Sunday, August 28, 2016

A web site that I love for frugal reasons

As a person who believes strongly in community, conservation, and frugality, I have been having a lot of fun lurking on local frugal-enabling sites.

One of my most constant lurks is Freecycle.  (Does everyone know what that is nowadays?  It's basically like Craigslist or a local E-bay, except everything offered or asked for is free).

There are ways that Freecycle is a bit overwhelming, I admit.  I get an email every day listing about a gazillion things (well, only 25, but it seems like a gazillion).   I almost never actually get anything off of Freecycle myself.  (The one thing I did get that I remember is a beautiful giant colander; I love it.  That one colander alone would be worth a year of skimming through my daily morning emails.)  Most of the time, I skim the daily email and delete it immediately.

So, potential for free stuff is there.  But the reason I really love Freecycle is that it allows me to give away stuff that I wouldn't have been able to take to Goodwill or other re-use it stores. Last week, when I was cleaning out my garage, I realized I no longer wanted

  • 20 cinder blocks,
  • 2 large fluorescent light fixtures,
  • a lounge chair cushion (sans lounge chair), and 
  • a half-gallon of windshield washer fluid.  
I posted all of these on Freecycle, and 36 hours later, all but the windshield washer fluid are gone.  And my garage looks so much cleaner!  And I got to hear a lot of neat stories about other people's upcoming projects -- one of which is my former next door neighbor whom I haven't seen in years.  Hooray for connecting with frugal people!  I'll re-post the windshield washer fluid again later in the year, once snow starts to fall.  I'm sure it'll go faster then.

When I run through my nearby upscale neighborhood on trash day, I'm often amazed at what people send to the landfill:  about a month ago, on just one morning, I saw several large pieces of furniture, an electric fan, a chalkboard, and I forget what else, all out at the curb awaiting the trash truck.  It's just so sadly wasteful!  And then later this day, I saw on Freecycle this little "Taken" post that made me giggle:

My mom used to save the hair from her favorite dog and give it to one of her friends with a spinning wheel.  My mom's friend made dog-hair-yarn that my mom then crocheted into a little doll's house rug.  My sisters and I were NOT delighted by this -- we were adults by this time, and I think my mom was in the early stages of the dementia that would eventually take her life.   I don't know if the dog hair from the Freecycle post went to a spinner or to someone's garden (where it might help keep pests away), but I just love the fact that someone, somewhere, wanted something as seemingly pointless as dog fur.  That is totally grossly adorable.

Some people near me throw out perfectly good bicycles and furniture and shelving, just for lack of imagination or effort.  And some people near me go to the other extreme, and find good uses for dog hair.  Given my druthers, I'm going to stick with the dog hair crowd.

Friday, August 26, 2016

dOnnOr 2016; be Advised

A few months ago, I was searching for a good digital picture of my dad, and I decided to google him.  To my surprise, one of the top hits I got was a story about how he and my mom had donated $300,000 to their alma mater.  I had known that my parents had been generous with their school, but I hadn't known the specifics until then.  (The way my dad explained it to his kids is, "We're giving away your inheritance.")  And I was super proud -- the first google hit I got for my dad wasn't about his career in physics (which is prodigious--Science Citation Index credits him with more than 150 articles); it's about this act of giving.  That's impressive.

(Okay, I know it also says something about the PR machine of the school my parents gave the money to versus the PR tinker-toy of particle physics, but I'm still impressed).

And so we have dinner.  Or more specifically, dOnnOr, originally named after one of my kids' favorite snacks, the Opple.  You make an Opple by starting with an apple, and coring it . . .

and then slicing it thinly.   Voila!  Opples!

And this entire bowl of Opples disappeared at dinner, compared to a few little bags of potato pOtOtO chips that I had brought home from some event where there were more people than food.  (Note to self: only 40% of the people at my table ate any of the chips.)

But I digress:  the annual dOnnOr is a time for us to eat food shaped in Os (like Opples, and  hOmbOrgOrs on bOgles), and it's also a time I get to think about charitable giving.  You are what you eat:  if you eat dOnnOr, then you turn into a donor. (?!)

This past week, I *finally* did something I've been thinking about/working toward for a long time: I opened a Donor Advised Fund with Vanguard Charitable.  This money is now something I can direct to specific charities, at whatever time in the future I deem fit.  Pulling together the money to set this up took a long time because the initial investment is so big . . . but you eat an Opple one bite at a time, and I saved up for this fund a bit at a time, and so eventually I got here.

The Donor Advised Fund really becomes a mini charitable funding entity.  Mine is called by my last name and my husband's last name:  as in, "the Miser-Nonmiser Fund".  I think of it as part of my "Retirement Charity Savings".  I have a regular retirement savings through my 403b (like a 401K, but for academics); I have an HRSA (Health Retirement Savings Account) that's just for retirement medical expenses; and now I have my Donor Advised Fund.  Between now and when I retire, the fund monies will be invested (through Vanguard Charitable) in the stock market, so they can grow along with my retirement portfolio, and then later when I'm ready, I can start giving that money away.

The practical advantages are that this allows me to save more money for retirement in a tax advantaged way.   Since I'm going to give money to charity after I retire, this fund allows me to get the tax break now (I'm already maxing out my 403b).  But the emotional break is even bigger than the tax break for me:  I don't have to feel like I'm making a choice between being generous and hoarding money for my future self:  from now on, this is a way I can do both at once.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Crunchy air-dried patience

Here's a picture of laundry patience:  clothes hanging up in my family's garage.

The "patience" part isn't that air-drying clothes takes a long time -- that's not the part of of laundry maintenance I want to talk about.  No, the "patience" part of this story is that it took my family almost two decades to get to the point of air drying our clothes.

It's not entirely true that this is the first time we've consistently air-dried our laundry.   Back in 2009, when my husband was in Iraq for a whole year, I co-opted little N-son to be my laundry helper, and we hung every item from every load of laundry that year.  Between boycotting the dryer and unplugging the TV for a year, we cut our household electricity expenses from upwards of $50/month down to $25/month.  So I know whereof I speak when I say that the dryer sends our money up in smoke, or at least up in warm, humid air.

But my husband is the Lord of the Laundry, and he doesn't particularly like my Darwinian approach to cleaning clothes (Darwinian in the sense  that I figure only the fittest clothes deserve to survive the washing machine; if something shrinks or turns color there, it didn't earn its place in my closet anyway.)  So I've been excluded from the laundry area -- not only from the washer, but also the dryer.

My husband does air dry delicate clothes, including most of his bike outfits.  He owned a large wooden drying rack when we got married, and early on in our marriage, I bought him (at his request) a second giant rack.  So it's not lack of supplies or knowledge that has kept us from air drying.

No, it's the crunchiness factor.  My "don't drive them crazy" directive means I don't nag my husband to conserve both money and the environment by making the painfully obvious choice to air dry clothes, but somehow my subtle opinion has become apparent anyway.  (Right?).   It is possible I sort of tease him about his frivolous dryer habit, but if that is so, I get equal teasing back about the alternative, which is wearing clothes that feel like cardboard.  Given the choice between wearing the figurative hair shirt of crunchy clothes, on the one side, or stylin' those soft outfits, on the other side, my classy husband chooses style.  And since he's the Lord of the Laundry, what he says, goes.

So imagine my surprise when, early this summer, I saw the drying racks come out of the basement into the yard, and then I saw actual clothes on them.  And not even spandex clothes, but cotton clothes.  And then I saw towels on the racks, too!

What had gotten into my husband?  Not that I'm complaining, mind you -- no, not at all. But I didn't know what wonderful turn of events had caused my husband to decide to air dry clothes now, after two decades of dedicated dryer devotion.

I asked him about this cautiously, not wanting to frighten him back into the machine.  It turns out that part of the reason for this new frugal-venture is our old frugal-venture: we have no air conditioning.  He decided that running the dryer just made the house too hot.  And the basement is too humid to air-dry clothes, which is why he moved into the yard.  A bit more experimenting moved the laundry into the garage, where it's protected from rain (as well as from a neighborhood skunk), and where the temperatures are high enough to bake the clothes into dryness overnight.  In fact, he likes this so much that I set up a long rod (formerly, one of my neighbor's curtain rods, which I trash-picked on one of my morning runs) that he uses to hang shirts on plastic hangars.

After nearly a summer of air-drying clothes, what does my husband think of this?  Well, he's realized that nobody in the house "seems to mind cardboard shirts" (his observation).  He might switch back to the dryer once the temperatures drop a bit more, but I think he'll be more inclined to take the air-dry option than in the past.

So that's how I "convinced" my husband to adopt this frugal habit:  I waited 20 years.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Cooking, Exercising, and possibly Gender

Y pulls food out of the fridge while
N-son makes hamburger patties using canning rings.
Miser Dog is *always* ready to help
with the cooking!
School starts up soon again, and in the way that one thing leads to another, cooking meals is becoming a thing-to-reckon-with.  I've long believed in teaching my kids to cook, and I've had intermittent success at actually enforcing a cooking rotation for dinner duties.  Both of my sons have got some serious culinary skills now.

But, man, is it an effort to keep that rotation going!  It seems like any little bump in the road of our daily schedules knocks the dinner-rotation-train off its tracks, and I wind up taking over the main part of the cooking again.  Even this past year, with my husband retired (so that in theory he could take on the majority of dinner-time duties), I've ended up preparing meals about three nights a week, which is more than any other person in the home does.

Part of this is because -- I admit -- I'm a bit of a control freak about some things.  I rescue food from the soup kitchen where I work so that it doesn't get tossed in the trash, and so I make pizza-bagels for dinner that night.  Or we have a family special dinner about once a month, and preparations for those events are Mine-All-Mine, baby.  Or there are vegetables coming out of our ears because of our CSA and our garden, and I feel morally obligated to get those green things onto the table and into our bellies before they turn into something only the compost pile would accept.

So at any rate, I know the dinner-on-me thing is partly a matter of my own bossy and controlling tendencies.

But there's more going on that dictates dinner management, and I think it's a sports thing -- maybe even a gendered sports thing.  I think that athletics conspires to make moms (and not sons or husbands) do the dinner cooking.  Am I crazy to think so?

My female friends and I love running together.   We all, in our various ways, schedule our running early in the morning, to minimize family disruption.  With my friend June, I run about 4k every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 6 a.m.  We get home by 6:30, wake our kids to get them ready for school, and then get ourselves ready for work.  My long-distance friends run together on Saturdays at the "late" hour of 7 a.m., which means our kids can sleep in until we get home.

My husband and his (mostly male) buddies, on the other hand, have a daily bike ride that starts at 4:00 p.m. and lasts until 6 or 6:30 -- which is right when the kids are getting out of school and starting homework.  My sons similarly have late afternoon/early evening sports.  J-son doesn't get home from boxing until 7:15.  N-son has after-school squash, plus evening drums and voice rehearsals.  So the men-folk in my household are not around to prepare dinner, at least not unless we wait until 8 p.m. to eat.  If our friends are any indication, the same pattern holds in many households across our city.

With the school year starting up again -- and with my committee load kicking into high gear this year -- I've been keeping an eye on our dinner scheduling.  We've recently pulled out the old "Family Meal Planning White Board" (with the days of the week in permanent marker, and the chef of the day in dry erase marker).  There are five us us at home (that includes our host daughter, Y, who takes a meal a week), so there are plenty of chefs to go around.  With a bit of careful work, we can coordinate with sports and musical schedules.

Sometimes, the hard part about making dinner is figuring out what to make. But for our family lately, it's almost as tricky to figure out who is making it.  Wish us luck!

Friday, August 19, 2016

From fence to canning jar shelves

This  little essay could be called
"Reason #167 I love my cordless drill".  
In between preparing my syllabus and going to all those bazillion meetings that seem to pop up just before the beginning of a semester, I love the feeling of ripping wood apart and putting it back together in new configurations.

The fence that has come apart has been coming back together in a variety of useful new ways.  Like, as a solar dehydrator. And as Adirondack chairs.  But also, most recently, as shelves for my empty canning jars.

(We had had shelves for the spare jars before, made out of cinderblocks and scrap wood, but because of recent basement renovations including getting a new hybrid electric water heater, those shelves had to move.  And once we moved them, we realized they were falling apart. Plus, they weren't really exactly the right size for canning jars -- sort of space-inefficient plus saggy -- so making a new set of shelves is like a basement upgrade.)

At any rate, I started with two-by-fours to make a pair of ladder-y things, with the rungs spaced 9 inches apart, which happens to be just about the right separation for storing quart-sized canning jars.  The circular saw was my first friend, to get all the pieces the right size. But after I was done with the circular saw, I pulled out my BFF, the cordless drill, and started forming strong attachments.

First I made two ladder-like things. Then I stood the two ladders up with diagonal braces while I attached the fence boards-cum-shelves.

The drill: it stands at the ready.

And here are the completed shelves, empty.   (Note the diagonal brace on the back, to add stability.  The mathematician in me loves how useful triangles are!)

Here are the shelves with boxes of empty canning jars.  The quart-sized jars near the bottom of the shelf have almost no head-room (as I designed--perfecto); the pint-sized jars in  the middle have a bit of space above; the one-cup jars fit double-stacked.  This will store a lot more jars in a lot less space than before, and it also keeps everything nice and visible. I'm so happy with how this came out. 

More up-cycling is happening in here.   If you look carefully, you'll see a printer box in the middle.  I love using printer boxes for storing things, partly because they're free and abundant, partly because they're recyclable once I destroy them, and partly because they're so easy to cut down to make handles or visible openings.  I've discovered that if I cut them right at the top of the flap that folds up, they're the perfect height for quart-sized canning jars.  This means I can store the jars with a printer-box lid on top, which will help even more with keeping basement dust and dirt out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Kids who are getting bigger

One last vacation story . . .

On the long drive back from the family vacation, we stopped in a midwestern city to have dinner with my best friend from my elementary/high school days.  The timing of the trip worked out perfectly for this!  Yay, perfect timing!

Also, yay for best friends from long ago, and the chance to catch up with each other!  And yay for a home-cooked dinner on a long drive!

My friend has two kids, and of these two, Sam is very close in age to my own sons.  They've met once or twice before -- in fact, the boys got to play together a few years ago.  So N-son remembered Sam and was looking forward to seeing him again.

And when we did meet up, N-son took me aside and said in an awed voice, "Mom, Sam has gotten a lot bigger since we last saw him!"

N-son thinks it's funny to wear his regular glasses
and his sunglasses at the same time.  

Um, yeah, N-son; Sam isn't the only teenage boy who's gotten a lot bigger these last few years!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Family recurrence map

There's a swirl of life that's a bit like a mathematical curve called the Lorentz butterfly attractor.  The shape (of your life, or of the curve) is stable, but tracking where the heck you've gone as you've traveled back and forth through the shape isn't always easy.

A mathematician named Poincare decided to look at a simpler version of the tracking question; instead of looking at the whole shape, he just put a kind of a toll-gate across one of the bands, with all the lanes of that particular loop passing through the toll-gate.  Then he looked at when and how you pass through that toll-gate again, and again, and again.  That's the Poincare recurrence map.

In a way, our annual family vacation is like a Poincare recurrence map.  Once a year, my dad, my sisters, and our families get together. It's a little glimpse into all that we're doing, how far we've come, where we're headed.

My dad and some of his grandkids work on a jigsaw puzzle,
or maybe on their cell phones.

The grandchild set, for example: they're growing so well.  My nephew -- who used to be a wild and unpredictable bundle of energy and noise -- is now buying his own home, has a job, and is halfway through a PhD.  A niece who spent her toddler years with a propensity to be whiny and picky has pushed herself hard into ecological endeavors, and is now amazing at caring for farm animals (her own and other peoples').  Seeing these kids go from pest to professional makes me optimistic about the chances for my own children.

My sons, who have had their own share of a-little-too-much exuberance in the past, impressed their aunts this week with their helpfulness and maturity.  I sort of see my sons' growth myself, but my sisters see the changes more starkly because my sisters get to see the boys only once a year.  And then, when I see my sons through my sisters' eyes, I can see the changes, too.

I like to stop and reflect on my life every once in a while.  I make New Year's resolutions twice a year (each winter at the turn of the new calendar year, and again each summer at the turn of the new academic year), and part of the reason I do this is because I like the chance to pause and reflect:  where have I done well?  What do I still need to work on? What parts of my life could use a bit of additional attention?

The family get-togethers give me a chance for an external reality check.  For example, I like that I've stayed in pretty good shape over the years.  The fact that my 80-year-old dad is still stooping down on one knee to help with a jigsaw puzzle, or that he volunteered to walk a mile to the grocery store and then back a mile with a bag of groceries, inspires me to stay active.  (My other elderly relatives provide the stick to my dad's carrot; they haven't made time in their lives for exercise; they're now having major trouble handling a single set of stairs; and getting up and down from chairs is almost more than they can manage.  It's sad to watch.).

But lest I get all high on my own fitness levels, running with my sisters reminded me that I've been letting the strength-building side of my workouts wane a bit.  Look at us: a bunch of 40- and 50-year old faces on top of some fairly pumped bodies.  My sisters impress me, and they make me want to step up my game just a notch.
Me and my two sisters.
These once-a-year gatherings come with other lessons that nudge me.  My sisters are massively organized and helpful.  As much as I like to think I am organized and helpful, too, they are the anti-tornados that blow into the vacation home, and wherever they touch down, things are set to rights.  My youngest sister arrived in New Mexico with three coolers worth of food, a list of family allergies and food preferences, and a chalkboard for writing up breakfast and dinner menus.  My middle sister flew in with the family napkins and a comprehensive list of local activities we might want to take part in.  And me?  I arrived with a pair of hungry teenage boys and a couple of big hugs.   Miser Mom the moocher. 

It was a fabulous week.  I'm glad to be back home again, what with the tomato vines groaning under the weight of their fruit and the fall semester looming over me like a tidal wave.  And I'm also glad that being back home means that for a week or so, I was away, looking in at my life from the outside.  It's a good thing to do, to pause and think about what I'm doing . . . and then to zoom forward and keep doing it some more.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lunch, Land, and Lyrics

What does it look like to go on a vacation with my family?

Well, partly it looks like this, because my dad loves the South West.
The ruined church and grave wall in Taos, New Mexico.

My dad, adored by his daughters, arranges the family vacation every year by soliciting possible dates from us, and then announcing the actual date and location.  And we go where he says:  because he's our dad, and because we adore him, and because he pays for the rented house where we stay (not to mention a huge part of our travel expenses).  We don't really mind that we have no say in the destination.

Once we get to the place where we're staying, my sisters (and I, but not as much as my sisters) take on the task of organizing meals.  Increasingly, the next generation gets involved, too.  We take turns making dinner for the 15-or-so people who are gathered.  Even when we go on day trips, we avoid restaurants:  we make our own sandwiches . . .
. . . and pack them in coolers to take with us.  Cheaper than restaurants, and faster, too. This makes sight-seeing with many, many people much easier.

Below are a few gratuitous photos from our sight seeing.
I loved the colors in this blanket, and
took the photo so I could remember this combination.

At the Pueblo tour in Taos, what the grandkids loved
the most was the friendly dogs.
Although the Pueblo was a really remarkable tour, too.

Dad bought us tickets to the Santa Fe Opera performance of Don Giovanni.
This is what it looks like outside the theater;
a stunning view (looks better in person than in the photo).

The stage itself has no backdrop, so the audience looks through the stage
to see the hills and sagebrush beyond.  

But when we're not doing the breath-taking, stunning stuff, there's a lot of just-as-fun but not-as-photo-worthy stuff.  Big meals around a giant table.  Runs together through the local neighborhood with my sisters and me catching up on children, exercise regimens, jobs, friends.  Jigsaw puzzles. Card games. Knitting lessons.  Journal entries in the family journal book.  Bike rides that my husband and N-son take together.  Grandkids (ages 13 to 27) huddled around a TV watching dance contests, while the older generations gather at the dining room table to map out future home construction projects.

Santa Fe is truly lovely, and I'm glad we came.  Here's where I insert the standard hokey phrase about the expensive parts of this trip not being the best parts . . . isn't it nice when the standard hokey phrase is actually true?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Bug-maggedon on wheels

Phase 2 of our vacation has begun.  Phase 1 happened when I drove my husband and two sons to the big summer math meetings (yay! what teenage boys don't want to go to math meetings with their mother?!?).  Phase 2 involved driving even further west, all the way to New Mexico.

We left the little old Prius (with its original cassette deck and homemade crunchy dents) at home, and rented a van. The smallest van we could rent is this 15-passenger behemoth.  

What this van lacks in economy and efficiency, it makes up for in several other ways, most notably lots and lots of space for luggage, including a pair of bikes, plus plenty of space for people to spread out.  Photo bomb!

On the way back home from New Mexico, we'll have 5 people, and three of them will be able to stretch out on the benches and sleep while the others drive and ride shotgun.  That's just amazing luxury right there.

It's also (marginally?) cheaper than buying multiple plane tickets, renting bikes, and paying for multiple airport shuttles.  Well, at least I hope so.  We'll see, once we tally up tolls and gas.

A dubious feature of this amazing van is that it comes equipped with a windshield outfitted for perfect bug-meggedon.  Ewwwww.  There is just way too much scrambled anatomy happening in the front of this vehicle.  Yuckers.

So, we left the math meetings in Columbus around 3 p.m. and barreled our way west.  My husband and I traded off driving, with him taking late night and me taking early morning, our van passing the St. Louis Arch as twilight fell, passing Garth Brooks Boulevard in the middle of the night (jeepers!), and seeing the sun rise on the windmill farms that begin at Clarendon, Texas and that continue for dozens and dozens of miles.   We stopped only to refill the tank a bunch of times, scraping off as many sticky bug intestines as we could.

We arrived in Santa Fe just in time for lunch.  We found wind sculptures of a different form, but just as mesmerizing.

We have left behind us the realm of expensive restaurant dining, re-entering the frugal land of home-cooked meals that is a well-honed tradition among my extended family.    We've pushed tables together to make a long, long table that can hold all sixteen of us,  . . .

. . . and we've claimed cooking nights.  I'm cooking on Tuesday -- I'll have to think of something fun to make.

In the meantime, it's good to be back with family again.  The best parts of vacation, for me, are always the people I get to share experiences and food with, even more that the experiences and food themselves.  It's great to be here!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Cousin connections

When I was a young kid, my aunt adopted a daughter.  This was pretty bold of her for a bunch of reasons.  For one thing, adoption was not as socially acceptable back then (TV shows would occasionally have plots that had kids worrying that they'd been adopted, and discovering to their relief that they hadn't been!  They were "real" kids!  Phew!)  For another thing, my aunt was a single woman.  And for a third thing, she was adopting across race lines. 

Clearly, my aunt's example influenced me a lot.  It meant even more to me when we got the good news that her second adopted child had been born on my 17th birthday.   My birthday cousin!  Little Jordan was adorable.

But by the time Jordan himself turned 17, my mom and my aunt had had a falling out, so I haven't seen my birthday cousin in years and years.  This trip to Columbus has been a chance to catch up with him, since he still lives out here.  It has been a real treat to see how he's doing.  It's also really cool to finally have my sons meet their first-cousin-once-removed.  They got tight right away.  (This is one of those expensive restaurant meals we've been having that I both twitch at but also know are indispensable and totally worth it).

Jordan's doing great.  He's had a remarkable career in the public service sector, serving as principal of several high schools, getting a PhD in human services analytics, serving as a regional administrator for juvenile parole offices (the boys got to hold his badge, as you can see above), starting his own consulting firm, teaching more than a few graduate courses, and generally doing really well.  His wife, who teaches high school math (yay!), couldn't make it to dinner, unfortunately, but it was darned good to hear how well his life is going.  

My favorite memory of Jordan is him as an adorable little 3 year old in a jacket and bowtie, telling me at my first wedding that I looked "like a fairy princess".  Neither of us look quite like that anymore, but I think I like the current version even more.

  Go, cuz!

As a result of this visit, I've gotten the chance to remember some arcane info I learned from my hero, Miss Manners (aka Judith Martin).

  • Jordan and I are first cousins.
  • Jordan and my sons are therefore first cousins, once removed. ("Removed", because they're one generation apart).
  • If Jordan and his wife ever have adopt children, those children and my sons will be second cousins.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The perils of food and lodging

Here is a view out of the window as I woke up and did my mathematics this morning.

We're on the 20th floor of a grand hotel in Columbus, Ohio, where MathFest is taking place.  Normally, I (and my family, if they tag along) go for a cheap hotel, possibly at some distance from the meeting.  But this year, I happen to be one of the big deal speakers, so the organizers arranged to put me-and-mine in a top-floor room of the swanky conference hotel, expenses courtesy of them.

We appreciate the gesture, really.  It's awfully sweet to have lodging paid for.  But being in a swanky hotel makes my family appreciate why we like our Holiday Inns.  For one thing, we always get a pair of double beds, but here we have a king bed (great for me and my hubby) with a rollaway bed and half-sofa (less great for the boys).  Not to mention crowded.  Adding the bicycles to the room doesn't help; my husband loves being on the second floor for easy bike transportation, so this 20th floor elevator ride is frankly a bit of an inconvenience for him.  (Cue the violins, everyone!)

Also, here in the Swanky Suites, the pool is small and there's no free breakfast.  The free greasy breakfast with piles of greasy sausages and greasy eggs and more sausages and maybe bacon is like, the best part of traveling, with the pool a close second, or so say my sons.  And J-son adds, the weight room is really big there.   If we'd paid our own way and stayed at our favorite dive, we'd have gotten all that, but instead, all we get is a king bed with a panoramic view.  Well, I guess you get what you pay for.

Speaking of getting what we pay for, this trip is turning into restaurant-mania.  I've tried to do my "preventative shopping" by bringing trail mix, bread, peanut butter, and a few other grocery supplies.  But there's no kitchen in the Swanky Suites, plus of course I'm here to meet with other math people, plus double-of-course my family is not as knee-jerk frugal as I am, so the restaurants keep happening.  And I've forgotten how much it costs for a family of four to eat out.

We had lunch with one of my coauthors, who was raving about a restaurant she'd been to with great piles of frog legs "for $10!"  And I knew that she found this price astounding, but I wasn't sure if she meant astounding because it was "so much money!" (like I was thinking) or "great bargain!" (which, it turns out, was what she meant).  I said something about being out-of-touch with restaurant prices because we eat so much at home.  My co-author replied that cooking at home can cost much more than eating out. I must have looked like I doubted that, because she continued, "well, you have to buy all the supplies."

For what it's worth, according to Mint, our family spent well under $4000 on food (groceries and restaurants together) during the last 6 months.  That's about $5.50 per person, per day.  These restaurant trips we're tucking under our belts on this trip are making me writhe.  I'm sure I'll get over it; it's probably good for me to deal with this discomfort.

But all this luxury is making me appreciate all my old familiar, run-down, elbow-grease-requiring, frugal comforts.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The best job in the world (Miser Dog edition)

It is possible that the best job in the whole wide world is cleaning dishes.

Especially if you are a dog.
Thanks to our host daughter, Y, for capturing this photo
while our back was turned.

And also if your owners bring back 150-ish plates from a church lunch where roast beef sandwiches were served.  Not to mention, chocolate cake and potato salad.  (Yes, mixing all these together is just fine, says Miser Dog.)

And the job gets even more fulfilling (so to speak) if there are so many dishes that your owners don't notice when you drag many of them into the living room.  

Although if you actually want the plates clean clean (as in, washed with soap and water), and not just licked clean, you picky person you, then it's good to hand the last few details off to your minions.  Here's all those plates cleaned, dried, and stored in buckets.

I'm so happy I got all these plates for our church.  They're getting used a lot, and people at church really like them. In fact, these recently-cleaned dishes will see use again later this week at a wedding rehearsal dinner.  Lovely!

Miser Dog hopes that the rehearsal dinner has meat sandwiches with meat gravy and a meat salad.  Oh, and a chocolate meat cake (but maybe without the chocolate, since that's bad for dogs).   He's ready to help clean up, whenever he's needed!