Sunday, October 15, 2017

The end of a compost era

The compost bins are becoming fence boards again.
Today, I did something I didn't think I'd do until we sold this house and packed up to move to a new one:  I took down my compost bins on the north side of my garage.

Years and years ago, I'd made a pair of side-by-side compost bins out of old fencing materials.  These compost bins have stood us in good stead, receiving leaves and food scraps and yard waste, and eventually returning rich black dirt. 

But I've been attending a neighborhood garden club (one of the many treasures I've gleaned from joining, and a talk by a Master Composter convinced me to try something new.   Did you know that it's possible to get a certificate as a Master Composter?  I didn't, but I do now.

Adding compost to a garden bed, with help from a
wheelbarrow, a pitchfork, and a bunch of muscle.
My own Master Composter noted that there are two big drawbacks to the side-by-side version of composting that I've used.  One drawback is that this set-up require a bunch of stirring/lifting back and forth.  (And I agree; yeah, that's a bit of a chore).  The other is that the compost that emerges is far from the garden where I want the compost to go, so getting the finished compost to the right place requires more work.  (And again, I agree; moving dirt around is a workout, even when it's rich black dirt). 

Morgan the Master Composter instead suggested metal garden fencing.  She says, to do this you make one or two circular bins out of the fencing, using binder clips to close the loop. 

You put these bins basically right in the garden, right where you're going to want the compost to be.  One bin (the near one in the photo below) is the active bin, which you layer up like lasagna, alternating greens and browns.  The possible second bin (in the picture below, it's to the right and it's empty, so it's hard to see) is for the browns that you keep in reserve. 

The idea is that every time you drop more food scraps or green yard waste onto the pile, you then add more dry grasses or leaves (browns from the reserve bin) on top, and the whole thing decomposes in place without even stirring.  The attention to layering is what keeps the pile decomposing nicely.  And when it's all done, then you just unclip the binder clips, celebrate the compost that is exactly where you need a bunch of rich black dirt, and move the bin to a new place so you can start over. 

So, I'm crossing my fingers that this works.  What I liked about my homemade side-by-side compost bins is that I made them out of stuff I had lying around -- the set-up cost me nothing.  In contrast, getting the metal fencing meant a trip to a hardware store [naturally, only after months of keeping my eyes peeled to see if I could snag it for free somehow, but without luck].  

But I'm willing to splurge in hopes that this set-up actually performs as advertised.  I admit that I'm totally fascinated by the fact that my vegetable peelings turn into dirt that then supports even more vegetables.  Well, vegetables and lush patches of weeds, because it's my garden.  But still, check out the kale forest in the background of that photo above . . . backyard miracle right there! 
So if the vegetables can come full circle, I figure I can try a circular compost bin.  Let the new compost era begin.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Super Hero Dinner

A super family.
My family has special dinners about once a month. This month, we decided all of a sudden to have a "Super Hero" dinner, which mostly means dressing up in super hero costumes. We had a hard time thinking what super heroes eat, but we finally decided "Pizza and Beer"*, because they usually eat while assuming the identity of their alter egos. Plus, apparently Peter Parker was a pizza delivery guy when he wasn't a photographer. 

Disclaimer: almost all of my kids are legally 
allowed to drink beer, and we also served root beer.

 A friend suggested "Kale/Quinoa salad", because those are super foods, so we added that in and thereby had something moderately healthy to eat, too. Except that this week we got a huge amount of beet greens and radish greens in our CSA box, and no kale, so we had a "root vegetable greens-and-quinoa" salad instead of a kale-and-quinoa salad, and we still called that super foods.

I also decided, since we were celebrating super heroes, to invite someone I know that I've admired for a while.  She dressed as "super professor", as you can see here in this photo. 

You might not think of a theater professor as being particularly heroic, but she's traveled much of the world on her own or with one or two other people.  A while back, she particularly fell in love with Nepal, and decided to do a twist on Tibetan monk performances by starting her own performing company there to wander up out into the hills surrounding Katmandu and do performances about health and hygiene.  Her local actors performed skits about the importance of washing hands and of building toilets and of feeding pregnant women.  Their troop reached something like a half a million people before the war broke out and it became too dangerous to hike into the mountains.   Now she maintains a smaller company (two people) who work with war orphans in the city of Katmandu to use theater as a way of dealing with tragedy and aiming for hope.  It was fabulous having her tell her story -- heck, her stories -- to my kids. 

Captain Adorable, trying on her costume.
She thinks capes are annoying.
If you ever have a Super Hero dinner of your own, I highly recommending someone you admire a lot but haven't ever had over to your house.  It's a fabulous way to make rich connections.

I also recommend making super hero costumes out of just about anything you have at hand.  Prewash (aka "Captain Adorable") would disagree with me and say that costumes are for biting at.  Dog costumes don't last very long, so definitely don't splurge on those.

But for people, t-shirt sleeves can be cut to make awesome masks.   The ends of socks make great wrist bands.  A pillowcase attached with binder clips is a great cape . . . good enough, in fact, that you can fly from one room of the house to another . . .
Look, up in the living room.  Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No, it's the Masked Math Marvel!
. . . and then land bravely in a proper super hero pose. 
Feet in a strong stance,
shoulders back, hands on hips,
head held high.

Just like this.  It's good to be super!

Monday, October 9, 2017

When you can't see the kale for the pickles

When I was growing up, everyone in my family took turns at making dinner.  My mom actually had me -- the artistic one, apparently-- design a KP chart*, so we knew who was cooking dinner, who was washing dishes, and who was vacuuming and sweeping each day.  (Okay, we "only" vacuumed and swept the house 3 days per week, one day per daughter, but the KP chart said which one of us did it which day).
*KP is an army abbreviation for "Kitchen Police",
or in my mom's lingo, a Girl Scout abbreviation 
for "Kitchen Patrol".  My mom was organized and strict!

It was sort of an ongoing joke that my mom's meals consisted of leftovers.  In fact, she'd pull a chair up in front of the fridge and pull out pyrex container after corningware container.  She'd reheat those containers in the oven or the microwave, and that would be our meal for the evening.  My sisters and I grumbled a lot about the fact that we and our dad had to cook, but my mom got to reheat.

But the scavengers have a place in the ecosystem, too.  And every once in a while, when I clean out my own refrigerator, I'm glad for the chance to have a "grandmother meal", which makes the most of former meals before they go bad, and also allows me to see what fresh foods still exist in between the bowls and and plates and pots of stuff.

Problem is, my refrigerator is usually in the state where there's "no food, only ingredients".  My love of canning jars and all that goes in them means that we tend to accumulate lots of jars of something-or-other waiting to be made into dinner somehow.  Just last Friday, in fact, we'd reached a stage where I knew I had a head of kale in there somewhere, but I couldn't see it for all the mis-matched jars of olives, diced carrots, sliced turnips, and other potentially yummy vegetables that had yet to find their way into a meal.  Not to mention, we had lots of partially filled jars of sauces cluttering up the refrigerator door.  Some people can't see the forest for the trees, but I couldn't see the kale for the pickles.
Where, oh where, is the kale?

So I pulled a Miser Mom version of my Mama.  I emptied the shelves of the refrigerator onto the kitchen counter, and I concocted a recipe made of . . . well, of ingredients.   I gathered all the root vegetables and tossed them into a hot cast-iron skillet with oil, garlic, and salt.  I consolidated as much as I could of four bottles of barbecue sauce into one bottle.  The remaining three bottles, I added a bit of water to, shook for all I was worth, and tossed the liquid in with the root vegetables (thereby simultaneously rinsing those bottles before recycling them).  I added a jar of sliced mizuna stems and a bunch of arugula.  I added pretty much everything I thought my husband or son wouldn't want to cook with, and I returned to the fridge the few remaining jars or bowls of things my guys might actually use -- the tomatoes and (yes) the kale.

I love it that the recipe was accidentally awesome.  I made it just for me because I figured no one else would like it.  But when my husband and son got home later that evening, they snarfed it all down and there was none left for me to take to school for lunch the next day.  Huzzah for serendipitous recipes!

But I also continue to appreciate the magic of canning, so that I can store the bulk of my food on non-refrigerated shelves.  On  shelves,  I can see all of my stored food easily.  Finding food in the basement is so much easier than finding it in the fridge or the freezer.  So here's a shout-out to my daughter and her best friend, who came over later in the week (long after the danger of being served Hot Barbecue Root Vegetable Medley), and who helped me cut up apples and can 24 quarts and a dozen smaller jars of applesauce. 

Twirly apples are one of the most enjoyable things about
spending 4 hours canning applesauce.
Even after we canned all those jars up, I had a few more bags of apples left for eating.  Fortunately, I'd cleared out space in the fridge for the remaining apples; they go right next to the kale.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Miser Family Update: going places edition

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

My husband and N-son began and ended the week with visits to and by dogs.  In particular, at the beginning of the week they were several states away visiting my step-daughter L and her husband P and their two big dogs.  And then last night L and P and the big dogs returned the favor by visiting us,  much the hyper delight of our dog Prewash.

Soup-er protest against hatred.
My husband also went to an Antifa protest of a Nazi picnic . . . but the Nazi's never showed up, so the Antifa people ate soup together instead.

K-daughter continues to set up her new apartment. It's a lot of work, but I think it's always a lot of fun to arrange furniture and belongings.   I used to spend hours rearranging the furniture in the dollhouse my dad made for me when I was a kid; I liked moving the furniture around a lot more than I liked playing with the dolls that "lived" in the house.   Not surprisingly, K-daughter is likewise finding home-decor a lot easier (and more enjoyable) when A-child is asleep or visiting other people.

J-son has done some home changing, too; toward the end of the week he discovered that his time at his friend's home had come to an end.  After one night of a bit of uncomfortable circumstances, I helped him move his belongings to the boxing gym, where his coach has given him a place to land.  We'll keep crossing our fingers (and bending our knees) that he can make a success of the life he's chosen for himself.

Leaving the "home" theme for the "arts" theme, I just want to say that our family has been celebrating the Nobel Prize of Kazuo Ishiguro, who has become a favorite author of my husband.  And a bunch of us (I-daughter, N-son, my husband and I, and a bunch of friends) had a fabulous evening when we went to a local musical production of Little Shop of Horrors.  How can a funny show end with "disaster" and still be funny?  Beware invasive plant species, I say!

And if you think of op-eds as an art form, I'll just add that I wrote one at the request of our college's PR guy.  He liked it so much he says he's going to try to float it at the NYT.  Of course, that's just his opinion, but it sure was nice to have one person all jazzed that I have an opinion about geometry.  If this piece actually goes anywhere, I'll be sure to brag a bit.

And that's the news from the Miser household, where we continue to be rich in adventures.  May you and yours be similarly blessed.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Miser Family Update, Love notes edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.  We kicked off the week with a one-day-early birthday dinner for J-son, who turned 19 on Monday.  Aside from the fact that he crashed his bike (a family tradition), he seems to be doing well.  The bike, with a bit of TLC and $400 worth of repairs, is likewise on the mend now.  It was good to celebrate a birthday with this kid young man.

Prewash has become somewhat of a celebrity on my campus, and early in the week she got her own kind of love and attention, when the entire Quidditch team mobbed her, paparazzi style.  She manages to deal with the attention just fine -- if you look carefully, you can see her belly up in the middle of the huddle, gratefully receiving love and belly scratches from her adoring fans.

What else?  K-daughter signed a lease on a new apartment, and she's now in the process of moving out of our house.  The apartment is all of half a mile from my home, and only a block from I-daughter's home, so I will still get to see her and my granddaughter A-child regularly.  K-daughter also took (and passed) a CPR course earlier this week.  I'm so proud of all that she's doing.

My husband skipped his newly-usual yoga class to go to a lecture on the history of the Antifa movement, given by a rather reserved, thin, bookish historian.  So much for stereotypes.

N-son and I went together to a huge banquet for supporters of our local rescue mission, where the very very large room was full and yet I knew basically no one.  Usually when I'm in big banquets like this, it's full of mathematicians and I know gazillions of people -- it's odd knowing more people in a city on the other side of the country than in the city I've lived the last quarter century.   But we had a great time getting to meet new people, too.

Speaking of people far away, we heard this past week from X-son, a young man from Haiti we'd attempted unsuccessfully to adopt when he was still a boy.  A missionary we knew had just been down to Haiti, where she helped us sign him up for school for the upcoming year.  I so much admire this missionary.  As she was returning, she wrote,
"We were very fortunate. The hurricane went north of Haiti so we only experienced wind and rain overnight. But about 2 days later we had a huge thunderstorm and left some houses in our area flooded. There was water up to my knees in the street and the creek rose about 8 feet. Went down as fast as it came up. 
We were suppose to come home on Friday the 15th but our flight was canceled and we could not leave until Monday. They said there were just not enough planes in Haiti. It was really good to be home. The night before we left the taxi driver called us and said there was to be riots in Port au Prince so we should come to the city, close to the airport that night so we could be at the airport to leave. So that is what we did. We got out Monday without any problem. There were reports of widespread rioting.  
Always an adventure."

Later she wrote, "X-son face booked me his photo . . . "
He asked me to forward it to you. Said to tell you he loves you and misses you and will work hard in school this year. Said also that he is still living with his mother. He thanked you very much for all you do for him.
He sure is adorable. 

Toward the end of the week, my husband and I celebrated our 21st anniversary (of the day that I agreed to marry him, which to us is even more meaningful then the actual day we married).  I wrote him 21 small notes and left them in the bedroom when I went to work.  When I came back, he'd arranged them on his dresser.  Yet another awww moment for me.  
And the last love letter of the week appeared somehow on my chalkboard, the day that N-son had a half-day of school and spent the second half hanging out with me.  

A lot of love happened this week!  That's the news from the Miser household, where we continue to be rich in adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

My week-long un-Shopping Spree

A week or so ago, I pulled out my "Anti-shopping list" and went on a spree.  My "anti-shopping list" consists of all the places I can take stuff that I no longer want; places where I can give it a new home, or give it a chance to have a new home, or at worst recycle it.

Monday was "new home day": I managed to relocate a high chair and the shirt off my back (or rather, the vest on my back).  The high chair went via Freecycle to a woman who wrote back enthusiastically:

Thank you soo much! I am collecting from a few people for a new mom in need.

That was a feel-good way to get this high chair out of my house. And also, Monday morning I was jogging along with a friend when a woman pulled up in her car to ask where I'd gotten my reflective running vest, because she wanted one just like it.  The thing is, I'd long ago purchased this vest (Vest A) years ago somewhere off the internet, but in the meanwhile I'd found another reflective running vest (Vest B) by the side of the road somewhere, and I like Vest B even more.   So instead of trying to remember where I'd found Vest A, I just took it off and handed it to the driver.  Perfecto.  Now it has a home where it will be appreciated, and I've divested myself (get it?) of something I no longer need.

Tuesday, I took car full of clothing (off my back, not on it), plus household goods, and plus rags (labeled as such) to the Community Aid shop.  I am sort of amazed at how much stuff I accumulate . . . it was rather astounding to see the car totally full of stuff my family no longer wants.  Haven't we already been decluttering for years? Weren't we already tending in the direction of minimalism?  And yet, there in the back seat and in the trunk were boxes and boxes and bags and bags of no-longer-welcome things that had found their ways into our home.   At any rate, I chose the Community Aid for thrifting this stuff because they take the clothes that are no longer wearable:  I put these in a bag labeled "rags" so the store knows not to even bother trying to sell them, but rather just to recycle them. 

And also Tuesday, we put a mattress at the curb, bound for the landfill.  This mattress had been through middle school and teenage boyhood, and was totally, totally gross.  A month-long hunt for ways to recycle this failed to come up with alternative to just trashing it, and I finally gave up.  Sigh.
Wednesday, my husband biked two or three boxes of books over to our Library donation site.  These books will find their way into a monster book sale that helps to raise money for our local library system.   This makes me happy, because I increasingly "store" the books I like to read at the library, and so I do want to try to support that place.

Late in the week, we sold a clothes steamer, via Craig's List.   I'd bought the steamer many years ago as a gift to my husband (aka, "the Lord of the Laundry").  He used the steamer for his suits, and it cut down fairly dramatically on our household dry cleaning bills.  But now that he's retired, we don't need to dry clean or to steam suits (because of course my yard-sale clothes are not of the fancy care variety . . . why the heck would I pay more to clean my clothes than to acquire them in the first place?)

So even though we paid something like $100 for the steamer and sold it for a paltry $20, this little gizmo still worked out well financially for us in the long run. 

The garage looks a lot emptier this week, and I feel a bit lighter because of it.  (And our dog Prewash loves that, because we've been using the garage as a ball-fetch playground for her since the extra space opened up).

But man, is it hard to get rid of stuff responsibly!    That week was a bunch of work.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Miser Family Update: Chalk, stock, and talking like a pirate version

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

In the "chalk" news, my co-authors and I (but, actually, I) submitted a draft of our book to our editor on Monday.  Whoop!  This is still in the proposal phase; the cross-our-fingers hope is that the editor will convince her director to send it to reviewers, and they'll spend a bunch o' time reviewing it, and then we'll do edits next summer, and then we'll submit a final draft next fall.  Everyone keeps saying that book projects always take longer than the writers think, but so far this book project has keep remarkably close to the schedule I'd set for it, so I have high hopes in spite of all this wise caution.  Yay for getting the book off my to-do list!  Chalk one up for the mathies!

In the "stock" news, N-son's culinary program tried to teach him how to can chicken stock.  But they couldn't teach him because he already knew, being my own son after all.  He thought that was hilarious.

I-daughter and a friend enjoy bananas and turkey legs,
with limes to prevent scurvy.
We did in fact get to make our own turkey stock this week, and then canned up six quarts of it, following our annual (and much beloved) Pirate Dinner, which we celebrate on Talk Like a Pirate day, and which features giant turkey legs prominently on the menu, great for turning into stock that my son and I can can up.

Following the meal, the traditional Treasure Hunt gave us all a way to work off the food.

J-son, back for the dinner, teams up with a pirate guest
 to search for treasure.  
In sports news, J-son has gotten back into boxing, and tells us he'll have a match next month.  N-son has started up squash for the year -- I love the picture below of his squash team and their parents.  My husband is still riding his bike with abandon, and for me, training for the Miser Mom Half Marathon is proceeding nicely.  So we're not succumbing to lethargy as fall arrives.
N-son is in yellow.  My sisters will be happy to see that I wasn't
wearing a brown shirt when I stood behind him,
like I used to do in family photos when he was small
(and consequently blended in with my shirts).
And that's the update from the Miser family, who continues to be rich in adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.