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.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Miser Family update: lucky breaks version

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

School began for us all this past week.  The convocation speech that I'd practiced about a gazillion times, shortening it from 11 minutes to a pithy 8 minutes, seemed to have been well received, so I got 8 of the 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol promised us all.  Eventually, I'll have to cash in on the other 7.

N-son had a blast starting his culinary arts program -- he's looking forward to preparing a 20-course meal that will take him through three different kitchens sometime next week.  I started teaching calculus.  My husband started auditing three courses (but not three-course meals):  Greek, Russian, and Memoir.  He had other adventures, too . . .

. . . while carrying his library books in one hand, he grabbed the bike brakes with the other hand and stopped the bike so fast that it flipped.  He got scraped up fairly badly, and also decided his left wrist was in such bad shape, that he should share it with his doctor.  The doctor x-rayed it, shook his head, and said, "we can't tell whether the fractures we're seeing are new or if they're just from one of your many past bike crashes."    So the doctor sent him home, told him to sleep it off, and to return the next day if his wrist turned purple and swelled up overnight.  Neither happened, so today my husband took N-son off to New York to see some museums instead.

 The other fun we had this weekend (well, I guess not breaking your wrist is fun, right?) was a surprisingly rowdy game of Jenga at our weekly Family Fun Night.   The tower got so high that we were sure it was going to fall . . .


but it didn't fall . . .

and that happened over and over again . . .

. . .  well, until it finally fell.  I didn't get a picture of the crash, because it was me who caused it.  But nobody broke their wrists in the Jenga crash, so that's doubly good.

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

A calendar of special dinners

Penn asked me a while ago if I could describe all our family Special Dinners. This post is a response to that request!

We started doing these dinners a while back (like, two decades ago), with my first round of kids.  Back then, we scheduled the dinners sort of randomly, and they were all one-off affairs.  We had the "Army dinner" (meatloaf, salad, mashed potatoes, and apple pie, all on one plate).  That generated fond memories, with not much desire to re-enact it.  By far the most popular Special Dinner from that era is the No Hands Dinner, which we still do from time to time, to the incredible happiness of all involved.

What almost killed the Special Dinners for all time was the "Green Dinner" (dye all the food green, so as to complement the neon green ketchup that my step-daughters kept telling me was wonderful).  The Green Dinner is now lives in infamy in my family as one of the most reviled of all of our dinners, although I will note that it completely dissuaded my kids from trying to buy neon-colored food in the future, so I figure that the dinner was a win in the long run.  Not to mention, it continues to be a great shared story.   I think every family should have a dinner like that, you know?  It sort of brings us together as a family to have shared that experience together.  Or something.

After the Green Dinner, I had to tread carefully with Special Dinners.  The next dinner therefore was the Chez Lucky dinner, named after our dog at the time, and it was designed to be an elegant dinner for our daughters and their best friends.  We modeled it on one described in the Tightwad Gazette.

In spite of my efforts to Make Special Dinners Great Again, though, the the Green Dinner continued to loom large in family memory, so it wasn't until my step-daughters went to college and J-son and K-daughter joined the house that we could resume the dinners.  Planning in advance seemed to be a good idea, and so we came up with the following list, which was supposed to take us through one year.  We didn't realize at the time that many of these dinners would become Tradition with a capital T and with my kids emphatically telling me when and how I needed to hold these events.    Miss Manners says that when your kids tell you that you're doing something the wrong way, that's evidence you've created a tradition; that's sort of how I know that these dinners have succeeded.

But the other half of success is that after just about every one of these dinners, my kids post their photos on Facebook and brag to their friends that "I have the best family anywhere", and their friends responds that they're "totally jelly" (or jealous, or something like that).

This is roughly how our yearly Special Dinner calendar works out nowadays.
  • January:  New Years' Dinner
    (A regional meal:  pork and sauerkraut on January 1 is supposed to bring good luck).
  • February:  Valentines' Dinner
    heart-shaped anything, red-and-white reuben sandwiches
  • February also:  Black History Month Dinner
    (started as a sort of challenge/dare to me from my sons, but it worked really well and is likely to continue into future years)
  • March:  Zoo Dinner.
    Why a zoo dinner in March?  I have no idea -- I think it was a random kid idea, but it's worked really well for us.  It's silly, and fun, and not too hard to implement. 
  • April:  Money Dinner
    Celebrate Tax Deadline Day.  
  • May:  Cinco (or whatever) de Mayo.
  • June:  Underwater dinner 
  • June / July:  Also, Purple Dress Dinner
  • July:  Flag Dinner
  • August:  DOnnOr O-shaped food, talking with "O" sounds, and donating money)
  • September:  Pirate Dinner.
    Lordy, but this is fun!   And it's become such a tradition that by now my husband hates the turkey legs, but my kids overrule him.  The treasure hunt is sort of insanely popular.
  • October:  Halloween Dinner
    Mummy face meatloaf, "cockroaches", "salted rat brains", and "zombie eyeballs", plus of course costumes.
  • November:  Thanksgiving
  • December:  Car Dinner, to celebrate the anniversary of my husband's driver's license.  We attempted and failed a home version of a car dinner for many years, and finally decided that this dinner works best at a Diner.  So it's our one annual restaurant dinner.  Go figure.

Having done Special Dinners two ways (one: randomly and once-and-done, and two: pre-planned and repeated), there's a big part of me that favors the second way.  Because I really do love methodical creativity, whereas spontaneous creativity is just likely to fizzle for lack of oxygen, time, and energy.  After all, when your kids start pestering you because Pirate Dinner means the treasure hunt that must be done, well, then you do it.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Miser Family Update: last hurrah version

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

If there was a theme this past week, it was "make the most of the last week of summer".  My husband went to lots of cool chemistry events, both in DC and Philadelphia; he biked to Philadelphia; he celebrated his usual Tuesdays with Toomey protest; and he . . . (big deal coming here) . . . was on a conference call with Madeleine Albright.

K-daughter and A-child got to dress as super heroes one day at work (which is appropriate, I think, because there's a lot about raising a kid that takes the kind of super powers that K-daughter seems to be exhibiting daily). I love having them both around so much.

N-son did his own super helping thing (although not in costume), helping a family from our church clean out the home of a grandfather.  N-son got to drive a tractor as part of the helping, which was gob and gobs of fun.

When I bragged to J-son that I did 25 push-ups the other day (see how I'm now bragging to you about that?), he told me he did 50 push-ups as part of an interview at a different boxing gym, one that's closer to his host mom's house.  He is spending his last weekend before school with his former foster mom, who I know is *super* happy to spend time with him after all the changes he's been going through.

And me, I've been throwing myself in to the latest revision of the book my co-authors and I have been working on.  I've also been working on a speech for our college's Convocation.  I had a beautiful draft written, and mentioned to our President that it was 11 minutes long -- and that's when I heard that my speech needed to shorten itself down to 8 minutes.  So out came the scissors.  Sigh.  Most of my subsequent practice run-throughs have been 8 minutes and 11 seconds.  I figure I won't get fired for that extra 11 seconds, so I think the speech is good enough. I hope.

Classes start for many of us (me, J-son, N-son, and my husband) this upcoming week. We've had our last hurrahs and are ready to go.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sunrise over canning jars

I woke up to this view this morning.
Sunrise over canning jars. 
Yesterday we had a huge canning session, wrestling our way through two bushels of tomatoes and 24 peppers. In this round of canning, I was ably assisted by N-son.  He's been a bit of domestic whiz this week.  He moved bedrooms, and he used his Senior Year Photo proofs (complete with the word "proof" emblazoned across them) to decorate his new bedroom door.  I love it.
N-son's door.  He's not usually so linear;
I love the attention to detail here.
When I asked for help with the many, many tomatoes I'd brought home, I was fearing I'd wind up with a tale of the "Little Red Hen".
Who will help me can these tomatoes?
"Not I", said the big yellow dog.
But instead, I got the "Little Engine That Could".  N-son actually asked me if he could help, instead of me asking him. When I agreed, he grabbed his favorite ceramic knife, put on one of his favorite musical CDs (Reba McEntire's Greatest Hits, in case you were wondering), and got down to chopping.

(I do not know how many people who decorate their bedroom doors with homemade "Black Lives Matter" signs count Reba McEntire as one of their favorite singers.  That right there is an interesting juxtaposition, I have to say).

N-son washed and cut up so many tomatoes that he joked to K-daughter that his hands were getting wrinkled "like old man hands". We also worked our way through a round of pickled peppers, which is one of N-son's favorite foods.  And then I'd had enough, and we all went to bed.

This morning, I woke up to my ready-for-winter food congregating in my window shelf, waiting to take the ride together in their cardboard box bus down into the basement, where they'll bide their time before coming back upstairs, one by one, to remind me week-by-week of the sun that rose over these physical manifestations of a day well-spent.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Miser Family Update: Back home edition

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

I-daughter, N-son and I got to spend much longer in airports on the trip home from our family vacation than we'd originally planned.  But I convinced the kids to play "Be the Most Cheerful Person in the airport" (when the people in front of you start grumbling and ranting because you have to get off the plane that you just got on, because the air-conditioner unit is making terrible noise, you think, "Okay, I win!" and try to find more pleasant things to think about).  I-daughter is particularly adept at this; she carries her knitting with her everywhere, and even got to give lessons to a curious young person.

Later in the week, we had our annual dOnnOr.  J-son came over, and it was good for the soul to see he's doing so well.  At least for now, he's preparing for his senior year of high school, and he says he's started to go back to his boxing gym, both to box and to earn money.  His host mom bought him the cell phone he's been mooning over; there is a difference between her and me.  Truth.

N-son has had a calm week with no school (although senior year looms on the horizon).  He's walked Prewash a bunch, moved his bedroom into a new room that went vacant when we moved the dog crate out of there, gone to K-daughter's job at a local gym, and even filled out a job application with the child watch group there.

My husband got to go to several protests this week -- both the Tuesdays with Toomey and also a march with 2,000 of his closest friends in Philadelphia to protest White Supremacy.  It's been a good week to remind ourselves that we ought to take active pride in our nation's racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity.

Me, I've been mostly throwing myself into book revisions and into getting ready for my own upcoming school year.  But I've also been trying to get in shape for the Miser Mom Half Marathon, and this week I did 20 push-ups!  Whoop!

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

dOnnOr 2017: food, funds, family, friends

Well, our dOnnOr last night was lOads of fun!

The dinner was traditional:  bOgOls, hOmbOrgOrs, Opples, and OniOn rOngs.  YOm!
Notice the money tablecloth under the plate?
I designed it for our tax-day dinner, but it's good to have another a use for this!

New this year to the menu: for dessert we had dOnOts, a rare treat indeed in his household!

We looked over an amazing picture book called "The Material World: A Global Family Portrait". Peter Menzel photographed families all over the world with their possessions. It's a beautiful and humbling book.   You can also see many of the photos at this web site, but the descriptions and stories that go with the photos make it worth borrowing the book from the library.

We had a robust crowd, with four of my kids -- including J-son, who brought a bike tire that needs repairing and that fortuitously provided additional O-shaped decOration for the dOnnOr!

We also had a good buddy of mine who works with non-profits, who told us about her experience raising money for charities.  She brought up some good points about donating to local versions of national charities (for example, "Small City Habitat for Humanity" as contrasted with "Habitat for Humanity").   She also was very much more in the know than we were about implications for charities that have -- or have not -- pulled their events from Mar-A-Lago.
My good buddy, my grandchild A, and J-son.
And why were my friend's observations so helpful to us?  Because money for charities was of course the other activity (entertainment?) for the dOnnOr.   The kids each got to pick envelopes from among the charities we support, and write the checks.
Choosing envelopes.  K-daughter (in the middle) gets the most excited about this.
This dinner is a great way to remind my kids how to write checks (which in our electronic age, is becoming a bit of a dying art), in addition of course to reminding the offspring that it's fun to practice generosity.
N-son's favorite charities were all scooped up by K-daughter,
but he still got to write checks to the NAACP and a local community action group.
I sign the checks, of course, and then enter them into the check register.  And that's the biggest clean-up aspect of this annual event.

I love that the dOnnOr has evolved over the years into a way to get everyone in the family involved in our charitable plans, and I especially love that for me (selfishly), this makes the act of giving an even more joyous one.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The 2017 Donor Dinner (aka, the "Donnor")

One of the golden rules of frugality is to use your money where it makes the most difference to you and yours.   For example, a box of store-bought cereal costs about a gazillion times what it costs to make my own granola, and it doesn't much alter my breakfast happiness quotient.  So I don't buy prepackaged cereals.   For another example, Giardia meds for my dog cost about a gazillion times what a box of store-bought cereal does, but having a diarrhea-free dog is sort-of a big deal to me and my kids, so this summer we forked over the money for Metronidazole and Panacur without complaint.  We spend our money only where it brings the most contentment or where it alleviates the most pain.  That's the frugal mantra.

Ergo (that's math-speak for "therefore"), it makes sense to practice giving our money away to other people.

The reason that it's frugal to give our money away is that there are other people in the world who can make much better use of it, at least in support of creating the world our family cares about.  I basically stink at feeding hungry children on the opposite side of the globe or even in my own community, but there are charitable organizations I give money to that have helped to raise entire families out of poverty by feeding and educating their children.   Likewise,  I am a total incompetent at curing even the most curable of common third-world diseases, so I'm grateful for organizations like Doctors without Borders who bravely go where I myself fear to tread.

My family gives our money away in a bunch of different modes.  Monthly, we have money taken out of my paycheck (United Way), my checking account (church), and my credit card (World Vision and my alma mater).  Annually, we've started transferring large amounts of money to a Donor Advised Fund, from which we'll eventually direct it to charities when we retire and when we've had even more practice at spending our charitable money wisely.  (Because figuring out how to give well does take practice, same as learning many other frugal skills like how to make a yummy no-sugar granola.)

At any rate, here's one thing I've practiced and I'm getting moderately good at.  All year long, I save the solicitation envelopes we get.  There are a heck of a lot of these solicitations.

Once a year, usually in the summer, I sort through the envelopes (below you see me sitting cross-legged in my 25¢ yard-sale purchased gold skirt, putting the envelopes into piles alphabetically around me).

I cull the duplicates.  I've started adding handwritten notes to the worst repeat-offenders, asking them to mail me one solicitation in June or July, and quit with the monthly harangues.  That actually seemed to help a lot. 

This year, my husband and I have refocused our areas where we want to donate money.  We've always tried to channel a bunch of it toward feeding hungry people; this year we're paying special attention to the global refugee crisis, affecting over one hundred million people this year.   Having a population larger than the size of Russia facing food, water, and health care shortages doesn't get as much media attention as does, say, one particular relative of Trump meeting with a few people from Russia, but the worldwide refugee epidemic is real and it's just going to get worse --- my husband and I want to contribute in our own small way to helping the NGO's that are on the front lines.

But speaking of media coverage, a new area for us this year is to support investigative news outlets.  For reasons that I don't need to elaborate on, we feel that these places need grass-roots support more than they have in the past. So there's a new pile of envelopes for us.

And growing in emphasis for us this year is caring for the environment.  We've long donated to local conservancy groups, but this year we've added the Environmental Defense Fund, in part because this group seems to have managed to partner with industry in ways that seem to mark it as pragmatic (in addition to being idealistic), which matters a lot to me.

And in the same way that Erika over at NW Edible has decided to start celebrating fall harvests (because that time of year means a lot to her and her family), our family has for several years celebrated the signing of the charity checks.  Our annual dOnnOr is tonight.  (Here's a post on a previous dOnnOr).

Perhaps I'll have pictures tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The (dog) poop on paper vs. plastic

Be duly warned:  this post is about picking up dog poop.  If that's not something you want to read about, s'alright to leave the room right now.

Our previous dog (Miser Dog) was so insanely bad around other dogs that we pretty much never walked him (he used a fenced-in dog run as his bathroom). But Prewash is great with people and beasts alike, and she learned to walk at heel so quickly that I've had a lot of fun walking her around the neighborhood.

This means that for the first time in a decade, I've had to think about how to clean up after my dog in other people's yards.  It just so happens that, over the course of that same decade, I've tried to become a bit of a "no trash" freak, with a special emphasis on "no plastic".  In fact, one of the small feats I keep patting myself on the back about is that I've convinced our newspaper carrier to stop wrapping our daily paper in plastic bags --- and yes, those are the same plastic bags that so many people tell me make "excellent dog poop bags".

It's true that we still seem to have an endless supply of plastic bags in our home.  Even though we try to avoid it, we get random plastic bags wrapped around our produce, our cereal, Amazon items, etc.  So there are still plastic bags in abundance that I could use for walking the dog, although admittedly some of them are odd and inconvenient shapes.

But I've discovered something I like way better than plastic bags, even better than plastic newspaper bags:  newspaper.  And the reason paper is better than plastic is this:  when my dog squats, I slide a sheet of paper right where she's hunkered down, and the poop falls on the paper.  Her mess doesn't get stuck the grass or anything like that.  I then fold the paper over top of her mess, wrapping it in more paper if I'm going some distance, and carry it to the nearest trash can (or if we're close to home, I have a compost pile that's a non-food compost pit, where I bury the newspaper bundle in a pile of leaves).  I'm fortunate that our walk takes us past lots of trash cans, so I usually don't have to carry it far.

Clean up is so much easier than with a bag this way . . . I'm sort of amazed how nicely this works.  And  I like that this little package is entirely biodegradable.

And I know this is a gross subject, so I'll just stop here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Miser Family Update, Tree edition

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

I have to admit, I'm not sure exactly what's been happening with my husband and most of my kids, because early this week I boarded a plane with I-daughter and N-son and headed for Sequoia National Park (aka "the land of no internet").  I am only just now re-emerging into e-connectivity.  What I've heard is that my dog Prewash has mostly been good but has not exactly modeled good "housebroken behavior".  So I'll have some training work to do when I get home.

I got to spend the week with my "upper family" (dad and sisters and their families), which was a fabulously relaxing time, with the possible exception of that afore-mentioned dearth of internet, and also the possible exception of the incredibly curving, winding, torturously twisted roads.  This sign, which I snapped along the route between our guest house and the park we visited, wasn't lying.

But what the area lacked in internet and straight boulevards, it made up for in trees, which we loved.

There were some majorly honkin' big trees there.

Like, trees that were large enough that they had their own names.

I can't remember whether this was the General Sherman tree (largest volume)
or the General Grant tree (largest diameter).
Either way, it was a seriously big tree.

We also got to see wildlife, both up close . . .
N-son and a squirrel.

and in cages . . .
I-daughter and a pair of lions.
We did a bunch of hikes, climbed hills, descended into caves, made lots of food for lots of people, and got to catch up on the lives of those people we grew up with.  Good for the soul.

And now I'm leaving the trees and returning to the world, which apparently has been a little poopy since I left it.  I'm glad I got to hug big trees and my sisters this past week.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Miser Family Update, odd celebrations version

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

Early in the week, my husband and I celebrated our 20-year anniversary in our typical way: with me 700 miles away at a math meeting, and with him at home watching the dog and remaining kids. We've got a very understanding kind of marriage, I have to say!

Later in the week, my husband got to have his "Annual Celebration of Health" (that is, his yearly doctor's appointment).  His doctor continues to be amazed and astounded that a man could get to be as old as my husband is and still be essentially disease- and impairment-free.  It's very sweet and annually funny, really.

We got a lovely-yet-brief visit from our oldest daughter, who usually resides several hundred miles away.  She rescues animals in her spare time, and she's a huge dog lover.  It is possible that she was mostly interested in getting to meet the new dog, Prewash, but the rest of us got to hang out with her, too.

I already mentioned that I-daughter teamed me up with one of her friends, and together we picked about 95 pounds of peaches, canning up 3 dozen quarts and 4 more pints of peaches.  It's so nice to have packed a bit of this summer into jars.

J-son seems to be getting more comfortable at the home where he's staying, although it's clear he's still trying to figure out how to adjust to his new life.  He's stopped boxing, which saddens both me and his coach.  I'm glad, though, that the mom who owns the house where he's staying seems to enjoy his company and stays in touch with me about what he's up to.

N-son finished summer school and got a "94" (with the numbers in that order, and not the other order). He's got some pretty darned proud parents.  He's super excited about our upcoming family vacation --- we leave for the airport early tomorrow, but he had his suitcase packed and next to the front door two days ago!

And I'm looking forward to seeing my family -- my dad and his wife and sisters and nieces and nephews and brothers-in-law and childhood friends, too!  California, here I come!   

(But the downside of this is that we're going to be in a place with almost no internet service.   On that front, I think my dad is trying to torture me . . .   So if you try to comment and get an "awaiting moderation" message, you might have to wait a long time.  And I'm going to go through a serious e-mail withdrawal.   Sigh.)

And that's the news from the Miser Mom clan, a family that continues to be prosperous in our adventures.   May you be similarly wealthy.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Is canning peaches worth it?

As I write this, I'm recuperating from a canning session.  Like all canning sessions, it seemed overwhelming and intense at the time.  Like all canning sessions, when it was finally over, it felt incredibly rewarding and totally worth the experience.  In this sense, a bout of canning is about as intense as -- but much less costly or life-committing than -- childbirth.

Today my daughter, her best friend, and I spent 5 hours and $95+ on 95 pounds of peaches.  With this bounty, we canned 3 dozen quarts and 4 more pints of peaches, with a semi-ginormous pile of leftover peaches that didn't go into jars but that will go into pies, breakfasts, and of course straight into our bellies.  (The peaches themselves ran $95; add to that a bit of gas, a bag of sugar for the syrup, plus the energy to can the fruit, means that we spent a bit more than $1/pound for all our efforts, but not much more).

My little army of peaches, cooling on my window shelf.  
So, man, canning is a full-body experience. Intense.  My daughter's friend Mary wanted to learn to can, and so my daughter said I'd teach her.  Canning with other people is always better than canning alone, and I was just as super-glad for the help getting my peaches into my jars as Mary was for the hands-on lesson for her first canning experience.  But in spite of our mutual gladness, there was definitely a moment when we were both exhausted and wondering "is all this effort worth it?"

I just want to acknowledge that busting a gut now in order to minimally ease the future is a heck of a lot harder for people under stress. In my own case, it doesn't help that I've been distracted by questions of what's happening with J-son.   Since wondering about J-son has been causing me stress lately, I'll just say that I probably would have skipped canning peaches this year if Mary hadn't stumbled into the picture.  This is yet another reason why having strong social connections can help a person's financial (and other) outlook.  Social capital is where it's at.  Word.

Given all that stress, is canning my own hand-picked peaches worth it?   Is it?  I think that my own "is it worth it?" moment came at a bit before 3 p.m.  By that time, we'd already driven to the orchard, picked 95 pounds of peaches, driven back home, started several large pots of water boiling and sliced up about half of the peaches for eventual canning.  Our bout of canning seemed miserable and never-ending at the time.  But the truth is, Mary left with her dozen quarts of peaches about an hour and a half later, by which point my own two-dozen quarts were just about done.  And everything was cleaned up by 5 p.m.  Five hours isn't exactly the same as eternity, even if if feels like that in the moment.

Around 4 p.m., once the finished quarts had started accumulating on the window shelf, a kind of euphoria hit me.  And Mary had her own euphoria at about the same time; she started imagining a February in which she pulled her beautiful jars of peaches (already visible, cooling on the window-shelf counter-top), to the delight of both herself and her peach-loving husband.  The mood lightened considerably at that point.  We stopped complaining about the oppressive early-August heat and about our backs, and started discussing plans for canning applesauce in September or October.  I have to say:  a shelf full of canning jars full of fruit is a beautiful sight.  Food in canning jars is just pretty.  It really is.

One of the drawbacks of hating shopping is that I no longer know how much things cost in the grocery stores.  I'm guessing that having 2-dozen quarts of peaches, hand-picked and canned at a bit over $1/pound, will beat the February/March/April grocery store prices for fruit.  I know for sure that canning means less recycling and less landfill-bound trash, but I can't personally verify anything about cost.

Is this worth it?  If you ask me at 3 p.m. in the middle of a canning day August, I just might have said "no".  But check back in come January, when I go "shopping in the basement", and the answer might be different.  Right now, I'm happy for the day of company, for the distraction from aspects of my life that I can't control, for the golden peaches on my table and on my window shelf.  It's nice to have an intense experience with friends in the midst of adversity; it's heart-warming to have beautiful jars of beautiful food promising to feed me in the cold months ahead.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Miser Family Non Update

I'm writing this in a quiet time before a session I'm leading at MathFest, here in Chicago.  The minute I finish that session, I'm hopping into my rental car and starting the 700-mile trek to another math meeting in Atlanta, arriving there sometime on Sunday, almost certainly with some kind of late-night rest break yet to be determined.

Hence, I'm not writing a family update this week -- but the reason isn't because of disaster.  (Nor is it because nothing happened -- life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household, and we're still prosperous in adventures).

More later. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Purple Dress Dinner

Last night, our family celebrated 2nd annual "Purple Dress Dinner".   To be honest, I almost called it off because of the stress-and-strain of the recent week -- not to mention that I knew this morning I'd have to jump in a rental car and drive 700 to a different kind of party, "MathFest".

But, oh man, I'm so glad we had the party.  It was wonderful!   And just what I needed, in so many ways.  For one thing, three of my kids who I didn't expect to be here actually came:  K-daughter got home from work sooner than I expected and brought A-child with her, my youngest step-daughter just happened to be in town instead of at grad school in Minnesota, and even J-son showed up.  That means, of our six kids, we were missing only my oldest step-daughter, who has the good excuse of living several hundred miles away with her husband.

Eight-ninths of a complete family reunion!

But even more, we got to toss into the pot a few other friends, most of whom, it turned out, had "family" ties to me in odd ways.

Friends in purple are friends indeed.

For one thing, the host family that J-son has landed with came, so we got to meet each other.  The mom and I had some very very good conversations.  Yes.   Also, my own former host daughter Y came and helped me cut up CSA vegetables before the party, for old times' sake.  She's just finished up a year leading Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship at my college, and she's headed for medical school in a week.  We also got to be elegant with my friend K, who had long ago suggested to us that we ought to adopt a child from Haiti (the adoption of X-son fell through, but we still support him).  So there were a lot of family ties, Miser Mom style, among these guests.

We dined on elegant finger foods, had deep and intensely helpful conversations, and then went for a stroll.  The stroll included the requisite tour of a local rose garden.  It was good to take time to smell the flowers.
These roses were pretty but didn't have much of a smell;
the yellow "Julia Child" roses had an aroma to swoon for.

As for dinner, you may or may not care about the menu.  But as I ran around pulling together this party at the last-minute, I found it super helpful to look at my pictures and remember ideas from last year, so as a service to my next-years's self, I'm posting bad pictures of good food here.  With the exception of the fruit and wine, this was all made from food I was lucky enough to have lying around the house.  How nice to have a well-stocked larder!

Tomato-basil salad in small canning jars with spoons, and strawberries on skewers.
Hummus on summer squash, and cherries on the stem.
Also, just out of the photo, fresh-baked bread and a jar of carrot-top pesto.
Kale with lemon massaged into the leaves,
quiche in muffin pans,
and sliced cucumbers.
Not pictured:  Chocolate cupcakes.