Sunday, September 27, 2015

Nathan and Michele and Simon

Now that we live in New Jersey, my brother Nathan is only a three and a half hour drive away! Ok, that sounds like a lot to me too. But not to him. Last weekend, Nathan drove up with his little guy Simon to say hello and spend a couple of nights, and Michele came to join them the next afternoon.

We had a nice time walking around the woods, running errands, and trying to get Simon to take naps when he was supposed to. Simon didn't want to miss any excitement, so he didn't sleep in the early afternoon in the quiet apartment. Instead, he fell asleep a couple of hours later while riding through the woods seated on his dad's shoulders. It didn't look comfortable.

Me, I fell right asleep during Simon's nap time, and had to catch up with the party in the woods later. I think Simon and I both had good ideas about sleeping. That is, sleeping is good. Do it.

Nathan spent two years at Princeton in a previous life. So he took us on a tour.

We also went to one meeting of church together on Sunday. We happen to be attending church in Nathan's old church building. But when we went on Sunday, there was only one person Nathan recognized from eight years before. After the meeting, he went to talk to the guy, and it was confirmed. Yup. Everybody else has moved away! Complete turn over in eight years.

Interesting. A colleague of mine from G.O.D. University told me that the Princeton ward was really great. But I don't think he'd been there for even a longer time than Nathan. So the building is great, but none of them know any of the people anymore.

Except, ironically, my sister Deborah, who has never lived here. 

In any case, we loved seeing Nathan and Michele and Simon. We liked it so much, that we hereby offer an open invitation to the internet. Come and visit us!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Jersey Shore

A couple of weeks ago, just a couple of weeks after arriving in New Jersey, we spent a mostly-lovely Sunday afternoon driving to the beach, and enjoying the shore.

We found a parking spot near the boardwalk, paid for parking, almost paid for beach access, until the guy taking tickets told the guy taking money not to charge anymore -- the weather wasn't looking good enough.

So we walked down to the beach and put our toes in the water.

Within a half hour, the sky opened up and it started pouring rain. We took shelter under the side of a building.

When it kept raining, and raining, and raining, we gave up and walked through the wet to the other end of the boardwalk, where there was a restaurant with a patio, and we shared an order of chips and French fries for an excuse to sit on the patio and watch the rain.

We left a little while before our parking pass expired, with plenty of time to reach the car.

Coming back, through the rain, we gave up on staying dry. It was kind of fun to dance around on the wet boardwalk in the rain.

We all commented that it had been one of our most successful family outings yet. No whining, no yelling, no electronic devices, and no one upset with each other. A truly lovely successful afternoon!

Until we got back to the car and found we had a parking ticket.

Our receipt for parking said we had paid at 3:25 pm. The ticket was issued at 3:26 pm. Which means the parking guy just was hovering next to our car as we pulled up, and issued the ticket after we had appropriately paid. And the instructions on the ticket said we either had to pay the fine, or show up in person in court on a Thursday morning to dispute the fine, which of course was impossible. In spite of the fact that we had paid for parking.

So we drove home mad.

And then we spent the whole night mad.

And then Tim called in the city who issued the ticket in the morning, and a lady told him we could just mail or fax the ticket along with our receipt and the ticket would be voided. And then the rental car company made it even easier by taking the ticket and our parking receipt and saying they'd just take care of it, since it was their car. So, in theory, everything was fine.

Except we were mad.

Way to go, New Jersey. Way to ruin our nicest evening yet.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

First day of school

Jonathan started middle school. Can you believe it? Middle school. He catches the school bus near our apartment, and it takes him to the middle school, where he wanders the halls with other seventh graders (and eighth graders, and even sixth graders here), switching classes and teachers and subjects just like middle schoolers do.

I forgot to take the photo of the boy in front of the school bus the first day. But I did take a first-day-of-school photo. This one.
That is Jonathan with his middle school homework, after school, looking maybe a little overwhelmed. Or maybe that's just Jonathan thinking, "Mom, seriously, what are you doing with the camera?" and I am projecting my own feelings onto the photo. In any case, he had reason to be overwhelmed the first day. It was his first time in a school where he didn't stick with the same classmates the whole day. It was his first time switching rooms every hour. And of course, his first time in the new building with all new people. And on top of that, his locker was jammed. And the "buddy" who was supposed to be assigned to help him find his classes never showed up.

So Super-Jonathan, abandoned and alone in a new school he knew nothing about, took matters into his own hands, and asked random people where his classes were, and used the English room as his locker (with the teacher's permission), and recognized someone from another class and asked to sit with him at lunch. And spoke with the French teacher long enough to get switched into the advanced French class immediately. And found the school bus home. And got off at the right stop. And walked back to our apartment and let himself in, where Tim was eagerly awaiting him. And then he sat at the table doing homework until it was finished.

I am proud of Jonathan. It's hard to move. It's harder still to move and then to start middle school for the first time ever. But after a couple of weeks, he is totally pro. 

And my favorite report on the school day? Jonathan told us that his English teacher reminds him of his aunt Emily. And we reminded him that his aunt Emily is also a middle school English teacher. And his eyes opened a little wider. "Really? That's so cool!"

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Into the woods

On Saturday, the institute hosted a guided tour of their woods. They own "589 acres of woods, wetlands, and farmland that are historically important and environmentally vital to central New Jersey and beyond." (From the brochure, The Institute Woods.)

There are five miles of trails, starting just outside our door. It's beautiful, and I suspect it will become even more and more beautiful as the woods are touched with autumn color. But acres and miles. These are words that help you to get an idea of how isolated we are here.

In any case, woods photos.

One with family.

One of the Quaker meeting house at the end of the trail.
We were gone for a couple of hours, meeting other visiting families and seeing the beautiful scenery. As seems to be the case for family outings, not everyone was completely excited about being there the whole time. But everyone was mature enough about it that we didn't have any public meltdowns.




As the sun was setting, I asked Jonathan if he wanted to take the flashlights after dark and go back on the woods walk? This time, the whole family thought that would be fun.


Long pants.

The night insects were loud, humming in all the trees. The path was totally dark except for the light of our flashlights, with a misty fog drifting eerily across it. We walked all the way to the swinging bridge over the creek, shined the flashlights into its brown, murky depths, then walked back.

As I spotted the first glimmer of light from the apartment buildings off in the distance, I decided that isolated can be good.

At least if it's just for a short time.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Labor day canoeing

The map showed a place named "Canoe Rental" within walking distance of our apartment, along a dirt road through some woods. Since we had no other transportation besides walking, I suggested we walk over and check it out. If "Canoe Rental" didn't have a canoe for us, we could continue walking down the canal, following the "Canal State Park Trail" also clearly marked on the map, until we had spent enough outdoor time to counter some of the electronic device time we had already spent that day.

After some protesting, because not all of us agreed that we had had too much electronic device time, the family set out on our adventure to check out "Canoe Rental." And in fact, there was a canoe for us at "Canoe Rental" -- a canoe with three seats.

Tim sat in the back, Jonathan in the middle, and I sat in the front. The weather was a little hot and humid, but not unpleasant under the shade of the trees in the woods. Unfortunately, the canal was a little too wide to be shaded by the woods, but we could stay in some shade if we paddled slowly on the sides of the canal.
That is a picture I took from the front of the canoe. See how lovely and green the area is? And how wide the canal is? The canals from my childhood in the desert west are not wide enough for canoeing.

The journey out was maybe a little bit less pure family fun time than should be admitted on a family blog. One of us in the boat was using the paddle somewhat randomly, sticking it into the water in a way that turned the canoe sideways or whacked the other paddles or sprayed canal water on the old lady in front. Others of us got angry and one told the first of us that he was banned from using the paddle at all, because he didn't know what he was doing. And then the first one protested that he did know exactly what he was doing. So the other two pulled out their paddles and told the first one to show us, and then we turned sideways and cruised right into a low lying tree, head first. And the old lady in front ended up getting scratches all over her face as she attempted to duck away from the tree and turn around backwards. (But she admits she might have deserved them at this point.) And as the canoe was turned back upstream, the whole family heard the common nature sounds of "why-did-we-even-have-to-do-this-anyway-I-didn't-want-to-come."

And then we were all huffy, and stuck in this three-seater canoe with each other, with nowhere else to go. Reader, we couldn't even jump out of the canoe and swim home, because there were turtles and snakes and other reptiles swimming around us in the canal water. And look again at that picture. It doesn't look like clean and clear water for a pleasant swim, does it? It does look pleasant enough for a picture of somebody else's adventure, and if I weren't telling you about what the adventure really was like you could look at that picture and imagine a serene afternoon with the people you love.

But that was only the beginning. It got better. The fact that one of us had a ban on using the paddle meant that we began to move forward some. And then after a little while the ban was rescinded with conditions. And by the time we had paddled out for 40 minutes, and then turned around and were paddling back with the assistance of the current, even the guy with the paddle ban admitted that the last part of the canoe ride was not as terrible anymore.

In total, we were out just over an hour. I thought we'd all end up badly sunburned, but in fact that extra humidity in the air, along with the low altitude, must have made the sun less harsh than I feared, and we came away pretty much as blue-white as we began. And an hour with an unaccustomed paddle is just about the right amount of time to help your shoulders remember that they have muscles inside them without making them sore for more than a couple of days.

I'm glad we did it. I like watching turtles and snakes from the safety of a canoe. And I do very much like the other people who were in my canoe, even when the journey wasn't as serene as the picture.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Our newest place

We went to the local church today. It's really awkward trying to figure out how to tell people where you're from when you've been in the US mountain west, but then you moved to Australia, but only for a month, and now you'll be here, but only for four months, and then you're going back to Australia. 

"Where are you coming from?" is followed by a pause. Tim and I look at each other, and then we say "It's complicated...."

And then, after the last meeting at church, a blond woman I have never seen before approached me and asked, "Do you have a sister named Deborah? You look just like my friend Deborah."

Yes, I do. And yes, I do.

The world is small.

But our apartment is huge! Here are some pictures of our lovely new apartment!


We're on the 2nd floor.

Patio and entry door.


Living room.

Jonathan's bedroom.

Master bedroom.

Bathroom. Alas, just one.

Office where Tim will set up work.

View out the large window in the living room.

Golf course to the east, behind that row of trees.

Woods to the south. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015


We arrived at the JFK airport at 2am Thursday morning. At 11am we took a shuttle from our hotel to Princeton, New Jersey, where we unloaded luggage and settled into the apartment that will be home for the next four months. And it is very nice. For the last two days, we have been living in a beautiful quiet park, next to a golf course.

And the institute here itself is a truly amazing place. Neverland. Where every year a handful of lucky people get to live in the park, next to the golf course, eating delicious food, and devoting themselves to the Life of the Mind.

Yesterday, at my first afternoon tea, I was speaking to a brilliant colleague who has recently been receiving well-deserved accolades and recognition. And he said something about the work of Famous Name, a guy whose name I know well from reading the most important papers in the field, but who is just a name to me, enclosed in fuzzy clouds of greatness. And as Brilliant Colleague mentioned Famous Name, he looked around, and then commented that Famous Name didn't seem to be in the room right now. And that is when I realized that Famous Name is actually faculty here. Not a fuzzy guy in a cloud, but a real person, who has a real job, and shows up for afternoon tea in the Common Room.


With some introspection, I have adjusted some of my goals for the next four months in Neverland. I would like to discuss important problems, and make real contributions and fruitful collaborations in research. I want to do all that very much. But I have realized that in order to do so, I need also to grow up a little bit socially. I need to stop thinking of people as fuzzy cloud people who are just names on famous papers, and start thinking of them as people with good ideas. And I am also just people, also with some good ideas. And I can learn from their ideas, and share mine. So I will open my mouth and ask questions and think and contribute and Learn! And also importantly, make friends and be a friend and enjoy the four months in the park.

How lucky am I?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Moving again

We only had a one month adventure in Melbourne this time. And the month is nearly over. In another day we fly across the Pacific, and then across the North American continent, to settle all over again in a new place.

In this new place, which we will call "New Jersey," Jonathan will start school on Tuesday, just after Labor day. He is enrolled (with two L's, because it's New Jersey) in seventh grade there already, at least online, but we need to show up on Friday with all sorts of documentation to prove that he is a child, that he lives with us, that we live where we say we live, and that we floss. Daily.

And so we get to start over figuring out where to shop and how to travel and who to like and when to continue the flossing. (Morning or evening?)

And on this end, we need to pack up those eight suitcases again, and figure out how to get them to the airport tomorrow. And then we need to clean the house we've been staying in, and wash and put away all the dishes, and wash the sheets and towels. And store some things in my office for four months.

Here we go again!