Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Drat that hole; darn that sock!

Our new dog Prewash has been surprisingly (to me) non-chewy for a new dog, but she's still managed to consume and create holes in some of our belongings.  This sock, which is a SmartWool sock that my sister gave me as a gift, was one of her early victims.

My little toes are coming out for air.
For a while I "fixed" the problem by wearing the sock only on my right foot, so that that hole on the right wouldn't line up with my big toe.  But eventually even my small toes started poking out, so I decided to use one of my favorite sock "darning techniques" from the awesome book, The Tightwad Gazzette.

The process isn't actually darning, it's patching -- but today is Talk Like a Pirate Day so I feel like I need to say "Darrrrrr-n sock, matey!"  You need a sacrificial patch of fabric (I used a scrap from a purple-tshirt-turned-rag), plus a needle, thread, and scissors.  It also helps to have a wooden egg, or a hard small ball, to stick in the sock to sew against.  I have a wooden egg painted in cow colors that I keep in my sewing basket for just this purpose.

When I started darning socks, I realized,
"Oh, that's what all those wooden eggs are for!"
You stick the patch and the egg into the sock, so that the patch goes all the way across the hole, and then use the needle and thread to sew around the hole, fastening the sock to the patch on the outside.

Stitch around the hole. Don't mind the dog hair.

Then turn the sock inside out, without yet cutting the thread.  I always use a patch much bigger than the hole, because it's easier to make sure the whole hole is covered.   So once I turn the sock inside out, I cut off the excess, leaving about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of fabric around the existing stitching.

Cut off the excess (purple) patch without accidentally
cutting a new hole in the sock.

And then I stitch around the patch, fastening the newly trimmed edges to the sock.  The egg of course has now moved to the inside, making it easier for me to do the holding and stitching.

Stiching around once more.  
This whole process takes maybe 10 minutes, and usually 5.  That's faster than going to a store -- and it's definitely cheaper.  I don't know that I'd do this with my running socks, which seem to reproduce in my drawers like bunnies, but I have exactly 3 pairs of these very nice SmartWool socks, and they're nice enough that I'd like to keep them around.  So 10 minutes of time on a sunny Sunday afternoon seems more than worth it for preserving a pair of my favorite socks.

And that's the hole post.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Miser Family Update, nostalgia version

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

When I was just a kid, I was transfixed by the television series Roots that I watched with my parents -- transfixed so much so, that my sewing room closet is now filled with family memorabilia that I started collecting back then.  It was Roots that made me want to find more of my own family's story.   So early this week, my husband and N-son and I started watching the new version of this show. It wasn't a good choice for N-son; wow, it is a cruel history.   So we've continued on without him.

Even though N-son is not going to be a Roots fan, N-son is very much enjoying his culinary classes.  The quote for the week happened as I was walking into the kitchen, when he declared authoritatively:  "Mom, I have a thermometer, and I know how to use it!"  You go, N-son.

J-son texted me early in the week and asked if he could get help on his homework.  But of course.  So he came over and we drafted a paper on nature versus nurture for his psych course.  For what it's worth, J-son sides with "nurture". It was good to have that time and that conversation together.

Speaking of writing papers, my step-daughter, off in grad school, wrote to say that she has her first first-author paper published.  Me, being on my college's promotion & tenure committee, immediately wrote back with a "ooh, and in a Q1 journal with an H-index of 71!   Impressive".  You go, L-daughter.

My husband started Yoga this week, and in spite of his still somewhat sore wrist (from the time last week that he didn't quite break it), he did well at yoga and liked it.  And then he took off for Boston where he got to attend the IgNobels, which were (as usual) very, very funny.

I got to do a small bit of traveling myself, back to my alma mater, since I'm my class "fun chair".  Actually, I was elected "Fund raising chair", but I agreed to run only on the condition that I can get rid of the "d", so maybe I'm actually the "fun raising chair".   It was good to be back on that campus again -- even after decades away, it is really a big part of me.

While I was leaving the campus for home, I heard the sad news about the recent passing of one of the singers I listened to obsessively while I had been a college student.   This song "Let it Rain" (which is apparently actually called "We've got a good fire going" -- who knew?) by Don Williams was one that I listened to over and over, and over, and over.  I've heard people describe it as a wonderful love song, but I think of it as a song about contentment, about realizing that even when things aren't perfect, there's still a heck of a lot to be happy about, and the trouble doesn't matter so much.  Thanks for that, Don.




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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mugging it up for my church

My church does a cool outreach for our community:  an ESL class.  We've been doing this for years, but here the "we" really means "they", because I haven't at all been part of it except for cheering.  (Here's me cheering:  Yay!  Go, church!)

One of the actual volunteers with the ESL classes is a follower of this blog who has started an awesome sustainability Facebook page.  Because of this, she and I got into an extended e-conversation about recycling styrofoam*, and in the course of this conversation, I learned that our ESL program uses styrofoam cups.   This is horror.  This is dreadful.

* The UPS Store near us recycles styrofoam packing peanuts, 
but not other kinds of styrofoam. 
There is a Dart Container company "near" us 
(depending on your definition of "near") 
that recycles other shapes of styrofoam.

At any rate, even if it gets recycled, styrofoam is a horrible burden on our fragile planet.  So I decided to buy reusable cups for my church. My Miser Mom Grasshopper (she of the ESL volunteer/Sustainability page persuasion) has already volunteered to be the one to wash the cups each week, so that helped to make the decision to spring for cups an easy one for me.  (Someone else is washing the dishes!  Fantastic!)    

Another aspect making my decision even easier is that an electronic accounting glitch canceled my August donation to my church, so I felt like I "owed" some money anyway, and why the heck not donate the money in the form of reusable mugs?

At any rate, I did a search at my newly-beloved Restaurant Store, and found some 8 oz melamine mugs that look nice and are semi-stackable.  Here's a photo of some of them after they arrived -- I think they really do look good!






Cost:
I ordered 9 dozen (108 cups) for about $240 (that includes shipping).  How does this compare to the price of the styrofoam cups?  At first glance, bill for the mugs seems like a huge expense:  it's possible to get 1000 styrofoam cups for only about $40.  But if my ESL group uses 100 cups a week (which is about what we do right now), and if they meet about 30 times per year (which is about how often they meet right now), then these cups should recover their cost in only 2 years.  That's not a bad ROI, really.

108 UPC codes on 108 stickers,
now no longer on the cups.
Stickers:
Oooh, I want to share something about removing stickers!   Because in spite of me ordering these babies bulk, EVERY one of these cups came with a UPC sticker attached.  At first, when I started peeling the stickers off, I got a lot of gummy residue and had to spend a bit of time picking and picking to get it off.  But then I remembered that heat helps to loosen glue --- and the microwave is a great tool for adding a bit of heat.  For example, when the charity envelopes that I save for about a year get gummy, 15 seconds in the microwave helps to "steam" them so I can carefully peel them open again.  So I resorted to putting batches of a dozen cups in the microwave for about a minute, and when I took them out, I could peel the stickers off with almost no resistance.  Lovely!


Storage:
Because my church doesn't have a dishwasher, we need a way for my Grasshopper to transport the mugs between the church and her home.  There are probably better long-term solutions than the one I came up with, but I sort of like this as a first-attempt:  a canvas beach bag that I snagged from a "free" pile after my neighborhood's summer yard sale.



Bonus: stackable toys
Each set of a dozen mugs came in a little cardboard box, somewhat larger than the size of a brick.  These boxes make excellent stacking toys, and my granddaughter A-child has delighted in making towers that she can knock down with abandon, endangering no one in the process.  So it turns out that if you buy 108 cups, you get a construction set for free.  Awesome.
Prewash demonstrates her burgeoning "sit. stay." skills
next to the tower of stackable cardboard boxes. 


Monday, September 11, 2017

My green sweater

I snagged a cute green cardigan at our College's annual end-of-year yard sale.  This sweater passed three important Miser Mom tests:
  1.  It was essentially free.   I did work something like 6 hours at the yard sale, but I would have volunteered even if I didn't get to do a bit of "shopping".  
  2. I'd actually been itching to get a light button-up sweater; it would fill a gap in my wardrobe (as opposed to being redundant).
  3. It matched my travel scarf (or rather, didn't clash with it too badly), thereby fitting into the color palate of "everything matches everything" that has made my sartorial life so much easier these past few years.
Sometime last week, the fall-like weather seemed to call for wearing a cute new (to me) sweater.  That's when I realized -- alas -- it had developed a small stain.  Darn.  

So I tried scrubbing the stain.  No luck.  Then I tried spot-bleaching the stain . . . which worked, in the sense of removing the stain, but failed in the sense of creating a big white bleach spot. I nearly gave up and put the cardigan in the "rags-to-recycle" bin, but then I thought, what the heck, might as well see what happens if I just bleach the whole thing.  I soaked the baby overnight. 

So now I have a darling pale yellow cardigan, with green-tinted buttons.  And still nothing has ended up in the landfill, so in that sense, my sweater is still green. 

Yay.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Miser Family update: power version

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

Prewash continues to live up to the job associated with her name, but -- unlike her predecessor -- she is no Miser Dog.  After she developed a toe rash last weekend, we took her to the vet where we frivolously splurged on somewhere upwards of $300 of high-efficiency allergy meds (plus a few antibiotics).  She loves taking the pills, which we slather with peanut butter, and I guess they're helping.

One of many trees that came down on our campus.
On Tuesday, a minor version of the storms that are battering our southern neighbors came through our little town.  Even as weak as Harvey had become by then, it took down many trees.  We were 8 hours without electricity, and got to enjoy a dinner of tuna fish and tomatoes by candlelight.  I realized that for me, the hard part of losing electricity is not that the power is gone -- it's not knowing if the power will return in a half-hour or a half-a-week.    But for my husband and son, the hard part is living with a woman who responds to the power outage by saying, "this is cool!  We should try to turn off our electricity once a week just to make sure we can do it!  Let's go to sleep at sunset every day!"  Because they think I'm serious (and maybe I actually am).

N-son continues to love going to school at the culinary institute.   I think a huge part of what he loves is the cool outfit he's required to wear.  The jacket and apron come embroidered with his name, and the hat comes embroidered with his initials.  It makes me want to create a mandatory calculus uniform.



My husband and N-son started the week in New York City where they visited all sorts of museums: the Jewish Museum, the Met, and the Holocaust Museum.  And they finished out the week by participating in the Milton Harvest Festival Bike Race.  The picture off to the right doesn't look much like it was taken at a bike race, but it was.  (They didn't tell me how they placed, but they're wearing yellow jerseys/t-shirts, so I assume that must automatically mean they both won.  Yay!)

In the middle of the week, my husband got to go to his usual Tuesdays with Toomey protest, and also a DACA-themed protest.  As I said about losing electrical power, I know my students who came to the U.S. as young children and who know no other home are feeling the anxiety that goes not only with being powerless, but also the anxiety of not knowing what the future holds.  I feel for them.  

As for me, I started the week with a bit of a cold, which is fortunately waning now -- yay! A head cold is a bit like ideas for my math book, a bunch of stuff in my head trying hard to come out. (Yuck, can't believe I just wrote that).  I spent much of my week teaching calculus, doing my committee work, squeezing in time to work on my math book in wherever I could, and appreciating the bad weather as a wimpy excuse to avoid training for the upcoming Miser Mom Half Marathon.  Oh, and being interviewed for a video -- that's a bizarre experience, let me tell you!

What else?  I-daughter's eyes continue to be strong and healthy after her summer scare.  And K-daughter signed a lease for an apartment, so she'll move there in early October.  Our home will seem much more boring and lifeless when she and my granddaughter A-child have moved away, and I'm already doing a bit of mental toughness training to deal with that.

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

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Miser Family update: lucky breaks version

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

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

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

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

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

 

but it didn't fall . . .


and that happened over and over again . . .


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

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

A calendar of special dinners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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