Saturday, December 30, 2017

When resolutions work

So, the other day, my husband asked me what I was doing, and I said, "I'm thinking about a new resolution.  But I know I've got to be careful about it . . . "

My husband nearly bust a gut laughing.  "Of all the people in world to be worried about a New Year's resolution!  If you say you're going to do it, you will!"  I love that my husband thinks I'm invincible that way.   But of course, the fact that I *will* do the resolution is exactly why I *am* thinking so hard about it.

I know that the standard trope is that people make resolutions and then don't keep them.  Failed (or meaningless) resolutions are the basis for just about every other comic joke right about now.  But me, I have the opposite experience:  I make a resolution, and it's highly likely to change my life.

Some of my past resolutions.
(Do other people do their resolutions in multiple colors?
Or save them as mementos?  Or is it just me?)
For example, about a dozen years ago I resolved to "exercise gregariously".  These days, I don't go for runs by myself almost ever (the exception was the summer I was training for the IronMan), but long after the year I first made that resolution, I still run regularly four days a week, and always with other people.  Running with other people means I had to find the time to run with them (at a time when they can run with me), so most days I wake up and leave the house just before 6 a.m.   Running with other people means keeping in contact with them, and so at some point I ended up taking over the job of sending out emails to our Saturday-morning running group.  We've got about 5-12 friends who run, catch up on the latest news, and provide free therapy and advice for one another.  In the summers, a bike buddy gets in on the act; we'll ride together maybe four days a week, 15-25 miles at a time.  That little two-word resolution I made years ago has changed my daily schedule, my social circle, and my fitness level.

There was also the time I resolved to hold a year of once-a-month "Special Dinners".  My kids -- particularly K-daughter -- loved those so much that they've now become a defining tradition of our family.  We've added additional Special Dinners into the mix (like the Black History Month dinner, or the Purple Dress Dinner), and so nowadays the dinners come somewhat more than monthly.  They've become topics of conversations with guests (and often, reasons to invite guests in the first place).  This was another resolution that's made a big change in my life.

There was also the resolution to buy a bike and do an IronMan (with the ultimate goal of being not afraid of my bike and thereby riding it around instead of the car for most local trips).  And not only did I do the IronMan, but I still ride the bike all over the place.  And now my husband can swim, which he couldn't before he did the IronMan with me.

So generally, my resolutions work out to make my life different from before, in a really good way, and even spill over into other people's lives.   Sometimes there are bad side effects (like having a car crash into my bike and give me a broken arm).  And sometimes, it's true, I don't actually accomplish my resolution (I resolved to be able to do 50 push-ups when I was 50 years old; I got up to 40 push-ups and then the car/bike/elbow thing happened).

But I know that the act of speaking a resolution into my life has power, and I want to use that power carefully.  That's why I was fretting in front of my husband.  Because there's a new, big resolution for 2018, and I want to make sure I'm ready for it. 

More on that later.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Potassium Iodide for Christmas

When I joyfully told a woman at my church that I'd be getting my children Radiation Sickness Pills for Christmas, she asked me, " . . . um, . . . What exactly does that mean?"

That's when I realized that maybe I'd gone a little bit to an extreme.  Again.

Is this a gingerbread owl?
L-daughter went to town on this cookie.
Because what I meant by that was that I'd bought Radiation Sickness Pills.  For my kids.  For Christmas.  And I really hoped my kids would like the gift (even though I hope they never have to use the pills, ever ever).  The pills were part of emergency preparedness kits that I'd pulled together, and  my children got the rest of their kits, too.  But I knew that the potassium iodide was the bow on the present, or the icing on the cake, or something.

Backing up a bit:  after the terrible hurricanes of this past summer and California fires that continue even now, I decided it made sense for me to double-check our own household emergency preparedness.  I got really into Erica Strauss's series over at NorthWest Edible.  In particular, she reminded people that they don't realistically have to prepare for every disaster, but they should prepare for emergencies that are eventually likely in their region, so they don't become a burden on emergency responders.

Now, I'm super happy to be living in a place that is generally safe.  We're far enough from large bodies of water that flooding means wet basements, but not helicopters pulling people off of rooftops.  We aren't at the juncture of large faults that are likely to cause earthquakes big enough to disrupt traffic or electricity.  We're far from the paths of most hurricanes.  We're not in a forest fire zone; tornadoes are a true rarity here.  So many of the disasters we read about in the news are unlikely here -- not impossible, I know, but very unlikely.

So proud of the cookie, we're taking selfies with it!
On the other hand, every few years we do get storms large enough to take out electric power for hours or sometimes days.  Snow deep enough to shut down roads is inevitable, given enough time.  So: we made sure we have food in the basement we can cook without electricity; we have jugs with water; we have paper maps and paper versions of emergency numbers in case the internet croaks.  We don't have flashlights, but we do have bike lights that we keep charged, and we figure that counts.

My husband and I have had enough run-ins with cars knocking us down or bikes flipping over that we know medical emergencies are something to be ready for.  We have lists of people to call in case one of us is out-of-commission for a while; we have photos of health insurance cards; we use LastPass to share important passwords.  We also photocopy everything in our wallets once a year, in case one of us loses a wallet -- that practice has made our lives easier once or twice in the past.

But in addition, our home happens to sit between two large nuclear reactors, one of which was once the site of worst nuclear plant accident in US history.  Between that and the saber-rattling over in Kim Jong-un's neck of the woods, I figured that having potassium iodide at-the-ready seemed like a prudent idea.
Odd fact:  local drugstores don't stock potassium iodide; the only way for us to get it was to order it on-line.  The directions say that you're supposed to take the pill within three hours of exposure to radiation . . . so that makes me even more convinced that having these in our cabinets just-in-case is a wise idea.  
Oog.  This post is much longer than I meant it to be --- which is kind of the point of the present.   Putting together an emergency plan with information and supplies takes a bunch of time, and once I'd done it for myself, it wasn't that much harder to get a skeleton of an emergency kit together for each of my kids.

Does the "!" mean emergency?  Or party?  Maybe it means both.

Each of my kids got a "Grab-and-go" bag pre-loaded with a few things they might need if they had to flee their own homes: a first aid kit, a water filtration straw, a hook for a spare car key. Also, each kid got an emergency book that I'd started for them, with places they could fill in their own additional information.
the table-of-contents
The Emergency book came with several handy-dandy sections (radiation stuff comes in section 4, by the way):
1.   Getting Help            Emergency Contact numbers (professional help)
            Business/finance/utility numbers
            People in my life to contact in case of my emergency 
2.  Grab and go
            "to go" bag (contents, location)            maps: local area and state 
3. Shelter locally
            Shelter-in-place information
4. First Aid & Medical
            health insurance            doctor info & medication list            Potassium Iodide with usage information 
5.  Family & friends
            Family numbers and addresses            Family photos            Important family dates 
6. Personal recovery info
            Photocopies of wallet contents            Passports & Social Security Cards (photocopies)            Car registration/insurance cards            Appliance list 
7.  Animal information            Vet, med, photos, chip numbers  
8.   If something bad happens            Location of important papers            How to get passwords

Gingerbread person,
soon to be consumed
Are you jealous yet?  K-daughter was so happy about it she texted all her friends saying she has the coolest mom ever.  Her friends might or might not agree, but they did say they were going to move in with her if the apocalypse comes.   L-daughter asked if I'd gotten enough pills for her and her dogs.  N-son was jealous of his sisters until he realized he was getting a book, too.  My other daughters (I think) mostly thought, "well, that's Miser Mom for you", which is probably a healthy reaction to such an odd gift. 

When I told my sisters about Christmas day and about the intense gingerbread decorating that took place, thought they'd prefer the gingerbread and eggnog to the potassium iodide pills.

Me, too.  Here's wishing everyone a safe and happy new year.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Miser Family Update: O-O-O edition

The bolt we de-bolted.  Vise grips for the win.
Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.

This week has been sort of an O-O-O week -- fortunately, not mostly in an uh-oh! way (although discovering at my dentist appointment that two of my 25-year-old fillings have cracked qualifies as a kind of uh-oh moment, and J-son has given us one or two reasons to keep closer eyes on him this week -- ugh).

No, it's largely been an O-O-O week in a getting around/coming full circle kind of way, or a ho-ho-ho way, or even maybe the letter-O way.  Random example of O:  early in the week, I had N-son whip me up a dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches . . . made with two-day-old cake donuts.   The dinner was better than it sounds! 

Another O-adventure (oddventure?) was that I got to help I-daughter remove the old toilet seat (O-shaped, of course) whose bolts had rusted/congealed into place.  I sure am glad to own some vise grips!

Mid-week, our family had a rare evening at a restaurant.  We went to a diner to celebrate the occasion of the 49th anniversary of my husband getting his driver's license.  That's a "getting around" piece of our O-week.

In the coming-full-circle theme, though, my husband has been contemplating and revisiting his Jewish heritage.  He's had a visit with a rabbi this week, and went to Shabbat services and a Torah study.  He even made latkes for dinner last night.  Neither of us is sure yet where this is likely to take him (although when he brought up the idea of moving to Israel, I did caution him that he wouldn't be taking his wife with him).

I don't think this is a very respectful attitude
toward the mother who removes your toilet seat,
do you?

The ho-ho-ho part of the week includes more advent activities . . . although I dropped the ball (so to speak) on a bunch of them.  I wimped out on making homemade eggnog, and I didn't write to our sponsored children, and we didn't have a candlelight dinner on the solstice.  But I did make marzipan and gingerbread, and the presents are wrapped, and we're gearing up for a Christmas photo.  It's just around the corner now!  Whoop!

N-son, much to his delight, got his state-issued ID this week.  Like half of my grown children, he doesn't have his driver's license (so what ever will he celebrate 49 years from now with his kids??), but he's very glad to be officially recognized as an adult by the administrative powers-that-be.

And finally, speaking of coming around, my oldest step-daughter showed up for the holidays with her husband and three dogs.  That was exciting and energetic, for sure!
It's really hard to get four dogs who don't know each other
to pose for a photograph . . . 

And that's the news from the Miser Household, which continues to be prosperous in adventures.  May you and yours be similarly wealthy.

. . . but a good dog trainer and a lot of patience finally work.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Miser Family Update, Out-and-about version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.  Last week was just a whirlwind of activity out in the community.  We party-hopped from one exciting event to another.
"FlapJack Fest" at my college.  
  • Sunday night, my husband had to miss his Antifa potluck with his new anarchist friends because we were Christmas caroling with my (evangelical, presbyterian) church.
  • Monday, we delivered fresh-baked springerle to our neighbors, and N-son and I-daughter sang with their chorus at our local rescue mission.
  • Tuesday, I served my usual Tuesday breakfast at the same local rescue mission in the morning, and then a bunch of us served a pre-exam round of breakfast-at-night in our college's dining hall. 
  • Wednesday, a bunch of us had a few rousing games of Christmas bowling at a nearby bowling alley.   That was a hoot!
  • Thursday, we got to see N-son play in a squash tournament, and then I gave my students an exam.  (Would you like an exam for Christmas?  I'm so generous!)
  • Friday, my husband and I got to join a bunch of other cheerful citizens who listened to N-son and I-daughter sing at a concert in a local restaurant/entertainment venue.  That was a great evening.
  • N-son playing squash
  • Saturday, we went to a holiday party at the home of the person I consider to be my spiritual mentor.  

Phew!   I really love this time of year.  I couldn't keep this pace up most of the time, but it's so much fun to dip into the whirlwind of friends, community, music, and celebration every once in a while.  

Some of the audience at the Music-for-Everyone concert. 
I love the toddler near by, the older man sitting on his wife's knee,
and the teenagers in the distance. This really was an eclectic gathering!
And that's the news from the Miser Family, which continues to be wealthy in adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Christmas Bowling

A-child with me,
wearing the christmas hats we
dutifully unpacked on day 2
of Advent calendar-dom.
One of the accidents that has crept onto our family Advent Calendar is now become a tradition.  Last year (. . . or was it the year before?  I can't remember. . . ), I was wracking my brain* for an activity to complete the annual Miser Mom Advent calendar.  Surely between seasonal chores like "get out x-mas clothes" and "wrap presents" on the one hand, and scheduled events like "caroling with the church" on the other hand, I could come up with something good to fill one pesky empty date?  In a fit of silliness, I added, "X-mas bowling". 

* I had to look the spelling up because I wasn't sure about that "w".  
It turns out that both "wracking my brain" and "racking my brain" 
are correct.  Go figure.

Unbeknownst to me, my only birth-child had developed hugely fond memories of bowling with her now-distant friends and with her father (who passed away a few years ago).  She was thrilled beyond my reckoning to see this activity reappear in her life.  I won major Mom-props with my silly advent entry, let me tell you.

So X-mas bowling is now a thing.  

How do you do Christmas bowling, you ask?  Well, first you dress up in Christmas clothes (which of course includes Santa hats, but also festive stockings and such) . . . 

. . . and then you go bowling.  

The two activities are not as mutually exclusive as you might think at first blush.  For example, as part of our bowling experience, we got to put on bowling shoes that were remarkably Christmassy.
Bowling shoes!  They match our hats!
The first game of bowling this year was fun in an ordinary kind of fun way.  Then A-child and her mom K-daughter showed up, and during the second game things got really peppy.  We lost all pretense of being any good at bowling (because: we're not), and we put up the bumpers.  No more gutter balls!  Whoop!

Even better, since we'd already shunned all pretense of ability, I wielded my power as Matriarch-of-the-X-mas-Bowlers to declare certain special rounds. Round 4 (at the request of I-daughter) was "granny bowling": two hands, between the legs.  Round 7 was "bowl with the wrong hand" (my favorite -- so uncomfortable it was funny).   Round 9 was dragon bowling. 

What is dragon bowling, you ask?  It's designed for the youngest of bowlers, who get to direct their heavy bowling balls down a plastic slide shaped a bit like a dragon.

Dragon bowling is awesome for the youngest generation . . . 

But the purple plastic slide looks like such a hoot that older bowlers get a bit jealous of the toddlers.  An excuse to stoop to dragon bowling, while blaming all stooping to peer pressure, is therefore welcome.
. . . and for the middle generation, too.  
I-daughter says that one of the reasons she loves bowling is the same as the reason she likes mini-golf.  It's a game that just about anybody can play, with or without talent, and that groups of family and friends can therefore play together.

Especially as I try to nudge myself (and the orbit of people around me) gently away from the material aspects that have pervaded Christmas, it's nice to have a new and even memorable way to celebrate the season with my family.  To strike the right tone (heh-heh), and to have so much fun we can spare to share it with others  (snirk snirk). 

I'm not wrapping presents with a bow . . . but we are making advent festive with a bowl.  That's Christmas bowling.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Miser Family update, mid-advent darkness edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family. 

In the small joys department, I loved waking up early in the week to see the full moon setting outside my bedroom window.  I've always been a bit of a "lunatic" (or "lunar-tic"?), but to have light during these dark, dark days seems especially beautiful.

The family advent calendar keeps yielding good things for us to do, from decorating the tree, to putting up our own lights to decorate the darkness . . .
Christmas lights in canning jars.  Two great joys combined.
. . . to attending a local theater production of A Christmas Story.  I got my daughter to try an "ussie" outside the theater (which I'm told is the collaborative version of "selfie").  I was so excited about this lovely photo . . .

. . . that I made her take another one, this time with N-son and the friend we brought with us. 

I think I Iook a lot better with more friends and family around me. But isn't that true for just about anyone?

In the middle of the week, our advent calendar reminded us that St. Nicholas day is a good day to give to charity.  We chose Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico (, which is a member of Feeding America and serves all of Puerto Rico.  The ongoing plight of the people on that island just tugs at my heart strings.  Dark days indeed.

My husband has done his part battling against the surrounding darkness.  He was the emcee at Tuesdays with Toomey (topic:  the tax bill, and trying to shore up DACA and CHIP and Philly's 311 program).  Saturday, he helped to staff a phone bank urging people to call their congress members to protest the current version of that bill.  

And just in case you were wondering whether Garrison Keillor's departure from MPR --- and all the circumstances that led up to it --- have me grieving, . . . well, yes.  The answer is yes.  My Saturday evenings will never be the same.  

But, coming out of the darkness a bit . . . J-son had round 1 of his legal stuff and it went as well as could be expected.  (Deliberate vagueness . . . sorry about that).  Round 2 will come mid-January, and I'll add more vague yays or boo-hoos then.  Meanwhile, he's doing really well at his former foster mom's house, and that's just making everyone happy.

And even better, on Friday we had a family springerle-making fest.  I-daughter, K-daughter, and budding chef N-son chipped in with enthusiasm.  A-child, now 2.75 years old, did her best to "help" us, and we did our best to distract her with meaningless-yet-seemingly-industrious tasks so we could get the cookies rolled out, pressed, and onto baking sheets.  The distractions were largely successful, and when they weren't entirely effective, the dog Prewash delightedly helped clean up the food dropped on the floor.  So, springerle cookies are done and ready to harden into bricks for future hard-cookie entertainment and nourishment.

And that's the news from the Miser Family, which continues to be prosperous in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly wealthy.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Mending Elmo

Chances are, if you have a kid, that your kid has a favorite stuffed animal.

Heck, chances are you yourself remember a favorite stuffed animal from your own childhood.  Mine was a bear named "Mr. Burp" (so called, because if you squeezed the belly, the toy made a growling/burping sound).  My younger sisters had "Mrs. Burp" and "Junior Burp".  My dogs ate the ears and lower lip and eyes of Mr. Burp, and I myself wore the fur off his stomach, but I still have that stupid bear.

N-son's favorite stuffed animal has been a panda he calls "Elmo".  (He named it back in the early days, back when he was still making adorable generalizations:  every stuffed animal must be called the same name as the stuffed animal that his sisters pointed out to him on television; hence a panda was also the same name as that goofy red Sesame Street character).

Elmo has been through a lot with N-son.  N-son, even at the age of 18, still sleeps every night with Elmo under his head.  He chews meditatively on Elmo's nose.  Elmo has become flatter over the years than he used to be, albeit no less beloved.

Unfortunately, our dog Prewash also chewed on Elmo's nose. 

But not so meditatively.

Also on Elmo's butt.  

Sigh.  So N-son enlisted his Mom's help in the repair.  And fortunately, his mother has a wealth of rags stored up, rags that are useful not only for cleaning stuff around the house, but also for mending.

In case you're wondering, rags made from former sweatshirts work great for mending Teddy Bear butts.

The rag is white.  It's hard to even see the patch, isn't it?

And also, with a bit of help from a button jar, sweatshirt scraps help to mend Teddy Bear noses.

Elmo is ready again for meditative chewing.  We're going to keep him away from dogs.

The end.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Miser Family update: advent edition

This week, we got to start peeling the sticky notes off of the traditional Miser Mom Advent calendar.  December 1: bring in pine boughs.  [check.]  December 2: get out x-mas clothes.  [check again.]  There are more exciting events hidden under future sticky notes, which is--of course--the whole point of advent: active waiting and preparation for The Good Stuff.  I'm psyched.

This week, I got to teach my students the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.  It's a class I look forward to every time I teach Calc I.  In fact, I tell my students on the first day of class that, when we get to this day, I'll wear my academic regalia.  The theorem is that big.  And I do wear my regalia: the robe, the hood, the cords, the poofy hat.  I just love-love-love making a big deal of an idea that, frankly, is a big idea.  So much fun.

Pine boughs and x-mas clothes,
per Day 1 & 2 calendar directions.
My husband brought home a foster-Miata this week.  This car is is sort of like a Fresh Air Fund car.  It belongs to a friend of his in Long Island, who just doesn't have a good over-winter place for the car.  My husband's friend has decided that (a) her need for storage space and (b) my husband's plight in being married to an ultra-frugal woman like me with only one family car . . . well, that these two things means she needs to over-winter her car in the garage-spacious lands of Miser Mom-dom.  So for the third winter in a row, we have a frivolous two-seater convertible for a few months, to keep our old 2001 Prius company.

I-daughter called me with happy news earlier this week:  her eye doctor has officially declared her eyes to be healed from the scary infection she had earlier this year.  Whoop!  Also, K-daughter texted me to ask if I could take my granddaughter A-child with me to church.  You betcha!   That's unfortunately the only contact I've had with my daughters this week.  But the end of the semester is coming. (Advent!  Active waiting for the good stuff!)

In other really, really, really good news:  J-son has decided to move in with his former foster mom.  I can't tell you how incredibly happy I am about this . . . that he's now in a safe space, being taken care of by a person who is committed to helping him, and that this is what *he* wants to do.  I've mentioned before how much I admire this woman, and now I'm beyond grateful that together we've managed to steer J-son back into her care.  He still has to come back to our city this next week for some legal issues that he has to deal with.  (Can you hear the deliberate vagueness with which I describe this?  It's yet another reason I'm so glad he's going to be under loving-yet-firm supervision in the future).

I asked N-son what he wanted me to say about this week, and he couldn't come up with much.  School (culinary arts) is going well, but not in a news-worthy way.  Today, he and my guy went to Philly to the American Jewish History Museum, where they got to look together at the history of N-son's [adoptive] ancestors and their journey to the U.S.  Perfect for a father-son outing, right?

N-son has been tackled by his niece A-child. 
Prewash turns away to snicker politely.
And that's the news from the Miser household, which continues to be rich in adventures. May you and yours be similarly prosperous.