Thursday, December 31, 2020

Three thoughts on . . . Sudoku puzzles

Thought 1. 
In general, I prefer Crossword puzzles, mostly because crossword puzzles can go meta and have themes and be puzzles-within-puzzles.  And because, if I make a mistake in a crossword puzzle, I can figure it out from surrounding clues, but if I make a Sudoku mistake, I basically have to scrap the puzzle and start over, which seems . . . like bad management, I guess?

Thought 2. 
Which might explain why I'm fond of BrainFreeze puzzles (and am a huge Laura Taalman fan, in general) -- because she and other mathematicians create funky variations on Sudoku that make me think hard.  Like this puzzle by David Nacin I started yesterday.  The pink squares have no clues at all, and the white squares have clues between squares iff the sum of adjoining squares is prime.  Ouch, brain hurts in a good way.

Thought 3. 
That all being said, Sudoku is a lot easier to do communally on a chalkboard than a crossword puzzle, because it's so self-contained, so it's more fun to do with other people --- provided you happen to have a chalkboard in your dining room, of course..   I've been getting N-son hooked on the Monday & Tuesday newspaper Sudokus, and having them up on the board makes it easier for us all to work together.  I'll suggest hints, or warn him off of errors, or what-have-you.   It usually takes him a few days, but it's some good back-and-forth entertainment for us.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Mountains of Instead

I kinda have a love-hate relationship with the poetry of W.H. Auden.  I almost wrote that I have a love-hate relationship with Auden himself, but I actually have no idea what he was like as a human being, so I'll zoom on to his poetry . . . which I think is beautiful, or pretentious, or obscure, or maybe all three.  

This is the little blurb I'm mulling over right now:

Clear, unscalable, ahead

Rise the Mountains of Instead

From whose cold cascading streams

None may drink except in dreams.

It's toward the end of a poem about beloved people who aren't here anymore, but also about trolls in the forest, and it hints at being deep and . . . mostly, I really don't like this poem.  But I keep coming back to the Mountains of Instead.  

For some reason, this keeps reminding me of airports.   So many times in my life, I've gotten to experience the dubious blessing of delayed flights -- bad weather, aircraft maintenance, unspecified snags.  And every time I get grounded, I play the game of trying to be the most cheerful person in the airport, which let me tell you, is way too easy to win.  

Part of the way that I play is to imagine in my head that I am in an alternative universe.  There was the other universe, the one where we passengers all got to board the plane, which took off on time---but then the storm hit, or the loose bolt came unfastened, or the over-tired crew made crucial mistakes, and as our plane plummeted toward the earth we all screamed and prayed and wished that the airline had decided not to let the danged plane take off in the first place . . . and now here I am, safely on the ground, in the universe where all those screaming passengers got their wish and the plane was delayed, and we grumbled about it but survived.

It's not like this is a perfect universe, the one that I screamed/prayed/wished my way into.  The pandemic is horrendous, and racism eats away at our society like acid, and my kid has diabetes, and my students are cheating on my exams more than ever.  But in that other universe --- the Universe of Instead --- my kids and my husband would still be facing pandemic-racism-diabetes, and my students would be cheating on someone else's tests, but they'd be doing it without me.  And I'm so glad, when I think back to the airports that have given me so much danged practice at the danged cheerful game, that I'm here to be a bit of a touchstone for my family in these crazy times.

There are so many other Mountains/Universes of Instead.  In 2014, I got two miles into the bike leg of my IronMan Triathlon when my tire popped.  I'd never successfully changed my own tire before, and I'd even thought about not bringing along a spare . . . but a good Samaritan ran over to me to help, and we got my new tire on and (mostly) pumped up, and about 3 miles later I found someone with a pump who got the tire fully inflated.   In the Universe of Instead, my tire popped and I'd spent months and months training just to stall out 4 miles into a 140-mile event.   But in the Universe I get to wake up into now, kind people fixed my tire for me and I get to think, wow, I did an IronMan Triathlon.  I did it.  I really did.  It's something I'm so grateful for.

And yet other Universes of Instead:  My husband crashed his bike in 2007 and broke his neck in three places (plus a few other bones to make a matched set), but somehow we both made it into the Universe where he didn't become a paraplegic, and so we have a house with stairs and we go for walks holding hands, and I think about how I could have been in the Instead Universe where stairs and walks don't happen; but I'm not, I'm here.  There's the Universe where I was too busy to join the book group on "an academic reading of the Old Testament", and my life would have been just fine in that Instead Universe; but actually I'm in the universe where I joined the book group, in which I met a person who introduced me to volunteering for Hospice, where I met a gravely ill patient who had a young child, and then that young child eventually became my own daughter; and it's so much better than "just fine" having her in my life.  

So, Wystan Hugh Auden: thanks for the poem.  And also for the one about How well they knew suffering, those old masters, that tragedy hits in one place while others keep toddling along doin' what they be doin'.  The poems are kind of depressing as all-get-out, but they do, in their own obscure, beautiful way, remind me about the many, many reasons I have to be content in the midst of gloom and hardship.  

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Miser Family update: the weekend of Christmas

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household. We had a very chilly (meeting out on the front porch in spite of the brrrrrrisk weather) passing-of-the-gifts, and it was good to see each other, even if we didn't get hugs.   K-daughter has been especially full of crafting lately, as you can see by this stocking she made herself, and texted to the family a few days before the holiday, . . . 

. . . which started this thread.  Below.  You might recognize the poem a little bit.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a dog;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their new mermaid blankets;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her face mask, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snowman made of TP,
Gave a lustre of baby Yoda to objects below,

When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
 . . .

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

. . .

Except for reading "Ferdinand" via Zoom, he spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Three thoughts on . . . dog ears

The backdrop for these thoughts:  Prewash's ears are soft and floppy and I love them them.   
Thought 1.   
Back in 1986, a dude named Robert Wayne published a paper in Evolution about dogs, wolves, and foxes that I've used in a couple of my classes.  One funky takeaway from this paper:  you can only alter so much about the shape of a dog through selective breeding, even when you've got Chihuahuas and St. Bernards somehow cohabiting the same branch-let of the vast and branch-y species tree.   One of the things you can't alter is the snout-to-skull ratio; pugs and Bulldogs don't have short noses; they have wide faces. 

Another takeway?  "In dogs and other domestic animals, morphologic diversity among adults seems to depend on that expressed during development."  Said more simply, we've bred dogs to be more like puppies than like adult wolves or foxes.  Dogs have big, dote-on-you eyes.  They behave more like young wolves than like "Fang".  Annnnd . . . they often have big, floppy ears.  (Which are soft, so soft.  Adorbs).

Thought 2.
And yet, some people crop dog ears (shudder).  I grew up with Great Danes lumbering about my home; my dad said he liked to have a dog "that you don't have to bend over to pet".  Great Danes naturally have big, floppy ears, but for some reason that I do not understand (and do not want to understand) the powers that be decided that Great Danes should have pointy ears, like the Dane on the left, below.

To get the ears pointy like this, the owners first have to do what you might gently call "surgery", but which really is "mutilation".  And then, to get the ears to do the BatMan thing, you have to bandage and bind the ears with a rack for a bunch of months; and let me tell you, puppies do not like having racks on their heads.

One of the Great Danes I grew up with was named Otello (after Verdi, not after Shakespeare; I grew up thinking Shakespeare had stolen his play ideas from opera instead of the other way around, but that's a different thread of conversation).  Otello was a black Dane, like the ones above, and his breeders cropped his ears before my parents could convince them not to, which left us to try to deal with the bandage/rack apparatus.  The sticks that hold the ears upright dug into Otello's head and created wounds which festered, and we eventually took pity on the beast and stopped using the racks early.  This meant that one of his pointy ears stood mostly straight up, and the other one flopped off to one side, and he looked ridiculously lopsided for all his life.  

But also, y'know, he'd had his ears chopped off.  Which is just many kinds of awful.  Because dog ears are wonderful.

Thought 3. 
It is not just that dog ears are soft and so much fun to pet, it's also that they point in so many directions.  Here is Prewash, asleep last night, imitating Ferdinand the Bull. 

Yes?  Look at those horns!

When she chases a ball, she is so happy running that her ears flap up and down like they're wings; she's Dumbo flying through the air with her favorite tennis ball in her mouth instead of Dumbo's feather.  In fact, I look at her ears to tell when she's had enough exercise:  when her running slows down enough that her ears aren't beating the air anymore but instead are kind of jiggling along for the ride, we'll do another good throw or two, but then I can put the leash on her and lead her happily home.  

Where I can pet her ears to my heart's content.  Because they're so soft.  And floppy.  ahhh.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Miser Family update: cozy version

 Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family.  This week, we're particularly rich in coziness.  Behold!

We've got  Y, "Cozied up in my lopipesa--a traditional sheepwool blanket from Iceland (purchased several years ago in Reykjavik)."  (Looks so comfy, Y!)  I'm snuggling up, eating soup, under a fuzzy blanket my mom sewed with/for me before I went to college, and Prewash is wanting in on the action.  L1's dogs have their own cozy xmas sweaters but of course.  My sister-in-law says, "Christmas shopping finished yesterday, got all the gifts wrapped today, now I rest with my dog Nixon under my weighted blanket.  L2, you could use one in Minneapolis!"  Meanwhile, with her unicorn pillow under her head, "A-child is cozycozcoze"!

And that's just the people cozy-ing indoors.  Some of us are appreciating warm clothes for cold weather:  I-daughter declares, "I am the coziest polar bear 🐻❄️".  B-child stays cozy outdoors in her penguin hat (and rosy cheeks!  Aw, man, I miss holding her so much!).  L2 bundles in her fur coat, while N-son shows he can hack it in just his t-shirt (although K-daughter points out, "Yall are both in camo pants and white sneakers 😂😭 that's so cute hahaha").  But when he's in arm's reach of his mom (and while Prewash photo-bombs yet another picture), he dresses warmly in a coat his buddy gave him and hat that came from L1, who has her own warm poofy black coat.  

The L1 driving photo leads nicely into this next one of our car this evening, two days after the snowstorm blew through:

This week we celebrated, as I'm sure you are ALL aware, the 51st anniversary of my husband's driver's license.  To celebrate this, we got our car its very own coat, as shown above.   I-daughter and I celebrated further, pedestrians that we are, by going for a walk around the neighborhood and scoffing at the poor drivers who had to dig out their cars: a snow emergency is no emergency for a walker.  And my husband, he celebrated by renting a car and driving to Chicago with N-son to see L2, because . . . well, apparently because when there's a lot of snow and there's a pandemic, what you really need to do is drive a car that has cruise control to another state.   That's why.  (Happy Driver's License Anniversary, darling!)

Not so much snow in Chicago, apparently. 

What else did we do this week? Well, we had to adapt our traditional Christmas bowling night because of the pandemic.  (As I write this, I'm acutely aware that the "Driver's License Dinner" and "Christmas Bowling" aren't exactly the norm in most families, but I can tell you that we here in Miser-land grieve the loss of these traditions this year, while doing our best to adapt somehow).  So, anyway, "Christmas bowling" became "Christmas Boggle".    And I-daughter would like it to be known that
  1. she beat me in the majority (4 out of 7) of our rounds;
  2. although when I did win a round, I trounced her but good, so the overall win went to me; and yet
  3. she always had at least half as many points as me, so that I never doubled her score.
As such, she is super proud that she is competitive against her mom at Boggle.  (And her mom is delighted to have someone who doesn't run in terror when I bring out the Boggle board).  Also, I'd like to point out that N-son had some great, great finds in the Boggle board of his own:  he now owns "ego", and I-daughter and I bow down to his "loft" (how did we not see that?!?)

Even though I don't have a telescope, I'm looking forward to Monday night's view in the early evening sky.  Whoop! On Io! on Callisto! on Europa and Ganymede!  We're getting our Christmas star just in time for Christmas, and I'll take any good signs we can get. 

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be cozy in our adventures.  May you and yours snuggle, too.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Three thoughts on . . . floor mats

1.  Floor mat gratitude.
Last summer, we had bedbugs, so we had to launder and bag up all extraneous cloth stuff.  When the bedbug situation was resolved and we (eventually, cautiously) brought back out the throw pillows, floor mats, etc, I was struck by how incredibly grateful I was to have bathroom floor mats again.  Stepping out of the shower onto something not cold  -- that was a welcome sensation.  Having a squishy floor thing to catch water so the floor wasn't slippery -- nice.  A bit of extra color in the room -- cheery. 

I'm pretty sure I'd been influenced (brainwashed?) by a post on Raptitude on the power of negative visualization (How to Create Gratitude), and  in particular his description of imagining no socks (my feet get cold super easily because of circulation issues down there).   At any rate, I didn't just visualize the absence of bathroom rugs, I lived it, and while it wasn't a devastating tragedy by any means, I was struck by how much more grateful I was once the rugs came back.

2. Floor mats to save work.
A few decades ago, for some reason I was on a kick where I was joy-reading books on how to clean things (like, seriously, I read pretty much every book on this in our public library).   One of my faves in the series was a book by Don Aslett called "Make your house do the housework" -- basically, a book on how to design spaces that need less cleaning, and that are easier to clean when they do need it.  One of the takeaways:  use really good floor mats at the entrance to the house.   A "really good" floor mat is something that is rubberized on the bottom (so it doesn't slip), large (so people actually step on it a bunch), and textured on top (so it grabs shoe debris).  Entrance rugs make a big difference, he says, in keeping a house clean.  I have one that I found at a yard sale, about 3feet-by-4feet, on my front porch.  This mat, too, makes me happy.

3.  Floor mats of imminent disaster.
I have family-in-law member who has a bunch of very small floor rugs, in series, that lead from her front door toward the living room.  You come in the front door, and you traipse across the floor and the little rugs and floor and rug and floor and rug.  Those rugs, I have to say, are pretty and scary.  They're pretty scary.  

When my sisters and I visit this home, we mutter together against this particular family-in-law member, and the rugs are part of the muttering.  The rugs are slippery on the wooden floor.  They are tripping hazards.   We do worry that these particular rugs will someday be complicit in the fall of a person we love.  

So it's not like I'm an unconditional floor-mat-o-phile.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Miser family update, clowning around version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household.  This week, we're rich in clowns.  And in clowning around.  Observe!

I'm so proud of how my family came through with the silly!  My sister-in-law, who got to meet Puddles Pity Party in person, proposed the theme (say that three times fast!) Puddles is a clown of considerable stature (he’s 6’8”) and appeared in an America Talent show.  Whoop!  B-child and A-child aren't quite as tall, but they're even more adorable, and even Amelia-the-dog sports her happy hat.  Three decades ago, my then-boyfriend dressed as a jester to my princess at the Renaissance Fair, and he bequeathed his costume to I-daughter, who wears it to demonstrate that she can juggle skeins of yarn.  

The next row is inspired by my Great Uncle Herman, whom I never met.  My very favorite picture of him is this goofy one of him "rowing" a canoe through the snow, wearing a full-length fur coat and a fedora, and carrying a giant bottle of (maple syrup?  beer?  not sure).  Prewash helped me stage a Santa version, and N-son decided to "row" around the world (that's a globe) in my husband's army footlocker, using a baseball bat, transporting a djembe drum, and sporting his bike helmet.  

L2 is head-over-heels in a tree, and Y used her head to carry a spoon. Long before it became fashionable, my husband and his fellow army buddy did a dance in their face masks (okay, gas masks), and A-child "clowned" around with her mom's camera, and snapped a picture of K-daughter.  Nice photo, A-child!

Do you want more of the one who inspired this all?  Here's some Puddles for you.  

N-son continues to do well adjusting to the new normal with diabetes.  This week he got to meet with an endocrinologist who gave us machines that we have yet to have lessons on how to use, so N-son is still doing many needles.  His endocrinologist says that whatever he's eating now is doing the right stuff; his glucose levels are coming down slowly, as desired.  There's more learning in the future, but for now at least, all is good.

One of the ways that our family is very fortunate is that we have amazing friends and support structures.  One particular example is the "god family" to many of my kids.  (Some people have "godparents", but in this case, my kids seem to have godparents and god brothers, so I'm pushing the category out a bit more broadly here). 

Today's interview is with Terry, the godmother to three (but kind of to even more) of the kids.  One way to recognize Terry is, you look for the person with the warmest smile in the room . . . and that'll be her.  For example, can you figure out which one Terry is in the photo below?

Yup, she's the one holding little baby N-son, who is giving her a loud "Amen".  She's standing next to her husband Stanley and then his mom.  

What things were you doing a year ago that you're not doing now?

Last year this time, we were enjoying rich fellowship times with our Church family and enjoying Christmas cookie exchanges.

At N-son's recent birthday party at L1's home.

What occupies your days, nowadays?  

Now my days seem to be occupied with "should I or shouldn't I go out?", or "Do I have Covid and don't know it?";  "No, Stan, don't kiss me; I've been coughing!"   Trying to work through all this to possibly get things accomplished. 
Stan went back to school and is now a pastor,
which is fitting, since I've always found
him to be a source of deep faith and comfort.

Tell me about your hobbies.

I love to read! Stan and I are listening to the audio book "Brothers Of Karamazov"! It is the PERFECT winter time book. [My guy] turned us on to Russian Novels when dropped off a little book called The Death Of Ivan Ilyich". We've been turned ever since! 

When you treat yourself to a bit of "me" time or special indulgences, what does that involve for you?
When I treat myself it is with a Keto Fat bomb and a Wawas coffee!
Five years from now, what kinds of things do you hope you'll be doing that you haven't done yet or aren't doing now?  
In five years from now (and I have to sing this song in my head by the Zodiaks: "If Man Is Still Alive"), I plan to be either back in my house with it all fixed up or in St Louis in a shared house with my daughter husband and grandkids!! Also plan to pursue my Drawing skills to illustrate the poems my granddaughter has written and books my daughter will write! 
Describe some of your favorite household gadgets or treasures.  
My favorite gadgets: my food processor and my coffee pour over!! 

Mmm.  I love to hear from Terry, that's for sure.  

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

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Three thoughts on . . . pandemic soup kitchens

The situation

I volunteer fairly regularly in the kitchen of our local rescue mission.  In Normal Times, I've helped serve breakfast about once a week.  Nowadays, I've intermittently helped prepare boxes of food to give families in need.  

Three Thoughts

1.  So much plastic.  I get used to avoiding it in my home, but at our rescue mission we do lots of bagging, and re-bagging, and extra bagging.  For example, we'll take a giant bag of potatoes and split it into many smaller (plastic) bags of 4-6 potatoes per family.  Ditto with fruit, vegetables.  Then we put selections of food into larger grocery-style bags.   

2.  So much sugar.  If you're like me, you've pulled cans out of your cabinet to donate to some scout food drive, and realized that you're giving the food you least like (that old can of lima beans, for example).  The corporate version of that is desserts.  Every week, we get piles upon piles of day-old cakes, cookies, cupcakes, more cakes . . . and candy in odd flavors.  Not to mention, sugar-enhanced yogurt cups, beverages, etc.  And all of that gets passed on to families who stop by for their week's worth of groceries.

3.  When I normally think about people who are food insecure, I think about the hunger aspect. But when I help pack boxes, I realize there's also a huge aspect of autonomy and control.  

Last week, for example, the first thirty or so families who came by each got a gallon of milk.  But when we started running out of gallons, families got a half-gallon of milk plus a bottle of seltzer water.  Or three cans of cranberry "vitamin" water and three juice boxes.   Eventually, the milk was replaced with cans of "Mountain Lightning".  We give you the veggies we've got -- somewhat close to the end of their shelf life usually -- and assortments of fruit that are definitely at the now-or-never stage of eating.  

Food security also means food autonomy:  when my husband asks me, "what would you like for dinner?", I increasingly recognize that question alone is a sign of incredible, incredible privilege.  

Bonus thought

You know this; I know this; but it's worth saying it again: food pantries nationwide are seeing larger and larger numbers of families in need, and the absence of school lunch programs mean that kids are especially likely to be affected.   (National Geographic just put out an article, noting, "Even before COVID-19, more than 35 million Americans were considered food insecure. The pandemic has exacerbated the problem. Now, one is six people in the U.S. are projected to be hungry this year."  Giving a bit of extra money to your local food bank doesn't just mean the difference between hunger and a chance to eat; it might mean that a kid gets to drink milk for dinner instead of high-fructose caffeinated flavor liquid.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

applesauce colored walls

So, here's a hold-over post that somehow I never got around to publishing this fall.  I discovered after a weekend of lots and lots of canning of applesauce, that I apparently now have applesauce colored walls.
Also, that a cell phone camera can really alter colors, because that taxi-cab yellow up there is NOT the color my walls appear to be when you see them in person.   Evidence: below is another picture, from this summer, when my grandchild was helping me to paint the walls this new color.  ("Helping").
More proof:  me sitting next to my walls.  The section above the fireplace is a tangerine orange, and the rest is yellow.  

At any rate, one weekend this past October, with the help of my husband and N-son, I canned up many dozen quarts of applesauce, and set them out in the living room to cool, which is when I realized they were kinda matchy-matchy with the walls, and also with the dog.

 I think I like that.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Miser Family update, warm hats in cold weather

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household.  This week, we're especially rich in . . . hats!  Especially in hats that are suited for cold weather, and also in the cold weather to wear these hats.

We start off with the adorable row:  Dogs that sit still and pose for photos!  B-child!  My husband in a hat with a pom-pom!  (It's a hat he got during his travels in Latvia last year; perfect for nippy climates).

The middle row features the instigator of this week's theme:  I-daughter models her very warmest hat, and also displays "the reason I love hat weather so much 😉".  These are not ALL of the hats she's knitted, she assures us.  N-son models his favorite x-mas hat, and gets photo-bombed by his sister.

The bottom row shows situational hats:

  • Y displays her good posture, saying, "Sorry not wintery hat... I didn't pack any for Arizona 😎"  
  • My sister-in-law (also currently in warm climates) dug through her files to share "We bundled up to attend a snow carving festival! ".  I love that the snow creature has a snow hat!
  • L2 contributes with  "I wear this hat more than any other hat 🤷‍♀️Warms people's soul"; And perhaps my head a little ".   (In case you can't quite see, it's a birthday cake hat, with candles flopping around on top of it).
  • And I snapped my photo on location:  "Here's my warm heart, warm gloves, warm ear muffs (boxing food at [our local soup kitchen], for families that need it). Ooh, and my mustache mask."

N-son is doing well, and for that I'm grateful.  He got out of the hospital on Monday, right after I gave my calculus exam.  Before he was released, N-son, my guy, and I had a lesson, from the hospital pharmacist, about how to use the glucose meter and the fancy needle pens for insulin.  I told the pharmacist that I, too, was a teacher and I knew from experience that everything works perfectly in class when I have the magic chalk, but that when my students try to do the same thing at home with their mere-mortal pencils, somehow nothing works right.  So could we please practice once with the equipment while we had help?  The pharmacist reassured us that wouldn't be necessary, since he'd covered everything already.  

So we went home and couldn't get the glucose meter to work, and we forgot to take the cap all the way off the needle in the insulin needle pen, and we basically messed it all up.  But fortunately (?), N-son is supposed to repeat this routine four times a day (every day for the rest of his life, basically), and thanks to the chance to repeat our mistakes frequently, we quickly switched from mistake-making to success, and by now N-son is a pro at the whole process.   He's eating all his meals at our home while we establish the monitoring/injection/healthy-diet routine, but sleeping at his own place and otherwise autonomous.  

I spent much of the rest of the week grading and catching up on paperwork and (ahhhhh) sleeping in until 5:45 or sometimes even later.  I got to take care of delayed chances for service, too; I gave blood and got to go help at the local rescue mission that I've missed working with.  Sometime this week, the weather kicked over from balmy and warm to "bundle up, baby; it's cold outside!" --- just in time for our Warm Hats in Cold Weather Family Fun Foto. Lovely.

And now, let's turn to this week's interview!  This week features my sister-in-law.   She's an amazing person, with an exuberant  zest for life that I've admired from afar.  A couple of months ago, she wrote back to me about the family letter, saying, "I may start picking out my favorite photograph of the week. This week congratulations are in order for L2."   I responded, "On the off chance you'd like to include a photo in the collage, next week is "special eating utensil/plate/mug" --- a favorite spoon or drinking glass or something like that.   No pressure, though!"   And ever since then, she's been an avid participant.  I'm so happy to keep connecting with her like this!  And next week's theme, which is seriously going to be a challenge for almost all of us, is one she proposed: "Clowns, or Clowning around".  I'm busy thinking hard about this already.

With that said, let's hear what my sister-in-law is/has been/will be up to!

What things were you doing a year ago that you're not doing now?

Having friends over for dinner, visiting friends in their homes, going to movies, listening to live music-everything from Classic Rock to the Philharmonic, musicals and the ballet. Oh and I used to dress up!

What occupies your days, nowadays? 
Lots of caregiving. Frank has serious health issues now, and he needs not one but two new knees, so top priority is making sure he’s okay every day. 

Tell me a bit about your hobbies
In New Hampshire I hike, kayak, play pickle ball and always have a jigsaw puzzle going. In Vegas I work out, walk, bike, hike, read, and cook!

When you treat yourself to a bit of "me" time or special indulgences, what does that involve for you?
Having a pedicure while drinking a nice cup of loose leaf tea and reading a page turner. 

Five years from now, what kinds of things do you hope you'll be doing that you haven't done yet or aren't doing now? 
Traveling! I’ve never been on a river cruise; it was in the works before the pandemic, but that was that. 

I guess kayaking is not the same as a river cruise . . . 

Describe some of your favorite household gadgets or treasures. 
  • My 1800 watt clothing steamer. I love all things laundry related. It’s in my blood.
  • Phillips Sonicare toothbrush (I use an app when I brush)
  • Dyson hair dryer-such a time saver.
  • Potato ricer, I make the best mashed

This list could be a lot longer; I married the Gadget King. 

Are there any questions I should have asked you, but didn't? 
"Now that you are really into kayaking, do you think you should learn to do something besides dog paddle?"
 Nah, I’ll just keep wearing a life jacket. I hate getting my hair wet.

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

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Three thoughts on . . . losing my duct tape

The situation:
My husband presented me with a need for a quick fix:  the hose on our ancient canister vacuum cleaner had developed a crack.    Could I mend it?   This is the perfect job for duct tape . . . except I couldn't find my duct tape.

Three thoughts on the situation:

1.  Psychologists tell us that we spend an inordinate amount of our lives searching for lost or misplaced items.  I know this. I still feel, though when this happens to me, that it is some kind of a personal/moral/cognitive failing, because I like to be the kind of person who structures my life and my surroundings in such a way that nothing ever gets lost.  It is a horrible blow to my ego that (a) I know I have duct tape in the house and (b) I couldn't find it.  Immediately.

2.  Although I've reconciled to the idea that I'm not really a minimalist, I'm also not a clutter-er.  And the absence of clutter makes it easier to find things (often).   In the case of my duct tape, it made it easier for me to not-find it.  That is, I searched my tool bench, and then I searched the office supplies drawer.  And then I searched the tool bench again because that is where the duct tape should be, darn it and then I searched the office supplies drawer again because that was the only reasonable alternative, dang it.   But neither of these searches, even when doubled, took more than 15 seconds, and I knew the duct tape was AWOL within minutes.  At least I didn't waste scads of time.

3.  Organizational schemes are incredibly valuable assets to finding things quickly.  I think that's why people so often buy stuff they already have -- because it's easier to find, say, a can of celery soup in the grocery store than in their own cupboard.  Duct tape at the hardware store is going to be in some logical place -- the aisle of sticky things, or the aisle of gray shiny things, or the aisle of round hollow objects, whatever scheme it is that particular store uses, and maybe you have to find a clerk to figure out the scheme for the aisles, but the clerk is going to know.  The clerk isn't going to say "maybe I put it on the tool bench . . . or did I leave it in the office supplies drawer?".  No, the clerk is going to say "aisle 7, halfway down, just past the craft supplies."

As for me, I tend to use Julia Morganstern's "organizing from the Inside Out" strategy, which means keeping things where I'm most likely to use them.  For example, the last time I was actually using the duct tape, I was making this awesome R2D2 trash can, and sure enough, a few days later, I remembered this and found the duct tape hunkering down in my crafts box with the glue gun and other similar paraphernalia.  The crafts box is the Wrong Place for the duct tape to be, but it's not insanely wrong.  I've transported the duct tape back to its rightful place at the tool bench, and now I feel like I need to give it a proper hook to rest on so it has its very own home and is happy to stay where it belongs.

Bonus thought.  
Social capital doesn't get enough airplay in economics or home organization, is what I say.  After a few minutes of fruitless (or tapeless) searching, I pinged my daughter to borrow her duct tape.  She happened to be heading out of her house, and even more fortuitously headed past ours, and within a jiffy I had the vacuum cleaner properly bandaged and back on the job.  No driving to a store; no wandering through a hardware store during a pandemic; no forking over money for yet another roll of duct tape when I was sure (correctly) that I had a roll hunkered down in its own mysterious hidey-hole.  

It sure is nice to have friends and family to help with situations small and large, and who can stick together.  So to speak.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Kitchen of Many Delights

Welcome to the Kitchen of Many Delights!  A year or so ago, the Grumpies shared a link to a tour of a single room of someone's home, and suggested it might be fun to see more of these.  The idea for a post about this kitchen has been rolling around in my brain ever since, and with a recent painting job, I think I'm finally to the place where I'm ready to share.  

The painting job I mentioned in the last paragraph?  I just painted the far wall of the kitchen to match the kitchen counters, and then I painted the door (the one that leads down into the basement) to match the wall.  Below, from left to right, you see the wall with the door open, then slowly swinging shut, and then shut (so you can't see the door at all in the right-most photo).  I love this painting job so much.  So, so much.

This kitchen is almost the smallest room in the house (the bathrooms are smaller).  From one end to the other, the room is only 10 feet long.  The walkable space is shaped like a question mark, and is 4 feet wide.  The ceilings, however, are a lofty 9 feet high.  

The layout of the space is truly odd in a number of different ways (that I'll try to describe as we tour this space): low counters on one side, an inaccessible window well on another.  Shelves that are cavernously 28" deep on one wall, and a mere 11" shallow on the other.  Triangular cupboards galore.  Tiny oven.  We inherited lots of weirdness when we moved into this space in July 2019.  All sorts of people who do professional carpentry -- people we've hired, but also relatives and friends -- scratch their heads as they tour the room, and start to suggest that we could redo the layout, but then they see the cabinets.  The cabinets are super odd in shape and location, but they're beautiful and very well made.  And so these carpentry pros scratch their heads and think about ways a body could live with the space, despite its oddities.  

Indeed, we have learned to live with (and in fact love and take advantage of) this space.  I conjecture to my friends that this kitchen was designed by people who wanted a beautiful kitchen but always ordered takeout for dinner, because aside from the cabinets, there was a lot that needed work.  The tiny, ancient oven burned half the food and left the other half undercooked, for the same meal.   The stove had no vent fan.  The aged dishwasher leaked onto the floor; the garbage disposal didn't work, and the refrigerator was (a) old, (b) too large for the space and (c) not matching. 

We moved into this house from a much bigger house (and therefore more expensive house), and a bunch of the money that came to us in this exchange went to a variety of new-home upgrades (insulation, solar panels, electrical work, and -- of course -- the kitchen).   We had a vent fan installed in the far wall, and (this next thing was more of a splurge than a necessity, but I'm glad we did it) added a small window in the southern wall, right under the vent fan.   It took a while, but we finally got all new appliances, with the exception of the stove, which is still in awesome shape (but odd for other reasons).  

So, with those rather expensive changes now completed, let's start the tour.  We're entering the kitchen from the dining room, and to our immediate left, we see the nook for the stove.  

One of the themes that runs through my kitchen arrangement is, "hanging things".  Straight ahead, for example, you see a random strainer over a stainless steel colander that I snagged off of Freecycle (I love that colander; I think it's beautiful).  Below it is a cast-iron mold for a gingerbread house.  

I installed a piece of scavenged board under the cabinets above the stove and added heavy-duty hooks in the board to hold our cast-iron frying pans in plain sight.  One lid has its handle in the center, and so that one lid hangs like a flying saucer above the stove. 
Turn a bit further left, and you can see the stove with more hanging stuff.  I do love those cast-iron pans.  They're heavy as all-get-out, and having them hanging -- instead of on shelves -- makes it a lot easier to get at them, too.  If you turn even further to look back at the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, you can see a metal knife holder, and even more cast-iron cookware.  

Muffin pans and a tortilla press.
Through the door, you see the dining room. 
The previous owners loved gray walls.

The counter by this stove is only 30 inches high.  Your gut reaction when you walk into the kitchen and see this stove at thigh height is "maybe this was supposed to be wheelchair compliant?".  But there's no way to get into this house without clambering up and down steep stairs.  The odd height of this stove?  No idea.  I will say that having a lower stove makes it easier to get canning jars in and out of a giant canning pot, though, so I've come to appreciate that aspect. And it's not like we use the counter next to the stove for much prep work -- just 14" of counter space on the left, and 8" on the right.  Counter space is at a premium in this kitchen, for sure!

Let's open the cabinets and see what we can see.  If one of the themes of my kitchen organization is "hanging stuff", the other is "zones".  This corner of the kitchen is definitely the cooking zone.  

In the cabinets above the stove, there's a microwave oven.  Why a microwave inside the cabinet?  I have no idea, but that's where the previous owners put it, and I decided to roll with it.  Above that are pots and pans that aren't cast iron.  The cabinet to the right is for electric appliances: instant pot, crock pot, waffle iron, bread maker.   I think I mentioned, maybe, that these shelves are 28" deep, so the crockpot is behind the instant pot.  I might have also mentioned that the ceilings are 9 feet high;  I don't have pictures of these cabinets all the way up because I don't much use the top shelves. 

We have a 3-step folding step ladder, and that helps.

Under the counter and to the left, the three drawers have 
  • cooking utensils
  • canning jar bling (lids, funnels, grabbers, y'know)
  • rolling pin and immersion blender.  
The large space under the stove itself has my husband's favorite appliance: the combo instant pot/air fryer.  And the odd, tiny, triangular cabinet has the cuisinart and all the various blades.  

Further along in the kitchen, just down from the stove is the amazing tiny oven.  This oven is so small . . . (how small is it?) . . . it's so small that I had to give away a bunch of my baking sheets when we moved here, because they don't fit inside the oven.  

(Ooh, and now you can see the door to the basement behind that, closed now). 

By the way, do you see how I have all my shelves and cabinets labeled?  I did that as a temporary thing, right after we moved, to help my husband and kids figure out my new system . . . but everyone likes the labels so much that I just left them.
 Below the oven are my baking pans: 
  • rectangular pyrex (with a rectangular label),
  • round pyrex (with rounded corners on the label), and
  • metal baking pans.  

Above the oven are food things that are more like "food" than like "ingredients".  Granola.  Pasta.  Canned foods.

These things are are in impossibly deep 28" cabinets, and the shelves are also incredibly high.  Eh, we do what we can.  

Oh, and speaking of "can", you might see that on the bottom of those upper cabinets, I've hung the can opener from a hook.  Might as well have the can opener near the canned foods!
Beyond the oven, on the left side of the kitchen, all that remains is the door to the basement, so we can start wandering back along the right-hand side.  
We can sweep past the basket on the floor (for recycling and other objects destined for the basement) and the shallow fridge, and check out the copious counter space along the right wall.  By "copious", I mean 40" of space -- although at least it's at the standard 36" height.  So, yes, the counters on the left and right sides of the kitchen are at different heights.

This copious counter space is the "baking" zone.  You can see that I hang measuring spoons and cups, plus stirrers.  I devote valuable counter space to the flour jar and oatmeal jar (on the left side of this counter space).  To the right, we get to the "sink" zone with a black compost bin, soap dispensers, and hanging brushes.  

Above the counter, we have shallow (11"deep) cabinets for food that is like ingredients (sugar, salt, etc).  

And next to the ingredient cabinet is an even weirder, L-shaped cabinet.  I use it for my upstairs canning jars.  (Because everyone needs a special set of shelves for their upstairs canning jars, yes?)

There are usually more jars on this shelf. They like to move from the basement to come upstairs, and then to go back down to the basement again to hang out with their many friends and acquaintances down there.   They're sociable that way, canning jars are.

And below the counter space we have a new, super-quiet dishwasher next to some very skinny drawers.  I do wish I could more properly "zone" these, but since these are the only other drawers in the kitchen, I give in. 
  • Knives that don't hang (ceramic knife, pizza cutters, ice cream scoop), 
  • then dish rags, 
  • then dish towels, 
  • then spices.  

 But wait! I've been saving the weirdest thing about this kitchen for almost the last.  Because whoever decided where to put this sink in the kitchen decided, for some reason, that the sink ought to be right next to the window.  And since the bottom of the window is 20" above the floor, but the sink is 36" above the floor, the best way to put the sink next to the window in the kitchen would be . . .  to have a window well behind the sink, creating a nook that is totally unreachable, except possibly by a gymnast with extremely long arms.  

There's a plant down there, not that you can see it.  

Can you envision all the carpentry pros scratching their heads and suggesting changes?  This is what does it.  I still have no idea how somebody dreamed this up.
Beyond the sink, almost back to the dining room, we have the beverage zone, with coffee pots, electric kettle, thermos, . . .

Again, with the shelves going all they way up to the top of the 9-foot ceilings. . . 
. . . and the area below the beverage zone is an uncomfortably triangular space that we use as the food-storage zone. This includes pyrex storage containers, seldom-used stuff like aluminum foil, and bags that came with our food. 

Thus endeth the tour of the Kitchen of Many Delights.

What's missing?  You might have noticed there's no space for plates, or cups, or tableware . . . we keep all of that in the dining room.  So the kitchen is really all about cooking, and not at all about eating.  

And the dining room?  Well, that's a different tour.

In response to a question from Frances below, here's what the hooks that hold my cast iron pans look like. They are not beautiful.  I think you can find things like this by searching for "screw hooks"; I found them by wandering aisles of the hardware store.