Saturday, April 25, 2020

chairs on walls

We have a lot of chairs.

We have a lot of chairs because I love having twenty people in my home for Thanksgiving, and sometime for other events.  I don't usually quite get to twenty, but I often get close, and I always kinda wish I got all the way, so I want to be ready for twenty people eating a big meal in my home. 

Also, because my favorite stores ( ="yard sales") often sell wooden chairs for cheap, and because everyone prefers sitting on wooden chairs to folding chairs, I have a lot of wooden kitchen chairs.  In my former home -- the one that had a gazillion rooms and roughly the equivalent in children to fill it up -- we could stash the chairs all over the place.  We had enough for a dining room chair in pretty much everyone's bedroom, plus a few chairs in the basement by the TV, and a few more chairs in the living room, and of course a complete complement of chairs in the dining room itself. 

Then we moved to this new home:  a home with a smaller dining room, many fewer rooms overall, and of course no children who need chairs in their bedrooms that they don't have here.  Ergo, the chairs are pretty much all in the (small) dining room and (larger) living room.  And even though we use these spaces a lot, mostly we don't use the chairs a lot.  Instead, they mostly serve as impromptu side tables or as highly effective obstacles to vacuum cleaners. 

On the other hand, what this new house lacks in horizontal space, it makes up for in vertical space.   We have lovely, 9-foot ceilings throughout the first floor, which gives us all sorts of room to store things above our heads.   Ever since I was young, I was taken by the Shaker tradition of hanging chairs on walls between meals, and I've wanted to hang our chairs on wall for, I dunno, a few decades now. 
Shaker chairs, hanging on a wall
One of the big reasons I haven't done it yet is because the kinds of chairs you see above are different from mine in an important way.  For those Shaker chairs, the chair back posts and the chair legs are all one post; not so with my (many) chairs.  If we hung one of our chairs from the back, the whole thing would fall apart.   This I know both theoretically (I've worked with wood enough to know how glued joints can come apart) and also empirically (my sons and husband have been rough on our chairs over the years, and we've definitely had considerable experience re-gluing chair backs back into place). 

But I think I came up with a nice solution.  Behold! 

My chairs, hung high on the wall

If that photo doesn't look like a solution to you, it's because that picture is upside down, taken from the point of view of the chairs themselves.  But if you were to walk into my dining room in the normal way (with your feet on the floor), this is what you'd see:

Two of my dining room chairs hung upside down,
with the door to my question-mark shaped kitchen to the left.

I used the kind of shelf brackets that have hooks for a clothes bar -- two per chair.  These hold the chairs on a support bar that seems to be well positioned to hold the weight of the chair without coming undone.  This seems to work really well.
Because of our high ceilings, the chairs are out of the way (and won't need as much dusting when we take them down at Thanksgiving or whenever, because of being upside down).   I almost want to use these as shelves, and put stuff up there on the seats. 

The hanging chairs actually seem to add in a neat way to this almost gothic decor of our dining room.  Here's a broader view.

Nice, eh?   It tickles me. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Where did I leave my church? (And other questions from isolation)

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household.  This week has been particularly rich in tricky questions.   Here are four of the questions I came across this week.

Question 1. Where did I leave my church?
That's one I asked myself last Sunday as I went up to my Command Center, and for a moment I couldn't find my laptop (which is how I was going to join in our Zoom-ed church service).  Nowadays, I'm joined in "church" by Prewash the dog, N-son, and I-daughter.  There is a lot more knitting and sewing going on during church these days than when we meet in the sanctuary (not to mention more dog hair).

Answer:  on the CD shelf.  (That is, fortunately, I managed to find my laptop in time for the opening prelude.)

Speaking of sewing during church, here's . . .

Question 2.  How do you make a unicorn face mask?
This is a question my sister asked me, when I told her I was making one for A-child.   Ironically, now that we're all at a distance from all people, distance seems to make less of a difference in who we talk to.  I've texted with my sisters more in the last few weeks than I've texted for months with them.  It's kinda nice connecting with them so much.

Answer:  I made the unicorn mask out of one of her favorite (and now too-small) shirts, which her mom carefully dropped off on my porch.
After I made the masks, my husband appreciated the excuse to get on his bike, and he delivered the completed masks back to K-daughter's doorstep.  
Who is that masked child?
Whoever she is, she's adorbs!

Question 3: How do deal with cheating on a midterm during a pandemic?
Ugh.  This was actually the thing that consumed much of my week.  This third question comes with a lot of subsidiary questions, like: What is my role in contributing to student stress by giving math tests while my students are freaked out by global events?  What kinds of mathematical concepts should I really hope my students ought to be able to learn when educational institutions everywhere are tossing content from courses like ballast from sinking hot air balloons?

I'd tried hard to set up as humane and comforting a way for students to take math tests as I could.  And yet a small but significant minority (a subset of those who had been struggling all semester) suddenly became the best students in the class with answers that looked suspiciously like ones you could pull from computational math sites.

So I spent a bunch of the week wrestling with how to deal with this situation with integrity (after all, the majority of my students obeyed the midterm rules), but also without dumping yet another stressor on students who were already obviously really stressed.

And now I'm working on developing a completely different kind of final exam, one where online algebraic computational software isn't a help.

Question 4:  What to do with our stimulus check?
I have no idea why we got one; frankly, I think we're far too rich for that.  And yet, as I sat down to my church (oops, I mean, my bank) tonight, I saw that we had that highly touted IRS deposit. 

All through this whole pandemic, I've felt unreasonably fortunate for many, many reasons, and so there's a way that getting this money just irked me.  My kids are grown so I don't have to homeschool them while trying to teach my own classes; I'm sitting on a basement of home-canned food; I'm healthy and have a secure job and a bunch of money saved up.  My biggest problem these days is dealing with whether or not my students are using the internet when they shouldn't have, and that's a pretty mild problem compared to the scariness that so many other people are facing.

Answer: Send it right back out to our local United Way's COVID-response fund.

And that's the news from our household, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  Here's hoping you're safe and sound, too, with or without your unicorn mask.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Helping and un-helping

There's a nurse who works in a nearby (suburban) hospital who lives a few doors down from me.  In PC (Pre-Covid-19) Days, she'd stop by for dog kisses.  Now we chat from extremely safe distances.   She says, "people bring so much food by the hospital -- too much food.  If I see another pizza, I'm going to be sick". 

It's hard to know how to help without un-helping.  There was an article in the local paper the other day about a woman who made meals for health care workers, and who finally was asked (politely) to please stop (which she did).  When you feel like you're one of the fortunate ones -- with health and money and time and energy -- and you know that other people around don't have those things, it's natural to want to try to do something.  But what we don't have, in this new and ever-changing situation, is knowledge or understanding of what exactly to do.  And it's hard to just go ask, because we're shut up in our houses. 

I told my nurse neighbor about sewing masks for our local (city) hospital, and she said her hospital is definitely not accepting homemade masks*.  She told me, though, that they ARE accepting button straps -- a strip of cloth that goes behind the head, almost from ear to ear, with buttons that you can hook the elastic on face masks to.  This relieves pressure on the ears, which get sore from wearing the same mask all day long.   
*[Note: my city hospital is accepting some homemade masks, 
and in fact they gave me fabric to use in the masks.  
I'm not sure whether the masks I'm making are for the workers 
or for visitors, but either way, I am glad to do as I'm told.]

Meanwhile, the rescue mission where I serve breakfast weekly sent out an email recently, closing their "Volunteer Hub", and saying
Our fantastic community is reaching out to us and wanting to find ways to help, but – unfortunately – it is actually more taxing on our limited staff to be training new volunteers each day.
What a crazy situation.  I was really, really flattered that the email went on to say,
You are receiving this email because you have been identified by our Kitchen Staff as trustworthy volunteers who are faithful and committed to the care and well-being our Guests. We are wondering if you might consider being on our volunteer call list, just in case we should face a staffing problem over the next few weeks and need additional help.
I so want to be a help and not an un-help.  So even though I love taking initiative, I'm trying to be unnaturally humble, and I'm trying hard to take directions from people on the front lines. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Mask making

When I started thinking about making masks, the general advice was, don't.  Hospitals can't use homemade masks, and masks don't protect you.   In fact, my daughter wore a SUPER mask to visit her doctor for a prenatal visit, and texted me with this update:

The dr reccomended that i not wear the mask. It could trap the virus and make things worse. So i took it off. Feeling exposed and scared :/

It is a hard time to be pregnant and anxious, I know.

And the whole, should I make masks question was an interesting question.  Was I over-reacting?  Under-reacting?  Three things got me started on the project in spite of the general skepticism of such a project:   One was the realization that having a bunch of fabric sitting in my craft bin wasn't saving lives, either; spending time and energy so that the fabric happened to be in the shape of face masks, instead of in the shape of sheets, wasn't likely to make the world a more dangerous place.  The second reason came in the form of a text message from my sister:
I just got a volunteer job working for the hospital to sew surgical-grade masks, 11:30 - 3 every weekday until...? No interview necessary!
My sister, in New York State, was sewing masks at the request of her local hospital, and I knew that my state would likely eventually look a lot like her state.

My sister's bare spools.  She writes,
"This is what the coronavirus has done to me in 2 short weeks."

The third reason for getting started sewing face masks last week was the paradoxical reason that our nearby hospitals didn't need them.  Yet.  So if ( = when) I made mistakes, they wouldn't be crucial mistakes, and I could get better by the time masks were really needed.

I started by using this pattern, sent me by my sister, who got the general instructions from her local hospital but decided to add photos to make it easier to follow.

Learning from my sister's experience, I dusted off spools of yard-sale-purchased thread in funky colors, the kind of thread that is perfectly good but unlikely to match other projects I might care about in the future.  And I'm glad I started this project expecting to make mistakes and learn from them, because I made mistakes, and then learned.  For example, I learned pretty quickly that I have not treated my iron nicely over the years: I gunked up a bunch of nice fabric, and eventually figured out how to use a sacrificial, 100% cotton, scrap between the iron and the mask as I pressed things out.  Well, thank goodness I got that out of the way.

I made about 8 masks, and shipped them off to a nearby nursing home that had all of a sudden realized it was going to need supplies from somewhere, anywhere.

Late last week, our local hospital started offering hospital-grade fabric to local sewers.  My husband picked up a bag of this fabric for me, together with instructions that kind-of mirrored the ones my sisters sent -- except that these instructions asked for a floral-wire insert above the nose, to help people shape the masks.

I'm still waiting on getting floral wire from a friend of mine who owns a nursery, so over the weekend -- just as our governor declared that all people should wear masks in public --  I decided to do further experimentation.  A pillow case and one of my husband's former favorite dress shirts found their way into new service.

These versions above, per my sister's instructions, have pleats that go side-to-side.  I made a few with an extra small pleat at the top (across the bridge of the nose), and discovered this improves comfort and wearability a lot.

By now, I've made about 25 of these babies.  Four have gone into family service.  The others (that hadn't already headed to the nursing home), I put in a basket on the porch.  They were gone by supper.  I'll be making more; we've got neighbors pleading for them.

I'm not using elastic (my sister says that elastic degrades in the wash); I'm making ties from "binding", and these binding straps are the most time-consuming aspect of making the masks, really.  Lots of ironing with my gunky iron.  With practice, though, I'm getting faster and and more efficient.

I had my calculus students recommend music to me: songs they were listening to that they thought I might like.  Ironing goes a lot faster when I've got an eclectic play list. Here's what I listened to as I turned a too-small fitted sheet into face-mask-straps this weekend:

Traci Chapman, "Give me one reason"
 Maggie Rogers "Light On"
Dancing in the moonlight bu Jubel and Neimy (it’s a new spin on a great classic)
Django Reinhardt - Beyond the Sea (La Mer)
living on a prayer bon jovi
Fleetwood Mac 'sara'
Light it up - Luke Bryan
modern love- david bowie
Cuando me enamoro - Andrea Bocelli
A better Son/Daughter by Rilo Kiley
Luke Combs - Refrigerator door
Beethoven sonata
 If I ain’t got you by Alicia Keys
toosie slide new drake!!!!

More musical suggestions are welcome!  I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a lot more ironing over the next month.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Miser family update: buried treasures edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser family.   Nowadays, if you look for me, you're likely to find me here, in my Command Center, teaching class in front of my chalkboard or via screen sharing my laptop.    
The answer to a problem involving derivatives of inverse trig functions,
y'know, mixed with family photos and my exercise weights.
Everything kind of blends together these days.
On my birthday a week or so ago, before our classes started back up, I got to have just about the perfect "me" day: it started with a run with a friend through a ritzy neighborhood on their trash day; one family was throwing away a beautiful folding dining room table . . . and so guess what my husband and N-son got me for my birthday?  A beautiful folding dining room table, that's what!  And then I did a bunch of cool math involving hyperbolas and multiview geometry.  And then I did chocolate cake with my husband, I-daughter, and N-son. 

In addition to appropriating treasures from other people's trash piles, I've been appreciating treasures that already exist in my own home.  For example, I turned an old sheet into about seven face masks, using a pattern that my sister sent me from her local hospital.  These masks aren't suitable for our own local hospitals, but they're good practice for making eventual high-tech masks.  These beta-masks, so to speak, are headed for a nearby nursing home that's asked for them.

A colleague of mine bought a giant, 8-foot inflatable light-up unicorn for her front yard, and it's become a destination walk for neighborhood kids, who post selfies with the unicorn on  I'm kind of jealous, but there's no way I'm going to (a) buy a (b) electric-powered (c) plastic unicorn.   Fortunately, I have a Plan B.  Because, in addition to sheets that can become face masks, also in my vast stores of Things I Have Lying Around is a collection of Cows.   Since my front porch has now become my connection to the larger world, I've decided to start a Cow Farm on the front porch.
 In an homage to Gary Larson's "Wildlife preserves", I added Bovine Preserves. 


The Chocolate Cake on my birthday, combined with the canned cows, was yummy/fun enough that I realized another treasure I had in the basement was a canning jar of Mint Brownie mix.  So we recently had  Brownie and Boggle night.  

Well, except that I-daughter had the sniffles and so responsibly decided to stay home (sigh), so instead N-son and I modified it to Brownies and Connect-4. 
Afterward, we walked over to I-daughter's home to put a brownie (in a canning jar)  on her porch and then stand back and say hello from a safe distance.  Fun times, this life!   One advantage of this arrangement, by the way, was that this was the first time ever that I-daughter and N-son got to observe Prewash do one of my favorite tricks:  poop on command.  (Every dog should poop exactly when you ask them to on a sheet of newspaper right next to public trash cans, I think.)

N-son and my husband have gone through training with our local Meals on Wheels, and so they're gearing up to help pack meals and serve as a substitute driver, respectively.  It's good to be in a position where we can try to be a help.

And that's the news from our family, which continues to unearth familiar treasures previously forgotten.  May you and yours be safe and sound as well. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

My life by the numbers

I'm the mathematician, but my husband is the numbers guy. 
(Or maybe I should say, "I'm the mathematician, and so my husband is the numbers guy".   Theoretical mathematicians don't really care about numbers so much as we care about patterns.  In fact, in grad school when I heard there was a class called "Number Theory", the other math grad students saw my face and said, "Don't worry; there's not really any numbers in the course!")  
No, it's my husband who keeps spreadsheets on all sorts of esoteric quantitative aspects of his life.   In fact, just the other day he asked me if I knew where he'd put his spreadsheets with his bike mileage from 1997. Um, no, honey; no clue.

Sometimes, though, I use numbers because going analytic gives me a way to Vulcan-destroy the jitters.  Right now, for example, I've started a daily tally of COVID-19 cases in our city and our state, and I do the computations.  When I started, the daily growth factor was 1.4 (doubling every 2 days), but now it's down to 1.28 (doubling every 3 days, so better?).  The spreadsheet is eerily accurate: it predicted my city would have 201 cases by now (we have 203), and that my state would have 7271 cases (we have 7268).  When the world is going kinda crazy, I find weird solace in knowing that math still works.

More often, though, if I do turn to numbers it's because they tell a story or paint a picture.  For example, here's a partial paint-by-numbers picture of my life in February through mid-March. During the 5 weeks my husband was overseas,
  • I used the car 5 times, for a total of 28 miles.  
  • I ran the coffee maker twice (once with a pot he set up before he left, and once so I could make Brazilian chocolate coffee cake).
  • I did 1 load of laundry in the washer, and 0 in the electric dryer.
  • I generated 1 bag of trash (paper bag, like the kind from a grocery store).  
From this small number-snippet, you can see that there's something about having my husband around that makes me more normal.  I'd really slip deep off into the eco-crazy end without him, I think.

On a related topic, we (I) decided mid-March that the looming crisis meant it would be a great time to start thinking about solar panels.  I've wanted to do this; we have the money, so why not try to support a local construction business just as people are starting to lose work?  (It was in 2008 that we had our previous house energy-wrapped and sealed, so apparently I have penchant for big home improvement projects during economic downturns).  

So here's another little peek into my life in numbers, via conversations with the solar contractor we (I) decided to hire.  

Solar contractor:
We'll need to see a year's worth of electric bills to estimate how much energy you use.

[Explains we don't have a year's worth of data in this new house, but I look through the bills myself to do some analysis]. Since August, here's the stats on our energy usage:
max: 426
median: 272.8
mean: 243

Solar contractor:
Thanks for the kWH usage info an email! If your average kWH use for the year is 272/ month then there is definitely enough space on your roof to offset this amount, even with the trees in the back. It seems like a pretty low amount though, let me know if you expect your use to go up or not.

This year has been unusual, not just because we moved, but also because my husband has been out of the country a lot. My husband is a fairly typical American, but he happens to be married to a wife who's a total eco nut. I sorted our usage by the days he was in the country (when we used an average of 10 kWh/day) and the days he was gone and I was running the house (when we used 4.84 kWh/day).

If my guy were to abandon me, that 270 would be way high for this house. But because he loves me and is likely to stick around -- even more now that traveling is banned for a while! --- we should probably bump that "270" up to "330 kWh/month", which is probably a more reasonable estimate for our home in the future.

So, solar panels.  (At least, once things start moving again. Solar Contractor says "You’re right that right now everything seems to have slowed down. Not only are we limited with site visits but utility processing and building permits seem to have slowed down significantly as well.").     Maybe once we get these babies up and running, we'll have a whole new set of numbers to keep track of.   I'm guessing it'll be my husband, though, who takes that on.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Taking up cow farming

Since I can't spend time with people, I've decide to take up cow farming on my front porch.

Fortunately, I have a glue gun and a bunch of cows already, so establishing the farm was relatively easy.

The great thing about cows is, they make great preserves. 

Cows in jars, man.  I'm ready.