Friday, March 25, 2016

Beautiful on the inside

About two dozen years ago, my youngest sister came up to me while I was working, and said,
"[Big Sister], I just want you to know that I think you're beautiful on the inside."
Um, thanks.

She'd actually intended that comment to come out in an encouraging way.  I'd been dating a guy who I knew wasn't great for me, and she knew it too, and she figured I was only dating him because I thought I wasn't worth much.  Or something.  I assured her that, actually, this particular guy was on the way out and that my self-esteem was, if anything, over- rather than under-developed.  Since then, we've often joke-lovingly told each other that we're beautiful on the inside.

And now I have pictures to prove (?) it.  Yesterday I treated myself to an endoscopy and manicure, but without the manicure.  The anxiety stuff that I wrote about earlier has been long gone (yay), but the chest pain/weirdness persists, so I got assigned to a gastro guy who decided to take a peek inside.  Are there ulcers lurking about within me?  Or is it merely heartburn?

I have to say, that one of the weirdly reassuring events in this long series of health-and-medicine adventures was going to my dad's birthday party in February.  While I was there, my sister reminded me that Dad had a prolapsed esophageal valve, and he'd suffered heartburn basically all his life.  When he was about my current age, he had his own endoscopy (also no manicure) that discovered an ulcer lurking inside of him.  And yet, here he was, celebrating 80 years, still going to the gym, and just getting ready to head for a month-long overseas trip just so he could see the solar eclipse from off the coast of Indonesia.

So I figure, I'm not really in mortal danger either.

At any rate, yesterday I had my own upper endoscopy.  I got my beautiful new blue gown, I got the monogrammed bracelet, I got the IV.  My GI doc peeked around inside of me, and when I woke up, he told me words to the effect that I'm beautiful on the inside.  No ulcers.

Wanna see?
Duodenum, midway, and esophagus.  

So it looks like I just get to keep taking heartburn meds and hope that this chest-burn goes away.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Financial parenting

I finally read The Millionaire Next Door, a standard inclusion on the bookshelf of any personal finance library.  The main message in that book is that true millionaires don't "look" like millionaires; they live more frugally than their neighbors.  Not necessarily as frugally as me, mind you, but definitely not drawn to flashy cars, giant houses, fancy clothes, etc.

Two things I hadn't expected from the book from what I've heard about it elsewhere were
  1. sexism.  I mean, what the heck is up with the authors' repeated assertion that "the average millionaire is a man married to the same (frugal) woman for many years."  Um, doesn't that mean the woman is a millionaire, too?  Hello?
  2. parenting lessons.
The parenting lessons are basically these:  the more that parents "help" their adult children financially, the worse off those adult children are at accumulating wealth.  In fact, financial assistance to adult children seems to lead to more financial unhappiness than it does to stability.  For example (the authors note), parents who help their kids buy a home in a nice neighborhood are inadvertently setting their offspring up for a lifestyle where they have to "keep up" materially with higher income neighbors.  Grandparents who pay for their grandchildren's private schooling implicitly require that the parents then feel pressured to pay for clothing, sports teams, technology (etc) to match the other children whose parents can more easily afford kid bling.  And adult children who start receiving financial gifts from their parents come to expect, rely upon, and feel entitled to continuing installments of that income.  

All of this makes me feel better that I don't regularly channel money to my grown kids.  (By "all of this", I mean "all of the financial parenting lessons"; I don't mean the absurd notion that stay-at-home wives aren't also millionaires.  I mean, geez, the authors' whole contention is that it's saving money, not earning money, that makes a millionaire.  So the whole ignore-the-wives aspect of this book really irked me.  Can you tell?)

Okay, so I don't shovel money in the direction of my kids.  But that doesn't mean I'm totally hands-off, either.  Here are some things that I give my adult children in the hopes that they can become financially stable and comfortable on their own.

  1. A good example.  Or, possibly, an extreme example that they can gently draw back from in their own lives.  I love that my oldest daughter is gardening, that several of my daughters use canning jars, that all of my offspring like walking places. 
  2. Lessons in filling out stupid (but important) paperwork.  All of my kids started filling out their own school info forms when they turned about 8 years old, at first with lots of guidance from me, and later increasingly on their own.  I had my young kids "help" me fill out my tax forms by reading me W2 form numbers.  I sat near K-daughter while she filled out FAFSA forms the first time, and helped her create a file of important paperwork.  
  3. Gifts that are investments in the future, not lifestyle enhancers.  We've never given a kid a car, but we've given most of them bicycles.  We've never given a kid a computer, but we've given all the adults sewing machines.  Our most recent big gift was setting up a 529 plan for my granddaughter. . . that's as close as I've gotten to giving a child of mine actual money.  
  4. A calm, non-anxious presence.  Yes, I'll go with you when you visit houses you might want to buy.  Yes, I'll walk into the bank with you as we set up your checking account. Yes, I'll sit with you while you navigate the HealthCare Marketplace.   You'd be fine on your own, but I'll be there anyway. 
  5. Suggesting advice, and then backing off if the kids aren't ready.  Even when I want to scream "GAAAH!!! SELL THE HOUSE NOW!" or "FINISH COLLEGE!!!", I try my best to remain neutral.  ("Darling, if you need help contacting a realtor, just let me know."  "So, have you looked into applying to colleges next year?  No?  Okay, well, if you do and you need help, just ask.") Butting out is seriously hard.   
  6. Occasional unsolicited advice that actually goes somewhere.  I've been talking with K-daughter recently about myRAs and IRAs, which are things she's interested in but not actively pursuing.  I've had similar conversations with our host daughter, Y, who I've begun to realize has had not-a-lot of practical wisdom passed along from her own parents.  (That's another story.)  Every once in a while, it seems, I say something that my kids actually decide makes sense.  It's okay with me that it's only every once in a while.
  7. Advice when asked.  I tell my colleagues, "When it comes to advice, I'm full of it".  I try hard (and probably don't entirely succeed) in not being pushy with my kids, so that they can feel free to come ask me questions.   I think two of the biggest compliments I've gotten were (1) when my homemade daughter told me, "Mom, you're so . . . useful", and (2) this texting exchange between me and K-daughter:

Me: Oh, good! Glad it worked! I love it when you ask for advice, even when I don't have a good answer! Love. 
K-daughter: Haha thanks :) I love when you do have answers but I love it more when you make me figure it out myself. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Canned dirt

The first time of doing anything new can be exciting, but it can also be darned intimidating.  I'm thinking, for example, of a student who came to my home for lunch last month and who said, sort of wistfully, "Yeah, someday I'd like to learn to bake bread."  Even after I wrote down a recipe, she kept saying, "Someday I'll learn . . . "  so I walked her into my kitchen and handed her a bowl.

"Here, put the water in the bowl. Okay, now add the yeast.  Now the flour . . . "  Five minutes later, she had a dough ready to rise.  And she was floored: "You mean that's it?  That's all you do?"

And that's what I mean.  Doing something for the first time is hard because of the chasm of the unknown, more than it's hard because of the task itself.

And in the same way, doing something for a second, third, or nth time becomes a snap.  For example, this weekend I spent a half hour getting my tomatoes and peppers started.  I knew from past experience that the part I dislike most about seed-starting is gathering supplies from the basement and garage, so I tasked N-son with carrying things while I finished up some dishes.  From the basement: two-dozen pint jars and one-dozen cup jars, plus the shoe box of seeds.  From the garage: the potting soil and the tarp to keep the table clean. (It's so nice to know what I'm doing now well enough that I can delegate to others!  I can't delegate well when I'm still making stuff up as I'm going along.)  I got the ladle and funnel myself.  And, voila!  I was ready to start my seeds.
Keeping the bag of potting soil in a bucket makes for easy carrying
and also for less spilling while I'm potting up plants.
I already had potting soil and seeds from a previous year.  I already had canning jars from . . . well, from being a little nutso about loving canning jars.  This year the one new thing I'm trying new is to use canning jar lids instead of a dry cleaner bag or clear plastic tarp to keep moisture in until things start sprouting.  I'm crossing my fingers that the glass on the side of the jars lets enough light in to tell the seeds to wake up.  If this doesn't work, I'll cry for my dead seeds, and then go back to plastic tarp next year.

And, half-an-hour later, all the seeds were in jars, the tarp had been shaken out outside, the supplies were put away, and any mess was cleaned up.  All that was left on the table was a set of flowers I'd planted years ago.  More past-me making the life of now-me a little easier and prettier.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sunscreen pump

It's been so long since I got to indulge myself in a good Canning Jar Lust post.  This topic has been long overdue in this neck of the blog-o-sphere, hasn't it?

I've often looked sort of longingly at people who make canning jars into pump dispensers.  But I didn't do it myself because, (a) really, we already have soap dispensers galore here in Chez MiserMom, and (b) I hadn't figured out a super-frugal way to do it myself.   Truly, if I don't need something, why should I pay good money to make it?

So I didn't make myself a canning jar pump.  But, as so always happens, procrastination and/or patience paid off.  Because for Christmas, K-daughter happened to give me a canning jar pump dispenser.  Apparently, she knows me well enough to know that is exactly the kind of thing I would like!

Okay, except that--now that I finally had this long-desired object of canning-jar-joy-dom--I kept it empty on a shelf for a long time, contemplating.  As I mentioned already, we already have more than enough soap dispensers sitting around our sinks and cluttering up our closets.  Also, the jar she got me is a small (one-cup) canning jar, so it doesn't hold as much soap as some of the dispensers we already have in place.  So here I was, having gotten as a gift something I'd really wanted, but now I wasn't really sure what to do with it.

And then the sun came out.  And with the sun, inspiration broke.

The inspiration is:  sunscreen!  Yes, here, next to my canned pennies (destined for the credit union soon) and the canned washable crayons (for writing on my bulk-shopping cloth bags), sits my pump bottle of SPF30 sunscreen.

I have rosacea (side effect: could be detrimental to my self-esteem, although I haven't noticed problems in that area myself).  Because of this rosacea, I'm supposed to take extra care of covering my face with sunscreen and shade-providing hats.  With spring peeking around the corner, I'm soon going to be doing much more daytime running and biking and such, and now my sunscreen is conveniently right there on my dresser, a quick pump away from decorating the old schnoz and cheeks.  

And so, this canning jar pump is really the MiserMom version of Eeyore's birthday present:  a solution in search of a problem.   
"I'm very glad," said Pooh happily, "that I thought of giving you a Useful Pot to put things in."
"I'm very glad," said Piglet happily, "that thought of giving you something to put in a Useful Pot."
But Eeyore wasn't listening. He was taking the balloon out, and putting it back again, as happy as could be....

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A rust bucket for a wedding present

For a wedding present, I gave my friend Paul a rust bucket.

Almost literally.  I gave him a rusty metal bucket full of metal stuff, some of it rusty.

Oooh, and I also gave him a chest freezer that doesn't work.  Some wedding present, eh?

Paul is a guy who goes to our church who collects scrap metal.  For years, he used it to supplement his income to help pay for his wife's medications and medical bills; she was blind and wheel-chair-bound and had many other expensive ailments.  She was a salt-of-the-earth kind of person, and we were sad (but not surprised) when she finally passed away last year.

This winter, our chest freezer died on on us, and internet searches followed by conversations with repair people convinced us that repairing it (bad compressor) would cost more than replacing it via Craigslist.  Since a chest freezer won't fit in our Prius, we asked Paul to help bring the "new" one and take away the old one.

Which is when he told us that soon he'll be moving to Arizona.  He's getting married again.  So we told him this last set of scrap metal is our wedding gift to him.

I'm so glad for him, and I know his new wife is getting a real catch.  But I'm going to miss having him around.

(And now I have to find a new way to recycle scrap metal.  Dang.)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Plumbing with my son

One of my resolutions/goals/plans (whatever you want to call those things) for the year was to do a weekly house-fix task with J-son.  The reasoning was partly to take care of deferred maintenance around the ol' castle before my sabbatical ends, but also to give J-son himself some attention and care.  Time-In with Mom. Not to mention, Mad Skilz.

The nice thing about a goal like this is, even a partial victory leaves everyone better off.  Since January, J-son has gotten a lot of attention and skill-work from another direction (dad and boxing), so the weekly house-fix has been more like a monthly house-fix.  I dug post-holes and repaired the dog fence myself; I haven't gotten around to drop-ceiling repairs yet.  But at least J-son and I together replaced smoke detectors and fished toothbrushes out of toilets, so y'know, we're not at zero.

Here's the latest Time-In House-Fix: replacing a shower head.  I wrote a long time ago about how easy this is -- basically just like changing a light bulb.  The lesson of this little exercise wasn't so much about teaching the intricacies of plumbing work as showing J-son by example that the project is super easy.  

What happens if you get a new shower head and you don't like it?  Well, then, you just take it off and put another one on, silly!  The shower head that was in our bathroom was one I installed about 5 years ago.  After all this time, I decided I really wanted one with a hose, not because I need the hose attachment while I shower, but because having the hose makes cleaning the tub SO much easier.  So, I biked to the hardware store, found the most water-miserly hose attachment I could find, and biked it on home. (Cost: $37).

I handed the package to J-son and gave him some tools: wrenches and teflon tape. (It turns out he didn't need me to get him any of these).  He read the directions -- the little package in his hand is the teflon tape that came with the shower head.

He didn't need the wrench, either, it turns out.  Here he is removing the old shower head.

(Can you see the muscles?  Did I mention boxing?)  He got the old shower head off and the new one on so quickly that I didn't even have time to take good pictures.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

SpiderMan came to dinner at my house

Spiderman came to dinner at my home last night.

Why?  Well, it turns out all of the dinner guests were animals!
Giraffe, goat, zebra, turtle, tiger, peacock, spider, and "the right to arm bears".

Or maybe it's more like the right to eat bears?  Because last night was our family's annual Zoo Dinner.  

Per what has become tradition, all the animals (us) ate through the bars of our chair cages.

New on the menu this year was "hedgehogs" -- they didn't turn out as bristly as I hoped, so I'll have to figure out a better alternative for next year.

But some of our favorites were back.  We look forward every year to the "Boa Constrictor" -- a pesto stromboli-like dish.

And of course, there was a bowl full of "octodogs" (which are actually hexadogs, since I can't quite figure out how to slice eight legs by hand).

And since we mentioned the right to eat bears, we can't forget the ever-popular ham-bear-gers!  (With ground turkey instead of ground beef this year).

And finally, just for comparison purposes, here is a one-year-ago picture of the turtle.  My, how she's grown!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rag Recycling

Here is a small success:  I found a place that recycles rags!  Finally!

It's a relatively nearby thrift shop called Community Aid.  Today I biked over there with my trailer; I got a screaming-good hill work-out on the way.  I dropped off three bags of clothes that the boys have outgrown (we keep feeding these boys, and so they keep getting bigger . . . )  I also dropped off two bags of tattered clothing that had gotten ripped or stained beyond niceness.  Because of helpful  suggestions from commenters on previous posts, I bagged and labeled these "rags".

And that's all.  Small success!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

College used-clothing sales

Spring.  I'm reveling in the extra sunshine, the warmer weather, the robins that fill the baseball field on my walk across campus.  Spring.

And on my campus, it's not just the annual ritual of returning robins that has been catching my attention, it's also the annual ritual of casting off clothes.  I've found a group on campus to manage our annual and massive campus-wide yard sale that will happen once students leave, and we're gearing up for that.  Yay!

But elsewhere on campus, smaller sales are already happening.  I share this because it's possible there are similar things going on at campuses near other people.  To wit: the athletic department on my campus has a yearly sale on gently-used athletic uniforms.

In the past, I've gotten cheap jog bras and running shorts for myself here; I've gotten polos for my sons, and passed over awesome jackets only because we already have too many at home.  This year, I bought N-son two pairs of basketball shorts, $2 each.  (I also bought a board game that I can't name, for a sum I can't disclose, because it'll be a birthday present for someone who reads this blog.  Shhhh!)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Two books on my shelf, not for reading

I got a surprise package in the mail from my sister late last week: two books with a note.  The note reads:
Dear [Big beautiful sister], 
I'm passing along two books [our other sister] gave me when my anxiety got the better of me a few years ago. 
I'm not sure I actually read them -- but I did look at the cartoons in the "Dummies" book-- maybe it's enough to have them on your shelf and roll your eyes at the thought of having to read them.  That worked for me. 
I'm hoping you are passing them on to someone else soon (well; not that I wish ill on that next folk -- but you know what I mean).
[Helpful younger sister] 
To which I responded,
Dear [young helpful sister],
Thank you for the books, which I'm very much looking forward to not reading! The note was even better than the books, really, and everyone in the house has read and appreciated it!

(Actually, I did skim one of the books quickly, and read through some stories of people who kept going back to the same hospital, convinced of imminent death, and thought, "ooh, just like me!" Reassuring, in a twisted way).

I'm definitely feeling better, and am constantly thankful for modern pharmaceuticals. Also, grateful for my nose, which I practice breathing through, slowly.
All of which says a bit about what I've been doing with bits and pieces of my spare time, recently.  Well, that and math and helping the boys with homework.

Last fall, I had a bit of a similar panic when some of my lab tests came back and I mistakenly thought my kidneys were failing.  (In my defense, that's what every medical website I could find seemed to say).  My doc prescribed anti-anxiety meds that I didn't bother to take, since reassurance that my kidneys were actually just fine seemed to be all I needed.

Maybe it's because January was stressful for both professional and family reasons, or maybe biology and chemistry were just using my body for their own organic playground purposes, but February brought me a few more mind/body disagreements.

I'm incredibly grateful to our local hospital for not treating me like a nut when I had heart-attack symptoms (twice, I might add).  I had people seriously checking me out inside and out, and confirming that whatever was wrong with me, it wasn't lungs, heart, or arteries.  I got a surprisingly relaxing overnight stay in a solo hospital room.  (Plus, can I say, I totally nailed the stress test the next morning and feel sort of extra-studly about that.)

I also have yet another reason to be grateful that K-daughter came into my life; for a few years now, I've gotten to learn how to rational-talk her out of her own panic attacks, and all that practice helped me do the same talking to myself.  Plus, now she gets to have the "Now you see what it's like" conversation with me, which makes her feel powerful.

Heart burn medication and a bit of anti-anxiety meds, plus time and sisterly/daughterly commiseration seem to have done their job at silencing those alarms.

Not to mention, it's sort of nice to have these books on my shelf now, where I can breathe through my nose and then roll my eyes at the thought of having to read them.  Thanks, sis!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Miser Mom's $8000 mistake

Almost two decades ago, a year or two after my husband and I got married, two of his bikes were stolen from our back yard, where we'd foolishly left them lying around.  We filed police reports, and then we called the insurance company.   One of the bikes was fairly pricey, and the other bike was really pricey.  We shelled out our $500 deductible, and the insurance company paid for the rest of the replacement cost, upwards of $2000.

Leaving two expensive bikes lying around on the lawn was our $500 mistake.

But ignoring our insurance policy was the bigger mistake.  Whoops.

I know (doesn't everybody who cares about personal finance know?) that it's a good idea to check over insurance policies regularly.  We do that annually, or almost so, with our automobile.  And I also know (ditto for the "everyone who cares about pf") that high-deductible policies make much more financial sense in the long run.  In fact, I make it a mantra of mine to refuse to insure anything I can reasonably pay for myself -- no appliance insurance, no extra car rental insurance, no collision insurance, no "tuition insurance".

So it's just a little embarrassing that I only realized last week that our home insurance policy has been carrying a deductible of only $500.  Dang!  Where in the heck has my head been?

It's not like that fact is buried in some fine print somewhere.  I got my new policy in the mail last week and looked it over, and it says right there on page 2:  "Your deductible is $500.  If you raised it to $1000, you'd save this much.  If you raised it to $5000, you'd save even more."   That's pretty clear, really.

We got on the phone with our insurance folks (who I really like, by the way), and asked to raise our deductible to the max: $5000.  The agent immediately suggested some other easy deductions:  Would we like to go paperless?  There's a discount for that.  Heck, yes! (says the anti-trash-nut in this corner).  Would we be willing to sign up for auto pay? Sure thing!  Added convenience for us, and even lower bills -- a win all around.

All in all, even without switching insurance companies or involving reptiles, this one little phone call reduced our home insurance bill by $500 this year.    If we'd done this 20 years ago when we got married [here, add the standard mumble-mumble about inflation and interest rates mumble], we'd have spent something like $10,000 less on insurance, although we'd have had to pay that $2000 for the bikes ourselves.  In other words, we'd be $8000 richer today if I'd just done this 20 years ago.

All of which is to say,  I sure feel silly about not actually, y'know, reading the first page of my homeowner's policy.  For twenty years.