Saturday, March 31, 2018

Miser Family update: familial inspiration version

What a rich, what a full life we've been living here in the Miser Family!

Way back in December, my sister wrote to tell me about her birthday.  She said,
I was nervous to tell you for fear of failure or being run over, but in September I set the goal of 50 push ups on my 50th birthday.  I did all 50 in 1 min 50 seconds -- only stopping in the plank position.  I'm grateful for your inspiration and grateful not to be doing push ups every morning.
To back up a bit and set her letter in context . . . when I turned 50 years old two years ago, I vowed to somehow, sometime "do 50 pushups in a row" at some point during my 50th year.  My sisters quizzed me about what counts.  Does "resting" in the plank position "count"?  I didn't know, and I didn't find out because about 3/4 of the way into my 50th year a car crashed into my bike and broke my arm.  So I did my best to recover, and I reset my goal to do 51 pushups in a row sometime during my 51st year instead. I didn't want to let this slide so much I'd be facing the task of doing 70 pushups while I was 70, y'know.

Fast forward to Monday, which was my 52nd birthday.  I'd had a pre-birthday 5-mile run on Sunday, courtesy of my good friends; I had another pre-dawn run with another friend on Monday morning, and then I did 52 pushups "in a row".  Now I know what that means: resting in the "lying on the carpet while the dog 'helps' by licking your face after #20 and #37" is okay; but getting up and walking around in the middle of the set doesn't count.  Also, it probably took me more like 4 or 5 minutes.  Any 52-year-old women who want to dispute the rules with me are welcome to try to set me straight.

The week also involved a surprise party -- one of my former students blew into town Monday night, and I called my daughters and said "surprise! I'm having a party tonight!"   We played a mean game of Jenga and of Boggle.  I ended up doing notably in both, crashing the Jenga tower and not-quite-crushing my Boggle opponents.  Great fun.

In fact, it was a great week for spending time with family, including a Sunday with my granddaughter (we read Ferdinand) (again).  (and again).  And we dyed Easter eggs together late in the week.  and Easter fingers, too.   And celebrated the 3rd birthday of A-child, who didn't do any pushups at all, but who did convince me to read Ferdinand to her.  Again.  Twice.  While dyeing eggs, we got to call J-son and make plans to go visit him (updates next week!)

N-son took a trip with his squash team to Connecticut.  He had a blast.  And my husband got to become "royalty", getting a new crown or two inside his mouth.  He's at Seder at our local Synagogue tonight, and looking forward to Easter services tomorrow morning.

And that's the news from our family, who is glad for the wealth of inspiration from my sisters, and who is likewise glad to not be doing pushups every morning, also.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Miser Family Update

N-son shoveling a neighbor's walk.
The first day of spring brought a record-breaking snowfall* for the Miser family, with shoveling and school cancellations, ensuring that our lives remain rich and full. Wednesday brought the snow, and then Thursday N-son went to work shoveling 16 inches of the heavy white stuff from the sidewalks and driveways of our neighbors.

* This isn't the biggest snowfall we've encountered, but it was the biggest spring snowfall that our city has seen in the past several decades.  Hence, record setting.

Earlier in the week, when it was still "winter" (but before the snow), I had a wonderful day granddaughter-sitting.  A-child is about to turn three years old, and so she's a lot of fun.  She loves coloring (she seems to know all her colors already, and loves geometric shapes, exclaiming about "circles!"), and planting things it dirt in canning jars, as approved by her Miser-Nana.  She loves playing with the dog.  We get along well.

Also during winter, I-daughter went to an awesome weekend of square dancing.  She tells me she did "almost ten miles of dancing" according to her pedometer.  How cool is that?

A light fixture, mid-fix.
My husband has been living the life of retirement that I can only imagine and lust after:  this week, he fixed a toilet clog by removing the toilet from the floor and replacing it (jealous); he went to a protest for Women's rights on Tuesday, and a march against gun violence on Saturday, and we repaired a broken light fixture in the kitchen together.  (That last was a kind of a marital bonding experience, albeit the kind that involves standing on chairs with our arms in the air holding heavy objects and also sticky electrician's tape).

Mid-week, a bunch of our family went to our local production of Guys and Dolls, and we got to have bonding experiences of a different kind.  I got to hear my daughter ranting at intermission about how anti-feminist the show is.  That's not the phrase she used, but "anti-feminist" was at least part of the sentiment --- and it's usually me ranting to my kids about the freakishness of musicals where women end up "falling in love" with men who annoy them, merely because the guys do one kind act, or maybe because the guys get mildly less annoying. What a terrible example that is for our daughters! So it was lovely to be the recipient of a rant from my daughter on that same theme; Sarah and Sky didn't belong together, and she knew it..

But also, "Sit down; you're rocking the boat" -- wow!   What a totally fantastic, amazing, kick-butt song!  We were hollerin, yellin', dancin.   Bring it on!  It's so much fun to go to live theater with my family.  At this point, I need to pause and say

. . . thank you, Mom and Dad, for taking me and my sisters to operas and operettas when we were kids.  I'm so glad that we got to share these experiences with each other, and with the people around us.  And I'm so glad that I get to take my own children to live theater now.  

Sunrise over the newspaper box.
The week ended with my husband at one of his marches (srsly, can we make some progress on gun control now?) and with me taking eight students to a mathematics meeting where we got to give and listen to some beautiful math talks.  Not the same as a Loesser/Swerling/Burrows musical, and yet still a great way to spend time experiencing heady material together.

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The dark recesses of my linen closet

In one sense, my linen closet is pretty danged well-organized and de-cluttered these days.  There was a time, the towels and sheets and what-not were jammed in every which way, and they overflowed the shelves.   Nowadays, some of the shelves are nearly empty; and well-labelled boxes collect odds and ends like lightbulbs (and lightbulb receipts), toilet paper, towels, and first-aid stuff, each to their own box.   It's easy to put things away in the right place, and it's easy to find things when we need them.

But in another sense, this closet is an Ebenezer Scrooge, with the ghost of Hoarding Past rattling its chains and prophesying future unhappiness.

The closet looks fine, as long as everything stays put in this particular place . . . but in a year or two, we're hoping to move to a new, smaller house.  And for all that the visible spaces of our home are looking more-and-more clutter-free, I know that means that the clutter has gone into hiding.   I've started looking into the backs of our closets, trying to figure out how to get rid of the long-forgotten, no-longer-wanted things we don't even realize we own -- get rid of them before the days when we're moving the whole house at once.  When we start pulling out boxes to pack them into that moving truck, what's in the closet that we don't want to move?

Well, we have more towels and sheets than my husband and I will need . . . but probably, a bunch of the linens will go to N-son and/or J-son as we help them get started up.  So no purging needed there, at least not yet.  I'm also not worried about having too much toilet paper.  Um, yeah.  And probably the lightbulb box is fine, although I admit I haven't scrutinized it closely lately.

But the first-aid box yielded a treasure-trove of objects that deserve a place in someone else's home now.    Because, really, do we need three slings?  (Actually, we had four slings, but one of them had a foam pad that disintegrated and left yucky dust on everything it touched, so we ditched that.  Therefore, we only had to wonder if we need three useable slings, not four).

No, we really don't.  We're not planning to break three arms anytime soon.  My husband and I discussed this briefly, and we agreed we actually don't need any slings at all:  even if we do decide to break an arm again, we're pretty sure we can get a sling from the hospital along with some lovely matching non-skid socks.  So, good-bye, slings!

Except that saying good-bye to slings isn't as easy as it sounds.  A Freecycle post yielded no takers.  I called a local health center that serves a lot of the low-income neighbors, but they had no way to accept donations.   I offered the slings to the missionary who travels to Haiti (the one who helps us connect with X-son, a child-turned-young-man we've supported), but she's incommunicado right now.  It's possible that our local rescue mission -- which has it's own health care team, could use the supplies -- we're working on that that now.  So it's good that we've got  a long stretch of leisure time for re-homing these things.

Also formerly in the first aid box, but not any longer: hot and cold things.  We seem to have acquired a rather amazing variety of hot water bottles, ice packs, and microwaveable heat pads.  We sorted these out into the (small) pile we do use, and the (larger) pile we don't use.    The larger pile got listed on Freecycle, and went within 48 hours to someone who does massages.    So, they've emerged from the dark recesses of our closet, into the light, and from there to a home where they'll get used and appreciated.  Good.

We also decided to keep a knee brace and a wrist brace, and so those will stay in the closet with the small pile of hot/cold packs, when they're not on our knees and wrists.  Therefore, one box in the linen closet of our upstairs hallway is now streamlined for usefulness.  Phew.

But our home has a lot of closets.   A lot of spaces where it's easy to put things and forget them.  I have a feeling that the next few years are going to give me a lot of reasons to poke around into the past.  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Miser Family Update: Borrowed and time edition

Shrimp Quesadillas and Salmon at the culinary institute
Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family.   The week kicked off with my husband's very, very, very favorite day of the year:  the day the clocks spring forward.  Yay! Because, biking late in the day in sunshine!  Which he did that very Sunday, and many other days this week, despite the wind and cold that also accompanies mid March.

I trimmed N-son's hair this week.   The only reason that's even worth mentioning is that, when he was hunting around on the internet for "black boy haircuts" I could give him, one of the images was his own head -- a dragon haircut I'd carved on his scalp when he was, I dunno, 10 years old, and that I'd posted on my blog.  He decided not to repeat that design this time, however; instead I gave him a lightning bolt over one ear.

Awkward lunch selfie.  
Mid-March means spring break for me, and I celebrated by (a) catching up on committee work, (2) catching up on sleep by taking daily naps, (also) catching up on seeing several friends.  [Plus, math. Yay for math inspiration!]  I had a good friend come over for dinner with I-daughter early in the week; the next day several of us (I-daughter and N-son and I) went to visit a former student who, together with his wife, has 5-month-old twins.  (Twins, I should add, who have delicious toes.   I love me baby toes!)  And also delicious was a lunch later in the week at N-son's culinary arts school.    And we rounded out the week with dessert at our church care group.

To get to all these places this week was a bit more of a challenge than usual because our car, still recovering from having slipped into a ditch a few weeks ago, is in the body shop waiting for a new bumper.  Well, waiting for an old junk-yard bumper, because the car *is* a 2001 prius, after all, but a new-to-it bumper.  We were fortunate to have friends who loaned us cars for two of the more distant trips, and we're even more fortunate that we can bike to nearby places, in spite of the wind and the cold.  So hoorah for friends, and for yummy food, and also for sunshine late in the day. 

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

Seeds-in-dirt time

Seeds in bags, with a bucket of dirt in the background.
(Don't you think it's funny that I use a laundry-soap
bucket to hold dirt?)

It's that time of year again.  Time to put seeds in dirt.

I get less and less terrified of the process every year.  What the heck, I've already killed so many plants, a few more won't make me cry. I've also raised a surprising number of miracles, and have learned to just keep stuffing tiny little specks into the ground until something, suddenly succeeds.  When something does succeed, it's delicious.

Plus, I have more seeds than I know what to do with.  They're not going to grow in my drawer, so if they're going to die anyway, I might as well let them die in dirt.    Oh, and I also have a bucket of dirt for them to die in.  Unless they don't die, in which case I get to do a little happy dance, and eat things.

So, per my usual mid-March routine, I pulled a few dozen empty canning jars out of the basement.  Add dirt, add seeds, add water.  Put lids lightly on top to keep the moisture in.  Put the jars in the "school bus" that I trash picked from my neighbor's curb last summer, and stick the whole shebang in a southern window.

Catchin' the rays, man.
I planted a dozen jars of tomato seeds.  I also planted a different dozen jars of . . . something else.  They might be tomatoes, or maybe peppers; the envelope wasn't labeled, and I'm not entirely sure.  I tell you, it's seeds in dirt.  Something will happen, or it won't.  If it happens, I'll eat it.

I love this time of year.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A time to worry

Since I love my planner, and since I love to schedule events into my planner, and since I love to make to-do lists in my planner, and since I practically cuddle with my planner every morning as I map out my day . . . since I love all these planner-esque things, maybe it makes sense that I occasionally schedule "time to worry" into my planner.

Well, I don't actually call it "time to worry".  But here's the way it usually goes:  I notice a lump, or a rash, or some kind of ache that is either (a) perfectly normal or else (b) a sign of my impending death, I'm not sure which.  What to do?  I don't want to pester my doctor with every minor mosquito bite . . . but I also don't want to let something serious turn into something even more serious.   Because I've seen the latter happen to a couple of people I love, and it wasn't good.

So, what I do is this:  I pull out my planner, and I choose a day two weeks in the future, and I write, "skin rash, left side of neck ([today's date])".    Or "stomach ache ([today's date])".   And then I give myself permission --- actually, even a mandate --- to not fret about the problem for two weeks.

The thing is, so far, every single time I've done this, the problem has disappeared.   And so I make the note, and I get to two weeks from now, and I get to have a brief, pre-scheduled moment of contentment and relief:  I'd totally forgotten I might have been on the brink of fatal disease, but in fact, I'm fine.  Life is good.

I got to share this technique with K-daughter a month or so ago.  She texted me, in a bit of a pother:
K:  I've been dizzy for like, 3 days now. It started the day that I only got an hour of sleep. But ive had two nights of sleep since and I still feel off. I know i haven't been eating nearly as much... But i ate a lit today. Do you think i should worry?
 Me: I schedule "worry" days in my planners sometimes. When I get an itchy rash that is *obviously* cancer, or a stomach ache after doing sit-ups (also, obviously cancer), etc, I put a note to myself one or two weeks out in my calendar. If I still itch or ache, I know the start date and then I can take it to the doctor.
Me again: I've done this a dozen or so times, and never had to go to the doctor. It gets more reassuring each time I make myself a note.
And it's true.  The more I practice scheduling the "worry" days, the easier it becomes not to worry.  I've done this so often, that the mere act of writing things down in my planner becomes part of the "cure"; I know I've been edgy like this so, so many times, and just that many times, I was edgy about a problem that evaporated.  That I didn't need to worry about in the first place.   And that's why I write things down now:  to reassure myself in the moment, but also to reassure my future self that this, too, passes.   It's a feed-back loop that feeds me forward as well.

I read about a similar stance in Amy Cuddy's book Presence; it's one of those pop-psychology books that I eat up like candy.   She had a popular TED talk on posing like Wonder Woman to build confidence, and this whole book came out of her research and that talk.   One part of her book, not on posing but on nudging, reminded me of my worry dates.  She wrote about mindfully avoiding anxiety about excelling publicly at work:
For me, each time I felt that high-stakes pressure, I actually had to nudge myself toward slowing down and toward fixating less on results.  I could not change instantaneously, simply deciding to change.  But each time I nudged myself forward, I was creating a memory that I could access the next time I felt a sense of panic. I could say to myself, "I've done this before, so why not do it again?"   
 Page 251, Presence, By Amy Cuddy

Yeah -- by keeping track of those times that I got a little freaky on myself, I get better at recognizing the freaking for what it is.  And it also gives me a way to de-freak my kids -- a nice side benefit.

Because, in fact, K-daughter turned out to be fine. She got some reassurance from her mom; she got some sleep; she got some food, and she didn't even have to wait two whole weeks to write me back and say,
K: I took your advice and ate lots of leafy kale last night and Im feeling really good today!!!! :D
Huzzah for feeling really good today.  Or any day.

Maybe now I'll go cuddle with my planner.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Miser update: good places to be version

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

The week began with me having front-row seats for my favorite drummer, who rocked the church Sunday morning.  I tell you, I just don't get tired of hearing N-son keeping the beat for an awesome musical group . . . how did I, of all people, manage to produce several musical children?

N-son lucked out later in the week by being in the right place at the right time.  He's one of the most dedicated (obsessed?) players on his squash team, with his coaches telling me that he's almost always the first one out on the court practicing.  This weekend, there was a squash meet for his team mates, and he showed up to cheer them on.  But one of those teammates slipped on ice and twisted an ankle, . . . so N-son got to play instead, just because he was the one who was there.  And thanks to the modern miracle of cell phones, I found out about his game in time to get over to the courts and cheer him on again.  So I got to see N-son play, two ways, this week!

My husband spent the first part of the week in Paris/Darmstadt, where he visited with his former army buddy who is now a monk (because, why not go from the army into a monastery, after all?)   Although my husband did spend a bunch of days in a space where all the brothers involved had taken a vow of poverty, he tells me he appreciated the all-brotherhood-luxury of being able to leave the toilet seat up.  That's the life, man!  Later in the week he returned home to hang with the family and to circulate voter petitions. 

And I continue to be thankful that J-son is in a good space for him; he's still with his former foster mom, who is fierce and focused and is managing to keep him on track, despite his occasional highly creative efforts to implode again.  I also give general thanks for living in a time of modern medicine, and I know that's helping him, too.  I talk weekly (or more often) with his former foster mom, and occasionally with J-son himself.  I miss him, truth be told. 

I spent the first part of my week buried in committee work, and then inflicted a midterm upon my students, and then blew out of town to give a talk at some fancy school up in Connecticut.   While I was on the train, the Math Fairy came and whispered in my ear.  Now I've got all sorts of wonderful theorems flashing around in my head, and hopefully this summer I'll be able to let them out onto paper.  It's a happy place to be, metaphorically speaking. 

And that's the news from the Miser Household, where we continue to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Miser Family Update: going places version

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

My husband probably wins this week's award for going places. He's been to at least four big cities, and only slid the car into the ditch once*. What cities has he been to and why, you ask?
  • Washington DC for a museums conference,
  • Philadelphia for a Tuesdays with Toomey protest
  • NYC for a chemistry association luncheon, and 
  • Newark, NJ, so he could fly to Paris and then Frankfurt/Darmstadt. (He's boarding the plane even as I write this).
* Apparently, driving to and from a distant city during an ice storm is a bad idea. (Now we know.)   A tow truck, hailed by a cop who was sympathetic to my husband's "Iraq Veteran" license plate, pulled the car back out of the ditch. The car is now missing a bumper, has a dented rear passenger door which nicely complements our dented rear driver door from a previous accident, and will probably need a few other small repairs. But it seems to run just fine. My husband likewise has a few aches and pains but seems to run just fine, too.

Me, I've only been to Gettysburg College. But while I was there, I got to meet with their Chief Diversity Officer and a couple of associate deans. I was invited to go on this trip by one of our own diversity leaders on our campus, apparently because I have some kind of clout. It was a good trip.

J-son tells me he got to go to a high school dance. I asked if they did the Nene, and he said yes. So phew, I didn't have to go show them all how. (Just kidding; J-son is the one who taught me to Nene).

N-son got to go to the griddle. Or rather, he got to work griddle at his culinary program. He brought us home grilled cheese sandwiches to show off his prowess. I think I need to see another example before I can make a final judgment.

A-child got to go to her Nana's home (that is, my house!), and of course she brought her mom K-daughter. We read Ferdinand, the story of a bull who has captivated our family for generations. For all I know, Ferdinand is sitting there still, under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly. He is very happy.

As are we. That's the news from the Miser Family, which continues to be rich in our adventures. May you and yours be similarly prosperous.