Saturday, May 31, 2014

Excellent Ice cream sevice . . . er, service

We've developed a little night-time ice cream ritual in the Miser Mom household.  The boys serve 'er up and bring me out my little bowl of vanilla ice cream, and then we all eat it together while watching Alias

Last night, after J-son brought me ice cream, N-son called out to me from the kitchen,

   "Mom, were you satisfied with your ice cream delivery service?"

I thought the wording of that question was so funny that I told him I needed to fill out a customer satisfaction survey.  He rolled with the idea.

I love how his survey begins and ends, most of all:
Answer truthfuly
Thank you for shopping at N-son's
1  Was the Ice cream good
2 Whould you eat other kinds of Ice cream
3 Was the seving size good
4 I Love you

Friday, May 30, 2014

Retiring my husband

My husband's mother was a congenitally unhappy woman.  She married my husband's father thinking that he would become fabulously wealthy; but instead of becoming a business owner like his brothers, her husband worked as a teamster and truck driver for all of his life.  So she spent much of their marriage complaining and berating and trying unsuccessfully-but-persistently to nag him into the life she'd imagined would make him happy and successful.  Needless to say, this didn't work.

I, thank goodness, am completely different.  A formidable frugalist who is content to live off of the gleanings of a society that already stuffs itself with more than it really needs, I don't have any desire to goad my husband into a better-paying job.  No, I don't nag him to get a better job.  I nag him to retire.

Maybe "nag" is too strong a word here (in fact, I sincerely hope it is).  But it is true that one chilly, icy day this past February, I realized that this dream of having my husband leave his job is much more my dream than his.  And I realized that maybe I've been a little myopically insistent in the way I've herded my husband toward this future.  Maybe, in fact, my vision of his success doesn't match his vision.

The "aha" moment I had led to a really good conversation between us.  In particular, I got to listen carefully to all the reasons that retiring makes him nervous.  There's the question of money of course: can we really make it without his salary, especially now that we've committed to paying for the expensive Quaker Local School?  There are questions of professional connections: if he stops working now but later changes his mind, could he ever get his foot back in the door?

And some of the challenges -- I admit rather sheepishly -- are because of his being married to me.  There are questions about living off of his wife -- not because of the gender issue, but because spending Miser Mom's money would seem to compel a Miser Mom lifestyle.   He likes going to coffee houses and bakeries and buying plastic bottles full of colored drinking fluids that I find horrid.  Would that have to change if he were a kept man, and the keeper were me?  I'd like to think the "don't drive them crazy" rule that I have for myself would be in full force as always, but I can see why the situation could get a little scratchy and uncomfortable.

There are absolutely no questions, however, over how he'd fill his time.  The boys need much more attention than we give them right now, and my husband (retired version) could pour himself into their care and feeding and education and physical fitness regimen.  My guy loves bicycling, and if he could, he'd spend hours each day riding.  He loves reading, and he loves meeting with his friends to talk theology/philosophy/politics.  He'd totally be one of the most awesome retired guys in the city, and we both know it.

So here's the current plan; it still needs some ironing out and paperwork, but it's looking increasingly likely:  Starting June 6, he heads off for his annual 2-week army training, leaving me solo for a fortnight.  When he returns to civilian life, he goes down to working part-time.  He'll work from home one day a week and at his far-away office another day each week.  And he'll have three days (plus the weekend) to be retired.

I am very happy about this plan.  It's a wonderful way to test the waters, to avoid making decisions from which there is no return, to keep a bit of money flowing into the Miser Mom (et al) household.  And since the plan was my husband's idea, he's happy, too, which is all the more reason for me to be delighted.

So, in just under a month, we'll be semi-retiring my husband.  Wish us luck!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Counting on my kids (swim version)

I've been a swimmer all my life.  My dad has family movies of me swimming underwater as an infant, bald head gleaming, eyes wide open, lips puckered up in a fish-kiss, with my chubby little legs waggling me forward toward the arms of my waiting mom.

I did my first swim race when I was just six years old; I didn't realize that the 8-and-under kids were supposed to race for just one length of the pool, so the lifeguards had to jump in and stop me when I started my third lap.  I couldn't understand why they were getting in my way and I tried to push them aside; boy, was *I* embarrassed when I found out the race had ended 35 meters before!  (The 8-year-olds, much faster than I was, had finished long before, of course.  They won the race, but my parents tell me that my determination won the hearts of the on-lookers).

I've never been particularly fast; it's just that I keep going.  So the swim part of preparing for this Iron Man is the easiest part for me.   A couple of times this summer, I've jumped in the pool, swum 4000 meters, and climbed out feeling fine; it's not like the bike and running, which have been wiping me out and giving me nightmares.  In fact, my biggest difficulty with swimming is that it's a funky combination of too easy and just too time-consuming: swimming that distance is an hour-and-a-half of sensory deprivation.   I can't chat with friends; there's nothing interesting to see (especially since I'm the only swimmer I know who doesn't use goggles), and swimming is just enough of a workout that I can't concentrate on math problems.

But lately, I've realized that the pool is an excellent place to pray, and that's given me new reasons to go jump in the water.

I usually count laps by singing.  It's easy to forget numbers (especially when your brain is foggy from exercise, and especially when every lap looks just as fuzzy as the last one).  So if I try to count by remembering numbers, I'm always wondering "was that six?  or did I get to seven?"   But songs can stay stuck in my head, running in the background while the rest of my mind wanders.  So I count hundreds -- that's four lengths of the pool -- by singing songs:
  1. "One singular sensation!"
  2. "Tea for two"
  3. "Three blind mice"
and so on.    And once I've gone a thousand meters ("Ten Little Indians"), now I start praying.  Each person I pray for gets one hundred meters, four lengths of the pool, about two minutes of my prayers.  I'm incoherent and my mind wanders, but that seems to be okay, actually.  I swim/pray for the many members of my family, for my friends, for the people at my church who asked for prayers, for people who have come to my mind.  

I suppose this turn of events is appropriate; I took this IronMan challenge on because of something my pastor said about the Christian life being one of endurance.  So I'm glad that my training isn't entirely about ignoring my family and career just so I can get out there and selfishly exercise.    

And as an added benefit, counting on people, I've discovered, seems to be easier than counting on numbers . . . at least in the pool.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A quick (not easy) way to beautify a home

I went to a baby shower at Mary's home the other day.  (Her name isn't really "Mary", not that she'd care if I used her real name).  Her home was beautiful.   The polished wooden floors just gleamed.  The woodwork around the fireplace and doorways and along the stair rail were intricate reminders of an earlier era, which is appropriate to Mary, because she's a historian.  Her walls were decorated with framed maps, with sepia-tone photographs of her young daughters in matching white dresses.  The entire place was unspeakably elegant.

I came into Mary's exquisite home bearing my crock pot of bean soup, and instantly I felt the squirmy sensation that my whole being was just a little bit dowdy.  My friend Alice followed me into the kitchen (tall white cabinets, large sunny windows, floor tiled in cheery white, blue and green squares) and murmured something awestruck.  Mary laughed and said, "Isn't this kitchen awful?! It's so 1950's!  I know we'll never be able to sell this house unless we redo it, but for now we're stuck with it the way it is."   Immediately, Alice and I both started commiser-bragging about how much shabbier and messier our own homes are.

And then, fortunately, the feeling passed.

It'd be all-too-easy to get snarky about Perfect People, to get into an in-my-own-head-dialogue about how some people care too much about things and don't have real lives.  But that dialogue doesn't describe Mary, because the truth is she really is a warm, beautiful person whose home was a great place for us to gather and celebrate.  So fortunately, I managed to get my head into a space where I could think, "Here is one of the beautiful places in my city, and I get to come enjoy it.  I'm so lucky."

It's even harder, though, to appreciate Mary's home without lamenting the deficiencies of my own place:  Carpet that is 25 years old.  Walls covered in fingerprints and pencil marks.  Heck -- walls with holes I haven't yet patched.  Nasty pink bathtub.  Pencils, shoes, papers, plastic monsters, dog hair everywhere.  And the boys I'm rearing are so hard on the house, that in general I just don't even want to think about putting in the work to make it nicer until they've grown up and moved out.  The comparison between our places was just depressing.

Until the comparison wasn't depressing.  Because fortunately, that feeling passed, too.

Because my house might be a bit beat-up, but it was beat up on purpose.  We bought this home knowing it'd be full of active people.  We purposefully chose a place with a bedroom on the first floor so that my husband wouldn't have to go up and down stairs after he had a bike crash (and fortunately, he's only had one bad crash since we got married).  We purposefully chose a place with lots of rooms so we could find space for all our kids, and as our older kids left home we deliberately brought in more kids to fill the empty rooms.  We chose a place with a big dining room, so we could serve big meals to family and friends with big appetites.  We chose a place with a large living room, so there would be space for dancing (and nowadays for wrassling).

And that's how I made my house beautiful, in the space of just 5 minutes:  I remembered what my home is really for.  My friends who come over tell me they feel at home here.  Our home is comfortable.  It's active.  It's a place where we can bump into things and knock things over, and it really doesn't look much worse.  A place where it's okay to decorate with cardboard boxes and canning jars, where the dog hair exists, but it's not so hairy that you keep from lying down on the living room carpet to read a book or design a train track or perform acrobatic wonders.

And if I want to be in an exquisite, elegant, gleaming house . . . well, I'm lucky enough that I can do that, too.  I'll just go visit Mary.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


I came back from my "tempo run" this morning, getting ready to head out again for yard sales, and I realized what a funny snapshot of my life there is, sitting on my bedroom shelves.

Most people don't keep running shoes and bike shoes next to their books, I know.  But it works for me.

I'm a voracious reader, but I also hate accumulating stuff.  So most of the books that I read I get from the library and return when I'm done.  The few books I keep around the house are the ones that I want for specific purposes.

For example, I have stacks of books that I give away to friends and students -- I'm a bit of a frugal prosthelytizer.   Hence the three copies of the "The Complete Tightwad Gazette" (next to a pair of running shoes I picked up for $2 at a thrift store).  On top of the stack of CTG is a copy of Speed Cleaning, which my friend TL just returned after I loaned it to her.
I like to sneak in poetry therapy at random times, and somehow I just can't seem to store these books as far away as our public library.  So I have a whole shelf of poetry (next to a pair of shoes I snagged for free).  Robert Frost and I recently got to spend some quality time together; I'm going to try to have a little snuggle with Ogden Nash and Wendy Cope in the near future.

In the corner, there are three semi-carefully organized stacks.  Top left, there are the books I rescued from other peoples' discard piles that I figured I might like to read.  They'll accompany me on my next long trip, and I can pass them along to someone else.  Next to that, a small math/science stash of books and toys.  (For obvious reasons, most of my math books are at my office, not at home).

Below that are philosophy/theology/self-help books (although, somehow Lake Woebegone snuck in where it doesn't belong.  How'd that happen?).  The big fat red book --- Les Miserables --- counts as self-help/philosophy, because if I could be any character from any part of literature, it would be the Bishop.  

Rounding out the tour, to the right of my bike shoes are stacks of classic comic books: Pogo (top shelf) and Mafalda (lower shelf). I also have couple of novels in Spanish that I had read while I was in college. I think I just keep those around to pretend that I could still read them if I want.  

Even though this is an interesting (maybe even voyeuristic) snapshot of my life, there's so much missing from this stack, it's funny.  You'd never know from looking at my shelves that I've read every single book Agatha Christie ever wrote; you wouldn't suspect my Tom Clancy or John Grisham phases.

Which goes to show, I suppose, that our lives can be rich and full even if we don't hang on to the souvenirs that come with every experience.   I'm feeling happy about my shelves this morning!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Food of the day: apple schnitz!

As I train for this crazy triathalon thing that I seem to have talked myself into, I occasionally bang into challenges of the materialism sort.  People (especially other athletes) who hear that I'm doing this get this knee-jerk reaction that I'm going to start going out and buying expensive stuff.   "Oooh, she's going to need to get a spandex jersey," one cyclist told my husband.  "Food is everything -- make sure she has the right kind of goo" says another.  "Triathalons are the wealthy person's sport," goes the lore (see this little piece from Sports Business Daily).


It is true I bought an expensive ($1400) bike and a helmet to go with it -- and that since then, I've fallen in love with my SPDM.  And over the first spring/summer that I rode it, I did purchase other expensive (for me) accessories to go along with it -- although, being Miser Mom, I only bought one thing a month, each time as a "reward" for continued training.  As best I recall, it took me eight or nine months of riding to purchase

Reflective spoke stickers -- way cool!
  • a bike lock,
  • sunglasses,
  • a pair of padded bike shorts,
  • pedals and clip-in shoes,
  • bike lights, 
  • a bright yellow wind-breaker, and
  • light-weights*.  

[*"Light weights" are reflective spoke stickers that are way cool -- I totally recommend them, by the way].

Conspicuously absent from this list are spandex jerseys (my regular knit shirts seem to work just fine) or fancy gloves (in cool weather, I wear leather gloves).  I snagged a bunch of awesome running shoes from our College yard sale; I have a few pairs of yard-sale-purchased swim suits from years past; another yard-sale netted me a reflective vest that I wear on my longer solo runs (I wrote my name, blood type, and emergency contact info on the inside).

And now I think that I have a new Miser Mom score.  This week, as I headed into my second long run of the summer, I happened to hit upon what I think will be my favorite running/biking snack:  apple schnitz.  Yes!

Apple schnitz is really just dried apple slices.   Apple schnitz is not merely a food that is fun to say ("schnitz" is a Pennsylvania Dutch term meaning "slice"), but it's also yummy and full of just the right kind of sugar I seem to need while I'm heading up Horrible Hill at mile 12 of my long run.  It's also compact and light, so it's easy to carry.

How does apple schnitz compare to other running snacks, from a Miser Mom point of view?

We won't even deign to compare apple schnitz to "Goo" -- that needlessly expensive corporate concoction of processed, artificial food-like substance packaged in the brand of plastic trash that will outlive us all by 10,000 years.  No, that's not even a question.

No, instead I want to set my apple schnitz against bananas.  (I only occasionally
buy bananas, but I bummed so many bananas off of my friend TL during our long runs in the spring that I realized I needed to either buy my own or find an alternative).  Compared to bananas, apple schnitz  has these advantages:
  • apples grow locally, so I don't have to fret about transportation fuel;
  • apples grow locally, so buying them supports local farmers;
  • dried apples store a long time, so I can buy them in bulk and don't have to keep going to the store;
  • these are lightweight and easier to carry than bananas.
On the disadvantage side, it's a bit harder to avoid accumulating trash than with bananas.  My current schnitz-stash (about 2 pounds worth) came in a plastic bag -- we'll reuse the bag for other things, of course, but I'll be on the lookout now for bulk-purchased apples.   I might even perhaps make up a batch myself this fall, as I've done often in the past.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

How to host a College-wide yard sale

A view of our College Yard sale from several years ago.  It's hoppin'!
This post is going to be very boring unless (as Penn requested) you happen to work at a college and want to figure out how to sell things that students would otherwise throw in the dumpster.  If you don't care about this, you can skip it (although if you skim down to near the end and see the price that I set for "Toys", you might get a chuckle.  And yes, I do make sure that kids who leave the sale are smiling!).

Our sale has been run entirely by student volunteers, with some cheerleading and day-of-sale check-out help from me.  I'm trying to convince our facilities and cleaning staff to take this on, because the students have graduated and this event is on the verge of dying if we don't figure out how to add some support. But here, for what it's worth, are the details of how our event ran in the past, with a few suggestions I've tossed in for the future.


Time and people:

In 2014, our student organizers reported this amount of staffing time required to haul, set up, and sell the items:
  • Thursday:            2 people 14 hours each 
  •                            1 person 1 hour 29 hours
  • Friday           2 people 8 hours each
  •                            1 person 2 hours 18 hours
  • Saturday:         12 people 12 hours each 144 hours
  • Sunday (sale day)          7 people 7 hours each 49 hours
  • total 240 hours

  • Signs: (to go in the dorms, to ask for donations of stuff). 
  • Boxes to collect/store/haul donations: We get these from our local waste management company.
  • Carts: We maintain a fleet of 4 garden carts; these are invaluable for hauling things before the sale, and also on the day of the sale for helping customers get their goods to their cars.
  • Tape: Painter’s tape is essential, not only for putting up signs, but also for pricing odd items (electronics, furniture, etc).
  • Tables: For set-up, it would be nice to have at least 15 tables. We get these from our facilities office.
  • Racks: In 2014, we had 3 clothing racks; we could easily use 6 more.
  • Signs: (outdoor) We have a few large cardboard signs, but need better signs to advertise the sale and direct people to the sale. A good sale should have at least a dozen professionally made signs.
  • Signs: (indoor, sale day) See the list at the bottom of this post. Also, see “scales” below, which would change the signs we’d need.
  • Scales: Right now, we price many things “per bag”. This makes it trickier than you’d imagine to price purchases (does a grocery bag count the same as a laundry bag?). I propose a new pricing scheme: food is 50¢/pound; linens and clothes are 25¢/pound. If we do this, it would be nice to have several scales for the event.

  • $75 Newspaper advertisements
  • $25 tape and paper

Suggestions for the future
1. Ask whether cleaning crews can move full boxes to a central location in each dorm and replace these with empty boxes.

2. Ask whether Facilities can provide transportation of boxes from the dorms to the gym where the sale happens.

3. Appoint some office on campus to hire a manager for the event and possibly one or two Associate Managers.

4. Purchase a dozen new outdoor signs, to advertise the event.

5. Rework the on-campus advertising and promotion of the event.

6. Scavenge several bathroom and other scales for weighing goods; redo indoor signs.

What would Managers do?

Set the date of the event and reserve the gym

Get boxes from Waste Management Authority

Maintain contact with concerned offices on campus:
  • Campus Housing 
  • Facilities
  • Residence Association
  • Sustainability Center
  • College Communications 
  • Student activities
Publicize the event on campus, to get donations

Publicize the event off-campus, to get customers

purchase ad from local Newspapers

Arrange volunteer schedule

Put out boxes and signage

Arrange “The Great Sort” on Friday, Saturday, Sunday

Price the furniture, electronics, etc

Get cash box from student activities before sale; return it after the sale

Return supplies to a designated storage closet

Write a short report (suggestions for changes for next year, money made)

What would Associate Managers do?
act as sounding board/trainees for manager
help find volunteers
assist with sorting, sale, and clean up

Signs for the sale day, and our current price list

• College Yard Sale – starts at noon – All proceeds benefit [name the Charity]
• College Yard Sale– In [Name] Gym; follow the signs
• Rugs $2 small (less than 3’)/$4 medium (less than 6’)/$10 large
• Linens: $1 sheets, towels individual/$5 bagged/$1-2 pillows/$5 comforters, foam pads
• Storage: shelves $2/storage bins 50¢
• Lamps: $2 desk/$5 floor/ other electronics priced as marked
• Household items: priced as marked/OBO
• Knick-Knacks: 50¢
• Books 25¢
• Accessories: $1 item/$5 bag
• Accessories: $1 item/$5 bag
• Suitcases: $2/other bags 50¢–$1
• Clothes and shoes: $1 per item/$5 per bag
• Clothes and shoes: $1 per item/$5 per bag
• Clothes and shoes: $1 per item/$5 per bag
• Women’s bottoms: $1 per item/$5 per bag
• Women’s tops: $1 per item/$5 per bag
• Socks & underwear:  Free
• Men’s bottoms: $1 per item/$5 per bag
• Shirts: $1 per item/$5 per bag
• Dresses: $1 per item/$5 per bag
• Sweaters, hoodies, jackets: $1 per item/$5 per bag
• School & office supplies: 50¢ per item/$2 per bag
• Food: $5 per bag
• End of Sale Clearance:  Name your Price!
• CHECKOUT – all proceeds to benefit [Charity]
• Toys:  Free to cheerful children/$2 to whining people
• one price list for food/office supplies/clothing/rugs/linens/pillows/lamps

Monday, May 12, 2014

Yard sales with deals, dilemmas, and diplomas

Yard sale season is upon us!  My kids and I just participated in a giant yard sale.  When I say "yard sale", I mean a  totally humongous yard sale.  In fact, it was such a HUGE yard sale that I hardly know where to begin talking about it.

Part of me wants to say:  Never go to Stores.   Once I was introduced to the yard-sale way of hunting and gathering, even so-called-thrift stores became a rare occasional foray, such as for a time I suddenly discovered I needed an extremely-cold-weather running shoe.  At yard sales, I regularly buy clothing for less than a dollar an item, which beats so-called-thrift-store prices hands down.

Part of me wants to say:  Now is the time to check out colleges.  (Not for education, mind you, but for all the stuff that students leave behind).   The particular giant yard sale that my family immersed ourselves in is one that my college runs.  Now that exams are over, students who are fleeing the school leave piles and piles of things behind them.  Instead of carting everything straight to nearby landfills, my college asks students to donate usable items, and we sell them to our townies, donating the proceeds to a local women's shelter.

This year, as always, students donated mounds of clothing, furniture, electronics, food, books, jewelry, and gifts.  Even with almost zero advertising and with Miser Mom in charge of setting bargain basement pricing (a grocery bag of food for $3;  a bag of clothes for $3), we raised $800.  And there were mounds of goods left unsold.

Part of me wants to say: yard sales are a guidebook for knowing what you might want and what you don't.   Especially at our college yard sale, you get to see in a tangible way "what's hot, and what's not".  A few years ago, the students were casting aside flip flops and UnderArmor.   (Is it just me, or does that clothing really mimic StarTrek?).  Nowadays, it's flats and athletics shoes.  Also new on the scene this year were more water-pitchers-with-built-in-filters than I'd ever seen before.

But it's not just that a glimpse at a single yard sale can tell you about trends.  Long-term-yard-sale-study offers a guide to things you need to be cautious about including in your already-over-cluttered life.  Coffee makers, holiday decorations, and water bottles are examples of things that grace almost every yard sale table and that almost never get sold.  They've saturated our landscape.   If you know how frequently people cast these aside, you know you should never spend good money on these.  (If you really need another coffee maker, you beg one off of a friend who has a spare one cluttering up her closet.)

Mostly, though, the reason that it's taken me so long to pull all this together is that I'm overwhelmed by the wastefulness of it all.  Yes, it's a bit of a thrill to come back from a day of yard-sales with a treasure-trove of goods (8 pairs of shoes, clothes, kitchen items, books, cereal and pasta, lamps) having spent a grand total of $0 ---  in fact, the boys earned $31 by helping other people haul their purchases to the car, so we actually made money that day.  But it's just saddening to see so much stuff, originally purchased for real money, being cast aside without a thought.   Rugs and refrigerators, sofas and sandals, presents still in the wrapping paper and warm coats with the tags still in them . . . this mountain of material goods must have looked good while it was still in the mall, but lying in heaps at the yard sale, it just looked like a monument to waste.

Which brings me back to my first thought: this is why I don't go to stores. Don't I already have enough clutter?  What the heck are we doing to our lives and to our planet when we pretend that buying stuff we don't even want is a form of entertainment?

Roots (the wenches with wrenches edition)

The boys in the family headed out of town this weekend.  That left me and K-daughter alone to prepare for our new annual tradition, one that she started only last year.  I think she came up with an ingenious solution to the question "what do you get a Miser Mom who doesn't like getting stuff?"  K-daughter bought me three packets of seeds and asked to plant them together with me.

To make it fancier and more formal this year, I went out and bought some lumber.  I think there's something really satisfying about making things with your own hands, and K-daughter agrees.  So I showed her how to use a router . . .
 which she used to decorate the boards with her own designs.  Then I put her in charge of the drill.
Yay, power tools!  And so we made our own new planter boxes.  

As usual, I had started some plants indoors in canning jars.  For a few weeks now, we've been carrying them outdoors to "play in the sun" during the day, and they're looking good.

Some of these plants came out of their jars to make their new homes in K-daughter's box.  K-daughter's box has tomatoes, peas, quinoa, melons, cucumbers, and peppers.  Some of these are still seeds, buried in the dirt.

I came home from church on Sunday to find K-daughter had made me pizza, just the way I taught her, and when I asked her to say grace, she gave thanks  ". . . for all the people who have been a mother to me."

Mother's day is a wonderful day, I think, for new seeds and for transplants, and for putting forth new roots. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

How's the Iron Man training going?

How's the Iron Man training going, you ask?

Well, in April, aside from running a marathon and biking about 200 miles, I really didn't get much exercise.   [And yes, I think it's funny to be able to say that].   Now that May is here and my grading is behind me [yay yay yay], it's time to step up the training a bit.

Here's my tentative training schedule for May.  I just sent this schedule out to my running buddies, trying to lure them into joining me, but I don't think they're going to bite.

  • Monday mornings, 7:30-10:30, a gentle 15-mile jog.
  • Wednesday mornings, 7:30-8:30, a so-called "sprint workout".  
  • Saturday mornings, 7:00- ??, a 7.5-mile "tempo" run.

  • Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays at 10:30, 15-25 miles (weather permitting)
  • Sundays 35-40 miles

  • Thursday mornings, 7:30-9:30, lots of laps.
  • after biking
The triathalon itself is the end of August; so I've got four months to beef up my bike mileage and to remind my body what it's like to move through water.  All together, I'll be spending 12-15 hours/week training, at least in May.  After that, we'll see where I think I need to bump it up further.  

Interestingly enough, it's not the physical exertion that seems the most daunting part of this whole experiment; it's the combination of exercising solo (I much prefer running and biking with friends) and the time away from doing math.  I'd so much rather spend that time thinking and writing about projective geometry!

Okay, enough blathering on.  It's time to go for my Monday morning run.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Better than prison . . .

So, for the past semester my sons have been going to a nearby private school that I'll just call the Quaker Local School.   This seems like an odd choice for a Miser Mom.  After all, a huge huge huge part of why I became so gosh-darned penny-pinching in the first place was having an allergic reaction to my step-daughters' very expensive private school.

I've been a strong advocate of public schools all my life.  I've been on panels at our church where I talked about the value of sending kids to public school, standing proudly alongside my home-school-mothers friends and christian school family neighbors.  I've tried to be as active as an employed parent could be in my kid's school -- in fact, I was the PTO vice president and then secretary at my son's school.  I love the diversity of our public schools, and I value the connection I get to the community and politics that comes from diving headlong into a school that is subject to all the vagaries of taxes, mandates, funding cuts, etc.  That sounds like I'm joking, but I mean that; I think it makes me care about my community in a way I wouldn't if my kids were not in the public schools.

So, why are we shelling out the big dough for a private school now?

Well, it's not because my boys need an extra-challenging curriculum.  In fact, both boys struggle a lot with schoolwork.  N-son, now in an 8th grade algebra class, still frequently uses his fingers to add "10+7".  J-son attends a dyslexia program after school.  Neither of them are headed for the Ivy League.

Our public schools have a lot of support for the boys; I've been impressed at the enrichment programs they've gotten to be part of.  But the regular classes are large and full, and because my boys struggle so much, their classes were largely full of other students who struggle a lot.  And a class full of 8th grade kids who aren't good at school -- well, there are a LOT of behavior problems.  As my sister (who teaches high school in another state) told me, "You want to give a kid a quiet corner, but sometimes a classroom just doesn't have enough corners."

Last fall was an awful one for our family, what with the Horrible Week and with J-son's behavioral problems.  So when my husband returned from his army school and got to see the boys' classroom first-hand, he went frantic.  And the Quaker Local School is the result.

The school hasn't solved all our problems, but things are definitely much calmer now.  I know the administrators of the school aren't going to adopt my slogan for their own:
"The Quaker Local School:  It's better than Jail!"
But the slogan is true.  My boys have made friends there (often, other refugees from the public school), and the friends they make don't spend every other day in the principals office, or disrupt class.  J-son's stealing problem hasn't gone away entirely, but he's much better than before (and much more willing to take responsibility for his stupid impulsive actions).

Possibly when high school kicks into high gear -- when those randy middle school hormones die down a bit -- we might be able to return the kids back into public life.  But for the next year at least, we'll be spending lots of money so that my sons can go to a place where their classes are orderly, where the kids more-or-less actually do their work, and where we can keep J-son away from kids who will tempt him down the road to prison.