Monday, October 19, 2020

My grandchild wields a kitchen knife

She's only 5 years old, but of her own volition, she fetches the step-ladder (taller than she is) that can get her up to counter height.

We practice this:  when you cut, you put your hand on top of the knife, not under it.
And then you can push down.

Because if you put your hand under the knife, we'd have to stop chopping apples to go get bandaids.   No one wants to do that.  We just chop apples. 

 And so the next generation begins the journey to self-sufficiency in the kitchen, stepladders and knives and all.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Miser family update: Old but functional

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family.  This week, we celebrated some of our oldest, yet still functional, items.  

 For example, 

  • in that first photo, notice the old-yet-functional foot locker.  (It's about the foot locker, guys!).  That foot locker served in WWII with my father-in-law.  Now, with a fresh coat of lacquer and some wheels under it, it sees a more peaceable kind of use as our coffee table.  
  • A gift from the same father-in-law is in my sister-in-law's photo:  "My dad gave me this electric pencil sharpener over 40 years ago when pencils were a thing!   When your pencil was sharp a light would come on. So very state of the art.  It still comes in handy."    (I'm not sure what she means by "when pencils were a thing"; in my household, pencils and pencil sharpeners get pretty much daily use!)   
  • And L1 continues the furniture theme with a cedar chest from an antique shop that holds "so many blankets".   I asked if it holds dogs; she said no.

Our family also has some impressively old kitchen gadgets.  

  • L2 kind of lucked into an amazing apartment that came furnished with all sorts of amazing things, including these "Irish leaded crystal and hand painted China".   I swoon.
  • I-daughter uses hand-painted dishes that got passed down from two generations before mine, but neither of us can remember the original owner:  Nana?  Great Aunt Ruth?  her father's side of the family?   (Sisters: do you have a clue about this?)
  • I "store" a pressure canner that a matriarch of our church got from her mother-in-law.  It's an amazingly durable thing.  She hasn't asked to use it in, oh, about a decade, but I haul it out several times a year to can turkey stock.   I also use the wooden springerle molds that my Nana got from her mother-in-law, so there's more than a century of use on those babies.
  • Somewhat more recent, but still beloved, is Y's handy sidekick: "Started using 1L Nalgene bottles when my college gave them to every freshman. Although this isn't the original (one fell in a hospital toilet and then melted in the dishwasher when I tried to sterilize it), I don't go anywhere without it!"
  • And of course, we can't forget Snakey and Baby, who get constant use as pillows, companions, and photo props. 

K-daughter is living a life with pretty much all-new stuff, so she didn't add a photo, but she did share the good news that, "I passed my crisis intervention test!!!  97%! Now working on restraints. Super fun".  Yay, K!

Speaking of functional, my guy went to the doc this week to check on how well his broken arm is healing up: does it need more fixing?  The verdict, "No surgery. No restrictions. No therapy."  My guy continues to fall in love with Strava, a bike riding app that gives him extremely useful information such as, on a recent uphill ride, "my best effort put me in 14,609th place of 17,836 riders", whereas going down the hill he moved up (down?) to 1,238th place.  

Another old-but-functional tool we've been putting to use is our democracy; N-son, my guy, and I took a short mid-week break to walk downtown and vote.  We cast our absentee ballots in a dropbox at the courthouse -- essentially no lines, and very very easy.  Yay!  Here's a photo of us on the way home (already well away from crowds, which is why my guy had removed his mask).  

And now for this week's interview, featuring not my oldest, but my first, child: the only homemade one.  Take it away, I-daughter.

What things were you doing a year ago that you're not doing now?

A year ago I was doing a lot more things with groups of people. I was working at the yarn store and teaching classes there (and using public transit to get there.) I was singing together with my chorus (we meet on zoom now, but it's not the same.) I was traveling for square dances, fiber festivals, and sometimes just because I felt like it. I was going to the theater all the time--in 2019 I saw more than 30 different live performances!
musical theater in the pre-pandemic 2018

A year ago my schedule was shaped by other people, so I was keeping a more traditional/expected sleep schedule. Now I sleep when I feel like it and I'm effectively nocturnal ;-)

What occupies your days, nowadays?  (Sometimes people ask, "what do you do?", meaning, "what's your job?", but many people in our family don't have traditional jobs or paid employment at all, so this is a more general question).
On a typical day, I'll sleep all morning (see above re: nocturnal). Then I'll do something to further my antiracist education and activism. I'm currently working through Rachel Cargle's "The Great Unlearn" and Monique Melton's 21-day Pursue Black Liberation Challenge.

Sometimes I get to do a social thing (zoom chorus, zoom Spinning guild, the occasional social-distanced knitting in the park.) On Sundays I walk with Mama. On Tuesdays I go to the library. I've joined 3 book clubs (Shelbey and the Bookclub on instagram, Dorothy Height bookclub with the YWCA, and Privilege to Progress' antiracist bookclub.) I've been doing a lot of reading.
And of course I spend a lot of time playing/creating with yarn.


Tell me a bit about your hobbies
I love to knit. (Big surprise, I know.) I knit all the time. I just made a new sweater (in 3 weeks and 2 days!) Sometimes I crochet. And I spin yarn. Covid scheduling meant that the Tour De Fleece* was held twice this year--once during the original Tour dates, then again when the race was actually held. I love to read. Sometimes I get too caught up in my knitting to take time to read, but if I'm knitting something simple and reading an ebook I can do both at the same time! This year I've been more intentional about seeking out books by non-white authors. Two of my favorite recent reads are Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin. 

I also love to sing. And go to the theater (especially musical theater.)

*Tour de Fleece is a (yarn) spinning event inspired by the Tour de France. It's not a race; the aim is to challenge yourself. Spin every day of the tour, try a new technique, push yourself somehow.

When you treat yourself to a bit of "me" time or special indulgences, what does that involve for you?
Musical theatre with a friend. New yarn or spinning fiber, starting a new project. Cheesecake. Hugs. Presents. Chocolate covered cherries.

Five years from now, what kinds of things do you hope you'll be doing that you haven't done yet or aren't doing now? 
I hope I'll have gotten to meet my niece Alanna (and however many more niblings I'll have by then. Iolanthe would be a lovely middle name, ya know?)

I hope I'll have gotten my second tattoo.

I hope I'll be involved in the yarn industry again. (I don't miss Ewebiquitous, but I miss teaching and solving other people's yarn-y problems.)

I hope I'll be more hopeful about the state of the country.

Describe some of your favorite household gadgets or treasures. 
I have a bunch of very cool and useful yarn-related gadgets (like the scale for weighing my yarn to see how much I have left--which I use all the time! Thank you, cousins <3)

This year I've been especially pleased with my phone stand--hands-free Zooming, plus it holds the phone at a good angle for ebook reading (so I can knit and read!)

My sticker and stationery collection is a treasure. I love covering things in stickers! (Things like water bottles, letters to loved ones*, and my spinning wheel.)

*I promise I'm gonna write back soon, L1!

Are there any questions I should have asked you, but didn't? 
"What's a small thing you miss from pre-pandemic times? "

Earrings. I really enjoyed coordinating my earrings to my outfit. Now I mostly wear the same 2 pairs in my zoom meetings. (I have a pair that matches the rainbow birthday decor on the wall behind me when I zoom!)

And often don't wear them out and about because they tangle in my mask.  But I'm building a mask collection so I can coordinate my mask to my outfit instead. So stylish!

And that's the news (olds?) from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our functions.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Miser Family update: Pajama party

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.   This week, we hosted a virtual, asynchronous slumber party.   Hey you upstairs!  Quiet down!  People downstairs are trying to sleep! 

In hosting this party, we learned . . . 
  • The dog "doesn't wear pajamas; he is just naturally ready for any naps"
  • "For the record: it's not easy to get a good pajama selfie..."
  • A pajama party can create great memories.  My sister-on-law writes, "This is from the last pajama party I went to. That’s my late mother in law with me and we were watching the stunning season finale of her favorite show, Dancing with the Stars. I still have the PJ’s."
  • L2, having heard the good news that she made it into round 2 of interviews at [prestigious job] is "Flying high in my new apartment in my silk kimono blazer 😂"
  • Y wakes up refreshed; "Sleepover in Arizona for 2 months..."
  • And cows are not allowed on the furniture, silly.
This was a great week to host a pajama party, at least for me, because my college is in between modules.  So for two days in a row I got to sleep in late.  On Thursday, I slept until 7 a.m., and on Friday, I slept until 6:45.   It felt truly luxurious, which I know sounds strange for most people, but for me it was heavenly.  From now until almost Thanksgiving, though I'll be waking up in the dark and seeing the sun rise as I teach my Shanghai students from the comfort of my Command Center.  

And now, on to the second interview in our family interview series.  

When L1 was a young child, because of her persistent requests, her parents promised her she could have a dog when she turned 8 -- even though neither of her parents was particularly fond of dogs.   I'm quite sure her parents didn't divorce just for the sake of getting their daughter a dog, but somehow it turned out that shortly before her 8th birthday, L1 became my step-daughter, . . . and I am a dog lover, so they kept their promise to her after all.  Since then, she has far eclipsed me in terms of doggy devotion.   From here, I'll let L1 describe her current life in her own words.  

What things were you doing a year ago that you're not doing now?

A year ago, I was letting the VA’s nonsense bring me down and really struggling over our director’s decision not to move forward with a service dog program on the mental health unit where I work. Today, I have let that anger and frustration float off into space and forged a strong relationship with my supervisor, which has lead to additional exciting opportunities, including having a masters-level social work intern for the fall and spring semester, who I am really enjoying teaching. It’s also kind of reinvigorated my love for social work in general. 

I am also going to church more now (in person and virtual, depending on the week and month) than I was a year ago. Growing in my faith, slowly but surely. 

What occupies your days, nowadays? 

My days are occupied by work [L1 is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), who works as an inpatient psychiatric social worker in a VA hospital], three dogs, my husband, exercise, time with friends, working on a children’s book, spending time outside and getting set up for a second part-time job doing some consulting work.  

Tell me a bit about your hobbies

  • Fostering dogs for Lu’s Labs, which has lead to our first forever foster, Amelia. She is a spunky, 14 yr old chocolate lab who has limited time due to a tumor on the side of her head with no treatment options. We are enjoying spoiling her for whatever time she has left.  To that end, Amelia and our two boys have quite the social media following on Facebook and Instagram, their Instagram handle is: Guinness_Watson_and_friends, if you want to follow them, too. Ensuring their social media and the Lu’s Labs Facebook pages are filled with posts about all their loveliness may be a part time job in itself. They write as themselves, if you start to follow along, and discuss the difficulties they often face in training the humans 😉

Here is a sample post:

Rolling into Wednesday ready to share some wisdom with my pup friends #wednesdaywisdom . As we’ve discussed, training humans is not always easy, in fact, it takes diligence and finesse to truly succeed. Pictured here is my three-step tutorial on faces you can make to both get, and continue to receive treats. 

Step 1: when the human is far away and considering giving you a treat, look at them longingly.

Step 2: as the human nears, give a slightly perturbed but still adorable look, as if to tell them, I’m adorable, but could get angry if it takes too long to get this treat in my belly.

Step 3: after getting the treat from the human, give a smile. This is the positive reinforcement they need so they want to keep giving you treats.  

Let me know how my three-step plan works out for you, guys! 


In addition, Amelia has a senior suitor, a 14 yr old black lab named Frederick, and there are a litany of people invested in their budding long distance relationship, which is taking place all through posts on the rescue’s alumni page. Fremelia is their couple name and maybe there will be bow wow vows one day 😉.
  • Through all these posts, a new hobby emerged, Amelia (or me lol) wrote her first children’s book. The manuscript is complete and I am working with an illustrator named Ruth; who is doing the illustrations for the whole book for nearly nothing, because she loves the story and rescue animals, and then I’ll be exploring the world of publishing. It’s been an exciting unplanned adventure. 
  • Exercise, i think it’s the only reason I didn’t gain the COVID 20. But exercise has been and I think will always be a major part of my health and well-being. The dogs join in too sometimes 😉
  • Writing / penpal-ing with friends and family. It began with just letters back and forth with I-daughter, and now there are a few people I keep in touch with with old fashioned snail mail. I also continue Miser Mom's tradition of writing thank you cards for gifts. Thanks for teaching me well 💜.
When you treat yourself to a bit of "me" time or special indulgences, what does that involve for you?  

Me time: painting my nails, a nice glass of red wine, watching episodes of some show I’ve been into, a sweet treat, a walk on a nice day. 

Five years from now, what kinds of things do you hope you'll be doing that you haven't done yet or aren't doing now? 

There is consideration for children to emerge in the next 5 years, but I also hope I’m doing a lot of the same things too, I’ve been feeling quite happy and blessed and I hope it all continues! 

Describe some of your favorite household gadgets or treasures.

Our coffee maker; it isn’t fancy, but I sure do love my time in the morning with the pups and a cup of coffee. 

Are there any questions I should have asked you, but didn't? 

"Any new tattoos?"

Yes, sorry Aunt J, don’t hate me too much; back in Jan of this year I got my first and only tattoo. But Aunt J, see I’m wearing the Vegas dress you gave me in the pic with it... does that help? It’s Watson reaching out touching his paw to my hand ❤️.


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

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Fall, not autumn.

Life continues to be rich and fall . . . er, rich and full, . . . in the Miser Family household.  The calendar says we've come into autumn, but the trees in our neighborhood are still a vibrant green, and so our Family Fun Foto theme this week is "Fall, not Autumn".

So, as you see in the top row, if you fall, you get squash(ed).  (Amelia, on her way to the vet, sports a pumpkin-themed bandana; warm wishes, Amelia!).   We've got waterfalls . . . .  including a knitted sock taking a selfie by a waterfall, and also including a waterfall into which somebody's phone did fall, right after taking the photo.  Whoops!

The middle row kind-of-shows "don't fall".  Y writes, "It feels bizarre to know that it's technically Fall but everything about Sedona Desert look like high summer- from native flowers blooming, olive trees fruiting, and transplanted palms challenging the sky scrapers of downtown Phoenix."   A-child demonstrates not-falling in a variety of adventurous activities, and L2 hopes the pins will fall.  

And in the final row:  B-child demonstrates "fall asleep"; we feature matching "hers-and-his" elbow x-rays from different bicycle falls.  And of course, there's The Fall (with thanks to N-son for loaning us his beloved stuffed "Snakey" as a prop).

The national news is full of stories about illness; in a somewhat more obscure corner of the hullabaloo, my main running buddy texted me one night this week to say,

I am not going to run tomorrow. I have shingles which is seems like such an old persons disease

In my usual sympathetic way I wrote back,

I wish you had bad acne instead, because at least that would feel like a YOUNG person's disease.

But the exchange reminded me that I'd gotten round 1 of the Shingles vaccine back in December, and still needed round 2.  I popped over to our local pharmacy, with loaded me up with both shingles and flu sera, and now I'm a tad achy and feeling a little more invincible.  

Between (a) the ritual of 285 questions that precede giving blood, (b) the daily COVID-era check-in criteria my College asks me to monitor daily, and (c) the list of questions I had to answer to get my vaccines, I've been reminded constantly of all the terrible maladies which have not beset me.  Stoics talk about negative visualization; I'm reminded of my incredibly good fortune, health-wise, by an abundance of negative interrogation.

And on another topic entirely,  below I introduce the first in a series of "what are they doing now?" interviews with the Cast and Characters of the Miser Family.  We kick off with a guy who, 24 years ago this week, I agreed to marry.  My sister very reasonably worried that I was rushing into things and wondered about professional intervention; she told me that her psychiatrist told her, "Miser Mom is too happy for counseling".  I've treasured that whole story: that my sister worried for me; that she decided to support me anyway . . . and that the story has turned out to have an almost Fairy-tale-like happiness to it ever after.   Here's a bit of what my guy is up to these days.  

Interview with Mr. Miser Mom (who is not a Miser).

What things were you doing a year ago that you're not doing now?

 The daily training [bicycle] ride led by Scott [BikeRider], five days a week since 1981. The only other time it stopped was for five weeks in 2003 when Scott was recovering from a broken hip. When I got back from my last trip [to Israel, in early 2020], Scott stopped riding two days later because of COVID. Now he does not come to the city regularly, so riding with him means riding nine miles just to meet up. He may come into town a couple of times a week and ride the daily 35-mile route, but the tradition of daily riding ended with COVID. 

What occupies your days, nowadays?  (Sometimes people ask, "what do you do?", meaning, "what's your job?", but many people in our family don't have traditional jobs or paid employment at all, so this is a more general question).  

Four book discussion groups: 

a.     The ESL group that reads about anything related to human nature and spirituality;

b.     The World Conquest Book Club;

c.     The Evolution Roundtable, and

d.     Brother Timotheus (my best friend Cliff—we were roommates in Cold War Germany in the 70s. He stayed in Germany and is a monk at the Land of Kanaan monastery), and Dmitri (a resident of Kanaan but not a Kanaan Brother) and I are reading a book about Evangelicals supporting Trump.

Tell me a bit about your hobbies

books, bikes, writing, protesting.

When you treat yourself to a bit of "me" time or special indulgences, what does that involve for you?  

since riding is now alone, riding in fantastic places and eating wonderful food. New York City bridges and restaurants, upstate New York and Mid-State Pa mountains.

Five years from now, what kinds of things do you hope you'll be doing that you haven't done yet or aren't doing now? 

Riding in Africa and Asia. Leaving protesting behind because of the boring, competent leadership of America at every level.  Going to Synagogue and not even thinking about social distancing! Once I ride in Africa I want to write a book about riding all over the world. And maybe write a book about my love/hate relationship with the Army.

Describe some of your favorite household gadgets or treasures. 

  • Instant Pot Air Fryer, 
  • silent dishwasher, 
  • the enormous mirror in the living room that I look into after I meditate and particularly contemplate the colors I see: the yellow walls the shiny wood floor and stair railings, the funny and beautiful purple bicycle chandelier and how Miser Mom has made our very ordinary row house into something unique and charming.

Are there any questions I should have asked you, but didn't? 

1.  "What products do you use to get that perfect, radiant hair color?"

2.  I get asked almost weekly how I can be so happy with my life in the midst of all that is wrong with the world.  In the midst of the turbulent world that spins at an increasing speed possibly toward the ruin of a stolen election, I do not live at the edge of the wheel, but with Miser Mom right at the hub of the wheel. No matter how fast the world spins, our home is a place of peace and quiet and love. Unlike so many people, I am not living in constant stress. It is a blessing I would wish for everyone—but at their own place, not at our house. 

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

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Miser family update: the half-his-life version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household.  In this past week, we were particularly rich with family memories.  J-son turned 22, which means that now I have been his mother for more than half his life, and this family we built up has likewise been his family for more than half his time on earth.  We intended to do a J-son photo collage for our Family Fun Foto Friday, but soooo many photos poured in that I couldn't squeeze them all into one space, so instead I made this 2-minute video, which we e-mailed to him late in the day on his birthday.  Happy birthday, kiddo!

In other family memory news:  When I was kid, my parents used to take me and my sisters to Wolf Trap, an outdoor performing arts place.  We'd have picnic lunches on the lawn, wander through the woods, and then head over to the stage where we'd either sit in chairs up front in the pavilion, or sit on the lawn further back.   Well, the pandemic means that I'm getting more modern/urban versions of this experience.  This time it was my daughter taking me to an open-air performance in a warehouse yard.  See the stage on the truck behind us?

The further-back seats were in the parking lot, where people who drove to the event could watch from their cars (and honk, as applause.  That was a lot of fun!)

Those of us who brought our own lawn chairs found an empty chalk circle, and could set up lawn chairs where we could sit . . . or dance.  

So many new experiences.  

For this academic year, my college has moved to a "module" system, where instead of teaching 14-week classes over two semesters, we teach 6-week classes during 4 modules.   For example, right now I'm teaching integral calculus 4 days a week, 90 minutes each day, plus a research seminar that meets once or twice a week.    The transition from Module 1 to Module 2 is coming up soon (in just under two weeks), and one of my colleagues has had to take a leave of absence, . . . so starting October 12, I'll be taking over his class in addition to my own.  That is, instead of teaching 1 class with 18 students (plus the research seminar), I'll be teaching two classes with a combined 49 students (plus the research seminar).  To add to the complications, the two calculus classes I'll be teaching have different audiences, so they'll have different kind of assignments, different deadlines . . . although there will be a bunch of similar materials and lessons, it's not exactly like teaching two sections of the same class.  So, for about 6 weeks, I'm figuring on being totally swamped.  

That being said, earlier this week I gave blood, and then got to mark in my calendar when I'll be eligible to give blood again: November 17.  And as I marked that down, I realized, "that'll be three days before the end of Module 2, and then my classes will be over."   So I know I'm in for a wild ride, but I also know it's a temporary wild ride.   

What will I do with myself and all my free time in December?  Maybe I'll sand bricks.  We have a four-foot-wide section of an interior brick wall that is crumbling a bit (and by "a bit", I mean "a lot").  We had a mason come over to look at it this week, and he said he could add another layer on top, but maybe first I'd want to try a home remedy:  sanding it myself with a low-grit sandpaper [and a big fan, and the windows open, and masks], and then re-varnishing it with Prosoco/siloxane pd.  To all of my construction-savvy friends and family out there:  any words of wisdom about this potential project?

And that's the way the cookie crumbles in our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures and in our photographic memories.   May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Plants in paint cans; vegetables on the veranda; basil in bathroom

If I call all of my gardening efforts "experiments" rather than "attempts", then a dead plant is a valuable lesson that informs the future, not a failure that reveals my ineptitude.   I do a lot of gardening experiments, I tell you.

This year was particularly experimental, as I have 0 yard, and so instead of planting my plants in the ground, I planted them in paint cans, a few found pots, and mostly in the shade.   To wit, my outdoors happens to be largely in the shade, as my valuable lessons informed me over the course of the summer and the trees that surround my yard leafed up all around me.

What other valuable lessons that inform the future do I now have to share with you?  

One:  The bigger the pot, the bigger the basil.  
I moved the basil from the back porch to the bathroom to get evening sun, and the above photo shows three pots of basil, plus a tiny air plant.   It's like the three bears and goldilocks, almost!

Two: Cucumbers need sun to become cucumbers that look like cucumbers, but if you don't mind cucumbers that look like little green tennis balls, partial sun works.

This one is particularly funky/tiny.

Three:  For picking tomatoes, timing is everything.

I had this one lone, but fairly impressive tomato growing off the edge of the balcony, reaching for the sun.   I figured it would stay green, because the amount of sunlight was limited.   In fact, to my delight, the tomato started turning a lovely warm shade of red, prompting this question: when to pick it?  Should I pick it shortly before it fell a dozen feet to the concrete patio below, and if so, when would that be?

The answer turned out to be instead, "Pick it before the squirrels steal it".    Well, now I know.  

 And that's the end of my gardening experiments for this year.   Pesto and spherical cucumbers are on the dinner menu this evening!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

ARrrrr! Miser Family update.

Ahoy, mateys!  Life continues to be rich and booty-ful in the Miser family.  Today, we celebrate a toned-down version of Talk Like a Pirate Day.   

Feast yer eyes on our piratical crew, with pirates of yore, pirates grown in stature, pirates marauding, scurvy dogs who do NOT like wearing hats, and pirates at golf courses.   Avast!  Shiver me timbers!

Speaking of shivering, fall arrived with a hearty yo-heave-ho this weekend, and summer seems to have walked the plank.   Earlier in the week, we'd managed to get outside for walks, for runs, and for protests.   My guy went to, I think, three protests in one day.  I'm not as protest-prolific; with I-daughter, I went to a Black Lives Matters march on our campus, with hundreds of students and other masked marchers spread carefully apart, but no less animated.
That's me, in my cat whisker mask on a rock, and below is part of the crowd -- it was hard to take the picture of everyone.  Did I mention we were all spread out?

In these trying times, it's good to think more about peace than piracy.  (Even though pirate costumes are fun for everyone except the dogs).  So I leave you this video. just under 4 minutes).  I-daughter is on the left, in the second row.  

We come together, even in times when it's hard to come together.  And that's a tiny bit of news from our family, which continues to mutiny against tyrants, and which is rich in our adventures.   May you and yours stay safe.