Saturday, September 22, 2018

Miser Family update, periodic pirate version

Who's that in the distance?
  So, I don't understand how, when I ask other people, "What's new with you?", they can say, "Oh, not much."    And they actually really mean it. 

Because life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household, and new, exciting stuff continues to pour into our hours and into our days and into our weeks.   Oh, my.

Early in the week, my husband returned from London, where he'd been with a bunch of other chemists and historians of chemistry, preparing for the upcoming anniversary of something that Mendeleev did about a century ago.  (Or maybe 150-ish years ago, since I just checked and he died in 1907?)   Anyway, London had had my husband, and now it doesn't.

That's N-son and Prewash!  Running up the street to greet me
on my way home from work.  How sweet!
I spent a bunch of time early in the week procrastinating on preparing classes so that I could pound through the index to my book.  In some sense, total success!  The index is done!  I'm so psyched about working on this thing, and I'm all a-dither to be at the point where I'm no longer doing writing or editing or creating figures; I'm in the administrative weeds. 

In another sense, though, the penalty for procrastinating on my classes took a bit of an emotional toll on me later in the week.  I hate having emotions.  Especially negative ones.  So I was glad that on Saturday I could catch back up and even get a bit ahead on my classes and committee work.  Oooh, and I was a small part of getting two disagreeing committees to actually agree on something important for my College, and that felt really good. 

Turkey legs, Caribbean bananas, oyster crackers,
limes (to prevent scurvy), and briny pickles.
And, as I'm sure you're acutely aware, this year Talk Like a Pirate Day fell on Yom Kippur.  So our family postponed our piratical festivities by one day, but we and our guests still shivered our timbers with the best of them, if a bit belatedly. 

We added a few new Pirate jokes to the annual mix.  A favorite newcomer this year, totally appropriate given the coincidence of dates, was this one:

Q:  What did the Jewish Pirate say?

A:  Ahoy Vey!

We also had a bit more construction done on the house -- the room that has a leaky roof above it now has no ceiling.  The exposed beams and insulation, together with the dog hair and bunk bed, make that room look like every other Girl Scout cabin I attended.  Believe it or not, it's going to take a while to get a roofer to come fix the leak . . . so I get to have summer camp in my home for a while longer now.  I can live with that. 

What else?  N-son continues to volunteer 5 mornings a week at our local soup kitchen, and he's ending the week the way I began it: babysitting for my granddaughter A-child.  And I-daughter, after shedding her wench wardrobe, headed out for a weekend knitting getaway with friends. 

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in new adventures.  May your and yours be similarly prosperous. 



Monday, September 17, 2018

An afternoon in the back yard

I was spending a wonderful, lazy Sunday, and (although I try to have an internet sabbath on Sundays) somehow managed to stumble across Donna Freedman's recent blog post, Missing out on the World.  Ironically, or providentially, this was a post comparing how kids long ago had fun versus how kids nowadays amuse themselves, and -- of course -- nature vs. internet was a key theme.

This was just what I needed to get myself out of the lazy, search-the-computer-for-entertainment mindset. I resumed my internet sabbath and headed out into the giant weed patch that is my back yard.   With my August travels and September rains, the entire place had become overgrown with wild grasses and who-knows-what-all kinds of plants. 

When I undertook weeding, I found all kinds of amazing things still thriving.   It was kind of like my kids cleaning their rooms and unearthing long-lost favorite toys. 

Okra, as big as my hand. 
By letting it grow so long, it's now too woody to be edible.
But it's still fun to look at.

Cucumbers. And a basil plant (I didn't actually kill it?!?)
that decided to come inside and join me for dinner.

Stone cat. Starting at bicycle sculpture.

A walking path, past the grape vines, now actually passable.
Thank you, Donna, for writing the internet blog post that got me off of the internet for a little while!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Miser Family Update: Most Valuable Friend edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.  In fact, this week might have been the deciding factor in my new "Most Valuable Friend" award.

It's been a week of a lot of friends -- for example, we started the week with our Care Group from church coming over for lunch and fellowship.  And even though we have a lot of space in our dining room and living room, we have more than enough church buddies to make the space feel plenty crowded.  We're doubly fortunate there!

And then the rain started.  And we discovered that the flat tar roof above our addition, which we'd fixed several years ago, was no longer fixed.    So we have new water damage on the ceiling, the very ceiling that a bunch of contractors we'd hired were supposed to come paint Monday morning!   Needless to say, we've postponed the painting, although they made excellent progress on about 17 other projects that we'd accumulated over these past two decades.  We finally have a bedroom door!  And the banister on our stair rail no longer wobbles!  Whoop!   (Even as I write this, I know that many families are watching their homes fall to pieces in the Carolinas.  I count my blessings, and grieve for others). 

And then, on Monday, after my husband did yoga, which led to back pain so bad he could hardly walk up and down our stairs on Tuesday (even with the new improved banister).  And my own on-again/off-again tingly arm started tingling even more, which pushed me toward an anxiety that I thought I'd fought off a bunch of years ago. . . . .

. . . Enter the Most Valuable Friend.  I run several times a week with my buddy, June, who happens to be a physical therapist.  In the same way my dad can diagnose a busted furnace pump motor via telephone, my buddy June listened to me whine about someone else's back, and about tingly arms.  She showed me a little stretch (pat myself on the shoulder with elbow in the air and turn my head away), and talked to me about changing my pillow arrangements in a bed she'd never seen, and she suggested something called "TENS" (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, for the geeks) for my husband.

And as life continued to be rich and full -- my husband headed to Boston for the IgNobel awards, and I taught classes with more-and-more students -- I got this text message from my guy, who was on his way from Boston to London (I forget what he's doing in London, but I think it involves watching car races on TV):
Good Morning ☀🌞😃 My Love 😍. I am on the plane ✈️ and in no discomfort. I skipped the pain pills this am and have the TENS device close in case I need it. See you soon!
And, although my arm isn't completely tingle-free, it's SOOOOO much better, which helps with the anxiety, which is definitely much decreased.   So June wins the MVF trophy, for sure.

As if that wasn't enough excitement, we heard that J-son found a boxing gym only a few miles from where he's staying -- and not just any gym, but one run by a missionary who is also a military veteran affiliated with our state's drug/alcohol abuse program.  If this is not a bit of unexpected blessing, I don't know what is! 

N-son made me a smile for dinner on Thursday. 
Isn't that sweet?
But there's more!!!  Because I also heard that I-daughter entered some of her knitting in a "Gradient Sock Competition", and --- for all those of you who have dedicated your lives to GSC's and know how cut-throat they can be --- she got second place!   yes!

So I'm surrounded by awesome friend and awesome family, and I have a bedroom door.  That's the best possible kind of news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.   May you and yours be similarly prosperous.





Saturday, September 8, 2018

Miser Family update, montage version

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

C'mere, adorable little monkeys! 
C'mere!
My own week has been a fantastic montage of adventures: on Sunday I was in a boat in the rain forest, with "Titi" monkeys (marmosets) crawling up my arm to eat pieces of banana I'd placed there; on Monday I toured a presidential palace and then gave a talk to a few hundred teachers; on Tuesday I visited one of the three locks on the famous Panama canal and then gave my second talk for the general public.  On Wednesday, I saw the sun shoot up like a rocket in Panama, and then set down gently over the farm fields of Pennsylvania.  And then Thursday and Friday I was back in my office, teaching precalculus and calculus to my own students.  Saturday, I holed up with my dog Prewash to work on my book.

A boat as big as a football field glides
into the lock with just a foot or two
to spare on either side.  Wow.
On Friday, after I'd been back long enough to get my head straight again, I got a very welcome visit from K-daughter and A-child.   K-daughter has been impressing not only her own employers, it turns out, but also owners of other restaurants and bars.   She's got a lot of get-up-and-go! 

And A-child spent about a half-hour with me using the food processor to chop eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.  It's good to train a 3-year-old to use loud, scary machinery, don't you think?   After about 20 minutes when she got brave enough to actually push the loud button herself, she turned to me and said, "You're a big help, Nana!".    True dat, sweetie.
It's all water above the lock. 
Not water under the bridge.

N-son and my husband did a bicycle race this weekend.   N-son is particularly proud that he rode the whole 28 miles, a distance that's fairly normal for some members of my family, but that gives him bragging rights in front of his more automobile-centric friends.  

In that same race, my husband came in 3rd place in the 61-65-year-old category.  He tells me that he didn't do better because he was a "victim of the young 61-year-olds", and is very much looking forward to next year when he moves up an age category.  So next year, he'll get to victimize 70-year-olds. 

Speaking of math . . . 
And what else?  J-son still loves his classes, and even likes the work he has to (gets to) do for them.  That's a change for him, and I'm so glad. Rumor has it he did a really solid job on "his first anatomy test on the skull".

In more somber news, we all send big hugs to L-daughter, who is mourning the passing of one of her former (and much beloved) foster dogs.  L-daughter has, by far, the biggest heart for pooches of any person I know on the planet. 

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


Sunrise at the Panama City airport.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Stuff I got wrong and didn't know, but now I do

I kind-of enjoy uncovering my area of ignorance . . . so this post is about me doing a bunch of public uncovering about surprises I've encountered down here in Panama.

Geography mistakes win the day.  I figured, since I'm an east-coast-denizen, and Panama is in the "middle", I'd be flying west a couple of time zones.   But I keep forgetting that South America is actually east of North America, and in fact, Panama is slightly east (and quite a bit south, of course) of the Atlanta airport I flew out of.

Also, since the Atlanta is to the east of the Pacific, it would make sense that boats heading out of the Pacific through the Panama canal would go east, but instead, they zig north and slightly west.  Because Panama is mostly east-west configured.   Go figure.



The Panama canal itself is only about 50 miles long.  ("Only"? )  It connects two oceans, so you'd figure (or I'd figure) that it'd mostly be full of salt water, but in fact it's fed by rivers and is largely sweet water.   Traffic goes one way:  east in the morning, and west at night.   And if you think the tolls you pay on the highway are high, then the canal tolls would knock your shoes off:  $100K or even $1million to pass through, depending on the size of the ship.  Whoa!

In the middle-ish of the canal, there's a fabulous mostly-preserved rain forest.   We took a boat ride to some of the tiny islands in the middle of a lake in this region.  We got to see howler monkeys far off, and capuchins, closer, and a wild "Titi" monkey ate a piece of banana off my arm.  I mean, both the monkey and the banana were on my arm. 

What's a Titi monkey, you ask?  I looked this up later:  in English, it's a marmoset.  My Spanish-speaking/hearing skills are definitely getting a major workout here.  I thought the guide was telling us the monkeys were "lazy" . . . it was only later I realize the word "perezoso" also means "sloth" . . . and we got to see sloths sleeping in a basket.  That's the life, man.

And I smelled an orchid that smelled like chocolate. And saw an orchid that actually WAS a vanilla plant.  Did you know that vanilla comes from an orchid?  I didn't know!  But now I do. 

I have two more days here before I fly back.  I'm definitely packing extra space in my brain on the next trip I take!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Miser Family Update: back to school, playing hooky edition


   School began this week for many, many members of the Miser Family, adding to the richness and fullness our our lives.  
  • A-child started preschool.     First day of school ever for this kiddo!  And a bit of extra free time for her mom, K-daughter, who tells me she simultaneously welcomes having time to herself and misses the time away from her offspring.
  • J-son began physical therapy school, and he loves his teacher.   She's "cool", and seemed to be exceptionally clear about how she expects students to divide their time between in-class and out-of-class activities, which J-son appreciates.  He told my husband, "My teacher is really organized, not like me, but like (gesturing my way) her."   Aww, I'm flattered. 
  • I-daughter started teaching a new crocheting class this week.  She's also really enjoying get to know the movers-and-shakers in the fiber arts community; we had a good talk about a fiber arts expo that happened in town recently, and I-daughter provided detailed critiques of (both positive and negative) of how that event came off.   
  • My husband started Hebrew class, which he's auditing at my college.  On the first day, the students played "one truth and two lies".   He says that all the college students correctly figured out that his statement "I dye my hair gray to look more mature" was a lie.  (But they mixed up the other two, not believing he'd been a tank commander, and falling for his claim that'd he'd met Putin in person.)
  • N-son didn't start school, but he's still on track for attending his orientation/evaluation in October, and he sent in a few more job applications to tide him over during this gap (semester?  year?  We won't know for a little while longer).
  • And me, I started teaching my three classes (pre-calculus, and two sections of calculus), with my 76 students, plus two independent study students.
for my family, who are fans: 
a sparkly portrait of Dale Earnhart Sr. in the Atlanta Airport
And then I stopped teaching those students.  I'm writing this from the International terminal of the Atlanta airport, where I'm waiting to board a plane bound for Panama.   It's a bit heady, walking past gates marked "Zurich", "Quito", and then getting to a gate marked "Panama" and thinking, "that's me!". I'm playing hooky from my students for the majority of next week, and like K-daughter, I'm both welcoming this opportunity and feeling a tiny bit guilty about that.  

In the middle of the week, to add to the general hullabaloo, we celebrated Michael Jackson's birthday by inviting some friends over, setting up the projector, and dancing along to some of his music videos.  The most enthusiastic dancer was a 2-year-old guest.   J-son seemed to appreciate the menu (fried chicken, mac-n-cheese!) more than the music, although the end of the "Black and White" video rocked us all.  

And that's the latest news from our family, who continue to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Grapes of Wealth

Something really strange happened this year to the grape vines I planted last year:  something I wouldn't have expected and that, frankly, I was completely unprepared for.

I found grapes on them. 

I know that in other people's yards, grape vines yield grapes, but this my yard:  the Yard of the Basil Killer, the garden where the weeds outnumber the tomatoes 8-to-1.  I put the grape vines in the ground last year; I read the instructions about fertilizing and pruning, and then I proceeded to not-fertilize and to not-prune.   So I naturally figured I'd have a bunch of fruitless vines among the tomato-weeds.   Or maybe I'd get a few grapes that would be snatched by squirrels.
Bunches of charity requests.  Not the same as grapes.

But instead, the grape vines decided to be fruitful.  Bunches and bunches of grapes (literally, bunches) appeared.  The grapes themselves taste awesome  -- not like the grapes I've had from the store, but really wonderfully delicious.   But with seeds.  So eating them is a bit of an adventure, because each yummy little orb of a grape has, like, 4 seeds in it.

Thing is, the grapes don't just hang around waiting to be eaten.  They hang around, but if I don't eat them, they turn brown and yucky.  So this past weekend I realized I'd better do something about the fact that my back yard was, for a brief moment in time, a vineyard.

Bunched together in rubber bands, by who sent the request.
I'm not much of a grape juice drinker, so I decided instead to halve each grape, remove the seeds, and freeze the fruit. (Because frozen grapes = yummy).

But it turns out that de-seeding grapes takes me a long time, if I'm not trying to simultaneously turn the grape into juice.  Like, it took a few hours.  So while I de-seeded, I watched TED talk after TED talk.   Bunches of TED talks. 

Since I have recently been through our family dOnnOr (where we sort through charity envelopes and try to decide where to send our money), I've been thinking a lot about ways to increase the likelihood that the money I give away has the same kind of intentional, effective power as the money I spend (or often, don't spend) at home. 

Dude, even carrying the envelopes around was a bit of a chore.  
I know about Charity Navigator and Charity Watch (are charities spending money on projects, or on administration?).   And I've been learning dribs and drabs about the Effective Altruism movement and the GiveWell site.   But I the more I learn, the more I realize that I still have a freakin' heck of a lot to learn. 

A post-it note on N-son's door.
So I watched a bunch of videos on giving stuff away, and eventually started this playlist on Generosity.  (I got halfway through, and want to see more). 

I know that malaria nets and deworming are some of the most effective ways to save many lives for small amounts of money.  That, I get.

And I dug a bit into improving lives by giving really poor people a bit of money, no questions asked.  That's scary and counter-intuitive, and I'm still sussing that one out.

But I haven't yet figured out how to deal with the big messy problems that transcend counting people who are still above ground and comparing that to the number of human beings who died.

So this year, with each check I wrote,
I included a slip of paper that asked:
"We are trying to reduce the amount of waste our family generates. 
Please send us only one request envelope per year. 
Mailing us the request in June or July would be fine;
we don't need or want other mailings."
For example, what if I worry (as I do) that environmental degradation leads not only to loss of human life, but also to international conflicts, to global refugee crises of unprecedented proportions, and to irrevocable damage to our ecosystem?  How do we figure out how to give effectively to organizations that want to save the whole world?   How can I tell whether the money I give is effective at combatting attitudes (personal, business, government) that thinks that a strong economy automatically outweighs a strong ecology?  I haven't figured that one out yet. 

Yet. 

So in my spare time -- or at least, in my grape time -- I try to learn a little bit more.  I chop grapes, and I hear about how Bill and Melinda Gates work together, and about how the mind of altruists work, and about how pro-social gifts make us happier than spending on ourselves does, and how sometimes poor people actually know better than aid workers how to spend money that alleviates extreme poverty --- and I don't quite answer the questions I wanted answered, but I get closer.

And also, I get frozen grapes. 

From my vineyard. 

Yeah.