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Friday, July 21, 2017

The Least Dignified Kind Of Home Repair

We are currently experiencing plumbing problems.

In this case, "plumbing problems" is a euphemism for "our one and only toilet is broken."

Technically, it is still flushable.  But in order to flush, you have to lift the lid off the tank, pull the chain that has come disconnected from the flusher, and make sure it doesn't slip under the flap as the flap closes.  A lot more trouble than simply pushing the flusher, if you ask me.

This has been a problem for just over a week now.  The bottleneck in getting this fixed is that our apartment complex has none of the needed parts on hand.  These parts have allegedly been ordered, but have not come in yet.

In the meantime, we have also been having problems with the air conditioning.  Every time someone from maintenance comes to look at that, I feel compelled to ask about the whereabouts of the magical toilet part.  And then every time, they go and look at the toilet, and just like that, we're having an actual conversation about the toilet.  I thought conversations about the toilet were supposed to be a thing of the past once I became old enough to stop asking permission to go to the bathroom.

It occurs to me that plumbing problems could be at least a temporary cure for arrogance; it's hard to think too highly of yourself when so many conversations are at least tangentially related to bodily functions.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Best Laid Plants

Contrast the following two pictures from my weekend:

Three large, juicy cucumbers from my balcony plant...


And the puny haul of wineberries I got from the wild plants I walked by today...


It's probably a good thing I don't have to rely on my hunting and gathering skills to survive.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

More Balcony Gardening!

I wrote here last year about my small balcony garden.  Neither my need to create peace around me nor my desire for tasty food has diminished since then, so I'm growing a balcony garden again this year.  I know it is very possible to conduct background research on gardening and plan accordingly, but I've decided to just buy plants that sound tasty to me with no thought to whether my balcony is a good place for them, and just learn from the experience.  Here are this year's lessons:

1.  Dill and bell peppers don't love what my balcony has to offer.  Both bit the dust quickly.

2.  Success can vary widely even among members of the same species.   The basil plant I bought from the farmers market is tall and bushy.  The basil plant I bought from Whole Foods is short, stumpy, and being chomped on by bugs.

3.  Mint has dreams of world domination.  This has actually been a lesson every time I've grown plants on any balcony!

4.  Cucumbers also have dreams of world domination.  We bought a cucumber plant from the farmers market this year when it was still very small.  It is magnificent now and is sending leaves out between the railings on the balcony.  It seems to be attracting a good number of bees, so I'm looking forward to getting fresh cucumbers!

5.  Tomatoes are moody and unreasonable.  I grew a tomato plant on the balcony last summer, and it did fine.  We didn't get a ton of tomatoes, but we got a few, and the plant was tall and healthy.  This summer, three cherry tomato plants died on the balcony.  In theory, at least, they should have been getting enough sunlight because they were in the same place as on the balcony as last year's tomato plant.  I now have a beefsteak tomato plant that hasn't died yet, but also hasn't grown any taller or grown any blossoms.  I'd love to solve this particular lesson/mystery for next year because I was really hoping for a bumper crop of tomatoes.

Basil, mint, and cucumbers are definitely keepers for next summer.  I may try green beans, too.  Anybody else growing a garden this summer?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Life's Little Triumphs: A Large Company Underpromises And Overdelivers (Sort Of)

This installment of life's little triumphs is pretty overdue at this point.  I've been meaning to blog about it, but this particular little triumph came at a time when I was trying to orchestrate a series of larger triumphs (spring semester final exams, then the GRE, then the start of a challenging summer session), and I've been distracted.  But I think most of us need all the triumphs we can get, so better to write about this late rather than never!

It all started last fall when my old food processor finally bit the dust.  It served its purpose for many years, but was never entirely satisfactory, so I decided to upgrade.  I researched Consumer Reports and settled on a Cuisinart model.  I was very happy when I first used it as it was clear that it was a marked improvement over my old food processor.  BUT!  Not long after my new food processor arrived, Cuisinart announced a recall of millions of its food processor blades.  At that point, I wasn't too concerned because they made it easy to request a replacement blade online.  I requested a replacement blade in December.  Cuisinart didn't provide a time frame for the new blade to arrive, but I decided it might take as long as several weeks since it was right before Christmas.

What I considered to be a reasonable period of time came and went.  I called the recall number in February.  The employee who answered (and who sounded utterly defeated on the phone) told me that they hadn't forgotten about me and that my blade would ship in March.  I decided I could live with that.

March came and went, and my blade didn't arrive.  I emailed Cuisinart in early April.  They sent me a response saying that (a) estimated delivery was "after April," and (b) I could still use all the attachments that came with my food processor except for the recalled blade.

This was not terribly encouraging news to me.  In my mind, "after April" can mean anything from "the blade will arrive in May" to "your as of yet unborn great grandchildren will receive the blade sometime after you're gone."  Also, the ability to use the other food processor attachments is useful only part of the time.  I would no more grate chickpeas for hummus than I would puree potatoes for latkes.

This story ends happily, however, as my replacement blade actually arrived before May, if only by a few days!  Thus, this mildly annoying saga in my life came to an end, I was able to use my new food processor blade in time for pesto season, and now maybe I can give hope to anyone else waiting for a replacement Cuisinart blade.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Symbol Of Something I Dislike

I bought a calculator the other day.

And not just any calculator, mind you.  It's a scientific calculator, complete with logarithms and trig functions.

I am aware that it's completely possible to find such a calculator online for free.  But I needed a separate calculator for the purpose of taking quizzes and tests.

Yes, my summer is being blighted with math.  Well, I don't want to make it sound worse than it is.  I am taking an intro to speech and hearing science, which sounded pretty innocuous, until the first class when we were presented with a math quiz to see what we knew (remembered?) of various math concepts.  I actually remembered some of the concepts on that quiz, but was faced with the uncomfortable reality that I had forgotten about the very existence of logarithms, and never felt like I had a terribly firm grip on them in the past, either.

In a way, it's funny that it has come down to this.  I felt like high school was littered with classes I didn't really like, but had to take in order to get into a good college.  I took AP calculus my senior year in high school with the hope of placing out of math in college.  Somewhat miraculously, I succeeded in that endeavor, and as a result, spent college taking mostly classes I liked (with a few notable exceptions, of course).  I thought that memorizing formulas and those dreaded logarithms (!) were firmly in my past.  But here I am with math biting me on the behind, after spending my college and grad school years smugly taking foreign language classes.

I'm hoping, perhaps against all reasonable hope, that the math and formulas are front-loaded on the beginning of the semester and will be a distant memory by the end.  But in the meantime, I'm hunkering down with my fancy calculator, and preparing to come to terms with topics I've avoided for years.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The GRE Is Like A Nerdy Prison

I've taken the GRE twice in my life:  once (ahem) many years ago in preparation for the master's degree that I already have, and once this past Friday for the one I am thinking of pursuing.  It turns out that a lot of things change between your early twenties and late thirties, and the GRE is no exception.  It's not that I remember enjoying it the first time around, but it wasn't quite the production then that it is now.

I don't remember a whole lot from my first GRE experience.  No doubt this is in part due to the fact that it was some time ago, but I also don't think it was that big of a deal.  I remember going to a test center on campus and sitting in front of a computer.  I'm pretty sure I had my backpack with me, and that it just sat on the floor next to me while I took the test.  I don't remember any special instructions about what I could/could not wear or bring with me.

This time around, the first thing that caught my attention when I registered was that test-takers were not allowed to wear any jewelry aside from wedding or engagement rings.  This bummed me out because I like jewelry and wearing it makes me feel happier and more confident (not necessarily a bad thing when you're taking a test that lasts several hours and costs $200).  It also brought back an odd memory from middle school.  Someone in a position of authority at my school decided it would be a great idea to bring in a speaker to scare all the students about prison.  I don't know if this had a positive impact on anyone else's life, but it was pretty much a wash for me as the only thing I remember was this person threatening us that if we went to prison, "they" would take away all of our earrings.  This made some sort of impression on me at the time because (a) even as someone who seriously enjoys jewelry, this seemed like kind of a flimsy reason not to cause trouble, and (b) how many earrings did this person think we were all walking around with at any given time?  Most middle schoolers, no matter how disagreeable, are still pretty much under their parents' thumbs, and I don't think very many of my classmates had piercings that would have necessitated wearing more than two earrings at once.

We were similarly forbidden to wear watches of any kind during the GRE this time around.  When you take the computerized version of the test, you can see how much time you have left on the section you're working on, but in my mind, that is very different from knowing what time it is in the world outside of the testing room.  It definitely contributed to the long-haul punishment vibe of the experience.

To top it all off, I had to push up my sleeves to show my wrists, lift up the cuffs of my pants to show my ankles, and turn my pockets inside out before I started the test.  I also was wanded on both my front and back sides before starting the test and after my mid-test break before I was allowed to go back into the room.

Suffice to say, I'm glad to have the experience behind me.  If I do end up doing a second master's degree, I think I'll need to call it quits after that.  In another ten years or so, I fear all the test-takers will be subjected to body cavity searches and be forced to wear identical jumpsuits into the testing room, and I think I'm too old and grouchy to cope with that.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Time Flies...


I can't speak for the rest of the country, but the Washington, DC area is awash in cicadas right now.  I actually don't mind; as far as bugs go, I think cicadas are kind of cool.

The funny thing is, though, that the cicadas we are currently seeing came out of the ground four years ahead of schedule.  And to the best of my knowledge, no one knows why.  Were they having such an awesome time under ground that they lost track of the time?  Or were conditions crowded and awful to the point that some of them bailed years ahead of schedule?

My theory is that the cicadas who came out of the ground early are history or political science buffs who wanted front row seats to the various spectacles currently taking place around us.  I think I would have chosen to stay under ground, myself.  But if my theory is correct, it gives me hope that the cicadas sense that in four years politics will be more routine and normal again.