Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Recycling soft plastic

We're about to put out our first trash can of the year, probably next week. By this point in our frugal garbage-reduction path through life, the vast majority of stuff in our trash can is soft plastics: hot-dog wrapping (who is buying something as crazy as hot dogs?), other food wrapping, plastic sleeves that come around magazines, etc. There's a bit of random other stuff, too (a TurboTax CD from 2009 which I'm guessing we don't need any more, a pair of shoes that Prewash used as chew toys, bubble-wrap envelopes from books my husband ordered, blah blah blah), but mostly my garbage can is a casserole of soft plastic.

Which makes it sort of ironic that I got this email question about recycling soft plastic. It came from a nearby person who reads my blog and volunteers at ESL classes with my husband, but who is more-and-more becoming a friend and idea-sharer of mine. This person wrote:
Hello my sage, guru of recycling! 
I hope this finds you well!  I've heard conflicting answers, both online and with friends, about whether soft plastics can be recycled (plastic bags from frozen peas, for example, windows from pasta boxes, etc).  One says that they are close enough to grocery bag plastic to be tossed into the bins at grocery stores.  Others say they aren't close enough and could cause harm to the machines.  What say you? 
The Grasshopper
I have been assuming the answer was a hard-and-fast "no", but clearly, it's time for me to step up my game one notch.  I decided to do a bit of research.  (Okay, and by "research", I mean "clicking through a bunch of links").   I started with my local garbage agency, which (as I correctly suspected) does NOT recycle soft plastic.

But, I learned that my grocery stores DO, at least somewhat.   Here's what I wrote back to my grasshopper friend:
Okay, the answer is "yes and no". 
When I go to the Lancaster Solid Waste Management Authority page, []. That page notes they don't recycle soft plastic at their facility, but other places might. Then they say that for odd recycling (like soft plastics), to go look at "earth911". I clicked around there, and came to this page: 
This has a little drop-down menu that displays the following information for things you could recycle at those grocery-store collection sites:
Please DO recycle:
  • Grocery & retail bags
  • Newspaper bags
  • The outer Wrapping from Napkins, Paper Towels, Bathroom Tissue & Diapers
  • Bread bags
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • The outer wrapping from bulk beverages
  • Produce bags
  • All clean, dry bags Labeled #2 or #4

Please DO NOT recycle:
  • Food or cling wrap
  • Prepackaged food bags (including frozen food bags and pre-washed salad bags)
  • Plastic Film That has Been Painted or has Excessive Glue Residue

So, frozen pea bags, no.  Bread bags, and magazine wrappers, yes.  It's time to make a sign with this info (on "pre-cycled" paper, naturally) and place it near our little trash can  and recycle bins.    Maybe I can reduce our landfill-directed garbage even further.

Thanks, grasshopper!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Miser Family update, happy learning version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household. 

In fact, the past two weeks have been so rich and full (in good ways), that it's hard to know where to start.  So, I'll randomly begin with an N-son quote.   My sister had (re)gifted me a bottle of Chanel No. 5 she'd inherited from my mom, a fragrance her husband hadn't appreciated quite as much as one would have hoped.  I tried the perfume on during our weekly family fun night, and N-son immediately blurted out, with a wrinkled nose,
Ew, mom!  That smells like every Tuesday!
Turns out, that there's a group of Red Hat Ladies who enjoy a weekly lunch at N-son's culinary arts program.  So now it seems that I smell like a gathering of 70-year-old women. 

What else has been going on? Well, N-son got to go with my husband to some synagogue services, and through that he got hooked up with a band called the "Afro-Semitic Experience".   This picture is from a workshop they led; see N-son there at the drums in back?  He had so much fun, he's back playing with them again tonight.

My husband, in addition to enjoying a variety of events at the local synagogue, and bending himself into new kinds of pretzels in his new yoga class, got to go march in the Philadelphia Women's March last week.  The organizers expected 20,000 people to show up.  NBC estimated the crowd at 50,000, and Fox News estimated even higher (60,000 people strong).   Whatever the true number was, it was a huge event.  I'm not sure I can pick my guy out in this picture taken of the Ben Franklin parkway.

For me, the highlight of the past two weeks is also the reason I didn't write an update last weekend; I got to go visit my dad and his wife, together with my sisters, for a late Christmas gathering.   It's so good to be with family!

And here's a little brag on that self-same dad of mine:  my sister asked him about his workouts.   He admitted he's running a bit slower than he used to, now that he's, y'know, almost 82 years old, having slowed down to an 11.5 minute pace.  To make up for the fact that he's running slower, he has upped his run from 2-ish miles to 3.11 miles.  (He cares about each of those '1's).  That's right; my dad runs 5k on the treadmill, 3 times a week.  That means that there have been several weeks in recent months when my dad ran further than I did.  I'm kinda busting out with pride, here. 

Speaking of busting out with pride, can I mention J-son?  Everyone who has read this blog over the past few months know that this son of mine has had a bunch of ups and downs, with more downs than ups, and even more downs that I feel comfortable sharing publicly.  But.  But at Thanksgiving he made the wise, long-awaited choice to move back in with his former foster mom, who runs a therapeutic foster home, and who now gives him a lot of structure.  And things have been getting better since then.  In fact, he got his first report card since moving in there, and . . . wait for it . . . straight As

Admittedly, his foster mom tells me, she'd signed him up for the easiest classes she could get him into, and she helped him intensely with his homework each night.  "But I don't take his tests for him!".  So he's totally headed in the right direction.  I'm so happy.  J-son also tells me that there's a new foster-kid in the house; an 8-year-old who has latched onto J-son and vice-versa.  J-son gushed to me enthusiastically, "Mom!  This kid looks just like me when I was his age!  Just like me!"   I heard his foster mom laughing in the background, and J-son added, "well, except he's white".    A white blonde 8-year-old who looks just like my black, nappy-headed son.  I told J-son, "if the kid looks just like you, he must be really cute."

Speaking of learning, K-daughter is over the moon because A-child has proudly taken on potty training as a thing she can do herself.  Yay! 

And barking of learning (?), Prewash the dog has learned "paw" (that is, to shake hands) and "belly up".  We've now started the long, slow slog toward learning "get your ball".  That's going to be a hard trick to teach her, but she loves our daily treats-and-training session, even if she can't quite figure out what the heck I'm asking her to do.  She'd learned "belly-up" in just two days, but it took her two or three weeks of confused training to learn "paw" until something clicked and she's become the high-five champ.  So I'm hopeful we'll push through the what-the-heck toward the I-got-it! phase within a month or so.

Since so many people ask, I'll just add that my "Sing Daily" resolution continues to inspire me.  There have been a few days that I've missed, but in general I'm loving the reminder to stop what else I'm doing and belt out a couple of songs.  I usually do this toward the end of the day, as I'm getting ready to pack up my work and head home.  Singing is a nice transition. 

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

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Miser Family update: Travel and Tech edition

A big ship with a bunch of planes that I saw. 
My husband and N-son would have loved seeing this in person,
but instead it was me. ah, well. 
Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom family.

Last week, N-son's old phone died the death of being loved far too enthusiastically.  His father believes in the necessity of working cell phones the way apocryphal mothers believe in the primacy of clean underwear.*  So N-son got a new cell phone, plus our family bought ourselves a back-up cellphone because . . . well.  Because. In the meanwhile, this week my husband brought N-son's old, enthusiastically-loved cell phone to a repair place to see whether it would be worth fixing.  The two tech-y Russian repair guys looked at the phone and sneered.  No, not worth fixing. So there's another electronic device headed for the universe of recycling. 

* (True story:  A decade or so ago, when my husband was in the emergency room because of a broken neck, and the plastic surgeon was reattaching my husband's face to his skull, my husband was urging me to make sure his cell phone was okay.  It was, don't worry).  

Again, a photo that my guys would appreciate
more than I do.  This is for you, guys!
Continuing in the tech-break-ology theme:  J-son came back into town for a morning to deal with some administrative/legal stuff.  After my husband drove J-son back to his former foster mom's house, the little old 2001 Prius dashboard lit up with many, many red flashing warning signals.   Our usual mechanic said that the diagnostic codes were top-secret, and so we'd have to take the car to the Toyota dealer.  Fortunately, the Toyota dealer says that the problem is actually relatively minor:  there was carbon build-up in the throttle body.  I didn't know that my car even had something called a "throttle body", but that's now become one of my favorite phrases to say three times fast. 

K-daughter texted me with lots of recipes that she's been making: Zucchini lasagna, turkey meat balls and organic lentil, quinoa spinach zucchini soup.  Man, I wish I could eat at her house!

But the reason that I keep describing what happens to my kids and my husband without me involved is because I've spent the week in San Diego at the math meetings.   Toward the end of the week, though, I got to eat dinner with my sister, her husband, and one of my nieces**.  That was a lot of fun! 

**My other niece was off at some 4-H event, completely out of contact.   She lost her cell-phone a while back, and has been cell-phone-less ever since.  My husband would freak.

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

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Miser Family Update: happy and healthy new year's version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Mom household.

We began the week ringing out the old year at a friend's home (although we wimped out and returned to our own home in time to see the ball descend, yell greetings to the new year, and to collapse in our beds).

My father's copy of Ferdinand,
and his great-granddaughter's copy, too.
My granddaughter A-child is learning to love Ferdinand, a book that has been a favorite in our family since my my father was a kid.  In fact, I have a very well-loved version of the book with my father's name written in cursive, although I read to A-child from a newer (yet to get its share of loving) copy of the book.

N-son returned to school, such as it was; the cold and snow caused several two-hour delays and even one entirely cancelled day.  The snow and cold haven't caused him as much anguish as his dead phone has, however, and we are ending the week with attempts to resurrect an older phone and/or purchase a new one.   (Late-breaking update: successful on both counts!)

My husband got to go protest in front of Comcast, one of Senator Toomey's big supporters, rallying for a reinstatement of Net Neutrality.

As for me, the theme of the week has mostly been health-and-well-being.  On Tuesday, I got to give blood (whoop!), and on Wednesday I got my two cracked fillings fixed (yay?  ouch?).   And today I set a personal record for coldest outdoor run (4 degrees, warming to 5 degrees by the end).  It was so much fun!

But the biggest health adventure wasn't directly my own.  One of my good friends, at a party I hosted on Friday night, suddenly had a seizure.  I've never seen a seizure before, so when it happened, all of a sudden, I was seeing something that reminded me of the characters in Sci-Fi movies who are about to have alien beings burst from their bodies.  Fortunately, I had other friends there who had calmer heads than I, and who got my friend to the floor and on her side, and who remembered to time the seizure.  I called 911, who came by and evaluated my friend as she slowly (to me) recovered.

The whole event brought into sharp focus both how incredibly vulnerable we are in our health, but also how resilient we can be; after a few minutes my friend was back to consciousness; it took another 10 minutes to become reoriented (remember what year it was and be able to sit up again), and soon after that the EMTs left and we resumed the party (a little more somber than before, but surprisingly okay).  My friend slept well last night and is doing fine today.  I'm so grateful.

This weekend we're preparing for my up-coming trip to the big math meetings in San Diego.  No cold-weather running records for me next week!

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

Thursday, January 4, 2018

How to walk on (frozen) water

With the weather so cold all around us, and the snow and ice on the ground everywhere, I just thought I'd share something I've learned these past few years about walking and running on slippery terrain.

I think of the technique as "marching for safety": keeping my feet underneath me, stepping down on the balls of my feet instead of my heels.  Or maybe tip-toe-ing for safety, but with a little more persuasion.

The way we usually walk, by landing on a heel of a foot that's in front of our bodies, is a perfect set-up for slipping and falling.  If your foot hits a patch of ice and slides, it slides forward, while your body slides backwards, and it can be just about impossible to catch yourself.  I did an arm-flail outside just today, in fact.  What a way to work those fast-twitch reflex muscles!

On the other hand, if you sort of lean forward a bit and make sure your foot lands (ball first) underneath you, then when it slips, it slips backward and your body falls forward, but you can sort of jog your feet fast and regain footing again much more easily (or even if you can't, at least you can catch yourself with your arms instead of landing on your butt).

There are a bunch of people who blame our shoes for the way we've learned to walk and run so poorly.  Our shoes cushion us so much, they say, that we walk unnaturally, and jar our bones and cause ourselves injuries that we wouldn't have if we let our feet and ankles land on the ground "naturally", softening the impact, and also keeping us better balanced.

One of the prophets of the barefoot running movement, Chris McDougall, has promoted an exercise called "one hundred up", which is super easy to do inside in a tiny space.  The idea is that this little exercise trains you to walk and run in a way that will help prevent injuries.  You can see an up-beat 62-second video of this exercise (with a cheery little sound track that makes me happy just listening to it) at this link: it's changed the way I run (for the better), especially when I'm on ice or other slippery terrain.

The first few times you walk like this, on your balls instead of on your heels, it feels really awkward.  It's not something we practice much.  But I really love getting out in this cold weather and moving around in the air, after being stuck inside.  And with just a bit of practice at this, I feel like a gazillion times safer on slippery surfaces!  So I figured I'd share.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My top ten trash cans of 2017

So, for some goofy reason I really want to keep track of these numbers, so I'm just going to note for the record that my household put ten trash cans at the curb in 2017.  I'm saying "ten" and "for the record" in the same sentence; but ten isn't a record low for us; the year before this most recent one, we put out only 9 trash cans.   But in 2017, we had another person or two with us during the summer months, and I'm going to blame the trash on that. 

Still, I'm happy that our general trend is still downward. 

In fact, I just figured out how to make a graph in Google Drive and dump it into my blogger (ooh, not hard at all; that's good to know), so here's a visual on our family's trash-can output since 2012, the first year I started counting.

  • 2012:  23 cans
  • 2013: 17 cans
  • 2014: 19 cans
  • 2015:  11 cans
  • 2016: 9 cans
  • 2017: 10 cans

Random facts:  
  • The trash can is a 32-gallon trash can.
  • We don't keep track of the numbers of times we put out our recycling bins.  We don't put a lot of recycling out, either, but I don't bother to count it.  
  • These are the dates we put the cans out:  Jan 31, Mar 21, May 16, Jun 12, July 5 , July 25, Aug 14,  Sep 5, Sep 26, Nov 28.  K-daughter and A-child were with us from May through September, and you can see that the trash picked up (so to speak) then.  
  • From what I can see, the vast majority of our trash is "soft plastics": things like plastic wrap from food packaging.   There's occasional other weird stuff like diapers from A-child's visits or the cardboard/foil circle that sealed a peanut butter jar.  But mostly, soft plastic from food packages.
Since there are only going to be three of us (or maybe even fewer than that, once N-son heads out for his post-secondary education!), I'm expecting the number of trash cans to dip even lower for 2018.    It'll be a false equivalency, because the people who leave the house will be putting out trash where I can't count it, but I'm still sort of morbidly obsessed by seeing how little trash I can send to the landfill from this house of mine.

. . . and . . . that's all.  End of garbage geek.  

Monday, January 1, 2018

Sing Daily.

Sing Daily.  That's my big new resolution for 2018.

Are you as nervous about it as I am?  Probably not, because you're far away and don't have to hear me.  But as for me, this resolution is going to be a biggie in my life.

Earlier this fall, my college made a video of me, and I noticed my voice sounded raspy.  There was a nasty cold that infected a bunch of people this fall, and I got hit by a low-level cough that turned into a sore throat, with the whole illness lasting about two months, so that might have affected things.  But still, the raspiness, I didn't like it.  I want my voice to stay as strong as the rest of me . . . hence, time to start exercising those vocal chords.

Was I imagining things?  When I told my daughters about my resolution and the reason for it, they asked, "What raspiness?"  But then after I spoke a little more, they said they could hear what I was talking about.  My husband, when I brought this up, said he'd noticed the raspiness starting a year or so ago, and that it's more noticeable in the morning.  He also said he likes my voice the way it is (love that man!).  My early-morning running buddy couldn't hear the raspiness at all.   All of these conversations were doubly comforting:  I'm not imagining things (good for my brain!), but I don't seem to have to freak out about a serious problem, either.

On the other hand, I'd tested the waters on the Sing Daily resolution, and I decided to go for it.  And not just some wimpy sing-hum-along-with-the-radio kind of thing, but a real work-those-vocal-chords-and-diaphragm kind of singing.  Every day.

The Christmas season was a great time of year to take this resolution out for a test-drive, because there are a lot of chances to sing familiar songs with a lot of other people.  But I also did a bit of solo singing, with my toe in the metaphorical lyrical waters.  Here are some big surprises I've encountered as I tried it.

I don't remember the words to songs.   This kind of floored me. I know the Gettysburg Address by heart; I've memorized about a gazillion poems; I've memorized hour-long math talks.  But I'd start a song in the confines of my office after hours, and I'd get to the second or third line and . . . nothing.  What a blow to my know-it-all psyche!

Even more, it's really hard to sing by myself if I don't know the words.  I ended up singing a lot of "Happy Birthday" and our college's Alma Mater when I was still testing the resolution out.  So now I know that part of singing daily is going to have to include memorizing the words to songs I like.  Right now I'm mastering "Be Thou My Vision" and "If I only had a Brain".  Suggestions for other good songs are welcome!

I sing so poorly it's hard to keep singing.  The feedback loop is really hard to overcome here, folks.  I open up my mouth and start singing these raspy notes, and I just want to shut up until I can sing better.  Or I don't quite hit the notes I want to hit.  Or my voice just doesn't sound like the kind of voices I like listening to when I go to theater performances or turn on the radio -- and it makes me want to hear those voices and not mine.   It's not a surprise that I sing badly; it's a surprise that it's just so danged hard for me to keep singing anyway.    I know I've got to keep going (just like, when I'm out of shape, I need to go running even though I feel like I'm a canvas bag full of ping pong balls).   And I can hear that I'm getting a bit better already --- or maybe I'm just becoming inoculated against the noise, I dunno.

A bunch of other people have raspy voices, and I like them.  Even though I am still sort of put off by the gurgle-y sound I make, I've noticed that other people talk the same way and I don't seem to mind their voices.  How did I not notice those other voices before?  I guess it's just the way we humans learn to pay attention to what we're already paying attention to (like when I was house hunting, I saw a gazillion "For Sale" signs, but now that I own a house I only see "Yard Sale" signs).

Already, singing has started connecting me with people in new ways.  This, I love.  I-daughter and N-son both sing in a community chorus, and I-daughter in particular has started to give me pointers on using my voice well (or more accurately, on using my voice better than before).  It's nice to see her moving into the "expert" role in our relationship here.  I have another friend who asked me to be her accountability partner in memorizing scripture; I told her that on my end, I'm going to memorize hymns, and she was delighted.   (I'm going to sing "Be Thou My Vision" to her, but not "If I only had a Brain").  Another friend wants to have me on her radio show (?!?); a theater friend of mine said that I reminded her of how much she likes doing voice exercises (I have to ask her for some of those) . . . In general, I love how singing is opening up new ways of being with people around me.

I've got a few other minor resolutions.  I didn't make it to 50 push-ups before I turned 51 so I want to try to make it to 51 push-ups this year before I turn 52.  I want to carve out 5-10 minutes of dog training each day.  I want to be more mindful of food while I'm eating it, for reasons of physical and mental health as well as overall gratitude.  I want to get out of my office and into the open air during daylight hours, in spite of all the committee reading I have to do this year.  So I've got a couple of other goals for the spring semester.

But singing daily.  That's going to be the Big New Thing in the Miser Mom lifestyle.  I'm psyched.