Saturday, September 20, 2014

One way to spend hundreds on groceries

This past month, I spent hundreds of dollars buying meat: I spent about four hundred dollars, in fact.  Especially for a former vegetarian like me, that's a heck of a lot of money to spend on consumable animals!

Of course, the reason I spent so much is that September is the time of year when we rev up our chest freezer for winter use.  Summer, the freezer sits empty and unplugged, but when tomatoes and corn start filling up the pantry, we know it's time to wipe down the inside of the freezer with a bit of water and bleach, plug 'er in, and fill 'er up with food that doesn't make it into canning jars.

My husband and boys are dedicated and enthusiastic carnivores, and they're also prone to impulse purchases.   So when the freezer starts up again,  I try to head off meat purchases that might be expensive/trash-intensive/questionably sourced with my own bulk purchase of hamburger and turkey kielbasa from local, organic places where I won't get styrofoam trays or excessive packaging.  And by bulk purchasing the meat, I bring the price-per-pound down, too.

But as I forked over my money it struck me . . . well, it struck me just how striking it is to pay for all of our hamburger and turkey at once.  This half-freezer-full of animal protein ought to last us for many months.  We'll buy a turkey at Thanksgiving; we'll buy pork for New Years; we might buy chicken wings for the boys' birthdays (a new family tradition), but that might be the only extra meat we buy until March.  So that's something like $16/week for a family of (now) four of us.

$400 for food sounds like a lot of money.  $16 doesn't.  This isn't profound -- it's just another example of how it's possible to think in such different ways about the same amount of money.  It's like the reverse view of that old financial chestnut about adding up the daily coffee purchase or the restaurant lunches:  "that $3/day habit means $750 spent each year on donuts!".  For me, I get my 'yoicks' up front.

I think this is another reason why I like bulk purchasing food.   When I used to shop frequently, every grocery store trip had something unusual to it, so it was hard to get an overall sense of where my money went.   There were just too danged-many purchases to keep track of.  But when I stock up on hamburger, or when I fork over (heh) $500 for  a CSA share that will provide most of our vegetables for the year, or when I take a trip to Miller's and buy enough flour and oats to tide us over for three months, well, then I have a better sense of the heft and expense that goes along with feeding my family.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Trouble brewing (coffee version)

Calamity struck our household last night -- our coffee grinder stopped working.
A very clean, but newly dysfunctional, coffee grinder, 
Of course, this is not really calamity, but the way my husband and I reeled from the blow, you'd think we'd have just discovered our car totaled by the side of the road, or the roof blown off the house.   Immediate action was required.  "Do we go out and buy a new one right now?  on a Sunday night?"   "Can we find some pre-ground coffee somewhere to tide us over?"  

My own head was racing with methods for what I call "preventative shopping"  -- that is, ways to buy a grinder on the cheap so my un-frugal husband wouldn't go to Starbucks or the Mall to get a high-end grinder at full price.  Stalling tactics were in order, so I could buy time instead of buying expensive machinery.

It's worse than I've described so far, though, because it wasn't just that the grinder stopped working all by itself.  Oh, no.  It's that I broke it.    I'd decided it was too dirty, and so I cleaned it with baking soda and toothbrushes and scrubbers, and then I rinsed it off under a running faucet.  And the water bath was just too much.  Cleaning had been over-kill, literally.

How miserably embarrassing.

My husband was nice enough not to actively blame me, even though we really were both in that tense let's-not-panic mode that could easily have led to finger-pointing.  But of course I knew this was all my fault.  So we came up with a plan, of sorts.
Stage 1: We found pre-ground coffee on our shelves, enough to last us a few days. Phew!
Stage 2: I got out the screwdriver and took the contraption apart in hopes of . . . what?  A coffee miracle?  I wasn't sure.
Stage 3: I immersed the dis-assembled coffee grinder in a bag of rice. I figured, if this works for some cell phones, maybe it works for coffee grinders, too.
The next morning I woke up, went for my usual Monday morning run, and then waited for my husband to leave the house so that if my "repair" didn't work, at least I could fail without an audience.  I shook the rice out of the grinder area, reassembled the grinder and . . .

Yay!   Grounds for Celebration!
A clean AND functional grinder!  yay!


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Awful vs. Awesome?

Long, long ago, when I was in a high school English class, I remember my classmates and I being mystified by "the awful Persephone".   Why was it that the beautiful woman from Greek Mythology, the one who reigned as the Queen of the Dead, was referred to as "awful Persephone"?  Hesiod seemed to think she was kind, beautiful, and good at heart.  So why "awful"?

Our teacher explained that Persephone was so amazing that she left people full of awe -- we should think of the adjective more like "awesome".  That explanation made sense to me, and it set me up for a better life-long understanding of the connection between love, reverence, and fear.

I think back to Persephone when I had two "awful Mama" conversations this summer.  Twice in the past few months, K-daughter had big announcements she wanted to share with me, and both time she was quaking about my possible reaction.  Here's part of the first quake-in-her-shoes moment.

Because I'm afraid of your reaction as to what I'm about to say, I decided to send you an email to say it. 
Yesterday, [my boyfriend] asked me how I felt about the idea of moving in with him. My immediate thought was; "Oh my God, I wouldn't even know how to ask [MiserMama]!" because I don't want to hurt your feelings or make it seem like I always want to leave home. I like to travel and find new experiences in life, and I would treat this like one of them. So, in turn of me freaking out, I asked [I-daughter] for some advice since she knows you well. She mentioned that you most likely will not have hurt feelings, but, I still worry. She also mentioned that you would ask about my plans for school, if I decide to do this.  . . . 
I'm worried to mention this to you because I'm scared you'll be mad, sad, skeptical etc. I also don't know how you feel about [my boyfriend] . . . Another thing that makes me anxious is, can I still come home for dinner and to visit and to stay the weekend if I want to? Because I know I'll miss you guys if this is what I decide to do.  
I hope you're not mad, I love and care about you and our family a lot, I'm just looking for a new adventure of life lessons I guess... And I guess I'm a bit crazy for searching. 
 Okay, now, of course I'm not even in the slightest upset, and in fact, I wasn't even all that surprised.  K-daughter is 22 years old.  She's really only lived with us for three years.

But I'm touched that my opinion matters so much to her, that she wants so much to live up to expectations that she feels I'm setting for her.  I'm so glad that I can reach out in love to this young woman who clearly wants to be loved.  And to be loved by me.

The second big announcement was that K-daughter will, sometime next spring, be a mother herself.  And in spite of all that impending motherhood means to someone still working toward finishing her college degree, the scariest part once again was telling me.  Oh, poor kid.

At one point in our conversation, full of anticipation and reassurances and joy, I got to tell my daughter this:
Someday, maybe twenty years from now, your own child will come to you and say, "Mom, I have something to tell you and I don't know how you're going to react."  And what are you going to say to your child, K-daughter?  You're going to say, "I'm your mother and I love you.  No matter what you do, that's never going to change.  I love you and I want you to be happy."  That's what you'll say to your child, and that's what I'm saying to you now.  
K-daughter is going to be an awesome mom.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Tomato of my Eye


This is what I did on Saturday:  I bought $22 worth of tomatoes, onions, and peppers.  And then I spent five hours in the kitchen canning them up.

Because I live in the heart of Amish farmland and because it's September, produce is local, plentiful, and cheap right now.  The money I spent bought me something like 60 pounds of tomatoes, which turned into 3- or 4-dozen quarts of spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato juice. 

Because I have the jars already, canning expenses are minimal.  In fact, for most of my canning-savvy friends, the lids are the only additional expense.  But a few years ago, I took a chance on Tattler Reusable lids.  And they work great.  On the down side, they don't "ping" like metal lids, and I'll occasionally have one or two jars out of 12 that doesn't seal.   But on the up side, there's no trash, and I don't have to go buy any supplies at all just because I've decided to can up some food.

But the day was WAY even better than putting up a bunch of food for cheap.  Because J-son was needing to earn some Mom-Money toward a new phone, he dedicated himself to helping me prepare the tomatoes.  I put him in charge of washing, coring, and dicing the tomatoes.  This means he got to practice using the cuisinart.  (Yay, machines!)
  
While he prepared the tomatoes, I did all the hot-water stuff: getting the canner going, sanitizing jars, heating up the sauce, filling jars.  We had a great time grooving to David Ball serenading us with "Riding with Private Malone"  and Linda Rondstadt rocking us to "You're No Good".
But in spite of Linda's tauntings, we were good.  J-son was delightedly proud of himself for helping me zoom through the tomatoes.  And we talked about the lyrics, about what it means for soldiers to return home, about driving cars.  And we high-fived each other for finishing up so quickly.

And I thought about how it's been several months since I've felt the need to install locks on doors; this son of mine seems to have forded his way past the miserable, stormy times of sticky-fingered-ness.  Maybe it's the Quaker Local School (our motto: "Better than Jail"), or maybe it's that he's just a bit older, or maybe it's that his father is home from the army.  But whatever it is, J-son seems to have turned a very good corner.  Praise Heaven.

And now, we have a bit of summer preserved for the upcoming cold months.  We'll get to taste this summer even in February.



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Miser (Grand) Mom

Things never seem to be "normal" in my home.  When I finished my IronMan and everybody asked "so, what's next?", I had to make up a variety of silly answers:

  • "The IronMan was my turn; now it's your turn to do something!"
  • "I'm going to be Department Chair."
(This last one is funny for academics, who think of being department chair as some kind of penal servitude). 

But now I have a better answer.  What's next?  I'm going to be a grandma!  K-daughter tells me that my grandchild is due to arrive sometime in March, right around the time of my 49th birthday. 

******
There is so much more to say.  More like, K-daughter has moved out of our home and in with her boyfriend.  More like, telling me was apparently the scariest part of the pregnancy so far.  More like,  progress toward the college degree is highly non-linear, and likely to be more so.

But for now, I'll just publicly say I'm looking forward to being Miser Nana.  My first grandchild is on the way.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Time Artist

The past few days have been sort of, y'know, perfect.   I've done a little bit of everything that I loved -- in the mornings I did short runs with a friend,  later I banged out some memos and syllabi (well in advance of deadlines), I did a few mid-day errands on my bike, I went nectarine-picking with my daughters, I met with students . . . it truly is just a wonderful time of year.  

Fifty four pounds of nectarines and a fresh batch of granola:
a snapshot of a happy morning together with my daughters.
I know that things will get crazy-busy in the future.  But for now, with the new semester ahead of me, I can join all the naive optimists around me in believing that somehow I'll manage to continue to live this life in a way that is, well, perfect.  (One of my advisees, a sweet and earnest student who failed a few courses last year, told me confidently that his plan is to get a 4.0 GPA this semester.  He and I, we're in LaLa Land, but we're happy -- so don't wake us up!)

I'm trying to scaffold all these dreams by imagining myself as a "time artist" -- I look at the canvas of events and activities lying ahead of me, and I paint on it.  Or perhaps I am more of a sculptor: I'm carving out time to spend with my children.  I'm carving out time to ride my bike, and to thank people who helped me train this summer, and to spend some time alone, and to write exquisitely organized memos.  

Today, I'll teach my first class of the semester, and I'll curate the vast collection of incoming email that the new semester brings.  Tonight, we'll can up the nectarines and some pears, preserving some of these wonderful end-of-summer days so that we can feast on August, even in February.  I'll plan "dates" with my sons.  I'll go for a walk with my husband.  Life is good.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A new beginning, again

Oh, I love this time of year!

We're teetering on the edge of a new semester.  First-year students have shown up on campus, and they're full of nervous energy, bursting with grand ideas about the future.  My former students are trickling back from far away places, and they're surprised how much coming back to the campus feels like coming "home".  Everywhere I walk on campus, there are hugs, greetings, exclamations of joy at seeing people long-separated from one another.

The faculty are a bit more sober.  My colleagues are, as every year, visibly stunned by the speed with which the summer flew past us.  Projects we thought we'd have finished, they still loom large.  A wave of paperwork in the form of syllabi, annual evaluations, and course rosters threatens to capsize us and dash us against the wall of September.  And yet, even among the professoriate, there is anticipation, high hope, even occasional giddy optimism about the promise of a new academic year.  I soak this up like a sponge.

Last year, my family obligations occupied much of my attentions.  My husband was off at the army for three months and my children each had their own versions of a Horrible time.  This year, life seems to have mercifully smoothed out for the children, and my husband is not only not traveling, but he's dropped down to part-time work, so he'll be the primary parent.  Miser Mom will be more and more of a Miser Mathematician, and also a Miser Manager (because I've taken on some big administrative duties this year).

Between the start of the semester and all the IronMan training I did this summer, I've done precious little yard sale-ing.  My canning jar collection is mostly empty.  But my syllabus is almost done, and my students are buzzing happily through the hallways; it's going to be a great fall.