Saturday, May 23, 2020

Miser family update in hats

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family, in our various households.  This week, we celebrated a Family Fun Friday Foto, in hats.  And here is my family -- they're the tops!


I-daughter, in her highly fashionable summer bonnet, has put away her sweaters for the summer, storing them in the cedar chest my father made for me when I was in high school.   One of her sisters asked if she was going to wear a particular animal-themed hat she had knitted herself, which led to the following  text convo:
I-daughter: I'm wearing a garden party hat...
K-daughter: Bummer! Not your elephant hat!
I-daughter: No, it's the wrong season for that 😆🐘
L-daughter: Yeah I checked my fashion calendar too and it said "not elephant season". . . 
  . . .   I'm dead 😂 what does that mean?
I-daughter: It's a warm hat... For winter wear
K-daughter: 😂😂😂😂,
L-daughter: However I do kind of like the idea that late spring is not elephant hat season.    Like it's something everyone just knows,
I-daughter: You should spread the word

Word.  So now you know: not elephant hat season

J-son (not dressed as Aladdin; the only "hat" he could find was a bowl) is contemplating getting a job as a box tagger that a friend might be able to set him up with.  The pandemic and a couple of other choices he's made so far have left him with a lot of time on his hands and a lot of questions about his life, which isn't always a great place for him to be.  So I'm kinda hoping this job comes through and works him into the ground for a little while.  

Y, our host daughter, has finished her third year of med school. Yay, Y!  Her picture comes with a tiny title saying, "Day 5 of Summer break and already I'm Bordeaux".  She sent me an email this morning with the subject line, "Did you ever think about chickens?"  I love that question (and I'll respond soon, I promise, Y!).

L-daughter, the elder, has put her prodigious artistic talents to good use making a bunch of posters for protest to improve working conditions at her VA hospital during this pandemic.   Man, it sure would be nice if we could properly equip the people we were asking to take care of other people, don't you think?  Here's a nice story about the protest. 


L-daughter, the younger, is wearing what she describes as "the only hat I could find", but I bet if she looked hard, she could find a bowl.  I do like the hat she found, though!

My guy, wearing his Iraq desert hat, has gotten a bionic brace for his arm.  He is very happy to be able to walk all over, and he does so, logging 9 or so miles in a day. He's doing more physical therapy than his trainers want him to (which is normal for him -- when he had his knee replaced last year, his physical therapist told him, "Listen to your body . . . um, I mean, *don't* ever do this to the point of pain!!"). He's getting his staples removed later this week.

N-son was practicing his "Honey, if you love me, would you please, please smile" face.  (That's a game all my kids tried to play with me as a kid, and N-son was the only one who could make it through without cracking up).  He is enjoying living on his own but comes over for laundry, dinner, movies (this week:  Thelma and Louise and Fight Club), and general catching up.

Even though it's summer, I'm doing a bunch of academic advising and thinking ahead to my fall classes, because teaching is so crazy these days!  I also happened to get an email from an engineer who has questions related to the kind of math I do, which is like, totally, weird for me, because I've spent my entire career thinking of myself as a theoretical -- not applied -- mathematician.  But we've started working together, and it's a lot of fun!

K-daughter and family have been learning first-hand the value of exercise for highly active 5-year-old kids.  They've been getting outside to do hiking, and A-child gets a couple of opportunities to run up and down a hill with a parent as a way to enhance discipline.  I love that creative and healthy approach!

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures (getting ahead, you might say).  May you and yours stay safe.  

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Cleaning as meditation

I'm not talking about doing the dishes, or vacuuming, or making the bed -- those cleaning chores we do again and again.  That kind of cleaning is important, but it's not the kind that I need to think hard about.  When I do those chores, I know the goal (get the food off the plates, get the dog hair off the floor), and I know the path from here to there, and I can make satisfying progress without having to make decisions about every spoon I touch or every chair leg I maneuver around.

No, when I talk about cleaning as meditation, I'm thinking about my desk, my dresser, the floor of a closet.  I'm thinking about the places that accumulate many odds and ends, to the point of making the space unusable, or of making it too easy to lose important stuff amid the clutter, or of merely turning dusting the surface into a time-consuming process that involves moving things around like they're pieces in the 15-puzzle.   

My desk, with a variety of stuff on and around it.
My desk, with a variety of stuff on and around it

I'm not sure why, but about two years ago I started thinking about cleaning up these spaces as a form of meditation.  It was too easy to just push things around, to move things from a heap lying over here to a slightly different heap lying over there.  I think a big part of the problem I had with cleaning cluttered surfaces is that I was thinking of the project as, "I have to clean off my dresser" instead of as "I want to deal with each of these things on my dresser".  The change in focus is subtle, but it's significant. 

One of the changes that cleaning-as-mediation brings is that it's just a more relaxed and gratifying experience.  There's a real difference between the kind of cleaning where I'm trying to get from "this looks horrible" to "this job is finished" (the pre-mindfulness mode) and the kind of cleaning where I'm in the "let me deal with each object directly" mode.  This next sentence is a bit of an exaggeration, but I can't figure out a subtler way of saying it:  the former method feels like I'm making haste to correct mistakes that I've allowed to overwhelm the space, and the world won't be right until I've corrected all those wrongs.  But the meditation mode allows me to see each of the objects in the space as having a value, a purpose (even if the value is zero); my job is to recognize each object for what it is and restore it to the place it can best serve that purpose. 

In the former mode, I might (say) look at a shelf full of stuff -- a rag stuck full of pins, a candle and some matches, a bunch of pencils, some coins, a bottle of pills, etc, -- and try to think about which of these things I can put away.  I might put away things that have obvious nearby homes (the pencils go in the pencil drawer, obvi), and then create a basket of things to go to another room (the coins), and push around the stuff that I can't easily deal with (the pins are in the rag because my pin cushion is downstairs for a mask-sewing project, but I needed some pins up here for something else and I might need them again because you never know when you're going to need pins!).  And I'd keep dealing with things until the space is clean enough for me to feel like it's sufficiently organized/useable/dustable.  It's not a terrible system; that system carried me through a half a century of cleaning spaces, and I've certainly lived a generally happy life.

In the mediation/mindfulness mode of cleaning, I deliberately slow down, and content myself to focus on one piece at a time.  This pile of coins.  Then, this scrap of paper.  Then, this rag full of pins.  For each thing, I ask myself something along the lines of when would I use this?  where would I look for it?  What would trigger me wanting to use this?  And then I try to put the object where it will serve me best.  Maybe the scrap of paper has a phone number of someone I should call during regular business hours; I get my planner, write the task and phone number there, and then recycle the paper.  done.  Maybe those pins in the rag, they really need to go back in the pin cushion, which needs to come upstairs because I'm not going to be sewing again for a few days.   done.  Maybe I left these allergy pills out because the pollen might come back; but if it does, I can pull the allergy pills back out of the closet, which is where I'll know to look for them anyway, so I can put them back now.  done.  Maybe, after thinking hard about this decorative trinket and why the heck I keep  it around, I realize that it has really served out its purpose, and I don't really want to deal with it anymore, so I'll put it in the donate box.  done.  This might take a bit longer than the former way of cleaning . . .  but it might not.  It definitely feels more satisfying.

I'm not sure what got me started thinking this way about cleaning up my spaces.  Maybe it was that I started reading up on meditation and mindfulness, and then practicing a daily (ish) 10-minute meditation.  This approach does seem like a natural outgrowth of practicing mindful listening, or mindful breathing, or mindful gratitude.   Maybe I was influenced by Kon Mari's practice of holding each object and thanking it (I'm not into animism, but I do appreciate the focus that such a method brings to bear).  

I do like that this approach tends to leave me feeling grateful for the things I have (and even more likely to get rid of things that I realize I don't actually want anymore).   Is this a thing that other people do?  I haven't seen anything like this in the blogs and books I read, but it seems like there is probably some guru of meditative cleaning somewhere out there.  If that guru wants to count me as a disciple, I guess I'm in.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Miser Family update: changing our colors version

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

One of the ways it's rich and full is with color; I've been resting my brain after the end of the semester by slopping paint on stuff (mostly furniture, my paint shirt, and my fingers).  I've (re)painted a bathroom vanity and also a CD/curio shelf.  


The bathroom vanity is kind of subtle, but the CD/curio shelf not so much.  I've had a blast playing with color on this one!

And my paint shirt was so covered with color, that when I went to give blood today, the phlebotomist gave me a bandage that matched one of my many paint stain colors.  

My bandage not only matches my CD shelf, but now my husband and I kind-of match, since we both have bandages on our left arm . . . although his is somewhat more durable and impressive, seeing as it's not a spongy purple wrap, but a big old cast.

After his bike crash a week ago, he got to see an orthopedist on Monday, who scheduled my guy for surgery on Thursday. On Tuesday, he had the Q-tip-to-the-Brain Covid-19 test (on that day, at least, he was negative) and an EKG (he's got  a good heart).  On Thursday, I walked with him five blocks to the hospital, where a pair of surgeons got to play with the jigsaw pieces that were his humerus.  Kind of amazingly, both the radius and ulna were fine.  He stuck around overnight to get the pain meds under control, and then on Friday he asked them to check on the density of his bones before they released him and we walked back home.

Well, so here's the result: my guy no longer has bones; he basically has pretzel sticks where the bones used to be.  At least, that's what we read between the lines when the dude from the pharmacy--who brought up the Special Vitamin-D pills--interpreted the preliminary results.  My husband has to have a follow up test to confirm, but it looks like he's now officially a person of ELBD (Extremely Low Bone Density).   

The further implication of these results follows from a promise he'd made to himself long ago, and that he's now resolved to implement: if he ever got osteoporosis, he'd give up bicycling as too dangerous.  So, just like that, my husband is no longer a bicyclist.  How's that for a change in lifestyle?


Another, more temporary, side effect of the bike crash -- and the follow-up surgery and physical therapy (that will start Monday) -- is that I-daughter has wisely decided to tighten her quarantine circle a tad; I won't get to have waffles/church with her for a while.  It's the right thing to do, but I'll miss hanging with her.  

Fortunately, the weather has turned lovely, and so spending time outdoors is getting easier and more alluring.  It's easier for my husband to walk around.  We had a local brass band do a parade down our street last night (with the neighbors streaming out onto our porches to whoop and clap).  I got to attend a "Drive-by baby shower" for K-daughter.  Of course, Prewash enjoys catching her some rays.   We sit on the porch and read the newspaper and wag our tails at passers by.  
(Actually, she hates the sun glasses).
But she loves greeting the neighbors.

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in how we change colors.  May you and yours be safe.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

What's gray and purple and green all over?

What's gray and purple and green all over?  

My bathroom sink-cabinet, that's what!  

I'm not anywhere near as awesome a furniture painter as FrugalWoods or the Frugal Girl, but that doesn't stop me from trying to slop color all over perfectly serviceable, but drab and dreary, pieces of furniture.  And since I'm not particularly prone to perfectionism, I try to go for a bit of extra color -- the "sin boldly" version of painting that tries to fool people into thinking "I meant to do that".

This particular cabinet, from the time we moved into this house last July, all the way up to yesterday, was  a kind of scuffed up light oak/pine color.  I love light wood, but not in this bathroom, which is otherwise full of white, chrome, silver, and green.  Also, not when it's all scuffed up.  I've been jonesing to bust out the paint for a while.  

The paint I had already stored up in the basement was, however, a little bit over the top for this project.  I had yellow, green, orange, and purple, all in pretty vibrant hues.   In particular, the green that I had on hand was the stuff leftover from this green-and-purple bookshelves project.  Kinda gaudy, which I like for my bookshelves, but a bit much for that little bathroom.


So I reverted to one of my favorite painting techniques, gleaned from Amy Dacyczyn's most excellent Tightwad Gazette: mixing paint.  In particular, she says that if you want to have a bunch of different colors that go together well, you can do it by mixing the colors together in various combinations.

I had a glass jar of yellow ("white raisin") paint from our living room at our former home, and clearly I no longer needed it for touching up that living room.  So I dumped a bunch of the bright green paint in there.  That became the basis for the toned-down green of this bathroom cabinet.  But in order to soften it further and pick up the gray of the countertop and such, I got a smaller jar in which I mixed together a bit of the green/yellow mixture  with a bit of purple paint.  (You can see that smaller jar on top of the counter).  The purple turned the mixture into a greenish sort of gray, which was perfect for this particular project.

So, after kinda-sanding down the cabinet (but not doing an excellent job of that, because I am not Frugal Girl/FrugalWoods), I painted the surfaces of the cabinet the green/purple mixture, and and the drawers and doors the green mixture. 

I really like the two-tone aspect of this cabinet, how green and gray mix well and how the knobs and radiator all kind of work together.  

I'm also surprised at how little paint a cabinet like this needs. I was worried about not mixing enough paint for the project, but I have a bunch of paint left over, and I don't know (yet) if there's anything else in the house that is going to benefit from having this kind of paint smeared all over it.    But, I have all summer to scout around for painting projects to take on . . . and since we no longer have a yard, I guess this'll have to be my version of a green thumb for now.  


Monday, May 11, 2020

Miser Family update: broken bones, hair cuts, and final exams

Well, life in this family continues to be rich and full.  I was going to do an update on Saturday about grading my exams and N-son's haircut and new phone, but then my husband broke his arm.

Let me back up a bit.  (When L-daughter heard that the bike crash was at low speed, and caused by sticks getting caught in his spokes, she was disappointed that the story wasn't more dramatic, so this is my effort to make the story a bit more impressive).   

Thirteen years ago, on May 9, 2007, my husband was racing his bike down a steep hill at 50+ mph when he touched wheels with another rider and crashed, breaking his neck in three places, plus a few ribs, his collar bone, and a couple of other bones.   That was his worst accident ever; we're incredibly grateful to modern medicine because with surgery and a summer of walking around in a neck brace (his "Star Wars commemorative underwear"), he recovered enough to re-enlist in the Army, serve in Iraq, run a marathon and IronMan, and dance to his favorite song "Footloose".

This year, to mark the 13th anniversary of that historic crash, he broke his arm.  He had driven his bike about 80 miles away to Philly, where he could ride on a bike path closed to cars.  He'd just started out -- only about 3 miles into his bike ride -- when those evil sticks jumped out at him.  He was going about 5-10 mph, he thinks. The road was rutted from roots under the surface, and so when he landed, the road caught him bad.   He dislocated his arm and smashed the elbow and the humerus (x-rays revealed that there are something like 20 different fragments of bone where one or two should be).   Because the road was closed to traffic, it took about 45 minutes for the ambulance to reach him, so he got a little cold lying on the pavement.  Even after he got to the hospital, the generally smashed state of the bones made it hard to get a good x-ray, and also hard to pop the joints of his arm back into their sockets.    
Prewash sitting by a tree that came down near our former neighbor's home.
The sticks that brought my husband down were much smaller than these.

Even if hospitals were accepting visitors these days (which they're not -- Philly is a very red zone), I couldn't have gotten there because someone drove our only car to Philly.   So when the hospital finally released him in the evening, he went to a hotel for the night.  The next morning, K-daughter and family broke their quarantine to drive me to my guy's hotel.  We walked the 6 blocks to the car, where his bike was already waiting for him, safe and sound.  And then we drove home.

He'll need surgery to put the jigsaw puzzle pieces back together, but he's doing remarkably well.  We don't have to enforce the "no cell phones until you're off of morphine" rule, because the strongest meds he's taking so far are Tylenol.  He is learning to do lots of things with his non-dominant hand (brush teeth, make coffee, eat cereal), and I have to carry the laundry basket upstairs for him, but in general, he seems pretty much like his normal self but with one arm behind his back (or rather, in a sling on his chest).

So, that's what's up with my husband.

N-son got a hair cut -- sorry I don't have photos!  And he also got a new phone, with a new phone number.  

I-daughter finished an awesome green shawl that looks like it'll match her summer sweater really nicely.  And I got to see K-daughter again and hear a bit about how well their work is going.  It's hard being so isolated -- especially for 5-year-old A-child.  So things aren't all roses and sunshine.  But they do get to go into their largely deserted office and keep making the HVAC thingies that construction people seem to want to keep buying.  I'm glad to know that they're not facing economic fears on top of everything else.  

And I gave my exams and successfully graded them.  I have fallen in love with Gradescope -- so much so, that I might actually pay to use it next semester.  (I got to use it free this semester, because the company made it available to all when the pandemic hit).   At any rate, now I'm officially done with the semester, and can start turning my attention to summer projects, like sewing shirts that can go over casts, or making padding for the part of a sling that rubs on your neck, etc.  

So, that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours stay safe.  



Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Quaran-crafts

So many crafts.

I've long been a believer in the power of productive boredom.  The key piece of my doctoral thesis fell into place in my head while I was scrubbing a kitchen floor.  I discovered the main theorem in one of my recent papers while I was up in the middle of the night with insomnia.  The idea for making bicycle chandeliers came to me when I was stuck on a long layover in an airport.

So the quarantine we've all been slogging our way through has proved to be fertile ground for wild ideas, and even for tame ideas, these past two months.  Even though I have had classes to teach and committee meetings to attend, the fact that my kids are grown and out of the house means that I have had pockets of time scattered through my days.  We all know how valuable pockets are, women more than anyone.  

Ideas keep growing out of my time-pockets, like weeds grow out of an unwatched garden.  One of the most delicious ideas turned into soup.  Last summer's move to this new house meant that I had canned a lot of fruit and a bunch of turkey stock, but no tomatoes.   It turns out, though, that turkey-peach soup is Most Excellent.  The peaches provide a mild acidity in lieu of the tomatoes, and because I do low-sugar (actually, no-sugar) canning, the combination is sweet without being overwhelmingly so.

Other "creative" ideas are almost boring to relate,  . . .
like, I figured out how to reattach a part of our front door frame that had gotten loose. 

And while I was out on the porch, I hung up a peacock that came out of a neighbor's "FREE" box.
Welcome to our porch, Peacock!  

This is the same porch that features the Scary Doorknob, by the way.

Also, while this might not seem super creative to other people, it is to me:  I figured out how to hang our cast iron frying pans.  It took me months to come up with a way to do this that didn't involve drilling holes into the decorative tile around the stove.  I finally, last week, figured out I could install a board underneath the cabinets in a secure way, and then put the hooks in this board.  I'd foresightedly snagged the board from a construction project at my school last fall, just before the workers chucked it into a dumpster.  The placement of the board means that people can't really even see it, but it's perfectly effective at holding a bunch of very sturdy hooks for a bunch of very heavy pans.  This new arrangement has me so happy, because our pans are much easier to get at now, and I think they look nice.  My whole question-mark-shaped kitchen is just full of geometry puzzles begging to be solved.  
Hanging pans!  Yay!

And also: new dog tricks!  Some of us might be climbing the walls, but I've been teaching Prewash to walk on walls. There's a wall near our campus that has lots of pillars, and she's learning to jump up and down and traverse this wall as I walk beside her on the sidewalk.  
Or maybe she's practicing to be a gargoyle.  

Plus, of course, masks galore, in various shapes and disguises.   And also, homemade birthday presents, made from stuff I happen to have lying around.  
A double-birthday breakfast

I know I already bragged on my daughter's R2Dtrashcan, but let me flaunt my hot-gun prowess one more time:
This is not the droid you're looking for!

In addition, I gave my husband (aka the Lord of the Laundry) something for those times when we wanted to do a little bit of laundry.  
See the little jeans ands t-shirt and laundry bag?  aww

There's a soap drawer, of course.


The inside drum, courtesy of a peanut container that my daughter gifted me with.  


And it turns out, he liked it so much he put it on his dresser, a place of honor.  I'd suggested we could keep it downstairs with the real washer, but he pooh-poohed the idea because "the humidity would get to it."  So this morning when I came back from my run to find my guy still in bed, he asked me, "do you have a little laundry for me to throw in the washer?"  He likes it.


Next week, I'll be done with online teaching and with grading, and my pockets of time will get bigger and deeper.  I'm kinda excited to see what happens.  

Monday, May 4, 2020

R2D2 trash can

Because the trash can with the rounded lid reminds me of R2D2.
Because my daughter happens to love Star Wars and all things geeky.
Because my eco-obsessions mean I need fewer trash cans around my own home anyway.
Because stay-at-home orders give me extra time away from committee work and more time among my button collection.

Because of all this, I present to you a homemade R2D2 trash can.



Ingredients:
  • a bathroom trash-can with a lid evocative of a well-beloved Star Wars droid
  • blue painter's tape
  • duct tape
  • a few buttons from my vast button collection
  • a bottle cap
  • a white plastic ring that probably had something to do with curtains at one point
  • bits of rope
  • tiny reflective stickers (from my lightweights stash)
  • glue gun
  • scissors
I assemble my ingredients after a minor excess of time spent scouring the internet for good R2D2 images.


I was relieved to see there is a bit of variation, because that means that my inevitable mistakes are less critical.

I thought I might tape off sections and spray paint blue squares (etc) on to the can, but then I realize that blue tape -- while not really quite the right shade of blue -- is close enough for any daughter of Miser Mom.  So I used tape instead of paint.

Honestly, the hardest part was the stickers on top of the droid, because geometry.  Tape is flat; the lid is curved.   I ended up making lots of snips at the top of each trapezoid up there, and then layering the resulting flaps one on top of each other, so that the tape would lie flat (or rather, round) against the lid.


For texture to make R2D2's belly look a little bit like grating, I put small strips of rope under the duct tape.

I'm just really, really happy that this turned out so well!    And of course, I have to conclude with the standard geekster's greeting:  May the fourth be with you.