Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Apple-y ever after

I've mentioned the cherry tree (yay), the peach tree (more yay), and the pear tree (oh, sigh).  Did I mention the apple trees?   Planted a few years ago in our front yard, and this year all of a sudden hanging heavy with apples.

My stepdaughters were back in town right about the time I realized that -- even though it was early September -- the apples were getting ripe and it was either the bugs or me that was going to get them. I Tom-Sawyered my step-daughters and their girl friends:  You know how much fun it is to go apple picking?   "Oh, YEAH!", they responded.  "I remember when we did that once.  That was fun!"  Wanna do it again right now?

It was a selfie-kind of apple picking spree, with lots of posing amidst the picking, but fifteen minutes and ten gallons of apples later, the trees were bare and the apples had been safely removed from the threat of evil flying worms.

More Tom Sawyer-ing ensued; I called a gal who had just moved into the neighborhood.  You know how you said you wanted to learn to can applesauce?  Are you free . . . tomorrow?  She was.

Applesauce is one of the most delightfully easy (and, if you like, sociable) foods to make.
  • Put about a half-inch of water in the bottom of a pan or crockpot -- not a lot, just enough to keep the apples from sticking.  
  • Cut up the apples, possibly removing the seeds and core.  Leaving the skins on is perfectly okay in my book.
  • Play a game with Miser-Dog:  try to drop the apple cores on the floor, while he tries to catch them and wolf them down before they land.  (Shhhh! Don't tell him that dogs don't like apples!) 
  • Heat the apples until they're mushy, and then mush them.  
If it takes a whole village to make the applesauce -- family to pick them, dogs to clean up the scraps, friends to help cut and can them -- well, it makes sense that the whole village gets to eat the applesauce, too.  We've had fun sharing the apples around.  And we're all eating apple-y ever after.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Q&A with love

We interrupt our regularly scheduled frugality to bring you a "Liebster* Award", which I got from Cheyanne at Tangerine Wallpaper. Awww, thanks.
(from the German, "lover")

Who's Cheyanne? Well, the first time I saw her blog name I read it as "Tangerine Wallflower" -- a person beautifully and boldly ("tangerine") overcoming shyness or introversion.  That's not actually a perfect description, but I don't think she'd hate that interpretation. I love her strong and courageous advocacy for people who just need a few extra voices on their side.  Plus, she's funny.

Along with the Liebster award comes a bunch of questions that Cheyanne has for me and her other awardees.  I've rearranged the questions a bit for some reason, probably because my answers go from short & boring to long and . . . well, maybe still boring.

What’s your most embarrassing email/AIM username?  Do kids still use AIM?  Or even know what it is?  Probably not. I haven’t used it in about 8 years.
No idea what AIM is.  I've had only two email addresses in my entire life.  The first one was assigned to me in grad school (ST402521@[gradschool].edu).  I got the second one from my job, which I've now been at for 23 years; it's my name at my school's name.  Boring.
What’s your favorite seasonal food?  You know, pumpkin, peppermint, etc.
Food preferences aren't linear.  (That is, picking a favorite doesn't compute in my brain.)  And I really love all kinds of foods, all kinds.  
What’s the last GREAT book you read?
Kristi Andersen's Springer-Verlag book on Brook Taylor's Linear Perspective.  Not exactly the kind of thing everyone wants to go around reading, but she's an amazing scholar of mathematics, perspective, and history, and I'm milking her book for a research project of my own.
I've also been reading Make it Stick (a book about how students learn) and How Colleges Work, two other books that will be useful to me when I go back to teaching.   
I guess that says that sabbaticals really aren't vacations -- I haven't been doing what other people would call "pleasure reading" (although, really, I loved those books).
Who was your celebrity crush when you were in high school?
Ariana Grande.   Actually, that's J-son's current celeb crush.  I don't even want to say "Sean Cassidy" . . . soooo embarrassing.
Your middle name — embarrassing or AWESOME?
It used to be "Katherine", but I dropped it because my first and last name are already pretty long.  Neither embarrassing nor awesome . . . just clutter.
What song have you had on repeat lately?
Oh man, does "repeat" have anything to do with AIM?  I'm guessing this question has something to do with modern technology.
Here are some of the songs I'll hit the "back" button on my CD player for.  I just realized in putting this together that to listen to something twice in a row, it's probably soothing, but I listen to a lot of hoppin' music, too:

  • Cat Stevens, How can I tell you
  • Tracy Chapman, The Promise
  • Bizet's Humming Chorus, from Carmen
  • Reba McEntire, You lie
  • Blues Traveler, Hook 
  • Elvis, Love me tender
  • Cheryl Wheeler, Piper, or Arrow
  • Probably others, but that's what I can think of now

Are you a collector?  What do you collect?
Mostly, I'm an anti-collector.  For example, when I finished my IronMan, I gave away everything (shirt to a friend, swim cap to another friend, medal to my pastor, etc). 
My daughter says I collect children.  I also have more than my share of canning jars. 
What did you want to be when you grew up (at 5 years old)?
An actress.  Then a Xeroxer (my mom had those at her office at NASA -- they were new and so cool). Then a cafeteria worker (the only fun thing for a kid to do except for xeroxing at NASA; the NASA cafeteria was awesome).  Later, I wanted to be a Washington, D.C. tour guide, then an English teacher. Somehow, I morphed into math.
If you could give a million dollars to charity, which charity/charities would you choose?
This is not an idle question for us -- my whole frugality is aimed at being able to give sizable chunks of money to places where it can make the world better.   I don't think we'll hit a million dollars, but over the course of our lifetime we'll probably donate a large fraction of that amount. 
We have a list of about twenty places we donate to each year, split between international, national, and local.  I have a huge soft spot for medicine, for economic development, for sponsoring children (so, the basic human needs areas), but we do a "bread-and-roses" approach: we also give some money to our local theater.  And our church.  And my alma mater.
What are five things you KICK ASS at?
  1. Theoretical Math.
  2. Frugality.  Natch.
  3. Swimming (I don't do it much anymore, but I can if I want.  I didn't even train for the swimming part of the IronMan I did, and I was still one of faster people in the water).
  4. Memorizing stuff.  Anybody wanna hear the Gettysburg Address?  Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening?  A couple of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay?  I'm ready!
  5. Mentoring.  When it comes to advice, I'm full of it!
What’s something that really gets you fired up?
Theoretical math.  Finding free stuff on the sidewalk.  Keeping things out of the landfill.  Running with my friends.  Silly family dinners.  
Not to mention, getting Liebsters from awesome bloggers! 
Now it's my turn to nominate (tag?) others.  Problem is, a lot of the blogs I'd nominate are from people who rarely, if ever, blog anymore because Real Life has taken over.  Totally appropriate.  For example, 
  • Waste Less, Grad Student, who is working on her PhD.  Yay!
  • Dogs or Dollars, who is urban homesteading with young kids and (of course) dogs.  More yay!
  • PFC Mom, working with her church, getting her kids on their feet, traveling the world, and taking care of health issues (phew!)
  • Poor to Rich a Day at a Time, whose rather amazingly insanely cheerful writer is battling cancer AND homelessness.
And a bunch of the people I want to Liebster-ize would be on my list not because of their own blogs, but because of their great comments (on my blog and on others).  This includes Debbie M., Leah/Penn, Tess, the frugal ecologist, plus of course Rozy and Nicole-and-Maggie (whose blog I love even though they're actually still blogging--go Grumpies!!)

And here are my questions [for anyone who wants to answer, really].  There are only four of them:
  1. Is there something that you accomplished last year that you can now look back at and say, "Phew!  I'm glad THAT's done with!"  If so, what is it?
  2. How do you keep track of your appointments and to-do lists?  (I'm really curious about how other people manage time and tasks).
  3. What do you normally eat for breakfast?
  4. What is the goofiest little thing, that other people don't necessarily notice, that makes you happy?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Unrequited (puppy) love

I got to babysit my granddaughter this week (yay!).   She's only 6 months old right now, but she's already practicing for those teenage years.  That is, she's developed a crush on someone older than her who kisses her . . .

 . . . and then ignores her.  

He won't call her, and he doesn't seem to come when she's looking for him.

Poor kid.  Hope she learns her lesson:  don't date a dog.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Committing Kale-i-cide

Perhaps you can tell, I've been loving my garden this year.  In fact, I'm loving it so much I've been doing a bit of late-season planting, unusual for me.  Last year, something evil ate my kale plants, so I waited until late in the season to plant this giant box of kale for J-son this year.  It has just gone crazy with leafiness.  Ahhh!  Beautiful!

I've spent many enjoyable moments surveying my edible domain, delighting in the birds, the bunnies, the butterflies that seem to enjoy the space as much as I do. It makes me feel like I have put together a healthy place.

From this, you can tell that I have no idea what I'm talking about.

In fact, I've been barreling head-first toward Kale Catastrophe.  Erica at Northwest Edible wrote a warning that I read (but didn't fully appreciate) in April of this year:
You can always tell the non-gardeners. They’re the ones who see the bland white butterflies with the black spots on their wings fluttering over my cabbage plants and say things like, “Ohmygosh how pretty! Butterflies!”
Poor, poor, misguided fools. . . . 
Because those pretty white butterflies that I was patting myself on the back about were marshaling their forces to do some major kale-i-cide.  Erica shows a bunch of pictures of the little cabbage worms that are the larvae of these Death-in-Disguise insects, but she doesn't show any pictures of the damage that they do.

Well, I've got pictures.  

Sigh.  Yes, I have pictures.

I've decided to avert the worst of kale-i-cide by using pest-i-cide.  Organic pesticide, of course, but still a bit of a dagger to my "ooh, butterfly" heart.

Next year, I'll use something called "row cover", which is basically a net cloth over the garden.  So I'm learning, I hope.  And the lovely thing about gardening is that I do get to start over again every year.

But the kale. And the butterflies.  Can't we just all agree to get along?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

I've been out-frugaled by my husband!

I woke up on Sunday before dawn (per usual), to find that my husband had taped up  this note in the kitchen:
  Microwave broken.  
Circuit breaker ok.

Sure enough, the clock on the microwave oven was dark.  Pushing buttons did nothing. We had become a family that was microwave-less.

It's funny how something little like this becomes a minor emergency.  I know that X-son, down in Haiti, lives a life with almost no electricity at all, and I know that many people in my own city have sadly intermittent access to food.  But knowing all this didn't help me keep feeling a spasm of panic at doing without this machine that instantly reheats all our plentiful leftover food; a magic machine that at a moment's notice boils our clean tap water or softens our yummy butter or cooks up a fresh potato for a quick snack for my hungry sons between meals.  The abundance in my cupboards disappeared in the face of this broken microwave.  Color me ungrateful.

I'll admit I panicked partly because I feared this situation meant that my husband would be taking a trip to large stores and flinging his credit card about.  Replacing a microwave oven would mean both creating waste (although we would offer the old appliance to a local guy who recycles metal, there's still much of this that would go to landfills), and it would mean spending money on a new set of metal/plastic/other that would eventually follow the first microwave.  Not to mention, spending money.  (Oh, yeah, I did mention that already).

So even before my husband emerged from the bedroom, I got busy on Craig's List.  I found a few smaller, used microwaves for $25 -- my version of preventative shopping.  I was right to pre-prepare with a solution of this sort:  my husband, once he woke up, announced to me he'd already found a sale on microwaves for "only" $30 for small ones, $200+ for large ones.  I countered with my Craig's List finds, and thereby bought myself a bit of time.

But that's when my husband surprised me . . . he out-frugalled me.  He asked, "by the way, did you check the fuse on the microwave?"

Um, no, I hadn't.  What does a fuse on a microwave look like?  How the heck does a person check a fuse?

It was my husband's turn to be surprised; he'd figured that if he knew how to do a home repair, I ought to be, like, ten times better than him at it.  Instead, I was clueless.

So, for the similarly clueless, here's what I learned.  The electricity all just completely going out like that (for example, even the clock on the microwave wasn't lit up) meant that a fuse had blown.  It's not hard to take off the cover of the microwave and expose the electronic guts, thusly.
My naked microwave, with the cover cast aside.  

Taped onto the cover I'd removed is a set of directions that lists wiring and parts.

There's also a wiring/fuse list glued to the top of the microwave, under the cover.

My husband pointed out the fuse to me; it looks like a mechanical pencil eraser. He took out the main fuse, biked over to a nearby hardware shop, and bought a new one.  Our total expenses?  $3.31.   Not three hundred dollars and change; not thirty dollars and change; but a mere three dollars and change.   Yessss.

We popped in this new little fuse, plugged in the microwave, and everything was back to normal.  Better even than Craig's List!  And almost zero trash (just one old fuse and a bit of packaging around the new one).  SOOOO much better.

As a bonus, now I know how to change a fuse on a microwave oven . . . a skill that probably won't be of daily use, but still that makes me feel like an ever-more-well-rounded Miser Mom.  Huzzah!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Multi-Family Canning day

I've never done something like this before -- gone to a canning party.  But I was invited to one on Saturday with four or five other families, and all I can say is, WOW.  It was so much fun!

And in case you are inspired and want to host a totally-wow multi-family canning party yourself, here's how the event went down.  My hosts had pre-purchased about a gazillion tomatoes, based on our pre-orders (how many quarts of diced tomatoes and/or spaghetti sauce would we want?).  

Here are a few (just a few) of the empty tomato boxes, sitting inside in the living room. 

But we didn't spend much time indoors.  Outside, that was where the action happened.  My hosts owned  a few propane burners and rented a few more. They pulled out all their canning supplies, as well as inviting their guests to bring their own pots. We all brought our own canning jars or bags for freezing.

The first tomato station was the de-stemming station (or, as I explained it to a guy who joined me at the table, the "tomato circumcision" table).  We tossed the tomatoes into this large metal bin.

The circumcised tomatoes destined for dicing went briefly into a pot of boiling water, and then into these giant buckets of ice water, where an enthusiastic crowd of helpers peeled the tomatoes by simply pulling off the skin.

This was a job that people of all ages could do!

Actually, people of all ages flitted between many of the jobs.  Here's two grown-ups at the dicing table, but a little bit later in the day I worked there with a pair of sixth graders who earnestly told me about their favorite cooking shows.  (Hint: Junior MasterChef rocks it).

The tomatoes destined for sauce went into this machine--the funnel leads to an electric sauce-r.  Here the two MasterChefs on the left are feeding tomato pieces into the funnel, and then out comes sauce, collected in the plastic tub near the MasterChef on the right.

Onions, wine, other spices I'm not certain of made their way in and out of this blender and got added to the tomatoes sauced by the MasterChefs . . . 

. . . which my host stirred up into giant pots of spaghetti sauce.  

He had a bunch of help from my sons, among others.    Dang, but that's one huge wooden stirring spoon, isn't it?

Once the sauce was seriously underway, we started the conveyer belt:  our jars went into the oven to heat up, came back out to get filled with sauce, and then went into pots to get boiled. 

By the time serious boiling was underway, the kids melted off into the nearby fields and into the toy-filled basement.  The grown-up gossiped and compared life stories; I had an intense conversation with another professor about the active voice.   Lunch brought back a brief reappearance of the kids . . . 

. . . who all found that it's a joy to be able to stand on the shoulders of canning giants.

I came away with a few new friends myself, not to mention 3 dozen jars of spaghetti sauce for a dollar a quart.  


Friday, September 11, 2015

Wire in the Tire

Let's talk flat tires.

When I bought my bike a few years ago, I was terrified of crashing it.  (Yes, I *did* name my bike "the SPDM", for "Sudden Painful Death Machine").  I was terrified of corners; I was terrified of gravel; and I lived with a low-level constant trepidation of getting flat tires.

It turns out that practice helps overcome fears, especially with the first two of those.  By now, with over 3000 miles on the SPDM, I've been through a lot of corners and I've zoomed through a lot of gravel. I have a much better body-feel of how to handle those.

A flat tire, on the other hand, is something that's harder to practice, because it happens so rarely.  So, for those who are about as fearful of the unknown as I am, here's a little history of my own three flat tires (well, actually more than that, but you'll see as I describe these why I just count it as 3).

I used to think that getting a flat would be dramatic:  the tire would pop, the wheel would explode, the bike would slam to a halt, I'd be flung violently to the ground, and I'd die a horrible painful death.

So, um, it's not like that.

In fact, my first and last flat tires were super-slow leaks, and all I could feel while I was riding was that the bike was a little harder to pedal (like running on a sandy beach instead of running on pavement), and that steering felt a bit more iffy.  The first time I got a flat, it grew gradually flat over the course of a 25-mile training ride; it started getting soft on me a little after the halfway point, and the leak was so gradual that I couldn't really figure out what was going on at first.  Even after it was clear that I was losing air,  I could still ride the last 5 miles home on an essentially flat tire.   Riding on a squooshy-to-flat tire is totally possible if it's the rear tire.  You have to ride a bit more slowly and take corners more carefully, but it's perfectly doable.  (We'll get to front tires in a while -- different story there).

My second flat tire was again the rear tire, and it was at mile 2 of my 112-mile triathlon.  That was much more sudden, but again, it wasn't an explosion -- it was just that all of a sudden, my rear tire felt really sluggish:  sand on the beach.  I put on a new inner tube, and I was on my way again --- and I STILL thank the bicycle gods almost daily that the new tube didn't wig out on me, so I could finish that danged event.  The main point of this is that I never felt unsafe when my tire popped; I just was bummed that I might not get to finish the event I'd trained 20 hours a week for for an entire %$@& summer.  Y'know.

My repaired tire (on the left),
getting ready to jump back on the SPDM
with my husband's wheel playing substitute for a week.

Fast forward from last August to this August.  I went to grab the SPDM for a round of yard saling, and saw my front tire was flat.  I pumped it up; the tire seemed to hold air, and because I was just toodling around the neighborhood (and could walk the bike home if I had trouble), I took the bike out. No problem with the tire.  Yay!

Next day, I went out to grab the SPDM for a long Sunday ride:  the front tire was flat again.  (Notice how non-scary this is: I wasn't on the bike when the tire deflated).  Since this was twice in a row, and since I was going for a long ride, I removed the inner tube, checked for glass/debris inside the tire, and put in new inner tube.  All was good.

A week and 70-ish miles on the bike later, I came out in the morning to see that the tire had gone flat again.  This time, we took the wheel off the bike, took the wheel to our local bike shop to fix. They declared the flat tire a fluke and sent the wheel back.  More riding ensued.

This Tuesday as I was riding downtown, I noticed the front tire was squooshy.  And getting squooshier. So when I got where I was going, I called my husband and asked him to bring me a new wheel.  We took my wheel back to the bike shop for another inspection.  If the tire (not the inner tube, but the "outer tube") had gone bad, replacing that would cost about $60-ish.  But this time around, the eagle-eyed bike mechanics noticed a small wire embedded in the tire; it had been scraping the inner tubes ever so gently, causing eventual slow leaks.  The bike mechanics pulled out the wire, and I'm back to my usual 110 psi.    Although I love being able to do things myself, I have to say that I love our local bike shop.

Here are some other random bike tire observations.
  • We get "gator skin" tires (made with kevlar), even though they cost more, just because they're much less likely to lead to a flat tire.  So far, I've been really happy with them (although, really, what do I know about this?)
  • It's cool that we can swap wheels between my husband's bike and my sons' bike and my bike.  I don't know that it's worth going out and buying extra bikes just for that reason, but if you already have them and the wheels are interchangeable,  . . . well, yay!
  • My-husband-the-bike-racer says it's dangerous to ride on a flat front tire -- the tire can peel off the rim and dump you on your face.  I am just totally going to believe him on this one.   
  • The same guy I trust on the danger of front tires says that flat tires are much more likely to happen on the back.  He gets about 3000 miles out of a rear tire, and only 1500 out of a front tire.  That means that the scarier kinds of flat tires happen less often.  Another reason to breathe easier.  

Friday, September 4, 2015

Fractal Sabbatical

I often think of sabbaticals as a practice for retirement.  This year, because my husband is actually retired, the practice feels much more real.  

I read other retirees who describe the delights of getting rid of the alarm clock, waking up when they actually feel like it.  Sleeping in is definitely one of my husband's joys these days. But for me, I've found that this year's sabbatical has actually made me want to push my schedule in the other, earlier direction.  I used to wake up at 5:50 a.m. every day, but now I'm waking up at 5:30 a.m.  These quiet morning hours are precious to me.

I pushed in this direction, actually, to get away from my computer a little bit.  There's so much good stuff to do at the beginning of the day -- in my case,  pre-scheduled running/biking with friends, prayer time and planning time -- that I tried to convince myself to start my day WITHOUT checking email and blogs.  But after repeated excuses about why Day X ought to be an exception to the no-early-computer rule, I decided the exception should become the rule, and I gave myself a half-hour first-thing every day to catch up on the e-world before returning to the physical world.

In fact, I made myself this arc of a schedule as a picture of my day.  The shape pleases me because it makes me feel as though I'm rising through my early-morning levels -- email and blog first, then upward to exercise, planning and prayer, then a brief eat/dress time before start in on my math.  And so that I don't twitch about being e-disconnected, I promise myself time just before lunch for a second round of email.  Lots of open space in the afternoon as the day begins to descend into night.

Morning planning time is sort of holy to me -- not "holy" in the sense of being mystical/magic, but "holy" in the sense of being somehow set apart from the more mundane aspects of my life.  I got to do a Time Management presentation for young mathematicians this past summer, and to them I described this daily planning time as a sort of a mini-sabbatical.  Mathematicians sometimes study objects (like broccoli or clouds) where little pieces of the object look like the big object. We call these objects "fractals"--because if you "fracture" off a little piece of broccoli, it's a copy of the whole.  My daily planning time is a sabbatical within a sabbatical, I told these young mathematicians.
So making time for this early-morning planning while I'm apart from my kids and computer is just as important to me as writing that sabbatical proposal that gives me time away from teaching for a year.   Totally worth waking up a bit earlier, just to enjoy this time apart, this time of reflection.

And so here's where I've been most mornings once I've finished my run or my bike rides: I'm a little bit stinky, sitting with my paper planner, thinking about the day ahead, spending five or ten minutes enjoying my sabbatical within a sabbatical.  And, in fact, that's what I'm going to go do now.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Buried Treasure

I was wandering past my garden this morning, and what did I see?
A little round something just staring at me!
Do you see what I see?
I'd spent a bit of time this weekend pulling out plants that were past their prime, moving some chickenwire fencing around, and relocating a garden box from one patch of dirt to another patch of dirt.  Apparently, all of this dirt-disturbance brought a potato up from its underground lair to check out life in the open air.

Early in the season, I'd had some potatoes that did that weird sprouty thing out of their eyes while they were hanging around in my compost pile.  There was so much sproutiness going on that I cut the potatoes into pieces and planted each piece in a little dirt patch, sprout down (or up?  I forget.  The internet says sprouts should go up, so maybe I actually did that).  Lo and behold, the dirt patch turned into a potato plant patch, which eventually was overrun by the cucumbers (those bullies!).  The potato plants died down, and I forgot about them until today, when the first little potato rose to greet me.

Dude, there's dinner underground out there!

A bit more digging around with just my hands turned up even more potatoes.  All those years of training in the sandbox in my parents' back yard really paid off. What fun!  I'd root around with my hands in the dirt . . . another potato!  And another! I'd think I was done and then whoops! another! Then I'd think I had another potato and nope, a rock . . . ooh, but there's another potato!  It was buried treasure hunt, and I was apparently the one who had buried the treasure and lost the map.

I know from helping a friend dig potatoes that I ought to go back out with a pitchfork; that's likely to net me a few more spuds (and possibly to impale others).   But this is so incredibly cool.  I mean, they look like real potatoes -- the kind you might actually buy in a store (well, except they need a bit more washing).

I love that this is truly Trash-to-Treasure, that this is what I get from rescuing two zombied potatoes from the compost bin, and it's actually going to make the main part of a delicious meal for me and people I love.