Dock repair, still life with cat, garden blooms [rowing, photos, gardening]

We finally have a tool in place that allows us to log our volunteer hours for the rowing club. It will be interesting and helpful to know what this looks like.

On Saturday I spent a good 4.5 hours moving around and assessing dock sections, and then attempting some repairs to a couple pieces. The dock was originally purchased via a series of grants obtained up through 2013. Every year it experiences more wear and tear from sitting out in the Hudson River, and because it's HDPE plastic, it gradually cracks and fails. Many of the cracks form at structural weak points. But in one set of the floats, there's a second failure point at the plastic mold injection points on the underside of the float:

Connect-a-dock section repair attempts

Here's the worst failure on this particular float:
Connect-a-dock section repair attempts

I didn't remember to take any other "before" photos, unfortunately, but here's a photo of a couple more of these cracks after an initial prep step:

Connect-a-dock section repair attempts

From watching a YouBoob video about repairing HDPE plastic kayaks, I learned that you can't just apply more material to HDPE like a glue and expect it to stick. Instead you need to melt the parent material so it mixes together with the patch material you're trying to add.

This is easier said than done, of course. So the above prep photo is after cleaning with acetone and then introducing some initial melts with the tip of a variable-temperature wood-burning tool.

Here's where I applied some #2 HDPE filler material taken from the lid of a Home Despot bucket:

Connect-a-dock section repair attempts

A slow and tedious task.

I eventually got tired, hot, and hungry, because I'd packed breakfast but not lunch, so I wound up giving up on plastic welding and switched over to the other method recommended by a previous dockmaster, which was to simply glue over the cracks with hot glue. if you know anything about working with plastic, I am sure that the second you read "hot glue" you suddenly twitched and had about 50 other ideas and opinions. Me too. In this case I just had to work with what was on hand. I share your skepticism.

I tried to do more of a patch for that one really bad crack:
Connect-a-dock section repair attempts

But I don't fully trust my plastic welding abilities, so I also finished that one off with a round of hot glue.

Will it all hold? Will any of it hold? Time will tell. There are enough sections in need of repair that there's plenty of opportunity to continue experimenting. I just hope I'm not the only person who winds up working on them. We shall see.


By the time I got home, I was exhausted, and Emma missed me, so I curled up with the computer to edit the week's lab video. Emma soon joined me and did this super-cute thing where she put her chin down:

Cutie Cat

It took a lot of finagling to get that photo. At the slightest movement she'll pick her head back up again, like this:

Cutie Cat


I did a lot of vacuuming on Sunday. I am not going to post the photo I took of the crumbs on the dining room table. They are completely gone now.

Towards the end of the day, as I was getting ready to head to the grocery store, I stepped out on the back porch and noticed a patch of yellow that hadn't been there previously:

Spring blooms begin

The mini daffodils bloomed!

Spring blooms begin

I am so pleased. The mini daffodils that I bought 2 years ago got eaten by squirrels. I stowed this set in the basement over the summer, and planted them in the fall. You can also see the tulips that are about to bloom just behind the daffodils.

The Chorchid (Sharry Baby chocolate orchid) is also starting to bloom:
Spring blooms begin

No fragrance just yet. Well, either no fragrance, or as S joked, oh no, we have IT!

And now, back to grading.

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Photographing sadness

When I was a kid, sometimes at recess I would sit with my arms wrapped around my folded-up knees, my head down inside the circle of my arms. The posture creates a comfortable, quiet space in which to think, so I liked sitting that way.

But for some reason, the other kids around me always interpreted that posture as an indicator that I was sad, so they'd prod me to ask why I was sad. But I wasn't sad, I was thinking, and now I'd been interrupted in the middle of trying to think.

When I was actually in a state closer to sadness at that age, I would instead be more inclined to run away from spaces where I'd have any kind of social encounter. My main memories of feeling sad as a kid tend to be more strongly tied to lying in bed, sometimes looking out the window at the patch of cedar trees across the driveway in the blue gloom of Seattle winter. Introverted sad. Seattle has such beautiful weather for the mood.

By this stage in life, I have some serious doubts about the strengths and bases of those childhood feelings. Childhood sadness was a formless sadness, a "nobody loves me" sort of thing. How would I know any better, anyway?


Today I am sad because S is heading out to California again for a while. The use of photography-based social media sites makes me feel somewhat compelled to think about photos that I could take and share, to be part of the neverending social media feed stream, to remind the formless others that I am still alive, breathing, thinking.

But I think it's hard to take a photograph that would convey this particular sadness, for it's an absence rather than a presence. I've never been big on self-portraits. I suspect there's also something of a fine line between sadness and appearing vacant, dopey, or melodramatic.

I don't want to negate or downplay the importance of S going to California, either, by having my own feelings. This feeling has much more to do with the events that unfolded for me personally last spring, as the pandemic dropped its curtains over everything. S should go, for a hundred different reasons. I simply feel an unexpected level of separation anxiety.

So I guess I will just go and try to record another pre-lab video, and then I will go and clean out some cricket bins, and then I will ride my bike home to the house and do my best to comfort Emma, who both knows too much about my times of sadness, and who can't take photographs of her own sadness or sadnesses, either.

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I am a Big Meanie [teaching]

The last two years, my exam score averages for Animal Physiology have been a bit higher than I'd like. So before I wrote the first midterm this semester, I went back and reviewed the question performance across the last 2 years of exams, to pinpoint which concepts have routinely been the most challenging for students.

I also removed a super-soft bonus question ("Tell me about one other physiological concept that you learned that didn't wind up appearing on this exam.").

I just hope this group of students doesn't wind up feeling too crestfallen. It's hard to hit the sweet spot in terms of challenging them to step up their game rather than leaving them feeling discouraged. I did throw back 6 points to all of them.

We shall see.

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It was sunny and 64 degrees (F) out.

I am SO GLAD our first bike day involved hot laps around campus. A perfect moment to make people try out different kinds of bikes, adjust saddles left and right, lubricate chains, and whatnot. One student just got a bike recently where the front fork was backwards, so we got that fixed up, too. The two girls in the class got in a good 4 miles and were totally pleased with themselves.

One student has a downhill bike but I think the disc brake rotors are bent - is that a thing that happens? I took his bike for a quick test spin and quickly redlined on it.

Time to go home.

We were DUE for a riding day.


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A little student gratitude goes a very long ways [teaching]

This semester I have been recording those pre-lab videos for my Animal Physiology course. Friday's video was really hard to record because I couldn't even manage to get underway with recording it until after 5 pm.

Before I can start recording, I have to go through and remember everything that's involved in orchestrating the lab, assemble the major pieces, and think through how to explain things to the students. I didn't have time to even edit the video until Saturday afternoon.

But then what the videos mean is that when students show up at the start of lab, they are prepared. They are so much more prepared than students were in the past when they just got a lab handout and were expected to read it in advance. Not only that, they are grateful for the videos, even when the videos aren't particularly entertaining.

The videos have also made it possible for us to be much more focused during our time together in the lab, so the labs run more smoothly.

What a relief.

Tuesdays are still very long, though.

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Grading tech [teaching]

I got a Fruit-tablet this spring to test out as an alternative tool for teaching and grading, under the theory that maybe the people claiming that it plus its electronic stylus actually are New and Improved Tools, are correct.

There are plenty of howto videos on the You-Boober for how to work such a setup, in case a person wants to waste hours of precious grading time on scrubbing through them.

So far I am failing to be impressed. If anything, the cumbersome interface is causing me to be much more terse than I am with the equivalent computer interface. And I don't have a way to position it ergonomically.

I guess I tried.

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CHUCK IS BACK!! [teaching]

I didn't post about this last week because it was too depressing. On Tuesday, when I am in the Animal Phys lab all day, all the Animal Phys critters seemed to be doing all right.

On Wednesday, when I passed through the lab, I noticed that the lid to Chuck the Anole's cage was askew. I didn't have a ton of time to look or think, but on cursory inspection it appeared that Chuck was missing. What had happened?! Had he died all of a sudden?? I checked the logbook but he wasn't reported as dead.

But ugh, what were the chances of Chuck escaping and surviving, anyway? Slim to none, I had to wager. There are a billion nooks and crannies in the Animal Phys lab. On Friday a couple of my students needed to wrap up a procedure in the lab, so I had to inform them of the grim news. Poor Chuck.

Anyway, today, one of the animal care students came knocking on my office door. She found Chuck!! He was just hanging out on the floor in the lab.

What are the odds??

I have ordered some fruit flies as another food source for him since he seems to be turning his nose up at the crickets.

I had to restart the mealworm culture, too. It's so hard to keep the reptiles fed and happy. Sunny the gecko has gotten grumpy lately.

I still can't completely believe that Chuck is back!

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Some better than none [rowing]

I now have the good fortune to be joining the ranks of those who get to wonder whether elevated body temperatures are a sign of fever or perimenopause. At least one of the two isn't accompanied by a massive immune response, right? It just leads to poor sleep.

This morning was our first official practice of the spring rowing season. Last night I set the time on my alarm clock, but apparently once again I failed to actually set the alarm. So I woke up an hour after I was supposed to get up to get ready to go to the boathouse. Argh.

In many cases I would just throw in the towel completely, but this morning in my sleep-addled panic I came to realize that it would still be a good idea to head down to the boathouse, so I got saddled up and went.

Half a workout is still more of a workout than no workout.

Life goes on.

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Work Party [rowing]

This morning, as I gathered up tools and supplies to head down to the boathouse and work on the club's docks, after missing yet another rowing practice due to the exhaustion of yet another long week, I was full of resentment. Why is yet another critical rowing project falling squarely on my shoulders, yet again?

One of the proximate ways to answer to the question is complicated due to interpersonal and Rowing Politics. I will largely set that one aside for now.

Another one of the proximate ways to answer the question is to point out that I'm still digging my own grave, here, with taking on so many responsibilities at once, rowing being just one of them. See also: bicycling class; research students.

But there's a third answer, as well.

One of the feelings I had when I finally left the boathouse in the early afternoon triggered some memories, most specifically memories of the Catholic parish that [personal profile] annikusrex and I grew up in. It was the memory of the feeling of satisfaction that comes from being a part of a Work Party, even though in this case it was a Work Party of just myself and one other person.

Our parents met through our church, so the church is very much a spiritual home for me, regardless of where I've wound up now. So long as a person isn't just a Sunday Catholic*, different people interact with churches in different ways, and one of the ways by which our parents have interacted with the church is through the church Facilities Committee. If anything, AKW's dad is a backbone of the Facilities Committee, because he grew up on a farm and has learned how to fix and build all kinds of things.

My dad would be the first person to declare that he wasn't handy with tools, and yet if there was work that needed to be done around the church, and a Work Party was organized, he would be there to contribute.

My mom would often contribute her gardening skills, so on days when the grounds around the church or other church buildings needed extra attention, we kids would also be dragged along to the Work Party to help out. I am sure we did our best to lodge our complaints with the management on many of those occasions, but they were also a special time at the church when not many other people would be around, where we would get to know the physical land and place the church rested on.

The main thing is, from those Work Parties, it has been ingrained in me from a very young age that if a person is a member of a community, they are expected to directly contribute back to that community by sharing their gifts and talents within the community.

Fast-forward to college, where I missed enough aspects of church to have continued participating in Catholic services on campus. Somehow, the language spoken in the Catholic church communities I encountered in Boston differed from the language spoken in the parish I grew up in, and no, it wasn't just the accent. I didn't fully understand the differences in dialect while I was in college, but after graduating I learned that a lot of the undertones I was picking up on may have had to do with the way that sex-abuse allegations were being handled in that part of the country - something that broke as a major news story in the Boston Globe in 2002. The language spoken in other Catholic communities I've encountered has also differed, for other reasons; El Salvador was the most strikingly different, and not because Spanish was spoken but because of the role of the Catholic Church and its people in the Salvadoran Civil War. That has been an important aspect of being Catholic - the global nature of the Church, something to both appreciate and chafe at.

In any case.

A boathouse is not a church. But it is still a community of people, held together by a shared love, in this case a love of the water, who come together on a regular basis to practice and strive towards something bigger than ourselves. As with my experiences with the Catholic church, rowing is really a global community, but the people in different boathouses in different places speak different and unique languages. Within that, some communities are healthy and robust. Other communities are fractured and small.

This giving of one's self, one's time and talent, is not a one-time choice, decided forever. It is an ongoing commitment. It is hard to keep going when exhausted and resentful, when there are 10 times as many things needing time and attention as there are people and hours in the days and weeks. When I look around and see other people who have retreated to the shadows instead of stepping forward to help out.

When I sit back to ask myself the question yet again, is this how I want to be as a member of this community, are my default assumptions correct about what it means to be a part of it, if I sit and listen, the answer still comes back, yes. I can only hope that if I continue to bring myself to the boathouse, who I am, where I have come from, what I can contribute, that by continuing to lead by example I can help to strengthen this community.


And in the afternoon, I finished editing another Physiology lab video and got it posted. Can't say I enjoy working on Saturdays or that it's a healthy or sustainable thing to be doing.

*And the fact that the label exists tells you something

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Death by Email

God I hate email.

I have read lots of strategies for managing email.

I'm about ready to click "select all" - delete.

Can you imagine if every email sent and received was a letter instead? Wow.

I think one of the hardest aspects of email is that different people treat it differently. It is NOT a text message, for one thing.


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