Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sliding in sideways...

I am having a bad week. I know they happen, but gee whiz. This is just not a good week. This has been the kind of week wherein I have had relatively simple lists of stuff I need to get done…and almost none of it has actually been accomplished.

Also? We ran out of vodka, while I’m still on a $100 a week budget. Next week I’ll have my more normal budget back but right now, when I need vodka? I CAN’T FRICKIN’ AFFORD IT.


It’s like, the Cosmos just hates me, or something. Thank Dog we still have some beer out in the garage, yo?

So, what kind of crazy have I been having this week? Eh, the usual, plus one ear infection, one autism assessment (because timing is everything, and ear infections are mandatory before assessments) and one ‘teacher in-service’ day (all Denizens home, all day, barging into whatever I’m doing as if they are being pursued by starving mountain lions shrieking, “Mommy!” and then either forgetting what they wanted or realizing that I’m going to say ‘no’ so they’re trying to modify their demand to something more feasible before finally giving up by saying, “I forget!” and wandering off) (it’s wonderful, really it is…) – all made that much more exasperating by the fact that we are going on a nice, peaceful, no-kids vacation tomorrow evening.

Yes, that’s right! We’re going away! To celebrate our eleventh anniversary, and also the fact that I have managed to not drop dead for forty straight years now! My girlfriends are coming for the weekend, and then my parents are coming for a couple days into the week, so that we can have an actual vacation-as-such. Alone-together. With more than twenty-four hours between long drives!

I know! That is just all like, whoa. And also eeeeee! And some junk like that. I had to be talked into going, and I’m still actually working on being happy about going. I mean, I am. How could I not be happy? We’re going back to the Scene of the Crime© - Disneyland.

We got engaged there.

On the Matterhorn.

Yes way! The man proposed marriage, on a rollercoaster. ON the rollercoaster. Not ‘in front of’ or ‘while in line for’. After we had boarded and the ride had started.

And then I’m surprised at the life we lead. Oy.

Anyway, I’ve given us a budget of $250 cash-money for the trip, which is actually a lot more generous than it sounds. I’ve already covered the hotel with reward points, and will hopefully be picking up some Disney gift cards tomorrow from another mom who is swapping me some of my wide assortment of local cards (whaddya want, I gotcher Sears, I gotcher Bath & Body Works, got a Target in here somewhere, Starbucks, anybody want Starbucks, I gotcher Starbucks right here…name your poison, I gotcha covered…) – so really, all I have to pay with actual money-from-my-checking-account is gas there and back again, and any food we buy off-site (where we can’t use the gift cards) (that I might not actually get, if she forgets, or changes her mind, or can’t find them or whatever) (do you know that crazy woman actually said she would give me one of her $100 Disney cards for a $50 Sears card?! I hope she rethinks that one…or that I have the moral fortitude to decline…because that IS highway robbery) (although, you know…maybe I could give her the Sears card AND offer to watch her daughter some night so she and her husband can go out? It’s a thought…a cheap mutually-beneficial thought…).

But. Naturally. The process of getting ready to go on a vacation for four whole days, during which other people will be staying in the Den, is enough to put me in the funny farm. Do we have enough juice, and bread, and medications? Where are the sheets for the hideaway bed, and do we have any decent towels we can put out?

Plus this is apparently National Overwhelm Parents With Paperwork week, and the girls all have been dragging home forms and questionnaires and the like from school. I have spent so many hours stuck in my office chair this week, it is ludicrous…meanwhile, the dust bunnies are threatening a military coup from beneath the beds and the bathrooms are going to be condemned any minute now.

Heh. Yeah. I can just imagine how bad that would actually have to be. “We’re sorry, but this space is way too nasty to be used as a bathroom, you’ll have to go somewhere else to deposit your waste...”

Captain Adventure’s assessment went well, or at least, as well as can expected. No real news, of course, because like any other medical thing they don’t want to tell you anything right then and there. Oh no. Whoever you’re talking to is not the person who makes these judgment calls. It’s like buying a car – there’s some mysterious Guy in the Back who tells the sales person what deals can or cannot be struck. “Let me go ask our finance guy,” they say, and disappear for fifteen minutes. Or a few days. Or, if it is a medical thing, four months.

I have come within a hair of canceling the whole trip about nine times in the last few days, mostly because I am so bone-tired that I’m about ready to just not give a @*&^@ about anything else. You know what I mean? I’m just this close to just tossing in the towel on the whole deal. Running that extra load of laundry so we can have all our shirts? Finding the luggage? Packing? Putting together the medical information for the Denizens “in case” (which I personally believe actually wards off disaster, in a kind of reverse-psychology magic: if those minding them have everything they need in case of emergency, there will be no emergency)?


If he wants it done, my husband can jolly well do it. Me? I’ll be out back chain smoking (which should be worth the price of admission, since I haven’t had a cigarette in about, oh…geez…fifteen years? I can only imagine what chain smoking would do to my system now…) and lining up the tequila shooters (wait…I think we’re out of tequila, too. IS THERE NO END TO MY SUFFERING?!).

You know…I talk such a good story. But I had two (2) homemade Cosmos the other night? Wiped. Out. Seriously. I was all like, “Oooooh, I’m gonna go ahead and make m’self another one because it is my birthday {sip, sip} WHOOPEEEEEEzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…”

Pathetic. Ya know, back in the day…but that’s another story for another time.

And now, I need to go find a gift bag for the layette, which I did actually finish this morning! That’s right! In spite of everything else I should have been doing, I “found time” to finish the last bootie this morning (never let it be said that I do not have my priorities straight!). This is such a cute little set…I definitely need to get it up on Ravelry. I hope she enjoys it. And that her baby doesn’t grow into it in August and out of it again by November…

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I am so cold…

…I am actually tempted to buy knitwear.

Even though I am a somewhat accomplished knitter and could so totally make anything Old Navy can throw at me with what I already have in my stash THIS VERY INSTANT, I am so cold right now that I could totally plop down $30, $40, even $50 for a warm hat and scarf that is ready for me to wear RIGHT IMMEDIATELY NOW.

Thank Gawd the mall closes at 9:00, I think is what I’m saying right now.

What pushes this past being just a little sad and well into the realms of Pathetic is that it isn’t even really THAT cold. It’s 50 degrees in the house right now. Even I have to admit that 50 degrees ain’t cold. Here in northern-central California, it isn’t “cold” until it drops below 35. THEN we start saying, “Whoa, dude, is it me? Or is it, like, cold-and-some-junk?”

We don’t start really talking about how cold it is until we have our annual freeze. And even then, mostly we aren’t talking about how cold it is, we’re talking about all our new neighbors who thought that by moving into California from {any other state except Hawaii}, they would never, ever, EVER have to deal with actual Weather again. And then they woke up one morning and their pipes had burst because the people who build houses around here are also from Michigan and thought that houses in California would never, ever have to deal with temperatures below 70-something.

Now, I know you’re saying to yourself, “I hate this woman so much…I have not seen the sun in fifteen years and it is approximately four hundred degrees below ABSOLUTE ZERO in my house right now and I have to walk my children to and from school uphill both ways through the PERMA-FRICKIN-FROST every single day because Snow Days are against the school zombie’s religion and if it weren’t for the fact that a one bedroom house in any ghetto of California costs $1,200,250,999.29, I would SO TOTALLY move out there just so I could kick her hot-house BUTT Oh my gawrsh, is this woman actually saying that she has been knitting for {mumble} years and has never knit herself a hat and scarf?”

Oh, I have knit myself hats. IN FACT, I have knit myself three (3) hats this year alone!

Eldest has been wearing one day and night for weeks. It is “elfish”, she tells me. Uh, OK.

Danger Mouse took the other and is quite pleased with it. She says it goes with her glasses, and really, I can’t argue with her.

And yes, Boo Bug has the third. She wears it about 30% of the time, and her dolls wear it the other 70%.

And by “dolls”, I mean Donald Duck.

Ya. The NON-COLD-FEELING anger-management-skills-impaired AND BY THE WAY STUFFED Disney character gets to wear a nice warm hat, while I’m out there shivering my dandruff off waiting for his owner to get out of Kindertime (the kindergarten after-school program).

I also do not own a “real” jacket. You know, one that will repel wind, rain and, oh, I dunno, coldness? I have a couple sweaters and a light fleece jacket, and a couple “dressy” jackets that are totally stylish, which will be great when I freeze to death. “Oh look, it appears this poor woman froze to death while waiting for her children in front of the school”, the first police officer will say. “Yes, and look how stylish she is!” the other will reply, admiring my sliming, but poorly insulated, suede jacket.

Do you know why I do not own a good, warm jacket?

Because! I have yarn! And I am going to knit myself a steeked cardigan out of good, doubled Merino any day now!! Which makes shelling out $100 (or more) for a decent wind-repelling, cold-thwarting, rain-shedding parka seem, heh heh, kinda silly, huh?

I’m also going to make myself a(nother) hat. Soon.

Which will probably end up on Stitch.


You know when I’m going to get around to making myself some nice warm things? IN AUGUST. When I can barely handle the mere thought of knitting with wool, because it is 115 degrees outside…

Friday, January 25, 2008

Workin' hard, or hardly workin'?

Yes, it has been an exhausting day around the Den today! First of all, I took the recycling I’ve accumulated over the last twenty days down to my new best friends at the new recycling center which is…

  1. Convenient
  2. Close
  3. Open 7 days a week for at least eight hours each day
  4. Not run by the state, so they actually take CRV and don’t say “sorry, hon [hon? HON? Mister, I’m about to go all Hun, as in ‘Attila The’, on your overly-familiar tush!], I can’t take anymore aluminum today – my bin’s full and the truck ain’t due ‘til Thursday”

They pay for my CRV stuff, AND they also take #1 and 2 plastic for cash – which means that I can take down the 24 empty milk jugs we usually accumulate each month and get, oh, something like…a buck-ish back for them.

Hey. It is better than nothing, which is what I usually get. Actually, come to think of it, I pay the city to pick up my curbside recycling.

ANYWAY. I took my recycling down and the handsome, burly young men hefted it out of the minivan and onto their scales and then the smiling manager handed me $6.74 and thanked me for my business (and complimented Captain Adventure on his excessive cuteness).

Fresh from this major financial triumph (hush!), I came home and redeemed some survey-taking points for a $50 PayPal payment. It took me almost three months to acquire that many points! But my inflated sense of self-importance perseverance finally paid off!

Exhausted from my hard day’s work, I started scanning my email. Hmm, a message from my Costco Amex about my impending rebate check, which they would like to remind me will be enclosed with my next statement SO DON'T JUST THROW IT AWAY, DUFUS!

My impending rebate check is going to be…$431.86.

WOOT!!!! An entire month’s groceries, with precisely nothing actually out of pocket for it!! And all I had to do to get it was do exactly what I was going to do anyway.

Yessir, it was hard, hard work, charging our usual household purchases on that card. Whew. I’m thinking I might need to go get a coffee to recover from the exhaustion. And, as it just so happens, I’ve got a $25 Starbucks card I got in exchange for answering a few questions about diapers recently…

Yes, I work awfully hard at this stuff. Describing what all there is to like about Huggies and dislike about baby-oil scented wipes will absolutely postrate one...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Baby knitting

Hey look, it’s some knitting!!

This is the baby sweater I just (all-but-buttons) finished for Captain Adventure’s preschool teacher.

Mini Fisherman

I love this sweater. It came out of Knit Layettes for Little Darlings, and it is a wonderful combination of “cool looking” and “not really that hard”. It also has a back opening with two buttons for closure, which eliminates that whole thing where you imagine baby’s head will be this big and then it is actually THIS big and the mother has to quietly donate it when you aren’t looking because it could not possibly ever fit over her child’s head.

That big fancy looking cable pattern on the front is only eight rows, of which only two actually involve cabling. It was fast to memorize and knit up pretty darned fast.

I just started the bonnet tonight, and it likewise is moving right along. At this rate, I might actually get the whole sweater/bonnet/booties thing together before she goes on leave next week!

Hey, it could happen. After all, it’s supposed to rain like the dickens out here tomorrow, and all weekend, and I’m heartily tired of trying to go places in the rain.

And as long as I’m doing pictures, look! Two 5-hour baby sweaters!

5-Hour baby sweaters

These are the “boy” version from Gale Bable. Cute, huh? These are always a pleasure to do, because they knit up so darned fast. It makes me feel very…productive. And talk about stash-busting! Used up two balls that have been loitering around for eons, probably smoking and drawing graffiti on the back of the drawer. Hopefully having a real day job of keeping a baby warm will straighten them out and put them on the path of Good Citizenry.

Hoooookay. And with that, I’ve probably revealed that sleep and caffeine deprivation are not helping me with my rampant imagination. Thank you, goodnight, and may your God go with you.

So {happy, upset} I could cry

Choose either one. They both apply. I just got off the phone with the intake coordinator at a local developmental center. Captain Adventure is going next week to start the process of a full-full-full autism assessment, with all the various spectrums and syndromes and all the “hmm, well, maybe it might be…” possibilities chased down to a definite YES or NO.

I am so happy, and so upset, that I cannot stop misting up.

We’ve had the “lite” version of these evaluations done three times now. The first time it came back “Nah!”, the second time it came back “Wellllll…” and the last time it came back “Eh, maybe? But maybe not…could be this, or that…huhn…we should probably have him checked out by the Professionals.”

Something is not right with my boy. Oh sure, he’s getting better. He’s adding words every day. I asked for a hug this morning and got it, and a big old kiss besides. When he wants something, he’ll ask for it specifically; that’s huge progress from a year ago, when he would simply begin shrieking and crying for no apparent reason, and I had to play “twenty guesses” to figure him out. Offer him juice? No. Milk? No. Diaper? No. Pretzels? Aaaaah, so that’s what he wanted…

But still. He’s just kind of…quirky, sometimes. And I don’t mean “cute quirky” or “showing some individuality” quirky.

Weird quirky. He doesn’t generally do things that scream “AUTISM!!”, but he does do things that murmur it. Hint at it. Suggest that maybe-possibly…it could be…or maybe not…then again…ARGH.

I have been trying to get him into this center for evaluation since before Thanksgiving. I have been calling and calling and calling. Between people being gone for holidays and the sudden spike that comes at this point in the school year, I was starting to think we were never going to get a call back.

And then glory hallelujah. Someone called me back.

Bang! I get the referral letter!

Wham! Please send us copies of this, and that, and that other thing, the one with the squiggly lines!

And today, rrrrrring-rrrrrring, hello, can you come in next week? It should be for about two hours, please come alone with the child, no siblings or Concerned Others…

I managed to stay perky while I was on the phone. I took down information. I said “Great!” and “OK!” and “No no, next week is awesome – sooner the better!”

Early intervention, after all, is key…you don’t want to wait on these things…

And then I hung up the phone and dissolved.

Sometimes, I don’t want to know. Maybe if we just ignore it, he can be our baby forever. It’s OK. He can just be the way he is. Forty months old, and talks like a nine month old. Babble babble Mommy babble babble Dora babble babble car!! Can’t potty train, has to be carried because he won’t take my hand and walk obediently at my side, can’t be left alone, not for a second, because he will start destroying things in innocent but wild abandon, exactly like a twelve month old trapped in a three-and-a-half year old body…

Sometimes, the possibilities are just so overwhelming. But I suspect this is exactly like getting shots. I always get so worked up when I know I’m going to have to get a shot. It really is extraordinarily silly. I get into A State every single time. I’m worse than my children, I seriously am.

And then the actual shot is never, ever as bad as the State I got myself into over it.

He is a sweet, loving little boy. He is wicked smart. He is not “normal”, or anything like it. Somewhere in that little head, there are connections that just aren’t being made right.

He’s going to need extra help to straighten it out. And maybe, just maybe, they never will quite hook up the way most brains do.

That’s OK, too.

He’s just himself. And at being Captain Adventure, he is as perfect as perfect can get.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go find my Big Girl panties and put them on. I’ve got a lot of sucking up and walking off to get done.

And also photocopying of papers with squiggly lines that mean something about his hearing, and other papers with squiggly lines that mean something about his cognitive skills, and other papers with long rambling paragraphs about how he matches shapes and colors and blocks and whether or not he makes approximation sounds…

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Money Report

Last week went really well. I filled up Homer the Odyssey late in the week for $45, and ended up with $15 left over in my pocket. And then someone walked up to me Friday and said, “Here, thanks,” and handed me $70.

Sometimes short term memory loss is such a delightful thing. I’d forgotten the loan, so it was all like, “SURPRISE! You’ve just won the Payback Lottery!!”

Today’s supermarket journey netted me six gallons of milk, 18 eggs, half a pound of coffee, a bag of pears, a bunch of bananas, two bags of cereal (yes bags, not boxes), five pounds of potatoes and a pint of whipping cream, and set me back $46. I took another $50 in cash, took the kids (and me, I looked like the Shaggy DA’s wife) to Supercuts for bang trims and handed over $35.

And then I took the kids to Starbucks with a gift card (woo hoo) and came home triumphantly clutching $100 for the rest of the week – which is going to include a dinner out on Saturday (I have a coupon for a free birthday entrĂ©e) (there has to be something good about the ordeal, and I claim that all the free this and that coupons are it – I also got a free sundae at Baskin Robbins) (neener neener neener).

The $100 budget continues for now; this week and next, after which I’ll have a new budget in place that is a more realistic “going forward” budget. It’s already helped tremendously for us, stopping an awful lot of crazy simply by forcing me to back away from Internet purchases and “you know what would be {cool, convenient, nifty, handy, groovy, hot}? A {consumer good I don’t actually need at all and which probably costs a good $50 or more}!” purchases.

My Big Picture task for this week is to go over our free credit reports (Annual Credit Report will get you all three free – you have to resist each individual agency’s offers of scores and monitoring and whatnot, but eventually you get to the free report to which you are entitled annually) to make sure I know about and agree with everything on them. This is a vital act of fiscal nit-pickery that we tend to give a miss because we are “busy”; and then we pay higher interest rates and get declined new credit at the most inopportune times because we didn’t realize we had negative things on there in error.

I urge you to go check out your reports. Go on. It’s not that bad. Have your printer hooked up, print them out, settle in with a cup of coffee (or rum, if it makes you feel warmer) and a highlighter and go over the thing. Ask questions. Look up answers. Be persistent and annoying if need be to get errors corrected. This stupid sheaf of papers tells the banks how to treat you. Don’t just get to know it a little better – make yourself the master of it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

What goes into the freezer

I’ve gotten a couple emails about what exactly we put into our freezer for later consumption, what books we use, etc. etc. etc.

For cookbooks that are specific to freezer cooking, I strongly recommend checking out your local library. Truth is, some are great and some are rotten – and hey, you’re only doing this once a month, right? Get the book, pick out some recipes, and give them a try. If you love the book to distraction and want to keep it forever, then invest the money.

Actually, the library cookbook section is a fabulous place to check out in any case. I can’t speak for everybody out there, but I get bored fast with food. I like variety. I like new stuff. I will lose my ever-lovin’ mind if I have to eat the same four meals every night for a month.

If you’ve got something that you really love and you’d like to make it a freezer meal, try it! Make it for dinner, put an individual-sized portion into the freezer and try it for lunch! If it works out, great! Add it to the Cooking Day list! If it doesn’t work out, well, now you know – and you didn’t waste a dinner-for-eight amount of materials.

If you decide to give freezer cooking a whirl, you’ll quickly get a feel for what can and cannot be frozen – just because the cookbook is designed around cook and immediately eat recipes doesn’t mean you can’t freeze the meals as well…sometimes with slight modifications, sometimes without even that.

Nobody has room in the freezer or time to do the cooking day. That’s why we’re desperate to try it! We don’t have time for this stuff!! You can start trying it out in baby steps – make double the recipe and freeze half each night for a week, and you’re a week ahead. Do a smaller cooking spree, a couple hours on a Saturday or Sunday, and get yourself one week’s worth in there.

Ziploc baggies are the friend of the space-impaired in the freezer. Laid flat, you really can get an entire month’s worth in that wee little top freezer on your fridge. You’d be surprised. I get my entire month’s on the top shelf in my upright freezer in the garage, which is slightly less space than my inside freezer.

So. What does and doesn’t freeze? Darn near anything can be frozen…It’s actually easier to talk about what doesn’t freeze well than what does.

Stuff that just doesn’t like the freezer

Potatoes. They go all mushy and watery and rubbery and ick. Trust me on this one. Ew.

Cheeses. Hard cheese will be fine; shred first for best results, because they will shred anyway if you try to slice them. I believe the technical term would be “crumbly”. Soft cheese, like cream cheese, will go weird, so don’t get that huge block at Costco thinking you can put most of it in the freezer to keep forever. It can, however, be mixed into recipes and frozen without harm as long as the recipe isn’t something like “mix one teaspoon chives with one pound of cream cheese”. That won’t work. Two cups of chicken and 1/3 cup of cream cheese has worked just fine for us.

Sour cream does the same thing. A little in a recipe will be fine, but if it is significant amounts it will separate and not want to come back together. You can often get around that by mixing it in the final (reheating) steps rather than making the dish all the way through during cooking day. For example, when I make beef stroganoff, I make up to the point where you’d stir in the sour cream. Freeze it right there, and then after you’ve gently warmed it back up to serving temperature, you can carry on as if it has never seen the inside of a freezer, stir in your sour cream and viola! Beautiful stroganoff, and it took longer to cook the noodles than to get the stroganoff itself ready to go over them.

Mayo is tricky. If you’ve mixed a little bit of it into something, you’re fine. But on its own, it goes all separated and doesn’t like to come back together.

Eggs (like, if you’re making a stir-fry or something similar) are another thing that ought to be added during that final reheating step. They go rubbery in the freezer.

Things that are OK, but might freak you out if you don’t know about it beforehand

Milk freezes just fine, but will separate when defrosted. Give it a good hard shake before pouring and you’re fine.

White sauces and gravy will thicken up and you’ll think they’re “ruined”. Warm them gently and add a little more milk (between 1 tablespoon and 1/4 cup, max). They’ll usually spring back to life for you.

Some flavors will intensify, others will fade. Pepper and salt have a way of either fading or becoming overpowering. For best results, cook it a little bland, then spice it up while reheating.

Pasta can become disgusting if you’ve cooked it all the way. Easy to avoid, though – undercook it a little before freezing.

Whipping cream won’t whip after being frozen.

Vegetables will be softer. If you like them good and crisp (raises hand), don’t freeze them.

What exactly I’ve put in the freezer

We’ve had a chicken and wild rice casserole, chicken chili, Sloppy Joes, beef stroganoff, ham and Swiss cheese bake, a spinach-chicken casserole with bits of ham and bacon and white sauce, turkey and chicken pot pies, shepherd’s pie made with ground beef (potatoes added during reheating), homemade spaghetti sauce, quiche, French bread pizza loaves, curried chicken, Teriyaki chicken stir-fry, halibut in white sauce (halibut has been frozen in one bag, the white sauce in another – that way, I can do my ‘gently heat and add milk if needed’ thing while the halibut is baking, eliminating a soggy halibut filet encrusted with lumpy, too-thick white sauce), citrus-glazed salmon (same thing, sauce in small bag stapled to bigger bag with salmon filets in it), and meatloaf.

If I remember to take them out the night before to defrost, they’re on the table in about half an hour on average; some of the bigger casseroles and meatloaves take an hour. There’s no chopping, stirring, or using fifteen bowls and five spoons to make them, so cleanup after dinner is a snap.

And, I’m not spending a mazillion dollars at the supermarket buying food we might not eat because I’m “too tired” to cook it up. That alone is worth a long, long day of cooking to me.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Like I needed more proof

I think I have already pretty well established the fact that I am a major dork. So many incidents, so little bandwidth on the Internet to share them all with you.

And yet, I just added yet another fact to the great library of Facts Proving Tama Is A Serious Dork.

I was flipping through Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month (no, that isn’t the dork part) and found the following tip:

“To cut down on tears when chopping large quantities of onions, the easiest and most effective thing to do is to use your food processor…” Yeah, that’s great, if you HAVE a food processor, which Your Faithful Correspondent does NOT “Other suggestions include wearing swimming goggles…”

Yeah, this is where my dork factor took another major twitch upward on the scale.

I threw back my head and shrieked, “OH MY GAWD, THAT IS SO BRILLIANT!!”

And then I interrupted my husband at work to tell him how brilliant this is.

And then I interrupted YOUR day to tell YOU how brilliant this is.

Now on the one hand, I admit that the idea of standing in my kitchen wearing swimming goggles while dicing onions gives me a twinge of this is SO not runway material fashion-guilt. It also makes me giggle uncontrollably and wish I had flippers and water wings to wear as well.

Because that would be funny. And also because I am a dork. Maybe I should look into snorkeling attire…heh…cutting onions in a full diving suit? Heh heh heh…

On the other hand…people…I diced fifteen onions before starting the last big cooking day. FIFTEEN ONIONS.

My eyeballs filed for a legal separation. They tried to jump right out of my head and get on a Greyhound bus to anywhere. By the time I got to the sixth onion, I was already working completely blinded by a waterfall of tears; which, when what one is doing is slicing up a slippery round vegetable with a recently sharpened Wusthof chef’s knife, is not exactly the brightest thing to be doing.

Swimming goggles.

So. Brilliant.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

You say “mess”, I say “creative process”

Oh yeah, knitting. I have been knitting. Remember knitting? It’s like this thing, where you take two sticks and some string and you make stuff?

After finishing two of the 5-hour baby sweaters over the last week (one in purple, one in red, both TLC yarn in deference to the charity organizations request for acrylic), I came home today to find a notice from Captain Adventure’s preschool teacher saying “blah blah maternity leave starting February 1…”

And I said, “Oh. My. Dawg.”

You know, the signs of someone who is about to have a baby are so subtle. Things like the bulging belly, the fact that the belly occasionally moves in ways that bellies do not ordinarily do, the way I have an almost irresistible urge to put my hand on the belly and offer free babysitting…they’re so easy to miss.

I can’t believe I was caught so off-guard by the fact that this baby is due, like, Now-Ish.

Now, some people who have this crazy feeling they must inflict their knitting on new arrivals would calmly go to their stash, pull out a well-filed skein of something machine washable and cast on a nice, sane little project. Something like, I dunno, another five hour baby sweater…which takes five hours, which even someone like me who is somewhat on the time-impaired scale of availability might have a prayer of finishing in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.

But really, where’s the fun in that?!

Instead, I bypassed the easily-found baby acrylic AND the well-filed patterns (I do, in fact, have AND KNOW THE LOCATION OF a binder set aside for exactly this purpose: easy to knit baby sweaters I like to make) and went for some old fashioned Creative Process instead.

Yes. Well. How to put the result…My bedroom looks as though a yarn truck exploded in it.

There are skeins and balls and oodles and pecks of yarn tumbled all over my bed. The needle case has regurgitated about 3/4 of its contents onto my pillow. There are half-done swatches abandoned in various piles all over my desk. Books flung open to half-remembered pages with patterns that Arachne herself couldn’t figure out (let alone without her glasses, and mine are AWOL) (seriously, they need to make those little numbers bigger on the gauge guides…is that a ‘6’, or an ‘8’…?), leaflets and patterns downloaded off the Internet commingling in the most shameful manner imaginable.

The splatter-zone created by my ‘creative process’ is impressive indeed.

And I can’t find the camera to document it.


But after five swatches and several frantic digs into the stash, I’ve finally settled on a project for the Impending Arrival: The Aran sweater from Knit Layettes for Little Darlings.

In a stunning display of my inability to keep track of just how much I can actually accomplish with “free time” (I know ‘free time’ is a myth, but I prefer the fantasy to the cold, hard realities of life) in a given day, I’ve decided to do not a simple pattern like the 5-hour baby sweater in a nice worsted on #10 US needles, but the slightly (just slightly) more complex Aran pattern in fingering weight yarn (Dale of Norway Baby Ull, which I think is slightly heavy for a ‘fingering’, but I’m getting perfect gauge with it so there you go), on #3 US needles that permit me to make approximately 1” for each hour worked on the front of this little sweater.

And instead of saying, “Hmm, you know, this might just not get done in time…” I’m saying, “Well, that’s OK – the back is just straight stockinette, and I’m a fast purl-er.” {WOOT WOOT WOOT, FIB ALERT, FIB ALERT, FIB ALERT!!!}


I really don’t think there’s any hope for me. But, undaunted by such things as scientific and/or historical evidence to the contrary, I’m insisting to myself that I can so totally have not only the sweater BUT the booties AND the cap done in less than two weeks.

I have exhausted myself with all this creativity and outside-of-the-box and also Grandly Optimistic thinking, and would very much like to go to bed now.

But I can’t find it.

It seems to have been replaced by a rather large pile of miscellaneous baby yarns and loose papers and…what the heck IS that thing, anyway…?

Food for thought

I know a lot of people are wondering about that $100 a week for “everything”. How on earth do you feed six people on $100 a week, and fill up your gas tank, and, well, leave the house?!

Well, for at least a couple weeks, I’m not leaving the house much. I’m not going to the mall, or Starbucks, or anywhere else that I’m going to feel tempted. Fortunately for me, the kids’ extracurricular activities are not in or near any of those places; I can’t buy a cup of coffee even if I wanted to while they’re at gymnastics.

I’m not planning to keep to $100 a week forever. It’s for a few weeks, to improve our overall cash flow. I think a good analogy here is that we have really, really hurt ourselves with our spending last year. This isn’t a bump or a bruise – this is a gushing flow of blood(money) pouring into the street.

What’s the first thing you do when faced with a gashing wound spewing blood every-which-way? Apply direct, firm pressure.

That’s what this excessively tight budget for these two-three weeks is about. Direct, firm pressure. I’m attempting to clamp off the flow of blood(money) into the street. Not only does it immediately save me money, it gives me a psychological leg-up into the whole thing. Like the detox at the start of a diet or the ceremonial Flushing of the Cigarettes, it alerts my psyche to the fact that something is different, here.

The psyche that is accustomed to going through the supermarket like a cow on a field, grazing the aisles as though the word ‘restraint’ has never been uttered in its presence, now has to learn to stick tightly to that list – or said psyche will be walking everywhere for the next five days when it runs out of gas.

So, what are we eating?

Simple. We’re eating what we already have. Which is more than the average household, I will grant you: I’m a bulk-buyer from waaaaaay back. It is very, very rare that I don’t have at least a month’s food on hand; I have a heavily-used upright freezer out in the garage that I keep stocked with all kinds of meats, vegetables and home-cooked meals. I had a rare moment of clarity a couple days after Christmas and made myself do a huge cooking day, filling up the freezer with 45 full dinners – heat them up, add a simple side dish and bang. Dinner’s on the table, in about half an hour and with minimal cleaning up to do. Nice!!

Resisting the urge to drive out to the mall because I’m out of {fill in something I don’t really NEED but which I ran out of and am too lazy to find a substitute for right now} will help greatly with the gasoline costs – as it is I only fill up every other week and even then it isn’t a FULL fill-up, so with a little restraint I may well find I can go three whole weeks. I’ve got half a tank now – let’s see how long I can go before I need to fill-er-up.

I suspect that this $100 a week will actually be pretty easy…until February. We’ll be out of pre-made dinners and probably will have gone through most of the staples as well. We’ll still have plenty of meats in the freezer, but everything else will look like a swarm of locusts descended on the pantry and had a little party.

Whiiiiiiiiich really only adds another dimension to the game. Let’s say I get to Sunday, and I’ve still got that $60 in my pocket. Does this mean that I can now rush out to the mall and buy all those things I thought of throughout the week?

No. It means, “Yay, I’m a little bit ahead! I’m going to hold onto this money against the coming Big Buy at Costco!”

Then, when we inevitably chew our way what we already have on hand, I can look at what we still have in the freezer, put together another big cooking day, get my staples at Costco (usually around $200) and my “other” at the supermarket (around $50), spend a Saturday filling up the freezer with meals again and then settle back to cruise through February as well.

And yes. You better believe I’ll blog particulars when I get there.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Money Monday: January 14

Well. That’s it. The last guest has left. The last present gone. The last promised purchase made. Time to roll up my sleeves and get busy.

What I Want To Accomplish

Pay off one non-lien loan (meaning it is not secured by the house and therefore not tax-deductible) of $10,997.28. Currently at 6.9% interest, with minimum payments of (get this) $130. Yeah. If I were charging $60 a month for you to owe me money, I’d want to drag it out as long as possible, too!!

And, I want to work on our emergency fund. I currently have $2,500 in there. I want $20,000. Note that I’m not saying, I want to have $20,000 in there by the end of October. Because, all evidence to the contrary aside, I am not actually that crazy. I want to work on it. I want to do the best I can.

And if by some divine intervention or extreme fit of cleverness I do it, by God I am so treating myself to a day at the spa.

What I’ve got to work with

I have a monthly budget of $2,500. This does not cover the mortgage, car loan or HELOC, but does have to cover “everything else”. Groceries, PG&E, aforementioned loan, life insurance, medical and dental costs, gymnastics lessons, gasoline, etc. etc. etc. I’m used to just spending that money without really thinking about it – as long as my spending doesn’t exceed it, I’m good. I’ve got the college savings and the mortgage and minivan payment and all that taken care of before I get that $2,500 to spend – but now, I’ve got to get rid of that loan and build up the emergency fund with it as well.

Getting Busy

For January, I’m going over the bills. Large and small, I want to look at what exactly I’m spending on things. I’m especially interested in things that I don’t normally pay much attention to, like the cell phone plans and other “subscription” like services. We often become blind to bills that simply come and go – things that are automatically charged on our credit cards or debited from our checking account. I’ll be taking a good, hard look at each and every one of those, and deciding which things need a further review (or dismissal) and which things need to stay.

For this week (and probably through the end of the month), I’m going on a very strict cash budget. I’ve given myself $100 for all non-recurring spending. Groceries, gasoline, clothing – anything I would normal fish out a credit card to pay for have to come out of that $100. I already went to the supermarket and spent $35, and took another $60 in cash. That’s all I have left for the week, including the weekend. Yeah, I’m gypping myself $5. I’m sure we’ll survive.

And, I’m sensing a “stay at home” kind of weekend coming up…

Friday, January 11, 2008

T-Minus 48 hours

It’s almost over. It’s almost, almost over. In roughly 48 hours, I should be home from the last of the holiday-related Crazy. I will be putting my feet up and saying to myself, “Hot damn, I’ve lived through another one!!!”

A sense of pride will wash over me. And I will say to myself, in those first few moments, “OK, next year? No. Next year I am not going to Party 1 and I’m not doing the trip to City X and that whole thing where I’ve got one or twelve or eleventy-mazillion extra kids over? Not. Happening.”

Aaaaaaaand at some point around Halloween I will forget all about those first few moments and start packing up the calendar with visits and trips and parties and sure! I can watch your Poopsies for six hours while you go to the mall!

Since Thanksgiving, I doubt I’ve gotten fifteen minutes of peace and quiet. It’s been one thing after another. A party, a gift exchange, another party, another gift exchange, travel over here, travel over there, wait for delivery people, assemble something, cook something, tell someone to brush their teeth…hoo boy.

We have had extra human beings sleeping in the Den for going on three weeks. Solid.

The most exciting night, we had fifteen people, including our normal six. For the last two weeks, there’s been a ten year old boy sleeping on a mattress in the hallway right outside our bedroom. Ahem. Yes. It’s been spiffy, for all concerned. I’m sure he’s anxious to get home to a real bed that isn’t in the middle of a very active hallway – the Denizens all started back to school this week, so the morning routine has been raging around him every morning starting promptly at 7:00. Which is two hours after the two of us have bumbled over him to get downstairs, because that is where the coffee is.

I have a party tomorrow, and a promised visit Sunday, and then…whew.

That’s it.

Guests are gone. Parties are all attended. Gifts have been given. Trips have been taken. I have no ‘command performances’ for over a month. No extra children staying here.

There will be nobody using my laptop to play video games. Nobody stealing my monitor (!!) to play video games on the tower instead. Nobody asking me for snack (again).

I’ll be able to start shoveling out the Den. I’m pretty sure the kitchen floor is still down there…under the crumbs and the slick layer of rain-induced muck. My desk drawer looks like someone emptied a mail truck into it, and my email isn’t much better. These last three weeks have been absolute hell on me in terms of “…and then I did something FUN!”

And yet, it was all about fun. It was all about holiday spirit and festivities.

And it was fun. And festive. And a million kinds of wonderful.

And great balls of fire, but am I ever glad it’s almost over. I may just fall on the (filthy) kitchen floor and kiss it when I get home Sunday night.

I may never leave my Den again. Or allow anyone else to enter it. Ever! And this time, I really mean it.

At least until Easter, anyway.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

LBYM 2008

As I’ve ranted, raved, whimpered, stomped, slammed cupboards doors and otherwise behaved childishly about, 2007 was not the best year around here financially. We’ve ended the year on a down note, with depleted savings and new debts.

Therefore, without further ado (or whining, or ranting), may I introduce my Living Below Your Means (LBYM) 2008 Challenge. From January 14 through October 31, I’m going to focus on the ‘frugal’ side of LBYM. The goal is to pay off one of the nastier loans, and hopefully to then move on to bulking up our emergency fund, which is at a completely unacceptably low level right now.

I’m starting on Monday because I have Holiday Crazy ongoing through this weekend and I don’t want to add anything ‘extra’ to my plate until the last present has been delivered and the last guest has left. And I’m only running it through the end of October because it allows me to relax when the next Holiday Crazy descends on us. I don’t want to be trying to come up with “cute and creative” presents out of dumpster-diving scores, thanks all the same.

But it does need to be said right up front: This does not mean that all bets are off and on November 1 I’m going to be hitting the mall running with my Amex held out before me buying up everything that falls into my cart. It only means that I’m not going to be workin’ the frugal quite so hard during the festive season; if I spend every dime I have in my budget, that’s fine for those two months.

Spending dimes I do not have, however, is right out.

Now I know that some of you are out there saying, “Hey, I’ve got debts! And I don’t have enough savings, either! How can I play along?”

I’ll start posting my own weekly and monthly goals next week. Play along, if you like! Or just ignore it if you don’t! I’ll also be putting up frugal tips as they occur to me – long time LBYMers will just have to bear with us, because a lot of this has been said over, and over, and over, and over, AND OVER again. But! Seems there’s always someone who never heard it before, so it always bears repeating.

For the next few days, think about what you might want to accomplish by tightening up and redirecting your spending. Sure, most of us have debts, debts, debts we want to deal with – but maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ve always wanted to go to Venice, or you’d like to buy a house, or retire at 55. Maybe you’re just sick of living paycheck to paycheck and would like a nice emergency fund to cushion you when you hit those rough patches. Maybe you’d like to stop “having” to shop at WalMart, turn your consumer dollars into something that supports local art and labor.

Just mull it over. What things are there out there that you’d like to have, do or be that are out of your reach because there’s never enough money for them? Doodle it out, maybe. Just write down a bunch of stuff. It doesn’t have to be Big Important Stuff. It can be frivolous. This isn’t a test. Nobody is grading this. No right, no wrong. It’s about you and what makes you go, “Oooh! Yeah! That would be awesome!!”

Get jazzed about it.

And then next week…let’s see what we can do about making it happen.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Or possibly, it could just be cloudy outside

My DailyOM horoscope today informed me that, You may feel disheartened and gloomy today, and want to be alone with your thoughts. These feelings could be the result of frustration with challenges you’re facing or a loss of motivation about your goals.

Yeah…that…or, it could simply be dark and cloudy and getting ready to rain a little more. At 7:00 this morning, it was dark like 5:00 – and right now, at noon, I’ve got the lights on in my bedroom even though the blinds are up all over the Den.

Still, the horoscope was a good read for me today. Truth is, I am feeling a bit gloomy and overwhelmed lately. Partly it is the usual New Years thing – I always get a little gloomy around New Years, because I make these impossible goals for myself every single year. Shoot, I do it every day, write down to-do lists that a team of 40 well-trained professionals could not possibly get done in one measly day…but see, on the daily list, I know that it’s actually more of an ongoing daily list. What I didn’t do today just stays on the list for tomorrow. Eventually, I’ll get it done.

The yearly list, even though I do the same thing, put down more than any human could do in a single year while saying, “It’s more of a lifetime achievement goal…”, somehow does not have the same “eh, whatever” factor when I get to the end of the year.

I get a little bummed that I didn’t do “better”. Especially since the Chaos, Holiday Edition™ around here is still in full force and won’t be receding even a little bit until Sunday evening. Geez. Normal people get to New Years and that’s it. But ooooh no, not me. I’ve still got guests and presents to buy and things that aren’t wrapped and oh yeah, I need to remember to pick up eleventy mazillion pounds of Spam for that party on Sunday…

And then I get defeatist about the whole concept of goals, and I say, “Why even bother? It isn’t like next year is going to be better! {…doom, gloom, despair, anger, resentment…}”

It’s just one of those things. I can say to myself, “Look, just don’t be that way!”, but that is exactly like telling someone suffering from clinical depression to just “be happier”.

It doesn’t work. There is a deeper psychological thing, there. For whatever reason, I’m OK with not finishing an impossible daily task, but feel that somehow I should be able to do an impossible yearly task.


Of course, “just don’t be that way” is probably the only real treatment I have for the condition at this point. “Just don’t be that way” is better than “let’s try drinking heavily!” or “perhaps I could throw myself off a bridge! And then I totally won’t have to carve that Spam!”

And next year, I could try not making up a Herculean list of things I’d like to accomplish. Maybe I could invent some kind of system, that does time management? Hmm, how hard could it be.

I’ll add it to the list. Between ‘go to culinary academy’ and ‘take up bio-chemistry’.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Public Service Announcement

It’s time for the annual Declaration of Tax-Advantaged Accounts Contribution Limits, 2008 edition! YAY! (Oh, stop laughing. A few of us are passionately interested.)

For your 401k, your Federal limit is again $15,500. There were rumors and suspicions it might be raised to $16,000 this year, but alas, no. This may be more than your specific plan allows, but if you’ve got no employer-imposed limits (“no more than 8% of your total salary”) then $15,500 is the number to hit.

Remember that the 401k deductions are not taxed at the time of earning, which in English means that putting $200 a month into your 401k does not necessarily mean $200 less in take-home pay, because you will not be taxed on that $200 in income.

For the IRA, traditional or Roth, you can put away up to $5,000 this year; if you are 50, you can add another $1,000 in “catch up” money without penalty. This money is usually put in post-tax, but you get credit for it when you file taxes at the end of the year – if you care to do the math you can adjust your W4 and get the tax savings upfront here, as well.

And as a final note, very few of us can manage to put the max into these accounts. $15,500 is a lot of clams, and not a lot of us can say, “Oh yes, my goodness, I’ve got fifteen grand just lying around here with no use for it, ha ha ha…”

Don’t let that stop you. Do what you can, and be proud! Every dime will help, come retirement-time. Think of all the things you want to do when you finally clear out your last cubicle for good and all…and what that $10, $100, $1,000 will buy for you then. (With a little extra ‘oomph’ for the compounding interest that will be growing it every month between now and then.)

OK, we now return you to the regularly scheduled whining, ranting and musing.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Holy crap, it's 2008!

The new year has once again arrived, and once again I am caught by surprise. Even though every year, January 1 tends to come on the same day. You know, the one right after December 31.

Same thing, every year. “What? How can it be 2000-whatever already?!”

New Years is not like Easter, which can be sneaky. The first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox? That’s sneaky. Even for those of us who read the almanac every single morning and make announcements nobody cares about (“Hey! Happy Epiphany Eve!!”), it’s sneaky.

But New Years is always January 1, which is always the day after December 31, which is easily calculated and hard to miss.

Having been caught flat-footed by the whole ‘now I need to put 2008 on my checks’ thing, you can imagine how far behind I am on such things as Resolutions.


I got nothin’.

Well. Actually, I’m lying. I have got a very short list of things. I’ve got the usual grousing about wanting to lose a little weight, although not for the usual reasons. I’m perfectly (or at least ‘mostly’) happy with how I look, but if I could get those last fifteen pounds off it might help my low back pain. Shoot, I’ve done everything but drink snake oil, I might as well try the one thing medically recommended for the condition. And by “last” I do mean “last” – I’ve already shaved 46 pounds since I realized I had a not-so-small problem back in 2002.

I’d like to do more charity knitting this year. I had a few good bursts last year, but found myself hopelessly sidetracked by other things. I’m thinking a “one for me, one for charity” method would be good. Also I’m going to be doing the knit-alongs and showers sponsored by the Knitting4Children group on Yahoo. This is a nice group of people, and I haven’t been nearly as active in the group as I’d like.

And, finally, I’d like to take on a Living Below Your Means challenge. That’s a whole post in and of itself; in a nutshell, I think I’d like to take the first nine months of the year and work my angles and exercise my self-restraint and see just how little money I can part with (and how much headway I can make on other goals) from now through the end of September. And then, I can relax on through the holidays – not go hog-wild and overspend and undo all the work I’ve done the first nine months, but not worry about eating on the cheap and how to create “charming” Christmas presents out of my dumpster-diving finds.

I’ll try to put together something a little more coherent on that whole thing later. For right now…well. Happy New Year, a little late and rather disjointedly. I’m looking forward to another year of getting to know y’all. I still maintain I’ve got the best reader-friends in the whole Internet, and I appreciate your support and your comments and the giggles and snorts and belly-laughs you give me throughout the year.