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.