Saturday, August 10, 2019

Miser Family Update in pictures

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family these days.  The last two weeks have been full of travels for me, so this update will be rich in photographs.

As July turned into August, our book went to press!  And about the same time, I went to the math meetings in Cincinnati, where I got to see an advance copy of my book out in the booth, right next to an advance copy of Bob Bosch's awesome forthcoming book.  I think we did blurbs for one another, which feels a bit like nepotism, but . . . 

My book!  Well, an advance copy, not yet formatted correctly.

But I am not the only one in the family making stuff that delights the person who makes it.  L-daughter writes,
"yesterday I spent the day with my neighbor George who taught me how to make challah bread."  
"It was a lengthy but quite calm process and the finished product was absolutely delicious." 

"It made me think of you and all the bread you made in the bread maker throughout our childhood." 
But my break-maker bread never looked quite this delicious. 

And K-daughter also makes things:  in her case, HVAC things.  Below, you see a picture of an Erv.  (I'm sure you know all about Ervs, of course).
"It was super cool to see our product in NY! Our energy recovery ventilators are
going all over, but a lot of them lately have been shipping to NY!"
Not to be left out of the "scaling tall buildings in a single bound" is N-son, who is learning to do scaffolding stuff.  As an educator, I'm often involved in conversations about "scaffolding learning" (by assigning simpler projects at first and then assigning more complicated work as time goes by), but when we talk about "scaffolding" and "building competencies", we don't usually mean it quite as literally as N-son gets to experience.
In a completely different kind of creative act, I-daughter helped me build this smiley face on a playground set in Oregon.   (This is made of 2" beads that are black on one side and gray on the other).  

The reason that we're in Oregon (because, remember, the math meetings were in Cincinnati) is that as the math meetings were ending I flew out to join my family for our annual vacation in a little town about two hours from Crater Lake.

The waters are very, very blue in this lake, 
and the clouds reflect beautifully in a way that let me think about both nature and
projective geometry at the same time.
My daughter caught me math-ing here.

This is I-daughter in front of the lake.
Did I mention the lake is really, really blue?

On a slightly different adventure, we meandered outside our
guest home for about 5 minutes, during which little burrs attached
themselves to I-daughter's skirt. 
And then we spent an hour removing the burrs.

You can see the burrs more easily on this sock,
although those were much faster and easier to remove!
We also got to do the typical Oregon thing of visiting an Alpaca Ranch (okay, I guess that's not actually so typical, but it was fun), . . .
Alpacas!   They're not very friendly creatures, but
they're herd animals, so they pretend to be friendly.

. . . and I went for a hike with my dad and a sister and a niece that started in the rain and ended in the sun.
We're not frowning; we're squinting in the sun.
J-son has been hanging out with young kids that aren't Alpacas (a young alpaca is actually a "cria", not a "kid", but I needed a transition here).  He's still working very, very hard as a camp counsellor at his sleep-away camp, with 70 non-cria human beings occupying his time.   The next two weeks ought to be a bit easier, as the number of campers is likely to decrease a tad, and as they switch to day-camp only.  He's had to be on the go fairly constantly, pulled in lots of (very exciting) directions. 

I've spent a lot of my career joking with people about trying to be in two places at once, or about an inability to be in two places at once.  Well, we went to a cool science museum that I think has figured out how to solve this problem!
When I've fully perfected this technique, I'll be sure to let you know.

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A tale of 5 coffee makers

It was the best of grinds; it was the worst of grinds.  As I was packing up the deep recesses of our cabinets early this summer, in preparation for moving houses, I came upon a stash of coffee makers.  Somehow, over the years, we've accumulated a total of five of these.

I write "somehow", but the truth is that I know exactly how this stockpile of coffee appliances came about.   My favorite stores (that is, yard sales) are closed during the winter.   We had a bad experience a few years back when our coffee maker died during the winter -- requiring frantic trips to so-called-thrift-shops.   After that, whenever I'd come across an inexpensive coffee maker at a yard sale, I'd grab it "just in case".   I wanted to make sure we were never again stranded without an emergency back-up coffee maker.  And the way these things go, even without noticing it, I managed to become overly wealthy in coffee makers.

But we didn't want to move our entire wealth of coffee makers over to the new home.   We decided that having two coffee makers (a primary and an emergency back up) ought to hold us in good stead.  We picked our favorite two, based on the kind of filters we used, and hauled the other three out to the yard sale, to put the coffee makers back "in the cloud".

Coffee makers, anyone?  (See the lower left corner).
So here's an interesting phenomenon:  people don't really sell or buy coffee makers at yard sales much any more.   A few years ago, these babies used to be everywhere, and you could always find one for less than $5.  But this past July, our three were almost the only ones offered at the huge neighborhood yard sale, and nobody wanted them.  Even priced at 25¢ (or $1 for a bagful/armful), we had a terrible time finding any takers.   Someone told me this is the Keurig influence; I don't know.

At any rate, we managed to off-load two of our coffee makers at the yard sale, and delivered a third to a so-called-thrift shop.  And we moved our two favorite coffee makers to our new home.

And then a week later, the black coffee maker just stopped working.  We'd press the button, the light would come on, but the water wouldn't get hot or perk its way through.  Darn it.  Fortunately, we were prepared, and had our emergency back-up; the white coffee maker.

And then two days later, I came downstairs to see that my husband had written something on top of the coffee maker in sharpie. Since I'm the designated label-fanatic in the family, seeing him mark an object up meant that something serious was afoot.

And here's what my husband wrote:

"Water leaks out bottom".
Sheesh.  What this means is that the coffee maker still works, but we can't follow our usual routine of him setting up everything the night before, and me just pushing the button in the morning.  We have to wait to pour the water in until right before we make the coffee.  (The water doesn't leak out of the pot, just out of the reservoir, and it's not a super speedy leak, at least not yet).

So, we don't quite have a coffee maker emergency, but dang.  I'm traveling right now, so I can't go check out my favorite stores, and even when I get back I don't know if I'll be able to find a coffee maker in the cloud anymore (a pre-flight cursory check of a local so-called-thrift store didn't turn up any possibilities, either, and our local Craig's List has only Keurig models -- which lends some credence to the theory my yard-sale buddies told me).  I might just try the old "put out the word" method instead; I-daughter has already mentioned that she might have one she doesn't use.

Sigh.  From 5 coffee makers to a single semi-usable one, just like that.  No wonder I'd hoarded them over the years!   I don't know if I can use shoe-goo or some such glue to fix the white maker; that'd be pretty cool if I could.  It would buy me even more time to start building my coffee pot portfolio again, and to regain the wealth that we've squandered so recklessly.  It is a far, far better thing to brew.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The stealth labeler strikes again . . .

A half a century ago, the college where I work was a male-only college.   Partly as a lingering consequence of that history, the building where I work has exactly one restroom on each floor:  women are odd and men are even.  I like to joke that all the female mathematicians know all the historians, and all of the male historians know the mathematicians.  (This leads to funny euphemisms: one of our job candidates once told me, "Er, I'd like to go visit the history department.")

Alternating-floor restrooms are unusual enough, but the situation has been all the odder because the Powers That Be decided all signs should be as discrete as possible.   And so new people to the building have a terrible time finding a restroom.  Because we're a college with a new set of classes each semester, we're constantly getting a new set of confused and antsy people asking us for directions to a place that ought to be easier to find.  

So last week, emboldened by my happy kitchen labeling*, I decided to what-the-heck make some visible labels that let people actually see where the restroom is from afar, and direct them to the other floors if that's what the situation calls for.
* My daughter asked, "Mom, did you buy a label machine?", 
but I'd just made them on the computer.  And my husband heard 
that I'd planned for the labels to be temporary, but said he 
hoped I'd leave them indefinitely.  I'm feeling label love here, folks.

A sign that sticks out into the hallway,
so you can see the sign from far away.
A small sign underneath the women's sign,
directing men to the even floors.
I don't know if the Powers-That-Be will leave the signs up or not.  But anecdotally, I've been hearing people who work in this building say things like, "I'm glad they finally decided to put up signs" (using the ambiguous "they").   Maybe the ambiguous "they" will never realize the stealth labeler has struck, and will ignore the signs entirely.  Maybe someone somewhere will decide to make signs out of something more durable than card stock and tape.  Or maybe the Administrator of Aesthetics will decide the signs are ugly and remove them.  Who knows what will happen?

As long as I was on a labeling tear, I decided to add signs to the water fountains, too.  (These are, not intuitively, stuck in alcoves at the opposite ends of the buildings from the restrooms, and are even less visible than the restrooms, if that's even possible).
Water fountain!  It's hard to find a clip art logo for this, actually.
It's weird to do something which feels simultaneously like an act of public service and an act of vandalism.  On the one hand, it's the kind of thing that lots of people say, "Somebody ought to . . .", and on the other hand, I've worked here 27 years and nobody has followed through.  So the weight of history and tradition and inertia sit heavy.   Printing out a couple of pieces of paper and taping them to the walls feels oddly daring.

It feels daring, and also kind of thrilling and addictive.  Who knows where the stealth labeler will strike next?  

Thursday, August 1, 2019


How to take things out of cardboard boxes, that is the question.  Or rather, where to put things as I take them out of boxes.

Drawers with labels.
I've been fairly deeply influenced by Julie Morgenstern's book "Organize yourself from the Inside Out".  She's an advocate of thinking in terms of zones of activity, and also in terms of labeling.

As a consequence, my kitchen things have gone from sitting inside labeled cardboard boxes to finding new homes inside labeled kitchen drawers and cabinets.  The cabinet labels, they're for helping family members figure out the new system.   The labels are temporary, until we all get used to this.   I made the labels on card stock, using a font I like, so they're not too ugly.  And they're held in place with minimal amounts of water-soluble Elmer's glue.   I'm hoping this means it'll be easy to remove them and clean the cabinets up in a month or so.

On the one hand, the cabinets in my kitchen are amazing in a good way.  They're custom built, and carefully designed.  They're beautiful.

But also, the cabinets are amazing in a what-the-heck way.  It's like, they were designed for someone who wanted a beautiful kitchen for people who cook by ordering pizza or Thai.   Because it's not a person-centric kitchen.  

The kitchen itself is kind of question-mark-shaped, so a surprisingly large number of cabinets are triangular, to accommodate the twists and turns.  The ceilings are 9 feet up, and the cabinets go all the way up, and of course the top cabinets are largely unreachable until we get a 3-step step stool.  On one side, the cabinets are a mere 11 inches deep, with hardly enough room to store large objects.   On the other wall, they're 25 inches deep, so anything that gets shoved to the back is likely to get lost behind other objects, especially on those higher shelves.  The counter space is broken up into four tiny pieces -- two of which are barely wide enough to hold a toaster; the longest stretch of counter space is 36".  
From the back door, you can see the kitchen curves around the stove
and then past the sink the other way, into the dining room.

From the dining room, looking at this odd space from the opposite direction.

I love the challenge of using this space.  It's such a great puzzle!

And because of Julie Morgenstern, I'm thinking of this puzzle not as a jigsaw puzzle, where I have to find spaces to hold the things I own, but as logic puzzle:  what do I want to do in the kitchen?  Where am I going to do it?  How can I make sure the thing I want to use is where I'll need it?  Then, I can think:  how do I pull things out of boxes?  Zones.  Labeling.  

Can opener pretending to be
a bat in a cave.
Take the can opener, for example.   In the past, my can opener has gone in a kind of "miscellaneous food prep" drawer, with scissors and markers that I use to label frozen food and such.  But this kitchen is skimpy on drawers, and so I had to get creative.  Where do I actually use my can opener?  When I'm opening cans, of course.  Where are the cans?  In the giant, 25-inch-deep cabinets near the refrigerator (food zone).  So the can opener goes with the cans, on a hook.  Voila!   I love this. 
In fact, I love hooks so much I hung a few other things, at least for now:
Ice cream scoops hang on the side of the fridge,
right where the ice cream is.

Canning jar ring hang on bent hangars in the canning jar zone.
Everyone has a canning jar zone in their kitchen, right?
In terms of zones, (keeping things near where we'd naturally use them), I've got
  • the cooking zone near the stove and oven:  cast iron pans down low, cooking pots up higher, a dedicated cabinet for electric appliances.  
  • a food zone near the fridge, with baking supplies on two sets of shelves, another skinny shelf for "sauces and snacks", and then deep deep cabinets for "food that needs prep" (like pasta and canned goods).    
  • a food storage container zone, with an odd triangular cabinet for pyrex containers, a different odd L-shaped cabinet for canning jars, and a drawer for "canning jar bling" (lids, funnels, grabbers, etc). 

This label says "Canning Jar Bling". 
This is what it looks like when
I'm not wearing my reading glasses,
so now you see what I see.
So far, things seem to be working well, cross fingers.  I'm zoning the rest of the house, too (but of course), and doing my best to get those cardboard boxes out of our living spaces and into the homes of other people who are packing.    The place is looking more and more like a messy house, and less and less like a warehouse.   With any luck we can push through the messy phase into the "inviting" phase.

Un-boxing, man.  I love it.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Diderot love seats

A bunch of years back, there was a dude named Denis D. who wore an old  robe around the house a lot.  It wasn't elegant, but it was kind of comfy.  He wrote,
My old robe was one with the other rags that surrounded me. A straw chair, a wooden table, a rug from Bergamo, a wood plank that held up a few books, a few smoky prints without frames, hung by its corners on that tapestry. 
His robe was kind of beat up, but that meant he didn't mind using the corner of it to mop up minor spills or fix smudges he'd made.  

My homemade Adiriondack Love Seat with wheels.  Yes!
And analogously, a bunch of years back, I made an Adirondack love seat (with wheels!) out of old fence boards. It wasn't elegant (indeed, my uncle described it and the other chairs I built as "hav[ing] just a hint of medieval torture in their looks"), but it was a great place to lounge in, in my spacious back yard.

I'd sit on this chair and read the paper, while Prewash checked out rabbits.

But Denis got a new robe, and I moved to a house with a really nice porch. And for each of us, this started a cascade. For poor old Denis, he realized that nothing in his house matched the elegance of his new robe, and so he ended up replacing all sorts of his shabbier things with fancier things. As he put it,
I was the absolute master of my old robe. I have become the slave of the new one.
In fact, this idea that getting one nice new thing inspires us to extend ourselves to upgrade everything else around us -- that idea that Denis D. wrote about -- has been named in his honor the "Diderot Effect".

For Denis Diderot living in France in the late 1700's, social norms about what was "elegant" or not were much more tightly defined than in my own day and age, and for him the main way to ratchet up the elegance factor was to purchase expensive stuff.  As a result, he pinpointed the new robe as the beginning of a spiral that led him into debt.
 A hundred times along the way he calculated on his fingers the size of his fortune and had arranged for its use. And now all of his hopes have vanished; he has barely enough to cover his naked limbs.

For me, I'm fortunate to live in age where thrift shops and yard sales spew out fancy goods that are nearly free for the taking, and where a mixture of cultures and economic classes allow for a wider approach to decorative styles.   Still, the Adirondack Love Seat, up on my nice brick porch, did not belong.  (My new neighbor admitted that he'd been taken aback to see it there:  "It looked like it belongs on a beach or something", he charitably offered.   He's more tactful than my uncle).

Instead of getting a new porch seat, though (or even a "new to me" porch seat), I grabbed the jigsaw to trim the wild edges:  the planks of the love seat are now topped by initials, a candle, a flower, an eye, a mistake, a heart, an owl, and more initials.  And then, paint: bold, contrasting colors of paint, purple, orange, and green.  I'm going for the "sin boldly" form of  aesthetics.  Paint is an awesome invention, I tell you.

I am kind of in love with this chair.  I'm sitting on it right now, in fact, typing away while Prewash eats her breakfast and wags her tail at passing pedestrians. She likes to play "Titanic", putting her front feet on the porch wall, leaning out across the prow.  And I get to sit here, reading the paper and typing on my computer, watching her and my neighbors and taking in all the morning sounds, sitting on a chair that I made and painted all by myself.  Other people seem to appreciate the chair, too: I get a lot of compliments on the purple.  

The chair from the street. 
We still have a few cardboard boxes stacked up
there toward the left side of the picture.
I'm trying to be careful to not let this nice new house coerce me into a spiral of non-miserly spending.  And in spite of numerous recent trips to the hardware store and so-called-thrift shops, I feel like I've been mostly successful so far.   Thanks, Denis D., for providing cautionary (and eloquent) tales!   

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Miser Family Update

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household.  In particular, the "house" part of "household" has played a large role in our lives.

Last week, I spent much of the week moving just about all our earthly possessions out of the house-hold and into the garage-hold.  Any pretensions I had toward having minimalist tendencies were drilled out of me as I packed and carried box after box after box, and as I had friends help me lug multiple pieces of heavy furniture.

Meanwhile, as I was disassembling the dining room table, my husband celebrated the international year of the periodic table in the birthplace of Primo Levy.  On Thursday last, as I packed up the last few bits, took Prewash to a friend's house, and headed for a nearby hotel, my guy started his long (26-hour) journey home.  He had plane cancellations and rebookings, train break downs, and other adventures.  He made it to the hotel sometime around midnight.

On Friday the 19th, as temperatures climbed their way toward new highs for this year, we went to one title agency and sold our home.  Then we lived out of our car for an hour.  (Actually, we went to my air-conditioned office, because internet + comfort).   Then we went to a second title agency and bought our new home.  We went out for lunch, picked up a moving van with two hand trucks, and started carting the first load of stuff from Old House to New House. 

At 3 p.m., a group of friends and church mates showed up and started carting things from the garage into the truck.  Since it had taken me something like two months to get everything moved (wedged) in there, I knew it was going to take forEVER to move it over -- I'd organized things so urgent stuff was toward the street, and things we could wait a month or so to move were furthest back.   I was very glad that we'd arranged with the new owners to be able to leave stuff in the garage until August.

And yet, many hands really do make speedy work, and we ended up moving almost all of the boxes and shelves and such into the next load in the truck.  Unpacking was also easier than I'd thought; new neighbors showed up and lent a hand.  We sweated our way through moving things on a nearly-100-degree day.  The next load of the truck, which basically finished off the garage, was even faster.   We picked up Prewash at 9 p.m. and fell asleep in the heat and humidity of our new house soon after.

The next day, N-son came to visit, and he helped me use a pulley system to get the box spring upstairs (it wouldn't fit around the corner of our top stair case).  That pulley was probably the most intellectually satisfying part of the move!

Since then, I've spent my week happily bouncing back and forth between work (last round of page proofs, preparing for upcoming math meetings) and unpacking and setting up the house.  Almost everything is out of boxes now.  My husband's job in all this (which is to admire my progress and exclaim over how nice things look) is going well.   He also got to go to his every-five-year flavor of medical appointment, where the doctor said he's beautiful on the inside.  He would like me to say that he was pooped.

We know the mail works, because we got a lovely card from our daughter and from my sister.   I got to spend an evening playing a local version of Monopoly with I-daughter, who is psyched about spinning two skeins for the Tour de Fleece.  I admit I haven't been as good at staying in touch with K-daughter or J-son. 

And . . . HUGE kudos to L-daughter, who passed her thesis defense!  We've got a new doctor in the family!  I'm so proud.

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Scenes from Cardboard Box Land

Sun rising over a living room full of boxes.
The more stuff I get out of my house, the messier my house becomes.  It's really kind of fascinating.
Getting rid of some of my stuff at a neighborhood yard sale.
I've been really enjoying this process of packing up: thinking about what I own, observing what happens as things in closets become de-closeted, etc.  I know that packing and moving can be really stressful, but I've decided to look at this as a way of learning about myself and my material culture.  I'm kind of Spock-ish, thinking all sorts of situations are fascinating.  And plus, I get to play a 3D tetris with the things I own.

One of the huge advantages I have is a giant garage; I can move packed-up boxes out there.   So you'd think that the house would become emptier and emptier as the garage fills up . . . and in a way, that's true.   The upstairs rooms and the basement are emptying out nicely.   But meanwhile, the rooms we use (on the first floor) are increasingly chaotic.   As I said: fascinating

We sold everything for 25¢ each,
or $1 per bagful/armful.  
We're not only using the garage, of course.  We're also storing a bunch of our stuff "in the cloud":  taking it to thrift shops, or even selling it at a neighborhood yard sale.  I know enough about yard sales to know that things disappear best if there's a small cost -- so we charged 25¢ per item.  I also know that once people have decided to take one thing, the barrier is broken: so beyond the initial fee, we offered a bulk-buyer's discount:  $1 per bagful/armful.   We ended up making $32.67, plus a pair of boots for me and an iPhone radio for K-daughter.

A friend who came to the yard sale wrote me a few days later, kind of in awe.  She said,
I will always remember the public teacher who cleaned you out of water bottles, including the one in your hand, all for $1. I have told this story a few times already. Most folks don't know that many of [our city] schools are without air conditioning. What a sorry state of affairs.
 There were a few things we offered for free.  My favorite was A-child's playhouse, the sign for which made lots and lots of people smile.
The sign reads, "Awesome Kid Playhouse.   Pre-tested!  It works!!"
Plus, "Free!  Free!  Free!"
People really loved the sign.
 And, of course, even more importantly we cleared out a lot of space:  we started with a bunch of full boxes, and ended up with mostly empty boxes to take back home and fill up (including one box that looked suspiciously like a playhouse).

I have kind of fallen in love with "paper tape":  the brown tape with fibers in it that I have to wet down myself.   One thing I love about it is that it isn't plastic.  In addition, I've learned to love the tactile feel of it: pressing it against the cardboard and feeling it latch on and nestle up to the box.   I like to smooth it out with my fingers and feel it almost melt into the box. 

It feels odd to live in a space this messy.
I'm savoring the unusual experience.
In addition to the garage storage and the brown tape, another aspect of moving that I am grateful for is that my husband is spending the last week before we move in Italy.  I tend to be a tad bit (okay, extremely) opinionated about exactly how things work, and this trip of his therefore is likely to preserve our marriage.  All of the picky last-minute decisions: they're going exactly as I want them to.  He's happy galavanting about Europe and hobnobbing with friends.  I'm guessing I'm even happier finding just-the-right-sized box for a set of pyrex storage dishes (stored with lids on, of course), and making a helpful label, and smoothing the paper tape onto things, and then playing tetris with the box out in the garage.  Ahhhhh.

The thing about packing like this is: there's always one thing more.  Or eight things more.  So much stuff to do just screaming out at me.  For someone like me, who savors the moment of finishing things -- snapping shut the book when I get to the last page, filling in the last square of the crossword puzzle, putting the QED box at the end of a proof -- this house is a constant screaming horde of tasks begging me to pay attention to them.  Just box up this one more shelf.  Just unscrew this one thing from the wall.  I am addicted.  I'm ignoring so much other work I'm supposed to do.  How this calls to me:  fascinating.

The only thing left to pack up from this room is a dog.

I only get to play like this for a few more days.  We move on Friday.  So this game ends, and a new game will begin, as objects emerge from their boxes and find new places in the new home.  I'm so excited.