Saturday, May 30, 2015

K-daughter's homemade baby wipes

Here's a little guest posting that I cobbled together from a text message and two emails that K-daughter sent me.  What I love about these letters is not just that she figured out how to make inexpensive baby wipes, but that she's obviously inherited so much of the Miser Mom joy at learning to do things cheaply and frugally.  For joy, just check out all those exclamation points. (!!!)  For frugality, notice she cares not only about things that make a direct difference to her personally (cost), but also to the world around her (plastic, disposable paper).   And notice also that she has totally mastered the art of adapting recipes to use what she's got on hand.   I'm so proud.
And, of course, what warms my heart most of all is that when she's excited to the point of overflowing about this, the person she tells about this is me.  I'm so glad K-daughter is part of my life.


I've decided to make my own baby wipes!! So excited!!! :D So, I plan to use cloth diapers, make my own baby wipes and food. I am feeling pretty awesome.
Despite the ingredients being in plastic containers- I think you might enjoy this recipe! Also, I will make some to leave there for Baby A!

The recipe called for 1 bounty paper towel cut in half, 1 tbs of castile soap, 1 tbs of pure aloe, 1tbs of witch hazel, 1 3/4 cup of warm water and 10 drops of any essential oil (for fragrance) and 1 tps of olive oil.

Well, I didn't have castile, so I looked up alternatives- found that I could replace it with a different oil, I chose coconut oil; not only replaces the castile, but I now do not need to use olive oil either! 

MY recipe goes as follows- 
  • one bounty paper towel (according to the woman who experimented with this, bounty worked best, though any paper towel could work. Yes, sorry, paper towel) 
  • 1tbs witch hazel, 
  • 1 tbs aloe, 
  • 1 tbs coconut oil and 
  • two cups of warm water.

Place the paper towel in the coffee can and pour the mixed ingredients over. Place the lid on top and turn over. Let it soak. Pull the paper towel roll from out of the center- this will start the first wipe!

I didn't have a lid that didn't have a hole in it (this one was originally used to store bags) so I place something inside it to seal it. (we can't find our duct tape or I would've used that to cover it).   So next time, I will make sure I have a better lid for it. 

Leaves your hands as.... Well, smooth as a babies bottom ;)

The bounty paper towel was $1.89, the aloe and the witch hazel together was $4 and the coconut oil (that i already had) was once $4. But the paper towel makes 188 wipes (which usually cost like, $7/$8) but since the ingredients makes more than just one pack, its much cheaper and more healthy (after looking at the ingredients on the pampers/ huggies labels) . So ultimately, i just need to buy the papertowel- which would leave the 94 wipes only .94 cents per half roll.... . .01 cent per wipe. Most stores, even at the dollar store from what I have experienced, you only get 72 wipes and they are much smaller than the name brand.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Transporting myself to Toronto

On the way from my home town to Toronto this Wednesday, I got stuck in the Philadelphia airport for about eight hours.

Being stuck in airports is a bit of a specialty of mine.  When flights are getting cancelled right and left, I play a secret game I call "Be the most cheerful person in the airport."  I'm freaking-good at this game: someone grumps at their kids, and I make the kids an origami frog.  I win!  Someone else snarls at the ticket agent, and I smile at the agent.  Another win!  Clumps of travelers huff in frustration that the flight got cancelled, and I give thanks that we're safe on the ground instead of plummeting to our death in a plane that got struck by lightening.  Yay!  I win again!  

I have a personal reason for being so cheerful during long layovers:  airports are actually one of my most productive work zones.  As long as I can get away from the television screens and their waah-whah-waah noises, I find that an airport is a perfect mix of stimulation and lack-of-distraction.  I'm away from kids and colleagues, and sometimes I'm even cut off from the internet, so the usual distractions in my life are removed.  But the setting is unfamiliar enough and noisy enough that I'm not inclined to sleep or daydream.  So I get lots of writing and reading done.  An enforced airport layover can be a bit of a blessing in disguise (with non-negligible emphasis on "disguise", of course).
Avoid the TVs!!!!

Bringing along supplies is crucial.  I never expect that the job of the airlines is to entertain me or feed me, so I come prepared with food, with my favorite travel scarf/blanket, with books that I can read and then toss, and with a pile of long-postponed work.

While the East Coast thunderstorms were busy grounding flights in Philly, I got busy in my own way.  I solved a math problem that a former-student-now-colleague wrote for me, and then wrote up a blurb about the problem that we'll get to use in our next book.  I put finishing touches on a talk I'd be giving at the conference I was going to.  I banged out a bunch of emails.  And I even had time to read a few chapters of a book that had been sitting in my suitcase, waiting for the next airport delay.

So it was a lovely coincidence, as I was surrounded by many stressed-out people, sitting in this hugely industrialized, hugely noisy, and hugely commercial place, that I got to re-read Thoreau's On Walden Pond.  That grumpy old curmudgeon, he says I shouldn't have flown to Toronto at all; he says it would have been cheaper just to walk.
One says to me, "I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the [train] cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country."  But I am wiser than that.  I have learned that the swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot.  I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is 30 miles; the fare ninety cents.  That is almost a day's wages.  I remember when wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road.  Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have traveled at that rate by the week together. You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and then arrive there sometime tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season.  Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day.
Travel has gotten somewhat more expensive in absolute terms (the IRS puts driving 30 miles at $17.25 as opposed to 90¢), although less expensive in real terms.  But the relative cheapness of travel means we're inclined to wander farther.  My own trip costs about $500, including airfare and shuttles and such, for a journey of  400 miles each direction.  I'm not inclined to walk 800 miles instead of driving or flying, y'know?

But even if I don't transport myself in the walking sense, I'm happy to transport myself into realms of productivity; I didn't walk my way to Toronto, but I worked my way to Toronto.  Thoreau would not approve; he would have tsk-tsked the whole mass-transit situation.  But he also would have sucked at the Airport-Cheerful game, giving me yet another chance to win a round, leaving me the undisputed, reigning Cheerful Champion of the Philadelphia International Airport.   Game, Set, and Match!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When the opposite of a "windfall" isn't a "downfall"

My husband and I are about to earn significantly less money in the upcoming year.  A year ago, my husband went from full-time to part-time employment; as of June 30 this year, he'll be out of a job entirely.  As for me, my upcoming sabbatical has me trading time for money: I'm taking a full-year sabbatical at 3/4 pay.  All told, our income will be less than half of what it was two years ago.

When we were younger (both in the chronological sense and in the financial sense), this year would have been the time to cut back--wherever possible--on our household spending and then turn to the Good Ol' Emergency Fund to supplement the difference.  That's just what we did back in 2000 when my husband was laid off from a job I didn't like much anyway (yay!), and the strategy worked as advertised, tiding us over until my guy found another good job and I got a promotion.

But now that we've matured a bit (again, both chronologically and financially), I think we'll try a different strategy: we're going to cut down on our "invisible spending".  A year from now, I can let you know how this plan goes.

Here's the basic idea behind why we think our "invisible spending" plan will work now, although it wasn't possible before.

During the first dozen or so years of our marriage, my husband and I had a lot of big financial obligations.  We had a mortgage; every once in a while we'd have a car loan; we had private school tuition and "kid bill" obligations for my step-daughters.  These were large expenses; they were non-negotiable; they drove me from being an ordinary, mildly frugal person into the manic, extreme Miser Mom I am today.

I buckled down and cut discretionary spending everywhere I thought I could.  Eventually we paid off our car loans, and then my step-daughters graduated, and so the kid bills ended.  With all of those expenses behind us, we upped our charitable contributions and pumped more money into our mortgage -- so much so, that a few years later, we paid off our mortgage.  We used the new extra money to  up our charitable contributions a notch further, and we started maxing out our 401Ks and 403Bs.  I opened a Roth IRA.  Last year, when we decided to enroll our boys in the Quaker Local School, I set aside a pile of NSF grant money that will cover most of next year's tuition.

What we didn't do was give up our thrifty ways.  Well, okay, I didn't give up my thrifty ways.  I still yard sale, avoid stores, blah blah blah (you know, the usual Miser Mom schtick).  But for all I chide my husband about spending a lot, even he hasn't upped the glam/wow factor in his life, and he's even made voluntary frugal sacrifices -- like agreeing to become a one-car family, where the one car is a beat-up old Prius, at that.

So as we've grown older and older, we've made more and more money, and we've had fewer and fewer expenses.  And instead of allowing the extra money to float around our heads like butterflies or gnats, we've hidden it from ourselves.  We asked our employers to remove gobs of money from our paychecks and send it directly to our retirement accounts.  They send other parcels of money to the United Way.  I write my first check of each month to our church.  There's money that comes out of my credit card each month for World Vision children we've sponsored.  All this is the money we don't even think about: it's our "invisible spending".

Our visible spending will be hard to cut back on -- for me, because there's not much left of it, and for my husband, because it's just hard to not buy things when he's so used to buying them, especially when all his friends and acquaintances buy even more than he does.  And it's possible the boys have some honkin' big expenses on the horizon, too.  So instead we're going to make our invisible money visible:  we'll just stop contributing to our retirement accounts, one year only.

Ignoring retirement savings isn't the transgression it would have been when we were younger.  For one thing, my employer will still contribute a bunch of money, even when I don't.  But even more significantly, we've now got so much money in our retirement accounts that, Market Willing, our savings will likely grow by more than our max contribution amount, even though we ourselves will chuck in exactly $0. And we've got so much money there already, that we're likely to have enough to retire when I'm finally allowed to retire (which is a few years later than I originally thought I was allowed to retire).

If the "retirement backwash" isn't enough to keep us afloat for the year, I suppose we can turn to reducing our charitable giving next.  I've always thought of that as a kind of a financial "safety valve", but there's something deep in me that hates to go there for my own needs.  Charitable giving has always, for me, been a psychological antidote to insatiable need.

So times will be a bit tight, but not as tight as if we'd grown used to spending all our money as soon as we earned it.  It's yet another reason that I give thanks for the Miser Mom lifestyle.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Well, now I can cross "make penguins" off my to-do list

If you happen to have a pair of nieces who both like penguins, and if you also have a bunch of fake fur lying around that you want to make use of before you donate the rest, . . . oh, and if you also happen to want to make lunch bags that can hold quart-sized canning jars . . . well, then this is the post for you.

Here's how to make a Penguin Canning Jar Bag.  First, search the web and find some penguin pictures.  Sketch a design (don't forget the beak, wings, and feet).

Here's the beginning of one head.  Penguins seem to have a white patch around their eyes, with black separating the white.  This is going to be a cylinder -- think of it as a furry penguin-colored headband in the making.

Some animals look cute with really big eyes.  I pulled out my button stash to do some experimenting, and I decided the large buttons would make my penguins look stoned.  So I chose small black buttons for eyes instead.

Here's the beginning of a body, basically a white-and-black cylinder with wings.  I guesstimated the white:black ratio as about 1:2.

In all the pictures I saw, penguins had orange beaks and feet.  Alas, my cache of fake fur didn't contain orange.  I seriously toyed with the idea of green feet and beak, but then I wimped out and went for the pink instead.

Add tops and bottoms to your cylinders, stitch a liner to go inside, throw in some straps, and what do you have?  Penguin bags!  Adorable!

And they hold canning jars!

And if you pick them up by the straps, the penguins lift their wings!

Too much fun.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Curating the past

This past fall, I framed a bunch of old family photos and heirlooms, and I gave them as gifts to my sisters, father, and other relatives.  It was pricey, but it was worth it to pull these treasures out of boxes and make them visible again.

Problem is, there are still more boxes. Still more treasures . . . a lot more treasures.  And maybe there are not enough people to treasure them.  What to do with all these leftovers?

I started inheriting the family memorabilia after I got interested in our history -- like many people, I was enthralled by the 1977 television series Roots, based on Alex Haley's novel.  After that, my grandfather sent me letters he'd written to distant relatives and their responses.  In my young adulthood, I travelled the country collecting stories and memorabilia from our elderly relatives.  Now I have a hand-drawn family tree dating back to the 1700's.  I have photos taken in the year 18-something.  I have giant, 80-year-old books of baby photos.  I have recipes.  I have diplomas and a few clothes and hand-tatted lace and a doctoral dissertation.

It's the kind of collection that everyone in my family thinks ought to be preserved.  As time goes by, though, it becomes clearer and clearer that, this collection, . . . well, . . . , um, everyone else is happy that they are not the ones preserving it.  Life is busy; there's not much time or inclination to sit and read those old, scrawly cursive handwritten letters.  And the photos of these people -- remembering how each of these unfamiliar faces fits into the family, it gets so complicated that looking at the pictures becomes another chore.  These relics reek more and more of ancient history; they feel less and less like the leaves and fruits of a living family tree.

So this collection has become my white elephant:  it's too precious and irreplaceable to toss in the trash, but it's also so unwieldy that nobody actually wants it in their own house.  We need a family library staffed by a family archivist; that's what we need.

Instead, we've got a corner of my sewing room and me.  I want my sewing room back, and I'm getting ready to resign from this job.

So, here's my plan.  Now that I'm on sabbatical, I'm really supposed to be doing my math (and, in fact, my math is what I want to do).  But I'm going to pick one morning each week, and during that morning I'll spend an hour digitizing and making sense of some part of the collection.  I'll transcribe relevant handwritten notes, so they're easier for us all to read.  I'll scan photos and diplomas so we have electronic versions.  I'll write up a family history, including photos and letters in appropriate chapters, so it's easier to tell who fits in where.  With any luck, by December, I'll have a "book" both in digital and in paper form, and that's what the family will be getting for Christmas.

And then, everyone will have one full year to claim anything they want from the collection.  Fair warning, full disclosure.  And if no-one else want this stuff, well, then neither do I.  The originals will all make their way into the recycling bins.

I'd be glad to take advice from other people who've tried similar things in the past.  Anyone?  Anyone?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Things-to-love-Thursday: the (velcro) ties that bind . . .

It's very, very seldom that I go out of my way to buy something that's made of plastic.  This post shows one of those exceptions (or, more correctly, many of those exceptions): velcro cord ties.
This is 100 velcro ties: 50 new ones for me,
and 50 as a gift for someone I know who likes home organization stuff.

Velcro ties are double-sided strips of velcro with a hole in one end and thin snout at the other end.  The short ones (5" or so) you sometimes find in grocery stores are too short for my taste; I try to find the ones that are at least 7" long.  There are cute little multi-colored versions, but I found these (50 ties for a bit less than $5) at our local hardware store, and I decided that black is beautiful, too.

And yes, for me spending $5 on a package of non-essential plastic stuff is a bit of a guilty splurge.

Here's why I love these ties.  You start with a messy mess of tangly mess that everyone keeps tripping over and tangling up.

Then you strap one of these velcro ties to the cord.  (There's a hole at one end of tie, and you thread the other end through that hole, so the velcro tie doesn't come off accidentally)

Then you coil up the cord, as much or as little as you like, and wrap the free end around the cord.  And . . . beautiful.  Easy to store in a drawer without tangling; easy to leave on the floor without tripping, easy to pack in a suitcase for traveling . . .
Voila!  No more messy mess of tangled mess!

These aren't world-changing.  But I like them.  I like them enough to actually buy them.  True story.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Pigeon Home Principal

In mathematics, there's a helpful little rule called the Pigeonhole Principal.  Essentially, it says that if you create a nesting box that has more pigeons than pigeonholes, then at least one of the holes has two (or more) pigeons nesting in it.

In our home, we keep trying to optimize people-space by filling the house up with extra people.  We have this home that has something like a gazillion bedrooms (okay, 5 bedrooms).  When K-daughter moved out in August, that left only two boys and the parents here.  At some point, the boys will graduate high school and eventually move out of the house; at that point, we'll gleefully switch strategies:  we'll optimize people-space by moving to a home that's substantially smaller.  But for now, we just add new people in to empty rooms.  Think of it as the "Pigeon Home Principal".

We don't go crazy with this PHP -- bringing strangers into the home has both advantages and disadvantages, of course.  Our family still remembers with a bit of trepidation the summer that C-son was with us. And J-son was reminding my husband the other night about the woman we hosted for about two weeks while she needed some time to get back into the right headspace; J-son remembers those weeks fondly as a time of camaraderie, but I knew she was seeing counsellors because of problems with self-mutilation.  Things can get a little edgy when random people move in.

So we've also said "no" to people who were looking for places to stay and hoping we'd say "yes".  B was such a person; she's struggling in college, both academically and personally, and can't go home to her family because they're not a safe space.  I knew from talking to others that she was going to need a lot of help, and also that she still has a lot of growing up to do.  I worried that if B moved in with us we'd become her own personal Hotel California; she'd never find a way out.  So we managed to find her an apartment at a local theological seminary -- off of our campus, so she has some space from academics, but also enough on her own that she has to take responsibility for her own choices.

We've also reserved one room as a safe-return space for K-daughter, who has a new baby, an almost-as-new marriage, and who still has a year or two of college courses left before she earns her degree.  We know there's a small chance she might want family around her at some point. (In fact, while her husband is off at Army Camp this summer, she'll move back in with us for just a few weeks. YYYYAAAAY!).

But there was one room left. So earlier this year, we got a note from my good friend TL, writing about a graduating student who wanted to do a year of Inter Varsity work before heading off for medical school.  TL said this:
I've hesitated to forward this request to you, knowing your generous nature and not wanting to pressure you in any way. I talked with Y again yesterday at church, and she still does not have housing lined up after Jan 11 besides a place on someone's couch. My understanding is that she will be looking for a job when she returns in January and is unable to commit to a rent amount until then. We have offered a month at the TL Chateau while she figures stuff out. From what I know of Y, I can only imagine that she'd be a respectful, delightful addition to any home. . . .
And this is how Y moved into our home.  She's very self-sufficient, so we don't see her much, but she's joined in Easter traditions and Girls Nights and a Special Dinner or two.  I've given her some of my cast-off clothes.  And for Mother's Day, she gave me a book she'd heard me rave about: a pre-owned copy of  Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, a fantastic book.  She hadn't read it before, so I read it to her and N-son on the living room rug.  It was a lovely moment to share.
The moral of this story is that, although you should never let the pigeon drive the bus, it can actually be a grand thing to let the pigeon move into your home.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A tale of three bags

My dad remarried a few years ago, after my mom passed away. He's bought a new home with his new bride, and he's been slowly slowly cleaning out the old home. About a month ago, my dad wrote to me and my sisters:

In emptying the house, a seemingly endless task, I have come across your mother's Kelty Back Pack, still in very good condition. Would any of you like it?

At about the same time, I was helping with our college's annual end-of-year garage sale, where we sort and sell off things that the students (mostly freshmen) decide they don't want to take home with them.  The stuff students leave behind is often incredible: clothes, furniture, electronics, food, school supplies.    We sell these items for true Miser Mom prices; floor lamps are $5, a complete set of pots and pans for $25, clothes for $1 each or $5 for a grocery-bag full.
This year, someone who knows the names of consumer items came over while we were still sorting the piles and piles of things students had donated; she warned me not to price two purses at our usual $1 each:  these were a Coach bag and a Kate Spade purse, still in their original plastic bag wrapping.  (So bags in bags!)  

 (There were also a pair of Ugg boots in their fancy cardboard box that got a special price, thanks to the same person who knows the names of clothes).

Of course, these cast-offs inspired the usual rant against spoiled students. How could it not?  To have some 18-year-old who gets showered with luxury items that she discards upon a trash heap -- it seems inconceivable to us.  The contrast is especially stark once the sale starts; our city is the home to many resettled refugee families.  We get families from Nepal, the Congo, the Dominican Republic.  Some families come together to our sale and buy enough furniture to stock their whole apartment:  $50 or $70 at Miser Mom prices for a heap of belongings that includes rugs, couches, fans, hot pots, dishes, clothes, shoes, bedding.  But no Coach purses.

The  Kelty backpack seems so much more virtuous; it was used by a woman who hiked through the woods with Girl Scouts, offering her time and expertise to young campers long after her own daughters had grown up and moved away.  Whereas the Coach-and-Spade combo was never even opened up.

And yet, I know my mom probably only used that backpack fewer than a dozen times; she liked the idea of backpacking more than the actual experience.  (She was an avid site camper, but not a long-distance camper, if that makes sense).  Her backpack was as much for "identity" purposes as it was for practical use.

Even more, because of my mom's long illness, the backpack itself probably hasn't seen use in the last dozen or two dozen years.  It's been sitting in the basement of my dad's home, just taking up space.  He has a lot of space, but still.  The backpack wasn't doing anybody any good for a heck of a long time.

Getting rid of things we don't want is hard.  My dad has been cleaning out this home for more than a year now [and my sisters and I are so so so glad that he's doing it, so we won't have to!].  He has the luxury of space, and he has the luxury of time.  The student who chucked her boots and purses into the Garage Sale Pile had only one or two days to clean out her dorm room.   And probably she had to leave behind everything that wouldn't fit in the car.  Would she have seemed less spoiled to us if she'd hung onto these bags without using them?

I'm not going to feel sorry for her or anything, but it does remind me how our belongings don't just serve us, but they also create obligations that weigh us down, that create moral quandaries, that take our time and our energy.

None of my sisters or me want the Kelty backpack.  It'll go to a charity garage sale, too.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A small thing to love: heat

In my seemingly endless quest for non-stick muffins that are also non-trash-producing, I've tried a lot of different techniques, with varying degrees of success.  I turned a corner of sorts back in 2012, when Kimberlie recommended the Misto sprayer.   I broke down and bought this for real money (it cost me $12; I've since found some at yard sales for 50¢).  

My Misto sprayer is fun to use (pump, pump!), and it works better than non-Pam alternatives (although not quite as well as trash-producing Pam and other aerosol sprayers, dang).  To help the muffins clamber their way out of the pans even more easily, I use a combination of spray oil and a dusting of flour.

But my experience with cast iron pan cooking, plus my vast waffle-iron experience, led me to remember the value of heat.  So I tried a small experiment the other day when I was making 2-dozen muffins.  I sprayed both tins, and then one of the tins I stuck in the pre-heating oven while I mixed up the muffin batter.
Yum! Muffins!  These popped right out, after a spray/flour/heat pre-treatment of the pans.
One half of my muffin batter went into the room-temp muffin tin; the other half went into a sizzling hot tin.  The first set of muffins came out with a small bit of coaxing.  The second set practically popped out.  Love it!

And dang, if I ever find a cheap cast-iron muffin pan, I'm grabbing it.  Because these so-called-non-stick pans are just as much work as (or maybe even more work than) my dad's hardy cast iron muffin pans.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Crowd-sourced Reading List

I started a reading experiment of sorts a year ago.  When I'm at a social gathering and starting to run out of good topics to discuss with the person I happen to be standing near, I ask for suggestions for a good book to read.  (With some people I don't know well, I "run out" of topics even before I start talking with them, and this gives me a great way to start a conversation).

I write all the suggestions down, noting also who suggested the book.  During the semester, I don't have much free time for reading, but I pull out my reading list once winter break or summer break begins.

I like this little experiment -- it has pushed me outside of my standard reading (mostly non-fiction and detective stories).  This puts me at the bibliographic mercy of others, a position I haven't been in since I was a student.  Sometimes I really don't like the books that people suggest: a professor of Comparative Literature recommend Nabakov's Pnin as knee-snappingly funny, but it was a bit of a dud, as far as I was concerned.

But sometimes I'm very surprised -- and usually I'm delighted -- by the books that people get into my hands.  One frighteningly serious professor of literature got the book question from me.  I figured I'd be reading a post-modern feminist novel from somewhere on the other side of the globe, and that would have been okay . . . but she recommended M.T. Anderson's Feed, and that was amazing.  It's a young adult fiction novel about a culture in which everyone has internet implanted directly in their brains.  Pop-up ads all the time!  The dialog and characters are amazing -- the author does a 1984 or Brave New World, except that he gets pop culture correct in a way the first two classics totally miss.   And I never would have expected that Feed would be the book that this Frighteningly Serious Professor would recommend.  She's a lot less frightening to me now.

Here are some of the books I'll be digging into this summer. Only 25% of these are non-fiction (although I've been warned by some that Polanyi's book will be a decent slog, so maybe this ups the non-fiction reading/brain time), and none, as far as I know, are detective stories.

  • Jodi Picoult, 19 Minutes, Lone Wolf, or The Storyteller
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior
  • Rana Dasgupta, Solo
  • Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
  • Luis Alberto Urrea, The Hummingbird's Daughter,
  • Pat Conroy, Prince of Tides
  • Anthony Doerr, All the light we cannot see
  • Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation

Don't spoil the plots for me!

And just in case you're wondering, the pile of in-process books that has been on my bed stand lately is this:

  • Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
  • Garrison Keillor's Pretty Good Joke Book
  • E.M. Forester,  A Room with a View
  • a local history/tour book of my own home town

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Too much food downstairs

Guests who take a tour of my basement often ask me if I'm a "survivalist".    

I'm not; I just try to buy local food in season and can it up for the winter months.  Problem is, this particular recent set of winter months, my husband has been in charge of dinners, which means that our dinners have consisted of food which is much more . . . um . . . commercial.  (He'd say, it's "ordinary").  So we've been eating more of, you know, stuff that comes out of boxes decorated with logos or out of plastic bags of one sort or another.  Not food that comes out of glass jars labeled with paper tags and painter's tape.

As a result, my basement storage area -- which should be nearly cleaned out of food by now, seeing as how May is bringing fresh veggies back into the house -- well, it looks like this: 
A lot of food left . . .
 Not exactly empty.

Since I organize our food by "month" instead of by item, you can see how far behind we are in consuming last summer's bounty:
Food I'd planned to bring upstairs in January is still in the basement!
Yes, we haven't even brought the January box up yet.   Sigh.  Look at those tomatoes and that turkey stock and those cherries and pickles and applesauce!  So much yummy food waiting for someone to come eat it!

There are worse problems to have, I know, than having more-than-enough food in the basement.  But still, I guess this means it's time for me to start planning dinners again.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ocho de Mayo

I sort of forgot to take photos of this year's "Ocho de Mayo" celebration at the Miser Mom household.  It was a lot like a previous year's "Siete de Mayo"; the date sort of slides around.  So similar, except this year we had an even more wonderfully full house.  Yes!

Fortunately, I have photos of my granddaughter (38 days old), so I can still illustrate the process of preparing a celebration.    The first stage of course is thinking hard about when to hold the dinner, and also what to serve.  Hmmmm . . . .

Hmmm . . . what should Miser Nana cook for dinner?

Here's a secret we'll share with you:  the menu is pretty much the same as every year.  Tacos!
Just between us;
she keeps the menu and the music selection in her tickler file!
This year, the best part of the evening was that we had Ocho people around the table!  Whoop!  Our new Y, both boys, me & my husband, my only homemade daughter, plus of course K-daughter and Baby A.  It made us all happy to have so many people around to celebrate the evening.  Truly a fiesta!
I love my many aunts and uncles, but I love my Nana best of all!
We start the evening with a bit of rowdy dancing.  ¡La Bamba!  and ¿Que té pasa? are annual crowd pleasers in our family.

Then we sit down to lots of yummy food: rice, hamburger and beans, cheese, lettuce, bananas, and salsa.  How was that salsa, Baby A?
Yoicks!  Hot!  But good!

 But all in all, we thought it was a good evening.   What did you think, Baby A?
In my considered opinion, yes, it was a worthwhile gathering.
I'll be back next year;
maybe I can actually eat some of the food then!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Canned Wolf Puppets

And now, for something really silly . . . 

To round out the genre of Canning Jar Fetish, I'd been thinking about how just about anything could become a canning jar lid.  

And about  the moment I was thinking about it, I was futzing about in my sewing room.  I was trying to decide on a good way to display a puppet that my sisters and I had played with as a kid, that I'd recently inherited because my dad is cleaning out the house.

And, well, you know, THIS happened.

Ta Da!!!!
 Because everybody needs a sentimental Wolf Puppet Canning Jar Candy Holder, right?

Maybe the wolf is pooping chocolate balls, I dunno.

At any rate, if you want to make your own one of These Thingiess and you're curious about my construction technique, here's what I did.
  • Stuff the head and arms of the wolf with fiberfill (toy animal stuffing, left over from other projects).
  • Put a canning ring outside the wolf's waist, like a hula hoop.
  • Slide a canning jar lid inside the puppet up snug against the stuffing, and into the ring.
  • Once I was sure this fit well, I loosened up the jar/ring connection, added a bunch of superglue into the crevices, and then tightened things back into place.
  • When the glue was dry, I snipped away the bottom portion of the puppet.  It makes a nice "skirt" to go over the bottom portion of the jar, but I don't have that photographed here.


My, what nice big canning rings you have, Granny!   
All the better to put food up, my dear!   (growl chomp growl ymmmmm)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Money 201: Intermediate Allowance

The purpose of an allowance, so the experts say, is to teach our children lessons about handling money.  This purpose I approve of, it goes without saying.

In fact, as a professor at heart, I have come to construct a sort of allowance syllabus (in my own head), complete with learning goals and feedback mechanisms.  I loved Mommy Dollars as a kind of "Intro Allowance" course; it gave my students children a low-stakes way to play with money.  They got lots of practice with simple arithmetic, for one thing.  They also developed a vocabulary of commerce: for example learning the difference between "deposit"and "rent", or between "deposit" and "balance".  And it taught them a few lessons a bit higher in Bloom's taxonomy of knowledge, too, when they discovered for themselves that winning an auction can actually kind of suck.

But pink, purple, and yellow dollars are valuable for only so long.  As the boys have gotten older, they have graduated from Mommy Dollars and are finally ready to matriculate into "Intermediate Allowance".

The amount of allowance I give the boys is designed to keep them as close as I can to the critical point (they actually have to think about what they spend) without dipping down into the "Dad throws random money at them" level of deprivation.

For, my husband is not a disciple of the "allowance as life lesson" school.  He throws money at the boys because of silly reasons like "well, they didn't have any money".  Or because "well, they were going  out with their friends, and I thought they ought to have money".  Or because, "well, they did some chores [picked up sticks from the front yard], so I gave them $4."  And how the heck are the boys going to learn to deal with the future reality of a scheduled pay day if money just rains down on them randomly now?

For this reason, I set the level of their allowance at $5/week.  Each.  These boys, as far as I'm concerned, are beyond wealthy at this level, and usually (but not always) this means that I can convince my husband not to subvert the lesson plan.

Because here's the lesson plan that goes with Miser-Mom-University's Money 201: Intermediate Allowance.  It's the "know thyself" portion of allowance, a crucial aspect of financial management that many adults miss out on.  Every week, before the boys get their next allowance, they have to  write these three things in their Allowance Journal:

  1. Where their past money actually went in the previous week.
  2. What they plan to do with their next allowance for the upcoming week.
  3. Their current savings balance.
That's all they have to do:  reflect, plan, and tally.  Then they get their money.

N-son's Allowance Journal

I don't have any restrictions on what the boys spend (or plan to spend) their money on, but I will make gentle suggestions.  For example, I always encourage them to think about "give, save, and spend" categories, but I don't mandate that they do any of those.  I'll also remind them about upcoming events, like a carnival coming to town, that they might want to save up for.    And I try to get them to be specific about their plans ("what are you saving for?"  or "you said you're going to spend $4.50.  What do you think you're going to spend it on?")

The clincher comes the next week, when they compare what actually happened with what they thought would happen.  They have discovered (surprise, surprise) that they often can't remember where their money went.  I think that's a great thing to learn early in life, don't you?

Both boys have figured out on their own that if they truly want to save money, they need to give it to me for safe-keeping instead of hanging onto it themselves.  N-son has gone further; he also hands over the money he wants to give to church so he's not tempted to blow it elsewhere.

J-son, the more impulsive of the two boys, impressed the heck out of me with his resolve to save.  He decided that he needed a Lacrosse jacket so he could be truly a member of his team.  His dad and I agreed we'd pay for half of it, but only if he could save up the other half himself first.  And by the time that the order forms for the jackets came out, J-son had saved up an impressive $50, denying himself every single penny of spending for several months just to make sure he could afford his heart's desire.  His half of the jacket's cost came to $37; as soon as he paid it, he blew the other $13 on convenience store snacks.  Back to normal!

Learning to actually save money long-term: that lesson's not there yet.  (After many months, the boys' accumulated savings amount to less than $15 combined).  But they are practicing the dual habits of planning forward and of looking backward, and maybe that helpful habit will someday take hold.