Monday, November 17, 2014

Update on our (non) adoption

About three years ago, my husband and I went down to Haiti to visit a young teenaged boy that our friend met on a missions trip; we thought we might want to adopt him.

The adoption fell through, but my friend and I still send him some financial support.  Basically, we pay for his schooling and for his school clothes.  More on that, below.  

We just got a letter from the missionary who visited him most recently.  Here's that letter.

I was so blessed to spend time with [X-son] . . .  
Here is a photo of him and his mom. I saw him several times and tried to explain things to him. He would love to see you both. If it is all possible I would encourage you to go to Haiti and visit him. We had him to dinner at Club Indigo as well as saw him at My friend E's home.  
He is doing well. He goes to Mario's school. It is a Haitian school. A poor school.  I cannot promise the quality of education but he is happy. He lives with his mom. Life is hard. There is no running water or electric in their area. All water must be carried a long distance. There supposedly is a truck that brings water but if you do not have money to pay, you do not get water. 
He wrote you a letter and gave you a photo which I will mail to you. They are such a fine family. Just know he is disappointed but is happy. 
Thanks for all you do.
Here are some other random details.  Several people have asked us about adopting a kid who already has a mom -- what did she think about this idea?  Well, like many in Haiti, she has very little money and at many times didn't have enough to feed herself, much less her son.  When my friend first met X-son, in fact, he was living in an orphanage because she couldn't support him.  She would have been very happy for him to come with us, apparently.  (Actually, come to think of it, the majority of my children have moms elsewhere).

Figuring out how to get money to X-son in a way that it would do good and no harm was tough.  (You might just imagine that giving a big pile o' cash to a teenage boy could have one or two negative consequences, right?)  So we give money to a group that does missions work in Haiti--the same group that visited him and sent this note and picture.  They pay the school directly and  they help him buy clothes.   I'm going to ask them about ways to get X-son and his mom money for water (sheesh).

My friend and I, together with people on the ground in Haiti, had a long back-and-forth discussion about which school to send X-son to.  While he was living at Annie's orphanage and preparing for the adoption, he'd gone to an American school that was (apparently) quite nice.  But the director of the school told us that, once the adoption fell through, she thought the Haitian school was better for him -- for one thing, his English skills were weak enough still that the American school would require many more years to graduate; for another, because of the different curricula the Haitian school  prepared him for life in Haiti better.


How do I think about this situation above?  Obviously, it makes me feel like a total ingrate for complaining about anything at all in my own life, and simultaneously it reminds me to be glad for little things like (say) light switches that work and toilets and tap water.  Oh, and paved roads where I can ride a bike.  And paper.

I also get a guilty stab-in-the-heart for that last line: "thanks for all you do".  Because I sent less money down to Haiti this year than I sent to, say, our cell phone company this month.  Because the chasm between what I could do and what I do do stretches so wide before me.

But also, I am gladdened.   Because X-son does get to live with his mom again.  And even if life is hard, he does seem happy.  And the story isn't over yet; I get to remain a part of his life, which is possibly a little bit better than it would have been if my friend K hadn't introduced us.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lightbulb Bureaucracy

LED lightbulbs are expensive at first, but save money eventually.

Well, that's the spiel, and I actually believe it, somewhat.  But I believe it with a bit of careful skepticism.  And so, here, I'm going to talk about how I administrate my lightbulbs (if that phrase makes sense).

I've been buying LED lightbulbs from our nearby hardware store.  Because I want at least 1000 lumens (the equivalent of 75-to-100 watt lightbulbs from the old days), the bulbs are pricey -- about $25 per bulb, on average.  (Yoicks!)   The theory is that LED light bulbs are supposed to last a VERY long time, and thereby save me gobs of money.  But the practice is that I already had one bulb burn out after about 7 months.  And fixing a $25 bulb every year or so could be expensive, even if the associated energy costs are low.

An LED lightbulb is supposed to last a long time.  It has some kind of a long-term warranty, which is useful if you actually keep track of details of acquisition and installation.  Keeping track can be tricky.

So here's what I do.

1.  I've started saving my lightbulb receipts in an envelope that I store together with my lightbulbs, not with the rest of my receipts.  Honestly, I think this is pretty clever.
I now keep an envelope like this . . . 
. . . in this box in my linen closet, which is where I store my light bulbs.

2.  I write the date on the lightbulb itself, using a sharpie, when I install it.
This is the most recent light bulb I've installed -- October 2014.
If it does burn out, at least I'll know for sure when I first screwed it in.
That's how I know that the lightbulb that burned out in my son's bedroom just last month was first installed eight months earlier (February 2014).

So when J-son came to tell me that the light in his bedroom had burned out, here's what we did.  I unscrewed it, and saw (because of the sharpie markings) that I'd installed it in February. I found the receipt from January, and my husband took the receipt and bulb back to the hardware store.

And just like that, we got a new lightbulb -- not exactly the same, but pretty much equivalent-- for free.  phew!

Moral of the story:   I'm going to start thinking harder about keeping my receipts where I'd start looking if I actually need them, not in a giant envelope with all my many other receipts.

Storing my receipts by use, instead of by date, might make more sense.   

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Great green globs of . . .

. . . greasy grimy gopher guts!  That was what was in my frying pan on Friday night.
(Well, actually -- shhh! -- it was noodles with bok choy, peanut butter and soy sauce).  We also broke out the Zombie Eyeballs (deviled eggs), plus Salted Rat Brains . . .
. . . which look suspiciously like cauliflower, don't they?   And new to our Halloween menu was Monkey Skulls.  A huge hit!
Carving peppers and stuffing is a heck of a lot easier than carving pumpkins, fyi.  The faces sag a bit after cooking, but I think that makes the dinner even more ghoulish, yes?.  But if you freeze them for a week because your daughter happens to get suddenly married on the day you had first planned to eat them, then they take a VERY long time to defrost.  Icy Monkey Skulls are not as tempting a delicacy as Hot Monkey Skulls.
Halloween dinner is still fun a week late.  And when the kids see a menu of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts and Salted Rat Brains, and all they ask is "Where are the cockroaches?", then you know you've got a tradition on your hands.

p.s. We didn't make cockroaches this year.  Maybe next year we'll bring them back.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sorry, Charlie! (more adventures in minimalism)

I got an email the other day from a colleague I admire.  She began the email this way:
I think you may have thought I was running away from you this morning
...because I was.
You're probably not aware of this (because I've never mentioned it to you before)...but there is a scent you sometimes use that I'm allergic to.  It's much worse for me in the morning and I was afraid that if I stuck around, I'd cough and sneeze in [someone's] class, so I rushed off to avoid that . . .
When I read this letter and saw the word "scent", my immediate reaction was about body stink.  With two teenage boys in the house, our family spends a heck of a lot of time managing BO.  My knee-jerk reflex was to think I'd bombed out on the shower department. Ewww.

But then I realized the problem wasn't insufficient hygiene; in fact it was the opposite.  The culprit was a bottle of perfume I'd bought several years ago.   I was a perfume perpetrator.  
Now, I've read in various places about people who are allergic to perfume.  For a long time, I've worn occasional perfume wondering whether I ought to just give it up.

But on the other hand, this particular bottle was a more than just a bottle.  In the way that the things we own sometimes take on extra meaning and begin to own us, this particular perfume bottle had become a memory:  a gleeful memory of finding it on sale at a super low price ($5, I think) and of buying enough for both me and my friend Kristie, a go-for-the-gusto friend of mine who passed away from cancer about 6 months after this particular perfume purchase.  So this bottle of perfume was a symbol also of living life exuberantly, of honoring my long-lost Diva of a friend.

Which, honestly, is pretty silly.  Because Kristie didn't want to make people sick; she wanted to make life a giant celebration of festivity.   And in the back of my mind, I'd known that my perfume habit made me into a walking allergy attack for unknown strangers -- and now I even knew the names of one of my victims.

So, my morning routine has gotten one step shorter.  The perfume is gone.  Sorry, Charlie.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Just a drip off the old faucet

My dad (whom I've written about before) sent his daughters an email recently, telling us all about how he fixed a leaky faucet.  Wow, this story is so like our family!  I love how he ends the letter with a moral (or actually, two morals).  And I love this reminder that skills count, and so does the willingness to learn new skills and take on hard work, even nearly eight decades into life.

Here's his letter.

When we first moved into our new home, one of the faucets in the Master Bathroom showed a small drip.  I could not figure out a way to take this particular faucet handle apart, and so we called a plumber.  That plumber told me that the faucet had frozen shut and needed to be replaced, but also pointed out that the drip was from water stored in the faucet, and went away if one waited long enough.

Fast forward 8 months.  The cold water faucet handle on [my wife's] side stopped being functional.  One could turn the handle around and around but it had no effect on the water flow.  We valved off the cold water from below and called a different plumbing company.  This plumber took the handle apart ( I learned something) and showed me all the interior parts (among which were two gears and two screws).  The plumber told me the threads were stripped and the only solution was to replace all four faucet handles, since the handles were no longer made, and we would want them all to match.  This would cost approximately $1,500.  He charged $45 for his visit, which was very reasonable for one hour of plumber time.

We immediately looked into other faucets and other plumbers, and got the price down to approximately $700.  We order the new faucets and a new plumber.  Since the new plumber could  schedule only for two weeks hence, I decided to attempt a temporary fix with some glue.  I took the offending faucet apart and carefully examined the parts.  I could observe no stripped threads, but I did notice a loose set screw, which could be tightened with a number 3 metric hex wrench, which I had. I adjusted the height of the handle by 1 mm by grinding down the base with my grinding wheel and now the faucet works fine.  And it only cost $45.

We cancelled the new faucet order and the plumber.

Morals of this story.  First, do not always trust a supposed expert who wants to sell you something.  Second, it may be hard to pull the wool over the eyes of an experimental physicist.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

K-daughter gets married

For a few weeks now, K-daughter had been letting her family know she and her guy were getting ready to "elope".  On Tuesday, I got this message from her, explaining why she wouldn't be coming to the annual family Halloween Dinner:
We now have our license and are ready to go for friday! Yay!
However, we ran into a snag. The JP judge who was supposed to marry us is not available, so we got a nearby minister to marry us. Unfortunately, he is only available from 5:30 pm on. We have booked him for 5:30 pm. We are still deciding on the venue, but I think we are going to decide on Italian Lake in [nearby city]. I know that the Halloween dinner is scheduled, so I am not expecting you to be there, however, I am extending the invite to you guys anyway. :) 
Well, to heck with the Halloween Dinner, then!   Instead, my husband and I offered to arrange the after-wedding dinner at a nearby restaurant.  We dressed up (some of us in Halloween costumes, because really) and drove on over to Nearby City.

My camera stinks.  There are better pictures somewhere, but this is what I got.
K-daughter and I-daughter (dressed as Belle) walk to the site of the ceremony.

N-son bounces along happily next to his sisters.
The ceremony itself probably lasted 7 minutes.
Just enough time for some of us to shed a few happy tears.

Groom and bride
Congratulations to my new son-in-law and to my wonderful daughter!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tool hangers (and musings on saving stuff)

In the midst of a semester where every hour counts, I've been thinking about what and how we save things.  
  • If I save money, I see the numbers in my accounts go up, and I can get that money back out whenever I want.   
  • But saving things --- like arts and craft supplies, that requires ongoing effort so that things don't get cluttered, and I'm still not guaranteed that I'll ever be able to use any of it. 
  • And saving time --- well, I don't have to store time in a drawer, and I don't get to store it in a bank. 
Still, there is a way in which learning a skill and practicing it is a way to bank a bit of time for the future.  I've done so much sewing in my life that, by now, it's easier and faster for me to mend something than to go out and buy a new one.  And I've made so many tool hangers for family and friends who got married that nowadays I can whip up one fairly quickly.

So when K-daughter wrote me earlier this week to say she's getting married Friday (today!), it was fun to spring into action.  I just happened to have a set of tools lying around that I'd planned to be a gift to I-don't-know-who (but now I do).  And I rummaged through my fabric supplies, and found a pair of holey jeans, and an orange drawstring that N-son had asked me to remove from a pair of his shorts.   
I like how the orange drawstring winds up and down;
have to take the ugly sticker off the hammer, though!
 I like the contrast of colors; they fortuitously go well with the color of the tools I'd picked out.
I even like that this is something old/something new/something borrowed/something blue.

But aside from the tool hanger itself, the process of putting it together was joyful.  It took me two, three hours, probably.  These were contemplative and creative hours, a break from my regular routine of reading papers and writing reports.

And maybe this is one aspect of what saving time looks like:  that some long-ago version of me spent time learning to sew, puzzled over new projects, and stocked up on extra materials.  So then this week, when I needed to pull all this back out of the Time Bank, I could.

The wedding is tonight.  I'm so excited!