Escaping the 06511 zip code

Leaving behind some great friends

Now, do not get me wrong РI had a lot of fun with many of my friends in New Haven, and for those who will be staying there for additional school or folks I met who live in CT outside of New Haven РI will miss them greatly.  They were the most immediate source of aid and comfort in the face of often finding coursework and daily life experiences with the rudeness of New Havenites Рand I am deeply thankful for their presence.

Plus, they gave me excuses and dining partners for outings to the various delicious restaurants around the city:

Kelli and I at our beloved Plan B Burger, with our eyes wide shut for the photo!

Kelli and I at our beloved Plan B Burger, with our eyes wide shut for the sole photo I could convince our waiter to take with my expensive DSLR camera (they were nervous about breaking it)!

For the ways in which “technology can really ruin people’s ability to be truly present with one another” can sometimes sound like a valid concern, it will be that self-same technology which allows me to continue to cultivate and enjoy friendships forged over as many as 3 years – and that is a wonderful thing.

No end in sight/packing up the remainder of my crap

So, as mentioned in the previous post, the afternoon after commencement was meant to be packing whirlwind, but it turned into a much-needed 12 hour coma for myself and my visiting family.

It is a damned good thing we did so, too… because even in the face of weeks (in fact more than a year, as I used the space in my car to bring home stuff every time I have gone home since May 2013) of packing and preparation, the amount of crap we had to box, bag, and otherwise defenestrate was astonishing.

IMG_20131210_102846_677

The room prior to being emptied, back in the middle of December

Sure, it is true that I was in the same house in DC for nearly 4 years and had accumulated a lot of stuff there (and I am a camper and a builder/fixer, so much of it was useful gear)… so that all got moved up north in 2011, and then I added 3 New Haven years of crap to it (again, mostly useful stuff… just bulky).

So.

It was a hell of a long day, with our intentions starting at “it should take about 4 hours, we can depart at noon or so and drive part of the way to our respective destinations” and eventually arrived at “well, we just packed for 8.5 hours, Michael is passing out standing up.”

My bedroom of 3 years is now a cold, empty husk... like me :D

My bedroom of 3 years is now a cold, empty husk… like me ūüėÄ

I went to Bob’s to pick up the trailer, and again recognized how tired I was, and also how unsafe it is to drive while exhausted… but even less safe to tow a trailer in the darkening evening.

I spoke to Bob and was able to secure a bed in their guest room to sleep for the night, and I cannot overstate how important this was to my (eventual) safe passage south to Maryland.  I slept deeply and departed on Wednesday (rather than Tuesday), and did the trip in one fell swoop.

Crazy to think how many hours I spent in the basement there, and how much fun I had in the space I worked so hard to renovate and make useful.

Crazy to think how many hours I spent in the basement there, and how much fun I had in the space I worked so hard to renovate and make useful.

For more on the arrival and continuing story of my time in Maryland, please see the blog I put together for that experience, at this link.

The setting of New Haven. and (happily) moving away from it

The number of gang shootings and drug violence in my immediate neighborhood (some of which can be seen here) was a serious part of my time in New Haven – something like 21 or 22 instances of shots fired in 3 years, within 5 houses of mine.¬† This is besides the more “typical” crimes experienced by Yale students – down around the university, muggings are a common experience, and not where I lived (after all, I lived in the poor part of town so no one had money on them to be stolen).

Crime is not a new experience for my living situation, but I will tell you what really wore me down the most – the rudeness and generally aggressive-paired-with-frustration that came forth from many of the people I interacted with in New Haven… particularly while driving.¬† In a serious way I am thankful for 3 years spent in the area, 2 of which involved a lot of driving – I was always a decent driver, but I am at a place in my life where NYC is “just an annoyance to be avoided” as opposed to the stressful bugbear of past-Mike’s outlook on driving.¬† Through this crucible I became a better driver, and indeed the crucibles abounded in and around New Haven.

Thankful as I am for all the good and for the bad experiences turned into good lessons learned, I was more than ready to get out by the time the semester ended and I headed south.

My tired parents and brother, helping finalize the packing process

My tired parents and brother, helping finalize the packing process

FAR too many things do I own; the vast majority of them went home to OH for me to deal with at a later time (oh joy)

FAR too many things do I own; the vast majority of them went home to OH for me to deal with at a later time (oh joy)

Final thoughts on school

I have always loved Calvin & Hobbes, and this one comic captures many of my thoughts about the academy in general, after a good 8 years trapped in it:

Cannot agree enough

Cannot agree enough

Critical thinking and carefully examining the problems of our world are vital aspects of any well-lived life – but the number of times I have watched the sinking ship of “a conversation with relevance to the real world” from a lifeboat, as my peers would continue the quibbling that sunk the ship of relevance in the first place… was too many for me to bear.¬† I was way ready to get out of the academy more than 2 years ago, even – but I stuck it out, and for many reasons (the lessons learned in class, the lessons learned about how not to act or live by observing other people, and most importantly: nearly full coverage of my shoulder surgeries and physical therapy all made this waiting game worth it).¬† I am deeply thankful for the opportunities I had at Yale, but it simply wasn’t a good fit for me in many ways because, frankly, I dislike obfuscation and prefer action to pontification.

There are a lot more things I could say about this place, but suffice to say: I took the advice of a YDS peer long ago and always assumed good intentions in the words, throughts, and deeds of my Yale Divinity peers – as everyone up there, so far as I could tell, had their hearts genuinely in the right place.¬† Just, too often did someone offer their politics instead of their religious convictions (if any, a complex issue at YDS as I experienced it) – and just like in church in real life, I didn’t come to hear about a person’s politics, I came to hear a religious message.¬† I got some of the religious insights and training I sought, often from unexpected sources, but at the end of the experience I am so deeply, truly grateful to be moving back out into the real world and out of the bubble of seminary (which, to be fair, is a reality about most seminaries, being a bubble).

I think, if you go back and read through this blog, you’ll see that I moved over time further and further into projects and camping trips because 1) they were in the real world and away from the bubble; and 2) they were constructive actions, as opposed to the academy’s tendency to deconstruct everything with a nauseating smugness and then offer no solutions whatsoever.¬† My mind and body were ready to depart, and now departed I am (save for the summer’s internship, which due to my fighting for it, will be physical labor- and project-heavy… as rehabilitation after so long in the academy).

Glad to have gone, but more glad to have finished and now to be gone, it seems.

Thanks for reading the blog!

To those folks who have followed my blogged time in New Haven and at Yale Divinity School, I can quote unto you the message I painted on the basement stairs over 2 years ago:

Thanks indeed, Winchester House

Thanks indeed, Winchester House

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The final final has been vanquished; preparing the trailer for my caravan to freedom

Getting a great deal

(Editor’s note: this post is going live some 2 weeks after the fact, because the last portion of my time in New Haven was simply too busy for me to compose this before now!)

In February or March, it occurred to me that it would be 1) a lot easier to move; 2) a lot easier to do farmwork in Maryland for my internship; and 3) prepare me for years of utility and capacity ahead.

I knew that Harbor Freight is at times a great place to purchase tools and gear – they claim to offer the best deals on great gear, and while their prices are always very low… the quality of what they sell isn’t especially compelling in some cases.

That said, I did a hell of a lot of research over months, looking into whether or not their trailer kits could be trusted Рand what I found was, a resounding yes IF you properly clean and repack with grease the ball bearings in the wheel hubs.  Which I did, very carefully, as per below.

My good friend Syed helped me find out that HF was going to hold a sale on Easter Sunday, for 25% off of one item.¬† The specific store I went to didn’t have any in stock, they gave me a voucher to get the sales price after the day once they were back in stock… and I ended up getting the kit from the New Haven store.

My good friend Bob finalizing bolt placement through the deck

My good friend Bob finalizing bolt placement through the deck

 

Test fitting one of the side walls to the vertical upright beams

Test fitting one of the side walls to the vertical upright beams

Building the trailer

My good friend Bob is a retired Marine and retired police officer, who is working security for Yale Law School Рand over the 16 odd months I did IT there, I often helped Bob with various IT problems which arose.  He had told me about the garage he had, where he likes to fix cars Рand when I mentioned the trailer, Bob jumped at the chance to help me out with a project before I departed New Haven!  Thus, once I finished the last final of my academic career (thank Jesus it is over), I dove into working as many hours at the Law School as I could, while also working on the trailer after shifts ended.

Bob and his brother Eddy and I, hanging out on a Saturday in the car shop they have used for more than 30 years

Bob and his brother Eddy and I, hanging out on a Saturday in the car shop they have used for more than 30 years

Over several nights and weekends, Bob and I (and his visiting older brother Eddy, at times) worked to put together the metal frame, to prepare for the decking and side walls.  I decided to do 2 foot tall walls, making use of the slots in the steel frame as to ensure they are stable when in place but also make their removal a non-issue.  We used pressure treated lumber for the deck and uprights, to make sure they last as long as possible Рand then I painted the side panel plywood prior to assembly.

I found a special set of interlocking corner hardware for trailers, and then a set of super heavy duty Tacoma pickup truck bed D-rings, as the other modifications I did on the trailer.¬† The corner hardware got put onto the side walls and they do an excellent job of holding the walls very steadily in place, even at speed.¬† The D-rings were drilled into the outside edges of the frame, as to allow for tie-down points when I have the walls removed and am transporting heavier or larger items such as 4×8 plywood (as opposed to the lighter duty door handles I put onto the deck for internal tie-down points).

Ready to go!

After a great deal of work, the trailer was ready to go – and my best intentions were to take it home to New Haven from Bob’s garage, load it completely for the Maryland trip, and then return it to Bob’s locking garage for safe storage until the moment of my departure south.¬† I did indeed do that, and in retrospect am VERY glad I did so!

Other than electrical, the trailer was ready to go on schedule (I ended up finishing a few days later)

Other than electrical, the trailer was ready to go on schedule (I ended up finishing a few days later)

“I bring good news, of great soy” – visiting my summer internship site in southern Maryland, from farm to house to church and more!

The roadtrip

After installing the summer Borbet wheels (which were both thrown in for free by the previous owner, which is a crazy good deal for me; AND which were given a great deal on new Hankook Ventus 2 tires and so forth thanks to my wallet-destroying friend, Tom) on the street in front of my house… and being lucky enough that the trucker’s warning triangles I once bought cheaply from Craigslist were sufficient enough to keep cars away, I packed the car BATTLEWAGON and was ready to go!

Summer tires in place, ready to rock (but mostly roll)

Summer tires in place, ready to rock (but mostly roll)

With my good friend and fellow student Nathan, who will be living and working alongside me in this house over the summer, we departed YDS at 4pm or thereabout.

Nathan and I in the Yale Divinity parking lot, excited to depart!

Nathan and I in the Yale Divinity parking lot, excited to depart!

I cannot fully believe it myself, but 3 long and not always fun years in New Haven and at Yale can consider their days numbered – this trip was the harbinger of an escape less than two months away.¬† Even less credible, but also true: we hit a total of 27 minutes of traffic, on I-95 south in NYC, before the George Washington Bridge, and otherwise had smooth sailing all the way.¬† Fantastic, hard to believe, and a good start to a great weekend.¬† We arrived at Nathan’s parents’ home in MD, and quickly passed out after a long day.

The visitation of DC and VA friends

I set aside Friday to go down and make a pilgrimage to places where I knew old friends still exist, and also to visit my prior institution, American University.

Amurka!

Amurka!

Between juggling attempted visits with professors and old friends, my initial stop by AU in the morning was just good for grabbing photos of a couple of these iconic views it was (surprisingly) good to see, again.

The lovely new School of International Service, which was done in time for my graduation day but not my usage

The lovely new School of International Service, which was done in time for my graduation day but not my usage

That said, I stopped by the school later in the afternoon after a lengthy lunch with friends, and visited with both a former roommate who know works in the AU public safety department; and one of my favorite professors of computer science, who showed me his newest craze Рquadcopters.  A lot of fun was had, and I look forward to further visitations with those folks and others over the lengthy summer!

AU, don't you ever change, as a place where wearing your heart on your sleeve isn't enough... you need multiple shirts for your multiple hearts!

AU, don’t you ever change, as a place where wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t enough… you need multiple shirts for your multiple hearts!

The lunchtime hour(s) was spent catching up with my good friends Deb and Kim, whom I met and toiled alongside at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, in January 2013 Рwe were all prospective diaconal ministers, and in the midst of a grueling schedule, we got to become great friends.  As one might imagine, and in spite of possible height differentials making direct conversation difficult (as per below), we had a fantastic time and a delicious meal at Silverado.

Finally reunited with my fellow diaconal-inclined Lutheran friends, Deb and Kim!

Finally reunited with my fellow diaconal-inclined Lutheran friends, Deb and Kim!

I drove something like 75 miles within DC and northern VA in a single day, and that was enough for me – after a good 12 or 13 hours away from Nathan’s folks’ house, I drove back and again fell into a blissful, deep sleep.¬† As my time at home in Ohio a few weeks ago, for spring break, made clear to me: the benefits for mood, outlook, disposition, and body tension levels that I find from being away from negative settings (for instance, the latest disrespectful toxic housemate I am stuck with; the gang shootings around my house in New Haven, and the academic setting at YDS in general).¬† Even as a stanger in the strange land of Laurel, MD, I slept like the dead and it was great.¬† I fully suspect this sort of healthy, non-tense and indeed edifying experience of passing living in southern Maryland versus CT will continue for the whole summer, and I cannot overstate my thankfulness for and excitement about that.

The farm, the house, the joy

Nathan and I amidst the college's community garden and the new plot we will work and make flourish

Nathan and I amidst the college’s community garden and the new plot we will work and make flourish

Saturday was The Main Event: first driving the 2 hours further south, to Saint Mary’s City MD – the historical landing site for the Catholic colonists who petitioned for a patch of land in the New World where they could worship (as Catholics were disallowed from worshipping in England at the time), in 1634.¬† As the original state capital, it was a place which would remain small and agricultural up until and then after the point when the capital was moved to Annapolis – and this trend continues today.¬† One of the peculiar aspects of living in “the county” (which is how everyone I met referred to the area), one will encounter a wide swathe of people whose family has owned the very expensive land they own since the 1640s… but who have no liquidity.¬† It is our hope, through directly donating crops grown and also teaching how easy/cheap/healthy it is to grow one’s own food in the plentiful soil of the area, to help directly improve the lives of the surprising number of hungry in the area.

 

Beauty and joy abound, around our summer home

Beauty and joy abound, around our summer home

Historic Saint Mary's City has frame 'buildings' on the sites where the original colonists built their lives on the shores of this New World

Historic Saint Mary’s City has frame ‘buildings’ on the sites where the original colonists built their lives on the shores of this New World.¬† Somewhat haunting, as neighbors go I suppose.

As you see in the two photos above, the setting around the house is extremely rural and empty (this is a siren song to my ears, tired as they and I are of the urban shitshow of New Haven).  Below you can see the house from front and back, prior to the lead paint on the outside being scraped and replaced for our arrival at the end of May:

Front of the house and the MFALCON, both looking lovely

Front of the house and the MFALCON, both looking lovely

The back of the being-renovated home

The back of the being-renovated home

My bedroom is a lighter shade of green than my current New Haven home, and is a mere 120 by 144 inches, which is not a large space – but honestly, a part of my attempting to learn and grow this summer is in the key of “don’t bring too much, do too much, or worry too much” – so besides Ike and his house, my clothes, computer, and camping gear, I will not be bringing anything more.¬† Such a small space ought to be entirely sufficient!

My bedroom for the coming year shall again be green, and it has a gorgeous view of both foliage and field

My bedroom for the coming year shall again be green, and it has a gorgeous view of both foliage and field

If memory serves, this little brown house is over 110 years old, and various portions of it are in different stages of being renovated for us; one of the finished areas is the kitchen, which looks lovely:

The brand new, gorgeous kitchen I will be getting to use with Nathan, to cook for ourselves and guests all summer long

The brand new, gorgeous kitchen I will be getting to use with Nathan, to cook for ourselves and guests all summer long

Nathan looking uncharacteristically worried, regarding the fan in one of our common rooms

Nathan looking uncharacteristically worried, regarding the fan in one of our common rooms

The members of the parish have already indicated a certain kind of excitement in helping us to furnish this building and make it a home and a house of hospitality and prayer; all told, then the housing angle of this summer couldn’t be any more wonderful!

Trinity Episcopal Church and Saint Mary College

Beyond the farming portion of the summer, I will be working with and learning from Pastor John Ball of Trinity Episcopal church, and that will involve several additional responsibilities.  One of them will be preaching to both of the congregations in the parish (there is the main church building, seen below, and then a small chapel down the road with a commited, small set of older folks who live near and worship there).

Trinity Episcopal, a lovely little building

Trinity Episcopal, a lovely little building

 

The view from the pulpit

The view from the pulpit

"Trinity: since 1638" is very cool to me

“Trinity: since 1638” is very cool to me

Another project I know of from the very beginning will be helping manage, fundraise, and generally effect the cause of saving Church Point: a sandy small peninsula into the river off from where the church and the college is located, it has lost several yards of sand and sediment to the water since 1950 or so.¬† The below photo shows the cross on the sand again, only because a big tractor was brought down to drag it 50 or so feet onto the now-shrunk shore.¬† It will be like my Eagle Scout project days again, in many ways – but now with a certain kind of authority as “oh, that seminary intern guy”!

Church Point, eroding away - and working to galvanize support and fundraise to restore it

Church Point, eroding away – and working to galvanize support and fundraise to restore it

The College's marina, right down the hill from the church, free for our summer use.  Yesssssssssssssss

The College’s marina, right down the hill from the church, free for our summer use. Yesssssssssssssss

The full replica of the Dove, which originally got settlers to these shores in the 1600s

The full replica of the Dove, which originally got settlers to these shores in the 1600s

There will be many other projects ahead, but now all I can think about is my excitement to getting down there and settled into a healthy set of routines in a great little house with my good friend and classmate Nathan.

Excited beyond belief for this coming summer?

Yup.

The sun also sets

The sun also sets

From delicious views and weather, to delightful locals and lands, I cannot think of anything about this summer which doesn’t have the capacity to be outstanding right out of the gate.¬† Just in terms of measuring “average number of weekly gang violence within 2-3 blocks of my house”, I can already guarantee that this will be a more peaceful, wholesome, and edifying experience than New Haven.¬† The nature of living with non-students, and outside of the bubble of seminary (it is not, to be fair, just YDS that has this – seminaries in general tend to become bubbles in so many ways), I rejoice at the chance to make lasting friendships with “real people” so to speak, people with mortgages, and debt, and jobs, and families… and people who DON’T babble about theory and minutia without any real life experience to back up their pontificating.¬† (For reference, the preceding sentences of critique of my Yale/New Haven setting were GREATLY edited down, in terms of lengths and crass vulgarities).

In short, then: my summer internship in Saint Mary’s City, Maryland, is going to be a peaceful, edifying, educational, and positive experience to finish the last requirement to get my degree from Yale.¬† I will be doing a blog specific to the summer, and I greatly encourage you to take a look once it is posted and running, later in May.

For now, back to the grind to finish this semester.

This summer is going to be so beautiful to see and soak in, I nearly can't stand it

This summer is going to be so beautiful to see and soak in, I nearly can’t stand it

NECE 4, Day 2 – the Green Mountain Club HQ; Ben and Jerry’s factory; Stellafane Amateur Observatory

Waking up from the EVERFROST

The night was, to be honest, miserable – even with fleece blankets to line my sleeping bag, I was VERY cold. Cold to the level of going into the fetal position inside the sleeping bag, and arms in armpits to maximize heat recirculation for my body, and still shivering.¬† And I am a big guy, so I don’t really shiver.

I woke up/decided to get out of the tent and start moving around 6am, a process which went something like this:

It was very, very, very cold on Friday morning. VERY. COLD.

It was very, very, very cold on Friday morning.
VERY.
COLD.

After checking extremities for frostbite (my left pinky and all my right toes felt VERY cold, in that “oh shit” kind of way), I got out of the tent and started moving as much as I could.¬† To say the least, I was not happy with the -20 degree rating on my sleeping bag… but as my brother has since explained to me, -20 rating means “you MIGHT not freeze to death in -20, and you’ll be really warm and comfortable at -5″… which is a bit different than how I understood it.¬† As they say, you (barely) live and learn.

The tent looked so nice as I departed, but was approximately 0 degrees Kelvin on the inside

The tent looked so nice as I departed, but was approximately 0 degrees Kelvin on the inside

I checked online, and the capitol of the state, 13 miles away, was -14 degrees F during the course of the night – and locals in Waterbury reported -18 on their thermostats. Chilly indeed, even if the above photo looks like a nice winter day.¬† But cold is nothing new, so I departed for… a McDonald’s in order to get out of the wind and thaw a bit.¬† I cannot overstate how thankful I am that the closest one, a 30 minute drive away, had a fireplace in their dining room… as I got to warm myself for the 2 hours unscheduled that morning!

A raccoon froze to death during the night!  Very good sign for the safety of my experience, I should think

A raccoon froze to death during the night! Very good sign for the safety of my experience, I should think

Even with the FROST-PERIENCE and racoon-popsicle discoveries of my evening and morning, one cannot overstate the gorgeous views across the top of the Little River dam and reservoir:

Sunrise over the reservoir, just gorgeous

Sunrise over the reservoir, just gorgeous

The Long Trail, starting at the Green Mountain Club Headquarters

As I have hiked on the Appalachian Trail before, my intention was to spend a good set of the 272 miles on VT’s famed Long Trail while in the state.¬† When I began to look into that, I found there is a non-profit organization in the state, which is responsible for maintaining those miles and miles: the Green Mountain Club!

Green Mountain Club HQ

The new GMC HQ building is 100% built from local sustainable materials, entirely self-sufficient for power, and is 100% gorgeous

The new GMC HQ building is 100% built from local sustainable materials, entirely self-sufficient for power, and is 100% gorgeous

From what I read online, their new headquarters building was built entirely with local sustainable lumber, and is powered fully by solar.  Once I got there, I found out fascinating additional details: they had to build the new building because the old one burned down; they have composting toilets so produce very little wastewater; they use a special sort of boiler for heat and water heating, which is crazy efficient; and the list of cool things went on and on.

The interior of the GMC HQ was gorgeous, and adorned with all manner of historical gear and backpacks

The interior of the GMC HQ was gorgeous, and adorned with all manner of historical gear and backpacks

The building was gorgeous, the staff was friendly and knowledgeable about the specifics of the building, the Long Trail, and just more of my immersion into the friendly and jovial culture of Vermonters.¬† Also, they happened to be well-situated in order to see Camel’s Hump Mountain, which is where I was planning on hiking:

The peak of Camel's Hump as seen from the Green Mountain Club

The peak of Camel’s Hump as seen from the Green Mountain Club

The lunch of champions: stopping by the Ben & Jerry’s factory

On my way towards the GMC, I passed by a place I had visited in my childhood with my family, the Ben & Jerry’s factory.¬† I knew I needed lunch on my way south to Springfield VT, so I figured I had found my diner!

Snow sculpture of a guy churning snow into ice cream, in front of the ice cream central... INCEPTION

Snow sculpture of a guy churning snow into ice cream, in front of the ice cream central… INCEPTION

After ordering and enjoying a cookie-layered sundae with hazelnut ice cream (yes, I probably got diabetes from typing that, much less eating it), I snapped some photos and then got into the car for my trip down south.

In heaven

In heaven

A wall of ice cream scoops with my hazelnut and cookie sunday lunch... so good.

A wall of ice cream scoops with my hazelnut and cookie sunday lunch… so good.

Observing Stellafane Amateur Observatory

All signs point to astronomy

All signs point to astronomy

The highlight of the trip for me, in some ways, was a visit to get a private tour of the Stellafane Observatory.  I drove the 2 hours south to Springfield, to meet with Ken Slater, the vice president of their club, who was happy to give me a private tour of the grounds.

The Stellafane lodge, atop the hill

The Stellafane lodge, atop the hill

The catch, of course, was that we had to snowshoe in over the unpaved hills and dales, which was (as snowshoeing is wont to be) tiring but worthwhile!

The unique1924  Porter telescope, still standing and in use all these years later

The unique1924 Porter telescope, still standing and in use all these years later

Atop the hill sits the pink lodge building, with several telescopes in it, and then the famous Porter observatory off by itself.

The VP of the Stellafane Club, Ken, and I in front of the lodge

The VP of the Stellafane Club, Ken, and I in front of the lodge

Ken told me all about the peculiarly important place of Stellafane in the history of astronomy – basically, it was a place which took the telescopes as curiousities of the rich in the 1900s and 1910s, and began to turn it into a club for enthusiasts… until the magazie Scientific American picked up on their existence and wrote an article.

Only a few of the compendiums of Scientific American articles on amateur telescope making, all because of Stellafane

Only a few of the compendiums of Scientific American articles on amateur telescope making, all because of Stellafane

An article which outperformed every single article they had ever written… and the editors caught on when they received boatloads of letters indicating their interest.¬† The voluminous article-writing after was big enough to necessitate the bound books (some of which can be seen above), and was really interesting to learn about!

The handsome Stellafane logo, atop the lodge

The handsome Stellafane logo, atop the lodge

The classy and dapper 1910s gentleman being the symbol of Stellafane (seen above, atop the front door to the lodge) ought not give the wrong impression – the interior of the lodge is split between cooking space for guests, and teaching space for learners:

A blackboard for teaching, and photos of nearly 100 years of telescoping

A blackboard for teaching, and photos of nearly 100 years of telescoping

The astronomical curios in the room were 1) awesome and 2) tempting as all hell to stock up on as quickly as I can, in order to outfit nerd-rooms in my future house (note: all rooms in my home will be nerd rooms… so I will need a *lot* of curios):

One of many awesome things I hope to one day have in a room(s) in the house I hope to build.

One of many awesome things I hope to one day have in a room(s) in the house I hope to build.

One of my favorite pieces in the lodge was the series of glass plates with images taken decades ago by the amateur telescopes of the club:

Glass plate images from over 75 years ago, made using amateur made telescopes.  Breathtaking.

Glass plate images from over 75 years ago, made using amateur made telescopes. Breathtaking.

Ken got a photo of me checking out the Porter observatory through my Pentax, with the not-so-clear-skies above:

Yours truly photo'ing the Porter telescope (this shot taken by Ken, and posted here with his permission)

Yours truly photo’ing the Porter telescope (this shot taken by Ken, and posted here with his permission)

As has been alluded to above, Stellafane actually is home to multiple telescopes… and that number grows, as they offer once per month courses on how to grind your own mirrors, to make your own telescopes.¬† I REALLY want to make it up there to do this, not least of all because astrophotography CAN be done with DIY telescopes… which is REALLY awesome:

Another one of the observatories dotting the 70+ acres at Stellafane

Another one of the observatories dotting the 70+ acres at Stellafane

As a matter of fact Stellafane almost has more telescopes than they know what to do with; Ken got a shot of me with one of the larger (gigantic and enormously heavy) telescopes in storage, awaiting refurbishment and installation somewhere:

That is a LARGE telescope, one of the donations given to Stellafane (I believe this one came from one of the old Harvard observatories and was considering too old to refurbish)

That is a LARGE telescope, one of the donations given to Stellafane (I believe this one came from one of the old Harvard observatories and was considering too old to refurbish)

But refurbish they do, using some fascinating tools: a polishing tool made from common ceramic floor tiles to scrape the glass evenly:

Ken showing off a GIGANTIC mirror being polished with a homemade ceramic tile scraper

Ken showing off a GIGANTIC mirror being polished with a homemade ceramic tile scraper

At the end of another long but excellent day in Vermont, I drove north and snapped a few photos along the way, as I continued to marvel at the scenery along the way.¬† VT is almost *too* visually appealing in the winter, so I assume in the summer it blooms with the force of a thousand Edens.¬† Though it bills itself as “Green Mountain State” on its license plates, I would offer: it ought to be re-motto’d as “Lands of Unending Subarus”, with their all wheel drive and ease of use for moving sporting equipment.

A shot taken one handed while driving to try and capture the beauty along I89 - just another excuse to fashion a camera mount to go on the headrest of the passenger seat, I guess!

A shot taken one handed while driving to try and capture the beauty along I89 – just another excuse to fashion a camera mount to go on the headrest of the passenger seat, I guess!

I slept VERY soundly, once I got back to the tent, not least of all because it was a sweltering 12 degrees F outside.

Amping up my quest for improved household air quality – plants upstairs and down

Having spent time the other day replacing the house furnace and my own little box fan/filter with new and higher end filters, I got to considering: I am of the opinion that replacing those filters is ENTIRELY worth the money, but to some degree it bothers me that the old ones are just thrown away.

And it bothers me that I have to keep paying, as well, to be quite honest.

So I started doing a skill I have had for years (and honed to masterclass while one-armed healing from surgery): namely, searching Google for abstract ideas and project desires I have, and finding those unrelated searches coalescing into a real plan.

In this case, I eventually found out that NASA of all groups did a study on the possibilies offered to internal building air quality improvement by the use of certain plants.

As a science fiction nerd, this already was cool in my mind – the whole “spaceship with self contained oxygen garden” idea always fascinated me, and now I get to do it with my house!!

The plants I got include a peace lilly; a mother in law’s tongue; three small pots with rosemary seeded; a money plant; and a golden pothos vine – all combine their efforts to turn carbon dioxide into the freshest oxygen, but they will also better regulate the humidity of my bedroom; the rosemary will make the air smell pleasant AND give me some of the health benefits of rosemary oil AND allow me to brew fresh tea whenever I would like; the peace lilly and a few others actually EAT carbon monoxide and formaldehyde and other nastiness out of the air; and so all things considered, I should probably actually sleep better (both from the knowledge of cleaner air, but honestly from increased ease of breathing)!!!

Welcome to the jungle

Welcome to the jungle

All told, the desk’s transition to THAT much greenery will be temporary, as some of the plants need less sun and will be moved atop the dresser on the left.¬† Even still, given that I ordered areca palm seeds (which easily sprout up to shoulder height and then SPEW fresh oxygen), its not like I even have enough space in my bedroom for all the plants I’d like.

As with so much else in the house, I consider this another test run of something important to me for my eventual house of my own.

As time, I will perhaps post updates of how effective this seems to be (and given I have a housemate with two guinea pigs next door to my bedroom and the associated smells, I will QUICKLY be able to detect changes I should think).

“As I lay (recline) healing” – musings of the unwillingly idle

“What the Faulkner is he complaining about, being idle” you might be wondering.¬† Two things are indisputably true:

1) I function best when I feel/am useful
2) the healing process from these surgeries has kicked my ass and then laughed at me – even if I wanted to do anything more than physical therapy or class, I simply could not.

So, musings:

State of the Shoulder

First and foremost, how does my shoulder feel 37 days after the surgeries?  The answer depends on the day, but 10 days ago the pain had gotten manageable and was no longer tiring me out to a serious degree!

Then, I started physical therapy.

Everything is awful, thought I!  The pain has returned and thus being exhausted at all hours; the scar tissue collection my shoulder had begun was being destroyed.

Everything is blessedly alright, acknowledged I after the pain subsided and I thought about it.¬† Not only have the wounds completely closed and are free from complication (thus ending the live option of serious infection, thank God); the fact of the matter is, against all expectations, that I have started PT with a MUCH bigger range of motion than people do.¬† That is not to say I can do much of anything with the arm – I am still only capable of passive motion (eg leaning over and letting the right arm dangle to and fro; or using a cane in my left hand to move my right arm in different directions).¬† But I am nevertheless able to reach far above my head in two different directions as of 12 days into PT… which means I will likely get back to normal more quickly AND I don’t have as much to worry about in terms of complications.

Ike keeps a scaly eye on my healing process

Ike keeps a scaly eye on my healing process

That said, I have at least 5 more weeks in the sling, according to the last appointment with the surgeon.  I am to slowly leave the arm out of the sling each day, to get the elbow more comfortable with being unbent (though I assure you, it is massively uncomfortable to do so, yeesh), all the while continuing with my twice-daily exercises at home to maintain the gains from PT sessions (which are three times per week).

The road ahead (and the return to eventually using my own car)

The fact that I am least in pain when reclining, so I have every reason to research interesting plans and projects for the months ahead, once I am the two-armed man again.¬† Besides looking into gargoyle geckos and the design and construction of a 100% self-sustaining vivarium for them (stay tuned approx 14 months from now, once I am settled somewhere and have the money to build it, God-willing), I have been doing a great deal of systematic reading about my car, and ways to finally iron out the rest of the intermittent power loss issue (uphill on the highway, the engine sometimes goes into ‘limp mode’ and slows me down to 50mph… not especially fun).

now stored away as I mend

now stored away as I mend

But I have also read about performance and efficiency enhancements, to say nothing of adding utility AND good lucks to that wondrous diesel machine of mine.  A short list, for the interested:

-new camshaft, upgrades for the engine computer, bigger fuel injection nozzles – interestingly enough, well-designed diesel engines like this 1Z Volkswagen TDI become MORE efficient when you give them more fuel and performance engine components.¬† I am told I might be able to kiss 60 miles per gallon if I drive super careful on the highway… but 55mpg will be normal.¬†¬† So worth it/LOL PRIUSUX
-need to try and fix the three spots of cosmetic rust, so the car can last to the 1 million miles I have planned for it
-very understated accent paint on things like the edge of the front grille, the canoe tiedown points, brake calipers
-painting the majority of my rooftop cargo carrier to match the car’s Storm Grey; doing the rim of the lid with the same aforementioned accent color (specifics still unclear)
-possiblt turn the interior into an altar to the stars and outer space (beyond just being the MFALCON, more on this later)
-slowly figure out a utility trailer, buy and renovate it as needed, to enable me to move out of New Haven without renting anything + to help me build my own house one day by transporting materials with my own gear!
Mind you, I can afford none of this now, and won’t soon have any money.¬† But I thrive on planning and tweaking things to improve them…

Post-Yale plans

So then, to close I offer a short update on where I hope to go, and what I want to do once I depart this place.

1) I am unwilling to pay rent any longer. I am going to carefully look into the “where” and strive to purchase land if at all possible; the “what” I do ought to be secondary to joining a community where I can flourish

2) I am at my best when I help others, but the lifestyle encouraged by academia (namely living beyond my means on loans while talking about sustainability) just doesn’t do it for me any more.¬† I want a goddamned salary to start paying down debt; as much as I feel drawn to a place like DC to dive into helping others, it would be arch-hypocrisy to live beyond my means while trying to encourage others to be sustainable.¬† So the “what I do” is wider open than before, which is both exciting and nervewracking.

3) I have had my fill of urban spaces.¬† I need to be where folks are friendly and where I would have lots of open, quiet space within which to meditate and purge my system of years of built-up annoyance and bitterness at all manner of things. Maybe not QUITE “My side of the mountain,” but close seems to be my ideal.¬† Any suggested locales to research would be appreciated.

4) Finally, there is an opportunity in front of me which would fulfill a lot of these hopes. I cannot say much still, but prayers and kind thoughts would be much appreciated.

This post brought to you by one-handed typing. ow.

The GhostShed – a retrospective on the summer’s major architectural project, and how it points to the agrarian future ahead!

This summer sped up quite a bit at the end, and so I will have to do a couple of shorter follow-up posts for summertime projects that took place over the long term.

supplies supplies

supplies supplies

Please excuse the interspersion of chronological photos of the build throughout this post.

the little car that did

the little car that did, and my friend Sarah, helper across the summer months!!

The Plan

Threefold were the problems facing me: 1) there had been bicycles in the dining room of my house for the full 2 years I had lived there and that annoyed me; 2) I had gotten a fantastic deal on a Thule cargo box for the roof of my car, ¬†but it was 90 inches long, which made it difficult to store in the house and still have easy access to; and 3) my tools appear to be based on compound interest, as they accrue more of themselves more quickly as time goes on (and this led to an overcrowding of the shelf in the laundry room… and the basement… and my bedroom).

sizing up the walls for assembly on the ground

sizing up the side walls for assembly on the ground

Given all of these problems, and my penchant for projects and building things, there seemed to be one way I could go forward, to both solve those issues and (as I am wont to do) push myself deeper into debt: design and construct a shed in the yard!

the initial structure, prior to The Collapse

the initial structure, prior to The Collapse

The Problem, and The Solution

a pitched roof for ease of construction, I thought (not realizing how annoying the gables would be)

a pitched roof for ease of construction, I thought (not realizing how annoying the gables would be)

Unfortunately, much earlier this summer, at the very end of May, I injured myself at krav maga: while throwing an elbow, I felt something tear in my right shoulder.  After a series of tests and MRIs and the like, it turns out that 1) I tore the posterior labarum in my right shoulder (the fibers that help hold the muscles around the bone); 2) I have serious hypermobility in my shoulders, and given that the shoulder is already the most unstable joint in the body, this makes it unlikely to ever heal on its own; and 3) I apparently have a genetic abnormality in the capsule of my shoulder that makes it prone to tearing (and the capsule can never heal or be repaired, due to its extreme thinness).  All of this means that I will have to have surgery in the next few weeks (scary, to be sure), and that building a shed out of heavy timber components by myself would not be a good plan.

I am not a smart man, as it were, so I still wanted to build this shed of course.

Thankfully, however, I have some amazing friends: Sarah, Ryan, Adam, Ben, Chris, and Liam.  They all helped me at various points along the way, and in the case of my roofing-friend Sarah, multiple points!  My deepest gratitude to them all for their help!!!

roof application with the help of Ryan, my housemate at the  time (now in TX for his PhD)

roof application with the help of Ryan, my housemate at the time (now in TX for his PhD)

The Build

So, for a solid three months over the course of the summer, working alone and at times with friends, the shed took shape and was polished into its completed form.

doors installed and framed with 2x4s

doors installed and framed with 2x4s

The basic intention was to have this shed be built from scratch, the right way to last a long time to come, without breaking the bank; after all, I am hoping to purchase my own tract of land and build a paradise on it some day, and so I need to get practice starting as soon as possible.

shingles galore

shingles galore

We got, as per photos above, the side walls up and the back wall between them… and then I did a Dumb Thing. ¬†Namely, told Ryan it would be OK to leave plywood and lumber leaning against the temporarily-installed walls as we removed a few of the rear wall panels to readjust them.

And so, the proto-shed collapsed sideways, with Ryan and I thankfully jumping out of the way, and not getting hurt. ¬†Lesson learned: don’t be an idiot.

the problem was how to finish the walls...

the problem was how to finish the walls…

So, we got the structure upright again and permanently installed, so that we could begin to get the roof going. ¬†At the same time, I made use of some of the very cheaply-gained “scrap” plywood (being odd sizes doesn’t make it scrap in my opinion, but I will not argue) to put floors onto the joyces at the bottom of the shed. ¬†I also installed internal shelving on the right side, and then the mounts to hang bikes down from on the left (and indeed a bigger shelf atop that, due to the extra plywood floating about).

... so, scratch-built gables!

… so, scratch-built gables!

The Final Product

the internal contents of the shed, and the shelves built into the back

the internal contents of the shed, and the shelves built into the back

Thus, although my goal was to finish this prior to school starting, the GhostShed was actually finished at the very beginning of September.  As I was working 40 hours per week at Yale Law School, and doing a slew of other things (mostly trying to camp in different places around New England, visit friends in DC, NY, and VA, and the like), the project went from the early middle of June until the very beginning of September.

8 foot foundation timbers in place and bolted to the structure

8 foot foundation timbers in place and bolted to the structure

The most important successes from this project, I would say, are split between rekindling my intuition that I won’t be able to feel content or fulfilled if my future doesn’t directly allow me to build and repair things with my hands; and the fact that though there were some rough edges, all told I have it within me to plan and build houses both for my lizard Ike AND buildings I could one day inhabit. ¬†Again, it is difficult to overestimate how important it is to me to feel but more importantly be able to enact a serious degree of self-sufficiency, and this project did that in a great way.

Oh, and now the bikes, tools, and rooftop cargo box are out of the house and stored properly. ¬†Also a nice positive outcome ūüôā

cutting the drip edging to size...

cutting the drip edging to size…

... so my good Lutheran roofing-friend Sarah can help install it!

… so my good Lutheran roofing-friend Sarah can help install it!

It is important, I think, to also mention that I (re)learned some vital lessons from mistakes made. ¬†The biggest one was “don’t cut corners around heavy stacks of lumber, as that can fall” and I am thankful neither Ryan nor I got hurt. ¬†Additionally, I took the embers of a childhood learning from my master carpenter of a father and by practice fanned them into flames anew… but also realized that without the proper tools (eg a table saw, and the ability to measure and cut angles) a project can still be done but at much greater headache and possibility of error. ¬†Finally, I suppose I must admit, this project (a foray into the real world which I am quite, quite ready to get to, by escaping the Academy and all its works and all its ways) firmly reminded me that I do NOT have a real income at the moment, and that the educational tendency to reassure us that going further into debt to do something in the here-and-now is NOT a sustainable model. ¬†I will try and embrace all of these lessons moving forward; thankfully, I have a large wooden monument to them, on hand, right behind my house ūüėÄ

the GhostShed begins to be painted, so named because when one combines the spare blue, grey, and white exterior paint on hand... ~GhostShed~ emerges

the GhostShed begins to be painted, so named because when one combines the spare blue, grey, and white exterior paint on hand… ~GhostShed~ emerges

Sign of the times ahead?

So, as I close this post, I would like to offer a brief preview of an amazing opportunity that has come into my life, closely related to sheds, construction, agrarianism, and wholeness.

Though this is still being planned and examined, there is a church within commuting distance of my old city, the District of Federal Overspending-mbia, which has an opportunity.   They own approximately 11 acres of farmland, which has on it a recently-restored 18th century house.  They are hoping to start a small, neo-monastic community, of people who will live and work together on the land, to teach people of the area how important it is to know what one is eating, and indeed how easy it is to save money and feel great by growing some of their own food.  This is not yet guaranteed, but I am applying to live there for a year, the first three months of which might also serve as my Master of Divinity-required internship (which, to be frank, would be a stupendous blessing РI have dreaded this internship requirement as another hoop to jump through, and being rather burned out on such jumpery).  More on this as it develops (and prayers/kind thoughts/sacrificing the proper animals towards the successful realization of this hope would be MUCH appreciated), but for now, gaze ye upon the completed GhostShed and enjoy:

the finished product, accent color and all, just as the fall begins

the finished product, accent color and all, just as the fall begins