Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Advent calendar, coming right up!

Tomorrow, we'll put up our annual advent calendar.  This is becoming a tradition in the house, one that my daughters (even the one who doesn't live here) looks forward to.   So, yay for traditions!

As usual, each day has an activity.  Some of the activities are things we'd have on a normal calendar (like theater tickets or our city's sing-along concert), some of them are pre-christmas tasks (like decorating the house and wrapping presents), and some of them are other weird family traditions (like our annual celebration of the anniversary of my husband's driver's license.)  And a few of them are head-scratchers that I stuck in there to fill up the calendar (bowling, anyone?)

I discovered a few years ago that if you put sticky notes on paper, you can send the paper through the printer again and print on top of the sticky notes.  I guess that some year, when I finally get through my stash of yellow mini-stickies, I ought to go out and buy Christmas-colored notes.  But for now, this works.   At any rate, now the kids take turns taking off one sticky note each day, to uncover this calendar day-by-day.

Here's this year's list of advent activities.
  1. Beauty and the Beast! at our performing arts theater
  2. marzipan makings
  3. get out X-mas clothes
  4. hang lights
  5. decorate tree
  6. St. Nicholas Day: give to charity
  7. bring in pine boughs
  8. put out Santa & statutes
  9. Make springerli cookies
  10. mail springerli cookies
  11. Christmas caroling
  12. Make Eggnog
  13. Pancake party at my college
  14. Bowling Night
  15. Make X-mas music together
  16. Sing-a-long Concert
  17. walk outside and see lights
  18. write our sponsored children (via World Vision)
  19. Driver's license dinner
  20. deliver Springerli to neighbors
  21. shortest day; candlelight dinner
  22. wrap presents
  23. take X-mas photos
  24. read Twas the night before Christmas
  25. Christmas Day!  Gingerbread & Eggnog

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The foot of the dog, and brown cardboard boxes filled with good things

Well, it's been the opposite of a quiet week here in our neck of the woods!  What a lot has been going on!

For one thing, we thought our ancient Miser Dog was on his last legs, literally:  he was having an increasingly hard time walking and losing large amounts of weight.  We took him to the vet, dreading what we might hear.  But what we feared was terminal cancer turned out to be "merely" a case of allergies and swollen feet.  We brought him home with what I told the kids was "more pills than Grandpa takes"**: steroidal anti-inflammatories, allergy meds, fish oil for his liver (to off-set the anti-inflammatories), foot soak, a mystery medication, and antibiotics.    Here's a picture of me soaking my dog's feet, which I'm supposed to do twice a day.  His tongue is prominent in the photo because he licks peanut butter off a spoon while I torture him.  

(**At Thanksgiving dinner, my dad disabused me of this exaggeration -- Miser Dog takes 'only' 6 meds, whereas Dad takes 7--10, depending on how many of his guinea-pig medicines are actually placebos.  At any rate, the dog meds seem to be having the desired effect so far, thank goodness.)

We had a lovely Thanksgiving in the Miser Family tradition, with family (Dad and his wife brought some great homemade pies) and also with students from far-flung countries.  And this year, I had lots of help preparing food.  N-son helped by chopping vegetables with his new ceramic knife -- thanks, N-son's aunt!

As if that weren't enough excitement, on Saturday I got to "unwrap" another gift: my granddaughter Baby A (and oh, yeah, K-daughter) came back home and will be with us for the foreseeable future. I've missed having them both so far away, where "far" is measured by Lancaster standards: a daunting half-hour drive from the house.   Now they'll be just a stair-climb away again.

Cardboard boxes are the best toys ever.

With all that going on, it seems like minor news to say that J-son got to visit his birth mom for Thanksgiving, and that my husband rode his bike to Philly yet again, that I-daughter and I got to go see Tuba Christmas (one of my favorite down-town events) and that my husband and I went to Philadelphia to see the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But all that happened, too!

And that's about it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What it's like to work in a soup kitchen

What surprised me most the first time I volunteered to serve breakfast at our homeless shelter, a year and a half ago, was the children:  Girls with their hair done in braids and barrettes, wearing sparkle backpacks, school uniforms neatly arranged.  Toddlers in pajamas. Wide-eyed babies in strollers.  I really was expecting the wild-eyed smelly bearded guys, not the adorable little kids headed for another day in second grade.

The first time few times I volunteered to serve breakfast at our local homeless shelter, I was wondering, "What do I say?  How do I make these people comfortable with going through a soup kitchen line?"  The more I returned, the more I realized that almost all of the guests at the soup kitchen know the routine, and they felt more comfortable there than I did (usually as in "stable", and rarely as in "entitled").

Over time, I've built relationships and sometimes even friendships with the people who come in.  Not the "I need a few bucks" kind of a relationship I thought I'd have to be careful about -- not one person has ever hinted at money to me -- but a face-lights-up, "oh!  Glad to see you", kind of relationship.  I've tutored one guy in math, traded bike stories with another, read Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the bus to a bunch of kids.

And after getting used to the stability of it all, it's disconcerting to have people just disappear.   A guy named Teddy and I developed a routine of talking about bikes and about strategies for cold-weather biking.  One day he asked me to "Pray for me; I've got a job interview today.  I hope it goes well."  And then I never saw him again.  Moving out of the shelter and back into "mainstream" life is the point, of course, but it's disconcerting just to have someone I like vanish into thin air.

In the material sense, I've come to learn some neat stuff about what goes on in large kitchens. I love the giant dishwashers, the ladles and stainless steel trays, the machine that washes and peels potatoes (super cool!), the ease with which things get labeled and sorted and stowed away in plain sight.  Cleaning the kitchen there after serving breakfast to 100 people is faster and more intuitive than cleaning the kitchen in my own home.

Kind of ironically, serving people food that has been donated to the shelter is now my most significant regular contact with trash and waste.  We use washable plates and glasses, but disposable (plastic) tableware and disposable (styrofoam) bowls and disposable (paper) napkins.  Also disposable hair nets and gloves (although washable aprons).   We fill several large trashcans each day with uneaten food, with packaging, and with disposable products.  Sigh.

And of course, for N-son, volunteering at the soup kitchen over the summer has been transformative.  He's decided (as only a teenager can decide) that he wants to go into the culinary arts, so much so that he now spends half a day at a culinary training center as part of his high school curriculum.  But he learned so much more: he learned about overcoming obstacles, about persistence, and about how all that can lead to compassion.  As I wrote in September,
[N-son] came home  talking about making mac-n-cheese from scratch, learning to cut fruit quickly, the importance of no-skid shoes, the proper technique for mopping (or "moping", as he spelled it). He interviewed the cooks about what it had been like to be homeless, and he heard story after story of wanting to make amends, to give back, to make the most of their second chances.
I go there once a week now, and it's a part of my routine that I look forward to each week.  And N-son goes back whenever he gets a day off of school.  Next semester, my teaching schedule will mean I can't serve breakfast there, and I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out whether I can fit a lunch-time volunteering routine into my academic schedule.  We'll see!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Birthday, sports, more sports, and cleaning advice

tired boxers
Saturday, N-son turned 17!

We celebrated with a dinner Friday night and with lots of sports on Saturday. (I ran with my friends, J-son had a sparring match against a professional boxer in which he actually did pretty well, and N-son had a squash match). It was a lot of fun celebrating at dinner that night, because I-daughter cooked her signature processed-food dish (mac-n-cheese from a box with hotdogs and garlic mixed in), while I tried to balance things out with the whole foods (salad and steamed vegetables). Throw in a few good friends and a chocolate cake, and lots of fun was had by all.

In other news, N-son is the captain of his squash team. I mentioned that in the update last week, I think, but his two local sisters missed the fact because of the other election-based-stuff, so I thought that good news would bear repeating.

My husband flew to San Francisco last week, rode his bike up and down as many hills as he could, and then flew back. He's recovering from jet lag now, which is treating by riding his bike in blustery winds here on the East Coast.

And me, last week was "Calculus Exam" week for me: I led the review sessions, gave the exam, graded the exam, gave it back, and counseled the students who needed counseling afterward. That pretty much ate up my week.

I've added a photo from J-son's boxing gym: it's a sign on the wall that says, "Please keep our gym safe and clean. If you get a bloody nose, wipe up after yourself. Thank you". That goes for calculus exams, too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

From bags to tags: making a small difference

 Last year, I blogged a bit about writing "as nice a nasty-gram as I could" because of plastic bags.  A local scout troop collects food for local food banks -- something I commend in my city, which has a large percentage of people facing food insecurity.  But the collection involved rubber-banding plastic bags to neighbor's front doors.   I hunted down as best I could the person in charge of this, who . . . to my surprise . . . totally agreed with me that his scouts ought to do paper tags instead of plastic bags.  He'd been overruled by others around him, and said that my letter would him make the argument for change next year.

And sure enough, as a follow up, here's the letter that we got late last week on nextdoor. com (a social media site that I'm loving being a part of):
Today, Scouts from Pack XYZ placed door hangers on neighbors doors announcing our annual non-perishable food and personal item drive. Based on lots of feedback from neighbors, we decided to do away with the awful white plastic bags that inevitably blew through the streets following our distribution. 
We ask that you if would please take a plastic bag(s) or a paper bag(s), fill it with non-perishable canned goods (preferably those that are not expired) and place them on your front door step next Saturday, November 19th by 8AM, we'd be grateful. Our Pack collects the food and donates it to [Church Food Pantry] on [Nearby] Avenue.  
Thanks for supporting Scouting for Food and helping us support those in need this holiday season.
I'm not really sure that there was "lots of feedback from neighbors"; I suspect it was mostly me.  But whether I was the only one to polite-kvetch or not, I am really glad to have been part of the feedback that makes this tiny little bit of positive change possible.   

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Family update -- with and without election reflection

Here's the family update, starting with the light, cheery news:

My husband made a social visit in Philly, schmoozing with his former co-workers. J-son (aka, "Man of Many Mothers") returned from a visit with his birth mother to spend the week here with his adoptive mother (me), and is now gone for the weekend, visiting his former foster mother.  N-son was named captain of his squash team by his coach, who praises his dedication and hard work.  And me, I've been making good progress on my latest math paper -- it's good for the soul to be doing math!

**  The less cheery, election-related stuff **

But of course, the election results loom large. All of my over-18 Pennsylvania off-spring voted, but as large as my family is, our votes weren't enough to carry the state for Clinton.  (Below, there's a photo of a proud J-son at the polling place).  My husband has since sworn off of all political podcasts and returned to WW2 podcasts, just to ease his stress.   J-son had to mediate a heated discussion in school cafeteria between a Trump supporter and a Clinton mourner.  

On my campus, I've had students in shock, including one student who broke down sobbing in my office -- she and her 3-year-old niece were born in the U.S., but the rest of her family has lived here for decades undocumented, and she's terrified of the family being torn apart.  Our campus is a microcosm of the state, with some students wearing Trump caps, other students afraid to wear Trump caps, some students grieving over Clinton's loss, many students declaring solidarity with their non-white students, and vocal majority of us condemning the swastika inside a star of David that appeared on a classroom blackboard late one evening.  

In response, I've self-medicated with mathematics (hence, the productivity).  But also, N-son and I have both continued volunteering at our local soup kitchen, and I joined the Environmental Defense Fund, and started sending letters through the Union of Concerned Scientists website to people who have the power to defend the climate from the catastrophe of deregulation.

One of the advantages of squandering my teenage years memorizing poetry and speeches is that sometimes I carry consolation around in my head.  And so this week, I've been chewing over and over on these words that President Lincoln spoke to a nation that was even more divided than we are, reminding us that our nation was "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal".  And he then called us to action to defend these ideals:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Life on November ninth

 I listened to this, this afternoon, tearing up just a bit.
This is painful and it will be for a long time.  But I want you to remember this: 
Our campaign was never about one person, or even one election.  It was about the country we love, and about building an America that's hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted.  We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought, but I still believe in America, and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future.   
Donald Trump is going to be our president.  We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.  Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power.  And we don't just respect that; we cherish it.
From the concession speech of Hillary Clinton (12 minutes and 13 seconds). 

I'm doing my best to work on cherishing right now.   (I meant that seriously, not in a snarky way.)  And also on this:
Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time.  So let's do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Scrounging Pizza: a family update

Here's an update on the family this week.

Our family ate pizza for dinner on Thursday.  That doesn't sound like news, but it's a picture into what it's like to live in my home.  Every Thursday, my College has a giant lunchtime talk, and they serve pizza to the hundreds of people who show up.  Often, there's leftover pizza, and the servers have discovered that "Professor MiserMom" loves to scrounge/save the extra food.  So every once in a while, I get to bring a couple of boxes of pizza home.  

A few years ago, when the boys were in maximum-growth-mode, I'd bring home four boxes of pizza, and they'd all be gone long before bedtime (aka, "second dinner time").  But this week, I only brought home two boxes, and we ate only one pizza between the four of us at dinner . . . the boys are done with their growth spurts.  But I'm not done with my scrounging!

In other news . . . 
J-son travelled up to the Hamptons for a boxing match, one that didn't happen.  From there, he went to Philadelphia (amid the SEPTA strike), where he's spending a bit of time with his birth mom. 

N-son continues to enjoy ROTC (he's started signing his letters, "N-son Miserchild, Rank 4th Class Cadet").  He had me take several photos of him in his dress uniform and told me I needed to post this one here. 

My husband has been glued to FiveThirtyEight, when he's not out on his bike (the weather has been lovely for bike riding).  We're both very, very much looking forward to Tuesday, and thinking hopeful thoughts.

And me, I got page proofs from a paper I wrote and submitted and obsessed over last year; it's so wonderful seeing this baby finally about to come out in print!