Monthly Archives: May 2006

Leppiks in Wales

One of the fun things about owning the domain name is the occasional out-of-the-blue email. Like last week when a woman from Wales wrote to say that she shares my last name.

I got a similar message last year from another Leppik. What makes this all the more interesting is that, aside from these occasional blips, nearly all the Leppiks in America are my immediate relatives. For example, Yahoo’s white pages has six listings for Leppik, five of which are me, my parents, or my siblings.

Leppiks are most common in Estonia, although the typical spelling there is Lepik. My grandparents added the second p to make it easier to spell when they got to America. Not that it helps much.

My dream home

I’ll admit to being rather geeky. When I think of what I’d want in my dream home, the first thing to come to mind is energy efficiency. Two things in particular have been on my mind.

One is high mass radiant heating. I saw an article about a New England home that’s had a system like this for the last 30 years, and they haven’t payed a heating bill the whole time. What stuck out for me was that it was just a long black wedge on top of a sun room. Solar heating is far more cost-effective than solar electric, though it’s not as pretty.

The other is using holograms to concentrate solar power.  The idea here is that solar cells are expensive, and this is a really cheap way to maximize the light going to the solar cell.  It’s like using sun-tracking lenses to concentrate the light, but without the moving parts.

One thing about the holograms is that they only concentrate light at particular frequencies. With real lenses, infrared light gets concentrated as well, which can overheat the solar cells.
So in my dream home there’s a south-facing solarium, with a long, skinny solar collector on top:  mirrors that focus light onto a black pipe, so that only a black wedge is visible.  The hot water (or other fluid) in the pipe heats a hot tub, hot water supply, and a sand bed which in turn keeps the house warm.  And on the front of the solar collector is the holographically concentrated solar cells, which make the whole apparatus prettier and provides electricity for the house.

Not most people’s dream home, but I don’t have most people’s dreams.


Jordan has a big vocabulary. She’s passing it on to our two-year-old. In her defense, she says that the Winnie the Pooh Visits the Doctor book at the doctor’s office used the term othoscope.

What to do with this incredible amount of free time?

Jordan’s last final was on Monday. Her final final, ever. At least until she decides to get a Ph.D. This class has been eating up a lot of her time, and lots of my time too, since I was devoting my evenings and weekends to taking care of Sylvia so she could study.

So what will I do with all this free time? Let’s see…

1. Catch up on my email. (Just did that.)

2. Blog.

3. Clean the house.

4. Do laundry. And more laundry. And more laundry. Last night we folded three loads of laundry.

5. Mow the lawn. I’d hoped that the Minnesota lawn-mowing season wouldn’t start for another month, but the neighbors on either side of my house have mowed already, and there were a few tall tufts. Fortunately, it only took half an hour after dinner tonight. And Sylvia loves watching people mow the lawn.

6. Prepare for the second kid. “Kicks” (so-named by Sylvia) is due in late August.

7. Watch TV, read magazines and newspapers. We’ve been doing the latter a lot, since it’s easier and quieter than the television when Sylvia is going to bed.

8. Potty training!

Okay, so that’s a pretty sad list. It makes it sound like parenting is all diapers and laundry. Here are a few more things I’ve been doing lately, and most of them don’t take enough time to have been deterred by Jordan’s busy schedule:

9. Watching the bunnies get fat under our bird feeder. When Sylvia is cranky, I point out the wildlife in our yard. She can go from crying to laughing in no time.

10. Hiding the raisins from the raisin monster. Sometimes you can convince a two-year old to eat with a creative ruse. The first time I did this, she launched into a long story about how the raisin monsters and flake monsters were going home, coming back on their skateboards, and playing with their kids in the living room. That was as much fun as her long story about Curious George and George Bush a few days later.

11. “Daddy, I want to jump way up high.” She’s small enough that I can loft her nearly to the ceiling. Ten jumps per rep, and many reps over the course of an evening. She’s my personal trainer.

12. Bicycling to the park. I did that last weekend while Jordan was studying.

13. Swim lessons. Learning to kick and blow bubbles.

14. Reading story books. I can recite quite a few Dr. Seuss books from memory. She can’t read, but she can correct you if you read a word wrong. (Those of you who think I’m a linguistic nitpicker should meet her.) Lately she’s been asking about all the pictures in the Harry Potter book Jordan has been reading. “What’s Dumbledore doing?” “Who is that next to Mad-Eye Moody?” It’s been three years, Sylvia, I don’t remember…

Potty training kicks into high gear

I’ll try to keep this post clean.  Every one of us was, at one point in our lives, obsessed with potty training.  Thankfully, most of us don’t remember it.  Sylvia is under a lot of peer pressure to stop wearing diapers.  She’s not even three years old, but many of her friends have made the transition.  One day last week she suddenly decided she perfered underwear to diapers.  (She’s got training underwear which is, thankfully, extra thick.  And we also put her diaper cover on over that.) Yesterday she went the whole day without any problems.  To reward her, we gave her ice cream for dessert.  Today was nearly as uneventful.

When I was in grad school, my research group was trying to come up with slogans.  My suggestion was “GroupLens:  the Internet is in its infancy, and we’re potty training it!”  The professors looked at each other for a while and then one said to me, “you’ve never done potty training, have you.”  I’ve now had an experience where I can see their point.  What we were doing was in some ways a predecessor to spam filtering, so you can decide for yourself the relative disgustingness of each one.


This weekend I was in Iowa City, IA, for the annual meeting of the Prairie Star District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. A church conference. It was also the last meeting as a member of the PSD Board of Directors. After two three-year terms, I’m required to retire.

Funny thing, retirement. Especially retiring at a conference where I’m a good 15-20 years younger than the average age. Still, I can tell I’ve been around long enough. I counted at least five exhibition booths that I was qualified to staff.

After the conference, I went out to lunch with Patricia, an old friend from college who lives in Iowa City. She hadn’t been to the conference because her parents were visiting and she was introducing her boyfriend to them. But on Sunday after church service her parents were gone, it was lunchtime, so she introduced her boyfriend to me. The three of us had a brunch that was tasty but bigger than necessary. Had the food been lousy, it wouldn’t have soured the experience, since the conversation was wonderful.

During the meal, a waitress asked us if we would be willing to let her turn the TV with the volume off on so another patron could watch. I said no, since I’m easily distracted and the TV was right above Patricia, but I also said we’d be leaving soon.

Several minutes later an agitated man came to our table, looked me straight in the eyes with a crazed expression, and explained that he was the person who wanted to watch the Bulls game. He asked that I tell him right when I was leaving, so he could watch the game. I said, no problem. He then repeated his request, placing special emphasis on the fact that I was the one keeping him from watching his game. I politely assured him that I would let him know when we left, and he went away.


Two of my role models are the Dali Lama and the late Fred Rodgers. Both seem to live in a world much like the world we live in, but with far less room for hate. I’ve heard an interesting story about why Eddie Murphy stopped doing his Saturday Night Live sketches featuring his meaner-spirited take on Mr. Rogers. Apparently Mr. Rogers called Mr. Murphy and said, “you’ve had your fun, and now it’s time to stop.” What would you say? He could point out that is wasn’t just fun but also his livelihood, and that he had every legal right to continue. That could be what he would say to the president or to just about any other famous person he does impressions of. But no matter how foul-mouthed you are, saying no to Mr. Rogers, the paragon of innocent, fair play, would be just too mean spirited.

I’ve always wanted to be like that.  To be the sort of person who, like the Dali Lama or Mr. Rogers, changes the world merely by how I choose to perceive the world.  That’s maturity.  Being someone who has no room in my heart for hate, and who changes the atmosphere around me by that fact.
I thought the man at the restaurant was rude, and he wanted to impress on me that I was annoying him.  Maybe it was because I had spent all weekend being an authority figure among my capable and mature elders.  Maybe it was because I had just been at an inspiring church service about homelessness.  Or maybe I am just becoming the person I want to be.  But it never occured to me that he might be trying to threaten me.  And even when it became clear that everone else had seen it that way, I didn’t feel threatened in the least.

In my view, he was crazed, rude, and not in control of himself.  And therefore powerless.  The message he was trying to convey was that I was inconveniencing him.  The subtext was that I wasn’t welcome there.  My response acknowledged his desire, and expressed a willingness to compromise.  But it didn’t acknowlege his view of the situation, in which I was nothing more than an obstacle between him and his goal.

By being polite, I was trying to calm him and therefore empower him.  The social environment– a Sunday brunch– rewards calm, polite requests.

I would have been happy to let him know when we were done, but I had more urgent business in the restroom, so Patricia’s boyfriend offered to tell him for me.   I suspect that everyone but me thought the man was trying to pick a fight.  I said that I chose to believe that he had meant it in the best possible way.  But that’s not quite true.  In that moment, I hadn’t chosen to believe anything– I had automatically believed that he was a lost soul whose obsession with a game had made loose control.

Maturity is when what you choose to believe becomes what you automatically believe.  In retrospect, I’m really impressed with how I handled the situation. And I choose to believe that my response was not triggered by a good weekend, rather it is the result of becoming who I want to be.