Saturday, August 19, 2017

dOnnOr 2017: food, funds, family, friends

Well, our dOnnOr last night was lOads of fun!

The dinner was traditional:  bOgOls, hOmbOrgOrs, Opples, and OniOn rOngs.  YOm!
Notice the money tablecloth under the plate?
I designed it for our tax-day dinner, but it's good to have another a use for this!

New this year to the menu: for dessert we had dOnOts, a rare treat indeed in his household!

We looked over an amazing picture book called "The Material World: A Global Family Portrait". Peter Menzel photographed families all over the world with their possessions. It's a beautiful and humbling book.   You can also see many of the photos at this web site, but the descriptions and stories that go with the photos make it worth borrowing the book from the library.

We had a robust crowd, with four of my kids -- including J-son, who brought a bike tire that needs repairing and that fortuitously provided additional O-shaped decOration for the dOnnOr!

We also had a good buddy of mine who works with non-profits, who told us about her experience raising money for charities.  She brought up some good points about donating to local versions of national charities (for example, "Small City Habitat for Humanity" as contrasted with "Habitat for Humanity").   She also was very much more in the know than we were about implications for charities that have -- or have not -- pulled their events from Mar-A-Lago.
My good buddy, my grandchild A, and J-son.
And why were my friend's observations so helpful to us?  Because money for charities was of course the other activity (entertainment?) for the dOnnOr.   The kids each got to pick envelopes from among the charities we support, and write the checks.
Choosing envelopes.  K-daughter (in the middle) gets the most excited about this.
This dinner is a great way to remind my kids how to write checks (which in our electronic age, is becoming a bit of a dying art), in addition of course to reminding the offspring that it's fun to practice generosity.
N-son's favorite charities were all scooped up by K-daughter,
but he still got to write checks to the NAACP and a local community action group.
I sign the checks, of course, and then enter them into the check register.  And that's the biggest clean-up aspect of this annual event.

I love that the dOnnOr has evolved over the years into a way to get everyone in the family involved in our charitable plans, and I especially love that for me (selfishly), this makes the act of giving an even more joyous one.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The 2017 Donor Dinner (aka, the "Donnor")

One of the golden rules of frugality is to use your money where it makes the most difference to you and yours.   For example, a box of store-bought cereal costs about a gazillion times what it costs to make my own granola, and it doesn't much alter my breakfast happiness quotient.  So I don't buy prepackaged cereals.   For another example, Giardia meds for my dog cost about a gazillion times what a box of store-bought cereal does, but having a diarrhea-free dog is sort-of a big deal to me and my kids, so this summer we forked over the money for Metronidazole and Panacur without complaint.  We spend our money only where it brings the most contentment or where it alleviates the most pain.  That's the frugal mantra.

Ergo (that's math-speak for "therefore"), it makes sense to practice giving our money away to other people.

The reason that it's frugal to give our money away is that there are other people in the world who can make much better use of it, at least in support of creating the world our family cares about.  I basically stink at feeding hungry children on the opposite side of the globe or even in my own community, but there are charitable organizations I give money to that have helped to raise entire families out of poverty by feeding and educating their children.   Likewise,  I am a total incompetent at curing even the most curable of common third-world diseases, so I'm grateful for organizations like Doctors without Borders who bravely go where I myself fear to tread.

My family gives our money away in a bunch of different modes.  Monthly, we have money taken out of my paycheck (United Way), my checking account (church), and my credit card (World Vision and my alma mater).  Annually, we've started transferring large amounts of money to a Donor Advised Fund, from which we'll eventually direct it to charities when we retire and when we've had even more practice at spending our charitable money wisely.  (Because figuring out how to give well does take practice, same as learning many other frugal skills like how to make a yummy no-sugar granola.)

At any rate, here's one thing I've practiced and I'm getting moderately good at.  All year long, I save the solicitation envelopes we get.  There are a heck of a lot of these solicitations.

Once a year, usually in the summer, I sort through the envelopes (below you see me sitting cross-legged in my 25¢ yard-sale purchased gold skirt, putting the envelopes into piles alphabetically around me).

I cull the duplicates.  I've started adding handwritten notes to the worst repeat-offenders, asking them to mail me one solicitation in June or July, and quit with the monthly harangues.  That actually seemed to help a lot. 

This year, my husband and I have refocused our areas where we want to donate money.  We've always tried to channel a bunch of it toward feeding hungry people; this year we're paying special attention to the global refugee crisis, affecting over one hundred million people this year.   Having a population larger than the size of Russia facing food, water, and health care shortages doesn't get as much media attention as does, say, one particular relative of Trump meeting with a few people from Russia, but the worldwide refugee epidemic is real and it's just going to get worse --- my husband and I want to contribute in our own small way to helping the NGO's that are on the front lines.

But speaking of media coverage, a new area for us this year is to support investigative news outlets.  For reasons that I don't need to elaborate on, we feel that these places need grass-roots support more than they have in the past. So there's a new pile of envelopes for us.

And growing in emphasis for us this year is caring for the environment.  We've long donated to local conservancy groups, but this year we've added the Environmental Defense Fund, in part because this group seems to have managed to partner with industry in ways that seem to mark it as pragmatic (in addition to being idealistic), which matters a lot to me.

And in the same way that Erika over at NW Edible has decided to start celebrating fall harvests (because that time of year means a lot to her and her family), our family has for several years celebrated the signing of the charity checks.  Our annual dOnnOr is tonight.  (Here's a post on a previous dOnnOr).

Perhaps I'll have pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Three Years of Stupid (?)

J-son left our home in the middle of July so he could "go with his flow".  What the heck has this meant to the people around him?  The answer depends a lot on who you ask.

Let's start with Mercedes.  (That's not her actual name; "merced" is Spanish for "mercy", and the name seems to fit her.)  J-son is friends with her son, and she's decided to have J-son move in with her after she discovered he was sleeping in a room at the boxing gym (his coach gave him a key and offered him the room).   Mercedes says, "J-son is a great kid.  He hasn't done anything wrong. He's a good kid."

That's what she says.  We'll come back to Mercedes in a little while.

My husband tells me that what he feels is mostly a huge sense of relief.  He doesn't have to worry any more about waiting up for J-son, about J-son taking things from people in the house, about J-son lying his way through mistakes that he's made.  So that's my husband's take:  we've dodged a bullet.  That is, we've dodged a bullet unless J-son does something really stupid which sends him to jail, in which case he's likely to come out worse.   That's what my husband thinks.

My husband's therapist, who got to hear my husband decompress, has this to say:  J-son is typical of kids who have been foster kids. Kids in the foster system, says the therapist, are allowed to either stay in the system past 18 years of age, or to opt out.  They mostly opt out, and consequently suffer homelessness and worse, even though they could have gotten financial and college help if they'd opted to stay in.  My husband's therapist says, foster kids tend to self-destruct at 18, and J-son is just following a pattern.

My daughters seem distanced, as is appropriate because they've all moved out of the house themselves, either when they went to college or got married.  They're curious about what J-son is up to, but seem mostly interested in the story aspect of how things are progressing, not personally affected.  K-daughter is the only one who has moved back, and she has lamented that the house is quieter, and has said she's worried about the choices J-son is making.

N-son is the child who is the most attached to other people in the house, so I might have expected him to suffer because of J-son's leaving.  Each time one of his older sisters moved out of the house, N-son dissolved in paroxysms of sobbing.  He broke down more than once during his dad's recent summer bike trip across Eastern Europe.  He gets mopey when I go to math conferences for a week.

But he's been indifferent-to-happy about having his brother J-son gone.  In fact, when I told him yesterday that J-son was coming back over to the house for a little while, N-son's only reaction was a testy, "Why?".
J-son visits home for about 5 minutes, to pick up some stuff.

This leaves me as the only sad person.  (Well, me and J-son's boxing coach, because J-son has turned back in the keys to his room at the gym, and he stopped going to his training sessions.  The coach and I are both sad about this).  (Oh, and J-son's foster mom is also disappointed and sad, so that's another ally).

I look at this past summer and wish I'd upped J-son's meds.  I mean, seriously, he implodes just about every summer -- why didn't I try to head this off?  I also think about what I know about 18-year-old men at my college, and I know how much more likely they are to be a hot mess at that age than they'll be just a few years later.   I figure J-son has Three Years of Stupid in him, and he's got to get through these years without messing up the many (I hope) decades that follow.   So I feel like I've got to try to steer him through his Stupid Stuff for three years in such a way that they don't define the rest of his life.

I have a friend who is dealing with her recently-turned-adult child, who is battling a heroin addiction.  It's an ugly battle.  I'm taking notes, and I'm so so so glad that I'm not there.   Yet.   J-son has landed in a safe place that has so far kept him away from the Ruin-Your-Life temptations that will face him if he decides to take to the streets.

And so we return to Mercedes, who folded J-son into her 15-person household because she sensed he "needed" a place to stay.  I had a great conversation with her at the Purple Dress Dinner, which in turn caused her to decide to have a Very Serious conversation with J-son.  That was a start.  Since then, she and I have had a few more conversations.  During each of these, she assured me of J-son's  good behavior with her.  "He's a good kid; he's done nothing wrong."   She gives him $10 each day to spend on what he needs.  She frets a bit that he'll need more clothes for school.
A Very Serious conversation during the Purple Dinner.
Mercedes and her family talk with J-son about his obligations. 

I told her that I'm glad he's being "good" for her.  But I also added: he's good, but he failed out of summer school while he's been with you.  He's good, but he's not going to boxing anymore, and he missed out on work at the boxing gym that would have earned him $300 to spend on clothes.   He's good, but he isn't paying attention to his ADHD meds with you.  He's good, but he's spending your money and lying to you about things like his clothes.

She agrees, but hopes that these are surmountable problems.  But she is worried about what he has started telling her that he "needs".  She mentioned again that he needs clothes, especially shoes.  What the heck?  When I turned to J-son and said, "you have LOTS of shoes!", he says that he "traded" his shoes for "10 pairs of shirts", which have somehow since gotten lost.  Which means he actually traded these for snack foods or pot.  Ugh.

Now he's telling Mercedes that he "needs" to get a $600 i-phone. She's worried about where she'll get the money.  We are telling her that she doesn't need to buy him anything; he needs to earn the money for things himself.   I've told her I'm grateful that she's given him a safe place to stay, "but you should NOT feel like you have to keep him there."   He is probably more than she can handle, I believe.

She repeats that she's happy to have him there.  But she says it with less and less confidence.  I'm guessing he has another month or two there before he wears out his welcome.  And then I have to figure out the next step at keeping him safe while he lives "on his own" by charming nice people into taking care of him.  Or not.

Three Years of Stupid.  That's what I'm granting him.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The (dog) poop on paper vs. plastic

Be duly warned:  this post is about picking up dog poop.  If that's not something you want to read about, s'alright to leave the room right now.

Our previous dog (Miser Dog) was so insanely bad around other dogs that we pretty much never walked him (he used a fenced-in dog run as his bathroom). But Prewash is great with people and beasts alike, and she learned to walk at heel so quickly that I've had a lot of fun walking her around the neighborhood.

This means that for the first time in a decade, I've had to think about how to clean up after my dog in other people's yards.  It just so happens that, over the course of that same decade, I've tried to become a bit of a "no trash" freak, with a special emphasis on "no plastic".  In fact, one of the small feats I keep patting myself on the back about is that I've convinced our newspaper carrier to stop wrapping our daily paper in plastic bags --- and yes, those are the same plastic bags that so many people tell me make "excellent dog poop bags".

It's true that we still seem to have an endless supply of plastic bags in our home.  Even though we try to avoid it, we get random plastic bags wrapped around our produce, our cereal, Amazon items, etc.  So there are still plastic bags in abundance that I could use for walking the dog, although admittedly some of them are odd and inconvenient shapes.

But I've discovered something I like way better than plastic bags, even better than plastic newspaper bags:  newspaper.  And the reason paper is better than plastic is this:  when my dog squats, I slide a sheet of paper right where she's hunkered down, and the poop falls on the paper.  Her mess doesn't get stuck the grass or anything like that.  I then fold the paper over top of her mess, wrapping it in more paper if I'm going some distance, and carry it to the nearest trash can (or if we're close to home, I have a compost pile that's a non-food compost pit, where I bury the newspaper bundle in a pile of leaves).  I'm fortunate that our walk takes us past lots of trash cans, so I usually don't have to carry it far.

Clean up is so much easier than with a bag this way . . . I'm sort of amazed how nicely this works.  And  I like that this little package is entirely biodegradable.

And I know this is a gross subject, so I'll just stop here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Miser Family Update, Tree edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.

I have to admit, I'm not sure exactly what's been happening with my husband and most of my kids, because early this week I boarded a plane with I-daughter and N-son and headed for Sequoia National Park (aka "the land of no internet").  I am only just now re-emerging into e-connectivity.  What I've heard is that my dog Prewash has mostly been good but has not exactly modeled good "housebroken behavior".  So I'll have some training work to do when I get home.

I got to spend the week with my "upper family" (dad and sisters and their families), which was a fabulously relaxing time, with the possible exception of that afore-mentioned dearth of internet, and also the possible exception of the incredibly curving, winding, torturously twisted roads.  This sign, which I snapped along the route between our guest house and the park we visited, wasn't lying.

But what the area lacked in internet and straight boulevards, it made up for in trees, which we loved.

There were some majorly honkin' big trees there.

Like, trees that were large enough that they had their own names.

I can't remember whether this was the General Sherman tree (largest volume)
or the General Grant tree (largest diameter).
Either way, it was a seriously big tree.

We also got to see wildlife, both up close . . .
N-son and a squirrel.

and in cages . . .
I-daughter and a pair of lions.
We did a bunch of hikes, climbed hills, descended into caves, made lots of food for lots of people, and got to catch up on the lives of those people we grew up with.  Good for the soul.

And now I'm leaving the trees and returning to the world, which apparently has been a little poopy since I left it.  I'm glad I got to hug big trees and my sisters this past week.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Miser Family Update, odd celebrations version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.

Early in the week, my husband and I celebrated our 20-year anniversary in our typical way: with me 700 miles away at a math meeting, and with him at home watching the dog and remaining kids. We've got a very understanding kind of marriage, I have to say!

Later in the week, my husband got to have his "Annual Celebration of Health" (that is, his yearly doctor's appointment).  His doctor continues to be amazed and astounded that a man could get to be as old as my husband is and still be essentially disease- and impairment-free.  It's very sweet and annually funny, really.

We got a lovely-yet-brief visit from our oldest daughter, who usually resides several hundred miles away.  She rescues animals in her spare time, and she's a huge dog lover.  It is possible that she was mostly interested in getting to meet the new dog, Prewash, but the rest of us got to hang out with her, too.

I already mentioned that I-daughter teamed me up with one of her friends, and together we picked about 95 pounds of peaches, canning up 3 dozen quarts and 4 more pints of peaches.  It's so nice to have packed a bit of this summer into jars.

J-son seems to be getting more comfortable at the home where he's staying, although it's clear he's still trying to figure out how to adjust to his new life.  He's stopped boxing, which saddens both me and his coach.  I'm glad, though, that the mom who owns the house where he's staying seems to enjoy his company and stays in touch with me about what he's up to.

N-son finished summer school and got a "94" (with the numbers in that order, and not the other order). He's got some pretty darned proud parents.  He's super excited about our upcoming family vacation --- we leave for the airport early tomorrow, but he had his suitcase packed and next to the front door two days ago!

And I'm looking forward to seeing my family -- my dad and his wife and sisters and nieces and nephews and brothers-in-law and childhood friends, too!  California, here I come!   

(But the downside of this is that we're going to be in a place with almost no internet service.   On that front, I think my dad is trying to torture me . . .   So if you try to comment and get an "awaiting moderation" message, you might have to wait a long time.  And I'm going to go through a serious e-mail withdrawal.   Sigh.)

And that's the news from the Miser Mom clan, a family that continues to be prosperous in our adventures.   May you be similarly wealthy.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Is canning peaches worth it?

As I write this, I'm recuperating from a canning session.  Like all canning sessions, it seemed overwhelming and intense at the time.  Like all canning sessions, when it was finally over, it felt incredibly rewarding and totally worth the experience.  In this sense, a bout of canning is about as intense as -- but much less costly or life-committing than -- childbirth.

Today my daughter, her best friend, and I spent 5 hours and $95+ on 95 pounds of peaches.  With this bounty, we canned 3 dozen quarts and 4 more pints of peaches, with a semi-ginormous pile of leftover peaches that didn't go into jars but that will go into pies, breakfasts, and of course straight into our bellies.  (The peaches themselves ran $95; add to that a bit of gas, a bag of sugar for the syrup, plus the energy to can the fruit, means that we spent a bit more than $1/pound for all our efforts, but not much more).

My little army of peaches, cooling on my window shelf.  
So, man, canning is a full-body experience. Intense.  My daughter's friend Mary wanted to learn to can, and so my daughter said I'd teach her.  Canning with other people is always better than canning alone, and I was just as super-glad for the help getting my peaches into my jars as Mary was for the hands-on lesson for her first canning experience.  But in spite of our mutual gladness, there was definitely a moment when we were both exhausted and wondering "is all this effort worth it?"

I just want to acknowledge that busting a gut now in order to minimally ease the future is a heck of a lot harder for people under stress. In my own case, it doesn't help that I've been distracted by questions of what's happening with J-son.   Since wondering about J-son has been causing me stress lately, I'll just say that I probably would have skipped canning peaches this year if Mary hadn't stumbled into the picture.  This is yet another reason why having strong social connections can help a person's financial (and other) outlook.  Social capital is where it's at.  Word.

Given all that stress, is canning my own hand-picked peaches worth it?   Is it?  I think that my own "is it worth it?" moment came at a bit before 3 p.m.  By that time, we'd already driven to the orchard, picked 95 pounds of peaches, driven back home, started several large pots of water boiling and sliced up about half of the peaches for eventual canning.  Our bout of canning seemed miserable and never-ending at the time.  But the truth is, Mary left with her dozen quarts of peaches about an hour and a half later, by which point my own two-dozen quarts were just about done.  And everything was cleaned up by 5 p.m.  Five hours isn't exactly the same as eternity, even if if feels like that in the moment.

Around 4 p.m., once the finished quarts had started accumulating on the window shelf, a kind of euphoria hit me.  And Mary had her own euphoria at about the same time; she started imagining a February in which she pulled her beautiful jars of peaches (already visible, cooling on the window-shelf counter-top), to the delight of both herself and her peach-loving husband.  The mood lightened considerably at that point.  We stopped complaining about the oppressive early-August heat and about our backs, and started discussing plans for canning applesauce in September or October.  I have to say:  a shelf full of canning jars full of fruit is a beautiful sight.  Food in canning jars is just pretty.  It really is.

One of the drawbacks of hating shopping is that I no longer know how much things cost in the grocery stores.  I'm guessing that having 2-dozen quarts of peaches, hand-picked and canned at a bit over $1/pound, will beat the February/March/April grocery store prices for fruit.  I know for sure that canning means less recycling and less landfill-bound trash, but I can't personally verify anything about cost.

Is this worth it?  If you ask me at 3 p.m. in the middle of a canning day August, I just might have said "no".  But check back in come January, when I go "shopping in the basement", and the answer might be different.  Right now, I'm happy for the day of company, for the distraction from aspects of my life that I can't control, for the golden peaches on my table and on my window shelf.  It's nice to have an intense experience with friends in the midst of adversity; it's heart-warming to have beautiful jars of beautiful food promising to feed me in the cold months ahead.