Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The dark recesses of my linen closet

In one sense, my linen closet is pretty danged well-organized and de-cluttered these days.  There was a time, the towels and sheets and what-not were jammed in every which way, and they overflowed the shelves.   Nowadays, some of the shelves are nearly empty; and well-labelled boxes collect odds and ends like lightbulbs (and lightbulb receipts), toilet paper, towels, and first-aid stuff, each to their own box.   It's easy to put things away in the right place, and it's easy to find things when we need them.

But in another sense, this closet is an Ebenezer Scrooge, with the ghost of Hoarding Past rattling its chains and prophesying future unhappiness.

The closet looks fine, as long as everything stays put in this particular place . . . but in a year or two, we're hoping to move to a new, smaller house.  And for all that the visible spaces of our home are looking more-and-more clutter-free, I know that means that the clutter has gone into hiding.   I've started looking into the backs of our closets, trying to figure out how to get rid of the long-forgotten, no-longer-wanted things we don't even realize we own -- get rid of them before the days when we're moving the whole house at once.  When we start pulling out boxes to pack them into that moving truck, what's in the closet that we don't want to move?

Well, we have more towels and sheets than my husband and I will need . . . but probably, a bunch of the linens will go to N-son and/or J-son as we help them get started up.  So no purging needed there, at least not yet.  I'm also not worried about having too much toilet paper.  Um, yeah.  And probably the lightbulb box is fine, although I admit I haven't scrutinized it closely lately.

But the first-aid box yielded a treasure-trove of objects that deserve a place in someone else's home now.    Because, really, do we need three slings?  (Actually, we had four slings, but one of them had a foam pad that disintegrated and left yucky dust on everything it touched, so we ditched that.  Therefore, we only had to wonder if we need three useable slings, not four).

No, we really don't.  We're not planning to break three arms anytime soon.  My husband and I discussed this briefly, and we agreed we actually don't need any slings at all:  even if we do decide to break an arm again, we're pretty sure we can get a sling from the hospital along with some lovely matching non-skid socks.  So, good-bye, slings!

Except that saying good-bye to slings isn't as easy as it sounds.  A Freecycle post yielded no takers.  I called a local health center that serves a lot of the low-income neighbors, but they had no way to accept donations.   I offered the slings to the missionary who travels to Haiti (the one who helps us connect with X-son, a child-turned-young-man we've supported), but she's incommunicado right now.  It's possible that our local rescue mission -- which has it's own health care team, could use the supplies -- we're working on that that now.  So it's good that we've got  a long stretch of leisure time for re-homing these things.

Also formerly in the first aid box, but not any longer: hot and cold things.  We seem to have acquired a rather amazing variety of hot water bottles, ice packs, and microwaveable heat pads.  We sorted these out into the (small) pile we do use, and the (larger) pile we don't use.    The larger pile got listed on Freecycle, and went within 48 hours to someone who does massages.    So, they've emerged from the dark recesses of our closet, into the light, and from there to a home where they'll get used and appreciated.  Good.

We also decided to keep a knee brace and a wrist brace, and so those will stay in the closet with the small pile of hot/cold packs, when they're not on our knees and wrists.  Therefore, one box in the linen closet of our upstairs hallway is now streamlined for usefulness.  Phew.

But our home has a lot of closets.   A lot of spaces where it's easy to put things and forget them.  I have a feeling that the next few years are going to give me a lot of reasons to poke around into the past.  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Miser Family Update: Borrowed and time edition

Shrimp Quesadillas and Salmon at the culinary institute
Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family.   The week kicked off with my husband's very, very, very favorite day of the year:  the day the clocks spring forward.  Yay! Because, biking late in the day in sunshine!  Which he did that very Sunday, and many other days this week, despite the wind and cold that also accompanies mid March.

I trimmed N-son's hair this week.   The only reason that's even worth mentioning is that, when he was hunting around on the internet for "black boy haircuts" I could give him, one of the images was his own head -- a dragon haircut I'd carved on his scalp when he was, I dunno, 10 years old, and that I'd posted on my blog.  He decided not to repeat that design this time, however; instead I gave him a lightning bolt over one ear.

Awkward lunch selfie.  
Mid-March means spring break for me, and I celebrated by (a) catching up on committee work, (2) catching up on sleep by taking daily naps, (also) catching up on seeing several friends.  [Plus, math. Yay for math inspiration!]  I had a good friend come over for dinner with I-daughter early in the week; the next day several of us (I-daughter and N-son and I) went to visit a former student who, together with his wife, has 5-month-old twins.  (Twins, I should add, who have delicious toes.   I love me baby toes!)  And also delicious was a lunch later in the week at N-son's culinary arts school.    And we rounded out the week with dessert at our church care group.

To get to all these places this week was a bit more of a challenge than usual because our car, still recovering from having slipped into a ditch a few weeks ago, is in the body shop waiting for a new bumper.  Well, waiting for an old junk-yard bumper, because the car *is* a 2001 prius, after all, but a new-to-it bumper.  We were fortunate to have friends who loaned us cars for two of the more distant trips, and we're even more fortunate that we can bike to nearby places, in spite of the wind and the cold.  So hoorah for friends, and for yummy food, and also for sunshine late in the day. 

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

Seeds-in-dirt time

Seeds in bags, with a bucket of dirt in the background.
(Don't you think it's funny that I use a laundry-soap
bucket to hold dirt?)

It's that time of year again.  Time to put seeds in dirt.

I get less and less terrified of the process every year.  What the heck, I've already killed so many plants, a few more won't make me cry. I've also raised a surprising number of miracles, and have learned to just keep stuffing tiny little specks into the ground until something, suddenly succeeds.  When something does succeed, it's delicious.

Plus, I have more seeds than I know what to do with.  They're not going to grow in my drawer, so if they're going to die anyway, I might as well let them die in dirt.    Oh, and I also have a bucket of dirt for them to die in.  Unless they don't die, in which case I get to do a little happy dance, and eat things.

So, per my usual mid-March routine, I pulled a few dozen empty canning jars out of the basement.  Add dirt, add seeds, add water.  Put lids lightly on top to keep the moisture in.  Put the jars in the "school bus" that I trash picked from my neighbor's curb last summer, and stick the whole shebang in a southern window.

Catchin' the rays, man.
I planted a dozen jars of tomato seeds.  I also planted a different dozen jars of . . . something else.  They might be tomatoes, or maybe peppers; the envelope wasn't labeled, and I'm not entirely sure.  I tell you, it's seeds in dirt.  Something will happen, or it won't.  If it happens, I'll eat it.

I love this time of year.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A time to worry

Since I love my planner, and since I love to schedule events into my planner, and since I love to make to-do lists in my planner, and since I practically cuddle with my planner every morning as I map out my day . . . since I love all these planner-esque things, maybe it makes sense that I occasionally schedule "time to worry" into my planner.

Well, I don't actually call it "time to worry".  But here's the way it usually goes:  I notice a lump, or a rash, or some kind of ache that is either (a) perfectly normal or else (b) a sign of my impending death, I'm not sure which.  What to do?  I don't want to pester my doctor with every minor mosquito bite . . . but I also don't want to let something serious turn into something even more serious.   Because I've seen the latter happen to a couple of people I love, and it wasn't good.

So, what I do is this:  I pull out my planner, and I choose a day two weeks in the future, and I write, "skin rash, left side of neck ([today's date])".    Or "stomach ache ([today's date])".   And then I give myself permission --- actually, even a mandate --- to not fret about the problem for two weeks.

The thing is, so far, every single time I've done this, the problem has disappeared.   And so I make the note, and I get to two weeks from now, and I get to have a brief, pre-scheduled moment of contentment and relief:  I'd totally forgotten I might have been on the brink of fatal disease, but in fact, I'm fine.  Life is good.

I got to share this technique with K-daughter a month or so ago.  She texted me, in a bit of a pother:
K:  I've been dizzy for like, 3 days now. It started the day that I only got an hour of sleep. But ive had two nights of sleep since and I still feel off. I know i haven't been eating nearly as much... But i ate a lit today. Do you think i should worry?
 Me: I schedule "worry" days in my planners sometimes. When I get an itchy rash that is *obviously* cancer, or a stomach ache after doing sit-ups (also, obviously cancer), etc, I put a note to myself one or two weeks out in my calendar. If I still itch or ache, I know the start date and then I can take it to the doctor.
Me again: I've done this a dozen or so times, and never had to go to the doctor. It gets more reassuring each time I make myself a note.
And it's true.  The more I practice scheduling the "worry" days, the easier it becomes not to worry.  I've done this so often, that the mere act of writing things down in my planner becomes part of the "cure"; I know I've been edgy like this so, so many times, and just that many times, I was edgy about a problem that evaporated.  That I didn't need to worry about in the first place.   And that's why I write things down now:  to reassure myself in the moment, but also to reassure my future self that this, too, passes.   It's a feed-back loop that feeds me forward as well.

I read about a similar stance in Amy Cuddy's book Presence; it's one of those pop-psychology books that I eat up like candy.   She had a popular TED talk on posing like Wonder Woman to build confidence, and this whole book came out of her research and that talk.   One part of her book, not on posing but on nudging, reminded me of my worry dates.  She wrote about mindfully avoiding anxiety about excelling publicly at work:
For me, each time I felt that high-stakes pressure, I actually had to nudge myself toward slowing down and toward fixating less on results.  I could not change instantaneously, simply deciding to change.  But each time I nudged myself forward, I was creating a memory that I could access the next time I felt a sense of panic. I could say to myself, "I've done this before, so why not do it again?"   
 Page 251, Presence, By Amy Cuddy

Yeah -- by keeping track of those times that I got a little freaky on myself, I get better at recognizing the freaking for what it is.  And it also gives me a way to de-freak my kids -- a nice side benefit.

Because, in fact, K-daughter turned out to be fine. She got some reassurance from her mom; she got some sleep; she got some food, and she didn't even have to wait two whole weeks to write me back and say,
K: I took your advice and ate lots of leafy kale last night and Im feeling really good today!!!! :D
Huzzah for feeling really good today.  Or any day.

Maybe now I'll go cuddle with my planner.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Miser update: good places to be version

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

The week began with me having front-row seats for my favorite drummer, who rocked the church Sunday morning.  I tell you, I just don't get tired of hearing N-son keeping the beat for an awesome musical group . . . how did I, of all people, manage to produce several musical children?

N-son lucked out later in the week by being in the right place at the right time.  He's one of the most dedicated (obsessed?) players on his squash team, with his coaches telling me that he's almost always the first one out on the court practicing.  This weekend, there was a squash meet for his team mates, and he showed up to cheer them on.  But one of those teammates slipped on ice and twisted an ankle, . . . so N-son got to play instead, just because he was the one who was there.  And thanks to the modern miracle of cell phones, I found out about his game in time to get over to the courts and cheer him on again.  So I got to see N-son play, two ways, this week!

My husband spent the first part of the week in Paris/Darmstadt, where he visited with his former army buddy who is now a monk (because, why not go from the army into a monastery, after all?)   Although my husband did spend a bunch of days in a space where all the brothers involved had taken a vow of poverty, he tells me he appreciated the all-brotherhood-luxury of being able to leave the toilet seat up.  That's the life, man!  Later in the week he returned home to hang with the family and to circulate voter petitions. 

And I continue to be thankful that J-son is in a good space for him; he's still with his former foster mom, who is fierce and focused and is managing to keep him on track, despite his occasional highly creative efforts to implode again.  I also give general thanks for living in a time of modern medicine, and I know that's helping him, too.  I talk weekly (or more often) with his former foster mom, and occasionally with J-son himself.  I miss him, truth be told. 

I spent the first part of my week buried in committee work, and then inflicted a midterm upon my students, and then blew out of town to give a talk at some fancy school up in Connecticut.   While I was on the train, the Math Fairy came and whispered in my ear.  Now I've got all sorts of wonderful theorems flashing around in my head, and hopefully this summer I'll be able to let them out onto paper.  It's a happy place to be, metaphorically speaking. 

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

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Miser Family Update: going places version

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

My husband probably wins this week's award for going places. He's been to at least four big cities, and only slid the car into the ditch once*. What cities has he been to and why, you ask?
  • Washington DC for a museums conference,
  • Philadelphia for a Tuesdays with Toomey protest
  • NYC for a chemistry association luncheon, and 
  • Newark, NJ, so he could fly to Paris and then Frankfurt/Darmstadt. (He's boarding the plane even as I write this).
* Apparently, driving to and from a distant city during an ice storm is a bad idea. (Now we know.)   A tow truck, hailed by a cop who was sympathetic to my husband's "Iraq Veteran" license plate, pulled the car back out of the ditch. The car is now missing a bumper, has a dented rear passenger door which nicely complements our dented rear driver door from a previous accident, and will probably need a few other small repairs. But it seems to run just fine. My husband likewise has a few aches and pains but seems to run just fine, too.

Me, I've only been to Gettysburg College. But while I was there, I got to meet with their Chief Diversity Officer and a couple of associate deans. I was invited to go on this trip by one of our own diversity leaders on our campus, apparently because I have some kind of clout. It was a good trip.

J-son tells me he got to go to a high school dance. I asked if they did the Nene, and he said yes. So phew, I didn't have to go show them all how. (Just kidding; J-son is the one who taught me to Nene).

N-son got to go to the griddle. Or rather, he got to work griddle at his culinary program. He brought us home grilled cheese sandwiches to show off his prowess. I think I need to see another example before I can make a final judgment.

A-child got to go to her Nana's home (that is, my house!), and of course she brought her mom K-daughter. We read Ferdinand, the story of a bull who has captivated our family for generations. For all I know, Ferdinand is sitting there still, under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly. He is very happy.

As are we. That's the news from the Miser Family, which continues to be rich in our adventures. May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Bags: to End with the Beginning in Mind

Steven Covey, in his cult-inducing Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, urged his readers to "Begin with the end in mind".  That's Habit Two, in case you're wondering.

But me, I've been buoyed up this semester (with its humongous paper workload) by parts of my life that reverse Covey's advice.  The fun parts of my life has been happily and successfully floating along amid (and in spite of) the marshy bog of never-ending committee tasks, because of a bunch of bags I own that allow me to "end with the beginning in mind".

It's the suitcase principle in action.  Professional organizers often encourage people to pack their suitcase for the next trip as they're finishing the previous trip.  (End one trip with the beginning of the next trip in mind, essentially).    But there are a bunch of other aspects of my life, not as momentous as trips out of town, that are a lot easier to do if I have all the right gear ready at hand.

The running sack, in the bottom right corner of the photo.
For example, I present the humble Running bag.   Sitting atop a basket of running shoes, to the right of my dresser, I keep this bag stocked with the clothes, etc for my next run.  In the same way that organization gurus urge people to re-stock their travel supplies at the end of one trip in preparation for the next trip, I refill my running bag for my next run even before I hop into the shower to clean up from the previous run.  Then, when I wake up in the dark, I can carry the bag into the living room where I can get dressed without disturbing my husband, knowing I've got shoes, socks, pants, shirts, jackets, reflective vests, ear warmers, neck warmers, gloves, . . . it's so nice not to need to hunt around in my drawers and closets for all of these things in the dark, especially while I'm still a little groggy.

For example heaped upon further example, there's also the church bag.  To me, this bag is notable partly for what it doesn't have: no laptop, no cell phone, no daily planner.  Leaving all those things at home when I go to church says I'm serious about removing myself from usual worldly cares.  What it does have are
  • care-and-comfort supplies (cough drops, cloth hankies, lotion, water bottle, and a scarf that very nicely compliments my favorite travel scarf) and 
  • brain-extension supplies (reading glasses, pens and pencils, and a small book for jotting down notes to self for when I return to the normal world).  

Market Bag
Likewise, on Tuesday mornings when I wake up before dark, my market backpack is already full of my "shopping list" -- containers I'm taking back to the dairy so I can restock.   The photo shows yogurt, milk, and egg containers that I toss into the bag as soon as they're empty so I know to buy more; nowadays I've started making my own yogurt in our new InstantPot, so I usually only buy milk and eggs.   But I also bring glass spice jars, or Xyrep containers (Pyrex upside down) for sandwich meat, or other.

I also store my Soup Kitchen supplies in my market bag:  apron, hat, name badge, reusable spoon,  and containers to bring home food they would have tossed.   Because, yes, I feed my family leftovers that I've rescued from the Soup Kitchen.

Dog-walk bag,  which hangs next to her leash.  What's in a dog-walk bag, you ask?
  • newspaper for catching/picking up dog waste
  • stick!!!  Stick!!! (cheap, and her favorite toy -- this gets swapped out frequently as she destroys a new stick almost every time we walk).
  • tennis ball
  • canning jar with dog treats
  • magazine to read at the dog park

All of these bags make it easier for me to do those non-work things that I really love to do, but are hard to squeeze in during this paper-packed year.  I really am living the fun parts of my life by packing them in easy-to-carry bags.


As I was writing this post, I got mildly (or obsessively?) curious about bags and what people keep in them.  My birth child obliged my curiosity by giving me the low-down on two of her bags:  her Chorus Bag (she's a head honcho in a local chorus) and her Planner/Work bag (she teaches knitting).   In case you're as curious as I am, here are her lists:

Chorus Bag
  • Name tags, sorted by voice part (so, alto's together)
  • supply kit for making new nametags for new members
  • money collection box for chorus dues
  • suggestion box
  • water bottle
  • phone charger
  • "lost and found" for people who leave stuff behind, which thankfully doesn't happen often
Work Bag
  • External pockets (bus pass, keys and wallet while she's carrying the bag)
  • Pocket #1: water bottle
  • Pocket #2: nail file, lotion, and advil, plus napkin and spoon (oooh, she's my daughter!), and reusable coffee sleeve for her take-out coffee (so she's someone else's daughter, too)
  • Pocket #3: emergency snacks (granola bar) and lunch
  • Pocket #4: umbrella
  • Pocket #5: misc knitting supplies (stitch markers, scissors, darning needle, tape measure) and pens
  • Pocket #6: Phone charger
  • Large interior area:  planner and current knitting projects
The planner, knitting supplies, keys and wallet, and lunch bop in and out of the bag, but everything else lives there permanently.