One House

When Owen was three years old, he began noticing that every building had a number on it. Especially while driving around in the car, he asked Jennifer and me what the numbers meant. He asked what the number on our apartment building was.

We explained that houses had unique numbers on them to help people find the house, like the mailman or other visitors.

Sometimes he commented on interesting numbers. When he saw a house with five digits on it, he found that very noteworthy. He also felt compelled to point out house number 1111 and house number 321.

It was inevitable that, eventually, he asked, “Where’s house number one?”

“Well,” I said, “I’m not exactly sure.”

He was under the impression that, somewhere in the word, there was a house numbered ‘1’, and all the other house numbers radiated out from there.

I explained that it doesn’t work that way. “They can’t do it that way, because then when new houses are built, we wouldn’t have a number to give them. Like, if there’s a house number 2 and a house number 3, and every other number up to 10 million is taken up, then when a new house is built in between house 2 and 3…what would we call it?”

This then led to an explanation of odd and even numbered houses being on opposite sides of the street, and how house numbers radiated out from a central point in a city. I told him I used to live at a house numbered 14750, because it was about 14.7 miles south of Minneapolis, and it was an even number because we were on the east side of the street. Later, I lived at 6705: even though it was just as far south from Minneapolis as the other house, it had a much lower number because it was on a north/south street, and were we 6.7 miles east of Minneapolis.

Then, of course, Owen caught my mistake when he found very low numbered homes that were quite far from either downtown, and I had to then clarify that some cities grew up at the same time as Minneapolis and St. Paul and, therefore, started their own numbering systems instead of going in tandem with the metropolises. Such cities included Hastings, Stillwater, Shakopee, and South St. Paul.

But he still wanted to know where house number one was. Jennifer and I finally figured out that the numbers radiate out north/south from Summit Avenue in St. Paul. As we drove up and down streets like Snelling, Lexington, and Hamline, we pointed out to Owen that the house numbers were getting smaller and smaller. “Look Owen,” we’d say excitedly, “There’s house 23! There house 21! There’s 16!” Owen watched, enraptured in the descending numbers…and then it would stop.

“Where’s house number one?” he’d ask again, slightly disappointed.

“Well, technically, the numbers probably radiate out from the middle of Summit Avenue, so I suppose there is no number one, since there’s no house literally on Summit Avenue. So even a house planted directly on the corner of Summit and a cross street has a number of at least…6. And 6 was the lowest we found, though we were careful to point out any other time we spotted a house with a number lower than 10, regardless of which city were we in. Still, we never found Owen’s dream home. We never found #1.

Years passed and then, one day in May, I drove down to the city of West St. Paul to rent a tool from the local Menards. As always during the summer, road construction meant I couldn’t take the best route. I ended up snaking through some residential areas, trying to find the back road that led to Menards.

“These house numbers are really low,” Owen said. “Look! There’s number 11!”

“Oh, yeah, look at that!” I said, mirroring his excitement. “And there’s 7! And there’s 3! Could it be…?” I said, slowing down. “Woa! Look! There’s number one!”


“Yay!” Owen shouted. “We finally found it! Are we close to Summit?” he asked. “No,” I said, then realized that, of course, West St. Paul is another of those old cities that has its own numbering system.

We continued on our way to rent the tool I needed that day, but several hours later, Owen and Isla accompanied me to return the tool and, this time, we stopped to celebrate the completion of long-time search; the Oneness of Owen’s goal.



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Occurrence at NCUR

I haven’t posted too regularly lately, and I realize I’ve gotten behind on some interesting goings-on here at Zimmerscope. So, in short order, I will make four posts, each about an event from the most recent four months, starting with April…

On April 16th and 17th, I was at Eastern Washington University in Cheney (near Spokane), Washington. My university (Hamline) paid for my trip out there, along with some other students. There were thousands of students there that weekend from all over the country taking part in NCUR: The National Conference of Undergraduate Research. Basically, the best papers from the past school year were on display.NCUR 2015

On Friday the 17th, I presented by paper, titled “Jehovah’s Witnesses: Their Policy of Shunning.” My presentation, like all the others, was grouped with other presentations of similar topic and was in a classroom where students and faculty could sit in and listen. One of the rules of the conference was that if you did not arrive on time before the set of presenters began, you should not walk in during a presentation, but wait outside the classroom until you hear applause; then you’d know that the speaker was completed and you could enter in between presentations. I was the third of four students presenting their research (all were centered on religious history) during that session.

After the session, right as I exited the room, I was stopped by a short, smiley, smartly dressed young woman who said: “Excuse me, are you James Zimmerman?” Pointing to my badge, I confirmed that I was.

She introduced herself and then said she had wanted to hear my presentation, but arrived just a little too late. And then…

SHE: So, I have to ask, what made you choose Jehovah’s Witnesses for your research topic?

ME: Well, I used to be one, so…

[PAUSE…her smile waned.]

ME: Are you a Witness?

SHE: Yeah. So, I wondering if you visited for your research.

ME: Yes.

SHE: Okay, good. ‘Cause, you know, it’s important to find out what an organization says about itself rather than reading false information or lies that are spread.

ME: Oh yeah, of course! That website’s the starting point, right? In fact, I mentioned that website during my presentation and I cited from it.

SHE: Oh, you did?

ME: Yeah. Here, you can have a copy of my paper, if you’d like. Then you can read what I discussed.

SHE: Oh, you have the paper with you?

ME: Yeah, do you want it? [I pulled it out of my folder as she tucked her business card back into hers.] I don’t need it anymore.

SHE: That’s okay. So, where are you from?

ME: I’m from St. Paul, in Minnesota. And I see you’re from [CITY OMITTED], Florida.

SHE: Yeah, I go to school there, but I live in [CITY OMITTED], Florida.

ME: Oh, is that near Port St. Lucie?

SHE: Uh…no…I mean, it’s about an from there. Why, have you been to Port St. Lucie?

ME: Oh yeah, I’ve been there several times. Everyone on my Dad’s side of the family lives there. Well, there and Fort Lauderdale. Of course, they all shun me.

SHE: Oh, okay. So you’re not a Witness anymore, then?

ME: No, I left after my son was born. I couldn’t pass on falsehoods to him.

SHE: Oh, okay. Well, you know, you’re always welcome back. You know, anytime you want, you can call up the local Hall and they’ll visit and start up a home bible study with you again.

ME: Oh, I know. I used to tell people the same thing. I was a Pioneer for over five years, and I’ve read the bible and studied probably more than any elder that would come to my door.

SHE: Okay, well it was nice talking to you.

ME: Yes, you too.

We shook hands again, and she pivoted 180 and walked down the hall. I went outside and joined my two fellow Hamliners who had attended my presentation.

Okay, so…three things:

FIRST: Notice that she asked – at a conference celebrating excellence in research – if my research on Jehovah’s Witnesses involved researching the Witnesses’ own documents. That’s a bit like saying, “Hey, I heard you researched the life of Frederick Douglas. Did you read his autobiography?” Yes: Of course I did. The question would be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that it exposes the hubris of Witnesses: They truly believe that only they have the correct information about themselves and that all other sources are, in some way, flawed.

SECOND: Notice she encouraged me to study the bible with Witnesses? That’s another bit of hubris: The Witnesses believe that anyone who leaves their faith must be either ignoring or not fully comprehending the bible. Okay, first of all, no one fully comprehends the bible, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. Revelation alone is an incoherent mess of rambling contradictions…and that’s just one of 65 books. Second, an unbiased, impartial reading of the ‘decent’ chunks of the bible (and I use that term loosely) might – MIGHT! – lead you to Christianity or Judaism but, I’m sorry…no one becomes a Witness because they read the bible.

THIRD: Notice she said she wanted to attend my presentation but just missed it? Okay, I’m just gonna call bullshit on this one. For one thing, I was the third speaker, so even if she didn’t arrive at 1:00 sharp when the session began, she could have walked in after the first or second speech. I’m sure she saw the abstract about my presentation in the program and was intrigued, but attending would have put her in an awkward position: She knew a loyal Witness would not give a presentation about Witnesses, so she must’ve known the presentation would either be by an ex-Witness or someone who never was a Witness. Either way, she would be opening herself up to ideas about the Witnesses that she is forced to ignore as a loyal member. Had I said anything she found offensive (and I likely did within the first ten seconds of my presentation – see below), her Witness-carved conscience would have compelled her to get up and leave – a big no-no a the conference where they asked attendees to respect presentators and remain for the entire delivery.

I felt bad for her. There, at a conference to expand her mind, instead of listening in on a presentation that could have done just that, she felt duty-bound to wait outside and tell me about what I should have said. Oh well, at least she’s in college, which is a rarity for Witnesses. At least she’s got a chance.

Finally, look what I saw right outside the building where my presentation was. I grabbed a couple of their magazines and, before beginning my presentation, held them up and said, “Just so everyone knows, there are a couple of Witnesses right outside this building, so if anyone has
NCUR1 any questions for them, or if my presentation makes you want to join them, they’re right out there.” I talked to them after my presentation for a half hour. I asked them what they read in the bible that convinced them it was divinely inspired. Pretty much their bottom line was: In Leviticus, the Israelites were commanded to go outside the camp to bury their excrement, and that was NCUR2really advanced. I told them that was pretty impressive – but since excrement smells bad and (presumably) literally tastes like shit…that such a command isn’t quite enough to make me want to worship the person who penned the command.


Stay tuned – I will be posting about other recent events soon:

May’s event is “One House”

June’s event is “The Unexpectedly Long Rocket Trip”

July’s event is “The Birdhouse”

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Happy Pluto Day!

After over nine years and five months, New Horizons space probe finally made it to Pluto today.New Horizons

After a few aborted missions – most notable the Pluto-Kuiper Express - New Horizons was launched on January 19, 2006 with the express purpose of exploring the one last planet in our solar system that had not yet been explored.

Of course, later that year, the International Astronomical Union redefined the word “planet” to purposely exclude Pluto from the official roster of nine. Pluto is still a planet…it’s just a dwarf planet now. But that doesn’t make it any less interesting.

For many years, this was the best picture we had of Pluto.

For many years, this was the best picture we had of Pluto.

Here's the best picture we had as of last month.

Here’s the best picture we had as of last month.

Here's the best picture we have of Pluto as of a few days ago.

Here’s the best picture we have of Pluto as of a few days ago.

Through the nine-plus years of New Horizons’ journey, I’ve been tracking it’s progress. I’ve frequently visited NASA’s New Horizons page to see how long the journey has been, how far it has traveled, and how much longer until its closest approach to Pluto. Of course, I had a personal interest in the probe, since my name is on it (it’s true – type in my name here and you’ll see I’m listed).

By the time New Horizons had been traveling for a thousand days, Owen was also interested in the progress, and we tracked it on a wooden board we made together – every few months, he’d gently nudge the little probe-on-a-sting another half inch or so toward its destination.

Owen Holding It

Here’s Owen as a mere 6 yr. old demonstrating the probe’s progress.

12. All done


And here he is just a few months ago, showing that now his model probe is practically right on top of Pluto.

And here he is just a few months ago, showing that now his model probe is practically right on top of Pluto.

This morning, I walked into Owen’s room and woke him up. He looked at me and said, “What?” and, without saying a word, I held up my laptop and showed him NASA’s countdown to the closest encounter – it read just over 5 minutes. “Oh, cool,” he said, and I gestured for him to move over and I sat on his bed next to him. We watched as the counter ran down to zero, then clicked over to watch a live newsfeed at NASA that included Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 5.12.57 PMinterviews with some of the leading astronomers in charge of the project. I then told Owen that New Horizons is so far away that, even traveling at the speed of light, the pictures it is taking right this moment won’t be seen by anyone for over 14 hours. I told him I had to go to work, but we’d check on it again tonight.

I wore my Pluto t-shirt to work today. Even though it’s 9 years old and very ratty. Who cares? Today is a special day.

Last night, Owen, Isla, and I tried to take a picture of ourselves at Pluto Time , but I didn’t think we did it right. Owen was upset, but I consoled him by telling him that today is the special day to do it, since today is the day of the closest encounter. Isla pat Owen on the back and said, “It’s okay Owen, tomorrow is Pluto Day.” But actually, we got a pretty decent photo…


Regardless, we tried again today…

IMG_3477Regarding the deluge of information received today, Owen says: “This is awesome, I’ve been waiting for pictures of Pluto my whole life!”

I say: “Me too, son. Me too.”

Happy Pluto Day everyone!

DSCN1566 DSCN1565

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President Carter has now lived longer than President Adams – and why that’s interesting

As of Saturday, June 6, former President Jimmy Carter will be exactly 90 years and 248 days old. That means he will have lived one day longer than former President John Adams, who passed away at the ripe-young age of 90 years and 247 days.


Jimmy Carter


John Adams





When Adams left his mortal coil on July 4, 1826 (the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence), he was already our nation’s longest-lived President. George Washington had passed away at the age of 67, and so Adams outlived his predecessor by over 22 years.

Adams held the record as longest-lived President for well over a century. It wasn’t until 1964 that former President Hoover became the only other former Commander-in-Chief to make it to his nineties. Alas, Hoover still fell short of being the longest-lived President; he lived a mere 90 years and 71 days. In fact, Adams’ record wasn’t beaten for 175 years, until Ronald Reagan finally took the lead as longest-living President in 2001. Adams then fell to second place.

And in the years since then, Adams has been steadily overtaken by those who have recently held the job of President.

In 2004, Gerald Ford eclipsed Adams, and eventually went on to eclipse Reagan, too. At 93 years, 165 days, he currently holds the record for longest-lived President, besting Reagan by 45 days.

On February 5 of this year, George HW Bush became the third President to live longer than Adams and, as of Saturday, Carter becomes the fourth. And thus, our four most recent Presidents are also our four longest-living Presidents. (This, obviously, excludes Clinton, Bush-43, and Obama who are all too young for this distinguished club. But being that they are all still alive, they all still have the possibility of one-upping Adams, as well.)


The four Presidents who have all lived longer lives than any of the other Presidents. …And Richard Nixon, photobombing.

While Carter, for the moment, is merely the fourth-longest-living President, he does hold the record for longest retirement. He’s been an ex-President for over 34 years now, a comfortable margin over second place Hoover, who enjoyed a 31-year retirement from the Presidency. Incidentally, the shortest retirement of any President – aside from those who died on the job – was James Polk’s; he died a mere three months after leaving office.

And while Carter is both the longest-retired and one of the longest-living former Presidents, one distinction he’s never achieved is being the oldest-living President. Much younger men than him, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Ulysses Grant, and Lyndon Johnson, all achieved the distinction of being the oldest-living President. But despite his advanced age and lengthy retirement, Carter has never snagged this accolade. At the time of his inauguration, on January 20, 1977, he was younger than his two immediate predecessors (Ford and Nixon). He is also younger than his two immediate successors (Reagan and Bush-41), and thus, while all four of these men have, at one time or another, held the distinction of being the oldest living person who has served as President, Carter never has.

Regardless, outliving Adams is nothing to blush at. Congratulations to Carter who has now joined Ford, Reagan, and Bush-41 as one of only four Presidents to achieve this notable feat.

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Three and a Half Years Here

As of this week, we’ve lived in our home for 3.5 years. Coincidentally, by week’s end we’ll have lived here longer than we lived in our previous residence – meaning that this house is where Owen has lived longer than anywhere else.

Anyway, as I’ve done semi-annually since we moved in, I will hereby provide an update on improvements we made to our home in the past six months.

By the way, if you’re interested, here’s the blog post detailing what we did during the six months prior to these most recent six months.




-Installed quarter-round to complete the trim.

-Installed a doorknob!

Yes, finally, Isla has a doorknob. Or, rather, she has it again, as her door did originally have a doorknob, but I took it off to clean it and, in doing so, ruined it. So I took it to an architectural salvage shop to have it refurbished. Now it’s as good as new.








-Replaced final window with honeycomb blind.

If you read the last post about updates to our home, you’ll recall that I had only replaced three of the four windows’ treatments by taking out the old miniblinds and putting in honeycomb blinds. So one of the windows didn’t match the others. Now it does.

-Mudded over the big hold in the corner.

Shortly after we moved in, I ripped out the ugly, defunct home alarm. In the living room, this left an unsightly hole in the corner. Well, the corner is still unsightly, but now Jennifer has mudded it up. Maybe one day we’ll get around to sanding and painting over it.


















-Tilled up the whole back/side yard and reseeded.



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