Sunday, February 24, 2019

Miser Family update toward the end of Black History Month

Life continues to be jam-packed full with richness in the Miser Family household!   Highlights of the week include
  • the flu (N-son, and also my husband),
  • recovery from the flu (both of the above),
  • attending a dance and then unfortunately not sharing details with one's mother (N-son),
  • studying the reproductive system as part of the Sports Therapy curriculum and then fortunately not sharing the details with ones mother (J-son), 
  • shoveling snow (a bunch of us),
  • giving an exam, grading an exam, and then holding office hours for all the students who thought they knew the material but discovered otherwise (erm, me, in case that wasn't obvious),  and
  • taking a bunch of students to a local math conference (me again).
I attended an amazing talk by Daryl Davis, a Jazz and Blues musician, an author, actor and activist.  His musical career has been enough to be remarkable all by itself, playing with the likes of Chuck Barry, Bruce Hornsby, and more.  But his talk was about his 30-year endeavor to befriend people who want to kill people like him.  He's interviewed and befriended many leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, a number of whom eventually leave the KKK.  Davis is a black dude with a small museum of KKK robes and hoods!
This is a bit of a digression into his story, away from my family's, but this really stuck with me, so I figured I'd share it.  He showed a short video clip from the riots at Charlottesville -- a white guy (dressed in normal clothes, but who Davis told us he found out was a KKK member) firing gun shots at the feet of a black man with a flame thrower, and then walking past police who stood behind barriers, doing nothing at all.  Davis asked: "If you saw this, what would you do?  You could blame the white guy with the gun, blame the police, blame the black guy with the flame thrower . . . think about it.  This is your country.  What would you do?"    
Davis said, "I called the KKK guy up and met with him."  He let the guy talk and say anything he wanted.  Then he invited the guy to the Black History museum with him.  They spent two hours there, wandering through the place.  By the time they came out, they were buddies.  When the guy got married a few weeks later and his bride's dad couldn't attend because of health issues, they had Davis walk the bride down the aisle.  He's one of the many who know Davis who have quit the KKK now.   Davis urged us all to be brave enough to listen to people who disagree with us. "Establish dialogue. When two enemies are talking, they're not fighting."

Our giant living room mirror, decorated.
The week ended with our family's second ever Black History Month Dinner.  Our first one was two years ago.   Back then, I put up thirty pictures of notable African Americans so we could play a matching game together.  It was such a great evening that everyone there kept telling me, "next time, you should have this person!   and that person! and the other person!"   Let me tell you, it's a bit of work to compile all these photos . . . but this year, we had 45 faces decorating our walls.  N-son came back from school and helped me put them up. 

Then, everybody got pages of random sticky notes, which they worked together to put on the right pictures.  Every picture had a name (on a yellow sticky notes) and two facts (on a pink and a green sticky note).

My sons J-son and N-son and two friends working together. 

I-daughter's friend is thinking hard.

Getting close to being done.
Somehow, I missed pictures of the dinner itself.  We had three friends, plus four kids (I-daughter, K-daughter, J-son, and N-son) and a grandchild who was more interested in Prewash the Dog than in pictures on the wall.  We had fried chicken, mac-and-cheese, collard greens, and cornbread, and then after dinner I read a snippet from Richard Wright's Black Boy, a book that gripped me when I was a teenager.    It was a great evening, with lots of "how come I never knew this?" moments, and a lot of friendship and helping.

The view into the cleaned-up dining room,
the morning after the Black History Month Dinner.

And now that the dinner is over, for a little while longer, my walls are decorated with well-labeled pictures of people who shaped our world for the better.  So that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.  

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Miser Family update: Bahrain, not Spain, is plainly on my brain

Where my husband has been this week.
Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.  This week, my nest has been especially empty, because my husband flew to Bahrain, leaving me and Prewash alone to referee math papers and make sense of the leftovers in the fridge.   We make a good team, Prewash and I!

J-son is earnestly applying for jobs, and getting some nibbles.  N-son tells me he was planning to go to a dance at his school.  I tried to pump him for more gossip, but he went all Clint Eastwood on me.  Darn it.

Since I'm flying solo, I got to go to some fun talks and movies:  a documentary (The Sign for Love) about a gay, deaf man in Israel who fathers a child with his best friend, a lesbian deaf woman.  It was an enlightening documentary, and reminded me that parenting is darned hard and more of sacrifice than most potential parents realize.  And perhaps on the same lines, I went to a talk on the evolution of altruism that was a lot of fun.  (Take-away: altruism probably does have genetic components, but because of that our altruism tends to be  parochial and irrational).  And to counteract all that altruism, I attended a great Info Security lunch, that reminded me that basically everyone should make sure they set up their own accounts at the places below before the BadGuys do:
With my guys dispersed across the globe, our family Valentine's dinner was genetically the Double-X crowd:  me, I-daughter, K-daughter, A-child, and a young friend.  I learned that K-daughter now owns steel-toed boots.  (She says, "Ever since I nearly got electrocuted, there are a lot more safety rules where I work").   And I-daughter has decided that sometime this spring, she's going to take the plunge and buy . . . (wait for it . . . ) a spinning wheel!

We festived up the table and chandelier; we had heart-shaped pizza with black olives (because olive you so much!), and mini-heart-shaped bacon quiches (because hogs and quiches; mwah-mwak).

And we followed it all up with apple pie leftover from Thanksgiving.  (Because you're the apple of my pie.  And I'm thankful for that).

By the way, A-child's name has a bunch of variant spellings, and sometimes people ask me how she spells her particular version.  Wonder no more!
Here's how A-child spells her name.  Now you know.
Finally, kudos to L-daughter, my most academically driven child.   She is a fan of warm weather, and so when she decided which grad school to go to she chose . . . the University of Minnesota.  Right? Well, UM's not exactly warm, but it had just the program she wanted to pursue.   At any rate, she's close to finishing up and had a nibble for a post-doc in central California so she could finally get out of the frozen tundra.   And so she accepted the postdoc at Northwestern.     So she's truly an egg-head, who chooses her brain over her body.  I'm so proud of you, L-daughter!

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

Monday, February 11, 2019

Serial ownership vs. temporary ownership

About seven or eight years ago, I bought a home gym.  This past weekend, I got rid of it.

But the standard jokes about buying/ditching exercise equipment don't hold here.   Instead, I consider our home gym transitions to be a totally happy story.  My frugal hero, Amy Dacyczyn of the Tightwad Gazette, once wrote about "temporary ownership": buying used things (like high chairs) at yard sales to use for a little while, and then reselling them a few years later when your family has outgrown their use.   I love the concept, but the name she gives it reminds me too much of what my errant neighbors do:  buy something new at a store and then send it to the landfill after a few years.  Yuckers.

So, I'll call this process of moving things from one home to another serial ownership instead.

About seven or eight years ago, I bought a home gym off of Craigslist.  I'd been influenced by a Mr. Money Mustache article (Get rich with: olympic barbells), but I was also harkening back fondly to my college days when I was on the swim team and used to work out in the weight room at our gym regularly.   One spring day seven or eight years ago, I took a peek at Craigslist, saw one guy offering a home gym with a bench and large weights and barbell-bars and pull-down bars and other cool things I remembered loving using.  For $100, I got the complete set, and we carted all the pieces into the basement, assembled it (wenches with wrenches!), and it's resided there since.

Since then, the home gym has gotten off-and-on use through the years.  It helped me a bit as I trained for the Iron Man; it helped me a lot as I recovered from a broken arm and got myself back up to doing 50+ pushups for my 50+ birthday.  I've gone through phases where I didn't use it much, and other phases where it's been a regular part of my routine.

As for my sons, they've also been irregular but avid users of the gym.  J-son in particular pumped a bunch of iron on his way to becoming a boxer.  He had gone through a social phase off feeling totally uncool because his buddies had all the cool video technology toys and he didn't -- but when he started lifting at home and bulking up, those same buddies started visiting our place so they could work out, too.  So he had a "cool" thing that no one else had.   In fact, the effect this gym had on J-son might rank up there as one of the best overall choices we've made in parenting him.

Those are the positives.   The negatives are that this thing takes up a bunch of space, which is a liability as we start looking for a smaller home to move to.  And also, this gym had everything I wanted and more, meaning that it had a bunch of extra features I never ended up using.

upright bars of my home gym,
lying not-so-upright in my driveway
But this is one of the real advantages of serial ownership:  I nab something from a yard sale or Craigslist or Freecycle when I don't really know what I'm doing, meaning I don't really know what it is that I'll like or not about it.  And after owning it for a while, I learn.  I learned I like bicep curls; I don't do those arms-together squeezes.    When I got my SodaStream (for less then the retail cost of refilling the cylinders, even though it had one full cylinder and one half-full cylinder), I learned that I like fizzy water, but I don't like plastic bottles.  The more I nab clothes out of yard sales, the more I learn that I really like knit dresses, and not so much tight-weave dresses.

And then, armed with this new knowledge, I can safely move these things into their next owner's homes, and work on upgrading (or downgrading, if appropriate) to something that suits me better.

The rest of the weights and bars and such
by our front door.  Oh, there was a bench, too,
but I didn't take a picture of that.
A week or so ago, my husband listed the home gym on Craigslist for $75.  We'd already given one set of small dumbbells and weights to my oldest daughter, and we'd gotten a bunch of use out of the set, but otherwise it was just as great as the day we'd brought it home.   A family with two preteen sons who play football was looking to purchase.  So I disassembled the gym.  (Wenches with wrenches!)  And we moved the entire set into the new family's vehicle, and I waved goodby.

So, for $25 plus opportunity cost, we got more than a half-dozen years of good workouts and enhanced muscles for me and my sons, plus a set of hand weights for my eldest daughter.   We removed the gym from the home of a guy who no longer wanted it; we placed it in the home of a family who anticipates having as much fun with it as we did.  I love this whole process!

(Just FYI, I'm probably going to replace this set with power block weights, which fit in a much smaller space.  My sister has a set she loves, and J-son now has a set he seems to be happy using.  I might even pay real money and buy these at a store, since they don't come available much on Craigslist.  So the next weight set I own probably won't have the same serial ownership fairy tale, unfortunately.)

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Miser family update, going places edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household, with plenty of things to do and plenty of places to go. 

My husband certainly travelled the farthest and the most consistently.   Early in the week, he returned from Paris; later in the week we went

  • (Monday) to Hebrew Class, 
  • (Tuesday) to his weekly Tuesdays-with-Toomey protest, 
  • (Wednesday) to visit N-son and do a father/son clothes shopping spree, 
  • (Thursday) to Chicago [the musical, not the city], 
  • (Friday) to the doctor's to get a date for his knee surgery, and 
  • (Saturday) to the Science History Institute Conference in Philadelphia.

You might notice that conspicuously absent from this list is bicycling.  He was remarking to me early in the week that his achy knee has been hindering his bicycling even more than breaking his neck did a dozen years ago.  So he was very happy that his orthopedist set a date (March 28) for a knee replacement surgery.  Whoo-hoo!  This is something he's been hoping and asking for, for years now.  He's looking forward to the new knee making a huge difference in his racing career. 

N-son didn't go quite as far, but he did get to go on a clothes-shopping spree with his dad (y'know, the way that guys do).  He tells me that his CSEP class "pays" students in something called "CSEP dollars".   He was ecstatic:  "It's like Mommy Dollars!" (which was the currency in our home for many years).   He has fond memories of those, so he's happy to relive those glory days.  But he also, apparently, is desirous of more widely accepted currency.  So he's asked me to send him spending money.   The cash is in the mail, kiddo!  First envelope goes out Monday!

J-son is still studying physical therapy.  He said he's learning now about arm flexibility and how the olecranon connects to muscles  -- like, if I broke my arm again (or a hit-and-run driver knocked me down again and broke my olecranon off of my ulna yet again), it could be J-son who does my physical therapy next time.  But we're both happy to leave that scenario hypothetical for now.

As for me, I didn't travel as far geographically as my husband, but I journeyed deep into a book I'd checked out of the library:  Gary Taubes' the Case Against Sugar.   I'm telling you, that book is going to take my life in a radically different direction . . . it's a book about what we consume, but that book ended up consuming me.

And also, I got to go to church early in the week with my granddaughter, who started out the day letting me help her make waffles.   She puts ingredients that I give her into the mixing bowl and says "Fabulous!"  Like me, apparently. 

And also, I got to go to the musical Chicago late in the week with my husband and I-daughter and two of our friends.  It was a great musical, with fabulous (oh, there's that word) dancing.  And it was satisfying to see a musical where the women weren't just plot devices for some guy, and who didn't end up by deciding for no particular reason that they loved the guy who had been pestering them the whole show.  No, these were women who were going places. 

Like us. That's the news from our family, which continues to be rich in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.  

Monday, February 4, 2019

It's winter: time to rip off my clothes

I think the day I started loving winter is the day after I discovered warm boots.   I got something like frostbite of the feet when I was a young teenager, and for a decade or so after that, I became super wimpy about cold weather.   (I even wear shoes in the summer, because my feet get that cold). 

So walking around in winter weather was kind of torture for me until somehow I discovered that thick-soled boots, with warm upper insulation, actually work.   And warm boots, together with the old Girl Scout mantra of dressing in layers, turned winter weather into a super joy for me.

Okay, true, it takes me like 5 minutes to get dressed to go outside.  But being outdoors these days is just totally awesome for a person like me.  Go running with my buddies?  Yes, please --- just let me layer up first.   Walk two miles with a backpack on so I can serve breakfast at the soup kitchen?  Lovely
Caveat: I totally know that I'm talking from a point of privilege here.  I serve breakfast once a week to people who don't have a choice about being indoors or out, and they don't have the same warm clothes I do.  Walking around outdoors for one hour can be fun; spending your entire day outdoors every day, not so much.  If you do want to donate warm clothes, hats and gloves that are wind-resistant are like gold; knit hats and mittens are essentially worthless in the wind, especially if they start to get wet.   

That being said, for a desk-sitter like me, there's something wonderful about actually moving around; about being outdoors where there's wind and sun and such.  It reminds me that what makes the most difference to our internal thermostats is not our layers of fat, but our oxygen-burning, heat-generating muscles.  A bunch of times in this chilly weather, I've found myself unzipping outer layers, removing scarves, as I walk along. 

And then when I do come back inside, I'm a furnace.   And I need to rip off all my clothes as quickly as I can, so I don't end up soaking them in puddles.   (Also, ironically, I keep my feet warm by removing the boots, because they carry winter inside with them.   Huzzah for slippers!)

I asked my students to share advice for dealing with the cold weather.  They said, "Stay indoors!".   But they also complain every time they see me about the weather.   What if actually going outside helps you deal with the weather even better, by learning to appreciate it? 

So warm boots.  Tights under my jeans.  Layer upon layer.  Ear muffs.  And then, Febrrrrrrrruary outdoors!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Miser Family Update: Cat Butt Face edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family this week. It's been a week of going places, really.

As for me, I went not too far; a friend of mine took me out for an upper endoscopy, which was an interesting experience (not that I remember much about it). While my nurse was hooking me up to the heart monitor, she looked a bit startled and then asked, "Are you a runner, by any chance?" I said yes, and asked why. She said, "well, then your low heart rate is a good kind of low heart rate." What was my heart rate, I asked? 43. So, that was kind of neat to know.

I-daughter went to a knitting retreat. Did you know there are such things? Well, now you do.

K-daughter nearly electrocuted herself at her job this week, but fortunately what could have been fairly dangerous merely provided an incredibly good scare and a life-long lesson on double-checking that the power is truly off. She also writes,
I made a full rotary damper for our unit this week. I'm the only one fully making these systems right now, since my other co workers are working on upgrading our machines. I made a few mistakes this week, and order of assembly has beeN changed many times, but I'm proud of myself for making a fully functional damper unit AND with our new fan installation :)
When N-son was just a tiny little, adorable baby, he used to scrunch his lips together in a way that I called the "cat butt face". I kind of miss that face. Not sure why I'm thinking about that right now . . . . But on another topic entirely, K-daughter tells me she and A-child facebook chatted with N-son earlier this week, and she sent me this screen shot.

And speaking of being face-to-face with N-son, my husband came back from Paris, hung around here for a day or so, and then went out to visit N-son, bring another round of meds, and start talking about spending money stuff. The visit went well, and my guy sent a long email full of updates. I've excerpted a bunch of that letter here:
N-son is doing great! Really. He is happier than I have seen him in, well, ever.  
When we went out to dinner, he talked. Usually when we eat together it is difficult for me to get him to talk. He was telling me about his counselors. He has an academic counselor he sees every day and a personal counselor he sees on Wednesdays. 
N-son meditates now. He likes it.  He plays basketball on the intramural team. They have games every Thursday. 
N-son likes his roommate A-man and has some things in common with him. A-man is adopted from Russia.  A-man is a NASCAR fan.  When N-son comes home next, or on my next visit, he wants the Dale Earnhardt tapestry for the wall in his room!  A-man takes N-son to the town. A-man can drive and his family has some kind of ceramics business. So A-man occasionally drives a U-Haul truck. He and N-son ride around town in a U-Haul.  N-son loves that amid the cars and SUVs in the parking lot, A-man parks a moving van. 
N-son has two personal days he has not used.  He is going to ask to take them Thursday and Friday, February 21 & 22, to come home for the Black History Month Dinner weekend. I bought the ticket, and can change if necessary.  He hopes to go to [the rescue mission] on Friday to see [his mentor there] and others. 
He says he plans to go year-round which will have him finishing up in the Spring of 2020.  He said he misses Mom's cooking!  He seems very happy overall and likes the school.  As we walked the long hall to his room he greeted several kids along the hallway. When we were in N-son's room a kid from across the hall came over and introduced himself and said he looks out for N-son because N-son is new. 
I am soooooooooo happy for N-son. It is wonderful to see him be one of the cool kids.   

What else?   On the "going places" motif, my husband has made it a regular habit to walk me to my office in the morning and then bike back.  The snow and ice that roared in this past week made the bike part of his routine impractical, so he's been walking both ways.  A friend saw us walking to school late this week and thought we were so cute together she took our picture.  (I'm holding a decoration for the upcoming Chinese New Year.)

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