Saturday, November 18, 2017

Miser Family update: Othello victory version

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

Let's start with some yay-hooray-happy news:  N-son applied for a post-secondary spot at a nearby culinary institute.  (He did this through Squash Aces, a super-wonderful after-school program that combines exercise with academics, a mens sana in corpore sano kind of program that's been a huge blessing to him and to our family).  And he heard back that he got in!  He's thrilled.  He knows he has options for next year, after he graduates from high school!   And to pile icing on top of the cake, he ended the week by actually playing a few squash matches, and actually winning them both.  He turns 18 tomorrow; what an awesome way to close out his seventeenth year!

Here's some more good news (of the genre that falls into the "it could have been worse" category):  my husband continues to not need surgery.  Yay?!?   He's still very achey, but a series of MRIs and x-rays says that his bulging disk is fixable with pain meds and physical therapy.  I have to admit that every time he talks about his back and his bulging disk, I think about this poem, which I first read when I was seven years old:
Algy met a bear. 
The bear was bulgy.
The bulge was Algy. 
[From "The Moon is Shining Bright as Day".  If you only own one book of poetry, this is the book you should own.  Go buy it right now if you don't have it.   Seriously.  Then get Sing a Song of Popcorn.  And then you can go back to the rest of your life.]

Also, we got a visit from K-daughter and A-child one hectic night, and we got to eat dinner together, and give each other hasty hugs, and say "good to see you!", before we sped off in our various directions.  Three cheers for having a family who loves one another in busy times.

As for me, I think I win the MAotW (Most Adventures of the Week) Award.  Does this come with a trophy?  I don't know . . . but if I get a trophy, here's why:

  • One of my colleagues has taken the local version of the flu and done it to an extreme, winding up for almost a week in the hospital.  So I got to go visit him several times.  I'm very bad at small talk, so I took one of my favorite board games when I visited him.  I whomped his butt twice at Othello.   Later in the week, when he was strong enough to beat me, the doctors decided he was well enough to go home.  Phew!  
  • A video my college made about me came out on social media.  It's 4 minutes long (longer than most of your favorite poems, but shorter than most of your favorite short stories).  I've had lots of my former students writing to me because of this, which is really, really nice.  
  • I gave an exam, preceded by the usual massive amount of office hours, and succeeded by the usual one-on-one conferences about whether to drop the class.  I hate giving exams.  I'm glad that's behind me now.
  • I took 11 students to a local math conference today, where we got to hear a series of kick-butt math talks, including one by my favorite free-lance math writer, Evelyn Lamb. Awesome!  It's so much fun to share what I love with the next generation.
And that's the news from the Miser Family Household, which continues to be rich in adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Decluttering with Dogs

I admit that I'm a bit of a stalker when it comes to online de-cluttering forums.  I love being a voyeur of how other people decide to clean out their spaces.  I read cleaning books just for fun.  I even argue with the authors of those books, the same way Najmama (our Hungarian grandmother neighbor) used to argue with the newscasters on TV, despite knowing full well that the authors and newscasters couldn't hear us or benefit by the wisdom of our words.

So I am totally familiar with the standard questions that experts urge us to ask, when we decide whether something belongs in our home.
  • Does it spark joy?
  • Have we used it within the past year?
  • If we didn't have this object, would we want to buy it?
Well, over the past six months, I've realized there's yet another question to think about:
  • Would the dog eat it?
Maybe that's not even a question, because the answer is pretty much always "yes".  For an example of everything edible, I offer the family toilet plunger:  it doesn't spark joy, we haven't used it this year, but we'd definitely want to buy one if the dog ate it, and it is apparently delicious to a dog palate.

Her tail is blurry because she's wagging it.  Yummy toilet plunger!
Prewash isn't really as destructive as many other dogs I've had.  But maybe that's because, in owning other dogs, I've learned to hide most of the things she'd want to eat, and my family has likewise picked up the habit of picking up after themselves and before the dog strikes.

Still, who would have thought a toilet plunger was edible?

Related question: wouldn't eating a toilet plunger make you sick?

Tail still wagging.  Mmmm!
[Answer: yes, yes it would make you sick.  Prewash responds:  And your point is . . . ?]

From the point of view of humans, though, the question about "would the dog eat it?" translates to, "Do I need to have a place on a shelf or behind a door for this object, to keep it away from the dog?"  Shoes, for example, don't stay on the floor next to my bed, not even overnight.  They go back into the closet pretty much the moment they come off my feet.

And the dog-eat-it test for decluttering makes me happier and happier that my clothes closet has lots of open space for the things I love or use or merely just want to own, rather than being a purgatory for all the things that I don't want to look at right now.

 Likewise, even though there's almost nothing in the bathroom closet that sparks joy, I'm glad I've cleared out duplicates and out-of-date bottles, and that I even have room in the closet for a little trash can.   (Because used q-tips and plastic packagings and such are insanely delicious to the dog, and therefore need to be kept behind closed doors).

I should have kept the toilet plunger there, too.  Well, now I know.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Miser Family Update: Back and forth version

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

So full.  So full.  November is a month of Many-Little-Things-And-Some-Big-Ones.

Prewash likes stretching with me.
For me, my calculus class is getting super-intense as we get closer to the second midterm, and the paperwork for my fall committee is piling up so high that I almost fear an avalanche might bury me.  It's hard to share how much fun it is to teach calculus -- We're getting to optimization!  Woo-hoo!  My students sort-of seem to get the second derivative test!  Nonetheless, even though it's hard to explain the details to others, I'm having fun teaching.

For my husband, there's the usual classes and protests, but what has loomed large in his life this past week is his most recent injuries.  The sore back turned into shooting pain in his legs, which led to his most recent MRI.  Here's the texting conversation that ensued:
MyGuy:  Good news.
MG:  Need therapy not surgery
Me: That's good for people who actually do their therapy.
MG:  LOL 😂
Me:  Is this therapy you do with a person hurting you, or by yourself?
MG:  Driving.
Okay, so once he got home and could safely talk, he told me it turns out he gets to have a professional torturer, plus he gets to try to do his exercises, all with the goal of fixing his bulging disk.  Let's cross fingers that the combination proves effective.

Meanwhile, N-son wins awards for thoughtfulness.   Here's the conversation that leads to the award, started by him on a day that was raining cats and dogs, and I was stuck in my office.  
N-son:  Would you like me to bring you your unbrella
Me:  I'm in meetings right now.  But if you wanted to bring it by at 4:30, that would be nice!  Thank you, N-son!
Me:  Actually, even better, could you pick up our CSA vegetables?
N-son: Yep
Me:  I need to double your allowance. You're awesome.
I think she's better at stretching than I am.
If you're interested in a little math problem, figure out what it means that doubling his allowance is the same as tripling it.  heh.  

N-son also took the pictures of Prewash doing these stretches with me.  And then he abandoned us to go on a church Youth Group weekend field trip.  I'm childless now, at least for the weekend.  Thank goodness I have a flexible dog to keep me company.

And that's the news from the Miser family, which continues to be rich in adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Miser Family Update: frights, fixes, and feelings version

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

Many of us celebrated halloween on the front porch of I-daughter, who (dressed as Maleficent) handed out candy to 600 (yes, six hundred) trick-or-treaters.  She lives in a hoppin' neighborhood.  K-daughter and A-child stopped by dressed as Disney princesses.  N-son dressed in his dad's old army uniform, which fits pretty well actually, and he had a very earnest drunk spend a good bit of time thanking him for his service and commend him for all that he does for our country.  N-son, to his credit, held his best at-ease army pose, nodded his head seriously, and responded, "Thank you, sir."  I dressed as a cow.  Prewash came too, dressed as herself.  We hung a sign on the porch railing above her head saying "Free Dog Kisses", and many trick-or-treaters gladly accepted them, much to her wiggly delight.

J-son had his own adventures that I don't entirely understand and that, frankly, I worry about.  One consolation is that I have a birth mother and former foster mom and a boxing coach worrying along with me, so we're forming a good worry team.  That's some comfort, at least.

K-daughter had some adventures in home care, which came with a happy ending.  The drama of her adventures goes something like this.   Act I.   In which the protagonist realizes it's a bad idea to drop the toilet paper holder into the toilet.   Act II.  In which the protagonist realizes it's an even worse idea to then flush the toilet.  Supporting characters show up on stage with plumbing snakes, but eventually leave with little progress.  Act III.  In which the protagonist uses a combination of further flushing and coat hangars to retrieve the toilet paper holder from its hiding place, leading to much relief and celebratory arias via text message.  Kudos to K-daughter.

N-son had a squash match on Saturday.  It always amazes me that anyone can hit that tiny ball.  He's also been awesome this whole week at helping with dishes, which have fallen mainly on his shoulders because . . .

. . . my husband has been off in Minnesota, volunteering at a convention, which is why he hasn't made it into any of the adventure stories above.  He had a great time helping people move lots and lots of boxes . . . until all of a sudden he realized that his back hasn't had a lot of practice moving boxes in recent years.  Plus, maybe the injury he got from his previous trip (falling off of a rock in Galveston) hadn't quite healed up.  At any rate, his back aches like crazy, bad enough that he's come home one day early and already has a doctor's appointment on Monday to check it out.  Poor guy.

In the meanwhile, I've realized about a gazillion reasons that I've missed having him around.  The least sentimental of these reasons is that it's been really nice (when he's not traveling) to come home and have him in charge of dinner and child care, and this last week has reminded me of just how much a time-suck it is to be on top of all of that.  So even though my husband is flat on his back right now, he's flat on his back at home, and I'm very glad to have him here again.

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Miser Family update: rich-in-family version

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

The week kicked off with a particularly rich-and-full day.   On Sunday alone, I
  • went to church, where N-son did a bang-up job of playing drums, and also where we had a special fellowship time in which I dragged out my reusable cups to avoid styrofoam-cup-trash-hell;
  • brought J-son over to the home for a bit of love, and where I also filled his belly with fresh lettuce and tuna and then I loaded him down with a new bike tire and  shampoo and shaving cream and lotion and deodorant and other things that are hard to come by when you're living on your own in a room in a boxing gym;
  • walked over to my college campus where I got to go to a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i faith;
  • biked over to a pot luck dinner and plant swap with a neighborhood gardening group; 
  • gave our dog Prewash an awesome chase-the-ball workout; and
  • celebrated the silly side of life by watching This is Spinal Tap with my husband.
The view from my office window on Wednesday.  Fall is here!
And all that was just Sunday.  Life is good. 

Later in the week, the full richness (rich fullness?) continued, with a giant family dinner on Tuesday, feeding not just N-son and J-son but also K-daughter and I-daughter and my grandchild, A-child. 

View from my hotel window on Friday morning,
looking across Seattle city and water
toward Seattle trees and mountains. 

And then on Thursday, I hopped onto an airplane, flew to Seattle, gave a talk or two on Friday, and then boarded a plane bound for home.  I'm writing these words from the Chicago O'Hare airport, waiting to get on a flight that will take me home to see my husband a mere 12 hours before he gets on his own flight to go somewhere else. 

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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Stumbling upon the simple

I don't know why I didn't think of this years ago:  I can make my own coin rolls. 

My husband piles his loose change on my dresser, and I keep the quarters and dimes for yard-sale season.  The pennies and nickels go into their own jars, and eventually we take them to the bank or put then in coin counting machines.  Or something.  Except that recently I realized I could count out the pennies and nickels --- and dimes, too, because honestly I'm not doing nearly as much yard sale-ing now that my kids are grown and the house has had 20 years of being furnished up.  And then I could use my own paper to create rolls.

To roll the coins, I folded one end of the paper up to create a kind of a base, rolled the paper just a little around this base, and tucked a few coins into the "corner" I'd made.  If you think about surfers in a wave, with one end of the wave open and the other end holding the coins, that's sort of the idea.  I kept adding coins and tightening the roll as I went along. 

I taped these rolls shut with the little extra sticky pieces that come at the edge of sheets of stamps, so I didn't even have the expense of tape.   I wrote on the outside of the roll what was inside.  And then I plopped these babies in my Tuesday Market backpack, and used them to help pay for my milk and yogurt.  I got rid of 350 pennies this past Tuesday at the dairy stand.  Woo-hoo!

Okay, this isn't exactly a huge, life style revelation.  But it cleared out a bunch of coin clutter in my drawers, and it made me feel a little sheepish that I'd never even considered putting my do-it-yourself skills to work on this task before.

Which leads me to a different kind of dough:  in particular, bread.  I've mentioned once or twice that I've been really enjoying a local gardening club that I'm getting into.  Unlike me, these people don't kill half their plants every summer, and they actually know the names of the stuff that comes out of the ground in their yards.  I come as a supplicant to worship at the altar of their horticultural knowledge, and they cheerfully tolerate me and even offer me good advice.  Last week, there was a pot luck dinner, and of course I went.  I forgot to make a dish, so at the last minute I grabbed most of a loaf of bread I'd pulled out the bread maker earlier that day, plus a jar of applesauce that I'd tossed in the fridge when it didn't seal in my recent canning session.

Hah.  I thought I'd totally wimped out, but I was the Belle of the Ball.  The other gardeners were incredulous:  You MADE your own bread?  They told stories of trying years ago and failing; the recipes were so tricky.  (You have to warm the bowl!  And the bread came out like a brick -- I discovered later I'd killed the yeast).  I could have understood their reaction if I'd been at a gathering of, say, the Mall Walkers.  But gardeners thinking of bread making as requiring advanced expertise?

Sheesh.  Here's how you make bread:  you get some water close to body temperature.  You add some yeast and flour.  You probably add some salt also, and maybe also other stuff because you're getting fancy (spices, or raisins, or even oil, sugar, or powdered milk because of the texture).  You mix it together until you get something that forms a ball and doesn't quite stick to the bowl or your hands, especially if your hands are floured.  You cover the ball with oil or a damp cloth and let the ball rise somewhere between and hour and a day.  Maybe you punch it down and let it rise again, maybe not.  And then you stick it in the oven.  That's it.  Bread.

So next month, when our Garden Club isn't having a garden meeting (because, November), I'm going to hold a bread-making session for the gardeners.  Making bread is not hard . . . unless you've never done it, in which case it seems impossible because it's so unfamiliar.  Sort of like rolling coins in your own pieces of paper.   But much, much yummier. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Miser Family Update: Health, Fall, and Food edition

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

Last week, I went to give blood and nearly got turned down because my blood pressure was 101-over-49.   (For the record, that bottom number was too low by one point).  So I got myself stressed, and my blood pressure went up to 110-over-60, and then I was allowed to donate.  Score!

In the middle of this week, I had my yearly physical (aka, the Annual Celebration of Health), at which my doctor explains to me that she really ought to exercise more and lose a few pounds.  (But me, I'm fine.)  I was the only person that day who biked to the doctor's office.  Or probably the only person who biked there in the past month, or even since my husband had his own Annual Celebration.

My husband had his own doctor's visit this week, but he drove, because he was checking out the pain he's had ever since he slipped and fell off a rock last week in Galveston, TX.  The doc said he seems not to have broken anything serious, and that the pain is probably from badly bruised muscles and will get better over time.  So he winces when he gets out of a chair and when he gets on and off his bike . . . but he's still going strong in spite of the fall.

Speaking of fall, the weather is getting cold enough here that I'm flirting with the idea of turning on the heat again.  I've pulled my running gloves and my biking gloves out of storage for my early morning exercise, but so far in the house closing the windows and putting on piles of blankets at night seems to be enough.

We celebrated food and the fall harvest by taking N-son to a movie that's showing nationally, but that in our area is promoted by the homeless shelter where N-son and I have both volunteered.  N-son really loved Same Kind of Different as Me; it's a sweet, feel-good movie that ends with music by Brad Paisley (who I love).  I enjoyed the movie through N-son's eyes, but I'm getting kind of jaded, too.  Through my own eyes, I saw it as the standard trope: an earth mother who almost never gets to talk to any other women in the movie; a rich white guy who has character flaws but who eventually sees the light by doing good things for a noble (but disadvantaged) black man.  And the noble black man never gets to talk to other black men in the movie.  The movie was better than I am making it out to be; I'm not much fun to go to movies with now that I'm getting older!

N-son learned to make guacamole at school, and fortunately for us, he had homework.   It was delicious, and we all loved it.  If you wonder if dogs like guacamole, Prewash will tell you:  yes, yes, they do.

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The end of a compost era

The compost bins are becoming fence boards again.
Today, I did something I didn't think I'd do until we sold this house and packed up to move to a new one:  I took down my compost bins on the north side of my garage.

Years and years ago, I'd made a pair of side-by-side compost bins out of old fencing materials.  These compost bins have stood us in good stead, receiving leaves and food scraps and yard waste, and eventually returning rich black dirt. 

But I've been attending a neighborhood garden club (one of the many treasures I've gleaned from joining, and a talk by a Master Composter convinced me to try something new.   Did you know that it's possible to get a certificate as a Master Composter?  I didn't, but I do now.

Adding compost to a garden bed, with help from a
wheelbarrow, a pitchfork, and a bunch of muscle.
My own Master Composter noted that there are two big drawbacks to the side-by-side version of composting that I've used.  One drawback is that this set-up require a bunch of stirring/lifting back and forth.  (And I agree; yeah, that's a bit of a chore).  The other is that the compost that emerges is far from the garden where I want the compost to go, so getting the finished compost to the right place requires more work.  (And again, I agree; moving dirt around is a workout, even when it's rich black dirt). 

Morgan the Master Composter instead suggested metal garden fencing.  She says, to do this you make one or two circular bins out of the fencing, using binder clips to close the loop. 

You put these bins basically right in the garden, right where you're going to want the compost to be.  One bin (the near one in the photo below) is the active bin, which you layer up like lasagna, alternating greens and browns.  The possible second bin (in the picture below, it's to the right and it's empty, so it's hard to see) is for the browns that you keep in reserve. 

The idea is that every time you drop more food scraps or green yard waste onto the pile, you then add more dry grasses or leaves (browns from the reserve bin) on top, and the whole thing decomposes in place without even stirring.  The attention to layering is what keeps the pile decomposing nicely.  And when it's all done, then you just unclip the binder clips, celebrate the compost that is exactly where you need a bunch of rich black dirt, and move the bin to a new place so you can start over. 

So, I'm crossing my fingers that this works.  What I liked about my homemade side-by-side compost bins is that I made them out of stuff I had lying around -- the set-up cost me nothing.  In contrast, getting the metal fencing meant a trip to a hardware store [naturally, only after months of keeping my eyes peeled to see if I could snag it for free somehow, but without luck].  

But I'm willing to splurge in hopes that this set-up actually performs as advertised.  I admit that I'm totally fascinated by the fact that my vegetable peelings turn into dirt that then supports even more vegetables.  Well, vegetables and lush patches of weeds, because it's my garden.  But still, check out the kale forest in the background of that photo above . . . backyard miracle right there! 
So if the vegetables can come full circle, I figure I can try a circular compost bin.  Let the new compost era begin.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Super Hero Dinner

A super family.
My family has special dinners about once a month. This month, we decided all of a sudden to have a "Super Hero" dinner, which mostly means dressing up in super hero costumes. We had a hard time thinking what super heroes eat, but we finally decided "Pizza and Beer"*, because they usually eat while assuming the identity of their alter egos. Plus, apparently Peter Parker was a pizza delivery guy when he wasn't a photographer. 

Disclaimer: almost all of my kids are legally 
allowed to drink beer, and we also served root beer.

 A friend suggested "Kale/Quinoa salad", because those are super foods, so we added that in and thereby had something moderately healthy to eat, too. Except that this week we got a huge amount of beet greens and radish greens in our CSA box, and no kale, so we had a "root vegetable greens-and-quinoa" salad instead of a kale-and-quinoa salad, and we still called that super foods.

I also decided, since we were celebrating super heroes, to invite someone I know that I've admired for a while.  She dressed as "super professor", as you can see here in this photo. 

You might not think of a theater professor as being particularly heroic, but she's traveled much of the world on her own or with one or two other people.  A while back, she particularly fell in love with Nepal, and decided to do a twist on Tibetan monk performances by starting her own performing company there to wander up out into the hills surrounding Katmandu and do performances about health and hygiene.  Her local actors performed skits about the importance of washing hands and of building toilets and of feeding pregnant women.  Their troop reached something like a half a million people before the war broke out and it became too dangerous to hike into the mountains.   Now she maintains a smaller company (two people) who work with war orphans in the city of Katmandu to use theater as a way of dealing with tragedy and aiming for hope.  It was fabulous having her tell her story -- heck, her stories -- to my kids. 

Captain Adorable, trying on her costume.
She thinks capes are annoying.
If you ever have a Super Hero dinner of your own, I highly recommending someone you admire a lot but haven't ever had over to your house.  It's a fabulous way to make rich connections.

I also recommend making super hero costumes out of just about anything you have at hand.  Prewash (aka "Captain Adorable") would disagree with me and say that costumes are for biting at.  Dog costumes don't last very long, so definitely don't splurge on those.

But for people, t-shirt sleeves can be cut to make awesome masks.   The ends of socks make great wrist bands.  A pillowcase attached with binder clips is a great cape . . . good enough, in fact, that you can fly from one room of the house to another . . .
Look, up in the living room.  Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No, it's the Masked Math Marvel!
. . . and then land bravely in a proper super hero pose. 
Feet in a strong stance,
shoulders back, hands on hips,
head held high.

Just like this.  It's good to be super!

Monday, October 9, 2017

When you can't see the kale for the pickles

When I was growing up, everyone in my family took turns at making dinner.  My mom actually had me -- the artistic one, apparently-- design a KP chart*, so we knew who was cooking dinner, who was washing dishes, and who was vacuuming and sweeping each day.  (Okay, we "only" vacuumed and swept the house 3 days per week, one day per daughter, but the KP chart said which one of us did it which day).
*KP is an army abbreviation for "Kitchen Police",
or in my mom's lingo, a Girl Scout abbreviation 
for "Kitchen Patrol".  My mom was organized and strict!

It was sort of an ongoing joke that my mom's meals consisted of leftovers.  In fact, she'd pull a chair up in front of the fridge and pull out pyrex container after corningware container.  She'd reheat those containers in the oven or the microwave, and that would be our meal for the evening.  My sisters and I grumbled a lot about the fact that we and our dad had to cook, but my mom got to reheat.

But the scavengers have a place in the ecosystem, too.  And every once in a while, when I clean out my own refrigerator, I'm glad for the chance to have a "grandmother meal", which makes the most of former meals before they go bad, and also allows me to see what fresh foods still exist in between the bowls and and plates and pots of stuff.

Problem is, my refrigerator is usually in the state where there's "no food, only ingredients".  My love of canning jars and all that goes in them means that we tend to accumulate lots of jars of something-or-other waiting to be made into dinner somehow.  Just last Friday, in fact, we'd reached a stage where I knew I had a head of kale in there somewhere, but I couldn't see it for all the mis-matched jars of olives, diced carrots, sliced turnips, and other potentially yummy vegetables that had yet to find their way into a meal.  Not to mention, we had lots of partially filled jars of sauces cluttering up the refrigerator door.  Some people can't see the forest for the trees, but I couldn't see the kale for the pickles.
Where, oh where, is the kale?

So I pulled a Miser Mom version of my Mama.  I emptied the shelves of the refrigerator onto the kitchen counter, and I concocted a recipe made of . . . well, of ingredients.   I gathered all the root vegetables and tossed them into a hot cast-iron skillet with oil, garlic, and salt.  I consolidated as much as I could of four bottles of barbecue sauce into one bottle.  The remaining three bottles, I added a bit of water to, shook for all I was worth, and tossed the liquid in with the root vegetables (thereby simultaneously rinsing those bottles before recycling them).  I added a jar of sliced mizuna stems and a bunch of arugula.  I added pretty much everything I thought my husband or son wouldn't want to cook with, and I returned to the fridge the few remaining jars or bowls of things my guys might actually use -- the tomatoes and (yes) the kale.

I love it that the recipe was accidentally awesome.  I made it just for me because I figured no one else would like it.  But when my husband and son got home later that evening, they snarfed it all down and there was none left for me to take to school for lunch the next day.  Huzzah for serendipitous recipes!

But I also continue to appreciate the magic of canning, so that I can store the bulk of my food on non-refrigerated shelves.  On  shelves,  I can see all of my stored food easily.  Finding food in the basement is so much easier than finding it in the fridge or the freezer.  So here's a shout-out to my daughter and her best friend, who came over later in the week (long after the danger of being served Hot Barbecue Root Vegetable Medley), and who helped me cut up apples and can 24 quarts and a dozen smaller jars of applesauce. 

Twirly apples are one of the most enjoyable things about
spending 4 hours canning applesauce.
Even after we canned all those jars up, I had a few more bags of apples left for eating.  Fortunately, I'd cleared out space in the fridge for the remaining apples; they go right next to the kale.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Miser Family Update: going places edition

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

My husband and N-son began and ended the week with visits to and by dogs.  In particular, at the beginning of the week they were several states away visiting my step-daughter L and her husband P and their two big dogs.  And then last night L and P and the big dogs returned the favor by visiting us,  much the hyper delight of our dog Prewash.

Soup-er protest against hatred.
My husband also went to an Antifa protest of a Nazi picnic . . . but the Nazi's never showed up, so the Antifa people ate soup together instead.

K-daughter continues to set up her new apartment. It's a lot of work, but I think it's always a lot of fun to arrange furniture and belongings.   I used to spend hours rearranging the furniture in the dollhouse my dad made for me when I was a kid; I liked moving the furniture around a lot more than I liked playing with the dolls that "lived" in the house.   Not surprisingly, K-daughter is likewise finding home-decor a lot easier (and more enjoyable) when A-child is asleep or visiting other people.

J-son has done some home changing, too; toward the end of the week he discovered that his time at his friend's home had come to an end.  After one night of a bit of uncomfortable circumstances, I helped him move his belongings to the boxing gym, where his coach has given him a place to land.  We'll keep crossing our fingers (and bending our knees) that he can make a success of the life he's chosen for himself.

Leaving the "home" theme for the "arts" theme, I just want to say that our family has been celebrating the Nobel Prize of Kazuo Ishiguro, who has become a favorite author of my husband.  And a bunch of us (I-daughter, N-son, my husband and I, and a bunch of friends) had a fabulous evening when we went to a local musical production of Little Shop of Horrors.  How can a funny show end with "disaster" and still be funny?  Beware invasive plant species, I say!

And if you think of op-eds as an art form, I'll just add that I wrote one at the request of our college's PR guy.  He liked it so much he says he's going to try to float it at the NYT.  Of course, that's just his opinion, but it sure was nice to have one person all jazzed that I have an opinion about geometry.  If this piece actually goes anywhere, I'll be sure to brag a bit.

And that's the news from the Miser household, where we continue to be rich in adventures.  May you and yours be similarly blessed.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Miser Family Update, Love notes edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.  We kicked off the week with a one-day-early birthday dinner for J-son, who turned 19 on Monday.  Aside from the fact that he crashed his bike (a family tradition), he seems to be doing well.  The bike, with a bit of TLC and $400 worth of repairs, is likewise on the mend now.  It was good to celebrate a birthday with this kid young man.

Prewash has become somewhat of a celebrity on my campus, and early in the week she got her own kind of love and attention, when the entire Quidditch team mobbed her, paparazzi style.  She manages to deal with the attention just fine -- if you look carefully, you can see her belly up in the middle of the huddle, gratefully receiving love and belly scratches from her adoring fans.

What else?  K-daughter signed a lease on a new apartment, and she's now in the process of moving out of our house.  The apartment is all of half a mile from my home, and only a block from I-daughter's home, so I will still get to see her and my granddaughter A-child regularly.  K-daughter also took (and passed) a CPR course earlier this week.  I'm so proud of all that she's doing.

My husband skipped his newly-usual yoga class to go to a lecture on the history of the Antifa movement, given by a rather reserved, thin, bookish historian.  So much for stereotypes.

N-son and I went together to a huge banquet for supporters of our local rescue mission, where the very very large room was full and yet I knew basically no one.  Usually when I'm in big banquets like this, it's full of mathematicians and I know gazillions of people -- it's odd knowing more people in a city on the other side of the country than in the city I've lived the last quarter century.   But we had a great time getting to meet new people, too.

Speaking of people far away, we heard this past week from X-son, a young man from Haiti we'd attempted unsuccessfully to adopt when he was still a boy.  A missionary we knew had just been down to Haiti, where she helped us sign him up for school for the upcoming year.  I so much admire this missionary.  As she was returning, she wrote,
"We were very fortunate. The hurricane went north of Haiti so we only experienced wind and rain overnight. But about 2 days later we had a huge thunderstorm and left some houses in our area flooded. There was water up to my knees in the street and the creek rose about 8 feet. Went down as fast as it came up. 
We were suppose to come home on Friday the 15th but our flight was canceled and we could not leave until Monday. They said there were just not enough planes in Haiti. It was really good to be home. The night before we left the taxi driver called us and said there was to be riots in Port au Prince so we should come to the city, close to the airport that night so we could be at the airport to leave. So that is what we did. We got out Monday without any problem. There were reports of widespread rioting.  
Always an adventure."

Later she wrote, "X-son face booked me his photo . . . "
He asked me to forward it to you. Said to tell you he loves you and misses you and will work hard in school this year. Said also that he is still living with his mother. He thanked you very much for all you do for him.
He sure is adorable. 

Toward the end of the week, my husband and I celebrated our 21st anniversary (of the day that I agreed to marry him, which to us is even more meaningful then the actual day we married).  I wrote him 21 small notes and left them in the bedroom when I went to work.  When I came back, he'd arranged them on his dresser.  Yet another awww moment for me.  
And the last love letter of the week appeared somehow on my chalkboard, the day that N-son had a half-day of school and spent the second half hanging out with me.  

A lot of love happened this week!  That's the news from the Miser household, where we continue to be rich in adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

My week-long un-Shopping Spree

A week or so ago, I pulled out my "Anti-shopping list" and went on a spree.  My "anti-shopping list" consists of all the places I can take stuff that I no longer want; places where I can give it a new home, or give it a chance to have a new home, or at worst recycle it.

Monday was "new home day": I managed to relocate a high chair and the shirt off my back (or rather, the vest on my back).  The high chair went via Freecycle to a woman who wrote back enthusiastically:

Thank you soo much! I am collecting from a few people for a new mom in need.

That was a feel-good way to get this high chair out of my house. And also, Monday morning I was jogging along with a friend when a woman pulled up in her car to ask where I'd gotten my reflective running vest, because she wanted one just like it.  The thing is, I'd long ago purchased this vest (Vest A) years ago somewhere off the internet, but in the meanwhile I'd found another reflective running vest (Vest B) by the side of the road somewhere, and I like Vest B even more.   So instead of trying to remember where I'd found Vest A, I just took it off and handed it to the driver.  Perfecto.  Now it has a home where it will be appreciated, and I've divested myself (get it?) of something I no longer need.

Tuesday, I took car full of clothing (off my back, not on it), plus household goods, and plus rags (labeled as such) to the Community Aid shop.  I am sort of amazed at how much stuff I accumulate . . . it was rather astounding to see the car totally full of stuff my family no longer wants.  Haven't we already been decluttering for years? Weren't we already tending in the direction of minimalism?  And yet, there in the back seat and in the trunk were boxes and boxes and bags and bags of no-longer-welcome things that had found their ways into our home.   At any rate, I chose the Community Aid for thrifting this stuff because they take the clothes that are no longer wearable:  I put these in a bag labeled "rags" so the store knows not to even bother trying to sell them, but rather just to recycle them. 

And also Tuesday, we put a mattress at the curb, bound for the landfill.  This mattress had been through middle school and teenage boyhood, and was totally, totally gross.  A month-long hunt for ways to recycle this failed to come up with alternative to just trashing it, and I finally gave up.  Sigh.
Wednesday, my husband biked two or three boxes of books over to our Library donation site.  These books will find their way into a monster book sale that helps to raise money for our local library system.   This makes me happy, because I increasingly "store" the books I like to read at the library, and so I do want to try to support that place.

Late in the week, we sold a clothes steamer, via Craig's List.   I'd bought the steamer many years ago as a gift to my husband (aka, "the Lord of the Laundry").  He used the steamer for his suits, and it cut down fairly dramatically on our household dry cleaning bills.  But now that he's retired, we don't need to dry clean or to steam suits (because of course my yard-sale clothes are not of the fancy care variety . . . why the heck would I pay more to clean my clothes than to acquire them in the first place?)

So even though we paid something like $100 for the steamer and sold it for a paltry $20, this little gizmo still worked out well financially for us in the long run. 

The garage looks a lot emptier this week, and I feel a bit lighter because of it.  (And our dog Prewash loves that, because we've been using the garage as a ball-fetch playground for her since the extra space opened up).

But man, is it hard to get rid of stuff responsibly!    That week was a bunch of work.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Miser Family Update: Chalk, stock, and talking like a pirate version

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

In the "chalk" news, my co-authors and I (but, actually, I) submitted a draft of our book to our editor on Monday.  Whoop!  This is still in the proposal phase; the cross-our-fingers hope is that the editor will convince her director to send it to reviewers, and they'll spend a bunch o' time reviewing it, and then we'll do edits next summer, and then we'll submit a final draft next fall.  Everyone keeps saying that book projects always take longer than the writers think, but so far this book project has keep remarkably close to the schedule I'd set for it, so I have high hopes in spite of all this wise caution.  Yay for getting the book off my to-do list!  Chalk one up for the mathies!

In the "stock" news, N-son's culinary program tried to teach him how to can chicken stock.  But they couldn't teach him because he already knew, being my own son after all.  He thought that was hilarious.

I-daughter and a friend enjoy bananas and turkey legs,
with limes to prevent scurvy.
We did in fact get to make our own turkey stock this week, and then canned up six quarts of it, following our annual (and much beloved) Pirate Dinner, which we celebrate on Talk Like a Pirate day, and which features giant turkey legs prominently on the menu, great for turning into stock that my son and I can can up.

Following the meal, the traditional Treasure Hunt gave us all a way to work off the food.

J-son, back for the dinner, teams up with a pirate guest
 to search for treasure.  
In sports news, J-son has gotten back into boxing, and tells us he'll have a match next month.  N-son has started up squash for the year -- I love the picture below of his squash team and their parents.  My husband is still riding his bike with abandon, and for me, training for the Miser Mom Half Marathon is proceeding nicely.  So we're not succumbing to lethargy as fall arrives.
N-son is in yellow.  My sisters will be happy to see that I wasn't
wearing a brown shirt when I stood behind him,
like I used to do in family photos when he was small
(and consequently blended in with my shirts).
And that's the update from the Miser family, who continues to be rich in adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Drat that hole; darn that sock!

Our new dog Prewash has been surprisingly (to me) non-chewy for a new dog, but she's still managed to consume and create holes in some of our belongings.  This sock, which is a SmartWool sock that my sister gave me as a gift, was one of her early victims.

My little toes are coming out for air.
For a while I "fixed" the problem by wearing the sock only on my right foot, so that that hole on the right wouldn't line up with my big toe.  But eventually even my small toes started poking out, so I decided to use one of my favorite sock "darning techniques" from the awesome book, The Tightwad Gazzette.

The process isn't actually darning, it's patching -- but today is Talk Like a Pirate Day so I feel like I need to say "Darrrrrr-n sock, matey!"  You need a sacrificial patch of fabric (I used a scrap from a purple-tshirt-turned-rag), plus a needle, thread, and scissors.  It also helps to have a wooden egg, or a hard small ball, to stick in the sock to sew against.  I have a wooden egg painted in cow colors that I keep in my sewing basket for just this purpose.

When I started darning socks, I realized,
"Oh, that's what all those wooden eggs are for!"
You stick the patch and the egg into the sock, so that the patch goes all the way across the hole, and then use the needle and thread to sew around the hole, fastening the sock to the patch on the outside.

Stitch around the hole. Don't mind the dog hair.

Then turn the sock inside out, without yet cutting the thread.  I always use a patch much bigger than the hole, because it's easier to make sure the whole hole is covered.   So once I turn the sock inside out, I cut off the excess, leaving about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of fabric around the existing stitching.

Cut off the excess (purple) patch without accidentally
cutting a new hole in the sock.

And then I stitch around the patch, fastening the newly trimmed edges to the sock.  The egg of course has now moved to the inside, making it easier for me to do the holding and stitching.

Stiching around once more.  
This whole process takes maybe 10 minutes, and usually 5.  That's faster than going to a store -- and it's definitely cheaper.  I don't know that I'd do this with my running socks, which seem to reproduce in my drawers like bunnies, but I have exactly 3 pairs of these very nice SmartWool socks, and they're nice enough that I'd like to keep them around.  So 10 minutes of time on a sunny Sunday afternoon seems more than worth it for preserving a pair of my favorite socks.

And that's the hole post.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Miser Family Update, nostalgia version

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

When I was just a kid, I was transfixed by the television series Roots that I watched with my parents -- transfixed so much so, that my sewing room closet is now filled with family memorabilia that I started collecting back then.  It was Roots that made me want to find more of my own family's story.   So early this week, my husband and N-son and I started watching the new version of this show. It wasn't a good choice for N-son; wow, it is a cruel history.   So we've continued on without him.

Even though N-son is not going to be a Roots fan, N-son is very much enjoying his culinary classes.  The quote for the week happened as I was walking into the kitchen, when he declared authoritatively:  "Mom, I have a thermometer, and I know how to use it!"  You go, N-son.

J-son texted me early in the week and asked if he could get help on his homework.  But of course.  So he came over and we drafted a paper on nature versus nurture for his psych course.  For what it's worth, J-son sides with "nurture". It was good to have that time and that conversation together.

Speaking of writing papers, my step-daughter, off in grad school, wrote to say that she has her first first-author paper published.  Me, being on my college's promotion & tenure committee, immediately wrote back with a "ooh, and in a Q1 journal with an H-index of 71!   Impressive".  You go, L-daughter.

My husband started Yoga this week, and in spite of his still somewhat sore wrist (from the time last week that he didn't quite break it), he did well at yoga and liked it.  And then he took off for Boston where he got to attend the IgNobels, which were (as usual) very, very funny.

I got to do a small bit of traveling myself, back to my alma mater, since I'm my class "fun chair".  Actually, I was elected "Fund raising chair", but I agreed to run only on the condition that I can get rid of the "d", so maybe I'm actually the "fun raising chair".   It was good to be back on that campus again -- even after decades away, it is really a big part of me.

While I was leaving the campus for home, I heard the sad news about the recent passing of one of the singers I listened to obsessively while I had been a college student.   This song "Let it Rain" (which is apparently actually called "We've got a good fire going" -- who knew?) by Don Williams was one that I listened to over and over, and over, and over.  I've heard people describe it as a wonderful love song, but I think of it as a song about contentment, about realizing that even when things aren't perfect, there's still a heck of a lot to be happy about, and the trouble doesn't matter so much.  Thanks for that, Don.

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mugging it up for my church

My church does a cool outreach for our community:  an ESL class.  We've been doing this for years, but here the "we" really means "they", because I haven't at all been part of it except for cheering.  (Here's me cheering:  Yay!  Go, church!)

One of the actual volunteers with the ESL classes is a follower of this blog who has started an awesome sustainability Facebook page.  Because of this, she and I got into an extended e-conversation about recycling styrofoam*, and in the course of this conversation, I learned that our ESL program uses styrofoam cups.   This is horror.  This is dreadful.

* The UPS Store near us recycles styrofoam packing peanuts, 
but not other kinds of styrofoam. 
There is a Dart Container company "near" us 
(depending on your definition of "near") 
that recycles other shapes of styrofoam.

At any rate, even if it gets recycled, styrofoam is a horrible burden on our fragile planet.  So I decided to buy reusable cups for my church. My Miser Mom Grasshopper (she of the ESL volunteer/Sustainability page persuasion) has already volunteered to be the one to wash the cups each week, so that helped to make the decision to spring for cups an easy one for me.  (Someone else is washing the dishes!  Fantastic!)    

Another aspect making my decision even easier is that an electronic accounting glitch canceled my August donation to my church, so I felt like I "owed" some money anyway, and why the heck not donate the money in the form of reusable mugs?

At any rate, I did a search at my newly-beloved Restaurant Store, and found some 8 oz melamine mugs that look nice and are semi-stackable.  Here's a photo of some of them after they arrived -- I think they really do look good!

I ordered 9 dozen (108 cups) for about $240 (that includes shipping).  How does this compare to the price of the styrofoam cups?  At first glance, bill for the mugs seems like a huge expense:  it's possible to get 1000 styrofoam cups for only about $40.  But if my ESL group uses 100 cups a week (which is about what we do right now), and if they meet about 30 times per year (which is about how often they meet right now), then these cups should recover their cost in only 2 years.  That's not a bad ROI, really.

108 UPC codes on 108 stickers,
now no longer on the cups.
Oooh, I want to share something about removing stickers!   Because in spite of me ordering these babies bulk, EVERY one of these cups came with a UPC sticker attached.  At first, when I started peeling the stickers off, I got a lot of gummy residue and had to spend a bit of time picking and picking to get it off.  But then I remembered that heat helps to loosen glue --- and the microwave is a great tool for adding a bit of heat.  For example, when the charity envelopes that I save for about a year get gummy, 15 seconds in the microwave helps to "steam" them so I can carefully peel them open again.  So I resorted to putting batches of a dozen cups in the microwave for about a minute, and when I took them out, I could peel the stickers off with almost no resistance.  Lovely!

Because my church doesn't have a dishwasher, we need a way for my Grasshopper to transport the mugs between the church and her home.  There are probably better long-term solutions than the one I came up with, but I sort of like this as a first-attempt:  a canvas beach bag that I snagged from a "free" pile after my neighborhood's summer yard sale.

Bonus: stackable toys
Each set of a dozen mugs came in a little cardboard box, somewhat larger than the size of a brick.  These boxes make excellent stacking toys, and my granddaughter A-child has delighted in making towers that she can knock down with abandon, endangering no one in the process.  So it turns out that if you buy 108 cups, you get a construction set for free.  Awesome.
Prewash demonstrates her burgeoning "sit. stay." skills
next to the tower of stackable cardboard boxes. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

My green sweater

I snagged a cute green cardigan at our College's annual end-of-year yard sale.  This sweater passed three important Miser Mom tests:
  1.  It was essentially free.   I did work something like 6 hours at the yard sale, but I would have volunteered even if I didn't get to do a bit of "shopping".  
  2. I'd actually been itching to get a light button-up sweater; it would fill a gap in my wardrobe (as opposed to being redundant).
  3. It matched my travel scarf (or rather, didn't clash with it too badly), thereby fitting into the color palate of "everything matches everything" that has made my sartorial life so much easier these past few years.
Sometime last week, the fall-like weather seemed to call for wearing a cute new (to me) sweater.  That's when I realized -- alas -- it had developed a small stain.  Darn.  

So I tried scrubbing the stain.  No luck.  Then I tried spot-bleaching the stain . . . which worked, in the sense of removing the stain, but failed in the sense of creating a big white bleach spot. I nearly gave up and put the cardigan in the "rags-to-recycle" bin, but then I thought, what the heck, might as well see what happens if I just bleach the whole thing.  I soaked the baby overnight. 

So now I have a darling pale yellow cardigan, with green-tinted buttons.  And still nothing has ended up in the landfill, so in that sense, my sweater is still green. 


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Miser Family update: power version

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

Prewash continues to live up to the job associated with her name, but -- unlike her predecessor -- she is no Miser Dog.  After she developed a toe rash last weekend, we took her to the vet where we frivolously splurged on somewhere upwards of $300 of high-efficiency allergy meds (plus a few antibiotics).  She loves taking the pills, which we slather with peanut butter, and I guess they're helping.

One of many trees that came down on our campus.
On Tuesday, a minor version of the storms that are battering our southern neighbors came through our little town.  Even as weak as Harvey had become by then, it took down many trees.  We were 8 hours without electricity, and got to enjoy a dinner of tuna fish and tomatoes by candlelight.  I realized that for me, the hard part of losing electricity is not that the power is gone -- it's not knowing if the power will return in a half-hour or a half-a-week.    But for my husband and son, the hard part is living with a woman who responds to the power outage by saying, "this is cool!  We should try to turn off our electricity once a week just to make sure we can do it!  Let's go to sleep at sunset every day!"  Because they think I'm serious (and maybe I actually am).

N-son continues to love going to school at the culinary institute.   I think a huge part of what he loves is the cool outfit he's required to wear.  The jacket and apron come embroidered with his name, and the hat comes embroidered with his initials.  It makes me want to create a mandatory calculus uniform.

My husband and N-son started the week in New York City where they visited all sorts of museums: the Jewish Museum, the Met, and the Holocaust Museum.  And they finished out the week by participating in the Milton Harvest Festival Bike Race.  The picture off to the right doesn't look much like it was taken at a bike race, but it was.  (They didn't tell me how they placed, but they're wearing yellow jerseys/t-shirts, so I assume that must automatically mean they both won.  Yay!)

In the middle of the week, my husband got to go to his usual Tuesdays with Toomey protest, and also a DACA-themed protest.  As I said about losing electrical power, I know my students who came to the U.S. as young children and who know no other home are feeling the anxiety that goes not only with being powerless, but also the anxiety of not knowing what the future holds.  I feel for them.  

As for me, I started the week with a bit of a cold, which is fortunately waning now -- yay! A head cold is a bit like ideas for my math book, a bunch of stuff in my head trying hard to come out. (Yuck, can't believe I just wrote that).  I spent much of my week teaching calculus, doing my committee work, squeezing in time to work on my math book in wherever I could, and appreciating the bad weather as a wimpy excuse to avoid training for the upcoming Miser Mom Half Marathon.  Oh, and being interviewed for a video -- that's a bizarre experience, let me tell you!

What else?  I-daughter's eyes continue to be strong and healthy after her summer scare.  And K-daughter signed a lease for an apartment, so she'll move there in early October.  Our home will seem much more boring and lifeless when she and my granddaughter A-child have moved away, and I'm already doing a bit of mental toughness training to deal with that.

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