Saturday, June 26, 2021

Miser Family Update: going places version

Well, life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.  

My week has mostly been full of two different kinds of meetings:  (1) I've been attending Zoom-based conference run by the Council on Undergrad Research, looking at DEI initiatives.  It's been a good conference, with some good food for thought, but kind of energy sapping because of the whole Zoom-based thing.  (2) I've been attending meetings  . . . wait for it . . . in person (!) with the Provost and other folks in that office, getting ready for my new role as Associate Dean.  This is the last family update I'll ever write as a lowly math professor; by this time next week I'll have had my first full day an administrator.  We're dealing with hard stuff, but it's kind of exhilarating to be thinking about difficult problems and threading the needle of reasonable responses.  

My guy has been attending protests:  believe it or not, voter suppression still sucks.  He said he'd send me photos of a giant balloon at the Tuesdays with Toomey protest, but I don't have it yet, so we'll  have to send that along later.  

I-daughter did spontaneously ping me with a picture:

She describes this as, "A snapshot of my week: 2 plays, 2 concerts => 4 different theaters and a very happy Io 😀"

K-daughter likewise pinged us:  "We made authentic Vietnamese rolls at my job !!! So fun!"

Later, she wrote,  "We arrived in Rhode Island, going whale watching in a few hours. Will send pics :)"  But no pics,  Maybe the whales ate the balloons?

N-son is currently visiting L2 and L1 for the weekend.  He's finished up his job at the Domestic Clutter Emporium, and we're still figuring out longer term options, although we now know he's likely to spend three weeks with L1 while my guy travels around Europe.

And on the topic of safe travels, Y shared an update:  
"FYI I arrived in Georgia. Trying to do the most urgent things now like work employee health visit, buying toilet paper, and getting a washer/dryer installed... other things like food in the pantry or unpacking stuff other than scrubs has to come later i guess... 12 months of insanity starts now"

I've also heard a bit from another of my "children" -- a young man named X-son down in Haiti whom we tried unsuccessfully to adopt, and who we now (minimally) support with a cell phone and a bit of food.  Every once in a while when I feel like I'm beleaguered by problems, he reminds me that I actually have it darned good.  Most of the time, really, I do remember that I have it good.  I recently whats-apped with him:
me: "We are doing well. I love all the light that we have in summer. Here, winters are very dark in the morning and the evening, but in summer, the sun shines from the time I wake up until I go to sleep.

X-son: Ok that's cool!! here in Haiti almost everyday they are shooting people we cant anymore the Goverment never say anything to us there is no job no Gas for the Vehicule things are really bad down here

me: That sounds scary and difficult. I'm so sorry. I heard that Covid-19 is bad there, too. Is that right?

X-son: Yeah Mom things are going very scary and Covid-29 is really bad there and cant anymore"

And while life is really hard there in Haiti, the sun shines here, especially on my dog.  People wander by our home and call in through the front screen door, "Can Prewash come out? "   There's a coterie of children who clamber up onto our front porch and fight over who gets to use the dog brush that I keep there, explaining to me in earnest tones which parts of her doggy body she likes to have brushed best.   Construction workers take a detour to visit her, remarking to me as her whole torso quivers with the aftershocks of her tail wagging that she must smell their dogs.   Neighbors leave dog treats on the porch, so that every morning she runs out on the front porch, sniff-searching like crazy, because every day is a brand new Easter Egg hunt.  

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

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Playing it safe

It turns out, the buried treasure in the walls of my home amounted to 5 pennies and a soggy Jolly Rancher.

Two years ago, we had put in an offer on this house, and the old owners had accepted, and we were all super excited about making the move.  One of the questions I'd asked the owners was, "there's a wall safe in the dining room; what's the combination?"   

The sellers, they didn't know.   One of them told us that her sister-in-law had figured it out once, by listening carefully while spinning the dial.  They found a penny from 1973 inside; they wrote the combination on a scrap of paper, which they subsequently lost.  

Man, I can't imagine tossing the combination to a wall safe in the dining room.  It's such a cool conversation piece!

At any rate, we moved into the home, added a gazillion family photos to the wall around the safe, and then got busy with the school year.  Figuring out the combination has been on my to-do list for two years now, but of course it took a back seat to about 85 million other things that became more urgent once the pandemic struck.  My own efforts to play safe cracker never got me far; I guess I'm just not destined for a life of crime.  (Or I need to scavenge a good stethoscope?)

With vaccinations spreading in my social circles, a few friends of mine eventually took a crack at cracking the combination, but no luck.  So last week, I splurged and called a locksmith.  Because, really, what fun is an antique wall safe if you can't open it up?

The safe dial, hinged out, on its [patented!] three-arm hinge.

Fun facts: my safe was made a hundred years ago, based on a design that (the hinge proudly proclaims) was patented in 1909.   Because the company has been sold during the intervening years, we couldn't just look up the combination in company records, but the locksmith managed to unlock the mysteries of the Dining Room Wall Safe, using sensitive fingers and a bit of luck.  

The back of the [patented!] three-arm hinge had come off the safe, so the locksmith reattached it for me while regaling me with tales of army service in years gone by.  

A hole in the wall,
before we reattached the hinge to the safe.

We checked together that I could reopen the safe on my own (it's a funky sequence of numbers, truly), and I made sure I noted the combination in a few different places.   I paid the locksmith $100.70, although because of the sticky set of five pennies we recovered from inside the safe, the whole process came in at a bargain $100.65.  

Surprisingly enough, there were no pennies from 1973; the most recent one was 2017.  The soggy Jolly Rancher was undated (not to mention, very melty).   (Ew).  

Another image of the hole. 
It looks better with the door back in place.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The sol sticks around . . .

 5:36 to 8:37, that's sunrise to sunset today.  

If you include "civil twilight", it's 5:03 to 9:10.   I love the sunshine of solstice.

Behold, the view from my front porch at 9 p.m., still light out.   

It'll be light at 5 a.m. tomorrow, too, long before the road crews show up to do that work that their sandwich-board signs indicate they're revving the jack-hammers up for.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Miser Family News, eventful week full of events.

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household.   It's been an event-full week for me, meaning I've been attending a bunch of events. 

The kick-off came with an outdoor concert in a parking lot, 200 people in B.Y.O. lawn chairs, rocking to a tribute to Queen and Journey. For an outdoor concert on a pop-up stage, there were some amazing costumes, and stunt bicycle (as we sang "I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike"), and a singer in a sky lift and lots of dry ice and amazing lights.  

Two hundred people singing along with familiar guitar riffs is a fabulous thing.  We sang, among other songs,
  • Any way you want it, that's the way you need it, any way you want it . . . 
  • We will, we will Rock you (thump)! Rock you (thump)!
  • Under pressure!
  • Loving, touching, and squee-ee-eezing, another
  • crazy little thing called Love
  • Nothing really matters, anyone can see . . . nothing really matters . . . to me . . . 
and of course
  • We are the champions, my friend!!
Yeah, baby!   (For I-daughter, this was but one of many theater related events she went to; she's in seventh heaven now that things are opening up, and she's purchasing tickets to things left and right.)

My other event was a scintillating conference on research compliance protocols, done via an app that used -- but is much more difficult to navigate than -- Zoom.  This conference was to prepare me for my new role as Associate Dean, and mostly what it did is convince me that I do not want to dedicate the remainder of my life to research compliance.  For example, I attended one session on "Data Integrity" that had, I have to admit, lovely graphs and charts that would make any 16th-century cartographer or natural philosopher proud.   I asked the organizers how an actual dean might use the various taxonomies, and they explained in all seriousness that I could help my faculty and other stakeholders realize the value proposition . . . so, that was kind of the end of that presentation for me.  

I *am* glad I attended; I learned a lot about how other people think, and I also learned a little bit about ways I might do stuff in my new job.  So good, but not going back to that particular conference again.  At any rate, most of my week was full of that particular event.  Event-full, indeed.

Oh, we also had an awesome party (my annual Purple Dress Dinner, in honor of my $1 yard-sale-purchased purple dress that I don't have any other reason for wearing besides having a dedicated party for the dress). We held it outdoors in our local rose garden, and the weather was amazing and people had a grand time eating and chatting and smelling the roses and listening to the music trucks hauling live bands around the city streets -- because yes, that's one of the wonderful things about the city I live in --- and I completely neglected to take pictures.

N-son has, for reasons that make good sense but I won't go into here, given his two-weeks notice at the Domestic Clutter Emporium.  We're working on figuring out what will happen after this; there are lots of different paths we're considering and really aren't sure which make the most sense right now.  

And my guy continues to go to protests (two this week).  The summary: voter suppression sucks.  

On a peppy-er note, L1 asks me to remind people that, "With Amelia’s book available for purchase now for about a month, would you mind mentioning it in the family newsletter?" Indeed, I'd be delighted!   More info:

The website to purchase is:

It is also available on Amazon. And if any of our family members want to, they can follow her and her brothers on Facebook or Instagram 

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

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Miser Family Update: ferry nice trips, birthday llamas, and photo haiku exchanges

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family household.  This week has been particularly rich and full with celebration, song, and poetry.   For song and celebration, take a gander at this peppy picture of N-son dancing with joy.  He and my guy took a trip to New York, where (my guy tells me) N-son was "so ferry happy" riding the ferry that they did it twice.  

While N-son was  frolicking to the rollicking waves, B-daughter was clicking her odometer over from "months" to "years".  K-daughter hosted a fabulous back-yard birthday party with grown-ups sitting in the shade and 6-year olds on a slip-n-slide and the guest of honor in a new themed dress.   It was not a pajama party, but it was a llama party.   And I have to say, the table decorations and food they made were amazingly adorable.  There was llamanade to drink, and llama/cactus themed cupcakes and pretzel sticks that were almost too adorable to eat (but people ate them anyway).  Happy first birthday, B-child!

And that was just the beginning of the week!  We closed out the week by heading together to a movie theater (remember those?)!  We saw In The Heights, and about that movie, I just have to say . . . wow.   There were teary sections (I delegated the weeping to I-daughter, who is much more proficient than I am); there was dancing, so much dancing (all of us, scootching our bums in the chairs); there was amazing singing and drumming (N-son went kinda nutso next to me).  And there were great shots of actual streets in Washington Heights, causing my guy to avidly detail for me each of the streets there he's bicycled through and how the traffic on the roads compares to the movie version. 

At the theater with my family.  I am wearing my kitty cat mask,
the one that drives my husband so wild with passion
he has to beg me to take it off so he can focus.
(Or maybe I just like it more than he does).

During the week, other cool things happened.   Like, L2 is very happy with her motorcycle and is making the most of her new license.   Do you want to see the photo of her motorcycling around that she sent me?   Do you?  

. . . so would I.  Send a photo, L2!

Other family members did ping me with photos, in conversations that were almost (but not exactly) like haikus.   Here, to catch you up on other family doings, are four Photo Pseudo Haikus.  I gave them titles, to make them seem even more poetry-esque.

1.  Car Dashboard

SIL:  Meanwhile in Las Vegas: 

Me:  Wow!!!   We thought 93 was bad (well, for us, it is . . . )

SIL:  Next year we will head east earlier.  This is crazy hot. 🥵 

2.  New York Restaurant

My guy: Dinner at Mr Wasabi

Me: Yum . . . but you can tell N-son he missed my spinach/mushroom salad for dinner here in [our city].

My guy:  Crying 😢

3.  Pantry Pleasures

K:  My favorite space in our baking/ spices/ dry food cabinet😍

Me:  Looks like *my* food shelves!

K:  I knew you'd understand 😂

4.  I-daughter is Allowed to be Loud

I just got to sing!
With the chorus! In person!
At my full volume!😄

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

Thursday, June 10, 2021

How my life is coming apart, but on purpose

I'm slowly and methodically cleaning out my math office, getting ready to move to our big old administrative building.  And as part of this cleaning, I'm going through my 5-drawer filing cabinet, trying to think about what papers I might realistically actually ever look at again.

The answer seems to be, if I do think about it, "not a lot".   I've been teaching math here for almost three decades.  I've saved syllabi, grade sheets, exams, worksheets, . . . will I ever look at any of these again?  Probably not.   I've been on committees that wrote reports.  I've led workshops for other mathematicians.  So much paper from my past, paper that's not realistically likely to be a part of my future. 

So I've been cleaning out my file drawers, bit by bit.  Because it's me, I can't just chuck it all: the idea of creating so much trash would wig me out.  Instead, I've been pulling apart my life, little by little, separating things into piles.

Here's the main sorting center. 

Going clockwise-ish around the photo from the bottom left corner I see:

  • a chair for sitting in,
  • now-empty hanging folders,
  • now-empty manilla folders, in good enough shape to reuse,
  • colored printer paper with one side blank for reuse in other projects
  • a six-inch stack of white printer paper with one side blank for reuse in other projects (ah, "precyled" paper!)
  • an amazing collection of paper clips and binder clips, 
  • a box of to-be-recycled printer paper (both sides already used)
  • a small bankers box of paper that I might actually want to look at again, so I'll move it with me.
Not pictured is another box of mixed paper to recycle, and another giant box of to-be-recycled printer paper that already filled up, so that the photo above shows the second, not first, such box.  

Also not pictured is a pile of my past calculus exams, which I'll gift to our new visiting faculty members, which they can use (or not) to come up with exams of their own, or to offer to students as study guides.  I feel like that might actually be a helpful gift.  

I've finished about half of the filing cabinet now, maybe a tad more.  I'm about to get to the section with papers I've written, which will be a little bit harder to pare down, but still has vast potential for winnowing.  (I really, really, do not need draft copies of papers that I have final, formal versions of.  I probably don't even need paper copies of the final versions, but I bet I'll keep a copy of each paper anyway because . . . well, not sure, but I probably will).

This sorting, not surprisingly, takes a bunch of time.  But it feels good to do it.  It reminds me of what I've heard about something called "Swedish Death Cleaning", which I admit I don't actually know very well so I might have the description wrong, but what I seem to have heard is that this is the cleaning that elderly parents do of their own homes so the kids don't have to go through so much stuff after the parents die.  For me, this paper sorting feels like I'm saving some as-yet-unknown person (a family member, a colleague, who knows?) a bunch of headache of having to wonder which of these papers might be relevant to anyone else.  

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

money well spent . . . ceiling fan fixture

 Here's the view from my bed this morning, looking up.  

The ceiling fixture used to be a dim little light fixture whose power cord was threaded through a little pencil hole in the plaster, and that was screwed directly into the plaster.  Last summer, I kept my room cool (?) with a window fan, which was noisy, and promised myself I'd install that ceiling fan soon.   But that was before I realized there was no fixture box up there.

At any rate, I hired my favorite team of household do-everything guys, Nate and Todd.  They sliced holes in the plaster, installed a solid fixture box that wouldn't come crashing down on my head, ran a few modern wires through the ceiling, installed a new switched outlet and switch in another part of the room so we could add reading lamps, and repaired the plaster.  Oh, and then they hung the fan because even though I could do that part, they were already there.  

It was a bit pricey (almost, but not quite, $1000).  But I love my ceiling fan; it's beautiful and quiet and makes sleeping in hot weather so much nicer.  

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Miser family update: insides and outsides

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

My own main event this week involved getting ready for, and then recovering from, a doctor's visit this past Tuesday.  Moses, they say, almost got to look upon the face of the Lord, but it was too bright and brilliant for him to look at, and so he had to head back down the mountain.  Apparently my doctor says that I myself am beautiful on the inside, so much so that he sent me home and said I don't need to return for another five years. As a souvenir, I got a monogrammed paper bracelet with my name and birthdate to commemorate this occasion.   And to emphasize just how lovely everything is, here's a picture of me from the outside . . . .   

. . . in this picture of me, I am doing my favorite things, enjoying life under the bowl of a blue sky and golden sun, walking past the flowers through the flaming red grass.   (Maybe I need to bring home a few more colors of chalk).  

Once I got past the doctor stuff, I started working on a math paper that includes, as one small part, a geometric concept called "ruled surfaces".  These are curvy things (like Pringles potato chips) but that are surprisingly made of straight lines that interweave in nifty ways.  This reminded me that when I was a kid, my parents built me and my sisters a fantastic club house with a jungle-gym roof that was a fabulous example of a ruled surface.  I asked my dad if he had pictures of these, and he sent me about a dozen of the project in its early construction stages.  
In this next photo, I think my mom looks so much like the person I grew into . . . 

And I love the greenery in that photo.  (We had an awesome backyard as kids, really.)  Speaking of greenery, these days we're really hauling in the greens from our weekly farm share boxes.  So much that it's a challenge to figure out how to eat it all.  It's a great challenge to have!

On a different challenge note, I-daughter tells me she looked over the next round of Sock Madness and is especially glad she got out when she did.  She says that the current sock has a boxy toe she doesn't like and post-knit embroidery.  So, THAT is a hassle she doesn't feel obligated to deal with.  (Me neither; I'm not doing boxy toes or sock embroidery, either.  Let's all not do it together).

My guy is doing his usual stuff:  biking up and down hills with abandon (and sometimes with his bike buddies); attending Tuesdays with Toomey protests (this week's theme: trans rights); visiting far-flung friends.  In fact, as I speak, he and N-son are taking a journey up to New York for adventures involving driving and trains.  

A-child, having recently turned 6, apparently discovered right on schedule how to chop off her own hair.  (It seems to be a family tradition to do so at right about that age).  I don't have photos, but I do know that K-daughter borrowed my clippers in hopes of affecting some semblance of repair.  B-child will turn 1 very soon, and so she has another half-decade before she lops off her own hair, I figure.

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

Thursday, June 3, 2021

blanket words

The other night, I was lying in bed with random thoughts flitting through my brain -- the way they do when my brain has decided that it's worked hard during the day and gets to have a party for a little while --  when my brain seemed to seize hold of the realization that the word "blanket" must come from the root word for "white" (Spanish: blanca/blanco;  French:  blanche/blanc).  When we put a blanket on a bed, are we white-washing it?  A blanket of snow seems so much more meaningful once you can think of it as "a whiteness of snow".

The next day, with my brain back in service to the rest of my body, I did a bit of etymology hunting.  It turns out that, indeed, blankets were originally made of all-white linen, there being few ways to dye cloth back in the day.   So, we'd say something like "throw that white thing on the bed", and "that white thing" became every other thing we'd cover ourselves with at night.   When he was very young, N-son (who didn't watch TV then) saw a red stuffed animal that someone told him was "Elmo", and from then on he named all stuffed animals "Elmo", including the beloved black-and-white panda bear he still has now that he's 21.  If Elmo can be a panda, just about anything linen can be a blanket.

"Linen", by the way, comes from the same word that gave us "line": ropes and thread were made from flax (Latin: linum).  

Maybe I was thinking about this because my sister recently gifted me with a quilt she'd made herself.   ("Quilt" comes to us from Middle English and before that Latin, culcita, the same root word that gives us cushion; indeed, "quilts" have moved up in the world, having originally been the mattresses/cushions we slept on rather than the puffy blankets we lie under).   This quilt is anything but white; it blankets the bed without being anything like a blank canvas.  

Prewash lies on her own "quilt"; a linen blanket that
I sewed into a pocket cushion stuffed with two old pillows.  

Our mother, when Alzheimer's disease started affecting her, responded by labelling everything-but-everything in the house with helpful sticky notes.   My sisters and I found these everywhere as we helped my father clean up her thing after she died.  These notes were a testament to her powers of organization and attention to detail, as well as a sadly comical picture of the losing battle:  "a green necklace from our trip to Alaska; no longer in this box"; "Pieces of string too small to save".   My sister named her quilt in homage to that last sticky note; she describes it as a quilt made of "pieces of fabric too small to save".  

It's the perfect quilt for a treasure hunt when my kids or grandkids come over.  Can you find . . . the super hero? an owl?  roses? horses?  butterflies? monkeys?  hearts?  And it's so cheery.  Cheery enough that when my body starts going to sleep but my brain is still partying, apparently that's where my brain goes to hang out.  Thanks, sister!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Did I fix my bricks? I don't know . . .

I guess I'd be in trouble if the Big Bad Wolf came by, since -- even though my home is made of bricks -- huffing and puffing seems to be bringing it down.  Or, rather, one part of one brick wall inside my house has been flaky for a while. 

Here's the wall: it's in a room we call The Library; it's a wall we share with our neighbors (an interior, not exterior wall, therefore).   Clearly there's some kind of difference between left and right, and I don't actually know the architectural reasons for why those two sides are different.*   

*update:  It's possible there's a moisture source we'll have to fix --- I just double-checked, and it turns out that that portion of the wall is actually shared with my neighbor's porch, not interior space, so there might be a longer term issue.   Eh, we'll figure it out.

At any rate, the right side seems generally fine, but the left side has been gently crumbly for a while now.  Above and below are photos I took last September (2020).   It looks like someone tried to seal the brick with some kind of (varnish?) something, and it was flaking off, and the bricks underneath were likewise kind of soft and crumbly.

I send these photos to my favorite home repair team, Nate and Todd.  Is this something they felt comfortable dealing with?

They referred me to one of the masons they work with.  I forwarded the pictures along to the mason, who came over sometime early fall 2020 for a [pandemically moderated, masked] in-person inspection and consultation.   He suggested I could probably take care of it myself.   I should sand the bricks down ("like, with my belt sander and regular sandpaper?"  yes), and then paint the bricks with a sealant from the local stone supply store. The dust from the bricks would be a hassle -- cover everything, open the window, grab a big fan, wear a mask, etc.  ("Ooh, I already have masks!").

Nate and Todd agreed this job could well be feasible to do on my own.  They suggested wire brushes instead of a belt sander, and they regaled me with the proper use of multiple drop cloths and ways to seal off the room from other, cleaner, parts of the house because of brick dust.  I stored away the knowledge and thought about dealing with this between semesters, in December . . . but December came and went, and so the project lingered, and the brick flaked gently, and we eventually arrived at May.

Last weekend, fully vaccinated and having a bit (= a lot) more freedom in my schedule than I did during classes, I finally went to the stone supply store.   They scoffed at the idea of sanding or scrubbing the brick, and offered me a slightly different kind of sealant than the mason had suggested.   I felt like a patient getting second and third opinions.

You know how sometimes you put something off forEVER because you think it's going to be a major project, and then it turns into Not a Big Deal?  I think, all told, working on the wall took a bit over one hour, maybe 2 hours, tops.   Much better than the 2- to 3-day project I'd envisioned.

A bunch of that time was spent hauling stuff around.  Our home is very linear, so getting stuff from the basement up to the second floor involves a lot of walking --- zigzagging, but in an upward direction, as we walk long hallways from one stair to the next.   I brought up the shop vac, and a step stool, and a bunch of painter's tarps.  

I started by reading the instructions on the sealant, and then started gently removing the most egregious flakes.  It didn't take long before I realize  that opinion #3 wouldn't cut it; the wall still had layers of flaky white varnish that were incompatible with sealing the brick.  Since I didn't have wire brushes, I grabbed the belt sander, put tarps all-the-heck-over-everything, and got to work removing the flakiest stuff.  The dust wasn't nearly as miserable as I'd feared it would be, and the shop vac was a champ at cleaning it up.   And then I sprayed the sealant on, and let it dry.  Then I packed everything up and zig-zagged it back down to the basement.

Will this work?  No idea.  The wall definitely looks much better right now than it did a few days ago, and it's not snowing on the bed anymore.   

* Now that I know the exterior side fo the brick needs work too, I'll get back in touch with the mason again.  In the meanwhile,   $80 worth of sealant and a few hours of my own time seems like a reasonable first attempt to avoid a more costly and elaborate procedure.