Monday, April 24, 2017

Miser Family Update, Easter-Tax Day version

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

We began the week celebrating Easter, both in the Christian and in the secular sense.  Last week, I'd bought my candy from our local farmer's market, handing the canning jars to the woman behind the counter and asking her to fill them up. Even though I hadn't bought candy from her since a year ago, she recognized me and asked, "Are you the woman that only puts out one trash can a year?"  (I told her no, I actually put out 9 trash cans last year, so she must have me confused with someone else).  So we had our usual easter baskets with canning-jar-eggs, and our next door neighbor hid plastic eggs in the back yard for N-son and J-son to find, and we had a sweet morning, in many senses of the word "sweet".

Later in the week, on Tuesday, we celebrated Tax Day with our annual family "Money Dinner".  We invited a couple of guests over to share the wealth, and we served dollar-shaped soft pretzels, ("bringin' home the") Bacon, green tortilla quesadillas cut into dollar shapes, and lettuce that the older people saw as metaphorical for money but the younger people thought of as confusing.  Oh, and gold-foil-covered chocolate coins.

N-son played squash against his coach.  J-son visited his foster mom.  My husband went to the Earth Day protest in Philly.  I picked up an extra calculus class, because one of our department's mathematicians got sick suddenly at the end of the semester.  Baby-A can count backwards from 4.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Garbage offsets

This post isn't about tomatoes.  Still, I want to show you how happy my tomatoes are, enjoying their recent field trip outdoors.
Tomatoes in the sunshine.
I've started them in canning jars, per my usual custom, because (a) I don't want to spend money on plastic starter trays, and (b) plastic starter trays are so small that they require up-potting the plants anyway and (c) I already have gobs of canning jars just sitting around, and (d) this hasn't resulted in tomato genocide in past years, so I figure why the heck not stick with what's worked?

In the same way that I'm too cheap to buy plastic starter trays, I'm also too cheap to get grow lights, and even when I borrowed grow lights, I was too cheap to leave them turned on.  (Sometimes it's hard being a Miser Mom; I get a little too wound up about leaving on the lights).   But my high-E windows mean that my tomatoes languish without additional help, making the transfer from jars to the ground problematic, unless I give them a way to get full-spectrum light.  So during April and early May, whenever the weather is warm enough, I take my tomatoes outdoors to play during the day, and then bring them back in at night to protect them from cold and/or rain.
The tomatoes in their new "school bus",
hanging out with the violets.
What's different this year is that these field trips have a new tomato school bus, so to speak. Instead of carrying my tomato-canning-jars around in their cardboard boxes (a dozen to a box), I now have a fantastic wooden basket with handles that just perfectly fits all two dozen jars. This box is a most excellent acquisition, because not only does this box allow me to carry all the jars out (or back in) in one trip, but it also means I don't have to worry that errant rain will destroy my storage boxes by making them soggy. I love my new tomato school bus.

And where, you might ask, did I get this wonderful box?

From my neighbor's trash pile.

My neighbors, they throw away such amazing stuff.  Here I am, agonizing over two tortilla bags that go with feeding 8 people at our family's annual money dinner (internal monologue: "Is there  any way I can buy green tortillas around here without plastic bags?"  fret, fret, fret . .  ).  I obsess over eliminating material that is designed exclusively for the purpose of being disposed of.  And my neighbors, their trash piles contain object after object that remains perfectly useful . . . just not useful to my neighbors.  I've rescued I-don't-know-how-many beautiful wicker baskets, art canvases, flower pots, pieces of furniture, children's toys.   Just the other day, I pulled out a tea kettle.

This gets me steamed.
The kettle is in perfect condition.  But my neighbors are renovating their kitchen, and apparently the kettle no longer fits the decor.  I admit I don't need a kettle either, but I couldn't bear the thought of this thing taking up space in our increasingly overflowing landfill, so I grabbed it off the top of their trash pile and added it to our "donate" box.

To be more specific, I added it to our "donate -- household goods" box.  We have donation boxes for household goods, for clothes, for books, for scrap metal, for rags, and for arts and crafts, all near our garbage can, which is slowly-but-surely filling up for the third time this year.  I saw the level in my own garbage can rising even as I rescued the tea kettle from my neighbor's garbage, and a thought struck me.

If companies (and even individuals) can buy carbon offsets from other sources to make up for their own excesses, maybe I could use garbage offsets to make up for my own landfill contributions.  What would happen if, for every garbage can my family produces, I rescued an equal amount of perfectly good stuff and got it into the hands of people who could use it?  My net effect on the local landfills could be zero, even if I'm not technically zero waste myself.

I want to be clear that I know I sound like a zealot and/or crazy person saying all this. I don't actually root around in other people's garbage cans, and I'm not about to start doing that now, nor in the future.  (I've only rescued the stuff in plain sight, left on the top of the can or on the ground next to it).  I don't actually want to structure my life around being the Don Quixote of Garbage, riding off to tilt at trash cans every garbage day.

And yet, the idea of having a net-zero effect on our landfill appeals to me.  If I can't quite figure out how to avoid the tortilla bags and other soft plastics that seem to make up the bulk of our garbage, maybe I can help see to it that our garbage has a little less companionship as it heads off to its final resting place.

It's something to think about.

Monday, April 17, 2017

What seams difficult . . .

On Saturday nights, I listen to Prairie Home Companion, and I pay bills, and I mend clothes.

Except that now that my sons are finishing up 11th grade, getting closer and closer to the day they'll launch into the world on their own, I pay bills and have my sons mend their own clothes.

Fixing a ripped seam -- like the one on N-son's bike jersey -- takes maybe 3 minutes if you know how.  And I darned well want my sons to know how, and not to toss a piece of clothing that's easily fixed just because they're too intimidated by the process of pinning the fabric or threading the sewing machine.

The first time my sons asked me to mend some clothes and I turned the job back over to them, they panicked.  To me, that says that the lessons were all the more vital.  How did I let them get to that point?

I'm really pleased that by now, they accept the task matter-of-factly.  They know how to back-stitch at the beginning and end of the repair, how to remove pins as they stitch along, how to turn the needle so that it finishes up, how to snip the threads when they're done.

They're even sort of proud of their skills.  Sort of.  But I guess I don't have to leave that particular chore up to my sons; I can take on the the task of being proud so they don't have to do it themselves.

[addendum:  when I read a draft of this post to N-son, he replied, "Boo-YAH, I'm proud!"  So I guess that's yet another thing he can handle, after all.]

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Miser Family Update, the good rut edition

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

My husband has done more than his share of political activism this week; he began the week with a bike ride to Harrisburg (~75 miles round trip) to join in an Immigration solidarity rally, after which he happily joined with his usual Tuesdays-with-Toomey protest, then attended (with me) a neighborhood reception for a candidate for mayor of our local city, and finished the week with enthusiastic participation in the April 15 Tax Day march, urging our current president to be as transparent about his finances as our previous presidents and presidential candidates during the last half-century.  

And if that last paragraph sounds like my husband is merely getting better at traveling along in the rut he's gotten used to, then it'll be no surprise to say that J-son had a boxing match this weekend.  He fought a 25-year-old, muscle-y guy.  He fought well in the first round.  In the second round he lost his mouth guard and the fight paused while he got it back.  In the third round, just as in his previous fight, he walloped his opponent so hard that he won on a TKO on a standing 8 count.  He earned a belt that my husband describes as "incredibly gaudy, plastic black belt with chrome attachments".
And look!  His face isn't all smashed up!  Way to go, J-son!

N-son likewise persisted with his usual routine of ROTC, squash, school, and culinary arts.  In addition, he signed up to take the SATs in early June.

As for me, I of course did more of my teaching (giving back Calc 2 exams) and committee work.  By the end of the week, I got to enjoy a balmy weekend day watching my granddaughter Baby-A.  She loves building things with the wooden blocks that my sister built for her.  She also loves going "ahhside" (outside), which meant that we got to do a lot of weeding and garden prep.  I think that "ahhside" is her favorite word. She's destined for a fabulous career as an environmental engineer, I think.

Let's start a tower . . . 

What an awesome sense of balance this 2-year old has!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Miser Family update (lost-and-found edition)

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

We try to have a "Family Fun Night" about once a week, and this week was one of those wonderful gatherings where everything accidentally fell together perfectly.  I-daughter and K-daughter came over for dinner, and after dinner little Baby-A had us all in stitches while she ran circles around J-son and N-son.  Like, literally, she ran around her uncles in circles about 100 times, all three of them full of lots of energy.  There was lots of giggling and fun.   

My husband has ratcheted up his riding in anticipation of his long summer ride across Russia; on Saturday he rode to New Jersey (75 miles). 

N-son has been grooving to his culinary arts program, and he's also snagged a few babysitting jobs, watching Baby-A while K-daughter is at her wedding planner job.

J-son got to spend the weekend with his birth dad --- this is the first time that they've gotten to meet face to face in well over a dozen years.  It's good to see J-son forging these connections.  He's also been working harder than ever at boxing (if that's even possible), and his coach is talking about maybe taking him pro someday.

As for me, I had an experience this week that I haven't had since 1996:  I almost lost my planner (my calendar/to-do list/external memory).  The last time this happened, I had been out to a restaurant with my then-boyfriend and another friend, and when we got in the car to go home, I realized I didn't have my planner with me.  Fortunately, my friend called to say I'd left it at his home . . . but until I got the phone call, I was in an awful emotional state (and the fact that my then-boyfriend thought it was funny is probably a big part of the reason he's no longer my boyfriend).

At any rate, this week I gave a talk at a nearby college and accidentally left my planner behind in the room where I spoke.  I spent an anxious 90 minutes driving around and trying to find it again (the organizers had picked it up and taken it to the dean's office), but eventually I was happily reunited with my planner,  . . . and so all is good with the world again.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wading ankle deep

Sometimes, when you start seeing something it's hard to un-see it again.

On the one hand, back in the days that I was house hunting, I became super-sensitive to the "For Sale" signs in front of houses, but once I bought a house, I quickly learned to ignore those signs again.  So there are things I've learned to un-see after seeing them.

But somehow, this spring, as the snow melts and the sun begins to shine, I see trash everywhere.  I want to see the crocuses, and the daffodils, and the amazing blue skies, and the buds on trees.  But instead I see plastic bags and bottles, candy wrappers, stray paper.  I drove my students to a math conference last weekend, and the whole long drive through our region's rolling farmland, I saw litter lining the roadway.  I can't un-see it anymore.

plastic bag in the grass

The first time I remember being sort of rocked back by roadside trash was in Haiti, which my husband and I visited back in 2011.  The environmental trash there is really astounding; it's everywhere.  People sell drinks and food along the roadways, propping their tables along sidewalks next to gutters full of piles of trash.  The garbage there is like music and advertisements at the mall -- it's so ubiquitous people don't even seem to notice it unless (like me) they're strangers to the experience.  In fact, the mall drives me bonkers in the same way the streets of Haiti did (or maybe even worse, actually, because I really detest the mall).
Styrofoam block in the bushes

In the same way, I remember being somewhat amused and impressed by Bea Johnson (writer of the Zero Waste Home blog) and her excursions to pick up trash at her nearby beach. Surely this is a Sisyphean task because the giant ocean keeps bringing in new waves of plastic and other detritus.  It was probably shortly after reading that post that I ran a marathon with one of my running buddies, slogging our way through miles and miles of nearby Amish farmland.  And it was on that long run that I realized that it's not just beaches that have garbage washing up on its shores -- it's, like, everywhere.  There's trash washing up on the shores of Amish farms, just like it washes up on the shores of our beaches.  
white plastic rings and black plastic lids in another yard
How did this trash just pile up all around me without me ever noticing it?  Am I like the frog in that gradually warming pot that never realized the ever-increasing danger around me?  Or has my world always been like this, and I've just become so garbage-obsessed that I never noticed it before?  Is it the world, or is it just me?
This plastic ring is not a crocus.

I used to think that litter was caused by litterers: the jerks who threw their soda cans out the car window.  Litter, my teen-age self believed, was a deliberate act.  But now I see litter as a structural problem, caused by a society overrun by excess.   When we buy fast food, it comes with so many varied pieces of trash -- straws and their wrappers, condiment containers, the plastic bag containing napkins and plastic forks and bags of salt and pepper -- that it's all to easy too accidentally drop some of this trash as we walk from one place to another.  Trash overflows the cans that line the streets of my neighborhood, and because of that overflow, some of the trash escapes on the wind.  Trash haulers do the unenviable job of pouring garbage from one container to another, and --- like any of us --- they spill a fraction of this, which escapes yet again. It's no surprise, since we're surrounded by disposable objects, that we have a disposal problem.

I know there are other problems more urgent and pressing.  The impending famine that 20 million people across our globe will soon be facing is much more terrible, much more urgent, than roadside garbage on American highways and byways.  I also know that I can't do much on my own about either problem -- I can't feed people in war-torn countries, and I can't stem the tide of senseless plastic filth that permeates my landscape.

Still, it needs to be said.  We're living ankle-deep in our own trash.  Maybe we could try to change our society so that we focus on creating things of lasting value, and start to avoid creating things that get thrown in the trash, and on the roads, and in our oceans.  And if we can't change our society, at least maybe we could try to change ourselves.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Building a new house (for the birds)

For the past few years, our backyard birds have made nests in the lamp by our garage.  This is not very good for the lightbulbs, which keep burning out; I'm pretty sure it's not great for the birds either.  I had made a note to myself to make the birds a better house this year, but apparently I didn't get started early enough because on Sunday morning, the light fixture looked like this.

Fortunately, the weather was fabulously beautiful, and I had a spare bit of time.  So it was a great day for a bit of hacking and pounding!

In addition to a bunch of time, I had an old fence board (from the same fence that gave me Adirondack chairs and Solar dehydrators) -- this same versatile fence might as well also become a bird house.  Mark it up . . .

. . . go to town with the circular saw.  Then grab a canning jar full of old nails, rescued from previous projects . . .
. . . and whack things together.  Great therapy!

Once I finished the house and hung it up, I moved in the "furniture".  With any luck, the birds will agree to the ReLo.

And just in case, I bagged up their old home in plastic, to discourage illegal entry.

It's so much fun to bang things together, especially if I can use supplies I just happen to have lying around.  First garden project of the season -- accomplished!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Miser Family Update, the We-Gave-Up version

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

On Sunday this week, the tomato seeds that I started (per my custom, in canning jars in a southern window) sprouted, just in time to celebrate my birthday with me.  

On Tuesday, I-daughter, K-daughter, and my granddaughter Baby-A came over for our usual weekly "Family Fun Night".  We celebrated our annual March "Zoo Dinner" with ham-Bear-gers and a "boa constrictor" (sort of like stromboli or calzones, but shaped like a snake).  
The elephant who came to the zoo dinner.

My husband wasn't around for either of the previous two activities; he was riding his bike and staffing booths in San Antonio, where the weather was a heck of a lot nicer than it was here.  He returned home on Thursday, and kept riding his bike in spite of the weather.

And the fun just kept coming:  I got to help a bunch of our college students do a Math & Art activity night for elementary school students at a local science museum, and I also "opened" our College's performance of Arcadia three nights this week, asking the audience to turn off their cell phones, and then doing a short spiel on the cool math that goes on in the play.  I really love getting the chance to talk about fun math!

N-son competed in a squash tournament, winning matches against his two different opponents.  Then he and I-daughter performed in a concert, with I-daughter having an awesome solo that my husband uploaded to you-tube.  (She's the one with blue hair).

J-son continues to get bigger and bigger muscles.  He sparred twice this week.  He's pumped in more ways than one.

Finally, the We-Gave-Up story:  We'd been warned when we got Brody that he chases cats.  Nobody knew until Tuesday night, when Baby-A came over, that he also chases granddaughters.  He spent much of the evening harassing her, which --- combined with his other health and behavior problems --- convinced me that our home is not the right one for him.  On Wednesday I took him back to the Humane League.  They were very, very understanding, and they gratefully accepted his several bottles of meds.   With their encouragement, we're going to try again with a smaller and somewhat more sedate dog in the summer, but at least for now, we're back to being animal-less in our home.   Sigh.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Using the web to stay safe on the internet

So, my family (in particular, my husband and I) have used two different web-based services this year, both of which we heard about from my campus InfoSec guru.

The first of these is LastPass, web-based app that helps us remember -- and even safely share -- a myriad of internet passwords.  I will be one of the first people to say I didn't think I needed a site like this.  I had a lovely (and highly mathematical) system for devising complicated, long (therefore more secure), hard-to-guess passwords that were unique to each site I went to.  I really got interested in LastPass because my husband used pretty much the same password for every site he used, and I wanted to try to help his side of our internet usage more secure.

But I very quickly got hooked on how much I like LastPass for myself.  For one thing, if you opt for the $12/year version, which I did, you can share passwords with other people of your choosing.  This not only meant that I could share certain passwords with my husband, but also (if I wanted) with my daughters.  I was thinking about how one of my daughters had the sad experience, a few years back, of dealing with her father's illness and subsequent death -- a list of passwords to his financial records was a big help to her and the executors.  Fortunately, I don't think I'm close to needing an executor.  But it is nice to be able to securely store information like social security numbers and credit card stuff, and have my husband be able to access that from his phone when he's at some government office trying to fill out paperwork for our sons.

Even more, I've come to love the fact that LastPass recognizes legitimate sites and does NOT recognize spam sites.  So if I get a phishing email and absent-mindedly click on a link, LastPass won't fill in my password there.  But on any legitimate site that I've signed up for, LastPass has me logged in in just a click or two of the mouse.  So even though I thought I didn't need it for myself, I've come to appreciate the convenience of it.

The other web application that we've started using is OpenDNS.  This is an application that helps to secure our home router.  (And it's free!)  According to our InfoSec guru, OpenDNS maintains a list (updated constantly) of spammy sites, and so it keeps anyone using your home's internet system from logging into those sites.  Signing up took us, I think, about 15 minutes, mostly because we had to remember our router info.

Even better, once you sign up, you can set your home's system to guard against various levels of questionable usage.  Because of various issues regarding our sons and their phones, we have our blocking set at "low" ("Protects against pornography") but we could have chosen even more filtering, all the way up to "high" ("protects against all adult-related sites, illegal activity, social networking sites, video sharing sites, and general time-wasters").

Nowadays, if we try to link to a site that OpenDNS deems as suspicious, we just get a page that looks like this:

Honestly, I wish I'd known about this site years ago, when my sons were first getting their phones.  It wouldn't have solved all of the problems they'd had with internet freedom, but it would have helped a LOT.  

Plus, we're not likely to compromise our home network by having someone click on a trojan virus link.  So I'm feeling pretty happy about that.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Miser Family Update, the good fight version

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

As I wrote last week, J-son kicked off the week with a great Saturday-night boxing match that went three rounds and ended in a standing TKO, something I didn't even know is possible.   J-son spent much of Sunday (heck, much of the rest of the week) sleeping.

N-son got to go on a cool field trip to the National Mall and Bolling Air Force Base with his ROTC.  He got to watch lots of cool competitive drill sequences.  He's been since pricing training bayonets on the internet.  

My husband got to go to a media event/rally in favor of Medicare, which he's still too young for.  Nonetheless, he spoke enthusiastically to an equally enthusiastic crowd about the benefits of widespread medical insurance/care.   Later in the week, after the non-vote by the House of Representatives, he got on a plane headed for San Antonio.  This next week, he'll be kicking up his heels (and riding a rental bike) in San Antonio, in between attending the oh-so-exciting meetings of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.  Don't be jealous, everyone. 

And me?  I did a push-up this week.  I've been doing fake push-ups (from my knees) for a while, trying to build up strength in my still-healing arm.  And I finally got to the point where I could do a real push up!  Woo hoo!

And finally, updates on the dog.  First of all, he's resuming his maiden name of "Brody".   It turns out, he's truly pitiful at living up to our wishful name of "Prewash".  He'll do a half-hearted job of sniffing and licking plates, but he leaves even little bits of stew meat on the plates he passes over.  Pitiful!  I've never seen a dog who cares so little about food; we finally decided he doesn't deserve the honor of a title he can't live up to.

Second of all, he's still here.  I'm not going to sugar-coat it; it's probably every other night this past week that I went to sleep thinking, "tomorrow he's going back to the Humane League."  He's been a handful and a half, between barking and crazy energy and health issues.  But N-son has been amazingly devoted and helpful, and my step-daughter keeps sending good advice.  And slowly, slowly, Brody is making progress.  He can mostly walk slack leash now, for example.  We're working hard (and making slow, but incremental progress) on the "Look at me" command.  So he's still here.  His next vet appointment is Tuesday, and we're crossing fingers that this visit will be benign for once.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reading Rest

Last week, when I was on our college's spring break, I picked up and devoured the book "Rest (why you get more done when you work less)"  by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.

I'm totally a fan of pop-psychology books, especially when they drift over toward the self-help genre, so this book was right up my alley. I was probably even more interested in the topic of the book because of (a) my academic schedule this year, which is a bit over the top, and (b) a new dog, who was severely stressing me out on my one week of break.  [Fortunately, the dog situation is getting more and more stable -- future updates coming down the pike.]

Pang's main point is that we shouldn't think of rest as the opposite of work, and that we shouldn't think that rest comes about when everything else is done.  Instead, he argues these main points:

  1. Work and rest are partners.
  2. Rest is active.
  3. Rest is a skill.
  4. Deliberate rest stimulates and sustains activity.

He gives about a gazillion examples of highly productive people who set up their lives to mix intense work with copious amounts of active rest: scientists, artists, writers, and Silicon Valley moguls.  He also brings in a bunch of scientific findings, both from neurology and also from social psychology.  The mix of topics he covers, and the mix of approaches to these topics, keeps the material very readable (although perhaps a bit repetitive toward the end).

In terms of practical, take-home advice, Pang has chapters on intense four hour work, on a morning routine, on walking, on napping, on stopping when you're ahead, and on sleeping.  These, he says, stimulate creativity in the first place.

I admit I'm not a napper, but the chapters on getting going early in the morning and on stopping while ahead really resonate with me.  For example, it's usually very hard for me to get any real math done during the semester; normally I do the bulk of my research during the summer or during sabbaticals.  But this year, I've deliberately tried to do 10 minutes of math every morning.  And (as Pang recommends), I try to stop not when I'm stuck, but when I know what the next step is and I'd be excited to go ahead and do that. It's just 10 minutes, but the fact that I do it (almost) every day, and that it's early in the day and that I end with the next step already calling to me means that I keep thinking about my math all the time.  And not just thinking, but producing:  I just sent a draft of a paper to my co-authors, asking them for feedback before I send it off to a journal.  So that's making me pretty happy.

If the first set of chapters describe how to stimulate creativity, there are also several chapters on sustaining creativity over a lifetime via recovery, exercise, deep play, and sabbaticals.   His "exercise" chapter isn't just about signing up for a pilates class.  He describes how successful people (nobel laureates, authors, etc) often have really intense attachments to a particular kind of exercise: mountain climbing, competitive soccer, and running (lots and lots of marathoners).  He points out over and over again that active people very deliberately plan these kinds of "rest" into their days and into their lives.

It's a good book, a quick read.  And it's made me think about the spaces in my day a bit differently.  In fact, yesterday I found that I'd finished my to-do list early and had an hour before my next meeting, so I thought about the book and went for a walk, which was lovely.  

The one thing Pang doesn't describe, which I would have thought would be an obvious component of rest for productive people, is reading.  Diving into this book was both a real mental escape for me and also a way to make my times of labor (with my math, with my committee work, and even with my dog) more focused and productive.  It's an odd omission, so I'll just suggest that reading this book might be a great way to take a break, if you're looking for one.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Miser Family update: snow and dog health version

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

The boys got to spend much of my spring break shoveling snow; we all spent much of the week working with our new dog, Prewash.

The dog is turning out to be even more of an adventure than we thought he would be, not only because he's got a lot of energy (mainly in the evenings), but also because he has quite a few health issues (allergies, a bad knee that might or might not be ligament damage, and a possible propensity to eat things that cause bad digestive issues). He was at the vet 4 different days this week; he's had x-rays and antibiotic injections and fluid replacement treatment. He's on 6 or 7 different medications, and his leg doesn't (alas) seem to be getting much better. He has a few more medical appointments scheduled for the future; we'll cross finger to see how that goes. The current total of spending on the beast is $1,711. Yoicks.

I should add that my step-daughter and my uncle, who both work with rescue dogs a lot, have been giving me good long-distance advice on caring for this pooch!

N-son has unexpectedly emerged as the in-house family Dog Whisperer; he sleeps in the same room with Prewash at night. N-son also had a squash match earlier today. Because he's the captain of his squash team, he automatically plays the toughest opponent, and he was outplayed. But my husband, who went to watch him, said he had great stamina.

N-son and Prewash
J-son had a boxing match tonight. My husband drove there to cheer for him; he called back home to enthuse about how the match went.  J-son started off slow, losing the first of three rounds.  In the second round, he started hammering back, and he apparently barely won that round.  In the third round, he punched his opponent so hard, the ref awarded him a standing TKO, something I didn't even know is possible.  J-son will be getting home so late tonight that it'll be more like early morning tomorrow; I'm guessing he'll sleep most of Sunday.

In addition to my new dog duties, I've also banged my way through a bunch of paperwork in order to get ahead for when I return to teaching and committee work on Monday.  It sure is nice to be on top of my work right now!

Friday, March 17, 2017

A tiny little no-trash post

Because of the snow storm that hit the East Coast, our city posted this little announcement earlier this week:
All [Local] Waste routes have been cancelled for Wednesday, March 15, 2017. [Local] Waste will accept double the normal volume of material on your next regularly scheduled collection day for Tuesday and Wednesday pickups.
So, our family put out a trash can in January, and we haven't yet filled our next trash can.  But because twice zero is still zero, we will indeed ask our trash haulers to take twice our normal volume of material next week.

I just think this is funny.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Bringing Prewash the Dog into the Miser home

I guess the first thing I should say is that this isn't a "Saving Money" post.  Getting a dog can be expensive proposition, no question. To wit, even though we found our new dog Prewash at the Humane League, we've still shelled out almost 900 bucks this week alone, and there are clearly more expenses on the horizon.
Prewash cuddling up with N-son.
He and the boys have become good buds.
We already had a lot of the infrastructure ready to go -- we have a dog door and a fenced-in dog run; we have a crate and a variety of leashes and dog bowls.  If Prewash had been our first dog, that would have added to the overall cost.  He's also neutered and came with a bunch (but not all) of his vaccinations.  The expenses so far have been $183 to the Humane League, about $550 to the vet (more on this below) and another $150 on food and training supplies (again, more on that below).  There's a LOT (for me) of driving and gas money, between going to get the dog and the vet trips (plural) and pet store runs.  There are also replacement costs on things the dog destroys and chews up; although so far those have been surprisingly low with this dog.

There's also an "expense" of time.  I am on my college's spring break this week, so I have time to stay home and watch and train the dog.  I knew this week would be an important time of transition, and that flexibility would be important.  It's not that I'm not working -- I am assiduously ticking through a giant checklist of to-do items.  But I don't have scheduled meetings, or classes to teach, or students to see all day long, so I can work around the dog this week.  Next week, that changes.

Prewash had been surrendered to the shelter because he chased cats in his old house.  He's got what people call a strong "prey instinct".  Our first night with the dog had me worried that I hadn't taken the "high-energy" part of his description seriously enough, because he was pretty whacked out, even chasing my feet as though they were squirrels.

But I discovered in a multitude of different ways, we've lucked out with this dog.  For one thing, he crates beautifully.  That is, at night he is content to stay in his crate and sleep with no barking and minimal whining.  That's a HUGE relief.  Seriously.

For another, he's shown an extraordinary restraint in destroying our property.  Our first dog, many years ago, chewed the woodwork on furniture and doors, and I had to paint all our woodwork with chili sauce to get her to stop.  Another pair of dogs destroyed everything in their path, including woodwork, furniture, any objects we left on the floor, and digging up all the grass in their dog run.  And even our recent beloved Miser Dog snacked on my underwear and my husband's expensive bike gloves.  But Prewash, aside from his first two nights here when he was hyper and searching for good toys (and then destroyed two pairs of underwear from the laundry), seems to be content to go for only his pre-approved toys.  He's ignored gloves, books, shoes, and all other human objects.  I'm sort of stunned.  

(But that does explain the second run to the pet store; I really needed to get him toys that will keep him happy).

Just as stunning to me is that he seems to have no desire to run away.  He's mastered the dog door by now (smart dog), and he's even mastered the practice of sitting on top of the dog house, which is right outside our dining room window.  But he hasn't tried to tunnel under the fence or jump over it.  Even when he's with me in the back yard, he doesn't seem to want to leave the yard.  What dog doesn't bolt when the back door opens?  I don't know why he's different, but I'm not going to question my good luck.
Prewash sitting on the roof of his dog house,
outside our dining room window.
I've learned a bit of humility working with this dog -- I seem to be under-endowed with humility, so I can always use an extra dose.  When I was a kid, my neighbors used to pay me to help train their dogs, and I've had many dogs before, so I thought I knew what I was doing.  This week, I've been learning about clicker training, about exhausting exercise, about special dog toys, and about teaching a headstrong dog to walk on the leash.   He is indeed high energy, and I've gratefully soaked up advice from my oldest step-daughter (who deals with rescue dogs) and scoured the internet for training videos. We've come a long way already, both Prewash and me.

What else?  Oh, the health issues.  We're currently treating Prewash for allergies, including a yucky yeasty ear infection.  After the snow storm on Tuesday, he started limping, and on Wednesday the vet said that he's got a scary inflammation in his knee, for which he's taking steroidal anti-inflammatories and some pain meds.  It might be ligament damage, but we won't know until the knee inflammation goes down.  We're supposed to not let him run too much -- which is challenging, because he really is a high energy dog.  And last night, he started developing diarrhea -- so we're likely to go back to the vet for the third time today.  Oog.  

Prewash imitating a carpet.
Update: Probably this is TMI, but a pair of underwear and bits of a tennis ball just made it entirely all the way through his digestive tract.  Having those objects on the outside again might help to clear up the latest messy issues he's been suffering through.
But if we can get these health issues sorted out, I'm getting more and more optimistic about the future.  It does seem like the longer he's here, the calmer Prewash gets.  (I was really worried that the longer he'd be here, the bolder and naughtier he'd try to be, so the trend is encouraging).  Giving him a good walk in the morning and evening does seem to help a lot.  For example, I got much less nervous about heading back into the office next week when he spent much of the day yesterday imitating a carpet while I did my committee paperwork on the bed next to him.  In fact, he fell asleep while the vets were examining him -- so he can be high energy, but he can also totally nail the "relax" side, too.  Phew.  

Meanwhile, I'm getting in two or more outdoor walks each day that I wouldn't have had without him, and we've made great progress on walking without pulling (although we'll have to keep working at that).  Prewash seems to become more and more attached and devoted to me, and he seems to be getting more and more comfortable in the home.  And the boys seem to love being with him and being part of his training.  So we're off to a good start!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Miser Family update, Prewash version

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

The week started off with N-son playing drums in church, which I thought might be our most photogenic moment of the week.

But at the very end of the week (earlier today), we had an even more photogenic event, because we met, cuddled up to, and brought home Prewash, our new dog.  

He's high energy, and I'm a little bit worried that I'm in over my head . . . but as I write this, Prewash is cuddled up with N-son on his bed, making a large drool spot.  

And J-son is just a little bit jealous, and offering to watch the dog for me while I finish up bill paying and such. 
Prewash has already taken fondly to his new eponymous job, and our plates are going into the dishwasher food-free.  Good Dog!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Miser Family Update: Lenten version

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

We ushered in Lent with our own pre-lenten celebration in the true central Pennsylvania way.  I-daughter, K-daughter, and Baby A came over for our weekly "Family Fun Night" and we had a dinner with unhealthy but yummy stuff:  bread made with white flour, homemade soup (okay, that was healthy), and dessert of fasnachts (Amish donuts made with the last lard and sugar before Lent starts).   

My husband was in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, planning for the upcoming Science march, so he missed being at his usual "Tuesdays with Toomey" protest during the excitement of the actual arrest of 11 of those protesters.  I've reassured him that he'll have further chances to get in on the fun.

J-son seems to be operating on autopilot, attending school by day and the boxing gym every evening.  I think his muscles are getting muscles.  

N-son woke up early and attended the Oh-Dark-Thirty drill practice every single school day this week; he's practicing for a ROTC drill competition.  N-son, like me, is a morning person, so he's thriving.  My husband (who drives N-son when it's icy outside) is not a morning person, but he's surviving mostly.

And as for me, for Lent I've decided to avoid all refined sugar.  On a completely unrelated note (although maybe my students would disagree), I gave back a set of midterms for my calculus class and am preparing to give a set of midterms in my geometry class.  As such, I'm getting to spend a lot of time with my students.  

In fact, N-son and I took a giant van-full of Math Club students to a Saturday matinee showing of Hidden Figures, a movie good enough that it's worth seeing twice.   

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Miser Family update, vicissitudes version

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

In the "vicissitudes" category, J-son went for his Sunday weigh-in and weighed high.  He'd fasted last week to successfully achieve a low weight for his last Saturday match, but either the fasting or something else weakened him enough that he lost that match.  By Sunday, a day later, he'd gained four pounds, and so he no longer qualified for the upcoming Golden Glove competition.  He's responded by training harder than ever.  

Speaking of "vicissitudes", early in the week, my husband lost his wallet.  Gone.  Somewhat disconcerting was that he'd just refilled the cash, and had a few hundred dollars tucked away, but of course the credit cards and other pieces of plastic were even more tragic to lose.  Fortunately, my husband is married to a rather anal wife who makes her family photocopy the contents our wallets once each year, so replacing all the plastic parts turned out to be a single day's cuddle-up on the cell phone.  Even better, a lawyer found and returned the actual wallet to the police, so we'll be getting the cash back, too.

N-son is continuing happily with ROTC, with his after-school Squash program, and with drum lessons.  

And me?  I got to take a pair of students to a student math conference today, where they gave a bunch of talks and listened to other students' talks, and realized a bit about why I love going to math conferences. You can see that we were thinking hard about what we learned.

On Monday of this week, the boys had no school, so N-son captured my usual morning "commute" on camera.  When I walk the two-or-three blocks from my home to my office each morning, my husband accompanies me, holding the two loves of his life in either hand.  After we get to my office, he hops onto his second love and rides downhill back home.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My three-car garage

Here's what you can do when you have empty space: you can fill it up.

Late last summer, I cleaned out our fairly cavernous garage.  There on the far wall, you see all that remained after the cleaning spree: it's my "sorting center", where I put things that are destined to leave our home for a (hopefully) better place.  Used books go to the library book sale, clothes go to a thrift shop or to the Community Aid rag bins for recycling, crafts go to our Creative Reuse thrift shop, etc.  At any rate, that wall is where we sort and store things that we'll eventually donate.

But notice what's in front of that space: nothing.  I finally got lots of bare floor between the aged Prius and everything else.

And what goes into that empty space?  More cars!
Two Miatas having a sleepover with our old 2001 Prius.  

Not our cars, of course. It would be silly for a family with only two drivers, who live in an eminently walkable and bike-able city, to have three cars of our own.

Nope, we've just been babysitting (or housing, or garaging -- whatever you call it) a pair of Miata convertibles for two different sets of friends of ours who don't have empty garages of their own.  Our garage provides cover for the cars during the winter; in the summer these cars will go back to their owners for fun in the sun.  

Not that my husband or sons mind at all having these extra cars around.  In fact, our whole experience of going from owning multiple cars down to owning only one has paradoxically meant that we've had a much greater automotive variety in our lives than ever before.  These visiting sport cars are just one facet of that variety -- the rental cars we've used for long trips have provided a plethora of other facets.

At any rate, this is just to say that several years into our "owning only one car" experiment, we're still as happy as ever with the arrangement.  In fact, we've been delighted at the unexpected opportunities that keep coming our way as a result of owning more garage than automobile.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

X-son was lost, but now is found

I wrote last September that we seemed to have lost X-son.   One of the paradoxes of last fall's hurricanes in Haiti is that it brought X-son out of . . . nowhere (?) . . . into a shelter where he had access to Facebook, and so during one of those hurricanes we found him again.  Or rather, he logged back into the internet and found us.

What commenced was a very interesting set of back-and-forth emails, asking if we could help him get back into school.  The reason the back-and-forth was so interesting is that we really do want to help, but it's not clear that doing what X-son says he wants is the best help.  He's in a country that's incredibly poor, rife with corruption, and needing so much that you and I take for granted.  Which means that X-son himself is incredibly poor, inclined to deception, and needing so much that you and I would take for granted.

X-son and his friends are
living in straw huts with no electricity or running water,
but own headphones.
Working with a missionary we trust who travels between our little city and Haiti, we finally identified a school with a principal that this missionary knows.  We figured that if we send the money straight to the school, that X-son couldn't just pocket the money or use it in a scam.  Then a second Haitian missionary cautioned us to be careful: X-son might try to collude with the principal to split the money while avoiding school.  Ugh.  These things to think about.

We don't want to avoid doing good just because we fear the bad.  So we sent the money down to the principal through our missionary friend Cindy, and we wrote to X-son a note that we hoped would be mostly encouragement, but part enforcement:

We will be glad to make sure you can go to school.  When Cindy goes to Haiti in January, she will talk to the [Name of] school to see whether you can enroll for a half a year . . .

Cindy will also talk to your teachers, so that we can hear how you are doing in school.  We will be excited to hear about your progress.  And if you have troubles in school, we can work with your teachers on how they can get you more help.

And here he is, proudly sending us photos of himself in his school uniform, at school.

So, we're back in contact, and maybe back in the helping game.  I'm so glad this story isn't over yet.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Airing grievances over the air we breathe

My mother died on Mother's Day in 2009, from complications of a long and ugly battle with Alzheimer's disease.  I don't have to tell you about what the disease did to her, because we've all heard these stories before.

Before the disease moved in, she was a brilliant woman.  She overcame all kinds of odds to earn her a PhD in physics from Stanford University in the 1960's; she battled sexism again to get a job at NASA in the 1970's; and she had a long and prolific career in exploratory space science. And then she became paranoid about toilets, obsessed with sticky notes attached to every conceivable object in the house, and cut off in her own mind from recognizing even her closest family members.

It says something about the character of her mind that the day before she died, while she was suffering from a broken hip, almost deaf and blind, and hospitalized because of her dementia -- that when her nurse suggested, "Carol, maybe you want to lay down in bed," -- my mother immediately retorted, "I think you mean lie down."

That Alzheimer's:  maybe a person could correctly argue that my mom helped to bring this disease upon herself.  In addition to her stunning intellect and her fierce determination to succeed, my mom also had a knack for downing the booze.  She was, my sisters and I believe, a functional alcoholic all her life.  The ties between Alzheimer's and Alcohol are not irrevocable, but they are well documented.  And so maybe my mother's drinking was her eventual downfall . . . we'll never know.

I was thinking about my mom the other day because a newspaper article highlighted a recent study that shows that air pollution, like alcohol, contributes to dementia.  If the study's findings extend beyond their 11-year database to the more general population, it could mean that as many as one fifth of all dementia cases around the globe could be linked to air pollution.

What's a person to do?  I do my best to lead my weird little low-trash life, avoiding disposables and bringing glass jars to market.  I walk to work, and I urge my family toward bikes instead of cars.  I can limit the damage that I do . . . but I can't change the air that I breathe.   In fact, the whole beautiful county I live in, here in the heart of Amish farmland with our verdant fields and heavily agrarian history, has some of the worst air quality in the nation.  Power plants all around us -- in western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley -- contribute to the problem, as does pollution from the big nearby cities of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

In the same way that my mom's drinking didn't merely lead to the problem of dementia (there were anger issues and occasional violence and certainly some strained relationships), the problem of air pollution goes way beyond its dementia-causing difficulties.  It goes even beyond the merely human problem that it contributes to premature deaths, asthma, heart attacks, and lung cancer.  For me, as a Christian, I believe that I'm supposed to be a steward of this wonderful creation that a loving God spoke into existence.  There's something spiritual and eternal about this world we live in, and I'm supposed to tend to it and care for it, not exploit it and destroy it.

As a lone person, I can't do much to change the air around me.  And that's why it's so important to me that my elected officials -- my public servants -- work to protect our air and water from harm.  There's a bill that's passed the House of Representatives and is headed for the Senate -- Joint Resolution 36 -- that wants to eliminate regulations that were designed to help prevent gas leaks or "flaring" (burning excess gas just to dispose of it).  I can understand why companies want to avoid these regulations -- just like I could understand why my mom wanted to drink so much.  But she was putting herself and her loved ones at risk, and so are the companies that turn our natural resources into money and soot.

Sometimes you just need to have an intervention.  My mom didn't listen when my sisters and I tried to talk with her, but I hope that my senators will.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Miser Family update: Seuss, retreat, boxing, and campy movies

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

As I mentioned in the previous post, on Thursday, two days after the rest of the nation celebrates the day, we had our annual Valentines' Special Dinner, with Red-bread Reubens, Strawberry-rhubarb pie, spinach and artichoke heart dip, and apple(of-my-eye)sauce.  

Earlier in the week, on Monday, I went for my last follow-up visit with my surgeon, who x-rayed my arm and watched how I can flex and straighten it, and then he pronounced:
"You can do anything you want!"
He sounds more like Dr. Seuss than a surgical doctor, but I'm going to try to take him at his word.

N-son is spending the weekend on a retreat with his church youth group.  He's really made friends with these teenagers, and he's getting ready to become a formal member of our church.  I'm really happy for him.
J-son has managed to lose about 10 pounds, and he's looking scrawny and tough.  By last night, he was only allowed to eat ice cubes . . . he's showing a LOT of determination.  He had a collegiate match this weekend, and he made weigh-in, but he lost his match today.  He has another weigh-in tomorrow for the Golden Gloves tournament, which will be in March.

My husband is continuing to stay involved in protests and politics, and he is also enjoying the literature classes he's auditing.  For one of the classes, his professor had him watch the movie A Knight's Tale, and my husband had me watch the first half with him until I finally decided there are limits to my love for that man, and anachronistic movies lie right at the border of those limits.  He finished the movie alone (happy ending, both for the movie characters and for me), and my guy wrote a lovely paper contrasting Queen's "We will rock you" with Medieval balladeers.  Fabulous.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Valentine's Special Dinner

We started our Valentines' Dinner (on Thursday, because that was the day that worked for us) dressed in pink and red . . .
Baby A has got some serious balancing skills.

. . . and really red.
J-son is getting ready for his big match this weekend.
I hauled out my printer paper box of supplies,

and this allowed us to decorated super quickly, yet very festively.

There were hearts everywhere:  the tablecloth (that lived a previous life as a fitted bed sheet), hot mats (sewed together from of an old polo shirt and towels), and even the applesauce bowls.

I seem to have given away my heart-shaped cookie cutters over the years, so our red-and-white reuben sandwiches weren't heart shaped.   But they were indeed red and white!

And this year, we added a recipe my sister gave me for spinach-artichoke dip (because artichoke hearts, right)?

Also a new keeper for the meal is strawberry-rhubarb pie. Definitely better than red jello.

Following upon the heels of our Black History Month dinner, this makes two Special Dinners in one month.  I love how much my family looks forward to these, and what a great way it is to gather together again.

It's one of the great (frugal) things about tradition.  Aside from maybe the artichoke hearts, nothing on this menu was particularly pricey.   I got the strawberries in bulk last summer and the rhubarb in my CSA box, and I set them aside (actually, canned them) to use for this dinner.  Red bread is just flour, water, yeast, salt, and a bit of red food dye.  Corned beef and swiss cheese are a bit of a splurge, but they're certainly not filet mignon or lobster.

But in spite of the frugal input, the fact that this was the beloved Valentines' Dinner made the whole evening super special.  K-daughter snapped photos, saying "I keep telling everyone that my family is the best family, and they're all so jealous".  I-daughter agreed.  The boys asked for seconds, and thirds, and . . . and it was a great evening.