Saturday, October 29, 2016

Halloween Dinner

The table decorated with pumpkins
(which multiplied like rabbits in my yard this year)
and a lamp decorated with Halloween-themed scarves.

The highlight of the week in the Miser Mom Household was our annual "Halloween Dinner".  We had a bunch of current and former students join us, and we dressed in costumes (some of us dressed as "college students", but others dressed as boxers, or army guys, or math queens, or -- most creatively -- Ursula the Sea Witch!).   

I want to say, I love the fact that I get to have students join me for dinner, and that alumni of mine still come back to visit.  I like feeling like what I'm doing now is touching the future, and that what I did in the past still matters now . . . not to mention, I like eating!

And for dinner, we served
  • Zombie Eyeballs,
  • Salted Rat Brains,
  • Mexican Monkey Skulls, and
  • Great Green Globs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts.

(In more ordinary terms, these would be (a) deviled eggs, (b) steamed cauliflower, (c) stuffed peppers pre-carved like jack-o-lanterns, and (d) spaghetti and bok choy in a peanut/soy sauce).  Lots of fun was had by all.

In other news . . . 

N-son's big news of the week is that -- in addition to doing culinary arts in the mornings -- he has now been signed up for ROTC during 7th and sometimes 8th period.  So he has a very small window of pure academics in the middle of the day, but he is SO HAPPY with his schedule.  He loves-loves-loves dressing in his uniform and parading around the house and playing Toby Keith songs on his phone.  (If you aren't familiar with Toby Keith, he's a Country singer who is very pro-American-soldier-good-ole-boy).

J-son, in the meanwhile, continues to love his electronics class.  He's working hard at that, and is looking forward to having three periods of electronics in a row next year.  My husbandever the gear-head, has a blast working on homework with J-son.  Somehow, they never had quite this much fun solving algebraic linear equations for his math class, but Ohm's Law apparently rocks.

Even as I write this, the men-folk are down in Richmond visiting my step-daughter and my son-in-law.  I'm at home with lots of time to do the committee work that's been piling up around me, but instead I spent two hours today cutting out monster masks for next year's Halloween dinner.  Which sounds to me like a good trade-off, really.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

As easy as apple . . . sauce!

My friend June made her annual stop at a nearby orchard and brought me a bushel of apples for $16.  This time of year, local apples are abundant and inexpensive (not to mention delicious!).

Applesauce might very well be a sort of a gateway drug for future canners, because applesauce is so easy.  First of all, the ingredients of applesauce are minimal:  apples, plus a tiny bit of water.  Second of all, all the cooking that goes with applesauce happens when the weather is cool, so (unlike in August when the tomatoes and peaches are steaming up my kitchen) heating up a pot of hot apples makes the house feel better, not worse.  And finally, the actual making of the apple sauce is surprisingly simple, especially if you like including the peels in the applesauce (like I do).

The steps of making apple sauce are basic: chop them, heat them, and mash them.  To cut them up, I've used an apple peeler corer in the past, but this year decided just to cut each apple into eighths and then remove the core (triangled wedge).  N-son, with his growing confidence because of his culinary arts training, started on this even before I got home from church, and we worked happily on this together while listening to Chris Thile make his debut as the host of Prairie Home Companion.

We tossed the cut-up pieces into a pot with a small amount of water (about a half-inch, enough to prevent scorching the apples), and then heated up the apples until they got soft.  I used a potato masher, followed by a stick blender that I scored at one of our annual Bad Gift Exchange parties.

At that point, the applesauce was done!  To summarize, all you do is chop them, heat them, and mash them.  No extra ingredients (aside from a bit of water) needed, no special thermometers.  So it's a really quick and easy food to make.

To can the applesauce, you put the applesauce in jars and then boil the jars for 20 minutes (if they're quart jars) or 15 minutes (if they're pint jars).  You'll need actual canning jars and jar grabbers, but that's the only special equipment you need -- you could use a spaghetti pot for canning, if it's deep enough that the jars can be completely underwater.

For us, this past weekend, canning 19 quarts of applesauce took three-and-a-half hours: that's the time from opening up the bags to putting away the freshly-washed pots.  If you start with fewer apples, of course this will take you less time, and there's no reason you need to do so many at once -- you could can just one pint of applesauce if you wanted.

My favorite step-by-step site for canning directions is here.

Canning apples was so easy, that I decided to try my hand at making my own apple cider vinegar as well -- this will be my first attempt.  Basically, I just put the apple scraps (cores) in glass jars with water and a bit of sugar, and I'll wait a month or so and vinegar will magically appear.  Or something.  I'm mostly following the directions from the PrairieHomestead site (no relation to Chris Thile, as far as I can tell).  Advice is welcome.  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Miser Family update, pumpkin version

Here's the latest family update.

The highlight of the week for the family was pumpkin carving.  This year, a large patch of small pumpkins took over our back yard.

Earlier today, N-son and I went out to pick them and bring them into the house.

About once a week, we have what we call "Family Fun Night", often with I-daughter and K-daughter returning to the home to join in.  This week, we made faces (pumpkin faces, that is).  My granddaughter Baby-A loved playing with the pumpkin brains and then replacing the pumpkin skull cap back onto the cranium, over and over and over again.  

Why wasn't J-son at the family pumpkin surgery festival?  Well, J-son made friends with connections; he's spending the weekend hiking and kayaking with them in the Poconos.  And my husband got to do more than he'd planned of his favorite activity: he rode his bike to Philly, and then, because a flat tire on the car (not on the bike!) prevented me from joining him there, he rode his bike and the train back home.  It was a long ride!

As for me, I gave back calculus exams this week.  I actually liked taking tests when I was in college, because I had a chance to do well.  But as a professor, it's always the case that half of my students do below average, so I really dread giving back those exams. Sigh. Fortunately, the first exam is now behind us, and we're moving on to the part of the semester that my students feel most comfortable with, so we've got another few weeks of fun stuff before the next midterm rears its ugly pumpkin head at us.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tiny Conference Tip

Here is my favorite little conference tip.  When I get that brochure that lists all the events day by day, I rip off the bottom corner of the days/events that have already passed.
Bottom right hand corner ripped off a bunch of pages.

And that way, it's super easy to turn to the events that are happening right now.
Voila!  I open right up to the list of talks that are happening right now!

This tip doesn't work if you've ditched the paper program and are using the conference app on your phone, because ripping off a corner of your phone creates all sorts of technological problems.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Miser Family Update

Here's the quick update for this week.

When we left off last week, we'd just discovered that J-son won his boxing match last Saturday!  This makes him 3-and-1.  His lower lip got a bit banged up, and he was really tired the next day.  It is entirely possible that his mother teased him for being so tired after an event that only lasted 12 minutes, as compared to -- oh, say -- a 15-hour IronMan.  But it was a proud mother who teased him.

After the boxing match, I'm not entirely sure what happened to my family, because I drove to North Carolina and back (giving a math talk), and then I hopped on a plane headed for Long Beach, California, where I attended a conference run by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in the Sciences.  It was a great conference, attended by me and 4200 other mathematicians and scientists.  I used my airplane time to write up some math thoughts (homologies and anamorphisms) -- try not to be jealous!

The reports I get from my husband say that he's diligently updating credit card expenses in Mint and that he and N-son have made healthy dinners with lots of vegetables.  All this makes me feel very much loved, even in absentia!   

I also got photo evidence that my granddaughter Baby A has been wandering through the pumpkin patch that's taken over my backyard.  I can't wait to go home again!

Friday, October 14, 2016

On the road again (and in the air again)

This has been a big travel week for yours truly.  I'm writing this post in what is the wee hours of a Long Beach, California morning -- although the hours don't feel all that "wee" to me, since 5:30 a.m. local time is 8:30 a.m. back at home.

I'm going to back up and do a small bit of bragging.  This travel is all funded by some professional development money that landed in my lap because, last May, I won a fancy award for teaching at my college.  The award is semi-ironic because, of course, last year I was on sabbatical and wasn't teaching at all.  So either I won this award now because my school figures, "She's a great teacher when she's away from her students; once she gets back in the classroom, it's all downhill from here, so we'd better give her the award now before she spoils it."  Or it's because they figured, "She's so freakin' good, that even when she's not in the classroom she's a better prof than all the others."

Me, getting a teaching award, trying to look all humble and that.
At any rate, whatever the reason, I got to stand up on stage at Commencement and make the already-long event last even longer, keeping students from their degrees while they listened to yet another boring citation.

With this award come a sizable chunk of money that I could use either personally or professionally.  I decided not to plunk the money straight into my own bank account, because what I really want to do is travel around to do some math, and so I put the money into a "professional development" fund where then money doesn't get taxed (meaning, more money for travel).

And this past week, I've been spending that money.  A 3-day trip to North Carolina used up about $250 of the moolah; it also gave me a chance to chat with some mathematicians who I met last summer, and whom I might want to work with again in the future.  It was a seriously great trip.

In the Miser Mom way, I tried to keep expenses low.  The university I was visiting paid for my hotel and meals, and I used my travel money to spring for a rental car and gas.   The more I do rental cars for long trips, the more I love the idea of not owning cars and just "borrowing" them from the cosmic car library when I need them.  Cars have gotten so much nicer since 2001 when my old (dented up) Prius was made, and my Prius is a pretty nice car!  Intermittent luxury is sort of fun.

This trip to California is even more of a treat, if that's possible.  I'm at a conference hosted by SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in the Sciences), so it's not as much about my research as my NC trip was.  But because I have this big fat pillow of money buried in my professional development mattress, I could afford to bring other people along.  I'm paying the way not just for myself, but also for an undergraduate math major and for a visiting professor (that is, a prof who just got his PhD two years ago, and who has a 3-year position, not a tenure-track position,  at my college).  So there are three of us who made the 14-hour trip from Pennsylvania to California yesterday.

And again, frugalizing.  I couldn't trim the hefty registration fees, and airfare+shuttles for three people is some serious dough, no matter how careful we are.  But I found a cozy AirBnB three blocks from the convention center that cut the lodging costs in half, compared to nearby hotels.  We all packed super light, minimizing luggage fees, and I have been doling out the trail mix that successfully tided us over through crowded airports and traffic-jam-laden shuttle rides.  (LA traffic-- Sheesh!).

Sort of ironically, this money that I got for teaching (or for not teaching, since I got it at the end of my sabbatical) is taking me away from my students yet again.  I've co-opted some of my colleagues into giving my students an exam while I'm away from them, and my travel schedule means that I won't get to grade and return their exams to them for a while -- I'm neglecting my students temporarily.  But I'm so glad I'm here (my first ever SACNAS conference! woo-hoo!) and I'm so glad I got to bring some people with me who wouldn't have gotten the chance to come on their own.   Huzzah for frugal communal traveling! 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Miser Family Update, October 2-8

Here's the quick update for this week.

The weather is starting to turn cooler, especially at night, and so my husband and I have gotten out the giant down comforter that we "inherited" from my mom (when she discovered she was allergic to the feathers). The weather is not so cold, though, that we've bothered to close up the house or turn on the heat -- and in fact, J-son, who sleeps on the (warmer) 2nd floor, still uses his fan at night.

Our family got to go to an event at my college -- a presentation/discussion featuring Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who described his most recent book, Writings On the Wall: Searching for a new equality. The event was held in our gym, with something like 2000 people present. He certainly is a person of great stature, in more ways than one! It truly was something amazing to be in a crowd that large who were all so happy to be together and who cheered in unison for this gentle giant and his quiet message of hope.

My husband visited with a trustee of his former place of employment; they didn't talk about work at all, but just about my guy's time in Iraq. Even though he maintains his connections to his old job, he really is retired!

I made applesauce from the apples that J-son had harvested from the trees in our front yard. I planted crocus bulbs and also bulbs of flowers that look like daffodils but start with the letter "N" (don't remember the name). I brought in the last of the watermelons from the garden, and also the first of the pumpkins. Who would have thought that watermelons and pumpkins could co-exist? A marvelous metaphor for us all.

J-son was up in Scranton even as I wrote this, at his most recent boxing match. He'd been training all summer for this, his fourth, match. How did he do? Late breaking news: he won the match! Photo of a very tired champ below. Somehow his lip got cut.

N-son sang with his sister I-daughter (and about 60 other choir members) in the Music For Everyone Chorus, which performed at the local Democratic Something-or-Other banquet. Go, Dems!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Tale of Two Shoes (or, rather four shoes, because two pairs )

This past month, J-son went the frugal route and paid $140 for a pair of "new" shoes for himself, while I went crazy expensive and plopped down $5 for mine.

Or something like that.  Our experiences are just a little story about how "anchoring" prices can affect what we think about what we pay.

J-son loves shoes.  He really, really loves them -- so much so that last Easter, instead of putting candy in J-son's Easter basket, I gave him a shoe polish kit, and he fell over himself thanking me.  He has a carefully curated stack of shoe boxes in his bedroom, each containing its own pair of sneakers.

About a month ago, J-son came home jonesing for a new (well, new to him) pair of shoes.  His friend's dad had bought them a year ago for $400, had hardly ever worn them, and was now getting ready to sell them for the low, low price of $140.  J-son had spent most of his money on other things already (snacks, movies, and other shoes), so he didn't have the money in his bank account, but he knew that his birthday was coming up and with that, he saw the possibility of beaucoup de birthday money dawning on the horizon.

You can take it for granted that he got the usual Miser Mom homilies delivered during his waiting period:  "A sure-fire way to blow $260 is to buy a pair of shoes for $400 and sell them a year later for $140."  "This is why you don't waste money on silly things like Quick-Mart snacks; because you won't have money for things you care about."  "Before you got the last pair of shoes, you said that they were the only thing you wanted; how do you know these will be any different?" Blah, blah, blah.  He'd heard it all before, but he and I both know that consistency is a crucial aspect of parenting, and who was I to let him down on the consistency front?  J-son listened to my pearls of wisdom with good grace, even occasionally agreeing with me.  But he really, really wanted the shoes.

His birthday rolled around, and with his birthday came some birthday money.  I will admit that haggling was involved: J-son is super nervous about the prospect of voting, and his community-oriented mother hinted strongly that actually registering to vote (which he wasn't super keen about) might somehow be linked in her mind to birthday-shoe money (which she wasn't super keen about).  Voter registration happened, and birthday money happened, and J-son scraped his money together into a pile and spent "only" $140 on this amazing, wonderful, long-awaited pair of shoes.

With the box.  Because the box is part of the package, apparently.
Are these not lovely?  Already he's told me he's saving up for a bigger shoe-cleaning kit.

About a month before J-son joyously emptied his bank account---and also pre-dedicated his birthday money, and would have given away his first-born child (had that been part of the asking price)---for his new shoes, I went through my own kind of anguish over whether to spend as much as $5 for a pair of shoes for myself.

The reasons for my recent shoe hunts are manifold.  Because of a case of frostbite I got as a kid, my feet get cold easily, even in the summer, so I wear shoes a lot.  I wanted summer shoes that I could slip on without socks, that had good grip (so I could bike in them), that I could wear with just about anything (skirts, shorts, etc),  and that were super flexible and light, so I can sit cross-legged in them.  My previous summer shoes (N-son's abandoned water shoes) had been perfect -- and free.  The pair before that, I found at a yard sale for a dollar.  But both of my previous summer shoes were wearing out badly, and yard-sale searches had turned up nothing.

I have a personal rule of thumb to try to spend no more than $1 for a pair of shoes, unless the shoes are so amazing and so hard to find that I agree to double that amount to $2.  The last time I violated the rule was almost three years ago:  while I was training for a marathon in a super-cold January and was worried about frostbite, I bought a pair of warm running shoes for the exorbitant price of $11.  I've tried to avoid a similar crazy splurge ever since.

So I was keeping my eyes open for a decent pair of summer shoes, but as yard sale season waned I was realizing how vanishingly small my chances of success were becoming, and I could feel my price point slipping.  And then I popped into a so-called thrift store and saw this pair for $5.

So expensive.  So, so expensive.  But the shoes were everything I wanted, and actually even prettier than my previous summer shoes. (Can you see in the picture that there's gold tint mixed in with the brown stripes?  oooohhhh . . . )  They've got great tread.  They're flexible.  They slip on and off.  They look great with all my outfits.

So I splurged, spending a whopping $5:  500% of my normal shoe budget and 250% of my "fancy" shoe budget on this cute little pair of shoes.  I didn't clean out my bank account or spend future money, but I was just as spendy, in my own Miser-Mom way, as my young and enthusiastic son.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Miser-Family update: Otherwise engaged . . .

So, despite my half-hearted efforts to do Everything, and also to do it all beautifully and with whole-hearted enthusiasm, I have instead been doing Almost Everything that I need to do.  The blog seems to be one of those things that has not made it into the action pile as often as I'd like.

In previous years, I deliberately let the blog hibernate during winter (meaning, school-year) months, but I always missed it when I did that. So this year, I'm going to try something different, to see whether that works:  the weekly family update.

I've started sending out an email to my family (sisters, uncle, far-flung step-daughters, dad, etc) with quick highlights of our week.  They're not quite as philosophical as my blog posts, and they never get into the behavioral sagas that provide much of the excitement in the MiserMom household, so they have quite a different flavor from what I've been writing here.    BUT . . . I figure it's easy enough to copy-and-paste, and then remove names.  And they'll keep me posting, and make it easier to jump back in if/when I do have something blog-worthy to say in a moment when I'm free from the grip of grading or committee reading or such.

So here, in all its glory (??), is the first of what might (or might not) be a weekly series of updates. 


We celebrated J-son's long-awaited birthday last Sunday by going out to a restaurant.  Total extravagance, I know! But it was worth it.  We were joined not only by my two nearby daughters, but also by a married couple who are long-time friends and godparents to half of our kids.  We ate a lot and had a wonderful evening.

J-son celebrated his birthday by buying some awesome (he tells me) shoes with his birthday money, and by registering to vote.  He's actually quite nervous about voting; as you probably know, Pennsylvania is a swing state, which means he has ardent Clinton supporters AND ardent Trump supporters as friends and mentors.  The shoes, on the other hand, he loves and cares for without any trepidation.

N-son had a big week, with a drum performance, a choral performance, AND a fashion runway appearance. I didn't get pictures of the runway performance, but he was apparently a huge hit.  I did get very blue photos of his drumming -- he rocked the place!

My husband and I observed the 20th anniversary of the day I said I'd marry him -- an anniversary that somehow I always manage to remember better than our actual wedding anniversary.  True to form with that actual day two decades ago, Thursday was a day full of lots of work and childcare obligations, and so we wished each other "happy anniversary" by email and in hasty greetings as we rushed past one another.  We're planning a more leisurely moment tomorrow night when we ditch the kids and head out for dinner (which will mean two restaurants in only 8 days, a shocking development).  

Those 20 years have seen a lot of excitement -- many job changes for my husband, tenure and promotion for me, bike crashes, a tour of Iraq, donations of body parts, an IronMan, a transformation into quasi-pathological frugality on the part of yours truly, and of course accumulating our collection (the complete set!) of a bunch of wonderful children.  I think, when we do go out to dinner tomorrow, that we both have a lot to be grateful for.  I'm glad I said yes.