thought my classes were already "inclusive" because . . . well, because I don't deliberately exclude people.  And also, to be honest, because think I'm awesome and so therefore everything I touch is awesome.    It has to automatically follow that all my students should naturally thrive in the wonderful systems I've created, and if they don't thrive, it's because somehow they've chosen to be deficient.

So it's good to get a bit of a reality check on the kinds of assumptions I make unconsciously, and how a conscious examination shows that I've missed some big areas for improving.  To whit: not everyone sees as well as I do. Not everyone hears as well as I do.  Not everyone understands the terms in my syllabus, or has the ability to focus intensely, or feels comfortable in a roomful of strangers, the way I do.  And if I keep those differences in mind, I can do things with my syllabus and the structure of my class to make it easier for everyone to see and hear and process and digest and collaborate better.

We've been thinking about this for a while at my school, and by a nice coincidence, we're also thinking about inclusivity and disability in our church Sunday School class.  And after a while of thinking about this, and then attending the big math meetings with all those math talks, I just want to say . . .

If there's a microphone, people, USE IT.

That's the real point of this blog post:  use the microphone.  Do not say, "I'll just speak loud so people can hear me without it."  Don't do that.  Use the microphone.

Prewash is reading Same Lake, Different Boat,
a book that we're reading in our Sunday School at church,
except she's having a hard time understanding what the book says. 
 Let's assume for a moment that you're right, and you're so loud that every single person in the room can hear you without the microphone.  It's still the case that the room is likely to contain a bunch of other noise that competes for people's attention: fans humming, chairs scraping, people coughing or whispering to one another.  The act of focusing on one noise among many takes a bunch of mental energy.  Do you really want to sap the energy of your listeners?

In fact, just last week I read a study that says that people who are losing their hearing, but who don't get hearing aides, are more likely to develop dementia than people who get hearing aids.  No one is sure why, yet, but one theory is that the stress of sorting out meaning from imperfectly heard words just wears out the old brain.  So even if everyone can hear you, it's worth it to use that microphone so people can hear you more easily.

Even if she gets closer, she can't make out the words.
Maybe she needs glasses?
But the truth is likely that your assumption is wrong, and not everyone can hear you.   Speakers usually stand in a privileged part of the room that's particularly quiet, but the listeners aren't always so lucky.  Some people are sitting near a fan that's humming, and some people are sitting near the open door where voices come in from outside, and other people are seated right in front of two people who are having a whispered conversation, so people who would totally be able to hear you if they were as lucky as you to be in that quiet spot . . . well, they're not that lucky, and they can't hear your voice.

Even more, assuming that everyone in the room can hear you is like assuming that everyone in the room ought to be able to climb stairs.  Hearing aids are smaller and more discrete than ever, and people who don't hear well and don't wear hearing aids usually don't go around broadcasting the fact that they're just missing huge parts of the conversation.  When you speak without the microphone, it's like crossing the street at the curb instead of the ramp; even if most people can follow you, some people won't.   In fact, sometimes people can link their hearing aids into the sound system, so the microphone transmits directly to them in a way that no voice -- however loud -- can make its way across a room and into their ears.

So use the microphone.  It's not an insult to you and your speaking voice to have to resort to that, it's a warm way to welcome everyone in the room equally into the conversation.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

On becoming a Parent Emeritus

When a professor retires from teaching, provided she's done the right kinds of things along the way, she might earn the title "Professor Emeritus". The "E" in "emeritus" comes from "ex" (or "out"); one of my friends who is an emeritus professor says the title means he's "out of it and deserves to be" -- but that phrase is actually just a classy Latin way of declaring that a professor is "honorably discharged".

The Life of the Mind being what it is, many retired professors keep doing stuff that looks like work. I just got back from the big math meetings, and I was surrounded by emeriti professors who are still doing research, who are still active on editorial boards and professional committees, who are still attending talks on new kinds of mathematics and even organizing conferences themselves. It's one of those things that reaffirms that I've chosen a great career path. People around me say, "I'd do what I do even if they didn't pay me" . . . and then they really do.

So, with my kids growing up and moving (cross-fingers) out of our home, I like to think of myself as becoming a "Parent Emeritus". I'm not a full-time parent, but I get to jump in every once in a while and put on bandaids and kiss boo-boos and tell my kids to clean up their mess and help them get out of a jam (only now in a more adult version of those scenarios). I am ready to enter this phase.

I like the title "parent emeritus" a LOT. I've been telling people that I've been looking forward to the empty nest, that although I'm not ready to retire from math, I'm ready to retire from parenting, and their response has invariably been, "Well, you never stop being a parent." Well, YEAH, true.

But if you retire from being a professor you don't have to grade exams or bring plagiarism cases before the dean, and if you retire from being a parent you don't have to clean exploded spaghetti out of the microwave you cleaned the day before and haven't used except to warm up a cup of tea.

If you retire from being a professor you don't have to serve on the Assessment Committee unless you really love developing 3-year assessment plans, and if you retire from being a parent you don't have to drive your kid to the Awards Banquet where 5 different speakers start by saying, "I'll be brief" or "I won't speak for long" so you know they're going to drone on forEVER, unless you really like going to Awards Banquets run by amateur speakers.

So, I'm declaring that I'm working toward becoming a Parent Emeritus. I'm going to keep doing math and mentoring junior faculty, and I'm going to keep having Special Dinners and giving my kids advice. But after three decades of scheduling my days around taking care of my offspring, it's kind of nice to be in the space where I know I can stay late at my office whenever I want (or even better, when I know I can leave early because going home early doesn't complicate picking up children and starting the "second shift"). I get to go to math conferences with my colleagues and I get to go to performances that my kids stage managed, . . . but someday I won't have to fill out Committee Preference Forms and someday soon I won't have to make space in my home for all the gear and the garments and the garbage that my kids have accumulated.
I love being a parent.   I love being a mathematician.  I'd do either of them even if nobody paid me (oh, wait: regarding the first, I already do).  But I'm ready to retire from full-time parenting and move into the emeritus phase.  

But first, I gotta go clean out the microwave and warm up my cup of tea.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Red plastic chairs

One man's trash is another man's treasure, and all that.   Our college is remodeling some old classrooms, with furniture from the 1990s (?? or 1970's?).  And the person clearing out these spaces has been sending out "anyone want?" emails.

I love this.   I love that we have people who want to find alternatives to just tossing stuff in landfills, and I love that occasionally some of this stuff ends up being something that solves one of my own need/wants.  But even if I never ever need-wanted any of this stuff, it's just awesome to be part of a community that shares.   It's a baby step toward the picture painted in Acts:  "For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need."

So, from time to time, those who have classroom spaces renovate them, and distribute the old furniture to anyone on the email list who has need-want.  

One of the recent emails offered stacks of red plastic chairs.   They're not my own personal style at all, but N-son is getting ready to move into an apartment nearby (cross fingers), and will need to furnish it. He needs furniture that's sturdy, and these chairs have managed to survive decades of college-student abuse, so I figure these qualify.  He's my kid and doesn't yet have a job and consequently wants chairs that don't cost a lot, so we figure "free" is a decent price for some furniture.  And his favorite color is red, so score.

 So I snagged him a set of four red plastic chairs and texted him to come to campus with my favorite transport vehicle: the green garden wagon. 

We divided up pulling the wagon home 50-50:  I told him, "you pull it uphill; I'll pull it downhill".   I'm glad he thought that was funny. 

Right now, the chairs are in the Dungeon in the basement, with his drums, waiting to move to the new apartment (cross fingers!).  So it's extra nice that these stack, and therefore take up a bit less floor space during this transition. 

Shelving is the next thing we need to get -- although I'm guessing we'll end up purchasing that instead of finding something in a discard pile.  We're going for open (wire?) shelving instead of dressers with drawers  because of that "Organizing strategies for people with ADHD" book that I can't find anymore . . . but that'll be a subject for another post. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Miser family update: knocks, music, and the gift of knowledge

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.  This week has been particularly rich with music and new skills.  And traffic tickets.  And old houses.

In no particular order . . . one evening, we had an impromptu performance of Percussive Hymns in the area of the basement we call The Dungeon.  Right now the dungeon is outfitted with a brown rug I trash picked, a bunch of red stacking chairs I rescued from a classroom renovation at my college, a bunch of random bricks, a broad sword (because, dungeon), and a nifty drum kit.  set.  kit.  (I'm not sure what to call that).   At any rate, N-son got some new drum bling for Christmas, and so he put on a show for his doting, shivering mom.  Some singing was involved, too.  It was quite something to behold and behear. 

On a completely different evening, a bunch of family members reunited for a nearby professional musical show, "Beach Party Blast".  I came appropriately attired, with a bathing cap and swim goggles and with a bikini (over a few other clothes, because January), and I had a blast.  I even got to lead the conga line.   In fact, the cast members had been told that on this particular night, there would be a woman who would likely jump right into the conga line.  They were told this by their Stage Manager.  And it turns out their Stage Manager was . . . I-daughter!  She was super excited to get this job, and told me that she now is in the super fortunate position of having her two greatest loves -- knitting and theater -- both be something that she gets to do professionally as well as for funsies.  Yay, I-daughter!

This week I also got my Real ID.  I drove alllllllll the way to the driver's center, and then realized I'd forgotten my passport & proof of address, so in a tiff, I drove alllll the way back home.  On the way home, a school bus on the opposite side of a wide, several-lane road stopped and I wasn't sure if I should, so I kept going.  The car behind me kept going, too.  Then the car behind me turned on its flashing blue-and-red lights . . . and so my new ID turned out to be a valuable driving lesson, as well as a costly one.  Sigh.

But not all of my week was the school of hard knocks.  We had a wonderful "Bad Gift Exchange" party that I've held every year for nearly two decades now . . . and we held it at my old home!  So the "Bad Gift Exchange" was also a bit of a celebration of the "Home Exchange".   The new owners have really, really changed the paint schemes and the layout of furniture and everything.  It's not at all what I would choose for myself, but it was incredibly pleasing and beautiful, and it made me really happy to see my too-large home being used and loved by a family for whom it's just the right size. 

My husband has been learning to edit Wikimedia and Wikipedia pages, and this past weekend he got to update citations for women who had made significant contributions to our understanding of chemistry, particularly as regards the periodic table.  (Because of the IYPT -- the International Year of the Periodic Table).

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

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Post-xmas bowling and other Miser Family events

Life in the Miser Family household continues to be rich and full.  This past week has brought rounds of merriment . . . for example, we had a fall-down-laughing round of merriment in our annual Christmas Bowling (this year we did it belatedly, after Christmas, instead of before Christmas).

We are highly in-expert bowlers.  Also, some of us are not so good at selfies either . . .
My daughter says, "push that button!"

I say, "I know!". 
But I can't quite fit all 11 of us in the photo.
Fortunately, phone cameras nowadays come with timers.  Who knew?
Lots of (post) Christmas Bowlers!

Aside from Christmas Bowling with a crew that has more enthusiasm than talent (way more enthusiasm!), we learned that our new next door neighbor -- who celebrates Halloween to an extreme -- celebrates the New Year with corresponding vigor.   I went to sleep telling my husband that this is what it must be like in Heaven, with people all around us celebrating and singing praises.  Perhaps there will also be a quiet car in Heaven, however?   The next day, we had a lower volume (but still awesome) New Year's Day gathering of the Book Nerds.

I've spent the rest of the week finding outlets for my creativity to spill out of what seems to have been a dammed-up well within me.   Maybe all these projects and ideas had been bottled up while I was taking care of all my committee work last fall, I dunno, but in the past few days I've hung chairs on the wall, added canning jar shelves in the basement, folded something like a dozen origami butterflies, made a Book Nerds necklace for this year's event and candy eyeballs for next year's ginger-beasts, painted a new sign with our house number, and started devising a hanging jar garden to hold my crafting materials.

What else?  Home stuff:  My out-of-town daughters returned to their own homes late in the week.  N-son had his first tour of an apartment this week, and he also got to shadow a job at a nearby grocery store.   K-daughter and D-son are also throwing themselves into house hunting.

Next week will signal the return to office work for me (syllabus prep, finishing up the grant proposal, packing for the Math Meetings).  So it's been really nice having this unstructured time with family and friends (and with the deep well of creativity that seems to want to be tapped). 

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

Friday, January 3, 2020

Bad Butterflies, Better Butterflies

To give myself something to do this winter break, I decided to make a bad butterfly.
A tiger butterfly, with the tigers on the wrong side.

Actually, I wanted to make a bunch of birthday cards for the upcoming year, and figured that folding something origami-ish would make for an interesting card.   So I went to our local library and took out two different origami books. [Yay, local libraries!]

The butterfly, even though it's a tiny bit poofy,  seemed to be reasonably flat and a possible candidate for gluing to a homemade birthday card.  So I snipped a picture of tigers out of a copy of National Geographic magazine---a friend gives me his copies when he's done with his.  [Yay, friends who share stuff!]  Then I folded away, making a bunch of mistakes.  Like, the tigers were supposed to be on the front of the butterfly, but somehow they wound up on the back.  I made a bad butterfly.

The good thing about learning, though, is we know that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.  And I'd chosen this project so that I could make a lot of mistakes!  My next butterfly (made from a picture of a lake scene) at least had the lake parts on the right side of the butterfly.
A lake butterfly, with the lake on the right side.
 And the folds and symmetry got better, too, I think.  A better butterfly.

And more folds, and more folds.  Re-reading the origami instructions while making more and more butterflies was like watching a movie over and over again.  Each time I did this again, I noticed something new.  Certain arrows, certain patterns of dashed lines, made more and more sense.
More butterflies, more learning.
I had started using the National Geographic pages because they were free/right at hand.  But I have to say, I like the patterns on the butterflies this way even more than if these were blank paper.  (Not to mention, the patterns distract from my folding mistakes).   After a bunch more butterflies, I started realizing that it was the four corners of the pages, not the image in the center of the photo, that made it into the wings, so I started looking at the pictures differently.
This picture of a tiger (with mountains and grass all around) . . .

. . . turned into this grassy, mountain-y butterfly that has just a hint of tiger.
Whoops! I got the picture upside down.
After nine or so of these buggy babies, I'm getting to the point where I can make these butterflies without staring intently at the directions.  So, not only do I have a veritable garden of butterflies ready to go celebrate birthdays of my relatives and friends, but now I have a new Something-To-Do-With-My-Hands when I'm stuck in a meeting or on a plane or some such.   This gift to others is also a little mini gift to me!
Thanks to "10-Fold Origami" by Peter Engel.