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.