Thursday, December 14, 2017

Christmas Bowling

A-child with me,
wearing the christmas hats we
dutifully unpacked on day 2
of Advent calendar-dom.
One of the accidents that has crept onto our family Advent Calendar is now become a tradition.  Last year (. . . or was it the year before?  I can't remember. . . ), I was wracking my brain* for an activity to complete the annual Miser Mom Advent calendar.  Surely between seasonal chores like "get out x-mas clothes" and "wrap presents" on the one hand, and scheduled events like "caroling with the church" on the other hand, I could come up with something good to fill one pesky empty date?  In a fit of silliness, I added, "X-mas bowling". 

* I had to look the spelling up because I wasn't sure about that "w".  
It turns out that both "wracking my brain" and "racking my brain" 
are correct.  Go figure.

Unbeknownst to me, my only birth-child had developed hugely fond memories of bowling with her now-distant friends and with her father (who passed away a few years ago).  She was thrilled beyond my reckoning to see this activity reappear in her life.  I won major Mom-props with my silly advent entry, let me tell you.

So X-mas bowling is now a thing.  

How do you do Christmas bowling, you ask?  Well, first you dress up in Christmas clothes (which of course includes Santa hats, but also festive stockings and such) . . . 

. . . and then you go bowling.  

The two activities are not as mutually exclusive as you might think at first blush.  For example, as part of our bowling experience, we got to put on bowling shoes that were remarkably Christmassy.
Bowling shoes!  They match our hats!
The first game of bowling this year was fun in an ordinary kind of fun way.  Then A-child and her mom K-daughter showed up, and during the second game things got really peppy.  We lost all pretense of being any good at bowling (because: we're not), and we put up the bumpers.  No more gutter balls!  Whoop!

Even better, since we'd already shunned all pretense of ability, I wielded my power as Matriarch-of-the-X-mas-Bowlers to declare certain special rounds. Round 4 (at the request of I-daughter) was "granny bowling": two hands, between the legs.  Round 7 was "bowl with the wrong hand" (my favorite -- so uncomfortable it was funny).   Round 9 was dragon bowling. 

What is dragon bowling, you ask?  It's designed for the youngest of bowlers, who get to direct their heavy bowling balls down a plastic slide shaped a bit like a dragon.

Dragon bowling is awesome for the youngest generation . . . 

But the purple plastic slide looks like such a hoot that older bowlers get a bit jealous of the toddlers.  An excuse to stoop to dragon bowling, while blaming all stooping to peer pressure, is therefore welcome.
. . . and for the middle generation, too.  
I-daughter says that one of the reasons she loves bowling is the same as the reason she likes mini-golf.  It's a game that just about anybody can play, with or without talent, and that groups of family and friends can therefore play together.

Especially as I try to nudge myself (and the orbit of people around me) gently away from the material aspects that have pervaded Christmas, it's nice to have a new and even memorable way to celebrate the season with my family.  To strike the right tone (heh-heh), and to have so much fun we can spare to share it with others  (snirk snirk). 

I'm not wrapping presents with a bow . . . but we are making advent festive with a bowl.  That's Christmas bowling.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

When you can't mend the sock....

So, I'm getting ready to give my calculus exam, which comes at the end of a semester of (surprise!) calculus. What do students actually learn in my class, you might wonder? Do they learn about the interplay of algebra and our physical world? Do they learn to interpret visual information in the form of graphs? That's what I always hope they take away from the time they've spent with me.

And yet, maybe that's not the aspect of interactions with me that changes my students' lives most noticeably. Perhaps my quirky lifestyle bleeds just a little bit into my classes. As an example, a student who took two semesters of calculus with me last year, and who also runs with my Saturday morning running group, just sent me an email titled, "When you can't mend the sock...."

Inside the email:
You make it into a jar sleeve so it doesn't burn your hands when it contains hot coffee or oatmeal! Thought you might appreciate this. :)

So. This is the kind of math professor I am.  I'm hoping some (most?) of my students become fluent in the language of change/accumulation that comes with derivatives and integrals. But somehow the prosaic objects of our lives pervade:  Socks.  Glass jars.  Coffee. Oatmeal.  Conservation and adaption.

It's not a bad kind of professor to be, I figure.  I'll take it.  My calculus final exam is Thursday night. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Miser Family update, mid-advent darkness edition

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

In the small joys department, I loved waking up early in the week to see the full moon setting outside my bedroom window.  I've always been a bit of a "lunatic" (or "lunar-tic"?), but to have light during these dark, dark days seems especially beautiful.

The family advent calendar keeps yielding good things for us to do, from decorating the tree, to putting up our own lights to decorate the darkness . . .
Christmas lights in canning jars.  Two great joys combined.
. . . to attending a local theater production of A Christmas Story.  I got my daughter to try an "ussie" outside the theater (which I'm told is the collaborative version of "selfie").  I was so excited about this lovely photo . . .

. . . that I made her take another one, this time with N-son and the friend we brought with us. 

I think I Iook a lot better with more friends and family around me. But isn't that true for just about anyone?

In the middle of the week, our advent calendar reminded us that St. Nicholas day is a good day to give to charity.  We chose Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico (, which is a member of Feeding America and serves all of Puerto Rico.  The ongoing plight of the people on that island just tugs at my heart strings.  Dark days indeed.

My husband has done his part battling against the surrounding darkness.  He was the emcee at Tuesdays with Toomey (topic:  the tax bill, and trying to shore up DACA and CHIP and Philly's 311 program).  Saturday, he helped to staff a phone bank urging people to call their congress members to protest the current version of that bill.  

And just in case you were wondering whether Garrison Keillor's departure from MPR --- and all the circumstances that led up to it --- have me grieving, . . . well, yes.  The answer is yes.  My Saturday evenings will never be the same.  

But, coming out of the darkness a bit . . . J-son had round 1 of his legal stuff and it went as well as could be expected.  (Deliberate vagueness . . . sorry about that).  Round 2 will come mid-January, and I'll add more vague yays or boo-hoos then.  Meanwhile, he's doing really well at his former foster mom's house, and that's just making everyone happy.

And even better, on Friday we had a family springerle-making fest.  I-daughter, K-daughter, and budding chef N-son chipped in with enthusiasm.  A-child, now 2.75 years old, did her best to "help" us, and we did our best to distract her with meaningless-yet-seemingly-industrious tasks so we could get the cookies rolled out, pressed, and onto baking sheets.  The distractions were largely successful, and when they weren't entirely effective, the dog Prewash delightedly helped clean up the food dropped on the floor.  So, springerle cookies are done and ready to harden into bricks for future hard-cookie entertainment and nourishment.

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

Mending Elmo

Chances are, if you have a kid, that your kid has a favorite stuffed animal.

Heck, chances are you yourself remember a favorite stuffed animal from your own childhood.  Mine was a bear named "Mr. Burp" (so called, because if you squeezed the belly, the toy made a growling/burping sound).  My younger sisters had "Mrs. Burp" and "Junior Burp".  My dogs ate the ears and lower lip and eyes of Mr. Burp, and I myself wore the fur off his stomach, but I still have that stupid bear.

N-son's favorite stuffed animal has been a panda he calls "Elmo".  (He named it back in the early days, back when he was still making adorable generalizations:  every stuffed animal must be called the same name as the stuffed animal that his sisters pointed out to him on television; hence a panda was also the same name as that goofy red Sesame Street character).

Elmo has been through a lot with N-son.  N-son, even at the age of 18, still sleeps every night with Elmo under his head.  He chews meditatively on Elmo's nose.  Elmo has become flatter over the years than he used to be, albeit no less beloved.

Unfortunately, our dog Prewash also chewed on Elmo's nose. 

But not so meditatively.

Also on Elmo's butt.  

Sigh.  So N-son enlisted his Mom's help in the repair.  And fortunately, his mother has a wealth of rags stored up, rags that are useful not only for cleaning stuff around the house, but also for mending.

In case you're wondering, rags made from former sweatshirts work great for mending Teddy Bear butts.

The rag is white.  It's hard to even see the patch, isn't it?

And also, with a bit of help from a button jar, sweatshirt scraps help to mend Teddy Bear noses.

Elmo is ready again for meditative chewing.  We're going to keep him away from dogs.

The end.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Miser Family update: advent edition

This week, we got to start peeling the sticky notes off of the traditional Miser Mom Advent calendar.  December 1: bring in pine boughs.  [check.]  December 2: get out x-mas clothes.  [check again.]  There are more exciting events hidden under future sticky notes, which is--of course--the whole point of advent: active waiting and preparation for The Good Stuff.  I'm psyched.

This week, I got to teach my students the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.  It's a class I look forward to every time I teach Calc I.  In fact, I tell my students on the first day of class that, when we get to this day, I'll wear my academic regalia.  The theorem is that big.  And I do wear my regalia: the robe, the hood, the cords, the poofy hat.  I just love-love-love making a big deal of an idea that, frankly, is a big idea.  So much fun.

Pine boughs and x-mas clothes,
per Day 1 & 2 calendar directions.
My husband brought home a foster-Miata this week.  This car is is sort of like a Fresh Air Fund car.  It belongs to a friend of his in Long Island, who just doesn't have a good over-winter place for the car.  My husband's friend has decided that (a) her need for storage space and (b) my husband's plight in being married to an ultra-frugal woman like me with only one family car . . . well, that these two things means she needs to over-winter her car in the garage-spacious lands of Miser Mom-dom.  So for the third winter in a row, we have a frivolous two-seater convertible for a few months, to keep our old 2001 Prius company.

I-daughter called me with happy news earlier this week:  her eye doctor has officially declared her eyes to be healed from the scary infection she had earlier this year.  Whoop!  Also, K-daughter texted me to ask if I could take my granddaughter A-child with me to church.  You betcha!   That's unfortunately the only contact I've had with my daughters this week.  But the end of the semester is coming. (Advent!  Active waiting for the good stuff!)

In other really, really, really good news:  J-son has decided to move in with his former foster mom.  I can't tell you how incredibly happy I am about this . . . that he's now in a safe space, being taken care of by a person who is committed to helping him, and that this is what *he* wants to do.  I've mentioned before how much I admire this woman, and now I'm beyond grateful that together we've managed to steer J-son back into her care.  He still has to come back to our city this next week for some legal issues that he has to deal with.  (Can you hear the deliberate vagueness with which I describe this?  It's yet another reason I'm so glad he's going to be under loving-yet-firm supervision in the future).

I asked N-son what he wanted me to say about this week, and he couldn't come up with much.  School (culinary arts) is going well, but not in a news-worthy way.  Today, he and my guy went to Philly to the American Jewish History Museum, where they got to look together at the history of N-son's [adoptive] ancestors and their journey to the U.S.  Perfect for a father-son outing, right?

N-son has been tackled by his niece A-child. 
Prewash turns away to snicker politely.
And that's the news from the Miser household, which continues to be rich in adventures. May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Monday, November 27, 2017

ookey turkey muffin recipe

This post is not really about how to make frozen ookey turkey muffins for your dog, even though what I'm about to do is to describe how I made frozen ookey turkey muffins for my dog.

No, this post is really about adapting knowledge from one area to another, or about adapting use of one object to do an unusual task.  I love doing this kind of adapting; it's super for frugality, and it's super for brain creativity.  Hence, this post is really about double-awesomeness.

But the post begins with ookey turkey treats.  As in, after Thanksgiving is over, I toss the turkey carcass in the stock pot, cover it with cold water, and simmer for 12-to-36 hours.  This broth produces a concoction that I separate into 4 parts:
  1. the broth itself, which I pressure can for use in future soup.
  2. the nice meat, which I add back to the broth before pressure canning.
  3. the bones, which I used to feed to my old dog . . . the vet says not to do this, but Miser Dog happily ate turkey bones for years with no problems.  With our new dog Prewash, I am reluctant to feed the bones to her . . . yet.  When this new dog gets old enough that I feel she's past the "warranty" stage, I just might try bones with her, in spite of veterinary worries, because she's so like Miser Dog that I hate to deprive her of a potentially awesome treat.  But for now, I'm ditching the bones.
  4. the ookey meat.  Which I freeze as special treats for my dog.
As regards to #4 (the ookey meat), the question arises . . . how to freeze it?  Amy Dacyczyn (one of my heroes -- author of The Tightwad Gazette) described a method of freezing little meatball-sized pieces in plastic bags . . . but I try to avoid plastic bags.   For several years, I'd used ice-cube trays (see this old blog post, for example), which I still think of as an awesome technique.  But we got rid of our ice cube trays when we got a refrigerator with an ice-cube maker [a total frugal mistake -- but that's a subject for another post].  

So, how to freeze ookey turkey?   My Answer-Du-Jour:  muffin trays.

Are you jealous?  Frozen ookey turkey muffins!

The larger issue is how to freeze Lots-of-Something when you're going to want to use only a bit at at time.  When I freeze kale for future use, I freeze it as one (or several) large wads and then leave it in that wad, because that's how we eat it.  But when I freeze bananas or watermelon slices or even ookey turkey, I freeze it in a different way than I'll store it.  I freeze bananas or watermelon slices all spread out on metal baking pans, so I can take out one banana or one frozen watermelon triangle at a time (yum)!  This year, I froze ookey turkey in muffin tins.  But once they were frozen, then I could consolidate.

How to consolidate once the stuff is crystaline?  Ziploc bags is the go-to answer for most people who use freezers.  For me, those bags are unattractive for two reasons -- (1) they're soft plastic, which I'm trying harder and harder to avoid; but even more pragmatically, (2) if I *do* buy those bags for my own use, my sons tend to take them for their own lunches and such, so the bags disappear before I actually need them.   So even if I wanted to use ziploc bags, I can't count on their being around when I need them.

A bunch of storage jars, together with pressure canners,
waiting at the ready.
Enter giant plastic jars.  I have started stockpiling gallon jars (both glass and plastic) for storing lots of stuff -- water for emergency use, and also bug-proof storage for bulk-purchased oats and flour and soy flour and other dry goods.

I've discovered that the gallon-sized plastic jars make great freezer containers.  I used one for storing a bunch of bread cubes that were destined to become the basis of Thanksgiving stuffing, for example.  Better yet, these jars also work well for storing ookey turkey muffins, (pre-frozen, of course).

frozen turkey muffins in a gallon plastic jar.
The lid is about to go on.

So now my dog has a jar of frozen turkey pops.  yay!

Recognizing new possibilities in everyday objects.
Why do I like this so much?  It's not just because I have a frugal way to get dog treats from leftover turkey (well, not only dog treats, but also a dozen quarts of soup stock -- so the basis for twelve more family meals -- awesome!), but also because the whole process involves frugal co-opting. It's like Ariel discovering she can use a fork to comb her hair.   Well, I'm no mermaid, but I can use muffin tins to freeze dog treats.  And I'm no Amy Dacyczyn, but I can use gallon jars to store those treats.

So that's how I make frozen ookey turkey muffins.  Even dog treats can be a subject of philosophy, economy, and sustainability, I suppose.

Prewash the Dog approves this blog post.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Miser Family Update: Family^2 edition

The Miser Family at Thanksgiving
 Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household . . . and "family" has really been the operative word this week. 

Sunday was N-son's 18th birthday, marking a huge day for him as well as for me.  Woo-hoo!  I've successfully raised all my children to adulthood!  Where's my medal/trophy!?!?

N-son played drums in church, and he rocked it.  And then at home, we raked leaves and played in the yard.  N-son put his culinary skills to good use, making fried chicken, french fries, and grilled brussels sprouts for his parents, two of his sisters, and his niece A-child.

So what else?  Monday I taught my calculus classes, sent almost all of my students home for the holidays, and then on Wednesday I met up with J-son for a bit of work on some legal stuff he needs to deal with right now. 

And then on Thursday, we had 18 people for dinner:  all but one of my kids, my dad and his wife, and eight students.  It was cozy and festive gathering: the countries represented around the table included the USA, Kosovo, Vietnam, China, and Pakistan. The states included Pennsylvania, Maryland, Texas, Minnesota, Florida, New Jersey, and California.

My dad and his wife, with some of my students and children.
In the "Dang it!" category, I wish I'd remembered to take a picture of my dad and his wife together with me and my kids and my granddaughter.  Having four generations together is such a blessing.  But I did take a few photos of the gathering, with the back and side of my dad's head.  Sigh. 

After dinner, I drove J-son to his former foster mom's house for the weekend.  She continues to be an awesome presence in his life, and I can't even begin to express how grateful I am to have her as part of my extended family, and how glad I am for J-son that she is bulldog-style tenacious when it comes to keeping him on the right track.  We're all lucky to have her in our lives.

Then, the day after Thanksgiving, we went downtown for our city's annual tree-lighting ceremony.  I-daughter and N-son sang with their choir, and then the mayor lit the tree, and then we got to hear many tubas joining in harmony to play Jingle Bells and other Christmas carols.  By "we", of course, I mean I-daughter, N-son, K-daughter, and A-child -- because my husband boycotts the tubas, declaring the event to be the sound of "synchronized farting".  But I think Tuba Christmas is so much more than that.  It's Joyful music.  Cold people congregating to sing.   All that.

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