Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bicycle Menopause

This is how cold it's been outside lately: I walked to our nearby blood bank to give blood, and I was almost deferred because my temperature was only 93 degrees.

To me, my temperature reading says something curious both about oral thermometers and also about how few people normally walk to the blood bank.  I waited two or three minutes, and my temperature (as registered by the thermometer I carefully cradled in the back of my cheeks and tongue) rose to 96 degrees, so I got to give blood.  But it goes to say, even though there's no ice on the roads or frost in the skies, the weather is brisk enough that breathing through my mouth during a 20-minute outdoor walk can frighten phlebotomists.

If it's so cold outside that the mere act of walking can frighten phlebotomists, what does this mean about riding bikes?  (Because now that I've written that phrase, I've fallen in love with it.  Frightened Phlebotomists.  Frightened Phlebotomists.  Say it Phive times Phast!  The phlebotomists are frightened.  Hah.)

Biking, it turns out, is another adventure entirely.  Because, okay, yes, it's cold.  When I started doing serious biking last winter, I pretty much expected that.

But also, biking is HOT!  As in, embarrassingly, Take-Off-All-My-Clothes-and-Sweat-in-Front-of-Strangers kind of hot.  And I wasn't expecting that.

Here's what I've learned about running errands on my bike.  (I'm going to preface this by saying I really love my bike nowadays, and winter biking adventures are just one part of this love).  So, everybody says that it's a good idea to dress in layers, and I do.  I have grown particularly fond of these cylinder thingies ("fleece headbands", I think they're called?) that go over my ears:  I put one around my ears and one around my neck, like a scarf.  Hands and toes are vital, so I've got honking warm gloves and I wear boots that are sort of like Uggs, but trash-picked or yard-saled.  I pay careful attention to the far reaches of my body; and as for the middle of my body, I just layer up a bit.

And then biking through Siberia, it's cold.  There's this wind that cuts to the bone, which is sort of exciting but also sort of gives me the feeling that if I crashed right now, I might freeze and stick to the road and the paramedics would need to use a crow-bar to pry my stiff icy body off the tarmac.  The wind zips past and sends icy needles into me, kind of like a Polar Acupuncture which is both painful and also incredibly healing.

And then at some point I come to the red light.  And I stop, and so the wind stops, and all of a sudden this furnace inside my body goes wild and I'm like one of those Chocolate Gateau cakes that looks sort of normal on the outside but has all this molten delicious stuff oozing out of every pore.

The most amazing version of the volcano effect is when I actually get to where I'm going.  Because once I stop AND I go into a warm building with no wind blowing me, it's like I'm having the mother of all hot flashes.  Last January I rode my bike two miles (a mere two miles) to get my mammogram, and it was like 20 degrees outside.  Yes, the ride was a tad nippy.  But by the time I got into the office, I was tearing my clothes off at a furious pace.  All the other women sitting in the office were huddled up in their Christmas sweaters, coats draped over their shoulders or possibly lying on their laps.  And I was stripped down to a t-shirt, standing in the middle of a giant pile of shirts and jackets and windbreakers heaped up around me, sweating up a storm.  And the women around me asked, "Isn't biking on a day like today cold?" but I was in my t-shirt with the steam just sizzling off of me.  Wonder Woman on Fire.

The cold part of biking, I expected that.  The hot part, that's the surprise and delight.  It's like that t-shirt says, "They're not hot flashes; they're power surges".  And they make me feel a bit like a ninja warrior, a force to be reckoned with.

I'm the woman who frightens phlebotomists. Be warned.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Trash Man Cometh (2014)

Here it is, a picture of our 19th trash can of the year.

Last year, we put 17 cans at the curb, so this is two cans to the worse for us.  Sigh.

Garbage-wise, I have become of a bit of a caricature of myself.   Even though I try to go trash-less (or less-trash) without being obnoxious or preachy, I'm sure I fail.  I fail both in the sense that I still create a lot of trash, and also in that I'm probably pretty preachy.

Even without my trying to be the Guru of Garbage, though, other people have come to know me as a No-Bag-Lady.  I stop at the pharmacy where we pick up our monthly supply of meds for the boys, and Richard, the head pharmacist, bustles over to the cashier ringing me up and says, "no, no, she doesn't need a bag!"

I head to market to pick up my Thanksgiving turkey, and the Turkey Lady shoos back the guy lifting my turkey:  "she doesn't need a carry bag."  Then she asks with a wink, "do you need help getting this to your vehicle?"  Even though I don't actually need help, she likes to walk the turkey out to my bike trailer with me.  It's becoming a yearly ritual.

There is a guy who works at my college who, like me, now carries a ceramic plate when he goes to campus events that serve food, so he doesn't have to use paper plates (or worse! plastic ones).

And a few weeks back, I went to a lunch discussion at our faculty center and was delighted to see that the menu featured chili in bread bowls.  I said something cheery about this and the director said, "Oh, yeah, we knew you were coming so we decided to order something that you could eat with no trash."  I laughed a bit ("ha, ha, the idea of planning a whole menu for 20 people around ME"), but the director said, "no, REALLY.  We ordered this because of you."   Well, that was a bit humbling.  And flattering.  Shucks.

My husband tells me that when he tells people that I'm frugal, they often respond by claiming they are, too:  "I clip coupons," or "I shop at discount stores".  It's hard for him to explain that his wife doesn't really shop at stores at all.  He says that the one-sentence explanation that seems to sink in the most is, "My wife doesn't use paper towels."   That alone, he says, is enough to convey the sense of my oddity, to convince people that my frugality is a tad out of the ordinary.

So.  Nineteen trash cans at the curb.  Nineteen demonstrations of evidence that I am fortunate to have more-than-enough, that I have so much that I have to send the excess away, that I can package up that excess by the barrel-full.

But a new year waits just around the corner.  And for now, my trash cans are empty.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Moving beyond "no gifts, please"

Here's what I know about parenting:  I know you can't just say to your kids, "Don't do X".    Kids just aren't smart enough to know what to do when they're not
  • picking their nose;
  • hitting their friends;
  • leaving clothes on the floor.
Instead, kids have to know what the alternatives are.  They have to be told about Y.  It's much better to know that they should
  • use a hankie (or at least go in the bathroom and then wash hands);
  • walk away and count to ten, then ask a grown-up for help;
  • use the laundry chute.
After two dozen years of parenting kids -- half my life, for gosh sake! -- I've gotten much better at the "do this instead" commands instead of the "don't do that" commands.

And so . . . well, so I didn't say "No gifts, please" this past Christmas.  I said, "We'll do gingerbread and eggnog on Christmas!"  And it was a FABULOUS Christmas, can I say?!

My step-daughter L (the younger) made this beautiful creation . . .
. . . that she loved so much she photographed . . .
. . . until it got destroyed in an earthquake, alas:

K-daughter, the gingerbread house veteran, created a much more sturdy (well, at least it's still standing now) house with moat and spire.  Her new husband helped.
There were many people in and out of the house. It was a wonderful time.

There were even gifts, albeit minimal ones.  K-daughter made homemade fudge; L-daughter (the elder) bought me re-usable whiskey rocks; L-daughter (the younger) got me mittens.  This was perfect for me -- reusable or consumable, unobtrusive objects.  In fact, my favorite line from all of the season came from L-daughter (the  younger), who reassured me:  "the mittens: they look like they're new, but really they're not.  I got them at a yard sale!"  Perfect.

The boys opened scads of their own gifts.  The girls got useful gifts (LED lightbulbs, or Misto sprayer, plus a few rolls of dollar coins).  But the gifts weren't the center of the celebration; the people and the conversations were, instead.  Gingerbread-construction on Christmas is a keeper of a tradition, as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Un-acquired wisdom

I've become fonder and fonder of the financial musings of Jonathan Clements, whose articles appear in our Sunday newspaper.  Two weekends ago, he wrote an article entitled, "Money can also buy you unhappiness".  The bumper-sticker version of his argument?  Money begets buyer's remorse; we buy more things that in turn begin to weigh us down.

Here was one little three-sentence synopsis that I particularly liked:
As folks grow older, they often stop accumulating possessions and instead start giving stuff away.  You might view that as a rational strategy for those approaching the end of their life.  But I view it as acquired wisdom:  All those possessions start to seem like a burden that distracts us from life's pleasures.
Case in point is family heirlooms.  When I was in my early 20's, my then-husband and I toured the country, interviewing our elderly relatives about our family tree.  We helped them catalog photographs that had long remained unlabeled.  We wrote down stories about scandalous matches, eccentric aunts, persons with personality.  We cooked up family recipes.  We rescued some quilts, some photos, army medals, infant outfits.  It was a fabulous and timely road trip, because the keepers of these heirlooms -- our elderly grandmothers and fragile great aunts -- had amazing stories, and my then-husband and I were the last people to hear these stories and write them down.

And then we went back to our lives -- got our advanced degrees, our divorce, our first jobs.  But the stories we collected, those stayed with us.  As did many of the photos and other heirlooms.  I have carried these with me from home to home for two dozen years now, preserving them for . . . well, I wasn't sure for what.  Posterity, whatever that means.  

Now, with my children growing and moving out of the home, with my nieces and nephews likewise turning from larvae into human adult-like objects, I figured it makes sense to share all these beautiful objects that I just Do Not Want Anymore.   The acquired wisdom I have accumulated is that I want to un-acquire all these heirlooms.

A month or two ago, I gathered the photos/etc into groupings that seemed reasonable to me, and I took them all to a nearby frame shop.  I asked the owner to do with them what she will.  
Believe it or not, these photos look better when they're framed properly than they do in my old wrinkly plastic bags.  I like how great-grandpa's sharp-shooter medals came out.  And I like how grandma's cape, made by her mother a century ago, looks a lot snazzier ironed and framed than when it's wadded up in a ball.
 I have a nifty collage of photos of my dad as a toddler/child/teenager; this will be a gift for his new wife.
Did I mention great-grandpa?  He died in 1902, less than a year after my grandfather was born.  He died of an ear infection (can you imagine??), and left a widow to raise three children on her own.  Here is a little montage of photos of him from before he met my great-grandma.

I knew I'd be plunking down some serious money for all these frames.  It turns out I saved a bunch of money through my own indifference.  I told the framer just to be creative and to take her time.  She ended up using  her left-over materials from previous projects, and because she was in no hurry she could try out various ideas without having to commit to buying supplies.  Altogether, this cost about a thousand dollars less than I thought it would.

It was still pricey -- it's an expensive way to get rid of stuff I don't want.  But dang, does it look nice!

I am really happy to feel like I've preserved something worth preserving, and also to be giving my family a piece of their history.  But most of all, a la Clement's observation, I think that investing a bit of money to divest myself of a few possessions is evidence of an acquired wisdom.

So this is my most expensive Christmas yet: giving my heirs their looms, and giving me a bit more room.  A great gift all around.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eating the elephant-mother-chair

About a dozen or so years ago, my husband and I "inherited" a giant recliner chair from his mom.

My husband's mom was a woman with all sorts of psychological problems; when he and I got married, I'd tell people:  "We both idolize our fathers and analyze our mothers".  She was a bitterly unhappy woman; his childhood memories are of her lying on the couch, complaining about the neighbors and threatening to kill herself.  He feared our family dinners at first, because his childhood dinners meant listening to his mom carping ceaselessly at his father, who bent his head and accepted it until he could escape from the table.

She was deeply suspicious of anyone unlike her (or anyone like her, for that matter).  When we were getting ready to adopt, the social workers tried to prepare us for negative comments and snubs.  To our surprise, I heard one and only one derogatory comment about adopting a brown son: my husband's mom asked, horrified,  "Couldn't you at least have gotten a Chinese one?"

Recovering from your own mother; there are so many stories there.  For my husband, the big-tough-army-guy, there were a few years of counseling.  There were the years he had to avoid riding his bike by himself, because her voice would fill his head.  There was a conscious effort to be unlike her in every way, both in good ways (avoiding racism) and in harmful ones (fearing family dinners).  When my daughter was in kindergarden, I wrote a note to her future self about my own parenting, saying something to the effect that I hoped to do the "least possible amount of damage."

We recover from bad parenting the same way we eat the metaphorical elephant: one bite at a time.  We share big elephant recipes with our imperfectly-mothered friends.  We chew on the gristle.  Occasionally, we find strong bones.  We gain strength.  We go slowly, thinking that this hulking beast will always looming over us; but one day, if we're lucky, we'll realize the elephant is almost gone.  If we're very lucky, we keep the best parts.

This recliner chair, like my husband's mom, took up more than its fair share of space in our living room.  And after years of hard use from my highly energetic, ADHD, and yes, brown sons, it started falling apart.

This past weekend, I decided to take the chair apart.  I used staple-removers, screwdrivers, and needle-nose pliers to pull out the staples holding the upholstery onto the frame.  There were hundreds of these staples, and I spent many hours focusing on staple, after staple, after staple.  Underneath the fabric was the wood-and-metal frame, and with more screwdrivers and wrenches, I carefully disassembled the skeleton of the chair into various pieces.

When I was done, I had a pile of scrap wood for use in future projects, a second pile of metal pieces that I will donate to Paul D. (who recycles scrap metal as a way of earning some money), and two garbage cans full of foam and fabric.  I'm feeling pretty guilty about those two garbage cans, actually, but I know it could have been worse.

It was wonderfully therapeutic, taking apart a chair.  At every single stage I had no idea what lay ahead; but the next immediate step was always obvious:  remove this staple, this staple, this staple.  Take out this screw, this bolt, that bolt.  One thing at a time, always a small sense of accomplishment, even as the chair loomed over me, seemingly unchanged.

Until suddenly, the chair lay in pieces at my feet, sorted into piles.  All that remained for me to do was to share the pieces I thought were worth sharing, toss the things I didn't want, keep the things I thought I could use.  And then to vacuum up the dirt.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pre-travel toothpaste prep

Sometimes you gotta uglify something before you can pretty it up.  I felt a little obnoxious about putting a nasty, tsk-tsk sign in our shared bathroom.  But it was only there for a week.
The boys, they leave toothpaste blobs in the sink.  It yucks me out, but while we're home it's just me that gets yucked out, so I feel petty to be constantly carping about this.  In a few weeks, though, we'll be traveling.  We'll stay at other people's houses.  And in the past, some of them have gotten yucked out, just like I do.

Nagging is ugly, too, and besides feeling petty, it's proved singularly ineffective.  One problem is that nagging happens long after the fact, not at the moment of toothpaste yuck-ification.  But a sign right at the place of the dreadful act?  Would "pre-nagging" work?
The answer one week later:  yes.  We have a beautiful sink now.  I took the ugly sign down.  We're ready to travel.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Friday lovely as a Tree

This is the view from my bedroom window, at least as it appeared the day after Thanksgiving.
I don't often get to look out this window in the daylight in the winter, so my post-Thanksgiving window meditations got me all Sgt. Joyce Kilmer-y.

I love the look of trees in winter.  There are so many more branches than you'd think, so many more than you'd ever draw into a picture.  The trees are an amazing network of abundance.  My running buddy spent a recent Saturday morning unloading nine hundred (900!) Christmas trees off of trucks and into her nursery, and she tells me how surprised she was that the trees were not as heavy as she feared they'd be.  There's a lot of wood in a tree, but there's a lot of space in a tree, too.

In spite of their lightness, or perhaps because of it, trees are strong.  Even when their leaves are gone, there are so many boughs/branches/stems/twigs that the trees are almost hairy with wood.  They carry not only their own weight, but also the weight of what nature throws at them.  "Upon their bosom snow has lain; they intimately live with rain" says Kilmer, and you can see that the recent rain and snow has collected in these branches, that the ground under the trees is still grassy instead of snowy.  The trees, which look on God all day, lift their bare but water-logged arms to pray.

It's a lovely metaphor for my after-Thankgiving day.  In some ways, I did so much: so so much.  I canned turkey stock, prepared for my last weeks of teaching, ran a few miles with my husband, wrote letters, celebrated Tuba Christmas downtown with my daughters.  But it was also an airy day, with space for a rare mid-morming nap (when I could look at the trees though the blue-gray light of morning), a day when I could pretend I am retired already, a day when at times I teetered on the edge of being bored.

It was also a day of cleaning up.   The incredible collection of pots and pans, each one of them a reminder of a different delicious kind of food, gathered together in the kitchen for a giant soap-and-hot-water party.  (The dog of course got to help with the first round of clean up).  Even cleaning is not that bad when there is space for it -- space in the kitchen, and space in the calendar.  Like the trees, I'm soaking up this abundance around me, lifting my soapy hands to pray.

There's something wonderful about green leaves, but it's in the winter, when the crazy throng of leaves have fallen away, that you get to see the structure and skin of the trees.   It's the same aspect I love about a quiet weekend, when the meetings and memos have fallen away, where I can peer past the foliage and get a quiet glimpse of the intricacies in my own life.

Silver bark of beech, and sallow
Bark of yellow birch and yellow
Twig of willow.

Stripe of green in moosewood maple,
Colour seen in leaf of apple,
Bark of popple.

Wood of popple pale as moonbeam,
Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam,
Wood of hornbeam.

Silver bark of beech, and hollow
Stem of elder, tall and yellow
Twig of willow.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay 
Counting-Out Rhyme

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Impersonal Finance

This is a blog post I've started about 57 times and then trashed 56 times.  I can't quite figure out an elegant or kind way to begin, so everything that follows is riddled with vast imperfections.  But perhaps this latest version is good enough to share.  Fifty seventh time is the charm, so they say . . .

Here's the general gist:  I love the personal finance genre.   But I hate the phrase "personal finance".

The "personal" that kicks off the phrase "personal finance"  can be selfish (at worst) and tunnel-visioned (at best).  The very word "personal" shoves us relentlessly into ourselves.  By implication, it distracts us from all of those obligations that tether us to noble aspects beyond ourselves.   The phrase "personal finance" seems so much smaller-minded than "philanthropy finance",  or "social justice finance", or "environment finance", or other (as far as I can tell) non-existent genres of finance advice.  If you want to read about financial planning that places you and your money in service to a Higher Cause, PF ain't it.  The phrase "personal finance" evokes images of individualism, not of connections.

So, are my favorite personal finance authors selfish, self-centered hermits?  No, not by any means.

My favorite authors are my favorite authors in large part because of how much they care about justice, or mercy, or ecological sustainability, or the transcendent.  As just one for-example, Joe Dominguez of Your Money or Your Life turned my life around.  He is probably the most widely read personal finance author of the past few decades, and he spent much of his life donating both his money and time to helping others.  But even in his book, the idea of being able to help others was seen to be almost an afterthought---a kind of a side effect---that comes from achieving financial independence.  The spotlight of his book shone on the idea of independence; the notions of charity and service stood to the side and got only a second-hand halo.

But what if your goal of finance is bigger than just personal?  What if it's not just about you and yours?  What if it's about more than just getting out of (your own) debt?  About more than (your own) retirement?  About more than (your own) independence?

I can't think of the phrase I'd use to describe what I actually mean; that's part of why this is version number 57 of this essay.  In my own head, the perfect phrase would describe that I want to use my money and time not just to take care of my own needs (although that's part of it), but that I also become a force for good in the larger world.  But every phrase I actually try seems too new-age-y.  Last week in church, one of the deacons mentioned that "genesis" and "generosity" have the same etymological roots, and I started mulling over the idea of "Regenerative Finance", imagining that I was tending my finances to be a fertile field for many, a kind of a compost pile of financial planning.  It might look like mucky dirt, folks, but it's really black gold.

The questions of "Personal Finance" and "Fertile Finance"--or whatever the heck it ought to be called--are probably largely the same.

What the heck, the answers are probably largely the same, too.  (Spend less than you earn; keep track of where your money goes; be prepared for emergencies).

But even if you wind up in close to the same place at the end, it's a different mindset to believe that your money is in service not just to you, but also to something bigger than you are.
  • Can you save money by showering at the gym instead of at home?  (The money for the showers at the gym come from somewhere, after all -- does that matter to you?)
  • How do you deal with people who "borrow" things of yours and don't give them back?  (The story of the person who has your waffle iron might be an important part of your final answer, just maybe.)
  • Do you donate money to charity now, or wait until you're retired/wealthy?  (Wisdom always has to matter on this question, right?  But I think it's important to keep asking myself the question over and over, to let it nag at me.  And sometimes to let it inspire me.) 
Which I guess leads me back to where I started, which is that I love the personal finance genre.  It's awfully hard to take care of the entire world if you can't even take care of yourself.  So here's a big Thank You to my favorite bloggers for being the voices that I love to read every morning:  for giving me inspiration and ideas, and for connecting me to a world bigger than myself.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Update on our (non) adoption

About three years ago, my husband and I went down to Haiti to visit a young teenaged boy that our friend met on a missions trip; we thought we might want to adopt him.

The adoption fell through, but my friend and I still send him some financial support.  Basically, we pay for his schooling and for his school clothes.  More on that, below.  

We just got a letter from the missionary who visited him most recently.  Here's that letter.

I was so blessed to spend time with [X-son] . . .  
Here is a photo of him and his mom. I saw him several times and tried to explain things to him. He would love to see you both. If it is all possible I would encourage you to go to Haiti and visit him. We had him to dinner at Club Indigo as well as saw him at My friend E's home.  
He is doing well. He goes to Mario's school. It is a Haitian school. A poor school.  I cannot promise the quality of education but he is happy. He lives with his mom. Life is hard. There is no running water or electric in their area. All water must be carried a long distance. There supposedly is a truck that brings water but if you do not have money to pay, you do not get water. 
He wrote you a letter and gave you a photo which I will mail to you. They are such a fine family. Just know he is disappointed but is happy. 
Thanks for all you do.
Here are some other random details.  Several people have asked us about adopting a kid who already has a mom -- what did she think about this idea?  Well, like many in Haiti, she has very little money and at many times didn't have enough to feed herself, much less her son.  When my friend first met X-son, in fact, he was living in an orphanage because she couldn't support him.  She would have been very happy for him to come with us, apparently.  (Actually, come to think of it, the majority of my children have moms elsewhere).

Figuring out how to get money to X-son in a way that it would do good and no harm was tough.  (You might just imagine that giving a big pile o' cash to a teenage boy could have one or two negative consequences, right?)  So we give money to a group that does missions work in Haiti--the same group that visited him and sent this note and picture.  They pay the school directly and  they help him buy clothes.   I'm going to ask them about ways to get X-son and his mom money for water (sheesh).

My friend and I, together with people on the ground in Haiti, had a long back-and-forth discussion about which school to send X-son to.  While he was living at Annie's orphanage and preparing for the adoption, he'd gone to an American school that was (apparently) quite nice.  But the director of the school told us that, once the adoption fell through, she thought the Haitian school was better for him -- for one thing, his English skills were weak enough still that the American school would require many more years to graduate; for another, because of the different curricula the Haitian school  prepared him for life in Haiti better.


How do I think about this situation above?  Obviously, it makes me feel like a total ingrate for complaining about anything at all in my own life, and simultaneously it reminds me to be glad for little things like (say) light switches that work and toilets and tap water.  Oh, and paved roads where I can ride a bike.  And paper.

I also get a guilty stab-in-the-heart for that last line: "thanks for all you do".  Because I sent less money down to Haiti this year than I sent to, say, our cell phone company this month.  Because the chasm between what I could do and what I do do stretches so wide before me.

But also, I am gladdened.   Because X-son does get to live with his mom again.  And even if life is hard, he does seem happy.  And the story isn't over yet; I get to remain a part of his life, which is possibly a little bit better than it would have been if my friend K hadn't introduced us.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lightbulb Bureaucracy

LED lightbulbs are expensive at first, but save money eventually.

Well, that's the spiel, and I actually believe it, somewhat.  But I believe it with a bit of careful skepticism.  And so, here, I'm going to talk about how I administrate my lightbulbs (if that phrase makes sense).

I've been buying LED lightbulbs from our nearby hardware store.  Because I want at least 1000 lumens (the equivalent of 75-to-100 watt lightbulbs from the old days), the bulbs are pricey -- about $25 per bulb, on average.  (Yoicks!)   The theory is that LED light bulbs are supposed to last a VERY long time, and thereby save me gobs of money.  But the practice is that I already had one bulb burn out after about 7 months.  And fixing a $25 bulb every year or so could be expensive, even if the associated energy costs are low.

An LED lightbulb is supposed to last a long time.  It has some kind of a long-term warranty, which is useful if you actually keep track of details of acquisition and installation.  Keeping track can be tricky.

So here's what I do.

1.  I've started saving my lightbulb receipts in an envelope that I store together with my lightbulbs, not with the rest of my receipts.  Honestly, I think this is pretty clever.
I now keep an envelope like this . . . 
. . . in this box in my linen closet, which is where I store my light bulbs.

2.  I write the date on the lightbulb itself, using a sharpie, when I install it.
This is the most recent light bulb I've installed -- October 2014.
If it does burn out, at least I'll know for sure when I first screwed it in.
That's how I know that the lightbulb that burned out in my son's bedroom just last month was first installed eight months earlier (February 2014).

So when J-son came to tell me that the light in his bedroom had burned out, here's what we did.  I unscrewed it, and saw (because of the sharpie markings) that I'd installed it in February. I found the receipt from January, and my husband took the receipt and bulb back to the hardware store.

And just like that, we got a new lightbulb -- not exactly the same, but pretty much equivalent-- for free.  phew!

Moral of the story:   I'm going to start thinking harder about keeping my receipts where I'd start looking if I actually need them, not in a giant envelope with all my many other receipts.

Storing my receipts by use, instead of by date, might make more sense.   

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Great green globs of . . .

. . . greasy grimy gopher guts!  That was what was in my frying pan on Friday night.
(Well, actually -- shhh! -- it was noodles with bok choy, peanut butter and soy sauce).  We also broke out the Zombie Eyeballs (deviled eggs), plus Salted Rat Brains . . .
. . . which look suspiciously like cauliflower, don't they?   And new to our Halloween menu was Monkey Skulls.  A huge hit!
Carving peppers and stuffing is a heck of a lot easier than carving pumpkins, fyi.  The faces sag a bit after cooking, but I think that makes the dinner even more ghoulish, yes?.  But if you freeze them for a week because your daughter happens to get suddenly married on the day you had first planned to eat them, then they take a VERY long time to defrost.  Icy Monkey Skulls are not as tempting a delicacy as Hot Monkey Skulls.
Halloween dinner is still fun a week late.  And when the kids see a menu of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts and Salted Rat Brains, and all they ask is "Where are the cockroaches?", then you know you've got a tradition on your hands.

p.s. We didn't make cockroaches this year.  Maybe next year we'll bring them back.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sorry, Charlie! (more adventures in minimalism)

I got an email the other day from a colleague I admire.  She began the email this way:
I think you may have thought I was running away from you this morning
...because I was.
You're probably not aware of this (because I've never mentioned it to you before)...but there is a scent you sometimes use that I'm allergic to.  It's much worse for me in the morning and I was afraid that if I stuck around, I'd cough and sneeze in [someone's] class, so I rushed off to avoid that . . .
When I read this letter and saw the word "scent", my immediate reaction was about body stink.  With two teenage boys in the house, our family spends a heck of a lot of time managing BO.  My knee-jerk reflex was to think I'd bombed out on the shower department. Ewww.

But then I realized the problem wasn't insufficient hygiene; in fact it was the opposite.  The culprit was a bottle of perfume I'd bought several years ago.   I was a perfume perpetrator.  
Now, I've read in various places about people who are allergic to perfume.  For a long time, I've worn occasional perfume wondering whether I ought to just give it up.

But on the other hand, this particular bottle was a more than just a bottle.  In the way that the things we own sometimes take on extra meaning and begin to own us, this particular perfume bottle had become a memory:  a gleeful memory of finding it on sale at a super low price ($5, I think) and of buying enough for both me and my friend Kristie, a go-for-the-gusto friend of mine who passed away from cancer about 6 months after this particular perfume purchase.  So this bottle of perfume was a symbol also of living life exuberantly, of honoring my long-lost Diva of a friend.

Which, honestly, is pretty silly.  Because Kristie didn't want to make people sick; she wanted to make life a giant celebration of festivity.   And in the back of my mind, I'd known that my perfume habit made me into a walking allergy attack for unknown strangers -- and now I even knew the names of one of my victims.

So, my morning routine has gotten one step shorter.  The perfume is gone.  Sorry, Charlie.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Just a drip off the old faucet

My dad (whom I've written about before) sent his daughters an email recently, telling us all about how he fixed a leaky faucet.  Wow, this story is so like our family!  I love how he ends the letter with a moral (or actually, two morals).  And I love this reminder that skills count, and so does the willingness to learn new skills and take on hard work, even nearly eight decades into life.

Here's his letter.

When we first moved into our new home, one of the faucets in the Master Bathroom showed a small drip.  I could not figure out a way to take this particular faucet handle apart, and so we called a plumber.  That plumber told me that the faucet had frozen shut and needed to be replaced, but also pointed out that the drip was from water stored in the faucet, and went away if one waited long enough.

Fast forward 8 months.  The cold water faucet handle on [my wife's] side stopped being functional.  One could turn the handle around and around but it had no effect on the water flow.  We valved off the cold water from below and called a different plumbing company.  This plumber took the handle apart ( I learned something) and showed me all the interior parts (among which were two gears and two screws).  The plumber told me the threads were stripped and the only solution was to replace all four faucet handles, since the handles were no longer made, and we would want them all to match.  This would cost approximately $1,500.  He charged $45 for his visit, which was very reasonable for one hour of plumber time.

We immediately looked into other faucets and other plumbers, and got the price down to approximately $700.  We order the new faucets and a new plumber.  Since the new plumber could  schedule only for two weeks hence, I decided to attempt a temporary fix with some glue.  I took the offending faucet apart and carefully examined the parts.  I could observe no stripped threads, but I did notice a loose set screw, which could be tightened with a number 3 metric hex wrench, which I had. I adjusted the height of the handle by 1 mm by grinding down the base with my grinding wheel and now the faucet works fine.  And it only cost $45.

We cancelled the new faucet order and the plumber.

Morals of this story.  First, do not always trust a supposed expert who wants to sell you something.  Second, it may be hard to pull the wool over the eyes of an experimental physicist.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

K-daughter gets married

For a few weeks now, K-daughter had been letting her family know she and her guy were getting ready to "elope".  On Tuesday, I got this message from her, explaining why she wouldn't be coming to the annual family Halloween Dinner:
We now have our license and are ready to go for friday! Yay!
However, we ran into a snag. The JP judge who was supposed to marry us is not available, so we got a nearby minister to marry us. Unfortunately, he is only available from 5:30 pm on. We have booked him for 5:30 pm. We are still deciding on the venue, but I think we are going to decide on Italian Lake in [nearby city]. I know that the Halloween dinner is scheduled, so I am not expecting you to be there, however, I am extending the invite to you guys anyway. :) 
Well, to heck with the Halloween Dinner, then!   Instead, my husband and I offered to arrange the after-wedding dinner at a nearby restaurant.  We dressed up (some of us in Halloween costumes, because really) and drove on over to Nearby City.

My camera stinks.  There are better pictures somewhere, but this is what I got.
K-daughter and I-daughter (dressed as Belle) walk to the site of the ceremony.

N-son bounces along happily next to his sisters.
The ceremony itself probably lasted 7 minutes.
Just enough time for some of us to shed a few happy tears.

Groom and bride
Congratulations to my new son-in-law and to my wonderful daughter!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tool hangers (and musings on saving stuff)

In the midst of a semester where every hour counts, I've been thinking about what and how we save things.  
  • If I save money, I see the numbers in my accounts go up, and I can get that money back out whenever I want.   
  • But saving things --- like arts and craft supplies, that requires ongoing effort so that things don't get cluttered, and I'm still not guaranteed that I'll ever be able to use any of it. 
  • And saving time --- well, I don't have to store time in a drawer, and I don't get to store it in a bank. 
Still, there is a way in which learning a skill and practicing it is a way to bank a bit of time for the future.  I've done so much sewing in my life that, by now, it's easier and faster for me to mend something than to go out and buy a new one.  And I've made so many tool hangers for family and friends who got married that nowadays I can whip up one fairly quickly.

So when K-daughter wrote me earlier this week to say she's getting married Friday (today!), it was fun to spring into action.  I just happened to have a set of tools lying around that I'd planned to be a gift to I-don't-know-who (but now I do).  And I rummaged through my fabric supplies, and found a pair of holey jeans, and an orange drawstring that N-son had asked me to remove from a pair of his shorts.   
I like how the orange drawstring winds up and down;
have to take the ugly sticker off the hammer, though!
 I like the contrast of colors; they fortuitously go well with the color of the tools I'd picked out.
I even like that this is something old/something new/something borrowed/something blue.

But aside from the tool hanger itself, the process of putting it together was joyful.  It took me two, three hours, probably.  These were contemplative and creative hours, a break from my regular routine of reading papers and writing reports.

And maybe this is one aspect of what saving time looks like:  that some long-ago version of me spent time learning to sew, puzzled over new projects, and stocked up on extra materials.  So then this week, when I needed to pull all this back out of the Time Bank, I could.

The wedding is tonight.  I'm so excited!  

Friday, October 24, 2014

Winning with board games

We bought random sets of board games for our young kids, long ago.

Here's one game we seldom played when the kids were young:  Hens and Chicks.  It's a game where you try to remove round pegs without jostling the other pegs on the board -- you lose your turn if the spring-loaded pusher moves in.

When the kids were little, we barely touched these games.  But now, they're a staple of the weekly Date Nights my daughters and I have set up for ourselves.  Boggle, Othello, Set, Connect 4,  Jenga, and Hens and Chicks:  they've all found their way off our shelves and onto the dining room table.

Whooda thunk that these kid's games would become the center of our grown-up gatherings?  But after all those years of letting the games gather dust, now I'm glad we had them sitting by, ready for use.  Score!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Salt of the swamp

With so much aswirl around me, it seems silly to say that this one little pair of jars makes me happy.

But they do.  They're my "new" salt and pepper shakers, made one quiet morning after the kids had cartwheeled out the door, transforming the house from an arcade machine full of bouncing, yelling, fast-moving objects into one of sudden stillness.

The boys headed out the door, and I drank my coffee in tranquility.  And then I got out a hammer, a scrap piece of wood, and some nails, and I punched holes in some spare canning lids to make my new salt and pepper shakers.  These will replace a pair of shakers I'd bought several years ago for a quarter, but that somehow got smashed.  (In myhouse?  Imagine that!)

Much of the time this semester, I am deliberately focused on the tunnel of events in front of me.  There is paperwork, and teaching, and meetings, and more paperwork.  I seldom get to step back and see the landscape that shapes the geography of these activities; instead I march forward from each mountain of paper to each marsh of bureaucracy, following the trail blazed in my organizational calendar.

Yesterday, I got an email from a student of mine.  She's struggling a bit in my class, finding calculus to be a struggle after many years away from math, but she's working very hard, never giving up.  I'd stopped to talk to her on my way home from work, telling her how proud I was of her persistence and how much I enjoy having her in my class.  In her email, my student said
It means a lot to have a professor who takes an interest in her students outside of the classroom and it means even more to me coming from a person who is guiding me through my most difficult subject. In today's world people are so rushed that we forget about kindness . . . 
And this was a ray of sunshine bursting through the leaves of my e-forest.  I am much too mired in the swamp to be the salt of the world.  But even so, I can be the salt of the swamp.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Moderate Praise for Going to Extremes

A commenter on Frugal Scholar said, the other day, "I don't go to extremes like reusing coffee filters or stuff like that . . . " .  My immediate thought was "what's so extreme about that?"  I have a reusable "gold" coffee filter that I use whenever I can.  And when my husband makes Pot #1 of coffee with a paper filter, I've been known to make Pot #2 by just dumping a bit more coffee grounds into the existing set of grounds.  That's not extreme by my standards, it's just normal.

But I admit I do go to extremes in other ways.  In fact, recently I've been reaping the mixed blessings of a life lived to extremes.  This past summer, I spent something like 20 hours a week training for the Ironman triathalon.  It's not the way I want to live always, and I was happy as all-get-out when I finally finished the race.  It wasn't just that I was happy to do the whole 140 miles; it was a relief to know the triathalon training was behind me and I could now return to "normal".  

But, in large part because of going nutso this past summer, "normal" means something different for me now than it did before.  "Normal" now means I "only" run 13-ish miles a week.  It means I have gone from bike-fearing to bike-loving: I bike to market and to doctors appointments instead of driving.  And when I get a bit of extra time on the weekends, my husband and I go for a 25-mile joy ride, biking through some of my now-favorite farmland vistas.

And the truth is, I pretty desperately need that exercise habit to be deeply ingrained this year.  Because now that the academic year has kicked in, I've gone to extremes in another direction.  This year I'm both a department chair and a member of my college's promotion and tenure committee.   Either one of these jobs is notorious in academic circles for being a time suck; the combination (mixed in with teaching and advising that I'm also doing) is a little bit like an IronMan of Academia.  I've got lots and lots and lots of administrative work on my hands . . . although, it's not really my hands that carry the load, it's my butt.  I'm doing a lot of sitting and staring at computer screens.

The time-suck that I've entered into this year, I think of as another odd and painful blessing.  It has forced me to think about all the parts of my life that have become normal because of habit instead of because of choice.  So to keep myself sane, I'm examining every part of my day, from how and when I rise to what I do just before I go to sleep at night.  I'm paying especial attention to anything that keeps me seated at a screen, or seated reading papers.

I've put myself on a newspaper fast; between now and May, I'll get the Sunday paper but not the daily paper.  That's a half-hour each morning I'll spend differently.  I'm becoming more aware (and also much more careful) about internet use.  I'm seriously considering an internet fast from 7:30 each evening until 7:30 the next morning; I just have to work out the logistics of that.

I'm also, paradoxically, using these time pressures to force a few new activities into my schedule.  I have a weekly "date" with my grown daughters, and that's turned into a source of delight for all of us.  I've started attending coffee hour at our faculty center, mostly so I can schmooze with other people.   I've set aside time for a Bible study and for solitary prayer and quiet.    And I've decided that I need to read something that's pure enjoyment, so I'm threading my way through Jane Eyre.

With so little free time in my schedule, I'm working hard to make the most of the time that I do have.  All of a sudden, every little thing that I do matters.  I think about every part of my schedule these days differently, carefully, even obsessively.  It's an extreme way to live.   But I think that when this academic year spits me out into a warm, empty, wide-open summer, I'll be a better person for having lived this way.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bushel, bushel, bushed!

A good friend of mine came by this weekend to learn how to can apples.  This friend is a former student of mine, who is now an amazing and accomplished mathematician in her own right.  We serve on a national committee or two together, and we occasionally even swap math ideas (although we're in very different fields).

Well, my friend is now such a well-established math professor that there's not much left for me to teach her, besides how to can applesauce, so that's what we did.

I get my apples locally; my running buddy June picks them up during her tours of the Amish farms in our county.   I like getting apples both local and cheap -- only 50¢ per pound!   Win all around!

I told June that I wanted two bushels of apples.  "Are you sure?" she asked back.  I remembered she'd asked the same thing when I'd ordered apples a year before, and I'd said yes last year (and been happy for all the apples she brought.  So there).  So I said yes again.

And then June delivered the apples.

I guess I hadn't ordered . . . two bushels . . .  last year.

Because two bushels is really a boatload of apples.

In fact, I looked it up on-line afterward, and a bushel is 48 pounds of apples.  So (using my math brain to compute) I now realized I ordered 96 pounds of apples.  Yeah.

So we canned.  We canned and we canned.  Then I made a giant batch of apple crisp.

I'm out of canning jars.  I'm out of energy, too.

 And I still have a more than a bushel of apples left.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Scurvy knaves and piratical wenches

Look lively, mateys!  The Pirates have returned!

This past weekend, in what has become an annual Miser-Mom homage to Talk Like a Pirate Day, we hoisted the Jolly Roger (the skull-and-crossbones flag) and feasted together on a piratical dinner.

The pirate wenches went all out in costuming ourselves . . .
 . . . and with Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance playing to set the tone, we had our scavenger hunt for buried treasure.  The pirates searched here . . .
 . . . and there . . .
 . . . and everywhere, until they found the gold dubloons "buried" underneath the dining room table.
As usual, we were grateful to the Turkey Lady at our local market for providing the grub!

Arrr, Mateys!  Eat hearty!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

One way to spend hundreds on groceries

This past month, I spent hundreds of dollars buying meat: I spent about four hundred dollars, in fact.  Especially for a former vegetarian like me, that's a heck of a lot of money to spend on consumable animals!

Of course, the reason I spent so much is that September is the time of year when we rev up our chest freezer for winter use.  Summer, the freezer sits empty and unplugged, but when tomatoes and corn start filling up the pantry, we know it's time to wipe down the inside of the freezer with a bit of water and bleach, plug 'er in, and fill 'er up with food that doesn't make it into canning jars.

My husband and boys are dedicated and enthusiastic carnivores, and they're also prone to impulse purchases.   So when the freezer starts up again,  I try to head off meat purchases that might be expensive/trash-intensive/questionably sourced with my own bulk purchase of hamburger and turkey kielbasa from local, organic places where I won't get styrofoam trays or excessive packaging.  And by bulk purchasing the meat, I bring the price-per-pound down, too.

But as I forked over my money it struck me . . . well, it struck me just how striking it is to pay for all of our hamburger and turkey at once.  This half-freezer-full of animal protein ought to last us for many months.  We'll buy a turkey at Thanksgiving; we'll buy pork for New Years; we might buy chicken wings for the boys' birthdays (a new family tradition), but that might be the only extra meat we buy until March.  So that's something like $16/week for a family of (now) four of us.

$400 for food sounds like a lot of money.  $16 doesn't.  This isn't profound -- it's just another example of how it's possible to think in such different ways about the same amount of money.  It's like the reverse view of that old financial chestnut about adding up the daily coffee purchase or the restaurant lunches:  "that $3/day habit means $750 spent each year on donuts!".  For me, I get my 'yoicks' up front.

I think this is another reason why I like bulk purchasing food.   When I used to shop frequently, every grocery store trip had something unusual to it, so it was hard to get an overall sense of where my money went.   There were just too danged-many purchases to keep track of.  But when I stock up on hamburger, or when I fork over (heh) $500 for  a CSA share that will provide most of our vegetables for the year, or when I take a trip to Miller's and buy enough flour and oats to tide us over for three months, well, then I have a better sense of the heft and expense that goes along with feeding my family.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Trouble brewing (coffee version)

Calamity struck our household last night -- our coffee grinder stopped working.
A very clean, but newly dysfunctional, coffee grinder, 
Of course, this is not really calamity, but the way my husband and I reeled from the blow, you'd think we'd have just discovered our car totaled by the side of the road, or the roof blown off the house.   Immediate action was required.  "Do we go out and buy a new one right now?  on a Sunday night?"   "Can we find some pre-ground coffee somewhere to tide us over?"  

My own head was racing with methods for what I call "preventative shopping"  -- that is, ways to buy a grinder on the cheap so my un-frugal husband wouldn't go to Starbucks or the Mall to get a high-end grinder at full price.  Stalling tactics were in order, so I could buy time instead of buying expensive machinery.

It's worse than I've described so far, though, because it wasn't just that the grinder stopped working all by itself.  Oh, no.  It's that I broke it.    I'd decided it was too dirty, and so I cleaned it with baking soda and toothbrushes and scrubbers, and then I rinsed it off under a running faucet.  And the water bath was just too much.  Cleaning had been over-kill, literally.

How miserably embarrassing.

My husband was nice enough not to actively blame me, even though we really were both in that tense let's-not-panic mode that could easily have led to finger-pointing.  But of course I knew this was all my fault.  So we came up with a plan, of sorts.
Stage 1: We found pre-ground coffee on our shelves, enough to last us a few days. Phew!
Stage 2: I got out the screwdriver and took the contraption apart in hopes of . . . what?  A coffee miracle?  I wasn't sure.
Stage 3: I immersed the dis-assembled coffee grinder in a bag of rice. I figured, if this works for some cell phones, maybe it works for coffee grinders, too.
The next morning I woke up, went for my usual Monday morning run, and then waited for my husband to leave the house so that if my "repair" didn't work, at least I could fail without an audience.  I shook the rice out of the grinder area, reassembled the grinder and . . .

Yay!   Grounds for Celebration!
A clean AND functional grinder!  yay!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Awful vs. Awesome?

Long, long ago, when I was in a high school English class, I remember my classmates and I being mystified by "the awful Persephone".   Why was it that the beautiful woman from Greek Mythology, the one who reigned as the Queen of the Dead, was referred to as "awful Persephone"?  Hesiod seemed to think she was kind, beautiful, and good at heart.  So why "awful"?

Our teacher explained that Persephone was so amazing that she left people full of awe -- we should think of the adjective more like "awesome".  That explanation made sense to me, and it set me up for a better life-long understanding of the connection between love, reverence, and fear.

I think back to Persephone when I had two "awful Mama" conversations this summer.  Twice in the past few months, K-daughter had big announcements she wanted to share with me, and both time she was quaking about my possible reaction.  Here's part of the first quake-in-her-shoes moment.

Because I'm afraid of your reaction as to what I'm about to say, I decided to send you an email to say it. 
Yesterday, [my boyfriend] asked me how I felt about the idea of moving in with him. My immediate thought was; "Oh my God, I wouldn't even know how to ask [MiserMama]!" because I don't want to hurt your feelings or make it seem like I always want to leave home. I like to travel and find new experiences in life, and I would treat this like one of them. So, in turn of me freaking out, I asked [I-daughter] for some advice since she knows you well. She mentioned that you most likely will not have hurt feelings, but, I still worry. She also mentioned that you would ask about my plans for school, if I decide to do this.  . . . 
I'm worried to mention this to you because I'm scared you'll be mad, sad, skeptical etc. I also don't know how you feel about [my boyfriend] . . . Another thing that makes me anxious is, can I still come home for dinner and to visit and to stay the weekend if I want to? Because I know I'll miss you guys if this is what I decide to do.  
I hope you're not mad, I love and care about you and our family a lot, I'm just looking for a new adventure of life lessons I guess... And I guess I'm a bit crazy for searching. 
 Okay, now, of course I'm not even in the slightest upset, and in fact, I wasn't even all that surprised.  K-daughter is 22 years old.  She's really only lived with us for three years.

But I'm touched that my opinion matters so much to her, that she wants so much to live up to expectations that she feels I'm setting for her.  I'm so glad that I can reach out in love to this young woman who clearly wants to be loved.  And to be loved by me.

The second big announcement was that K-daughter will, sometime next spring, be a mother herself.  And in spite of all that impending motherhood means to someone still working toward finishing her college degree, the scariest part once again was telling me.  Oh, poor kid.

At one point in our conversation, full of anticipation and reassurances and joy, I got to tell my daughter this:
Someday, maybe twenty years from now, your own child will come to you and say, "Mom, I have something to tell you and I don't know how you're going to react."  And what are you going to say to your child, K-daughter?  You're going to say, "I'm your mother and I love you.  No matter what you do, that's never going to change.  I love you and I want you to be happy."  That's what you'll say to your child, and that's what I'm saying to you now.  
K-daughter is going to be an awesome mom.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Tomato of my Eye

This is what I did on Saturday:  I bought $22 worth of tomatoes, onions, and peppers.  And then I spent five hours in the kitchen canning them up.

Because I live in the heart of Amish farmland and because it's September, produce is local, plentiful, and cheap right now.  The money I spent bought me something like 60 pounds of tomatoes, which turned into 3- or 4-dozen quarts of spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato juice. 

Because I have the jars already, canning expenses are minimal.  In fact, for most of my canning-savvy friends, the lids are the only additional expense.  But a few years ago, I took a chance on Tattler Reusable lids.  And they work great.  On the down side, they don't "ping" like metal lids, and I'll occasionally have one or two jars out of 12 that doesn't seal.   But on the up side, there's no trash, and I don't have to go buy any supplies at all just because I've decided to can up some food.

But the day was WAY even better than putting up a bunch of food for cheap.  Because J-son was needing to earn some Mom-Money toward a new phone, he dedicated himself to helping me prepare the tomatoes.  I put him in charge of washing, coring, and dicing the tomatoes.  This means he got to practice using the cuisinart.  (Yay, machines!)
While he prepared the tomatoes, I did all the hot-water stuff: getting the canner going, sanitizing jars, heating up the sauce, filling jars.  We had a great time grooving to David Ball serenading us with "Riding with Private Malone"  and Linda Rondstadt rocking us to "You're No Good".
But in spite of Linda's tauntings, we were good.  J-son was delightedly proud of himself for helping me zoom through the tomatoes.  And we talked about the lyrics, about what it means for soldiers to return home, about driving cars.  And we high-fived each other for finishing up so quickly.

And I thought about how it's been several months since I've felt the need to install locks on doors; this son of mine seems to have forded his way past the miserable, stormy times of sticky-fingered-ness.  Maybe it's the Quaker Local School (our motto: "Better than Jail"), or maybe it's that he's just a bit older, or maybe it's that his father is home from the army.  But whatever it is, J-son seems to have turned a very good corner.  Praise Heaven.

And now, we have a bit of summer preserved for the upcoming cold months.  We'll get to taste this summer even in February.