Saturday, May 27, 2017

Miser Family update, reunion edition

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

Last week I wrote about N-son's performances and school news; what I didn't say is that he was on the verge of becoming a formal member of our church (a process which includes taking theology classes during Sunday school for several weeks, and then taking vows in front of the congregation).  I've included some pictures of the vows below.  My husband and I are super proud of him.

As for me, I've had a week of reconnecting.  Out of the blue I got an email from a pair of my former favorite students, from completely different classes, who bumped into each other in a bar, and then, as they said, "Pretty crazy that two people randomly meet in a bar, realize they went to fandm, and then the first person they talk about is you."  
Friday morning, I had another former student visit for waffle brunch, and he and his wife told me they're expecting twins.  yay! I'm going to be a grandma again (of sorts)!   Then, On Friday and Saturday, then I went to my 30th college reunion and got to reconnect with a bunch of classmates (including my freshman roommates, who as freshmen looked very much like the pictures below, but less than half as old).  And tomorrow --- which I know is next week's news, but which thematically fits well with the "reconnecting" theme --- I'm going to another former student's wedding.  

J-son has met a new friend named Rafael who has spent the night here, and who hosted J-son in return another night or two.  J-son is still enjoying boxing and hoping to make it a long-term profession.  We're still at odds trying to think about what might be the best plan for him next year -- his final year of high school, now that welding has fallen through.  Traditional classes don't hold much appeal for him, either, so we're glad for his social connections and boxing connections, and thinking hard about how these might help shape a more professional future for him.

My granddaughter Baby-A is obsessed with lawnmowers.  Every time we head out the back door, she mentions the lawnmower (and she does so over and over, in the way that only a two year old can).  Often, indoors she'll invoke the awesomeness  of the "mawnmower", as well.  She gives us a play-by-play description of her uncles N-son and J-son when they're mowing the lawn.  So, by now, all six of us who are living here in my home get the giggles whenever we think of lawnmowers.  

My husband went to Philadelphia for his weekly "Tuesdays with Toomey" protest, and he went to New York City where he surrendered his passport to the Russian consulate; he'll pick up his passport together with a visa from them next week.  The bike trip from Odessa to Finland is getting closer and closer, and we're all getting more and more excited.

I've been reading through many old letters my grandfather wrote, trying to figure out which ones to save for posterity.  He was an avid and encouraging letter writer, and it's lots of fun to see history through his eyes.  He wrote so many letters I don't want to try to save them all.  But I thought I'd rescue this one "PS" he sent to my mom and dad in November of 1965, a few months after he'd been informed that my mom was pregnant (with me!).  

What charge is placed against an elephant who lives in a messy house?
Ans;  Trunk and disorderly.  Hurry up and produce me an heir so that she-she-them may grow up and provide Gramps with a new generation of proper mentality at least until age 6, to appreciate his wonderful gags.

And indeed, I do appreciate his gags, even at almost ten-times-age-6.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

Selling students' stuff

On Sunday, my college hosted our now-annual end-of-year yard sale, where we sell of the stuff our students leave behind.   Now, I don't work at a humongous college.  (We bill ourselves as a "small liberal arts college", with fewer than 3000 students).

Futons, shelves, floor lamps, table lamps, toasters, printers, fans . . . 

And because of the way our dorms are set up (with older students living off campus), we pretty much only get to sell things that the departing first-year students left behind, with some stuff from sophomores as well, but hardly any donations from juniors or seniors.  So we're missing the "good" stuff from our many apartment dwellers.

pillows, foam rolls, mattress pads
(in another area, we had piles upon piles of bed and bath linens)

So we only got castoffs from a fraction of our students, and even then, we only got fraction of what those students discarded, because many students tossed whatever wouldn't fit into their cars into the dumpsters outside the dorms.  Some people are just too rushed/lazy/distracted/whatever to sort things, even though we tried really hard to make the donation areas highly visible and easy.  
Toys, clothes, and (just out of sight) tables of household goods,
food, laundry detergent, toiletries, school supplies, books, . . . 
In spite of the winnowing -- that is, although we rescued only a fraction of the discards from only a fraction of the students at a fairly small school -- we managed to make use of much of our basketball gym, with tables and tables of goods, and piles and piles of clothes, and lots and lots of household items for sale.

A view from my "check out" stand, at one corner of the gym.

The pictures above look devoid of people because I took them all just before we opened the doors to the community.  (The people in light blue shirts are all the volunteers who are helping to staff the event).  When we open the doors at noon, it's like a Rolling Stones concert -- people just pour in.  Seriously, they wait for an hour before the sale starts in a line that stretches around the block, and within three minutes of the doors opening we have hundreds of people filling up this gym.    I took the picture below just as the doors opened -- and after that, I couldn't take photos because I was so busy as the check-out person.

The crowd entering the sale, at 12:00 exactly.
We had several hundred people fill the gym.

We sell all this stuff at the very high end of Miser Mom prices:  $1 per item, or $5 per grocery bag, or $15 per garbage bag.  Even at those prices, we made almost $3000, all of which is going to local charities.

This event is one of my favorite days of the year, because it's what some of my friends call a "Triple Win":

  • a win, because we keep tons of stuff out of the landfill, 
  • a win again because community members (some of them, resettled refugees) get to furnish their homes and get clothes for bargain prices, and 
  • a third win because all the money goes to help other good causes.  
I'd add a fourth and maybe even a fifth possible win:

  • organizing this event has built and strengthened ties between our college and some of the groups that help up us with the carrying/sorting/pricing/staffing of the event.  I'm loving the stronger social network.
  • And finally, almost anyone I've seen who has ever been to this sale marvels at how much the students leave behind, and they are very likely to think twice about how they buy (or not) things for their own college-bound children.  Or maybe even how they buy things for themselves.
This last point feels like a mantra of mine:  we do live in a world of abundance -- it's so easy to live on the leftovers of others around us, if you have the patience and the knowledge of how to discover where those leftovers become available.  

But mostly, I just love this yard sale that we do every year.  Every year, when we clean up the gym at 3:00, we compare the small amount of bags and boxes we have remaining against the mounds and mounds and mounds of material goods we started with, and we feel so good about rescuing so many perfectly good items from their untimely demise in a landfill.  Then we go home and rest our achey muscles, and admire our "new" pair of shoes or office chair or some such, and we pack up the supplies to get ready for next year's sale.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Miser Family Update: culinary/jobs/body/Russia version

N-son leads the family in having noteworthy news this week.  Firstly, he had an end-of-year squash banquet (see the photo, below, of him chatting with K-daughter at this event);
secondly, he played drums for a kick-butt pair of songs at an open-mic night at a nearby restaurant (see the photo of him and the other musicians breaking down the drum set afterward).
And perhaps happiest of all, he found out he's making it into next year's all day culinary arts program through his high school.  Whoop!  That's fantastic news indeed!

Speaking of K-daughter, she's gotten a part-time job at our local Y, which is another cause for celebration around here.  She's looking for even more substantial jobs, and has gotten a few good nibbles.  We're all optimistic.  I'm really enjoying the many opportunities I'm getting to spend time with my granddaughter Baby-A.

J-son's new profile photo
J-son sparred again this week, and again won his sparring match.  Also, he updated his Facebook profile photo.  This isn't the kind of thing I'd normally consider newsworthy, but his new photo (taken by a friend of his) is a really vivid illustration of how much he's grown -- metaphorically and literally -- since he joined our family.  

J-son and N-son in 2010,
when J-son first moved into our home
I'm loving the "after" and "before" pictures I included below.  J-son doesn't so much love the "before" pictures -- but that's really the point, isn't it?  (My sister will probably recognize the boxing-glove necklace he's wearing, which she gave him for Christmas.  He loves that bit of bling).

My husband is riding home from his latest 100-mile bike ride even as I type this blog post.  He's getting more and more excited about his trip to Russia.  Earlier this week, he took the train to New York City to visit the Russian consulate, in hopes of getting his visa.  Alas, he didn't have the right paperwork and was sent home to try again -- so he's training both athletically and bureaucratically now.   Earlier in the week, he attended his regular "Tuesdays with Toomey" protest (this week's theme: incarceration and race).

As for me, my husband and I both voted in the under-appreciated odd-year primary races, which makes me feel highly virtuous.  Yay, civic duty!  And as May grows old,  I'm doing my best to transition into summer mode.  For me, "summer" means three things: 
  1. more time for math (my summer research student started working with me this week, plus I'm throwing myself into my next book);
  2. better weather for gardening (I transplanted my tomatoes, and I started getting super serious about weeding and staking the other garden beds);
  3. dedication to fitness.  (I've added upper body exercises into my mostly-running regimen, in hopes of getting my strength back.  My December bike crash is mostly a distant memory, except for the fact that my left arm strength is a pitiful shadow of what it once was. I don't want to lose my pre-crash strength permanently).

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Living frugal water

So, a week or two ago, my pastor preached on John Chapter 4-something, the woman at the well.  This is the passage where Jesus tells a Samaritan woman (not an one of the Chosen People, but one of those, y'know, other people) that he's Living Water.  And that anyone who drinks of Him will never go thirsty.  And he suggests pretty strongly that she ought to get the recipe for this drink, and she agrees and essentially posts it up to Pinterest.

As my pastor was preaching along, I doodled in my church bulletin, in the white space reserved for taking notes about the sermon.   I'm pretty good at listening, but I'm really pretty awful at taking notes, and I admit I sort of drift into half-listening while half-thinking-about-math.  Ducks apparently sleep with half of their brains as they keep guard with the other half; maybe that's what I'm doing in church, too.

What I doodled sort of looks like a building with floors and no walls, drawn in two-point perspective. but it has geometric applications to something called Steiner conics. You don't need to know the details; suffice it to say that what I was drawing was actually kind of related to my research (kind of sort of), and that I could doodle it while being my own species of Theology-Math Duck.

Math is where I go when I'm bored.  Math is where I go when I'm curious.  This past year, when I was swamped with work on a deadline-intensive, paper-work-heavy committee, I procrastinated by doing math.  And so now, even when I'm sitting around in a pew on Sunday morning -- worshiping and praying and then waiting to hear my faith expounded in a new light -- I worship while doodling math.

The sermon made me appreciate this nerdy side of me all the more.  My People, when we get to this chapter of the New Testament, we love to quote how John Piper described an answer to his own questioning 1988 prayer about why the heck Living Water didn't make him somehow stop being thirsty. The answer he got as he knelt was this:
When you drink my water it doesn’t destroy thirst. For then what need would you have of my water after that? When you drink my water it makes a spring in you. A spring satisfies thirst not by removing the need you have for water, but by being there to drink from when you get thirsty. Again and again and again. 
Not that the Lord of the Universe is the same thing as Steiner conics, mind you, but there's some wonderful parallel there about promising to be there to satisfy and refresh you exactly when you need it.

A friend of ours has had her daughter move back home recently.  The daughter is/was married to a guy with a heroin addiction.  Heroin is not, I think, Living Water.  The daughter coped with her situation by online shopping for Every Wonderful Thing, and she is now broke, surrounded by piles and piles of things she has no room for, and facing bankruptcy.  Online shopping is also not Living Water, I'd wager.

Neither is projective geometry the same thing as Living Water, I have to admit.  But as I did my Duck-listen to the Sunday sermon, I couldn't help but think about how glad I am for the kinds of desires that people can have that nurture us, rather than destroy us.  And how many of those build-you-up-and-feed-you desires are really frugal at heart.  I'm thinking of
  • going running with friends, and
  • memorizing poetry, and
  • bike riding (for my husband), and
  • playing drums (for N-son), and
  • reading books, and 
  • creating art out of plain stuff and fancy imagination, and 
  • a really good quiet time (praying or meditating or walking or such).
How wonderful it is to practice these things that ground us, that fill us, that make us stronger and happier and fill our lives (and maybe those around us) with richness.  

I have no idea what my pastor would think about this.  Maybe it's sacrilege to draw these kinds of parallels between that which is Holy and that which is earthly.  On the other hand, it was the Son of God Himself who compared his divinity to one of the most mundane and familiar molecules on earth, so maybe it's not so horrible that the ducks and I paddle around half here, half elsewhere.   I dunno.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Miser Family Update: Bones, Jobs, and Hat version

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

chicken bones, a la commemoration
On Tuesday, we celebrated (?) the ten-year anniversary of my husband's bike accident.  Okay, I know he's had *lots* of bike accidents, and we don't commemorate *all* of them.  The accident with the ten-year anniversary was the only crash he had where he broke his neck, and fortunately he got better.  So we celebrated with chicken, and chicken bones.   Because broken bones.

What else happened this week?  I trash-picked an awesome easel for my granddaughter Baby-A, and she and K-daughter have been loving using it.  There is mondo Art happening in my home.  Speaking of K-daughter and Baby-A, I have a lovely picture of them both doing head stands together.  Adorable.

N-son got a job -- he's doing yard work for a family in our neighborhood. Since I've been nagging both of my sons on a semi-regular basis about the importance of getting summer jobs, I am very, very (very) happy about this right now.

J-son got a sneak peek at the welding program that he'd signed up for next year.  And, unfortunately, he decided that this particular welding program is not for him.  (His dad and I agree, reluctantly).  J-son showed up for orientation and faced an auditorium full of rural white farm kids.  This is definitely *not* his social scene . . . and since J-son is more sensitive to social cues than, say, N-son is, this really isn't a good fit for him.  We're exploring alternatives for his senior year of high school, while looking forward to post-high school welding programs at our nearby excellent school of technology.  But it is a bit of a bummer that he won't do welding in his senior year.
the easel I trash-picked from the side of the road,
already heavily decorated

I-daughter has headed overseas; if she's reading this blog post, it's because she found an internet connection in Ireland, where she's on an Emerald Island Knitting Tour. Is that cool, or what?!?

Now that classes have ended, my husband has divided his time somewhat equally between (1) worrying about our sons, (2) attending political protests, and (3) getting ready for his trans-Russia bike ride (which is now less than a month away).  There is lots of paperwork involved in all three of these (especially 1 and 3), and there are important doctor visits regarding 3.  

And me, I have been banging out the latest draft of one of my math papers, plus I got to go to Commencement.  Dad tells me that his dad, my grandfather, used to say, "I teach for free, but they don't pay me nearly enough to go to Commencement."  But I love going to Commencement.  This year I'm especially happy that I have my cap and gown that Mom and Dad got for me 25 years ago.  I almost lost my cap after Convocation in August, and I've spent months agonizing over the loss.  But I discovered early this week that my cap had gotten a promotion -- it had inadvertently been packed up with all the Trustee caps and gowns.  My cap and I were reunited on Tuesday when the Trustee gowns were unpacked, and I got to wear it today (Saturday) with all due pomp and splendor.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Getting into a pickle (juice)

Vegetable season is upon us.  Our CSA shares have started rolling in again.  Huzzah!

Of course, together with an abundance of vegetables comes an abundance of vegetable preparation.  I've said before that I've become a fan of trying to chop and store the veggies right away so that (a) they don't wilt before we get to them and (b) they look like snacks or dinner or lunch, instead of like potted plants taking up space in the fridge.

Here's one of my fave helpers these past few weeks:  two jars of pickle juice, left over from purchased pickles my husband and sons like.

The reason that one jar of juice looks red is because it held radishes for a while (and then we ate the radishes).

Pickle brine is wonderful for a few reasons.  One reason is that the combination of vinegar and salt (mostly the vinegar) serves as a preservative, keeping the food from going bad.  The traditional use of pickling is to preserve summer food long into winter, but it also works for preserving Tuesday food well into the weekend.  At any rate, my radishes never got soggy or wilty, even though I left them in the jar on the counter for several days before we actually got around to taste-testing them.  (In fact, leaving them out on the counter is better for pickling them than sticking them in the fridge).

The other big reason that pickle brine is wonderful is that pickle brine adds taste, making veggies even more yummy.  People love acidic foods (soft drinks being a prime example of this preference gone bad), and salt is so danged good it's become a Biblical metaphor for awesomeness.  Plus, there are a few other sugars and spices in the commercial pickles that just add to the overall flavor. I don't think that any of my kids or husband would have looked at a bowl of sliced radishes and thought, Yum!  Snack!  But pickled radishes are actually quite munch-able.

If you're a pickle neophyte, you'll be happy to hear that learning to pickle foods is like learning checkers: the basic rules are so easy anyone can start playing, but if you're super serious, you can get more complicated.  The basic rules of pickling are these:
  1. wash and cut up the vegetables
  2. put them in the brine.
That's it.  As you learn more about pickling you learn things like, the flavor deepens if you wait a few days; you can speed-up or enhance the process by heating the brine properly (one recipe I saw suggested leaving the jar on a sunny window sill for the first day); you can muck around with spices; etc.  But since all I want to do is to have my CSA vegetables wind up in people's tummies instead of on the compost heap by the end of the week, steps 1 and 2 are just perfect for us.   I'm not going to go all radichal with my radishes.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Squash that advice

Every once in a while, I get to see the financial world through other people's eyes -- that is, the eyes of people who think of shopping as entertainment, who confuse spending with wealth, and who think of debt as not only normal but also necessary.  I sort of like being in my own frugal bubble most of the time, but  I also don't mind emerging every once in a while to rub elbows with non-frugalists (if that's a word).  I know that those people are out there.   I know that they mostly get along fine in their non-frugal lives.   But I didn't think that those people would masquerade as financial advisors for young adults.

And yet, I was wrong.  Last fall, N-son's squash team coach decided to do the very admirable thing (I thought) of bringing in an "expert" from a local Credit Union to give a presentation to the players on the team and their families. We got to have pizza, we "learned" about finances, and we had a Q&A at the end.  I was totally jazzed for this event, figuring it would be great to have my kids hear about the importance of financial prudence from someone other than me, for a change.  But sheesh!   If you're going to teach kids to be responsible with money, maybe you ought to have the teacher be someone who is actually responsible with money, y'know?

The "teacher" in this scenario was a relatively young person who worked at a nearby Credit Union.  She'd been provided with a script and a power point presentation, but it was clear that she didn't entirely understand the script she'd been given, especially when it came to debt.  For example, here are some of the notes I jotted down, once I realized (to my horror) what she was telling these middle/high school kids and their parents.
  • The only way to get a car is with debt, she implied. She and her husband bought a car with a 5-year loan, and her car died after three years.  “Oh well, that’s what happens!”
  • "You want to have a little bit of debt so you build up your credit card rating."
  • "Debt is just a fact of life.    Everybody has debt; I do, too!  Life happens."
  • "The average American has $40,000 of credit card debt."    (How she came up with that number, I do not know.  Nerd wallet says the average debt is $16K, but that's among American households -- not individuals -- and even then, it's only among households that have debt in the first place.  PR newswire says that, contrary to what our presenter said, one in four Americans is debt free.) 
It was not surprising, then then the rest of her presentation was . . . well . . . not exactly the kind of a presentation a Miser Mom would have given.   Her power point said that people should have an emergency account, which she translated as 
  • Get a 3-months-of-expenses savings account in place before you attack debt.
(I know that there are other reasonable people who would agree with her; I just think that attacking high-interest credit card debt is probably more urgent than putting money into a low-interest-bearing savings account, especially if building up that much of a cushion is going to take you a year or more).

Her power point presentation told her that she should urge people to think about long-term financial goals.  This advice, she translated into the following example:
  • "Our long-term goal: My husband and I want to buy a house in five years. "
(I'd have said that a 5-year plan is a medium-term goal; "long-term" goals would be more along the lines of retirement, or children's college funds, or other goals for 10+ years into the future.  If you buy a house but don't have a longer-term savings plan that includes maintenance and upkeep, you're in for a rude awakening when you start getting those repair bills).

Speaking of retirement and long-term savings, she had this to say:  
  • "They say 'Invest with mutual funds', and I guess that’s not a bad thing to do.  It’s okay to invest your money."
Ummm . . .  it's "okay" to invest money?  It's "not bad"?!?!??   This, from the person who works at a credit union?!?  

Sheesh.  What I will say about this presentation is that, when the speaker was done, the other parents started speaking up.  They emphatically told the kids that "if you rack up debt, you'll find out that there are lots of things you want to do in life that become way more expensive, or even impossible".  One of the moms told heartfelt stories about the dangers of credit card debt leading to difficulties renting a decent apartment.  I was worried that if I said anything I'd be too strident, but the other parents had no problem jumping in and starting a bit of a rant.  It was nice to find that I had compadres in the room, after all.