Monday, July 29, 2019

Diderot love seats

A bunch of years back, there was a dude named Denis D. who wore an old  robe around the house a lot.  It wasn't elegant, but it was kind of comfy.  He wrote,
My old robe was one with the other rags that surrounded me. A straw chair, a wooden table, a rug from Bergamo, a wood plank that held up a few books, a few smoky prints without frames, hung by its corners on that tapestry. 
His robe was kind of beat up, but that meant he didn't mind using the corner of it to mop up minor spills or fix smudges he'd made.  

My homemade Adiriondack Love Seat with wheels.  Yes!
And analogously, a bunch of years back, I made an Adirondack love seat (with wheels!) out of old fence boards. It wasn't elegant (indeed, my uncle described it and the other chairs I built as "hav[ing] just a hint of medieval torture in their looks"), but it was a great place to lounge in, in my spacious back yard.

I'd sit on this chair and read the paper, while Prewash checked out rabbits.

But Denis got a new robe, and I moved to a house with a really nice porch. And for each of us, this started a cascade. For poor old Denis, he realized that nothing in his house matched the elegance of his new robe, and so he ended up replacing all sorts of his shabbier things with fancier things. As he put it,
I was the absolute master of my old robe. I have become the slave of the new one.
In fact, this idea that getting one nice new thing inspires us to extend ourselves to upgrade everything else around us -- that idea that Denis D. wrote about -- has been named in his honor the "Diderot Effect".

For Denis Diderot living in France in the late 1700's, social norms about what was "elegant" or not were much more tightly defined than in my own day and age, and for him the main way to ratchet up the elegance factor was to purchase expensive stuff.  As a result, he pinpointed the new robe as the beginning of a spiral that led him into debt.
 A hundred times along the way he calculated on his fingers the size of his fortune and had arranged for its use. And now all of his hopes have vanished; he has barely enough to cover his naked limbs.

For me, I'm fortunate to live in age where thrift shops and yard sales spew out fancy goods that are nearly free for the taking, and where a mixture of cultures and economic classes allow for a wider approach to decorative styles.   Still, the Adirondack Love Seat, up on my nice brick porch, did not belong.  (My new neighbor admitted that he'd been taken aback to see it there:  "It looked like it belongs on a beach or something", he charitably offered.   He's more tactful than my uncle).

Instead of getting a new porch seat, though (or even a "new to me" porch seat), I grabbed the jigsaw to trim the wild edges:  the planks of the love seat are now topped by initials, a candle, a flower, an eye, a mistake, a heart, an owl, and more initials.  And then, paint: bold, contrasting colors of paint, purple, orange, and green.  I'm going for the "sin boldly" form of  aesthetics.  Paint is an awesome invention, I tell you.

I am kind of in love with this chair.  I'm sitting on it right now, in fact, typing away while Prewash eats her breakfast and wags her tail at passing pedestrians. She likes to play "Titanic", putting her front feet on the porch wall, leaning out across the prow.  And I get to sit here, reading the paper and typing on my computer, watching her and my neighbors and taking in all the morning sounds, sitting on a chair that I made and painted all by myself.  Other people seem to appreciate the chair, too: I get a lot of compliments on the purple.  

The chair from the street. 
We still have a few cardboard boxes stacked up
there toward the left side of the picture.
I'm trying to be careful to not let this nice new house coerce me into a spiral of non-miserly spending.  And in spite of numerous recent trips to the hardware store and so-called-thrift shops, I feel like I've been mostly successful so far.   Thanks, Denis D., for providing cautionary (and eloquent) tales!   

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Miser Family Update

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household.  In particular, the "house" part of "household" has played a large role in our lives.

Last week, I spent much of the week moving just about all our earthly possessions out of the house-hold and into the garage-hold.  Any pretensions I had toward having minimalist tendencies were drilled out of me as I packed and carried box after box after box, and as I had friends help me lug multiple pieces of heavy furniture.

Meanwhile, as I was disassembling the dining room table, my husband celebrated the international year of the periodic table in the birthplace of Primo Levy.  On Thursday last, as I packed up the last few bits, took Prewash to a friend's house, and headed for a nearby hotel, my guy started his long (26-hour) journey home.  He had plane cancellations and rebookings, train break downs, and other adventures.  He made it to the hotel sometime around midnight.

On Friday the 19th, as temperatures climbed their way toward new highs for this year, we went to one title agency and sold our home.  Then we lived out of our car for an hour.  (Actually, we went to my air-conditioned office, because internet + comfort).   Then we went to a second title agency and bought our new home.  We went out for lunch, picked up a moving van with two hand trucks, and started carting the first load of stuff from Old House to New House. 

At 3 p.m., a group of friends and church mates showed up and started carting things from the garage into the truck.  Since it had taken me something like two months to get everything moved (wedged) in there, I knew it was going to take forEVER to move it over -- I'd organized things so urgent stuff was toward the street, and things we could wait a month or so to move were furthest back.   I was very glad that we'd arranged with the new owners to be able to leave stuff in the garage until August.

And yet, many hands really do make speedy work, and we ended up moving almost all of the boxes and shelves and such into the next load in the truck.  Unpacking was also easier than I'd thought; new neighbors showed up and lent a hand.  We sweated our way through moving things on a nearly-100-degree day.  The next load of the truck, which basically finished off the garage, was even faster.   We picked up Prewash at 9 p.m. and fell asleep in the heat and humidity of our new house soon after.

The next day, N-son came to visit, and he helped me use a pulley system to get the box spring upstairs (it wouldn't fit around the corner of our top stair case).  That pulley was probably the most intellectually satisfying part of the move!

Since then, I've spent my week happily bouncing back and forth between work (last round of page proofs, preparing for upcoming math meetings) and unpacking and setting up the house.  Almost everything is out of boxes now.  My husband's job in all this (which is to admire my progress and exclaim over how nice things look) is going well.   He also got to go to his every-five-year flavor of medical appointment, where the doctor said he's beautiful on the inside.  He would like me to say that he was pooped.

We know the mail works, because we got a lovely card from our daughter and from my sister.   I got to spend an evening playing a local version of Monopoly with I-daughter, who is psyched about spinning two skeins for the Tour de Fleece.  I admit I haven't been as good at staying in touch with K-daughter or J-son. 

And . . . HUGE kudos to L-daughter, who passed her thesis defense!  We've got a new doctor in the family!  I'm so proud.

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Scenes from Cardboard Box Land

Sun rising over a living room full of boxes.
The more stuff I get out of my house, the messier my house becomes.  It's really kind of fascinating.
Getting rid of some of my stuff at a neighborhood yard sale.
I've been really enjoying this process of packing up: thinking about what I own, observing what happens as things in closets become de-closeted, etc.  I know that packing and moving can be really stressful, but I've decided to look at this as a way of learning about myself and my material culture.  I'm kind of Spock-ish, thinking all sorts of situations are fascinating.  And plus, I get to play a 3D tetris with the things I own.

One of the huge advantages I have is a giant garage; I can move packed-up boxes out there.   So you'd think that the house would become emptier and emptier as the garage fills up . . . and in a way, that's true.   The upstairs rooms and the basement are emptying out nicely.   But meanwhile, the rooms we use (on the first floor) are increasingly chaotic.   As I said: fascinating

We sold everything for 25¢ each,
or $1 per bagful/armful.  
We're not only using the garage, of course.  We're also storing a bunch of our stuff "in the cloud":  taking it to thrift shops, or even selling it at a neighborhood yard sale.  I know enough about yard sales to know that things disappear best if there's a small cost -- so we charged 25¢ per item.  I also know that once people have decided to take one thing, the barrier is broken: so beyond the initial fee, we offered a bulk-buyer's discount:  $1 per bagful/armful.   We ended up making $32.67, plus a pair of boots for me and an iPhone radio for K-daughter.

A friend who came to the yard sale wrote me a few days later, kind of in awe.  She said,
I will always remember the public teacher who cleaned you out of water bottles, including the one in your hand, all for $1. I have told this story a few times already. Most folks don't know that many of [our city] schools are without air conditioning. What a sorry state of affairs.
 There were a few things we offered for free.  My favorite was A-child's playhouse, the sign for which made lots and lots of people smile.
The sign reads, "Awesome Kid Playhouse.   Pre-tested!  It works!!"
Plus, "Free!  Free!  Free!"
People really loved the sign.
 And, of course, even more importantly we cleared out a lot of space:  we started with a bunch of full boxes, and ended up with mostly empty boxes to take back home and fill up (including one box that looked suspiciously like a playhouse).

I have kind of fallen in love with "paper tape":  the brown tape with fibers in it that I have to wet down myself.   One thing I love about it is that it isn't plastic.  In addition, I've learned to love the tactile feel of it: pressing it against the cardboard and feeling it latch on and nestle up to the box.   I like to smooth it out with my fingers and feel it almost melt into the box. 

It feels odd to live in a space this messy.
I'm savoring the unusual experience.
In addition to the garage storage and the brown tape, another aspect of moving that I am grateful for is that my husband is spending the last week before we move in Italy.  I tend to be a tad bit (okay, extremely) opinionated about exactly how things work, and this trip of his therefore is likely to preserve our marriage.  All of the picky last-minute decisions: they're going exactly as I want them to.  He's happy galavanting about Europe and hobnobbing with friends.  I'm guessing I'm even happier finding just-the-right-sized box for a set of pyrex storage dishes (stored with lids on, of course), and making a helpful label, and smoothing the paper tape onto things, and then playing tetris with the box out in the garage.  Ahhhhh.

The thing about packing like this is: there's always one thing more.  Or eight things more.  So much stuff to do just screaming out at me.  For someone like me, who savors the moment of finishing things -- snapping shut the book when I get to the last page, filling in the last square of the crossword puzzle, putting the QED box at the end of a proof -- this house is a constant screaming horde of tasks begging me to pay attention to them.  Just box up this one more shelf.  Just unscrew this one thing from the wall.  I am addicted.  I'm ignoring so much other work I'm supposed to do.  How this calls to me:  fascinating.

The only thing left to pack up from this room is a dog.

I only get to play like this for a few more days.  We move on Friday.  So this game ends, and a new game will begin, as objects emerge from their boxes and find new places in the new home.  I'm so excited.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Solar Cabbage

My mom was a solar astrophysicist who worked for NASA.  She studied solar flares and solar gamma rays; she led a team that designed equipment that floated on giant hot air balloons, looking at the edge of the sun, hoping to see flares and gamma ray bursts.   Very late in her life, she actually got to put one of her instruments on a rocket payload.   

So my mom was a rocket scientist, back in the day when being a rocket scientist was even more brainy than being a brain surgeon.  And when people say things like, "Explain this [technical material] so that your mother could understand", well, they didn't know my mother.

As the kid of an astrophysicist, I knew only bits and pieces of actual physics.  I knew that every 11 years, we'd have super busy times (because apparently that's how often those sun spots and gamma rays become super active).  I knew that when my mom talked about "proposals", she meant grant proposals and not marriage proposals.  I knew how to count up to 31 on one hand, by counting in binary (although that might have been the influence of my dad, who was a nuclear physicist).

My mom's biggest direct impact on my career was probably the Xerox machine, which was brand new in her office.  (We still had mimeograph machines at school: the kind with purple ink).  I loved the magic of xeroxing things:  my sisters and I would draw things on our hands and copy them; we'd close our eyes and xerox our faces.   I also loved helping the cafeteria ladies in the basement of her building wipe down tables after lunch; they'd give me ice cream afterwards.  Maybe that's why I volunteer at the soup kitchen still.  

Indirectly, though, as a kid I was kind of fascinated by the possibilities of solar power.  I had the idea that when I grew up, I'd build a solar-powered 18-wheeler truck and drive around the country, giving presentations to school kids.  My mom had nothing to do with solar powered technology, so this fantasy was all me.  Clearly, my 18-wheeler never materialized.  But those early fantasies might explain part of why I keep building my own homemade solar ovens.  

The first solar oven I built about a decade ago was essentially two cardboard boxes with a storm window.  I'd found a small black pot at a yard sale (25 cents, of course), and built out from that:  a small foil-lined cardboard box that holds the pot, a bunch of newspaper insulation, and a larger cardboard box for the outside.  That worked really well, until the squirrels ate the box.  

A black pot baking in the sun.
By "really well", I mean it heated things up to about 200 degrees, as long as they fit in that small black pot.  It was a great system for low-heat projects: melting wax, slow-cooking.  Not so good for things like spaghetti that required actual boiling, or anything that needed crispness.  Oh, but it could cook eggs!  That was cool.

Last summer, I started "up-grading".  I have a larger black pot -- one that I use for our Thanksgiving turkey -- and I build a wooden box that can hold it.  I built the box so that it exactly holds a particular old storm window, and has a slightly slanted top.  That was last summer; this summer I added the reflective insulation (newspaper wrapped in aluminum foil), and then I spent *real money* and bought caster wheels that I screwed on underneath.  

This is before I screwed wheels on;
the solar oven is sitting on a wheeled toy so I can move it about.
Truth be told, I like the idea of the solar oven more than I like the food that comes out of it, at least so far.  I don't do a lot of slow-cooking in the summer.   But I did try a recipe of cabbage with cheese baked on it.  The recipe would probably be even better if it were in a very hot oven so things got crispy -- but the solar version was okay. 

Cheese-y solar cabbage

As a hobby, solar ovens are cheap and easy things to build.  Our next house has a back patio with a southern exposure, so I'm really looking forward to trying out a few more recipes and seeing how they come out. 

Maybe this blog post is my version of taking my truck "on the road".  My solar oven doesn't have 18 wheels, and it's not going to go around visiting school kids, but I'm kind of tickled by it anyway. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Miser Family update: surprises and boxes edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.   My life is particularly full of cardboard boxes right now . . . packing things up seems to be occupying all my time and thoughts, even though I'm kinda supposed to be writing a grant proposal and preparing a workshop for the upcoming math meetings.  But no, boxes.  Empty boxes.  Heavy boxes.  Boxes and boxes.  I'm having so much fun!

In other news, my guy discovered the hard way that if you get out of a fancy rental car while the engine is still on, and if  drop your keys out of your pocket, the car keeps running, and you can totally drive away with the keys on the ground.  But the next time you try to start the car, it doesn't.   So you have to walk back to where you dropped the keys, get them, and walk back to the car before the meter reader comes and gives you a fine for parking illegally.

Annnnd, I-daughter discovered that if you donate blood you can get a scary shirt.
"Kind of horror-movie... But I like it" she says
And J-son says that the best part of being a camp counsellor is "the kids".  And the worst part of being a camp counsellor is "the kids".  He tells me, "They're kind of starting to act up now."  Me, I think, heh heh heh.  I myself have never had kids that act up, but if I had, I'd think it was kind of poetic justice if they had to see what it was like from the other side.  I'm sure he'll be fine. 

K-daughter is traveling to the Poconos this weekend, but before she did, she and A-child stopped by to help me pack boxes.  (Did I mention I'm kind of surrounded by them right now?)  A-child helped carry empty boxes downstairs so we could pack them, and then she helped torment the dog, and so then I had her help me scrub a very dusty/musty cabinet.

Speaking of the dog, Prewash walked downtown with me last night to attend the Lights for Liberty rally in our city, protesting the way children being separated from their parents and placed in horrid conditions.  Prewash mostly entertained the small children at the rally, who loved that she let them rub her belly and touch her tail.  I signed petitions, but Prewash didn't.

What else?  Yesterday morning I thought I had a terrible splinter in my foot, making it really painful to walk.  After taking my shoe off to inspect my foot a couple of times, I finally realized there was a tack in my shoe, and taking that thumbtack out "cured" the splinter immediately.  Very satisfying!

As I pack up this week, I get to do it solo:  my husband is in Turin, Italy, celebrating the year of the Periodic Table.  He writes,
Turin is the city where Primo Levi lived and worked as a chemist before and after being deported to Auschwitz.  This year is the centennial of his birth, so the conference is a celebration of the Centennial of Levi and the Sesquicentennial of Mendeleev. 

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

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Miser Family Update: Accomplished edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.  This week we've been particularly profuse with achievement and accomplishment.
Twenty dance dangles

For example, N-son passed his tractor driving test.  Isn't that cool? N-son can drive a tractor.

Also, K-daughter set up an IRA.  Herself!  Way to go, K-daughter!

And my husband, he's back to biking the training ride.  He's not super fast, but he can do the whole distance; I'm so impressed at his speedy knee-covery after his surgery.

Oooh, and I got the page proofs back to our publisher . . . this was a bigger job than I thought it would be, and I'm super glad it's done.

I-daughter has a plethora of accomplishments this week.  For example, you are probably already glued to the unfolding hoopla over the famous Tour de Fleece . . . well, she's entered the competitions, and is ready to begin spinning yarn on her new wheel.  (I don't know if the leader gets to wear the yellow jersey/scarf/shawl/socks, or what).

But she's also had a marvelous time at her 20th Square Dance National Convention.  She's flaunted her 20 dangles.  Still, the part of this weekend that I think was the cutest was her late-night card game of "spoons" . . . but with socks instead of spoons, because you make do with what you have, of course.  I'm hoping this 10-second video will load properly:

I-daughter with square dance friends, all holding socks.
In other accomplishment news, my eldest L-daughter tells me her dog had a first.  In her own words,

While I have lived with dogs and cats who have caught many things; rabbits, squirrels, birds, other rodents, and even killing a goose by biting its head off, I have never had a dog catch a fawn. While I was visiting my friend Sandra, in Pittsburgh, who recently had a baby, I received a call from Peter that Guinness had caught a fawn. Through some loud yelling of “no” and “drop it,” both commands Guinness responds to, he let the fawn go and it hopped over our fence, seemingly unharmed, and returned to a mom awaiting it in the woods, just beyond our fence line. Guinness proudly returned to peter with a tuft of deer hair in his mouth. But seriously, never have I had a dog catch a fawn!  
We are in upstate NY this week, so thankfully Guinness and Watson’s soul focus is swimming and fetching their respective toys in the water 

I haven't gotten to talk to J-son recently, but the news from his foster mom is that he's still working REALLY hard and REALLY loving his job at summer camp and that the kids REALLY love him.  Which is all good for a mom's soul.

In other minor random news, I joined in our neighborhood yard sale today, on the selling side.  For about 6 hours of work, I earned $32.67 (plus a pair of shoes and an iPhone radio).   More importantly, I managed to divert a whole bunch of stuff from Landfill Hell, so I'm pleased.  Moving is really playing havoc on our trash can count -- we've put out a can each of the last three weeks, bringing us up to 6 for the year.  Sigh.  Avoiding more trash is an accomplishment I'm glad to notch up.

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

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Any excuse to party

One of my favorite cookbooks that I used when I was growing up was a seriously socially dated 1960's book called, "To the Bride".  (I especially loved that my dad was the primary cook in the house and used its recipes more than I did).  It had advice on how to select tea towels (check the backstitching!) and how to make your home welcoming for your husband . . . and it also had this wonderful introduction to the desserts section:

A tiara to go with my purple dress.
Because I can.
The cookie jar is the most important part of a kitchen.  You can buy a cookie jar to match your kitchen, or plan your kitchen around the cookie jar.  

Do you see why I loved that cook book?

So,  we all know about people who go out and buy an outfit to wear to a party.   But me, I went out and found a party to go with my dress.  It's a purple dress, which I got for a dollar at a yard sale a few years ago.  I almost didn't buy it, because it goes with almost nothing else I own and I didn't have any good excuse to wear a formal-ish gown.  But my host daughter Y reminded me that I love making something out of nothing, and urged me to create the excuse. Hence, the Purple Dress Dinner.

Guests don't have to wear purple dresses, but they can if they want.
The can wear tiaras, too.
Any excuse to party, really.  Any excuse to bring friends and family together.  This year, I had the added excuse of vegetable extravaganza.  Please somebody, help me eat these vegetables before we move!!!!  My friends were super obliging.

Because I'm trying to empty out the fridge and freezer, we had a lot of odd concoctions that ended up working kind of surprisingly well.

For example:  frozen watermelon?  I sliced it into ice cube-sized pieces and we had watermelon water.  

And giant head of fennel?  I got the chance to try a recipe I'd been holding onto, awaiting the day that fennel would come my way.  I'd had some really yummy tandoori shrimp when I was at a math meeting, and so I'd looked up a recipe on the internet (I'm guessing the recipe is not in my dad's copy of  To the Bride), and saw that one of the ingredients was fennel.  Hence my waiting for my CSA to gift me.  Alas, the recipe was a tad short on measurements and proportions:

What is tandoori paste made of?
Mix together salt, cayenne, coriander, chili powder, garlic powder, dry mustard, ginger, turmeric, fennel, cumin, and paprika in a food processor. Add lime juice and yogurt when ready to make a paste; store in refrigerator. You can use it as a rub or marinade.

After dinner, we took a stroll through a nearby park
that has a lovely rose garden.  
My version came out !exciting!tangy!wow!   But what the heck, I added it to the mix of things my friends might want to nibble on . . . and it turned out to be a good nibble.  Also a good nibble: swiss chard salad.  Also, massaged kale salad.  Also, garlic scape pesto.  Also, quiche with escarole.  Also, deviled eggs (okay, so those weren't vegetables, but they were in my fridge).  Also, chocolate rhubarb cupcakes . . . which I totally recommend, by the way.  Oh, and naked cherry juice (left over from canning sweet cherries, no sugar added).

Roses are kind of over-rated in my opinion.
They're really pretty, but they don't all smell as sweet as
other roses (by any name).
That list does sound kind of fancy.  But my dress looks kind of fancy, too, and it was what I happened to have.  

Even more fun was the friends I brought together.  I've been trying to . . . how do I say this?  Diversify my portfolio of social capital.  That is, I've been trying to connect to my community in a lot of different ways.  And somehow this party reminded me of how I'm slowly succeeding.  I had a friend from my garden group, from my neighborhood, from the blogosphere, from my college, from my family, from a completely different part of the college . . . and I didn't even include the running/biking peeps, or my church-mates.  (Maybe next year).   Man, this party made me feel like I'm one of the luckiest people alive.

On the other hand, roses are photogenic.
And they happen to be around.  
One of the best things about our family starting the Special Dinner tradition  a bunch of years back is that it's freed us up to turn almost anything into a party.   Super heroescheck.  Tax Daycheck.  Zoosparty like an animal! 

So huzzah for my $1 purple dress.  And for living near a park that has roses bursting from the ground, and for vegetables that overflow my fridge, and for a bunch of fancy friends to celebrate all of the above with me.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Making David a napkin ring

A pair of my husband's old suspenders, about to be
reincarnated as napkin rings.
A few weeks ago, I went to visit my best friend from childhood.  We live very different lives now, despite our growing up so close.  (And still being close when we see each other, even after all these years, I should add).  One of the big differences is our relationship to money: it's tight for her, and is going to continue to be tight for a while.

Beginning the transition:  draw a name
on the future napkin ring.
My friend and her husband both have relatively lower-middle class jobs.   And my friend's income hasn't been constant the way mine has:  she took a couple of years off of work to care for a child with special needs.  That child is now starting college, and my friend is back at work as a secretary at a nearby university.  But the lost years of income are going to continue to be a big deal for my friend and her family.  Paying for college for both of her kids (even with the help of being employed by a university) will be tough, and she's looking at working for many years -- retirement is far in the future.  In contrast, my husband and I both over-saved for our two sons' educations; my husband is retired now and I'm financially able to retire today if I wanted to -- there are social and other aspects keeping me at my job now.

I don't want to minimize these huge life aspects.  I know they're massive.

Stitch over the ink using a button-hole stitch
At the same time, when I was visiting my friend, I kept noticing ways in which the spending between us was also hugely different. One of the most noticeable was that my friend had three cars for four people.  She lives in a suburban area designed for easy driving and hard walking, and so learning to drive is a crucial rite-of-passage for kids.  Her daughter really didn't want to drive, but she made her daughter learn anyway.  This is a huge contrast with my own beaten-up, 2001 Prius that my husband and I share; it's still the case that of the four of my children who've stayed local, only one drives and/or owns a car.  That's a big difference in expenses right there.

But also, there were many little expenses that were different.  Like, my friend uses paper napkins.  I haven't used those in forEVER, and I was struck by how flimsy and insubstantial they can be.  It gave me another reason to love my full-sized, thick cloth napkins at home.   And that isn't even about cost -- cloth napkins are just nice.  (My daughter -- the one who hangs out with friends who give her Tiffany bracelets because she was the only one in the clique who didn't have one, poor girl -- once observed, "The people who have cloth napkins are either rich people or frugal people".   yeah, that,)
Turn a strip into a ring.

There's something wonderfully hospitable and welcoming about named napkins, too.  My sister has a set of "family napkins" --- she's stitched the names of family members onto the napkins themselves.  She hosts week-long reunions for 30+ people at her place, and everyone gets their own napkin.   She's had her young nieces gaze at the well-worn napkins of older relatives, and remark in awe that "ooh, maybe someday I'll be here often enough that my napkin looks like that."   Having your own napkin, in the culture of my sister's reunions, is a mark of belonging.

In our family, it's not the napkins but the rings that get labelled. My kids do, every once in a while pull out the rings and reminisce over past visitors.  "Remember when Beth was in the house?  Oooh, I miss Ian!  Oh, that's right, the dog chewed J-son's napkin ring up!  I saw Y just the other day; she's taken her first set of boards".  The box of napkin rings is almost like a photo album, without the photos.

And getting a napkin ring of your own . . . well, that's a sign of welcome and acceptance into our clan.  It means you've broken bread with us often, and that we expect you're going to do it again and again.  When K-daughter saw that her friend David had gotten a napkin ring, she was so excited she whipped out her phone, took a picture, and texted him immediately.

So welcome to the Miser clan, David. It's good to have you at the table.