When we lived in Edmonton the wooden front steps of our house collapsed, after thirty or so harsh winters. I decided to replace them myself. First step was my first mistake. I just tore them out before looking at them properly, let alone taking measurements. Quickly I realized I was in trouble. In the first place, I didn’t have a table saw, which was going to cost a fortune — but, I said, that is just the price to pay for the new me I was going to become.

The more I thought about it the worse things got. I was unaware that there are pre-fab patterns and forms for this kind of thing. So it seemed that the task of figuring out how to get from the concrete slab at the bottom of what had been the steps to the threshhold above, where a small landing deck would have to be built, was going to require some advanced trigonometry. There was also the problem that the steps had sat upon concrete pillars, fortunately still in place, but which meant that … 

Well, I’m sure that the practically inclined can see what it means better than I can explain. A lot of sines and cosines, I thought, except that I had forgotten exactly what sines and cosines were and so would have to study up a bit. That too seemed like a self-improvement project. 

Nasrin was watching all this with a wary eye, especially when I started talking about how many six-packs the job was worth. That afternoon I went out to check the cost of table saws and to buy a text of trigonometry tables, plus to get the necessary beer. Before I left she made me promise not to buy anything but the beer until the next day, time to reflect.

Once I was safely out of the house, she got on the phone and hired sight unseen a handyman carpenter from the local paper. He said he would have it done by the end of the afternoon. When I got back he was already at work in the front yard. It was done by the end of the day — to my relief!

If you ever hear Nasrin making remarks about trigonometry books, which she does from time to time with glee and giggles, now you’ll know the background story.

So much for the balance between solid things and the cerebral, which I have almost always had out of whack.