Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Be Cheap

Some people believe that cheapness is innate and unchangeable. They believe that in order to be cheap, Mom's birth plan had to assume your birth in the back of the Vega, Pops cutting through side streets, hunting for the lowest gas price. 

If you were not to the tightwad born, don't fret. They can believe what they want; I believe you can overcome a generous nature. Here are some tips on how to cultivate cheapness.

  • Convert a Christmas cookie jar into a bank. When the kids get rambunctious and ruin wrapping paper for re-use, fine them.
  • For Easter, cut jelly beans in half. Give some to the kids and save the rest for Halloween 'tricky treats'.
  • Homemade wrapping paper: use original store bag, scribble on it, and call it 'eco-friendly art packaging.' Feeling self-conscious? Say it was the kids' idea.
  • Buy a 99-cent card for Mother's Day. Insist that she give it back so it can be reused the next year. If you have a mom and a step-mom and/or mother-in-law, make them share.
  • If leftover meat remains on the guest's plate, cut around the bites and store for your use later.
  • Once you buy the week's toilet paper, ration equal amounts for each person in your household. Extra Cheap Tip: make guests bring their own.
  • Dental floss: measure out a comfortable length and mark in two-inch increments. Use only one section per day. Rinse and save in toothbrush holder until entire length is used. 
On Vacation
  • Never book a motel. Only travel where you have family. Fall asleep while looking at old family movies; play "sound sleeper,"and they'll feel bad for you and let you spend the night. Raid the fridge on your way out in the morning before anyone else gets up -- free room and board!
  • Dress the children alike. Ask all clerks if they offer a 'multiples' discount.
Social Life
  • If your girlfriend is short, try to get her into the movie on a kid's "12 and under" ticket.
  • Invite a friend out to lunch and 'forget' your wallet. Keep friends away from each other, so you can do this more than once.
  • Make your kid use the same plastic bag and messed up piece of tinfoil for his school lunch all week. Explain to him that it's a 'Friendship Test': he doesn't need friends who would tease him about saving money. Extra Cheap Tip: make him reuse a napkin too. 
    Apply these and they will naturalize, like day lilies dug up from alongside the road and transplanted to your flower bed. Congratulations on your spreading cheapness!

    This is my third collaborative article, and it's always a good time. Thanks Jennifer B., Tina C., 
    Mary Ann D., Fred H., Gina L., Kamla L., Kathleen R., and Mike T. Want more? You can read about writing your own bio blurb, or surviving Michigan's rich tradition of high school graduation open houses.

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    Sci-Nonfi: RoboRoaches

    On an otherwise unremarkable day in May, I spent time with high school students and neuroscientists and their remote-controlled cockroaches.
    Two live RoboRoaches on a lab table

    My essay appears in The Curator today. An excerpt:
    The students finish the SpikerBoxes; the cockroach experience begins. A few Blaberus discoidalis cockroaches will have a limb surgically removed. The legs, the scientists explain, have neurons firing in them, even after they are amputated, and will remain alive for up to two days.
    Volunteers take on the roles of anesthesiologist and surgeon. Marzullo guides them through the procedure. The cockroaches are removed from their habitat and submerged in ice water. Using small, curved scissors, the leg is quickly and carefully cut and pinned to a SpikerBox. Students huddle around it, waiting to hear the spikes. It sounds like static. Gage and Marzullo then connect the box to an iPad, and students can see a visual representation of the sounds.
    They discuss possible responses of the leg to stimuli, and reveal what will be one of the student’s favorite experiments: How will a cockroach leg respond to the sound vibrations of hip-hop, specifically the song “Love the Way You Lie?”
    Read the entire story here.

    You can read The Oakland Press article, learn more about Backyard Brains, or prepare for the coming RoboRoach invasion.

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Fonetik Spelng

    One of my children has entered the age of phonetic spelling. It's an ongoing word obsession with this one: making lists, writing stories, spelling things out in refrigerator magnet...

    Can you guess the word?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Surprises in Concert

    I love concert surprises, when a band covers something unexpected or a special guest appears. I saw the Barenaked Ladies sing a bit of the theme from Titanic. I witnessed Eric Clapton invite Stevie Ray Vaughn onto the stage. I was entertained by the first and giddy at the second.

    Concerts hold other surprises too, sometimes even more memorable. I love to be blown away by the musicianship of the supporting players. Francine Reed comes to mind, singing on tour with Lyle Lovett. Oooo wee!

    I'm most likely to be awed by a percussionist. Paul Simon's Rhythm of the Saints tour opened with what felt like a percussion orchestra: unbelievable. Bernie Dresel playing with Brian Setzer? Jaw-dropping. Then there's this guy. When lit properly, he looks like a tambourine witch doctor. Behold, the mesmerizing Ray Cooper (with Elton John):

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Pomp and Circumstance and Meatballs

    June heralds a special period in my little town. No, not summer (that lasts for exactly 9 days in late July). Not road construction time (that's May-November). June marks the traditional beginning of open house season.

    Areas rendered in pink
    indicate communities
    that prefer
    Michigan Open House Customs
    Here's what you can expect if someone invites you to an open house:
    • A high school graduate who looks annoyed at being at his or her own party
    • A beautifully clean garage with tables full of food
    • Paint cans, weed whackers, bottles full of motor oil, and other junk crammed into a locked basement
    • Mystery relatives
    • Cocktail meatballs in chili sauce and grape jelly
    Six Open House Do's For Moms
    1) DO display embarrassing photos of your graduate. This serves a dual purpose. It's fun for you, and it will drive your kid out of the house sooner. 

    2) DO have an open bar. When someone passes out, you can fetch the permanent markers and keep the little ones busy with a round of "Tattoo Parlor."

    3) DO plan major renovations for May. Dealing with invitations, commencement, food, a surly teenager, and the looming specter of your emptying nest is not enough. 

    4) DO start the day with a nice mimosa.
    4a) Continue as directed by a physician.

    5) DO have a list of chores ready for each member of your family. If they dawdle, start mixing large quantities of Red Bull with injectable B12.

    6) DO rent a dumpster. Anything lying on the ground the next day gets thrown away. Hint: wake up "Tattoo Parlor" patrons before applying this rule.

    Six Tips for Grads
    7) DO NOT coordinate party dates with your friends. This will limit attendance and embarrassment.

    8) DO NOT forget to pick up your slightly delusional one legged grandmother. DO check her O2 tank to make sure she has enough to last the duration of the party, or until she hops back to the center.

    Ceiling mildew,
    dead moth,
    or your spirit,
    9) DO NOT crack jokes about the mildew in the bathroom being a fun inkblot test for Grandpa. Your mother has lost her sense of humor.

    10) DO NOT ask why you have to wash the floor when people are just going to walk on it anyway (see above).

    11) DO hide all cash, car keys, collectible train sets, and tools. Free food attracts all sorts of unsavory family members. This mature thinking will go a long way toward repairing the damage you've caused in points nine and ten.

    12) DO push food on everyone. You don't want to eat this stuff all summer.

    Savvy Advice for Open House Guests
    13) DO ask the graduate about future plans. Guffaw.

    14) DO let your preschooler have free reign over the dessert table. Yes, red velvet cake will stain, but hey, those aren't your drapes.

    15) No meal planned for the next day? DO show up late. Act surprised when they offer you leftovers, and marvel at the coincidence: your purse is full of Tupperware. 

    Congratulations, graduates. Enjoy your mostaccioli, and have a meatball for me.

    This is my second collaborative post. You can read the first, on writing your own biography blurb, by clicking here. Thanks to Jennifer B., Lisa B., Shawn B., Tina C., Pam C., Connie D., Kathleen R., Dean S., and Kimberly T.  for the clever conversation.