Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Involuntary Plant-slaughter

There is a plant-killer on the loose.  She is I.  

Fortunately, the devastation has not been total.  There has been plant death, yes.  There has been plant maiming, true.  But the victims, many of them, will live to testify.  This is their story.

Exhibit A: the Weeping Peach Tree.  
You see before you a tree laden with peaches, one tree that I hadn't had the heart to prune (so to speak).  As a result, this tree was sagging under its own weight.
I finally had enough pity (and/or fear) to venture out with the pruning shears.  Before I went out, I did some research. A quick internet search took me to a page full of annoying videos of a peppy Park Ranger; I gave up on the ranger and went to a second site.  Following their instructions, I lopped off everything over 7 feet high, straggly branches near the bottom of the tree, and any branch growing down as opposed to up (or, in my optimism, up-ish).  The end result is not beautifully symmetric, but at least it's not dying under its own weight.
Lopping off peach-laden branches was harder on me (emotionally) than I would have thought.  The boughs were full of buds of fruit, and I was severing them from their very source of life. I was killing my own future harvest (or was I?).  And it felt like my own little peach-gettysburg, as I surveyed the casualties on the ground after the battle.  Four score and seven peaches, after a pruning of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Exhibit B:  Tomato Death and Destruction.
I transplanted my canning-jar-grown tomatoes into the ground about two weeks ago.  They have struggled mightily since then.  The theories for the struggling abound.
Theory #1:  I started them in windows, not under grow lights.  This is the theory promoted by Northwest Edible, and it probably has some merit.  But if I believe the lack of grow lights is responsible, then I have to spend money on grow lights, which I don't want to do.  Plus, I used the same windows this year that I did last year, and last year my tomatoes  were thriving.
Theory #2:  I did not bring my tomatoes outdoors to play before I transplanted them, so therefore, moving outdoors was too much of a shock.  This is my favorite theory.  Why?  Because I can fix it easily (with no money) next year.  My second-favorite theory is below:
Theory #3:  I did not plant the tomatoes deep enough.  Not only the root, but some of the stem should go underground.  This is the theory of my wise neighbor, June.
Theory #4:  Too much mulch.  Another possibility offered by my neighbor, June.
Theory #5:  Not enough mulch.  Who knows?
What do the worst of my tomatoes look like?  Well, some 11 of my 24 tomato plants are dead and gone.  This bare vine, leafless and destitute, shows the last stages of tomato death of one of my plants.

Many other tomatoes are leafless along a long segment, with a shock of leaves at one end, as seen below.
My neighbor June, who favors theory number 3 (that I didn't plant the tomatoes deep enough), pointed out that the tomatoes vines are starting to root out a bit, as shown below.
Because of her advice and encouragement -- she was sweet enough to congratulate me on the fact that 15 of my tomato plants are not (yet) dead -- I buried parts of the vines under more dirt.  Tomato updates to follow.

Exhibit C:  The Walnut Tree that Could.
Because the truth is, plants grow.  Even when we (meaning, *I*) nearly kill them, they often come back.  My little English Walnut tree is an example of this.  I planted it early last summer and someone else (this time, not me) ran over it with a moving van.  I tried expensive things to keep that 5' tall tree alive, but nothing worked.  I sadly chopped it down.  But, to my wonder and amazement, from that set of roots, only a few months in the soil, a new shoot emerged.
And now, one year later, the tree is about 3 feet tall.  Not as substantial as when I first planted it, no, but not dead either.  Charlie Brown could be proud.
Hope.  Renewal.

Or, perhaps, the enduring qualities of being nuts.

Monday, May 28, 2012

$138; temporary ownership

We celebrated my college reunion this past weekend.  What an incredible blast it was to see these people I  knew during those formative years!  I thought I wouldn't remember anyone -- and I wasn't far wrong about that, in fact.  But my former classmates and I remembered lots of common experiences, and in remembering those, got to re-meet one another.  I had a way way better time than I would have thought.
I was in charge of helping with a Saturday evening reception for our class.
A classmate had asked me to bring plastic wine glasses, not realizing that it is sort-of against my religion to buy plastic disposable junk.  To the rescue:  temporary ownership.  That is, I called a local party rental place.   And to my utter delight, I found I could pick up 100 real wine glasses for the weekend for $43 (plus tax).
Wine glasses are good for wine and/or M&Ms.
That price wasn't very different in price than buying 100 plastic wine glasses (at least from what I could see online).  The rental place even washed the cups when I returned them!
100 wine glasses in the back seat of my Prius.
The rental place did not want the plastic bags back, so
I kept them to use in our kitchen trash cans.
While I was away, my husband bought $66 worth of gatorade, hot dogs, and -- much to the giddy delight of K-daughter -- sugared cereals.  Other more salubrious purchases (peanut butter, yogurt, apples, and cider) brought the weekly grocery total to $101, making our 13-week grocery average about $138/week.  What is special about 138, you ask?  It's the sum of four consecutive primes:
138 = 29 + 31 + 37 + 41.
Average weekly grocery spending, starting in March.

Total weekly grocery bill for each of those weeks.
Large purchases are coming: strawberry picking is this week. The meat supplies are running low. So $138/week might very well be the low point on our average spending . . . only time will tell, of course.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Love on the run

Thursday morning, as he left for school, I hugged C-son good-bye and told him I loved him.  He answered, "I love you, too."  First time.  Mark that moment and cherish it.

C-son has been with us 50 days and 50 nights.  And the "Honeymoon period", so famous to social workers who spend their lives devoted to children in the foster care system, is fading behind us.

We've faced some rough patches.  They were scarier while we were living through them than to describe.  Last Thursday, C-son said he'd be home at 5, but actually came home at 8.  (He thought it was okay, because he'd tried to call home, but without leaving any messages about where he actually was).  The next day he was furious at being told he couldn't do what he wanted, and he stormed out of the house . . . for 10 minutes.  He came home and covered himself up under his bed covers.  I decided he needed company, so the dog and I got up onto the bed with him until he was ready to come back out again.  Love is not enough, but it's something.

Honestly, I'm getting nervous about this summer.  On June 9, K-daughter is taking off for Virginia for two months, so she won't be around to help out, and I've been relying on her more than I've admitted to you, even though I've admitted it many times to myself.  The very same day that K-daughter heads out, my husband leaves home.  My guy will be doing army drills for three weeks, so I'll be parenting solo.  C-son is too old for regular camps (15-years old), but too new to the home to be left alone.  Which means, I'm going to be spending a lot of my summer at home with the kids.  And if C-son is truly prone to running away, or to flights of anger, I'm in deep doo-doo.

So, can I say how happy I was to have a trouble-free weekend last Saturday and Sunday?  This is something that I used to take for granted, but now I'm watching for this like a farmer of a parched field watches for rain.  (Positive reinforcement helps; so do crossed fingers and maybe even bent knees).

This past Saturday, with my husband at the army and J-son visiting his foster mom, the other two boys and I went yard saling.  Lots of misses until we found the big hit -- a church basement sale, where I got 3 pairs of shoes, 2 glass canisters, an octagonal drinking glass, a red-metal water bottle, and a transformer, all for $2.25.   C-son spent 65¢ on some toys for himself and N-son, which they delighted in when they got home.   Why does anyone buy things in the winter, when they can yard-sale during the summer?

Speaking of summer activities, I couldn't understand their fascination with digging holes in the mulch pile
until I realized C-son had learned something from his father's war movies.  He was digging a fox-hole, from which he could mount an attack,
aided by his brother N-son in the tree house, who was wielding his "new" multicolored bow sans arrow.
We also did some chores, including fixing some garden carts -- I let each boy whack away at his own cart.

Swimming.  Dog walking.  When Prairie Home Companion rolled around, N-son was allowed a rare i-Pod experience.  C-son went bike-riding.  Freedom.

This is not at all the end of the story, I know.  I've got a damaged, volatile child in my home.  One who needs a lot of love, but who also needs someone to remind him that he's not allowed to take it out on his brothers.

Can I tell you how my heart stopped when I came home from an early morning run to find C-son's bed empty?  He was not in his bed; he was not in his brother's room; he was not anywhere I might have suspected.  I feared he'd run again -- in a different sense from my own run.  I stayed calm for the sake of N-son, who was fidgeting and flying around.  It was N-son who found him, curled up under a bunch of blankets, taking his own early-morning nap on the living room couch.  My new son, sleeping like a baby.
Like not just any baby.  Like my baby.  The healing continues.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Well, not so's you'd notice, but it was a year ago today that I started this blog.  Back then, I was coming off a sabbatical.  I was full of math ideas and blog ideas, and my husband was urging me to write.  Child care was relatively easy: K-daughter had just moved in with us.  We'd had J-son in the home for something like a year, officially adopted for about a month.  

Now, a year later, I really want to find a way to do more math.  I kid you not.  I love my job.  It also looks like I'm going to need to spend a lot more time with my children.  And blogging, well, it's fun, but it's like another job.  Coming up with posts consumes energy and time that, I've decided, I want to spend on math.  And that I ought to spend on my sons.

I don't think I can give up cold-turkey; I'm going to cut back to three days a week for the summer and see how it goes.  Being frugal with my time, if not with my money.  (Besides . . . heh-heh . . .  like any good professor, I found a graduate student to pick up my slack!)

I thought my original post from last May 23, 2011 would seem weird to me, after a year had passed.  But I think I still like it.  Here it is:
I'm not actually a miser, but it's true that I almost never spend more than $1 on any of the clothes I buy, whether for me or my children.  I cook from scratch.  I do my own plumbing repairs. 
We live in a world that thinks the proper thing to do is spend money on ourselves -- as that advertisement goes, "Sure it costs more, but I'm worth it."   Intentionally scrimping on ourselves is counter-cultural.  But I believe that we're happier if we spend our money on things that are bigger than us, things that are outside of us.  I want to be able to help a friend in need, or to donate to a cause I believe in, and to tithe to my church. 
It's one thing to agree in principal that we should deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow grander visions.  It's another thing to figure out how to do that when we're wandering with our kids through the mall or pushing that cart down the aisles of the grocery store:  do we not buy food?  Do we have to dress our kids like thrift-shop hobos?  And isn't our own time valuable enough to merit those conveniences -- who really has time to mend a pair of pants? 
I know it's not easy at first to live a life of thrift and discipline, but most great things aren't easy.  Like making music or excelling at sports or learning to cure illness, living a life of frugality takes practice.  It's something I teach my kids every day, and they're just about as good at discipline and thrift as they are at playing the drums (that is, they're still wild and loud, but they're getting there). 
But it's a joy to be able to deny ourselves well, and this blog is about that joy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Reinforcement? I'm positive.

I've been reading a book called "Don't Shoot the Dog".  The title, in and of itself, is probably good advice, even though there are times I'd like to ignore it.  But really, it's a book on training dogs, dophins, children, and other animals, through the use of positive reinforcement.

The level of detail in the book has been welcome as I try to figure out how to parent my new, prone-to-flight 15-year old son.  (Anything he construes as punishment, including vague descriptions of people being "mean" to him, tends to shut him down or make him run and/or hide).  Beyond the details, though, it's the general encouragement of the book to keep at that reward-and-praise approach, to try it again.  And again.  I'm the choir, and I don't mind the book preaching at me.

The main thing I learned from this round of reading is that positive reinforcement isn't about some vague and all-pervading cheerfulness.  It isn't about offering faint praise.  And it doesn't mean offering bribes in perpetuity.  Rather, it's about
    (a) a limited training phase in which the parent/owner/trainer is
    (b) figuring out a way to make the dog/dolphin/child feel good, and
    (c) doing that feel-good thing AT THE EXACT MOMENT when the good behavior happens.
Rewarding precisely the good behavior.

It takes brains.  It takes patience.  It takes timing.  It takes (says the woman who thought she had this, until she tried it) discipline.  Don't yell at the bad behavior.  Instead, catch the good behavior as it's happening, and reward the heck out of it.  Ease back on rewards as the subject (I mean, as my kid) gets the idea.

Positive reinforcement:  it works scary-well.  (Does it work?  Yes, I'm positive).

Here are three quick examples:

1)  A few months ago, I asked my newspaper carrier to deliver our newspaper with no plastic bag, a highly unusual request.  Nowadays, most of the time, my newspaper does indeed come naked.  But on days with rain threatening, the paper comes in plastic.  Darn.  I know another blogger who canceled her paper entirely so she wouldn't get plastic bags -- she "shot the dog".

But I don't want to cancel my paper.  Instead, I waited for a stretch of sunny days, and then left an effusive (but honest) thank you note in the paper box, telling Michael that he is an amazingly courteous carrier.  That he goes above and beyond (true).  That we hate plastic bags, and know it's a pain for him to leave them off, and we're glad he delivers our paper without them.   The day after he got that card, it rained.  And we got our newspaper, naked.  No bag.  First time that's happened.  Love it.

2)  N-son and C-son begged to be allowed to wash the car together.  Two boys, one hose.  I hesitated, but finally relented, with probably more-than-appropriate amounts of nagging about not wasting water, sharing the hose, not squirting the brother, etc.   After about 20 minutes, the car was clean (ish), and the boys were still not fighting [--> miracle! <--].  I came outside with two one-dollar coins, and told the boys they had earned these, not because they'd washed my car, but because they had achieved the UNimaginable, sharing the car-washing hose without fighting.

Both boys grinned their teen-age-boy-grins (delighted, but trying to hide it).  N-son immediately handed his dollar to C-son, saying "Here, brother, I want you to have this".  He'd learned the get-along-lesson all too well.  And -- get this! -- they haven't fought all week since then.  As I said before, [--> miracle! <--].

3) And another oldie-but-goodie trick technique of positive reinforcement:  seat belt races.  It's not an individual race; it's kids-versus-grownups.  In last decade, I only once had to tell N-son to buckle up.  In the last year, since J-son joined us, and in the month-plus since C-son moved in, I have not EVER had to tell any of the boys to put his seat-belt on.  Instead, N-son and J-son passed along the rules.  They egg one another on.  We get to the car and all three boys squeeze quickly into the back of the Prius, working together, saying "hurry-hurry-hurry!" to each other.  By they time I have the key in the ignition, they're all buckled in, shouting "We WON!".

And I say, "Oh DARN it!"  And I buckle up, and then I drive away.  With my boys gloating in the back seat, happy, and safe.

I won.  I'm positive.

Monday, May 21, 2012

$142, or $315, or $2926

The boring stuff this week is the groceries:

This week, almost no shopping happened: my guy picked up $12 of coffee, leading to a 12-week grocery average of $142.  142 is interesting if you know it's the number of different ways to make a bunch of piles of 25 different things.  (Mathematicians call these groupings of piles "partitions", mostly because we like adding extra letters to confuse outsiders).
Average grocery spending over the past 12 weeks.

 Maybe, also, it's interesting to know we spent only $12 on groceries this week.
Total grocery spending, per week, each of the past 12 weeks.

But other exciting things are afoot.

Because this week we FINALLY completed our dossier to adopt a child from Haiti.  There's still a lot of work to follow -- immigration paperwork, trips to Haiti, more bureaucracy yet-to-be-specified.  But for now, let me just show you my favorite big expense of last week, which was getting "apostilles" (they're like the extreme version of notarization of documents).  We got 21 different documents apostilled; at $15/document, that means $315 just to get our paperwork stamped with the proper seal of approval.

Here is our adoption dossier, all ready to mail out (it'll go out today by super-safe, super-insured mail).  It has 25 different official documents in 11 different carefully labeled folders.  This dossier is full of a bunch of paper that is worthless, except as it allows us to move forward with this next adoption.  But assembling this dossier took 6 months.  And it also cost almost $3000.  In case you wonder how a 1.5-inch-high pile of paper could cost so much, here's the break-down.

Reason for Expense cost running total
register FBI clearance $68.00 $68.00
PA Child Abuse Clearance $21.00 $89.00
PA Criminal Background check $21.00 $110.00
California apostille $40.00 $150.00
Massachusetts apostille $12.00 $162.00
birth certificates--me $49.00 $211.00
passport photos--me $10.55 $221.55
passport photos--my guy $10.55 $232.10
med forms, notarized (Gen Internal) $32.00 $264.10
 background checks -K-daughter $20.00 $284.10
mental health check $620.00 $904.10
mental health check $65.00 $969.10
notary $40.00 $1,009.10
 background check -- C-son $22.00 $1,031.10
translation $525.00 $1,556.10
PA apostilles $315.00 $1,871.10
parking @ the courthouse $5.00 $1,876.10
homestudy and support fees $1,050.00 $2,926.10

In fact, with our trip last December plus our deposit on adoption fees, we've spent almost $9,500 so far, mostly subsidized by our church and friends.  Many other big expenses will kick in, in the future.  Adopting kids is NOT a cheap thing to do, despite what most people might think is "right".  In truth, doing right often means shelling out the dough.

So in other area of our lives (like groceries), we're towing the line.  Keeping expenses low.  Puting our money not in food (where our mouth is), but rather where our calling is.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Your tax dollars at work (military version)

About a week ago, I thanked you for sending some of your tax dollars our way because we adopted J-son last year. The truth is, that post under-estimated the amount of money that comes our way from the federal coffers.  (Not to mention, that because of other adoption issues, we also get some county money that I might describe at a later date.)

Federally and otherwise, though, our family has gotten more than our share of love and money because my husband serves in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

He re-enlisted in the military 4 years ago, and he served in Iraq in 2009, the year before J-son moved in with us.  Now that my guy is back stateside, he spends about one weekend each month on duty (that's where he is this very weekend), and for that weekend he gets about $350. That's just about enough to pay for his gatorade and lattes, I figure. Pretty cool.  That's the "federal" part of the "federally and otherwise" perqs I mentioned.

But the "otherwise" part is sweet, too. There are additional benefits. We get information all the time about job fairs, about possible summer camps, about events opened up for free just for military families. Some of these events are, of course, outside our area of interest. To wit, I did NOT take anybody up on this Mother's Day offer:
> Classification: UNCLASSIFIED   
> Caveats: FOUO
> Operation Military Kids is proud to announce the 2012 Mother's Day> Celebration> Day Camp. This year's activities will include a backstage tour of the QVC> Studios. The children and guests will learn about how to succeed in the home> shopping business world. Attendees will learn about studio production,> marketing, set design and build, nation-wide distribution networks, and much> more.
 Please, Lord, no, do not send me through that kind of hell.

On the other hand, we've taken advantage of tickets to Nascar races, of free passes to Corn Mazes (with an all-you-can-eat barbecue on the side), of holiday dinners in the Army mess hall.  This summer, N-son will get to go to a one-week outdoors camp, free of charge.  I can't say that any of these events save us money as far as entertainment goes --- we wouldn't have gone to just about any of these on our own ticket -- but the mountains-o'-food at the events certainly help to rein in our grocery budget now and then.

As a peace-nik myself, I admit I'm fairly conflicted about the army/giveaway connections.  I wouldn't recommend joining the military to my dearest friends -- although it just so happens that my dear husband revels in it.  

Perhaps it would be best to close by describing the biggest, most substantial gift of all.  For reenlisting in the PA National Guard, in 2009 my husband won an all-expenses-paid trip overseas for one year.  Housing, clothing, food, transportation, all covered.  For him and 2000 of his closest friends.  Hard to beat that!
My guy at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma, on his way to Iraq.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Planting the Back Forty (feet)

I planted the Back Forty earlier this week.  Not the Back Forty Acres, mind you; the Back Forty Feet.  My own little personal BFF.

Our home is blessed with lots and lots of trees around it.  Since we have no air conditioning, the trees are crucial to our summer well-being, . . . but they're heck on gardens, really.  Just about the only mostly-sunny area near our home is by the garage out back.  In that small space, I've torn out shrubbery and put in edible plants.  I do a little more, year by year.  Just like Laura Ingalls Wilder, clearing the land, turning it into a farm.  Well, a into a farm-let.

Here's a picture of my BFF:  "L" shaped and 40 feet long by about 3 feet deep.
The long wall faces south.
If you're good, you'll realize this picture was taken in the morning;
the short west wall is still in shade.
My plants had all been started in canning jars in March.  They started out looking like not much,
but they grew,
and grew,

and grew, until they were big and strong.  Just like Ferdinand the bull.
This past week we passed the last official frost date.  We were blessed with a soaking rain on the one day I had all-day meetings, so the next day, I got to head out in the sun to plant my babies.  My tomato plants enjoyed their field trip into the great outdoors.

Several people have asked me how I get the plants out of the jars.  I use either a spoon or a knife to push the dirt away from the edge of the jar,

then I turn the jar upside down, grasp the plant close as possible to its base and g-e-n-t-l-y pull it out.  Usually, the part I pull out has grown a big root ball that looks like this:

I put the root ball into a hole I dug, give the plant one canning-jar-full of water, and pat the dirt on top.
The jar of water looks really dirty.  Because it is.
I carry a bucket of water along with me and dip the canning jars in; I hadn't realized until now how disgusting that dirty water looks. But at least it cleans some of the dirt off the jars as I go!

[Note: I put some mulch around some tomatoes, and none around others.  The conclusion:  don't do the mulch. It "burns" the leaves.]

Now my BFF looks something like this.

And the jars?  I soaked them in a bucket the rest of the day.  I scrubbed them at night and stuck them all in the dishwasher; now they're ready to hold food.  Grow, tomatoes, grow!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Paper with a purpose

Think about the humble little Thank You Note.  There are so many little virtues nestled in that tiny tradition.
  • When we write a "thank you", we focus on gratitude, remembering that we have things not because we deserve them, but because of another person's generosity.  Thank You Notes are good for us.
  • By acknowledging other people's generosity, we let those people know they're valued, that their efforts aren't going unnoticed.  Thank You Notes are good for other people.
  • When we write a note, we create another link between us and that person.  We strengthen bonds, little by little.  Thank You Notes are good for relationships.
Enter, card stock -- a sturdy paper, thicker than usual printer paper but not quite as thick as cardboard.  I bought a giant pile of it five years ago.  I paid real money for it.  I still have a lot left.  I love it.

I'm a big believer in a hand-written thank you note, but not the kind that has a fancy "Thank You" pre-printed on front with a generic "Thank you for the nice gift" hastily scribbled above a signature on the inside.

No, I'm a fan of the thank you card that has at least three sentences, only the last of which begins with "Thank you".  The first two sentences are specific and warm.  "My sons have learned so much with you this year.  They especially appreciated the extra help you gave them with math -- as did I.  Thank you for a wonderful year."

I make two cards per page (I love my paper cutter, too).  I can print all sorts of cool pictures on the front of card stock -- my sons' school logo, if I'm thanking his teachers, for example, or a photograph.  Or I can glue things to the front:  dried flowers or even a comic.  It's another way to personalize the card, to make it special without paying Hallmark prices.

And having a large pile of card stock at my desk not only makes it easy to dash off a card, but it also reminds me -- compels me, even -- to do so.

In fact, there are many kinds of paper that I love to use. In spite of (or maybe even because of) my rant yesterday about the kinds of paper I do NOT use, there is another side of my relationship with paper.  Here is a set of shelves in my office devoted to carefully organized sets of paper.

There are definitely piles of what I might call "category B" papers -- things I didn't buy and am just hanging onto for everyday use, paper not invited to the grand paper party.  This includes note pads, a pile of pre-cycled white paper, and a pile of pre-cycled colored paper.  (I use the pre-cycled paper in the printer for things like charity receipts, directions to a place I'm going just once, grocery lists, signs, and other information to myself).

But there's some nice paper here, too.  The parchment paper, it's for my planner pages.  Organizing is an important experience for me, and the way the page looks influences me.  In this area, I am a hedonist.  I buy really nice paper for my planner.

There's neon-bright paper.  That's for Mommy Dollars.  Again, for effect.

And there's card stock.  Once again, for effect, but also for gratitude.  For greetings.  For connecting with other people.  For providing a resting place for my little squeezable cow.  Yes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Paperless, and less paper

Every once in a while, it's worthwhile to remember the basics of what I don't spend money on.  Tomorrow I'm going to write about some paper that I actually paid for, on purpose.  Paper I spent real money for, and am glad I did.  But for much of what happens in my family life, the question "paper or plastic?" translates into "neither, thanks".  Keep the wallet fat and the trash can empty.

This is nothing new.  This is a review.

Shopping bags.  Cloth and canvas bags follow me on my shopping expeditions, whether to market, to yard sales, or even to our CSA pick-up site.  (My husband brings home plastic bags, however.)  My hands-down favorite bags are our t-shirt bags; they're sturdy, they hold a lot, and they're not as bulky as canvas bags.

Napkins.  We use cloth napkins.  Every family member has his or her own special napkin ring, so we only wash napkins every once in a while, when they actually get dirty.

Paper towels.  Not.  We use rags, stored discretely in decorative baskets around the home.  By now, even my husband is a convert.

See those paper tissues nearby?  Cloth tissues work well, too (I think they feel even nicer), and throwing a used cloth tissue in the laundry hamper is no harder than throwing a used paper tissue in the trash.  Most people in my family use paper, but some of us (okay, just me) uses cloth at times.

Paper plates, plastic cups, plastic tableware . . . if you have to ask, you don't know me at all.  We've got a well-stocked, if motley, collection of thrift-shop tableware and mugs we haul out for parties.

Note pads, fancy shopping lists, telephone pads . . .  another "not".  I keep a box near the telephone of "pre-cycled" paper, meaning paper that snuck into my home that has ink only on one side.  We use the blank sides, of course.  Some of these pieces of paper I cut into fourths for grocery lists and telephone messages.  Others, I fold in half and staple together to make "books" my kids can write in.  And other large sheets get used for homework help, for leaving notes, for just about anything, really.

Saran wrap, aluminum foil . . . just putting a plate on top of a bowl is often good enough.

Ziplock bags . . . we use some of those for freezing food (although fewer, now that I know to can).  But saved cereal bags and other re-purposed plastic bags often do a good enough job, especially for food not headed for the freezer.   For lettuce, a damp towel is even better for preserving the green than a plastic bag.

For most paper products that sit on the store shelves, my response is no, thank you.  I'm indisposed to disposables.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday Youse-day

Part of being a good Miser Mom is learning to deny myself (joyfully), thinking about things beyond my own selfish desires.  In this vein,  year or so ago I read a book on attracting attention . . . The Pursuit of Attention by Charles Derber.

In Chapter 2 ("Monopolizing the Conversation; being civilly egocentric"), Derber described studies in which he analyzed how many modern conversations go: a bunch of statements beginning with the word "I", alternating back and forth about the person doing the talking.  Sometimes the person who responds completely changes the subject:
Pat:  I went shopping today.
Sam: Yeah? I didn't have time; I was painting my house today. And I kept on finding more stuff to do . . .
Sometimes the person who responds doesn't change the topic, but still changes the subject to himself:
Pat:  I went shopping today.
Sam:  Yeah?  Me, too!   And I got a whole bunch of . . . 
Even when the second person eventually hands the conversation back to the first person, it's often by way of taking the conversation over for a little while:
Pat:  I went shopping today.
Sam:  Yeah?  Me, too!   What did you get?
What you don't hear, at least not very often, are conversations that use the word "you" a lot.  Conversations that ask for more detail.  That support the other person who is speaking.   If you're interested in reading a bit on this yourself, you can check out a great description of conversational styles at The Art of Manliness; Brett and Kate McCay describe many strategies for avoiding "conversational narcissism".

I read Derber's book, and I knew the author was holding up a big mirror to me.  And I realized that this is a way of talking that I really wanted to fix.  In the same way that I try to avoid complain-bragging about being busy, I've decided to try to have one day this week where I attempt to start sentences with something other than the word "I".  To replace that word/idea, wherever possible, with the word "you". "You look good". "You really helped those people out the other day".  "How are you?".

Darned hard to do.  I'm not good at it.

How about you?

Monday, May 14, 2012

$153 (again)

Have I mentioned before how much my husband and I love one another?  How I am utterly, totally devoted to him?  It's true.

We spent only $65 on groceries this week.  My guy spent $7 at a giant college yard sale on a giant bag of groceries, bringing home syrup and ramen noodles and other snack foods.  I spent another $38 on our Siete de Mayo Celebration, and then $20 at market on milk, eggs, and bedtime snacks.  We make a great team.  I love that man dearly.

We spent just $65 on groceries this week (did I mention that already?).  And then he went to the grocery store one more time to get "eggs and bananas".  And $111 later, he came home.  Just like Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the masses, my guy turned simple eggs and bananas into gallons of gatorade, jars of peanut butter, cans of tuna, plastic bags of apples, tubs of ice cream, with sides of donuts and croissants.  It's like a miracle, isn't it?  When I asked him how this happened, he said, "well, dairy is expensive".  My sons, their explanation is more biblical: their description (somewhat paraphrased) is "Ask, and we shall receive."

Okay, so really we spent $176 this week . . .

. . . bringing our weekly grocery average up to $153 again.

And the truth is, if it were up to me-and-me-alone, I'd be spending less.  Eating lentils and rice and feeling all virtuous.  Holy, if you will.  Subjecting my sons to a life rich in beans and low in miracles.  And if I weren't here, my husband would triple the food budget, while the boys would all live on cereal, ramen noodles, and hunks-o-meat.  Oh, and doughnuts --- hole-y to my holy.

On many parts of our lives, my guy and I, we pull together.  On groceries, no.  But I love that guy ferociously.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tykes on bikes

I'm ambivalent about kids' sports teams.  In my experience, soccer teams and dance lessons have often been more family unfriendly than my job is.  That whole segregate-people-by-age thing; the whole kids-run-around-while-parents-sit-on-their-duffs thing; in those senses, I'm not really a good sport.

But weekends during the summer, those let us be active together as a family.  Last Saturday, the three boys and their two parents all got to do a 5k race together.   The boys bragged up a storm beforehand, and J-son proved his mettle, finishing the run in 22 minutes.  The other two boys, they talk the talk, and they walked the run.  We'll have more chances to run together as a family this summer.  Some of us, it seems, need to get in shape.  But that's something we can do as a family; we don't have to do it one-by-one, within our own age-specific groups.

After the run, there was a food fair and some bike races.  What a great day for hanging out together!

The boys got to chow down on hot dogs and ice cream.
Um, so did I!

They got to climb on the Turkey Hill cow . . . 

. . . and to cheer for their father in his bike race.  

See the bikes in the distance?  I love seeing the neon colors come into view
over the Lancaster farm land.  
Today, while I'm marching in commencement (wearing those robes that came into style a half a millenium ago), the boys will ride their bikes with my husband to a race he's doing about 10 miles away.  Once again, food will be involved (a "free" breakfast is included in the race fee).  The boys will get to cheer for their dad, then have ice cream, and then ride home together again.  The family that sweats together, gets together.  Or something.

This is a great Miser Mom style entertainment.  It's not free, but it's a fairly cheap way to celebrate in a crowd.  And to get exercise, too.