Monday, January 28, 2019

Funnel bling

I'm starting to think that -- in the same way that belts and scarves and such are fashion accessories -- in that same kind of way, funnels are frugal accessories.   They decorate the life of a person who bulk-buys food and then parcels it into smaller containers.   Someone like me, so to speak.

My analogy might be a bit off.  I don't wear belts, and although I have winter scarves, they're not fashion scarves.   So I'm not sure that the fashion comparison holds . . . but the deeper I get into this funky low-trash, local-food, crunchy granola kind of existence, the more I learn to love some of my favorite funnels. 

Ooh, and I made a new funnel for myself, which is kind of why I decided to write this post!

But I actually do have favorite funnels, and before I describe my homemade contraption, I want to pause to sing the praises of my faves here.   When I started canning, I got the standard plastic canning funnel (which works just fine).  But the more I started using canning jars for just about everything (not just for canning peaches and tomatoes and such, but also for storing leftovers, for packing my lunch, for holding small quantities of bulk-purchase rice or beans, etc ), the more I started hankering after a stainless steel funnel.  And then, one Christmas, our host-daughter Y got me a stainless steel funnel.  Whoop!
joy atop empty (almost invisible) canning jars

When I opened that, I was delighted, but K-daughter's face fell.   Because she, too, had gotten me a stainless steel canning jar funnel, which I opened next.   Except here's the thing:  canning jars come with two sizes of openings:  "regular mouth" and "wide mouth".  And Y had gotten me a regular-mouth funnel, while K-daughter had gotten me a wide-mouth funnel.  So both the funnels turned out to be delightful in their own kinds of ways.

The wide-mouth funnel doesn't work with the smaller regular-mouth jars, but it is awesome for wide-mouth jars; peaches and such don't get jammed up in the neck.   Most of the time that I put away left-over food or pack lunches, I do in wide-mouth jars.   So I use the wide-mouth funnel several times a week, and every single time I do, I think about how grateful I am that K-daughter is a part of my family, and how much I love this beautiful funnel.   I'm kind of irrationally delighted by this funnel, but since it's a happy irrational, I don't fight the weirdness of it it.  K-daughter sighs and says, "no other present can ever hope to compete with that".  But it doesn't have to, man.  I'm so happy with my wide-mouth, stainless steel funnel.

Q:  So why on earth would I need to make a homemade funnel?
A:  For really big jobs, that's why.

A really big homemade funnel, atop a gallon-sized jar
I buy my flour in 25-lb sacks, and I store it in 5-gallon plastic buckets in the basement, transferring smaller amounts into my counter-top glass flour jar as appropriate.   And I make large batches of granola in large baking pans, and then transfer it to gallon-sized jars once it's baked.   For these tasks, my "little" canning jar funnels don't help.  I've been racking my brains for a few years, trying to figure out where I might purchase a cheap appropriate funnel, or how I might make my own, but to no avail.  Internet searches didn't help, either.

And then, this past December as we were making our traditional Springerle cookies, inspiration struck.  I've somehow inherited/mooched a set of round aluminum trays that our dining service uses for serving cookies and brownies.   (The dining services folks thinks of these as "disposable", which is why I suspect that the way I got them was by "rescuing" them before being tossed in the garbage pail).  These trays are so large they don't fit in my oven, so I can't use them for making pizza, but I do occasionally use them for setting out the springerle to dry overnight before baking them.

But I realized:  these cookie trays are actually great funnel material!  With a regular pair of scissors, I could cut a wedge (like a piece of pizza) from the tray, and then cut a circle in the middle about the size of a baseball.   The remaining piece I bent into a cone shape and secured with a binder clip.

Voila!  A giant granola funnel!

Would it actually work, you ask?  (Or at least, I asked myself).   And the answer is . . . why yes!  Just beautifully!
Granola from the big old pan went right into the jar,
with no spilling on the counter or floor
For years I've done combinations of contortions to try to make sure that the hot granola doesn't make too much of a mess as I pour it from the hot (did I mention hot?) heavy trays into the jar, and I've always had relatively limited success.   Or I've used not-entirely-desirable intermediaries (pouring the granola first into a paper grocery bag, and then from there pouring it into the jar).   But this time, whoop! the granola went right down into the jar with nary a stray grain on the counter or floor.  Funnel success!

So that's my funnel fact for the day.  

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Miser Men update

Life continues to be rich and full in our household, especially for the guys, this week.  I've gotten a bunch of neat updates.

Updates like, my husband jaunted off to the airport earlier this week, and as he waited in the long TSA lines, the shut-down ended.  (Which I guess is kind of like an open-up?).  So he's now happily spending money in Paris, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mendeleev's periodic table with chem geeks, and nursing his knee along.

Also, up-dates like,  J-son took a test on Tuesday on "heads" (as in, human heads) and electrical circuits in them.  He also managed to snag a full-time internship in the gym where he's been teaching kids to box; now he'll be helping with all sorts of classes and more.  He's very excited about this, and I'm glad to see that he's being trusted with increasing amounts of responsibility.

And also updates like, N-son tells me he's taking a class called "CSEP", which stands for "Cognitive Something SomethingElse Program".   The class teaches life skills, where they have
  • Move it Mondays,
  • Tunes Tuesdays,
  • Writing Wednesdays,
  • Thoughtful Thursdays (learning mediation), and
  • Flexible Fridays.   
What he likes most about being away at school is working out, hanging with friends, doing beat boxes.

An even uppy-er-date came out of the blue: I got a phone call from my birthday cousin.  This "kid" was born on my 17th birthday, so I have always thought of his very existence as my own special present.  And you can see that his existence shaped the size and composition of my own family quite a bit!

That tiny little baby got his PhD about 5 years ago, and he's started up his own business, doing more applied mathematics than I know how to do, looking at human resources tools and social interventions.   He's danged impressive, and it was wonderful to hear from him. 

He included a picture of a family gathering from a while back: in the back is his older sister (also my cousin, but not my birthday cousin) with her daughters, and in the front is him and his wife flanking his mom, my aunt.

And here are his grand-nieces (my first cousins twice removed).

Awww, aren't they all adorable?

By comparison, my own life is kind of just toolin' along; teaching classes and meeting with students and dealing with editor details regarding our book.  (This week:  catalog/jacket copy!)  Between work and my travels, I haven't seen my daughters or grandchild much, but I hope that changes soon.  I did get to go to a game night at church, and one of the games was to try to name three things in a category as quickly as you can.  I'm mostly a whiz at things like that, but I got tripped up unfairly when they named an obscure (to me) category:  "Name three restaurants".  I blurted out, "Applebees, TJ Maxx, and . . . ".  So I bombed that particular round.

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

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Miser Family update: this is NOT a helicopter blog

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household, even though the household has been fairly sparse this week. 

N-son has gone off to school, and that means . . . well, that means he's not here.  How's he doing?  We offered to check in.  We asked the school if they could keep us informed of how he's doing.  They responded, "He's an adult now; he has to manage himself."   And since I've said similar things to the parents of my own students many times in the past, I took my own medicine.  Meaning, I have no idea how N-son is doing, except that he once called J-son on the phone and had a good laugh with his brother.  J-son tells me sports therapy school is getting harder, but he still likes it and is determined to succeed. I am not a helicopter mom.  This is not a helicopter blog.  That's all I can say about my adult sons. 

Me, I started teaching my spring classes this semester, and then I abandoned my students so I could join 5,800 of my nerdiest buddies at the math meetings in Baltimore. My co-author took a photo of me giving a talk; here I am wrapping up some ideas. 

And then below, there's a photo of a bunch of people in the audience actually paying attention to the handout I gave them, at exactly the right time in the talk to pay attention to the handout.  It was scads of fun. 

My husband got back his MRI results; both shoulders will need rotator cuff surgery.  He's trying to figure out how to schedule the surgeries so they don't interrupt his international travels and his bike racing plans -- I'm sure you all know how that goes. 

Although, as far as bike riding goes, he might have to take a bit of a break (!) because his knee is giving him more and more trouble. What he really wants for his next birthday is knee replacement surgery, but his doctor keeps giving him cortisone shots and draining fluid from the knee instead.  Poor guy.

So, as I acquired all these kids I have that are now grown up (and who I'm NOT helicopter parenting!), some people might have figured this would mean that I'd have lots of people to take care of me in my old age.  (And it's true that I-daughter did come over and sub in for me in my granddaughter-care duties when I walked to the emergency room earlier this week.   But apparently I'm fine, with a slight change of meds, so her visit was merely just practice for future decades). 

However, it is already the case that even if I don't need many children to take care of me, I have many descendants who can defend me from attackers.  Not only does one of my step-daughters knock down errant soccer and football players when her team needs her to do so, and not only does J-son box, but now my granddaughter is getting into the act.   K-daughter has signed her up for archery lessons.

So y'all better be nice to me, because I've got a posse. 

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

Saturday, January 12, 2019

drums and ponies and nest-leaving

Well, life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Household.  The biggest news of the week comes at the end:  N-son went off to college today!

Before he left, he bought new clothes, including this red suit.

He asked me about three times, "Don't you want to include this on the blog?"  So I guess I did.  Here's N-son's great red suit.

What else happened?  My husband went to his weekly Tuesdays-with-Toomey protest.  I asked the theme for this week, and he answered,
Today we are eradicating homelessness.
I’m thinking we may not finish today

My husband with a gift from Alise.

Meanwhile, here are too many pictures of N-son playing drums at church.  (A-child joined in later!)

And that's our fledgling, leaving the nest.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

From calendars to boxes

Calendar pages (the kind you hang on a wall) are often square.   Calendar pages are often pretty.  Ergo, calendar pages are great material for making origami, especially if you want to make fairly durable, stiff objects.   

Like these gift boxes, which I made out of last year's Cow Yoga calendar. 

I followed the directions at the website, and it was really pretty easy to do, once I go the hang of it (for example, I discovered that calendar paper is so stiff that I used a wooden spatula instead of my fingers to "iron" out the creases).  I made 6 "tops", and then trimmed the pages just a little to make 6 "bottoms" that fit inside.  The end result was a bunch of really nice boxes that I could put small gifts in, or even just give to my granddaughter for stacking and knocking down.

A friend sends us calendars of his photos every year.  Lately, he's been photographing protests.   Here's a photo of the 6 boxes I made from last year's protest calendar:

They're lined up on my husband's dresser, because he's the protest pro around here!

As for my own pro passion, I offer a math geeky aside:  One of the questions on the website above is
"This is great – thanks! Would love to know what size paper you need to make different sized boxes if you know? Else I will have to find out by practicing I suppose."
and the author responds,
I believe the length and width of the bottom of the final box is roughly 1/4 the size of the original paper. Hope that helps!
But *actually*, the boxes are 1/sqrt(8) the size of the original paper. (That's a tad bigger than 1/3). The calendar pages I used were 12 inches square; the boxes came out about 4.5" wide and 2.25 as deep.  So now you know.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Buy/Borrow, Keep/Purge: some book decisions

My husband and I, we prepare more and more for a move to a smaller home.   We don't know which smaller home, and we don't know when we'll move.  But we continue to slowly and carefully curate our belongings so that the things that get to make the move with us (some unknown day) will be those things we actually really, truly want to keep.

It's kind of hard to be emotionally attached to the fourth set of twin sheets or the nth towel in the towel stack, and so paring down the linen closet has been fairly easy, emotionally speaking.  But the further we get into the paring-of-possessions routine, the more personal the decisions become.

So, books

These can represent hopes and dreams: languages we started learning and imagine someday we'll return to and become fluent in.  Classic novels we will someday wend our ways through so we can say we did (War and Peace, I'm looking at you!).  Cooking techniques we'll master some day when we have time.  Decades come and decades go, but these hopes and dreams still sit between hard covers, lined up in rows, staring at us from their hard spines.

Books can grow dusty on our shelves while still having their hooks in us because of emotional ties to our pasts.   Miss Manner's Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior weighs down a portion of my own library for this very reason; ain't nobody gonna pry this book from its place in my permanent collection.

And books can be tributes to something we love.  My husband's recent sorting dilemma fell in this area.  The works of C.S. Lewis altered the course of his life, and they continue to have a profound influence on the way he approaches the world.  For that reason, we own at least one copy of every book Lewis has written, most of them with copious hand-written notes that my husband took while reading and re-reading these books.  We also own books that other people wrote about C.S. Lewis. 

In the sorting decisions that my husband has been making, he's decided that we're keeping the former and releasing the latter.   It was good to read these secondary sources, but keeping them isn't as important.  He doesn't need to go back to the biographies and analyses over and over -- and even if he changed his mind about that, he could find these books again relatively easily.   Keeping the words of Lewis himself close at hand is like having a friend in the house you can turn to for advice and solace.  But the books about the guy, not so much.

As always, one of the main difficulties with getting rid of something that's in the house already is the notion of "loss aversion" -- the idea that we value things more when we own them than when we don't.  So we've started focusing on the aspect of what we'll gain when these books are gone.  It's not just extra space or an easier move.   The truth is, we both love love love reading books -- and it turns out that reading books we don't already own is fantastically enjoyable.  When we go to the library and look for one book, but come home with three (or seven, or whatever), we've opened up realms of new worlds. 

Increasingly, as we pay attention to what we actually do instead of what we think we'll do, we realize that we get a heck of a lot of joy from The Library, whereas we get combinations of obligation, guilt, and comfort from our library.   So we're working on preserving the comfort books, while packing up and giving away the rest.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Miser Family update -- heady version

Did you celebrate Thirdsday (Thursday 1/3)?  Man, I nearly missed it, but thanks to my friend/muse/mentor Evelyn Lamb writing this excellent Scientific American blog essay, I learned that some geeky mathematicians planned to do the day up in style. Needless to say, I became one of those geeky mathematicians. Apparently, celebrating Thirdsday involves sharing things, so I made a loaf of bread, left 1/3 at home, and brought the rest to the office to share the people nearby. It also involves reciting as many digits of 1/3 as you can, in one breath. I made it to 73:
in case you were wondering.

There won't be another 1/3 on a Thursday until the year 2030, so the next Thirdsday celebration is a heck of a long way off yet.

Other celebrations made the week one that was rich and full for the entire Miser Family.  For example, on New Year's day my husband hosted a Book Nerd gathering, which was so danged much fun that by the end we declared this the First Annual.  My favorite part was Sarah Grasshopper's homemade book earrings and matching book flower in her hair.  I am jealous, in a good way! Mark your calendars for the next Book Nerds gathering, 4 p.m. January 1, 2020, followed by pork and sauerkraut, for a traditional New Year's good luck dinner, per local traditions.

Speaking of my husband, he didn't crash his bike this week -- but nonetheless this comic strip was, I think, written for him.

(I still remember him in 2007, lying on the stretcher in the emergency room with his neck broken in three places, plus a bunch of other broken bones, with a surgeon stitching his face back onto his skull, asking me to go buy him a new cell phone because he was worried it had gotten smashed when he crashed.  Fortunately, the phone was undamaged. So that was a big relief for us all.)

N-son got to have a smashing pizza party with his former Squash team, spending celebratory time with them before he heads off to school next week.

And K-daughter send me a plethora of pictures, annotated:
Had a super fun week at work! Picture one: fooling around with co worker with (turned off) heat gun. We were making pieces for our machine that holds our gama alumina. Picture two: I'm soldering wires Picture three: the control panel I had to wire! Picture four: I made a nest!

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

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Unwanted Mail day

In our quest to reduce our landfill-based trash, but really to reduce any trash at all, I spend more time than I'd like actively asking companies to stop sending me mail.  This past semester, I'd saved up a bunch of offending mail for a massive "please stop" blitz, and yesterday was that blitz.

I'm really grateful for Catalog Choice (   They can't help with EVERY company, but when a company is on their list, stopping mail is just a click or two of trouble.  In fact, I'm so grateful that I gifted them a little $100 donation as my final charitable contribution of the year. 

I'm also getting low on my "Please remove us from your mailing list" stickers that I use with credit card offers and other stuff that comes with returnable envelopes.   And then I spent a bunch of time on the phone. 

"Please remove us from your mailing list"
Stickers are almost all gone. . . 
All told, I think I spent about an hour and half.  Sheesh. 

A box of unwanted (glossy) mail.
The office-paper mail is in another box.
Technically, most of this unwanted mail is "recyclable", but it's getting harder and harder to find places that want to recycle it.   In my area, there's one recycling center that accepts well-sorted donations, but they do it as a kindness: office paper actually loses them money.   (Other things like chip board and aluminum are money makers, provided it's well-sorted and clean, which is why they're so careful about what they accept).

And as long as we're on the subject, I'll just note in passing that we've achieved a record low number of trash cans at the curb:  we put 6 (six) cans at the curb in 2018 [insert small celebration noises here].  A huge part of the reduction is that we had a similar reduction in the number of people in the house -- only 3 of us living here full time now.   And because I love graphs, that's how I'll end this post.

Number of trash cans at the curb in various years since we started keeping track