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.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Update: perfection, illness, and performance version

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

We started the week by blowing long-distance kisses to our oldest daughter, who on Sunday turned 28 -- a perfect number, because 28 is the sum of its proper divisors.  In fact, L-daughter hasn't been this perfect since she was 6!  (Because 6 is also the sum of its proper divisors, you know.  I'm feeling very math-y tonight).  

We also started the week by tending to the sick and wounded -- or at least, to the sick.  N-son had a fever early in the week that kept him home from school one day.  K-daughter, to the north of us, suffered from a flu that turned into a measles-like rash, and she is slowly recovering from that.  J-son is still trying to drop weight for his next match, and so he's one hungry guy.

But as N-son recovered, and as K-daughter rested up, a large subset of our family went to a rousing and memorable performance of Annie, Get Your Gun.  The plot is horrific from a feminist point of view, but the music and the dancing were fantastic!  None of us had realized that many of our favorite show tunes come from this show, and the cast did an astounding job of acrobatic dancing and vocal marvels.   If we could only rewrite the show so that Annie dumps the jerk at the end instead of marrying him, the show would be nearly perfect.  

My husband went to several more protests (I'm sort of losing count; it was either two or three), and I had a long-awaited paper come out.  We're in our elements, here.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Black History Month Dinner

The first-annual Black History Month Dinner in the Miser Mom household was a resounding success.  Woo-hoo!  (In fact, as you can tell by the fact that I'm calling it "first annual", we're already looking forward to next year).

What made it a success?  People, for one thing.  I had my extended family here (dad, step-mom, sisters, large subset of my children), plus a friend and her friends -- all together, we had 14 people for dinner.  We had enough people, in fact, that we had to set up a "cool" table for the teenagers, 

and a geeky table for the rest of us.
(Wait: did N-son get dinner at both tables?)
The food was fabulous.  My sisters (one wearing her pussy hat) cooked up fried catfish and "hipster collard greens" (kale from her own garden, with bacon and other yummy stuff).  I added homemade cornbread and store-bought mac-n-cheese.  
Next year, though, per about a gazillion suggestions from students and friends, I'm doing fried chicken instead of fried catfish, plus collard greens that are actually collard greens. But this year, I couldn't pass up the offer from my sisters to cook my dinner for me!

I decorated the walls of my living room with photographs I'd gathered during the summer. I had about thirty of these photographs.   (The names of the people are mostly the names I came up with last April -- see this post -- with the added suggestions that people included in the comments of that post.  That was so helpful!).  

To get good quality photos, I consulted with my college librarians.  They recommended that when I search via google images, I use the "setting -- advanced search" option to filter by "image size, larger than 1024x768").  This meant that the pictures all came out looking pretty good.  I tried to use "action" photos wherever possible (Maya Angelou lying on her carpet, writing, or Sidney Poitier next to a movie camera) to add context.   
My sister hangs out with Shirley Chisholm, Muhammad Ali, and others.
On the back of each photo, I printed out an abbreviated biography.  I spread the pictures out all across the living room, even covering up Georgia O'Keefe, so people wouldn't have to stand in front of each other to see the photos.
My daughter sits between Oprah Winfrey and Alex Haley, among others.
After dinner, we matched up the photos with sticky-note clues, three clues per photo.  At first we thought 30 photos with 90 clues was going to be way too many for us to match up -- it would get tedious.  But working together, we had a great time figuring out who was who, and the activity was surprisingly peppy and fast.  In fact, my guests gave me lots of "next year, you ought to add this person" suggestions.


It helped that each photo had three colors of sticky notes:  a yellow name, a green accomplishment, and a pink accomplishment
So we had some great discussions when we saw, say, two green tags on one photo:  Was this really Oprah?
An entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist who was the first female self-made millionaire in America, she became one of the wealthiest African American women in the country.
No, that was actually Madame C.J. Walker.



At the end, my friend Amanda led us through a "what surprising things did you learn?" exercise, to wrap it all up.  Amanda hadn't known about Major Marshall Walker; my sisters hadn't known that the first major-party black candidate for the President of the United States was a woman (Shirley Chisholm), and so on. The teenage boys, who had asked for this in the first place, and who in true teenage fashion alternated between enthusiasm and pretending to be too cool for the event, either actively or quietly soaked it all up.   (Heh-heh . . . I don't know whether having a pair of teenage girls at the dinner made the event more palatable, or whether it added to J-son's impulse to be a bit aloof from the activity.)  When I asked the boys about doing it again next year, they both gave an emphatic "yes".

In the meanwhile, my family is delightedly sending me more names to include in next year's profiles.  On her flight back home, my youngest sister snapped this photo of a statue in BWI airport:  Bessie Coleman, the first black woman to earn a pilot's license.  Uppity women unite!



Sunday, February 5, 2017

Miser Family Update, Christmas in February edition

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

My dad and me at the reception after my talk.
The week started off fairly normally, but picked up steam as it went along. We all had classes, my husband got to go to his Tuesdays with Toomey protest, and then on Wednesday, N-son had a long-awaited squash match, with both of his parents there cheering for him.

On Thursday, my sisters, my dad, and his wife came into town.  I gave a large lunchtime lecture at my college's "Common Hour"; the lecture is one of the side-effects/bonuses of having earned my college's teaching award last May.  I had a lot of fun, and I hope others did, too.



Later that night, we celebrated Black History month at my home.  (I'll so a separate post about that), but for, here, I'll just say it was GREAT.


And then, as if that wasn't enough excitement, on Friday and Saturday we all headed down to my dad's home in Damascus for a late Christmas.  We did traditional Christmas activities, like putting up a tree, 
A tiny tree, decorated with homemade photo ornaments
opening gifts, going for long walks, and doing family push-ups.  
(Okay, maybe push-ups aren't a traditional Christmas activity).  


I can still only do "cobra-ups" (with my hips on the floor), but although my strength has a long way to go to fully recover, I'm really pleased with how flexible my arm is getting.  So I cobra-upped with my family in between taking photos of them.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Rosa Park's pancakes

My family is coming into town today because I'm giving a big talk, and I'm so glad they're going to be here with me.  Later tonight, we're going to have the long-planned Black History Month Special Dinner that I first wrote about (and asked for help with) last April.  Updates forthcoming on the dinner after it occurs!

My youngest sister offered to help with cooking -- not only the dinner, but also with an appropriately themed breakfast the next morning.  Tomorrow, February 3, is the day before Rosa Park's birthday.  My sister explained the breakfast in an email to her friends and family, and I'll leave the rest of this in her words.

In honor of Rosa Park’s birthday this Saturday February 4th and the start of Black History Month (February), I’m forwarding along her personal recipe for Featherlite Peanut Butter Pancakes.  Just over sixty years ago, Parks refused to give up her seat in the colored section of a bus to a white passenger.  Her resulting arrest for violating Alabama segregation laws and the subsequent Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols of the American Civil Rights Movement.  Parks' act of defiance was not without penalty. Beyond being jailed and drug through the court system, she was also fired from her job, received death threats, and was forced to move out of the state to find peace and work.  Still, she insisted that the struggle for justice was not over and continue to champion human equality into her retirement years.  
I’ll be enjoying these pancakes this weekend with my family to honor Rosa Parks and her brave stand that helped to form a better America for all of us.  I am a firm believer that when we support each other, we are stronger and better for it.  Whether or not you agree with the current administration’s direction concerning immigration policy, increasing penalties for dissenters/protesters, LGBTQ protections, a woman’s right of choice, and/or the acceptance of the scientific community understanding of human impact on climate change; the kick off of Black History Month is an excellent time to have a conversation with your family and friends about how biased laws and cultural discrimination can impact life for all of us.  
Rosa Parks' 'Featherlite' Peanut Butter Pancakes Recipe
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon shortening or oil (for the pan)
Recipe as it appears on the envelope,
found amongst her belongings was a suitcase
containing personal papers, after Rosa Park's death,
image found at this site. 
Enjoy.  [Youngest sister]


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Standing up for refugees

My city, I've mentioned once or twice, has a large refugee population.  In fact, the BBC very recently singled out my little city as exceptionally welcoming to those who are fleeing persecution.


As the president of my college said, "We can take pride and inspiration in being a part of a city that has welcomed 1,300 refugees since 2013—20 times more on a per capita basis than the U.S. as a whole."

And it's nice to know those aren't just hollow words; my city does take pride in our ability to share, to welcome, to support those who have been buffeted by circumstances we can't even -- or don't want to -- imagine.

Last night I got to walk downtown to meet up with my daughter, plus 2000 more of my fellow citizens, to chant, to encourage, to make clear that we oppose the recent ill-conceived and badly implemented suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  I bumped into members of my conservative evangelical church who were carrying signs of welcome in Arabic and decrying persecution of people of the Muslim faith.  I met a woman who told me she follows my blog, and that she now tears the plastic window off of her spaghetti boxes so she can recycle the cardboard (happiness!); she was carrying a sign that reminded people that the Bible talks over and over about welcoming the stranger, and almost never about self-protection as a virtue.  I met another woman who resettles refugee families here; we'd had Thanksgiving dinner with her and one of the Nepalese families she worked with many many years ago.

There were candles everywhere.  A woman I know who, like me, has six kids of many colors, gave me one of her candles. When I asked if she needed a light as well, she said "My children are my candle".  There was a lot of singing; a bit of chanting, a lot of catching up and happiness mixed in with a fierce determination.

I didn't get my grading done.  With all the paperwork swirling around me, I feel only a little bit guilty about neglecting the 18 students in my projective geometry class.  (I have a rule that if I don't get their corrections back quickly, they don't have to turn in the next set of homework, so I'm guessing they'll actually be delighted instead of disappointed).

But aside from that little allocation of time, standing up with my city in support of the notions of decency and generosity and inclusion is a perfect frugal activity.  The cost is a candle, plus shoe leather or transportation.  The connections I made and remade are personally encouraging, but even more, it's heartening to feel like I'm part of a larger movement that's working together to do the Right Thing.