Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Bags: to End with the Beginning in Mind

Steven Covey, in his cult-inducing Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, urged his readers to "Begin with the end in mind".  That's Habit Two, in case you're wondering.

But me, I've been buoyed up this semester (with its humongous paper workload) by parts of my life that reverse Covey's advice.  The fun parts of my life has been happily and successfully floating along amid (and in spite of) the marshy bog of never-ending committee tasks, because of a bunch of bags I own that allow me to "end with the beginning in mind".

It's the suitcase principle in action.  Professional organizers often encourage people to pack their suitcase for the next trip as they're finishing the previous trip.  (End one trip with the beginning of the next trip in mind, essentially).    But there are a bunch of other aspects of my life, not as momentous as trips out of town, that are a lot easier to do if I have all the right gear ready at hand.

The running sack, in the bottom right corner of the photo.
For example, I present the humble Running bag.   Sitting atop a basket of running shoes, to the right of my dresser, I keep this bag stocked with the clothes, etc for my next run.  In the same way that organization gurus urge people to re-stock their travel supplies at the end of one trip in preparation for the next trip, I refill my running bag for my next run even before I hop into the shower to clean up from the previous run.  Then, when I wake up in the dark, I can carry the bag into the living room where I can get dressed without disturbing my husband, knowing I've got shoes, socks, pants, shirts, jackets, reflective vests, ear warmers, neck warmers, gloves, . . . it's so nice not to need to hunt around in my drawers and closets for all of these things in the dark, especially while I'm still a little groggy.

For example heaped upon further example, there's also the church bag.  To me, this bag is notable partly for what it doesn't have: no laptop, no cell phone, no daily planner.  Leaving all those things at home when I go to church says I'm serious about removing myself from usual worldly cares.  What it does have are
  • care-and-comfort supplies (cough drops, cloth hankies, lotion, water bottle, and a scarf that very nicely compliments my favorite travel scarf) and 
  • brain-extension supplies (reading glasses, pens and pencils, and a small book for jotting down notes to self for when I return to the normal world).  

Market Bag
Likewise, on Tuesday mornings when I wake up before dark, my market backpack is already full of my "shopping list" -- containers I'm taking back to the dairy so I can restock.   The photo shows yogurt, milk, and egg containers that I toss into the bag as soon as they're empty so I know to buy more; nowadays I've started making my own yogurt in our new InstantPot, so I usually only buy milk and eggs.   But I also bring glass spice jars, or Xyrep containers (Pyrex upside down) for sandwich meat, or other.

I also store my Soup Kitchen supplies in my market bag:  apron, hat, name badge, reusable spoon,  and containers to bring home food they would have tossed.   Because, yes, I feed my family leftovers that I've rescued from the Soup Kitchen.

Dog-walk bag,  which hangs next to her leash.  What's in a dog-walk bag, you ask?
  • newspaper for catching/picking up dog waste
  • stick!!!  Stick!!! (cheap, and her favorite toy -- this gets swapped out frequently as she destroys a new stick almost every time we walk).
  • tennis ball
  • canning jar with dog treats
  • magazine to read at the dog park

All of these bags make it easier for me to do those non-work things that I really love to do, but are hard to squeeze in during this paper-packed year.  I really am living the fun parts of my life by packing them in easy-to-carry bags.


As I was writing this post, I got mildly (or obsessively?) curious about bags and what people keep in them.  My birth child obliged my curiosity by giving me the low-down on two of her bags:  her Chorus Bag (she's a head honcho in a local chorus) and her Planner/Work bag (she teaches knitting).   In case you're as curious as I am, here are her lists:

Chorus Bag
  • Name tags, sorted by voice part (so, alto's together)
  • supply kit for making new nametags for new members
  • money collection box for chorus dues
  • suggestion box
  • water bottle
  • phone charger
  • "lost and found" for people who leave stuff behind, which thankfully doesn't happen often
Work Bag
  • External pockets (bus pass, keys and wallet while she's carrying the bag)
  • Pocket #1: water bottle
  • Pocket #2: nail file, lotion, and advil, plus napkin and spoon (oooh, she's my daughter!), and reusable coffee sleeve for her take-out coffee (so she's someone else's daughter, too)
  • Pocket #3: emergency snacks (granola bar) and lunch
  • Pocket #4: umbrella
  • Pocket #5: misc knitting supplies (stitch markers, scissors, darning needle, tape measure) and pens
  • Pocket #6: Phone charger
  • Large interior area:  planner and current knitting projects
The planner, knitting supplies, keys and wallet, and lunch bop in and out of the bag, but everything else lives there permanently.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Miser Family Update: the dog days of February

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

Prewash wore her fancy blue collar,
and gave the younger generation a good
tug-of-war workout.
Our big celebration this week was a belated dinner in honor of the lunar New Year (the Year of the Dog).   We gathered on Friday for a bit of wrassling with our Dog-in-Residence, but also for a dog-themed dinner:
  • hot dogs
  • grape Danes
  • Border collie-flower
  • Bark Choy (in a Wok!)
  • Poodle noodles
  • dog bones (really, soft pretzels shaped like dog bones)
  • "puppy chow" for dessert
Grape Danes and Border Collie Flower.
We had a few friends over, including a toddler-aged boy who did us the wonderful service of making us grateful for A-child's good manners.  Yes.  We also had the merriment of catching up with friends and family, who had all sorts of happy news, such as . . . 
  • N-son had a wonderful time on his Youth Group Retreat last weekend, participating happily in the ritual "jump in the snow in your boxers" event.
  • K-daughter is really enjoying her job at the front desk of the Y, and even got a raise!
  • My husband participated in a YUGE Tuesdays-with-Toomey protest (Gun control) and an even larger Union Rally in Philly.  
  • Somehow, now I have a Wikipedia page.  About me.  And it has a few minor mistakes, but is still flattering. 
  • I-daughter is still waiting to hear about the details of her schedule for singing in our upcoming theater production.  The rest of us have our calendars and pencils at the ready, so we can be sure to be there for her!
  • Our friend who joined us at the Dog Dinner got running shoes and has taken up jogging again.  I got to admire her shoes.  (Did you know you can buy these in stores, in addition to finding them at yard sales and occasionally by the curb?  Who knew?)
And that's the news from the Miser Family, which continues to be prosperous in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly wealthy.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The many bags of Miser Mom

I  want to say a word about bags. I don't own a gazillion purses -- in fact, I have exactly one bag that other people call my "purse" but that I call my "planner bag".  I made it myself, and it functions almost like a briefcase, with pockets for my daily planner, my computer, my insulated coffee/water bottle, and a bunch of other essentials (spoon, reading glasses, dongle, cloth napkin, pencils . . . ).    If you're really into checking out other people's everyday carry bags, you can scope out mine in great detail in this old post.

But in spite of having only one purse-like bag, I realize that this semester I've been fortunate to be living my life out of a bunch of super-helpful, pre-packed bags.  Today's post is a tiny homage to bags that I seldom use, but that I'm glad exist in my life.  I'll do another post on the bags that are carrying me through this semester (so to speak) later.

When I was thinking of putting together my apocalypse bag (that is, my emergency Grab-N-Go bag), one of the things that initially held me back for a little while is that a bunch of contents that experts recommend for such a bag were already in my travel suitcase. 

Emergency Grab-N-Go bags for my kids.
Should I turn my travel suitcase into an emergency Grab-N-Go bag, thereby adding things that I'd seldom use (like a first aid kit) to take on ordinary trips to conferences?  Should I just have duplicates of items (like a toiletries bag) in both a travel suitcase and in my Grab-&-Go bag?   A similar quandary is that a bunch of recommended contents of a Grab-&-Go bag (like cell phone charger) are already part of my "everyday carry", in my planner bag.  Again:  do I duplicate, or what?

Just figuring out the answers to those questions made getting my apocalypse bag surprisingly mentally difficult to get started on.

The solution, obvious to me in retrospect, was to commit to having several bags.  In case of an emergency exodus from our home, I'd grab my planner bag, AND my suitcase, AND my Grab-N-Go bag.   That's not as difficult as it seems, because they're all fairly small bags, and I keep them all pretty accessible.

Since I'm baring all, here are the regular contents of my travel bag, aka my suitcase.
  • Because I love thinking about math whenever I have quiet time --- and any time away from my children and my students counts as quiet time --- I have professional supplies (paper, colored pencils, and a name badge holder that sports various professional pins and insignia).
  • I have a few sets of travel clothes: undergarments, math t-shirts that I only wear at conferences, and of course my travel scarf that sets the color-tone for pretty much all the rest of my wardrobe. 
  • And I have toiletries in my homemade "travel snake".   
  • And of course, food-stuff:  I keep a canning jar of trail mix in the suitcase, together with a bunch of cloth bags.  Often, when I get close to heading out, I swap out the glass canning jar for a cloth bag of trail mix, (which travels better but wouldn't store as well in between trips without going stale).   But the glass jar keeps well, and it reminds me to pack snacks.
And if having all those bags aren't enough . . . I have even more life-event bags.  Man, do I live a rich and wonderful life!   But that's a subject for another post.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Miser Family update: filing and folding version

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

This was one of those weeks when my constant, repeated efforts teaching my kids how to fill out forms bore long-awaited fruit.  By this I mean that, for the very first time, N-son did his taxes!  He sat down at TurboTax with me by his side, and he entered all the information from his various 1099's (SSA and DIV, in case you're wondering) himself.  I helped him remember his social security number and his bank's routing number . . . but he handled all the numbers and boxes and such with the confidence of a young man who has been filling out complicated forms ever since he'd learned to write.  Which, in fact, he has.   And he even chose complicated passwords and non-obvious PINs when requests for those arose.  I'm just a little proud.  (He ended up owing nothing for federal taxes and $27 in state taxes.)

As for me, the big event this week was bringing a mathematician to campus who gave a bunch of awesome talks about the mathematics of origami.  He joined my family and some of my students for a rollicking Valentine's dinner, where he turned one of my dollar bills into a dynamic heart that "broke" and then came back together.   So cool.

One of the talks that our guest speaker gave was called . . . well, when I read it quickly I thought it was called "Self-Folding and Rigid Organisms",  . . . but it wasn't really about my husband doing yoga.  (Origami, not organisms.  yeah).   But my guy really is continuing to self-fold at yoga, in spite of being a little bit rigid.  He's also continuing to enjoy the classes he's auditing, and synagogue, and a bunch of protests that he attends. 

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Miser Family Update: down and up version

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

The week began on a particularly high note for our dog Prewash, when we had our church Care Group over for lunch after Sunday's service.  Not only did this mean that our living room and dining room were full-up with friendly people who showered her with attention, but then after lunch they put their plates on the floor and she got to live out the job that goes with her name, over and over again.  She was a very, very happy dog.  (And I liked having friendly people over to the house, too).

My husband had his own down-and-up adventures this week.   Let's see, how to say this?  Well, the good news is that he got a chance to use a Christmas gift my niece gave us:  a rice pack (ice pack) that we've been keeping in the freezer.  The other good news is that, after a few days' pain, he got an x-ray that showed him that the fall he had on the icy sidewalks didn't actually break his wrist but just sprained it. The bad news is that this means he hasn't increased his Life Time Broken Bone count past a piddly 35, so that he has a long, long way to go before he can challenge Evel Knievel's record.  Evel noted that he, also, broke "only 35 bones", but he broke those 35 bones frequently enough that he had well over 400 breaks.

It's probably obvious that we value a bit of risk taking in our family, so I was a Proud Parent when I found out that I-daughter took on the challenge of auditioning for a part in the chorus of an upcoming theater production of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.   It was a really rigorous audition, including (for example) the piano playing a chord, and asking the singer to sing only the middle note.  I-daughter said that was especially hard for a soprano like her.  Yay for bravery!
Oh . . . and she got the part!

K-daughter also got some good news; she's gotten a job within the Y as a front desk clerk.  She's already been teaching swimming lessons and working in the child care center there for many months now.  The fact that she gets free childcare for A-child makes a job at the Y much more financially worthwhile than a lot of other local jobs.  And I'm so glad that she's getting a variety of experiences, including (increasingly) administrative ones.  It's a good launching place for her, while she waits for the day that A-child gets to start school and free up even more options for her mom.

As for me, I got the happy news from my editor that the press where my co-authors and I had submitted our book manuscript gave the project the thumbs up and will be sending it out for review.  Whoop!

N-son (with K-daughter and I-daughter and me and his dad) got to go to an amazingly good production of Romeo and Juliet at my college.  Afterward, my husband and I offered to N-son to arrange a marriage for him.  N-son seems to need a bit more convincing before he'll go along with the plan, especially because of how the plan went south for R&J.   I told him we'd find him a frugal spouse, and that would make it okay.  If you have an eligible child you're trying to marry off, let me know and maybe we can chortle over the future of our kids together.

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Breaking the camel's back

When N-son was with his dad at the auto show, they stopped to get food at a place called a "restaurant".  (I've been to these places occasionally myself!)   N-son sent me a photo of his drink, which he knew I'd get a kind of a kick out of, because his soda was served in . . . . 

. . . a canning jar! 

This is very funny; I imagine a bunch of women standing around a hot stove in a humid August, the heat of summer not yet waning, putting up Coca-cola for the cold winter months ahead.  And lo, the months pass and finally this February, as the customers file into the dining area, Mildred heads down into the basement and brings up a quart jar she'd "put up" and then saved, to serve to my son.  It's good to see these old homesteader traditions live on . . .

Well, actually, that's not what I thought when I saw this photo.  I giggled at the canning jar, and I immediately texted back, "GIVE BACK THE STRAW!!! (but cool canning jar)."   So my son knew it was really still me.

So let me just say, in case this wasn't already super obvious about me, that I think that a plastic drinking straw is one of the most pointlessly destructive objects on the planet.    It's not that straws themselves are more destructive than, say, plastic magazine wrappers or even plastic water bottles.  But straws seem to really be trash for the sake of making trash.

A plastic straw that a person uses once (or doesn't use, but discards anyway) takes over 200 years to break down into whatever mysterious concoction it is that plastic breaks down into. 200 years is more than 6 billion seconds.   Saying "no straw, please" takes about 2.5 seconds.  Think of the time savings that straw-avoidance gives you!

Not to mention,  avoiding straws can be both fun and funny.  Some anti-straw campaigns play it straight, like this lovely National Geographic essay, which notes that
Small and lightweight, straws often never make it into recycling bins; the evidence of this failure is clearly visible on any beach. And although straws amount to a tiny fraction of ocean plastic, their size makes them one of the most insidious polluters because they entangle marine animals and are consumed by fish. Video of scientists removing a straw embedded in a sea turtle’s nose went viral in 2015.
But other places have a more humorous approach, like the organization that calls themselves "https://thelastplasticstraw.org/".   (Get it?  the last straw?)  Or the OneMillionWomen site, which has an essay with the cute title "Straws: Why they seriously suck".  The Washington Post reports that "A campaign to eliminate plastic straws is sucking in thousands of converts".

Bamboo straws
(in a canning jar, of course).
More and more localities have decided to ban straws.  (How does a community decide to do this?  Maybe they have a straw poll!)  More and more customers are deciding that our marine wildlife suffers by drawing the short straw.   Almost all of us possess the ability to drink out of a glass (or even a trendy canning jar) without tubular assistance; the argument that plastic tubes enhance the drinking experience is a straw man.

If you're going to go grasping at straws, of course, there are non-plastic alternatives.  Our family owns a fine set of bamboo straws that my sister gave me last year for Christmas. We use these at our "No Hands Dinner" (it's hard to drink out of a cup if you're not allowed to use your hands).  We wash and reuse these, and if we ever do discard them, we can compost them.

When N-son got home from the auto show, he told me that of course he gave the straw back to his server.  Good man.  In fact, you might even say he's ex-straw-dinary.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Miser Family Update: Blur version

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

In fact, this past week has been been so rich and full, that it's been kind of a blur -- the kind of blur that makes it hard to remember anything that we did, precisely because we did so much.  Here's what our Google Calendar schedule from the past week looks like.

When I inspect more closely, I see that my husband's week was taken up with things that have names like

  • Yo Philly General Meeting
  • Refuse Facism
  • Jews in the Modern World
  • Evolution Table
  • Yoga
  • ESL
  • Philadelphia Auto Show
  • Moment of Silence for Racial Justice
  • American Institute of Chemical Engineers Reception
  • Minion
  • Doctor appointment
And me, my week was full of
  • Faculty meeting
  • Writing Circle
  • Job candidate talks
  • breakfast at food kitchen
  • Teach class
  • Promotion/Tenure committee meeting
  • Teach another class
  • another Promotion/Tenure committee meeting
  • DACA forum
In addition to this, we actually got to spend a tiny little bit of time together, at a wonderful performance of Mousetrap at our local theater.

N-son did some stuff this week, too, and I think I got to see him once or twice.  (He was at Mousetrap with us, I'm pretty sure.  Oh, and I-daughter and one of our friends came, too -- now it's kind of coming back to me).  He also got to go to the auto show with his dad, and he rode the train back home all.  by.  himself.   Yes!  He sent me pictures of a car he wanted to get for me, and a car he wanted to get for himself. 

N-son:  Can I get this car
Me: Sure! Start saving your allowance!
And that's the news from the Miser household, which continues to be far too wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be more moderately prosperous.