Sunday, January 14, 2018

Miser Family update: Travel and Tech edition

A big ship with a bunch of planes that I saw. 
My husband and N-son would have loved seeing this in person,
but instead it was me. ah, well. 
Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom family.

Last week, N-son's old phone died the death of being loved far too enthusiastically.  His father believes in the necessity of working cell phones the way apocryphal mothers believe in the primacy of clean underwear.*  So N-son got a new cell phone, plus our family bought ourselves a back-up cellphone because . . . well.  Because. In the meanwhile, this week my husband brought N-son's old, enthusiastically-loved cell phone to a repair place to see whether it would be worth fixing.  The two tech-y Russian repair guys looked at the phone and sneered.  No, not worth fixing. So there's another electronic device headed for the universe of recycling. 

* (True story:  A decade or so ago, when my husband was in the emergency room because of a broken neck, and the plastic surgeon was reattaching my husband's face to his skull, my husband was urging me to make sure his cell phone was okay.  It was, don't worry).  

Again, a photo that my guys would appreciate
more than I do.  This is for you, guys!
Continuing in the tech-break-ology theme:  J-son came back into town for a morning to deal with some administrative/legal stuff.  After my husband drove J-son back to his former foster mom's house, the little old 2001 Prius dashboard lit up with many, many red flashing warning signals.   Our usual mechanic said that the diagnostic codes were top-secret, and so we'd have to take the car to the Toyota dealer.  Fortunately, the Toyota dealer says that the problem is actually relatively minor:  there was carbon build-up in the throttle body.  I didn't know that my car even had something called a "throttle body", but that's now become one of my favorite phrases to say three times fast. 

K-daughter texted me with lots of recipes that she's been making: Zucchini lasagna, turkey meat balls and organic lentil, quinoa spinach zucchini soup.  Man, I wish I could eat at her house!

But the reason that I keep describing what happens to my kids and my husband without me involved is because I've spent the week in San Diego at the math meetings.   Toward the end of the week, though, I got to eat dinner with my sister, her husband, and one of my nieces**.  That was a lot of fun! 

**My other niece was off at some 4-H event, completely out of contact.   She lost her cell-phone a while back, and has been cell-phone-less ever since.  My husband would freak.

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

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Miser Family Update: happy and healthy new year's version

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

We began the week ringing out the old year at a friend's home (although we wimped out and returned to our own home in time to see the ball descend, yell greetings to the new year, and to collapse in our beds).

My father's copy of Ferdinand,
and his great-granddaughter's copy, too.
My granddaughter A-child is learning to love Ferdinand, a book that has been a favorite in our family since my my father was a kid.  In fact, I have a very well-loved version of the book with my father's name written in cursive, although I read to A-child from a newer (yet to get its share of loving) copy of the book.

N-son returned to school, such as it was; the cold and snow caused several two-hour delays and even one entirely cancelled day.  The snow and cold haven't caused him as much anguish as his dead phone has, however, and we are ending the week with attempts to resurrect an older phone and/or purchase a new one.   (Late-breaking update: successful on both counts!)

My husband got to go protest in front of Comcast, one of Senator Toomey's big supporters, rallying for a reinstatement of Net Neutrality.

As for me, the theme of the week has mostly been health-and-well-being.  On Tuesday, I got to give blood (whoop!), and on Wednesday I got my two cracked fillings fixed (yay?  ouch?).   And today I set a personal record for coldest outdoor run (4 degrees, warming to 5 degrees by the end).  It was so much fun!

But the biggest health adventure wasn't directly my own.  One of my good friends, at a party I hosted on Friday night, suddenly had a seizure.  I've never seen a seizure before, so when it happened, all of a sudden, I was seeing something that reminded me of the characters in Sci-Fi movies who are about to have alien beings burst from their bodies.  Fortunately, I had other friends there who had calmer heads than I, and who got my friend to the floor and on her side, and who remembered to time the seizure.  I called 911, who came by and evaluated my friend as she slowly (to me) recovered.

The whole event brought into sharp focus both how incredibly vulnerable we are in our health, but also how resilient we can be; after a few minutes my friend was back to consciousness; it took another 10 minutes to become reoriented (remember what year it was and be able to sit up again), and soon after that the EMTs left and we resumed the party (a little more somber than before, but surprisingly okay).  My friend slept well last night and is doing fine today.  I'm so grateful.

This weekend we're preparing for my up-coming trip to the big math meetings in San Diego.  No cold-weather running records for me next week!

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

Thursday, January 4, 2018

How to walk on (frozen) water

With the weather so cold all around us, and the snow and ice on the ground everywhere, I just thought I'd share something I've learned these past few years about walking and running on slippery terrain.

I think of the technique as "marching for safety": keeping my feet underneath me, stepping down on the balls of my feet instead of my heels.  Or maybe tip-toe-ing for safety, but with a little more persuasion.

The way we usually walk, by landing on a heel of a foot that's in front of our bodies, is a perfect set-up for slipping and falling.  If your foot hits a patch of ice and slides, it slides forward, while your body slides backwards, and it can be just about impossible to catch yourself.  I did an arm-flail outside just today, in fact.  What a way to work those fast-twitch reflex muscles!

On the other hand, if you sort of lean forward a bit and make sure your foot lands (ball first) underneath you, then when it slips, it slips backward and your body falls forward, but you can sort of jog your feet fast and regain footing again much more easily (or even if you can't, at least you can catch yourself with your arms instead of landing on your butt).

There are a bunch of people who blame our shoes for the way we've learned to walk and run so poorly.  Our shoes cushion us so much, they say, that we walk unnaturally, and jar our bones and cause ourselves injuries that we wouldn't have if we let our feet and ankles land on the ground "naturally", softening the impact, and also keeping us better balanced.

One of the prophets of the barefoot running movement, Chris McDougall, has promoted an exercise called "one hundred up", which is super easy to do inside in a tiny space.  The idea is that this little exercise trains you to walk and run in a way that will help prevent injuries.  You can see an up-beat 62-second video of this exercise (with a cheery little sound track that makes me happy just listening to it) at this link: it's changed the way I run (for the better), especially when I'm on ice or other slippery terrain.

The first few times you walk like this, on your balls instead of on your heels, it feels really awkward.  It's not something we practice much.  But I really love getting out in this cold weather and moving around in the air, after being stuck inside.  And with just a bit of practice at this, I feel like a gazillion times safer on slippery surfaces!  So I figured I'd share.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My top ten trash cans of 2017

So, for some goofy reason I really want to keep track of these numbers, so I'm just going to note for the record that my household put ten trash cans at the curb in 2017.  I'm saying "ten" and "for the record" in the same sentence; but ten isn't a record low for us; the year before this most recent one, we put out only 9 trash cans.   But in 2017, we had another person or two with us during the summer months, and I'm going to blame the trash on that. 

Still, I'm happy that our general trend is still downward. 

In fact, I just figured out how to make a graph in Google Drive and dump it into my blogger (ooh, not hard at all; that's good to know), so here's a visual on our family's trash-can output since 2012, the first year I started counting.

  • 2012:  23 cans
  • 2013: 17 cans
  • 2014: 19 cans
  • 2015:  11 cans
  • 2016: 9 cans
  • 2017: 10 cans

Random facts:  
  • The trash can is a 32-gallon trash can.
  • We don't keep track of the numbers of times we put out our recycling bins.  We don't put a lot of recycling out, either, but I don't bother to count it.  
  • These are the dates we put the cans out:  Jan 31, Mar 21, May 16, Jun 12, July 5 , July 25, Aug 14,  Sep 5, Sep 26, Nov 28.  K-daughter and A-child were with us from May through September, and you can see that the trash picked up (so to speak) then.  
  • From what I can see, the vast majority of our trash is "soft plastics": things like plastic wrap from food packaging.   There's occasional other weird stuff like diapers from A-child's visits or the cardboard/foil circle that sealed a peanut butter jar.  But mostly, soft plastic from food packages.
Since there are only going to be three of us (or maybe even fewer than that, once N-son heads out for his post-secondary education!), I'm expecting the number of trash cans to dip even lower for 2018.    It'll be a false equivalency, because the people who leave the house will be putting out trash where I can't count it, but I'm still sort of morbidly obsessed by seeing how little trash I can send to the landfill from this house of mine.

. . . and . . . that's all.  End of garbage geek.  

Monday, January 1, 2018

Sing Daily.

Sing Daily.  That's my big new resolution for 2018.

Are you as nervous about it as I am?  Probably not, because you're far away and don't have to hear me.  But as for me, this resolution is going to be a biggie in my life.

Earlier this fall, my college made a video of me, and I noticed my voice sounded raspy.  There was a nasty cold that infected a bunch of people this fall, and I got hit by a low-level cough that turned into a sore throat, with the whole illness lasting about two months, so that might have affected things.  But still, the raspiness, I didn't like it.  I want my voice to stay as strong as the rest of me . . . hence, time to start exercising those vocal chords.

Was I imagining things?  When I told my daughters about my resolution and the reason for it, they asked, "What raspiness?"  But then after I spoke a little more, they said they could hear what I was talking about.  My husband, when I brought this up, said he'd noticed the raspiness starting a year or so ago, and that it's more noticeable in the morning.  He also said he likes my voice the way it is (love that man!).  My early-morning running buddy couldn't hear the raspiness at all.   All of these conversations were doubly comforting:  I'm not imagining things (good for my brain!), but I don't seem to have to freak out about a serious problem, either.

On the other hand, I'd tested the waters on the Sing Daily resolution, and I decided to go for it.  And not just some wimpy sing-hum-along-with-the-radio kind of thing, but a real work-those-vocal-chords-and-diaphragm kind of singing.  Every day.

The Christmas season was a great time of year to take this resolution out for a test-drive, because there are a lot of chances to sing familiar songs with a lot of other people.  But I also did a bit of solo singing, with my toe in the metaphorical lyrical waters.  Here are some big surprises I've encountered as I tried it.

I don't remember the words to songs.   This kind of floored me. I know the Gettysburg Address by heart; I've memorized about a gazillion poems; I've memorized hour-long math talks.  But I'd start a song in the confines of my office after hours, and I'd get to the second or third line and . . . nothing.  What a blow to my know-it-all psyche!

Even more, it's really hard to sing by myself if I don't know the words.  I ended up singing a lot of "Happy Birthday" and our college's Alma Mater when I was still testing the resolution out.  So now I know that part of singing daily is going to have to include memorizing the words to songs I like.  Right now I'm mastering "Be Thou My Vision" and "If I only had a Brain".  Suggestions for other good songs are welcome!

I sing so poorly it's hard to keep singing.  The feedback loop is really hard to overcome here, folks.  I open up my mouth and start singing these raspy notes, and I just want to shut up until I can sing better.  Or I don't quite hit the notes I want to hit.  Or my voice just doesn't sound like the kind of voices I like listening to when I go to theater performances or turn on the radio -- and it makes me want to hear those voices and not mine.   It's not a surprise that I sing badly; it's a surprise that it's just so danged hard for me to keep singing anyway.    I know I've got to keep going (just like, when I'm out of shape, I need to go running even though I feel like I'm a canvas bag full of ping pong balls).   And I can hear that I'm getting a bit better already --- or maybe I'm just becoming inoculated against the noise, I dunno.

A bunch of other people have raspy voices, and I like them.  Even though I am still sort of put off by the gurgle-y sound I make, I've noticed that other people talk the same way and I don't seem to mind their voices.  How did I not notice those other voices before?  I guess it's just the way we humans learn to pay attention to what we're already paying attention to (like when I was house hunting, I saw a gazillion "For Sale" signs, but now that I own a house I only see "Yard Sale" signs).

Already, singing has started connecting me with people in new ways.  This, I love.  I-daughter and N-son both sing in a community chorus, and I-daughter in particular has started to give me pointers on using my voice well (or more accurately, on using my voice better than before).  It's nice to see her moving into the "expert" role in our relationship here.  I have another friend who asked me to be her accountability partner in memorizing scripture; I told her that on my end, I'm going to memorize hymns, and she was delighted.   (I'm going to sing "Be Thou My Vision" to her, but not "If I only had a Brain").  Another friend wants to have me on her radio show (?!?); a theater friend of mine said that I reminded her of how much she likes doing voice exercises (I have to ask her for some of those) . . . In general, I love how singing is opening up new ways of being with people around me.

I've got a few other minor resolutions.  I didn't make it to 50 push-ups before I turned 51 so I want to try to make it to 51 push-ups this year before I turn 52.  I want to carve out 5-10 minutes of dog training each day.  I want to be more mindful of food while I'm eating it, for reasons of physical and mental health as well as overall gratitude.  I want to get out of my office and into the open air during daylight hours, in spite of all the committee reading I have to do this year.  So I've got a couple of other goals for the spring semester.

But singing daily.  That's going to be the Big New Thing in the Miser Mom lifestyle.  I'm psyched.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

When resolutions work

So, the other day, my husband asked me what I was doing, and I said, "I'm thinking about a new resolution.  But I know I've got to be careful about it . . . "

My husband nearly bust a gut laughing.  "Of all the people in world to be worried about a New Year's resolution!  If you say you're going to do it, you will!"  I love that my husband thinks I'm invincible that way.   But of course, the fact that I *will* do the resolution is exactly why I *am* thinking so hard about it.

I know that the standard trope is that people make resolutions and then don't keep them.  Failed (or meaningless) resolutions are the basis for just about every other comic joke right about now.  But me, I have the opposite experience:  I make a resolution, and it's highly likely to change my life.

Some of my past resolutions.
(Do other people do their resolutions in multiple colors?
Or save them as mementos?  Or is it just me?)
For example, about a dozen years ago I resolved to "exercise gregariously".  These days, I don't go for runs by myself almost ever (the exception was the summer I was training for the IronMan), but long after the year I first made that resolution, I still run regularly four days a week, and always with other people.  Running with other people means I had to find the time to run with them (at a time when they can run with me), so most days I wake up and leave the house just before 6 a.m.   Running with other people means keeping in contact with them, and so at some point I ended up taking over the job of sending out emails to our Saturday-morning running group.  We've got about 5-12 friends who run, catch up on the latest news, and provide free therapy and advice for one another.  In the summers, a bike buddy gets in on the act; we'll ride together maybe four days a week, 15-25 miles at a time.  That little two-word resolution I made years ago has changed my daily schedule, my social circle, and my fitness level.

There was also the time I resolved to hold a year of once-a-month "Special Dinners".  My kids -- particularly K-daughter -- loved those so much that they've now become a defining tradition of our family.  We've added additional Special Dinners into the mix (like the Black History Month dinner, or the Purple Dress Dinner), and so nowadays the dinners come somewhat more than monthly.  They've become topics of conversations with guests (and often, reasons to invite guests in the first place).  This was another resolution that's made a big change in my life.

There was also the resolution to buy a bike and do an IronMan (with the ultimate goal of being not afraid of my bike and thereby riding it around instead of the car for most local trips).  And not only did I do the IronMan, but I still ride the bike all over the place.  And now my husband can swim, which he couldn't before he did the IronMan with me.

So generally, my resolutions work out to make my life different from before, in a really good way, and even spill over into other people's lives.   Sometimes there are bad side effects (like having a car crash into my bike and give me a broken arm).  And sometimes, it's true, I don't actually accomplish my resolution (I resolved to be able to do 50 push-ups when I was 50 years old; I got up to 40 push-ups and then the car/bike/elbow thing happened).

But I know that the act of speaking a resolution into my life has power, and I want to use that power carefully.  That's why I was fretting in front of my husband.  Because there's a new, big resolution for 2018, and I want to make sure I'm ready for it. 

More on that later.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Potassium Iodide for Christmas

When I joyfully told a woman at my church that I'd be getting my children Radiation Sickness Pills for Christmas, she asked me, " . . . um, . . . What exactly does that mean?"

That's when I realized that maybe I'd gone a little bit to an extreme.  Again.

Is this a gingerbread owl?
L-daughter went to town on this cookie.
Because what I meant by that was that I'd bought Radiation Sickness Pills.  For my kids.  For Christmas.  And I really hoped my kids would like the gift (even though I hope they never have to use the pills, ever ever).  The pills were part of emergency preparedness kits that I'd pulled together, and  my children got the rest of their kits, too.  But I knew that the potassium iodide was the bow on the present, or the icing on the cake, or something.

Backing up a bit:  after the terrible hurricanes of this past summer and California fires that continue even now, I decided it made sense for me to double-check our own household emergency preparedness.  I got really into Erica Strauss's series over at NorthWest Edible.  In particular, she reminded people that they don't realistically have to prepare for every disaster, but they should prepare for emergencies that are eventually likely in their region, so they don't become a burden on emergency responders.

Now, I'm super happy to be living in a place that is generally safe.  We're far enough from large bodies of water that flooding means wet basements, but not helicopters pulling people off of rooftops.  We aren't at the juncture of large faults that are likely to cause earthquakes big enough to disrupt traffic or electricity.  We're far from the paths of most hurricanes.  We're not in a forest fire zone; tornadoes are a true rarity here.  So many of the disasters we read about in the news are unlikely here -- not impossible, I know, but very unlikely.

So proud of the cookie, we're taking selfies with it!
On the other hand, every few years we do get storms large enough to take out electric power for hours or sometimes days.  Snow deep enough to shut down roads is inevitable, given enough time.  So: we made sure we have food in the basement we can cook without electricity; we have jugs with water; we have paper maps and paper versions of emergency numbers in case the internet croaks.  We don't have flashlights, but we do have bike lights that we keep charged, and we figure that counts.

My husband and I have had enough run-ins with cars knocking us down or bikes flipping over that we know medical emergencies are something to be ready for.  We have lists of people to call in case one of us is out-of-commission for a while; we have photos of health insurance cards; we use LastPass to share important passwords.  We also photocopy everything in our wallets once a year, in case one of us loses a wallet -- that practice has made our lives easier once or twice in the past.

But in addition, our home happens to sit between two large nuclear reactors, one of which was once the site of worst nuclear plant accident in US history.  Between that and the saber-rattling over in Kim Jong-un's neck of the woods, I figured that having potassium iodide at-the-ready seemed like a prudent idea.
Odd fact:  local drugstores don't stock potassium iodide; the only way for us to get it was to order it on-line.  The directions say that you're supposed to take the pill within three hours of exposure to radiation . . . so that makes me even more convinced that having these in our cabinets just-in-case is a wise idea.  
Oog.  This post is much longer than I meant it to be --- which is kind of the point of the present.   Putting together an emergency plan with information and supplies takes a bunch of time, and once I'd done it for myself, it wasn't that much harder to get a skeleton of an emergency kit together for each of my kids.

Does the "!" mean emergency?  Or party?  Maybe it means both.

Each of my kids got a "Grab-and-go" bag pre-loaded with a few things they might need if they had to flee their own homes: a first aid kit, a water filtration straw, a hook for a spare car key. Also, each kid got an emergency book that I'd started for them, with places they could fill in their own additional information.
the table-of-contents
The Emergency book came with several handy-dandy sections (radiation stuff comes in section 4, by the way):
1.   Getting Help            Emergency Contact numbers (professional help)
            Business/finance/utility numbers
            People in my life to contact in case of my emergency 
2.  Grab and go
            "to go" bag (contents, location)            maps: local area and state 
3. Shelter locally
            Shelter-in-place information
4. First Aid & Medical
            health insurance            doctor info & medication list            Potassium Iodide with usage information 
5.  Family & friends
            Family numbers and addresses            Family photos            Important family dates 
6. Personal recovery info
            Photocopies of wallet contents            Passports & Social Security Cards (photocopies)            Car registration/insurance cards            Appliance list 
7.  Animal information            Vet, med, photos, chip numbers  
8.   If something bad happens            Location of important papers            How to get passwords

Gingerbread person,
soon to be consumed
Are you jealous yet?  K-daughter was so happy about it she texted all her friends saying she has the coolest mom ever.  Her friends might or might not agree, but they did say they were going to move in with her if the apocalypse comes.   L-daughter asked if I'd gotten enough pills for her and her dogs.  N-son was jealous of his sisters until he realized he was getting a book, too.  My other daughters (I think) mostly thought, "well, that's Miser Mom for you", which is probably a healthy reaction to such an odd gift. 

When I told my sisters about Christmas day and about the intense gingerbread decorating that took place, thought they'd prefer the gingerbread and eggnog to the potassium iodide pills.

Me, too.  Here's wishing everyone a safe and happy new year.