Saturday, January 28, 2017

Family update: movies and movements version

Our lives in the Miser-Mom household continue to be rich and full.

Last Sunday, I got to take three of my offspring (N-son, I-daughter, and K-daughter) to a movie version of Don Giovanni.  We are all now fans of Kiri Te Kanawa.

Three of us (my husbandN-son, and I) got to go see Hidden Figures.  I almost never go to the movies, but I've been looking forward to seeing this movie for several months now, and I wasn't disappointed.  Whoop!  What a great film!  It made me nostalgic for my days as a kid, wandering the halls of Goddard Space Flight Center with my mom.  It also reminded me how lucky I was to grow up in a home where my mom and dad rattled the cages of people who assumed only white men could do math and science.

My husband has continued to have fun going to the Tuesdays with Toomey protests.  I put my senator's phone numbers on my speed dial, and I try to call them at least weekly.  

J-son managed to starve himself down close to his fight weight -- not easy, nor comfortable -- but then his fight was cancelled because the other boxer got injured. He's now working on maintaining and dropping his weight for the next fight.

I'm gearing up for a big talk that I'll be giving on Groundhog Day.  To make space in my schedule so that I can spend some time with the people who are coming from far away to see it, I've been spending most of my time holed up in my office, reading job applications and promotion/tenure materials.  Fascinating stuff, I tell you!  I think the reading would be even more fascinating if I could get Kiri Te Kanawa to sing it to me.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Family update, the "in-the-pink" version

Our lives in the Miser Mom household continue to be rich and full.

In the larger-than-us category, we began the week by hosting a gathering of LOUD (Locally Organized, United in Diversity), a new neighborhood group committed to learning about and supporting all kinds of diversity in our city.  The meeting at Monday at our home focused on learning about refugees who have resettled here in our small city.  Then I spent Friday morning avoiding all televisions, serving early lunch with my granddaughter Baby-A at our local soup kitchen.  And today, my husband and N-son headed over to the Women's March on Philadelphia, while I-daughter went to a more local version here in our own smaller city, also knitting a bunch of pussy hats for other marchers.  (I'm going for pink font, in keeping with the theme; did that work?)  My husband says the organizers in Philly were expecting 20,000 people, but wound up with closer to 30,000, putting a huge strain on those port-a-potties!*

*My sister adds: "In DC it was a 30 minute wait for a porta potty 

full to within 3 inches of the top and no TP. Friendly, happy crowd!"

Gathering in Philly for the march

I didn't go to the marches because I was buried under piles of bureaucracy.  My classes have begun, and my committee work also, and now I am a wealthy woman, especially as measured by quantity of reading materials.  

J-son is training hard for his upcoming boxing match.  The hardest part is that he's got to drop weight -- another 6 pounds by the end of next week.  All I can say is, he's determined.  And along the way, he's started to pick up a bit of money training other, younger boxers. Go, J-son!

But there's more!  I visited my surgeon early this week for my post-op visit.  My surgeon checked me over, whistled a bit, and asked, "Do you know what a bell curve is?  Oh, yeah, you do.  Well, you're way off to one end of it." I'm not allowed to do cartwheels or pushups for another month, but the healing and such has gone remarkably -- as in, hard-to-believe -- quickly.  I have almost my full range of motion back already, and I did our usual 10k run with my friends this morning, down to County Park and back.  On the way back up, I often walked going uphill; in other words, I'm back to normal!

My sister and her husband in their pussy hats.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I seem to have inherited my children's jeans . . .

Okay, so the title of this post is funnier if you hear it, instead of reading it.

But I love getting to this stage where I inherit my children's clothes, when I get "hand-me-ups" instead of them getting "hand-me-downs".  When my oldest daughters finally became teenagers, I gladly co-opted the jeans they no longer wanted, and as a result ended up wearing designer labels in spite of my usual generic preferences.  Several of my off-spring have been particularly fashion-aware, and as a result I managed to snag some fairly stylin' sets of clothes in the years before they headed off to college.  I've always particularly appreciated getting a new (to me) pair of jeans, since I tend to wear those into rags myself.

In fact, I like denim jeans so much, they've been one of the few exceptions to my "people-colored clothing" wardrobe rule.   Blue jeans are just about the only clothes I wear that don't explicitly match my gold-and-brown scarf, and so they're just about the only non-earth-tone items of clothing in my drawers.  If I could find some nice brown jeans for cheap, I might get those, but since I haven't had any luck with finding earth-tone jeans, I keep a pair of blue jeans for slumming and for construction projects.

Ooh . . . except that a month ago, my luck turned.

There on the top of the "donate" pile, I discovered that J-son had tossed a pair of brown jeans that he no longer liked.  Because I was still in my broken-arm-sweat-pants-only phase, I had to ogle the pants from afar.  Would they fit me?  Could I eventually button them?  Would these jeans cross the gender/age boundary and still look as decent on a 50-year old mother-of-six as they'd looked on an 18-year old lad?  One of the triumphs of getting my arm out of the splint is that I could finally try on the pants and discover . . . yes! Cinnamon jeans!

In other happy clothing acquisition news, my oldest step-daughter, who--like J-son--cares very much about what's hot and what's not, decided for the second year in a row that my Christmas present would be to use me as a proxy for Goodwill or Salvation Army.  She off-loaded all her discarded clothes on me, allowing me to sort through to keep what I might like, funneling the rest to whatever thrift shop I cared to choose.  Most of the clothes were the wrong color for me, but there were a couple of white sweaters that I rotated into my collection, conveniently replacing other white sweaters that were not only marginally more dated, but also stained.  (Oh, white cotton.)


I think I'm just especially tickled by the trust that's built up here in a gift like this.  My step-daughter doesn't feel like she has to try to impress me by buying shiny new stuff for me.  She doesn't worry that I'm going to judge her past clothing preferences.   And she's perfectly fine with me deciding that half or more of her "gifts" to me aren't something I want to keep.  Indeed, she knows me well enough to know that I'm just totally tickled to be part of a process of keeping a few clothes from hitting the thrift-store-to-landfill escalator for a little while longer.

That gift of trust is even more flattering to me than the gift of white sweaters.

(Still, here's hoping that next year, she develops a fondness for earth-colored denim.)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Update: food, fights, protests, and twisted arms

Here's our latest family update.

N-son tells me that his first week back at the culinary school has been deliciously productive.  He's learned to make pork, garlic bread from scratch (as in, "put yeast and warm water in a bowl . . . "), tiramisu, and tuna noodle casserole.  Right now he's cooking me dinner.

J-son says (and it's true) that he's training very hard. He has a match on January 28, and we already know that "J-son" will win the match, because both boxers are named J-son!  In unrelated news, at a recent white elephant gift exchange, J-son snagged this amazing gold bling necklace that says "Boss". It's perfect for him: check the attitude!

Two seconds after I snapped this photo,
both boys burst into happy grins.
My husband got to go to Philadelphia (by train, not by bike because of the weather) and serve in a counter-protest to a group of Trump supporters who were protesting Senator Casey's disapproval of Jeff Sessions' appointment as Attorney General. (If you have trouble untangling all those negatives:  my husband supports Casey, but not Sessions or Trump).  He very much enjoyed the chance to hang out with like-minded people and stump publicly in support of his ideals.  

And as for me, I started physical therapy at the beginning of this week.  My sling has been off since January 30, and I'm moving my left arm lots.  I can almost, but not quite, touch my shoulder with my thumb.  I'm not allowed to do cartwheels or pushups yet, and I'm not allowed to ride my bike either, but I've started running with my friends.  So I'm feeling incredibly fortunate and grateful.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bad Gift Exchange

So, the good news is that I didn't get a lot of presents this Christmas.  The bad news is that, just about every present that I got, I really liked.

This means, unfortunately, that i didn't have much material for our annual Bad Gift Exchange, a party I host every January, where my friends and I share stories about presents, and we also share the presents themselves.  This year's best stories came from a woman who brought a present that she'd given her mom, and which her mom handed straight back saying "I don't want this".  (It was a high-tech wine bottle opener, and quickly claimed by another of my guests.  Huzzah!)

I love setting up for this party; it's very low-key.  This year I pulled out some bagels together with a few of my beautifully labeled jars (banana jam, pesto, and green-tomato chutney).

We also had a few bottles of wine served in my fancy crystal goblets (aka cup-sized canning jars).

For decoration, we had not only all the Christmas decorations around the house (to be taken down after and not before the Bad Gift Exchange), but also was has remained un-devoured of the Christmas-day Gingerbread house.  I call this style, "Festive Remnants".

And so setting up for the party is super easy.  The real joy of the party is exchanging stories and trying to get rid of the gifts we've gotten but don't want.

Many of the gifts people bring are really lovely gifts; they're just not something that the recipient wanted to have in her house.  We all applaud when there's someone else at the party who truly wants that thing -- matching objects with grateful owners is just really satisfying.  Like this beautiful tea set, which got to go to a home where it will be loved and appreciated.

The "Tater Twister" and the "Pregame Cooler" were not among the objects that somebody really wanted.  They've sadly now found a home with me.  My friends tried hard to convince me that the "Pregame cooler" would work well as a lunchbox because it holds canning jars, and I dubiously acquiesced to try, but I might just have to find a better home for this object (a gift, I might add, that has already been through several re-gifting parties.  The Pregame Cooler has become somewhat of a social pariah).    And when some of my friends said, "MiserMom, you could have a Twisted Vegetable Night", my daughters responded, "that's like every dinner at our house, but without the 'twisted'."  I guess I do love my veggies.

But for me, the funniest gift exchange happened when one of my friends reluctantly pulled something out of her bag and said, "I don't really know if anybody could ever think of a use for something like this . . . " and almost immediately, my two daughters yelled, "The Money Dinner!".   Which was exactly what I was thinking at exactly the same time.  Of course for our annual April Tax Day dinner, we need to wear many gold bling dollar sign necklaces.  Total score!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Buying time

Today I just sent my co-authors a second draft of a paper we hope to submit to a journal this spring.  A week ago, I gave a math talk on a different paper I'm working on.

Publishing and speaking about projective geometry doesn't sound like it has much of anything to do with the "miser" part of being a MiserMom, but the truth is, I got the chance to do all this math because of frugality.  In particular, I got to do math because my family is so frugal that we could afford to buy my husband the gift of time.

Two professors and a bunch of students at a math conference.
I love this part of my job.
If I retired tomorrow, what I'd want to do most in the world is math.  You'd think that being a math professor means that I get to do math all the time, but in fact that's not true.  My job has a lot of other things to do that keep me away from the research I love.  Some of these things are a lot of fun: I spend a bunch of my time teaching students: preparing classes, grading their papers, holding office hours.  Grading sucks, but the rest of it is usually a lot of fun.  Some of the time-sinks in my job are very worthwhile but not a bucket of laughs: I'm on the promotion/tenure committee, and I spend dozens of hours each week slogging through the reading that goes with each of the cases we consider.  And of course, there are other non-job and non-math things that take my time, like, say, eating.  Spending time with my kids.  Running with my friends (when I don't have a broken arm).  Going to the theater, and having lunch discussions with my colleagues on campus.

So if I retired tomorrow, then I wouldn't have nothing else to do, but I'd still have lots more time to think about the bizarre little objects I love thinking about (homographies! rational field extensions! yay!) Still, I like the non-math parts of my job enough that I'm not ready to retire yet.

On the other hand, because I've spent two dozen years honing my frugality skills (here comes the money side of the post), we've made it possible for my husband to retire.  And let me tell you, having a stay-at-home spouse is fantastic for allowing me to do math.  In spite of all the committee work and course prep that I have, and in spite of random car crashes putting my writing hand out of commission for a few weeks, I've managed to do more math this past autumn than in any other non-sabbatical semester of my career.  And it's been a blast!

Transitioning over to having my husband in charge of the household administration took a bit of communication and juggling at first, but by now my husband is rocking it.  Each Sunday, he fills out the whiteboard dinner chart so we know who's cooking each night, and I am down to being in charge of only about one meal per week (usually, the "Family Fun Night" dinner, which I'm a tad overprotective about, so that works really well).  My husband has become best-buds with the boys' school counsellors, and as a result the boys are having a much smoother year academically than in the past (not smooth, but smoother than before).  The umpteen doctor and dentist appointments that seem to come up regularly?  That's all my husband.  I get to do the Parent Things that involve the heart-to-heart talks, the life advice, the around-the-home stuff.  And all the Stupid Administrative Stuff that sucks time away from family life?  My husband now takes care of that.   I'm living the dream, I tell you.

Two dozen or so years ago when I first read Your Money or Your Life and first discovered the notion of "Financial Independence", I loved the idea of using frugality to buy my own time.  Later, when I married my non-miser husband, I realized that my frugality could eventually help to buy his time.  But I never appreciated until this year that by using my Frugality Superpowers to purchase my husband's time, I'd be giving myself the gift of time as well.

Monday, January 9, 2017

De-cluttering the lotion mosh pit

An odd thing happened to me a few weeks ago.  I got into a funky mood in which I wanted to clean things up, to declutter . . . but there was hardly anything to clean.  I wouldn't say my home is an example of minimalism, because we still have lots of decorations and toys and books and tools around the house, but when I looked around the living room, dining room, and kitchen, I was really happy with everything I saw.  I'd done a major reorganization of our first floor a few years ago, and apparently, it's worked well.  I guess I've been getting really good at heading towards "enough".

But I know that real clutter is like cockroaches -- it doesn't like to be out in the light of day.  The stuff that we see is the stuff we use.  Said another way, the stuff we don't need is not the stuff we keep out in plain sight; it's the stuff at the back of our cupboards.  So after wandering through the house, eyeing all my belongings and realizing that I actually liked everything I could see, I headed upstairs and decided to get rid of stuff I couldn't see.

When I got to to the bathroom closet, I hit the jackpot.  This particular bathroom has been the primary grooming spot for five different teenage girls over the past 20 years.  All of those teenage girls have now moved out of the home, but a cursory archeological dig through the closet unearthed evidence of their past presence.  I pulled out bottle after bottle of facial scrub, eye make-up remover, and other such concoctions.

lotion in bottles, and bottles in a basket
When my four daughters were here for Christmas, I encouraged them to take what they wanted now.  Most of the specialty stuff left the house with my daughters.  Yay!  By the time my offspring were gone, what remained was two baskets: one with several bottles of sun screen, and one with an assortments of lotions.

Ugh.  The tyranny of lotion bottles.  How the heck do we get so many lotion and sun screen bottles?  I mean, we do use lotion, and sunscreen too, so I understand why we have lotion and sunscreen.  But the vast number of different semi-empty bottles of the stuff was what was screaming "clutter!" at me.  The stuff inside is useful -- but who needs all the packaging that goes with the stuff inside?

Canning jars to the rescue.  Because.  Because I love canning jars, and I miss writing about them.

I emptied what was inside the four bottles of sunscreen into a single, cup-sized canning jar.  (For thick gooey versions that didn't want to flow quickly, I stuck the bottle in the microwave for about 15 seconds; that seemed to get things flowing beautifully).  Last year, K-daughter gave me a pump that goes on a canning jar, and so now I have the sunscreen all together in one easy place to get to.
Baking soda, lotion, and sun screen: my morning ablutions.

Ditto with the lotion; that goes in another canning jar (although no pump on that one).  All of these go on my dresser, which is where I actually use them.  Every morning I use lotion and baking soda as my deodorant, and then I put on my rosacea medicine and a bit of sun screen.

(Just to add: I was surprised at how little space the sunscreen took up once it was outside of the plastic containers -- those four big semi-empty bottles all condensed down into one little canning jar.  So now I'm even happier that I thought of this -- that's a huge reduction in shelf space).

So now, the next time I get into one of those gotta-clean moods, I'll have to dig even deeper.  Because my bathroom cupboards are looking pretty danged good.  Sigh

Sunday, January 8, 2017

First week of 2017, update

Here's a short update from our family.

We began the week with a good luck dinner: my husband loves taking charge of our annual (Pennsylvania Dutch-inspired) tradition of bringing good luck into the new year with a hearty dinner of pork, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and apple sauce.

And then I left my family, and headed to the giant math meetings in Atlanta, Georgia, where I got to rub shoulders with 6000 of my closest friends.  Well, except that I wasn't actually rubbing shoulders, because my arm was still in a sling (but not a splint). The math meetings were just as wonderful as you would expect they would be -- actually, much better than you would expect, probably!  And encouragingly, my rehab is going surprisingly well -- I can not only bite my fingernails, but also scratch my ear.  Both of these are useful abilities to have!

Back here in Pennsylvania, the boys started school again in spite of several small snowfalls. J-son had what we thought was an ear infection, that turned out to be just a cold.   N-son has enjoyed watching episodes of The Man in the High Castle with his friends and then with his dad.

And we've re-started our trash count, having sent nine garbage cans full of trash to the landfill in 2016.  My husband has been taking care of lots of small to-do items around the home (and wishing it were warmer and less icy so he could be out on his bike); he tells me that all this cleaning means  we'll probably have to put out our first trash can in a week or two.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Talking Trash (a 2016 wrap-up)

Talkin' Trash again.

One of my mathematical friends came up to me yesterday and said, "I just want you to know that now, every time I put out my garbage can, I think of you."  He paused and then asked, "Does that sound horrible to say?"

I guess it's not as bad as saying, "Every time I see you, I think about my garbage can".

Me giving my BFD talk.
Last summer at the big math meetings, I gave a big talk.  The audience contained what seemed like a gazillion people, but it probably wasn't that many: maybe only half-a-gazillion, or maybe a third of a gazillion people.  It was a BFD talk (that's army-speak for a Big Deal talk), and I spent a lot of time preparing the talk, trying to think of some way to launch the talk that would be interesting and new and also understandable for an audience that contained undergrads and graduate students all the way up through senior mathematicians.  So I started the talk by telling people that the previous year (2015) my family put only 11 trash cans at the curb, and from there I sort of led people into the real subject of the talk, which had to do with teaching math.  But people remembered the trash part best.

So here at the winter math meetings, I have lots of conversations about trash, but for once I'm not the person starting the conversations.  I keep thinking I should compile a list of the surprising questions I get on this subject.  Tonight's question was, "Do you use essential oils?"  I totally love the question one serious person asked, somewhat nervously:  "Do you make all your guests eat all the food on their plates?"   (Then the person added, as if this answered the question, "Well, I guess you compost."  I'm still not sure how the cogs were linked up in that person's mental machinery).

But the truth is, the further along I get into the trash-reduction world of mine, the easier it becomes. It's not just easier to avoid trash, but it's also easier to risk being weird in my pursuit of trash avoidance. Today I  breakfasted on home-packed trail mix (zero trash, more habit than challenge by now).  And then for lunch I went to where a bunch of other math folks were headed: the food court at the mall.  At the sushi stand, the only option for getting a meal was to put the sushi rolls in styrofoam clam-shell containers, and so I nearly turned away sadly to look for alternatives . . . but then I turned back and asked one of the cooks, "Is there a way to get lunch without the styrofoam containers?"  Total weirdo, I know.

My planner bag has a zippered pocket
for my spoon and chopsticks.
The chef was startled at the question, but then asked, "Are you going to eat your meal here?"  I was; he handed me a plate.  I filled it up with my favorite sushi rolls, added the wasabi and soy sauce directly on the plate, had them add the sea weed salad, and paid for my lunch.  Since I already carry my chopsticks in my planner bag  everywhere I go, it was a perfect zero-waste meal.  At one point I thought to myself, "Have you really gone over to the crazy side?  What if *everyone* did that?"  But then I realized that if everyone asked for alternatives to styrofoam, the sushi stand might stop using styrofoam, which would actually be a good thing.  So Trash-Free Lunch plus moral certitude.  I'm tellin' you, I'm becoming one of those people.

And the funny thing is, it's not just me.  Because I walk around these math meetings, and people stop me to tell me that they're carrying their own reusable mug.  Or that they've started being much more anal about recycling.  Or that they didn't hear my talk themselves, but someone told them about it, and it's made them rethink why they get a paper napkin under their water or a paper coaster under their beer, if it's just going to go in the trash anyway.

Even my own kids, who because of my "Don't Drive Them Crazy" rule I've tried very hard not to coerce into my garbage-geekdom, have caught the bug.  The year 2016 was even better for trash avoidance than 2015; this past year we put out only 9 cans.  I was telling J-son this -- my ultra-hip J-son, my cool, don't-make-waves J-son, my Mr. Fashion J-son -- and his response was, "Wow.  We're going to have to work hard so we can beat that for next year!"

So here's looking at 2017, hoping it doesn't get too wasted (in the garbage sense of that word).  I'm not only avoiding putting trash at the curb at my own house, but there are trashcans all around the nation getting less use than they used to.  Maybe I haven't helped to avoid a gazillion trashcans . . . but I'll settle for a third of a gazillion, or even a tenth of a gazillion, for now.