Saturday, January 18, 2020

On becoming a Parent Emeritus

When a professor retires from teaching, provided she's done the right kinds of things along the way, she might earn the title "Professor Emeritus". The "E" in "emeritus" comes from "ex" (or "out"); one of my friends who is an emeritus professor says the title means he's "out of it and deserves to be" -- but that phrase is actually just a classy Latin way of declaring that a professor is "honorably discharged".

The Life of the Mind being what it is, many retired professors keep doing stuff that looks like work. I just got back from the big math meetings, and I was surrounded by emeriti professors who are still doing research, who are still active on editorial boards and professional committees, who are still attending talks on new kinds of mathematics and even organizing conferences themselves. It's one of those things that reaffirms that I've chosen a great career path. People around me say, "I'd do what I do even if they didn't pay me" . . . and then they really do.

So, with my kids growing up and moving (cross-fingers) out of our home, I like to think of myself as becoming a "Parent Emeritus". I'm not a full-time parent, but I get to jump in every once in a while and put on bandaids and kiss boo-boos and tell my kids to clean up their mess and help them get out of a jam (only now in a more adult version of those scenarios). I am ready to enter this phase.

I like the title "parent emeritus" a LOT. I've been telling people that I've been looking forward to the empty nest, that although I'm not ready to retire from math, I'm ready to retire from parenting, and their response has invariably been, "Well, you never stop being a parent." Well, YEAH, true.

But if you retire from being a professor you don't have to grade exams or bring plagiarism cases before the dean, and if you retire from being a parent you don't have to clean exploded spaghetti out of the microwave you cleaned the day before and haven't used except to warm up a cup of tea.

If you retire from being a professor you don't have to serve on the Assessment Committee unless you really love developing 3-year assessment plans, and if you retire from being a parent you don't have to drive your kid to the Awards Banquet where 5 different speakers start by saying, "I'll be brief" or "I won't speak for long" so you know they're going to drone on forEVER, unless you really like going to Awards Banquets run by amateur speakers.

So, I'm declaring that I'm working toward becoming a Parent Emeritus. I'm going to keep doing math and mentoring junior faculty, and I'm going to keep having Special Dinners and giving my kids advice. But after three decades of scheduling my days around taking care of my offspring, it's kind of nice to be in the space where I know I can stay late at my office whenever I want (or even better, when I know I can leave early because going home early doesn't complicate picking up children and starting the "second shift"). I get to go to math conferences with my colleagues and I get to go to performances that my kids stage managed, . . . but someday I won't have to fill out Committee Preference Forms and someday soon I won't have to make space in my home for all the gear and the garments and the garbage that my kids have accumulated.
I love being a parent.   I love being a mathematician.  I'd do either of them even if nobody paid me (oh, wait: regarding the first, I already do).  But I'm ready to retire from full-time parenting and move into the emeritus phase.  

But first, I gotta go clean out the microwave and warm up my cup of tea.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Red plastic chairs

One man's trash is another man's treasure, and all that.   Our college is remodeling some old classrooms, with furniture from the 1990s (?? or 1970's?).  And the person clearing out these spaces has been sending out "anyone want?" emails.

I love this.   I love that we have people who want to find alternatives to just tossing stuff in landfills, and I love that occasionally some of this stuff ends up being something that solves one of my own need/wants.  But even if I never ever need-wanted any of this stuff, it's just awesome to be part of a community that shares.   It's a baby step toward the picture painted in Acts:  "For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need."

So, from time to time, those who have classroom spaces renovate them, and distribute the old furniture to anyone on the email list who has need-want.  

One of the recent emails offered stacks of red plastic chairs.   They're not my own personal style at all, but N-son is getting ready to move into an apartment nearby (cross fingers), and will need to furnish it. He needs furniture that's sturdy, and these chairs have managed to survive decades of college-student abuse, so I figure these qualify.  He's my kid and doesn't yet have a job and consequently wants chairs that don't cost a lot, so we figure "free" is a decent price for some furniture.  And his favorite color is red, so score.

 So I snagged him a set of four red plastic chairs and texted him to come to campus with my favorite transport vehicle: the green garden wagon. 


We divided up pulling the wagon home 50-50:  I told him, "you pull it uphill; I'll pull it downhill".   I'm glad he thought that was funny. 

Right now, the chairs are in the Dungeon in the basement, with his drums, waiting to move to the new apartment (cross fingers!).  So it's extra nice that these stack, and therefore take up a bit less floor space during this transition. 

Shelving is the next thing we need to get -- although I'm guessing we'll end up purchasing that instead of finding something in a discard pile.  We're going for open (wire?) shelving instead of dressers with drawers  because of that "Organizing strategies for people with ADHD" book that I can't find anymore . . . but that'll be a subject for another post. 


Monday, January 13, 2020

Miser family update: knocks, music, and the gift of knowledge

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.  This week has been particularly rich with music and new skills.  And traffic tickets.  And old houses.

In no particular order . . . one evening, we had an impromptu performance of Percussive Hymns in the area of the basement we call The Dungeon.  Right now the dungeon is outfitted with a brown rug I trash picked, a bunch of red stacking chairs I rescued from a classroom renovation at my college, a bunch of random bricks, a broad sword (because, dungeon), and a nifty drum kit.  set.  kit.  (I'm not sure what to call that).   At any rate, N-son got some new drum bling for Christmas, and so he put on a show for his doting, shivering mom.  Some singing was involved, too.  It was quite something to behold and behear. 


On a completely different evening, a bunch of family members reunited for a nearby professional musical show, "Beach Party Blast".  I came appropriately attired, with a bathing cap and swim goggles and with a bikini (over a few other clothes, because January), and I had a blast.  I even got to lead the conga line.   In fact, the cast members had been told that on this particular night, there would be a woman who would likely jump right into the conga line.  They were told this by their Stage Manager.  And it turns out their Stage Manager was . . . I-daughter!  She was super excited to get this job, and told me that she now is in the super fortunate position of having her two greatest loves -- knitting and theater -- both be something that she gets to do professionally as well as for funsies.  Yay, I-daughter!


This week I also got my Real ID.  I drove alllllllll the way to the driver's center, and then realized I'd forgotten my passport & proof of address, so in a tiff, I drove alllll the way back home.  On the way home, a school bus on the opposite side of a wide, several-lane road stopped and I wasn't sure if I should, so I kept going.  The car behind me kept going, too.  Then the car behind me turned on its flashing blue-and-red lights . . . and so my new ID turned out to be a valuable driving lesson, as well as a costly one.  Sigh.

But not all of my week was the school of hard knocks.  We had a wonderful "Bad Gift Exchange" party that I've held every year for nearly two decades now . . . and we held it at my old home!  So the "Bad Gift Exchange" was also a bit of a celebration of the "Home Exchange".   The new owners have really, really changed the paint schemes and the layout of furniture and everything.  It's not at all what I would choose for myself, but it was incredibly pleasing and beautiful, and it made me really happy to see my too-large home being used and loved by a family for whom it's just the right size. 

My husband has been learning to edit Wikimedia and Wikipedia pages, and this past weekend he got to update citations for women who had made significant contributions to our understanding of chemistry, particularly as regards the periodic table.  (Because of the IYPT -- the International Year of the Periodic Table).

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures, and loud on our drums.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Post-xmas bowling and other Miser Family events

Life in the Miser Family household continues to be rich and full.  This past week has brought rounds of merriment . . . for example, we had a fall-down-laughing round of merriment in our annual Christmas Bowling (this year we did it belatedly, after Christmas, instead of before Christmas).

We are highly in-expert bowlers.  Also, some of us are not so good at selfies either . . .
My daughter says, "push that button!"

I say, "I know!". 
But I can't quite fit all 11 of us in the photo.
Fortunately, phone cameras nowadays come with timers.  Who knew?
Lots of (post) Christmas Bowlers!

Aside from Christmas Bowling with a crew that has more enthusiasm than talent (way more enthusiasm!), we learned that our new next door neighbor -- who celebrates Halloween to an extreme -- celebrates the New Year with corresponding vigor.   I went to sleep telling my husband that this is what it must be like in Heaven, with people all around us celebrating and singing praises.  Perhaps there will also be a quiet car in Heaven, however?   The next day, we had a lower volume (but still awesome) New Year's Day gathering of the Book Nerds.

I've spent the rest of the week finding outlets for my creativity to spill out of what seems to have been a dammed-up well within me.   Maybe all these projects and ideas had been bottled up while I was taking care of all my committee work last fall, I dunno, but in the past few days I've hung chairs on the wall, added canning jar shelves in the basement, folded something like a dozen origami butterflies, made a Book Nerds necklace for this year's event and candy eyeballs for next year's ginger-beasts, painted a new sign with our house number, and started devising a hanging jar garden to hold my crafting materials.

What else?  Home stuff:  My out-of-town daughters returned to their own homes late in the week.  N-son had his first tour of an apartment this week, and he also got to shadow a job at a nearby grocery store.   K-daughter and D-son are also throwing themselves into house hunting.

Next week will signal the return to office work for me (syllabus prep, finishing up the grant proposal, packing for the Math Meetings).  So it's been really nice having this unstructured time with family and friends (and with the deep well of creativity that seems to want to be tapped). 

That's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Bad Butterflies, Better Butterflies

To give myself something to do this winter break, I decided to make a bad butterfly.
A tiger butterfly, with the tigers on the wrong side.

Actually, I wanted to make a bunch of birthday cards for the upcoming year, and figured that folding something origami-ish would make for an interesting card.   So I went to our local library and took out two different origami books. [Yay, local libraries!]

The butterfly, even though it's a tiny bit poofy,  seemed to be reasonably flat and a possible candidate for gluing to a homemade birthday card.  So I snipped a picture of tigers out of a copy of National Geographic magazine---a friend gives me his copies when he's done with his.  [Yay, friends who share stuff!]  Then I folded away, making a bunch of mistakes.  Like, the tigers were supposed to be on the front of the butterfly, but somehow they wound up on the back.  I made a bad butterfly.

The good thing about learning, though, is we know that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.  And I'd chosen this project so that I could make a lot of mistakes!  My next butterfly (made from a picture of a lake scene) at least had the lake parts on the right side of the butterfly.
A lake butterfly, with the lake on the right side.
 And the folds and symmetry got better, too, I think.  A better butterfly.

And more folds, and more folds.  Re-reading the origami instructions while making more and more butterflies was like watching a movie over and over again.  Each time I did this again, I noticed something new.  Certain arrows, certain patterns of dashed lines, made more and more sense.
More butterflies, more learning.
I had started using the National Geographic pages because they were free/right at hand.  But I have to say, I like the patterns on the butterflies this way even more than if these were blank paper.  (Not to mention, the patterns distract from my folding mistakes).   After a bunch more butterflies, I started realizing that it was the four corners of the pages, not the image in the center of the photo, that made it into the wings, so I started looking at the pictures differently.
This picture of a tiger (with mountains and grass all around) . . .

. . . turned into this grassy, mountain-y butterfly that has just a hint of tiger.
Whoops! I got the picture upside down.
After nine or so of these buggy babies, I'm getting to the point where I can make these butterflies without staring intently at the directions.  So, not only do I have a veritable garden of butterflies ready to go celebrate birthdays of my relatives and friends, but now I have a new Something-To-Do-With-My-Hands when I'm stuck in a meeting or on a plane or some such.   This gift to others is also a little mini gift to me!
Thanks to "10-Fold Origami" by Peter Engel.



Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Clean Sheets for 2020

My husband, just yesterday, asked me, "Is it okay if we start the new year with clean sheets?"

That question makes my house sound a lot more disgusting than it actually is.  My husband is the one who washes and dries the laundry, because that involves electric power and chemicals -- things he loves and cares about.  But putting the sheets back on the bed involves manual dexterity and geometric precision, aspects that fall more in my area of pickiness expertise.   So the question about "do we wash sheets today?" is one he's kind enough to ask me in advance, since it affects my To-Do list.

We have one set of sheets.  My parents bought us an awesome set from Land's End, back when we married almost two dozen years ago.  I think we had another set, too, but we haven't used it on the bed in forever and I couldn't find it when we were packing up to move, so I figure we gave it to someone who needed a set of sheets at some point.  So that set of sheets from our wedding was our only set, and it lasted for nearly -- but not quite -- two dozen years. 

And then this fall, while my husband was traveling, the fitted sheet developed a rip right at the place where my feet rest.   These sheets, I realized by looking at the rip, have become threadbare enough that it's not worth repairing them.  And so I had to figure out what to do about replacing the fitted sheet.

Danged if I was going to resort to going to an actual store, of course.   I scouted about at the so-called Thrift Stores for a set of yellow, queen-sized fitted sheets.  And wouldn't you know, I found a set at the first place I went?  They were so crisp, it was like they'd never been used or even laundered.  So  I snapped them up and brought them home.

Only, it turns out, they were not actually queen-sized sheets. The fitted sheet refused to live up to its name; it wouldn't fit at all.  I figure it was actually a full-sized sheet, mislabeled by one of the thrift-shop sorters.   Still, I figured the chance of finding a set of sheets in my color, in good shape, and the right size,  . . . well, that chance was pretty slim.

So.  I put the flat sheet upside down on the bed and pinned the corners.  Experimenting and a tiny bit of futzing revealed that a full-sized flat sheet (if this actually was a full-sized sheet set, as I'm guessing) is just about exactly the right size for making a queen-sized fitted sheet.
The corner of an upside down flat sheet on our queen-sized bed.
If you look really carefully,
you can see the vertical stitching at the corner,
with extra fabric hanging out to the left.
Once I had the corners pinned, I took the sheet down the hallway to the Command Center and sewed those four corners, straight seams.

And that's how I made my own fitted sheet, no elastic needed, no scissors needed either.  When I turn the sheet right-side up and put it on the bed, the extra material at each corner kind of hangs down like a tail.
My "new" fitted sheet, with its corner tail.
 I just tuck the tail under the mattress.  It's actually much easier to deal with than elastic, and in the month or so we've been using this "new" fitted sheet, it seems to work great.


So that's the story of how we made our bed.   Here's wishing you and yours clean sheets for 2020, too!


Monday, December 30, 2019

The giant chronological paper box(es)

A while back, we bought a book called something like, Organization for people with ADHD.  We bought it because my sons (and maybe my husband) are ADHD, and because Organization is Me.   Somehow, I can't find the book anymore . . .

 [. . . pause to acknowledge the irony of losing a book on organization . . . ]

. . .  but there are two really helpful things that we learned from the book, and fortunately I haven't lost the knowledge.  

Here's one of those two really helpful things.  

To help get rid of paper in your home office (or wherever you take care of paperwork at home), don't have a tiny little paper recycling box that you empty regularly into a larger recycling bin.  No, instead, have a LARGE paper recycling box, one that holds months and months of paper.  
A large box of mixed paper (glossy, catalogs, whatever),
and a large box of office paper.
And then, in your head, don't think of it as a "recycling" box for things you're getting rid of.  Instead, think of it as the place where you keep all of your outgoing papers, chronologically sorted.   This mindset allows for easier decisions.   Do I get rid of this envelope from my newspaper carriers, or will I need it again to send them a thank-you note?   Either way, into the box it goes.  If I need to look at again, I can find it at the appropriate layer.  It's chronologically sorted, naturally!

This giant-box thing hasn't yet affected my son's life, since he doesn't really have much paper (I file all his paperwork myself, because . . . well, because his dad and I are still the ones dealing with the bureaucracies that are involved in his life).  But the giant-box system has made my own workspaces  easier places to work in this year, especially as I continue to set up my  Command Center in this new home -- with no shelves (yet), and with a FreeCycle filing cabinet showing up late in the fall, leaving much of the early months of the new house a very printer-paper-box-fueled state of paper affairs.

By the way, because of the way recycling works here, I actually have two large boxes: one for "mixed paper", and the other for printer paper.  I also have a small container for newspaper and cardboard (that, I empty out fairly regularly) and a box for "charity envelopes" -- which we save for the dOnnOr in August.  So I'm living a boxy kind of life.  I'm really looking forward to building some bookshelves next summer, just to get things off the floor!  (Well, and to get my poetry books back from my office at work).

But back to the paper boxes.  The book (did I mention we lost it?  and that it's about organizing?) suggests that this recycling box be something beautiful, so you appreciate having it around in the office.  I will probably get to the "beautiful" someday, or at least something funky and aesthetically pleasing, but you can see from the above, we're not there yet.  Which is okay by me; I'm a huge fan of cardboard boxes.