Friday, March 27, 2020

Traffic jam on the way to work

Since March 6, my commute to "work" (from my living room, where I read the paper, up to the Command Center on the second floor), has looked pretty much like this:
 Pretty sweet commute, even if it is uphill, I think.

Today, however, I got stuck in a traffic jam.

Rush hour, man.  It's the pits.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Miser Family update: returning home version

What a week it's been here in Miser-Family-Land!  Even ignoring the outside world, life here has been fulsome.   For one thing, several of my far-flung family members are now near-flung again.

N-son returned from his voyages up and down the east coast of the U.S., and he's settling back into life in his new apartment.  While he'd been gone, I bought him some shelving, and since he's gotten back, I gifted him with a baking pan for pizza, but he's still managed to make it all the way back over to our home (all 1.3 blocks of walking) for a couple of dinners and waffle breakfasts.

My husband, who had been traveling Europe and the middle east for 5 weeks, spent the first part of the week getting a first-hand look at how Paris was progressively clamping down on its city life.  And then he had a completely lovely and uneventful trip home, and he is back in the U.S. now where obviously he is perfectly safe from any threat from here on out.  Phew
My chalkboard, listing the places my husband visited this past trip.
He says he would have visited more places,
but he cut his itinerary down because of international news.

Yes.  Even if the news weren't full of giant red balls of danger pulsing all over our maps, our lives would have been interesting.  But the giant red danger balls are everywhere on the internet, and of course that affects us, too. 

Evil doorknobs.

There is a bit of anxiety, but on the whole we seem, mostly, to be handling things well so far.  I-daughter already owned the t-shirt that proclaims knitting readiness.    Because of my own canning proclivities, I already happen to be sitting on top of a basement full of food.   And it's not too bad for me to be "stuck" at home; as one of my students wrote to me, "It feels like house arrest except a lot better because I don't need to deal with the existential angst of having actually committed a crime. . . . we are all supposed to be practicing social distancing (hah, like that's hard for an introvert like me). "

I've done bits of what I can.  I filled out my census forms, so no one has to come to our home in person.  I donated blood.  And then I dove into trying to teach math to people I can't see. 

I'm realizing increasingly that I just won't be able to teach "synchronously".  Every time I've attempted this so far, someone's internet has bugged out (sometimes mine), so I'm developing videos and modules that my students can do whatever the heck time zone they're in, wherever they want, and whenever their wifi cooperates..

And I peek at the outside.  I got this very nice email from my former host daughter, Y, now in med school:
One of the most frustrating parts of life recently is that there is such a need while I'm "only a student" (aka can't see patients on my own, etc.). HOWEVER, I'm pretty excited now because I'm going to my first hotline shift at CHOP/UPenn tomorrow! Will probably be there for a few hours every week taking calls so the physicians can actually get back to their work in the hospital (not in the call center).
 The one of us who loves this situation the most is Prewash, who gets to have me home all day, and who (especially as the weather warms up) gets to sit on the front porch and offer love to passers by.  I can't touch my friends, but all the experts say petting dogs is still okay, and so our dog and our neighbors take advantage of that social-distance-loophole.

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be rich in our adventures.  We wish you and yours the best in these unusual times.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Evil doorknobs

Context:  K-daughter at the doctors' office, getting (per routine) a checkup because she's expecting a child in June.  She is highly anxious because coronavirus, plus anxiety, plus coronavirus, plus pregnant, plus coronavirus . . . 

K:  The lady had on gloves but then forgot something and touched the door knob amyway. I'm going to die 😭

M:  The evil doorknob!
You know how you painted us light switch covers? Maybe we should paint our doorknobs so they have evil faces. That'd be cool.

K: Hahahahaha that would be funny

M:  Yeah, now I really want to do this.  I just might . . .
 [snip snip snip snip . . . ]

K:  HAHAHAHAAA YES!!!! that's awesome

Friday, March 20, 2020

A few stories from the rescue mission now

Every Tuesday, I help serve breakfast at our local rescue mission.

What does it mean to "shelter in place", when you don't have a place?  It can be tough.  One of the residents there has been especially dear to me for a while -- I just realized that I met him almost a year ago, last spring (and wrote about him in this blog post).   "Phil" is someone who'd checked himself in at the mission because he's deliberate about turning his life around.  He's going through recovery; he's taking courses at a nearby school; he's figuring out how to make amends to his family.  Phil, sitting at the breakfast table with 90 other people around us in the room tells me earnestly, "I'm lucky.   I have a place to be."  He means it.

When he said that to me this past Tuesday, he was contrasting himself with another one of our friends, whom I'll call Beverly.  I've known Beverly for something like 20 years now; she had a job as a fundraiser for a large nonprofit when I first met her.  A series of One-Bad-Thing-After-Another happened.  She lost her job.  Both of her parents got sick, and she spent a few years taking care of them as their condition worsened, and then she suffered the loss of them both.  At some point, she couldn't pay her rent anymore; she has a medical condition that leads to intermittent seizures, and -- after one of these landed her in a hospital -- she was taken to the mission. 

It was an odd experience to see one of my good friends show up in the breakfast line, let me tell you.  The first week this happened, she didn't look at me, and I just let her pass.  The second week, I took a break from serving and went to sit with her while she ate.  A time or two since, she's come over to my home for a shower.  But she hasn't texted me much in the last few months, and she's not a big breakfast person so I haven't seen her in a few months.  I get most of my news about her from Phil these days.

Beverly isn't one of the long-term residents with her own room in the shelter.  She is one of the many who has overnight shelter only.  Churches and the YWCA open up space at night for people to come in and sleep; and then during the day, these places return to their normal function.  So during the day, Beverly is outside.  Until recently, she could go to the library, hang out at coffee shops.  Now, outside really means outside.  Thank goodness it's getting warmer, but still.  The other morning, when it was raining and I was hanging around at home, thinking about how hanging around at home has to be my new normal for a while, I reminded myself to be grateful for my roof and and my walls and my indoor plumbing. 

Another of my friends at the mission, Mary, is much in the same situation as Phil.  Physically, she's got a place to stay.  She has nearby family who she used to go visit once a week, but her sister now refuses to see her because of fears that Mary will be exposed to COVID-19.  I completely understand the sister.  But I also see how devastating that is for Mary.  And so, when my own kids come over for dinner, or when they text me with pictures of awesome arts and crafts they've been working on, I say my own little thank you for a family that can gather together.

Right now, by the way, our rescue mission has lots of food.  The fact that large state schools nearby have shut down suddenly means that their dining halls equally suddenly off-loaded a bunch of food.  We actually had a more sumptuous breakfast by far than in the previous months. 

The dining hall is going to change, though.  Tuesday morning, the staff was talking about moving to bagged meals, because we can't have 90 or 100 people sitting together anymore.  It's not clear how long volunteers will be welcome -- someone's going to have to put all those bagged meals together, but bringing in outsiders is still one of those uncertainties we're navigating.  For now, I'm still allowed to go help, and I'll try to do that as long as I'm symptom-free.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Making my bed, revisited

Here's a blog post that I started a few weeks back, during "normal" times.  It makes me smile, so I'm posting it now.

The metal bed frame that my husband and I have used for the 2+ decades of our marriage has 5 wheels, one in the center of the bed, and that one has been attached with duct tape for some years now. 
A metal bar with a duct-taped wheel trying to escape while it still can.

The duct-tape worked better than you might imagine.  Also what worked better than expected is a twisty tie that held that middle bar to the surrounding frame.

Well, that is, the fix worked well until it didn't.   I think moving to a new house put additional pressure on this whole set-up, and recently the twisty ties (and then, eventual actual nut that I purchased in a fit of adult responsibility) would sometimes come apart.  But stressing one part of a system puts stress on other parts of a system, and the middle strut of the frame didn't like the duct-taped wheel, and as a result it started cracking a bit. A few weeks ago, I decided that it's getting close to the time to suck it up and go buy a new bed frame. Sigh.
You can't quite see it, but there's a crack in that metal strut on the floor.
Replacing this bed frame involves a bunch of things I hate to do (which, of course, is why I've devised creative -- if eventually ineffective -- ways to keep this bed frame hanging together).  First and foremost, it would mean going to a store, one of those places that seems more and more to me like Temples to the Gods of Consumption.  Driving my car, parking in giant parking lots devoid of trees or grass, wandering through massive boxy Aisles of Excess increasingly makes me feel like a worshiper of Baal or the equivalent.  Second, it would mean purchasing something made out of precious resources from our finite Earth.  So in addition to damaging my soul, I'd also be scarring the planet.  And thirdly, of course, there's also the whole spending-money-thing.  You can see why I was making do with duct tape and twisty ties.  (And seriously, they really did work well for a few years!).

Then, in what seems  like a completely different story, at the end of February I reminded my running buddies that this day would be their last chance to have a Saturday Leap Day run until 2048, at which point I might not even be organizing the Saturday runs any more. In spite of that awesome inducement, only one of my buddies showed up.  This particular running buddy, like me, tends to be frugal.  (My favorite story about her is that for several years she and her husband shared their one pair of running shoes, because they happen to have the same size feet.  The only problem they had with that, she told me, is that they could never run together).  

We had a really nice 10K run up and down the rolling hills in our city and a nearby park. And toward the end, as we were chuffing our way along the 300-block of West Nearby Street, we passed a metal bed frame at the curb with a sign saying "free! Queen/King bed frame".   I should add that the 300-block of West Nearby Street is the closest point on our run to my own home:  only one block away from my house, in fact.    It was as though miraculous beings had placed this bed frame in our path, just at the time I needed it.  

It's like Deux ex Machina, really. 
My running buddy and I cut our run short by about two or three blocks, and we carted this bed frame back to my house, getting in a little bit of a strength workout in the process.  

So guess what? We have a new (to us), much more stable bed frame now. (It has 6 wheels!)  And no stores, and no pointless squandering of the Earth's resources, and no money spent.  Sometimes, life is unexpectedly wonderful, you know?

The Tuesday after I found the bed frame, I went, as usual, to the soup kitchen where I serve breakfast once a week.  Before we serve, we sit down together for a breakfast of our own, and this day I sat down next to a guest/worker at the mission who was counting out wads of bills.  He'd just come into some money and was getting ready to go buy shoes and a suit, he told me.  I started telling the table about the saga of the bed frame.  When our meal was over and we were getting up to go work in the kitchen, the guy came over to me and said, "I'm glad to hear you found that frame.  Before you got to that part of the story, I was getting ready to hand you $50 so you could just go buy one."

Aww.  I really don't deserve how lucky I am sometimes, to be surrounded by so many caring, sharing people.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

It's been a zoo around here.

Life has been something else this week, let me tell you. 

It's hard to believe this is the same week that started with clock changes leading to sleep deprivation, because by now that seems forever ago.   The week before spring break is always pretty tough on students, because professors pile on the midterms; and it's tough on professors, because students keep giving us so much darned stuff to grade.  This year, though, I think I was actually grateful for the normalcy of stressful midterms. 

Last weekend, my college's ITS people started holding classes online teaching, and Tuesday we discovered those classes were going to be more immediately useful than we thought.  Friday, as I finished up my calculus class, my students hugged me as they left.  Part of me wanted to say, "social distance!", but another part of me just wanted to love these kids heading off into uncertainty, the spring break that means the end of face-to-face classes. So I hugged them right back.  I'll teach them from afar, but I might not see them in person again. 

In the afternoon, I brought the dog into my office and announced "Puppy hours" for any students still stuck on campus.  Students came and sat on my floor with Prewash and showed me pictures of their dogs back home.  My students from China are particularly anguished.  If they return home, as some of their parents are clamoring for them to do, it's possible they won't be able to access the internet and be able to continue with their classes; if they stay here, they still can't meet with me face-to-face, and so they're even more isolated than their classmates who have nearby families.   But I also have US-based students for whom home is close to homelessness, whose internet is iffy at best.  All I could offer them was dog hair.  You know, you offer what you can.

French toilet paper.
And at the same time, I feel like Auden's plowman in Musee des Beaux Arts, whistling along happily behind my plow while Icarus plunges into the sea.  Because aside from the fact that my teaching style is going to have to turn completely upside down starting 8 days from today, life is pretty darned good here.  N-son is still tooling around New England with his brother-in-law, happily installing giant doors in the sides of giant buildings.   K-daughter and her family are loving their new home.  My husband is enjoying Paris a heck of a lot more than the newspapers seem to indicate he should.  He sent me this lovely picture from France: unlike in the U.S, he says, stores there still have lots of toilet paper.  I wrote back,
You don't have to bring toilet paper from France; we're very well supplied in this house.  Not only did my sister start our supply off well*, but I knocked over a little old man at Walmart and grabbed the rolls from his cart, so we have extra we can sell on the black market.
*[by giving me toilet paper for Christmas] 

But he knew I wasn't telling the truth about all of that; I'd never shop at a big store.  

And then, there was the Zoo Dinner, a family tradition we celebrate in March.  It was a bit of a smaller family than usual (and by "a bit", I mean that instead of 6 or 8 of us, there were 3 of us), but we still did the meal up proud.  I-daughter wore her tiger tights,
 and we ate turkey ham-bear-gers . . .
 . . . and a boa constrictor . . .
 and salad and bear poop (chocolate cupcakes).  And we turned the chairs around and ate through the bars  . . .
 . . . which is not easy, let me tell you. 

So I'm really pretty comfortable now.  My exams are graded, my internet works, my dog is feeling well-loved, and I have enough leftovers to tide me over for weeks if not months.  With any luck, I'll be able to figure out this week what I can do to try to help out with people who aren't quite as well off as I am.  I don't remember which author I was reading recently who pointed out that a situation like this is gives us a chance to make a real difference in our communities --- to respond with compassionate courage, rather than fear.  I think I'm up for that challenge.

And that's the news from our family.  May you and yours take care of yourselves and the people around you.  

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Miser family update

Life in the Miser Family continues to be rich and full of adventures.

Me & A-child, when I made the long, long
trek to their new house this past weekend.
I could pretend to complain.  My very own daughter, K-daughter, broke my heart by moving so far away . . . I used to be able to walk a couple of blocks to her apartment, but now her house is 4 miles from me, with no sidewalks along many of the roads and no bus route that way.  So now if I want to see her, I have to get on a bike or in a car.  I can't believe she did this to me.

And J-son, I texted and emailed him with "how are you"s and "I miss you"s, and eventually he wrote back this highly informative message: 
I'm good. How about you?
So that's how J-son is.

But in fact, I somehow managed to make it all the way to K-daughter's house (and she made it all the way to mine, but more on that below).  And I got to talk by phone with J-son and with his former foster mom; he actually is doing well, helping her with stuff like painting her basement floor and applying for jobs with OVR (Office of Vocational Rehabilitation) and sounding confident and happy.  So maybe complaining is right out. 

Prewash has her ear to the ground for good tax advice.
It'd be easier to complain about miscalculating stuff with my taxes.  I uploaded a pdf of my W2 into Turbo Tax and entered in all the charitable donations for the year and described the financial aspects of selling our former house, and I crunched the numbers and discovered to my horror that somehow we owe the IRS a bit more $24,000 this year.  THAT was an uncomfortable and unpleasant surprise, let me tell you.  I couldn't figure out why my withholding was so far off this year . . . and then I looked back and discovered that TurboTax had uploaded all the right numbers for my W2, but they'd put some of them in the wrong boxes . . . so that it looked liked I'd earned my whole salary, and then I'd earned it again in tipsWhoops!  Once I carefully corrected my W2 information, all of a sudden the IRS owed us money back.  So . . . again, hard to complain about the misery of my life. 

N-son called; he's having a blast with L-daughter and her husband Pete.  N-son has been a sidekick in Pete's business these past few weeks, traveling around and installing doors.  They installed some "speed doors" (kind of like garage doors, but speedy, I guess?) for the CEO in the headquarters of Very Well Known Bank.  So cool. 

And my husband?  He's still bopping around the world, discovering new places to ride a bike and new people to ride with.  Here's a bit of a recent email to me:
Today I rode up a 2,000-foot climb in Athens. Because it was Sunday and the eve of a national holiday, the only bike I could get easily was a wooden bike!  Seriously. The frame is ash. One ash tree is enough wood to make 50 bikes and the company plants 50 trees for each one they harvest. So I rode a wooden bike up and down a winding road on a mountain on the west side of Athens. It was heavy and the easiest gear was not quite easy enough, but I made it. 
I just thought you would like know that I rode a wooden bike!! Definitely recyclable.
I also walked up to the Acropolis to the Parthenon.  So I am getting exercise.

I think I recognize this place.
And back here on the homestead, I discovered two new (to me) recipes: twice-baked potatoes, and "beet balls" (like meat balls, but with veggies instead of hamburger).  Since my CSA keeps giving me so many vegetables I can't eat them all by myself, I was delighted that all of my kids within a 4-mile radius got to come over for a Leap Day Dinner at the end of February. 

What do we eat at a Leap Day dinner, you ask? 

(Actually twice-baked potatoes with carrot ears and cauliflower tails).

Leap Frog faces!
(Actually empanadas, stuffed with beet balls).

And leaf-year salad! And popcorn!  And spring water!
(Sorry for the jumpy picture).
We had an awesome time, hopping origami frogs around the table and into various food dishes. 

What else?  I wrote my husband to give him the news that I've changed the locks on him.  They're combination locks, and I haven't changed the combination, but I installed door locks with buttons that are easier to see in the twilight hours.  I figure, if I can complain that my daughter moved so far away, I ought to let my husband complain that his wife changed the locks while he was away.

I picked up a book, Garbage Land, from a Little Free Library . . . reading this book is getting me even weirder about avoiding garbage than before, if such a thing is possible.  Sheesh.  Family, you've been warned.

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