Monday, March 31, 2014

Miser mom's birthday bash

After spending so much of my life too young to really be able to truly appreciate the richness of all that life has to offer, I have finally turned 48.  Finally!  

An event so momentous and long-awaited clearly deserves some kind of formal celebration, and my family cheerfully marked this moment with all due solemnity.

To wit: we had another Zoo Dinner, sort of like this one.  Some family traditions just have to live on, right?

The menu included the now-familiar boa constrictor (a pesto stromboli), feasting upon multiple nearby potato mice.  Hsss . . . eek!

Of course, it wouldn't be a Zoo Dinner without the now-obligatory ham-bear-gers . . .

 . . . and the Octo-dogs (which were hexa-dogs, because it was easier to cut six legs than eight.  But shoot!  I forgot to take a picture of those!)

Some of the celebrants were animals, too.  We had a panther ready to pounce on the food:
 But fortunately, he didn't attack his sister, the zebra:
 As usual, we turned the chairs around so the backs faced the table.
 That's so we could eat through the "bars" of our "cages".  Look!  Do you see my birth daughter?  She's moved back to our town, and I'm so happy she could join us for this happy day.
Panther Boy (J-son) wanted me to show how flexible his hands are.  The more he eats, the bigger he gets, and the harder the Zoo Dinner becomes.  But at least for now, he's content in his little cage.

So far, many of the gifts I've gotten have been re-gifts, and much appreciated re-gifts at that.  My daughter gave me a large cast-iron skillet that she'd found while cleaning out her dad's home.  My dad gave me two books about women in science from my mom's collection. K-daughter went a different route:  she got creative and painted me a beautiful picture for my office door.  And even though none of these gifts were expensive in the usual sense, boy, do I feel rich.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Is it bigger than a bread jar?

In my on-going quest to reduce trash, here is one of my recent happy discoveries: a bread jar.

It was originally, I think, intended to be a flour jar or cookie jar, but I use it to store home-made bread.  I can slice the bread, toss the slices and all the crumbs in the jar, and then watch the slices of bread disappear as people snack.  No stale bread in our home anymore.

When the jar empties out, I use the crumbs in fruit crisp or other dishes.  Then I bake some more.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

The dog ate our lunch money

This is the odd story of why I have started paying my sons to eat sandwiches.

The background to this story is that the boys have started attending a new school, which I will here call the Quaker Local School.  (Doubtless there will be a post in the future explaining why a Miser Mom who hates spending money and an Army Dad who is active in the military put their sons in an expensive, pacifist school, but that is irrelevant to why I pay my sons to eat sandwiches or why the dog ate them instead).

The new Quaker Local School isn't part of our city's school lunch program, so our old free lunch program is now completely gone.  And so my husband -- who is NOT a miser -- explained to me that he put $200 into the lunch accounts at the school.

And then the lunch accounts ran dry.

And the boys have been at the school for, like, not very long.

The money ran out because the boys eat a lot, but even more, because they spend a lot.  Given their own middle-school version of a corporate expense account, they were gleefully buying all sorts of food for themselves and also for their friends who forgot lunch money, and so their lunch money ran out.

Then my husband -- who is STILL not a miser -- explained to me that he put even more money into their lunch accounts, but he put a $5 cap on each lunch.

It was at this point that our usual harmonious marriage, with our yoked-oxen approach to rearing children, became just a little more, um, discordant.

She: "FIVE DOLLARS??!!!   Let them learn to make and pack their own lunch!"
He:  "They're at a new school; don't make them stand out and seem weird!"
She:  "It's the Quaker school.  Everyone else has frugal moms, too!"
He:  "They already have so much difficulty keeping track of homework and backpacks; why load them down with one more thing to remember?"
She:  "Making your own lunch is a valuable life lesson.  They need to learn to do this now."
He:  "They already have trouble keeping up with their other life lessons; this will be just one more thing to nag them about."

And so on.  There is no agreement.  Even though clearly I am right about this, I can see that mere logic and moral certitude will not convince my husband.  And I have a rule for myself that I try not to drive people crazy with my own little miserly way of living.

So instead, I just offered a proposition to the boys.  We did a little math lesson: $5 for lunch each day means how much per week?  $25 per week means how much each month?  If you were a grown up and you had $100 each month, would you want to eat that money or spend it on other stuff?

Then I offered to buy them sandwich-making stuff.  And because of the don't-drive-them-crazy rule, I can't override my husband and force them out of the school lunch program, but I can bribe them.  So I offered them sandwich stuff AND a cut of the savings.  The boys bit, so to speak.

To kick off the make-your-own-lunch program I bought too much, really: $30 worth of sliced turkey and cheese.  My husband was delighted at the quantity of food, but horrified that I would force my children to bring lunch to school.  ("I'm not forcing them!" I protested, "I'm offering them the choice").

Monday morning dawned, and J-son gamely came down and grabbed some leftovers for his lunch.  N-son decided to revert to grumpy teen-ager mode, though, and he balked:  "Dad put money in our accounts!  We don't have to bring lunch!"  Later, when I had left for work, he changed his mind just far enough to make a turkey-cheese sandwich for breakfast.  Then he left all the remaining turkey and cheese on the counter and walked away.  And the dog, figuring he'd won the lottery, found the rest and ate it.

When I got home, I had choice words for the son who'd fed $30 worth of turkey and cheese to the dog.  But I also had a crisp one-dollar bill for the son who'd packed instead of purchased.

That one bribe was all it took to win them over to my side, really.  Since that day, both boys have gamely rolled out of bed in the morning, put together a home-made lunch, and brought it to school.  Along the way and on their own, they've learned the joys of easy-to-grab leftovers.  They've asked for lunch boxes (I told them to wait for yard-sale season to start again).  They've got a start on a frugal habit that will hold them in good stead all their lives.

And this why, each day that I come home from work, I hand each of my boys $1 for bringing a sandwich to school.  I cringe a bit at this, but I know the alternative is at least five times as painful.

Monday, March 17, 2014

she disagrees with e.e. cummings

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
      - e.e. cummings

Syntax is the part of the kiss, too.

The body needs its grammar: if you and I are on the level floor
and I reach up to kiss you,
or you pull me toward you to kiss me,
then my neck bends back, back, ack;
it leaves my participles dangling,
and I misplace my modifiers.

No, I avoid the run-on sentence.
I prefer to head for the stair step.
When I stand on the first tread, with your feet below,
my face is level with yours:
our kiss is a happy case of subject-verb agreement,
and our clauses come together
with parallel structure (of course),
not to mention that our fingers become the serial commas
that punctuate this, and this,
and that.

How much more meaning there is
when nouns replace pronouns:
when “you” and “I” in this kiss become “dad” and “mom”.
We smooch barely within the sight our children—
our birth children, step children, adopted children—
who have seen other parents argue, divorce, abandon, neglect.
And now they see Mom grab Dad’s butt.
And now they see Dad lose himself in Mom’s gaze.
And they yell, horrified,
and also delighted,
because the sentence of  this kiss has denotation,
but it also has connotation.
They know that I kiss you because I love you,
and that I love the children we have gathered willy-nilly into our home,
and that with this kiss, their syntax-loving mother
is teaching her children with her roving hands and parted lips

to read between the lines.