Saturday, March 30, 2019

Miser family update: birthdays, Zamboni driving, and titanium knees

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family.  Even though I didn't have any new papers accepted or anything like that, we still managed to have fun adventures. 

My granddaughter and I both had birthdays this week; one of us aged out of her prime to become a perfect square, and the other one of us is now back into her prime.   (Geeky math joke, there).  We got to spend time together at the beginning of the week, making waffles, taking Prewash to the dog park, and taking pictures.  Happy birthday, kiddo!

Squinting in the sunshine
Note the red hair, to celebrate papers getting accepted last week

On my birthday, I took my calculus class to the bagel shop, where my students learned how to do separation of variables to solve ordinary differential equations.   It was really fun class!

What else happened?  N-son tells me that he is enjoying his internship at the Ice Rink.  He got to meet the Country Singer/Songwriter Cole Swindell.  He also got to . . . wait for it . . . drive the zamboni!   Is that cool, or what?

J-son took the NOCTI tests this week, to see if he can get his certification in sports therapy.  We've all got our fingers crossed for him.  And in the opposite of therapy, K-daughter came down with Strep Throat.  Poor K-daughter!

My IronMan rocking his
two-wheeled speedster.
Oh, yeah, and this other thing happened.  On Thursday, my husband threw his hospital staff into consternation by walking the one mile to the hospital (instead of having me drive him), where he got his old knee swapped out for a brand-spankin' new Titanium knee. 

  • Thursday evening, he managed to walk about one meter on his new knee.  
  • On Friday, I brought him home with his new two-wheeled vehicle, and---while he had trouble getting in and out of bed---he scooted his walker several times around the house, following the same loop that N-son raced on his tricycle a decade or so ago, yelling "Slalom, baby, slalom!!".   (Rather, that was what N-son yelled.  My husband yelled, "Yehhh!  Ewwwcccch! Ahhhh!")
  • By Saturday, he was handling the bed, short flights of stairs, and the driveway.  He's even started walking short distances without the walker, which is AGAINST. THE. RULES even though he promised me that this one time he'd actually obey his post-op instructions because he can't do knee replacement again.  
For what it's worth, the nurse who walked us through the post-op instructions said he's allowed to walk as much as he wants with his walker so he doesn't fall,  and he's not allowed to drive a car until the next nurse clears him to do so.  I noticed the nurse didn't say anything at all about bicycles.  Anybody want to put money down on the date of the first bike ride?  

We're all delighted that the March weather really is going from lion to lamb; today we opened windows (one or two of which become Dog TV for Prewash) and let the balmy breezes fill the house.  We're glad to have a comfy house with lots of space on the first floor for people and dogs to wander and to slalom, baby.

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

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Bifold doors

Here's a minor project I've tackled over these past few weeks, in between the every-thing-else-that's-going-on of my life.  Ahhh, this picture makes me so happy.

And yes, it's a picture of some very plain looking bifold doors.  That's my project.

Our home is rich in bifold doors.  The previous owner installed them in closets, in both entrances to the kitchen, and even on some of the bedroom doors.

Bifold doors have some nice advantages, like they don't swing out as far into hallways, and like you can easily take them off if you need to get back into the closet to clean it out.  (I got to astound my daughter when she was cleaning out her dad's pantry by removing the pantry door so she could get at the shelves more easily.  Mama does magic tricks!)

But bifold doors can also be a pain in the tuckus.  They make lousy bedroom doors, because you can't lock them.  And the same feature that makes them relatively easy to remove on purpose makes them relatively easy to remove by accident, especially if they are in a room where a pair of highly active, ADHD teenager brothers wrassle each other constantly.   Oh, those boys.

Of course, it wasn't just them.  Our former dog, Miser Dog, was afraid of rain and thunder, and whenever a storm would blow in, he'd climb into our bedroom closet; sometimes he'd shiver so hard he'd knock the door down.   But Miser Dog fortunately didn't damage the doors; we'd just wait for the rain to stop, and slide the door back into place.

At any rate, this particular pair of doors in the photo have been through a lot.  One daughter painted them with decorations that glow under ultraviolet light.  Then the boys wrassled and broke the hardware on the doors.  One of the two boys went through a terrible phase in which we had to remove all doors and drawers and other hiding places from his room for several months (oh, lord, was that awful!).   Between the removal, the ultraviolet paint, and the broken hardware, we hadn't gotten around to replacing them, so the closet just was open all the time.

Until recently.  My sons both moved out, and so recently I've been repairing holes in walls.  Then painting the walls.  And then repainting the walls.

In the meanwhile, we'd hired some pros to come do things I can't do myself -- repair the roof; take down bifold bedroom doors and install real doors (with knobs and locks and such), fix warped ceilings. So by the time I was done painting the walls in my boys' former bedroom, I happened to have a mini-lumberyard of materials.

The former bifold doors, I sanded and then painted. The blue doors with neon-orange and hot-pink highlights are now ivory white. I scavenged hardware pieces from the former bedroom doors, and fixed the broken bits on the closet doors. I had to move one track down a bit (yay for a scrounged piece of lath hanging out in the garage), but then I installed the doors and . . . voila!

In the grand scheme of things, this isn't a big deal. But you have NO IDEA how much better this looks. Seriously, paint is freakin' amazing. Well, and plaster for fixing holes. And sandpaper for smoothing plaster. But, . . . paint! Doors!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Miser family update: math, red hair, adoption, travel, and tattoos

Life continues to be (mathematically) rich and (mathematically) full in the Miser Family Household.   It's hard to keep track of everything going on, in fact, because of the math swirling around in my life. 

View from the plane, in the wee hours of the morning.
In the last two weeks, for example, I've

  • driven to a southern city to give a math talk,
  • flown to Toronto to give a different math talk (which is where I was last week, when I wasn't sending out last week's update), 
  • taken 7 students to a day-long local math conference,
  • moved our book from the "copyediting" stage to the "getting ready for page proofs" stage,
  • had a beloved paper that I submitted last summer "accepted pending major* revision"!!!! 
  • had another paper accepted and moved into production!!!  and finally
  • heard that a third paper, accepted last semester, has officially "moved into production". 
Dropping ERVs on purpose.
*(the referee suggestions strike me as not 
terribly "major", actually; 
mostly just shortening the paper a bit, 
a heck of a lot easier than adding new stuff!)

I'm feeling pretty stoked, and to celebrate these multiple acceptances (the three paper announcements came in the last three days alone), I dyed my hair red.  So.

Other members of my family apparently have interesting lives, too.  For example, in spite of the safety precautions instituted at K-daughter's work, they're still dropping things.   On purpose.  She says,
We are making some revisions to our unit this week, so yesterday we decided to do a drop test. This was so fun! I enjoyed being outside with all of my co-workers in the nice weather and I really enjoyed seeing how durable one of our ERVs are.

N-son is enjoying school; he went to a dance and had fun.  I got to talk to one of his buddies, a kid named "Shane", the phone.  Shane tells me he's "like N-son's brother".  I said I was glad about that, and asked Shane if he wanted us to adopt him.  He said his mom wouldn't like it.  But later he admitted he loves spinach and grilled Brussel sprouts, so I told him to let us know if his mom changes her mind. 

J-son is also still enjoying school, and tells me he's getting straight A's.  I have already promised him I'll pay for his tattoo if/when he graduates, and he's thinking hard about the designs.  (Which is good, because it's going to be hard to change his mind once he's got ink carved into his arms!)

My husband has been taking road trips; he's gotten to see both N-son and L-daughter; he's also gone to book groups and protests.  We also had an awesome visit from one of his former army buddies who is now a monk in a German nunnery (y' know, one of those many people who choose the army-to-monk path in life).  I've heard lots of stories about my guy's other frugal friend: the one who lives cheerfully under a vow of poverty and service and who makes me look spendy and frivolous.  It was so good to have him here!

And even though we're not going to be adopting Shane any time soon, we started the process to "adopt" a refugee family; we've finished going through background checks and volunteer classes, and soon we'll get to start help resettling refugees who've moved into our city with their transition to a life in the U.S.  I'm really looking forward to this.  Part of us wants to wait until life settles down again . . . but part of us knows that our lives aren't particularly prone to settling.

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

"10 easy ways to reduce personal waste" or not

A friend wrote me an email with the subject heading "10 easy ways to reduce personal waste" to ask,
I met with an incipient Interfaith Coalition on Sustainability this week. An initial goal that emerged is to raise awareness among the coalition’s respective congregants about plastic waste. Naturally, I thought of you. The group wanted to know if you could provide it with a “top ten” list of things people can do today to reduce their waste.
And since re-using stuff is at the heart of much trash re-duction, I figured I could re-use my re-sponse by re-posting it here. Voila . . .
The difficulty with this request is the word "easy". Habits and awareness vary so much from person to person that an "easy" technique might be something that many people sneer at as overly simplistic, because they already adopted it long ago; and at the very same time prove to be so frustrating to another group of people that they gives up that attempt . . . and all others, too, by association.

One example of this dichotomy is "bring your own bags to the grocery store". I myself almost always do, and if I don't, I carry things home in my hands. But my husband almost always forgets. We hang cloth bags by the back door, and we keep a stash of extra bags in the trunk of the car . . . but the podcasts he's listening to somehow always distract him, and almost every single time he goes to the grocery store, he brings home more bags. (At least he brings home paper bags, not plastic ones).

So instead of giving you "easy ways" to avoid plastic, I'll give you my favorite "Effective Habits".

1. Reflect
Pay attention to your use of plastic. This might mean being as zealous as writing down every single piece of plastic you toss in the trash or recycling bin, but it can even be an occasional investigation of what happens to be in your trash can right now. Simple awareness, even without consciously trying to change your behavior, is likely to make a surprisingly large difference in the amount of plastic that passes through your hands and into the mythical "away".

This habit sounds simplistic, but I seriously believe that a habit of awareness has a bigger effect, both in the short term and in the long term, than any other trick or technique or habit below.

2. Refuse
Try saying "no, thank you" to unsolicited plastic. This can be as simple as asking for a drink with no straw or as refusing a bag at a store. Say no, thank you to conference bags or other bling at professional meetings. Or you can be more proactive: I've asked my newspaper carrier to deliver my paper with no plastic bag, and most of the time, I get my paper delivered "naked". I've removed myself from mailing lists that send me plastic-y promotions or wrapped magazines.

3. Replace
This gets more personal: find plastic-free alternatives to things you use; this often means finding alternatives to things you use. Instead of granola bars, get peanuts in a glass jar, or get bananas and oranges. Instead of bread in a plastic bag, get a bread maker and make your own bread. Instead of buying lunch in a plastic shell from a deli counter, bring your own lunch. As much as possible, get your durable products used (from Craigslist, Freecycle, thrift shops, yard sales, etc), to avoid creating packaging waste, manufacturing waste, and overfull landfills.

4. Reuse
This is where most "ordinary" people jump in to the plastic reduction: bring your own water bottle; bring your own bags to the store; keep a spoon and/or chopsticks in your purse/backpack so you don't have to use plastic utensils. You can also often bring your own containers to shops (at market, I get sandwich turkey in my pyrex containers, and fruit in my own cloth mesh bags, and Easter candy in my own canning jars).

This works for one-time, large-scale events, too. For example, for the cost of buying 100 plastic "disposable" wine glasses, you can rent 100 glass wine glasses from Ace Rents.

I'll add that most people find this very hard to do, especially if bringing things along is something that you do as a last-minute activity. Structuring your life so that you don't have to actively *remember* these things is great. For instance, as soon as I realize I'll need to buy, say, milk, I toss my glass milk jug into my market bag, so the containers in my bag act like a shopping list. Keeping spoons in a special zippered pocket and a water bottle in a different pocket in my bag means they're always with me. No thinking required.

5. Reduce
Where the above isn't possible or convenient or such, use less. Take one bag instead of double-bagging. Wash your home spaces with water and cloth rags more often, and use commercial products every other time, instead. Plastic reduction doesn't have to be all-or-nothing; let the "good enough" triumph over perfectionism.

6. Rot
Here, I'm venturing into areas where reasonable people would disagree with me . . . but I'd urge people to go for the biodegradable versions of things. Someone could reasonably argue that a paper grocery bag uses as many (or more) resources than a plastic bag. But there's no floating island of paper bags in the Pacific Ocean; birds don't die from eating too many paper bags; paper bags don't harbor carcinogens that make their way up the food chain to become deadly toxins in the biosphere. So: paper instead.

7. Recycle
I list this only because popular opinion considers recycling to be "green". But we know that even at its best, recycling is costly, expensive, and wasteful. And of course, much recycling never happens because of contaminants, spills, and other reasons. Recycling ought to be a last resort before sending something to the landfill, and people should definitely try to avoid "wishful recycling", as it might contaminate other more valid recycling efforts.

Hope this helps. Please let me know how this goes!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thoughts about painting

In no particular order.
  • One of the difficulties of reducing a wardrobe to only the clothes I like is that I had to choose an outfit to paint in that I didn't like so much after all.  I sacrificed some thrice-repaired but very comfy jeans.  And some white shirts that were starting to get a tad worn.  And an old pair of winter boots that has less traction than its newer cousins.  
  • A 5-gallon bucket of paint seemed like a good idea at the time, but man, it's SO heavy, and it's hard to stir if you let it sit.  
  • Newspaper bags make great roller covers.   Bag up a roller that you've just finished painting with, and it's still good-to-go a week later when you start painting again.
  • Damp newspaper works better than painter's tape in a lot of places.  And cheaper.  And less plastic in the world. 
  • Just remember to pull the paper away from the paint before the paint dries!
  • Prep time is so much more consuming than paint time, and so much easier to get wrong.   I've found it helps to think of preparation work as a meditation, focusing really deeply on exactly what I'm doing at that moment.  The mindfulness is good for me, and the prep comes out much better.
  • Edges, man.  Tiny paint brushes and that edging pad. Intense focus.
  • I'd rather be painting like crazy with the roller than prepping to paint, anyway. 
  • I'm glad I have a few months before we sell the house to do this painting, because when I start to get tired of prep, I can just STOP and leave it to a day I have more energy, instead of feeling rushed to do it wrong.  Patience is a lot easier when you can walk away from the thing that's stressing you.
  • Painting the walls is so much fun that, once I get to that, I wish there were more hours in the day so that I could keep going. But, sleep.  And: but, math.
  • Even with the plastic and newspaper all the heck over the place,
    this room looks SO much better than it did a few weeks ago.
    Yeah, man.
  • Painting the walls (and in the attic, the floors) makes a HUGE difference.  Like, HUGE!  The kids had really done a job on a bunch of rooms and hallways.  But for a few hundred bucks and a festivity of labor, the places are starting to look nice again.  I sort of knew it in the back of my mind, but seeing it is kind of stunning.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Miser Family update: Snow, blood tests, and Zoo Dinner

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

The week began with an overnight storm, and so I woke up Monday to see the the snow sitting heavy on the tree branches while the sun played peek-a-boo behind the clouds.  It was truly beautiful.

View from my bedroom window Monday morning.
My husband is still hobbling around on his bad knee, looking forward to the end of March when he gets a brand new titanium one.   When his buddies criticize him for riding roughshod on his knee, he points out he'll only have it for a little while longer and might as well wear it out and get what use he can out of it.  In preparation for the upcoming surgery, he had a blood test that told him he has no diseases detectable from such a test.   In the meanwhile, he's still going to protests and jaunting off to D.C. to see his youngest daughter on her spring break. 

In the middle of the week, I tried to show up 5 minutes early for our church's Ash Wednesday services, but in fact I was 11 hours and 55 minutes late.   It turns out that I was right that the services started at 7, but a.m., not p.m.  Whoops!  Fortunately my very hip pastor was hanging out at our Church's ESL service, and he put fake ashes on my head and told me to dust I'd return, and then sent me home.  Most efficient church services I've been to in my life!

As Lent begins, I'm trying to cut back on added and/or processed sugars, and I'm reading a bunch of books on the evils of sugar and processed food.  I think this reading is making me even more fringe and counter-cultural than I already am . . . and I don't know if this is a good thing or not. 

And speaking of living an unusual life, this Friday we celebrated our annual Zoo Dinner.  Behold the cow, unicorn, shark, tiger, and dog who attended!  (There's also an elephant hat in honor of my absent sons).

We had our usual ham-bear-gers, that taste yummy but photograph badly; we also had Boa Constrictors and mice.
Boa Constrictors (strombolli) and mice (potatoes with carrot ears)
And this year we added turtles swimming along a coral reef.

(And because of my Lent readings,
I feel guilty about the processed goldfish crackers!)

I-daughter/Tiger introduced A-child/Unicorn to the joys of eating through the bars of the chairs.  (Which, to be honest, is a lot more of a joy to 3-year-olds than to people who have lived a decade or more, although the rest of us have a go at it out of tradition.
Unicorn and Tiger eating fish and mice.  
As we head into spring break, I've taken the advantage of the weekend to dive into painting rooms that my children had managed to dilapidate.  So I'm re-lapidating them.   Ah, the smell of paint!

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

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Miser Family update: lions, muscles, planets, jobs, and pix[]lated stuff

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household.   On Friday, March crept in like a sleepy lion, quietly covering the land with a soft blanket of snow, and then curling herself into a ball with her nose tucked under her tail, and slept.  Then, on Saturday, March got up on her feet and roared a hairy new blizzard of snow and ice into the landscape.  It's been a nice day to stay inside and work on my taxes, and how often do you get to say that?

But as I wrote last week, our February ended with a fantastic celebration of Black History Month.  It was so good to have so many kids back in the house (and, not kidding, to know they'd soon all go away again.  Yeah).  But while they were here, J-son did push-ups with K-daughter on his back, and then we compared muscles, and we had a bunch of good old goofiness. 

Thanks, I-daughter, for taking these photos!
I didn't realize until I saw this photo that he's doing this with fists, instead of flat hands.

N-son seems so happy at his school, but he also got to appreciate the fine things of home: Sunday morning waffles, sleeping in his own bed, going to the gym to play basketball with his friends, having his niece A-child make a big deal over him.

Speaking of A-child, K-daughter texted me to say,
A-child and I have been studying our solar system this week. We decided we would make a mobile of the planets to hang in her room. She is so thrilled that she knows the names of all nine (yes, NINE, pluto ftw)

Later in the week, J-son called, and even through the phone you could hear him grinning ear-to-ear.  He's got a summer job!  He'll be a counsellor at a sleep away camp. He's really good with kids, and he's really looking forward to living more on his own, so this is a wonderful next step.  And his first regular job!

My husband has mostly been within 250 miles of home this week, which I guess counts as not traveling at all, by his standards.  Museum conferences down in D.C., protests in Philly, a bunch of book groups and torah studies, and such were his out-of-house activities; and inside the house he got to be the one to oversee our new refrigerator delivery.  He also walks me to work and makes dinner when I get home.  I think I'm just about the luckiest spouse alive sometimes.

As for me, I'm learning that I never, ever, ever want to get a job as a copy editor --- but I'm super grateful for the job my copy editor is doing on our book.  Apparently, I still can't spell pixelated/pixilated/pixalated . . . but my copy editor can.  So yay for that!  And in my copious spare time* I've been starting to repaint some of the rooms in our home that used to have kids but now just have dents in the walls.   But soon the dents will be gone, just like the kids are, with the difference being that it's a lot more fun to have the kids come back every now and then.
* joke.

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