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.