Monday, December 31, 2018

How I made my very own cow candle holder

I got a new cordless drill from my daughters for Christmas, because apparently our Mother's Day Stair-repair extravaganza convinced them I'm the kind of person who would be happy with two cordless drills (one for drill bits and the other for putting in screws), and that in addition to having two drills it'd be nice for me to have extra drill batteries.

My daughters know me well.

I also got a little plastic cow because my family believes it's not really Christmas until I receive a cow.  So.  Drill, and cow.  Cow and drill.

Clearly, what I needed to do was to make the cow into a birthday candle holder.  Start with tiny drill bits to align the hole correctly, and build up to bigger drill bits to accommodate the candle . . .

Et voila!  The cow candle holder stands at the ready.

Having useful tools is wonderful, isn't it?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Miser Family update, updated

I keep saying it, but it really freakin' continues to be true:  Life is Rich and Full in the Miser Family Household -- with surgeries, college acceptances, multiple trips, scholarly resubmissions, and cell phone constructions, and a flu.  Speaking of the flu, that's my reason that this update will actually be a two-week update: some people do a juice cleanse, but last Saturday I did an intense 7-hour lasagna cleanse.  Uff! 

So, my own individual fun events were that I

  • graded my exams and did the usual end-of-semester clean-up;
  • visited my Dad and his wife with my sister and her husband, and a few of my own kids, too;
  • resubmitted a paper that had gotten "minor revisions";
  • had surgery!!!  Whoo hoo!  I had my stomach lipoma removed, much to my delight.  (The doc says it was the size of a peanut, but I got to see it and think it was more the size of a cashew).
By the way, I'm totally fine.  Two days after I had the giant hunk of flesh ripped from my body, I did a fun 5-mile run with my buddies and then did a bunch of bike errands. 

Sometime during the week, my step-daughter snuck into the house and decorated the dog.  In the same way that hikers "leave nothing but footprints; take nothing but photos", she then very kindly took all costume evidence away with her but left me the pictures.   Which I love!  Even better that these photos remind us of the awesome dog in the Grinch movie we watched (per our advent calendar); Prewash was really curious about Max the Dog in that movie. 

N-son's huge announcement is that HE'S GOING TO SCHOOL!!!  A mere two Mondays ago, we heard that he gets to start school in mid-January.  We're all over the moon about this.  Although all other news pales in comparison, I'll just mention he had a blast these past few days visiting New York with his dad, and he got to go solo to see Aqua Man and Creed II.  (Writing that makes me think "AquaMan and Creed, II" might be a very interesting movie.

Last week, my husband celebrated the 49th anniversary of his driver's license.  This is a big deal for our family, and it's the only Special Dinner we do that involves restaurants (we go out to a diner, but of course). 

A selfie (us-ie?) with 7 of us at the
Car Dinner.  
But the car dinner wasn't all he did.  When I try to reconstruct the last two weeks from his Google Calendar, I see . . .
  • Philadelphia Jewish Museum
  • AICHE reception
  • Bike protest 
  • Doctor (he had his foot -- not his head --examined because his feet are ugly)
  • Overnight homeless shelter (he notes he was a "jewish volunteer in a Catholic church")
  • New York with N-son (while there, he rode 3-4 boroughs and New bridges 3-4 times, went to the Holocaust Museum and the Schomburg Center for Research  in Black Culture) 

In addition, sometime in there we had a hoppin' Christmas day gathering of five-sixths of my kids (I-daughter was off visiting her dad's family instead).   We decorated a gingerbread house and had a rousing round of Then-and-Now photos. 
Then . . . 

. . . and now

A cell phone, obviously.
  Later in the week, A-child and I used our technical engineering prowess to make her a cell phone.  We verified that it worked when she used it, in the living room, to call me in the dining room approximately every 45 seconds to update me on what the dog was doing (chewing a bone).  And (chewing a bone. again.)   If you ever want to make your own cell phone, it turns out all you need is (a) the leftover boundary from a bunch of My Little Pony stickers, and (b) a piece of corrugated cardboard.   Just let me know if you need assembly instructions. 

And that's the latest news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and your be similarly prosperous.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas Keepers

A few years back, our family (meaning, me) started a tradition of decorating a gingerbread house on Christmas day.  I was hoping this activity would redirect the focus a bit away from all the presents and gifting and materialism.   I figured it would be good to move the focus of the day a bit toward things that are healthier . . . like sugar.  And more sugar. 

And Godzilla on the roof.   Tossing gingerbread people to their death.

Well, so that seems to have worked!  Check one thing off my list.

Doesn't Godzilla look ominous with these shadows?

Here's another surprising win.   Years ago, I decided to pull together fancy shoebox-sized containers to hold my kid's special memory stuff.   A single shoebox holds an *amazing* amount of stuff!  And it doesn't take a up a lot of space.

But a multi-child pile of boxes does take up *some* space, and so in my ongoing effort to pare down our belongings for a future downsizing, I decided to give my kids these boxes now.   The kids are all legally adult, and they're almost all out of the house -- only N-son still has a foot in the door.   I also brought down a box of photos. 

Well, this was an AMAZING trove of memories.   The photos, especially, captivated my offspring, who started up a game of "Then and Now".   As in . . .


It was hilarious.  And we're collecting these Then/Now photos to make a family calendar next year. 

I really love that my kids finally got into these photos, because frankly I've been trying to unload them for a while now.  I'm not a huge photo person myself -- if you look at the photographs I take, you'd probably think my favorite kid is a quart-sized canning jar.    But these pairings were just so funny. 

Want another?  Okay, here:

These sure are Christmas keepers!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Something gross I love

The title of this blog post makes me giggle and snirk a bit.  What gross thing that I love could I possibly be writing about?  One of my kids?  Some mostly-done-in-private bodily function?  Watching a food-and-leaves mixture decompose down into rich compost?

Actually, this post is about cleaning my thermos.   So, maybe the topic is not as gross as you might imagine . . . but hang with me, because I want to justify the satisfyingly-disgusting aspect of thermos cleaning that evokes both "gross" and "delight".

First, I introduce my insulated flask: I saw it in a Lost-and-Found pile in my building one summer, after classes had ended for the year and students had all left the campus.  I figured this puppy needed to find a good home, so I adopted it and have taken good care of it ever since.  I have even designed two planner bags to have flask-pockets that hold this bottle.   We're a good team, me and this flask, and we go just about everywhere together.

My insulated bottle stands between my computer and my planner:
three essential tools for getting through my work day.
Pretty much every morning, I fill this baby up with coffee and carry it off to work with me, where over the day it turns into theorems and graded papers.   (As Alfréd Rényi said, "A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems."  I do my part to be a good device.)  When the coffee is done, I switch to water.  I love my bottle.

Every once in a while, when I'm traveling with my family, my daughter will take a swig of water from my flask, and then she wrinkles her nose:  "it tastes like coffee!"   To me, the water tastes like water.  But I guess the residual coffee build-up does kind of hang around in there even after the official coffee has become algorithms and lemmas . . .

. . . So now we get to thermos cleaning.  I don't want to run this flask through the dishwasher, but my daughter's comments prodded me to think that maybe, after all, I ought to see if I could remove a couple of layers of sediment.  Hot water didn't seem to do the trick.  One night, I just decided, as an experiment, to toss in some baking soda and water and just leave everything sitting overnight.

The next morning, the most amazing thing happened.  The water came out with flakes -- sheets, even -- of coffee paper.   These flakes weren't tiny like snowflakes -- they were the size of small post-it notes.   Flaky coffee, gurgling out of my flask.  I saw that, and thought: Wait.  I've been DRINKING from this thermos, and all THAT was in it?!?   But at the same time, it was really cool:  ooh, giant coffee flakes.  

Even more interesting, after I did this, the inside of my flask was shiny.  Instead of dark, like a cave. So, yeah, I guess my flask had accumulated quite a build-up.

Recently, after another year of turning coffee into books and journal articles, I decided to do the baking-soda-water experiment again.  And again I got:  giant coffee flakes.  Kinda gross, like watching bugs run out of my flask.  But also kinda awesome.

So there you go: a cleaning technique for your own thermos . . . unless instead, you just want to have a swig from mine!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Miser Family update: xmas bowling and thing-making edition

The richness keeps filling our lives in the Miser Family household these advent days.  It's been an out-and-about week for us:
Christmas Bowling!

  • Sunday, caroling in the neighborhood with our church (I got to wave my arms and try to keep all the singers together; I had minimal success because I'm NOT a musician, but at least I *am* bossy).  
  • Monday, we delivered Springerle to neighbors, but without singing or waving our arms.
  • Tuesday, we served late-night breakfast foods to the students at my college, as they ended classes and prepared for the exams to come.
  • Wednesday, we had our annual Christmas Bowling celebration!  N-son out-bowled us all in both rounds -- although the second game had "specialty" rounds (bowl with your non-dominant hand; bowl on one foot; granny bowl forwards; granny bowl backwards through your legs, etc.)  Next year, I need to remember to go pee before I watch people attempt these rounds -- but I can attest to  having lots of hilarity and fun.
  • Thursday and Friday, we started wrapping presents and whipped up a ball of marzipan dough.  
  • Saturday, we were supposed to "walk outside and see the lights", but (a) it was raining and (b) I got into the Christmas spirit and gave my students an evening exam.  They responded in kind by giving me scads of exam papers to grade.

K-daughter's work continues to go very well.  She texted me to let me know she'd made not one, but three of these things!


I am not exactly  sure what it is, but it looks like it'd make a great earring.  According to K-daughter, 

I helped weld them together, made the harnesses, wired and tested it, made the fan cubes (the pieces sticking out) labeled the unit and built the doors! (Yes, we literally fabricate and assemble just about everything in house!) It only took me 5 days to make 3 units!!!

So, if you think you want one of these there just might be time to get one before Christmas.  Whoop!

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our out-and-about adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

getting rid of our little 2-seater Mustang

I wrote a while back about snagging chairs from other people's trash piles.  I've written elsewhere about snagging lots of other things from other people's trash piles.  And I think I might have mentioned once or twice that I hate putting out trash myself.  (I have said that here and there, haven't I?)

So you might think my home is filled to the gills with garbage, or at least filled to the gills with stuff. That ain't the case; I think our house is actually a relatively minimalist-yet-comfy kind of place.  The truth is, there are other choices besides "keep this item" and "send it to the landfill".  As my husband and I peer forward to the future down-sizing of our home, we're also working carefully toward moving even more of our unwanted (by us) belongings into places where they'll be wanted (by other people).

My husband has become a master of Freecycle recently.  Yay!  I am so grateful that something like Freecycle exists.   But I just want to tell about a different transfer-of-property tale: a happy story about how we got rid of our car.

First,  I have to tell you about how we GOT this car.  I found this sporty little two-seater mustang convertible out by someone's trash pile a year or two ago when I was running.   I suppose I should emphasize the word "little", because this was a kid's car, with a Barbie logo, in pepto-bismol-puke pink.  The battery was long gone, so the car was Nana-powered (or sometimes "Uncle N-son" powered).  But with an adorable small grandchild in the picture, how could I not rescue this baby from landfill-doom?

So I pushed the car home, parked it in the back yard, and made one small child very, very happy.  

Now, a  year or two later, my grandchild has outgrown this car.  And it's time to off-load it before we have to worry about whether to put it in a moving truck.  We were about to post a description to Freecycle, when we got this little message in our in-box: 
I am looking for a 2-seat PowerWheels electric car for kids. It can be in any condition, as long as it's free. When my son was little I came by a dilapidated red, faded to pink, PowerWheels Jeep. It was completely dead - batteries too old to hold a charge.  
I painted it white with zebra stripes, replaced the batteries with an over-sized pair from an electric moped and completely rewired it. I added headlights, parking lights and tail lights. They were on a switch that could use just parking and tail lights then add the headlights, like a real car. I replaced the single pedal (with simple go/brake modes) with a dual pedal system. The left pedal was go/coast. Pressing the right pedal would interupt power (if the go pedal was down) and apply the resistor (brakes). It worked just like a real car.  
My son loved it. We'd go to the Turkey Hill to get milk and he would "drive". I'd have to walk quikly to keep up. He could run it for hours before it would start to slow down.  
Now that I am a grandfather, I want to build another. And with a second grandchild on the way, it will need to be a 2-seater.  
Thank you in advance.
Is this wonderful, or what?  It turns out, I know this particular grandfather.  So he came over to pick the car up, and we had a fabulous conversation about toy construction and electrification.  Isn't this whole story so much more fun than going to a mall?   I love the way my life of scrounging connects me to my community.  

I kind of wish I'd taken a picture of this awful little car before we gave it away, but I didn't -- so all I am keeping of this car now are a story and a memory.  Those, I don't mind taking with me to a smaller home.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Miser Family update -- decorating and climbing the walls

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.  We're in the last throes of classes now, and so I get to try to teach new material while my students ask frantic questions about what sections will be on the final exam.  We're both racing toward the end in our own ways.

As days get darker and as trees get barer, our family has been deliberately bringing light and tree-things into the house.   Here are our advent-calendar activities for the week, for example:

  • Sunday, put up lights.   A-child got in the way of helping, or got in the mood of helping, or got in the way, or helped, depending on how you look at it, but the lights went up, so we declare success.
  • Monday, decorate the cast-iron tree.
  • Tuesday, put out Christmas statues.  We have an eclectic collection -- two manger scenes, a bunch of nutcrackers, and a couple of Santas (including one Santa who is probably sitting on a comfy chair, but he always looks to me like he's sitting on the toilet).   
  • Wednesday, bring in pine boughs.   Okay, actually, we brought in the pine boughs on Saturday with A-child "helping" by carrying the flashlight and mostly keeping the light out of people's eyes.  
  • Thursday --- ooh, this was awesome.  More on this below!
  • Friday, make Springerle.   This went super fast this year, maybe because I-daughter brought wooden ornaments for A-child to decorate while K-daughter and I whipped out the cookies.  
  • Saturday, mail Springerle to far-flung relatives.  
The one non-decorating thing we did was on Thursday -- we saw an amazing performance of "42nd Street".   The tap dancing!  The costumes!  More tap dancing!  The blue dresses!  "We're in the Money" and "Lullaby of Broadway"!  And the super-sexy final dance.  Wow!   All five of us who went to see it just buzzed all the way home.  N-son wants to buy tap shoes and take lessons.  Truly, live theater is such an amazing treasure for us all.  

And although we can't dance like those actors (wow again for them!), we've got a bit of athletic prowess of our own: 

  • A-child is climbing the walls, literally.  In addition to doing gymnastics, she's started going to a climbing gym.    
  • And N-son has joined a basketball league at the Y.  
  • And I'm still running with my various buddies.  
  • And my husband, who was complaining like crazy about his swollen knee (which is going to need to be re-drained once the insurance gets sorted out, plus have a "pillow" inserted under the kneecap), told me that he's "taking it easy" because he cut off the training ride after only 15 miles one day.  (But he did ride the full 30-ish miles the next day).  
J-son had a bit of a bumpy road this week with something hat happened at school.  For a while it looked really bad, but I think things are settling out. This kid, he sure does have a lot of experience with starting over and trying again to get his life on track!  (I guess that's all I can really say about that, though.)

In good health news, I-daughter (who had a bad scare with her eyes last year) just went for her optometry check-up and has a perfect bill of health.  She says that getting her eyes dilated does make knitting harder, though.

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Prewash shows off: dog skills!

Her first summer: being at the top
of a flight of stairs terrified her, and
she couldn't follow me down.
When we brought Prewash home a year and a half ago, she knew basically only one command (more on that below).  She didn't know her name, of course; she thought I was torturing her when I tried to teach her how to "sit"; she couldn't even go up and down stairs.   In fact, when I went upstairs from the living room, she sat at the bottom of the stairs and wailed, like I was a prophet ascending into the clouds.

But I've been working with her really regularly, and she's now ready to brag on her training accomplishments.  Here's what Prewash can do nowadays.  Drum roll, anyone?

  • Crate:  This is the one thing she had down already when she joined our household: Prewash crates just beautifully.  We feed her in the crate in the morning before I leave for work, and she waits there contentedly pretty much all day until someone comes home, when she wakes up, stretches, and then bounces her way out.
  • Dog door:  In an astounding feat of learned stair-dom, she can now trundle down the stairs into the basement, wend her way into the utility room, scramble up the special home-made dog stairs, squeeze herself through the dog door into the window well, and jump from there up into the yard where her dog run is.    She does her duty outside, and then returns back from whence she came.

    She does this in all kinds of weather, which means we don't have to walk her in the rain or snow.  Super!

  • Sit: She sits on command, but also knows to sit automatically before we put on her leash or when we're ready to take it off.  
  • Down:  What to say?  She knows "down".  Good dog.
  • Heel: She walks slack-leash with me now, with a couple of reminders still needed, but getting better all the time. 
  • Stay:  I can leave the room, with food on the floor in front of her, and she'll "stay" anyway if I've told her to do so.  I try not to be cruel like that too often, though, especially because she drools on the carpet if I wait too long.
  • Drop:  As in "drop the toy".  I use mostly when we're playing fetch, but also when she grabs the toy that A-child is taunting her with and we have to get it back.

  • Paw: (as in "shake hands").  For some reason I don't understand, this took her for-ev-er to learn.  She knew I was trying to teach her something and she'd earnestly try just about everything she could think of to try to get the training treat, but just couldn't give me her paw without me picking up for her.   We practiced for 5-10 minutes every day for weeks before something clicked and she finally got it.
  • Belly up: This took her exactly half a training session to learn.  She loves having her belly rubbed!  The majority of the maintenance training for this command nowadays is teaching her not to go belly-up when I say "down".  
  • Say please:  I'd love to teach her to sit on her haunches and "beg" on command.  So far, I've taught her to stay on her haunches (that is, not to jump up) while she lifts her front paws, but she still needs me to catch and hold her paws so she can balance.  
  • Poop here:  I'm saving my favorite for last, because I think it's hilarious.  On our walk to the dog park, there's a trash can we pass by.  I've trained her NOT to poop before then, but to poop on command right next to the trash can (on the newspaper I've brought along).  Clean up is super-easy.  

  • Say please:  I still want to work on this, to see if we can perfect it.
  • Speak (?):  She does't bark, not even when strangers are at the door.  I kind of like that, but it makes her pretty sucky as a guard dog.  I'm not sure how to teach her to speak on demand because she so seldom makes any noise, so it's not going to be easy to naturally reward her for it.  (It's the opposite problem of many dog owners, and I'm really grateful that my problem goes in this direction and not in the "how do I keep my dog from disturbing the neighbors?" direction).    I'm perusing videos for suggestions . . . I think this'll be next.
    Update You-Tube is awesome!  We've done three
    short training sessions, and she's making
    awesome progress already!
  • Other?  She seems to love our training sessions and learning new tricks, so I'm definitely open to suggestions people might have.  

The Story of Three Rakes

Here's a story about some rakes.  Not the literary bad-guy dissolute libertine kind of rake (which would be a lot more exciting!), but literally an ordinary, garden-variety rake.

About a year ago, our old bamboo rake finally bit the dust.  I guess technically speaking, it bit the compost pile, because once it broke beyond repair (and trust me, I'd repaired it with love a bunch of times), I disassembled it,  put the metal pieces in our scrap metal bin, and put the bamboo pieces where the pieces of the rake could become reincarnated as tomatoes and okra and kale someday.

Then I went to the hardware store to buy a new bamboo rake, only to discover to my sadness that bamboo rakes seem to be historical artifacts nowadays.  I faced rows and rows of plastic rakes, but no bamboo rakes at all.  I even went to a bunch of different stores -- a particular kind of anguish and hell for me, -- but no luck.

Here is a lament for an end of an era:  I miss bamboo rakes.

Eventually, I opted for a little metal rake instead, because the heck if I'm going to buy a plastic rake.  And that's the end of Part 1 of this story.

Part 2 of the story begins late this fall, when I was dutifully raking our yard, and the metal rake broke.  The way the head of the rake was attached to the handle was kind of far up along the tines, if that makes sense, and the bending back and forth caused the metal to just snap.   Sigh.

It's not that rakes are particularly expensive -- this particular rake actually only cost me $5.99 plus tax (well, and plus the anguish of going to stores).  But I felt a little miffed that my "new" rake broke so easily, and thought the store should replace it for me.  The difficulty was: I didn't remember exactly when I'd bought it, and I was only half-sure at this point about the store.  Could I find the receipt after all this time without going through reams of records?

And in one of those tiny yay-me Victories-of-Organizational Prowess, the answer happened to be "yes, I could".  I keep my lightbulb receipts in my lightbulb box, but the rest of my receipts I package, month-by-month, into envelopes.  A quick search of Mint revealed I'd bought stuff from a hardware store last October, and an equally quick search of the October 2017 envelope yielded the receipt with a $5.99 rake listed.

My husband kindly volunteered to be the store-goer for me, and he brought me home a new metal rake.  Better yet, this new rake is almost like the old one, except that it has a reinforced attachment to the handle -- so apparently I wasn't the only one experiencing rake decapitations.

And that's my little rake story.  The end.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Miser Family Update -- trucks and tanks and TeX version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family.  In fact, it continues to be rich and full in our extended family as well:  our former host daughter Y,  who is now in medical school, wrote to tell me:
This week will be "wealthy in body fluids" for me- I have to draw blood from a classmate tomorrow morning (for the first time)!
When I asked, "How'd it go?", she later replied:
It was fun! My partner couldn't hit a good vein on me, but I got a few mL of blood from her. Hopefully I can try a few more times before I have to do it on a real patient in the middle of the night with tiny arms haha.
 Meanwhile, N-son was super-excited because he got to ride the truck.  Normally, while he volunteers at our local rescue mission, he either works the freezer (he "pulls meat", which sounds vaguely sinister), or helps prep food.  But this week, twice he got to ride the truck, where he rode to far-off food storage sites, and brought back food to the mission.  And then he organized he heck out of the freezer. 

My husband traveled to Philly for the Sheloshim (one-month mourning ceremony) for the Tree of Life Synagogue deaths, an observance he found moving and meaningful.  And then later in the week, in another (happier for him) kind of remembrance, he traveled to New York City to be interviewed for the  Cold War History Podcast, which "dropped" (went live) late in the week.  In between traveling, he's been a master of unloading our excess stuff on Freecycle: thanks to him, we've shared with people who actually want them a mirror, an easel, a box of board games, a lamp, and a massive pile of scrap metal.  We feel lighter and lighter!

And me, I submitted my chapter to the edited volume. Whoop!  A book and a chapter, both submitted this semester!  So my co-authors and I are turning our attention to a paper that recently got accepted pending revisions, and it looks like the process of revising allows us to add some kick-butt new results. Another whoop!  If only my students wouldn't keep giving me so much homework to grade, darn them!   This exciting picture is a bit of what my life looks like right now.

Now that December has come, we've started up our annual family advent calendar.   The December 1 task:  Get out Christmas Clothes.  I'm glad to say our hats and such are upstairs in the living room now, ready for revelry!

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


Monday, November 26, 2018

Our dog-powered clothes dryer

Earlier this year, I signed up for a "30-day sustainability challenge".  This challenge was the brainchild of a student at my college.  The idea is that everyone who signs up gets an email each day during November, and this email contains an "easy" and a "hard" sustainability challenge that we're supposed to attempt.

Except that for me, well, the challenges would kind of push me in the wrong direction.  As one example, the email one day encouraged us:

"Easy:  carpool to the grocery store.  Hard: take the bus to the mall".
The issue for me is that I don't go to the grocery store or the mall; when I do go to our farmer's market, I bike.  Yeah, so that wasn't the hint for me.

Another pair of challenges more recently included this:
"Easy: wash your clothes in cold water.  Hard: make your own reusable dryer sheets."
So, the cold-water wash, we've got down.  But the dryer-sheet-thing doesn't work so well with our dog-powered clothes dryer.  Observe:

About two decades ago, I bought for my husband (aka, "The Lord of the Laundry") some very sturdy, large, Amish-made wooden drying racks.  He asked for them, he really did.  This man loves doing laundry.  He also loves the electric dryer.  But apparently, he loves me even more, because he's become more and more willing to air-dry more and more of our laundry, especially in the summer when outdoor temperatures rise and he can bake the clothes thoroughly. 

And I love when he hangs clothes instead of tossing them in a machine.  Indeed, the difference between using the dryer can easily mean $20-$30 swings in our monthly electric bill. 

In the winter, he's been more likely to resort to the electric dryer.  He recently told me that the reason is that clothes just don't dry quickly in our basement.  So I suggested moving the racks upstairs to a bedroom that is almost empty -- the only other thing in that room these days is the dog crate (and because of that, often the dog). 

Heat rises, of course, and the dry winter air means that clothes upstairs actually do dry fairly quickly, much to my husband's delight.   But my husband and I like to think that the body heat of the dog hastens the drying process. 

And that's how we managed to acquire our dog-powered clothes dryer, no dryer sheets required.  

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Miser family update: abounding

Well, life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family, with celebrations abounding, and also with abounding red ink, knee fluid, toddler energy, and heating gas.  

The final celebration of the week was at our city's annual Tuba Christmas, one of my favorite events of the year.  My husband somehow managed to find something else to do (kill joy), but a bunch of my kids braved the icy winter weather with me, and we oompahhed with a large crowd of well-insulated revelers to Jingle Bells and Silent Night and Good King Wenceslas.  

The night before Tuba Christmas, we had a dozen people in the house for Thanksgiving, including students from the far-off countries of Iran, Vietnam, and Florida.   Also 2/3 (= 4/6) of my children, 100% of my grandchildren, and my dad and step mom.  Oh, my goodness, I ate until I got cramps!  (But fortunately, the chocolate-pecan pie cured the cramps!)

The grandchild has been thriving in her gymnastics classes, and she tried out some of her wiggliest moves on her buff uncle J-son, who somehow managed to kind of keep up with her.  They make a great pair.

And with the cold snap moving in, gifting us with the coldest Thanksgiving in recent history, I-daughter decided it might be about time to turn on the heat in her home this week.  Apparently, if the temps inside the house get down into the low 50's, her fingers get too cold for knitting.  But unfortunately, the local utility company had done some gas line work and shut off the gas to her home, so she had a few frigid showers and knitting-free days before she could warm up  the home to a balmy 64°. 
I-daughter reading a book about knitting gifts
to A-child.  K-daughter and N-son listen in.
On Monday of this week, my husband decided that the swelling in his recently repaired knee ought to be looked at, and the physicians agreed, and drained some fluid via a needle.  (Answers to questions his bike buddies asked: no, it didn't hurt because novocaine; about 2 ounces; yellow-greenish). 

I gave midterms to my 75 students on Monday, which was draining in a different sort of a way.  Then I graded it, draining ink via a pen.  (could have used novocaine; about 1/2 pen worth; red as blood). 

Backing up further, the celebration that kicked off the week was N-son's 19th birthday party.  Whoop!  We had pizza and brownie cake and presents.  I love watching this kid become a young man.

Scullery help.
The week ended softly, with rain moving in and warming the air outdoors.   I spent the day putting finishing touches on a paper I'd promised an editor I'd finish soon, and also canning a dozen or so quarts of turkey stock.  I love how these jars act like lava lamps when I pull them out of the pressure canner, and their "blurps" kept me company as I polished up the bibliography and hammered the abstract into shape. 

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

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Goldilocks and the five chairs

I might have mentioned a time or two that my neighbors, on garbage-collection days,  often put out things that aren't really what I'd call garbage.  It kind of astounds me:  so much perfectly good stuff gets left at the curb, just because its owners got tired of it.

For example, speaking solely of chairs: within the last year alone, I've trash-picked five different chairs within a radius of 3 blocks of my house.
  • There's a cute wooden chair that kind-of matches the style of chair at our dining room table.  Since we often have a bazillion guests coming over for dinners, it's lovely having an extra dining-room chair at the ready.
  • There's an antique-looking, low chair.  This one serves wonderfully for reading the paper in the morning, because it's so low that I don't even need a foot stool. Since I'd been looking for a comfy reading chair for my sewing room for a while now, I was stoked to find this for free next to my neighbor's overflowing garbage can.
  • There have also been three (3!) different office chairs at three different neighbor's curbs.  One had two semi-kinky wheels; a second was getting a little worn, but was in perfectly serviceable shape, and the third is practically new.  (It has the lever that whooshes the seat up and down, five rolling wheels, shiny chrome, . . . it's fab, really).  It floors me that someone left that for a garbage truck:  why not Goodwill?  Yard sale?  Refugee resettlement?  
I can't save the entire world from becoming an assemblage of one-way conveyor belts between shopping malls and landfills.  But, seriously, what's with this mode of thinking that the best thing to do with a bicycle (or chair or ladder) that you no longer need is to bury it?  Sheesh!

So while Goldilocks went into the bears' home to sit in their chairs and break them, I've gone on walks  that ended with carting home 5 new-to-me chairs this year.  And four of those chairs continue to work out great.  And one of them (the office chair that was getting a little worn) finally developed a kink in the back-support piece.    Which meant that, like the chair's previous owners, I no longer wanted it (and guessed that no one else would, either, because it didn't seem to be repairable).

So I played Goldilocks again:  I was sitting in that chair, and then I broke the chair into pieces. I really love taking things apart -- it's kind of therapeutic, I think.   
  • I unscrewed bolts and tossed the metal pieces in one pile.  The metal from the chair will go to a scrap dealer.  
  • I snipped strings and tossed the fabric and foam in another pile.  The foam will get posted on Freecycle, for crafters or package-shippers to use.  
  • There are a few inevitable plastic pieces that will, alas, go to the landfill.   Darn it.  
As much as I love taking things apart, I love even more using the stuff that I take apart to fix other things -- a win all around.  So the last thing I did was, I pulled off the wheels, and used those to replace the kinky wheels on office chair #1, so now that chair is essentially perfect.   Just right.   

Baby Bear would be pleased, I think.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Miser Family/Not Family update

The past two weeks have been a plethora of full richness in the Miser Family.   There's been drumming at church (N-son), canvassing and poll-watching (my husband), exam giving (me), doctor-attending (a bunch of us), new job starting (K-daughter), plus a bunch of travel.  Oog, travel.  More on that later.

N-son voted for the second time. 

In fact, we went as a family, and voted together.  This is me, showing that I still haven't mastered the selfie, because I meant to get all three "I voted" stickers in the picture.  Ah, well.

I mentioned that K-daughter started a new job, doing production of stuff, and significantly upping her hourly wage.  She was very worried that it would be boring, repetitive, and overly egg-heady.   But she's sent me excited texts full of exclamation points several days this week.  For example:

Mom! Mom! I am learning ALL KINDS OF COOL THINGS at work!! Yesterday I helped operate our robot that essentially glues our HVAC units together (5 different pieces) today, I learned how to use an angle grinder and cut steel apart! It was so awesome!

Mom! Today I learned how to caulk (?) Stuff! And I used drills! I am also helping one of the younger engineers build stuff and he really loves my suggestions and finds them helpful! It may even help out our entire design! I'm having so much fun at work :D

Toward the end of the week, I hopped on a plane to go see my nephew get married, all the way across the country.  The weather was beautiful, and I had a gorgeous day for flying and a bunch of lovely mathematics to write about. I made the first leg beautifully, and then my flight from Chicago to San Diego was delayed 15 minutes for maintenance issues. Then a half hour more.  Then another hour. Then . . . after waiting 3 hours, they announced another plane would be coming soon, but by then, I'd have missed the wedding.  So I hopped back on an eastbound plane and headed back home instead.  I missed the wedding and my family and dancing.   Here's the picture that I took as all the dancing began.  
Baggage claim.  
Without me.  But I did get a bunch of math done.

This Veteran's Day, my husband and Nigel went to a ceremony at our State Capital, and my husband gave the main address.  (He explained that since he'd been enlisted during four different wars, they were getting a four-for-one deal with his talk).  Compared to what these men and women have been through, my little airplane-maintenance adventure seems pretty tame, doesn't it?  So thank you, veterans!

And that's the news from our family, currently on two different coasts, but still wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Miser family update: Thing-making version

A thing that N-son made.
The other thing looks just like this thing.

I texted back to say, "ooh, I want one!"  -- (even though I don't know if that's actually true).  At any rate, when I got N-son on the phone, he said, "I feel like I've found my famil--er, I mean . . . Mom, I don't mean this to sound rude, but in building maintenance, I feel like I found my family."  Aww, heart-warming.  N-son returned home later in the week from his orientation/evaluation, all jazzed up for the program.  Fingers crossed that he gets to start full-time in January!

Elsewhere in our world, Prewash now has a fan-club among the guys who are working on the house.  She wore her best bow while they were here, and they went gaga over her and rubbed her belly and told her she was a good dog.  Unfortunately, the roofers who told us they fixed the leaky roof appear to be wrong: the latest rain storm blew in today and there's water coming in right in front of Prewash's crate.  Fortunately (?), we caught it two days before the contractors were supposed to put up a new drywall ceiling, so at least we can postpone that project until we have another round of roof-fixing attempts. 

And also . . .

  • K-daughter accepted a job offer at a new job, and starts there next week.  It has regular hours and higher pay, and she's a bit nervous and excited about it.
  • I-daughter was spotted in New York at the Sheep-and-Wool Festival by my running buddy.  Rumor has it, she's looking good, but I can't personally confirm that, because I haven't seen her for almost two weeks.  [That's totally a snarky mom comment!]
  • My husband's knee recovery is erratic.  The physical therapist he works with told him, "Just listen to your bod--- ah, . . . Just remember to take it EASY."   So he's only ridden 25 miles with his bike buddies.  His knee still kinda hurts, surprisingly.  
  • And me?  My students keep giving me lots and lots of papers to grade. It's not fair of them, really. But I muddle through.  It's darned nice to have the book manuscript done,  and I do keep reminding myself of that and then being a little bit floaty happy.
And that's the news from our family, where life is rich with things we make and full of things to do.  May your and yours be similarly prosperous.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The one-year Compost Bin Experiment update

It was a year ago that I took down my old wooden-pallet compost bins and started a metal-fencing system (here's the post where I describe how and why).    And now, a year later, what do I think?  I think, two thumbs up.   Probably green thumbs up, in fact!

If you're as into compost as I am, here's the dirt (heh-heh) on how the first year of a new compost era has gone.

Basically, ever since I moved to this city about a quarter century ago, I've been honing my skills at turning plants into dirt.  I am generally much better at turning plants into dirt than the other way around, in fact (although as the decades pass, I have occasionally had success at the dirt-->plant version of this process).  The basic method for composting is (1) put plants and food scraps on the ground, and (2) wait.  That's about where I was, oh, 25 years ago, and you'd better believe that I was amazed at myself for having my own compost pile.  My three-year-old daughter bragged to my friends, "My mom has a PhD AND a compost pile!".  Yes.

Moving up a notch is having a structure that encloses the pile.  When my husband and I moved to this house, I built two wooden pens out of old fencing.   One pen held the "new scraps" pile, and one pen held the "cooking" pile --- at least in theory, that's how it worked.  Every so often, I'd head out with the pitchfork and "stir" the piles.   But "stir" is in quotes because compost is kinda heavy, so this was a lot more like digging ditches as far as muscle and activity goes.  When the plants-and-food-scraps had sufficiently decomposed---usually after about  a year---I'd  use more muscle to shovel the compost from the piles into a wheelbarrow and move the dirt over to the garden. 

But then my neighbor Morgan ---who has an actual certificate designating her a "Master Composter" --- recommended another method.  This uses portable circles of metal fencing: one circle for the active, lasagna-style pile, and one circle as a holding pen for leaves.  I clip the metal fencing into circles using binder clips, which makes removing the fencing from the dirt as easy as undoing binder clips.    THIS is the method I've been trying out this year, and THIS is a new level of composting awesomeness for me.  I tell you, I'm better than ever at turning plants into dirt now. 
My "active" bin, about three feet in diameter
and three feet tall. 
The compost-makings are about a foot high right now.

This picture on the right is the latest "active" bin, and if you look super carefully, you'll see an almost-empty "holding" bin behind it, with the leaves almost gone.  The bin in front has a bunch of food on top; I'm about to grab leaves from the holding bin and put them on top. 

So, what's great about this system?

First, the layering thing *really* works.  Food and green stuff goes in, and then I toss leaves on top.  More food and/or green stuff goes in, then I toss in another layer of leaves.  I never once stirred this stuff, and yet it happily decomposed down into dirt way more quickly than in the past.

Second, because I put the active bins right there in the garden, I don't have to use a wheelbarrow and muscle to get the compost to the right place.  Once I have dirt, I open up the circle, move the fence to another place, and the compost is right there, in the right place.  I've done this twice now -- twice in one year.   This is really almost like magic here!

A nearly empty bin that used to be full of leaves.
This is about 4 feet in diameter and 3 feet high.  
Third, I really like having a giant bin to hold all those leaves I rake up in the fall.  It's nice thinking of these leaves as "fuel" to add to the top of a pile of food.  Somehow, for my large yard, the ratio worked out beautifully; this holding bin just finally, magically, emptied out right now -- just as fall has started tingeing the leaves that are hanging on the trees in our yard.  We won't start raking again for another few weeks, but when we do, I have empty bins ready to hold those leaves to make the next round of compost. 

No matter what style of compost bins I use, I love the fact that composting reduces the amount of stuff we send to landfills -- less gasoline for garbage trucks, less stuff in the landfill overall.   I also appreciate that, because my food scraps go into the ground instead of the trash can, my garbage doesn't stink.  We can (and do) leave a garbage can in the garage for a couple of months, slowly filling up with stuff from our home, and we don't have to put it out at the curb early because of bad odors. 

Whereas compost piles, in contrast, are happy living places.  Squirrels, birds, and bunnies visit my compost piles more often even than I do.  I really love walking by these bins in the morning and seeing the flurry of activity happening there. 

And that's my October homage to compost bins, with a thank-you to Master Composter Morgan for bumping me up to a new level, for cluing me into the notion that Fence Circles are the new Black Gold. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Miser Family update: Bar Mitts, Books, and Conservation of Sons

Warm hands on a cold morning, biking home from
our rescue mission and the market.
In spite of the stock market ups-and-downs, life in the Miser Family household continues to be rich and full.  Just last week, we were basking and baking in 80+ degree temperatures, but the cold front that blew last Friday in changed everything, overnight.   We spent the weekend closing doors and windows, pulling out our puffy down comforter and winter-weather clothes, and dressing my bike in its "Bar Mitts".   The change in weather has been dramatic, and also more than a little beautiful. 

Speaking of warm clothes, here's a cute photo my step-daughter sent me of her dogs playing with the neighbor dogs in their matching "outfits".  Adorable!

My husband had surgery on his left knee this past Tuesday.  Can we pause for a moment to remember how incredibly awesome modern surgery is?  I mean, really, he should have died -- or at least been paralyzed -- a dozen years ago when he crashed his bike a dozen years ago and broke his neck in three places. But his neck is all better, and he's still biking like crazy.  So, this Tuesday he got operated on to put two of his ligaments back in the right places.  And later that very same day, he was walking around on that recently-repaired knee.  He mentioned he might drive to the drug store to pick up his pain meds, which he didn't actually seem to need at the moment, and I made noises about don't-get-in-the-CAR-because-I-could-just-walk-there, so he changed his mind and biked to the drug store.  Huzzah for doctors, I say.

N-son is still off having a blast at his school and will be gone there for another week yet; J-son is still doing well at his school and came to visit this weekend, so it's kind of like conservations of sons.  K-daughter took some big chances and has applied for jobs that would bring a big bump in her salary.  I-daughter traveled to New York to visit the Sheep and Wool festival there, but she sent some of her friends in her place to help me can applesauce (we put up 40 jars of various sizes).

And as for me, the big, happy happening of the week is that . . . the Book is In!  I sent the manuscript off to my editor, and I'm Dee-Oh-En-EEE Done!  Yay! Picture me, gonzo-style hands waving in the air while I run in circles!!! Woooooo!

Oooh, man, just writing that makes me want to run in circles some more.  So I'll end with that news of being wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Family update -- sons here, sons there, sons elsewhere version

Life continues to shower riches in abundant fullness on the Miser Family household. We've had some happy updates and some big changes this week.

We began the week in celebration at our second annual Super Hero Dinner, with 2/3 of my super children and all of my grandchild present, and a couple of heroic guests joining us for extra super festivity.
Look-it-me!  I'm flying!
And then on Monday, my youngest child left home.  (Pardon me while I pause a moment; something salty seems to have dislodged from my throat and gotten lost in my eyeball cavities).

N-son left Monday morning to head to his new school for an orientation/evaluation that is supposed to last "at least two weeks".  Before he left, he gave me a tearful-and-sobby-but-brave hug good-bye.  He was quiet for the whole 4-hour car ride with his dad.  And then he entered the building of his new school where the guard at the desk took his ID picture to hang on his lanyard, and he lit up.   He moved into his new bedroom that my husband described as reminding him of many army barracks rooms (admittedly, the Sargent's rooms, not 40-person halls full of bunks), with furniture designed for durability that has clearly already successfully survived generations of hardship.  N-son seemed delighted, and when he discovered he could go to the cafeteria for lunch, he waved good-bye and told his dad he could leave now.

N-son with three of his many new friends.
(I love this photo because it's obviously Not My House:
plastic bags, soda, paper napkins,
disposable cup, potato chips . . . )
N since called me twice.   Contents of the first call:

  • He made at least 10 friends the very first day.
  • He's in a nice room; it has a steel bed!  He might get a roommate soon, but he's not sure.
  • He got to have pancakes and sausages at breakfast.
  • He's spending his day in "evaluation".  I asked what that means, and he explained he had one day where he did a "speed time thing with his hands"; another evaluation included OT for strength stuff: can he lift heavy things, like 70-75 lbs?  
  • There's a great gym, with a basketball court and bleachers.  He's going to play flag football and join the intramural basketball league.

Contents of the second call:
He's not coming home for three weeks; he's decided that in addition to studying Culinary Arts and Materials Distribution (working in a warehouse), he also wants to study Building Maintenance.  So he's sticking around for extra evaluation.  
At any rate, he's super happy.

J-son is also thriving. When he came down for the Super Hero dinner, I gave him his birthday presents:  two copies of Netter's Anatomy (one in color, and one that he can color in).  This goes with his current studies in sports therapy.  And J-son was so into the book, that he wouldn't even look up to thank me.  Which was actually the best kind of thanks I could get.

Did you know that everything goes through the heart from left to right?  Now I do.  J-son showed me the vena cava.  He's studying that in school, and he thinks it's really cool that these books are like (maybe even exactly the same one) as what he's using in school.  He's gotten an internship in a boxing gym, so that's good, too.

So what else is going on?  My husband is not pregnant (phew!), but he's learned he's going to get an epidural anyway.  Something about putting steroids into his spine.  But first he has to have knee surgery -- but that's next week's news, not the past week.  My husband's happiest moment this week was meeting the author Timothy Snyder in New York, and also doing whatever canvassing he can now, before next week's surgery lays him low for a while.

We got a really lovely letter from X-son, the child from Haiti who we tried unsuccessfully to adopt, and who we now try to support in place in his school.  He's "in [his] last year of classical school", and looking good.  He's had such a series of challenges, some of them self-imposed, so it's a relief and an encouragement and a joy to see him doing so well now.  The letter is full of love and hope, and good for the heart.  ('Scuse me while I take care of that eye-thing that seems to have come back momentarily.)

What else?  I got to go to an amazing concert; one of the chorus members who got a solo was my very-own child, who just a few short days earlier was dressed as BatWoman, but who that night belted out an aria instead of belting villains.  (Thanks for the tickets, I-daughter!  My husband said he loved the whole concert, but that the best part for him was seeing me break into belly laughs at the transitions between songs).

And there was more, but this post has gone on long enough.  We really do continue to be wealthy in our adventures; may you and yours be similarly prosperous.