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.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Stealth Roofers

I've been visited by elves this week. 

The elf story starts with the construction projects we've hired out for our home.  We'd asked our contractors to paint the ceiling in our guest bedroom -- a ceiling that had been water-damaged as a result of a leaky roof we'd fixed a few years ago.   Except that right before they started painting, we had a rain storm that demonstrated that the roof was no longer fixed.

The contractors, instead, with my blessing, took down the ceiling and helped us find some roofers (not an easy task with all the rain everyone here on the East Coast has been getting this fall).

With the ceiling reminding me of every girl scout summer cabin I'd ever stayed in, the contractors sent me an email saying,
A quick follow up. We are waiting for [the roofer] to let us know when you are in the schedule. Although don’t be surprised if he just stops in and completes it. I’ve heard he has a tendency to do that. 

So I gamely waited for a while,  until one day early this week I came home and saw this in my yard:  
Piles of compost dirt strewn around.
It looked like someone had strewn gopher-sized piles of compost or mulch around the yard.  Or maybe like someone had cleaned out our gutters (except that our gutter guards have pretty much eliminated the compost that used to accumulate there).   So I figured the stealth roofers had come by.  Sure enough, my contractors wrote to me later that evening:
I heard that Your roof is finished. Not sure if you knew . He just texted us saying it’s completed. I’ll get you on the scheduled for finishing the drywall

And here's a view of that pesky roof, from the attic window.  Just in time for the rain that blew in this evening.

So thanks to my stealth roofer elves!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Super Hero dinner!

Faster than a speeding Prius!
More powerful than a locavore!
Able to sweep tall buildings with a single broom!

It's absurd; it's insane; it's . . . Super Miser Family!
See me flying by???
What I love about habit and tradition is that it makes all kinds of things easier, even kinda kooky things.  Our family has such a habit of "Special Dinners" that, even though I've felt a bit swamped with (and frankly, even a bit dragged down by) grading exams, somehow this latest special dinner all fell together lovely on a late Sunday afternoon.

Food?  Well, even though it's only the Second Annual Super Hero Dinner, we had a menu precedent from last year.  (Super Heroes eat pizza and drink [root] beer, apparently).  Clothing?  Well, some of us were more Super-y than others, but mild-mannered clothing is always welcome, and those of us who suit up more spectacularly already had the spectacular lying in wait.  And super guests?  Well, that happened, too (more on that, below). 

But back to the food:  I've long been a proponent of the "Pantry Principle" I first read about in the most excellent Tightwad Gazette.   I keep vast supplies of flour, yeast, and other baking supplies in the basement, so whipping up a birthday cake for J-son and dough for pizza was as easy as . . . well, as easy as pizza dough and cake.  I keep canning jars of tomatoes in the basement as well, and blocks of cheese in the freezer, so the rest of the pizza emerged from the basement and the freezer right on cue.  Odds and ends from our CSA turned into pizza toppings.  In fact, the only shopping needed was a bit of icing (since J-son asked for a different kind of cake than I usually make) and root beer. 

As for activities, a long history of special dinners meant that the family showed up ready for action.  There were costumes (even my husband wore special super hero socks --- he knows I'm a sucker for a man with socks appeal).  One of my daughters showed up and announced, "I can't stay for very long, but I made sure to show up in time for the photo" . . . and for some reason, it was only then that I realized that taking photos at Special Dinners has become Tradition with a capital T. 

J-son is stuck in a tube.
N-son got his turn being stuck next . . . 
After dinner, there was traditional silliness, with the majority of silliness provided (per usual) by the younger generation.  J-son and N-son, who are diligently working their way upward out of the "younger generation" label, were goaded on by some crazed woman (me) to try to fit through my granddaughter's rainbow-colored crawling tubes.  You kind of had to be there to appreciate how funny that was. 

A-child, of course, had no trouble at all showing her uncles just how easy it was for her to slip on through.  Super Crawler! 

We were really fortunate to have a pair of Super Guests (who managed to escape photographic detection).  In keeping with the theme of "making hard things easier", both of these guests were people we invited because we're in awe of their Super Organizational Powers.   My daughter brought a friend who corrals our local chorus, and who also is becoming my applesauce buddy.  My husband brought a new friend who is one of the driving forces behind the structure of the Tuesdays with Toomey protests.  She's credited by just about everyone who attends with creating the framework (from pre-planning beforehand, to celebrating "Weekly Victories" together, to sending thank-you notes afterward) that make the weekly events such a smoothly running and powerful way for people to come together.  While she was with us, she told me a tiny bit about her love for process and structure (including -- be still my beating heart -- rules for dealing with trash).  I kind of wish I'd pumped her more . . . although  I admit I was a bit distracted by young men hollering that they were stuck in rainbow tubes. 

So, in the midst of my kids running in and out of the house on the way to chorus, K-daughter needing advice about job hunting, J-son celebrating a birthday, N-son getting ready to head off for a two-week evaluation at his new school, and a pile of exams still smoldering on my desk . . . in the midst of all this, we could still come together with family and friends for celebration of the Good Stuff of life. 

So, huzzah for pantries, huzzah for traditions, and huzzah for Super Organized guests who make the world a better place. 
Awww . .  . 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Miser Family update: treasure edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family.  The week began for me being rich in waffles; my granddaughter A-child has started learning the all-important technique of stirring batter and helping to load it into a hissing iron.  She likes the stirring, but not the hissing. 

Meanwhile, my husband and N-son began the week rich in dogs and football, visiting L-daughter, her husband and brother-in-law, all three of whom play on a local team that had a blow-out winning game that weekend.  Records set all around. 

The week continued in its full way: once he got back home, my husband got to go to several protests, to Hebrew class, to synagogue, and also an MRI appointment.  N-son served breakfast and lunch and chopped vegetables at our local soup kitchen.  I held many office hours, and then tortured my students with a calculus exam that was way too hard, and then I tortured myself by grading the exam.  Somewhere in there, we went with K-daughter and I-daughter to a rousing performance of Treasure Island, which combines motifs from our recent Pirate Dinner and the Titanic show.  I think I need to go take a nap now.

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