Friday, July 31, 2015

Pears, oh pears

Years and years ago, I thought it would be sort of cute/romantic to ask for a pear tree for Christmas. My husband, who often laments that I never ask for anything, was delighted to oblige, although we waited until my birthday in March to buy and plant the tree (what with, y'know, weather and all that).  And we never expanded the list to include partridges or Lords-a-Leaping.

To defend my reputation, I would like to point out that it's not true that I never ask for anything; why, just this very year I hinted none-too-subtly that I would love to get a pencil sharpener for my birthday.  So there's that.

At any rate, I really didn't know what I was getting myself into when I asked for a pear tree.  Pear trees aren't these cute little trees like the cherry blossoms that decorate the edges of our street.  Mine started out as a ball of dirt with a big stick attached, and it's since grown into a 3-story-high tower of leafiness.
Moral 1:  Check the natural height of trees before buying and planting them.
Of course, I could trim the tree down . . . at least that's what I thought once I started to realize what this Franken-tree would mean to my backyard.  I've since gotten other fruit trees, including a prolific peach tree, and I've learned to heed advice that I should annually prune it to a max of 7-foot high.  A professional tree trimmer happened to be in my neighborhood last summer, and I asked him to look at my Pear Tower Tree.  He wrinkled his nose and said, "I know what you want me to do, but at this late stage doing it would go against my professional ethics."   To wit: my pear tree and I have incurred the moral disgust of professional arborists.
Moral 2:  Pay attention to pruning advice when the tree is still young enough that it's cute.  
The problem with the size of my tree is two-fold:  one is that it shades a bunch of my garden where I want to grow other things, and the other is that most of the pears are just too high for us to reach.

But to the good, there are lots of pears on the branches.  Lots and lots of pretty pears.

Except here's the weird thing about pears that I didn't know when I got this tree:  you can't just pick pears off of trees and then eat them.  As one of my favorite canning  instructions sites points out,
"Most pears ripen from the inside out, and if left on the tree to ripen, many varieties will become brown at the core and rotten the middle. This is especially common in most fall pears. Pears have a characteristically gritty texture caused by cells in the meat called stone cells. Although modern varieties have fewer of these stone cells, all varieties still contain them. Picking the pears before they have matured and holding them under cool controlled conditions prevents the formation of too many stone cells, and results in a less gritty pear!"
Okay, so we've got a multi-step process:  pick them early, store them under carefully controlled conditions (hah!!!), and then hope like heck we pull them out of the ripening process exactly when they're at the right stage where we can successfully eat/can/cook them.

Already you can see the pears rotting on the tree here -- and yet, if you pick these, they'll feel hard on the outside, gooshy and disgusting in the middle.  Sigh.

So it's time to rescue the viable pears now.  On Tuesday, J-son and I spent an hour or so together picking pears.

I worked from the "inside" (under the tree) picking as many as I could by hand.   J-son worked the outside, using our pear picker -- a long pole with a hook and a basket. This allowed him to reach about halfway up the tree.

Pears are an adventure to pick in other ways than height and ripeness -- unlike peaches, they're the about the same color as the leaves around them. So it's hard to see them.  We keep thinking we'd picked one section of the tree clean, and then we'd switch our angle and see crowds of pears hanging out in the exact spot we'd just picked, appearing there almost as if by magic.

In the end, we picked about two 5-gallon buckets worth of pears.  In past years, when I'd gotten fewer, I tried to ripen them in a bottom drawer of the fridge.  Sometimes that worked; sometimes it didn't.  This year, the refrigerator isn't even an option:  these babies aren't going to fit there.  So I put them in cardboard boxes near the canning jars in my basement.  Cool?  Sort of.  Controlled?  Ugh.  Who knows what kind of mess I'll find when I come back from my travels two-and-a-half weeks from now?  Maybe I'll have ten gallons of beautifully ripened pears.  Maybe I'll have a rotting mess.  Maybe I'll have several boxes of still-hard objects that could take the place of ceramic pears.
Moral 3 (and I've said this one before): Our possessions begin to own us, so choose your possessions wisely.
I've spent a bunch of time this week taking care of something of mine that was supposed to take care of me.  I don't have to pay money to take care of my tree (unless I want to find a tree trimmer who will sacrifice his professional principles to make my tree a little less unruly).  But I have spent time and energy and a bit of mental effort that I could have used for other parts of my life.

And yet.

And yet, although there are many things I would do differently if I were choosing a new ball-of-dirt-with-stick-attached today, I'm so glad to have this living thing sharing my yard and my life. It's a bit of a miracle that I can walk through my yard and have food (or at least, potential food) hanging in the air above my head.  It's a blessing to gaze out my window at something that showers me with gifts, even if I don't want them right now, or even if I don't want them in exactly the form that they're delivered.

So maybe my next tree will be a pencil-sharpener tree.  We'll see.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What happened to the Basil Killer?

So, I can remember when I used to basically kill nearly every green thing that I breathed on.  Tomato plants withered under my gaze.  Basil seeds applied for asylum under the ground.  Black-eyed-Susans, which everyone assured me no-one could kill, I unleashed my special powers on and watched them die under my feet. I was to dirt what King Midas was to gold; everything I touched turned to dust.

So, how did it come to be that one of my biggest concerns about my upcoming two-week trip is this:  figuring out how to harvest all the food that is spontaneously bursting forth from the gardens in my back yard?  I'm surrounded by Eden, by the Amazon, by the goose that lays the vegetable eggs.

Let us start merely with the peach tree out my south window.  For years, that peach tree seems to have existed for three reasons only:  (1) to provide shade for the south of our home, (2) to feed a handful of almost-ripe peaches to the neighborhood squirrels, and (3) to thereby signal to me when I ought to go to nearby peach orchards to pick peaches from their trees.

But this past weekend, N-son offered to help me pick peaches that somehow, mysteriously, the squirrels hadn't devoured.  We spent an hour or so together just cutting them up.  

And from these beautiful, ripe peaches, we made 8 pints and 24 half-pints of ginger-peach jam.
 Even more, we managed to pick a bunch of peaches before their time, and these we set aside for a day or so . . .
  . . . and the majority of these have since turned into peach-pie-filling for five pies.
 And there are still more peaches on the table, and there are even more peaches on the tree.

And that's just peaches.  The cilantro has grown so wild that it's begun to go to seed, and the cucumber plants are heaving their end-of-season sigh, having given us more cucumbers than I can count -- I've become a pickle-making expert.  The oregano has become the bully of its corner of the garden, taking over the neighborhood and daring all others to try to muscle in.

Our okra is flowering and putting forth pods that need picking before they turn woody and hard.

Here's J-son holding okra, standing next to the plants. The plants are almost as tall as he is!  That's not exactly dead, is it?

The jalapeƱos are coming into their own.

 The tomatoes I started in canning jars back in March are just spurting tomatoes out at me now -- it's kind of hard to keep up, actually!
 And that doesn't even touch the pear harvest, which is . . .

. . . well it's a story for another day.  Because really, right now, I have to go take care of all the food my garden is churning out.

In past years, I've occasionally had to find dog sitters, cat sitters, and even (of course) child sitters when I left town. But I've never had to enlist tomato sitters and okra sitters before.  What a wonderful new problem to have to figure out! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

My sons' money and their life

One of the reasons that I loved the book Your Money or Your Life when I first read it (back before Vicki Robin became a co-author, although this link now takes you to her site) was that the book talked about how our finances affect -- and are affected by -- all other parts of our lives.  I loved the technical parts of the book (the charts were neat; the decisions made sense; the graphs just totally won me over), but the applied philosophy of the book -- that "it's not just money; it's an expression of the way you live in this world" approach -- well, that stuck with me.

So it's not surprising to me that the financial lessons that I'm working on with my sons don't have neat borders where the rest of their life comes to an abrupt halt, and the financial aspect gets to be on stage for the moment.  In fact, interleaving the financial stuff with other parts of their life is turning out to help make some powerful connections.

Here's a quick synopsis of how one of our recent conversations came together.   First, the background.
  • We adopted both of our sons: N-son at age 6 weeks, and J-son at age 11 years. They're now 15 and 16 years old.
  • Their older sisters, who have now grown and left the home, are a combination of our birth children, step children, and "honorary" children ("honorary" means she's effectively, but not legally, adopted).  
  • There was another boy, C-son, who was at our home one summer when he was 15, and who we thought we might adopt -- but he left our home after getting so violent that we had to call in the police, social workers, and mental hospitals for help.
  • J-son has had his own behavioral problems, and a flare-up of those happened at the beginning of the summer.  He's seemingly back on track now (but we always stay on high-alert because . . . well, just because it's a good idea to keep an eye on him).
  • Both sons have real difficulties learning, so I'm leading them through summer school lessons of my own devising.
  • My husband retired from his job at the beginning of the summer, and he's taken on the role of primary parent while I go do math and such.  At the beginning of the summer, he was nervous that his first few years of retirement would be given over to "guarding hooligans".  Family dynamics weren't really sunny back then, although the skies seem to have cleared by now.  

Okay, so that's the background.  This summer I decided to hold "school" for my sons Monday through Thursday for about two hours, both to keep their brains in gear and also to give my husband a chance to go bike riding. Each day of school has three parts:  current events (where I have them read something relevant from the day's paper and answer questions); math worksheets (yay, math!); and a bit of financial lessons from   

Early last week, the current events article that J-son had to read and report on was about kids in foster care.  (Relevant, right?).  The article described how, even though traditionally kids "age out" of the system at age 18, some counties are now allowing kids to opt to remain in the system until age 21.  It described how, although people are legally adults at age 18, there are still lots of things that parents are useful for.  We had some good conversations about how hard it must be for C-son:  he's now 18 and has "aged out"; he's posting Facebook pictures of himself carrying a gun, doing drugs. He'd moved from the mental hospital to a group home, and from there to a foster family, but we think he's not with a family anymore.

We also talked about how K-daughter joined our family when she was 19, and how even though she's 23 years old now, she still comes over for dinner and asks me for help with lots of things -- how having a parent is helpful even when you're "grown-up" and married and have a child of your own.

From there, we went on to do math.  We're alternating between some worksheets I created (we're doing them a second time now) and Sudoku puzzles, which J-son has attempted for the first time and fallen in love with.   This picture below shows the boys collaborating on the current problem:  if there are 100 people at a party, and everyone shakes hands once with everyone else (including him or herself), how many handshakes are there?  [The answer: 5,050 handshakes].

And from there, we moved into a lesson from FoolProofMe on checking accounts.  One of their takeaways:  "Children don't have checking accounts, but grown-ups do.  Getting a checking account is a sign that you're an adult.  You need a checking account."

J-son is on the verge of getting his first job, so this message struck a chord with him.  But it was a nervous chord.  "Am I going to get a checking account?" he asked me.  I assured him he'd have to; once he starts getting paid, he's going to be paid with checks, and he'll need a way to cash them.

"Do I have to walk into the credit union all by myself?" he wanted to know.  Last year, the scariest part of our "financial summer camp" was buying food at market (I was in the same building, but he had to talk to the people behind the counter himself, and that was just an overwhelmingly big experience).  So it didn't surprise me that talking to a real banker would be the biggest fear here.  I assured him that, the first few times at least, I'd go with him to make sure he knew what to do.  I reminded him that he could count on me, and that this is why it's helpful to have parents -- why aging out at age 18 must be so hard for kids who've been in foster homes and group homes. 

"When am I going to have to leave this house?".  That was his next question, and it's an understandable one.  J-son is 16, but he's only 14 months away from being 18.  In barely more than one year, he'll be a legal adult.  And at the beginning of the summer, when things were not quite so sunny, my husband warned J-son that he didn't want a legal adult in our home who was doing things that could get himself in trouble with the law.  The question of how long J-son gets to stay is a good one . . . and it isn't really too many steps away from the question of how to set up a checking account.

I'll share the answer that I gave him, but the answer isn't the point of this post.  The point is that teaching my kids about finances, particularly about becoming financial adults, gives me chances to talk about other parts of their lives that matter to them.  It's Your Money or Your Life, mentor version.  I'm so glad, for so many reasons, that I'm working with my boys on financial literacy.

But my answer to J-son's question matters, too. I told him that in my head, he'd do what three of his older sisters did:  finish high school while living in our home (that takes him almost to age 20), and then move into dorms when he starts College, living away from home during the school year and with us during the summers.

Another possibility, I pointed out, was that  K-daughter continued to live with us while she was in college, moving out only when she got married, and he might do that.

But I also reminded him that if he hurts people in this house, he'd have to leave sooner.  "I wouldn't do that!" he insisted, thinking I'm sure of C-son.  And I assured him I knew he wouldn't do what C-son did:  throw hammers, pull knives out of drawers, punch things. "But stealing things from people in the house hurts them, too, you know."  "Oh, true," he realized.  And he filed that away for reference.  It wasn't a long conversation, but I think it reassured him and helped him understand the boundaries better.

Rearing children: there are just so many aspects to it.  I'm so glad to have a partner by my side who is helping me parent these boys; I'm so glad I have the internet to help me bring my sons good information on cooking and finances and more; I'm so glad I live in an era when a white mom like me can love brown sons like mine in a neighborhood that values this relationship.  And I'm glad for our far-ranging conversations.  It's quite an adventure.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Financial Curriculum for teens

Last summer, I had a "Financial Curriculum Summer Camp" for my sons during the week my husband went off to the army.  We looked at budgets, made shopping lists, did actual grocery shopping (the hard, scary part for my teenage boys -- go figure!), and checked out apartments on Zillow.  It was a good week in many ways, but it was definitely a homemade kind of camp, and so it was fairly limited in scope. And of course, it also suffered from coming from their mom, who is a MiserMom, so when I say things like "don't spend more than you earn" -- well, that advice/opinion must just be total mom-quirkiness, right?

This summer, I decided to follow a suggestion from Michelle Singletary (author of the nationally syndicated Color of Money) who recommended for teens.  And boy, am I glad I did!

Okay, first I'm going to admit that when I announce that it's "Foolproof Time", I get the heavy sigh and rolling of eyes.  The boys start asking, "How long are we going to do this today?".   It's not happy dancing oh-boy-oh-boy-oh-boy response, like I get when I tell them we're going to the library to do computer gaming workshops.  This is just about as much fun as teaching kids to cook:  you know the payoff will come eventually, but it's not here yet.

On the other hand, there are definitely parts of FoolProofMe that the boys like, and they're learning a boatload  of stuff.  For example, there are quizzes at the end of each module, and J-son in particular totally gets into those.  The videos and stories are cute. Just now, I asked N-son what he thought about it. He said, "Now that we're growing up, we're learning how to save money.  I didn't know what bouncing a check was. I'm looking forward to working with my credit union."   J-son said he learned that he could go to the bank and get a checking account.

Okay, so what's FoolProofMe?  It's an on-line financial curriculum put together by some nerdy-cool young adults, mostly from Denmark.  The curriculum consists of about 16 modules, each of which alternates between stories, videos, facts, and brief fun-breaks for irrelevant games (web basketball!  The boys liked that!).

The educator in me especially likes the stories, because I know those are good for learning how the information might apply to my boys' own lives.   For example, one of the first stories was from a young woman who bounced a check for take-out pizza.  She then ignored bank statements, and then ignored envelopes from some address she didn't recognize (the collection agency), and then ended up owing something like $500 because of her pizza mistake.  [Okay, plus all the other mistakes . . . but the moral was that bouncing checks is bad.]   Another story described a guy who paid off his credit cards with other credit cards . . . until he couldn't, and how years later, even when he had a really good job, he had a sucky mortgage rate because of those early mistakes.  These are good stories for my kids to hear before they have to start making their own decisions.

The first few modules were basically on "don't make stupid mistakes", with lots of explanation that your credit score matters a lot.  The third module was on what your credit report means; the fourth module -- which we've just started -- is on what a checking account is, and why you'll need one.

I mentioned that each module ends with a 20-question quiz.  I'm really proud that my boys have managed to get 100% on each quiz so far (and sometimes, there's a lot of debate about which answer is correct before they finally choose the right one, so I know they're thinking hard).   Just to give you a sense of what they're grappling with, here are two of the questions from the third module.  You can see that this is definitely more intense than a homemade MiserMom camp!

Which of the following statements about your credit report is most accurate?
A. All credit reports are the property of the U.S. Government and access is only available to the FBI and lenders.
B. You can only check your credit report if you are turned down for credit based on a credit report.
C. Your credit report can be checked once a year for free at the major credit reporting agencies.
D. You cannot see your credit record.

Your credit score rules your life - that's reality. Which of these statements is not reality?
A. The lower the credit score, the greater chance you have of being ripped off when it comes to the rate you will pay for everything.
B. If you are from a low-income family, your chances of being hurt because of risked based financing are a lot greater simply because you are from a low-income family.
C. You make payments on time but they do not help your credit score because your payments are being made to a "rent to own" company.
D. You can ignore your credit score, and won't be hurt by doing so.

Tough questions, right?  (Just FYI, the correct answer is "C" in both cases.)

If you read the questions carefully, you'll realize the authors do have a particular bent --- they're definitely consumer advocates who stress that for-profit entities (like banks) exist to make a profit, not to help the consumer.  They also clearly want to reach low-income teens, stressing over and over again that you can have good credit without being rich -- and that conversely, you can be wealthy with terrible credit. They include segues into the dangers of payday loans, and have a brief digression into "our one and only product endorsement" -- which is that they prefer credit unions to banks.  [They carefully caution viewers that credit unions and consumer unions support their website, so that viewers should know this claim might be biased.]   This is all fits very well with my own philosophy, so I'm really enjoying it, of course.

At the same time, they're obviously not into miserliness, giving lots of examples of how spending money (wisely) is fun, and how knowing how to use money correctly gives you freedom.  ("Kids don't get checking accounts; only grown-ups do.  A checking account means you're becoming an adult".)  So there's something for the boys to latch onto, as well.

I hesitated to look at this at first, because they require users to create a password and then log in, but as you can tell, by now, I'm totally hooked (and I think my boys are, too).  If you have teens or young adults who are setting out on their financial lives, I recommend this website to both you and them.

Monday, July 20, 2015

No more smelly trash

My buddy Andy and I were biking around a nearby neighborhood on their trash pick-up day, doing laps and trying to wear each other out. Trash pick-up day in this neighborhood is always a festival to me; the neighborhood is wealthy, and their trash is just totally amazing. I've come back to collect giant stuffed animals. Golf umbrellas. Running strollers. Shelves.

Okay, but this isn't a trash-picking story; it's a different kind of trash post.  On this particular day, Andy and I zoomed past an on-coming trash truck, and Andy wrinkled his nose and said, "We humans do make some smelly trash, don't we?"

It's funny, but it's been so long since I've thought of garbage as smelly that my brain had to do a little re-computation.  The golf umbrellas and shelves I've trash-picked aren't smelly, right?  My own trash isn't smelly, either.  Pretty soon Andy and I were talking trash to each other (which is great for me, because it slows him down so I can keep up).

So here, on a lovely warm Monday morning, is a little ode to non-stinky garbage cans.

1.  Remember that we DO have control over what we put into those giant garbage trucks . . . 
. . . or the small garbage trucks, for that matter.  Not only do you not have to throw away perfectly good bicycles and umbrellas, but you also can put many kinds of smelly things in more appropriate places, too.

2.  Some smelly stuff is hazardous materials (paint, motor oil, etc).  
Those shouldn't go in your regular garbage, of course.  You probably need to take it to a hazardous waste place yourself, although I've heard that some municipalities have a haz-mat pickup day.  Driving/biking this stuff to the HazMat Collection Station is a pain, but good and honest people like you do the Right Thing, yes?
I have no idea what this sign means --
but I'll pretend it means "no hazardous trash!"
3.  Food doesn't go in our trash, either.
The smelliest thing in most people's garbage cans is food scraps.  Okay, to keep your garbage from stinking, food scraps all go in the dog or in the compost, never in the trash.

MiserDog is part German Shepard, part Trash Can.  
Miser Dog, who has read all those articles about dogs being domesticated by living off of human garbage dumps, believes it is his duty to consume many food-like substances we consider inedible.   Hamburger grease, apple cores, turkey bones . . . he loves loves loves it.

(I used to worry about giving our dog post-soup-making turkey bones, because I've read about splinters and such.  Not only does Miser Dog tell me "GIVE ME GIVE ME GGGIVVVVEE MEEEE", but he's lived several years beyond his life expectancy with no digestive problems.  I do not promise the same for you and your pets, I'm just saying that's how *we* deal with bones and food scraps).

For the small amount of food scraps that MiserDog does not eat (potato peels, coffee grounds), we throw them on a pile on the ground in the back yard, not  in the trash.  As my daughter once explained proudly to a neighbor, "My mom has a PhD and a compost pile!"

4.  What about packaging that has "food juice" on it?

Clean it!  Yes, I know it's weird to suggest people clean their trash before throwing it away, but this doesn't have to be hard work.  In fact, in our home, if we don't clean the trash, this happens:

Another Dog with MiserDog's commitment to Trash Exploration.
Fortunately, this isn't nearly as intense as cleaning my son's bedroom -- a quick rinse is often enough.
  • tomato sauce cans: we run them through the dishwasher with the rest of the dinner dishes (it probably uses less water than rinsing them by hand). Cans are recycling, not trash, but it still gets clean before we put it out for others to take away from us.
  •  plastic bags that have held messy foods (such as meat), we turn inside out, wear it like a glove, and let the dog lick it.  (Inside out means he's less likely to try to chew the bag and ingest plastic pieces to get to the good stuff in the corners).
  • styrofoam/subway sandwich wrapping: again, give to dog first, or rinse it off.
You've probably noticed a theme here; there's a reason that we've already decided our next dog will be named "Pre-wash".  If you don't have a dog, a simple swish under the faucet will probably do as well.  Another useful ally is a squirt bottle like this one we keep next to our sink:  we put in one teaspoon(ish) of liquid dish soap and fill the rest with water; it makes for many quick and easy clean-ups.

5.  What comes out in the end.
With all that talk about what the dog eats, it's probably time to point out that there are a few smelly parts of owning animals.  dog poop:  bury it in the ground with Jimmy the Squirrel.

6.  All the other stuff : life is imperfect.
Baby A is mostly a cloth diaper baby now, but she's left a few disposables in our garbage.  When we had cats, clumping cat litter was our smelliest throw-away.  There's more, I'm sure, but you don't really need the inventory.

The point is, most of our garbage is clean plastic packaging, but there's still organic stuff that gets in there with the potential to be whiffy, I'll admit. We're not perfect, and I'm not trying to convince you that I am (or that you ought to be).  No trash grouches here!

And of course, there's nothing wrong with having a trash can that smells bad -- that's not a goal in and of itself.  It's just that sometimes the bad-smelling stuff shouldn't be carted by petroleum-intensive-trucks to overfull landfills.  Sometimes the bad-smelling stuff should turn into dirt or into dogs.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Purple, yellow, space, and light

 A week or so ago, when my husband went to the Senior Olympics with my sons, I went to town with my bedroom.  I'd gotten all psyched up by an old FrugalWoods post on refinishing furniture, and so I moved dressers out of the bedroom, repainted our walls, and then repainted my husband's ugly dresser.

How ugly was this dresser?  Well, I don't' have a "before" picture of the actual dresser; suffice it to say that I googled "ugly dresser" and easily found its twin:  here you see a picture of a dresser with the same ugly handles.  (Our own ugly dresser had even darker wood.)  Okay, so it was a Google-certified level of ugly.
Google "ugly dresser"
to get a twin of my husband's.

So I sanded the dresser, painted it, and changed out the brass colonial drawer pulls for something sleek.  Every guy wants to go away for a week and then return to discover his spouse has painted his dresser purple, right?

[Added benefit: my husband discovered he can hook hangers on the new handles, making getting dressed easier because he can hang his jacket up there while he gets other things ready to go.  Yay!]

As for the rest of the room, the paint helped lighten it up a lot.  There must be something yellow in the air (right, Rozy??) because I finally got sick of looking at faux-wood panelling and painted the walls a pale yellow. And the room is much, much, much brighter.

But it's not just paint.  Removing lots of stuff helped just as much.

Before I painted, our walls had been covered with decisions we'd made 17 years ago.  There were photos of kids at obscurely-remembered events; there were citations for something-or-other; there were commemorative baseball caps galore (and we don't ever wear baseball caps, so where the heck those came from, I DO NOT KNOW).  I took them all off the wall and put them in a box for my guy to look through later.  Returning them to the wall has to be an active choice from this point forward.  So far, the only things that have made it back up are my husband's rack of sports medals, his tie rack, and two mirrors.  Our walls are now wide open spaces of light.
My husband's medal collection, with the old dark and hideous
faux-wood paneling behind it.

But even more, I could finally get at the walls because we'd cleared out enough books that we could go from 15 feet of book shelves to 3 feet of bookshelves.  And getting rid of shelves meant so much more other possibilities opened up.  Below, I have the floor plan from before painting. Notice that every bit of wall is taken.  The sight lines for the room aren't great, either.  When we sat in bed, we couldn't see the door, and our view out the large window to the west of the room gave us only the northern sky (no moon sightings from bed).
Old room layout, before ditching shelves and painting

Below, here's the new layout.  There is lots of wall space exposed, and by skootching the bed toward one end of the room, we opened more floor space.  Strategic placement of my bed and dresser there at the west end of the room preserve a bit of space for me where no one else dumps their stuff, so I still have my own little clean section of the bedroom.
New room layout, with actual visible wall space.
And check out the sight lines from my side of the bed.  I can see the person standing at the door (purple arrow).  I can see the southern sky out the western window (sunsets!  moon!  yay!), and because of one of the mirrors, I can still get light from the little windows to the north, reflected on the southern wall.  Glorious.
Sight lines from my side of the bed.
I can see the door!  I can see trees out the windows!

Here's the view from where I'm sitting right now:  trees, blue sky.  Lovely.

And the walls:  man, it's nice having light-colored walls; they just open up the whole space.  I am in love.  This is a view from the door, looking past the newly-purple dresser, before I bought the headboard at a yard sale.  See how bright the room is?  See how there are no baseball caps on the wall?  Lovely again.  

And then, just because I'm so happy I splurged and paid Sara $20 for this, here once again is my new headboard, bathed in light.  Ahhh.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Next-Gen Canning Ring Uses

With many thanks to Penn, I bring you this late-breaking and new (to me) use for canning jars rings!

Here, you see K-daughter introducing a wide-mouth ring to my granddaughter, Baby A:

What does Baby A think about these things?  She thinks . . . 
. . . they're great!  Easy for a 3.5-month-old to grab and wave around!  Shiny!

Baby A loves them so much, she doesn't want to share.  
No, not even with her buddy, Miser Dog.

Quick riddle for you:  Why is a canning ring like a key ring?

Answer: Because they both go in your mouth, silly!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Baby A's yard sale introduction

Every year, the street next to mine has a giant neighborhood yard sale on the Saturday after the 4th of July. After independence, we do community.

This year, my family brought a few of our garage-clean-out items to the home of my neighbor, June, and we did our best to sell them at Miser Mom prices (about half of the stuff was labeled "free!").  June had a lot more nice stuff to sell -- and she made a lot more money than we did, too, of course.  But that wasn't the point of "selling" my stuff, obviously. 
N-son, with Baby A on his lap, helps June supervise her yard sale.
It's not even that we managed to re-house all sorts of things that would have sat unused or made their way to landfills.  (Although I'll admit I'm super-ultra-thrilled that my paint cans, motor oil, and other end-of-life materials got picked up by people who were glad to finish them off).

No, the glorious part of this neighborhood yard sale is in the way it knits a web of people a little more strongly together. We often confuse what we have with who we are.  For many years, it was hard for my husband to get rid of the books he'd read long ago, because they represented the kind of knowledge and intellectual life he aspires to.  It's hard for us to get rid of clothes that are a bit too small or way too formal, because we think we'll be that same skinny person or because we'll someday go back to fancy dances.   My friend was recently telling me how hard it was to help her mother downsize her house, because every belonging reminded her mother of stories of her past.

But at a giant neighborhood yard sale, we publicly share our belongings -- and hence ourselves -- with our neighbors.  We trade our things for money, yes, but we also trade our things for the additional human connections that these exchanges bring.

So I found a yellow skirt that belonged, until Saturday, to a acquaintance of mine down the street. I bought it for 50¢. And from now on, whenever I wear it I'll have yet another connection to this trash-avoiding, child-rearing, bicycle-loving person who I previously knew only from campus events.

Baby A got into the swing of things; she did her best to try on clothes -- or rather, to lie on clothes.
Totally adorable!  She really looks like she's one with the clothing.

Aside from yellow-skirt-success, I also scored big on some furniture.  I'd spent  much of the previous week repainting and rearranging our bedroom, which gave me a renewed sense of bed-lust.   As in, I wanted SOOooo much to buy a real bed, with a real frame and headboard and footboard.  I was getting sad and mopey about having only the frame, box-spring, and mattress.

In fact, I wanted a bed so much that I went to a giant farmer's (etc) market to see if I could find one I liked. I came back bed-less (but with many bananas).  And in the course of subsequent painting and rearranging, I decided that our room is so cozy that a full queen-sized bed would actually overcrowd it.  I changed my early bed-lust into a more moderate head-board-lust.  I actually had a picture in my head of what the perfect headboard would look like . . . curved, with spindles, in a blond oak.  Sort of like this one below . . . 

Did I say "sort of like" that one?  How about "exactly like" that one!  Because a mere 24 hours after dreaming of a headboard like this, I passed the headboard standing proudly in Sara's front yard, with a $20 price tag attached. And lo-and-behold, the headboard is no longer Sara's headboard, it is now Miser Mom's headboard.  I have a pretty bed, and I have a new acquaintance.  Score all around.

It was a lovely yard sale day.  Baby A and I -- and the hundreds of other people enjoying the fresh air and camaraderie of the day -- had a wonderful time.   We put things that no longer fit us (for reasons of size, personality, or life circumstances) into the homes that could appreciate them.

And when the yard sale was over, we went home and took a well-deserved rest.  Some of us took a rest in a bed with a lovely headboard, and some of us took a rest cuddled up on the living room sofa.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Thirty-some [not thousand] Pounds of Bananas

One of the things I did last week was go to a giant farmer's market near us -- sort of like an Amish Mall.  I was going to look for beds, because all we have is one of those metal frames with a box and mattress.  (I ended up not buying a bed, which is one easy way to save hundreds of dollars -- more on that in another post).

So I didn't buy a bed.  But I did buy a case of bananas -- probably 30 pounds of bananas -- for only $4. Wow! 

These bananas are a bit of a MiserMom dilemma for me.  On the one hand, I try to buy locally grown, organic food.  On the other hand, I knew that these were end-of-the-day bananas at this once-a-week market, and they were marked down to such a low price because the alternative was the dumpster.  So there was an environmental reason to take this case of bananas home.

Not to mention the economic case for this case:  J-son has been on a huge frozen banana kick, and so my husband keeps buying bananas at grocery store prices, which is, y'know, craziness.  So my buying these was also part of my strategy of preventative shopping.   

Okay, so 30-some pounds of bananas.  It's not like Harry Chapin's song, Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas, but still, a lot of bananas to bring home all at once.  How to keep them from going bad?

I peeled a lot of them and laid them on cookie sheets for freezing.  That gave me three or four gallon-sized bags full of frozen bananas, which ought to keep J-son happy for a long time, but that filled up the freezer. (As in, my husband was looking for ice cream, opened up the freezer, and said "whoa!!!  I guess we won't be getting ice cream for a while!!!"   But J-son helpfully pointed out there was space for one container of ice cream on the door shelf.)  And yet, there were still many unfrozen bananas left to deal with.

I followed a recipe from this site to make Banana Jam, which is super-yummy.   That made three pints of jam to stick in the fridge -- but since banana jam isn't safe to can (in the sense of putting up for the winter), plus it's pretty heavy on butter and sugar, that used up only about 6 more bananas.

So I went back to the solar dehydrator I'd used on my cherries.  This time around, we had occasional power outages (e.g. clouds and/or rain), but the process still worked fairly well.
Next time, though, I'm going to try heating up the screen first, before I put the bananas down.  Bananas are a LOT stickier than cherries, and so there was a bit of scraping/pulling to get the fruit off the screen -- something I remember from dealing with apples and strawberries on my old electric dehydrator.  I'm hoping that heating it up, the way I preheat my waffle maker and cast iron pans, will help avoid the stickiness factor.
Safety alert:  And I also might invest in a true food screen, instead of an old window screen.  According to a couple of government websites I googled when trying to figure out the stickiness situation, it's best to avoid "hardware cloth" (whatever that means), because of the danger of cadmium and/or zinc oxidation.  Too much of these minerals can cause nausea; and long-term overexposure to  cadmium can damage kidneys.  (Since I only have one kidney now,  I have to be especially nice to it.)  My window screen is probably made of aluminum (whose disadvantage is that it "tends to discolor and corrode" -- much less scary).  All of these warnings are exceedingly gentle, but if I keep drying food outside, I'll go for stainless steel mesh anyway.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A week with no walls

Last Saturday, my husband drove off with my children, leaving me all alone.  For just one week.

Although of course we love each other very much, there is something to be said for having a week-long vacation from each other every once in a while.  Being apart not only allows us to indulge in the things we love that drive the other person a little bit nutso, but it also allows us to think fondly of the good parts of our marriage.  Consider this heart-warming note my husband sent about the joys of frugality, as seen from the comfortable distance of living in a bit of temporary restaurant/new-car luxury, as he and the boys spent the week with his daughter (my step-daughter):
[My daughter] and I were talking about cooking. Although we have been going out for dinner, the boys have been cooking breakfast and making sandwiches during the day. I was telling her how to shop for vegetables in season and some ways she could convince herself it is better to cook than eat out. 
It's funny. As I do it, I am channeling you, of course. I feel like at fat guy sharing diet secrets, or a happy drunk telling a sad drunk next to him in a bar that he needs Jesus.  But even if I would prefer to drive new cars and eat out more, I feel overwhelmingly blessed to share my spendthrift life with you. . . . 
. . . This had been a lovely trip. The funny thing about our (relatively) Spartan life is that every luxury feels so good. The [rental] car is a smooth, quiet, electronic marvel. I worried about being able to drive all this way because I was remembering Chicago and back in the Prius, or thinking Michigan to PA in the Humvee. The 2015 Malibu is automotive Heaven.
For my part, what I reveled in was what I think of as "the week without walls".  I woke up in the morning and could do my usual morning puttering without having to schedule it around the boys' 7 a.m. wake-up time.  I took on projects during the day, and I didn't have to keep an eye on the clock so that I could be back home to supervise summer school or prepare dinner in the early evening.   I started a bedtime book or went to sleep early without having to check that the boys were home, that they'd brushed their teeth, that they had planted their phones in the cell-phone garden.

The wall-less-ness of the schedule was thrilling.  It was energizing.  It was freeing.  It reminded me of those summers very, very long ago that I used to relish because of the childlessness of them. I'd  just moved to the College where I now work; I was a divorced mom with one child.  School years, my daughter would be with me, and summers she'd spend at her dad's home.  What amazed me most during those summers of no childcare was that the true freedom was NOT that I got to go out with my friends on a moment's notice, and it was NOT being able to stay at work after the daycare closed --- it was the freedom to leave work EARLY.   That is, I could go home at 3 p.m. if I were tired, and I wouldn't have to do so knowing I'd just have to return to the childcare place to pick her up, or I wouldn't have to bring her home with me and immediately go into "second shift" of mom duty:  I could just . . . go home.  And sit there.  There was no 5 p.m. wall in my schedule.

And last week, I started projects knowing that I didn't have to magically have them cleaned up and put away at a certain time.  I could move dinner to 4:30 or to 8:30, and nothing crazy would happen.  It was like Time opened up for me.

My husband and sons are back.  I'm very glad they are; I missed them (even the 16-year-old who still, alas, needs constant supervision). But I'm also glad for the temporary gift of time I got.  It's a glimpse to me of what lies ahead when the boys move out.  Will I be bored?  (No)   Will I be lonely? (No).  Will I have trouble figuring out what to do with all my free time? (no, no, and no).

Thursday, July 9, 2015

How do they get the glue back in the toothpaste tube?

Here's a goofy little post, about a silly (but fun) little project I did making glue squeeze bottles.

A couple of years ago, I snagged a mostly-full gallon of Elmer's glue at a yard sale for, I dunno, a dollar.  A gallon jug is too large to use conveniently for most projects, so I decanted a bunch into a smaller container -- an empty mustard bottle.  Eventually, the plastic on the mustard bottle cracked and split.  Even before the bottle broke, though, the glue would harden at the top, making it hard to get out of the bottle.  Time not only for a new bottle, but also a new design.
So, here was my most recent experiment on a new glue decanter, including a what-worked and what-didn't.  

I took some empty lotion squeeze bottles and snipped off the top end.

Even "empty" squeeze bottles aren't empty, so I did copious amounts of Lotion Removal after the snipping.
[Frugal Memo:  Even when not making Glue Decanters, 
remember to snip off the ends to get at the remainder 
before tossing lotion or toothpaste that seems to be empty.  
Surface tension means that there's still a lot of good stuff inside that tube!!!]

Once I'd removed as much lotion as I could and then washed the tubes with soap and water, I poured in some glue.

  • What worked:  Easy to pour glue into those open holes.
  • What didn't:  Don't fill the bottles up too high!  When you squeeze them closed again, it compresses the space a lot and glue spills out. (See a small bit of glue spillage in the picture below).

I added labels to clearly mark these (oog -- imagine attempting to put lotion on your skin and accidentally putting glue on your skin instead!).   I also sealed things up with binder clips.

  • What didn't work:  The binder clips.  They still allow too much leakiness out the top, and if they accidentally come off, disaster!
  • What did work:  Staples.  Go figure!  It's good to know I can use staples on plastic.  
  • What sort-of worked:  The binder clips were a good intermediate step; they helped hold the bottles together while I got ready to staple.  Plus if there's going to be overflow/spill, I'd rather get glue on a binder clip than on my stapler.  
I am hoping that having the opening down at the bottom of this container will minimize the dried-glue problem, because it keeps the opening of the glue away from the air. But only time will tell.