Thursday, July 31, 2014

Judge not, lest ye be . . .

There are times when I wish I could control what comes out of my head, so I don't act like a total "JB".

(If you and yours don't use the phrase "JB", here's where my husband picked it up before he passed it along to me: a television segment called the "Judgmental Bastard".  As you might expect from the title, this clip doesn't conform to Miser Mom's usual level of decorum, civility, and respect for others, so viewer discretion is advised).

I don't want to be a JB.  I don't want to pre-judge people (after all, that's what "prejudice"means).  But there are situations where it's more reflex than reason that has me scoffing at people and thinking ill of them.
  • The very overweight person sitting in a large car in a parking space, with the engine idling, talking on a cell phone and/or eating something from a fast food place.  I am even worse about this if I see this person while I myself am out running or biking. This situation comes up more often than I would expect, and my head is not nice to these people.
  • The adult (presumably, parent) of an incessantly whiny child in a public space.  I'm even more insufferably haughty if the parent is somehow trying to reason with the toddler.
  • The supposedly well-educated person who misuses grammar.  A "lie" vs. "lay" mistake will automatically dump someone into the category of "those kind of people" in my head.  
  • [True story: the day before she died, my mother -- who was suffering from the advanced stages of alzheimer's and was recovering from surgery on a broken hip -- got out of her hospital bed and started wandering.  A nurse came by and said, "Carol, don't you want to lay down?"  My mom, blind without her glasses, brain riddled by alzheimer's, and doped up on pain meds, turned to the nurse and said, "I think you mean lie down".  I come by my grammar obsession genetically, it seems.]
These things, I'm not proud of.  Well, I mean, I am proud, but I wish I weren't, if that makes sense.

Here's the email I got recently that provoked this whole post.  For professors, these emails are kind of like credit card offers, because they come unsolicited and are really more clutter than anything else -- it's an "exclusive offer" sent only to everyone who happens to be in that particular database.
We are now expanding our editorial board membership and would like to invite you to join us as our editorial board member under the category of Regional Editor.
I am sure, your ideas, research, experiments, publications and determination would be really helpful to improve quality and citation of the journal.
I look forward to your reply.

Editorial Coordinator
Editorial Office
Science Publications
I'm sure that the person who sent this is a good-hearted person.  A person who wants to advance knowledge and to help scientists communicate their ideas.  A person who truly does want to "improve quality and citation of the journal".  Misplaced commas and missing articles are not actually a window into a person's moral fiber, I know.  I have no problem politely turning this offer down; I just wish that my first instinct weren't to sneer. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Oh, it's the dOnnOr!

My only home-made child has moved back to our town and settled into her own home, a mere mile away from ours.  She asked if we could revive one of her former favorite Special Dinners, the "dOnnOr".  And so that's what we did last night.

Here's what the dOnnOr looks like.  First, you decorate with the letter "O":
 Perhaps you even wear an "O" in your hair and on your ears . . .

And to eat, there are "bOgOls" . . .
 . . . which are really buns for the "hOmbOrgOrs" [this is ground turkey, shaped into patties, with a hole in the middle):
Also on the menu, hOt pOppOrs, pOckled zOcchOni, and slices of chOse.  [translation:  hot peppers, pickled zucchini, and cheese, all round and/or with holes, so as to be O-shaped).  In the past, we've also had Opples (apples, cored first and then sliced into flat, round Os).

Much of the fun is trying to talk:
"PlOse pOss the kOtchOp!"   
"MOmO wOnts the mOstOrd!" 
"Would yO lOke a hOmbOrgOr on your bOgOl?"
Many giggles ensue.

This year, because the timing happened to work out well, I combined the DOnnOr with our annual "big give" (after all, "dOnnOr" sounds like "donor").  Every year, I save up all the envelopes we get from charities.  On some day, usually in the summer because that's when I have a bit of unstructured time, I pare the envelopes down, come up with a list of about 15-20 that we want to support, and start writing checks.  This year, just before we brought out the food, I brought the checkbook and pile of envelopes down to the DOnnOr together with a stash of pens.

I let the kids choose which envelopes they wanted to work with.  N-son chose the police association and the library; my birth daughter chose our college (we went to the same one) and a math society; K-daughter and her friend chose Doctors without Borders and Central Pennsylvania Food Bank . . . and then they wrote the checks.  In fact, they got so into it that they each wrote about four or five different checks.
Of course, I still have to sign the checks (and enter the info in my checkbook).  But it was good to talk about what charities we support and why.  When my daughters started enthusing to their friend about how cool Kiva is, I basked in the glow of knowing I've done something right about raising these gals.  

Even more, I was glad that I had a chance to set an example of generosity in a way that involves my kids, but that quickly also becomes a celebration.   We went straight from big bucks to BOgOls!

It was totolly O-some.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Starting a new dress

Early this summer, I offered each of my kids a half-hour "date" with me.  During that time, I abandoned my usual control-freak ways and allowed my children to tell me what they wanted to do.  (I offered suggestions, but they got to choose).  K-daughter and I made a garden box; J-son got jealous and followed suit; N-son and I played a no-holds-barred version of Connect Four.

K-daughter liked this idea so much she asked me, "On our next date, can you teach me how to make a dress?"  Of course, I said yes.

Truth is, though, the Make-a-Dress project is way bigger than just one little half-hour date.  So far we've had three dates, in fact, and we haven't yet brought out a sewing machine or a needle.   
Date Three: we cut out the fabric.
Our three dress-making dates remind me why so few people make their own clothes anymore.  Sewing used to be a frugal option toward building up a wardrobe; but nowadays with yard sales and thrift stores and cheap clothes in every department store, sewing clothes from scratch is more of an expensive and time-consuming hobby than a way to save money.  Even I (who  made my own wedding dress, plus 18 teddy bears for family members, plus my daughter's coat, plus my own computer bag) --  well, even I use my sewing machine nowadays almost exclusively for mending, not making.

What's more, sewing a dress from scratch requires a lot of knowledge about of little details.  Our first "date", all we did was wander through the fabric store and buy stuff.  The first stop was the patterns: an overwhelming (to K-daughter) wall full of drawers, with each drawer full of envelopes.  I got to show her that the envelopes were organized in an order of their own quirky way.  She found a pattern she could fall in love with . . . until I pointed to the price tag: $15.65.   (And that's just the paper that tells you how to make the dress, not the cloth you use to make it!)

She gulped, and we regrouped, finding another dress pattern for only $2.50, and I promised her we could modify it to match the first one, sort of.  (Veteran sewers will know that we could have used a coupon and waited for a sale day to get even a lower price, but in this situation I figured forward progress was better than slow frugality).  Once we got the pattern, we had to buy the material and all the extras.  I assured her I could help her get a zipper and thread from my stockpile at home, and I tried to explain interfacing (seriously, does anybody who doesn't sew know what interfacing is?*), but even narrowing the next step down to fabric was overwhelming.  At one point, when she'd pointed to a fabric she loved, and I'd gently folded the fabric over the cardboard bolt to reveal the price (um, $30/yard), she was ready to give up.
[* As I write this, I'm totally imagining Evelyn and Rozy nodding their heads and smiling in knowing amusement.  Yes, yes, this.]
But I got to practice being a "calm, non-anxious presence", and eventually K-daughter and I found some inexpensive fabric she liked.  We bought the pattern and the fabric, and Date One was over.

Dates Two and Three were pinning and cutting.  For me, it was a flood of old memories --- it's been so long since I thought about lining up those arrows so they lie parallel to the selvage edge, or cutting those diamonds (out, not in!), or giving proper homage to seam allowances, or paying reverence to good side/back side of fabric.  I felt like a wise old woman, sharing ancient incantations.

We're still waiting on Date Four; that's when the sewing machine will finally come out of its cabinet and begin its work.  I figure we still have at least four or five dates remaining; far off on the horizon lie the mysteries of zippers, ruffles, and hems.  At some point, for sure, the almighty Seam Ripper will make its inevitable appearance.  There's so much to learn.

The title of this blog post is a little bit of a sad pun; before the summer is over, K-daughter will be moving into another apartment, and so she will have a new address.  That's a subject for another post.  But we've agreed to schedule weekly dates, and making her new dress (from scratch) is sure to be part of those.   

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The decadence of pedaling fast and going slow

One of the things that's been hardest -- but most satisfying -- to learn about riding my bike up and down hills has been shifting gears.  It's not that learning how to shift gears is all that tricky (although I've made my share of gaffes at that).  No, the hard part is learning that I should shift gears, and often.  In particular, when the going gets tough, I should shift to a way easier gear.

By now, I've been cycling enough that I can recognize from far away the painful form of an amateur cyclist going up a hill -- one who is laboring hard, moving forward on sheer muscle and grit, climbing the hill as though each pedal stroke were a stair-step with treads two feet high.  The whole body moves, and the poor person's legs look like . . .  pushhh . . . . pushhhh . . . . pushhhh . . . . . while the experienced riders spin their legs like propellors: whup-whup-whup-whup-whup-whup.  The pushhh-ers feel like they're full of power, but they tire themselves out.  The whup-ers are the ones who can talk going up hill, switch back into a higher gear at the top, and take off.  And now when I go up hills, I try to be a propellor, not a stair master.
One of the hills I ride once or twice a week.
Because of the headwinds and the hill, I'm always in a super-low gear
by the time I get to that danged barn.
My bike-gear-education has changed the way I run up hills, too.  I get to a nasty hill on one of my runs, and I make myself take teeny-tiny-baby-steps.  I jog up the hill bip-bip-bip-bip-bip, looking like a bunny rabbit who wishes she were a gazelle.  It feels so silly.  It feels like I lack power.  But I do it, and somehow I can bip-bip-bip my way to the top of the steepest hill and still have energy left to run some more on the other side.

I love the word that goes with this concept: cadence.  It sounds like "dancing", and I think there is something dance-like about whirring my legs while the rest of my body barely moves, gently moves, steadily moves itself over the crests and past the obstacles that had risen up before me.   But the word itself -- cadence -- comes not from dance but from music and rhythm.  Its ancient roots lie in the concept of falling, of descent.  "Cadence" shares its origins with "decadence".

Riding has started me thinking about how the metaphor of cadence might apply to my larger life.  When things at work start piling up, I should . . . go slow.  Fill my to-do-list with silly little things and cross them off my list speedily, bip-bip-bip-bip.  When kids and house repair start to seem overwhelming, act like it's all part of a dance.  Forget about power or pushiness.  When bills pile up, take time to talk and laugh out loud as I whup-whup-whup my way through the small details, knowing that the big details will take care of themselves.  And eventually, I'll get over the hump, and I'll have the joy of letting all that earlier effort mingle with gravity to take me zooming, decadently, down the other side.

Monday, July 21, 2014

My day job

With my husband taking over much of childcare duties, I'm spending more and more of my non-training daytime able to think about math.  I don't write much about it here.  But I thought I share some pictures of the stuff I obsess about when I'm not writing about kids, or money, or triathalons, . . .
 I could completely go all psycho thriller on you and say . . . only three people in the world know what that diagram means, and I'm one of them.  
But of course this isn't really a conspiracy game.  It's just stuff I love.

Winnie the Pooh once asked Christopher Robin where he goes when he's not in the Hundred Acre Wood, and 
. . . Christopher Robin began to tell Pooh about some of the things:  People called Kings and Queens and something called Factors, and a place called Europe, and an island in the middle of the sea where no ships came, and how you make a Suction Pump (if you want to), and when Knights were Knighted, and what comes from Brazil.
If you asked me where I go when I'm not blogging, these pictures would be my answer.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

In the twinkle of a (dog's) eye

My beloved mutt has been squinting out of his right eye lately.  We got this pooch from the Humane League at the advanced age of 6 or 7, and in the years he's lived with us, he's become a loyal devotee of his beloved Miser Mom.  He follows me around the house; he curls up by whatever chair I happen to be sitting in; he eats my underwear.  (That last weird quirk still confounds us.   But aside from his culinary habits, he's a great dog).
Meeting Miser Dog at the Humane League, August 2010.
At any rate, he's been squinting with one eye.  He doesn't seem to be disoriented, distressed, or in pain, but the squinting is unusual.   So, I took him to the vet.  The first thing the vet said was, "Wow! Ten-and-a-half years old!"  And then the vet decided the dog has a torn cornea, "but fortunately, those heal fast."  We got a tube of antibiotic ointment and went home.
Miser Dog likes food in canning jars, but of course!
I was relieved at the diagnosis, for two reasons.  First, I was glad my dog wasn't some kind of deathly ill; he's in remarkable shape for a dog his age.  Second, I'm not a huge fan of end-of-life excessive medical intervention.  A tube of ointment; yes, I'll fork over $150 for that and another $100 for a follow-up visit, but I was leery of getting in much deeper.
I don't have a picture of putting ointment in his eye,
but I do have a picture of J-son brushing the dog's teeth.
Speaking of "end of life", just how geriatric is my dog?  I asked my vet that.  I grew up with Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes, two breeds of giant dogs with gentle dispositions and short life spans (they live about 7 or 8 years).  How long do dogs like my ten-and-a-half-year-old mutt live?  The vet said, "oh, nine years, ten years."   She paused.  "Um, maybe twelve."

Okay, so we're on borrowed time, and grateful for it.
Miser Dog wears J-son's Domo Hat.
But that's not the end of the story, because we went back for our follow-up visit a week later, and the torn cornea wasn't healing up after all.  My vet recommended we got to a doggy ophthalmologist, to get surgery (the ophthalmologist would probably do surgery: cut the cornea even more, in hopes that the blood vessels will respond by forming new blood vessels, and thereby heal the eye).  It turns out that this breed of doggy docs are few and far between; the nearest appointment we could get is three weeks away in time and an hour away in distance.  And they cautioned me:  it costs $150 just to walk through the door, with actual medical services costing more.

I asked: so . . . what happens if we don't do the surgery?  The receptionist didn't like the question at all.  "It might not seem like it, but torn corneas are painful."  And "It's possible the dog could go blind in that one eye."

So here's the dilemma:  am I heartless to say "No" anyway?  Going blind in one eye is . . . not fun.  If my mutt were a puppy, that argument alone would convince me.  But he's not a puppy, is he?   (Actually, a decade ago we faced a similar question with N-son, who has such bad nerve damage in his right eye that he's effectively blind in that eye.  His ophthalmologist told us surgery was an option, but not a very hopeful one, and so N-son has grown into his teens happily and productively seeing the world largely through his left eye).

And as for the pain question, my dog doesn't seem to be in pain or discomfort at all; he just squints a little.  On the other hand, a long car trip followed by a "cut your cornea until it bleeds" surgery seems to be a pretty nasty way to spend those golden years.  My husband and I talked about this; we decided against the surgery.  As I told my husband, "I'd do the same for you!"  And it's true; we've often joked about getting "DNR" tattoos should we ever come down with a terminal illness.

Still, a decision like this is hard.  It feels a bit heartless and calculating.  Am I really putting money and time ahead of my dog?
Dog kisses: they're the best.  Yecchh!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thrifty Thursday: Canning water sink declogger

Before I get to the Canning Water Sink De-clogger, I have two little words for you:
  1. pickled,
  2. kale.
Oh, my goodness, we are in love.  Pickled kale, pickled kale, pickled kale!  We used a recipe from Poor Taste Magazine; the basic idea is that you whip up a batch of brine, heat it to boiling, and then dip-and-release the kale.  If you can the kale as we did, it gets a tad soggier but no less delectable.

We actually have an over-abundance of vegetables from our CSA, plus an overcrowded garden box of J-son's beloved kale, so late last week I pickled a bunch of them and then canned them up so we can enjoy them during the winter.  We've now got pickled zucchini, pickled beets, and two quarts half-a-quart remaining of pickled kale.

When I was done canning up the veggies, I had a pot of boiling water to get rid of.  And instead of just tossing it outside or down the kitchen sink, I remembered the slow drain . . .

. . . our bathroom sink has been sluggish.  My husband had already tried liquid drain cleaners to little or no effect.  But I'd heard boiling water could help, so I poured the canning water there.  Yes, the sink was definitely clogged.  I waited a few minutes (conveniently, exactly the amount of time it took me to find the plunger) and then gave the sink a little plunger "whoosh".  Magic!  That was exactly what my sink needed to run fast.

Which is good, because we definitely need to wash our hands for dinner.
J-son has "thirds" of kale.
That full plate of green stuff isn't a serving tray; it's his dinner plate.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Weeds on Wednesday

One of the claims of theology that has never lost its power to amaze me is that funky notion that, while we were yet sinners, the Lord of It All went out of his way to give us the gift of life, the universe, and everything.  This summer, not far behind the Father Himself comes Mother Nature.   I've been neglecting her badly this summer, and yet in spite of it all she spills over with abundant life. 

Abundant, but unruly.  We've got the oregano gone wild . . . 
 . . . and the highly verdant weed patch, strong and healthy.
 But there's also J-son's box of kale.   Even though we already harvested about half of it, it looks like we haven't taken any.  We have an amazing wealth of kale!  (Tomorrow I'm going to tell you what we did with the first harvest . . . total score).
 Next to the kale is my patch of basil.  It is apparently a very slow-growing form of basil.    Very, very slow . . .
 Please grow, basil?

But just around the corner from the Emperor's new basil is K-daughter's garden box, which is a riot of mellons, quinoa, peppers, and tomatoes.  This looks like a mess, but it's really a mosh pit of vegetable revelry.
Seen from afar, it's even more fantastic and funky.
And peeking in up close:  tomatoes!  Check 'em out while you can, because they're so delicious they don't last long around here. 

Leaving the well-loved enclave of K-daughter-dom, we return to the land of tall grasses of Weedville. 
 The weeds, they don't surprise me (in either the literal or theological sense).  I've been so focused on other things this summer that the weeds are inevitable.   But the beautiful boxes of food growing in spite of my apathy and neglect?  They're a gift of grace, breath-taking and life-giving.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Training Treasures

There's a lot about this IronMan training that makes me never want to do it again, just like there was a lot about pregnancy that steered me toward adoption and organ donation instead of waddling around nauseous in search of a bathroom for nine months a second time.

But, as happy I will be---come August 25---to wake up and not have to think,
"When will I do my 18-mile run this week?  How can I find a riding buddy to help me get to 70 miles on the bike this weekend?", 
and as delighted I will be not to have to constantly tell my achy legs,
"it's the workout you get when you're already tired that makes you stronger,"
there are some really joyful things about all this training, and these, I'll miss when I go back to being a mere mortal mathematician. (There are also things about being pregnant that I look back upon fondly, but not enough to ever want to do that again, either).

Here are some of my training treasures.

Truck winds.
When I'm running along a mostly empty road and a semi-truck passes me, it comes with three different rounds of wind:
  1. First, there's a wall of air that passes along with the truck.  It's such an enveloping wind that it's almost like diving underwater.
  2. Second, right after the truck passes, there's a huge gust of wind so powerful I have to hold onto my hat (literally -- otherwise it blows off and I have to run back and pick it up).  This one is exciting, like being on a roller coaster.
  3. Third and finally,  I wait one, maybe one-and-half, seconds, and the third wind comes.  It's a gentle little puff, like someone opening a door.  I always wait for that last little puff after a truck blows by.  Ahh.
Farm views.
The rolling farmland in our area makes for a hilly workout, but it also makes for some fantastic views.  There's something deeply awe inspiring about cresting a hill to see acres of corn and kale, farm houses and fallow fields, knowing that the food that will someday be on my table is right now growing up out of the ground under my very own feet.

And this, disgusting but true: I love getting totally sweaty.
Not a little sweaty, not like walking out of a cool building on a sweltering day and worrying about stains in the arm pits before going into the next cool building.  No, really, really sweaty:  the kind of total body sweat that makes my neighbor look at me and say, "Good lord! You have sure been exercising, haven't you?!"  The kind of sweaty where my clothes are dripping and clinging to my body,  the kind of sweaty where every inch of my visible skin is shining and when I finally wash off in the shower, the water running off my head is salty.  Total happiness, there.

Eating.  Food.  More food, even.
Dang, now that I'm training, I eat like a teenage boy; I'm a bottomless pit; I'm a munching machine.  And I love it.   My buddies tell me that I look slimmer than ever, but in fact I weigh the most I have ever weighed in my life (pregnancy excepted).  And that's all muscle.   What's more, it is hungry muscle.  Feed me.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Portrait: a still life with games

Q:  If something is hard, why make it harder?
A: Because that might make it more fun.
I've been reading (and skim/re-reading) Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonical recently.  McGonical is  a game-maker, consultant, and TED-Talkster who thinks that we ought to fix the boring and difficult parts of our world by game-ifying them.

Here's how she defines a game: "Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles."   Her example is golf: if all you really wanted to do was to get that little white ball into the little hole, you'd pick the ball up with your hands, walk it over to the hole, and put it in.  You wouldn't decide to stand far away and hit the ball with a fussy, expensive little stick.

Unnecessary obstacles:  it's like the FlyLady suggesting setting a timer for cleaning.  Or telling your kids to clean their room, but to use only one hand.  Or promising myself, "If I grade 5 more papers this hour, I can have a bowl of ice cream."

If you want to make a game out of a chore, this book doesn't quite tell you how to do it, but it has some general principles.

" . . . all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation."

There's a great chapter on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation -- this is more of a pop psychology book than a game-design book.   McGonical is probably more interested in turning everything about her into a game than I would be, but I still found myself mulling over ways to add rules and feedback loops into my own routines; I can see how that would make all sort of .  As she notes in one of her TED talks,
When we play a game (and this is in the scientific literature), we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we're more likely to reach out to others for help.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Social wealth

I first saw the expression "social capital" in Putnam's now-classical book, Bowling Alone.  On the one hand, since I'm someone who has always believed that our duty to our communities trumps our duty to ourselves, I fell in love with (what I thought I understood about) that phrase:  social capital.  We'll only be rich if we're social beings.  This is something I believe.  Deeply.
[On the other hand, I might be a miserable example of social connections:  as I write this, my husband has given me the "gift" of taking my sons away for two days and one night, and I spent much of the time so far entirely by myself.  I prepared materials for my fall courses; I wrote reports for committees I'm on, I did some mathematical research, I even started a few blog posts ---  but I didn't spend any of that time with friends or colleagues.  The last time my husband and children were gone, I did the bare minimum of exercise (25-mile bike ride, all by my lonesome) to give myself even more time for writing and thinking on  my own.  I reverted, incontrovertibly happily, to the introvert side of me.]
When I talk with other people about this social capital  (which I don't do much, because I come off all geeky, and they worry I'm going to use that to segue back over to my beloved Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class which put them to sleep when I tried to tell them that it was riotously funny) . . . okay, let's start that sentence over again.

When I talk to other people about social capital, we usually end up taking the conversation down one of two paths:
  • In the long run, having strong relationships with friends and family makes us happier; but buying and owning things has little long-term influence on our happiness.
  • Knowing people who know how to do things or who can loan/give you things lets you get things cheaper than if you have to pay for those things yourself.  [Yay for babysitting swaps, and for friends who cut my hair, and for a neighbor who had so much lettuce she begged me to come take some.]
But both of those happy effects are mere consequences of social capital; they're not social capital themselves.  You could say both of those are "social revenue", instead.  To have true social capital, you need capital, which is "wealth in the form of money or other assets . . . available or contributed for a particular purpose such as starting a company or investing".   In our economic system -- called "capitalism" for just this very reason -- companies rely on machinery (capital) to produce new products, and yahoos like me build a retirement portfolio by investing money (capital) in companies.  In the case of social capital, the "wealth in the form of money or other assets" comes in the form of a strong social structure of some kind.

That social structure might be a marriage.  It might be a friendship.  But for a truly diverse social portfolio, we need more.  Marriages end, friends move away, and sometimes we need more than our friends and family can give us.

Here's an example of the "more" I'm talking about.  My daughter needed some way to figure out how to get the last truck-load of stuff out of her dad's garage, so she could clean up the house and sell it.  She mentioned this to a woman at our church, who organized a crew of other church members to swoop down and help. My daughter was a little bit overwhelmed because she didn't know most of those people -- that church network is a social capital that goes beyond friends and family.

Here's an example of what happens when an important social structure disappears.  A friend recently lamented to my husband that since he retired from his job at a nearby college, he's had lots of time to read but nobody to talk with about what he's learning.  It's not that he's lonely; he has friends (who don't happen to read C.S. Lewis' theological writings) and a good marriage.   But he's lacking the network of like-minded bookworms; he is missing that particular piece to his social capital portfolio.

But you can't just go to the mall and order up a church community to surround you.  You can't buy an intellectual conversation on Amazon.  And that's one argument for why we need to think about investing a bit of our own time and our own selves in social structures, just as we invest our money in our savings and retirement accounts.  That's a big part of why I'm not retiring from my job until I'm allowed to legally "retire" instead of "resign".

Because here, in this picture below, is a story of what kinds of riches the investment I'm making in my college community yields.  The picture shows my family.  You'll notice it came out a lot nicer than this blog's usual photos, and that's because I didn't take this photo myself (yes, my camera is yucky).  We were on campus for my college's reunion weekend, mooching the free food and schmoozing with alumni, and the official photographer wandered by.  He's an amazing guy -- not only a great photographer, but a sweetie who knows our family well.  He took this photo and sent it to us, and it's become one of our favorite photos since.  
K-daughter,  N-son, a proud Miser Mom, and J-son.  Thank you, Nick Gould! 
For me, what I love about this picture most is that it's a story of all of these experiences -- of reconnecting with alumni who are a part of my own past, of breaking bread with others, of celebrating academic achievements, of working alongside talented people, of rearing my family.  It's a picture of being connected in so many ways to something so much larger than myself.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What that woman said . . .

I was picking up my vegetables at the CSA drop the other day.  Another woman was there with her 3-year-old son, packing up their box.  She bent over to him and said in a voice that was meant to be overheard,
Andrew, that woman over there might not recognize me, but she taught me calculus twenty years ago!
Andrew was unimpressed, but of course I went right over to re-introduce myself, or actually, to have her remind me of who she was.  I somewhat remember the name, but there's no way I would have placed the face.  As I turned to go, she leaned over her son again and said,
And you know what, Andrew?  She taught me calculus while she was dressed in a cow costume!
Well, dang, now I'm sorry I gave that particular outfit away.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

One Hot (miser) Mama!

July is supposed to be cooking us, but I feel like this summer has been more of a warming plate than an oven.  Oh, we've had a couple of toasty days, but mostly our summer here has benefited greatly from last winter's frigid temps; there's an ice sheet up in Canada that keeps sending care packages of cool air our way.

And because I live in a no-air-conditioning home, you'd think I'd be ecstatic, wouldn't you?

But this summer I've got other irons in the fire, so to speak.   In particular, all eyes are on the IronMan that comes at the end of August down in Kentucky.  It bills itself as "the hottest IronMan", and it promises race-day temps in the 80's or 90's.  That's a lot of heat to struggle through on one long day.

So instead of basking in the sun (or rather in the shade) of this miraculously tepid set of months, I'm trying to heat acclimate my body.  Temps in the high 80's?  Great day for a run!  Getting ready for bed?  Throw on a few extra blankets!  Heading for a friend's home?  Put on long pants and bring a sweater!

I've turned off the air conditioner in my campus office.  I go outside to read books.  I pretend I am a turtle, and I seek sunny spots on warm rocks.

There's supposed to be a point to my writing this.  Maybe the point is, after you read this you get to say, "Oh, thank goodness, I'm not her!".

But when I walk across my campus during these surprisingly moderate breezy days, wearing my long sleeves and my knee-length jeans, what other people actually say to me is, "Wow, is this heat killing me!"   And I think, "what heat?"

So maybe all my heat adaptation is really starting to kick in.  We'll know how well it really works in 7 weeks!

Monday, July 7, 2014

One flu over the Miser House

Around midnight between Friday and Saturday, the flu overtook my husband.  He spent a retch-ed night.

I prepared for the inevitable by hammering my training as well as I could over the weekend -- on Saturday, while my husband began to recover, I did a very hilly 65-mile bike ride (slow even by my standards).  Sunday before church, I upped my running milage from my usual weekend 6 miles to about 11.  By the afternoon, my guy was back on his feet and we went for a walk.

Sunday night (last night) I had my turn at feeling retch-ed.

There is something about a well-prepared-for flu that I actually enjoy.  Of course, being sick is not much fun, but the day after the awful night always amazes me.  I'm a little sore and achy, and very very tired. But the way that I get better is just . . . to lie here.  To sleep.  That's so amazing.  My body becomes this "I'll take care of you" machine.

Imagine if we could do that with other things around us:  The kitchen is a disaster?  Close the doors, let it rest, and come back 6 hours later;  the counters will be much clear and shiny.  That pile of grading overwhelming?  Put a blanket on it; give it some cool water, and have it take a nap.  Those papers will be all graded by morning.  But somehow this enforced rest actually works with recovering from the flu.  I love my body.

Today was the day I was supposed to go out for a 3-mile run with my friend June, a 15-mile bike-ride with my friend Andy, and then a solo 16-mile run through rolling Lancaster farmland.  But instead I'm snuggled up happily, glad for this little vacation my body is giving me.

Okay, back to my nap.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Gingerbread Hummus

Subtitle:  Oops!

So, I found this giant jar of beans at a yard sale last summer; and I bought it for a dollar.  The woman who sold it to me told me she'd put the beans in herself, layer by layer, and used it only "for decoration".  Me, I'd definitely use the jar to store baking supplies, and so I set about to slowly and systematically eat those beans.  The price was more than right.

Which brings us to Wednesday night:  soak a bunch of those beans.  Thursday morning: drain them, add more water, add a bit of oil and garlic, and pressure cook them for 8 minutes.  Then set the pot outside to cool off during the day.

Thursday night, I came home and drained the beans.  Half of the mixture made it into a "bean salad":  add oil, cider vinegar, salt, and a dash of lemon.  Marinate it in a jar.  That jar makes for a quick and easy, cool, filling snack.

The other half I tossed into the food processor to puree into hummus, with my usual slap-dash recipe.  (When her friends ask K-daughter what ingredients I've used in any particular dish, she laughs and says "stuff").  In this case, "stuff" means whatever spices and flavors I happen to want to put in -- usually garlic and mustard, either parsley or cilantro depending on what's sitting around in the freezer or on the counter, and salt -- a bit of oil, a bit of lemon juice, and bread crumbs.

Except that the jar of bread crumbs I grabbed from the freezer was really . . . gingerbread crumbs. Hence, oops.

(Yes, these gingerbread crumbs came from our ginger-fail house).  However, it turns out that ginger is a spice, too!  and it seems to go well in hummus.  And a touch or two of sugar doesn't seem to ruin the batch.

And when I stick the "Gingerbread Hummus" label on there, it sounds like I made it this recipe on purpose, right?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thrifty Thursday: Paper food labels

This is just a little bit of something that makes me happy:  using pre-cycled paper as a trash-less way to label my food.
Once a week, we get a giant box of vegetables from our CSA.  This is what the pile o' veggies looked like this Tuesday when we brought it home:
 Totally beautiful.   But also, in this form, largely inedible still.  I've taken to spending an hour chopping things up the evening the veggies join our home.  First I take remove the greens from the carrots and beets.  The greens go into jars of water to keep them fresh until I cook them up:
(Yellow beets and purple carrots . . . what is this world coming to?)   Then comes some quality time with my food processor.   It's always easier to snack on veggies when they're already cut up, so chopping *everything* at once makes it much more likely that we'll grab, say, cucumbers and carrots as a snack instead of a plastic yogurt container or boxed cereal.  Some of the veggies (like the beets) I'll jar up with dressing, so they're packaged as ready-to-go salads.

But chopping is not enough, especially at the beginning of the week.  With so many people in my family home nowadays, and so many different veggies jammed into the fridge, I can't use my usual "magic memory" to make sure that we use up all the food.  Hence, the paper labels, which I attach with rubber bands or (in the case of canning jars) screwed on above the lid but below the ring.  Large, easy-to-read labels help the rest of the family know what's up for grabs!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Killer Spaghetti

Who's that broad-shouldered, shirtless young man standing at my front door?

Why, that would be my very own J-son!  Dang, he's growing up to be a darned good-looking man.  All that healthy eating and exercise is doing well by him, don't you think?

But that's not why I took this picture.  I took this picture because the door latch on the front screen door broke (the hardware cracked).  I biked to the hardware store, bought a new latch assembly, and handed the package to my older son.

"Since you can put together legos and bionicles, you can put together a new door latch.  Just call me if you need help."

J-son needed no further encouragement.  He determinedly waived aside all offers of assistance and set to work, concentrating hard.  Bionicles are indeed an appropriate practice problem for this kind of repair . . .
. . . but that's not why I took these pictures either.   I really took these pictures because I wanted to say something about killer spaghetti.

Let me back up a bit.  I grew up in a house with two parents who were experimental physicists, and both my mom and my dad encouraged us to learn to take care of ourselves in a bunch of different ways, crossing traditional gender lines so often I occasionally didn't know what the official roles were supposed to be. For example, when I was in Girl Scouts, my parents designed a "Plumbing Badge" (which doesn't exist except as a make-your-own at the Girl Scouts of America), and my mom and dad led a gaggle of 5th grade girls through the intricacies of shut-off valves, toilet flappers and float balls, washers, and sink traps.  Good stuff.  When we built an addition on the house, my teenage sisters and I got to help drive the rented backhoe to dig the footers.  We strung wiring in the empty, framed-out walls and installed electrical outlets and (single pole, double throw) switches.  We put up drywall and agonized over plaster patches. We also cooked, cleaned, and learned to use the sewing machine.  

I've come to realize that there's something even more counter-cultural about the way my sisters and I were raised.   It's not just what we did (construction, sewing, plumbing, cooking) that was unusual:  it was also what we didn't do.  What we didn't do was tell scary stories about how dangerous any of these activities might be.  The not-telling-stories-about-danger part matters a lot, especially when you want to empower people who might not otherwise have easy access to power.  It's standard fare to respond the way N&M recently did to my post on installing new light fixture -- that is, to respond with stories of danger ("one of his undergrad professors once said that the number one cause of death among electrical engineers is home wiring, but I'm not sure if that's true or not.")  

Is it true you can hurt yourself with home wiring?  Sure, I suppose so.  Could you burn down your home?  Yes, but it's not likely: the most likely thing that will go wrong is that you blow the circuit and the power goes out.  Annoying, but not life threatening.  

But compare that (scary, male-dominated) home wiring scenario to the (familiar, female-dominated) task of cooking dinner.  Here's N-son making spaghetti all by himself.  He's standing next to open flame.  He's boiling water.  He could burn himself; he could burn the house down.  When he grates the cheese, he could cut himself badly.  It's killer spaghetti.
Cooking is dangerous, too.  In fact, all the hospital trips and fire engine excitement that we ever had while I was growing up were the result of various forms of boiling water:  my sister went to the hospital with 3rd degree burns from a making-coffee accident, and we had to call the fire department because of a stove fire once when the water boiled away and the pan caught on fire.  But when a friend tells us she made spaghetti, my sisters and I don't jump in with stories about potential accidents and destruction.  

The stories we tell our kids shape who they want to be.  I'm thinking about that a lot right now as K-daughter tries to figure out how to finish out her education.  This last year was hard on her, academically and otherwise.  She tells me "I'm sick of being broke."  She's so good with her hands that I keep encouraging her to consider learning welding, where she could make big bucks.  But the other day, she came home and said, "I'm thinking I'd like to learn to be a hair dresser."    Uuggghhh.

I don't want welding, or fixing a latch, or cooking dinner, or replacing a simple gosh-darned ceiling lamp to be something that scares my kids so much that they avoid having a life that is financially-and-otherwise fulfilling.  

After all, doing a hard job -- and doing it well -- is a really good feeling.  It's the best way I can think of to open doors.
Latch replaced and working great.
No help at all from his mom.  Go,  J-son, go!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On being slow

Last year, when I rode my bike on the 50-mile-long Pedal to Preserve Farmland Ride, just about everybody passed me.  It wasn't simply the super-fit speedsters in full spandex who left me in the dust; oh, no, it was everyone.   Spherical old guys in floppy green t-shirts -- guys I would have blown by if I'd been running -- they just spun their pedals and rode up the hill away from me.  Gals in halter-tops who sported sandals with no toe clips, they blew by me, too.  The Amish guy on the single speed with a fully loaded milk crate strapped to the back of his bike . . . well, okay, him I passed.  But he wasn't doing the whole ride.

This past year, I did the ride again.  At the end of the ride, I bragged to my friend that no one in sandals passed me this year.  "Umm . . . " she responded, "the ride organizers banned sandals this year."


Well, no spherical guys in floppy t-shirts passed me, either.

But I'm still pretty danged slow.  And, because I am so very very slow compared to other people who ride bikes, I have a lot of time to think about what it means to be slow.  First of all, in the battle for power between fast and slow, slow always wins.   To show what I mean by this, consider this example.
Suppose I struggle up one side of a hill at 10 miles per hour, and I zoom down the other side at 30 miles per hour.  What's my average speed?
You'd think the average speed would be 20 -- after all, 20 is right in the middle of 10 and 30; wouldn't the average speed just be the average of the speeds?  But no; I spend way more time going up the hill than I do going down the hill, and that skews the average.   In fact, I spend three times as long going up the hill as I do going down, because I do the uphill so slowly and the downhill so quickly.  So it turns out my average speed is 15 miles per hour, not 20.  Slow speeds really drag the averages down.

On the other hand, "slow" also gives the best chance for winning the "most improved award".   I'm guessing I might be able to fairly easily average 14 miles per hour for the bike portion of my triathalon.   (For those of you who want to snicker, I'll add that this includes rest stops and such . . . but yes, you're allowed to snicker.  I'm pretty pathetic still.)  At that pace, it'll take me exactly 8 hours to finish the bike leg.  But if I can manage to go just a little faster (15 or 16 miles per hour), then that'll cut my time down by as much as a whole hour.  That's HUGE!

In contrast, my speedy husband is hoping to average 19 mph.   He'll be ready to hop off the bike after a little less than 6 hours.  But for him, getting one or two miles an hour faster would only cut his riding time by a half-hour.  That is, getting better is twice as effective for me as it is for him, because he's already so good.

If you combine these two facts, you realize that for me, the best way to bump down my total IronMan time is to improve the parts I'm slowest at (that is, going up those danged hills).  July is going to see a lot more long rides, and bunch of hill workouts.  Sigh.

The moral of the story:  There are much more general principals at stake; this isn't just about bike riding.  In general, improving the things we're bad at, even a little bit, helps us a lot more than improving the things we're already stellar at.