Thursday, September 27, 2012

If You Turn Off the Circuit Breaker, Nothing Can Hurt You

I used to be afraid of electric wiring. It was inside the wall. Sparks came out. The electricity experiments I’d done in science class frequently broke.

But, my husband, the alien, and I had maxed out our budget and spent all our savings to make the downpayment on our first home, a fixer-upper.  The house still had remnants of plumbing for gaslights.  The current insufficient and undependable lights were from old, illegal, knob and tube wiring.

We are both book junkies, who believe we can learn almost anything from a book.

We bought the Sears book on how to wire your house.
It was $5 then, but it’s about $3.50 now.

That book can be summarized:

Connect black wires to black wires and white wires to white wires unless you are installing an odd number of switches for the same light.

And be sure to turn off the circuit breaker switch first, before you touch anything.

This, we thought, should be easy.

But we wished we had somebody we could talk to for help.  We’d just moved to Denver for my husband’s first real job.  Here we were in Colorado and everybody we knew who knew anything about wiring lived in California.  Then we remembered Boyd.  Boyd loves train rides. Boyd never has enough money for train rides.  Boyd thinks it’s fun to pay for a ride on BART for one stop down the line and then ride the long way to get to that stop.  We wrote Boyd.  Would he help us wire our house in trade for train tickets round trip from California to Colorado?

This was going to be much less expensive than hiring an electrician. The entire house had to be rewired, and we’d need to install those circuit breakers that the wiring book said we needed to turn off.  Boyd wrote back: yes.

Soon our house was chaos.  We punched holes in the walls to get the old wiring out. And we punched more holes in the walls and ceiling to put wires where we wanted them.

Since we’d just moved to this city for my husband’s job, I hadn’t found a job yet.  I became an unpaid assistant electrician. Boyd would stuff a fat electric wire into the wall, and reel yards and yards of it in my direction.  My job was to feel around in the dark space through a hole in the wall, and grab it.

I was also chief cook and dish washer.  Memo: If you are only person in the house without an income, that means you have to work the hardest.

Boyd knew his way around wire strippers and wall smashers. I learned to create wiring diagrams, and soon began sketching variations to the book designs for those 3-switch lights that require attaching a black wire to a white wire. Our girls played electric ball games, by turning the light fixtures on and off while standing next to different wall switches.

Boyd had a reputation – he liked to have sex with other men’s wives.  But I’d never imagined that could apply to me.  I didn’t date in high school or college. The only man who had ever been interested in me was my beloved alien, whom I married.  But one day, when I was going up stairs, Boyd asked in a bedroom voice, “Now?”  I quickly answered, “Never!”  Soon after that Boyd took the train home.  He had outstayed his welcome and we didn’t really expect him to stay long in trade for train tickets, anyway.

My husband and I finished wiring the house.  We’d found a fix-up job we could do together. Feeding a wire through the walls and ceilings (and pulling it out in the intended location) is a two-person job. Together, we optimized the diagrams.  At one point, my husband created an entirely new diagram, unlike anything in the book – one fixture controlled by 5 switches.

Boyd had put in the circuit breakers.  Since we were doing the work ourselves, and electrical wires, receptacles, and switches are a minor cost of any wiring job, we put switches and outlets wherever we pleased. Every door to every room had at least one light switch. Every wall had multiple outlets.

And we learned not to fear electricity.  Those electrons only go were we tell them to go. We grounded everything either to ground or to plumbing that touched ground.  Our home did not make sparks. Our love did.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Two Updates

First: ben wa balls
I have a sneeze and leak problem.  About six months ago, I bought a set of ben wa balls, otherwise known as ½" ball bearings.  I’ve built up to being able to go up and down my staircase 10 times without dropping them.  But I still sneeze and leak. And my husband, the alien, says he doesn’t feel any difference.  My conclusion – they don’t work.

I’d tried kegels before and had no results.  My gynecologist said I just wasn’t using the right muscles.  I don’t think it’s possible to use any wrong muscles when I’m keeping those ball bearings in.  The exercises just don’t help me stop leaking when I sneeze.

Recently I read an article that claims doing squats will help.  So, that’s my next experiment.

Second: house-training my dog
It’s really not a matter of house-training the dog.  It’s a matter of dog-training me.  I was only walking my dog twice a day.  Now, I come home at lunch to walk him and I walk him a 4th time right before I go to bed.  We have had no accidents since I began this routine.

I can also recommend the ChewMan dog toy.  He has been unable to destroy it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Other People's Weddings

Last Friday my husband, the alien, and I attended the wedding of one of his students.  During the ceremony, the officiator (I’m not sure of her title) said, “If you remember anything of this day, I hope you remember that you love each other and that your friends and family came together today to support you in your new life together.”

That got me thinking – what do I remember about my own wedding?  Not much.  

I remember that I made my own dress and the zipper got stuck and I called my husband at work to ask him to come home and get me out of it.

I remember that the key to the room where the flowers had been stored was lost and my mother was upset, but all I cared about was that my beloved husband-to-be was there safe and sound.  We’d been living together, but my grandmother was not officially informed of that fact, and she expected us to show up in separate cars. 

It turned out that flower delivery folks had taken the key and they did refund my mother for the cost of the flowers.
I remember that the rabbi had spittle coming out of his mouth while he talked.

I remember that I had to drink a sip of wine. I find the taste of alcohol totally repulsive and I had to really want this marriage to actually imbibe.

I remember my husband telling me that he and his best man (with whom he is no longer in contact) had to stop at the grocery store to buy a glass to break.

I remember my husband kissed me in front of everybody and afterwards some of my parents’ friends said their husbands had never kissed them that passionately.

And, I remember that my husband had printed out maps to my parents’ home for the reception but almost nobody needed one.

But I do not remember what the rabbi said. I have a vague memory that the rabbi used the “obey promise” even though I didn’t want him to and rather than interrupt the wedding, I went along with it. Today, I would interrupt. But that was over 45 years ago and I’ve become stronger.

I remember much more about what was said at other people’s weddings. 

And I think maybe that’s the point.  Each time I attend a wedding, I remember my luck at finding my beloved, and I mentally renew my commitment.  Those promises were unimaginable when we made them. This time, after both of us having been through illnesses, the “in sickness and in health” part was no longer scary. We’ve had the poverty experience several times, and the good financial times. We’ve done those promises. It’s just what we do because we love each other. 

Somehow, seeing those promises from the other side feels like a milestone.
And yes, what I mainly remember about my wedding is that my husband and I love each other and our friends and family came together to support us.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Giving Feedback on Cancer Research Proposals

Now that I’ve had breast cancer, my opinion is sought after.  A local medical researcher asked my thoughts on his latest grant pre-proposal.  The Komen foundation actually requires applicants to consult with women who have had breast cancer before submitting their requests for money.

This particular application was for research on mice. I’m okay with animal research.  My opinion on animal research was not affected by having had breast cancer.  The medical researcher wanted to know if I think his idea has potential for helping humans. I told him I’d need to see the mouse data before I could think about it.  Again, my need for data was not affected by having had cancer.

The proposal outlined 3 experimental groups.  I thought a 4th group (combining two of the drugs) would also be appropriate.  When I mentioned this to the researcher, he said, “I hear you loud and clear.”  I felt as if he’d been trained by a therapy group. He has now done his required “show it to a breast cancer survivor” step.  But nothing I said to him was influenced in any way by having had cancer.

If the real goal is to get input from lay people, that was not accomplished.  I am scientifically trained. I understood the polysyllabic gobbledygook of the proposal.  I was able to use appropriate tech talk when I suggested that I’d like to see the problem stopped earlier in the process.  Who wouldn’t?  Nobody wants to get cancer.  

Perhaps the thinking is that women who have had breast cancer will be more interested than other women in helping evaluate research proposals.  That does apply to me.  I think it would also apply to women who have family members who have had breast cancer.

The researcher told me he got more than he’d planned on when I suggested rephrasing some of the words in his application, and adding experiments to his proposal.  But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of involving non-scientifically trained people in planning scientific research.  I hope that the more people feel involved in research, the more they will support it and the sooner cancer will become an easily treatable disease.